Review: SkyWorld Duology

Skyworld: Secrets in the Mist and Skyworld: Blood Secrets are action-packed steampunk novels by Morgan L. Busse. I read Secrets earlier this year and eagerly anticipated the sequel. I joined the launch team for Blood Secrets and had the opportunity to read an advanced copy. I now own the beautiful hardback copies of both books! The audiobooks are great also! This series has sparked my interest in steampunk-themed fantastical fiction.

This story takes place in a dystopian world where humanity lives at the highest elevations, using airships and gliders for quick air travel. After a world war, ubiquitous Mist takes over the surface of the earth, rendering the land inhabitable and turning anyone who breathes it into the undead “turned.”  Resources are limited and the wealthy class suppresses the lower class as they fight for survival. The story follows Cass, a young survivor of the dreaded purges. Seeking a way to make a living for herself, she joins the crew of an airship as a hired diver, searching for items left behind in the Mist. Her life is forever changed when she meets Theodore, a wealthy and educated member of the ruling five families. Theo and Cass’s places in society would set them at odds, but they share a common purpose; ridding the world of the Mist before it takes over all humanity. Once they discover a cure, Cass wrestles with the concept that the world is worth saving. It is great to have clean steampunk with airships, gliders, creepy metal men, firearms, sky pirates, and “zombies.” I do not prefer zombie stories, but I enjoyed how the author used the concept in this story.

Cass is a relatable female character, brave yet vulnerable. She is not overbearing or unrealistically independent like many female characters in YA fiction today. Theo is a genuine gentleman, scientist, and adventurer. He is kind and strong, and their romance is sweet! They are one of my new favorite literary couples. They both rely on their faith for strength and meaning.

I had no issues with the first book, but the sequel lost a star from me because the ending was rushed. Even though it ended the way I wanted, it wasn’t fully developed. This made for a surprisingly unsatisfactory ending.

I would love it if the author revisited this world with another novel or maybe short stories. I highly recommend these books. It is thrilling YA, but not too scary or graphic for MG and some younger readers.

Review: The Star That Always Stays

The Star That Always Stays gets 5 stars out of 5 from me! Anna Rose Johnson’s debut novel is a beautifully written piece of middle-grade historical fiction. In 1914 Norvia and her four siblings are thrust into life in the city with a new family. Their childhood in poverty around Lake Michigan is left behind when Ma divorces and remarries a kind, financially stable man who encourages Norvia’s appetite for novels and education. The stigma of being the daughter of a divorcee with Ojibwe heritage makes navigating high school challenging! Norvia finds strength through her faith to navigate relationships, prejudice, divorce, and high school! I pre-ordered my hardback copy from Amazon and was thrilled at the beautiful cover!

I love the references to some of my favorite classic stories as Norvia reads books like Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables. This book is uplifting and charming while realistically addressing raw and complex themes. The characters in this story are all compelling! Through Norvia’s eyes I learned a little about the Ojibwe Indian culture and experienced a slice of life in 1914 Boyne City. My only complaint is that the ending left me wanting more. My only complaint is there are a few characters that I loved as much as Norvia and wish had more “time” on the page (especially Aylmer!)

Reviewing this book was special because this author is a member of the Author Conservatory, from the creators of Young Writers Workshop.  of which I am a member. Anna Rose Johnson is an inspiration! I cannot wait to see if she writes more MG fiction. There is a need for wholesome and memorable Christian-made stories of excellent quality. I’m thankful for the authors working to fill the void! Maybe I can count myself among them one day!

What is the Gospel?

Writing Prompt: In your own words, explain the Gospel to a non-believer.

This was more difficult to complete than I realized! Despite my experience in children’s ministry, I stared at my blank screen in discomfort. How can I put this in my own words? It was a thought-provoking exercise to write it out, then spend time in God’s word making sure what I was Biblical accurate. Here is the result of my inadequate, late- night meanderings!  

The Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sin, but what does that mean? The Bible is the Word of God revealed through His Holy Spirit, so it contains no mistakes. The truth found in scripture can be seen in the world around us and is evident throughout history! To me, God’s Word gives the best explanation for our origins, gives life meaning, dictates morality, and reveals our destiny.

God is the only supreme, Holy entity outside of time, and He created the universe and everything in it. He created human beings in His image, higher than the animals. Because He is triune (Father, Son, and Spirit), He is relational, and we were created for perfect communion with Him. All creation was perfect, with no death or pain. He gave the first humans (Adam and Eve) free will. He placed the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden of Eden and commanded they should not eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Satan, the fallen angel, tempted them to eat of it anyway so they could gain the knowledge of God. With their free will, they willingly gave into that temptation. This was the first sin- disobedience toward God. When sin entered the world, a curse covered on the universe. Death and pain became the norm. Perfect communion was broken between God and humanity. Since then, every human is born under the curse of sin. No person’s innate nature is good, and our punishment is eternal separation from God.

Because we are created in God’s image, any human is capable of contributing good and beautiful works to this dark world. However, these good works are not good enough to pay the penalty and lift the curse. This is why after Adam and Eve were cursed, God immediately gave a promise that He would one day send a Savior for humanity. The Old Testament is the story of how God interacts with His chosen Jewish people, teaches them the moral law, and foreshadows the coming Messiah Savior. The prophecies detail how all humanity would have the opportunity of salvation through the Jewish Messiah. The New Testament shows us that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of those prophecies. He was 100% God and 100% man, the “second Adam.” 2,000 years ago, He was born of the virgin Mary, God in flesh. He lived a sinless life but died a torturous death by crucifixion to pay the penalty for sin: past, present, and future. He conquered death by resurrecting 3 days later and appeared to many witnesses. He later ascended into heaven and reigns on the right hand of God the Father to this day. Jesus will return one day to restore this broken world and defeat Satan forever. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to live inside all who confess their sin and believe in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He has allowed all humanity to accept his salvation and lordship. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation, it is a gift freely given and undeserved. Even though we are born selfish, born into rebellion against a Holy God, He loves us and wants to restore communion with us. If we die without repenting (turning away) from our sins and accepting that gift, we will forever be separated from God in eternal hell.

Romans 10:9 ESV says “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Jesus was a real person, God in the flesh. During His life, he claimed to be God, claimed to be the promised Messiah. You either believe He was who He said He was, or you think He was a madman. You cannot believe he was “just a good teacher.” You cannot try to “balance the scales” by doing more good in your life than bad and trust that “whatever god is out there” will accept all people who try to be “good.”

Humans are made in God’s image, so we are triune in a way: body, spirit, soul. Once you accept Christ, your sin is forgiven and your soul is sealed for eternity. You cannot do anything to make Him change that. However, we still live in a broken world and your spirit and body are capable of sin. As the Holy Spirit guides believers through life, our spirit is constantly sanctified (becoming more like Christ.) Our bodies are subject to the curse of pain and death, but one day he will redeem our physical bodies by giving us new, sinless ones. Jesus says in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Abundance despite chaos…

I was delighted to discover we had wild blackberries growing near our garden! Most of our yard is chaotic brush and bramble because we have not done any landscaping since the tornado two years ago. The blackberries exploded when left to their own devices! I was surprised they had trellised up the brush, making them more accessible for picking!

Growing up, the wild blackberries that grew on my family’s homestead were a herald for summer! I have always loved picking and eating blackberries- the thorns and purple stains were worth it! There were plenty of times that I ate more than I brought inside for mom to freeze! Now, I am more efficient with my picking now because time is money! Besides, we have had record-breaking heat waves this week, so I pick early in the morning and pick ’em quick! Blackberries are high fiber and low carb! I love eating them fresh or adding to muffins, cakes, and bread.

My disastrous yard is frustrating, but I don’t have the time to get everything done right now. I never realized how much a tornado would change the landscape. With most of my large trees gone, grass and bushes have taken over. It was nice to walk out and see that we had some “free” fruit! I stumbled on abundance despite the chaos, and I just had to take a moment to praise Jesus for that!

Review: Faithfully Different

I am thrilled to share my non-fiction selection, Faithfully Different: Regaining Clarity in a Secular Culture, written by Natasha Crain. This is a must-read for any Christian seeking to understand how to apply Biblical truth to everyday life! Natasha is a homeschool mom, speaker, and author who is passionate about Christian worldview and apologetics.

 I found out about her book while listening to an interview on the Center For Biblical Unity podcast, All The Things. I highly recommend CFBU’s ministry because it has been a great resource in helping me navigate hot topic issues like social justice and race relations. They are one of the few Christian organizations that offer a Biblical perspective on social issues instead of relying on the secular ideology of Critical Race Theory. 

Natasha clearly defines her target audience as born-again Christians. She gives specific examples of how anti-Biblical secular worldviews have infiltrated Christian thought and action. She shares some depressing statistics showing how few regular church attendees hold Biblically based beliefs like the infallibility of scripture, God as creator, original sin, and salvation by grace. She reminds us that belief is hard to quantify, so the amount of people who live out their Biblical beliefs is probably lower. Humans can profess belief in something without acting consistently to those beliefs. She outlines three core questions that every worldview must answer:

“why are things the way they are?”

“what does an ideal society look like?”

“how do we achieve this ideal society?”

The author draws upon her marketing background to explain how important felt needs are in marketing and how easy it is to manipulate an individual’s felt needs. Secular culture places validation of felt needs above actual needs. She summarizes the secular worldview into four philosophies: 

  1. “Feelings are the ultimate guide.”
  2. “Happiness is the ultimate goal.”
  3. “Judging is the ultimate sin.”
  4. “God is the ultimate guess.”

Throughout the book, she shows how these philosophies are popular because they appeal to mankind’s fallen nature and therefore are incompatible with a Biblical worldview. She has an excellent section on wrestling with doubts about faith and reassures Christians that the “truth is narrow, and that’s okay.” In one of my favorite quotes she explains, “If culture is the air we breathe, we’ve inhaled an expectation for self-censorship to appease man rather than to please God.” 

I learned so much from this book, so I give Faithfully Different 5 out of 5 stars! I purchased the audiobook version and will be adding a paperback copy to my library! Reading this book solidified my opinion that Biblical illiteracy combined with the “need to please” is the recipe that has produced the lukewarm Christianity pervasive among the Body of Christ. Revelation 3:15-17 ESV, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Click on the CFBU logo below to check out their website! 

Review: Stand Up, Stand Strong

I’m excited to share Sara Barratt’s brand-new book, Stand Up Stand Strong: A Call to Bold Faith In A Confused Culture! I was privileged to be on the launch team, so I was able to pre-read this book before it was released. I now also have my paperback! This book is an excellent resource for learning to see the world through a Biblical Christian lens! The author melds well-researched facts and solid theology to cover hot topics like identity, sexual orientation, social justice, addiction, and abortion. I appreciated the grace-filled, encouraging tone that pervades the pages without compromising the truth found in Christ. Although dealing with “heavy” topics, it’s not a chore to read through this book. It can be difficult to find resources (especially for teens and young adults) that lovingly present a historical Christian viewpoint without being discolored by “progressive Christian” ideas. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter are helpful!

I just finished teaching a class for high school students on developing writing skills to express a Christian worldview. I wish this book had come out in time for me to hand out to my students! It would work as a “textbook” of sorts (but not the boring kind!) This book is a must-read for Christian teens, young adults, and even parents! I have not read the author’s earlier book Love Riot, but I will now and look forward to any other books she will publish!

Bible Study Goals 2022

My Bible study goal for 2022 is to read through the entire Bible in chronological order. My small group at church is following the same reading plan, and so is my family! This is the first time since high school that I have committed to a year-long reading plan or Bible study alongside other believers. Accountability is not only vital for success but makes the study experience more enjoyable! We did not actually start the reading plan on January 1st, so it will most likely take longer than 2022 to finish. I am determined not focus on “catching up” with the dates on the plan, instead staying faithful to the study itself.

I have read the Bible cover to cover at least once in my life. The first time was in high school after joining a challenge issued by my youth pastor. It took me longer than a year, but I finished it. A closer knowledge of the Lord can be acquired any time Scripture is studied! However, looking back, I would not read cover to cover again, and would not recommend it to others. It gets difficult to understand event continuity (especially with the Old Testament.) Also, reading daily without discussion or referencing any commentaries/historical context can often lead to confusion or misinterpretation. My enthusiasm during Genesis and Exodus waned once I hit Leviticus. By the time I trudged through the book of Numbers, my eyes had crossed. While reading Kings and Chronicles, I suffered from déjà vu because they contain many of the same accounts and genealogies. I learned much from reading the prophets but was still confused without understanding the historical context for the messages they were delivering from God. 

The 66 books of the Bible are organized by genre, not chronology. Reading through chronologically helps me understand the holistic story of God’s people. Genealogies and lists of Old Testament ceremonial laws are important, so finding the best way to study faithfully is helpful! No matter how many times I re-read the Bible, I always come away with something new. This is because Scripture is the living Word! Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

I purchased a new ESV Bible at the beginning of the year in anticipation of this study! Not only is it beautiful but practical! It gives me plenty of room to take notes on each page. I use highlighters, colored pencils, mechanical pencils, and sometimes no-bleed pens.

Valentine’s Day & Procuring Books

I enjoy researching the origin of holidays we celebrate as Americans! I knew that Saint Valentine is known as the patron saint of lovers, but apparently, the two historical Christians known by the name Valentine had nothing to do with hearts, lovers, or anything of the kind! They were, however, both murdered for their faith on February 14th ,269 AD by Roman Emperor Claudius.

The Loyola Treasury of the Saints is one of my newer additions to the book hoard. This beautifully illustrated hardback treasury is a compilation of short descriptions of Christian saints. It is broken up by historical periods and would make a great read-aloud for children. I have enjoyed reading through this treasury myself because I didn’t learn about the saints growing up in an Evangelical denomination. I purchased this book used, and honestly forgot about it until today, when I decided to look up St. Valentine.

 This is the 9-step process I subconsciously follow for procuring books…

  • hear/read about an interesting book
  • add it to my digital to-read shelf on Goodreads
  • check online to see if the public library has a copy (they never have the books I want!)
  • hunt for an affordable used copy
  • order it (even though I should be saving that money!)
  • add it to my “to-be-read-mountain”
  • forget about it
  • …sometime later… remembering the purchase and… experience the excitement of “finding” a new book on the mountain pile
  • finally read it 😊