The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson | Book Review

When she receives the news in late 1944 that her baby’s father was shot down in the South Pacific, Amelia Richards loses hope. Jobless and broke, she has nowhere to turn for help but her infant’s paternal grandparents. The only problem is, they don’t know that she–or their grandson–exists. When Amelia discovers that the family is wealthy and influential, dare she disclose the truth of her relationship with their son? Or could the celebration of the arrival of another unexpected baby nearly two thousand years ago be the answer to her dilemma?

Beloved author Melody Carlson pens a story of love, hardship, and reconciliation that will leave readers filled with Christmas joy.

I have been loving WWII books lately, so I was excited to read The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson! At the beginning of the story, Amelia has to make the hard choice to leave her home to try to make a better life for her baby, but her determination is tested and she is faced with an even harder choice. Ultimately, she has to decide to do whatever it takes to provide for her baby, even when it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done…but the story doesn’t end there! You’ll have to read the book to see how it all works out 😉 But you can rest assured that it has a happy Christmas ending!

The book is pretty short and is probably considered a novella; usually I’m not crazy about novellas, since it doesn’t give as much time for the characters and plot to develop, but I think Melody Carlson really struck a good balance with this one. Christmas is the perfect time to read about faith, family, second chances, and happy endings, and this book doesn’t disappoint! If you’re looking for a good story to read curled up by the fire this Christmastime, this one is a great choice!

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review. All opinions are my own, and I was not required to give a positive review.

Justice Buried by Patricia Bradley | Book Review

Justice Buried Book Review | Grace to Grow Blog

The genre of Christian suspense/thriller has been one of my favorites to read for a long time, so I was excited to read Justice Buried by Patricia Bradley. It’s the second book in her Memphis Cold Case series, but it can definitely be read as a stand-alone novel. In fact, I didn’t even know it was the second until after I read it!

This is a good, clean mystery with plenty of suspense and action. The plot isn’t farfetched like suspense can be sometimes; it’s something I could imagine actually happening, but at the same time it’s very unique, which makes it keep your attention! It isn’t an overly intense or complex plot, so it’s easy to follow the characters and keep track of what’s happening. The main characters, Kelsey and Brad, are real and relatable, with a good solid friendship. Although the book is technically romantic suspense, it’s definitely more suspense than romance. The faith aspect is also pretty subtle, although it fit well with the story and doesn’t feel preachy when it shows up. Overall, this is a really good book! I would recommend this book to fans of Irene Hannon or Terri Blackstock.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own; I was not required to give a positive review.

Life, Liberty, Happiness

Photo: Unsplash

Happy Independence Day! I hope you’re all having a fun day celebrating with your family and friends!

July 4th has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love the parades, barbecues, and fireworks, but I especially love what we’re celebrating: the birth of a new nation built on the idea of liberty. The Declaration of Independence is a brilliant piece of writing, and I believe, inspired by God. The beginning of the United States of America was truly a miracle, and it’s only by His grace we’ve made it this far. Today seems like a great day to reflect on those words Thomas Jefferson wrote 241 years ago!

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

  • Life: for the unborn and the elderly, and everyone in between. Because God has given us this right, no one can take it away; in fact, one of the only reasons government exists is to protect this right. We all have the right to live, and to defend the lives of ourselves and those we love.
  • Liberty: the freedom from a tyrannical government that dictates and controls our lives. We have the right to live as we see fit, and to make our own decisions about where to live, how to spend our money, and how to worship God and live out our faith every day.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness: the freedom to work hard and make our own way and to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We have the freedom to choose how to live our lives, the freedom to try and fail and then pick up the pieces and start all over again.

I don’t know about you, but I feel incredibly blessed to have been born in this country that was founded on these principles, and based on the idea that the purpose of government is to protect the rights we were given by our Creator. As we celebrate today, let’s not forget to pray for our country, that we would turn back to God and continue to enjoy the blessings of liberty for many years to come.

“…Proclaim freedom throughout the land and to all who live there…” Leviticus 25:10

What I Read in April

Now that it’s already the end of May, I’m finally getting around to writing about the books I read in April 😉 I was really excited about one of the new books I got in April! One of my favorite authors since I was in high school has been Robin Jones Gunn, and I’m so glad she’s still writing books about Todd and Christy. I read several other books that I really enjoyed, too!

What I Read in April | Grace to Grow Blog

  1. If I’m Found by Terri Blackstock \\ Casey Cox is still on the run, but getting closer to proving who killed her father and is now framing her for her friend’s murder. She is encouraged by her unlikely friendship with the man tasked to find her, and the faith he’s helping her find. But while she’s hiding and runnnig for her life, she can’t help but intervene when she sees injustice, even when it puts her in more danger. I love the unique plot of this book and the whole series; it’s hard to put down! The only part I don’t love is that I have to wait a year for the third book in the series to come out 🙂
  2. Eve by William Paul Young \\ I know William Paul Young is a controversial author, starting with his book The Shack. I haven’t read that one, but I found Eve on clearance at the bookstore and thought I’d give it a try. I was a little surprised by how much it drew me in. It tells the story of Creation through the eyes of Lilly, a girl who suffered great tragedy and now finds herself in another dimension between worlds, destined to be a Witness. The book may be a little too science fiction-y to some, and there’s probably some questionable theology, but it’s definitely a unique way to bring the Creation story to life. If you’re comfortable with it, I’d encourage you to read it for yourself and try to think critically about what you’re reading and how it jives with what you know to be true from the Bible.
  3. Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey \\ I loved Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage series, so I was excited to find that she has a new series out! So far there are two books out in this Chesapeake Valor series (Cold Shot is the first) and the third is coming out this fall. The series follows a group of friends, all involved in law enforcement in different ways. This first book starts off with Griffin, a park ranger, finding a body in his national park. It takes the whole group and their unique skills to solve the crime, and along the way, they learn to work together as a team. There’s plenty of action, compelling characters, and a unique plot that keeps you guessing.
  4. Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) \\  Mike Lee has been one of my favorite senators since he was first elected in 2010. (Who even has favorite senators, especially ones from states across the country? I do, I have to admit! 😉 ) I had been wanting to read this book, so when I saw it on clearance at the bookstore, I had to buy it! Each chapter describes a certain provision of the Constitution and the story of how it came to be part of the document. Then, Sen. Lee describes a problem we face today that can be traced back to ignoring or misinterpreting the corresponding part of the Constitution. It’s really interesting to learn more about how the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, and seeing the consequences of “forgetting” those important parts shows how vital they are! This would be a great book for homeschoolers, high school or college students, or pretty much anyone who votes in the United States.
  5. Right Where We Belong by Deborah Raney, Melissa Tagg, and Courtney Walsh \\ I’ve read books by two of the contributors to this novella collection, so I was excited to see this on Kindle Unlimited! This is a collection of three short stories that all take place in small towns. The main character in Melissa Tagg’s part of the book was a secondary character in the other book I’ve read by her, so it was fun to get to read about her story! These stories didn’t feel rushed, like novellas can sometimes, and I really enjoyed the whole book.
  6. A Sweethaven Summer and
  7. A Sweethaven Homecoming by Courtney Walsh \\ I’ve read a couple other books by Courtney Walsh and liked them, so I was excited to see that her Sweethaven series is on Kindle Unlimited! These are the first two out of three books in the series.They follow the stories of four friends who spent their teenage summers together in Sweethaven, but grew apart later in life. Now, one of the friends has passed away, and her daughter decides to go to Sweethaven to find out more about her mother’s past, and to try to find out the identity of her father. Along the way, she meets her mother’s old friends, who are all facing their own problems and learning important lessons about God and themselves. Following each of the five main characters keeps the plot interesting, but not hard to follow, since they’re all so intertwined. The main characters span three generations (three of the original friends, now in their 40s; one of their mothers; and one of their daughters), so there’s someone everyone can relate to. I really enjoyed these books, and I will definitely be reading more books by Courtney Walsh!
  8. Salty Kisses by Robin Jones Gunn \\ The Christy Miller series is one of my favorites of all time, and has been since I was in high school. I’m so glad Robin Jones Gunn is still writing about Christy and Todd! This book picks up after Christy had her baby (spoiler alert!), and her friend Katie is finally able to come visit from her new home in Africa…not for a happy reason at first, but some happy news she gets while there extends her stay for a while. Another fun part of the book is Christy and Todd’s visit to Glennbrooke, Oregon, the setting for another one of Mrs. Gunn’s series. I really loved this book, and I wish I could be friends with Christy and babysit her daughter! 😉

What have you been reading lately?

My Redeemer Lives

Happy Resurrection Sunday, friends! I hope and pray today that you know the hope, joy, and new life that Jesus gives, and that knowing Him is making a difference in your life.

Today we celebrate that death was swallowed up by His life, and darkness was extinguished by His light. Just as death was no match for His power, our sins are never beyond His redemption. Through His life and resurrection, we can have hope and abundant life here and now, and the promise of eternal life with Him. Today, let’s rejoice in the knowledge that our Redeemer lives!

“Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.'” Matthew 28:1-6
 

What I Read in March

Here are my book reviews for March! As of the end of March, I’ve read 35 books this year, so I’m well ahead of schedule to read 100 books in 2017. I actually read 10 books last month, but I’m just going to highlight my five favorites. If I wrote about every book I read, I’d have to write a book myself 😉

What I Read in March | Grace to Grow Blog

  1. When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin | I’ve talked before (herehere and here) about how much I love all of Sarah Sundin’s books, and I was so excited to read her newest book that released in March! When Tides Turn is the conclusion to the Waves of Freedom series. It’s the story of Quintessa, a bubbly, fun-loving girl who wants to be known for more than her pretty face, and Dan, who puts his career above all else, especially romantic relationships and having fun. They end up working together, both officially at the Boston Navy Yard, and unofficially on the case of a French spy in their midst, when Tess joins WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) during World War II. I loved how the story highlighted an aspect of the Navy I hadn’t heard much about, and how Dan and Tess were able to help each other grow in their careers and in their faith and personal lives. Sarah Sundin does a great job of writing historically accurate stories with relatable characters. I can’t wait for her new series to start next year!
  2. The One True Love of Alice-Ann by Eva Marie Everson | This is another WWII story, with a twist, because it takes place entirely in the United States. It tells the story of Alice-Ann, who is in love with her brother’s friend Mack, although he’s several years older than her. She admits her feelings to him right before he heads overseas, and he agrees to write to her. Several years pass, but before he makes it home, his letters stop and she fears the worst. Meanwhile, her brother’s other friend, Carlton, does make it home, but with wounds on both the inside and the outside. I don’t want to give too much away, but close to the end of the book, Alice-Ann is faced with a choice and has to consider what true love really is. I was kind of surprised by how much I loved this book! Not that I was expecting to dislike it, but even as I was reading it I thought, this is a book I’m definitely going to read again. It was a really sweet, wholesome story that dealt with some tough issues and included characters I wish I could be friends with.
  3. The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert | This was a book I got on sale on Kindle, and I ended up really enjoying it. It covers some tough issues: infertility, relating to aging relatives, growing up with an alcoholic parent, and marriage struggles. It goes back and forth between the points of view of two half-sisters, Carmen and Gracie, who are both facing major struggles in their lives and are learning to trust God instead of trying so hard to maintain control. I think that’s something we can all relate to, no matter what we’re facing! This is a really well-written story that everyone can learn something from.
  4. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee ShetterlyI wanted to read this book after I went to see the movie based on it, and it’s a true story so that made me feel a little better about my goal of reading more nonfiction 🙂 The movie follows the story of three African-American women who worked at NASA in the 1960s. The book talks about the same women, but with a lot more detail and a lot more background. It turns out that a lot of African-American women started working at what was then called NACA, or National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, as mathematicians or “computers” during WWII. Back then, they were developing new technology for airplanes, but after the war their focus eventually switched to space travel. It’s a fascinating story about how much these women accomplished that we never hear about. They enabled the United States to put a man into orbit and then on the moon, not to mention their contributions to our WWII victory. If you like history, you would love this book!
  5. If I Run by Terri Blackstock | I actually read this for the second time, because the second one in the series came out this month and I wanted to refresh my memory. It’s not your typical suspense plot, that’s for sure! It starts out with the main character, Casey Cox, on the run after she found her best friend murdered. It turns out she has good reason to, when we find out that her friend was killed after looking into her father’s supposed suicide many years earlier. Another interesting twist comes in when the victim’s childhood friend, a veteran suffering from PTSD, is hired to help find Casey. Luckily, he realizes that there’s more to the story and that there’s a bigger conspiracy involved. I don’t want to give too much away, but you will definitely want to read the next book! After reading the second book, I found out there’s a third one coming out next year…I can’t wait to finally find out what happens!

What have you been reading lately?

Grace in the Waiting

Grace in the Waiting | Grace to Grow Blog

Dear girl who’s struggling..

I know you’re not where you thought you would be at this point in your life. Maybe you’re living at home when you thought you’d be on your own by now; single when you thought you’d be dating or married; childless when you thought you’d have a houseful of babies; working part-time or for low pay when you thought you’d be on your way to establishing a career. Whatever it is that you think you should have accomplished or achieved or attained by now, I know it haunts you sometimes late at night as you’re trying to sleep, or as you’re scrolling through social media and seeing how perfect your friends’ lives seem to be. I don’t know what’s kept you from those goals and dreams, and maybe you don’t either. Maybe you took some wrong turns that brought you to this place, or maybe there’s nothing you could have done and this is just a season of waiting and learning. Either way, there are a few things I hope you know.

Life is not a race. You are not falling behind. Just because your friends are all getting married, landing their dream jobs, or whatever the case may be, it doesn’t mean you’re somehow losing to them. In fact, if you can take the setbacks and struggles of life and try to see them as blessings, as opportunities to trust God and learn from the situations you’re in, I think that means you’re actually winning at life.

Nothing goes to waste in God’s economy. Maybe your life doesn’t look like you thought it would…but maybe that’s okay. You never know how God is working behind the scenes, how the situations you’re in might turn into something or lead to something better than you could have imagined. You never know how all the puzzle pieces that don’t make sense now might end up fitting together. Years from now, when you look back on this time in your life, maybe you’ll finally see the beauty that grew out of the pain and the longing, even if it wasn’t the result you thought you wanted. God makes everything work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), even if it doesn’t match our definition of what we think would be good for our lives. He knows better than we do, and we can rest in that truth.

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout…so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.'” Isaiah 55:8-11

You are not a failure. To the world, it may look like you are, if you don’t have that house or that job or that ring on your finger. You may feel that way sometimes too, but it’s not true. The only way you can fail at life is to give up, to stop learning and growing and trusting that God has a plan bigger than you can see. You don’t have to keep up with the world’s timetable and definition of success. All you have to do is follow God’s leading and trust that He is working to accomplish His purpose for your life, even when you can’t see it. Never doubt His promise that He “who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phillipians 1:6)

So whatever you’re trying to do…if you’re still trying to find that job, build that savings account, pass that test, or find your true love…don’t give up. Whatever your dream is, don’t give up. If there’s something you can do to accomplish it, put your best effort into it, but don’t worry about what the world thinks of you. Don’t forget that God loves you fiercely and wants what’s best for you, in His perfect way and time, and rest in that truth when you feel worried or discouraged in the waiting.

Dear girl…don’t give up. There is grace in the waiting and hope up ahead.

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Priceless the Movie

One of my favorite music groups for the last few years has been for King & Country, a Christian group led by two brothers, Joel and Luke Smallbone. Last year, they had a concert less than an hour away from where I live, and it happened to be on my birthday, so of course my family and I had to go! 🙂 At the concert, they talked about their movie Priceless that came out in theaters in October, and is now out on DVD and streaming. Joel Smallbone is the lead actor, and some of the other Smallbone brothers helped with the writing, producing, and directing of the movie. Here’s the description of the movie from their website:

“Inspired by true events, PRICELESS is a powerful drama/thriller about James Stevens who was, at one time, a good man with a great life — but that was then and this is now. After the tragic death of his wife and losing custody of his little girl, James is at the darkest crossroad of his life. Angry, desperate, and unable to hold down a steady job, he agrees to drive a box truck on a shady, one-time trip cross country for cash — no questions asked. But when he discovers what he is delivering is actually who, he is compelled to save two beautiful and frightened sisters who are unaware of the danger that awaits them.

Can love, strength, and faith redefine his past and change the course of his future? This unlikely hero risks it all to save these women, confront the forces that oppose him and ultimately discover the life he was meant to live.”

We rented the movie on iTunes while my sister was home for spring break, and my whole family watched it together. It was really powerful and eye-opening, showing how real human trafficking is and how easy it can be for girls to get caught up in it. In the case of this movie, the two sisters thought they were coming to America to work as waitresses or maids to help support their family. The movie does a good job of showing the internal conflict of James, the main character. At first, he didn’t want to acknowledge what was happening; he just wanted to keep his head down and take care of his own daughter, even if it meant doing something a little shady to make the money he needed to support her. As the movie goes on, he realized that he needed to do something to help the girls he had befriended, but he didn’t know what he could do. Luckily, with the help of a new friend, James found the courage to take a stand and try to rescue the girls he unwittingly delivered to their captors, even when it put his own life in danger. This struggle that he faced put his life on a new path and showed him his purpose: rescuing more girls like the ones who changed his life.

This is a really good movie: the story, music, and acting are all very well done. It wouldn’t be appropriate for young children, but is definitely good for young adults or for parents to watch with their teenagers. If you want more information before you watch the movie, you can read Focus on the Family’s review here. This isn’t a fun topic, but I think it’s an important movie to watch. If you want more information about how you can help, go to http://pricelessmovement.com/.

What I Read in February

At the beginning of February, I was really excited for the books I had on my to-read list! Two of my favorite authors released new books on January 31st, so those two are the first ones I listed below. I didn’t read as much as I did in January, but so far I’m still on track to finish 100 books this year!

  1. Happily Ever Ashten by Erynn Mangum (book 3 in the Carrington Springs series) — I’ve loved all of Erynn Mangum’s books that I’ve read, and this one was no exception! They’re all funny, sweet, and clean, and the way she writes about the heroine growing in her relationship with God always feels authentic, not preachy. This book was the third one in a series about three friends, so it was fun to catch up with the girls from the last two books and to finally see what happened with their third friend, Ashten. She’s in the middle of a busy summer working at her family’s restaurant and helping her two friends plan their weddings, wondering about her purpose in the middle of it all, and learning to trust God when her life isn’t turning out the way she imagined and when love doesn’t look like she thought it would. I think this was my favorite book in the series!
  2. Rescue Me by Susan May Warren (book 2 in the Montana Rescue series) — This is the second book in the newest series by one of my all-time favorite authors. Deputy Sam Brooks’ life is orderly and structured; his girlfriend’s sister, Willow’s, life has been anything but. Her adventurous spirit and love for the kids in her youth group led to her take the group on a hike, and Sam went along to help chaperone. Neither of them imagined that the situation would take a dangerous turn, forcing them to learn to rely on God and each other to make it through. Through it all, they learned that no matter how many mistakes we make and how many times we fail, God has proven that He will stop at nothing to rescue us, and He will always be there for us when we need Him the most.
  3. The Inn at Ocean’s Edge and Twilight at Blueberry Barrens by Colleen Coble (books 2 and 3 in the Sunset Cove series) — I found these books on sale, one in paperback and the other on Kindle, and since they take place in my home state of Maine of course I had to read them! 😉 These are books 2 and 3 in the series; I didn’t notice anything that made me wish I had read the first book first, but you should definitely read the second before the third. They’re classified as suspense, and they both have very unique plots and twists you would never see coming! I thought the characters were very well-developed, and both books included important spiritual lessons about our identity in Christ and finding our worth in Him. It can be kind of funny sometimes to read books about Maine written by someone “from away,” but Colleen Coble did a great job representing our state!
  4. From the Start by Melissa Tagg (book 1 in the Walker Family series) — This was a fun read I found on Kindle Unlimited! Kate and Colton are both struggling in their careers, with Kate wanting to do something more meaningful than writing TV movie scripts, and with Colton recently injured and no longer able to play in the NFL. They both find themselves in Kate’s small hometown when a tornado brings her back and her brother, Colton’s friend, talks him in to visiting while he figures out what to do next. It just so happens that Kate and her family need someone to help rebuild her dad’s museum, and Colton needs someone to write his book…but their relationship ended up meaning more to both of them than just business, and taught them about God’s purpose for them in the struggles they’d faced. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m going to look for more books by this author!
  5. Buried Secrets by Irene Hannon (book 1 in the Men of Valor series) — I’ve always enjoyed Irene Hannon’s suspense books, and this was as good as I expected! In this story, a small-town police chief and county detective work together to solve the mystery of remains found buried out in the country. It was written in a unique way; you as the reader know who the killer is the whole time, but it’s still really interesting to watch the main characters figure it out. It’s a fast-paced mystery without being gory or graphic, with likeable characters who are facing challenges in their personal lives as well. This is a great book if you like Christian suspense!
  6. Courage to Soar by Simone Biles — I loved watching Simone Biles compete in gymnastics at the Rio Olympics last summer, so I was excited to read her book! It was fun to read her story and find out what led her to gymnastics and ultimately the Olympics. She had a rough couple of years at the beginning of her childhood, until her grandparents adopted her when she was a toddler. Becoming an elite gymnast takes an enormous amount of hard work and dedication, and having a supportive family was so important to her success, encouraging her in her setbacks and celebrating with her in her victories. Being able to read about the “behind the scenes” of her life helps you to see that even though she was born with a lot of God-given talent, it took a lot of work to become one of the greatest gymnasts of all time. She faced a lot of struggles and setbacks, even a few short years before her historic Olympic performance, but her faith and her family got her through and brought her to where she is today. This book is geared more towards younger readers, but anyone can read it and be inspired!

I have some fun new fiction books I’m looking forward to reading in March, including a new release from one of my favorite authors (When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin), but I’m also working on reading more non-fiction. A couple of the books I’ve started on are Fervent by Priscilla Shirer and To Live is Christ to Die is Gain by Matt Chandler. Hopefully I’ll finish those this month and can tell you about them in next month’s post! 🙂

What have you been reading lately?