Book Review “The Daily Question”

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Title:  “The Daily Question: My 5 Year Spiritual Journal”
Publisher: Waterbrook
Copyright: 2017
Format Read: Hardback
My Rating: 5/5

First off to get the legal mumbo-jumbo out of the way: “I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.”

This is my first time reviewing a journal-y thing, and I really enjoyed it! I received this book toward the beginning of November (my apologies to Blogging For Books – this is  really terrible for  review turnaround time) which really gave me the opportunity to live with and use this book.

The Daily Question Journal is just that. It is a Journal that gives you a spiritual related question to answer for every day of the year. There are spaces for every year, for 5 years, for you to answer the same question. Some of the questions can be as easy as “How can you encourage a friend today?” (Oct. 25) Some of them are a little harder and require more contemplation such as, “When did you have to be honest, even when it wasn’t easy?” (May 28).

Here are a couple of my own examples:

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The 5 Year Spiritual Journal appealed to me for 2 reasons. Firstly, I have been in the process of transcribing my Great Grandparents own 5-year journals of their day to day life. They started with my Great Grandfather the year before he married, and then continued after the marriage by my Great Grandmother. These span from the 1930’s through the 1980’s. Reading all of these journals was a fascinating peek into their life, 4 lines at a time. It was really interesting to see how things changed over the years, and to see it on 1 page.

Secondly (which maybe I should have mentioned firstly) I have really been trying to work on my spiritual life, and am trying to make my walk with God a priority. I find with little ways like starting my day answering a question, it helps me focus more. Sometimes it’s a right off the top of your tongue answer, and sometimes you have to think a little. Either way, it’s a little conversation with God that you can think on throughout the rest of your day. Who doesn’t want more of that?

I highly recommend this journal. It’s a nice way to explore yourself while deepening your relationship with God. I think this would also make a nice gift as it is both thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing!

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Book Review: “Where We Belong,” by Lynn Austin

Loot from Lynn Austin

“In the city of Chicago in 1892, the rules and expectations for Victorian women are strict, their roles in life limited. But sisters Rebecca and Flora Hawes are not typical Victorian ladies. Their love of adventure and their desire to use their God-given talents have taken them out of society ballrooms and delivered them to the Sinai Desert–and into the teeth of a sandstorm.

Accompanied by Soren Petersen, their somber young butler, and Kate Rafferty, a plucky street urchin learning to be their ladies’ maid, the two women are on a quest across the desert chasing rumors of an important biblical manuscript.

As the expedition becomes ever more dangerous and uncertain, all four travelers sift through memories and adventures of their past, recalling the events that shaped them and the journeys and providence that brought them to this very time and place.”

Title:  “Where We Belong”
Author: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House (sent to me for review as part of the launch crew)
Copyright: 2017
Format Read: Paperback
My Rating: 5/5
Goodreads

Quick note:  Lynn Austin is one of my very favorite authors (and the very first one I ever picked up when it came to Christian Fiction), and when I heard she was looking for people to help launch her book – I immediately applied, and got accepted.Yet another first for me! This book was very kindly sent to me for review as part of the launch crew. I will cherish this book (and the lovely note sent with it) forever!

 

My Thoughts:

True to Lynn Austin form, this is a very well written, fast moving, exciting, loveable and relatable book.  The 2 sister’s story is set up in they style normal for Ms. Austin, switching between past and present,  focusing on mainly 1 character’s POV at a time. The way this is done makes understanding backstory much more pleasant, and really gives you a feel for each of the main characters. This being Christian fiction, I do love how the message of the gospel and how different bible stories become relatable to both the characters and to the reader. The author does not shy away from her beliefs, and does not water them down as some other Christian fiction does tend to. At the same time, it’s not written in a manner that is overly preachy.

One thing I really enjoy about this book (and most of Lynn Austin’s work) is her focus and creation of strong heroines. She is not afraid to let them shine, as well as fail when need be. They are written true to their time, but at the same time  – can be people you know and aspire to be in this day and age as well. Both Rebecca and Flora are both strong in their own ways – and a want to be taken seriously (mostly by men and authority figures) in a way that is sadly still applicable today.  The bond between the sisters, though having differences of opinions and tempers is unshakeable – even able to stand the friction of romantic partners. Their relationship was written in a believable way, allowing differences of temper, opinion and the tendency for the oldest sibling to be the bossiest.

To keep from spoilers I will say I always enjoy the romantic tension written into Ms. Austin’s stories, and this was no different. The choice of choosing from your heart, or choosing from your head is a timeless one. I appreciated the different portrayals of love this story had to offer, and the decision to go with what society offered, versus something more in line with God’s plan for your life – was well displayed and refreshing.

As for Kate and Soren, they’re stories were enjoyable, but I appreciated even more their character development and traits. Soren had the loyalty of Flora and  her tender heart. Kate on the other hand had Rebecca’s stubborn independence and need to be able to be in charge of her own life/self. I found their stories just as interesting as the main line.

Beyond having the ability to move me to laughter, tears and spiritual revelations, another thing I enjoy about Lynn Austin’s writing – is I always get  to learn a little something about history/setting. I had recently read a nonfiction work about her own pilgrimage to the Holy Land – and now greatly enjoyed seeing it fleshed out in the backdrop of the 1890’s. I also was not aware of the breadth of devastation the Chicago Fire had caused. In the end Ms. Austin shows the overlying picture of how even in the midst of what can seem like a doomed season – God’s hand is still upon us, and we still have lessons to learn from Him.

Another 5/5 for me, and a new favorite added to my shelf.

 

Book Review: “Pilgrimage,” by Lynn Austin

51D9sUdgf8L._SY346_We all encounter times when our spirit feels dry, when doubt looms.
The opportunity to tour Israel came at a good time. For months, my life has been a mindless plodding through necessary routine, as monotonous as an all-night shift on an assembly line. Life gets that way sometimes, when nothing specific is wrong but the world around us seems drained of color. Even my weekly worship experiences and daily quiet times with God have felt as dry and stale as last year’s crackers. I’m ashamed to confess the malaise I’ve felt. I have been given so much. Shouldn’t a Christian’s life be an abundant one, as exciting as Christmas morning, as joyful as Easter Sunday?
With gripping honesty, Lynn Austin pens her struggles with spiritual dryness in a season of loss and unwanted change. Tracing her travels throughout Israel, Austin seamlessly weaves events and insights from the Word . . . and in doing so finds a renewed passion for prayer and encouragement for her spirit, now full of life and hope.

Title:  Pilgrimage: My Journey to A Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked
Author: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House
Copyright: 2013
Format Read: Paperback
My Rating: 5/5
Goodreads

My Thoughts:

I first came in contact with Lynn Austin’s work about 6 years ago, by randomly picking up one of her Christian Historical Romances at a second hand Christian book store. I can’t remember exactly which book it was, but I was new to Christian Fiction and the blurb sounded good. I fell in love with the book I read, and then rapidly began picking up more of her books. (At this point I have read MOST of them, and at some point will probably do an Author’s Spotlight on her work.)

When the Beau and I were preparing for the Camino De Santiago, and also leaning toward a Holy Land trip -I became obsessed with reading about other people’s journeys, Camino’s and Pilgrimages. When I saw that one of my favorite authors had done a Holy Land Pilgrimage, I couldn’t wait to snap it up.

I wasn’t disappointed, either. This is a small book for her (241 pages), but it is packed with her warmth, humor and distinctive voice. It was nice to get to know the Author on a more personal level, and hear about where she is at in her journey. Lynn Austin isn’t afraid to bear her fears or doubts, but at the same time gives hopeful messages to herself and the reader. As a Christian, I’ve noticed people don’t like to talk much about going through periods of spiritual dryness, and instead focus on all the positiveness. Every relationship has its ups and downs, and our relationships with Christ are no different. Lynn really opens up in her book, to show her struggles as a Mom, wife and Christian Writer. It was really refreshing to read, and made her all the more relatable.

The book is set up in chapters each featuring a place she visited during the Holy Land. She talks about the places she’s seen, the people she’s met, and the historical/biblical significance of each destination.  Also, she takes the time to figure how each place may be significant to her personal journey spiritually. Each chapter ends with a prayer, and there are hand drawn sketches throughout. It’s one part travelogue, and one part spiritual journey/devotional.  In the end,  she finds the refreshing of the spirit that she’s looking for, and I have to say it helped me get some fresh insight as well. I’m sure this will be a re-read for me in the future.

Book Review: “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck

51GK6Es5YBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.

A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes the very nature of equality and justice in America.

Sensitive to fascist and communist criticism, Steinbeck insisted that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” be printed in its entirety in the first edition of the book—which takes its title from the first verse: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” As Don DeLillo has claimed, Steinbeck shaped a geography of conscience” with this novel where there is something at stake in every sentence.” Beyond that—for emotional urgency, evocative power, sustained impact, prophetic reach, and continued controversy—The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most American of American classics.

Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Publisher: Penguin
Copyright: 1939
Format Read: Mass Market Paperback
My Rating: 5/5
Goodreads

My Thoughts:

I first met the Joad family when I was in 11th grade English class. Unlike “Gone With The Wind,” the book never quite made it back to my school at the end of the year… and I have since revisited the Joads pretty much every year since then. I’m not usually rough on my books, but 17 years later…

(#booktheif #sorryhighline401)

Anyway, I was thrilled when I saw this book on the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge list, and couldn’t wait to get back into it once again.  There are so many things I adore about this book that I could go for pages and pages.read_hp_harrysassface                                                        (but I won’t, I promise!)

“The Grapes of Wrath” is so beautifully written. The book is set up alternating chapters between the Joad’s story, and snapshots of what America (and Americans) were going through during the Great Depression. With this format you get to know motivations and history without endless back story, and you get to have a little break from the (sometimes) emotionally intense main story line.

Steinbeck has a way of setting a scene which draws you completely in , and is beautiful described without being overly flowery. His characters have flaws, yet are completely realistic. You’ve seen these people in Cafe’s and at Gas Stations. He’s not afraid to point out their flaws, but does also show their hearts and good qualities.

Although the focus for the main story seems to be Tom Joad, and you see the story mostly from his narrative – I think the real star of the story is Ma Joad. Ma kept the family together as well as possible through all costs, and showed many facets of what people in the Great Depression went through. In the end it was Ma who showed what the spirit of this westward migration was about, how to be a leader within her traditional role, and how to make the best of any situation you’re given.

The political societal aspects of the book are surprisingly accurate still today, even more so in this current administration. Still people struggle with acceptance based on who you are -whether race, sexual orientation or origin. People are still faced with needing to be able to get their foot in a door, are told you need experience/money/etc – but how do you get these things without first being given a chance? Corporations still push out the little guy, and people are told what they should want – rather than being allowed to make their own decisions…

“The Grapes of Wrath,” is not necessarily a happy or feel good book, but it an extremely good and important read that will suck you in and keep you thinking for a long while afterward.

Book Review: “Siddhartha,” by Hermann Hesse

41PYoPd0S1L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life—the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.

 

Title: Siddhartha
Author: Hermann Hesse
Publisher: MJF Books New York
Copyright: 1951
Format Read: Hardback
My Rating: 5/5
Goodreads

My thoughts:

Most times you reach for a book because it’s one you’re dying to read it, and it either exceeds your expectations, or fails horribly. Sometimes you reach for a book you’ve never heard of, because it’s part of a Reading Challenge . Surprisingly, your Beau actually has it on his bookshelf (IN ENGLISH NO LESS), and you end up loving it!

For being just 122 pages, “Siddhartha” packs in a wallop of adventure in the physical and spiritual sense. I don’t know if it’s my age, or the fact that  this just seems to be a running theme with me right now – but I find people’s journey of self quite interesting. I really connected with the idea of searching for peace and ultimate being of self.

As a Christian, my path is much different the Siddhartha’s obviously, and although I didn’t quite understand everything about Brahmans and Ascetics (I’m not well versed in Eastern Religions), I found it overall a pretty easy and engaging read.

Always being drawn to women in stories, I really enjoyed following Kamala’s story, though true to many tropes she is a martyr in the end – her character arch was enjoyable.

The underlying theme of the book seemed to be that Love is the way to Peace. Throughout Siddhartha’s journey we get to follow the different types of love that one can show another (familial, lust, religious devotion).

I would recommend this book highly, and hope to read more by Hesse in the future!