By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Tag: Christian Fiction Review (page 1 of 4)

What I’m Reading: The Ravenwood Saga

If you’ve followed my blog or any of my social media accounts very long, you know I’m just as likely to sit down and watch an episode of Doctor Who as I am the latest Hallmark movie. I equally love the Lord of the Rings, Marvel movies, and While You Were Sleeping. There’s enough love in me for fantasy, action, sci-fi, drama, and romance. At least, there is when it comes to television and movies.

As much as my tastes in television and movies span the various genres, my taste in reading has rarely strayed from one genre, the romance genre. Any variations have come from whether or not I’m in the mood for historical or contemporary romance. Through the years a couple of suspense books have wormed their way onto my shelves. But it wasn’t until the past year that fantasy/speculative fiction made its own appearance, with the exceptions of a few that are not in the Christian market which I read to share the experience with my kids.

Anyway, a year or so ago, I won a copy of the first book in Morgan Busse’s The Soul Chronicles series and devoured it along with the second one. When I saw she’d come out with a new series and I found myself with a couple gift cards, it wasn’t a difficult choice to add The Ravenwood Saga to my cart. It wasn’t until last month that I had the chance to read them.

I’d just finished a couple contemporary romances, and I wanted something different. I opened up The Mark of the Raven as a way to cleanse my reading palette. I intended to read one book before returning to my standard genre. My plans changed.

The second I read the last page of The Mark of the Raven, I opened up Flight of the Raven. I didn’t have the third book yet, but I added it to my library as soon as I finished the second book. Cry of the Raven didn’t have a waiting period. I finished it the next day.

I loved the characters and the world the author created. Lady Selene is a strong character, gifted with the power to dreamwalk. It is the gift of House Ravenwood, and they have used it to exact revenge on the other houses in their land for abandoning them to the enemy many years before. Lady Selene has been raised on the stories of betrayal and the belief that through using their powers to torment others, steal their secrets, and at times, kill them in their dream worlds, House Ravenwood stays strong.

Only this idea and the reality of what she’s expected to do doesn’t sit well with Lady Selene. Deep inside, she feels there must be more to her gift than fear and death, and she is determined to find out where her gift came from and its true purpose.

As one man steps forward from House Maris to unite the different houses against their common enemy, Lady Selene has her first hint that her family has indeed missed something in the way their gift is used. To seek out truth could lead to more than being disowned. If her mother finds out she’s not following the ways of her house, it will most certainly mean death. But can she continue in the ways of House Ravenwood and dreamkilling when her heart is telling her the gift was given for a better purpose?

Selene’s quest to find the truth behind the gifting continues through each book. As war draws closer, she is faced with terrible choices, deadly consequences, and inner battles she never imagined possible. Finding the correct path for her life isn’t easy, and it’s made more difficult through the suspicions of those around her and the danger she faces from her own family.

The spiritual lessons of the book are clear but do not detract from the story. In fact, the story makes the scriptural truths more vibrant and inspire the reader to seek out and care for their own gifts and talents. The Ravenwood Saga is a beautiful example of truth clothed in fantasy leaving its message to resonate in the reader rather than being content to simply entertain, though it does that as well.

What I’m Reading: Five Days in Skye

I have a love/hate relationship with books set in places I have never been. And to be honest, that’s most of them since I’m not well-traveled. As pathetic as it is, I’ve only visited (not including those I’ve passed through on my way somewhere else) nine states, and I don’t even have a passport. Most of those were for martial arts tournaments or writing conferences. If you make me narrow it down to places I’ve actually spent at least three days in for something other than tournaments and conferences, I have to lower it to four, possibly five. My point is, there are a lot of places I haven’t been. So, I read about a lot of places I’ve never seen.

I love reading a book and being able to clearly picture the mountains in Colorado, the vinyards in California, or the colors of fall in New England. They create in me a desire to see these places for myself, and that’s where the hate comes in. Do you realize how many places are now on my “someday I’ll go there” list? It’s been steadily growing since high school, and I’ve yet to check one place off.

Take my latest read, Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano. Andrea Sullivan is set to vacation on a tropical island, and when her boss sends her on a business trip to Scotland, she is less than enthused. (I really don’t know what her problem was. I’d choose Scotland any day. Have you heard the way they speak? And who doesn’t want to explore castles?) Andrea goes because work is what she does, and she is in line for a VP position. Impressing the boss is more important than a little rest. Besides, she can relax any time.

The quick change in plans makes Andrea a little moody, and after a rocky start with her client, James MacDonald, she’s not feeling any better about the whole ordeal. James, on the other hand, is determined to help Andrea see how much there is to love about Skye. After slowly eroding some of her defenses, James succeeds in getting Andrea to stay longer than she expected, a total of five days in Skye to learn to live life away from work and love Skye. And despite previous hurts, family drama, and a strict code about mixing business with pleasure, Andrea may find she loves the man she met in Skye as well.

While the entertaining, well-told story and likable characters are enough to give the story a great review, the descriptions of Skye make it even better. As James and Andrea explore in and around Skye, the images readers are left with are a little more than enticing.

As I finished, I contemplated the need to get a passport, and I was only stopped by the reality that I don’t have the means to go anywhere right now, much less fly to Scotland. And with that truth, you can clearly see why I have a love/hate relationship with stories like Five Days in Skye. I love the story and the way the setting comes alive in my imagination, but I do kind of hate that I know I’m not going there any time soon. Of course, if the desire to visit Scotland hits me in the future, I could always spend more time there by re-reading Five Days in Skye!

Main Character Monday with Dean Blackburn

Welcome to Main Character Monday. Today’s guest is homicide detective, Dean Blackburn, from Song in the Dark by Jessica White. Thank you for joining me.

Thanks for having me. But honestly, I’m used to being the interviewer not the interviewee.

What three words would you use to describe your author?

Curious, tenacious, and courageous enough to discover the truth. She reminds me of my three Dobermans when they catch a scent and refuse to abandon it until they discover the source. She never stops digging until she gets to the heart of the story.

Just for fun. Go with your gut.

Sunrise or sunset?

Sunset. It means I get to go home and spend time with my dogs.

Pie or Cake?

Honey Cakes & Moon Pies makes this pomegranate cake that’s to die for.

Tulip or Iris?

I guess irises, because they were my mother’s favorite. But whatever Jenna prefers.

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Hands down, dark chocolate.

Interesting. Next question. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

I’d probably get out of Albany, New York and visit some warmer climates. I’m not really the touristy type, but I like quiet places where the boys can stretch their legs and I can relax and read a book cover to cover without worrying about looking over my shoulder. Perhaps discover some unique bookshops hidden around the world, like the one in Coober Pedy, Australia that’s built inside a cave. Or Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece that carries old hardbound books.

Speaking of books, let’s talk the Bible. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these traits do you find easiest to display in your life? 

Wow. I guess self-control would be my strongest. You can’t be a good detective if you don’t learn to control your thoughts and emotions and not let them get in the way of the evidence or project onto your victim or your suspect.

Which of them is the hardest to display?

Hardest? All the rest! Again, with my job, it’s really hard to see the good around you—but that’s why Jenna amazes me. She’s got the whole package. She even makes my curmudgeon of a neighbor grin like an old fool.


Jenna sounds like someone we all need in our lives. I’d love to meet her, but for now, we should continue with the interview. What is your favorite story from the Old Testament?

Old Testament? Probably the story of Gideon. Growing up a military brat, I learned to trust in numbers and weapons. But since meeting Jenna, I’ve learned God has us covered. Whatever we need, we’ll have when we need it.

What is your favorite book in the New Testament?

Acts. It’s practical. Stories like Ananias and Sapphira really hit home. I hate it when perps get away with lying to the cops. It’s good to know that even when I can’t see the truth in a situation, God knows. In the end, justice is His. If He chooses to let me be a part of that, then it’s a privilege.

If you could leave us with one message, what would you want us to know?

That darkness can’t extinguish light, but light can expel darkness. So surround yourself with people who bring light into your life. And never take them for granted.

Thank you for joining me today. I think you must be the first detective I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, and it gives you a slightly different perspective than most of the characters I interview.

Readers, you can find out more about Dean and meet Jenna in Song in the Dark by Jessica White. Keep reading for more about Jessica and where to find her book.

More on Song in the Dark:

After graduating from Juilliard, harpist Jenna Fields returns home to Albany to escape her manipulative ex and prove to her controlling mother that she can orchestrate her own life.

Homicide detective Dean Blackburn spends his days seeking justice for the dead. But darkness taints everything, including him.

When his three Dobermans lead him to Jenna playing in the park, he tries to resist the beautiful musician and focus on his cases. At least until he witnesses Jenna’s ex attempt to blackmail her and learns she’s being stalked, just like one of his homicide victims.

When her world crumbles beneath her feet, and Dean learns she has her own dark secrets, he helps Jenna see that the key to escaping her mother’s gilded cage is already in her hands.

Where to connect with Jessica: AuthorJessicaWhite.com for more info

What I’m Reading: The Cupcake Dilemma

My husband and I drive to Cape Girardeau, Missouri once every couple months to eat at our new favorite restaurant. It’s an Irish pub with a fun atmosphere and great food, but that’s beside the point. One of the last times we went there, I ordered dessert. I never order dessert at restaurants because I’m always too full. But this time, I purposefully saved room.

I ordered bread pudding. I’d never had bread pudding before and had no idea what to expect. Bread and pudding in the same sentence don’t sound appetizing, much less putting them in the same dessert! But something intrigued me about it, and I decided to take the risk.

I may take more risks in the future. My first bite of this warm, rich dessert was filled with cinnamony goodness. Fall exploded on my tongue, and it was a beautiful thing. Adding caramel ice cream to hot bread pudding added to the perfection. I think I heard angels singing. It was that good.

It’s amazing when you find a dessert like that bread pudding, but equally (if not more) amazing is finding a book like that. A story that grabs your attention from the first page and invites you to dive in and keep reading until you reach the end. A story that’s sweet and fun and balanced and leaves you with a good feeling at the end. (And as a bonus, they leave you without the uncomfortable fullness that comes with indulging in decadent desserts!)

I had the pleasure of devouring one of these special books just a few days ago. The Cupcake Dilemma: A Rock Creek Romance Novella by Jennifer Rodewald grabbed my attention with a great presentation. The cover is simple and cute and the idea that the book would contain cupcakes added to my interest. Then, I read the first line.

Wow! It wasn’t profound. It wasn’t a poetically written description of some far off place that painted a perfect Monet in my mind. It was sassy and fun and set the tone for the story to come. It made me dive in, and I didn’t come up for air until I reached the last page.

I’m not usually a fan of first person story telling, but Jennifer Rodewald does it so well in this book I forgot it was done that way as I was reading. Kirstin Hill is funny and sassy and in completely over her head when she’s assigned to bring cupcakes to the town’s Valentine’s Day barn dance.

She’s a great teacher, but Kirstin is a kitchen nightmare. And she’s struggling to find her place as the new girl in town, only adding to the pressure to provide perfect desserts. Enter Ian Connealy, baker at and owner of Sweet Tooth Bakery.

Ian wows the entire town with his sweet creations. Kirstin’s been wowed by them since she moved to town. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in addition to being a superstar bakers, Ian is gorgeous. Plus, he’s willing to help with Kirstin’s cupcake dilema, if she’ll agree to his terms.

The story is full of frosting, friendship, flirting, and fun. And it leaves readers with that “just tried the most decadent dessert” feeling without the need to head to the gym.

What I’m Reading: Ordinary Snowflakes

Southern Illinois definitely did not see a Hallmark worthy white Christmas this year. In fact, the temperatures were more like late spring or early summer. While I appreciated not having to bundle up (I’m really not a fan of weather in either extreme), it didn’t feel entirely right to celebrate Christmas in a t-shirt without a jacket. Even the twinkling lights on the way home from my in-law’s house seemed less festive without the chill of winter to add to their mystique.

I needed an infusion of white, and I needed it quickly. My holiday spirit was beginning to fade. I did what any Hallmark Christmas movie loving reader would do in this situation. I scanned my shelf for a new snow-filled Christmas book. My gaze landed on Ordinary Snowflakes by Jennifer Rodewald. Perfect. Couldn’t get more winter-filled than a book with snowflakes actually in the title, right?

I’d read a couple other books by Jennifer Rodewald, and I enjoyed them. If you’re interested, look up my reviews of Blue Columbine and Red Rose Bouquet. My one concern with this Christmas themed novella was whether or not it would be a heavy read. I’d enjoyed the last Christmas book I’d read, but it was fairly heavy by the end. I wasn’t sorry I’d read it, but I was ready for something a little lighter that still held some conflict to make the story interesting.

Ordinary Snowflakes delivered exactly what I was looking for. Kale is a single mom raising a child with special needs thanks to an accident early in childhood. She’s a great mom, but she suffers the same mom guilt most of us battle along with a large dose of guilt from the choices of her past.

Kale’s guilt pushes her to be extra protective with her daughter, in areas where she feels Sydney might be hurt. This extends to everyday activities most children take for granted. It’s in an instance of lashing out in fear that Kale meets Craig, a handsome, charismatic man who ignites the gushy feelings of crushing on a guy that Kale hasn’t felt in a long time. Everything she feels for Craig stands in direct opposition to what she’s known with Joe, her friend and Sydney’s physical therapist since her accident.

Joe has been her rock, standing beside her as she cares for Sydney and her aging father. He’s offered wisdom and support, but friendship is where their relationship stops. There aren’t sparks, and he doesn’t make her weak in the knees. As he pushes her in different areas regarding Sydney’s care, conflict tinges their friendship. Kale becomes even more aware of the differences between the two men in her life.

While Kale considers the role each man should play in her life, Sydney brings fun and adventure to her days. Their relationship is sweet and honest just like the story itself. And scattered along the way are nugget (or maybe snowballs in this case) of truth for the reader to take away. One of my favorite is a reminder to chase the things that are important to the heart of God rather than those things the world says we should check off our list. It’s a lesson for Kale and for us that’s especially pertinent as we say good-bye to 2019 and begin 2020.

And, in my opinion, you can never go wrong starting the year off with a good book. So tomorrow, while you’re still tired from the late New Year’s Eve night, take time to relax with Ordinary Snowflakes. It’s a quick , enjoyable read that will encourage you to start the new year right.

https://www.amazon.com/Ordinary-Snowflakes-Romance-Christmas-Novella-ebook/dp/B01LXNRC2C

What I’m Reading: Calm and Bright

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Though none of us can say who actually said it first (some say Will Rogers, Oscar Wilde, or an advertisement for a suit from the 1960s), we tend to be well acquainted with its meaning. We consider it as we choose clothes for a first date or job interview. We practice our presentation for the hundredth time even though we know it backwards and forwards. We do it because we know the importance of that first impression.

My DNA is made up of every possible hindrance to a good first impression. I’m an introvert who needs well defined parameters for social situations to function at my best. I’m the proud recipient of the unrefined grace gene rendering me incapable of getting through events without awkward moments of embarrassment. Add to those my tendency to answer questions off the cuff incorrectly. Someone tells me thanks for shopping at their store, and without missing a beat I say something like “you too”. And after any conversational train wreck, I, of course, spend hours thinking about what I could have done differently.

All this wonderfully embarrassing DNA leaves me uncomfortable in many situations, but it’s also taught me something the quote failed to do. I may not have a second chance to make a first impression, but I can redeem a first impression with what comes next.

Changing a first impression isn’t easy. Depending on the situation it can take dedication and hard work. For Brad Hughes, the male main character in Autumn Macarthur’s book Calm and Bright, it may even take a Christmas miracle.

Brad’s life changed after Maddie divorced him and returned to her small hometown in Idaho. When he’s invited to spend Christmas with Maddie for the sake of their four year old, he jumps at the chance. It may be his opportunity to change her mind about him and their marriage. But her impression of him and their time together is harder to overcome than he first imagines.

Even with a few good memories, a son they both love, and one of Maddie’s relatives in his corner, Brad realizes there are a lot of things separating them. He quickly learns the patterns of behavior he adopted during their marriage meant one thing to him and felt completely different to Maddie. Besides, Maddie seems to thrive in the small community she returned to while he has done well with big city life and the demands of a high profile job.

The impressions Brad left Maddie with when they divorced are ingrained in Maddie’s mind. They leave her questioning and fighting every good feeling Brad’s arrival tries to bring. Brad learns words are not enough to undo the past. He’s got to listen to Maddie and show her how much he’s changed if he hopes to turn her heart to him by the end of Christmas.

What I’m Reading: Catching Christmas

Those who’ve been regular readers know my family has been dealing with my grandmother’s declining health. The last three weeks were particularly stressful with placing her in a memory care facility, her stroke and fall, and watching her decline. On Tuesday, November 19th, my grandmother saw her prayer to be free from the brokenness of her mind answered when God took her into her eternal home.

We miss her, but we are happy for her. She was always Grandma, but she wasn’t the grandmother of my childhood anymore. Watching her decline daily over the last five months as her day time caregiver I learned several things. First, dementia is a horrible disease. I knew that, but I didn’t KNOW that until I lived it beside one of my loved ones on a daily basis. Second, I would much rather loved ones die without warning than watch their slow decline. The third goes along with the second. I want to let my loved ones know that I love them every day so if they go without warning I have no regrets. And though these are only the highlights of things I learned, I have one more to share today.

Even in the hardest times, there are blessings to be found. Over the last five months I’ve collected memories with Grandma from her daily care. My extended family has found a new appreciation for each other, and family hurts have been healed. The power of prayer, scripture, and communion have been reinforced in my life. I’ve had the gift of seeing the spirit continue to thrive even as the body wastes away. With that has come the opportunity to see Grandma touch lives for Jesus even when she was incapable of normal interaction. I got to see her live with purpose, and when that purpose was complete I got to see God take her home to be with Him.

With all these blessings and lessons fresh in my mind, it was with a greater understanding that I read Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock. I’ll be completely honest, if I’d refreshed myself on the subject matter, I might have skipped reading this one this Christmas. I’m glad I didn’t.

Miss Callie’s granddaughter, Sydney, is a busy lawyer who loves her grandmother but is unable to give her the care she needs due to a demanding job as a lawyer. Not understanding how desperately Miss Callie needs daily care she’s content to arrange for cabs to take her grandmother wherever she needs to go.

Finn is the first to pick Miss Callie up for a doctor’s appointment, and he immediately becomes the only one she will call for a ride. His frustration at becoming not only a ride but a substitute caregiver is off-set by his guilt over leaving his mother to die alone because he couldn’t handle the emotional demands. Miss Callie is a chance to change that. he quickly grows to care for her even when her verbal filter doesn’t work as it should and when she leads him on a quest to find a date for Sydney in effort to make this the best Christmas ever.

Finn reaches out to Sydney in frustration but learns there’s more to her than a neglectful granddaughter. As Finn works to give Miss Callie the wonderful Christmas she desires, his friendship with Sydney grows through their continued interaction. It will take both Sydney and Finn to give Miss Callie a wonderful Christmas.

Miss Callie has dementia, a mission, and a soft spot for “that nice young man” who drives the cab. She loves the Lord, and even in her altered state it comes through changing both Finn and Sydney. She lives with purpose whether her mind is clear or not. It’s this purpose that keeps her and Finn on the go from page one to the very end of Catching Christmas.

While Catching Christmas was especially touching for me, the story will be sweet, funny, and meaningful for anyone reading it. Full of reminders to chase after what’s important, live with purpose, and find the blessings in life no matter what I hope it moves readers into action this Christmas season and throughout the coming years.

What I’m Reading: Under Moonlit Skies

Sometimes God asks us to do the hard thing. I’ve experienced times when God wanted me to say something to someone I knew they wouldn’t like. Confrontation makes me sick to my stomach. Doing what God put in my heart to do was difficult during those times.

People I love have made poor choices that could have led to permanent, disastrous results. I wanted to help fix things for them, but God led me to give them to Him instead. Taking my hands off the situation and limiting myself to being there to listen and to pray for them was incredibly difficult.

I’ve experienced numerous occasions where God has nudged me from my comfort zone. He’s grown me as a person, a Christian, and a writer during those times. Knowing that’s how He works doesn’t make it any easier to choose to immediately listen to His prodding.

Doing the hard thing is, well, hard. It can lead us into situations where the outcome is not guaranteed. Stepping out in obedience to the nudge of the Holy Spirit has worked that way in my life, and it works that way for Esther Stanton in Under Moonlit Skies by Cynthia Roemer.

Esther grew up on the prairie until her father’s death. Being the younger of two sisters, she follows her mother to Cincinnati, Ohio. Life is good there. Her mother remarries, and though they are not close, Esther’s stepfather provides a good, comfortable life for them. Esther has a life-style that doesn’t exist on the prairie. But in her heart, Esther longs for the kind of life she knew growing up.

The flame of this desire is fanned when Esther returns to her hometown to care for her sister’s family while her sister recovers from giving birth to her second child. Time on the prairie brings back to life a vitality Esther has lost since moving to the city.  And time with Stew, a ranch hand working for her brother-in-law, only makes living on the prairie that much more attractive.

Esther and Stew’s attraction grows to friendship and continues on the path to love as they spend time together each day. What Esther feels for him and the life they could share together makes the prospect of returning to a man she doesn’t love in Cincinnati seem like a prison sentence. She knows a return to the city and the man who can give her everything financially is exactly what her mother expects, but Esther’s heart longs for more.

The nudge of the Holy Spirit for Esther to honor her mother’s wishes creates conflict in her spirit. She goes, leaving her hopes for a life of love on the prairie in limbo. Her return sets her on a path she doesn’t want but feels she must accept. Only time reveals if Esther’s obedience will lead her back to the life she dreams of or if she will be forced to find contentment in the life her mother wants for her.

There are no guarantees in how the circumstances will work out for Esther as she steps out in obedience, and it’s often the same with us. We have a limited view of our circumstances, but God sees how our picture intersects with the pictures of every other person in our lives. We see many possible outcomes, but He can see infinitely more. We think we know what’s best for us, but God knows what’s going to be best for all involved and bring Him the most glory in the end.

No matter what’s going on, no matter the possible outcomes, there are certain scriptural promises we can cling to. Philippians chapter four tells us we can know peace that goes beyond our circumstances. Jeremiah twenty-nine assures us God has plans for our good, and Psalm one hundred thirty-nine tells us God knows all our days before we’re even born. Romans eight promises that no matter what happens, God can bring good things into our lives through it.

It’s easy to throw these promises out without thought. But they aren’t magic words that make our hurts disappear. While they’re simple to say, living them during our hardest moments is never easy. We can’t pick and choose when to live out scripture and which verses we want to claim. The promises come alive in our lives when we live in active relationship with our heavenly Father in both the good times and the bad. If we’re drawing close to Him, He will draw close to us in our hard times. It’s a promise.

What I’m Reading: Great River Romance Series

Don’t judge a book by its cover. We’ve heard it a million times. We get the deeper meaning. What is on the outside can be misleading. We need to dig deeper to what’s inside. Often we find ourselves surprised at what we find. It’s an awesome message to remind us to give others a chance when an unpleasant demeanor might otherwise turn us off to a person.

I have a feeling, the origins of the phrase really did have something to do with judging literal books as worthless simply because their covers were less appealing. I get that. I’ve walked past many books without a second glance because I’m not drawn to their covers. What’s inside may be the most amazing story ever written, but it will take a name I recognize or someone else giving a great review for me to look beyond the unattractive cover and pick it from the shelf. Authors and publishers understand this. To draw people back to a good story, they occasionally update covers to keep them fresh and relatable for the current generation.

A well-done cover can wield more power than a title, drawing the eye and creating an immediate emotional connection with a reader. A great cover paired with an equally catchy title is a match made in book sales heaven. If the words between the covers spark as much interest in the reader, you’ve just created a repeat reader. That’s what happened when I first saw the Great River Romance series by Kari Trumbo.

I began with Whole Latte Love. It was on sale, and I loved the cover. I’m also a sucker for titles with cute plays on words. With the cover, title, and sale price working in its favor, I took a chance. I’m glad I did. My days are filled with the stress and frustrations of being a caregiver to my elderly grandmother who has dementia. I needed a story I could enjoy while staying away from heavy subjects that would weigh down my mind.

Whole Latte Love was the perfect choice. It was easy enough and interesting enough to read it straight through.  I stayed up later than I should have the night I read it, but I’m not complaining. The story left me with a positive, rested feeling. And I was ready for more.

Want Ad Wonder, Check out Crush, and Central Park Paradise were added to my online cart the next morning. All four books have coordinating covers, but Want Ad Wonder is my favorite. It is the cover that first brought Kari Trumbo and the Great River Romance series to my attention.  I love the colors, and there is something about the guy on the cover that I found more interesting than the ones on the other three. Maybe it’s because you see more of his face, get a little more of his character from the picture.

I didn’t take time analyze the whys. I had three more stories to read. Building off characters introduced in the previous books, each one focused on a specific couple or possible couple with former lead characters making reappearances in each book. The threads of friendship tie each of these books together making their stories more enticing for the readers.

The last three books in the series were as enjoyable as the first, from front cover to last page. I found these books when I needed a light escape from the daily grind, and they were the perfect choice. I judged these books by the covers, and I’m glad I did. The covers are a perfect match for the stories told inside.

By the Book: We encourage each other to look beyond the rough exteriors to what lies inside, but in our own lives we should strive to be better. Scripture tells us what we hold in our hearts is what comes out in our lives. When the Holy Spirit has control, it’s His fruit we should see in the way we live each day. What does your outer life say about what you truly value? Does what you say you believe show in your daily life? Every day in every way we want others to be able to judge our book by its cover.

What I’m Reading: In Pursuit of an Emerald

I’ve got four amazing kids. I know, every parent says their kids are amazing. They’re probably right. I don’t know their kids, but I know mine. They are amazing. This isn’t to say they’re perfect. I can’t say I agree with all of their life choices or beliefs. And while those things matter to me and I spend time in prayer for them every day, my kids don’t have to be perfect to be amazing.

It amazes me how different they are from each other. There are physical traits linking them together, some more than others. There are looks and attitudes they have that mirror each other. But they are each very much their own person. They grew up in the same house. Their father and I had the same set of core beliefs we tried to instill in each one. But they still turned out remarkably different from each other, and I find that amazing.

Two are athletic. Two couldn’t care less about sports of any kind. All of them are creative though two focus more on the written word, one focuses on music and art, and one tends to put it all together. One is book smart, given to the role of student. The others are just as smart but not given to the strict structure of a traditional classroom. One has a natural talent to business that the others don’t possess. One is completely organized making lists while another flies by the seat of his pants. They are each their own unique person, and I love them for it.

A parent’s love and parenting style is as varied and complex as their children. Each child’s personality plays a role in how a parent chooses to encourage and discipline them. But a parent’s past can also make a difference in how they approach parenting.  Just ask Viollette McMillan, the main character from Jacqueline Freeman Wheelock’s book In Pursuit of an Emerald.

Viollette has a lot to overcome, not the least of which is parenting her child when her child believes Viollette is her older sister and not her mother. Emerald’s childhood years were spent as a slave on a plantation before the Civil War made her and Viollette free. Viollette’s decision to pass her daughter off as her younger sister was born of a desire for safety for both of them, but it has come with a hefty price of guilt.

As Viollette and Emerald struggle to learn what it means to be free in the post-Civil War south, they fight fear of the past, concern for the future, and long held prejudices. They even find it difficult knowing who to trust. Though it’s supposed to be a new world for them, many negative attitudes from the past still burn in those who could do them great harm.

While learning to navigate the confusing times, Viollette yearns for the mother-daughter relationship to grow between her and Emerald. Stretching her wings as an adolescent, Emerald equally wants the mother she doesn’t think she can have and the ability to think and act for herself. Secrets and regret often cloud Viollette’s attempts to parent her child. She wants what’s best for Emerald. Everything she does is to better Emerald’s future, but the past keeps all the dreams she has for her child out of reach. With everything falling apart around her, Viollette has to face the past and embrace truth if she’s ever going to realize the dreams she has for the daughter who means so much to her.

By the Book: Parents, even the most well-meaning Christian parents, make mistakes. Our past experiences color the way we see the world and often impact the way we raise our children. Our sins, both those we’ve sought forgiveness for and those we have yet to purge from our lives, can create difficult circumstances to overcome in our efforts to be the best parents we can be. The influence of society can also be a roadblock to effective, godly parenting by telling us we need to do this or avoid that without any respect to what God tells us about the same subjects. But through His word, God’s given us what we need to be godly parents. He’s given us His Spirit to guide us in our decisions if we’ll listen to Him. And when we mess up, isn’t it great to know we are covered by grace and mercy? Our parenting mistakes can’t hurt our children beyond God’s ability to set things right. And if we have a heart to raise our children according to His word, God will be faithful to show us how best to parent each of our amazing children.

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