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.

how to stop time
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.

still me

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.

power to be

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: Becoming Madeleine

Despite it being hailed as a middle-school age biography, readers of our blog will love this book; letters, postcards, journal entries, friendship. You’ll find all of this, and much more in this delightful book.

Anyone who has read Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink  or has followed my other blog Mary Potter Kenyon for any length of time will know Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors, not for the fiction she is most famous for, but her Crosswick Journals series. One of my first blog posts was about her influence on my writing and my marriage way back in 2009.

I was in my late 30’s when I read A Circle of Quiet, identifying with the writer who was also a mother, a woman who “escaped” the cacophony of a noisy household to burn garbage in the back yard. I often did the same. Her thoughts on the craft have been very influential in my writing:

“To work on a book is for me very much the same thing as to pray. Both involve discipline. If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.” (Walking on Water, page 140)

Because it was about caring for her husband during his cancer, I read Two-Part Invention while my husband underwent cancer treatment in 2006. I was devastated by Madeleine’s loss. It was the first book I read after David died in 2012. Madeleine walked me through those first steps of the dark unknown of grief. 

“Now I am setting out into the unknown. It will take me a long while to work through the grief. There are no shortcuts; it has to be gone through.” (Two-Part Invention, page 228)

Madeleine L’Engle’s words touched my heart and soul so deeply, I mentioned her several times in my book  Refined By Fire; A Journey of Grief and Grace. Her granddaughter Lena graciously wrote a blurb endorsement.

“Mary Kenyon’s Refined by Fire reminds me of my grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle, who taught so many of us that writing can be a form of prayer that leads us to grace. I was moved to read how her influence inspired Mary to write and heal as well. Mary’s writing style is extremely accessible, and her voice raw, authentic and brave. By the end I was crying with her. I would definitely recommend her book to anyone who is going through any type of loss.”-  Léna Roy, granddaughter of Madeleine L’Engle

So it was with much anticipation I awaited the publication of Lena and her sister Charlotte’s biography of their grandmother, Becoming Madeleine.

madelieneMarketed as a middle grade biography, don’t let that stop you from reading it. This delightful book speaks to the hearts of writers and wannabe writers, as well as Madeleine L’Engle fans. It includes photographs, poems, letters and journal entries from Madeleine’s childhood, teens, and through her successes (and failures!) as a writer. I felt a real thrill of delight when I saw the photo of Crosswicks, as if spotting a favorite place. I couldn’t bear to highlight anything in this lovely book so marked pages  I want to return to with sticky notes instead.

I was fascinated by the mind of the young Madeleine, her mature insights. From her journal, at losing her beloved grandmother she called Dearma;

“I think this has been my passing from childhood into girlhood, because as mother says, though I am fifteen, I have really been a child all these years. And I read in another book that a person is never dead until you have forgotten then, so Dearma can never be dead to me, because I will never forget her.”

Then there is her reaction to a rejection from Good Housekeeping for a poem she’d sent at age 16. She not only added the rejection letter to her journal, on the opposite page, she’d written “I got this delightful little refusal from Good Housekeeping today & my poem was returned all dirtied. Someday Good Housekeeping will ask me to write poems for it!! 

There were a few surprises. While I’d known about the loss of her husband through the Crosswicks Journal series, I hadn’t realized she’d lost a son years later. When I read that, I wanted to pick up pen and paper to write her a letter. Which just goes to show you; the true power of a good biography is that it brings the subject alive. 

“We don’t want to feel less when we have finished a book; we want to feel that new possibilities of being have been opened to us. We don’t want to close a book with a sense that life is totally unfair and that there is no light in the darkness; we want to feel that we have been given illumination.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Thank you, Léna and Charlotte. You have managed to bring illumination to this famous writer’s life who just happened to be your grandmother. I hope you have already considered the possibilities in working on an adult biography, as well.

Merry Mary New Year~

“I’ll need to go in my office and write for a few minutes at midnight,” I informed my daughters last night as we watched television. “I’d once heard that whatever you are doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve is how you’ll spend the rest of the year, so I want to be writing.”

If that superstition holds true, I’ll be sleeping through most of the year, as I woke up to laughter five minutes after it began. I’d fallen asleep! Turns out, I had that superstition wrong. The point is to actually be doing something related to your employment on the first day of the new year. By doing it well, but not working too hard, you’ll do your job well and not be overworked the rest of the year.

I’m not sure if writing for seven consecutive hours today constitutes working “too hard,” but I hope it bodes well for productivity the rest of the year. While I’ve been employed part-time as librarian since March, it’s my writing and workshops I’ve been concentrating on over the holidays.

A year ago, I was miserable in a job that should have been perfect for me; getting paid to go to work every morning and write as a newspaper reporter.  Now employed part-time, I spend my free mornings writing what I want to write. Last year, that meant finishing up a journal that will be released this April.

Expressive Writing for Healing

Since signing a book contract in November, I’m also working on a book about creativity. The seeds of this book were planted in my heart a long time ago, shortly after my mother passed away in 2010. She left behind many notebooks and journals that made it clear her greatest wish for her children was that they get to Heaven and utilize their talents. Her words became a catalyst for change in my creativity and faith. The winter after her death, I embarked on what would become one of the most creative periods of my life up to that point. In her empty house, I found solitude and solace, a private writing retreat. There, I worked on a book manuscript, wrote articles and essays, prepared couponing and writing workshops and designed a power point presentation on creativity. I also began a file folder on creativity, certain it would someday become a book in honor of my creative mother. It could be said that grief was the impetus to taking my writing seriously, the legacy of my mother as my muse. My work in progress opens with her words.

“Our main purpose on earth is to save our soul and try to do the will of God in all things. That also means using the talents he gave us, and using them for good.”

I pulled out that old file folder in March. By late June, I’d completed the book proposal. A lot of research went on in-between; on the science behind creativity, the link between creativity and health and happiness, and the spiritual aspect of creativity. (After all, how can we talk about creativity without mentioning The Creator?)

creativity book1

A few of my favorites~

I’ve continued doing research as I delve into the different topics. The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer and Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle were old favorites that I re-read. World Enough & Time I borrowed from my sister Joan and read on the airplane on the way home from visiting her in Florida. The Art of Creative Living by Thomas Kinkade was one of the last books my mother had read in the summer of 2010.

By late summer, all this reading and writing about creativity led me to begin a Lifelong Learner’s Creativity group at the library where I work. Many of the women who joined weren’t exactly sure what they wanted to gain from it, but something in the description appealed to a restless, unnamed feeling stirring within them.
“Perhaps you were the daydreamer in grade school, the child staring out the window with a head full of stories, or the one reading books from your lap beneath the desk. Then someone snatched the box of crayons from your hand, insisting you’d done it all wrong; that trees weren’t pink, and bunnies weren’t purple, and you’d gone outside the lines. Or maybe they pulled the book out from beneath your desk, telling you it was time for math, not reading. Whether you’re ready to reignite your childhood passion for all things creative, and want your crayons back, or are looking for a way to connect with your inner artist and others who think outside of the box, a new group forming at the James Kennedy Library might be of interest.”

Our circle now serves as a focus group of sorts, representing my target audience. We’ve already done several of the activities I suggest in my book. This month we’ll be painting on canvas, and next month we’ll envision what our more creative life looks like with Vision Boards.

In the same vein, I’m incorporating creativity exercises into a “Legacy of Creativity” workshop. While I’ll continue doing writing workshops, I’m looking forward to doing  “Expressive Writing for Healing” and “Legacy of Creativity” workshops in 2018.

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You’ll have to attend one of my creativity workshops to see what the pencils are for~

 

So, this is what the beginning of 2018 looks like for me; a new book coming out in April, work on a manuscript that is due the end of May, and workshops and classes scheduled on my days off from the library. Despite nodding off at midnight, I’m fairly certain I won’t be sleeping through 2018.

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 .

30 days

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.

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: 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.

worl enough

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.

 

Book Review: Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa

book review by Mary Jedlicka Humston
                                              

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa, written and illustrated by Sue F. Cornelison

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While visiting our two-year-old grandson Levi, I noticed this beautifully illustrated book. Immediately intrigued by the title, I thumbed through it and was rewarded by something both Marys love: letters! Yes, part of this book involves handwritten letters.
But first, as you would expect from the title, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa does indeed follow the familiar holiday tune but substitutes “a goldfinch in an oak tree” for “a partridge in a pear tree.” It can be sung all the way through to “twelve mutton busters” instead of the traditional “twelve lords of leaping.”
You can read this book solely for the fun repetition of Iowa-themed verses to this familiar holiday song. However, an older child will enjoy the handwritten letters that accompany each day of Christmas.
Farm girl Ella writes the first full-page letter inviting her cousin Aiden to visit Iowa for the holidays. After Aiden arrives, the letters are then written by him to his parents detailing unique aspects of Iowa life. Think of hot air balloons in Indianola, a train ride on the Santa Express in Boone, or the Bridges of Madison County. Author Cornelison deftly weaves Iowa history and interesting state details into these letters.
So, on one level, this book is a holiday song. On another level, the song can be sung and the letters read to an older child. And, then to extend the interested age-groups of this book even further, an advanced reader will enjoy reading the letters as well as singing along.
Wouldn’t this be a lovely Christmas present for the Iowa children in your life? If you don’t live in Iowa, Google to see if your state has a Twelve Days of Christmas in….” Without spending too much time, I located several other states represented in this clever style, almost all with different authors.
I hope you and your family enjoy The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa. Then, after reading it, you’ll be privy to what “mutton busters” means.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!

New release in the Grief Diaries book series, Christmas Giveaway~

Update: mctag2015 was the winner of the new books. Please message Mary at marypotterkenyon@gmail.com with your name and address~ Thank you to all who entered.

Lynda Cheldelin Fell  lost her 15-year old daughter Aly in 2009. Fueled by a desire to help others through loss, she founded AlyBlue Media in 2013,launched Grief Diaries Radio in February 2014, and the National Grief & Hope convention in April 2015, which is where I met her.

When she began her Grief Diaries series of books last year, I knew I wanted to be a part of them. Filled with poignant firsthand accounts, each anthology serves as a portable support group.

My writing is featured in several of the books, including Grief Diaries: Loss of a Spouse and Grief Diaries: Hello From Heaven.    I’m a co-author of the newest book in the series, Grief Diaries: Poetry & Prose, released yesterday.

grief-diaries-poetry-and-prose-cover

I’m especially excited about this book because of its focus on utilizing expressive writing as a tool for healing. The pieces included were written by those who experienced a loss of some sort. Coincidently, at the same time we were completing this book, I’ve been working on a related project, a grief journal I signed a contract for in August. Lynda will be writing the foreword for the book I hope will be utilized as a healing tool. Clinical research reveals it isn’t the simple act of writing alone that promotes healing in the emotionally wounded. Instead, it is reflecting and searching for meaning in our experiences that helps us heal. James Pennebaker, Regents Centennial Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, is a pioneer in the study of using expressive writing as a route to healing. His research has shown that short-term focused writing can have a beneficial effect on anyone dealing with stress and trauma.

Reading about grief can help others in their own healing, and that is the concept behind the Grief Diaries. After my husband died, I devoured every book on the market that dealt with the loss of a spouse. It helped me to know that others had gone down the same path and not only survived, but thrived.

My friend, Dianna Vagianos Armentrout says much the same thing in her introduction:

grief-diaries-foreword

Many of Dianna’s poems are included in the book, along with poetry, blog entries, journal entries, and prose pieces from other authors. Here’s one of mine, written on my blog six years ago today:

grief-diaries-journal-entry-12-10

There is more to the entry, but you’ll have to pick up the book to read it. It’s uncanny  that the very first entry in my section of the book is dated six years and one day before this book’s release. Or that so much of what I am working into the journal fits into this book. In compiling quotes for the journal, I could then include my favorites in the Grief Diaries:

grief-diaries-favorite-quotes

Again, there are many more pages of uplifting and encouraging quotes included in Grief Diaries: Poetry & Prose.  I also utilized the resource section of my journal to help me compile a list of ten books that brought me hope in a dark time.

grief-diaries-books-of-hope

Despite my lack of poetry prowess, I even managed to write some poetry myself. Any widow with children still at home will recognize the sentiment.

grief-diaries-mary-poem

To celebrate the launch of this newest title in the Grief Diaries series, I’m giving away two books from the Grief Diaries series: Grief Diaries: Poetry and Prose, and Grief Diaries: Hello From Heaven.

grief-diaries

To enter, just leave a comment below this post. I will randomly choose one name next Sunday, December 18.