I’m thrilled to bring you a little treat today. My friend (and one of my favorite book-recommenders!) Katrina DeMan has agreed to review A Light So Lovely for us today.
The afternoon after Aretha Franklin died, I was sitting on my couch listening to NPR when a bio-tribute to the Queen of Rock came on. As I listened to smooth tones tell me Franklin’s beginnings, of difficult realities amidst an on-going contribution to her craft, I had a lump in my throat. I wondered if I was going to have to subtly half-wipe tears from my eyes, hiding my emotion from the family inhabiting the room with me. While I have certainly listened to Aretha Franklin’s music, I wasn’t a dedicated fan. I can’t reach back into a personal connection with her canon and draw much beyond R-E-S-P-E-C-T but the bio-tribute brought a narrative connection to me that yielded emotion, curiosity, and yes, respect. It also brought awareness. Is there any one person in the world who isn’t complex, who doesn’t have to fight through obstacles—internal and external—to live in a kind of success?
And as I sat in the tribute of words for Aretha Franklin, I realized that I had been living with a lump in my throat from another bio-tribute about another queen who’s official last name is also Franklin: Madeleine L’Engle.
I had been reading Sarah Arthur’s memoir of L’Engle’s spiritual legacy, A Light So Lovely, a nicely woven collection of biography, Arthur’s own memoir and commentary, and interviews with creative culture makers across a span of generations. In this collection of quotes, remembrance, interview, and history are friends, readers, and students who were opened to a new “language of wonder, hope, and joy” because of L’Engle’s uncompromising work in displaying for us all a God who can rather than a God who can’t.
In Arthur’s bio-tribute, we are given a fresh definition of Icon, not as “a person who one worships but a person who instead acts as a window, a person whose life and faith points beyond itself to Christ”. And from this definition, the story in A Light So Lovely finds it’s center as Arthurs works through L’Engle’s life in chapters titled by contrasts—Icon and Iconoclast, Sacred and Secular, Truth and Story, Faith and Science, Religion and Art, Fact and Fiction, Light in Darkness. This is fitting because L’Engle herself had contrasts and Arthur doesn’t hide L’Engle’s paradoxical foibles and inconsistencies. In this, Arthur is gracious and wise and demonstrates that Icons, even in their human deficiencies, can point us beyond themselves to the Light of Christ.
In every way possible, Sarah Arthur’s book about Madeleine L’Engle’s legacy is a celebration of the sweet communion of words. Her setting is Madeleine L’Engle and the word gifts she brought a particular time and place as she read widely herself, then wrote vigorously to the publishing of A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle then connected with her readership by speaking and teaching workshops as she continued to publish. Her readers and students and contemporaries became aligned hopefuls in the pursuit of the God Who Can because L’Engle demonstrated through the windows she opened, as Arthur characterizes, that “we must not foreclose on how Christ will choose to work, nor through whom.”
There is a sweet communion that comes when words touch another person. Think about a time when a fitting word is spoken or an unexpected connection of understanding is reached in conversation. In that moment, there is a communion of joined reality. Through captured words whether fiction or non-fiction, this communion reaches across times and connects people from different generations, locations, and lived experiences. In writing A Light So Lovely, Arthur is an Icon herself. Through a window she opens of L’Engle’s life, she offers communion and solace for readers and writers as she points to Christ. A Light So Lovely is a eulogy for L’Engle in which a queenly icon is laid to rest. May she rest in peace as the stature of her words live on and continue to bring communion to the generations of readers beyond her days. May more of us pursue with our words the nature of an Icon and continue to point beyond our paradoxical human selves to Christ. Sarah Arthur is doing this and in a most lovely way.
You can purchase your copy of A Light So Lovely from Baker Book House.
The mother of five, super fabulous children, Katrina De Man is daily fielding pleas from those children to get a new dog after the sudden death of Nacho, the family’s Min Pin this spring. Years ago, she got an English degree which she has used in many ways including homeschooling her highly- achieving kids. She reads with on-going commitment and finds abundant joy in attending book clubs with other committed readers. Katrina is also married to a man who is so hard-working and strong that Teddy Roosevelt seems like a slog comparatively. But then, it doesn’t matter because Teddy wouldn’t have even tried to compare to Katrina’s husband since he himself said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I recently read to novels that would be considered read-a-likes on a bookstore shelf. (You know the shelf-talkers that tell you if you like X-book, you’ll also enjoy y-book.) Both appeared to have similar goals, even similar protagonists, but both addressed a key characterization point in a ver different manner: the protagonist’s passion.
The first book I read of the two was When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I saw this book on many summer reading lists last year and thought it sounded like a fun storyline. Dimple is a recent high-school grad who has just been accepted to a prestigious summer coding camp. She is shocked when her conservative Indian parents agree to let her attend. What she doesn’t know is that her parents have coordinated with another couple to arrange a marriage between Dimple and their son, Rishi, who is also attending the same camp.
The book is a light romantic comedy and was, on the whole, a fun summer read. But I was a little put off and couldn’t figure out why.
That is until I encountered My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. In this YA novel, Winnie, a aspiring film-maker and Bollywood-enthusiast finds her life-plan completely derailed. She was given a prophecy at birth describing her true love, but her high-school boyfriend who matched the description to a T has cheated on her, not to mention her aspirations to run the student film festival are looking a little rocky.
The book is filled with fleshed-out, quirky and lovable characters, and is tinged with a little magical-realism. (Also, full disclosure: I may have stocked my Netflix queue with a bunch of Shah Rukh Khan movies after reading this)
But why did I have such a stronger reaction to My So-Called Bollywood Life over When Dimple Met Rishi? I would have thought that I would have related more to Dimple with her experience in code over Winnie’s expansive Bollywood knowledge. But Sharma did something in My So-Called Bollywood Life that I didn’t experience in Dimple’s world. I got to learn things about film that I didn’t already know. I never even got to experience Dimple coding. Not once.
Both novel’s have themes of appreciating family and culture, exploring one’s future, and pursuing dreams whole-heartedly. But I think the last theme was done more effectively in My So-Called Bollywood Life.
As writers, if we want to encourage young women to pursue fields that are usually dominated by men, by placing a young female protagonist in that field, we ourselves, must show an interest in that field.
For Dimple, I felt the effort of her story was cheapened by a lack of attention put in to understand coding or how that may fulfill the female protagonist.despite the entire book taking place at a coding camp, there is never any coding happening in the book. We never get to experience Dimple in action and how that makes her feel.
On the other hand, we do get to experience Rishi’s passion—drawing— and how that makes him feel. For a book targeted to young women, I certainly felt an inequity here. In some ways, I thought there was more importance placed on pursuing a relationship with a boy than fulfilling a life calling or dream.
Sharma let us experience was it felt like for Winnie to splice film and talk about equipment. Was I able to totally understand as a non-filmmaker? Not entirely, but I did believe that Winnie understood and I got to feel a little bit of what her passion awakened in her.
Menon’s second novel was released this summer has a female filmmaker protagonist. I have not read From Twinkle, with Love, but I hope she was able to take a queue from Sharma and show young women what it is to live into your passion realistically.
What about you? Have you read My So-Called Bollywood Life or When Dimple Met Rishi? What did you think? What books do you think demonstrate the importance of pursuing a passion? What authors have you read that demonstrate a character’s passion well?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Until then, keep on reading!
There was some point during the course of my first college heartbreak that I realized that my mom wasn’t going to be there to pick up the pieces and make me feel better—it was all on me. This certainly cultivated a dependence on faith in times of mourning, but I’ll be honest, it was an isolating realization.
I was a little embarrassed to have to admit to myself that I wanted my mommy, but it was true. And that season of my life was important—that realization that I was on my own and that was okay. Maybe not my ideal at the time, but okay.
That was a big season of change and transition—moving out of my parents house, cultivating friendships in a brand new community, learning to care for myself. But never once did it really enter into my eighteen-year-old brain to think about the amount of change my mom was experiencing through that season.
Even in moving back home, there were bumps to weather and boundaries to set with four adults living in a single space as opposed to what had been two adults and two children only a few years before.
Brenda Yoder’s Fledge was an eye-opening read for me and I’m grateful.
This exploration of letting one’s children grow up and handling the transition with grace was relatable and knowledgable. Written from a mother’s perspective, Yoder does not shy away from being honest about her own experiences, while giving practical advice for those trying to settle in to an empty nest.
I’ve been thankful to have stayed local and have a healthy relationship with my parents as an adult. Yes, my mother and I have had our challenges—like most mother’s and adult daughters. (Hey, ma!) Reading Yoder’s book gave me an appreciation for the challenges my mother walked through in my late adolescence. Even though I couldn’t express it at the time, this book has certainly given me a dose of compassion for the road mother’s walk when letting go of their children.
If you’d like to pick up a copy (don’t forget, Mother’s Day is coming up!), get one here.
If you’d like to enter to win a copy, show Brenda and I some love on social by clicking the button below!
A winner will be randomly selected next Monday, March 12. There are multiple ways to win, so be sure you click your way down the entire list!
I’ve probably said it enough that I’m not a romance fanatic. At least not when it comes to books. I certainly hope I’ve made it clear that I’m a pretty hopeless romantic and would encourage anyone to pursue a romantic life regardless of their relationship status.
That said, I was feeling all the warm fuzzies reading Rachel McMillan’s contemporary romance novella Love In Three Quarter Time. Taking place in beautiful Vienna, Austria, you’ll be booking plane tickets after this one.
When Evelyn Watts is laid off, she is offered a once in a lifetime temporary job from her handsome Austrian work-crush. Whisked away to central-Europe, Evelyn discovers not only the beauty of traveling, but also what it means to live romantically.
Evelyn was such a relatable protagonist for any hopeless romantic introvert. I adored seeing the world from her perspective, humorous pop-culture references and all. Evelyn is opposite two intriguing characters—Rudy and Klaus—who certainly helped keep this romance plugging right along with charm and wit.
As is usual for a McMillan novel, the cities her characters inhabit are a character in and of themselves. I loved reading about placed I’ve visited in Boston and look forward to one day staying in Vienna. The richness of the setting has really made this story stick out in my mind. I can’t wait to one day take in a symphony in the birth country of Mozart or to eat a Mozart tart for that matter.
No, I do not often frequent the romance genre, but was so pleased to make this exception. The novella was a love letter to Vienna as much as it was an homage to living a romantic life whether you have a significant other or not.
This is the perfect read for a cozy-winter Saturday. Grab a blanket and some Belgian hot chocolate if you can get your hands on it. You’re in for a good time.
In other exciting news, Rachel McMillan is one of the fifteen authors joining us at the first ever Fiction Readers Summit in Grand Rapids, Michigan this May!
This event celebrates readers of inspirational fiction and how they push the genre forward. I would love to meet you at this event! You can find all the registration details here.
For over nearly two years now, you have all helped carry a great conversation around the Bible College Spinster series. I have loved hearing your hearts as we talk about the challenges of singles in the church and how best to love those in different seasons than our own.
Are you ready to take this conversation to your small group or book clubs?
Joy Beth Smith’s Party of One is a much needed exploration of modern singleness in the church. Her wit, wisdom, and honesty will resonate with anyone trying to lead a content and well-rounded life in the tension of longing for a significant other.
So many of the topics we’ve tackled on this site are expressed, but JB also isn’t afraid to go where I am. Her discussions on sexuality and cringe-worthy dating stories will be a comfort with any reader who has wanted to have this discussion, but never had a church community in which to do so.
Party of One had me laughing, giving poetry-slam snaps, and crying all in turn. I have not nodded along with a book in so long and it really is the desire of my heart that those struggling in their faith as a single read this book. I would also hope that any married folks or church leaders that want to care for the singles in their communities well pick up a copy.
I was reminded of my significance and encouraged by so many chapters of this book. You as a single are an important part of your circles. You are not in a waiting space and if you’re waiting for Jesus to make you not lonely, honey, you’re going to be waiting a little while. JB’s Party of One is the book I’ve been waiting for for so long. I’m thankful that Thomas Nelson recognized the importance of this topic and can’t wait for others to begin reading.
You can pick up your own copy here and don’t hesitate to tell me what you think in comments!
When once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely, we never need sympathy, we can pour out all the time without being pathetic.
—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Reading Joy Beth Smith’s book on singleness, Party of One, I was pleasantly surprised when she slammed on the brakes after quoting this passage from Chambers that oft gets thrown at singles. “On this point, Mr. Chambers, I humbly disagree,” she writes. I didn’t even know we were allowed to disagree with Chambers!
It is easy to assume that because one is single, one also must be lonely. And that is true. But I do not think it is true because a person is single. I know plenty of married people that woke up one morning to find themselves lonelier than they ever were on their own. It would be so easy for me in moments of great longing to believe that if I were only in a relationship, this longing within me would be gone. But I know that’s a lie.
I think we get lonely because we are broken people in a broken world and loneliness is part of that bag.
I have been so fascinated by a thought from Mike Cosper’s latest, Recapturing the Wonder. He says, “We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God.” Building off a commentary of the fall from Matthew Myer Bolton’s God Against Religion, Cosper continues, “Genesis 3 isn’t fundamentally a story about broken rules but broken communion.”
How powerfully does that change our perspective of the Biblical narrative if we understand that the first sin was mankind deciding we were better off without communion—our relationship—with God? We see throughout scripture a God uncompromisingly after restored relationship with his children—his covenant with Abraham about the nation of Israel—a people of God and for God. God introducing himself to Israel on Mt. Sinai, giving them ground rules in order to have a semblance of relationship with him and a chance to pursue holiness. The ultimate coming of Jesus giving us a taste of what that unbroken communion with God is supposed to be like. Even his last supper—a picture of what he was about to do on the cross—what we now commemorate through communion—was a gathering of people around a table to relate and bear-witness with one another.
God has been after relationship with us from the beginning. He is relentless in his pursuit of that. But in order to save his people from broken communion for eternity, Jesus had to do something drastic and amazing. He had to come as a man and die in our place. And what did that mean? Complete separation from God on the cross.
Smith builds her rebuttal to the Chambers quote, “If nothing else, my singleness has taught me that you can be lonely and exhausted and in need of sympathy— even with God. Even Jesus felt this way, and in the days and moments leading to his crucifixion, we see this played out. I can think of no greater loneliness than hanging on a cross, dying for a world that despises you, and then feeling forsaken by the Father who sent you, but— glory be!— loneliness and exhaustion did not cause Jesus to crumble.”
On this side of heaven, we cannot escape loneliness. Single, married, parent, friend, child, elder—I don’t care what relationship you are a participant in, there will be moments, sometimes seasons, of loneliness. It’s part of our humanity. But how shall we respond to such deep and nagging longings?
Having an earthly relationship with Jesus does not mean I will never be lonely. (In fact, in some of my circles, I feel a loneliness because of my relationship with Jesus.)
Instead, I have come to learn that when I come to Jesus with my relational longings, he does not always meet the need relationally. When I have come to Jesus longing for human relationship, I have found that I am more in need of an invitation. Time in prayer and meditation in the word has become a sweet invitation to behold who he is and what he’s done in love. Loneliness is often an invitation into trust promise of the perfect communion to come.
The voice that rings from the Bible is the voice of the one we long to hear from, long to know, long to find our rest in.
—Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder
A Refuge Assured – Jocelyn Green
Released February 6
Green’s latest releases this winter with great pre-release reviews. I love her attention to detail in her beautiful and sweeping historical fiction novels. This colonial-set work promises to keep rank with her Christy-Award-winning Mark of the King.
Read and excerpt here.
Iron Gold – Pierce Brown
Released January 16
I’ve so enjoyed Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. I honestly don’t know if this novel is part of that series or a new story set in that world, but I don know Darrow’s in it and I’m down. I am so down.
Murder at the Flamingo – Rachel McMillan
Released July 10
Rachel McMillan debuts her new protagonist Hamish DeLuca. That last name might ring a bell—he’s the son of Jem and Ray DeLuca of Herringford and Watts fame. A mystery set in Boston in the thirties—I am all about this book! Also, have you seen that cover?
Noir – Christopher Moore
Released April 17
Moore always makes me laugh and his so clever in all his creative choices. I’ve been drawn into the pulp genre thanks to Lord Huron’s album and can’t wait to get Moore’s satirical take.
The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – Gail Carson Levine
Released May 2
Ella Enchanted is probably my favorite book of all time. The Two Princess of Bamarre is the first book I hated. Both are by powerhouse YA and middle-grade author Gail Carson Levine—my fairytale retelling hero. So you can see why I’m on pins-and-needles to see which end of my book-spectrum this novel lives up to.
Read an excerpt here.
Party of One – Joy Beth Smith
Released February 6
Joy Beth Smith is someone you need to follow on Twitter. Like now. Her book—which I’m sitting on an advanced copy of—is fabulous and I can’t wait to dig deeper into it over the break.
Access the first chapter here.
Even In Our Darkness – Jack Deere
Released March 6
Love heartbreakingly true stories? Then this memoir needs to be on your list. I’ve been saving it for the long winter days ahead and have the kleenex stocked to go.
Title yet unreleased – Anne Bogel
Released September ??
It doesn’t even have a title, but I’m so ready for Anne’s essays on the reading life. Her charm and bookish knowledge blow me away weekly on her podcast. And who doesn’t want to read more about reading?!
Books Out and on My TBR List
Recapturing the Wonder – Mike Cosper
This is my book club’s next pick and I’ve already cracked the spine. It’s a call back to the wonder and mystery of our faith in the everyday. I fully stand by the intro, and hope to stand behind the book as a whole soon!
American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld
I plan on catching up on her fictional take of Laura Bush’s life before she tackles Hilary Clinton’s life if she had declined Bill’s proposal. (That’s what she’s writing next!!!)
My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok
A friend recommended not that I simply read this, but that I go out and buy a good copy because I was going to want it around for a while. I respect this friend’s recommendations and I do what she says, dammit!
Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr
This one is for new-project research. That’s all I’m gonna say.
Just Write – James Scott Bell
This one’s for new-project motivation.
This year has probably been the most rewarding when it comes to blogging. I have loved the conversations many of you have started with me based of what I’ve written and I’m so grateful.
Here are 5 of the top posts from this year:
For the last nine months I’ve been wrestling over the question, “If marriage never happens for me, will I be okay?”
And the answer varies day-to-day, I’ll be honest. But it struck me the other morning in a big way. I was lamenting the fact that I may never experience that kind of intimacy and then a new thought emerged. Maybe I was very wrong.
Once upon a time, I was very passionately involved in the purity culture that was so active in the late nineties and early two thousands. I had kissed dating good bye and embraced authentic femininity with Jesus as my prince charming. (And I have lots of thoughts about that time in my life, but that’s a different blog post.) There was so much teaching I subjected myself to that were, frankly, lies verging on spiritual abuse.
We were taught—and many are still taught—that we need to be sexually pure for the sake of our future spouse—not for the sake of godliness or obedience. But what if there is no spouse ahead? Then what was the point?
When I was in my mid-20s, I started work at a place where one of my colleagues was a 40-year-old single woman. She was a very nice woman—good at her job, easy to talk to, and pleasant to work with. But—true confession time—for a long time I felt a little bit freaked out whenever she was around.
Why? It’s hard and embarrassing to explain. Frankly, I’m ashamed when I look back at my own naïve and immature frame of mind. I felt freaked out simply because she was single and 40—and there were not many voices in my life telling me that this was a good or even an okay thing.
I could review a book I’ve read…OR I could share with you what some lovely bookish ladies in my life are reading this summer. I am so excited about what is on my reading list for the next couple months and I knew a few people who would be equally excited about their own list.
The following are the five books on the summer reading lists of a series of folks in the writing and publishing world! I have linked to all of them so can check out these titles and add them to your own list.
If I were to describe my relationship with faith and the church in this season of my life, I think there is an overarching theme that would emerge: I’m cranky.
There are parts of what I’ve grown up with that feel like a sweater I’ve grown out of—the hem doesn’t meet my jeans any longer and the sleeves are tight around my upper arms and it just feels uncomfortable. I read a book on spiritual formation for women and I wonder why so much of it is based on feelings and why it had to be directed at women instead of all of us. I leave a church service feeling grippy about the amount of first-person-personal-pronouns used in so many Christian songs today. I cross my arms feeling like I will never be respected or taken seriously in an evangelical community unless I am married with children.
I’ve read more this year than I have since high school and I have loved it! This year has introduced me to genres I wouldn’t have otherwise touched and has added many new favorites to my shelves. Here are my top books from the year in no particular order:
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
If you asked me in January, I would have said I was the farthest thing from a sci-fi fan. And then I encountered Pierce Brown’s debut, Red Rising. High stakes, highly original world, great themes of loyalty, love, sacrifice, and war. I would recommend this for fans of The Hunger Games and The Warded Man.
What To Say Next – Julie Buxbaum
Buxbaum writes with such strong voices for her two POV protagonists. I loved the unreliability of both narrators without this being Fight-Club situation. YA in all it’s relatable-yet-dramatic glory. A great, short read for fans of John Green or Jennifer E. Smith’s books.
Landline – Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell has a collection of work I aspire to—great YA novels on top of funny contemporary novels, one with a dash of magical realism. Landline is packed with great pop-culture references, great character predicaments, and a magical phone. Seriously, could you want anything more? Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella or Meg Cabot.
A Trail of Crumbs – Susie Finkbeiner
The sequel to A Cup of Dust, Finkbeiner ups the ante in Pearl Spence’s world in the most heartbreaking and best way. I love the warmth of her historical fiction paired with characters that make me think of home. And one in particular that may literally harken back to yours truly…The second in a great series for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird or Jocelyn Green.
Dark Matter – Blake Crouch
As I said with Red Rising, before this year, I did not have a high view of science fiction, but you’ll notice that 2 are on my list of favorites for the entire year. Dark Matter was a relentless sci-fi thriller that I am still thinking about. Crouch’s concept was so original and mind-bending and his breakneck-pace was perfect. I have had so many great conversations about this novel and would highly recommend it for an unconventional book club pick. Great for fans of Ernest Cline or Westworld (yes, I’m recommending a book based on TV interests.)
You Are What You Love – James K.A. Smith
This book has changed my life and I’m not just saying that. Smith calls for a contemplative and intentional approach to faith that touches every aspect of life. This book has been a call back to quiet, daily faithfulness. I have been challenged and convicted by this book so many times since reading and am loving his backlist. Must read for readers of Alvin Plantinga or Augustine
Beyond Colorblind – Sarah Shin
Another convicting read, Shin’s debut book brings our culture’s racial tensions to the forefront of the church with such grace and wisdom. I think every believer needs to read what she has to say. This book is a worthy discussion about our full identities—ethnicity included—being valued in the diverse body of Christ. Great follow up read for those who enjoyed The Myth of Equality or The New Jim Crow.
Reading People – Anne Bogel
I’m a total personality nerd and have loved Anne’s podcast. Reading People was the best of both worlds—Anne’s wonderful insights and so much personality discussion. Because of this book, I’m now aware I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)—which those closest to me have apparently known and assumed I knew as well. A great book for those obsessed with Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram.
The Imperfect Disciple – Jared C. Wilson
Wilson’s humor and insight into the gospel have made this book one of my most recommended of the year. With snark and wisdom, he sets forth a call back to simple, gospel living. I’ve found his work so refreshing in a publishing landscape so saturated with a feelings-based theology. I would recommend this one for readers of Mike Cosper or Jen Wilkin.
At Home in the World – Tsh Oxenrieder
I love a good travel story and Tsh Oxenrieder has a few. Her memoir documenting her family’s around-the-world adventure was the perfect vacation read, especially as I got to walk in their footsteps through Italy. Her insights on home and place have stuck with me. This is a great memoir for those who enjoyed Chasing Slow or Bread and Wine.
What were your favorite reads of 2017? Share in the comments below.