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The Writing Desk, by Rachel HauckĀ 

*I’m starting with what I didn’t care for, so please don’t write off this story due to these first couple paragraphs. 

I had very mixed feelings throughout reading this book. Having read several others by Rachel Hauck that I loved, I was surprised to have a hard time with this one. I wanted to love it… and in some ways I did.. but in other ways it felt to me like there was a little something missing.

Before I go any further, I should say that after much contemplation on this book and how I felt about it, I think my disappointments largely stem from listening rather than reading it myself. While there were some things in the story itself that got to me, for the most part I would have been able to overlook them… I think I might be able to listen to Windy Lanzl read another book (maybe one set in the semi-south… with no British or New York-ish characters…) and enjoy it more. One thing that bothered me was her attempt at voices/accents.. because her voices weren’t consistent. 

So.. what did I love about Rachel Hauck’s The Writing Desk? I loved the creativity found in this story. I loved that this writer knows how to create unique characters with layers and grow them throughout the story, letting the reader get to know them more deeply as the pages turn. I loved the intricacies of the dual timelines and how Rachel Hauck wove them together to create one story. 

The modern part of this book follows Tenley, a best-selling writer struggling to come up with her second book.. she’s pretty caught up in the excitement of her fame but in her heart she is seeking more depth, even though she doesn’t quite know what she’s looking for. Tenley finds herself passing up a trip to Paris with her “sort of fiance” to care for her estranged mother as she goes through chemo. She’s not very empathetic toward her mother (disappointing but realistic, considering everything) but the fact that she’s there at all says a lot.. especially after Tenley and her dad were abandoned by Blanche (as Tenley calls her) when Tenley was only 9. I enjoyed seeing their relationship grow in hesitant ways as they got to know each other. I also enjoyed how Tenley’s friendship with Jonas, a neighbor/longtime friend of Blanche’s sprouted as he accepted Tenley where she was. It’s super sweet.

The other half of this dual timeline book begins during the gilded age, and it’s about Birdie, a rich heiress who has more heart than care for wealth and fame. She dreams of being a published author, and of marrying for love… hopefully to Eli, who’s captured her heart but doesn’t have her parents’ approval. Her parents have other ideas though and have made business-type arrangements with a different suitor. 

Birdie and Tenley’s lives end up intersecting, although they never knew each other. There’s much bittersweet in this book. I’m still not quite at rest with the culmination but I think I’d like to try actually reading it in book form. I think that would help me. 

This book is comparable to… a can of soup. I have a certain line of canned soup that I love but can’t eat much anymore. There’s just something that I can’t quite put my finger on that’s missing, and I’ve had a hard time eating it since chemo. 

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Lizzy & Jane, by Katherine Reay

**If you’re a skimmer, please be sure to read to the end… this will probably be long. 

Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay struck my heart very uniquely. This book is about two sisters who live on opposite sides of the country. Lizzy in New York, and Jane in Seattle. Lizzy living the epitome of city life, busy with her restaurant and panicking that she’s about to lose it because she’s lost the spark in her heart for it; Jane determined not to let chemo get the best of her, yet at a loss for how to keep it from derailing her family. Both sisters unwilling to admit how closed off they have become and how guilty they both feel for being absent when loved ones needed them.

These characters became friends of mine.. they had depth, quirks, and flaws. 

To be completely honest, I started out very angry with Lizzy. She was full of herself and thought she had the answers to everything. I didn’t like her, and I certainly didn’t appreciate her attitude. After being reluctant to even call Jane, Lizzy decides she’s going to go cook for Jane, as a way of getting inspired to go back to her restaurant… She assures Jane that she won’t be able to turn down her food, and when Jane can’t eat what she makes (or, more accurately, when she gets sick on it and can’t eat any more), Lizzy takes offense. Oh my goodness.. get over yourself, Lizzy, and think about someone other than yourself. 

Jane has adjustments to make too though. She’s shut out her husband and her kids as a way of dealing with her cancer. Their life has become routine and monotonous, and I think she thinks she doesn’t really deserve any different. She has lost her joy but would never tell you that. 

After much trial and error, Lizzy finally begins to realize that she needs to ask Jane about her life, her cancer, her treatments, what tastes good vs what doesn’t… and not only ask, but actually listen and get to know her sisterIf there’s one thing Jane needs as much as food she can eat, it’s a good listener. A true friend in her sister. Loving her where she is. It was a process, but I began to like the character I was seeing in Lizzy. I loved the morphing I saw in both of them. 

This was quite a difficult read for me. I don’t know if you picture what you’re reading or not, but I do. And I saw Jane’s Infusion Center as my own, the waiting area at her oncologist’s office as mine. The parking lot? Same. One of our chemo drugs was the same, and not just in my mind. Maybe one of the steroid & anti-sick drug combinations too… (I remember mine but not hers.) 

When I was partway through this book, I mentioned some initial thoughts on it to the friend who had asked if I’d read it. I told her that the writer of this book had either been there herself or had really done some thorough research and listened to people close to her who had been there. Because wow. She captured so much, so accurately. Three years ago the day before yesterday was my second chemo. I may forget many things now, but certain dates and experiences are forever etched into my memory. This book brought emotions and physical things to the forefront of my mind that felt like they were yesterday. 

A thread of romance runs through this beautiful story too. It just sort of happens. It’s sweet and doesn’t try to take the spotlight. 

Lizzy & Jane gripped my heart in a way that rarely happens. Most of the books on my all-time favorites list aren’t stories I’ve connected with like this one. That doesn’t mean I love this one more, but it means I love it unlike most others. I so needed this book. I’m not sure I knew I did for quite a while, but I did.  

This book is a hotdog for me, no question. While I’m generally not big on hotdogs and am very picky about them, they were one of the few foods that I could eat consistently throughout chemo. That being said, I’m glad I read it now rather than during chemo when I originally picked it up and discovered I couldn’t read a book. 

I’d never read anything by Katherine Reay prior to this, but I will be reading more. (For those wondering, yes, there are connections to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, but aside from the pride and preconceived notions involved in this story that I’ve already mentioned, I’m not going to expand on the connections.)

 
 

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This Quiet Sky, by Joanne Bischof

I normally don’t cry in movies or books. I honestly don’t think I’ve *ever* cried in a book before.

Until now.

Now.. I’ve sobbed.

The incredible depth of this novella really surprised me; I typically think of novellas and short fiction as not having time to develop the characters enough to truly know and relate to them. This book has so much depth. I felt instantly that I had bonded with young Sarah Miller. And with Tucker O’Shay.

Joanne Bischof showed her talent with This Quiet Sky. Descriptions that encompassed my senses. Characters who leapt from the pages (or rather, from my ipod, since I listened via Audible). Scenery that transported me in a very realistic sense to the hills of Appalachia in the late 1800s, not all that far from where my own family has roots. All of these were present in this story.

This book captured me at a level I’m not sure I knew was possible. Down into the very depths of my soul.

My heart ached for Sarah, for Tucker. I connected with them, with Tucker’s need of a good friend, with Sarah’s compassion and desire to reach out to him. Although very different circumstances, I can relate to the fear that I know Tucker felt, because I’m a survivor of the disease that he had. I’m sure he had friends prior to this diagnosis, and I hurt for what he lost. Tucker’s thoughts and the way he pondered life, the way he set out to enjoy the moments that he had, dreaming as if he had all the time in the world, living with a grateful-to-God heart for his every breath.. these traits wove such a real character. I can relate to Sarah, as her heart breaks for Tucker, for his family, for herself… because I have been on this side too.

If you have the opportunity, I highly encourage you to listen to Gail Shalan read this book. She added a uniquely beautiful dimension to an already heartwarming, soul-gripping, tear-provoking book. I will be adding the paperback to my permanent book collection, but I will absolutely be listening to this audio book again and again as well. Very rarely do I feel like I could finish a book, turn back to page one, and begin again immediately. This book compels me to do so.

I would liken this story to dark chocolate. Very dark chocolate. Something like Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Soiree. The blend of flavors is delicate and perfect. But so very intense, daring you to take the next bite. Go ahead. Do it. Listen. Read. I can’t promise you won’t cry — in fact, I’d encourage you to be free to let this story affect you deeply and permanently. Let God use it in your heart. You will not regret it. And as you let God speak to you through this little book, be reminded of the truth that His eye is on the sparrow… and we can know that He’s watching us too.

 
 

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