May 18, 2014

A fantasy delight from my youth

A Necklace of Fallen StarsA Necklace of Fallen Stars by Beth Hilgartner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I re-read this beloved book of my childhood for the first time in a long time. The writing is not as skillful as some of my newer favorites, but I'm not going to knock a star off for that because for me, what makes this book five-stars is the fact that it stayed with me for so many years. I was probably 13 when I first read it. I got it from the library, and for years every time I returned to the library I would take it down and read my favorite parts again. I lost track of the number of times I read this book. I grew up and moved away and every once in a while, in bookstores, especially used bookstores, I would look for this book, but I never found it. I mentioned it in one of those "ten books that changed your life" Facebook games, and a friend bought me an ex-library copy off Amazon. So appropriate that I now have a library copy. This is a charming story about a clever couple of teens, and the thing I remember most — the wistful, magical way it made me feel — has not dimmed with time. I love this book.

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April 11, 2014

An enjoyable devotional

Too Blessed to Be Stressed: Inspiration for Climbing Out of Life's Stress-PoolToo Blessed to Be Stressed: Inspiration for Climbing Out of Life's Stress-Pool by Debora M. Coty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Debora M. Coty has a breezy, chatty style that makes you feel like you're having coffee with her at the kitchen table. She draws connections between her wacky, Erma Bombeck-style domestic adventures and Scripture to provide life lessons that help us cope with everyday stressors. I give 4 stars rather than 5 only because this book doesn't dig to quite the theological depth I look for. Other women may see that as a benefit, though. ;)

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March 22, 2014

Art? Or graphic design?

Google's doodle this morning recognizes the 102nd birthday of Agnes Martin.

I'm interested in the visual arts, so I clicked the link to learn more about her. She was an abstract painter who called herself an abstract expressionist, but others called her minimalist. I think the others nailed it. Here's a sample of her canvases from a Google images search:

How you can examine that body of work and not come up with "minimalist," I don't know.

I also don't know why artists like Martin win critical acclaim, and artists who produce work like this don't:

Young Sailors by Clyde Kirkpatrick

OK, full disclosure, that was a blatant plug for my uncle. But this really goes to the heart of what art is. I don't see any value in minimalist abstraction. Looking at Agnes Martin's work, I'm just not left with any sort of feeling at all. She's got some nice color combinations, but so do interior decorators and web designers.

Despite having written a novel about an artist, I have barely begun to study the topic. But one thing I am sure of. Art is not only the skillful execution of the steps necessary to produce a product: that's craft. Art evokes an emotional response. Not just "that's an interesting arrangement of _____" (words, sounds, colors). But "Wow, that really makes me feel _____" (peaceful, sad, joyous).

If art were just the pleasant arrangement of colors, then a lot more people would deserve the kind of recognition Martin got.

March 17, 2014

A must read for new writers

Writing in Obedience - A Primer for Christian Fiction WritersWriting in Obedience - A Primer for Christian Fiction Writers by Terry Burns

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a truly wonderful book that will help Christian writers, especially novelists, clarify their place in the market. It helps us sort out whether our writing is a calling or an offering by describing the difference. It also examines the different types of audiences we may write for and how to tailor your writing for each audience.

The detailed breakdowns of how different stories need to be structured for these different audiences are alone worth the cover price. I have never seen that information anywhere else.

This book is a primer, so the second and third parts of the book contain a lot of information that will be very familiar to anyone who’s been around the writing block a few times. But then, this book is meant for the new writer, so that's OK.

The book is divided into three parts. Part One is packed with unique insights. Parts Two and Three contain a lot of the familiar material, but Burns's really excellent advice about how to keep readers turning pages is explained more clearly than I have ever seen elsewhere. Part Three is about how to get published, with an emphasis on the importance of perseverance.

The book is written in a casual, conversational style, as if you happened to wind up at a dinner table with Burns and Yezak at a conference and got to pick their brains awhile.

Even for those of us who already have a roomful of writing books, this book is a great refresher, and the inspirational angle is invaluable.

For a new writer, this book is a must read.

Disclosure: I received an advance e-copy of this book for review purposes.

This post originally appeared at

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March 9, 2014

Heartfelt devotional for women with eating disorders

Hope for the Hollow: A Thirty-Day Inside-Out Makeover for Women Recovering from Eating DisordersHope for the Hollow: A Thirty-Day Inside-Out Makeover for Women Recovering from Eating Disorders by Jena Morrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This devotional is written for women with full-on, life-threatening eating disorders like anorexia and bullimia. I happened to pick it up while it was on a Kindle free promo, even though my dysfunctional relationship with food isn’t that severe.

This is a well-written, heartfelt devotional. It doesn't contain a lot of heady theological material, which for me is a downside. I realize for some, that’s a benefit.

The author uses the Message translation a lot, which bugs me because I feel Peterson takes a few too many liberties with the text. Nevertheless, the devo is packed with bedrock spiritual truth that can help anyone develop a right view of themselves and restore a right relationship with God and with the food he has given us to richly enjoy.

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March 1, 2014

Masterful storytelling and a thrilling ride

Prophetess (Winter, #2)Prophetess by Keven Newsome

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I waited so long to read the sequel to Winter, a book I love dearly. Prophetess is one of the most amazing pieces of fiction artistry I have ever read. Can I give it six stars?

The book starts out with a puzzle to solve, and it rolls along, picking up speed until by the time you pass the halfway point, you are barreling at breakneck speed to an inevitable ending that is gripping, chilling, and jaw-dropping.

Newsome has mastered pacing. As in book one of this series, he tells two parallel stories set four years apart. This technique is hard to pull off, but he does it brilliantly. Every time he breaks from one story to return to the other, it’s at a moment when you cry “no!” because you want to know what happens next, but you also want to return to the other story, so you carom back and forth between them like a pinball, as the story bats you first one way and then the other full-tilt to the astounding climax.


When book three comes out, it goes to the top of my reading list. Immediately.

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February 18, 2014

Helpful new perspective on sleeplessness

Surrendered Sleep: A Biblical PerspectiveSurrendered Sleep: A Biblical Perspective by Charles W. Page

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first saw this book, I was curious about how there could be a biblical approach to insomnia. The Bible doesn’t say a lot on this subject specifically, but it turns out to have a lot more to say about sleep generally than you might think.

If you’ve already read a lot of “sleep hygiene” literature, some of this book will sound familiar. But Dr. Page takes the approach to healthful sleep to a whole new level.

Whereas most sleep literature focuses on behaviors, Dr. Page understands that there’s more to sleeplessness than the temperature of your room or what time you turn in. He gets it. The things that keep us awake aren’t really our outward habits. The things that keep us awake are our inward anxieties and troubles.

That’s why this book has chapters on relationships, work, and finances—often tops on my list of late-night rumination. He also examines how a closer walk with God, while it might not put us to sleep, will make the sleeplessness easier to cope with.

Plenty of sleep researchers have said something like, if you can’t sleep after half an hour, get up and do something else until you’re sleepy. Which if you’re like me could mean you’re up until 2 or 3 a.m. reading or knitting. Or reading and knitting.

Dr. Page is the first writer I’ve seen suggest that if you’re still awake in the middle of the night, you should probably be praying about whatever is keeping you up.

The book contains a lot of thoughtful questions to probe what is troubling you and where you stand with God. My copy is now thoroughly highlighted and Post-It noted.

There are a few problems with the book; some awkward sentences and typos. The interior page design is striking, but kind of odd and distracting, diced up by dark horizontal and vertical bars. The exploration questions are placed in the margins over a dark gray background, so get a good dark pen if you choose to use the book as a workbook; otherwise your responses will be hard to read. But these are quibbles.

The writing is solid, and the book is well-thought-out and thought-provoking. It may not cure your insomnia outright, but it may lessen the symptoms. It will certainly make insomnia easier to live with.

Disclosure: The author provided me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

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