Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

A Portrait of Emily Price by [Reay, Katherine]

“Francesca sported a perfect American accent–one that stretched flawlessly from Chicago to Seattle, dipping down through Colorado rather than passing up near the Canadian border.”

This…this is why I loved Katherine Reay’s Book, A Portrait of Emily Price. These characters are friends to me, now. Emily simultaneously broke my heart and warmed it with her instinct to fix everything, whether it be a pan with a loose handle or a teenager whose home Emily was restoring from a fire, whether it was her sister or her mother-in-law. I don’t do spoilers, but this instinct to fix things comes from Emily’s childhood, and it is the very thing that brings her family to a boil. And solves their problems, in a way, ultimately through faith and family. I loved watching the art come out of Emily the way pizza came out of Ben, pasta out of Donata, and bread from Lucio.

And that’s the thing. Often in a Hallmark movie, a character has a job…something artsy or community-service oriented in some way. But the writers/actors fail to make that a real part of who the character is in their core. It’s kind of a token designation that a character is a florist or a poverty lawyer or whatever.

Reay has no such failure! The artsy, fix-it side of Emily, the food-and-family side of Ben made them who they are, and it made the story what it is. I want to be frowned at by Donata, given a book by Lucio, and fed by Ben. I want to help Emily fix something and watch Joseph paint. These are people I feel like I know. This is a family whose Sunday Dinners I want to join.

I was surprised not to find myself in Atlanta or Italy when I had to look up from the book…Oh, the field of sunflowers! I wanted to go sit there until they turned my direction. I want to go truffle hunting with their dog.

But the story of Emily and this family stopped my heart in places, as it frequently stopped Emily’s heart, left her not knowing what to do, panicked. As warm as these people are, as close as they are…the secrets buried in this family are heart-breaking. And heart-warming.

It’s that kind of book.

So what did I not like about A Portrait of Emily Price? The end. I literally flipped the page on my Kindle, desperate to read more, not conscious I had reached the end. But it was over. Reay does not tell us what happens with Joseph (oops, almost committed a spoiler there). She leaves us hanging, having to think it through for ourselves. Heart-warming. And heart-breaking.

Yep. It’s that kind of book.

Blessings,

Voni

When the arts make you angry

 

I have to tell the truth. I’ve seen ads, and I watched a trailer for the movie Sausage Party. That’s it. That’s all I needed. Some of the obvious imagery I won’t mention here, but really, food saying the f-word?

Let me back up…

collateral_beauty_poster

The other night was date night. Rich and I really wanted to see Collateral Beauty, so that’s what we did. Pizza and a movie.

It is rare to leave a movie touched to the core the way we left that movie.

Tears were shed. We clung to each other’s hands.

It should win an Oscar. Hopefully Will Smith, too, though Naomie Harris and Helen Mirren were standouts…the whole cast, really.

DON’T—I repeat do not—read a synopsis or review before you see it. You do not want spoilers for Collateral Beauty. And that’s not what this is. Let me continue.

So, anyway, on our way out of the theater (the Billiken on base at Kodiak, which has some of the most honest people around—but that’s another story), Rich picked up a printed movie schedule for next week to show me in case I wanted to see any of them.

My eyes stopped at Sausage Party. Yes. Sausage Party.

That’s when I got angry.

Movies like Collateral Beauty are possible.

     Movies that make us cry.

     Movies that make us laugh.

     Or take a new look at history.

     Or leave us breathless like a fun, crazy roller coaster ride.

     Movies that make us think about life.

     Or take a deep look at ourselves.

     Movies that touch our hearts.

     Movies (like Collateral Beauty) that touch our souls.

All that is possible.

 

And then there is Sausage Party.  The makers obviously had the talent, time, and money to make a well-marketed feature movie.

And they wasted—wasted—it all on Sausage Party.

 

I am not against fun movies. Sausage Party had the potential to make us laugh, make silly family memories. But the writers and producers and actors and animators and all the people involved did not go down that path. No. The makers aimed not at fun and humor, but at titillation. A low aim.

How pitiful.

 

Why did God give us the arts?

To draw our eyes upward. To inspire. To help us to really see the world. Collateral Beauty is not a sweet, safe movie. (Read, boring, right?) Nor is it out to teach a lesson (Read, boring, again!) It is not even a Christian movie per se. But it is raw. It is real. It is authentic. It aimed high.

Why did God give us the arts?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

God, may I follow You as my creator in this, no matter whether I’m creating a home, an afghan, a novel, or a text. In Jesus’ name!

Blessings!

 

 

Flash fiction: The Ice Cream Competition

writingprompt1

The ice cream Jeff had made looked beautiful…all the colors swirled just right, an invitation to the perfect creamy summer treat.

But the flavors were all wrong.

Red tasted like orange, instead of raspberry or cherry. Or even apple.

The orange tasted like licorice.

Green looked like mint or pistachio. But it tasted like popcorn.

Yellow tasted like…he tasted it again…sunshine. Nothing else to describe it. It was wonderful on the tongue, fruity and fresh and creamy and sweet and tart—not too tart—all at once. But it was supposed to be lemon. He dipped his finger back into the left-over yellow and closed his eyes as the flavor tingled each taste bud.

Blue should’ve been blueberry. Yet it had a distinct garlic taste. Garlic ice cream? Really? As if he would ever do that!

And the purple. Worst of all. It tasted just like tunafish.

He saw the three judge’s faces crinkle in disgust as they tasted his rainbow ice cream cone. He would not be winning this competition.

Crud! He’d pulled out all the stops to win. The judges owned this famous creamery and were looking for a young up-and-coming partner. What could’ve happened?

He gazed over at the creamery’s famous Wall of Flavors just in time to see Michael messing with the “licorice” and “orange” labels two of the flavoring bottles. Well. That explained how his flavors got mixed up. But they would never have tunafish and garlic. He glared at his competitor.

But wait…that sunshine flavor still filled his mouth.

The judges hadn’t seen Michael switching the labels. Or the two presumably smelly containers that looked just like the Wall of Flavors bottles that practically hung out of the man’s apron pockets.

They were too busy gushing over Michael’s peppermint mocha ice cream.

He strode over to his competitor. “Funny joke, Michael. Switching the labels on the bottles.”

He shrugged. “Whatever it takes to win.”

True. With Michael as his competitor, it would have been smart to taste his ice cream bases before putting them in the ice cream maker. But he’d been making so many different flavors, he hadn’t had time. His overconfidence had beaten him.

“It’s okay. I just have one question.”

Michael shrugged again.

“Which label did you switch with the lemon flavoring?” He leaned against the wall nonchalantly.

Michael pointed. “The yellow one over there without the label. Banana? I don’t know.”

Thank goodness. “Like I said, funny joke,” he responded, as though it made no difference. Michael walked over to where the prize ceremony was getting ready to start.

Jeff sauntered over to where Michael had pointed on the Wall of Flavors and picked up the small yellow bottle without the label. He opened it and sniffed. Definitely not banana. It was that sunshine flavor.

He looked around. Everyone else was focused on the awarding of the prize to Michael. No one was looking.

He stuck it in his pocket.

Then he left.

This could make all the difference.

Review: Warror’s Seal by Ronie Kendig

I was enjoying my lunch out (it was my birthday, and Rich was traveling for work). I took my Kindle and was reading Ronie Kendig’s novella, Warrior’s Seal.

The waitress walked up to ask me if I wanted a refill. “Oh! Sorry!” she said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Yep.

I was that into it.

warriors-seal-cover-388x600-1

Ronie has a way with a military novel. She has a way with imagining an impossible (fiction) situation, and making it more impossible. She has a way of connecting your heart with the characters, so that when they are nervous, you are; when they are determined, you are; when they are exhausted, you are; when they are happy, you are.

All these things are very evident in Warrior’s Seal. Thus, the waitress’s ability to startle me.

What did I like about this novella? The situation, first and foremost. The main character, Tox, is the leader of a military team tasked with a mission to save the President, a mission that is complicated by his personal relationships (no spoilers here, but this is a doozy). I absolutely love how Ronie was able to bring in ancient history, too. Do we today have the ability to save the world from the ancient toxin that is released?

What did I not like about Warrior’s Seal? Not much. It makes me angry that Tox is in trouble (I told you it was a doozy), though his loyalty to his team is very evident in the end. It makes me even more angry that Tox accepts the trouble. He is an extraordinarily capable warrior of integrity and yet sees no way out? He obviously feels powerless, destined to the trouble. He has more strength of character than this; If he told his story, explained why he did what he did, America would be on his side.

Of course, it’s complicated (I told you it’s a doozy), and Tox himself is complicated.

I did not like the ending: I wanted more!

But that’s the purpose of this free prequel. (Get it here) It’s setting up her Tox Files series, the first book of which is on preorder now, and releases tomorrow. It’s called Conspiracy of Silence.

Ronie is sending the more that I’m craving.

Thanks, Ronie.

Blessings,

Voni

SOFT PLAQUE VS. TARTAR

free_macro_white_teeth_with_dental_floss_and_red_lipstick_creative_commons_509495525

Found on Wikimedia under Creative Commons license. Photographer, D. Sharon Pruitt Owner of Pink Sherbet Photography Official Website, www.pinksherbet.com Contact Email, pink@pinksherbet.com

File this in the category “They didn’t know they were teaching me something spiritual.”

My dental hygienist today explained to me that if you do not brush and floss, within 24 hours soft plaque will harden…

Into TARTAR.

Ew. No one wants tartar. It’s just gross. And it only takes 24 hours to happen.

24 HOURS!!!!!

In fact, it’s worse than she said. According to this website, it only takes 12 hours for soft plaque to develop…Guess that’s why they say to brush and floss twice a day.

It made me think about sin as I sat under the hot lights with torture devices, I mean, dental tools assailing my mouth.

Does God give us the law, then sit “upstairs” gleefully waiting to zap us with lightning bolts at the slightest infraction? Of course not. Any more than the hygienist wants to deliver a soft—or hard—lecture on flossing. Not that I would know. Ahem.

The law is there, like toothbrushes and dental floss and those dental torture devices, to keep our sin from hardening. Hygienists know what ultimately happens when plaque hardens; they don’t want that for us. God knows what happens when sin hardens our heart; He doesn’t want that for us.

Because hardening is what sin does. I think of when Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and it took plagues (spelled surprisingly close to plaque, just saying) for the Israelites to be released (Starting in Exodus 9). On the other hand, I think of Cyrus of Persia, who listened when God stirred his heart, and God’s people were released from exile and returned to rebuild the temple…with funds from Cyrus (Ezra 6).

I think of David, who committed adultery and murder in a kind of sin two-for-one. Yet, when confronted, he repented so deeply we have Psalm 51 to show us the softness of his heart for God. On the other hand, I think of Jonah, who refused to listen when sent to Ninevah and ended up in the belly of a whale, followed by a trip to Ninevah where he preached to the Ninevites with a pretty hard heart. (They repented, anyway–the story is told in the eponymous Old Testament book.)

Yes, with Jesus, our sins are forgiven. (But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgiveus our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9)

Yes, guilt comes from Satan, who is called The Accuser, while conviction, or conscience if you prefer, comes from the Holy Spirit.(And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. John 16:8–Jesus speaking about the Holy Spirit.)  It’s important to note from the Greek-Hebrew Study Bible that in the Hebrew “convict”–clenchos–means to expose, to rebuke, to show fault, rather than “find guilty” as in the sense of a modern-day court or a judgemental lightning bolt.

Yes, God, through the Holy Spirit, still uses the law to show us where we are going wrong so we can come to him in repentance before the soft plaque of sin turns to hardened tartar in our hearts.

Blessings,

Voni

THE DAY I WAS RUDE

Sorry to say this is a true story.

Leah (preteen) and I were at a fast food restaurant, settling into a booth with our food for some mama-daughter time. Another customer walked in.

He had a large beard, down to his belly button. It was braided into a couple dozen small braids. Then the small braids were braided together into several medium braids. Then the medium braids were all caught together by the tails and bound with an elastic into a front-facing upside-down ponytail of sorts. Is that what you call it?

And there were beads.

I gulped and took a bite, looking away. In my peripheral vision, I saw Leah’s eyes widen as she noticed him.

I deliberately looked out the window. She looked down at her food.

I gave this muffled snort. She covered her mouth.

That’s when it happened.

Our eyes met.

We burst into laughter.

We couldn’t stop.

In a very strong parenting move, I finally stopped laughing long enough to whisper, “You know, we’re being very rude.” She nodded sagely, and then we start laughing again.

I just hope the fellow didn’t know we were laughing at his appearance. I don’t think he could have, but, well, I hope not anyway. I don’t normally laugh at anybody’s appearance. God made you the way He made you, you know?

And if the man did sense we were laughing at him:

I’m sorry. Truly, really, I am.

Word of warning: Don’t wear long, braided beards in front of me.

Blessings,  Voni

P.S. Sorry…no pictures. I’m not THAT rude.

P.S.S. But here’s a link to some pictures from the World Beard and Moustache Championships. Maybe the guy at the restaurant was in training?

Trail Leader or Command Leader?

Rich and I went on a short anniversary trip to Fairbanks this month, enjoying the beauty of the nearby Chena Hot Springs as well. While we were there, we signed up for a tour of Chena Dog Kennel, home to both retired and up-and-coming sled dogs as well as ones who love the trail, but just aren’t fast enough for the elite dog mushers.

chena-dog-kennel

We didn’t tour the kennels too much. We were too busy enjoying the pup he brought indoors for us to play with and peppering him with a million questions. We loved it.

Rich and tour Guide.jpg

(Rich is on the left, our tour guide on the right)

pup-pic-2

It wasn’t even a spiritual conversation. Our tour guide didn’t mean to cut my soul to the quick during our “tour.” But he did.

He shared how there are two types of lead dogs: Command Leaders and Trail Leaders.

lead-dog

Trail Leader dogs know the trail so well they could lead the dog team without the musher. They don’t get lost. They don’t run off. They are trustworthy. They know their job and do it with alacrity and joy.

Command Leader dogs have that same alacrity and joy, but they may or may not know the trail, or they may be entirely off-trail. It doesn’t matter. They listen for their musher’s voice and respond. They can be trusted wherever the musher takes them.

It makes me think of parenting. What parent wants their kid to be one who is just along for the run, pulling their weight? Who even wants their child to be a leader, but one who simply runs the trail correctly? A wise parent wants their child to be Command Leader, attuned to the values and morals they were taught, so that no matter what the trail of life brings them, they can respond with alacrity and joy.

Since when has the trail of life ever been simple and unchanging, anyway?

And what about my spiritual life? Am I a Trail Leader or a Command Leader?

Do I check off all the Christian boxes? Church attendance, check. Read Bible daily, check. Pray before a meal, check. Run the trail as usual, check.

Or do I feel safe when God leads me off the trail into glorious, beautiful, mysterious parts unknown, because I am attuned to His voice?

John 10:27 “My (dogs) listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” — Jesus refers to us as sheep, not dogs, but the point is the same, lol.

Psalm 143:8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. —uh, Who else would we trust but our Creator?

May God lead you off the trail into glorious, beautiful, mysterious parts unknown as you listen to His voice!

Blessings,

Voni

PS. As an aside, life is like dog mushing…a leader is not the one in charge. The Musher is, as in Jesus Christ. Life is also NOT like dog mushing…a leader is not necessarily the one out front. There are many ways to be a leader and impact the world for good other than being out front.

PSS. After our “tour,” which lasted longer than expected as we asked question after question, we were invited to watch them prepare the dogs to take some tourists on a run. To keep the dogs healthy and engaged, they do this on wheeled carts year-round, even without snow. Rich was petting one of the dogs when she was not “chosen”—don’t feel sorry for her; her turn eventually came. The poor, silly thing literally climbed up Rich and began whining. These dogs LOVE to run.