A Year in Review: Book Reviews

1 (2)

Hello, booklings!
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. 🙂

The Chase by Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky

the chaseIt’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.

In Good Company by Jen Turano

From the Back Cover

in good company 1After growing up as an orphan, Millie Longfellow is determined to become the best nanny the East Coast has ever seen. Unfortunately, her playfulness and enthusiasm aren’t always well-received and she finds herself dismissed from yet another position.

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 certainly does come with good company. The first thing I noticed about the book was how quirky and lovable Jen Turano’s heroine is. Millie Longfellow isn’t your conventional protagonist. She’s not especially gifted, doesn’t have any unique advantages, and isn’t known for having good luck or the best ideas. Yet in spite of all her shortcomings, she’s a character I quickly came to love. She has the greatest of intentions, a generous amount of spunk, a hearty dose of patience, a creative perspective, and a genuinely kind heart. It’s these traits that made me cheer for her, even when she did something exasperating, and made me empathize with her when she faced yet another struggle.
In true Pride and Prejudice fashion, Everett is the perfect contrast to the scattered, energetic, bubbly Miss Longfellow. Reserved, successful and in control, a feisty nanny is the last thing Everett needs in his life. But since Millie is exactly what Everett’s young charges need, he’s forced to endure her unconventional ways and the occasional tumult she causes. Along the way, both Everett and Millie must confront their differences. Can two people from opposite worlds ever share their own world?
The supporting cast also features some delightful characters, some of whom I’m looking forward to meeting with in one of the author’s future stories.
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.
If you’re looking for a fun novel, featuring lovable characters, a few laughs and a pinch of mystery, you can find it… In Good Company. 

The Time Garden (Adult Coloring Book)

the time gardenA 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:

Remnants by Lisa T. Bergren // A Friend in Me by Pamela Havey Lau // To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander // The Knot: Little Books of Big Wedding Ideas // The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

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?

Blog Signature

Last Minute NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

nanowrimo

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
    story generator prompts.webp prompt 200.webp
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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!

    Blog Signature

What I Learned in May & So Far in June

May-June Collage flipped

I should really stop waiting until the month is over to write these posts… Because every time I do, I inevitably put off the task until we’re halfway into the new month. Better late than never, though, right? (I can hear you saying But never late is better. And although it’s true, I frown upon that reply.)

Aside from learning (or relearning!) that these recaps shouldn’t be neglected until the last minute and beyond, here are a few other tidbits I picked up in May and the start of June.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird really does deserve all its acclaim. I’m only a few chapters in, but already I love it. The characters, dialogue, setting… All are so rich and absorbing. I’m hoping for some time this weekend to finish  it. My only complaint is that I didn’t read Mockingbird sooner.
  2. The Loch Ness monster is an excellent writing prompt.
    No, really. I’ve had severe writer’s block for the past several months. Even simple assignments seem to take me forever. But a few nights ago, I got an email from the team at the Fangirl Initiative saying contributions for a group post were due that evening at 9 PM. (By the way, here’s the completed post.)
    nessieOriginally, I wasn’t a part of it, but since I had the night off and I was cleared to write about the Loch Ness monster, I decided to jump in. I can’t remember the last time I finished anything in under an hour, but once I started writing about Nessie, I finished in a flash. After that, I felt a chunk of my writer’s block crumble. I guess the way to get out of a writing rut is to simply write… Even if it’s about something random, and done in a rush.
  3. What I don’t write, I can’t process. When I get busy, I don’t pause to write; yet it’s precisely in the midst of the rush that I need to. Writing, especially journaling, clears my head and helps me understand my story. It gives me some perspective so I can notice God’s script unfolding. For the remainder of this month, I’m going to work towards more consistency in my journal entries, as well as my blog posts.
  4. It’s better to step out and make mistakes, than to hold back and accomplish nothing at all. Bravery begets bravery.
  5. A difference can be made, even in a mess. My last post was messy; I’m the first to admit it. Yet in that jumble, real people came alongside me. The comment section filled up with the kind words of reader and writer friends. Those comments had a theme to me: I’ve been there, too… you’re not alone, and it’s okay. What I shared wasn’t profound or even polished. The response made a difference for me, though, because it was humbling and encouraging all at once. To each of you who read that mess, and especially to those who left encouragement… Thank you. You’re a blessing, and you make a difference.
  6. Joy is a journey. It’s so much deeper than the bubbly emotion of happiness. Joy is clinging to Jesus, even when the world is crumbling; it’s having hope in the light, even when we’re plunged into darkness. Joy doesn’t mean living on a mountain; it means trusting God to sustain us and carry us from the valley. Most of all, joy is our strength.
    joy
  7. It’s the small things that matter most. Sharing pizza with a friend; revisiting my favorite childhood playground; ice cream with a brownie; tickets for a long-anticipated movie; trips to the library. Life isn’t always about the big events. We do just as much living and memory-making in the little ones.
  8. Speaking of small things, it is impossible to cram more than three people into one photo booth. But it is kind of fun trying to prove otherwise.
  9. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” -e.e.cummings. As I mentioned at #4, though, courage only comes with action. Accepting God’s plan for my life and future is scary at times, especially since there’s a lot I don’t understand. Which leads me to my final point…
  10. God is doing a new thing. New things are scary and exhilarating all at once. I usually run from change, as if I can stumble back into the past or race through the discomfort of the present. In this season, though, when my nature wants to dig in my heels, question and/or cry, I’m choosing something different. I’m choosing to be excited. God gave me a promise, and confirmed those words to me: He is doing something new in my life. And I can’t wait to see what it is.
    new verse

What have you learned in these past weeks? What new things are taking place in your life? Should all go according to plan, there will be more new content here on the blog shortly… If you have a blog, drop me a link with your newest post, too! 🙂

Blog Signature

What I Learned in March, and in April So Far

March April

Hello, friends. How is your springtime coming along? Partly because of the indecisive weather, and partly because of everything else clouding my mind, I can hardly remember that it even is spring. But according to the calendar, near continual rain, and budding flowers, it’s spring whether I remember it or not.

The past several years, I haven’t been overly fond of spring. The temperature is too fickle, swinging from January to July; allergy triggers are at an all-time high; and bugs emerge in droves.

This year, though, spring speaks something else to me. It whispers a promise. After the snow and sleep of winter, life is springing out again. After a long stretch of darkness, day is breaking. This year, after one of the hardest and darkest seasons of my life, that promise means more to me. It feels realer… truer. Through the gloom, it gives me something to hold onto.

That promise is what’s helping me type these words. After a month away from blogging, I’m not sure if this is the right time to come back. But then I’m not sure there ever will be a right time, or if I’ll ever feel fully ready. So I’ve decided just to start again, much the same way I started the blog in the first place. I’m not quite sure how to get back into the swing of things, so I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned while I’ve been away.

Here is what I learned in March, and what I’ve learned so far in April.

  • There is a time for everything, and the time is not always now. If it’s meant to be, it will be, even if it might not be for a while.
  • Everything isn’t predictable. Sometimes what we expect to last forever comes to an end; sometimes the things we thought would end are the ones that endure. In the last eighteen or so months, my best opportunities and experiences have fallen from seemingly nowhere. The most predictable thing about my life lately is that it’s so unpredictable. There are multiple stories I could share on that score, but for now I’ll just say, I’m really just learning as I go. I think we all are.
  • There’s a tense balance between oversharing, hiding, and being honest. I tend to swing too far towards hiding. I once admitted to a friend, that I always try to have it together and when I can’t, I don’t know how to handle it. It’s partly why I needed this time off. I felt so exposed in all my emotions, that they flooded my screen every time I sat down to type. My fear is always to overshare, and I couldn’t find the right balance of honesty. I’m not sure I’ve found it yet, but I won’t be able to return to writing until I share something. So here’s to honesty- even in small doses.
  • Writing requires rawness. This is the real reason I’ve been coming up blank, other than in my journal. Last month, I was emotionally open but after the initial shock, I didn’t feel like sharing anymore. I closed off so I could heal some. I couldn’t write as I normally would, so I retreated inward. My journal is filled with the only words I could write, and the entries are long and disjointed. There isn’t a single sentence that I could turn into a blog post, and I haven’t touched my novel because storytelling requires all my emotional energy. Usually, I crave the opportunity to spill myself into the story, but for the past several weeks, I haven’t had the energy to spare.
  • Excuses are not inherently bad. Sometimes, there are reasonable, good ones. Sometimes, we need to be excused from certain things. As much as we’d like to stick to the philosophy of no-excuses, we aren’t machines. We can’t be put back together and pushed forward. It’s okay. It’s part of being human, and it’s not a weakness.
  • As much as we try to solve and fix problems, not all of them can be. There isn’t a clear solution for everything, even in the age of information. I can’t find all the answers through Google, and it isn’t always the right time for God to reveal those answers. Sometimes the answer is simply to wait. Wait and see.
  • Brokenness isn’t a bad thing. It’s unpredictable, and uncomfortable, and downright painful. But it’s not bad. Sometimes broken is right where I’m supposed to be.

The world is broken in too many pieces

But the brokenness is beautiful, it’s beautiful

My heart is broken by beauty’s mysteries

But the brokenness is beautiful, it’s beautiful

{Broken (Beautiful) by Chris Sligh}

What have you been learning this spring? Can you relate to any of the things I’ve learned?

With love,

Blog Signature

12 (More) Reasons to Buy More Books

Buy Books Graphic 2

Last month, I shared my struggle over self-control and book shopping. As it turns out, I am not alone in this dilemma. Bookworms seem to be programmed to buy books. We’re drawn to them like kids to bouncy castles (okay, and also adults to bouncy castles.) No matter how many we have, we can always find room to love another.

Not everyone understands this craving, though, and sometimes we book lovers may feel a little guilty for our book obsessions. With that in mind, I sat down to create a list of 12 Reasons to Buy More Books. I ended up with closer to 30. Since not every excuse, I mean, reason, made the original list it seemed only fair to post the remainder now.
… All right, I’ll confess. I’m also sharing this because my to-be-read shelf is full, I have a shaky stack of books in my room, and I’m waiting for a few new arrivals. Also, I have three titles in my shopping cart right now.

But it’s okay because I can explain! Really! Here are 12 More Reasons to Buy More Books.

  1. Books are inexpensive entertainment. Yes, I probably spend a tad too much on books. Probably. However, compared to the prices of movie tickets, cable, even Netflix or the Internet, books are cheap. Where else can you travel around the world, learn a dozen new things, and meet new friends for about $10, or even less? It’s a bargain, I tell you.
  2. They take us places that travel cannot. Not only do books cost vastly less than vacation, there are some destinations that are unreachable beyond books. Even with enough funds, I couldn’t book a trip to the Shire or Narnia. Thanks to books, though, I’m still familiar with those places. I’ve had tea in Hobbiton and stood beside the Lamppost with Mr. Tumnus. And I can go back any time I want to, without packing a suitcase.
  3. Books turn any room into a home. As Roman philosopher Cicero put it, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” No matter whose house I’m in, the sight of a brimming bookcase is welcoming. Books make a room feel lived in, while looking splendid as decor. Even better, they serve double duty by being both lovely and useful. You can even use extra books as bookends for your other titles.
    Slide1
  4. Buying used books is recycling. You can help the environment and your personal library!
  5. A battery may die, but a paper book endures. Don’t worry, I’m not anti-eBooks. I use both a Nook & Kindle app. But downloading eBooks never excites me like opening a box of hard copies. And I always forget to charge my tablet until the moment I want to read. So paper books are an essential for me. Really.
  6. They smell good. Another perk of paper! Whether you like the smell of new books, old ones, or any combination of both, books have the distinct scent of possibilities, invitation and magic.
  7. Carrying books looks, and is, smart. I know we aren’t supposed to worry about impressing others. However, it’s undeniable: if you’re walking around with a book that isn’t rubbish, you will look quite studious. And you might catch the attention of fellow readers and get to have book discussions! Or at the very least, you’ll have your book to occupy you in boring situations. Yet another reason having novels on hand is wise.
  8. Reading books makes us smarter. I truly believe living isn’t complete without learning and for me, books have been the best teachers. Through countless pages, I’ve studied under experts and gained information I never would have accessed otherwise. A bonus is that books are cheaper than tuition. Unless they’re college textbooks. Because why not overcharge the broke student population, right?
  9. Dating websites are overpriced and unreliable. Books are not. Until a real Mr. Darcy (or Knightly, Thornton, etc.) shows up, I shall keep my storybook loves! I even wrote an entire post dedicated to my favorite fictional couple. It’s turned out to be my most popular post to date, which has me somewhat shocked but mostly thrilled. You can check it out here, and get a recommendation for my favorite series as well. 🙂
  10. Books hold both stories and memories. Every so often, I’ll take an old favorite from my shelf and flip through the pages. When I do this, I remember the story I loved but also the girl I was when I read it. Maybe I read it multiple times in one school year, or found comfort in those pages from a broken heart, or read it through laughing with a close friend. The stories dearest to me always have a bit of me preserved in their pages. This is why I’ll often buy a book I loved, even if I may not read it again for a while.
    Photo Aug 29, 1 24 17 AM
  11. Reading is therapeutic. True, I’ve suffered emotional trauma from books countless times. In some twisted way, those books usually become my favorites. But there’s a difference between fictional difficulties and real life conflict. When I’ve had a hard day, sometimes all it takes is an hour with a story. Escaping into a book for a little while makes the real world easier to face when I come back to it.
  12. Books make life better by letting us live several. Similar to all the places I couldn’t visit without books (#2), there are so many things I’ll never do or people I’ll never be, beyond novels. I would never trade my own life, but I’ve learned so much from all the fictional ones I have lived. I’ve rebelled against tyrants, rescued innocents, and run for my life alongside those characters. And in living their lives, I’ve come away with tools for mine. It’s doubtful I’ll ever have to bring down the Capitol or walk into Mordor, but if those characters can find the courage and determination, then I can be brave for the smaller tasks I face everyday.

If I tried hard enough, I could probably think of other reasons to encourage collecting books. I think two lists about covers it, though. (If you didn’t get to read my original 12 Reasons to Buy More Books, here is a link.) I’m in the mood to go read a book now! I need to finish it before the sequel arrives.

What are you currently reading? Which books are you planning to add to your to-be-read shelf? I’m always open to recommendations! And also book discussions. I’ve updated my contact page, so now there are even more places for us to connect and chat about stories.

Happy reading!

Blog Signature