We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Detroit reporter Elizabeth Balsam is doing someone else a favor (in part) when she travels to a remote farmhouse to return an old camera and a box of photos to an aunt she doesn’t know. But Elizabeth’s farmhouse visit soon pulls her into a family mystery tracing back to the Civil War in We Hope for Better Things by author Erin Bartels.

It was nice to find this story is split into three timelines—a bonus for someone who loves historical fiction as much as I do. Although I didn’t get that attached to the characters, and the present-day developments in Elizabeth’s life weren’t a big draw for me, I really got into the story during the last quarter or so.

Now, extramarital indiscretion is sometimes vital to a plot. But whether affairs are physical or emotional, I just don’t enjoy watching them unfold and escalate over the course of a book, especially if the affair stretches out for years. I get frustrated with the characters.

While this wasn’t groundbreaking or that deep of a read for me personally, it does tell a timely story. I think it’s good when a novel doesn’t paint the Civil War era with a nostalgic, romantic, Gone-with-the-Wind kind of brush. Fiction that connects historical and contemporary times like this serves as a reminder that America’s racial problems didn’t end after slavery, or after the Civil Rights Movement of the ’50s and ’60s, or after the inauguration of the nation’s first black president, and that racism is in no way confined to one region of the U.S. or another. Nor is it a problem for any one race of people to confront alone.

I did get a little emotional during this story’s strong and poignant finish. It isn’t tied up with a neat and perfect “happily ever after” bow, but it’s beautiful all the same.


White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Tyndale House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book from NavPress for an honest review.

White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

And now, as I confront the harm to me, to my friends and family, and to countless others by a social structure that has been built on exclusion, do I want to get well?

It’s a loaded question author Amy Julia Becker asks in White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege. I didn’t choose to read this book because I think I’m the target audience for it. I’m not. But I was interested in hearing this author’s perspective.

Yet, when it comes to those who are the closer targets for this book, it will likely require some “pushing past” to even pick it up and open it.

Pushing past the indifference or skepticism that says privilege isn’t a big deal, or that it might not be a real thing, or that it’s merely a divisive or hot button term attached to a political agenda. Pushing past the fear-based discomfort that says to avoid the topic, or the fear-based hopelessness that says privilege is so longstanding, so ingrained, and so prevalent that there’s no point in trying to change things now.

If you are indeed someone who flinches at the mention of privilege, know that this isn’t a book meant to demonize you. To make you feel guilty about your skin color or for being born to a particular social status. And be advised that the author doesn’t limit her discourse here to the subject of race.

It feels a little severe to call it a “discourse,” though, and it almost seems out of place to say I enjoyed it. But for someone who mostly reads fiction, this book often made me feel like I could have been reading an understated but affecting contemporary novel. Becker has a lovely writing style, and she addresses tough, complex issues with grace and nuance.

A book well worth pushing past discomfort to read.


Beyond the Politics, Check Your Heart

I figure it’s time for me to pause and say something to my blog readers, and anyone else who’s listening.

In general, I’m an upbeat kind of person. Yeah, I have a passion for books, so I post about them a lot. I’m in the middle of writing my own next book, which takes a healthy helping of my time. And with July coming up, I fully intend to have myself a merry little “Christmas in July” on my blog.

Still, while I’m busy writing and joyfully posting about stories and movies and all, I don’t want anyone to think I don’t very well see what’s happening in the United States right now. Not just what’s happening in America but what’s happening with Americans.

A country isn’t merely a place. A country is the people in that place. And, no, things aren’t just a little heated or uncomfy in America at present. We’re in a crisis. Not only does human crisis bring out the best or the worst in people, but it sets the stage for what kind of people they’ll be, going forward.

Trust and believe, you don’t become something deeply and drastically different overnight. It happens little by little—a day by day process. It’s a good thing when you’re aware of how you’re changing, how you’re evolving, when you’re intentional about it, and you wake up at peace with what you’ve become and are becoming. But it’s a sad thing when you wake up one day, look in the “mirror,” and realize there isn’t much true honor in what you’ve turned into. When you realize, somewhere along the line, in the middle of all the noise, you became too accustomed to tuning out your conscience.

With every discussion or dispute you hop into, you’re becoming something. With every catchy meme you jump on and share around on social media, you’re becoming something. With every voice you choose to agree with, every voice you choose to disagree with, and every voice you choose to disregard, you’re becoming something.

So my encouragement to everyone reading this is to stop and check to honestly see what you’re becoming. Not merely the person you say you are or want to be, or who you are when your friends are around to concur with your opinions, or who you are when you’re busy arguing with folks to prove a point. I mean for you to check on you. Not just to check on the immediate or loudest stuff in your brain, but to check on your heart. Deep down.

Don’t blindly allow this time of crisis to turn you into something you’ll regret or be ashamed of, years down the road. Don’t get so caught up in noise that you miss the present opportunity to work on your character, to become a better human being.

Don’t just know your politics. Check on that heart of yours.


Stand Your Ground by Victoria Christopher Murray

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Stand Your Ground by Victoria Christopher Murray

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Janice. The mother of Marquis, a teenaged boy who’s been shot.

Meredith. The wife of the man who shot Marquis.

Wyatt. The white man accused of shooting and killing Marquis–who was black. Was Wyatt only standing his ground, as the law permits?

Stand Your Ground by author Victoria Christopher Murray is one of those novels that’s hard for me to rate. Even though ratings generally reflect how readers feel about a book, folks still judge a book’s merit by its ratings. The measure of a reader’s feelings and the measure of a book’s merit aren’t necessarily the same.

This novel made me feel a number of emotions, including anger and sadness, as it’s indeed a tragic story, in more ways than one. I was intrigued during a few moments, but on the whole, the story didn’t surprise me. I do like how not all the characters of either race think exactly alike, none of them are perfect people, and there’s some nuance in the black community’s response to the killing.

Now, while the novel doesn’t have any words that network television would bleep out nowadays, there’s some language I don’t appreciate seeing in ChristFic. Other times the writing seems repetitive, clichéd, or keyword conscious, as if to fit in or repeat certain common phrases.

More importantly, I would’ve liked to see more purpose and dimension for some of the characters. Although I liked seeing Meredith’s perspective, she ultimately doesn’t seem pivotal to the plot. The story’s “bad guys” are like caricatures, and in the end, Wyatt’s character just didn’t make sense to me.

In all, my biggest takeaways from this read are reminders not to take prejudgments as facts and to beware of accepting “loud” perceptions without thinking critically, without searching and listening carefully, listening closely, for truth.


Note to my blog readers: this novel contains some violence and sensual material for mature audiences.