A Review on Nerve & A Few Thoughts on Christian Fiction

June 16, 2015 at 7:00 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

imagesI have mixed feelings about Nerve by Bethany Macmanus.

As a reader I felt the Christian themes were awkward.  Having attended a Baptist University where, though I am a fellow Christian, people were constantly using breathy voices and calling on the Lord and praying over me and my sins in a manner that often made me uncomfortable.  Some were sincere friends and followers of Christ, many were frauds participating in group think and social customs of the Bible Belt.  Therefore, I have to say that personal experience greatly affects my ability to enjoy Christian fiction. Ironically, since my own cozy fiction – The Bookshop Hotel – has a churchy reference or two (maybe, if you look for it really hard).  A testament to the fact that although it’s a completely fabricated story with no roots in any people I know personally, world views have a tendency to seep through an author’s writing.

As someone who has grown up with Bethany Macmanus in my sphere of family friends, I know that these dialogues, prayers, and sentiments were sincerely written.  Something that rings false to me in the dialogue, I am quite certain was meant whole heartedly and rang true for the author when she wrote it.  She is one of the kindest, loving, and God-fearing women I have had the pleasure to know in my life.  I’ve never seen her without a smile and a sweet disposition.

Many with life experiences concerning physical ailments and reliance on God to get them through those ailments will find this romantic suspense novel something they can identify with and find comfort in.  I, on the other hand, had a hard time relating to Wren in any way as she struggled with romantic desires for two love interests, discomfort with whether things and people she encountered were destructive to her spirit, and dealing with creepy stalkers and dead ferrets.

Characters telling each other that they needed each other, and deeming that a verbalization of love, also didn’t sit well with me.  Again, I can chalk this up to personal experience tainting my ability to digest certain plot points – which is not an issue with the writing at all.  Need and love are such drastically different things in my world, with need often times being the exact opposite of a loving sentiment.  In my own writing, I’ve used need as a red flag to characters not being in the right place at the right time for each other, as opposed to the DTR that gets them together.

I think if you’re an avid romantic suspense or Christian fiction reader, this book will be right up your alley.  I definitely read a lot of books with romantic elements and enjoy a mystery every few titles I read, but romantic suspense has never been my favorite – and Christian fiction is a genre I tend to avoid, aside from Jan Karon, whose books (crossed with, hopefully, some Kate Morton) are closer to what I strive for in my own existing series.  I also have a tendency to prefer exploring religious themes in fiction within in the sci-fi genre – like Philip K. Dick, C.S. Lewis, and Mary Doria Russell titles.

These, of course, are all personal preferences and have no bearing on the merit of Macmanus’s work.  I can think of many people I would recommend her books to, and I will continue to purchase her titles and support her as a friend and fellow indie author.  But, as an honest book reviewer, I have to say that I wasn’t smitten with Nerve or its characters.

The editing was done well.  Not that I’m known for being a grammarian by any stretch of the imagination, but I noticed no flaws in grammar or any hiccups that would distract me from the story – something I highly appreciate after a poor editing job done on my own book from the first indie publisher who picked me up (fabulously re-done and re-released by Grey Gecko Press just this month), as well as other indie titles I’ve reviewed as a blogger.  It’s nice to see things so well done the first time out the gate, so there is definitely a kudos to professionalism regarding this title.

I think it is important to mention that though I consider Bethany a family friend, this title was *not* given to me in exchange for an honest review.  I purchased the title, read it, and am choosing to share my honest review with my public.  Some might wonder why I would share such an on the fence review regarding a friends’ work – I do it with purpose!  I think people scanning reviews might come across less than stellar star ratings for this novel (very few! I only see one on Amazon as of the writing of this post) and I’d like to offer some insight to the author and the public.  I strongly feel like this is *not* because there is any problem with the story or the characters, but with the perception of the readers who leave those reviews and how they might feel about people in the real world who speak this way.  It’s amazing how life experience can manipulate your views on a story, even in the most light hearted of genre fiction.

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Loveliness

November 4, 2014 at 5:12 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Crosswicks 2Title: The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Crosswicks Journal Book Two)

Author: Madeleine L’Engle

Genre: Memoir

I’ve been reading The Summer of the Great-Grandmother for nearly a month now.  I read pieces and snippets in particular moods – moods when I need it: L’Engle’s wisdom and a bit of the outdoors.

But finally, last night, I turned the last page.

I finished and sat there a moment.  My journal open, the book closed, my pen ready and not ready at the same time.  Ready because I had a vision to capture in the ink.  Not ready because it didn’t seem to me like a book review at all, but it’s what I have – my thoughts regarding this book.

I cannot help but think of Sandy Smith while I am reading it.  L’Engle tells tales of her home life and mentally, for some reason or another, I picture Smith’s face rather than L’Engle’s.  Perhaps it is because I’ve met Sandy, but L’Engle is a series of disjointed pictures from different decades that I have plucked from the internet.  Sandy is flesh and blood to me, and L’Engle deserves to seem like flesh and blood in my mind.  Flat internet images glowing with the unnatural light of an LED background do not do her justice.  I hope Sandy doesn’t mind me stealing her image and loaning it to another in my mind.

It’s just that – in my mind, they belong together.  They are joined by associations I may never be able to clearly express, but might be able to feebly make a fraction of sense of them here.

They are each writers and humans in their own right, but L’Engle’s writing seems to have the same aura of loveliness that I find in Sandy when talking to her in person.  When I think of her, this soft spoken writer who traveled all the way from Oregon to Texas for a book signing tour, you’d think I’d remember the hours I spent with her in bookstores hanging out around tables of her young adult series Seed Savers.  But I don’t.

P1010598Instead, I specifically recall looking back at her while walking on a trail – her face lit up by the sun and a full smile as she looked back her husband entertaining my daughter with flora and fauna and a delightful hat.  (The picture on the left is not long after that moment that is ingrained in my mind forever.)

As in every moment with her, she had a twinkle in her eye.  I’d call it a spark, even.  She’s someone you meet and instantly want to be her friend, or little sister, or niece, or daughter.  It doesn’t matter, you just long to matter to her because she is wonderful and wise and everything about being around her feels enriching.

I do not know Madeleine L’Engle other than by her books, and I would not presume to say that I really know Sandy Smith either – I’ve just had the pleasure of her company, the joy of promoting her books, we’ve chattered back and forth in emails to plan signings and blog tours, and I adore her.  But in my mind, I imagine L’Engle and Smith as kindred spirits that belong to the same whisper of a thought.

Perhaps this is one of those things I’m meant to keep to myself.  I’m not sure.  I have forgotten, until recently when back in the store full time, how awkward I can be.  I say things at odd times, like tonight when I commented on a girl’s freckles.  I really love freckles.  But I’ve read The Summer of the Great-Grandmother and I’m grasping to “review” it.  I can’t.  I can only tell you about a feeling, and that feeling was a memory of sunshine and a respect for life and nature on an Easter Weekend in the woods near my old home.  Ultimately, I can only choose one word that describes it all… this book, the ladies in question, the woods, that moment…

loveliness.

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Grandmother’s Cabin

July 23, 2014 at 5:31 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Grandmother's CabinTitle: Grandmother’s Cabin
Author & Illustrator: Angela Rout (@mamacomic on twitter)
Genre: Children’s Picture Book

We received this book in the mail from the author right before I left on my book signing tour to San Antonio.  I was mean, I was so excited about it, I made kiddo wait until I got back from my trip.  Daddy was under strict orders that this book was not to be read while I was away.

I thought about it while I was away a lot.  All the colors of the front cover kept coming to mind while I was faced with all the colors of San Antonio.

It was worth the waP1020726it.  Grandmother’s Cabin lived up to my own mental hype.  Kiddo snuggled up in my lap last night and settled in for the new book to review, ready with opinions.

It seems to be a snugly sort of book in general, my favorite kind, as during story time today everyone was reaching for their mothers and trying to get into laps.  That’s not typically the case with other stories.  Instinctively, children know: this book is for families and heritage, and appreciation of the good things that calm our souls.

The front cover is simply one of many exciting illustrations.  The further into the story you get, the richer the images, and more vibrant the colors – or maybe it’s the story that makes me feel like they’re richer and more vibrant…

Rout maintains a splash of color on the right side of the page and ornate pencil sketches on the left side along with the text.

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It’s whimsical, magical, and even won a “Moonbeam” award.  If that doesn’t sound mysteriously romantic, I don’t know what does.

P1020722Dedicated to all things grandmothery and cozy, the book is about spiritual healing found by looking back to your ancestors, finding comfort in tea, and relaxing with a good book and favorite activity.

“I like to paint too!” My kiddo squealed when Grandmother revealed an easel and paint tray among the tropical forest.

When Grandmother did her super hero pose, Kiddo did hers too.  Later when we went over the discussion questions Rout provides on the last page, Kiddo answered that she wants to be like Grandmother.  “I can heal like Grandmother – by licking – like Helo.”  Helo is the dog.  Clearly, my child needs more grandmother interaction and less puppy play.

“When I’m happy I don’t fly high in the sky,” Kiddo lamented.  “And I get sad when I’m sick.  And I get upset when Dad plays with MY frisbees.”  Well, then.

Finally, I read the last question to my daughter:

Grandmother’s love makes Mother feel happy. How can we connect with our ancestors and our loved ones who have lived before us?  What can we do to help them be of service to us? As an example some people tell stories, remember them, pray for them, learn about them, or celebrate their accomplishments.  What does your family do?

“Walk in the woods.  I like to walk in the woods,” my child responded wisely.  Yes, my darling, we do.  And that’s why this book spoke to us from the front cover alone.  Coffee and Tea Cups, Books, Paint Brush, Foliage… what more could a gal need to feel restful and restored?

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Grandmother’s Cabin is lovely and enriching.  It opens up a topic of discussion many people believe to be beyond what children can handle, but it’s perfect, and the children I’ve read this book to today handled it with grace and curiosity.

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I read children’s books at the Half Price Books in Humble every Wednesday throughout the summer, starting at 10:30 am.  Many of these titles are plucked from the shelf and are available for purchase right then and there.  Some of what I read and share come from a publisher or an author and might not otherwise be readily discovered.  Like today, Grandmother’s Cabin was sent to me from an author in Calgary, Alberta.  If you have kiddos, live in the area and wish to join us, please do.

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Goals are the Gas in Your Car

July 12, 2014 at 3:43 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

jay for twitterTitle: Life Is Hard But God Is Good

Author: L. Jay Horton

Genre: Self-Help

Length: 233 pages

My best days usually involve me waking up earlier – before my child wakes me up.  I mosey through the kitchen, I get my coffee, I read something ‘too serious for late at night’ usually Augustine or the bible or something that my newly awake mind can handle better than my sleepy, tired mind can.  I write for awhile, I read something not-so-serious but with a positive spin, and then of course am interrupted by my child for toast.  After toast, all bets are off and it’s whatever I am in the mood or have time for that gets read.

Those are my ‘best’ days, not every day.  But my best days have included a few minutes with L. Jay Horton post ‘too serious reading.’  He’s good for a little motivational pep talk and reminds me of things that I really need to remember – like staying positive, not letting other peoples’ negativity get me down, and enjoying the setting of goals.  I love goals.  I’ve always been big on goals – that’s why I named my review “Goals are the Gas in Your Car” because it’s my favorite thing that Horton said in the whole book.  And the book is full of some good stuff.

I’m typically leery of pep talk books.  The likes of Joel Osteen make me nervous.  I hear the skepticism of my father in my head when I see him, “Of course he’s smiling, he’s taking all your money.”  But Horton is genuine.  I’ve met him in person, worked with him at book signings, enjoyed coffee over the enigma of the twitter-spere – Horton wants good things for people and his book is all about him sharing the things he’s learned about achieving good things in life.

Horton’s book feels a lot like a lukewarm bible study, but it’s really meant for your professional life.  Wake up each morning, read a chapter, go back to the grindstone with a smile on your face and productivity in your heart… success will follow.  He talks about the importance of greeting your coworkers with a hello and a smile, about not chatting it up with the people who bring negativity to you, and the importance of goal setting.  It’s all common sense stuff that is so easy to lose sight of if you’re not being reminded of it every day.

All in all, Horton’s book is full of good stuff and I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.  And I know there will be more work from him to read, because Horton still has goals – after all goals are the gas in his car.

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Circle of Quiet, Trails of Solace

June 17, 2014 at 6:37 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

circle of quietTitle:A Circle of Quiet
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Memoir/ Spirituality
Length: 229 pages

A Circle of Quiet is powerful.  So powerful it inspired me to write nearly 10,000 useable words, to writers you may note the awe I have when I say useable.

Some were used for the sequel to my novella, a novel that is supposed to come out in the fall of this year – fingers crossed.  But most of the words were for a new book, stories about my trails in the woods that are itching to be told but I’ve not known how to tell them because it’s all still happening, my trails are still real.

What is most impressive to me about A Circle of Quiet is not how many beautifully quotable quotes there are, but how completely relevant L’Engle’s story is to me.  So relevant, I didn’t noticed until 3/4 of the way through the book that it was published in 1972 and the things she writes about occurred in the early seventies if not the late sixties.

I was baffled to discover this.  A Wrinkle in Time and the rest of her children’s books are as fresh to me as the Harry Potter series.  I read them as I child without the impression that they were old.  In my mind, L’Engle has been an author of the 80’s who would be around as long as C.S. Lewis once the years had passed.  I did not realize that the books were much older than that and that the years had already passed.  A Wrinkle in Time was first published in 1962.

How is this possible that every moment, every ache, every joy (aside from winning the Newberry of course, as I’ve won nothing) is one I feel in every fiber of my being as a thirty year old in 2014? When she was born in 1918.  What struck me most is that A Circle of Quiet is timeless.

Madeleine L’Engle is timeless.

This is a must read for any mother, any writer or creative, any soul searching for God, any person trying to balance their introversion with their extroversion, and ultimately any person.

She published these from her journals, which she admits were written for publication, but still I am honored to have been allowed a peek into the window of her thoughts.

 

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Things I Learned in a Weekend…

February 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

… But will take longer to undo.

CommittedThis is a Part Two post to my review of Committed as well as a response to Codependent No More.

Saying “I am not in control of that” is not the same as being helpless.

Counting is not productive.

Trying harder sometimes doesn’t offer results, but rather drives you a little nuts.

 

codependent_no_moreI am allowed to have contradicting feelings as long as I am honest about both and do not bury the less favorable/ moral one.  A feeling is not a decision.  But bottling feelings and under-reacting to things that hurt your feelings can turn into a very foolish and very public behavioral issue similar to a train wreck or a volcano that kills an entire village.

“What am I to conclude when my grandmother says that the happiest decision of her life was giving up everything for her husband and children but then says – in the very next breath – that she doesn’t want me making the same choice? I’m not really sure how to reconcile this, except to believe that somehow both these statements are true and authentic, even as they seem to utterly contradict on another. I believe that a woman who has lived as long as my grandmother should be allowed some contradictions and mysteries. Like most of us, this woman contains multitudes. Besides, when it comes to the subject of women and marriage, easy conclusions are difficult to come by, and enigmas litter the road in every direction.” – from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed.

I can’t control other peoples’ thoughts and feelings.  Nor, if I’m to be honest do I want to.  What I decide for them takes away from me making healthy decisions for myself.

Other people making a decision I do not like is not a slight on me as a human.  I am still in tact.  I can say my piece in peace without expecting them to bend to my will.  In fact, I want to enjoy the freedom of talking out my feelings knowing that it does not change the outcome of life.  My words won’t make or break the world and the people in it.  I am not that powerful.  I don’t want to be that powerful.  I want other people to feel comfortable making their decisions based on what they need.  Would I like for them to consider my feelings when they choose to follow that decision? Yes.  Do I want my feelings to be the basis of their decision? No.  God, no.

What I want and what I need are allowed to be out of sync sometimes, as long as I take time to process my wants and needs in a calm manner without panic – without drama – and without superfluous descriptions.  As a writer I am apt to take a small situation and find the epic, extraordinary, or devastation in it.  As a survivor I take big things that may actually be epic, extraordinary, or devastating, and belittle them – act as though they are nothing.  (Someone dies, I roll with the punches.  Someone says something irritating, I come out swinging.  It doesn’t make sense.  It has been a long running joke among many of my friends that I’m the girl you need at a funeral.  I’m the girl you need in a physical crisis, on the battlefield even.  Put me in a room of people having a good time, and suddenly I’m twitchy.)

These are things I used to know, and for various reasons, I have lost sight of.  These are things that I need to remind myself daily, if not hourly.

So my newest truth above all – there is no shame in reading self-help books and memoirs by people who have a very different world view from yourself.  There is no shame in believing that, “this woman should not be condemned or judged for wanting what she wants.”  In fact that’s a very beautiful belief.

Finding balance is the hard part.  When does what you want step on what someone else wants and needs?  When does what you want need to be suppressed and when does it warrant being spoken?  My understanding of this balance is erratic at best.

Making a very open attempt to find this balance has been interesting too (I say this as though I’m well seasoned at the effort that I’ve been making for a whole of four days).  I am diving into all this for myself.  Go back a few blog posts and you may notice my sanity attempting to escape me.  Yet, it hasn’t just begun to calm me, it’s helped me stop and smell the roses.

Roses that, though not real physical red petals and thorny stems, are more present than I supposed.

Roses like: I actually get more done when I am busy acting instead of busy reacting.  Roses like: when I attempt to be as direct as I once was my husband attempts to woo me like he once did.  This is nice.  I’ll take that rose.  Yet, I am not being direct so that he will woo me, I am being direct because I need to be, the wooing is just a happy accident.  And, for once, wanting to be wooed doesn’t sound like an act of selfishness – it sounds like an act of being feminine.  Yes, I’ll admit that typing those words were difficult, that in that admission I nearly panicked.

I don’t have all the answers.  In fact, I have pretty much no answers.  The only answer that I do have is that I hope to be less self-destructive this year than last year.  I hope to be more open, but less vulnerable.

This year, I plan to internalize something that’s been hanging in my own Grandmother’s kitchen my whole life…

God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.

Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet.  And, I’m not done reading this book!

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