Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reviewer's Bookshelf: To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander

Book Summary (Goodreads): With fates bound by a shared tragedy, a reformed gambler from the Colorado Territory and a Southern Belle bent on breaking free from society's expectations must work together to achieve their dreams—provided that the truth doesn't tear them apart first.

Sylas Rutledge, the new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, invests everything he has into this venture, partly for the sake of the challenge. But mostly to clear his father's name. One man holds the key to Sy's success—General William Giles Harding of Nashville's Belle Meade Plantation. But Harding is champagne and thoroughbreds, and Sy Rutledge is beer and bullocks. Sy needs someone to help him maneuver his way through Nashville's society, and when he meets Alexandra Jamison, he quickly decides he's found his tutor. Only, he soon discovers that the very train accident his father is blamed for causing is what killed Alexandra Jamison's fiancee—and what has broken her heart.

Spurning an arranged marriage by her father, Alexandra instead pursues her passion for teaching at Fisk University, the first freedmen's university in the United States. But family—and Nashville society—do not approve, and she soon finds herself cast out from both. Through connections with the Harding family, Alexandra and Sy become unlikely allies. And despite her first impressions, Alexandra gradually finds herself coming to respect, and even care for this man. But how can she, when her heart is still spoken for? And when Sy's roguish qualities and adventuresome spirit smack more of recklessness than responsibility and honor?

Sylas Rutledge will risk everything to win over the woman he loves. What he doesn't count on is having to wager her heart to do it.

Set against the real history of Nashville's Belle Meade Plantation and the original Fisk University Jubilee Singers ensemble, To Wager Her Heart is a stirring love story about seeking justice and restoring honor at a time in history when both were tenuous and hard-won.

My thoughts...I have thoroughly enjoyed Tamera Alexander's Belle Meade Plantation book series. Each book is unique in its connection to the historical home, and also features different historical events that took place in 19th century Tennessee. The way that Alexander weaves a mix of fictional characters in with non-fictional ones, makes each story even more interesting and gives a little history lesson without a textbook feel. It is impressive and shows how much thought and research is put into each novel.
My expectation before I started reading To Wager Her Heart was that it would be centered around the railroad. While that is part of the story, as our hero is a rugged railroad man, an even bigger part is centered around the heroine, Alexandra. This novel is a journey detailing a woman's personal growth through a time of loss and heartache. She must face her fears and insecurities as she travels by herself, without the support of her family, to become a teacher at Fisk University. As a teacher myself, I loved her passion for the mission she felt God was leading her to do, as well as the friendships she developed along the way. Our hero, Sylas, while a total opposite of Alexandra, learned to appreciate her business savvy and ability to connect with those in high society. This is what drew them together, but I appreciated the friendship and mutual respect that was developed between these two characters.
Some of my favorite quotes are:
"No matter where you're going, God is already there."
"None of us knows what we're fully capable of doing until God leads us to a place where we realize our strength is nothing compared to his. He says to take a step, yet you look out and see nothing but thin air in your path. Yet, he calls you on. And only when you finally trust him and take that step into nothingness do you discover you're standing on solid ground."
If you enjoy historical Christian fiction, you'll enjoy this novel by Tamera Alexander. I would also highly recommend her other novels, all of which are in the same genre.

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley to give an honest opinion of this book, which I did.**

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman

Book Summary (Goodreads)...Natchez, MS; 1791
Anxious for his brothers to join him on the rugged frontier along the Mississippi River, Connor O'Shea has no choice but to indenture himself as a carpenter in exchange for their passage from Ireland. But when he's sold to Isabella Bartholomew of Breeze Hill Plantation, Connor fears he'll repeat past mistakes and vows not to be tempted by the lovely lady.

The responsibilities of running Breeze Hill have fallen on Isabella's shoulders after her brother was found dead in the swamps along the Natchez Trace and a suspicious fire devastated their crops, almost destroyed their home, and left her father seriously injured. Even with Connor's help, Isabella fears she'll lose her family's plantation. Despite her growing feelings for the handsome Irish carpenter, she seriously considers accepting her wealthy and influential neighbor's proposal of marriage.

Soon, though, Connor realizes someone is out to eliminate the Bartholomew family. Can he set aside his own feelings to keep Isabella safe?

My thoughts...I was first drawn in to this novel by the beautiful cover. It captures Isabella's character and the setting so well!
I don't know much about the Natchez area or its' history, but Pam Hillman gave a great description that helped me visualize it without going overboard with too much detail. The vivid description of Breeze Hill made me feel as if I were walking through the rooms, seeing the layout, the furnishings, and charred remains of each room.
Connor O'Shea was a hero after my own heart. Masculine, with a deep sense of commitment to family and protectiveness over those who are in need, and then throw in the Irish iron will and really doesn't get much better than that! Isabella was a little bit of the damsel in distress, but never gave up on serving her injured father or those who depended on her. She was a heroine that I could respect.
The overall pace of the story was steady and strong, my only concern in the beginning of the novel being that too much of the villain's motives were revealed. While I would've liked to have more suspense in that case, I was still pleasantly surprised with how the story unfolded. There was plenty of intrigue and action to keep me turning the pages til the end.
I look forward to reading more of Hillman's books in the future!

**I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to express my thoughts and opinions, which I did.**

Friday, August 11, 2017

God's Faithfulness in the Midst of Hardship...a conclusion and new beginning

Journaling has always been therapy for me, so as I sit tonight, processing my thoughts and emotions, I wanted to record them. Not just for myself, but for all who want to know how God can take dust and make it into something beautiful. He can use our suffering as a means to bring glory to Himself.
My last personal post was at the New Year, about a month after my Mom had surgery to amputate her arm. In the beginning of 2017, Mom was doing wonderfully. She struggled with some pain and occasional discouragement, but the determination she's always had shone through it all. She told me several times that she just wanted to live her life to the fullest, even if she had to do it with just one arm. And she did. She learned how to drive again. She weaned herself off most of her pain medication. She went to the grocery store, went with my Dad to the movies, and began cooking again. So many times I sat amazed, thinking to myself that I could never endure what she had with such a great perspective. She was even planning to share her testimony at a local church's senior group. She was nervous about it, but knew that it was a way that she could give God glory.
I continued to spend time with my parents during the week while my children were at school, and my youngest son and I would spend most afternoons there after I picked him up. One day I found him and "Mimi" reading a book together in her room. It warmed my heart. When our kids played soccer in the spring, we were able to spend the night with my parents a lot after soccer practice and the nights before soccer games. Looking back, I'm so very thankful God gave us those days and nights of sweet fellowship. I will cherish them.
In February, a routine scan showed that Mom's cancer had begun to spread to her lungs. At this point they were small spots, but they had to be removed. I was able to take her to a few of her doctor's appointments in Atlanta during this time. As one who struggles with high levels of anxiety when it comes to going to any kind of doctor, it was hard to do this, but I'm glad now for that time of fellowship with her. We would always eat together in the cafeteria of either the hospital or the doctor's office, and enjoy each other's company. I'm so very thankful for those moments. Mom pressed on through two lung surgeries and still had her positive attitude. The aggressiveness of this cancer caused all of us to be concerned. I know that Mom was afraid and overwhelmed at times. She didn't let it defeat her, though. She continued to recuperate and try to live each day to the fullest.
Easter 2017
She and my Dad were able to drive down to our church in Unadilla, GA and celebrate Easter with us. It was a sweet day as she was able to be with our family and meet our church family who had been lifting her up in prayer so often. When our daughter became a Christian and was baptized, Mom and Dad were able to be there with us for that special occasion. Special memories I will never forget and I'm so grateful for.
The months continued and Mom began have a lot of pressure in her chest area, and we discovered there was a pocket of fluid buildup in her left lung. She had it drained at the hospital and a port was put in so that she could try a round of chemotherapy. Most of the month of June I was teaching summer school and beginning the process of being hired for a new job when school started. I was juggling my new work schedule, my family, and so many other things. The times I was able to drop in on Mom and Dad were not as often as I would've liked, but I could tell that when I was there, she wasn't feeling well. Despite all that she was feeling, she still took the time to plan a surprise 40th birthday party for me on July
Me, Mom, and my sister on my 40th birthday
4th. Just thinking about this brings tears to my eyes. My Mom knew how much I loved surprises. She also knew how much I loved my birthday, and this year was a big year for me. When I told her that she didn't have to go to all of that trouble, she said, "I wanted to do it!" Afterwards she sent my husband a text that said, "It was my joy and pleasure to see how happy it made her! It was fun and the food was good!!" :-) That was my Mom. Always loving and serving others. It brought her joy to see others happy.
Mom continued to feel more pressure in her chest and was struggling to breathe as the month went on. She knew something wasn't right, but thought it was more fluid that had built up. She and my Dad did manage to take a much desired trip to Panama City Beach, even though she wasn't feeling like herself after she had tried a few rounds of chemotherapy. The chemo had made her feel terrible. It took a lot out of her, but I know she was glad to go on their annual trip and be near the ocean, which was one of her favorite places.When she went to the doctor for another check up, they discovered that a new tumor had grown in a matter of weeks and had filled her left lung, rendering it useless. We now knew why she had been in a lot of pain and struggling for breath. She stayed at Emory a few days to get stabilized and they put her on oxygen. They also began a new drug that could potentially help prolong life. Mom went home and began yet another new "normal." The new drug did seem to help with her pain level and the oxygen helped her breathe better. In my heart, though, I felt that our time was short. I hoped that it wouldn't be, but I had a sense that being with her and saying things to her that I wanted to say was something I didn't need to put off.
I was working at my new teaching job, as school started August 1st, and had to often return home so that I could take care of the kids and relieve our babysitter. I was, however, still able to have some wonderful moments with Mom in which she was fully aware and awake. One day that stands out in particular was one in which I was speaking to one of my coworkers about our situation, Mom's illness, and some struggles I was having. She had gone through a similar experience with her father. She told me that one day it just clicked with her that she could let go of the struggles and see the time she was able care for her parents as a privilege. It was a privilege to spend those final days serving them, being with them, and all the other things going on just didn't matter. When I walked in to my parent's house that afternoon, those words were on my heart and mind, and it made a huge difference in my perspective. That day Mom was sitting on her bed in her room and she and I were able to talk, just the two of us. She wanted to know about my job, how things were going...just catch up on life. I was also able to tell her how brave I thought she was and how well she had fought her battle this year. I told her that her journey honored the Lord and that many people would come to Jesus because of this. She kind of laughed it off, but for me, it felt like a holy moment. That day I was able to help her do things to get her comfortable, things that I normally felt awkward doing, but as I saw it as a privilege it brought me joy. After a few hours that day, Mom was tired and laid down to rest. I left her house with joy and peace. A few days later Mom was taken by ambulance to the hospital for a high heart rate and breathing problems.
I went to the hospital that night and along with several others and waited for Mom to get stabilized. She was put in the ICU and we thought that she would get what she needed and would soon come home. I went to work on Monday and felt concerned, but still thought we had a good bit of time left with Mom. My brother was with her and messaged us that it looked like things were getting steadily worse and Hospice care was what we were moving towards. Once again, I'm thankful that my husband, children, and I were able to spend some time with her while she was still able to talk. She saw the children and was able to say a few words to them. You could tell that having her grandchildren there lifted her spirit. After we got home that night my brother called and said Mom's time of passing was near. I was so surprised after just seeing her a few hours before. I'm so glad I was able to go back up to the hospital and be with Mom during her final hours, along with my brother, sister, Dad, and other family members. While it was heart-wrenching, it was also a sweet time to pray with her, encourage her, tell her we loved her, and hold her. At 5:20am, on August 8th, 2017, exactly one year to the day of her cancer diagnosis, my Mom went to her forever home in Heaven.
Today was my Mom's funeral. I have honestly felt the presence of the Lord, His comfort, His peace, through all of this. I have cried tears, and I know I will continue to grieve and miss my Mom terribly, but I have a joy that can only come from knowing that my Mom's suffering has ended, she is with her Father in Heaven, and I will one day see her again. I told one of my best friends, who has been with us the past two days, that I think I've been grieving all year. I've felt the heartache of the many hard things my parents have had to go through. Moving away from our childhood home, the loss of freedom to go and do things like we used to, the physical pain, and the type of fellowship we used to have. I've grieved my children losing their grandparents at such an early age, as they've already lost both of their paternal grandparents and now their beloved "Mimi." Through the loss, through the pain, I know that there is a deeper intimacy with Christ that is gained. My Mom experienced that this year. She depended on God even more than she ever had. She told me through all of this, she was experiencing the marriage she had always wanted, as she and my Dad would spend the evenings reading God's Word together, praying together, and even singing old hymns together. I grew in my own dependence on God and have been humbled in many new ways. God gave me and my family the gift of time and fellowship with my Mom this year. And what a beautiful, treasured gift that was! I had more time with her this year than I've had in many years past, along with my husband and children as well. I can only give God the glory for arranging that.
My Mom loved God. My prayer is that through my sharing her journey others will come to know Him. This life is just the beginning of our story. If you want to learn more about how to know Christ, start with the book of John in the Bible. You can have a relationship with Jesus along with the blessed assurance of a life beyond the one we have on this earth. God bless!<3 bless="" god="" p="">