Monday, January 22, 2018

Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter

To be honest, I don't really feel like writing today. I'm in a funk and can't seem to get out, so it's hard to get perspective or find something encouraging when I just feel really overwhelmed. The most frustrating part is that there is no cause. I'm incredibly blessed. I have a God and a family who love me, have been abundantly provided for, and really have nothing to worry about. Yet I can't shake despondency.

When life feels pretty bleak, I know where I'm supposed to turn, but sometimes it's hard to face a God who loves you when you feel unlovable. I have to keep reminding myself of a verse in the Psalms that states "In the midst of my anxieties, your comforts delight my soul" and trust that He's got this even when I'm out of commission.

Today's read was a great way to put my anxieties into perspective for me, and on some level it was a good flashback to how God took care of me even when I was an unmarried, pregnant teenager. Even though I rated this only 3 of 5 stars, it has a lot to offer, especially good ol' Mama Jo.

Dancing with Fireflies (Chapel Springs, #2)Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a heartbreaking introduction!

While I love the plot, some glaring discrepancies in writing made it hard to really appreciate the book. Denise seems to have a problem keeping her characters straight. In the first book of the series, Jade's high school sweetheart is Seth, but in this book he is Aaron (and in a subsequent book, a different character is named Seth). Daniel's parents tell him about the Allen family who, in the very next paragraph become the Crawfords, and you find out his father's name is Allen later on in the book.

Despite the glaring name problem, this is actually a really great story. In the midst of tragedy, characters experience growth. Denise does a masterful job of showing how adversity can either uproot shallow beliefs or really ground you in a deep and meaningful faith. We get to see characters realize that shame and secrets can have control of your life if we let them, but also experience the power redemption.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Barefoot Summer by Denise Hunter

Isn't it funny how we like to have control over our lives? We plan out our days, weeks, months, and even years under the supposition that, not only will we still be alive and well, but that everything to that point will have occurred as planned. My favorite aspect (when I'm not in the middle of it) is when I decide how to fix something askew in my life without consulting the Big Man. As I was reading this book, I realized that I have a tendency to do this pretty often. One of the main characters is haunted - not literally - by the death of her brother, and convinces herself that everything will be hunky-dory again when she fulfills her brother's dream. It seems comical, the idea that by meeting some arbitrary goal, we'll finally find what we're looking for, but I think a lot of us do exactly that in our lives.

I'll be able to relax if I can just get this promotion. I'll be happy if I finally get that new car I've been wanting. Everything will be great once my bank account reaches (fill in your blank). It'll all work out once I invest in Bitcoin. My life will be perfect when my spouse changes this bad habit. Mine tends to be, "I'll find fulfillment when my kids are in school and I can begin my career". The problem with this line of thinking is that we live our lives in the time between.

If we can trust that we are exactly supposed to be right now, we can begin to look for the value in our everyday. I can feel accomplished when I survive a debate with my toddler or finally fold that laundry that's gone through the dryer 24 times. I can find joy in being home with my children and the opportunity I have to shape them into individuals who will grow to be the people I hope for them to be. This is something I'm still learning and have to be reminded of all the time, but as I see God's faithfulness and how He's worked in my life, it makes it easier to trust that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be and give Him the things that I don't understand.

Barefoot Summer (Chapel Spring, #1)Barefoot Summer by Denise Hunter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beckett faces the issue of loving someone of whom you feel completely unworthy. His dilemma is understandable based on his colorful past and rough family situation, but the journey to finding his worth means opening up old wounds.

Madison is driven and has her life all figured out, until she finds herself in need of assistance from the one man she can't stand being around. When she has to let Beckett in to achieve her ultimate goal and finally have some peace, she soon realizes that some things are entirely out of her control.

Denise Hunter has quickly become one of my favorite authors, and this book is a wonderful example of exactly why. She has a great way of diving in to deep spiritual truths wish serious real-life issues, but does so in such a way that the problems and solutions feel like the most natural, simple journey. Her characters speak with a perfect, easy flow and the men she writes actually sound like men (something I'm realizing isn't necessarily common in most female-authored works).

Jump in to this fantastic story and you won't want to put it down! You can get it on Amazon HERE and it even comes in Audiobook form!

The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter

I love the title of this book, completely independent of the actual story line, it really spurs a lot of thought for me. Do we ever get over our wishing season? I feel like there is always something I am wishing for - material, spiritual, intellectual - be it monumental or seemingly insignificant.

Recently, my husband has been asking me a lot of questions about what I want. I know that sounds deep, but really he just couldn't figure out what to get me for my birthday. As I've been trying to come up with the perfect birthday wish, I've been really convicted of my selfishness. I don't really need for anything, but I love getting presents so I don't let that little fact get in the way of a new outfit, jewelry, or what-have-you. Lately, however, I have been feeling this little tug to live out my faith better - to get involved in being the hands and feet of the body of Christ.

I go to church. I read my bible. I pray. I tithe. I go through the motions. My main mission front right now is my family, but I often find myself being lazy in that and using it as an excuse to neglect other outreaches because I'm "too busy". So, for my birthday this year, I'm working on finding a way to contribute in the midst of "too busy". Kids in rough situations has always been one of my tender spots, so I figure that's a pretty good place to start. I've always wanted to get involved with kids in the foster care system (like Cole does in this book), but at this point that's not an option for our family, so God gave me another idea via the radio this morning *Pats self on back for book tie-in*. If you want to find out more, go to Compassion International and see how you can help.

Now I'm off to convince my husband of my brilliance and find another great read. Happy bookworming!

The Wishing Season (Chapel Springs, #3)The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a fun premise! Two people competing to make their dreams come true, but an eccentric benefactor throws a wrench in everyone's plans.

I like Cole. He's very humble and generous - from his intent for winning the competition to the way he treats PJ even when she is pretty horrible to him - but PJ bugs me. I think part of it is that she reminds me of the worst parts of myself, especially my tendencies to be hotheaded and speak without thinking, but it's also that she's very selfish - very baby-of-the-family stereotype with something akin to a princess complex.

I feel like this book was less spiritually focused and much shallower in that regard, which was a bummer for me. Other than the few "please, God"s both characters seem lacking in this area, and there wasn't any deepening as the plot progressed. PJ has a weird spiritual flip flop from not paying about anything to heartfelt prayers for Cole - then right back to the occasional "please give me what I want, God". Cole has good overall character growth giving him a note dynamic feel, but PJ is a very static character.

The romance...WOW. Steamy! Even had my pulse spiking a couple times. Really well written in that regard.

All in all, it was entertaining and still much better than it's secular counterparts. Even with occasional inconsistencies and some superficial characters, I really like Denise's writing and storytelling abilities, and this one is definitely worth a read.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren

I like to be in control. It makes me comfortable when life, my husband, and my children are predictable and everything happens as it should. I don't do well when things go awry. If and when they do, it's obvious to me that God messed up and is just not seeing how perfect my plan is for the situation. I can seriously relate to characters who have to hold the reigns in their lives, and maybe even the lives of others because we know how things should go down.

The problem with my line of thought, is simply that God knows better. He has a plan. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us "'My thoughts are not your thought, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.'" He has the perfect view of our problems.

When we trust Him with the plan for our lives, He is faithful. The problem is that it's not easy to trust someone that you don't know, even if it is the God of the universe. The solution is simple, but not easy. Get to know him. It's simple because everything we need to know, He gave us in the Bible. It's not easy because we actually have to make an effort to find out who He is by studying the Bible. For a long time, I went to church and took notes during the sermon, but that was pretty much the extent of my study. Last year, I started a Bible-in-a-Year program (that I'm almost done with, yay!) and have been amazed by how much more I know of my Lord and Savior as I've seen the vastness of His majesty, the brilliance of His glory, the faithfulness of His promises, and the depth of His love played out in the pages of His Word.

Troubled Waters (Montana Rescue #4)Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Susan May Warren has done it again. Not only is the cover model the *perfect* Ian Shaw, but I can't imagine a better plot for Ian and Sierra, even though it's torture to go through the whole book in the unsettled condition of hoping and praying that they finally get their happy ending. And then, BAM! Right when you think you finally have it figured out, she switches it up on you again... oh the humanity! Finally digging deeper into Jess's backstory, there are some fantastic revelations that I'm still trying to wrap my head around (and maybe wishing a little that I could chain Susan May Warren to a desk until she finishes writing the entire series - preferably in the next week or so - sorry, Susie!), further entrenching these wonderful, flawed people into your heart.

Troubled Waters keeps you suspended in thrills and romance, just like the rest of the series, and like the rest of the series, offers beautiful nuggets of spiritual wisdom that will encourage a deeper faith in your own life. I love the verse that is quoted multiple times throughout the book from Psalm 142:

I cry to you, Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Listen to my cry,
for I am in desperate need...
Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
because of your goodness to me.

I keep thinking that one of these books can't possibly get any better than the next, but I love being pleasantly surprised with each new release. I CANNOT wait for this summer's release of Storm Front!!

Follow the link HERE to buy Troubled Waters through Amazon, and click HERE to pre-order your copy of Storm Front!


Friday, January 12, 2018

Crossfire by Susan May Warren

Fun fact: I met my husband when I was only eight-years-old. Of course I never would have guessed it at the time, since he was strictly off-limits as one of my big brother's friends.We grew up together, going to the same small school where everyone knew everyone, but we never dated one another.

We didn't end up getting together until a year after I graduated from high school. I was coming back home from a failed venture to spread my proverbial wings, and he was finishing up college at the state school in town when we crossed paths again. So, it makes sense that I'm a sucker for childhood romances that somehow find their happy ending, and I was not disappointed by Crossfire. It's an excellent accompaniment to the exciting Montana Rescue series by my favorite author.

Crossfire (Montana Rescue #4.5)Crossfire by Susan May Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you need a quick read that is SO worth the time, Crossfire is exactly the book for you!

So good! I've liked Kade ever since his first appearance in the prequel novella If Ever I Would Leave You (get it for FREE HERE), but Haddie is such a great partner for him. I can't get enough of childhood love reborn, and boy howdy this was perfect. I must admit though, as much as I loved their story, Pete's brief appearance really roped me in. Full of intrigue and excitement, Crossfire is sure to capture your attention and a little piece of your heart, too.

Grab this exciting story HERE then dive in to Troubled Waters, the newest book in the Montana Rescue series!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Matter of Trust by Susan May Warren

Here's to a new day. Praise the Lord His mercies are new every morning, because I don't know about all of you but I most certainly need a fresh helping daily. Reading the next book in the Montana Rescue series had me craving a mountain escape (maybe with a little less danger, but the romance can stay 😉) Living in Colorado, I get the amazing privilege of staring at the majesty of the Rocky Mountains every day, but I think it only deepens the longing to escape there. I've only recently discovered the healing and restorative powers of nature and being surrounded by God's amazing creation.

Growing up, I never had the opportunity to attempt skiing or snowboarding even though I was only a 2 hour drive from some of the nation's most renowned resorts, so when I started dating my now-hubby, I was excited to tag along and have him teach me the coolest (get it?) sport ever... yeah, I know I'm corny, but it amuses me. Anyway, my first trip down the slopes at Keystone took almost four hours and a complete breakdown. In retrospect, I'm amazed the man still asked me to marry him, but he stayed with me through the whole trip - encouraging me when I fell and cheering for my successes. God is so much like that in our lives. He's there for us through it all, trying to lead us down the best line, even when we falter.

A Matter of Trust (Montana Rescue, #3)A Matter of Trust by Susan May Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cannot get enough of this series and it's fantastic characters and themes. Gage, Ella, Ty, and Brette are wonderfully developed characters with almost immediate depth. A Matter of Trust grabs you right from the get-go and has you careening down a story line that you hope never comes to an end. The way this story works into the over-arching plot of the series is pure genius. Constant action keeps you on your toes, only slightly tempered by some heart-stopping romantic moments (can I get an AED over here, please!?) Making this a ride you don't want to miss. And maybe making you wish you were a world-class snowboarder. Get it HERE to see how amazing it is for yourself!

The spiritual themes in this book are so magnificent, as I've grown accustomed to with Susan May Warren. Her portrayal of the truth of God's unending grace and goodness tunnel into your soul and leave you feeling uplifted, full of hope and promise.

That epilogue, though... oh my goodness, thank goodness the next book in the series released this month, because I can't imagine having to wait another month. Grab Crossfire HERE (a novella about Kade, the manager of Ian's ranch) to hold you over, get a little more into just how Ian uses his talents to help save lives, and then you'll be ready for Troubled Waters!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Rescue Me by Susan May Warren

Y'all, it's been a rough 36 ish hours. I had a mini mental breakdown last night after a REALLY rough day with my almost 5-year-old and had to live on some worship music today to try to get my head right again, but I'm still squeezing this review in under the radar. Funny how life happens and completely blindsides us even though it's just life and we should be used to that kind of stuff by now.

To tie my day in to this wonderful book, let me just say that yesterday felt like a failure. I couldn't deal with my preschooler. I was so exhausted by the constant battles that I legitimately hated being a mom. The funny thing about God is that he opens the doors to those situations in our lives because of who He is, not because of who we are. I heard somewhere recently that depression (something I often struggle with) happens when we focus on ourselves rather than God. Yesterday was another opportunity for me to see that I am not strong enough. That I can't raise my girls to be the women I want them to be. That I will fail. Thank the Lord that He has already redeemed my failure and that my weaknesses can be glorifying to Him.

If you're in a place like that, where you're worn out and struggling, first, refocus on God, spend some time praising the Creator for all He is, then pick up this book and be encouraged by this fantastic example of God's protection, provision, and even abundance when we can't do it on our own.

Rescue Me (Montana Rescue, #2)Rescue Me by Susan May Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Sam and Willow (and now I can't wait to see the next step with Jess and Pete!) Maybe it's because I can relate to Willow in her clumsy, passionate existence, but she's probably one of my favorite characters Susan May Warren has ever created. And Sam? Soo smokin hot. I struggled with the moral aspect of part of this book. When some serious emotional crises go down and lead to multiple errors in judgement, the characters seem a little too passé about the situations as they get sorted out, but it felt very real-life.

As for the major theme of this book: Sooooo good! The best way I could sum it up is Grace in failure. If we don't recognize that we need help, we end up not only frustrated with our shortcomings, but we rob Good if the opportunity to show up for us. Willow says it perfectly.

"Because if we can save ourselves, we don't need God."

I know this book will inspire you as much as it has me. Go buy it HERE.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Wild Montana Skies by Susan May Warren

I was originally planning on taking this thing much slower, but if I don't keep up with my reading pace, I don't think I'll be as consistent with my reviews. Don't worry, though. I normally slow down, take a breather, and maybe do some laundry between series - I may even wash dishes depending on how desperate the home front situation is looking. 😉 So, while my house is beginning to look like a tornado hit, what can I do but distract myself with Wild Montana skies? This is the first official book in the Montana Rescue Series, with the novella If Ever I Would Leave You diving in a little deeper to the events leading up to this story. If you haven't already, just save yourself some time and go buy the entire series right now. Otherwise, it gets really frustrating when you wrap up one adventure, but can't start on the next one until you re-sync your Kindle, have to drive to the nearest bookstore, or (Lord forbid) wait for your copy to be shipped to you.

Wild Montana Skies (Montana Rescue, #1)Wild Montana Skies by Susan May Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only thing better than reading this book is reading it for the second time. I didn't have a chance to write a review last time (Sorry, Susie!) but it was so great, I had to share it with you!!

There is an amazing depth to Susan May Warren's books that will draw you deeper into her stories and the truths her characters discover than I ever could have imagined. All of the characters whose voices appear in this story struggle in one way or another with feelings of unworthiness, which is something I know I can relate to. The beauty in this book is summed up in the simple fact that you can't out-sin God. His grace is way bigger than our failures. But beyond that, Kacey, Ian, Ben, and Sierra are so well written you'll swear you've met them in the flesh. The plot is glorious, the suspense thrilling, the romance... goodness gracious! get me some ice water! Just make sure you have time to read every book in the series, because you won't want to stop once you've started.

You can find all of the books here on Susan May Warren's site, so go get 'em!

Monday, January 8, 2018

First Book Review: If Ever I Would Leave You

I love new years.

They're all about a fresh start and resolutions to be the person you want to be. In honor of the new year, my blog is undergoing a few changes and I'm really excited to be transitioning into book reviews. Hi, my name is Tiffany and I'm a bibliophile. True to my moniker, I have progressed past trashy, modern fiction, and found a serious love of Christian/Inspirational Romance as well as other books that encourage me to become the person God has created me to be (I can use all the encouragement I can get, still being a SUPER flawed individual). TheModestMillennial is about more than just reading decent, edifying literature, however. It is also something that I will continue to strive for, having a natural bent toward pride. Thankfully, God loves me where I am and is willing to work on me, transforming me to become more and more like Him as I submit myself.

So, I thought I'd kick things off with a review of a book by my favorite author Susan May Warren. This e-book is a prequel to her Montana Rescue Series and is available for free on her website and through Amazon, so go get a copy as soon as you can!

If Ever I Would Leave You (Montana Rescue #0.5)If Ever I Would Leave You by Susan May Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, after finishing all the existing books in this series last year, I had to revisit them in honor of the release of Troubled Waters (Jan 2, 2018).

If you can't picture the perfect Tall Dark & Handsome, just read Susie's description of Ian Shaw *insert swoon here*. His dark past keeps threatening to overtake him - resurrected by his niece's actions - but the one hope he has to hold on to is beautiful, kind, faithful Sierra Rose. This short introduction to the saga that is Ian and Sierra is the perfect combination of suspense, steamy moments, and faith-building conversations, encouraging you to deepen your understanding of how God can love us and give us good things when we feel anything but worthy.

This novella is the perfect length and pace to get you swept away in the Montana Rescue series, and since it's FREE through Amazon and Susan May Warren's website, there has never been a better time to catch a glimpse of this gifts with which God has abundantly blessed this writer. (I will warn you that once you start this book, you will be budgeting your time and your money for more of Susie's captivating stories). Go get your copy now and get lost - and maybe found - in the adventures of this amazing PEAK Search and Rescue team.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Hope for the New Year

Here I am, basically re-kicking-off my blog due to the interference of life last year. I called a penalty, gained half the distance to the goal and am back at it again. Last year had it's ups and downs, but over all, I think it was a good building year for me. I know that I was definitely convicted of certain "gods" that I allow in my life, and while I like to blame my addictive personality (I really do come by it honestly... it's genetic, I swear), I know that I need to own up to my deficiencies and allow God to work on me. There will probably be a blog on that aspect of my life later, so for now I'll just say 184 books in 365 days is NOT a healthy habit.

SO, it's a new year. Happy New Year, everyone!

We had a really great sermon on New Years Eve at my church that really challenged me, and I'll pass on the gist of it really quick. 
(You were supposed to have read that in the iconic James Earl Jones voice of Mufasa from the Lion King, by the way.) As the years fly by at ever increasing speeds, we need to take the time to be still and remember what God is doing. We are to remember the Wildernesses, the Works, and the Words.

The wildernesses (or struggles) that I've experienced over the last year has mostly been in relationships. There are a couple of people in my life that I honestly have a hard time loving. As a Christian, God has called me to love everyone, but it's much easier read than done. The cool thing that I discovered is that we don't have to be pros at everything right away, not only that, but I found a verse that totally changed the way that I approach my struggles. Philippians 2:13 says that God is working in us, giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him. I've recently started praying that God will give me the desire to love those I struggle with, and I know that He is faithful.

The works of God that I've seen in my life is mostly blessings that have been poured out over the last year for our family. Firstly, God opened a door for my hubby two years ago to a new job that allowed us to purchase a house last year and really has just been more provision than we could have dreamed of. The other major work has been the developmental progress of our youngest daughter, Adelyn. She was diagnosed with an Unspecified Neurodevelopmental Disorder in August (previously it had been Global Developmental Delays) which is just as vague as it sounds. As hard as it has been over the last four years since we first noticed her delays, she continues to confuse doctors and educators everywhere with steady (albeit slow) gains, and audio recall that still freaks me out - especially when paired with her echolalia (a nearly compulsive parroting of speech). This last year, I have seen such wonderful progress in her comprehension and coordination as well as a very distinct and strong personality. She'll be five years old on the 21st of this month, and I feel like this is the year that God is going to do something really amazing. It's important to remember that all good things come from Him - they are not something we've earned or are entitled to. "'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts." Zechariah 4:6

Finally, the words that God has spoken into my life in 2017. The two verses I've listed above have really been strong themes, but the verse that got me through the year was Psalm 46:1.
"God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble"
Some of you may know that I have a pretty dark past. If you want to hear my testimony, please feel free to comment or e-mail me and I'd love to share it with you. I still struggle a lot with my go-to sins. From what I've gleaned from conversations with other people, I think we all have one or two temptations that are the most natural thing in the world to fall back in to. Unfortunately, my times of trouble tend to be self-inflicted, but it's been amazing to me how God can give us power over our temptations if we let him. Even though I slipped up a couple times, having this verse committed to memory and on post-it notes all over my house kept me from stumbling every time something triggered me.

I hope you take a little time to look back and see God's faithfulness through your wildernesses, the works he's done in your life, and the words that he's written on your heart. I'd love to hear about it if you do.

I wish all of you a wonderful 2018!