Still Life

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What a bunch of twists and turns and dead bodies that Dani Pettrey has woven into a riveting suspenseful romance novel! This is the second in the Chesapeake Valor novels – Cold Shot came before it. In Still Life the author highlights the romance/stories of Avery and Parker. Avery is a photographer, who, at the beginning of the book has gone to a gala to celebrate the opening of a photography exhibit as her childhood friend is a model for the photographer. When her friend Skylar doesn’t show and seems to have disappeared, Avery seeks the help of Parker, a crime scene investigator. Parker loves Avery (their romance began in the previous book) but can Avery trust him enough to love her, even with her past? And why did Skylar not show on the night of her big event?

Blacklisted in the photography business over a controversial shot, Avery Tate answered an ad for a crime-scene photographer. She expected to be laughed at, but crime-scene analyst Parker Mitchell hired her outright- and changed her life. But six months ago, when her feelings for Parker became too strong, she left his employ to sort out her heart.

Now, for the first time, Avery is facing the world that rejected her to attend the gallery opening of a photography exhibit for which her friend modeled. But the only image of her friend is a chilling photo of her posing as if dead- and the photographer insists he didn’t take the shot. Worse, her friend can’t be found, and so Avery immediately calls Parker for help.

As Avery, Parker, and their friends in law enforcement dig into the mystery, they find themselves face-to-face with a relentless and deadly threat.

Mystery, romance, murder, abductions, forgiveness – it’s all inside! And I loved the wonderful descriptions of Baltimore and its surrounding areas! I had never heard of Fort Howard, the abandoned military base,  and found it both fascinating and creepy! So I highly recommend this book if you like CSI type books – a real murder mystery that doesn’t shy away from frightening scenes but is clean in the language and sex scenes – and has a sweet romance. On the other hand, if you have a weak stomach like some of my friends, this one is not for you!

 

The Author: Dani Pettrey

Dani-Press-Page-PhotoDani Pettrey is a wife, mom, grandma, and the author of Cold Shot, the first book in the Chesapeake Valor series, and the Alaskan Courage romantic suspense series, which includes her bestselling novels Submerged, Shattered, Stranded, Silenced, and Sabotaged. Her books have been honored with the Daphne du Maurier award, two HOLT Medallions, a Christy Award nomination, two National Readers’ Choice Awards, the Gail Wilson Award of Excellence, and Christian Retailing’s Best Award, among others.

She feels blessed to write inspirational romantic suspense because it incorporates so many things she loves—the thrill of adventure, nail-biting suspense, the deepening of her characters’ faith, and plenty of romance. She and her husband reside in Maryland, where they enjoy time with their two daughters, a son-in-law, and a super adorable grandson.

Never Forget

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What a fabulous book! Oh my goodness my heart wept for poor Abbie! Her parents abandoned her, her beloved grandpa who raised her has dementia, she married a louse of a man who left her and now she is facing the very real possibility of being booted from the only home she has ever known and her source of livelihood. “Abbie laughed again, bitterly. She should have known he wouldn’t stay. No one in her life ever did. Not her father. Most certainly not her mother. Gran had died and left her for heaven. Debbie had gone off and gotten married to Menard. Even Gramps lived forty years in the past as a young lighthouse keeper, leaving her stranded alone in 1880.” What a lot to have dealt with by the age of eighteen!

But then a man washes up on the shore of her lighthouse island – Rose Island – and he has no memory but because of an overheard conversation, thinks he is her missing/dead husband. But will this be a complication or a game changer?

I really loved the unexpected twists and turns the story had – as well as the depictions of the hard lives lighthouse keepers had. This book is based on a real lighthouse – Rose Island lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island – and on real stories of lighthouse keepers and the storms they battled. I also loved how real Abbie seemed – trying so hard to do the right thing, even when it was so hard, and also how she struggles with how to work with her grandpa to keep him from getting agitated.

Although this book is the fifth book in the series, it really is a stand-alone novel with just a few sentences linking it to the previous books (and personally, I think it is my favorite). I received this book from the author in return for my honest opinion.

 

jody-hedlund-headshot-002The Author:  Jody Hedlund

Winner of the 2016 Christian Book Award and finalist for the Christy Awards, best-selling author Jody Hedlund writes inspirational historical romances for both youth and adults.

Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she’s learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!).

When she’s not penning another of her page-turning stories, she loves to spend her time reading, especially when it also involves consuming coffee and chocolate.

And I just found out that Jody loves the TV show Survivor!!

 

Our Carnival Cruise 2017

 

d6d6dc6f48d9c0ff96d827a177030f45-2We have cruised lots of times but this cruise was the most “memorable”! Yes, we will not forget this one! It began innocently enough – we booked in June and got our cabins together on the Upper Deck of Carnival Glory: one for the 3 kids, one for us and one for my parents, Nana and Poppy. We read the packing lists, packed our bags, checked in for both the cruise and the airlines, found people to watch the dogs (yes, our dog sitter backed out 5 days before the cruise leaving me frantically searching but fortunately a kind friend said she would love to watch my sweet girl) and found rides to and from the airport (again, thanks wonderful friends!).

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Our sweet girl Sally

So, on January 6, the day before our cruise (we like to go the day before so we have a day to “acclimatize” to vacation and warm weather), we eagerly set off for the airport! On our arrival, we found out that our plane had been delayed by 2 hours but no problem – we would go and wait at the lovely, tiny, located-miles-from-most-gates-USO lounge Reagan airport has. But wait, an hour after being there we discover that no, our flight is no longer delayed but on time so we rush off to get through security and get to our flight!  As we are walking on the gangway to our plane, our daughter calls us. She flew a different airlines and arrived at Fort Lauderdale a few hours before us. She has just left the airport and is calling to say that our flight might be delayed because there has just been a shooting at the airport and it is currently closed. However, our flight continues as scheduled and we watch the disturbing newscasts as we fly to Fort Lauderdale. About halfway through our flight, now over South Carolina, the pilot announces that we cannot land at Fort Lauderdale so we are returning to DC. What?? No!! We have a cruise to get on! (Don’t get me wrong – we are horrified for the people at Fort Lauderdale and so grateful our daughter called so we know she is safe – but we need to get to her and our ship!)

 

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We arrive in DC and like the other 100 plus people on the flight try to contact JetBlue to make new flight arrangements. After a good 30 minutes we are set! We have all 6 of us on the 8pm flight to Fort Lauderdale! Whew! We just need to get our bags and recheck them. Unfortunately, the bags have already come through the carousel and have now been put back in the back as “unclaimed luggage” so we need our claim tags to get our luggage. But, mine has disappeared and the lady only thinks they might be able to find it. As we wait for the bags to show, I get a text from JetBlue – our flight has been cancelled! So, back to customer service again! Only now ALL flights to FLORIDA for that night and the next day have been FILLED! There is nothing left but they will refund our money for that flight!!! Yes, I confess – I had a meltdown! What would we do???  Another airline had flights for the next day at double the price and, with a layover and the chance of snow, the possibility of still missing the cruise. We called Carnival and found out that although we had requested travel insurance, it had only gone through for the 3 kids, not us the parents! ACK!

 

At this point daughter Rachel had an idea – a train is out because it took too long (24 hours so we’d still miss the boat!) but we could rent a van and drive – 15 hours would get us there in time. So HERTZ to the rescue! We rented a minivan for the 6 of us and piled in. Mind you, it is cold outside – a snow storm is coming – and we have no coats, gloves, blankets, pillows, – you know, the things you pack for a LONG drive. But we have our phones with Google maps and we set off for Miami or Bust –  1054 miles! Actually we do have 1 blanket that Rachel travels with and since the Nana is cold, we put her in the back, wrap a blanket and a hammock around her and hope she doesn’t get sick! After an hour and a half, the driver is feeling the caffeine we have pumped him with so he needs a potty break. As soon as he stops, he leaps out of the car and runs for the restroom. The rest of us, feeling the cold air, decide to follow. When John comes out of the bathroom he asks me if I have the van key – oops! The key is still in the van and the van is running – even with no one in it. Fortunately, it is still there and all is well! John continues driving until 1 when he needs a break so I started driving at that point and drive until we need gas at 4am. (This is about the 4th stop – all of which have been very quick!) John takes over the driving again, Rachel and David switch places so now David navigates and keeps the driver alert, and I lie down on the floor and get some sleep. (Yes, on the floor – I lowered myself down, slid my legs under my Dad’s legs and put my head where my feet should go and turned sideways – During the night my family would turn to look at me and wonder where’d I’d gone or if I’d been left at the last pitstop – but I was exhausted enough to really sleep!)

After 16 hours and 20 minutes we arrive at the Miami airport and turn in our Joshua – our minivan who got us to the Promised Land (just in case you want to know, even with our breaks we averaged 64mph through the snow and pouring rain). We change into cruise clothes, (ironically, at this point we discover that Nana had a sweater in her carryon bag but never thought to get it out and put it on!) and grab a taxi to get to the Port of Miami! We arrive there just before Kate does so we are all able to check in together. The nightmare is behind us as we board the ship! Or is it?

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Look who’s awake!!

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Yes, it really is – but there are still some more glitches to be endured! The first is the letter we get upon walking into the check in – Our first port, Half Moon Cay, has been cancelled due to the weather. Oh, well, we still have 3 more ports!

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That evening we go to dinner in the dining room – only to realize that Nana and Poppy’s table is upstairs and ours is downstairs! The maître d’ tries to fix it but says we’ll have to wait until the next night. The next night we discover we are now at a table for 12 in the middle of the dining room so we can’t hear each other speak – so that doesn’t work. The maître d’ says we’ll have to go to the other dining room, show up 15 minutes early, and hope they can seat us each night. Not exactly what we requested, but we are still together and having fun!

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Our first port is St. Thomas – we go to the beach and swim and have a wonderful day! 20170111_103633a

The next day finds us in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we have a friend who graciously picks us up and takes us to El Yunque, the only US rainforest! There is almost no one there when we arrive – maybe it’s because it is going to pour rain in just a few minutes and the fun-to-swim-in waterfall is now raging dangerously! No swimming in the falls – but are glad we had our swimsuits on because we got soaked! But the day is awesome because we hiked in the rainforest and then wandered around Old San Juan and caught up with longtime friends and again, we are together and having fun!

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The next morning we all watched from the deck as the ship prepared to dock. We could see the beach and couldn’t wait to get on it as the day was beautiful! But, alas, the wind was too strong and the captain just could not safely dock the massive ship. We got closer and closer to the dock and then started going backwards. When the horn sounded we knew the port had been cancelled! What a disappointment! Yes, a disappointment to not go on the beautiful beaches but grateful that the ship was not harmed – others on the ship did not feel the same way. They began to protest and riot and got quite nasty towards the ship personnel. We think some of them might have needed some time to cool down in a quiet place below, otherwise known as the Brig!

The rest of our trip was uneventful – we didn’t even need to go through customs when we arrived in Miami since we’d never left the US! And our flight was on time, the ice storm didn’t come and our friend had no problems picking us up at the airport!

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Five in the bed is a little crowded but fun!

So, to wrap up – we had a wonderful cruise! We love spending time together and that was great! Our food was fabulous – lobster, prime rib, pizza, chocolate melting cake and ice cream were some favorites. We even got little birthday cakes for John and Kate who celebrate their birthdays at the end of this month.  The Carnival crew was friendly, professional and entertaining – even when they were losing their day off!  Our cruise Director Eric even had a military appreciation event!

 

Will we cruise with Carnival again – ABSOLUTELY!

Will we fly the day before – ALWAYS!

Will we make sure we have cruise insurance – DEFINITELY!

And we can’t wait to cruise again!

Losing Weight – Part 3

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March 2016                               May 2016                                   December 2016

Wow!  What a difference 9 months makes!!  A lot has happened since I last posted about my weight loss journey! And I know all of you have been waiting with baited breath to find out if I met my goal! Did I lose the 30lbs in 9 months or not?

Well… I DID! Yes, last week, just before Thanksgiving I once again stepped on the scale with Rachel videotaping and proved that I had lost exactly 30lbs – with 2 weeks to spare! But Oh. My. Goodness! It was HARD! Yes, the first bit came off easily but then! Kids came home (let’s bake cookies, Mom!), I travelled to Lisbon and Brussels with Kate (let’s eat fries and chocolates and gelato…), and you get the picture! I totally plateaued for 4 months and was starting to wonder if I would lose my bet.

Then I got a flyer in the mail for joining “Losing to Live – Bod4God” at a church not too far from us. I thought about it and then thought it would be too hard to add one more thing. But a few days later a friend told me she was doing it – so I signed up and joined in. There I got weekly motivational speakers, a team to encourage me, and two great books to give additional insight for my weight loss journey. (I highly recommend Bod4God by Steve Reynolds and Small Simple Changes by Rich Kay).

Some of my biggest takeaways from that group were “If food gets near you, it will get in you” and I was right to “manipulate” my surroundings – to tell my kids that certain foods were like kryptonite to me and if they left them out, I would be eating them – so please hide them after you eat them. I also avoided certain places because I knew if I went there, I would be eating something that I wouldn’t be happy about later!

Pastor Steve Reynolds also gave an acronym for the word Diet:

Dedication – We need to dedicate our bodies to God – Put good stuff in so we are healthier.

Inspiration – What inspires us? We should be inspired to live for God and to be blessings for our families.

Eat and Exercise – Are you eating nutritious food or junk food? Are you exercising your body every day?

Team – Get some people to encourage you! (Thank you to John and my other encouraging friends!)

I also started exercising more – I tried to get my 10,000 steps in everyday, not just some days (One friend walked with me for 4 ½ miles at least once a week. I also started trying to beat my other friends who I am linked with on Fitbit – and one friend was beginning training for a half-marathon so I really had to step it up!). I began to run with John a couple of times a week. In fact, in October I ran my first race ever – an 8K on a trail around a nearby lake. Not only did I finish the race, I ran the entire thing – no walking!

Drinking more water became a new habit for me. Lots and lots of water! But, as I drank so much water, I had less room for diet drinks so I began to wean myself off soda.

I even began lifting small weights and walking with a small weight vest, to encourage my metabolism and build muscle instead of losing it.

So slowly the last 10 lbs started to come off. And last night I got the word that yes, my video had been accepted and the money was on its way to me. I am super excited about that – even though I still need to lose some more weight. And, although my eating habits are greatly improved, it is still hard to not succumb to the call of sugar!

If you are trying to lose weight, let me be the first to encourage you! I recommend you find something that inspires you to lose – is it your health (I didn’t want to get diabetes), or your tight clothing, or your lack of energy? Would a team help? (Losing to Live at Capital Baptist will start up again in January or February and I highly recommend it.) Or maybe a money reward (www.healthywage.com)? Figure out what motivates you and go for it!

 

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

 

The Cautious Maiden

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There is a Rafflecopter giveaway for this book going on right now!  Here’s the link:  https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/8040ae3c30/

 

Violet Hawthorne is beyond mortified when her brother Ezra turns their deceased parents’ New England country inn into a brothel to accommodate the nearby lumberjacks; but when Violet’s own reputation is compromised, the inn becomes the least of her worries. In an effort to salvage her good name, Violet is forced into an engagement with a taciturn acquaintance; Vance Everstone. As she prepares for a society wedding, Violet learns that her brother had staked her hand in marriage in a heated poker game with the unsavory Rowen Steele, and Ezra had lost. Now Rowen is determined to cash in on his IOU. With danger stalking her and a new fiancé who hides both his emotion and his past, Violet must decide who to trust; and who to leave behind.

What an adventure! I couldn’t put it down as I kept wondering what would happen next!

This book, I gather, is the 4th book in the series. Unfortunately, I have not read the previous ones but I thoroughly enjoyed this novel – even though some of the references to past events were not familiar to me. Violet and Vance, although semi attracted to each other, are really thrown together by compromising circumstances. But then their love takes blossom – but will it be enough or will other things come between them?

I loved how realistic the conversations between Violet and Vance were as they tried to avoid succumbing to sexual temptation. What a great book to promote purity, even when it’s hard. “He’d (Vance) been so right. Staying pure had nothing to do with good intentions, or knowing what was right. It took so much self-control and accountability and precaution.”

I highly recommend this book. I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

The Author:  Dawn Crandall is an ACFW Carol Award-nominated author of the award winning series The Everstone Chronicles, which consists of four books: The Hesitant Heiress, The Bound Heart, The Captive Imposter and The Cautious Maiden.

Apart from writing, Dawn is also a mom of two little ones and serves with her husband in a premarital mentorship program at their local church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
A graduate of Taylor University with a degree in Christian Education and a former bookseller at Barnes & Noble, Dawn Crandall didn’t begin writing until 2010 when her husband found out about her long-buried dream. It didn’t take her long to realize that writing books was what she was made to do.
Dawn is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the secretary for the Indiana ACFW Chapter (Hoosier Ink), and an associate member of the Great Lakes ACFW Chapter.

 

 

Saffire – A Novel

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I reminded myself that once you start to defend someone, it’s difficult to find a place to stop. But I went ahead and took that first step anyway. . .

For President Teddy Roosevelt, controlling the east-west passage between two oceans mattered so much that he orchestrated a revolution to control it. His command was to ‘let the dirt fly’ and for years, the American Zone of the Panama Canal mesmerized the world, working in uneasy co-existence with the Panamanian aristocrats.

It’s in this buffered Zone where, in 1909, James Holt begins to protect a defenseless girl named Saffire, expecting a short and simple search for her mother. Instead it draws him away from safety, into a land haunted by a history of pirates, gold runners, and plantation owners, all leaving behind ghosts of their interwoven desires sins and ambitions, ghosts that create the web of deceit and intrigue of a new generation of revolutionary politics.  It will also bring him together with a woman who will change his course—or bring an end to it.

A love story set within a historical mystery, Saffire brings to life the most impressive-and embattled- engineering achievement of the twentieth-century.

I confess – I had a hard time getting into this book. It is a historical fiction mystery and there were parts that completely drew my attention. But then I couldn’t keep track of the characters and the background story lines.  And the romance seemed very subtle to me.

I did though find it fascinating to read about the construction of the Panama Canal – the number of workers, the immensity of the moving of so much dirt and pouring so much concrete, and the difficulties with mosquitos and diseases. “Sure the canal would be a monstrous triumph of man over nature. The audacity to connect one ocean to another would be a combination of the world’s largest man-made lake, the world’s largest locks, the world’s largest canal. But well within a lifetime, the decades would pass, and as they did, few would give thought to the wonder of it.”

This book made me want to go and see the amazing Panama Canal. But as I read I felt bewildered (like the key character Jim Holt) as to what the American cowboy was supposed to be doing and for whom. But, for someone who will be visiting the Panama Canal, this would be a fun book to read first!   I received this book from Blogging for Books in return for my honest opinion.

Sigmund Brouwer is the author of eighteen novels with nearly three million copies in print. His recent novel The Last Disciple was featured in Time magazine and on ABC’s Good Morning America. Sigmund is married to Christian recording artist Cindy Morgan, and they and their two daughters divide their time between homes in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada and Nashville, Tennessee.

Amazing Grace

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Ever wondered about the author of the classic hymn Amazing Grace?  Or what caused Newton to pen those striking words?

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found…

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father—until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection. An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves? Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

Is it too trite to say this was an amazing book?! I really did love it and the author has a remarkable skill of intertwining known facts with fictional story telling. I was thrilled when I finished the book and read the author notes at the back to learn the facts the author had about Newton and where she had “made up” stuff – and to know that most of it “really did happen.”

John Newton is known for writing the song “Amazing Grace.” He’s also known as a slave trader whose life changes when he encounters Christ. But what is not known is how his love for his wife Polly also changes him. This is their story – from the time she meets him when she is just a young teenager. Their love is severely tested as he is an irresponsible young man who gets into lots of trouble – so much so that her parents forbid them to see each other and she decides to forget him.

Although John Newton does make many bad choices in his life, I also felt sorry for him because some of his experiences weren’t really his fault, like his mother dying when he was a young lad. And, unfortunately, he perceived that his father did not love him, causing him to have a bad boy attitude: “The truth was he’d never been good enough for his father or for any sort of God. He’d always fallen short in pleasing them both. Being a Christian had been too difficult…If God existed, he’d abandoned him just as his father had done.”

But as Newton goes through physical trials, Polly goes through more mental trials – she loves John and doesn’t want another but “At almost nineteen, Polly was the oldest girl at Mrs. Overing’s… ‘It’s time for you to settle on a young man. If you don’t find one now, you’ll end up a spinster.’ The word spinster sent shudders through all the young ladies every time Mrs. Arabella Manly mentioned it.” Would John return?  Would he ever become a man acceptable in the eyes of her father?

What a love story and story of transformation!  Newton’s “heart opened wide with the need to acknowledge not only the existence of God but also the existence of a merciful and loving God.”  The author at the end says, “I hope (this story) reminds you that there is a God who loves you. Unconditionally. No matter where you’ve been. Or what you’ve done. He will always love you and welcome you home.” And isn’t that the truth – especially seen in the life of John Newton! I highly recommend “Newton and Polly”! I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

PS To see how much you do know about John Newton and his wife Polly, take this quick quiz – https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/newtonandpolly

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