Fiction

Featuring: Undercut by Heather Day Gilbert

I’m slowly but surely getting back to consistency with this blogging thing ;). YAY! Today I’m featuring Heather Day Gilbert’s latest release, her second novella in Hemlock Creek Suspense series, Undercut.

Marine sniper Isaiah (“Zane”) Boone is home from Afghanistan with more than a few ghosts. Try as he might to settle back into civilian life in small-town West Virginia, he can’t escape the conviction he’s being followed. Both Zane’s ex-wife and his psychologist claim he’s paranoid, and he can’t prove he’s not. Hoping to outrun his misery, he sets his romantic sights on the irresistible Molly McClure.

A successful wedding coordinator at the illustrious Greenbrier Resort, Molly has had plenty of wealthy men willing to open their wallets and hearts for her. But when Zane strides into the upscale Greenbrier lobby with his lumberjack boots and his troubled eyes, the attraction she’s felt since high school reawakens—and she’s willing to go way out of her comfort zone to pursue it.

When Molly becomes an innocent target, Zane realizes too late that his malevolent stalkers are very real. As a net of vengeance tightens around them, Zane gears up for a fight to the death…and Molly has just one chance to prove she can be far more than a pretty face.

Where to Buy: Goodreads | Author Website

About the Author

HEATHER DAY GILBERT, a Grace Award winner and bestselling author, writes novels that capture life in all its messy, bittersweet, hope-filled glory. Born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, generational story-telling runs in her blood. Heather writes Viking historicals and Appalachian mystery/suspense. Publisher’s Weekly gave Heather’s Viking historical Forest Child a starred review, saying it is “an engaging story depicting timeless human struggles with faith, love, loyalty, and leadership.”

Where to Follow: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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Book Reviews

When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen | Book Review

(ICYMI: I switched blogs! I combined my blogs for this new writing and blogging chapter. You can find out all the details here).

Where my small town fiction readers at? If that’s you, I think you should keep reading!

A win brought them together, but loss may tear them apart.

When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn’t. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption—or will it be their downfall?

I’ll start by saying this: this is a page turner. You want to find out what’s next, you want to know what’s going to happen. It kept me reading and if I remember correctly, I finished it in one setting.

It’s very much a small town novel. While there were a couple things I guessed were going to happen (but not in a way that ruined the reading experience), there were a few surprising bits that got my attention (if you’ve read it, message me. There’s one key thing I really REALLY want to discuss!)

It’s a page turner for sure and there were times when I wanted to sit characters down and tell them to make better choices, but isn’t that what good novels often do? I also like that it was an honest look at parent’s grief (not matter what you are grieving for). I liked that it showed how people do change and people can work at something they once thought lost.

Have you read any of Whalen’s novels?

(This was a Fall pick for SheReads.org. Thank you to Lake Union Publishing for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Book Reviews

The Church of Small Things by Melanie Shankle | Book Review

(ICYMI: I switched blogs! I combined my blogs for this new writing and blogging chapter. You can find out all the details here).

What can I say y’all? I’m a big fan of Melanie Shankle. I mean, we both love Jesus, books, tacos and have a soft spot for Texas. That’s a bond Internet. Her blog and her podcast (with Boo Mama) are some of my favorite things. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried (emphasis on the laughing). Seriously, the podcast cracks me up (I mean, her love of Teddy’s Organic Rosehip Seed Oil convinced me to purchase my first non cooking oil ever in my life). But that’s what I love about story – God uses everyone’s story to impact others.

Her latest, The Church of Small Things, is seriously for anyone!

Is my ordinary, everyday life actually significant? Is it okay to be fulfilled by the simple acts of raising kids, working in an office, and cooking chicken for dinner?

It’s been said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” The pressure of that can be staggering as we spend our days looking for that big thing that promises to take our breath away. Meanwhile, we lose sight of the small significance of fully living with every breath we take.

Melanie Shankle, New York Times bestselling author and writer at The Big Mama Blog tackles these questions head on in her fourth book, Church of the Small Things. Easygoing and relatable, she speaks directly to the heart of women of all ages who are longing to find significance and meaning in the normal, sometimes mundane world of driving carpool to soccer practice, attending class on their college campus, cooking meals for their family, or taking care of a sick loved one.

The million little pieces that make a life aren’t necessarily glamorous or far-reaching. But God uses some of the smallest, most ordinary acts of faithfulness—and sometimes they look a whole lot like packing lunch.

Through humorous stories told in her signature style, full of Frito pie, best friends, the love of her Me-Ma and Pa-Pa, the unexpected grace that comes when we quit trying to measure up, and a little of the best TV has to offer, Melanie helps women embrace what it means to live a simple, yet incredibly meaningful life and how to find all the beauty and laughter that lies right beneath the surface of every moment.

“But true success and prosperity comes when you are right where God wants you to be, doing what He has called you to do.”

Shankle has such a talent of drawing you in as a reader. Even if it’s a topic you don’t think you need – I’m telling y’all, she’s able to keep you interested (Example #234: I loved her books on marriage and motherhood). The overarching theme of Shankle’s latest is much needed. This idea of “church of the small things” is a beautiful reminder that God’s beauty, grace and love aren’t only found in the big moments and things in life. They are in the little pieces – whether those pieces cause you to cry from laughter or cry from hurt. The little pieces seem so simple, yet, all come together to create something beautiful.

I think you’ll be inspired and hopeful in your own story after reading more of Shankle’s story, so if you’re looking for a perfect Fall read (or a gift for someone), be sure to consider Church of the Small Things.

Also, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are quoted, so yep.

Have you had a chance to read any of Melanie’s books? 

(Thank you to Zondervan for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Book Reviews, Fiction

The Space Between the Words by Michèle Phoenix | Book Review

“Enduring with courage, resisting with wisdom, and pressing on in faith.”

“There were seconds, when I woke, when the world felt unshrouded. Then memory returned.”

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she can think of is fleeing the site of the horror she survived. But Patrick, the steadfast friend who hasn’t left her side, urges her to reconsider her decision. Worn down by his insistence, she reluctantly agrees to follow through with the trip they’d planned before the tragedy.

“The pages found you,” Patrick whispered.
“Now you need to figure out what they’re trying to say.”

During a stop at a country flea market, Jessica finds a faded document concealed in an antique. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who lived centuries before—her faith condemned, her life endangered, her community decimated by the Huguenot persecution.

“I write for our descendants, for those who will not understand the cost of our survival.”

Determined to learn the Baillard family’s fate, Jessica retraces their flight from France to England, spurred on by a need she doesn’t understand.

Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

Books dealing with recent horrific and tragic events will never be an easy read. It’s a painful revisit and a reminder of the broken world we live in. Phoenix’s story of loss, pain and the path to healing though, not only had me fully engaged, I was reminded that life is beautiful and precious. I enjoyed the modern day story, but also really enjoyed the historic piece of this novel. It was a piece of history I didn’t know and glad I now do.

We’ll never escape terrible events while we’re on earth. It’s a hard reality, but I’m thankful of the hope I have that this isn’t it. Dealing with grief, how our minds respond, to the healing we need and the time it takes, this novel will remind you to never waste a moment and when life deals us a heavy blow, all hope is not lost.

(Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Author Interviews

Featuring Katherine Scott Jones | Author of Her Memory of Music

Y’all, I’m so excited to chat more with Katherine Scott Jones today! You may remember my book review last week of her debut, Her Memory of Music, and today we dive a little deeper! I hope y’all enjoy (and stick around for a chance to win a copy of her book!)


1.What’s been the most exciting thing about publishing your debut novel?
Two things: Number one, seeing the finished cover because it put skin on my story for the first time. When my cover designer—the amazing Jenny at Seedlings Design Studio—sent me the initial cover comps, I felt the tingling reality of my book.

Number two is what’s happening right now—the opportunity that my published novel is giving me to talk to other bookish people. So fun to connect with readers and talk all manner of story matters. Really, it’s a dream come true.

2. Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
Toni Morrison famously said, “If there is a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” When I began writing HER MEMORY OF MUSIC, there wasn’t an abundance of inspirational (“Christian”) women’s fiction that compellingly addressed real-life issues. Where answers aren’t easy and problems are complex—maybe even scandalous. Fortunately, in the years since I began writing, more of these have arrived on the scene. I hope readers will find my book to be one of them.

As for the specific elements, Langley is a little town on Whidbey Island, Washington, where my husband and I enjoyed vacationing in our early married years. I always thought it would make an atmospheric setting for a novel. Some of my own journey through infertility is mirrored in Darcie’s story. As for Ally—I have a dear friend who gave birth to her son when she was seventeen. That life-turned-upside-down experience is what brought her into a personal relationship with Jesus and made her into the strong, faithful woman she is today. Though that backstory got cut from HER MEMORY OF MUSIC, it’s what inspired my conception of Ally and Jack.

3. What was one of the most unexpected bits from writing this book?
Sheela and Jayashri’s stories weren’t in my original plot outline. The story I’d originally outlined detailed that of a young mom hiding from a frightening past who encounters a troubled sex-trafficking investigator home from India on furlough. So far, so good. But as I wrote, I realized that in order to give the investigator’s side of the story substance, I had to do some research. I interviewed a real trafficking investigator, and that’s when Jayashri materialized onto the page—and took up residence in my heart. Because the more I researched what it meant to be Jayashri—a girl caught up in the horrific sex trafficking trade—the more I realized Jayashri could not remain a footnote. She needed her own story.

4. What do you hope readers walk away from after reading this novel?
I strove to have my characters mirror real life, where people grapple with eternal issues: of fear, and faith, and forgiveness. I also aimed to broaden the typical reader’s awareness of the plight of so many girls and women around the world who are the objects of oppression. I sought to bring together two very different lifestyles—that of the woman in the developed world living in relative comfort but with significant questions of faith and purpose; and that of the woman in the developing world whose basic needs are great but whose voice has so little chance of being heard.

I wanted to show the connection between these different women, bringing their two worlds together and revealing them as one. I also wanted to show that God is a very big God who sees and cares, who orchestrates events and fights on our behalf. And to celebrate the empowering of women by God’s daily grace.

My hope is that readers will be encouraged to find their own empowered voice—and in doing so, to give a hand up to other women who still need one.

5. What are some of your writing habits?
As soon as the kids are off to school, I light a few candles and close myself inside our cozy study, our dog nestled on her pad nearby. I settle into the burgundy leather chair that serves as my writing chair and tune into movie soundtracks on Pandora. If I’m not feeling the mood, I set my timer for 25 minutes (per Pomodoro Technique) to get my fingers moving. I try to get some good work done in the hours the kiddos are otherwise occupied. After school, I squeeze writing into the crevices, often taking my laptop with me to write while they are at dance or jazz band.

6. What are you reading right now?
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for one. Because my friend Jamie of Books and Beverages recommended it recently (Jamie stopping in to say YESSSSSSS :), and I purposed in 2017 to return to reading at least one classic a year. So far, so good—though I see what you mean about it affecting your dreams.

I’m taking a quick breather between books-for-review, but next up is A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake.

When I need a break from heavier fare, I pull any one of James Herriott’s All Creatures Great and Small series from my shelf. The comfort food of books.

In non-fiction, I’m reading Shelly Miller’s Rhythms of Rest, a beautiful reminder of why God created the Sabbath: good rest for our souls.

7. And finally, any hints of what’s to come? We readers are hardly patient 🙂
I’m well into the final edits of my next novel, The Shadow Sister, due out August 2018. This novel also has a Pacific Northwest setting but on the other side of the Cascade Mountains in Eastern Washington wine country, with Bolivia as the global accent. Another work of women’s fiction, it’s about a gifted artist who embarks on an Andean journey with a small-plane pilot to discover the secrets of her estranged, dead sister’s life and fulfill her last request.

Thank you so much for sharing Katherine! I hope you readers enjoyed this as well. Be sure to connect with Katherine on Twitter and Instagram! And because Katherine is fabulous, she’s giving away an ecopy of Her Memory of Music. Be sure to enter below!

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Book Reviews, Fiction

Her Memory of Music by Katherine Scott Jones | Book Review

I love watching authors release debut novels out into the world. What a journey and a joy it must be for authors! It’s especially fun when it’s a blogger friend realizing that dream! I forget when we first crossed paths on the Internet, but I’m so glad we did, because Katherine Scott Jones is awesome and such an encourager. I get to return the favor by helping spread the word about her debut, Her Memory of Music!

A single mother’s past catches up with her and threatens the stability of her new life with her young son in this multi-layered treatment of contemporary relationships. Loss is met with hope and grace as Ally learns to open her heart and trust dangerous secrets to those she’s learning to love.

 

If you enjoy women’s fiction, then definitely pick up this book. If you haven’t read much women’s fiction, then pick up this book. Not only is this a captivating story, but Jones weaves important issues throughout the novel effortlessly. Not overwhelming the reader, but drawing the reader more deeply in. And the music piece of the story? Such a reminder of how healing and beautiful music can be.

I thoroughly enjoyed every piece of the novel, from the character development, to a real life perspective to encouraging faith weaved throughout seamlessly and naturally. Don’t miss out on this one friends!

What’s a recent debut you loved?

(With thanks to author and Redemption for providing a copy for review)

Where to Buy: Amazon | BN.com | CBD | Goodreads

Book Reviews, Fiction

Ascension Of Larks by Rachel Linden | Book Review

Remember when I said I was only going to have a break in July and then there was silence for most of August too? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Here’s the thing. I bought a house. (It was the best birthday present I’ve ever given myself – ha!) I also thought it would only take a day or two to get said house in order. I’m so funny.

Anyway, I’m finally getting into a routine that doesn’t include unpacking boxes on the weekends and so back to blogging! I make no promises of regular scheduled programming just yet (I learned) and I’m still so behind on everything blogging, but it’s a start! So let’s dive in.

When globetrotting photographer Maggie Henry loses the only man she’s ever loved, she jeopardizes her rising career and steps in to care for her best friends’ three young children on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Free-spirited and fiercely independent, Maggie’s star is rising fast. But she has a secret. She can’t let go of her first and only love, renowned architect Marco Firelli, now married to her best friend Lena.

With the shattering news of Marco’s death, Maggie rushes to the Firelli family’s summer home on San Juan Island and attempts to provide stability for the children as fragile, perfectionist Lena slowly falls apart. When Maggie is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete in the world’s most prestigious photography competition, she finds herself unable to leave the only family she has during their time of need. Devastated, Maggie takes a series of photographs documenting their life in limbo.

A mysterious man appears on the island, and Maggie soon realizes there is more to him than meets the eye. Daniel Wolfe, an award-winning Native American poet hiding in exile on the island, is responsible for Marco’s death. Maggie is both drawn to and repelled by Daniel, a sensitive, tortured soul with secrets of his own. Out of their loneliness and grief they form an unlikely friendship. Maggie develops her recent photographs, and she’s elated to discover that they are good enough for the photography competition. She still has a chance to win. But she must first relinquish the past so that she can move forward and embrace the reality of her unexpected life.

What to say about this book? All in all it wasn’t a bad read, but I didn’t connect with it. I would put it down, come back to it, then put it down again. I know part of the reason is I’m not a fan of best friends being in love with their best friend’s husbands and normally I wouldn’t pick it up, but since he died in a tragic accident, I was intrigued.

Outside of not connecting with the characters, there were some things that were introduced a bit too late in the story. If brought about earlier, they could have helped with story connection, character development and arc. I did appreciate learning about the island, the unique lives of the characters, and the children, I just wish I became invested more.

I do love this cover though and I’m also interested to see what’s next from Linden.

While this question has nothing to do with the book, how have y’all been? How was your summer?

(Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Inklings

Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of a Friendship by Colin Duriez | Inklings Series Discussion

(The Inklings Series is a monthly series featuring the works of my two favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or books about them. But I don’t want it to be just me chatting about these books, so that’s where y’all come in! I’ll announce the book at least four weeks in advance of when the discussion post will go live, so you have plenty of time to get the book and read it. Then, the following month, I’ll post a discussion post and let the fun begin!!)

I wasn’t sure how reading a book not written by one of the boys would go, but I enjoyed reading a book diving more into the lives of Tolkien and Lewis. It a lot of ways, it helps me appreciate their works all the more. Now how to keep this discussion from turning into a dissertation…

First off, I think there should be an official holiday on May 11th (1926). This was the day Tolkien and Lewis first meet. All I’m saying is there could be some epic Middle Earth and Narnia mashup shenanigans happening. Or maybe we can all have a pint for the boys :). If these two weren’t a part of each others lives, we wouldn’t have LOTR or Narnia. What a dark and dreary world that would be.

I also feel we need to take a moment to appreciate the fact that it took 17 years for Tolkien to write LOTR. 17 YEARS PEOPLE. Tolkien admitted “it is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other.” So I dare someone to say it isn’t a well written or an entertaining story….

Both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are literary superstars, known around the world as the creators of Middle-earth and Narnia. But few of their readers and fans know about the important and complex friendship between Tolkien and his fellow Oxford academic C.S. Lewis. Without the persistent encouragement of his friend, Tolkien would never have completed The Lord of the Rings. This great tale, along with the connected matter of The Silmarillion, would have remained merely a private hobby. Likewise, all of Lewis’ fiction, after the two met at Oxford University in 1926, bears the mark of Tolkien’s influence, whether in names he used or in the creation of convincing fantasy worlds.

They quickly discovered their affinity–a love of language and the imagination, a wide reading in northern myth and fairy tale, a desire to write stories themselves in both poetry and prose. The quality of their literary friendship invites comparisons with those of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Cowper and John Newton, and G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. Both Tolkien and Lewis were central figures in the informal Oxford literary circle, the Inklings.

This book explores their lives, unfolding the extraordinary story of their complex friendship that lasted, with its ups and downs, until Lewis’s death in 1963. Despite their differences–differences of temperament, spiritual emphasis, and view of their storytelling art–what united them was much stronger, a shared vision that continues to inspire their millions of readers throughout the world.

This book was a little different than I expected. It not only discusses the friendship between the two, but also looks at key works of each, when they were written and the influence of those novels. Whether it be Till We Have Faces or The Hobbit, Duriez provides overviews of their works, which readers will find helpful if they haven’t read the books discussed. I knew a bit about their friendship before reading this, but there were some things I didn’t have a clue about, so if you’re interested in learning more about these two, I definitely recommend this read!

“My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends and old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs – or else sitting up till the small hours in someone’s college room talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea and pipes.” C.S. Lewis

I think one of my favorite parts was reading all the ways they influenced each other, from Tolkien’s guidance to C.S. Lewis’ spiritual awakening to Lewis’ constant encouragement for Tolkien to finish the Lord of the Rings. I also loved that they each dedicated some of their greatest works to The Inklings. And guess what? They were both avid readers (although I do believe Lewis takes the cake), meaning WE WOULD HAVE BEEN BEST FRIENDS.

Moving on. 🙂

I’m also pretty sure they were meant to be best friends from birth. Why?

  • They each have rad names: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien and Clive Staples Lewis
  • They both lost their moms at a young age.
  • Tolkien’s dad died earlier and Lewis’ Dad withdrew after his mother’s death and sent Clive to a boarding school (their relationship would later be restored).
  • They also both fought in WWI.

It’s pretty crazy to think of early life happenings became a connection point for them later.

Now some facts I deemed worthy to point out (also solidifying my love for these two):

  1. Tolkien commented late life that “he sought to create a mythology for England, but arguably he also tried to create a mythology for the English language.” I vote he was successful on both accounts. I would add he created a mythology for the universe. Unbiased opinion of course.
  2. There had been plans between the two to collaborate on a book together. This project never materialized and I bet it’s because they knew the universe would probably explode from the sheer amount of awesome a book like that would have contained.
  3. I’m sure there will be other books we read about C.S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity, but I have to point out one fact: after he became a theist in 1929, by 1930, he was exploring Christianity more (with John Bunyan’s works) and decided to start reading the Bible almost daily. He started reading the book of John. What’s so exciting about that? He read it in GREEK. You know, like I’m sure we’ve all done.
  4. I love this quote by Tolkien: “In the Gospels, art has been verified.”

I can barely handle the levels of genius, internet.

“The two friends had a tangible confidence that the separation of story and fact has been reconciled, which led them to continue in a tradition of symbolic fiction, telling stories of dragons and kings in disguise, talking animals and heroic quests, set in imagined worlds.”

Some Items to Discuss

Honestly, I don’t have a ton of questions, but I am curious of any reactions, so here we go!
1. What were some of the most surprising facts?
I was surprised and found it interesting that Tolkien didn’t approve of Lewis’ role as a popular theologian. I understand where it comes from (with different church backgrounds), but still found it interesting. Yet, again, I appreciate how much they still respected each other with the differences.

2. There were several works discussed in this book and I wish I could read them all RIGHT NOW. Were there any that stuck out for you?
I think mine would be The Notion Club Papers. Did you catch the title page?

Beyond Lewis
Or
Out of the Talkative Planet
Being a fragment of an apocryphal Inklings’ saga,
made by some imitator at some time in the 1980s

3. Closing thoughts about friendship:
As I mentioned, there were a few things I had heard before about their friendship, but I felt like people made them much more dramatic than they were. Yes, their friendship shifted in later years, but as the book pointed out, with C.S. Lewis’ death, it was a “wound [Tolkien] knew he [would] not lose, as one loses a falling leaf.” Even years after Lewis’ death Tolkien wrote about Lewis: The unpayable debt that I owe to him was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. Same with Lewis (just read his thoughts on friendship). They prove that through thick and thin, friendship is a powerful force we all need in life.

I love that their different personalities, instead of separating them, helped them to connect on a deeper level.

“They were enormously important to each other, and had obvious affinities that helped each to keep alive his vision of life.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these two!

Where to buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christian Books

Inklings

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis | Inklings Series Discussion

(The Inklings Series is a monthly series featuring the works of my two favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or books about them. But I don’t want it to be just me chatting about these books, so that’s where y’all come in! I’ll announce the book at least four weeks in advance of when the discussion post will go live, so you have plenty of time to get the book and read it. Then, the following month, I’ll post a discussion post and let the fun begin!!)

Today is discussion day! Woot! We’re discussing C.S. Lewis’ last work, Till We Have Faces. He considered this his most mature work (a.k.a. favorite) and it was also written with his wife, Joy. Plus, I have always enjoyed Greek history (and the mythology that comes with it), so I have definitely been looking forward to Lewis’ retelling of Cupid and Psyche’s story.

Haunted by the myth of Cupid and Psyche throughout his life, C.S. Lewis wrote this, his last, extraordinary novel, to retell their story through the gaze of Psyche’s sister, Orual. Disfigured and embittered, Orual loves her younger sister to a fault and suffers deeply when she is sent away to Cupid, the God of the Mountain. Psyche is forbidden to look upon the god’s face, but is persuaded by her sister to do so; she is banished for her betrayal. Orual is left alone to grow in power but never in love, to wonder at the silence of the gods. Only at the end of her life, in visions of her lost beloved sister, will she hear an answer.

One of my first thoughts after finishing this book was how true it is that all of us long to love and be loved in return (and not just in the romantic Moulin Rouge sense). Both Orual and Psyche love fiercely and this tale is one of self-discovery and that love. The way Lewis chose to revise the story reminded me of Disney’s Cinderella vs. the movie Ever After. Did anyone else think that? Where in the original, both step sisters are terrible, but in a retold version one sister is good. Random, I know, but I may have just watched Ever After.

I thought the story worked incredibly well from Orual’s point of view.

“You, who read my book, judge.”

One thing she didn’t lack was honesty. She was always true to what she thought, did and why. In the second half, she is willing to admit her earlier faults and be the better person for it.

“Today I shall meet cruel men, cowards and liars, the envious and the drunken. They will be like that because they do not know what is good from what is bad.”

Plus, as always, I love the characters Lewis creates.
The King: Simply put: was a jerk. Why you ask? Well, he said this to his daughter: “And you goblin daughter…if you with that face can’t frighten the men away, it’s a wonder.” Then, when he heard about the sacrifice due, after finding out it wouldn’t be required of him, had this happen:

“What?” said the King. (And this is the greatest shame I have to tell of in my whole life) his face cleared. He was only a hair’s breadth from smiling. I had thought that he had seen the arrow pointed at Psyche all along, had been afraid for her, fighting for her. He had not thought of her at all, nor any of us.” Pg 55

So yeah, he was a fan of himself.

I loved Fox.

“I’d lose not only my throne but my life to save the Princess, of I were a King and a father.”

Such a feisty old man, yet fiercely loyal to those he loved. I think he’s character represents a lot of people in the world. Refusing to believe while alive, only to discover things that were true when you are dead (in this case the gods). It reminded me of the story in Luke 16, of the the Rich Man and Lazarus, where the Rich Man only discovered the truth after he died.

I was a big fan of Bardia too. He was the friend Orual needed, although it makes me sad that she loved him and for several reasons, that love couldn’t be returned the way she longed for. But it was the love of a true friend and he was faithful to the end (although according to his wife, maybe too faithful).

This leads me to Orual: don’t mess!
Here’s how Bardia described her: “Why, yes, it’s a pity about her face. But she’s a brave girl and honest. If a man was blind and she weren’t the King’s daughter she make him a good wife.”

While she didn’t follow through with this, this quote was drop this mic style to her selfish sister: “I put my face close up to hers and said very low but distinctly, “Redival, if there is one single hour when I am queen of Glome, or even mistress of this house, I’ll hang you by the thumbs at a slow fire till you die.”

While some of her actions may come into question (think almost killing herself to make a point to Psyche), it was always based in love. Much different from the jealous character of the original tale. It’s interesting to see her character in the second half, from finding part of Ungit in herself, to the discovery and trial of all things with Psyche (and even becoming her). With each new “task” you see her develop more and more, taking on the role of a good Queen who earned respect from her subjects and surrounding kingdom. I enjoyed Lewis’ use of the veil as well. It gave her strength she didn’t have before.

Alright, here’s some more questions I’d love to have your thoughts on!

  • Which part did you prefer? The second half was a bit harder to read. While I enjoyed it, it wasn’t as clear as to what was happening, mainly when it came to Psyche (I had to make sure I understood all that happened, since I didn’t expect that). But I enjoyed her accusation against the gods – in that she realizes her true reason for being angry and why she is finally able to come before them (“They cannot meet us face to face, until we have faces”).
  • While this is a myth, did you see any themes in Christianity? (Lewis started this when he was an atheist, but finished after his conversion).
  • Who was your favorite character?

I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes:

“Not that kind of longing. It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine… Where you couldn’t see Glome or the palace. Do you remember? The color and the smell, and looking across at the Grey mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it… I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind were flying home.”

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and thanks for joining in!

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Inklings

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis | The Inklings Series

Welcome to our first post in The Inklings Series! I’m so glad you’re here 🙂 First, I feel we all need to take a moment to appreciate the dedication of this novel:

Seriously. Way too much genius for one friendship circle.

Alright, now onto discussing this fabulous book! Although written in 1941, the lessons and wisdom from this book apply just as much as today as it did then. That alone blows my mind. It’s an original and genius piece of work, whether you consider the truths Lewis wrestles with, the names (Our Father Below (satan) vs. The Enemy (God) ) or any other aspect of this book. I want to include every quote I highlighted, but that would quickly escalate into the world’s longest blog post, so instead I’ll settle for some key points :).

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is a classic masterpiece of religious satire that entertains readers with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to “Our Father Below.” At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.

There were several times throughout the letters where it seemed as though it was written just for me. Today. Here and now. That’s when you know it’s a classic. Whether the chapter on prayer (I was rather encouraged to become “very far advanced in the Enemy’s service.”), humility (i.e. becoming proud of one’s humility) or modesty (which he called what modern day advertising would become decades before it happened), each chapter had me thinking through plenty of things.

“For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if he consciously directs his prayers ‘Not to what I think thou art but to what thou know art thyself to be’, our situation is, for the moment, desperate.”

One of the biggest themes (or tools of “The Father Below”) I found was one of distraction. That’s definitely how I become complacent in my faith and in my life. Never does temptation come across as a little devil on our shoulder with a pitchfork, but as Lewis so eloquently points out, it’s in a quieter, almost non-noticeable way. Those times of simply getting people to focus on daily life distractions. Before we know it, something good has become twisted.

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

“Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”

This is one of my favorites:

“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” (emphasis mine)

On the other hand, God isn’t about removing things, but rather filling us up. A great example of the opposite of this is Screwtape’s anger toward Wormwood reveals how satan works (i.e. when he gets so mad he turns into a centipede). Yet, Lewis gives us hope in the truths that God wants to make our lives beautiful and full.

“The real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.”

“We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”

“To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return – that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart.”

I’ll close out my thoughts with this quote – I love the description of the Patient’s understanding upon reaching the heavenly realms.
“But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’ “

Alright, here’s some questions to open up discussion:
1. If you could sum up the message(s) of this book in a sentence, how would you? Think elevator pitch for this book. 😉
2. What are some of your favorite quotes?
3. What did you think of the ending? It’s been so long since I’ve read it, I totally forgot how it ended! Anyway, would love to hear what you thought!

And here’s my answers:
1. I’ll just sum it up right quick: That what God wants for each of us is better than we can imagine. That when he asks you to “lose yourself” in Him, it’s so we can gain something much more beautiful. On the other hand, satan seeks out ways to destroy our souls. (Like when Screwtape asks Wormwood “And anyway, why should the creature be happy?”). Also, satan’s attacks are much more subtle and dangerous than blatant attacks.

2. Since I’ve already included about 57,000 quotes, here’s one more that had me laughing out loud:
“For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created…” (I wasn’t laughing at the part of He loves us – because internet high fives all around for that – but the part where Screwtape calls humans hairless bipeds. Cracked me up!)

3. I forgot that the Patient was killed during an air raid. It takes a skilled writer who can create a character with no name, yet one the readers (or at least me) become attached to. And was that not a fantastically creepy way to sign off a letter? “Your increasingly and ravenously affectionate uncle”…aka “I’m going to eat you.” Have I mentioned I love this book?

Just because I really enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on writing this book (and in case your version didn’t include C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on writing it), here they are:
“Though it was easy to twist one’s mind into the diabolical attitude, it was not fun, or not for long. The strain produced a sort of spiritual cramp. The world into which I had to project myself while I spoke through Screwtape was all dust, grit, thirst and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done. It would have smothered my readers if I had prolonged it.”

Please feel free to include any other thoughts or questions! I’m all about a good discussion 🙂

Where to buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christian Books