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 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.

What I’m Reading: An Aria for Nick

At the risk of sounding like I’ve become the president of the Hallee Bridgeman fan club, today’s review is for An Aria for Nick. (I’m not sure that’s a thing but wouldn’t it be great if your favorite Christian authors had fan clubs? Someone should look into that.) Other than Kristen Heitzmann, I don’t think I’ve reviewed any other author’s books as frequently, but I’m always looking for a good deal and a great story. Hallee’s books often fit both categories. Besides, I’ve reviewed books one and three in the series. It only makes sense that I should go back and take care of book two! Let’s take a look at An Aria for Nick.

Sometimes life doesn’t go like we planned. Events beyond our control seem to conspire against us, or our own choices land us in the middle of consequences we never imagined. Aria and Nick understand this better than most.

Aria’s love for Nick never got a chance thanks to Nick’s stubborn refusal to entertain the idea that a girl like Aria could be interested in a boy like him. He makes sure of it when he enlists in the military.

Aria is just as headstrong. She pursues friendship with Nick throughout their school years and through letters during his time in the military. Maybe one day, Nick will see how much she cares for him. Only that day doesn’t come. Instead, Aria is met with the news that the man she loves has been killed in the line of duty.

She’s lost her hope of love with Nick, but her losses keep coming. Aria’s dream of playing piano professionally are lost when her wrist is injured. The situation leaves her no choice. Aria must find and live a new dream. This new direction puts her in contact with brilliant scientists as she works to develop nuclear technology. It also puts her in the crosshairs of the enemy when she discovers a plot to use her technology in a terrorist attack on the United States.

Aria doesn’t know who to trust. When the man she loved comes back from the dead as the one entrusted to protect her and stop the attack, Aria’s world is turned upside down. Aria and Nick must work together and trust each other in order to prevent nuclear destruction. This is made more difficult as their insecurities and the hurts of the past wreak havoc in each personal interaction. Though the feelings they shared in the past are reawakened, Aria and Nick have to choose whether to embrace those feelings or ignore them without the assurance of what each choice will bring to their futures.

Nick and Aria aren’t that different from me and you. Sure, our one true love probably didn’t come back from the dead. And most of us are probably not brilliant nuclear scientists. But when you remove all the physical trappings of the story, you find a reality that speaks to each of us. We love to plan what our futures will look like. We’re encouraged to do it from the time we are young. Don’t believe me? Did you ever have to write a “what I want to be when I grow up” essay? Our childhood is all about preparing us for the future, and we are pushed earlier and earlier to decide how we want that future to look.

Sometimes that life doesn’t go like we think it should. Events beyond our control throw us off our path and onto other foreign ones. Choices we’ve made have consequences with far more impact than we imagined possible. Even in the times when we end up at our originally planned destination, a look at the path that brought us there shows a drastically different road to success than we dreamed we would take.

When we realize this, the temptation is strong to give in to fear, doubt, hurt, and anger. As believers, we have a different option. Trust. We can’t trust things will work out the way we want them to. We can’t trust that the hurt is finished. But we can trust that God is in control. He knew the path our life would take, the good and bad choices we would make, and the ending destination before we were even born. The Psalms tell us He had every one of our days written in His book before we’d even lived one of them.

He doesn’t promise to end all the bad or surprising things in our lives. We live in a decaying, sin-marred world. Horrible things happen. The unexpected happens. But God does promise that He will be beside us in each thing we face. He will give us strength and peace and hope. The hope is that whatever happens, He will make us more into His image as we go through it with Him leading the way.

Fear and doubt no longer color our decisions. Instead, we move forward in confidence knowing God is by our side no matter what the future holds.

What I’m Reading: Just the Way You Are

I’m from small town southern Illinois. Though Carbondale has Southern Illinois University to make it more recognizable, the small village of Makanda can only boast of being one of the places where the 2017 eclipse could be seen for the longest amount of time and for Vulture Fest. Yes, Vulture Fest. No, I’ve never been. Though that’s really not surprising. Makanda is actually very large in area, and as most residents do, I end up in Carbondale more often than the tiny strip of eclectic stores making up Makanda’s business district.

Being from a small, rural town surrounded by other small, rural towns has its advantages. It also has drawbacks. One of these is the country drawl prevalent in the area. It’s not a pretty southern drawl or the twang of the southwest. It’s less refined. Hick is the term most often used.

As a kid I fought that way of speaking. I worked hard to make sure my pronunciation and vocabulary were not filled with the southern Illinois vernacular. I thought I was doing a great job, until I went to summer camp in Peoria, Illinois. Peoria is about 4 hours north of where I live. Kids came from all over Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, and other states for camp.

Imagine my surprise when all the work I’d done to distance myself from the southern Illinois sound was repeatedly met with, “Are you from the south?” Every northerner I met decided I was not just from the south, but from the deep south. Over and over I explained I was not from Mississippi or Alabama or any other southern state. I was from Illinois just like most of them. So much for my efforts to conceal my vocal heritage.

Adulthood has brought perspective. I’m more appreciative of the benefits of small town life, and the downsides don’t bother me as much. (I admit I still cringe when I hear myself say “fer” instead of for, but I’m working on it!) I love where I grew up, bad grammar and all. I try to bring that to my writing (the love, not the bad grammar!). That same attitude is part of the reason I enjoyed Pepper Basham’s Just the Way You Are.

Eisley Barrett grew up in the Appalachian region, but the story starts with a trip to England to find answers to a family mystery. In addition to meeting wonderful new friends,Eisley has a real life adventure on her quest to find answers her dying uncle needs to finish the book he’s writing.

Though initially drawn to her due to a cynical nature that insists Eisley is a gold digger out to take his family fortune or ruin their good name, Wes Harrison finds he’s drawn to her for other reasons as well. As their friendship progresses, Wes enjoys the opportunity to solve the mystery with Eisley.

As their relationship progresses, it’s time for Eisley to return home. She and Wes have enough emotional baggage from the past to make the distance between England and Virginia seem like child’s play. This baggage comes back to wreak havoc on their relationship and threatens to tear them apart.

This is the first book by Pepper Basham I’ve read. She does a wonderful job of telling an entertaining story. The differences in how Eisley and Wes were raised and currently live are explored and alternately provide helpings of drama and comedy for the reader.

Respect for both ways of life are easily seen. Pros and cons of each are laid out for the reader to enjoy. In the end, it’s a great reminder that our differences can bring us together or tear us apart. It’s all in how we want to look at them.

By the Book: We’re all different. Think of someone you’ve had trouble working or ministering with and pray for God to show you how to celebrate your differences to make the job/ministry stronger.

What I'm Reading: Red Rose Bouquet

Tall. Apparently it’s how people describe me. Don’t worry if you’ve mentioned my height in conversation. I’m used to it, and it doesn’t offend me. At a hair below six feet without shoes on, I know I’m tall for a woman.
So when I met a couple fellow Mantle Rock Publishing authors at a conference recently and I learned they were told to look for “the really tall one”, I understood completely. It probably is the trait you would lead with because it’s the one that people will see first.
My height used to bother me. I was taller than a lot of guys, and it was one in a long list of things I was self-conscious about. I’ve grown out of that. When I’m told people of my height shouldn’t wear heels, I shrug and do it anyway. I like wedge sandals, boots, and other wedge heeled shoes. If they’re cute, I don’t care that they make me even taller. I own the “tall one” label.
Not all labels are as easily accepted. Often we allow the mistakes of the past to become our label. When we do, we let those events or traits or mistakes dictate our futures. Just ask Cheryl Thompson from Red Rose Bouquet by Jennifer Rodewald. Cheryl’s been going through life with one fling after another. She’s a successful in her profession, but her personal life is a wreck.
When her brother calls her back home, Cheryl is not prepared for the memories she has to face there. And she definitely isn’t ready for Brock Kelly, her brother’s best friend. He doesn’t fall easily into the love him and leave him place Cheryl has reserved for the men in her life. He challenges her and awakens hope for something better in her life. But he doesn’t know about the one big secret, the huge regret in her life that Cheryl has used to label herself for more than ten years. If Brock knew who she really was, he would never look at her the same way again and he definitely wouldn’t be offering hope.
When the truth comes out, the relationship between Cheryl and Brock is stretched to the limit. It becomes obvious that Brock’s love and acceptance is never going to be enough. Cheryl needs to understand the way God sees her and the decision from her past if she’s ever going to heal.
Some labels are pretty painless, like being “the tall one”. Ones like Cheryl’s are devastating. Cheryl made a sinful decision, and it haunted her for years. Whether it’s sinful or simply a horrible choice one regrets, we tattoo the labels they create onto our hearts. Failure, loser, worthless, or worse names than these become the thing we see when we look in the mirror each day. But they don’t have to be.
When we give our sins and failures over to God, we allow Him to bring something beautiful out of the mess we’ve created. God promises if we confess our sinful choices to Him, if we turn from them, He will forgive us. We may still face physical consequences of our choices, but we are forgiven. He’s not keeping tally in heaven to hold over us later.
And more than forgiven (and that’s a huge thing), we’re wanted. We’re loved. We’re children of God. We’re redeemed. We belong. We have purpose. We are chosen by the Creator of the universe. We are His. Forever.
When we allow God’s forgiveness it’s work in our lives and turn away from our sins, our old labels are erased. We may face the pain from our choices in the future, but we don’t have to let it define us and tell us we are less than. We don’t have to be trapped by regret. We are forgiven. When the past tries to close in on us and move us into a cycle of continuing bad choices, we can say no. We can remind ourselves of our new labels. These are labels given to us by God and found in His word. They are for all who have accepted God’s gift of redemption for themselves. They are labels that allow us to move forward in confidence and peace. They are labels that help us move beyond our past failures and hurts. And they are labels that no man can ever erase.

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