You guys. I’ve been looking forward to writing this post since the summer of 2015, when my friend, Vanessa, first sent me snippets of a story she hoped to one day share with the world.

It captured my heart back then: just a few sentences referencing a man in combat boots, church pews and weekend waffles. I’ve been waiting to meet her lead characters, Meg and Charlie Winters, ever since.

So many of us dream of seeing our words in print. For the last three years, I’ve watched Vanessa chip away at her debut novel from the window of my Instagram feed, bringing her aspiration to life one day at a time. From my point of view, it looked like countless (3 a.m.!) writing sessions, superhuman self-discipline + lots and lots of coffee. She is pretty much my hero.

Soldier On giveawayEven though she let me read a pre-production copy over the summer, I finally got to hold the beautiful paperback edition in my hands when it arrived in my mailbox last week.

You bet I’m reading it all over again right now. It’s a perfect book for cozy fall evenings.

Even though reviews always make me think of sour-faced Ego from Disney’s Ratatouille, here’s mine (I promise to keep it short and sweet… because, giveaway!).

Review of Soldier On

The story opens with Meg and Charlie making last-minute preparations for an impending deployment. The way a familiar scent stirs up almost-forgotten memories, Vanessa’s beautiful imagery took me back to the dreaded goodbye that sent my own soldier to the Middle East for 12 months.

To be honest, it was painful to read, but in a good way; the kind of ache that serves to reminds us we are not alone in the trials we face.

I commiserated with Meg as she struggled to find a new normal (if there is such a thing) in the days after Charlie left.

I grieved with her when tragedy turned her world upside down.

I related to her despair and confusion when ghosts of her past threatened to tear apart her marriage and unravel her faith, thread by thread.

Soldier On, the first book in Vanessa Rasanen’s Hearts On Guard series, carries a message of Truth and love written for the military community, but it is one the whole world needs to hear.

In its pages, you will find a good mix of romance, action and wit. Hope weaves it all together seamlessly.

If you aren’t familiar with military acronyms, you may find yourself feeling a bit confused at times. But, don’t worry – there’s a glossary for that.

I can’t wait to read book two, Let Them Fall, which is set to release in the spring. Stay tuned.

When You Meet Good Strangers Online: How I Met Vanessa

In the early days of military life, I experienced my own crisis of faith. In the midst of it all, I somehow connected with Vanessa in the blogging community, and I’m so glad I did.

I remember sending her countless messages through Facebook back then. Each time, she responded with patience, Truth and love (even when my reaction was less than graceful). When she didn’t have an honest answer to give, she turned me to someone who did.

But that is another story for another day.

Difficult times have the power to take us to dark, dangerous places.

In the cloud of doubt and confusion that accompanies heavy emotions, may there always be friends like Meg, Charlie and Vanessa to remind us of the Truth.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet my long-time friend in person (finally!).

When a late spring snow storm derailed our plans to camp in Utah on our way our new duty station, Vanessa invited us – a crew of strangers she met on the internet – to spend the night in her home on the Wyoming plains.

I’m not sure which is crazier – the fact that she extended the invitation or the fact that we accepted (I love you, friend!).

Without much hesitation, we re-charted our course and arrived just in time for supper.

She fed us (homemade!) beef stroganoff, set up comfy beds for us to sleep in, and made what could have been a relatively awkward situation a warm and welcoming experience for us all. To top it off, our children and pups made fast friends (by the way, are you following Bruce the three-legged heeler mix on social media yet?).

As she rushed off to work the next morning, trusting us to lock up her house on our way out, Vanessa made sure there was a pot of fresh coffee ready so we would be sufficiently caffeinated for another long drive. She is exactly the way she portrays herself on social media.

Soldier On Giveaway

Without further adieu, I’m thrilled to be giving away two signed copies of Soldier On!

Here’s how to win:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oh, and be sure to attend Vanessa’s Soldier On launch party on Oct. 30 for a chance to win a cozy prize pack to enjoy while you read. I would love to get my hands (and nostrils) on one of those firewood-scented candles!