Monday, December 31, 2018

Best of 2018

M'kay, so before reading this post, how about making yourself a big cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows? Find a comfy recliner. Wrap yourself up in a cozy fleece blanket. Grab a pair of headphones.

Perfect. Now you can browse to your heart's content.

Today is one of those last, delightfully cozy days before we say goodbye. This time of year can be incredibly comforting in the slow, lazy pace of post-holiday vacation. It can also be a little emotionally heavy for some as they face the weight of processing a year gone and a year to come.

But today we lift up our cup of hope for the new year. For we hold the hand of the God of hope, the Father who does not forsake his people. We are not alone.

This is a post I always enjoy creating on My Lady Bibliophile. It's the end of year wrap-up, but it gives me an excuse to pull up a plethora of old blog posts, browse through them, and remember what topics we journeyed through this last year. I've pulled out some favorite articles (they truly are close to my heart) and top book and movie reviews of the last year. I hope you enjoy going back through them. They truly are food for the soul. Also, don't miss the top picks for fiction, nonfiction, and author of the year down below!

I'd love to know what your favorite books and movies were of 2018. Also, did you have a favorite article about books or writing (here or elsewhere)? I'd love to read it! Pop a link in the comments. Let's celebrate the year together!

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Best Of: Articles

The Olympics Come to Avonlea
Love Which Expands
Halfway Into Memory
Life in Tears
Frost on the Moon 
Using a Gay Character for a Good Conversation
Of Love and October 
The Joy and Fear of New
Dear 23: My Cup of Thanksgiving

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Best Of: Book/Movie Reviews

My Heart Belongs In Niagara Falls, New York
Revenge of the Sith 
The Silver Chair: Minky Blankets and Discipline and Joy
The Greatest Showman
Crowning Heaven/The Electrical Menagerie 
Sofi Snow series
I Have Learned {summer mini reviews}
The Last Battle: Of Aslan and Remembrance
Why I Spent $100 on Books This Quarter 

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Best Of: Music 

One Thing --Tenth Avenue North {breaking my heart to make it new}
I Confess --Tenth Avenue North  {see above}
I'll Find You --Lecrae/Torri Kelly {sung at CityFest 2018 to stop suicide}
The Greatest Showman Soundtrack  {you were the best writing music ever. the flame to my fuel. the grin on my face}
*mild language in The Other Side
Burn the Ships album --For King and Country {thank you for being there. this whole year was captured in your music. i love your brave honesty}
Beauty and the Beast Soundtrack  {you kept me company on so many happy drives and writing sessions}
Canaan Bound --Andrew Peterson {the water of life set to music}
Soldier --Fleurie {jaeryn graham, if ever there was a song}
Is He Worthy? --Andrew Peterson {a song to turn to whenever i need to worship}
King of My Heart --Kutless {sung at the church i love}
King of Love --I AM THEY {our rejoicing anthem after Bible Bee 2018, hours before catching a GI bug}


Nonfiction of the Year


This is one of the watershed books (I read two this year) that have given me a vision for how to use my adult life well. If this can shape the next decades of my life, I would be glad.

Fiction of the Year


It came down to a fight between The Silver Chair and Boys of Blur, by N.D. Wilson, so they both technically deserve first place. But The Silver Chair won because it was such a joyous journey of re-discovery full of beauty. And Aslan's theme of discipline and affirmation in Jill's journey (see the review linked in the Book Reviews above) brought joy to my heart. 

Author of the Year 


This year I discovered Kate DiCamillo for the first time, thanks to Annie Hawthorne. I read my first book of hers in January and read two more in October. Kate's ability to write for children with depth, authenticity, whimsy, and sympathy make her books not just good reads, but soul food. Her stories deeply understand and care for her audience. They teach love, forgiveness, and healing. Her deep love for children makes her books timeless for all audiences, and she's a delight to follow on Facebook. I am enchanted and heart-warmed by the light of her literary fire. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Finding a New Bible

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I turn on Canaan Bound, by Andrew Peterson. It is a drink that fills a thirst. Devotions were not plentiful the last of October, added to an overall feeling of yuck from a nasty cold. But I am finding my feet and opening my Bible again.

It's simple. I'm neither doubling up nor even getting all my BSF questions done. Open, read two chapters, read the bits of commentary on the side, and close again. But simple, when you have had nothing for a while, is good.

It has been a couple of weeks since I wrote the last two paragraphs, and again devotions have not been plentiful.

In the middle of struggling to blog and struggling to write, I am still struggling to open my Bible in the mornings. This fall has been a weird blank of teaching and travel and cough medicine. (I'm finally off of the latter.) Tuesday morning I cleaned my room and stacked up empty BSF lessons waiting to be returned to. Three nights ago I lay in bed and thought about what the blog had become and wondered if it would ever go back to regularity again. I had just found my brand--the way I wanted to write--when time itself was snatched away from me. It seems odd to finally find clarity and then have no way to exercise it.

I have no answers to this question. But in the midst of a strange fall season, I have found a new Bible to love.

Every month I get a list of review books available for request. I never really look at Bibles, but this time I glanced at the NKJV Ancient-Modern Bible from Thomas Nelson. I loved it as soon as I read the descriptions. Instead of study notes, the Ancient-Modern Bible contains commentary in the margins by respected men of God ranging from ancient times to modern day. I opened my Bible just now, and the pages contained commentary from C.S. Lewis, John Calvin, Chrysostom, and Charles Spurgeon. There are so many more besides these four. I've never seen study notes like these before, and I love it.

This Bible traveled with me to Texas earlier this month for my sister's Bible Bee competition. I opened it to Psalm 116 after the end of brutal prayer vigils and a health fight over the course of her stay. (Nothing serious, but potentially devastating for the competition.) A friend introduced me to this psalm years ago. Now, it seemed the perfect passage to return thanks for fears averted and prayers answered. And that wasn't the only time this Bible kept me company. One morning as I was pulling out a BSF lesson on Psalm 139, Eugene Peterson's quote excerpt in the margins shaped my prayers for the day. It became a more honest prayer about the state of my heart than I might have prayed otherwise.

This Bible contains many features I know I'm going to enjoy over time. Thomas Nelson includes maps in the back, an index of church creeds, and a selection of Christian paintings through the ages. The inclusion of Makoto Fujimura's painting on one of the pages was another strong seller as I requested this Bible for review. I wish the paintings were full-page, but I will still enjoy looking through them properly in future and getting to know more artists. Also, each introduction to the books of the Bible has a handy key facts section on the top of the page for author, date, audience, purpose, and themes of the book. I really like having the key facts so accessible. They don't require wading through paragraphs of longer introductions to find.


I've reached for this Bible the most throughout this fall. I'm glad to finally have a New King James Bible (it's very readable) and love the commentary it includes. If you're looking for a Bible in this version or a Bible that will introduce you to some church history, Thomas Nelson's Ancient-Modern Bible is a fantastic one to choose. You can find it on Amazon here.

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

of baymax and kdramas // autumn stories

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We need a Baymax today.

Baymax, for the uninitiated like myself, is a rubbery, marshmallowy robot who acts as a personal healthcare assistant. I first encountered Baymax in Big Hero 6 last month, when I visited a beautifully creaky house in Minnesota. We curled up on the couch in the dark. An empty plate holding the crumbs of pizza rolls rested next to the laptop. And I cried. Only Baymax could infuse warmth into an automated voice as he tends to a little boy wrestling with grief.

After a lingering cold that has never quite left since the end of October, I am ready for a marshmallowy, personal health care assistant to assess not only the physical lack but also the dreariness of stolen energy and creativity. There are only so many Facebook articles and YouTube videos one can stand while resting, and taking several weeks off blogging leaves a slightly panicked feeling in its wake.

Even though blogging has not been plentiful, stories have continued finding their way to my heart and laptop screen. Later that night in Minnesota, I snuggled up on the couch and pulled up
While You Were Sleeping on Viki. (Content advisory for language and intense injury scenes). While You Were Sleeping is a kdrama, acted in Korean with English subtitles, and it captured my heart from the beginning. Not only did it have three best friends, which I love (Han Woo-Tak has the cutest happy smile I've ever seen in my life, and I don't mean that in a crush way) but it also has a couple who are a powerful force for tackling life's problems together. Nam Hong-Joo starts the series waking up in the mornings with frightening dreams about what's going to happen in her future. When young prosecutor Jeong Jae-Chan has a dream of his own and rescues her from impending tragedy, they realize they've been given a terrible gift--advance warning--and have to work together to prevent these tragedies from occurring. Through the conflicts that follow--antagonists, time limits, and their own inner conflicts--the story develops in a rich, dramatic, and sweet way. It's intense, digging into the small choices that can change major events, but also taking time to be funny at the characters' expense in work or social settings.

All good things though, even kdramas, come to an end. Since then, we are grateful for friends who give us chili and our grandma who drops off chicken noodle soup and medicine. Homework grading goes on, but at night when I tuck in under my puffy gray comforter, I reach for Ian Doescher's The Force Doth Awaken--Star Wars Episode VII told in Shakespeare style. Katherine Forster (you should go check out her site) told me about it originally, and it's brilliant fun. Han Solo's Crispin's Day Speech, Poe Dameron's cheeky lines, and Chewie's tragic lament over his master's death bring the tale to life in stage play form. You can find out how Doescher worked off of Shakespeare's original texts in the free reading guide. But if you don't know much Shakespeare, like me, you can still enjoy it anyway.

Yesterday, weary of feeling stale and cooped up, I escaped to our tiny library to pick up a couple more books. I can't recommend them yet, because I haven't read them. But I am part of a book club and they're reading The Scorpio Races this month, so I slipped the maroon-covered hardcover off the Teen Fiction shelves. I already appreciate Maggie Stiefvater's descriptions of sibling life, though The Scorpio Races bears warning notes of not being an easy tale. (FYI, I've heard there's some language in this one as well.) 

Books help amidst the scraped-raw feeling of partly-functional life. Our favorite bookstore had a one day sale, and I felt well enough to go out to it and keep germs contained. My magic touch for finagling deals didn't extend to two beautiful series I wanted to take home. But I did pick up a copy of Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift--her Christmas devotional centered around the Jesse tree. I first wanted this book two years ago, when a friend and I sat in the parking lot of a Biggby's coffee at 10:00pm and she showed me some of the questions inside. In the midst of recovering devotions after travel and sickness, I thought it might be worth trying this Christmas season.

A couple of months from now, I hope, we will look back at this and probably shudder, and also sigh with relief that it is over. In the meantime, life settles down to taking medicine as needed and turning pages, listening to "Never Give Up" by King and Country, and discovering new stories.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Joy and Fear of New

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Friday night after teaching classes, I solo traveled for the first time. I am in Minneapolis right now, seeing a friend and visiting a college.

The house we stay in is scarred with life. Wooden floors creak under the weight of evening, long after people have gotten into bed. The sun shines gently on a tabletop bearing up the memory of dozens of meals, countless study sessions. It is a house of industry--of memory. Its inhabitants breath in the air of age (150 years, to be precise) and embrace the discomfort of new. New concepts. New books. New assignments.

New things are a discomfort. I find myself insecure in the face of new skills I am learning this year. I wish I was good at things from the start. Inadequacy rests like a knapsack on my shoulders, and it does not feed my pride. New skills can be fearful sometimes because I will not admit they are new, or that they should be, or that I shouldn't have everything figured out at once.

But over this weekend, new things are also a taste of joy. Ever since getting on a plane flight it has been a blessed kind of new. Walking through a quiet airport long after most people are gone and thinking of Relative Race and the family. Traveling to a home I have never been, this time solo. Here I go to a new coffee shop and taste the cinnamon foam on a chai latte. Listen to Andrew Peterson's Canaan Bound as the sun comes through the window. Wrestle with a child's trauma and the plans of spies in a story.

At night, with pizza and egg rolls on plates in the living room, we shut the lights off and turn on Thor. It is my first Marvel movie. I have not read much mythology. This too is new and somewhat uncomfortable to me. Here, Thor has his hammer and Odin isn't a random god's name in How to Train Your Dragon. Here a mythical tree connects the nine realms to one another.

"It feels pagan," I said to a friend.

She laughs. "Well, that's because it is." But then she went on to talk about Lewis, about how the threads of mythology still reflect the truth of our sin, and how you can trace that Christ's atonement is the missing answer all these stories are looking for. It made sense--that something used by the devil to spread lies still could not divorce from God's greater power to preserve truth--that natural law written on people's hearts.

Mythology may be new and imperfect (mixed, as well, with sweet and epic.) But it is a new thing worth considering and thinking over.

Here in Minneapolis, the first snow floats through the air. The trees are fire and sun, and the football stadium stands in the middle of everything. I have heard it is like the moon--you come back to it eventually. The pulsing heart of the city. Here a little girl plays with her toys on a Saturday morning and watches Kipper on a tiny phone screen. Here a baby speed-reads through a board book, madly flipping pages he has no time to deal with. Here the grownups find cash for laundry and groceries to eat and a way to balance life--or try to.

But here, too, on the weekends, we curl up three on a couch and switch the lights off for Murder on the Orient Express. I read the book years ago--so long that I remembered the ending, but the details of the mystery--who the characters were and why it happened--had gone to the lost memories dump.

Here, I encounter familiar: a historical mystery. But in the mystery, Hercule Poirot himself encounters the new. For him, it is not a joy. It is a grief. A grief of wrestling with his morality, of finding something in his world that does not fit. In the midst of glamorous characters, stunning scenery, and fascinating sets, he wrestles with something that, as my friend so eloquently expressed, has not been part of his world to this point and finds himself vanquished.

For Poirot it is a discomforting conclusion he has never had to face before. For me, it is a joy: experiencing a vivid story with friends who understand it and tell me what they love about it.

The next day I warm up leftover Chinese food (Mongolian beef, cashew chicken, and General Tso's.) and spend lunch with the new yet again--a pair of chopsticks--

smol, happy schuyler 

--and Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. This, too, is something I have never read before.

I am grateful for the new things I have experienced this week. The new in stories and the new in life have filled my cup with gladness. But even the new I am not always glad for--this too, will lead eventually to the comfortable familiarity of answers I am glad to finally grasp.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

{of love and october}

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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

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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.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Literary Book Gifts {gift options +coupon!}

It's never too early to be thinking about Christmas. And on your list of options this year, I can 100% guarantee you have a book lover.

If you're looking for gifts for your bibliophilic best friend, your library-haunting teacher, or your classics-loving relative, today's website will make their eyes light up.

Melissa, over at Literary Book Gifts, asked me if I'd take a peek at her website and share it with my blog readers. I had never heard of Literary Book Gifts before, but when I clicked on the link, I loved the options. What I'm sharing here is honest enjoyment and recommendation (no affiliate links) but be sure to stay tuned for a coupon offer for Lady Bibliophile readers below!

*all images used by permission from www.literarybookgifts.com

Literary Book Gifts specializes in t-shirts ($28) and tote bags (pricing varies by size). Every shirt has a title on it and a graphic that goes along with the book. These titles have tons of options for classics lovers, everything from Jane Eyre and Little Women:



To The Jungle Book and Wind in the Willows:



Not sure which title to choose? You can even get a typewriter shirt for your favorite writer friend!



But my favorite shirt of all, and probably the first one to catch my eye is the Sherlock Holmes shirt:
The best thing about these shirts: They're available in both men's and women's cuts (I've pictured women's cuts here) and there are a great range of color options for each shirt that you get to choose from. (For instance, I think the Sherlock Holmes shirt has to be black.)

Now for the tote bags. I love tote bags. They come in handy when I need to carry extra clothes for work, tuck books in for tutoring, or take a trip to the library and pick up more than I came for. My top favorites here were these three (but there are tons more to choose from!)




Aren't the shades of blue on the Emily Dickenson bag positively elegant? The totes come in small, medium, and large for all your book carrying needs!

If you see something that catches your eye, head over to Literary Book Gifts to check out some early Christmas shopping!

I loved looking at these book-themed products. Thank you so much for getting in touch with me, Melissa!

AND Melissa offered the coupon LADYBIBLIOPHILE20 for 20% at Literary Book Gifts. This coupon doesn't expire, and you can use it any time! It gets you around $5 off a t-shirt, which is a great discount! :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Crossing the Summer Line

via Pixabay
This vacation marked a turning point. A line between one season and the next--between a free summer and the structured adrenaline of the school year.

I'm listening to "Soldier" by Fleurie right now. It tastes of anticipation in the grit of the rhythm. Of more students to tutor and more classes to teach. After I finish writing this, I'll pull out a Star Wars notebook I got from Walmart and jot down more class topics for the creative fiction class. Today I looked up book recommendations for students I tutor. Tonight after dinner I'm diving back into the world of Jaeryn Graham, hoping to finish act one of Folkestone Files #2 by the time the school year starts.

The pace will step up. In a couple of weeks, I'll switch over to the fall reading list. Bible Study Fellowship will start again, and I'll hear from my small group leader to find out which group I'll be part of this year. I'll start another Bible reading plan reading through the whole Bible again--this time looking for Jesus all the way through.

But it's good to remember.

We're sitting by the fire. Everyone sings "Wonderful, Merciful Savior" as a flurry of sparks shoots up through the night air. A mom in a crocheted afghan sings across the circle, and kids play games in the tent beyond. Two nights later, the moon is full. A man points out Mars, and a few inches across the dark expanse, another man finds Jupiter. Flames glow white hot in the fire pit. A blonde young woman holds a little girl as flame light draws a veil over their contemplative faces. Marshmallows droop soft on the tips of metal roasting forks. A Superman children's lawnchair sits across the circle, deserted. And a girl rubs the belly fur of a friendly caramel dog named Digby. 

This summer I laid Hamlet on the grass, squished in the middle of a crowd of people. Waited for Zach Williams to appear in a stadium on the shore of Lake Michigan. (Didn't actually read any Hamlet. But I'm glad the li'l buddy came along.) I read Culture Care before bed each night and slipped The Electrical Menagerie into my luggage for a trip to Canada last week.

We are home now from the land of poutine and Timbits and 'eh'.

But there are a few days left. A few minutes to read The Evaporation of Sofi Snow under bedroom twinkle lights. To catch the last of a free Netflix trial and more Call the Midwife. To explore Alice in Wonderland and dream of what is to come.

What are you tasting the anticipation of? A book? A class? A job? I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Frost on the Moon {august memories}

via Pixabay
A golden-brown face. A slow, fuzzy, confused voice. A boy who forgot the Hundred Acre Wood.

Sis and I snatched a morning the week before vacation to see Christopher Robin. She had just finished the last local segment of her annual Bible Bee competition. Dressed in what we have affectionatly dubbed Pooh and Piglet outfits, (hers is red and golden brown, mine two shades of pink) we trotted off, hoping for enchantment.

Christopher Robin is not a sequel to Goodbye, Christopher Robin, containing hints of CR's dissilusionment with his father's stories. It's a Disney movie, beautiful in its own fictional right. In Christopher Robin, the Hundred Acre Wood is entirely real. And CR's dissilusionment is not with his father, but with his past.

He has grown up and the reality of working overtime, stress, and pressure. He has forgotten Pooh.

Then Pooh turns up. And Pooh, in his delightfully slow, innocent way, knows nothing of stress or overtime. Pooh is still enchanted by doing Nothing; by red balloons; by his animal friends--and by Christopher Robin.

Bless that bear.

We emerged two hours later into the sun, with McDonald's gift cards. Sis got an accidental gold mine of extra chicken nuggets. And then we went home.

I'm afraid I turned back into grown-up Cristopher Robin. The rest of that week was a blur of lesson planning, events, packing, and feeling tired. And being a bit grumpy, admittedly.

schuyler, you angel girl. you never. 

The world is so much better with Pooh eyes. In Pooh's world, you can sit on a blanket by a fire, resting from an afternoon of swimming. People chat around you--conversations about picking green peppers, discussing kefir milk, and teasing parents about giving sugar to their kids.

In this world, a bag of chips goes round the circle from hand to hand. People grab a few; pass them on; hand them round the circle again. Andrew Peterson's "King of Love" runs around your heart like a refrain.

Embers pop out in angry spits, winking with fiery orange fury along blades of grass. More people come to the fire and folks push out the ring of chairs to make room. Clouds forecasting coming rain cover the moon with a delicate white frost.

In Pooh's world, there is room for holding peaches that burst open to juice when you bite them. For eating fries and gravy and cheese curds with your fingers and not caring about the mess. Pooh friends have a moment to hold a toad with eyes shining like copper seed beads. To let a friend fall asleep on your shoulder and grab ridged sour cream and onion chips at ten in the evening.

also timbits, schuyler. don't forget the timbits. 

And at the end of the day, to savor the moment when you create a nest on the couch and prop your eyes open at midnight. Because it's just too good to miss, diving into a book about an electrical menagerie and two terrifically fun show guys.

The summer's almost over. It's easy to jump into the stress and logistics of what's to come. But for the sake of a golden-furred bear who knows how to savor Nothing....take some time to savor it with him.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Using a Gay Character for a Good Conversation

via Pixabay
Sydney Stark is the warmest, friendliest publisher comrade in The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. He's always there with an easy joke, a polished congratulations, a comforting word.

Sydney is also gay. In spite of that, I still appreciate his character.

Rewind a century to 19th century London. In season 2 of Victoria, her court member Alfred Paget carries on a romantic relationship with Edward Drummond. One kiss and a tragic ending later, Albert turns to an heiress to find a marriage partner.

For a while, Alfred is gay. I have a problem with that.

So what gives, Schuyler? What makes the difference?

There are some camps, of which I probably would have used to be one, that would say the portrayal of both men was something that Christians shouldn't participate in reading about. Boycott, protest, and warn people away. But I think it's a little more nuanced than that. It all comes down to why you're watching it and how you engage with the art.

I haven't seen season 2 of Victoria yet. I probably will, but I just haven't gotten around to it. But as a Christian, I disagree with Alfred Paget's character portrayal because he exists to celebrate an unbiblical lifestyle. He is not there to create truthful or beautiful art. He's given a hot-button issue (which isn't historically accurate) to connect with a modern audience.

However, I don't have the same problem with Sydney Stark's character.

read on, lizzy 

No kind of gay relationship is portrayed on screen. In fact, you'd almost not even know he's gay except for one comment. Juliet confides to a friend that Sydney would probably have a better chance of loving her if she were named George or Tom. After a moment of confusion, her friend's face clears and she nods in realization.

Sydney maintains good art to a certain extent because he portrays a fully-dimensional person instead of a gay agenda. Alfred violates good art because his character exists to prove that sin is acceptable. The Bible contains fully dimensional sinners and is not threatened by them. But God never deceives his followers into thinking that sin is desirable.

Guernsey doesn't go further than making Syndey three-dimensional. But when I engage that piece of art with biblical truth, I can take that story to a further conclusion that leads to a fuller picture of Truth.

I'm speaking to my fellow conservatives here when I say that Sydney's characterization can open up a fruitful conversation to remind us that gay-identifying people are more than gay. Sydney reminds us that people who are gay are also...people. Warm, friendly, fully dimensional people. They have lives and professions, they can be wonderful friends and make good contributions to the world. Even unsaved, they are still Imago Dei.

This is how people like Sydney can help those of us who disagree with a gay lifestyle. You see, as conservatives, when we pigeon-hole someone according to an issue or a category, then we can easily dismiss them as an enemy. We lump them all into together and shut them out. They do not touch our hearts. But when we remember that the Sydney Starks of the world are real individuals with sins and struggles and a soul just like us, then we are much more likely to face the question: how are we going to respond?

It's much harder to dismiss a person than to dismiss a category. When you finally see someone as a person, then you are more likely to feel grief for their sin and love for their soul. When we feel grief and love for them, we are much more likely to engage them with the good news of the Gospel.

Good art can open our eyes to that.

Just to be clear, I don't believe that gay relationships are biblical. Nor do I believe that a portrayal of sin in stories is a neutral thing. I don't believe that Christians enjoying entertainment should take the casual inclusion of gay characters or relationships lightly. We need to think about these things. Mindless consumption of entertainment is not a good thing.

But I do believe that Sydney's story can open up doors to discuss these concepts. I think his character would be especially fruitful to discuss with a period drama loving teen or twenty-something--either one who struggles with Christians condemning the gay lifestyle, or one who cannot understand the power and compassion of Christ to forgive certain sins. Just as Paul engaged the people of Athens with their idols and their poets, and then presented truth, we can also do that with stories.

In a good conversation, Syndey's character can illustrate that even when a sinner is still loveable, he is still a sinner. Sydney can illustrate that even when he is still a sinner, he is not beyond the reach and transformation of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). And Syndey can illustrate that even believers who struggle with sexual temptation in this area are not the sum of their sexual sin, but they are the sum of their status as an image-bearer (Lies Women Believe, pg. 143-146.)

By itself, Guernsey will teach you none of these things. It's just a fun period drama with a quick, almost-miss gay comment. But art, and especially story, and especially Guernsey, can be a non-threatening, non-explicit vehicle for engaging the issue. It's not an end place. But with the right person, and the right conversation, it can be a springboard to further diving into Scripture.

Because I do not personally have opportunities to interact with people who identify as gay (though I would love to someday) Sydney's fictional personality helped me engage with that truth in a Gospel light. And I am grateful for it. The best kind of art is a springboard that, when wrestled and engaged with, and conversed about, leads you back to Scripture and Truth--which is Jesus.

I more than welcome comments or texts that will sharpen my perspective on this issue!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Fawkes {a review}

via Pixabay
Last Friday I couldn't sleep. So I curled up on the couch for an hour with Minky blanket and a book--and the next morning, after some sleep, I curled up and binge-read the rest of it.

The book? Fawkes, by Nadine Brandes. It's a story of Thomas Fawkes, son of Guy Fawkes, the man who tried to blow up Parliament. But it also has a fantasy twist. Thomas Fawkes lives in a world where everybody has a mask, and each person's mask gives them the ability to bond with a certain special color power. The problem? Igniters believe you can bond with multiple color powers, and they're killing the more conservative Keepers, who only bond with one. Guy Fawkes is determined to blow up the Igniter Parliament to protect the Keepers in the land. And Thomas? Well, he just wants to get his mask before he dies of the Stone Plague.

There's always a little nervous feeling when you get a new book from an author you like. Will you love it as much as the others? The Out of Time series was such a loveable series with vivid characters, so I really wanted to know how Fawkes would feel. It had a delicious cover: check. But what about the story inside?

At first, I struggled to connect with Thomas, Guy Fawkes, and the plot to blow up Parliament. Because the story spans two years, I think the beginning struggles tension-wise because time has to pass before you can really set the time bomb ticking. But the plot starts to pick up in places in the Black section, and really picks up by the masquerade ball. Thomas and Emma in that scene are the cutest. ever. I ship them. :)

 As I kept reading, the theme knocked my socks off. The wisdom and maturity of truth in this book is such a beautiful contribution to bookshelves everywhere. I loved its implications for this generation. It's a historical book that manages to answer important questions and issues of today's millennial generation. We're living in an age where everyone has a label, similar to the color systems. We're also living in an age where hatred for the opposing side is just as rampant as the Keeper/Igniter war. But as Thomas finds himself further and further entangled in a war that will lead to the death of innocents, the book's conclusion offers a wonderful truth that I won't spoil, just because it's even more fun to discover it for yourself. I was surprised by how deeply the theme tied into the hearts of the people who would be reading it, and delighted by how powerful it was.

Fawkes, unlike the Out of Time series, is written for the general market, which means it's not explicitly Christian. But it's implicitly Christian in a powerful way that slices through the grey areas of our modern line of thought, which tries to validate experience over unchanging truth you can hold on to. Fawkes faces off between truth and personal belief in an engaging way that reaches the hearts of its intended audience. It's perfect for the YA age group. It dramatizes personal responsibility and relationship with God that can't rely on parents or even on yourself. And it encourages you to evaluate and re-think your own perspective. I appreciated it because even though I am a Christian, I'm still affected by the current cultural air. This book reminded me that ultimately how I feel or how someone I love feels really needs to take a back seat in my heart to what God feels about something.


Four weeks ago, I met Nadine Brandes in person at the Realm Maker's conference. She very kindly signed my entire Out of Time series, along with her newest book, Fawkes. It's a joy to be one of her Ninja team!

Nadine also has her newest book available for pre-order, which I'm super excited about: Romanov, a story of Anastasia, the last daughter of the last Russian tzar. You can even pre-order it on Amazon and add it to your shelves on Goodreads!

Nadine also has the funnest newsletter, full of writing news, book she's reading, and a fun "chat" feel that comes once a month to your newsletter inbox. I love them. Also, if you like Instagram, she has a really fun bookstagram there.

Have you read Fawkes yet? What is your favorite color power? 
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