Book Review: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Cold Outside

Dottie Morgan just wants to be left alone. Even at Christmas. Especially at Christmas. A part of her died when her son, Nelson, died in WWII. She’s not been well-favored in the town of Frost, Minnesota, since she ran off and married a “Dapper Dan” stranger, only to return pregnant and alone when her husband went to jail and later died. She and the town had held each at arm’s distance ever since. She felt that even God was keeping His distance from her because of her mistakes.

And then a blizzard trapped four other people in her house.

First Violet Hart came to tentatively ask Dottie about using the star she and Nelson had once made for the Christmas dance. But Violet got into an accident right in front of Dottie’s house and had to be tended to. Violet had been in the WAACs during WWII, a crack mechanic, but people didn’t respect her service. Now, even when she changed a light bulb or fuse, people wondered why she did a man’s job. But Violet had always felt more comfortable with mechanical issues than typical women’s pursuits. She had met one young man, Alex, overseas and corresponded for years. She had hoped he’d come to visit, but when her last letter came back stamped “Return to Sender,” she could only conclude he wasn’t interested, and she’d end up an old spinster like Dottie.

Jake Ramsey was the inadvertent cause of Violet’s accident when he tried to catch her. He had been Alex’s best friend all his life. When Alex died, all his belongings came to Jake, including Violet’s letters. Jake sort of took over Alex’s place, writing in his stead. In the process he began to get to know Dottie and then to love her. But how would she react when she learned that Alex had died and Jake had pretended to be him?

Gordy Lindholm had been Dottie’s neighbor across the street for as long as they could remember. He had loved her once. Still did, in fact. But she had married someone else. He had loved Nelson like his own, but Dottie resented that Gordy had taught Nelson to shoot and then inspired him to be a soldier. Dottie and Gordy had maintained a distant truce over the years, but he watched out for her, filled her wood bin and such. Now he heard the accident and went over to see what was wrong when the blizzard suddenly blew in. He could probably make it home, but it looked like he could be of help at Dottie’s house – if she’d let him.

Arnie Shiller had to stay after school as punishment for daydreaming. Darkness and cold descended on him as he made his way home, and then a sudden snow storm. He tried to make it home, but when that seemed impossible, he strove to make it to his designated Storm House, Mrs. Morgan’s.

Susan May Warren deftly weaves all these lives together in  Baby, It’s Cold Outside. I had started this before Christmas, but then set it aside to finish a library book that I could not renew due to holds on it. After Christmas I planned to put this book away for next Christmas. But I picked it up and read a few pages where I had left off – and got hooked into the story.

Susan has managed to write a tale of five wounded souls with all their flaws, unrecognized virtues, and issues without it becoming sappy or trite Christmas fare.

I loved this book. I loved each person’s story, their interactions, misunderstandings, and journey to make peace with God and each other.

And there were some brilliant moments throughout. As one example (in a slight spoiler), Arnie has been out in the cold too long when he is finally discovered. As they try to warm him, Jake explains that as feeling comes back into Arnie’s limbs, they’re going to be painful at first before they get better. In an aha moment, I realized that the exact same thing was happening to Dottie inwardly. All the emotions she had numbed since her son died were being rubbed back to life by all the circumstances and conversations, and at first they caused nothing but pain. I love that Susan made that parallel without being blatant about it, setting it up to dawn on the reader. She explains in her afterward another parallel or symbolism in the storm house itself.

A few quotes:

God doesn’t expect us to be strong without Him…we’re supposed to need Him, and there’s no disgrace in that. In fact, weakness just might be the mark of a man of God. Don’t call yourself weak because of the things you can’t do. Call yourself weak when you don’t let God take over, do His work in your life…That’s the point of Christmas, isn’t it? Our weakness, His strength? Him coming to our rescue? (pp. 225-226).

Hope, however fragile, is the one thing that keeps us from getting lost…We can’t stop the pain. We can only apply the comfort of God to it (p. 281).

Excellent book, even after Christmas.

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Book Review: Among the Fair Magnolias

magnolias Among the Fair Magnolias contains four different stories set in the Civil War-era South.

“A Heart So True” by Dorothy Love takes place in Pawley’s Island, SC. Abby Clayton’s father plans to run for governor and expects Abby to marry a distant cousin, Charles. But Abby’s previous encounters with Charles have turned her against him. Besides, she loves the country doctor. Will she end up marrying Charles out of duty, or will he show his true colors and convince her father Charles is not the man for her?

In “To Mend a Dream” by Tamera Alexander, Savannah Darby takes care of her sister and brother after the deaths of their parents and loss of their Nashville home. She works for a seamstress and suddenly finds herself tasked with sewing curtains for the new owners of her family’s home. This is an opportunity to find a box her father had told her he had hidden away on the property.  Bostonian Aidan Bedford had visited the area and bought the place after an unusual conversation with an enemy soldier whom he nicknamed Nashville. Aiden has brought his fiance to see the place and decorate it to her tastes, but the more time they spend together, the less sure he is of their engagement. But something about the seamstress working on their curtains intrigues him.

In “Love Beyond Limits” by Elizabeth Musser, the Civil War is over, the slaves are now working as freedmen and sharecroppers in Georgia, and Emily couldn’t be happier. She spends most of her time teaching former slaves how to read. Not everyone shares her joy, however: the Klan is dangerously active in the area. An old friend seeks Emily’s hand, but she can’t accept him because she loves another: one of the freedmen. But she can’t express her love because it would be dangerous for the man she loves. (This one had an unexpected double twist at the end!)

In “An Outlaw’s Heart” by Shelley Gray, Russell Stark has been on the run for years. He had defended his girlfriend, Nora, from an attack by his drunken father and killed him in the process. Both his mother and Nora told him to go, and he has spent most of his time with an outlaw gang. Now he’s come home to Fort Worth to find his mother seriously ill and his former girlfriend caring for her. Nora is still single but seeing another man, someone Russell thinks is hiding something. But will anybody believe an outlaw? And can he ever put his past behind him and move on?

Some of the characters in the stories were from other books by the authors, but I didn’t feel I was missing anything in the stories by not having read the previous books.

I got this book mainly because I love Elizabeth Musser’s writing. But I enjoyed all these stories, the lessons learned, and the journeys of faith for each one.

Book Review: Annabel Lee

annabel leeAnnabel Lee lives with her uncle, called Truck, and his scary dog in small-town Alabama. Truck teaches her from home, mostly languages like German and Creole. Suddenly one day Truck takes Annabel to an underground bunker, leaves the dog with her, and tells her sternly not to open the door for anyone, including him, without the safe code.

Meanwhile investigator Trudi Coffey has noticed that a personal newspaper ad that has said merely “Safe” for months now suddenly says “Unsafe.” Shortly thereafter a mysterious “Dr. Smith” comes to her agency to ask if she has seen or knows anything about Truck. Trudi denies any knowledge, though Truck was a friend and colleague of her ex-husband, Samuel.

Then Samuel himself shows up, asking to borrow back a book he had gifted her with some years before: a volume of Edgar Allen Poe’s works. Trudi gives it to him but doesn’t tell him that she had discovered the secret compartment in the back and removed the key and note there.

The Mute is an ex-military sniper who first earned his nickname because he was so quiet. Then an explosion while on duty took away his voice for real. The Mute is Truck’s friend and knows Annabel is in trouble but doesn’t know where to find her. But he knows evil people are also looking for her.

Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa grabbed me in the first chapter and did not let go. Not only was the story riveting, but the banter, particularly between Trudi and Samuel, was exquisite. The point of view goes back and forth between Annabel, Trudi, and the Mute. The story was a bit more violent than my usual fare, but it wasn’t gratuitous: the bad guys were extremely bad guys and needed extreme means to defend against. There’s a definite faith element and undercurrent to the story, though it’s not blatant.

Though I wanted to race through the book to find out what happened, I was also sad to see it end. Great story: wonderful writing: highly recommended.

Book Review: Homebody

HomebodyJoanna Gaines’ philosophy in Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave is that we shouldn’t decorate just to fit everything within a certain style. Rather, our homes should be reflections of the needs and personalities of those who live there.

Throughout this book, you’ll notice a theme of “telling your story” within your home. What I mean is that I want you to approach the design of your home with intention, to surround yourself with items that mean something to you, and choose furnishings and details that make you happy or inspired or content (p. 8).

Intentionality with a dose of creativity goes much further than money and flawless taste when it comes to making a house a home (p. 9).

The book is laid out simply and practically. First Joanna discusses some introductory thoughts. Then she gives a brief description of several styles: farmhouse, modern, rustic, industrial, traditional, and boho. In a sense these are all modern styles, or modern interpretations.

Then Joanna gives even more brief summaries of each of the homes she’ll be sharing pictures of. I noticed that all of them are a blend of two or three styles: no one decorated everywhere in a house within any one style. Of that eclectic tendency, Joanna says, “I believe that a gathered approach is essential to creating spaces that are a true representation of you and the people who share your home” (p. 13).

Then a chapter is devoted to each room in the house. First Joanna shares thoughts on how her philosophy of design for each room developed over the years. Then she lists what to consider in each room (how it will be used, special considerations, etc.), shows several pictures from a various homes and comments on salient points, and finishes with a couple of pages about troubleshooting the particular design issues in each room. In addition to the usual rooms (living room, kitchen, etc.), she has a chapter devoted to entryways, kid spaces, “rooms to retreat,” and utility spaces.

She mentions that utility spaces (laundry, pantry, etc.) are often neglected, but since we spend so much time in them, it pays to brighten them up a bit. I can testify to that. This is the first house we’ve lived in where there was a nice laundry room, and the first time I’ve put a bit of art on the walls (nothing expensive: a cross-stitched picture my sister made, a framed calendar page, a Hobby Lobby clearance piece, etc.). It makes a lot of difference to have that area pleasant to be in.

I also liked her thought that in kids’ rooms, “Rather than focusing on literal interpretations of a theme, decor and furnishings are incorporated in a way that will age with the children” (p. 249). In one example, a little girl loved rainbows. But instead of painting an actual rainbow on the wall, a rainbow effect was suggested by a gradation of soft colors on the walls and a wall hanging. (My own personal thought here: there’s nothing wrong with painting an actual rainbow or whatever if a child wants that. It’s likely the room will need to be painted again or her tastes will change sometime before she moves out, anyway. But I did like this idea of the effect of something rather than a literal interpretation.)

A few other quotes:

[Though] what’s on the inside matters most…tending to the outside has a pretty profound effect on how we feel on the inside (p. 33).

Functionality doesn’t need to be sacrificed to make a space feel inviting (p. 35).

I realized that I had let the pursuit of perfection inform how I designed this space instead of the people who were actually supposed to be enjoying life in it (p. 55).

The book ends with a design template and suggestions for the process of how to design a particular room.

We don’t watch too many HGTV shows as we don’t get that channel, and watching it online can be a little wonky (sometimes we’re limited in what we can see). But of the few shows we have watched, I like Joanna’s style and touch the best. Yet, her style is not my style. What seems clean and minimal to her seems a little barren to me. I don’t like the horizontal lines of shiplap and subway tiles. I cringe at the thought of open shelving (I fight dust even in closed cabinets: I can’t fathom adding dusting open shelving to my regular tasks). I got tired of the mostly black and white palette in the book’s illustrations. But that’s ok, because she’s not advocating that everyone follow her style. Her main point is that every home will look different as it’s adapted to its occupants. I love her philosophy and many of the practical tips she shared. All in all, I enjoyed the book very much.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

 

Reading Plans for 2019

I mentioned on last year’s list of books read that I like to find balance in my reading: some intention, but some flexibility; some classics, but some modern; some already on my shelves, but some new-to-me. It seems that these particular challenges have helped me find that best balance, plus they are fun to do together. They can overlap with each other, thankfully – otherwise I could only choose one or two.

So here are my reading plans for this year.

L. M. Montgomery Reading ChallengeCarrie hosts an annual Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge in January. I’m reading Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy. I was wary of it when I first heard of it, but then I read that the LMM estate was wary, too, yet liked it in the end. So I am reading out of curiosity but hoping it’s good.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge is hosted right here during the month of February! More information is here as well as an extended book list. On Feb. 1 I’ll post a sign-up post and share then what I’ll be reading.

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Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts the Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge in June, so I will share at that time what I will read for that challenge.

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Tarissa also hosts the Literary Christmas Challenge for the last two months of the year. The main rule: read Christmas books!

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Karen at Books and Chocolate hosts the Back to the Classics Challenge. She comes up with categories and we come up with a classic at least 50 years old to fit each category. She also gives away a prize – a $30 gift card to Amazon.com or The Book Depository. You get one entry for the prize drawing for six categories completed, two entries for nine categories completed, and three entries if you complete all twelve. We don’t have to name the books, but it helps me to do so, and we are allowed to change during the course of the year. As with each of these challenges, more information is provided at the links above. So the classics I am considering for this year include:

  1. 19th Century Classic: Probably The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  2. 20th Century Classic (published between 1900 to 1969): How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  3. Classic by a Woman Author. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  4. Classic in Translation (written originally in a language different from your own): Possibly Anna Karenina by Tolstoy after Carol’s review reassured me that it’s not what I had thought it was.
  5. Classic Comic Novel. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  6. Classic Tragic Novel. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  7. Very Long Classic (500 or more pages): I’m considering Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
  8. Classic Novella (250 or fewer pages): Possibly Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald. My copy has 192 pages.
  9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). I may finally tackle The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzergerald or maybe The Last of the Mohicans by Janes Fenimore Cooper.
  10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). I don’t know of anything offhand for this category, so I may borrow Karen’s idea of Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge.
  11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived. Not sure about this one yet, but my choices are TX, SC, GA, and TN. Any suggestions?
  12. Classic Play. Probably either The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde or Our Town by Thornton Wilder.

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Adam at Roof Beam Reader hosts the TBR Pile Challenge to encourage us to get to those books on our shelves, Kindles, or TBR lists. For this one we have to name the books we are going to read, along with two alternates (in case we can’t get through a couple on our list). The books for this challenge have to have been published 2017 and earlier. And! Adam offers a prize: a drawing for a $50 gift card from Amazon.com or The Book Depository! Tempting for any book lover! So here is what I plan to read for this challenge:

  1. How to Understand and Apply the New Testament by Andrew David Naselli
  2. There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe
  3. The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright.
  4. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. Just received recently, but on my TBR list for a while now.
  5. Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior
  6. On Writing Well by William Zinsser. On my TBR list for a very long time.
  7. Katie’s Dream by Leisha Kelly. Loved her first two books and am eager to read this one.
  8. If I Run by Terri Blackstock
  9. Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey
  10. Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa (2016)(Finished 1/13.19)
  11. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  12. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My alternates will be Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohkle and Close to Home by Deborah Raney

As I finish them, I’ll come back and link the title to my review. I’m including the publication dates as well to make it easier to make sure they qualify for the challnge.

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Bev hosts the Mount TBR Challenge to also encourage us to read the books we already own, but with a few differences. Every 12 books read is another level or “mountain” climbed. We don’t have to list the books yet (although some books for the above TBR challenge will count for this one as well), but we do have to commit to a level. I am committing to Mount Blanc (24 books). The one main rule here is that the books have to have been owned by us before January 1, 2019. But that means every book in my house and Kindle app on Jan. 1, even the ones I just got for Christmas, count! I appreciate that because too often I push my newer books back behind the ones that have been sitting there for a while.

Bev is also hosting the Virtual TBR Reading Challenge, like the Mount TBR except that the first one requires you to own the books you’re reading. The virtual one can include borrowed books. I am not sure about this one yet.

A new-to-me challenge that I have heard of but not participated in before is Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge. The categories appealed to me, plus some of them overlap with my other challenges. I couldn’t quite tell if she had a graphic for participants to use for the challenge. My picks for this one:

A book you’ve been meaning to read: I could fill pages with this category. I’ve had The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright on my shelf for a few years. Since it’s supposed to be love letters, I’ll probably plan to read it in February around Valentine’s Day
A book about a topic that fascinates you: I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
A book in the backlist of a favorite author: On Writing Well by William Zinsser is recommended by just about every book on writing that I have read.
A book recommended by someone with great taste: On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior, recommended by Michele. Many on my TBR list are from Michele.
Three books by the same author: I loved two books by Leisha Kelly last year, so I plan to read her next three: Katie’s Dream, Rorie’s Secret, and Rachel’s Prayer.
A book you chose for the cover: This is not something I usually do, so I’ll have o see if any covers catch my eye this year.
A book by an author who is new to you:There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe, after seeing it on Michele’s review.
A book in translation: Possibly Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
A book outside your (genre) comfort zone: Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa. It’s described as a “fast-paced thriller” and looks a little scary. I don’t remember who recommended it to me, but something they said inclined me to get it.
A book published before you were born: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

So – I think that will keep me busy for quite a while. I’m excited to get started!

Do you have any reading plans for the year?

Book Review: The Christmas Heirloom

Christmas Heirloom The Christmas Heirloom: Four Holiday Novellas of Love through the Generations by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Becky Wade follows a family brooch handed down through generations.

“A Legacy of Love” by Kristi Ann Hunter takes place in 1827 England. Sarah Gooding came about her job as a lady’s companion in an unusual way, and she and her employer have a close relationship. Sarah is attracted to her employer’s grandson, but their different stations in life would prohibit anything more than friendship between them. Yet they do come to each other’s attention in protecting Lady Densbury’s interests, and she’s unconventional enough to help their relationship along. She bequeaths Sarah a brooch that had been given to her by her husband when they first married.

“Gift of the Heart” by Karen Witemeyer takes place several generations later in 1890. Ruth Fulbright is a young widow starting a new chapter in life with her daughter. They travel several miles via stage coach to a new job as a cook in Hope Springs, TX. She carries her heirloom brooch in an bag embroidered with her initials plus those of its three owners before her. Not having quite enough money for accommodations, she proposes giving the brooch as collateral to her landlord until she can earn enough to buy it back. Normally he would not accept such an arrangement, but she does not take no as an answer, and he sees how much it means to her. He has been almost a recluse since an injury and disfigurement of his arm in his youth changed his mother’s perception of him. He thinks everyone must feel about his handicap the same as she did. But Ruth’s bright spirit draws him out.

In “A Shot at Love” by Sarah Loudin Thomas, Fleeta’s parents have passed away, and she lives with an aunt and uncle in Bethel, West Virginia in 1958. Her main interest in life is guns: known as a crack shot, she also loves building them and carving designs into them. Her hope is to have her own gun store. Fleeta’s aunt brings out the brooch and tells Fleeta about it, saying her mother had wanted her to have it “when the time was right for [her] to find true love.” Fleeta doesn’t have much interest in love. Grief for her father hastened her mother’s demise, and other women seem to be held back by the romantic relationships in their lives. But then a stranger comes to town, a friend of a friend, who is just as good a shot and has just as much an interest in guns as she does. And he’s not put off by her unconventional femininity.

“Because of You” by Becky Wade tales place in modern-day Merryweather, Washington. Maddie Winslow had a crush on Leo Donnelly, but Leo married her friend, Olivia. But Olivia has passed away, leaving behind a young son as well as a grieving husband. Maddie still loves Leo but feels loyalty to Olivia places him “off limits.” Maddie and Leo are paired together for their church’s “Mission Christmas,” in which the different participants work together to help a family without means during the holidays. Maddie comes across the brooch while looking in the attic for items for a fund-raising rummage sale. She asks her mother about it and learns the story. Thankfully someone’s family history research reveals the brooch’s past. Leo had had no thoughts of loving again, but as he gets to know Maddie, he begins to think his heart can love again. The only thing I didn’t like about this one was multiple mentions of going to bars and drinking alcohol. I know Christians have a variety of opinions these days as to what exactly is acceptable in the realm of drinking, but I’d rather it was not “pushed” as normal. Having had an alcoholic father and visited a few bars before my salvation, to me, alcohol is part of the old life. There are any number of other places the folks in the story could have met.

There’s some mention of the brooch bringing its owners love, but the authors dispel the notion of it as something of a good luck charm, saying rather than love comes from God’s leading and provision.

This was a sweet, clean, enjoyable holiday read.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

Literary Christmas Wrap-Up

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Here’s what I finished reading for Tarissa’s Literary Christmas Challenge this year (each title links back to my review):

I enjoyed them all, but my hands-down favorite was The Christmas Hirelings.

I didn’t end up reading everything on my original list. However, I did add a couple not on my original list that I received for free this month (can’t beat that!) I tended to read more from my Kindle app and listened to a couple on audiobook. My paper book reading was taken up by trying to finish a non-Christmas library book. I did start Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Susan May Warren and will finish, but probably after the end of the year. Everything else I’ll save for next December.

Thanks, Tarissa, for hosting the challenge! I like to read a few Christmas books in December anyway, but it’s nice to link up with others doing the same thing and see what they’re reading.

 

Mount TBR Reading Challenge Wrap-up 2018

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I’ve already posted the books I read this year and my favorite books of 2018, but I wanted to share this final wrap-up of the Mount TBR Challenge.

Bev hosts the Mount TBR Challenge to encourage us to read what we already have on our shelves, and every twelve books is one more level.

I had only committed to to Mount Blanc (24 books). But I made it past the next level at Mt. Vancouver (36 books), with a grand total of 39.

Bev also proposes taking the first part of some well-known sayings and pairing them with titles of some of the books we read:

A stitch in time…[keeps] The Pattern Artist in business.
Don’t count your chickens..[in] The Secret Garden.
A penny saved is…. Emma’s Gift.
All good things must comeWhen the Morning Glory Blooms.
When in Rome… [I long to come] Back Home Again.
All that glitters is not…[is not] Julia’s Hope.
A picture is worth a… [a] Journey to the Center of the Earth.
When the going gets tough, the tough getTea With Emma.
Two wrongs don’t make…[a] Mountain Between Us.
The pen is mightier than.Invincible Louisa.
The squeaky wheel getsSomeday Home.
Hope for the best, but prepare forScrapping Plans.
Birds of a feather flock…[at] My Father’s House.

Here are the already-owned books I finished, listed on order of completion.

  1. Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His own Body by Martin Pistorious (Copyright 2013, Finished 1/8/18)
  2. The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton (1908)(Finished 1/17/18)
  3. Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley (2016)(Finished 1/24/18)
  4. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870)(Finished 1/26/18)
  5. Mozart’s Sister by Nancy Moser (2006)(Finished 1/28/18)
  6. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Finished 2/3/17)
  7. The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay (2017)(Finished 2/5/18)
  8. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (Finished 2/17/18)
  9. Trust: A Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback (2008)(Finished 2/28/18)
  10. Sins of the Past by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, and Lynette Easton (2016)(Finished 3/28/18)
  11. The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1903)(Finished 3/31/18)
  12. Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel (2017)(Finished 4/5/18)
  13. He Fell in Love With His Wife by Edward Payson Roe (1866)(Finished 4/8/18)
  14. Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin (2016)(Finished 5/6/18)
  15. Drawing Near to the Heart of God by Cynthia Heald (2012)(Finished 5/16/17)
  16. Adam Bede by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)(1859)(Finished 5/19/18)
  17. The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron (2017)(Finished 5/22/18)
  18. The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin (2011)(Finished 6/3/18)
  19. Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs (1933) (Finished 6/25/18)
  20. Looking Into You by Chris Fabry (2017)(Finished 7/10/18)
  21. My Father’s House by Rose Chandler Johnson (2016)(Finished 7/7/18)
  22. When the Morning Glory Blooms by Cynthia Ruchti (2013)(Finished 7/23/18)
  23. The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser (2016)(Finished 8/4/18)
  24. Back Home Again: Tales of the Grace Chapel Inn by Melody Carlson (2008)(Finished 8/5/18)
  25. Reshaping It All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness by Candace Cameron Bure (2011)(Finished 8/18/18)
  26. Full Assurance by H. A. Ironside (1968)(Finished 8/11/18)
  27. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (2017)(Finished 8/23/18)
  28. Tea With Emma by Diane Moody (2013)(Finished 9/19/18)
  29. Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly (2002)(Finished 9/23/18)
  30. Emma’s Gift by Leisha Kelly (2003) (Finished 9/29/18)
  31. Hidden Places by Lynn Austin (2001)(Finished 11/5/18)
  32. Coming Unglued by Rebeca Seitz (2008)(Finished around 10/20/28)
  33. Scrapping Plans by Rebeca Seitz (2009)(Finished 10/30/18)
  34. Perfect Piece by Rebeca Seitz (2009)(Finished 11/3/18)
  35. Someday Home by Lauraine Snelling (2015)(Finished 11/10/18)
  36. Florian’s Gate by T. Davis Bunn (1992)(Finished 11/24/18)
  37. Come Back, Barbara by C. John Miller and Barbara Miller Juliani (1988)(Finished 11/30/18)
  38. I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Lenora Worth, Belle Calhoune, Jill Kemerer, and Allie Pleiter. (2017)(Finished 12/12/18)
  39. A Spectacle of Glory: God’s Light Shining Through Me Every Day by Joni Eareckson Tada (2016)(Finished 12/29/18)

Thanks, Bev, for this fun motivation to finish off those books in our stacks and Kindles. I look forward to the challenge next year, too!

Book Review: A Spectacle of Glory

I don’t usually do book reviews on Sunday, but I wanted to get this in before the end of the year for those who are considering a devotional book for next year.

SpectacleJoni Eareckson Tada explains that the title for A Spectacle of Glory: God’s Light Shining Through Me Every Day comes from a quote of John Newton’s:

Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.

Joni, as most of you know, broke her neck in a diving accident in her teens and has been in a wheelchair the 51 years since. In addition she’s had breast cancer, chronic pain, and has recently been diagnosed with a second bout of cancer. So she knows about suffering, and she has spent many years seeking God’s grace and purposes through them. The book is not exclusively about suffering, but many of the entries do deal with that and related subjects.

The pages are small, about 4×6″. Each day’s reading takes just one page and includes a Bible verse, a couple of paragraphs of Joni’s related thoughts, and a prayer at the end. So this book is easily readable through the year and tremendously meaty.

I have many more places marked than I can possibly share, but here are just a few samples:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” When you are in trouble, God doesn’t just send help; He is your help. And this help is ever-present. God is closer than your troubles and stronger than all your fears. Fix your thoughts on Him, and He will sustain you (p. 28).

When God gives you some extraordinary blessing, don’t clutch it with a white-knuckled grip, or you may destroy the very thing that makes it a blessing to you…Be willing to let the blessings go, should God choose to take them away. One day He will return what He has removed–or replace it with something better (p. 47).

Show people how someone changed by the gospel actually responds to the rough edges of life (p. 110).

It takes spiritual discipline, as well as consuming adoration for the Savior, to not become weighed down and distracted by the hard work of energetic service. Don’t shrink from serving the Lord today; just be certain to keep Jesus and His glory as your goal (p. 114).

Lord, You have never asked me to go where You haven’t gone Yourself. If I find myself on a path of pain or sorrow, I can see Your footprints ahead of me. And I know where this path leads–to joy! Just around the bend, all of the suffering will be over forever–little more than a dim memory on a fresh, eternal morning (p. 135).

If these are mere flashes and keyhole glances of heaven, what will the reality be? Every earthly beauty that moves your heart is a God-sent gift to whet your appetite for the next life (p. 314).

The robust hope of the believer is not that we will escape hurts and sorrows, but that God will make every one of them an instrument of His mercy to do us good–both now and in eternity (p. 168).

Don’t ever tolerate low thoughts of a barely adequate, minimalist Savior who might “keep you going” but not much more. Jesus has riches to bestow on you right now. He will not only give you heaven above, but heaven-hearted joy in serving Him here on earth (p. 242).

Some of Joni’s thoughts spurred my own into posts here:

Why Isn’t God Winning?

Dark Valleys and Fiery Furnaces

Don’t Plug In: Abide

I can heartily recommend this devotional book to you.

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

Favorite Books of 2018

Yesterday I shared a list of the books I read this year. Now I want to highlight my favorites from that list. Only a few were actually published in 2018, but all but one were new to me.

It’s hard to choose! Some had great subjects, great characters, great plots, or great writing. These are the ones that resonated with me the most.

In no particular order, here are my favorite books read this year:

Nonfiction:

ConscienceConscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley. Many people are confused about what exactly a conscience is, and what’s for, and how it works. This book was highly helpful, readable, practical, and informative. One quote: “Feeding excuses to your conscience is like feeding sleeping pills to a watchdog” (p. 64).

TrustTrust: A Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback is a treasure of short but purposeful chapters. “Out of his love for you, he is well able to prevent the thing you are so afraid of, and out of that same love he might allow it. Either way, whatever happens, he only allows what is going to work for your eternal happiness and blessing and his glory” (p. 26).

ScarsThe Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering by Vaneetha Rendall Risner. Vaneetha is one of those people, like Job or Joni Eareckson Tada, about whom you wonder, “How much more can they take?” She was once bitter toward God for what He allowed. But once she realized He had a purpose in everything and trials were His tools, she began to view them in a different light. “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).

Anger

A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward T. Welch. Though I wish this had been laid out like the author’s Running Scared (one of my favorite books of 2015), it’s packed full of great and convicting content. “Jesus…enlarged the boundary of murder so that it includes all kinds of anger. In order to do this, He links them at the level of the heart, where they share the same lineage of selfish desire. We want something–peace, money, respect–and we aren’t getting it. The only difference is in our choice of weapons” (p. 18).

WOTW

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin was a reread for me, but it’s still my favorite book of its kind.

Classics:

He Fell In Love With His Wife

He Fell in Love With His Wife by Edward Payson Roe. This 1886 novel is not the first or last about a marriage of convenience in which the participants actually do fall in love with each other, but it’s full of humor, warmth, and pathos. I loved the characters and the story and bought more of Roe’s books after reading this one.

Christmas HirelingsThe Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. An 1894 classic Christmas story that I think could rival Dickens’ Christmas Carol.

Fiction:

Guernsey
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I’ve heard for years how good this is, but I just got to it this year. And it’s every bit as good as I’ve heard. An author discovers that the island of Guernsey was occupied by Germans during WWII. A group of neighbors there invented a literary society first as a cover for getting together to eat a pig which was supposed to have been given to the Germans. Then they had to continue meeting to keep up the ruse. In the meantime, they got to know each other. The author comes to visit them and learn more about their stories. (The movie is wonderful. too!)

Hands
My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay. This is another that was well-spoken of a few years ago, but I just got to it in time for its re-release this year. A group of teens on a backpacking mission trip to Indonesia is stranded when fighting unexpectedly breaks out and their hosts are killed. The kids have to hike through the jungle, facing all kinds of dangers, pushing themselves beyond their limits, struggling with their faith.

JuliaJulia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly. Set in the Depression, a family without resources whose one hope falls through finds an abandoned house. They ask the owner, an elderly woman who could no longer live there alone, if they could live in the home in exchange for fixing it up. In time they offer for her to come back to the home as well, eventually forming a new family. There are many great layers to this one: the father and husband earning back his self-respect, his wife learning to forgive, neighbors helping even when they don’t have much to give. I loved the way the author got me into the characters’ heads and got them into my heart.

Fly AwayFly Away by Lynn Austin. An uptight, introverted Christian professor retired against her will is resentful and depressed and doesn’t know what to do with herself. A laid-back, gregarious atheist grandfather pilot finds he has cancer, and plans to “take off and forget to land” rather than put his family through his slow, painful demise. When they meet, sparks fly. But when she learns his situation, she knows she needs to tell him about the Lord. Her various attempts, first to find someone else to do it, then trying and failing to give him a tract, are comical but sad. I loved the journey on both sides.

Before we were yoursBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This novel is based on true circumstances. In the first half of the twentieth century, Georgia Tann operated a children’s home by stealing poor children and brokering adoptions for a price – effectively selling children. This story involves one family’s being torn apart, scattered, and trying to find each other again. Some commented on my review that the book sounded too sad to read, especially when one gets emotionally invested in characters. But it ends in a good place. And, sadly, human trafficking still goes on today, and we need to be aware of it. Besides being a riveting story, the writing is gorgeous.

It took a lot of thought to reduce my favorites to the top twelve above. But there were so many good books I read this year, I can’t help including a few more “honorable mentions”:

  • Adam Bede by George Eliot didn’t sound like something I’d be interested in with its love triangle. But I loved Eliot’s other books so much, I gave this one a chance – and I am glad I did. I love the way Eliot gets us into her characters’ heads.
  • Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano. True story of a man who went from a conscientious objector due to his faith to winning the Medal of Honor for capturing 132 Germans in WWI. Fascinating story, both for his personal growth, the incident in the Argonne, and his life afterward.
  • Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas. The author got in the way of his story a bit, but otherwise this was a great biography of Wilberforce.
  • Come Back, Barbara by C. John Miller and Barbara Miller Juliani. Father and daughter tell her prodigal story. Probably most valuable for what he learned about his own mistakes and limitations.
  • Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped in His Own Body by Martin Pistorius. Hard to read in places, but an amazing story.
  • The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron. I love that Kristy tackles subjects no one else in Christian fiction does.
  • The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron covers three different timelines, all connected to a castle in France.
  • The Pattern Artist by Nancy Moser. A maid with a knack for clothing design leaves her employer during a visit to America to try to make her own way.

What were some of your favorite reads this year?

(Sharing with Semicolon, who invites us to share our end-of-year book lists for her last Saturday Review of Books, and Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)