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review 2018-07-27 08:05
Gathering Courage (memoir) by T.A. McMullin
Gathering Courage: A Life Changing Journey Through Adoption, Adversity, and a Reading Disability - Ross McMullin

Award-winning Gathering Courage author, T. A. "Terry" McMullin, knows as well as anyone that hard times are a part of the journey of life.  Gathering Courage is about Terry's journey, who was born in an orphanage, then adopted, and made a foster child by her parents. Because Terry struggled with reading, comprehension, and spelling, she was placed in a foster home at the age of nine.  Terry was failing in school and no one knew how to help her. From deep within, Terry developed an internal desire to excel, no matter the obstacle, no matter the situation. Pushing adversity, rejection, and a reading disability aside, Terry gathered the courage to enroll in college. While attending college, Terry taught herself how to read and study while working nights and weekends to pay her tuition and living expenses.  Because of dyslexia, Terry worked much harder than most students. For ten years, she remained diligent and focused on the goal of achieving a college education and a teaching certificate. Step by step and class by class, Terry succeeded, and walked across the stage to receive a Bachelor's and Master's degree from Texas A&M University. Terry's life transformed from a broken-hearted child who could barely make out words in elementary school to a successful teacher who encourages young people to work hard and achieve their greatest aspirations.

Gathering Courage is an inspiring life-changing journey not only to be read but also to be passed on as an encouragement to others. What started as a thought, then words on a napkin, set the dream in motion to form sentences on paper. The dream grew and the formation of a book developed into a purpose, a mission - "To Make Life Better."
Amazon.com
 
 
 
As a child, author Terry "T.A." McMullin discovered she had dyslexia. A school administrator suggested to McMullin's parents that she be taken out of the home and placed in a foster home as part of the therapy for her reading disability. There wasn't much argument given to this plan, as Terry had a pretty rocky home life as is.
 
Terry's very existence was the result of a relationship her then 25 year old biological mother was having with a 24 year old already-married man. She was not wanted by either of them. She was adopted pretty early on in life, but over time began to feel rejected by her adoptive parents. Preferential treatment was given to her younger brother Oliver, the only biological child in a home of adopted ones. Time and again, Terry's adoptive parents proved themselves verbally cruel, untrustworthy and self-centered. As part of her so-called dyslexia therapy, Terry was temporarily placed with a family on a farm. The family themselves were not so bad, but Terry suffered a sexual assault from a next door neighbor before being returned to her adoptive parents.
 
 
Though she may have had little encouragement at home, Terry found happiness within her involvement in her school's 4H program. The 4H club provided opportunity to attend events hosted by Texas A & M University. While at one of these events, Terry meets a professor from the university's Animal Sciences department, who is taken with her and encourages her to apply to A & M's science program. Though initially nervous to entertain such dreams (because of her dyslexia), Terry decides to take the leap. Prior to applying to A & M, Terry takes remedial math courses at a local junior college. Once accepted to A & M, over the course of a number of years, Terry goes on to obtain two degrees from the university: a Bachelor's in Agricultural Science and a Master's in Education. Out of school, Terry went on to have jobs teaching science and special education classes as well as courses for the visually impaired. She also developed curriculum used by both civilian and military schools across the country.
 
There's a straightforwardness to the writing style that moves along at a lovely cozy pace. There's also the relatability factor. Though readers may not always entirely connect with Terry's specific combination of struggles, there IS something here that I imagine most any reader can nod to or think on at least on some level. Her story is a testament to the power of having positive influences / people in one's life, how a simple kind word... just the display of someone having faith in you... can sometimes be enough to move mountains.
 
 
"Words of affirmation have the power to break chains and heal many wounds. Gentle words spoken so tenderly are hidden deep inside of my being and are some of the best gifts I have received." ~T.A. McMullin
 
above: inscription McMullin added to the copy I was sent
 
 
 
Additionally, McMullin uses her story to urge readers to move through life with "an attitude of gratitude" as some like to call it... Remind yourself of all the little successes that add up within each day rather than beating yourself up over the occassion setbacks or perceived failures. 
 
McMullin's way of telling her story, as well as certain details of her life she relates, reminded me a bit of the life and books of Temple Grandin. Similarly inspiring, that's for sure!
 
McMullin supplements the text with illustrations of her own feather sketches as well as full color, relevant photos pulled from either her own collection or those of friends. 
 
 
FTC Disclaimer: BookCrash kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 
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review 2018-07-25 10:39
Unbridled Faith: 100 Devotions from the Horse Farm by Cara Whitney
Unbridled Faith: 100 Devotions From The Horse Farm - Cara Whitney

Horses nuzzle their way into our hearts and have a way of teaching us a lot about ourselves, about life, and even about God. Just ask horse enthusiast Cara Whitney, wife of comedian and actor Dan Whitney (aka Larry the Cable Guy).

Through years spent working with these majestic animals—Cara Whitney has learned countless spiritual lessons that have brought her closer to God.

In 100 heartfelt devotions with stunning photography, you'll

  • *Learn about being flexible in your faith from a gangly legged colt.
  • *Discover the secret to overcoming temptation through a horse's "sneak and eat" game.
  • *From a pony with a sweet tooth, find out why we should be glad God doesn’t answer yes   to all of our prayers.
  • *Be reminded that you are priceless to God from a one-eyed quarter horse named Roanie.  

Unbridled Faith is the perfect daily devotional for horse lovers.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Cara Whitney, wife of comedian Dan Whitney (aka "Larry The Cable Guy") puts together a very beautifully designed, gift-worthy book to which Dan Whitney provides the foreword. "Larry The Cable Guy wrote the forward to a devotional?!" you might be asking with just a dash of skepticism, I imagine. Well, Dan Whitney is here to explain.

 

Though he might not be immediately known for his faith professionally, he is actually the son of a preacher and went on to have his own education provided primarily through Christian based primary schools and colleges. He also explains that wife Cara came to her faith via a straightforward, rather pragmatic, maybe even slightly agnostic approach. This devotional she has now crafted is the culmination of years of dedicated theological study and regular introspection while working on the Whitney horse farm. 

 

p163 image Unbridled Faith

 

Whitney writes very much in the vein of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, each devotion a quick 2 page read with a prayer prompt at the end of each one. One of my favorite prayer prompts in this book: "Lord, help me to amplify the good in my life and control my emotions." Certainly something that spoke to me!

 

Another line that struck me, "God will bring the right scriptures, worship songs, and people into our lives when He knows we need them most. When we are lonely or in deep grief, He will send us his love in creative, diverse ways --- through nature, an email, or a movie scene." This was the case for me last year, months after losing my mother unexpectedly to a heart attack. That, combined with additional hits before and after that day, (making late 2016-2017 one of the worst periods of my life) ... I was spiritually exhausted after trying to keep myself emotionally strong, pushing back my emotions, putting all my energy into blocking out anything but daily obligations and work. Over time I found myself feeling more and more separated from the core of my soul. I didn't know if I myself was going to make it to the end of the year. On one of the hardest days of all, the song "Just Be Held" by Casting Crows mysteriously found its way into my noggin. That and Hilary Scott's "Thy Will"... I didn't even know she had solo work out there (apart from her band Lady Antebellum, of whom I'm a big fan).. but again, this song somehow found me. With the help of these songs, I allowed myself to finally cry out all that was pent up and then began to rebuild from the inside out. 

 

end panel of Unbridled Faith

 

While the photography in Unbridled Faith is undeniably GOREGOUS,  and the sentiments are comforting, the devotional pieces themselves, as far as topics covered, are pretty standard fare (for the devotional genre as a whole, that is). Whitney offers her own horse-themed spin on things of course, but doesn't really touch upon any new territory.

 

 

Some of the transitions felt a little clunky, such as the salt one, talking about how horses crave salt and then the next line talking about salt being currency in Christ's time. It just flowed oddly to me. But I did have a giggle (though I don't think it was intended humorously) at the line, "It's your salty side God loves most." LOL Well, I don't know about THAT, but I'll take it, I guess! 

 

p173 image Unbridled Faith

 

Much of what was offered here, while as sweet and feel-good as one would expect, struck me as rehashings of topics you've likely read in a number of other books of this style. Furthermore, at times her thoughts struck me as a tinge judgmental of "non-believers", though she claims to feel called to evangelism.

 

In Devotion 61, she writes, "It's sad to believe, but there are Christians out there who think that it is their job to evaluate the holiness of other people." In Devotion 63: "Horses aren't the only ones who suffer from unfair perceptions. Sometimes people's perceptions of us are hard to overcome."

 

You don't say. 

 

But I have to admit, I did enjoy her sense of humor at times:

 

"The next time your horse creates manure, remind yourself your animal is keeping you humble."

 

"Although my patient neighbors may disagree with my musical tastes, in my opinion all donkeys have perfect pitch."

 

Note to readers:  this book contains spoilers for the children's classic Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

 

p37 image from Unbridled Faith

 

 

FTC Disclaimer:  BookLookBloggers.com kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

 

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-07-20 07:45
Just A Kiss (Summer Harbor #3) by Denise Hunter
Just a Kiss (A Summer Harbor Novel) - Denise Hunter

Watching the love of his life fall for his brother was enough to send Riley straight to boot camp. But over a year later, he’s officially a marine, and Beau and Paige are no longer an item. When Riley’s tour in Afghanistan is up, he intends to confess his feelings to Paige and win his best friend’s heart once and for all. But all that changes when an IED takes the life of a comrade and leaves Riley an amputee. Now he’s heading home, injured and troubled. His plans to win Paige are a distant dream. She deserves so much more than the man that’s left. All he can do now is put some healthy distance between them. But upon his return he discovers his family has arranged for him to stay with Paige. Paige is a nurturer at heart and happy to take care of her best buddy. By all appearances Riley is adjusting miraculously well to his disability. But as the days pass, Paige begins to see that the smiles and laughter are just a mask for the pain he’s hiding. To make matters worse, her job is in serious jeopardy. The animal shelter that she’s poured her heart into has lost its funding, and she has three months to come up with the money needed to save it. As the weeks wear on, Paige’s feelings for Riley begin to shift into uncharted territory. Why is she suddenly noticing his arm muscles and the way his lips curl at the corners? Will she be able to deny her feelings for another Callahan brother? And will Riley let his heart heal so he can let Paige in?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, now it's time to for Riley Callahan to get the spotlight! Moving in the background of the first two books, here we get to know his story a bit better as he returns from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. 

 

Through the earlier books in this series, the reader sees Riley struggling with the romantic relationship between his brother Beau and Riley's best friend, Paige. Riley himself has been secretly in love with Paige for years. To cope with his emotions, he chooses to enlist in the military. Almost immediately, he gets word he's getting shipped to Afghanistan. Now fifteen months later in Just A Kiss, Riley is returning home after surviving an IED attack that costs him one of his legs. 

 

Prior to the explosion, Riley had plans to return home to Summer Harbor and finally reveal his true feelings to Paige. Now things sit a little differently, as he is moved into Paige's home for the recovery / physical therapy process and Paige takes on the role of caretaker. Not exactly what he had in mind. Riley struggles with feelings of only being half a man, still tempted to confess his love to Paige but also feeling like she deserves better than what he feels he can offer as an amputee. In response to his inner struggle, Riley begins to distance himself emotionally from Paige, thinking he's doing her a favor. But as these romances tend to go, as one pulls back, the other party involved leans forward. 

 

Paige, when not helping Riley, has her own professional stresses. The shelter she runs is at risk of being shut down for lack of funding. On the suggestion of Lucy (Riley's sister-in-law you met in The Goodbye Bride), Paige puts together a bachelor auction fundraiser and, with a bit of a struggle, gets Riley to agree to serve as one of the bachelors. Seeing him in this light where many of Summer Harbor's single ladies going crazy at the chance to have a date with him, Paige is shocked at her own feelings of jealousy towards these women. Slowly the thought creeps into her mind that maybe, just maybe she herself feels something beyond the platonic for her best bud. But of course she takes the Riley approach to things, keeping her complicated emotions to herself. So as you can imagine it takes forever for these two to get anywhere fun with each other.

 

Author Denise Hunter offers a note to the reader right off the bat letting one know that any of the Summer Harbor books can be enjoyed as a standalone piece. With this closing book to the series, while it was cute I was a left a little disappointed overall. It's pretty standard romance fare, safe romance that was built a little TOO slowly for me, and closed on a pretty bland ending. 

 

Though this is technically a Christian romance series, the religious element is pretty light through most of the books. This one though, there is a pretty heavy dousing of religion near the end, which felt a little odd... like it was getting jammed in there real quick before the doors closed... when the rest of the series was so light on it. 

 

That aside, decent light summer fluff you can have fun with on a chill-out day without too much mental commitment required. 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

____________

 

My review for Falling Like Snowflakes (Summer Harbor #1)

My review for The Goodbye Bride (Summer Harbor #2)

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review 2018-06-16 09:36
Love Held Captive (Lone Star #3) by Shelley Shepard Gray
Love Held Captive (A Lone Star Hero’s Love Story) - Shelley Shepard Gray

Major Ethan Kelly has never been able to absolve himself of the guilt he feels for raiding a woman’s home shortly before he was taken prisoner during the Civil War. He is struggling to get through each day until he once again crosses paths with Lizbeth Barclay—the very woman he is trying to forget. Life after the war is not much different for former Captain Devin Monroe until he meets Julianne VanFleet. He knows she is the woman he’s been waiting for, but he struggles to come to terms with the sacrifices she made to survive the war. When Ethan and Devin discover that their former colonel, Adam Bushnell, is responsible for both Lizbeth’s and Julianne’s pain, they call on their former fellow soldiers to hunt him down. As the men band together to earn the trust of the women they love, Lizbeth and Julianne seek the justice they deserve in a country longing to heal.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel addresses the topic of rape. 

 

 

During the Civil War, Major Ethan Kelly and his men were pushed to do many things they weren't proud of, but did it they did in the name of survival. One regular unsavory task was raiding the homes of innocent people for supplies to help keep the troops alive. Lizbeth Barclay's home was one of the properties raided by Kelly and his men. Unbeknownst to him, prior to his arrival she had not only suffered the deaths of her family members but also a sexual attack and mutilation by another soldier. 

 

Years later, Kelly and Barclay cross paths once again --- he as a hotel guest, she one of the hotel housekeepers. Though they don't immediately remember their past interaction, Major Kelly's memory is jarred when he sees the long scar running down the side of Lizbeth's face, a scar he never forgot even if he and Lizbeth never got on a first name basis the first time around. 

 

Kelly's friend and military comrade, Captain Devin Monroe develops an acquaintance with Julianne Van Fleet that, on his end, quickly grows into an honest love for her. But when she reveals her own story of some of the unpopular methods she resorted to to survive the war and care for her ailing grandmother, Devin struggles to make peace with it all. He questions whether he can make a life with someone with such a past. Though he's tempted to walk away at first, with some time to consider he realizes Julianne's actions were no worse than any men he served with who were similarly driven to survive. Devin once again comes to Julianne wanting to offer her a chance at a life rich in love, respect, and fidelity. But before the couple's dreams can take flight, their plans are stalled with the threat of former Army acquaintance Colonel Adam Bushnell.

 

When Devin and Ethan and their ladies all come together to share their stories of struggle, they find one common denominator among all of them: Bushnell. At different times, Bushnell terrorized both Lizbeth and Julianne. Devin and Ethan further reveal that these ladies weren't his only victims, not by a longshot. His face scarred by smallpox and hard living, Bushnell likely got in the habit of assaulting women rather than wooing them because his low self-esteem convinced him women would never give him the time of day otherwise. Determined to put a stop to Bushnell's assaults, the men rally the troops (as in, calling in even more Army buddies) to hunt the man down.

 

In addition to the duel romance stories going on here, as well as the manhunt scenes, this novel, like its two predecessors within this series, includes chapters detailing the mens' experiences in a Civil War POW camp, giving the reader an idea of how those months & years of imprisonment reshaped their spirits, inevitably changing them forever. 

 

I'm just going to say it: This book had the worst title of the series. Get beyond the title though, and Love Held Captive (man, that title gives me hard cringe though -- just screams bodice-ripper) is actually the BEST story in the trilogy IMO.  While the previous two books were enjoyable but, if I'm being honest, a little on the forgettable side, this one came alive with much more real characters full of humor, honesty and depth. Julianne's story really inspires empathy in a reader, making one think on maybe not be so quick to judge someone living life in a way that doesn't line up with how we would do things. Take time to consider the limited options they might be forced to choose from.

 

Bushnell is just the right amount of despicable without becoming cartoonish and Major Kelly and Capt. Monroe are just good solid dudes. Especially Devin. Major Kelly, coming from a privileged background and well-to-do family, can come of as slightly snobbish from time to time, but Devin is quick to set him straight and Kelly is open to learn when he oversteps. Lizbeth was a bit overdramatic for me at times, and though she never became one of my favorite characters (I'm too busy shipping Devin & Julianne!), she did grow on me a little by story's end.

 

So there you go! If you, like me, found the first couple books in this series fun enough but maybe a litle flat, don't duck out just yet! Definitely get into this one because the Lone Star series, at least as I see it, is one where author Shelley Shepard Gray left the best for last! 

 

FTC DISCLAIMER:  TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2018-06-16 07:22
An Uncommon Protector (Lone Star #2) by Shelley Shephard Gray
An Uncommon Protector - Shelley Shepard Gray

The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can. When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt. Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again. But when cattle start dying and Laurel’s life is threatened, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero, and he needs more than just his freedom—he needs her love and care too.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

After losing her brother and father in the Civil War, and then her mother to sickness, Laurel Tracey finds herself running the family's 200 acre ranch solo. Struggling to have some squatters evicted, Laurel makes the risky choice to hire former soldier and now convict Thomas Baker to hopefully scare them off. After she buys his freedom, Baker agrees to pay back the bond money by living and working on the ranch free for one year. His presence on the ranch moves into the role of the "uncommon protector" when he gets wind of an unidentified someone terrorizing Laurel, trying to scare her off the land. Laurel's cattle are being killed off, ominous notes are left, this mystery terrorist even resorts to arson to unnerve Laurel.

 

As with the first book in this series, this novel opens with a scene at a Civil War POW camp. These POW scenes reoccur periodically throughout the novel, providing the reader with backstory elements on our main male characters. Robert Truax, one of the primary characters from Book 1, makes a reappearance in this novel.

 

Thomas is the strong but with a good, kind heart type. The fact that he was a country boy scared of chickens I found sort of endearing. Still shocking to think that he's only supposed to be 22 though! The way he's written (dialogue and such) had me imagining him solidly in his 30s! 

 

The romantic element between Thomas & Laurel can get a little ridiculous sometimes. In one scene, when shots are fired, Thomas gets Laurel to the ground to protect her and her focus is not on fear but all about how hard his body is and how good he smells. The story as a whole has its cute moments but largely felt kind of flat to me. There's a confrontation scene near the end that I felt was well done, but the closing scene to the whole story was just too cheezy to end things on! 

 

As far as the Christian aspect in this one, it's on the lighter side. There are examples of people showing a strong belief in faith during hard times, saying prayers over meals, quick prayers for strength or to calm nerves during trying or anxious moments... but nothing out of the ordinary for characters raised in the countryside. Light spiritual, motivational sentiments: every so often a "thank the Lord" gets dropped... that, or "Trust in the Lord", "God is in control", or "The Lord takes care of his children".. but that's about the extent of the Christian aspect. 

 

Also something to note: the back cover synopsis is actually misleading in one detail. It describes Laurel's mother as passing away shortly after hearing of the demise of her husband and son. In fact, the book early on explains that Laurel's mother actually remarries a year after getting word of the deaths, lives a full 3 YEARS more before dying with her 2nd husband in an influenza epidemic. Not exactly "shortly after". A small point, as the mother is not a key character in the story, but thought I'd note it. 

 

FTC DISCLAIMER:  TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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