Between Two Shores

I really wanted to love this book.

It’s set in Canada. It’s set in New France. I’ve been trying to teach a bunch of Grade 7s the history of New France, and I’ve been trying to make it sound interesting. It IS interesting! So I really wanted to love this book.

And I wish I did.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t get into it. It is rare that it takes me a month to finish a book, but I have been working on this one for a really long time. It’s just not grabbing me. I’m disappointed about that, because I’m in a couple avid readers groups where people are just raving about this book. They love it. Can’t get enough.

This was my first Jocelyn Green book. I will give others a shot — this book is well written, the plot is developed well, the characters seem to make sense to the story. I don’t know what to say, honestly, it just didn’t hold my attention. Maybe I’ll have to take another run at it in the summer when I have hours to just read and read, but unfortunately, this is currently one I can’t personally recommend.

I think I’m in the minority, and I sincerely believe it’s probably me and not the book, but as I’ve promised again and again to be honest, I guess it just is what it is. This book was not destined for my hands, and yet it ended up here anyway.

If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it? Am I the only one who didn’t? Because it seems that way to me so far! I’ve yet to find a review that isn’t glowing, so it’s probably just me, and you should probably go read it despite my thoughts 😉

From the back of the book:

She Has Always Moved between Worlds,
But Now She Must Choose a Side

The daughter of a Mohawk mother and French father in 1759 Montreal, Catherine Duval would rather remain neutral in a world tearing itself apart. Content to trade with both the French and the British, Catherine is pulled into the Seven Years’ War against her wishes when her British ex-fiancé, Samuel Crane, is taken prisoner by her father. Samuel claims he has information that could help end the war, and he asks Catherine to help him escape.

Peace appeals to Catherine, even if helping the man who broke her heart does not. But New France is starving, and she and her loved ones may not survive another winter of conflict-induced famine. When the dangers of war arrive on her doorstep, Catherine and Samuel flee by river toward the epicenter of the battle between England and France. She and Samuel may impact history, but she fears the ultimate cost will be higher than she can bear.

Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.


A Desperate Hope

I’m an Elizabeth Camden fan. I have been since the first book of hers I read, and she continues not to disappoint. You can certainly tell that Camden’s other job is as a research librarian. Her stories are so well put together, and they flow so nicely.

Apparently I missed book 2 in The Empire State series, as I’ve read book 1 (A Dangerous Legacy). This book will stand alone, though. I didn’t find I was lost at all having not read book 2. Characters from Book 1 were familiar, but having read the first book wouldn’t likely have been integral to the plot — I like that about a series.

As much as Elizabeth Camden is a brilliant writer, I also really love books with strong female characters, and this is no exception. Especially for the time period in which this is set (1908 New York), a certified accountant with a mind of her own is refreshing.

Eloise Drake’s prim demeanor hides the turbulent past she’s finally put behind her–or so she thinks. A mathematical genius, she’s now a successful accountant for the largest engineering project in 1908 New York. But to her dismay, her new position puts her back in the path of the man responsible for her deepest heartbreak.

Alex Duval is the mayor of a town about to be wiped off the map. The state plans to flood the entire valley where his town sits in order to build a new reservoir, and Alex is stunned to discover the woman he once loved on the team charged with the demolition. With his world crumbling around him, Alex devises a risky plan to save his town–but he needs Eloise’s help to succeed.

Alex is determined to win back the woman he thought he’d lost forever, but even their combined ingenuity may not be enough to overcome the odds against them before it’s too late.

I can’t say the book wasn’t predictable — but I can say that if you weren’t expecting that in a Christian romance, I’m not sure what else I can tell you, haha. This story was well crafted, had great details about a plan just crazy enough to work, and featured a relationship that weathers the test of time. Especially if you’re a fan of Elizabeth Camden’s historical details, I think you’ll really like this book!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

We Hope for Better Things

I just did not see this book coming. I will be surprised, shocked, nay… flabbergasted… if this book gets unseated through the rest of 2019 as my favourite fiction pick for the year. I’m not sure I even thoroughly read the description when I agreed to review it, as I’ll usually yes to historical fiction, and even more willingly to one that will slip back and forth between time periods.

This is Erin Bartels’ debut novel, and I will certainly watch for more from her in the future. She has another one, The Words Between Us, set to release September 2019. And she has a short story collection called This Elegant Ruin and other stories which I’m going to have to get my hands on.

This novel was expertly woven, tying the same story together across three different time periods, all set in Michigan (Detroit and in the country outside of it). From a farm used for the Underground Railroad, to the height of volatile race riots in 1960s Detroit, to the present in both places, Erin Bartels takes you on a journey through a story that I don’t even know that I could adequately describe to you.

“In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request—that she look up a relative she didn’t know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos—seems like it isn’t worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt’s 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.

Take an emotional journey through time—from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Underground Railroad during the Civil War—to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.

You’ll both love and strongly dislike some characters; You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll grieve. You won’t want to put the book down, because just when you think you have pieces of the story figured out and could take a break, Bartels will drop another clue and then flip time periods to go back and explain more of the details. Granted, I will admit that if not done well this can be really frustrating, but it is accomplished nearly seamlessly in this book.

Long story short, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s a beautiful, compelling story, and it is expertly crafted. Please do yourself a favour, book yourself a whole day in a hammock (since spring has now theoretically sprung), pick up this book, and disappear from the universe for a while. You won’t regret it. 5 Stars from me.

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

The Curse of Misty Wayfair

As per usual, Jamie Jo Wright does not disappoint in this gothic feeling time slip novel. I was introduced to Wright in the fall with The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. I definitely still need to catch The House on Foster Hill, and I will read it, I assure you.

Wright is a master storyteller. I don’t think I’ve ever been gripped by a book quite like I have been by the two of hers I’ve read. She is gifted with the ability to tie details in across a century long span, keep her readers guessing, and delivering an engaging story at the same time.

This story is not heavy on the romance, though I think the nuances and elements of it woven throughout both timeline stories lend really nicely to the story itself, which is not always the case in mystery novels.

I loved the stories of Heidi Lane and Thea Reed, separated by 100 years, but both looking for answers about Misty Wayfair and how they’re connected to it.

If you like engaging, well-written stories, especially historical ones and especially mysteries, this book will be for you. I don’t always love time slips, as they can be kind of hard to follow depending on the author, but that is not a concern when Jamie Jo Wright is the storyteller.

It’s not often that I get my hands on a book that I’m content to read for hours straight. Sure, I’ll read for hours straight, but I’ll often switch books to keep my brain engaged. I flew home from Calgary, Alberta this past Friday, and I read from the moment I sat down and buckled my seatbelt to the moment the flight attendants told us we could get our bags — about 3:45 without stopping. My only complaint was that my flight wasn’t 25 minutes longer so I could have finished the book! (haha just kidding, I finished it the next day at home and was just fine with that)

Along with being gripping, fascinating, and engaging, Wright weaves in the profound truth of what we can accomplish when we root our identities in Christ and learn to trust our Creator.

Fair warning: while I believe Wright handles it very tactfully and does a great job in this book, there is a fair bit of mental health and anxiety dealt with within these pages, so if you’re sensitive to that you may want to proceed with caution. Again, however, I felt that Wright did an excellent job with her research so as to approach the topic carefully and respectfully.

From the back of the book: Left at an orphanage as a child, Thea Reed vowed to find her mother someday. Now grown, her search takes her to Pleasant Valley, Wisconsin, in 1908. When clues lead her to a mental asylum, Thea uses her experience as a post-mortem photographer to gain access and assist groundskeeper Simeon Coyle in photographing the patients and uncovering the secrets within. However, she never expected her personal quest would reawaken the legend of Misty Wayfair, a murdered woman who allegedly haunts the area and whose appearance portends death.

A century later, Heidi Lane receives a troubling letter from her mother–who is battling dementia–compelling her to travel to Pleasant Valley for answers to her own questions of identity. When she catches sight of a ghostly woman who haunts the asylum ruins in the woods, the long-standing story of Misty Wayfair returns–and with it, Heidi’s fear for her own life.

As two women across time seek answers about their identities and heritage, can they overcome the threat of the mysterious curse that has them inextricably intertwined?

I can’t recommend this book highly enough! If I were a bestower of stars, I’d give this one 5 🙂

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

On Enjoying the Ordinary (Lent 2019)

Lent started today.  I’ve been historically terrible at observing Lent. It’s not a liturgical tradition I grew up practicing, but I can see its value, and I’ve picked something every year for the last several to give up, but my follow-through is admittedly not great.  There’s my confession for the day.

Back at the end of December, 2018, I picked a word for my year (as I do every year).  I picked “Present.”  It has occurred to me in the last little while that I am not exceptionally good at being present.  I’m not skilled at living in the moment I’m in, and I tend to be constantly looking toward the next fun thing.  The next big thing.  I suppose this is likely tied to my Enneagram number (7), but it was pointed out to me last night during a conversation about this very topic that we could all learn about this, and so it’s not likely exclusively a “7” experience.  The biggest places I notice it in my own life might be 7 experiences, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn from what I’m learning, so here it goes.

Present.  I looked it up.  I’m going to be SUPER cheesy and give you a dictionary definition.  Present:  in a particular place; existing or occurring now; the period of time now occurring.  I think the last one resonates most with me.  The period of time now occurring….. how often do I look toward the period of time coming up, and therefore miss the period of time now occurring?

I looked up some synonyms, too, because if you’ve been reading anything I’ve written for any length of time… or if you’ve had more than one conversation with me… you know I’m a language nerd and breaking down language is one of my favourite ways to understand anything. Some of my favourite synonyms — the ones that resonate with me the most — are as follows: accompanying, observing, participating, available, breathing.  There’s so much depth to these words, and forgive me while I nerd out hard here.

When I am not present, I am not any of those synonyms.  

I am not accompanying.  If I’m in a situation, but I’m focused on and thinking about what’s coming next, what will be more exciting, where I’d rather be, and what I’d rather be doing… I’m not with whoever I should be with.  If they want time from me, I’m not giving them all of it, even if I appear that I am.  It can be hard for me to sit in the present and not be drifting toward thinking about what comes next. 

I am not observing.  I miss things.  I miss important pieces of conversation.  I miss details and nuances.  I miss the minute.  And often, this means I miss the incredible that lies in the ordinary.  I’ll explain that further in a bit.

I’m not participating.  If I’m not present, even if it’s just in my spinny, spinny brain, I’m not fully participating.  And if I’m not fully participating in my life, am I even really fully living it?  If I’m out somewhere, and I’m a little bored, so I start scrolling through Facebook… what am I missing?  Who could I be talking to? Does Jesus have something for me in that moment that I miss because my face is staring down at my phone? If I’ve just come home from something and instead of enjoying the quiet, the down time, the chance to refresh and reboot… what do I miss? 

I’m certainly not available.  If I’m caught up in whatever comes next, as is my unfortunate tendency sometimes, then I’m not available.  Not when someone asks for my time, not to the task I’m trying to complete, not really even to myself.  When my brain is occupied elsewhere, I’m cheating those around me, but I’m also cheating myself.  It feels harmless to constantly envision how great the next fun thing is going to be, but I’m cheating myself out of that moment right then and there.  Out of how great THAT moment could be.

I’m not breathing.  Not literally.  I don’t literally stop breathing.  And as much as I love it when things are both literally and figuratively true, this is not one of those times.  But I’m finding more and more, especially the more self-aware and introspective I get (and there’s been a dramatic shift in that direction in the past year), that when I’m not present I’m instead rather frantic.  I’m stressed, I can’t focus on what I’m trying to do, I talk too fast, I rush, I miss things — both things I wanted to say and things I needed to hear, and I don’t do much all that well.  Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself.  Certainly this is an example toward the extreme end of my lack of presence, but it can be true nonetheless, and that’s why I’ve been working on it, and why I’ll continue to until I’m good at it.

What this looks like for me is a lot of time spent on my phone.  The literal second I get bored of something, I’m looking for something more fun to do, and so I wonder how many opportunities to interact with actual human beings I might miss while I spend my grocery store line time scrolling through Facebook on my phone.  But I don’t just do this while I’m standing in line.  Sometimes I do it while I’m watching TV, which means that I’m not really, truly, paying attention to either thing. I do it sitting in the car (parked) waiting for someone I’m picking up.  I do it in the airport waiting to board my plane. I do it if someone I’m with gets up to go get something or leaves to use the washroom. I do it in the staff room at lunch. In fact, had I not already been consciously trying to make a choice about this area, I’d have missed a conversation today at lunch about Lent and why it’s practiced and how so many people use it to diet.  I might not have chimed in.  I might not have shared what I intend to do over the next 40 days.  And I can’t know for sure, but maybe that would have been someone else’s loss.

And it’s not just my phone.  It’s not just Facebook.  I’m that person who has always been counting down to something.  Since I could count as a little kid, I’d have countdowns running, either written or just in my brain, to how many days it was until the next thing I was excited about. And what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that not everybody does that.  That’s not a big deal, though… to learn that one of your quirks is unique to you, or unique to those similar to you. More importantly, it distracts me from the right here.  The right now.  The beauty of the ordinary.  What’s right in front of me.  I miss the fun of being able to enjoy my down time because it feels like it takes forever to get from Tuesday to Friday.  I miss the grandness of the ordinary spaces between Christmas and March Break because the second the plane lands after Christmas holidays, I’m wondering how long before I can go back to my parents, my brother, my sisters, my mountains, my waterfalls (though in theory I could find some waterfalls in Ontario, too….).  I miss the ordinary beauty of winter because I’m desperate for spring. Had I not been paying attention the other day, I’d have missed the hoarfrost on these trees.

Had I not been willing to go for a walk to pray and sit with my thoughts because I had some down time, I’d have missed this sunset. 

I end up missing the new growth of spring, if/when it ever arrives, because I’m mad at the mud and I’m desperate for heat.  Then when summer does finally arrive, I miss some of its ordinary beauty because I pack it so full of so many activities that I can’t sit and bask in its wonder… because I know it ends, and I dread its end, so I just must. keep. busy.  Must do it ALL before the snow comes again.

I’d grown tired of missing so much, so for 2019 I picked the word Present. That looks different for everyone (in fact, I found out recently that my mother also picked Present, but she’s using it differently). For me it definitely has to include a sense of delayed gratification and a sense of the ability to rest in where I am at any given moment.  Not just waiting for the next grand adventure and enthralling experience.  Because ordinary can be exciting, too.  It can.  If we let it.

So back to the point.  Lent 2019.  While I’ve not always given things up well, I like to try.  Back in the summer, I gave up sugar.  Quit it cold turkey.  I feel like if I can give up sugar (mostly) for 8 months, I can give something up for 40 days.  And if it’s anything like sugar, if I’m successful in giving it up, I won’t likely want it back.  But also if it’s anything like sugar, there will need to be some divine intervention to make me OK with it, and to help remind me of why I’ve decided to do it.

I was out for tea last night and was sharing that I was toying with the idea of deleting Facebook off my phone for Lent. Not giving it up entirely, still being able to check it from my computer (if I’m even on it), as it houses events, some groups I use frequently, and pictures of friends and family and their kids that I would miss if I didn’t see them every once in a while, since I don’t get to physically see the people as often as I’d like.  I like the idea of what Facebook can give us.  It’s not terrible in and of itself.  It can connect across thousands of kilometers.  Continent to continent.  One side of the country to the other.  But when the app version on my phone gets used to distract me from ever being bored, it takes away from my ability to be present.  It doesn’t fit with the goal of who I want to be by the end of 2019.  And, truthfully, when I spend that much time scrolling through it, it can be kind of toxic.  The politics, the ads, the Momo warnings, the “don’t eat this, it’ll kill you” and then the next day, the “how that very same food is the secret to living forever….” all of it.  It gets into my head and it unsettles me.  It rattles me.  It makes it hard to live a life that’s not stressed and anxious but rather is trusting and leaning on Jesus and patient.  It just seems that all the bad in the world is concentrated on my Facebook newsfeed and I’m not here for it anymore.  And so, over Peach Tranquility tea at Starbucks, we decided to do it together.  Forty days without a mobile Facebook app.  We deleted it then and there. 

And then, ten minutes later, when I was left alone at the table for a very brief amount of time, I immediately grabbed my phone and went to open the app to scroll….. and it wasn’t there.  It might be a long 40 days.
But I know that this, along with the other daily reminders to be present, be present, be present… I know that they will grow me.  They’ll stretch me, for sure.  But they’ll grow me. They’ll leave me a better person than I was before, because that’s always the goal.  More growth.  I’ve found it’s just a natural shift in desire that my brain wants so much, this idea of being present.  I’ve found that I hardly watch TV anymore — so much so that I’m contemplating *gasp* cancelling Netflix.  Who has time for TV when there are so many books?!  And if TV was just another thing to distract from wanting to move on to the next, better thing (which I strongly believe that it was), then I don’t really need that either. 

It’s better to do things in community, isn’t it? Many of the things I’ve done that have yielded really positive results in the last couple years have been done in community. Quit sugar? Sure, if a friend is going through it with me. Intentionally set life goals and plan for their execution? Sure, let’s buy the same workbook and talk about it as we go! Journal through Psalms? Done, as long as I’ve got someone to talk to about it. Remove Facebook from my phone? Yup, let’s delete it at the same time. So it would stand to reason, then, that not only is it better to do life together, and to work toward growth in community, but also that being present in those spaces is intrinsically valuable. When you’re present, you share life. And when you share life, get vulnerable, and get real, people come alongside you and hold you up.

My FitBit has the ability to buzz, via Bluetooth, whenever I get a notification through text, Messenger, What’s App, email, or my work email.  I know many people who never turned it on in the first place, but at first I really liked it.  I liked the ability to know what was happening without appearing to check my phone.  I liked the ability to decide whether or not to pull my phone out of my pocket to respond to the notification.  But I’ve been finding that all it does is distract me.  Mid-conversation, my phone buzzes and then a split second later, my FitBit buzzes on my wrist.  I then read whatever it is on my wrist, but by that point, I’ve either missed something someone was saying, or I’ve lost my train of thought and I have to ask whoever I’m talking to what I was saying.  So last night while I was out, when the first notification buzzed, I turned off the notifications from my wrist.  And low and behold, the world did not come to an end because I didn’t know what my texts said until I got home.  The universe did not implode because I didn’t see the first bit of the email Pinterest sent me to tell me a friend had sent me a pin. Can’t that wait?  Isn’t a deep conversation with a fellow human being better than that?  It was so freeing that I didn’t turn the notifications back on on my wrist when I got home.  And I didn’t turn them back on when I woke up this morning.  And I just might not turn them back on ever.  Time will tell.

And so, at the end of this first day of Lent, at the end of this first day of denying myself something so that I can focus more on Jesus as I start the descent into the Easter season, now I’m off to make a lunch for tomorrow and go to bed with a book instead of my phone. And every time I think about scrolling through Facebook, I’ll instead think about the wonderful ways God has blessed my life, and the wonderful things I have to attend to right in that moment.  Because that’s what Lent is for — a time to focus on growing in God, not just making a new, healthy life choice for forty days. A time to lean in to just a little bit of the suffering that Jesus endured for me so that I can have relationship with Him. So that I can lean on Him. So that I can trust Him to help me be Present.

Mind Games

Mind Games by Nancy Mehl is book one in Mehl’s new Kaely Quinn, Profiler series. It’s well-written, suspenseful, well-organized, and I didn’t find it predictable at all. I don’t think I had the details figured out until the exact moment that the author wanted me to! And that’s the mark of a good suspense novel.

One of the things I loved most about it is that while it’s classified as a Romantic Suspense novel, it was definitely more about the case that Special Agent Kaely Quinn and her new partner, Special Agent Noah Hunter were trying to solve.

“FBI Behavioural Analyst Kaely Quinn’s methods may be highly unorthodox, but her talent is undeniable. She’s done her best to establish a new life for herself after being demoted and transferred to St. Louis when a reporter reveals she’s the daughter of an infamous serial killer. But when that same reporter claims to have received an anonymous poem predicting a string of murders, ending with Kaely’s, it seems her old life has followed her.

“When a body is found that fits the poem’s morbid predictions, Kaely and her new partner, Special Agent Noah Hunter, are forced to move past his skepticism of her approach and work together to unravel the deadly riddle.

“With a brazen serial killer who breaks all the normal patterns on the loose, Noah and Kaely must race to catch the murderer before anyone else, including Kaely, is killed.”

This was a brilliant ride from start to finish, and if you’re looking for good suspense with just a hint of some of the characters having feelings for each other, this will be the book for you! I’m looking forward to another installation in this series. Hopefully since the series is entitled ‘Kaely Quinn, Profiler’ it will continue to follow Kaely rather than spin off into the lives of other characters. The character Mehl has created here is rather brilliant, and I’d definitely like to see more of her!

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way ~ A book review

Have you ever found a book that enraptured you? Grabbed your attention and wouldn’t let you go? How about an author? Have you ever been so into what the author had to say, and related so distinctly to a text that you’d swear you could have written parts of the book yourself?

That’s how I feel whenever I pick up a Shauna Niequist book. I don’t even have to review this book – I just so desperately want others to find it, that I’m going to anyway.

It could be that Niequist is a fellow Enneagram 7, and therefore the way I see the world is similar to the way she sees hers. Some of the struggles and the way she describes things feel like a breath of fresh air to me — it means I’m not alone. I don’t personally know any other 7s, or at least not any who know they’re 7s, and so to read from someone who’s aware of why she thinks how she thinks is so refreshing.

Bittersweet is a collection of essays, written in Shauna’s beautiful, lilty, almost lyrical style. She talks about change, leaning into pain, grace, living through hard (and she’s lived through lots of it), and embracing all of it. She never once uses a Scripture reference, and yet you can tell she’s doing her very best to walk life hand in hand with Jesus through it all.

“The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. “It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy. “This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. “I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.”, taken from the prologue of the book

I listened to this book using my Scribd subscription while I commuted this week. I started it on Tuesday morning, and finished it Friday on the way home. The timing of this book’s arrival in my life is kind of funny, though. I’m a firm believer that God can speak to us in all kinds of ways, but I’m pretty sure He uses books a lot of the time for me. I mean, why not, when my nose spends a good chunk of time buried in one or my ears are listening to one while I drive? It won’t surprise me at all if, when I get to Heaven, I ask if He’s been using books all this time and He smiles and says “I’m glad you caught it.”

Thursday, on my way into work, something profound caught me, and I paused the book to reflect on it for a few minutes. It directly related to something I was wrestling down and needed to dig into in my own life. And if that wasn’t enough, on my drive home, a line hit me so hard that I pulled over, put the car in park, rewound the book by 30 seconds, listened to the line again twice, and then scribbled it down quickly in a note in my phone. I nearly cried, it was such a relief to know that I was not the only one who thought this way.

It was such a profound moment that I bought the book in hard copy on Amazon when I got home. I needed to have it in my hands. I need to read it again. And again. And again. In fact, I think I’ll read it out loud myself, because while it was beautiful to have Shauna read it to me (she narrated the book herself and it was wonderful), I think I will need to find the places that it makes my voice hitch and my soul hurt, and lean into them myself. I need to soak it in. I need to write all over it, and underline and highlight and flag it with stickies, as I have with Cold Tangerines and Present Over Perfect. But most importantly I need to learn to live it. I need to learn to live in Bittersweet better, because I’m not awesome at it. I find it hard, but we have to do it. Because if we can’t experience sadness, grief, and pain — then we can’t really, truly, experience joy and delight.

“When life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.” ~ Shauna Niequist

*fair warning: This book contained a good chunk toward the back half about marriage, pregnancy, miscarriages, and babies. Knowing what the author has walked through, this didn’t surprise me. I just want to be sure that I let someone know for whom that might be really hard if you’re not expecting it to be there.

Once We Were Strangers

Oh, this book. Be still my heart. Shawn Smucker has created a work of beauty with this book, while setting out to tell the story of one Syrian family and their journey to America (Lancaster, Pennsylvania).

This memoir was written in such a way that it will draw you into the lives of Mohammad and Moradi and their children as Smucker tells the story he’s been told of what it took to get them safely to the United States. But it will also challenge you to think about how you do life with the people around you as well. The tagline of the book is What friendship with a Syrian Refugee taught me about loving my neighbor.

Several times throughout the book, Smucker encourages, sometimes overtly and sometimes just by nature of the story he’s telling, that we think about the way we live our very private Western lives. There were a number of times throughout the book that either Mohammad or Shawn would remark that there are all of these people living around us and we don’t even know them. Mohammad’s story highlighted in a few places that this was not his experience in Syria, that they would spend hours drinking coffee with their neighbours.

I’ve had that very experience myself with a Syrian family who had newly arrived to Canada. Once we’d gotten acquainted, it became very clear to me that my busy, packed to the brim life was not what they were used to. They are hospitable, loving, and welcoming people who want to be friends with those around them. Real friends. Not a quickly passing “hey how are you?” “good, thanks” kind of friends.

What I loved most about this memoir is how real it felt. It helps, I suppose, that I have experience discovering how beautiful my Syrian friends are, but that was truly brought to light in this book. I learned things I didn’t know, as well. I’m not sure who’s to blame, whether it’s our own fear, the media, or a combination of both — but I’ve always thought of the Middle East as this place that is perpetually torn apart by war. It sure feels like they’re always at war with someone over there, and our media outlets don’t lend us anything to make us believe otherwise. But Mohammad describes a time of peace. He says “I was born in 1971. In 1973, there was a war between Syria and Israel, but I do not remember it, and I never saw it. No one in my village ever saw that war. This is the first I have ever seen, the first war my village has ever seen. And now it is a war not against my enemy but against my friend. Fellow Syrians. Why is this happening? I don’t know.” (p. 140)

I can’t imagine what I would do if all of a sudden one part of Canada was at war with another, and you couldn’t trust the government anymore. I can’t imagine the fear, the terror — especially if you have a family to take care of. Mohammad tells of coming home one day to find a chunk missing out of his house that was taken out by a mortar blast. Shortly after, he knew he and his family had to leave, and this book was borne out of their story.

I’m glad I got to read this book. It made me thankful for the peace that I do have, and it opened my eyes once again to the idea that if I were in a place where I was running for my literal life, I would hope that some country somewhere would take me in and treat me kindly. That was not this family’s experience everywhere they went, but I’m sure glad they were able to find friends in Shawn Smucker and his family.

If you’re looking for a way to humanize the Syrian Refugee Crisis, this book will do that for you. It will give you fresh perspective and clearer eyes. Especially as the crisis fades into the background and becomes “old news” despite the fact that it continues to be a problem, books like this will become so fundamental in helping us remember the human side of the crisis.

One part really stuck out to me. There’s a part near the end where Smucker starts to address the feelings of fear he could see evident in those around his new friends. I’ll leave you with this quote, so that the power of it can hang around long after my writing does. He says:

“A few of my relatives and friends have no problem with a refugee ban. They believe danger lurks in the hearts of these landless, homeless people. I realize, perhaps for the first time, that they might be correct. It is possible that in the midst of 60,000 refugees entering the United States, there could be one bad apple. There could be someone who has been so bent by the pain in their life that they want to seek some kind of revenge.

It is possible.

But should our fear of that one keep us from providing refuge to thousands like Mohammad and his family? Are there enough restrictions or safeguards in the world for us to put in place that will guarantee, 100 percent, that nothing bad will happen to us? Even then, evil already lurks among us, as we have seen so many times before. In the face of real evil, should we not provide refuge for families like Mohammad’s?

Should our fear overpower our love?”

p. 174

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador

This book holds some kind of funky timing for me. I’m a firm believer that sometimes books find you exactly when they need to, even if you’ve been in possession of them for a while. Sometimes you pick them up right at the right moment. I think this was one of them.

I was sent this book to review it, which always makes me happy. Further, it’s non-fiction, which tends to be what I gravitate toward most of the time. Even when I find myself on a fiction run, I always go back to my deep, thought-provoking non-fiction.

Anyway, I received this book at the end of December 2018. I have until February 28, 2019 to finish and review it. I didn’t take it out West with me on vacation over Christmas, and I’ve taken my sweet time getting it and my other two reviews finished. I realize it’s only February 2nd so I still have time, but I digress.

I read half of Made for the Journey while I was off work a couple weeks ago recovering from surgery, and it was a little heavy for that particular time in my life so I put it aside.

I picked it back up yesterday though, and it’s remarkable to me how perfectly the end of this book applies to what I’ve been learning about in church this week. I wish I’d read it before home church on Thursday. Whoops!

Anyway, it’s a memoir written by Elisabeth Elliot, author of a number of books. She was an American missionary to Ecuador in the 1950s as well as a speaker and author. She writes about her first year as a missionary to the Quichua people near Quito and San Salvador (in the book she refers to them as the Colorados, but I’ve learned through a bit of my own research that that’s the name this group of people was given by the Spanish and it means “coloured red….” so I think I’ll opt for the more traditional one I found. I hope it’s right!)

It is written as though you were sitting and listening to Elliot give a presentation of her time. Part of me wishes there were pictures, but she described everything in such efficient detail that even as someone who has a hard time picturing what’s happening in books, I often felt as though I could see what she’d seen.

What she’d seen was dramatically different from the life she’d left in Pennsylvania, and I can’t say that I think I’d be tough enough to handle it. I like to think that I am, but deep down I fear I’m probably not as tough as Elisabeth Elliot was. She’s a woman to be respected and admired, that is for sure! The lengths to which she and several other friends/fellow missionaries went to to bring the Bible to a people group with no written language of their own was both inspiring but also heartbreaking. The trials of every day life living in the jungle were taxing and arduous, but it seems as though they managed.

I am not doing this justice, at all, I’m afraid. But I do highly recommend this book. Where it really hit home for me was the connection I feel I can now make between how Elliot wraps up the book, talking about some of the things that just fell apart for her. It felt like a lament to me. At my church, we’ve been studying a few Psalms in a series called Honest to God about praying from the Psalms. Last week’s message was based in Psalm 89, where Ethan, the author of this Psalm, basically calls God out for seeming broken promises that he sees all over the place. We talked about how we can’t see the end of what God is doing, but if you look through the rest of the Bible, you see that every promise Ethan was upset about, God had later fulfilled. It just hadn’t happened yet. Some of the language that Elliot uses to talk about some of the things that went very terribly near the end of the book sounds like she understood that lament is not equal to rebellion, and that she could be confused and angry and hurt and upset, but still trust that God is in control and knows what He’s doing.

This book was previously published as “These Strange Ashes” and there is a reference in this version that talks about that.

Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

2018 ~ A Journey in Books

I was on a mission this past year to read as many books as I possibly could. I set a goal of 25 books, knowing that since I’d hit 25 books the two previous years with little effort, I’d surely be able to accomplish this. I finished at 59. Am I disappointed that I didn’t make it to 60? Sure. Is there always another shot? Yup. I’ve set a goal of 75 for 2019.

I’ve never summarized the books I read in a year all in one post before…. or at least, if I have I don’t remember doing it. So this feels new to me! If it’s not new, meh, at least all the books I read are :p

So here you go, a list, split into genres, of all the books I read in 2018. I’ll tell you my favourites from each genre/subcategory underneath the section. I haven’t written reviews for all of them, because I typically only review books I’m given specifically TO review — but I’m sort of tempted to review everything I read all year this year, just for fun. If I’ve reviewed the book, I linked the review to the title.

Anyway, without further ado,

  1. Historical Fiction
    1. The Christmas Heirloom Collection (audio) by Kristi Ann Hunter, Karen Witemeyer, Sarah Loudin Thomas, and Becky Wade
    2. Short Straw Bride (audio) by Karen Witemeyer
    3. Head In The Clouds (audio) by Karen Witemeyer
    4. To Win Her Heart (audio) by Karen Witemeyer
    5. The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy
    6. The Reluctant Warrior (audio) by Mary Connealy
    7. The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond (time slip. Audio) by Jamie Jo Wright
    8. The Best of Intentions by Susan Anne Mason
    9. River to Redemption by Ann H. Gabhart
    10. The Lady of Tarpon Springs by Judith Miller
    11. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (audio) by Mary Ann Shaffer
    12. All My Tomorrows (Novella Collection) by Karen Witemeyer, Elizabeth Camden, and Jody Hedlund,
    13. With You Always (audio) by Jody Hedlund
    14. Emma (audio) by Jane Austen
    15. Judah’s Wife by Angela Hunt
    16. The Illusionist’s Apprentice (audio) by Kristy Cambron
    17. Double Minds (audio) by Terri Blackstock
    18. Secrets of a Charmed Life (Time Slip. Audio.) by Susan Meissner
    19. Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer
    20. A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden
  2. Christian non-fiction
    1. Remember God (audio) by Annie F. Downs
    2. It’s Okay Not to be Okay (audio) by Sheila Walsh
    3. Battle Ready (audio) by Kellie Balarie
    4. Fake or Follower by Andi Andrew
    5. The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp
    6. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
    7. Inspired (audio) by Rachel Held Evans
    8. Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
    9. Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist
    10. Love Does (audio) by Bob Goff
    11. Everybody Always (audio) by Bob Goff
    12. 100 Days to Brave (devotional) by Annie F. Downs
    13. So Long, Insecurity (audio) by Beth Moore
    14. God Has A Name (audio) by John Mark Comer
    15. Fierce Faith (audio) by Alli Worthington
    16. Unstuffed (audio) by Ruth Soukup
    17. The Road Back to You (audio) by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
    18. Loveology (audio) by John Mark Comer
    19. Free of Me by Sharon Hodde Miller
    20. Grace Not Perfection by Emily Ley
    21. Made To Crave (devotional) by Lysa TerKeurst
    22. Without Rival (audio) by Lisa Bevere (DNF — couldn’t do it. Did not enjoy this book.)
  3. Non-fiction/Memoir
    1. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
    2. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
    3. Girl, Wash Your Face (audio) by Rachel Hollis**
    4. I Will Not Fear by Melba Patillo Beals
  4. Educational
    1. The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier
    2. The Trim Healthy Mama Plan by Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison
    3. Co-Teaching for English Learners by Maria G. Dove and Andrea Honingsfeld
    4. You Need A Budget (audio) by Jesse Meecham
  5. Contemporary Romance (Christian)
    1. Storm Front (audio) by Susan May Warren
  6. Romantic Suspense (Christian)
    1. The Cost of Betrayal (Novella Collection. Audio) by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, and Lynette Eason
    2. A Secret To Die For (audio) by Lisa Harris
    3. Dark Deception (audio) by Nancy Mehl
    4. Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson
    5. Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason
  1. Historical Fiction….. Obviously my love for Karen Witemeyer runs deep. That woman can do NO wrong. I’ll read anything she puts out, and I think I’ve read most of it now. I have a few on my list still, but not many. It’s not fair I think to hold my favourites against her, so suffice it to say if Karen Witemeyer wrote it, I loved it. Apart from that, in this category I LOVED The Accidental Guardian and The Reluctant Warrior by Mary Connealy. Book 3 in the series comes out, I believe in March, of 2019. Both were awesome. I also really liked A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden. Favourite though? I think it would have to be The Reckoning At Gossamer Pond by Jamie Jo Wright. It was SO well written. I’d arrive at my destinations (I was commuting and listening to it on audio) and be sad that I had arrived, because there was never a good place to stop. Also worth checking out — Jody Hedlund’s Orphan Train series. I’m working on book 2 now, in 2019, but read 0.5 and 1 in 2018 and enjoyed them both.
  2. Christian Non-Fiction. Annie F. Downs’ Remember God slayed me multiple times. Like tears driving down the road. So if you’re looking to find God in the struggle, pick that one up. And it’s always a treat to let Annie read her own books to you, so audio is a great recommendation for this one. It’s Okay Not to be Okay was epic, but also, Sheila Walsh has a killer Scottish accent and letting her read that to me was like a warm hug. I kid you not. I needed that book at exactly the moment it came to me. I actually listened to that one, then would come home and highlight all over my book as I reread what I’d listened to. And if I had to tell you to read one book this year, I think it might have to be Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect. I laughed, I cried, I triple checked to make sure I hadn’t written the book myself. My book is highlighted, underlined, flagged with sticky notes… it’s better annotated than any of my uni textbooks ever were. It was very meaningful to me.
  3. Non-Fiction/Memoir. This isn’t a category I delve into all that often. I was really challenged by my reads in The Inconvenient Indian, I’m Still Here, and I Will Not Fear. I highly recommend all of them. Girl, Wash Your Face? I’m not sure. Jury is out on whether or not I recommend it. I think if I’d just read it as a feel-good book to give myself a pep talk? Sure. But since it’s published as Christian living and marketed in that way, but I don’t remember very often if at all being told to rely on God rather than myself? I couldn’t in good conscience put it in the Christian non-fiction category and it didn’t totally sit right with me. I didn’t love it.
  4. Educational: The Coaching Habit was a great book. Short, easy to read, and packed with great tips for being a more effective leader/coach, which I think will apply themselves nicely both at work and in my church leadership roles.
  5. Contemporary Romance: I don’t usually actually like Contemporary Romance novels. I prefer my historical romance. I dunno, something about settling on the frontier makes the stories more believable. They’re still suuuuper predictable. Like Hallmark Christmas movies. But I prefer them. I didn’t love Storm Front, but I don’t think I gave it a fair shake. I didn’t like the narrator who read the audio book, and, it’s book 5 in a series and I hadn’t read 1-4. I grabbed it because it was about tornadoes, so I thought I’d love it. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I’d read myself, and even more so if I’d been tracking with the series. I guess I’ll never know!
  6. Romantic Suspense: The number of books I read in this category this year don’t suggest how much I like this genre. I do really like it. I found A Secret To Die For was a wild ride right from start to finish. Lisa Harris doesn’t waste time getting into plot and action. Oath of Honor was also great, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve read that before you check out Lynette Eason‘s contribution to the Cost of Betrayal collection.

How many books do YOU want to read in 2019??