It’s November and that means three things: It’s socially acceptable to begin preparing for Christmas. Time to buy more wrapping paper for my collection and start blasting Josh Groban’s holiday album! It’s National Novel Writing… More
I didn’t want to carry any reviews from last year into this one, but the stack of books on my desk forces me to differ. So in the name of closing out 2015 (a month into 2016!), here are some review wrap-ups. 🙂
It’s been a few years since I gave up reading books about dating and relationships. After a while, they’re either all the same, or they all contradict one another. When I first heard of The Chase, though, it captured my attention. Written by Kyle & Kelsey Kupecky, it was refreshing to read a book about relationships from a younger couple’s perspective. Their love for one another shines through, but even more evident is their love for God. The Chase doesn’t focus merely on romantic relationships, as I initially expected. Rather, it speaks about chasing after God, first and foremost; the true lover of our souls. When we allow Jesus to take His rightful place in our hearts, everything else falls into place- even falling in love. After all, “God cares about your deepest desires, your hopes and dreams.” (from the Chase.)
I loved that this book didn’t offer any official guidelines. Too many books about relationships are built on checklists and leave no room for individuality or considering unique situations. Granted, there are some non-negotiable principles in the Bible, but much else is left to conjecture. The Chase isn’t written to be a rule book, but a handbook. It’s more of a guide than an instruction sheet. Instead of listing do’s and don’t’s for an earthly relationship, the book encourages young people to pursue God before pursuing another person.
I tend to be a bit cynical about relationship books, but the Chase is a sweet, uplifting read. It encouraged me to focus on falling in love with Jesus, and it also reminded my skeptical side that true love actually does exist outside of Disney movies. The writing style made me feel like I was sharing coffee with a trusted mentor and friend. The book is written mostly through stories, and throughout, there is bound to be something each reader connects to. This would be a wonderful book to read with a small group, or for personal study.
From the Back Cover
Everett Mulberry has quite unexpectedly become guardian to three children that scare off every nanny he hires. About to depart for Newport, Rhode Island, for the summer, he’s desperate for competent childcare.
At wit’s end with both Millie and Everett, the employment agency gives them one last chance–with each other. As Millie falls in love with her mischievous charges, Everett focuses on achieving the coveted societal status of the upper echelons. But as he investigates the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the children’s parents, will it take the loss of those he loves to learn whose company he truly wants for the rest of his life?
In Good Company is a lighthearted read, which manages to be zany, amusing, romantic and even a little mysterious. The mentions of classic literature were a delightful addition, and Jen’s writing style makes it easy to read multiple chapters in a single sitting. I typically prefer heavier books, with more suspense and higher stakes, but I truly enjoyed this one for what it is.
The Time Garden (Adult Coloring Book)
A coloring craze has splashed the world. No longer is this hobby confined to kindergarten classrooms. Now adults can enjoy the art and relaxation of coloring, too! (Without being reduced to a Sesame Street coloring book.)
The Time Garden is laid out as a story book. Intricate pictures show one little girl’s journey through the land of time. Daria Song’s artwork is absolutely beautiful. The amount of detail astonished me. Each page is stunning, from the tree blossoms on the front cover all the way to the starry back flap. Adult coloring is supposed to help you pause and relax, forcing you to slow down and focus on one tiny section at a time. The Time Garden would allow you to do this for hours. There are so many little nuances to color, there is no room for rushing. Even if you only work on a corner at a time, this book invites you to sit down, take your time, breathe and create.
I also love how elegant the pictures are. I lack in artistic ability, but coloring in one of Daria Song’s masterpieces instantly makes me feel creative.
The quality of the book itself is lovely. Each page is printed on thick, high-quality paper. I used colored pencils in mine, but if you wanted to use marker, the paper is sturdy enough to handle the ink. The dust jacket can be colored, too, and it unfolds to reveal a gorgeous constellation on the reverse side.
Since the adult coloring trend began, I’ve flipped through my fair share of these books. The Time Garden, though, is one of the most sophisticated, unique and visually pleasing that I have found. Order a copy for yourself, or one for a friend… Or both, and enjoy your own journey through The Time Garden.
I received these books for free in exchange for my honest reviews.
In case you missed them, here are links to the other books I reviewed in 2015:
Now that I’ve tied up 2015’s loose book ends, I’m free to start my 2016 list! What have you read so far this year? What were your favorite books in 2015?
There are some years that stand out more than others. For me, 2015 was such a year. I suspect that even several years from now, I’ll point to that one and remember how much it strained, shattered, and slowly remade me.
And now it’s come to an end. There were days when I had no idea who or where I would be by this point. Yet here I am, officially calling it “last year” and looking ahead to the untouched days of “this year.”
Since grade school, I’ve been a resolution person. I like making lists and dreaming big. New Year’s holds such promise, and that energy always inspires me to make a bunch of my own promises.
Drink more water, eat less sugar, get in shape, stick to a sleep schedule and a budget. Track everything in a planner, be consistent with blogging, develop my skills at writing. Keep in touch with friends and relatives, send handwritten letters, create more opportunities for ministry, develop stronger leadership skills. Study music, earn a high GPA, build websites, find time for hobbies. Prioritize my relationship with God, read the Bible in a year, pray daily, fast weekly.
That list has looped through my brain since December. Just looking at it makes me feel like I’ve failed. Every single thing on it is important. Accomplishing them would be beneficial. Yet if I already feel overwhelmed, an hour into the New Year, how am I going to feel by the end of January?
So although I would love to conquer each of those goals, I’m making a different choice for 2016. I’m summing up my intentions with a single word instead of bullet points or bulky paragraphs.
As I was journaling last week, well past midnight, I stumbled into the word that will be my mantra for this year. I was struggling against the weight of an entire year, and I felt God whisper that word into my mind.
Resurgam. It’s a Latin phrase, but the meaning is simple: I will rise again.
After 2015 exhausting me in almost every way, I want 2016 to be about one thing. Rising again; above everything that’s happened, and everything that may yet happen. So my resolution this year isn’t defined by what I accomplish, and how many things I check off that endless list. I’m not going to “fail” my goals this year, because my focus makes “failure” irrelevant.
When I fall, for fall I will, I haven’t failed. I can rise again. And again. As many times as it takes. The grace of Jesus means that as long as I have breath, I have a chance. I can take the nail-scarred hand He offers me and stand up, no matter how hard I fall.
When I struggle to pray, I will remember “resurgam,” and try again.
When I make a wrong choice, I will tell myself “resurgam.”
When I feel overwhelmed, I will be reminded of “resurgam.”
I wish I could say that I won’t experience low points in 2016 the way I did in 2015. But I can’t. I don’t know what awaits me in the next 365 days. A new year doesn’t guarantee a perfect, or even completely good, one. All it guarantees is a chance to reflect, and reset. A chance to declare “resurgam.”
I’ll take that chance. And into 2016, I will rise again.
Do you have resolutions or a specific word for your year?
Hello my dear friends! Apologies for nearly two months of silence. I could write an entire post about the last several weeks, but let’s save that for another day. Today I have something far more exciting to share!
Drum roll please…
This week, the talented Brett Michael Orr released his highly anticipated debut novel, The Bureau of Time! I’ve been following this book’s progress for a while, and I’ve been waiting impatiently to read it, thanks to Brett Michael’s teasers on Twitter.
When he sent me the official blurb and the cover, I jumped at the chance to share it with you. Read on, and you’ll see why.
The Bureau of Time
You can not change fate.
Cassandra Wright is a Timewalker – a teenager with a genetic mutation that allows her to manipulate the flow of time. But her inexplicable powers have made her a target for Adjusters – monstrous assassins from a parallel universe.
Saved from almost certain death, Cassie is pulled into a secret agency sworn to defend our timeline against these threats: the Bureau of Temporal Integrity, Monitoring, and Execution. Cassie’s life soon becomes entwined with Shaun Briars – a reckless Timewalker with an alluring smile and dark suspicions about the Bureau itself.
When Cassie and Shaun cross into the parallel universe, they discover a world in the grips of nuclear winter, with a new war threatening to spill over into our universe. With time running out, they must learn the true history of Timewalkers, confront the unforgivable crimes of their future selves, and defy their own fate to save two worlds.
Join the Conversation: #TheBureauOfTime
Doesn’t this sound intriguing? I’m also really impressed with the acronym for TIME. Calling it now, this is totally going to become a summer blockbuster film.
I always say you’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, yet I always do exactly that. Feel free to judge The Bureau of Time by its cover, though, because the cover is awesome.
Gaze upon it!
THE BUREAU OF TIME is the debut YA SF/thriller novel from Brett Michael Orr, available early 2016 on all digital reading platforms, including Kindle, Kobo, iBookstore, and more. Stay up-to-date with The Bureau of Time by following @BrettMichaelOrr on Twitter!
Ready for the best part? You don’t have to wait another minute to read The Bureau of Time! It’s available now for Kindle through Amazon. It will also be coming soon to iBookstore, Kobo, and other major digital reading platforms. Be sure to check out the official hashtag #TheBureauOfTime on Twitter for the latest news.
Until next time (get it? Okay. Sorry. I’ll stop now.)
October 31st is a scary day, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. (Which I always forget about anyway.) No, this final day of October is frightening because November 1st is mere hours away… And with it comes National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. “The Month Writers Sacrifice Their Remaining Sanity and Neglect Basic Survival Skills.” Sounds fun, right?
Actually, it is. Sort of. Once you get past the lack of socialization and sleep, it really is pretty awesome. Last year, I wrote a post of 30 Reasons to do NaNoWriMo. If you’re on the fence about doing NaNoWriMo, maybe this list will push you onto the side of slightly insane writers taking the challenge. (You can read it here)
Let’s say you’ve already decided to get in on the action, though, but now you have no idea how November is already here and you still have NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH YOUR NOVEL. (Deep breaths. Don’t hyperventilate.)
Should you drop out? There’s always next November, right? Surely you can’t wade into the trenches of NaNoWriMo without a detailed battle plan, can you? You’ll never survive now that you’ve waited until the stroke of midnight to take action.
Never fear, my writing comrade. I’m right there with you. Until this morning, I hadn’t even settled on a story to work on this month, and I’m still having doubts. I logged into my NaNoWriMo profile for the first time two hours ago. If anyone isn’t ready to take on this monster, it’s me. But ready or not, here it comes. Part of being a novelist is being adaptable, and that’s a skill I work in November more than any other month. No story is ever truly ready, and writing is never without surprises, no matter how much we outline. Even if you just decided five minutes ago to get involved with NaNoWriMo, you can make November work in your favor.
Here are my simple tips for surviving NaNoWriMo, despite being mostly unprepared.
- Pick a story and stick to it. It doesn’t need to be your most revolutionary idea ever, or have any publishing potential. You don’t even have to like it after the thirty days of November are up. Just pick one idea and give it one month to see what happens.
- Speaking of ideas, if you have no ideas whatsoever, consult a prompt generator. My two favorites are the Google Play apps, Story Plot Generator and Writing Prompts. For iOS, there’s a similar app called the Great Plot Generator. Even if you don’t go with the exact idea generated, it may spark something. If you have too many ideas and not a single one stands out, write a few down and randomly pull one. There you go! Your latest literary masterpiece!
- Be unoriginal. You only have four weeks to write 50,000 words. Now is not the time to create detailed character diagrams, in-depth fantasy worlds, or your own language. It’s okay if your main character reminds you of the lead in your favorite show. If your world is suspiciously like the Shire, keep writing. As you go, your story will take on a life of its own. In the meantime, don’t get so hung up on originality that you write nothing at all, original or otherwise. Even if you’ll have to make changes later to avoid plagiarism, borrow the ideas you need to keep going.
- Forget (almost) every writing rule you’ve ever learned. Go ahead and write one chapter in first person and the next in third. Ignore commas entirely. Ramble on for two pages without pauses. This is November. This is the month of writing anarchy and dangling modifiers.
- Repeat after me: This draft is going to be bad, and that’s good. I have to remind myself of this every November. The sooner you accept the inevitable badness of this draft, the easier it is to adapt to it. Make a bad draft work for you, rather than trying to work against that bad draft.
- Get a cheap notebook and a fast pen. I don’t recall who first said that, but it’s some of the most effective writing advice I’ve ever heard. My best ideas tend to come from marking up a blank page rather than staring at a blank screen.
- Don’t be distracted by all the shiny new writing apps and platforms. There are so many to try, but November isn’t the month to experiment with them. Keep it simple. Stick to what works.
- Create a rough outline. I use the term “outline” loosely, because it doesn’t even need to be in order. Just jot down anything that seems relevant to the story. Scene ideas, even if you aren’t sure where they fit, can be super useful. Character names, facts about dragons, chapter titles… Anything you want to include, dump into a document. Nothing is too insignificant to be inspiration for NaNoWriMo.
- Consult your calendar. Hardly anyone has time for NaNoWriMo, but if you truly are overbooked and can’t cancel anything, consider making an adjustment. Either pick a different month to devote to writing, or set a smaller goal than 50k. If you can squeeze your novel into November, block out some writing appointments. Lighten up on other activities as you’re able so you don’t burn out.
- Establish boundaries. I learned the hard way that NaNoWriMo will take over your life if there are no boundaries set at the beginning. The first time I competed, I ended up exhausted to the point of illness. And since I refused to take any downtime, I was probably sick for longer than I needed to be. Noveling is important, to be sure, but there actually are more important things. Don’t sacrifice sleep, meals, or relationships for a few thousand words.
- Remember why you’re doing this. You’re a writer, and you have a story to tell. NaNoWriMo is just one way of carrying out this goal. Keep that in mind, and don’t stress.
- Just start. No matter how prepared you do or don’t feel, nothing can happen until you start. Take it one day at a time, word by word. You may end up with 50,000 words at the end of November! And if not? It’s still a grand noveling adventure.This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I could always use some more tips on surviving National Novel Writing Month. Comment your own novel advice below.Happy NaNoWriMo!
Why does this blog post feel so flat? I scanned the paragraph again. Nothing was wrong, exactly. It just wasn’t right, either.
It was like tasting the batter for pumpkin bread, and realizing something is missing. Maybe there’s not enough sugar, or there’s too much nutmeg, or the pumpkin has spoiled. But something is off, and the recipe isn’t quite reaching its potential.
As I scanned the bland paragraphs on my screen, it dawned on me what was missing from the recipe of that post. Or rather, what there was too much of. The entire post was about one thing: me. My life, my schedule, my insecurities. My blog, my writing, my goals. Me. Just reading it left a sour taste in my mouth.
A single question crossed my mind. Why am I doing this? It was like a whisper into my soul, and it repeated again. Why are you doing this, Sarah?
Typing that plain question now makes me uncomfortable. Why? Why am I writing this blog? Sharing these words? Why am I doing any of this?
I’ll be honest: when I first started blogging, my unspoken agenda was to build an empire centered on myself. How shallow and vain is that? But I found ways to justify it, using words like “platform” and “portfolio.” Those are good terms, when they’re used with good intentions. My intentions, though, were more prideful and selfish than I wanted to admit. Purpose can’t exist alongside those things.
Realizing that rocked me. It was like construction came to an abrupt halt, leaving me to stare at the half-built projects surrounding me. I had been hammering away without blue prints; baking without a recipe. What was really the point? Fame wasn’t happening. And even if I could make it happen, it was such a one-dimensional dream. I needed a deeper answer to the question Why am I doing this?
Three years ago, as a freshman in college, I had to answer that question about life itself. Over the course of twelve weeks, I worked through sessions about calling, vision, talents, and other aspects of purpose. By the end of those modules, I had written twelve statements defining my values and life mission. As a collection, those statements were called my “compass.” They were intended to guide me through my decisions, both big and small. They were the essence of why I got up each morning.
Then real life happened and parts of my purpose plan seemed better suited to paper. Mistakenly, without meaning to, I replaced those carefully considered statements. In their place, I let in other influences, ones that weren’t intentional or helpful. Rather than nailing my purpose to the cross, I ended up pinning it on myself.
That’s where everything fell flat. In order to live meaningfully, my meaning has to extend beyond me. True purpose on earth is something that can only be rooted in heaven. My prayer now is to live as a reflection of God’s glory and grace. I’m only a smudged reflection, one that needs lots of polish. Even so, striving to more clearly reflect Him is worth more than any dim purpose I could invent.
However it plays out, that’s what I want at the core of my existence. That’s the compass I need. At the end of the day, living well is about loving and serving well.
From this point, that’s what I’m going to learn to do. When I sit down at my desk on a Monday morning, when I type up a blog post in my room on a Saturday night, when I step out of church on a Sunday afternoon… I want to live out that purpose. I want to be aware of the “why” behind every breath I take.
In a way, it seems that I wrote another blog post about myself after all. It’s hard to avoid, since I’m only an expert in the field of my own experience. If there’s only one thing to take from these imperfect words, though, I think it’s this: There is a reason why. Remember the answer to that little question. It makes a big difference. When we forget why we’re here, we struggle to figure out what to do, where to position ourselves or how to do this thing called life. When I lost sight of the “why,” I then lost my ability to figure out what to write, how to minister well, how to live well. Ignoring that question is part of the reason I’ve ignored blogging and writing for so many weeks. It’s why I’ve been struggling to connect in some way. I need to remember why I’m doing this in order to do it well.
Asking why matters. What’s your why?