Soul Winter and a dash of Summer


Friends, if you know me, it is no secret that winter and I are not friends.  Winter came hard this year, and it had a death grip.  It refused to let go.  I’ve been teaching for a decade, and while there was the odd freak ice storm April 1st here and there that gave us a snow day because the roads were just too slippery, I’ve never had one April 16th.  Two weeks ago, that’s all it was.  Two weeks ago winter got its final battle cry in before it finally started to let go, and even then, it didn’t immediately release its grip.  We hung on in the very low single digits for almost another week.

But today, all of a sudden, it was 26 degrees, and the sun shone brilliantly.  The birds are chirping, the trees are finally thinking it might be safe to try to grow some leaves.  Barbecues are firing up, lawns are growing, I’ve had my bike out twice, I read in the hammock until I get cold, and I drove all the way home from work this afternoon with my arm out the driver’s side window.  Spring is here.  Arguably we may have jumped it and gone right to summer, but in my corner of the earth it isn’t really summer without 90% humidity, so we aren’t there yet.

There are many things I love about summer — the barbecues, the fires, the fireworks, the hammocks, the HEAT, the seasonal fruit (I could live off of peaches, concord grapes, strawberries, pears, and watermelon — and I nearly do for the whole summer, because for ten months at a time these things are imported from either America or Mexico because it’s too frigid to grow them here, and they’re just. not. the. same.)…. the BEACH.  This girl’s feet were made to dig into sand, and while it’s not the nicest water, you’ll find me on the shores of Lake Erie at any given opportunity.  I am itching for it.  This winter felt so long in so many ways, and I am longing for beaches, long days, parties and barbecues and fires… all of it.  My bare feet won’t be in a real pair of shoes again until October at least, you have my word (except to play volleyball or ride my bike).

But I’ve been in a season that has perpetually felt like winter for a long time — it’s been gloomy and dark and grey.  I’ve heard it referred to as “Soul Winter,” and at this point I don’t think I have any other words for it.  This may have less intrinsic meaning for those who love snow and crisp, cold mornings.  For those who thrive on the chill of Arctic air coming into your lungs and who live to hit the slopes and play in powder.  I am not one of those people.

What I personally experience after a long winter, I feel like my soul has been experiencing for a little over a year now, and it’s been very hard to put words to it because I don’t like to be still.  I don’t like to reflect on my feelings, sit with my thoughts, or face my fears.  I don’t enjoy being alone, and seeing as I live alone, you can imagine the frenetic pace that this would create for my life.  Last Easter I came to a place where I think my soul had finally had enough.  I tell myself that the ordeal was precipitated by too much caffeine, and I’m sure that that didn’t help, but what I know that I learned about myself in the aftermath is that I can’t manage the pace I’ve been living at…. but I haven’t done anything about it.

Because to sit with my feelings and face them is scary.  And to be alone, and still, and silent…. it means I have to.  And I don’t like that.  I can’t honestly remember the last time I really sat in silence.  Sure, I tell myself there are times when I’m silent — if I clean the house with no music on, that’s pretty silent.  When I lay in the hammock reading, that’s pretty silent.  But I was out there about half an hour ago, and that’s what prompted me to come in here and write.  It was silent for about two minutes.  There was peace and stillness and calm, and I laid in the hammock and didn’t even open the book.  I just basked in the silence.  The people around me might be right — I might need it more than I know.  But it didn’t take long before a motorcycle ripped down the street, my dog barked at the neighbour’s cat for being in her line of vision, and my neighbours came out to their porch to grill their dinner, turning on their radio and cranking some cheesy 90s pop music.  There went my silence.  And then I remembered that the beach, though I love it so deeply, isn’t much better, unless you go when it isn’t busy at all (aka on a weekday morning before school has let out) — because kids run around and screech while they love every second, and teenagers show up with their music pumping, and people fill in all around my sanctuary of space.  None of this is inherently bad, but if it’s silence I’m looking for, a public beach at a Provincial Park is not likely going to be where I find it.  If I’m being honest, I think the last time I let myself be alone, and silent, and just sit — somewhere I didn’t have my phone and I couldn’t hear other people or commotion — it had to have been last summer.  My parents live at a retreat centre at the beginning of the Rocky Mountains.  I just can’t even.  So last July sometime, I parked myself in the gazebo and sat alone and thought….. and I honestly can’t remember letting myself do it since.

One day, by myself, I hiked my way down to the river and I let my feet sit in frigid glacier water while I listened to only birds.  That day, I got time to process my feelings and my thoughts.

But the scary thing is, I haven’t really done it since.  Sure, I’ve had thoughts pop into my head, but I’ve shoved them away.  I read The Best Yes last winter.  I’ve listened to Podcasts and Audio Books.  I heard all the things about learning to say no and carving out space for my soul to breathe.  But I’m learning something I already knew.  There’s a dramatic difference between hearing and listening, between being aware and letting something sink down in deep.

I don’t want to talk about things that aren’t fun, and I don’t want to process them.  At best, I may process them with my therapist, because she has a unique ability to stop me from catastrophizing, but if I process them on my own, there’s no one to stop me, and the what ifs and the but what abouts will all come in a rush.

I was hesitant to even sit down and write this.  It’s daunting.  But I haven’t even really written anything more than book reviews since last winter either, because I process when I write.  I often don’t know what I think about something until I’ve written it down.  So a healthier version of me would be blogging or journaling all. the. time… But I’m not.  I keep the free book train rolling by writing reviews, but otherwise I tend to shove post ideas to the depths of my soul too.

I don’t know what’s different about today.  I’m reading Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect, which, while so beautifully written as to make it a very easy read in theory, is impacting me so deeply that I can only take it in small chunks.  I’d borrowed the book from a friend, and two chapters in I wanted to write all over it SO BADLY because I just know this will be a book I read again.  I don’t have many of those, but I’ll come back to this.  And like it was meant to be, the next day, I found it in beautiful, pristine, hard-cover condition at a used book sale for 2.50.  I gave my friend back her copy and mine is now well loved and irreparably damaged, all at the same time.

I think it might finally be time to lean in.  I’m ready to pray and process, to think and grow.  I’m going to need to find some silence, because my pastor has said it, my therapist has said it, my home church has said it, and my current book choice (which I’ve wanted to read for a LONG time) is saying it…. and my soul is crying from somewhere way deep down saying “please!  yes!  yes to this but not yes to everything that’s thrown your way!”  In Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist talks about how we’re the only ones who get to control what our lives turns out like in this way.  So if it’s frantic and hurried, frenetic and stressed, too stretched to really be enjoyable…. that’s no one’s fault but mine.  My soul is ready for winter to end.  My soul is ready to bloom and thrive and flourish like it’s summer, but I suspect it can only do that if I give it space to.  I think I need to give it some silence.  I think it needs room to breathe.

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I Will Not Fear


Fear has been a topic that’s been following me around lately.

We’ve done sermons on it at church.
I’ve read a book about it (Fierce Faith by Alli Worthington ~ fantastic book!).
I’ve had conversations with friends about it because lately it seems my life is a wee bit characterized by it.

I was given the opportunity to read and review a book called “I Will Not Fear” ~ A book written by a lady named Melba Patillo Beals.  She was one of the nine African American students chosen to integrate into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I can’t imagine what life would have been like — to have felt so unwanted, so other, so less than… and such fear!  I have studied American history, and I am aware of the records of what it was like in the 50s and 60s, leading to the Civil Rights movement.  I’ve read of the Klan, of the death threats….. but what I hadn’t read, until now, was someone’s first hand account.

This book will grab you and make you hold on tight.  The story this woman tells of how she was a “first” at so many things in her life — trying to integrate into a society that thought segregation was the only way to live, going to university, going to grad school, being a single mom, getting jobs where she felt “other” not only because of her skin colour but also because of her gender — it’ll grip you.

I know I’ve experienced a great deal of fear in my life, but as I read this I realized I’ve really had very little to actually be afraid of.  That’s not the point of the book, however, because Melba offers the wisdom she learned from her Grandmother throughout, and with every story of some sort of atrocious experience that would surely knock my foundation down at the knees, she tells of how she trusted God, trusted Jesus, and lived as though the protection of God were real (and it is)!

One of my favourite parts of the book, and what I found most encouraging, were the little nuggets of summary that she included at the end of each chapter.  My story may not resemble that of Melba Patillo Beals’ in any way.  I’ll never know what it’s like to live her story.  But I do know what it’s like to live mine, and fear has no place here either.  I can take just as much encouragement from her words, and from how she did not bow to fear, as anyone else can.

“… no matter what threatening evidence appears to be true, we need not fear because God is always beside us.” (p. 165)

“As complex and dangerous as a predicament may be, God is as close as our skin.  Although peril feels like forever, God is here now.  He will guide us through the jungle of fear, if we only listen and obey.” (p. 189)

I highly recommend this book.  It’s not long, only 200 pages, so it’s a short read.  And it’s written in a way that leaves you wanting to hear more of Melba’s story, to know that it comes to a happy ending just like we always wish.  Melba Patillo Beals is a remarkable woman of faith, and we would all do well to stand in the face of adversity and fear like she did and declare “not today.”

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Oath of Honor


I loved this one.  Lynette Eason does it again!  I was first introduced to Lynette Eason with her Elite Guardians series.  This book wasn’t any less gripping.

From the moment you’re introduced to police officer Izzy St. John and her family, you’ll be hooked.  When her partner, Kevin Marshall, is murdered, she has a bunch of decisions to make that I don’t wish on anyone!

A murdered partner. A missing brother. Will Isabelle’s silence protect those she loves . . . or delay justice?

Police officer Isabelle St. John loves her crazy, loud, law-enforcement family. She knows they’ll be there for her when things get tough. Like when her partner is murdered and she barely escapes with her own life.

Izzy is determined to discover exactly what happened, and her investigation sends her headfirst into a criminal organization, possibly with cops on the payroll–including someone from her own family. With her dead partner’s brother Ryan, a handsome homicide detective, shadowing her every move, Izzy’s head is spinning. How can she secure justice for her partner when doing so could mean sending someone she loves to prison? And how will she guard her heart when the man she’s had a secret crush on for years won’t leave her side?

This is a real page-turner, and I guarantee that if you are a fan of Eason’s work, or if you like suspenseful Christian fiction as much as I do, this will be one you won’t want to put down, either!  The characters are well-developed and likeable, and the story moves quickly, but is still easy to follow.  With a writing style that keeps you guessing with every page you turn, I will definitely be back for more of Lynette Eason!

oath of honor

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Judah’s Wife | A Book Review


It’s not often that I find a book I don’t love, but this one fits that category.  I typically know what I like, and I have a pretty good idea that something sounds interesting before I pick it up.  I’m not even completely sure why I didn’t like all of it, if I’m completely honest.  There were definitely parts that I did like, but it’s not something I grieved over finishing.

Don’t get me wrong, it was well written.  I felt many feelings in relation to those characters, and the characters were well developed.  The plot flowed well, and the story line made a lot of sense.

What I did really like, and what drew me into the book in the first place, was the historical setting — set in that vague in-between time between the Old and New Testaments in the Bible, the “silent years” — scholars say something like 400 years? — I was very interested to learn a little bit more about the way of life, being a pretty big historical fiction nerd.  It was very interesting to read about Jerusalem during the time of Alexander the Great.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find I don’t often connect the Biblical history to the Classical history and what I know about the two of them.  It never seems to occur to me that they would coincide, although obviously they have to.  I loved that part.  The story sets up the story of the Maccabees and the history around Hanukkah, which I did find fascinating.

Again, I can’t say that I loved it, despite it being well-written.  I’ve liked other works by Angela Hunt as well!  I’m just not sure.  I even waited a while after finishing to write the review, hoping it would come to me, but it hasn’t.  It took me a long time to finish the book, too.  Almost a month, actually.  And that’s not like me.

Anyway, I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has tried this book, and what you thought of it?

 

Seeking quiet and safety after a hard childhood, Leah marries Judah, a strong and gentle man, and for the first time in her life Leah believes she’ll have peace. But the very nation Judah was named for has been conquered by a cruel king, who decrees that all Jews are to conform to Syrian laws or risk death for following the laws of Moses.

Judah’s father resists the decree, igniting a war that will cost him his life. But before dying, he commands Judah to pick up his sword and continue the fight–or bear responsibility for the obliteration of Israel. Leah, who wants nothing but peace, struggles with her husband’s decision–what kind of God would destroy the peace she has sought for so long?

The miraculous story of the courageous Maccabees is told through the eyes of Judah’s wife, who learns that love requires courage . . . and sacrifice.

 

Judah's Wife

 

Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

 

Free of Me


It’s not about you.

And how often do I make EVERYTHING about me?

“What about me?”  “Why didn’t I get…?” “Do they not like me?”  “Are they talking about me?”

So much of our insecurity is rooted in self-focus, in holding a mirror up to ourselves and trying to measure our circumstances around us in that light.

But what if it weren’t about you….

This book is about so much more than insecurity, though for me, that’s a big takeaway.  The idea that so much of my own insecurity could evaporate by focusing on God, and God’s plan in any given situation, is both comforting and incredibly challenging all at once.  I haven’t fully digested it yet, as I just finished the book, however, I’m sure there’s life application in it somewhere!

Sharon Hodde Miller talks about seven mirrors we use to reflect our lives, when we shouldn’t be using mirrors at all.  I promise the analogy will make piles of sense if you read the book for yourself, and for now you’ll just have to trust me.  But I was convicted and challenged about making church about me, making my friendships about me, making my appearance about me… and more.

Culminating in how loving God sets us free, and why we were designed to love and serve others… this book was so refreshing.

It’s no wonder Ann Voskamp has said that this book “may be one of the most important truths of our time.” (according to the front cover of the book… I don’t know Ann personally, though I wish I did, and I don’t think we live too terribly far from each other……. but I am not a stalker lol.)

I digress.  A lot, actually…. back on track here.

Our me-centered culture affects every area of our lives–our relationships, calling, self-image, even our faith–and it negatively impacts each one. The self-focused life robs our joy, shrinks our souls, and is the reason we get stuck in insecurity.

In Free of Me, Sharon Hodde Miller invites us into a bigger, Jesus-centered vision–one that restores our freedom and inspires us to live for more. Drawing from personal experience and Scriptural insight, Sharon helps readers

· understand how self-focus sabotages seven areas of our lives
· learn four practical steps for focusing on God and others
· experience freedom from the burden of self-focus

If you’ve been yearning for more than a self-help faith, then this paradigm-shifting message of true fulfillment is for you.

 

What others say about Free of Me:

“One of the best things for a healthy marriage, workplace, parent situation, or any calling is to realize the world is not orbiting around our axis. True joy is found when we realize there is a bigger story to tell. In Free of Me, Sharon paints this picture more beautifully than anyone I know.”–Jefferson Bethke, author of Love That Lasts

“Sharon spotlights the crippling disease of self-focus and shows us how to break free from its entanglements. If you want to walk in God’s life-giving truth, this book will help you do just that!”–Lysa TerKeurstNew York Times bestselling author; president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

“In a culture captivated by self, this book is a must-read.”–Christine Caine, founder of A21 and Propel Women

Sources:  All quotes came from the covers of the book.

Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

free of me

2018 — An obligatory New Year’s Day post


It is 2018.  It is January 1st.  Actually, in the time zone I inhabit, by the time I’ve hit publish on this post, it’ll likely be January 2nd.  Thankfully, I’m currently chilling in the Rockies and Mountain Standard Time has gifted me with two whole extra hours — something I’m thankful for tonight, but was annoyed by at this time last night as I set myself a reminder alarm to remember to text my Ontario peeps at 10 pm to wish THEM a Happy New Year!

Anyway, I digress.  Where was I?  Yes; it’s 2018.  Nothing really feels like it’s changed from yesterday.  But yet, so much has, hasn’t it?  We do this yearly.  We wait til January 1st to start things.  We spend the last week of December eating all the junk food in our houses in hopes to start fresh January 1st.  I was a day late with this silly plan and made my last bag of chips my personal mission for today.

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But it doesn’t have to be like this.  Futility doesn’t have to be our best friend as we launch into every single new year.  New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be a to-do list that extends no further than the first week of January.

In the fall of 2016, my dear friend Rachel sent me a link to this thing she’d heard of called Power Sheets.  Lara Casey and her team make them over at Cultivate What Matters.  It’s designed for intentional life planning.  Intentional goal setting.  Progress.  Not perfection.  Rachel and I dove right in.  We each ordered a set and split the shipping (since it has to come from the States and the shipping is steep), and we dug in.  (This year 6 of us ordered and split shipping — highly recommend this if you’re Canadian and want your hands on a set!)  We did the prep work while discussing all of our goals together, and we were ready over the course of about a month of intentional thinking, planning, and praying to meet 2017 head on.  For me, it felt like 2017 was going to be the year I finally got my act together and stopped making resolutions I couldn’t keep.  Resolutions I knew even as I made them I wouldn’t keep.  But it’s what we do, right?

PowerSheets_Goal_Planner

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I can’t say that my Power Sheets were overwhelmingly life-changing in 2017.  Though maybe I can — it’s hard to achieve perspective since I don’t have a 2017 without Power Sheets to compare it to.  I don’t know.  It certainly wasn’t the productive year I’d hoped it to be.  The entire point to Power Sheets is to set goals, track your tending lists, make progress, and cover yourself in grace when you fall short of your own expectations.  After all, we don’t keep pushing into what we want to change when we feel defeated and like it’s hopeless, do we?  Progress.  Not perfection.  But I know they made some difference.  I was able to measure growth in some areas.  Some were more stubborn than others, and I’ve had to re-evaluate what I really wanted to see change in this year to make sure that I was choosing the right goals.  But more importantly, I’ve had to evaluate the why for my goals.  Why am I choosing this?  Am I choosing “be healthier” because I think people will like me more?  Or am I choosing it because I actually want health and I want to be able to do things I’ve only ever dreamed of — like learn to surf.  The prep work at the beginning of the planner for each year asks big questions and makes you look deep into the whys, and I know I got to the root of some of my wishes for 2018.

I don’t have my 2017 book with me.  I don’t have the list of goals I chose for 2017 with me because they’re in my book, and they’re in Ontario, and I am not.  But I do have the goals I’ve chosen for 2018, and I’d like to share them with you.  I’d like to be a little bit vulnerable and put them out into the air for the blogosphere to read.  This year, I’ve chosen bigger, over-arching goals.  There’s a Facebook group dedicated to Power Sheets users where a couple people have referred to them as “umbrella goals.”  They’re more like a topic where I want to do some work in my life this year, and then the more specific goals (which I have a lot of for 2018) will work their way into my monthly, weekly, and daily check-lists for each month.

Without further ado, here are my umbrella goals for 2018:

  1. Finances ~ Saving and not spending needlessly.  Obviously each month will have specific targets for this.  I’d been working on it throughout 2017 as well, and with some careful planning and some good timing, I managed to pay off a pile of debt in May, and have been relishing in the freedom of that ever since.  Can I recommend You Need A Budget (YNAB) to you?  Seriously, it changed my life in March of 2016.  Jesse Mecham, the creator, has written a book and it just released last week.  It’s on my list of things to do in January.
  2. Spiritual Growth ~ Depth.  I want a relationship with Jesus that is marked by reliance, listening, and trust.  That doesn’t come from just thinking about it and hoping it comes.
  3. Fun ~ Responsible Fun; Not running to fun to escape uncomfortable emotions.  This felt like a funny goal, but through a lot of introspection this year I’ve discovered something I don’t really love about myself.  Where I’d perpetually thought I just liked to have fun, it dawned on me that I’m prone to running to fun as soon as I don’t want to deal with something that doesn’t seem fun.  Awkward relationship situation?  I run away.  Work sucks?  I want to switch jobs — it isn’t fun!  Pain?  No fun.  Let’s go on vacation instead.  Where I want to goal-set around fun this year is to make sure it’s not my escape, as much as it is something that is just necessary to live.
  4. Mental Health — This is something I began to take very seriously in 2017, as I battled some anxiety that it turned out had been simmering just beneath my surface for a long time, and I’d never dealt with it.  I’ve started seeing a counselor, and I honestly can’t recommend a professional therapist enough — seriously.  You get to talk about yourself for an hour, and you don’t have to do anyone the social courtesy of listening back to them.  My goals here revolve around leaning into stress and anxiety and the situations that cause them so that I continue to get better at managing and reducing both of these things.
  5. Leadership — I am a leader.  For better or for worse, I’m in leadership positions in my church and at work.  I’m not sure how this happened.  I’m honestly not sure how I got here.  But people see potential in me, and I’d like to harness it for good!
  6. Health — this one is so common.  How many of us set healthy lifestyle New Year’s resolutions?  This one could be a whole post for me, but it’s a very raw spot at the moment, so… nope!  That doesn’t sound fun!
  7. Creativity — Brene Brown once said in a podcast interview I was listening to her on (For the Love with Jen Hatmaker) that “Unused creativity is not benign.”  It hit me to my core.  For a long time, I’ve wanted to write but have been too afraid people wouldn’t buy it.  I’ve wanted to paint but have been self-conscious because I’m not as good as someone else.  I’ve wanted to be a better musician but again, compare myself to others and always fall short.  But if unused creativity is harmful to me, then this needs intentional work as well.
  8. Bravery.  It has occurred to me that I am not that brave.  I’m a pretty big chicken, actually.  So 2018 needs to hone in on some of those areas where I could use some bravery the most.  I read Annie F. Downs’ book “Let’s All Be Brave” (buy it on Amazon here) in November, and I cried through parts of it.  I’m so ready to be brave.  So ready.  I highly recommend the book, but if you’re determined to stay seated in. your comfort zone, it may not be for you.  I’m doing her 100 Days to Brave devotional starting as soon as I get home (as it’s arrived in Ontario before I have).
  9. Adventure — I thrive on this.  It’s linked to my fun, and it’s linked to my finances.  I found a lot of my goals are linked to each other — I actually created a very messy flow chart that reflects that!  But I will have adventure based goals.  Where will I travel next?  Europe is calling — Scandinavia?  The South of France?  Switzerland (the land of my ancestral people)?  Who knows?
  10. Relationships — This is not just the romantic kind — though that’s pretty intrinsically linked to bravery.  I want to be intentional.  I want to be present.  I want to be brave.  In all of my relationships.

 

And there you have it.  My over-arching umbrella goals.

Do you set goals?  Do you make resolutions?  Do you keep them?  If you’ve been a successful Power Sheets user, I’d love to hear from you!  I really want them to help me make big changes this year!

Even if you don’t use Power Sheets, I highly recommend both of Lara Casey’s books.  They’re less intensive than using Power Sheets, but still give you lots of great tips and encouragement for living a more intentional life.  Get Make It Happen on Amazon here, and get Cultivate on Amazon here.

A Dangerous Legacy


My last Elizabeth Camden book pulled me in thoroughly, so I was quick to get a hold of this one as well.  A Dangerous Legacy is first in a series Camden has named “Empire State.”  The characters drew me in right away.  I finished the book in two days.  I actually had even planned to spend New Year’s Eve reading it, but…. that would have been anti-social so I opted to be a decent human being instead 🙂

Like I said, I loved the characters.  Siblings Lucy and Nick Drake are endearing, hard-working, and brave.  I loved that about them!  Sir Colin Beckwith appears to be arrogant, but he’ll grow on you so quickly!  There are sinister characters at play too, though, and Lucy and Nick have to fight hard against a dangerous family fight waged before they were even born.

Telegraph operator Lucy Drake is a master of Morse code and has made herself a valuable asset to the Associated Press news agency. But the sudden arrival of Sir Colin Beckwith at rival British news agency Reuters puts her hard-earned livelihood at risk. Colin is talented, handsome, insufferably charming–and keeping a secret that jeopardizes his reputation.

Despite their rivalry, Lucy can’t deny that Colin has the connections she needs to give her family an edge in the long legal battle they’ve been waging over their rightful inheritance. But when she negotiates an unlikely alliance with him, the web of treachery they dive into proves to be far more dangerous than they ever could have known.

I loved seeing the inner workings of Reuters and the Associated Press agencies in their earlier years, and the part of me that always wanted to be a writer/journalist growing up wistfully imagined a life where I got to send transmissions into one of the agencies that I’d picked up from somewhere around the world.  I love the life I have, so I quickly put the thoughts to bed, however, it didn’t stop my love of this plot line in any way.  I also loved the historical details put into the early years of indoor plumbing.  I found it fascinating, especially having just finished another book set in Chicago in the 1890s (ten years prior to this one) where tenement housing was a reality for a couple of the characters.  Tenement housing (I had to look it up) was housing complexes built where multiple families shared tiny spaces, and there was no running water.  Families often had to walk good distances and up or down many flights of stairs for access to pumps to get water, and it was often unclean and the source of sickness and death.  This story involves pressurized valves that allow hot and cold water alike to flow up multiple stories in a building, and it was fascinating.

If you have a love of historical fiction as I do, please check out this book.  It’ll be a quick, short read if you give it a go.  I love love loved it!  Stay tuned in 2018 for Empire State # 2, which switches its focus to be more about Nick than Lucy.

dangerous legacy

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Where We Belong


Oh my stars, this book.  This beautiful, wonderful book.  Historical fiction is my jam to begin with, so I knew I was going to like this book.  But I didn’t know I was going to adore and devour this book.

Where We Belong is the story of two sisters, Rebecca and Flora Hawes, who do not fit the mold of the 1890s Victorian era society they were born into in Chicago.  They’re well-read, they’re intelligent, and they’re adventurous; and they’re determined to find what God’s purpose for their lives might be.

The story, crafted wonderfully by Lynn Austin, details so much of the adventure, in pieces woven expertly together.  Just when you feel like you need more information in order to understand what’s about to happen, Austin goes back and delivers exactly the information you need to continue.  The story criss-crosses through the lives of the sisters, plus their butler, Soren, and their ladies’ maid, Kate, as the crew travels across the Sinai Desert to find a rumoured ancient biblical manuscript.

I can’t give you more information than that, but I can tell you that at times I was so enthralled by this book that I couldn’t imagine having done anything but read.  It’s a good thing it’s Christmas break, because I spent the majority of my last 3 days (including being up WAY too late last night finishing) reading it.  I related so deeply to the characters, especially to Rebecca, that I couldn’t stop.  If I’m being honest, I have a bit of a book hangover now that it’s finished and I blasted through 470 pages so quickly.  I’ve taken a break for most of today, though I may start the next adventure tonight.  Time will tell.

There wasn’t a lot of romance, though there was an element of that woven throughout the characters’ stories… but I appreciated the lack of romance in this one.  I really wanted the adventure and the history, and I sure got both.

This is my first Lynn Austin book, but if the rest of her historical fiction is as delightful as this was, I’ll certainly be back.

I was even more surprised and delighted to find that the story, while truly a work of fiction, is based on the lives of two real-life sisters.  I won’t give you any more detail than that, because to do so would give away important plot points, and I know you don’t want me to do that.  But I promise, when you get to the end of the book, you’ll want to read the very last page at the back that gives you the details of the real-life sisters that Lynn Austin based her work of fiction around.

“Join two incomparable sisters on adventures that span the decades and cross the globe.”

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

 

Dangerous Illusions


This book was full of twists and turns and I just did not see them coming.  I obviously can’t tell you any of them — it’ll ruin everything.  But know that it all flows together very well, and it will keep you turning page after page… after page… after page.  Especially toward the end, you will not want to stop reading.  I conveniently saved the end of the book for a 4.5 hour flight, so I had little to do BUT read, but nonetheless, it was a great read.

As usual, Irene Hannon crafts characters that will draw you in and make you care about them immediately.  She’s a master at her craft.  I think this is my third of her books?  But it’s my first of her suspense novels rather than just her contemporary romances.  I’ve read both of the books in the Hope Harbor series, and am looking forward to the third one coming out in 2018, but I digress.  This first book in the Code of Honor series has suspense, intrigue, and thrill galore.  I can’t wait now for the second one to come out in 2018.

Trish Bailey is on overload trying to deal with a demanding job, an ailing mother, and a healing heart. When a series of unsettling memory lapses leads to a tragic death–and puts Trish under police scrutiny–her world is once again thrown into turmoil.

Detective Colin Flynn isn’t certain what to think of the facts he uncovers during his investigation. Did Trish simply make a terrible mistake or is there more to the case than meets the eye? As he searches for answers, disturbing information begins to emerge–and if the forces at work are as evil as he suspects, the situation isn’t just dangerous . . . it’s deadly.

Bestselling and award-winning author Irene Hannon captures readers with a mind-bending story that will have them doubling back to retrace their steps–and figure out what they missed!

I highly recommend it, as I have with the other two books of Hannon’s that I’ve read.  I’m a bit in awe of a writer who can jump back and forth between two rather different fiction genres as she does as well.

Check it out, and please let me know what you think!

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Fierce Hearted


I listened to this book as an Audio Book using my Audible membership, because I can knock them off in 3 days in the car.  It was a real treat to do it this way, actually, because Holley Gerth narrated the audio book and when you listen to a book narrated by the author, you get a real sense of the passion they had for what they wanted to communicate.  I’d started to read it in real life before bed, but then I also started doing an Advent devotional and I was finding I’d fall asleep before I got a chance to keep reading Fierce Hearted, so I got it in Audio Book format.

It was delightful.  It was a mix of personal anecdotes and stories, blended with Biblical truth, and infused (a nod to the Tea chapter — chapter 18) with humour, all aimed at helping women be fierce, brave, and exactly who God designed you to be.

Every day we struggle to find more freedom, joy and purpose. What if the solution isn’t trying harder or being better but embracing the fiercehearted woman already inside us?

A fiercehearted woman looks life in the face and says, “You can’t beat me.” She lives fully and loves bravely. She never gives in, never gives up, and never lets go. She dares to be who she is—imperfect and beloved.

In her most powerful and personal book yet, bestselling author, counselor and life coach Holley Gerth empowers and encourages women not simply through “how to” but by life-changing, heart-freeing “me too.” Join Holley on this journey to becoming a fiercehearted woman and discover what she did: the freedom and courage to embrace life, love, and faith to the fullest because your struggles can no longer hold you back.

You can tell that Holley Gerth has been involved in counseling and life coaching by the way she writes, asks questions, and invites her readers to dig deeper into what’s holding us back from being fierce and brave.  Since that’s one of the things I’m delving into in 2018 — becoming fierce, becoming brave — I highly recommend this book.  It’s an easy read with the personal stories Holley infuses into the Biblical truth and sage advice.

Are you ready to live fully and love bravely?  Start 2018 off with this book and be inspired to make a plan to do so.

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.