Posted in Book Reviews

Highlight: A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine

I’m so excited to announce that today is Pub Day for A Ceiling Made of Eggshells, Gail Carson Levine’s latest historical fiction novel for middle grade readers! I had the privilege of receiving an ARC of this book six months before its release date. Read my 4 star review below and support your local bookstores by buying your copy today! I learned so much about a unique time in history because of this book and I know you don’t want to miss out!

Anyone who knows me knows I love Gail Carson Levine. She is easily my favorite middle grade author. So when I saw she was sending out ARCs for her latest book, A Ceiling Made of Eggshells, I jumped at the chance to request it. I was surprised when my request was accepted and the book arrived in the mail a week later. I now had access to Levine’s newest book six months before anyone else! I was so excited to start reading it over Christmas break.

I’ve never read a story that takes place during the Spanish Inquisition (and I’m honestly not even sure I learned about it in school—or if I did, I don’t remember it), so the subject matter really intrigued me. Levine’s father was Jewish, so she wrote this as well as one of her first novels, Dave At Night, to explore her Jewish heritage. As a Protestant Christian myself, I have a fondness for the Jews as God’s chosen people, so I enjoy learning more about their history when I can.

The story starts with six or seven year old Loma catching the plague. Her grandmother, Bela, gave Loma her amulet, as she believed it would protect her granddaughter from evil spirits. While Loma survives the plague, Bela, tragically, does not. Belo, not nearly as kind and sympathetic as Bela, watches Loma recover, trying to understand why Bela loved her so much. Loma is consumed with guilt—she believes that, having “taken” the amulet from Bela, it is her fault Bela died. I was pulled into the story almost right away, wondering how this guilt, based on a superstition, would consume her as she grew up and how it would affect her relationship with Belo, whether or not he, too, blamed her for Bela’s death. Unfortunately, this inner conflict is resolved within a few chapters. The story continues to show Belo’s developed interest in Loma and the daily lives of the Spanish Jews, but besides that, there isn’t any real conflict for almost 150 pages.

Check out the rest of my review here!

Contributor Reviewer

Posted in The Ponderings of Life

5 Things I Took For Granted

Today marks one month since I returned from my trip to Texas to attend a friend’s wedding. When I left for the trip, everything was normal. When I came back, the restrictions had begun. A week into quarantine I started writing a journal, so that one day I could look back on these strange times and remember what I did to pass the time and how I felt as the days went by. When I started it, I thought I’d only be writing about all this for a month, maximum. It’s funny how much things can change in such a short amount of time. I don’t know for how much longer quarantine will be in place. I may only fill up half my journal before we’re “released” or it may last long enough that I’ll have to pull out another journal.

But as I reflect on the past 30 days or so and the many changes that have happened in my life because of the pandemic, this time in quarantine has helped me realize 5 things I take for granted in my normal, everyday life.

1. Work

As most of you know, I’ve been working at a half-day preschool at my church for almost four years now. Going into work every morning has been a part of my daily routine for so long, I don’t think twice about it most days. It’s just a given. It’s just what I do. Did I love it? Absolutely. But did I fully appreciate it? I used to think I did. I’ve always known that I have an amazing boss and co-workers and I’ve always had fun with the kids. But did I know what a blessing it is to wake up in the morning and have somewhere to go, somewhere I needed to be? To have people waiting for me to arrive and get things prepared? To have children hanging off my arms and begging me to play? I took all that for granted. Complaining (even about things we ultimately love!) comes second nature to us as humans. Why did I used to complain about getting up early? One thing I’ve noticed during quarantine is I have little motivation to get up in the mornings because I have nowhere to be. I’d give anything to have a reason to get up early now! (Well, most days… 😉 )

2. School

This one is easy. I knew before this that I took school for granted. I’ve always complained about homework, deadlines, exams. I’m not pursuing anything beyond a Bachelor’s degree solely because I’m tired of exam stress. But there again, schoolwork was another reason besides work that I got up in the morning. Because there were deadlines! There were assignments! There were things that needed to get done. Because my schooling is online and I take one class per month (usually) I’ve been in between classes for a bit while waiting to see how my financial situation would pan out due to this situation. This week I’m starting my next class (yay!), but until then, I didn’t even have homework to get up for. It was fun to have no homework for about two weeks and then I found myself missing it. I literally have never ever ever missed schoolwork before. I’m even surprised at myself as I type this, but it’s absolutely true. Because I love learning–I love history–I love learning about history–and I love my classes. Besides College Algebra (which made me cry), I have loved almost every class I’ve taken in college because it’s taught me something about myself or the world around me, and that knowledge is invaluable. Simply having something to learn about is definitely something I took for granted.

3. Friendships

This realization surprised me. I’ve always loved my friends and tried to be intentional with them, and while I’m still reaching out to them through Zoom or FaceTime, I didn’t realize how much I took for granted being able do things with them: go out to lunch, see a movie, go to an event. To be able to hang out at each other’s houses and be with each other. I have quite a few long-distance friends, so I’m used to having to find other modes of communication besides being in person, but now all my friends are “long-distance”! I didn’t know how much I enjoyed hugging someone or being present with someone until I couldn’t.

4. Ministry

This one is hard to admit, but I’m hoping by this point, you may relate to some of what I’m describing anyway. I have the privilege of teaching choir to 1st and 2nd graders as well as participate in the adult choir, both at my church. But again, how easily do we slip into the mundane and monotony of ordinary days. Every Wednesday night, I go to adult choir practice. Every Sunday morning, I teach kids choir. And every week, it’s the same. While I love both greatly, I would complain about getting up early on Sunday mornings or having to prepare for a difficult song. But I called both a privilege above because that’s what it is! I didn’t appreciate the fact that I get to serve God in this way–in a way I enjoy! And there is beauty in doing the same thing every week, in knowing what to expect and being able to participate in it.

5. Free Time

This one is a little different, mainly because I wanted to end on a more positive note instead of just talking about all the things I can’t have right now. 😉 During my normal, very busy life, I don’t necessarily have a lot of free time, but there is definitely a decent amount. So, why is it that I’m always saying “I don’t have time” to write, read, take a walk, etc.? I used to think I had legitimate excuses–but now that I see all that can be done in a day, I’m starting to wonder if that’s all they were: excuses. In the past 30 days, I have finished reading a book (as well as started a couple others), written in my journal almost every night, went through the self-publication process for The War Within (my favorite achievement so far! 😉 ), written 8,000 words in Everlasting’s prequel, chatted with someone virtually three or four times a week, gone on a walk almost every day and made great progress on my Beauty and the Beast cross-stitching project while watching a number of movies and TV shows (many that I’ve been meaning to catch up on for a while…). I’m willing to admit that because I don’t have work or a social life anymore ( 😛 ), I have more head space to be creative, but still…I know I could be implementing at least some of these things daily–if I really wanted to–if I really tried.

In conclusion, I’m beginning to think that God is using this quarantine to help me reevaluate my priorities and what I put my identity in. When literally everything is stripped away, who am I? This has been such a humbling experience for me, as I’m sure it has for many of you as well. What do I put value in and why? At the end of the day, what really matters? I’ve pondered these questions and more as I’ve gone through the ups and downs of several emotions in the past 30 days. Ultimately, I know three things for sure in this uncertain time:

God’s plan is not my plan.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. – Isaiah 55:8

But while I am not in control and am confused, God has complete control and understanding.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure. – Psalm 147:3-5

And my job is simply this:

Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! – Psalm 27:14

I hope this encouraged you. We are living in very strange times, but we have a very powerful and loving God! I hope when all this is over, we hug our friends, go into work with a huge smile and love our life more than we did before. I hope we don’t take any of it for granted.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Highlight: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Another book review is up on Literature Approved! This is one of my favorite books I read over the summer. I finished it during our relaxing beach vacation. Those of you who haven’t read it yet…go read it! It’s life changing–if you let it be.

Two years ago I wrote a short story that took place during the Civil War for a contest. In it I wanted to challenge the perspectives and worldviews of both the Confederacy and the Union, the blacks and the whites. I didn’t feel like there were enough conversations happening where we brought to light the right and wrong of both sides. Well, I might have felt differently if I’d read The Help sooner.

I went into The Help expecting to learn about what it was like being a black maid in the 1960s. And I was genuinely curious to find out. It’s one thing to learn about the Civil Rights movement in a textbook, but another to read a book written in the perspective of these women, learning what it was like first-hand. Let’s just say it delivered.

I felt like I was really there—feeling the heat of the Mississippi sun and the burn of the horrible comments they received from their employers. It was strange to observe the white women these black maids (Aibileen and Minny) worked for. On the one hand, they spoke to them politely, but on the other hand, they treated them like some other species carrying a disease. And yet, these interactions were still within the realm of my expectations.

Click here to read the rest of my review!

Contributor Reviewer

Posted in Book Reviews

Highlight: When Christmas Comes Again by Beth Seidel Levine

And the 12 Days of Christmas Books tour continues! We are halfway through this fun Literature Approved event and I’m so, so excited to share my second (and last) review for the tour. The Christmas book I chose to review this time is When Christmas Comes Again, one of my favorite books from one of my favorite middle grade series–Dear America.

I love this book for many reasons…but before I start ranting and get ahead of myself, you can find out for yourself below!

This book is part of the Dear America series, a middle grade historical fiction series near and dear to my heart. I hope to review many Dear Americas in the future, but I’m excited that my first one happens to be one of my all-time favorites!

When Christmas Comes Again by Beth Seidel Levine is one of the few (if not the only) Dear America about a seventeen-year-old girl. Most of the Dear America heroines are between twelve and fourteen years old, so you can imagine my excitement when I was finally the exact same age as the main character. Therefore, Simone’s questions about her future and her meaning in life are very relatable as I asked myself similar questions at that age. Also, Simone’s family is French and as I am French-Canadian, I loved the bits of French language and references throughout the diary.

Click here to finish reading my review! And when you’re finished, check out the other Christmas books Rayleigh has reviewed this week of various genres. These posts are a fun ride you want to be on!

Contributor Reviewer

Posted in Book Reviews

First Five Books of 2016

“It is very pleasant dining with a bachelor,” said Miss Matty softly, as we settled ourselves in the counting-house. “I only hope it is not improper; so many pleasant things are!”

-Cranford

This first post beginning the discussion of the books I read in 2016 is long overdue, but here I am at last! I just now decided that I’m going to do something different this year by starting each of these posts with a quote from my favorite of the five books I read in the current post, so…enjoy!

*SPOILER!* I may include some of the book’s plot/content in my reviews for them, so if you haven’t read one or more of these yet and want to read it without spoilers, then you can just skip down. *

  1. Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George – My mom, sisters and I listened to this series on audiobook together. This is the third book in the series and I believe a fourth was published recently. It is an enjoyable series with sassy characters and interesting plot twists, but I’ll admit that I remember little of the content a few months after listening. In conclusion, I have enjoyed listening to these books, but I’m in no hurry to read them again.
  2. * Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – THIS. BOOK. I am a total sucker for the classics, so if you don’t read “the old-fashioned books” then you will not understand my love for this novel. Needless to say, Elizabeth Gaskell is by far one of my top favorite authors and this book of hers does not disappoint. Cranford focuses on a small town, the majority of which are older women who are either single or widowed. The result are many shenanigans, misunderstandings and scandals–basically, I was laughing out loud pretty often–but at the end of the day, I was also tearing up at the tender hearts these women had when faced with the everyday trials of their time. Gaskell does such a beautiful job of creating both hilarious and witty conversations and moving descriptions of a character’s death. I am already itching to read it again (and I don’t often re-read books).
  3. * The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – We read this together for school (back when I was homeschooled 😉 ) and it was my little brother’s first time hearing the story. This series is a must-read for anyone who claims to love reading good literature. I enjoyed reading this book for the second time and recalling the differences between the book and the movie. To me, the Pevensie children will always be those brothers and sisters I grew up with…even though I never met them.
  4. Not a Nickel to Spare by Perry Nodelman – This is a Dear Canada book about a Jewish girl living in Ontario during the Great Depression. Growing up, I hadn’t realized how badly the Great Depression hit Canada along with the United States. But an even more devastating discovery was the discrimination some Canadians held against Jews. Certain places specifically banned Jews from entering–including a beach!–and there were gangs that gathered to threaten and hurt any Jews they came across. It was a fragile time between the world wars when people were unsure just how worse life would get before it got better. I really enjoyed learning more about this time period while reading this book.
  5. Janitor’s Boy by Andrew Clements – My family loves listening to books by Andrew Clements in the car. While none of his works can ever beat Frindle, Janitor’s Boy was still a funny and heart-warming story about a boy embarrassed about his dad’s job. Until he realizes just how hard his dad works and how unappreciated he is. One of my (many) pet peeves is children being unnecessarily embarrassed by their parents, but this book held the most perfect response to such behavior. In the end, the janitor’s boy told his class that he wants to be a janitor when he grows up–just like his dad.

* Books that I highly recommend have a * next to them