Friday, February 27, 2015

11 Things I Didn't Remember About The Two Towers

Note: If you'd like to read a formal review of The Two Towers, please click here. Today is just a casual chat about the things I loved. 

from Wikipedia
I'm on  a deadline for a library reading program, and this morning I finished the 7th of 8 books: The Two Towers. I've watched the movie 3 or 4 times now, and while I love the Tolkien movies, it's just humanly impossible for them to include everything that's good in the books. In the 3 years since I first read LOTR, I forgot a lot of things that actually happened: and it was a continual source of delight to rediscover them this time around. 

Here's a list of the things I loved in The Two Towers

1. Aragorn is awesome 
Seriously, I knew he was awesome, but I forgot how awesome. There are so many good speeches of his I can't quote them all, but here's one from when he meets Eomer for the first time: 

Aragorn threw back his cloak. The elven-sheath glittered as he grasped it, and the bright blade of Anduril shone like a sudden flame as he swept it out. 'Elendil!' he cried. 'I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dunadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil's son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me? Choose swiftly!'

The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter 2, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I also loved the moment at Helm's Deep, where Aragorn stands above the gates and holds out his hand to all those orcs in parley. When they ask him what he wants, he says simply "I looked out to see the dawn." 

So great a power and royalty was revealed in Aragorn, as he stood there alone above the ruined gates before the host of enemies, that many of the wild men paused, and looked back over their shoulders to the valley, and some looked up doubtfully at the sky. 

The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter 7, by J.R.R. Tolkien 

2. Rohan was actually a beautiful place. 
The movie portrays it as a rough-hewn, old-style English cross between a barn and a fort. Actually, Rohan was full of color and beauty, and some pretty ornate architecture. A floor of many hues, carved with runes and other devices; pillars with gold and other colors; great tapestries, one with a young man on a battle horse, blowing a great trumpet, with billowing waves curling around the horse's legs. These people didn't live in rough-hewn comfort. They lived with art and culture and a lot of richness. 

3. The race of men had different names for different regions: 
The Numenoreans were called Men of the West. The Rohirrim were called Men of Twilight, or Middle Peoples. And the men of the Wild were called the Men of Darkness. 

"I bid you stand, Men of the West!" Doesn't that make your blood run fire-red with wonder? 

4. Faramir's Speeches are just splendid. 

This: 

'But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.' 

And this: 

'For myself,' said Faramir, 'I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves. War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.' 

Excerpts taken from The Two Towers, Book 6, Chapter 5, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

5. Tolkien's biblical theology in the scenes with Sarumon was pretty incredible. 

It's hard to explain in movie form like you can in book narrative, but the deception and temptation of Sarumon was convicting and rich in its explanation of sin. Grace was offered to him, yet he chose not to humble himself and clung to his pride. I especially liked Tolkien's explanation of the making of Orthanc, how Sarumon thought he was making it better, but in his foolishness he made it worse. Mordor watched him like a toy, mocking and reveling in his weakness. I highly recommend revisiting the book for this plot alone. 

That's in all seriousness some of the tidbits of what I loved in re-reading this book. And just for all you Tolkien aficionados, here are some fun little details I was delighted to rediscover: 

6. Legolas really did say "The red sun rises." 
He's been made fun of so much on YouTube that I thought the quote was completely made up. It was there, slightly altered, but true in its essence. Granted he had a few more things to say which made it more--meaningful. But he did say it! 

7. Theoden has white hair in braids. 
I really didn't remember what Theoden looked like, and every moment expected Tolkien to explain that his hair lost its white color and he looked a little younger. But unlike the movie, his hair never changed back to blond. It was in long white braids, and made me think of a viking king in grave splendor. I think Theoden and his band are a lot like Finn MacCool and his warriors. 

8. Eowyn gave the cup of wine to Aragorn when she first met him, not after the battle of Helm's Deep. 

You know that scene in ROTK when she hands him the victory cup and they gaze lingeringly into each other's eyes? Well, it actually happens a lot sooner, right when they first meet. Eowyn is smitten with him at first sight, and it's the cup of farewell not the cup after they get back. 
9. Legolas actually didn't mind Gimli winning the orc count. 
Legolas: "He was still quivering."
Gimli: "That's because my axe is in his nervous system!" 

That's in the movie. But behold, in the book Master Legolas comes up to Gimli and congratulates him on his victory. 

'You have passed my score by one,' answered Legolas. 'But I do not grudge you the game, so glad I am to see you on your legs!' ~The Two Towers, chapter 8, by J.R.R. Tolkien 

10. Sam's movie potato speech is mostly made up. 

Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew. Sorry folks, but it's not there. I was shocked.  The first sentence is there-- Po-ta-toes. But beyond that, Sam is mostly reminiscing about how much his Gaffer loves them. 

11. Frodo did really trick Gollum at the pool of Minas Ithil. 
I didn't know if this was true to the book or not (true in a fictional sense--I really don't like the term 'canonical' applied to Tolkien.) but when Faramir caught Gollum eating fish out of the forbidden pool, Frodo did have to go down and trick him into being captured so he wouldn't be killed. 

Tricksy master. 


And yes, in the movie I still like Legolas sliding down the steps on the shield at Helm's Deep, and Sam's beautiful, cinematic speech to Frodo. Aragorn's speech at someone's death was better in the movie. I also loved Merry and Pippin's added banter at Orthanc ("Only...you've never done a hard day's work.") I love Haldir's introverted elvishness. The book doesn't have those things, so I'll keep watching the movies. Besides, in all due fairness, there are some really disgusting things in the book that PJ could have put in and didn't. 

But after all, there is no magic like an author's original love for the lessons and characters and stories he has created. Find some time this year if you can to take another look at this beautiful tale. :) 

Blessings,
Schuyler 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pendragon's Heir Cover Reveal!

Look what's coming March 26th!



Synopsis
Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she even wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of--or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check out Suzannah Rowntree's awesome book blog, Vintage Novels.

And don't forget to add Pendragon's Heir to your Goodreads shelf!

Isn't that cover font lovely? I'm reading through the advance copy of Pendragon's Heir right now, and I'll be posting a review on My Lady Bibliophile before it releases. This is a book you won't want to miss. Stay tuned for more legendary epicness! :)

Blessings,
Schuyler

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why Young Authors are Tackling Tough Themes

Last year I read a lot of novels by teens and twenty-somethings, and it left me wrestling. All of them were gut-wrenching. A lot of them left me in tears. They were filled with a startling array of light and darkness, and I wanted to know why young people are eager to write the harder, braver things that they haven't even experienced. Nations torn by civil war. Friend betraying friend in the deepest possible way. What constitutes righteous warfare. How to respond when a parent is walking in sin. Bending the knee and turning the other cheek when the villain heaps abuse upon abuse and rubs salt in the wound. The books I read weren't filled with petty problems. They contained round after round of adult issues.

I look at author's Pinterest boards and see deep soul aches plastered all over them. Huge questions of where God is and how he is working in a world torn by so much evil. Young people want to know how to be a good friend when the going gets tough. How to exist in decent happiness when there is so much sin inside their own hearts. What to do about the devil lurking around the corner and trying to gain a foothold.

It's expressed in the literature, in the music, in the art of countless homeschool author-wanna-be's, and for a while that darkness disturbed me. I knew it was there, but I wondered is it a good thing?

I mean, come on. These authors probably had a variety of clothes to choose from in the morning; a hot breakfast and a heated house for the freezing winter months. They've probably seen death on their lifetime, but most of them haven't personally been affected by war and famine and plague. We're 21st-century rich Westerners for heaven's sake! With all this good fortune, why is it easier for them to write books wrestling with pain than a frothy, happy novel?

The truth is, I don't know if it's good. The trend is too young to mark its fruits yet. We're in a season of planting seeds, and the harvest of wheat and tares will appear later on. But I do have a few ideas.

First of all, these young authors want to write stories that deal with real hurt. I've always hated the moral phrase that when you're sad, you should just think of the starving children in India (or insert other country here) and realize how fortunate you are. The main idea is gratefulness, I know--but starving children in India don't negate the fact that even 21st century Westerners experience heartache. The prettiest makeup can hide traces of tears, and the most beautiful outfit can hide a soul that is flat-out bleeding inside. You don't have to be poor to experience emotional hardship.

I think for some writers (including me) there is something therapeutic in writing stories. I don't use my words to vent or take revenge; but I do use them to wrestle out pain and longing. When I began my novel I think my subconscious inserted life-themes to try to make sense of them. By the time I wrote the whole story it was too late to change it to something a little less personal. It is not merely my brain-child; it is my heart-child. And all the questions I have about God's working in a broken world (and my broken self) are in there.

Writing is a form of navigation; even a form of lamentation, on occasion. Perhaps also a form of surrender. As the characters find peace with their circumstances, in many cases so does the author. They write themselves into submission to God's working by bringing the characters to a place of submission too. They find courage when their characters find courage. They forgive when their characters forgive. It is a vicarious spiritual journey through the fictional people.

Writers are often quiet people. Their books express the heart cry of who they are--their questions, joys, sorrows, and struggles. I don't like saying that--there's nothing I'd like better than hiding in a box and letting those who really know guess it out--but it is true.

Secondly, I think, young writers write tough themes to make war on the culture. ISIS is torturing people to death, and why should young authors sit at home and write about trite, fluffy, happy-go-lucky things when the world is breaking, and our country is breaking--and Christians are breaking? They don't want another story about schoolroom crushes and their annoying kid brother. They crave the battles, the flat-out good against evil, the gut-wrenching, soul-bleeding character who accepts God's call to face the impossible odds. The characters are scarred and broken and their world is ripped to pieces--but they make it their business to fight for what matters, and the authors resonate with them. Most authors will never face what their characters face in a physical sense--battles and sword-play and espionage--but they face it every day wrestling with sin nature; they face the themes on a much lighter level in their own families and churches. They simply magnify them in story form to make it interesting.

The fact is, we're in a new generation of the church, and a new generation of stories. A lot of conservative Americans are nervous right now; our country is going down a path that many countries have gone, but that we aren't familiar with. Even small children know about homosexuality, transgender, and torturings that haven't been in the news for a couple of centuries. Young people are growing up in a different world; a harsher world; and their literature is going to reflect that. Life isn't idyllic. And their literature will probably reflect their wrestling as they face brand-new attacks on their faith.

As C.S. Lewis says, Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Readers need to know that their deepest soul fears can be beaten by the one who triumphs. Countless young people in the literary circles are making war on the expectations of the culture, and their own inner demons. Praise God, and may the fruit it bears be true and good.

Blessings,
Schuyler

Friday, February 20, 2015

With Every Letter, by Sarah Sundin

I'm trying to make an acquaintance with some modern authors this year, and Sarah Sundin has been on my list of novelists to try for a long time. Right now the first book of her Wings of the Nightingale series is on sale, so I picked it up and read it last week. I found much to enjoy.

The Book 
Lieutenant Mellie Blake is a competent nurse with some deep-rooted insecurities. For one, her exotic dark beauty stands out in the midst of the other girls. For another, she can never seem to make friends. All she has is a scrapbook full of pictures that she has prayed over and made up imaginary stories with since childhood. Her friendship problems become even more of a struggle when she joins a corp of flight nurses. Flight nurses need to be a tight-knit group, and everyone fits in but her.

Tom MacGilliver's dad was executed for murder when he was a child. His mother wants to make sure he never turns into his dad, so she tells him to keep smiling and always give way in a fight. Only thing is, that policy doesn't work in the army. While he jokes with the men and tries to bribe them with rewards to keep discipline, they get more and more unruly. His captain is already unhappy about his compromised ability to keep them under control.

While Mellie and the other women fight for the chance to assist in air evacuations from the battlefield, her supervisor asks her to join a morale boosting letter program for the soldiers. Everything's anonymous--no pictures, no identifying details, no real names. Just encouragement. Reluctantly, Mellie agrees. And she finds an odd and surprisingly close friendship with a man who needs just as much reassurance as herself. Little does she know that the man she writes to as "Ernest" is really Tom MacGilliver--and she has more connections to him than she dreamed existed.

My Thoughts 
First of all, the WW2 details gracing every line of the manuscript deserve a huge meed of praise. Sarah Sundin has carefully crafted fashions, music, food, hairstyles, building materials, medicines, troop names, and foreign cultures into her plot. I'm writing in WW1, and know how much work this takes. The men sling out details that take hours to get correct. She does all this in a way that is never an info-dump but keeps the reader in tune with what's going on. Especially interesting were the materials the soldiers used to craft the various landing strips for the planes. Even the romance of the plot--Tom and Mellie getting to know each other through a soldier letter program--fits in with the time period. I tip my hat to her, and my heart rejoices. I'll definitely read her again just for her historical accuracy.

Secondly, I resonated with the personal struggles of the characters. Not all the time; sometimes it seemed like they could have gone a little deeper. But Tom's struggle to come to grips with being honest, instead of showing the emotions everyone wanted him to, was tied up in a redemptive and thoughtful way. I was surprised by how deep it went. And Mellie's struggles to make friends by taking risks and showing pieces of her heart to them, was deeply relatable. Both were ones I've struggled (and still struggle with) on a regular basis.

Some things that might bother more conservative homeschool readers didn't bother me--the women wanting the freedom of trousers, the men wanting attention from the nurses whenever they came in on an evac plane. It's historically viable that the women requested trousers, and as far as the romance, no different than the mobs of men surrounding the women who docked at Jamestown. Honesty makes the best historical fiction, and this was honest.

One of the personal struggles didn't ring with me--Mellie holding out on Tom because she didn't think she was pretty enough didn't seem to mesh with the depth of the rest of the plot. Every girl struggles with that thought on an off day, but based on Mellie's sensible character, and what she knew of Tom, I didn't like the fact that it bothered her as much as it did.

The only thing that I didn't always feel comfortable with was the key plot of the book: the romance. And that was no surprise. The dating was fine, even though I don't plan to use the dating model. A lots of girls dated then. After all, I'm looking for a book that's true and accurate. But all the focus on kissing/handsome/adorable/cute every time Tom and Mellie met was skimable. I try not to indulge a habit of checking guys for cuteness, especially because at that time Tom and Mellie weren't even committed to each other in a serious way. But when they were apart, their letters were kind and mature. They weren't filled with expressions of love; simply friendship, asking questions, and trading opinions on how to cope with various life struggles. Again, just like Mellie's struggles with personal beauty, some of the cutesy romance seemed more forced than what would have fit naturally with the plot and the maturity of the characters.

Since some of my readers are people who don't read a lot of romance, I will say that this contains more than I am used to. There were several sections where I wasn't particularly thrilled with the style, but I saw a couple of key areas of merit in Sarah's writing that kept me reading. After all, I enjoyed the book--and that's a sign of good writing. I would advise not making this genre the majority of your reading diet, but treating yourself once in a while isn't a bad thing. :) It's a new genre to me. So I want to know more about it so I can evaluate it in a more discerning manner.

And while I never thought of Tom as cute, I loved how Kay blossomed out into a spunky and thoughtful woman--and Georgie and Rose were pretty adorable. :) And five stars for Sesame the dog!!

Connect with Sarah Sundin
February is Show the Love month on Go Teen Writers--so why not show some social media love to Sarah while you're at it? There's nothing more encouraging than seeing a new follower!

Pinterest | Twitter | Facebook | Author Website 

Find With Every Letter free on Amazon.

Blessings,
Schuyler

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to Write a Book Review


Every so often a friend asks me how to write a book review. It's a fairly simple process, but having a few guidelines to help can make it easier and quicker.

1. Give a Book Synopsis
It can be a short paragraph explaining the book's premise and conflict, or it can be a couple of paragraphs that go into detail about the plots and subplots. But there are two golden rules of the book synopsis: (1. Don't give a cheat-notes summary of the book. (2. Don't give away the ending. Keep both of these rules and you'll be fine. My plot synopses have been too long in the past, and I'm working on cutting them down. Short and sweet is better.

You can use the back cover copy for a synopsis if you desire, but be sure to give credit where credit is due and make a note that it is from the back cover. Most times I prefer to write my own synopsis. If it is a complicated book or I find it necessary to do so, I use the Amazon description.

2. Tell What You Love
Did you love the characters? The careful attention to historical detail? The way the descriptions enchanted your imagination? Were the historical details so authentic that you felt as if these people really existed? How did it stir your soul or make you laugh or keep you glued to the pages until you read The End? Authors live and breath for that kind of feedback, so don't be stingy!

3. Tell What You Disagreed With
Don't flatter in your book reviews. No book is perfect. Was the heroine stereotypical? Did the climax fall flat? Were parts of the book draggy or unbelievable? Give a kind and careful summary of the things that didn't work for you. Good authors will consider your points and thank you. They need that kind of feedback.

Be careful. Develop a discerning eye, but don't become impossible to please. Give grace for mistakes. Don't expect every book to be a home-run. Don't think that 'your style' is 'The Style' that must dictate all other reader's opinions.

Be careful never to rant or say hurtful things about the author's intelligence. It is OK to say "This book feels rushed" but never say "the author obviously didn't care enough to take the time to make it right." See the difference?

4. Evaluate How It Agrees With Your Christian Faith
Not all the books you read necessarily need to come from a Christian worldview, though I would suggest developing a healthy dose of discernment before you start branching off. Does it line up with biblical principles? Is wrong punished? Is right affirmed? It doesn't have to be squeaky-clean. The answers don't have to be easy ones. But if the book teaches something that God differs on in His Word, then be sure to make a note of that in your review.

5. Choose Your Star Rating Wisely 
Here's the way I work it: 1 and 2 stars are for books I had serious theological disagreements with or in which the writing was terrible. 3 star is for bad books that had a few worthy points or good books that way under-delivered on their potential.  4 stars--where most of my books fall--mean the book was excellent in writing, plotting, characterization, theology, and reader interest. 5 star ratings are only for a few things--if the story left me breathless with awe, if it made me cry, if it made me want to write a book about it.

If you want to be just a casual reviewer, don't stress about the 5 star rating. It's OK to give as many as you want. But if you prefer to be a critical reviewer for the purposes of editing, beta reading, and building up a reputation for your reviews, than be sparing with those 5 stars. You want people to value them when you finally give them out. Either type of reviewing is fine. Not everyone needs to be a critical reviewer.

The biggest problem that keeps people from writing a good book review is over-thinking it. You don't have to write a long review. This blog is a place of discussion, so I write longer reviews because I'm training myself to evaluate a book on many levels. But you don't have to match that length. A couple of well-written paragraphs are just as good as a couple of pages. Also, remember that your opinion matters because it's your opinion. You're not writing a review for The New York Times or Kirkus. You're simply cataloging your own personal opinion. So let your personal opinion shine through. The author wrote that book for you to enjoy. Let them know if you did or didn't, and why.

Be crisp, clean, and professional. Use the best grammar and spelling you can, and don't write in all caps. Don't fan-girl. Give a mature, adult opinion, the same you would give if you were recommending this book to your parent or your pastor or your best friend. Most of all, enjoy the process and the conversation that results.

It's as simple as that.

Blessings,
Schuyler

Friday, February 13, 2015

February War of Loyalties Snippets



Hey hey hey! It's my favorite time of month again. :) Draw up a chair and pour yourself a cup of tea for the February installment of War of Loyalties. Don't know what it's about? Catch up with plot synopsis and other snippets on My Novels page.


I was lucky to pull through, but my face is a mess and always will be now. They wouldn't tell me the damage when I first woke up. I managed to bribe a mirror in spite of them, and fainted for my pains when I saw myself. I've never looked since, and had I been blessed with the resources I might have pulled the trigger, but they took my gun away, so I am still alive to write to you.
*
"Weel," Terry O'Sean drawled, "I've knocked about some, but I jumped in over my head on Easter, 1916."
*
Ben stood up and walked over to the tin tray Jaeryn had used to cover something with earlier. A quick breath sounded through Jaeryn's teeth when he picked it up and pulled out the letter. Ben spread it out, and it lay there between them, a little square of violated trust.
*
"You were being threatened?"
Starlin frowned at his persistence."I don't know. We had a disagreement. I didn't want to talk to him anymore."
Interrogating Starlin King was worse than extracting teeth, and he had done a few in his time.
*
"And he's your husband." Starlin glanced up at Ben. His eyes were a brighter blue than Charlotte's, and they had a similar shape about them, but where hers held gentleness, his held only suspicion.
"Indeed he is," Charlotte said. "And I hope you'll like him very much."
*
Terry held out his wrist and displayed a Celtic cross tattooed on it.
*
Mrs. Meikle lowered her voice as the bell tinkled, announcing another customer. "Word has it th' Russian government split yesterday. All three political parties are like dogs snappin' at each other's throats, and the' soldiers are keelin' people in th' streets. Th' people dinna want war, and th' workers are on the verge of a revolt. I kenna what's happened since, but I know there's still a rumpus of some kind."
*
He had raced for life several times in his profession, but never on foot and never for anything so grave. This time he wondered if the victim would be alive when he reached him. Searching frantically for the spot of the boy's madcap scuffle, Ben ran until a stitch came into his side and sweat gathered on his face, his heart pounding just as much from fear as from exertion.

*
"I'm a doctor, not a nursery-maid."
*
Blood everywhere. The whole side of his shirt was drenched with it, and the red liquid was fast spreading to the grass underneath him.
*
"Far be it from me to dictate your friends, Doctor Dailey." Jaeryn's green eyes sparkled in impish glee. "Or your sister's sweethearts; that's entirely in your hands. But I didn't think you were the sort to take up with runaway Irish rebels. They're rather disreputable folk last time I checked."
*
"I wrote him for a couple of years after his mother died, and I think talking about it helped him process the whole affair. But as soon as he left school he stopped writing, and I entered college then, so I stopped too. I found his letters before we left. He mentioned loving music in the most recent one, and said his father had promised to buy him a Stradivarius, but that's all I remember about him. I don't know what he's like now."
*
The warm, yeasty scent of bread met him as he climbed the three wooden steps, and he saw some of the dinner dished up and waiting--potatoes and green beans and a little crock of sweet honey on the counter.
*
"I suppose you and my sister know each other?"
Terry nodded and gave her a broad wink. "Hello again, Pearlie."
Ben opened his mouth in protest as he heard Terry use their pet name for her, but he never got the words out.
*
"Tá brón."
The sudden breaking of the silence startled him, and the low talk continued on, rising to the heavens in a kind of melody, though not with any music. Ben looked about to detect its source, and was force to conclude that it came from the Irishman himself. His murmured words stirred passion, and wonder, and heartbreak all in one--a savage, ancient sort of beauty.
*
"To be quite candid, it’s none of your blasted business what my private life is."
*

My nerves are shot to pieces--never knew I had any until this. I've almost killed nurses more than once waking up from the nightmares, and I couldn't do that to her. I'll come home when I can stand to. Don't think ill of me.


Do not research mustard gas burns, folkies. It is sad. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Twelve Extraordinary Women


For Christmas, my brother was kind enough to gift me with Twelve Extraordinary Women, and just this morning I finished the last chapter. This was my first time reading one of John MacArthur's books, and I gave it one of the few five-star ratings that I jealously guard.

The Book 
From Amazon: Celebrated for their courage, vision, hospitality, and spiritual giftedness, it's no wonder women were so important to God's plan revealed in the Old and New Testaments. It wasn't their natural qualities that made these women extraordinary but the power of the one true God whom they worshipped and served.
In Twelve Extraordinary Women, you'll learn more than fascinating information about these women, you'll discover-perhaps for the first time-the unmistakable chronology of God's redemptive work in history through their lives. These women were not ancillary to His plan, they were at the very heart of it.

The women included in this book are as follows: Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Mary the mother of Jesus, Anna, the Samaritan Woman, Martha & Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Lydia. 

My Thoughts
Some people might question the legitimacy of a women's Bible study written by a man. Can he make it relatable to women? I don't know about every case, but this book certainly was. As I read MacArthur's thoughts, I found it to be a very healing and refreshing experience. It's one thing for a female author to say that women are important to God. But it's an incredibly more powerful thing for a male author to say that women are precious and beloved. Women are built with the need of affirmation from men, not just other women. And one of the key problems of the feminist movement is that we've held at arm's-length the male support and cherishing that God designed us to need. So yes, a man can write a women's Bible study and do a fantastic job at it.

There were twelve women in this study, but two in particular stood out to me: Rahab and Hannah.

Rahab was a prostitute (porne in Hebrew) who became part of the Hall of Faith and was commended in James for her faith in the Lord. MacArthur did an excellent job unpacking historical and biblical fact, and debunking extra details that we simply don't know. He explained why the spies went to Rahab in the first place, as well as the fact that her lie does not justify deceit in a Christian's life. (MacArthur does not condemn Rahab harshly for using the lie; he just points out that God does not need sin to save people.)

Hannah was extraordinary for the way she loved her husband, her family, and her Lord. The wife of a Levite, Hannah had a lot of sorrows to deal with, including infertility and her husband's bigamy. MacArthur's explanation of Hannah's prayer showcases her grateful, humble trust in the Lord. She prayed before God and went her way, trusting him to answer in accordance with what was best. Last week I had several causes to pray often, and the chapter on Hannah encouraged me to lay down my wants in thanksgiving and humility like Hannah did.

All the women were excellent choices: Martha and Mary, Ruth, and The Samaritan Women were favorite chapters which for lack of space I cannot go into detail about. You'll simply have to discover them for yourself. I will only say that MacArthur's dealing with them is not stereotypical. He looks at them in a fresh way which I thought was absolutely biblical and spot-on.

The only woman I wished he would have taken a different angle with was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Highlighting her need to humbly submit to Jesus as God, MacArthur took the angle of defending her from Roman Catholic doctrine and undue veneration. Since I am not Catholic, and have never considered Mary as extraordinary other than the fact that she bore God's Son, I would have enjoyed a different angle. But that's a personal complaint, and the chapter was certainly true and accurate according to Scripture.

MacArthur puts an incredible amount of Scripture references in parentheses that would greatly add to a week-by-week study of this book, but were too many for me to read in the time I could allow. I was familiar with the gist of the verses based on the context around them, but I wish I could have spent more time going through the references. I'll have to revisit it in future, along with the study guide questions in the back.

I know this shouldn't be the judge of whether or not a book is correct, but time and again attitudes towards the various women that I've always thought were myth were things that MacArthur pointed out as well. Some of the 'flaws' foisted on these women aren't actually there in Scripture, and have always rubbed me raw when they're mentioned. I've read through the Bible many times, and found renewed confidence in the way MacArthur cleared away a lot of extra-biblical commentary from these stories.

This book is gentle. It is true. It showcases the loving-kindness that God felt towards these women, and the great worship they showed towards him. All these women are sinful, all are beloved by God; all point to the beautiful centerpiece of Christ's work and redemption. After a multiplicity of studies and sermons into the flaws of these women, MacArthur's honorable dealing towards these weaker vessels, without disguising their flaws, is a healing experience to read. I hope that the women who read this review will find a similar experience in these pages.

Blessings,
Schuyler

Friday, February 6, 2015

6 Writing Tools I Love

Today, as a companion to Tuesday's review Steal Like an Artist, I'd like to share 6 tools I use to help me in the artistic process. I have tried and tested them over countless chapters of editing, and many months of writing. Some are useful; some are fun; all I have found necessary for my creative process. And I hope they will help you out as well.

Poster My Wall
If I had to give up all the other writing tools, I think I would still keep Poster My Wall. This website lets you create posters with all kinds of special effects for free. The free version has a small watermark in the corner; but I've used it for countless War of Loyalties desktop backgrounds, as well as blog illustrations and even a birthday card. There is nothing more fun than using an easy and inspirational poster-making tool so you have something nice to look at while you're writing.

I know. It would look better with the character picture. 
Other poster websites I use often are diy.despair and Keep-Calm-o-matic and Wordle. I consider making posters and desktops, when not used in lieu of serious writing time, to be a fun and creative outlet that ties into the creative process. I am not good at drawing (if I had ever learnt I should have been a great proficient) or even doodling. So I make word art instead.

War of Loyalties

Hope That You Remember Me 

Pinterest
Pinterest is awesome. One of these days I plan to create a public War of Loyalties board. For now, I tuck away quotes and character pictures and objects that the characters love onto secret Pinterest stashes.

But, in the meantime, you can check out my Micheal board, an Irish novella which I have completed, (story snippets/characters are at the bottom of the board.) And my Hope that You Remember Me board, a Scottish novella which I plan to write sometime this spring.


Whenever I feel dry of creativity, or rather lonely in the midst of fictional characters, I find something to refresh my heart and pin it to a Pinterest board. Pinterest is where you can keep a stash of writing manna that catches your fancy, and better yet, caption it so you remember why you pinned it in the first place. I have also done a lot of historical research on Pinterest: clothing, medicines, houses, pictures of the Spanish flu victims, pictures of Folkestone. It's incredible for finding and cataloging the historical tidbits you need to remember.

Spotify



I discovered Spotify thanks to a casual mention by Suzannah Rowntree, and oh, boy, has it been a blessing. I don't like listening to music that's been added to YouTube without the artist's permission. Spotify seems to be fairly reputable, and it has been a relief to find a place where I can make music playlists and let them inspire my work. You get an odd bad/adult ad just like YouTube, so if you're young, please beware and ask your parents first. I generally mute the ads. But if you're looking for a good music resource, this one works. I have everything from Andrew Peterson to CCM to instrumental hymns to Celtic galore. Some days I listen to a character song on repeat, and other times I listen to music that lets my brain process what's going on in life so I can concentrate on my writing instead.

Scrivener
I've used everything to write my book from pen and ink to Microsoft Word. Over the Christmas holidays I switched to Scrivener, and it is my new Happy Place. Scrivener allows you to organize your research, writing, and character pictures into one program. You can do split-screen so you can write and look at a character picture at the same time. You can label each scene as 'done' or 'still in process'. And the word processing portion is just like Word, so you don't have to learn a new layout. It even imports all your computer fonts into the program. You can also use its name generator, thesaurus, and 'find and replace'. It has a handy 'snapshot' feature, which will take a snapshot of your current draft so you can restore your text back if you don't like your later edits. Sold on it yet? It's only $40, and if you win NaNo, you'll get a discount coupon.


Hemingway Editor
I prefer my writing to be clean, crisp, and understated. Whenever I have gone off the emotional diving board in story form, I have deeply regretted it for months afterwards. This is where Hemingway Editor comes in. Hemingway highlights all your adverbs, words that can be simplified, and sentences that are very hard to read. It doesn't force you to change them, but it finds them for you so you can weigh whether they add or subtract from your story. So much easier than searching for passive voice and adverbs in Microsoft Word, and it really helps you trim the unnecessary word fat. I got the desktop app for $5, but you can also edit your work right on the internet website, if you prefer, though you'll have to copy it to Word when you're done to save it.
from Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens 
Pixabay
I recommend this site with caution. Please do not go on it without realizing that there are some pictures that aren't good. And I mean, not good. But if you know how to search right, then you'll do ok. Use the same caution you would use searching for pictures on Pinterest. Teacup is fine. Blonde girl is not. In fact, searching for any kind of people isn't the best idea, though I still do it on occasion.

I use this site for my blog photos now, and will continue to do so. The pictures are high-quality, completely royalty-free, and require no attribution. I want this blog to be known as a royalty free blog. For the most part it is; I have to go back and fix a few pictures, but I have that on the list to do soon. Pixabay photos are beautiful, inspirational, and there are plenty of good ones to choose from. Like I said, use caution, but know that this resource is out there. It's also connected with the Poster My Wall website, which is quite handy.

These are the tools I have used on a consistent basis for the last couple of years. They have suited my needs, my budget, and my writing styles. I love them all, and I hope you find them useful as well! :)

What are your favorite writing tools?

Blessings,
Schuyler

P.S. Oh, yes. And I also use the sticky notes program to keep track of plot ideas. But that system needs a little ironing out:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Giveaway Winners!

The giveaway winners are here!

Great Expectations and War Games:

Emily H. 

Alan Lee illustrated edition of The Hobbit:

Joy C. 

I have contacted you by email, ladies, and will be getting you your prizes directly. :)

A big thank-you to all of you who entered and spread the word! I appreciate your enthusiasm for this first giveaway.

Keep following for more exciting plans throughout the year, and be sure to come back tomorrow for another regularly scheduled post. :)

Blessings,
Schuyler

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Steal Like an Artist


Saturday was the first day in a long time where I took a procrastination day. Every day has it's moments, but a whole, delicious morning of relaxation was an incredible treat.

Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist made it even more incredible.

The Book 
Steal Like An Artist gives ten suggestions to unlock the joy of the artistic process. Full of common sense and optimism, I resonated with all of them:

1. Steal Like An Artist.
2. Don't Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started.
3. Write the Book You Want to Read.
4. Use Your Hands.
5. Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important.
6. The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It With People.
7. Geography is No Longer Our Master.
8. Be Nice. (The World is a Small Town.)
9. Be Boring. (It's the Only Way to Get Work Done.)
10. Creativity is Subtraction.

This book isn't just for writers, either. It's for an artist of any sort. My guess is that if you're reading this blog you're either a writer or a reader of some kind. But if your personal art form is painting or quilting or macrame or pottery, then Steal Like An Artist is for you, too.

It's for anyone who likes to make art--with their pen, with their hands, with their head. Anyone who has imagination. Anyone who wants to know how an artist thinks.

Best thing about it? I was expecting a fairly short book that would take me a few days to get through--but Kleon's little volume is a 6x6 square of inspirational paragraphs and Sharpie illustrations. You can read it all in a morning.

What kind of book is better than that?

My Thoughts 
When I picked up Steal Like An Artist, I was in an artistic murk of anonymity, enjoying my art itself, but detesting a lot of the side demands that art creates. I emerged with faith revitalized (or at least, faith in Austin's book, which is a step in the right direction.) I just laid on the couch and ate up all the inspiration in its pages, and laughed, and read bits to my mom, and finished it in an excited glow of inspiration and creativity. It was a breath of fresh air.

Before we go further, I know some of you are probably scratching your heads over the 'steal' idea. While it may not be the most biblical term, the idea behind it is sound: Kleon explains the principle that there is nothing new under the sun, and in everything we create, we are using a conglomeration of ideas and plot devices that we have enjoyed in other author's works. It's true. Look at your Pinterest boards: they're full of quotes from movies and books and pictures of actors and actresses. You're taking plots and character personalities you've loved as a child and creating something out of them.

Stealing Like An Artist could be termed as "standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before". It's ok not to be original. It's ok to borrow ideas from other people. Just so long as you put your own stamp on it to avoid plagiarism and give credit where credit is due.

Steal Like An Artist explains productive procrastination, a good balance between digital art and hands-on creation, and how to find yourself in your art. There is so much to love about this book. It's funny. It's simple. It's reassuring. Kleon encourages a creative life: to take up some messy hobby not because it's going to make you money and make you famous, but simply to refresh and revitalize your own brain. And I think that fits with the life of a Christian rejoicing in being like our Creator-Father.

Kleon's book is not Christian, per say. You'll find a couple of slang terms I don't like. There were a couple of ideological points where I disagreed with him, just because he's not encouraging writers to produce their art for the glory of God and a higher purpose. But on the whole I was tracking with him spot-on, and this is a book well worth reading if you're a creative artist.

I enjoyed it. And I have it on my list to read again.

What art are you making today? I want to hear about it!

Blessings,
Schuyler

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