Reviews

Book Review: Refresh

Today I am reviewing Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona & David Murray.

Today I am reviewing Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona & David Murray.

description of the book from the publisher:

Life can be overwhelming. Sometimes it feels as if everything and everyone demands all of our time, our resources, our energy, and our very lives. Writing to women in the midst of this busy, do-it-all culture, husband-and-wife team Shona and David Murray offer practical tips for living at a more sustainable pace and avoiding exhaustion, depression, and anxiety. Sharing personal stories of their own struggles with overwhelming demands, they give counsel on everything from sleep to social media, relationships to recreation, and exercise to eating. This book encourages women to cultivate a healthy approach to life motivated and moderated by Christ’s transforming grace.

As usual, my five point review:

The premise of Refresh focuses on evaluating our lives through various lenses such as rest, relaxation, reduction, etc. Each of the ten chapters begins with the letter R and is called a “station” at the Refresh Gym. If you read the introduction, you’ll note that Refresh is a feminized adaption (by Shona, presumably) of of a book that David Murray wrote for men, Reset. I found the gym analogy a bit cheesy and did wonder how many women that imagery would appeal to. That aside, I would recommend the book. It began with Shona’s story, detailing her journey towards burn out. The trajectory introduced by the book argues that most (Christian) women are somewhere on this spectrum: stressed –> anxious –> overwhelmed –> burned out –> sad –> depressed –> suicidal (p. 24). I would agree with that notion; I think in our culture it is tough to not fit into one of those categories. I wasn’t clear if that trajectory was research based or not, because I would perhaps organize the spectrum differently, but for the sake of this review: I don’t think it matters.

Though I did not find the majority of this book to be “new” information, what I did wholeheartedly appreciate was the balance between psychological/medical research, self-help tips and tricks, and Gospel truth throughout this book. This was particularly poignant in discussions of physical and mental health, areas that the church doesn’t often address.

The Bible … guides us to care for both the body and the soul. The apostle Paul presents his theology of the body in 1 Corinthians 6:9–20. He starts by admitting that the human body has been damaged by sin (vv. 9–10). However, that doesn’t mean we just forget the body. No, Paul says Christ’s redemption is not just for the soul but also for the body. It’s a full-body and a full-soul salvation. “The body is . . . for the Lord,” insists Paul, “and the Lord for the body” (v. 13). He made it, saved it, and maintains an eternal interest in it. (p. 68)

One of the aspects of the book that I did not like was the approach to relaxation. There was great conversation about the Sabbath, but otherwise the application of annual vacations and daily personal times was a bit too privileged, specific, and (in my opinion) did not give room for factors such as family preferences, finances, and circumstances that do not allow for this. For instance, staycations were not encouraged because “being home” and “not doing anything” was not restful enough. I love vacations and I love personal time, but I know many people who logistically and financially cannot make things like that work, so the chapter seemed a bit exclusionary.

The number one thing I appreciated about this book was the recurring theme about vocation and work. This is so rare in Christian books written for women! Again, there was some privileged discussion here–a “choice” to work (not reality for all women, I know). Priorities in the workplace, balancing family and ministry and personal faith and work, and also accepting imperfection are all addressed at length. Other chapters addressed friendship, family matters, raising children in the faith, and our own personal relationships with God.

In general, I found Refresh to be thought provoking and helpful, a good analysis of how we can deal with life in our busy culture in a healthy, Christ-centered manner. The book closed with some thoughts for living the grace-paced life. So encouraging!

But God has taught me that, no, the grace-paced life is not only his will but more honoring to him. For me, to pace myself means less of my efforts and more of God’s grace. I have had to learn to fight hard against unbiblical, false guilt and personal expectations. I have learned to look up to God before looking across to people and ask: “What does God want me to do right now?” The key is to grasp that pacing ourselves is biblical, whereas living the fast, frantic life is not. It takes faith to believe that and to follow through with it. To live it is in fact a dying to self—a dying to our self-will, our self-sufficiency, and our self image. Have you understood frantic living versus grace-paced living in that way before? (p. 173-174)

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Crossway. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Crossway Blog Review Program for the chance to read this great book!

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Reviews

Book Review and Giveaway: True to You

Today I’m so excited to share my review of Becky Wade’s latest book, True to You! Read on for more about the book and be sure to enter the giveaway at the end!

Check out my review of Becky Wade's latest, True to You

A description of the book from the publisher:

It’s the exciting start of a brand-new series by a contemporary romance fan favorite!

After a devastating heartbreak three years ago, genealogist and historical village owner Nora Bradford has decided that burying her nose in her work and her books is far safer than romance in the here and now.

Unlike Nora, former Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient John Lawson is a modern-day man, usually 100 percent focused on the present. But when he’s diagnosed with an inherited condition, he’s forced to dig into the secrets of his past and his adoption as an infant, enlisting Nora to help him uncover the identity of his birth mother.

The more time they spend together, the more this pair of opposites suspects they just might be a perfect match.

However, John’s already dating someone and Nora’s not sure she’s ready to trade her crushes on fictional heroes for the risks of a real relationship. Finding the answers they’re seeking will test the limits of their identity, their faith, and their devotion to one another.

Learn more and purchase a copy.

As usual, my five point review:
  • Nora is one of those characters you are either going to LOVE or just really not like. I personally loved her. She’s sweet as can be, smart, and inviting. She’s often described as a librarian (a tiny fact I take issue with, being that she was not described as going to library school, but I digress). Among her many quirks, Nora has funny names for everyone–The Dreaded Harrison, for example. She truly makes this book laugh out loud funny at times, and it is precious. These quirks make her a lovable character that you will be cheering for to move past her heartache and on with new life. Her makeover, both internally and externally, is stunning. Nora used to live in the past, but as she dares to dream and trusts God with her future, she is transformed.
  • I really enjoyed the relationship between Nora and her sisters, Willow and Britt. It’s obvious that although these sisters are all incredibly different, they do care about each other immensely. They would do anything for each other, I am sure of it. The lack of conflict between them–even as they planned a party and discussed happiness and heartache–was a bit unrealistic… even for adult siblings.
  • Much of the plot of this book centers around Nora’s endeavors to learn about John’s birth mother. What a way to develop a relationship! I’m personally fascinated by history and genealogy and reading about the process was fun. I did not personally find the surprise twist between John and Nora (not their romantic relationship, but another tie that I won’t mention specifically) to be… shall we say… appropriate. What are the chances of something like that actually happening? Slim to none, I suppose. It makes for good drama but REALLY. It is also worth noting that there is some violence and brutality discussed in this book. It was a bit surprising for me to read–nothing is graphic but it could be a trigger/disturbing for some.
  • The tension (and humor) Nora experiences as she grapples with the affection of not just one, but TWO men is fantastic. Aside from John, Nora is also pursued by a minor celebrity. Whaaat? Who has a Facebook messenging relationship with the actor of a character on a British TV show (that I pictured as a Regency era Downton Abbey)? Nora, that’s who. : ) Once again, not realistic. But adorable nonetheless.
  • Overall, I adored this book despite the lack of realism in a few areas for me. I loved Nora’s subtle humor, bookish charm, wit, and willingness to grow and develop. That’s hard to do as an adult, especially if life doesn’t happen as you hoped/thought/prayed it would. Like Becky Wade’s other novels, there is some emphasis on faith and some discussion of Christian principles. However, Bible verses aren’t thrown into every other sentence or anything like that… the characters interject faith and conversations about God in very natural and normal ways. I love that. This is a must read if you enjoy smart fiction that will challenge you to think and grow!
 About the author:
Becky Wade is a California native who attended Baylor University, met and married a Texan, and settled in Dallas.  She published historical romances for the general market before putting her career on hold for several years to care for her three children.  When God called her back to writing, Becky knew He meant for her to turn her attention to Christian fiction.  She loves writing funny, modern, and inspirational contemporary romance!  She’s the Carol Award, INSPY Award, and Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award winning author of My Stubborn Heart, the Porter Family series, and the Bradford Sisters Romance series.
And don’t forget the giveaway!! 🙂 #WishICouldWin

Do opposites really attract? John and Nora might just be the perfect match.

Find out in True to You, book one in Becky Wade’s new series!

Celebrate the launch of Becky Wade’s new series by entering to win a fabulous prize pack and $100 cash card!

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A copy of True to You
  • A $100 Visa cash card
  • A prize pack hand-picked by Becky

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on May 30. The winner will be announced May 31 on the Litfuse blog.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Litfuse. However, I was not required to write a positive review and received no compensation. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks for the chance to read this great book!

Musings

Five Favorite Things

Awhile back, in the pre-baby era, I used to write monthly update posts. Ain’t nobody got time for that no more! Ha. But I do miss having a space to share randomness, so I’m going to try to share (regularly) my favorite things. I thought about implementing a schedule and/or categories… but nahh… I’ll just keep it simple!

Chewy Peanut Butter Brownies | The Pajama Chef

ONE: I haven’t done tons of baking lately, but we hosted our church community group on Sunday so I decided to make dessert to go along with our simple dinner (baked sliders–half ham & provolone, half turkey & swiss, a big salad, and chips). I made these Chewy Peanut Butter Brownies and everybody went crazy for them. Well, almost everyone. Apparently someone doesn’t like peanut butter and chocolate together, but likes them separately? Weird! Oh well, more for me! There were only a few left and now I’m contemplating making another batch just for us.

TWO: Before our baby was born, Ben and I had lots of free time, especially on the weekends (obviously). Now we don’t have very much unstructured time (obviously), and the time we do have on the weekends is filled with all the minutiae that we didn’t get to do during the week. In an effort to incorporate more rest into our weekends, we’ve been considering what it looks like in our life right now to treat Sunday as more of a Sabbath and less of an extra day to get things done. It’s definitely a mindshift, and one we aren’t perfect at… but this article has been something I’ve been considering lately.

THREE: Running has been my thing for 19 years now (eeek I feel old). I started running in the spring of my 7th grade year, in 1998, and never really stopped. Though I’ve run many a race before, I loved running in the Rock ‘n Roll Nashville Half Marathon on Saturday. It was quite hot and humid, but I finished and I only walked at water stops. I was quite proud of myself and am anxious to sign up for more races now!

FOUR: I don’t watch much TV but lately I’ve been catching up on DVR’d episodes of Victoria, on Masterpiece. I am in love!! Anyone else??

FIVE: I’m psyched to read Becky Wade’s newest book, True to You. My copy came in the mail yesterday and it was hard to leave it at home when I went to work today! I’ve reviewed Becky’s other books on my blog so I was excited to be part of the blog tour for Becky Wade’s True to You. She’s having a Facebook party tomorrow, and everyone’s invited! Read on for more information.

Raise your hand if you’re ready for Becky Wade’s new series! Celebrate the release of book one, True to You, with Becky and other readers on Facebook on May 4th during a fun author chat party at 8:00 PM EDT (that’s 7:00 Central, 6:00 Mountain, & 5:00 Pacific)! Becky will be chatting about the book and answering your questions about the new series, and of course, there will be plenty of fun giveaways too!

Pre-order your copy of True to You so you’re ready for a fun book discussion. Find out more about the book here.

Hope to see you on May 4 for Becky’s True to You Facebook Party!

What are your favorite things lately?

Reviews

Book Review: The Mark of the King

Read on to learn more about The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green. I hope you’ll read this book soon–it is amazing!

Read on to learn more about The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green.

A description of the book from the publisher:

After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.

When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne’s brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?

With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king’s mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.

As usual, my five point review:

  • The characters in this book were stunning. No one was uni-dimensional, and no matter whether you loved or hated someone, their character and role in the story truly made a difference to the plot and outcome of the story. I am still torn as to whether Julianne or Marc-Paul was my favorite character, but no matter… their (surprising) romance was the highlight of this book.
  • Even though I do consider the highlight of this book to be the romance between Julianne and Marc-Paul, it was not overbearing, lovey-dovey, or predictable. Lots of twists and turns influenced their relationship at many different points… and they almost didn’t make it (in more ways than one). I love that sort of romance. It’s so real! But it would not have been possible without the grace both show towards the other, and to the people around them dealing with very hard circumstances.
  • Though the characters are influenced by Christianity, this book absolutely does not “feel” like a Christian romance novel AT. ALL. No lightly disguised evangelism here, and that’s not a criticism at all. The discussion of faith was very natural and at times, ambiguous. Real characters, real faith.
  • The writing was excellent. The novel was divided into three parts, each with a shocking twist. I managed to read this (a print copy) in less than two weeks, which is a recent record since it’s hard to read a print book with a baby in tow most days. I do most reading on my phone or Kindle these days, so you know that this must have been good!
  • 1720s Louisiana truly came alive in Jocelyn Green’s The Mark of the King. This is an often-forgotten time period of American history, something Green mentions in her readers’ notes. As such, I imagine researching this era took a great deal of grit and determination. Reading about everything from the abysmal living conditions to the devastating hurricane that ended up shaping the French Quarter of New Orleans was heartbreaking… and fascinating. I’ve said it before, but reading fiction is the best way to turn someone into a history lover, and this book is no different. I highly recommend it!

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!

Reviews

Book Review: Her One and Only

Another book review! It’s been awhile but I have a whole slew of book reviews to share with you in the coming weeks. And we’re going to start with Becky Wade’s Her One and Only. This is the last in the Porter Family series. You can read my reviews for the rest of the series here. Spoiler alert: Becky Wade is a fabulous author. You won’t be disappointed!

Becky Wade's Her One and Only - a book review on The Pajama Chef

A description of the book from the publisher:

Gray Fowler, star NFL tight end, is being pursued by a stalker, so his team hires a protection agency to keep Gray under the watch of a bodyguard at all times. When Gray meets Dru Porter, an agent assigned to him, he’s indignant. How can an attractive young female half his size possibly protect him?

But Dru’s a former Marine, an expert markswoman, and a black belt. She’s also ferociously determined to uncover the identity of Gray’s stalker. And she’s just as determined to avoid any kind of romantic attachment between herself and the rugged football player with the mysterious past. But the closer they get to finding the stalker, the closer they grow to each other. As the danger rises, can Dru and Gray entrust their hearts–and their lives–to one another?

As usual, my five point review:

  • I’ll start off with the good… Becky Wade’s writing, as usual, was flawless. I love her character development, easy pacing, and descriptiveness. She is so good at putting her readers right in the action and also organically blending in the characters’ faith. Sometimes contemporary fiction can come across as awkward because authors try to make things too relevant, and that’s just not possible when you consider things like current events and technology… but I think she does a great job balancing things. Christian fiction is also hard because it can vacillate between having too much God talk and having just a bit thrown in. But this author is great at authenticity and incorporating faith naturally. I have said it before and will say it again–even those who do not like Christian fiction will like this book! It’s not “normal” Christian fiction–yay!
  • And then I’ll move to the bad. Unlike the other books in this series, I wasn’t pulled in right away to the plot. It was a slow start. In my opinion, the characters just weren’t as likable from the beginning, and maybe the football aspect was off-putting to me. Once I got going though, I wanted to know what would happen with Dru and Gray. Their romance, their safety, their past, their future. Dru’s strong personality is inspiring and Gray softens over time too.
  • But that’s really all the bad! Promise. I appreciated how Becky Wade incorporated suspense and romance into one novel, introducing lots of new characters but also seamlessly blending in the rest of the Porter family’s tales into this book. There was heartache and joy and goodness… just what you would expect from this likable family!
  • Ending a series well is tough, and I think that this series DID end well so I was pleasantly surprised. I liked the ending and was glad that the series was only four books long. Sometimes, a series can drag on forever, and this felt like the perfect length. Way to go, Becky! 🙂
  • Overall, this is a great read for new and old fans of the Porter Family. It’s probably a book mostly women would enjoy but the football element makes this a book my husband would even enjoy too! Two thumbs up. 🙂

What are you reading lately?

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks to Bethany House for the chance to read this great book!