Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields

What first grabbed me about Crossing the Waters is the subtitle: Following Jesus through the storms, the fish, the doubt, and the seas. Fields, originally from New Hampshire, married a fisherman in Alaska changing her life completely as they built a house on a small island, raised children and caught fish. Not sugar-coating anything, Fields shares her own struggles as a wife, mother, and a disciple of Jesus. She retells the stories of Jesus and the fishermen He called to be His disciples. Most of her experiences come from fishing in Alaska, but she also retraces Jesus’ steps around and on the Sea of Galilee.

Reading again of Jesus walking on the stormy water or waking from a deep sleep to calm the sea through the eyes of someone who has been on stormy waters, both literally and figuratively, gave me a new appreciation for the experiences of the disciples and the awesome power of our God.

Favorite quotes: “They are believing in their fear of the deep more than in Jesus. They do not yet know that he is with us wherever we are, that he will even walk on water in the middle of the night in a storm to come to us . . .”

“Jesus has not come to save them from the waters–death is not the enemy–but to save them from unbelief and their still small faith.”

Fields has written an enjoyable, thought-provoking book helping us to reconsider what Jesus meant when He said, “Come, follow me.” This is a book I highly recommend and am sure I will read again.

 

 

 

Book Review: “Then Sings My Soul” by Amy K. Sorrells

Nel Stewart hasn’t been home in years when her mother’s sudden death brings her back to Michigan from Arizona. Her father’s deep grief and oncoming dementia causes Nel to stay longer than she originally intended. Together, Nel and Jakob work through their present pain as well as learn to deal with their past griefs.

Using alternating story lines, Sorrells tells Jakob’s story of his escape from the Jewish pogroms in the Ukraine, a story Nel never knew. We also learn Nel’s story of why she left home and the significance of Jakob’s hobby of the lapidary arts.

I was immediately drawn into this book because of the historical descriptions of a time and place I know little about (the Ukraine and the Jewish pogroms). The use of the lapidary arts was also an interesting addition, giving insight to the characters–their backgrounds and their interests.

From the title, I thought it was going to be a book about the song, “How Great Thou Art”, but it’s not; exactly. The author explains the meaning behind the title at the end, so make sure you read that. Highly recommend!

 

 

First Lines

In editing and rewriting, I have struggled with those first lines. The first line on the first page is probably the most important as you are trying to reel readers in, but even the first line of succeeding chapters have a place of importance, and it seems to take me awhile to warm up to my subject or my scene. I am now going through several books and writing down their first lines. These lines are not necessarily famous or even great. In fact, most are so simple, I wonder if I am just trying too hard.

“Joshua Poldark died in March 1783.” Winston Graham in Ross Poldark

“The treasure of Hookton was stolen on Easter morning 1342.” Bernard Cornwell in The Archer’s Tale

“Roger woke and shot upright on a gulp of breath.” Elizabeth Chadwick in The Time of Singing

“A cold wind blew down from the snow-covered mountains, hissing through the narrow streets of Thebe Under Plakos.” David Gemmell in Troy Shield of Thunder

“Weeks had gone by since winter had lost her blinding white beauty.” Ginger Garrett in Wolves Among Us. (For those who say not to start with weather, these last two are rather beautiful to me.)

“Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, overly educated and excessively rational, knowing right from wrong and fancy from fact, woke in a nest of marten and fox pelts to the sight of an eagle circling overhead, and saw at once it could not be far to Paradise.” Sara Donati in Into the Wilderness  (Now, there’s a sentence! Excuse me, while I pause to reread this book.)

“In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not.” Penelope Fitzgerald in The Bookshop

“On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones.” Anthony Maara in A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

“At dusk they pour from the sky.” Anthony Doerr in All the Light We Cannot See

“Now I believe they will leave me alone.” Wallace Stegner in Angle of Repose

This is rather fun, and I could keep going, but I have also found this exercise inspiring, so I need to cut this off and go read. I mean, write.

Listening to Books

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In the past few years, I have been listening to audio books more and more. I first began listening to them on my daily walk as it was rather dangerous to try and read a book while walking. Since I discovered bluetooth headphones, I can listen even more while cooking or performing those necessary evils known as “housework”. Last year I began to listen to them as I’m driving. I had tried to listen in the car at different times, but found my mind wandering too much to keep up with what was happening and thoughts of “where did that character come from?” were occurring too often. Then my son broke his leg, and I was spending more time on the road making daily trips to and from his school, so I decided to try listening again and was soon hooked.

I’m not sure why “listening” to books took some getting used to since, after all, that is how I was first introduced to reading. As with most people, my first introduction to the world of books was my mother reading stories to me. I also remember listening to books on a record player (you know, LPs or what is now known as “vinyl”) at school. I heard the books of both Wrinkle in Time and The Hobbit when I was in fourth and sixth grades. Though I have since read the print version of both these books, the memory of hearing them while sitting at a desk (breaking into my usual daydreaming) makes them more special than most.

I don’t believe audio books will ever replace the written word for me, but I am glad to have found a place for them. Anyone that enjoys listening quickly learns that finding a narrator you like is as important as finding favorite authors. There are also some books that lend more to listening than others. Some books are just harder for me to pay attention to without being able to go back and review who certain characters are or what actually happened in that first scene.

Books that are the most entertaining (for me) are those in a series. Once you’re in a series and are familiar with the characters, it seems easier to stay focused. Another plus is having a narrator with whom you’re already familiar (unless the series changes in mid-stream, but that’s another story). One series I’ve enjoyed over the past few years has been Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles.  I’ve also listened to several books from Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series as well as Charles Todd’s two series. I’ve listened to several books from Simone St. James. Though her books have similar themes, they are not part of a series.  I also enjoyed Stella Bain by Anita Shreve; Bone Gap by Laura Ruby; and most recently, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.  I found The Sun is Also a Star enjoyable as an audio because there were multiple narrators. Some books have put me off when a male tries a female voice and vice versa; but, not always.

Every year awards are given by the Audio Publishers Association (APA) which “recognizes distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment”. Looking these up, as well as past winners, is a good way to find books you might enjoy listening to. For a list of the recently released finalists of 2017, check out AudioFile’s webpage: http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/audies/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=20170222-nl3feb-audiestxt1

What about you? Have you jumped on the audio book bandwagon yet? Any favorite books? Narrators? Most people listen to audio books while performing other tasks. What else do you do while you’re listening?

 

Valentine Reads: Christian Romance

20170214_122302-3Though I admit, “romance” books are not the genre I usually list as a favorite, I do have a few favorite authors and several books on my to-read list.  I mostly enjoy some historical romance, romantic suspense, and even fantasy romance. And what better time to look these over than on this day of love? So, quiet your inner cynic, grab some chocolate and look over this list and see if you can’t find something you might enjoy to take you through the rest of this winter month.

Tamera Alexander: She has several different series, all historical. I recently read the first two in her Timber Ridge Reflections series: From a Distance  and Beyond this Moment. Both take place shortly after the Civil War in Colorado. Interesting history (concerning both photography and the time of Colorado shortly before it became a state), and suspense in these books.

Lori Benton: I have read her first book: Burning Sky set in colonial times. Looking forward 20170214_121054-2to reading soon: The Wood’s Edge, (also set in colonial times) Christy Award winner for Book of the Year and Historical and First Novel.

20170214_122302-3Laura Frantz: Frantz has several different series and these also take place during the colonial period of the U.S. Two I have read and highly recommend: Love’s Reckoning and The Colonel’s Lady.

 

Jody Hedlund: Also has several different series, but two of her books I have on my to read-list: Luther & Katharine (winner of ECPA Christian Book Award & Christy Award for Historical Romance) and Newton & Polly (recently long listed for INSPY). As you might be able to guess, these are based on the real-life relationships of Martin Luther and his wife; and Amazing Grace writer, John Newton and his wife.20170214_121203-2

For more contemporary romance, Katie Ganshert is becoming a favorite as well as Beth Wiseman and Pepper Basham. What about you? Reading any romance today?

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The Women in the Castle Jessica Shattuck

20170127_155658I’ve read many books of historical fiction that take place during World War II, but few that are from the vantage point of German characters. (One exception that comes to mind is the excellent The Book Thief by Markus Zusak). The Women in the Castle is a new book of historical fiction coming out in April, and it is a story of three German women whose husbands were involved in an attempt to assassinate Hitler during the war. What happens to these women during and after the war because of this (obviously, unsuccessful) attempt creates a story that examines good and evil in the choices that people make. How do our choices affect, not only ourselves, but also those we love and want to protect?

In spite of the inevitable sadness running through this book, I was easily caught up into the story and could commiserate with each character and the hard choices they were forced to make. The three women were distinct with their own personalities.  They came from different backgrounds with secrets to hide, children to protect, and the need to find their way through a new world after their old one was destroyed.

Shattuck was able to write her story because of the memories and recollections of others, among them her own grandmother, mother, and aunt. There really was a German resistance and because of the research Shattuck has done, we can learn much of what people endured and why they may have made some of the decisions that they did.

Lovely writing and intriguing characters set in a difficult, but important time in history. Highly recommend!

 

 

 

Books on Writing

I read several books on writing last year and have quotes from these scribbled in notebooks and other various places. In all of them, I have found some kind of encouragement (in spite of the inevitably dark humor; most be a writing thing?), as well as helpful suggestions.

bird-by-birdThe first I read was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I’ve had this book for awhile and read bits of it here and there, but when I decided to get serious about writing again, I got it out and read straight through. On plot: “Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better day by day, something is bound to happen.” This resonates with me, not only as a writer, but also as a reader. I have found myself bored in the middle of book, not because of the plot or the story idea, but because I could not care about the characters. Character is king.

Then I finally read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Another one that I started once upon a time, but never finished. Sentences and paragraphs to quote abound but two of my top ones: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” And, “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring’, the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.” I struggle with adding description to my stories, preferring to “keep the ball rolling”, so this one amuses me.

art-of-war-for-writersNext was a book by James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. (Something else I’ve noticed about many of these writing books is their rather wordy titles. Authors trying to get their word-count in? Or, perhaps, writers are just naturally loquacious?) Bell has several books out on writing, and I feel I need to be collecting these.

I reviewed Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers in a previous forest for the treespost. (September) This book is unique as Lerner has been an agent, an editor, and a writer, so she is able to share her perspective from all three of these roles. I shared several quotes from this book already, but here’s another one: “For the writer who truly loves language, a trip to the copy editor is like a week at a spa. You come out looking younger, trimmer, and standing straighter.” Not sure we all feel that way, but I get the point.

My most recent read was by Bret Lott, Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, on Being a Christian. More quotes on the importance of characters rather than lengthy descriptions. “I saw, suddenly and fully, that a story was about the people involved. I bret-lottsaw that embellishment brought to the table an unwanted intruder: the author.”

And: “What I saw in his (Raymond Carver) work was that in my own, I had to be the last one heard from in this pile of words I was arranging, and that humility was the most valuable tool I could have, because the people about whom I wanted to write mattered so very much more than the paltry desires of the writer himself. They mattered so very much more than me. My job was to get out of the way.”

I have several more writing books on my tbr list and just picked up a new one from the library. How about you? Read any good books on writing lately? Which ones have inspired you or just made you laugh? Which would you recommend?