Gallant by VE Schwab

V.E. Schwab is one of my favorite authors. I have read almost everything she has written, with a few outlying short stories and graphic novels still on my TBR list. When I hear that she has a new book coming out, I preorder it as soon as I can because I want to support her writing (books do better when they are preordered) as well as I want to read whatever she writes as soon as I possibly can.

Gallant is a gothic ghost story. It follows the story of Olivia Prior, a young girl who was left as a baby on the steps of an all girls school with only her mother’s journal. Her life changes when she gets a letter from an unknown uncle asking her to come live at the family estate, Gallant. But when she arrives, she finds out that this uncle has been dead for over a year, and there was no way that this letter would have come from him.

There are a lot of themes throughout the book. Communication is an obstacle for Olivia as she is mute, but she is able to mentally connect with the ghouls she encounters which is a bit of foreshadowing to how everything is connected. In true gothic tradition, the house, itself, becomes a character that reveals her own history, and eventually reveals the family secret hidden behind a door in a wall that is falling apart.

The use of senses, what Olivia hears, smells, tastes really brings the story to life. It’s paced well and the character arcs are easy to follow. However, it’s not this author’s strongest book. It seems to fall between middle grade and ya at times. It feels more like a short story than a novel. The plot is pretty predictable, similar to ghost stories shared around the campfire. It’s eerie, for sure, and not something I would read with the lights off, but it was simpler than I expected, plot-wise.

It’s a fun read. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this author or enjoys a good ghost story.


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The Way to Pentecost: Peter and Shame

So, now Jesus has appeared to the majority, if not all, of his disciples. Most of the recorded appearances, with the exception of Thomas, happened on that first day of the resurrection. But now, we are well into the forty days before Pentecost. After the encounter of Thomas, John writes that there were many other encounters with his disciples that aren’t recorded. However, he includes one more story before ending the book.

Peter, Thomas, James, John, a man named Nathanael, and two other disciples were together by the Sea of Galilee. Peter suggests they go fishing. Maybe it was to get a bit of money, maybe hunger, maybe nostalgia drove them to get out into the boat, but when they did, they didn’t catch anything.

And there appears Jesus on the shore. Of course, they don’t know it is him, but they engage in a conversation with him where he tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. And when they did, they couldn’t pull it up because it was so full of fish.

John was the one who says, “It is the Lord,” but I wonder if that moment took Peter back to very early in his relationship with Jesus. In Luke 5, Peter, along with his brother Andrew, were on the shore cleaning nets when this rabbi comes with a large group of people. It’s so large the Jesus requests to get in Peter’s boat so that he could speak to the crowd. Peter obliges. After he speaks to the crowd, Jesus tells Peter to lower his nets after another unsuccessful fishing trip. Then, too, the nets were filled to capacity. It is then that Jesus offers to make Peter a fisher of men, and Peter follows him.

Jesus Calling to St. Peter and St. Andrew by Dirk Vellert (Netherlandish, 1480/85-1547) is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

But as soon as John says, It is the Lord, Peter jumps out of the boat (which is also a habit he does around Jesus, though I think he just swam to shore this time instead of walking on water). Together on shore, Jesus eats with them, both fish and bread (another shout out to feeding the 5000?) And then he speaks to Peter, directly.

Three times, Jesus asks him if Peter loves him, and three times, Peter says yes. Later in the story, Peter turns and sees John following them, so this may have been a very private conversation between Peter and Jesus. By the third time, Peter is hurt that Jesus is asking, but I think it was important for Peter to make this statement three times after the three denials he made before Jesus’ crucifixion.

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Imagine the guilt and shame Peter was holding onto then. The man who he swore to protect, to fight for, even cutting off the ear of a servant, ready for war, he denied even knowing. And when he realized what he had done, he wept bitterly. When Jesus rose, it wasn’t Peter who first saw him. I wonder if he thought he had irrevocably damaged his relationship with Jesus. Perhaps Peter entered that tomb on resurrection morning with the hope of reconnecting with the man he denied.

But in this quiet moment in the early morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was reinstating Peter as his beloved follower and apostle. He forgave Peter and reminded him of the bigger picture, to feed his lambs and take of his sheep, to be the servant to the lost and marginalized and forgotten that he knew Peter could be. A bigger picture he would share with the rest of the disciples before saying his final goodbye.


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All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

This book is heavy and complicated and stunning. There are some trigger warnings, which the author includes at the beginning of the book. Some of them are abuse, sexual assault, and prejudice. It doesn’t get detailed or graphic, but you know what is happening, and you go through the journey with the characters as they come to terms with them.

The two main characters, Sal and Noor, are seniors in high school. Sal is an amazing writer who lives with his parents at the motel that they run. His mother is sick and his father is an alcoholic and their motel is not doing well. Noor lives with her uncle after her entire family dies in an earthquake in Pakistan. While she wants to study to be a doctor, her uncle would rather she stay at home and work in his liquor store.

The book switches between each of their points of view and also Sal’s mother, Misbah, who has a few chapters dedicated to her history and perspective. It deals with so many different kinds of loss and the way people deal with it. The writing is fluid between the different points of view, which keeps the pacing steady as you move from one twist to another. Even when things are revealed, they are not tied up neatly.

It’s really easy to get invested in the characters, even to the point of frustration in their choices. While the ending does bring closure, it is messy and complicated which makes it more real. Noor’s character arc is difficult and my favorite as she deals with abuses in her life, including prejudice at school being an immigrant. The way she comes to terms with different aspects in her life in her own time is really beautiful.

I also liked how faith played a part in all of their lives. They spoke about prayer and faith and how it played a part in their culture and family. It was fascinating to learn about the Muslim faith and how imperfect and yet steady it could be in their lives. This coming of age story is definitely a great recommendation for teen and young adult audiences with the trigger warnings that were mentioned.


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The Way to Pentecost: Doubt

So, Jesus has now revealed himself to his disciples in many ways – in gardens, on roads, in locked rooms. It’s interesting that he didn’t reveal himself first to his apostles, but instead to women and others who were only mentioned once or twice in all of the New Testament. But even among the apostles, there is still one who hasn’t seen Jesus in person yet.

Doubting Thomas, from The Passion of Christ, plate 28 by Gru00e9goire Huret is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Thomas, also known as Didymus, which means twin, is only briefly mentioned in lists of the apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But, John mentions him a few times more, which is also where the story of his doubt is written.

His first mention in John is when they find out that Lazarus has died and Jesus wants to go to Bethany to visit Martha and Mary. Thomas says to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. Right before this, Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication (or Hanukkah) where he upset the religious leaders to the point where they attempted to stone him. He had gone across the Jordan and was staying there when he received word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was very sick.

Thomas knows if Jesus goes back to Jerusalem, that it will mean certain death, but at this point, he was ready to stay by his side. At the Last Supper, after Jesus discusses being betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter, the disciples are disheartened. This is when Jesus assures them that he is going to prepare a place for them. Thomas then asks him how they will know the way. And Jesus responds by saying he is the way.

Thomas is a questioner, but he is also faithful. He wants to go where Jesus goes. To stay by his side. His questions do not mean he doesn’t have faith. He seems more to just want to understand the plan. And I can relate. How many times have I asked God what the plan is? In the last 24 hours?

Also, he wasn’t the only one that had trouble believing. Matthew and Mark both include accounts of people who were doubting. In Matthew, Jesus is standing on a mountain in Galilee right in front of them and verse 14 said “but some doubted.” In Mark’s accounts of the women telling the disciples that Jesus had risen and his account of the companions on the road, he includes that the people they told did not believe them, either. Luke includes that the women were not believed because their words seemed like nonsense.

Jesus rebukes those who don’t believe, but with Thomas, Jesus invites him to touch his hands and his side before telling him to stop doubting and believe. And yes, Jesus follows that up with the “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” but he didn’t abandon Thomas in his doubt.

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There are a lot of people who are questioning the church right now. And while there have been a lot of support for those who are deconstructing, the louder voices in the church have been condemning those who doubt, those who question, those having crises of faith and church. But Jesus never condemned the questioning. He didn’t condemn Thomas. He answered and invited Thomas to seek out the truth.

Thomas is mentioned another time in Acts, on the day of Pentecost. Thomas is with the other apostles and disciples in an upper room. He is constantly praying, continuing his apostolic ministry, and filled with the Holy Spirit. I can imagine the impact he might have had on other doubters, on questioners. I imagine he walked with them through it all just as Jesus had walked with him. All of the apostles played different roles and reached different people. Just as different believers today can further the kingdom of God in different ways. Those who hold doubt, and even those who hold shame…

The Light of the World: a memoir by Elizabeth Alexander

This book is both a beautiful, heartbreaking journey of grief and a celebration of the love.  It’s an intimate look at the sudden loss of her husband and yet so relatable to anyone who has lost someone they love. Her ability to harness language and imagery through poetry translates throughout this book, even though this book is mostly written in prose.

The book is separated into parts, almost thought pieces, not necessarily in chronological order, but instead in the wild process of grief. We walk through that grief with her as she remembers how they met, the moments and days leading up to his death, and the aftermath of finding his body after he passed. She moves backwards and forwards in time which can be a little disorienting at times, but very accurate in the way the brain processes the pain of loss.

The imagery of smells and tastes were especially evocative because her husband was a chef but also because these senses connect with memory so strongly. She shares a couple of recipes in the book as well, ones that shared a part of who her husband was, giving the reader a chance to connect with this man that she loved. She also talks about his paintings, but the book doesn’t include any of them, which I wish it had, especially the one she references towards the end, Visitation, which you can google.

There are also books he read, music he listened, especially all the last things he did, frozen in this time capsule that honors him. It is a work of grief, and an accurate portrayal of it in different mediums and timelines, moving back and forth between talking to the reader to talking to her husband. It is intimate and raw and beautiful. An excellent book for anyone who has loved and lost, or who knows someone who has loved and lost recently.


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The Way to Pentecost: Appearing to the Eleven

So much happened that first day, the day of resurrection. Mary Magdalene sees Jesus and tells the disciples that he has risen. Cleopas and his friend meet Jesus on the way to dinner outside of Jerusalem. It says in Luke that as soon as they realized that it was Jesus, they got up immediately and headed back to Jerusalem.

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Luke says it was specifically the Eleven apostles, while John just mentions disciples. But John includes that the room they where they gathered had been locked because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. That morning, at least some if not all had been present when the women claimed an empty tomb. And they were there when Peter and John returned to confirm it true. And now, two people are claiming to have actually eaten with Jesus outside of Jerusalem.

As all of this is happening, we know that the Jewish leaders are already scheming with the guards to spread the narrative that the Jesus’ followers had stolen the body. They didn’t have the body, but that couldn’t actually disprove the rumor.

And in the middle of all this fear, confusion, and grief, Jesus shows up. Even through locked doors, Jesus appears. He shows his hands and feet and invites them to touch him. He asks for something to eat, to prove his humanity, that he wasn’t just an apparition.

The grief and sorrow that had turned into fear and uncertainty finally ended that evening in joy and amazement. In Luke, he tells them to stay in the city until they were clothed with power on high, while John says that he breathed the Holy Spirit into them right then. And what ability did this Holy Spirit give them?

‘and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

Luke 24:47

“If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:23

Out of everything Jesus did, everything his disciples witnessed, Jesus wanted them to teach forgiveness. Forgiveness was their new super power.

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It reminds me of the story of the lame man in Luke 5:17-26. His friends lowered him through the roof to get to Jesus, and when Jesus saw this man, his first words were, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The religious leaders and teachers took offense, but Jesus proved that not only could he forgive, but he also healed the man right there.

At times, we get really bogged down with doing it right, saying the right things, following scripture the right way. But here, both in Luke and John, the first responsibility the disciples were given was to forgive sins. It’s creating space for growth in both ourselves and others.

Forgiveness is hard to practice. Tyler Perry is quoted, “It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” You have to let go of the right to be hurt, and give God the seat of justice.

I know that people have used the term forgiveness to withhold justice as well. To allow abusers to continue their abuse without consequence, to hide behind titles and wealth that allow them to do whatever they desire. When we don’t see the justice we desperately desire, it’s hard to continue trusting in God.

I don’t have an easy answer for why God allows bad things to happen and seemingly doesn’t dole out the justice that is deserved. But for me, forgiveness has been a way for me to let go of how trauma defined who I was and embrace the new creation God has in me. To know that God is still moving and working within all of us, for both healing and justice.

Forgiveness is a super power. And while some may try to abuse this power, I know that it is meant to be used for good. To create space for growth and healing, so that we can all experience the goodness of God and the power of Christ. Even those who may doubt.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste is a fascinating comparison between the Indian religious caste system and the American social caste system with some references to the caste created by the Third Reich during World War II. Isabel Wilkerson makes a thorough argument that we live in a caste system based on race which she supports with the history of our country. She then uses more recent examples of different political and social situations to show the influence this system still has today. And she ends the book with steps we can take to end this system no matter where we may fall on the spectrum.

Even if you have read How to Be An Anti-racist by Ibram X Kendi or the Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, this book comes from a slightly different perspective. It looks at the situations in America from a more global standpoint. Yes, it includes the atrocities of slavery and the Jim Crow era, along with redlining and other policies that left people of color out of the benefits. But it focused on motive, and it even showed how caste has even negatively affected white people in lower economic statuses. As long as there was a group below them, it was easier to keep them satiated in their role in the machine. And the machine’s ultimate purpose was to keep those at the top in power and wealth.

While it uses the function of the Indian caste system as a guide to show the same system in America, it doesn’t go into incredible detail about the Indian caste system. It does mention a few differences and includes anecdotes from people she knows during her travels to India, and some history of the lowest caste trying to break away from their function in society. Most of the book focuses on America.

Also, I felt like the Third Reich references of caste were a little distracting but also interesting. She references one historian who said that as they were trying to build their caste, they used America’s model as a prototype to their own oppressive system. It serves more as a warning of what the darkest parts of a caste system can accomplish and implies that those parts of the system are present in our country as well, both in history and more recent times.

In the more recent examples Wilkerson uses, most of them were easy to follow the line of thinking from historical practices and policies now manifesting to the struggles and racism of today. Some were not so easy. My immediate reaction was to want to clarify the situation with more nuance, but ultimately, I realized that I had to sit with the discomfort and learn how to listen. While I still feel some of the events that she mentioned are more than just another example of caste oppression and racism, I can see how caste and oppressive systems can also play a part in those same situations.

My favorite part was about the need for radical empathy. Having a kindred connection that allows us all to open up to the pain of others from their perspective. Just like so many have moved away from the Indian caste systems, we too can move away from the racist systems that have been placed in our society as well. It ends on a hopeful and challenging note. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to continue their education on the Black history and experience.


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The Way to Pentecost: The Road to Emmaus

This story is out of the book of Luke, although Mark briefly mentions a similar story (probably the same one) where two men are walking on a road and Jesus appears to them in a different form. But Luke writes that they were headed to a village called Emmaus that was seven miles from Jerusalem.

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So let’s picture the story. Emmaus means hot springs, which makes me think about Hot Springs, AR, a vacation spot with a hot spring that people believe gives health, even medicinal, benefits. In the same way, this village probably had a hot spring or fountain that was renowned for its medicinal benefits.

Of the two companions, only one of them is named in verse 18, Cleopas. This is the only time that this specific name is mentioned in the gospels, although in John one of the women named Mary at the cross was mentioned as the wife of Clopas. Some commentaries connect the two, but others say they were two different men. Regardless, they did know the women who went to the empty tomb. In fact, they were there when the women came to the disciples that morning to announce the risen Christ.

We don’t know why they were going to Emmaus. Maybe they were going to visit someone they knew, or they were just going to get dinner, maybe getting out of Jerusalem which had become quite a dangerous place for a follower of Jesus. We don’t know why they were on that road, but we know what they were doing. And as they walked towards their destination, they were discussing everything that had happened.

And it’s at this point, Jesus enters into the picture. They don’t recognize him, maybe because of a supernatural kind of disguise or maybe just because they weren’t expecting Jesus to appear at that moment. But Jesus immediately enters into their conversation. This is where we learned that they were with the apostles, at least Peter and John because of the story they recount. But they ended their tale with some serious doubt.

Jesus then takes over the narrative, beginning with “Moses and all the Prophets” and details all the ways he has fulfilled scripture, still without revealing that it is actually him. He makes such an impression on these two companions, that they urge him to stay the night in Emmaus and have dinner with them. And at first, Jesus was going to just keep on traveling.

There is a point in this story when Jesus could have just kept on going, that these two travelers might have never known who they were talking to. But the kindness, inclusion, and hospitality they showed him caused him to stay. And it was then, at the dinner table, that he reveals himself to them as he breaks the bread. Then disappears from their sight.

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When I was going through my periods of pregnancy loss, I didn’t have much control over the narrative. But the one thing I asked of God was that I see him in the details. And every time, he revealed himself through the medical staff, nature, and other experiences. Sometimes the only thing I really need in those dark moments was to know that I’m not alone. That hope is coming.

I can’t imagine the amount of grief and fear these two companions had at this point. Their teacher died only a few days before. Now, his body went missing. And the women who went to the tomb are spouting this absolutely insane story about a resurrection. While the chief priests and guards are claiming that his followers took the body. But they didn’t have a body. Would they still be held responsible?

Yet in this moment of uncertainty, Jesus walked with them. He reminded them of all the things that came before, how scriptures were fulfilled while he was alive, and how scripture was being fulfilled once again. Jesus never leaves us. He is present in our lives reminding us in times of uncertainty that he is there and that he will continue to be there.

Mark also mentions this encounter, though it’s only two sentences long. When they returned to Jerusalem, they shared their story but no one believed them. But soon, Jesus would reveal himself to all of them. Soon, everything would be made clear.

I wrote this for You: PLEASEFINDTHIS by Iain S. Thomas

I Wrote This For You is a poetry collection by Iain S. Thomas. This was gifted to me by a friend, so I didn’t know much about the author before picking up the book. The author started this compilation of free verse and photography as an online project which resulted in this book. Perhaps if I had followed the online project first, I would have better understood the rhythms and meanings behind a lot of this book.

The book is divided into four parts – Sun, Moon, Stars, and Rain. The premise of the book seems to be that it was written for one particular person, someone in his life who passed away, maybe. For the first three sections, the poems seem to move quickly back and forth between romantic love and obsessive behavior. It gave me a bit of whiplash.

With each poem, there is a picture accompany the verse.  Sometimes the connection seemed clear, other times it did not. It included both black and white pictures and ones in color. I kept thinking that maybe this was a clue to what he was trying to communicate, but for the most part it just seemed jumbled with no clear order.

But the last section was my favorite. It made observations on social justice and community, how we are not meant to be alone, and how people are made up of everything that has happened to them. I marked several of the poems in the last section that meant more to me than the ones in the first three sections.

Whether it was a puzzle I wasn’t able to crack, or just a collection of poems meant for someone else completely, this book was fascinating. It may not be a book I would pick up again, but some of the poems were enjoyable and thought-provoking.  I would recommend this book to people who enjoy connecting poetry to visual art, and there really is a poem in there that someone could connect with, whether it was heartbreak or finding new love or longing for community or remembering the past.


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The Way to Pentecost: The Chief Priests

Between the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus among the disciples, we have this short story between the chief priests and the guard who had witnessed the events that Sunday morning. This isn’t the first time these religious leaders have made an appearance during these last days of Jesus.

It was the chief priests who gave the thirty pieces of silver to Judas in order for him to betray his friend and teacher (Matthew 26:14-16). It was the chief priests who accused Jesus before Pilate (Matthew 27:12). It was the chief priests who convinced the crowd to call for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be executed (Matthew 27:20). At every turn, they flexed their influence and power at Jesus.

By @eberhardgross on Unsplash

They knew about the foretelling of the resurrection because they knew the words of Jesus. That is why they went to Pilate for the guard to be placed at the tomb in the first place. They thought he had plans to have his body stolen by his followers so they could claim he had risen on the third day.

These religious leaders approached Pilate the day after Jesus’ death, during the Sabbath, to put guards in front of the tomb. The big stone had already been rolled in front of the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. But they wanted to make sure they could use every bit of their power and connection to keep Jesus in that grave. Of course, that wasn’t enough.

And now we come to our story in Matthew where the guards return to these religious leaders with an empty tomb and quite the story.

Last week, we read about the women at the tomb and their experience. But once the angel was gone, the earth was still, and the women were on their way, the guards were left an empty tomb with no easy explanation of what had happened. So instead of going to Pilate, and possibly getting into major trouble, a few of them, probably the leaders, went to the chief priests instead.

When the soldiers showed up, they told an amazing story. But the empty tomb was the only thing that worried the religious leaders. You would think it was because they didn’t believe a body could be raised from the dead, that somehow the followers of Jesus managed to steal his body from the grave. But they knew about Lazarus.

In fact, in John, it was the act of raising Lazarus that initiated the plot to kill Jesus. All the gospels talk about these leaders being concerned, even afraid, of the influence of Jesus over the people through his signs and parables (especially the parables directed towards them). They were afraid that Jesus’ influence would lead to the Romans taking away their temple and nation.

John also includes an interesting prophecy from Caiaphas, the high priest that year. According to this prophecy, Jesus was supposed to die for the Jewish nation. His death was supposed to bring together all the scattered children of God. And they used the words of this prophecy as the reason to kill Jesus.

But make no mistake, their motivation was not to fulfill a prophecy. Their motivation was power. They were used to things the way they were. They had been in control, and Jesus was disrupting that power. Even after death. So they hatched a plan. They bribe the soldiers with a large amount of money and promise to smooth things over with Pilate.

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These leaders depended on their power, influence, wealth, even prophetic words to maintain their position in society. And it’s still happening today. This story encourages discernment in leadership. It warns leaders to hold loose the influence they have and trust in God. To hold onto the narrative based in humility and love and not in power and control, to not focus on numbers for security but on a God who provides no matter the circumstances.

We also need to be discerning about who we choose to follow. Do we follow chief priests who try to control the message with money and power, or do we follow Jesus, the one who can disrupt that power?


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