Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me

Today I'm eager to review the hot off the presses 'literary memoir' "Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me" by the versatility backgrounded author Lorilee Craker. This is the first such book by Craker in the literary memoir genre and my first time reading such a work. "Literary Memoir" is relatively new genre in the professionally published world but it's what the fangirls of the world have been writing and reading as 'meta' (an introspective essay on the person's feelings and views of a particular fandom or element from that fandom) for years. I can't say that I've read anything like this before in the professional context- as it falls somewhere between fiction and non-fiction- so I don't have anything with which to compare it. I will instead try to relate to you the eyes with which I experienced it firsthand.

Anne was essential to my growing up.

I first attempted to read the books at 7-8 years old but even being the advanced, voracious reader that I was at that point in time I couldn't quite get my teeth around it. A few years later it was an entirely different story. Anne didn't just provide me with interesting settings and characters to dabble in; Anne marked central points in my understanding of life and people and in her I identified with the little girl with the emotions and dreams that were too big for her to contain. Anne was my literary soul-mate and bosom friend, and her life story played a huge role in making me who I am today.

That's one reason why I think that everyone who has read "Anne" has an Anne story. We identify with her and she leaves marks on us- and she certainly has left marks on the author too!

This book takes the reader through a compelling retelling of the Anne story as she herself as a child, and as an adult found those stories paralleling with her own. When Craker experiences loneliness and bullying at school we hear about the infamously mean-spirited Josie Pye and about how Craker's coming upon a bosom friend of her own made her strong enough to overcome the mean-spirited girls at school. These parallels continue throughout the book as the author has run-ins with her own Gilbert Blythe, Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and Matthew Cuthburt as the cast of characters of her life are unfolded. Central to Craker's story is her orphanage and adoption as an infant, her search for her birth parents as an adult, and how that all shapes and effects her. The author also takes us along for the ride as she and her husband themselves adopt a little girl from Korea and how that also weaves back into Anne's, and Lucy Maude's story.

I really enjoyed this book- and in fact read it in a single day- something that has not happened with any book I've picked up in a really long time! The story drew me in however, and I was once again enthralled with reliving Anne's story, and with seeing it through another's eyes. Having in interest in the Korean people and culture myself I was also riveted with the long letter-style descriptions of the week that she and her husband spent in The Land of Morning Calm when they went to bring their daughter home. It was in exciting vignette of sounds and sights and smells that rang true with all that I have learned about that beautiful country in recent years. Though not overly Spiritual in content Craker is consistent in weaving a thread of Spiritual understanding throughout that helps to nicely tie together the overall themes of where we find our identity and security, whose child we are, and surviving- and healing- from all the cracks that find their way into our lives from us being bereft, left behind, and left- each of us orphans in our own circumstances.

One thing that niggles at me as unanswered was about daughter Pheobe's name change. The name she was given at birth was Eun-Jung meaning grace. From my experience many adoptees will keep that birth name as a middle name, honoring their heritage, and little Pheobe has a Korean middle name, Min-Ju. Perhaps no one else would notice this detail or find it worth mentioning but as the author was so thorough in revealing and explaining everything else in her daughter's story I was disappointed when I kept expecting the answer to 'why change that from the original name?' to come and it never did.

When it comes down to it "Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter, and Me" is a beautiful story of love and acceptance and one I would recommend to any who are willing to wade through the tempestuous emotional waters of adoption. For me, the adoption issue may not have played a part in my life thus far, but it is an issue that is near and dear to my heart- and it's one that I hope plays a part in my future. It's one that looking back now that I suppose I could say began with Anne in the first place. So in many ways, just as Anne shaped me as a child she is shaping me as an adult too; in many ways though I have identified with Anne as a child I still identify with her and I am still writing my own Anne inspired story...complete with emotions and dreams that are too big for me to contain.

And I think that's pretty cool.

Final Rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: Maggie Bright

"Maggie Bright" by Tracy Groot is a book that is difficult to describe, and to put into words the emotional punch that this one volume contains. I started out picking it because I have a great fondness for the WWII era, and stories of the war of my grandparents generation. It's unusual to see novels written in this era anymore so it went straight on to my list. I was hoping to find a nice little adventure romance contained in it's pages but what I found was so much more!

The book's first character is Claire Childs, an orphaned young woman who has recently mysteriously inherited the small pleasure boat the Maggie Bright. Now making it her home, and hoping to make it her bread and butter by turning it into a floating B&B Claire is full of dreams for her future despite the war whose front lines inch ever closer to England's shores. Into Claire's life come marching a vivid cast of characters all with designs on or connections to her little boat- as she begins to piece together the mystery of why she is a target her whole world is rocked by secrets of what is happening behind enemy lines and she is faced with decisions on just how she can make a stand for what is right.

The secondary story that runs parallel to and eventually intersects with Claire's is one of a bedraggled group of soldiers ordered to evacuate to the seaside town of Dunkirk, France as Hitler's forces push hard at their fleeing heels. Traveling with a mysterious injured captain who spouts nothing but Milton's Paradise Lost these soldiers know not what awaits them there- possible rescue or possible slaughter- but they know that if they delay in any way they will be surrounded, cut of entirely from the British forces and left with no possible hope of rescue.

From its opening pages Maggie Bright will grab hold of your lapels and whisk you away on an adventure. Though readers will find the storytelling style a bit different from the usual paperback romance I found it in no way takes away from the book itself. In fact, from the very beginning I felt like I was reading a war movie straight out of the 1940's! This book quite simply swings. The pacing is fast, the dialogue staccato, and the characters punchy. It's really like Bogart, Bacall, and Bette Davis have come walking off the pages! Groot has done an incredible amount of research into the history and time period into which she sets her story and it shows- it shows in the most striking ways as the reader progresses through the story and I was in turn tickled by it and devastated by it! By the final chapters I was on the edge as I anticipated the conclusion and although I had done some googling and found out historically how what became to be know as The Miracle of Dunkirk concluded I was entirely surprised by where the author takes this patchwork cast of characters and how she sews everything up!

The one caution that I give content wise is to remember this is a war drama. There are sometimes graphic, but not gory, descriptions of the things that are seen in war- in WWII to be specific- and it can sometimes take your breath away. There are also 2-3 usages of British curse words.

I would highly recommend giving "Maggie Bright" a read, I was not one bit disappointed by it and was in fact, looking for when I could expect the sequel so I could catch up with this cast of characters again and find out more about what happens next! The thing I realized though is that it really is meant to end the way it ends. Dunkirk, although an important milestone in the war, does not mark any victorious finale, the war for these men and women will continue on after we have left them and they will continue to do as they have already done- act dutifully, and courageously in the face of great evil, and with the cost of great personal sacrifice. It's like the walkaway in the final scene of "Casablanca"- evil is not vanquished but hope lives on- and that is the beginning of something for the cast of the Maggie Bright that is beautiful.

Final Rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: A Love Like Ours

It has been a while since I read Becky Wade's debut novel "My Stubborn Heart" so I thought it was time to pick up another one of her books and give a progress report for this author!

This summer Wade's new release is "A Love Like Ours" and follows the story of Lindie James and Jake Porter. Lindie and James were inseparable best friends as kids until a family move separated them and took them down different life paths. Lindie, the little girl with big heart and big spirit spent time helping take care of her disabled sister, caring for thoroughbred horses, and developing her skills to become a children's fairy tale author and illustrator. Jake however, joined the Marines, spent time on the battlefield, and came home the lone man of his team and full of brokenness and regrets. Now the two of them are back in the same place at the same time in the same hometown of their childhood and Lindie is looking for work at the stables Jake manages. As Lindie begins to work out the troubles and fears of a prize stallion she begins to wonder if the same gentleness and attention works on troubled cowboys too?

This story has all the right elements of a book worth loving- family, heart, and cowboys. :) I really enjoy cowboy books and like seeing the contemporary cowboys stories that have been trickling out in recent years as I grew up reading Christian westerns and miss them not being prevalent in the market now! This story paints some very likable and relatable characters within its pages and follows a well laid out storyline that moves at a good pace for both the reader and story. Lindie is a character that is easy to love and who is sweet and unassuming but also weathered by life and determined on the paths that she feels God is leading her on. Jake is everything that is typical of a wayward lost soul but really has plenty of heart worth loving and redeeming.

The one element that I questioned was how Jake's spiritual development within the story doesn't match (or exceed) the pace at which his and Lindie's romantic relationship develops. While both Lindie and Jake come from Christian families it is Lindie that has held strong to her faith, and Jake who has become estranged from God. Every Christian should know that Scripture lovingly commands us to not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever for our own good. On that basis it really raises my hackles to see the romantic relationship progress to a fairly advanced stage (cuddling, deep kissing, allowing him to spend the night in her home on her couch) while Jake is still very much struggling with whether or not he can ever believe in and trust God again. As she comes to a point of having to separate herself from the closeness she has allowed Lindie experiences a great deal of heartache that I felt so sad to see her go through as I feel it could have been avoided with a little more reserve.

Overall I enjoyed this book! Becky Wade's storytelling and pacing skills have definitely continued to improve since her first work while the same heart and humor has remained intrinsic to her style. I liked the story and all of the characters even the side ones like Lindie's mom or her neighbor Amber; or Jake's siblings- especially the feisty Dru! They add plenty of depth and color to this story and make it feel like its about real people that you might meet and not just characters in a book. If you're heading to the beach or away for a weekend getaway with what's left of the summer I recommend you pick up a copy of "A Love Like Ours" and get lost with some cowboys for a while!

Final Rating: 4

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book Review: To Win Her Favor

Ah dear fellow readers! Another year has past and spring is here again- which must mean that it's
time for another Tamera Alexander book! As you all should remember by now I am an avid and devoted fan of Tamera's work and I have been delighted to be included again on her blogging team for the release of this book!

"To Win Her Favor" is the next fresh installment of the Belle Meade Plantation Series and focuses on the lives and goings on at the next farm over, Linden Downs. Our heroine is Maggie Linden who, at a mere 20 years, is a gifted horsewoman and the sole companion to her ageing, ailing, father (all the rest of their family being lost to the war). The effects of the war on the once booming farm have had its toll as well and now, drowning in tax debt Linden Downs races their only remaining thoroughbred, Maggie's prize possession, Bourbon Belle in the hopes of clearing the debt and changing their future. Her father it seems, has other plans. Before she knows it she has entered a marriage of convenience with an Irishman (of all things!) in order to save the farm- an Irishman that is adamantly against going anywhere near a horse race! As Maggie and Cullen McGrath come to grasp with being in each other's lives and restoring the farm, the biggest racing stakes ever offered- the one that was the answer to all of Maggie's prayers- draws closer. But does God have bigger plans for Maggie and Cullen than either of them ever dreamed of? And has He already been answering Maggie's prayers for her future?

Tamera Alexander writes the realest characters ever put to paper in Christian fiction. Her style and execution is flawless with writing that expresses the keenest observations about both man, beast, and God's fine creation. I am always amazed and delighted to be transported into one of her novels through her beautiful engaging descriptions and I often find myself stopping short and rereading a sentence or paragraph because I've realized what a lovely turn of phrase something is! With this kind of effortless styling the reader is whisked along through through Maggie and Cullen's story and I found myself quickly attached to the both of them.

Something that is done so well in this book, like her others, is the portrayal of real people making real choices about real life. Maggie is young and inexperienced with the harsher realities of men judging against a persons skin tone or nationality- until life as Cullen's wife makes her a wiser woman and forces her to evaluate the way she herself treats people. Cullen too experiences great growth as he moves from his more colorful past behavior and actions in his native Ireland and England to desiring to be the kind of man that Maggie's father assessed him to be, a man of honor and loyalty who will care for his daughter and his land. It is so easy to assign a certain perfection to the characters in a Christian novel, a certain aura of saintliness that proclaims the hero or heroine to be all together despite their flaws. But I never find that to be the case with the Tamera's characters. There is no guile, or pretense, or pomp in the way that these characters find themselves changing. These characters are as living and breathing as you or I. They have differing opinions and are hurt by words and misunderstandings, they fight and makeup; and in the end they reach a place of trust, and even love, despite their rough beginning.

In light of reading others review's on this book I feel the need to address a reoccurring theme in the lower rated reviews, the objection to Ms. Alexander's supposed indecency in writing 'sex scenes'. I assure my readers that there are no 'sex scenes' in this book. Period. What this book does contain is brief, discrete glimpses into a married couple's intimate relationship. There are detailed kissing scenes which do often lead to 'married people activities' ;) but that never extends into anything graphic or objectionable in my view, every scene is always a 'fade to black'. In a day and age when persons of any age have so few positive Godly role models in a healthy marriage relationship I find it endearing that we would get to see a little bit into the ups and downs and imperfections of what a real married couple looks like. Couples often seem manufactured to live relationships that are always roses or wanton pleasure and even Christian books fall guilty in portraying that type of relationship. Maggie and Cullen's move from strangers to loving couple, however, is gradual and tender, showing both restraint and passion. And I wholly approve of how it was showcased.

Now lest you get the idea that this book is full of nothing but fluff and cuddles I should let you know that is certainly not the case! In setting her writing in the post- Civil War South Alexander gives herself a rough hewn canvas to work from. Gentry, freedman, and immigrant all have challenging and heartbreaking stories to tell in the period of Reconstruction, and I always walk away from one of Tamera's stories having learned something or gained an angle of perspective that I didn't have before!

The minor nit pick that I have with this book is that there is a single curse word near the very beginning, and if you are sensitive you will want to be aware that there is usage (by wicked men) of strong ethnic slurs that are in keeping with the era. But overall I really loved everything about this book! When I went back over my marked pages it was so evident the Spiritual lesson contained herein was that all our life is a gift from our maker and you can never go back and erase the past, but by God's grace you can go forward. It was a lovely theme and one that is sure to stick with the reader for a long time! I enthusiastically recommend that you pick this book up and enjoy it for your summer reading!

Final Rating: 5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Review: The Soup Club Cookbook

Everybody loves a good cookbook don't they? Well they should! This cookbook caught my eye with it's striking cover and interesting premise, and my love with its heart and purpose. The premise of the book is simple, four friends band together to once a week deliver soup to each other's homes for the evening meal. The friends rotate on a schedule so that each person is providing soup once a month and the rotation continues week in and week out through the entire year. Rich and hearty soups are created for the harsh winter months and lighter refreshing ones for the heat of the summer and they along with any needed accompaniments or sides are dutifully doled out to provide each family with one ready to heat-and-eat meal a week.

The book starts you off with a good look at just how to begin a soup club of your own before launching into a thorough primer of broth building and flavor boosters. Everything is laid out clearly and in a well organised manner with good tips and engaging cooks notes stories for nearly every recipe. The majority of the rest of the book covers a myriad of delicious looking soups that I'm eager to run a few batches of myself! I'm a big fan of chili's and the like and can easily see myself whipping up a pot of the Cuban Black Bean Soup, or the Beck Chicken Chili, or the Chicken Tortilla Soup. What surprised me was that I was equally drawn to recipes like the Potato Leek Soup, and the Carrot Coconut Soup- and I may just get the nerve to try them someday! One soup that has me utterly intrigued is the Filipino Healing Soup and it's almost legendary status among the soup club group has me eager to try it out at the first crack of chilly October air this fall! The book concludes with a good stash of recipes for filling out your soup meal. From Cheddar Cornbread, to Kimchi, to Summer Corn Hash they all look like recipes that will fill the stomach with good things!

Each of the soup recipes in the book are geared for producing a high volume of soup so you shouldn't expect to make a pot of soup for two. But that is kinda the point of this cookbook- and the soup club in the first place. This food is meant to be shared and it's always better when more people are involved! Food isn't just about providing nourishment for your body it's about providing nourishment for your soul. Food- good food- is about people and relationships- anyone who has a favorite dish from mom or grandmom knows that. The food we create to share with others is the best food we will create because as cliched as it sounds that food is seasoned with love. The recipes of The Soup Club are recipes that are meant to be shared, whether that is with a group of soup enthusiasts of your own, or as a gift to the elderly shut in across the street or the struggling new mom at church and what you put into that batch of soup can't be matched with what you will get out of it when you share it.

I really enjoyed reading The Soup Club Cookbook because in reading of these four women's culinary history and friendships it reminded me of a lot of good things from my own past. Reading good cookbooks like this makes me want to be a better person. It makes me want to be the person who likes squash, and doesn't blink at garbanzo beans, and the one who shares what she has freely and with warmth. And that sounds like a pretty good cookbook to me!

Final Rating: 5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: The Set-Apart Woman: God's Invitation to Sacred Living

Leslie Ludy and her husband Eric have been popular Christian and homeschool conference speakers for the better part of the last two decades. Last year I had the opportunity to attend via simulcast the Set-Apart Girl Conference held from the Ludy's own ministry center, Ellerslie. The conference was my first encounter with the Ludy's and their teaching and it turned out to be a great experience with lots of challenging and encouraging teaching!

Fast forward to present time and to me getting my hands on my first Ludy book, this one written by Leslie, I suspected from the title, would focus on much the same as the conference had and I was right! "The Set-Apart Woman: God's Invitation to Sacred Living" is your own personal guide to hearing and implementing God's sacred calling on your life.

In these ten chapters Leslie reminds the reader of who God is to us and about His willingness, and indeed power, to transform lives that are wholly His. In today's culture there seems to be a growing disconnect with Christians as to what exactly it means to be a Christian and what a Christian looks like as they go about their daily life. There seems to be a prevalent attitude that says 'I can act this way over here and and do these things- and still go to church twice a week and love God over there'. Its a dangerous mindset that Leslie confronts both head-on and lovingly. Those who would cry 'legalism!' at her call to Spiritual focus in our lives are reminded that part of the issue that the church currently faces in winning the world to Christ is that we have come to resemble the world so much that we have nothing to offer them. Her call to be different is indeed a call to win people, not repel them. "Legalism chokes life, but true set-apartness gives life." (pg.32)

Leslie calls her readers to pursue a deep relationship with God, and pursue it despite our feelings or difficulties that may arise, pursue it until our feelings align themselves with the word of God. She quotes A.W. Tozer who said, "The man who would know God must give time to Him." It is wise advice. She then encourages readers to eliminate the time wasters from our life that keep us from giving God that time He deserves. Everything from the ways we spend entertaining ourselves to the idols we allow in our lives are under fire from the author as she systematically pulls the rug out from any arguments that excuse a divided focus in our lives. Instead she recommends many helpful ways for us to find fulfillment in establishing an eternal focus in our lives.

I admittedly found some of the beginning chapters of this book a bit slow reading but that was really more to do with having already heard much of what Leslie wrote at the conference I attended. If it had been my first time hearing it I think it really would have been a much smoother read for me. When I had reached the two-thirds mark for the book I did lay it aside for several days as I had gotten busy and I was pleasantly surprised to come back to it and find everything from that point on much fresher. Chapters 8 and 9 on 'The Solid Rock" and being "Strong and Courageous" really impacted me deeply, in part, as they connected exactly where I was studying in BSF with the Life of Moses study! The challenge to set aside fear and to put feelings into their place, to live with "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow" was both very convicting and comforting to me.

In wrapping up Leslie offers her readers one last challenge and that is to turn outward. In a world that is passionate about preaching it's causes and green-lifestyles (or whatever the flavor of the week is) we as Christians are commanded by Christ to be passionate and active as well! I was challenged and delighted by the thought that we are to 'be Christians not humanitarians' and that even as we reach out for the weak and oppressed and become God's hands on earth to the orphans, the neglected, and the abused, we do so to introduce them to the only One who can change them or us, Jesus Christ.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a fresh and energizing look at their Christianity, or to any Christian woman who is struggling with who God is and how He fits into her daily life! The chapters are easily read in about half and hour's time and include inspiring quotes at the beginning and thought provoking scriptures and study questions at the end. The end of the book also provided a reading list of Christian discipleship texts and biographies that are sure to continue your reading and growing for a long time to come!

Rating: 5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: Dauntless

Spoiler Alert- Due to several serious issues I found with this book I will be explaining my objections in depth.

Today I'm reviewing a new author to me! I was excited to see "Dauntless" by Dina L. Sleiman in the queue for reviews and I chose it based on it being a 'Robin Hood' like adventure novel- well- that and the fact that the book has great cover art and title!

The book centers around the 17 year old noblewoman Lady Merry and the group of youngsters she rescues and hides the night her family is killed and their village is burned to the ground by orders of the vindictive King John. Merry and her band have hidden in the forest, surviving and thriving, for over two years and going largely undetected except for the rumors of 'The Ghosts of Farthingale Forest' that are whispered in surrounding villages whenever food and clothing go missing from their cottages.
Upset and danger fall on Merry's band after they nab a small chest they find contains gold coins bound for the king and the 'ghosts' become a little more living and breathing than they can conceal. Merry and her trusted men pick up and move their camp to another area but in doing so they are placed into another danger they didn't count on- that of Merry's past intended husband, now loyal to the king, stumbling into their midst. Merry, now faced with the collision of her past and present must look to the future, and is faced with many choices about how to protect those she loves and is responsible for- even as her heart is pulled towards the potential to fall in love again.

As I have always been a fan of 'legend' stories like Robin Hood, and of bold female protagonists when I saw the option of girl!Robin Hood my reaction was pretty much 'yes, please and thank you, sign me up'!  Reading the book, however, I turned out to have another reaction altogether. While I think that the structural bones of the plot are good- protection of the innocent and defenseless, the fight of good vs. evil, and characters that have potential to be lovable and engaging- there is a whole lot of crooked drywall that's been slapped up and questionable interior decorating that have gone on inside!

Some of my major objections lie in the romance side of the book. In truth Merry has not just one but two suitors and while a good love-triangle can be entertaining and add to the drama of a story, this wasn't it. I don't think that in a book that (as it turns out) is YA (young-adult) and geared for 14-18 year old girls its necessary to inject that type of drama. With a heroine of 22 or 25 this could have been a plausible plot element as she tries to decide her future, but this girl is 17- and that is still a child- despite the era in which this book is set. This heroine, a girl of noble birth and breeding, while being capable and responsible is clearly not mature and throughout the book childishly flip-flops between her two prospects like her two favorite dolls. In one scene after passionately kissing one boy and declaring her undying love for him (before sending him away for his protection) she immediately turns around and tells herself that she'll just have to learn to love the other boy because he's what she's left with!! Literally in the space of a page turn, in seemingly the next breath she takes, this is her decision!

Some may call me a prude for saying this, and there may be some who do not object to 17 year olds passionately kissing, and 'feeling the heat of each others body's pressed against each other', but in my world that's a big no, nope, not gonna happen. I do not care about the context of the era,  I care about what teenage Christian girls are having modeled in the books they read.  I won't lie- while this is surely a book that would have loved to read at 13-14 and up it is exactly what my mother would have kept me from reading- and what now I would keep any young girl I knew from reading!! As Christians we are supposed to model a better standard about relationships and romance and this falls short woefully in my opinion.

Unfortunately there is another area that in my opinion falls short of Christian standards and that is in the use of two curse words towards the end of the story. While it may have been historically correct to refer to a child's illegitimacy with such a term it is not acceptable to do so now, however correctly employed, and I find it especially offensive in a Christian book.

An issue that really rubbed me the wrong way at the climax of the narrative is that the killing of an enemy is forced on our heroine, a girl, when it was well within the male lead's power to take it on and execute it himself. I surmise that Sleiman intended to make Lady Merry the 'hero of the hour' as she rescues and protects the children and herself but this is not an example of Biblical, sacrificial, male protection and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Really, if we are to compare this scenario with something from a secular counterpart I would easily compare it to The Hunger Games series and to Peeta's consistent sacrificial love of Katness and to his willingness to kill to protect her, and kill to keep her from having to kill in order to protect her heart and mind.  If a secular book can do this effectively why can't a Christian one? I think you'd be hard pressed to say that Katness is any less of a hero for how Peeta protects her, so why then does it feel that Lady Mary was foisted into this to make her 'more of a hero' for not needing a man?

My last main concern is theological and historical. There are several points here and I'll try and be brief in recounting them but I feel strongly about them being pointed out.
In an age where it is hard to find a young person that can tell you accurately about American history I find it a bit laughable to assume that one would know and understand all the background of British history and the complexities of the Catholic and Christian churches and the 'divine right of kings' theology that was the cause of so much suffering. To try and explore that theme as the male leads do as they struggle with where their allegiances lie without offering any clear structure to hang it on in a forward or afterward does not help the reader to discern better what is discussed and leaves them to their own assumptions of history that may not be accurate.
The inclusion of the scene of the resurrection and healing of one of Merry's children (who falls ill and dies), complete with  'in the name and blood of Jesus' type prayers and swirling beams of light nearly knocked me out of my chair!! I've never seen anything like it in this type of book and I was shocked! Jesus does indeed hear and answer prayers, but in this situation I had the uncomfortable feeling of watching a 'healing' that was worthy of a late night TV evangelist! I really think the reader would have been better served learning to overcome a loss in a Christ honoring way than being subjected to such mystic charlatanism.  

I had great hopes for this book- with a name like 'Dauntless' who wouldn't? But I just found it sorely lacking in all areas and I would not recommend it. Even the theme of being 'dauntless' while having much opportunity to was never woven throughout the book and left to a single statement at the end of Merry's spiritual revival. I felt like 'Dauntless' was this book's "Rollings Reliable"- a post script added in with the intent of tying up loose ends and coalescing around a theme- and in the end I am simply left as dear Anne Shirley was, quite befuddled and aghast at the whole thing.

Rating: 1.5

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Book Review: Behind the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's Heart

Today I'm going to be reviewing "Behind the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's Heart" which centers around a Biblical approach to the current hot-topic of the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' series which has become a phenomena among even Christian circles. Content of this post is adult in nature and should be read only by adults. Please, no younger readers!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Book Review: Snuggle Time Devotions~ That End with a Hug!

I really really like these toddler devotionals that have been created my Stephen Elkins! They really are the perfect thing to sit down with a small child and teach them a creative little lesson about God's love, and historic Bible characters. This installment of the 'Hug' series walks your little one all the way through the Bible- from Adam in the garden naming the animals to Jesus coming again for us someday 'when everything is ready'. It even includes spots for The Fruit of the Spirit and The Armor of God!

These devotions are easy to read and easy to get a child interested in~ and if they're anything like my nieces when one story is done they will be flipping to the next page before you can stop them! One of my favorite things though has to be the artwork! This book is filled with colored pencil drawings of round little people with cute button noses and eager smiles, and of sweet animals that bring charm to every page. It's fun to go through and spot the pairs of bunnies or the birds or the mice that hang out in a corner of each story and hug~ and once you get the kids started looking for them they will always hunt for them when you open the book! :)

A neat feature in this volume is a corresponding 'Bible Time Activity' that has little crafty suggestions for making or doing something that reinforce the lesson. All the crafts seem pretty age appropriate and not too taxing on mom or auntie- or grandma either! :) I can easily see my girlies having a ball doing things like playing with pasta shapes for Ezekiel's bones, or playing a game with pennies and cups for the Widow's Mite, or making 'empty tomb' buns for Easter.

Over all, this is a really cool book for your really cool little person. It starts teaching Biblical truth at a very early age but at a level that is graspable and retainable. And who can go wrong with that- especially if it ends with a hug!

Final rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Book Review: The Secret of Pembrooke Park

A few years ago you couldn't have gotten me to pick up a Julie Klassen book. Having read one of her first novels, "The Apothecaries Daughter" and not enjoyed what I considered to be sentimental silliness I had decided to skip any of her subsequent works. Then last year I end up reviewing her book, "The Tutor's Other Daughter" and my whole opinion was changed! I''m really glad that I got the chance to change my mind back then, and give this author a second chance-  otherwise I might have missed out on snapping up and devouring "The Secrets of Pembrooke Park"!

Cracking the fabulous and richly colored cover of this novel you will find yourself quickly dropped
into almost-spinster Abigail Foster's life.
Reaching an age where all other men have passed her over Abigail doesn't mind terribly because she is comfortable and confident in the intentions of her best friend from childhood Gilbert Scott. Until that is, she is brought to the crushing and disappointing revelation that Gilbert and her younger and prettier sister have been developing their own tender relationship. Adding to Abigail's burdens and falling fast on the heals of her first, personal, disappointment it is learned that catastrophe has struck hard at the whole family and due to some bad investments they have lost the majority of their fortune.
Being the family's pillar and guide Abigail is tasked with downsizing and relocating everyone. When an offer almost too good to be true comes from a mysterious distant relation for the twelvemonth use of an abandoned family property Abigail makes a blind faith-filled leap into the shelter it offers her and her family. While her family remains in town for the season she goes about the restoration of the house- strangely abandoned in the middle of daily life. Hearing whispered secrets she begins to poke about and dig up rumors about the house's previous tenants and the reported treasure that lurks somewhere in the mansion.
Along the way Abigail befriends the family of the estate's crusty caretaker, forming friendships with both his elder and younger daughters, and their handsome brother William, who turns out to be the curate of the little chapel in the Park. As Abigail and William live and work side by side and search out the mysteries- and odd occurrences like anonymous letters and the appearance of a strange hooded figure in the night- she begins to wonder what she's gotten into coming to this strange old house and if the treasure she seeks to restore her family's fortunes is really the treasure she desires to have.

"The Secret of Pembrooke Park" is a regency novel set in the standard issue Jane Austen world of balls and bonnets, stately manor houses and even statelier manners. But beyond the standard issue backdrop is a deeper world of family secrets and mystery and treasure hunting that is rarely seen in this type of book but turns out working really well! I loved mystery novels as a kid and am well versed in them so it was really cool to see a genuine mystery plot running throughout this book and keeping me guessing! One of my favorite things in a book is to have a deep, meaty story- one that takes time to tell and time to read, and I have to say that I really did enjoy the long read as I sat in bed sick over Christmas! I also like a story that has things really hidden and kept over till the reveal at the end and this book really followed through on those things as well. At 460 pages there is definitely a lot of story here with lots of twists and turns, there was also plenty of surprises left over for the end, and a nice wrap up at the end where everyone's due came to them!

Klassen has paid close attention to details in researching her settings and it shows. From the descriptions of the architecture and windows to the people and places all rings true for a regency novel. One thing that bothered me a bit, if I were to get picky, was some of the personal contact that William and Abigail have. One on one time together was really never heard of for a couple of the time period and in the book you will find several occasions of this occurring- be it an innocent 'we were both caught in the rain' or a slightly less innocent 'I was sitting in the dark thinking when you came for a midnight dip in the lake'.  Typically I avoid anachronisms like the plague but here I felt Abigail's honest, steady, self-deprecating character had already been shown and that was reason enough for her to act the was she allows herself to. After all, she is quite grown and is expected by her family to be the one who takes charge of everything- she is used to being left to know her own mind and make decisions accordingly. Both the above mentioned scenes and other scenes in the book where the couple have a romantic moment are simply that, sweet moments where she begins to allow herself the prospect of a future.

Overall I appreciated the heart and the humor, the secrets and surprises, and the really charming step back into Regency England that "Pembrooke" offers. I was pleased to see that Klassen continues to improve by leaps and bounds as a writer as time goes on and I'm quite sure that with writers like her proffering clean romantic novels like this that the Regency novel market- nevermind the Christian literary market will be all the better for it- and you the reader all the more satisfied after finishing this delightful book!

Rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Preview: Behind the Manor

Hello Everyone! Once again I have been selected to be apart of a blogging promo team and to help promote Julie Klassen's newest book "The Secrets of Pembrooke Park"! I'm pretty thrilled and looking forward to giving you some special behind the scenes looks at the book over the next few weeks!

Have you ever wondered what inspired a writer select the places they write about? Or have you ever had a hard time imagining the place the author is describing? Well wonder and ponder no more! First up in my list of things to share is this cool vid that shows off some of the really neat places and spaces that the book was based off of! Enjoy!

Leave me a comment below and let me know what you found most interesting!

P.S.- If you want to find out a little bit more about the book itself check out this link!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dear Future Me...

I wonder what it wold be like if I could write a letter to me and send it into the future to arrive on my doorstep handed to me by a mysterious trench-coated courier? I would have my very own Marty McFly or Sally Sparrow moment and stand there a bit dumbfounded for a bit before tentatively accepting it I'm sure! It would probably be scrawled across the front in my messy loopy cursive "Do not open until 2055". Forty years. I would be 71 then.

When I was eight, and fifteen, and twenty-six I had my life all figured out. I knew what  I wanted and how I was going to get it. I knew that I would go to culinary school and open a five star restaurant to rival Charlie Trotter's. I knew I would be driving that cool electric blue Mustang and toting around my younger siblings in style. I knew that I would be married by 23- at the latest- because it would really be more like as soon as I turned twenty that the love of my life waltzed in and carried me away (but I wanted to give God some wiggle room there, in case something went wrong). I knew that I wanted to write and be published, to be able to support myself on that by the time I turned thirty so that I didn't burden other people.

And the list goes on and on....

I'm pretty sure that every one of us has had a list like that at some point in our lives. Actually I'd be lying if I pretended if I wasn't still keeping a running one of sorts in my head, jotting notes on each goal card and shuffling them around like the slots on a racehorse standings marquee. Now that I've turned thirty-one though I've felt myself a bit...blank.

After all, what goals come after thirty? By thirty you're supposed to have an awful lot of things crossed off of that list and most of the new ones that you've written down are likely related to the things you've already accomplished like how many more kids you are going to have, when you will have just enough to put the down payment on your first house, and when you are going to have to trade in the Mustang for an SUV.

But I'm not really in any of those situations.

I've thought a lot about what my life might look like in the next five to ten years and I'm happy enough with most of the scenarios that have played out in my mind. The one thing that really concerns me though is my health. Right now I chase after two beautiful nieces and a nephew and I love it- but it has also taught me that my limitations are far closer to me than I would like them to be. I get tired out too quickly. I can't lift and heft kids too much or my back pays for it later. I can't dance like a fool with a child in arms or I'll flare my hip or my knee and spend weeks grinding my teeth as I climb stairs and bend over. So, I have a good idea of what life will be like for me in many ways the next ten years.

But what about in twenty? Thirty? Forty?

I can only guess.

But I wonder if it will scare me as much then as time passes, as it does now when things are practically standing still in terms of life achievements and the progression of my disease?

Right now my family is rehashing the dead horse of convincing my eighty-six-and-counting Gran, my only living grandparent, to move closer and be a five minute drive away instead of a forty-five minute one. Through that process I have heard several things coming out of my mouth.
"Don't you ever think that you are going to cause me this much grief and trouble when you get to be her age!! You are gonna do as you are told is best for you and that's the end of it!"
And second,
"I swear I am never going to be this hard headed and stubborn and unreasonable!!"  
Well, I hope that those things are equally true when ever I reach that point in my life where the come true but here I am, sitting and contemplating it and wondering what I will be like. I understand how difficult is is to uproot yourself from somewhere you call home and move somewhere you don't necessarily want to be. Like really. Like someday-I-really-need-to-write-a-blog-about-that-cause-it's-important-really. The fear of loosing your health is a fear I understand all to readily as well. At the same time, however, I look at it from this side of my youth (haha) and try to figure out what I would want to hear, would need to hear from myself in case I've gotten horribly stubborn and stopped listening to those around me?

If that time-hopping postman came banging down my door with a letter from my past self I think I would want to hear myself say...

"Wow! You got old! Look at you! You're still fabulous you know that right? Look how beautiful that bobbed silver hair is! I always knew you'd never dye it. Your body got old but you're eyes are still young, still full of feeling and mischief. You got old but you know you've still got miles to go- women in our family live into their ninety's remember! You probably use a cane now but that's cool- really- cause you're still walking! Who'da thought that you would be walking on your own at 71?
Do you have people to care for you? I hope you do. I hope that you have at least a child or two who love you and want to see the best for you. I hope they bring the grand babies over and chat. I hope they do your dishes. I know you hate dishes and if there's a perk to being old I hope its that you don't have to do so much housework!
Where do you live? I hope it's close to them so that you can go over and harass them and so that they can come running when your laid up with your ankle replacement (again) and have no one to run for your mail.
I hope that you let your kids in on how you're feeling and your needs. Then again, you've always worn your heart on your sleeve and never been able to hide your emotions very well so they probably already know. When you are in that position, don't feel guilty or sad, take strength in knowing that they are your right arm and your left and they are there to hold you up. You raised them right remember? They take joy in holding you up and in being your support! They love you and they want their actions to show that. Let them. Let them honor you this way. And hey, I know you got old, and that you planned to be that sassy old grandma but give the kids a break ok? That kind of attitude just hurts people who love you. Don't make it hard for them to love you. Their feelings matter as much as yours do, just remember when it was you in their shoes... So do what you have to and do what you must and do what you and the kids think is best for you to do cause you have life that needs to be lived and there is a good bit of it left. Don't live your life in fear of what comes next.
You got old, your body's much more broken down then it used to be, your hair is a different color, you are wrinkly (hopefully it's cute wrinkles- wrinkles from smiling and laughing and enjoying your life), and you can't do everything that you did before when you were thirty-one. When you were thirty-one and didn't know how good you had it, when you were thirty-one and couldn't imagine what was ahead for you. Maybe you didn't reach all those goals and live the life you had planned- but you know what?

You got old.

And that's pretty cool."


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review: Tamales: Fast and Delicious Mexican Meals

Well I'm back again with another cookbook review and I couldn't be happier!

Back a million years ago in culinary school we were assigned to make tamales and life was never again the same! Being a lover of Mexican food I have wanted to make tamales again for a long time and to share their rich perfectly creamy, spicy, treasure package selves with the family but something has always prevented me from actually doing it! :) Picking "Tamales: Fast and Delicious Mexican Meals" by Alice Guadalupe Tapp to review was the perfect thing to motivate me to ACTUALLY get to work!

This book is a basic primer on home-making tamale's, the author states form the very beginning that her goal is to make it a dish accessible to every weeknight dinner table and not just something made for special occasions. Her methods in getting from point A to point B may easily labeled un-traditional but in the end get her stated goal across. I made tamales. I made tamales after 10 years of procrastination and excuses. I made tamales and it didn't take all afternoon! That in and of its self is a small miracle for this dish that is known for its labor-intensive process to produce!

My tamale making station!
The book it self is pretty compact and a good size to stash on your counter-top and still have room to work. It has a nice sturdy hardback binding and is wrapped up in really pretty photography of the tamales. There are photos throughout the book, but unfortunately, not one for every recipe which is something I prefer in a cookbook. There are a lot of good tips in the front section of the book on selecting shortcut ingredients, and one on the many ways to wrap the tamales that had very helpful illustrations.

The cooked tamales in the pot.
One beef that I have with the book though is that the one point in tamale making that I had dreaded doing- and screwing up- was making the masa and that was not made any clearer by this book. The page dedicated to explaining the different types of masa is informative- but the opposing page, the one that is a photograph of the kinds of masa is left entirely unlabeled and in that one mistake I feel you loose a huge part of your readership who are using this book to learn about tamale making for the first time and have no idea what they are doing! After reading and using outside research sources (and in the end going with my gut) I figured out what masa recipe I wanted to try based on what I type of masa I thought I had purchased. This deficiency was a big turn off for me in an otherwise solid instructional section.

Overall however, I really liked this book. The recipes look really tasty and range from weird and wonderful, to savory, to sweet and there is sure to be something in this book that makes you get up and say 'Yes! I will make tamales!' In the end that's all it's indented to do. I think that any semi-knowledgeable cook who desire to dazzle and impress without a whole lot of effort will have good success with this book- and a whole lot of fun!  

My finished tamales with a dribble of salsa verde!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Playbook

I've been warming my way up to writing this post for a while now. End of the year reflections, beginning of the year hopes. Plan, un-plan. Think, think again. Write, rewrite. Begin again.
It's difficult sometimes to get all my thoughts out onto the page.

It's a strange process this 'changing years' business and this year it's overwhelmed me more than most. Usually I sit here thinking how nice it will be to have a whole year of tomorrows "with no mistakes in them" and rejoice at the prospect of controlled change (my favorite kind). This last year has felt like a year of crisis mode for me. It begin last Christmas and just rolled from one thing into another until it finally came to a screeching halt as I was knocked off my feet mid-December with one of those horrible bugs that are going around- and suddenly it didn't matter what was left undone or was still scheduled- it all just stopped. The year of crises, the 'tyranny of the urgent', stopped.

I can't tell you how relieving it was.

These last three weeks I have been the laziest of lazy bums and just took time to...breathe...and it's
been wonderful! 'Living the dream' however, doesn't make much progress in real life and kingdom realities and tomorrow my holiday will come to an end. I will awaken from the dream world and have the opportunity to start again. This week as I've been jotting the mental notes on that beginning I've really desired to not just start again but start fresh. There are so many things that I messed up last year, that I failed in, that I feel not ready to let go of and want do-overs on but I don't get to do that. None of us get to do that. None of us get to start over and fix the past- but we do get opportunity to let the old go and make a new future.

We get a New Year.

I've been thinking a lot about what I want this year, about what I want to do and accomplish,  about what I want to do differently- because tomorrow when I rise and shine I want to have a goal plan for the year and how I'm both going to move forward and not look back.

The following is my 'resolutions list'- if we must call it that- or 'my playbook' if you'll indulge me... Perhaps there'll be a few things in here that you find useful to yourself too...

The 2015 Playbook

1. Set Aside Immovable Times for Rest

I can't remember a single time from this last year where I had two days put together to rest. The pace of constantly pushing has left me close to breaking and that is good for nobody- not me, and not those I server either. We all need days to rest. As I've been studying Moses in BSF this fall it's been a  great reminder to me that the  time of rest is just as important as all the rest. Even before the 10 Commandments were set down the people were reminded of and commanded to rest! That is one of God's great gifts to us. For me, I will be planning on taking a day a month to work on 'special projects', and will be planning several vacation weeks to  break up the year and be my pressure relief valve. Oh, and that other rest- the one talked about in the Commandments? That rest is the jumping off point for being able to get proper rest in other days and seasons. That rest is just as high on the list and I will not use that day for catch-up.
I will not use that day for catch-up.
I Will Not Use That Day For Catch-Up.
I. Will. Not. Use. That. Day. For. Catch-Up.

2. Don't Make Promises I Can't Keep

I felt like this last year this was one of my biggest failings. With so much rushing to do and so many people to care for I constantly found myself spilling things out of my mouth that I knew would be difficult- or near impossible to complete in the allotted time. I hated that like no other thing. I would cringe every time that another thing was asked for my attention- good, noble, amazing things- and I heard myself saying 'Yeah! I can do that- just give me a couple of days!' It was horrible. And I won't fall into doing it again. I need to put more of Matthew 5:37 into practice and 'let my yes be yes, and my no be no'! Even if in that moment it seems like the world will end if I don't make an affirmative response! Which leads me right into my next goal...

3. Set Realistic Goals

Me and my mum at a wedding this fall.
There are 168 hours in a week. When you take out the time that you are sleeping, eating, and doing the necessities of life, and you begin breaking down the time we spend doing everything else- the time we are spending dwindles as quickly as a shopaholics bank account. Armed with the knowledge that my time is quickly given and even more quickly wasted I come to the knowledge that I need to set realistic goals for what is going to be accomplished in a day, and in a week. Set them and stick to them. In trying to do more than I really can, trying to push the limits of what can be accomplished if I stay up 'just another hour' I hurt the people around me and I let myself down too.

4. Embrace "The Spoon Theory" to the Fullest

Have you ever heard of "The Spoon Theory"? was one of my most asked questions, I think, of 2014. Once I had been introduced to it by a dear friend who also struggles with chronic pain issues I felt I had unlocked the key to the largest treasure, the largest, brightest, lamp in existence- and I told everyone I could about this way of looking at and explaining to others about dealing with my Rheumatoid Arthritis. You can read all about it at the link above but the thing it gave me was the freedom to say 'yes' to taking care of myself and my health. This year I want to do my best to stay on top of that and continue to do everything life requires of me while knowing that it's ok to say 'I'm having a bad spoon day' and rest or to be greedy over my day's resources so I can say to someone I love 'I saved a spoon for you!' and not feel guilty afterwards!

5. Play Well

In my pursuit of 'breaking up the daily routine' this year I think its important to recognize that playing well is a necessity of life. What would be life after all if  I couldn't take the time to let go and play with my niece's and nephew (nibblings), to enjoy their laughter and craziness and cuddles?  A poor sad life indeed methinks! Also, I have recently found and invested in a really cool 'adult coloring book' that is supposed to be for de-stressing your days! Its filled with beautiful black line drawn illustrations of the flora and fauna of the Scottish countryside and even though I'm just beginning to dig my brightly colored pencils into its marvelous pages I'm really looking forward to creating something beautiful!

So when its time to play I'm going to play well and not cut off the benefits of joy with the thoughts of 'but I should be...' Play is a valuable tool in making joy filled weeks in this year of my life.

6. Work Heartily 

Colossians 3:23 reminds us that all work we do must be done for the Lord and not for men. Work done for ourselves or done simply for others isn't enough, and it isn't right. First focus in my work has to be that this is something God has me in and asks me to do- whether scrubbing dishes (ugh!) or preparing for teaching responsibilities. This year last year I found I was slacking off or doing just enough to get by in some areas but that is not how God wants me to act and I need to be accountable for the time I am working so that I give God my best and not my seconds.

7. Express My Worldview

Looking around at what is happening in the world today is a amazing thing. People are so far from God, so far from knowing anything about Him or about Christian beliefs that it's truly scary. Voices in the world are loud. They are deafening, and they are easily believed when no other viewpoint is offered. As that believing Christian I'm seeing again and again how important it is to speak God's truth into peoples lives. One of the best ways I know personally is to keep writing here on this blog. It is vital that beacons of truth shine into peoples lives, so whether that is through writing current event posts and thoughts on spiritual things- or just in providing objective viewpoints on media through my reviews- I can hold the ground, send the light.

8. Capture Moments

Journaling cards from Project Life
Capture Your 365 is a one-a-day photography challenge that I began last year and by March/April had petered out on! Its a really cool way to be constantly seeing the world around you and to be documenting it so this year I'm giving it another go and have begun already with my best foot forward! In order to keep better track of what I'm shooting and prepare it for a 'special project' I'm going to be sharing my pics with you all year from  this page- I hope you will check it out and leave me comments on what you like! It would be really encouraging to me if you did!! By the time the end of the year rolls around I hope to have it all loaded up into a Project Life scrapbook album and ready for display!

9.  Invest with Abandon

One of the first principals of the Bright Lights ministry is to "Freely give as you have been freely given to." It's something that in the last years of working with the BL materials as I teach that has gotten ingrained deep, and this year I just want to continue living in that pattern and even to do it better. It's really mind bending but really incredibly joy filled to be able to have hands out and heart open to give to the needs of others be they physical or emotional or spiritual. There is an incredible joy that comes with it when you say 'Let me give all'!

10. Speak Love, Show Love, Grow Love

If you have been my friend for any length of time you've probably hung up from one of our conversations hearing "Ok, I love you, bye!" Not all my friends I think, are entirely comfortable with that over-pouring of affection and it makes them squeamish and squrilly to hear me express that, but it is not just something I say at the end of a conversation to fill time or waste breath- it is entirely true.
A number of years ago I came to the recognition of the fact that none of us know when our last moments will be, when our last conversation will happen and so I made the decision that expressing love was something I was going to do without fail. How tragic it would be for me not to say those words when I really feel them and mean them. I know sometimes that I don't always say the right things and that sometimes I say the wrong things entirely when dealing with the messy crazy beautiful in's and out's of friendship but I try my best and I hope my best will be what's remembered in the end.
This year I want to try and go beyond just a 'love ya, bye!" acknowledgement. I really want to put those words into actions and into tangible gifts of time and resources to be able to show the people in my life that God placed us together for His own reasons and I'm immensely grateful that he did!

I just hope ya'll can put up with my squishy affectionate self throughout it! :)

11. Pray- Like My Life Depends on It

Prayer has been a huge element in my life this past year. Time and time again I have been hammered on over the issue of prayer and of my participation in it. Through this one thing I have come to the realization that everything I do hinges on- or should hinge on- prayer- and I am clearly not spending enough time doing it. Whether corporately in church, or BSF leaders meeting, or in Bright Lights; or whether personally for people, groups, and events prayer is the work of the ministry not just a lead up to it or the powdered sugar dusting on the top of 'actual work'. My life, and my work, depends on the reality of prayer in my life- and I need to be practicing it constantly.

12. Teach Wisely

Oh Lord, in this new year may the prayer of my heart be constantly worked out in every situation and may my mouth be led by You and my heart be guided in Your paths so that I may effectively minister to those in my charge, both in Bright Lights and in BSF. When I don't know what to say put the words in my mouth. When I do know what to say put the words in my mouth. Whenever life happens put the words in my mouth.

13. Write Inspired

Some of you may not know this but one of my favorite pastimes is writing. I'm no literary giant or anything but I do like to jot down a story here or there or write up my thoughts on life and the universe on this blog and that is important to me. Whether writing fiction or fact, whether blogging or scrapbook journaling- to not put it down would almost be a crime!
So, I've actually been contemplating doing NaNoWrMo this year. For the uninitiated this is National Novel Writers Month and falls in November. Writers are challenged to complete an entire 50,000 word novel over the course of the month! I've been contemplating, and frankly, lusting after completing this challenge since I learned about it a good 10 to 15 years ago- and I think that this year might just be the year to give it a try!

Who wants to be my writing buddy and cheerleading team??!

14. Read Passionately

Ok, so I write a lot about the books I'm reading. It's my job and I love doing it but sometimes I just wanna do something different. Enter the Bethany House 2015 Reading Challenge! This morning I printed off a copy of this little bingo looking chart and added it to my pin board to keep track of and check off as I complete things like reading "One your best friend recommends", or "Is the beginning of a series", or "Is written by an author you've never heard of". I think it's going to be an exciting year of books! Do you have any suggestions on where I should start??

15. Follow the Money

This one should probably be pretty self explanatory. All too quickly the piper must be paid and this last year has often found me between Peter and Paul, crying over my pennies! This year it is my hope to record faithfully what I'm doing with the resources God provides me with-  and to make a real effort to begin setting aside some savings!

16. Gratefulness is Everything

The last two years I have been endeavoring to complete the Thousand Gifts joy/gratefulness dare and name three things every day that I am grateful for. I think that being grateful is one of the most important things we can do as Christians and that it does indeed change our perspectives on everything we set eye or hand to. One of my favorite quotes says:

"Feeling gratitude but not expressing it is like wrapping a present but not giving it." ~William Arthur Ward

That is what I have felt like these past two years as I come close to, but ultimately fail to record all the pent-up gratitude towards the Lord that He is so rightly due from my lips. Since I'm a person that always does better with a set plan and list to guide me, this year I have printed out the month by month guide to help me focus and think of the things that God is doing and blessing my life with. It's gonna be a cool year!

My Year at a Glance
Including: The Secret Garden coloring book and Prismacolor pencils,
CY365 prompts list, book challenge list, new Joni devotional,
the trusty ole iPad where writing gets done, photo journal and
Project Life cards for the 'special project' scrapbook,
gratefulness dare prompts and cute journal,
daily planner where all the crazy gets organized! 
So did you make it to the end of the list? Wow. It's a really long one- longer than I intended it to be but I assure you that in writing it I am solely preaching to myself. Preach, preach again. Write, re-write. Fail, do again. Repeat. Start fresh. I'm beginning to think that its the only way that we get through to ourselves, the only way God gets through to us. Simply a constant tap tap tap of the chisel and scrape scrape scrape of the grinding, finishing, polishing paper of life. Perhaps this year if I stand still against my measure God will get some work done on me and this time next year I'll be a little more ready to adventure out into the oncoming year, a little more ready for the new future ahead!

So where are you personally and spiritually as we enter 2015? Is there things you're looking back on and shouldn't? Things that you are really looking forward to happening this year? Things that you anticipate God doing in and through you? Drop me a note in the comments- I'd love to hear from you and hear your thoughts!