What to Read Next — Books By My Friends

You know what I love? Being able to recommend a good book. What do I love even more? When that good book is written by a friend of mine. I have the good fortune of having many author friends whose work I greatly admire.

And today you get to benefit for those friendships!

Hopefully you’ll find a new-to-you book to read or give as a gift!

P.S. All links are to Baker Book House. Why? Are they paying me? Nope. I just love them and think it’s worth it to support local businesses. And I love them. Did I already mention that? #ILoveThem

Catie Cordero’s 1920s series is written with snappy dialogue, sharp narrative, and lovable characters. If you’re a fan of period pieces and jazzy fiction, Cordero is your gal!

I’m just so very proud of my buddy Josh Mosey and his debut, 3-Minute Prayers for Boys. This pocket sized, quite affordable book has motivated my boys to spend more time in prayer, to think about some of the deeper issues they face, and to meet up with a friend every day for a time of Bible study. There’s also a version for girls by Margot Starbuck.

So, My Dearest Dietrich isn’t released yet. BUT it is available for pre-order and you will want to read this novel of Bonhoeffer’s life. I had the honor of endorsing Amanda Barratt’s book and I adored it.

This book is achingly beautiful and I was pulled in from the very first page. I adore Alia’s work. She offers a rare and special gift in Glorious Weakness. This is a book I keep thinking about and know I will for a long time.

I will read anything Jocelyn Green writes. In fact, I’ve read all of her novels and most of her nonfiction. So, I think I can speak on authority when I say that Between Two Shores is her best work yet. For readers who love history, adventure, and a plot that will keep you on your toes.

Oh, poetry lovers! I know you’re there. You NEED to get a copy of Matthew Landrum’s Berlin Poems. Landrum writes in such a way that the reader feels transported to Berlin. And he allows us a glimpse into a story that is intimate, vulnerable, and gorgeously penned.

Every moment that I spent with Jolina Petersheim’s How the Light Gets In was a moment fully transported to Wisconsin to experience Ruth’s story. Petersheim is a literary writer and is skilled at writing characters who feel as real as friends.

Jot That Down is a book for writers (or those wishing to pursue a writing life). The compilation book is one I was honored to take part in. When I look at the list of contributors, I am happy to say that I count nearly every one as a personal friend (I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting some of them).

Which of these books is new-to-you and looks interesting? What book recommendations could you give me? I’m starting to make my summer to read list and can’t wait to find more to add to the stack.

Readerly Confession: the part of the book I don’t read

If you follow me on Instagram you no doubt already know that books have basically taken over my life.

Books and the cat. And coffee. And ridiculous selfies.

But mostly books.

My entire literate life has been spent with a nose stuck in a book. I listen to them when I drive, read them while I’m cooking (which is a little risky), and always have one tucked away in my purse just in case.

But there’s one thing that might shock you about my reading habits. In fact, my editor (the lovely Kelsey) was aghast when she found out.

Ready?

Are you sitting down?

I don’t read the back of the book (or the description blurb on Amazon) when I buy/check out/start to read a book.

That’s right. I like to go into a book completely blind.

So, how do I know that it’s a book I’ll want to read? I just do! I take the recommendations of trusted friends, authors I admire, and yes I go by cover design (don’t judge me!).

I’m an adventurous reader with eclectic taste, so not knowing the basic premise of a book is usually no problem.

But sometimes it is.

Like last week when I accidentally read two post-apocalyptic novels that were about the few who survived a horrible flu outbreak at the same time (Station Eleven and The Star Dogs). Or when I thought a friend had spoiled a plot for me via Instagram on a book I’d just started (How the Light Gets In) when the “spoil” was already in the back cover blurb (whoops and whew).

Generally, though, it results in me reading a bunch of books I might not have otherwise.

How about you? Do you read the back covers of books? Or do you go in without knowing anything about the plot like I do? What’s your system of picking out a book to read?

I love to hear from YOU! And happy reading!

Good Enough in a Perfection Obsessed World

 Hands up in you’re a perfectionist.

I see ya. Yup, you, too. And over there.

You know, there are those who might be surprised to see my hand waving in the air like I just don’t care. I mean, I do care.  A lot.

I’m a perfectionist. Of course I care. A lot.

See, I’m a perfectionist in such a way that, if I can’t do something absolutely amazingly and wonderfully, and PERFECTLY, I just don’t want to do it at all. Maybe that’s why I’m not the world’s best housekeeper…hm.

One might think that perfectionism would be a boon for a writer. That it would fuel me to do my very best work and that it would drive me to keep going until it’s — well — perfect.

Really, though, my perfectionism trips me up more than it urges me on.

In my writing life, that looks like working a scene over and over until it’s exactly how I want it. Even then, it’s not as good as it could be. Or perfectionism looks like paralysis, an inability to start a chapter for fear of doing it wrong.

That’s not great, in case you wondered.

My perfectionism overflows to areas of my regular life, too.

There have been times when I haven’t invited friends over because I didn’t think I’d ever get my house perfectly clean. I used to beat myself up over vocal performances when I didn’t hit every single note perfectly. I’ve avoided trying new things because it took the risk of showing that I’m not perfectly good at everything.

I don’t wear sleeveless shirts and I rarely wear a swimsuit in public because I’m afraid of people seeing how really imperfect my body is. I don’t want them to be disappointed by my chubby legs and misshapen belly (which, to be fair, has never been the same after being stretched out by a couple of babies who decided that being twins was cool).

It’s often not enough for me to try to be perfect. I usually want other people to think I’m perfect, too.

The problem? I’m totally not perfect.

The problem? I am a mere mortal with limitations.

The problem? I like chocolate more than I like doing sit ups.

The solution?

Sometimes, in some things, I need to be content with Good Enough.

Hear me, please, not in a dismissive, slack off way. But in a “I did my best and can give no more of myself” kind of way.

When a friend comes over and sees that I haven’t gotten that cobweb in the corner, it’s okay. I vacuumed and scooped the poop out of the litter box. Good enough.

When I sing at church and my voice cracks, it’s okay. I still put my heart into serving others and worshipping God. Good enough.

When I serve dinner on paper plates every night for a full week, but those dinners had all the important elements (including a veggie). Good enough.

When I falter under the temptation of the chocolate chips in the cupboard, but I also had an extra handful of spinach at lunch (without ranch). Good enough.

When I don’t know what to say to comfort a friend, but am wise enough to know that a hug speaks plenty. Good enough.

When I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got and trying my very best to hear what God has to say (even though sometimes His voice is so soft I have to strain to listen). Good. Enough.

It’s grace that I give myself. To do what I’m able to and let go of what is beyond me. To put my time and energy into the tasks that God has enabled me to do and to allow myself to sit back and imagine Him looking at my efforts.

And I imagine Him smiling in the way that fathers do and taking my small gifts and saying, “Good enough.”

#FBF: 51 years and 1 day ago

Fifty-one years and one day ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. On that day, Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis for a presidential campaign rally.

But instead of campaigning, Kennedy announced the death of King.

His speech was improvised, empathetic, and — despite the darkness of that day — hopeful.

When I watch this clip with my understanding of history, I remember that two months and two days later, Bobby Kennedy would also be shot and killed. An ache swells in my chest to think about it.

But then I need to take a breath and try to watch it the way Mary Evans did on that night fifty-one years and one day ago. She was 16 years old at the time and recently shared her story. It’s a good one. Click here to read it.

The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. Upheaval, violence, hatred, and turmoil are not even close to novelties.

But hope is nothing new either.

And we have this hope; that all that is wrong will be made right. That love will overcome hate, light drive away darkness. That, even though we encounter all kinds of trouble here, we have the chance to follow One who has already overcome all of it.

Fifty-one years and one day later, let’s take the time, as Kennedy said, “…to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”

Compassion, love, faith, and a willingness to listen. All of these fueled with hope. Hope that has outlasted the ages, that has persevered through hardship and war and drought. Hope that holds on in the wildest storms.

Hope that good will win out over bad just like it has so many times already.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Ove and Emil and winning a smile

A Man Called Ove has been on my list of hyped books to read for two or three years. I’d look at it when I visited the bookstore, nearly adding it to my pile. But then something always prevented me.

Then I saw that it was available as an audiobook through my library.

“What the hay?” I thought while clicking the borrow button.

I was entranced from the first moment.

Ove is a grumpy old man who just wants to go about his business. What’s his business? Well, if I told you, it might ruin part of the story for you and I’m not a spoil queen. But every time Ove tries to do his thing, he’s prevented by a spectacular cast of troublesome neighbors.

It’s a curmudgeon-turns-soft-hearted-teddy-bear-because-he’s-confronted-with-the-fact-that-he’s-needed kind of a story. A tale about how important community is. How much we need each other.

I enjoyed every single minute of it.

Ove reminded me of a man who lived in the retirement home I worked at in college. His name was Emil and he was a tough customer. At lunch he’d get upset because the food was either too chewy or too mushy. He’d complain that we didn’t break his crackers small enough. He’d complain that we crushed them to powder. He’d moan through dinner, sometimes even throwing his spoon on the floor in frustration (and the spoon only because he wasn’t allowed to have knives or forks anymore!!! Yikes!).

All the girls I worked with couldn’t decide if they were afraid of him or just hated him. Or maybe it was a little of both.

As upsetting as Emil often was, something about him made me sad. I asked my grandma about him (she lived in the same retirement community) and she said that in the three years she’d lived there, no one came to visit Emil.

Not once.

I decided that I’d get him to smile somehow. I wasn’t sure how, but I was determined that I would win a smile.

I’d slip him an extra pudding cup or sneak him a cookie before helping him get to his apartment after meals. I’d wheel his chair the long way to the elevator so he could see the goldfinches at the bird feeders.

Eventually, he stopped grumping at me. He started saying “please” and “thank you”. He even told me one time that I was doing a good job.

Every once in awhile he’d tell me about serving in the Polish Army in World War II or his wife who passed away years before. Sometimes he’d even tell me about his “good for nothing children” who “never visited”. Then he’d talk about how proud he was of them anyway.

Just like Ove in the book, Emil in real life warmed up a little.

The last time I saw Emil was before I took two weeks off for Christmas vacation. I wished him a good holiday and handed him a card with a candy cane taped to the front (all I could afford on my college student budget).

He patted my hand and told me I was special.

Then he gave me the slightest little smile. If I hadn’t been watching I would have missed it.

Three days after Christmas, Emil passed away.

I was absolutely devastated. Going to work after that just wasn’t the same. I missed Emil.

That was over twenty years ago and I hadn’t thought of Emil in a long time. Not until I gave A Man Called Ove a chance. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought Fredrick Backman had used Emil as a template for his character.

While I listened to the story, it struck me that what made Ove’s life worthwhile was seeing the need others had for him. He had to live one day more just to help one of his pea-brained neighbors.

Then I thought about what it had been that Emil needed. It came to me right away. Emil needed to be seen. Seen for more than the angry old man. Seen for someone who was frustrated, yes, but for very good reason. Seen as a man who remembered the strength of his youth from the body of a man who could hardly wheel his way down the hall.

What Emil needed was to have his worth acknowledged.

We have Oves and Emils all around us. Hard-to-love folks who annoy us or grump at us or defy our ability to understand them.

No matter who they are, they need to be loved. They want to be seen. It’s important for them to be acknowledged as having a purpose.

It costs so little for us. Maybe a little time, a bit of effort, a space in our hearts. When we choose to recognize the worth of someone else we can never fully know what difference it makes in their lives.

We can only know the way it changes ours.

Photo by Alex Boyd

#FBF: Beach Party Movies

When one thinks of the 1960s one typically thinks of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, women’s liberation, burning draft cards, and…

Beach Party movies.

From 1963 to 1968 teens were wild for movies set on the beach. They all had the same basic formula. Teens/college kids, goofy grown ups, a surface level conflict, dancing, singing, surfing!

When the very first Beach Party movie released in 1963 (called Beach Party…who could’ve guessed?) it was a surprise hit, selling more tickets the weekend it opened than any of their competition.

The movie starred Frankie Avalon (at that time a 23 year old teen idol) and Annette Funicello (one of the original Mouseketeers). The duo starred in the majority of the follow up Beach Party movies including Pajama Party, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, and Thunder Alley.

Because Annette still had a contract with Disney, she needed permission to star in the beach films. They gave their blessing with one condition. Annette couldn’t wear a bikini. And she especially couldn’t show off her belly button!

Heaven forbid!

Lots of stars made cameos in the beach movies including:

Buster Keaton in Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (yes, that’s the actual title…I know, I know…), and Sergeant Deadhead.

Mickey Rooney. Also in How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (goodness, that title just never stops being inappropriate, does it?).

Stevie Wonder in Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach.

Don Rickles in Muscle Beach Party, Beach Blanket Bingo, and Bikini Beach.

Shockingly, this genre of movie couldn’t go on forever. They jumped the shark before that was even a thing (Fonzie wouldn’t do that until 1977!) with a flick called — and I’m NOT making this up — Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.

It wasn’t the last Beach Party movie (even if it should have been), but it was the beginning of the end.

I mean, you know it’s bad when even Batman starts trolling you with a parody show called Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!

It wasn’t long before Beach Party movies were replaced in popularity by Outlaw Biker films starting with The Wild Angels.

I mean, that’s not a jarring transition. Not at all!

Fun fact: Teens often threw Beach Bashes in the 1960s. They’d play games, roast marshmallows, and dance to The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. I wrote a beach party scene into my soon-to-release novel All Manner of Things. You can preorder the book now at Baker Book House or wherever great books are sold.

What pain has taught me

I’ve been struggling with frequent migraines for the past few years. It’s not the most fun part of my life, so I very rarely talk about it. Who wants to talk about a big bummer all the time? Not me!

But the experience of chronic pain has taught me more than a few lessons about life, faith, and perseverance.

Today I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned (lucky you!).

  1. That it’s okay to cry when something hurts: I have always prided myself for being a tough cookie with a high pain tolerance. I mean, I can handle a lot before I reach the breaking point. BUT over the past few years I’ve been at the brink more than once (actually, at least a dozen times). When I’ve allowed myself to cry (like real life physical tears) I somehow recover more quickly. No kidding! It’s science! It’s just one more way we’re fearfully and wonderfully made! Crying releases oxytocin and other stuff that get adrenaline pumping. In fact, there are all kinds of health benefits to crying. Who knew?
  2. That I HAVE to take care of myself: My migraines are caused by an enormous list of factors. Dehydration, too much caffeine, too little caffeine, lack of sleep, too much sugar, change in weather, hormones, stress, inactivity, eye strain…it all contributes to giving me an ouchy head. I’m learning that in order to be healthy, I need to stay on top of taking care of myself by eating well, sleeping plenty, and getting some exercise every day. When I slack, I regret it.
  3. That pushing through the pain usually just makes it worse: I’m a tough old bird (see point 1) and have tried to push through the pain for my whole life. In fact, when I was in middle school I had a molar knocked out before it was ready (don’t worry, it was a baby tooth). I went to the sidelines and shoved gauze in my mouth to stop the bleeding, gritting my teeth to hold it in place, and finished the game. It hurt like the dickens, but I played through it. I’m learning that pushing through the pain doesn’t work for migraine. It just causes more strain, more fatigue, and more time down and out later. It’s far better if I allow myself to take it easy, which is so hard for me to do. But in the long run, it pays off. I’ve come to realize that it’s not quitting, it’s practicing a different kind of perseverance.
  4. Not to minimize the impact migraines have on my life: When someone asks me how I am my default answer is, “GREAT!” with as much pep as I can muster. If ever I do mention that my head hurts, I usually say that it isn’t too bad or that I’m fine. Part of that is because I get all awkward and fidgety over small talk. Mostly though, it’s because I don’t want to admit my vulnerabilities. But when the person asking is someone I have a good relationship with, I really need to be honest with them. I need to trust that they’ll be understanding and that they genuinely care about me just as much as I care about them.
  5. To take advice with a grain of salt: When some people do find out about my migraines, they tend to have super solutions to cure them. I’ve heard all kinds of ideas: getting my daith pierced (it’s a bumpy part of the ear), taking this or that supplement, buying this kind of powder for my smoothies or that kind of oil to rub on my temples, special diets, certain exercises…I could go on all day. I’ve tried a few of them with mixed results (for example, some essential oils actually cause migraines for me even when other people have them on). What I’ve learned is that just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for me. If there’s a suggestion I know doesn’t work for me or that I’m uncomfortable with, I can thank them for the idea…but I don’t have to feel pressure to give it a try. When folks offer advice it’s usually because they care and want to help.
  6. To find a way to be thankful, even on the most painful days: The other day, when in the middle of a brain crusher, I wondered if I could possibly be thankful. I’ve been coming back to that thought ever since. As I write this, with a minor migraine, I’m able to say that, yes, I can. While I’m not thankful FOR the pain, I’m grateful for the ways it’s made me a more compassionate person. I can offer thanks for the days when I’m not in pain, for the very moment when the aches subside. I’m thankful for the people around me (most of all my husband) who support me with prayer, pills, and peppermint oil. But most of all, I’m thankful for the way pain has taught me to rely on God in ways I’ve never had to before.

Living with pain isn’t fun. It sure can derail a lot in our lives. But it can also be used by God in order to refine us into what He’s forming us to become. And, for that, I’m grateful.

(Note: I’m scheduled for an appointment with a new-to-me doctor to look into finding solutions to this problem. If you’re a person who prays, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you thought of me once or twice. Thanks!)

#FBF: When good people made bad Jello

Hey…pssst! Yeah. You! Have you preordered your copy of All Manner of Things yet? You can go ahead and do that now. Don’t worry, this post isn’t going anywhere.

Friends, I want to talk to you today about one of the more disturbing things that was common place in the 1950s and 60s.

That’s right.

I’m here to talk about…

JELLO SALADS

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a good Jello once in awhile. Put on a little whipped cream and we’re talking. Hey, I’ll even let you throw in some fruit.

But that’s not what I’m getting at here, and I think you know it.

I’m talking about people putting weird stuff in their Jello. It was a phenomenon encouraged in all the ladies’ magazines, cook books, and swooned over at church potlucks.

Sure, they usually used flavorless Jello in these recipes. Still, there is something gravely and texturally wrong about these. Wrong, I tell you!

Let me show you some of the more troubling concoctions.

It appears we have some celery going on in there and some funky looking lettuce. But what I find most troubling are the GREEN OLIVES! Why? Why would someone do that?

Please, please don’t tell me that’s green pepper, zucchini, eggplant, and tomato in there. What’s that you say? That’s exactly what’s in that monstrosity? Goodness gracious.

This right here? This is PROOF that Jello knew what people were doing with their product. They can’t even pretend that this didn’t happen. People. Seafood salad with lime Jello? Nope. This is not a good idea.

That’s shrimp. That. Is. Shrimp.

Nope. It doesn’t. I mean, where’s the gravy? Just kidding. Don’t bring gravy into this.

Now you’re just messing with us, aren’t you?

You guys do know that hamburger doesn’t deserve to be treated like this, right?

Hey! That’a fun Jello mold! Hold up. They put salmon in that? Nope. Uh-uh.


I SAY NO! I SAY NO FOREVER!!!!!

Thank goodness this fad fell out of favor (or should I say flavor) in the 1980s. Still, over two decades of this nonsense? That is shocking.

Merciful heavens.

Did you ever eat such an abomination? If so, did you do so willingly or under duress? Even more importantly, did any of you MAKE this kind of Jello salad. Don’t worry, this is a safe place. We won’t judge you.

Well, maybe we will a little.


#FBF: An Unsung Hero of Music

Unless you’re the kind of person who reads through all of the names on an album’s “credits”, you may not have heard the name Hal Blaine.

Honestly, I hadn’t until I saw a Tweet reporting that he’d passed away.

After doing a little digging, though, I realized that I’ve been a fan of his work for my entire life, I just didn’t know it yet! You see, Hal Blaine was what those in the recording biz call a “session drummer” or a “studio musician”.

Essentially, Hal Blaine recorded with some of the great artists of the 1960s and 70s as a temporary member. The cool thing about a gig like this is that Hal got to play in all kinds of bands. I thought I’d highlight five of my favorite songs from the 60s that he played drums for. You can find out more about Hal Blaine over on Wikipedia.

Written and originally recorded by Bob Dylan, The Byrds covered Mr. Tambourine Man in 1965 with Blaine on the drums. I’ve always loved this song (both versions).

The Blossoms might be one of the most underrated girl groups of the 1960s. He’s a Rebel is their most popular hit, recorded in 1962. Sadly, when the song hit the charts, the Crystals (another girl group) got the credit, even though they had nothing to do with the song. Ugh!

Aw. Sonny & Cher! I often wonder if in 1965 they had any idea how many times people would perform I Got You, Babe in karaoke bars all across the world.

Ooo! Another great girl band! The Ronettes were amazing and the drum line Hal Blaine provided on this recording of Be My Baby is fantastic. This song came out in 1963 and it’s still such a great tune!

If you happened to have grown up in the 80s you might remember A Hazy Shade of Winter song from The Bangles. But — SURPRISE! — it’s a Simon & Garfunkel song from 1966! And this super sweet drum part really shows Blaine’s skills. This is, perhaps, my favorite song on this list and one of my favorite by Paul and Art.

Listening to these songs and hearing Hal Blaine’s beats in each of them makes me appreciate the unsung nature of his work. His name isn’t next to the title, he’s not an official part of the band, his picture isn’t on the album cover.

Still, he took part in the music. His fingerprints are on each of these songs and so many more. His work made a difference to the world of music.

I, for one, am grateful for his contribution.

Now Go: Writing and Fear and Madeleine L’Engle

Life can be scary. We’ve been at war for over a decade, there are rumors and hints of new wars in our newsfeeds near daily, our kids go to schools where they have to practice hiding in the case of a shooter entering the front doors. And on and on and on. 

As Mrs. Whatsit said, “Only a fool is not afraid.”

In this world we will have trouble. Jesus let us in on that truth. BUT, we can’t quit. We can’t curl up in a ball and despair. We’re to take heart. Because as bad as it is and as bad as it might get, Christ has overcome. 

“Now go.” 

Move through your day, loving through the fear. Radiating joy beyond the pain. Bestowing mercy and gentleness and downright goodness on whoever you encounter (that counts for online, too). 

Because we know that, ultimately, we are not meant for this world but another. We are created for a place where there is room for us, where nothing will rot or decay and where violence is abolished. 

That’s the hope that we have. 

Walk in that hope today, friends.

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