Book Review: Tea With Emma

 Tea With Emma by Diane Moody is a story within a story.

The outer story has writer Lucy Alexander with writer’s block ever since her beloved aunt died. When Lucy’s father sends her the teacup collection that her aunt had willed to her, Lucy is reminded of their special times together and of the Jane Austen book her aunt had bought for her.

Then Lucy is inspired: she can write a series of stories based on each of the cups. The first one is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma.

Next comes the first story, Tea With Emma.

Two lifelong friends, Maddie and Lanie, are just returning from a trip to England. Maddie is inspired to open an English tea shop, and Lanie has agreed to help her. Their giggling and carrying on in the plane annoys the seatmate in front of them, an English professor. In a comedy or errors, the girls and the professor keep running into each other, with near-disastrous results.

When Maddie goes home to her grandmother in Texas, whom she has taken care of since the latter had a stroke, she lays out her plans for the tea room and gets her grandmother’s blessing. She soon discovers that the grumpy professor lives across the street. She tries to befriend him, but he rejects her efforts.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, but evidently missing what Emma had learned by the end, Maddie feels God’s mission for her life is to be a matchmaker. She encourages Lanie towards the contractor and away from an online computer geek. It does not go well.

Meanwhile the professor has to come to grips with the issues in his life which have made him so cranky.

My thoughts:

I thought the premise would make for a fun, touching story, but I just didn’t connect any of the characters, except maybe the grandmother and the computer guy. Maddie and Lanie seemed juvenile, Maddie seemed pushy, and the professor was just a grouch, at least until he got his heart right. And the transformation from irritation with Maddie to falling in love with her just seemed too quick and unrealistic. Of course, this is a novella, so things had to happen a little faster than they would have in a longer novel.

I enjoyed the theme of letting God have control and following His direction. Both Maddie and the professor became more likeable by the end of the story. I know Jane Austen’s Emma goes through a similar learning curve, but I always found Emma sophisticated and likeable even while I disliked her actions and motivations at the beginning.

Reviews on Amazon were mixed, with some people loving the story and others not, so it may just be a matter of personalities not appealing to everyone. So don’t let me discourage you from trying the book, especially as it’s free for the Kindle at the moment. I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

 

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Book Review: The Scars That Have Shaped Me

ScarsWhen Vaneetha Rendall Risner was a baby in India, she contracted polio before her inoculation. The doctor had never seen a case of polio before, misdiagnosed it, and prescribed a wrong treatment which left Vaneetha paralyzed. Vaneetha had twenty-one operations from age two to thirteen. She spent much of her young life in the hospital and felt safe there and at home,  but was “openly picked on at school.”

She wanted “nothing to do with God because he had allowed all this to happen,” but when she was a teenager, He drew her to Himself.

Vaneetha’s trials weren’t over, though. After her first daughter was born, she had three miscarriages. Her son was born with a heart defect which surgery corrected, but a doctor’s mistake led to her baby’s death at the age of two. Then she contracted post-polio syndrome,  which causes “increasing pain and weakness, which could potentially result in quadriplegia.” There is no cure. Then her husband left her.

The magnitude of any of one of those trials weighs heavy, but all of them together are crushing. How does a person cope with all of that?

Vaneetha tells her story in short order in The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering and then spends the rest of the book  sharing what God has taught her through her trials. Her words, like Joni Earecksn Tada’s, carry weight because they are based on Scripture and they’ve been tried in the trenches.

It’s hard to summarize a book like this, so I’ll just share a few quotes:

Our faith is not a facade we erect to convince ourselves and others that pain doesn’t hurt—it is an oak tree that can withstand the storms of doubt and pain in our lives, and grow stronger through them.

I’ve often been devastated when he tells me no, but as I submit to his will in those situations—even with disappointment and tears—he assures me he’s working for my good. I see only part of the picture. He has a purpose in his denials. The Father said no to the Son [in Gethsemane]. And that no brought about the greatest good in all of history. God is not capricious. If he says no to our requests, he has a reason—perhaps ten thousand. We may never know the reasons in this life, but one day we’ll see them all. For now, we must trust that his refusals are always his mercies to us (emphasis mine).

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

This is the most precious answer God can give us: wait. It makes us cling to him rather than to an outcome. God knows what I need; I do not. He sees the future; I cannot. His perspective is eternal; mine is not. He will give me what is best for me when it is best for me (emphases mine).

Replacing “what if ” with “even if ” in our mental vocabulary is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make. We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God. We see that even if the very worst happens, God will carry us. He will still be good. And he will never leave us.

So what do we do when we feel drained and empty? When no one understands our suffering and no one seems to care? When we feel discouraged and tired and unbearably lonely? Read the Bible and pray. Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall. Does it sound simple? It is. Does it also sound exceedingly hard? It is that as well. But reading the Bible and praying is the only way I have ever found out of my grief. There are no shortcuts to healing.

When I say read, I don’t mean just reading words for a specific amount of time. I mean meditating on them. Writing down what God is saying to me. Asking God to reveal himself to me. Believing God uses Scripture to teach and to comfort me. To teach me wonderful things in his law (Ps. 119:18). To comfort me with his promises (Ps. 119:76). Reading this way changes cardboard into manna. I echo Jeremiah who said, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” ( Jer. 15:16).

I mentioned yesterday the concept she brought out that what we think of as the lowest points of our lives are actually the highest, from God’s viewpoint, because that’s often where the most change and growth occurs in our lives. Another concept she described was that we often feel our prayers have not been answered when God doesn’t deliver us out of a situation, but His grace sustaining us through a trial is just as much an evidence of His power as a miraculous deliverance.

In waiting for the huge, monumental deliverance—the kind where I can put my issue to bed and never have to pray about it again—I’ve overlooked the grace that keeps drawing me to him. The prayers that may appear unanswered, but actually are fulfilled in ways that keep me dependent, tethered, needy.

I’ve often wondered about the difference between Biblical lament, such as what we see in the Psalms and other places in the Bible, and complaining. These thoughts helped:

Scripture never mandates that we constantly act upbeat. God wants us to come to him in truth. And so the Bible doesn’t whitewash the raw emotions of its writers as they cry out to God in anguish, fear, and frustration when life ceases to make sense. People like Jeremiah and Job, Habakkuk and David have all poured out their honest feelings of sadness and disappointment to God.

The Bible is shockingly honest. And because of that, I can be honest as well. I can both complain and cry, knowing that God can handle anything I say. The Lord wants me to talk to him, to pour out my heart and my thoughts unedited because he knows them already.

This conversation is different than the grumbling of the children of Israel. They complained about God and Moses to each other. I am talking directly to God. Telling him my doubts. Asking him to help me see. These saints I quoted all talked directly to God, which was the first step to healing. They named their disappointments and voiced their struggles before him. They needed to know that God understood them. And that they could be truthful with him. No pretense or platitudes. Just raw honesty, acknowledging their pain before God.

Like most of us, I would rather learn from others about suffering than have to go through it myself. But some portion of suffering is allotted to all of us, and I am so thankful for a godly example like Vaneetha’s. Much of what she said spoke to my heart even though my trials have been different.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

GuernseyIn the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, Juliet Ashton had begun writing a lighthearted newspaper column during WWII under the name Izzy Bickertstaff. Her editors thought the country needed a bit of humor and uplift. After the war, the columns were collected and published as a book, making Juliet and her publishers a lot of money.

But now the war is over, and Juliet wants to write something more meaningful under her own name. She’s not sure what, though, until she receives a note from someone on Guernsey named Dawsey who had somehow ended up with a book she had given away about Charles Lamb. During WWII, Guernsey and surrounding Channel islands were occupied by the Germans. Most of the children were evacuated off the island, and for five years the island didn’t have contact with the outside world. As the island had been isolated during the war and no booksellers had come back yet, Dawsey can’t find other books by or about Lamb, and he  wonders if she might have access to some. In their correspondence, he mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Understandably curious, Juliet asks to know more about the society. It was invented one night when a few neighbors out after curfew were stopped and questioned by a guard (why they were out was another interesting story). One of them made up on the spot the literary society that they had supposedly just come from and even mentioned a German book. Thankfully the guard was a literary type and let them go. But now they had to implement such a society to avoid suspicion, so they began to meet regularly to discuss books they were reading. Some of the members were not avid readers, but they found at least one book to read and talk about.

The more Juliet hears, the more she feels maybe this is what she needs to write about. The book is made of of correspondence mostly between Juliet and her publisher, a few friends, and the various members of the society.

Some of their stories are comical, some are poignant, others are quite sad. Some were helped by the books they read; others were helped more by the camaraderie and community. And a fair bit of drama occurs in Juliet’s life as well, and her life changes in several ways she could not have predicted.

It seemed like everyone was talking about this book a few years ago, and I had always intended to read it “someday.” When I saw a film was being made of the book, I decided now was the time. I have not seen the film yet, but I knew I wanted to read the book first.

Epistolary novels are not my favorite form of story, but it works for this novel. You would have thought that it would be hard to “show rather than tell” through letters, which are a way of telling. But Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows, do this masterfully.

Unfortunately there is a smattering of bad words, including the Lord’s name taken in vain. There are no sexual scenes, but one woman has a baby out of wedlock, a couple of men are characterized as homosexual, and mention is made of women who fraternize with the Germans sexually.

But the characters are charming, and I love the way the story unfolds. I hated to see the story come to an end.

I’ve read much WWII fiction, but nothing that I can recall from this period of recovery just after the war. Amid the joy and relief of the war ending and the Germans retreating, there were still shortages, missing people who had been sent off to camps, buildings defaced or marred by Germans who had taken them over, not to mention the emotional trauma many carried with them for a long while afterward.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by a number of people. At first it was a little hard to distinguish between some of the characters, but after a while I got them straight. I ordered the book as well, and it contains a wonderful afterword by Annie Barrows. Most of the book was written by Mary Ann Shaffer, but her health began to fail during the rewrites, and she asked Annie to step in. Evidently Mary Ann had always been a wonderful storyteller, and the family was so pleased that her work was received so well.

I’ll close with a few of my favorite quotes:

That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.

Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.

All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged — after all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot.

Because there is nothing I would rather do than rummage through bookshops, I went at once to Hastings & Sons Bookshop upon receiving your letter. I have gone to them for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.

Your questions regarding that gentleman are very delicate, very subtle, very much like being smacked in the head with a mallet…it’s a tuba among the flutes.

Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: Reclaim Your Life From IBS

I hadn’t planned to review this book at first, but then I thought it might be helpful to others.

IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome. I’ll let you look up the symptoms elsewhere if you don’t know them. But the bathroom-related issues of IBS can cause anxiety (about being able to find a bathroom when you need one, having issues at an inopportune time, etc.) That anxiety can in turn exacerbate IBS symptoms. It’s not that IBS is a disease of the mind, but our thoughts and anxieties can make it worse, creating more anxiety which creates worse symptoms, creating a vicious cycle.

IBSReclaim Your Life from IBS: A Scientifically Proven Plan for Relief without Restrictive Diets by Melissa G. Hunt deals primarily with the cognitive aspect of IBS, the way we think about it.

Dr. Hunt begins with other diseases of what she calls the “gut” which have to be ruled out before an IBS diagnosis can be made. Someone who thinks they might have IBS might actually have something else which has a specific treatment, so it’s important to be checked out. Then she describes the processes involved in digestive issues, from the nervous system to gut bacteria.

Dr. Hunt shares some relaxation techniques to help us dial back from panic mode. Then she explains the “cognitive model of stress management.” Basically, what and how we believe and think influences us one way or another. She gives the example of seeing a friend across the street and waving at her, but receiving no response. Our minds can take off imagining scenarios – that our friend is mad at us for something, that she’s snubbing us., etc., when probably she just didn’t see us. Applying that to IBS, when we experience gut twinges or gurgles when we’re out or preparing to go out, we can panic, thinking we need to get to a bathroom fast. But every twinge and gurgle doesn’t mean an attack is coming on. Or we can panic about the possibility of needing to step out to go to the bathroom during a work meeting, thinking everyone will think less of us and we might even be jeopardizing future promotions, when in reality no one will think anything of it (plus everyone probably has to do that at some time).

Dr Hunt also shares ways to eliminate avoidance: people with IBS can become experts in avoiding situations where they think they might have problems. Some of what Dr. Hunt shares here is the same process as overcoming phobias: exposing ourselves to whatever we’re fearful of a little bit at a time as we become more comfortable. One example she gives is that of someone who avoids commuter trains because they don’t have bathrooms.  First she suggests just visiting the train station for a while until that nervousness we get just from being there subsides (which might take multiple attempts). Then, we might get on the train just until the next stop. Once we can do that without nervousness, then we might go two stops, etc.

Finally she discusses some of the dietary and medicinal approaches to IBS. She stresses that there is no one IBS diet that works for everyone or particular foods that everyone must avoid. She discusses some of the most common foods that might give IBS patients trouble.

I hope I never have to see a therapist, but I hope that if I do, I can find one as practical and down to earth as Dr. Hunt rather the ethereal and New Age-y kinds I have read elsewhere. Much of what she has to say, especially about our thoughts, can be applied to many situations beyond IBS:

Cognitive interventions are not about “pretending” that things are going well if they’re not. In fact, this wouldn’t help even if you tried it, because you wouldn’t believe it. Rather, cognitive interventions are about helping you see the world as accurately and objectively as possible. The problem is that many, many people do have negative biases or filters that they use to interpret situations in their lives. If you do this routinely and without realizing it, you will be a lot more stressed than you need to be. If you have been entertaining lots of negatively biased automatic thoughts, then seeing the world more accurately should bring about a great deal of relief. In other words: Don’t believe everything you think (p. 66).

Dr. Hunt’s style is easy to read and understand. I am happy to recommend this book.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

 

Book Review: Helen Roseveare: On His Majesty’s Service

Roseveare Helen Roseveare was a missionary to the Belgian Congo in Africa, later named Zaire, from 1953-1973. I first became aware of her through Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noel Piper several years ago. I wanted to read more about her, so when I saw Helen Roseveare: On His Majesty’s Service by Irene Howat on sale for the Kindle app, I decided to try it, even though it was part of the Trailblazer series of biographies for children.

The first few chapters deal with Helen’s childhood in England: terrorizing nannies with her brother, moving several times due to her father’s job, going to boarding school in Wales. She had a strong desire to be first and best at as much as she could, and she didn’t make friends very easily. In a Sunday School class, she decided she wanted to be a missionary even before she became a Christian. Confirmation classes in her church caused her to take a more serious look at herself, but it was in a camp some years later that she became a believer. She became quite conscientious.

As a teenager during WWII, Helen wrestled with the devastation and unfairness of it all, especially the unfitness of young people losing their lives. Once when a German plane was shot down, Helen was horrified to learn that her mother was among the people trying to save the young man, though he later died. Her mother explained that he was just a boy fighting for his country, like their boys, and had a home and family.

Helen became involved in helping at camps and the GCU (Girl Crusader’s Union) while in college. She never lost her desire to be a missionary doctor, and soon after college she went through missionary training and then went to the Congo. She was plunged into medical service right away. From her earliest days she felt the need to train the national workers and open a nursing school. She had to set up a hospital from the ground up, with students and church members and even patients helping.

But civil unrest was rumbling in the distance and drawing ever closer. Helen had opportunity to leave many times, but she felt she should remain. Finally rebel soldiers did take over Helen’s area. Probably because this is a children’s book, the author did not go into much detail or mention the multiple rapes Helen endured. She sums it up this way:

Things too terrible to tell happened to her at the hands of Congolese rebel soldiers, things so horrible and shocking that she wished she were dead. In a way that we cannot understand they were part of God’s plan for her and she knew that, even at the time. With her body battered and broken and her back teeth kicked out, Helen survived when others did not. But she survived to endure further months of terror.

After several months of captivity and cruelty, Helen and a few others were released and sent back to England for a long recovery.

After fifteen months, went back to Africa, to Zaire, building more hospitals and training more medical workers.

When Helen went back to England years later, she stayed active speaking at schools, GCU gatherings, and churches. When someone wanted to make a film of her life, she traveled back to a warm welcome in Zaire and was thrilled to see how the work was progressing.

One of the most well-known stories of her life was one I had heard but didn’t realize happened to Helen until I read it in Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God. It’s told in detail here. A woman had come to the hospital in labor with a premature baby. They could not save the woman, but the baby was safely delivered. Yet they had no way to keep the baby warm: they usually used hot water bottles, but were out. The baby also had a two-year-old sister. When Helen had prayer with the orphan children the next day, she told them of the little girl and baby and the need for hot water bottles. One ten-year-old girl named Ruth began to spontaneously pray:

God, please send a hot water bottle so that this little baby doesn’t die. And, God, it will be no use sending it tomorrow because we need it today. And, God, while you’re at it, will you send a dolly for the baby’s sister who is crying because her mummy has died.

Helen “didn’t think the Lord could do that.” But that very afternoon a truck delivered a parcel containing soap, bandages, babe sweaters…and a hot water bottle and a doll! Helen tells this story here:

Since this book was published in 2008, it doesn’t contain information about Helen’s death in 2016 at the age of 91. Zaire is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The writing in this book is not the best: it’s a little choppy, with several odd scenes involving unnamed people that I think were made up in an effort to illustrate something in Helen’s life. But It’s still a good book overall, with a good overview of Helen’s life.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books,  Literary Musing Monday)

 

What’s On Your Nightstand: August 2018

Nightstand82The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

As we near the end of another month, it’s time to recap what we’ve read.

Since last time I have completed:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, reviewed here. Not my favorite classic or Hugo book, but I am glad to have read it. It kept me thinking for days afterward.

30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents  by Kathy Howard, reviewed here. Very good.

Full Assurance by Harry A. Ironside, reviewed here. Excellent study on what the Bible has to say about assurance of salvation.

The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser, reviewed here. A maid from England accompanies her employers on a visit to America in 1911, then strikes out on her own. She lands a job in the sewing department of Macy’s and captures the attention of the Butterick Patterns salesman. Very good!

Back Home Again: Tales from the Grace Chapel Inn by Melody Carlson, reviewed here. Three sisters turn the old family home into a bed-and-breakfast, working through their own differences and town opposition. The first in a long series. Good.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, reviewed here. Riveting historical fiction based on real circumstances concerning a woman who stole poor children and then placed them for adoption.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book VI: The Long-Lost Home by Maryrose Wood, reviewed here. A fun and satisfying wrap-up to this series.

Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness by Candace Cameron Bure, reviewed here. Cameron’s journey from bulimia and excess weight to fitness, inside and out. Very good.

I’m currently reading:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Finally!

Helen Roseveare: On His Majesty’s Service by Irene Howat

Reclaim Your Life from IBS: A Scientifically Proven Plan for Relief without Restrictive Diets by Melissa G. Hunt

Up Next:

Christian Publishing 101 by Ann Byle

I’d like to reread, or at least look through again, Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

Something from this stack and my ever-increasing Kindle collection:

IMG_1115

Are you reading anything good now?

Book Review: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book VI: The Long-Lost Home

Incorrigible The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book VI: the Long-Lost Home is the long-awaited finale to the Incorrigible Children series by Maryrose Wood.

If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s about three children raised by wolves whom Lord Frederick Ashton brings home after he discovered them on a hunting trip. Needing someone to teach and “tame” the children, Lord Ashton advertised for a governess. He was sent the plucky Miss Penelope Lumley, graduate of Agatha Swanburne’s Academy for Poor Bright Females.

A number of intriguing mysteries and connections have been traced through the first five books: the fact that Penelope’s hair is the exact same color as the Incorrigibles, that Frederick Ashton gets “wolfy” during full moons, that Frederick’s presumed-dead father is not really dead but has not revealed himself. Book V ended with Penelope separated from the Incorrigibles,  having been tricked into switching places with a tutor to the  Horrible Babushkinovs in Plinkst, Russia.

In this final book, the looming due date of Lady Constance Ashton’s baby means the family curse will come to a head, and one side or the other will be destroyed.  How can Penelope help them while so far away? How can she possibly get home with no resources?

All of the various threads are satisfactorily resolved in this final book. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t normally go for books about “curses” or ones that have soothsayers as recurring characters. Those weren’t elements in the first book that got me hooked on the series. The most objectionable element to me was a seance, I think in Book III. If you read this with your children, you’ll have to discuss these issues in concert with your beliefs.

I also don’t read all that many children’s books, and I am not sure what age level this book is intended for.

But what I love most about the series is the clever writing and the humor. Every book is sprinkled with Agatha Swanburne’s pithy sayings and includes explanations and references to a couple of classics (Hamlet and The Count of Monte Cristo, in this case). Values such as hard work, resourcefulness, basic decency, and loving family are emphasized in each book.

I loved the distinction between “Optoomuchism” – an overly optimistic and ultimately untenable outlook – and “pessimax” – pessimism to the extreme.

I happened to listen to the first book due to a free audio version, and I fell in love with Katherine Kellgren’s fantastic narration, character voices, and inflections. I chose to listen to all of the books via audio because she added so much to them. Sadly, she passed away before the final book was published. There is a very touching afterword in this book honoring Katherine and telling of the friendship that had arisen between the author and narrator. Audiobooks don’t always include forwards and afterwards, so I am glad this one did. This audiobook was ably narrated by Fiona Hardingham.

These are my reviews of the previous books:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling 

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book II: The Hidden Gallery

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book III: The Unseen Guest (for some reason did not review this one)

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book IV: The Interrupted Tale

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book V: The Unmapped Sea

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Before We Were Yours

Truth is stranger than fiction, the saying goes. It is also more heartbreaking. One of the saddest and strangest situations in history is the story of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society she operated. Georgia would abduct poor children by various illegal means: outright kidnapping, taking children born to unwed mothers for “medical care” and then telling the mothers their babies died; tricking parents into signing their children over to the home, and others. Policemen, family court judges, a crime boss, and others were a part of Tann’s network. The children they obtained would be adopted out to unsuspecting couples or sometimes sold to high-profile, wealthy families. Records were often destroyed or falsified. Even though Tann thought the children would be better off in their new situations, ultimately her enterprise was a money-making scheme. Tann died while she and the home were investigated, but before she could be brought to justice.

Before we were yoursLisa Wingate sets her novel Before We Were Yours in these circumstances.

Avery Stafford is a senator’s daughter being groomed to take his place. On a trip with her father to a nursing home, a resident pauses before Avery, seems to recognize her, and calls her “Fern.” An aide hustles the woman away, chalking the incident up to dementia. But the woman made off with Avery’s heirloom bracelet, and when Avery goes back to the woman’s room to retrieve it, she sees a framed photograph of a woman who looks remarkably like Avery’s grandmother. Conversations with the resident, May, lead Avery to look into her grandmother’s journals. Every scrap of information uncovered produces more questions. Avery isn’t sure what she will ultimately find or what the consequences will be, but she feels compelled to know the truth. And the process causes Avery to question whether she is living a “role” in life set out for her by others.

May’s story is told in flashbacks. She was born Rill Foss, the oldest of five children who lived with their parents on a houseboat. When Rill’s mother goes into hard labor, the midwife insists that she be taken to the hospital. While Rill’s parents are gone, a policeman comes to pick up the children, saying he will take them to see their parents. Instead, he takes them to a woman waiting in a nearby car, who whisks them away to a children’s home.

Children in the home are neglected, not well fed, and abused. But when potential adoptive parents come, the children are dressed up and threatened to be on their best behavior. One by one Rill’s siblings disappear, but when she protests or tries to thwart their removal, she is punished and her remaining siblings threatened.

Even though May’s history is heart-rending, ultimately the book ends redemptively and hopefully.

Lisa’s scenes on the river are so real, I could almost see and smell and feel the surroundings. I ached with May through her story and the ultimate hard choice she had to make, and rejoiced at how things wrapped up for her. And I enjoyed Avery’s story as well.

A very well-written, excellent book.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Reshaping It All

ReshapingSome of you may remember Candace Cameron Bure as oldest daughter D. J. Tanner in the TV series Full House several years ago. I have not really kept up with her career since then, but somehow I was aware that she’d had some eating issues, had lost weight, and was an outspoken Christian like her brother Kirk Cameron. So when her book, Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness came up on a Kindle sale, I got it.

Although the book is not a full-fledged memoir, Candace gives glimpses of her growing-up years, family, time on Full House, marriage, and motherhood.

Her family seems remarkably grounded: even though Cameron and her brother were making all kinds of money, their father still made them work (at other jobs: he didn’t consider acting “work”) when they wanted something.

He could see that hard work was not only a prerequisite for success but that it was also a prerequisite for strong character. Struggling for the things we get teaches us the all-important lesson of self-disciple while it strengthens our body and spirit. It wasn’t enough for us to achieve a certain level of success in this world: our parents wanted us to reach our full potential as people who are strong in spirit and mind.

But Candace received mixed signals about food. He father provided “cardboard-tasting ‘health’ food” while her mother brought in doughnuts and such. Various other factors came into play, resulting in Cameron’s being about 25 pounds overweight and suffering from bulimia in her early twenties.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that my heart was longing for the things of this world. I ran to comfort food instead of running to God. I discovered my sin, but I hadn’t discovered that my heart was in the wrong place. I sought moral reformation instead of spiritual transformation. I had known who He was, but I still hadn’t grasped who I was in His sight.

She tells how she changed her approach to food and fitness. She didn’t follow a specific diet plan, and she believed everything was allowable in moderation, but she had a few principles she went by.

Transforming our bodies must begin by the renewing of our minds. Our bodies aren’t making these detrimental choices for us; they are simply animated by a mind that needs a mental makeover.

One such principle was HALT. “When you feel like reaching for food, ask yourself first if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. If you’re hungry, then proceed, but it you are reaching for food in response to emotion, then halt your behavior immediately.”

And even though the book is primarily about her journey towards fitness, she applies some of the same principle to style, clutter, marriage, and other facets of life.

Candace became a Christian at age 12, and the life principles she espouses are based squarely on Scripture. She writes in a conversational, level-headed, encouraging, easy to read style.

Standing face-to-face with a mountain can be overwhelming, especially when your perspective is that of looking up from the bottom. But if we decide to take one step and then another, looking only at the ground set before us, we realize the potential we have.

The only negative for me was the fan letters. At the end of every chapter, Cameron includes a fan letter asking her a question related to the chapter before. That was fine, but each letter also contains a certain amount of fannish praise that I felt awkward reading.

This book was written back in 2011, before her co-hosting stint on The View and other pursuits. She has written a few more books since that time, too.

I enjoyed the book very much and took away a few nuggets to help me in my own journey.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Laudable Linkage

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I’ve been mostly absent from the blog this week. It’s rare for me not to do a Friday’s Fave Five, even if I don’t post anything else. But it has been a busy week: card-making and present-shopping and wrapping for a baby shower and my oldest son’s upcoming birthday, house-cleaning for my son’s visit from out of state, buying tons of food for family get-togethers, etc, etc. It’s amazing what you can done when you’re not blogging! 🙂 I am not sure how much I will be online the next week. My oldest son is here, my husband is off, we’ll have more time with the whole family. But, in the past when I have thought I would not be posting much, I have been surprised. Our whole family likes our computer time, so we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I have collected in odd moments online the last week some thought-provoking, helpful reads I wanted to share with you.

Poor Interpretation Lets Us “Believe” the Bible While Denying What It Actually Say, HT to Challies. “Historically, theological liberals denied Scripture, and everyone knew where they stood. But today many so-called evangelicals affirm their belief in Scripture, while attributing meanings to biblical texts that in fact deny what Scripture really says. Hence they ‘believe every word of the Bible’ while actually embracing (and teaching) beliefs that utterly contradict it.”

Grace Comes With Refills.

Love Is Not a Feeling.

Praying the Words of Jesus for Your Teen.

Pants on Fire. The folly of the “I don’t know whether this is true or not; but I just wanted to get it out there” type of post.

Are We All “Harmless Torturers” Now? HT to Challies. “When we think of the savagery of social media, we often think of awful individual behavior…Harmless Torturers never go that far; we just like, retweet and add the occasional clever remark. But there are millions of us, and we’re all turning the dial.”

Why Getting Lost in a Book is So Good for You, HT to Linda.

Finally, you might be blessed by this video even if you don’t know Ron and Shelly Hamilton (of Majesty Music, aka Patch the Pirate and Sissy Seagull) and Shelly’s parents, Frank and Flora Jean Garlock. I had no idea the Garlocks were in this situation or that Ron had been diagnosed with dementia. This is not only an update of how they are doing, but a sweet testimony of a man caring for his wife.