Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Top Ten (or Four) Tuesday: Reread-worthy Romances


Today's topic is a "Love Freebie" for Valentine's week, so I thought I'd feature a few of the romances I adore. I guess I'm actually partially borrowing a topic from later this month ("Books I Could Reread Forever"), but hopefully that's all right!

These romances aren't for everyone—a lot depends on personal preference. But these are ones that swept me away, and I found them worth enjoying more than once. :)

The Redemption by MaryLu Tyndall

This whole series is so engaging, especially for Pirates of the Caribbean fans! It's also lovely that Edmund and Charlisse's story continues through more than one book. Danger and love on the high seas? Check and check!

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

This fantasy novel is fascinating, as is the relationship between Nyx and Ignifex. It's a crazy journey, but layered with so much meaning and hope and passion amid the darkness. (That darker and somewhat strange/creepy nature of the book does make me hesitant to recommend this to everyone.)

Recalled by Cambria Hebert

This is another book I'm hesitant to recommend to everyone, given the premise of the boy on a mission to assassinate the girl (basically the same as Cruel Beauty, but reversed). Yet, the tension and Dex's path to falling in love are enthralling. It's funny how a book that has such a dark plot can be so sweet and touching. (As a side note, while I don't think it's the best idea to go too deep in analyzing the book's theology, there are some really powerful points and scenes in this story!)

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

This has got to be one of the sweetest stories ever! An epistolary novel about a girl spreading her wings...and finding love. A classic I can recommend to pretty much anyone. :) It's so cute and comforting and meaningful!

I'd love to know...
What are your favorite romance books?
The ones that make you smile or cry or melt?

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Sweet Start | Review of The Mayflower Bride



About the Book (from Barbour Publishing)

Can a religious separatist and an opportunistic spy make it in the New World?

Mary Elizabeth Chapman boards the Speedwell in 1620 as a Separatist seeking a better life in the New World. William Lytton embarks on the Mayflower as a carpenter looking for opportunities to succeed—and he may have found one when a man from the Virginia Company offers William a hefty sum to keep a stealth eye on company interests in the new colony. The season is far too late for good sailing and storms rage, but reaching land is no better as food is scarce and the people are weak. Will Mary Elizabeth survive to face the spring planting and unknown natives? Will William be branded a traitor and expelled?

Available Now

My Rating

Fall/Spring

My Review

The Mayflower Bride is a light read with moments and lines of greater depth. Unfortunately, the majority of my thoughts are more critical in nature, but that isn't to say this story isn't enjoyable or meaningful!

I appreciated the generous nature of the main characters. Mary Elizabeth spends much of the book caring for those who are sick; William often uses his carpentry skills or strength to help on board the ship or preparing the colony; and even Mary Elizabeth's little brother, David, desires to assist others wherever he can, although he's sadly forced to grow up early as a result of the journey.

While the story doesn't dive deep into matters of faith, there are some scenes and lines that are impactful and inspiring. With all the loss these characters experience, it's powerful when they choose to trust and praise God.

I suppose what makes this book feel a little "off" in tone is the fact that there is so much hardship, and yet, while characters do mourn, emotions are not expressed in a way that makes the reader experience the pain alongside them. Some scenes feel immature or underdeveloped, especially the focus on "love at first sight" and lighthearted romance that seems out of character with the setting and time period.

One part of the plot (the sea voyage itself, and the effort to make a home in the New World) held my interest and helped me be invested in the story. But another part of the plot that is supposed to create and maintain tension throughout the book falls flat. There's danger on the journey, but it's hard to sense much threat from the "villain," even at the end.

The Mayflower Bride is a sweet beginning to the "Daughters of the Mayflower" series, but it lacks a certain amount of depth. Still, fans of Anna's Crossing by Suzanne Woods Fisher and those who like gentle historical romance should enjoy this, and the series (spanning American history, with some wonderful contributing authors) promises to be one to watch.

*With thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of the book.*

Learn more about this brand-new series...

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Raises Good Questions about Our Attitude toward Food | Review of Full



About the Book (from Moody Publishers)

Can the Bible help me with my food struggles?

Have you ever felt stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of overeating, yo-yo dieting, and obsessive thoughts about food? Whether you feel defeated by your lack of self-control or overwhelmed by thoughts and longings for food, the answer to our food fixation does not lie in the $500 billion global diet industry. This is not a diet book and it's not a healthy eating plan. Because at the core, our problem is not really what we eat. It's why we seek fullness in something that will never satisfy.

Join Asheritah Ciuciu as she shares honestly about her own battles with food and reveals the path to freedom. You'll discover the joy of living free from food fixation so you can experience deeper satisfaction in Christ, gain a renewed sense of purpose, and yes, even enjoy good food (without regret). A healthier relationship with food through a stronger relationship with Christ—that's the goal of Full.

Includes a quiz to help you find out if you have food fixation, plus practical strategies for overcoming it.

Available Now


My Rating

Spring/Summer

My Review

This book about our attitude toward food covers some great topics and challenges the reader in a good way! I started the book and set it aside for a time, but when I picked it back up, I found myself engaged by the writing, the readable structure, and the important reminders.

I found chapters 10 and 11 ("Embrace the Grace of Community" and "Serve with Food") to be especially challenging and thought-provoking. How should food be treated in the church? How can we move the focus of our hearts from food to God during times of fellowship? How can we remember and care for the hungry? These are all good questions...and things I need to think about more.

I also appreciate that a chapter is dedicated to fasting, something noted in the Bible but not overly discussed in modern times. It feels like more of a radical or foreign concept, but I don't think it's supposed to be. There's so much I have to learn about fasting, and it's helpful to have some guidance in this book.

When read too quickly, I could see Full being a bit overwhelming...there's a lot to "digest" in the area of eating! But I appreciate that the intent of this book is to direct readers to Jesus and how we can honor Him in this part of our lives that tends to "consume" a lot of our time and thinking. (Pardon the puns!)

Full is an encouraging read that tackles a touchy topic with grace.

Read my review of Asheritah's Advent devotional: 
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mansfield Park Read-Along | Conclusion


Welcome to Week 4 of the Mansfield Park read-along! If you aren't familiar with the details, you can learn more about the read-along schedule in this invitation post. (We're reading 12 chapters per week.)

Today we're going to discuss the final part of the book: chapters 6-17 (Volume III). If you came prepared, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Mansfield Park read-along tag.) If you still have to catch up on some reading, you're welcome to check in later this week or whenever you're ready. :)

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

~ ~ ~

Mansfield Park Volume III: Chapters 6-17

Discussion Format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes

  • "[Mrs. Norris] must say that she had more than half a mind to go with the young people....William and Fanny were horror-struck at the idea." [Haha! I just love that the second line there is its own paragraph; nothing else need be said regarding Mrs. Norris's grand scheme. At least William and Fanny are spared in the end!]
  • "[Mrs. Price's] days were spent in a kind of slow bustle; always busy without getting on, always behindhand and lamenting it, without altering her ways." [I feel like I could take this as a cautionary note for myself.]
  • "It was really March; but it was April in its mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute, and every thing looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky, the effects of the shadows pursuing each other, on the ships at Spithead and the island beyond, with the ever-varying hues of the sea now at high water, dancing in its glee and dashing against the ramparts with so fine a sound..." [Lovely descriptions. ♥]
  • "The woman who could speak of him, and speak only of his appearance!—What an unworthy attachment!"
  • "There is nothing like employment, active, indispensable employment, for relieving sorrow."
  • "All this together most grievously convinced me that I had never understood her before, and that, as far as related to mind, it had been the creature of my own imagination, not Miss Crawford, that I had been too apt to dwell on for many months past." [*gives standing ovation*]
  • "[Tom] became what he ought to be, useful to his father, steady and quiet, and not living merely for himself." [I just love that last part!]
  • "They had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice."
  • "Nobody minds having what is too good for them." :)

General Impressions

A big part of this section is spent at the Price home, which is quite a bit different than all the time at Mansfield Park leading up to it! I feel bad for Fanny, returning to her family only to see how very little her parents regard her, how chaotic her childhood home has become, and how she no longer seems to belong. But a blessing does arise from those uncomfortable months: a closer relationship with her sister Susan. :)

The book becomes semi-epistolary for a while, focused on the letters being sent to Fanny from Miss Crawford and then Lady Bertram. And finally...finally...Mr. Crawford shows his true colors for the whole world (especially Sir Thomas and Edmund) to see. Not that it's a happy situation in the slightest, but I'm happy for Fanny, that Mr. Crawford didn't continue pursuing her and eventually win her, only to run off with someone after their marriage or torture Fanny by openly flirting with other women. :(

And Miss Crawford's true colors are displayed for Edmund to see too. Phew! As sad as it is for Edmund to realize he's spent all this time falling in love with someone who didn't really exist (not in the way he believed her to be), it's a relief that everything is out in the open.

So much is covered in that last chapter, isn't it? In some ways, I'm quite satisfied. I love the lessons tucked into certain characters' stories, like how Tom "was the better for ever for his illness" ("he had suffered, and he had learnt to think, two advantages that he had never known before") and how "education had not given [Julia] so very hurtful a degree of self-consequence" (as it had for Maria; how differently Fanny in her humility had grown up to be!).

Of course, I'm also happy for Fanny and Edmund. (I especially love that sweet paragraph about the friendship formed between Sir Thomas and Fanny!) But it's hard to completely love Edmund as a romantic hero, because for almost the whole novel he very clearly sees Fanny as a sister and has romantic feelings for another woman who does not share his morals. I wish we could get more of a glimpse into the transformation of his feelings...to not just know but actually see Edmund regarding Fanny in a new light and realizing how much he loves her.

I like the conclusion of their story, but it feels somewhat abrupt to go from the last line of chapter 16 ("Fanny's friendship was all that he had to cling to") to the account in chapter 17. While the timing is fine in how it's told (Edmund takes a while to grieve and figure out his own mind, falling in love with Fanny as he spends more time with her), it would be nice to have some actual scenes of them growing closer together. Perhaps that's not the main point, but still. :) Especially since Edmund spent so much of the book completely misunderstanding Fanny's feelings for him, for Mr. and Miss Crawford, etc.!

All in all, I enjoyed the story and seeing how everything turned out. It's not a favorite of mine, but it's an interesting book with interesting characters!

Discussion Questions

Feel free to answer one, two, or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. Do you think Fanny's home and family had changed a lot since she left when she was a girl, or do you think Fanny was the one who changed the most?

2. Just for fun: What sort of conclusion would you give to Susan's story if you were to write a sequel/epilogue for her?

3. Which character's growth or consequences (as described in the last chapter) brought you the most satisfaction?

Final Note

As always, it was so fun to read a Jane Austen book with you, my blog friends! You provided so many great insights and thoughts, and I'm grateful for all your comments and posts. :)

Before you go, I'd love to hear your responses to the following, if you'd care to share:
  • Of the Jane Austen books you've read so far, how would you rank them in order of preference?
  • If you've seen an adaptation of Mansfield Park, which one(s) did you see and how did you like it/them in comparison with the book?
The next read-along I plan to host will be for Sense & Sensibility, and I hope it will include a watch-along too! I haven't entirely decided on the month...but maybe keep an eye out for the announcement sometime this spring. :) 

I also ran a poll on Twitter to get an idea for what books we could read together after Sense & Sensibility, and it seems like L.M. Montgomery's stories are a popular choice. So perhaps we'll need to do a read-along of Anne of the Island and/or Emily of New Moon later this year! 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mansfield Park Read-Along | Week 3


Welcome to Week 3 of the Mansfield Park read-along! If you aren't familiar with the details, you can learn more about the read-along schedule in this invitation post. (We're reading 12 chapters per week.)

Today we're going to discuss chapters 7-13 (Volume II) and chapters 1-5 (Volume III). If you came prepared, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Mansfield Park read-along tag.) If you still have to catch up on some reading, you're welcome to check in later this week or whenever you're ready. :)

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

~ ~ ~

Mansfield Park Volume II: Chapters 7-13 and
Volume III: Chapters 1-5

Discussion Format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes

  • "He [Edmund] knows that human nature needs more lessons than a weekly sermon can convey, and that if he does not live among the parishioners and prove himself by constant attention their well-wisher and friend, he does very little either for their good or his own."
  • "I hope you will like the chain itself, Fanny. I endeavored to consult the simplicity of your taste, but at any rate I know you will be kind to my intentions, and consider it, as it really is, a token of the love of one of your oldest friends."
  • "The dejection which followed could only be relieved by the influence of fervent prayers for his happiness."
  • "Two lines more prized had never fallen from the pen of the most distinguished author....there was a felicity in the flow of the first four words, in the arrangement of 'My very dear Fanny,' which she could have looked at for ever." [♥]
  • "If we have been kind to her, she is now quite as necessary to us."
  • "Baddeley was stout. 'No, Ma'am, it is Miss Price, I am certain of its being Miss Price.' And there was a half smile with the words which meant, 'I do not think you would answer the purpose at all.'" [Ha! I love this response to Mrs. Norris.]
  • "Sure enough there was a book on the table which had the air of being very recently closed." [I like that description!]

General Impressions

This section was rather long...and dominated by Mr. Crawford's pursuit of Fanny. I am so torn over the direction of the story and the choices of the characters! I like Sir Thomas and Edmund, and yet I feel bad for how they're pressuring Fanny. And Edmund...I'm bummed that he still has his heart set on Miss Crawford. On the other hand, I do appreciate that the characters are complex, and are likable and decidedly unlikable in turn.

Part of me applauds Fanny's conviction, even in the face of very difficult opposition and guilt; she knows deep down that Mr. Crawford is still the man who pursued Maria and Julia with no regard for the damage he'd do or the hearts he'd break. Another part of me wishes that Mr. Crawford really did have a change of heart.

Is that awful of me? Could I have so quickly forgotten what a cad Mr. Crawford is? I guess it seems romantic to think that a "bad boy" could have opened his eyes to a wonderful woman and changed his ways. But we get enough glimpses of his true nature (in his pride, especially), and we hear enough admissions from his sister, to know that Fanny is being wise. If only someone else would understand and side with her!

I think it has to hurt Fanny even worse, knowing Edmund wants this for her. Instead of being jealous and realizing his own love for Fanny, he's pushing her into Mr. Crawford's arms. His feelings appear to be brotherly through and through at this point. :(

As for Miss Crawford, she's as frustrating as ever. I thought it was interesting for her to reveal that it was really her brother's idea to give Fanny the necklace. So...the one thing Edmund really admired Miss Crawford for wasn't even her idea!

I think it was really sweet of Sir Thomas to host a ball for Fanny and William. And I'm happy for William as a lieutenant. If only it didn't have to be due to Mr. Crawford... It's funny, because this is so incredibly different than Pride & Prejudice, and yet Mr. Darcy did things to help out Elizabeth's family, and he truly is a hero. I guess the difference lies in the proper motivation and a sense of humility, which are decidedly lacking in Mr. Crawford.

I am definitely curious to see how everything works out in the last part of the book!

Discussion Questions

Feel free to answer one, two, or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. Which character do you feel most strongly about at this point—in either a good or disapproving way? What makes that character especially stand out to you?

2. If you were in attendance at the ball, how would you occupy your time? Would you dance the night away, or would you prefer observation and conversation?

3. What advice would you give Fanny in handling Mr. Crawford's pursuit?

Join us next Wednesday for our final discussion! 
(Vol. III: Ch. 6-17)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mansfield Park Read-Along | Week 2


Welcome to Week 2 of the Mansfield Park read-along! If you aren't familiar with the details, you can learn more about the read-along schedule in this invitation post. (We're reading 12 chapters per week.)

Today we're going to discuss chapters 13-18 (Volume I) and chapters 1-6 (Volume II). If you came prepared, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Mansfield Park read-along tag.) If you still have to catch up on some reading, you're welcome to check in later this week or whenever you're ready. :)

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

~ ~ ~

Mansfield Park Volume I: Chapters 13-18 and
Volume II: Chapters 1-6

Discussion Format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes

  • "Fanny looked on and listened, not unamused to observe the selfishness which, more or less disguised, seemed to govern them all, and wondering how it would end." [I feel like this idea fits the whole book...]
  • "...her books—of which she had been a collector, from the first hour of her commanding a shilling..." [I love that Fanny is a collector of books!]
  • "The music which Sir Thomas called for from his daughters helped to conceal the want of real harmony." [This line is sad but beautifully composed. Pun intended!]
  • "There is nobleness in the name of Edmund. It is a name of heroism and renown—of kings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalry and warm affections." [Aww, Fanny...]

General Impressions

Well, the conclusion of Volume I brings an end to the theatrical scheme at Mansfield...and an end to an era, in a sense, now that Sir Thomas has returned home at long last. With the beginning of Volume II, we see several people leave: Mr. Yates, Mr. Crawford, and Maria and Mr. Rushworth, now married and taking Julia with them for a time. This paves the way for Fanny to be brought into the spotlight—against her will, for the most part.

Just because the play ended before it could really begin doesn't mean the drama has ended at Mansfield, that's for sure! I feel quite sad for the marriage between Maria and Mr. Rushworth; pride and a need for independence hardly make a strong foundation for the future. And the fact that Maria wants her sister with them on what appears to be a honeymoon of sorts doesn't offer much hope for a growing love and intimacy.

I thought it was really sweet that Sir Thomas actually approached Maria, wanting to know her thoughts and encouraging her to be open if her impending marriage was no longer what she wanted. But then, he's hardly disappointed when she still chooses to get married, and it's a bit frustrating how Sir Thomas justifies the relationship and clings to his own sense of gain in the matter. Alas!

And then the man who did such damage to Maria's and Julia's hearts returns...wanting to claim Fanny's, solely for the sake of conquest. Poor Fanny! Her brother's arrival is both a blessing and a curse. So far it seems to preoccupy her and keep her from dwelling too much on Mr. Crawford; but her obvious affection for her brother is only endearing her to Mr. Crawford even more, which is not a good turn of events.

As for Edmund and Miss Crawford, I'm not sure what to say. Miss Crawford has her moments of kindness, in a sense, but her friendship with Fanny stems from boredom and a need for company. I don't know if Edmund is learning any lessons from all that's already happened. He's so blinded by his infatuation with Miss Crawford.

Be wise, Fanny and Edmund! The Crawfords could do a lot of damage...

Discussion Questions

Feel free to answer one, two, or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. If you were one of Maria's parents, what might you have said to her before the wedding?

2. What are your thoughts on the friendship between Fanny and Miss Crawford? What would you recommend to improve their relationship?

3. Consider Mr. Crawford's sudden interest in Fanny or Edmund's admiration of Miss Crawford. What makes them so attractive to these guys? What would you consider to be valid reasons for falling in love?

Join us next Wednesday for our third discussion! 
(Vol. II: Ch. 6-13 and Vol. III: Ch. 1-5)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Top Ten (or Three) Tuesday: Bookish Resolutions


Did you make any New Year's reading resolutions? I have a few goals...not ten, although there are more than ten books on my TBR, if that counts. ;) Be sure to check out today's post at That Artsy Reader Girl to see other bloggers' resolutions and join the Top Ten Tuesday fun!

Resolution #1: 
Read Mansfield Park and Sense & Sensibility


Thanks to the Mansfield Park read-along, I'm already on my way to completing this goal! Once I finish these two books, I'll have read all the main works of Jane Austen. (There are other writings, complete and incomplete, but it will be great to have read all her main novels.) And the really cool thing is that I'll have read all of those books with you, those who have participated in the Jane Austen read-alongs. :) So fun!

(Also, my sister gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, which is what I used to purchase that lovely copy of Sense & Sensibility. Can't wait to dive in for the next read-along!)

Resolution #2: 
Catch Up on Paperback Review Books


This goal comes with a shameful confession... I have too many review books that I've never read or reviewed. :( While some in this picture are ones I received unexpectedly or from giveaways, some are ones I requested, which makes it even worse that I haven't reviewed them yet.

My hope is to read all of these (13). It would feel so good to catch up! And maybe, by sharing reviews of some not-brand-new releases, I'll be able to point others to some gems they might have missed. :) 

Resolution #3:
Read 50 Books Total 


This is my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge. This means reading about one book per week, which seems fairly doable... We'll see! I didn't read that much last year, but I think this year will likely be a little quieter. ;) So far I've read three books: Shades of Doon and Forever Doon, completing the Doon series, and The Sound of Rain. I have plenty of others I want to read soon! (See photo for a glimpse at some of the books on my TBR.)

* * *

This year I really want to focus on the books I already own (on my shelf or Kindle). There are SO many to enjoy! I won't run out of options anytime soon. :)

How about you? 
What are your reading resolutions?