A quick read with some old favorite characters (Finally & Forever – Robin Jones Gunn)

I once told my roommate about my friend whose boyfriend had lived in Edinburgh with his grandmother. And then I paused and couldn’t remember anything else about him. Because he was not really my friend. He was a character in one of Robin Jones Gunn’s YA series. Not to sound like I didn’t have any friends (I did!), but Christy Miller and her friends were my good friends. They weren’t real but they were special to me and I always envied their friendships and their lives. My high school self was so sad when I got to the end of the series.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when Gunn released the Christy & Todd College Years as well as the Katie Weldon series. There were three in both those series so imagine my surprise when I saw a fourth Katie book online!

Katie’s story had left off with her getting on a plane to Africa with Eli. And I loved that it ended there. No expected happily ever after and marriage, (what authors seem to think is a woman’s ultimate purpose and goal in life). I was so glad that Gunn had just left it at Katie following God, and it just so happened at Eli happened to be called by God to the same place.

So. With all of that said, I was kind of disappointed to see another book because I knew it would have to be the clean, resolved, marriage-plot ending instead of simply letting a character be single, be okay with that, and be content following God without a man.

I ended up actually really enjoying the final book in Katie’s series, Finally & Forever. It picks up with Katie on the plane to Kenya with Eli. They’re off and running as soon as they arrive with adventures and thought provoking conversations, family drama and hilarious situations. And it’s good. The marriage plot is lurking there, as expected, but I was really impressed with the way Gunn handled it with a delicacy and an underlying regard for different ways to go about dating and marriage.

The end was a tad disappointing for me but ******SPOILER ALERT****** only because I figure, if they’re going to get married (which they obviously are), Gunn has written some darn good proposals and I was expecting Finally & Forever to have one. Not so much.

All in all, I appreciated the time with one of my favorite characters who I have enjoyed since her debut in Christy Miller’s second book. Thank you to Zondervan for the review copy in exchange for my honest opinions.

Humorous, quick read (My Stubborn Heart – Becky Wade)

I am not a TV watcher.  My husband wishes I was so we could brainlessly veg to some silly show (I will admit that we love Top Gear and watch that each week) but I am just not a TV person.  I’m happy to curl up on the couch next to him while he watches TV but I want a book!  For me, fluff books can be my brainless veg time instead of TV.  It’s during the time I’m reading a cheesy book that I find myself relaxing.

Becky Wade’s novel My Stubborn Heart did just that for me.  I caught myself laughing aloud, engrossed in her story.  It was a quick read, definitely.  A little fluffy, yes.  But it was also just what I needed to take my mind off the current stressors in my life.  I was able to join the world of Kate, Matt, and the cooky old folks they are surrounded by in Redbud.

Kate and her grandmother are remodeling the family’s old home but the man they hired to renovate is a distraction, to say the least.  Matt is caught up in his own world, his own problems.  His wife, dead, his career, over, his faith, shattered.  But as the hard work he does to keep everyone out becomes more difficult with Kate’s insistence on finding out more and more about Matt and his pain, Matt’s defenses begin to crumble.  With a crazy cast of senior citizens to cause mischief all around, Matt and Kate’s connection grows.

Wade’s story is well-written, funny, and entertaining.  It is one of those books that draws you in and next thing you know, the bath water is cold and your fingers and toes have turned into prunes (true story).  I really enjoyed Wade’s characterization, especially Morty and Velma.  I laughed, I cried, I enjoyed.

Thank you, Bethany House publishers, for a review copy in exchange for my honest opinions.

Not my favorite (Kristin Billerbeck – The Scent of Rain)

My first introduction into the Christian “chick lit” genre was Kristin Billerbeck’s Ashley Stockingdale series.  I laughed so hard.  I was challenged deeper in my faith.  I was so thankful for both the shallow cheesiness and the depth in her writing.  Billerbeck’s contribution to Christian chick lit is something I am forever thankful for in that she paved the way for authors like Jenny B. Jones and Krista McGee.  Unfortunately, her latest novel, The Scent of Rain, was not her best work.

Daphne is a professional nose.  She sniffs and creates perfumes at a fancy job in Paris until deciding to leave her job and follow her fiance, Mark, to a job in Dayton, Ohio.  Unfortunately, Mark has different plans and is a no show to their wedding.  She ends up moving to Dayton anyway and meets her new boss, Jesse, hiding the fact that she has lost her sense of smell.

I struggled with this book.  It had all the makings for a great Kristin Billerbeck chick lit novel but I never felt connected to the characters; even the secondary relationships between coworkers, friends, and family seemed stilted.  I was surprised by my reaction since I have (besides Perfectly Dateless) loved all of Billerbeck’s other novels.  I wish I could characterize my struggle with The Scent of Rain but I can’t really identify my problem with it.  The last 40 pages or so were a whirlwind and I was shocked when I reached the last page.

It’s a light read with less of a focus on the deeper issues that I had always enjoyed in Billerbeck’s novels.  While all of the above seems negative, the book wasn’t bad; it simply wasn’t a novel that I connected with or would reread.  Thank you, Thomas Nelson, for the review copy.  My opinions are my own.

A great addition to the conversation (The Resignation of Eve – Jim Henderson)

Right on the heels of reading a great new post by my favorite blogger, Rachel Held Evans, I finished an amazing book by Jim Henderson, The Resignation of Eve.

My husband always teases me and says I’m a feminist (like it’s a bad thing :)) but I realized after reading The Resignation of Eve, that I am simply all for humans, particularly women.  It bothers me that some women are not allowed to live their dreams and live life as they’d like simply because they are a woman.  One of Henderson’s case studies, Kathleen said something that stuck with me, “So a thirteen-year-old boy could speak into the microphone without checking in with anyone…but I wanted to do the same thing, I was required to get my husband’s permission” (132).

Henderson’s book combined two things I’m passionate about: injustice and women.  How the two intersect within the church is the subject of Henderson’s text and he does an impressive job of showing the many different relationships women can have within the body of Christ.  The format of the book, fifteen case studies interspersed with Henderson’s commentary, was interesting.  I don’t necessarily know if it was the most effective way to present the topic, but it worked.

While I found the case studies to be engaging (I love hearing people’s stories, as sad and difficult to read as many of these were), I found Henderson’s commentary at the beginning and end of the book to be my favorite part.  The statistics from the Barna group were interesting and sometimes shocking (in the last ten years, there has been a 20% decrease in women attending church services!) and I sure loved Lynne Hybels’ foreword.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading the perspectives found in Jim Henderson’s The Resignation of Eve: what if Adam’s rib is no longer willing to be the church’s backbone?  It took me quite some time to finish it as it was challenging but it was well worth the time spent.  My opinions, theological and otherwise, are always changing and being self-questioned so reading this book was a good investment of time for me.

Thank you, Tyndale, for the review copy of The Resignation of Eve.  Please continue publishing books that challenge the church to look at women’s involvement and ability to participate fully and freely in the body of Christ.  These are my honest opinions.

30.

Tomorrow is a big day.

I’ll be a year closer to 30.

I don’t know what it is about 30, but it is freaking me out.  When you’re 30, you’re an adult, right?  You have your life together; you don’t doubt, fear, question.  You’re an adult.  Right?

Right?

But when you feel like your life is not yet “adult” enough and that your ducks are flying around wildly and flailing around and not anywhere near close to lining up neatly in a row, fear sets in and you begin to question yourself and your choices and your maturity.  Fear speaks words like “you’re not good enough”.

I realize now that all of this fear has caused me to root myself in things I (think I) can control.  My identity begins to reside in my stuff and my reputation.  The more I think I’m finding myself, the more I am losing myself.  The more I “find” my identity, the more I believe lies and ignore what I know is truth.

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Just about a year ago, I went on a women’s retreat with our church.  We had only been going to the church for a month or two and I didn’t know too many people.  I don’t know what possessed me, shy me, to want to join ten other women from our church on this weekend away, but I signed up and merrily and fearfully went along for the adventure.  Because I had signed up late, I was placed in a room with only two other people.  I didn’t know either one.  Both nights, one of them put her ipod in around 9:30 and went to bed while the other, a wonderful woman named Jenny, and I stayed up until after 2am talking.  We shared our lives with each other and laughed and cried.  On the second night, Jenny paused midway through our conversation and spoke these words of truth into my heart.

I keep hearing a similar theme in your words.  It sounds to me like you can’t help but believe that you’re not good enough.  What is it that you don’t think you’re good enough for?

We pondered then continued talking well into the night.  The next few weeks though, her words stayed in my mind.  I thought long and hard about it…did I really not think I was good enough?  And for what wasn’t I good enough?

I was shocked when I began to see a theme emerge in my life.  I found myself consistently thinking I wasn’t enough…not good enough, not pretty enough, not faith-filled enough, not enough.  And like being jolted with an electric shock, I was struck one day with the realization that it all stemmed from my belief that I wasn’t good enough to be loved by God.

I know that truth in my head but it has taken too many years to permeate into my heart.  Over the past year of asking God to remind me of this truth—that I am loved by him, he has been slowly and consistently teaching me.  And like wet sand pouring through an open hand into a bucket, he is filling me and providing a foundation for me to stand upon.

My prayer of Ephesians 3:17-19 has been freeing me from the chains of fear and expectation.

And I pray that [I], being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [I] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

God is constantly reminding me of how wide and long and high and deep his love is.  That nothing at all…”neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [me] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

I am so thankful that none of it—my fears and doubts, my lack of adult-ness and ducks-in-a-row-ness—can separate my nearly 30 year old self from the love of God.

Awesome YA fiction! (Starring Me – Krista McGee)

I am an unashamed lover of YA fiction. Love it. Especially love funny YA. Jenny B Jones is one of my favorites. But move over, Jenny, Krista McGee is closing in on you!

Krista’s latest, Starring Me, was hilarious. I loved reading Kara’s story and following Addy and Jonathan as well. Kara was hilarious (really my favorite character) in First Date, McGee’s first novel, and I was so excited to see that she was the *star* (no pun intended) of her own book!

I loved the character of Flora! The English lit major in me was so happy that the teens reading the book would be encouraged to read and exposed to some high class literature. 🙂

Chad’s character was another plus. He was such a nice guy and I loved that he seemed real. Loved to think that girls will see him as a real person and not just a pop star.

Overall, I loved Starring Me. I loved McGee’s story of redemption for Kara. I have enjoyed both of her novels and I can’t wait for McGee’s next book! Thanks, Thomas Nelson, for the review copy of Starring Me. My opinions are my own.

An enjoyable historical fiction novel (The Rose of Winslow Street – Elizabeth Camden)

I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction (particularly Christian historical fiction…for some reason it ends up cheesier than usual) so I was pleasantly surprised by Elizabeth Camden’s latest, The Rose of Winslow Street.  It was a quick read but it was entertaining, funny, and well-written.

Libby Sawyer is shocked when strangers come to town and challenge her father’s ownership of the home she grew up in.  Worse than her shock about the house is her shock of attraction to the rude stranger leading the group in her home!  Somewhat of a cheesy plot but I found myself engrossed in Camden’s plot line.

Libby’s quirks made her likeable but unique.  I appreciated that she was not the typical weak, feminine character.  Michael was a hard character to follow as he was really unpredictable.  One moment he was kind and the other he was a jerk.  I felt slightly whiplashed as I read more and got to know Michael’s character.

Camden did a good job, though, of not presenting Michael and Professor Sawyer (Libby’s dad) with one being the clear good guy and the other as the clear bad guy.  I was not sure how Camden would resolve the conflict since they were fighting over the house and one losing would mean the other would end up homeless.  Her resolution was slightly unbelievable but it worked well for her plot purposes.

Overall, I enjoyed Camden’s latest novel.  She wove a lovely story with a few intriguing subplots.  Well done!  Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy.  My opinions are my own.

Well-written family drama (Need You Now – Beth Wiseman)

Darlene’s family is going through some rough transitions. They don’t quite know where they all fit in their new town, in their new jobs, in their new friendships. But they are clinging to each other…until they lose their footing.

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Need You Now, Beth Wiseman’s latest is a quick, fast-paced novel. I read it in one sitting and really enjoyed it. Darlene and Brad seem to have it all together until cracks begin to ripple between them and external life changes impact their formerly secure world, and marriage. Their kids were really well-written, true to life characters. Grace’s struggles are realistic and her scenes were written remarkably. As a middle and high school teacher trained to recognize the what, I really appreciated reading more about the why, the mindset of a teenager cutting.

I’m embarrassed to tell this on myself but in all honesty, I’d say the book’s power rested in its ability to capture the reader’s heart and emotions. While reading, I had to put the book down because I was feeling so guilty. I was thinking about my actions and feeling terrible about myself and how my actions had hurt my dear husband. I was really starting to beat myself up until I realized that I was so closely identifying with Darlene that I was feeling guilty for her mistakes!!

While I did wish Wiseman would have delved deeper into Layla’s back story, I did really enjoy the novel. Definitely a quick (sad, at the end) read, but it is going to stay with me beyond just the couple hours it took to read it.

Thanks, Thomas Nelson, for the review copy. My opinions are my own.

A riveting family drama (House of Secrets – Tracie Peterson)

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How long do you keep a secret that is eating away at your soul and destroying your family?

Tracie Peterson’s latest, House of Secrets, jumps right into the lives of the Cooper sisters as they’re finally learning to cope with secrets they’ve kept for many years.  Bailee is the oldest and has lived with the guilt as well as the responsibility of raising her sisters. Her boss, Mark, has pursued her but she has never been interested in having to lean on anyone besides herself.

I loved the way Peterson approached mental illness.  So often (especially in the Christian community) mental illness is seen as off limits and is stigmatized unfairly.  Peterson wrote beautifully about the fears, the pains, the stigma of mental illness without casting fear or blame upon the characters.  Her characters’ exploration of living with, and living with a family member with, mental illness was true to life.  I am so glad to see Christian writers and publishers finally giving an honest picture of mental illness.

With all of that said, this book was hard to read.  Secrets, guilt, lies, family drama, this book had it all.  Set in my beautiful home state of Washington, the Coopers hash it all out.  The love story involving Bailee and Mark was a secondary plot that was nice and all, but it almost seemed to detract from the story of the sisters and their father.  Overall though, I really enjoyed this book.  Peterson is a gifted writer and her setting along with her characterization made House of Secrets a captivating novel.

Thank you to Bethany House for providing an advanced review copy.  My opinions are my own.

A quick read (In Too Deep – Mary Connealy)

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Audra is tough. Ethan is seemingly apathetic. Their worlds collide when they’re suddenly married. Surprise!

In Mary Connealy’s second book in The Kincaid Brides series, In Too Deep, Ethan and Audra are married for convenience’s sake and far too practical to expect love will ever come from their union. Ethan is still dealing with his own issues with his older, bossy brother Rafe, and his guilt after believing he caused his younger brother Seth to go crazy. Audra is a newly widowed mother of two with nowhere else to go. Her stepdaughter, Julia, recently married to Ethan’s brother, Rafe, is still obsessed with caves and fossils (she and Rafe were the subjects of the first book, see my review here). They’re all still in danger of the outlaws coming after them trying to recover the money Julia’s dad/Audra’s former husband stole.

I did not like Out of Control, the first in this series. Julia was obnoxious and I was not a fan. I went into reading In Too Deep with low expectations and I was pleasantly surprised. While the dialogue and a decent number of scenes felt very forced (particularly at the beginning of the novel), I overall enjoyed In Too Deep. Cheesy, yes. Predictable, yes. But much more entertaining and engaging than the first. The relationship between Audra and Ethan was interesting and well-written. Ethan’s struggles with his personal demons were not only well-written, but they provided insight into the character that helped to round the reader’s understanding. The subplots involving Seth and his sanity (and presumably the subject of the next book in the series, his wife) as well as Jasper and Trixie were engaging and helped broaden the book’s otherwise limited scope.

Overall, while maybe not a novel to reread, In Too Deep was entertaining and a good distraction from busy life.

I was so kindly provided an advanced review copy from Bethany House. My opinions are my own.