Tuesday, October 16, 2018

{of love and october}

via Pixabay
This is a post about life. About friend love. About books and October.

Life has been a whirlwind. Like a big gust of autumn leaves dancing through the air and blocking your field of vision. I am learning afresh how to teach. Learning how to handle bigger classes, to answer questions about homework in emails.  Learning how to turn over a class in five minutes for the next one (sometimes I fail.)

But when a friend messaged on Wednesday and said a get-together would work out, I jumped at it. We were several months starved for a soul-chat. So, after classes, I left the pile of homework, turned on the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, and started along what is one of my favorite drives through city and country to a piece of land that holds a piece of my heart along with it.

Beauty and the Beast hits the spot lately. "Evermore" is a wonderful kind of thing, and "Something There" is positively the sweetest song to sing along with at the end of a work week when an evening of pleasure lies before you.

We sat at the dining room table, fluffy gray kitty purring on my lap, cups of water resting on the tiled surface, and a stack of beautiful magazines before us. There was much to catch up on--deep conversations interspersed with hugs. The kind of frequent hugs that are like little recharges of friendship. The longer it's been, the more you need.

We drank tea out of Star Wars mugs. Talked about church and how a friend brought us together. Ate mozzarella sticks and laughed. She handed me The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo, and I tucked it into my laptop bag. We both feasted on the beauty that is the photography and writing of Bella Grace--a magazine full of soul-nourishing beauty, inspiring words, and places to journal in. I debated between saving for a Minky blanket and saving for a Bella Grace subscription. I think it will have to be both.

At the end of the night, she handed me her phone, and I tucked earbuds in to listen to the Piano Guys' newest song. And then we cuddled up in the corners of the sofa, and I held an armful of cat, and we talked about Doctor Who in the dim light of late evening.

I left at half-past eleven. The corn stalks in the field were tall and brown, but I didn't run over them, nor did I end up in a ditch and have to wake her parents. The van and I found our way home in the dark, Beauty and the Beast still playing. Parking lots were empty, and the stores were closed. After midnight is one of the best times to return when you've had a lovely evening. Everything is quiet, and in your heart there lies a contented warmth that lingers as you walk up the home driveway. The contentedness lingered as I pulled out The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane in the final moments before bed. While sometimes DiCamillo's strange old ladies creep me out, I loved Edward and teared up by the end. This is a beautiful story of a hard-hearted rabbit learning to love through painful partings from a wide variety of precious characters.

Kate DiCamillo turned into a weekend theme when her latest book came in at the library. I started Louisiana's Way Home on Sunday. I read ahead (throw tomatoes if you wish) and cried at what I read. Because the terrible sadness and trueness and wonderfulness of what she wrote captures life in its full-blooded essence. The beautiful, wonderful variety of people in the world. The questions. The little things that matter--candy bars out of a vending machine and someone giving up their chocolate sundae so you can have another one.  Louisiana is a book that can help a child (or perhaps an adult) process the pain of "sundering" and remind them that there are people still to love you.

Monday evening I saw another friend who had walked through a hard day with me. We recharged with more hugs. We looked at pictures and talked about weddings and laughed in the darkness of the van as the parking lot emptied. When I came home, I broke out the pair of winter pajama pants with foxes on it and read more Louisiana. I finished it today under the fluffy gray comforter that graced my bed after my birthday. And while I was almost too tired to feel, I had read and I had cried already, and that was good.

These are the moments that last forever. When you have a grainy picture of fox socks and remember the feel of a precious cat face tucked into your chest. When your friend at Bible study adds a little note in a future dream folder on your phone. When you are hugged and loved. These are the little moments of beauty you taste and see and write about. In an article about writing, Kate DiCamillo says, "That's what writing is all about. Seeing. It is the sacred duty of the writer to pay attention, to see the world."

I am better for each friend who has given me a piece of the world to see. Thank you, friends all, for these beautiful moments, words, books, you give me. Thank you for being patient and kind as I learn to balance new things. Thank you for loving me--and for making my world a rich and wonderful place. For introducing me to so many new and beautiful things with your presence. You are a blessing.

Perhaps the best way to end a post like this, from a full heart, is with the grace of amen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Best and Worst of Literary Teachers

She handed me an apple, skin so shiny and red it looked like crimson glass. We were discussing substitute teaching. She had been to the apple orchard and wanted to give me one from her bounty.

Teaching expands your heart. You encounter a brand new set of humanity you have never experienced. New struggles, new gaps in learning (both yours and theirs) new people to love. Apples and tears, Starbucks runs with colored grading pens, a chorus of "Miss McConkey" that is both wonderful and overwhelming, all combine together into the biggest day of the week. Each week students have a deadline to turn in their homework. Each week teachers have a deadline to prepare the next building block for their students' education. Both sides are racing towards a goal.

I am not yet the best teacher I hope to be. Still wet behind the ears and learning how to balance a spreadsheet and plan homework and use class time efficiently. That takes time and experience, which will come. The other night, I jokingly told my mom that I should try teaching like Mr. Wopsle's Great Aunt in Great Expectations. (Her method was to take a nap and let the young fry run riot.) That turned into a brief exchange that turned into this blog post idea: the best and worst of literary teachers.

Miss Stacey--Anne of Green Gables 
If I can be like Miss Stacey someday, I think I will be the teacher I want to be. She had a warmth about her. In her world, there was room for imagination, and she always encouraged Anne to be her best. Miss Stacey knew how to be correctly firm, which kept her students disciplined and on track (no Ben-Hur in class time.) But her students remembered her with gladness, they thrived, and they grew. #teachergoals.

Mr. Phillips--Anne of Green Gables 
Mr. Phillips' chief flaws were fatal to his profession. He didn't know how to keep a class under control, and he did not love the students he was teaching. I always felt a little for him that his relationship with Prissy Andrews didn't work out. But in spite of his moving last day speech, it was better for everyone that he moved on to new horizons.

Anne Shirley--Anne of Avonlea  
While I would love to be a teacher on Miss Stacey's caliber someday, Anne is a slightly more relatable teacher in my mind. She, too, understood what it was like to face a new class, and I love her imagination. I love how Anthony Pye was won over to her favor, and how she encouraged the imaginative Paul by being a listening kindred spirit.

Mr. Carpenter--Emily of New Moon 
I don't remember a thing about him, except that he seemed somewhat peppery. But I do remember the last scene of Emily of New Moon: the moment she brings her writing to him to be evaluated. Mr. Carpenter is stinging in his appraisal, a bitter, acid honesty that tears her writing down to its foundations and finds very little left to be praised. But he is also the one that plants the seed of her potential in her mind and fuels her love for writing. If I can inspire someone like that (sans acid critique) I shall be happy.

Mr. Davis--Little Women 
Amy March's infamous teacher, who confiscated her pickled limes and made her stand in front of the room for the class period, certainly seemed like a rather sour individual to have charge of little girls. He catapulted Amy right into homeschooling, but he does have the small distinction of making a successful war on chewing gum.

Katherine Brook--Anne of the Island 
She is not a villain. But she is a woman disappointed in life and despairing of adventure beyond the
walls of a Canadian girls' school. Katherine was not cut out to be a teacher and her career was short-lived. Sometimes not everyone is meant to teach, and that's OK. She turned instead to a position as a secretary for a globe-trotting employer. But her time teaching was not wasted, for it gave her a chance to meet Anne Shirley and to have her perspective on the goodness of life transformed.

Heidegger--The Adventure of the Priory School
A German teacher suspected of murder, Heidegger is "a silent, morose man, not very popular either with masters or boys." But this German teacher with Palmer bicycle tires didn't hesitate in his moment of duty. When a student goes missing, he bicycles after him, falling prey to murder in the attempt to rescue him. Watson says, "That he could have gone on after receiving such an injury said much for the vitality and courage of the man."

Mrs. Logan--Roll of Thunder
Stacey Logan had his mother for his teacher, and he couldn't have enjoyed a more wonderful woman to shape his mind. Mama Logan was well-educated and loved to teach. In a time when her students received poor resources because they were black, she cared for them tenderly, stood up against oppression on their behalf, and lost her job because she refused to water down history. She knew that truth mattered; that the past mattered; and she would not be intimidated into teaching lies. I hope she gets her job back in a later book (but don't tell me!)


Who are your best and worst literary teachers? I'd love to know! 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Why I Spent $100 on Books This Quarter

via Pixabay
This last quarter, I've spent almost $100 on books between two conferences I went to. Don't worry; this post isn't going to be a personal balancing of records. I thought it would be interesting for authors and bookworms alike to know the motivation behind book buying from a real-life example. Advertising, Twitter, and good copy are all still good sellers. So here's how the process broke down.

For both conferences I had a budget, but the process for each one was different.

Realm Maker's 2018 

I didn't have an advance list of books to buy at Realm Maker's. I just knew I'd probably want to buy books there--it makes for a fun experience to come home with a stack of new reading material.

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow, by Mary Weber
I had actually tried a Mary Weber novel before that wasn't quite my cup of tea and didn't make it all the way through. This was a new series, however, and I wanted to buy one of her books to have her sign it. So it was pretty much an advance decision--the prospect of getting a book personalized. But after I heard Mary speak (and totally became a fangirl) I was even more glad I bought it. Later that month I saw the second book in the series for sale at a discount and bought it. So the chance of meeting her, her personality, and the desire to own the whole series, led to sales. However, it's definitely who she is as an author that led to the Instagram follow, the Facebook follow, and the desire to buy her upcoming novel, To Best the Boys. And that also goes to show that if your first book isn't someone's cup of tea, you can still win their heart later.

Dagger's Sleep, by Tricia Mingerink
I rode down with Tricia Mingerink and some friends to Realm Maker's. I knew she'd published books and people loved them, but I hadn't read any of them yet. So I thought I'd pick one up at Realm Maker's--Dagger's Sleep looked fun because it was a standalone start to a series, and a fairytale retelling of Sleeping Beauty. This book sale was based primarily on being personally acquainted, but I also had several books to choose from, and ended up starting with a new standalone because that seemed like a great way to jump into a new author.

Coiled, by H.L. Burke
This book actually won a purchase from less personalized means: I didn't have a recommendation from anyone prior to picking it up on the book table, but I loved the cover and the Beauty and the Beast vibe of the backstory. Sometimes I take a picture of the cover in those circumstances and save it for later, but this time I was at the conference, I wanted to buy books, and it just looked really cute. The author was there behind the table to explain more about her story--that it was based on an old myth--and ultimately I loved the cover and premise so much that I picked it up to bring it home. This was my most gamble/splurge buy at the conference. So that goes to show that cover and premise are important for grabbing readers.

The Electrical Menagerie, by Mollie E. Reader
I'd seen Mollie's name recommended by a close friend. She loved Mollie's book so much that it was definitely on my buy list, and I loved the sample of her writing on Amazon. When I heard she might sell out, I tracked her down to get a copy before that happened.  Mollie's author branding was on point, from freebie character playing cards, to signing her name with a gold pen and a star next to it. Her book delivered on the experience and was hugely worth the money.

Realm Maker Notes: 
For probably three out of the four books I looked up samples on Amazon to make sure I liked the writing before buying. I also had a couple of other options that I narrowed down; one didn't look quite as much my cup of tea as I expected, the other I wanted to get but just didn't have the money for and wanted to stay in budget. That last book I didn't have a recommendation on, and ultimately, wanting it didn't weight as heavily against the recommendations I had heard for the other books. When people close to you have read the books, you're likely to pay attention to them yourself.

Incidentally, I was sold on the last book I didn't buy from seeing the author interact on Facebook. Even though I don't have it yet, I hope to someday. This isn't actually an author I know or follow yet--but social media interactions with followers can make sales to non-followers.

True Woman 2018 

This conference I came into armed with a book list of releases I wanted to get. Before the main session started, I was down in the vendor hall and down to business. Book buying is a serious thing. ;) With the help of friendly volunteers in yellow aprons, it didn't take long before I had a stack of books and was sitting looking them over before the final purchase.

Book Girl, by Sarah Clarkson
I heard of this book from Joy Clarkson's Twitter account. Joy Clarkson is one of the queens of Twitter, and her charming, warm thoughts make this social media platform a joy to be on. So Joy's personality, mention, and the relatable subject made this a book I wanted to get. When I looked at it, it looked chock full of lovely book lists and totally worth the read.

Reading Well, by Karen Swallow Prior
I don't remember where I saw this book, and hadn't even heard it was coming until I saw it on Twitter. Seriously, I think I've only seen it once or twice, but I immediately popped off to Goodreads to add it to my list because books about books are my cup of tea. I think it may have been a sale tweet from Karen herself (I either follow her or a friend re-tweeted it.) I trust her because I've read another one of her books and an article online which I liked.

Gay Girl, Good God, by Jackie Hill Perry
I think I first heard of Jackie Hill Perry when I saw Nancy Wolgemuth respond to a tweet of hers. I have a high respect for Nancy and who she interacts with, and grew to like Jackie for herself after that. She's honest with her words, has a boldness that shines, and is faithful to the Word. I love a wide variety of people who are solidly grounded in the Word, and I'm not familiar with a lot of Christian hip-hop artists. I liked that unique juxtaposition, and was excited to learn more about her in her book. So it was a tweet from a ministry leader I respected that sold me on her book.

The Gospel Comes With a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield
I don't remember when I first heard of Rosaria; it was a while ago, though I've never actually read one of her books. A church we respected brought her to the area, and during that time my mom listened to her book on converting to Christianity. The quotes my mom mentioned piqued my interested--I thought they were hard-hitting truths that needed to be shared to help conservative Christians fruitfully share the Gospel with the LGBT sector. Earlier this summer our church newsletter mentioned her latest book The Gospel Comes with a House Key. I found the audiobook for free on Hoopla, loved the beginning, and definitely wanted it in book form. I went to the conference hoping maybe to get it. The price was right at the Crossway booth, and it landed in my shopping bag.

True Woman Notes:
I ended up getting all of the books on my list except two. One wasn't at the conference, and I could get a cheaper, used option since it was an old book. The other I decided that since I had waited this long, I could wait a little longer to keep within budget.

On another note,  I had another book on my list that I planned to get, only to realize it wasn't released yet! Moody Publishers has another book coming out called Lies Girls Believe in February 2019. Originally I planned to buy it because it completed the books in the Lies family; but at the conference they handed out sample chapters, and when I read it, I was even more excited about it because it explained a concept that I hadn't thought about before.

In Conclusion
If you ever wonder if your social media efforts are worth it, they are! I bought most of these books because I saw them recommended by friends or noticed interactions on Twitter. And a couple of buy links helped alert me to books I wouldn't have been aware of, so that works too. The authors' reputations for knowledge or being an engaging personality in their online conversations made me like them for themselves, so when they mentioned a new book for sale, I was automatically interested in reading it. In the end, I wanted to purchase books at the conferences, and the fact that I either knew the authors, loved them, or respected them from afar helped clinch these specific deals. Recommendations are powerful! If you get your tribe to love you, they'll praise your books to their friends and get more readers who are just fringe observers. But just being yourself sells books too. We receive your labors of love with eager hands.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

dear 23 {my cup of thanksgiving}

via Pixabay
"I'm so glad that you were born."

A friend wrote that sentence in a birthday card for my twenty-second birthday. It made me cry. Shortly after my twenty-second birthday I was not particularly glad I had been born, nor, because of hard chronic anxiety, did I think a particularly enjoyable life was ahead.

But time heals and truth heals, and I'm in a much better spot now. That's a long story for another day. Today I want to take a moment to remember the renewed hope and joy that was twenty-three.

//

Dear 23, we ushered you in with pizza and family and cheesecake. One of the best pizzas. We never would have known about it if friends hadn't taken us to a little eatery just four miles from our house. It's people who help you make the best memories.

Every year brings new things, but you brought two new family members--one welcomed with hugs and white satin, one welcomed with hugs in a tiny bundle of joy. Auntie has grand plans to expand her library, and her phone wallpaper has been captured by chubby cuteness ever since Baby came.

You were the best of years. I held my first book just two months into you--that beautiful cover that's founds a home in the hearts of friends who helped make it possible. I never knew you would be the year that would happen. Another dream gift from a kind Giver.

You were a grand year for friends. We rang in the New Year with charades and gales of laughter and tasty food. We road-tripped down to Realm Maker's and ate sushi and cinnamon rolls and tacos and cake. We got together at coffee shops and talked when we were supposed to write. We stayed up late on a summer Monday night and hugged and cried. We hung out at Wendy's and chatted about stories and music and a friend's brand new book baby. We sat by fires in Canada, not even having to say a word.

Speaking of, you were a grand year for books. We held a friend's first book too. Our favorite fantasy author finished the trilogy we've been following for three years. We encountered the glorious word-magic that is N.D. Wilson and tackled fun Shakespeare plays over the summer. We met Paddington and re-read C.S. Lewis's heart-throbbing wonder of Narnia.

via Pixabay
You were a good year for movies. In December it was The Man Who Invented Christmas and chats about all kinds of things from life happenings to men who like pasta. In January it was Revenge of the Sith with ice-cream in Star Wars mugs. In March it was cookies and soup and our first viewing of The Greatest Showman. And in July it was Tangled with a group of writer friends road-tripping their way home from a conference.

You were a grand year for starting new habits. Cassey's calendars turned into a twenty mile march of working out 3x a week. I love wiggles and hate bird-dogs and it's all worth it. We've tried (failed) to change bed times, tried to drink more water, and last month tried to mindlessly scroll through social media less. Sometimes we made progress. Sometimes we didn't. But trying in itself felt like progress, and that was nourishing to the soul.

You were a grand year to hang out with the fam. Sis in her beautiful pink grad gown. Lazy days of movies and treats and workouts and cats and house-sitting that I will never forget. Women's events and summer evening concerts with mother and father dearest, respectively

This isn't to sound like you were all easy. Like any year, you had hard moments. Crying at the kitchen table in sweaty exercise clothes. Sitting on a striped blanket, voicing pain and questions.

But you were a milk and honey year in a promised land of God's people and good memories.

Dear 23, you were a beloved gem of a year. I'm leaving you behind for new horizons. But I am deeply glad to take the same Love with me for the bend in the road.

Friday, September 14, 2018

On the Fall Reading Stack

via Pixabay
Today is the day I've been waiting for.

The day I start teaching.

The day I start Fellowship of the Ring.

It's been a red-letter date on the calendar for months, opening up a new horizon marked autumn. I'll have new students, teach new things, make new memories. Today, as I write this, I'm a little anxious. (The kind of brain that gets anxious about anxiety itself.) But I will find a verse to remember and cling to it.

He who began a good work in you will finish it. 

Today, it's time for a brand new stack of books--a bunch of new adventures to fill the mind and heart. I've been excited. Waiting. There's no reason to wait, except for the delicious anticipation of "today I finally get to start the thing I've been looking forward to." But sometimes that in itself is worth it. Here's what I'm looking forward to.

Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend
I've read part of this book and skim-read most of the rest of it. But I really want to read it all the way through. I bought a used copy from the library a few months ago, and as I was handing money over for it, the librarian held it for a moment. "I've read it twice and it was very good," she said earnestly.

I don't know how I'm going to manage to sort through it all and figure out how to apply it. But it will be something to mull and pray over.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
It was sis who inspired me to read LOTR again. She kept lugging her big all-in-one version in the car with her, reading aloud hilarious interchanges between Pippin and Gandalf. I didn't remember Gandalf being such a grumpy old wizard. It's like Pippin keeps popping happily up, and Gandalf keeps shoving him down again trying to keep everything under control. Last time I read LOTR it felt really dark to me, but I'm hoping this time will restore it to my first impression of adventure and being along for the ride with some precious, precious charries.

The Gospel Comes with a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield
I finished all but one and a half of my summer reading stack. This was one of the selections on it. So I'm shoving it ahead to fall. Lately we've discovered the joy of checking out audiobooks through our library's Hoopla system for free. I am not an audiobook person, but I have some driving to work this fall, and though I normally listen to music, I thought I would try this one. It's read by Rosaria Butterfield herself, which always adds a special dynamic to a book. I already started it (I know, cheating) and her thoughts are so life-giving.

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
My mom hasn't read this book in years, and I've never read it in my life, or seen the movie. I know it's about Scarlett O'Hara in the American South, I think it has a bittersweet ending (DO NOT tell me on pain of your favorite character in WoL dying) and I happened to find an early (but not valuable) edition in hardback. So here we go.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
Somehow, I don't know why, I've always associated Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind as sensational romantic literature. It's one of those impressions that has absolutely no bearing in fact, just something that's stuck with me. So I thought, why not? Let's lump them both together and then we can find out what they're about.

A Child's History of England, by Charles Dickens
I've had this on the book lists before (actually more than one of these books have been on book lists before. Get reading, Schuyler.) But the sheer size of the book daunted me. Then I opened my edition and realized only part of it is A Child's History and the rest is other stories Dickens wrote. That being said, I think I can get through it, so we're going to give it a try.

Calico Captive, Elizabeth George Speare
A friend I tutor in writing has been using this book in an author imitation exercise. The scene I read had an engaging main character, and it looks like a really fun read! Plus, there's something fun about reading a friend's favorite book, right?

The Little Book of Mary, Queen of Scots, by Mickey Mayhew
Mary Queen of Scots has been an unpursued, super-small side interest ever since I first heard of her in the Elsie Dinsmore series. Martha Finley portrayed her as a sympathetic and tragic woman. That being my first impression, I clung to it, and wondered if there was any way to support it. Most people knock her, but when a well-read history buff posted on Facebook with sympathy towards Mary, I asked him for a book recommendation. This is what he suggested. I'm excited to start here and hope I can find more to round out the picture (though like any historical figure, I'm sure she has her sins and flaws.)

The Story of With, by Allen Arnold
I had the pleasure of taking Allan's class at Realm Maker's in July. Reading over the notes has fed my soul and my writing, and I'd like to read his book as a way to feed my soul further. His Twitter account is a wonderful source of writing encouragement and contemplation.

The Force Doth Awaken, by Ian Doescher
Star Wars in Shakespeare style? Yes please, darlings. My precious BB8? How could I turn you away? The Amazon preview looks like terrific fun, and I'm so excited. Consider this the splurge-read on the list.

What are you hoping to read this fall for fun? instruction? inspiration? I'd love to know! :)


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Where to Start if You're New to Speculative Fiction

via Pixabay
I remember when I was seventeen years old and picked up Lord of the Rings. "I don't really want to get into the fantasy genre," I told my parents. "Just this one." We were new to the fantasy genre at the time and had hesitations. Was a wizard good? What about magic? Is the genre as a whole demonic....or is it creative Christian liberty?

As I've found authors I love and trust, times have changed. I attended my first Christian speculative fiction conference this July, and while I don't write speculative fiction, I enjoy reading several good authors from that field. The genre is full of creativity and imagination, and ultimately requires the same amount of discernment as any genre you pick up. I certainly respect those who still might wish to stay away from it. But today's post is about a couple of books that I think everyone would be comfortable with, if it's something you're considering.

Jules Verne wrote the 19th century equivalent of speculative fiction. While his books are so familiar to us as to almost feel like historical fiction now, they're still very much sci-fi. At the time, his inventions weren't invented yet. Man hadn't gone to the moon (From the Earth to the Moon.) Advanced weaponry wasn't a factor in their world (The Begum's Millions). Neither was advanced naval technology (Matthias Sandorf, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). His fiction, while not all of it proved true (there are no people in space) proved innovative and prophetic about the future. There can be a fruitful place for that in the world of innovative Christian writers today.

Today's stories I'm showcasing aren't sci-fi. But they are speculative, and whether you love that genre to pieces, or come at it with hesitations, I think both of these offerings provide quality storytelling and a comfortable introduction to the fantasy world.

Crowning Heaven
Emily Hayse's Crowning Heaven is a portal fantasy, a book that takes the character from Earth to another world and a new set of adventures. Heaven Cassidy, the protagonist, finds she is the queen of two kingdoms...one of which wants to crown her, and one of which wants to kill her.

photo via Goodreads 
I've loved following this dear friend from first draft to published book. Influenced by authors like Rosemary Sutcliff, the queen of historical fiction, Crowning Heaven could almost read like historical fiction if it weren't for the new land. Heaven Cassidy is a protagonist anyone could be proud of as an example and a friend. As she learns her new role, she tackles hesitant lords and warring queens with grace, fairness, and courage. Bringing a portrait of gentle strength to the pages, Heaven is for those wanting strong heroines who don't have to be brash. Full of men and women who understand and fight for nobility, Crowning Heaven provides not only adventure and battles, lords and ladies, but also characters who inspire their YA audience to embrace maturity and adulthood. Epic love and sacrifice crescendo in its final pages. Also, this book would provide the most beautiful castle (Skymere) to ever grace movie screens. If you like historical fiction and want to try speculative, you're going to love Crowning Heaven. You can find it on Amazon for the price of a coffee drink!



The Electrical Menagerie 
Mollie Reader's The Electrical Menagerie sold out at Real
m Maker's. Arbrook Huxley and Sylvester
photo via Goodreads
Carthage take their crew of robots into a circus competition to win a chance to perform for the queen of Celestia. If they win, they'll keep their sinking act alive--but a murder among the circus acts shows that someone will do anything to stop the competitors.

If you liked The Greatest Showman's circus themes (or even if you didn't) you'll love this book with steampunk flavors. Because I'm not familiar with spec fic, I didn't have a lot of authors to compare it to, but the general flavor and robotic inventions felt like Jules Verne for the next generation (skipping all the slow geographical bits). In The Electrical Menagerie, the characters travel on cool sky trains, and Huxley and Carthage's relationship filled my ever-thirsty heart for good character friendships. As Sylvester tries to hide past weakness and prove himself, he's a loveable protagonist to travel with, providing a great weekend read or family read-aloud. It's even on sale for 99 cents right now! 

If you're in the mood for an epic historical fantasy, or a really fun robotic circus competition, I think you'll love these 2018 releases. I can't wait to read more from both these ladies!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

sofi snow {on heart and compassion and realm maker's}


She opened Realm Maker's keynote session in chic, classic black. She gave the final Saturday keynote in a My Little Pony shirt and ripped blue jeans. Her signing line lasted for hours. I joined it at the tail end and met some fantastic Realmies. We saved spots for each other while others left for snacks and brief breaks. And all the time, Mary Weber met the next fan holding her book with a smile, a listening ear, so willing to listen and talk to each one that they lingered in the glow of it.

I couldn't blame them a bit.

It's impossible not to love Mary Weber, best-selling author of the Storm Siren series and the newest Sofi Snow science fiction duology. I hope this doesn't sound too creepy, but I loved her eyes. There is kindness in them--a large compassion for the human race. She will always be loved because people are starving for compassion, and she has an enormous store to give.

Mary Weber was the main keynote speaker for the writer's conference I attended in July. Realm Maker's is the big Christian conference for speculative fiction writers--fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal loving souls who gather together once a year to get concentrated encouragement in their genres.

Her thoughtful voice mulled over the theme of dark fairy tales--that sometimes stories have to go to dark places to preach hope. People are in dark places. Life takes us to dark places. "Why would our stories," she said, "be any less raw? or violent?....[Stories are] anthems that speak to the dark nights in someone else's life and say 'you are not alone.' " I can't wait to read the session notes again during my next project. I love the way she mulls over the hurts of the human experience and the love of Jesus in a way that empathizes with the reality of pain.

Before she gave her first keynote, I loved her anyway, because her bio was written in such a caring way to her fans. It was that that sold me on buying one of her books, and she herself that sold me on it the rest of the way. So I picked up The Evaporation of Sofi Snow and cracked it open that night in the hotel room.

Sofi Snow lives in future America, a mix of reality and technology--and aliens. When her mom sends Sofi and her twelve-year-old brother Shilo into the Fan Fight games, Sofi uses a tough heart and even tougher gaming skills to help Shilo survive. But when the Fan Fight games suffer a bomb attack and Shilo is kidnapped, Sofi's deep compassion sends her into space to find him--even when it means facing deep, dark horror in the attempt.

Sofi offers a voice of struggle and love to girls across America. While girls in conservative Christian circles may struggle with instances of slang, brief language, and references to past sleeping around, Sofi stands as a beacon to a different kind of girl. She offers a hand of love across the Christian publishing divide into the secular market to say to girls there that "you are not alone." Sofi's beautiful kaleidoscope of friends, ranging from colorful-haired Miguel to the gamers at Mom's Basement, pays grateful acknowledgment to the fact that sometimes the lost show love better than the found--but that the found, too, can learn to love with compassion. Throughout the duology (the second book is called Reclaiming Shilo Snow, and took me two days flat to read) it touches in a gentle way on parent/child forgiveness. On healing from trauma. On a falling in love story that was a Minky Blanket to the fuzzy side of my soul. And on a burning sense of compassion and justice for the enslaved and the oppressed. Mary Weber's heart beats all the way through it. When you've seen her speak, and then read her books, her fingerprints of love for the hurting press their mark all over its pages.

 If you're looking for an escape from the first school assignments, or a thoughtful way to consider compassion, these books are for you. Best read under twinkle lights with the accompaniment of a fuzzy pillow.
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