Colorful Book Spines

Focus in the Fog

You're doing great.

My kid does that too!

No...that's not crazy.

This season will pass.

You are loved.

You have no idea how talented you are.

These are some simple words of encouragement.  


Maybe, like most of us, a little bit of encouragement helps you keep going.  You can find that here.

 

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Often on the reading groups I follow, people say, "I loved (book title). What do you recommend that's similar?" That's when I noticed that books often have a pair. Some are obvious and some...less so. But for some reason, these books feel similar. Last year I wrote a post called A Perfect Pair. People liked it, so I decided do it again. I hope you pick one up and then, if you like it, read its peanut butter or its jelly. In our school district, we have spring break next week, so it's a great time to pick up a good book. Enjoy!


Hollywood Memoirs


Maybe it’s because I’m nosy, but I love memoirs. Hollywood memoirs are even more fun because I love hearing the backstage stories of my favorite movies and shows. I read these two memoirs about a week apart, and I’m glad I did because, while these two actors are very different, I noticed some similarities in both. Some of the same directors and producers. Same pressures. Same struggles. I recommend listening to both of these books because they are read by the author.


Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years (2019)

Julie Andrews Edwards

This book follows Julie's first memoir Home, which details the early years of vaudeville and Broadway. Home Work starts with her move to California to star in Mary Poppins. Can you imagine that being your first on-screen appearance? Mary Poppins, The Americanization of Emily, and The Sound of Music were filmed in such short succession, that she finished filming all three before Mary Poppins was released. I imagine that made filing on location much easier since she wasn’t a movie star yet. And although her film career started with a bang, life wasn’t always raindrops on roses. Her heart is all over the pages of this book -her struggles, her gratitude, and her willingness to persevere. It’s beautiful.


Stories I Only Tell My Friends (2011)

Rob Lowe

Like Julie Andrews, Rob Lowe always struck me as one of the nice people of Hollywood. After reading his autobiography, I found I wasn’t wrong. He’s gracious to those who helped him in his career, honest about his shortcomings, and also a really good storyteller. My favorite parts of she book were the details about being in The Outsiders and The West Wing. If you’re thinking, “Wait, he was in The Outsiders?” Yep. And although they edited out most of his storyline, which he only found out about when watching the premier, this movie and its cast of emerging stars started his career. This theatre kid from Dayton, Ohio made it big in Hollywood with just a dream and lots of hard work and well, he also looks like Rob Lowe...so that helped.

Widower Bookshop Owners


Yep. That’s a weird pairing huh? Not only are the protagonists in both of these books widowers who own bookstores, both of their wives died in a car accident. However, the similarities end there.

The Storied Life of A.J. Filkry (2014)

Gabrielle Zevin

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Though I'm quick to use terms like "best" and "worst", this is really saying something. I loved the widow bookstore owner and found myself cheering for his happiness at every turn. There’s a strange paradox in the storytelling. It was emotional. In fact, I found myself in tears reading it. However, the tone is very straightforward which I think made me feel it even more. I hope you have the same experience when you read it. This book also takes place in a bookshop, so the literary references alone feel like charcuterie board for book lovers.


Eight Perfect Murders (2020)

Peter Swanson

Also set in a bookstore, Malcolm Kershaw’s store only sells mystery books new and used. Kershaw once wrote a blog post called “Eight Perfect Murders” which he hadn’t thought about in years. That is until an FBI agent visits the store because she believes a killer is using this old blog post as a sort of checklist as he commits a string of murders. Warning: Don’t pick this book up if you need to go to work or feed yourself or others. It’s what you’ll do until you find out the mystery.

Other Cultures


…is what this pair was for me. I’m not going to assume my readers don’t belong to either of these cultures, but for me it was like stepping outside and seeing that the weather wasn’t what I had expected. These stories raised my awareness and kept me captivated.


There There (2018)

Tommy Orange

Honestly, this wasn’t a comfortable book for me, but it was important. The Native American voice isn’t one we typically hear in literature without seeking it out. This isn’t a collection of beautiful poetry about the land or nature either. Instead, it shines a light on the cold reality that natives are holding tight to traditions that are being taken or are slipping away. It's heartbreaking, but honest.


The Stationery Shop (2019)

Marjan Kamali

Set in Iran in 1953, Roya is an idealistic teenager who works in a stationery shop. I loved being immersed in the customs and values off her culture and I felt so much sympathy to see Tehran in the days before and during a deadly coup. This is a story of resilience and love and forgiveness that will stick with me for a long time.


Strong Women


The women in these books triumph in tough situations. Both of these books happened to come out last year too. If there was ever a year for triumph, it was 2020.


Big Lies in a Small Town (2020)

Diane Chamberlain

My mom recommended this book and it was wonderful. The story alternates between Morgan Christopher in 2018 and Anna Dale in 1940. Anna is tasked with painting a mural for the Works Progress Administration and Morgan (in 2018) is restoring it. The mural reveals secrets about the town and the circumstance Anna was in when she created it.


The Night Swim (2020)

Megan Goldin

I recommend listening to this book. The protagonist hosts a real crime podcast (sort of like Serial). In the audiobook, podcast segments are recorded like an actual crime podcast. It’s very clever and the story will pull you in and keep you guessing.


Christmas in March?


I know. I know. This is just about the worst time for a Christmas book. With hints of spring peeking through, who wants to go back to winter? I just happened to read these two books recently and I might forget to recommend them later. If you read seasonally, set yourself a reminder in early December to read these two books.


The Deal of a Lifetime (2017)

Fredrik Backman

I picked up this novella because I love Backman (A Man Called Ove, Beartown, etc). Similar to his newest book called Anxious People, the sentiment in this story feels familiar even though the actual circumstance is a mystery until the end. Luckily, it’s short, so you won’t be left in the dark too long. I really enjoyed this sweet book.

What Child is This ? A Christmas Story (1997)

Caroline B. Cooney

Again, there has to be a reason for me to pick up a Christmas book so shortly after taking down the tree. In this case, I came across my copy of The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. I remember loving this book as a kid. And just like when you see hundreds of a certain car once you decide to buy one, someone on Facebook mentioned, of all things, The Face in the Milk Carton. Someone else commented that Cooney also writes books for adults and I was intrigued. Of the huge catalog of books she’s written, I read two: No Such Person which was a very interesting mystery and What Child is This? It’s the heartwarming tale that steers clear of all the Hallmark tropes (see what I did there?) found in so many Christmas stories. I loved this book. Go ahead. Open your phone and set the reminder for December 1, 2021 to read these two books, or just make some hot cocoa, turn on Christmas music, and enjoy them in March. Your choice.


The People’s Temple


I can’t really explain my preoccupation with Jim Jones and The People’s Temple. Maybe it’s because the mass suicide took place exactly a month after I was born, but I’ve read many books about this deadly cult.


The Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People

Tim Reiterman (1982)

This title is a little misleading because when the book was written it was an untold story. It was published four years after the suicides and since then, it’s been told many, many times. I didn't realize the book was so old as I was reading it, but in retrospect, there were things I expected to be explained that weren't because they were common knowledge at the time -things like current events and political climates in other countries. Unlike other accounts that are based on just the FBI files (which is enough information for 100 books), this is a first hand account. Reiterman was a journalist who requested interviews with Jones for years and was ultimately injured at the airstrip where Congressman Leo Ryan was shot and killed. Reiterman’s reporting style of writing offers an unbiased account of this horrible tragedy.


A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown (2011)

Julia Scheeres

What made this account of Jonestown different is its defense of the victims -why they fell prey to a madman, how they were controlled, and why they agreed to die as one. Sheeres’ first book Jesus Land is a memoir of her time in a Christian reform camp which was reminiscent of Jonestown. That’s why she chose to write this book with this title. Some of the victims were poor and uneducated, but a many were college graduates and they still got pulled in and died with the other thousand lives on that November day in Guyana. It's the first account I've read that focuses so much on the victims' lives and not on simply Jones himself.




Reading with my Son


My ten-year-old son is a whole lot of awesome. One of the things I love about him is how much he loves to read. I like to read books with him and that causes me to read stuff I wouldn’t typically choose.

RedRedwall (1986)

Brian Jacques

I got this book for Hudson for his Birthday. When he opened the present, my husband, said, “How did you know?” I was confused. I chose the book because I’d seen it recommended a number of times for boys his age. Turns out, Brian Jacques did an author visit to Ryan’s school when he was a kid. He’s from England and when he mentioned eating Cornish pasties, little Ryan spoke up. “My mom makes great pasties! You should come over for dinner!” And you know what? He did! He had an unbelievable evening with his favorite author. Thirty years later, I unknowingly bought this book for Hudson. It’s a wonderful “tail” of courage in which the characters just happen to be animals. If that’s weird to you, it was for me too. But you get past it pretty quickly when you get pulled in to the adventure to save Redwall.


The Hobbit (1937)

JRR Tolkien

Although I love The Lord of the Rings movies, I’ve never actually read the books. Hudson was interested in tackling this series, but he’s pretty young, so I agreed to read them with him. We started with The Hobbit. This isn’t my favorite genre, but it’s fun to go on adventures with my son. If I got ahead, he had to stop everything and catch up. There’s a reason this book is a classic. It’s fun and I’m looking forward the The Lord of the Rings.

If you've read any of these books or have pairings of your own to share, please comment.


Happy Reading!

Shannon





I chuckle to myself thinking about a year ago. We couldn’t believe a virus was stopping the world for three whole weeks. I mentioned it to my husband and he wrinkled his brow. “I think it’ll be much, much longer than three weeks.” Of course he was spot on, but at the time I thought (hoped) he was being crazy.


Last year, I wrote a blog post about making the most of St. Patrick’s Day since we’re all stuck at home anyway. And you know what? It worked. We had a blast last year on St. Patrick’s Day. We made yummy food and did cool crafts. It was much more memorable than any other St. Patrick’s Day has been for us. Typically, we’d go out in the rain (it's aways raining) and wait too long at a restaurant serving Irish food and the kids would get restless and they didn’t even like the food so we’d have to re-feed them when we got home.


Things are slowly returning to some sort of normal. My kids will be transiting to a five-day week at the beginning of April and they’re all in outdoor sports (hallelujah). But I had these fun memories about last year's St. Patricks's Day and I want to do it again. We will still have a virtual school day on St. Patrick’s Day, so I plan to make it fun. I hope you’ll join me.


Start with music:

Whether you’re more Celtic Instrumental or Irish Pub, the internet has it all. Have fun searching for Irish music that puts you in the mood for an Irish celebration. Music has a way of changing the mood. I hope you find the right songs to make things a little more joyful.

Talk about who St. Patrick was:

Kids tend to know more about how to catch a leprechaun (also important) than basic facts about St. Patrick. Facts like, he wasn’t Irish. He was born in Britain. When he was 15, he was kidnapped by raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. While in Ireland, he converted to Christianity despite being surrounded by Pagan druids. Don’t miss the power of this. He was forced into a place where most everyone was a Pagan and God grabbed him up and said, “This one’s mine. I have big plans for him.” After escaping Ireland and retuning home, he became a Catholic priest. He had a vision from God to return to Ireland to share Christianity with them. He did and he’s now known for Christianizing Ireland. That’s why today “Irish” tends to go with the word “Catholic” not “Druid”. These are not the things I typically associate with St. Patrick’s Day, but man, I should. What an amazing story!

Do some fun activities:

When I think of St. Patrick’s Day, I think of shamrocks, leprechauns, gold coins, and rainbows. Check out this website for 60+ activities to do with your kids. There are fun crafts and activity pages kids would typically do at school. Why not try a couple?

Explain that we all get to be Irish today:

My husband is part Irish and I’m not. My kids like to remind me that I’m the only one in our family that’s not Irish. I’d feel like an outsider, but I know that on St. Patrick’s Day we all get to be Irish. The other days of the year, I have to settle for just having an Irish name. It’s fun to celebrate another culture. And no cultural celebration is complete without…food.

Make some yummy food:

Why not try to make Irish soda bread, or meat pies? Dessert anyone? How about an Irish apple cake? These are the things Irish people usually make on St. Patrick’s Day instead of our typical corned beef (which is also delicious). Get the kids in the kitchen and let them help you try a new recipe. Kids are more apt to try something new when they helped make it.

I hope that one day my kids will tell their kids, “Once on St. Patrick’s Day, God blessed our family because we weren’t too busy. We talked about who St. Patrick was. We listened to fun music and we made some delicious food and fun crafts. It was the perfect day with family. You know, St. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish. He was born in Britain. When he was 15, he was kidnapped by raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland…”

God bless you and your family.

And Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Shannon



Bible time, quiet time, time with God. Whatever you call it, I believe it’s the lifeblood of the Christian walk. My mood, my patience, the way I view God -all of it depends on this one activity. When I’m short tempered or just off, nine time out of ten I didn’t have time with God that day. I don’t study the Bible so God will love me more. That’s not how it works, but I love Him more when I’m in his presence.

Carve out time

We often use the term “carve out time” when we talk about Bible study. I like that visual. Unlike simply moving things around to make it happen, we’re carving. Think of a statue that’s been carved, the portion that’s taken away can’t be put back. I find comfort in that. So, do you carve out time for God?

There’s a misconception that it has to happen in the morning. I prefer to do it first thing, but others are more alert in the evening or on lunch break. Everyone is different, but I find that having a regular time does help make it more regular.

Why do it?

If you’re a new believer, or a seeker, spending time reading your Bible and in prayer is how you build a relationship with God. It’s meditation and space in your day to put other things aside and focus. It’s like coffee with a friend to get to know them better.

Speaking of coffee…

I always have a warm drink and light a candle. This does two things:

  1. Reminds me that this time is set apart. I read a lot throughout the day, but for me Bible reading isn’t the same as pulling outlay Kindle while I wait for my kids to come out of dance. (unless that’s your time and if so, no judgement.)

  2. It signals to my family that I’m doing something important and I don’t want interruptions. Do they still sometimes interrupt? Of course, but not as much as usual. Also, I try to do my Bible time early so they’re not up yet.

No Excuses

If you’re been a Christian for a week or 50 years, take the time to do this. It’s so important. You’ll never arrive at a place where you know too much and don’t need His teaching anymore. Stop making excuses and make time. Who knows what God will teach you when you prioritize hearing His voice.

A Challenge

If you’re not sure any of this is for you, can I ask you a favor? Will you commit to a week of reading the Bible? Start in one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) so you can see what Jesus was doing in his time on earth. I promise you’ll be surprised by the truth in there. As Christians, we do a terrible job of relaying the message of the Bible to others. We tend to harp on all the wrong stuff. But Jesus loves you and He has a message and a plan for you.

Blessings,

Shannon

 
 

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