The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck Review

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Amazingly funny. Those two words rang through my thoughts while reading the debut novel by Bethany Turner. Add a twisty-turny romance amongst the hilarity, and you have The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.

Here’s the Blurb:

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.

My thoughts:

Before I even opened the book, I was hooked on the premise about a steamy-romance writer who becomes a Christian and sequentially falls in love with a pastor. It screams conflict, and I had to know what happens! Well done, Ms. Turner, by intriguing me to stalk my mailwoman every day to see if she had my book mail.

This story had vivid, true-to-life characters that leapt off the page and into my heart. Sarah was so naïve about Christianity that it was both humorous and eye-opening. Being raised in church, I’ve always been aware and fluent in Christianese—the language and turns of phrase that Christians speak. Seeing Sarah’s viewpoint reminded me to be conscious and sensitive of others around me, especially new Christians. They’re like newborn babes, in a way, needing a more mature Christian to guide them. Which is why I LOVE Piper—Sarah’s best friend who always gives her sound advice. Then we have Ben Delaney, the pastor. And a GIANT thank you to Ms. Turner for going against the general prejudice aimed at men of God and writing Ben as someone who is nice-looking, relevant, and not dorky. It was refreshing.

The story was well-written with an ending that blew me away. And it was funny. Yes, I mentioned that at the beginning, but it needed repeated. Seriously. I was chuckling even at the chapter titles. (Blame It On The Rayne – still makes me giggle. You have to read to understand. 😉 So, I totally recommend this story! But, I must put a disclaimer that this is for more mature audiences since it covers topics that are geared for adults.

Are you hooked??? Then purchase your own copy here!

*I was provided a copy by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

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Blind Spot Review

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Having not read the previous stories in the series, I kinda came late to the party with this book. But! I had no trouble following along and was engaged from page one. This was my first experience with Dani Petry’s writing, and I was amazingly impressed with how she crafted this novel.

Here’s the blurb:

FBI agent Declan Grey is in the chase of his life–but isn’t sure exactly what he’s chasing after. Threatened by a terrorist that “the wrath is coming,” Grey fears something horrible is about to be unleashed on American soil. When his investigation leads him to a closed immigrant community, he turns to Tanner Shaw to help him. She’s sought justice for refugees and the hurting around the world, and if there’s anyone who can help him, it’s Tanner.

Tanner Shaw has joined the FBI as a crisis counselor . . . meaning she now has more opportunity to butt heads with Declan. But that tension also includes a spark she can’t deny, and she’s pretty sure Declan feels the same. But before anything can develop between them, they discover evidence of a terror cell–and soon are in a race against the clock to stop the coming “wrath” that could cost thousands their lives

My thoughts:

First off, I don’t usually read romantic suspense. I think I only read one before this. Seriously. Reason being is that I tend to get too enraptured in the story and don’t particularly like feeling anxious and edgy because of tense scenes. So previously I shied away from this genre. But, this story was truly enamoring. It had two plots running simultaneously, and I never got lost. Yes, some parts were intense but the author was kind enough to give me some breathing room with a touch of lightheartedness through the interactions of the characters.

There was no doubt of the chemistry between the main characters. I loved how protective Declan was over Tanner. (Even though she was perfectly capable of handling dangerous situations, it was a tender gesture.) The romance was believable and fast-paced like the entire story. That’s not a bad thing. With this story, it worked.

It was skillfully plotted and kept me guessing as to who the suspects were and when they’d strike. What I thought was ridiculously clever was the ending. No spoilers here, but man, the author left such a cliffhanger that I scoured Amazon to see when the next book is to be released.

*I received this book for the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Soul Reflections

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This morning I was rushed.

My kids attend two different schools which thankfully have different drop-off times, but it still makes for a hectic start of the day. Throughout the morning, I dashed back and forth trying to get ready between tending to the kiddos breakfast, untying double-knotted shoes, locating glasses, etc. Though interrupted several times, I managed to flat-iron my hair and apply my makeup in front of my huge bathroom mirror. But it wasn’t until things slowed down, that I saw it. The entire lower portion of the mirror was grimy—spotted with what I suspected to be a blend of toothpaste and water. Most likely my kids smacked their half-soaked toothbrush repeatedly on the sink, coating the mirror with murky dots.

But. . . it was there all morning. It could have been there since last night. I never noticed.

How come?

I was busy. In a hurry. It wasn’t until I took the time, that I noticed.

Which got me thinking.

What does the reflection of my soul look like? Am I spending enough time inspecting for cleanliness or am I too rushed to tend to the task? Is my soul spotted from the world’s residue and I just can’t see it when I’m in a hurried state?

I observed it takes diligence, but being protective over my heart is never wasted time. This includes time in prayer, reading my Bible, reflecting on His mercy and goodness. Yes, there may be a mountainous pile of laundry or an inbox full of unread emails screaming for my attention, but I can’t neglect what’s vital for the strengthening of my spirit.

Awhile back my husband asked me, “Why are you always go go go? Doesn’t that make you tired?” I thought about what he asked. And the answer was yes. I’d feel drained from the inside-out but resigned myself into accepting it. I mean, if I didn’t complete these tasks, they never got done. There’s only so many hours in a day, right?

But truth is, we make time for what we want to make time for. I’d discover that setting my alarm for an earlier time helped give me extra moments with Jesus before the rush of the morning sets in. If I cut back on social media, then I can use that time to pray. In the car on my way to the schools, I’d listen to worship music to direct my thoughts into a holy vein.

When I practice this way of life, it may still seem busy, but it’s peaceful. Do I have it all together? Ummm . . . no. But by His grace, I’m learning. Trusting. Seeking out His whispers in the chaos. Holding His hand through the riotous haze. So at the end of the day, the reflection of my soul doesn’t expose the world’s grime, but reveals His presence in my life.

*photo credit: Mike Wilson Unspash.com

 

An Inconvenient Beauty Review

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Although I’m sad to see the Hawthorne House series come to a close, I have to happily admit that An Inconvenient Beauty is a breath-taking finale.

Here’s the blurb:

Griffith, Duke of Riverton, likes order, logic, and control, and he naturally applies this rational approach to his search for a bride. He’s certain Miss Frederica St. Claire is the perfect wife for him, but while Frederica is strangely elusive, he can’t seem to stop running into her stunningly beautiful cousin, Miss Isabella Breckenridge.

Isabella should be enjoying her society debut, but with her family in difficult circumstances, her uncle will only help them if she’ll use her beauty to assist him in his political aims. Already uncomfortable with this agreement, the more she comes to know Griffith, the more she wishes to be free of her unfortunate obligation.

Will Griffith and Isabella be able to set aside their pride and face their fears in time to find their own happily-ever-after?

My thoughts:

An Inconvenient Beauty drew me in with the lavish ballroom scenes, vast country estates, and charming characters. The story was seamlessly presented captivating my attention from page one.

From reading the previous books, I had a good idea of who Griffith, Duke of Riverton, was. Or so I thought! I loved finally seeing the world through his eyes and experiencing the honor and burden of being British nobility. He formulated plans for everything – including finding the perfect spouse. It was amusing to watch his life turn upside-down when Isabella Breckenridge stepped into London society.

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Bella was known for her beauty, but she desired to be admired for who she really was. I loved that about her. Though she was imprisoned by her uncle’s demands, her character still seemed to shine. The relationship between her and her cousin, Freddie, helped endear Bella more to me. She truly cared for others around her.

I enjoyed the chemistry between the two characters. It was interesting to watch the story unravel with twists and turns that kept me guessing how it would end. The author did a spectacular job crafting a beautiful story.

If this story intrigues you then click here to purchase!

 

*I was given a complimentary copy from the author. All opinions are my own. 🙂

 

About the author:

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Kristi Ann Hunter 
graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in computer science but always knew she wanted to write. Kristi is the author of the Hawthorne House series and a 2016 RITA Award winner and Christy Award finalist. She lives with her husband and three children in Georgia. Find her online at http://www.kristiannhunter.com.

Living Beyond “I can’t”

 

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The can’t can.

My dance instructor had it decorated in pinks and blues but my nine-year-old self saw the horrid thing as the black spot of my ballet class. If I, or any other classmate, would say “I can’t,” then we’d have to feed the can’t can a nickel. For every offense. Unfortunately, my tongue would spit those two words out faster than I could bend my legs for a demi-plié, and I’d have to shell out my allowance to cover my infractions. But over time, it trained me to be careful with both my thoughts and words. As much as I hated the can’t can, I had learned to appreciate its value. It kept me from placing limitations on myself.

There are no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge.

I read this quote by Napoleon Hill today and was reminded of my daughter.

Yesterday, she was working on her journal for school. At the very bottom of the page, she was instructed to draw a picture about what she wrote. In the past, she’d become discouraged if she were to draw anything. She would’ve handed me the pencil and begged to work on something else.

But yesterday was different.

Determination filled her eyes, and she wielded her pen as a girl on a mission. I watched her take her time and sketch a picture of Larry the Cucumber—the subject of her journal entry. When she was finished she glanced up at me, joy illuminating her face, and declared, “I can do something!”

I hugged her tight and told her she can do many many things. I then quoted Philippians 4:13 which says – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

This happy event caused me to wonder. God said in that verse that we can do ALL things. And again, in Matthew 19:26, Jesus tells his disciples, “With God all things are possible.”

ALL.

Which brings me to the conclusion. . . if we have limitations, then we are the ones who established them. The walls of restriction were built with our own doubts, fears, and past regrets. Brick by brick until we’ve enclosed ourselves within its borders.

Fear is a major ally to crippling limitations. Some may be afraid of failure. Others may be scared of what others might say or think. Fear has several different avenues, but it will always land you on the street of disappointment. When you don’t follow the stirring in your heart, you’ll find yourself dissatisfied.

I think it’s time for many of us to break free. Banish the word can’t from our vocabulary and say what God says—can. We serve a limitless God who delights in taking us beyond the barriers. Let’s allow Him do it!

So that’s my word for today – boundless. Go forth and be awesome!

Corn dogs and Jesus

 

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Strange title, I know, but hopefully you’ll get the connection soon.

Last Thursday, my little boy cam home from school famished. I kindly told him he needed to wait for dinner. It wasn’t going to be long. An hour at most. He worked on his homework and then came back downstairs grasping at his stomach and in a whiny voice said, “Mom, I’m sooooo hungry. Can I at least have a corn dog?”

“Dinner is very soon. Like in ten minutes.” I replied, “Don’t settle for a corn dog when you can have steak.”

Steak is my son’s favorite meal in the universe. A huge smile split his face and he bounced back upstairs. He was happy to wait, because he knew something better would be on his plate.

But it had me thinking. How often do we settle for a corn dog when we’re so close to having steak? God has so much good planned for us. He prepares a table before us topped with everything we need and often desire, but the problem is we don’t want to wait. We want our spiritual bellies filled now. Our dreams to be reality now. We may be so super close to the very thing we desire, but our impatience gets the best of us and we settle for something that isn’t God’s best.

I heard a term long ago, “If it’s not quite, then it’s not right.” I referred to this phrase a lot when we were hunting for our first house. Before we viewed anything, my husband and I made a practical checklist of everything we wanted in our future home. We looked at so many places, but each property had at least one, maybe two, things missing from our list. Maybe it’d had a nice yard, but not enough storage space. Or it had a lot of kitchen cabinets, but the bedrooms were small. We grew impatient. Frustrated. Yet, we knew this was a major investment, and we couldn’t just settle for less than we need. So we waited. One day, our agent called us about a house that came on the market that very afternoon. When we got there and looked around, we knew it was ours. It had everything on our list. Great lay-out, large bedrooms, nice neighborhood, walk-in closets, fenced yard, etc. We put a bid on it that evening and we nabbed it.

We can apply this to many areas in our life. God wants the best for us, but He won’t force us to trust Him. No, it’s up to us to judge Him faithful who promised and choose to follow our hearts even when our impatient brains scream at us.

Rest and Trust. Two small words with huge rewards. So friend, don’t settle for a corn dog when Jesus wants you to have steak. 😉

He Loves Me

 

 

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“He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.”

The sweet sound of my daughter’s voice filled my ears as she plucked petals from a daisy.  Moments before, I’d demonstrated to her one of my childhood pastimes with my favorite flower. (Although I purposefully refrained from mentioning that “he loves me not” is part of the original diversion.) The emphasis I was trying to make with this little object lesson is that no matter what He—God—loves me.

God loves me.

It’s easy to remember this beautiful fact when times are sunshiny golden, but what about when the storms roll in? When those clear blue skies that made you whistle and skip are now black, threatening? What do you do?

Remember that you’re not alone. God loves you.

There’s a dynamic force behind the word love. Love is what caused God to create man in the first place. He fashioned us in His very own image. Love is what caused Jesus to make the move from heaven to earth to redeem us when we were lost. Love is personal. Yes, He views galaxies and makes His throne among legions of angels, but His thoughts of me outnumber the sand. It’s hard to fathom, but it’s real nonetheless.

I’m coming to realize that the more I understand how much God loves me, the more my faith seems to grow. Being a parent has helped me comprehend way more. For instance, when my kids were younger I had rules for their protection. Like never go outside without Mommy or Daddy. Or never answer the door by yourself. Every rule was because I loved them and didn’t want any harm to come to them. Some may say the Bible is filled with rules, but I see it as breathing love. It’s a guide for our protection.

I heard someone say that you can put the tag – Because He loves me—after every scripture we read in the Bible. Mainly because God and His Word are one, and God is love. Like Matthew 19:26. With God all things are possible. . . because He loves me. God didn’t give me a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind. . . because He loves me. Even discipline scriptures like in Philippians where it tells us not to worry about anything. Why? Because He loves you. He’s there with you in the midst of your circumstance. And even add the tag to the verse—Do everything without murmuring and complaining. . .because He loves me. God knows that sin injures His children, separates them from Him and His precious love.

I know I was repetitive in this post, but believe me it was deliberate. I don’t think we could hear that enough. My husband tells me “I love you” all throughout the day. He texts it, ends phone conversations with it, whispers it to me before I drift asleep. I never tire of it. Ever. The same way it should be with us and God. We need to be reminded constantly that God loves us. Then when adverse situations appear, instead of lowering our head in defeat, we lift our chins to the One who loves us. It’s both comfort and strength.

He loves you, friend.

Never forget.