An Empowering Book

Do you ever buy a book just because it’s beautiful and then you find that the contents are even more beautiful in ways you couldn’t have even imagined?

I bought this book because the concept sounded cute, and I absolutely love the illustrators’ work, but beyond that Empowered by Catherine Parks was just another book.

Until I opened it up and was immediately hit with a Gospel-rich introduction. The easy to read, short chapters slipped past my 2020-induced reader’s block, and I wanted to both savor it and gobble it up.

Le book

Numerous chapters brought on the tears with portraits of women of God in unique, defining moments of their lives. I learned about Pandita Ramabai, Esther Ahn Kim and others, women of color whose stories I’d either never heard or only knew the revisionist details of.

I read stories about the Ten Boom sisters, Elizabeth Elliott, and others you would expect, ready to skim over testimonies that felt literally drilled into my head but was shocked and delighted to find new perspectives, new highlights to their lives, and even more inspiration and encouragement.

I found topics such as racism, slavery, and the Holocaust to be handled with age-appropriate honesty and respect to those who experienced them, and I would hand this book to readers of all ages.

The study questions, while best used in a book club of middle-grade readers, were helpful and interesting to me as well.

Charlotte Grimke

The illustrations (as expected! 😂😍) were a delight, and God shone through every chapter.

Book Review // An Unlikely Proposal by Toni Shiloh

“Their friendship can survive almost anything…

For two best friends,

marriage could be their greatest test yet…

Trinity Davis must not have heard firefighter Omar Young correctly. Did her handsome widowed best friend just suggest they get married? Omar needs a mom for his adorable little girls, and it’ll fix Trinity’s financial woes. But saying “I do” isn’t just business. Especially when the only vow they’re in danger of breaking is their promise to not fall in love…” (from Goodreads)

I pre-ordered this book five months in advance. That’s how excited I was for new content from this author, and she did not disappoint!

Right away, I was very happy to see some Type 1 Diabetes representation since I have a younger sister with the diagnosis. I’ve only read a handful of books with this factor, so it’s always a delight to find one. One major aspect of the T1D sideplot didn’t quite seem to line up, but the rest seemed carefully researched and honest.

I absolutely love the banter between the main characters. They have such a wholesome, amazing friendship, and right away I could feel that they had known each other for years. I was definitely rooting for them to become more. 💗

Trinity was a fantastic character, and I loved how much she threw herself into motherhood and caring for the girls. Her struggles with fear and letting herself love hit me hard. I went into this book expecting trope-y cuteness and got all of that + a good dose of spiritual truth I was needing. 😉

My only complaint is that sometimes the internal dialogue got pretty repetitive, but that was just a small downside compared to the goodness that was this book. 😉

Definitely a perfect Valentines’ read. 💗

Quotes…
“But what about us? How will we keep in touch?” “Funny thing.” He paused. “There’s this technology that allows you to video chat. Your face will pop up in this screen right here on my phone.” “On a phone? Get out.” His body shook with his laughter. “That’s right. And my face will appear on yours.” “You’re pulling my leg.” “I’ll pull your hair if you’re not careful.”

Traveling with kids seemed to require a lot of time and extra baggage. Every time she was out and passed another mom, she couldn’t help but give a head nod in solidarity. They’d packed the kids for an excursion and were battle ready.

CW: deaths prior to the story, medical emergencies, one character is a firefighter.

Book Review: 12 Dates of Christmas

“She’s spent the last ten years not forgiving him. Why should she start now?

When Reagan runs into her old high school nemesis, she’s flummoxed why he thinks she’d ever have coffee with him.

Alex is stunned to discover he was a nemesis in the first place.

Challenged into accepting a date for every offense he can name, Reagan is confident she’ll be spending her Christmas vacation away from the big bad Alex.

Maybe she should have gotten to know him a bit better first.” (from Goodreads)

I picked this up for the cute, lighthearted title and the promise of a relaxing read. In this author’s true style, it was all of those things, yes, but with a surprisingly deep background message of personal growth and forgiveness. (Let’s just say some of Reagan’s struggles hit a little close to home. 😂)

I loved their apology-for-a-date trades and how their system grew to not matter so much the more they really knew each other. I actually enjoyed when they were fighting (and I usually haaaattteee stress/conflict in books), because it was so well-written it was like a study of real people. And they didn’t stay mad too long, phew.

They had some pretty adorable, creative dates! The snow sculpting contest and the poetry one were probably my favorites.

Altogether, I enjoyed these characters and watching their relationship grow. ❤️

Best quote: “You’ll help me put up the lights?” Alex nodded. “And the stupid blow up snow globe?” “Especially the snow globe.”

Erin shook her head. “You need to remember to dwell on truth… On what is right. That is where your brain goes off…”

Content warning: mild conflict, verbal teasing, wanting to kiss, kissing (not described in detail)

Maybe I’m Back

In the first week of lockdown, I finished drafting my fantasy novel, celebrated my birthday, and learned to make mini doughnuts.

There were jokes about how productive we were all going to be. How many days straight we’d been home. How we introverts had a wonderful, unfair advantage that we didn’t really like going out in the first place.

Then something inside me shifted. Almost without me noticing. My creativity sank into a tired hibernation, popping up occasionally for air then disappearing again just as quickly.

Maybe it was the stress of everything. Or the time consuming art of “coping mechanisms” (that don’t really help, y’all). Or the constant inundation of (albeit really good) art–music, movies, TV shows, everything the world was admirably pulling together in an effort to lighten each other’s loads.

My writing heart slipped away, followed by reading, then finally blogging.

A blog about books and writing isn’t much use if the author isn’t reading or writing. 😉 My daily quarantine slog through life or my mixed up thoughts on social issues (that would just add to the noise) were off-limits. (And the absolute highlight of my year, my Joshua, was a heart-close secret for a few months there. 😉)

So I limped along, dropping just enough posts to hopefully not abandon you all completely. #winning

(Don’t get me wrong, there have been some fantastic highlights this year, just a remarkable shift in some very important areas of my life.)

I felt this “something” change again this month. I wrote a list of things I was looking forward to (as simple as decorating my room for fall) and carried them out with anticipation and enthusiasm. I’ve stayed up late a couple nights reading. I’m blogging again and even scheduling some posts ahead. I’m trusting writing will return soon as well.

Maybe I’m back.

But also… I’ve been baking a lot and stretching my skills and presentation. An old hobby has become a new favorite since quarantine (and multiple seasons of Great British Bake-Off 😍). I’ve been reviewing movies. I’ve been tackling the odd handicraft here and there. I’ve grown very close and very deep with my boyfriend who is both inspiring me to be adventurous in my tastes and deeply valuing who I am.

I’ve seen a world rocked and wrecked and seen people fight over things that don’t matter and things that do. I’ve learned more about myself and how I relate to God and the world, maybe more than ever before.

So maybe I’m back. And maybe I’ve changed.

I think I’m good with that.

Realization

Hello again! Today’s post is short (originally posted on my Facebook, actually) but I thought you all might be encouraged by it. 😉

I came to a realization earlier this week (through the Holy Spirit and convos with my mom) that I manage other people’s emotions too much. For altruistic reasons (God has blessed me with empathy and peacemaking), yes, but for selfish fear of uncomfortable situations just as often.

Later in the week, I was babysitting, and I noticed a mild child stressing over the jealousy and arguing between two little girls that were playing with him. I decided to call him over.

Me: “It’s really great that you’re trying to be sweet to everyone and play with them.”

A: “Yeah, that’s what I’m doing.” (He may have thought he was gonna be in trouble…)

Me: “Yeah, and that’s really good. But it’s not your fault if they won’t play, okay?”

I watched him relax more after that while still being his sweet self. I’m so glad God had given me this realization and that I was able to share it with a little one. I hope it lives in both our minds for a while. ❤️

Book Review: The Trouble With Love

“I, Holiday Brown, have it all. A platinum record. Multi-million dollar home in Manhattan that I share with my two best friends. Life is looking fantastic until my roommate’s brother decides to bunk in our guestroom while his house gets renovated.

W. Emmett Bell has always been the bane of my existence. He’s annoying, stubborn, a know it all, and just might be the most gorgeous man I’ve ever laid eyes on. But I refuse to fall for him. Then his sister’s threatened by a stalker and dynamics change. His unwavering faith isn’t quite as self-righteous as I’d always thought, and maybe he has a good side I’ve overlooked all these years.

Or maybe it’s all too much trouble.” (from Goodreads)

I’ve been wanting to try something by this author for a long time now (I appreciate her perspective, reviews, and just her online presence in general), and my FB reading group assured me that this was the book to start with.

They did not fail me.

I fell in love in literally just a few pages, and I can happily say that by the time I was done reading I had 98 highlights on my Kindle. XD Those highlights vary from conversations that made me laugh aloud to passages that fed my soul or warmed my heart. It’s that good.

Holliday made the book for me. She’s entirely honest, hilariously witty, and has a really compassionate heart. She also unapologetically likes food and picks her outfits out based on if they match her favorite shoes. What’s not to like? ❤ But that’s not all there is to her character either. She has some very deep hurts from long in the past that leech away joy from the present and prevent her from trusting people, and I related to that too.

I enjoyed reading about her creative process as a HANDS DOWN AWESOME popstar (wish her songs were real!); I enjoyed her hilarious sparring with Wally and her close friendships with her housemates (strong sisterhood stories for the win!); I loved the suspense storyline and I can’t wait to see what happens next; but it was the slow, subtle, painful thread that oozed with the Gospel that made this book one of a kind. It was so gentle, and so honest, and reminded me that God is faithful to be found by us when we look for Him. ❤

I highly enjoyed the romance (*smirks*) and, again, the strong sisterhood vibes, and I’ve already pre-ordered the other books because I need to know what happens to Tori and Tavia. 😀

Just a note, there are mentions of sexual tension between the romantic leads, though I very much appreciated how it never got in the way of building a real relationship or discussing hard things, and there’s a hilarious running gag about how attractive a couple male bodyguards are. A side character is quite promiscuous with a penchant for grossly younger wives, and the suspense sideplot does amp up.

Best quotes (and this is utterly insufficient, just read the book): He was arrogant, pretentious, overbearing, and…why did I feel like a thesaurus all of a sudden?

“It’s not my fault you two look alike.” “It’s our mom’s.” Tori and her brother spoke simultaneously, and I chuckled.

I didn’t date, but if I did, I wouldn’t want to be with someone like me. I got on my own nerves thank you very much.

Sing. Create music. Share my emotions with the world in a way that would connect us as they responded with their own stories.

“Treat him like you wish he’d treated you—on your own merits and not based on whether you checked off some requirements. Treat him like a person worthy of your time because you want the same from him.”

If you’re looking for a foodie book, a humorous book, a high society story, an enemies-to-lovers romance, women’s fiction, or an encouraging book with a lot of (subtle but heartfelt) Gospel, congrats! This book is all of that and more, and I enjoyed every moment. 😉

Book Review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Now in hardcover for the first time, featuring all-new illustrations! Once, in a cottage above the cliffs on the Dark Sea of Darkness, there lived three children and their trusty dog, Nugget.

Janner Igiby, his brother, Tink, and their disabled sister, Leeli, are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that they love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang, who have crossed the dark sea to rule the land with malice. The Igibys hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera.

Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a tale children of all ages will cherish, families can read aloud, and readers’ groups are sure to enjoy discussing for its many layers of meaning. Extra features include new interior illustrations from Joe Sutphin, funny footnotes, a map of the fantastical world, inventive appendices, and fanciful line art in the tradition of the original Frank L. Baum Wizard of Oz storybooks.” (from Goodreads)

My social media exploded with the news: new editions of the Wingfeather Saga, hardback with more illustrations. ❤ Eeeek!!! After the cover reveals, I got even more excited and ordered my own copies of the first two with slow shipping to extend the anticipation. 😀

They are GORGEOUS. The illustrations are truly beautiful and convey the world so well. ❤ Just the inspiration I needed to re-read. 😉

I loved the family dynamic and how protective Nia and Podo are (and encouraging Janner to be). The worldbuilding was hilarious and perfect. (Don’t let the fun but somewhat info-heavy intros scare you off.) I was especially astounded by the realism of people carving out a life under oppression and doing their best to hope and to love. It may be a delightfully silly fantasy world with goofy names for things but the people and the emotions ring truer than true.

Janner will forever be my favorite. His heart and quest to really know his father = <3. He and Tink are a dangerous duo. XD 😛 Oskar, Leeli, Nugget, really everyone except the smelly Fangs, were wonderful. And Armulyn the Bard… may we all be as bold and carefree in the Maker.

Last time I read this, I was so focused on the hilarity, the heart pounding adventure, and Janner’s character arc, I missed Peet the Sockman. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen more, failed more, something, but I connected with his character more than ever before. ❤

Best quotes: “But other than the cruel fangs and the constant threat of death and torture, there wasn’t much to fear in Skree.”

“There’s just something about the way he sings. It makes me think of when it snows outside, and the fire is warm, and Podo is telling us a story while you’re cooking, and there’s no place I’d rather be–but for some reason I still feel… homesick.”

Just a note, there’s some gross humor, children in extreme danger, and violence that is mostly non-graphic.

Altogether, this book was even more fantastic the second time around, and I’m so glad I decided to venture back into these books. On to book two! ❤

Book Review: Gestern

“Andi Lloyd is more comfortable than most with interstellar travel, but she’s not prepared for the perils and peculiarities of a world she has all but forgotten—the planet Earth. As the Surveyor undergoes repairs, her brother August receives a message with news that will send both of them across the world to a place he never wanted to visit again.

Neither of them are prepared to be thrust into a world of political intrigue amid the tangled forests and crumbling ruins of Austria. They aren’t prepared to encounter wild animals and endure cross-country hikes. And they definitely aren’t prepared to face it all alone.

But despite the dangers they must press on into the unknown to find a way to save Andi’s life, to decide the fate of Earth itself—and to rescue a lonely girl who just happens to be their little sister.” (from Goodreads)

Me, reading the synopsis: Hmmm… will this translate okay from set in space to set on Earth?
Me, reading the actual book: Ha, ha, Kate! You worry too much.

I really loved that this book picked up almost directly where the previous one stopped. Seeing how the fallout from the “reversal zone” affected the characters was cool. Andi’s reluctance to trust Crash again mixed with her deep love for him is so real and subtle. I also have some wonderings about how Almira is acting and some hopeful guesses. 😉

Guys, things for all the books are tying together! O.o. I was a bit surprised by how this one connected with the first book. 😉 I loved the on-the-run plotline mixed with some mystery, and Andi and August bonding as siblings was sweet. (Yay for more August backstory!) And they did a pretty fantastic job at the mission, plus that team-up = awesomeness. I really liked the man they were working with. He was complicated and a bit tragic, and I really hope we get to see more of him.

Ursula is officially the sweetest. ❤ She and Andi were sooo adorable together, especially with the doll. The end, in regards to her, felt like a little bit of a cop-out, but it was sweet. 😉

Just a note, there was some mild peril and mentions of possible medical experimentation on humans and definite experimentation on animals.

Best quotes: “You know if you don’t reply to my messages within ten seconds I’ll assume you’re dead, right?” he went on as he let go of me. I chuckled. “Of course.”

I had no idea that merely listening to a six-year-old could be so tiring.

Altogether, this was great, and I can’t wait to read the next book. Stakes have been RAISED. XD

Book Review: A Name Unknown

“Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins that helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they concentrate on stealing high-value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. But when Rosemary must determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany, she is in for the challenge of a lifetime. How does one steal a family’s history, their very name?

Peter Holstein, given his family’s German blood, writes his popular series of adventure novels under a pen name. With European politics boiling and his own neighbors suspicious of him, Peter debates whether it might be best to change his name for good. When Rosemary shows up at his door pretending to be a historian and offering to help him trace his family history, his question might be answered.

But as the two work together and Rosemary sees his gracious reaction to his neighbors’ scornful attacks, she wonders if her assignment is going down the wrong path. Is it too late to help him prove that he’s more than his name?” (from Goodreads)

I’d seen the hype surrounding this book when it first released, but after a little research I decided it was likely not my cup of chai tea.

Fast forward to last Christmas when Mikayla, a.k.a. one of my best friends, sent me this book and the next. Our reading tastes line up super often, so I decided it was time to give it a second look. I think I actually asked her a few questions about the book before starting it, I was so nervous. XD

Guys, the CHARACTERS. Sorry to shout, but they were so well written. My life situation is more similar to Rosemary’s and my beliefs are in line with Peter’s, so it was sooo interesting how the author made me feel for and completely understand both of them. And I ate up the writing style. The story was slow but in a good way. 😉 I appreciated the themes as well and how quietly, gently, and truthfully the Gospel was intertwined into the story. It also showed a side of World War I that I haven’t heard much about before, so that was quite interesting. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was mentioned!!)

Also, I need a cave of books, please. I loved how bookish the entire thing was, and the letters element was especially fun. ❤ The author perfectly captured what it’s like to have a story on the brain. There were a few times when Peter was brainstorming/completely lost in a story that I had to laugh. XD Rosemary’s family was the best! The way they teased each other and their fierce loyalty and large family dynamic reminded me so much of my own family.

I was so emotionally invested in the story and the characters’ secrets catching up with them, that the ending did feel a tiny bit like a letdown. It seemed to resolve a little too easily. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that lovely last scene, but I would have loved just a little more talking things out. 😉

The main reason I was shy of this book was because the main character is a professional thief/con artist. That is a huge element of the book, but as my friend assured me, it is shown as wrong and is resolved. 😉 There were also a couple uses of very mild, Victorian-era swear words.

Altogether, I very much enjoyed this book. I’m glad there’s a sequel since I’m still concerned for and interested in hearing about the rest of the family. 😉

(Thanks so much, Mikayla! <3)

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. 😉