Saturday, April 21, 2018

Winter in April {seeking Allah, finding Jesus}

via Pixabay
Last Sunday morning an April storm came through the Great Lakes area, icing over the roads and canceling most of the morning services. There's something all the more relaxing about getting up late on a Sunday morning, and instead of dressing up and scurrying around, seeing everyone just laying around with blankets and cozy talk. The whole day turned into blankets and cozy talk--sis and I cuddled up on the couch while we all watched a live stream sermon. Then there were Sunday nap comas. Then there were three episodes of the Great British Baking show. (Normally two is our high water mark, but we had a library due date and less free evening time that week.)

I woke up that Sunday morning over cereal and yogurt, accompanied by Nabeel Qureshi's Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Our church ladies are having a book discussion night with it, so my mom and sis and I are all reading the copy a friend passed on to us. We received the copy last year sometime last summer before the hurricanes in Houston. During the floods, I still remember hearing about Qureshi leaving for the hospital as the floodwaters rose higher. Then, in mid-September, I heard that Qureshi passed away. While I had never heard him speak and knew none of his story at the time, I added his book to my sooner-than-later TBR.

Nabeel's book is fascinating and easy to read since he describes a lot of his spiritual journey in conversations with his family and his friend, David. He was raised as a Western Muslim and a peaceful man, with a deep love for his parents and their Islamic heritage. Qureshi's book details how his faith in Islam grew as a child in a wonderfully loving home, and how he later came to accept Christianity when he examined his faith and found it lacking in truth and consistency. Qureshi doesn't disguise how hard it was; how much he loved his family; and how much he had to give up to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.

What makes reading it even more interesting is contrasting it with another book my mom and sister and I are reading: In the Land of Blue Burqas, by Kate McCord. While Qureshi's book explores growing up Muslim in the West, McCord's book explores the lives of Muslim women in Afghanistan. The differences between Eastern Islam and Western Islam, according to Qureshi, are that Eastern countries are focused on authority and shame, while Western citizens are more influenced by the independent rationalistic mindset of right/wrong. McCord's account of Afghanistan offers a bleak picture of that, especially for women. In the West, a land filled with independent settlers, it doesn't surprise me that people don't want anyone to tell them what to think or do. Qureshi's picture of his Eastern mindset meeting Western America offers a lot of clarification on how we approach religions from different viewpoints. 

One theme which carries through both books is that of listening. The author of Blue Burquas came to a culture where people sit and talk. They listen and ask questions. There are no fast conversations, and she impacted people in many ways by taking time to converse with them. Qureshi, in his book, says that many Christians would look at him as someone needing to be saved--but the man who looked at him as a friend was the man who ultimately led him to the Lord.

Qureshi's bravery in pressing on to know and test his faith is more than I've done. His comments about being loved as a person versus being seen as a convert offer food for thought. And his life demonstrates his careful attention to truth, and God's patient love as he gives Qureshi confirmation after confirmation of the truth in several miraculous ways.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Love Which Expands {dorcas lane and gabriel cochrane}

via Pixabay
"I believe that love expands our world."

Dorcas Lane says this to Gabriel Cochrane in Lark Rise to Candleford, after he explains to her that he loves his work to the exclusion of all other loves. Dorcas disagrees with his assessment; she thinks that love is a different thing entirely. 

If Dorcas Lane slipped into our Bible Study Fellowship, her gorgeous belts, chic hats, and feminine shirtwaists might be a little out of place. (I'd dress up with her style any day.) But I think she'd find a resonating answer in the pages of Romans. The last few weeks we have been studying how to love the body. And that means loving those different than us; loving those weaker than us (Romans 14); loving our enemies (Romans 12). 

There is no time in the Christian life where we can look at the world around us and say "I have no one to love." 

Set just on the cusp of the upcoming 20th century, Lark Rise embodies all that is beautiful in its small-town stories and wind-tossed harvest fields. It's a BBC adaptation of a book I hope to read someday. There are many beautiful points; many tear-jerking moments. But one of the beautiful plot lines in Season 4 is Gabriel Cochrane's character arc. 

Gabriel Cochrane comes to Candleford after having his father's foundry confiscated for debts that he cannot pay. He is devastated by the loss of his young wife. And as he tries to make a new life in Candleford, he often rubs Dorcas the wrong way because of his loveless-ness. 

Gabriel believes he can only love one thing. When his wife was alive, he loved her so much he betrayed his financial stability and his word to please her. Now that she is gone, he thinks that he is no longer able to love people. So he throws himself into his work and loves that, to the inconvenience of other people's schedules and impatience towards a little boy who looks up to him. 

Dorcas finally confronts him. 
"Love is not a selfish need; not a hunger that must always be fed. Love should not exclude. It should make our lives broader; our hearts wider. What kind of love is it that would lock us away from those around us?" -Season 4, Episode 4
This is truth. Gabriel's love is really warped love. Warped love gathers about it the people and objects of its possession like treasured idols, refusing to expand or allow them to expand. Warped love is willing to allow other people to suffer for the sake of the comfort of one. Or even allowing the one to suffer for the sake of the comfort of the many. Warped love sets up barriers and comfort zones and walls.

But if you dive into Scripture, you see a different picture of love entirely. God inextricably links love for him with love for his people (1 John 4:21). We're called to love the body. To love the unlovable. To love even in a way that sacrifices some of our lesser loves on occasion (Romans 14). Christian love does not shut its heart. Doesn't sees someone approaching the table and say, "I have no room for you." Doesn't say, "My world is complete. I don't need any more people."

"I don't need." Surely a warning sign.

When I love only within my little exclusive circle, like Gabriel Cochrane, then I am actively showing hate to those I refuse to let in. Warped love has borders. As Dorcas says, passion has borders. Love is something else entirely. Love is not collecting people who contribute only to my praise. Not talking only to those who share my exclusive little hobbies and areas of excitement. Not solely fellowshipping with my select gathering. Not using people's goodwill just to forward my own ambitions. Love is extending the love of God to all whom God brings to me....a broader, wider love as described on the lips of a wise postmistress.

So Gabrial Cochrane, just because he cannot love one person, learns to show love to others. A little boy with his tempestulator. An employer who shows kindness to him again and again. His world expands. And an already endearing character is all the better for it. 

Would you add thoughts to this? I'd love to have my perspective expanded. 

Also, 3 reviews left on Amazon releases the first snippets of the War of Loyalties sequel! Have a favorite character? Criticisms? Overall impressions? (Honest reviews are the best!)


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sleeping Beauty and Humble Self

via Pixabay

She was sitting in a rocking chair near the window, I perched on a bed next to her, when her friend handed us warm mugs of creamy hot cocoa.

"Don't fall in there and drown," she teased.

We live half a world apart. That afternoon we had perhaps two hours of a grey November day before the road called our family home to Michigan again.

Two years before, Suzannah stumbled across My Lady Bibliophile through a comment on Jasmine Baucham's pre-marriage blog. (You can now find Jasmine Holmes writing excellent stuff here.) I think it was one of the only comments I've made, which always points me to the beauty and unpredictability of the ways God calls friends together. We exchanged occasional emails; sometime later Suzannah asked me to beta read a novel she was working on: Pendragon's Heir.

Humble self is at your service.

I've been doing it on a Watsonian level ever since. I read Ten Thousand Thorns last summer, spending Saturday mornings with Clouded Sky and Iron Maiden at the breakfast table. (Yes, I was eating alone.) For those of you who don't know, these two smol precious beings are found in a lusciously artistic retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in China with martial arts.

via Goodreads 
what are we waiting for, schuyler? send us to amazon.  

It was splendid when I read it the first time. I wasn't able to open a final draft until early 2018. The first chapter found me swiping pages on my phone while we wound through early morning country roads with cross-streets named "Empire" and "Britain." We were on the way to a radio recording day. The rest of the chapters found me this last Sunday clinging to same said phone. On the way to church, on my bed before my traditional Sunday nap-coma, and tucked into our cushy red recliner while the clock marched on to bedtime.

The sudden palm-strike to seal an acupoint.  Hands cupped in humble obeisance. Silky sleeves rippling in the wind. The tiptoeing sun. The threat of a masked face. Characters wrestling with war and spiritual enlightenment against the tension of fleeing pursuit, along with guarded legends from an unknown location. Ten Thousand Thorns provides so much to be loved. Explored through a high-quality story, it chastises spiritual disengagement from the world's problems, dramatizes Ecclesiastes 4:13, and provides an inspiring look at how women can effectively equip believers in the kingdom of God.

Hard to believe all that can be dealt with in the brevity of one novella. But as Clouded Sky wrestles with saving his country or enlightening his soul, it deals with all of them phenomenally well.

Coupled with Christina Rosetti's poems, I felt like I was enjoying a literary feast on Sunday. It's a feast you'll love to engage with as well.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Of Minky Blankets and Discipline and Joy

via Pixabay
We have a blanket in our home made of Minky which my mother sewed last year. She wanted to experiment with sewing a new type of fabric, and it's been a popular blanket in the home ever since. It's soft, brown on one side, with scattered woodland creatures on the other. I can't remember what they are. I only remember the foxes. 

Minky enshrouds you in a cascade of warmth and softness. It's the great Procrastinator. The Work-Destroyer. The Peace-Inviter and Shield-of-Forgetfulness against the demands of a fast-paced and productive world. A couple of weeks ago, sis brought me Minky and The Silver Chair on a Friday night. I don't know what prompted this act of love, but I spent the next few hours cocooned in comfort, escaping with Jill and Eustace to Narnia. While the rest of the family studied or rested from sheer exhaustion after a long week, I wandered through the land of talking owls and Marsh Wiggles. 

Prince Caspian was my favorite Narnia book growing up, and more recently, I've claimed him as my favorite still. After reading it again this year, I could see even more reasons to love it besides the superficial ones I had as a child: the triumphant victory and rejoicing in the presence of Aslan, the great bonfire feast of victory at the end. It's a tale that points to the victory of God, and the deep, satisfying joy of fellowship with his people. Who can forget David Suchet on the Focus on the Family drama, with his rich voice describing how Aslan and the moon stared at each other with joyful and unblinking eyes? 

So I wasn't expecting to go into The Silver Chair and have it beat Prince Caspian out for first place. In fact, I was putting it off a little bit because I expected to be bored. I have no idea why. Maybe because I knew the story so well that it was all going to be review; another obligatory stop in the series. 

Oh, Schuyler. Your mistakes are amusing sometimes. 

So many joyful, wonderful, deep and stirring things stood out to me as I journeyed through. The end of Dawn Treader hurts when Caspian meets Ramandu's daughter. The glory and joy of falling in love with the daughter of a star--who can help feeling the ache of beauty, along with the terrible stab of knowing that their time together will be so short? There is nothing to heal that tragedy. If I could undo anything in the series, it would be the death of Ramandu's daughter. But at the same time, I cannot say it was ill done when the emotion it describes is so deep. 

Then we have Puddleglum--dear Puddleglum, with his infuriatingly pessimistic predictions and stalwart loyalty. Puddleglum is always seeing the worst, and like Eustace and Jill, it's easy for me to be annoyed and dismissive of pessimism. Things generally work out, and when you travel a long journey with someone who looks at the glass half-empty, over time you start to shut their viewpoint out. But the danger of that is that sometimes, when you're in the neighborhood of giants, the gloomy predictions actually strike the right note, and you're too blind to see it anymore. 

The Silver Chair dramatizes the hard struggle of spiritual growth. Jill starts off as the bullied student of an Enlightened school and doesn't know much worth knowing. Her spiritual muscles are weak, and Aslan assigns memorization and obedience to strengthen them. In The Silver Chair we continue to catch glimpses of the Lion's severity. He's not a Santa Claus, fixing wrongs and dispensing pats on the head with benign smiles. He has a heart of necessary sternness towards his children, and a strong, corrective expectation of what they need to do (or think) better. Like Hebrews 11, he disciplines the children he loves. And it is not an easy journey. But throughout his discipline is tempered mercy and guidance. Even when his children are frail and faulty, he helps them accomplish the purpose he gave them, both for the land of Narnia and for their own souls. God is able to keep us from falling, and more kindly patient with our errors than we often give him credit for. I was blown away by the sweet moment I had utterly forgotten towards the end of the book, one gave me a glimpse of God himself: 
And in less time than it takes to breathe Jill forgot about the dead King of Narnia and remembered only how she had made Eustace fall over the cliff, and how she had helped to muff nearly all the signs, and about all the snappings and quarrelings. And she wanted to say "I'm sorry" but she could not speak. Then the Lion drew them toward him with his eyes, and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said: 
"Think of that no more. I will not always be scolding. You have done the work for which I sent you into Narnia." -The Silver Chair, CS Lewis, pg. 236. 
It's beautiful. 

The Silver Chair doesn't only dramatize discipline so wonderfully. It also expresses celebration. C.S. Lewis is so good at giving his readers lavish joy after the hardship. From the Great Snow Dance to a firelit cave and frothy mugs of hot cocoa (including a dig at fake sausages), I love his descriptions. I also love his chapter title: "The Healing of Harms." The simple gifts of food and togetherness, of the generosity of God after he has called us to struggle: so generous that he could even grant Caspian's wish to catch a glimpse of the human world. It's a bonus. An unnecessary. Icing on the cake is necessary, so we will compare it to piped chocolate garnishes: the extra beauty that most people wouldn't care to put on, which a generous God so graciously gives to his beloved children. 

I don't rejoice as much in God's generosity as I should. Caught up in the fear of my own frailty, it is much easier to obsessively contemplate myself than to give thanks. C.S. Lewis reminds me of this. 

Friday nights with Minky are restorative to the soul. The Silver Chair is so beautiful I'm not sure how to end this article, except with thanks. So thank God for C.S. Lewis and Eustace and Jill, for frothy hot cocoa and gentle lions. And thank God, too, for a hole left in a Narnian hillside that contains an underground sea world, where evil has been silenced and the good can "sail to and fro, singing." 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

To Understand the Generations

via Pixabay
Tonight I am curled up near my sister. We're both working in our room; she studying, and I writing to the accompaniment of Patrick Doyle's A United Kingdom. It's been a joy of a day, spending half of it in pajamas, catching up on some sleep, and going for a random pizza run as a family. Sis and I are going to hang up some fairy lights in our room later. Tomorrow we're going to be with family for Easter. And the day after that, I am going to start draft two of the sequel to War of Loyalties.

I am experiencing what it feels like to be young, with a great deal of life stretched out before me. I am not a child anymore. I have fears and aches that make the future seem more intimidating than it used to be. But I have a zest for life; a joy of risk; the knowledge that I still have wiggle room to grow and experiment and learn as a person.

Already I am old enough to have forgotten some of what it felt like to be younger--A.A. Milne's poetry last year reminded me of some of the things I used to do as a child--watching raindrops race down the car window as we were driving, and things grownups would say that would grate upon a little person. But on the other hand, I'm not old enough yet to have experienced what people a generation or two ahead of me love and dislike and fear and dream of. I am on the young end of the spectrum of life. But today I got to experience through the hands of a good author what it felt like to be on the other end.

A friend lent me Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter a few months ago. It's been lying quietly in my stack of books, waiting for me to find time to pay attention to it. Appropriate, because the story itself, about the town of Port William, touches on the theme of being forgotten and left behind in the faster pace of a new age.

Hannah Coulter is a young woman who grows up experiencing war. She graduates highschool, loses a husband, has her first child, and learns to love again. Her life is one of quiet strength. She makes me think of Paul's works in 1 Thessalonians: "Make it your ambition to live a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we have told you." (NIV) Wendell Berry's story is one of appreciative reminiscence of life. It is told through a lens that only quiet reflection can bring: not frantic to accomplish a plot line before time runs out, but a counting of blessings. Hannah's point of view has a tinge of nostalgia tempered by a practical acceptance of what life has given. While she looks back on her life farming and watches it become a lost art in the lives of her three children, she still sees it all as good and accepts the changes of the age without bitterness.

As I read about her feelings as a mother, watching her children choose their own careers and cutting their own paths through life, I felt the bittersweet realization that probably my own children will do that one day, as every generation's does. There is an inevitable divide of custom and aim between one generation. I would hope to be closer to my children than Hannah was to hers. But through Wendell Berry's skilled hands, I ached and felt as if I understood her processing as a mother. It's not a sharp ache. Just a present one that she carried with her, something that perhaps she was not expecting, but found herself able to bear.

Life is so incredibly sweet. And it is good to work with your hands, to love and be loved, and to have a fellowship of community around you. Wendell Berry captured this along with the feel of the history and the span of a woman's life from young to old. I am glad to have experienced it.

It is good to have books written for my age and about it. I am glad for songs and stories that capture what it is to be young. But it is good, too, to look at life from the perspective of different ages--the very small, the middle-aged, the older--so that I do not think my age is the only age. Each one comes with its own fears and dreams. A person is no less a person because they are not experiencing what I am experiencing. And the hands of a good author help me to see with eyes of knowledge that I do not yet have on my own.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Art Which Nourishes, Art Which Starves

via Pixabay
Last week I picked up a phenomenal article by K.M. Weiland about risk-taking with your art as a writer. In it, she said that
"...Good art is innovative art. It is not what we initially expect. It takes time for us to adjust our expectations. “Bad” art, on the other hand, is what we initially expect, in the sense that we’ve been there before. It’s familiar and therefore often cliched. It’s not risky. It’s very, very safe. And as a result, it’s ultimately forgettable."- Learn 5 Ways to Take Risks With Your Writing, by K.M. Weiland 
It made me think about several pieces of art I've come across lately and how they each took different sides of the equation.

The first two contrasts were both Christian art. One was God's Not Dead, which we borrowed off Hoopla for free on a Sunday evening. (Sorry guys, I'm many years behind on this one.) The other was N.D. Wilson's fantasy book, Boys of Blur.

Both are art. Both have agendas. But Boys of Blur is clearly innovative art, and the other is in many ways art that you'd expect. God's Not Dead is safe. It's "familiar and therefore...cliched". It's also predictable. The self-centered businessman, three breakup scenes, a conversion scene, and a Christian winning a debate. It's meant to inspire Christians to take a stand for what they believe but it lacks originality in characters and situations. It leaves me comfortable, but not always convicted or changed.

Wilson's Boys of Blur, however, is in a completely different camp. The poetry of his writing style in a book that young boys would love almost seems like setting a gourmet meal before an audience that can't even appreciate it. (And in saying that, I'm not trying to be derogatory towards school-age boys. It's just you don't normally connect them to poetic styles). It's a story that combines fantasy and war without even mentioning prayer or Scripture. And yet, in a symbolic inclusion, the church building features in various scenes again and again. His characters are priceless: Cotton, the homeschool kid. Sugar, the football player with a diamond in his ear (I just loved his character profile. He was so vivid.) Charlie, and his abusive step-dad. Flame and feathers, hotels and church, knife and panther. Published by Random House, the book is not openly Christian. But it's good art. It's art I want to savor. To own. To re-read and introduce others to.

The second category of contrasting art, funnily enough, showed up on recent television viewings.

television viewings. schuyler, stop being so formal. 

Our family loved Food Network on our annual vacations where we had cable television. We would collect recipes in the morning, watch competitions like Iron Chef in the evening, and it was part of our vacation experience. But over the years we noticed a shift. The cooking shows descended into more and more competition shows, and those shows started including more profanity, prideful competition, and revenge. Don't get me wrong. I still love Iron Chef, and I don't mind an occasional episode of Chopped. But I wouldn't call it art. It's among the junk food of the television offerings.

Recently, however, sis found The Great British Baking Show 3 with our library card Hoopla rentals. We've been savoring it, one episode per evening. Like Chopped and Iron Chef, it has all the elements of competition. But in a way that is doesn't rely on revenge for drama, it is full of art. The creativity of flavor combinations and baking skills. The diversity of the cast and their personalities. Their willingness to help one another succeed, and their regret when someone is eliminated. The standard of art is higher. You walk away after an episode feeling like you've just eaten a piece of fine cheesecake, and you can't wait until tomorrow night when you get to eat another one.

Bad art takes from you. It takes brain cells and creativity. It leaves you feeling vaguely guilty, kind of like an excessive amount of junk food. It's for entertainment. But good art nourishes. It nourishes with creativity, quality, and a deep joy of the soul. It's oftentimes risky, not always predictable. And memorable in the best of ways.

Read art that nourishes. Write art that nourishes. We'll all be a better world for it.

What good art have you been enjoying lately?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring TBR

via Pixabay
It's the first day of Spring! I'm so glad! Spring always feels like a fresh burst of energy after the cold winter season, so it's time for a new TBR stack and endless ambitions for the next three months or so. Here's what I've come up with for my stack this spring:

Crowning Heaven
You guys. My friend Emily is releasing Crowning Heaven, an epic portal fantasy, on May 15. You won't want to miss this. I don't want to miss this. I simply can't wait. You can add it on Goodreads here and check out the official announcement here.

The Silver Chair
Precious Puddleglum. I'm almost through The Chronicles of Narnia series re-read.  I have so much respect for Lewis's talents in this read-through. And not only that, but my heart is warmed and stirred by the truth and glory of Aslan in these stories.

The Last Battle
I really wrote down The Voyage of the Dawn Treader here when I was first drafting this post. Moment of distraction. Should I read the last one this spring? Should I save it? I feel like I should read it now while the spark is hot.

Hannah Coulter 
Some friends lent me this book. I've had it waiting too long, so I started it last night. I love the gentle, nostalgic look at life's memories told from the perspective of a woman who lived through WW2 in America.

The Art of War for Writers 
The kind administrators at the place where I teach are adding a highschool fiction class to the lineup this fall. I get to teach it, so I want to start reading in preparation. I cannot wait to talk fiction for an hour every week and discuss stories and brainstorming and characters and all that good stuff.

A Study in Scarlet 
Like the Chronicles of Narnia, I'd like to finish the Sherlock stories this year. I've read a lot of the short stories, so I'm going to tackle a couple of the novels next. I'm actually reading A Study in Scarlet in order this time. Normally I start from the middle, read all the backstory, and then read the mystery uninterrupted.

A Wounded Shadow 
I am so excited. SO excited. This is the end of Willet Dura's journey in Patrick Carr's latest series, a fantasy world threatened by a forest so dark that no one can escape it unscathed. Questions will be answered. Mysteries will be uncovered. I have waited so long for this.

Anne's House of Dreams 
I've been reading through the Anne series the last few years and hope to finish it this year. To be honest, I can't wait for Rilla of Ingleside, but must.read.in.order.

Good News for Anxious Christians 
I'm almost done with Elisabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity. After that, I'd like to read this one to be changed and strengthened with truth.

What's on your TBR stack? Is anything cool coming up in life this spring?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Inside Out {best movie ever}

via Wikipedia
The night before my sister's 18th birthday, we all scrambled through chores and birthday preparations so we could be done early. Then we curled up on the couch with Minky Blanket and popped in Inside Out for the first time ever.

Inside Out, if you're new to the Pixar franchise (this is my first Pixar film) is a movie about 11-year-old Riley moving to a new town and processing the emotions and life changes that come along with that. The cool thing? Riley's emotions are animated characters inside her head: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. Inside Out sets out to show how all of these emotions work together. Containing everything from the Train of Thought to the Subconscious, it showed just how much the writers thought about the brain in general, perfectly expressing the heart of a kid.

I don't watch a lot of animated kids' movies. I fell head over heels for this one. The creativity is incredible, and the emotions it evokes are deeply resonant with common life experiences. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. I teared up twice, and had I been watching it alone, I would have outright cried. In other words, it might be for kids, but it can keep adults captivated two times in one weekend.

Sadness. Let's talk about Sadness. I just loved Sadness--the sweetest-round faced girl with a pudgy blue body and a thick, warm sweater--just the kind of sweater you like to curl up with on tough days. Sadness always thinks she's ruining things, but she's so incredibly sweet you just want to wrap her in a warm hug. (The scene when Joy is pushing Sadness's little blue foot inside the chalk circle so she won't ruin Riley's first day of school is the cutest.moment.ever.) We loved the quote, "Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life's problems." Sadness brings realism, Joy brings hope, in the midst of disaster. 

The cool thing about this movie is that it's a springboard for kids (or even overthinking adults) who haven't learned that it's OK to have emotions, and they can work together in healthy ways. Emotions like Fear and Anger are often touted as bad--they should be locked away, stuffed down, or ignored, while positive emotions are encouraged. But emotions like Fear and Anger can also be warnings that keep you healthy and safe.

Inside Out shows Riley working through her emotions--sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways. Anger wants to use curse words, but none are used. There's a couple of brief instances of the mom fantasizing about a handsome man other than her husband.

Inside Out processes the joy of nostalgia, family, and memories--it holds sacred the moments of the past, as well as showing how to step forward into the future. It gives a warm picture of family meeting life's challenges together, even in their imperfect moments--and it captures the imagination of childhood in ways that defy you not to cry while you're watching them (Bing Bong, anyone?)

Have you seen this movie? What were your favorite lines? I'd love to talk about it with you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Currently // a wealth of work and stories

via pixabay
Poor Lord M is still waiting to be reviewed after finishing the late David Cecil biography. But he's a patient fellow--and I think he'd rather sit and chat about life rather than talk about himself. I have a craving to write a life post today, which can serve as the Diary I Do Not Keep.

My heart is full. I'm feeling rather like Anne from Anne of Avonlea, who loves new horizons and dreaming and a bright vista of thought and feeling in front of her. We stayed up until midnight on Friday watching it. There's so much kindred spirit in Anne. I don't have sudden bursts of frank indignation, but I do think life has so much to offer and love. I'm also a teacher and a writer. And I love her costumes in Anne of Avonlea.

But I wouldn't want to iron them.

Lark Rise to Candleford
A couple of weeks ago I picked up Lark Rise to Candleford from the Main Library. Lark Rise is about a small village and even smaller hamlet--full of people who love, who sin, who work hard and help their neighbors, who have family and find family, all in this delightful 19th century British atmosphere. Ask about the episode where they bring the harvest in and the measles come to Lark Rise. It's absolutely golden stuff. Lark Rise is one of those series you have to pick and choose. Some plots are based around superstition that borders on potions and spells, and I don't feel comfortable with that sort of thing. But other episodes are full of regluar adventures with a dash of warmth and kindness, and they're so inspirational.

Season 4 is really golden so far. I love the costumes. I love Gabriel Cochran who lost his wife and his business and is trying to build new relationships again. His character is wise, and the actor is so able to pull off eyes full of deep feeling and thoughtfulness. I love Miss Lane's hair and dresses. I love Minnie, trying to figure out her feelings towards Alf and his towards her, and her dear accent. And in season 4/episode 4, where there's a pig roast and a grand bonfire night, I love how Daniel tells Laura not to be afraid of the future, how he smiles and looks after her and they act like I've seen people who love each other. I love bonfire nights and dreaming of the future and a kindred spirit close by to share the moment with.

Blogilates
Sis and I have been two months strong on an exercise program since the beginning of the year. It has nothing to do with books, but it's something that's happening lately and it's so fun. Cassey Ho has free calendars (We spent the month of January doing the 30-minute workout twice a week, and now we do the beginner calendar 3x a week.) I love the cheerfulness. The fact that I don't need weights or equipment, but it's feasible for what I have right now. At first, it was confusing to figure out how to breathe right and how to do the moves, but now I'm getting the hang of it. And I love the sense of being able to do something to care for and strengthen my body. It feels good to hurt after a hard workout. It feels good to sweat, and have someone show you what to do, and strengthen your body, and sit up one morning and feel like you actually have ab muscles. When I make it to 3 months I'm going to treat myself to Celtic Thunder X with my Christmas money and try to have a reward every 3 months after that. If you're taking a look at the program, there is some immodesty to navigate on the social media channels, and once in a while, she'll misuse God's Name, which I don't like. But overall it's clean, I'd recommend it for girls who need a coach to work out with, and it's filled a spot I really needed (a personal trainer) on the budget I had to work with (nothing). Being able to have direction and challenge has been such a joy this year, and I love feeling healthier.

Outlining Folkestone Files #2 
Over the past few weeks, I've been outlining the sequel to War of Loyalties like crazy, fitting together plots, having aha! moments, and listening to lots and lots of A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman. Somehow it sounds like a song that fits one of the characters, and I think it keeps Melancholic Schuyler from listening to sad songs and plotting under their influence. The action is so much tighter than the planning process for the first book, and it's so fun to think over the story without muddling through thousands of words to try to figure it out. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence. I hate planning. But I am finding that I love a story summary, and I want to try it for more books if it helps me write this one well. Maybe this is the sweet spot I've wanted all along--and since I'm taking on more tutoring and will need to use my time even more wisely, I like learning a new process to make that productivity happen.

God has been so kind. He is kind even when life feels dark, but I am enjoying the sunshine. I have meltdown days. I still struggle with anxiety. But my heart is learning and growing and expanding. I'm studying things with friends and reading and thinking and writing and I feel like I am exercising my gifts in the spot he has me in right now. Life is crammed full of Romans, and writing short stories by hand, teaching and house help, devotions over breakfast and tearing up over Little Women dramatized as I drive to work.

I do not mind bends in the road. But this is a stretch of road I am content to linger in for now.

this post fueled by "when you're with me" by the afters. give it a listen if you want some warm fuzzies.

Friday, March 2, 2018

How to Be The Perfect Christian {by the Babylon Bee}

Babylon Bee's satirical articles have kept the world in stitches of laughter ever since they started putting them out. Having fun at the expense of well-known speakers and worship trends, they lead to half-gasp, half-laugh reactions that make Christians say ouch and amen at the same time. Adam Ford started the site, and his journey through depression and gift of humor is well worth reading about. So when their book came up on my list of review options, of course, I wanted to pick it up.

via Goodreads 

How to Be the Perfect Christian is full of classic satirical fun at what Christians love most: everything from modern church worship (your worship team had better have nine people on it), to potlucks, to forcing every movie and activity into a Gospel parallel, the authors provide a lot of classic laughs at what the American church has become. Whether you need to know how to make the worship team work for your response or review the seven essential truths of the Gospel, it's all here to guide you along the way.

I have to admit, this is a tough review to write, because I just wasn't syncing with the humor while I read the book, and I honestly think it was my own mental state at the time and not the fault of the book. While I thought the book would have been tighter divided into a modern Christian track and a legalist Christian track (someone who hated alcohol and wore denim skirts probably wouldn't go to the church in chapter one) it provides a great opportunity to get introduced to the Babylon Bee and loan it out to others.

The Babylon Bee is a fun, laugh-inducing read in the evenings after work. As for me? I read it on the way to church and back. Because after all, if you want to be the perfect Christian, Sunday morning is the best time to read all about it.

I received an ARC copy from the publisher, and not all details may be the same upon publication. All opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, February 23, 2018

All the Lies We Cannot See

*parody of a book title I haven't read yet. 

Beliefs get firmly rooted in our head.

"I don't have enough time today."

"I can do it all."

"I'd be happier if I looked different."

"I can't say no to anyone."

"They had {my anger} coming to them."

"I have a right to be honest about my feelings."

"There's no way out of this sin. I'm stuck."

"I'm going to struggle the rest of my life."

All of them are ones I've believed at different times. Some seem like big beliefs; some seem like small ones. Everything on that list is a lie or a half-truth.  And there are so many more that I don't even know I'm thinking. This week I've been diving into a book about them. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wrote Lies Women Believe back in 2000. But after seventeen years, a new, updated and expanded edition has been released to include references to social media, new insights from her role as a wife, and even more of what she's learned since about walking with the Lord. I've never read the original edition, but I had the blessing of reading the updated edition this week, pouring over chapters in some days that I had off of odd jobs and events.


I have to admit, I started the introduction a couple of weeks ago, and it looked like it was going to be hard to go further. I didn't want anything I loved to have to go through painful surgery. But a review deadline forced me back to face it. The book has been full of the Holy Spirit and Scripture and truth. My reactions have been a strong rejoicing in grace and truth, with a couple of ouch moments which I still need to wrestle with. Here are some highlights of things I loved:

  • I loved how, in reading this book and another book by a Christian author, as well as enjoying some sweet devotional and prayer times, my soul and perspective feels sweeter and closer to God. I was going through a season of pride and slipping into a love of entertainment that wasn't leading me to healthy places. It feels joyful and right to be in a tenderer place. 
  • Reading it gave me a better perspective on praying and waiting through hard things. 
  • I started the chapter with sexuality a bit nervous as a single woman. It was kindly and appropriately written and gave me so much truth to plant deep. A person's ultimate longing with their sexuality is to be known, and while that is fulfilled differently in marriage than in singleness, I can be legitimately, intimately known by Christ and in appropriate relationships without sex. Also, I loved the section in that chapter about being an image-bearer and my identity in Christ, not in temptations. 
  • I need to wrestle with living a perspective that's about the glory of God and not about myself, my pleasures, my fulfillment. 

Nancy's book just came out on Monday. Each chapter ends with Scripture verses that counter specific lies we believe with truth. It's a great book to pull into your devotional time (I've been reading some Christian books along with my devotional time and loving it!) It's a good book to read slowly, to savor, to pray over, to allow to sink deep into your soul. It's beautifully packaged and gently, graciously written. And it's one I hope to be returning to. And it's one I'd love to talk about any time via email, text, or blog comment with any of you as well. It would be a joy.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of a launch team. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Olympics Come to Avonlea

via Pixabay
I was off to bed the other night at the insane hour of near on midnight.

I love and hate the Olympics. I am so tired.

But it occurred to me on Sunday that I'd love to hear Mrs. Lynde and Deborah Jenkins talk about ice dancing. I mean, seeing those two precious pillar-of-the-church ladies watch performers with those costumes, especially the Latin dancing, just cracked me up so much.

And then I thought, why not? Let's make it happen. So I present to you, The Olympics Come to Avonlea.

deborah jekins isn't in avonlea, schuyler

i know. but that title, tho.

Scene: A cozy parlor, with wooden rocking chairs on a clean, wooden floor. Over the backs of the rocking chairs are folded hand-pieced quilts. The curtains are drawn, and there's a fire in the grate. Not a roaring fire. That would be a waste of wood. But a comfortable, economic fire that is doing its work creditably. Both ladies sit in cozy knitted shawls. Over Mrs. Lynde's lap is a quilt square she's piecing, and Deborah Jenkins has yarn and needles close at hand.

In front of them sits an antique wooden table with a modern black box of Babylon on it. The screen is currently blank. Miss Jenkins takes up a small rectangular wand lying on the table next to her and looks with furrowed brow at the buttons on the face of it.

Miss Jenkins: "Perhaps, Mrs. Lynde, if you will attend to this, I will attend to the tea kettle. I hear it in the kitchen."

She departs. Mrs. Lynde puts on her glasses and takes up the remote.

Mrs. Lynde: "I suppose this makes that great contraption work somehow. I never did hold to television. This red button looks like the gateway to evil. Downright sinful, that's what. For mercy's sake, it says ON."

She pushes the button and waits, leaning forward on her rocking chair in suspense. Miss Jenkins returns with a tea tray.

Miss Jenkins: "It is late to be observing this curiosity. I doubt any good comes from staying up past one's bedtime."

She shakes her head and lifts the teapot, but before she can pour it into the cup, a great blast of music comes from the screen and it turns on. Both ladies start.

Mrs. Lynde: "So that's what I heard coming from Alexander Randall's the other night. How does anyone keep this under control? It's enough to make a person deaf."

As soon as the commercial ends, the camera return to the ice, where a pair of dancers stand waiting for the music to start. Mrs. Lynde gasps. Miss Jenkins, in the act of pouring tea, freezes speechless.

Mrs. Lynde: "She's actually showing her legs. Well, things have come to a pretty pass with the current Prime Minister, make no mistake. I never thought I'd live to be ashamed of being a Liberal. I knew this country would go to ruin after the last election."

Miss Jenkins: "I am relieved Martha is in bed."

The music starts. As soon as she hears the opening notes, Miss Jenkins sinks into her rocking chair, cold disapproval in her gray eyes. The teapot is forgotten with the cups half full.

Mrs. Lynde: "I heard they have to travel all the way to South Korea. In my day, young women were content to live and die in the same place as their mothers and fathers before them. And they certainly wouldn't have bared their backs to the watching world. Why, I was at the Ladies Aid meeting and the minister's wife spoke of watching them. Things have changed, that's what."

The music ends. The pair leaves the ice, and the television cuts to commercials. Mrs. Lynde finishes pouring the forgotten tea. Mrs. Jenkins lays aside her knitting, at which she's been working furiously. She gets up and lights another candle, then blows out the first one to make sure they stay even in length. The dancing returns.

Mrs. Lynde: "The Yankees are all over the scoreboard. I'm not surprised they're involved in something like this."

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir stand waiting on the ice. Mrs. Lynde raises her eyebrows and removes her spectacles. Miss Jenkins purses her lips.

Mrs. Lynde: "Ruby Gillis would have been an ice dancer if she had been born later. If Canada wins a medal, I won't count the evening as a waste, but I'm not the same woman after what I've seen. If it gets out what I've sat and watched, I'll never face the Sewing Circle again. I never thought I'd actually have to hold my tongue about something."

Mrs. Lynde watches the dance spellbound until the commercials interrupt before the score is given.

Mrs. Lynde: Well, that's the last one. We'll find out who gets a medal next. I only hope it's the Canadians."

The commercials are over, and the ice dancing returns. Miss Jenkins placidly keeps her needles clicking in and out. She does not watch the television. Mrs. Lynde drops her quilt piecing and leans forward.

Mrs. Lynde: "I wish it was over. Lawful heart, I don't know how anyone can stand it. Of course, the Canadians will win."

Miss Jenkins, still knitting: "Speculation is the enemy of calm."

The score appears on the screen. Mrs. Lynde's quilt square drops to the floor.

Mrs. Lynde: "Well, they've won, and that's a mercy. The Canadians still do themselves proud, I'll say that for them. Though none of the world will hold together much longer when they're handing out medals for falling all over each other like that. If the heathen could see us now, they'd send back the missionaries, that's what. I'll hardly sleep a wink tonight."

Miss Jenkins: "I do not approve of this modern invention. It has evil tendencies."

Mrs. Lynde: "It's indecent if you ask my advice. I heard yesterday that Josie Pye's cousin's family watched the television every night and turned into the most shiftless housekeepers. I went to call there yesterday morning and I caught Ellen Pye actually bundling Monday washing into the kitchen cupboard. And this was on a Tuesday. The whole church knows what goes on behind those closed doors, believe me."

Mrs. Lynde pushes the red button, and the screen goes black. Miss Jenkins collects the tea things and replaces them on the tea tray. Soon after, the little house is tucked into a quiet slumber.

The next day, a modern television is carted away to the village to be sold.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Lost Castle {kristy cambron}

The Book  {description via Amazon}
Ellie Carver arrives at her grandmother’s bedside expecting to find her silently slipping away. Instead, the beloved woman begins speaking. Of a secret past and castle ruins forgotten by time. Of a hidden chapel that served as a rendezvous for the French Resistance in World War II. Of lost love and deep regret . . .

Each piece that unlocks the story seems to unlock part of Ellie too—where she came from and who she is becoming. But her grandmother is quickly disappearing into the shadows of Alzheimer’s and Ellie must act fast if she wants to uncover the truth of her family’s history. Drawn by the mystery surrounding The Sleeping Beauty—a castle so named for Charles Perrault’s beloved fairy tale—Ellie embarks on a journey to France’s Loire Valley in hopes that she can unearth its secrets before time silences them forever.

Bridging the past to the present in three time periods—the French Revolution, World War II, and present day—The Lost Castle is a story of loves won and lost, of battles waged in the hearts of men, and of an enchanted castle that stood witness to it all, inspiring a legacy of faith through the generations.


My Thoughts 
Where Kristy really shines, and what I love to see included in stories, is the five-senses details she uses to enrich her stories. Details show the craftsmanship--in things like violets and beautiful houses, in a mint dress and barrel roll curls, in Ellie's boots, the taste of a pear, and the furniture of a house. Houndstooth trousers. A fox brooch. Kristy lingers in the moments, using her knowledge of art to lovingly arrange the details of the scene, and I especially like the vivid life and heritage in the French country in Ellie's plotline.

It was cool to see little details weave through the three time periods, watching the legacy of the castle span through the centuries in objects and names. The beginning inciting incident was a great way to kick off the adventure, and the ending packed a lot of heart-feelings into the final climax.

If I could sum up this book in one word, I think savor would describe it perfectly. Life is savored here. Food and color and beautiful things are savored. Friends and family--people--are savored. And those are things I love to savor too.

This book was provided by the author. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

McConkey Press OTPs {valentine's day}

via Pixabay
I've complained quite often to various friends lately that I don't write romance well. I can write friendships well. Friendships are something I have always had and savored. They are a key part of my life. Romance is something that I've always been cautious with trying to feel. 

You write what you know.


But over the years I've observed other writers write love stories. I've watched movies and read books. And there are some beautiful ones to be enjoyed. I've also thought about my own characters and who they belong with. You know you're a crazy author when you pick a spouse for your character and know their marriage down to the communication problems and flaws they each bring to each other.


While writing romance is hard with a couple of characters I'm working on right now, I've already written a few couples that I love. The first two are already published. The third one probably will be in some form someday, but I have to get permission to reprint song lyrics first, which I'm hoping to work on this year. 



terry+pearlie 


The only romance plot in War of Loyalties, and two people I have loved and cried over. 

Fav quote: 


Terry caught sight of Jaeryn’s  blonde passenger then, and his eyes lit up. He offered a hand over the side of the car and engulfed hers in a hearty shake. “I’ve seen you before.  Are  you  the  doctor’s  sister,  or  an  elf  come  down  from Ireland for a visit?”
She drew her hand back from his touch. “I am Pearl Dailey.”
Terry hefted her trunk out of the back and set it on the ground.  “Do you mind if I call you Acushla instead? You look like an Acushla.” 

Fav way they suit each other: cheery+protective {terry}, shy+sweet {pearlie} 

Main flaw: Probably Terry, mostly. *chuckles* 

i think the main flaw was the author, schuyler. let's be honest here. 

Fav things to do together: Hold hands, and take care of the people they love. 

OTP Songs: when you're with me {the afters} , if i could cry {paul byrom}, a whole new world {peter and evynne hollens} 

ben+charlotte

Fav Quote:

Frustration edged his voice. “I don’t think I belong here. I’m lost in this kind of work, and he isn’t helping.”

Her voice was low and fierce, though the fierceness was not for him, he knew. “You are strong and brave and kind. And you did what you thought you were supposed to do. If he does not want you here, then we will face him and show him that twenty years of bravery are too strong to be undone by three weeks of the war.”


Fav way they suit each other: They both have a deep love for home, healing, and kindness.

Main flaw: A tendency to hide from healthy disagreement and open communication of their feelings because they don't want to hurt each other and their marriage is incredibly precious to both of them.

Fav things to do together:
Kiss. ;) Raise children. Spend time in the evening relaxing after a hard day's work.

OTP songs: feels like home {damian mcgint
y}

julian+cora lee williams 

The Caribbean novellas had the fun of a friendship trio without a love triangle. I thought about keeping it that way, but Julian and Cora Lee Williams (aka Roo) decided to dance together, which was the end of things as they had been. Friend Colby was cool with it.

but what about Colby, schuyler. he was part of this trio and then you left him out in the cold.

Fav Quote:
I knew what I wanted to give you for Christmas a long time ago. I think, in a strange kind of way, I’ve known ever since we danced together. But I decided to wait for a while to see if it was something you would want too.

Fav way they suit each other: Passionate about art/culture and seeking to know God better together.

Fav things to do together: Read Scripture. Listen to songs that mean a lot to them. Try yummy food at restaurants and coffee shops. Dance. ;)

Main flaw: I don't think they have any, so maybe that's it?

OTP Songs:
the dance {colm keegan}


victoria hathaway+mystery hero 
Victoria came about from a dare and a bunch of random pictures on Pinterest. She was glorious to write last year, but after a long hiatus publishing WoL, she's been more distressing than otherwise at the beginning of this year. I think it's part stage-fright as an author and part re-reading the first draft and finding it needs help. But I've found bits and pieces of inspiration lately, and maybe she just needs a bit more incubation and love. We'll get there together. 

Fav Quote:

Whoever said that love was not a conscious choice was a liar and a fool. She could feel the tide, pressing heavy against the wall of her common sense and future piece, foaming for entrance as his hand reached for hers and they stepped into the carriage. But she was her own woman now—there was no one to care what became of her, no one to be hurt by her choice. It was only her. And what a life to live, loving him.

Fav way they suit each other: They both love the pursuit of justice, and they can live separate from the world, content in introverted, passionate esteem for each other.

Fav things to do together:
Use their observation skills to uncover unspoken facts about the people around them, fight crime in the streets of London, and playing the violin.

Main flaw: They each have inner independence, either by choice or by necessity. One of them doesn't ask for help. The other doesn't need it.

OTP songs: lord m {victoria soundtrack}, a sky full of stars {pianoguys}



angel+peter  

Angel is a Syrian-American currently employed by Peter as his female butler and right-hand aide in an undercover foreign operation. Angel is running from her heritage and Peter is running from inner demons of frightening obsessions he cannot understand. 

Fav Quote: There aren't any yet! I'm still in the early outlining stages. 

Fav way they fit together:
They find resources of iron courage, fulfilling purpose, and hope in each other that they're never going to find separately.

Fav things to do together:
Keeping Peter's business and household in order and painstakingly clean down to the smallest detail. Take part in undercover human rescue operations.

Main flaw: Peter thinks the only way he can stay safe is by isolating himself more and more into his own private existence. Angel is content to live a satisfying life without facing the pain of her people. And they're happy to be in their own perfect little world.

OTP songs: the sound of surviving {nichole nordman}



So, in looking at all this, maybe I can write romance. Maybe it just takes time to have the people I love come to life. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Flora and Ulysses {superhero squirrel}

At the beginning of a couple of weeks of glorious Olympic sporting celebrations, you just might be in the mood for a midwinter break. A midwinter break that has you curled up on Saturday mornings and midweek evenings watching sports you've never heard of before (especially if you don't watch sports.) Maybe you throw a random pan of brownies in the oven. Maybe you stand and salute the national anthem with your team.

And maybe, if you're watching a sport that just isn't catching your interest, you'll want to pick up a completely new book to pass the time: Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo

cover via Goodreads 
About the Book
When an ordinary squirrel gets sucked up into a vacuum, he emerges with superpowers--the ability to fly, and the ability to write poetry. Teaming up with Flora, comic book expert, cynic, and daughter of divorced parents, Ulysses starts his quest. But will he be killed or separated from Flora by their Archenemy just as their adventures are beginning? 

My Thoughts 
We were sitting by a woodstove in rocking chairs, soaking in a conversation about books and blogging, when a friend brought over a copy of Flora and Ulysses to show me. It's a fascinating book format--a children's chapter book written mostly in text and partly in comic book style, flipping between the two formats to tell the story. At the end of the night, her sister lent me a copy to take home. Superhero squirrel? This sounded enchanting.

The next day I curled up in bed and read like crazy, starting the morning with some Wodehouse and easing into Flora and Ulysses later on. But, while I can handle drama and kidnappings, murder and abduction, Dickens and dystopian, my brain doesn't always work with whimsy as fast as it should. Somehow it finds big, obvious, gut-wrenching emotions easier to categorize than the life and perspective of a child. Flora was hard to open my heart to at first. She didn't like her mother or adults, and while I can handle those emotions in adult books, when I read a children's book my flag immediately goes up. When I was a child, I was careful to recognize bad attitudes in books. This is Not How Good Children Behave. Which, I hasten to add, is true.

But Flora was a little more complex than that. I'm not sure which chapter it was, but when I picked up the book a second time, some days later, my brain finally clicked. Flora is hurting so badly because of her parents' divorce, and she hasn't talked about it, so all these toxic feelings and distrust of adults is trapped inside. Once I made my own self-discovery (not having read the back of the book, which would have explained it) I felt like such a bright little genius.

*pats smol schuyler*

After that, I found so much to love. A child's wounded heart finds comfort through comic books, all kinds of facts about what to do in crisis situations, and a little squirrel. She also finds companions in the neighbor lady, Mrs. T, and her nephew (ahem, great-nephew) William Spiver, who is carrying wounds of his own. (Also the apartment lady, who I felt creeped out by.)

And the squirrel. The squirrel is priceless. He's small. Loyal. Loving. Simple-minded. There's nothing much going on up there besides: Poetry. Food. Love for Flora. Do Great Things. Combine that with an inability to spell (Oh, glorious 'Squirtle'!) and you have the recipe for a furry companion that simply melts the heart. It's easy to get lost in the journey of Flora and Ulysses' fight against separation, Flora's unfolding friendships, and the mystery of why in the world William Spiver won't take his glasses off.

If you're in the mood for a Newbery Medal winner that throws in some tasty-sounding donuts for good measure, the tender adventure of Flora and Ulysses navigating their world of flaws and hurts might be just the thing to curl up with. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Song Unheard {spying + WW1}

Every so often a series premise comes along that has a little extra pop. When I first heard of Roseanna White's World War One series, it was the time period that attracted me. After all, there's not a ton of WW1 historical fiction out there. But street thieves being recruited as spies? Sign me up.

I read book one and really enjoyed it last year (see my review here) so when book two came up, I was really looking forward to it. A Song Unheard was absolutely five stars and full of all my favorite story elements.

If you enjoyed War of Loyalties and are in the mood for more espionage, this just might do the trick. ;)



The Book {description and cover from goodreads}
Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which make her the perfect choice for a crucial task at the outset of World War I—to steal a cypher from a famous violinist currently in Wales.

Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he's won—until now, when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father's work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only light he finds is in meeting the intriguing Willa Forsythe.

But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn't—that she must betray him and find that cypher, or her own family will pay the price as surely as his has.


My Thoughts
Book two had all my favorite things about book one and more added in for good measure. I enjoyed the characters in book one, but thought the spy plot struggled a little bit with continuity. This book brings the spying and drama to the next level in a really, really good way. The drama was complex and the build-up to the climax utterly satisfying--and I loved the twist with Lukas and Willa just before the build-up to the final climax.

I enjoyed the Belgian characters and the balance with which White dramatizes the villains and the heroes. Not all the heroes are good. Not all the villains are bad. The character of Gottlieb, a German officer, is especially nuanced, which brings me great joy as a reader. Also, I appreciated that Lukas's sins with flirtation in his past weren't really dwelt on in an uncomfortable way, and his attraction to Willa was less physical in nature (though still there). Lukas's fight to return to self-control and honor made him an endearing character. His friendship with Willa was natural and close, while the clashes added a spice that wasn't unnecessarily antagonistic or jarring.

The Christian faith journey was also super, super well done. I loved how some characters found faith early in the book, but others took longer and fought harder. It was sweet and convincing and coupled with the dramatic storytelling, just the thing I'd love to read a second time.

I loved how Willa thinks in music (always having some sort of tune humming through her life to guide her) and Lukas's sister Margot thinks in numbers, even praying in them sometimes. It was such a vivid, unique way to show how their minds worked in different genius talents, and it enriched the story so much.

I also really loved the scenes where Barclay was interacting with Willa in his kindness, leadership, goodnatured friendship, and teasing. I can't wait for book three to showcase Barclay more. (In fact, you can sign up for Roseanna's newsletter to see the cover of book 3 release soon.) His, Willa's, and Rosemary's commitment to family--even a family of pickpockets--is endearing, and the way you see their family grow in this story is nothing less than satisfying.

A Song Unknown is full of heart, ticking time bombs, love, spying, music, math, and a fight to hold on in the midst of war. I can't wait to read it again.

I received this book from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

PS. Stay tuned for thoughts on a heart-warming superhero squirrel story coming up later! 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

If You Can't Get Enough of the Reformation 500

On the last day of 2017, we took a long drive on winter roads to meet friends for church and ring in the new year. As we spun over roads which were surprisingly grand and clear for our midwest winters, I polished off the last two books I had planned for my 2017 reading challenge. One of them was particularly important because I wanted to finish it in the calendar year for the Reformation 500.

The book came to me from a good friend, a birthday gift that she tucked into my hands just as we were saying goodbye. I had heard of it months earlier when I was at a radio show recording about the Reformation, an interview between Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Erwin Lutzer. In that talk, Erwin Lutzer referenced a book about the famous marriage of the fiery Wittenberg monk.

It was Michelle DeRusha's Katharina and Martin Luther.

Books have a winding way of coming to us, and an even more winding way of being read. A story that surrounds the story.

This book is definitely one worth reading.

via Goodreads
The interesting thing about Katie Luther's life is just how much accepted facts might be actually folklore. Did she escape in herring barrels? Was it from her window? We don't really know. Why did she go to the convent? How did she hear of Luther's works? Did she actually read any of them before she escaped? All of these points are subject to conjecture, and while it's hard not to know for sure, it was also interesting to trace through DeRusha's work what's fact and what's conjecture. She did a good job of sketching in Katie's backstory and why she might have gone to the convent.

I also really enjoyed the look at 16th-century culture. Because we don't know a lot about Katie (only a few of her letters survived) we're stuck with filling in scattered facts of her life from Table Talk and other sources. But by exploring how people lived during those times, we can get a good picture of what her daily life looked like. The amount of cooking required, as well as the disturbing and unhygienic medicines of the times, gave me a high respect for her energy and a strong contentment with living in the 21st century. 

Michelle DeRusha's book is engaging, historical, and easy to read. A biography well worth picking up, great to read and discuss with daughters, and beautifully bound to set beside other books on your bookshelf.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Rediscovering the Library

via Pixabay
Two years ago I wrote a nostalgic post about our library days. In it, I mentioned that we didn't gotten to the library nearly as much. In fact, I went to the library in January of 2016 and found my card had been expired since September.

Life rhythms change.

Well, life rhythms change back again, and I have loved frequenting our local library quite often again. When I was younger, we would walk to the library on Friday mornings. Now that I'm older and have a driver's license, I'll still swing by the local one. But a delicious new realm of freedom opened up when  I could drive quite frequently to the bigger library that's not within walking distance.

It's a city library tucked away between other buildings, with a parking lot that gives you a ticket for an hour of free parking. Quite often I spill just a little bit over, but it's worth it. As you come in, you are greeted by professional employees whose whole demeanor communicates that they are ready to serve with that little bit of extra polish.

It feels like the doors open up into a magical world of dreams come true.

There are marble floors and multiple stories; there are quiet study rooms and patrons reading or working on computers, who glance at you as you pass by. Sometimes there's even a homeless person stretching out on a bench in the back of the CD section. They'll probably be asked to move along eventually, but they snatch a quiet moment where they can.

Since frequenting the library, I discovered War Horse for a dollar. Just last week I found four P.G. Wodehouse novels and The Prisoner of Zenda in the for sale shelves. I also picked up a few DVDs, because I can get back to the library soon enough to return them when they're due. This library is stocked with wonderful classic and modern films--Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, Cadfael.

I've also been ordering a lot more books. As I embark on research for Folkestone Files #2 (exciting stuff in the works, folks.) I'll be ordering all kinds of things about Germany during the war, the history of the church in WW1, the battles themselves, the history of MI-5 and MI-6, and some more secret stuff with won't be on my Goodreads right away. :) The ability to get research books for free is a comfort I am holding on to. I have an idea where I want to go with this book. I even have a rough draft to prove it. But there are still some big locks in the story that I haven't found keys for yet--things I want to accomplish that the characters haven't cooperated with.

We'll make it, though. Through the grace of prayer and the gift of a local library.

Right now, the library is feeding my future ambitions and my current balance between work and rest. And I am so grateful for it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

revenge of the sith {movie review}

via Pixabay
Star Wars was love at first BB-8. I watched my first Star Wars movie when I was twenty-one, on a random, spur-of-the-moment outing with my dad and my brother. My bro gave me a crash course run-through of episodes 4-6, and then we settled down with episode 7.

My education, as usual, went wildly out of order. I watch episode 7, then episodes 4-6, followed by episodes 1-2, Rogue One, episode 8, and then, most recently, episode 3.

(I wrote 'last of all' and had to change it to 'most recently'. How could it be last of all?)

Someday I will write more in-depth on those. But today, as per usual style, I'll start wildly out of order and review episode 3. This contains many and major spoilers, but they're necessary for an in-depth discussion, so beware.

Revenge of the Sith is the final prequel installment, tracing the creation of Darth Vader and the fall of the Jedi council system and the Senate. The series starts with young Anakin Skywalker, gifted beyond belief in the power of the force, trained as a Jedi, but unable to rid himself of the emotions that Jedi should not have. Stuck with power, young and inexperienced, he finds a mentor who maliciously twists him to the dark side, while his own mentors fail him in major ways. Revenge of the Sith is a movie weighted with grief, and by weighted, I mean heavy. You end that movie, and all your surviving feels have been destroyed in the fire-rivers of Mustafar.

Revenge of the Sith shows how the both the Jedi (good) and the Sith (bad) let Anakin down. Wrecked, he turns to evil, because he has destroyed every hope of returning to the good. And the gut-wrenching thing is, if Anakin's mentors had not been bound to the traditions of a faulty religious system, and inconsistent in their righteousness, this might not ever have happened.

The Inability to Handle Emotion
Inklings of poor training start in Episode 1, The Phantom Menace. Wee Anakin, just having left his mother and a life of slavery, stands before the council. Yoda says "I sense much fear in you," basically telling Anakin that fear is a deficiency for wanting to enter Jedi training. At the beginning of episode 2, an older Anakin is nervous about seeing Padme again. Obi-Wan's answer? "Be mindful, Anakin." Basically meaning, "get a grip and stow those emotions." Later, in episode 2, Anakin returns to his old planet home to find his mother tortured to death. He violates Jedi code by slaughtering the village that bound her with hate and rage, down to the women and children. I'm not sure that he ever told anyone besides Padme what happened. Not only does this incident ignore the history of the Old Testament, in which God sometimes ordered evil societies to be completely demolished, but it also shows that the Jedi have no answers for the astonishing grief and anger that accompany loss of loved ones. It's the equivalent of Anakin's mother being crucified by ISIS. He's right to feel angry. He should be angry. But anger and hate lead to the dark side of the force, and a Jedi should not be angry. The emotions keep continuing throughout the series. Jedi aren't allowed to marry, but Anakin, in love with Padme, marries her in secret. In episode 3, Anakin is overcome with fear that Padme will die in childbirth. He tells Yoda he's afraid he's going to lose someone he loves. Yoda's answer? Stop loving.

While you see Jedi sometimes experience grief, they are not allowed to experience romance, love, anger, or excited feelings. They are skillful in the force because of their emotional balance, and use it to be agents of justice in the world. Anakin is not a stoic. He's not made to be a stoic. It's almost as if, along with his powers, he's been given an extra measure full of emotion that he finds hard to control.

Anakin needed a different worldview--not an ambivalent current of life flowing through everyone that required denying his natural humanity. He needed to know a God that burned against injustice, wept at death, rejoiced over his people with singing, and had the power and sovereignty over life to protect the people Anakin loved. A God of emotion. But he never could know that. In Star Wars, Anakin only had two faulty religions to choose from, so he left the emotionless light for the power-promise of the dark. The grief of it is keen.

The Sin of Inconsistency
This is troubling in itself. But the Jedi take it one step forward. Senator Palpatine requests Anakin to be part of the Jedi Council. With reluctance, the Council agrees, but they don't give Anakin the status of Jedi Master, which traditionally accompanies being on the Council. Anakin, capable in power to be a Master, knows this is an insult and is angry about it. What do they do instead? They ask him to do some dirty work for them. Their actions subtly communicate further insult: "You don't measure up. You can do the work we couldn't in good conscience do, but which we would like to have done anyway."

Anakin is forced to put up with double dishonor. Because he's not perfect, he's not part of the group. Because he's not perfect, maybe he can be the garbage dump that commits the sin they need committed. The inconsistency of this treatment is enough to make me see red. I know it's just a movie, but a movie tells a story, and a story tells about a person, and all stories bear parallels to life. This parallel is one I hope by God's grace I never commit.

Did Anakin need the discipleship of a Master to teach him experience? Yes. Did he need to learn to appropriately handle his emotions? Yes. But far be it from anyone who has the truth of real Christianity to do what the Jedi did. To say, "There is only a place for you in our group if you have it figured out--if you never lose your temper, or struggle with doubt or anger, or feel life keenly in a way that embarrasses the dignity of the rest of us."

When Hitler was invading Germany, Bonhoeffer's sister-in-law Emmi accused him of the same sin the Jedi committed. She knew he was a Christian, and she told him " 'You Christians are glad when someone else does what you know must be done...but it seems that somehow you are unwilling to get your own hands dirty and do it.' " (Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, pg. 359) Bonhoeffer, for better or worse, joined the plot to assassinate Hitler. The Jedi should have sent Obi-Wan to spy with Anakin. They should have been willing to put their money where their mouth was. There is no excuse, and while Anakin was responsible for his choices, the blame rests squarely on their shoulders as well.

i just wish i had them all here and i would give them a piece of my mind 

I realize this is taking a movie pretty seriously. But there are underlying sins and principles here that are vital for us to grasp and understand as Christians.

*deep breath* Let's talk about some good things now.

The Awesomeness that Is Obi-Wan 
Obi-Wan Kenobi my favorite character in the prequels. It started off rough because he had Frank Churchill hair from the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma (his singing in that movie left much to be desired.) With his hairstyle changed in episode 3, and a beard, he had not only my favorite Obi-Wan look but also my favorite Obi-Wan personality. Obi-Wan in the other movie is a competent Jedi, a teacher, and a good Master. But like the other Jedi, he stuffs his emotions. Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith has seasoned emotions, for lack of a better term. He has found a pupil that he loves deeply and warmly as a friend. He wants the best for Anakin. Where other people might have discovered Anakin's marriage and denounced him, Obi-Wan tenderly protects Padme. When Anakin commits unforgivable sins, Obi-Wan never falters in his commitment to the side of right, but he also grieves his comrade. Yoda would have counseled him to shut Anakin out of his life. I don't think Obi-Wan ever did.

Padme's beautiful romantic love (albeit awkward, wooden dialogue) is a good thing for Anakin. But it would be incomplete without Obi-Wan's steady, brother-kinship. I wish he and Padme could have married after all that had happened. I think they would have been perfect for one another after the waves of grief had gone over them and they had come out on the other side. Watching episode 4 after seeing Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith wasn't an easy thing to do.

The hardest action to accept from Obi-Wan is his last interchange with Anakin. I have watched it three times to try to sort how I feel about it, and as sour as it tasted to watch at first, I think I understand it now. It's a terrible, terrible moment (the graphicness earning the movie it's PG-13 rating). I felt like Obi-Wan shouldn't have just stood there, watching in horror. But I think I understand why he did, and it wasn't cruelty. Anakin was no longer Anakin, and Obi-Wan did not shield him from the last heavy punishment that he was judged with. It was grievous for him to watch, but when someone receives their final judgment, you cannot seek to rescue them from it.

The Weight of the Star Wars Universe 
By the time I finished the last part of Episode 3, I felt deeply the weight of the Star Wars universe. I could trace the whole thing. The way all the stories fit together. What happened next, generation after generation, to each person. Some people stayed on the side of good. Other people turned to the side of bad. It's almost heart-breaking to think of how much life, joyful and sorrowful, is still in store for these characters who have gone through so much. And yet, after seeing Anakin, the thread of redemption that traces through the episodes is both glorious and satisfying.

If anything, Revenge of the Sith shows just how faulty and unfulfilling the Force as a religion is. It has no answer for natural emotions of anger and grief, besides suppressing them and distancing yourself from the things you love. Rose, in The Last Jedi, has a sounder truth when she says, "we don't win by fighting against what we hate, but fighting for what we love."

The force also has no answer for indwelling sin. When the Jedi sensed fear in young Anakin, fear was equated with the dark side, and their rejection of him at that point showed that one must be perfect in the light to be one of them. Thanks be to God that He is not limited to our perfection. Every single human is corrupted by darkness, but he doesn't have to choose people based on the fact that they tend to the "light" side of the force. We are never inevitably lost to a slide of darkness like the Jedi pushed Anakin towards. Because Christ accomplished the work of salvation on our behalf, he has conquered the darkness in us and brought us to the light. And that light, unlike force light, can never be diminished by our actions. It is the light of Christ, and his eternal, all-powerful, unbreakable light secures our salvation forever.
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