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 of which wants to crown her, and one of which wants to kill her.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

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

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

I couldn't blame them a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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