Book Review: “A Darker Sea” by James L. Haley

I am embarrassingly behind on reviewing the ARC’s I’ve received. But, book junkie that I am, I can’t seem to stop requesting them.

I received a copy of A Darker Sea by James L. Haley from First to Read. Because their books are downloaded through adobe and expire within a month, I dropped everything to read it while I had the chance.

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This book is about Master Putnam’s experiences at sea during the war of 1812. Not knowing much about this time period prior to this book, I found portions of the narrative very interesting, like its detailed descriptions of maritime warfare and life at sea.

It was the novel aspect of the book that I found wanting. I didn’t think characters were compelling or well developed. This could have resulted from it being second in a series, though it was advertised as a stand alone, but also could have been because the writing style was not to my liking. I felt cheated by the way random historical information worked its way into the plot. It was as if the author thought, “Wow, the pencil was invented during this time. Hmm, how can I manipulate my characters to inform my readers of this interesting historical tidbit?” Stories should invite you in and carry you along. I have difficulty getting on board when I feel like the author is playing dolls with his characters.

While I personally think I would have enjoyed this book more if it had been nonfiction, I could imagine it appealing to avid readers of historical fiction, as well as people who enjoy American History and books about life at sea.

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A Picture Worth 1000 Words

The more graphic novels I read, the more gems I find. I’m eclectic in my reading tastes. I’ve dabbled in everything from superheroes to fairytales.

Some of my favorite graphic reads have been memoirs. I’ve found several middle grade pallet cleansers, like Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, which I loved just as much for its sweet story as its artwork. The character’s expressions reminded me of Calvin and Hobbes, a style that I love.

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Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoir, Relish, had a similar brightness to its story and artwork, but added a more literal sweetness by putting recipes at the end of every chapter. When I showed this to my mother-in-law, a fantastic cook, she loved it too, and my copy passed on to several other reader-cook family members.

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Utterly different but still excellent, Lies in the Dust by Jakob Crane depicted the story of Ann Putnam, the only girl to apologize for her part in over twenty deaths during the Salem Witch Trials. Timothy Deker’s use of black and white for the illustrations emphasized the dark history that inspired this book with its lack of color.

It was shortly after this that I read the March trilogy by John Lewis. This too was illustrated entirely in black and white, an ideal choice for this moving graphic memoir.

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Congressman John Lewis tells the story of his role in the Civil Rights movement juxtaposed against the inauguration of President Barack Obama. These were beautiful not only for of the history they tell, but also for of the way it’s told. The black and white illustrations take on an almost symbolic nature since the book is all about racism and the fight for equality. Also, the lack of color softened the violence depicted in the novel, allowing it to remain historically accurate in its intensity but muted enough for younger readers. It’s hard to know what to show when the history being told includes so many murders, but I thought they did an excellent job.

I loved all of these books, but March was one of those reading experiences that I want to share with everyone. It’s a true story of bravery in the face of death and torture, of people standing firm for truth, of a people’s fight for freedom.

It’s an account of real American heroes.

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John Lewis speaking at Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963

Before God and These Witnesses

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The days leading up to it were crazy. At one point I said to Tim, “This whole thing is reminding me why I wanted to elope.”

January 13th came and my stomach was in knots. My husband told me it was just my sympathy nerves, but I think there was also a fear that something would go wrong, that it might not be special enough for the sister I love.

Now I’m standing on the other side, trying to describe what it was like. All I’m getting is a picture of her face. Jess. Simple, beautiful, loving, selfless, God honoring, Jess. I’ve become convinced that the reason she is all I see is because the day was like her. Simple, beautiful, full of love and generosity, and, above all, focused on Jesus Christ.

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The ceremony vacillated from solemn to joyful. The bride and groom randomly giggled, their joy was so effervescent. As the vows started, Jessica passed her bouquet back to Deborah to have her hands free, and got caught in a snippet of conversation. Winston was already speaking his vows, and the room erupted in laughter when he tugged Jessica back.

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As Dad spoke the words that would end the ceremony, I watched Winston’s eyes widen in disbelief. He mouthed something that looked a lot like, “Wait, that’s it?” as though he couldn’t believe they were now actually married. The two of them began to laugh again.

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Dad furrowed his brow, “What’s funny?”

Winston shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Oh.” Dad shrugged. “I thought I said something funny and didn’t know it. That happens sometimes.”

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Thus two families became one, and love swung its arms around us all. Love that originated in Austin, Texas, where God began to write the story of Jessica Svendsen and Winston Terry.

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The day was a together-happiness that began and ended with praise and worship to Jesus Christ. He wrapped us all in his embrace, a new family here on earth and a forever family in Him.

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Meeting the newborn

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Best Man and Maid of Honor speeches

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Their turn comes this summer ❤

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Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Winston Terry. I love you both. ❤

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I Am Resolved

When the new year looms in December people begin to reevaluate how they spent the past year. We look over the good and bad and decide what needs to change. I think what turned me off to New Years Resolutions was hearing too many people say something like, “Okay, so I really need to stop kicking baby goats. Oh look! January is two weeks away. I can kick a few more goats between now and midnight January first, but then I’ll stop for good.”

The idea of “new year, fresh start” is lovely, but every day is a fresh start and every moment you’re breathing an opportunity to try again. Why procrastinate addressing your bad habits if you know it needs to change now. Personally, I stopped doing New Years Resolutions and switched to setting yearly goals. This gives me a years worth of time to break my habits so I don’t have to hate myself when, one week into the new year, I’ve screwed up my diet and have to start over.

I started this new practice in 2015 by writing my 2016 goals down in my journal and dove into the year with gusto. Unfortunately, I made my goals unachievable by overloading myself. When December 31st came I was pregnant, flat on my back, and desperate to keep fluids down. I thought, If pregnancy is going to be this difficult, I’d better make my goals smaller, so I won’t end 2017 feeling like such a failure. I made two goals for the year: 1) live through pregnancy 2) spend more time with God.

Unless this post has been literally ghostwritten, I lived through pregnancy (HURRAY! *throws confetti*). In reality my survival of pregnancy was never in question (though at the time it felt touch and go) so that goal was like those already completed items you put on your “to-do” list just so you can tick them off. This means I really only had one goal.

And to be honest, I flunked it.

It’s arguable that any time is more time, but that wasn’t what I meant. I have always fought against myself to have regular daily time spent on my personal relationship with God. Pregnancy was hard and exhausting, motherhood equally so. I feel like I’ve been non-stop sick since I was three weeks pregnant. It’s frustrating and humiliating and all the more reason to fall into the arms of my creator and father. But I didn’t, not really.

So December 31st rolls past and I’ve failed again, failed to even do the equivalent of a weekly 20 minute phone call to the God who loves me more than I can understand.

Two days later, I’m thinking it over, and the hot tight sensation of panic starts to settle into my chest. I realize I’ve stopped caring. I’ve given up and just don’t care about anything of eternal weight. I’m too tired, frustrated, and drained from everything I’ve been through in 2017. I had so many moments in the past four months where I didn’t even want my next breath that I’ve forgotten the value of time. The panic attack starts. My mind is on fire with self loathing and pity. I wanted to wake my pastor-to-be husband and have him pray over my wayward, sinful self so that I could find hope and salvation.

Then I remembered why I didn’t make New Years Resolutions.

My yearly goal method had become the same limping cop-out that I rolled my eyes at in other people. I was chain smoking my way to midnight with an “I’ll fix it tomorrow” attitude. Tomorrow I’ll spend time with God. Tomorrow I’ll pray. Tomorrow I’ll start reading my Bible. Tomorrow, when I’m less exhausted, less sick, less frustrated, less depressed.

Tomorrow when I have less time.

I stopped waiting. I prayed:

Father,
You know I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. You know I’ve a list of bad habits that could circumnavigate the globe, but I’m here now. Forgive me. I know we’re going to have to do this again, maybe even tomorrow, but you just keep waking me up to what matters. It doesn’t matter if I have to fight through 365 panic attacks this year if at the end of every one we talk until I fall asleep. At least then I’ll have spent more time alone with you.

I had a frank conversation with the God who loves me, the most important relationship in my life that I’d been neglecting. I didn’t wake my husband to do it for me. I stopped and right then spent time alone with God.

I resolved to start over, and immediately did. And that’s what I’m going to keep doing until I get it right, even if I’m doing it with each breath for the rest of my life.

Five Years Later

Everyone has “are you kidding me?” moments with their parents. One of mine is when my mother told me that she and my father were actively trying to stop me from marrying my husband.

Defiance wasn’t an option in my childhood home. The severity of consequences for even the smallest infraction left me with a fear and mistrust of my parents that lingers to this day. So you can guess my incredulity when my mother told me I’d been allowed to defy them. Perhaps they hoped our relationship would just fall apart naturally, like the other three romantic relationships within the family that they’d destroyed with silence.

But this guy wouldn’t go away so easily.

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I really wasn’t sure if my mother meant what she was saying, so I probed her. Her responses came with a level of pride that left me in no doubt of her sincerity. I could imagine a parent drawing themselves up with dignity to inform their child that they “never liked that fellow anyway” if their child had been sobbing about wrongs done and the need for retribution, but not when the couple is still very much content in their mutual love.

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I asked for reasons, but none of them made any sense to me. In fact, her complaints were opposite of facts. “He’s not spiritual enough.” “He has no respect for you.” “He’s irresponsible.” It was like they’d never met him, and we dated almost five years before we got married. He is now, as he was then, the sweetest, most caring, and supportive person I have ever met, a sentiment more confirmed by the sandwich at my elbow which he just made for me after stacking wood outside in the freezing cold for over an hour.

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I thought about this conversation with my mother while Timothy and I were at dinner on Thursday, celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary. I thought about all the beauty and the pain we’ve been through in almost ten years together.

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Our first kiss in a parking lot before a Patriots baseball game
The loss of our first child
The birth of our baby girl
The way he used to shove his hand down into my glove because he wanted to hold my hand, not my glove
Struggling together through my panic disorder and suicidal depression
Setting up our first apartment
Taking long walks
Watching sunsets
Getting up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean
Setting off fire alarms with smoky dinners
And how nervous he was to propose to me, even though he knew there was only one answer for both of us.

Yes. Yes then and yes now. Yes for always and always and every day for the rest of my life.

So here’s to you, darling, for being the best reason ever to leave my home and defy my parents, and for giving me the home and family I never dreamed I would have.

Happy anniversary. Happy ever after.

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Braxton Hiccup

It was around 6p.m. on August 7th, 2017. I was eating the chili I’d made, watching a soccer game with my husband, and the Braxton Hicks that I’ve been feeling all day are not going away with water and elevated feet. In fact, they were starting to hurt a little.

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Photo actually taken while I was in early labor. Pain level greatly exaggerated.

I looked at Tim. “Honey.”

He put a spoonful of chili in his mouth and mumbled a “Hmph?”

“Maybe we should start timing these. They’re hurting a little.” Then I added hurriedly, “Not a lot. Just a little. Like a dull far away ache.” I was still 38 weeks pregnant and in prime false alarm territory. The last thing I wanted was to be “that pregnant lady,” waddling into the hospital at zilch centimeters dilated. Though I suppose I wouldn’t have seen the maternity nurses shaking their heads derisively at me when I waddled my way back out.

Tim just nodded at me as he opened up the contraction app. He’d downloaded it over a week before and had already been playing with it when I had bouts of Braxton Hicks. But those went away when I drank water and put my feet up. These…

After about an hour he says, “They’re coming 6 to 10 minutes apart for about 30 seconds each.” We looked at each other for a minute.

“It’s probably nothing,” I said.

“Maybe,” he replied, his eyes beginning to brighten with anticipation.

I chewed my lip, and said slowly, “but still, maybe we should finish packing the hospital bag. You know, just in case.”

Tim nodded and we set to work. I stayed mostly seated with my feet up, telling him when the “not” contractions started. At around 8 o’clock, I was beginning to panic. I was texting the midwives, trying to sound calm, hoping they weren’t judging me, because clearly this was just a false alarm. Really! I mean, they were getting more painful, and closer together, but it wasn’t real. Statistics show that most first time mothers are at least a week late.

I called up my mother-in-law. My voice was shaking. “Hey Mom? How much longer are you going to be at Ikea?” An hour away. I felt like an idiot.

“We’re just finishing up. Why? What’s up?”

“Well…I…I mean it could be nothing. But we’re timing them and they’re pretty regular. And they kinda hurt. Just a little! Not a lot. Like a mild period cramp.”

“Oh Rachel!” I can hear the excitement in her voice and it turns my stomach. My fear unclenches a little when she assures me they’ll come right home. Even if it’s a false alarm, I’ll feel better if she’s in the house.

Two Benadryl and several hours later, I’m laying on the sofa downstairs in legit pain. Too much pain to sleep through pain. My mother-in-law and my husband are packing the car. I fall into a rhythm that only measures time in “how far apart are they now” increments. Then I’m getting down into the back seat of the car to start the ride I’ve been dreading.

The ride itself was not that bad. My contractions were still around 5 minutes apart, which means that for a 45 minute ride, I only had to deal with 9 of them. It was the mental part that plagued me. I was still terrified it was a false alarm (a ridiculous fear at that point based on all available evidence). Or worse, that it wasn’t, but I’d show up there and the midwives would tell me that I was only 1 cm dilated despite my increasing pain level.

This was all I could think about as they checked me in. This was all I could think about as I waited for the midwives to come and assess me. It sent my blood pressure through the roof and lessened my chance of coming off the monitors for a water birth. The exhaustion of already being without sleep since 5 am the previous morning was taking its toll too. These two things combined made me ask for an epidural and decline a room with a birth tub. I didn’t have the energy to “ride the waves” much longer.

After being assessed, I was told I was in active labor. No one told me how far dilated I was, probably because I’d told them I was afraid of not being dilated enough. I later discovered I was 4 almost 5 cm. By the time the anesthesiologist came in I was nearly 7.

Once the epidural was in place, I dozed through the rest of labor, but didn’t really sleep. It was hard to drop off when I knew that soon I’d be meeting my baby. I’d predicted that all those music playlists people insisted I’d want during labor would go unused. I wanted one of the two things I always knew I’d want. So Tim set up a soccer game, and we waited to the music of whistled off-sides and the faint cursing of spectators picked up by the cameramen.

At about 2:23 pm they handed me my screaming baby girl.

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I don’t remember what I said when they gave her to me. I think I may have told her I loved her. I know I tried to sing to her, but I was crying too much. I do remember thinking how shocked I was that her head was lovely and round. I had been warned that vaginal births often gave way to alien shaped heads. I remember thinking that she was massive and I couldn’t believe this huge, tiny person had been inside me until a moment ago.

And I remember noticing her hair. It was blonde. Very blonde. Platinum blonde. Everyone who saw her in the hospital remarked on it. Don’t ask me how, because I wasn’t aware I had any blonde genes. My husband has them, sure, but we’re all brunettes in my family, and more dark brown than light. Only time will tell how much it will change and darken, but right now it’s a remarkable mystery to me.

As they wheeled me from the birthing room to our recovery room, I passed the desk with the check-in nurses. They smiled at me. I lifted the baby a little and said in a tired voice, “Well, it wasn’t a false alarm.”

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My favorite blonde ❤

Book Review: “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

The first time I started this book, the beauty of Hannah’s writing took my breath away. I wanted to read it slowly, to give it the time it deserved and ended up having to return it to the library before I’d barely gotten a few chapters in. 

Then I waited for the audio book version. Once I started that, it still took me forever to finish it, not just because of how beautifully it was written, but because it made everything feel so real. 

And WWII was an ugly time. 

The story surrounds the lives of two sisters living in France during the Nazi occupation. Their upbringing was dysfunctional, broken by the loss of thier mother and their father’s inability to recover from his involvement in WWI. When war comes again to France, they both approach it differently, adding a dynamic of family tension to this story of bravery and survival.

Like many well done narratives about life during WWII, it is ripe with tragedy, truth, and hope. It was a hard read for me because the characters were all so real and lovely that I was constantly worried about thier wellbeing. I finally finished with tears in my eyes. While this story is fiction, I couldn’t help but be moved by the depiction of life during this time, the pain and struggle, and how so many people forgot their own wants and dreams to save the lives of strangers. 

Beautifully done and unforgettable, this novel was definitely worth the hype that drew me to it.