Friday, January 27, 2017

The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick Carr

(To see the first book in this series, check out my review for The Shock of Night.)

I love Patrick Carr's fantasy books. But if I thought A Cast of Stones was epic, the Darkwater Saga basically took Patrick Carr's first series tension x 1000 and escalated from there. I don't think my heart could take more than one release per year.

My Thoughts
Willet, the main characters is just as good as ever. I love him. He has a pleasing sense of sarcasm, a compassion for the poor people of the town, and a good balance of manly stoicism. He carries on what I loved about the last book while peeling away deeper layers of personality. Carr surprised me by Willet's occasional unreliable narration--not because he's lying, but because the vault in his mind from his past plays tricks on him. Willet doesn't collapse under the pain of his past like some characters, but he still feels it, even though he's gone on and formed a stable life for himself.

The array of side characters is good too: Bolt, Willet's guard, is ready with a sword or a proverb depending on the situation. The Mark, an urchin lad seems to value his own worth quite well in the midst of the prestigious company he's keeping. :) And Pellin, the unwilling head Vigil leader. I don't envy Pellin having to keep all the Vigil members with their various personalities in line. Each character has to deal with hard moral choices, heart wrenching decisions, and the weight of responsibility their gift of mind-reading brings. Lady Bronwyn's plot especially, as she faces the limits of her powers and all the memories she has collected over the years, lingered. It must be hard to have an unchosen gift that requires you to carry the joys and sorrows of countless people all the time.

Sometimes I was a confused trying to remember side characters from The Shock of Night, but not too often, and that's my own fault. I should have refreshed my memory by glancing at book one. It really wasn't too bad, though. There are four Vigil characters who have POVs. Each Vigil character has an urchin companion, a guard, and a job to accomplish. It's not too hard to follow. In fact, don't let the size deceive you: The Shattered Vigil is a fast read.

I'm not too keen on the latter half of Gail's plot yet and how she found a way to be with Willet. It fit with the story plot, but it seemed a bit cliche for female power in modern literature. The only other thing I really didn't like was the unnecessary description of courtesans/tavern women in a couple of places. There were two brief descriptions in particular that felt unnecessary either for atmosphere or for the plot. It's like finding decayed spinach in your salad.

(not fun) 

Due to a plot line towards the end of the book, I strongly encourage this book for 18+. Highlight to see sensitive thematic elements: One of the characters is raped off-screen, but it's quite intense. Her grief is handled in a very true and empathetic way, not brushing over it or offering trite comfort, but it's very heavy to read about, especially pages 357-363 and you really may want to skim pages 414-415. Another character remembers being hired out. Not all readers may wish to be exposed to this. 

Out of all the plot lines, Willet's was still my favorite. I love his companions most--Bolt and the urchin Rory--and knew exactly what he was trying to accomplish. Plus we got to see more of the town from book one, and tie up some plot lines. Willet feels more seasoned than Erroll (A Cast of Stones), but still super interesting to read about.

Now I'm going into shock and recovery mode so I can be emotionally stable for the release of book 3. ;) There are so many intriguing questions about Willet and the Darkwater that I want to know. I can't wait for the big reveal, and I hope my favorite characters make it to the end.

If you want an intense fantasy with deep emotional conflict, a fast pace, and characters funny and heart-wrenching by turns, The Darkwater Saga is for you. There's so much at stake. So much emotion. So much grief. So much forging ahead in the face of unknown mental fear. I'm convinced that mental fear is even more emotional than huge creatures or armies. Sometimes the fear of ourselves or of our comrades is the biggest thing we ever have to tackle.

I received this book from Bethany House Publishers. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle

I sat in a packed auditorium, my creative soul feeling as if I had just eaten a feast. We had just listened to two days of talks on writing, creativity, work balance, and love for our stories. After enriching conversations with friends, I didn't want to leave.

To end a perfect day, one of the conference board members read a quote from Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water. It talked about submitting ourselves to the process of carrying and giving life to a creative work, just as Mary submitted herself to carrying and giving birth to Christ.

While L'Engle isn't trying to put fiction writing on the same level as Jesus' birth, carrying and giving life to something is exactly what writing a book feels like.

So when I saw Walking on Water come up for review, you bet I grabbed it.

My Thoughts 
Madeleine's book is full of food for inspiration, moments that resonate, and encouragement for Christian artists. Writing about Christian art was difficult for her. She found Christianity in art by Christians and by secular people, regardless of their faith. I think I would agree. Some songs both Christian and secular move me very deeply, books both Christian and classic resonate with my soul. That is simply because they are good and full of truth about the world.

This book is full of thoughts that are hard to summarize but rich to read about: thoughts on political correctness, God's healing through art, and the sense of wonder that the Christian art requires. Madeleine told herself stories to heal the pain of things she did not understand. I deeply resonated with that as well, but I'll save more thoughts on that for a stand alone article, hopefully next week. She gives anecdotes about her life and different writers she met, and books she worked on, all fascinating to consider. Her words have a warm, friendly, deep thinking style.

Along with the inspiring paragraphs, there are sections that are confusing. Sometimes there were thoughts about communion I downright disagreed with. Sometimes I didn't understand what she meant or how a particular thought connected. She writes in a very personal, conversational style that would probably take me more than one reading to wrap my mind around. But in spite of that, I often found myself giving a resounding yes to things I did understand. Madeleine is Catholic and I am not, but I didn't find her Catholicism overwhelming to the content. Her mind is one it would be intimidating to converse with, though she seems very kind.

My favorite chapter by far was Chapter 11. In this chapter she is talking about the idea of being a servant of the stories, and how the stories know more about how they are to be written and what should be in them than the author does. For instance, the story will tell her what it needs, if it's a knowledge of physics or cellular biology, and she will study that thing. She doesn't take what she knows and pour it into a book. She takes what the book needs and learns it.

In chapter 11, Madeleine told several anecdotes about unexpected characters that popped onto her page and made her work so much more vibrant and complete than her original idea without them. She also told a beautiful story about making an unlikely situation in her book, and finding out that something like it had actually occurred in history. "Miracles" as she calls them, of fiction matching up with true life can indeed take place. I have happy first-hand accounts in my own stories of those things happening without my prior planning.

Walking on Water will give you much to ponder about Christian art. Some of it will be confusing, but all of it will be deep and worthy of consideration. I enjoyed it, and it's an easy read, so I recommend all Christian artists give it a try. Perhaps this statement of hers summarizes the book best:

"I have often been asked if my Christianity affects my stories, and surely it is the other way around; my stories affect my Christianity...." Madeleine L'Engle (2016) Walking on Water, pg. 96. Convergent Books.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Beautiful Books~2017 Writing Goals

Welcome to 2017 writerly goals, thanks to the lovely tag put together by Cait and Sky! Be sure to join the tag before the end of the month and add your blog to their linkup!

What were your writing achievements last year?
Last year I finished writing War of Honor. I also wrote a 1920s jazzy story called The Fox Went Out. Then I wrote bits and pieces in various novellas, none of which I've finished yet. Someone needs to sit me in the corner and not let me get up until they're done. 

What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017? 
Edit War of Honor and send it to beta readers. Edit parts of War of Loyalties. Also some other big plans, which I am not ready to reveal yet. 

Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year!
Definitely War of Honor and War of Loyalties. Time is running out to get them done during the centennial. 

How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017?
Hopefully as a published author. I would also like to get back into my twenty mile march rhythm, of setting a reasonable weekly goal and accomplishing it. That helped me accomplish a great deal previously. I'm already doing it so far, and going two weeks strong. 

Describe your general editing process.
Fiddle with commas and wording. Eventually, come to grips with the fact that I have to rewrite some things. Make very unorganized lists about things to change. Change my mind and write different changes throughout said lists. Hope I will be able to decipher them throughout the process, or better yet just remember them all. Make very complicated solutions to previously unsolved problems. Feel lost and confused. Just start writing. Stall out. Eventually recruit someone who will read my chapters as I write them, which suddenly brings a fresh surge of inspiration. Make a weekly goal for myself and hit it regardless of loss to life, limb or sanity. Voila. 

On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out?
7. None of them behaved, it was agonizing. Much cardboard and styrofoam was present, with very bad characters who went on a union strike. However, that was a first draft. I have high hopes for this second draft. Because the book is a sequel, for one of my fixes I introduced some of the general favorite characters sooner, and I like that much better so far. You have to set up your players in the right sequence, and I didn't in the first draft. 

What aspect of your draft needs the most work?
Plot coherency and making sure I have incidents on a consistent timeline. Also, bringing out the David and Jonathan theme that I want to echo amongst my characters.

What do you like the most about your draft?
The German plot. I think that storyline is pretty tight, convincing, and spyish. 

What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers?
Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever?

I will send it to betas, because seriously, hiding these secrets for so long has been agonizing. Then I will do another draft before getting a professional edit and self-publishing. 

What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?
I'm still tweaking my process, but I have tried some things over a couple of drafts that have helped me. I let it sit for six weeks ( I want to get in the habit of praying before I start the next draft. I make a general list of things I want to fix, and get as specific as I can with how I want to fix them. (If I'm confused in the first draft, having no plan in the second draft won't help me.) Then a couple of weeks ago I set myself a weekly editing goal, and I'm going to try to hit that goal every single week.

There you have it, folks! Be sure to come back Tuesday for a review on a book about faith and writing. I hope you have a wonderful bookish weekend!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Portrait of Emily Price, by Katherine Reay

Friday we went gallivanting and got back at a scandalously late hour, so Saturday was clearly a day for curling up with a book. The book of choice was a nice, easy read: A Portrait of Emily Price, by Katherine Reay. I'd encountered Katherine's bookish references inserted into modern settings through Dear Mr. Knightley. On this second acquaintance with her writing, A Portrait of Emily Price was full of beautiful references to family and food.

The Book (official book description)
Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. When Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family, however, is another matter . . .

Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—finds herself in Atlanta, repairing objects damaged in a house fire. As she works to restore the home and dreams of one family, she strives to keep the pieces of her own life in perfect order and secure her own happy ending—a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to reconnect with his brother and breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccolo. And soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. Upon landing in Rome, she is enchanted with Italy. But instead of allowing the land, culture and people to transform her, Emily imposes her will upon everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

My Thoughts 
The tactile aesthetic in this book was simply wonderful. I loved the way Reay gave Ben and Emily both a calling that they loved to pursue with their hands: with Ben and his Italian heritage, it's the family restaurant--the chop of a knife on a cutting board, the making of pasta dough, the perfect seasoning, the artisan coffee and bread. They savor what I love to savor: good food, good tastes, good feelings. And they show the gift that such small things are by how deeply they savor them. I would love to smell their kitchen, go truffle hunting, and feel the soft pasta dough in my hands. 

Emily is wonderful too with her art restoration. She can take brushes and oils and 3-D printers and transform pieces of art through meticulous, loving labor. She can hang art, frame it, and take an interest in the creative work of others. I felt like I got a mini-art education in a totally fun and non-obtrusive way throughout the story. 

The Italian setting is beautiful as well, with the field of sunflowers and the small town churches and gathering places. It makes you feel as if you want to say and call it home. 

The relationships left me with some things I did like and things I didn't: Emily and Ben kiss a lot, and when her sister Amy shows up, Emily's worried that Ben will find her sister more physically attractive. Realistic with who they were, yes, but sometimes I struggle with the amount and intensity. It's more than I want to think about, and it took an edge off the enjoyment. 

Here's what I did like: Katherine Reay did a wonderful job at having her main character believe in a personal lie and learn in a very beautiful, grace-filled, non-obtrusive way. Emily is a fixer. She can't bear to see things broken. I thought her sister was irresponsible because I was reading Emily's point of view, until I realized along with Emily that her sister was fine. Emily needed to back off and realize her sister was now a grown-up. Emily discovers other people's personalities, too: especially her mother-in-law's. Unpeeling Donita's complex layers of family love, pride in her generational pasta talent, open grief, and hidden pain, turned her from misperceived villain to human. As Emily shifts in understanding, we shift too. And underneath everyone, Ben's loyal, faithful commitment to his family's heritage, and his warm love for Emily give the story much charm. 

One thing that still leaves me with an unpleasant aftertaste when I read this is the lack of spiritual understanding on the part of the characters. I love quietly-stated religious themes, but here they are almost too quiet for my liking. I'm forced to conclude that either some of her Christian characters marry non-Christians, or neither Ben nor Emily is a Christian. I think neither of them are believers in this book, which out of the two options, would be my preferred choice. I don't need a buttoned-up journey, but I did want to see more spiritual seeking on their part other than a brief reference. Otherwise the beauty they love and experience is only a temporary one. I'm left to wonder what happens, and if either or both of them ever accept Christ.

Overall, though, I would recommend A Portrait of Emily Price both for its five-senses aesthetic and for its themes of family heritage and coming to understand people's complex layers. If you're struggling to feel empathy towards someone, or want to learn how to savor art and food as incredible gifts of God, this book will give you a good place to start contemplating.

I recieved a review copy of this book from BookLook bloggers. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Of Frodo Baggins, Temptation, and Community

Last week I was reading an article on depression*, which contained examples of fictional characters that have depression. Surprisingly enough, one of the characters the article highlighted was Frodo Baggins. I never thought about Frodo having depression in the traditional sense, and I'm not sure he does. (did, schuyler, did. frodo isn't around anymore) But still, it gave me some things to think about with reference to Frodo. 

Fair warning that this is an opinion piece, and I'm making it sound pretty and convincing on purpose.

Some people say Frodo is a weak character. That always makes me see red, but understanding that there are different opinions in the world, and this isn't worth taking a bullet for, I'll just write an article instead. 

I think Frodo's character dramatizes what it is like to go through severe temptation and mental distress. Just like the ring came to him without him asking for it, sometimes we are placed in situations that are very challenging that we didn't ask for. We're simply called to be faithful with them. Frodo stumbles now and again, but overall he knows what he needs to do and he keeps his goal fixed before his mind: to take the ring to Mordor. 

But the longer he journeys, and the more power the Ring gains, the more he struggles. He has to face physical weakness as well as mental fear and temptation. Those three things together can send anyone staggering. And I don't think Frodo struggles in an unsympathetic way. However messy or despairing he grows, he still manages to understand the right choice, even though sometimes it's after he despairs and has to have a friend point him in the right direction. That is very honest reality for any human being. 

Perhaps the perception is that he should have been strong enough never to despair in the first place. Perhaps in a perfect world that would be the case. But the fact that even in despair, he allows voices of truth to continue to guide him, speaks for the inner character that has supported him to this point. He gets up and keeps going. He doesn't put on the ring. He's horrified and weak and afraid, but he keeps taking one day, one stage, one step at a time. And that is the grace in our weakness. We will always deal with weakness until the day our obedience is perfected. But God gives us grace to obey even when our emotions don't line up. 

And that brings us to Sam. Samwise Gamgee is often held up as a better, "stronger" character that could have done better than Frodo did. Sam wouldn't have put on the ring. Sam wasn't as emotional. Three things come to mind in that regards. 

Firstly, Samwise Gamgee may have had a different temperament than Frodo. I'm going off the movies here since it's been a while since I've read Fellowship, but I suspect that Sam was a naturally happy and simple-hearted person, while Frodo was more inclined (though not a depressed person in general) to be melancholic, with the tendency to obsess once he put on the Ring. One is not stronger than the other. They are simply different, and they have to deal with and find balance for those natural tendencies. 

Secondly, Sam cannot be compared in strength to Frodo simply because Sam did not have Frodo's same burden. He didn't have the sense of heaviness, the oppression of evil, the constant temptation of putting the ring on his finger, tearing at his mind and weakening his body at the same time. If he had been under the same temptation, or perhaps under a different temptation which was just as horrible to him as the Ring was to Frodo, he may have needed the same amount of help and encouragement. 

Thirdly, even though Sam wasn't carrying the Ring, he had an equal and legitimate burden of his own. Supporting someone who is carrying a heavy burden is in itself a heavy burden to carry. Sam was supporting some undergoing temptation and anxiety, and that in itself shows what a strong hobbit he was, that he was able to help cheer and think for Frodo. People with anxiety struggle with very basic things like eating and drinking and getting up in the morning and getting enough sleep. The fact that Sam was there to help with these basic things got them as far along on their journey as they made it. Frodo would never have been able to care for the Ring and for himself the entire time. 

Frodo and Sam were called to different burdens. Both had to be strong in different ways. I think that this story beautifully expresses the community that we are often called to as believers. Sometimes a particular Christian is given a burden that makes them feel weak for a time, even though they must choose to be faithful in carrying it. For them, it is important to seek out community to help strengthen and keep them accountable. Their community is given the burden to help them, and that burden is just as great. Each task requires strength. 

Frodo and Sam could not trade burdens. It is fruitless to argue who would have been stronger, because that's not what it was about. They were called to be faithful with the role that was assigned to them. But I think the community and the support the fellowship gave to Frodo and to each other is a beautiful picture of bearing each other's burdens. 

And that fulfills the law of Christ.

*Articles referenced: (not all article content is endorsed.)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why Ministry Leaders Need to Keep in Touch With the Fiction Market

My mom shared an article about Jen Hatmaker a few weeks ago, a Christian womens' author who recently came out in a pro-homosexual comment. Or so I understand. In the article, it was recommended that pastors keep in touch with women's authors who are influencing a large portion of their congregation, not just theology written by men.

After all, the lives of families in their church would be affected by women's books.

It made me think a little further--about how ministry leaders (of which I am one, in a small way) should also keep in touch with the fiction side of things--because that's preaching messages loud and strong to another large portion of their audience. And in some ways, it's the easiest genre to slip in and preach mindsets without people realizing it.

For instance:

-Did you know that right now, Harry Potter seems to be finding a resurgence among homeschool and conservative evangelicals? Agree or disagree, do you know why it's happening? What would that mean to you as a ministry leader?
-Do you know anything about Hamiliton, the musical that's taken the world by storm since early 2016?
-Are you familiar with the names Beverly Lewis, Karen Kingsbury, George R.R. Martin, or Veronica Roth?
-Have you ever picked up a Hallmark film, or known what's on the market?
-Are you familiar with Marvel movies? Have you watched the new Cinderella? Does the name Fantastic Beasts ring a bell with you?
What's your girl's group picking up in Sherlock? How about Downton Abbey? Rogue One? Game of Thrones?
-Did you know that steampunk, sci-fi, and fantasy are top genres in YA circles? (Think Red Rising and Cress.)

I'm not bashing any names on that list. I like some of the things on there, and some of them I would have strong cautions watching anyone consume. But my question is, are you familiar with them? Have you heard of them?

And if so, why not?

Why not? 

This is the mental food that's entering the wellspring of life of the next generation. And from that life, good or bad, they will pour into the lives of others.

Most Christian fiction is purchased by women in the retired age bracket. Of that fiction, romance is the highest seller. These are the "older women" who are mentoring the "younger women" in your group. What are they being fed with that they are passing on? Are you happy with these romance books? Are they matching the picture of covenant marriage and love that you are trying to teach your audience? If not, which warring picture is going to win?

Disinterest in, contempt for, or mindless consumption of fiction does a disservice to God's people. Spiritual mentors and teachers need to know how fiction is being used in today's culture to preach authority, God's worship, self-worship, morality, and love. Fiction does that loud and clear in the guise of characters, actors, and situations. It is far from neutral.

As a fiction lover, I'd love to offer some recommendations for exploring this huge aspect of our culture. You don't have to be versed in culture to preach the Word of God, and I wouldn't want to see ministry leaders distracted and obsessed with being culturally relevant. But it is worthwhile to know the influences in your group's life that are either reinforcing or undermining your message. It's also worthwhile to be informed about the battle for the mind that is being fought in the fiction camp.

First of all, as a ministry leader, you'll find people trust and listen easier if you come from the perspective that fiction has value. They'll know you have their best interests at heart, and that you want to see them glorify God through the stories that speak to them. This will go a long way towards breaking down the prejudice divide that exists between both camps.

Second, it also helps to know that you can't critique fiction from a nonfiction perspective. It's like a different language. Fiction has its own rules, and own ways of teaching that in some cases is purposely and entirely opposite of nonfiction. Where nonfiction teaches through facts, bullet lists, and clear teaching, fiction teaches through imagery, allegory, and sometimes characters who make opposite choices.

For example, just because a character is evil doesn't mean the audience thinks they're worthy of imitation. It wouldn't be necessary to warn them against that character's behavior unless it's a main character your audience loves that they should not be loving. It's better instead to look overall at the worldview of the authors, stories, and movies they are enjoying, cautioning or reinforcing as you see need.

1. Learn the fiction language. 
In the case of your fiction loving part of the audience, they'll know if you know what you're talking about. It's worthwhile learning how fiction works. A couple of helpful ways to do that are to read fiction blogs and to talk to strong Christians you know who love fiction. They can educate you really well in how to thoughtfully critique literature. Then exhort your audience to think through what they read, loving what God loves and hating what he hates. They need that exhortation.

2. Find fiction-savvy people who can keep you updated on trends. 
Teenage girls on Twitter are your friend. You don't have to talk to them about fiction, just follow them and listen as they talk about it. Every movie and book trend will show up in your stream. You'll pick up a lot about what they're learning, and can judge from there how it's affecting them, and if that effect is good. A couple other worthwhile ways to stay connected are to run over the bestseller list in the Christian fiction category on occasion and find out what's hot and why. You could also get a Goodreads account and friend people to see what they're reading and what they want to read. Or you could ask a good friend to email you fiction updates periodically and give you a brief run-down of what's going on.

3. Get a Spotify account to test out music trends.
You betcha I looked up Hamilton after everyone was talking about it. I wanted to know what was going on. After the third swear word in the first song, I decided it wasn't for me, except for Burn (no swearing), which I used as fodder for an emotionally intense scene in my book (it served its purpose, and I don't listen to it on a regular basis.) Spotify is invaluable for the musicals, music groups, and songs people are loving. Again, you don't have to know all of them. But if everyone is talking about something, it may be worthwhile to look it up and respond accordingly.

Fiction has too often been considered mindless entertainment for people after they come home from work. I'm passionate about thinking through literature in a dominion-minded way. And I would love to see that thinking reinforced in the church as we take captive everything to the glory of God. While ministry leaders have to be careful to make God's Word their primary focus, I believe it is also vital and fruitful to stay in touch with the fiction culture so that ministry leaders can guide their group in thinking through this key subject in a God-glorifying way.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My Lady Bibliophile's 5th Birthday!

We are 5 today.

*spins around in a swirl of gold and sparkles*

This was the year we passed 500 blog posts. We did link-ups. We laughed. Reviewed books from all over the place. Beta read. Helped with book releases. Added even more to the TBR pile. Knocked a bit off the TBR pile. Tried to be a little less dignified on occasion. Managed to be just as dignified as usual.

Five years ago, almost to the day, I launched that first post on the internet and joined the blogosphere. It was after I graduated highschool, just a couple of weeks after, I think. My dad had two requests when I started: that I have a purpose and that I maintain consistency. That bedrock vision has driven the blog ever since, and I'm thankful for his original request, which now gives me a portfolio of writing and a habit of self-discipline to work off of.

You rarely start a blog looking 5 years down the road at where you'll be--but I figured there was enough to talk about to get me quite a ways. Now, in 2017, there's still just as much material ahead we haven't covered. And over 5 years, I think I've grown from a visionary 17 year old to a still visionary but more mature twenty-something. I don't regret the journey. It takes time to grow and learn, and I still have a lot more growing and maturing to do.

(i know your age schuyler, 5+17 is easy math.) 

This blog has been a gift from God to me, unfolding year after year after year after year after year after year. I'm so, so happy. Grateful for all the gifts that make up the epic whole. I know how to read. I have a reading mother who introduced me to so many wonderful books. I have a laptop and good internet I can post with. I have time to do this. Companies will send me books to review, and I have the resources to buy some books for myself. I'm grateful for God's Word to measure books against, and a sound mind to think through issues and themes and characters.

I'm grateful for all of you. Every comment, every suggestion and kind word, every retweet. Without you all, this blog would not be half so fun. Because it's really when you can have a conversation around books that the books have meaning.

I hope to organize a giveaway soon to celebrate 5 years of bookishness. In the meantime, I'll post some goals we're steerings towards in 2017.

Bookish Themes for 2017 
For housekeeping items, I put this on the goals last year and didn't get it done, so I'm going to try again for a blog redesign. We needs it, precious. I also plan to update the book review and articles pages. I want to get them in ship-shape for resources again. I'll probably be taking a week off sometime this quarter to focus on that latter goal.

Last year's theme was Big Books--and we tackled some big ones, from Dickens to Tolkien to Metaxas, to Ben-Hur. It was glorious to knock those off the TBR. This year is going to be a little different. Ever since I've started the blog, I've been wanting to re-read and review some of my childhood favorites, from Frances Hodgson Burnett to Walter Farley. This year I'm going to intentionally read some of those. We'll also have a lot of review books and classics just like usual, though, so don't flee. The blog isn't changing.

I'm also planning a Persuasion read-along in celebration of the 200th anniversary of its publication. I do hope you'll join me for some classic Jane Austen fun!

But best of all, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I hope to read some Reformation themed books and post reviews on the blog to mark the occasion. This is a big year. I don't want it to go by without intentionally making time to remember what God did at that time in history. I hope you'll join me for the adventure, and if you have any Reformation-themed titles to suggest, please tell me!

It's going to be exciting, friends. I'm looking forward to reading, thinking, laughing, and wondering with you. Thanks be to God for his incredible faithfulness and lavish gifts.

I do hope you'll join me for virtual cupcakes. :)
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