October 2018 Reads

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I read a ridiculous amount in the month of October. Part of that came in the last couple of weeks of freedom before I started my new job, and part of that was due to the fact that I have a full hour for lunch and my office is enough of a drive away from anything I'd want to do on my lunch hour that I have been using that time to read.

My final count was nine books, 2708 pages. There were a couple of books that I'd started but not quite reached the end of before the end of the month, but those aren't counted in the page count for October (they'll be on November's list in a few weeks). I'd estimate that my actual page count was well over 3000 for the month, which is insane to me. I used to read like this when I was a kid, but haven't done this much in years. It's funny how those things come back to us.

There were some phenomenal ones, and some slightly-above-average ones. But nothing was terrible, and I didn't have any books to add to my DNF list.

So here they are, some brief thoughts on my October 2018 reads:

Quarrels by Eve Joseph (3.5/5)

I picked up this book of prose poems because it had a quirky cover, and because the author was from British Columbia and I believe wholeheartedly that we should support local(ish) authors. So I had no idea what to expect when I started to read through it. I'm not always a huge fan of prose poetry, but Eve Joseph paints clever, poignant snapshots of life with her words. The collection was a good, quick read and I'm glad I picked it up.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (4/5)

I love Mitch Albom's writing style so much. He is reflective and poetic in the way he discusses life and death and faith, and it's a beautiful thing. After reading this, I completely understand why so many people have strong feelings (both positive and negative) about this piece of writing. The way Morrie faces his diagnosis with strength is touching and powerful, and definitely worth a read. Have a Little Faith will always be my favorite Mitch Albom book, but this one was pretty darn good too.

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To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (4/5)

I jumped into this one on the hype after watching the movie. I was looking for a quick read, and that's what I got. Slightly cringey teen romance isn't really my style, but this book sucks you right into Lara Jean's nightmare story of having letters you thought would never see the light of day, suddenly mailed out and public. I'll definitely be going back to get the next two books in the series soon because darn it, I have to know what happens next.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (5/5)

This. Book. I'm a fast reader, but I stretched this one out as long as I could because this is a story to savor. This is the kind of fiction that makes me want to read, to write. Ove is simultaneously the best and worst neighbor that anyone could wish for, and his characterization reminded me of some lovable curmudgeons I've known. Fredrik Backman's character-driven fiction is one of the best reading discoveries I've made in a long time, and this book is definitely one of the best ones I've read this year. If you haven't read this one yet, please do yourself a favor and go read it.

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean (4.5/5)

I had a lot of feelings about this book. It was too real and relevant and I love/hated every moment of it. The story follows a girl whose family stars in a reality TV show, and she finds herself pregnant at 16 years old. It's horrifying and a bit like watching a train wreck that you can't tear yourself away from - a bit like watching some of these reality TV shows themselves. That said, it felt like a lot of lead up for only a few pages of resolution, which was a bit disappointing after all the hype MacLean created. But it was well-written and an interesting read, and I'd definitely recommend checking it out.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (3.5/5)

John Green has a way of writing books that I can't put down, but am never sure how I feel about. I've had this one on my to-read list for a while, and finally picked up a copy from the library. It was a quick read - I got through it in one sitting - but I still can't decide whether I enjoyed it or not. His writing is flowery and poetic, and the writer in me loves that, but I also can't quite step away from the fact that teenagers don't talk the way that he writes them. TATWD does have a really important exploration of mental illness (particularly OCD, which the main character struggles with throughout the book), and John Green does a brilliant job of this.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton (4/5)

Kate Morton is the only author whose books I automatically buy when they are released. Her writer's voice and weaving together of different timelines is one of my favorite things, but this time it feels like she tried to cram too many characters into one story. The fragmented style she chose for this book meant that it took I wasn't able to keep straight which people belonged to which timeline until about halfway through. I really wanted to love this one more than I did. It's still very much worth reading, but I just couldn't give it five stars.

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill (4/5)

Similar to The Clockmaker's Daughter, there were a lot of characters in this book, and that made it a little overwhelming and confusing to keep sorted out. It was a really dense read that took me much longer to get through than I was expecting. But I love Lawrence Hill's writing and how he doesn't shy away from hard topics. This story is an incredibly timely reflection on issues of illegal immigration and I wholeheartedly recommend reading it.

I'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de Los Santos (5/5)

This book had substance and great characters, but was a relatively quick read. The first week or so of October, I didn't get much reading done, and this was the one that broke me out of the slump. It had the parallel timeline structure that I enjoy so much, but kept things from getting too out of hand, and kept me guessing right until the end. If you're looking for an engaging story that is more than just fluff, but also won't be one you're stuck reading for an entire month, this is it.

 

If you've made it to the end of this post, thanks for being committed to this blog. As always, your support means everything to me, and I am so grateful to have people showing interest in the things I'm reading and writing. And if you want to find more of my thoughts on books, you can check out my bookstagram account, @literary.af.

Wishing you happy reading and happy Monday,

Joyfully,

Alice

All I Know is Grace: A Life Update

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This is a story about a God who is Good, as experienced recently by me. This is a story about joy. If you’ve been waiting for a life update post, this is the one you want to read.

I shouldn’t still be as surprised as I am by the ways that God shows up. Not after the wild and powerful ways he has provided for me and the people I care about over the last five years. Not after experiencing firsthand the ridiculous abundance that exists in his kingdom. I’ve seen God provide the exact amount of money I would need to pay for a year of schooling, bring connections that turned into places to live, heal what seemed impossible. And yet, it catches me off-guard so much of the time.

We were talking in my small group recently about the apostle Peter and how relatable his example is, how it’s comforting to know that even the people who were closest in proximity to the actual Son of God missed the point time after time. Because how often do we mirror his attitude of this seems awesome I want to be a part of it oh wait no this is hard I can’t do this Jesus help I’m literally going to drown now this is bad news what is happening? Every. Dang. Day.

If you’ve talked to me or read anything on this blog in the last several months, you’ll know that I walked away from a full-time job at the end of June. God blessed me with incredible peace through the entire process and used the time this summer to help me sort through a lot of things that were going on in my head and heart, leftovers from a painful season that left me feeling discouraged and confused. I am so grateful to have had the time to work out my own emotions surrounding it all, a bit like rewrapping a ball of yarn that had come undone. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

But when one morning, I woke up and my hands were completely seized, I wondered what had happened. Then I remembered that I had been working as a freelance transcriptionist and my hobbies include writing novels, classical piano, and knitting. Oh. So yes, the wild case of tendonitis should not have come as a surprise.

This all happened around Thanksgiving, which is always my favorite time of year second only to Christmas. I spent some concentrated time praying on Thanksgiving weekend – prayers of gratitude, obviously, to suit the season, but also really honest prayers where I told God a lot of the things that were going on in my brain.

So as I sat at home and wondered where my life was headed, alternating between heat and ice on my hands, I told God my fears about not having a job, and how I hoped that the music store where I had interviewed for a job would call me back soon. Because while the unemployed freelance life had been wonderful in a lot of ways, it was no longer a practical reality. I loved having the flexibility to be wherever I wanted to be, and I got more reading and writing done in those three months than I have in the last several years combined. But a steady source of income was significantly lacking, especially when I was unable to sit down and make a little extra money and stretch out my savings by transcribing interviews.

I told God that I was starting to worry about the logistics of the future.

I told God that I’d seen him lead me this far with illogical amounts of peace, and I was choosing to trust him to lead me out the other side because I could not see the path ahead.

I also told God that I miss the sky and being able to watch the sun rise every morning like I did last winter.

Watching the sun rise sounds like such a tiny thing but was such a huge part of my daily routine, and until the end of April I lived on the top floor of a building that was taller than most other structures around, so it was always completely visible. I would drink my coffee and pray and take pictures and treasure those moments before the rest of the world woke up. Now I live in a basement suite and that makes finding natural light in general a lot more difficult, let alone having a clear view of the sunrise.

On the Tuesday morning after Thanksgiving, my phone rang with a call from an unfamiliar number. I picked up, expecting that the voice on the other end would be the manager from the music store. To my surprise, it was not. It was a supervisor from a job that I’d completely forgotten I’d applied for, one of those resumes I’d emailed out on a frantic morning where I’d applied for half a dozen jobs at once. She asked me if I’d be willing to come in for an interview the following day, which I was.

The next morning, I went out and met with the managers.

The morning after that, she called me back and offered me a job, starting the following Monday.

I cried. I happy-danced around my house. I texted half the people in my phone. I bought myself the new book I had been wanting. Life was good.

So I made the most of my last few days of freedom, ran all those errands I had been putting off and telling myself I had endless time to get done, made freezer meals to pull out on those tired days I knew would come eventually, started to back up my sleep schedule so the alarm for my first day would be less of a shock. I made myself as ready as I could possibly be before stepping into a new role.                                                                                                    

But I wasn’t prepared for what was to come.

Because as I sat in my car on that Monday morning, waiting at a traffic light on the way to start my new job, I realized something. The sky was streaked pink and orange, little swirls of clouds reflecting the early morning light.

The sun was rising.

And it was beautiful.

 I realized that my drive to work will coincide perfectly with the sunrise for most of the winter.

These little prayers of mine, quietly spoken only to the Creator of the universe, came to be answered all in one outrageously personal moment.

Friends, I am here to tell you that God listens to our prayers. He hears us when we cry out to him, when we are brutally honest with him, when we present him with requests that would sound silly to anyone else if we spoke them aloud.

I told God that I was worried about paying my bills and that I missed living in a place where I could watch the sunrise.

And one week later, he reminded me that my prayers do not fall on deaf ears.  

Chasing after Jesus is not an easy call. It asks you daily to abandon your comfort zone, the things that the world tells you are valuable, and step out in faith, trusting that the One who made you will lead you where you are meant to go. Sometimes all you can do is cry out God I got out of the boat and I need you to not let me sink.

And oh man, does he ever come through.

So now each day, I will sit in my car and drink coffee and watch the sun rise as I drive to work, and I will remember all that God has done for me. I will happily sit through two or three lights at the intersection of the highways and watch as light begins to dance across the morning sky.

I am here to tell you that God is good. I am here to declare boldly that God’s plans for our lives do not often make sense from the outside, but he is working and weaving together something beautiful that we can scarcely imagine.

I am here to tell you that life is strange and sometimes trusting God means that money will be in short supply and that you’ll have to confront all those confusing things that you’ve shoved deep into a closet somewhere in your brain and that all you can do is cling to the knowledge that he has not left you abandoned. All I know is that grace has brought me safe this far, that grace will lead me home.

I’m here to tell you that the promises of God find their Yes in him, through him, and our Amen is spoken to the Glory of God. (2 Cor. 1:20)

I’m here to tell you about unspeakable joy. Selah.

 

Joyfully,

Alice

September 2018 Reads

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I can't believe it's already the middle of October. This year has gone by impossibly fast, and I'm not sure where all the time has gone. But it's been a wild ride of a season, and I'm definitely ready to find some new rhythms and routines. I start a new job this week and am going to a conference with some lovely friends, which is a perfect way to kick off something new.

All that to say, I haven't written much for the blog in a couple of weeks, and haven't even got around to finishing my September Reads reviews until now. But that's okay. I'm giving myself some grace as I transition into new things.

September was a month full of good books, with several five-star reads and several that weren't far behind. I only gave up on one book: Ok, Mr Field - a little library book I grabbed on my way out because it was short and sounded interesting. I should have known it wasn’t for me from the moment I saw that it didn't use any quotation marks to note conversation. It's one of those little things that drives me crazy… I didn't make it through Alias Grace for the same reason.

I also started a Bookstagram account in September, and have been having all kinds of fun posting about my bookish adventures over at @literary.af. If you're around in the Insta-world, feel free to give me a follow!

But without further ado, here are my thoughts on the things I read in September:

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (4/5)

I've had this one sitting on my shelf for a while, and I'm glad I finally got around to finishing it. It didn't ask too much of me as the reader, so I was able to get through it without too much effort. I read most of the book in one evening, thanks to some cancelled plans that meant I had a few uninterrupted hours. It was also a good one to shift back into reading novels after spending an entire month exclusively reading nonfiction. The characters were lovely, and it was definitely the book I needed mid-month.

 

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Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (5/5)

Somehow I managed to be first on the list for my library's holds on this book, and I am so glad. It's the sequel to Beartown, which I read in July, and it lives up to the hype. I grew up in a small town where the hockey rink was the centre of so many winter weekends and I loved the way Backman uses this setting so effectively. But the characters in this story are truly what make the book, and I laughed and cried several times each over the stories their lives tell in this one. Backman is an incredible storyteller, with a translator that should win all the awards. Seriously. Book translators are the unsung heroes of the literary world.

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (5/5)

I've seen this book everywhere for the last several months, and I just managed to get my hands on a copy a few weeks ago. This book was fantastic. It's a surprising, wonderful mix of funny (I had to set the book down at one point because I was laughing so hard) and deep melancholy with characters that keep you guessing right to the end. By the middle of the book, I thought I had figured it all out, but I was happily proved wrong. This is the kind of fiction that makes me keep reading fiction.

 

Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen (5/5)

This was my first Nouwen, and I absolutely loved it. It's a short book put together by some of his students after he died, but it packs a punch. Nouwen's writing is poetic and profound in the way that it talks about contemplative theology and spiritual life, but it is still very readable - which is often a criticism I have of other writers in this field. I'll definitely be looking for more Nouwen in the future.

 

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott (3/5)

This book was alright. I finished it and didn't hate it, but it didn't resonate particularly deeply with me. I'm never quite sure how I feel about Anne Lamott's writing. I like it for its raw honesty, but sometimes the text wanders so far that it seems to lack direction. Maybe I'm just not the right person for this book, and that's okay.

 

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (3.5/5)

I got the audiobook version of this one at a library book sale a few months ago, and have been listening to it in my car. I enjoyed her reflections on the concept of biblical womanhood, and laughed out loud several times at her descriptions of trying to teach herself to cook. My biggest complaint was that it shifted between scripture, journal excerpts, and the main text quite frequently, which didn't always flow smoothly - though I think most of that was the fact that I was listening to it rather than reading a paper copy. It's not my favorite RHE book, but I'm definitely glad I read (listened to?) it.

What did you read in September? Any thoughts on these books, or other reading recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments below.

Joyfully,
Alice