Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl– Book Review

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet A. Jacobs, is both an easy read and a very difficult read. Easy in that it is gripping and hard to put down, especially knowing that it is a true story. Difficult, especially knowing that it’s a true story, because it is very hard to read of the despicable ways people were considered property and were treated with no respect, no regard for their feelings, and with no hope or expectation of relief. Many times the incidents and situations brought me to tears or made me tense with anger. This is history we should be aware of, not merely intellectually, but also on an emotional and social level, of how it affected countless people in our country.

While I was aware of the fact that these abuses had happened, reading this book drove home the horror of what life was like, in particular for slave girls and women. It also made clear that even though some slaveholders were benevolent and genuinely cared for their slaves, they were still lacking in understanding of how the system of slavery dehumanized and endangered anyone who was considered property.

While I am thankful for the decency, support, friendship, and genuine love shown by those who worked hard to free slaves or end the institution of slavery, I am appalled at the fact that slavery existed as an institution and that it remained for so long. This narrative of Jacobs’ life, with all she and others she knew suffered, drives home the inhumanity of any human being thinking they have the right to own another. The fact that so many people who were considered respectable citizens owned slaves, some abusing them horrendously, others acting benevolently but still not emancipating their slaves, starkly demonstrates how deceived one can be about others and even about oneself. I recommend reading this book with an open heart and mind to learn more about a deplorable chapter in our history and also to learn about human nature, both the dreadful and the gracious and forgiving.

A Spark of Light (Book Review)

I rarely write reviews of the books I read, mostly because I am usually well into another book by the time I finished reading one, but sometimes, if I feel very strongly either positively or negatively, I am inclined to review one. I’m hoping to start reviewing a few more, and generally my reviews will be about why I like a book, as I often just don’t finish a book if I don’t like it. But I’m writing a strongly negative review this time.

I recently finished reading A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite novel writers, whose books I enjoy both for how engaging her writing is (hard for me to put down, so I have to space out how often I read them) and for the well-researched ways she presents the complexity of challenging contemporary issues. I was very disappointed with this book. I’ve enjoyed many books by Picoult and have appreciated the diverse points of view she presents, but she failed to do that with A Spark of Light. One of the things I have loved about her books is the way she presents both (or multiple) sides of an issue with well-rounded characters with whom one can sympathize and relate to. That has made me come away from her books with a better understanding of why people would approach an issue differently than I do, and greater understanding of the complexity of whatever issue the book is dealing with. In some cases that has even resulted in me modifying my own views. Not so with this book. In A Spark of Light, Picoult presents the pro-life characters as shallow, extreme, and unlikable. While there certainly are some who fit that description, it is an unfair and inaccurate caricature of the majority of pro-life people.

In her Author’s Note at the end of the book, Picoult states that she interviewed pro-life advocates and they were “not religious zealots…were appalled by acts of violence…weren’t trying to circumvent women’s rights or tell women what to do with their bodies,” and that she had enjoyed conversation with them. So why did that not come across in her writing? I can’t imagine anyone coming away from this book feeling sympathy with any of the pro-life characters. It seems to me that Picoult threw aside one of her greatest strengths in her writing in order to get across a political message. I’ve seen other writers do that, too,and it is always dismaying, even when I have agreed with the point they were making or perspective they were advocating. I may still read some of Picoult’s books I haven’t read yet, but I am less interested in reading her more recent ones.

Picture Perfect by Jodi Piccoult– Book Review

As always with Jodi Piccoult’s books, I had a hard time putting this book down. It is an engaging and insightful story that clearly depicts the confusion, denial, and relational enmeshment that allows abusive relationships to continue, even when the abusive pattern is obvious to everyone but the victim. As such, it is an excellent book for helping both victims of domestic violence and others understand the dynamics involved and begin to recognize patterns of kindness followed by beatings, followed by more kindness and so on for what they are– abuse.

I recommend this to anyone who wonders if they might be in an abusive relationship or to those who, like me, may have grown up in an abusive situation. Reading this helped me see some ways I have carried relational patterns from childhood into the present, so that now I can more effectively address those patterns and also try to bring truth into those relationships that, while no longer abusive in the same way now that I am not a child, still are not healthy.

Book Review: When God Looked the Other Way

I’ve decided to start putting my reviews or thoughts about some of the books I read here on my blog, mostly so I can look back at them again when I’m trying to remember what I thought of a book. I also find that I tend to go through cycles, sometimes reading more, at other times painting more. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and not as much art, other than sketching birds and deer and other wildlife.

When God Looked the Other Way: An Odyssey of War, Exile, and Redemption, by Wesley Adamczyk

I found this to be a gripping, vivid, personal account of a part of history of which I was ignorant and which should not be forgotten. It made me realize how everything– home, family, freedom– could be taken from even a comfortable, seemingly secure middle-class life at the whim of an evil government. Reading this made me wonder about the possibility of this kind of thing happening to us or to our children or grandchildren, and that thought makes me reflect on the importance of having my hope and my trust truly in God, who can never be taken from me, rather than in possessions or our nice, comfortable home and lifestyle. I was also dismayed to read in the appendix of the duplicity and lack of integrity of the U.S. and British governments. That just reinforces my lack of confidence in any government not to choose expediency over justice when pressed by circumstances and choosing alliances.

Kisses from Katie– Book Review

I don’t think
it’s possible to read Kisses from Katie
and remain unmoved and unchanged. Nor is it easy to put the book down once
you start reading it. Katie’s engaging writing draws you into her life
with the thirteen delightful children she’s in the process of adopting and takes you along as she visits and ministers to all sorts of people. People who are struggling with situations most of us couldn’t even imagine, but who have the same kinds of fears, hopes, and dreams we all have.
Written by
Katie Davis, who went to Uganda at age eighteen for a one-year mission trip and
has lived there since, this book opened my eyes to some of the most
economically destitute, but often spiritually rich, people there are in this
world. I’ve heard all my life of people starving in Africa, but I have never
been introduced to them as individuals with faith, fears, and longings I could
relate to. Katie puts her arms around them and shows them God’s love with food,
medicine, tears, gentle care, and the constant message of Christ’s love for
them. She listens to their stories and helps each one experience the dignity of
being a valuable person created in God’s image, precious to the Lord and to
her. She also learns from them, as she sees their gratitude, faith, and joy,
despite the losses and hardships they have experienced.
Young though
she is, Katie lives more selflessly and wholeheartedly for Christ than most of
us would think possible, and she also experiences deeper communion with Christ
and more joy in him than most of us know. Throughout the book, she is honest
about her own struggles and doesn’t put herself on a pedestal or even think
that what she is doing is extraordinary. She shows by her life how one person,
relying on God’s strength and following his leading, can do an extraordinary
job of bringing Christ’s love to those who are often least valued in the world. 
I finished reading
this book last week, but it is still in my thoughts every day, as reading it
has challenged me to rethink my priorities and examine the depth of my faith
and how I live it out. I am pondering how to follow Katie’s example in my own life.
It is unlikely that I will go to Uganda or possibly anywhere overseas to do
missions work, but I know I could live more closely with Jesus, more selflessly
following him and loving the people he brings into my life.

Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World

Today I have a first on my blog– an author interview! I met Terri Groh about twenty years ago, when her husband, Dan, was a guest preacher at our church. Dan and Terri and their two sons, Nathan and Stephen, used to come to our house for dinner after church, whenever Dan preached for our church. We always enjoyed lively conversation with Dan and Terri, and our children enjoyed playing with their pleasant and well-behaved  young boys. A couple of years later Emily was born, so their family, like ours, has two boys followed by a girl. Then Terri started homeschooling, which I was already doing, so we had even more in common. And in more recent years, Terri and I have both been writing for people in our churches and others.

Welcome to my blog, Terri!

Thank you for having me, Melissa. I appreciate you sharing your blog with me today.

I’ve had a chance to read most of your book, and I am finding it very encouraging and motivating for my faith. I’d like my readers to learn about your book and get to know you a bit.

How did you get started writing Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World?

Five years ago, I started writing a once a week devotional to the ladies in my church. They basically were lessons or truths that the Lord was teaching me as I had my own personal quiet time with Him. After about a year or so, I also started posting them on my blog. I found that though I was sharing what I had learned from the Lord and the things I was wrestling with in my own private life, other women were also finding them helpful in their own lives. I started feeling led to compile them into a book form and with space to journal so that other women would also be encouraged.

For what audience is your book intended? 

They really are for women of all ages and all walks of life. It doesn’t matter if they work outside the home or are stay-at-home moms, if they have children at home or are empty-nesters. I think all women will find something that they can relate to in these devotionals.

You cover many real-life situations. How did you choose these particular topics?

Well, I wouldn’t say that I chose them, but they chose me! 🙂 Again, they come straight from my heart and the things that I was struggling with and wrestling through at the time. As a pastor’s wife, I never wanted the women in my church to feel like I was targeting them or sharing their problems. So I shared what *I* was finding in my own private life and study of God’s word. And yet, so many could relate to those things because they were dealing with similar issues. As Christian women we often keep things bottled up and are afraid to let others know we are struggling with something. Yet, it is often as we share with each other and pray for one another, that we really grow as believers.

What do you find most helpful or important for your faith on a daily basis?

Spending time in God’s word and prayer. I can always tell when I’ve been neglecting it because everything just feels off. If I don’t tank up by spending time with the Lord each day, I usually run out of gas very quickly.

How long does it generally take you to write a week’s selection?

Because I am generally writing about something I am working through and the Lord is teaching me, I find that I write them very quickly. Often, I write them the same day I post them but I’ve been mulling over the thoughts and praying about the issue throughout the week. I talk to my husband a lot about these different things and, as I articulate them to Dan, the thoughts begin to become cohesive.

What do you do to grow yourself as a writer?

I have found connecting with other writers very helpful. Being able to exchange ideas and read other writers’ points of view about things has helped me to hone my own craft. Also, I do a lot of reading which definitely has helped too. Then I spend a lot of time just writing. I write a daily blog post. I often will send an email or card to someone to encourage them. I belong to a couple of online sites and message boards where I can share and write too.

What did you enjoy about writing this book?

The thing I enjoyed the most is seeing how the Lord has taken situations and struggles I have had and used them to bless others. That is the most thrilling thing to me. I am blessed to be able to take my love of writing and also use that in ministry to help others. God is good! He’s given me the two desires of my heart.

I’ve enjoyed learning more about your book and your writing process, Terri. Thank you for writing Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World, and for answering my questions here. 

Thanks again for having me, Melissa! I’ve enjoyed myself.

I found Terri’s book very helpful for taking a good, honest (but not always easy)  look at my faith and life, and I’m sure any woman who is interested in growing spiritually would find it helpful. You can go to to read more about Terri and to find a link to her daily blog, Hearts in Service.

You can get more information about Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World on Terri’s website and you can find it on at Words of Encouragement for a Discouraged World

A Three Dog Life– Book Review

A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas, was recently recommended to me by someone I hadn’t even met yet, who was so sure I would like it after we’d spoken for five minutes that she mailed me a copy. She was right– I started reading as soon as I tore open the package the book came in, sat down in my rocking chair without even bothering to make tea first (anyone who knows me and my tea habit knows how rarely that happens), and could scarcely put the book down.

A Three Dog Life is a journey with Thomas after her husband’s terrible accident that resulted in serious brain injury. As with most journeys, much that is meaningful happens in ordinary, daily life– eating, knitting, walking, shopping– and Thomas’ real-life description drew me in and made me feel like I could easily sit down and join her for tea with her dogs sprawled around the room. Her three dogs, Harry, Rosie, and Carolina, provide a constant touchstone with the present and source of comfort and companionship, much as my three dogs do for me, and as dogs do for many people in all sorts of circumstances.

Like most people’s journeys, Thomas’ is not smooth and constant– events and thoughts ramble and sometimes jump from present to past and back again in a way that can be momentarily confusing– as life often is for any of us and as it certainly was for Thomas’ husband Rich, and so for her as well. I could relate to these back and forth thoughts, as my mind often leaps capriciously in time based on the slimmest of associations. I really enjoyed meeting another mind that meanders as mine does, weaving present events, memories, and philosophical musings into a tapestry of darks and lights and all shades in between.

Throughout the engaging ramblings of five years of life, this is very much a story of abiding love, with honest reflection on the challenges that went along with that love. Love that endured when all expectations screeched to a halt in one horrible moment that forever changed the whole face of their relationship. Love that persisted through grief and guilt feelings and uncertainty and loss. It is also an inspiring example of finding meaning and joy in life after personal disaster strikes terribly close to home. I am inclined to start right over and read this book again; it is too rich with real life to only read once.

Book Review– Holdfast

I just finished reading Holdfast, by Kathleen Dean Moore, a philosophy professor and naturalist. What an interesting book! It’s a series of short (that works well for me), very engaging essays that touch on a broad range of topics, with many interesting tidbits thrown in. Two of the tidbits I especially liked were the fact that Chickadee brains actually expand in the fall as they hide seeds for winter eating and that marine mammals sleep with only half their brain at a time. I looked both up (of course) and am filled with awe about the Chickadee brains and their memories and am fascinated to learn about the way dolphins sleep.

I also liked the way the author describes her reaction to and appreciation of simple, everyday nature observations, as well as less pleasant stuff like deforestation and supposedly renewable resources, like forests that are used for logging. I have a feeling her philosophy classes might be understandable to those of us who don’t naturally think in big, philosophical words and concepts.

Interwoven with all of the essays are glimpses into her family life and who she is as a person with likes, dislikes, joys, fears, and questions, which drew me in and kept me wanting to read more and get to know her. I’ll definitely be looking up more of her books.

Kathleen Dean Moore is a presenter at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College that I’m attending next month, and I’m looking forward to hearing her speak and hope to meet her.