some snarky book reviews

Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire | I am actually sorry to give this book a poor review because it started off SO GOOD.  I honestly loved it for maybe the first half, this story about bad boy Travis Maddox, underground fighter, campus’s walking one-night stand, who falls hard for Abby Abernathy, who is trying to steer clear from Travis and everything he represents.  The book starts off fun and sexy and sweet, and you get wrapped up in Travis … and then … the book kinda falls apart.  At least for me.  Suddenly it involved mobsters and Las Vegas and Travis becomes a boy who is too whipped, and I wanted to be like, Please stop acting like that.  I read the entire book in one day, starting on my lunch break and finishing around 1 am.  Then I lay in bed thinking how annoyed I was with the second half, which felt like reading the rough and dirty version of that one movie where Drew Barrymore cries a lot (Mad Love?) mixed with A Walk to Remember (please no!) minus the cancer.  It was volatile, and I had the impression that the author wrote it in one night during which she got progressively more wasted.  Bummer.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare | Demon-hunting teenagers who interact with vampires, werewolves, faeries, and warlocks in the Brooklyn streets?  I was skeptical, but I’d read so many quotes from this series that I had grown intrigued enough to give it a go.  It was not the most well-written story I’d ever read, but it still sucked me in, which– as usual– was because I fell in love with one of the characters.  Jace Wayland, this arrogant, hilarious Shadowhunter.  I cared enough about Jace to read …

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare | The second book of what was originally supposed to be a trilogy but has since grown to include five books, with a sixth on its way.  This one was an improvement on the first, perhaps because by now I had gotten over the fact that I was reading books about demon-hunting teenagers, or maybe because now I knew the main characters better.  The tension in this book is palpable, so of course I read …

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare | The final book of the original trilogy, in which the stakes are even higher.  I realize that I haven’t really said anything about what these books are about, have I?  There are so many twists and turns in these books that I can’t really explain the subsequent books without putting in spoilers.  Anyway, the whole point of reading these books was Jace anyway.  Third book was the best of the three.  Intense, dark, scary, excellent twists.  Again, these books are never going to be classics, but they are fun and fast reads.  I feel a little guilty for liking them as  much as I did. 🙂  (Yes, my guilty pleasures post was about these books.)

I will probably start book four, City of Fallen Angels tomorrow.  What is wrong with me?

permission to NOT write

Last week I had coffee with Stacey, a fresh college grad and newlywed.  She has a degree in English from my alma mater, and we talked about how she hasn’t had any energy to write lately.  Faced with student loans for an English degree, she feels like she should be writing, but she is just so completely burnt out from her senior project.

I told her the same thing happened to me after college.  I was so exhausted in pretty much every possible way that I didn’t write for three years, I told her.  But I didn’t waste my time either: I read like crazy, tons and tons of great literature, which was essentially like planting seeds into the field of my mind.  I began to harvest years later.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.

It is still productive to the writing life to take a break from writing.

Quick clarification: I do believe that– in an appropriate season– it is important to force oneself to write through issues.  This is different than being in a season of rest.  I am in a harvesting season right now, and so I sometimes force myself to write, even when I don’t necessarily feel inspired.

It is the difference between the days of rest/no exertion after an injury and the days of rehab that follow.

I have never regretted my three-year hiatus from writing after college graduation.  It allowed me time to read like a maniac, immerse myself in fantastic literature, build up life experiences, and mature before I later dove into novel writing.

What are your thoughts on this?

why I love Silas Hart

Silas Hart is the 17-year-old character in the YA novel I am writing.  Here are a couple scenes to show why I love him so much.

1) He is ridiculous.

“So this is why you need a summer job,” I said to Silas as I surveyed his garage sale finds, which were laid out across his bed one afternoon like cheap museum displays: a dollar sign ice cube tray, a box of old eight-tracks, and a “D-Bag Poet”-themed Magnetic Poetry set.  I held up the magnet collection.  “Really?” I asked.

“It’s missing fo sho and dayam,” he said, trying not to crack a smile, “so I won’t be able to write a poem about you, sorry.”

I burst out laughing.  I loved Silas like this—strange and quirky and hilarious.  “What are you going to do with a box of eight-tracks, kid?”

He shrugged.  “Dunno, but aren’t they great?”

“You … are so …”

“Enchanting?  Delectable?  Ambrosial?”

“Weird.”  We grinned at each other.

I marveled at the fact that Silas lived in this pristine palace and yet loved to scrounge around other people’s junk, amassing a variety of worthless treasures to add to the collection in his bedroom.  Well, they weren’t worthless to him—in fact, he’d found a ridiculous t-shirt featuring a unicorn rearing before an American flag, and you’d have thought he’d discovered the pearl of greatest price.

“I saved the best for last,” he insisted, and I realized that he was hiding something

behind his back.

“Don’t tell me,” I said.  “Macaroni art of Steve Buscemi?”

“I wish!” he teased.  “But no.”  Silas pulled from behind him a carrot-colored plastic transistor radio.  It was a little larger than his hand—an awkward size, like an old Walkman on steroids.

“What do you want that for?” I asked, raising both dubious eyebrows.

“Because it’s awesome.  Durr,” he said.  “And because we’re going to use it to listen to that radio show of yours.  Yes?”

I grinned.  “Yes.”

2) He is crazy.

Silas and I spent the rest of that week together, and I quickly determined that he was absolutely crazy—but the very best kind.  One morning he showed up at my house wearing an honest-to-goodness windbreaker suit straight out of the 90’s, purple, mint green, and what is best described as neon salmon.  I could feel the goofy grin on my face while Silas gathered our supplies from my garage.  “What?” he deadpanned.  “What are you staring at?”

I played along.  “Your windbreaker is just so …”

“Fetching?” he interjected.  “Voguish?  Swanky?”

“Hot,” I said.  “Just all out sexy.  Screw trends.  The 90’s neon just exudes sex appeal.”

“Well, I thought so myself.”

And after the sun was high in the sky and the pavement was heating up, he took off the windsuit, revealing shorts and a New Moon t-shirt beneath, Edward Cullen’s pale face dramatically screenprinted on the front.  “Vader’s competition,” he said, shrugged, and started vacuuming the floors of the Corolla left in our care.

Silas talked about the strangest things.  “Can you ever really prove anything?  How?” or “I read about this composer who said his abstract music went ‘to the brink’—that beyond it lay complete chaos.  What would that look like?  Complete chaos?” or “A group of moles is called a labor; a group of toads is called a knot.  Who comes up with this stuff?  It’s a bouquet of pheasants, a murder of crows, a storytelling of ravens, a lamentation of swans.  A lamentation of swans, West!”

We sat in the backseat of a dusty Saturn one afternoon, trading off the handheld vacuum as we talked—or rather, shouted—over its noise.  I ran the hand-vac over the back of the driver’s seat, while Silas said, “I used to think I was the only one with a crush on Emily Dickinson until a couple years ago.”

“You have a crush on Emily Dickinson?”


“Did you just ‘durr’ me?  Is that like a ‘duh’?”

He nodded as I handed him the Dirt Devil.  “But then I read this Don Miller book that says it’s a rite of passage for any thinking American man.  I still wasn’t a hundred percent sure, but then I read a Collins poem called ‘Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes.’”

Just the title made me blush.

Silas, unruffled, continued, “The end of it talks about how he could hear her inhale and sigh when he undid the top fastener of her corset, ‘the way some readers sigh when they realize/that Hope has feathers,/that reason is a plank,/that life is a loaded gun/that looks right at you with a yellow eye.’”

Silas sighed unhappily.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, frowning.

“I finally made it into the backseat with a girl,” Silas cracked, looking hard at the Dirt Devil.  “This is not all I was hoping it would be.”

I slugged him in the arm while his wry smile gave way to laughter.

3) He’s brilliant.

It was a new experience to visit the library with Silas along.  Every section of the library was like its own island—one Silas had explored in the past and was now showing to me.  He started in fantasy, pointing out titles and introducing me to authors—and then we moved into young adult fiction … through the classics … memoir.  Silas indicated story after story that he had read, telling me what he loved about each one, his favorite parts, favorite lines, favorite characters.  It felt like going around a family reunion, meeting all his relatives, and sometimes discovering that we were friends with the same people.  In the poetry section, he showed me pages of Kit Kaiser and Jolie Brightman.

“Here,” he said, pulling a “Best of e.e. cummings” book off the shelf, “I’ll show you something.”  He checked the table of contents, flipped open to the right page, marked a place with his finger, and handed it to me.

I read the line aloud: “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”  I looked up at Silas, and his eyes were shining.

“I still think I’ve never read anything better than that.  The morning I first read it, I went into some kind of shock,” he said.  “I hadn’t known anything could be so incredible.  It’s the line that made me want to write.”

The Night Circus

nightcircus“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

I just finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and let me tell you, it flabbergasted me.  I didn’t think that someone would be able to write about magic in a way that would rival Jo Rowling’s creativity, but Morgenstern is such a worthy contender!  The imagery in this book completely walloped me.

This is the story of two young magicians who are opponents in a game for which the circus is the venue.  It was not their idea or their decision, but they are the players, and they must play until the game is concluded.  Both Celia and Marco are creative geniuses, one-upping each other for years before they eventually fall in love.  But falling in love doesn’t work so well with the rules of the game.

There are really two stories in this novel, two stories that come together at the end.  The writing was masterful, utterly brilliant.  Morgenstern is not only a writer but also an artist, and that was very evident in her writing.  I just feel slack-jawed at the creativity of this story.  Each little scene was like a gorgeous vignette.

I still need to mull over the ending.

Please read this one.

Keep Calm

I have never really been neutral about anything.  I am an extremist, and I feel things in my bones.

I sometimes have a hard time seeing that the current situation will likely change soon.  This is a burden given to me by obsessive-compulsive disorder.  We OCs think things will always feel this way.

I am a writer.  Creativity is like air to me.

All of these things combine, and you have me, this volatile, passionate artist whose highs are marvelous and whose lows are dark.  When writing is not going well, I sometimes think it will NEVER go well again.

Years of this rollercoaster should have proved to me that things will level out again.  I don’t have to rush every draft like a linebacker, don’t have to wrestle it into shape.  I can relax, breathe deeply, set it aside for a (short) time, think and pray and carry on.

literature, time, and other thoughts

They were drawing me.  The books.

It was like my car was on autopilot– I thought I was headed to Dunn Bros, but when I drove past it, I wasn’t surprised.  Instead, I just let my car take me to Barnes and Noble.

It’s been a little while since I have been here.  Now that I have a membership and have free shipping, I’ve been buying most of my books online.  Today it wasn’t enough.  I had to be with them, surrounded by them, which is why I am drinking a banana chocolate smoothie, typing on my laptop alone, but feeling like I am in the company of friends– or future friends.

To be honest, I feel a little overwhelmed.  There are so many books I want to read, I don’t know when I’m going to find time to get to them all.  I perused the “Summer Reading” table and found more that intrigued me.  From where I sit, I can see the “New Fiction” shelves, and I wonder if I’ll ever have a book there.

I feel pulled so many ways.  I want to readreadREAD, but I am trying to balance that out with plenty of time for writing, which I love even more.  But my writing is informed and inspired by what I read, so I have to keep fueling that fire.  Those two activities alone could keep me busy until I die, I think, and yet– I have even more important things in my life than these.

People.  God.

I know everyone gets 24 hours a day, but I wish I could have more.  How am I supposed to be a loving, caring daughter and friend while working fulltime and writing a novel and feeding an obsessive reading habit– all while never neglecting my true love Jesus Christ and his church?

Praise God that OCD is no longer demanding so much of my attention.  How did I manage?  It feels like a different lifetime.

And yet, I have friends who do all this and take care of a spouse and children.  It boggles my mind.

I want my life to matter, want to leave a mark.  It seems difficult to do when my interests are so spread– I worry that my efforts in each area will be lacking because I didn’t have enough time invested into each one.

I think that one of the reasons I decided to keep a list of books I have read and reviewed (click THE READER tab above) was to try to organize at least one part of my life.  When I sit here in the bookstore, surrounded by all this brilliance, I know that there will be corners I never explore.  Somehow maybe this will help me keep better control of the labyrinth I’m in.

And what a beautiful labyrinth.

Christianity is weird.

And I love that.

C.S. Lewis once described it as “a religion you could not guess.”  I love that too.

How bizarre: a 3-in-1 God who speaks things into existence.  A God who wraps himself in human flesh.  A savior whose method of victory is death.

Fascinating.  I am proud to be a Christian, eager to plumb these mysteries as long as I live.

quality Christian fiction

This issue has been pawing at me for the last week or so.

Here’s my dilemma:

As a fanatic writer, I have a hard time incorporating Jesus Christ into my writing in a way that is not alienating to non-believers.

As a critical reader, I find the number of books that can do this well to be sorely lacking.

Look, I know that there is a vibrant “Christian fiction” genre out there, but if I step into that area of the bookstore, I seem to be surrounded by Amish romances.  Really?  Amish romances?  That is what Christian fiction has boiled down to?  I have no– read my lips, NO– interest in reading such a book.

I want books like Perelandra by C.S. Lewis (which was full of dense theological arguments that were presenting in a fascinating and thrilling cosmic duel that draws in all readers), books like Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (which somehow manages to show a believer’s real relationship with Christ without stepping for even one moment into sentimentality).

Even worse than that issue is that I worry that I am contributing to the problem.  I’m not writing any poems about how God blessed us with puppies and rainbows or anything, but I am really struggling to find a way to speak to all audiences while still mentioning the name of my Savior.

This was my prayer the other night, which I am showing to you in the hopes that you will join me in praying it:


 Jesus, I want to do something big for You.  Unfortunately, without Your assistance, I can do NOTHING.  HA!  I even need You just to enable me to worship rightly.  I NEED YOU, JESUS.  My heart wants this so badly– I so desperately, so deeply want to honor You through my writing and want to draw people to You through story.  It seems almost insurmountable to me– the idea of writing incredible, realistic fiction that both honors You and appeals to both believers and non-believers and that will minister to hearts of all kinds.  Jesus, I know it is possible with You, but I think that is the ONLY way it is possible.  And I plead for it.  It’s like my heart is begging for this, Jesus, to honor You in this way, and I need Your guidance and direction just to even come close.  Help me to get there.  Help me to persist even if it takes so very, very long to get there.

I want what I write to matter; I want it to be infused with meaning and with YOU, and I don’t know how to do that without alienating the very people that I want to have read the book. 

May I please throw all this responsibility back on You and ask that You simply use these hands as Your tools?  When I sit at my laptop to write, Holy Spirit, I pray that it would be You who guides the words I write.


slavery and freedom

Last Thursday and Friday, I attended the Global Leadership Summit through a satellite site, and it was incredible.  This was my second year attending, and both last year and this year were phenomenal.  Essentially, the Willow Creek Association pulls together a knock-out faculty of world-class leaders to speak; it’s like being smacked upside the head (in incredible ways) each hour.

On Friday, Pranitha Timothy of International Justice Mission spoke about human trafficking and about her work with IJM to rescue many from slavery.  It stirred my blood.  It always does, to hear stories about slavery and freedom.  I want my life to matter, want to do something important for the Kingdom.  I could almost picture myself going into dangerous situations to pull children out of slavery and get them safely back into school.

On Saturday, I met with a college student whom I have known for about a year and a half, a young man who is living in his own personal OCD hell and is ready to break out of it by pursuing cognitive-behavioral therapy.  We sat together, discussing OCD and how hard it was and how no one understands– but also CBT and how it can give him the tools to step from darkness into light.  I told him that in just a short time, he could be free from OCD’s reign, and I realized …

I am an advocate for those in slavery seeking freedom.

I may not be rushing into workhouses to confront slave-owners or holding children in the midst of a chaotic rescue, but I am a CBT advocate, telling obsessive-compulsives over and over and over again that this is the way to freedom.

I still plan to support IJM financially (and you can too at, but I realized that my personal rescue missions will look a little different.