Spring Reading Recommendations: Resiliency Blooms Anew

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As spring flowers bloom, we remember how they survive the cold, dark season to return and thrive again. We too need a reminder of our resilience. These books feature strong female characters who endure loss of family members, accidents that alter the body’s abilities, trauma, career obstacles, military occupation and more. Taking place during different time periods and in different areas, they offer a variety of people and places. Consider picking up one of these recent novels.

 

Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away introduces Margaret just as she graduates from her MBA program and gets engaged to her longtime boyfriend. Then her dreams literally crash as her new fiancé loses control of the plane and they land in flames. Margaret finds herself in the hospital without the use of her legs, the job she accepted and her fiancé. As heavy as this sounds, the strength she gains as she goes through physical therapy and adjusts her life to meet new goals shows such an admirable resiliency.

Lisa See’s latest novel The Island of Sea Women shares so much historical and cultural research through Young-sook’s life as a haenyeo on the Korean island Jeju. Continuing the tradition of the women in her family, Young-sook learns how to dive to earn a living so she can contribute to her family’s household and later her husband’s and children’s educations. Witnessing the dangers of the sea and the horrors of military occupation, she carries the weight of loss as she cares for her family. Most importantly, her lifelong relationship with her childhood best friend Mi-ja carries the themes of female friendship and forgiveness.

Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted revolves around a privileged community in Nashville community and a couple families whose high school aged children end up at the center of an inappropriate photo scandal. Differences in age, gender and class come into play as each character protects their reputation and values. The mother of the boy who took the photo gives a nuanced look at the long term effects of such situations and serves as a catalyst for progress.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s runaway spring sensation Daisy Jones & the Six flows as an interview that tells of the formation, fame and fade of a successful band in 1970s Los Angeles. Though it has the usual expected elements of rock n roll, it has an unexpected spine to its antics. Band leader Billy Dunne’s marriage exemplifies a relationship with a solid foundation and staying power. His wife Camilla and Daisy show the spectrum of struggle with maintaining a sense of self, purpose and connection when it comes to career and marriage.

 

Susan Meissner’s historical fiction novel As Bright as Heaven takes place during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. The Bright family moves to Philadelphia to join the family business at a funeral home. As war and flu threaten to tear families and communities apart, the three sisters learn how to survive and how to stay connected to each other. The ladies mature faster than normal due to their circumstances, but they still fulfill their dreams. Rich in history and familial themes, this story shows the depth and timelessness of strength.

 

Irene Hannon’s Pelican Point, the fourth installment in the Hope Harbor series, sweeps its characters right off the page in its small ocean town setting. Ben Garrison returns to Pelican Point to inherit a lighthouse that he intends to sell so he can move on with his life. He meets Marci, who wants to save the lighthouse, and tensions arise. As they get to know each other and their neighbors, they see healing happening as issues get brought to light. Ultimately, Marci shares her strength with those around her so they can all progress.

 

AJ Finn’s The Woman in the Window pays homage to Alfred Hitchcok films in his debut mystery/thriller. Anna Fox lives alone, and she doesn’t leave the house. Struggling with illness, her she connects to an online group where she offers support to others. She witnesses a murder at the house next door but no one believes what she saw. Anna’s story demonstrates strength in the face of fear and doubt.

Book Review: The Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies

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I received The Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies by Tremper Longman III and Mark L. Strauss from BakerBooks in exchange for a review.

This mass market paper sized dictionary makes a useful, non cumbersome addition to a theologian’s or person of faith’s shelf. It includes entries for important people, literary devices, historical periods and more. Easy to understand, each definition gives a starting point for understanding the context of biblical concepts. Sometimes it works like a dictionary giving a definition of a literary devices, and other times it has a longer paragraph moreso resembling an encyclopedia entry. I enjoyed reading through this to glean a little more information and learned a lot about various historical perspectives and movements regarding interpretation of the bible. I recommend it as an accompaniment for studying the bible.

Book Review: She’s Still There

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Chrystal Evans Hurst’s She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You lays groundwork to help you set and reach goals while standing strongly on your faith. If taken slowly and done with the help of a mentor, it can serve as groundwork for making progress on the path to fulfilling your purpose. Hurst honestly shares her own experiences while providing practical advice regarding how to take action toward making desires into reality, make use of a support system with specific types of encouragement, and keep your focus on the right aspects of life. I have soaked in this information and found myself referencing it again. My accompanying workbook still has exercises to do, and I’d like to go back to the book to instill some concepts I’ve flagged there, most importantly the support system. I recommend this for someone looking for some extra encouragement or ideas on how to structure goal setting and support system creation.

Springtime Reading Recommendations

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Springtime makes a perfect setting for growth as the green returns to the land and love and floral scents fill the air. I have compiled a list of books that feature a lot of character growth, particularly within family dynamics. Let these stories inspire us to develop ourselves and to connect with our family on an authentic, deep level.

Lock & Key by Sarah Dessen: Ruby starts in a dysfunctional family situation. After her mother disappears, she finds herself in a more stable home with the sister she hasn’t seen in years. Ruby learns how to adjust to a healthy, structured life as she makes new friends and reconnects with her family. Trust serves as a focal theme.

Wonder by P.J. Palacio: August embarks on his first year at a public school, and he and his family brace for how the other students will respond to his differences. The entire story reminds us of the importance of kindness. August’s parents and sister learn how to support him while he gains some independence, and August learns how to connect with those around him who have genuine relationships with him.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center: This story mostly revolves around resiliency as Margaret heals from a plane crash. As she adjusts to living her life in a new way and discovers new ways to achieve her goals. Her parents and sister support her physically and emotionally, even as Margaret and her sister reconcile after a prolonged disconnect. Margaret thrives as we see her emotional, mental and physical strength, and she makes it with the help of her family coming together for her.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: This heartrending novel follows orphan Victoria as she goes through the foster care system her whole life and ultimately ages out. She sees what family means as she seeks familial connections. The characters have to conquer deep insecurities and learn how to trust as they navigate their relationships. The flowers and characters hold deep meaning and growth.

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell:  A sweeping family saga, this story follows Daniel as he develops, and sometimes fails, his familial relationships. Covering multiple time periods as well as multiple continents, it shows the long term effects of Daniel’s choices. He grows as a man, father and husband as he faces triumphs and disappointments in life. This shows an authentic look at the struggle and importance of keeping a supportive family together.

Book Review: This Must Be the Place

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Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place has a spot in my top 10 reads from last year and probably the top spot for book club selections last year and a spot on my all time favorites list. This novel covers so much territory in time, place, relationships, and more. Daniel Sullivan’s life saga brings infinite contemplations on life as he navigates personal and career triumphs and pitfalls. Each experience feels so real, and each character makes you wish you could meet them in some capacity. O’Farrell has such writing strength in style, depth, and intelligence, and that makes her an author whose work I want to complete.

 

Women’s History Reading List

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As we nearly reach the halfway point of Women’s History Month, I have some reading recommendations. They include stories of women’s strength in their own identity, family and aspirations. These women have different backgrounds to better demonstrate the various ways women develop.

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As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner: This story takes place during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 and follows a family of women. The mother and her three daughters all show such physical and emotional strength as they work together to keep their family together and healthy. Meissner shows depth in these characters and paints a vivid picture of Philadelphia during that time and the horror of the Spanish Flu plaguing it. The sisterly bonds show triumphant strength.

Circe by Madeline Miller: The mythological story of Circe blew me away. This story about sums up my knowledge on Greek gods, but it makes me want to learn more. The setting may differ drastically from any place we may experience, yet it still holds a relatable anchor to it. Boy does Circe have a well of strength. Isolated as punishment, she finds a way to make her days tolerable and even makes connections. Ultimately, she creates a meaningful life.

Becoming by Michelle Obama: I haven’t finished this one yet, but at the beginning it becomes clear the former First Lady of the United States has a high level of intelligence and a unique perspective. While I hope I never know what it feels like to live or work in the White House in any capacity, I have high hopes of what insight I can learn from her experiences in and outside the White House. Even as a child, Obama knows what she wants and stands on her values. She has achieved so much personally and professionally due to her strength.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin: This book is on my upcoming shelf, and I have looked forward to reading this for awhile since I really enjoy the movie. The story follows Eilis as she ventures from Ireland to Brooklyn seeking a better life than what she and her family have. By herself, she finds a job and makes a new home as an immigrant. I love her quiet strength as she faces so many unknowns alone.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: The timing for her new book that follows up this one works perfectly. In her groundbreaking book inspired by her own sexual assault story as a teen, Anderson gives an authentic look at the fear and turmoil stirred by such pain. It has shown uncountable women they have a voice and can use it. Using her voice, Melinda demonstrates her strength.

 

*Susan Meissner’s latest book The Last Year of the War releases next week. I have an ARC of it and eagerly look forward to diving into another Meissner novel.

 

Book Review: The Great Alone

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After having Kristin Hannah on my radar a couple years, Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club finally got it to my currently reading stack, and boy did it take me for a trip through the wilderness both physically and emotionally. The story took place in 1970s Alaska, and she paints a vivid picture of surviving the harsh realities of a place with severe winters, periods of no sunlight and little connection to the mainland. While I enjoyed the detail, it made it crystal clear to me that I would not make it through my first season there. Not only did the Alaskan terrain prove difficult, but Leni’s home life did as well. Again, Hannah created a realistic aspect of her story in the Allbright family’s tension. She explored how the tumult affected all members of the family through different angles of pain. The wilderness of home added a whole new layer to the story as the characters formed relationships with their community and learned how to cope as well as survive. As Leni went from a happy child carrying her Winnie the Pooh lunchbox to school on her first day in Alaska to the adult who eventually started her own family, I felt gutted. She helplessly stood by her mother, staying silent about their situation, and the powerlessness of such trauma expanded well beyond them. Hannah made readers experience the darkness of such an Alaska frontier both outside and inside the home.

 

 

 

Winter Reading Getaways

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February ends in less than a week, and spring comes soon. As I start to ease out of the winter blues, I have some books lined up for those days spent indoors. They range from atmospheric, character driven novels to classics.

 

Beartown by Fredrik Backman: This weekend I finally have this book beloved in book club circles on my docket. A couple chapters in I already feel immersed in the small forest town that revolves around its hockey team. Backman goes deep into the minds of his characters, and I sense a foreboding event. I anticipate reading how the characters respond to the situation and how they interact with each other. This community offers insight on relationship and organization dynamics.

Persuasion by Jane Austen: Though the novel doesn’t have a wintery setting, it transports you to Victorian England. The story explores social class and mores as well as its expectations for love. Anne has a failed love story in the background, so I look forward to seeing how encountering her lover again shapes her marriage prospects and how Austen’s trademark wit plays into it. I already find myself daydreaming about the cottages and the names as well as my Pride and Prejudice reread for my Great American Reader project.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling: The second installment in the Harry Potter series continues my Great American Reader project as well as my book club community read as we read the series this year. In England again, this time in the beloved Hogwarts castle, the school walls protect the students against the cold and darkness as Voldemort fights to gain power. Hogwarts offers respite from the winter as well as a fantasy adventure rooted in good vs evil. Harry and his friends continue to grow up and face moral dilemmas that make you root for them while wishing you attended Hogwarts too.

Book Review: If You Only Knew

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Jamie Ivey vulnerably shares her faith story in If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free. Though raised as a Christian, Ivey’s life took some unexpected turns. She doesn’t sugarcoat her choices and their consequences as she sees where they have taken her, and it shows her courage and faith to face the inevitable judgment again. Overall, the reflection reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles or doubt. Christians don’t always live up to their expectations of themselves or each other, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t continue to lift them up again with grace. Ivey’s vulnerability encourages me to trust someone, even if in writing, with my own story. Sharing how God transforms us opens an honest connection where we can all learn how to walk in better faith, and Ivey does that as she invites readers to do the same.

Monday Motivation: Isn’t It Romantic

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The new romantic comedy Isn’t It Romantic might parody the genre, but it also hints at a truth behind a detail to which Rebel Wilson’s character Natalie initially scoffs. Though arguably unrealistic, romantic comedies remind us of the magic surrounding us. Sure, we may see more of the dull, hard work the movies don’t show, but we do possess a hope to find what we seek. Those desires for romance and fulfillment come naturally, and we have the power to step forward and progress those goals (with some reflection and work of course). Ultimately, we see that life offers more than what we notice everyday.

Natalie wakes up in a romantic comedy where her surroundings seem too good to pass as real. She comments how New York no longer stinks and how it looks as thought it had a beauty filter over it. Flowers surround her as she walks the streets, and people look her in the eye because they notice her. These details can happen outside a romantic comedy. Maybe actual flower arrangements don’t adorn every doorway and table, but beauty exists around us; a stranger or even a loved one can reflect God’s face as they take the time to notice and listen to us. Sometimes a potential love or job we want might stand right in front of us, simply waiting for us to recognize it and step toward it. Looking through a positive lens of hope rather than one of disappointment allows that.

We all desire romance, and that doesn’t mean we live with our head in the clouds. Our hearts naturally long for intimacy, and we see proof of that beauty throughout the bible. Song of Songs expresses the more physical side, and numerous New Testament passages demonstrate the benefits of marriage union and community. Like Natalie eventually discovers in Isn’t It Romantic, we can accept these desires rather than scoff at them. Perhaps the acknowledgement leads to fulfilling them. We possess a hope that brings a romantic comedy like magic to our ordinary lives.

 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, especially with its Valentine’s Day timing. It proved my philosophy that love does surround us in all its cheesy and intense ways, whether culturally accepted as realistic or not.

 

For further reading, I recommend this Christianity Today article that describes a hope often overlooked in romantic comedies.