Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My "Want to Read" List for 2018

Since I shared last time about my favorite books from 2017, I thought I’d also offer you my “want to read” list—so far. :)

Books I’m geeked about reading in 2018:

5. Beth Vogt’s – Things I Never Told You (May 2018)

It's been ten years since Payton Thatcher's twin sister died in an accident, leaving the entire family to cope in whatever ways they could. No longer half of a pair, Payton reinvents herself as a partner in a successful party-planning business and is doing just fine--as long as she manages to hold her memories and her family at arm's length.

But with her middle sister Jillian's engagement, Payton's party-planning skills are called into action. Which means working alongside her opinionated oldest sister, Johanna, who always seems ready for a fight. They can only hope that a wedding might be just the occasion to heal the resentment and jealousy that divides them . . . until a frightening diagnosis threatens Jillian's plans and her future. As old wounds are reopened and the family faces the possibility of another tragedy, the Thatchers must decide if they will pull together or be driven further apart.

4. Francine Rivers – The Masterpiece (February 2018). 

A successful LA artist, Roman Velasco appears to have everything he could possibly want―money, women, fame. Only Grace Moore, his reluctant, newly hired personal assistant, knows how little he truly has. The demons of Roman’s past seem to echo through the halls of his empty mansion and out across his breathtaking Topanga Canyon view. But Grace doesn’t know how her boss secretly wrestles with those demons: by tagging buildings as the Bird, a notorious but unidentified graffiti artist―an alter ego that could destroy his career and land him in prison.

Like Roman, Grace is wrestling with ghosts and secrets of her own. After a disastrous marriage threw her life completely off course, she vowed never to let love steal her dreams again. But as she gets to know the enigmatic man behind the reputation, it’s as if the jagged pieces of both of their pasts slowly begin to fit together . . . until something so unexpected happens that it changes the course of their relationship―and both their lives―forever.

3. Jill Lynn - Her Texas Cowboy (April 2018)

When Rachel Maddox returns to her hometown of Fredericksburg, Texas, avoiding her ex is much easier said than done. Still nursing the broken heart Rachel caused years earlier, rancher next door Hunter McDermott figures he can be cordial for the brief time she’s in town—maybe they can even be friends. But how do you forge just a friendship with someone you’ve always pictured as your bride?

2. Terri Blackstock - If I Live (March 2018)
Casey is hiding again—in Memphis this time—but it’s different now. She knows without a doubt that Dylan believes her and is doing all he can to help bring Brent’s killer to justice. He’s become an unexpected friend . . . and even, maybe, something more. Hope makes everything more bearable.

Casey makes a deal with the DA to turn over all the evidence she and Dylan have gathered against Keegan and Rollins—only to discover that the DA is in league with them too. After a desperate escape, who can they possibly turn to now?

Time is running out for Casey, but master suspense writer Terri Blackstock will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the last, utterly satisfying page.

1. Charles Martin – Send Down the Rain (May 2018)
Allie's second husband is killed tragically when his 18-wheeler crashes into the rocks near their home in Cape San Blas--the tanker was full of fuel and the explosion could be seen on overhead satellites. She'd already lost the beloved waterfront restaurant her parents started and now losing her husband, no matter how unfulfilling their marriage was, might just push her over the edge.

Joseph's time in Vietnam left him with scars that never seemed to heal. No matter how he's tried to love or what he's tried to do since then, he can't pull himself out of the wreckage of his former life. His trust and security shaken, he isolates himself in a cabin. But every morning, he faithfully pours two cups of coffee, drinking his while he sits with the second, and then pouring out the full cup.

It's no small coincidence that Joseph found a mother and her two young children lost in the woods near his cabin. Or that when he helps them return to family in Florida, he's near enough to see that explosion. Near enough to know it's close to home. Near enough to know that his childhood sweetheart needs him.

The years have built so much distance between them, but it's the secrets that may be their final undoing. Send Down the Rain reminds us of the beauty of truth . . . and the power of love to wash away the past.


What about you, my friends? Any books you want to read this year?

*The blurbs are from the future back covers, listed on Goodreads.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Who’s Leading this Dance?

After we’d been married a little over a year, Howell bought me dancing lessons for Christmas, which was an awesome gift because I love to dance. Within only a few minutes of our first private lesson, the instructor was already correcting my attempts to lead.

We laugh about it now, and sometimes when we’re dancing, Howell still has to remind me.
But as a newlywed, I not only wanted to lead when we danced; I often plowed over Howell’s leadership, asserting my opinion of what I thought we should do.

Our marriage fell into that habit within the first year or two. Howell would defer to me, and I would decide what we should do.

In the last several years, however, I’ve found so much value in letting him lead, and as I was reflecting on 2017, I kept coming back to how much I’d learned about submission and following my husband’s leadership during the really hard times.

We faced a lot of transitions in 2017, but every time we were confronted with a decision, when I felt anxious about what to do, or when a new or unexpected opportunity opened, I looked to Howell.

My go-to phrase became, “You tell me what you think we should do, and I’ll support whatever you decide.”

These words weren’t empty or manipulative; there wasn’t a hidden agenda. I found myself in a place where I needed to know what he wanted more than I needed to give my opinion, and his direction brought me peace because I trust him. I know he hears from God, and he’s going to obey.

So if Howell thinks we should do something new, I can be at peace with that, and if Howell thinks we should stay the course, I can be at peace with that.

I’m not suggesting I can’t or don’t have an opinion anymore or even that wives shouldn’t speak their mind. But while my hubs cares about me and wants to know what I think, he’s still the head of our house, and he shoulders the responsibilities for our family.

2017 challenged us in many ways, as we stepped out in faith and tried to do what we felt God was asking us to do. We grew closer than ever—a interesting outcome to ponder given that early last year someone prophesied over us we would soon reach a new honeymoon phase in our marriage.

The more I’ve learned to listen to my husband and acknowledge his decisions and support him, the more he feels confident and encouraged to lead—even when or if it feels like a crazy or scary change to make.

Friends, if your shoulders feel heavy with the weight of decisions to make—whether big or small, I encourage you to let your husbands make the call.

Your hubs will feel respected, and you’ll feel released from carrying the burden on your own.

I firmly believe God blesses us when we honor our husbands in this way.

How can you let your husband lead you today? 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Favorite Books of 2017

2017 was a big year for my writing. I wrote a new book, and I semi-finaled in Genesis with my first novel and finaled in First Impressions with the second one. I also got an agent, and he and my critique partner helped me make revisions to the second book and proposal before sending it to a potential publisher.

Last year was also a big year for reading, for me anyway. I read almost 50 books, and while that number might seem high or low to some, it was huge for me. Since grad school (cerca 2007), I’ve been lucky to read about a dozen books a year, and some years, even less than that.

But everything I’ve read, every conference or workshop I’ve attended all suggest that if I want to improve my writing, I should also read more, inside and outside my genre.

So, I went to work in 2017. I set a reading goal on Goodreads for 20 books, and when I passed that in the summer, I made it 30 books, and then 40, and then 50.

I had a hard time narrowing my favorites (and I cheated a little by listing an entire series for two of them), but here are my top ten from 2017:

10. Three Little Words. I read this book because my best friend recommended it. Written as a memoir, it reads like a novel. Ashley Rhodes-Courter has a sequel to this book, and I can’t wait to get it. (*This novel contains language)

9. The Western Star. Craig Johnson is so talented, and Howell and I soaked up his latest novel in the Longmire series. The audio version of these books are fantastic; it feels like I’m listening to a movie. Now to twiddle our thumbs until the next book comes out… (*This novel contains language)

8. With No Reservations. This debut novel by my friend Laurie Tomlinson is fantastic. The story is clever and unique. (If you’re interested, I have an interview with Laurie here and a full review here.)

7. The Book of Unknown Americans. Wow. This book will pull on your heartstrings. But it’s so, so good. Read it with Kleenex. I’m actually ecstatic to get to hear Cristina Henriquez at a convention this March! (*This novel contains language)

6. Talking as Fast as I Can. I think Lauren Graham is hilarious, and in her first nonfiction book, she does not disappoint. If you like Gilmore Girls, you’ll especially appreciate the inside scoop.

5. Christiansen Family series. I’m a new reader to Susan May Warren, but I’ve discovered she’s a prolific writer! I absolutely loved this family series. I think I read all six books in less than a month.

4. Present Over Perfect. If you’ve read my blog last year, you know this book by Shauna Niequist rocked my world. In a good way. It changed how I approach work and my time. Such a good read. (See my other posts here and here.)

3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This book is hardly new, and truth be told, I should’ve picked it up years ago. I’ve never read Stephen King’s books, but he is obviously doing something right. This book motivated me to get back on track with a consistent, DAILY writing schedule. (*This book contains language)

2. The Start of Us. I loved Jill Lynn Buteyn’s other novels, so I was excited when I heard my friend had written a prequel as a novella. The characterization is wonderful and the voice, unique and witty. I absolutely loved it!

1. If I Run series. Y’all, I think Terri Blackstock is the QUEEN of suspense, and she delivers in this latest series. The last book comes out in March, but I read these first two books in a day. One. Day. I couldn’t stop myself, and I highly, highly recommend.

Reading has improved my writing for sure. I’m learning a lot, and I’m realizing I still have a lot to learn.

But I #amwriting… :)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Marriage Goals

Do you set goals for your marriage? January is a popular time for setting goals for the year and planning life changes. I’m personally trying to eat better, which is harder than I thought it would be! How can I be a better husband? Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine. He and his wife have a good marriage, but they have decided to really focus on improving their relationship in 2018. Why have a good marriage when you can have a great marriage? This started a thought process in my mind, what do I want to change about my marriage?

On this blog, we often talk about specific issues such as communication, sex, or fighting. This is more of a general topic, but I think it’s important.  Marriage is like anything else in life. You get out of it what you put in. You can’t expect to have an extraordinary marriage when you don’t pay any attention to your spouse or your relationship.

We often view ourselves as really nice people who are honest and kind. We think that will be enough to have good relationships. The hard truth is that it isn’t. Relationships happen intentionally. They aren’t accidents. To improve your marriage you need to know three things: what you want to improve, that your spouse wants the same thing, and how you will accomplish it. Without those, especially the second one, it’s just another New Year’s resolution.

So this is what I’m going to ask you to do. Sit down with your spouse and make a list of what you like most about your marriage in each of these areas: spirituality, communication, sex, money, kids (if applicable). Keep this list handy when times are tough this year. It will remind you how good your marriage really is.

After that, make another list with the same categories for things you want to improve about your marriage. Only write things down that you both agree on. If you don’t agree on something, I suggest that you pray about it and seek wise counsel. Now, take one thing (yes, only one) and make a plan for how you will improve that area. Give yourselves a preset date in the near future to sit and talk about your progress. Once this area is greatly improved, move on to a new area. I truly believe that if both of you are committed and humble with this, your marriage will improve more than you thought possible in 2018!


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A New Year!

Happy New Year, my friends!

I love the beginning of a new year. It’s like a re-set button, a chance to breathe in fresh grace and mercy, the opportunity to dream new dreams, set new goals.

Whatever changes you plan to make this year, know this:

God’s unchanging. Immutable. That’s one of my favorite characteristics of His because it means I can count on Him. He’s stable even when I’m uncertain.

His word is true, even when my emotions say otherwise.

And His heart toward me—toward you—is always good.

We rang in the new year with the Johnsons—a tradition we started four years ago, back when the two began dating. This year, we spent the night in OKC, watching the Thunder and the Mavs play (a little Johnson/Brandenburg rivalry—Go Mavs! :)).

Derek made a statement yesterday about starting and ending the year with the same people, and that comment has stayed with me.

Howell and I faced a lot of changes in 2017, but we are most thankful this year that our relationships with friends and family stayed the same.

What a blessing!

Seasons come and go, circumstances change, and even the work, the stress, the tasks are temporary. But relationships are forever.

Whatever goals you set this year, make your relationships a priority. When you sow and invest in people, you reap a greater blessing.

May your year be full of joy and peace and people who love you!

God has filled my heart with anticipation for this year: "But as for me, I will look expectantly for the Lord and with confidence in Him, I will keep watch; I will wait with confident expectation for the God of my salvation" (Micah 7:7).