Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Reflections on Faith

Good morning!

Forgive the wandering nature of this post. It's rather a stream of consciousness, but hopefully you find something beneficial in it.

I am currently reading through the Gospel of Luke, and today I came across the story of Jesus healing the blind beggar:

"As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.'  And he cried out, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'  And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me recover my sight.' And Jesus said to him, 'Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.' And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God."

Luke 18:36-43

I have read this story, or had it read to me, several times in the past, but for some reason today I find myself particularly intrigued by the blind man. 

Who is this man? 

He asks Jesus to let him recover his sight, implying that he has not always been blind. At one point he had his sight. I wonder how he lost it? Illness? Injury? Age? Is he old, middle aged, or young? The Bible doesn't say in this particular story.  Why is he begging? Does he not have a family to take care of him? Is this how he provides for his family?

He has obviously heard of Jesus before. He has heard enough to know he has the power to heal, and as soon as he knows who it is he calls out to him. 

He is not going to be discouraged either. The crowd tells him to be quiet, but he persists, not content to merely accept his lot when he is so close to his salvation. What makes him cry out, I wonder? What makes him desperate to see? What makes him believe that he can be healed and that Jesus is the healer? Does he know someone who has been healed?

Yet he does. He knows Jesus is the answer and he believes Jesus will heal him. 

Jesus honors that faith and his sight is restored.

But then, rather than go on his merry way, he follows Jesus. He glorifies God. He is now a living testimony to God's power. Other people see him and praise God.

What must it have been like for him? To lose his sight, live in darkness, and then, beyond all possibility, receive his sight back? How did that affect him for the rest of his life? Did he see other things more clearly because he was able to look closely? 

I am in awe of his faith.  Many probably would consider his situation to be his lot in life. "Well, it's really sad that he lost his sight, but there's nothing to be done but to accept it and move on." 

How often do I resign myself to less-than-ideal circumstances and deny God's power to bring about change?

On the other hand, we are also given the example of Paul who was content in all circumstances:

"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Philippians 4:11-13

So how is that different?

The common thread in Paul's contentment and the blind beggar's lack of contentment in this particular situation, is that they both trust in God's power to bring them through their trial. The blind man believes in God's power to deliver him from his situation, and Paul believes in God's power to sustain him while he lives with his situation. Both require faith in something beyond what we can see and touch and feel. Beyond what we "know" to be true. Beyond what the world tells us is realistic. Both require that we ignore those voices and trust that He knows better.

It is a simple answer, but not so simple in practice.

Many times I may begin a journey praying in faith that God will act. Then when He doesn't, or rather, when I do not see the evidence of His actions, I give up and decide that God wants me in this situation.

Other times I look at a situation, determine immediately that it is hopeless, and, rather than ask for God's power to work in the situation, I give up and claim to be content.

Sometimes, I don't ask because I don't want to be told "no".

In all of those scenarios I deny God's power and His goodness. 

I deny that He is working for my good in a less than ideal situation.

I deny that He is able to do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine.

I deny that He wants good things for me.
Here's the thing about being content in any and every situation. It comes from knowing that good things are coming and the story doesn't end in this yucky spot. Maybe not for a while. Maybe in this life. But they are coming, and the story has a happy ending. And yes, that requires faith to see beyond our present circumstances. 

"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God."
Hebrews 11:8-10

Having faith means that we acknowledge our own blindness and we reach out to the One who can see perfectly.

"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland."
Hebrews 11:13-14

Faith means seeing beyond what is in front of us and knowing we will take part in it one day.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back."
Hebrews: 11:17-19

Faith means believing that even if the worst happens, God's promise holds true.

"But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
Romans 8:25

The same faith that enables us to cry out to the Savior who can heal us also enables us to be content when He says, "wait". They are not two different kinds of faith, and we do not serve two different gods. We serve One God who sees far more clearly than we will ever see, and wants to bless us beyond our imagination.

Jesus said to the blind man, "Your faith has made you well."

May we have the faith that allows us to rely on God's power to act in impossible situations, and to wait for the eyes to see it clearly. May we follow Jesus and glorify God acting as living testimonies to His power, whether we have been delivered from a physical darkness or a spiritual one.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cover Reveal for A Song Unheard by Roseanna White

Greetings, everyone!

If you haven't heard, I have a new favorite author, Roseanna White (See reviews for books one and two of her Ladies of the Manor series, The Lost Heiress and The Reluctant Duchess, below. I haven't gotten around to writing a review for the third one yet, shamefully, but I will as soon as I get it back from my friend who is borrowing it.). She specializes in historical fiction with a twinge of suspense, well-developed characters, and satisfying romance.

She is currently working on a new series about a band of thieves during World War 1 called Shadows  Over England. Her first book in the series, A Name Unknown, will launch July 4th of this year and I am SO excited. So excited, I went a little crazy and pre-ordered it from Roseanna's website so I could get a signed copy. ;-) If you feel so inclined you can join me in my crazy fandom and pre-order your copy by clicking here. You can also add it to your list on Goodreads or preorder it on Amazon (minus the signature).

ANYWAY, I am serving as an unofficial member of her launch team for A Name Unknown, and thus have the opportunity to be privy to some insider news such as the cover reveal for book 2 of the series, A Song Unsung. Side note: I am already LOVING these titles. They immediately want me to know the name and sing the song!

So without further ado.....

 Isn't she pretty?! And look at that beautiful violin and the expression on her face. She's watching something. Or someone? And what is she thinking? I love that backdrop with the white light coming in from the windows!  Okay, here's the story:

Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which makes her the perfect choice for a crucial task at the outset of World War I—to steal a cypher from a famous violinist currently in Wales.

Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he’s won—until now when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father's work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only light he finds is meeting the intriguing Willa Forsythe.

But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn’t—that she must betray him and find that cypher, or her own family will pay the price as surely as his has.

Oooooooo! Doesn't that description give you shivers??? This book promises lots of excitement, and I trust Roseanna to deliver! I have loved everything of hers that I have read so far, and I am beyond excited about this new series.

A Song Unheard is listed on Amazon and Goodreads. Feel free to pre-order or add to your shelf. If you are new to Roseanna White, check out her personal blog here. Another side note, the above-listed retailers have not posted the cover picture yet, so you should feel super privileged that you get to see it first! ;-) Click on the picture below to see what Roseanna wrote!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review for The Reluctant Duchess

The Reluctant Duchess (Ladies of the Manor, #2)The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Rowena is faced with the choice between marrying a monster or marrying a complete stranger, her decision takes her far away from the only home she has ever known and puts her right in the path of a dangerous pair of siblings who will stop at nothing to take the priceless treasure they are certain her new husband is hiding.

Having read all three books in this series, and loved every one of them, I almost feel disloyal picking a favorite. However, I cannot help but think if I did have a favorite, this would be it.

Roseanna M. White creates beautiful characters with such intricacies and depth the reader cannot help but want to follow them through their story. Characters who seem perfect in the beginning slowly reveal their flaws, as other characters who seem broken and fragile reveal their strengths.

For a long time, I have wanted to read a story where two people grew in their relationship with each other and fall in love after they were married. In the two or three books I have read where this was the setup, the romance happened too quickly and did not make sense. I appreciated the fact that, in this book, the author took the time to develop the relationship AND THE CHARACTERS so the reader could truly appreciate the romance when it finally, and fully, blossomed.

I LOVED the dynamic between Rowena and Brice. Though neither one of them sought out the relationship, once it was decided, they approached it with the perspective that they would make it work. There were several character-defining moments in the story when their commitment was tested because of Rowena's insecurities and Brice's pride.  The author is very adept at revealing character flaws while at the same time showing their strength

Experiencing Rowena's transition from broken and frightened to confident and strong was a constant pull on my heartstrings. I wanted to hug her to tell her it would all be alright and I wanted to cheer her on with each step she took outside of her shell. At the beginning of the book, I already loved Brice. Having read The Lost Heiress, I knew already that he was a strong character and looked forward to the opportunity to know him more. Through his relationship with Rowena, he revealed even more of his beautiful, compassionate heart, even as he showed some of his flaws.

Both characters were interesting and quirky in their own ways. Brice's personality is charming and flirtatious, but never inappropriately so. He has a keen insight into other people and a deep faith and spiritual intuition that allows him to sense things others cannot. Some of my favorite parts in the book were the moments when he would receive urgings from God to do something, particularly if he did not want to do them. Rowena has been hurt, physically and emotionally, by people close to her. While she protects herself and is slow to trust others, she longs for genuine love and affection. She also has a curiosity about others which makes her want to understand them.

If you enjoyed The Lost Heiress, you will love The Reluctant Duchess. Readers will enjoy seeing their favorite characters from the previous book and getting to know other characters even more.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review for Deliver by Tricia Mingerink

Have you ever wondered about your role in society? Have you ever felt doubts about your ability to fulfill that role? These are the questions plaguing our heroes in Deliver, the final installment of The Blades of Acktar Series, by Tricia Mingerink.
Martyn and Leith have been offered clemency by King Keevan and are allowed to continue living in Acktar. Leith returns to Stetterly with Renna and Brandi, and his fellow Blade brothers, to help rebuild the town. Eventually, he hopes to marry Renna and begin a new life with her, but what does he know about life as a farmer, much less a husband? Will the people of Stetterly accept him once they know his past? Meanwhile, Renna, never comfortable in the spotlight, must take leadership of her town as they work together to rebuild its ruins.  Martyn, still bitter and plagued with guilt, does not know how to be anything but a Blade. He accepts the job of a scout for King Keevan to protect the land from Rovers, wandering criminals without a leader, and supporters of Respen who were defeated in the war. Each of them must face the question, “What is my place?” Each of them will be tested to their limits as they discover a strength, and a peace, which comes from outside of themselves.
This is, without a doubt, the best book in The Blades of Acktar series, however, it would not be so without all the characters’ journeys and growth in the previous books.  From the beginning, I have related to Renna’s quiet introvertedness and her hesitancy to step into the limelight. Interestingly enough, since beginning this series a few years ago, I have increasingly found myself in situations at work in which I have been forced out of my comfort zone and into the leadership role. In this way, I feel as if Renna and I have grown together, and I have enjoyed cheering on my fellow introvert as we both learned to come out of our shells.
Leith’s growth throughout the series has been satisfying as well, and in this book, we are allowed to catch glimpses of him beginning to actually enjoy his life.  Granted, he is still recovering from his injuries and keeping an eye out for enemies, but he seems to finally accept the gift he has been given: a second chance in life, and a relationship with Renna. This adds a new dynamic to his character when we watch him fight to protect his family.
Martyn’s character arc was my favorite in this book. He has serious trust issues, for valid reasons, but once he decides to commit to something he becomes fully invested, even when it does not work in his favor. At the beginning of the book, he is bitter and hurt, over what he still considers a betrayal when Leith left the Blades. He struggles with guilt over the decisions he made in Defy. Not wanting to get close to anyone, he leaves his friends to become a scout for King Keevan.  In spite of this, we notice glimpses of his inner softness begin to emerge as he encounters grace, and even when he faces hypocrisy. I loved watching his shell crack throughout the story.
The title of the book is Deliver, and it was named appropriately. The author’s decision to add a fourth book to the series, allows the reader to fully appreciate how the characters have been delivered from their trials and gain closure. Even so, it is bittersweet to leave these fictional people who have become my friends. There are still stories that could be told. What happens to Jamie, and Ranson, and Brandi in the following years? I want to know what happens as government and order are rebuilt.  I want to see Leith and Renna grow their family. I would love to read a sequel series (just planting that seed in your mind, Tricia. ;-). There is plenty left to build on, but the ending was still satisfying. Thank you, Tricia Mingerink for a wonderful series. I have been so blessed by these books. Blessings to you in your future writing endeavors.

The Facebook Party for Deliver takes place this Friday from 6-9pm Central Standard Time. You can attend this party from the comfort of your own home!  Click Here to RSVP to the party:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review for A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes

A Time to Die (Out of Time, #1)A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The following will serve as part review, part confessional. I started this book two years ago this month. I began reading A Time to Die after reading a recommendation from a friend of mine. I began reading it, hoping for a book that would immediately hold me captive and not release me from its powers until I had finished the journey.


The book held me captive, however, it was not in the way I was expecting. I recognized much of Parvin in myself. Reading this book, written in first-person present-tense, was like experiencing a dream. Parvin was convinced her life had no meaning, that she had wasted her life. She wanted her life to mean something, but when she was presented with opportunities to create meaning, she pushed back and tried to find an easier way. I often find myself in the same situation: wanting to be brave, wanting to stand up for what is right, wanting to make a difference, act as someone with integrity, etc. However, when I realize what that will mean for me, giving up my selfish desires and choosing to work outside my comfort zone, I dig in my heals.

The reader will experience some intense moments as she reads about Parvin's journey. For someone who is very much a feeler, it was difficult to read at times. I will confess, I dug in my heels, put it down for an emotional breather, thus escaping from its captivating hold, and left it for two years.

I followed the author on Facebook and her blog during these past two years and she impressed me with her intentionality in the way she interacts with her readers and followers. Her posts are a shining light in the cynical, angry world of Facebook. One of the central themes in A Time to Die is the idea of bringing God’s “Shalom” or a peace that comes from living the way God intended. This is not simply something she wrote about for the purpose of her story. It is something she intentionally, and actively, lives out in her everyday writing.

I was blessed by this author’s shining light, and it was because of this that I eventually decided to finish the book. There were some challenging moments, as I felt my own character developing right alongside Parvin’s. This book contains some perplexing characters with very flawed thinking. I understood her frustration as she struggled to reason with them, to share the Shalom of God with them. There were also beautiful moments, as the events and interactions which pushed at Parvin's (and my own) comfort and worldview gave way to show God's incredible love for His people.

This is NOT a light read, and you will want to take some breathers. However, there were also some lighter moments, and I appreciated Parvin's inner dialogue with herself whenever she tried to problem-solve or understand a situation. She is an eighteen-year-old girl that has been, quite literally, pushed out of her world. She is experiencing everything for the first time, by herself, which leads to some amusing moments as she tries to figure out how to respond. The writing was beautiful, and the ending perfectly sets up the sequels.

As difficult as it was to read, I can only imagine how difficult it was to write. Well done, and thank you, Nadine Brandes for sharing this story with us. Forgive me for taking such a long time. I will be reading the other two books, hopefully in less than two years. ;-)

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

King's Blood (The Kinsman Chronicles, #2)King's Blood by Jill Williamson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Kinsman trilogy by Jill Williamson continues in King’s Blood. After leaving the Five Realms and barely escaping with their lives, Trevn and Wilek, along with what is left of their kingdom and the other realms, search for a new land to call home. They know nothing of the world beyond the Five Realms, but they must find a place for their people to settle before they run out of food. Meanwhile, Wilek struggles with his newfound faith in Arman as he counters treasonous plots on all sides to take over the throne before he can officially be crowned king. Can he learn to put his trust in Arman, even when it seems to work against the safety and welfare of his kingdom?

There is such a wealth of plot, character, and world development in this story that it will be a struggle to do justice to the book without writing a novel-length review. Recognizing that no review can do King’s Blood justice, I will attempt to tell you about my favorite aspects and characters. To begin with, Jill Williamson has once again proven she is a genius when it comes to building storyworld. When last we left our heroes in King’s Folly, they were sailing off into the unknown world, after escaping the destruction of their homeland. The majority of King’s Blood takes place on the water so the plot moves from ship to ship as it follows different characters. Each ship has a different personality because of the varying cultures on board, but they all have the same problems: how to find land before supplies ran out, and with no knowledge of where they are headed. It was interesting to see the various plots and agendas of the different nations continue to play out even though they were on ships and were limited in what they could do to further their goals.

Trevn takes it upon himself to learn everything there is to know about running a ship, from the cabin-boy’s duties to the navigator’s. These were some of my favorite parts to read, mostly because Trevn is my favorite character, but I also found the navigational lessons intriguing, especially the way they factored into the plot. When they do find land, Trevn throws himself fully into exploration. New territory, land and sea, means new geography, new creatures, and new people, all of which were fascinating to read about, especially when I could make connections to the Blood of Kings series.

Bless Wilek’s heart, I could feel the heaviness of his burden during the course of this book. As heir to the throne, he takes his responsibility to his people very seriously, but as his father is still alive, he is still limited in what he is able to do. He wants to do the right thing and he wants to steer his people toward the Armanite faith, knowing firsthand that the pagan religion of his father only leads to destruction. However, he still has to defer to his father, which becomes more and more difficult as the king’s health and mind continues to deteriorate. Making the right decision also proves difficult because trusting Arman means he makes decisions others tell him are foolish. I felt the weight on his shoulders as he walked the lines of diplomacy and faith. He faces some very difficult choices in this book, and even as I knew certain choices were wrong, I could sympathize with the temptation to make them. It reminded me of the verses in the Bible about leaders and teachers being judged more harshly than others. I loved Wilek’s character because he never shies away from his duties or takes his position lightly.

Hinck’s storyline was my favorite of the supporting characters. When I first met him in King’s Folly, he seemed like a weak character who just did what he was told. In King’s Blood, I gained a new respect for him as he took ownership of his role of a spy to actively work towards the good of the throne. Even when his role held no benefit for him, and even when it asked too much of him, he chooses self-sacrifice. There was much to admire about him in this book and I enjoyed reading his story. I look forward to what the author will do with his character in the next book!

Jill Williamson created another epic masterpiece in the continuation of her Kinsman Chronicles. I enjoyed King’s Blood even more than King’s Folly, as all the characters were already established and I could jump straight into the story. My only regret is that I had to finish the book at some point and now I must wait to see what will happen to these beloved characters next. Warning: you might want to have a stash of chocolate handy as you read this book, especially as you near the ending. However, as the author so beautifully points out, the final pages of this book are “Not The End”, and I will wait with eager anticipation for the final installment of The Kinsman Chronicles. In the meantime, I will be revisiting my favorite moments of King’s Blood and encouraging others to read this fantastic series! Enjoy!

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Review for Destroy by Tricia Mingerink

Have you ever been haunted by a less-than-stellar moment in your past? Have you ever been given a responsibility you knew you were not qualified to carry out? So have Keevan and Addie, the main characters of Tricia Mingerink’s novella, Destroy.

Prince Keevan, second son of the King of Acktar (in the days before it was taken over by a tyrant) is quite the ladies man, with handsome looks and a smooth-talking voice. He takes these gifts for granted and they get him into trouble.  One day, his handsome looks and smooth voice are stolen from him when he nearly dies from a knife wound in an attack on the castle.  As he lays dying from the wound, a servant girl saves his life and helps him to flee.
Addie is a scullery maid who comes from a long line of scullery maids. When the castle is besieged and she finds Prince Keevan gagging in his bed from a knife wound to the throat, she does not stop to think if she is qualified for the job, but immediately tries to save his life.  Prince Keevan has no choice but to put his life in her hands over the next several months as they go into hiding from the evil Blades. As the prince recovers from his physical and emotional wounds, he has to face the terrifying truth that he is the rightful king and will one day have to take back his throne for the good of his people.

When I read the last book, Defy, and first met Prince Keevan, I was immediately dying to know his backstory, so I was ecstatic when I found out that his was the next story to be told. As usual, Tricia did a wonderful job of making me love her characters, Keevan and Addie. I appreciated the different personalities of both Keevan and Addie, and their chemistry together. Though Keevan’s past and his wounds make him a gruff and closed-off person at first, he protects a very tender heart. I loved seeing that come out. Addie is quirky, nervous, and talks to herself, especially when she is stressed out about something, which I love because I do that too. She also does not hesitate to go above and beyond the call of duty, regardless of how qualified she feels for the job.  I felt for her as she faced each new situation and struggled over what to do next.  I admired her as she did not let her lack of experience deter her from what needed to be done.
I loved the parallels between Keevan’s inner turmoil and Leith’s from the other books.  Keevan struggles with insecurities about himself because of his poor choices in the past, his father’s failures as a king, and the scars he bears from the attack that killed his family.  Re-reading the scenes between Keevan and Leith from a new perspective made me ache all over again for different reasons. I love it when I can sympathize with both characters' plights in a conflict!
My only complaint is that it was a novella, which I knew.   While the author did a fantastic job in telling so much in such a short amount of time, I really wish it had been a full-length novel.  I wanted more time to experience certain aspects of the plot and the characters (which is really a testament to how much I loved them!). For instance, Keevan’s “former self”. When we first meet him, he immediately regrets his mistakes and vows to be a better person. Which is great, but I felt that I would have more appreciation for his struggle to be different if I had seen just a little bit more of who he was beforehand. I realize this would have been tricky business, given the audience and the nature of his former self, so it is easily forgivable.  I also really, really loved the relationship between Keevan and Addie.  I loved the way they supported each other and looked out for each other.  However, I wanted to see more of the development of their relationship. There was enough that it was still believable, but I wanted to more interactions as they got to know each other, and experience more milestones as their forced acquaintance turned into friendship and then into something else.  Such is the struggle with novellas: having to tell so much in so short a time. It is like having ONE fantastic cookie and really wanting a second so you can fully appreciate the taste.
If you love the Blades of Acktar books and want to know more about Prince Keevan and how he escaped the attempt on his life, you will very much enjoy reading this book. You will enjoy falling in love with these new characters and experiencing your favorite characters through new eyes.  For my part, reading this book made me want to go back and re-read Defy. If you have not read the other books, stop what you are doing right now and return when you have finished all three. Shame on you for reading spoilers. I loved the characters, I loved the backstory, and I loved the writing.  I look forward to seeing more of Keevan and Addie in Book 4 alongside Leith and Renna.