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  • Book Review: Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (Jonathan Auxier)

    “That’s how it works, doesn’t it? We are saved by saving others.” — Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, by Jonathan Auxier Oh wow. This is awesome. Hold on, what. How did he do that? Wow. Oops. We seem to have invaded my thoughts the first time I read Sweep. Let’s leave those thoughts alone for now. . . though, by the end of the review, I hope I’ll have convinced you of Sweep’s worth well enough so that you can think them yourself as you read the book for yourself. Because, let me assure you—Sweep is every bit worth it. Synopsis: For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on “climbing boys”—orphans owned by chimney sweeps—to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless, and brutally dangerous. Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is quite possibly the best climber who ever lived—and a girl. With her wits and will, she’s managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again. But when Nan gets stuck in a deadly chimney fire, she fears her time has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature—a golem—made from ash and coal. This is the creature that saved her from the fire. Sweep is the story of a girl and her monster. Together, these two outcasts carve out a life—saving one another in the process. By one of today’s most powerful storytellers, Sweep is a heartrending adventure about the everlasting gifts of friendship and hope. Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Crafting a structurally sound book with a plot such as the one Sweep features is hard—speaking from experience here. Developing friendships and making a thousand tiny changes but not always with bit ones is really, really hard. But Auxier did it wonderfully. Everything has its purpose, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ If you know me at all, then you know that characters are one of the most important part of storytelling to me, both when I read and when I write. And let me tell you—the characters in Sweep were fantastic. Nan’s quick wit, determination, and flaws made her so real, so strong, and so quick to feel like a friend of mine. Charlie was adorable, and the friendship between him and Nan was beyond touching. The Sweep was very thought-provoking, and his selfless acts for Nan touched me in so many ways. Newt and Robin and all the other climbing boys set the scene so well and provided a wonderful backdrop for the story. Toby’s teasing and serious comments balanced each other perfectly, and after Nan and Charlie, he was one of my favorite characters. In short—Auxier knows how to write his characters, and those of Sweep are lovely. Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The flashbacks, though after a while become pleasing, were rather slow at the beginning. The first chapter, in particular, didn’t really grab my interest at first—I actually started the book, got bored with the first chapter, and moved onto another book, only coming back after several months. So, stick it out! Don’t be a Karissa, and have enough patience to get to the second chapter knowing that it definitely picks up once you get there. Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Before reading Sweep, all I knew about chimney sweeps came from Mary Poppins—which, in retrospect, while a wonderful movie, shouldn’t be the only historical influence you get. The backdrop was so quickly painted, so vivid in my mind. . . it was amazing. Prose—⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I love the way Auxier forms his sentences and plays with words and delivers the most impact possible—it’s amazing, and very worth the read. (I’d also recommend that writers study it, too!) Theme— ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Friendship, freedom, loyalty, responsibility—the themes of Sweep were masterfully well-done. Due to the intensity of it, I probably wouldn’t hand the book to someone under the age of twelve, but if they have the maturity to handle the somewhat horrific backdrop of the climbing boys of London, I would definitely recommend this book. Conclusion Like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I sped through this book in one day and spent most of the day just reading. (Ah, the glories of weekends.) I’ve read it many times since, and most definitely recommend it—and let me know what you think of it when you’re done! What's your favorite book from this historical time period?

  • Book Review: The Outlaws of Sherwood, Robin McKinley

    “Tales are as much the necessary fabric of our lives as our bodies are.” — The Outlaws of Sherwood, Robin McKinley The tale of Robin Hood, the thief who stole from the rich to give to the poor, has been told and re-told so many times that, surely, it can’t be made into anything new. Surely there can’t be a fresh retelling of it. Surely every Robin Hood tale has to be the same old plot with the same old characters. As it turns out, though, Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood seems bent on proving those assumptions wrong. Synopsis: Robin Longbow is a sub-apprentice forester in Sherwood Forest, barely eking out a living-and barely able to control his temper when he is confronted by the taunts of the Chief Forester's favorite. One careless shot, and he has killed the man. From then on, Robin is on the run—but he is not alone. Joined first by his friends Much and Marian, then by more and more people who despise the Norman lords who tax them blind, Robin builds a community of Saxon outlaws deep in Sherwood who risk the gallows and the sword for the sake of justice and freedom. Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Everyone knows the basic tale of Robin Hood—the man who stole from the rich to give to the poor in the depths of Sherwood Forest. But, somehow, McKinley makes the story so much more than that—and her constant twists and turns and high stakes never failed to keep me reading. The structure was sound and logical, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her develop the plot points throughout the book. Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ McKinley’s Robin Hood and Marian and all the familiar cast of characters are full of depth and fears and insecurities—even the famous Robin. No longer perfect at everything, Robin has his own story, motivation, and struggles—all making him so much more real than the versions that depict him as a master at everything and fearful of nothing. Somehow, the author was able to keep Marian from being either a damsel in distress who couldn’t do anything or a I-don’t-need-anyone jerk that many modern female characters become, and I quite enjoyed reading her. Her position in society and her double life was fascinating, and though I never felt very much of an emotional connection to her, I did want the best for her. The many new characters and twists on age-old personalities captured my imagination and made me very impressed with how McKinley balanced her ensemble of characters. Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I, personally, rarely was bored while reading, though I will admit that the first chapter, as well as some parts in the middle, weren’t the fastest-paced. Despite this, the pacing was good on the whole, and the story didn’t lag for too long. Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ One thing I appreciated about The Outlaws of Sherwood was that it realistically tackled the question of how a group of outlaws could practically live in the middle of Sherwood forest. Even down to how they would get shoes, McKinley’s book answered all these questions and didn’t assume that the outlaws would figure them out on their own. Prose — ⭐️⭐️⭐️ The prose wasn’t my favorite, though it did carry the plot. There were a few instances of language that slipped over my head the first time I read it and startled me quite a bit when I read it at a later age. McKinley tended to slip into telling rather than showing at irregular intervals, as well as jumping from one point of view to another, which, from the viewpoint of a writer, was rather irritating. So, on the whole, the writing wasn’t brilliant, but it was acceptable. Theme — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ To be perfectly honest, the theme was probably my least favorite of the sections. McKinley is not, as far as I know, a Christian, and there are a few scenes that had the potential to turn sour, though she never went that far. Then, too, there was the two or three bits of language. I wouldn’t define The Outlaws of Sherwood as a bad book—though I wouldn’t hand it to anyone under the age of thirteen. Conclusion When I first discovered The Outlaws of Sherwood, I read it quite literally to tatters. Which was a slight problem, since it didn’t belong to me. I wouldn’t give it five stars across the board—but I would also recommend it. The way she twisted the familiar tale to make it fresh and new caught my attention from the start and didn’t fail in its conclusion. What’s your favorite version of Robin Hood?

  • Sleep

    “Sleep,” it murmured. “Go on, sleep.” The fire rippled on the hearth before him, its reflection a soft glow in the king’s eyes. His hands clutched a golden cup before him, the few drops of remaining wine swirling around. Memories wandered through the air with every note of the harp. “Sleep,” the music and memories whispered, brushing past his cheek. “She would want you to sleep.” Warmth wafted towards him from the fire, yet he wrapped the blanket tighter around his shoulders. The harp reminded him of her voice. “I can’t sleep,” he said, voice hoarse, eyes fixed on the fire. “They’re gone.” The music continued, the unspoken whispers silent for a moment. The king’s eyes flitted shut, and, against his will, a long, shuddering sigh escaped. His stomach clenched and he closed his eyes. “My lord,” a soft voice said. He didn’t turn around. The midwife crept towards him and offered the bundle. He didn’t even open his eyes. “The little one still lives,” the music whispered. “Your little one.” Slowly, the king opened his eyes, blinking in the firelight. Then he turned, eyes skimming past the midwife to the tightly wrapped child. Fingers unsteady, he set down the cup and reached for it. The little one murmured something and turned, tiny fist curling around his thumb. The music continued, soft and achingly soothing. “Girl or boy?” he whispered. “Girl,” the midwife said with a tired smile, stray wisps of hair framing her face. The music drifted over and examined the tiny princess. She smiled slightly, dark lashes kissing her cheeks. “My lord,” the midwife said. “I must go attend to Queen Talia’s laying out.” The king’s chest tightened. “Of course.” A soft curtsy and she was gone. The music finished looking over the princess and smiled in the king’s ear. “What shall you name her?” The king studied his daughter. “I shall name you Talia,” he said quietly, “for it is a name worthy of a queen.” Then the tears could no longer be held back and they rushed forwards, spilling out onto his cheeks and catching the fire’s glow. He bent over, clutching his daughter, shoulders shaking. The music continued but said no more words until the tears had ended. “Sleep,” it said once more, wrapping its melody around the king and his daughter. “For your daughter, you must sleep.” And there, in the chair before the fire, music weaving its way through the room, his daughter in his arms, the king slept.

  • A Scientific Note on Bookworms

    Bookworms are intriguing creatures, and scientists have never quite been able to classify them—their best attempt lies somewhere between geniuses and madmen, with a hint of a silent caterpillar for unknown reasons. However, they have accumulated three steps with which to identify this fascinating creature, which are now presented to you. To begin with, bookworms talk about books—a lot. This is a surefire way to identify them, especially by their signature phrase: “Have you ever read. . . ?” However, this should be taken with a grain of salt, because other species will occasionally claim this phrase as well. Bookworms are often very protective of books and will hotly defend them from criticism, regardless of their own personal opinion of the book in question. When someone mentions books five times in five minutes, they very well may be a bookworm. Moving on, the next step of identification is the fact that bookworms read all the time. But a word of warning: though this may seem to be the most obvious, it is easily overlooked, as it is done so naturally. Bookworms will simply slip into a book, and it is much easier to notice someone for being present than for being absent. While bookworms do read as a whole three or four times more than any other species (their closest competitors being the Professor, genius English, class College), they do not read as much as they wish. Many of their dreams include a castle full of books and nothing else to do. They can also be identified by the fact that they bring a book everywhere—sleepovers, school, bed, etc. Look for those who leave the conversation to go read in a corner, and you’ve probably found your bookworm. And, finally, our third step: bookworms prefer reading above all else. This can be difficult to test, especially as few bookworms appreciate being taken to a lab for analysis (believe us, we’ve tried), but once you complete this step you have your answer. And please note: all means all—books are preferred by our strange little bookworms over movies, games, society, even (!) sleep. While bookworms are mainly diurnal, they have been known to pull a blanket over their heads at night (see cocoon), turn on a flashlight, and read. However, it is very, very hard to catch them in the act. Remember: reading is the bookworms’ treasure, and they prize it above all else. Or, at least, we assume they do; they’ve been rather resistant to testing up to this point. We of the scientific community sincerely hope that these three steps are useful in identifying the bookworm. As we have already said, they are intriguing creatures and very unique, to say the least. Will they ever make sense? Most likely not. Can we do without them? Once again, no. Happy hunting! Based on this “scientific analysis”, would you define yourself as a bookworm?

  • 4 Books to Read with Younger Siblings

    For those of us who have younger siblings, watching them learn to read and progress into longer books is a joy. And even if you don’t have younger siblings, I’m sure there are some children in your life that you’ve watched grow in this area. And, what’s more, reading with them can be an even greater joy. If you haven’t done it yet, I’d very much encourage you to do it. And if you have, great! Now let me give you a few suggestions. Note: I read with my sisters the most often due to the age differences, so some of these are more appropriate for girls. Fortunately, the Milk This is one book that’ll bring shrieks of laughter from almost all ages. My fun-loving “older sister” read it to us one night at the dinner table (it’s about an hour and a half read-aloud), and it’s something most of us have never forgotten. Later, I read it to my younger siblings to distract them from one of the most traumatic things that have happened to us as a family, and even then it made them smile. Betsy-Tacy I’m currently in the middle of reading this with my nine year old sister (who insists that she’s “almost ten”), and she is loving it. This was one of the very first books I remember my mom reading with me afternoon after afternoon, and getting to share it with my sister has been a blessing. The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic This is a bit of a longer read, and the youngest of my siblings did start to get bored towards the end, but those old enough to follow the story very much enjoyed it. The sly humor kept us laughing every morning as I read it aloud. Molly: An American Girl I started reading this series with the aforementioned sister a couple years ago. Due to some bizarre complications, the books are now stranded in France, so we’ve yet to finish them. When we were reading them together, though, she would beg me every night “Please, Karissa, can we read some more of Molly?” Though I don’t enjoy the books as much as I did when I was her age, getting to see her experience them for the first time kept me grinning. Bonus: The Case of the Gooey Ghost All right, all right, technically this isn’t a book. It’s a short story, written by yours truly for my youngest sister’s fourth birthday. Seriously, though—stories you write/make up on the spot can sometimes be their favorite ones. Before my sister learned to brush her hair, I’d always tell her stories as I did it for her. When I babysit for some girls aged four and five, they’ll almost always beg me to tell them a story. So maybe someday you can tell them a story of your own. If they’re anything like mine, they’ll hang on every word. Do you like reading to your younger siblings? What’s one of your favorite memories of doing so?

  • Book Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare)

    “There is no escape if love is not there” — The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare I enjoy most books I read. But when I read a book straight through without stopping once and cannot for the life of me pull myself out of it until I’m done. . . that’s a whole new level of appreciation. The historical-fiction The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, is one of the latter. Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met. Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when it seems she must give up, she finds a kindred spirit. But Kit’s friendship with Hannah Tupper, believed by the colonists to be a witch, proves more taboo than she could have imagined and ultimately forces Kit to choose between her heart and her duty. Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ It’s not the most action-filled book, but the genre doesn’t always lend itself to be. Nevertheless, I felt like every scene had a purpose, and the flow was logical. The plot wasn’t my favorite part about this book, but it certainly gave the rest of the story a strong foundation to stand on. Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Five stars. Very much five stars. The characters were all so real, which wasn’t always a comfortable feeling. Elizabeth George Speare presented her characters and showed their character arcs and struggles in such a masterful way that I was in awe. Kit, the main character, was the one I became attached to the most quickly and the strongest. Her unquenchable spirit and sly humor were a joy to read, and the layers of grief and confusion turned her into a fully rounded character who feels like a friend. Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ As I mentioned above, every single scene feels like it has a reason, and the character development and relationships are so fluid that it perfectly fits C. S. Lewis’ quote of “Isn’t it funny how day to day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different?” Nevertheless, despite the subtle changes and character arcs, I never once grew bored reading this book and somehow remained fixed in Kit’s world from the first page until long after the last. Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ As this is historical fiction, Elizabeth George Speare had her work cut out for her. While I can’t personally validate her setting since I haven’t done much research on the time frame, the setting felt frighteningly real at times, and it was a good reminder knowing that I could technically stop reading at any time (though the intrigue made that a little tricky). Prose—⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ While I didn’t love the prose, it did its job. Elizabeth George Speare emerged from a time when writing wasn’t necessarily as strong, and the standards writers were held against as far as prose weren’t as high. Nevertheless, the prose didn’t do anything to hinder the flow of the story; it just didn’t do much to help it. Theme— ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Kit’s determination, Nat’s faith in his friends, and Hannah’s encouragement were so wholesome and uplifting and are probably one of my favorite parts about this book, second only to the character. I’d be comfortable handing this book to a pre-teen, though I doubt many of them would be much interested. The interest level and the comparability level aren’t perfectly lined up. Conclusion The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a gem, and I read it in one day the first time and many times since. It doesn’t have the fastest of starts, but to the reader who is willing to stick through the first couple chapters and to travel along with Kit will be well-rewarded for their time. Have you ever heard of this book before? What’s your favorite part about historical fiction?

  • Book Review: Shadow (Kara Swanson)

    “Maybe, like us, Neverland was meant to grow. It was meant to bloom more beautifully and more colorful than before.” — Shadow, Kara Swanson If you’ve read the first book of this duology, Dust, then you know that the story can’t be over. There has to be more. Claire and Peter and Lily’s stories aren’t done yet. Lucky for us, Kara Swanson agreed, and the second book of the Heirs of Neverland duology, Shadow, was written. Wrapping up loose ends in books and series is a tricky business. Let’s see how Shadow did, shall we? Synopsis: Desperate to rescue Claire and the fractured Lost Boys, Peter must unravel what truly tore his dreamland apart. But with each step, he is haunted by more of his own broken memories. Not even Pan himself is what he seems. Claire Kenton is chained to a pirate ship, watching the wreckage of Neverland rocked by tempests. When she finally finds her brother, Connor is every bit as shattered as the island. Claire may have pixie dust flowing in her veins—but the light of Neverland is flickering dangerously close to going out forever. To rescue Neverland from the inescapable shadow, the boy who never grew up and the girl who grew up too fast will have to sacrifice the only thing they have left: each other. Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Shadow is even tighter of a tale than Dust. It’s shorter, but by no means is it less full of plot—the twists and turns and surprises are as well-presented—or more—than the first book. Conclusions are tricky things. I’ll confess that I wondered at times how in the world Swanson would manage to wrap up all of the loose strands she let fly in Dust and the major part of Shadow—and yet she did it magnificently. This is one ending that will not disappoint. Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The Heir of Neverland characters are so vividly real, and their growth and relationships in this book were both heartbreaking and achingly beautiful. Peter’s character arc, especially, was wonderful to watch unfold. I still don’t know how I fell in love with these characters so quickly, but I did—and Shadow undid nothing of the magic Dust laid. I felt as if I had known them for years—and, in a way, through the backstory Swanson let seep through, I had. Peter’s struggles and growth in this book both hurt and made me ever so proud of him. This boy grows so much through these two books, and the Peter that emerged at the end made me beyond proud of him, especially since I had seen so many of his battles with himself that brought him to where he ended up. Claire’s arc was very different than Peter’s, and, though I didn’t resonate with it quite as much, I loved seeing Peter’s Pixie-Girl grow throughout this duology. Claire went through so much in these books, and seeing how she handled it all in the end was so wonderful. I was intrigued by the Lost Boys after reading Dust, and getting a closer look at them in Shadow was great. It hurt to watch them sometimes—they really were lost, and I could tell they were all hurting so much. These boys never had it easy in the Heirs of Neverland duology, yet their saving graces kept me silently rooting for them throughout the book. Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ As I mentioned above, Shadow is shorter than Dust but by no means lacking in plot or character growth. The pacing was quick and, at times, heartbreaking. At the same time, though, I always knew what was going on, and the quick progression from plot point to plot point certainly didn’t feel rushed. Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ For all of the talk about Neverland in Dust, actually seeing it in this book took my breath away. It was both broken by all the selfishness and pain and yet brimming with hope and remnants of pixie dust among the darkness. I fell in love with Neverland when I read the original Peter Pan, and Swanson’s representation of Peter’s Never Neverland didn’t disappoint. Prose —⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Swanson mastered the first-person/present tense narrative in these books, and she thrust me so quickly into Peter and Claire’s thoughts that I felt as if I was three people at once—myself and these characters. The writing craft was wonderful. Theme —⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Shadow definitely had some darker tones than Dust, but Swanson handled them with grace and a clear line between right and wrong. There’s a lot of grief and brokenness in this book, even more than in Dust, but I’d still be comfortable handing it to a pre-teen. Swanson’s strong faith in the light of Jesus Christ was clearly shown, despite Dust and Shadow not being explicitly Christian. Conclusion Reading Shadow was a blessing, even though it ached to see all the brokenness. The healing that came with it, though, was worth it. Shadow is a masterpiece, and it wrapped up the loose strands of Dust with a natural ease, although it stayed realistic and fully showed the after-effects of grief and selfishness. It took me forever to get around to reading Dust and Shadow, but once I did, I could hardly believe I had never read them before. They’re treasures, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. What was your favorite thing about Shadow? Did you like the first or second Heirs of Neverland duology better?

  • Is Reading a Waste of Time?

    The Dreamer awakens, The shadow goes by, The tale I have told you, That tale is a lie. But listen to me, Bright maiden, proud youth, The tale is a lie, What it tells is the truth. — Traditional folktale ending Many story-lovers wrestle with questions about their time spent reading. There are so many more important things I could be doing. Reading doesn’t have any immediate effect. . . am I being lazy by reading? Is it wrong to read just for pleasure? These questions are fueled by not only their own thoughts, but the voices around them. Friends. Acquaintances. Parents. Teachers. They all lead story-lovers to the same question: Is reading a waste of time? I don’t believe that for a minute. And here’s why. Cultures Changed Cultures are ever-changing. Laws are passed, revivals sparked, wars fought. . . and books read. Take a look at the following: - Uncle Tom’s Cabin. - Oliver Twist. - The Chronicles of Narnia. All of these examples are of fictional novels, and yet they have majorly shifted entire cultures. Whether that be Harriet Beecher Stowe stoking the embers of resentment against slavery. . . Or Charles Dickens pointing to the reality hidden behind poor houses and abandoned alleys. . . Or C. S. Lewis equipping generations with a love of fairy tales and a subtle understanding of how to defend their faith. . . These books changed literal cultures through fiction. And not only does reading these works give us an appreciation for how they did this, but it pulls back the curtain of history. They let us see what man was and why he changed. There’s a reason these books changed cultures - and they can change us, too. They are not a waste of time. Lives Transformed At some point, every person is convicted, challenged, and changed by a story. Maybe it’s a story that forces you to take a look at what you believe, or a character who struggles with the same things you do and yet overcomes them, or a whisper of hope in the darkest time that rings true with your own world. Whatever the case, stories can change people like little else. Writer and author Jerry Jenkins says that “There is nothing like receiving a letter from a reader that says that your book changed their life.” Stories have so much effect on our minds and our hearts. A few months ago, a friend asked a group of us—all of whom loved reading—what book, besides the Bible, had most changed our lives. We talked for what felt like hours. One of the ones I mentioned was Rilla of Ingleside, by L. M. Montgomery. The beautiful strength in the face of brokenness and Rilla’s resolve to “keep faith” inspired me and continue to do so every time I pick it up. There have been times, over and over and over, when my world seems to splinter beneath me. Moving continents is never easy. Having siblings stay in the hospital for weeks is never easy. Realizing that the friends I left behind won’t be there when I return is never easy. But, like Rilla, I will “keep faith”. As a friend of a friend once said, talking to a young writer, “Sometimes a story is better than a sermon. . . that’s why we need people like you.” "Sometimes a story is better than a sermon. . . that's why we need people like you." Rest Given Pleasure is not in and of itself bad. Enjoyment is not bad. Rest is not bad. And reading for pleasure or enjoyment or rest is not bad. Think about it for a moment. When we cram our days full of business and getting as much done as we can, going here, checking on that, hurrying off to do this, it wears on us. It can make us more fragile, more easily rocked by the highs and lows of our days. Putting more work in in a day actually results in less productivity. In a study from Sanford University, an economics professor found that “productivity per hour decline sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week.” In other words, working crazy hours does not result in crazy productivity. It results in crazy burnout - looks like God knew what he was doing when he created a day specifically for rest after all. There needs to be a balance, of course. I’m not saying to read from dawn to dusk and never stepping out of bed (though it’s tempting some days—all right, most days). But reading books that take on darkness in its full and yet counter it with light, that rejoice in the healing and don’t glorify evil. . . this is not bad. This is rejuvenating and refreshing and lets our mental energy seep up again, permitting us to really rest. At its core, this is good. This is so very good. Lessons Taught Tales with heroes who strive to do good, of brokenness being healed, can inspire us to do likewise. They can take our hurts, our pains, and our worries, whisper “I understand; it’s all right”, and then show us how to move on. How to learn and grow and heal. And even those stories with flawed characters, negative character arcs, and sin can show us that we are not alone. That we are not the only ones struggling - and yet they can warn us in subtle ways. They can show us what happens when we let our anger control us, when pride becomes our master, or any manner of things. I can attest to this personally. I have cried with Jess Aarons (Bridge to Terabithia) and felt his fear twist in my stomach yet learned that I don’t need to be controlled by those fears. I have crowed with Peter Pan (Dust and Shadow) and realized, bit by bit, that growing up doesn’t mean loosing who I am. I have had my world rocked with Sara Crewe (A Little Princess), yet have resolved that, though I be a princess in rags and tatters, I will be a princess on the inside. These books and countless others have taught me things I’ll never forget. So how can I call them a waste of time? From the Beginning Guys. Our Lord Jesus Himself told stories. The Parable of the Good Samaritan? A tale told over and over and over that has convicted an untold number of people—yet, in its essence, it’s fiction. The same goes for the Prodigal Son, for the Lost Sheep, for dozens of stories told that have changed lives—have changed the world—and, yet, never actually happened. The Messiah urged the people to come. He gathered them to himself to listen, and they did. So why shouldn’t we? Conclusion As the traditional folktale ending I quoted at the beginning discussed, fiction is more than true. Truth is not only facts, statistics, and how-to’s—truth is love, sacrifice, honor, courage, and all the wonderful things good fiction can show us. And, so, story-lovers, here you have it. Next time, after you complete your tasks for the day and live in reality for a bit, when the voices hiss in your ear and ask “Isn’t reading a waste of time?”. . . Close your eyes. Smile. And whisper, “No.” What do you think about my points? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so leave me a comment below!

  • Who Am I?

    Some people love me and some people hate me, but every single one of them knows me. Even you. Sometimes I carry a sword and come whirling up to them, cold and silent, slicing open wounds that will smart and sting and never completely heal. Then they shrink back, cry out, cover their faces and weep. Yet sometimes they call out to me, reach for me, their cracked voices lacing thin scars into a sky washed of all colors by their tears as they beg for me. Then I creep up to them and brush my hand on their cheek. Their skin will be burning like flames licking towards the sky, crackling like the wracking cough of death and despair. Then I’ll sing to them, care for them, heal them.. You see? I am no monster. Some time people paint me differently than what I am. Sometimes they’ll say that everyone sees me differently and that it doesn’t matter what I truly am. Sometimes people lie about me. But I just curl my fist and close my eyes, trying to ignore it. Sometimes no one believes me. Sometimes they push me away, clutching their wounds even as they pretend they’re fine. I try to drive my way back, pleading with them. Sometimes tears will slide down my cheeks and I’ll clench my jaw as they push away the one person that can set them free. Sometimes people try to pretend that they invented me or even just discovered me, but I’ve been around longer than any of them. I’ve never been invented and I’ve never been discovered. I just am. Sometimes I slip up to the prisons with keys in my hand. I’ll steal a look at the prisoners; they’re always moaning, clutching their heads, begging for it to stop. To be set free, to feel the breeze on their faces, to have peace wash through their hearts. Then I’ll gently slide the key into the lock and turn it. Sometimes they cry out as I do so, and I know it’s painful, that it hurts, but when it’s done, they’ll turn to me with faces like the rising sun of the morning. Some people know me and some hate me, but every single one of them knows me. Even you. The question is. . . Who am I?

  • 5 Books to Read at Christmastime

    Ah, Christmas. A time full of hot chocolate, twinkling lights, and peace on Earth, goodwill towards men. And Christmas breaks are a wonderful time to read, too. Naturally. Today I’ve gathered my top picks to read during the Christmas season. I hope you enjoy them! Two From Galilee: The Love Story of Mary and Joseph I read this book for the first time a few years ago and fell in love with it right away. I’ve read it every Advent since, though it never takes me very long to get through. Though I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers, this book is a gem, and it makes the familiar Christmas story so much deeper and makes me think about it in so many different ways than I would have beforehand. The Man Born to Be King More specifically, the first of these twelve radio broadcasts, written by Dorothy L. Sayers. While the following eleven focus on the later life of Jesus, of his ministry, death, and resurrection, the first features his birth, and is a perfect delight to read. The author was one of the few female Inklings of her day, and, though The Man Born to Be King is not along her lines of usual writing, she did it wonderfully. The Christmas Carol No Christmas book list is complete without this classic, right? Although nostalgia has a few points with me and Dickens tends to favor more words over fewer words, The Christmas Carol is a lovely book to read at this time of the year, and I would highly recommend (re-) reading it this holiday season. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I know, I know. It’s not technically a Christmas book—but close enough. The wintery feel of this book just fits perfectly with curling up on a couch with a mug of cocoa at your side, and despite of—or maybe because of—“always winter and never Christmas”, this is a wonderful book to read at this time of year. Little Women Especially as far as the first half goes, this book that opens at Christmastime and follows the flawed yet beautiful March family is a great holiday season read. Even though a good portion of the book takes place at other times than Christmas, the themes of love and sacrifice and expectancy fit perfectly with the most wonderful Christmas story of all, and Little Women is lovely to read at this time of year. Luke Particularly chapter two. Like I hinted at above, all of these stories won’t come close to the real Christmas story—the most beautiful story ever told. A story that reflects the brokenness of this world yet rings of truth and beauty and the greatest love possible. And, what’s more, my friends? This story is true. What are some of your favorite Christmas books? I’m always looking for more books to read, and I’d love to hear your recommendations!