New Resources for Adult Christian Formation

Several new resources have just been released, all appropriate for adult Christian formation groups or individual use. Here’s my list of recommendations of new resources.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin. A wonderfully written invitation to do ministry right where you are, in your own neighborhood and with people you encounter each and every day. This young woman and mom of several kids tells how her own concept of “ministry” changed after she moved to a low income urban area. She urges everyone to go and seek out neighbors – and ministry – among the forgotten corners of their own cities and towns. Just published, available in e-book, paperback, audio, and CD.

The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture by Haley Stewart. The author does a great job of connecting the current trend of minimalism with Christian ethics. She tells the story of moving out of a suburban home in Florida to truly minimalist digs on a farm in Texas (compost toilets included). Great for church groups in connecting Christianity to environmental stewardship. Published September 2018, available in paperback and Kindle.

Dreaming with God: A Bold Call to Step Out and Follow God’s Lead by Sarah-Beth Marr. The author uses her former career as a ballerina to encourage readers to follow new calls and go forward in their life journeys. Beautifully written and excellent for those feeling “stuck” in their lives or careers and ready to do something new. Available in both e-book and paperback for about $10 – a bargain.

Coming this spring…

Purpose by Jordan Dooley.  This book truly inspired me. The author addresses woman going through all kinds of everyday stress and challenges: frustration, perfectionism, shame, rejection, insecurities, and other obstacles to peace and well-being. Her audience is younger women, but this middle-aged gal found it helpful as well. Dooley is a terrific storyteller and uses metaphors from everyday life that anyone can relate to. Perfect for church women’s groups. Coming in March 2019.

Enjoy some great reading this fall! Blessings, Cindy

New Books on Christian Living and Spirituality

Hello Readers!  After taking the last several months off to complete two first-draft manuscripts, I’m back to blogging. Now that I’ve come up for air, I’m delighted to report that I’m also back to reviewing new books and sharing my thoughts and recommendations.

I know many of my followers are Episcopalians, and I want to let you know about several new books on Christian living and spirituality that have been published lately or will be published soon. Here are some new titles you’ll want to check out (and possibly use in adult forums, book clubs, or just for personal devotionals):

Richard Rohr, Just This. Highly recommended for fans of Richard Rohr. This book includes brief one-page devotionals; it would be great for daily use or to take on a retreat. I would recommend this for the spiritually mature. For “seekers” or those unfamiliar with Rohr, I would read one of his other books first.

Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Retreat. Highly recommended, especially for retreat leaders, adult Christian formation leaders, and conference or retreat center staff.  This book makes the case for taking quiet, alone time for yourself to discern what’s working (and not working) in your life, what God might be calling you to do, and what you might need to let go. The book covers both the “big picture” concepts and more practical advice for your own retreat. The imagery of this book was particularly helpful.  I appreciated that this book reached out to all Christians. The author includes nods to those in more Evangelical traditions, Episcopalians (including references to the Book of Common Prayer), Roman Catholics, and anyone seeking spiritual growth and refreshment. Liturgies and suggestions for retreat reading materials are included, along with differentiation between silent retreats, “preached retreats,” or purely solitary retreat time in your own space. (Coming in September, available for pre-order now.)

Bob Goff, Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People.  I loved this book. Bob Goff is a terrific storyteller who tells marvelous stories of “becoming love” to neighbors, a homeless guy who shacks up in his truck, and even witch doctors. (Yes, witch doctors. The fingerprints on the cover are from actual witch doctors in Uganda.) Highly recommended for uplifting, inspirational, engaging stories about daily living-out of the Christian faith. Perfect for seekers and mature Christians alike. Great for adult forums, book clubs, and for personal use.

Cynthia Coe is the author of several resources to introduce children, youth, and adults to environmental stewardship. Visit her author page on Amazon here.   

 

 

 

Writing is Like Yoga: Books for Improving Craft and Career

Writing is like practicing yoga: it’s truly a practice. You work at it all the time, and you re-visit the basics of your craft on a daily basis. You might have your off days.  You have other days when you’re hitting on all cylinders. Hopefully, you improve over time.

If you’re like me and work mostly alone, you need an occasional class, conference, or book to perk you up, force you to work on improving your craft, or help you figure out some way to pay the bills from your writing.  Many of us have read the classics on writing: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. All of them are wonderful and have encouraged thousands of writers.

If you’re into writing for the long haul, you might need something new to help you muddle through that first draft, reach your readers in meaningful ways, and get the reader’s attention and eyes on your book in the first place. Here are several books I’ve found helpful recently. If you have some to add to this list, I’d love to get your suggestions!

Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go, by Les Edgerton (This is a great little book on the basic craft of fiction. While the emphasis is on first scenes and first chapters, there’s also lots of good guidelines on stuff like backstory, foreshadowing, and structure.)

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, by Lisa Cron. (This book goes into the role of story in human culture and what goes on in the reader’s head when she reads fiction. Very readable and helpful in looking at the big picture of fiction.)

Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone In Between, by James Scott Bell. (This book, quite frankly, pulled me out of a ditch on my current novel. I was hopelessly stuck as to where to go with the story, and this little book helped me get on track and get going. It’s only 85 pages, but it’s a small gem of a book that can make you sit back and think.)

Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, by Lauren Sapala (Many writers are content to work holed-up in a room, all by themselves, talking only to their cats. Marketing and publicity don’t come easily to those of us who are practically hermits. Lauren Sapala will gently convince you to crawl out of your hole and –gasp– engage with the rest of humanity for fun and profit. An excellent book.)

If you have other writer-ish books to recommend, please feel free to comment!

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony with the Everyday World Around Us,” along with two novels and two resource books on leading young people to take care of the earth. 

 

 

 

What is it about Paris?

What is it about Paris that makes you want to go there, even if it’s just through the vicarious experience of a book? Certainly, you could have “fun” many places. There are many locations with stunning views, adventures, or new cultures to explore. But there is something about Paris that surpasses all of the usual touristy pleasures and experiences.

Life in Paris is about elegance, quality, and excellence. The climate is just right – not too warm and not too cold. The city is the model of northern hemisphere livability – you can get there easily, there’s plenty of places to stay, and cabs and the metro allow you to move around easily. There’s public places – art museums, in particular – to visit and see, along with plenty of lovely green spaces to get fresh air and pause from the hustle-bustle of city life. And of course, there’s the food. You will eat well in Paris, with quality ingredients, thoughtful preparation, and lovely presentation. But you won’t eat too much – proportions are just right, with none of the overindulgence of many American restaurants.

Paris is culture at its peak – and not just the art, fashion, and architecture. Paris is everyday living at its best. You don’t just have a breakfast of cereal poured in a bowl. You have a scrumptious croissant or pastry, butter served at precisely the right temperature, a perfect cup of coffee, a hunk of baguette baked that morning, and strawberry jam. Simply walking around Paris is a pleasant adventure. Although the city is busy, you don’t suffer the rushed, over-crowded vibe of New York or Amsterdam. You may take your time, enjoying the parks you pass, stopping to browse, pausing to watch river traffic on the Seine. You don’t have to be “doing” something all the time; it’s perfectly acceptable (and highly recommended) to sit in a sidewalk café sipping wine and people watch for a spell.

The architecture of the city lends itself to both feeling part of a grand plan, plus the charm of discovering narrow, quiet streets where you can feel the peace of a small town. You can soak in the artistic masterpieces of the Louvre or the D’Orsay, but you can also take a few moments to eat a delicious but not too sweet cake at a perfectly set table on the roof of the Centre George Pompidou, a piece of everyday art in itself. Balance and harmony are evident everywhere.

Last summer, my family vacationed in Paris, and we loved every minute of it. (I say that now after recovering from the slightly terrifying experience of getting lost in a sketchy neighborhood near Gare du Nord; it’s now a fond vignette in family mythology. Sometimes the memories of a place are more pleasant than the reality.)  I won’t be going to Paris this summer – at least not in person. But I’ll be “visiting” Paris again through the pages of a book, with my toes in the sand and maybe a bottle of French wine in the cooler beside me.

Here are some of my favorite books about Paris. (All non-fiction; my next blog post will feature favorite novels about Paris):

Paris to the Moon– New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik moves to Paris with his family. A wonderful examination of Parisian culture

A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World– a lovely book with illustrations and graphics

The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs– a journalist explores her own Parisian neighborhood

A Moveable Feast– Hemingway’s most accessible and joyful book

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris– This short book rambles along through Paris, a good quick read.

Cynthia Coe enjoys travelling and writing about her travels. Her novel Ginger’s Reckoning takes the reader from Houston to Moscow, with stops in KnoxVegas and a couple of interesting cities in Western Europe along the way. Ginger’s Reckoning is now available on Kindle for $2.99; also available in paperback, included in Kindle Unlimited.

Follow this blog or her Facebook pagefor weekly blog posts and news of recent releases and sales on her books.

 

Having It All, Losing It All, and Finding Redemption

When the economy crashed in 2008, I watched the stock market tank, careers end, and fortunes lost with a sense of deja vu. I had been through it before and come out a different person.

My book, Ginger’s Reckoning, was written as self-therapy for dealing my own financial crash and destroyed career. My husband and I became millionaires in our early thirties. My husband was an investment banker, and I was a trial lawyer. We seemingly had it all – a charming house in the nicest neighborhood in town, European cars, designer clothes, vacations at exclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Then it all came crashing down. The company my husband worked for was shut down by the federal government and investigated by the FBI. I lost my job as a lawyer. Our income was zero.

I learned a lot during that time. Fortunately, a friend had wisely advised us to save our money when times were good, so we didn’t starve, lose our home, or go without the basic necessities of life. But our lifestyle had to change drastically. I quickly learned how to cut household expenses to the bone. I learned to do without. I learned what was really important to me – and it wasn’t necessarily the money I missed from my former life.

In my novel, Ginger Jordan walks away from her home right before it and all her other assets are seized by the government. She leaves in the middle of the night with only a backpack stuffed with a few clothes and personal mementoes. She goes back to her college haunts in the Fort Sanders neighborhood of Knoxville, which was also where I spent many happy days as a poor but culturally fulfilled UT student.

Ginger’s journey continues to some of my favorite places in Europe, ending up in Moscow. At the time I wrote the book, I hadn’t been to Moscow. The scenes in the book were based on an old 1980’s era travel book I found in a used book store. Oddly enough, once I did visit Moscow in 2005, I was amazed that the hotel where we stayed was spookily similar to the hotel I had described in my novel years before. It was a world apart from my (and Ginger’s) capitalistic world in America – food was hard to come by, a restaurant refused us service (because we were Americans), the hotel wouldn’t let us change to a larger room with enough beds for our kids (because we didn’t have permission from…somebody), and we had to be vetted before entering any store (including the mall beside the US Embassy). When politics went south, we got out of Moscow only after I got in our facilitator’s face and yelled at him to take us to the Delta Airlines office. Fun times!

In the novel, Ginger comes to terms with her drastically changed circumstances while in Russia, backed into a corner but helped by family and close friends. In the real world, I too came to terms with my own dark night of the soul in Russia, stripped away from all that was familiar and comfortable.

I hope you enjoy my novel, Ginger’s Reckoning, featured as an Amazon Countdown Deal Friday, March 30 – Monday, April 2.

Blessings, Cindy

 

The Continuing Relevance of Anne Frank’s Diary

The Continuing Relevance of Anne Frank and her Diary

Amsterdam, June 2017

A Muslim woman wearing a hijab and long, flowing black clothes stands with her bicycle at a busy intersection, waiting to enter the throng cycling through the city on a Saturday afternoon.  The city is hot, crowded, and filled with cars, motorbikes, and tourists from all over the globe.  Bakeries and small restaurants run by immigrants from Asia and the Middle East line the narrow side streets, while the scent of pot wafts outside the coffee houses.  A party boat carrying barely-clad women cruises a canal, advertising an establishment in the red light district.

And on one of the sleepier canal streets across town, tourists have formed a line snaking around and around an otherwise vacant lot near the bulky brown nave of the Westerkerk, waiting for hours upon hours to get inside the Anne Frank House.  Earlier in the day, tourists who’ve made reservations months in advance climb inside the upper floors of the house-behind-a-house, perhaps taking a moment to notice newspaper photo of the then Princess Elizabeth, still living.  An hour before closing on a late Saturday afternoon, hundreds more hope to get inside before closing time – despite the heat, despite having a plethora of museums, coffee houses, bike rides, and other attractions they could have chosen.

New generations have not only embraced but amplified Anne Frank’s life and work in the 21st century.

A Fresh, Young, Authentic Voice

“Keeping it real,” is a mantra I’ve heard from my young-adult aged children.  “Keeping it real” means telling the truth – being your authentic, God-honest self.  And this is what Anne Frank did as she wrote the diary entries that became the best-selling, beloved Diary of a Young Girl.  Anne by no means sugar-coated her situation, her family, her relationship with the other people hiding in the Annex, and especially herself.  Her diary is raw, brutally honest, and without agenda.  She writes of sexual feelings most of us would never, ever put down on paper.  She speaks ill of the other family who joins her own in the Annex.  She describes her frustration at having to suddenly share her room with a grown man and (bane of all writers) her inability to get the space and time to work on her own writing project.

It’s this kind of voice we rarely hear any more in this world of stage-crafted communications, talking points, and what may or may not be fake news.  Everybody has an agenda, and social media posts and every other communication usually seeks to serve someone’s cause, political views, or self-image.  Anne Frank, at age thirteen, just wanted to survive to live another day.

The Importance of Small Kindnesses (and Cruelties) in Everyday Life

Re-reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl as an adult while in Amsterdam, I was struck by how Anne’s family and co-habitants of the Annex were able to survive so long without having been found.  The story I really wanted to know about was that of Miep Gies, who brought food and other necessities to the family.  These daily, extraordinary acts of kindness – by Miep, by the green grocer who surely knew (or at least suspected) where the food went, by those who helped with ration cards, money, or even by their sheer silence in not letting on what they knew or suspected – kept the family alive.

Small kindnesses matter.  There are things each of us can do each and every day that could benefit someone we know – or even someone we don’t know very well or at all.

The group hiding in the attic is eventually discovered and send off to concentration camps, where everyone but Anne’s father will die.  Who ratted them out?  Walking around the block of houses on the Prinsengracht, I realized it could have been anyone.  Any of the neighbors looking out their windows onto the courtyard could have seen Anne as she looked out at the trees and sunshine from her attic window.  As hunger and even starvation loomed in 1944 Amsterdam, someone – anyone – must have caved to self-interest and sold the secret of the Jews in the Annex to the Nazis.  Giving this information was a small act, likely taking very little time and effort, but one that was deeply destructive to those in hiding.

There’s a lesson here, too.  Little acts of gossip, bad-mouthing, pettiness, and sheer meanness – even if it’s done for what you think is your own survival – can destroy other people.  In a new culture where we seldom even see our “friends” or neighbors, we might forget that words count.  Words can destroy.

Policies and Agendas Affect Real People

In our current cultural and political climate, the most relevant lesson we can learn from the fate of Anne Frank is that whatever political, corporate, or even personal agenda we might have, real people will be affected.  As I read Anne Frank’s diary and other books about her, I was struck by how utterly apolitical Anne was.  Though her persecution is most definitely an “us against them” agenda by the Nazis, Anne shines through as someone who simply wants to go back to school, have a boyfriend, write, and be able to go outdoors again.

This is what most human beings want – love, purpose, freedom to come and go, and a way forward, whatever that looks like for each individual.  This is what the “us versus them” mentality plows under in its relentless path to make everyone else look, think, and be like you.  This is what killed the fresh, young authentic voice of Anne Frank, now beloved but snuffed out as a teenager.

Cynthia Coe is the author of two novels and “Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony in the Everyday World Around Us.”

For Further Reading:

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Miep Gies, Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Books Set in Amsterdam

Hello after a long break, faithful readers!  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog.   I just got back from a much needed vacation to Europe, and I’m finally back in the saddle and ready to write again.

My family and I gleefully jetted off to Amsterdam as a first stop in our latest European adventure.  This was my youngest son’s first European vacation, so we wanted an easy entry point to the continent –  friendly people who spoke American English, lots of charm, and easy to navigate.

Part of a great vacation is vicariously living in your destination through books and travel guides before you get there.  Before we went to Amsterdam (and while I was there), I had the pleasure of reading several novels set in Amsterdam’s golden age of the 17th century, bringing the charming houses along the canals and their inhabitants to life.   Here are my favorites:

The Coffee Trader, by David Liss.  If you like intrigue and financial dealings, this is the book for you.  The scheming was like the Survivor show on steroids.  This novel starts out slowly, but stick with it.  I couldn’t put it down once I eventually got into it.  Set in 17th century Amsterdam, a trader tries to introduce a new drink, coffee, to the Dutch.  This novel also includes an interesting history of the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

Tulip Fever, by Deborah Moggach.  This book is more about romance than tulips, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  A young girl is married off to an old Dutch merchant.  A young handsome painter comes to paint their portrait – the perfect set-up for a 17th century soap opera.  Good light reading.

The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton.  This is a weird book.  I still don’t know quite what to make of it, but the writing was marvelous, and I couldn’t put it down.  Also set in 17th century Amsterdam, also involving a young woman married off to a guy she hardly knows.  The iconic centerpiece of this novel is a dollhouse modelled after the house where the main characters live.  Miniatures of real life people, pets, and objects mysteriously show up on the door step.  Fascinating…but weird.

All these books are about $10 in paperback and also available on Kindle.

Blessings, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is the author of the novels Ginger’s Reckoning and Runaway Kitty, along with several books on spiritual formation. 

 

 

 

Short, Wonderful Novels: A List of Favorite Quick Reads

For a book lover, nothing beats a really good novel you can read and savor in the space of a weekend – or even in one long sitting.  I just finished reading Paulette Jiles’ News of the World.  I started the book the day before yesterday, found myself seriously engaged in it, and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.  It was a truly marvelous book.

Short novels tend to swiftly whisk us off to another world and keep us there, capturing our full attention, but just for a day or two.  Short novels typically have just one or two main characters, tight writing, and a plot that moves.  I love big fat novels that allow you to wallow in their complex worlds for weeks, but short novels are like perfect chocolate truffles: short-lived, delicious pleasures.

Here are some of my favorite short novels (of about 200 pages or less):

Paulette Jiles, News of the World (Set in post-Civil War Texas, an old man is charged with returning a young girl captured by the Kiowa tribe to her surviving relatives. Riveting.)

Dai Sijie and Ina Rilke, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (A gorgeous story of two Chinese boys living on their own, books, and love for a girl)

Jane Mendelsohn,  I was Amelia Earhart (A beautifully written novel of what might have happened to the famous aviator)

Tracy Chevalier, Girl With a Pearl Earring (A classic story of a young girl, based on the painting)

Rick Moody, Hotels of North America (Quirky)

And because it’s Lent and some of us are not giving up chocolate…

Joanne Harris, Chocolat  (A priest in France has a hissy fit when a new chocolate shop opens during Lent. A bit longer than 200 pages, but a quick read.)

Cynthia Coe is the author of the short novel Runaway Kitty, along with several other books. 

 

 

Favorite Books About Russia

With all the talk about Russian intrigues in the news, along with the bitingly cold temperature outside, I’ve thought back on my favorite books about Russia that have come out in the last few years.  Once the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed, a number of both novels and memoirs detailed the hardships of life in Russia behind the Iron Curtain – stories and history lessons we in America are just now hearing.

Like modern Russia itself, many of these stories are rich with drama – but filled with heartbreak as well.  When I first travelled to Russia several years ago, it was described to me as “the wild, wild East.”  Indeed, my travels to Russia were experiences of a lifetime.  Among the crumbling infrastructure and scarcities of many of the common conveniences we take for granted in America, we met many Russians who showed kindness, resilience, and friendliness to us as Americans.  In the Russian Arctic, we found ourselves driven around by a former Soviet fighter pilot who loved to make turns by hitting snow banks at top speed.  We visited a local “mall” that turned out to be not much more than a flea market.  Our eyes widened at the sight of a huge poster of Andrew Jackson on a twenty dollar bill at the one currency exchange outside the one western grocery store in town.  Finding ourselves snowed in at our hotel, we dined old school, with a gourmet meal served on a white linen tablecloth, accompanied by a string quartet so beautiful it made me weep.

We were also told that Moscow is “a country within a country,” and we found this to be true as well.  While Russians in the provinces welcomed us, in Moscow we found ourselves under surveillance at all times.  A hotel manager followed me into a bathroom to watch while I changed my child’s diaper.  The hotel maids felt free to come into our room at any time, without knocking, to check on us.  A restaurant across the street from the US Embassy refused us service.  When politics went really south, I had to get in our guide’s face and yell at him before he would take us to the Delta office to change our tickets.  After leaving our hotel at 4 in the morning, our cab was stopped on the way to the airport for the proverbial check of our “papers.”

We got only a taste of the bare bones existence and the ultra-paranoid police state experienced by most Russians after the Russian Revolution.  For full stories by those who lived or travelled extensively in Russia, here are some of my favorite books about contemporary Russia and its recent history:

Dancing Under the Red Star: The Extraordinary Story of Margaret Werner, the Only American Woman to Survive Stalin’s Gulag, by Karl Tobien.  An American family moves from Detroit to Gorky in the early 1930’s to work in a new Ford factory.  This book shows, from an American standpoint, the ruthlessness of life under Stalin, told by Margaret Werner’s son.

The Bronze Horseman, Paullina Simons.  This novel details the life of a young woman enduring the siege of Leningrad by the Germans during World War II.  One million people died of starvation.  This book has it all – romance, sex, death, suffering.  It’s a little romance-novel-ish at times, but the story of the siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) is one I’ve not read anywhere else (and especially this graphically).

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing, Anya von Bremzen.  This beautifully written memoir is the story of an average young girl growing up in the Soviet Union during the 1960’s era of post-Stalinist Russia.  It gives a superb picture of what daily life was like in the late 20th century, along with the author’s immigrant experience in the United States.  Highly recommended.

Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia, David Greene.  Written by an NPR Morning Edition journalist, this wonderful travel book chronicles the author’s train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway, stopping to meet ordinary Russians along the way.  This is an insightful look into present day Russia.

I hope you enjoy these marvelous books on cold winter nights!

Happy New Year, Cindy

Cynthia Coe is a writer and author of two novels, based in Knoxville, Tennessee.