Book Review: How To Stop Time

Book Review written by Mary Jedlicka Humston

The books Mary and I typically review contain themes dealing with friendship or letter writing. The novel How to Stop Time by Matt Haig doesn’t have either. Instead, readers become privy to the sad effects of characters living without the steady presence of loved ones and friends.

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Haig’s time-travel sci-fi novel masterfully creates a diagnosis of anageria for his main character Tom Hazard. Anageria is a rare, unique condition where growing older happens so slowly that one’s appearance remains young despite their age.
That’s the opposite of progeria which is a real genetic disease affecting 1 out of 4 million births according to a study from the Netherlands listed on Wikipedia. With progeria, infants age prematurely, forcing children and teens into elderly men and women despite being decades younger.
To add credence to the anageria reality in this novel, Haig explains that this condition that Tom and a small number of others possess never became public knowledge. Let me explain one reason why. Tom was born in 1581 in France and bounces around in time and country. In his first “round” he is raised by a wonderful mother. He later marries and has a child, but fears for their lives when witchcraft suspicions are bandied about because Tom’s youthful appearance never changes.

When tragedy strikes, Tom shields himself from the pain of relationships by trying to avoid them altogether. This creates conflicts in present-day England where Tom chooses to teach history, of all subjects, at the high school level!

“Yes, there had been a void inside me, but voids were underrated. Voids were empty of love but also pain. Emptiness was not without its advantages. You could move around in emptiness.” (Page. 233-234).

This book intrigued me to the end with its many plot twists. I believe it will do the same for others who want to see what happens when a character lives within a void of friendships and loved ones.

I highly recommend it even if you’re not a sci-fi lover. Give a try.

Spoiler alert: There is a happy ending!

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Book Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes

by Mary Jedlicka Humston

If you haven’t read Me Before You or the sequel After You by Jojo Moyes, you will still find the newest Louisa Clark (Lou) novel filled with Moyes’ trademark humor, emotion, and engrossing storyline.

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Readers of Still Me can’t helped but be swept away by scrappy Lou’s (mis)adventures as she paves a new life in the U. S. far from her British home.
Hired to assist and cater to the young, new wife of the uber-rich Mr. Gopnik, Lou finds herself thrust into the elite, superior society of the very, very wealthy. Yet, she is still Lou; comfortable with everyone from the doorman to the women who own a vintage clothing store to protesters trying to save a dying public library.
There’s also Margot DeWitt, a cranky neighbor with an overbearing, tiny but tenacious dog. Lou discovers everything isn’t always as it seems when it comes to Margot.
Along the way, Lou seems to lose a little bit of herself. Letters from the past, written by Will who is a main character in the book and movie Me Before You, come to her at the right time. The letters (sent by Will’s mom) end up reminding Lou to look beyond the “outer” person into the “inner soul” to realize what’s important in life.
Regular readers of this “Mary & Me” blog know that we Marys often review books that pertain to friendship and letter writing. This book combines both. I highly recommend it.
Enjoy!

Book Review: Power to Be, by Twila Belk

“If I keep my attention on my problems and heartaches they become overwhelming to me and tend to control my life. But if I fix my thoughts on God, he becomes magnified in my heart and mind, and I’m reminded of who he is and what he’s able to do.”

So writes my friend Twila Belk in her newest devotional, The Power to Be: A 40-Day Devotional: Be Still, Be Grateful, Be Strong, Be Courageous.  I met Twila at a writer’s conference a couple of years ago, and felt as though I was meeting a long-lost sister.

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This lovely little book doesn’t have to be utilized as a 40-day devotional. I finished it in one evening, copying down quotes that inspired or encouraged me. I have the same wall plaque she mentions hanging in her living room, though mine is in my bedroom.
Happy moments- praise God. Difficult moments- seek God. Quiet moments- worship God. Painful moments- trust God. Every moment- Thank God.
Knowing the difficulties the author has experienced in her life gives credence to her words. It doesn’t get more real than this.
I happened to pick up The Power to Be exactly when I needed it, as I’m facing some challenges in my own life. I love the quotes and the Bible verses, including my current life verse Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your path.

This book would make a wonderful gift for Mother’s Day, or a pick-me-up for someone you know who is going through a difficult time.
Learn more about the author at www.gottatellsomebody.com

Book Review: 30 Days to Peace journal

SinSELRES_6a490afb-b304-42d4-861a-f7b157ed5a81SELRES_6a490afb-b304-42d4-861a-f7b157ed5a81ce both Marys journal, and fans of our book are likely to be interested in journals,  I decided to review this one-month creative journal on the Mary and Me blog, instead of my personal blog, http://www.marypotterkenyon.com

30 Days to Peace: A One-Month Creative Journalis a lovely little book .

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I freely admit to choosing it from BloggingforBooks (in exchange for an honest review) because of the cover, and the description:

“In our loud and busy lives, it’s easy to miss the life-giving breeze of peace. That’s what this interactive journal is for. It’s about slowing down and taking time to pursue and embrace peace. It’s about welcoming the call to be a peacemaker. It’s about finding a peace rooted in faith rather than circumstances and living out that miracle every day. This is an invitation to create, write, doodle, and draw your way into the deep, lasting peace of God.”

Who doesn’t want peace in their life? What busy woman doesn’t need a reminder to slow down and find peace in faith?

That said, it feels like there is a lot of wasted space in this journal, when Bible quotes fill one page and the opposite page is filled with a design. The pages designated for writing are lovely, and unlined (in case you want to doodle, instead of write), but I’ve always resisted utilizing writing prompts, preferring instead to write on whatever I choose.

A pretty journal, but not one I’d use, or gift to the other Mary. A good gift for someone new to journaling, and small enough to be carried in a purse.

Video Book Review: Love & Salt

This is my first video book review, a review of Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Lettersby Amy Andrews & Jessica Mesman Griffith.  (excuse the early audio, not sure what happened)

Check out Jessica’s webpage, or read more about Amy and their book at Loyola Press.

I attempted this video review a couple of days ago, but was interrupted by a bat. Despite my abject horror at the sight of a bat flying around my house, and my inane response (calling out for a 17-year-old to save me), I laugh every time I see this video, so I’m including it for your enjoyment.

Stay tuned for more book review videos in the future, along with a video tour of my home office, my favorite place to read and write.

Book Review: Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away

Reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

While Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family might appear an unusual book for our blog, the title intrigued me with that one word: letter. And, more specifically the words: love letter.

This book’s topic is about football and dealing with severe brain injuries due to concussion, but it is also a letter of love that Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts tight end Ben Utecht wrote for his family. (with Mark Tabb) He writes his thoughts as a love letter to his wife Karyn and four daughters (although the book is written as a memoir, not as a collections of letters). It’s all the more pertinent because he is currently living with the side effects (in his case, severe memory loss) of what he is believed to suffer with: CTE, (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) a condition resulting from repeated head blows and concussions.

Current research has proven a link between CTE and football, but the condition is impossible to diagnose while the player is still alive. In fact, an autopsy on football players’ brains currently is the only definitive way to attain a diagnosis. Recent news reports highlight a study, conducted by Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University School of Medicine, which was published in The Journal of American Medical Association in late July, 2017. The study shows that depression, memory loss, cognitive trouble, changes in behavior and/or mood, and addiction are symptoms indicative of severe brain injuries associated with concussions sustained during football.

Five major concussions are documented during Utecht’s football career. That’s not counting the multiple mild brain injuries he also suffered. Writing this book allows him to record his memories for his family should he ever reach a point where his memory loss interferes with recalling important events from his life.

One poignant segment of the book stands out for me. He is chatting with his wife Karyn and two good friends about the couple’s recent marriage. As the conversation continues, Utecht becomes angrier and angrier. How can they be so rude as to talk about this wedding while he’s sitting there? He was best friends with the groom and yet he was not even invited to the wedding. When he finally unleashes his anger and deep hurt, he immediately sobers when shown a photo, not only proving that he attended the wedding, but that he was a groomsman.

counting the days

Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family (2016) is heavy with football stories and language, but it’s also a personal story of triumph and determination and how Utecht perseveres despite the challenges he faces. He has also become well-known for singing (he’s sung with Christian singer Sandi Patty and has frequently sung the National Anthem at sporting events). A beautiful song results from that love letter he wrote his wife and his daughters that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. As a nice accompaniment to the book, I’d advise you to watch the You Tube song/video inspired by that letter: You Will Always Be My Girls.


Even though I didn’t understand all the football language and some play-by-play action, I recommend this book. It especially becomes more pertinent since CTE has been in the news so much lately.

Book Review: The Story You Need to Tell

“After unearthing twenty-seven journals from dusty shelves and long-forgotten hiding places, I began reading them. I thought I would skim through them, a glass of red wine in hand, in two to three hours. Wrong. A week later I was still caught up in the thick of them. I learned how I opened up as a thinker. How I loved to read and explore books. I learned how some authors captivated me, while others tied me in knots. How writer Christine Baldwin taught me the value of keeping a journal for life. How I became a writer. How ideas intrigued me. How becoming a mother changed and fascinated me.”

I was hooked as soon as I read those words. As we’ve shared on this blog, Mary and I recently delved into our own journals and daybooks. Mary is still working her way through hers.

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I picked up Sandra Marinella’s The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal From Trauma, Illness, or Loss as research for my upcoming workshop, “Expressive Writing for Healing” offered in August at Hawkeye  community college in Cedar Falls, and in September at NICC in Dubuque.  As I’ve noted before, unlike my Mary & Me co-author, I really didn’t journal much until after my husband died, when I instinctively turned to writing to work my way through grief.

journalsIn fact, I couldn’t stop writing. I blogged, filled pages of my journal, wrote essays, letters to my friend Mary, and worked on several books, including what would become Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace

Knowing how much expressive writing had helped me, I began delving into the science behind it, reading books and articles by James W. Pennebaker, the man who was at the forefront of research on the connection between expressive writing and healing. I’ve written about Pennebaker many times, mentioning him in both my upcoming grief journal and my workshops, as well as previous blog postings.  While Marinella discusses his research in her book, she also frequently refers to her mentor, Christina Baldwin, author of Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Storya book I immediately added to my Amazon cart. That’s what happens when I fall in the rabbit-hole of research; I invariably add to my to-read list. The topic of journaling doesn’t just apply to my workshops; I have a grief journal coming out in May, am including a chapter on expressive writing in my book on creativity, and will be utilizing journals for the GriefShare grief support group I facilitate at a local church and the Lifelong Learning creativity group I’m forming this fall at the library where I’m employed.

The writing prompts at the end of each chapter in The Story You Need to Tell are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I’ll be utilizing some of them in my monthly memoir group, where members often request a writing prompt assignment.

Sandra Marinella is an award-winning teacher and writer. After facing breast cancer in 2012, she turned her focus from teaching to writing as a way of healing, and began volunteering with veterans and cancer patients. Some patient’s stories, and their life transformations, are featured as examples in her book. Sandra founded the Story You Need to Tell Project at www.storyyoutell.com.

The author doesn’t shy away from telling her own stories, which makes this book all the more powerful. Can we really talk about expressive writing without sharing some of our own? One of the most touching chapters for me was the one on healing from loss. Marinella had some pretty intense conversations with her father while he was dying; discussing death, prayer, and faith. Since they shared a love of music, the author asked him to try and communicate with her through music after he died. He loved the idea.

“One day after we arrived home, my dad mouthed his last word to me, Mom. I promised to care for her. And she hobbled over to hold his hand. Two days after he made it home, my dad took his last breaths with his love, my mom, and his family gathered around him. In those moments he radiated serenity, a transcendent beauty. For long moments we stood in hushed awe around him. 

After he passed, we sang and prayed. My brother recited Psalm 23, and then we stood reverently by his side. And in that holy moment- Standing by my father and his soul- my head was filled with the joyful clanging of church bells.’Do you hear them?’ I asked my family.”

Book Review: Letter to My Daughter

Reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

Maya Angelou.

I believe everyone in our country knows of this acclaimed poet/writer. Like me, many have probably read or at least heard of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. My friend Denise and I even had the good fortune to attend our local performing arts center years ago to hear Ms. Angelou speak and recite her oh-so-true-to-the-heart poetry.
So, how is it that I hadn’t heard of Letter to My Daughter?

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When I checked the publish date, I had my answer. 2008. The year I had stage 3 thyroid cancer surgery, treatments, and recovery. The year destructive flooding occurred not only in Iowa City (where I live) but in many parts of Iowa, destroying homes, businesses, and even University of Iowa buildings (including the performing arts center). It was a year where staying current with the literary world took a back seat to living the world around me.

However, finding this gem now was well worth the wait. Short essays fill Letter to My Daughter with a variety of Angelou’s deeply personal experiences to laughter to poetic reflection to memoir.
While Angelou never had a daughter, she writes as if readers belong to her family, thus pulling us right into the meat of her life.

I love her introduction.
“I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all.”

The chapters are short, headlined by such titles as “Violence,” “Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer,” “Reclaiming Southern Roots,” and “Salute to Old Lovers.” The length allows this book to be read for a few minutes, set down to digest, and then picked up again so the reader never loses momentum for the next slice of Angelou’s life.

In Letter to My Daughter, Angelou invites us into her vibrant, wise, and honest world. I highly recommend that you accept her invitation.

Book Review: Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

Review written by Mary Jedlicka Humston

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan, has a unique format. It is told entirely by the letters and diaries of five women and girls. That interesting aspect alone would appeal to both of us Marys, who are letter-writers-extraordinaire, but the multitudes of friendship stories Ryan weaves throughout the novel also draws us in.

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Middle-aged Mrs. Tilling writes in her journal. Letters from Miss Edwina Paltry to her sister Clara reveal an underbelly of deceit and plotting. Venetia Winthrop’s letters to Angela Quail show their growth from twittering flirts to mature young women. Young Silvie, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia, keeps a minimal diary. And, then there’s impetuous and curious Kitty Winthrop who fills her diary with teenaged musings while trying to understand the changes war brings to her hometown.

“You need to find where you fit in this world, where you are happiest, where you can make a difference. And, don’t be afraid of change.” (pg. 364).

This comment from Kitty, 13, “almost 14” as she continually reminds everyone, becomes a basic theme of the novel. With the men of the community off to war, the vicar declares the church choir defunct. The women are concerned about losing their singing community until they realize they can create a choir themselves if they overcome the uncertainty of establishing such an unprecedented proposition.
Well, I don’t think we were doing very well at all until one spring day the new choirmistress arrived and got us singing again. She resurrected the choir, making it a women’s-only choir—the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. It seemed such an unthinkable idea at first, but then we won a competition and realized how much better we were, and how we could transform ourselves into a charity singing show, or anything we liked. Well, after that we all began looking around and realizing we could do a lot of things better by ourselves, or with the help of each other, and together we became stronger, better: A force to be reckoned with.” (Kitty, pg. 368).
The five ladies’ letters and diaries relate the stories about the choir and war life. They show how the entire community pulls together despite hardship, loneliness, death, challenge, and sadness.
I highly recommend this book. The reader will definitely be swept along by its riveting storyline.

Book Review: World Enough & Time

I picked up this book from an end table at my sister Joan’s house in Florida. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop, and she generously offered to let me take it home.

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The timing was perfect. World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen, was all about slowing down, something I’ve never been particularly good at.

This was the first real vacation I’ve ever taken. Any other traveling I’ve done has been for workshops, conferences, public speaking, or some other work-related trip. I’ve never traveled just for fun. I wasn’t sure I could ‘just be.’ A visit to the beach convinced me otherwise.

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Yes, I just sat and closed my eyes, listening to the sound of the ocean waves.

McEwan claims it is solitude, quiet, introspection, and slowing down that begets creativity, and while I understand the concept, there was very little time for any of that those many years while I was raising small children, yet I managed to create.

Even on vacation, I snuck in some writing time, staying up after everyone else one night to write an essay for the journal that will be published next spring. I also began three of the four mornings spent at my sister and brother-in-law’s house writing a letter to Mary, as a way to share my trip with her. McEwen would understand.

“I surrender to the pleasures of old-fashioned epistolary friendship: warmed by my friends’ kindness, their imagined company, even before I begin to write.”- Christian McEwen

She was, of course, talking about the pleasures of letter writing, something she often does on an airplane.

Other topics included in this book are obvious from chapter titles such as these: “The Art of Looking,” “In Praise of Walking,” “Learning to Pause,” and “Across the Bridge of Dreams.” (regarding the importance of getting enough sleep, something else I need to take to heart)

You can read more about the author on her website Christian McEwen, which coincidentally, includes a beach scene at the top of the webpage.