Every so often, I come across a book about people who truly amaze me. We use that word so often that it’s lost much of its power, so I’m thankful for the stories of people who are genuine heroes and whose histories force readers to do a little self-evaluation. I want to share a few of those here today and hope you’ll comment or contact me to share your own favorites of this type. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 
A recent bestselling memoir by a brilliant neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer at the height of his career. I’ve known for a while that it takes a very unique person to be a neurosurgeon, but this book gives a glimpse into just how unique. Paul Kalanithi loved poetry, the science of the brain, people, his family, and considering the meaning of life, among many other things. In his memoir, he shares deep reflections and questions on purpose, life and death, humanity’s search for significance, and why we feel compelled to live differently when death suddenly becomes much closer. 

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand 
I’ve mentioned this book many times before, but it remains one of my favorites. It’s the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track runner and WWII bomber pilot. During a mission over the Pacific, he and two other crew members survived a plane crash and then floated on a crude raft for over a month. They caught fish, trapped rainwater, and fought off sharks to survive, only to be captured by the Japanese once they reached land. This is a tale of suffering and resilience that truly defies logic and Laura Hillenbrand’s writing is cinematic and compelling. 

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown 
Another extraordinary underdog story that I talk of often and is well worth continued conversation. This focuses on the nine-man rowing team from the University of Washington during the Great Depression. The Washington team was never expected to beat the elite East Coast teams, yet they not only did so, but also went on to defeat the German team during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, an event fraught with Nazi propaganda. Everything about this book had me glued – the history of rowing as a sport, the pure grit and determination of the team, the gripping race scenes, and perhaps more than anything, the bond between the nine team members. 

Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior 
This is the story of an unsung hero of England’s abolitionist movement. Hannah More was a poet, playwright, close friend of well-known abolitionist William Wilberforce, and proponent of education for women and the poor. When she saw something that she believed needed to change culturally, she took it upon herself to effect that change. She primarily used her pen to speak out against slavery, immorality, conditions of the poor, and much more. She championed social reform right alongside Wilberforce and worked tirelessly not only to promote the education of women and the lower classes, but taught them herself for many years in schools she helped establish. Men and women alike today could learn much from Hannah More. 

Seven Men by Eric Metaxas 
Eric Metaxas is one of my favorite contemporary authors and this collection of mini-biographies is an easy, humbling, and engaging read. He gives snapshots of the lives of George Washington, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles Colson. All of these men led incredibly different lives throughout many points of history, but Metaxas skillfully weaves them together with the common thread of sacrifice. And this, Metaxas argues, is what makes a great man great, and what we should continue to look for in our heroes. 

What books have inspired you? Is there anyone you would not have known about if you hadn’t come across a book about him or her? What books have caused you to reevaluate your life? I’d love to hear about it!
You guys, I know I say it every year, but it finally feels like autumn and it makes my heart so GLAD. Though DC does autumn well, it took a bit longer for it to get its act together this time around. But this week, I finally got to pull my fall jacket out of the closet and my cup of hot tea now actually matches the weather and general mood. 

That said, I hope you’re enjoying the season in a likewise manner and have a nice stack of books on your coffee table to go with your hot fall beverage of choice. “Seasonal reading” is something I’ve come to appreciate maybe over the last year. Naturally, a good book is a good book at any time of year, but there’s definitely something nice about reading a story with significant ambiance and a tone that reflects the current season. So if you need ideas for what to crack open this fall, here are my picks. 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie 
There’s nothing like curling up with a blanket, hot beverage, and a murder mystery on a fall evening, am I right? I recently finished a new audiobook version of Orient Express and it was phenomenal. This was my first Christie read and I now understand why she’s known as the queen of mystery and crime fiction. And let me tell you, this book has an atmosphere. A train stuck in a snow drift. One of the passengers murdered in the dead of night. One detective among the remaining passengers. Every other passenger a suspect. Oh, and did I mention that Dan Stevens narrates the audio version I heard? Need I say more?
Photo Credit: Goodreads

The Angry Tide (Poldark #7) by Winston Graham 
I talk Poldark plenty on this blog, and I honestly think any of the books could be fitting choices for autumn because of the wild, stormy, and sometimes dark ambiance of the whole storyline. The Cornwall setting mirrors the protagonist, Ross Poldark, in that both of them are rugged, unpredictable, and untamed. But I’ve now read up through book 7, The Angry Tide, and I think this installment is particularly suited to autumn. It has a darker feel than many of the other volumes and Ross is forced to face struggles within himself that he has perhaps left buried for too long. It’s a book of trial and loss, but also of rebuilding and hope.
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Persuasion by Jane Austen 
I think this is one of Austen’s lesser known gems. It’s shorter and has a mellower tone compared to the bright and lively starlets of her canon like Pride and Prejudice or Emma. It’s set during autumn, much of the story takes place near the seashore, and the heroine is not a blushing, innocent girl in the prime of youth. The curtain opens on Anne Elliot, a woman of twenty-nine who lives with deeply held regret over a broken engagement from eight years earlier. What follows is a thoughtful, heartwarming tale on second chances and love set against the test of time. 

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain 
I confess upfront that I gave this one a try recently, but did not finish it. However, I read enough to appreciate the writing and setting. This is the memoir of a woman who worked as a nurse during World War I and reflects back on that experience with fairly intense despondency. She argues that the war robbed her generation of its youth, never to be recovered. It was the deep sadness and resentment of the author’s tone that made it unfit for me at this point, but I still appreciated her memory of this harrowing war, her honesty about what it did to her, and her beautiful prose. This quote stands out particularly in my memory and it definitely rings of autumn: 
“I suppose it’s no use weeping over last year’s dead leaves. All the tears in the world cannot make them green again. Perhaps when it is all over we shall find that other and better things have taken root in the mould of their dying.”
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This is a classic on many school reading lists, but if that’s been your only exposure to it, it’s well worth revisiting, especially in the fall. It’s a gothic romance and a mystery, and the action unfolds on the windy moors of northern England in an old mansion where odd sounds and accidents seem to occur regularly. The plain, orphaned Jane Eyre stole my heart a long time ago with her strong principles and generous heart, and the enigmatic Mr. Rochester is the perfect definition of a tortured and brooding hero.
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan 
This is my current read. Doesn’t the mere title suggest autumn? I’m very excited to dig in further. It’s a novelization of true events surrounding the life of Pino Lella, an Italian who endured the World War II Nazi occupation of Italy during his teen years. He worked as an underground resister and helper of Jews, a soldier, and eventually as a spy inside German leadership. I’m looking forward to learning more about this remarkable man’s life and being all hunched up in suspense with a blanket as I read. 
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Happy Thursday, happy fall, and happy reading. Do you have any favorite books that are particularly suited to autumn? Any other favorites that are better in another specific season? Let me know in comments!
Hello friends and readers and hello October! I feel like I’m constantly apologizing for long breaks between posts, so can we all just agree to understand the delays? Life, guys. Just life. I need to start scheduling them more ahead of time. It’s just hard when blogging isn’t your full-time job, though I’d love that. But I promise I’m still reading away, constantly planning the next trip to England, and always looking for stories to share here. I have post ideas that I’m excited about and hope to get published here soon. But today I want to share some reflections on my first year in DC that I’ve been turning over in my head for a while now.

A little over a year ago now, my mom and I rolled into Washington, DC in a car stuffed to the brim and only a vague idea of where we needed to go first. I remember feeling pretty in over my head once I spied the Washington Monument from the beltway. Upon arrival in the city and getting our bearings, we hastily arranged my things in the glamorous intern dorm, a task that was naturally not complete without an emergency trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, and then spent the night with friends in Annapolis before flying out to England the next day. That vacation was very good for me in many ways – I needed to get away from normalcy for a while and I was also excited for an adventure that I’d planned and wanted for a long time before facing the unknown adventure of DC. But when I returned and began to fall into a routine in DC, I was a little surprised to realize how much I was enjoying myself and that I maybe wanted stay longer than the mandatory semester. A year later, I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. 

Why I moved to DC 
To be clear, I will always have a special love for my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But I hadn’t ever been far from it for an extended period. I went to college only two hours away and went back there as soon as I graduated. I had worked there a good while and was feeling stuck. I couldn’t see my frustrating job situation (unfulfilling work, dead ends, etc) changing anytime soon. So even though it scared me, I figured it was right to take a leap into something new where I knew no one and could start fresh in a lot of ways. 

What I immediately liked about DC 
Ah, where to begin?! For those who can’t handle long chunks of text, I shall now trick you with bullet points.
  • All the history and memorials and stuff: History nerd that I am, I do think it’s pretty neat to be so near the heart of our country’s history. DC can get a bad rap for all the snooty politics and elites, but at its core, it’s still a beautiful city with a rich heritage worth seeing. I feel fortunate that I not only see it, but live in the midst of it. I still stare in awe at the Capitol at least twice a week even though I walk by it literally every day.
  • It does each season well: I arrived in DC on the cusp of autumn and was delighted to see that it’s a REAL autumn, unlike the measly 4-5 days of fall Alabama gets. The leaves actually change colors and the temperatures stay between 50 and 70 for a good two months. Later on, winter, spring, and summer followed the same pattern. A good sampling of all four seasons comes to DC in full force, which has been a welcome change from Alabama’s summer-winter-summer pattern.
  • The variety of people to be met with: Since moving here, I’ve met people from all corners of the country and the world – the people in my everyday circles hail from states as different as California, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Others came here from even farther away places like South Africa, Australia, England, Kenya, and Korea. I’ve never lived in a place of such varied backgrounds and it’s been a joy to get to know them. 

    Capitol Hill in the fall... I couldn't get enough
Cool and unlikely moments that wouldn't have happened if I'd lived anywhere else
  • Talking with a TV reporter from Norway about American politics
  • Listening to an abortion survivor testify at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill
  • Meeting THE Ben Shapiro in my work building
  • Getting to go for a bike ride down to the Lincoln Memorial after work one night
    Probably the biggest reason I stayed in DC
    There have been many things I’ve loved about DC – the internship that brought me here, my fellow interns that semester, the city quirks, and the snug coffee shops and bookstores. But my first real Sunday here, I walked the four short blocks to Capitol Hill Baptist Church and sat in a back pew a little nervously as I watched a sea of unfamiliar faces file in around me. About five minutes into the service, as we were singing “He Will Hold Me Fast” in the loudest, most beautiful harmony I’d ever heard from a church congregation, I knew I’d be coming back for the rest of the semester. This conviction to stay at that church only grew stronger as the weeks wore on, and a year later, Capitol Hill Baptist is unquestionably what has made this city home to me more than anything else. Here are just two things that I think make it such a special place: 

    • Good ecclesiology in action: Admittedly, I probably couldn’t have explained ecclesiology before I came to CHBC, and I’m sure other members would say the same. That’s not to say that previous churches of which I was a member were unhealthy or unbiblical, but CHBC emphasizes and makes transparent what is often behind the scenes in many churches. The pastors and elders talk regularly about how their responsibilities of shepherding and teaching are serious callings and sacrifices – I’ve been told that elder meetings can go till late hours of the night, and preparing for members’ meetings has to be one heck of a job from their end. But they do it because they love the congregation and they expect much of the congregation. If I were to disappear from services for a month, they’d notice and take steps to find out where I am. When they know they’ll be praying for me in an elder meeting, they’ll email me and ask if there are specific ways they can pray. I’m so thankful for their commitment. 
    • Jesus is truly our unifying foundation: All those states and countries I mentioned above? They’re represented at CHBC. People of every background, custom, age, upbringing, and nationality imaginable come together there every Sunday. It’s been more valuable than I can express to tangibly see how Jesus unifies people who might experience division by human standards. 

    And otherwise, this church just loves well. I feel richly blessed to be part of this family called Capitol Hill Baptist Church – my brothers and sisters there have encouraged and challenged me well and speak truth to me consistently. One of the most precious things in the world to me now is the sight and sound of all one thousand and twenty (?) of us singing a hymn in thunderously loud harmony together. I can’t wait to sing with them in eternity!
    Thank you to Aurora Publicity for an advance reader copy of Journey From Skioria in exchange for this review! 

    Need a nice and easy fantasy escape for your kids? Journey From Skioria by Kandi J. Wyatt might be the answer. The story opens on Tania, a young girl who is mysteriously lost at sea during a storm and wakes up to find herself in another world. The adults are the size of children and everyone lives in trees and berry bushes. Tania feels scared and uncertain, but the people of Skioria quickly determine to help her back to her parents. But along the way, Tania realizes that she’s gained somewhat of a second family in this strange new place. Can she remain a part of both worlds, or must she give up one to keep the other? And that’s not to mention the many obstacles that must be overcome to reach her parents again. 
    Photo Credit: Amazon

    I’d recommend this book for young grade school readers. For adults, it can feel disjointed and a bit slow, but friendship, magic, and adventure are at the center from start to finish and will entertain many a young reader. I enjoyed seeing Tania slowly realize that she has two families in two separate worlds and wrestle to figure out how to keep them both. I do think that the author could have done more to develop that struggle and grow her as a character as well as the other characters. I thought most of them were a bit under-developed by the end and most of the conflicts were resolved a little too quickly. But the question of how the group would be able to keep each other as friends was an overall good one that kept the story going. Tania and her friends have a generally good and straightforward adventure that many children will enjoy! 

    Journey From Skioria was released earlier this month and is now available on Amazon or wherever books are sold. Thank you again to Aurora Publicity for an advance reader copy of this work!
    Can you believe 2017 is more than half over?! Yeah, me neither. But let me just tell you, 2017 has been a great year for my England-loving heart. I’ve encountered so many wonderful British gems that I’m now going to share with you. Unsurprisingly, these finds range from TV to news to personal life to bookishness. 

    A new Pride and Prejudice is in the works 
    Yes, it’s happening, friends! Read the full story here! It’s been twelve years since Joe Wright’s gorgeous adaptation of Austen’s classic, so it’s clearly high time for someone new to step up to the plate. ;) The fact that the people behind Victoria and Poldark are taking it on makes me even more excited. I’m ready with my tea and crumpets already.

    Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert in Mammoth Screen's new drama "Victoria" (Photo Credit: Masterpiece PBS on Facebook)

    This show by Mammoth Screen stepped into Downton Abbey’s time slot on PBS earlier this year and wow, did it deliver! Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes are positively electric and charming as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Less is popularly known about the early phases of Victoria’s life and reign, but these two are bringing them to delightful life, brilliantly undergirded by Daisy Goodwin’s writing. She’s spent hundreds of hours poring over Queen Victoria’s now publicly available diary entries and it clearly shows in the drama’s historical detail and its deep exploration of Victoria and Albert’s relationship. Plus, the costumes and design take my breath away in nearly every frame. Approximately every two minutes I change my mind about my favorite dress of Victoria’s and maybe every two seconds my heart goes all fluttery at Prince Albert’s deep German drawl. Bring it on, Season 2! 

    The Crown 
    And while we’re on the subject of British monarchs, this Netflix original show about young Queen Elizabeth II is literally winning television this year. I think it’s been nominated for what, 13 Emmy Awards now? New ones could seriously be made up for John Lithgow’s performance of Winston Churchill and for Peter Morgan’s writing. Those are the two aspects of this show that consistently floored me as I watched it.
    Claire Foy as Elizabeth II in Netflix's "The Crown" (Photo Credit: The Crown on Facebook)

    Two scenes in particular come to mind when I think about Morgan’s exquisite writing for The Crown. The first is a tense exchange between Elizabeth and her high-spirited sister Margaret. They consider how their father’s relationship with them continues to affect their adult lives, and despite their personality clashes, they each seem to glimpse the trials that Elizabeth’s unexpectedly early rise to the throne has placed on the other. And the second is a conversation between Churchill and the artist painting his portrait. With so many hours of painting and sitting, barriers between the two men drop in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise, and viewers receive a poignant hint of the turbulence and tragedy behind the steely politician the world knew as Winston Churchill. 

    Claire Foy and Matt Smith’s deliveries of Elizabeth and Philip are also as riveting as they’re relatable – the viewer loves them both and hardly knows who to sympathize with more when they encounter the inevitable conflicts of life as a married couple within a royal family steeped in tradition and expectation. All that to say, if you’re slightly less old-fashioned than I am but would still be interested in a little British history and excellent drama, The Crown is definitely a good choice.

    New Northanger Abbey Audio Drama by Audible
    THIS. THIS, my friends! My favorite Austen hero changes frequently, but Henry Tilney is firmly in first place right now thanks to Jeremy Irvine’s deliciously teasing and masculine voice for him in this audio drama. But seriously, this is a charming rendition of Jane Austen’s most clearly satirical work. The characters somehow seem more vibrant even than their film counterparts because of the delightful voice cast here. Ella Purnell’s Catherine Morland speaks with the appropriate sweet earnestness and innocence, while Lily Cole’s loud, syrupy drawl lends the perfect mix of charm and insincerity we’d expect of Isabella Thorpe. It’s also lovely to hear Eleanor Tomlinson in the part of Eleanor Tilney – my Poldark-loving heart is always warmed to see dear Demelza in fun roles. But the crowning jewel of the production is of course Emma Thompson as Jane Austen/the narrator. She takes the reader into every extreme of Catherine’s turbulent teenage emotions, making the comedy funnier, the disappointments stronger, and the triumphs happier. 

    A Poldark Coloring Book 
    First of all, if you love Poldark and haven’t been following PoldarkDish, do yourself a favor and go watch all of their recaps NOW. I look forward to them almost as much as the show itself. Even the behind-the-scenes crew of Poldark found the lovely ladies of PoldarkDish and the Anglophile Channel so amusing that they invited them to be extras in Season 3. Sweet Marlise and Elyse came back with a whole bunch of Aidan Turner-signed merchandise for fans like me who could only live vicariously through them, and… I WON SOMETHING!! Yeah, it hardly ever happens to me either, so can you imagine my excitement and disbelief when they pulled my name out around the 14:15 mark of this recent recap they did? It still feels a little weird going back and watching it. But anyways, the prize of a signed coloring book is now here and I definitely giggled like a middle schooler when I opened it.
    Hope you’ve had a great week, friends! Any other British news or items of interest I should be on the lookout for? You know I need to know these things so hit me up if you run across something!