Monday, April 04, 2016

A Hiatus

It rather pains me to post this. . .

But . . . in between finishing up an adoption process (wrapping up here shortly!), and starting a new business, home schooling and living the rest of life, I've come to the determination that blogging needs to take a back seat for at least a little while. Until things settle out and find a new order, I'll take a little break.

Hope you all enjoy a glorious spring!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Who God Says I Am

Sometimes life is messy. Lately it's been just that, a lot of pleasures mixed with a lot of pain. Thoughts are muddled in multiple directions and from multiple sources and that's never fun. It's easy to lose one's self by fixating on the moment. It's so remarkably easy during these times to be blown off course for the simple reason of frustration. Yet we are each called to walk through difficult times and seasons as these times serve a great purpose.

Here is the thing that has been coming (more) clear to me: that in the midst of the whatever, I am still the Lord's. I am still in His hand. I still believe. And what is so wonderful is that no one can remove me from His hand. No one can snatch me out of it or call me anything less. I believe that I am His and He is mine and all I can say in response to that truth is, "Thank you." I'm beginning to see that the only way to survive the storm is to be grateful for it and to remember Who is ultimately in charge. (And shall I only accept good from Him, but not evil? Job 2:10)

Our pastor preached an incredible sermon on Easter Sunday from 2 Corinthians 4, with a focus on vs. 16-18.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self his being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Whatever afflictions we might face in this life, we need always to remember that they are light and very momentary. They are designed to prepare us for the weight of glory which we will experience one day. So, for now, in the midst of the pain and the sorrow, we must look to truths which are unseen instead of just looking around at what can be immediately viewed with our pitiful, tear-filled human eyes. What can be seen shall pass away. What can't be seen is eternal and of great comfort.

We can remind ourselves that we are the Lord's and the future is quite magnificently bright.

So I do not lose heart but instead learn to be thankful.

As happens quite frequently, there is usually a Steven Curtis Chapman song which foots the bill for whatever the emotion I'm working through. Today it's this one from his new album and the song is entitled, "Who You Say We Are." There is always a lot of confusion in life but it boils down to the words in this song.

I am who He says I am -- His!

Monday, March 28, 2016

What's On My Nightstand (March/April)

What's On Your Nightstand

Still trucking along in my reading over here. Slow but steady!

This past month we went on a two week trip to South Korea which was really amazing and allowed for some concentrated reading time. (That's a long plane ride!) Now we're back and "settling in" to life again - which has not been without a few stresses - and I'm looking ahead and this next month's reading plan. At the start of this year I figured that assuming I could read three books a month was probably doable, alongside one read-aloud with the kids. So far that's working, so I'll try for that again during the month of April.

Last month's goals were to read:

  • The Search for the Delicious, by Natalie Babbitt with my kids. (The title is linked to my review.) We read it and loved it. I can only continue to highly recommend the read to you and yours!
  • Vittoria Cottage, by D.E. Stevenson. I read it on the plane and loved it so much that I also read the second and third books in the series. Reviews forthcoming!
  • The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor. Read and reviewed it and then moved onto books two and three, completing the trilogy. (Linked to my reviews.)

  • Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie. That didn't happen, so I'll bump it to the next month.

As it turns out, I exceeded my quota for books last month. That gives me a warm and happy feeling inside. It was great fun to read through not one but two entire series in "one sitting" as well. That doesn't usually happen!

This month's goals will be:

I read a lot of Bridges' books in my teens and held onto my copies. I haven't read them in a decade or so and have been feeling a tug of late. I'm between these two titles at the moment.

  • Lastly, for myself, I should be getting to a title I accepted for review. I haven't accepted anything for review lately but The Importance of Being Little caught my eye. I should give it a go. (I mean, like, I really need to get to it!)

As for a read-aloud with the kids, Jonathan started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to them while we were in S. Korea. We got far enough along into it that I think we should finish it up. We've taken a week's break from anything but play so it's time to dive back into the books!

These titles are what's on my nightstand. What's on yours?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Arch Enemy, by Frank Beddor

ArchEnemy is the third and final book in the Looking Glass Wars (and I'm glad). I read the first two books a few years back, (as mentioned), but wasn't motivated then to finish the story. In my recent re-reading of the series I felt like reading to the conclusion and, ultimately, I'm glad I did. We recently took a two week trip to South Korea and that's a mighty long plane ride. I was looking for books to take on the Kindle and decided to take the plunge and order this title to read on the flight.

ArchEnemy picks up where Seeing Redd takes off. A neighboring king has managed to suppress imagination in Wonderland, thus throwing a wrench in both Alyss and her wicked aunt Redd's schemes to maintain their queendom. Alyss and Redd are in a dead heat to see who will ultimately defeat the other. Throw in the turmoil with the neighboring kingdom and there are more epic battles to be had then ever before.

That's about as an exciting description as I can give this book.

ArchEnemy needed to be the last book in this series. Please don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved the first title, The Looking Glass Wars (linked to recent review) but the other two titles feel more like a grab towards an action movie to me and after awhile one gets tired of the endless nastiness and battle scenes. I get it already - Redd is a horrible person with the nasty ability to use black imagination to terrorize everyone in sight (and out of sight). Alyss is the struggling brave warrior princess who is learning to govern a queendom. The idea for the characters and the story are both very, very fun but it felt like the books were a progression of longer more intense battle scenes. That's just not my thing. While I'm glad to know how the story "ends" (as far as the trilogy goes) I'm feeling rather done by book three.

It's been a long time since I've read any fantasy or adventure books and  reading these was something I wanted to do. I feel like I've successfully scratched that itch and am ready to move onto a different genre for awhile. It's fun to dive into an alternative world now and again and read something more unique than my norm and for that reason I'm glad I read The Looking Glass Wars trilogy. By no means do I regret it, but its time to read something else. It's not likely I'm going to ever re-read the entire series of these books, but as I've mentioned, The Looking Glass Wars: Book 1 can stand alone and I can totally see myself pulling that one off the shelf at some point in the future. Frank Beddor had a very compelling, unique storyline to deliver and overall I'd say he delivered well. I'm just not as into battle scenes as he is and so I grew weary way before he did.

One extra little thought that I had when reading ArchEnemy was that it's very Steampunk. The descriptions of the character's wardrobes and weapons painted a very Steampunk feel in my mind and so if you have a Steampunk friend who likes to read, they might find this story extra compelling. Just a thought!

If you ever have a chance to read the first title, The Looking Glass Wars, I'd highly recommend it. The rest of the series is a "take-it-or-leave-it" in my opinion.

Other posts of interest:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Search for the Delicious, by Natalie Babbitt

I think The Search for the Delicious, by Natalie Babbitt, is a book that can stand to be read continually throughout your whole life. Perhaps my children will have the chance to do so as we've started them out on this story young. I only discovered this book for myself back in 2012. I fell in love with it instantly, re-reading it again in 2013. Usually a quick re-read of a book makes me feel a little bit weary of it but not so with this title! Each time I read it, I like it more. I've been biding my time waiting until I thought the kids were old enough to catch some of the humor in the book before sharing it with them. I felt like the time might be right and so we spent the last few weeks reading it.

The Search for the Delicious is a short book that tells of young Gaylen's adventures as the King's Messenger. Gaylen is sent out from the castle to poll the kingdom in order to find out how people would define the word 'delicious.' The Prime Minister has been writing a dictionary and when he presents his definition of the word the king disagrees with him and the queen disagrees with the king. No harmony can be found in the palace and so the locals must be polled. Will people say apples are the most delicious? Or corn? Wheat? Fish? Whatever item receives the most votes will be listed as the definition for the word.

This idea of polling the audience sounds good in theory but the problem is that no two people can seem to agree on what is delicious. With the help of a villain who convinces the people that the king means to cause trouble with this question, the land is filled with confusion and the threat of war looms over people's heads. There is hope of averting a war but it is going to take the help of some creatures that some believe only to be mythical: a woldweller, some dwarves, and a beautiful mermaid. As Gaylen makes his way around the countryside he is faced with a great many challenges, one of them is whether or not to believe in fairytales.

This story is pure genius. The first time I read The Search for the Delicious I didn't discern any deep meaning; it was pure entertainment and sheer delight. The second time I read it I clued into the importance of reading and understanding the purpose behind fairy tales. This time I ached only for my kids to appreciate the delicate, subtle humor of Babbitt. I'm afraid to report that she's so subtle with her humor that it went over their heads. Not that this was a loss because my kids were still left to enjoy the story for story sake which they did! (I, alone, snickered my way through beautifully crafted sentences.) In the end though, we all enjoyed it which was the point. My kids, ages 9, 7 and 5 all claimed to have enjoyed it very much. (The three year old sat silently by and grinned. But I don't think that means anything.)

It is precisely because this book is just so enjoyable that we will revisit it again in the future, many times over! I'm certainly not tired of reading it and can only still highly recommend it to you. Seek this one out! It's worth every minute of your time.

Related posts:

Monday, March 14, 2016

Seeing Redd, by Frank Beddor

As mentioned last week, I dove headfirst into Seeing Redd, the sequel to The Looking Glass Wars (linked to thoughts), because it was so interesting and exciting that I wanted to keep the story going. I have read Seeing Redd before but it has been a few years. When I reviewed The Looking Glass Wars back in 2007 I pretty much only used exclamation points when talking about it. Seeing Redd was quite a different matter. I didn't care for it as much and I gave a pretty good set of reasons as to why. Fast forward to 2016 and all I remembered about the story was that I had some hesitations which caused me never to chase after the third book in the trilogy, ArchEnemy.

This time my reading of Seeing Redd was completely different. I think perhaps the reason I could relax more with was because I didn't expect much from it, while the first time I engaged with high expectations. This story picks up right where The Looking Glass Wars left off, with Redd throwing herself into earth, experiencing some time away from Wonderland in the world as we know it. She amasses an army of dark characters in our world, intending to take them back to Wonderland for the purpose of reclaiming the throne from her pesky niece, Alyss Heart. The entirety of this book focuses on Redd's attempt to reclaim the crown and Alyss re-intregration into a Wonderland world. Throw in a side plot with Hatter Madigan and there is plenty of action, mystery, and intrigue to keep the story afloat.

One of my original complaints about Seeing Redd was that it felt that Beddor was writing more in the interest of creating a screen play than he was in telling a unique story. I think that criticism still holds true. I also said that the book made me picture X-Men in my mind's eye as I was imagining what the characters looked and acted like and I found it somewhat amusing that the first reviewer Amazon lists lobs the same complaint in Beddor's direction. Apparently I am not alone in thinking that Beddor is more about the movie than the book. I did some online sleuthing to see if anything ever came of the movie idea and it would seem that while Beddor would have loved it, the success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland probably means that The Looking Glass Wars will never make it to the big screen as the storyline shares some similarities. Beddor does still hope for a television series though and I suppose that's not too far fetched. Still, as a reader, I want to be told a story for the sheer enjoyment of story and not because someone is hoping to make it big in Hollywood. The pleasure is in the telling and the hearing first and it bothers me still that Beddor focuses so much on the visual aspect of his tale.

That aside, I did enjoy Seeing Redd this time around. I didn't care much for Redd's excursion in our world. She's just too sadistic and nasty and when you pair her up with "bad guys" as we might know them, I found her doubly creepy. She's bad enough in Wonderland but on earth she's terrifying to the extreme! Once she makes her way back into Wonderland I find things much more tolerable. Conservative readers should know she meets up with some nasty characters on earth who delight in killing people. Just like in The Looking Glass Wars, Beddor doesn't skimp on battle details although I didn't think there was anything grosser than the last book's decapitations. (Truly, this is a story better left on the page in my opinion. I wouldn't want to see it played out on the screen.) Do be prepared for violence but, again, it's on the level of The Lord of the Rings. If you can handle that, you can handle this.

Seeing Redd does have more mature elements in it which I mentioned in my 2007 review. There is nothing explicit in the least but there are romantic relationships which are beginning to bud and some which are being remembered. Due to that factor, I will absolutely delay handing this book over to my 9 year old. He can wait a few years. The great thing, as I've mentioned previously, is that The Looking Glass Wars really can stand alone as its own book. There's no absolute need to read on in the series if you don't want to or feel you aren't ready for it.

As for me, I'm bound and determined to get through the series this time. I feel a bit entrenched in it and so ordered ArchEnemy for my Kindle. We shall see how that pans out. I'll let you know!

Additional posts of interest:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Wise Words, by Peter J. Leithart

This seems to be the month for re-reading books! The kids and I shared Wise Words together back in 2013 and liked it so much I shelved it for another re-read. We spent 18 weeks on this title, focusing on one story per week alongside one chapter of Proverbs at a time. The kids loved at our first reading of this book and only our oldest vaguely recalled some of the tales so it was practically brand new! (It's helpful when you start reading aloud to your children young as then you can enjoy your favorite stories over and over again -- until they stick!)

I'm going to borrow part of my old review in describing what this book is about in case it is new to you.

Wise Words is a collection of eighteen fairy-tale style stories which each have their own moral, based on a Proverbs (from the Bible). Each story is roughly 3 pages long and is full of princesses, kings, peasants, jewels, wizards, apples and nuts. If you are looking to teach your children morals through stories, this is a collection you might consider.

Just as the Book of Proverbs assures us, all stories do not have a happy ending and this book follows that reality. The characters within who make foolish choices, or who are full of pride and arrogance, meet difficult to doomed endings. Those that seek to do right meet with success and their own happily-ever-afters. The stories are not neat and tidy and, I would say, are rather on the edgy side. I would liken them more to Grimm than you'll find in most picture books these days but I did not mind this as it kept my children in rapt attention. We were never able to relax in any one particular story because you were never sure of the ending. Wickedness is not pretty and it is not supposed to be. Sin is not a happy thought, especially that which is not confessed and dealt with!

At the conclusion of every story there is a moral in the form of one verse from the Book of Proverbs. For example, the story of The Fragrant Garden teaches that a false witness will not go unpunished (Prov. 19:5), The Monster's House teaches that a man's ways are ordained by the Lord (Prov. 20:24), and A Cloud of Birds teaches that wealth is fleeting (Prov. 23:5).

I like the uniqueness of Wise Words as a devotional book. I'm not usually the "devotional" sort and so appreciated stories with a moral attached. Our kids just assumed we were reading stories and that's rather how I like it. All of life is an example to us of how to do right and hate evil. Whether it be from the people in our lives who provide examples, to the movies and tv we watch, to the books we read, there is always something for us to learn. If you have an interest in working through the Book of Proverbs with your kids and are looking for resources to help you out, this might be one that you would want to consider. It's definitely a bit off the beaten path but the journey is surprising and fun.
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