Posted in Books

Brian’s Winter

Brian's Winter (Brian's Saga, #3)Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Until last month, I didn’t even realize that Hatchet had a sequel. Turns out, it has four. How did I not know this?! I skipped over The River, the first sequel, for the time being, as it seemed like a repeat of the first but with an audience. Although I have to confess, I’ll probably be reading it sooner rather than later. But I was intrigued by the synopsis of Brian’s Winter. What if Brian hadn’t been rescued, and had to ride out the winter in the Canadian wilderness? Would he survive? Continue reading “Brian’s Winter”

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Posted in Books

Hatchet

Hatchet (Brian's Saga, #1)Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some books imprint themselves on your mind and stay with you. You can remember vividly where you were when you first read them. Hatchet is one of those books for me. I remember being in Mrs. Alison’s sixth grade class, and this book was raging though the male half of my class like a wildfire. Even boys who usually hated reading couldn’t put it down. Obviously, as the class’s self-proclaimed queen of the bookworms, I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. So, when a copy finally made it back to the book cubbies that lined the back of the classroom, I nabbed it. And I totally saw what the fuss was about. Continue reading “Hatchet”

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Posted in Books

Best Books of 2017 (so far)

I’ve read some phenomenal books so far this year. However, if you only follow this blog for my reviews, you’ve missed most of the reviews of my favorites, which have been posted on Booknest. But I can remedy that! Below you’ll find a list of my top 15 favorite books from March through June that were not reviewed on Celestial Musings, along with mini reviews and links to full-length reviews on Booknest. Remember: these are only my favorites that haven’t yet been reviewed on this site. Enjoy! Happy reading! Continue reading “Best Books of 2017 (so far)”

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Posted in Books

True to You

True to You (Bradford Sisters Romance #1)True to You by Becky Wade
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I took a couple of days to try to gather my thoughts on this book, so that I could maybe do a little more than blather and gush. But, nope. Pretty sure this review is going to pretty much be blathering and gushing.

Those who follow my reviews know that fantasy is my favorite genre. I can get behind a good romance now and again, but romance novels very rarely make it onto my favorites shelf. Especially Christian romances, as they tend to lean towards cheesiness and, though that can be fun, they don’t tend to stick with me. But in this book, the first I’ve read from Becky Wade, I found an exception. Continue reading “True to You”

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Posted in Books

The Elusive Miss Ellison

The Elusive Miss Ellison (Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace, #1)The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full review now posted!

Sometimes, you need a radical change of pace. Since October, I’ve read more fantasy in a shorter period of time than I’ve ever read in my life. Don’t get me wrong; fantasy is my favorite genre, and it always will be. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. So I decided that I needed a little fantasy break. This book was about as far away from fantasy as is possible, and it was a breath of fresh air. Continue reading “The Elusive Miss Ellison”

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Posted in Books

Jane Eyre

Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full review now posted!

I first read Jane Eyre about five or six years ago, and I really liked it. Since then, I gotten quite a few more classics under my belt. Classics are vastly different from modern fiction, and have to be read differently. Now that I understand this fact, reading classics has become much more fulfilling for me. So, when I picked up Jane Eyre for the second time, I didn’t just really like it; I loved it! Continue reading “Jane Eyre”

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Posted in Books, Life in General

When Calls the Heart

When Calls the Heart (Canadian West, #1)When Calls the Heart by Janette Oke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a confession to make: I absolutely love When Calls the Heart. You know, the Hallmark show? The Christian historical romance that borders on cheesy where everything always turns out okay? Yeah, that’s the one. It’s one of my favorites. In this show, community is about celebrating together in the good times and supporting each other through the hard times. Faith in God is the norm, and that faith actually means something. And love always finds a way. The show idyllic and wholesome and just makes me really happy every time I watch it. It’s my visual comfort food.

Last week, Chris and I very unexpectedly became foster parents for two little boys. A couple of days ago, they just as suddenly returned home to their mom. Our emotions during this time went haywire; we were terrified because we’ve never been parents and didn’t know what to do, we were thrilled with the boys themselves and fell in love with them despite our efforts not to get attached, and we were a weird mix of devastated (for us) and relieved (for them) when they went home so soon. When they left and our house felt just the slightest bit hollow, I needed to disappear into a book. But the books I’m reading currently, while they’re great books, they were darker than what I needed. So I decided to read the book that inspired my favorite feel-good show.

The book wasn’t perfect. It was stilted and felt a tad forced in places. It was different from the show that I’ve come to love, even though they shared a common name and framework. But it was exactly what I needed when I picked it up. It was short and sweet and full of love and hope and Jesus. Though Christian historical fiction is not one of my favorite genres, it’s what I tend to turn to whenever I’m going through a rough patch in my life. I love how unapologetic the characters are about their faith, and how that faith permeates their lives. I also love how faith is just an expected aspect of life in these bygone eras. And in the vast majority of the books in this genre, you go in knowing that everything is going to turn out okay, and that a happy ending is almost inevitable.

Janette Oke provided me with exactly what I needed here. It gave me some of the hope I needed when I wasn’t feeling all that hopeful. Even though I enjoy the show more than I did this book, I’ll probably continue with the series at some point.

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Posted in Books

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and SensibilitySense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Man, am I glad that’s over. And I feel terrible for saying that.

I don’t know what my problem with the book was. I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read by Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Lady Susan were all immersive for me, and left me feeling satisfied when I finished the last page of each. But Sense and Sensibility just let me down.

Not that it was a bad story. It really wasn’t. It even had a healthier dose of complexity and depth than many of her other works. The plot and the characters and the settings were all well crafted, and the writing was lovely as always. It’s a classic for a reason; so what was my problem here?

The humor. Or, the lack thereof. When I read Austen, what keeps me enthralled is her wit and sarcasm. Her leading ladies tend to have wonderful senses of humor, as do the majority of their love interests. But in this story we have a more stoic heroine and, though she’s an interesting character, she’s not quite as compelling as many of her fellow heroines. There were moments of humor, of course; Mrs. Jennings can be incredibly amusing, and it’s hard not to laugh at the elder Miss Steele. But the humor in this story took a distant back seat to the relationship drama, which left me feeling discontented. I struggled reading this.

Was the book terrible? Of course not. I doubt that anything Jane Austen wrote can be fairly considered awful. And I know there are people who hold this as their favorite Austen novel, and I respect their opinions. It just didn’t do it for me, unfortunately.

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Posted in Deep Thoughts, Life in General

Blessed be Your Name

Almost exactly two years ago to the day, I remember singing through tears. It was a Sunday, and I had chosen to sing “Blessed Be Your Name” at church that day. In two weeks, I would be having a complete hysterectomy. Chris and I had tried everything we could to have children, but my body was poisoning itself and we couldn’t put the surgery off any longer. I was only twenty-six. Having to come to terms with the fact that I would never feel a life growing inside of me, that I would never see how my features and Chris’s would mingle in the face of our child, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

The bridge of the song I sang that morning said: “You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be Your name.’” And even though it was intensely painful, I meant those words with all of my heart. God had seen us through hard times before: when Chris was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, when we quit our jobs to do music ministry only to come back home to a frozen job market and no idea how to pay our bills, and through countless other smaller hardships, God was right there with us. Now, we’re not perfect; Chris and I both got pretty mad at Him when Chris had to go through the cancer nightmare a second time. But we learned from that. We knew that God hadn’t struck him down with cancer, but that it was just a part of living in a fallen world. We realized that we missed out on deepening our relationship with God during that time in our lives, because our anger built a wall between us and Him. Because of this, we vowed to try our hardest never to shut Him out again just because we were suffering. And so far, we haven’t.

Back to the song. When I was singing this song, I knew I was entering into a “take away” period of my life. But I knew that God was right there with me, and that He mourned with me, so my heart truly did choose to say, “Lord, blessed be Your name.” Ecclesiastes says that He makes beauty from ashes, and I decided to believe that He would somehow do that for us. He’s a big God, far bigger than infertility. And if having kids wasn’t in the cards for us, I was sure that God still had big plans for our lives.

Fast-forward to this past Sunday. Once again, I was singing “Blessed Be Your Name” at church, and once again I was struggling to sing through tears. I still meant every word of the song, and sang it with every fiber of my being. But this time, instead of mourning, I was praising. I feel like we’re leaving the “take away” period and entering into a period of blessing. We never thought we would be able to afford adoption, so we had decided to just be the best aunt and uncle we could be. But God started speaking into our hearts, leading us to become certified foster/adoptive parents through the state, even though we feel no call to become foster parents. And if you’re not going to foster or adopt a teenager, the certification seems almost worthless. However, a family member has decided that he wants to cover the cost of private adoption for us, and because of the certification we received we already have a home study ready and waiting. We never dared hope we’d be able to adopt a baby, but it’s seeming more likely and more real everyday. The possibility of getting to experience first steps and first words is exciting beyond words. No, nothing is final or set in stone, but I feel more hopeful than I have since my surgery. I trust that God is working on a miracle for us.

Lord, blessed be Your name!

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Posted in Books

The Magnolia Story

The Magnolia StoryThe Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a slight addiction to HGTV. It’s not a constant addiction; it merely flares up from time to time. However, there is one HGTV show that I always watch as soon as an episode airs, and that show is Fixer Upper. I love Chip and Jo’s relationship, and the family dynamic they have with their four kids. I love seeing little snippets of their life on their farm and how Jo handles Chip’s endearing but exasperating dorkiness. I love how involved they are in their community, and how supportive they are of artisans in their area and how they do their best to promote them. I love their lifestyle, laid-back and kind of old-fashioned and unapologetically Christian but in a way that loves instead of judges. And, obviously, I love their designs, how they take a run-down house that others would bulldoze without a second thought and make it a home that is perfect for their clients.

When I saw that Chip and Jo had written a book, I honestly just picked it up because I love them and want to support them. I’m not a big nonfiction reader, so I wasn’t sure that I’d ever actually read it. But I needed something bright and positive and inspirational, and this tiny book was exactly what I was looking for. Here is a couple who has faced hardships and muscled their way through with prayer and unflagging optimism. From a really rocky start after returning from their honeymoon to becoming HGTV’s darlings, they’ve worked incredibly hard for everything they have. (They’ve never even owned a television!) What I loved most about this book was seeing the evolution of their relationship with each other, and how it’s the foundation upon which they built every aspect of their business. Even in the pages of the book, each of them was present on every page, with Chip and Jo each having their own font. It was adorable.

The Magnolia Story was so inspirational to me. It focused so much on family and helping each other follow their dreams. If something is your passion, share it with those you love most and start working to attain it. That’s not to say that there won’t be highs and lows. There will be seasons of feast and seasons of famine, seasons of celebration and seasons of mourning, in every life. Because that is life! I know personally, I appreciate the highs in life so much more for my time spent in the trenches. But sometimes that fixation on hills and valleys can lead up to putting off our dreams until the perfect moment. Forget someday; dive in now. You never know where God will take you.

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