Sep 15

Once a month I review a book – usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk reading!

Has anyone ever trespassed on your property?

photo by Paul Englefield

photo by Paul Englefield

Not much fun, is it? A sprinkler of ours hooks up to the side of our house. Neighborhood kids think they’re awesome in front of their friends when they take it upon themselves to “help us out.” They come into our yard and turn off our sprinkler when it’s on, or vice versa. They could find worse mischief, but it’s not theirs to mess with. I feel really old when I get annoyed about this.

On the flip side, what’s on our property is our responsibility. A couple of shrubs beg for a good haircut. The house could use new paint. It’s up to us. The neighborhood kids sure won’t do it for us. Not their job.

And that’s the message of Boundaries, a recent-classic, non-fiction book by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Rating: 4 mochas out of 5

You might like this if you like: Anything by Henry Cloud, The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

What it’s about: It examines when to say yes and when to say no. …And knowing what’s our “property” (responsibility) and what we have no business shouldering ourselves. For instance, if I give money (yet again) to a friend who spends it all on, say, buying chinchillas instead of paying her rent, am I doing myself or her (or the chinchillas) any favors? Or, if I slack at work and expect a willing coworker to fill the gaps, am I owning my responsibilities?

The goal is to manage our personal resources so that we can serve and love the way God wants us to. The alternative is what so many experience every day: feeling used up, run over, and burned out, with nothing left to give anyone.

What I liked: I’ll be honest: I’m picky about which non-fiction books I read, no matter the topic. I want to make sure I’m not opening my mind and heart to an author whose beliefs are off-center, to put it nicely. Nationally-recognized leaders have talked up this book for a long time. Even so, I hesitated. And then I took the plunge this summer.

I’m so glad I did.

This is the kind of book that confirms some things you knew deep down but don’t always feel the permission to acknowledge. …That it’s okay not to put yourself in harm’s way with someone untrustworthy, even though you’ve forgiven them. It’s not unkind.

Or, it’s okay (and necessary) to step up to do the things you know God wants you to do. He’ll equip you to fulfill the responsibilities He’s handpicked for you.

This book is saturated with Scriptures used appropriately. I like that and find it refreshing.

I wasn’t crazy about: There wasn’t much I disliked. The authors’ approach stems from a counseling/therapy background, so many of the examples hail from the counseling office or support group settings. They can tend toward deep-seated problems. However, the advice proves useful for everyday life. Practical suggestions can be applied immediately.

The bottom line: I plan to reread this every couple of years, which I don’t say often about any book. I’d recommend this for adults of every age and situation. Even if you don’t take every piece of advice to heart, my bet is that more than once you’ll recognize yourself in these pages and find something you’ll want to put into practice.

Your turn: Do you think people, in general, struggle with boundaries in some way? On a different note, confession time: Did you ever cause mischief in your neighborhood?

Sep 8

Do you have favorite books of the Bible that resonate with you? It’s uncanny, as if they can peer into your life like modern-day spy equipment, despite being penned millenia ago. Psalms is like that for me.

photo by Andy Arthur

photo by Andy Arthur

No matter what’s happening, I can search these poem-songs and find truth that speaks right to what’s going on. Funny how God can do that through the Bible. =)

Two things in recent days have stuck with me after reading Psalm 119 in particular. Both evoke images of running. I’ve had running on the brain lately because I’m slowly (in more ways than one) working my way to running a 5K. …Not run/walk/hyperventilate/run/walk. Run.

These ideas show that we can run with God whether or not our real running shoes ever pound pavement.

1. We can run in freedom.

Psalm 119 is a love song to God’s Word if ever there was one. Verse 32 (NIV) says this: “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” Not stroll, cower, or pick our way down life’s path. Not run/walk. Run. His ways, His commands clear a sure trail in the dense forest that we can charge through.

His path isn’t confining. Like the trees in the picture above, He doesn’t hold us prisoner on a treacherous trail to nowhere. The trees bracket the path and beckon us onward in His purpose for us. And like those trees, God lines our path with His protection. He’s standing  guard to shield us from dangers lurking in the forest that don’t serve His plans. We can run free, escorted by His protection.

I struggle with this at times, don’t you? I want to arm myself with my own compass, map, and GPS to navigate life’s twisty path. Even then, steps skew tentative. How much more secure, more fun it can be to chase down the path God has already cleared, even if we see only a few steps ahead of us. He charges us to move ahead in confidence that His commands pave the way.

2. We can run now.

Verse 60 of Psalm 119 adds, “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.” When you were a kid and your parents asked you to do something, did you jump up and run to comply? I did, but it was usually to run away from what I was supposed to do. And well-earned consequences followed.

We don’t like obedience. My spine stiffens just hearing the word. But the more we get to know God and His Word, the more we realize that obedience to His commands holds the only peace and security in this chaotic mess of a world. To disobey means to march into harm’s way, either sooner or later.

Another paraphrase of this verse describes “not dragging my feet.” Often I know God’s directions yet stay rooted in place. I deliberate the pros and cons as if I know better than Him. (Ouch. My running shoes need steel toes.) Yet God quietly urges me to run. Now. Not next week, next year. Run the path of His plan, run away from the dangers I can’t possibly see with human eyes.

And countless souls who’ve finished the race before us cheer us on: Run in freedom, run now.

Your turn: Which is harder to act on: freedom or obedience? On a very different note, what’s one race or sport you’d take part in if you magically had the ability?

Sep 1

What are you going to do? There they are. Nazis populating your fields, wielding sharp tools. Working for you on your farm…at your invitation.

from Fort Bend County Museum

from Fort Bend County Museum

Sound like a surreal situation? Yet all too true. Scores of American families recall World War II enemy  POWs in military camps across the states. Texas hosted the most. My current hometown in New Mexico built one atop a hill that the hospital now occupies.

The U.S. Army assigned the POWs to several tasks during their stay. A huge number were sent to local farms that suffered from a lack of wartime manpower. German soldiers filled slots left vacant from hometown boys long gone to fight those same Germans overseas. Many of them enjoyed these communities and the relatively good treatment by the military so much that they chose to stay after the war.

This slice of history fascinates me. My own grandfather (on my dad’s side; now deceased) served as a career Army officer. I found out that he inspected some of these POW camps in Texas, when my dad was just a little one. My research/ancestry bug is itching to find out more…

Questions for you: What’s something you’d want to ask a POW? How would your community react to this situation?

Do you want to know more? Check these out:

POW Art in America

Citizens share memories about POWs

Are you on Pinterest? Here’s my ongoing research board for an upcoming novel.




Aug 25

It’s a Grab Bag Monday! You never know what’s going show up here.

Okay, the post title exaggerates, but it holds some merit. Hear me out.

photo by Amanda via Flickr

photo by Amanda via Flickr

I didn’t want to like hockey. I didn’t. My first twenty years did not suffer from a lack of hockey fandom.

But two things happened: 1) I dated David, my future, wonderful husband. He liked hockey. I thought, “If this sport will take over the TV for many nights for the rest of my life, I’d better give it a shot.” No pun intended. If you’re a hockey fan, you’ll get that.

2) After I watched a couple of seasons on TV with mild interest, we went to an NHL game. Up close and personal: Reunion Arena, downtown Dallas, Texas. It’s next-to-impossible not to get caught up in a good live hockey game, especially when surrounded by rowdy Texans.

And you know what else? (whispering) I liked the fights. Still do.

Never had I enjoyed fighting, but this proved fascinating. And I’ve learned things from hockey fights that apply to everyday, skateless life:

Stick up for each other.  Hockey fights often start after one player did another player wrong. Maybe a guy inflicted an illegal hit on your teammate that escaped the refs’ whistle. Maybe he targeted a player nursing an injury. Whatever the injustice, teammates stick up for each other. The same can be true in real life. We all have our family, our gang, our homies, our posse, if you will. We care about these people, and we want to protect them. Mess with one, mess with all.  True, you probably don’t need a mean right hook to settle the score, but you get the point. Loyalty matters.

Be controlled You wouldn’t know it as a spectator, but some fights (not all) are mutually planned vs. a spontaneous eruption. Players are known to make an appointment with each other to fight, so to speak. This “appointment” may be agreed upon only seconds ahead of time. It may come due after a face off or the next stoppage of play, but at the chosen time–bam! There they go. We can be choosy as well when we pick our battles. We don’t have to lash out at the first or at every provocation. We can respond only when we deem necessary.

Fight Fair. Hockey fights hold to unwritten rules of etiquette. Non-hockey friends and family shoot me skeptical looks when I insist this. To most it resembles a merciless melee. But fans know better. For example, see the picture above? As usual, they’ve thrown off their gloves so that it’s not like a Nerf battle (Confession: I secretly want to perfect the throwing of the gloves, but not like this player).

But notice these other details: Their helmets still cover their noggins, their sweaters aren’t pulled over the heads so as to blind them, they’re not pinned against the boards (the sides), and both still stand facing each other. Right now it’s a fair, evenly-matched fight. The officials will send them to the penalty box, make no mistake, but they’ll referee until someone’s at a disadvantage. …One yanks a sweater or either goes down, etc. We, too, can fight fair. When you have a beef with someone, refrain from acting trickster-like. Man- or woman-up and deal with them directly and fairly.

And if all else fails, call me. I’ll throw down my gloves for you.

Aug 18

Note: It came to my attention that there have been technical difficulties submitting comments. Those have been resolved. I apologize for the inconvenience. – Alison

Once a month I review a book – usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk books!

Do you create your own destiny through your choices, or is there no escape from what your life is meant to be? Can mistakes be redeemed?

Heiress-coverThis month I review an award-winning trilogy: Daughters of Fortune series (Summerside Press), by Susan May Warren: Heiress – Book One, Baroness – Book Two, and Duchess – Book Three.

Rating: 4-1/2 mochas out of 5 for the series

You might like this if you like: Downton Abbey, The Great Gatsby, The Natural, Kate & Leopold, Swing Kids or anything else about Europe iBaronesscovelrgn World War II.

Summary: The only trouble with reviewing a series is sharing a flavor of the books without spoiling anything! Here’s a try. This family saga sweeps you into New York’s turn-of-the-century Gilded Age and criss-crosses continents through the end of World War II.

In Heiress, sisters Esme and Jinx want different things from their privileged upbringing: Jinx dreams of love and significance through wealth, but Esme wants to leave it all for the call of the West. Life’s twisting surprises – shaped by their choices – catches each off guard.

Baroness follows cousins Lilly and Rosie from flapper-filled Paris to barnstorming shows across the U.S. plains, and unexpected places in between. Both strong-willed young women are determined to carve out their own lives, but will love throw them a curveball?

Duchess rounds out the trilogy with the glamour of Hollywood on the precipice of the Great Depression. Rosie’s world crumbles but a new opportunity in Europe appears, though it’s not all that it seems.

I liked: HistoricDuchess-250x381al fiction works when I feel transported into the storyworld – a world based on reality but not too bogged down in detail as to be distracting. This series delivers in spades. The research necessary to pull this off must have proved monumental to Susan May Warren. She weaves it into the storylines so masterfully that it comes across as effortless. I felt fully immersed into these settings: the opulence of the Gilded Age, the rush of adrenaline while performing atop a biplane, the intrigue amid Europe during World War II, among others.

The same can be said for the characters. Stories of the rich and glamorous don’t  interest me, normally. These characters captured me and made me care. The reader gets to know them as fully developed people.  I care what happens to shallow Jinx and misguided Rosie, for instance. The break between each book was agonizing!

The stories themselves don’t disappoint. Each book follows multiple, intricate storylines than go way beyond the scope of my paltry descriptions. That’s the most frustrating part of creating this review: Knowing that each story encompasses so much more than I can highlight. I’d be overjoyed if any of my readers take on this series so that we can talk about it!

I wasn’t crazy about: If I sound like I’m gushing about this series, I am. But we both know that no story is perfect. Two things prick my memory here. First, a couple of storylines allude to and describe (with restraint) sinful choices. A touch of violence could be disturbing for some. These elements are not glorified and logical consequences, though buffered with God’s grace, follow – sometimes for generations.

Speaking of God’s grace, one would have to be blind not to see it saturating each character’s life. A few scenes mention God specifically. That said, I would’ve liked more.

The Bottom Line:  Few novels these days stick with me for very long. This series stands out after at least two years and remains my favorite of Susan May Warren’s stories. Read it if you want to get lost in a sweeping, multi-generational saga riding a roller coaster of emotions. I love series that follow families because we see how choices – good and bad – affect others over time. And with all three published, you can binge-read without the agony of cliffhangers.

Questions for you: Which historical eras do you like, and which don’t interest you? Do you think your upbringing always determines your future?  Any feedback on the format of this review?

Links of interest:

Susan May Warren

New York Gilded Age Homes on Pinterest

Barnstorming Site

Lindbergh Arrives in Paris (1927): YouTube

1940s Films




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