Friday, December 29, 2017

2017: My Year in Books


(As of 12/29/2017)

Total books: 200
Total pages: 55,318

Longest book: 
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel 
653 pages

Shortest book: 
God's Very Good Idea, Trillia Newbell 
32 pages

Standout Reads by Category

Theology/Bible Study/Spirituality

33 books

Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf probably gave me more to chew on than anything else I read this year. I was struck by how my own personal issues relating to identity (and therefore my embrace of otherness) have limited my understanding of (and testimony for) Christ. I still have a way to go in this area, but I'm thankful that this book got me started.

Though not an in-depth treatment of the subject, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien should still be required reading for every Western Christian. Because I spent a year living in Asia, I know a teeny bit about how differently the Eastern and Western worlds think; however, this little book still challenged undetected cultural assumptions. If you're going to serve at a church here in America and have even a prayer of succeeding, you need your eyes opened to how your own culture can color Scriptural interpretation (and therefore your understanding of Christianity itself). Incidentally if anyone can point to a more thorough treatment of this topic, I'd be happy to receive your recommendations.

Midway through the year, I was happy to stumble upon None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That's a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin. On-point and engaging from start to finish, with good questions to spark prayer and meditation, this is a worthy foundational study and a good jumping off place for deeper discussion. I look forward to working through these lessons with a group of women from my church early in 2018. If you're local and would like to join us, contact me soon!

Two books in particular came to me during a difficult season of 2017 (indeed, perhaps the most difficult season of my adult spiritual life thus far): Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen and Spiritual Depression by Martin Lloyd Jones. I am so thankful to the Lord for orchestrating the timing and throwing me these lifelines.

Honorable Mention: 
Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God, Tim Keller

Middle Grade Fiction

26 books

Of all the books I read aloud to the Podlings this year, the one that sticks out in my memory is Paul Drowswell's True Stories of the Second World War. I chose this book specifically because it does not glorify or romanticize war; on the contrary, the author's very clear about the horrors. While heavy, the details are laid out in such a way as to be sobering for children without being emotionally overwhelming. We also very much enjoyed Linda Sue Park's The Kite Fighters. I'm such a sucker for the warmth with which she portrays family relationships, and the father-son-brother dynamics in this book were sweet and poignant. 

Of the biographies we read together, two in particular stand out. First, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness by Janet and Geoff Benge provided a solid, kid-level introduction to the life of the martyred German theologian, focusing equally on his childhood, formative years of travel and study outside Germany, and then, naturally, his participation in the plot to kill Hitler. Second, Laura Baskes Litwin's Benjamin Banneker: Astronomer and Mathematician left us impressed and baffled: impressed at Banneker's sheer genius and baffled that we'd never heard of him before.  Honestly, I knew nothing about Banneker prior to reading this book. Now I want to track down full biographies and learn everything I can. 

I also read quite a few memorable middle grade books on my own, either because I wanted to see if they would make good read-alouds for the kids or because I was genuinely interested. I absolutely devoured The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Ada and Jamie's story is so achingly real, and the progression of their relationship with Susan Smith was sweet and sad and emotionally resonant. Then there was The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. This novel is written in verse, and Alexander displays an excellent grip on the rhythms of language. Although the story set-up didn't immediately snag me, the family relationships drew me in and kept me fully engaged until the end.

Honorable Mention: 
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

General Adult Fiction

24 books

The most memorable adult fiction I read this year didn't turn out to be the most enjoyable books of the year--not by a long shot.

First, after quite a bit of dithering over whether or not I'd be able to handle the intensity, I finally picked up Michael Punke's The Revenant. While I absorbed the narrative through one squinty eye, I nevertheless respect what Punke did with this book - especially the historical accuracy and attention to detail. Though I'm not a fan of flashbacks, they're used effectively here to show how Glass became the sort of man he is. Still, this book just wasn't for me. It's not the grit and the ruthlessness that turned me off but the fact that this story's more plot-driven than character-driven. I love a good story, but lately I'm all about relationship development and inner growth arcs, neither of which this book provides.

Next in the line of memorable-but-upsetting-reads comes Ha Jin's The Crazed.  Ha Jin's novels always make me feel a lot of feelings - most of them conflicted - and this one proved no exception. Set amid the political turmoil and student protests of 1980s China, the novel centers on Jian Wan, a sensitive student caught between a rock and a hard place as he cares for his professor who's been both physically and mentally broken down by a stroke. Professor Yang's ravings strike chords in Jian Wan, prompting him to unexpected action. Although the pacing is slow, the characters are so finely drawn and their struggles so immediate that I felt compelled to finish.

Third, we have Mercy's Rain, by Cindy K. Sproles. This was a surprising read for me for a number of reasons, no the least of which is the fact that I hardly ever read from this genre (Christian Inspirational Fiction). But the book came highly recommended from a number of trusted sources, so I dove in. I wasn't prepared for the storyline at all, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's been a long time since anything in the Inspy world surprised me, but this book bowled me over. Some plot points are emotionally jarring and difficult to read, but the struggle is worth it. Recommended.

History

20 books

During 2017, this category offered the most enticing and engaging reads--although I don't say they were all delightful.

Take, for example, The Children's Blizzard, by David Laskin. Intricately researched, smoothly told, and absolutely heartbreaking--this is a read that will stick with you for a long time. If you can handle detailed accounts of historical disasters involving children, this is your book. (Just be sure to build an emotional blanket fort for your feelings before you pick it up.) Along similar lines is Kate Moore's The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. I'm glad someone told this story because needs to be known; however, book chafes at the emotions. Utterly horrifying, yet compulsively readable. 

The prize for the most shocking book I read this year, however, goes to Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood, by Michael D'Orso. This book went off like a hand grenade: that's how shocking I found its contents. During the first two chapters, my jaw hit the floor. The second half of the book didn't hold me like the first half did, since it focused more on legal and political maneuvering, but this book has nevertheless left an indelible impression on my psyche. It should be required reading for Floridians--especially Floridians who are convinced that Florida has never really had much of a problem with white supremacy. Everyone needs to know that things like this happened. They happened, and they left generational impacts.

Although only marginally less horrifying, I found a lot to shock me in Rich Cohen's Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams. This is a tough, gritty, and unfiltered exploration of the Jewish gangsters of the 1920s and 1930s, inspired and informed by the author's father's memories. I appreciate books like this, which lend depth to the scope of the modern Jewish experience -- an aspect Choen touches on toward the end of his book. [Warning for gentle readers: violence, language, etc.]

On a lighter note (sort of), early in the year, I sniggered my way through Jennifer Wright's completely irreverent Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them. I'll be the first to admit that this book probably isn't for everyone. The author's tone often borders on flippant, and while this tendency does create a juicy irony (and I do love irony!) it would probably offend some of the more gentle, thoughtful readers. Wright and I don't see eye to eye philosophically or theologically, but I respect her deep research, enjoyed her truly engaging style, and would read another book by her. I learned a lot, and the pages just flew by.

Honorable Mentions: 
Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South, Karen L. Cox 
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, Dan Jones
Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, Thomas E. Ricks

Young Adult Fiction 

20 books

This category is always hit-or-miss for me. Fortunately, this year I found some hits courtesy of Jenny Han. I very much enjoyed the first two books in her trilogy, beginning with To All the Boys I've Loved Before. The girls' voices are fresh and authentic, and the characters all feel very real (particularly the dad). What I liked least about the book, ironically, is an aspect that's actually quite well done: The main character's love interest is so *very* teenage boy (which means he's a little swoony but also selfish, obtuse, and immature). In the second installment, P.S., I Still Love You, I found the same combination of elements that made Book 1 enjoyable (especially the family relationships!), but I liked this installment just a touch less -- probably because I've never really gotten on board with the extremely flawed love interest. I'll probably read Book 3, but only if it turns up at the library. As much as I like the heroine (and her family), I'm not going out of my way for the conclusion.

Honorable Mention:
Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys

Narrative Non-Fiction

17 books

The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham really affected me. I actually delayed reading the last 20% of this book because the story made me so sad. I was legitimately worried about the outcome. The plight of the entire Flores family is communicated in such stark and moving terms that I couldn't help but feel for them. In fact, I still think about this family sometimes.

I'm thankful for Wesley Lowery's They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement. I'm always skeptical of talking-head cable news reporting, and even more so of Twitter reporting (although it's hard to knock the accountability of live feeds and Periscope videos, many of which contradict carefully-constructed false narratives). With most situations, you have to wait for the books to start coming out to seek a balanced take on big issues -- which sometimes takes years. Fortunately, the books on Ferguson and the movement sparked in 2014 are packing the shelves. Although Lowery admits to mistakes he made while reporting as events unfolded, I'm sure I couldn't have done better; especially given the powder keg of emotions surrounding the events. If you're keen to enter the nuanced conversation surrounding America's ongoing issues with race, justice, and policing, this is a good place to start.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink is undeniably well-researched and well-written, and yet horribly difficult to read due to the subject matter (especially considering the fact that I started reading during the approach of Hurricane Irma - a mistake). "It is hard for any of us to know how we would act under such terrible pressure," says the author, and she's absolutely right. It's easy to stand back from the outside and think what we might have done differently from these doctors and nurses (specifically Anna Pou), but this book drove home to me the unbelievable emotional pressure these men and women must have been under. However, I appreciate that the author's obvious compassion for the hospital workers does not override her desire to hold them accountable for their actions. 

Considering my great love for all things Mitchell Zuckoff, you would have though I'd have made time sooner for his most widely-read book, 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi. Despite my high respect for Zuckoff's work, I've been putting this off for quite some time because I knew this book would upset me on a personal level. That fear proved well-founded. This was a tough read. Still, it's an important one. As always, Zuckoff is unparalleled in his field. The narrative is tight, cohesive, and never missteps. I don't know if I'm up for watching the film version of these events, but now that I've read the book, I recognize the cinematic possibilities and am glad that the story has reached a broader audience. This story needs to be known.

Honorable Mentions:
Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon MartinSybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh & the Oklahoma City Bombing, Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck

Biography/Autobiography
Memoir  

14 books

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson is just heartbreaking.  Not only did this woman suffer cruel indignities after her horrific lobotomy, but she also suffered a lifetime of heartless treatment at the hands of her own family. Her letters home to her parents during her formative years are especially heartbreaking! I just want to jump in a time machine and go back and give this poor girl some love and affection and also perhaps slap some sense into everyone before it's too late.

Barbara Reynolds's excellent biography Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul opened my eyes to the woman behind some of my favorite period mysteries (not to mention some of the best writing I've encountered on the Theology of Work). The secrets this woman kept and the hard-won lessons she learned no doubt lent her work a depth she wouldn't not have achieved otherwise; still, what a great cost. I finished the book aching for Sayers. 

Though I tried watching the TV adaption of Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s and didn't get anywhere, the same can't be said for the first installment in Jennifer Worth's multi-volume memoir, which sucked me all the way in and didn't let me up for air. Full-hearted and bold, this book showcases simply phenomenal storytelling. I'd recommend it to anyone, and I look forward to reading the next two installments. 

Honorable Mentions:
Cruel Harvest, Fran Elizabeth Grubb
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Classics 

12 books

Ah, Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte's problematic gothic novel is a huge sentimental favorite of mine, and it never fails to draw me in. While I'm not a fan of Jane and Rochester's toxic love story, I am a fan of the deep-down reality of the emotions, larger-than-life though they be.

Literary Criticism
Writing/Craft 

10 books

Probably the read that had the greatest impact on my writing life this year was Makoto Fujimura's Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life. I came to this book weary to death of American evangelicalism's "culture war" narrative and having already read a few books focusing on art and culture care. It turns out that this is the book I've been looking for. I'm sure different aspects will strike me on successive readings, but for now, these are the questions that landed: 1) "What if artists became known for their generosity rather than only their self-expression?" 2) "What if we committed to speaking fresh creativity and vision into culture rather than denouncing and boycotting other cultural products?" 3) "What if we saw art as gift, not just as commodity?" The concept of art as gift has been especially freeing, and I'm grateful that this book found me this particular year as my own books have started releasing. 

I debated where to put Pearl Buck's My Several Worlds. Part memoir, part analysis of the writing craft, and part description of what it feels like to live third culture, this book wholly shook me. I found it enlightening, inspiring, thought-provoking, and sad. Although Buck cherished friendship and deep human connections, it's clear that once she came back to live as an adult in the States, she struggled to find people with whom she could truly commune. Buck's upbringing and clear internalization of Chinese culture meant she didn't fit the mold during a time when American life was fairly standardized (1950s). To complicate matters, I'm not sure even she truly understood how fundamentally Confucian she was. In the end, her book is aptly named: Pearl Buck really did straddle two worlds, and she struggled all her life to bridge the gap. Recommended for anyone who's lived cross-culturally and struggled with the return. 

Early in the year, I read two books focusing on the friendship and mutual influences of The Inklings, a group of scholars and writers loosely associated with Oxford University during the 1930s-40s. While Philip and Carol Zaleski's The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams was more detailed and informative, I found Diana Pavlac Glyer and James A. Owen's Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings much more accessible (and a good place to start for non-egghead types).

Just this week, I finished reading A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O'Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth by Michael M. Bruner, and I have to say that it was one of my favorite reads of this entire year. It provides a wonderful analysis of O'Connor's theology as displayed in her work and serves as a much-needed reminder of what the author calls "the subversive nature of belief itself." While there's certainly a place for warmth and light in Christian writing, a robust theology also requires that flowery sentimentalism be stripped away in light of the gritty reality of the narrow way: "Prophets generally do not escape the wrath they preach to others...A cost is paid in any personal encounter with the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who calls his people to obedience and suffering, which is the way of joy in the divine economy." Heartily recommended, but only for those who are already on solid footing with O'Connor's work. 

Mystery

5 books

Most of the mysteries I read this year weren't very mysterious. One exception would be Raven Black (Shetland Island #1) by Ann Cleeves. It wasn't a total home run, but I did love the backdrop. I also liked the protagonist and respect Cleeves for crafting a complex puzzle. I need to track down the rest of the series.

Essays

5 books

While I've always been a fan of Wendell Berry's fiction, this year I dipped my toe into his other works, starting with What Are People For? I still prefer his novels to his essays (at least so far); but while my interest level in this collection varied by essay, I genuinely appreciate his thoughts on community, rootedness, connection, and home.

Survival

4 books

Could it be that my obsession with mountaineering disasters, doomed Polar expeditions, and cold-weather survival stories is finally winding down? (Or could it be that I've just read everything in the genre?) Either way, the Podlings are now reaping the doubtful rewards of my obsession. I spent half the summer reading them Alfred Lansing's Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. The slow, detailed, and almost tedious development only heightened the drawn-out feeling of expectancy that the men experienced -- although in our case there was no actual pain and suffering involved. In fact, the kids were often eating lunch while I read to them, lending a tinge of irony to the whole experience. I've read multiple retellings of this story (including Shakleton's first-hand account), but I will never stop being amazed by it. Endurance, indeed.

Poetry/Scripts

4 books

Something about T.S. Eliot's poems soothe me, even when I don't understand them all the way. That sentiment held true through a fresh reading of The Waste Land and Other Poems, a volume which includes some of my favorites: the title poem "The Waste Land"; "Whispers of Immortality"; "The Hollow Men"; "Ash Wednesday"; and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." (One downside: my old paperback copy has a bunch of pretentious notes scribbled in the margins by Twenty-Year-Old Ruth. Cringey in the extreme.)

Fantasy/SciFi/Steampunk

3 books

I've been following Gail Carriger's work almost since the beginning (Finishing School being my favorite series), and this year I picked up Imprudence (The Custard Protocol, #2). I know Prudence ("Rue") is twenty-one years old now, and I know this book was shelved in the adult section of the library; however, the fact that I met these characters when they were kids left me unprepared to read details of Rue's sexual awakening. Everything else that I generally love about Carriger's Steampunk is on full display (from solid action sequences to irrepressible silliness), but the overt sensuality of the book threw me a curve.

True Crime

1 book

If you know my reading habits, you're probably surprised to see this category so low on the list this year. Yes, this used to be one of my most-read genres. That's changing for a lot of reasons (which I won't detail here, since I've already written many thousands of words today and I'm not sure how many people will actually make it down this far). It's fitting that my lone True Crime read for 2017 came from none other than Ann Rule herself. I picked up Lying in Wait: And Other True Cases from the library last week and read it on Christmas Eve. I'm not even sorry.

Books by Friends!

6 books

(Second year in a row featuring this category. So proud. Keep crushing it, guys!)

  • Polycentric Missiology: 21st-Century Mission from Everyone to Everywhere, Allen Yeh. This book skews more toward the academy than toward lay leaders and pedestrian readers. That being said, I'm part of the latter group and had no trouble engaging with the text. The book held my interest, did not fly over my head, and introduced some new ideas and opened avenues of thought I'd not previously pursued. I'm thankful for Allen and value his perspective on life, mission, and ministry. 
  • Fire in Your Pulpit, Robert G. Delnay. I studied homiletics under Dr. Delnay in the late 1990s but for some reason didn't read his book on preaching until just now. While some of the material shows wear (cassette tapes!) the principles hold sound. One line of text I can hear him saying in his soft, intense way: "Preach to the whites of their eyes." I'm thankful for his early  investment in my teaching gift. 
  • The ABC's of Who God Says I Am, Kolleen Lucariello. As the title indicates, each chapter corresponds to a different aspect of our identity in Christ. The style is light and readable, the anecdotes totally relatable, and the questions at the end of each chapter helpful for application and/or group discussion. Best of all, Kolleen's warm personality shines through. 
  • The Revisionary (The Rogues, #1), Kristen Hogrefe. This is a quick, engaging read with a great pace. I like that the dystonian future delves so deeply into our current past, an aspect of the story that I really hadn't been expecting. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Kristen's series. I'd love to know what she has planned, but she won't tell me. 
  • Suburban Dangers, Megan Whitson Lee. I read this book in three sittings. I just had to know how it ended (although I also dreaded knowing how it ended, if you know what I mean). At some points in the story, it was hard to envision a way out for these characters, but I wanted them to find redemption. For those unfamiliar with the dark side of the American teen subculture (and sex trafficking), this will prove an eye-opening read. On a personal note, Megan's editorial guidance this past year has been absolutely indispensable. I'm thankful for her and her investment in my writing. 
  • Soul Rest: A Journey with Jesus, Amy R. Dunham. Short, digestible lessons aimed to help believers find rest in Jesus. I appreciate the distinction made between physical and spiritual rest, and I walked away with a fresh perspective. This book is perfect for small-group study, especially for newer believers. I hope Amy keeps writing. She has much to offer. 

*****

Amidst all this reading, I also released some books this year myself. Remember to check them out and let me know what you think. As you can tell, I'm a fan of honest reader evaluations. I'd love to hear from you!

Also, I'm always on the prowl for my next good read. If you have a book to recommend, or if you want to chime in with your own opinions on any of the books mentioned in this post, feel free to use the comment section below or contact me through whatever channels we generally interact (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, texts, telepathy, etc).

Happy reading, friends!
*****

Related: 

"My Year in Books" from previous years.


*****

Photo Credit:
Ivan Kramskoi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Monday, December 4, 2017

My Grown-Up Christmas List


  • Timeline in chronological order (all social media platforms)
  • Self-folding laundry
  • Live-in short-order cook
  • Comprehensible income tax instructions
  • Trip on the TARDIS
  • First drafts that write themselves 
  • Obedient hairstyle
  • Local travel via pneumatic tubes
  • Ability to read and sleep simultaneously
  • Abolishment of Daylight Saving Time
  • Pre-broken-in running shoes
  • To wake up magically multilingual  
  • Satisfying ending for Great Expectations
  • An actual Get Out of Jail Free card
  • Teleportation 
  • No more typos
  • Coffee that cools to the perfect drinkable temperature and stays there indefinitely 
  • To surpass Agatha Christie in book sales
  • Back door opens to Narnia 

Friends, I hope you have a wonderful Advent season. This will be my last blog post for the year. I look forward to seeing you back here on January 1, 2018, for my annual book review.

God bless you and Merry Christmas!

Photo Credit:
By Harke (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 27, 2017

Release Week Sneak Peek: Murder on Birchardville Hill



Murder on Birchardville Hill releases Friday, December 1, 2017, as part of Pelican Book Group's Christmas Extravaganza, a series of holiday-themed e-novellas. If you pre-order through Amazon today, all you have to do Friday is fire up your e-reader and huddle on the couch under a fuzzy blanket, prepared to be equal parts horrified and heart-warmed. 

In the meantime, please enjoy this excerpt!

** EXCERPT **

Chapter 1

Birchardville is real.

Not that I believed it at first. I mean…Birchardville. It sounded like the name of a small town in a book about a girl who moves from the big city to find love. Not that I read books like that.

But in my experience, my listeners hardly ever sent hoaxes. I stood before the map above my desk, hunting for the right place to stick the pin. When I couldn’t immediately spot Birchardville, Pennsylvania, I resorted to an online search. Even with the help of the Internet, I couldn’t confirm that Birchardville was an actual town, though I did find record of a Birchardville Cemetery near the quaint-sounding Cobb Hill Road. A quick zoom on the interactive map revealed a Birchardville Church and a Birchardville Hill Road.

OK. So.

Birchardville.

Not made up.

But the online map bore no flags to indicate points of interest: no restaurants, no gas stations, no libraries, no schools—nothing. Just gray space. I zoomed out to locate the nearest town and checked it against the postmark on the mailing envelope. Bingo. Although my name on the address label—Morgan Scott, c/o USUAL SUSPECTS—had been penned in a flowing pseudo-calligraphy, the return address was printed in a tidy, boyish scrawl. And sure enough, it was postmarked from Montrose.

I turned back to the map. Using Montrose as a guide, I stuck a pin in the approximation of Birchardville. I then snapped a photo of the map and posted it to my Vibe account—“Shout out to The Usual Suspects in PA—is Birchardville for real?”

I tossed the mailing envelope containing the fan-compiled case onto the crooked stack of papers next to my computer, making a mental note to dig into it over the weekend. Hopefully it would be interesting enough to distract me from the fact that I’d be spending the upcoming holidays alone.

My computer pinged. I’d forgotten to close Vibe after I’d posted my update, and the comments and responses from the show’s fans were already rolling in. Not wanting to contemplate how many might be from Bev Pickett and her various accounts, I closed the page. I didn’t have to worry about Bev Pickett any more. Not really. That’s why I’d hired my assistant Leah. My crazy, middle-aged stalker wasn’t going to block herself.

As much as I hated the nonstop Internet culture, connecting with fans kept the audience engaged. And an engaged audience bought books. Books that paid for my research trips and—ironically—helped me afford Leah.

Hired only within the last few weeks on recommendation from a longtime friend, Leah Archer had already proven herself a Godsend. Working remotely from her home, she answered standard online questions when I was traveling or too busy writing episodes to interact online. She sorted my incoming e-mail, monitored ongoing cases, and forwarded me pertinent details. Most importantly, she agreed to sift the dregs of social media and send any suspicious activity on my account to my contact at the local cyber-crimes unit.

Although we’re still in the honeymoon phase of her employment, I’m fully sold on the idea of a remote assistant. All the joys of less computer time with no forced social interaction.

After closing Vibe, I padded to the kitchen, the slap of my flip-flops echoing against the high ceilings. On nights like these, I almost regretted the upgrade to a full-blown house. Ironic, considering how long I’d longed for a home of my own.

But living in a house was different from what I’d expected. Instead of feeling independent, I felt isolated. Instead of enjoying privacy, I felt alone.

Friends from church kept tabs on me, of course. They called and texted and sometimes stopped by. But it wasn’t the same as when Mom and Dad Scott had been alive. Writing and recording shows in the morning, lunch at noon, an afternoon dip in the pool, then research until dinner and a quiet walk in the dark before bed. This was my life now.

I padded toward the kitchen. With every step, the slap of my flip-flops beat a mantra against the tile: a-lone, a-lone, a-lone, a-lone.

I couldn’t bear the thought of another solo meal. Jogging back to the study, I nabbed the mailing envelope from the top of the stack. Perhaps the lure of a nineteenth-century Pennsylvania murder would pull me from my funk.

Flipping the manila mailer onto the counter, I opened the rice cooker and lifted out the attachment, dumping the steamed vegetables into one bowl before scooping rice into another. I swiped a spoon from the dish rack and upended the packet, spilling paper and home-printed photos across the counter.

Ten minutes later, I placed the spoon across the empty bowl, pulled my phone from my back pocket, and composed a quick text to Leah.

I need you to book me a trip.

* * * * *

See you on Friday for the rest of the story.

Need something to tide you over?

Check out my other releases currently available on Amazon:


And for those who have been wondering, here's how to give an e-book as a gift.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Welcome to Ruthette's (First Ever) Thanksgiving Bingo!

Download, print copies, and play along.

Looking forward to seeing who wins!

(Oh, who am I kidding....We're all winners here.)


Monday, November 13, 2017

The Shakespeare Lover's Coffee Quote Companion


Coffee is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven. 
~Saye, Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene vii

I find my zenith doth depend upon a most auspicious brew. 
~Prospero, The Tempest, Act I, Scene ii

Coffee is the soul of wit.
~Polonius, Hamlet, Act I, Scene v

See how she curls her hand around that mug. O that I were a glove upon that hand
That I might touch that mug!
~Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii

O brave new world, that has such cold brews in’t! 
~Miranda, The Tempest, Act V, Scene i

A coffee! A coffee! My kingdom for a coffee!
~Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iv

That I neither feel how decaf should be loved nor know how it should be worthy, 
is the opinion that fire cannot melt out of me: I will die in it at the stake. 
~Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene i

Instant is a familiar. Instant is a devil. There is no evil angel but instant. 
~Armando, Love’s Labors Lost, Act I, Scene ii

The first thing we do, let's brew all the coffees.
~Dick the Butcher, Henry IV, Part 2, Act IV, Scene ii

What's in a name? That which we call a mocha,
By any other name would smell as sweet.
~Juliet, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii.

Is this a flat white I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee!
~Macbeth, Macbeth, Act II, Scene i

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear! your true-love's coming
That can brew pour-over both high and low;
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journeys end in coffees meeting--
Every wise man's son doth know.
~Feste, Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene iii

I do love nothing in the world so well as cold brew; is not that strange? 
~Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV, Scene i

Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more! Caffiene does murder sleep!” 
~Macbeth, Macbeth, Act II, Scene ii

There is nothing either good or bad, but coffee makes it so.
~Hamlet, Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

Coffee shall be my hope,
My stay, my guide, and lantern to my feet.
~King Henry, Henry IV, Part 2, Act II, Scene iii

Coffee sought is good, but giv'n unsought is better.
~Olivia, Twelfth Night, Act III, Scene i

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? 
It is the east, and espresso is the sun. 
~Romeo, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii

By the pricking of my thumbs, something instant this way comes. 
~Second Witch, Macbeth, Act IV, Scene i

Frailty, thy name is decaf! 
~Hamlet, Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii

If coffee be the drink of love, brew on. 
~Orsino, Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene i

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Like coffee and Shakespeare? You might like my books as well.

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Photo Credit:
By Marco Verch (Coffee and Book) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Sneak Peek: The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles


Excerpt from 
CHAPTER 2:
WAY TO MAKE IT AWKWARD

THE AWKWARD PROBLEM

One Sunday, while away from my home church, I ran into some people who knew my parents. A man I’d never met before instigated the following dialogue, him half-shouting the whole time (possibly due to hearing loss):

MAN: ARE YOU DOUG AND TINA’S DAUGHTER?
ME: Yes.
MAN: ARE YOU MARRIED?
ME: No.
MAN: WELL... GET MARRIED!
ME: Okay.
MAN: YOUR MOM WANTS GRANDKIDS!
ME: My mom already has nine grandkids.
MAN: WELL, SHE WANTS MORE!
ME: Okay.

That was our whole conversation. 

It should be noted that this question would have driven some singles to weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth—especially singles who earnestly desire to marry or have recently suffered romantic disappointment. Fortunately for this man, I don’t embarrass easily, nor am I surprised any more by this sort of behavior. 

Why did this man feel comfortable walking up to me, a virtual stranger, and making pointed comments about my personal life in front of God and everybody? Would this man have approached an unknown young married woman to make loud-voiced comments about her marriage? 

Maybe he would have. But you know what I’m getting at. At least, I hope you do. My single friends know what I’m talking about. We all have some version of that story. 

OPEN SEASON ON SINGLES

For some reason, it’s always open season on singles. I don’t know why, but it seems that because we’re not married, others feel great freedom to ask deeply personal questions while we’re surrounded by an audience.

Even if these people are strangers. Especially if they’re strangers. It’s nearly always unsettling, but we’ve found that if we betray even a hint of frustration or annoyance during these public spectacles, we come across as defensive and are labeled as Bitter Singles. The general consensus seems to be that if we’re going to be single past our twenties, the least we can do is be gracious about it (even though the source of our frustration in that moment is most likely not our singleness but in having been called out in front of a group). 

When people find out that I’m in my late thirties and not married, they generally launch into a specific series of questions: 

You’re not married
Why aren’t you married? 
Did you ever want to be married? 
Do you think you ever will get married? 
What’s wrong with all these guys? 

Those aren’t easy questions to answer (especially the last one, which I’ll tackle in more detail later). Besides that, it’s hard to imagine a world in which, when I meet new married friends, I immediately start grilling them on their personal choices. 

You’re married?
Why are you married?
Do you want to be married?
Do you think you’ll stay married?
What was wrong with all the other people you could have married, but didn’t?

I certainly wouldn’t ask such questions the first time we meet, especially not in front of an audience. So why does this happen so often to singles?

* * * * *

The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members releases Tuesday, November 7, 2017, from Write Integrity Press.

Chapter Titles Include:

  • "I See Single People"
  • "Way to Make It Awkward"
  • "Tacked On"
  • "Mind the Gap"
  • "Singles Only"
  • "When Enough Isn't Enough"
  • "Perceptions and Misconceptions"
  • "When Harry Met Sally (and the Whole Church Got Involved)"
  • "Can't We All Just Get Along?"
  • "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"
  • "Walking in a Dateless Wonderland"
  • "On Giving Advice"
  • "The Space Between"

Each short chapter concludes with discussion questions and practical action points. Praying for the Lord to use this book to strengthen and encourage the Body of Christ!

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Monday, October 30, 2017

The Different Levels of Lostness


I live in a very small space. So small that one would assume it's impossible for me to lose things. But lose things I do. There are, however, different levels of lostness.

Level 1: Huh

I flap a hand against the end table where my eyeglasses should be and encounter dead space. Since I'm not currently wearing my glasses, I have to lean forward and squint myopically to see if they've fallen to the floor. They haven't.

Level 2: I Must Have Misplaced Them

Standing up, I shrug my blanket around my shoulders and shuffle in a semi-circle, peering at all available flat surfaces to see where I absent-mindedly placed my glasses. When they're not immediately apparent, I heave a sigh and shift into second gear, which involves turning on the overhead lights and actually putting in some effort.

Level 3: Is This a Joke?

When all available flat surfaces do not yield my glasses and a search of the floor proves vain and they don't seem to have been accidentally stowed in a desk drawer, the freezer, the medicine cabinet, the closet, the rice bin, or my sock drawer, I step back to gain some perspective. This is a six-hundred-square-foot living space. How lost can one set of glasses possibly be?

Level 4: I'm Sure They'll Turn Up

After several days of this cycle, I decide that the best way to find my glasses will be by not looking for them. The hope is that one day while I'm dusting or straightening a shelf or cooking dinner, there they'll be. I'll post something on Twitter about what kind of person leaves her glasses in the microwave and we'll all have a good laugh. Only that doesn't happen.

Level 5: Right, This Is Silly

I check the pockets of every item of clothing I own. I pull the cushions from the sofa. I army-crawl under the bed. I shoulder bookcases aside and hammer the walls with my fist, listening for hollow spaces. I rip open freezer bags and separate each individual frozen pea. Nothing.

Level 6: Are You Sure You Owned Them

I owned glasses. I did. I have pictures of me wearing them! See, look. These are glasses, right? Not just little smudges. I mean, I think they're glasses. It's sort of hard to see without my glasses. Which exist.

Level 7: Resignation

Either I never owned glasses in the first place, or they've fallen victim to the world's first case of spontaneous degeneration. Either way, the time has come to break down and make an appointment with my eye doctor. Because nothing guarantees that a lost item will turn up quite like buying a replacement. 

But that's okay. Having two pairs of glasses will be cool. 

I'll have a pair to wear while looking for the set I'll inevitably lose. 

* * * * *

Looking to lose yourself for a few hours? Check out my books on Amazon

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Photo Credit:

By Dori (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, October 23, 2017

For Those Who Can Only Handle Being Moderately Creeped Out



Here's an admission: I don't like being scared. 

On occasion, however, when I'm taking a late-evening walk, I like to listen to something that will creep me out--but only a little. If you like to cover similar emotional territory, you've come to the right place. 

I made us a list. 

4 Podcast Episodes for Those Who Can Only Handle Being Moderately Creeped Out

From Stuff You Missed in History: "The Hagley Woods Murder." Truth is always creepier than fiction. I mean...who did put Bella in the witch elm??

From This American Life: "House on Loon Lake." Enjoy shivering your way through this account of one man's lifelong obsession with an abandoned house. I first listened while road-tripping home in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm. Perfect conditions. Perfectly creepy conditions.

From Criminal: "A Bump in the Night." What would you do if you realized someone was living in the crawl space above your bedroom...and that he might be in the house right now...? As a woman who lives mostly alone, I found this true story almost too much to handle.

From Fictional: "Give Him a Hand." - A creeptastic modern retelling of "The Monkey's Paw." I listened one blustery night as I walked through my neighborhood at dusk. Palm branches flailed against low clouds and raindrops dribbled down the back of my neck as I shivered my way through this. I was never happier to get back to the house.

* * * *
I've listed the episodes from least creepy to most creepy. Although these things are somewhat subjective, proceed at your own risk.

If you only like being slightly creeped out, consider reading Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder. Also, coming this December from Pelican Book Group, Murder on Birchardville Hill--a heartwarming tale of holiday mayhem. A perfect choice for readers who can only handle being medium scared!

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Photo Credit: 
By Johnson, Helen Kendrik (Ed.) (?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 16, 2017

How to Read More Books


People always say they're looking for more time to read. If that's the case for you, here are some small, practical steps to get you started.

  • Get up early
  • Stay up late
  • Quit work/school
  • Train your pets to read aloud
  • Send your kids outside
  • Send your kids to Grandma's
  • Send your kids to the moon
  • Fill your swimming pool with books; jump in and never come out
  • Prop a book against the counter while you wash dishes
  • Prop a book in front of the TV
  • Suspend a book from the ceiling on wires and hooks next to the shower
  • Mount a book on the ceiling above your bed; use a T-rex grabby arm to turn pages
  • Listen to audio books while you clean
  • Listen to audio books while you run
  • Listen to audio books while you sleep
  • Give up sleep completely
  • Glue a book to your face

If you're ready to read and looking for a good place to start, consider one of my books - or, honestly, any of the billion other awesome ones out there. There are tons of great books but only one you; you'll never get to them all, but do your best to make a dent.

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Photo credit:

By Deivison Amaral (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons




Monday, October 9, 2017

Why You Haven't Heard of Bezalel and Oholiab


In Exodus 31, Yahweh calls two artists to take the lead in constructing the Tabernacle--the portable tent in which the Israelites would worship Him.
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you (Exodus 31:1-6, emphasis mine).
Some principles from this passage:
  1. Art, beauty, and craftsmanship matter to God.
  2. Artistic gift as worship is an outwork of the Spirit.
  3. Such gifts are given for a purpose.
  4. Bezalel and Oholiab matter.
What do I mean, Bezalel and Oholiab matter? And if they matter so much, then why have most church-goers never heard of them?

Artists Matter

Bezalel and Oholiab were gifted and called by Yahweh for a specific purpose: to create a space in which He would be worshipped by all Israel. 
Bezalel and Oholiab were God's personal choice for this job. And their calling as artists was so sacred that their names were preserved for posterity (Ryken, 19).  
God thought these two men important enough to be named in Scripture, and yet most of us wouldn't recognize their names, despite the fact that they're mentioned repeatedly throughout this section. Why?

While there's certainly something to be said here about biblical illiteracy, even Christians with basic Bible knowledge still struggle to place these two. The sad fact is that they're named in connection with something that the vast majority of society finds boring and unimportant: the process of applying artistic gift to worship.

Art Matters

Notice I don't say that God finds their work boring and unimportant. Far from it! He not only goes out of his way to have their names recorded in Exodus, but he also allows the ensuing passages to go into specific detail regarding the intricate work they will do to erect the tabernacle: the plans, materials, the construction process, the methods.

The implications are clear: Artists and their art both matter to God.

I believe that if art as worship and artists as servants of God were valued by people who crafted children's Sunday school curriculum, more of us would recognize these two.

But we don't.

That says something.

And I'm not sure it's a good thing.

* * * * *

Notes:

Ryken, Philip Graham. Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts. P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, 2006.

Image Attribution:
Dongio

Monday, October 2, 2017

How to Tell If It's Fall in Florida


How to Tell If It's Fall in Florida
  • Homes sport seasonal decorations. No, wait--those are just storm shutters.
  • School is back in session. Unless there's a tropical weather event. Then it's pretty much Summer, Part 2.
  • Trees turn brown and leaves litter the walkways. Because Hurricane Irma killed them. 
  • Pumpkin Spice Lattes have returned. If you don't mind sipping hot drinks while sweating profusely, have at it.
  • It's getting dark earlier. Either that or you left your hurricane shutters up. 
  • It's raining less. Barring the arrival of a tropical system, you're seeing fewer towering thunderheads in the afternoons. Enjoy the fact that your street is no longer a wake zone! 
  • Traffic flow congeals. Whether it's snowbirds returning from up north or storm evacuees trying to make it home, suddenly everyone's on the roads at the same time. But that's fine: it just gives your car A/C time to cool down your pumpkin spice latte enough that you can sip it without suffering heat stroke. 
  • People have traded in their flip-flops for closed-toed shoes. Just kidding. This is Florida. That never happens.
Wherever you are today and whatever weather you're experiencing, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest. 

As for me, I'll just be over here cowering behind my still-up hurricane shutters, praying they're enough to protect me from the molten wrath of Florida's late-autumn sun.

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In the mood for a good read? Check out my books on Amazon.

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Photo Credit:
By Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The Opposite of a Whirlwind: Release Week Ramblings


This coming Friday, September 29, 2017, my novel Collapsible finally releases. 

To say that the whole experience has been a whirlwind would be the opposite of how it's felt so far.

Things So Far

I wrote the first draft in 2014, started sending queries in 2015, signed a three-book contract and completed the trilogy during 2016, wrote and rewrote the story about eighty gazillion times throughout, and now here we are, finally on the cusp publication in the fall of 2017.

So the word whirlwind doesn't quite work. I spent some time trying to come up with a good metaphor to express my publication experiences, but so far I've had trouble hitting on one that really fits the bill emotionally. 

Here are a few options:
  • being slowly compressed in a trash compactor with 1,000 helium balloons 
  • rolling drowsily down a hill to escape a volcanic eruption of maple syrup
  • trapped in refrigerated storage unit while being force-fed ice cream cake by leaders of the Spanish Inquisition
  • enduring a long, listless underwater bus crash set to polka music

This isn't my first publishing rodeo (I have a handful of plays and sacred scripts on the market); but somehow releasing a book feels different.

I think about my books all the time but have a hard time talking about them. (Talking about unpublished work feels impossible for a lot of reasons, but that topic requires its own post.)

I'm fiercely excited and ferociously nervous. 

Perhaps the best metaphor for my release week experience is this: I'm tap dancing in the corner on roller skates with a paper bag in each hand in case I hyperventilate or throw up. (Or both.)

So...you know.

Business as usual.

Some Helpful Information

Of all the questions people have asked me about my books, the most common is this: "Will they be on Amazon?" 

The answer is yes. As a matter of fact, Friday's release is up for pre-order:


Other Releases

In true over-the-top fashion, I have five books coming out in the next six months. The next two stand alone, and the following two will complete the Collapsible trilogy.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members (November 7, 2017)

Murder on Birchardville Hill (December, 2017)

Flexible: A Novel of Mystery, Drama, Rehabilitation, Spiders, and the Occasional Head Wound (January, 2018)

Unbreakable: A Novel of Relationships, Getaways, Teep Kicks, Bacon, Nuptials, and the Occasional Stabbing (March, 2018)

And yes, they will also be on Amazon. Everything's on Amazon. So keep your beady little eyes peeled, and I'll see you over there.

I'll be the one tap dancing in the corner. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ruth's Rules for Hurricanes


  1. Charge all devices! You might blow away in the storm, but at least you'll have enough battery to call home from Oz.
  2. Give the house a manic cleaning. If you're going to be trapped inside for 36 hours, you might as well not be stuck in a sty. 
  3. Take final shower AFTER cleaning but BEFORE filling the tub with emergency water.
  4. Drill at least one peep hole in your hurricane shutters. How else will you witness your neighbor's palm tree uprooting itself and flying through the air like a javelin?
  5. Log into Overdrive and download every library book. (Your actual books might blow away if the roof comes off). 
  6. Realize you have no safe place to stash your car. Encase it in cling wrap and submerge in the canal behind your house.
  7. Panic-buy supplies because you never got around to stocking your hurricane kit at the beginning of the season. (Don't forget the dried fruit! You'll thank yourself later when everyone else has gone without roughage for a while.)
  8. Realize you never bought water and that it's too late because every store in the Eastern seaboard is sold out. Panic for a full ten seconds; then remember that your kitchen still works. (And still exists.) Fill Tupperware containers and Ziplock bags and mixing bowls and measuring cups from the tap and store them in the fridge like the rational problem-solver that you are. 
  9. Monitor rising water levels, trying not to dwell on the fact that the canal behind your house is full of alligators and that you could soon be facing a nightmare Captain Hook situation. Toss alarm clocks into the canal for gator-tracking purposes. (Just try not to hit your car.)
  10. Respond to panicked texts from out-of-town relatives right away. Assert that no matter what the over-the-top national weather services are reporting, Florida is not going to be wiped off the map. Though we might wake up when it's over and discover a sailboat in the lobby of city hall, the state of the Union will likely be preserved. 
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Photo Credit:
By Daniel Di Palma (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons