Monday, December 31, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : 2018

Y'all. We are on the eve of 2019, and this has been my best reading year yet. When I made my very first personal book list back in 2015 (the year I started this blog), I way overshot it and didn't even read half the books on that list. I've done better and better each year, and I realized last month that in 2018 I have more than tripled the amount of books I read that first year. You guys. That's exciting to me. I may not be hitting numbers in the hundreds like some of you amazing bloggers out there, but I'm feeling good about what I've accomplished and resolved to keep chipping away at my impossible LIFE LIST.

So what was my total?? Well, first, let me remind you that my official goal for 2018 was to read the 24 books on my list. If you've been with me for a couple years now, you might remember that I also make a secret goal for myself that I don't share until the end of the year if I actually nailed it. My secret goal this year was to read three books each month. Not an overall average to read 36 books but to complete three full books each calendar month. I barely squeaked by with my three books in November and December, but I stuck to it and I made it. Not only that, there were several months that I exceeded my three book goal to bring my final tally for 2018 to 45 books. Before I give you the list of what I read this year, I just want to encourage you to read more. Quantity doesn't matter; reading does. If you read one book in 2019, that is better than reading zero books.
Here's my final 2018 list. You can click the title if you're interested in reading more about what I thought of each book. (Although I didn't write recaps for every single one, so if you want my thoughts on Anne Shirley, I'll tell you: she's fabulous.)

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (re-read) : completed 1/5
So nice to start the year off with a visit with Anne Shirley. Especially...

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle : completed 1/17
...when followed by this children's classic that I thought was a complete waste of my time.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck : completed 1/19
Sad per usual for Steinbeck, but I liked this better than Of Mice and Men

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald : completed 1/29
After finally reading it, I think this short novel is way overhyped, but I'm glad I checked this one off this year.

I Believed in 'Issa, I Met Jesus by Jamel Attar : completed 1/30
Excellent way to end my January reading.

Outrageous Grace by Grace L. Fabian : completed 2/13
Still in awe over this woman's incredible story of bravery and faithfulness. 

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery (re-read) : completed 2/19
Haley over at Carrots for Michaelmas wrote a post this year saying this is the best Anne book, and, while I truly love it, I can never never never choose a favorite Anne book. 

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare : completed 2/27
Super fun, but Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew are still duking it out for my top-billing Shakespearean comedy. 

James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney : completed 3/14
Okay but certainly not the best biography I've read and definitely not as good as the other Madison biography I read this year. 

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers : completed 3/21
Anything by Francine Rivers is always a pleasure. 

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum : completed 3/29
I'm still not over those silver slippers, you guys. 

Night by Elie Wiesel : completed 4/8
Heavy but worth it. 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini : completed 4/26
The freaking worst. 

Sisterchicks Do the Hula! by Robin Jones Gunn : completed 4/30
Needed this after the last two. Thanks, Robin!

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks : completed 5/20
This one gets the Made Me Cry the Most award. I could not see through my tears reading that last chapter. 

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak : completed 5/24
Fun but definitely not on the same level as The Book Thief

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy : completed 5/29
My first Russian novel was not as hard as I thought it would be! 

The Professor by Charlotte Brontë : completed 6/11
This was my least favorite Brontë novel to date. 

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery (re-read) : completed 6/20
This book often gets such a bad rep for being people's least favorite Anne book, but how do you people not adore Aunt Kate, Aunt Chatty, and Rebecca Dew??

God Is Able by Priscilla Shirer : completed 6/26
I can still visualize Ephesians 3:20-21 clearly in my mind because of this book. So excellent. 

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck : completed 6/30
One of the best books I read this year. Tragic but beautiful. Highly recommend.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom : completed 7/13
This one made me sad and happy at the same time. I want to live life to the end with dignity like Morrie did. 

Secrets by Robin Jones Gunn (re-read) : completed 7/16
I decided to revisit Glenbrooke this year, and I have zero regrets about that.

The Three Lives of James Madison by Noah Feldman : completed 7/30
For sure the superior Madison biography of the two I read this year.

31 Days of Praise by Ruth & Warren Myers : completed 7/31
Loved, loved, loved this precious devotional.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer & Barrows : completed 8/2
BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR. Instantly added to my all-time favorites list.

Song of Deborah by Bette M. Ross : completed 8/7
An entertaining take on the life of the Old Testament prophetess. 

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman : completed 8/16
Such a hard book, but really good (excepting that whole past/present tense issue). 

Othello by William Shakespeare : completed 8/22
Iago is one lowdown dude. Worst Shakespearean villain I've seen.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster : completed 8/27
Such a delight. Still can't get over the fact that I missed out on this one when I was a kid. 

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis : completed 8/30
Jack never disappoints.

Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery (re-read) : completed 9/5

Whispers by Robin Jones Gunn (re-read) : completed 9/9

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens : completed 9/21
Dickens is earning his place in my book as one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era.

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson : completed 9/27
Probably the most academic book I read this year, and I really appreciated the content.

Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard : completed 10/9
Very sweet and encouraging.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern : completed 10/23
I wasn't sure how I would like this one but I enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated.

Echoes by Robin Jones Gunn (re-read) : completed 10/25

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie : completed 10/29
I'm still sitting here grinning thinking about that wrap-up.

Alcatraz From Inside by Jim Quillen : completed 11/14
Glad I read this. Compassion and justice are not mutually exclusive.

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers : completed 11/27
You know, I'm finding Mary Poppins herself to be a less likeable character than I anticipated, but these books are a lot of fun.

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers : completed 11/30
I'm thinking I will write one all-inclusive recap of the Mary Poppins books once I have finished them all.

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy : completed 12/24
Y'all. This was the book that nearly knocked me off my secret goal this year. I actually saved it for the end of the year because I enjoyed Tess of the D'Urbervilles so much and thought this one would be enjoyable as well. But I was wrong. It was a slog. I still have a couple Hardy novels on my Life List, but this one has dampened my enthusiasm a little bit. Not sure if I'll take the time to write a recap for this one. Let me know in the comments if you'd be interested in one.

Mary Poppins Opens the Door by P.L. Travers : completed 12/28
Three down, two to go with Mary Poppins.

Sunsets by Robin Jones Gunn (re-read) : completed 12/31
Okay, full disclosure. At the time I publish this post, I haven't actually finished this book yet, but I have nothing else on my agenda for this New Years Eve than to be snuggled up in my coziest Christmas pj's reading this book and eating Ben&Jerry's Half-baked ice cream while my husband is at work like the full-on hermit that I am. If I somehow don't finish this book by midnight, I will come back and edit this post and take it all back because this is my third book for December so if I can't get to the end of it, I will have failed my secret goal for 2018. Say a prayer.

And there you have it! Tune back in tomorrow for my 2019 book list and have a safe time partying tonight. Like I said, I'll be at home with my dogs and my book.

What did you read this year? Don't be shy about putting your full list down there in the comments or linking to your year-end wrap-ups. Did you accomplish any 2018 resolutions that you're proud of? Take a little time to reflect before we plunge into the madness of a brand new year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"The contrast between being and becoming marks the difference between the Creator and the creature. Every creature is continually becoming. It is changeable, constantly striving, seeks rest and satisfaction, and finds rest in God, in Him alone, for only He is pure being and no becoming."

~Herman Bavinck~

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"'But I could never have done it,' he objected, 'without everyone else's help.'

'That may be true,' said Reason gravely, 'but you had the courage to try; and what you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do.'"

~from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster~

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"'You must never feel badly about making mistakes,' explained Reason quietly, 'as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.'"

~from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster~

Monday, December 10, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : Alcatraz From Inside

Alcatraz From Inside: One Man's Climb from Desperation to Redemption is the account of former Alcatraz inmate Jim Quillen's journey to and from Alcatraz written from his own perspective. My book is copyrighted 1991 with an editor's note at the end stating Quillen died in 1998. 

I guess you could classify Alcatraz From Inside as an autobiography though the main focus of this book was Quillen's criminal activity and subsequent prison time and rehabilitation. I picked this book up while Cody and I were actually visiting Alcatraz in October (more details on our trip to California hopefully coming to the blog before the end of the year—don't hold your breath). 

Quillen begins his story detailing his troubled childhood. He became involved in increasingly dangerous criminal behavior as a teenager and, at only 22 years old after escaping San Quentin prison and going on a crime spree, found himself sentenced to 45 years inside America's toughest prison, US Penitentiary Alcatraz Island. 

What can I say about this book? I thought it was interesting and informative if not somewhat biased (which is only natural when a person writes his own story). I was thoroughly impressed with Quillen's determination and success with using the resources available to him in prison to educate himself and become a fully rehabilitated, productive member of society. I'm guilty of having a pretty narrow view of prisoners and what they should or should not be afforded during their incarceration, but this book showed me that prison can (and should) be a safe place for inmates to learn how to function in society and given the skills they need to do that successfully. I'm not so naive to think that any or every prisoner is capable of rehabilitation, but Quillen's story showed me the importance of offering prisoners the opportunity to change their circumstances and encouraging them to better themselves instead of writing them off as soon as their sentence is read. 

What I didn't care for about Alcatraz From Inside was how muddled it was at times. I would have liked a clearer timeline and more attention given to the chronology of his life. There were details lacking that I was curious about and too much attention given to other things that didn't seem very important to me as a reader. Obviously writing this book must have been very difficult for Quillen as he had to relive a time of his life that was absolutely horrible for him. I would have liked an editor to give this story some more care and help Quillen iron out some of the more confused aspects of his account.

Most importantly, reading this book reminded me that justice and compassion are not and should not be mutually exclusive. Loving my neighbor means hoping for his best and helping him back up after he fails. It means rooting for him, not against him. If for no other reason, I'm glad I read this book for that reminder. 

Have you visited Alcatraz? When Alcatraz became part of the National Park Service system, Jim Quillen went back and became one of the island's most popular volunteers, retelling his story as part of the audio tour and sharing his past with visitors. Cody and I really enjoyed visiting Alcatraz and would definitely recommend doing the audio tour of the island. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"'But why do only unimportant things?' asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.

'Think of all the trouble it saves,' the man explained, and his face looked as if he'd be grinning an evil grin—if he could grin at all. 'If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you'll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won't have the time. For there's always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.'"

~from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster~

Monday, December 3, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : And Then There Were None

Y'all. This was the last book I finished in October

PSA: it's December. I've bought a grand total of like, one Christmas present, and I have six blog posts just waiting to be written. My tree is up and there are lights on it (thanks to my husband), but there's a gigantic Rubbermaid bin of ornaments and other decorations sitting open in the middle of my living room. Will my tree be decorated by Christmas Eve? Maybe. Will we still be talking about books I read in 2018 after 2019 has already started? Probably. Let's just keep our expectations nice and low and enjoy the holidays, deal?

Okay, so last year I read my first Agatha Christie and thoroughly enjoyed it. I decided to follow it up this year with her most popular work and the one that has personally been the most recommended to me, And Then There Were None. This, the most difficult of her books to write according to Christie, was published in the UK in 1939 and the US in 1940. More than 100 million copies have been sold, and, not only is it the world's best-selling mystery, it's also just one of the best-selling books of all time. Pretty impressive. 

In this book, ten strangers are randomly and somewhat mysteriously summoned to Soldier Island, an isolated rock off the Devon coast. Completely cut off from civilization with no host present to greet them, they are each charged with committing terrible crimes. 

And then they start dying, one by one. 

Who could the murderer be? Will any of them make it off Soldier Island alive? Will the police ever figure this out? Y'all. I thought Murder on the Orient Express had a masterful ending, but that was child's play compared to And Then There Were None. Christie managed to create the impossible murder mystery and then brought it home in the most incredible (and satisfying) way imaginable. 

I have very mixed emotions about this book. Not the actual book itself, but my reading of it. On the one hand, I'm so glad I read it. It is excellent. 10 out of 10 would recommend to a friend. On the other hand, I have absolutely peaked with Christie. It makes total sense to me that this is her most popular book, and I will call you a liar to your face if you tell me there is a better Christie mystery out there. 

So how do you follow that up? I still haven't landed at the level of fandom which would compel me to read every book she's ever written, but I do still own three more of her novels. I'm thinking maybe I'll take a break from Christie in 2019 and then put a Miss Marple on my 2020 book list. What are we thinking, friends? Are you fans of Agatha Christie? Should I just keep reading Christie mysteries every year for the rest of my life on earth? So many books, so little time! Give me all the advice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did.
As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.
When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him."

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~

Saturday, November 17, 2018

My Birthday Buddy

My birthday buddy's name is Shallot. She lives in Uganda, and today, she turns 11 years old (which seems impossible since she was just 7 two minutes ago). She wants to be a nurse when she grows up. We love her dearly and pray for her consistently. We write her letters, and she writes us back. I would encourage you to consider sponsoring a child in need. You will change his or her life for the better and fall in love in the process. We hope to be able to visit Shallot one day, but we may never get to hug her this side of Heaven. If you have questions about how this all works, I would love to talk to you more about this amazing ministry. 
To find your own birthday buddy, click here

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"Poor and content is rich and rich enough,
But riches fineless is as poor as winter
To him that ever fears he shall be poor."

~from Othello by William Shakespeare~

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : The Night Circus

"A riveting debut. The Night Circus pulls you into a world as dark as it is dazzling, fully realized but still something out of a dream. You will not want to leave it." (Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife)

The Night Circus, published in 2011, is the debut novel of American author Erin Morgenstern. By 2013, it had already been published in more than a dozen languages and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. It has also won an Alex Award and spent seven weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. 

According to Wikipedia, The Night Circus is "a phantasmagorical (how much do you love that word?) fairy tale set near an ahistorical Victorian London in a wandering magical circus that is open only from sunset to sunrise." 

The Night Circus is a slow-burning book with the bulk of the plot spanning approximately 30 years with parallel stories taking place in two different periods of that time. In the first story (starting in 1873), we meet Celia and Marco, two children unknown to one another who are bound by their mercurial instructors into a lifelong challenge of their magical abilities. This challenge inextricably links them to the circus which becomes the stage for their remarkable battle of imagination and will, and the stakes of this competition are dangerously higher than they ever could have imagined. The second story begins in 1897 in Boston. The Night Circus comes to town and steals the heart of a young boy named Bailey. The way the author brings these two stories together is truly impressive. I was spellbound. (Yes, all the magical puns intended.)

And that is where my description ends because it's all very involved and I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. I really appreciated the masterful plot development, the elegant imagery, the gradual build in suspense, the unique characters, and, most of all, the imaginative Night Circus itself. I found myself wanting to step through the wrought iron gates at dusk myself to explore all the different black and white tents of this mysterious, magical, beautiful circus. 

While The Night Circus certainly isn't marketed to the Middle Grade/Young Adult crowd, I'll give a quick Parental Advisory: There is one random F-bomb dropped at the very beginning of the book. It seemed out of place and completely unnecessary, but there it was. There is also a somewhat steamy love scene that I probably wouldn't want my 13 year old reading. Just things to keep in mind.

This book may not be for everyone, but I found it mesmerizing and would definitely recommend it if you're looking to get lost in a fantastical world of magic and romance. Perfect October/wintry read.

Oh, and one final fun fact: The Night Circus was originally written over a span of three years for the annual writing competition NaNoWriMo of which my BFF Christina has taken part in in the past

Have you read The Night Circus? Did you love it or hate it? What's your favorite book in the genre of fantasy? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from my my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed."

~from Othello by William Shakespeare~

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Pumpkin Carving 2018

Happy November! 

What?? Can you even believe we only have two months left in 2018? This year has flown by, and I can't wrap my head around the fact that we're already heading into the holiday season. We actually bought our pumpkins the second week of October but then left for vacation for like, three weeks (oh yes, it was marvelous) and just got back home in the wee early hours on Tuesday so we didn't carve them until yesterday. This year we went totally off-template and came up with our own freestyle designs. I was ready to do another classic face (like how we did in 2014), and Cody peeled a Twitch Glitch into his pumpkin (because he is always more creative and awesome than I am). For all our pumpkin carving ventures of Halloweens past, feel free to click here. Now, without further ado, our 2018 Halloween Pumpkins.
{our blank canvases}
{these sweet puppies} 
{finished product}
{Cody's} 
{Hannah's}
October 31, 2018

Happy 
{belated} 
Halloween!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. 
Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, 
one considers whether one can do it or not:
faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. 
You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: 
you will certainly get none for leaving the question alone. 
Not only in examinations but in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, 
or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, 
people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. 
It is wonderful what you can do when you have to."

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~

Monday, October 29, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : Hinds' Feet on High Places

"The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds' feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places..." We find the title and the theme of this allegorical novel by Hannah Hurnard in Habakkuk 3:19 (KJV). Hinds' Feet on High Places was written in 1955 and since then has sold over two million copies. The story of Much-Afraid and her difficult and dangerous journey to the High Places has resonated with a lot of people over the years, and I am no exception. 

At the beginning of the book, we find Much-Afraid in the Valley of Humiliation, terrified and oppressed by the rest of her Fearing family. As she pours out her woes to the Shepherd one evening, she expresses the longing to go to the High Places and is surprised to hear the Shepherd encouraging her to trust Him to take her there. She always thought it would be impossible for her to get there with her crippled, lame feet and her ugly, stammering tongue, but she claims the promise of the Shepherd and eventually begins her journey. However, the journey does not look at all like she expects. The Shepherd gives her two guides for her way, Sorrow and Suffering, and at times, their path goes in the opposite direction from the High Places. All along the way, Much-Afraid is learning important lessons in how to trust the Shepherd and resist the Enemy until she reaches the High Places and is given Hinds' Feet and a New Name. 

This was a beautiful book, saturated with Scripture, and lovingly rendered by an author who drew from her personal experiences with fear and a stammering tongue. As a result, Much-Afraid was so relatable. Every time I felt myself getting frustrated with her for so quickly falling back into fear, I saw myself in her. 

The thing I think I loved most about this allegory was the way it showed that Sorrow and Suffering were not Much-Afraid's spiritual enemies. Sorrow and Suffering were Much-Afraid's God-given companions on her spiritual journey. They helped her. It was her relatives, Bitterness, Resentment, Self-Pity, and Pride who were trying to ruin her. And at the end of the book, Much-Afraid came to the realization that even her enemies were not beyond God's grace and saving power. Just as the Shepherd always chose to see Much-Afraid as the new creature with the new name He was transforming her into, so Much-Afraid came to realize that loving people meant seeing them as souls just as worthy of God's mercy as she had been in her sinful state. 

There were a few odd places in the book, such as when the Shepherd asked Much-Afraid if she could still love and trust Him even if He deceived her. I'm not sure what the Scriptural basis for this might have been or how important for us it is to say to God that we will love Him though He lie to us. Can anyone shed any insight on this? The book also emphasizes that there is no deceit in the Shepherd and He cannot lie, so this part really baffled me.

What encourages me most in reading Hinds' Feet on High Places and other books like it (The Pilgrim's Progress or Stepping Heavenward, for example) is the sweet reminder that God is our strength and He is making us more like Himself even when it seems we are utterly beyond His reach or that we're constantly failing. The process of sanctification will not be complete until we are united with Him in Heaven and knowing the truth of that is a balm when we are weary with seemingly endless failures. He doesn't see the creature dead in trespasses and sins when He looks at me, He sees the Righteousness of Jesus. What a glorious hope!

I would definitely recommend Hinds' Feet on High Places. It is beautiful and encouraging and worth every second. Have you read it? What part of Much-Afraid's journey resonated most with you?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems."

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~

Monday, October 22, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : A Tale of Two Cities

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." So begins Dickens' best known work. A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859, but was set during the historical period of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. In it, we meet the French Doctor Manette, his daughter Lucie, English banker Jarvis Lorry, Monsieur and Madame Defarge, Charles Darnay, Sidney Carton, and Miss Pross among others. 

At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Doctor Manette has been languishing in the Bastille, wrongfully imprisoned, for the past 18 years and is finally released to live with his daughter who had previously never known that her father was even alive. In the years that follow, Lucie and her father live comfortably in London with Lucie's childhood governess Miss Pross. Lucie marries and things are going well for the whole family until the French Revolution begins and her husband ends up going back to Paris to clear up some business there. Will his former status in Paris lead him straight to the guillotine? Will Doctor Manette's sympathetic position as a Bastille survivor save his son-in-law? Will anyone make it out alive?? 

This novel was brilliant. While it was a little slow getting started and slightly confusing following everyone's storylines, when Dickens brought it all together, it was truly a masterful tale and it's no wonder this is probably his most famous work. The sacrificial love displayed had me cheering for Miss Pross and crying for Sidney Carton. The bloodthirsty Madame Defarge made my skin crawl. And the gritty depiction of the Reign of Terror sent chills up and down my spine. 

After reading Great Expectations and now A Tale of Two Cities, it's easy to see why Charles Dickens is widely regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His work was instantly popular and remains so today over 150 years later. Critics and scholars have recognized him as a literary genius. I would definitely recommend A Tale of Two Cities. It is a phenomenal novel.

Having said all that, where do I turn next? We have Charles Dickens' complete works, and I have no idea which to put on my 2019 book list. I'm thinking it has to be Oliver Twist, but then I start looking at the rest of the titles and my certainty wavers. What's your favorite Dickens novel? Which ones are the absolute must-reads? And who was your favorite character from A Tale of Two Cities?

*SHOUT-OUT to my Dad*
Have the happiest of birthdays! 
Thank you for always encouraging my love of reading and recommending all the best books.
You're the greatest and I love you forever.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
Is the next way to draw new mischief on.
What cannot be preserved when fortune takes
Patience her injury a mockery makes.
The robb'd that smiles steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief."

~from Othello by William Shakespeare~

Monday, October 15, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity began as a series of radio talks C.S. Lewis gave during World War II while he was at Oxford. He was invited to give these talks by James Welch, the BBC Director of Religious Broadcasting, after he read Lewis' book The Problem of Pain (which I have not read yet but it's a strong contender for my 2019 book list). The talks were gradually published in three separate pamphlets entitled Broadcast Talks (in 1942), Christian Behaviour (in 1943), and Beyond Personality (in 1944). Later, all these talks were put into the single volume we now know as Mere Christianity, easily one of the most influential theological works of the last century. In these talks, Lewis succeeded in defending Christianity and explaining its fundamental beliefs. He chose to avoid denominational controversies and focused instead on what core beliefs all Christians have in common. 

This was my first time actually reading the complete book, cover to cover. I've started it several times (there was still a bookmark in there from a previous attempt). I've read excerpts, quotes, even full essays. But this was the first time I started from the beginning and read to the end. And, unsurprisingly, I found Mere Christianity to be an invaluable resource. Lewis was the master apologist, and it never ceases to amaze me how he could use the most mundane objects or activities in the most beautiful and helpful spiritual analogies. Lewis wrote for every man, and that is what makes his writing so profound. He wrote for the bricklayer and the philosopher, the ditch-digger and the intellect. As I was reading Mere Christianity, it was clear, it made sense, it seemed simple. And yet I know that if I tried to articulate or defend my beliefs in the way that Lewis did, I would trip over my tongue. Reading books like Mere Christianity make me thankful for men and women like C.S. Lewis who broaden my understanding of spiritual matters and give me resources I can pass on to others. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and, much like The Weight of Glory, this book instantly earned a spot on my "To Re-Read Again and Again" list. 

What's your favorite non-fictional work of C.S. Lewis? I've still got a ways to go, but what should come next? As mentioned above, I'm really leaning toward The Problem of Pain but how do I choose?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"'But how? How can you just get over these things, darling?' she had asked him. 'You've had so much strife but you're always happy. How do you do it?'

'I choose to,' he said. 'I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget.'

'But it's not that easy.'

He smiled that Frank smile. 'Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.' He laughed, pretending to wipe sweat from his brow. 'I would have to make a list, a very, very long list and make sure I hated the people on it the right amount. That I did a very proper job of hating, too: very Teutonic! No'—his voice became sober—'we always have a choice. All of us.'"

~from The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman~

Monday, October 8, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by Australian author M.L. Stedman was first published in 2012, and this will probably be a short post because I don't want to spoil anything. I finished this novel way back on August 16th, but I still feel heartsick over it. 

First of all, after my last 10 minutes of extensive Google research, I could only figure out that the "M" in M.L. Stedman stands for Margot. This was the author's debut novel, and she has managed to maintain a level of anonymity despite the overwhelming success of her novel which sparked a bidding war between publishers and was adapted into a movie in 2016 starring Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz. 

Set on the fictional island of Janus off the western coast of Australia in the 1920s, our main character Tom has just served in World War I and is living the isolated life of a lighthouse keeper on one of the most difficult posts of the time. He meets and marries the vibrant Isabel Graysmark and the novel details the moral conflict they face when a boat washes ashore with a baby after Tom and Isabel have struggled unsuccessfully to grow their family. 

I found the moral and ethical difficulties raised by this story compelling, and, as is often the case in real life, there was no clear or satisfying resolution to the heartbreaking circumstances faced by different characters in the book. If you're looking for a book with a sweet happy ending tied up in a pretty ribbon, this would be the one to avoid

The writing was beautiful. Her descriptions of rugged Australia were breathtaking, and her accounts of lighthouses and their keepers were well-researched and interesting. The historical implications of post-WWI life and human sentiment was also well-depicted. My biggest bone to pick with this book was the author's inconsistency between past and present tense. She would switch randomly and unexpectedly for no apparent reason. It was just enough to really annoy me, but not enough to make me stop reading. 

Based on internet reviews I've read of this novel, it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of a book. While I would hardly classify my feelings for this book as "love" (the content was personally and morally difficult), I found it compelling, well-written (excepting the whole past/present tense issue I mentioned above), and worth the read. 

And....that's it. I'm not sure how to wrap this up. Have you read this book or seen the movie? 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history 
at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world. 
And if we cannot picture even the atoms of which our own world is built, 
of course we are not going to be able to picture this. 
Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, 
that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be—the inconceivable, the uncreated, 
the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning. 
You may ask what good it will be to us if we do not understand it. 
But that is easily answered. 
A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. 
A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: 
indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it."

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~

Monday, October 1, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God

Y'all. It's October (what?!) and I still haven't recapped books I finished in August (oy). And the book I'm recapping today, I just finished last Thursday. So obviously my priorities are completely whack and this whole blog is going to pot. Whatever. There's a pumpkin spice candle burning, and I've discovered the goodness of Cherry Vanilla Pepsi. We'll survive. 

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson was first published at the end of 1999 and provides a compelling perspective on the nature of God and His complex love for the world. 

I know what you're thinking: What does the "D.A." in D.A. Carson stand for? I can't be the only one who has an irrational need to know what initials stand for. I'll answer: Donald Arthur. Bless him.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about this slim power-packed volume before everything I just learned falls back out of my head. 

To start, let me give you a piece of the publisher's blurb about this book:
"The only aspect of God's character the world still believes in is His love. His holiness, His sovereignty, His wrath are often rejected as being incompatible with a 'loving' God. Because pop culture has so distorted and secularized God's love, even many Christians have lost a biblical understanding of it. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God seeks to restore what we have lost."
This 93 page treatise (84 pages if you don't count the endnotes and indexes) on the love of God was originally a series of four lectures that Carson has given a number of times at various colleges and churches around the world. I thought it would be a quick Saturday read, but it ended up taking me a week to get through. And just like the book took longer to read than I anticipated, so this blog post will probably be longer than you'd expect for such a short work of non-fiction. Stay with me. We'll take it chapter by chapter.

In the first chapter "On Distorting the Love of God", Carson outlines why the doctrine of the love of God must be judged difficult in the first place, five different ways the Bible speaks of the love of God, and some preliminary observations on the distinctive ways of talking about the love of God. I personally found the first chapter to be the most interesting and helpful section of the whole book. As Carson explained five of the different ways God loves and how absolutizing and defining God's love in only one way is detrimental to a right view of Him, I found myself appreciating how vital it is to abide by the whole counsel of God and realizing anew that the only way to even begin to understand any attribute or aspect of God is to take it in context with every other attribute He has. Just reading this chapter alone would be worth your time.

The second chapter, "God is Love", goes over how not to proceed vs. how to proceed with the topic at hand, namely: context is key. We can't just pick one verse out of the Bible, John 3:16 for example, and get a complete picture of God's love from that one sketch. We have to view God's love in light of His justice and sovereignty and His many other attributes. This chapter was the most difficult for me as Carson delved more deeply into the intra-Trinitarian love of God. I felt that I was swimming a bit out of my depth with a lot of this chapter, but that's to be expected anytime you start to study the nature of the Trinity. God is so infinitely high above us that some most things about Him will remain a mystery that we will never understand. If we could comprehend Him fully, He would not be God.

In the third chapter, "God's Love and God's Sovereignty", Carson expounds more on God's love for humanity and argues the point of whether God's love is emotional or impassible. The answer, as you might imagine, is complex, but I found this chapter to be extremely interesting and educational. I ought to note that throughout the entire book, I found nothing to disagree with Carson on, and I appreciated the way he handled tired Christian clichés and even certain Christian terminology. It's rare that I agree with every aspect of a theological work of non-fiction, but in this instance, I did. 

In the fourth and final chapter, "God's Love and God's Wrath", Carson tackles the tough question of the compatibility between the two. He builds on the ideas he introduced in the previous chapter regarding the emotional aspects of God's love which naturally would translate to His wrath as well. He works out the intent of the atonement, and he also brings everything together by talking about our response to this difficult doctrine. 

This book is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive look at the doctrine of the love of God, nor does it claim to be, but it is an intelligent, rational, and biblically sound introduction to it that I found exceptionally helpful. I would recommend this with fair warning that you may need a dictionary in hand to get you through. I think I'd eventually like to read The Gagging of God, but over 600 pages of Carson does seem a little daunting after the dense 84 I just read. 

Have you read anything by D.A. Carson? What book was intellectually challenging but ultimately highly satisfying for you? What does the love of God invoke in you?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. 
A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. 
Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. 
He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, 
or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. 
There is no other. 
That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way 
without bothering about religion. 
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. 
There is no such thing."

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~

Friday, September 21, 2018

Casual Fridays

Y'all. I ate a salad as a whole meal this week. For those of you who have never met me in real life: this is major. I've been a salad hater all my life and if offered a salad on any given day my quick response is something along the lines of, "Salad is what real food eats" or "Bring me that chicken and gnocchi soup instead" or even just a basic, "Ew, yuck." But my husband is a huge fan of Zaxby's Cobb salads and every time he gets one, I always think it actually looks good. And this week, I got one for myself. Granted, I dumped salsa all over it because I have yet to find a salad dressing (outside of The Melting Pot's secret house dressing) that doesn't make me gag (which, come to think of it, is probably why I've never been a huge salad fan—who wants to eat dry lettuce??), but I actually really enjoyed it and would eat one again. It was super yummy. 10/10 would recommend to a friend.
I discovered this song by Florida Georgia Line this week, and it's been playing on repeat ever since. Don't ignore the fact that I put the actual video in this post: hit that play button. You need this feel good jam in your life. Also, if you can write lyrics that make me think of my husband, you will get my money every time. Insert some hearts and other appropriate emojis here.
Cody and I started a new puzzle, and it might actually be the death of us. We may never finish it. If you want to come over and take a stab at it, be my guest. I've been tempted to just put it back in the box, but after all the agony we went through to get even this far, I can't bring myself to do it. 
So after my last post mentioning my home pedi struggles, my best sisterfriend Lyndsey (who is my personal hair/makeup/fashion guru) texted me that I needed to get this brand for a smudge free experience, and, as always, she was so right. Loving this brand and loving this color. (Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Re-teal Therapy)
Speaking of feminine hygienic practices, I have two more things to relate. 1) I bought another Chapstick. Because I will never have enough and this Peaches-n-Cream one is my current obsession (along with that Florida Georgia Line song—have you listened to it yet?!). And 2) I gave up on the Native deodorant, y'all. It irritated my skin too much, and I finally realized there was no special way to apply it to avoid the irritation. If you don't have sensitive skin, I'd still recommend it. Their Coconut & Vanilla scent is the bomb.
Changing the subject, let's talk about something this blog is actually about: BOOKS. First of all, look at those pretty, pretty Penguin clothbound Jane Austen beauties. Personally, I would always rather buy 10 books secondhand than 1 quality new one, but I was telling my husband a few weeks ago that I'd eventually like to invest in a good set of Jane Austen's complete works, because currently my Jane Austen novels are all bound together in one paperback volume which is a little cumbersome to travel with (not that that's ever stopped me), and a few days after our conversation, this box set showed up at our door. Am I spoiled or what? I love that man for keeping me in pretty books
But since I just confessed that I'm a used book junkie, here's what I've found at The Book Shelter lately. And alert the media: last Saturday when I went, I walked out with just one book. My husband was so proud of me. Have you read any of these? I highly recommend Unbroken. It's one of the best biographies I've ever read. 

Let's catch up on some Link Love and call it a day.

100 Books to Read Before You Die : I love reading other people's book lists and lists of the greatest books of all time and just bookish stuff in general so I found this guy's process of creating this ultimate book list interesting, and I loved all the included links to the lists he used to help him create his own. 

Why? : This is heartbreaking. Every child should get a family. Politics are the worst, and the State Department sucks.

The Greatest Showman Medley : This is insanely good, and I can forgive him for not including my favorite song from the movie (Tightrope) because undertaking this at all is ambitious and he did it with impressive results. Mad props to this guy. 

Don't Be Yourself : The trend he addresses in this post has been bothering me for some time now, and I had been thinking about writing a post on this very topic myself, especially after reading Mere Christianity. But then I read this and thought, "He did it better. We'll just share this one." 

What have you been up to lately? What are you reading right now? 
And are you hooked on that S-I-M-P-L-E song yet??

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth is characterized as a children's fantasy adventure novel and was published in 1961. Norton Juster wrote it, Jules Feiffer illustrated it, and it is just charming. I can't believe I escaped my childhood without ever reading this delightful book. Critics have compared its appeal to that of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and while I still haven't read about Alice (mental note to put Carroll on my 2019 book list), I did read The Wizard of Oz this year, and I would definitely agree with the critics: I loved The Phantom Tollbooth. 

In this story we meet Milo, a little boy who is just too bored with everything. One day after school, he receives a mysterious tollbooth with a map. He, of course, has nothing better to do, so he hops in his toy car and is on his way to Dictionopolis. He soon finds himself on an adventure with Tock the literal Watchdog and the Humbug to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason so they can restore the Kingdom of Wisdom to its former glory. 

Y'all. This book is smart as a whip and an absolute pleasure to read. The puns and wordplay throughout the story will keep you grinning. (For example, Milo unexpectedly finds himself on the island of Conclusions when he accidentally jumps there. Come on now.) On top of that, the biggest theme of this book is one of a love for learning. It encourages curiosity and imagination and an appreciation for the world around us. Sign me up.

If you've never read this book, you should. And if you have kids coming along, this book definitely needs to be on your radar. It is both fun and smart and that's the best kind of book. 

Have you read The Phantom Tollbooth? What were the books that first made you fall in love with reading? What books from your childhood are still on your list of favorites today?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, 
then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. 
But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, 
then you cannot talk like that. You must believe that God is separate from the world 
and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. 
Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, 
'If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.' 
The Christian replies, 
'Don't talk damned nonsense.'"

~from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis~

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Tuesday Confession

Meet my dishwashing buddies.
This is an entire collection of McDonald's Happy Meal toys.
My confession is not that my standing McDonald's order is a 6-pc chicken nugget Happy Meal with buffalo sauce and chocolate milk.
Nor is it that I eat enough McDonald's to collect an entire set of the Happy Meal toys in a 6 week period.
It's not even that I traded toys with my 2 and 3 year old nieces so I could collect all ten.

My confession is that I used my husband's facebook account to go onto a group page of Happy Meal toy collectors and I traded toys with perfect strangers on the internet to complete my collection.

The little arctic fox flew here from a sweet family in Nebraska.
The sea turtle made its way from a darling nurse practitioner in Alabama.
And the manta ray traveled all the way from a college kid in California.

Yes, they all sit on my kitchen window sill.
No, I never let any of the myriad kids who are constantly in and out of this house ever touch them. There are plenty of other toys to play with here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Word for Wednesday

"I don't care much for people—never have, never will. I got my reasons. 
I never met a man half so true as a dog. Treat a dog right and he'll treat you right—
he'll keep you company, be your friend, never ask you no questions."

~from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows~

Monday, September 10, 2018

Let's Bust a Recap : Othello

Ohhhhhhhh-thello. I'm not sure I have the comedic wherewithal to create a humorous post for the play Othello. I just don't think I can do it, y'all. It's been a few weeks since I read it, and every time I sit down to write this post, I end up watching youtube videos for half an hour and then I give up and eat an ice cream sandwich.

Let's give it the old college try anyway and move on with our lives, okay?

Othello is the darkest play I've read by Shakespeare thus far. My friend Jen always says she thinks Iago is one of the most evil villains ever written, and you know what, Jen? I get where you're coming from. Iago is one bad mama jama.

So Othello starts out with some guy named Roderigo blubbering to Iago about Othello's secret marriage to Desdemona. Iago basically tells Roderigo that he hates Othello's guts for giving young Cassio the job that Iago wanted to have and sends Roderigo off to go tattletale on Othello and Desdemona to Desdemona's dad. (Because that's what adults do.) Iago then goes to warn Othello that his new father-in-law is coming to kill him. (Because that is the natural reaction of all fathers when they learn their daughter just ran off with some loser.)

Brabantio (Desdemona's dad) and Othello both end up in a meeting with a bunch of senators who hear their case out and decide that Desdemona can make up her own mind about who she wants to marry and Brabantio is just going to have to put on his big boy pants and get over it. Brabantio obviously isn't happy about this and tells Othello that Desdemona is a two-bit liar who will stab him in the back as soon as she gets a chance because that's what she did to dear old dad. (I personally think that was just the rage talking, but whatever.)

In Act II, everybody arrives in Cyprus (where they had all been sent to fight off a fleet of enemy Turks) to find that the bad guys all drowned in a storm so instead of doing the job they'd been sent there to do, they can all party and Othello and Desdemona can go consummate their ill-fated marriage. Iago gets Cassio drunk, and then proceeds to convince Roderigo to fight Cassio which is all part of some elaborate scheme for Roderigo to get some sheet time with Desdemona. (However, we, the readers, know that Iago doesn't give two flying rips about whether or not Roderigo wins Desdemona. He's just using him for his own ends. As he uses every single person in the play including his own wife.)

So Cassio and Roderigo end up fighting, people get hurt, Othello comes out to see what all the noise is about and ends up stripping Cassio of his rank. Because everything is obviously Cassio's fault. (Perfect example of why getting drunk is never a good idea.) Cassio's all heartbroken over it, and Iago persuades him to go ask Desdemona to get her husband to give Cassio his job back.

They're all just playing right into Iago's hands.

In Act III, Iago plants the seed in Othello's mind that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. Of course, Iago never comes right out and accuses anyone of anything. He would never dream of speaking poorly or thinking the worst of anyone, but he has noticed some things and Othello should draw his own conclusions about them. (Oh give me a break, can no one see through this guy?!)

Desdemona ends up dropping a handkerchief which Emilia (Iago's wife and Desdemona's BFF) picks up and gives to her husband because he had mentioned he wanted it. Emilia doesn't find this fishy at all and has no idea what he plans to do with it. And apparently, this handkerchief is magic and worth a world of gold to Othello so when Iago plants it in Cassio's chambers and then spins an innocent conversation between Cassio and his mistress into an incriminating trap, Othello thinks he's found the smoking gun and vows to kill his wife and commissions Iago to murder Cassio.

Like taking candy from a baby, y'all. I mean, this is too easy for Iago.

At this point, Othello becomes publicly abusive to Desdemona, and Iago somehow manages to convince Roderigo to kill Cassio during a conversation in which Roderigo is complaining to Iago that his whole plan to get Desdemona for Roderigo isn't working. (What?!)

We've come to Act V and what do you think happens? Roderigo fights Cassio, but Cassio ends up wounding Roderigo. Iago secretly stabs Cassio, but then joins two other guys coming on to the scene like he has no idea what's going on. When Cassio identifies Roderigo as one of his attackers, Iago manages to secretly stab Roderigo (in front of everyone??) to keep him from outing Iago as the instigator of this whole mess and then, Iago accuses Cassio's mistress of the conspiracy to kill him.

Meanwhile, Othello is strangling his wife in her bed because he thinks she's a dirty, Cassio-loving cheater even though she's been nothing but faithful and true and even defends her husband (while he's strangling her—Stockholm syndrome anyone?) when Emilia happens upon them. Emilia is like, "Somebody get in here and help, STAT" and Othello's all, "She gave the magic handkerchief of love to Cassio. She deserves to die."

At this point, Emilia finally gets her head on straight and puts the pieces together and realizes her husband is a low-down, treacherous snake and outs him to the crowd that has gathered. So he kills her, naturally. Othello figures out that he has been duped in the worst possible way and stabs Iago, but not enough to kill him which is fine with Othello because he would rather Iago live the rest of his life in excruciating pain than die too quickly because death would be too good for him.

Lodovico takes Iago and Othello into custody for murdering like, everyone, but Othello kills himself. Iago shuts his mouth so fast and gives no defense for himself. And Lodovico puts Cassio in charge of the world and tells him to punish Iago as he sees fit.

The end.

Really?? This play was crazy. Iago is such a bad villain because he somehow has everyone's complete trust and even love right down to the minute before he kills them. Insane. But also, not unbelievable. Is there anyone out there who hasn't loved someone who was talking behind your back when you thought they were your friend? That's Iago. And that's why this play was really a tragedy. I personally thought Macbeth and Hamlet were both very humorous, but I was not laughing during Othello. Mainly I was reading with very wide eyes and incredulously shaking my head through the whole story. Why couldn't anyone see through Iago?! Definitely compelling, and definitely worth a read sometime.

Who's the most despicable villain of all time, literary or cinematic? Which Shakespearean tragedy should go on my list next year? And what are your thoughts on quick marriages?