Book Review: Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe

What if you could ask God anything? What would you ask? And how would He answer?

Chelsea Chambers is on her own. After a public split from her NFL superstar husband, Chelsea takes a bold step out of the limelight and behind the counter of the Higher Grounds Café, an old-fashioned coffee shop in dire need of reinvention. But when her courage, expert planning, and out-of-this-world cupcakes fail to pay the bills, this newly single mom finds herself desperate for help. Better yet, a miracle.

Then a curious stranger lands at Chelsea’s door, and with him, an even more curious string of events. Soon, customers are flocking to the Higher Grounds Café, and not just for the cupcakes and cappuccino. They’ve come for the internet connection to the divine. Now the café has become the go-to place for people in search of answers to life’s biggest questions.

When a catastrophe strikes and her ex comes calling, Chelsea begins to wonder if the whole universe is conspiring against her quest to make it on her own. After a shocking discovery opens her eyes to the unseen world around her, Chelsea finds the courage to ask God a question of her own. Heaven answers in a most unexpected way.” (from Goodreads)

I’ve loved a few of Max Lucado’s books for children and Unshakable Hope has been really important to me, so I thought I’d give this one a try.

It was sooo good. More than I could have imagined. It was honestly the perfect book to start off 2020, and I’m so glad I impulse bought it. XD

It was uplifting, interesting, and felt very real. I grew to love (or at least just understand) all the characters, and even the coffee shop itself felt like a character. Also, have you ever read a book that promised to include a lot of food and then didn’t? This one was properly food-full and made me want to bake something complicated and unique. 😀

I was also really blessed by the question and answer element of the story. The concept is that people can come and ask any one question about life and get an answer from God. Even though the answers were fictional, of course, (though very based in actual Scripture) it was a beautiful reminder that God wants us to know Him and that He holds all the answers. ❤

The spiritual warfare element of the book was also AMAZING. It wasn’t too creepy or creative, and it reminded me of just how loved I am and we are, of how God is fighting for us, and of how much little moments do matter. I really loved the rejoicing scene. ❤

Just a note, there were a few details of Chelsea’s backstory and a sin a side character considers that are a little rough for young readers. Also, while I thought it was adorable how much Manny enjoyed Star Wars and how it is a story of good vs. evil, I am uncomfortable with comparing it to spiritual warfare since it doesn’t directly correlate.

Altogether, I was blessed by this book and found the ending quite satisfactory. Definitely an encouraging one. 😉

Never Have I Ever Tag (Writer Edition)

Abigail Harder literally always has the best tags, and I thought this one looked like fun, so I snagged it. 😉 (Thanks, Abigail, and I love your answers. 😀

1. Link and thank the blogger who tagged you.

2. Include the graphic somewhere in your post (or make your own!).

3. Answer the questions truthfully and honestly.

4. Tag 3 bloggers.

Never Have I Ever….

….started a novel that I did not finish.

I’ve done this (probably too many times) for sure. One I’d love to get back to is a story with a large cast of characters and a unique carousel. 😉

….written a story completely by hand.

Ooo, yes, I have done this! 😀 It’s really lovely actually. I wrote a short story for my college creative writing class while I was up in the mountains for family camp. I also used to write my stories in notebooks almost exclusively before I got a computer of my own. 

….changed tenses midway through a story

Guilty.

…not researched anything before starting a story

Research? I’m a research (if I absolutely MUST) as I go gal.

….changed my protagonist name halfway through a draft.

I think this usually happens in later drafts if it happens at all? And it’s usually side characters…

….written a story in a month or less.

Yes! Shorter works, of course, but yep. 😀

…fallen asleep while writing.

No, but brainstorming on the other hand…

…corrected someone’s grammar irl/online.

I’m a beta-reader, does that count? 😀

….yelled in all caps at myself in the middle of a novel.

Bwhahhaha! I don’t think so. Yelling is for editing time. XD

…used “I’m writing” as an excuse.

Not sure…

….killed a character that was based on someone I know in real life.

That’s horrible if you’re doing it on purpose, but since my characters are often amalgamations of different people I’ve known, I’m sure I’ve done this. 

…used pop culture references in a story.

Two Doctor Who references (and one from the Hunger Games) in this last book alone… I love doing “non-tacky” references. 😀

…written between the hours of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

No, but honestly, that sounds like GOALS.

…drank an entire pot of coffee while writing.

I think I’d have a mental and physical breakdown if I did that. O.o.

…written down dreams to use in potential novels.

As a young kid, I did hope to turn a particularly fun dream into a story, but I don’t make a habit of it.

…published an unedited story on the Internet/blog/Wattpad.

*cringes* I technically always edit stories before posting them, but I have published some pretty raw works before. 

…procrastinated homework because I wanted to write.

*innocent face* 

…typed so long that my wrists hurt.

No, but as soon as I begin to misspell literally everything, repeat words, and start mixing up letters I don’t usually have a problem with, I know it’s time for a rest. 

…spilled a drink on my laptop while writing.

I don’t think I’ve done this…

…forgotten to save my work/draft.

Guilty! *cries*

…finished a novel.

Done this one, and I hope to do it again! 😀 😀 

…laughed like an evil villain while writing a scene.

Um… you’d have to ask my sisters. I “delete” moments of insanity from my memory so I can live with myself. 😛

…cried while writing a scene.

Yes. *sniffs*

…created maps of my fictional worlds.

I think it was called Perilvale, and while the map was blobby and filled with weird rivers and spiky trees, it was fun. 

…researched something shady for a novel.

What, like the number of pallbearers needed at a funeral?

I had so much fun answering these questions! Feel free to tag thyself, and have fun. 😀

Giveaway Winner!!!

Happy, rainy Saturday! 😀

Thanks so much y’all for entering the giveaway! You’re all a ton of fun, and I now have an entire comment thread of songs to look up. 😀 (My Spotify is going to be groaning. XD)

And now…

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for…

The winner of all of this (+ an unmeltable candy, the type TBD XD) is…

Kaitlyn S.!

Congrats, Kaitlyn! I’ll be shipping your prize to you soon. 😀

Have a great weekend, everyone. 😉

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages

“Some time has passed since the inimitable quartet of Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance have had a mission together. But with the arrival of a new Society member — and a new threat — they must reunite to face dilemmas more dangerous than ever before, including the villainous Mr. Curtain and a telepathic enemy tracking their every move, not to mention a dramatically preteen Constance.

In its triumphant return, the Society encounters all new challenges, but the series’ trademark sly humor, sweet camaraderie, hairsbreadth escapes, and mind-bending puzzles are all as engaging as ever. Fans of the series will be thrilled to see the Society has grown up a little with them, while a new generation of readers will fall in love with these irresistible adventures.” (from Goodreads)

When I finished the original trilogy just six months ago, I had my doubts about reading this one. Why read another book when that ending was sooooo satisfactory? Well, here I am, and I’m very happy to have read it. 😀

(I got to buddy read this book with my friend Mikayla. 10/10 would recommend.)

When it first started out, I’ll admit that it didn’t feel like I was expecting. The first chapter was more action-packed and explanation-packed than these books usually start out with–which I’m sure was a welcome opening for readers new to the series or in need of a refresher. 😉 Fortunately, it settled into the happy rhythm of cleverness, heartwarming friendship, and profound thoughts mixed together into an adventure like I’ve grown to love.

The blessed wordplays are back and better than ever! And so many callbacks to the first book. ❤ Also, Milligan will never cease to be a legend. XD

I love the old gang so much, and I loved seeing them be themselves and even more so. Kate was… WOW. The moment with the stairs, anyone? Sticky is darling, and the more I think about it, I relate to him a little more than I ever have before. And Constance!!! The green-plaid-suit-wearing teenager with scarlet hair (maybe a bit like her sister’s ❤ ). She was sleepy and grumpy again in this one, yes, but her struggles with feeling left out (as the only one officially still a young kid), her beautiful if grumpy love for her friends and family, and some of the gobsmacking things she did = happy sigh. Also, while I recognize that she shouldn’t be rude, I also recognize that certain things are always going to be harder for her, but after that ending I’ve got some hope. 😉 Also, Tai is my baby. ❤ I liked his role in the story, and yes, of course I saw a metaphorical meaning for it. XD

And Reynie. He’s always been my favorite character, and I love his big, beautiful heart. The painful growth he had to go through in this one was a little hard to read about at times, but I loved it in the end. He’s so awesome. ❤

Honestly, all the ponderings about growing up and growing apart and respecting each other were amazing. My friend Mikayla and I agreed that it meant a lot to us since we were a similar age to the characters for the first time. (And those topics have been on my mind a ton lately.)

I loved the adventure in this one, and while I had a *tiny* guess of what was going on, the full scope of it just blew. my. mind. O.o. I love it so much. I did find some of the logistics confusing at times and the ending was a little slow, but I didn’t mind those so much. 😉 Everything else was so perfect. ❤

(And Reynie daring Kate to keep her hairstyle in was The Most Adorable Thing Ever.)

Just a note, there were a couple instances of threats against children and some peril. Also, as it says on the tin, telepathy is a factor.

Best quotes: “Poetic license,” Constance said with a shrug. Tai was fascinated. “There’s a license for poetry?”

More than once he’d come close to knocking on Mr. Benedict’s study door, only to change his mind and creep away. Now it occurred to him that Mr. Benedict had been aware of those almost-knocks. In fact, Mr. Benedict’s decision to “have an extra cup of tea” had likely been meant to make it easier for Reynie to approach him. No need for knocking. Mr. Benedict had removed the door.

Altogether, this was a great read, and with the nods to the prequel, I’m thinking I’ll need to read that one too. 😉

Nothing Is Wasted

My family has been through some things (especially in the last eighteen months or so) that I can tend to wish would never have happened. (I’m still uncomfortable talking about them anywhere, so be warned that this post is going to be a bit vague. 😉 )

The “things” keep coming back now and then too, and each time, even though its been a little while, they still hurt. Or they hurt in new ways.

These past couple weeks our experiences have come up again, only this time for good, even if they still hurt. This time they are encouraging and bolstering others as they struggle and are giving rise to good, constructive conversations.

It’s been really amazing to see how God has used it for good. I had thought that because it had been so long, so explosive, and so final, that nothing else and nothing good was going to come from it.

But as I look back, this hasn’t been the only good.

I’ve had to see that I must have a relationship with God on my own if I’m going to hold fast to Him even when others mischaracterize Him or obscure my view with their dishonoring actions.

I’ve had to see that just because some have changed the meaning or emphasis of His word, I can’t throw those words out. I still have to listen up and weigh what’s being said even if I can tend to want to “shut down” when those “trigger” words and topics are said.

I’ve had to learn to trust again that people will love Him and His word and His people and treat all three with careful respect.

Even as our experiences are being used to help others, my mini experience of the “things” is being worked out too.

They’re going in a story. Like they always do. XD I didn’t realize how much these struggles I’ve had (and continue to have) are forming into questions that my characters are asking and struggling with.

I’ll leave you with this Facebook post that has been sort of an anthem for my thoughts lately.

Dear JJ in 2006,
I hate to break it to you, but you have a few pretty rough years ahead wrestling your anxiety and panic attacks. It will get much worse, and then, slowly, it will get better. You'll hate it for a long, long time, and then, like a ray of sunlight through the clouds, God will show you that this burden is actually a gift. 

You'll realize that you write lullabies because your own worried soul needs soothing. If it weren't for your anxiety, most of your songs would not exist. There wouldn't be any stories of babies and mamas being comforted by your music. 

So hang in there. There is unbelievable beauty and redemption ahead. 
Nothing is wasted.
God is good. 

Love, 
JJ in 2020

Transcript of the post…

Dear JJ in 2006,
I hate to break it to you, but you have a few pretty rough years ahead wrestling your anxiety and panic attacks. It will get much worse, and then, slowly, it will get better. You’ll hate it for a long, long time, and then, like a ray of sunlight through the clouds, God will show you that this burden is actually a gift.

You’ll realize that you write lullabies because your own worried soul needs soothing. If it weren’t for your anxiety, most of your songs would not exist. There wouldn’t be any stories of babies and mamas being comforted by your music.

So hang in there. There is unbelievable beauty and redemption ahead.
Nothing is wasted.
God is good.

Love,
JJ in 2020

***

I’m excited to see what else He does. ❤ Have a good week!

You Are So Loved

Happy Chocolate (and Love!) Day! 😀

Because I’m single, today doesn’t mean a lot to me personally, but it’s been really sweet to see everyone else’s celebrations. To my sister who shared the story of her relationship with her husband, to the fellow church member who posted pictures of her sweet baby valentine, and to the social media page who shared an adorable video compilation of military proposals–thank you. I love seeing all the love. ❤

And don’t worry, I’m not a lonely fish with no love to celebrate in my life. 😂 I’ve been feeling the love from my family (Aimee got us all chocolate, and Dad just brought home a cheesecake ❤ ) and the love from my God. ❤

To pass on some of that love, I’m giving away two books (+some cool goodies) that are technically romances but also remind me of God’s love in a big way. (And yes, I wrote one of them, but honestly it’s got some stuff I need to hear too. 😂 )

In this giveaway…

  • A signed copy of Kiera
  • A paperback copy of Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (a.k.a. the book Kiera returned to Brennan on her birthday ❤ )
  • A really cute gray crate
  • “you are so loved” sign
  • Faux plant
  • Unmeltable candy (type TBD 😂 )

ENTER HERE

Have a great day, and know that you are loved! ❤

Love and More Love

Do you ever have a moment when something you love is loved so much by other people and you get all happy inside and feel like a happy human floating on a happy cloud of love?

This happens pretty often for me (when someone discovers an underrated indie author or my penpal listens to the favorite songs I bombard her with), but it happened in an even bigger way than ever before this last Sunday.

Some backstory first. 😀

Once upon a time, back in November, I was browsing through new books at the library when I ran across a picture book that looked ABSOLUTELY ADORABLE. ❤ I loved the illustration style, and the story looked like a super sweet portrayal of family life (and a celebration of some pretty awesome hair). I added Hair Love to my overly tall stack of library books and brought it home.

“Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When mommy does Zuri’s hair, she feels like a superhero. But when mommy is away, it’s up to daddy to step in! And even though daddy has a lot to learn, he LOVES his Zuri. And he’ll do anything to make her—and her hair—happy.

Tender and empowering, Hair Love is an ode to loving your natural hair—and a celebration of daddies and daughters everywhere.” (from Goodreads)

We passed it around the whole family, and Mom even read it aloud to share the love. 😄 I really enjoyed the story and–I’ll say it again–the illustrations. Seriously, all the heart eyes. 😍😍

A month or so later, my sisters discovered the short film version of this story, and we had a few showings of that as well. ❤ It’s pretty precious, and I cried at the ending. Probably more than once. 😉 😇

Back to Sunday.

Sunday night was the Oscars, a.k.a. a ceremony where people dress up fancy and talk a lot and get awards for their work in acting, filmmaking, etc. This was my first year really following it and other awards shows because several films/actors I loved last year were nominated for awards. (How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, anyone? ❤ )

Imagine my delight when the nominations came out and Hair Love was one of the picks for Best Animated Short.

And imagine my delight when it won. I cried more, happy tears this time. 😉 It was a beautiful moment of something lovely being loved, and yes, I had that happy cloud feeling again. (And my social exploded with my being happy over it. XD )

The big moment ^^

Isn’t that just the cutest? ❤

Go watch the short film, read the book, love your family, and love the way God has beautifully crafted you. ❤

And celebrate things you love, because those moments are so, so beautiful.

Your Guide to Epic Buddy Reads (with Mikayla, Kate, and Cheesecake)

Today my awesome friend Mikayla and I completed our fourth official buddy read. (There have been one or two “accidental” ones, for the record.) We thought it would be super fun to share some of our buddy reading tips with you. 😉

(Photo credit: Mikayla)
  1. Choose a book you both want to read. It’s usually a good idea to have it be something you both haven’t read (but are interested in) so you can share the entire experience and your initial reactions. Series are great for this! The buddy read we just finished was book four of The Mysterious Benedict Society series. We both enjoyed the other books and were eager to read this one, so it was the perfect fit. 😉
  2. Set a chapter amount and time frame for reading that works for both of you. Mikayla is always great at organizing us on this. We talk about the length of the book when we choose it, divide it by the number of days we’d like to read it in, and read that number of chapters. This number is open to negotiation, like this time when we realized we were so excited that two chapters at a time would NOT be enough. XD
  3. Have pre set-up times to chat. Also something Mikayla is awesome at. We both have *pretty* flexible schedules, but if we have a particularly busy day coming up we tell each other beforehand so we can work around it. We tend to like to chat every one to two days, depending on what time allows. We like to schedule a videocall for when we’re done reading so we can crow about the book in real-time. 😀
  4. Be honest in your opinion of the book and don’t be afraid of asking tough questions. You’ll learn so much from and about your buddy. Seriously, buddy reading is one of the most fun ways to grow a friendship and your empathy. With our latest read, I related so much to one of characters that I was focusing almost entirely on his experience of a conflict. Mikayla noticed some of the other characters’ perspectives way better and drew my attention to them. 😀 It was a fun discussion.
  5. Bonus tip: Eat cheesecake. This is generally good life advice, but we ate cheesecake over videocall once as a celebration of the end of a series, and it was great fun. 😀
(One of my favorite chapters… Photo credit: Pearl)

For tips #6-10 (including how to deal with DNFs), check out Mikayla’s post, and enjoy your next buddy read. 😀

Book Review: My Name Is River

It’s 1983, and twelve-year-old River Starling’s life is anything but normal. She was adopted on a whim and came without a birth certificate. Her adoptive parents gave her up to her grandmother when she was only two, but River is certain her parents will come back.

River’s hopes fall apart when Gram uproots them from their farmhouse and decides to move to Birdsong, West Virginia, the most miserable town River has ever seen. There she makes an unlikely friendship with an unusual boy and learns about acceptance, hard work, forgiveness, and the love of Jesus.

Discover the unforgettable story of one girl’s search for a place to call home.” (from Goodreads)

The second book actually caught my attention first with its promise of a scoliosis rep, but I picked this one up too and really enjoyed it. (It was actually one of the last books I bought at my local Christian bookstore before it shut down. A moment of silence for brick and mortar, please.)

It was so good. Definitely love-at-first-paragraph with the writing style. The characters really leapt off the page, and I felt like I knew them. River was a super cool, resilient kid. I especially loved her parenthetical asides and (sometimes theologically incorrect XD) tween-logic. She made me feel just what it would be like to be her. Gram reminded me so much of someone I once knew and loved as my own adopted grandmother. Just the little quirks of her saving up for her pitcher or doing makeshift physical therapy were lovely. And her no-nonsense love for River was the best.

I loved Billy. I’d be friends with him in a heartbeat. His creativity and his knowledge of birds, his upstanding and gentle heart, and his absolutely wonderful attitude toward his disability were just a few of my favorite things about him. His relationship with his family was super sweet as well.

I also loved how the Gospel message and theme of true identity were skillfully and seamlessly woven through the story.

I originally picked up this book for my younger sisters, but it ended up being more tragic and dark than I was expecting, so I’m having second thoughts about sharing it with them now. One character’s backstory included SPOILER ALERT! kidnapping, and there was bullying that lead to DISTURBING SPOILER! the death of a child. *cries*

Altogether, I enjoyed this book though it made my heart hurt with sadness and some hope by the end.

I would also love to hear from an OwnVoices reviewer what they thought of the portrayal of Billy’s disability.

Messy Desks and Drafts

I found a mini cookies ‘n cream candy bar while cleaning my desk today. I had a cute little note written on it that said, “Good job wording!” I was touched and vaguely wondered what it was a congratulations for.

I was sick almost all last week, so not a lot of “wording” happened recently.

My sister Anna was cleaning her desk as well, and when I pulled out the chocolate bar she burst into laughter.

“Oh, yeah that was for you. How long has it been there?”

I shrugged. “What was it for?”

“It was for when you did the book club.”

We did some quick math and realized that was three weeks before. Cue more laughter. XD (Thanks for the congrats, Anna!)

Getting back into things is a little messy apparently, and my desk is proof of it. (I also found an entire $5 and some papers to throw away, so wow.)

Similarly messy is my novel I’m drafting. I got to write again this weekend, and while I’m very happy to be back to it… I can see just how not perfect it is. So much I should have set up earlier or remembered from my notes or even thought about in the first place. What does this one character even look like? How should I make him stand out from my other male character? What even are words?

Fortunately, I don’t have to sort through it all yet. First drafts are just about putting down words, right? 😉 I’m planning to keep writing the moment I have time and get this big next scene written. 😀 Who knows, maybe when it’s editing time, I’ll find an entire mini candy bar somewhere in the pages…