"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

-C.S. Lewis

What we read has such an impact on us, and I am always on the lookout for something that will inspire me to be a better person. Here is a sampling of books that have been in the teetering stack sitting on top of what is rumored to be my bedside table.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Scripture Saturday

"Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God."

-Exodus 20: 8-10a

   Well, here's a verse that's harder to follow than it sounds.  I learned this one so long ago, it seems I've always known it.  And unlike the tenth commandment about not coveting your neighbor's belongings (my bestie's Barbie dream house, ugh!), this one seemed like a no-brainer to a small child.

     Flash forward a decade or so, and I'm working on a group project with a high school classmate.  Mind you, this was in the days before instant messaging and Google Docs.  So if you wanted to work on your group project over the weekend, you either had to do it over the phone or *gasp* have a face to face meeting!  And while I was trying to set up such a meeting with my partner, he explained to me that he was unavailable on Sunday because he kept the Sabbath holy.

     Red blooded American teen that I was, I figured he was just being overly pious.  But I pretended to agree with him, because what self-respecting Christian openly disobeys the Ten Commandments?  And I kept his comment in my heart for years.

     Flash forward again to my first years as an employed adult.  As a first year teacher, you get really overwhelmed with your work.  I mean, really overwhelmed.  Every single teacher I've ever met has horror stories about that first year.  And I'm no exception.  So determined was I to be that A+ Teacher like all the mugs say, that I was working to the bone many hours a day, seven days a week.

     But somewhere in that year, I read a commentary of the Ten Commandments that stated that God wasn't punishing us by making us take a day of rest, he was rewarding us.  God, the commentary said, wanted us to have some time to ourselves.

     Now, I think that commentary missed the mark because the whole point of the Sabbath is to keep it holy.  That doesn't mean it's a party day.  It's not set aside for us, it's set aside for God.  But in taking that time to get closer to God, we are in fact allowing ourselves the greatest reward we could ever have.  And by taking the focus off ourselves and all the crazy busyness of daily life, we do end up getting that break that we really do need.

     Am I perfect at this?  I wish!  But, like my high school friend, I now strive to set aside my work for that one day each week.  And I do work at honoring God on that day, because it shouldn't be just a common day like any other.  It makes a difference, it really does.

     So, as another school year gets ready to begin, I find myself starting to get charged up, working on school projects.  I need to remind myself, as God had to remind the Hebrews, that the Sabbath day is meant to be holy.  And I pray that I can remember that throughout this school year.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Samantha Sanderson: On the Scene, by Robin Caroll

This is the second book in a middle grades Christian series about Samantha Sanderson, a seventh grade reporter.  I didn’t like the first book because I thought the characters had questionable values.  But I wanted to try this second one because I did like the basic premise.

This book was much better than the first.  I did not have the same issues with values that I did with the first book.  

There were two serious issues here - bullying being the most central to the plot.  As an educator, I’m always interested in books that discuss bullying.  I feel this was handled in a very appropriate way, giving good advice to students who are being bullied.

The second issue was that of whether or not First Amendment rights apply to the staff of a school newspaper.  And while this was also handled in an accurate manner, it may not be very interesting to readers who are not interested in journalism or the law.

The characters are more likable in this installment of the series.  New characters are introduced that make the plot more interesting.  However, the book does start to drag on and become slightly repetitive by the end.  

I’d recommend this book to any middle grades reader, Christian or not.  I do not feel that the Christian portions would be offensive to a non-Christian.  The great discussions of how to handle bullying are hard to find in other middle grades books.  I do, however, urge parents to read and discuss these books with their daughters because of my issues with the morality of the characters in the first book.

Three out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Scripture Saturday, Romans 8:28

     In the interest of not stagnating, as I have a tendency to do when I'm on summer break (ah, summer break!), I'm going to try something new.  And by new, I mean new to the blog.  

     I'm always amazed at how I can be surprised every. single. time. I read the Bible.  It's ironic that I can believe in an omnipresent God and yet wonder how it is that He can know exactly what I need to hear at the moment that I need it.

   So, in the interest of learning more about this Creator whom I love, and more about myself in the process, I'm starting Scripture Saturday.  It will give me the chance to reflect on a verse that means a great deal to me.

    Romans 8:28 is the verse that has had the most impact on my life.  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."  You see this verse everywhere.  I wear a ring engraved with it, in fact, to remind me of this truth that has been lifesaving for me.

    I know people who will roll their eyes and say that this verse isn't what you think it is.  But for me, I first understood this verse when I was in the doldrums.  Because it's true - this verse isn't about that whole "new Christian" idea.  You know it because I'm sure you've felt it, like I have.  "Now that I'm a Christian, God's going to make sure everything is awesome for me."  Like that song from The Lego Movie, but with a Christian spin.

     The key to this verse is the phrase "in all things."  That's right, Paul wrote it, I read it - all things.  Even the horrible things that keep us up at 3 am.  And thank God, really.  Because we all go through terrible times that we'd rather forget.  Times that seem impossible.  Times in which we feel like there's just no point to life.

     That's the beauty of this verse.  There is a point to it all.  Maybe we don't see it now, maybe we will never actually see it in our life on this planet.  But God does.  He may not make it "awesome" for you in particular, but He will use you and your situation for good.   

     And that means that you have value.  No matter what, you have value.  Sometimes, just knowing that is enough to keep you fighting that good fight.

   Happy Saturday, everyone! May God bless the Lord's Day for you tomorrow.


Samantha Sanderson: At the Movies, by Robin Carroll

This middle grades book for Christian girls is the first in a series about Samantha Sanderson, a seventh grader with a passion for journalism.  In this installment, Samantha tries her hand at investigative reporting as she tries to solve the mystery of who planted a bomb at the local movie theater.

I wasn’t a fan of this book.  As a parent and an educator, it bothers me that Samantha resorts to fairly sneaky tactics to gain information for her articles.  Eavesdropping and disobeying her father are just the start.  And although Samantha comes to her father for forgiveness at the end of the book, she still has the attitude that it was all in the name of good reporting.  Add to that her BFF, a girl who will be recognized by readers of this age as a hacker for several of her actions.  For example, she admittedly breaks past the school firewall so she can access information that has been blocked.  This kind of thing is seen as endearing.  There are never any consequences for it, even though this would be a suspendable offense in most public schools.

In terms of the plot, it became very repetitive.  Samantha blogs an “article” that’s really more of a libelous op-ed piece.  She gets called in by the school principal and the newspaper teacher.  Her dad gets upset and her reporter mom warns her about libel.  Then, she wakes up and does it again.  Wash, rinse, repeat until the case is finally solved and everyone who criticized her before now lauds her for her amazing journalistic prowess.

I’d want to read another Samantha Sanderson book before deciding whether I want my daughter to read this series.  But based on this book, it would be a no go.  For me, it would be a one star book, but I’m giving it an extra star because it did have appropriate advice on witnessing.

Two out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Butterfly and the Violin, by Kristy Cambron


The Butterfly and the Violin surprised me with its beauty.  It is a poem in an otherwise prosaic world, a work of art that should not be missed.

The plot is wonderfully woven, telling two stories across time.  The first is that of Adele Von Bron, a Christian violinist who is sent to Auschwitz for the aide she gives to a Jewish family in hiding.  She becomes a member of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz, forced to play during prisoner marches and arrivals.  The second story is of Sera James, a modern day art historian who is searching for a painting of Adele that was found among many other hidden pieces of art at Auschwitz.

The modern day story is sweet and reads more like a straightforward romance novel.  It is entertaining, and largely serves as relief for the more serious story of Adele.  It helps to advance the plot of the historical portion of the novel in a very appropriate way.

The beauty of this novel lies in Adele’s story.  Condemned by her own father, a general of the Third Reich, she loses the love of her family and is separated from the man she loves.  She is forced from her life of privilege into the brutal conditions of a Nazi death camp.  Within her story, we learn of perseverance, of hope for the future, and of resilient faith in God even under impossible circumstances.  “But worship in the midst of agony?  That is authentic adoration of our Creator,” is the line that best sums up the value of this novel.

Cambron gives us a well-researched story of the death camps.  I’ve always had an interest in this era from my own grandfather’s stories, and I found the book fascinating.  The existence of the Auschwitz orchestras was new to me, and I so appreciate the homage that Cambron has paid to the victims of the Holocaust.  This book is an emotional journey that is not to be missed.

Five out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Queen's Handmaid, by Tracy L. Higley

The Queen’s Handmaid is Tracy L. Higley’s finest work yet.  She has taken the history of the era of Herod the Great and Cleopatra, and woven a compelling fictional adventure throughout.

Lydia is valued servant to Cleopatra - but she is forced to flee Egypt with Herod to protect herself and a secret she harbors.  She becomes the handmaid to Herod’s Hebrew wife in Jerusalem.  This allows her to attempt to fulfill her destiny - to deliver scrolls about the coming Messiah to a Hebrew group that is committed to taking Israel away from Herod.  As she makes a new life for herself in Jerusalem, she confronts her discovery that she herself might be Hebrew.  Along the way, she meets a man who may well be the only person she has ever been willing to wholly love.

The story itself is fascinating, but what really grabbed my attention was Higley’s devotion to bringing this era to life.  The research she put into this project causes the characters and the setting to leap out of the Kindle and into the room with the reader.  Lydia is a delight to read, and the points of view of the other characters make this story truly shine.

I admired Higley before I read this book, but she is now one of my favorite authors.  The Queen’s Handmaid is a book that can’t be missed by anyone who is a fan of historical fiction.

Five out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.