So, just to start off with something that is TOTALLY not the point – how beautiful is that cover? I mean, I’m a bonafide country girl at heart, and something about those dry twigs, dead grass, and blue/purple flowers make me think of that line from A Color Purple (“I think God get’s pissed off when people walk past the color purple and don’t notice”, or something to that effect). But not only is this book beautiful. It’s also a book that has brought me out of a KILLER READING SLUMP that, if I’m being honest, has been going on for the better part of a year now.

It’s also a book that has made me feel SO. MANY. FEELINGS. All the feelings, indeed. Leila Meacham has given a cast of characters that from the first moment are clearly on the road to intense and emotional drama. When Catherine Ann “Cathy” Benson’s parents die, she is sent from California to the Texas panhandle to live with her grandmother Emma. Emma’s best friend Mabel is the aunt and make-shift mother of two boys, her nephew Trey “TD” and his best friend John. When Mabel asks TD and John to look after Cathy when she arrives, to shephard her through the first few weeks of school, neither boys want to. Because she’s a girl and, you know, duh. But then she shows up and from the moment TD sees her, he’s in love. And, without telling anyone, so is John. SET UP LOVE TRIANGLE, ALREADY, WITH OVER 300 PAGES TO GO!!!!

Needless to say, this is not a set up that is bound to end in puppies and rainbows and all of the other wonderful Nora Ephron-y things. It’s a set up on the HeartBreak train bound for Regret and Life Upset station. But the writing moves forward in such a way that, although sometimes month or year-long gaps will occur between chapters, I see these characters growing and progressing and never once so far has it been that jarring effect that can sometimes come with time gaps. And she’s given us characters to love. The relationship she has set up between these three children who are all, in one way or another, orphans, creates an emotional soil in which the reader is able to explore issues like love, friendship, compassion, dependence, morality, and loyalty. It sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t feel weighty when you’re reading it. It is, in essence, just the kind of book I need right now – something serious and “thinky” enough to keep my mind off impending wedding business, while still funny enough and with endearingly realistic enough characters that the pages flow along at a steady pace. I’m only about 100 pages in, but so far – I’m hooked.

Trey stood stock still on the sidewalk. As he was hidden by the truck, she had not seen him. A feeling he’d never known before took command of him., He felt unable to move, as if he’d been captured in the beam of a spaceship. He could not feel the cold and wind. His hands and feet did not exist. He felt only the shock of having glimpsed an angel drop to earth, then disappear, the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. Slowly, when he could get his feet to obey, he turned homeward, the snow like magic dust beneath his boots. He would keep his brief glance of Catherine Ann Benson to himself, a secret he would not share even with John, until tomorrow morning when he would introduce himself to her and become her protector for life.

It didn’t take them long for them to notice she was smart. She finished tests before everyone else and read library books when she wasn’t working, and the teachers called on her for answers when nobody else knew them and read her themes before the class as an example of how they should be written. The teachers praised the neatness of her penmanship while she burned with embarrassment under her classmates sidelong gazes, but not enough to make herself one of them by doing sloppy work.

All human beings were subject to falling below others’ expectations, and Trey was of the particular bent that, once betrayed, there would be no rescuing of the ties that once bound.

Yes, almost since that first day in Miss Whitby’s homeroom, she’d felt linked to Trey. Not tethered, but connected. It was as if, no matter where she went, with whom, or what she did, she was the shore and he was the ocean lying at low tide, but always in sight. Why Trey and not John she didn’t know. John was a dream, and if she were pressed, she’d have to say she admired and respected him more than Trey…but there was an undeniable chemistry between her and Trey, that had always been there, quiet and untapped, and lately when she’d catch him watching her from under hooded lids her skin would tingle and she’d feel as if the air has been sucked from her lungs. In those moments, she sensed the ocean stir, move closer to land, and that feeling, too, made her go warm all over.
‘Catherine Ann…,’ he murmered, over and over like a prayer as he held and caressed her,  and his body had felt so right, so perfect, next to hers that she’d hardly nooticed the prick of pain the moment the ocean had surged to the shore and sand and sea became one. It had been so wonderful that afterwards she’d been astonished – horrified – to feel wetness on her cheek and had turned in his arms to see tears on his face.
‘Trey!’ she’d exclaimed, her heart seizing. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘Nothing,’ he said, clutching her fiercely to him, ‘Nothing is the matter. It’s just that…I don’t feel like an orphan anymore.’ (COMMENCE FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS!!!!)

This Shiz is OG Scary

You guys. For real? So, I’m about half way through Dracula, and I felt like I just needed to get a few things off my chest (not to mention Mark will be home soon, and I needed something to help me transition from the book to the fish I have to go cook for dinner. How blogging helps me do that, I’m not sure, but it does help). Let us do this in list form, shall we?

  1. I LOVE ABRAHAM VAN HELSING. Sure, his crazy dialectical word inversions are making my eyes go all cross-eyed and loopy, but I just love him so much! He’s such a believer at heart, and we all know that if it weren’t for him, thing with Dracula would have been a lot worse than they actually were. He’s so nice to Mina! And he’s all, like, ‘I’m gruff and have no friends and eyebrows like Peter Gallagher, but all of you English people are so nice and all named Jonathan, so I believe I shall be your friend!”
  2. So, Lucy. She’s sick. Then she’s better. Then she’s sick again. And it’s great and scary and all (also clearly the work of a vampire) but really it’s more just monotonous repetition of “oh, I shan’t sleepwalk” “dear diary: oops, I sleepwalked” with every now and then a cool, creepy thing happening.
  3. Speaking of creepy cool things happening: I think that, without a doubt, my favorite part of the book so far (I’m sitting at page 235 out of some 440-ish) is the beginning of the novel, Jonathan Harker’s journal. The one he writes while he’s staying with the Count. Without a doubt, these first fifty-whatever pages are the SCARIEST shiz in the whole book. Stoker does such a great job (throughout the whole novel, but especially here) of creating this slowly encroaching feeling of madness. Each of his characters seems to go through the process of excusing little thing after little thing as simple aberrations or just simply oddities without explanation. And then BAM. They’re stuck in a nightmare they didn’t realize was coming. I’m thinking especially about how Stoker seems to constantly want his characters to blur the lines between dreams and reality, and the passing of time and the inverted behaviors associated with day and night all serve to create a kind of topsy-turvey world – similar, I imagine, to how the characters must feel when all this crazy business is happening.
  4. Honestly? Diaries? And letters? And journals? It’s great to have the first person narrations and all – and it’s kind of nice to mix it up with those newspaper clippings every now and then, but really, for me, it’s just too much ‘ephemera’. I’m a little glad books got further and further away from the epistolary style. If I have to hear one more character go “I swear, this is a verbatim conversation, I have a great memory. And if it’s not…my bad” I’m going to be slaphappy
  5. Reading this book this time of year is, of course, absolutely perfect. Today was bright and cold and I sat outside on my ghetto porch rocking chair with my giant buggy Mary Kate Olsen sunglasses and…do you know that fall has a smell? And I don’t mean, like, cinnamon and pumpkin and charcoal, although those smells are all equally awesome. I mean fall itself. The season. It’s on the air, and I don’t know how to describe it – a million bucks to the person who does. But the air was full of that smell today, and while it didn’t necessarily create the creepiest atmosphere for reading, it was still pretty bad-ass. Truthsies.

And there you have it. Blathering away on classic horror and great air smells. How’s your reading going?

Sunday Dithers

Here I sit, another Sunday of early fall slipping away in to twilight, the glow behind the curtains growing fainter and fainter as the charcoal smell in the air gets stronger and stronger – our neighbors are grilling out tonight. It’s the perfect button-ending to a weekend of merry making and laughter and getting to be with my family and some of my best friends! Today has been a day of catching up on homework, getting ahead in my leisure reading, and drinking cup after cup of coffee and apple cider made courtesy of the AMAZING new Keurig coffee maker we were gifted for our upcoming wedding (thanks Julie, if you’re reading!). School is finally getting well under way, with the first few couple of bigger assignments quickly nearing their due date, and with the colder mornings and the early evenings, I can’t help but feel like I always feel this time of year, surrounded by school and homework and warm drinks.

Reading this week has taken a DEFINITE Gothic turn (in case you couldn’t tell based on the above passage, lol!) and I’ve been hanging out primarily with my main man James and his turning screws! I’m only to the third “chapter”, if you can call them that in a little novella like this, and our Governess has just picked up darling Miles from the school from which he’s been expelled. So far I’m loving what’s been going on, although I have to say my favorite part is most definitely the way that James has set up his whole story, with Douglas  telling the story that he was told by the governess – I can never seem to get enough of the frame tale, going all the way back to when I first got introduced to the Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights! I’m a little unsure of how to feel about these supposed ‘angelic’ children, though, when clearly there is something totally not right about these kids and what happens to the women who take care of them. I just want to yell the whole time THIS SHIT IS REALLY HAPPENING TO YOU, DON’T LIVE IN THIS HOUSE WITH THESE KIDS, THEY WILL EAT YOU! I don’t know if that’s really what will happen, but it’s like watching a scary movie when they all decide to split up and go look for the source of the creepy, remarkably axe-like sound coming from below them. *facepalm* Of course, that’s also what builds all the tension and keeps me reading to see what will happen, but whatever. I love it.

I’m also giving Fragile Things, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, another go. I first read it for last years RIP Challenge, but only got through about half the stories before it was due back at the library. I’ve got the ebook version this go-round, so I’m refreshing myself on the ones I read last year (my favorite of which is STILL “October in the Chair”, dedicated to Ray Bradbury, one of my all time favorite authors) before getting to the new ones, which I’m hoping to be able to take my time with! I’m excited to wrap up one of these so that I can get to Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury later this week, which is the next one lined up on my pile. We’re only about three weeks out from the wedding and honeymoon (EEEEEKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!) and I’ve got to begin the difficult process of deciding whether or not I’m going to take my Kindle, and, if not, what books are going to be making the trip with me – wish me luck, and happy reading!

Review: Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

This was the first book I ‘checked out’ through the employee loaner program at the book store I just got a job at – and I’m so glad I did! I’m going to talk about religion in this post, which is something I’ve never really done before on the blog, but in the interest of being honest for myself in the future (man do I go back and read my own blog posts way too much!), this book came along at just the right time in my spiritual life, which is perhaps the thing I love most about it.

This book came in to my life at a time when I was again thirsting for Christ – stronger for ever before – and this book just put fuel on the fire. It’s Katie’s memoir about giving up everything good she had as a thin, white, pretty, smart American girl in order to move to Uganda, adopting 12 young orphan girls, and starting multiple branches of a not for profit organization that serves some of the poorest children of the community with food, education, and faith. Katie adopts not only these young girls, but also the belief that, in order for “the least of these” (as Jesus calls them) to know what Jesus’ love is like, they have to know what love is like – what it’s like to have a parent, someone bandaging your ouchies and keeping the nightmares away and laughing with you and telling you you matter. That’s what God does for us. That’s what Katie believes, and I’m overjoyed to be able to say it to you all that I believe that, too. And I don’t judge you if you don’t. I don’t condemn you if you don’t. I pray for you and I love you and I hope there’s a way I might be able to help you see what I see. That’s why it was so awesome to read Katie’s book. She see’s it. She helped show it to me.

“God reminded me how beautiful we all are to Him, after all, we were created in His own image, and He looks at me, at you, in all our sweat and dirt and brokenness, and says, “I choose you. You are beautiful.”

“The truth is that the 143 million orphaned children and the 11 million who starve to death or die from preventable diseases and the 8.5 million who work as child slaves, prostitutes, or under other horrific conditions and the 2.3 million who live with HIV add up to 164.8 million needy children. And though at first glance that looks like a big number, 2.1 billion people on this earth proclaim to be Christians. The truth is that if only 8 percent of the Christians would care for one more child, there would not be any statistics left.”

I find Katie inspirational – and her book uplifting – because it’s an example of what can happen if you get up every day and just ask “What can I do for You and Your people today, God?”. Katie founded Amazima, sponsoring over 500 Ugandan children in providing their education and school supplies, raising money for local medical treatment, and while she say’s it’s never easy, it’s truly easy to be jealous of the happiness and joy that shines from her eyes in every picture you see. I don’t know yet if my calling is to leave my life and journey to a location like Africa. I don’t think it is. But I know that my calling – all of our calling, really – is to show love. And I can do that right here in the life I’m living.

“We bend. I bend to sweep crumbs and I bend to wipe vomit and I bend to pick up little ones and wipe away tears… And at the end of these days I bend next to the bed and I ask only that I could bend more, bend lower. Because I serve a Savior who came to be a servant. He lived bent low. And bent down here is where I see His face. He lived, only to die. Could I? Die to self and just break open for love. This Savior, His one purpose to spend Himself on behalf of messy us. Will I spend myself on behalf of those in front of me? And people say, “Don’t you get tired?” and yes, I do. But I’m face to face with Jesus in the dirt, and the more I bend the harder and better and fuller this life gets. And sure, we are tired, but oh we are happy. Because bent down low is where we find fullness of Joy.”

A Love that Multiplies: A Duggar Review

So, I love the Duggars. I do. I can’t help it. I understand that many don’t agree with the number of kids they’ve had, the way they’ve decided how many children to have, and many of the religious, political, or cultural viewpoints that they hold. And I get that. But here’s my caveat – they may have 20+ children, but they’re all so polite, kind, generous, and respectful. And they have faith. And they actually stick to their moral code (as zealot-y as that might be), which isn’t something that we can say about a lot of the other families we see in the reality TV world. And I don’t have any intention of having anywhere near that many children – but if my kids could turn out like the Duggar kids, I’d be exstatic.

This is actually the second book that the Duggar family has written. Their first book, written just as Anna and Josh were getting married, focused more on the practicalities of running a household that large. This second book seems to focus more on the children themselves – including separate chapters on the girls and boys and the ways in which Jim Bob and Michelle go about preparing the different genders for their roles in life. The book also goes in to how the Duggar’s encourage character and moral development, putting a special emphasis on parental attitude and how much that has to do with raising children.

I want to say a couple of things about reading this book. First, it was an incredibly quick read. It’s written from alternating first-person-perspective (meaning that the narrator always refers to themselves as “I”, but then it’s notated in parenthesis whether the “I” refers to Jim Bob or Michelle) which can get a little bit distracting at times. There were also tips and tricks on time saving and organization, as well as a couple of recipes scaled to feed the Duggar family. This book begins with the tumultuous birth of the last Duggar babie, Josie (which many of you may/probably saw on television), and discusses how that situation tested their faith before moving on to the more “practical” sections of the book. This book is VERY scripture heavy, but as a conservative Christian family, that shouldn’t surprise any reader going in to it.

I think the thing I love the most about this book is that it showed me a way that Christian child rearing can be accomplished in a way that inspires a serving heart, respect for elders, and the foundation of faith. I don’t agree with all of the Duggar’s beliefs (I’m not a conservative Republican or a Young Earth Creationist) but I am proud Christian woman just beginning to push myself to grown and expand in my faith while finding a way to keep that going life-long. I think that’s what the Duggar family is full of – Christian believers looking to be on fire for God. And I bless them in that.

It’s not literary. It’s not enlightening. But it’s inspiring, and a great look behind the biggest family on TV.

What I’ve Been Reading…Sneak Peek

The last impression I want to give is that I just haven’t read anything from my graduation in May until now! That is far from the case. I haven’t been reading much, and certainly not much of literary merit, but there have been some things. What things, you ask? Well, that’s to come later this week, of course, but for now let me give you this (not altogether sneaky) sneak peek: