"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read In A Day (Give Or Take)

Today's TTT topic is "one sitting" books. I love when you find a book so enticing that you just sit down and read it all, but that doesn't seem to happen as much these days, so I'm posting about books that I read within 24 hours or so. It's hard to compile this because I'm using Goodreads and I don't have the start and end date for all my past reads, so I'm partially going by memory.

1. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton: I did in fact read this book in one sitting, at the public library when I had a few hours to kill while my car got a new muffler. Just imagine me weeping in my corner of the library. What a great book.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry: This is a book that I do remember clearly. I read the whole thing while doing the glucose test at my infertility clinic, because I had to wait a few hours after drinking the gross orange drink. I'm torn on this one: Great book; terrible memory.

3. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan.: Truth be told, I'm not sure if I actually read this in 24 hours or just over a couple of days, but it's one of those books that I definitely powered through and could barely put it down.

4. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han: I love this series. The books are light and sweet and excellent for reading in one shot.

5. Landline by Rainbow Rowell: This book drew me in with its original and strange concept, and I just couldn't put it down.

6. The Wild Princess by Mary Hart Perry: My friend gave me this highly romantic novel about the daughter of Queen Victoria, and I read it over Victoria Day weekend one year when my husband was working.

7. Roomies by Sara Zarr: A quick and easy, but surprisingly moving, novel about two college roomates.

8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: My favourite of her books.

9. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer: This book I remember very clearly because I bought it at the airport in Honolulu and had finished it by the time I got home. I'd read the first two on holiday and then ran out of reading material. :P

That's all I could remember!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

Hi friends! Wow, it's been a month since I last posted. TTT went on hiatus and some other stuff has been going on, but I never meant to be off for so long, so I apologize. We are finally back at it with Top Ten Tuesday, and this week's topic is books on our spring to-read list. Is it almost spring? Really? I'm writing this as I watch snow spiral past my window, but I know that the warm weather will be here soon. I have a few long books on my list for the spring, so we'll see whether I can accomplish this whole list in three months.

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I know, I know. This book is a brick. I've heard so many good things about it though, so I'm looking forward to reading my copy since I really liked The Secret History.

2. Avalanche by Julia Leigh: A heavy read about the author's infertility journey. As we continue to process our life, I've found it helpful to read the stories of other women who have been through this path. I feel like the world really only wants to hear the happy endings of infertility stories, and those of us whose do not end up with a bouncing baby in arms are supposed to stay silent, so I'm going out of my way to read those stories as I process.

3. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: I've enjoyed a lot of her books and am really hoping my library hold comes in ASAP.

4. The Patriots by Sana Krasikov: Oh, hey, more heavy Russian novels!

5. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin: I bought this novel about Queen Victoria on a whim the other day. It seems like a good vacation book for when we (maybe, hopefully) take a long weekend trip in May.

6. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens: This is one of the books on my Classics Club list, so I'll be diving into this impossibly long novel soonish.

7. Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher: I'm sad that it took Fisher's death to finally get me to read her books, but from what I've read thus far, they are great. RIP Princess Leia. *runs off to cry in the corner*

8. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: I really enjoyed People of the Book and am hoping to be wowed by this book about a woman in plague times.

9. Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg: Some easy mystery reading for a holiday or long weekend.

10. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman: I've had this on my list for ages, but have finally gotten around to putting a hold on it. I'm interesting to see how it compares to Rae Carson's Gold Seer series, since there are similar themes.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Top Ten Tuesday:Favourite (And Least Favourite) Couples From Recent Books

Happy Valentine's Day, friends! Here's a true Valentine's story from my life: One year in high school, some friends and I were in a coffee shop. I thought my friend Beverly was standing next to me because I caught a flash of her blue coat, so when I noticed some paper hearts decorating the walls, I turned, wiggled my eyebrows suggestively, and said, "It's almost Valentine's Day". Turns out it was a middle aged man. Oops. Now that you've lived through my shame of twenty years past, it's time for the weekly love-themed link up. Today we're posting TTT lists with a Valentine's theme, so I'll be writing about my favourite and least favourite literary couples. I decided to go with books that I read within the last few years rather than all-time favourites, because as much as I love Lizzie and Darcy, it may be time to give some other couples a chance in the spotlight.

1. Ove and Sonja in A Man Called Ove: Ove is the very definition of a curmudgeon, but Sonja loves him anyway. I loved this portrait of love over a lifetime, even and especially through difficult circumstances.

2. Rebecca and Nicholas from The Royal We: This book was a surprise hit for me because the characters were goofy and real. Yes, the idea of an average American girl capturing the heart of  prince seemed far-fetched, but the book was full of adorable and funny moments, and in the end I really loved Nick and Bex.

3. Marko and Alana from the Saga series: This story is kind of Romeo and Juliet set in space. What I love about Marko and Alana is that they flawed characters, but they are feisty and committed and passionate. Also, she has wings and he has horns, so that's pretty cool. :)

4. Leah and Jefferson in The Gold Seer series: This series plays with the old trope of the devoted guy who is in love with his unsuspecting best friend; however, Jefferson is kind and strong, and their romance develops as a quiet love story rather than fireworks and magic. I liked that they really respect and care about each other, both as friends and later as more than friends.

5. Beatrice and Hugh in The Summer Before The War: Maybe I just love period romances, but I enjoyed watching this one develop, especially as it wasn't the whole focus of the book. It was nice watching Hugh's eyes gradually open and the way that World War I showed them what was qualities were truly important in a partner and what wasn't actually such a big deal.

6. Lara Jean and Peter in P.S. I Still Love You: This series is candy to me. I laugh a lot and I get warm fuzzies, and I don't care if high school romances usually don't last. I love these two and I adore Lara Jean's family too.

Now I'll move on to a few couples that I just didn't like:
7. Elena and Nino in the Neapolitan series: Don't get me wrong; I really enjoyed this series and found it captivating, but so many times I just wanted to shake Elena and say, "He's a tool! Walk away from him!! Yes, you had a crush on him as an adolescent, but it's time to move on."

8.  Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV in The White Queen: There was way too much insta-love in this historical novel.

9. Isabelle and Gaetan in The Nightingale: I loved this book, but the romance element annoyed me. I was thankful that it was less prominent than it seemed in the beginning, but the whole, "I've just met you in wartime and now I'm in love" aspect rubbed me the wrong way. Isabelle was a strong character on her own. She didn't need to be following a boy.

10. Pretty much every couple in The Mists of Avalon: I mean, half of them were related to each other, or cheating on each other, and if not, there was probably some kind of witchcraft involved.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books That Have Made Me Think

This week's TTT topic is a freebie, so we can write about whatever we want. I chose to pick 10 books that I've read over the past year that have challenged my thinking or given me more to ponder. It's a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I do try to vary my reading to include books for pleasure and others to help me learn and gain new perspectives, so here are some that stood out. Enjoy!

1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This book covers several hundred years of a family in Ghana and the United States. It touched upon colonialism, slavery, and oppression. It gave me a lot to ponder and was a compelling read as well.

2. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: This book made me laugh and cry, but it's also the story of an outcast who in some ways has a heart of gold. I don't want to give too much away, but the book made me think about the people around us who are going through great suffering, and how easy it is to dismiss someone as cold or grumpy when there may be more going on.

3. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege: The author of this book was adopted as a young age, and found out in her 30s that her grandfather was a Nazi war criminal. The book made me think about what family is and how we cope with the burdens of our past, both in our families and the collective past of our culture.

4. All Roads Lead To Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith: Okay, this book wasn't super deep, but I enjoyed the reflection on how people with different nationalities and cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds reacted to the same books.

5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I really liked this book about two sisters in Vichy France during World War II. The author made me think about how I would respond under occupation, and what is real heroism? Is it just the person who puts her life on the line who is a heroine? It's not always so easy to judge what is right and wrong.

6. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander: A heavy and sobering book about the impact of the war on drugs on the African American community.

7. Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I listened to the audiobook of Coates' letters to his son about what it means to be an African American male, and I plan on reading it again this year. Lots of food for thought.

8. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood: I had read this book in high school and picked it up again on a whim. It made me think about the treatment of the mentally ill in society, as well as at the idea of voices. Whose voice do we listen to, and whose do we disregard?

9. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng: As with The Nightingale, this book made me think about the lives of those in extenuating circumstances (in this case, Japanese-occupied Malaya), and the idea of complicity and guilt. Some people had to cooperate with the the occupiers in order to save others. How do we determine whether that is heroism or guilt?

10. Joni: An Unforgettable Story by Joni Eareckson Tada: If you're not familiar with Joni's story, she was a teenager when she had an accident that left her as a quadriplegic, but has ultimately been able to use her story to inspire many. The book talks a lot about suffering and how it has the power to shape us. As someone who has gone through a major loss in the past year (though very different that Tada's), I appreciate her contemplative book about how we hold onto faith in the midst of disappointment, when He does not choose to heal us.

I'd love to hear what books have given you food for thought!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

My Dirty Little Secret

I have a dirty little secret: My house is a mess. Not like "Oh glory me, I haven't dusted the baseboards in days!" kind of mess, but a real mess. I mean, you've probably seen dirtier. It's not like an ecological disaster zone quite yet, but it's pretty darn filthy.

In addition to the dirt, my house is cluttered. Part of this is not my fault; my husband has a bunch of bins of old stuff that he has no time to go through, including reams of paper, and he tends to leave his clothes in a heap but wants to do his own laundry. Part of the clutter is due to the fact that I was in graduate school and working for a while, and the paper just piled up. I can make a bunch of excuses for it, but there is just clutter all over.

Part of the problem is that I kind of, sort of, maybe hate my house. I'm thankful for it, of course. Shelter is good, and we're fortunate to have a house in a crazy market. However, I hate my house because it's a constant reminder of what should have been. It was to be our forever home, with three bedrooms, so we could fill them with kiddos. Instead, I fill those rooms with stuff so that I don't have to think about the what ifs. 

The worst part about my nasty house is that it shames me. Or rather, it adds to the shame that I already feel, and that becomes a cycle. My mind tells me all the time that I'm a failure. I'm a terrible wife and a terrible woman. I can't have a baby and I'm not a great cook, so what kind of wife am I? The logical part of my brain says that it isn't true, that my husband loves me for who I am and doesn't think less of me for my struggles, but it's hard to believe that. That same logical brain tells me to cut myself slack, that I've been dealing with depression and acing school and volunteering as well as working, and it's okay to focus on surviving some days. Then I look at my messy house and the words just ring through my head: "Failure. Failure. Failure." And instead of cleaning and decluttering, my instinct is to hide under the blankets and cry, because I can't face the reality that once I clear it all out, I'll have to come to grips with the emptiness of those empty rooms that will never belong to a child.

On January 1, I woke up as a woman on a mission. I wanted to clean out this house from top to bottom. I wanted to sweep out all the things that had built up and that were overwhelming me, to stop being embarrassed to have someone drop in. Maybe it was getting past the difficult holiday season or hitting roughly six months since our last set of infertility treatments failed, but suddenly I needed change. Since that day, I've been taking it one day at a time. I bought a filing cabinet to attempt to fix the paper problem. I went through boxes of old paper and tossed most of the sheets that I no longer need for school. I scrubbed floors and I dusted. It's a long-term project, and I may never have that pristine house from the magazine, but I'm getting a little bit proud of my progress. Maybe one day I will graduate to being a real adult with a proper home.

Why am I sharing this story? It's embarrassing, right? I don't want people to know how messy I am. I guess I'm sharing it because maybe there are other people who are stuck in shame and loss and grief and need to know that they aren't the only ones who haven't scrubbed the kitchen floor in a long time. I needed you all to know that this grief I'm in is real and painful and nasty and all-encompassing, but I'm ready to be very real about it and not live in shame. I also want to advocate for us hurting people. It's easy to watch an episode of Hoarders and feel sorry for those poor people in their mess. It's not as easy to walk across the street and hug the hurting person who is in front of you. People like me are everywhere. We are in your Bible studies and in your book groups and at your workplace. We are embarrassed and ashamed of the mess inside our homes and inside our minds. I've had people - even my own mother - chastize me for the messy state of my house, and it didn't help. Instead it just told me, "Keep hiding." What I needed was love. I needed to be told that despite the mess, I was worth loving. So readers, if you aren't in the mess right now, keep your eyes open, because it might be your turn to tell someone that they are enough.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: 2016 Releases I Didn't Get Around To Reading in 2016

Hello dear readers! Welcome to 2017! I haven't been posting too much lately. I've been deep in thought and trying to move forward in a variety of areas, so watch this space for some life updates; HOWEVER, it's time for another Top Ten Tuesday, and today we're talking about 2016 release that we didn't manage to read in 2016, so here are some that are still on my list.

1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyosi: I got this in the TBTB Secret Santa exchange from the amazing Katelynn over at Books and Bottles, so I'm stoked to read this very soon!

2. Up To This Pointe by Jennifer Longo: I have a lifelong fascination with ballet, even though I was rubbish as a dancer, so this really appeals to me.

3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: I feel like this book was everywhere in 2016, and yet I still managed not to read it. Soon!

4. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer: I still have to read a few of his books, actually, but I'll get around to them at some point.

5. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty: Sounds very intriguing!

6. Victoria by Daisy Goodwin: Historical fiction? Check. British royalty? Check. I'm in!

7. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: Okay, maybe I'm just obsessed with historical fiction...

8. I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi: I didn't actually hear about this book until last week, so it's hard to say that I "didn't get around to it"; I've been trying to read more about race relations and open my eyes by reading more by people of colour, and this book was recommended. I'm really looking forward to starting it.

9. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: I've read a few of her books and found them interesting, so I'll be excited when my hold for this book comes in within the next few weeks.

10. Avalanche by Julia Leigh: I haven't done IVF, but infertility has been such a central part of my life over the past few years, so I'm looking forward to diving into Leigh's memoir.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016: A New Hope or The Darkness Strikes Back?

This year. I can't sum it up in words, more like guttural utterances and tears, with a few profanities strewn in. On top of our personal crises, which included the death of my beloved Sadie and several rounds of failed fertility treatments, we had a number of celebrity deaths, Brexit, the Trump campaign, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, the growing crisis in Syria, and probably a lot more than I'm forgetting. The world feels darker now. My anxiety has been ramped up considerably. My coping has been shaky at best. Despite a couple of high points such as my graduation (which was somewhat marred by my cat's death the day before) his year will go down as a bad one in my life.

On Friday, I went to do something I had really been looking forward to: a friend date to see the film Rogue One. You see, I have been a Star Wars junkie since I was quite small. I grew up enjoying the exploits of Han, Leia, and Luke. Just before meeting my friend, I learned that Carrie Fisher had suffered a heart attack, and on Tuesday her death was announced, followed by her mother's death the following day. I grieve. I was then reminded of this post from one year ago today, when I was feeling low about the year that was, and found a sliver of hope in watching Star Wars, Episode 4: A New Hope. I wrote these words, which feel ridiculously optimistic after the year that we just experienced: "So maybe it's there, somewhere, that hope. Maybe I can find it and grasp it, if even for a little while."

Looking back on 2016, it feels less like A New Hope than The Empire Strikes Back. It feels like this year was spent fighting the darkness within and without. I did a year-long study of Revelation and then an autumn study on spiritual warfare, yet I feel more helpless than ever against the darkness. I feel like I'm losing and being closed in on all sides. I have prayed and sought and prayed and sought some more, but it's hard to find God in the darkness. As we close off the year, it feels like the Emperor is in charge, Darth Vader has the upper hand, and Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. All I can do is hold on to a tiny hope that this isn't the end and that this darkness will not define the rest of my life.

However, in a dark time such as this one, I am reminded that Carrie Fisher, too, struggled with dark demons, that many people consider her a powerful spokesperson for those dealing with mental illness. So in honour of Carrie, I will raise a glass to toast the end of the year that was, and go forward hoping and praying that this year will be the one when the tide turns, when the darkness ebbs, and when I find hope again. Perhaps 2017 will be the year when I learn how to fight like Princess Leia. May it be so, and may the Force be with you.