Saturday, November 30, 2019

Next Read-Along Options and a Personal Update

Happy last day of November! Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. :)

I've been thinking ahead to the next read-along and hoping it might work in January, after the busyness of the holidays. And I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Which of these books would you prefer to read and discuss together to kick off 2020?

by Johanna Spyri

by Catherine Marshall

I think either book could work well in the month time frame. Let me know in the comments section if you have a preference!

This might be the last read-along for a little while, as Josh and I are gearing up for a big life change...

We're thrilled to be expecting our first child in March! A baby girl we can't wait to meet and hold and raise and love. ♥ She's already a cherished member of our little family!

I'll be entering my third trimester of pregnancy in December, and as long as everything continues to go smoothly, I think January could be a great month for one more read-along. Not to say that there won't ever be more necessarily! But I imagine things will be a little uncertain around here as we adjust to a new rhythm and figure out a new schedule.

I'm not really sure what my blogging or writing will look like in the days to come. I know I've left stories unfinished (like Maya's story) and a book idea unpublished (Morning Glory), and I'm so sorry to have started and marketed projects like that without following through at this point. :( I confess I haven't really worked on stories in quite a while, and I have no idea if/when that might change.

I don't want to say I'll never return to writing or publishing books! I'm just unsure. And I want to be better about not publicly celebrating a book without having done the hard work of writing beforehand. I've craved the excitement and attention that comes with a new idea or a new cover, and I've let down my readers by getting ahead of myself and making promises I haven't kept. For that, I sincerely apologize to you all. ♥

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I'm grateful for each of my reader friends and all those I've met around the blogosphere! And I hope to continue chatting about books and life together. :) Speaking of, I'd love to hear about how the holiday season is going for you, what books have recently made an impression on you, or any life updates you'd like to share!

Friday, November 22, 2019

Literary Christmas: The Sound of Sleigh Bells by Cindy Woodsmall (Plus a Kindle eBook Freebie!)

A Literary Christmas: Reading Challenge //

Happy Friday, friends! I finished reading my first book for the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge (hosted by In the Bookcase) last night, so I thought I'd share some quick thoughts. :)

Learn more about the book on the author's website.

I wasn't 100% sure whether or not I had read The Sound of Sleigh Bells before...but it definitely felt like a new experience either way! I really liked the length of it (almost 200 pages in hardcover format)—not too long to be a quick seasonal read, but also not super short. As the story got started, I was concerned about the role of deception, how it might be treated like it's no big deal if the ends justify the means. But given Cindy Woodsmall's deeper writing, I shouldn't have assumed that would be the case! I'm grateful for the way the story ultimately confronts different kinds of lies and celebrates the freedom of truth.

This isn't a lighthearted Christmas read; it begins in the spring and ends in the winter, and it tackles a painful emotional journey along the way. The heroine's personality and coping mechanisms sometimes rubbed me wrong, but she's still a likable character beneath that, and it's hard not to love the hero. All in all, I found this to be an engaging book with sweet characters and a hard-won romance.

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In other Christmas novella news, yesterday I discovered that one of Melissa Tagg's holiday reads is FREE for Kindle right now! I really enjoyed the first novella in the series, One Enchanted Christmas, which I included on my Favorite Books of 2015 list. So I was excited to snatch up the second novella. :) Here's a graphic the author shared on Facebook, indicating the deals last through November 24, 2019:

One Enchanted Christmas (book 1): $.99 for Kindle
One Enchanted Eve (book 2): FREE for Kindle
One Enchanted Noel (book 3): $2.99 for Kindle

Happy Christmas reading, everyone!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge 2019 (Signing Up and Sharing My List!)

I found out about the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge through Hamlette (author Rachel Kovaciny) at her blog The Edge of the Precipice. (Thank you for posting about it, Rachel!) I've had plans to read/reread a few Christmas books this year, and I thought it would be fun to join this lovely challenge and highlight the books I'm revisiting.

Also, isn't the banner so pretty and festive??

The challenge is hosted by Tarissa at In the Bookcase. Here are the details:
  • Pick a Christmas book (or more than one!) to read or reread this holiday season.
  • Sign up by posting about the challenge on your blog or a social media account.
  • Link your post to Tarissa's main challenge post HERE.
  • Post about the book(s) you read and link up those posts, too, to share the book love!
The challenge takes place November 8 through December 31, 2019. You can learn more and find all of Tarissa's challenge posts at In the Bookcase.

Tarissa is also hosting a really neat giveaway for US residents! You don't have to participate in the challenge to enter, but you can get extra entries in the drawing if you do. :) Click the image below to check it out...

Here's what I'm planning to read for the challenge:

The Sound of Sleigh Bells by Cindy Woodsmall

I actually started reading this the other day, so I'm already through a couple chapters. :) My uncle gave me a copy last year, I believe, and this is one of those books that I'm not quite sure if I've read before or not... I have read a few other books by this author, which I've enjoyed, and whether this is a new-to-me read or an old-but-not-terribly-familiar friend, I'm looking forward to continuing this story!

A Cliché Christmas by Nicole Deese

This book basically made my favorites list for 2015, although I technically read it in 2014. Here's what I said back then: "This poor book fell through the cracks, as I read it after I announced my favorites of 2014, but before 2015 officially began. I have to mention it now, though, because I marked it as a favorite back then and found it to be a delightful Christmas romance. I'm thinking a re-read might be in order at some point."

So, here we are! It's been about five years, so I think a reread is definitely warranted. :)

This was my introduction to the delightful Cindy Vincent and her books back in 2013, and I loved it! I enjoyed editing this little gem, which features two lovable cat detectives, and then hosting a blog tour for the book. This year I'd like to revisit this precious installment of the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Capers and experience the Christmas charm once again.

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I don't plan to write full reviews of these books, but I'm hoping to at least share a few thoughts and highlight the stories again during the challenge!

Don't forget, if you'd like to participate in the challenge, check out In the Bookcase. I'd love to know if you sign up and what Christmas books are on your reading list this year!

*Banner and giveaway image are from In the Bookcase.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Final Discussion ~ Christy Read-Along

Welcome to the seventh and final discussion of the Christy read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can view the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we'll be discussing chapters 40-46. If you've already read these chapters, you can share your thoughts in the comments section below or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Christy read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up on the reading, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :) We're happy to have you join us whenever you can!

~ ~ ~

Christy: Chapters 40-46
Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes*
  • "I knew that I belonged here, helping these mountain people. There was nothing I wanted for myself, I just wanted to give."
  • "What I didn't understand then was that they were training their wills in the only way a will can be trained—by practicing giving up what we happen to want at the moment."
  • "Relationships can be kept intact without compromising one's own beliefs."
  • "By then I was a bit wiser and had learned that there's only one way to give advice to the young: give it, and then be perfectly unconcerned as to whether they take it or not. God alone is capable of managing other people—even our own children."
  • "Every one of us belongs in some kind of ministry." 
  • Is Miss Alice really saying that David can't love me—or anyone—until he has given himself and his love away to God?
  • "I offer back to You this love You gave. It's all I have to give You, God. Here are our lives—hers and mine—I hold them out to You. Do—with us—as You please."

General Impressions

I confess I'm not quite sure what to say about this book's conclusion! As with the rest of the story, there are plenty of thought-provoking lines and moments. The theme of giving oneself, of living in "ministry," of loving without holding back—definitely challenging and inspiring. I'm not 100% satisfied with how the plot ends, but as a whole, this book has been engaging to read and discuss, and it's definitely a compelling story. :)

When I finished the book, I found myself wanting answers. I shared a few links in the first discussion post, and I'll re-share a couple here in case you want to visit them again, now that spoilers aren't an issue:
I found it really interesting to check out the comments section for that first link too! 

It's intriguing to know that Catherine Marshall's mother married a pastor and had a short engagement, which is what might have happened in the book...but then didn't. With David's state at the end of the book, I'm not disappointed that he and Christy didn't get together. It's not that I believe people need to be in a perfect spiritual state in order to get married. Far from it! That's not possible; we always have room to grow, and it's wonderful when marriage itself is a place where people can do that. But I believe it's important to have a foundation of faith beforehand, and I don't think David had that. He was still searching. He even said (on page 551 in my copy), "I have to stand my ground and find myself right here." So...yeah, I don't think his character was quite ready to start a loving relationship with Christy. (As suggested in the second to last quote in the section above.)

But then there's Dr. MacNeill. And I don't know exactly how to feel! Of course, my romantic heart enjoys a happily-ever-after. :) I really liked Dr. MacNeill in the show, and I think overall I liked his character in the book too. (If you're also a romantic, here's a link to a little music video someone put together featuring scenes from the show: It Is You (I Have Loved) [Christy/Neil]

Yet...I feel like his prayer and conversion, as much as I'm glad for them, were too sudden, too convenient to the story. Only a couple chapters before the end, Dr. MacNeill said, "Prayer, Alice, isn't going to change the course of typhoid" (page 540 in my copy). This was right before Christy became bedridden. Of course, his interactions with Christy and Miss Alice might have been on his heart and mind for some time without the reader really knowing it, but I think it would have been helpful to see him somehow wrestling with his faith more before that last scene. Like I said, I'm glad for what happened! I just wish it hadn't been tacked on at the end without more basis in the rest of the story.

Also, as much as an open-ended conclusion can be compelling, so much seems left unsaid. It's a climactic last chapter, but I think I would have enjoyed an epilogue or something to share just a bit more about what happens after Christy's illness. There were undertones of romance throughout the story, but it wasn't necessarily the central element, so it feels a bit odd to have the end be about the romance rather than about the mission and the people of the Cove or even more about faith apart from a romantic relationship.

Okay, apparently I do have a lot to say about the book's conclusion! :) While these last chapters left me wanting more or something a little different, I still really enjoyed the book overall. And I know that as much as I've been complaining about the focus on romance, I'm the one who's been going into detail about my thoughts in that regard, rather than talking about the other stuff that happened! 

I'm inspired by all the sacrifices in these last chapters. With sickness running rampant, the people at the mission gave so much of themselves to care for others, even someone like Lundy who didn't appreciate their efforts. It's so sad his seemingly small act of rebellion with eating eggs was his undoing. :( And yet, Christy and Miss Alice and Ida and Opal were so dedicated in their care of him to the end.

I was impressed by Ruby Mae's husband, his willingness to do whatever necessary to help his wife, even at such a young age. And then there was Christy and her small but meaningful kindnesses to Bessie and her family. And the truth about Tom's death, and how there seemed to be a mending there between families. 

This last section was not all sunshine and roses, that's for sure! (Although there was sunshine and flowers in the last chapter!) But there were shining moments in the midst of much pain and fear and darkness. I have another of Catherine Marshall's books, Julie, on my shelf, and I'm curious to maybe read another story by her at some point.

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. Which story of sickness, whether hopeful or heartbreaking, affected you the most?

2. Were you satisfied with the conclusion of the story? If so, what did you like most about these last chapters? If not, what do you wish might have been different?

3. What was your favorite part about Christy? Do you plan to read other books by Catherine Marshall, either fiction or nonfiction?

Thank you so much for joining the Christy read-along!
It's been a pleasure discussing the book with you. ♥

*Catherine Marshall, Christy (New York: Avon, 2006), 500-501, 504, 506, 507, 546, 547, 558.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Dark and Meaningful Fantasy | Review of Dragonwitch

About the Book
(from Bethany House)

Book 5 in the Tales of Goldstone Wood Series

Who Will Dare to Face the Dragonwitch?

Submissive to her father's will, Lady Leta of Aiven travels far to meet the future King of the North Country and a prospective husband she neither knows nor loves.

But within the walls of his castle, all is not right. Vicious night terrors plague Lord Alistair. Whispers rise from the family crypt. The reclusive castle Chronicler, Leta's tutor and friend, possesses a secret so dangerous it could cost his life and topple the entire nation.

And far away in a hidden kingdom, a flame burns atop the Citadel of the Living Fire. Acolytes and priestesses serve their goddess to the limits of their lives and deaths. No one is safe while the Dragonwitch searches for the sword that slew her twice...and for the hero who can wield it.

Available Now!

My Review

I'm embarrassed to confess that this book has been on my shelf for YEARS. From reading the first four books I knew the in-depth, epic nature of this series—and Dragonwitch is no exception. It's not a light or fast or easy-to-binge sort of read. But, as with its predecessors, the story comes together in a powerful and meaningful way.

When I finally reached a point where I determined to stick with the book rather than stick it back on the shelf for another time, I still almost gave up. I didn't like the darker descriptions of the goblins and the various settings. It felt almost too much for me, and I wasn't sure I wanted to finish.

Am I glad I did? Yes. While I don't really see myself returning to this story, not wanting to immerse myself in the darker plot once again, I'm glad to know how everything comes together. The beginning mostly zooms in on one place and how various characters meet, but as the story progresses you get to know their true identities and backstories, and it becomes easier and easier to care for them and cheer for them. I loved the personal growth, the development of some sweet relationships, and when various characters encounter and embrace truth. So good!

Some revelations come a little late in the story, things that seem like they should be obvious earlier on. I liked the surprise of this but also felt like maybe some things came out of left field for me when there should have been more clues in the characters' thoughts and behavior. Maybe that's just me, though! Also, while some elements of the story are unique to this book, it might have helped for me to have a clearer memory of the previous books (instead of years between readings!).

Dragonwitch is a creatively told fantasy and very satisfying in the way it wraps up, even with the tragic fact that not all the characters make the right choices. As with other books in this series, there's plenty here to inspire and make you think, and the imaginative detail is fantastic. It's a hefty, dark, and intense read, but a valuable addition to the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

*With thanks to Bethany House Publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*

My Reviews of Other Tales of Goldstone Wood Books

Friday, November 8, 2019

Discussion 6 ~ Christy Read-Along

Welcome to the sixth discussion of the Christy read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can view the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we'll be discussing chapters 33-39. If you've already read these chapters, you can share your thoughts in the comments section below or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Christy read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up on the reading, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :) We're happy to have you join us whenever you can!

~ ~ ~

Christy: Chapters 33-39
Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes*
  • "I learned that true forgiveness includes total acceptance. And out of acceptance wounds are healed and happiness is possible again."
  • "Only in the mountains had I seen such hues: the dark red of the sourwoods; the brown and bright orange of the red oaks; the luminous gold of the hickories; the crimson of the sumac and the scarlet oaks—always with the purple-blue Smokies for a backdrop, like the stain of ripe Concord grapes."
  • "After a while the love of God was more real to me than any old ghost. And then all the ghosts went away, and ever since the dark has seemed friendly and cozy."
  • "This love disclosing itself was no cosmic Creator of a mechanistic universe, for the revelation was intimate, personal. Perhaps the assurance always has to be personal, revealed to the inner person alone, since only man sees other men en masse, whereas God insists on seeing us one by one, each a special case, each inestimably beloved for himself."
  • "I knew now: God is. I had found my center, my point of reference."

General Impressions

Man...there have been some difficult scenes leading up to this section, but I think this week's reading has been the darkest so far between Miss Alice's painful story from her past and the awful nature of Fairlight's passing. These tragic scenes are divided by Ruby Mae's rather wild wedding and the disappointing conversation with David about the school and the creepy talk of Old Marthy, the "witch." It's a lot to take in!

Even with the really dark moments, though, I love that the light still shines through Miss Alice's recounting of her community's love and acceptance...and Christy's comforting words to Zady...and also Christy's honesty with God and her recognition of His love amid all the uncertainties and unanswered questions.

I confess I wasn't taken by surprise to find out the identity of Dr. MacNeill's wife, only because it's a big part of the TV series. But I'd be curious to know if those of you who haven't seen the show or read the book before found that to be a shock! And I'm also curious to see how that revelation might affect the last chapters of the book, if at all.

Dr. MacNeill the wedding. I like that he's a good dancer. ;) But he's definitely forthright in his opinions about sex and marriage! Not that it's bad to talk about, but if I were in Christy's shoes, I think I'd be uncomfortable hearing a widowed man discuss that topic in that place and context.

As for David...sigh. He makes me less and less inclined to prefer him as a suitor for Christy. He's preoccupied with kissing her but neglects to encourage her or value her opinions or deal with his own lack of faith. And this from a preacher! Again, sigh.

I was not prepared for Fairlight's death. That was definitely not something I remember from the show, and her awful terror that never really was soothed makes me so sad. I'm glad she had Christy with her at the end, sharing Scripture and comfort. And I'm glad Christy had Miss Alice to point her to the people in Scripture who asked questions of God and poured out their pain to Him.

It seems like there's still so much to wrap up with only one week's reading left, and I'm curious how the book will end!

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. What do you think of the Folk School idea that Mrs. Browning shared with Christy? Do you feel like it would be beneficial to the people of the Cove?

2. Do you find nighttime and darkness bothersome or appealing? Have your feelings changed since childhood?

3. What are some of the things you hope will happen or be resolved in the last chapters? (Or, if you've already read the book, has anything stood out to you differently so far while reading the book this time around?)

Join us next Friday for our seventh and final discussion! 
(Chapters 40-46)

*Catherine Marshall, Christy (New York: Avon, 2006), 415, 444, 455, 478-479.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Cover Reveal! | Dear Author: Letters from a Bookish Fangirl (Sweet Nonfiction for Fiction Authors)

Happy Monday, friends! I'm happy to be teaming up with a fellow blogger and debut author to share the cover for her upcoming release, Dear Author! :) I've already had the pleasure of reading this gem, and it's such a sweet nonfiction treat for fiction authors who could use some encouragement. I plan to post my review later on, but for now, enjoy this peek at the colorful cover and some exciting pre-order goodies...

Dear Author: Letters from a Bookish Fangirl
  Laura A. Grace
 Genres: Self-Help, Motivational
  Publication date: December 3, 2019

About the Book

Think your words might not matter? Think again. Words have the power to change lives, especially when they are used to create meaningful stories. In this collection of letters, bookish fangirl Laura A. Grace addresses topics related to every writer’s journey. From “character conversations,” to embracing one’s unique writing style, to celebrating a release day—there is a letter for every author no matter where they may be in sharing their story with others.

Dear Author includes six illustrations by Hannah S.J. Williams.

Signed PaperbackAmazonBarnes & Noble — Book Depository (Coming soon!)

Pre-order the paperback or e-book and fill out the form below to receive some fun little extras!
(Details can be found in the form.)

Pre-Order Goodies Form

About the Author

Laura A. Grace had a lifelong dream of getting to know authors behind the covers of her favorite reads. Little did she know that one day she would become an author too! Now an avid book blogger at Unicorn Quester and writer of clean, Christian manga, Laura creatively balances her passions of supporting indie authors and feeding her readers new stories. In between, she wields plastic lightsabers with her children and binge-watches anime with her husband. Join her quest to find wandering unicorns for your favorite authors at!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Discussion 5 ~ Christy Read-Along

Welcome to the fifth discussion of the Christy read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can view the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we'll be discussing chapters 26-32. If you've already read these chapters, you can share your thoughts in the comments section below or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Christy read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up on the reading, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :) We're happy to have you join us whenever you can!

~ ~ ~

Christy: Chapters 26-32
Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and three questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes*
  • "It's been the delight of my life to find God far more common-sense and practical than any human I know. The only time I ever find my dealings with God less than clear-cut is when I'm not being honest with Him. The fuzziness is always on my side, not His."
  • "Fixin' onything is man's work," came Opal's firm answer. "Tearin' down or killin', that thar's easy. Any addle-pated fool kin pull the trigger of a rifle-gun or fling a rock. It's fixin' that's hard, takes a heap more doin'."
  • "Ask questions, never be afraid of truth."
  • "Preach the gospel, David, teach it, preach to the hearts of men. That's your business. Then the fruits, including the reforms in other areas, will follow as fruits."
  • "When your heart is ablaze with the love of God, when you love other people—especially the rip-snorting sinners—so much that you dare to tell them about Jesus with no apologies, then never fear, there will be results."
  • "The sun sifting through moving branches overhead would splinter the light into diamonds on the water, tossing them back into my eyes with such magic that I would want to shout and dance just for the joy of living—and usually did."

General Impressions

There are some rather suspenseful scenes in this section, from the men harassing the women in the mission house to the standoff at the McHones' home. I love that Opal could see God's love through Christy's appearance in the middle of that tense situation. And I love how Opal appealed to Bird's-Eye (in that second quote above).

There's also some great tragedy in this section in regards to the death of Tom. The conversation it led to between David and Miss Alice was so powerful. I think it goes really well with the sermon my husband and I heard at the church we visited this past Sunday, which was on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, addressing the utmost importance of the gospel and what we should remember about it. I just love those quotes from Miss Alice above (the fourth and fifth ones on my list), how if David wanted to see true change in the Cove he needed to focus on the gospel. Or, as the pastor we heard from on Sunday reminded us, the real problems in the world today are not politics or loneliness or suffering; the real problem is our sin, as it has always been. Yes, the other issues matter, but we will never find true comfort or undying hope or real direction apart from being made right with the Lord through Jesus' sacrifice and apart from seeking God first. It's so tragic that David doesn't seem to understand the power of the gospel, that he is so determined to fix the outer issues without getting to the heart of it all!

And as I was thinking about all this, I realized how much it ties in with Christy's conversation with Dr. MacNeill from the last section. He asked her, "Why don't you just concentrate on the school and the good works and forget all about the religious doctrines that just confuse the people anyway?" (page 325 in my copy). But if that's all the mission did, there would be no hope for real heart change in the forgiveness or purpose beyond their day-to-day true healing of the soul, only temporary fixes for the body, if that. If the mission focused on "the good works" apart from the gospel, well, they'd never be making a lasting difference or helping the people in the way they truly need it.

I just love the way the book is helping me think more about important truths through the characters in this story!

To finish off my thoughts on this section: David's proposal hardly seems loving and came out of the blue. I'm glad Christy didn't rush into an answer or feel pressured to say yes. Of course, I love the scenes with Fairlight and the descriptions of her nature outings with Christy. I'm curious about what might come of the "Compt book" and Bird's-Eye's note to Opal. And the account of the last day of classes was a lot of fun. :)

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all three of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. What turn of events shocked or surprised you most in this section?

2. What do you think drove Christy to climb a mountain? Have you ever been driven to do something out of the ordinary or especially challenging for you? What was the experience like?

3. What was your favorite part or performance from the school's last-day festivities?

Join us next Friday for our sixth discussion! 
(Chapters 33-39)

*Catherine Marshall, Christy (New York: Avon, 2006), 341, 354, 365, 374, 375, 383.