A Reluctant Assassin by J. C. Morrows: A Review

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About A Reluctant Assassin (from Amazon):

Her mission was simple — get close to the Prince, and kill him. . .

Kayden entered the palace under a lie, one designed to get her close to the Prince. On the outside, she may look like a princess but beneath the mask, a killer lays in wait — for the perfect moment.

Dvarius was not ready to take the crown, nor was he ready for a wife . . .

But due to his father’s unexpected death and an archaic law — he must find a bride before he is allowed to take his rightful place on the throne.

And the one woman he wants — just might be the one who is there to kill him…

About J. C. Morrows (from Amazon):

JC Morrows – writer of YA Christian speculative fiction, drinker of coffee and avid reader – is a storyteller in the truest sense of the word.

She finished her first speculative fiction novel purely for the enjoyment of her mother – also known as her biggest fan.

JC has been telling stories in one form or another her entire life and once her mother convinced her to write them down, she couldn’t stop.

She gives God all of the glory for her talent and ability!

You can connect with her on her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, InstagramPinterest, Amazon, and Goodreads.

My Review:

I give A Reluctant Assassin by J. C. Morrows 3 out of 5 stars.

First of all, I want to say, I love the premise of this book: What if Cinderella had been sent to kill the Prince? Paints an interesting picture, doesn’t it?

I was intrigued before I even started reading because of the killer premise (no pun intended), but as I began reading, I was immediately drawn into the world, which has both a futuristic and old-fashioned feel to it.

We are first introduced to Kayden, the girl on a mission, and shortly thereafter she meets the prince, Dvarius. Even though he’s not ready to marry, for him, it’s love at first sight. Kayden is resistant, presumably because feelings would get in the way of her mission. Their budding relationship is easily the best part of this story.

Dvarius was the best-developed character, and I enjoyed him quite a bit. I understood him and his motivations.

Kayden, not so much. Although she has personality, I couldn’t access her character. If it weren’t for the synopsis, which leads me to believe Kayden’s mission is to kill the prince, I wouldn’t know about it, because her mission is not clearly delineated in the story – it’s barely alluded to. Furthermore, it’s not clearly stated why she’s been sent to kill Dvarius, or who the people who sent her are, or why Kayden would go along with their plan. Synopsis aside, I left the story wondering if it really was Kayden’s mission to kill Dvarius or if I’d just been set up to believe that.

The supporting characters needed better development as well.

Beyond that, the story comes to an abrupt end – no climax and no denouement. The effect was startling, when considering all that had transpired. It’s possible that the intention behind such an ending was to leave the reader on the edge of his or her seat in anticipation of the next book in the series, but it only served to frustrate me. I had difficulty bonding with the characters, because they weren’t properly introduced, and so unfortunately, I have difficulty caring what comes next for them.

For me, the question What if Cinderella had been sent to kill the Prince? remains unanswered.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

#GetOutofTheField: Self-Destruction

Self-destruction comes in all shapes and sizes: suicidal thoughts and plots, self-mutilation, eating disorders, destroying things you love and have worked hard for, and many, many more.

According to Center for Disease Control, “Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages” and “there is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts” (SAVE).

A Healthy Place reports a staggering 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males engage in self-harm of some sort; that these habits begin young, are often present in abuse survivors, and that they are often picked up from peers.

The statistics for eating disorders are also overwhelming: “Up to 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.” (ANAD).

 

 

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You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but that girl in the middle in the photo above wants to die. She’s wanted to die since she was eight or nine years old, so that makes it … five or six years at the time the picture was taken. Or at least, that’s what she thinks she wants.

A few months ago, she started taking medicine to get to sleep and away from the angry and sad thoughts that are in her head because there is nowhere else for them to go. It isn’t the kind of medicine a doctor prescribes, mostly night-time cold and flu medicine from the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet downstairs. In this picture, that girl in the middle? She hates her life. Exactly a week after this picture was taken, she wakes up from a combination of night-time meds and as she gets out of bed, her vision blurs and blood pulses in her ears. She falls to the ground, and in that moment, she actually thinks she’s going to die.

And in that moment, she realizes she wants to live, and she wants to live on her own terms.

So things began to change for the middle girl in the picture above.

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The girl in the picture above is at her emptiest. At nineteen years old, she’s lived life on her terms. She has pushed through some days like a robot, and curled up in bed through others. She has eaten, and not eaten. She has looked to feminism, liberalism, money and capitalism to make her life meaningful. She has boxed parts of her life up and thrown them away because she can’t stand the pain of looking at them anymore. (Literally and figuratively). Her biggest, most important plan for her life has recently been upset because she’s an emotional and financial disaster.

Even though she grew up in a Christian home, and knew all of the “right” things to do and say, she didn’t believe in a God – at least, not one who was interested in her life. She can’t wait to not go to church anymore, because those people aren’t interested in her either.

Even though life on her terms has not played out at all the way she had planned, she has no intention of changing anything.

Then one night, she’s about to do something she won’t be able to undo, and she feels like she should pick up her Bible instead. It flops open to Isaiah 43, where God says, “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name; you are Mine … you are precious and honored in My sight, and I love you.”

And in that moment, she couldn’t get around it. She wasn’t made for life on her own terms. She was made to be known and loved.

So things began to change for the girl in the picture above.

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The girl in the picture above is fat. She knows it because everyone else has let her know it. She gets called Thunder Thighs and Fatty Bolger (a creative insult from The Hobbit) and is told frequently that if she keeps it up (eating, that is), she’ll be turning sideways to get through doors soon, just like someone else everybody knows. (The joke’s on them, because she doesn’t carry weight on her hips anyway.) As she gets older, she’s deeply ashamed of her flabby body and just how much she likes food. Finally, someone close to her confronts her about her weight while she’s eating … loudly and in public. After that, she doesn’t like to eat with people around. It makes her anxious about what people will think.

Suddenly, she starts to lose weight – a lot of it – not because of her terrible eating decisions, but because she’s sick. People don’t know or care that she’s sick, though; they just know she’s looking great. And she knows it, too. She actually likes the way she looks, so she ignores all of the signs that she needs to see a doctor.

But her hair is thinning, and her parents send her to the doctor anyway, and the doctor confirms what she already knows.  She’s lost weight because she’s sick, because she’s been putting things into her body for years, and her body has been trying to tell her for years that it can’t take it anymore. The doctor tells her she’s been slowly destroying herself.

And in that moment, she realizes she doesn’t want to destroy herself – not slowly or otherwise.  She wants to be who she was created to be – a knower and lover of God and others.

And so again, things began to change for the girl in the picture above.

It breaks her heart to know a loved one doesn’t consider life worth living, because Jesus came to bring that loved one life – abundant life (John 10:10). It breaks her heart to see a loved one’s arms and legs lined with cuts from trying to ease the pain, when the Messiah’s stripes are what heals us (Isaiah 53:5). It breaks her heart to see orange laxative pills on a loved one’s bathroom counter, because that person looks in the mirror and isn’t happy about what he or she sees, when God says, “Hey! I love you. I claim you. As you are.”

Self-destruction. Twenty years in, she still can’t tell you why she’s done some of the things she’s done. She can’t tell you why she still struggles with some of these things. After all, there’s enough pain in this life without inflicting it on yourself.

During the times when she’s most tempted to go back to these old habits, the only thing she can cling to is the fact that God loves her, and life is his plan for her, not destruction.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, an eating disorder, or self-harm, please seek the help of a professional, licensed counselor as soon as possible. If you need immediate help, please contact a crisis center. Your life and health are SO important to God, to me, and to this world!

The 12th Girl in Heaven: A Review

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About The 12th Girl in Heaven (from Amazon):

Macy Bandele’s goals are simple: get good grades, don’t make waves at the university, and find some place to belong. The mysterious princess sorority, Rho Lambda Tau, seems like the answer to her problems. If only the handsome Dillan Noughton didn’t keep challenging her way of thinking. What sinister plans do the sorority hide? And can Dillan help save her from herself?

About RJ Conte:

RJ Conte, formerly Rachael Lynn Thomas, has kissed only one boy in her entire life. And she married him, inspiring her to write about sweet or powerful love stories ever since.

She writes a blog on parenting, publishing, painting, and perorating at http://blonderj.wordpress.com/
She also has recently begun a book review and rating website for parents to make informed decisions on what to allow their children to read: rjconte.com/books

RJ Conte writes realistic, issue-driven fiction that explores human nature and the depths of the soul, while pointing readers to their Creator.

You can connect with her on her blog, website, Facebook, and Twitter.

My Review:

I give The 12th Girl in Heaven 4 out of 5 stars.

First of all, I’ve been sitting on 12th Girl for about three months. My laptop died in April, and my PC went in June, so I’ve been using my Kindle for almost everything but reading, sadly. Saturday night, I was completely disconnected from the internet, and had sometime to read. Scrolling through all of the books on my Kindle, I decided to settle in with 12th Girl and I’m glad I did.

You may remember that I hosted RJ back in May to talk about human trafficking, a theme in The 12th Girl in Heaven. The novella is a is a modern twist on a truly haunting fairytale, and she manages to insert a powerful message not only about trafficking but the deception of certain lifestyles as well. While there’s a distinct moral to this story, it’s definitely not preachy.

There were many times where I was literally on the edge of my seat wondering what was going on (in a good way). Through it all, there’s a tender love story, which would ordinarily be out of place in such a tense and chilling plot, but it is really well done in this case.

I think the characters are among Conte’s best, and I’ve been reading her since her first book, Dashwood Avenue(Dill Pickle was a nice throwback. You either get it or you don’t. Sorry.) I especially enjoyed Gidget’s complex character, but I thought Macy’s motivations made her an interesting character as well.  Of course, Dillan is every girl’s dream, and it doesn’t hurt that he’d be approved by most fathers, too.

As you may have guessed from the synopsis, a large portion of The 12th Girl in Heaven takes place in a sorority. While I didn’t personally rush in college (my Greek letters were of the academic honors variety), I know girls who did, and I watched all four seasons of Greek, so I’m familiar with the process. While I’m certain the aspects of hazing that this story went into were accurate, at times, early on in the story, the rushing and pledging aspects were muddled and somewhat inaccurate, and that may be off-putting to young women who have actually rushed and pledged sororities.

Overall, however, I found The 12th Girl in Heaven to be an easy story to settle into and the pages kept turning once I did. Go get it.

Disclosure: I’ve known RJ for almost ten years, but lest you think I’m going easy on her or trying to boost her ratings because we’re friends, she will be the first person to tell you that I have always given my honest opinion about her stories, even when it has meant (what many writers deem to be) an inferior rating. (Though, okay, personally, I am the three-star rating’s biggest fan, even as a writer, but now is not the time or place for that soapbox.) When I review, I review for you, my readers, so you can determine what might be your cup of tea, and what you might want to pass over. Just sayin’…

If you end up liking The 12th Girl in Heaven, you might also like these titles that I’ve reviewed…

Fairy-Tale Retellings: Becoming Beauty by Sarah Boucher

Similar Subject Matter: Sovereign Ground and Heart of Petra by Hilarey Johnson

By RJ Conte: Angel-Lover

The Liebster Award

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award by BlondeRJ. Thank you, RJ!

For those of you who don’t know, the Liebster Award is a fun way for online communities to get to know each other, like many other blogging awards. I don’t normally participate, because life happens, but this week I could use a fun post to break up the serious stuff I’m chewing on for future posts.

1. What do you believe with all of your heart – and no one can convince you otherwise?

With all my heart, I believe God loves people and wants to be with them. As a follower of Jesus, and one who desires to share His heart in everything, I believe I should also love people and live life with them.

2. Have you ever read the book of John in the Bible?  Why or why not?

I have. I even blogged about it: “I had been wondering why so many believers hand the Bible to nonbelievers and recommend that they start with the book of John.  It wouldn’t be my first choice of Bible books, or of the gospels, for that matter.  Then God reminded me of John 20:31, sort of the purpose statement for John’s gospel: “These [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  And I thought, you know, that’s what knowing Jesus is all about: life. (Heck, that’s what God is all about). With that in mind, I set out to read the book of John and consider this theme of life.”

3. Who is your best friend?  Why?

I wouldn’t say I have a best friend. I have a circle of dear friends, with whom I share my life, and they with me. It changes as seasons of my life change.

4. What would (or did) you name your first daughter?  What does that name mean?

I have a feeling that my daughters (if I ever have any) will come to me pre-named.

5. Have you ever prayed?  What did you say?

I have prayed so many times, and said so many things, but I’d say my prayer life has been characterized by honest communication with God. When I’ve been angry, He has heard; sad, He has heard; excited, He has heard; in love, He has heard. In the past few years, I’ve also been learning to listen.

6. Who do you honestly love the most?  Why?

Honestly? God. He loves me – really loves me – and has stepped in countless times when no one else could or would.

Second to that, my dad. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that loving God comes first, and then loving my dad (and everyone else). Again, he loves me. He asks questions. He makes sure I know why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Nothing happens in my life without God and my dad knowing.

7. Why do you blog?  What started it for you?

I started blogging to keep in touch with a good friend who went on a mission trip about nine years ago. I continue blogging because writing is the best way for me to get thoughts out of my head for people to see and speak into them.

8. What purpose where you made for?  And how do you know?

I was created to know God. I know because that’s just something He set in my heart.

9. What’s your worst fear?

I don’t know that any of my fears are worse than the others. Any fear that keeps me from doing what I’m supposed to be doing would be my worst fear, I guess.

10. What’s the worst nightmare you ever had?

I was outside of an abortion clinic protesting, and a loved one walked out. I asked her what she was doing there, and she wouldn’t meet my eyes or answer me. I told her I wanted to help her, and she said, “No one can help me now.” (And I want to be clear, it was those six words that made it a nightmare.)

11. Do you know that Jesus Christ died for you?  Do you know He loves you?  And I do too.

Yes.

If you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged for the Liebster Award. You don’t have to have your own blog, just leave a comment with your answers. I’d love to get to know you more, too. 🙂

Here are my questions:

  1. What’s your favorite kind of food? Why?
  2. Do you follow sports? If so, which sports/teams?
  3. Name three books that have impacted you, and why. (And if you’re going with the Bible, name specific books in the Bible).
  4. Who is your hero? Why?
  5. Three random things about yourself. Go.
  6. Favorite color(s)?
  7. Craziest thing you’ve ever done with your hair?
  8. Special talents?
  9. How would you define your view of God?
  10. Favorite news source?
  11. Favorite Bible verse or inspirational quote?

And as a special added bonus…

Who are you voting for in the 2016 election and why? (I am JUST KIDDING. Nobody answer that.)

This Is The Way

This is going to be one of those long, personal posts. If that’s not your cup of tea, and I completely understand if it’s not, feel free to sit this one out. But my heart is full, and I need to write to get some of this out.

***

This story begins nearly four years ago.

I was sitting at a stop sign and God was telling me to turn right.

I had just graduated college, and felt God leading me to visit this church I’d found online called Restoration. When I’d been researching churches in the weeks leading up to graduation, I was drawn to Restoration because of the name, an important word in my personal testimony, and one I still pray over my loved ones. As I’d clicked on Restoration’s link, I was further blown away by the transparency of the pastor and his wife in sharing their own testimony of reconciliation. At this point, I’d had experience with both a church that hadn’t practiced such transparency and a church that had, and had already made a personal resolve to live a life of transparency.

Still, I was a little scared because I knew this was it.

Restoration was going to be my church.

And it was.

I will never forget the first Wednesday night Bible study I attended. Pastor Scobey asked for prayer requests, then led us in prayer. When he got to me he prayed something to this effect, “We don’t know why You have her here, but we want her.” It made me cry.

This is the first time I have ever shared this. (And I am sure I will hear about it from somebody later, but that’s okay). Earlier that day, I had received a letter from the elders of the church in which I grew up. I’d met with them some weeks earlier asking for this letter, as it is common practice in certain circles for a believer to have a letter of recommendation when placing membership. After years of teaching Bible Club, Sunday school, being active in and with the youth, here is what church leadership had to say about me: “Lydia Thomas has been in fellowship with us until recently,” followed by their signatures. As it’s not mine to share, I am not at liberty to go into the entirety of the situation that led to that, but I went into that Wednesday night Bible study really hurting. The last thing I thought was that I’d be wanted. After all, I had nothing to commend me.

And that night, being prayed for by Pastor Scobey, I felt God saying, “Don’t you see, Lydia? I have your back.”

I will never forget how when I started a ministry to artists (a semi-failed ministry, but hey), Pastor Scobey and Melanie were my biggest supporters – both in prayer and advice. I will never forget the prayers and resumes sent out on my behalf. I will never forget the Sunday Pastor Scobey preached on buried talents, and God whispered, “Children’s ministry, children’s ministry, children’s ministry,” something I’d kept buried because when I’d been in children’s ministry before, I was young, and it often seemed like my ideas weren’t good enough, so I started thinking I had nothing to offer. I will never forget teaming up with an older sister in Christ on the children’s ministry. I will never forget being a part of the praise team, and especially the sister who built and maintained a relationship with me (even after I’d left). I will never forget how Pastor Scobey put me in contact with a pastor who originated in Seattle after I’d left.

Oh yes, Restoration was my church.

But. I had major trust issues, and because of that, I had commitment issues. (To a degree, I still do). There was a direction my church began to take, and I can’t begin to tell you how much it scared me. (Not because it was bad, but because it was a really big change). And while God assured me He still had my back, I started not to trust Him, either. Add to that (another thing I haven’t shared before now), I stumbled on a blog that was dedicated to hurting church members, or so it said. Carrying several old wounds myself, I got involved in a lot of the discussions on the blog, which brought no real healing for me. Instead, in reading other people’s experiences, I began to think any involvement with the Church could only bring pain. And God? He hadn’t kept me from the pain the Church could inflict in the past, why would He start now?

To my great discredit, I withdrew, rather than sticking things out.

I am not proud of this – not the mistrust of God and every other authority figure in my life during this season (including my dad), not the wounds that I’d carried with me for years, and certainly not my circumvention of a growth opportunity (put a pin in that, I’ll come back to it) – but I want to be clear, I did not leave because Restoration was not a church to me. I left because I had an attitude problem, and I bounced around because of it until God made it clear I needed to confront my trust and commitment issues.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, when I was preparing my debt testimony for an upcoming Vox Dei compilation about living free, I was going through some old journals, and I was convicted once again about my terrible attitude during this season, not just toward God, but towards my local church and Pastor Scobey. I realized I had never thanked him for the things he’d done, besides maybe in passing, and I certainly had not thanked God.

So that’s where it started: thanking God. But from there, God began to prompt me to thank Pastor Scobey as well. In person. He’s moved on to a church in Oklahoma City, so I knew it was going to mean a little drive. Because of my heart in leaving Restoration, I also had a lot of guilt, and I wasn’t at all sure about how my just showing up would be received.  God was leading, however, and seeing as how I had plans to leave for Seattle within the next month or so, I decided to take a step, and go up to Oklahoma City.  For the first time in years last Sunday, I told God, “I trust you,” and meant it. As always, He had my back.

It was a tremendous blessing to worship with Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, to see Pastor Scobey preach his heart for the lost, and to be welcomed so warmly.  I did try to make my reason for being there clear to everyone I talked to – thanking my pastor – and let people know I was heading for Seattle (I don’t know who I was trying to convince), but someone said as I was leaving, “You’re family now.”

Anyway, on my drive home, I started to feel unresolved. I turned on my radio and ignored it. I had done what God had asked me to do and was free to go to Seattle now, where, you know, I’ve been trying to get for the past four years. Except, even with my music blasting, I could tell God was trying to tell me He wasn’t done yet. Even after I got home, I kept myself busy, but eventually it was time to go to sleep. It took me forever to fall asleep, because I was tossing and turning over the fact that this wasn’t over.

On Monday morning, during my devotional time, I eventually asked, “Okay, God. Is there somewhere else you want to go?” I began to pray about it. In no time at all, I was pretty resolved in my heart about what I needed to do.

Even with that, I was not fully persuaded Oklahoma City was the right path. What about Seattle? What about what people are going to think when I don’t go to Seattle, even though I’ve said I am going to Seattle? I don’t even know that much about Oklahoma City! What about the fact that I am a bona fide church hopper? What about how scared I still get thinking about the church and ministry? What about a job? What about…? What about…? What about…? I continued to pray until  I was fully resolved, and my what-abouts and what-ifs were silenced. The reality is that it doesn’t matter what I thought or planned, or what people will think about this change of plans. What matters is what God thinks and plans.

As of this week, God asked me to step out in faith to minister and live and work in Oklahoma City.

I don’t have a flashy story about why I’m convinced this is the way, just a bunch of little things: counsel from friends who prayed with me, a biography of George Muller, a vision/burden for ministry, some kids’ songs from a VBS sing-along, being contacted by an organization about a job, and a few verses from Acts 16. I can tell you that because I’m convinced this is the way God has for me, I’m going to walk in it. I’m going to trust God. He knows the hot mess I was before I surrendered my life to Jesus, He knows my wounded and sketchy church/ministry history, He knows my propensity to give up at all of the wrong times, He knows just how I get when I’m angry, and He says, “I want to redeem all of that. I want to restore you. I want to make you into someone I can use.” He’s made it clear that I’ve got a season of growth and equipping ahead, and that unlike three years ago, I need to stick this out. In other words, if I’m going to step out and do this, I’d better be prepared to do it all the way.

I am.

Yesterday, I returned to Oklahoma City and placed my membership with Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. I can’t even begin to say how much I’m looking forward to growing and ministering with them in this coming season. Over the past week, I’ve been looking for employment there, and will continue to do so (seeking administrative assistant positions with hospitals and/or energy companies primarily). Once I have an offer in hand (and I don’t expect it to be too long), I will look for an apartment, and you know, go from there.

Pray with me?

Thanks, y’all. (I guess now I don’t have to let go of saying “y’all” now that I’m not moving to Seattle…)

“In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

And this song has been on my heart and mind this week… Exhale by Plumb.