Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked

Author: Lynn Austin
Pages: 238
Rating: G
The opportunity to tour Israel came at a good time. For months, my life has been a mindless plodding through necessary routine, as monotonous as an all-night shift on an assembly line. Life gets that way sometimes, when nothing specific is wrong but the world around us seems drained of color. Even my weekly worship experiences and daily quiet times with God have felt as dry and stale as last year's crackers. I'm ashamed to confess the malaise I've felt. I have been given so much. Shouldn't a Christian's life be an abundant one, as exciting as Christmas morning, as joyful as Easter Sunday?
With gripping honesty, Lynn Austin pens her struggles with spiritual dryness in a season of loss and unwanted change. Tracing her travels throughout Israel, Austin seamlessly weaves events and insights from the Word . . . and in doing so finds a renewed passion for prayer and encouragement for her spirit, now full of life and hope.

My Thoughts: I really enjoy Lynn Austin's religious fiction, and when I saw that she'd written her personal struggle with faith, I decided to read it. I'm so glad I did. I learned so much. Austin is truly a biblical scholar. She knows her Bible stories, and she has learned so much from them. It was refreshing in a way, since in the LDS church we focus so much on the Book of Mormon and the lessons we learn there, the Old Testament stories are kind of an afterthought and often fall by the wayside. I loved the way Austin delved deep into some of the most familiar but also some more obscure Old Testament stories, and gleaned amazing and profound lessons. I found myself underlining (in light pencil since it's a library book) and bookmarking page after page as I read. Plus, it was also really neat to learn the history of some of the places she visited in the book, since all of them were significant Bible locations. I highly recommend this book. I promise you'll learn something and maybe even be inspired to make a change in your life! I'll leave you with some of my favorite quotes.

God knows that we all need to be brought out to the desert from time to time to free us from our comfortable self-sufficiency. If He strips us of all our own resources, we just might learn to lean on Him. (pg 21)

It's easier to camp beside the Dead Sea's bitter waters mumbling "Poor me. Why doesn't God help me? Why can't I feel His presence?" than it is to search and climb and stretch spiritual muscles that have become flabby from lack of use. (pg 47)

Spiritual growth and vibrant faith in God don't happen in isolation, but under pressure. Without the danger of threats from Pharaoh, we never would have to decide if we're going to trust in our own chariots and horses, or in God. (pg 60)

Perhaps my first prayer should be for a deeper love and compassion for others, a heart like God's own that looks beyond the outward sin and sees individuals the way that He does. Before I start sounding a warning, I need to earn the right to be heard through acts of love and kindness. (pg 164).

Meeting with God is more like an appointment at the vision center to get my glasses adjusted - and maybe finding out that I need a new prescription altogether. My daily quiet time isn't an item to check off on a to-do list but an appointment with The Boss to get my priorities realigned and a new assignment to complete.  (pg 227)

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Author: R.J. Palacio
Pages: 313
Rating: G

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

My Thoughts: I feel like this was a really good book for elementary and middle school students to read to help them be more accepting and kind to others who are different from them. I read it quickly, it's not hard to read, and I love that the chapters are all only about 3 pages long so it's easy to take breaks or read just a little at a time. I'm not sure I really liked how it changed perspectives several times, and there were a few storylines that didn't relate directly to Auggie but that I was still curious about that never really got resolved.

Reading this book reminded me of an experience I had when I was about 5 or 6. There was a little boy in my class at church who was severely deformed. I'm not sure if he had been in a fire or what, I don't remember, but he was blind, was missing a foot and a lower arm, didn't have much in the way of ears, and his skin was really scarred all over like he'd had a lot of severe burns. I was TERRIFIED of this kid. My dad had to come to class with me whenever that kid came to church because he scared me so badly. No matter what my dad did, he couldn't convince me that this was just a normal kid and I had nothing to be afraid of. I'm not sure if I would have been too young, but I think something like this book could have helped. I couldn't see past this kid's face to who he was inside, which is something that Wonder addresses quite a bit. Anyway, definitely worth the read, especially if you know someone who has a situation similar to Auggie's.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wonderland Creek

Author: Lynn Austin
Pages: 385
Rating: PG
Summary: Alice Grace Ripley lives in a dream world, her nose stuck in a book. But the happily-ever-after life she's planned on suddenly falls apart when her boyfriend breaks up with her, accusing her of living in a world of fiction instead of the real one. To top it off, Alice loses her beloved library job because of cutbacks due to the Great Depression.

Longing to run from small-town gossip, Alice flees to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to deliver five boxes of donated books to the tiny coal-mining town of Acorn, a place with no running water, no electricity, and where the librarians ride ornery horses up steep mountain passes to deliver books. When Alice is forced to stay in Acorn far longer than she planned, she discovers that real-life adventure, mystery - and especially romance - may be far better than her humble dreams could have imagined.

My Thoughts: Lynn Austin is quickly becoming a favorite author for me. She writes clean, Christian novels in an non-annoying way. I've read a lot of Christian novels that always have this one character that is so sappy and annoying with the way they just live their religion so perfectly and basically act like God pretty much lives in their house. I just feel like those characters are totally unrealistic. This novel does have an old woman, a former slave named Lillie who has had just a litany of terrible things happen to her in her life, but is committed to God and is always saying things like "Just trust in God. The Lord knows what he's doing." But Lillie also has quite a personality, and is involved in some events that seem pretty shady at first, including helping a man fake his death and funeral. I just feel like Lillie is much more of a realistic character than those you typically find in Christian novels.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book, even though the historical fiction part isn't as huge as in some of Austin's novels. The packhorse librarians were a real thing during the Depression, which I thought was really interesting. Also, the town Alice visits happens to be in a 60 year feud between two of the families that make up the town. It reminded me of the Hatfield's and the McCoy's. Alice really learns a lot about herself and about caring for others as she works herself into the lives of these humble mountain people. She does find love, but the book is not centered around that story, and it's not all sappy and ridiculous. Austin is pretty tame with the way she writes her love stories. If you're looking for a good, CLEAN adult novel...check this out! I've read two other books by this author, and I'm sure I'll continue to enjoy more of them.