Book Review: A Secret History of Witches

Hello, readers!

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a traditional book review, but I’m back and ready to report on what I’m reading and what you should be reading, too! You can expect to see a more balanced output of posts on lifestyle, literature, and faith coming from me this fall. I’m starting mid-month, but September is the other January – so here we go!

And now . . . the review. I would like to thank the publisher, Orbit Books, for providing me with a digital advanced copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I was so excited to be approved as this book is SO in my wheelhouse. A historical family saga about witches? Yes, please. Give me all the access.

Here’s the copy from Goodreads:

After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.

From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.

Sounds great, right? I have been hesitant to write this review because, honestly, A Secret History of Witches theoretically rang all my bells but failed to live up to my expectations. This was a so-so read for me. I’m not sorry I read it. However, it’s not going to be a book that I recommend. The writing is solid. It’s the story and character development that is problematic.

Although I typically love family sagas, this one is composed of stories that are too similar. The five women all have the same struggles and basic journey, so it felt like I was reading the same story again and again. Also, their stories felt incomplete. Each character’s journey was cut off just when it was getting interesting to make way for the next character. In order to fulfill my expectations, this book would have had to have been significantly longer.

Another issue I had is that the women are so unlikable! The majority are selfish, vain, ungrateful things. I just couldn’t handle it. I appreciate that this book featured a cast of independent women. I like to see that in my fiction. But in this case, it wasn’t a positive representation, which is unfortunate.

I would have loved to have seen the author delve deeper into the historical time periods, and explore how this factored in to change things for each individual character more, as the blurb implies. I thought this plot aspect was underdeveloped in the actual book.

Another reader might really enjoy this book. It’s well-written in a technical sense and has a beautiful cover to draw the reader in. It just wasn’t for me.

Anna

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Finding Hope in the Wake of Charlottesville

I’ve been thinking about what to write in the aftermath of this weekend’s horrifying display of humanity at its ugliest. I can’t fail to address something like this on my blog. It’s too important in the life of every American. But what can I, a privileged white woman, say in light of the criminal, racially motivated hatred that was displayed by white supremacists, including neo-Nazis and the KKK? After three tragic deaths and 19 injured victims?

What do I know of prejudice? The answer is nothing. I have never—and never will—suffer anything like the prejudice that a person of color experiences on a regular basis. However, after days of watching Twitter and reading the news, I do have something to say about how we can respond to these events.

Reflections on How White People (Like Me) Can Respond

The first thing we can—and SHOULD—do is to educate ourselves. Go beyond social media. Read the news reports. Watch the Vice documentary “Charlottesville: Race and Terror,” but be prepared to be disturbed. It’s vital to learn the truth about what’s going on in America and why we need to take a stand against it.

During that process, you will find—or, perhaps, have already found—that there is a lot of vitriol being spewed right now—against the president, against the perpetrators of these events. This anger is justified. I stand firmly against racism in all forms and degrees. As thoughtful and justice-conscious human beings, we should be infuriated by what happened this weekend—and by every act of racism that takes place in our world.

As a Christian, one crucial thing I need to point out is that the KKK claims to be a Christian group but THIS IS NOT TRUE. In the words of my friend, Darwin M. Dean II., “People with the ideology of racism and white supremacism could not be further from God’s light. They are not Christians; they are evil.” God created us in His image—black, brown, white, and all variations in between. We all share equally in His inheritance of eternal life, should we choose to accept His Son as our Savior.

But after the initial shock has passed, is rage and hate the way forward? Is it a helpful way to proceed?

I believe that we need to come together as a nation, in spite of everything that’s happened. But we have work to do first. We need to move forward, calling oppressors and aggressors by name and denouncing racism as a nation. We need to stand together against future extremist rallies like this one, as more are being planned even as I write (information taken from the Vice documentary previously cited). Step one is taking down the monuments that glorify slavery. Shout out to Baltimore for taking action on this already! These statues are the supposed excuse for these white supremacist marches, and they should have been taken down long ago.

I also think we should pray for our nation and its leadership, for those who were attacked and for their families, and for all enemies of human rights and dignity.

In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Yes, I think we should pray for the white supremacists, controversial as that might be. God alone can change the hearts and minds of human beings—and this protest showed that a lot of hearts and minds need to be changed. More than any of us would wish to be the case in our country.

I believe we need to resist the temptation to fight hate with hate and respond with hope instead.
And in this case, hope means taking action and showing the world—especially our brothers and sisters of color—what we stand for.

I believe that we should . . .

  • Talk to our African American and Jewish friends about their thoughts on the events and learn from their perspective
  • Stay informed on current events
  • Be an active participant in conversations about race and racism in America and around the world
  • Call out racism when we see it
  • Take part in peaceful protests
  • Contact our state representatives about supporting rights for all, and call for the resignations of those who have spoken in favor of white supremacists in the past
  • Donate to worthy causes that further social justice and civil rights
  • And make a difference every day by doing whatever good we can.

What’s not helpful . . . I don’t believe it’s positive or productive for mobs to pull down monuments. The process of taking these monuments down can and should be mandated by each state’s government.

I don’t believe hate-filled tweets help either. Whether you’re black, brown, or white, there is great value in respect. For those who say some don’t deserve our respect, I have to admit that I agree—but I choose to show it anyway, because I strive to love like Jesus. That means treating people with the respect and kindness He would, whether they deserve it or not.

So, in the wake of Charlottesville, let’s find hope—in each other and in the Lord. Let’s find a way to be one nation under God . . . for real, this time.

Anna

Photo Credit: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/08/12/state_of_emergency_declared_in_charlottesville_as_violence_erupts_at_white.html

Finding Balance When Life Gets Busy

Oh, the joys of summer. In Minnesota, it’s the time of year when everyone wants to get together, to be outside for these few months of bliss before the cold weather comes. It’s usually a time of relaxation and fun in the sun. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of that this summer. It’s my first year having access to an outdoor pool, and I have been living it up! I LOVE IT. Maybe a little too much. 🙂

This summer, though, I also bit off more than I could chew. I tried to do it all, and it’s been great–up until now. Because today, I really started to feel some of the deadlines I have looming. I’m very excited to be contributing a piece to a devotional coming out this fall, but final edits are due and my creativity seems to have dried up. As I write for a living, this is kind of a problem. That’s also why the blog has been so quiet lately. Did I mention I have eleven books that I’ve committed to reading before September 15? Yes, It’s already August 6. Yikes. Talk about procrastination.

But what makes this summer different from any other? Why am I feeling such a crunch? I mean, aside from the fact that I had a serious case of overcommitment. The truth is that I have been feeling happier than ever before! God has blessed me so much this summer with health and relationships. This makes me want to be out-and-about, doing things with friends and family all the time. There has to be a balance, though, and I’m having trouble finding it.

It’s time for me to recharge, refocus, and reconnect with what’s really most important to me. My faith, the people in my life, and the daily decisions I’m making. It might even be time to make some changes. I’m not sure what those are yet.

Do you have any suggestions for me on how to balance my time? How do you manage in your life? Leave a comment below!

Anna

5 Characteristics of a Close-Knit Prayer Group

I recently had an amazing experience with a small prayer group. It was just comprised of myself and two other girls, but it was the most uplifting, deep, and powerful group prayer experience I’ve had in some time! Between life updates and prayers, we ended up being together for about four hours. CRAZY! Your prayer group doesn’t have to be four hours, but this experience inspired me to write down some features of a successful group that can really make a difference in your personal and spiritual life. Here they are!

  1. The group is made up of five people or less—any bigger than that and you won’t have time to delve deep into each other’s lives.
  2. The members are all the same gender. I enjoy mixed prayer groups. But for a core, close-knit prayer group that you are going to share your struggles, cares, joys, and hopes with, you are going to want to feel comfortable discussing all aspects of your life. This includes relationships with the opposite sex, and mixed groups make this complicated.
  3. The group includes some people you haven’t known forever and don’t know all your business. This is key because these individuals will have fresh perspective on your life and, perhaps, new insight into what you’re going through. A prayer group is about supporting each other as well as bringing our thanks and our worries to God. We need wise women—preferably women in tune with the Holy Spirit—to speak biblical truth and advice in the moment and stand with us as we come before the Lord in prayer.
  4. The group meeting lasts long enough to cover all your bases without rushing through everything. This includes thanking God for what He has done for you and for specific blessings, updates from each group member, and prayer requests.
  5. You do more than pray together. You do life together. This is what builds relationships. This is what bonds you. Experiencing life, attending church, studying the Bible, spending time together in general—whatever you choose to do together builds trust between members and brings you closer as a group.

You Are What You Do

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

Proverbs 29:17

Memory Care: Being a Friend to Those With Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Over the past year or so, God has given me a heart for the elderly. This January, I really wanted to get involved in a ministry, so I signed up for VolunteerMatch’s email list and started sending out inquiries to local care programs.

I ended up becoming a memory care friend—and this was definitely a God thing given what happened next. Being a memory care friend consists of spending time with people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, giving them care and companionship while offering their caregiver a break.

This is very fulfilling and fun work at times. It is also harder than I expected.

Days before I went to serve at my first memory care group event, I learned that my grandpa had been admitted into a care facility for his Alzheimer’s. The transition has not gone smoothly, and it’s been very troubling for my grandparents and the entire family.

So I went into the memory care meeting with a whole new context for the disease. Doing the training was one thing, but now it was personal. I had a vague concept of what Alzheimer’s meant from the training and general knowledge. However, seeing it impact  my family was so sad. My grandpa was the joker, the sweet one, the one who loves ice cream. He always likes things just right. He was never confused. The truth was that I had no idea how bad things had gotten. It had been too long since I’d been to see my grandparents and now I felt terrible about that.

The first day of my memory care experience was tough. I was new and ended up being matched with the person (S) who had perhaps the most difficulty participating in the event.

S had trouble following along with the activities and flat out couldn’t do several of them. She also wasn’t much of a talker that particular day, so I felt lost. Most of the morning was spent in awkward silence. I tried to help her as best I could, but there was so little she could manage. Was I hopeless at this? How was I going to connect with my grandpa now? What was I doing wrong?

Thankfully, things got better. The next time, S was much more herself. She was talkative and took part in the activities as best she could. I also realized that she’s pretty deaf so part of the problem was that she just couldn’t hear anything I was saying last time.

Then I realized my mistake. I had been so concerned with following the care guidelines and not making her uncomfortable that I wasn’t responding to her as an individual. What were her specific needs? She couldn’t hear me. She needed help walking but not too much. She’s still the same woman she was before the disease—it’s just more difficult for her to shine through. I need to keep that in mind with grandpa. He’s still at the stage where he remembers his loved ones, and that is a huge blessing . . . mostly. It also means my grandma has to constantly tell him why he can’t just come home.

The next memory care visit was so much more enjoyable for S and me. We smiled and laughed more; we even did a crossword, with some help from yours truly. It was a relief to see that there could be such a difference based on the day, at least in S’s case. It leaves hope for everyone involved that tomorrow will be better.

I’m still hoping that tomorrow will be better for grandpa, even though things are not going well. He’s so focused on getting back home to my grandma that he can’t settle. He also has very little interest in the activities at the home.

I visited grandma this weekend. She was so happy to see my sister and I, but decided that we shouldn’t see grandpa yet. She said it would be too upsetting for us, and I wanted the decision to be hers. She is kind of lost without him, and it was hard for me to see that. My grandpa and grandma were always together. It’s so strange—and tragic—to think of them forced to live separately, even though I know it’s the best thing for them both right now.

I am confident that, even amid this trial, God has a plan. He will provide. I keep praying my grandpa will have just one day like the last day I spent with S. I know my grandma needs it as much as he does.

I’ll leave you with this Spring haiku—a bit of hope—composed by the memory care group clients at our last gathering:

Flowers blossom sweet.

They are very feminine.

She is beautiful.

Isn’t it amazing that even though their brains are confused in some ways, these individuals are still able to create a work of art? I find it remarkable and soothing. All is not lost. There is hope. God is good. And flowers are sweet.

Anna

New Release Tuesday: The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick

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When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel . That’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool.

Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to the mysterous Oliver Ward. Formerly a world-famous magician and now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, Oliver can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene.

With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…

Overall, I found this a fun, fast read and a satisfying mystery/romance novel. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very enjoyable, with some gasp-worthy moments and a hero that I fell for. Oliver is handsome, in control, and has a very interesting backstory. He also has a disabled leg, and I’m always here for a non-cookie-cutter romantic hero. Most importantly, he’s a gentleman, not an alpha male.

The mystery—I should say, mysteries—were intriguing and kept me turning the pages. The Girl Who Knew Too Much has a lot of deaths in it, but Quick’s storytelling never gets too dark. I give the romance a moderate heat rating of 3/5 stars, with just one heated scene containing an explicit reference that soon fades to black.

I read this in two sittings and was completely content. Readers who are willing to go along for the ride will love it! Having read and liked ‘Til Death Do Us Part, I got exactly what I was expecting.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Experiencing JOY in its Purest Form

Theologian and author C.S. Lewis once said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The question is what do we mean when we talk about joy? Is Lewis talking about happiness? General elation? Or is he getting at something deeper?

According to dictionary.com, joy means “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure.” However, I believe there are actually two kinds of joy: earthly joy and spiritual joy. Earthly joy is fleeting and so is happiness; both are utterly circumstantial. While earthly joy and spiritual joy are “caused by something exceptionally good,” spiritual joy—which is joy in in its most raw, pure form—is derived only from the One who is most good. This is the “infinite joy” that Lewis longs for humanity to reach for.

 “Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:20

 “The precepts of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” Psalm 19:8

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2

 Spiritual joy is a gift from God. It is found in His presence, in His Word, and can even be experienced during our trials because it has nothing to do with our circumstances. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit; therefore, it is a a gift we can ask God to grant us more of. I pray that this coming week you will receive the blessing of true joy from our good, giving Father.

Anna

Walking in Step with the Lord

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9

If you grew up in the church, this verse is probably familiar to you. It’s nice and comforting. Maybe you’ve heard it so many times it even sounds cliché—not so for me. This verse became my lifeline during one of my hardest trials.

I consider myself very blessed. I grew up in a loving Christian middle-class home, received an excellent education, and have been able to pursue my passion for writing as an adult.  But like everyone, I have had my struggles. The greatest—and ever ongoing—trial of my life is chronic illness, which I was diagnosed with at just ten years old. From that time on, I have lived with pain. And sometimes, it’s hard.

The truth is I was an absolute wreck in high school. Oh, I seemed fine. Perfectly well adjusted. Type-A personality, good student, extra-curricular activities, involved in church. But inside, I was hurting. And it got to a point where the combination of the physical and emotional pain that I was in—and not dealing with—just boiled over. And my body turned on me—or so it seemed. I didn’t know that could happen. But as Psalm 139:14 tells us, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God designed our bodies to protect themselves—and both my body and spirit were under siege. So my body rebelled against the stress it was under, resulting in a medical condition in which you show psychological stress in physical ways. For me, it was my legs that took the hit.

The loss of motion seemed to happen gradually . . . then all at once. I’m not even sure how long the process took. I was walking normally one day. Then it got harder. My legs were heavier. They didn’t want to move. So I moved slower—until suddenly, I could hardly move them at all.

This was not part of my plan. Didn’t I have enough to worry about already? Wasn’t constant pain enough for one person to handle? It already felt like too much. As I faced down hours of physical and talk therapy, feeling completely overwhelmed, I came across Proverbs 16:9 in my Bible. And I realized: If the LORD determines my steps, He also determined this stop. He alone knew I needed help. He saw my hurt. He felt the deep need that I was so desperately trying to hide. And . . .

He brought my plans to a stop, so He could redirect my steps.

Leaning on the Lord’s strength took on new meaning for me. I was literally counting on him for every step—and it took me about five minutes to take just a few. I had to think through every motion. Use this muscle. Flex that. Move that forward. It was painful and agonizingly slow. And I was afraid every time that I might not be able to take another. But I did, praying and trusting him to carry me through.

“He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.” Psalm 40:2b

During those very slow walks, I dwelt in God’s presence more than ever before. God taught me patience. He taught me humility. He taught me strength. And most importantly, he was always faithful. Through all the doctors, pain, sweat, and tears, God never left my side. It took months, but I was able to walk normally again—and still do to this day. And most importantly, I received the help my spirit needed for the emotional pain that I was feeling—the isolation from my peers, the resignation, the hopelessness. God took that and lit a fire in my heart through this crucible. I began speaking at youth groups, sharing my story—and feeling more alive than I had in years. God gave me a purpose for the pain He brought me through, and I was blessed enough to see the fruit from that purpose almost immediately.

Is there an area in your life that’s spinning out of control? Are you going through the motions, all in a whirlwind, with “no time” to rest and refresh? I challenge you to press pause and examine your life today. Is it likely that you will develop a conversion disorder and have the dramatic life reset that I did? No. But it is almost certain that you will miss out on God’s best for your life if you don’t check in with God and make sure you’re walking in step with him.

Who Am I? Big Questions. Short Answers.

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I am a . . .

child of God. follower of Jesus. overcomer. daughter. sister. aunt. friend. roommate. coworker. volunteer. writer. reader.

I love . . .

God. books. really good pens. sunshine. blankets. tea. antique decorations. memories. England. clean sheets. candles. chocolate chip cookies. coloring.

I struggle with . . .

insecurity. fear. shame. “should-haves.” chronic pain.

I dream of . . .

traveling. being a mother. serving Jesus. loving well. partnering with a ministry for kids/teens living with chronic illness. writing a book.

Any questions, comment below!

 

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