My Favorite Romance Books (It’s Not What You Might Think)


There’s something that really bugs me about the romances in most books these days: it’s all about how the two people meet and fall in love and how their relationship progresses up until they get married. Then all the excitement and drama ends. Boom. The book of their romance closes with a thud and dust begins to accumulate on top.

It’s not just books or movies or fiction, either. It seems to be the prevailing attitude that once you get married, all the fun ends. The romance fades away, and boring monotony sets in. In some ways, that’s kind of true. I mean, now most of your time together is spent doing normal life stuff like chores instead of primarily fun things like dates. Most of life is pretty mundane and unexciting. I get that. But just because you’re married doesn’t mean you can’t go on fun dates or that there can’t be moments of romance. More than that, I think that doing normal life stuff together can have its own kind of romance and beauty, the kind that you don’t get to have when you’re just dating.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking, you’re not married. What do you know about this? Well, for one thing, I have wonderful parents who have shown and told me what a healthy, happy marriage can be. For another, not all the books I read have romances that end at marriage. There really are some books out there that show married couples still in love and portray marriage as an ongoing adventure. Today is the perfect day to celebrate them, wouldn’t you agree?

The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

I already raved about this series in my 2017 reading recap post. I feel like the tagline of this blog should be trying to get everyone hooked on The Queen’s Thief series. There are worse goals, I assure you. Anyway, because of spoilers I can’t be really specific, but in one or more of these books there is a couple that is probably my favorite ship after Faramir and Eowyn. Which is saying a lot. Their relationship is complex and certainly messy at times, but also so beautiful. Ugh, I just love it so much. If you want to give me a Valentine’s present, go read this series so we can freak out together.

Annals of the Western Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

Orrec and Gry, guys. I love how well they complement each other, how their different strengths and personalities are equally important to their mission, and how they recognize that. I love how they know what the other person thinks and needs and how they support and admire each other. I love seeing them work together. Definitely one of my favorite fictional couples of all time. ❤

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

This book is a modern-day spin on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Most of it is about the two main characters meeting and getting to know each other, but you do get a glimpse of them as a married couple (Hey, it’s not a spoiler, you know how the play ends. Or you should. *snooty judgmental stare*). More than that, it just has great views on marriage. There’s this part at the end where one of the characters basically gives a big impromptu speech about marriage, and it makes me want to cheer.

Presumption by Julia Barrett

While I dearly love Jane Austen and her books are quite appropriate for this time of year, they do tend to end with “and they got married and lived happily ever after.” Which is totally fine, but not quite in keeping with the theme of this post. In this sequel, however, Barrett gives us a picture of the Darcys after their marriage. The main plot focuses on Georgianna, Darcy’s younger sister, and her romantic adventures, but we do get to see Elizabeth and Darcy interacting as a married couple. Let me just say, it’s a treat.

The Mitford series by Jan Karon

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mention this series on here before?? If I haven’t, woe is me for this travesty. There are numerous reasons to love the Mitford series, and the relationship between Father Tim and Cynthia hold a high spot on the list. For the majority of this series, they are married, and I love watching their relationship unfold. Jan Karon is masterful at writing real, raw characters and treating them with honesty and compassion. Some of the stuff in her books is hard to read about, but there is always redemption and hope. Father Tim’s and Cynthia’s marriage embodies this. There are ups and downs, but ultimately it is a story of two broken people finding and creating a safe place with each other. Seeing how they make each other better and come through tough times closer has given me a positive and hopeful vision of what my future marriage can be.

Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery

You can’t make any kind of list revolving around favorite fictional couples and exclude Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. Another big ship of mine. Again, while I love reading about how they meet and eventually fall in love, I also deeply appreciate that L.M. Montgomery wrote about their married life together too. I especially enjoy the arc of their relationship in book six, Anne of Ingleside. I won’t say anymore because of spoilers, but it’s a wonderful portrayal of a long-lasting marriage. Make sure you don’t stop at book one of this series because there’s a whole lot of good stuff afterwards. (Shoutout to Rilla of Ingleside, book eight, as my favorite book of the series.)

Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge

This is one of my favorite standalone books of all time, and one of the reasons is the couple that the plot revolves around. This marriage is unlike any of the others in this list. I can’t really say more because of spoilers, but Goudge showed me that marriage is way more messy and more beautiful than I had thought. This book basically changed the entire way I thought about marriage. Just aghhhh, GO READ IT. The writing is really beautiful too.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

I almost didn’t include this one, because even though the couple in it is married, it kind of feels like they’re meeting each other for the first time. Again, I don’t want to say more because of spoilers. Just know this book is a whole lot of fun and a big part of the entertainment is the journey of Marguerite and Percy Blakeney’s relationship. Also, the movie version of this is hilarious and one of my favorite watches of 2017.

Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle

If you’ve only read A Wrinkle in Time, please go read the other books in the series: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. Man, they are so good. If you haven’t read them, you might want to skip this part because of slight spoilers. *waits for you to scroll down*

Okay, so the marriage I’m talking about for this series is between Meg Murry and Calvin O’Keefe. You don’t actually see a ton of interaction between them when they’re married, but from the little you do see and from their interactions as kids in Wrinkle, I know it’s a great marriage. Maybe my favorite thing about it is that they got married at all and that Meg chose to stay at home and support Calvin’s scientific work. I am totally all for girls going to college and grad school and having careers and all that. But I hate how if you choose not to do that you’re seen as suppressed or limited or boring or whatever. Our culture says women should get to choose to do whatever they want, but what they really mean is that they should choose to have their own job. Choosing to stay at home is it apparently the exception to the rule. I love what Madeline L’Engle says about it:

Several women have written to me to complain about A Swiftly Tilting Planet. They feel that I should not have allowed Meg Murry to give up a career by marrying Calvin, having children, quietly helping her husband with his work behind the scenes. But if women are to be free to choose to pursue a career as well as marriage, they must also be free to choose the making of a home and the nurture of a family as their vocation; that was Meg’s choice, and a free one, and it was as creative a choice as if she had gone on to get a PhD in quantum mechanics.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

This is another couple that complements each other so well. Vin and Elend are so different in many ways—she’s intense and he’s more relaxed, she is the nobody with powers and he’s the normal ol’ aristocrat, she knows the ways of the world and how to survive and he is a naïve idealist. Each has something the other needs; Elend provides safety and security and unconditional love, and Vin helps push him to be more, to take action, to fight. They are so much more when they are together. I love what Sazed tells them when they get married:

Those who don’t take lightly promises they make to those they love are people who find little lasting satisfaction in life.

And that’s the real beauty of marriage—loving someone enough to make such a promise, to take the risk and make the leap and work through the messiness and fight for love even when it’s hard. We need more books like these ones to celebrate marriages like that, to show us that such marriages can exist.

What are your thoughts on fictional romances? What are some of your favorite couples and marriages in books? Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day! *hands out heart-shaped cookies*


Reading Recap 2017

I got reading glasses this year. They make me feel delightfully nerdy and like I’m a genuine bookworm.



I also got goodreads! I thiiiiink I’ve mentioned that before, but in a post all about books it’s worth mentioning again, right? I’m Aberdeen on there, and I’d love to see what you’re up to in the bookish realm.

Normally, I do a big end-of-the-year wrap-up post where I recount what I accomplished in terms of writing, blogging, and reading. However, the only thing I did much of on that list this year was reading. Which of course calls for a big long post about BOOKSES PRECIOUS. Who’s complaining? (That was a rhetorical question. *shoos away all complainers*) I’m going to share my thoughts on my favorite two books in each of these categories: fiction, nonfiction, and fantasy. I’ll also list some honorable mentions because we all know I can’t pick favorites. And of course there will be quotes.

Also, this post is really long because once I start blabbing about books it’s hard to stop. *sheepish grin* Feel free to just jump to the genre that interests you or skim through to see the titles or something. And do tell me what you’ve read this year or what you think of the books I highlighted in the comments.



Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

I don’t know what to say to do this book justice. It’s one of those rare but beautiful books that makes me both laugh out loud and cry real tears. It’s that kind of book I want to write someday. I think I can say that it’s my favorite book of the year. I know, I know, I just did the unthinkable and picked a favorite. It feels kind of scary to do so, but this book is that good. It wasn’t perfect; there were a few plot things that felt off to me but the rest of it was so storming good that they didn’t affect my overall opinion.

This is the story of Doug Swieteck. Another book by Schmidt, The Wednesday Wars, which is also an all-time favorite of mine, introduces him as a jerky bully. In this book, we find out why Doug is such a jerk. But we also find out that he’s more than a jerk. But you can read about the plot in a blurb online. Here’s what this book is really about:

It is about the power of art—how good art can relate to and change your life and how making art yourself can heal you. It is about how are are people are broken but how that isn’t all of their story. It is about family and friendship. It’s about the race to the moon and the Vietnam War and John Audubon’s paintings of birds. It’s about how flat-out astonishing the gift of being able to read is. It’s a book about hope in a deeply messed up world.

I love Doug’s voice. It’s so realistic and yet unique—somehow Schmidt is able to show him maturing without making him way too wise or thoughtful for his age or personality. I’ll never hear the word “terrific” without thinking about Doug. I love how there are so many great adults in his life (which is nice, because there are also a few horrible ones). And can I just say that I love that Doug loves the Yankees. PINSTRIPE PRIDE, PEEPS. Also, alliteration.

Basically, if you read only one of the books on this list, this would be a good choice.

Mrs. Daugherty was keeping my bowl of cream of wheat hot, and she had a special treat with it, she said. It was bananas.

In the whole story of the world, bananas have never once been a special treat.

Mr. Ferris didn’t say anything the whole time. He sat next to me and listened. And when I finished, I looked at him.

He was crying. I’m not lying. He was crying.

I don’t think it was because how hard I hit him.

I know how the Black-Backed Gull feels when he looks up into the sky.

Maybe, somehow, Mr. Ferris does too.

My brother looked at me. I looked at him.

Sometimes- and I know it doesn’t last for anything more than a second- sometimes there can be perfect understanding between two people who can’t stand each other. He smiled, and I smiled, and we put on the Timex watches on, and we watched the seconds flit by.

It was the first watch my brother had ever owned.

It was the first watch I had ever owned.


The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

I had a really tough time choosing between this one and Howards End by E.M. Forster. If I could assign books to certain personality types, Howards End would be for INFJs. Not that you can’t enjoy it if you have a different personality obviously, but the themes this book explored resonated with me so deeply. It was like it was talking directly to me.  Anyway, lest I be accused of cheating by talking about two books in one section, let’s move on.

The Way We Live Now is a huge hunk of a book but I sped through it. I seriously couldn’t put it down, guys. His writing reminded me of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. Basically, if you’re a fan of any 19th-century British literature, you’ll love this. I’m not going to try to lay out the multitude of characters in this book and ho yeah yes oh Yeah no boldw they are related, but there is one person you should meet: August Melmotte. Fabulously rich, he arrives in London from France with a murky background that everyone is willing to overlook in hopes of earning some monetary favors. All the various romances and escapades swirl around him, and the varied threads of every character’s life all become wrapped around the question: How did Melmotte get his money? And how will the answer affect them?

There’s something for everyone in this complex and fast-paced novel (yes, classics can be fast-paced). There are politics, relationships, ethics, intrigue, and a fascinating portrayal of the English upper-class in the 1800s. I personally found his descriptions of Americans hilarious and also rather interesting. For most of the book I was facepalming over the characters’ ridiculous choices but I promise, the ending is worth it. Not because everything ends happily but because it makes you think. Each story line has a different lesson to ponder, a different character that surprises you. If you read this book thoughtfully enough, you may begin to see that the way we live now is not so different from how Trollope’s characters live.

As long as there are men to fight for women, it may be well to leave the fighting to the men. But when a woman has no one to help her, is she to bear everything without turning upon those who ill-use her? Shall a women be flayed alive because it is unfeminine in her to fight for her own skin?

A liar has many points to his favor—but he has this against him, that unless he devote more time to the management of his lies than life will generally allow, he cannot make them tally.

Love is like any other luxury. You have no right to it unless you can afford it.

Honorable mentions:

Howards End by E.M. Forster

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Wonder by R.J. Palacio


Some of the most impactful nonfiction books I read this year were rereads, so I’m not including them on the list. Never fear, for I also read a lot of great new stuff. Here they are.


The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Okay. This book. I’m in love. It’s the kind of book that takes over my world and gets me super excited. It’s the kind of book I can’t stop talking about, as I am sure my family can tell you. Basically it’s the story of an college crew team trying to not only become the team to represent America at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin but to beat the elite German team. Sure, it seems pretty obvious what the result will be since there’s a whole book on it, but Brown’s genius is that you are on the edge of your seat the entire time. It’s incredibly suspenseful. And he’s not making up any of it. The obstacles these boys had to face are staggering. Many times I wanted to go look up this story in a history book because I thought there was no way that this could actually be true.

Brown does something really smart and powerful by following one of the boys, Joe Rantz, for the whole book. Joe’s story is hard and tragic in many places, but the struggles he endured just emphasize the extraordinary character and strength of the boys, as well as the importance of the team and the Olympics to them. The book is compelling because we care about Joe, because we have seen what he has gone through and what crew means to him.

Obviously, the Olympics race is more than just one team against another. It’s two sets of philosophies and ideas pitted against each other. It’s America versus Nazi Germany, and we all know what that means. For Hitler, it’s a chilling foreshadowing of what is to come—although of course he doesn’t see it that way. Brown does a great job describing the political and cultural ramifications of this race without overdramatizing it. He also describes the sport itself clearly so that I could appreciate the events of each race without getting lost in obscure terms.

This is a book about hardship and how it can make you or break you. It is a book about the beauty of struggles, about the heroism of the average, unpolished kid. It is a book about brotherhood and community and how we are stronger together. It’s about freedom versus tyranny and how in the end, the good guys always win.

I listened to the audiobook of this (I need to do a post on audiobooks sometime), so I don’t really have any quotes recorded. My deepest apologies. *formal bow*


Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy

I think I finished this book on New Year’s Day 2017. Yeah. If I had been a few hours quicker, it wouldn’t be on this list at all. But I’m glad it is, because it deserves a chance in the spotlight. In a lot of ways I can’t relate to Christie. I’m not a mom with young kids, and I’m not refurbishing an old house that will become my permanent home. I’m a teenager who’s moved her whole life. But I can relate to Christie’s heart. Her longing for a belonging place, her desire to find meaning and beauty in the little things, her awareness that she’s living in a story.

Christie takes us through the four seasons of her first year at Maplehurst, an old house in Pennsylvania they want to make into their home. While she does share details about her gardening and renovations and efforts to connect with the neighbors, this isn’t a book about fixing up a house. It’s a book about, well, her thoughts on life. I feel like I’m describing this terribly. It’s not a book that is easy to describe. It’s written in beautiful prose, simple and thoughtful and poetic. Her words remind me of a window at dawn; a clear pane of glass with golden light shining through.

I love how Christie rejoices in the material things about her, like a good meal or fresh soil, while also living with an eternal perspective, interpreting everything through the lens of the hope she has in Jesus. She isn’t preachy; she is real. Her book is soothing and yet deeply moving and inspiring. It came to me when I needed a vision of what my life could be, a promise that I could find meaning in the littlest moments. Thank you, Christie.

For this is no ordinary house. This is no pile of bricks and mortar. This is an outpost of the kingdom of heaven, and a star has risen overhead.

I know myself fairly well. I know that I do not like crowds. I do not feel comfortable strangers. I struggle, mightily, with small talk…. To put it simply, I am afraid. I am lonely, yet I want only to be left alone.

But the kingdom of God is pretty much the opposite of alone. Also, in the kingdom of God, there is this voice saying, “Do not be afraid, do not be afraid, do not be afraid.”

Some might say Maplehurst falls short of the ideal beauty I glimpsed in my dreams. But this allegiance to “ideal” beauty is a form of blindness. It is a refusal to lift the veil of everyday life in order to see the glory of God.

Honorable mentions:

Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey


In some ways, this was a slim year for fantasy because I didn’t read much of it. But it was actually a great year for fantasy because the stuff I did read was absolutely AMAZING. Like two-new-favorite-series-of-all-time amazing.


Harry Potter by JK Rowling

I honestly can’t believe I read this. More than that, I can’t believe that it’s now on my top-five fantasy series list. I wrote about my Harry Potter journey in this post, but long story short, I wasn’t allowed to read this—or even super interested in reading it—until this year when I realized a) it’s not an evil series and b) it’s actually one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

At the risk of sounding really cliche or obvious, reading these books was magical. I can’t really describe what I felt while reading them; it’s an indistinct rush of thoughts and feelings. It’s the same way I felt when I discovered Lord of the Rings for the first time. Readers live for that kind of experience, the enthralling and all-consuming plunge into another world. When I finished the last book, I ached. I ached for more of the characters, for more of the world, for more of this beautiful story.

Let me just say that Rowling’s world building flabbergasts me with its brilliance. I’ve always considered Brandon Sanderson to be the best world builder, and I still think he’s one of the best. But what Rowling does that is unique and powerful is that her world, although entirely magical and filled with immensely creative details, feels familiar. It feels cozy and real, and most of all, it feels like home. I never expected that from these books about sorcerers and dark lords. And it’s not just that it is set in our world. There are plenty of fantasies set in our world that still feel bizarre and alien. This one is different. You might get your mail by an owl or learn how to cast a patronus in school, but there is still mail and there is still school. Sure, there are magical rules to abide by, but the deeper rules, the rules about life and love and people, those are the same.

Two further notes for the Christians out there who haven’t yet read this series:

  • If you’ve never tried Harry Potter because of theological concerns, I would recommend this post by Andrew Peterson. And I would say, at least give it a try. Give it a honest try. In my experience, everyone who condemns it hasn’t read much of it, and those who were skeptical but tried it are never skeptical for long. This isn’t to encourage disobeying your parents if they don’t want you to read it or refusing to listen to your conscience or anything. But before you completely disregard something, make sure you know what it is actually about.
  • I do admit that there are still some issues in these books that require discernment. No book is perfect; no one will ever agree perfectly with a single book. Personally, I’m going to wait to handle my kids  this series until they’re in middle school just to make sure they have the maturity to distinguish between the sorcery condemned in the Bible and the “sorcery” in Harry Potter (I put it in quotes because it’s really nothing like the sorcery in Scripture).

*agonizes over this for 20 minutes because there are TOO MANY GOOD QUOTES OH MY STORMS*

It was important, Dumbledore said, to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay…

Of house elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.

“But why’s she got to go to the library?”

“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”


The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

Um, wow. This series is one of the best things that happened to me this year. I had heard about it a couple of years ago and tried one of the books (which, I have since found out, was actually the fourth book) but just couldn’t get into it. As has happened to me many times with other books, I decided to try the series again and this time, I couldn’t stop reading (might have helped that I started with the first book).

It blew my mind, guys. From what I’ve heard, it has that effect on a lot of people. Seriously though, if you love surprise twists, complicated plots, and mental gymnastics, this is for you. At the end of every single book, Turner fiendishly takes everything you think you know and turns it upside down. And yet, suddenly everything make sense. You know that Sanderson quote, “there is always another secret”? That could sum up these books.

But for me, the real treasure in this series is not the stunning plots, fascinating political machinations, or even the great writing. It’s the characters. I love these characters so. much. Eugenides, also known as Gen, the cleverer-than-Sherlock-Holmes yet surprisingly vulnerable main character, silently but irrevocably stole the place of my favorite male character. I can’t really say more because of spoilers but yeah, all the other characters have captured my heart too (with a few exceptions).

If you don’t like traditional fantasy or anything that feels unrealistic or creepy, you have to try these books. They shouldn’t be labeled fantasy at all. It’s misleading. The world is very similar to ancient Greece but with a few twists—primarily in its technological advancements. There is no magic or elves or strange powers you were born with that destine you to save the world. The only supernatural element is that of the pantheon of gods that rule over the world, but they appear rarely. When they do, they are strongly reminiscent of our world’s Greek and Roman mythology.

Okay, now to find some quotes that aren’t super SPOILERY GOOD GRIEF. But the spoilery ones are so beautiful, it’s killing me. Just please go read this series guys.

“He would have been a better man under different circumstances.”

Gen looked at him. “True enough,” he said. “But does a good man let his circumstances define his character?”

“From shadow queen to puppet queen in one rule,” he whispered. “That’s very impressive. When he rules your country and he tells you he loves you, I hope you believe him.”

She thought of the hardness and the coldness she had cultivated over those years and wondered if they were the mask she wore or if the mask had become her self. If the longing inside her for kindness, for warmth, for compassion, was the last seed of hope for her, she didn’t know how to nurture it or if it could live.

Honorable mentions:

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (there is a magical component woven throughout this whole story but for the majority of the time it feels more like normal historical fiction so I’m not sure if it really belongs in this section?? I think it’s technically magical realism, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, regardless of the genre, go read this masterpiece.)

Annals of the Western Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

What were your favorite books of the year? Which of mine have you read? I’ve missed chatting with you guys—let’s remedy that with lots of book talk!

on Harry Potter

Hi guys. Sorry for disappearing—my arms have kept me from writing (more on that later). But I have been doing lots of reading, and as you’ve probably figured out, I’ve delved into the (in)famous Harry Potter series. Here are some of my thoughts on it. 

Also, I’m on Goodreads! It’s so awesome; I love it. I’m Aberdeen; come and follow meeeee. 

SO. Harry Potter. I was originally not allowed to read it, but my parents recently said I could if I watched out for certain things and discussed them with them. So I began, filled with both excitement and skepticism. “Harry Potter” is such a controversial, connotation-ridden phrase in Christian circles, I didn’t know what to expect.

When I finished book 1, my reaction was, “This is it?” Like, this is what we’ve been shunning? Good grief, it’s positively innocent compared to the dark hints I’ve heard about it. And I’ve read (and enjoyed) many books with much fishier worldview (looking at you, Christopher Paolini and Brandon Sanderson. Not that they’re not awesome, but you need discernment while reading them.). If you’re not sure about HP or have heard such hints, here are some things you should know:

Witches are girls who can use magic; wizards are guys. That’s all “witch” means (no, we’re not talking about the witch of Endor that Saul was condemned for meeting in the Bible). Speaking of magic, it’s not calling up spirits (which I believe is what the Bible was specifically condemning); it’s just turning things into other things or manipulating physical objects to do stuff (like fly or be impervious to certain substances).

There is a very clear distinction between good and evil; the kids at Hogwarts take classes to help them fight Dark Magic, and there are rules about what spells are allowed (for example, you’re not allowed to use the death spell on people).

Not only do these books not have bad stuff in them, they have a lot of good. There are so many beautiful in themes in them—the power of love and sacrifice, the beauty of families who love each other, the value of love over riches, the danger of immortality, courage, loyalty, what it means to be a good friend, looking beyond appearances, being kind to “inferior” people, choosing what’s right over what’s wrong, did I mention courage?…

The first book didn’t super grab me—the writing and plot felt a little simple. But it was good enough to keep going, and by book 3, I totally get why so many people are into them. Her writing, characters, and plot get so much richer and complex.Don’t stop at book 1, peeps (this goes for a lot of series, actually. Authors learn and grow like the rest of us.). Also, her humor is amazing, and I love the British feel of them—reminds of Narnia in that way. Also Quidditch.

I’m not saying these books are perfect or even on par with Lord of the Rings or that I totally agree with every decision of the characters (but is there a book where I do?) but the reputation they’ve cultivated seems to have come from hearsay, fear, and rumors rather than truth.

Also, here’s an incredible article on the series by Andrew Peterson: Harry Potter, Jesus, and Me.

So—what do you guys think? Have you read them? What do you like/dislike about them? Have you, like me, shied away from them because of stuff you’ve heard? (Also, I’ve missed you all. *waves wildly*)

{Fireside Fridays} Stories That Must Be Told



Can history disappear if it’s written in blood?

Some stories just need to be told. And if it’s true that every human life is a story, then all stories need to be told.

In Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys tells the stories of millions of souls, stories that are in danger of being lost. I think all of us know what Hitler did to the Jews. That atrocity has become common knowledge, a familiar stain on the tapestry of history. But we do not hear a lot about what Stalin did to the Poles and the Baltic people. Those tragedies are just as horrific.

The daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, Sepetys has a passion for telling the stories of those whose homes—and, all too often, lives—were taken by the Soviets. She does so through historical fiction, intended for young adults but read widely by adults as well. At first I wasn’t sure what to expect: All the reviews made her books sound so dark and meaningful and deep, so I wondered how they could be labeled as young adult. Then as I read the first chapter of Salt to the Sea—first person narration, sparse language, short—I questioned that this was as rich as the reviewers claimed. But when I finished the last page, heart racing, aching, sobbing, I understood.

Her use of teenaged protagonists enhances her message more than any other age could, because they are old enough to understand all the evil around them and the forces at work in their ruined worlds, and yet they are young enough to muster the strength, hope, and resilience to survive. They remember what life was like before the war, and yet they still dare to dream of a life after it.

My husband … says that evil will rule until good men or women choose to act.

In Salt to the Sea, Sepetys tells the story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the German ship carrying thousands of refugees out of the Soviets’ path of destruction. German Florian is betrayed by the Nazis; Polish Emilia is longing for home and fighting for life; Lithuanian Joana uses her medical training to care for others while trying to forget her own   scars. Their paths cross as they all attempt to board the ill-fated ship, each carrying deep secrets and facing almost impossible odds.

In Between Shades of Gray, Sepetys travels in the opposite direction as she chronicles the journey of Joana’s cousin, Lina. Taken from her home by the Soviets, she, her mother, and brother are separated from their father as they travel across all of Russia to frigid Siberia and struggle to survive in the fatal cold with little to no food.

“Just when you think this war has taken everything you loved, you meet someone and realize that somehow you still have more to give.”

I could talk about her writing—simple yet powerful, its sparseness making the painful truths she shares hit your heart harder than a hammer. I could talk about how in Salt to the Sea, she uses the first person for her four main characters and yet each sounds different and unique. There’s no question that her mechanics and style are praiseworthy. But there’s so much more to admire.

There’s the fact that she avoids the major pitfalls of young adult fiction: adults that are portrayed as weak, stupid, or non-existent; and too much romance based on emotion and physical desire. In Salt to the Sea, an elderly refugee nicknamed the Shoe Poet is, as Joana puts it, their light, their source of wisdom that they cling to and rely upon. In Between Shades of Gray, Lina’s love for her parents is beautiful, and her mother is portrayed as a heroine. While both books contain some romance, it is both clean and realistic. Both romances occur because the couples undergo incredible struggles together, and Sepetys demonstrates that while they might not have been attracted to each other had they met under normal circumstances, they grew to love each other after working together and building trust in terrifying times.

Then there are her villains. I can describe them in one word: masterful. In Salt to the Sea, she gives us a glimpse into the mind of a young Nazi sailor, Albert. Due to his ego, he ends up helping Florian, Joana, and Emilia, but his self-centered, propaganda-saturated thoughts are sickening and repulsive. That’s why he’s such an amazing villain: He makes you hate him. I was so disgusted by him that I wrote furious comments about him on my Kindle, something I’ve never done before. I’ve never felt so repelled and infuriated by a character, which is a testament to Sepetys’ talent.

In Between Shades of Gray, she twists the whole concept of villains on its head by portraying a Soviet soldier, Nicolai Kretzsky, sympathetically. As the story progresses, she reveals his humanity, his compassion for the prisoners that he is too afraid to show, and ultimately, his hatred of himself. The pain of his own story as a half-Pole rejected by the other Soviet soldiers and the despair he feels at what he has become pierced me. All villains are, at their hearts, humans.

War had bled the color from everything, leaving nothing behind but a storm of gray.

So, maybe you want to read this story now. Maybe you feel the pull of great writing and beautiful stories, of unforgettable characters and ringing truths.

Don’t give in.  Don’t read these books.

Why? Because they hurt. These stories hurt. They are dark and painful and horrifying. I am not exaggerating in this: Not everyone could handle them. The atrocities Sepetys recounts with brutal honesty are sickening. The sufferings endured by the Baltic people are gut-wrenching. The tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhem Gustloff is horrific.

I closed both books feeling shaken, shattered. I felt a deep sob bottled in my chest, too large and too raw to be let loose. These kinds of things really happened in our world? Less than a hundred years ago? In the continent in which I know live? Dear God, why?

But it wasn’t despair. Had the stories ended in the hopelessness, I would have been less shaken. What shook me is that all this did happen and still, people lived. They made it through. Furthermore, they loved. They even laughed. That there could be hope in the face of such devastation, that there could be a future in the face of such irreparable loss—that is a truth Sepetys boldly confronts too. And this truth is so bright it blinds.

Was it harder to die, or harder to be the one who survived? I was sixteen, … [imprisoned] in Siberia, but I knew. It was the one thing I never questioned. I wanted to live.

That is what resonated so deeply with me about these books: They are true. Not only that all this—the mass murders and the survivals—actually happened in history, but that it is true that humans are capable of mind-boggling evil and also incredible love and bravery. It is true of this world, too, that there is a God in control of it who can give life and love and laughter in the midst of horrible travesties and enable humans to survive unthinkable hardships.

You have to decide for yourself if you can handle the darker aspects of these novels, but if you can, and if you choose to delve in the world of Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Lina—a world of shattering brutality and brilliant courage—you will be well rewarded. Don’t let these stories be forgotten.

Every nation has a hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past. ~ Ruta Sepetys

{Fireside Fridays} The Two Ways Books Are Magical

Open book against defocused lights abstract background

Books are magical. I think we can all agree on that. You open up the cover of a book, and you can almost see the fairy dust floating up from its pages.    The shiver down your spine when you finger a new tome or reach the climax or discover some startling revelation is much akin, I’m sure, to what you might feel if you watched Gandalf show off his dazzling fireworks. When you get sucked into another world, when you make friends with people who don’t exist (except that, of course, they do), when you are made to laugh and weep by sorcerers who weave words—what else is it but magic?

As with other things in this world, like love and friendships and sandwiches, there are different kinds of magic. One is the magic of reading alone. You know what I’m talking about: You’re lying on your bed, the door closed, book in your hands. You’ve decorated your room with posters and quotes from your favorite characters, but you don’t see those now, don’t register anything except the words flowing through you in an anthem of adventure. The world around you fades away (see? magic), and you are absorbed into the book. You are no longer reading the story, you are living it. You don’t notice it, but your face changes in reaction to the emotions the characters are feeling. The characters—what am I talking about? They are your friends now, your enemies, your acquaintances, populating your world. Your heart races during seemingly hopeless battles, and your skin prickles in mist-cloaked dungeons. You laugh out loud when that witty fellow makes a joke, and you positively beam when your sister (even though you don’t have a sister in “real” life) is happy. You throw you arms around her in joy even though you’re still lying on your bed. And you weep. You weep when your beloved friend dies, when your sister is hurt, when the little boy on the street is mistreated.

And then the magic wears off. The potency of the potion fades. You close the book. Slowly, reluctantly, you return to your room, to the world you were born into. You notice the crick in your neck from sitting in the same position too long. You hear your stomach rumbling or the screams of the kids outside your window. You’re back. But part of you isn’t. Part of you is still in the story world, and part of you will always stay there. You will always relive that adventure, always enjoy reuniting with those characters—those friends. They call this world the real world, but somehow the so-called story world has bled into reality and transformed it.

That is one kind of magic. It is a special treasure that you carry close to your heart, a haven you run to when the world seems set against you. Though others have had similar experiences, they have not shared that exact one with you. You walk among people with a glow in your heart, the secret of your adventure singing in your mind for hours, days, years after it finishes.

But there is another kind of magic. I have been exposed to it since I was little, since before I can remember, and only recently have I begun to realize what a blessing it is. Only recently have I begun to realize that it is magic, probably because it embedded itself into my veins early, and I have come to unconsciously depend on its power.

It began, as I said, before I can remember, but I’ll start with what memories I do have. One of the first is The Lupine Lady, the lady who traveled the world and lived by the sea and made the world more beautiful by planting fields of lupines—lush, stunning, every shade of purple you can imagine. I don’t know how many times my parents read that one to me. But now, whenever we see it in a store or on the shelf, we look at each other and smile.

Doesn’t sound like magic, you say. Wait. There’s more.

Skip forward a few years, and I can read now. I can read! Not very much or very well, maybe, but I can do it. But even so, my mom does a strange thing. Well, not strange to me, because I am used to it. The magic is already a part of my life. You see, though I can read, she keeps reading to me. I read to her out of my beginner book, and then we set it down and settle into the couch cushions, the stress of school forgotten. This is the best part of the day for both of us. She picks up Little House on the Prairie and picks up where we, reluctantly, let off yesterday. I am swept away to a small house under a vast sky in an age so very different from my own—much like the first magic. But this time, my mom is swept away too. With me. The minute she opens the book, it as if we grab hands and stand on the edge of a portal, prairie wind reaching through and rustling our hair. Then she reads the first words, and we are through, together, still holding hands as we watch Laura and Ma make cheese. We marvel at their ingenuity and brace ourselves against the fierce, cold winters. We discuss Laura’s jealousy of Mary and how we both have brown hair too and how we’ve felt like Laura but how she should have responded differently.

As we read and as we talk, look at us. Maybe you can see the gold threads starting to form between us, growing stronger and thicker and brighter with each word read. The letters on the page seem to float up and join the dazzling bonds that link us together forever. This magic is less of a secret and more of a celebration. It is not a glow inside one soul but a path of light between two.

When I grew older, the magic just grew and deepened. Look back on your childhood: What were its most magical hours? For me, they were with my dad, lying on my bed at night, as he read me The Chronicles of Narnia. Through two moves and many years, we journeyed with the Pevensies, with Digory and Polly, through that enchanted world I will never forget. I would beg him not to stop, and he would usually give in, finishing the chapter or starting just a little bit of the next one. Or he would say, “Well, this is the end of the chapter, so if Mr. Lewis thought it was a good place to stop, it probably is.”

Now we grin at each other when Narnia references come up and say, “Do you remember when we found out such-and-such? or when that scene happened?” I felt safe, listening to his low, strong voice, wrapped up in my blanket and in the wonder of the worlds we were walking through together. I felt loved, that he would come read to me every night that he could for years. Years. Imagine how strong those gold cords were between us after that. Together, we rejoiced when the White Witch was defeated, mourned as Reepicheep left, and laughed at Lewis’ dry humor and colorful characters (how we loved Puddleglum!). We unravelled his allegories and decided in which order we thought the books should be read.

The magic grew to include our whole family. When my dad was deployed, we kids would grab blankets and cuddle up on the floor of my mom’s room while she introduced to All of a Kind Family. The hours walking through New York City behind this bustling family of girls, learning about Jewish customs, made a fortress around us to protect us from the cold, empty place where Daddy should have been. When he came back, we continued the tradition. We debated—rather fiercely at times—whether the Little Scout was a boy or a girl in The Bee-Keeper and urged Heather and Pickett on in The Green Ember. Now we’re in Germany, but the magic has followed us, because the memories of all the adventures we’ve gone on together will never leave us. The magic will forever run from heart to heart on its gleaming path. We like to predict what will happen and stop and marvel at revelations when they occur. References to the books we’ve read together come up at dinner or during everyday conversation. When someone else mentions a family read-aloud, we look at each and grin, and the gold between us shines like the sun.

This magic is warm and strong and dazzling like the happiest smile, and as cozy and comforting and familiar as a fire on the hearth. It builds together and binds together, it strengthens and heals. You may not notice it as much as you do the first magic, but you know, painfully, when it is lacking. It runs through your days in a subtle undercurrent of peace and trickles into real life through laughter and inside jokes.

So: books are magic. Whether a treasure or a fortress, a secret or a family song, they will add beauty to your days and strength to your soul as surely as any wizard’s fireworks or concoctions.

Hey! Just a little house-keeping note: I won’t have wifi next week, so there won’t be a Fireside Fridays. However, I am scheduling one or two posts, so this place won’t be totally silent. I (obviously) won’t be able to respond to comments then, but please do leave them, and I’ll get to them when I get back! Keep on dreaming, friends. 

{Fireside Fridays} 5 Reasons Why Ebooks Help You Read More

Wait a minute, you say. Didn’t she post something a while back about why ebooks will never replace paper and ink ones? Indeed I did. But that doesn’t mean ebooks have no value. As I’ve been traveling this month, I’ve come to realize how useful and even delightful they can be. I’m a sucker for real books you can hold and flip through, and I love adding to the array of colors and shapes on my bookshelf. But I’ve begun to appreciate ebooks more, too. In fact, I’ve realized that they can actually help you read more than you would if you only had paperback books. So, reluctant readers, listen up. And you bookworms—maybe this will convince you to give ebooks a try.


{ 5 Reasons Why Ebooks Help You Read More }


1. Ebooks are (usually) cheaper than paper books. 

Which helps you read more because when each individual book is less, you can afford to buy more books. I can attest to this from personal experience. On this vacation, I was browsing Barnes and Nobles and came upon a book that looked really interesting. But it was twenty-something dollars. Gulp. So I went online and found that the Kindle version was only fourteen—still pretty expensive for an ebook, but considering that this particular book had just come out, it’s a good deal. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than the paper version. A few days later, I read about a book that sounded like something I’d enjoy. Instead of having to save up for it, I found that the ebook version was a mere five bucks. Because of ebooks’ cheaper prices, I was able to get two more books than I would have if only paper books were available. Doesn’t that just make your bookworm heart happy?

2. Ebooks can help you find other books. 

I had a Nook, and now I have a Kindle app on my iPad, and both have Other-Books-You-Might-Like-type features. In all honesty, sometimes I waste too much time browsing through them, but they have really helped find great books that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. Plus, Nook and Kindle also let you sample books, which has often convinced me to buy a book that I wouldn’t have if I had just read its blurb. With huge libraries at your fingertips and services that figure out your reading preferences, ebooks are vastly helpful in discovering new reads.

3. You don’t have to worry about forgetting to bring a book. 

Have you ever been somewhere and wished you had a book with you? Maybe the wait at the doctor’s office is long or the pool is too cold, and you wish you’d brought a book. You probably had your phone or tablet with you, however. Here’s the awesome thing about ebooks: You can get Kindle and Nook apps so you can read ebooks on your phone or tablet. It may not be the most fun way to read, but reading is more fun than being bored and better for your brain than scrolling through Facebook. Ebook-reading apps provide access to books wherever you are. If you’re a bookworm, you’re probably thinking that you carry around a paper book more often than you do a phone, but if you’re the type that struggles to find time to read, this can be so helpful. When books are so easily accessible, you’ll be more likely to read.

4. Ebooks don’t get lost. 

This ties in to the point above. You’re much less likely to lose an electronic device than some ol’ paper book. I know, I know, we’ve all lost electronic devices before, too. But still, most people take more care of them because they’re more expensive and valuable. So, if your books on an electronic device, you probably won’t lose them. Paper books, on the other hand, are relatively easy to lose. We just don’t keep tabs on them quite as carefully as we do phones—because, no matter how much you love books, you have to admit that phones are much more expensive and more necessary for daily life (though that’s arguable).

5. You can get books quickly. 

Right here is one of my favorite parts of ebooks. I love being able to get a new book instantaneously. Of course, there’s a very special thrill of paper books arriving in the mail—anticipating them, flipping them over and relishing their shiny covers and fresh smell. But sometimes I’m so impatient for a good read that I’m willing to forgo the aesthetic appeal of paper books. You’re also more likely to buy books if you can read them right away. If you have to wait, you might lose the motivation to spend money on a book, or you might have lost your excitement for it by the time it arrives. This is especially helpful for people who aren’t quite as into reading. If you can dive into a book when you’re at the height of your excitement about it, you’re much more likely to finish it and buy more books in the future.

Again, I’m a huge fan of paper books, and I don’t believe they’ll ever be obliterated. But there are many benefits to ebooks, from their lack of size to their easy ways to highlight quotes. They can be especially helpful for reluctant readers or people who struggle finding time to read. For voracious bookworms like me, they enable you to read even more books—and who doesn’t want that?

What do you think about ebooks—are you forever against them or have you fallen in love? Do you have any reasons to add to this list? How have ebooks helped you?

{Fireside Fridays} My Five Favorite Books for Teen Girls

You know what I’m talking about—those non-fiction Christian self-help-type books specifically targeted for teen girls. You’ve probably seen ones focused on a certain topic, like purity. I’ve read my fair share of these types of books, and I’ll be honest: A lot of them are, well, not so great. I don’t mean in content—most of them have good, solid messages. But in terms of writing quality, an engaging style, and the ability to stick with me, many don’t quite make it. They all start to say the same thing in the same way. However, not all of these books are like that. I’ve found a few that have unique, engaging writing styles and powerful messages that still inspire me, years after having read them. Are you ready?

Also, I’d like to point out that I’m sure there are many similar books geared to teen guys, but as I’m not one, I haven’t read any of them. I apologize, guys.

{My Five Favorite Books for Teen Girls}

1. Do Hard Things // Alex & Brett Harris

Okay, so this is for guys too (go read it, men), but it’s so good that I have to mention it. The basic premise of this book is found in the subtitle: “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.” I remember one time a Sunday School teacher prefaced a class by saying, “Now, I know you all are teenagers and don’t care much about God or listening to teachers.” That’s the kind of “low expectations” this book is out to combat. When you hear that kind of thing enough—when you get the “you’re a teen, so you must be lazy and disrespectful” vibe enough—you start to live up to it. When you realize you can pass classes without working too hard, you don’t work as hard. When you feel peer pressure strangling you, you stop standing up for truth.

And in doing so, you’re wasting the best years of your life.

Yeah, your best years. In this book, Alex and Bretth—teenagers themselves when they wrote this book—explain why those low expectations are so ridiculous, reveal how you might be accepting them, and help you get back on track and start making the most of these incredibly valuable years that you’ll never have again. Everybody—even if you aren’t a teen anymore—needs to read this book. I mean it. Plus, it’s really funny and easy to read. So there. No excuse.

2. Praying for Your Future Husband // Robin Jones Gunn & Tricia Goyer

Praying for your future husband is just one of things you think you should do, but really? First off, it’s weird and frankly seems quite pointless. You’re praying for someone whom you know absolutely nothing about except that you’re supposed to marry them someday, apparently? Plus, what on earth do you pray about? His handsomeness? Yeah, probably not. “Please let him marry me?” Well, duh, of course he’s going to. But in this book, Robin and Tricia explain both why and how we should pray for our future husbands.

What I love is their stories, which they unfold through each chapter: Robin was your typical “good” Christian girl who thought she’d found the man of her dreams. Tricia got pregnant from her high school boyfriend. Pretty different, huh? But each story reveals truths about marriage, real love, and how the power of prayer impacts both. I also love how the book is set up. After the first part, which explains why you should be praying for your future husband, each chapter talks about one characteristic to pray for, such as commitment or integrity. Each women has a section where they tie in their story to this attribute. Then there’s a list of prayer requests relating to that chapter’s topic, a sample prayer, a space for journaling, and a quote or verse. It’s well laid-out, easy to use, and so extremely helpful. Plus, Robin and Tricia also talk about how to be content now, wherever God has you. Praying for your future husband is not just about helping your future marriage be healthy. It’s about strengthening your faith now, being a blessing in your current relationships, and trusting God in whatever path He puts you on.

3. The Divine Dance // Shannon Kubiak Primacero

“If the world is your stage, who are you performing for?” the front cover asks, and boy, was that a question I needed to answer. This book was a breath of fresh air for me, a path to freedom. Basically, Shannon uses the idea of dancing as a metaphor for our lives—how we dance is how we live and our audience is whoever we are trying to impress. All too often, she says, we are dancing for peers, teachers, even the applause of strangers. But when that happens, your steps falter, your strength gives out, and sometimes you collapse on stage in front of everyone. Worst of all, you lose your love of dancing. You are constantly masquerading, hiding behind your costume, wearing yourself out with the pretending.

But when you let the One who loves you best lead you into a small room where there are no stagelights, no glitter, no vast seas of faces—then you can truly dance and enjoy the dancing. Okay, so it sounds all nice, but how do you live it out? Shannon beautifully moves from the allegory of dancing to real life application, weaving in her own story of trying to impress others and how she found freedom in resting in God’s approval. That’s an important point she makes—it’s not about what you do. Ultimately, it’s not about your dance. It’s about your Audience of One and how much He delights in you, in all your imperfections. Because we can wear ourselves out trying to dance perfectly for God, too. Right audience, wrong motives. Instead, we must remind ourselves what He thinks of us and stop trying so hard to be perfect, because we can’t. When we realize how much we are loved, it frees us to dance with abandon and joy.

4. Lies Young Women Believe // Nancy Leigh DeMoss & Dannah Gresh

I wish I could just quote the Amazon blurb and leave it at that because it’s so good, but I’ll leave you the link and attempt to offer my own impressions. In short, Nancy and Dannah (I’m realizing how many of these books were co-authored. Huh.) list 25 lies young women believe based on extensive interviews and surveys they’ve conducted among girls throughout the nation. Then they combat each lie with truth, both with statistical and scientific facts and Bible verses. They share their own struggles in these areas and stories of girls they’ve met who have fought these lies and won. It’s a very personal, real book, with lots of humor, heart, and hope. They conveniently split the lies into groups, like lies about God or lies about guys. One thing I love about this book are the amazing graphics and layout. It’s a joy just to look at, and it’s well-written, which makes the messages so much stronger.

When I first read this book, I thought I’d got it all mostly figured out. I’m a good a girl, right? But this book revealed that no matter how strong a Christian you are, you are still susceptible to believing lies. Women especially are—consider Eve. Right from the beginning, we’ve been prone to falling to deception. When Nancy and Dannah so clearly laid out these common lies, I realized how I do believe many of them. Not all applied to me, but some did. It was immensely encouraging to realize I’m not alone and to find help in focusing on the truth.

Here are some examples of the lies they discuss (thank you, Amazon blurb):

“I know God should be the only thing that satisfies, but if it could be Him and my friends, then I could be happy.”

“It seems like I have been struggling with depression forever. I always feel like I am not good enough.”

“I tell myself that I don’t really listen to the song lyrics, but once I hear a song a few times and start thinking about what they’re saying I realize that it’s too late.  It’s already stuck in my head.”

“For me, the whole wife and mom thing is overrated. It isn’t cool to want a husband and a family.”

5. Graceful // Emily P. Freeman

Attention, all those skimming this blog post: Stop. Now. Because this book is my favorite one on the list. It’s one of those that has literally changed my life. I am going to quote the blurb on this one, because it’s such a good summary of this book (bonus: it’s short):

For the prom queen, the athlete, the bookworm, and the dreamer.

For the good test taker and the strict list maker. For the rule follower, the fear wallower, the messy, and the misunderstood. For the self-critic, the silent judge, and the girl who feels invisible.

For the girl who is tired of trying and the one afraid to fail.

These words are for you.

You don’t have to be perfect. But do you trust the One who is?

The God who came to save you also came to live with you, in you, today.

If you’ve been struggling with expectations–from your parents, your teachers, your friends, and even yourself–Graceful is for you. Are you trying hard to catch up but aren’t sure what it is you’re chasing? Read and be set free.

I don’t know about you, but this fits me to the T. In her beautiful, honest, empathetic way, Emily uses her own life and the lives of the girls in her youth group to address the fact that so many of us are striving to “do it right.” We feel like we’re missing something in our Christian walk, but what is it? What do we have to do?

And that’s her point: There’s nothing we have to do. No way, you say. Give me a checklist to the Christian faith, and I’ll do it. But it doesn’t work like that. Being a Christian means a relationship with Jesus, not a checklist. Emily invites us to rest in Jesus’ love for us, in the fact that He has already done everything there is to do. It’s hard to grasp, and sometimes it feels like, how do I apply this to my life? Emily helps with that by addressing one kind of girl—one example of how we strive to get it right—each chapter, like the Activist (hiding behind her good causes). I found that I related to most of the kinds of girls. There’s guaranteed to be one that resonates with you. Instead of hiding behind whatever we find our worth in—our good causes, our dreams, our grades, our reputations, etc.—Emily encourages us to hide in Jesus and shows how to do that.

I think the reason this book moved me so much was that it’s for “good girls.” A lot of teen girl books seem to assume that everyone is doing drugs and alcohol and rebelling against parents or God. None of those apply to me. But just because I look good on the outside and really do want to be good inside doesn’t mean I don’t have my struggles. Emily can completely relate to the good girls, and she offers words of hope for us: You’re not alone. You don’t have to get it right. You don’t have to be perfect. I’ve reread her words several times, and with each reading, I find renewed love for Jesus—because Emily has reminded me how much He loves me—and freedom from the pressure to be perfect. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite teen girl books? Do any of these sound like something you need?

{Fireside Fridays} The Book That Terrified Me



I want to jump into this, into my thoughts and reactions and emotions and conclusions. I want to explore what it all means—what this book means—and how my life is affected by that meaning. I want to wrestle out truth from this confusion. But, like any good story, I think I need to start at the beginning.

I read a book called My Name is Asher Lev. It’s by Chaim Potok, the one who wrote The Chosen, which I so lauded a few months ago. It is about—what is it about? Well, obviously, a boy named Asher Lev. Asher has an insatiable desire to draw, to put the world around him into lines and shapes and color and paint. This is a problem, because Asher is a Hasidic Jew, and Hasidic Jews believe art is from the Other Side—the devil. But what is really about?

It is about tension, about being torn, about two worlds you strain in vain to reconcile. Tension between father and son, husband and wife, leader and messenger. Tension between tradition and truth—the truth that Asher has a gift and must satisfy its demands. Tension between his desire to be a good Jew and obey his parents and his desire to paint—no, his need to paint.

It is about art and what makes one an artist. It is about completing things, finishing what others have started. It is about inheritance and heritage, these great, glorious burdens we must shoulder—or must we? It is about identity. It is about separation and diverging paths. It is about choices.

I don’t know if I should write spoilers. I want to, I feel that it will make this richer, but I don’t want to ruin anything for you. I don’t want to drive you away from this. So I will say this:

In the climax, Asher faces a choice: be true to himself and paint the truest painting he can, or paint a good but less true painting. The problem? Truth hurts. Truth is painful. Sometimes truth destroys. And the truth he feels he must paint will wound those closest to him so deeply that the scars may never heal. But he does not have to do this. He can paint something else, something that will still bring him money and even fame, but something less raw, less real, less true. It will mean that his relationship with his family will strengthen, that they will finally be at peace with him and the profession he has chosen.

Which will he choose?

Others have remarked at Potok’s genius, how he can pull the reader along and create such a effect on them, such a climax, when there is essentially no plot. The book is a chronicle of the beginning of a boy’s life—it is the journey from child prodigy to full-fledged artist. But very little really  happens. Much of the book is taken up with Asher’s inward turmoil and thoughts and perceptions. Yet still, readers are captured by it. No one can read it and avoid becoming invested in it, intellectually and emotionally.

Still others comment on the writing style, the sparse, unemotional, terse sentences, the episodic narrative, how these give us further insight into Asher’s mind and personality and highlight the struggles he is facing. There are dozens of literary approaches to take to this book, technical ways of analyzing it. But when I finished the book, all I could think about was what it meant.

I say you can tell how good a book was by what your reaction to finishing it is. What do you do when you close the cover?

For My Name is Asher Lev, my heart was thumping wildly during the last pages, the climax, because I had to believe, was desperate to believe, that it would end happily. That there would be resolution, reconciliation, healing. That it couldn’t

“Oh man.” I had closed the book. “Wow oh man.”

I jumped up; I had been lying on my bed. I jumped up, paced up and down the massive corridor of a hallway outside my room. Oh man.

Then I had to collect myself; it was time to be with people. But my heart didn’t stop racing, and all I could think was, Oh man.

It happened maybe an hour later, in the shower, all by myself: I cried. I bawled. I was afraid, I was disturbed—I had said once I loved books that shook me up. I hadn’t known what I was talking about. I hate them. I hate this book. 

I am afraid of it. 

But with that fear came anger. I was so angry. The book was wrong, wrong, wrong. It had to be. But that was where the fear came in:

For I was not completely sure that it was wrong. I was not sure at all. What if it was right? There was something niggling in the back of my mind, in my heart—it’s right, and this is real life (time you finally faced it), and you will have to make that choice, too.  

That is the key, the breaking point. I read a goodreads review by a man who said he had trouble relating to Asher or understand his drive to paint—because this man had not experienced something like it. I understand that. I think that many readers, while they might be deeply moved by this book and appreciate it and analyze it (probably more thoroughly and more accurately than I), will not quite be able to understand Asher’s passion. And thus I think they will not be so affected—or affected in the same way—as I was.

You see, I can understand Asher. I too am an artist, just with a different medium. Oh, the differences are quite large, I know—the differences between paint and poetry, portrait and prose. But this is the same: the passion. The insatiable need to create. George Orwell called it a demon that drives one to write, and I rather agree (not an actual demon, just the idea of some powerful force you cannot fight forever forcing you to write something). Asher has the demon, too.

And this is why, the beginning of why, this book made me cry and rage and tremble. Because whatever happened to Asher—whatever choices he faced—I will face too. I too am devoted to my religion, and I too am driven to create. If he had to choose between them, won’t I have to?

I am terrified of that choice.

I know sometimes either-or statements are valid. God says,”You are against me or for me. You cannot serve two masters.” Those are sound. But most often? No way. 

My Name is Asher Lev presents a dilemma: create true art and hurt those you love or create something less true but keep harmony with those you love. You can see why it made me so afraid. I deeply value truth and one of the things I seek the most is to create something true. But I also value harmony. I value people, and I deeply desire to make people happy, to bring them together, to heal them. And if it’s people I love—I will do anything for them. You’re saying I have to choose between those two things?

More than that, must I choose between art and my religion? I don’t like using the term “religion”—it sounds so … impersonal, so ritualistic and external, as opposed to this personal relationship and purpose for every single moment that I have in Christ. But I think you know what I mean. In My Name is Asher Lev, he stays a Jew, a devout Jew, but he does defy much of its tradition and alienates himself from most, almost all, of his people. It makes me feel like, can I stay a true Christian and be an artist? You’re saying I have to choose between those two things?

I rebel against that choice.

I do not believe you have to choose. I believe there is another way.

I hate that choice. I hate it.

I know why: I want to believe that anything is possible. You say it can’t happen, and I immediately think, Yes, it can. Nothing is impossible. Okay, I do have my limits, but really, I believe far more things are possible than what people think. This means that one of my greatest dislikes is a false dilemma. Either you do this or that happens. There are only two options. Only two. Choose. Choose. And my reaction is: There are more than two choices. There is another option—are many other options. Don’t you dare lie to me with this false set of choices.

A few days after I finished My Name is Asher Lev, I happened to pick up a book called Art and the Bible by Francis Shaeffer. I’d actually started it a week or so ago, and being the compulsive clutter-clean-upper that I am, I decided I’d better finish it so I could clear off another book from my in-progress stack.

Shaeffer shouts it in small words hung in the middle of the page:

“The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

In the forward, Michael Card writes, “We were free, he insisted, our imaginations were free. We were free to create, as long as we never forgot that we are slaves to Jesus.”

What is this book about? Basically this: There is another way. You do not have to choose.

Shaeffer journeys through Scripture, pointing out how art was used in it, how God commanded it to be used, and how God wanted beautiful things made just for the sake of being beautiful. He then lays out important things to keep in mind as a Christian artist. Running through it all is the assurance:

You do not have to choose.

Jesus already chose you. And when He did, He freed you. He freed your hands and your mind from the chains of sin so you can create truth. So you can create truth. He freed your soul to know Ultimate Beauty, the God who created beauty, who embodies beauty. He made a child and heir of the God who is the Creator of all. He made you the truest artist you can be on this earth. 

When you are a Christian,there is no choice between art and faith because faith encompasses art. In fact, true art is only possible when you have true faith. 

But of course it isn’t that simple.

You do still have to make choices. For instance, what if you want to tell your story of how God has saved you from darkness, a story that you can tell beautifully and that could bless so many people, drawing them closer to God? But what if that story might hurt or embarrass those close to you who are involved in it? Do you hide some of the details to protect them? Does that make the story less true? Is it possible to protect them at all? If not, should you still tell it?

So, choices. But there is this: that God will work out everything for the good of those who love him. The feeling that they are stifled in their art because of fear of hurting others, the lack of peace in a family because they created something true but painful—follow God’s will, and He will do the healing. This promise, too: God’s will is always what is best for us. So you cannot tell that story out of respect for your loved ones? That is not stifling your artistry or limiting you, though it may feel like it. God commands you to respect your parents, so if you abstain from a certain piece of artwork because you are honoring that, He will bless you. He has better things in store—better art for you to create, truer art, more satisfying art.

Asher had neither of these promises.

It’s still not simple. It’s still not easy. It’s a lifetime of trying and failing and trying again, trying to do right, trying to figure out and follow God’s will. Shaeffer knows this, and he wrote something about it that I found immensely encouraging:

And as a Christian adopts and adapts various contemporary techniques, he must wrestle with the whole question, looking to the Holy Spirit for help to know when to invent, when to adopt, when to adapt and when not to use a specific style at all. This is something each artist wrestles with for a lifetime, not something he settles once and for all. 

As Christian artists, we must wrestle. We must struggle and sweat. Our whole lives. A demon indeed. But we have hope. For Christianity finds no separation between truth and beauty, and God will never call us to do opposing things, like honoring family while also creating beautiful truth. If those things seem to oppose, we have His promise that He will not give us more than we can handle. He will provide a way out. He never makes us choose between two evils. That is one dilemma that is always false.

Shaeffer talks about the “wholeness of man” in Christ. That tension Asher always experienced—we do not have to. He didn’t have to. When Jesus is lord, all the tensions fade as everything settles into its rightful, redeemed, perfect, complete place.

I pick up My Name is Asher Lev, turn it over.

I want you to know I am not bashing this book. In fact, I urge every artist—and non-artist—to read it. Not only is it masterfully well-written and a fascinating insight into the life of a Hasidic Jew and artist, but it makes you think. It shakes you up. And that is good.

Yes, it’s good. I hated how this book shook me up, but I have come to realize that it may not be fun, but it is good. I know I needed to be shaken up. I needed to think about this. I needed to be afraid, to have doubts. How can you find answers if you don’t question?

I still feel a little shaken. But I am not so terrified by that anymore.

One of the best things about this book was how I could connect with Asher. That was what made it so upsetting, but it was also deeply comforting. I’m not alone. Others look at the world and are compelled (in the truest sense of the word) to translate it into art. Thank you for that, Chaim Potok. Thank you for your honesty and your insights and your willingness to handle hard topics and ask hard questions and stand against the crowd. Thank you.

And thank You, God, for being All-Good, All-Beautiful, and All-True.

{Fireside Fridays} My Favorite Settings in Fiction Books

I don’t know about you, but setting often makes or breaks a book for me. When an author uses a unique or memorable setting, it enhances and moves along the plot, adds another dimension to the characters, and makes the theme stick with me longer. Powerful imagery goes a long way in helping me enjoy and remember a book. Today, I thought I’d list my favorite settings from fiction books. I’m going with fiction only instead of just books in general because then I’d probably end up with a list full of fantasy books, since those usually boast incredible settings. However, I want to highlight how settings in our own world can still be poignant and exciting.

Also, let me note that these are my favorite settings—places that I’d want to visit, places that thrilled my soul. Many books, like Dickens’ and The Great Gatsby, employ setting masterfully, but those places aren’t beautiful or appealing to me. Instead of an essay on which books use setting best, today I’m highlighting locations that captured my imagination.


1. The Good Master // Kate Seredy

Eastern Europe is a place I know very little—and have read very few books—about, so when a friend recommended this young adult book about a girl in pre-war Hungary, I was so excited. I’ve never been to Hungary (big surprise, I know), but this book made me fall in love with its huge plains and rolling hills, with its quaint towns and colorful customs. The story follows a city girl who goes to live with her cousin in the country, so in a way, she’s as unfamiliar with the land as I am. Her growing delight in the rural life and vast fields poured through the pages into me, and I dream of one day actually visiting the wild, harsh, beautiful plains of Hungary.


2. The Nine Tailors // Dorothy Sayers

I could have listed any number of Dorothy Sayers books, actually; she does a remarkable job of weaving the setting into her plot, making it an integral part of the solving of the mysteries. However, The Nine Tailors‘ setting stood out to me the most of all her books. It takes place in a small village in the English fens, another place I want to visit (you’ll probably be hearing that a lot in this post). The wild weather, harshness of the land, and threat of flooding brood over the book, percolating into the plot and characters, filling it all with a sense of danger and ruggedness. It adds to the already ominous mystery, and it provides a striking and majestic backdrop to the church with its old and glorious bells. The combination of the mysterious theft, ancient bells ringing on through the storm, and the mighty storm itself is something I’ll never forget.


3. Anne of Green Gables // L. M. Montgomery 

Who could forget Prince Edward Island? Yes, you guessed it—I want to visit there, too. (My To Be Visited List is probably as long as my To Be Read one.) I love its quiet charm, the calm, quaint pace of life, the fields of wildflowers blowing atop the dunes that run down to the sapphire sea. I want to wander through the placid, sun-streaked woods with Anne and visit the secret coves by the ocean. I want to walk on Lover’s Lane and, most of all, along the Birch Path. I want to live in a little cottage in the forest or near a field or by the sea. *sighs wistfully*


4. Green Dolphin Street // Elizabeth Goudge

This is it, guys. This book has my favorite settings of all time. Are you ready to hear about them?

You’ll notice that I said settings plural, because the wonderful thing about this story is that it happens in two places: the Channel Islands of England and New Zealand. You might have realized by now that I love the ocean, and the island where the first part takes place sounds like heaven on earth. It’s washed over with salt air, ringing with the waves pounding against its cliffs, thrumming with the wildness and energy of the ocean. There are caves in the cliffs where you can climb and secret coves with rare shells that only the adventurous stumble upon. Its beaches stretch out to rocky stepping stones only visible at low tide, where you can stand at the edge of the sea.

Then there’s New Zealand. I’d wanted to go there before I read the book—mainly because that’s where The Lord of the Rings were filmed, ahem—but Green Dolphin Street magnified that desire a hundred times. It’s wild, too, but ever so beautiful. From the thick forests and rocky mountains to the lush, emerald fields nestled in rolling hills, the place sounds magical. It’s so diverse—mountains and ocean, what could be better?—and every part of it sounds rich, vibrant, and stunning. It’s the kind of place that you could lose your heart to. Plus, Elizabeth Goudge’s lyrical descriptions of both of these places literally make me starry-eyed.

There you are! Four settings that grabbed when I first read about them and are still dazzling my mind. They’re all a little different, but I’m noticing common themes—they’re all natural, first of all, no cities. They all also have a hint of wildness, ruggedness, of vastness and expanse. I guess they awaken the adventurer in me.

Now I want you to tell me what settings you have loved most. It’s so fun to see how everyone’s different and in love with such varying places. Close your eyes and remember which books had locations that you just wanted to jump into, cities or mountains that captured your heart. And then let me know!

Happy Friday!

{Fireside Fridays} 5 Amazing Books I’ve Read This Month

And if we’re being honest here, they’re the only books I’ve read this month. But hey, at least I didn’t read five awful books. I was starting to type up my monthly miscellany post, and I decided I’d write a little summary of each book I’ve read this month. The little summaries turned into not-so-little ravings, so I decided these books deserve their own post. There’s still one more month of summer left, so if you’re looking for a few more good reads before school sets in, here are some ideas.

5. Lavinia / Ursula K. Le Guin



While this wasn’t everything I’d hoped for, it certainly wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it could have been. I appreciated how Le Guin didn’t overturn Aeneas’ hero status, as many modern retellings of myths do. While she didn’t scorn the idea of him being a hero, she didn’t portray him as implausibly perfect, either. She told his—and more importantly, Lavinia’s—story with graciousness, making it realistic without losing the threads of grandeur the original tale bears. I like how she made Lavinia strong but not rebellious or historically unfeasible. The connection between Lavinia and Virgil, and his impact on her life, was also very creative. As a lover of ancient history and a Latin nerd, this tale of the first foundations of Rome was rewarding.

4. Vinegar Girl / Anne Tyler



WORLD magazine listed this as their #1 fiction book of the year, and that, combined with the fact that it’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, totally made me want to read it. While I’m a little surprised that it made number one (there wasn’t anything better?), it’s still good, really good. I love Tyler’s writing style, her realistic and empathetic portrayal of people and relationships. I enjoy the way she doesn’t spell everything out but I still know exactly what she’s saying because I’ve seen people behave the same way in real life.

But what I loved most about it was the, well, taming of the shrew. I loved how Kate and Pyotr grew to love each other (spoilers—well, not really, if you’ve read the play and have read any other book ever), how it wasn’t love at first sight or anything mushy and purely physical, how it was the slow growth of respect and attraction from experiencing life and working through problems together. Its depiction of love and marriage was spot-on and refreshingly real and true. I highly recommend it.

3. Storming / K. M. Weiland 



I wasn’t sure how I’d like this book. I’ve read so many rave reviews about K. M. Weiland, but planes and historical fantasy and … what does “dieselpunk” even mean? I’m not a mechanic-y kind of girl.

I shouldn’t have doubted. After a chapter or two in, I was hooked. As I watched Hitch wrestle with his past and his desire to run, as I watched Jael land—literally—in his life and begin to change it, as I watched young, scarred Walter find his bravery, I fell in love with the characters. The plot twists were excellent, the idea and setting creative, and the romance sweet. The best part of it was the people, the relationships, the failing and healing, and the courage it takes to stay, forgive, and love. Highly recommended for a fun yet meaningful read.

2. The Dean’s Watch / Elizabeth Goudge



I’ll admit that I dragged my feet—a lot—about reading this. I love the other Elizabeth Goudge book I’ve read (Green Dolphin Street). But her beginnings are slow, and her writing’s a little hard to get into, especially since I read this after Storming. However, I’m so glad I pushed through the beginning, because it ended up being beautiful. I love the imagery in Goudge’s writing—she’s a true poet, and the way she weaves in the loveliness of nature with spiritual truths is stunning. And the characters. I found another hero in this book. He is by no means perfect, but through his imperfections he is made perfect and does beautiful things. I will never forget Adam Ayscough and how he changed his city. If you want to change the world or make an impact on those around you, this book is for you. If you want a well-crafted tale with inspiring messages and relatable, quirky characters, this book is also for you.

1. Challenger Deep / Neal Shusterman



This is one of those books that shakes you up. It dumps your world upside down and makes you wonderfully, terribly uncomfortable. It leaves your horizons broader and your heart more sensitive. It challenges you with every sentence and strips you of all your preconceptions and safe places. In short, it changes you.

From the quality of his writing to the deeply creative, honest, and empathetic way he handles this sensitive issue of mental illness, Shusterman is a genius. Read this book.

Have you read any of these? What are some of the best books you’ve read this summer? Let’s chat books!