Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: Book Review

What I’m Reading: My First Suspense

I can remember my first day of school. I can remember my first kiss, my first time having frozen yogurt, and the first movie my family went to a theater to watch together. It was E.T., by the way.

Some things stick with you through the years. Others leave you with only the impression they made. Over the next few weeks, I want to share some first books with you. These are books I clearly remember as being my firsts for various reasons. Most of them are older books, but you should still be able to find them. I’d encourage it, because they are well worth it.

I have a confession to make. I tend to steer clear of suspense. I get creeped out way too easily. But I think today’s author began writing romantic Christian suspense before it was a standard genre in the Christian fiction world. And while each of her books have a little mystery in them or a little danger, today’s series held more than I was used to from her. At least, it read as more suspenseful to me, a bit creepier. And so, I include it as my first Christian romantic suspense.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to find a copy of the Egypt trilogy by Linda Chaikin. The series’ World War I backdrop of battles and intrigue are enough to add action and suspense, but the author weaves a deadly who-done-it throughout the three stories. We’re left questioning the motives of characters we think are true. We fear for the safety of the characters we love.

Arabian Winds begins the series with Nurse Allison Wescott serving on a medical mission boat in Egypt. Her life is full of promise, as she’s engaged to a man who is working to serve as a chaplain in Oswald Chambers’s camp. When war breaks out during her holiday, Allison becomes part of a mystery surrounding two dead bodies and Brett Holden, a British officer determined to interrogate her. But there are also sparks, and Allison is faced with more choices for her life than she ever imagined.

Allison’s story continues in Lions of the Desert. World War I has begun, and Allison has moved from serving on the medical mission boat to tending wounded soldiers on the front lines. When Brett Holden reappears, Allison is unprepared for his return. However, the two find themselves in the middle of murder, and Allison has to figure out who she can trust before it’s too late.

The series ends with Valiant Hearts. With Brett in hot water with his superiors, Allison wants to trust him and his motives. But there are too many secrets and a treasure map that promises to bring its owner great riches. Before she can figure out whether Brett has “gone bad”, they’re thrown into danger from a deadly German spy who wants what everyone says Brett has. With Allison caught in the middle, her life is at risk if they can’t unmask the spy and find out the truth about Brett.

I’ve read this series many times since it came out in 1997. It gives me just enough mystery to make me want to read it with the lights one without making me want to sleep with them on too! And while there are clues throughout the stories, the author does a great job of keeping the reader off balance just enough to keep the ending a surprise.

I hope you enjoy this first as much as I have. Do you remember your first Christian romantic suspense? Have you read this series?

What I’m Reading: A Love So Real

Technological advances have made changed so many life activities.

Don’t like to shop? Order that outfit online. Maybe you’ll even get free delivery.

Have a global pandemic going on? Don’t risk it. Order your groceries online. The employees will even bring your bags to your car.

Have a loved one living thousands of miles away? You don’t have to rely on snail mail that will take days to arrive. An email will reach them instantaneously. And forget having to wait to see them. You have your pick of apps that will let you video chat with them right now.

So many of the capabilities that come with advances in technology are wonderful. They make things easier for us, especially in times like those we’ve been dealing with lately.

But easier isn’t always better, and the downside of technology isn’t always easy to see. Technology has given us instant news, but our feeds are filled with biased or even fake news that isn’t always easy to recognize. Even photographs which used to help confirm facts in a story can no longer be trusted. Great editing software has made it possible to twist the details of a picture until it becomes a work of fiction. A very believable work of fiction.

Then, there’s the social media celebrities. We invite them into our homes. We listen to their stories, accept their views as easily as if they were proven professionals on the subjects they’re discussing, and buy into the latest products they showcase. Their sparkling personalities draw us in, and we begin to think we know them. It’s almost like we’re friends. Even their behind the scenes glimpses into their lives are carefully constructed to project the image that goes along with their brand.

I’d say it takes a scandal to get a real glimpse at the man behind the curtain, but even the scandals can be fabricated. People can say anything they want and another person’s life is ruined without any real proof of wrongdoing.

Technology has opened up so much for us, but it is a double edged sword. I think Arianna “Anna” Carrington, from A Love So Real by Kimberly Rae Jordan, would agree. Anna is growing an empire through use of social media. What started as a hobby has grown into a legitimate business as a social media influencer. She even has her own line of home products available in stores.

Unlike others, Anna prides herself on keeping everything real for her followers. She carefully chooses the products she showcases on social media. She actually does the projects shown in her videos. She has the trust of millions, and she doesn’t take that lightly.

When a mistake leaves her brand open to scrutiny and judgment, Anna leaves LA without a destination in mind. She needs to find answers on how to handle the threatening scandal. She needs time to herself. And she needs hope that everything can work out.

When she passes a sign for New Hope Falls, Anna decides this is the place to find her answers. The quaint town full of friendly people that could be straight out of a Hallmark movie is exactly what Anna needs. As she builds friendships, she manages to avoid the specifics of her situation while still being honest with those she’s beginning to care for.

Eli McNamara may not be savvy about who’s who in social media, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have baggage of his own. As Anna’s friendship with him begins to grow into more, the nudge to share his past with her grows stronger. By the time his past pushes its way into his present, it may be too late.

Their different lifestyles are enough to make Anna and Eli rethink their new interest in each other, but their city girl meets country boy issues are child’s play next to the scandals that threaten to drive them apart. Can Eli handle the truth of why Anna left LA? Will he want his past opened up for the world to see? And if he does, can Anna and her career survive the additional drama Eli’s past will create?

A Love So Real puts a new technological twist on the theme of the damage the past can do in the present. I enjoyed the story, but it’s more than a simple romance. It also serves as a great reminder that not everything is as it seems. Wisdom, discernment, and the ability to think critically are necessary in these times to see past the lies of the technological wizard to the man behind the curtain.

https://www.amazon.com/Love-So-Real-Christian-Romance-ebook/dp/B07T58NPDR

Main Character Monday: Viktor – The Kalila Chronicles

If a person could fan-girl over a fictional character interview, today would be the day. From book one of the Kalila Chronicles by Erin Howard, I’ve loved Viktor. Yes, he’s the demon brother to Matthias. I know he’s not your typical good guy. In fact, he’s acting out of selfishness even when he does the right thing most of the time. But there’s something about the character that makes him one of my favorites in the series. And today, I get to interview him!

Viktor, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you through Erin’s Kalila Chronicles series. But for those who might not have had that same opportunity, can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?

Families are complicated. Or perhaps that’s just my family? My big brother, Matthias, is finally softening towards me. But I can’t blame him for the years of turmoil that I’ve put him through. See, he blames me for convincing our whole family to follow Lucifer. I mean, I can’t help that I’m a charismatic guy. I didn’t want them following me, but by the time Lucifer was kicked out of heaven, it was too late. Of course, Matthias didn’t see it that way and made it his vendetta to stop me. It made doing my job a lot harder when I not only had to watch my back from angels but also from my brother.  

You’ve spent a lot of time with humans, both trying to destroy them and more recently keeping them safe. Is there anything you admire about the humans you’ve come in contact with through the years?

If I have to tell something that I admire, I would say their ability to bounce back and keep going. No matter what is thrown their way, they have the capabilities to keep going.

Keeping in mind this is a purely hypothetical question, if given the opportunity would you want to become human? Why or why not?

No way. I wouldn’t want to give up being able to sneak around humans without them noticing and alter the atmosphere around them. It’s fun being me.

Given your background, I’ll refrain from asking you for your favorite or most inspirational scripture verse. However, I’d like to get your thoughts on one that makes me think of you when I hear it. Romans 7:15 says, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” While the verse pertains to the Christian struggle to live a godly life while the flesh keeps pulling us toward sin, my question is can you see yourself in this verse?

It does sum me up, doesn’t it? Matthias started all of this when he interrupted my plan of destroying Thea. Sometimes, I think it would have been easier if I would have gone ahead and murdered her. But that’s the problem, right? This back and forth war that is always waging inside of me.

Who is the person/being you most admire and why?

There are not many people that I admire. I don’t usually waste my time with humans or supernatural beings. When I have orders, I fulfill those orders, and then I move on. Do you know who never complains about having to do his job? Philip. I like that. 

Is there one thing you have experienced or learned that has impacted you more than everything else?

You like to dig deep with these questions, don’t you? I’ll do just about anything to get to Bethesda. That’s what is driving me. Everything else is just a distraction. This war going on inside? I hope it resolves itself soon.  

Is there one message you would like to share with the people reading this interview?

I feel like I’m the last one that can give advice or a message to whoever is reading this. There’s plenty of people rooting for me to fail. And I constantly feel like I’m one step away from slipping from one side to the other. But I’m trying. It goes against everything I’ve come to know, but I’m not giving up on getting to Bethesda. What will happen on the way, who knows? But I’m not looking back. You shouldn’t either. If you have goal, reach for it. Don’t give up.

Thanks for your time Viktor. And thanks to Erin Howard for sharing you with us today.

This is just a little snippet of life with Viktor. As you can probably tell, he’s a little bit complicated and a lot conflicted. Kind of reminds me of the rest of us at times. I hope you’ll check out The Silencer, but if you haven’t done so already be sure to read The Seer and The Soul Searcher first. It is a series, and it should be read in order.

Before we end things, why don’t we find out more about Erin Howard and her books.

New Release: The Silencer (The Kalila Chronicles, #3)

Release Date: 2/04/20

Publisher: Mantle Rock Publishing

Back cover blurb:

Sam’s parents asked him to do the unthinkable:
And it cost him everything.

When Sam Hart was forced to walk away from everything and everyone he knew, The Kalila became his new home. He thought he could keep the past buried but after an unexpected visit from his brother, a family secret is revealed.

Already reeling from a murder of one of their own, an unimaginable chain of events leaves everyone questioning each other’s loyalty. Will Sam, Viktor, and Matthias be able to stop this newest threat before they lose another?

Bio:

Erin R. Howard is a Developmental Editor, YA Urban Fantasy Author of The Kalila Chronicles, and has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing/English from Southern New Hampshire University. When she’s not writing, Erin enjoys spending time with her family, fueling her craft addictions, and teaching writing workshops. Erin is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the KenTen Writers Group. She resides in Western Kentucky with her husband and three children.

Social Media:

Website: https://erinrhoward.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/E.R.H.Fiction/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ErinRHoward

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erinrhoward/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/erinrhoward/

Newsletter: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z6w4q4

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEiu-jq-KE-VMIjbtmGLbJA Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Silencer-Kalila-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B08361WNND

What I’m Reading: Faith and Hope

I am the youngest of three and the only girl in my family. It was rough growing up with two older brothers who thought they knew it all and believed there was little use for a sister other than trying to traumatize her with scary stories, spiders, and snakes. I was the annoying one who wouldn’t leave them and their friends alone. In my defense, their friends were the only ones that came to the house. Who else was I supposed to play with?

Like most siblings I’ve met, we saw each other through the lenses of our own experiences. My oldest brother was the one who got rewarded for grades that my other brother and I got naturally. My middle brother was the one who got away with anything because my mom and dad thought he was perfect. Both of them got to do fun chores because they were boys, while I got stuck inside washing dishes and cleaning toilets. Of course, to them I was the little princess who got off easy due to being the only girl and the baby of the family.

These perceptions mixed with our differing personalities created plenty of drama while we were growing up. They can still create drama now, though it’s less frequent and far less intense than it was when we were children.  Now, it tends to stay at fun-loving ribbing and recounting the woes of childhood. But back then? Our differences could have started a new world war.

Faith and Hope, the sisters in Amy Anguish’s book by the same name, are just like the rest of us. Faith sees her younger sister Hope as one in need of growing up. When Hope is all-but forced to spend the summer with her, Faith steps into the role of mother whether Hope needs one or not.

Hope doesn’t need a mother. She needs a new job that fits with her plans for her future. She especially doesn’t need a mother like Faith whose dreams have effortlessly fallen into place for as long as she remembers. There’s nothing more frustrating that struggling to see your dreams become a reality when everywhere you look you see them coming true for others.

Their differences create tension and drama for the sisters as they struggle to learn how to get along as adults living in the same home. But things are not always as they seem, and the close proximity forces Faith and Hope to see things below the surface in each other’s lives. As they gain new understanding of the events going on in each other’s lives, Faith and Hope have a new opportunity to learn how to appreciate each other and forge a friendship that reaches beyond their differences.

It’s an opportunity we all have in life whether we have siblings or not. Biases based on our own perceptions are easily seen in siblings, but they enter into all areas of life. At work and church we see people and make assumptions. This person is unfriendly and to be avoided. That person has everything they’ve ever wanted handed to them on a silver platter and doesn’t know how to work for anything. We look at one facet of their lives and determine whether they are worth our friendship, trust, and time.

While we do this, they do the same with us, and we all miss the opportunities God may be trying to give us. Differences don’t have to be bad. Working together with other personalities can provide balance we lack. And that cranky person we avoid like the plague? When we take the time to get to know her, we may find she’s overworked and underpaid and feeling like she’s in over her head. Alleviate her suffering or simply walk beside her, and you may find a completely different person than you originally thought existed. You may find a friend to walk beside you too.   https://www.amazon.com/Faith-Hope-Amy-R-Anguish/dp/1945094834/

Dread and the Bad Haircut

haircut-834280__340Have you ever had a bad haircut? If you haven’t, you’re lucky. If you have, do you remember the moment of dread that comes before this experience?

You’ve signed in and are waiting for your appointment. Doubt flickers when the person who calls you looks like their own hair was cut with a weed trimmer. Still, you march bravely forward and sit in the chair. You show the stylist a picture of what you want. You’ve searched the internet for days finding the perfect style. You ask if this cut will work with your hair. You’re assured it will, and the stylist rattles off some simplistic description of your holy grail of hairstyles.

As the stylist picks up scissors to begin working on your transformation, she mentions something that doesn’t make sense.  No, you don’t want only an inch taken off. Your hair is down to the middle of your shoulder blades and the style in the picture barely grazes the shoulders.  On what planet is that an inch?

The tiny doubt you knew when you saw the stylist blossoms into dread. That dread is multiplied as you watch your haircut’s progression. How is this going to turn into the style in the picture? Can that even be possible?

The stylist you see in the mirror is the picture on concentration. And doubt. It’s the doubt that takes your feeling of dread to near panic. You know this is going south at an alarming rate, but there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t walk out mid-cut.  And there’s only so much hair you’re willing to lose.

Why did you come to this salon? Why did you agree to sit in this stylist’s chair? When are you going to learn? You give a weak smile. It’s too late anyway. You pay and leave. Once in the safe confines of your car, you pull out your phone and google how long it will take the bangs that are now two finger widths above your eyebrows to grow back. Then, you reschedule your family pictures for a couple weeks later than that. Next time, you’ll listen to that feeling of dread. Maybe.

Olivia, in A Desperate Love by Jessica McCarty, knows the feeling of dread that comes withMRP-A-Desperate-Love-360x569 poorly made decisions all too well. When her fiancé’s ship is attacked by pirates, Olivia mourns his loss while still maintaining the hope that he lives. When her father and mother decide it’s time she moves on into an arranged marriage, Olivia wants nothing to do with it. Desperation drives her to leave home in disguise. Her choice brings with it apprehension, but Olivia pushes through determined to do what she must to find her fiancé.

When her journey leads her to an inn filled with rough men, she feigns confidence and joins them in their gambling so she can glean information from them. She gets more than she bargains for when a strange offer is put on the table. Join the captain’s pirate crew to help them with a job, and the captain will help find her lost love. Instinct tells Olivia this isn’t a wise plan. She does it anyway.

In her time on ship, Olivia fights the demons of fear inside her, grows from skillful to masterful with a sword, finds bravery she didn’t know she had, and learns what life can be like when you allow yourself to lean on friends. But these revelations don’t keep the dread from popping up every time she’s faced with a new, less than moral choice. Olivia does her best to limit her involvement in the things she knows are wrong while living up to her end of the bargain she struck with the pirate captain. Learning to balance the two is the only way she can hope to save her fiancé.

Olivia faces her moments of dread after each step down the bad paths laid in front of her. While we may not face impossible choices with life or death consequences, I’m sure we’ve all known that catch in our spirit when make a poor choice and veer from the path God intended. It’s that feeling of heaviness that tells us we’re making a mistake. It’s God warning system for His children.

When Jesus was living on earth, He was able to show His followers how He expected them to live. When they made poor choices, Jesus dealt with it. When the disciples let fear steal their peace in the storm, He reminded them to have faith. When Peter denied Jesus, he went out and wept over his failure. When Jesus returned to them after His resurrection, He restored Peter. Jesus was with them to warn them and guide them back when they strayed.

We don’t have Jesus walking the earth with us, but He didn’t leave us alone. Jesus said He would send a helper to live inside every believer. The Holy Spirit would take up residence and work as our teacher, warning system, and the one to guide us back to the right path. When we make a sinful choice or a series of sinful choices, the Holy Spirit is there creating that feeling inside that tells us what we’re choosing is wrong. It’s a gentle nudge that if listened to can help us avoid painful consequences. That gentle nudge becomes a persistent sense of conviction when we stubbornly cling to our chosen path.

It’s not pleasant, but it can’t be. The Holy Spirit means to get our attention. He wants to keep us from sinful choices. It would be wonderful if we listened to the quiet prodding when we felt the first stirrings. Too often we don’t. Then, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of the sin we’ve let in. This dread or conviction is heavier because the situation demands it. But when we heed the warning and turn back from our sin, God restores and we are freed from the guilt and dread that weighs us down.

Past and Present

I don’t know who I am. I’m not speaking philosophically. I’m referring to a literal understanding of my family roots. There’s supposed to be a lot of German in my family tree on my dad’s side. And on my mom’s side there is a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, which is just a fancy way of saying I have German speaking immigrants in my ancestry. But somewhere along the line, I’ve also heard I may have Irish, English, and even a tiny drop of Native American DNA.

As a child, I wanted the Irish part to outweigh the German part. No offense to anyone with German heritage, but there wasn’t anything I knew about Germany that made me want to identify with it. On the other hand, I loved everything I believed symbolized Ireland. I loved the idea of fair skin and red hair. Green was my favorite color. And I wished with everything in me that I could speak with an Irish accent. I mean, who wouldn’t want to speak with an Irish accent, right? But as little as I know about my family history, I do know my childhood hope was an impossible dream. I know German DNA plays a part in who I am more than any other DNA out there. But I still don’t know who my ancestors were or what their stories would tell me.

One day when life’s demands are not as great, maybe I’ll find out more. I doubt it would change my life in a drastic way, but you never know. Seeing their stories played out could lead to new understandings about myself or even my circumstances.

This was definitely the case for Abby in Saratoga Letters by Elaine Marie Cooper. In fact, it was so true that the book itself is really two stories in one. Part historical and part contemporary fiction, Cooper did a wonderful job drawing me into both stories and keeping me engrossed until the end where she allowed me to see the complete picture.

Set in Saratoga during the Revolutionary War, the first half of the book tells the story of a young woman named Abigail whose Loyalist uncle forces her to work in a hospital for the British army. Through her time of service, Abigail must carefully guard the secret of her true allegiance. And while she wishes to see the war won and the British leaving the colonies, her time tending the wounded changes her perspective about the enemy. She sympathizes with their losses, and she learns to befriend and even love them for who they are as people. Her time isn’t without struggle though. She is plagued by fear of being found out, but fear of her uncle keeps her silent. She faces dangers too, as a woman in a camp filled with men who haven’t seen home in far too long. Abigail’s experiences are enough to fill a book in themselves, but thankfully, the author didn’t agree.

It’s in the contemporary second half of the book that we finally meet Abby. She’s like a lot of us. She’s trying to live her life. She doesn’t have time to dig into her family’s past. The little she does know has been passed down through her father, and it’s her love for him that sends her to a celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga after his death. Abby learns a lot about the general history surrounding her family’s involvement in the war, but it’s what she doesn’t know that takes her time in Saratoga from relaxing vacation to deadly excursion. When the past threatens her future, Abby has to figure out the rest of the story before it’s too late.

I doubt any of us would have our lives altered as drastically by our ancestry as Abby does, but that doesn’t mean the past doesn’t play a part in who we become. And the past’s ability to shape our future doesn’t stop with our physical DNA. Each believer also has a spiritual ancestry. While it includes those of faith in our family trees, our shared ancestry comes from scripture. We have a spiritual heritage recorded for us and passed down through the years. God means it to shape and direct our lives today in a real way.  2 Timothy 3:16 tells us the entirety of scripture has been given by God for our “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that God wants His followers to learn about Him and the history of our faith. It’s been clear since the beginning that while He doesn’t want us to live in the past, He does want us to remember it and learn from it. When we study the Old Testament, we find God’s people instructed to set up 12 memorial stones after crossing the Jordan. They did this so when future generations asked what the stones meant, the story of God’s provision would be passed on. Festivals were set by God to help His people remember the ways He intervened in their lives. The Passover and Purim recounts God’s salvation of the people.  And in the New Testament, when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples for the last time, He instructed them to “do this in remembrance of Me.”

And the great thing about our spiritual heritage is that we don’t have to work hard to find it. We don’t have to shell out a hundred bucks and a swab of our DNA to know what God wants us to know about Him or faith. We don’t have to spend hours scouring web sites and pouring over the faded writings of long gone ancestors. Our spiritual heritage is as easily accessible as the nearest Bible.

By the Book: Have you given any thought to your spiritual heritage? Have you let it change your life?

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