Book Review and GIVEAWAY: A Trail of Crumbs

After a not-so-long wait that couldn’t end soon enough, the sequel to A Cup of Dust is out and ready for readers! (Please note that I did not review Cup as it released during the hiatus…) A Trail of Crumbs lives up to every ounce of anticipation.

Susie Finkbeiner’s historical fiction series centers on Pearl Spence, a young girl growing up in the dust bowl during the great depression.

A Trail of Crumbs picks up exactly where Cup left off—Palm Sunday—known in the dust bowl as Black Sunday.

I won’t give anything away, but tragedy strikes the Spence family,  sending them reeling both emotionally and across the country. We watch Pearl grow up as the Spences settle into a new community in Bliss, Michigan. (Go MI!)

The story is told in first person from Pearl’s perspective. The author uses Pearl’s child thoughts to build suspense and speak honestly in the ways an adult narrator could not. Her literary sensitivity is demonstrated not only in the point-of-view, but also in her subtle use of symbolism and sensitivity to the emotional pitch of a scene.

There where so many times when reading when I could’t guess where the author was headed, but I was thrilled to be along for the ride. Bliss felt so real and the characters reminded me of people I know. It was a pleasure to read.

Finkbeiner’s fourth novel leans into territory that Christian fiction rarely does and I am so grateful for it! Her honest story is relatable and real—something so many readers are craving.

Her storytelling risks are something I want to see more of in an industry that has been so scared to make any big moves. Readers aren’t looking for pretty people’s pretty stories to be wrapped up with a nice Jesus bow in the end. Instead, we are looking for mess, ambivalence, and most importantly hope. These are what our lives are made of. These are what make fictional stories interesting and true. Finkbeiner provides all three in spades—especially hope.

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of A Trail of Crumbs! There are multiple ways to enter both by plugging into both Susie’s and my social media pages. Only those within the US are eligible (Sorry, Canada!) and only one winner will be chosen. The giveaway runs from today (April 14, 2017) to next Friday (April 21, 2017).
a Rafflecopter giveaway
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

It should be noted that the publisher gave me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

It should also probably be noted that the author and I spend an inordinate amount of time together being neurotic. Her neuroses results in good novels. Someday hopefully mine will do the same…For now it just lends itself to obsessive Parks & Rec watching…

The Stories that Help Us Grieve

As I writer, I rarely find myself without words. After my mentor passed, words were hard.

I didn’t write for months and socializing just seemed a little too daunting. It was an odd season in which I

definitely felt displaced.

And eventually I began to process what had happened and how I felt and I began to heal. The words returned and I was able to embrace a new normal. Still, there were parts of what I was experiencing  that I still didn’t quite have the words for.

Narrative is a powerful thing. I’ve heard it described as a tarnished mirror. You see what is happening on the surface–the characters, the conflict– like the marks on the glass’ surface. But if the narrative is truly doing its job, you begin to see beyond the marks on the glass and actually glimpse your reflection. You see a little bit of your own heart and nature as you observe the joys and griefs of the characters. The injustice makes you angry, but it also forces you to observe the injustice in your own mind.

There is something in the power of narrative that is humbling, eye opening, and, at times, earth shattering.

About a year and a half after my mentor passed, I encountered a book that achieved this for me.

I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz surrounding The Fault in Our Stars this summer. John Green wrote a fabulous novel about two cancer-riddled teens falling in love. A lot of kiddos believe it to be a great love story that pulls at the heart-strings, makes one run out of kleenex, blah, blah, blah.

But there was something in the way Green wrote Hazel’s narration. He got it. It was all there. The tension of living with someone who is dying. The pain, the awkwardness, and even the humor–because there is a humor that comes out of it. John Green had happened upon something I hadn’t in a long long time.

The words.

And it was so clarifying and freeing. After I finished the book, I continued to sit and I just cried. Tears of grief because I missed her, tears of joy because I know where she is, and tears because I had been given a little bit of myself back.

I’m forever thankful for that novel.

In his review of the movie made from his brother’s book, Hank Green said this:

I cried. I cried a bunch of times, but not because it subtracted from me, but because it added to me. It opened up the mysteries of life and love and hurt for examination and for understanding and I think that’s something that world needs more of.

I agree deeply with this statement. Sad things for the sake of sadness take from us. They take joy and hope and balanced outlook. But then there are sad things that better us. That give us hope, renew our trust in God, and bring us closer to truth. That’s what The Fault in Our Stars was able to do for me.

A dear writing friend of mine, Susie Finkbeiner understood our need for understanding of hard things as well as the need for that to add to us rather than subtract from us.

Her book, My Mother’s Chamomile, explores the journey of a family of funeral directors in a season of loss. Susie used her own grief as well as those graciously shared with her to make a beautiful story that rings true and brings hope in the midst of sadness. I cried many times through the course of reading, but in the end, I was added to. God was able to expand my capacity for hope in the midst of pain as well as my understanding of the human heart.

I so appreciate Susie’s willingness to go to the hard places of her own pain as well as her passion to tell a story dripping with truth. She has done a fabulous job and I would love it if you would take the time to read it.

So why am I writing about this? Well, for starters, starting on Thursday, My Mother’s Chamomile is $0.99 for Kindle readers and I think you should buy it. But also, I think it’s important to know what narrative can do for us. That God uses all things for his glory including fiction. And sometimes that fiction can be healing.

Stories that reach into the depth of our nature when we feel the most human do something to us. We are being invited to be added to. To understand the pain of someone else, but also to understand our own hurt and hope. This is why I love what I am called to do. I hope one day to be able to write something that will provide what these stories have provided me.

What stories have been powerful in a dark season for you? Do you have a story that helped you in the grieving process?

The Pep Talk You Didn’t Know You Needed!–Susie Finkbeiner Guest Blogs

I met the wonderful Susie Finkbeiner through the wonderful Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing (April 10-12) and have loved getting to know a small bit of her heart for writing and her wonderful sense of humor through the Breathe Conference, her splendid blog, and her first novel, Paint Chips. Her latest novel, My Mother’s Chamomile, was released just last month and I highly recommend you check it out! In the midst of her novel promotion hubbub, she has been gracious enough to send a postcard Preppy Bohemia’s way. I was encouraged by her words and I now you will to! Don’t forget to give her a follow either by blog or by twitter, or a like facebook-way too!

I wove my very first fiction in kindergarten. I told a tale of a master ballerina, age 5, who stunned audiences with her spinning and twirling and leaping.
The ballerina was offered a job dancing on a big stage. However, she turned it down so that she could go to school. The tiny dancer’s name just happened to be Susie. And, well, she was me.
And, no, she couldn’t demonstrate the moves at school. She didn’t want to show off. And when I say “she”, I mean “me”.
My very first fiction was a big whopper of a lie.
I learned that day that I could take life and look at it from a different angle. I could see what was and make it into what could be.
Really, that’s all that fiction writers do. Even the ones who write about mythical creatures such as unicorns and vampires and Amish. Hold on. Amish are real. Right?
Flash forward an undisclosed amount of years. I’m now a working author. I’ve written two novels and am working on the third. I get paid to do this. And if that’s not the biggest gas in all the world, I don’t know what is. That’s not to say I get paid a lot. Still, I get some cash out of the deal. I love where I am now, making up stories, hoping that people will believe them.
But, somewhere in between ballerinas and published novels, I matured from a liar to a novelist. Was that transformation magic? Did I wish for it to be and it was so? Did I fall down the lucky tree and get smacked by every branch?
Nope.
I’m happy to let you in on my secret. I’d love to share how I wound up sitting at my desk, wearing pajama pants, and making up novels. Come in close. Here’s my secret.
I worked really, really, really, really hard.
There you have it, folks. The magic, sparkly bullet is hard work. Oh, and a lot of perseverance and determination added on top.
From the day I lied about being a ballerina to this day, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words. Possibly even millions. I don’t know. I’m a writer, not a mathematician. I’ve read thousands of books. I’ve had more rejections than acceptances. I’ve fallen on my face more than I’ve soared.
Can I tell you a little something about the down-side? The rejections? They’ve made me better. Stronger. More confident. Because I get back up, put my fingers on the keyboard and keep working. Also, they make the successes that much sweeter.
Are there short cuts? Ways to bypass the hard work? Sure. I suppose there are. But, would good writing be the result? It’s not likely.
It takes hard work. And when the work is done, you start over again. You work even harder. You strive to

make the next better than the one before.

Goodness gracious, this sounds really hard, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is. Here’s the thing, though. It’s worth it.
I don’t know your dream. I’d love to hear about it. Truly I would. Maybe you want to be an actor on Broadway. Possibly you want to invent something really cool that will enhance our lives. You might really want to be a Geometry teacher, in which case, God bless you. Seriously. Whatever your dream, I guarantee it will take a lot of work to achieve. It will take training and education and discipline. You will have to make sacrifices and give of yourself.
You will have to work really, really, really, really hard.
I promise, you will.
But hear me out. It will be worth it. Even if the biggest stage you stand upon is in a community theater. Or if you invent something that is cute, but not hugely useful. Even if all of your Geometry students fail miserably. I will tell you this, if you give your heart to it, no matter what, you will be a success.
If I wake up tomorrow and have a big, huge, “no thank you” letter in my inbox from an editor, I will still write.
If next week I find out that fiction is a bust and that nobody wants to read it anymore, I will still write.
Why? Because I love it. Even if no one ever reads another word I write, I’ll keep putting in the work.

I truly hope you will, too.