Posted in Reviews

A Most Noble Heir

We all think we love – and would love to live – a good “rags to riches” story. But the reality of rising from one social context to another never runs as smoothly as the glorious fairy tales like to reflect. The struggle, rather than the fairy tale, is what is reflected in Susan Anne Mason’s A Most Noble Heir.

Nolan Price is perfectly at home in the stables, caring for the Earl of Stainsby’s horses. But Nolan’s real passion is for a place of his own with his beloved Hannah Burnham by his side. Just as those plans are coming together, however, his mother’s deathbed confession destroys every hope in an instant. Nolan is the earl’s son and rightful heir. His place is no longer in the stables but in the earl’s home, living as befits his station. Nolan wants none of it, and he is determined to move forward with his own plans. The earl, however, has no intention of letting Nolan go – and he has the power and authority to ensure his will is enforced, no matter the cost.

As can be imagined, the interactions and relational dynamics of A Most Noble Heir are intense. Every relationship Nolan holds dear is stretched and strained, and the one relationship he never had but truly wanted has now been forced upon him in a most undesirable way. At the risk of spoiling the story a bit, I must confess that Nolan’s reactions to his life upheaval left me preferring every other character – even the earl himself! – over Nolan. I wanted him to be, well, noble. I wanted to see what it was about this man that made Hannah fall in love with him. Looking back, though, I realize that what I wanted was fluffy idealism. The picture Mason has painted in A Most Noble Heir is a realistic one, depicting a young man with good character but an untried heart. His life, while encumbered with the challenges of servitude and relatively low station, has not truly been stretched. The sudden upheaval of everything he held dear stretches and strains him, revealing flaws that need purification and youth that needs maturation. Although I still find myself drawn more solidly toward other characters in the book, I see that Nolan is much more the picture of the noble heir than I initially believed him to be.

So, where does that leave the book as a whole? Despite the potentially heavy subject matter of A Most Noble Heir, this is a quick and easy read, full of sweet moments and even a touch of humor. Being married to a church history nerd, I did notice that a more modern concept of faith was incorporated into the narrative. While it will seem very fitting to contemporary readers, it is not an accurate historical depiction of what Christianity would have looked like, even for those with a solid and intimate relationship with the Lord. This does not distract from the story itself – it is simply a reminder that our appetite for both history and theology may be whetted by fiction, but we can never be content to allow fiction to be our main course in either discipline.

The storyline moves along at a good pace, and a small thread of mystery weaves its way throughout the narrative, leaving the reader wondering what other forces are working behind the scenes. Lessons are learned, character is developed, and a few surprises are worked in along the way. All in all, A Most Noble Heir is a fun read for lovers of late 19th century historical fiction.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
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Posted in Thoughts from Life, What I'm Learning

Sufficiency and Tightropes

I’m procrastinating today.

We slept in a bit this morning, which has me running a little later on the routine than normal. But, that’s not really what has me moving slowly. In reality, it’s the subconscious knowledge that, if I keep putting off writing, I once again won’t have time to get a blog post written, edited, and published before I absolutely have to get to work in order to get my hours in before church. That subconscious knowledge has actually become my safety net. And I’ve been spending more time in the safety net than on the tightrope where I belong.

You see, I have quiet a few blog posts stored in my files right now. Some are just thoughts tapped out quickly that need to be fleshed out. But others are fully written and just need to be edited. I have good intentions of starting my morning with some editing, photo searching, and publication prep so I can get one of those posts up. But each morning I find a whole list of other things that just have to be done. Then my time is spent, and I have to get to work. So, the posts never go up.

But it’s not really because of a lack of time or because of so many other things that are pressing. It’s really because staying in the safety net is more comfortable. It keeps me from falling. Because I know that I’m not going to stay on that tightrope. I will fall. How much easier to just stay down here where I know I’m going to end up anyway?

I’ve always been like that. I’ve never been a risk-taker or a daredevil. Thrill has never enticed me. In some ways, that’s a good thing. There is a place for people like me, because we like to keep the show running. We like to be in the background providing everything the thrill-seekers and dreamers and brainstormers and visionaries need. We make their ideas happen because we’re good at the practical and the organizational and – to be completely honest – the boring. That’s our place. That’s our strength.

But, too often it’s also our hiding place. And we have a litany of reasons to hide. One of the big ones for me is a feeling of insufficiency.

One of my daughters surprised me one day by verbalizing exactly how I feel so often, especially in the presence of my children. They are so talented. So amazing. They all have such incredible skills. I feel pretty mediocre standing next to them. Yet, one morning my daughter expressed how she felt useless and untalented, especially compared to her siblings. They, in turn, stared at her with mouths gaping and quickly began stating all of the ways she was so awesome and her talents were so amazing and useful, especially compared to how they viewed their own talents and strengths. As I worked to build up and encourage each of them, I also ached because I knew exactly how they all felt.

Insufficient.

They believe about themselves the same things I believe about myself. We may have our skills and talents, but what difference do they actually make in the real world? How can we possibly compare to the extraordinary offerings of so many other people? What impact can we, with our piddly contributions – actually make?

We recognize that we’ll never know if we don’t try, but we’ve also all – yes, even my three precious children at their tender ages – have tried and have fallen off the tightrope. Multiple times. Sometimes because of our own failing and other times because we’ve been shoved. Every time because of some insufficiency.

We long for the tightrope. We even do all of the preparations needed to walk the tightrope. And really, we don’t mind falling in the process of learning to walk the tightrope. But, we know that we won’t always fall on our own. Sometimes we will be knocked down, whether accidentally because of a lapse of attentiveness on someone else’s part or intentionally because of jealousy or rudeness or pride. But, it will happen. And in that fear, we stay in our safety net and wish that we were already experts on the tightrope. Already skilled to the point of being able to better resist the shoves. Unsure that we can handle both the learning and the struggling.

That’s why I’m procrastinating today. That’s why multiple posts remain in my folders, unedited and unpublished. And that’s why I’m forcing myself to publish this post today. Because it’s time to get out of the safety net and get back on the tightrope.

Posted in Reviews

Keturah

Time flies when you’re reading good books! And I’ve read several great ones lately – and lost track of a couple of review due dates. So, since I have one review that’s a bit late and another that’s due now, you get two this week!

The first one is the latest historical fiction from wonderful storyteller Lisa Tawn Bergren. I was first introduced to her books through the God Gave Us children’s picture book series. Several years later, I was introduced to her adult fiction when I devoured her Grand Tour series. Then came her young adult River of Time series, followed by other books from each genre. The most recent delight from her writing desk is Keturah, book one in The Sugar Baron’s Daughter series.

For years, the widowed Lady Keturah Banning Tomlinson’s father has told his daughters again and again that the family sugar plantation in the West Indies is not the appropriate place for young women. But word of her father’s death is accompanied by word of dire financial issues, Keturah makes the decision that flies in the face of all societal convention: she is going to the West Indies to try to save not only the plantation but also her sisters’ inheritance back home in England. Unwilling to either be left behind or see their sister travel alone to Nevis, Keturah’s two sisters make the decision to travel with her. Challenges begin for the sisters almost immediately as they learn what it means for women to try to live and work in a culture dominated by men – white men.

Keturah offers everything I love about historical fiction. It is rich in exploration of the culture in which the story is set. That means the good and the bad, including a look at slavery. But that is not the only challenging topic Bergren deals with in Keturah. At the risk of introducing spoilers, our widowed heroine does not look back upon her short marriage fondly. Instead, she still bears the scars of the horror she silently and secretly endured as a young bride.

Because of this, I am a little more limited in my recommendation of this book than I might be with others this wonderful author. That doesn’t mean I don’t highly recommend it! It just means that I’ll only share it with my daughters as I know they are of an appropriate age to handle the material, and I will be careful to give warning to friends who still bear the scars of their own abuse experiences.

Well-written, well researched, and beautifully told, Keturah is a captivating introduction to The Sugar Baron’s Daughter series. I greatly anticipate the continuation!

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in What I Do, Wonderments

A Habit and a Smile

I have been sitting here for 15 minutes, trying to decide what to write.

I want to write something. Anything. I want to make myself re-establish the habit of writing. But, at the end of the day, my brain is tired. My creativity is shot. My attitude it not always so great. And the writing doesn’t always flow.

Besides that, I have to be off the computer by 8:00 or I won’t sleep well. So here I sit, at 7:45, tempted to just give up and not write anything.

And that, my friend, is how habits come to be formed – or broken.

Once upon a time, I wrote regularly. It was a habit. Occasionally, the words just didn’t flow, but I could usually get back to it in the next day or two. Until the day I couldn’t. Maybe I’d invested all of my ideas in my work writing for Well Planned Gal or one of my other side writing jobs. Or I was just brain-tired too many days in a row. Or I’d had a day (or a week or month) of spiritual distance and disconnect, and I felt like I had nothing left to say because I wasn’t really listening to the nudges and guidances of the Holy Spirit – the only one who can make my creativity flourish in a truly meaningful manner!

So one day flowed into another day. And another. And then my habit became to give up.

Tonight, I don’t want to give up. Tonight is my last chance to write for the rest of the week because I don’t have another free evening. So, tonight, I’m just writing the first thing that comes to my head: thoughts about changing my habit.

Whenever I read about spiritual growth, whether in Scripture or the various other books I’ve worked through lately, I’m reminded just how much I struggle with discipline. How often I falter. How easily I give into the pouty “I don’t want to” attitude.

The thing about being undisciplined is that it affects even the most enjoyable aspects of life. I not only don’t want to eat right or exercise or devote the energy to prayer or diligence with my schedule. I also no longer want to create. Because creating takes effort, too. Even when it’s fun.

I love to write. But, sitting down to do it – to try to put my thoughts into coherent words, to be vulnerable at times, to open myself up to be criticized or ignored – takes discipline, just like any other aspect of growth and health. And at the end of the day, it’s so easy to convince myself that I’m done. I’m tired. I just don’t have anything left to give.

And I don’t. But God does. He never tires. He never runs out of creativity to share.

And now, I’m smiling. Because I’m realizing something. I don’t need to force one more boost of energy to write tonight. I just need to open myself up to let the Holy Spirit’s energy and creativity flow. Yes, it takes discipline. Yes, it takes a decision to sit down and write. But it can flow, if I let it.

And now, fifteen minutes later, I have well over 500 words. Not a great article or anything super deep or meaningful. In fact, this is more for me than for anyone else. Because it’s the re-creation of a habit. A habit that doesn’t demand I write every day or that I publish everything I write, but that motivates me to write when I do have the space. To choose to not give up and walk away. To write something, even if I only have fifteen minutes in which to do it. And I’ve taken the first step.

Yes, that definitely makes me smile.

Posted in Wonderments

Is Simple Better?

I am a longtime WordPress user. My own blog is one of the freebies because I have never taken the time to learn how to customize my own site. But, I work for a woman who is brilliant when it comes to coding and design. I must confess to being a bit spoiled by the WordPress site she has created. That is probably the other reason I’ve never taken the plunge and designed my own site – it could never measure up to hers!

A few months ago, though, I noticed something. WordPress kept trying to get me to change to the “new editor.” It was promoted as easier. Simpler. Sleeker. Better.

The simpler was definitely true. In place of the familiar dashboard that took a bit of learning to manage, every detail of the new editor was practically self-explanatory. But, many of the things I’d previously taken care of on my own were done for me automatically – and not always the way I wanted them to be done. Instead of choosing to utilize them, they were chosen on my behalf. Easier? Yes. Better? I wasn’t so sure.

It’s possible I wasn’t really losing anything with the new editor, but I ended up deciding to go back to the old one. I knew where everything was, and I didn’t have to undo things that were automatically taken care of for me. The old design much more closely matched what I work with day in and day out through my job, so it was more natural to just continue with that layout. After a while, WordPress stopped asking me to change, and I fell back into a nice rhythm again.

Now, some of you might be reading along thinking, “She’s just resistant to change. She needs to be willing to accept new things.” And, that is true. I have experienced a lot of change in my life over the years, and sometimes I get tired of it. I just want to stay the same for a while, and I have to be reminded that growth and change often goes hand in hand.

But not all change is helpful, and that includes change that automatically makes life simpler for us. Much of our society is moving that direction: toward the simple. Toward having work done for us. Toward a reality where we don’t have to figure things out because it’s all taken care of.

I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. Easier is not always better. Simpler is not always the most helpful. Sometimes it just makes us lazier, less attentive, and less able to think and problem-solve for ourselves. Then when problems arise that our easy, simply, do-it-for-us lifestyle can’t quite handle, we suddenly find that we have forgotten how to problem solve. How to really think.

In many ways, yes, simple is better. But in other ways, it may be robbing us of the best.

Posted in Reviews

A Song Unheard

Sometimes accidentally requesting to review book two in a series has delightful results. Such was the case with Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. Having borrowed and read A Name Unknown, book one in the series, I was excited to dive into A Song Unheard.

The mysterious Mr. V has a new assignment for London’s most exceptional family of thieves, and this time the special skills of young Willa Forsythe make her the ideal choice. Willa has always loved music, but when a old, battered violin came into her possession, she discovered that genuine talent also flowed through her. Although formal training was never available, time spent in the alleys near the open windows of practice rooms or up in the rafters of performance halls fed Willa’s hunger for music and introduced her to new tunes she could then bring to life with her treasured instrument. So, when Mr. V needs someone to obtain a cypher key created by the father of famous Belgian violinist Lukas De Wilde, the musically-minded Willa is the obvious choice.

After barely escaping with their lives, Belgian musicians have temporarily resettled in Wales where, thanks to the generosity of wealthy patrons, they prepare for concerts that will hopefully bring in finances to help fellow Belgians displaced or left starving by the German invasion. But Lukas De Wilde no longer cares about his incredible talent or once-enjoyed fame. Instead, he thinks only of returning to Belgium to find his lost mother and sister. When the fascinating Willa Forsythe arrives in town, his anxious heart is soothed somewhat by the discovery of a raw talent that far surpasses his own. Her passion, her strength, and even her stubbornness captivate his imagination, and he is determined to provide the formal skills she lacks and free her natural talent to truly blossom.

As I picked up A Song Unheard, I confess that I expected to discover a formula, of sorts, to the series. I was still excited about the book, because I knew the author could make even a formulaic novel feel captivating! But, as I began to read, I quickly realized that this second book of the series would be as unique and fresh as A Name Unknown. From the relationship between Lukas and Willa to the progression of Willa’s assignment, this story weaves history and fiction together in a beautiful glimpse of life in the early stages of World War I. Readers are taken from the streets of Wales to the depths of occupied Belgium and back again with a look at the struggle experienced on both sides of the English Channel. As with the first book in the series, this second installment was creative and captivating, full of unexpected developments, sparks of joy, and depths of heartache.

A Song Unheard is definitely a book I will both share and reread, and I greatly look forward to An Hour Unspent, book three in the Shadows Over England series.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in What I'm Learning, Wonderments

A Little Tea

I’ve never liked tea.

I’m a southern gal who grew up in Jordan. A love for iced tea is assumed in the South – and it’s assumed that your preference is sweet tea, unless you specifically declare otherwise. And Jordan? Well, sweet hot tea is a must. It is served to any and every guest, and refusal is rude. I was fortunate that my siblings loved tea. As the oldest, I was the first to reach the age to be offered tea along with the adults, and the first to come to an age where it was not acceptable to refuse. But my parents allowed me to “share” with my siblings, as long as I sipped politely when our hosts were looking. It’s amazing how small of a sip can be taken – and how hard it can be to stifle a shudder every time the horrid taste hits the tongue. I still shudder at the memory of the taste.

And yet, as I spend a few minutes typing out a few thoughts before heading to bed, here I sit drinking a nice, warm cup of “tea.”

Admittedly, it’s not like any of the tea I grew up sipping with distaste. It doesn’t have any of the “tea” flavor to it. This particular concoction tastes predominantly like spearmint, although there are other herbs blended in with it to create a restful evening concoction. Bottom line? It’s not “real” tea. It’s herbal tea. And there is, I’ve learned, a difference.

I’ve tried a few herbal teas in the past and haven’t enjoyed them. But, a couple of months ago, my friend Hannah encouraged me to try an orange tea that, with a little honey added to it, was incredibly soothing. Then more recently, my friend Becky shared her favorite licorice root tea suggestions for colds and sore throats. In the process of picking up boxes of those two herbal teas, my husband found a sampler box that he thought would be a good idea as well.

I was skeptical, but I thought I’d give them a try. So far, I haven’t found one I dislike. Granted, I’m still getting used to the idea of drinking anything with “tea” in the name, and there are times when it tastes more like flavored hot water than anything else. But, as much as I love my Choffy in the mornings, these mugs of herbal tea really do seem to be hitting the spot better for afternoon and evening beverages.

So, what’s the point of sharing this little tidbit about myself and my drinking preferences?

Well, things change. Even our tastes. But sometimes we get so buried in our habits that we don’t break out enough to discover those changes. I don’t know if I’ll ever grow to like real tea, but I have tried herbal teas in the past and not enjoyed them. That is obviously changing as I try them again.

This isn’t the first thing that has changed about me in recent years. But discovering these changes means I have to be willing to set aside past negatives, past dislikes, and even past failures and try again. (That’s why I occasionally go ahead and take a sip of Doug’s coffee – just in case those tastes have changed! Not so far!)

Once upon a time, I couldn’t get my brain to process learning to knit. No matter what my friends did to try to teach me, I remained baffled. Twenty-five years later, I taught myself successfully.

Guitar has been elusive for me in the past. But, I’m picking it up again – trying to learn – and somehow my fingers are responding better now.

Things that worked for me in the past don’t any more, but other things that didn’t now do. Things I enjoyed once upon a time no longer bring pleasure, but I’m discovering new enjoyments. Things change. But, if I am not willing to continually explore, try, revisit, and learn, I will not discover the changes. I’ll just be stuck. And, oh the delights I’ll miss out on! Like a delightfully relaxing cup of herbal tea.

Do you need to try some tea this week?