Tuesday, July 10, 2018

4th of July Book Haul

via pixabay
This 4th of July was a hot one. One of those where you shower and go out and then come home and shower again because it's so hot. Did that stop me from going to the annual book sale?

Pfft. What a question. 

Complete with water and rolling cart to carry books (very smart suggestion, made by le mama, which I was super happy with later) I trecked off to the library. Tables and tables of books in the hot sun. Filing around rows of books with other eager bibliophiles. 

Much bliss. 

So here's what I picked up (disclaimer: I haven't read most if not all of these books, and some of them are interesting general market books but may contain content that I probably wouldn't fully endorse/may end up discarding later. If you know of yucky content, I'd love to hear about it!)

The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society
GUYS. A movie adaptation with Lily James releasing in just a month! It looks fantastic! I hope it's good--I was over the moon to find this book (plus a copy for an author friend of mine.) 

The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder 
This book is about a boy who associates things in his life with different colors. But the color of murder disturbs him, and he needs to find out what caused the death of one of his neighbors. Note: I just flipped through the first pages, and it looks like it may contain a mature theme. I possibly won't be continuing. 

The Book Thief
When I was younger, I turned up my nose at the moral premise of stealing books. Now I'd actually like to consider the story, because it seems to be a powerful one. 

The Five Love Languages of Children 
I've never actually read a full book on the five love languages, but I've taken the test and found it helpful. I flipped through this edition at another place recently and thought it might have some helpful insights in it  (especially because I'm rarely around children.)

The Help
I don't know about all the content in here, but like The Book Thief, this seems to be a powerful story, so I thought I'd pick it up and consider it, especially due to the themes of racial injustice. After To Kill a Mockingbird and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I'd love to see the theme further on in history. 

90 Minutes in Heaven
I was able to hear Don Piper speak once at a writer's conference. His story made sense to me, but I thought it would be worth reading the entire book to see if all of it bears out with my current understanding of Scripture. 

Good to Great, by Jim Collins
I just heard of this book--it contains the 20-mile march principle from Amundsen's race with Scott to the north pole. Amundsen marched consistently 20 miles a day, and I love how they apply this concept to all of life. I thought it would be interesting to explore further. It's for businesses, so I don't know if a lot of it will apply, but we'll give it a shot. 

Friday's Child, by Georgette Heyer
I haven't read a Georgette Heyer, but really want to! There were several to choose from but I didn't know which one to get, all the sads, so I picked one by title and hoped for the best. 

Romeo and Juliet 
Currently on a Shakespeare kick. I wanted to get The Merchant of Venice, but that one was a school copy with markings in it, so I thought I'd wait for one with clean pages. And one of the other collections I thought about switching out for was gone by the time I went back. All the sads. 

The Princess Bride 
Hopefully good for laughs. 

Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World
Both beautiful and the same editions. Just found out The Far Side of the World is #10. Oh, well. I'm good at reading the endings of things first. ;) :cheeky chuckle: 

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I
I already have a couple of editions of Sherlock Holmes. But this one was the same cover I checked out from our home library and read first. I couldn't resist. The sentiment was strong with this one, and it's the perfect travel copy. 

Gone With The Wind
My two goals this year are to read Gone With The Wind and Wuthering Heights so I know the stories and my mom and I can chat about them together. 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass 
Please be enchanting! When's the best atmosphere to read this book? 

The Iliad and The Odyssey 
I hadn't thought of any books ahead of time, but I thought this one would be cool to read ahead of time. I've heard Aimee Meester recommend it, and it sounds fun, so I was super happy it turned up!

Have you picked up any books recently? What's on your summer reading stack? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Last Battle: Of Aslan and Remembrance

via Pixabay
It was almost midnight on a Saturday evening when I finished The Last Battle. There were two chapters left, and if you've already read the book, you can't stop in the middle of the last two chapters. It is a hard book. A book of endings after glorious centuries of adventure. By the time you're into the adventure, there's also a sense of foreboding: this battle and what comes from it will not be the same as anything else from Narnia.

When we were younger, my mom covered the pictures of Tash. Those were dark to us.

The Last Battle starts, interestingly enough, with the clearest depiction of manipulative abuse I've ever seen in print. If I were counseling someone going through that issue, I would probably pull out that chapter as an example. It takes the danger signs and puts them to living flesh in the dialogue of an evil monkey: "Now Puzzle, I understand what needs to be done better than you. You know you're not clever, Puzzle." From the beginning Shift makes Puzzle do the dirty work, railroading over all his protests. He sends Puzzle into a dangerous, cold pool, sends him to the market for bananas (making him think he wants a walk when he doesn't), and forces him to put on a lionskin costume when he's tired. It's easy to see that Shift is bad from moment one. And Puzzle has believed Shift for so long that he really does believe he isn't clever anymore: a tragic sign of an abusing relationship.

Throughout the story, Puzzle is rescued from Shift and lifted from his captivity. C.S. Lewis, through Eustace, points out that believing lies does damage. "If you'd spent less time saying you weren't clever and more time trying to be as clever as you can--" Jill, of course, shuts him up, though I think it's an interesting point that lies we believe about ourselves contribute to the unhealthy power an abuser can exercise, denoting that we bear some responsibility for our own actions. (Though certainly not at all for theirs.) I also thought of a danger signal earlier in the book: "There were very few Talking Beasts or Men or Dwarfs, or people of any sort, in that part of the wood, but Shift had one friend and neighbor who was a donkey called Puzzle." That sounds a knell of concern. An abuser with one friend, far away from anyone else who could challenge him or tell Puzzle what was really going on. It's so sad. Puzzle had no help. He was stuck on his own, and it's easy to get stuck on your own. We all need people to help us. But while it's sad, thankfully it also has a good ending: Lewis gently depicts the healing that came when Puzzle found precious, true community and Aslan.

Another thing that struck me in the book was how important remembering history was in dark moments. In chapter four, after a captive King Tirian sees a strange, harsh Aslan appear on the hill near him, he is left in cold and darkness. At that moment, he sets his mind back to remembering. "He thought of other Kings....He thought of his great-grandfather's great-grandfather King Rilian....Then he went further back and thought about Rilian's father, Caspian the Seafarer....And then he remembered (for he had always been good at history when he was a boy) how those same four children who had helped Caspian had been in Narnia over a thousand years before." Remembering gives Tirian the tool he needs to cry out to Aslan and the four children from the past. It's impossible not to draw the parallel: time and again in Scripture, remembrance of God's acts of deliverance gives hope for the future.

Later on in the book, in chapter eight, King Tirian is walking with Eustace, Jill, and their tiny band of survivors in one of the happiest scenes in that bleak middle. They're in the midst of a beautiful wood when Jill says "It's a pity there's always so much [misfortune] happening in Narnia." In that moment, Jewel the Unicorn says that she's "quite mistaken". He tells her more ancient Narnian history than we've probably heard in the series thus far, covering the time between The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Swanwhite the Queen. Centuries of dances, feasts, and tournaments. King Gale, who delivered the Lone Islands from a dragon. While this isn't used to draw out hope, it's a fascinating moment in the story.

It's a story of high emotion: a great epic at the end of a tale for children. It twists your heart in the reading of it from Jill's tears in battle, to the bear's heartrending confusion in his moment of death (which my sister pointed out to me), to the dwarves' rejection of truth after Shift used their religion to lie to them. Throughout the dark moments, Tirian's personal demeanor and relationship with Jewel the Unicorn give a feeling of courteous, chivalric knighthood in a way I noticed differently from the other tales. (For some reason, I don't know why, King Tirian was one of my favorite kings.) King Tirian and Jewel's iconic stand by the white rock is a fitting climax to the seventh story in Narnia. I won't spoil the ending for those of you who haven't read it. But in the midst of the darkness, Tirian's steadfast faith gives comfort: "Courage, child. We are all between the paws of the true Aslan."

Skip just this paragraph if you don't want a couple of spoilers. The only thing that struck me as a little off (and I'm being too perfectionist, I'm like, this is Lewis's story, Schuyler, it's OK) was the spiritually-blind dwarves still sitting in the middle of the grass when other animals have streamed off into Aslan's shadow. Why is this cockroach in my salad? Aslan's country is supposed to be perfect. Secondly, I know it's slightly rebellious and perhaps theologically questionable, but I was always glad that Emeth got to Aslan's country. Perhaps not right, but it is how I feel. And lastly, I was also glad when a friend sent me a quote she found about Susan from C.S. Lewis: "The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end--in her own way." ~C.S. Lewis, letter of 22 January 1957

Later in the book another beautiful quote pops up: "Tirian said they could come with him and take their chance--or as he much more sensibly called it, 'the adventure that Aslan would send them'." In Aslan's hands, there is no chance. His sovereignty still reigns, and he still cares about his people in this story: the confused mice who don't know if they should help Tirian. The bear who "doesn't understand." Puzzle, in the grip of an antichrist figure. Tirian, bereft of Cair Paravel. And Jill and Eustace, who can't quite remember how they left home. Even in the midst of fire and Calormene drums, of gathering enemies and the fear of being shoved through the stable door, the High King reigns in Narnia. And that squeezes my heart because through a story it washes us with the truth that God is taking care of us. Even when we don't understand, and the enemy is stronger, and our fears draw closer and closer to hand, God is taking care of us.

*slight spoilers follow* 

This story is hard and sad, but it is also glorious and hopeful. The contrasts are sharp, leaving the light bursting bright. I am glad to have read it. Of course, I want to read the rest of the chapters that go on and on, "each one better than the last." I never want Narnia to end.

So, even though I don't get to read them, I'm glad it never will.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

If You Need a Refresh on Devotions

cover photo via Goodreads 
Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson have a fun mother/daughter presence on Twitter. Sometimes interacting with each other with a humorous repartee, but also maintaining their own ministries, their main focus is to bring Christians back to the heart of our faith: the Gospel. In doing that, they remind readers again and again that Christ loves us all, not for what we have done, but for what he has done. Their reminders always feel full of comfort and grace.

I met both of them at the National Bible Bee a few years ago, for a mother/daughter breakfast. I had just read the book they co-authored together, Answering Your Kids' Toughest Questions, which offers age-appropriate answers for hard things to talk about. I think it was Elyse that day who mentioned her granddaughter's name was Eowyn (We got onto that because I was telling her about my name origin: an actress on Anne of Green Gables.)

A few months ago I noticed a new book of hers on Amazon, and I was excited that it might be one of my options in the Bethany House review program. Sure enough, it was. Finding the Love of Jesus From Genesis to Revelation is well worth adding to your TBR. It will help you rediscover the Scripture with a whole new appreciation.

Elyse starts with a Biblical framework, exploring some faulty reasons Christians have for reading their Bibles, (morality studies, daily fire insurance from problems, etc.) Instead, she points out that the Bible is about Christ. Using the example of Jesus walking on the Emmaus road in Luke 24, she says that since he found himself in all the Scriptures, we should look for him in the Old Testament too.

As a side note, something she said blew my mind: Jesus read the Scriptures growing up knowing he was the central figure. They were all about him. That left me in awe because any normal human facing that would collapse under the pride, but Jesus was able to read something that was entirely about himself while maintaining his sinlessness.

Elyse spends the majority of the rest of the book demonstrating how to take on a Christ-centered mindset in reading the Old Testament. Because she's writing to women, she explores some biblical accounts about women, including Esther and Deborah. But she also goes into men, including Job and Moses. At the end of each chapter, she offers questions which encourage readers to respond to the chapter and to dig into Scripture for themselves. While I couldn't do them in the initial read-through, I'd really like to come back to them. This book is a great choice to jumpstart morning devotions, to study with a group, or even to gift someone who likes studying the Scriptures. Its primary focus is to point us all to what Christ did and how he loves his people.

I'm still working through a couple of points in the book that my heart isn't quite with yet. I understand the point about the Bible not being about us (and Elyse does a really good job explaining what is still about us, especially in the chapter about the law) but there's something about my understanding of that perspective that still bothers me, and I haven't worked through it yet. That's not the fault of the book. It's just where I'm at in my spiritual maturing. Also, another point she made about the law was frustrating at first, but let to a really neat lightbulb moment this morning. She said, "What this third use [of the law] should not do, however, is cause us to think that our grateful obedience earns God's love for us. So, should we strive to love in response to his love? Yes, of course. But whatever we accomplish in our striving, none of it merits God's love or care for us. We can't be good enough, but he loves us anyway." Initially, I felt frustrated since I was hearing, "Nothing you can do earns God's favor, but still do good anyway." I didn't really see the point of doing that just in itself. But I had more to learn. 

A missing piece of my understanding fell into place listening to Michael Card this weekend. He's talking about hesed: God's extravagant favors to us, and how he wants his children to ask for favors even though we know we don't deserve them. The extravagant love of hesed, he said, hopes for and wants a response from us in like kind. An example of that would be the sinful woman, whom Jesus has forgiven much, and who washes his feet with her tears, anointing them with oil. That's extravagant hesed in return for extravagant hesed. It's not about earning grace. It's about responding to grace with extravagant love. Obedience is Jesus' love language--and so it's an extravagant and heartfelt response to what he's done for us.

That's what Elyse was saying as well. I just couldn't hear her saying it until this morning. "Remember that the primary law is to love, and love is always responsive in nature. He loves us, therefore we love him and want to please him. Only as you remember how much he has loved you will you be motivated to love and obey in return" (Finding the Love of Jesus, pg. 128-129).

I obey so much out of obligation and fear and anxiety. These teachings are good truths for me to hear.

I read the Bible once a year for a while using a couple of different plans for daily devotions. Two years ago I felt in the need of breaking the routine, and have spent the time since in various study methods, study books, and BSF. But I'm starting to feel the hunger to return again, and reading Elyse's book gave me something fresh to hunt for when I start up a plan again. I want to look for Jesus and his love as I read through it. I'm so glad I read Finding the Love of Jesus From Genesis to Revelation, and I would definitely recommend it to love and know Jesus more.

Find it on Amazon or Goodreads.

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

Friday, June 22, 2018

1 Year Ago {100% on Kickstarter}

I wasn't quite sure when the date was for the end of the War of Loyalties Kickstarter campaign; so I checked recently--and when I found out it was this Friday, I set a reminder on my phone. 

A year ago today, sometime around 9:30, we hit 100% funding. 

That opened up the door to so many dreams--to paying an editor. Choosing the cover designer I really wanted to work with. Creating beautiful posters for characters (including one of Jaeryn's iconic vow). A year later I have a book of my own in print--that has been loved so kindly in its maiden voyage. 

It was a dream that started with a lined piece of paper, a pen, and an old orange folder seven years ago. 

That Kickstarter money covered costs and then some. It covered font licenses that I hadn't planned on, in order to reimburse other creatives for their work. It covered shipping (those were crazy days standing while postal workers slapped stickers on many boxes.) It covered necklaces and shipping boxes. But more than that: your investment in the project fueled me in those last edits to try to make it the very best the story could be. I wanted to honor your investment--and that helped me in that final re-write it really needed. I had a tribe. A waiting audience. That was an incredible gift in itself. 

While there were a couple of learning-curve rough spots, overall the journey of publication was a dream come true. It was a journey of enough. Enough money. Enough time. Enough joy and knowledge. Enough help. It was a gift from God that I hope I will still be looking back on and remembering when I am old. 

Perhaps I should make the reminder on my phone a yearly one: an Ebenezer stone to mark the way. 

Your 100% made it possible to hold my book in print 100 years from the time the story took place. It made it so I could sell books at our homeschool convention. It's brought across my path fans of characters I love. Next weekend I'll even be bringing copies to a World War One tea. And as I sit and write, there are several boxes of books across the room from me that will find their way to homes. 

Thank you to all of you who poured out. Because of you, I get to use the long-dreamed-of title, "Author".

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

In Which Mrs. Lynde Discovers Anne With an E

After watching the trailer for Anne with an E, Season 2, I thought it would be hilarious fun to have Mrs. Lynde's commentary on it. No disparagement to the series intended--I haven't seen it yet! A link to the trailer is found under "Trailer comes on", which may help with the context of the article.  I hope you all enjoy. :) ~Schuyler 
via Pixabay
It has long been known in the annals of time that strong personalities must possess their own territory. Every bird must have its thicket, every lion must have its pride, and every woman must have her own kitchen. Such is the law of humanity, and this law is kept inviolate in Avonlea...

Mrs. Rachel Lynde reaches for a pair of spectacles and furtively glances towards the shut kitchen door. Jerry Buote sits at the table with a fresh jam and bread. All the curtains are closely drawn.

Mrs. Lynde: At my age I don't hold to modern laptops, but there comes a time for everything. I simply must know what the minister was talking about. I won't have a moment's peace until I do. Anne all over Netflix? What is this Netflix?

She pulls a laptop from under the kitchen table and sets the cord on top of it.

Mrs. Lynde: Mind you, the church has come to a pretty pass when ministers are mentioning movies in sermons. When I was a girl, such a thing was never heard of. Did they exhaust the Holy Scriptures, that they have to fall back to pagan entertainment? It's a disgrace, that's what. Jerry, how does this thing turn on?

Jerry Buote obligingly plugs in the cord and turns on the laptop. Mrs. Lynde puts on her spectacles and watches over his shoulder.

Mrs. Lynde: YouTube? What's YouTube? The minister said it was on Netflix.

Jerry: You'd have to pay for Netflix. YouTube is free.

Mrs. Lynde: Well, go to YouTube then. I'm certainly not paying hard-earned money until I know if it's worth something.

Jerry pulls up Netflix. Mrs. Lynde stares open-mouthed at the array of videos offered.

Mrs. Lynde: How did you learn about computers, Jerry? It's not natural in my opinion. And do you watch YouTube?

Jerry mumbles something under his breath.

Mrs. Lynde: Speak up. I can't understand you.

Jerry, hastily: Sometimes. Here's the trailer the minister was talking about.

Trailer comes on:

Anne: "Isn't the world a remarkable place?" 

Mrs. Lynde: She'd say that. Marilla never could get that girl to settle down to anything like a normal child.

Matthew and Marilla sit on the sand eating a picnic. 

Mrs. Lynde: Lawful heart, is that Marilla Cuthbert? And Matthew? Having a picnic? I can tell you, that never happened. All of Avonlea would have heard of it.

Gilbert appears walking with a friend along the road.

Mrs. Lynde squints at the screen: Is that his father?

Jerry: He's an orphan in this season.

Mrs. Lynde: An orphan? Gilbert Blythe's no orphan. His father was alive to see his grandchildren, that's what. He would turn over in his grave to hear it--I only hope Gilbert doesn't see it mentioned after the funeral.

Jerry: Gilbert worked at the docks in Charlottetown in this show.

Mrs. Lynde, outraged gasp: Gilbert Blythe lived in a respectable family until he went to a respectable school and became a respectable doctor. To think I lived to see the day when the truth was as over-rated as this--and I've heard some lies in my time, believe me. I once heard of a man in White Sands who lied to his wife about what he'd done with the crop money. Died in his bed that very night. Now people are being paid for such tales.

The teacher appears in a pageant costume.

Mrs. Lynde: Well, that's the best he ever looked, that's what. He never did benefit the school. Making girls sit with the boys was a disgrace to Avonlea.

Gilbert Blythe stands on the deck of a boat. 

Mrs. Lynde: They probably have him traipsing off to Las Vegas now. Pretty soon Anne will be in boy's clothes going with him.

Anne: have you ever heard anything more romantical? 

Mrs. Lynde: Well, she would say that too. Far be it from me to withhold credit where credit is due. And she did sleep with Diana and Minnie May. But lawful heart, what are they thinking of? And why are they mixing up Anne with this nonsense? There must be a Yankee involved with it somewhere. No, Jerry, don't touch any more of those videos. It's a nonsense and a waste of time.

Jerry: But the minister watched it.

Mrs. Lynde: Next time the minister comes I'll give him an earful. Endorsing a pack of lies like that from the pulpit? I tried to tell the committee. A young seminary graduate barely two years out of college, and he's been to Washington D.C. Why, a minister the exact same age over in Charlottetown embezzled the church funds--right out of the offering plates, that's what.

Jerry: I can take the computer off your hands, Mrs. Lynde.

Mrs. Lynde: Certainly not. I will personally take my kitchen ax to this terror of a machine tomorrow morning. It isn't even fit to give to the Pyes.

Jerry: They already have one. They watch it every night after dinner.

Mrs. Lynde: If Mr. Pye wants his children to grow up with heads stuffed full of deceit, that is certainly no business of mine. I'll go over tomorrow afternoon and tell him my opinion of it, make no mistake. It's high time you were in bed, Jerry. Have you seen to the cows?

Jerry: Yes, ma'am.

Jerry disappears. Mrs. Lynde looks at the computer, which has now fallen into sleep mode. Slowly, she closes the lid half-way. Then she pauses.

Mrs. Lynde: Oh, I'll never have a minute's peace until I know more.

She opens the lid again and clicks on the screen. But Jerry has exited the internet browser, and Mrs. Lynde stares blankly at a desktop of confusing icons. After a few fruitless clicks of the mouse, she closes the lid again.

Mrs. Lynde: I'll take the ax to it tonight, that's what.

Enjoy this? Check out The Olympics Come to Avonlea for more Mrs. Lynde commentary!

Friday, June 15, 2018

In Which I Commence A Stack of Improving Reading

via Pixabay
Marianne Dashwood started a stack of improving reading by the end of Sense and Sensibility. I wonder if she finished it; somehow I think she did. Her book stack was a result of a heart change, and I don't think it met with the fate of Emma's 101 titles.

I'm starting a list of my own--twelve titles that I'd like to read this summer in company with a summer reading program I'm taking part in. This reading program is from the Holy Grail of bookstores--the place with good deals, one that invites you to linger and breathe in the scent of it all and find some introverted soul peace.

This reading program has specific categories to choose from, so Wednesday morning I was busily looking at my TBR stack and seeing which categories I can fit the books into. And with great success--I've even got a couple of books to spare past the ten book requirement! (silent screaming how is this going to happen) Here's what I'm looking at so far:

(These categories were created by Baker Book House.)

Biography: Martin Luther, by Eric Metaxas
I got this book for Christmas; I'm really excited to read it and would like to finish it in this calendar year, HALP.

A Problem in Society Today: The Gospel Comes With a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield
I'd heard of this book before, but it was also mentioned in our church newsletter and the subject coincides with an initiative our church started where they're encouraging households to reach out to someone with the Gospel in the next week or so.

Published in 2018: Speak Truth in Your Heart, by Sarah Mally
This is such an important book for girls, equipping them to address spiritual lies and battles with the truth of God's Word. I'm looking forward to digging into it this summer to prepare my own heart for discussing it with my Bright Lights group this fall.

Teen Novel: Fawkes, by Nadine Brandes
Not only is Nadine Brandes the Queen Ninja of connecting with her fans, but I'm hoping to meet her this year at Realm Maker's, and I really want to get a copy of Fawkes to have her sign it (as well as bring my whole Out of Time series, who are we kidding.)

Recommended to You: Culture Care, by Makoto Fujimura
This book I think would have some good thoughts on art and Christianity to tuck away in my brain for the fiction class I'll be teaching later this year. It's a book my sister likes and recommended to me!

Book You've Waited Too Long To Read: Flame of Resistance, by Tracy Groot
My friend Amanda Barratt recommended this book to me, and we're going to read it together soon. I'm SO EXCITED!!

One-word Title: Hamlet, by Shakespeare
A friend is working on a Hamlet re-telling, and I really want to read this story, not only because she likes it, but so I can understand the original to better understand the retelling when it comes out!

Kid's Chapter Title: The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
And thus will finish my Chronicles of Narnia re-read.

Author I've Never Read Before: A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey
I just picked this up from the library. The committee questioning with Comey last year was fascinating to watch, and I'm looking forward to reading his book for myself.

Made Into a Movie: A Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Steadman
It's gonna rip my heart out. A story about a husband and wife who tend a lighthouse and decide to keep a shipwrecked baby when they can't have kids of their own--even though they know who the mother is.

A Country I'd Like to Visit: Victoria: The Queen, by Julia Baird
When Suzannah Rowntree shared about the 1.99 Kindle deal, I picked this book up because I had a biography about Queen Victoria on my TBR for this year. First I flipped through it, then I started to read it in earnest. I'm geeking out, and it's already fascinating.

I only have until August 25th. Wish me luck. 

Are any of these books on your summer list? What are you hoping to read this summer?

also, half of these are nonfiction, who kidnapped schuyler 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Halfway Into Memory

via Pixabay
This year has slipped almost halfway into memory.

It's always startling to think that a year is half-way gone. Don't laugh; but twenty-three feels older than I've felt before, not just because I am, but maybe because I have passed an invisible inner curtain. In some ways it has felt like a season of spiritual heart-searching and uncomfortable questions; in other ways it has felt like a season of selling books and housesitting and enjoying those things.

Half the year is almost gone. I told my mom the other day that I'd read more children's books this year. They are easy; fast; beloved. A lot of them are books I hadn't read in my childhood, new worlds of wonder (A Wrinkle in Time, Boys of Blur). Some (Narnia, Gone-Away Lake) are remembered books I'm returning to.

Last month the sis and I spent the most time we've ever spent away from our parents, house-sitting by ourselves. It was another milestone; a passing of something. On those days I propped open my eyes well after midnight to read a bit of Henry V and feel impressed with myself--or to read The Borrowers, with their clash of whimsy and bittersweetness. A book like The Borrowers leaves you with a gentle ache afterward.

And there are more memories still--memories of reading about a sweet-souled girl fighting for right and justice after she is pulled out of Earth into a new kingdom of responsibilities. (Crowning Heaven) That book was read on a Saturday with drizzle in the air, as we traveled to an open house. And it was read again the following day on the way to church--cramming in a tense scene as we pulled into the parking lot. Another memory.

I won't remember all these memories. Life moves fast--sometimes it's hard to remember what I did a few days ago. But those memories are becoming me--heart and soul layered with the richness of living, whether I can call them to mind or not.

It's really a wonderful world--sitting with a warm breakfast plate and an open Bible, looking out our back window at the chipmunk who likes to sit on our step of a morning. Eating a warm British muffin with jam and then cracking open Psalm 119 for another round of working at getting its words into my mind. Deciding at random to open The Valley of Vision and start the day with a prayer. Sometimes I forget life is wonderful when there are things to stress and wonder at--niggling sins in my own soul that can lead to a cess-pit of naval-gazing. But it is, after all, the remembrance of the small things that helps us stay steady--something a friend's quote on Instagram reminded me of:
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. ~The Hobbit
 If my heart while writing this post could be summed up in a piece of music (and I am so not the person to draw these sorts of comparisons) it would probably be John Debney's Elephant Waterfall. The frailty--the love--the change--they all ache in a terrible, wonderful way which the music perfectly captures.

So here's to new memories this summer--a cascade of them, found in turning book pages and coffee shop visits--in my first all-girl road trip and maybe, at long last, conquering Psalm 119. In dreaming of the next teaching year. In nights of gladness and tears.

I am eager for more layers in my soul.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

7 Stories:1 Week {what I read and watched on staycation}

do i want to post this expression of me....hmmm....
A couple of weeks ago after selling War of Loyalties at our state homeschool convention, I retreated with a pile of books and movies and the aspiration of taking a staycation. My teaching was finished for the year, I had a couple weeks off another job, and it was time to recharge the batteries. So I read and watched, constantly taking in stories both new and familiar. It felt like a steady stream of good nutrients filling up my mental compost heap--not a firehose of stories crammed in without the time to chew them; just a constant stream of goodness. Here's what I took in.

Little Women
We caught this as it aired on PBS on Sunday night. While I wasn't quite sure after the first episode, I was crying by the third. While I don't think Beth's personality was correctly portrayed, and Laurie's first scenes felt awkward, I loved Meg's sweet face and grew to love Jo's tempestuous and emotional experience of life. The fight scene where Amy burns Jo's book and the way they hurl hurtful words in that scene was a particularly vivid fight--and as an author, I understand the hurt. I loved the scene where John Brooke goes off to war with the girls singing Land of the Leal over the clips. And Episodes 2 and 3 hit me because they capture the bittersweet pain of growing up--a pain our family is experiencing as we all go on life adventures.

Monday morning I curled up on my bed with the Paddington movie, which I had gotten the previous week from the library. I had timed it all carefully so I got it before our busy weekend, especially because the library is closed on Monday--just when I wanted it. There is no greater luxury than watching a movie on a Monday morning. And to be honest, kids' movies are a great choice for vacation, because they're a little less drama than anything schuyler picks   Dickens and whatnot.  Paddington is a bear who comes to London from Darkest Peru and is adopted by the Brown family. In the movie, Mr. Brown is a hyper-vigilant accident analyst played by Hugh Bonneville (who I like to imagine as Peters in WoL.) and Mrs. Brown is Sally Hawkins (2007 Persuasion, 2016 Great Expectations.) The theme of family in this movie, and family defending Paddington from an evil taxidermist curls up in my heart and stays there, along with the perfect actor performances. Sally Hawkins' sweet, adventuresome spirit in contrast with her husband's cautious reserve makes this her best role yet--and Mr. Brown's character arc is simply perfect.

The Promise of Jesse Woods
This book. I am convinced Chris Fabry has a talent for storytelling--weaving memory and personalities, conflict and hurts, nature and travel and the painful growth of the human soul. His book has a dual timeline as a grownup Matt travels home to stop his childhood friend from breaking a promise for the first time--by marrying someone other than him. That might sound cliche, but it's not. Along with that, we have chapters that flashback to the 70s and their experience of becoming friends. This book deals with the church shunning outcasts, with a boy's practical witness of Christian behavior, with baseball, and with the sin of hiding sexual abuse. I'd put it at a definite PG-13--a year ago the heavy themes would have sidelined me, but somehow I was able to take them in this time and appreciate the beauty. If I could describe his writing in one word, it would be craftsmanship. I definitely want to get my hands on a copy. 

Gone Away Lake
I planned to read this book last year. It didn't happen, but this year I picked it up again. My mom would read one of the Gone-Away books out loud every summer, so it was a classic part of our childhood. The lines were so familiar--Julian telling Portia her braces looked like the front end of a Buick. The A.P. Decoction. Baby-Belle Tuckertown. Mrs. Cheever's chocolate cake. ("I believe fudge cakes should be built.") And tons of fun cousin adventures. Not only does this book not have romance and crushes in it, which is a little unique today, but it also represents 11- and 12-year-old kids being best of friends with a senior brother and sister. Books like that are important. They normalize cross-generational friendships and dramatize how fun it is to be outdoors and enjoy stories about the past. I'm reading Return-to-Goneaway right now and loving it even more.

Far From the Madding Crowd 
Actually, this was the only strike-out this week. I started reading the book and didn't get very far, so I thought, "why not? I've always wanted to see the movie, and it's at our library, let's check it out." I watched it, but it wasn't what I was expecting, and when a movie doesn't line up with your expectations, sometimes even the best of stories end up not jiving with you. I think I was expecting Bathsheba Everdeen to be like Ada Claire in Bleak House--sweet and naive instead of a capable farm mistress. Plus, I really, really wanted another *spoilers* Gabriel/Bathsheba riding scene at the end, *end of spoilers* and it wasn't there like I expected it to be--nor was the beautiful quote on this Pinterest pin, I think? It was well done, just different than I thought.

But it's cool to hear British people pronounce Bathsheba because I always pronounced it quite differently.

How to Train Your Dragon 
This was an absolute for sure winner this week. I've listened to the soundtrack several times while writing. I mentioned it in Homeschool Diaries (one of the guardian angels has a weakness for Poptarts and How to Train Your Dragon).

schuyler, that's just weird 

I even had a student turn in a paragraph about HTTYD in a writing class a year ago. So I put that on hold at the library along with Paddington. When I was younger, you couldn't catch me dead watching many animated movies--for some weird reason they offended my cherished sense of dignity. After Inside Out in March, I don't care anymore. They can grab emotions and be just as beautiful, and I've learned my lesson. How to Train Your Dragon has some goofy teenage crush talk/sibling rivalry moments among Hiccup's fellow consorts, but it's an easily skipped element, and the whole theme of Hiccup's journey is so over-all worth it. Hiccup's friendship with the most dangerous dragon known to Vikings is enough to melt your heart. Hiccup isn't a brawny or strong Viking--but as he struggles with his smallness, he learns to use his strengths--his mind and inventive abilities--and finds satisfaction in that. And Toothless is the absolutely cutest, melt-your-heart buddy on the planet. I don't know how I'd pick a favorite between them. Toothless basically has a kitten heart in a dragon's body, and if that's not a recipe for success, I don't know what is.

Mirriam Neal summed up several aspects of my and sis's opinion of Solo. Sis and I had so much fun going to see it with our dad on his birthday, and man, that villain's double-bladed red knife was cool in the climax. But as far as canon goes, I think it would have worked better as a film with independent characters. Let's face it: seeing him with a girlfriend besides Leia sort of tastes sour at first. Also, I am concerned that Star Wars is staying too angsty, and I'm normally someone who likes angst. I feel like Rogue One and Solo are changing the flavor to a bleaker tone. In Rogue One the angst was very appropriate, and The Last Jedi was awesome, but Solo didn't hit the right notes for me. Give me some scenery with color. Give me some joy-ride adventure. Would I watch it again, though? Yeah. I always like to see a movie twice to get a good feel for it, and even if it's not quite Han, I don't mind having it in the collection. I think people who grew up with a deep love for Han might not like his representation, though.

Out of seven stories I experienced that week, five of them were new, and four of them were fun. Three were home runs. There was an eighth story I can't talk about yet, but that was super fun too--and you know, just a week of listening to The Greatest Showman and wearing my TinyKittens t-shirt and having nothing going was one of the best things ever. Soul-restoring. Mind-renewing.

I count that a pretty successful staycation. Even if I did accidentally put our mail on hold for a few days. ;)

Do you love any of these stories? Or hate them? Flail or wail with me in the comments! ;)

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Camp NaNo Snippets {containing War of Loyalties sequel quotes}

via Pixabay
Guys--we just hit ten reviews on War of Loyalties! And so, it's time to unveil the first sneak-peek at book two. These are a smattering conglomeration of snippets from editing the sequel for War of Loyalties in April. I edited 50,000 words and could not touch it again after for a few weeks (not good timing, but we're getting there.) After catching a fresh wind, I'm back at it again....so it is a joy to share some of the first labors with you. Not all snippets are guaranteed to appear in the final draft. Also, if you haven't read book one, some specific characters are mentioned here, so you may want to avoid spoilers!  Tell me your favorites below?

“Got any food, mister?” the boy asked hopefully.
Nathan glanced up. Brown curly hair and brown eyes flashed through the halls of painful memory.  A stab of pity went through him. “I wish I did.”
“Got any money, mister?” the boy asked, even more hopefully.
Nathan’s hand went instinctively to the euros in his pocket. There weren’t very many of them.
“Got a good reason to use it?” he asked.
“Well, it’s that or pinch something. Wolf doesn’t mind pinching.”


“I’ve agreed to this whole idea of fatherhood. But I’m not about to take on the fatherhood of the human race. Jaeryn Graham can look after himself.”


“I thought you were finally able to say no when you needed to.”
“I said no to you.”
“I’m not the person you should be saying no to.”


If you were alive, mother, your worry would be a terrible weight to bear. I hope Heaven has no window to earth tonight.


“Who’s Webster?”
Evesham shook his head. “Absolutely confidential. Webster is preparing to drop behind enemy lines for the 1919 offensive. I want that identity protected.”
“But the war won’t last that long, will it?”
Evesham’s face looked a bit strained in the bright morning sunshine. “The Americans continue to stall and France is fraying at the edges. We barely have enough manpower when the weather turns.”
“Don’t waste what you have, then,” Jaeryn said dryly.


Then the door opened.
The chat continued. The quiet thunk of glasses carried on. Jaeryn looked up and locked eyes with Fenton crossing the threshold of the bar room. He glanced down at his watch. The hands pointed to eight precisely. His face froze into rigid lines as Fenton wove through the tables and took a seat across from him.


You’re sending him to get killed. 
I never promised you safety in this job. Just better ethics. 
Please want to grow old with me.
Dark pressed in.
If we lose the notebook, we will lose everything.


“Gina, isn’t it? I haven’t seen you since the Gavin Lewis business. What happened to the poor little innocents in Nottingham?”
The shoulders under the deep red dress stiffened. She turned around, revealing the same brunette curls and crimson lips he had remembered. He flexed his fingers, and something cold teased at the center of his chest. Cold and hurting and very much unforgotten.


“I don’t like the idea of a kid being mixed up in this business.” Terry brought his boots down to the floor with a bang and pushed his chair back. “Child leaders and angels make for a strange business if you ask me.”


“We’d heard his son was coming months ago with inside British connections, but when no son came, we thought you were dead. And behold, you are here. Just when we were praying for you. Just when we needed you.”


He got out and let her slip past him, a lithe little figure in the slim-waisted dress. Gina looked back. “Good night, you old scoundrel.” She laughed over her shoulder and ran up the steps.


Vital delivery interception. 12am. Fatal methods forbidden. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Of Reading Minds and Dark Forests

I sat in the car in the middle of Texas city traffic, glued to a story of terrible intensity.

Not driving, thankfully.

It was a new trilogy; the story of Willet Dura, a reeve who investigated murders for the king. Burdened with a vault inside his mind, Willet Dura remembers spending a night in the Darkwater Forest when he fought in the war. But he can't remember what happened, or anything about the evil that dwells there. The Darkwater leaves a vault of evil inside the mind of every man who enters it—turning them into murderers when the vaults open after sunset. Normally people with vaults are destroyed, their minds shattered because of the unknown evil inside them. But Willet can't be destroyed yet--because, along with a handful of other people in the land, he has the gift of domere--reading people's minds.

This story led on some pretty intense curves. Book 1 I barely made it through, it was so intense (but I’ve since come to love it and read it again.) Book Two I had to ask for an extension on because a poor character endured so much, and like the terrible villain of reading ahead that I am, I knew before it happened and was crushed by the anticipation. That doesn’t sound like a recommendation, but Patrick Carr is honestly my favorite fantasy author of the 21st century. I was so excited to read the ultimate climax of the Darkwater in book 3, and it flipped any theories I had on their head. And no, I didn’t read the climax ahead of time. ;)

Echoing the thoughts in another review on Goodreads, I love how Carr’s characters have to face so much vulnerability about their own flaws—both Erroll (Staff and Sword trilogy) and Willet (Darkwater Saga) have serious things wrong with them—but they’re willing to seize hold on the adventure that comes anyway. Willet is a man of sarcasm. Of a recklessness that I can relate to. (“I’m tired of overthinking, let’s just take this jump and see if it works.”) He’s seen more than Carr’s other MC Errol has, but still has a heart of compassion in spite of the hard murders and gritty evil he’s had to face. He is broken by pain, but not brittle. And man, I just love hanging out with him. He’s a comrade. A guy whose loyalty you can count on. Someone you want to protect. And in spite of being broken, he isn’t an emotional wreck. He’s still in many ways a normal, emotionally stable guy that can honor his king and fight for good. He has the best of wholeness and brokenness entwined. And his friend, Bolt? Best crusty, sarcastic sidekick on planet earth.

Book 3 had some big questions to answer. And for the most part, it delivered a terrifically fun adventure that I devoured in a week. The backstory took me a bit to adjust to, because it felt even more fantasy and slightly Silmarillion-esque than the rest of the series. Some of Willet’s relationship with Gael in book 2 felt like an Anakin and Padme misstep. I think it got better in book 3 when they had some key big adventures to go on together. There was one moment in the climax where I would have loved to have seen the aftereffects be slightly more intense, even if just for a scene or two. Honestly, they’re small quibbles. I loved it. I wanted to love it. The Wounded Shadow did a fantastic job of wrapping up a lot—and Patrick Carr puts a lot in his books. I couldn’t have asked for more from the conclusion.

I liked the unanswered questions too. The ungiven endings. Maybe it’s making room for a future series (and I’d sign up to return to the Darkwater any time) but I think it also illustrates a reality. Like Gandalf says in Lord of the Rings, we fight the evil in our generation, and our children will have to fight too. This book illustrates that quote really well. The Wounded Shadow also illustrates the importance of taking the time to love, no matter how much time is given you. Love well. Love now. Don’t wait. While that surprised me, I liked the conclusion that Carr drew.

One of the themes in both of Carr’s series is the religious leadership learning that it has done wrong because of centuries of misunderstanding. It makes me think of the reactions the Pharisees had when Jesus came. They wanted to follow God, but when Christ arrived, they didn’t understand the signs because they had a broken way of doing things. Just to clarify, this story isn’t meant to be an allegory of that. But drawing the parallel is interesting. Like them, the Vigil had the right heart, but sometimes misunderstood the application. Carr’s characters have to face the fact that they have sinned and taken blood unnecessarily. They have to face past memories and a new way of working together. Eileen’s plot especially illustrates the religious elite re-learning truth in a beautiful way.

If you’re looking for a parent guide, some of the elements might be a bit PG for younger readers (Willet and his band have to go to a big city where immodesty is rampant and marriage is held extremely lightly). Carr did extremely well building new cultures even in book three, and the city didn’t bother me particularly.

So in conclusion? The Darkwater conclusion had one more round with characters I loved and enough drama to fully satisfy as a climax. I enjoyed that midnight chase in Cynestol. The scenes in the besieged Treflow. The interactions of flawed characters making choices to heal or break. Ealdor’s revelations. Bolt’s moment of sacrifice. Mark’s beautiful heart for redemption. It’s a series I definitely want to read again, and I can’t wait to see what comes next from this author.

This book was provided by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own. Positive opinions were not required.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Meet the Author Behind Crowning Heaven {and join the giveaway!}

Ten and three-quarter years ago (yes, I just calculated) a girl sat down next to me at a conference-- "a chance meeting as we say in Middle Earth." Since then, we have both graduated highschool, attended conferences together, shared countless hours of conversations, and dreamed of holding our own published books in our hands.

It was Emily, first, who taught me to write with heart, simply by watching her write her own stories. She lived and loved them, and I had not been able to look at her style and imitate some key steps at the beginning of my journey, I would never be where I am today. If she had not asked me to read one of her stories, and a couple of years later, said yes to reading one of mine...but she did.

And today, Emily is bursting on the world with her novel debut: a YA planetary fantasy, Crowning Heaven, crafted with heart and love and vision. It's a story of rival queens, of kindness and danger, of courage and responsibility...of a girl named Heaven, loved by one kingdom who wants to crown her and pursued by another kingdom who wants to kill her.

It's a joy to interview Emily on the blog today.  (And stay tuned for a giveaway below!)

via Goodreads
What got you into story writing in general, and what made you pick Crowning Heaven for your first project in particular? 

I got into story writing because I told stories for years, really ever since I can remember. I hit probably twelve or thirteen and I started writing some in documents on the computer. It was just kind of a natural progression. Oddly, I would boil it down to two things. I love people, and I was scared of things as a child. All the stories I ever made up as a kid were about people in dangerous situations doing brave things. I think for me, telling stories was a way to deal with things I didn't know to deal with any other way. And then I am so inspired by people and find different personalities fascinating, that once I started making up characters I found I couldn't stop. As for Crowning Heaven, I just knew. I had been working on a heavy historical fiction project for a while that I was intending to publish first, and then Crowning Heaven came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. There are those projects that come and take over all on their own and this was certainly one of them.

I love how storytelling brings bravery and courage. That is so inspiring. What are some themes and character personalities close to your heart in Crowning Heaven?

Man, there are so many. Heaven dealing with death and loss, for one. I feel (though she had a far sadder upbringing) that I can relate on that level--being tender-hearted and loving people and trying to with wrestle death and who lives and dies, often when there seems to be no reason. I also love the themes of hope and finding beauty in the midst of darkness or being kind or doing the right thing regardless of what anyone else is doing. As for characters, I have always been fond of Thrasi. I don't think we are much alike but I so respect his reserve and his sense of honor. Of course, there's Heaven, and both Breac and Nic are just the sort of people who I would have admired growing up. And Swithun Flood. He has a very special place in my heart. He above anyone else I think I would respect in real life. I don't know. I want to say them all.

You have such a gift for writing heroes. I always love the integrity you capture in your characters. Are there any authors or art pieces that inspired you in writing this story?

Many. With authors (this is going to be a weird mix) it was probably Rosemary Sutcliff, Kathryn Worth, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and Armstrong Sperry among many, many others. I tend to read voraciously and then inspiration sort of filters down and I don't even realize who has inspired me. With this project actually, I had a few specific films that inspired me: Thor, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and all three Hobbit films. Coming off of watching them flavored and inspired the direction of this book. And then a particular piece of music: Homecoming by Thomas Bergersen. I heard it at a very formative stage in the book's development and it has been my faithful companion ever since. It encapsulates the whole impression of the book. For drawn art, check out my Pinterest board. All that's on there.

Very cool! I love the mix of things you drew from in your creative well. OK, so what have you enjoyed most about this publishing journey so far?

Getting to share my book with people. Seeing them fall in love with the characters that I am so madly in love with. That's it right there.

Yes!! Do you have a favorite way to celebrate on launch day? Movies? Tasty goodies?

As this is sort of my first time, I will see if I perfect my launch day celebration, but here's what I decided on the other day that I think might be my ultimate favorite: a nice cake, something sparkly, and a beloved film, preferably one that helped inspire my book. Oh, and writing again. I miss my first drafts!

Aww, this sounds perfect! Just the thing. If you could be a character in your book for a day, who would you pick and what would you do?

This is way harder than I thought it would be. Maybe Jani, because Jani always finds a way to have fun. If I was Jani I would go sneak back to Earth and buy myself pizza and a milkshake. But I guess I could do that anyway.... Tell you what, I would want to be Athen, and I would want to go up to the fast-running rivers in the north and go fishing for the great fish that spawn every year.

Jani's such a fun friend. I would totally want to do that too. OK, so last question: how do you feel that Crowning Heaven adds an important voice to the YA genre, and what message would you like to send with it?

The YA genre is in general very dark right now. Teens and others around that age are finding that the world can be an unfriendly and evil place and the genre is reflecting that struggle. I feel like Crowning Heaven is important right now especially because it takes real issues and it deals with them, yet without exposing the reader to content that is harsh or explicit, and while inspiring courage and hope. Many books that try to tackle hard issues can leave you feeling dark or discouraged and I think they do you a disservice because that actually is only half the picture. Because there is a God, there is hope. And that is what I strive for in my writing, to instill hope, to inspire courage, to show the beauty that exists around us, all while telling a good story. A good book should not primarily be about an argument or propaganda, but about telling a good story. And I think YA is in need of good stories right now.

Thank you so much for doing this Q&A! It's a joy to have you on the blog and celebrate your FIRST BOOK RELEASE!

Oh, it was my honor. Thank you for having me! 

If you'd like to purchase Crowning Heaven-- 

who are we kidding Schuyler, GIVE ME THE LINK 

then you can head straight to Amazon for Kindle or Paperback

Enter the Giveaway

Comment below for your chance to
 win a Crowning Heaven themed 
candle and art print! 

Giveaway open until 5/22. International participants are welcome! 

Meet the Author 

As long as she can remember, Emily Hayse has been avidly in love with story, a love that has only grown with time. A fascination with human nature and an ongoing quest for courage, hope, and beauty drive her writing passion.

When she isn’t writing, she can be found working with dogs or horses, studying historical tall ships, or trying a new recipe in the kitchen. Her hobbies include learning Maori and Gaelic, playing the bodhran, and trying to restore a classic car.

You can connect with her on her website, www.emilyhayse.com, check her out on Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Million Dreams {the greatest showman}

via Pixabay
I fell irrevocably in love with The Greatest Showman soundtrack on a Saturday morning.

I had been wrestling with the second draft of War of Honor. All the best scenes in the first draft were melancholic bittersweet, and you just can't write a melancholic bittersweet book that you'd like readers to read a second time. There was something missing--too much sadness.

don't be scared, it's all going to be ok. well, maybe not all

Then I flipped on "A Million Dreams."

I'd already listened to it--in company with Tightrope and Rewrite the Stars--several times. But that Saturday morning, curled up in our fluffy red recliner, I put the soundtrack on repeat--and the outline for Folkestone Files 2 flew out of my fingers as fast as I could type. It was more balanced. More fun. It was the missing piece. It made me feel like this was the story that would match up to book one--the book I loved so much.

When you find a piece of music that unlocks the words in your brain, you put that baby on repeat and you keep it on repeat.

The Greatest Music 
Eventually, I branched out of those three songs into the entire soundtrack--a kaleidoscope of feisty circus music and contemplative longings. It's far from typical musical fare. Channelling a more contemporary sound, the lyrics pump your imagination with adrenaline and the emotions of the human experience.

After that, I saw the behind-the-scenes videos on Facebook. As a creative, the deep dreaming inside of me reached out to the years of dreaming that had put this movie together--a love so great that they kept the project in mind until all the right pieces fell in place. That awesome electric moment cannot be beaten--when Hugh Jackman got so excited in rehearsals that he just had to sing, even though he had eighty stitches in his nose from a recent surgery. I watched it over and over, as a matter of fact. I kind of wanted to see the movie. The longing grew until finally a friend texted me and said "we just got the DVD, do you want to come?"

Yeah, girl!

Sis and I set out on a bright Friday morning drive in company with The Afters. We smiled the whole way home. It was a thing of beauty. Of joy. Of fiery colors and beautiful screenwriting and incredible talent. Watching the scenes along with the music this time created so. much. gladness. The movie branched into the realm of dreams bigger than life

...a huge, gorgeous moon backdrop

...dancing on the parapet of a city apartment building

...that awesome slo-mo movement of P.T. Barnum throwing on his red Ringmaster coat for the first time--desperate for this new venture to work after all the risks he's taken.

He's an absolute swindler, but he knows how to swindle out smiles all along the way.

The Greatest Character Arcs
I've watched TGS three times now, processing the story of P T. Barnum starting his circus with the rich, young Phillip Carlisle. As the movie tackles present-day conversations about racism and diversity, it follows the Barnum as he creates a joyful hoax that captures the middle classes and alienates the press, until ever so gradually, he starts to swindle himself. By the third viewing, I had so much fun noticing the character arcs in even more detail.

Barnum starts with small swindles--making a tall man a little taller; a fat man a little fatter; changing a giant's nationality. But after being needled by his daughter's rejection from her rich friends, Barnham starts his downward spiral. When his troop meets Queen Victoria, Barnum and Carlisle have coattails while the rest of his people are in their costumes. He shrugs it off when the bearded lady questions him about it. His second downward step starts when he seizes the chance to bolster up his pride. When he invites the famous singer, Jenny Lind, to tour the US, he stops the hoodwinking and starts the fraud in earnest. The next time Barnum steps on the stage, he deliberately lies to the audience--and the glow of support we've seen so far on his wife and daughter's faces stills to frozen expressions. It's a subtle but powerful moment.

As he starts gaining the hearts of all the classes, no one is his master. Not even the nearest people who should be able to require accountability. Barnum deconstructs until he faces the last swindle of all--cheating on the wife he loves best. (This plot was handled really well.) In the climax that follows, his worst fears come true in a few scenes of solidly written and redemptive story screenwriting that still leaving you loving and rooting for him to find a happy ending.

In contrast, Phillip Carlisle has a positive character arc--starting as a half-drunk rich playwright without ambition. After a rollicking, swindling deal with Barnum (semi-cool for the rhythm and semi-uncomfortable because of all the alcohol) he throws in his lot with the circus. While Barnum starts shunning the circus freaks to feed his pride, Phillip starts embracing their identity. He refuses to accept an audience with the queen without them. When Barnham shrugs the circus freaks aside at Jenny Lind's concert, Phillip stays with them in the standing room section. And while he stumbles with Anne when his parents catch sight of them, he later makes it up to her. With the circus freaks, he recognizes the love and genuineness he's been missing, culminating in a willingness to sacrifice his own gains on their behalf.

The Greatest Inspiration 
While that just might have gone deep, my two favorite things about the movie are the theme and the joy. The theme of pride leads to self-deceit and self-praise which wounds those nearest and dearest to us. It was woven through the script and acted out with subtle artistry, shown without being told. Pride hurts--it exchanges valued people for the sham of accolades, trades the best you can be for the worst you can be--and ultimately leads to the burning of your empire in a painful grace. In the scene where Barnum's wife stands looking out to sea, a deep well of hurt hidden under her thoughtful expression, you see a woman who has forgiven much--and is big enough to forgive again.

But while this theme goes deep, I honestly didn't think about most of that until the third showing. The first two times I watched it, I loved it just for its own sake. (And I really love it most for the happiness it contains.) The story itself is a pageantry of color and imagination, perfect for a Friday movie night. It moves fast, showing the sheer joy of creative imagination, colorful costumes, skillful acrobats, and sweet romance. And the soundtrack, which kept me company all the way to the last night of Camp NaNoWriMo, gave me a missing ingredient to a story that was way too melancholic and a character whose passion I wanted to honor.

jaeryn, who else could we be talking about 

While I could be a lot more comfortable with a lot more fabric on the bearded lady's circus costume, this circus tale provides a happy ending in a world of drama and angst. I love the drama and angst as much as anyone, but sometimes--many times--the world needs a reminder of happiness. And P.T. Barnum, in his glorious, larger-than-life world, gives us just that.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Of Bookish Dreams and Spring

via Pixabay
A warm spring wind is blowing through our open doors and windows. Today is a day for short sleeves and bare feet--for lying around and celebrating a chase for words up until midnight last night. A day for listening to Gettys on the way to teaching and promising the kids prizes for games at class next week.

It's a day for the largesse of spring. A day that makes me remember Aslan's joyous run through the town in Prince Caspian. A day to buy a couple of used copies of Shakespeare (Henry V and Hamlet) and dream of reading them this summer. A day to celebrate later with some of The Greatest Showman after a month of Camp NaNo.

It's a day to forget winter and gray skies.

Sis and I watched The Greatest Showman twice on Friday--once riding out to friends who owned a copy and singing the songs all the way home. Once with a copy from the library. I'm still mulling. I want to tumble out a bunch of thoughts, but I need to mull just a little longer while it digests, and then I'm hoping to bring an article to the blog. (Message me if you watched it and want to discuss or fangirl?)

In my reading time, three Yorkshire children are bringing a garden alive--pale green points in rich earth, a fox that lifts its face to be petted, and a saucy red robin seeking for ego-stroking. I'm also reading about a talking bear in London. I plan to see the movie version of Paddington later in May (I haven't seen it yet) but a friend said to read the books first, and I'm so glad I did. Paddington bear is the most precious smol luv on this planet. He came from Darkest Peru because his Aunt Lucy went to a home for retired bears, and he spends his time on various adventures that all come out all right. Like Pooh, Paddington has no adversary (at least in the first book). His adversaries are circumstances and mistakes. His sweet mournfulness when he encounters disappointing facts and sweet-hearted solutions to his own accidents simply warm the heart. I can't wait to read Paddington to children someday.

Last night, in company with a peppy soundtrack (which is the equivalent of Red Bull for tired writers) I closed in on the final April goal for the War of Loyalties sequel. After breaking down the goal into daily counts, it was actually hard to hit the daily target, but I had a swing day every week which made for 6 days of writing with Sundays off. I hit 50,000 words a couple of minutes before midnight. Most of the month was revising what I had already written, or rearranging scenes, but some of the scenes were new. All in all, it was satisfying--cutting a lot of flubber, improving plotlines, and fighting away on a second draft. I'm still not sure if I'm hitting the cohesive plot I need to hit, but I'm telling myself that this is book two, and I need to sit down and fight it out. I'm hoping to send out the first chapters to some beta readers in the next month and get the invaluable outside perspective that always tells me if I'm on the right track. If I can, I'd like to have a good, solid draft by the end of the summer. If I write the second draft and it's still not solid enough (sometimes weaving big books takes several attempts) then...I'll keep trying. 

How did Camp NaNo go for you? What are your favorite books to read when the winter gives way to spring?

PS. One more review needed to help us cross War of Loyalties into double digits for reviews! Want to be a Samwise? Check out War of Loyalties and leave a couple of sentences about your honest thoughts on Amazon!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ode to Coffee Shop Writing {part one}

via Pixabay--not a representation of coffee shops discussed below
If you come to my little corner of the earth, I'll take you on a coffee shop tour and we can write together. These are shops sweet friends have introduced me to, and all of them hold beloved memories, thanks to them.

{the modern place}
Just up the street from a donut shop and an antique store, you'll find a little coffee place tucked in a row of shops. On a sunny day, broad windows let a welcome tide of sunlight pour over wood-topped tables. Your wallet will come out a little lighter price-wise. But in exchange, you'll receive a thick ceramic cup with a beautiful black finish, filled with something creamy and nice. It's one of those mugs you'd cradle in your hands in a classic Instagram coffee snap; a mug full of simple cocoa, with latte hearts drawn in the foam. So full, in fact, that you do one of those slow walks back to the table, trying to keep it from sloshing.

My favorite part about this coffee shop is the little, raised seating area--the couple of tables and a sofa in their own railed corner, where you have to walk up a step to get to them. Every once in a while you can look up for a perfect view of the other customers. Someone else working on their laptop. A son and his elderly mother enjoying a visit at a window table. While the sun shines in, this coffee shop offers a grand place to think and work. A grand place for typing on a laptop. A grand place to plug in the headphones and listen to Hugh Jackman singing "A Million Dreams" on repeat. It's the perfect spot to chase your ambitions in introverted solitude.

{the bookstore beanery}
Another favorite coffee shop is not really a coffee shop at all. It's a cafe tucked into a bookshop. These tables are white-topped with bright orange and green seats. Posters by the gray-walled ordering counter offer suggestions from three authors for various drink and snack combinations. Here you can order a lovely latte: Paris tea by Harney and Sons coupled with raspberry syrup. Or, if you'd rather, you can buy tea for a dollarish and take a steamy warm disposable cup back to your table.

Perhaps it is the air inside the bookshop, or perhaps it is being away from cozy armchairs at home. Whatever the reason, I always seem to find a special ability to concentrate here. This beanery found me in company with The Afters' joyous lyrics while accepting editor changes like crazy on War of Loyalties last fall. An added perk: when you need a break, there's a dangerous break to be had browsing through bookshelves of mark-down, used, or new books. It's an easy place to reward yourself for hitting an editing goal--or even just to grab a quick drink to keep you fueled along the writing way.

{the antique bank}
If you really want atmosphere, my favorite place is a little coffee shop squished between other shops in a rather old part of town. Just past a Little Caesar's pizza, you'll find a made-over bank building. The windows are small; the walls are dark, plastered with artwork ranging from vintage to weird, and if you look up, the copper ceiling tiles offer a delightful aesthetic. If you're lucky, you'll get a table for two along the wall with a green-topped desk light. If you're not, you'll have to content yourself with a table in the middle, watching like a hawk for a wall plug to open up. Sustenance for a precious laptop is always a key concern. Here you'll have slim working space in the busy midst of all sorts of people--lone college students staring into laptop screens. A man and woman on a date. A group of college students discussing faith. Outside, you might even find a game of Monopoly in progress on a summer night at the sidewalk tables.

Here you can get any drink you want at the counter. But beware. Up on the shelf with the syrups, there's a golden urn with a placard bearing the inscription "Ashes of Difficult Customers." As long as you're not difficult, you'll be quite all right. Here you can order brownies or lemon poppyseed scones; French sodas with a multiplicity of flavor options; boba tea (I haven't tried that yet); or something tasty from a long list of lattes. Here you'll find chai lattes hot and sweet, or a quick packet of tea if you're on a budget. And when you've chosen (it can take a long time to choose) you take your disposable coffee cup back to a green-topped table. In company with your drink, you can write by hand in a notebook or hang out with Scrivener and a playlist. Or perhaps, best of all, sit and chat with a friend to fill your creative well.

There are more coffee shop experiences to chronicle in another blog post. But these three places, which have seen editing and dreaming, conversations and happy days, are the places we'll go when we have a writing vacation sometime.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Winter in April {seeking Allah, finding Jesus}

via Pixabay
Last Sunday morning an April storm came through the Great Lakes area, icing over the roads and canceling most of the morning services. There's something all the more relaxing about getting up late on a Sunday morning, and instead of dressing up and scurrying around, seeing everyone just laying around with blankets and cozy talk. The whole day turned into blankets and cozy talk--sis and I cuddled up on the couch while we all watched a live stream sermon. Then there were Sunday nap comas. Then there were three episodes of the Great British Baking show. (Normally two is our high water mark, but we had a library due date and less free evening time that week.)

I woke up that Sunday morning over cereal and yogurt, accompanied by Nabeel Qureshi's Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Our church ladies are having a book discussion night with it, so my mom and sis and I are all reading the copy a friend passed on to us. We received the copy last year sometime last summer before the hurricanes in Houston. During the floods, I still remember hearing about Qureshi leaving for the hospital as the floodwaters rose higher. Then, in mid-September, I heard that Qureshi passed away. While I had never heard him speak and knew none of his story at the time, I added his book to my sooner-than-later TBR.

Nabeel's book is fascinating and easy to read since he describes a lot of his spiritual journey in conversations with his family and his friend, David. He was raised as a Western Muslim and a peaceful man, with a deep love for his parents and their Islamic heritage. Qureshi's book details how his faith in Islam grew as a child in a wonderfully loving home, and how he later came to accept Christianity when he examined his faith and found it lacking in truth and consistency. Qureshi doesn't disguise how hard it was; how much he loved his family; and how much he had to give up to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.

What makes reading it even more interesting is contrasting it with another book my mom and sister and I are reading: In the Land of Blue Burqas, by Kate McCord. While Qureshi's book explores growing up Muslim in the West, McCord's book explores the lives of Muslim women in Afghanistan. The differences between Eastern Islam and Western Islam, according to Qureshi, are that Eastern countries are focused on authority and shame, while Western citizens are more influenced by the independent rationalistic mindset of right/wrong. McCord's account of Afghanistan offers a bleak picture of that, especially for women. In the West, a land filled with independent settlers, it doesn't surprise me that people don't want anyone to tell them what to think or do. Qureshi's picture of his Eastern mindset meeting Western America offers a lot of clarification on how we approach religions from different viewpoints. 

One theme which carries through both books is that of listening. The author of Blue Burquas came to a culture where people sit and talk. They listen and ask questions. There are no fast conversations, and she impacted people in many ways by taking time to converse with them. Qureshi, in his book, says that many Christians would look at him as someone needing to be saved--but the man who looked at him as a friend was the man who ultimately led him to the Lord.

Qureshi's bravery in pressing on to know and test his faith is more than I've done. His comments about being loved as a person versus being seen as a convert offer food for thought. And his life demonstrates his careful attention to truth, and God's patient love as he gives Qureshi confirmation after confirmation of the truth in several miraculous ways.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Love Which Expands {dorcas lane and gabriel cochrane}

via Pixabay
"I believe that love expands our world."

Dorcas Lane says this to Gabriel Cochrane in Lark Rise to Candleford, after he explains to her that he loves his work to the exclusion of all other loves. Dorcas disagrees with his assessment; she thinks that love is a different thing entirely. 

If Dorcas Lane slipped into our Bible Study Fellowship, her gorgeous belts, chic hats, and feminine shirtwaists might be a little out of place. (I'd dress up with her style any day.) But I think she'd find a resonating answer in the pages of Romans. The last few weeks we have been studying how to love the body. And that means loving those different than us; loving those weaker than us (Romans 14); loving our enemies (Romans 12). 

There is no time in the Christian life where we can look at the world around us and say "I have no one to love." 

Set just on the cusp of the upcoming 20th century, Lark Rise embodies all that is beautiful in its small-town stories and wind-tossed harvest fields. It's a BBC adaptation of a book I hope to read someday. There are many beautiful points; many tear-jerking moments. But one of the beautiful plot lines in Season 4 is Gabriel Cochrane's character arc. 

Gabriel Cochrane comes to Candleford after having his father's foundry confiscated for debts that he cannot pay. He is devastated by the loss of his young wife. And as he tries to make a new life in Candleford, he often rubs Dorcas the wrong way because of his loveless-ness. 

Gabriel believes he can only love one thing. When his wife was alive, he loved her so much he betrayed his financial stability and his word to please her. Now that she is gone, he thinks that he is no longer able to love people. So he throws himself into his work and loves that, to the inconvenience of other people's schedules and impatience towards a little boy who looks up to him. 

Dorcas finally confronts him. 
"Love is not a selfish need; not a hunger that must always be fed. Love should not exclude. It should make our lives broader; our hearts wider. What kind of love is it that would lock us away from those around us?" -Season 4, Episode 4
This is truth. Gabriel's love is really warped love. Warped love gathers about it the people and objects of its possession like treasured idols, refusing to expand or allow them to expand. Warped love is willing to allow other people to suffer for the sake of the comfort of one. Or even allowing the one to suffer for the sake of the comfort of the many. Warped love sets up barriers and comfort zones and walls.

But if you dive into Scripture, you see a different picture of love entirely. God inextricably links love for him with love for his people (1 John 4:21). We're called to love the body. To love the unlovable. To love even in a way that sacrifices some of our lesser loves on occasion (Romans 14). Christian love does not shut its heart. Doesn't sees someone approaching the table and say, "I have no room for you." Doesn't say, "My world is complete. I don't need any more people."

"I don't need." Surely a warning sign.

When I love only within my little exclusive circle, like Gabriel Cochrane, then I am actively showing hate to those I refuse to let in. Warped love has borders. As Dorcas says, passion has borders. Love is something else entirely. Love is not collecting people who contribute only to my praise. Not talking only to those who share my exclusive little hobbies and areas of excitement. Not solely fellowshipping with my select gathering. Not using people's goodwill just to forward my own ambitions. Love is extending the love of God to all whom God brings to me....a broader, wider love as described on the lips of a wise postmistress.

So Gabrial Cochrane, just because he cannot love one person, learns to show love to others. A little boy with his tempestulator. An employer who shows kindness to him again and again. His world expands. And an already endearing character is all the better for it. 

Would you add thoughts to this? I'd love to have my perspective expanded. 

Also, 3 reviews left on Amazon releases the first snippets of the War of Loyalties sequel! Have a favorite character? Criticisms? Overall impressions? (Honest reviews are the best!)

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