Years ago when I was first dealing with coming out of my bad relationship, I looked back over the situation with a variety of emotions; initially it was a lot of sadness, followed by anger towards my ex that I finally let myself feel and work through, but I also had a lot of remorse and shame. Both in ways that I had hurt him and ways that I had allowed him to hurt me. I’m not taking on all the blame, I promise, a whole bunch of that was on him; but I remember thinking about how the relationship had progressed so quickly, and how I had allowed myself to be persuaded to do things I didn’t want to do/wasn’t ready to do. I would say “this is my conviction” and he, over and over, would eventually wear me down that my conviction was stupid, or well-intentioned but not realistic, or that his viewpoint was better, or that our relationship needed this.
EXAMPLE: I didn’t want to have any PDA in front of my traveling teammates, and he was like “but they expect it”. (Stupidest reasoning ever, by the way.) There was a moment when he tried to kiss me good night in front of someone else on our team and I turned my head so he just kissed me on the cheek; later he told me that the other guy who saw it had asked if I was upset with my BF. I mean, seriously, who cares what the other guy thinks? BF could’ve just told him that I didn’t want to kiss in front of other people! But instead he used that as a reason to say “if we don’t kiss in public, they will think we’re going through a bad time in our relationship”. And thus I let him convince me that it was okay to have PDA.
Looking back on these types of things, I remember thinking, “How did I let him convince me away from things I felt so strongly about, when I knew I was right and that he was wrong? I should have stood my ground and said THIS: (insert what I should have said)!”
And as I ran these scenes over and over in my head, I was so disappointed with myself for not being a stronger person. I was angry that I had so easily been persuaded by scorn and ridicule to give up things I had held fast to for years. Why was I such a “wimp” when it came to standing up for my convictions and my boundaries? Why had I behaved so weakly?
And during the healing process, I prayed that God would make me a stronger person, so that if I ever had a relationship in the future, I would stand up for myself and not get sucked into that kind of confusion again. I wanted God to make me better at confronting and seeing red flags and being sure in who I was and who He called me to be.
MY SPIRITUAL DROUGHT
And then, gradually, I began 7 years of what I called my “spiritual drought”. 7 years of feeling numb towards God, of feeling distant and frustrated spiritually. 7 years of feeling like I could barely hear God’s voice. 7 years of failing week after week, month after month, to spend time with God and to pray, and 7 years of not knowing how to fix it. During this time, I stepped down from helping with youth Sunday school because I was bad at praying for and contacting my girls throughout the week and I felt it affecting my ministry. During these years, my sister and I started hosting a Life Group in our house, a Life Group that is still meeting despite years of people coming and going, and it is one of my favorite parts of the week and has held my best times of fellowship and connection with Christians; I shared my struggles with this group over the years, and as we prayed and sought God together I gave thanks for at least the 1 time a week when I would for sure be reading Scripture and praying, even if I could not do it on my own time.
Now I do have several stories during this time of how I saw God using situations in my life and rescuing me from stressful circumstances. But that’s not what I want to focus on.
Because the one thing that I didn’t see happen during these 7 years was me, as a person, getting stronger. I was living the independent, single life as a working woman who could travel and host parties in my house and have adult friendships. I had a lot of wonderful things happen to me during this time of spiritual drought. But what I really wanted was to see myself thrive spiritually. I wanted to be close to God and make the most out of having this time as a single woman to do good things, to be focused on who God wanted me to be. And try as I might, pray as I might, I could not make myself be better at it. Whether it’s been from laziness, busyness, forgetfulness, exhaustion, whatever… aside from my weekly Life Group, I’ve had a really hard time doing ministry. I’ve had a really hard time opening up my Bible and reading. I’ve had a really hard time sitting down to pray. I couldn’t get myself to be a better Christian. And again and again I was frustrated and exhausted from this constant struggle, that I was wasting these years away not being as good as I should be, and that no matter how much I tried and prayed for God to fix me and make me strong and give me the energy to do all the good things a Christian oughta do, I couldn’t make myself be better.
As I think back on several revelations I’ve had with God in the past 2 years, I am marveling at the connection between what He’s been teaching me and what I’d been wanting from Him.
You see, the thing I’ve always prayed for all my life is that God would change me. Not into a chicken (thank you Larry the Cucumber) but into a better person. There are all these Scriptures about God using us and working through us and making us new and more like Him, and I just really, really wanna see that. But it’s the thing I’ve always doubted the most. Not because I don’t think He can change me, but as I look at myself, I just never feel like He does. I’m the same old spiritual dweeb, a girl who means well and is sweet but is also kind of just… there. An “eh” sort of Christian, not meant to achieve anything big. One time a girl on my team said that a host had told her that “the other girls on your team are ketchup, and she’s hot sauce”. It hurt when I heard that, but as I worked through it, I decided that I was okay with being a background kind of Christian; sure, God didn’t make me to be flashy or exhorting, but maybe he made me to be a quiet encourager or a supportive friend. If I am the “ketchup”… reliable, not that exciting but still needed, in the background… I want to do that well. I would love to be a prayer warrior who uses my time to pray over people in need. I would love to have God give me words to say to someone and see how God uses that.
But I have long since given up the idea that God will “put His words in my mouth”. He doesn’t use me like that. He doesn’t step into my body and work my legs to help me run the race of life faster. He doesn’t wake me up early in the morning with energy to read my Bible and pray long prayers for the Church. He doesn’t suddenly give me power and strength that I’m crying for and use me to work a miracle so that I can say “That was all God working through me!” I thought that was what “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness” means! Doesn’t it imply that, when I can’t do it, that God is supposed to kind of spiritually hypnotize me and get it done? (This is just a metaphor, not actual theology I believe.) But that has never happened to me.
And after a revelation that God gave me several years back connected with what God showed me at the Glory conference this summer, suddenly I feel like I get it. “My power is perfected in weakness” doesn’t mean that I will get supernatural power from God to do great things. Instead of making me strong, God has made me weak. He has shown me ME at my weakest, at my lowest level in various ways. Unable to fix myself, unable to change, unable to “be better”. And somehow, He says it’s okay.
Not because He doesn’t want me to be strong and to change and to grow, but because I don’t need to be strong in order for Him to love me. I don’t need to be responsible for making myself better. God doesn’t love me only for what He can use me for. God loves me BECAUSE HE LOVES ME. He loves the way He created me, because He created me in His beautiful image. He adores my ramblings, He delights in my sweetness, He understands why I’m indecisive and feel the need to use a million disclaimers so that I’m not misunderstood. He likes watching me read while walking around outside and belting showtunes when I’m washing dishes. He loves me when I psych myself up to talk to someone and then chicken out at the last minute. He loves me when I’m grumping early in the morning and telling my car to shut up and yelling “stupid phone”. He loves me when I am stuck and hopeless and have no idea where to go. He DOESN’T say “I will only love you if you promise to read my Bible for 5 minutes every day”. He DOESN’T say “every day that goes by that you don’t talk to me, I will take one step further away from you”.
Jesus’ blood was shed for me, and it has already purified me and made me righteous, made me Holy in God’s eyes. I CANNOT earn His favor by being a better Christian. I CANNOT lose His love by failing to be a better Christian. Jesus talks to me and walks with me, and He has shown me how weak I am in my own strength. My strength is not enough; my strength is, in fact, quite wimpy. But God doesn’t demand more from me because His strength is enough. His strength can carry me through the hard times, not just because it will make help me be a better person, but because my relationship with Him has not changed according to Him.
THE “CHURCH CULTURE GUILT” VOICE WE’VE CREATED
As Evangelicals, we all know that works doesn’t earn salvation, but we do spend a lot of time teaching in our culture about the works that help us to live righteously; ways we can be better and do the Christian things we’re supposed to do. Faith without works is dead, after all. And DISCLAIMER: I fully believe in living righteously and following how God calls us to live via accountability, conviction, and understanding what Scripture says. It’s very important to talk about what this means in our lives.
But, I feel like this can create a voice in our heads which is supposed to be the Holy Spirit but is sometimes just ourselves. This voice that tells us we are ALWAYS supposed to be doing something more; we need to pray more, serve more, study Scripture more, give more.. it’s never enough! This voice is very strong in my head, its embedded in me, and it keeps warning me that if I quiet it, that I will be giving myself a license to sin. Deep down, this voice says “sure, your works don’t affect your salvation, but it DOES affect your relationship with God; it affects your worth”.
And I feel like God is trying to remove this voice in my head; I feel like He’s trying to shush my Church Culture Guilt and help me to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit better, because they are not the same. And He’s doing that not by giving me license to do whatever I feel like, but by ASSURING me that following this voice, or failing this voice, will not change one iota about how much He cares for me. He is teaching me to surrender my very deep voice of personal righteousness, give up my ability to gain brownie points with God, by knowing that even if I sink as low as possible, that He hasn’t left me. When I go to the depths of the sea and all the way to Sheol, God is there with me.
As I prayed for strength to help me to be better, God showed me how weak my human self is. It doesn’t mean that my works don’t count for anything, but it assures me that my works aren’t required to keep being held by God.
Remember earlier when I said:
“I prayed that God would make me a stronger person, so that… (I could) be sure in who I was and who He called me to be.”
He HAS made me sure in who I am, but not through making me stronger, but by revealing who He is in my weakness!
He has assured me, deep in my soul, that no matter how long I am in my weakened state, He will sustain me. This world may fall apart, my circumstances may change, I may do terrible things and make rotten decisions and have a lot of regret. But God has been trying to teach me how deep, how wide, how everlasting His love is. Which means that no one, not even my wimpy, weak, dweeby self, can truly push God away with my actions. He’s here to stay, and He has my back. And resting in His promise is more than enough.
I went with the women of my church to the Jackie Hill Perry “Glory” conference last weekend and had a really good time with God. Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place, at the right time, with a ready heart.
I’ve been to so many church conferences and women’s retreats and missions trips over the years that, while I often expect to be encouraged, I have stopped expecting God to “change my life forever” or do some big “revival” for me. Expecting a trip to fix what I’m going through has usually left me feeling disappointed (and besides, aren’t we supposed to not “chase the emotional high”?) so I have lowered my expectations over the years.
Well, while I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Glory conference “changed my life forever”, I can say that God made Himself very real to me on Friday night in a way that I haven’t experienced in a very long time.
It wasn’t any one thing that was said or worship that was extra “Holy Spirit-led”, at least not more than the typical conference you go on (although it was all very good). But we started our first Worship session and I prayed for my heart to be open, and a few minutes in I felt tears streaming down my face. I cried through the whole first worship session, something I don’t like to do because I get very self-conscious, but it didn’t feel sad or frustrated as it often does, but more peaceful.
As Jackie Hill Perry went through the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac, I didn’t feel any burning in my heart or think “she is speaking to me!”. But near the end she was connecting the story with Jesus and she spoke about how the ram sacrifice at the end of the story is still not a sufficient sacrifice, but it points to Jesus, who WAS the all sufficient sacrifice… the only one who was able to take all our sin and cover it, once and for all, the only one who was enough.
These words sat in my heart as we went into the worship session to end the night, and as I sifted through what that meant for me in my life, I felt myself sobbing uncontrollably. The music was loud and everyone was singing and I somehow didn’t feel self-conscious about this dramatic display of emotion, I was just sitting in God’s presence and worshiping like I haven’t been able to in years. I felt myself pouring out to God all my distress about my own inadequacy, and feeling intense relief as this assurance that Jesus’ sacrifice is more enough for me washed through my soul.
I’ve been struggling for a while through a spiritual desert, which has led to me becoming (what I’ve been calling) “a spiritual dweeb”. I feel like I haven’t been hearing from God, or that if He does speak to me I’m numb to it; I have made very little time to read Scripture and pray privately over the past few years (the main time I spend with God is during designated Life Groups with other people), and lack of time with God makes me feel guilty, and that means that the times when I do get away and pray I feel like I have to apologize for taking so long to do it, and then I still feel this distance with God even then, and yet I still go a month without any quiet time, and I know I have the time if I just make it, but I always forget, and then another month goes by and I feel guilty about that, and on and on.
And through this cycle I’ve come to the the uncomfortable realization that I am just not enough. I can’t do it. I can’t be good enough, I can’t make myself do the things I want to do, I can’t get better. I can’t do it.
And that is countered with this constant voice in my head that says I have to be enough. I have to fix myself. I have to make better choices, I have to be smarter about my finances, I have to get off the couch and spend time with God, I have to be a good Christian and be Godly… I have the ability to change my life for myself and so it is my responsibility to JUST DO BETTER.
Well, several years ago I had a God moment where I heard Him say that it is not about me fixing myself, it is about me throwing myself on His mercy when I can’t run the race anymore… and He might not magically work His spirit through my legs to keep me moving so that I can say “look what God is doing through me!”. More often than not, He just sits with me and rests. “His grace is sufficient” doesn’t mean that God will be my superpower… it means that when I’m broken and weary and can’t go on, resting in Him is enough. Telling him that I’m broken and weary is enough. When I give Him my last ounce of strength and then collapse, His grace covers that and doesn’t demand more.
But I still struggle with this. Telling myself “I don’t have to fix myself” feels like I’m taking an out to be lazy. Like I just don’t want to do the work and I’m giving myself permission to opt out of responsibility.
When I was a teller at my bank several years ago, we were required to get a certain quota of “referrals” (times that we spoke to a customer about a product and it led to them meeting with a CSR or loan officer to discuss said product) per quarter. It was done in the least salesy way possible, but I really stress about that kind of thing. I suck at it. And I just couldn’t do it well enough.
Now literally, I was able to do it. I was physically capable of saying to a customer “have you thought about getting online banking?” or “did you realize you’re eligible for our Four Seasons club?”. I heard people do it, I practiced it, I knew how to look for the signs on their profile… there wasn’t a resource or ability I was missing in order to do this. But quarter after quarter I fell below minimal for my quota because I just couldn’t make myself talk to enough people.
My various supervisors worked with me on this; they practiced with me, they coached, they stood beside me and walked through how I could have said it for each transaction… and while I really appreciated all of them going above and beyond to help me, things change for me. I would know the words to say, I knew that it was just another part of my job, but when a customer was in front of me I felt like I was going into pressure paralysis and my tongue would metaphorically freeze up when it came time to ask them about said product. There was no reason for me not to do it, I just would not do it. Could not make myself do it.
This is how I have been feeling about my spiritual walk. Like, I know the things I should do, the things I CAN do, but no matter how much I stress about it or ask for prayer about it or try to fix it, I just can’t make myself do better.
Fast forward to the weekend… a few evenings ago I was pondering my worship time from Friday night and how God spoke to me, and I was trying to trace back this pressure I feel, this need to make myself do better. And I suddenly thought of something that happened with my ex-boyfriend.
When I was dating him, we spent many days and nights arguing over my level of commitment. I wasn’t ready to say I was in love or to say that I was committed to him or to say I wanted to marry him. (Anybody who knows me well knows that that’s characteristic of me; I take a long time to analyze and puzzle things out before I make decisions, whether they be big or small, and I don’t tend to be hasty or impulsive with my commitments.) But while I was unsure about our relationship, he was SO SURE about our relationship that he kept getting frustrated with me for not being on the same page.
So he would push and prod and ask and reason and we would go around and around discussing what my issue was… and then we got into this stupid pattern where he would convince me to PROMISE to be as committed as whatever we were arguing about at the time. He’d say “love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice, so just choose to love me”, and he thought the best way to get me to do that was to PROMISE to love him or PROMISE that I wanted to marry him, and then that promise would mean that I couldn’t back out, so then I would have to love him. By making the promise I would be pushing myself to live the promise.
So I would promise that I was committed, and I would try to live in and believe in that promise, and after a day or two I would start doubting but I’d push the doubts away, and then several days later I wouldn’t be able to take it and I’d have a meltdown and break the promise and say “I can’t do this, it feels dishonest and I have to be honest about how I feel” and then we would go through the whole sick cycle again. It was unhealthy and unwise for both of us.
I’ve had one or two other instances that I’ve thought of where someone suggested I make a commitment to do something I struggled with and include a consequence if I failed, in the hopes that it would push me into that final “I will make this happen” attitude.
And being told that I need to MAKE A PROMISE to do something that I DID NOT KNOW IF I COULD DO in order to make sure I did it because A PROMISE/COMMITMENT IS TOO SACRED TO BREAK… that is such a twisted way to look at promises.
But somehow, I think I’ve internalized the thought that, as a person, I am just so broken and wishy washy and pliable that I HAVE TO DO THAT. My excuses aren’t good enough, I’m not good enough, and the only way to get better is to force or manipulate myself into being a more committed person.
And I am declaring now that that is NOT how God sees me or what He asks me to do! He made me to be a person who cares about honesty and being true and saying what I mean and using disclaimers and trying to find the balance, and He made me as a person who thinks slowly instead of jumping into things. Sure, that trait has flaws with it and sometimes God pushes me to trust Him even when I don’t feel like it or take a leap into something that’s uncomfortable for me. But Jesus knows my heart better than anyone else does, and He keeps reminding me over and over again that it is NOT my job to fix myself. That is something I am supposed to leave to God. So while I hear earthly pressures and feedback telling me to make decisions or choose faster or “JUST DO IT”, I have to remind myself that that is not how my relationship with God works.
I am not enough, it’s true. I don’t even think I have the power to completely surrender myself to God, because who knows if I have some hidden part of me that I’m holding on to unknowingly? But on Friday night I prayed during worship, “Jesus, this is all I have to offer you… my broken, spiritual dweeb self, and I have no idea if I will ever get any better or if I will ever change, but I surrender to You the best way that I am able.”
And it was like He wrapped me in His arms and said, “Jesus’s sacrifice was sufficient, and it completely covers you, you don’t need to do any more. I Am enough for you.”
I get it; memes are funny. Reposting people’s snarky tweets can be funny. Finding someone who worded a belief of yours all nice-and-neatly in a few sentences in such a way that people will comment “so true!” and “preach!” on your Facebook status if you share it… it’s just too good to pass up, right?
But the more I observe the internet habit of using short and punchy one-or-two-liners to make comments about political or moral issues, the more I get frustrated with what it’s turning into. While I love the internet and the awesome opportunities and connections it provides, I want to share some concerns I have with what I’m going to call “Meme Culture”… and I’m going to be talking particularly to the Church.
1. A Culture That Thrives on Mocking Others
When it comes to getting our political or controversial points across on the internet, finding the funniest meme about it seems to be a common trend. We enjoy sharing a good BURN on the other side… we want to point out the nonsense that the opposing theory holds… we want to stress that my view is held by reasonable and intelligent people, and that the other view can really only be held by idiots, or (insert insulting political term).
DISCLAIMER: Posting a well-written, funny tweet is NOT automatically bad, and sarcasm is not automatically bad. I love when I find a post that says exactly what I think in a much better way than I could’ve said it! (Did you notice that I ramble?) And humor is great… I am all for bringing more laughter into the world!
But there are days when I scroll down Facebook and see meme after meme after meme that use mocking tones, dismissive phrasing, name-calling, or just plain rudeness in order to make their point and get a laugh. And when Christians follow this trend and use humor to deride, dismiss, belittle, condemn, and name-call those who think differently from us… well, it’s not good! We like to throw out the whole “oh but I’m just speaking the truth!” as our reasoning… but there is an abundance of Scripture that references HOW we are supposed to speak! We are supposed to speak truth in love (Eph 4:15), we should speak words that are edifying and not unwholesome (Eph 4:29), we need to use gentle answers to turn away wrath (Prov 15:1), we should repay evil with a blessing instead of more insults (1 Peter 3:9), we should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19), and on and on.
I think mockery has become too easily accepted, and it can be very harmful. I get hurt when I see memes that make fun of what I believe, and I wish that the person who posted it would realize that there is more to it than that, and more to ME than that. I want to extend the same grace to everyone else in what I share. If we want to be a good witness, we have GOT to stop behaving like the world and using their same methods of arguing. We shouldn’t be willing to use every nasty trick in the book to get our point across just because it’s “the truth”. We must learn to be loving and grace-filled in our speech, in our posts, and in our attitudes towards others… EVEN with people we completely disagree with.
2. The “Dude, It’s Just a Joke!” Attitude
Scenario: John posts a snarky meme about something controversial. His Facebook friend Sally comments and says “Well that’s not the way it works, what about this?” John replies, “Oh my gosh, it was a joke! Seriously, take a chill pill!” Have you ever seen that happen? I have.
DISCLAIMER: I do want to be fair and say that the poster has a right to do that. It’s their shared post, if they want to delete comments or say “no debating here”, that is totally fine! Not everyone wants to get into these kinds of arguments, and if Sally had responded rudely (as often happens), John can totally say “nuh-uh, not on my post”.
But I also think that this attitude can be unhelpful and can come across as very defensive. You might want to only use the post “as a joke”, but those mini-paragraphs don’t get everything right. What if the point of the meme is problematic? What if there’s something major it missed? What if it is factually incorrect? What if somebody is personally bothered by its tone and they want to make a case for their side? You absolutely have the right to moderate the comments on your posts… but you also have to understand that when you post something publicly on social media, friends absolutely have a right to comment. The views you represent, the posts you deem worthy of sharing, they might get seen by people who don’t agree with you, and getting comments about it is just part of the social media culture.
I also get that sometimes people post something and only really agree with 70% of it. But if they don’t specify that, viewers will likely assume that the poster is endorsing 100% of the message. Your friends might be offended or confused by that 30% you “don’t really mean”. When that happens, what is the best way to respond? It might be to moderate the comments, especially if anyone gets nasty. But instead of being defensive and deflecting the responsibility that we hold by sharing that post in the first place, as Christians, we should ask “Is there any truth in what my friend said? Do I need to rethink how this meme was phrased? Even if I still think they’re wrong, how can I reply graciously?”
3. No Room for Growth
DISCLAIMER: Okay, so there are definitely some non-negotiables in the world of morality that are evil no matter what. Racism is wrong, abuse is wrong, cheating is wrong, murder is wrong, etc.
But when you start breaking moral questions down into categories and sub-categories, situations become complex with increased factors to consider. That doesn’t mean that right and wrong still don’t exist in a very real sense, they do; if a majority of people believe in something that’s wrong, it doesn’t make it right. But it’s possible that the truth of a situation (be it moral, political, social, whatever) may be bigger than you think. And maybe, just maybe, that 3-sentence meme is not enough to cover all of the situation fairly.
Occasionally when two people disagree, it’s because one of them is right and the other is just selfish or crazy. But that is probably not the case nearly as often as we think! When we judge the motivations of another person without being willing to listen to their story, or if we dismiss the stories that they’ve already shared, we are allowing our sound-bites to take out all human complexity and reduce each other to easy but inaccurate labels. It may feel better to lump everybody into “us” versus “them” categories, but that just creates hardened hearts; it builds up walls that block every attempt that someone with a different viewpoint might use to get you to see their side. We are all human, and we all have blind spots. Even things that God reveals to us when we are young get refined and perfected as we mature and grow; we may go from thinking “this one thing God told me is the way it works all the time and in every situation” and instead He might correct some of that and say “but don’t forget this over here; now let’s put the two of them together and see the bigger picture”.
Repenting when we make mistakes, having an attitude of humility, and being willing to listen to other people is a much better way to represent our faith, and so often God uses that to help us grow. We should be honest, and we should care about truth. But we have to remember that internet memes are such a small snippet of what is true… and sometimes it’s kinder to give up the opportunity for some laugh emojis if it’s at the expense of some truths that the meme is dismissing.
In writing this, I know that my blog is only one perspective, and it does not contain all the “truth” in this divided culture either. We need people to stand up for what’s right. But if we, as the Church, are neglecting the Scriptures that points us to compassion and kindness, and instead are justifying patterns of cruelty, mockery, or callousness in our speech and actions… I think there are attitudes that we seriously need to change. In this culture of division where verbal assaults are going on everywhere we look, maybe it’s time to swallow our scornful replies, and instead look to see how we can use our faith to listen, uplift, and point people to the eternally gracious heart of Jesus.
Alright, it’s time to review the entire 25 books in my now-completed challenge! As a reminder, I asked for book suggestions for 5 different categories: Non-Fiction, Character Stories, An Unknown Book By a-Known-For-Something-Else Author, Modern Fiction, and Something Unusual. I had 5 books in each category with a total of 19 different submitters; people could submit up to 2 books for any 2 categories, but they had to label them in preference of #1 or #2; that way I could make sure I got 5 in each category and at least 1 from each person, and the extras submitted that I didn’t read this time can get first dibs in my NEXT challenge (if I don’t read them leisurely first).
Anyway, these 25 books were a varied combination of familiar and new genres, authors, and style of writing, and I really liked something about every single book. So let’s get this overview started!
1. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (Hannah’s only)
2. Bonhoeffer- Biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Travis’ #1)
3. The Reason by Lacey Sturm (Bethany’s #1)
4. Conversation With God by Samuel Nathanson (Dad’s only)
5. The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs (Jennie’s only)
How likely am I to read more by this author/style of non-fiction? I would definitely read more Rob Bell and A. J. Jacobs; I am not as likely to recreationally read Samuel Nathanson but his book was one I liked so if I wanted to read more of that style I would keep him in mind; I know that Lacey Sturm has some more books and I would be semi-interested to read those but it’d probably get put on the backburner. As for the Bonhoeffer biography, I am more open to reading these kinds of in-depth biographies than I was before, especially about people I should know about but don’t.
Which ones am I likely to read again or buy? I own Conversation With God so I’m sure I’ll read it again; I would like to own Velvet Elvis, and I would probably own The Year of Living Biblically. I am unlikely to read The Reason or the Bonhoeffer book again, although I tend to be willing to buy big books I read to brag on the fact that I finshed it, so if I saw a good version of Bonhoeffer somewhere that was cheap I’d probably grab it.
Which was the most surprising? I know I was not much looking forward to the Bonhoeffer book because of how intimidating it was, but I was surprised how much I understood it and was drawn in by it. The others might have had some surprising moments but were otherwise roughly what I expected.
1. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (Calista’s #1)
2. Mister God, This Is Anna by Fynn (Kristin’s only)
3. Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie (Naomi’s only)
4. Joe Picket by CJ Box (Julia’s only)
5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Emma’s only)
Which character was my favorite? Deza Malone is the definite top, since she’s got so much spunk and spirit; then I think I’d go with Joe Pickett and Claire tied for second, as Joe was subtly interesting but didn’t blow me away, and Claire had traits that were more frustrating but she also had a lot of intelligence and adaptability; Hercule Poirot and Anna tied for third, as I think Hercule is a potentially great character but in this book he felt a little flat to me, and Anna had a very sweet charm that was somewhat overplayed by the storytelling.
Which one did I relate to the most? Gosh, I didn’t really relate to any of them too much… but if you combine Deza’s spirit and inner-monologuing with Joe’s self-consciousness and good-heart, that’s probably the closest
What were the words I would use to describe each character? Deza is imaginative and gutsy; Anna is free-spirited and thoughtful; Hercule is analytical and cautious; Joe is discerning and humble; Claire is passionate and quick-thinking.
Would I want to read more about them? I think there might be a sequel (or a prequel) for Deza Malone, which I should definitely seek out; I am potentially interested in reading more Outlander; I would read more Agatha Christie for the mystery and more Joe Picket for the character; and I would be okay with having Anna show up in a story with more depth in it.
AN UNKNOWN BOOK BY A FAMOUS AUTHOR
1. The Willoughby’s by Lois Lowry (Calista’s #2)
2. The Partner by John Grisham (Travis’ #2)
3. Tietam Brown by Mick Foley (Wayne’s #2)
4. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (Beth’s #2)
5. The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (Nathan’s #2)
Which authors did I know before reading this book? Lois Lowry was the only author for whom I had read other books of hers before starting the challenge; I’d heard of John Grisham, and I obviously know Hugh Laurie as an actor, but I’d never read any books by them, and this was the first I’d heard of Mick Foley.
Which were the most unexpected stories from what I knew of the author? The Willoughby’s was much more goofy and flippant than I had expected (the recent Netflix movie is fine but not as good), and Hugh Laurie’s was more complicated than I would’ve guessed. But I didn’t really have expectations for the others.
Which authors am I most likely to revisit based on this book/s? Lois Lowry because she’s just great anyway and I liked her versatility here, and John Grisham because both of his stories were solidly entertaining. I have no idea if Hugh Laurie and Mick Foley have written anything else, but due to the former one’s wit and the latter one’s character writing, I would definitely be willing to read something else by either of them.
1. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Bethany’s #2)
2. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken (Kaitlyn’s only)
3. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by John Green (Micah’s only)
4. The Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith (Beth’s #1)
5. Spirit Circle by Satoshi Mizukami (Nathan’s #1)
Which genre was the most new to me? Definitely the manga genre of Spirit Circle since I’d never read any manga before; the genre I’m most familiar with is probably the Passenger genre because I’ve read a lot of YA style sci-fi/adventure stuff.
Which style of writing felt the most compelling? I really enjoyed the Sarah Dessen book and I have actually read a lot of her stuff since then due to her relatable characters in interesting but realistic plots; I also love the way Alexander McCall Smith writes, and John Green’s book was very intriguing (although I’m not sure if that was due to plot or writing style).
Which modern character would I most want to keep following? The main character in The Italian Bulldozer and the main girl in Just Listen; I definitely need to look for the sequel for An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, but the MC in that is not my favorite.
1. Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed (Holly’s only)
2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Jacob’s only)
3. Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl (Maria’s only)
4. Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr (Wayne’s #1)
5. Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Kathy’s only)
Which was the most unusual? These stories were all very fitting for this category so it’s hard to choose! Thinner Than Thou was the common genre of dystopian but the path it used to get there was more unique than I’d read; Ancillary Justice and Daggerspell both had it in the writing style and the creation of the world; Tales of the Unexpected had weird plots, and Mrs. Peregrine was probably the least unusual in its genre, but the inspiration was intriguing; I’m gonna say it goes Tales of the Unexpected, Ancillary Justice, Thinner Than Thou, Daggerspell, and Mrs. Peregrine.
Which had the best world-building? Gosh, except for the short story book by Roald Dahl, they all did this well, too. Ancillary Justice and Daggerspell both had the most complex story that you just got immersed into without explanation, but Daggerspell was easier to follow so it goes higher; and Mrs. Peregrine and Thinner Than Thou can be tied for third because the first one has more elements that it builds over a series while the second one delves deeper into one subject.
What were the oddest distractions to the story? Ancillary Justice was really hard to follow at times due to the immersion without explanation (and the lack of pronouns was very new to me so that took me a while to get used to), and Tales of the Unexpected and Thinner Than Thou were often gross and disturbing, which meant I remembered them but with mixed emotions.
Favorites? The Mighty Miss Malone, The Willoughby’s, Just Listen, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, and The Italian Bulldozer are the top 5 that I most thoroughly enjoyed and would actively read again/look to purchase; runner-ups Velvet Elvis, Tietam Brown, and The Spirit Circle all had aspects about them that I loved
Least favorites? I will probably never read Thinner Than Thou and Tales of the Unexpected again due to my visceral reaction against certain scenes/stories; I would rank Mister God, This Is Anna and The Reason low just because they were less interesting than the rest/weren’t my favorite style of story; and Ancillary Justice and The Gun Seller had aspects I really liked but frustrated me with the percentage of time that I couldn’t follow what was going on
Most rewarding category? Modern Fiction was the most thoroughly engaging group of 5; I liked every one of those books and loved most of them
Which books have influenced me the most? I have gotten really into Sarah Dessen since I read her book in this challenge and I like her a lot as an author; after reading Bonhoeffer, Spirit Circle and Daggerspell, I am more open to reading their genres than I was before; I had the strongest emotional reactions (both good and bad) to Tietam Brown, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, and Thinner Than Thou.
Which series did I continue/am I likely to? I read the sequel to Passenger, the entirety of Spirit Circle, and am caught up on Mrs. Peregrine; I am looking out for the sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing; I am potentially interested in reading more of Daggerspell, Agatha Christie, Outlander, and Joe Picket (in roughly that order)
What will I be doing next? I am going to finish Charlie Bone first, and then create a list of “books I’ve been meaning to read but have been waiting for my book series to finish” and go through those. At the same time, my plan is to read through everything I own! I usually only buy books I have already read, but even so, over the years I’ve collected a surprisingly large amounts of books that I haven’t read at all (I recognized the author, it’s a classic, I know someone who liked it, etc.) I will be sure to let you guys know when I’m ready for my next challenge. Thanks everybody for contributing to my 2019-2021 Book Challenge… I had a blast!
I finished the last 5 books in my challenge that I started back at the beginning of 2019! So here are the reviews for the last of them, and I will shortly write up a blog that will compare all of the books against each other in their respective categories. But first, the final 5 books!
THE GUN SELLER by HUGH LAURIE
(suggested by Nathan Megill, “unknown by a famous author”)
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book, mostly because it started out quite fun and capturing my attention, but it sort of lost me in the plot in the last third. This is a very snarky, silly spy parody with a likeable main character and a great narrative voice. It’s not surprising that it’s clever because it’s Hugh Laurie, and Hugh Laurie is hilarious. There are these throwaway one-liners all throughout the book, as well as fun dynamics between the main characters. And I was thoroughly enjoying and following it up to a point. But somewhere in the last section of plot in the book I suddenly got lost. It was a combination of getting confused in the politics of the villainous scheme, and the fact that there were several different groups of characters who were supposed to all be unaware of the other groups and keeping secrets or spying or something and I just could not keep them straight. So the climactic ending was somewhat less climactic because I didn’t really know what was being resolved and how it was happening. That was also when the comedy took a backseat to the plot, so it was extra hard to not be following it. But aside from my mix-ups and confusion, it was an easy read and a fun one. Go Hugh Laurie!
“Where… have you been, Lang?”
“Oh, hither and yon,” I said. “As you know, I am a petal borne aloft on the autumn winds. It should say that in my file.”
“You followed me here.”
“Tut. Followed is such an ugly word. I prefer ‘blackmail’.”
“But, of course, it means something completely different. So all right, let’s say I followed you here.”
She and I were in the offices of Smeets Velde Kerkplain, which, if nothing else, would presumably score you something pretty decent in a game of Scrabble…
He flinched. Visibly.
Well, of course it was visibly. Because I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.
Solomon raised an eyebrow. Or rather, he left it where it was and dropped his body slightly.
OUTLANDER by DIANA GABALDON
(suggested by Emma McCoy, “character story”)
Well, this was another long book that I renewed multiple times and returned several days late in order to finish, since it was 625 pages. It was well-paced and interesting, and I’m a decently fast reader, but some books just take many hours of reading time, and this was one of them.
I have never seen the show based on this, but my sister has watched most of it and has ranted to me about various things she likes and dislikes about it, so I knew the premise and who the 3 love triangle characters were before getting into it. I was also warned that the show was very sexual, and it makes sense because the book was as well, and by that I mean that it had multiple descriptive sex scenes, and so there were a few that I kind of skipped over just because it was too much for me. It also was a little rough to read through the various abuses from Captain Randall. But anyway, those were my big disclaimers.
I did enjoy the book as a whole. (It is roughly the content of the first season, after comparing plots with Elizabeth.) I liked that Claire was smart and that she adapted very quickly to her situation. I liked the chemistry between her and Jamie fairly well, although they certainly had their screaming-match moments. But even if they’re both hotheaded and stubborn, I appreciated watching the growth of their trust between each other.
I am not sure if I will continue the series since it’s around 9 books long at this point, and that is a very big investment, and it is a lot of sex scenes to skip if they keep that up during the whole series. While I liked the story, I don’t feel restless enough about the conclusion that I feel like I “have to read the rest of them” right away. But the first book was definitely a good entertaining read despite the harder sections to get through, and I might be tempted to someday continue just to get to the plot point that Elizabeth rants about the most.
“I felt an odd sense of intimacy with this young Scottish stranger, due in part, I thought, to the dreadful story he had just told me, and in part to our long ride through the dark, pressed together in drowsy silence. I had not slept with many men other than my husband, but I had noticed before that to sleep, actually sleep with someone did give this sense of intimacy, as though your dreams had flowed out of you to mingle with his and fold you both in a blanket of unconscious knowing. A throwback of some kind, I thought. In older, more primitive times (like these? Asked another part of my mind), it was an act of trust to sleep in the presence of another person. If the trust was mutual, simple sleep could bring you closer together than the joining of bodies.”
THE ITALIAN BULLDOZER by ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH
(suggested by Beth Dettman, “modern fiction”)
For years I have loved The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by this same author, but I’ve never read anything else by him. This has a similar feel in the style of writing; it has the same charm, the same poignancy and depth under the lighthearted humor, and the same love for the location it takes place in, even though it’s a very different place. He paints beautiful pictures about wherever his characters are, and that’s not something I usually notice, but I feel like it’s very much a part of Alexander’s tone and I find it very pleasant.
The story as a whole is simple; it has consistent but mild humor that is not uproariously funny but definitely has touches of the absurd in the slow build of the plot. The casualness with which the main character accepts that he has to travel through Italy on a bulldozer feels real but adventurous (and the ridiculous circumstance which led up to that in the first place was certainly amusing). I also enjoyed watching the arc he goes through as he deals with his various romance issues, analyzing his feelings all the way through. This book felt very true to Alexander McCall Smith and it was fun to have a short, single story that wrapped up so nicely.
“…reading through his manuscript in review, he realized that large sections of it had a heaviness about it, a dullness, that had not been present in his previous books… If there was no sparkle in the manuscript, and that, the press had noted, was the hallmark of his books – a certain infectious delight in the discovery of new places and the food and wine that went with them – then that absence must be down to the absence of precisely that curiosity and engagement in his private life. But how did one add sparkle to a life from which that very quality had drained away? By coming here, he thought; by coming here to Montalcino and allowing the beauty of the Tuscan countryside to work its magic; by doing exactly what he was now doing.”
THE REASON by LACEY STURM
(suggested by Bethany Morgan, “non-fiction”)
I feel like I might have heard this story before, but I might be mixing it up with a New Life story. Either way, this was a pretty cool one to read; it’s the testimony of the original lead singer of the band Flyleaf (a band I know I’ve heard the name of but can’t name any of their songs) and how she was dealing with depression and suicidal plans and how God rescued her and changed her life. It was decently written, and it was an engaging testimony. It felt very much like I was just sitting and listening to someone share their life story during a weekend Christian youth conference where the speaker related their own struggles and lessons into teaching segments for the listeners, so while it might have felt somewhat raw and unpolished as a book goes, it is okay that it was that way because that’s the kind of book it is. She felt very real and honest in her writing, which I definitely appreciated. And it had a nostalgic style that made me fondly remember those kinds of youth group conferences.
While my own struggles have been very different from Lacey’s and I didn’t necessarily relate to a lot of it, I am glad I got the chance to know her story. I probably wouldn’t read it again, but I am glad that I did.
“So we stagger toward death with reckless laughter or deep, sad aching, and as we free fall we tell ourselves this falling sensation means we are alive. But the leap we took to get that feeling is a leap to our own destruction.
The question then becomes, What can save us and give is what we are restless for? Not the world we live in and are rebelling against. That world can’t fool us. And not the death we’re plunging toward, the one we know nothing about. We just need God who started life itself to tell us. If only He would rend the heavens and come down.”
DAGGERSPELL by KATHERINE KERR
(suggested by Wayne Little, “something unusual”)
The final book of my challenge was a worthy one to end with. Although it is the first book in an apparently 16-Book series (whoa is that a hefty undertaking!) it ended in a way that works for a single novel, open-ended yet satisfying. This intense-world-building fantasy story seemed like it was going to be ominous to get into, with somewhat confusing terms such as “Wyrd”, “Dweomer” and “Gwerbert” that I had to figure out from context, and a great deal of time-hopping that I didn’t realize was happening right away. But I was glad to discover that after some acclimation to the world that I understood fairly well what was going on. I think that was thanks to the writing and foreshadowing. It felt long but fast-paced at the same time, and the reading itself was pretty easy (even if the politics were occasionally a bit confusing because I didn’t really ever actually know who Corbyn was?). I was also a little thrown off by the lack of, like, actual chapters. The book is split up into time periods, but there are no chapters within the time periods, just occasional breaks between the paragraphs, and so the really long time period was probably 150 pages with just a few lines of space to give you a place to stop. A little annoying, but oddly not as bothersome as I would’ve expected.
The best part is that the themes and character arcs of this story felt understandable, complex, and triumphant. Seeing the threads of connection throughout the characters’ multiple lives as they kept getting reborn, and then seeing how those characters grew from their old selves into healthier cycles and end up righting wrongs from years past, was satisfying and I think it was done really well. So while this story might not be compelling enough for me to feel the need to jump into the rest of the series anytime soon, as a fantasy story (which is a genre I don’t read a lot of) this was a surprisingly intriguing read that I definitely enjoyed.
“It was then that he saw the omen. Out in the meadow, two larks broke cover with a heartbreaking beauty of song that was a battle cry. Two males swept up, circling and chasing each other. Yet even as they fought, the female who was their prize rose from the grass and flew indifferently away. With a cold clutch of dweomer knowledge, Nevyn knew that soon he would be watching two men fight over a woman that neither could rightfully have.
She had been reborn.”
I’m almost through! I have 5 books to go before I have completed this challenge. I have 2 of them in my house, so it really just depends on how quickly I can get the last 3. I won’t finish this challenge by the end of the year, but I might be able to finish it by the end of January. I’m so excited!
THE WILLOUGHBY’S by LOIS LOWRY
(suggested by Calista Kern-Lyons, “unknown by a famous author”)
This is the shortest book in my challenge so far… I picked it up from the library at lunch and read it in the space of about 3 hours after work! And it was a surprising delight. Not surprising because of the author, because I absolutely adore The Giver and its sequels, and I remember liking Number the Stars when I read it years ago. I was just a little startled by the callousness of the characters in the opening few chapters, and I had a hard time liking the children. Obviously you’re not supposed to like the parents because they are horrid, but I think Tim bossing the others and being so rude to Jane kept getting on my nerves because he was supposed to be the leader of the protagonists.
But as the story progressed, and the constant parodying of classic orphan stories began and the tongue-in-cheek comedy and over-the-top storyline kept making me giggle, and as Nanny came in and made things a great deal better, I very much enjoyed the charm of this story. I loved every time they brought up a classic kids book that I have read, and I laughed out loud at a few points just from the silliness (the quote below was the first one I remember). The author did a good job of keeping the various plots progressing and connecting in such a short amount of time, and the story was quite satisfactory all the way around. It turned out to be quite fun. Note: Don’t forget to read the Glossary in the back of the book, because she had fun writing that up too.
Tim said, “Perfect. You are camouflaged as a cactus. Place yourself in a corner of the dining room, and when the doorbell rings, announcing the prospective buyer, assume your pose. Choose a place by a sunny window. Cacti prefer sun.”
“What if someone tries to water me or test my prickers?” Barnaby A asked in a muffled voice.
“They won’t,” replied Tim. “I am setting up a notice that says: STAY AWAY. THIS HIGHLY POISONOUS CACTUS EMITS TOXIC FUMES.”
MRS. PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by RANSOM RIGGS
(suggested by Kathy Knapp, “something unusual”)
I watched the movie for this when it first came out in theaters and Kathy recommended this book to me then, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. I also didn’t recall too much of the specific details of the plot, so a lot of it was still pretty new to me while reading it.
It’s hard to judge just the first book of a series since I like to read the whole thing before coming to a conclusion, but this was certainly a good start and is making me want to complete the stories. It’s got a fascinating dark feel to it, and while I’m not the biggest fan of the “kind of strange old-fashioned photos in the time when children didn’t smile”, I think it works great as a springboard for a story about peculiarly powered children. I think it gets that atmosphere just right.
I’m a bit torn on this one, because while it does hold my interest and I’m certainly gonna read the rest of the series, it also follows some basic tropes and storylines that I’ve read in a bunch of other books; the misunderstood child, the discovery of another world, realizing that he is more than he seems, the romance, the adult authority figure, monsters trying to destroy everything, etc. I think I haven’t had enough time to really fall in love with any of the characters yet. They’re all quite fine, and I think Peregrine is cool, but I haven’t been compelled emotionally by anyone. But that could just be from inundation of the genre. I like the birds, and I’m intrigued by the world, and I think it could be really interesting to delve more into it. This was just a quick taste. I should probably write another review on here when I complete the series, but my current review will be that it isn’t amazing so far but it has good potential.
UPDATED REVIEW: I have caught up on all 5 of the books that are out. As I read through it, I definitely have enjoyed it and have come to like the characters more, and I think a lot of the things they’ve done have been quite creative. But I have also been disappointed with some of the directions the story has gone. I remember one book ended in a way that I loved, and I got so excited for what it was going to do in the next book, and then they totally just disintegrated that storyline and I was indignant. The books feel a little long and a little complicated, and I don’t know if I think the overall story is particularly cohesive. The biggest thing I want Ransom to fix is the relationship between Jacob and his parents; he kept putting in the struggle that Jacob was having with it and then just kind of tossing it aside, so if he can finish the series and redeem that in the process, that’s the main thing I want to see happen. And I do think he needs to finish the series soon. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with it!
“On Tuesday night, most of what I thought I understood about myself had turned out to be wrong. On Sunday morning, my dad and I were supposed to pack our things and go home. I had just a few days to decide what to do. Stay or go—neither option seemed good. How could I possibly stay here and leave behind everything I’d known? But after all I’d learned, how could I go home?…
“Joining the peculiar children would also mean I wouldn’t finish high school or college or do any of the normal growing-up things people do. Then again, I had to keep reminding myself, I wasn’t normal; and as long as hollows were hunting me, any life lived outside the loop would almost certainly be cut short. I’d spend the rest of my days living in fear, looking over my shoulder, tormented by nightmares, waiting for them to finally come back and punch my ticket. That sounded a lot worse than missing college.”
AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING by HANK GREEN
(suggested by Micah Megill, “modern fiction”)
(Very late review so I might be missing stuff.) This book was unique and fascinating! I have to agree that its title is fitting. I was intrigued by the book right off the bat and it kept me going all the way through the story; it was very compelling. I kept trying to guess what genre it was going for and I was, for the most part, quite pleased with how it turned out (although pleased is probably not the right word). Aside from the general creative mystery of the story, it was also an intense look at the whole “instant fame” thing and how that completely changes your life and how your perspective shifts. The main character was well-done but often very frustrating; self-destructive tendencies in characters don’t always gel with me, but she still felt real, which was good. I didn’t realize that there was supposed to be a sequel to this, but it makes me glad that I have that to look forward to. This review felt overly vague, but I didn’t want to spoil anything. Basically I don’t know if I would say this book is one I love, but I think it was amazing!
“This dumb little moment was the first time I heard a stranger hating me in public. I knew then, for real, that thousands of people were having that exact conversation all over the world every moment of every day. Those people were real, and their thoughts were formed by overblown or just straight made-up stories about me that I could never adequately defend myself against.
People all over the world whom I had never met and would never meet hated me. Hated. And what they thought about me was completely out of my control.”
OPEN SEASON by CJ BOX, a JOE PICKET NOVEL
(suggested by Julia Jones, “character story”)
I have this bad habit of doing late reviews of my books, but I will hopefully be able to give an accurate one for this book. I’ve never read any Joe Picket novels, and apparently this is a series that follows him as a character, which I can definitely see. His being a game warden is a slightly different setting than his being a detective or a western sheriff, but it has a similar potential for mystery and character growth. I liked Joe; he’s smart and clever, noble and honest, but he’s also very cautious with what he knows and is one to tread carefully rather than rushing into things, gun blazing. I also kind of liked the opening scene with his embarrassing blunder, because it made him feel more like a real person. And I liked seeing him with his family. Although I don’t remember all the details of the plot now that it’s been a few months, I remember that it was an interesting story and a quick read. It even got a little intense sometimes when his daughter started getting involved. I don’t think it’ll be a series I need to read a lot of, but I would happily pick up another one occasionally and get to know Joe Picket some more.
After they had caught up… Joe asked him if he could send him a sample for an independent analysis.
“Where was it found?”
“And my Wyoming colleagues can’t decide what squeezed it out?”
“There’s some dispute,” Joe hedged. He didn’t want to go into the story of the lost sample. There wasn’t any need to.
“Sounds like you’re challenging me,” Dave said…
“I am,” Joe said, forcing a laugh. Dave agreed to take a look at it, whatever it was, and to keep both the sample and the results in confidence.
Joe sat back in his swivel chair. He thought about what the woman at the lab had told him. He wondered how he could go about finding out who she was and if he even could. He believed she had told him the truth about the missing sample. He wished she hadn’t, because things had suddenly become a lot more complicated.
BONHOEFFER: PASTOR, MARTYR, PROPHET, SPY by ERIC METAXAS
(suggested by Travis Bryant, “non-fiction”)
This book took me 3 months to finish because it was huge, but it was quite good. I knew, like, NOTHING about Bonhoeffer as a person, so this was a complete introduction to him, which was quite in-depth. I’ve not read a lot of biographies, but this was definitely a great person to read about. From his theological stances and sermons, to his early-on observations about where the German cultural attitude was heading and his influence to try and stop it, to his pushing for the church to stand against the anti-Semitism, to his practical wisdom and relationships with the orderlies he discipled, and all the way through his involvement in the conspiracy… it was a great inside look at the German church during the 1930’s-1940’s. I loved learning about how Bonhoeffer was so influential in Germany and in other countries as far as trying to move the church into action and knowledge of all the terror that was going on and what it was leading to. It sounds like he was quite the character, someone who everyone loved and respected and was bold enough to command attention. There was a lot of the politics and the theological arguments that I didn’t understand, but I followed enough that it was quite interesting. The hardest part was understanding how subtle and slow some of that might have been, and how you can see how the church, if not vigilant and discerning, could have passively let things creep by. Hindsight is 20/20 (haha) and after all the atrocities that went on, we can look back and think “how did people in the church stand for all of that?”, and from here you can see that there WERE resisters and influencers, but you also get how factors like patriotism, fear, ignorance, and passivity determine how a normal person chooses to respond in the midst of chaos and confusion.
Anyway, it was very long and quite hefty content, but with my limited understanding of anything in that time, I feel like I understood things pretty well and it was definitely an informative read that I am glad I completed.
“Everyone threw out his arm in the Nazi salute and burst into “Deutschland uber Alles” and then the “Horst Wessel Song”. It was a pandemonium of patriotism, and Bonhoeffer and Bethge were pinned like beetles. At least Bethge was. Bonhoeffer, on the other hand, seemed to be a part of it. Bethge was flabbergasted: along with everyone else, his friend stood up and threw out his arm in the “Heil, Hitler!” salute. As Bethge stood there gawking, Bonhoeffer whispered to him: “Are you crazy? Raise your arm! We’ll have to run risks for many different things, but this silly salute is not one of them!”…
It was then, Bethge realized, that Bonhoeffer crossed a line. He was behaving conspiratorially. He didn’t want to be thought of as an objector. He wanted to blend in. He didn’t want to make an anti-Hitler statement, he had bigger fish to fry. He wanted to be left alone to do the things he knew God was calling him to do, and these things required him to remain unnoticed. … He had crossed from “confession” to “resistance”.”
It took me a while to finish all the books from this 5, but I’m also almost done with Round 4, so I’m hoping to get this challenge completed by the end of the year. We shall see how it goes… it depends on the last 7 books!
11. SKIPPING CHRISTMAS by JOHN GRISHAM
(suggested by Beth Dettman, “unknown by a famous author”)
I actually saw the movie based on this book for the first time last year (Christmas With the Kranks). It was playing on TV and Elizabeth and I jumped in and ended up watching all the way through; my impression of the movie was that the main characters, and the story as a whole, were more likeable than I was expecting, and the neighbors were terribly nosy and annoying but it was a sweet story by the end.
The book felt very much the same as the movie, so I guess that means they did a good job of transferring it from media to media. It was very quick-reading, which was nice; the other John Grisham I read in this challenge wasn’t super slow-paced or anything, but it was definitely longer and heavier. So this was a nice, short story. I felt the pain of the characters as they tried to do their own thing and felt more and more frustrated with the neighbors who just wouldn’t let it go that they were skipping Christmas. The ending conclusion felt satisfying; the community came together for the daughter, the husband was able to empathize with someone he had been mad at, and they didn’t even write the idea off as being wrong, they just decided it wasn’t the right timing. I felt like I went on the emotional journey that the couple did, and it worked for me.
The only issue I have is that I’m pretty sure they never explained that random guy who knew everybody but they didn’t know who he was. I had a feeling the movie gave some kind of answer but I can’t remember what. Was he an angel? Was he Santa Claus?
Other than that loose end, it was a fluffy read but entertaining, which is better than heavy and boring, so yay!
In the daily mail there were four more anonymous Frosty Christmas cards, these postmarked in Rochester, Fort Worth, Green Bay, and St. Louis. Frohmeyer’s bunch at the university traveled a lot, and Luther suspected this was their little game. Frohmeyer was restless and creative enough to mastermind such a prank. Thirty-one Frosty cards had now been received, two all the way from Vancouver. Luther was saving them, and when he returned from the Caribbean he planned to stuff them in a large envelope and mail them, anonymously of course, to Vic Frohmeyer, two doors down.
“They’ll arrive with all of his credit card bills,” Luther said to himself as he put the Frosty cards in a drawer with the others. He made a fire, settled under a quilt in his chair, and fell asleep.
12. APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH by AGATHA CHRISTIE
(suggested by Naomi Laeuchli, “character story”)
I remember reading Murder on the Orient Express many years ago in high school, but although I’ve seen both movies since then, I don’t remember my impression of that book. Agatha Christie was definitely fun to get into, though.
I was initially surprised with how long the opening of the story was. Other than one opening chapter with Poirot overhearing a vague conversation, I feel like we went almost half the book (though it was probably shorter) before he shows up again. We spend a large part of the opening setting up the suspects: the main family and the various observing characters. It works out, though, since so much of this story is based on understanding the dynamics between the family members of the victim, and everyone else trying to piece together the manipulation and control that they’re observing between the family members. Sarah King and Dr. Gerard have lots of conversations about what is wrong with the family and why the mother is so psychotic.
After the setup, the rest of it moved at a decently steady pace. Mystery stories can sometimes feel a bit repetitive and slow-moving, as everything has to be thoroughly explained and we have to deal with everyone’s denial and indignation and questions one by one, through each interview. This was a little slow at times in that way, but I like the thoroughness of the explanation and discovery when all Poirot really does is ask a few questions. This one had a satisfying conclusion for a story that needed it, and while I don’t see myself reading a bunch of these types of stories in a row, I think an Agatha Christie mystery every now and then is a nice change of pace.
“I have heard, M. Poirot, that once, in that affair of the Orient Express, you accepted an official verdict of what had happened?”
He said slowly, “That case was – different.”
“No. No, it was not different! The man who was killed was evil,” her voice dropped, “as she was…”
Poirot said: “The moral character of the victim has nothing to do with it. A human being who has exercised the right of private judgment and taken the life of another human being is not safe to exist amongst the community. I tell you that! I, Hercule Poirot!”
13. THE SPIRIT CIRCLE by SATOSHI MIZUKAMI
(suggested by Nathan Megill, “modern fiction”)
My very first manga! This was 6 books instead of 1, but my brother owned them all and the format actually turns out to make for quick reading, so once I got used to the whole “backwardsness” of it, I zipped through them quite quickly.
In spite of the fact that I have no other manga tropes to use as a measuring stick against this particular series (though I have seen some anime), I felt like this was a creative story! I liked the main character quite well and his determination to keep trying to make friends with the girl, despite her grumpiness and general hatred of his past selves. It was nice that they had a short cast list, because it was hard enough to figure out who was who when their looks kept changing. And since I’m not familiar with Japanese names and the way they do the surnames and nicknames and all that, I definitely had to reread some parts along the way to follow along with all of the plot. It might’ve taken me a few books in before I really started to grasp how recurring each modern day character was in the past stories.
It’s been a few months since finishing the series that I’m writing the review, so it’s probably not as detailed as it would have been, but I definitely liked the series. It was well-written and the conclusion felt complete and redemptive, as it should have. I was confused throughout the reading of it, but I imagine that if I reread the series someday, that it would make more sense and that I would catch things I missed the first time around. Either way, it was a fun and compelling introduction to manga for me.
Her: “So you saw the future already? You remind me of Lafalle, brooding like that. Well, you ARE him…”
His thoughts: (Ishigami-san’s seen it, too…!)
Him: “Wh-what did you think about that other life?”
Her: “Mm. Hard to say. Especially at the end, I have no clue what happened. It’s the future. I can’t quite sort it all out. I’m sure of one thing, though. Your very existence… is dangerous.”
14. TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED by ROALD DAHL
(suggested by Maria Sager, “something unusual”)
Well… this was certainly unusual! And often unexpected. I’ve read through most of Dahl’s kids books, which I go back and forth on whether I think they’re great and fun and creative, or whether I think they’re too dark and disturbing and odd. I had the same reaction with this book, although I am leaning much more towards the latter.
This is an adult age book of 23 short stories (although the middle ones felt like they got pretty long). There are some simple and fairly normal stories, such as: “The Hitchhiker”, where the title character gets the driver and himself out of a legal scrape when he reveals that his “fingersmithing” skills nabbed the policeman’s record book after they were pulled over for going too fast; or “Taste”, the opening story of a few men who like to bet on whether or not one of them can guess the wine that the other one provides, and when the ante is too high for the daughter who is promised in marriage to the guesser as the prize, it’s revealed that he cheated and looked at the bottle in advance.
Then there are some slightly weirder stories: “The Landlady”, which creates a creepy atmosphere in the setting of a bed and breakfast and gives us implications that the sweet and charming title character is much more sinister than she appears, although it never reveals anything definitive because it ends too quickly; or “Edward the Conqueror”, where a piano-playing wife finds a cat that she becomes convinced is the reincarnated Liszt, and when her husband is annoyed at her determination to broadcast it to the world, it is implied that he threw the cat in the fire.
But out of the whole mix, there were 4 stories that I would consider the most over-the-top and overtly odd, and almost disturbing, of the bunch: “Skin”, where a man who has a tattooed portrait on his back by a now-famous artist is, I believe, conned into letting someone kill him and take it from him; “William and Mary”, where a man dying of cancer agrees to let his brain and one eye be kept alive after his body dies so that he can see and think but never communicate again; “Royal Jelly”, where a bee-obsessed husband gives queen bee food to his malnourished newborn, and his wife’s horror as she realizes how bee-like her husband and baby are becoming; and “Georgy Porgy”, where a man who was traumatized by a baby rabbit being eaten by his mother as a child and fears the touch of women ends up getting drunk and being eaten by one of the ladies in his community and living in her stomach with a bunch of other men (either that or he’s in an asylum and believes he’s been eaten and is living in her stomach with a bunch of other men).
One thing about Roald Dahl is that he really likes the theme of justice, but usually coming out in perverted ways. He’ll make you dislike a character and then when they get their comeuppance it’s kind of what they deserve, but it’s also a little scary. He likes the oppressed person having power over their oppressor, or one jerk getting swindled by another jerk. It’s even evident in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. So it was fun to be able to notice that in his writing.
My favorite stories were probably My Lady Love My Dove, The Way Up to Heaven, Parson’s Pleasure, The Hitchhiker, The Umbrella Man, and Genius and Catastrophe… some because they were the least disturbing, some because they were well-done, and some because they will stay with me. All in all, it was quite an intriguing read!
“For me, after that, it was like the awful moment when you see a child running out into the road and a car is coming and all you can do is shut your eyes tight and wait until the noise tells you it has happened. The moment of waiting becomes a long lucid period of time with yellow and red spots dancing on a black field, and even if you open your eyes again and find that nobody has been killed or hurt it makes no difference because so far as you and your stomach were concerned you saw it all.”
15. HEARING GOD IN CONVERSATION by SAMUEL WILLIAMSON
(suggested by Kevin Megill, “non-fiction”)
I had a massive struggle at first finding this book to read. First my Dad gave me both the wrong name and the wrong author for it, so of course I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then when he corrected it and I looked it up on interlibrary loan, they STILL couldn’t find it! So I asked my Dad if he owned a copy because we both thought he did, but after checking we found out that he didn’t. So THEN I was gonna try to borrow it from my Mom’s Kindle collection, but it’s been so long since I’ve used my Kindle account that it was way too complicated to figure out. So I finally broke down and just bought it; I figured if it’s a Christian theology book recommended by my Dad it would be one I was okay with owning.
After all that, it was definitely a good read. The topic of how to hear God’s voice is so broad a subject that it was nice to get to read a whole book on it. The content wasn’t necessarily all stuff that I didn’t know/hadn’t heard before, but it was told very clearly and practically in a way that was really refreshing. I appreciated his perspectives and the fact that he was so open to how the way God speaks is bigger than us and non-formulaic, rather than saying “this is the way it works” about everything. I particularly liked his chapter on silence, about how God works on our hearts to get the deeper stuff instead of just repeating a phrase over and over; it was a lot of what I needed to hear and really well said. I definitely don’t regret the purchase and anticipate that this is a book I could get something out of on each reread.
“The purpose of claiming promises is to run our eyes up from the beams of sunlight (the blessings) to the Sun, to see the Illuminator more than just the illumination. Promises are only as good as the one who makes them. That’s why we meditate on Scripture: it’s to come to know the nature and person of God. When I’m bereft of words, I pray Psalm 23: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’
As I reflect on the character of a shepherd, God reminds me that his nature- who he is- will never allow him to abandon me. Even in silence.”
I finally finished the second part of my book challenge I’ve been working on. I was going in the order I had organized everything into, but then I discovered my dad had given me the wrong title AND the wrong author for his, and then when I corrected it I still couldn’t find it, and then I reread Lord of the Rings because I thought “I’ve got time!” when I didn’t, and then I finally picked the nonfiction book from the next section and am just going to swap those a bit.
As a reminder, here are the 5 categories: Nonfiction, Character Stories, An Unknown Book by a Famous Author, Modern Fiction, and Something Unusual. (Disclaimer: Sometimes “famous author” means “author who is famous for something other than this book”. In this case, Mike Foley is apparently a famous wrestler.) Here we go!
6. MISTER GOD, THIS IS ANNA by FYNN
(suggested by Kristin Dubois, “character story”)
This was definitely a sweet story. It has two different types of storytelling that it bounces back and forth between: dialogue of conversations between Fynn and Anna, and Fynn’s narrative describing Anna. Understanding that this was a true story made sense in the way that it’s written; the main guy is clearly very enamored with this mysterious girl who came from a rough background but is wanting to find joy in all forms of life without talking about her past, and he writes as such. The conversational pieces are fun, and there are some theological discussions that are a good mix of “girl wise beyond her years” and “girl being a little girl”.
I think my main problem is that the narrative part, at least to me, feels a bit too “telling instead of showing”. Anna becomes a Mary Sue in the eyes of the author, someone who can do no wrong and who he gushes about continuously as if she is Pollyanna, Shirley Temple and Annie Warbucks all wrapped into one. To be fair, based on the conversations she IS a pretty unique child. I’m sure knowing someone that mysterious and special personally, especially for a limited time, would lead me to want to share how much I loved them with anyone who cared to hear my story. But as someone who never knew her (and who often finds it hard to get into kids on paper because it feels like an adult trying to write a cute kid instead of a cute kid just being cute), I think the book having so many chapters of Fynn describing how special she is was a bit much as far as storytelling goes.
But while stories about awesome and precocious kids aren’t usually my forte, she was definitely a great choice for a “character story”. She was creative and sweet and thoughtful, and I did enjoy reading through their conversations together. It was also something I definitely wouldn’t have normally picked out, so getting something so different was fun.
QUOTE: “Why do we go to church, Fynn?”
“To understand Mister God more.”
“To understand Mister God less.”
“Wait a blessed minute… you’re flipped!”
“No I’m not.”
“You most certainly are.”
“No. You go to church to make Mister God really, really big. When you make Mister God really, really, really big, then you really, really don’t understand God–then you do.”
7. TIETAM BROWN by MICK FOLEY
(suggested by Wayne Little, “lesser known book by a famous author”)
This is DEFINITELY an odd book. At first I had no idea what to think of it as I was reading it. It’s incredibly raunchy because the father of the main character is insane and very inappropriate, so that content was always a little hard to get through. But the main character was just so likeable. As it went on, I just really needed him to be okay and to have a good ending. He has been surrounded by cruelty and betrayal and abuse all his life, and as the story progressed and he goes from weird life to flashbacks of horrible life to better life to worse life to hopeful life to “what’s going on?” life, he remains humble and positive and fairly discerning of which people are good and bad. He definitely has his quirks, and “the rage” is obviously a concerning plot point, but he is surprisingly well-adjusted given what little time he has spent with non-horrible people.
If I had picked it out on my own and started reading it outside of the book challenge, I probably would’ve been turned off by the R-ratedness and put it down. (It’s a lot more work to get through an inappropriate book than it is a movie just because it lasts so much longer.) But the main character was worth the wait. I had hope for him at the end, and he found the right people to stay connected to.
P.S. (PREPARE for SPOILERS) I was confused by the final chapter/epilogue, and felt like maybe I was missing something in that person’s name that should’ve given me a clue to what that final twist was? Should I have known the name of Masters, and why was he thrown in there? If he’s a famous psychotic therapist, than it makes a bit more sense. If he’s not, than that part was rather abrupt with little explanation as to what happened and why Andy keeps finding himself in these situations. But anyway, he got out and is going to find Holly and Terri, so that’s the important thing. END SPOILERS
QUOTE: “But on this Christmas Day, I did think of Holly. Her saying ‘people can change’ and ‘I’m living proof’. Confessing her past and declaring it dead. But sometimes old ghosts don’t die as easy as that. Skeletons that bang on the closet door until they’re let out. Because I know old bones sometimes follow me still.”
8. PASSENGER by ALEXANDRA BRACKEN
(suggested by Kaitlyn Nicole Willaims, “modern fiction”)
(I am writing this review after much time has passed from reading it, so it might not be as precise and detailed as if I had written it when it was fresh in my memory.)
This book has a sequel (Wayfarer) which I also read to complete the story, but the first book is the main one I have to review, which is good because I liked that one better. This story has a fairly complicated time travel system that I had to figure out, and I think it got more complicated in the second book than the first. The first book was an introduction to the timelines, but it also focused very much on the growing emotional intimacy between the two main characters. I did enjoy that; I thought they were good characters and the author did a nice job of building up the chemistry in a way that worked for me. I know that at some point they got a bit Bella-and-Edward-Tris-and-Four-competing-for-who-loves-who-more drama, which can get a bit annoying, but that might not’ve happened until book 2, I can’t remember. I did get really confused by the plot points in Wayfarer, but if I just ignored what I couldn’t understand and focused on the parts that I could, it was pretty good.
I’ll try and give this Duology a reread sometime and see if the overall story clicks with me stronger than it did, because it’s probably going to sit in the “enjoyed-for-sure-but-twas-too-much-story-building-to-really-decide-if-it-was-amazing-or-not” category. But I liked parts of it a lot and was glad to get introduced to a short series like that.
QUOTE: “But what if it doesn’t work? What if we can’t sort everything out in your time? Your era is one small sliver of time compared to all eternity—there is only one small place you and I can be safe together. But even so, how long would it be before missing home and our loved ones became unbearable to one of us? It all ends the same way, with us breaking apart. Isn’t it better to have done with it now?”
“No,” she said stubbornly. “We could find a place. We could make our own.”
9. THINNER THAN THOU by KIT REED
(suggested by Holly Taylor-Vrhel, “something unusual”.)
Well! This book wasn’t what I expected. It’s a dystopian book about society focusing so much on looks that it’s practically a religion, though it’s much more like a cult; you’re following about 6 different people in 4 different scenarios and bouncing back and forth between their perspectives until they all connect at the very end and bring down the villain. It was definitely kind of intense, and very uncomfortable in parts, but that IS the point. I appreciated the many different aspects of unhealthy-body-image representation; the push push push for losing weight that instantly turns to horror if you go too far, so there’s basically this slim to nonexistent window to live in, and of course that’s only for a small period of time. Then you have the ridiculous eating contests (that chapter was GROSS) and the food/weight porn. It was disturbing and intriguing and not a book I would ever read again, but I got what it was trying to say.
I am NOT one to say that “we could be living in this society now” because I don’t think we’re anywhere close to that; it is a dystopian story, after all, so it’s supposed to be over-the-top to get the point across. But you could tell where they were initially drawing from with references to our culture.
I DID feel at times that it got a little preachy, particularly with the final march and the mental italics. It felt like that was the part where the author was like “now I can give my lecture on everything I feel about this subject!”. I’m not saying it was a wrong choice, it just felt a bit much.
This is a book that I probably wouldn’t have finished if I had picked it up on my own, but it was quite an interesting one to have under my belt.
QUOTE: There are no saving graces in this place, no sweet touches, no woman’s hand like a scented scarf trailing across your face. Nothing but hunger and the discipline and the Reverend Earl’s promises that we sold everything to pay for, the glamour of life in the Afterfat.
And all I can think about is food.
Did you ever get exactly what you want and find out it’s not what you wanted at all?
10. THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY by AJ JACOBS
(suggested by Jennie Allred, “nonfiction”)
My sister told me about this book years ago, so I had an idea of what the premise was, but it was definitely worth reading on my own. An agnostic writer takes it upon himself to delve wholeheartedly into understanding the Bible (as well as the modern Christian and Jewish religions) by “living Biblically” for a year (as the title states): an intriguing experiment that leads to some great written up responses about religion, spirituality and people who follow it!
He separates the year by months; each month is a chapter, and each chapter is broken up by various day entries. He makes things mostly manageable for himself by printing out all the “rules” in the Bible early but then focusing on different aspects throughout the year. I think it’s the first 9 months of the year that he focuses on the Old Testament, and the last several on the New. So let’s say that one day he focuses on “not telling lies”, which he then does his best to make into a habit, after working out all the kinks; then he adds on “being thankful” another day, until he has trained himself to watch his words both directions. By the time he gets to the end of the book/year, he has a full-length wild beard, wears only white, and has well-practiced and strict modes of talking, eating, thinking, dressing, and behaving.
Much of the book was focused on him trying to work in the bizarre rituals from the Old Testament, so that was fun to hear his take on all of that. He was also really good about talking to as many different people as he could; he searched for extremists who followed specific verses to the letter, from snake-handlers to Amish to Hassidic Jews. He wore down a Jehovah’s Witness and met with the New York City Atheists club and visited with Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis. He had multiple mentors and did thorough research and got insight from everywhere he could find it. I really respect his whole-hearted attitude with which he thrust himself into this experiment.
I think he was also very fair. While obviously I have a different view on religion than he does (and he’s still basically agnostic by the end of the book), he was really open-minded as he went through all of these rituals and prayers that didn’t mean anything to him personally, as he talked to all of these people who passionately believe some crazy-sounding things. I liked whenever he found something to admire about the Bible/religion, and he brought up some legitimate questions as well. It was really interesting to get a perspective on the Bible from someone who doesn’t even know if he believes that God exists. He was respectful, honest, and very funny. Following his journey was intriguing, and it was definitely a good read.
QUOTE (I forgot to find a quote before returning my book, so I’m grabbing two short ones from Goodreads):
“When I get it home and start to read it, the first thing I notice is that Warren has copyrighted the phrase “Purpose-driven.” It has a little ® after it. This makes me angry. Did Jesus copyright “Turn the Other Cheek”®? Did Moses trademark “Let My People Go?”™”
“Ezekiel and his fellow prophets have become my heroes. They were fearless. They literalized metaphors. They turned their lives into protest pieces. They proved that, in the name of truth, sometimes you can’t be afraid to take a left turn from polite society and look absurd.”
I watched 20 new-to-me romances in February 2020, and I am so proud of myself! One was my library pick, one was from a Flickchart movie challenge, but the other 18 were suggestions from Facebook friends. Once I realized I had a movie representing every decade since the 1920’s, I did my very best to watch them in chronological order, which I really enjoyed! Here are my reviews. (WARNING: SPOILERS are in the reviews; sometimes I’m vague, and sometimes I’m not, and each movie has an IMDB premise, so if you don’t want it spoiled, skip the review!)
THE MOVIES AND REVIEWS
- The Cameraman, 1929 (Hannah) Amazon Prime, $3
Premise: Hopelessly in love with a woman working at MGM Studios, a clumsy man attempts to become a motion picture cameraman to be close to the object of his desire.
My very first Buster Keaton film! And it was very sweet. I haven’t seen a lot of silent films and sometimes I have a bit of trouble with the pacing, but I quite liked this one. He was a very endearing character, and my sister and I giggled throughout the whole thing. The ending really was great, though; it was a very sweet conclusion to both parts of his story and I was happy to have seen it.
Favorite Part: Funniest part was how horribly awful the two guys using the same dressing room was. But I loved watching him rescue her through his camera and having her realize what he’d done for her.
- Top Hat, 1935 (Ben S.) Sterling Public Library
Premise: An American dancer comes to Britain and falls for a model whom he initially annoyed, but she mistakes him for his goofy producer.
My first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie! And it was great fun. I loved the opening in the silent room and his defiant loud tap move as he left; I like that he is just so pleased with himself that he dances all over the floor and wakes up Ginger. He was certainly a bit stalkerish in his following her around from then on out, but their first dance scene together was great. Then comes all the usual misunderstandings which produced some amusing moments, even though it’s not my favorite plot point in a movie. But it was an entertaining watch with great performances.
Favorite Part: I think the whole opening with the silent room was my favorite
- Swing Time, 1936 (Ben S.) Sterling Public Library
Premise: A performer and gambler travels to New York City to raise the $25,000 he needs to marry his fiancée, only to become entangled with a beautiful aspiring dancer
My second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film! It had many similarities to Top Hat, but the general plot was different and this one had a slightly more serious tone. It also had some lovely musical numbers; The Way You Look Tonight was written for this movie! (So gorgeous.) I liked them both for different reasons. I enjoyed some of the more serious moments in this, particularly the “Never Gonna Dance” number, which is a sadder sounding song that portrayed a melancholier emotion when they danced together which I found quite beautiful. I think the ending was a bit cheesy where they basically just laughed for 10 minutes straight, but it was definitely a sweet one overall.
Favorite Part: Probably “Never Gonna Dance”, but I also really liked the first time they legit danced together in the studio.
- Brief Encounter, 1946 (Ben S.) Netflix DVD Queue
Premise: Meeting a stranger in a railway station, a woman is tempted to cheat on her husband.
Although affair stories aren’t typically my thing because I can’t really get into the romance, this story was well told. I liked the initial voiceover-ing that the main character does in the opening. This movie does a good job of pacing out the story, and you can tell the moment she realizes something has changed for her (it’s when he’s first going on about doctor stuff). There were some moments that were a bit dramatic because everything went so fast and they became so sure about each other so quickly, but it didn’t make it bad, it just meant I giggled at a line or two. And I liked the conclusion; the fact that this is all being “told” in one single day as she’s just dwelling over the whole affair that final evening makes sense why it’s so overwhelming for her, and I loved that last interaction with her husband. It made me think that they’re going to be okay after all, even though I don’t know if she’ll ever tell him.
Favorite Part: The ending moment with her husband, although I also liked the scene in the café station when the guard-guy comes in to the café lady’s rescue.
DISCLAIMER: This out of order movie was my own library pick when I was waiting on my next movie.
- Silver Linings Playbook, 2012 (me, library pick)
Premise: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
I am writing my review for this several weeks after watching it, so I might miss some of my initial opinions. I did like it; I thought it was an interesting watch with fairly interesting characters. The opening made me make faces at Bradley Cooper as he got really upset by things and then completely denied doing that to his therapist, so I appreciated the arc that he goes through. I liked the dancing part of it. I also called that she was the one writing the letter, though I was surprised by his totally calm and rational response to it; that was a good part of his growth as a character and realizing what he truly wanted. It might not be super memorable, but it’s possible a rewatch would help it.
Favorite Part: The final dance scene!
- Beauty and the Beast (aka) La Belle et la Bete, 1946 (Ben S.) Online link
Premise: A beautiful young woman takes her father’s place as the prisoner of a mysterious beast, who wishes to marry her.
This was my only foreign romance of this month! It was certainly cool to see a version of Beauty and the Beast that is closer to the original fairy tale; it had the family dynamics, the “bring me back a rose” plot, and the deal of “I’ll let you go but you have to come back within this time frame”. I liked some of the music but most of the time it was incredibly ominous, which I guess fits, but it made me wish someone else was in the house at the time I was watching it. I had a hard time liking the beast in this version; I didn’t like his speaking voice, and while he was occasionally not creepy, he often felt very creepy, and I had a hard time happily shipping them together. And while it did some good storytelling, it was also kind of confusing. Why would the beast randomly start smoking (like his BODY would start smoking)? And what in the world happened at the end with Avenant, the beast, and flying up into the air? I know it was all magical, but I felt like there needed to be SOME explanation as to why the Prince looked just like the Gaston-ish-character. And apparently we just left the brother chilling on the roof? Anyway… it had some good parts and I felt for her in her home life and I liked some of the mystical stuff… but it was a bit too weird.
Favorite Part: I liked when she was talking to her dad and describing “La Bete” in her own words; it was the only way I was actually able to see what went on in her mind and why she liked him
- Summer Stock, 1950 (Hannah) Netflix Q
Premise: A small-town farmer, down on her luck, finds her homestead invaded by a theatrical troupe invited to stay by her ne’er-do-well sister.
It seems Gene and Judy is another classic pair that I was missing out on, but it was a pleasure to finally watch one. This movie was fun, and just goes to show that this era of musicals can be quite delightful. Judy Garland has such joy when she sings, and Gene Kelly always looks like he’s having fun. Plus he has a really sincere face. The two of them look good together… although I don’t know if I think they sound good together. Judy’s singing is much stronger and louder than his, who can sing decently but has much less power. But since they gave her the main solos and him the main dance breaks, it worked out. I liked several of the songs quite nicely, but WHAT was with that stupid farmer song? Know your audience, people! There is no WAY that the people from the town who bought tickets were not offended by that! Whatever. The plot was pleasant, silly, predictable and enjoyable. I should watch some more musicals from these early decades.
Favorite Part: When Gene Kelly does his spontaneous dance on the stage with the creaky floor and the newspaper… so delightful!
- Pillow Talk, 1959 (Elizabeth) Family Video Rental
Premise: A man and a woman who share a party line cannot stand each other, but he has fun romancing her with his voice disguised.
My goodness, apparently I haven’t watched nearly enough movies with these old classic actors. I’m pretty sure this is the first Doris Day, and Rock Hudson, movie that I have sat all the way through. I’m going to need to dig up some more older films to get to know all these actors more. Anyway, I can totally get why Rock Hudson was proclaimed so charming; he’s got the sexy voice and a Cary Grant-like profile. Doris Day was also adorable and fun. The plot itself was a little frustrating mostly because I couldn’t actually understand Rock’s motivation for why he was messing with her in the first place. Was it just to mess with her? Did he want to take on a challenge? Did he think it would make her more manageable as a party line mate? I don’t know. It was fairly entertaining even if I was frustrated, and it was a good movie to watch with someone else and giggle with; it’s possible I felt he deserved a little more comeuppance than he got, but I think it worked out satisfactorily.
Favorite Part: The line “you have to be a pretty early bird to catch a worm like me”, Doris resignedly saying “officer, arrest this man” as he’s carrying her down the street, and the piano player singing directly to Rock about his lying all made me giggle.
- The Emperor Waltz, 1948 (Hannah) Online Link
Premise: A brash American gramophone salesman tries to get Emperor Franz Joseph’s endorsement in turn-of-the-century Austria.
Well this was a silly one. Bing Crosby was quite the audacious little punk in this, even if he did it in a sweet way. (I’m pretty sure my online link had his speaking voice higher than usual, which was super weird, but it didn’t seem to affect his singing.) But I liked how quickly she fell for him and decided to not even care. I liked her as a character; she was snobbish at the beginning but never really rude or mean; maybe I just thought the actress really pulled off being super classy. It had dramatic and silly moments but it was certainly fun to watch.
Favorite Part: The yodeling echo scene; also when she basically dares him to seduce her with his singing voice, so he just goes ahead and does it
- Romeo and Juliet, 1968 (Hannah) Online link
Premise: When two young members of feuding families meet, forbidden love ensues.
I have only seen one other version of Romeo and Juliet (not counting West Side Story, which is so very close but isn’t technically called Romeo and Juliet). It was the one with Leo Dicaprio. I can’t really compare them too much since I think they both probably stayed pretty close to the story and they used all of the original dialogue and everything. While Romeo and Juliet isn’t my favorite love story, if you can dispend disbelief at the insta-love (something I often have a hard time with if I feel like it’s supposed to be realistic) it can be really sweet and tragic. I thought the girl who played Juliet was adorable (although it was weird to realize that the character is 13 years old; she definitely seemed really young) and Romeo, who looked like Zac Efron, was sweet. They both had some dramatic and sobby moments, but considering how little they are and the fact that death and banishment is involved, I don’t think it’s that out of there for them to be so dramatic. Though the scene when Mercutio was dying was ridiculous; the guys just kept laughing when he was CLEARLY not able to walk and kept yelling at them and it was making me mad that they just giggled until after they announced that he was dead. Anyway, I enjoyed this version of the story, though it’s gonna take some sitting on it to decide if it stands out more to me than the previous version.
Favorite Part: When they first see each other during the dance, and the balcony scene, are both really sweet moments of their joy and young love
- A Star is Born, 1976 (Jamie Harmon) Amazon Prime
Premise: A has-been rock star falls in love with a young, up-and-coming songstress.
I’ve seen the Judy Garland version of this, but it was years ago; and I watched the Lady Gaga one last year, which I liked. This one is obviously well-cast with Streisand, who is an incredible singer and makes sense as the “whoa we just discovered her” person. I really enjoyed listening to her singing in this. However, I really did NOT like the Kris Kristofferson character. I almost never saw him as sympathetic. I didn’t see him as struggling, I just saw him as straight up not caring about things. His whole pushiness and embarrassing everyone for his own amusement at the beginning of the relationship made me go all like “I would hate dating that guy!” Plus he just acted like an idiot the whole first half and I kept yelling at him. I liked the scenes when he was writing music, but that was basically the only time I really cared about him. But I did find the ending song sung by Barbara as a tribute really moving, even if it was vocally a little blarey due to emotions. I do plan on watching the original movie and rewatching the Judy Garland version so that I can compare them all.
Favorite Part: Even though it was a ridiculously short concert, I liked when Barbara first sang in front of the audience and then they all applauded her
DISCLAIMER: This out of order movie was my romance pick from a different movie challenge on my Facebook.
- Her, 2013 (Jacob, assigned through a Flickchart movie challenge) Sister owns it
Premise: In a near future, a lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need.
This was definitely an odd movie and I was a little worried going into it. But they set up a world where it made sense and I think the way they handled it was really intriguing. Scarlett Johannsen was fantastic! Her voice was just perfect; charming, helpful, emotional, personable. It makes sense that he fell in love with her. I thought it had some really interesting story choices along the way, and I was satisfied with the final conclusion and how they handled it. It might need to sit with me still, but I think it was definitely well done.
Favorite Part: I liked her opening scene when she first shows up, and I liked hearing his letters; and although it was an incredibly awkward scene, the whole situation with the surrogate was actually really interesting and sad
- Broadcast News, 1987 (Hannah) Netflix Q
Premise: Take two rival television reporters: one handsome, one talented, both male. Add one Producer, female. Mix well, and watch the sparks fly.
This was an odd but interesting watch. I loved the opening, the look-back at each of the characters as a kid; it made me like each person right away. It also made me laugh fairly frequently in the first half of the movie, from Holly Hunter’s distress at her own awkwardness to William Hurt’s eagerness to please. It was sweet and they felt like fairly real people. But it did kind of change tone near the end; it got a bit more dramatic, though not necessarily in a bad way, but it threw me off a bit. I think I’ll have to rewatch this one in a few years because the whole movie feels different than what it started as. But I kind of liked the non-typical ending for a romance movie, and I thought it made more sense than if they had done a switch like I was dreading they would. Also, 3 Pixar stars in this movie: Jessie, Marlin, and Elastigirl!
Favorite Part: The scene where Hurt was able to hear her lines while paraphrasing them was an impressive (for me at least) and fun scene; also, “I’m just a dead lump of poured out flesh” and William Hurt’s opening scene as a child.
- Ever After, 1998 (Calista) Borrowed from Calista
Premise: The Brothers Grimm arrive at the home of a wealthy Grande Dame who speaks of the many legends surrounding the fable of the cinder girl before telling the “true” story of her ancestor.
I know I’d seen this as a very young child but I only remember bits and pieces of it, so it was really nice to get to revisit it. I was a little emotionally resistant to it because it’s one of those movies that non-rom-com girls mocked other girls for totally loving, and so I figured it was overrated. But it was a nice and fairly satisfying story for Cinderella. I appreciated that we actually saw the prince and Danielle falling in love as opposed to it just being a looks thing. I also appreciated that Danielle, while being a kind person, had more spunk than I anticipated; she wasn’t as much of a doormat as she is sometimes played as in ways that makes it unpleasant to watch. I appreciated her educated and intelligent arguments with the prince and her kindness towards the other servants. I wish the prince was a bit less of a dweeb and that she was better at telling him things when she said she was going to, but it all worked out. I also thought that the set design and costuming looked great and fairytale like.
Favorite Part: I was quite touched when Maurice reunited with his wife; I also liked when the King had an actual understanding conversation with his son
- Tuck Everlasting, 2002 (Kaitlyn) Disney+
Premise: A young woman meets and falls in love with a young man who is part of a family of immortals.
This was another one that everyone my age was really into and said was so sad and romantic but I hadn’t seen, and people who didn’t like it made fun of it. I always lumped this in with Titanic and A Walk to Remember, both of which I watched the first year of my February Romances challenge; Titanic I loved, A Walk to Remember I was much less impressed by. Tuck Everlasting was somewhere in the middle. I get the appeal of it for sure; it’s got a wispy-looking girl with a cute young guy with a funny voice and a sad backstory in an almost-enchanted woods. I felt that the transition from her being terrified of being “held hostage” to suddenly liking her new life wasn’t very believable, because the Tuck family really did a horrid job of explaining to her WHY she was being kept, and that annoyed me. But I guess it’s part of the magic of the forest. The scene where the older brother shared his story was legitimately sorrowful, and I thought her final choices worked. I was a little disappointed in Jesse that he waited almost a full century to come back and check on her and I was hoping for one of those “they said hi when she was an old lady” moments, but I don’t think it was a bad choice the way they did it, it was just a personal preference. So this one was fun and sweet and sad, but only mildly each one of those.
Favorite Part: I enjoyed the whole scene where she dances by the fire and Jesse tells her their secret and then Miles shares his story.
- A Little Bit of Heaven, 2012 (Jamie Harmon) Amazon Prime Free
Premise: An irreverent young woman who uses her humor to prevent matters from getting serious has a life-changing visit with her doctor.
I am pretty sure I have only ever watched Kate Hudson movies in February! I guess I’ll have to do this every year until I’ve seen ALL of her movies. Anyway, I feel like this is a pretty good movie but that it is somewhat misleading; the IMDB premise highlights her “humor as a defense mechanism” much higher than I think it actually was, and while the plot with Whoopi-Goldberg-Deity is fine and all, it was such a small portion of the plot that it really felt like it didn’t need to be there. The first two “wishes” hardly affected her life, I don’t think it changed her perspective enough to claim it was a major influencer in her arc, and the final “wish” would’ve probably happened anyway. Maybe I’m not giving that out-of-body experience subplot enough credit, but I just didn’t feel like it needed to be there. But despite that, I thought the movie itself was good. I really liked most of her friends and her relationships with them, and I thought it had good character moments as well as funny and sweet parts. Take out the incoherent gimmick and I’d say it was well-done.
Favorite Part: I liked the doctor trying to make jokes, and the scene right before and during the Peter Dinklage cameo
- A Silent Voice, 2016 (Hannah) Netflix
Premise: A young man is ostracized by his classmates after he bullies a deaf girl to the point where she moves away. Years later, he sets off on a path for redemption.
This movie was a good movie. It made me hate the main character and then really empathize with the main character. I was so mad at how mean he was being in the beginning, but I felt like his transition felt natural and genuine. I thought the things it did with the X’s on the faces was quite fascinating. Some of the constant going back and forth with the various side characters and their motivations/perspectives was a little confusing, and I sometimes had a hard time reading people’s facial expressions with the way it was animated. But it built up the emotions and characters in a way that worked for me by the time it got to the end, and I think it was quite good (even if his frenetic wiping away of his final tears was a bit dramatic-looking). However, I think this is incorrect that it’s a romance. I know that she tells him she likes him sometime in the middle, and it’s possible he likes her, but that didn’t feel like the focus at all; it felt like it was about friendship and personal redemption much more than any hints of romance. But at least it was a movie that I liked even if I don’t think it was a proper pick for the category.
Favorite Part: Everything that was done with the X’s.
- The Decoy Bride, 2011 (Calista) Amazon Prime
Premise: When the world’s media descend on the remote Scottish island where a Hollywood actress is attempting to get married, a local girl is hired as a decoy bride to put the paparazzi off the scent.
I enjoyed this one! I mainly watched it for David Tennant (of course) whom I have never seen in a rom com. I think the only movie I’ve seen him in is Harry Potter and the Whatever’s Whatever. (And the main chick is apparently the voice of Merida in Brave!) Anyway, it was a fun, albeit silly, watch! Both of the main characters were charming and bantery together and I giggled a fair amount in the first half of the movie. There were some parts that were a bit melodramatic (you would build less sexual tension if you would grab your clothes you’re going to change into BEFORE you decide to get undressed in the living room!), but it’s a rom com, so what can you expect? I thought it was sweet and I rooted for all of the characters to have happy endings, and they did, but they also did it in their proper order which is even better! And the Scottish accents are great.
Favorite Part: “I’m a lot hotter than I look,” followed by her total embarrassment that she said that.
- Paris Can Wait, 2017 (Maria Sager), Amazon Prime $4
Premise: The wife of a successful movie producer takes a car trip from the south of France to Paris with one of her husband’s associates.
I had a bit of a hard time completely enjoying this because I spent the whole movie being stressed about whether or not they were going to have an affair. I know there are lot of affair movies and I’ve seen plenty and even liked some with that as a premise, but I have to switch my mind over because I can’t enjoy it the same way as a rom com. That might sound a bit judgy. I did enjoy the movie, but my sister and I had to process it out loud after it was over. I didn’t know what to think of how abrupt the ending was (it probably wasn’t abrupt, it just felt like it to me)… but I decided that, based on her choice to kick French guy out the previous night, and her husband’s choice to come home and stay with her, that she and he will get better. I hope she doesn’t meet the French guy in California, but I think she demonstrated a good amount of control and caution throughout the movie, so whatever she does or doesn’t do she will or won’t do deliberately. I trust that she’ll make her own choice and not just be pulled by emotion. I think it would be better on a rewatch because then I can relax a bit more into the story, because it was an interesting movie with some sweet moments.
Favorite Part: I liked the moment when French guy points out that she doesn’t share parts of herself with her husband and she registers it as an “oh, you’re right” moment.
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, 2018 (Calista) Netflix Original
Premise: In the aftermath of World War II, a writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war.
I thought this movie had a lot of charm. Other than Marriage Story, I haven’t had a good track record so far of liking Netflix Original movies (they’ve always felt stiltedly written to me) but this one I didn’t notice at all. I liked how respectful that Juliet was of the islanders’ story, and the fact that they all kind of kept connecting with her made the developing friendships seem genuine. The storyline was unique (well, for the most part*) and sweet and I liked the characters. It was a great movie to end my month on!
Favorite Part: I enjoyed seeing their actual meetings, where they read out loud and then discussed it; her first meeting with them was great, and I liked the credits where you heard each person presenting different books and everybody’s comments about it.
-I watched 2 movies where dancing Fred Astaire falls in love with Ginger Rogers and they are almost happy but then something comes up and she runs off to get engaged to an Italian guy who loves her but she’s platonic about until Fred can straighten out the scenario and break off the engagement
-I watched 2 movies where a famous but struggling-to-write writer, who is engaged, makes their way to an island and falls in love with someone else, but they don’t kiss until the writer heads back to the mainland, officially breaks off the engagement, and then comes back to proclaim their love to the person on the island, after writing another manuscript
-8 movies had the love interests NOT end up “happily ever after” together
-4 are because one, or both, of the love interests are dead at the end
-At least 7 movies involve one or both love interests being married, engaged, or dating someone else when they fall in love (and one movie where they THINK the one they love is married)
-7 movies were musicals, or had singing/dancing as an important part of the movie (I am not counting the ball scene in Romeo and Juliet because the two of them don’t really dance together)
MY LEAST FAVORITES:
Beauty and the Beast (bizarre plot points, weird ending)
A Star is Born (main character I disliked)
A Little Bit of Heaven (premise that felt unneeded)
Paris Can Wait (tense while watching, a rewatch might help)
The Cameraman (adorable and sweet)
Summer Stock (all the happy dancing)
The Emperor Waltz (so silly but fun)
A Silent Voice (ooh, that was good)
The Decoy Bride (fun one with fun characters)
The Guernsey… (sweet and well-done)
Buster Keaton in Cameraman
Gene Kelly in Summer Stock
Joan Fontaine in The Emperor Waltz
Juliet from Romeo and Juliet
Samantha in Her
Shoya Ishida in A Silent Voice
Both MC’s in The Decoy Bride
Juliet Ashton in The Guernsey…
And that’s a wrap for my February Romance Challenge 2020!
I am keeping track of all of my New-To-Me-Movies this year by writing them down each month. So here is my blog of all the movies I watched for the first time in January and my brief reviews of each one!
(Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.)
Jan 4: A Simple Favor, 2018
Although I expected this to be inappropriate and not to my exact liking when perusing Hulu and choosing this movie, I liked the cast, so I figured I’d give it a go anyway. My assumptions were fairly correct. It was an entertaining watch and all 3 of the actors were good but they acted basically the way I thought they would; the mysterious lady who’s “super cool and intimidating but also totally rebellious and does what she wants because she knows she’s hot”, the awkward quirky girl who becomes kind of obsessed with the other person and endears herself to her because of that, and the good-looking, charming husband who you NEVER KNOW which girl he REALLY wants to sleep with! It was a decent watch but it wasn’t anything special; it was basically just what I expected it was gonna be but it wasn’t as memorable as it could’ve been.
Jan 4: Cats, 2019
Well this was a mix of awesome and wacky. I like the musical Cats already, so I know how weird it is, so the general lack of plot didn’t bother me at all. I wasn’t bothered by the look of the cats like some people were (though the cockroaches and mice were creepy). I loved the opening songs, I loved the Jellicle Ball, I LOVED the tap-dancing in the Skimbleshanks number, and I really liked Mr. Mistoffelees and his song. Idris Elba was weird, Rebel Wilson was pretty weird, and keeping the Addressing of Cats in was kind of stupid. It was cool and fine and dumb and awesome. Go musicals!
Jan 6: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969
I was neutral on this. Bond isn’t my favorite character or genre; it’s a decent action type story that has some good moments and some twists but is usually not something I’m going to remember or be able to separate from other movies of the same kind. George Lazenby seemed to be a good Bond; flirty, competent, smart, a bit dramatic. I kept yelling at him for having sex with all the girls. The plotting was a bit far-fetched, but if you think of Bond as stuff that is intentionally over-the-top, then it doesn’t matter. I was impressed with all the skiing.
However, I was fairly thrown off by the ending; I almost knew it was coming because I was like “he can never end happily married because Bond has to have a different girl in each movie” but I didn’t think it was gonna be as abrupt and depressing an ending as that. It didn’t feel like the rest of the movie was serious enough for that, but maybe I misread the tone and it’s supposed to be. Maybe all of the Bonds are and I need to get a firmer grasp on the story’s style. Anyway, it was enjoyable but forgettable.
Jan 8: The Iron Lady, 2012
I wasn’t a major fan of this one. Partially because, a month later, I have almost forgotten the plot. I had to ask Elizabeth what I had told her I thought about it. While I’m sure Meryl Streep did a good job as she always does, I had a hard time getting her character. (I know nothing about the lady she played so I’m taking it all from the movie.) Was the movie presenting her as a good or a bad person? It was also kind of boring. The part I was most interested in was her “present day” self. It had some good parts but it’s not one I’m gonna remember.
Jan 12: Rachel Getting Married, 2008
This was interesting. The filming itself was very DIY like, which was the intention I imagine since it was a home wedding. I thought that Anne Hathaway did a great job; as the movie went on, her character felt fairly rounded as you delve into what all went on before the movie, and I thought the ending bit with the actual wedding and the morning after was really sweet and a little sad. It had some really good moments and I was interested in it the whole way through. I might not remember it long after this, but it was worth the watch.
Jan 13: Kill Bill Vol 1, 2003, and Kill Bill Vol 2, 2004
I watched Vol 1 and 2 together so I’m not really gonna separate them in my review. While I haven’t seen many Tarantinos, I’ve gotta say that his movies have got a LOT of style.
I don’t know the kung fu movies that my sister says this duo is parodying, but I thought the openings for both movies were done really well and they gripped me quickly. I liked the contrast between the really bright colors in the very first fight scene versus the black and white flashbacks. I thought the music in these two movies was really well done and helped to create great atmosphere along the way.
While this story had much too much violence for my taste, as well as several disturbing parts visually that I tried to avoid looking at, it does an interesting job of telling a story that would otherwise be totally boring. While I hated almost all of the side characters in this movie, her constant kick-bad-ery and ability to survive was compelling as a story. Bill was not as good as Christoph Waltz in Inglorious, but he had that similarly intense presence that is extra terrifying through his calmness; the scene in Vol 2 where she sees him for the first time at his house was a jarring yet intriguing lead in to the movie’s end. There were some moments here and there that were a bit too campy, and I didn’t entirely get the motivations of all the bad guys.
But this is a surprisingly positive review about 2 movies that I was totally scared to see. Tarantino makes stories that are disturbing and scary and violent and something I would never watch without someone else in the room. But I understand the appeal for his films thus far and am impressed with how he tells stories.
Jan 19: Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, 1938
This was a very silly movie! My sister Elizabeth rented it and started watching it on her laptop while I was making supper with plans to watch a different movie on the TV that night; then I started watching it over her shoulder, and the opening scene kept making us giggle, so we decided we were invested and switched it to the TV. It’s my 4th Gary Cooper movie and my 2nd Claudette Colbert, but they were both quite funny. I’ve not seen Gary so sulky and grumpy before, and Claudette’s character was decently clever. This might not be a movie that I’ll say was great, but we giggled a lot during it. It was a little awkward at times and it was almost stupid, but it was certainly entertaining. Good to watch with a fellow giggler.
Jan 20: Eat Pray Love, 2006
I liked this decently. It had more of an opening plot than I expected, though at the same time I kind of felt like they didn’t show as much of what was going on with the main chick as I kind of wish they did. They kept having flashbacks about issues with her and her relationship with Franco, and I felt like it came out of nowhere? I guess they were just parsing the story out a bit at a time, but it somehow didn’t feel like it flowed. But maybe I’m being too harsh. It was sweet and it was pleasant and she seemed to be a fairly interesting character. I think I just didn’t follow her character arc super well, so while clearly stuff was changing for her, the impact was a lot less than I think it was supposed to be. But it was still a nice movie.
Jan 20: Logan Lucky, 2017
I watched this because I was on an Adam Driver kick and Elizabeth said it was funny even if she didn’t think I would particularly love it. It was a fun one; I get into heists much more than action because the heist plot can be clever, while watching people run and shoot just gets boring (to me at least). It was fun because the characters were enjoyable. Adam Driver was quite funny with his hill-billy persona (which was quite a different character for him) and the side characters were good, and the main guy was likeable. It wasn’t anything amazing, but it was certainly a worth-it-to-watch heist movie with some good comedy and some clever bits.
Jan 23: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007
This was another one that did better than I expected. I think I thought it was gonna be more western shoot-’em-up, or more boring biography? And while this isn’t gonna be a favorite of mine, I got into this movie more than I thought I would, mainly just because the 3 main actors were so good. They did a great job of building the tension slowly up to the whole “ending” sequence with the three of them. The scene with the knife followed by nervous laughter… ay ay ay! And then later on when Casey is almost happy but then the newspaper happens and he runs into the other room and is just freaking out… that terror was palpable.
But GRRF! If they had just SAID to themselves “oh look, he is literally turning his back to us with his gun down because he’s giving us the option to shoot him, maybe we SHOULDN’T because this means he’s NOT gonna shoot us and maybe we can all 3 just let it go” and they had just left, everything would’ve been fine! But I guess they were too scared that it wouldn’t actually be the end of it.
I wasn’t as interested in the “after” ending bit as I was the “death before” ending bit, but it was still interesting how all that went down. I think if he just hadn’t gone on tour glorifying his actions on the stage, he might’ve been okay. Conclusion: it was slow but with a good climax due to the acting.
January (unknown date): Ugly Dolls, 2019
This had some fun songs in it! It was nice and colorful, and the voice actors weren’t bad. But man, that plot felt thin. It was like it had a premise and a point and a way to get there, but you somehow felt like nothing was ever going on. Maybe it just didn’t feel like the characters progressed naturally, or that the arcs were actual arcs. It was sweet, but it was definitely missing some kind of piece to bring the whole story together cohesively. But I would listen to the opening song and the Nick Jonas song again.
Jan 31: Late Night, 2019
I enjoyed the watch for this one, and I always love Emma Thompson, who was great in this. Oddly, though, I had a hard time getting into Mindy Kaling’s character. I liked her and I saw all the things she did that helped to change things and make a difference in the workplace. But it felt like there was something missing somewhere in her arc; I don’t know what it was, but by the end it just felt like I needed a bit more clarity about her. Apparently getting into characters was something I struggled with this month. Maybe I should watch The Mindy Project; perhaps if I watch some other stuff that Mindy does other than Kelly from The Office I could get inside her head a bit more. It was an entertaining watch, though, and I liked the comedy content; it’s the kind of artsy storytelling content I enjoy.