Let’s Talk Books

True confession: there are a ton of new release that I absolutely must read or expire on this very spot! Are you surprised? I bet you have some must-read books that you are eagerly awaiting. I keep track of my absolutely-must-have-cannot-live-without-reading books in a handy-dandy TBR notebook that is divided into months. There are pages and pages of titles and I check each one off once I’ve acquired the book from the library, publishers, authors or the bookstore. I don’t dare share everything that’s on my list for October and November but I thought it would be fun to share two of them with you. Here they are:

unblemishedUnblemished by Sara Ella (debut novel!) (YA Fantasy)

Published October 11th 2016 by Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins

Book Blurb:

Eliyana has always recoiled from her own reflection in the mirror. But what if that were only one Reflection—one world? What if another world existed where her blemish could become her strength?

Eliyana is used to the shadows. With a hideous birthmark covering half her face, she just hopes to graduate high school unscathed. That is, until Joshua hops a fence and changes her perspective. No one, aside from her mother, has ever treated her as normal. Maybe even beautiful. Because of Joshua, Eliyana finally begins to believe she could be loved.

But one night her mother doesn’t come home, and that’s when everything gets weird.

Now Joshua is her new, and rather reluctant, legal Guardian. Add a hooded stalker and a Central Park battle to the mix and you’ve gone from weird to otherworldly.

Eliyana soon finds herself in a world much larger and more complicated than she’s ever known. A world enslaved by a powerful and vile man. And Eliyana holds the answer to defeating him. How can an ordinary girl, a blemished girl, become a savior when she can’t even save herself?

Kav’s Blurb:

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of this book ever since I came across some of Sara Ella’s youtube videos last year. If you are looking for marketing ideas you simply must check this author’s youtube channel. She is invigorating, hysterical, excited and as besotted about books as I am. Here’s a fun peek at her ‘unboxing’ video. (the wonder on her face when she opens the box and sees copies of her very own book for the first time is priceless.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQdnK4aMaIc

finding-margoFinding Margo by Jen Turano

Expected publication: November 15th 2016 by Gilead Publishing

Book Blurb:

Off the charts and on the run.

International pop star Margo Hartman could use a night off. A grueling tour and overbearing entourage have sent her over the edge. It’s time for this diva to disappear. And who would think to look for the superstar in a small Dutch town in Ohio?

Sheriff’s deputy Brock Moore is undercover as well. He knows Margo isn’t who she appears to be, but her uncanny resemblance to a local Amish woman is raising all sorts of questions…the kind that make her a target for a killer.

Both are determined to find answers, but their mutual attraction stands in the way of either of them doing it alone. Is finding Margo the solution to Brock’s problems or just the beginning…?

Kav’s Blurb:

Of course I am familiar with Jen Turano’s historical novels so I’m really intrigued by this contemporary offering. Plus I’m over-the-moon-ecstatic over the new Christian publisher, Gilead Publishing and I want to support them as much as I can. Then there’s the Amish angle to the story that has my bookish heart all aflutter.

Can you believe I limited my selection to just two titles? I’m the picture of restraint! So how about you – what books are on your reading horizon?

BBC Dramas

I’ve been enjoying the bounty of my public library’s DVD section this summer. And I’ve fallen in love with BBC dramas. In particular the film adaptations of some of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels.

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I’m sure most of you are familiar with North and South. It’s heralded as containing one of the best kissing scenes ever! And I’d have to concur. You can check it out here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn1lMpOrQsc

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But I have to confess that I have found a movie even more romantical — Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. Be. Still. My. Heart. Sublime from character to plot. There’s humour and angst and romance aplenty. I watched it twice, back to back and now that I’m writing this I think I need to borrow it again.

So, once I discovered that two of Elizabeth Gaskell novels had become BBC dramas, I thought I’d check and see if there were any more. And I fell in love with:

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Cranford – Set in a rural English village in the 1840s – a town that is ruled by etiquette where gossip is rampant and a new (and very young and handsome) doctor with cutting-edge techniques sets the town astir. It’s sweet and funny and heartbreaking. A real slice of British life

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And then comes Return to Cranford. Change is racing towards the village as the railroad draws closer and not everyone is happy about their new reality. Faith and friendship are at the heart of an intricate web of stories. More laughter. More heartbreak. More riveting storytelling.

Honestly all of these movies are amazing examples of plot and character development, they are so brilliantly done. So writers can watch without a guilty conscience.

And the fun thing about watching BBC dramas is spotting familiar faces like these:

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Not to mention the absurd…like a cow in pajamas. Really, can you ask for anything more from a film?

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Creating Community

I’ve been watching a lot of movies on these hot sultry evenings (and yes we still have ridiculous heat and humidity even though fall is officially here in two days – gah!) I’ve been getting DVDS from my public library (shout out to well-stocked libraries everywhere! Woot!) Anyway, I came upon 42 : The Jackie Robinson Story. I’m not a baseball fan, not any kind of sports fan really (except figure skating and equestrian events) but I am fascinated by the civil rights movement and really, that’s what Jackie’s story is all about.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I’d encourage you to do so. It really impacted me in a powerful way. I ran the full gamut of emotions as I watched and the pacing is impeccable. I’d go from outrage to full-blown laughter in a nano-second. My heart alternately plummeted and soared as I became immersed in Jackie Robinson’s story and I had quite a few ‘uh-huh’ moments through the course of the movie.

One of those takes place in a crowded stadium. There’s a close up of a young white boy eagerly anticipating the baseball game. It’s the perfect all-American image. The boy is bursting with excitement as he watches the players take their positions. The crowd cheers…or wait…make that jeers…and suddenly this little boy is surrounded by the rowdy catcalls and filthy profanity being hurled at the only African American player on the field. The boy’s happy expression turns to one of confusion as he glances around him. The camera cuts to Jackie on the field and then back to the boy on the stand in time for the viewer to observe the transformation from childlike innocence to steely resolve. And then the boy begins to chant right along with the crowd. Ugly words that fire a feeling of hate and intolerance the like of which he’s never experienced before.

It’s a short snippet in the movie – a few seconds out of two hours – but, for me, it was as if time stood still and I hovered in that moment as the impact of it consumed me. Because that image became the illustration for the message my pastor has been preaching for the last couple of weeks. He’s been talking about creating community. About our need to connect with one another in order for us, both as a church and personally, to thrive. It goes like this:

Jesus breaks down barriers in order to connect with us.

So we can become satisfied and fully connect with God.

So that we can be secure and freely connect with others.

42 : The Jackie Robinson Story reminded me that there are many ways to connect with people – not all of them pleasing to God. In these tumultuous times there are forces at work that would see us disconnect instead.  I pray that I might be an influence of good, not evil, of acceptance, not intolerance. That my words and actions might reflect the Savior’s light. And that light might lead to connection with others which, in turn, will lead to a community of love and peace.

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Fall Book Club Anyone?

Ah…sweet September. Ripe with new beginnings. Of course the big one is back to school, but around here community centres begin all kinds of new classes from sports to crafts and everything in between. Even church classes start up again. Makes me nostalgic for book clubs. I haven’t attended one in years but it got me to thinking about different groups I have belonged to. My favourite by far, had a very different kind of set up than your average question and answer scenario and it’s really easy to run so I thought I’d share it here.

The Easy-Peasy Book Club Formula.

young-woman-635249_960_720The great thing is that the responsibility for the book club night is divided up among participants. And there’s more to this book club than discussion questions so it’s full of surprises and lots of fun.

Here’s what it looks like.

Hostess:  She doesn’t have much to do except open the door when we knock and invite us in. Oh, and she also provides beverages for the gathering. And she starts the event with a prayer.

Spiritual Thought: She brings along a 2-5 minute message that relates to the book being discussed. That includes a signature scripture that could apply to the story or a character. We all chat about it, share what we feel about the message – kind of like an informal Alpha discussion. Or not. Depends on the crowd.

Song: She finds a song that fits the book or one of the characters or the romance. Swoon. You don’t have to be musical to do this, though I remember some wonderful solos – both voice and instrumental – that some ladies have shared. Mostly it’s bringing in a CD or even watching a music video. Or could be inviting the book clubbers to sing a favourite hymn.

Visual Art: No, she doesn’t have to paint or sketch – just find something that represents some aspect of the book. It could be an actual home décor item, needlework, quilting, photograph, pottery, even a child’s painting if it fits.

Discussion Question: She thinks up one question that’s sure to generate a discussion. The kind of question that takes the participants beyond the pages of the story.

Author Bio: She provides some interesting snippets about the author and a bibliography of works in print.

Refreshments: In charge of the food – as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

And that’s it! It makes for a varied and fun evening.

So, do you participate in a book club regularly? Or have plans to start one up this fall?

Live Longer – Read Books!

Live longer – read books

Yes, a Yale study has recently confirmed what we’ve always known to be true. Reading is good for you. In fact, reading can increase your longevity. Seriously. Look at these stats: reading up to 3 ½ hours a week (that’s just 30 minutes a day) increases your life span by 17 %. Read more than 3 ½ hours a week and that percentage jumps to 23 %!

Hmmm…let’s think about that for a moment…I actually read about 3 ½ hours a day so if I times that by 7 days in a week at 23 % …well, you do the math because I sure can’t. All I know is that it means I’m going to live a loooooooooooooooooonnnnnngggggggg time. Which means I get to read more books and maybe, just maybe, someday I’ll catch up with my TBR pile.

And here’s the really cool stat: It has to be fiction! Reading non-fiction or newspapers or magazines doesn’t count…well, it counts a little bit but the results aren’t nearly as impressive as reading fiction.

ink1Why? So glad you asked. Let me shine some light on it for you!

It has something to do with the positive affect on a reader’s cognitive ability and that gives us a “survival advantage.” That’s a fancy way of saying that when we immerse ourselves in a story we begin a cognitive process whereby we start making connections within the story, apply what we read to the world around us which then prompts us to ask questions. Our little brains have a hay-day processing and that leads to improved vocabulary, better concentration and increased critical thinking skills. Cool right?

And if that isn’t enough – reading fiction promotes empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. And that, people, is why reading gives us a ‘survival advantage.’ And makes us better human beings while we live longer!

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The more you read the longer

you live…the longer you live the

more you read

Life Lessons from the Olympics

Funny thing about me – I’m not a huge sports fan but I’m enthralled by the Olympics. I’m mesmerized by it all. Elite athletes, heart-soaring stories, the thrill of the chase. I’m held captive for a few weeks of the year. And I’ll admit it’s a nice switch from American politics which has even infiltrated our Canadian networks – but not during the Olympics!

My favourite events are horse jumping, diving, gymnastics and rowing events. But I actually watched a rugby game yesterday (yay, Canada!). And I’ve watched more volleyball than I ever have before. I’m beginning to think of myself as an armchair expert. Not! But I thought it would be fun to take a look at what we can learn from the Olympics so, without further ado, I give you…drum roll please…

Life Lessons we can learn from the Olympics

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From Diving: It’s all about the splash you make hitting the water – and not a big, frothy one. Nope, divers are supposed to slip in with hardly a ripple. The smaller the splash, the higher the marks. Life Lesson: It’s not about the initial splashy ‘ta-da-it’s-me-aren’t-I-great?’ moments, but more about the quiet coming together – letting the soft ripples of caring wash over those around you.

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From Beach Volleyball: The uniform disparity really annoys me. Why are the women wearing teeny tiny bra tops and barely there bottoms? If men can play competitively with baggy shorts and a long tank t-shirt, then women can too. Life Lesson: Women don’t need to underdress in order to be a success in life. They can compete with men on any level and still keep their dignity.

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From Water Polo: Seriously – not all sports are the spectator kind. Some things just needed to be experienced to be appreciated. Life Lesson: That conversation you’re having on your cell phone while commuting to work on the bus? The one where you’re revealing intimate details of your love life, arguing with your spouse, or berating your boss to a friend? Yeah, well, those conversations are meant to be private – not a shared experience with your fellow commuters.

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From Horse Jumping: You know those little ‘hats’ the horses wear? Kind of a hood that slips over their ears and across the top of their head? Well, that’s actually to muffle the noise of the cheering crowd so the horse won’t be distracted. Life Lesson: Turning a deaf ear to the noise of the world will help you focus on directing your steps where the Master will lead you.

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From Rugby: Oh my goodness, but this is a rough sport. I worked with a woman who belonged to a rugby league. Now I understand why she came in all battered and bruised every Monday. Broken fingers, a broken nose – even had to have her jaw wired once after a fracture. Oy. Life Lesson: You’re going to get knocked down…a lot…over and over and over again. The important thing is to get up and get back in the game…every single time.

Can you think of any other life lessons we can learn from the Olympics?

Beloved Mess

I used to belong to a legalistic church. A myriad of rules were the gauge by which worthiness was measured. You can imagine that, while many of the congregation were sincere in pursing their faith, they were easily distracted by the need to measure up. Emphasis switched from grace to works. Judgement quickly followed. Appearances were deceiving because people felt pressured to appear a certain way on Sunday that didn’t necessarily reflect their true selves the rest of the week. That disconnect was profound and I honestly think we see it to some degree in all our churches. We have this need to be good so we will be loved because our finite human minds can’t conceive of the unconditional love our Savior extends.

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As I’ve said before, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but the title of this little book caught my attention: Beloved Mess : God’s Perfect Love For Your Imperfect Life. It’s quite the gem. Simply written. Powerfully direct. Kimm Crandall delivers a truth we all need to hear. “What we are seeking after most – to be loved completely and unconditionally – we already have!” (p 117) Bearing witness through personal story, Kim addresses all the messy stuff in life. Doubt. Guilt. Fear. There’s no pretending here. Her candid approach is appealing…and compelling. “The good news of the gospel gives us the courage to be honest about our doubts and our fears without being destroyed by them.” (p 110)

I love the way the material is presented. It’s easy to read with highlighted quotes on nearly every page. The kind of book you can read cover to cover or just pick up and easily browse. Great accessibility for every kind of reader. And there’s this great scripture appendix of messes (my term not the author’s) with headings like Gospel Truths for…when you’ve blown it…when your heart hurts…when you’re discouraged etc. A very approachable and refreshing look at the true meaning of grace.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. in exchange for my honest review.

Why Hasn’t God Healed Me?

One of the things I’ve missed most over the last six years is going to the movies. Deteriorating health, chronic pain and limited mobility has made is impossible to sit and watch a two hour movie, never mind getting to the theatre and back. So I was really excited to be given the opportunity to review Miracles From Heaven through the Nuts About Books (and movies) Canadian blogging program. Particularly because this story really resonates with my own struggles. I’m going to combine my review with some thoughts that have been on my heart for a while now.

First though, here’s a blurb about the movie so you’ll understand the connections I make:

Miracles From Heaven is based on the story of the Beam family. Jennifer Garner plays Christy Beam whose daughter Annabel suffers from a rare digestive disorder, but finds herself miraculously cured after surviving a terrible accident.

An emotionally gripping movie that had me glued to the screen. I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Garner since her Alias days and I was truly impressed by her performance. A solid cast brought the Beams’ story to life. It isn’t always a pretty story — and by that I mean the characters aren’t saccharine sweet or ‘perfect’ Christians. As Christy surmises: “Life isn’t perfect and our faith isn’t perfect and that’s okay.” That’s a huge life lesson takeaway right there.

WHY

One of the most poignant moments in the movie for me was when Annabel asks her mom, “Why do you think God hasn’t healed me?” I’m sure that question has been at the root of some uncomfortable debates over the kitchen table or across a Pastor’s desk. And because there is no easy answer, we humans have a tendency to try to place our own ill-advised logic onto it and then spew it as gospel truth.

Your faith isn’t strong enough. Translation: I’ve been praying for you and since you haven’t been healed it’s got to be your fault.

You have some deep rooted sin you haven’t let go of. Translation: I’ve been praying for you and since you haven’t been healed it’s got to be your fault.

You don’t want to get better. Translation: I’ve been praying for you and since you haven’t been healed it’s got to be your fault.

You aren’t really sick.  Translation: I’ve been praying for you and since you haven’t been healed it’s got to be your fault.

And yes, I’ve actually had individuals address every one of those points with me at some time or other. So I could totally relate to the scene in the movie where a few well-meaning parishioners confront Christy, suggesting that she and her husband (or even young Annabel) are at fault and until that sin has been addressed healing won’t take place. Argh! If I hadn’t experienced the same thing I would think that scene unrealistic and cheesy. Alas, it is all too real and Christy doesn’t take these ‘kind’ ladies’ suggestions very well. One of my favourite lines in the movie comes from her pastor: “Unfortunately we can’t issue spiritual IQ tests before allowing people into the church.”

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So why are some people healed while others aren’t?

I listened to a wonderful sermon a few months ago that addressed that question. The pastor explained that the key to understanding the gift of healing is to understand God’s will. Prayers for healing must be made IN His will so we must first ascertain what that will is. Because often, the kind of healing we are pleading for isn’t the kind of healing God will deliver. There’s no purpose in praying our will over someone.

This really hit me hard because, as much as others have prayed for my complete healing, I’ve never felt impressed to do so. I have prayed for guidance with treatment, for discernment when I see a specialist and courage to persevere. I have plead for peace. Comfort. Understanding. And you know what? God answered every one of those prayers. So why don’t I pray for complete healing? Because I’ve never been impressed to do so.

When I tried to explain that to someone they accused me of wanting to be ill. That bothered me for quite a while. What if what she said was true? What if I was the root cause of all my pain and suffering? Yes, it’s that easy to mess with someone’s head when they are ill or in pain. That’s why this pastor’s words convicted me. It shifted the emphasis off human will and back to where it belongs – God’s will.

And that’s what is at the heart of Miracles From Heaven. A mother’s faith is tested and stretched. An entire family is reborn. A child reaches out with divine understanding. And miracles abound in unexpected ways. God answers prayers through the people that surround the Beam family.  This movie doesn’t have all the answers but it does serve as a catalyst for discussion.

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You’re Already Amazing + Giveaway

I’m not a huge non-fiction reader but Holley Gerth caught my eye a few years ago when You’re Already Amazing was released. I devoured that little book as if it were fiction. I found her approach to be refreshing and engaging and easy to read. She tackles a multitude of issues with compassion and humour so I was excited to hear that the accompanying Life Growth Guide has just released.

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Holley Gerth is a gifted encourager and I have been so blessed by her inspired words at some of the most difficult times in my life.

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This workbook is an exciting extension to the original book, filled with thought provoking questions and life altering challenges. It felt like I was chatting with a really good friend. Exchanging ideas, problems, testimonies.

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Exploring who God is and what He wants me to become…and more importantly, how much He loves me just the way I am. Right now. Today. Without apology.

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Holley’s vibrant enthusiasm is evident in the videos she has created to accompany each session in the book. Six in all – seven if you count the intro. You can find them on her amazing website. Here’s a link. http://holleygerth.com/amazing/ Go take a peek and you’ll get a glimpse at this woman’s passion for the Lord and the women she ministers to.

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Here’s the book blurb and info on this giveaway opportunity:

Embrace who you are and become all God created you to be

With her bestselling book You’re Already Amazing, Holley Gerth dared and empowered women to discover who God made them to be and pursue his purpose for their lives. Now Holley helps you build on that foundation and experience even greater life transformation.

In this interactive LifeGrowth study, Holley will guide you through an engaging process that helps you apply heart-freeing truths to every aspect of your life, from relationships to work to how you pursue your dreams. God’s plans for your life are better than you can imagine, and you’ll see them unfold in new ways as Holley guides you to embrace this life-changing truth – that you are already amazing.

GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITY:

If you would like an opportunity to win a copy of  You’re Already Amazing : Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be (LifeGrowth Guide) just leave a comment below. You have until midnight of July 1 (EST) to enter. Draw will be held and winner announced on Saturday July 4 2016. Offer open to international readers. Good luck!

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. in exchange for my honest review.

Graphics used in this blog post are from Holley Gerth’s website: http://holleygerth.com/free-words/