How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

A Review 

Note: I’m passionate about studying the Bible and learning to follow our Messiah, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

In today’s world, we recognize the need to understand and respect cultural differences. Besides being necessary, it’s hugely enriching! How much more, then, should Christians become more familiar with the culture and viewpoint of the people for whom the Bible was first written? It would help us better understand the Word of God that we live by. Lois Tverberg’s book is a compelling path into the Hebraic culture of Bible times, enjoyable and accessible for readers at all levels of biblical knowledge. It’s perfect for Bible study groups because each chapter has questions for further discussion at the end, as well as recommended reading for further study.

First and foremost, Tverberg’s book is significant because it puts Jesus back in His Jewish context while fully upholding the tenets of our faith. It explores Messianic prophecies, how they were viewed in His time, and how He fulfilled them. (I got chills reading about Isaiah 53.) This book explains how He claimed to be the Messiah in ways that non-Jews might miss.

The book also shows how understanding the cultural context and historicity of the Bible is faith-affirming. If there’s something that our Western minds can’t grasp, we’re apt to dismiss its veracity. But when we get a glimpse of the radically different mindset of non-Euro-American civilizations, we realize that what we questioned makes perfect sense to the other half of the world’s population. I enjoyed learning about the differences, especially the ones that explain some confusing parts of the Bible (such as why the “begat” sections are important).

I loved how Tverberg examined the full meaning of the Hebrew words behind terms that are pivotal to our faith, such as Christ, gospel, king, and fear/reverence. There’s an appendix called “Thirty Useful Hebrew Words for Bible Study,” a wonderful resource that curates the words she talked about in the book as well as words she didn’t cover.

The section on how Jews read the Bible was also very enlightening. As the book depicts, adopting some of their methods would be beneficial to Christians in our search to better know God’s Word and understand our Messiah. It’s amazing how they memorized it, how they connected it, how they quoted from it … and what a sophisticated scholar Yeshua was.

There’s so much more I could say in praise of this book, but probably the best thing I could do is encourage you to read it. It will deepen your appreciation for God’s message to humanity and for His chosen people, and it will remind you of His greatness!

(I was graciously provided a copy of this book for my honest review.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Spring Cleaning Writer's Tag

Spring is my favorite season, and where I live, most of the trees have burst out in brilliant green and wildflowers are peppering the thick grass with color. I really should be working on spring cleaning my actual house . . . but Deborah O’Carroll’s blog tag is far more fun! She created this challenge and tagged me.

1. Link back to the person who tagged you
2. Share the picture
3. Answer the questions (naturally...) or even pick and choose which ones you answer
3.5 Tag 3 other writers and inform them that you tagged them

1. Dust-Bunnies and Plot-Bunnies: Reorganize Your Writing Goals (Or Make New Ones)
In my first post of the year, I listed a few goals. They haven’t changed much, but at least one of them is getting more concrete: publishing my retelling of “The Bremen-Town Musicians.” (I really should set a calendar date for that, but that calendar has to be very forgiving if I do.) The other goals – working on my longer novels and exploring short story ideas – are a little nebulous, but I poke at them now and then. I do have two new goals: 1) finishing the first draft of another animal fairy-tale retelling (any guesses as to what it is?) and 2) getting as much as I can out of the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in May (so excited about going!).

2. Which Stage Are You At?
Everyone’s writing (and spring-cleaning) processes are different, and at different stages. Pick the one that most applies to you and tell us where you are in your writing process!
a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in the vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet . . . just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

I pick b – painting the walls. Most of my editing is done with the Bremen-town musicians story (that’s going to have an official title soon, I promise!), so I’m having fun writing my newer stories, particularly the Six Cousins novel set in Prince Edward Island and the other fairy-tale retelling.

3. Treasure from the Back of the Closet: Snippet Love
How about some snippets from my children's story “The Bremen-Town Musicians”? These contain each of the main characters: Etzel the donkey, Jäger the dog, Katarina the cat, and Rüdiger the rooster.

Etzel the donkey just couldn’t face walking to the mill this morning. His knees and back ached as if the heavy sacks of grain or flour he often carried were already on his back. His master, Herr Hoffmann, stood at the doorway to the shack, clucking his tongue like an angry woodpecker.
Ach! Are you coming or not, you insolent, lazy beast?”

The sun had reached its peak about an hour ago and was slipping now. Its blinding warmth lay like a blanket on Etzel’s back, as if tucking him in for sleep. Ah, it was like sunning in the pasture; he ambled so rhythmically he felt he was standing still. It had been too long since he had walked this far without aching from a burden. When they first started out together, Jäger had gone from tree to tree, rejoicing in the freedom of new sights and smells; but now he kept a steady pace beside Etzel.

Instead, the cat gave a tremendous sneeze and cough, spraying water all over Jäger, who leaped back and fell into the stream as if he’d been shot. “It—it—it’s alive!”
The cat raised a bleary-eyed head, blinking at Etzel and Jäger with a green, filmy gaze. It coughed again, delicately this time, and ran the tip of its pink tongue around the edge of its mouth. “Of course I’m alive, Dummkopf. I’m a cat, aren’t I?”

Who’d have thought a rooster was so smart!” Jäger exclaimed. “You talk smarter than Etzel; I almost can’t understand you.”
Thank you, my good fellow. I merely quote the wisest of them all, the great animal storyteller, Aesop himself.” Rüdiger’s red crest stood high and his gold, green, and brown feathers puffed out, swelling his size.

If you want to do this, consider yourself tagged and please let me know! You can visit Deborah’s original post for more information on the challenge.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

My Favorite Literary Couples

Valentine’s Day was two weeks ago, but since love is timeless, I’m permitted to talk about literary romances today, aren’t I? Besides, every day is a good day to talk about favorite book characters!

Although I don’t read or prefer many unalloyed romance novels, I appreciate a unique and well-crafted romance within the larger story of a novel. Jane Austen’s works exemplify what I like: social commentaries that don’t focus on the physical attraction between a couple (which can veer too close to objectifying another human being) but rather on their mental and moral compatibility as they interact in a world bigger than themselves. These romances are still delightful and satisfying, but in ways that make us love the characters as real people instead of conduits for romantic thrills, much like how we feel when we witness our family members and friends getting married.

Most female readers have favorite literary couples that demonstrate cherished romantic ideals, and I’m no exception. My top three choices might be unusual, and I certainly understand if you don’t agree with me. I found it unexpectedly difficult to think of many literary couples I adore both halves of. On my long list of best-loved characters, few make it there alongside their partners. (One example of those who don’t is Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. I adore Jane Eyre, but I could take or leave the dark Byronic hero Mr. Rochester.) So each couple on my list includes a man and woman who are equally beloved by me:

Wikimedia Commons
  1. Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars of Sense and Sensibility. Most people can readily recognize Elinor’s qualities: her strength, her capability, her discreetness. But I can hear it now: “Edward Ferrars? He’s boring and wooden!” At first glance, maybe. And I do agree that I wish he were more developed. But personally, I find quiet, unassuming, and slightly awkward characters endearing. I also think he’s an equitable match for my favorite heroine, through their humility and high standards of honor and self-sacrifice. One of my favorite things about writing my novel Suit and Suitability was delving into the relationship between my equivalent characters, Ellen and Everett, and trying to show why I love this gentle yet courageous couple and their dynamics. 

    Wikimedia Commons
  2. Arthur Clennam and Amy Dorrit of Little Dorrit. For years, I didn’t think I’d meet a literary couple that came close to Elinor and Edward, but when I watched the movie Little Dorrit, I was immediately attracted. The book, which I read late last year, was just as wonderful because I got to spend more time in the company of two of the sweetest protagonists in literature. Arthur Clennam may well be my favorite hero, and Amy easily joins the highest ranks of my favorite heroines. Without being unrealistic, they are models of virtue and goodness in difficult circumstances. In the midst of harsh surroundings and grimy, selfish morals, they stay untouched and strive to do the right thing, always putting others above themselves. They are vulnerable and make mistakes, but when they come through all their trials and join together in the end, it’s one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve ever read.

    I wish I had an image of these two!
  3. Eowyn and Faramir from The Lord of the Rings. These secondary characters of the fantasy epic are not as extensively portrayed as the others on my list, but thanks to the movies and a beautiful section within The Return of the King, their relationship enchants me. They spend comparatively little time together in the books and movies, but as separate characters, they are quite appealing: brave Eowyn, disappointed in love and life, accompanies her uncle’s army to battle and slays a terrible enemy that no man can vanquish; and Faramir, the underappreciated younger son of the Steward of Gondor, despite being more of a peace-loving artist than a soldier, valiantly exceeds his duty in the war for Middle Earth. When they meet (as shown in the book and the extended movie version of The Return of the King), these two wounded, heroic characters discover what they had been missing all these years and what will bring them healing and happiness: each other.

What do these three couples have in common? They are selfless and persevere through heart-wrenching circumstances to accomplish what good they can. They are not ostentatious about their affection but are willing to sacrifice their feelings for the greater good. They aren’t flawless, but they are strong, and though tested, they hold up beyond what they think they’re capable of until the end of all their trials. And when they receive their reward in each other, it’s a beautiful picture of true love overcoming all odds, which is what we all long for and can ultimately find in Messiah.

Bonus: My runners-up!
4. Margaret Hale and John Thornton from North and South
5. Daniel Deronda and Mirah from Daniel Deronda
6. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series
7. Godwin and Masouda from The Brethren
8. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice
9. Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley from Wives and Daughters
10. Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey

Who are your favorite literary couples?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Belated Welcome To 2018

Hey, everyone! Wow, I can’t believe my first post of 2018 is happening in February. I did not intend to let this year advance so far without welcoming it on my blog. But I’m sure you understand that life happens. I’ve had a pretty packed and stressful few months dealing with jobs and such, and I had to step away from my blog and regular writing for a while. It seems I write better when I’m somewhat relaxed and peaceful and there aren’t so many to-do list items tapping on my shoulder and I’m not facing big decisions. The irony is that not writing makes me feel unhappy and even more stressed. Writing gets my brain in touch with my inner thoughts, opening a deeper perspective on life, which is what I sorely need during such times. Can you relate?

I hope to post regularly again, though it might be on a monthly basis for now. To anyone going through a legitimate case of writing paralysis, do you know what’s cathartic? Just writing something like this admitting that you’ve had a problem with writing. I finally feel ready to plunge (or maybe dip) back in. I’ve had to reassure myself over and over that I am still a writer and it’s just a non-creative season. Pretty much every creative writer has those. Sometimes you just have to focus on something else for a while. You aren’t wasting what God has given you; you’re recharging while other things take precedence. I really appreciate this blog post on the subject by Deborah O’Carroll.

And now, with that behind me, I have a few writing plans for the year that I really hope to make happen:

  • Publish a children’s story: a novella-length retelling of the Grimm’s fairy tale “The Bremen-town Musicians.” It’s with a first round of beta readers right now.
  • Figure out what novel I should be working on next. I have two options: a third installment of the Six Cousins series (or maybe it’s more like a spin-off, since it doesn’t feature all six girls...) or a story set in Victorian England, inspired by my favorite Victorian authors. I’m praying about the right choice.
  • Explore ideas for short stories.

I hope you’ve had a good 2018 so far. Have you ever had to put on hold your writing or some other project that you’re passionate about?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Top Books of 2017

It’s that time of year again: the very end, when readers reflect on their reading choices throughout the year and pick their favorites! I’m here to do exactly that. I read 55 books this year (not counting my editing projects). Hmm . . . when I compare that to the number of books others have read, it seems so small, but rest assured, I read whenever I can. Besides being a slow reader, maybe it was all that time away from home this year (six weeks).

Out of those 55, I selected 16 that impacted me most. Six of those are in a special category to themselves, however, which I’ll save for the end. Let’s start out with the basic Top Ten:
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Anne Brontë
Anne was the youngest of the Brontë sisters and the only one I hadn’t read yet. She wrote two novels, The Tenant being her second. I was delighted to find it possessed the depth that I’ve come to expect from the Brontës, complete with a strong female lead and high-stakes moral issues. Controversial in its day for its depiction of dissipation, Anne intended it as a cautionary tale. I liked the heroine, Helen, for her strength, morality, spiritual growth, and resourcefulness. Read my review.
The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame
This iconic children’s story I’ve known practically my whole life, but I never actually read it. I’m so glad I finally did. Delightful and ageless, cozy and quaint, it’s a book that lingers in your consciousness long after you’ve read it. It represents some of the best things about British literature: well-crafted writing, engaging characters (in this case, mostly woodland animals), witty dialogue, and idyllic settings where you wish you could live. (If I were a badger or a water rat, that is.) Read my review.
The Sea Keeper’s Daughters
Lisa Wingate
I’ve enjoyed all of the novels I’ve read by Lisa Wingate, but this was my favorite yet. Wingate is one of my modern-day inspirations. I admire many things about her writing: her flowing, descriptive prose; her intricate, interpersonal plots that create tension without cheap suspense; her rounded, unique characters; and the emotional depth she portrays. The Sea Keeper’s Daughters combines two storylines, one contemporary and one 1930s, in a mystery and a race to save a family heirloom building on the North Carolina coast.
The Mind of the Maker
Dorothy L. Sayers
Sayers is one of the most intelligent writers I’ve ever read. This relatively short book had so much wisdom packed into it that I really need to reread it to harvest even more. It compares God’s creativity to our creativity while exploring the tenets of Christianity. It’s a fascinating, eye-opening examination of language, art, and theology and how they are interconnected. Read my review.
Julius Caesar
William Shakespeare
Within a month, I read this play, listened to it on Librivox, and watched a live performance at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon with my Oxford Creative Writing Class. I’ve only read a couple of Shakespeare’s plays, so his genius is still new to me, and because I experienced this play in three different ways, I appreciated it even more than otherwise. The performance was unforgettable, and I’ll always associate Julius Caesar with my trip to England.
The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge
How could a book by Elizabeth Goudge not make it to my top reads list? This children’s book was everything I could wish: well-written, whimsical, descriptive, moral, mysterious, British, set in a grand mansion in the English countryside, and peopled by wonderful characters. It includes a touch of magic, mainly to do with a family curse and magical creatures, but that just adds to the appealing storyline. This would probably have been my favorite book growing up if I’d read it during those years. Read my review.
Yeshua Matters and Israel Matters
Jacob Fronczak
I really appreciated the solid theological insights in these two books by First Fruits of Zion author Jacob Fronczak. Delving into the Jewish roots of our faith, he emphasizes our Messiah, His identity, and how He fulfilled Scripture in Yeshua Matters, and the history and continued significance of God’s people Israel in Israel Matters. Read my review of Yeshua Matters.
Little Dorrit
Charles Dickens
Reading a thick classic gives me a quiet thrill that no other book can give. Spending so much time in an intricately crafted world gives me the feel of living a dual life. The protagonists, Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam, stepped up to second place on my list of favorite literary couples (after Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars of Sense and Sensibility). I was struck by Dickens’s masterful writing and by these two characters’ strength and goodness in the midst of endless challenges, including a hapless father in a London debtor’s prison and a heartless mother with a crime on her conscience.
God’s Smuggler
Brother Andrew with John and Elizabeth Sherrill
There’s nothing like a missionary biography to renew your passion and encourage you to continue following God with all your heart. Not only did God’s Smuggler accomplish that for me, it was an enjoyable, exciting read. It built my faith as I witnessed how Brother Andrew heard the Lord’s voice and acted in faith and courage to bless God’s people and expand His Kingdom.
The Siege of Jerusalem and Window on Mount Zion
Pauline Rose
I’m always fascinated by Israel’s history because it so clearly shows God at work in the world. I especially valued these books by Pauline Rose, written in the mid-twentieth century, because Rose was a Messianic Jew with a desire to see God and her fellow Jews fully reconciled. She provides a glimpse into the nation’s struggles in its early decades of modern independence (1940s-1960s) and recounts God’s miracles in her life and in the life of the nation. Read my review of The Siege of Jerusalem and Window on Mount Zion.

And now, for the special category of six books that impacted me the most this year (and in the case of one of them, the past couple of years):

 The Vintage Jane Austen Series
Emmeline (Sarah Holman), Second Impressions (Hannah Scheele and other authors), Suit and Suitability (Kelsey Bryant), Bellevere House (Sarah Scheele), Perception (Emily Ann Benedict), and Presumption and Partiality (Rebekah Jones)
If you follow me or any of these authors, you’ve probably become familiar with this series over the course of 2017, so I won’t go into details of how the impacted me; you already know! This has definitely been the highlight of my short writing career thus far, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.

Happy end-of-2017! What books impacted you most this year?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Country of the Pointed Firs

Hello, Blog! You are not forgotten! I have a number of excuses I could display for my neglect – writing, editing, reading, travel, wrist pain, general busyness; in short, life – but I only mention them to show you that I do have legitimate excuses and I haven’t ignored you just because I’m tired of you.

Ahem. Now that I have my excuses out of the way, on to the substance of my post. I’ve wanted to write about the literature I’ve been reading during the past few months. You’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve been posting book reviews on recently published books, but I’ve also been reading older works. 

One of my favorites is The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Short Fiction by Sarah Orne Jewett. Have you heard of Sarah Orne Jewett? She was an American who wrote short stories and essays in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She’s well known as one of the best authors of “local color” writing, a popular genre during those decades in America. Local color works describe the way of life in distinctive rural regions where few readers have visited. She mentored Willa Cather and encouraged her to write her poignant fiction about the Midwest (such as My Antonia and O! Pioneers).

Jewett grew up in southern Maine, an area of beautiful scenery, quaint customs, and quirky people. As she developed her writing craft, she realized she could write popular short stories about that locale. I read the fifteen that were included in this book, my favorite being the longest, The Country of the Pointed Firs.

I file these stories under my “cozy” reads. They remind me of Cranford (by Elizabeth Gaskell) with their peaceful pace, their focus on characters and their stories, and their lingering descriptions of comfy homes and lovely landscapes. But they are uniquely American as they portray the difficult life that these farmers and seafarers cut from the wilderness of land and sea.

The Country of the Pointed Firs plus four short stories tell about Dunnet Landing, a fictional town on the Maine seacoast, as viewed from an outsider narrator who grows to love the place and its folk. This lady is never named; she’s a professional writer who travels there for the summer to work but finds herself hard-pressed to do so when she’s tempted by sunny weather, meadow picnics, island excursions, boat rides, and, above all, fascinating company.

She becomes intimate friends with Mrs. Almira Todd, that lady’s brother, William Blackett, and their mother, Mrs. Blackett. All three are kind, genuine people, well past middle age and full of earthy wisdom. Here’s a taste:

“[Mrs. Blackett] was a delightful little person herself, with bright eyes and an affectionate air of expectation like a child on a holiday. You felt as if Mrs. Blackett were an old and dear friend before you let go her cordial hand.”

Her children are opposites of each other: Mrs. Todd is a talkative herbalist, and William is a silent fisherman. The Blacketts live on a small island (which I really wish I could visit) that reminds me of the bits of Maine that I was blessed to see last year.

Photo Taken by Me

“A long time before we landed at Green Island we could see the small white house, standing high like a beacon, where Mrs. Todd was born and where her mother lived, on a green slope above the water, with dark spruce woods still higher . . . . The house was just before us now, on a green level that looked as if a huge hand had scooped it out of the long green field we had been ascending. A little way above, the dark spruce woods began to climb the top of the hill and cover the seaward slopes of the island. There was just room for the small farm and the forest; we looked down at the fish-house and its rough sheds, and the weirs stretching far out into the water. As we looked upward, the tops of the firs came sharp against the blue sky. There was a great stretch of rough pasture-land round the shoulder of the island to the eastward, and here were all the thick-scattered gray rocks that kept their places, and the gray backs of many sheep that forever wandered and fed on the thin sweet pasturage that fringed the ledges and made soft hollows and strips of green turf like growing velvet. I could see the rich green of bayberry bushes here and there, where the rocks made room. The air was very sweet; one could not help wishing to be a citizen of such a complete and tiny continent and home of fisherfolk.

“The house was broad and clean, with a roof that looked heavy on its low walls. It was one of the houses that seem firm-rooted in the ground, as if they were two-thirds below the surface, like icebergs. The front door stood hospitably open in expectation of company, and an orderly vine grew at each side; but our path led to the kitchen door at the house-end, and there grew a mass of gay flowers and greenery, as if they had been swept together by some diligent garden broom into a tangled heap . . .”

Photo Taken by Me
Sounds like an idyllic escape, doesn’t it? If you’re looking for a short, summery, warm-hearted read this winter that ferries you into the good old days, I highly recommend The Country of the Pointed Firs. If you’re enthralled as I was, check out Jewett’s other short stories, too!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

There Was Always Laughter Blog Tour

Today I'm very happy to be taking part in the blog tour of a homeschooling memoir by one of my favorite authors, Sarah Holman. Make you sure you read all the way to the end to find my review and the exclusive eBook giveaway!

 About the Book:

What do you get when you mix two parents who grew up in the city, six kids who have always lived in the country, and add homeschooling? You get a whole lot of laughter!
Homeschool graduate and author Sarah Holman shares stories about her family that range from thought-provoking to side-splitting. She shares both hilarious mistakes and heartbreaking moments in her family. In this collection of stories, she endeavors to capture some of the answers to the questions people have often asked her about growing up in a conservative homeschool family as well as some of the wisdom she has gleaned along the way. Sarah invites you to open up this scrapbook of memories. She hopes that you come away encouraged, inspired…and laughing.

This book officially launches on November 24, so pre-order your eBook copy today for only $2.99!

About the Author:
Sarah Holman is a not so typical mid-twenties girl: A homeschool graduate, sister to six awesome siblings. If there is anything adventuresome about her life, it is because she serves a God with a destiny bigger than anything she could have imagined. You can find out more about her at her website

My Review:

I always feel a special delight in reading real homeschool stories. I enjoy finding the similarities in my growing-up years, and it’s certainly fun to read about something you can relate to. So I was eager for Sarah Holman’s memoir, particularly since I know her wonderful family in person.

This book was lovely! From the very beginning, some of the chapter titles had me chuckling: “It Was All Michael’s Fault”; “And That’s Why You Don’t Let Sarah in Sunday School”; “The Rubber Duck War.” Although I’ve met all the Holmans, many of these stories were new to me, so it was great to become better acquainted. They have so much godly wisdom, good advice, and authentic love, it’s inspiring. But that’s not to say that the members of this family aren’t down-to-earth with fully human personalities, quirks, and struggles like the rest of us. That’s what makes this book such a delightful read.

As Sarah says in the beginning, it’s not a book that will have you laughing on every page, but there are plenty of moments that will make you smile or chuckle, not to mention leave you feeling thoughtful, sober, or encouraged. I really like how each sibling has a chapter just about them. My favorite story was probably the one about when the Holmans became an unsuspecting Texas attraction in Washington, DC. You can’t make that stuff up!

In addition to the lighthearted or serious family stories, I appreciated how Sarah explains her convictions with grace and clarity. It really feels like you’re sitting down with her and talking about life. That’s what I value most about this book: it reaches out to conservative Christian families and lets us know we’re not alone.

November 16
Reachel – What stories are you going to include, Sarah?
J. Grace Pennington – An interview
Esther Filbrun – A review
Tarissa Graves – A review
November 17
Leona Ruth – A review
Chloe – A review
November 18
Kaylee – A review
Alexa - A Thanksgiving Story
November 19
Liv K. Fisher – Short Girl Jokes
Kelsey Bryant – A review