Decade Retrospective: Things That Happened, Good and Bad

We’ve reached the tail end of 2019, which also marks the close of a decade. That means instead of getting a year-in-review retrospective, you’re getting a decade in review, minus the boring bits.

All things considered, the past ten years have been a mixed bag. Witness the following accomplishments and events from the last decade, both good and bad.

Between 2010 and 2019

  • launched a writing career, publishing six books, four plays, and four sacred scripts, all while amassing an avalanche of rejections
  • started running, progressing from that first exciting 2-miler to 5k to 8k to 10k to half marathon to Ragnar Relay to this year’s full marathon (completed only after a short stint lying on my back crying at the top of a bridge)
  • lost several toenails (see above)
  • reunited with my best friend from middle school
  • sneezed my gum out of my mouth
  • survived multiple Atlantic hurricanes
  • broke a tooth
  • tried internet dating (I almost said “tried and failed” but if you’ve ever internet dated, you know surviving the experience is a win)
  • snake fell on my head
  • visited the American Southwest
  • called 911 while on a run because I thought someone was being assaulted but it was just two little kids play/scream-fighting in a hot tub
  • bee flew into my mouth
  • slowed down significantly on overseas travel, but sneaked in some visits to old haunts and new favorites: Israel, England, Scotland, France, New Zealand, Haiti, Korea
  • broke my ankle falling off a bucket (and leveraged the experience for the plot of my debut novel)
  • started wearing reading glasses
  • first international showing for one of my plays (Enter Macbeth, Dubai)
  • made the switch to half-caff coffee
  • dropped my entire dinner-on-the-grounds contribution in the church parking lot one Sunday before even getting out of the car
  • earned a master’s degree in theological studies
  • lost friends and connections to old age and sudden death
  • attended funerals
  • wrote and performed original music with a friend from church
  • woke up with half a spider stuck to my neck and the other half under the fingernails of my right hand
  • said “Okay, I love you, BYE!” at the end of a Skype lecture to a high school class
  • frog jumped on my head
  • audiobook I’d loaded on my phone started playing at full volume in the middle of church (not a sacred text)
  • intermittently treated for chronic pain, neuropathy, and inflammation
  • surprise medical tests, contemplated my own mortality
  • read nearly 2,000 books (official count started in 2011 – 1,712 as of today)
  • developed a long list of historical boyfriends (see above)
  • touched an alligator
  • stopped working with the church youth group and started teaching adult women
  • opened an umbrella in the car directly into my own face (twice)
  • finally joined Spotify (please welcome me to the twenty-first century)

2019 finds me in a place that 2010 Ruth would never have imagined. To be honest, I have mixed feelings. I’m thankful for the successes but am ever mindful of the disappointments, struggles, and pain. Life is a beautiful, ridiculous, and messy mystery.

God’s grace keeps me steady.


What’s your decade been like? What items would you include on your list?

Comment below or shoot me a message on social media. I’d love to hear points of comparison and departure in our experiences.


Coming Soon

2020: A Year of Books

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Each month during the next year, I’ll be sending a recommended set of titles for you to check out. No forced discussions, no homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible Christian theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Join us for 2020: A Year of Books!


I’ll be back next week to post my 2019 reading retrospective.

Until then, I hope you savor the last few days of 2019 and enjoy a wonderful holiday week with your family, friends, and loved ones.

Merry Christmas from me to you!

Whales, Umbrellas, and the Power of Language: Vignettes from Korea

I recently wrote about my trip to Korea and how everyone kept asking why I would vacation there.

As promised, I’m back with a few vignettes from the trip.


My friend Pricilla and I arrived at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport after nearly 24-hours of uninterrupted travel. After a bit of bumbling around the airport, we managed to find the correct counter to purchase a bus ticket for the 1.5-hour ride to Namsan.

We were two of only four passengers on board the clean, air-conditioned bus. Our flight had landed late in the afternoon; and as we bumped along, the sun slowly setting in the hazy sky, I struggled to keep my eyes open. My one goal was to stay awake long enough to find my friend Robby, take a shower, and maybe eat a little supper before falling asleep.

I leaned my head against the window and gazed across the Han River. The Seoul skyline slowly flickered to life against the darkening sky.

Suddenly, from the middle of the river right next to our bus, a whale breached, setting off a chain reaction of foamy waves. What an amazing sight! Water sloshed across the highway and misted the bus window.

Wow! We had only been in Korea a few hours, and already we were seeing amazing sights! I knew this trip would be unforgettable, but I had no idea something like this would happen.

I turned to make sure Pricilla had seen the whale and jerked myself awake. There was no whale; nor was I even sitting against the window. I was slumped over in my seat, gently drooling, backpack clutched to my chest and hoodie draped over my torso like a blanket. It was now totally dark outside, and I’d been dreaming.

Because of course.

There are no whales in the Han River.

At least, not that I personally witnessed.


We’d left Florida one day after a close brush with Hurricane Dorian and arrived in Seoul just in time for a sideswipe from Typhoon Lingling.

Hence our first full day in Korea, we were met with strong bursts of blustery wind, periodic rain bands, swaying tree branches, and pelting clumps of wet leaves. Classic “stay at home” conditions, which of course we were not going to do. We hadn’t flown halfway across the world to sit in Robby’s apartment while it rained.

But we weren’t totally insane. We switched up our original plan for the day and decided to spend it mostly indoors at the Seoul Museum of History.

“Don’t worry,” Robby said. “I have plenty of umbrellas.”

Maybe he didn’t say that exactly. But he did seem to have plenty of umbrellas because he had enough for himself, Pricilla, and I to take one each as we headed out to catch the bus.

All went well enough until we hopped off in front of the museum. The wind, which had been nominal to that point, suddenly picked up, accompanied by bursts of needle-sharp rain. We fumbled with our umbrellas as we hustled toward the entrance.

Robby and Pricilla snapped theirs open and ducked underneath like the normal people they are. I, however, began the first of what turned out to be multiple Korea-based, umbrella-related debacles.

It had all started so normally. I’d gripped the umbrella handle with one hand and used the other to push the round plastic runner up toward the spring at the top. That’s where things went awry. The wind got under the umbrella, flipped it inside out, and then by sheer force, snapped the canopy away from the shaft completely. I snatched at it, attempting vainly to reattach it before anyone noticed, but both hopes were in vain.

Pricilla and Robby were already wheezing from under the comfort of their properly opened umbrellas while I flailed about in the rain in my soggy, slapstick attempts to piece the umbrella back together.

I’d been in the country fewer than twenty-four hours, and I’d already broken something.

At least it wasn’t a bone.


Later in the day, before parting ways with us, Robby handed off his functioning umbrella. He wouldn’t let me pay for the broken one.

“It’s fine,” he said. “I have plenty of umbrellas.”

Which did seem to be the case.

Once again with a 1:1 umbrella-to-person ratio, Pricilla and I set out to check a few more sights off our to-do list before making an early evening of it and escaping the foul weather.

“It’s actually not that far to walk from here,” I said in a fit of enormous stupidity. “Why don’t we walk down, and if the weather gets bad again, we can always take the bus back.”

We had only made it a few blocks before the wind and rain kicked back up. People around us scurried into nearby shops to wait out the worst of it. Not us. We were made of sterner stuff. Plus, we had come prepared.

“Umbrellas up!” I crowed to Pricilla.

I wasn’t going to let history repeat itself. I took a firm grip on the handle at the bottom and fitted my hand around the plastic runner, pushing it gently but firmly toward the top of the canopy.

In that moment, the wind got under more than just the umbrella. It also got under my shirt. As I stumbled forward, wrestling the umbrella into submission, the hem of my shirt blew up and plastered itself directly against my collar bones. Desperate not to break a second umbrella in as many hours, I refused to release my death-grip.

“Help!” I crowed foolishly, inadvertently ensuring that the maximum number of people left on the sidewalks would turn to gawk.

They were joined by the line of onlookers who had ducked inside a nearby glass-fronted bookshop to escape the rain, gazing wide-eyed at the hapless foreigner twirling nearly topless down the sidewalk beneath a flapping umbrella.


No matter our plans for each day, Pricilla and I got in the habit of stopping somewhere for afternoon coffee.

Often we chose a Starbucks since they were familiar and also ubiquitous in Seoul; but we also tried a few local chains, one being Angel-in-Us. There, the staff members all wore jaunty brown fedoras with gold bands; and with a mix of English and Korean, we managed to order items more-or-less in line with what we thought we were ordering.

We were in the Sincheon-dong district of Seoul that day. The coffee shop was packed, and the people-watching excellent. Young couples had scooted their seats close together and were sharing Airpods. Clusters of upscale-looking housewives and middle-aged intellectuals engaged in lively discussions. Next to us, a dad and his miniature daughter FaceTimed the grandparents.

It was a whole scene.

In the midst of all this commotion, an oasis of silence.

A twenty-something young man sat at a small table all by himself, one leg crossed neatly over the other, bent studiously over a white-covered hardback novel. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen someone reading with such obvious deliberation. No matter how the sound swelled around him, he never raised his head, never broke his focus.

He also never turned the page.

I leaned forward and squinted.

Oh, yes. That makes more sense.

He’s totally asleep.


For months leading up to our trip, Pricilla and I worked to learn Korean.

Since we only planned to be in the country for ten days, we didn’t have any illusions of making friends or having meaningful conversations, but we did want to avoid being completely helpless. We wanted to ask for directions, make purchases, and understand a bit of what was happening around us.

Our efforts proved successful.

One day, while buying water near Bukchon Hanok Village, I tried out my meager Korean on a store clerk.

Assuming (rightly) that I’m a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, he started out by nodding at my water bottle and ringing it up. I planned to pay for Pricilla’s water as well and decided now would be the best time to put my language studies to good use.

The rest of this conversation took place in Korean.

Me: Two of them.

Him: (surprised) wahhh!

Me: Please.

Him: [You] speak Korean!

Me: No. Very little.

Him: Very good!

Me: [I’m a] Korean person.

Him: wahhh!

Me: No, [I’m an] American person, LOL.

Him: LOL!


I found that speaking even the tiniest bit of Korean to wait staff, shop keepers, and people on the street seemed to bring out something personable and kinder in each of them. I mean, I guess it makes sense. But it always touched me to see people warm to even our most awkward attempts.

One day, when Pricilla and I stopped for lunch at a sukiyaki restaurant, the woman serving us seemed stand-offish (even a bit surly) until I spoke a few words in Korean. Then her face softened, she looked us directly in the eyes, and she came over to mix my sukiyaki for me as if I were a helpless infant.

Which, by that jet-lagged portion of the afternoon, I actually sort of was.

When we left, she had to chase me down to give me my phone (which I’d left on the table), and we were down the stairs and out on the street before I remembered I’d also left my umbrella in the umbrella stand.

Because for whatever reason, umbrellas in Korea were never not a problem for me.


There’s so much more I could write.

I came home with pages and pages of notes, scribbled furiously in my travel journal at the end of each long day. I love re-reading them. They remind me of what a fun, relaxing, and truly restful holiday this trip to Korea turned out to be.

Umbrellas or no umbrellas.


Guys, somehow it’s mid-November already.

You know what that means.

You get a new book from me in less than a week!

Head Back to School with Rachel Cooper (4)

Unseasonable: A Novel of Sisterhood, Storms, Sunblock, and the Occasional Christmas Celebration releases November 20, 2019.

I can’t wait for you guys to read this one. It was a treat to write, start to finish, and I loved revisiting these beloved characters–especially with Ann in charge.

If you pre-order the e-book today, you will be among the first to clamp your beady little eyes on it when it releases next Wednesday!

Until then, I hope everyone is enjoying a productive and happy fall.

May your hearts be warm, your coffees hot, and (if you’re in Florida, at least), your air conditioners ice cold.

 

 

COVER REVEAL: Unseasonable

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Coming in December 2019 from Pelican Book Group!

Unseasonable: A Novel of Sisterhood, Storms, Sunblock, and the Occasional Christmas Celebration

Ann Cooper does not panic. From her demanding job training horses to her family role of keeping tabs on her high-maintenance sister, Ann remains cool, calm, and collected at all times. This holiday season, however, Ann’s fortitude will be tested like never before. Not only is she pondering a potential shift in an important relationship, but she’s also facing the prospect of riding out an unseasonable hurricane with the doubtful help of her sister Rachel. This December, Ann’s patience and faith will both be stretched. Will the risks involved in taking a leap of faith outweigh the possible rewards?

For more information, see here.

To be among the first to know when the book goes up for pre-order, see here!

Publication Announcement

New Book

You asked. I listened.

Coming in December 2019 from Pelican Book Group:

Unseasonable: A Novel of Sisterhood, Storms, Sunblock, and the Occasional Christmas Celebration

Ann Cooper does not panic. From her demanding job training horses to her family role of keeping tabs on her high-maintenance sister, Ann remains cool, calm, and collected at all times. This holiday season, however, Ann’s fortitude will be tested like never before. Not only is she pondering a potential shift in an important relationship, but she’s also facing the prospect of riding out an unseasonable hurricane with the doubtful help of her sister Rachel. This December, Ann’s patience and faith will both be stretched. Will the risks involved in taking a leap of faith outweigh the possible rewards?

Fans of the Collapsible trilogy can look forward to meeting plenty of old friends in these pages, as well as some fresh faces; but since this is a straight-up spin-off, new readers will have no trouble quickly orienting themselves in Ann’s world. (Ann’s world is extremely oriented.)

This book was an absolute treat to write, and I can’t wait to get it in front of your beady little eyes.

More info when I have it!

(Tip: Subscribers always know first.)


You’ve all been very patient as my blogging frequency dropped during the first half of 2019. Now that you know why I trust you’ll forgive me.

Because NEW BOOK!

I look forward to posting some reflections from my recent trip to Montgomery and a short series before the summer is over.

Happy Friday, everybody! Until we meet again, may your A/C be cool, your coffee hot, and your hearts warm.

 

5 Original Poems for Literary Lonely-Hearts

We’re creeping up on Valentine’s Day 2019, and I’m celebrating by posting some original poetry. It’s mostly satirical and based on literary spoilers, so manage your expectations accordingly.


Read Between the Lines:

A Love Song for Literary Lonely-Hearts

Scrooge is in his counting house, counting all his money;

Pooh is down at Rabbit’s place, eating all the honey;

Pippa’s singing her sweet song, tripping through the dew;

While I’m still sitting lonely here thinking, dear, of you.

Catherine’s up to her old tricks, wandering ‘cross the moors;

Aragorn’s at the Black Gate, kicking down the doors;

The Mariner still tells his tale of bird and ship and sea;

While I’m still pining, dear, for you. Can’t you pine for me?

Atticus is in the road, sighting down the barrel;

Mary’s Apple Cart Upset left her with Yellow Peril;

Beowulf foams ‘cross the waves, plowing the whale-road;

While I’m still sending signals, dear, in hopes that you’ll decode.

Poirot strokes his long mustaches, chasing a loose end;

Viola’s dressed like a boy, but it’s just pretend;

Fred and George go out in style, kicking up a fuss

While here we be, still you and me. When will we be us?


Stopping by Woods on a Saucy Evening:

A Frost/Millay Mashup

Whose lips I’ve kissed, I think you know.

My husband’s still home sleeping, though.

He will not see me stopping here,

Recalling long-forgotten beaux.

My heart throbs quietly with pain,

Rememb’ring those brave lads again.

Now they’ve all vanished, one by one:

Like flitting birds, they’ve come and gone.

Where once their summer sang through me,

Now stand I here, a frost-stripped tree.

These woods are lonely, dark and deep,

And I have promises to keep

To my new bridegroom, home asleep.

To my new bridegroom, home asleep.


The Doomed Romance of Fiction

Rochester proposed to Jane

With his wife upstairs.

Rapunzel’s storied love led her

To sacrifice her hair.

Macbeth’s sweet spouse seduced him

Into grisly, blood-soaked killing.

Dimmesdale didn’t merit love,

But Hester Prynne proved willing.

Alas, for luckless Oedepus,

Who gouged out his own eyes

Upon the revelation

That his wife’s his mom.

(Surprise!)

Oh, single friends and married friends

And those midway ‘tween labels,

Enlist in this, my festal song.

(Please harmonize, if able.)

Lift loud and long in lusty praise

And highly-stylized diction

In thanks that we, at least,

Don’t bear the doomed romance of fiction.


Ladies, Best Stay Single:

An Ironic Love Song Based on Literary Spoilers

Sir Percy’s vows to Margurite

Were based on a deception.

Darcy and Elizabeth

Embodied misconception.

While Rochester wooed gentle Jane,

He hid a wife upstairs.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, ladies, say your prayers.

Poor loving Desdomona

Was strangled by her mate.

Petruchio retained the right

To boss and roughhouse Kate.

When Juliet wed Romeo,

It ended in her death.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, girls, don’t hold your breath.

Alex/Angel (pick a name!)

Ruined Tess’s life.

Claudio shamed Hero

‘Stead of taking her to wife.

Benedick and Beatrice

Let love and hate comingle.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, ladies, best stay single.


Love Song for a Very Specific Type of Nerd

Tesla was a little nuts;

Also, he is dead.

Faramir has passed to myth.

Captain Wentworth’s wed.

Chamberlain sleeps in the grave.

“M’sieur le maire” is fake.

If they were only here and now,

What valentines they’d make!

Ida Wells? A total boss.

Harriet Tubman? Same.

Alas! They’re gone – like Boudica,

One even Rome can’t tame.

Earhart’s vanished; Ella’s dead;

Farewell, Madame Curie.

If they were only here and now,

What valentines they’d be!

Marguerite St. Just, Nat Eaton,

Ned, Galadriel.

Aragorn of Arathorn,

Sayers, Sabriel.

Nathan Coulter, Frederick Douglass,

Flannery O’Connor.

If they were only here and now,

I’m sure we’d all be goners!


If you’ve followed me around blogging platforms over the years, you’ll no doubt recognize a few of these poems from Valentine’s Days past. This year, I thought it would be fun to pull them together into one place. Feel free to share them with fellow literary lonely hearts and add your own poems to the pile. Whether love songs or laments, they’re all welcome here!

In other news, this month Amazon selected my novel Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder as a featured Kindle Monthly Deal. The e-book will be discounted to $1.99 through February. It’s a good time to snag your copy or recommend the books to friends!

Who's ready for a trip to Florida_

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee be hot, your tempers cool, and your toes snug in some fuzzy socks. For my Florida friends, enjoy this beautiful winter weather. For my Polar Vortex friends, please stay warm!

Or, you know, come see us.

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2018: My Year in Books

Total Books: 180

It’s been a while since I read so few books in a year; however, with quite a bit going on behind the scenes with my own writing and in my personal life, this year I decided to prioritize quality over quantity.

Total Pages: 48,817

The longest book I read this year was Stephen King’s The Stand, tipping the scales at 1,153 pages. I regret nearly every one of them. Yes, he’s a genius writer, but his particular brand of genius isn’t for me.

Breakdown by Category

Please enjoy some highlights from my year in books. I’ve arranged the categories in descending order according to how much time I spent in each.

Christian Theology/Spirituality

One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization by Jackson Wu. This is a wonderful introduction to biblical contextualization, especially for Christians trained exclusively within a Westernized theological framework. I particularly love how Wu demonstrates that the gospel is both firm and flexible.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin. I had the privilege of leading a group of women through this study early in 2018, and the experience proved much more enriching than when I read/studied the book on my own last year.

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, Lesslie Newbigin. A wonderful resource for Western Christians who’ve given little (or no) attention to how their culture inherently influences their basic understanding of Christian faith. An extremely helpful and timely read for me.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah. A guided exposition of the book of Lamentations underscoring American Christianity’s poverty of biblical lament and pointing out both the causes for this poverty and its effect. The style’s skewed a bit toward the academy, but if you put forth the work, you will find your efforts rewarded.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Cone and I operate under different biblical hermeneutics, but he brings fresh (and painful) perspective to the Christian experience that should not be missed. Despite not being fully on board with Cone on every theological point, I was still edified, convicted, and challenged by this book.

Honorable Mentions:

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms by Jayson Georges

Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts by Trillia Newbell

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss.

Middle Grade Fiction

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Nobody’s more surprised than I am to see this book on this list, considering the fact that last year I started it twice without finishing it. Then on my third attempt (after many recommendations from trusted reading friends), I fell completely into the story. This book broke my heart and then put it back together. While the storytelling format has never been a favorite of mine (multiple storylines/narrators), it’s worth it all to get to that last chapter.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I straight-up and unironically love this book. I found it engaging, readable, and super touching. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Honorable Mention:

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

General Adult Fiction

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This is easily the most absorbing novel I read this year, consumed in two fevered sittings. The protagonist’s descent into Alzheimer’s feels horrifyingly real. I’m going to be thinking about this one for a long time.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’ve heard other readers comment on a slow start, but this book hooked me right away, and it hooked me hard. Start to finish, I was totally invested in the story–in all the stories, really. Every single character is the protagonist of his/her own arc, and each thread feels vital and fully fleshed out, yet all the threads weave together perfectly into a unifying narrative. Sure, the characters are not very sympathetic, but they seem very real. I’m not one for book clubs, but I recognize the possibilities for rich, fruitful discussions that could spring from reading this with a group.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. Love and heartbreak set against the backdrop of the Korean War. Cover to cover, I was totally engrossed. Though not exactly likable, each character is real to the core, and their problems compelling. [Note for gentle readers: this book has just a touch more sexual content than I normally read, though none is explicit or gratuitous.]

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman. When I picked this novel up, I was unprepared for how deeply I’d sink into the narrative, or how large the characters would loom in my imagination. The story carries great emotional resonance.

Honorable Mention:

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Biography/Autobiography/Memoir

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. A powerful and moving memoir written by a Haitian-American woman and centering on her complicated relationships with her father and uncle. Danticat’s style is flawless, the story heartfelt and sad. Find this book and read it!

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Worth the read for many reasons, one of which is the Appendix, in which Douglass breaks down the “Christianity” of the slaveholders and contrasts it with the true Christianity of Christ.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston.  I’ve not read a book quite like this one before. In effect an oral history collected by Hurston between 1927-1931, this is a powerful firsthand recounting of one man’s experience as the subject of America’s African slave trade.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry. I’ve seen this book shelved all over the map, everywhere from “Christian Living” to “Social Issues.” When it comes to substance, though, I’d classify this as more of a memoir than anything else, though a memoir that takes full advantage of teachable moments. I can see Perry’s writing style as one people are either going to love or hate, and I land firmly on the “love it” side. Fans of inventive imagery will find a banquet.

Honorable Mentions:

He Included Me: The Autobiography of Sarah Rice as transcribed by Louise Westling.

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad.

Young Adult Fiction

Scythe/Thunderhead (Arc of a Sythe, Books 1-2) by Neal Shusterman. I had a bit of trouble getting oriented in this world; but once I did, the story completely took me over. Totally engrossing read, with engaging and sympathetic characters I found myself really rooting for (which doesn’t always happen for me in dystopians). My only regret is that I blasted through the first two books before Book 3 was within shouting distance. Fingers crossed that the story’s conclusion will be as gripping as the first two installments!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The author brought more nuance to the table than I was expecting! This is an absorbing read: the characters are well developed, the dialogue snappy, and the pacing moves at a good clip. Given the timeliness of the subject matter and the skill the author exhibits, I’m not surprised this book has won awards.

History

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Robust, dynamic, and sympathetic–this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. I purposefully went slowly to savor in the style and soak in the history. Although encompassing a large-scale, decades-long historical event, Wilkerson’s zoom lens on the personal really drives the message home. Strongly recommended.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This book hits hard. Wonderfully researched and written, and terrible in its implications. This is a near-flawless recounting of a chilling conspiracy of murder and greed. If you’re an American seeking to take in the full scope of our country’s history, this is a good place to start.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. Of all the books I read this year, this will likely have the longest and deepest impact on me. To quote the author, “no one who reads this book can wonder at the origins, depth, and visceral foundation of so many African Americans’ fundamental mistrust of our judicial processes.” It’s a long book, a heavy topic, and dense prose; but it’s worth the investment.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist.  The author’s stated goal is to establish a concrete relationship between African-American suffering and the American nation’s fledgling economic growth. I’d say he succeeded. I found the style tough to wade through, but the information is worth the effort. The book just came out in 2014. It’s to be hoped that, moving forward, this sort of scholarship can pave the way for more balanced an nuanced history textbooks than ones my generation grew up with.

Honorable Mention:

The Blood of Emmet Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Self-Help/Psychology/Misc. Non-Fiction

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk. I understood more about how trauma affects people physiologically than I did about the various treatments discussed. I’m glad I read this because it’s helped me develop a fuller understanding of the lifetime effects of trauma and how I can understand and show more sympathy for traumatized people.

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge. Brains are amazing. Among other realizations I had while reading this book, I finally understand why it’s so hard for older people to adjust to new ideas or adapt to change. It’s not just because they’re “set in their ways.” Some of their seeming stubbornness and rigidity is a natural outflow of diminished neural plasticity.

Narrative Non-Fiction

Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King. This was a super engaging read, and I felt extra invested since the events took place in my backyard (Florida). Though the narrative is frustrating due to the actual events (criminal conspiracy), the writing’s fantastic.

Essays

Becoming American: Personal Essays By First Generation Immigrant Women edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah. Each essay was so unique and different while circling similar questions of identity and belonging.

Literary Criticism/Writing/Craft

Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood. Even if you don’t have a fascination with O’Connor, her beliefs, and their intersection with the culture of the South, this book would be worth reading simply to enjoy Wood’s clean lines of reasoning and delicious vocabulary. This is more of a theological and academic treatment than most casual readers would enjoy; that being said, anyone who’s read a great deal of O’Connor could likely handle this.

Mystery

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. None of the new-to-me mysteries I read this year stood out as much as my re-read of Strong Poison. Whether that says something about my book choices this year or simply the nature of Sayers’s powers as a novelist, you be the judge.

Fantasy/SciFi/Steampunk/Dystopia

The Circle by Dave Eggers. I found this book super gripping and its implications feel-it-in-my-bones scary. The parallels with 1984 are undeniable, and I don’t mean that as a detraction (especially given that I found the writing style more palatable than Orwell’s). It’s not a perfect read, but it’s an intense one.

True Crime

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. While the quality of this read was a bit patchy, that’s understandable given its origins (the author died before completing the manuscript, and the parts she’d left unfinished were completed by a team of friends and editors working from her notes). Reading this, I can’t help but wish she’d lived not only to complete writing it herself but also to see the arrest of the alleged East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer (Joseph James DeAngelo).

Books By Friends

Wildfell by London Clarke. English Gothic escapism with a modern twist. Come for the atmosphere and stay to enjoy the wide variety of men Anne Fleming meets along the way.

Justice by Emily Conrad. I wasn’t sure about this one going in. First, the cover raised a lot of questions, and say what you want about not judging a book by its cover, but I totally do it, and this isn’t a cover that says “Ruth’s Type of Book.” I read the blurb, though, and–most importantly–was privy to some pretty deep discussion regarding the plot via an online forum. After I read what some readers were saying, I decided to give the book a shot. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed it way more than I expected, given that I generally avoid romancy, “book club” type books (which is what the cover suggested to me). The issues raised in the book are handled with nuance, and I can imagine certain story elements sparking robust discussion.

Hello, Goodbye, We Meet Again by Brooke Anderson. This is a sweet little snack of a book. I recommend that you read it in one sitting if you possibly can.

Mistletoe Melody by Stacey Weeks. A heartwarming and sweet holiday novel that acknowledges pain and weakness.

Turtles in the Road by Rhonda Rhea and Kaley Rhea. Sometimes books billed as “funny” overly depend on quirky characters or outlandish situations to try to leverage humor, but I’m delighted to report that this book is actually funny. Sure, there are quirky characters and a few outlandish situations, but what really drives the humor home is the dialogue. This was a super quick and super cute read that kept me engaged the whole way through. Kent Peeper forever!

Face to Face: Discover How Mentoring Can Change Your Life by Jayme Lee Hull. This is a practical, helpful, and engaging read. Both prospective mentors and mentees will find plenty to chew on here. Personally, I found the first half of the book especially helpful.

A Love Restored by Kelly J. Goshorn. Historical romance isn’t a genre I typically read, mostly because although I do love history, I’m not very romancy. I like that the protagonist is outside the norm for the genre (in that she has a robust figure and isn’t considered attractive by the majority of the other characters). It creates such relatable inner tension, because how many of us haven’t doubted ourselves because of some unrealistic and arbitrary beauty standard? The dialogue is pleasantly snappy, something I don’t always find in inspirational fiction, and I chuckled out loud a few times. If historical Christian romance is your thing, this has what you’re looking for.

Her Good Girl by Elaine Stock. The strength of this book was definitely its unique plot. Not only was the story itself a bit out-of-the-norm, but the characters also threw me a few curves. Although the emotional changes did feel a bit abrupt at times, they make sense in light of certain story developments.

The Revolutionary (The Rogues #2) by Kristen Hogrefe.  I read this book really quickly. It helped that I’d been looking forward to seeing what happened to these characters, and I’m pleased to report that I’m happy with some of the growth arcs and story trajectories. Looking forward to reading Book 3 early in 2019!

The Tremblers (Blackburn Chronicles #1) by Raquel Byrnes. Byrnes successfully infuses steampunk with Christian worldview elements while staying true to the tropes of the genre.

Lamp Unto Her Feet by Paula Mowery. As the title indicates, the strength of this book is in showing how someone might seek to apply scriptures to daily life. I also appreciate that the story moves along at a good clip. Romances aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but if you’re looking for a clean, light read that can be swallowed whole (or in a few gulps), this would be one to consider.

Providence: Hannah’s Journey by Barbara M. Britton. Because of my background and training, whenever I read biblical fiction, I turn off the fact-checking part of my brain so that I’m not distracted by minutiae and hung up on what’s factually historical and what’s artistic/creative license. That’s precisely what I did with this book; and once I did, I found a quick-paced narrative with unexpected splashes of humor and cheek. Probably what I most appreciated was that the author didn’t sugar coat the extremely vulnerable position of a captive slave, forcing readers to grapple with the overt sexual component.


On the lookout for your next good read?

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Each month during 2019, I’ll be sending a recommended list of titles for you to check out. No discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

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Let’s make 2019 our best reading year ever.

Counting All Joy: Thanksgiving, Lament, & 7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask as We Gather to Give Thanks

I first wrote this list of questions in October of 2016. At that time, the list was titled “7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask Ourselves in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew (or Any Tragedy).” It was a Sunday morning then, and Hurricane Matthew had just torn through the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm, headed straight for my town. At the last minute, he’d wobbled slightly into the Atlantic, sparing us a direct hit.

Our church family had made their way through streets strewn with debris and downed power lines, praising the Lord that we were able to meet and worship together in our intact church building. At the same time, we were grieving losses of our sisters and brothers in Christ along the storm’s route who had suffered great loss and praying for those in the still-moving storm’s path. Thanksgiving and lament, praise and supplication, all bundled together.

I’ve been revisiting these questions in recent weeks, especially as we’ve moved toward the Thanksgiving holiday. First, for those currently enduring trials, this season can spark complicated emotions. Second, given the link between suffering and spiritual refinement, sometimes I’m not sure what I should actually be thankful for.

While I’m truly glad to be enjoying a measure of health and happiness with my friends and family this week, I’m aware that even when all is not as I would wish it to be, God is worthy of worship regardless.


7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask as We Gather to Give Thanks

  1. Given the relationship between suffering and Christlikeness, is being spared suffering necessarily a good thing? (1 Peter 2:21-25)
  2. Why would the Father ever spare me suffering–especially since he did not spare his own Son? (Romans 8:31-32)
  3. Do I secretly believe that the people who weren’t spared deserve to suffer in a way that I do not? (Psalm 103:10)
  4. Have I devoted prayer and/or resources for the relief of my sisters and brothers who are currently suffering? (Galatians 6:10)
  5. If I really believe that death will usher me immediately into the presence of Yahweh, why am I so relieved to find myself still here? (Philippians 1:20-26)
  6. Am I praising God’s name because I have escaped suffering or because he is worthy of praise regardless? (Psalm 96)
  7. Would I still be praising his name if I had lost everything? (Job 1:21Job 2:9-10)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)


In Other News

I can’t believe it’s already November–and nearly the end of the month, at that!
Besides keeping the plates spinning at my day job and enjoying a bit of travel, I’ve mostly been absorbed this month with NaNoWriMo. I’m over 22,000 words into the first draft of my next novel, a stand-alone dramedy I’ve had in the works since before Bookmageddon. The drafting pace is a bit frantic, but I’m having a great time developing totally new characters. I’m hoping to have it in front of your beady eyes somewhere in 2020!(Pending publisher acceptance, of course. It’s fine. Totally fine. I’m not even worried about it! *cue screaming*)

Speaking of books, this week two of my 2017 releases will be enjoying Black Friday sales on Amazon. Well, Black Friday-ish Sales. Prices are scheduled to drop over the long weekend; but as ever, the ways of Amazon are unpredictable. Keep your eyes peeled for discounts on the Kindle versions of The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles and Murder on Birchardville Hill, both of which are slated to drop to $.99.

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For all of those celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I wish you a truly wonderful time of rest, reflection, and refreshment. May your turkey be succulent, your family dinners drama-free, and your coffee always within reach.