By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Month: January 2020

What I’m Reading: The Cupcake Dilemma

My husband and I drive to Cape Girardeau, Missouri once every couple months to eat at our new favorite restaurant. It’s an Irish pub with a fun atmosphere and great food, but that’s beside the point. One of the last times we went there, I ordered dessert. I never order dessert at restaurants because I’m always too full. But this time, I purposefully saved room.

I ordered bread pudding. I’d never had bread pudding before and had no idea what to expect. Bread and pudding in the same sentence don’t sound appetizing, much less putting them in the same dessert! But something intrigued me about it, and I decided to take the risk.

I may take more risks in the future. My first bite of this warm, rich dessert was filled with cinnamony goodness. Fall exploded on my tongue, and it was a beautiful thing. Adding caramel ice cream to hot bread pudding added to the perfection. I think I heard angels singing. It was that good.

It’s amazing when you find a dessert like that bread pudding, but equally (if not more) amazing is finding a book like that. A story that grabs your attention from the first page and invites you to dive in and keep reading until you reach the end. A story that’s sweet and fun and balanced and leaves you with a good feeling at the end. (And as a bonus, they leave you without the uncomfortable fullness that comes with indulging in decadent desserts!)

I had the pleasure of devouring one of these special books just a few days ago. The Cupcake Dilemma: A Rock Creek Romance Novella by Jennifer Rodewald grabbed my attention with a great presentation. The cover is simple and cute and the idea that the book would contain cupcakes added to my interest. Then, I read the first line.

Wow! It wasn’t profound. It wasn’t a poetically written description of some far off place that painted a perfect Monet in my mind. It was sassy and fun and set the tone for the story to come. It made me dive in, and I didn’t come up for air until I reached the last page.

I’m not usually a fan of first person story telling, but Jennifer Rodewald does it so well in this book I forgot it was done that way as I was reading. Kirstin Hill is funny and sassy and in completely over her head when she’s assigned to bring cupcakes to the town’s Valentine’s Day barn dance.

She’s a great teacher, but Kirstin is a kitchen nightmare. And she’s struggling to find her place as the new girl in town, only adding to the pressure to provide perfect desserts. Enter Ian Connealy, baker at and owner of Sweet Tooth Bakery.

Ian wows the entire town with his sweet creations. Kirstin’s been wowed by them since she moved to town. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in addition to being a superstar bakers, Ian is gorgeous. Plus, he’s willing to help with Kirstin’s cupcake dilema, if she’ll agree to his terms.

The story is full of frosting, friendship, flirting, and fun. And it leaves readers with that “just tried the most decadent dessert” feeling without the need to head to the gym.

What I’m Reading: Lane Steen

I admit I shed a few tears the first time I listened to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s rock opera, Beethoven’s Last Night. When Mephistopheles strikes a bargain with Beethoven to give up one piece of the music he’s created in exchange for his soul, Beethoven rants at Fate for having left him with this awful choice after the lifetime of hurts he’s already faced. She allows him to revisit scenes from his past and erase their pain from his life. But the hurts, disappointments, and losses sprinkled throughout his memories aren’t what moved me.

After reliving each painful experience, Beethoven makes his choice. As he sings “This is Who You Are”, it becomes clear. Beethoven can’t erase any of his past without erasing the beautiful music created from the things he experienced. One event changed in his past would change everything else about his life. He chose to keep the pain so the world would not lose the beauty drawn out of it. It’s a choice that probably hits close to home for many of us as we consider the mistakes and hurts of our own lives.

I imagine it’s a theme that played throughout Lane’s life in Lane Steen by Candace West.  Before she was out of her teenage years, Lane Steen’s life held enough hurts to fill ten people with the ache to erase the past. Raised in a shack on the outskirts of town was enough to make Lane feel like an outcast without adding in her tattered clothes and father’s bad reputation. Even those paled in comparison to the horror of living with an alcoholic father who didn’t need the addition of alcohol to make him physically and verbally abusive to his wife and daughter. With her own mother being emotionally disconnected from her, the only bright spots in her life are school and her friendships with Tabitha, Guy, and the new teacher who encourages Lane to find what she’s good at and pursue it.

Even these gifts in her life don’t lessen the hurt she feels or take away the hate Lane has for her father. Her only thoughts are to escape the town and her family and never look back. As opportunities open up small windows of hope into Lane’s life, Lane begins to wrestle with the possibility that God is there and, despite her awful circumstances, He may care about her.  

Lane takes a journey of self and faith discovery through the story. Each secret revealed about herself and her family’s past gives her more understanding. Lane learns what brings her joy and purpose. She finds out how healing God’s forgiveness and love can be to receive, and she is confronted with the need to extend that forgiveness and love to others. Lane’s eyes and heart are opened to what it really means to love someone and let them love in return. And she struggles to define what forgiveness should look like on a daily basis as she tries to move forward from the damage caused by others in her life. Lane had to learn how to let the past shape her without allowing it to trap her in a world of hate and retribution.

Whether it’s in the fictional world of Lane Steen or in our sometimes all too real lives, the past plays its part in who people become. Good and bad circumstances influence our outlooks, decisions, and emotions. Left on our own, we often turn to unhealthy ways of dealing with the past. We, like Lane, attach ourselves to ideas of retribution, hate, or despair.

It doesn’t have to be this way. God’s word offers hope that as we’ve been forgiven, we can forgive others whether they deserve it or not.  They don’t even have to accept it. We find freedom in ourselves to move into a better place when we choose forgiveness.

Scripture promises us that while the hurts may not fall away, God can grow good things in us despite and even through the pain. God assures us He will never leave us. When we feel we are all alone, we can cling to this promise and know that feeling is not from Him. He’s there to provide strength, encouragement, and direction in the middle of our hurts.

Navigating our pasts to become God’s best for us in the present and future isn’t an easy path. And it’s relevance in our lives is what makes Lane Steen’s fictional story resonate even if your pains are very different from hers. But coming to the places of acceptance of our pasts, forgiveness for those who hurt us, and allowing God to work in us will bring us to the place where we can be everything we were created to be.

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