Spread Some TRUEST Love Today!

Ready for the best novel of the year? Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers is one of the most exquisite, thought-provoking books I’ve ever read, with a delicious blend of characters, romance, humor, and lyricism. I’m privileged to know Jackie Lea–a true kindred spirit–and I know this book is only the beginning of her career as a genius YA novelist. If you loved The Fault in Our Stars, trust me: you’ll love Truest more.

Jackie Lea Sommers

Would you consider re-blogging this post, sharing a link to it, or pinning/sharing/using one of the images below in your social media? #Truest

My debut novel Truest comes out on September 1st, and I couldn’t be more excited to introduce the world to these characters who have captured my heart! The highlight of 2014 for me was when I got an email from my editor that said:

I don’t know why it took me so long to finish this version. But I just did and all I can say is WOW. I just think it’s the kind of book that will change kids and adults, too–forever. Jackie–it’s just a beautiful book. You’ve written something meaningful, deep, thought provoking, sexy and uber-romantic.

To learn more about Truest— or to pre-order your copy, click here. FINAL MEET THE CHARACTERSFINAL BLOG BANNERTruest quotestorm cell Truestalacrity truestbaptism with websiteWhite genuine leather classical style sofa in vintage room with desk lamp

Fresh organic oranges halves  fruits on blue wooden background with copy space

man plays the guitar on the street. retro style.


red shoe truest

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The Grass is Always Greener

We’ve heard the cliché “The grass is always greener in somebody else’s yard.” It wouldn’t be a cliché if it weren’t true, and on days like today, we tend to compare ourselves to other people even more than usual.

If we’re single, we wish there was someone to send us a romantic greeting card or make us laugh. We battle self-doubt as society pats us on the head and says, “If only you were this or that, then someone would love you. Then you’d be worthwhile.”

If we’re married, we miss the days when our conversations with our spouse were about more than who picks up which kid at which activity or how we’ll pay the bills. We flail on the treadmill of life, too exhausted to keep running but moving too fast to stop, wondering why we wanted this.

We all stare at the other yards, wishing our grass were as green, our lives as full and rewarding. But as we envy their yards, our own yard is dying.

A beautiful yard takes work. We need to mow it consistently so it doesn’t become ragged, spray the weeds so they don’t choke the grass, and turn on the sprinkler to keep the color alive.

If we want our own green grass, we need to cultivate it.

When we feel dry and parched, we can pray. God can handle our honesty—in fact, He wants it. And when He sends soft, cooling rains to quench our thirst, thank Him. We also grow by spending time with encouraging, enlightening people. Thanking them for valuing us and showing we appreciate them, too.

For our yard to flourish, we need to avoid looking at others. If this means spending less time with fictional characters or people who spread weeds of discontent, then we must do so. Instead, we need to spread love both to those around us and to those who share our yard. We love by acting, in big and small ways, with patience and kindness. By not bragging or envying. By speaking humbly, kindly. By not demanding our own way or keeping a tally of who did us wrong. By rejoicing, believing, hoping, and enduring.

And, above all, we need to remember that we are infinitely and passionately loved by Someone who will never leave us or forsake us. That’s how we can be vibrant and alive right where we are.

Postscript: See Joshua 1:5, John 13:34-35, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Ephesians 3:14-21, and Philippians 4:11-13.

Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Patterns fascinate me. This odd obsession was beneficial in college and grad school, where literary criticism depends on spotting the repetition of ideas and themes. It became my nerdy version of I Spy. (“How many imperialistic conversations can you find? Don’t forget the recurring red objects; symbolism is not far behind.”)

There are patterns in life, too. Certain phrases keep floating upward on the page: rejoice, pray, thank. Pause, wait, be still. And now, open, honest, vulnerable.

Brené Brown, a writer and research professor, also loves patterns. Her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are doesn’t emphasize imperfection so much as it does wholehearted living.

Brown shares how she studied the patterns of people who were living fully, and she discovered three key commonalities: courage, compassion, and connectivity. When we are vulnerable, we are courageous; when we care for and forgive ourselves, we can more readily show compassion; and when we’re connected with safe people, we are better able to love and serve others.

So much of what Brown discusses aligns with biblical truth. When we are weak, then we are strong. When we recognize our value as children of God, made in His image, we start seeing everyone else that way, too.

This isn’t a self-help book, but rather, a guide to identifying our patterns of behavior and learning to experience life. Brown says we can’t pick and choose which emotions we feel; shuttering our hearts to pain also inhibits our ability to feel joy. To live wholeheartedly, we need to allow the pain and the joy. And we’ll be stronger for it.

Don’t bother putting this slim book on your to-read list—read it now.

Postscript: In her book Reclaiming Your Heart, Denise Hildreth Jones also writes about living wholeheartedly, and she identifies the different “hearts” each of us develop. This book is another life-changing read.

Best Books of 2014

January. The month when Target sells granola bars in bulk, we lie that the cold never bothered us anyway, and I announce the Best Books I read the previous year. 2014 involved a great deal of research as I wrote my Master’s Essay—I can tell you more than you want to know about middle-class domesticity in 1850s England—but not much pleasure reading. Thus, this year’s list of favorite reads is rather sparse, but these titles are the ones that most engaged, impressed, and inspired me.

Best Non-Fiction: Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control by Elisabeth Elliot

Oh, Elisabeth Elliot. If spiritual wisdom were measurable, she’d be a giant, and I’d be a hobbit. Elliot didn’t gain her wisdom from living an easy life, though; written years after Elliot’s husband Jim was killed on the mission field, this book testifies to the perfection of God’s timing and love. A must-read for any adult, whether single or married.

Best Memoir: The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs

This innovative memoir—which reports, as actual encyclopedia entries, how Jacobs read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a year—made me combust from envy that I didn’t write something this clever and insightful.

Best Young Adult: Divergent by Veronica Roth

As much as I disliked Allegient (not for the plot twist, but for the indistinguishable dual narrative), I loved Divergent and Insurgent. Roth adheres to the Dystopian genre conventions while also emphasizing the importance of hope—a contrast to some of the nihilistic YA series. Plus, she gave us Four.

Best Classic: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

I admit, I did write my Master’s Essay on this Victorian serial, so I may be biased. However, anyone who delights in small-town foibles, vivid characters, and clever dialogue will enjoy the humor and poignancy of Cranford, a town where all the men mysteriously disappear and the women reign supreme. It’s a perfect work for people who are intimidated by the Classics; you’ll laugh out loud and find the themes to be surprisingly relevant.

Best Historical Fiction: Wings of the Nightingale Series (With Every Letter, On Distant Shores, In Perfect Time) by Sarah Sundin

I mentioned this series on Veteran’s Day, but it’s worth sharing again. Sundin’s series about three WWII flight nurses appeals to all of the senses and emotions, and after finishing it, I missed the characters. A lot.

Best Book of 2014: Meet Me in St. Louis by Sally Benson Meet Me in St. Louis has always been one of my favorite musicals. Judy Garland, sweeping score, familial dysfunction—what could be better? The book.

The film is actually based on a series of short stories written by Benson for The New Yorker in 1941. Drawing from her own life, Benson (“Tootie” in the stories and musical) shares the outrageous exploits of herself and her siblings as they anticipated the coming 1904 World’s Fair. Benson’s descriptions of her home and family, combined with her humorous turn-of-phrase, make this a memorable read.

New Year’s Resolution

2014 was one of the most challenging and heartbreaking years; it was also one of the most exciting and reassuring.

It’s December 31st, so I review the year, flipping through my blotchy calendar and journal, and prepare for the upcoming one. I used to make detailed Resolution Lists, which I’d pin to my bulletin board. While combing my wet hair or brushing my teeth every morning, I’d remind myself to exercise so many times, write however many words, achieve such-and-such GPA.

There’s always a goal, and I always speed walk there. (I count that as exercise.) But I can’t outpace the challenges and heartbreaks, and with my eyes focused on my five-step plan, I don’t see the rest stops beside the road.

In 2014, I was reminded 365 times to rest. “For thus said the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength,’” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV).In returning and in rest you shall be saved—protected, renewed. In quietness and in trust—not perpetual motion and self-sufficiency—shall be your strength.

The 2015 calendar is fairly empty; only the January squares are lined with places and times. Beside the calendar, on the magnetic board, there’s no Resolution List, just an index card: “And he said, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest,’” (Exodus 33:14, ESV).

An Authors’ Christmas Party

Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell host a Christmas party at their Bloomsbury home.

Emily Dickinson RSVPs “no—” but sends a loaf of her famous gingerbread and a poem so cleverly hyphenated that they forgive her.

e.e. cummings regrets that Dickinson does not attend; he wanted to discuss the relativistic nature of grammar rules. He plays Scrabble with Shakespeare instead.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald crank the gramophone and Charleston near the eggnog bowl.

Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen commandeer the settee near the Christmas tree and exchange witty banter about social mores and marital prospects. Wilde does not remove his fur coat.

Walt Whitman arrives fashionably late. People smile and nod politely, then gossip amongst themselves. Whitman is delighted; he started the latest rumor himself.

Wordsworth sips his eggnog and reminisces about Christmases from his childhood. Tennyson strokes his beard and nods affirmingly, responding with symbolic remarks about friendship and mythic figures. They toast to the queen.

Shakespeare asks Woolf where her dictionary is; he needs to settle a spelling disagreement with e.e. cummings.

Charles Dickens dramatically performs his latest short story, complete with facial expressions so realistic and garish that Charlotte Brontë swoons.

Elizabeth Gaskell revives Brontë, and the friends sit in the corner while Gaskell vents in a passionate but ladylike whisper about how insufferable and controlling Dickens is.

Robert Browning pauses with wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning beneath the mistletoe.

Everyone gathers their wraps, hats, and umbrellas and thank Woolf and Hogarth for a scintillating evening. Bounding down the front steps, Dickens can’t resist quoting himself.

God bless us, everyone.”

Come to Literary Inn

The other night, I re-watched Holiday Inn, one of my favorite Christmas movies. I cheat with the colorized version, but I like how the sweet tinting—sea foam green, powder pink, and winter blue—adds to the nostalgia of the Irving Berlin musical.

If I had the money and the business sense (plus the modern day equivalents of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire), I’d love to open a venue like that. Who wouldn’t want to visit a renovated historic home on special occasions for food and entertainment? Rather than holidays, though, I think a literary theme might be novel. (Pun!)

At this combination bookstore/restaurant, all events and foods would be inspired by favorite worlds and characters:

July 31st—Harry Potter’s Birthday. At midnight, we’ll clink foamy mugs of Butterbeer in celebration. After sorting into our respective Houses, we can trade Chocolate Frog cards and complete Quibbler quizzes and play Wizard’s Chess. (No deaths, I promise.) Weasley-style fireworks cap off the evening.

November 1st—Scorpio Races Day. We’ll eat honeyed November Cakes and exchange capaill uisce escapades, placing racing bets and painting tea pots and swooning over Sean Kendrick. (Again, no one will have to die. YA literature is surprisingly violent.)

December 24th—Christmas in Narnia. We’ll consume Turkish Delight and hot chocolate in honor of Aslan and Christmas’ arrival. (This is especially meaningful in Minnesota, where winter is 100 years long). Sardines and toast will be offered as well. Perhaps we’ll even learn the dance of the fauns and the dryads, which I imagine is akin to a jig.

Literary Inn (working title) will also host Alice in Wonderland-inspired Unbirthday Parties, complete with mismatched tea cups and plenty of cupcakes. Dress: extravagant hat, over-sized cravat.

Of course sandwiches made from Peeta’s bread, chocolate cake from Dauntless, and Raspberry Cordial bottled in Avonlea will always be available.

Postscript: If such an establishment were to exist, what other events/characters/details should be included?🙂