How to Rise from the Ashes of Burn Out

As a rule, creatives err on the sensitive side of the spectrum. They put enormous amounts of pressure on themselves. Add in the trait of being the first born, a perfectionist—you've got a heck of a hot mess.
Tell me I'm not alone in my hot messiness, y'all?
Life comes in seasons, and I am learning slowly, ever so slowly, to lean into them instead of fighting them like Superwoman to keep all the plates spinning above me in perfect sync.
I almost hate even writing about this and cringe thinking of all the true Wonderwomen authors I know who are on hard deadlines, with husbands, with day jobs, with children, with ministries.

But burn out is not exclusive to one demographic group. It's not completely avoidable either since we're humans—not superhumans. What we have to do first, in order to regain some positivity and strength that burnout can zap from us, is identify it, and take one step at a time to rise out of it.

Identifying Burn Out:

  • Exceptional exhaustion
  • Lack of interest in your favorite things
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Immense anxiety/pressure when you even consider getting back to something you love
  • Immense guilt about not doing/being enough

I don't know about you, but I want to continually get back to what sets my soul on fire. On carving out moments to work on what makes me feel most alive—joyously alive.
What makes you feel most alive?
For me? It's writing.
Not that I don't love blogging, but I am an author first. An indie author, at that. Which means I set my own deadlines and make my own plans...which also means self-discipline is always a work in progress. But remember seasons. Seasons with deadlines mean I need to continually work hard to keep boundaries up. With everyone and everything—even if it means disappointing people. Chances are? If you're simply honest with well-meaning friends or coworkers about how you do appreciate the invite, you're on deadline and have to stay on task, they'll understand. That's always been my biggest hang-up—letting people down.
Can I drop a truth bomb that I need to majorly work on remembering?
We don't have to do everything for and with everybody just because there's the option. There's a fine line not of balance, but of boundaries, that look different with every season. Especially when you're coming out of burn out and want to make positive changes to regain some happiness.
Positive changes such as...

How to Rise from the Ashes of Burn Out

  • Make boundaries. Prayerfully.
  • You're allowed to say no.
  • Write out flexible and hard goals you'd like and need to meet.
  • Above all—be honest. With yourself and those in your life as to what you feel up to doing. You're not doing anyone any favors if you're not.

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Wave After Wave

Ever have those moments when you really fully exhale? Releasing tension and stress you knew you were holding but couldn't fully uncurl your fists around? It reminds me of how the salt water swoops up the shore, then sucks it and anything in its path back down into itself. Not a riptide, per se, but that undeniable pull no matter how high you lift your feet to step back and away from it.

My feet sink in the sand and I stare across the glittering expanse that is the Atlantic Ocean. One sister's fearless in the waves, the other laughingly says, "Just think, England's right there."
We're really here. All together in one place. At the beach. Steps away from the shore, for my parents dream vacation.
I have just about almost caught up on sleep. Last week prior to CFRR saw about eighteen hours of sleep for three or four days. That was rough.
But thanks to the incredible presence of God in that hotel in Cinncinatti where almost two hundred people gathered to celebrate story?
I'm finally beginning to get centered again.
Rachael's Reads, Bookworm Mama, & Me

I roomed with The Rach(a)els, got to hug tight so many dear souls who I hadn't seen for a year—had only met last year at the first CFRR—but over the course of the last year a group of us have stayed in touch daily, prayed for each other, spoken truth over one another, and anxiously awaited the next reunion that came and went in a flash, leaving us all with a dizzying book/travel hangover.
Me, Susie Finkbeiner, Jocelyn Green (!!!), Rachel McMillan and Alexis De Weese all played "hookie" for almost an hour in the afternoon of the event. Not that we weren't loving the bookish fangirling and the sessions on subtle faith and the change in Christian fiction or book boyfriends, but we are all introverts. Sleep deprived overly caffeinated introverts. And so we all got to kick back and just be for a little bit. Women who I've only known over the internet and social media—and through their paperbound beauties. If you've been around here for any length of time, you've probably seen me gush about Jocelyn Green's Heroines Behind the Lines Civil War series. So to meet her in person, get multiple hugs (and selfies), and be handed her latest book, a non-fiction called Free to Lean? Yeah, still pinching myself.

Jesus knows bodies of water still my heart and draw my eyes up to Him unlike anything else. Nature and worship music both do that.
Yesterday on the beach when our resident mermaid was taking a breather from wave-jumping, I pulled up the song You Make Me Brave and played it for her.
The chorus goes something like this,
As Your love in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us, You are not against us
Champion of heaven You've made a way
For all to enter in.

And the last few days? From my first solo roadtrip down to Ohio to CFRR, the day and a half spent with some of the most incredible women in my world—who've become soul sisters in how they see me and hear me with the kindness and grace of Jesus—and now at the beach with my family?
These waves of mercy that in truth never cease from my great God, even on the chaotic days? I'm taking time to lean into them, and not let fear hold me back, feet rooted into the sand as I flail around to keep that ever elusive balance.

Lean into the waves of God's love. Take a step forward, ears attuned for His whisper through the crashing of the salt water. And don't be afraid to fall—because He will always, always catch you.

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Owning Your Heart

Can I tell y'all a story?
It was September-ish, new lease on life, my favorite season was coming up—I was so ready to get on with my life after a longer than expected season of healing. While struggling to literally find my footing again—ever been there?—I met this guy. He was cuter than his profile photo, a coffee snob like me, total gentleman and insanely easy to talk to. It felt instantly like we'd grown up together. So easy to talk to and "be myself" with (or so I thought) that I began to get my hopes up way too high / fall too hard.
And so, when he kindly but decisively said he just wasn't that into me, it majorly hurt.

A huge problem in this whole Dating/Waiting game is forgetting that who you are—warts and all—is enough.
Boom. Hang tight, friends. I'm going to tell it like it is here.
Now, having that dream of a Special Someone is valid and important. But trying to force a relationship to happen simply because you're dying for the next part of your life to begin is folly. And it majorly discounts our value in God's eyes—and His role in yours.
Forgive those truth bombs dropped so early, but I promise I speak from an evolving experience. There is a balance between being open and available since, you know, The Guy won't knock on your door with a bouquet and say, "I'm here," and not being desperate and settling on the first guy who'd give you a second date.
I remember saying after it was all over with this guy (most dizzying two weeks of my life, by the way), that "It was just him. It wasn't Could This Be A Boyfriend Finally? It was just him." 
As it should be? Not about The Relationship Status, but about The Guy, right?
Not quite.
Part of why it couldn't work with me and this guy was because I had not regained my footing into my identity. A brand new one, I might add. So when he came along all Jesus-loving and taking the initiative I just let my hopes get caught up in all the What This Could Be, Finally.
Instead of slowing down and asking myself who I was, unapologetically, and what I wanted. Unapologetically.
Placing a huge emphasis on honesty and authenticity in the present day is because, while I always have made that a Non-Negotioable for a guy—but only recently, a challenge to myself.
And to you, dear reader.
Dating is nervewracking. Never knowing just how much to reveal and when and constantly worrying about what they're going to think. It's normal First-Few-Dates awkwardness is all.
But above all—to thine own self be true.
Go with your gut. Two things that sound abstract and cliche, I know, forgive me?
But we must be comfortable being simply ourselves, even in the quiet times, letting your dear heart catch up to life. Comfortable, content, and above all kind—to ourselves—before we can find that elusive settledness and comfort in a Special Someone.
It seems like we have all the time in the world before that Big Next Chapter unfolds. But however long staying single as a Pringle lasts? Soak it up and dig deeper into Who God is, and Whose YOU are. Because the surety that colors such a confidence is a most beautiful peace that you could ever experience.
 This is an installment of our series, Love Life & Literature: Romance in Real Life. In this series, we (myself and Rachael) will be delving into the ups, downs, frustrations, butterflies, and everything in between as career women who love romance, but are still searching in a world that isn’t all Mr. Darcy’s and Prince Charming’s.

Rachael and I take turns every Friday, so keep an eye out for her next installment next Friday. And in the meantime you can read her most recent post here.

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Lights in the Mundane

What's your day-to-day look like? Clients, patients, children, husbands, laundry, dishes, emails, phone calls, you name it. The mundane is at once unique to each of our lives, and the same.
There are some weeks though where there's so much sameness, and more than that—not enough self care and kindness—that an exhaustion can build. No matter what season of life you're in. It happens, we're human.
But what if there was a way to shake up the mundane? The mundane you're so faithful in. Showing up day in and day out to the career, day job, hustle, home and family God's placed you in.
He calls us to be faithful in little things. Entertain strangers and you may be actually entering angels. You know the verses as you plow through your fifth pile of laundry in a day, or the sixth cranky patient who snaps your head off.
You may be one of the most positive people in your home, in your office, what have you—but is it ever a fight? To not get bogged down in the tiring routine that is necessary, but not necessarily inspiring?
Look for the lights.
The pinpricks through the fog, the quick strain of a harmony familiar in the midst of shouting children or twelve people talking at once in a waiting room. Hey, I write what I know here.
Look for the lights.
It may be just listening to an elderly person recount their travels or their doctor son's accomplishments. Or it could be tickling the daylights out of a child and laughing until your tension begins to melt away. Or a surprise text from a friend who never fails to see and hear you—no matter how far away they may be.
There are lights every day of the divine, in the midst of the mundane. Little moments that God sends along to cheer us on. To give us a tiny break. And it's simply because He loves us. It's a part of His strength being made perfect in our weakness—weakness Jesus sympathizes with, having been both God and Man at the same time.
Ease off the accelorator a minute, and take a second to look for a light, this Monday. And know it is God's loving heart towards you that sends it along in the mundane.

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Love Life & Literature Pepper Basham Edition!

THE Pepper Basham is in the house today!
Me and Pepper!

Today, this woman—one of mine and Rachael's biggest inspirations/mentors—is here to share—with insight into her upcoming release!—what to look for in a "sweet thing"/The Guy. Be encouraged and uplifted by these wise, sweet words from one of our favorite romance authors. Who we get to see for the second year in a row at the fabulous Christian Fiction Reader's Retreat in TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY! We're just a little bit excited.

Ma Mitchell’s Advice For Finding Your Perfect Hero
There’s something special about homespun advice, right? Okay, some of the advice can be a little crazy like “You keep flappin’ your jaws like that and you’ll git your tongue sunburnt”, but when lots of love and wisdom mixes with advice, it usually cooks up something wholesome and sweet.
Rachael & Pepper! 
Ma Mitchell from my Mitchell’s Crossroads series is definitely a lady who offers some solid advice to the people around her and in my upcoming release, Charming the Troublemaker, she turns her wise words into a romantic direction.
If you know anything about me, I love talking heroes! Come on, that’s why some of us read romance novels, right? Heroes! And it’s really hard to have a good romance novel without a great hero.
In real life, most of us have looked (or are looking) for our own hero and it’s not always an easy journey.

There’s not a clear-cut scale on hero-measurements. If there was, I’d expect Aragorn from Lord of the Rings or maybe even Captain America right up there near the perfect 10 on the scale, but they’re both fictional fellows!
Well, ironically, our fiction can give us some good advice toward real-life romance. When Rainey Mitchell (the heroine in book 2 of the Mitchell’s Crossroads series) asks Mama Mitchell about how you know when the right ‘sweet thing’ has come along (meaning…hero), Mama Mitchell doles out five questions any heroine should answer about a potential hero.

Let’s take a peek at Ma Mitchell’s list.

  1. Does he have a teachable spirit…or “does he already know everything about everything.”
    Humility is a beautiful thing. A teachable heart, someone who’s willing to talk through situations, listen to another person’s side, and grow from what that person can add to their lives, has a skill that is not only a great life skill, but also beautiful.
  2. How does he respond to ‘gettin’ riled’ or being embarrassed?
    My granny once told me that you can tell a whole lot about a person by the way they handle conflict. If they blame others when angry or embarrassed, if they explode (especially without repentance, if they make excuses for their behavior…then those are all red flags in the hero department. Sure, we all have a tendency to ‘lose it’ sometimes, but humbling ourselves to admit we’ve done wrong, seek forgiveness, and attempt to change (repentance) is a sure-fire characteristic of a hero.
  3.  Does he have a tender heart?
    How does the guy respond to those who are weaker? In need? Younger? Does he even ‘see’ them? Does he criticize their position in the world? Is there a gentlness about him when he engages with you? Those are all important sub-questions to answer 😊
  4. Does he have a steady mind?
    This one can be a little tricky, because it doesn’t mean ‘serious’ or even ‘brilliant’. I suppose the best way to define this idea is to mean “is the guy emotionally healthy for the most part?’ Even in his brokenness, even if he has to seek help or shows weaknesses (which of course he will do!), is there an overall ability to adjust to the demands of the world around him and continue on the life-journey.
  5. Are your souls seeking the same thing?
    Big one, here! As Christians, a decision of significance should always come back to the state of a hero’s soul. How can our hero even become all the other things from our list without the assistance of the Holy Spirit to help him? Two people may have different personalities and interests, but if their souls beat in unison with the Gospel, God can work a fairytale out of the differences.
  6. Does he have a sense of humor?
    I’ll quote Ma Mitchell for this one: “Life is so hard sometimes, and some of the steadiest people I know are the ones with the best senses of humor. Laughin’ often and bringin’ laughter to the ones you love? It can get you through a heap of hardship.”

To be perfectly honest, I think Ma Mitchell’s advice sounds like a great list for anyone to aspire to—hero or heroine. Wouldn't it be great if our world was filled with men and women who actually thought about how their answers to these questions might impact others around them in the real world?
It’s easy to be so influenced by the heroes we read or see, that we forget fiction is fiction for a reason. It’s not real life. Real life heroes are flawed. They don’t always say/do the right things. They’re human, just like you and me. They need God’s help, just like we do.
And if we fill our heads and hearts with fictional expectations, we might miss out on a very human prince charming. YES, we should keep our expectations high, but God has specific heroes for specific heroines for some amazing divine romance he’s writing in our lives.

Let me end this advice post with a quote from my current novel, A Thyme for Romance, where my heroine’s best buddy is giving her some advice.

“Jane Austen wrote Mr. Darcy to be Lizzie Bennet’s hero, not yours. Despite what either of them thought in the beginning, they were what each other needed most.”
The truth in Carrie’s words singed into Daphne’s defenses. “But Darcy already had all the makings of a hero underneath. Lizzie just had to have time to unearth them through time and—”
“Mr. Darcy wasn’t written for you, Daphne. You keep trying to find heroes who are meant for someone else, instead of looking for the hero God’s written into your life. And you know what? He may not fit all the things on your very long list…all the things you think you want, but he’ll be all the things you need.”

So…what do you think of Ma Mitchell and Carrie’s advice? Have anything to add?

About Pepper:
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance peppered with grace and humor. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is the mom of 5 great kids, speech-pathologist to about fifty more, lover of chocolate, jazz, and Jesus. Her debut historical novel, The Thorn Bearer, released in May 2015 and has garnered awards such as Reader’s Favorites Award, finalist in the Grace Awards, shortlisted for the Inspy Awards, and most recently a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards. Her second historical novel, The Thorn Keeper, released in Feb 2016 and her first contemporary romance, A Twist of Faith, released in April 2016 with a 4 star review from Romantic Times. The third book in the Penned in Time series, The Thorn Healer, released in December 2017 with a 4 1/2 star review from Rt and Top Pick rating.

Pepper’s first novella arrived in March as part of a Love at First Laugh novella compilation and her novel, Just the Way You Are, released on April 6th – a funfilled Britallachian romance! And Charming the Troublemaker is coming out in November! All these books and more are available on Amazon.
You can get to know Pepper on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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Calling is not "One Size Fits All"

I had a caesar salad and chicken panini. My beautiful friend almost eight years and four kids married? She had broccoli cheddar soup and a sandwich. Growing up together has found us still caring and catching up every long while. After a bit, I filled her in on my life; the dates, the day job, the books. And too, being rather exhausted at the lack of a Special Someone. Now, she is one who I can be authentically myself with—a gift, after all these years. Three years my senior, this friend beamed at me from across the lunch table. "Isn't it wonderful that, these desires in your heart are the ones God made you for? Which means He'll only bring them to pass!" Loosely quoted.
And she is right. My heart was bolstered.

By family, coworkers and friends alike I've been called the nurturer, the mother, the encourager, cheerleader. I care deeply. All facets not merely maternal or feminine—no, that is limiting. But these facets in my heart are of the divine nature. They are parts of God's heart.
In counseling sessions this spring I was challenged to name what I thought was God's favorite thing about me. A few breaths of prayers later, I realized it was —how much I care about people.
We are made in God's image. Many working parts on a vibrant, breathing, intricate body.
Which is why the idea that marriage and motherhood are a woman's highest calling is not steeped in Scripture, but tradition. Tradition that was twisted into a yoke of oppression instead of a mantle of honor thanks to fallen mankind.
Even in today's day and age—it prevents women from reaching their fullest potential.
Trust me. Been there. Let me explain.

This friend and I grew up similarly. Upon crossing the threshold into our respective adulthoods—both oldest children, incredibly romantic and feminine, creative—our lives took the two paths a woman's can take:
She? Marriage and children.
Me? Career(s).
And for the longest time I kept thinking that the swelling purpose in my heart to write was a mere means to an end prior to marriage. Not a real dream or calling on my heart like marriage and children were/are. Surely not! I was just biding my time till Mr. Right came along to sweep me off in a shower of baby's breath and rose petals.
Or so my hopeful romantic heart used to wax and wane.

Calling is not a one size fits all. This friend of mine who married right after high school before going onto having four beautiful children? She also is an incredible artist. A water color painter. An increasingly knowledgeable home renovator. But it is not these, her titles, that define her calling. She has a heart for others. And the others in her immediate sphere of influence? Her husband, children, and church family.
She is walking in obedience to God our Father. Fully and still her own strong person whose capacity to be the hands and feet of Jesus has only grown.
As am I, ever a major work in progress, at my office, in my home, in my new church—and in my books.
Isn't this what we're all called to? How have we lost the divine simplicity in the purpose in bringing the Good News to all?
The Greatest Commandment quiets the well-meant but often pressuring voices of tradition from our strong matriarchs. Who were engaged at twenty-two, married by twenty-four but who know how hard it is to be single, but "Just you wait!" And though we know, we know God's timing is unique? Those examples are bittersweet to hear over and over again. So are the bridesmaids duties, the sticking your neck out there only to be friendzoned. You get my point.

I have to note too: the Greatest Commandment also silences the lewd voices of misogyny and sexism that our fallen world is filled with still today—that grieve God's heart as much as they lash across our souls as women.
The fairer sex? No. God created us to wear His armor, to give and sustain life. To teach, and, yes, lead. Created equal in the Garden of Eden.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 

Our callings are not one and done. I may be a contented career woman, but that doesn't cancel out the hope of one day having a special guy in my life and eventually children. Not one dream, goal, or Relationship Status is lesser or greater than another.

Tell me, friend? What's your calling, The Greatest Commandment, look like in your everyday?

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Summer Reading Bucket List

So many books, so little time, am I right? Check out my towering To Be Read stack (some of which I plan on bringing on our vacation to Ocean City Maryland next month!) and tell me—what're you reading this summer? My stack has room to grow, always.

So Pure a Heart Amber Lynn Perry
Amazon | Goodreads
Since the night her dear uncle gave his life for hers, Hannah Young is determined to risk everything by spying for the Patriots in order to seek retribution against the British soldier who killed him. But when her former love, Joseph Wythe, insists on ensuring her safety, she must decide if the vengeance she seeks is worth the danger of his nearness. For the love she once felt is liable to grow deeper and more threatening to her heart than it ever was before.

Leaving his young ward to join the fight for liberty is the hardest thing Joseph Wythe has ever done. Nearly. The most difficult happened ten years past, which he tries his best to forget. Seeing Hannah Young again after all this time does something frightening and wonderful to his soul. Though her determination to spy for the Patriots is honorable and brave, he will never allow her to take such a risk without him to protect her, no matter how she protests—and no matter how he knows he will ache all the more for the thing he always wanted and still could never have.

Then There Was You by Kara Isaac
Amazon | Goodreads
Paige McAllister needs to do something drastic. Her boyfriend can’t even commit to living in the same country, her promised promotion is dead on arrival and the simultaneous loss of her brother and her dream of being a concert violinist has kept her playing life safe and predictable for six years. Things need to change. A moment of temporary insanity finds her leaving her life in Chicago to move to Sydney, Australia. There she finds herself, against many of her convictions, as a logistics planner for one of Australia’s biggest churches, and on a collision course with her boss’s son.

Josh Tyler fronts a top-selling worship band and is in demand all over the world. But, in the past, his failed romantic relationships almost destroyed both his reputation and his family. He's determined to never risk it happening again. The last thing he needs is some American girl tipping his ordered life upside down. Especially one who despises everything he’s ever worked for and manages to push every button he has.

When Josh and Paige are thrown together to organize his band’s next tour, the sparks fly. But can they find a way to bridge the differences that pull them apart? Or will they choose the safety and security of what they know over taking a chance on something that will require them to risk everything?

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh
Amazon | Goodreads
After tirelessly climbing the ranks of her Chicago-based interior design firm, Lane Kelley is about to land her dream promotion when devastating news about her brother draws her back home—a quaint tourist town full of memories she’d just as soon forget. With her cell phone and laptop always within reach, Lane aims to check on her brother while staying focused on work—something her eclectic family doesn’t understand.

Ryan Brooks never expected to settle down in Harbor Pointe, Michigan, but after his final tour of duty, it was the only place that felt like home. Now knee-deep in a renovation project that could boost tourism for the struggling town, he is thrilled to see Lane, the girl he secretly once loved, even if the circumstances of her homecoming aren’t ideal.

Their reunion gets off to a rocky start, however, when Ryan can’t find a trace of the girl he once knew in the woman she is today. As he slowly chips away at the walls Lane has built, secrets from his past collide with a terrible truth even he is reluctant to believe. Facing a crossroads that could define his future with Lane and jeopardize his relationship with the surrogate family he’s found in the Kelleys, Ryan hopes Lane can see that maybe what really matters has been right in front of her all along—if only she’d just look up.

A Name Unknown by Roseanna White
Amazon | Goodreads
Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they concentrate on stealing high-value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. But when Rosemary must determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany, she is in for the challenge of a lifetime. How does one steal a family's history, their very name?

Peter Holstein, given his family's German blood, writes his popular series of adventure novels under a pen name. With European politics boiling and his own neighbors suspicious of him, Peter debates whether it might be best to change his name for good. When Rosemary shows up at his door pretending to be a historian and offering to help him trace his family history, his question might be answered.

But as the two work together and Rosemary sees his gracious reaction to his neighbors' scornful attacks, she wonders if her assignment is going down the wrong path. Is it too late to help him prove that he's more than his name?

Finding Love by Toni Shiloh
Amazon | Goodreads
Delaney Jones has finally started to pick up the pieces of her shattered life after the death of her husband, Parker. Just as she adjusts to a new normal, in walks Army soldier, Luke Robinson. When she finally makes the decision to trust him, the world deals her a heavy blow.

Sergeant First Class Luke Robinson can’t get over his part in the death of Delaney’s husband. Hoping to assuage his guilt, he offers to lend a hand. He never counted on the feelings she evokes with just a smile. Will his secrets widen the gulf, or will he finally find absolution?

True to You by Becky Wade
Amazon | Goodreads
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.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge
Amazon | Goodreads
Just a few years after their father’s business scandal shatters their lives, Jane and Celia Woodward find themselves forced out of their San Francisco tea shop. The last thing Jane wants is to leave their beloved shop on Valencia Street, but when Celia insists on a move to Austin, Texas, the sisters pack up their kid sister Margot and Jane’s tea plants, determined to start over yet again.
But life in Austin isn’t all sweet tea and breakfast tacos. Their unusual living situation is challenging and unspoken words begin to fester between Jane and Celia. When Jane meets and falls for up-and-coming musician Sean Willis, the chasm grows deeper.

While Sean seems to charm everyone in his path, one person is immune – retired Marine Captain Callum Beckett. Callum never meant to leave the military, but the twin losses of his father and his left leg have returned him to the place he least expected—Texas.
In this modern spin on the Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, the Woodward sisters must contend with new ingredients in unfamiliar kitchens, a dash of heartbreak, and the fragile hope that maybe home isn't so far away.

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin
Amazon | Goodreads
In 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle's café. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She's a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service.

When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome.

The Whys Have It by Amy Matayo
Amazon | Goodreads
"His music holds the heart of America...but his soul holds a terrible secret."

Chart topping pop musician Cory Minor has it all—fame, money, more women at his disposal than time to spend on them. He’s living the life most American men only dream of. Until an ordinary concert in Springfield threatens to destroy everything he’s worked for.
As he and his band leave the arena for his next show, Cory’s tour bus crashes into two teenage girls, killing one girl instantly and leaving the other barely clinging to life. Lawsuits are threatened, tabloids are talking, and Cory’s idyllic world falls apart. But what no one knows is that this scene is all too familiar. Because this isn’t the first accident Cory has caused. This isn’t the first time he’s destroyed someone else’s life to save his own.
It’s just the first time he’s had to face it head on.
Small town girl Samantha Dalton has no one—no mother, no father, and now no sister. She’s lost everything in a world that celebrates excess. So when Cory Minor shows up at her doorstep offering money and apologies, she turns him away too. You can’t lose what you don’t have, and she can’t take another letdown, especially not from someone who has managed to rip away all she had left. Samantha has been fine on her own for years, she’ll be fine now too.
At least that’s what she tells herself.
But Cory won’t leave. He’s persistent in the worst possible way.
Will Cory’s determination to make things right pay off in the end, or will Sam keep pushing him away until there’s nothing left to fight for? How can two people learn to rely on each other when life keeps hurting them both? 

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The Last Summer by Brandy Bruce {Review, Book Tour & Giveaway!}

It is my greatest pleasure to present to you the most perfect read for this sultry summer we're having. This pairs well with country music, an iced fizzy beverage of choice—mine and the heroine's fave being Diet Dr. Pepper—and a lazy afternoon or two in which to devour the entire book cover to cover.
Don't forget to enter the giveaway and read the excerpt to get a little teaser of the story after my review!

For twenty-something Sara Witherspoon and her group of friends, a perfect Southern summer includes lake-house getaways, wedding planning, outdoor concerts, and a dash of romance. But for these seven friends who love each other like family, this year, summer rolls in with changes for everyone.

Sara's longtime crush, Luke, has been her best friend for as long as she has been a part of the group. When Luke begins seriously dating another of their friends, Sara's forced to deal with her hurt and jealousy, while outwardly try to support them both.

While Sara comes to terms with her own heart and her friends' relationships, an unexpected handsome pilot from North Carolina and an old flame are thrown into the mix. Knowing her heart suddenly becomes much more complicated.

But as time unfolds and friendships begin to unravel, Sara and the others are presented with the reality of what a season of change does to old friendships and new love interests.
Does growing older mean growing apart?


Never have I ever—or rarely—related to a modern day heroine so much. With a friend group reminiscent of classic twenty-something sitcoms, realistic growing pains and season changes, Ms. Bruce has crafted an impeccable tale. One that is indeed part coming of age, but more than anything—finding out that God's will is the sweetest place to be.
The characters will feel as if they're your friends too—that's how vivid the author wrote them into Sara's story—and oh, the Texas. Much as I hate heat, after reading this story I want to visit there now to see all the spots from The Last Summer.
Ah, the romance. As with the best romances—the heroine and hero(es) will have you tearing out your hair at times. Conflict may flare in your heart as you borderline speed read (I'm guilty) to see who Sara ends up with—and every handsome gentleman in the book is worth rooting for. And this is helped by the unique chemistry Sara has with each of them that the crafty author poured into these guys.
This book reached Favorite status quickly for me because of all this and more. To sum up, Sara Witherspoon reached through the pages to grab my arm, get my attention and say, "Hey, I get it. Watch what God can do in spite of us."
And this, my friends, is a mark of a truly great and timeless story.


I unzipped my bag to make sure I had everything I needed for two nights at Lake Shore Woods. Addison’s parents had owned the house since she’d been in high school. During college, I suppose, Addison and the others used to go up there for weekends. But with demanding work schedules and
the busyness of life, our group had made going to the lake house a bi-annual trip during the last three years.
We’d go out once during the summer and take Addison’s parents’ boat out on the water and ski. We’d eat at the worn table on the back deck, overlooking the south shore of the gorgeous lake, nestled by tall pine trees and a few houses, and catch up on life. The sound of rippling water and rustling tree leaves in our ears.
Sam liked to drag out Addison’s dad’s cornhole set from the garage and make us all play. After dark, we’d make s’mores. Debra never seemed able to toast a marshmallow without it catching fire. Jason would heroically swap her charcoaled marshmallows for his bubbly brown ones. The guys would fish during the day and sometimes at night, usually depending on whether they’d caught enough to brag about. The girls would lay out and sip sweet tea. At even a hint of pink on her skin, Lily would flip out and put on her swimsuit cover-up. And always, at the end of a full day on the water, I loved the shine in Luke’s eyes against his golden skin.
We’d talk and laugh, and every minute always seemed to feel like the perfection of a Southern summer weekend. And we’d go up once more during either winter or early spring. We’d play board games and pop big batches of popcorn. Luke and Sam and Jason would throw a football back and forth. Addison usually lit the fire pit, and we’d sit around, watching the flames. Sometimes we’d sing or play twenty questions. Lily would make her homemade cider, and we’d drink mugs of it while talking about anything and everything.
I loved summer best. The warmth, the beauty of the surrounding woods, the glorious feeling of escape, the ease that seemed to accompany summer in Texas.


Brandy Bruce is a mother, a wife, a book editor, an author, and someone who seriously loves dessert. Originally from Texas, she now makes her home in Colorado with her husband and three children. She’s the author of Looks Like Love, The Romano Family Collection, and The Last Summer.



Tour Schedule:
July 6 - Melony Teague
July 7 -
Reading Is My SuperPower (review)
July 10 - Northern Belle

As part of the The Last Summer blog tour, Brandy Bruce is giving away this great SUMMER PRIZE PACK to one winner! (US addresses only) Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
 a Rafflecopter giveaway

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