Monday, September 18, 2017

Another Boy in the Family

For years, and I mean YEARS, my youngest has been begging for another dog. When he was two we purchased a Goldendoodle named Harley. We didn't change the name since he'd been called that for the first 9 months of his life. His name should have been Handful, because he was that. We had hoped for a Goldendoodle ever since we saw one at my oldest son's soccer game and the owners explained that the dog didn't shed (an important factor, given my husband's allergies to pet dander). Alas, the dog did shed ... and bolt out the door and into the street the minute my young boys opened the door ... and roll in dead animals ... and climb up on the counter to eat chicken bones ... and .... Eventually, we rehomed the dog and hopefully he found an owner who knew how to deal with animals enough to meet the challenges he presented. I, having never owned a dog, was certainly unprepared to be the alpha over Harley.

Thus, the years of nagging and pleading. We argued that we needed to find a dog that fit our needs ... especially potty-trained and non-shedding. The boys argued that our expectations were too high. I have been scouring the Internet, looking for the perfect fit for our family. I finally found a Hoobly ad for some adorable Shichons (second generation Shih-tzu/Bichon Frise mix). Sean was immediately drawn to the photos of the dogs. He begged and begged. We discussed and discussed. I emailed the breeders to ask if any were still available ... there were three out of six left. We went around and around about it and I eventually had to write back to say that my husband wanted to hold out for a dog that was already potty-trained. The breeder wrote back. He wished us luck and pointed out that often getting a dog who is already house-broken, but not very old means the owners are rehoming the dog for some reason they might not be expressing (perhaps the case with Harley). After thinking about his words and more discussion, we decided that we would at least see the dogs.

We came ... we saw ... we fell in love ... we bought. He's like a little fluff-ball. Here is my happy boy with his long-awaited dog:

The boys immediately agreed on a name ... Toby. We are, indeed, struggling with the housetraining (mostly our fault, because we fail to see the signs he gives prior to his accidents ... we'll get the hang of it and hopefully, he'll get the hang of only relieving himself outdoors). Although he didn't meet all the requirements, he is actually feeling like a perfect fit. He is very calm and quiet. In many ways, he is a good dog. And he certainly couldn't be more adorable ... could he?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: The London Eye Mystery

Of course, before I leave on my London/Paris/Rome trip, I've been attempting to saturate myself in preparatory reading and viewing. I watched the entire Sherlock series (oh, how I loved it!) and Three Coins in the Fountain on Netflix. So, of course, I jumped at the chance to read this book, The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd. While it didn't really provide much background about London (beyond a description of how the famous London Eye works), it was an entertaining story.

Ted has a unique way of approaching things. His Asperger's Syndrome causes him to analyze things more thoroughly than others and miss cues that others pick up easily. So, when his cousin, Salim, goes up in a sealed London Eye pod and fails to exit when the pod returns to the ground, Ted immediately begins to process all the options and seeks to ferret out the truth. Together with his sister, Kat, he follows clues all over London and solves the puzzle of what happened.

I enjoyed the quirkiness of the narrator. It was a pleasant little read. Kids who are getting ready to visit London, and especially the London Eye, will enjoy immersing themselves in this story first. It would be interesting to see if young people who have Asperger's feel a kinship with the narrator.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review: Property of a Noblewoman

With little time for seeking out an audio book, I decided to gamble on another Danielle Steel option. Property of a Noblewoman once again took the characters on a journey between the United States and Europe in search of the trail of the owner of a safe deposit box full of jewelry. It was another engrossing story and I'm so glad I selected it.

Jane is a law clerk, begrudgingly assigned to the surrogate's court and Philip is a representative from Christie's jewelry department. When Jane contacts Philip to set in motion an auction of the unclaimed items, they both feel caught up in the story of the countess who died with no heirs, only $2000 to her name, and a safe deposit box full of extremely valuable brooches, necklaces, and rings. Marguerite Pearson was an outcast when she was shipped off to Europe in the midst of World War II. Betrayed by her family, Marguerite makes her own way and ends up marrying an Italian count. But can Jane and Philip find the rightful heir of the jewelry before it is auctioned off and proceeds distributed to the state?

The story unfolds beautifully with expert pacing and character development. The reader cannot help but root for Jane and Philip in their quest for love and for the best resolution of the case they share. Although the denouement wasn't quite as stunning as the one in the previous Steel book I read, it was still satisfying. I was thrilled to see a whole host of audio books by Steel in our audio book section at the library. Apparently, I can count on Danielle Steel to make the miles slip away as I walk on my treadmill.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: Everything, Everything

Jennifer Niven, author of All the Bright Places, described it as "powerful, lovely, heart-wrenching, and so absorbing I devoured it in one sitting." Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon, was truly that! I, too, read it in one sitting. Even at over 300 pages, this love story flew by before I knew it. It served as a healthy reminder to me that even though my upcoming trip to Europe by myself is daunting, I would be far worse off if I didn't take the risk and stayed home instead. It encouraged me to suck the marrow out of life, while I have the chance.

Madeline Whittier has more limitations than your average teen. No, more than that, she has every limitation imaginable, because she suffers from a rare disease that makes her allergic to everything. She has grown comfortable in her little isolated world with her mother and her nurse and her library full of books. Life is good, despite her illness. Until ... Olly moves in next door. He may shake her world more than she ever imagined.

Their love affair begins with a witty email correspondence. I'm a big fan of epistolary novels, so I thoroughly enjoyed this inclusion. It progresses when Madeline convinces her nurse to allow Olly to go through the decontamination procedures for a brief visit. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

So if I plowed through it so quickly and enjoyed it so much, what held me back from highly recommending it? First, I felt there could have been so much more depth to the novel. Second, call me a prude, but I really hoped the girl would hold back from experiencing everything, everything. I begin to wonder if authors are presenting cleaner manuscripts and being told by their publishers that in order for them to turn a profit, they must bow to the social norms of the day and include sex. So disappointing. Still, it was a fully-engaging book and worth the read, as an adult. I don't know that I would offer it up to my daughter, had I one, because it sends the message that teenagers should seize the day and experience absolutely everything. Why wait? Grab it while you have the chance. Just not the message I enjoy seeing young teenagers devour.

The movie came out in May to mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes only gave it two out of five stars. Common Sense Media does acknowledge that producers kept the love scene age-appropriate by fading out. I'm not sure yet whether I will take the time to view the movie, but based on the quality of the writing, I would read another book by Nicola Yoon.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: The Book of the King

I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. I had high hopes of grand adventure and spiritual allegory akin to the Chronicles of Narnia. While it did contain a fair amount of that, I just never fully got sucked into the world the authors created.

In The Book of the King, by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry, present-day Owen Reeder lives with his father above their tiny bookstore. He is unaware of the supernatural events occurring around him, until he is chased by a gang of boys one day and finds himself swept back to solid ground when he runs right over a hole in the earth. Soon, he encounters a man with a very special book and is led into mysterious other dimensions in his fight to keep and understand that book.

I suppose I was put off at the beginning. The first two sentences are a mock warning (intended to serve as an enticement) to those incapable of handling the promised adventures within (similar to the tone of Lemony Snicket in The Series of Unfortunate Events books):

"To tell the story of Owen Reeder - the whole story and not just the parts that tickle the mind and make you laugh from the belly like one who has had too much to drink - we have to go into much unpleasantness. So if you are faint of heart and can't stand bloody battles and cloaked figures in the darkness and invisible creatures (or visible ones who don't have much of a sense of humor), and if you don't like to cry over a story when someone you love is taken, then perhaps our tale is not for you."

It was more a matter of the tale not being for me because of the constant insertion of direct interaction with the reader and the pretentious manner. The reader is addressed by the authors repeatedly with warnings about what they will soon see and encounter within the story. I suppose I tend to prefer stories where the reader is so caught up in what is happening that the presence and actual being of the author is temporarily forgotten. Plus, while talking to the reader above the story, so often the message seemed to attempt loftiness. For example:

"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a frightened young man to slip the surly bonds of danger and touch the face of freedom, please note that the back door of a restaurant is not always the best exit."

I know I'm not the intended audience. Moreover, I do think young people will be more sucked in by the story and less irritated with the author-to-reader comments. Who knows, they might even be riveted enough to continue in the series (since the ending held no ending at all). For me, I'm not likely to keep the book for my sons to read, even though I purchased it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Review: The Duchess

I'm rather surprised that I've never before read a Danielle Steel novel. The name is so well-known. When my sister remarked that she seldom reads, but when she does, she often selects a Danielle Steel novel, I decided to see if there were any in audio form at my library. Thankfully, I found one that sounded right up my alley. The Duchess presents a tale of a young girl's triumph over tragedy during the 19th century, set in England, France, and the United States. Perfect.

Angelique Latham is the daughter of the Duke of Westerfield. When, at eighteen, her father dies, the entire estate is, according to law, left in the hands of her older half-brother, Tristan. Fearing his eldest's resentment of the younger sister, just before his death, the Duke wisely and silently gives her a small sum of money to tide her over in case the brother throws her out. Indeed, Tristan forces her out the day after her father's death, sending her to work as a nanny for his friends, pretending she is a distant cousin.

When a male visitor wrongfully accuses her of scandal, she is turned out of that home without a reference and forced to flee to her deceased mother's native land of France. With none of her rightful privileges, she must make her way in the world and remain true to her noble upbringing. Her scheme is scandalous and dangerous, but serves her well for a short time. Sadly, fate throws her another wrench and she books passage to the United States. Through it all, she tenaciously clings to her dignity and triumphs in the end.

I adored this tale, despite her descent into scandal. Angelique is such a strong and determined character, overcoming obstacles with grace and style. The plot moves steadily and fully engages the reader. I enjoyed each of the diverse settings and the time-period portrayed. I understand why Steel's novels have received such popular support. She is an excellent writer and master storyteller, whose characters come to life on the page.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: London: A History

It has been slim pickin's these days for audio books to accompany my morning treadmill walks. I attempted two different thrillers, but after getting over a half hour into each, discovered they were so full of smut that I couldn't bear to continue (sob, why do authors feel a need to add sexual voyeurism and scandal to entice readers - all it does for me is make me shut the book). Thus, I thought I'd go with a safe bet and listen to A.N. Wilson's history of London, in anticipation of my fall trip.

Alas, it was a bit dry. I guess a Brit might find the political commentary and architectural explanation interesting, but I had a tough time of it. Indeed, I wondered how a historian could write such an opinionated piece (isn't the goal to remain objective and impartial?). I was expecting to be wooed into wanting to visit (of course, the ticket has already been purchased, so technically I don't need to be wooed). Sadly, it just didn't pull me in with a great desire to learn more about this cosmopolitan capital. I think I would have been even more bored with the fare, if I had no past experience with the city. Thankfully, having lived there for about six months, I was familiar with many of the locations mentioned. Nonetheless, I don't really recommend this if you are looking for a title to enchant you with dreams of London's fair city.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Review: Lost in the Sun

Two excellent tween reads in a row! How fortunate I was to have stumbled onto these titles. Lisa Graff''s novel, Lost in the Sun, is a sure-fire hit for boys who struggle with the intensity of emotions or who have a great love of baseball. While boys will especially relate to the main character, I believe again that this book (like the crossover appeal of The Thing About Jellyfish) will hold equal appeal to boys and girls.

The burden Trent carries threatens to crush him and he is sure the crushing will be deserved. At the end of winter in his fifth grade year, Trent agreed to play a simple game of hockey. Somehow the game ended up being not so simple, though. When he connected with the puck and sent it flying, it hit the chest of Jared Richards and, because of an unknown heart defect, Jared died. Now Trent must face the emotional fallout and the alienation he feels from everyone else in town because he is sure they hate him. As Trent deals with his guilt and pain, he finds solace in the complicated love of family, the unusual friendship of Fallon Little (a girl with a story all her own), and the unexpected support of his most disliked teacher.

This novel is sure to resonate with kids as it focuses on the troubled waters of split families, sibling rivalry, and trauma recovery. The grown-ups portrayed in the book may have their own hang-ups and weaknesses, but mostly they are solid role models and often give out sound advice. Even the bad advice (for example, the father counsels that "sometimes you only get one chance") causes the reader to think about things and reason for themselves what they believe about life and second chances. While the book never brought me to tears, I did ache inside for the pain Trent carried around and wished him all the best in his genuine friendship with Fallon. Teacher resources can be found on the author's website.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish - Highly Recommend

Despite being a book that tween girls will definitely relate to, I believe my tween sons will relate to The Thing About Jellyfish just as much. It is chock full of scientific facts and interesting things to contemplate. The very bad thing the narrator does to her best friend is the type of gesture boys will find fascinating. Moreover, boys and girls alike will find their heart strings tugged by the universal emotions of grief. I was deeply moved and wept like a baby.

Suzy Swanson cannot fathom the death of her former best friend. It is unexpected. It is tragic. It cannot be explained by her mother's statement that "sometimes things just happen." Franny deserved so much more than 412 million heart beats. She deserved better than the final gesture Suzy made to her on the last day of sixth grade. It doesn't matter that Suzy's intentions were good. The fact is, their last moment together cannot be taken back and the grief of that overwhelms Suzy so much that she stops speaking.

Her silence troubles her parents, her therapist, and her teachers, but Suzy believes she might make a breakthrough if only she could talk to the right jellyfish expert. As she researches jellyfish, she begins to believe she has found the reason behind her best friend's demise. Now she must find her voice in front of her peers and convince the others.

This book took me back to the angst of middle-school transitions, when friendships and bodies begin to shift and change. Suzy, with her frizzy hair, her intense curiosity about the world, and her determination to cling to the way things were, captured my heart thoroughly. The author's power of voice was stunning. I completely agree with the Kirkus Review's comment, "A painful story smartly told, Benjamin's first solo novel has appeal well beyond a middle school audience." I cannot recommend this book enough. The writing will suck you in, hold you fast, and break your heart all at the same time.

Indeed, I recommended the book to Sean and he read it and enjoyed it as well.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Book Review: The Garden of Small Beginnings

I have the blackest thumb in the history of mankind. Okay. Well, that's probably not true, but I do tend to kill all green things that I attempt to grow. Fact. Just finished off a plant that my oldest son's ex-girlfriend gave to him awhile back. Somehow with the camps and schedule craziness, I forgot to water it adequately and it is now a shriveled mess destined for the trash heap. But, I would like to nurture the skill. Indeed, my husband has plans for a garden (how that will work with the large critter population he attracts with his constant bird feeding, I'm not sure). Thus, this title and premise jumped out at me in the recent acquisition shelves of my library.

Lilian Girvan is still reeling from the recent death of her beloved husband when her textbook illustration job sends her out to a gardening class to prepare her for an assignment. She brings along her sister, Rachel (instrumental in helping Lili over the hump of mental breakdown), and her two young daughters, Clare and Annabel. There, the three meet a host of interesting characters who begin to nurture Lili and woo her out into the world again through the intervention of gardening.

I loved the brief snippets before each chapter, instructing how to grow various vegetables and herbs. These passages were brief enough not to interrupt the flow of the narrative, yet insightful enough to be helpful. Although I would probably benefit from copying out those particular pages, I figured my husband has sufficient books and I'd be better off following his lead.

Word of warning: A great deal of the humor in this book centers around sexual innuendos and double entendres. Morally speaking, the characters approach sexuality with very loose standards (Rachel seems to bed any man she holds the slightest interest in and is more hesitant when she feels there might be more significant relationship - this was rather perplexing to me, from my perspective). This isn't exactly a book I feel good about recommending to my Christian friends, since the worldview is quite different.

Moreover, it felt like the story ambled along without really getting anywhere. I suppose at the end of the book, Lili does finally get to the place where she is ready to seek out her own happiness, but the journey to that point seemed winding and, at times, unsatisfying. While I never really fell in love with the characters, I did enjoy thinking about and vicariously experiencing the grief process. It kept me reading, but more for the gardening elements than for the story line or humor.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: The View from Saturday

Although I didn't select this audio book for its brevity, I was short on time for perusing the shelves and knew I could trust E. L. Konigsburg for a decent tween read. The characters were delightful, the story engaging, and the plot pace steady.  With a kid-friendly feel of "Slum Dog Millionaire," The View from Saturday would make an excellent read-aloud for 3rd to 6th grade classrooms.

Mrs. Olinski doesn't know why she selected the particular four individuals who make up the sixth grade Academic Bowl team, but she knows that they have the potential to sweep the competition beneath their feet. Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian become fast friends as they prepare and get to know one another better. Each has a particular story fitting them for particular questions presented and when they come together, they establish a friendship that is both enduring and profitable.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Book Review: Quality of Care

Whenever I go away I try to bring along books from my own coffers, rather than carrying library materials, on the off chance they might get lost. Moreover, as I was contemplating my time at CBLI, I wanted to bring books that were small enough to fit easily in my bag and not take up too much space. I brought along two books, but the first one, The Road from Coorain, proved too heady to hold my interest while at camp (full of pages and pages of descriptions of Australian countryside). Thankfully, this second one, Quality of Care by Elizabeth Letts, managed to hold my attention and would be sure to appeal to anyone who loves horses.

Clara Raymond is a dedicated obstetrician who insists on providing the best possible quality of care for her patients. When a pregnant woman turns up one night, events are triggered that will test Clara's perspective and self-assessment. That woman is Lydia Benson, a former friend who once saved her life. She arrives on the arm of her husband, Gordon Robinson, a man Clara once loved. Given their shared histories, one would expect this to be a fortuitous night, but instead, when things go wrong, Clara flees and attempts to confront many demons from her past.

Of course, given that I was reading this book in the midst of a course on God's sovereignty, I couldn't help but smile at the author's attempt to handle the grand ideas of fate and chance. At one point, the narrator observes that Gordon was the one "who tried so hard to teach me to accept the fact that there doesn't have to be a reason, that sometimes bad things just happen." Moreover, another doctor remarks to Clara, "Every day, I show up to work and I try to do the best I can. Just one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, you do what you can and it doesn't turn out to be enough. I feel quite sure in the end that the balance [of harm to good] is in my favor.... If you show up every day with your game clothes on, you may win some and you may lose some, but I'm pretty sure you're right with yourself and with the patients - right enough with God, the way I reckon it."

Clara struggles with her part in the fate of Lydia's life and Lydia's part in the fate of her own life. In the end, she sides with her colleague's assessment of her responsibilities. She concludes, "So I pray - little accidental prayers that are just small blossoms of my inherent hope for goodness. Watch out for the little one - watch out for the ones who are small and need assistance, and are defenseless. Please protect those who cannot protect themselves. And me? I just get up every morning and put my shoes on, and try to do the very best I can that day, and every other single day that follows." While it wasn't a book that affirmed by belief in God, it was a well-written debut novel that held my attention and furthered my thoughts about personal responsibility and God's hand.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

Given the original date of publication (1988), I'm surprised I never encountered Jerry Bridges' book, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, before. What a powerful little gem! I'm so thankful that I selected this elective course at CBLI. Moreover, I'm especially glad that the teacher didn't allow discussions to boil down into political debates, but focused instead on the opportunity to express times when God's providence has seemed in contrast to what we would expect God to want for our lives.

The sovereignty of God is a difficult subject to wrestle with, yet it is key to surviving adversity and maintaining faith. Every one of us will face trials and tribulations that will cause us to scratch our heads in wonder and say, "Where is God in all of this? How could a good God allow this? Doesn't God want better for me than this?" Adversity can make us bitter. It can sap the faith right out of us. I know. I've been there before.

For me, at least, the author achieved his stated purpose: "to glorify God by acknowledging His sovereignty and His goodness [and] to encourage God's people by demonstrating from Scripture that God is in control of their lives, that He does indeed love them, and that He works out all the circumstances of their lives for their ultimate good." I was struck by my own past failures when he emphasized that "it is just as important to trust God as it is to obey Him. When we disobey God we defy His authority and despise His holiness. But when we fail to trust God we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. In both cases we cast aspersions upon His majesty and His character."

Bridges teaches three essential truths in this book: "1) God is completely sovereign; 2) God is infinite in wisdom; and 3) God is perfect in love." First we have to ask if it is God or chance governing our circumstances. As Bridges clearly states: "His love may be infinite, but if His power is limited and His purpose can be thwarted, we cannot trust Him." Thus, the sovereignty of God becomes the foundation on which we build our faith. This sentence resonated with me: "God has not looked the other way or been caught by surprise when adversity strikes us."

I'm guessing the biggest struggle for people centers on the balance of God's sovereignty with man's free will. Bridges argues, "just as we must not construe God's sovereignty so as to make people mere puppets, so we must not press man's freedom to the point of limiting God's sovereignty." He points out God's sovereignty over people, nations, and nature. God can move the hearts of men in our favor or against us. He allows everything we encounter for the purpose of His eventual glory.

One of my favorite chapters was "Trusting God for Who You Are." God, in His sovereignty, designed each one of us in the womb. He allowed both our strengths and our weaknesses. He rules over who we are, what we are, and where we go in life. In thinking of my recent reading of Through the Eyes of Hope, I fully believe that God allowed that little boy to be born with his disabilities for a grander purpose than we may ever know.

Who better demonstrates God's glory through trial than Joni Eareckson Tada? She recently wrote an article reflecting on the 50 year anniversary of her tragic diving accident that left her a quadriplegic. She mentioned ten words from a friend that strengthened her in her trial: "God permits what He hates to accomplish what he loves."

God allows adversity in our lives to grow us deeper in Him, to glorify Him, and to allow us to share in His sufferings. He can and will use our distress. Nothing is wasted. It is all gain, even in the trial and the pain. Oh, how I needed that reminder!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Central Bible & Leadership Institute 2017

One of the most significant blessings in my life over the years has been our involvement in The Salvation Army's Central Bible & Leadership Institute. My sons and I have been attending every summer since my oldest was three; that's nineteen consecutive years! I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for all that has been poured into us over the years through this camp. This year was slightly different, in that only one of my sons accompanied me, but we both came away with a feeling of great fellowship and intense spiritual nourishment.

(Photo courtesy of Emily Southfield)

(an annual selfie taken by my dear friend, Laura Allen)

Thanks to the dates being bumped up a week, we were able to attend without driving back and forth to accommodate the start of school (we proved the level of our devotion by doing just that last year).

We received a housing assignment that gave me some pause, but we've had plenty of years of excellent assignments, so I felt it was certainly our turn. Beech provides a long hallway of tiny rooms (four on either side) with two twin beds in each. The room itself, despite being small, was perfectly sufficient for our minimal needs. I was most anxious about the bathroom dilemma, since there are sixteen people sharing one male toilet/shower and one female toilet/shower. Amazingly, Trevor only had to wait occasionally for access (there were more men than women billeted there), and I only had to wait once (primarily because I'm such an early riser that nobody else was ever up when I began my morning routine). It was cozy and a comfortable distance from the dining hall.

I am always blessed by the opportunity to join such a large group singing praises to God. The times of worship, in both the general meetings and in our smaller adult track Bible study, thrilled my soul. I think my very favorite worship tune this year was the song "Let Nothing Be Wasted" (especially poignant on the heels of writing a redemptive women's inspirational novel this past November).

(photo courtesy of Jared Collins)

The spirit really moved distinctly in the adult Bible study this year (once again taught by the excellent Bible teacher, Linda Himes). We studied the tabernacle/temple and focused on the idea of the meaning of worship. I think, in general, people tend to view worship as the singing of praises to the Lord, but Linda encouraged us to delve deeper into God's original intention for worship and the significance of his provision of a pattern for redemption drawn in the specific instructions for the tabernacle and temple. We began with Old Testament passages where the words "love," "obey" and "worship" were first used, in the story of Abraham's testing when God asked him to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac. God clearly chose the place where this act of worship should take place. We then shifted to Old Testament passages containing God's specifications for the act of atoning for the sins of His people. Linda brought along a model of the tabernacle pieces and we were able to visualize exactly what such worship would have felt like.

 (photo courtesy of David Tooley)
 (photo courtesy of David Tooley)
(photo courtesy of David Tooley)

In the midst of these discussions, we thought about David's insistence on paying full price for the land God selected for the temple, not wanting to give a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing. Linda emphasized God's desire to dwell with His people and His presence filling the temple. Of course, the temporary (tabernacle) was merely a pattern for the permanent (temple), which was a pattern for the eternal (Christ's sacrifice tearing the veil, destroying the temple, and raising from the dead to provide eternal life for all believers). Finally, we focused on the priesthood of believers and our ability to approach God with boldness directly (the external becoming internal and the letter of the law shifting to heart change). With new eyes, we studied the importance of worshiping in spirit and in truth through full obedience and devotion. There were several moments during the class where the spirit of the Lord was tangible and real.

For my workshop, I selected a class on Trusting God Even When Life Hurts (based on the book by Jerry Bridges), led by Major Ruth Fay. I will review the book separately, but gained new insights into the purpose and meaning of suffering through this class. I don't think I had ever thought so intensely about the sovereignty of God (something I have personally questioned when faced with trials in life). I appreciated that the discussions never dissolved into arguments about what and why God allows tragedies to play out in the sphere of our world. The homework pages helped me work through the ideas presented in the book.

When we were not in classes, our free times were primarily taken up with Trevor's focus on fishing. He entered the longest fish competition and ended up taking first place. I think everyone was at a disadvantage this year because of the recent flooding in the area. The pier we normally fish from had broken off and floated to the middle of the lake. It had been retrieved and was wheeled up onto the side of the lake, but without the pier's availability, everyone had to fish where the weeds were thick and the fish less plentiful. Still, Trevor managed to catch a ten inch fish. We were able to determine the length because he took this photo against the square portion of his t-shirt (next year, we'll have to remember to bring a ruler or yard stick).

Several times, we ventured into town to buy lures and live bait. During one of those trips, Trevor purchased a pair of alien sunglasses that became his trademark accessory for the week. He had a blast fishing and hanging out with his friends.

(photo courtesy of Kim Suydam)

(photo courtesy of Christina Joy)

As we drove home from camp (quite a feat since we were hindered by a stopped train, causing us to get lost, an accident diverting traffic, and then the standard slow movement on the highways home), we both reflected on God's rich blessings this year. Now that Trevor is joining the junior high football team, I'm not sure we will manage next year again. If we do, it will be our 20th year, Sean's first in the tween track, and Trevor's last in the tween track.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: Death of a Travelling Man

Some of my reasons for selecting books run shallow. For this book, M.C. Beaton's Death of a Travelling Man, I selected the audio book simply for the minimal length. At only four CDs long, I was able to complete the listening experience in the five short days I had of treadmill walking between my time at music camp and my departure for CBLI. Even though it will not rank as a favorite mystery, it was enjoyable enough and the Scottish accent of the narrator, Davina Porter, was delightful.

This is book number nine in Beaton's 33-book-long Hamish Macbeth series. Police constable Hamish Macbeth traces much mischief back to the arrival of traveller Sean Gourlay, yet he cannot pin any tangible crimes on the man. When Gourlay turns up murdered, Hamish must sort through air-tight alibis, tangled webs of intrigue, and neighborly naughtiness.

While it did indeed hold my attention and provide an interesting enough tale, I don't feel compelled to seek out the other books (although my library has six others available in audio form and if they are also short, might show up on my list when circumstances dictate my listening window again). But, if you are seeking short mysteries set in the Scottish highlands or prefer to listen to books narrated with a Scottish accent, this series might be right up your alley.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: Through the Eyes of Hope

Last week, I picked up Through the Eyes of Hope, by Lacey Buchanan. As soon as I saw the cover of this book prominently displayed at our library, I remembered watching the touching You Tube video this mother made in defense of her child.

Born with a severely cleft palate and without eyes, Lacey's son Christian is a testament to the value of every individual, no matter their appearance or disability. Lacey's story highlights her growth from timid, sidelined mother to bold, involved advocate. I could not help but walk a mile in her shoes as she told of doctors who felt they knew better how to meet her child's needs (especially frustrating, the physical surgeon who insisted her son needed highly invasive surgery despite a team of other doctors ruling the surgery unnecessary). Moreover, what parent can't imagine how devastating the stares and comments of strangers could be. Yet, there are those in this world who begrudge Lacey the right to raise her disabled son. They are the unfortunate ones, because they will never be able to see the beauty God instills in His most fragile vessels. Kudos to Lacey for telling her story (with the assistance of Bethany Jett) and inspiring other parents of special needs children with hope for their journey.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Beautiful Wedding

On the heels of Music Camp, we headed up to the Chicago area to attend my niece's wedding. Kari and Clayton dated for seven years, so it really felt like the culmination of years' worth of anticipation as they entered into this covenant relationship. My brother gave an outstanding address, focused on the sacrificial nature of love. It was fun to see family and celebrate the grand occasion together.

(My nephew, Eric, with the mother of the bride, Miriam)

(Kari's entrance on my brother David's arm)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Heidi Bailey)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Book Review: The Mothers

This was another book I probably wouldn't have picked up if it hadn't been a book club selection, merely because I hadn't heard the buzz about the book. Yet, the book has plenty of buzz, having earned numerous awards (New York Times Bestseller, NBCC John Leonard First Novel Prize Finalist, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction Finalist, New York Public Library Young Lions Award Finalist, An NPR Best Book of 2016, Entertainment Weekly Best Book of 2016, Vogue Magazine Best Book of the Year, Goodreads Choice Award Finalist, and's Best Books of the Year). As a debut novel, I believe Brit Bennett did an outstanding job.

The Mothers tells the story of seventeen-year-old Nadia Turner, whose mother inexplicably commits suicide. Six months later, Nadia discovers she is pregnant. The father of the child is the pastor's son, Luke. Even while dating, Luke had kept their relationship a secret, and when Nadia expresses a desire to simply be rid of the problem, Luke comes up with the money for the abortion. Nadia assumes this means he agrees with her decision to end the pregnancy. The novel weaves back and forth highlighting the ramifications and consequences.

I appreciated the depth of exploration into ideas of motherhood. Moreover, I agreed with author Danielle Evans, who declared the book "a brilliant exploration of friendship, desire, inheritance, the love we seek, and the love we settle for. It is the kind of book that from its first page seduces you into knowing that the heartbreak coming will be worth it."Although I didn't feel the heartbreak was worth it, primarily due to the way the story ended without hope, I do think the book tapped into many important truths about life and love. It presented a fair picture of the emotional turmoil surrounding the difficult scenario of abortion.

I loved the keen observations about grief. For example, "Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip." (p. 57) "But she hasn't learned the mathematics of grief. The weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains." (p. 226) Another delicious sentence about secrets: "All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season."

While I admired the use of the mothers of the church, in the form of a Greek chorus telling the story, I'm not sure it was executed effectively. For the most part, if felt like the narration perspective centered on Nadia, rather than the mothers. I kept expecting a big reveal at the end, which would explain why the story seemed to be filtered through the eyes of these observing women. Yet, the end didn't follow through with an explanation for their involvement. Indeed, the end sort of tapered off and Nadia failed to really grow or learn from her experiences. I would have liked to have seen more redemption and character development.

Nonetheless, I felt the novel succeeded in revealing deep truths. I remained riveted, wanting to know how the story resolved. In the end, there was much to think about, in terms of ideas about motherhood, love and loss, choice and consequences. How different Nadia's story would have been had her mother chosen a different path. How different the unborn baby's life if Nadia had placed his/her needs above her own. Even how different the story might have gone had the church mothers stepped into Nadia's life in a more significant way than merely as detached observers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Whirlwind Music Camp

The Salvation Army's Indiana Music Camp for 2017 has come and gone in a blur. Trevor accompanied me and we both had a lovely week together, I enjoying the fellowship with the faculty and he enjoying the camaraderie of the campers. Because two other excellent teenage drummers were there this year, Trevor placed in the Intermediate Band. This was a blessing as he was able to really shine on the drum set during their Wednesday evening performance, despite only practicing on a drum pad in rehearsals. Plus, their conductor selected really fun pieces that Trevor thoroughly enjoyed. (Sorry for the shaky video - I never do well at holding it steady.)

On Wednesday evening, the faculty all headed into town for the annual trip to Steak-n-Shake. We sang our grace in harmony together and then enjoyed food and laughter.

On Thursday afternoon, Trevor competed in the solo competition and managed to snag second place with this outstanding minute-long performance:

I think he did a fine job on adhering to the dynamics and rhythm of the piece.

Thursday evening the program showcased the various elective classes. I was thrilled that two of my Creative Writing students got up to share their poems. Really, for the most part, my elective students chose to work on short stories, so we didn't have enough space to print out their work in a small flyer to give to the other campers (as I had hoped). Still, I think they all loved the class. I brought in worksheets demonstrating various types of poetry and offered to copy off whichever ones they were interested in attempting. Plus, I brought along last year's writing prompts for personal essays and short stories.

After the Thursday evening program, the faculty enjoyed a bonfire with hot dogs and s'mores.

Before I knew it, Friday arrived and Trevor and I had to prepare to leave for my niece's Saturday wedding. We enjoyed one last moment of entertainment as the faculty band paraded around and then down into the pool in what they called a "Parade of Wetness." I must admit, I was none too displeased that I couldn't participate, but it was rather funny watching and videotaping it all, especially the end of the video when the front players met the deep end a bit before they were expecting.

I also was thrilled to discover, after the fact, that Trevor received the 1st place award for Intermediate Band at the final awards concert on Saturday. All in all, it was a wonderful week and I was, as always, grateful for the opportunity to participate.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book Review: The Dancing Rat of Paris

I'm not sure how, or perhaps why, my library obtained this brief comedy sketch in audio form. Once again, it filled a need, as it was only one CD long and I had one more day of exercise before departing for a week-long camp. The back cover proclaims a menopausal audience member declared, "I laughed so hard my cramps went away!" Well, I can't say I laughed hard enough to alleviate any cramps, but I don't want to come down too hard on this offering. It was funny, in bits, just not as funny as anticipated.

Indeed, because it had Paris in the title, once again I was drawn in, hoping it would provide some sort of travelogue from someone who has traveled in Paris. While the author, Nancy Donoval, did indeed visit Paris, and one of the stories is set in Paris, it really didn't provide much in the way of a travelogue. Basically, the audio provides three taped performances at the Black Forest Inn, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You hear the audience feedback. The author provides humorous pauses and expressive storytelling. Alas, it just wasn't really my cup of tea. Thankfully, I didn't have to abandon it because before I knew it, it was over.

If I had enticed you, you would be out of luck, unless you visit my same library. I could not find the book available anywhere. Again, how and why did my library acquire this? It is a mystery.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Book Review: Room One

Where do you head in the library when you need to find a book to listen to for only three or four days? The tween audio book section, of course! Having cast aside an audio version of a Haven Kimmel novel (it just didn't hook me in and was taking far too long to get to the driving conflict), I needed something small to fill my daily treadmill time until time to leave for my music camp assignment. How thrilled I was to find this 3 CD book by Andrew Clements (one of our favorites, when it comes to tween authors).

Room One tells the story of a fifth grade boy living in Plattsford, Nebraska. Ted Hammond loves reading and solving mysteries, but suddenly he is knee-deep in some mysteries of his own. The most pressing one has to do with a face he could swear he saw in the Anderson's abandoned house. He's also confused about the town's pressing problem of depopulation. Since the town is shrinking, the one-room-schoolhouse just might have to shut down. If the school goes, everyone knows the town will dry up and disappear.

Clements once again sucks the reader in from the very start. His excellent narration from a young boy's perspective rings true and the characters peopling the story prove endearing. I appreciated the author's emphasis on honesty and integrity. Ted faces his problems head on and and tries to solve them to the best of his ability, seeking out additional help when he realizes he cannot solve them alone. If you are ever in the market for a good tween read, you can always depend on Andrew Clements for an uplifting, well-written tale.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Book Review: Maps and Legends

I've never read anything by Michael Chabon, and yet I'm familiar with the author's name. A few blogging friends have mentioned his books, I've read references to him in other writing books, and he received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001, so he must be doing something right. Thus, I decided to pick up this collection of essays, Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. The Amazon cover, shown here, is not nearly as interesting or delightful as the three-part, intersecting cover on the library copy (although I was still unable to enjoy it quite as much as intended because it was covered in protective plastic).

Each chapter is an essay focused on either reading or writing. I noted that one of the initial chapters addresses fan fiction and since I'm not that fond of fan fiction, I thought it might be wise to read what he had to say. It was interesting to learn that he had his start in attempting to copy the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To be specific, he wanted his voice to mimic the voice of Watson. The historical bits about Doyle were fascinating. I will have to think long and hard about his advice to find a good writer and attempt to mimic their strengths. This may change my opinion about fan fiction.

In another section, he devoted an essay to Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass series. While I haven't read Pullman's books, I found their exposition quite interesting. Indeed, I feel more compelled to read that series after reading Chabon's take, despite the fact that it is billed by some to be anti-Christian (this is perhaps mostly because he disparaged C.S. Lewis and the Narnia series, however, not having read The Golden Compass, I can't be sure - after all, many Christians despise Harry Potter as being anti-Christian because it involves witches and wizards, yet I don't feel the Potter series poses any threat to my sons' religious beliefs).

I preferred the second half of the book, when he began to talk more about his own personal experiences with writing. At one point, he talks about the "bathyspheric pressures that weigh on a second novel, particularly where the first has met with any kind of success." Although the word "bathyspheric" was new to me, I could certainly relate to this observation. After all, I've chided plenty of authors whose latter works haven't lived up to their first offerings.

Another observation I could relate to: "The hardest part of writing a novel is the contemplation of the distance to the end." I remember feeling exactly the weight of so much still to come while I was knee-deep in writing my most recent YA novel. I had traversed so far and yet, had so far still to go.

Finally, I chuckled when he clarified toward the end of the book that some of what he had written within its pages was, indeed, fanciful because a writer tells a lie in order to tell the truth. I appreciated his discussion about the risks a writer takes when putting themselves out there because readers can assume bits are autobiographical when they aren't really autobiographical and even things that are true emotions and feelings about subjects of personal interest (as in an article he wrote about Yiddish) can certainly offend readers.

All in all, even when I had no experience with the literature he referred to (Pullman's series, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and the constant references to comic books), I thought Chabon's descriptions and interactions were worth reading. This is obviously a book with appeal for anyone who desires to be a writer. And even those who simply like to read Chabon's books, will be interested in hearing what he has to say.

Given Chabon's message about fiction being a blur of lies presented to express deeper truth, it should come as no surprise that his most recent work is a novel presented as a fictional memoir by an author sharing his name. It is called Moonglow and has received quite a buzz of publicity. I may have to seek it out, as well.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: The Mountain Between Us

While scanning audio books recently, I came across this survival/love story, The Mountain Between Us, by Charles Martin. The author's name looked familiar and when I checked my blog, I discovered that one of my first posts, at the outset of blogging, was a book review of Martin's When Crickets Cry. I quickly became engrossed in the tale of Dr. Ben Payne and Ashley Knox, two unregistered passengers on a charter plane attempting to beat an oncoming storm. Just before their pilot dies of a heart attack, he manages to safely land the plane on the mountains in the High Uintas Wilderness of Utah. Ben is in bad shape, with broken ribs, but Ashley is worse off, with a badly fractured leg.

Throughout their harrowing journey, attempting to return to civilization, Ben continues to record messages for his wife, Rachel, on a small recording device. Ashley, listening to Ben pour out the love in his heart, begins to wonder whether she is merely settling for convenience in her upcoming marriage to her fiance. What's more, the longer Ben takes care of her, the more she wonders whether she is, in fact, falling in love with him instead. But, Ben holds many secrets and is clearly running from a conflicted past.

I felt a similar response to both Martin's books. The reader is asked to take giant leaps and often they seem unreasonable. The main character/narrator is too perfect and has everything he needs exactly when he needs it. When the conclusion played out, despite enjoying the deep emotions triggered by the writing (the mark of a true craftsman), I found myself talking back to the narrator, questioning the plausibility of the way things went. Despite this, I really enjoyed the ending. I wept as the truth was revealed. I felt the full range of brokenness and despair along with the surging of hope in the power of love.

When an author can evoke such intense emotions in a reader, I can overlook a bit of over-the-top plotting. Part of me felt tricked, but a larger part of me felt a sense of deep connection. I enjoyed the bumpy ride and will happily suspend my disbelief for Martin's stories again (especially so because they always provide a clean read or a listen I can enjoy with my boys in range). Moreover, it is supposed to be made into a major motion picture sometime soon, starring Kate Winslet. I have to admit, I will probably seek out the movie.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: The Power of Different

I've often wondered why so many creative individuals struggle with the demon of depression. Is it the very capacity to feel so deeply that causes them to be pulled so low by emotion while also enabling them to soar so high with their creativity? This book, The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius, by Gail Saltz, M.D., highlights a variety of supposed disabilities that often open up a world of creative endeavor. Given my own experience with clinical depression and intense anxiety episodes, I eagerly devoured the pages of this book for insights into making the most of my personal weaknesses.

The book is structured in an unusual way. Instead of highlighting famous individuals who have battled various mental disorders yet found a measure of success, the author has organized the book around the symptoms of disorder and focuses on each symptom separately, using examples within each of the seven different chapters highlighting learning differences, distractibility, anxiety, melancholy, cycling mood, divergent thinking, and relatedness. I was surprised that the examples were often unknown individuals the author encountered in her research. I expected to learn more about a wide array of famous individuals (I can think of quite a few examples off the top of my head), but really only encountered a few, like Hemingway and Darwin.

I appreciated how the author dissects the various disorders, revealing the intensity of the struggle each causes, while also offering up suggestions for working around the problems and focusing on the strengths as opposed to the weaknesses. In the end, the author really champions the benefit of even the most devastating disorders. She writes, "I am convinced that there is something special about the brains of those struggling with mental illness that also yields some of the most astounding and beautiful achievements. I think this is an enormously positive and encouraging message for the nearly 50 percent of Americans who will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime."

Moreover, I agree wholeheartedly with her goal of removing the stigma of mental incapacity and pushing to emphasize the positive aspects of such illnesses. As she observes, "Every brain and every life holds potential. Squashing that potential by dismissing those outside some standard mold is not only cruel on an individual level, it is a sad waste on a societal level. Armed with the knowledge of how to treat and manage the differences that cause suffering and knowing how to best mine the potential that accompanies those differences, we can not only increase the genius output of many but also enhance the quality of life for many millions."

Although I expected a bit more out of the book, it was still an interesting topic to explore. It is sure to appeal to anyone who is fascinated by the correlation between disorder and creative genius. For those who struggle with these disorders, it is a primer for how best to work around the disadvantages and glean the many hidden advantages.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: Poetry: Starting from Scratch

Once again, summer has arrived and with it, an invitation to volunteer my time on the faculty of The Salvation Army's Indiana Music Camp. I'm grateful for this opportunity to be involved in the music programming, but this year I have the added plus of being in charge of a Creative Writing elective. This fills me with such joy. I don't often miss my old teaching days, but when I do, it is usually a longing for a place to live out my passion and nurture young people with a love of reading and writing. Because it has been so long since I was in charge of a high school Creative Writing class, I decided to seek out some reference material on the subject. The best my library had to offer was this book on teaching poetry by Michael A. Carey.

Even though this text was written in the 1980's, the subject is timeless and the author provides excellent suggestions for opening kids up to a love of writing. Carey emphasizes the importance of communicating your own passion in order to stir up a passion within your students. That sounds easy enough! The first two lessons seek to encourage kids to make their readers feel what they feel and think what they think by the age-old adage, "Show, don't tell" and to do more with less by encouraging them to "say the most you can in the fewest words." Then, Carey moves on to the basic tools, which are not rhyme and rhythm, as some would assume, but are instead metaphor and simile.

I loved several of the suggested exercises like "What If" poems and riddles (taking an ordinary object and comparing it to something so the reader must guess what you are referring to). My favorite exercise? "I'm So Sorry" poems. The author encourages kids to think about making a tongue-in-cheek apology for something they are really not that sorry about. He provides examples of actual poems by kids in his program. One such poem apologized for putting a mouse in his mother's bed but delighting in the shock on her face that "was like watching fireworks on the Fourth of July." Carey also provides lessons for letter poems and first time experience poems.

I'm pretty sure I will use many of his suggested exercises as we work on short works of art in the few sessions we have (I think there are probably only four 40 minute elective sessions, so it is not a lot of time to work with). I will bring in music and pictures to serve as writing prompts and will also bring along the short story prompts I made up for last year's class, when I served as an assistant instructor. Hopefully, the kids will go home with at least a few pieces they can be proud of and I will relish the chance to pass along my passion for writing.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Book Review: Chase the Lion - Highly Recommend

One of my favorite reads from last year was Levi Lusko's Through the Eyes of a Lion. In his book, Lusko talks about how the male lion's roar is intended to send the prey running right into the lair of the lioness. It is only natural to run from the roar. Just as Lusko urged readers to fight that urge to run, Mark Batterson encourages his readers to not only fight the urge, but instead turn around and Chase the Lion. The subtitle to his book says it all: If Your Dream Doesn't Scare You, It's Too Small. Batterson's favorite verse of Scripture tells of one small act by a seemingly inconsequential player, a moment when Benaiah chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day (hence the title of Batterson's prequel to this book, In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, reviewed previously here).

As much as I loved Batterson's previous book, a book I highly recommend, Chase the Lion fell into my lap at just the right moment. My personal dreams and goals feel very much like a gigantic lion and fear has me running into the jaws of the lioness. Reading this book felt a bit like being in a football locker room when the coach comes in and gives an inspirational pep talk to build the players up in preparation for the game. Batterson makes an excellent coach. He gets the reader fired up and ready to face whatever dream God has given. Instead of running from a terrifying, overwhelming task, the reader is encouraged to reflect on the depth of meaning behind our hopes, dreams, and goals.

Within the first ten pages, Batterson begins to work his magic. When talking of the Wright brothers and the importance of their minor interaction with a book by Louis Pierre Mouillard that nurtured their curiosity about flight, he called that author "a prophet crying in the wilderness, exhorting the world to repent of its unbelief in the possibility of human flight." Within sentences, he fires back at the reader with this powerful question: "What impossibility do you need to repent of?" Batterson is determined to encourage his readers to have God-sized dreams and to rely on God's provision to make those dreams come true.

I wished I owned a copy of this book because I found so many pages with quotes I wanted to highlight. Here are a few:

"At the end of our lives, our greatest regrets will be the God-ordained opportunities we left on the table, the God-given passions we didn't pursue, and the God-sized dreams we didn't go after because we let fear dictate our decisions." (p. 4)

"We tend to avoid situations where the odds are against us, but when we do, we rob God of the opportunity to do something supernatural." (p. 35)

"Sometimes you need to stop praying for something and start praising God as if it has already happened." (p. 85)

"The hardest part of any dream journey is the holding pattern." (p. 92)

"God doesn't always call us to win. Sometimes He just calls us to try. Either way, it's obedience that glorifies God." (p. 101)

In speaking of the ripple effect of our dreams, he writes, "Whether you're aware of it or not, your dream is contingent upon someone else having the courage to pursue his or her dream. And someone else's dream is contingent upon you pursuing yours!" (p. 140)

Urging the importance of others alongside you, he observes, "Whether it's a Holy Club, a literary club like the Inklings, or a band of brothers like David's mighty men, you will ultimately reflect those with whom you surround yourself. And they will reflect you. Bad company corrupts good character, but good company helps you go from good to great." - a worthy lesson to share with my boys! (p. 171)

This book was so inspiring that I often found myself tearing up with conviction and renewed motivation. His message is simple, really. You are important. Your dreams are important. What you do to pursue those dreams has a ripple effect that will carry down through future generations. So, don't shrink back in fear. Like Benaiah, pursue the lion in front of you. Chase whatever dream God has laid on your heart. Win or lose, He wants you to give your all and never give up.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review: What I Was

While looking at the alternative audio selections at a library in a town a bit further off, I happened upon this YA novel by Meg Rosoff, What I Was. I have read a few other Meg Rosoff novels and although she tends to hold a more liberal perspective than I do, I've somewhat enjoyed her novels. The best thing about this novel? The stunning prose. The writing was absolutely beautiful, from the first lines to the closing one.

Here's the enticing book blurb from the back cover of the audio version:

"In this beautifully crafted and heartbreakingly poignant coming-of-age tale, an older man recounts the story of his most significant friendship - that with the nearly feral and completely parentless Finn, who lived alone in a hut by the sea,

"As a boy suffering the constrictions and loneliness of boarding school in East Anglia, the young narrator idolizes Finn and spends as much time at his beachside hut as possible, hoping to become self-reliant and free. But the contrast between their lives becomes ever more painful, until one day, the tables turn and everything our hero believes to be true explodes - with dire consequences."

I enjoyed listening to this novel. Ralph Cosham, the British narrator, did an excellent job of conveying the intense emotions and communicating the rich language. If I had been reading the novel in paper form, I would have wanted to jot down especially beautiful passages. The ending took me by surprise and was a delightful conclusion to a tale of longing and desire. Although this novel wouldn't appeal to everyone, I am glad to have read it for the exposure to such fine writing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Book Review: All Things New

After a quick look through the A's in the audio books section at the library, I landed on this excellent inspirational historical novel by Lynn Austin. You cannot go wrong with her historical fiction. She sets the stage well and peoples it with authentic characters. I was sucked into the plot quickly and enjoyed the pacing as troubles intensified leading to the climax.

All Things New is a post-Civil War novel set on a Virginia plantation. With their slaves newly living as freed men, Josephine Weatherly's family must confront the chaos from the wake of the war. Her father and brother are dead and her brother, Daniel, has returned a fractured man, intent upon scaring his former slaves into submission. Josephine's mother has her own worries. Unsure whether her son is up to the challenge of running a plantation his brother was groomed to run, and troubled by some distressing heart issues, she must regain the control she wielded during the war.

In the face of her intense losses, Josephine has cast off her belief in God. Then, she meets a Yankee who has been sent to help the freed slaves establish working relationships with their former plantations. Despite her family's distrust of the Yankee, Josephine desperately clings to his friendship and contemplates the deeper issues he draws to light. But, her mother has other plans for her daughter. She wants Josephine to marry Harrison, the son of her best friend, a man who returned from the war a legless, bitter shell of his former self. He is sure that God is punishing him for his sins. Josephine tries to reach out to Harrison as the Yankee reaches out to her.

I thought the story was very engaging and realistic. The spiritual applications offered up in the novel arose naturally from the story, without being forced upon the reader in a heavy-handed way. The trials highlighted God's ability to work blessing from unbearable burdens and triumph from seeming tragedy. The book reminded me that "God will make a way where there seems to be no way."

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

While the title of this book is a mouthful, I think it is well-suited. It is, perhaps, my favorite E. Lockhart book yet. Even though it took me a while to be fully hooked into the story (well over a hundred pages, but I was interested in learning what the antics would be, so I kept reading), I ended up devouring the last half in one sitting.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is about boarding schools and secret societies, about language and love, about wanting to be on the inside and longing to make a mark. Frankie, who has blossomed from a gangly, geeky girl of 14 into a buxom, boisterous girl of 15, is tired of being invisible. She no longer wants to be known as "Bunny Rabbit" to her family. When she acquires a senior boyfriend who is involved in a secret society, she decides she absolutely must find a way to infiltrate their all-male ranks. What better way to do that than to outsmart them in their own pranks?

I loved Frankie's gutsy, feisty character. Her voice was distinct and vulnerable. I enjoyed thinking about the use of words. The pranks were magnificent and expertly maneuvered. I couldn't help but fly through the pages wanting to know what would finally topple Frankie from the intricate web of intrigue and mystique she had created. The reader knows from the very first page that Frankie is called on the carpet for her misdeeds. The set-up to those misdeeds took a little while in coming, but once they arrived, I couldn't put the book down.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: The Unbreakable Code

The Unbreakable Code is the second book in the Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. I always feel sorry for an author who hits it big with a book meant to be the first in a series, because they face enormous odds against them for creating a book that will rival, or even equal, the first. I would certainly feel pressured in their shoes. Although this was a valiant effort, I do think I enjoyed the first book more than the second (gave it a "highly recommend"). Of course, I had my own pressure from a hold list requiring me to read the book when I might not have been in quite the right mood for it. It was very similar to the first because it held puzzles and codes and a mystery tying them all together.

This time around Emily and James, neighboring kids who love cracking codes and solving puzzles, are curious about their teacher's strange behaviors. They catch Mr. Quisling reaching into someone's purse to retrieve a clue to his own puzzle. When he drops the clue, they are pulled into his quest to solve Mark Twain's "unbreakable code." As the two seek out the hidden Twain books in their beloved Book Scavenger game, an arsonist begins setting fires. They are not only driven to solve the unbreakable code but also to figure out who is responsible for the various fires.

I do tend to think I was just not quite in the mood for a tween mystery book because the book has received all five star reviews so far on Amazon. Everyone else has overwhelmingly argued that Bertman has done it again. She has written a book sure to delight tweens and families who love puzzles, ciphers, codes, and treasure hunts. Fans of the Mr. Lemoncello's Library books will also be thrilled with this series. I'm not giving up on this series, but I will time my future reads to fit my mood better. Who knows, maybe I'll recommend the series to Sean for some riveting summer reading.