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.
I have begun my second book challenge, where I am going through these 5 genres with books suggested by friends and family: Nonfiction, Character Stories, An Unknown Book by a Famous Author, Modern Fiction and Something Unusual. I have 25 books prepared, so I’ll be breaking the challenge up into 5 segments with each genre represented. So here is my blog on the first 5 books!
1. VELVET ELVIS by ROB BELL
(suggested by Hannah Keefer, “nonfiction”)
Rob Bell is notorious for being an author who you either love and he changes the way you view all of Christianity, or you hate because he is clearly a heretic and everything he says is just leading people away from the truth. I have seen several videos of his that I liked, but this is the first book of his I’ve read.
I really should have written this quickly after I finished it, because now I’ve forgotten some of the specifics of what I thought, but I will say that I definitely liked this book. I don’t think I took issue with anything particular that he said, though I’ve heard that this is definitely the most mild of his books with the least amount of controversy. My favorite chapter was the early one about Scripture… and that’s vague to say since it all about Scripture to some degree, and I’m trying to sum up his point in a phrase of my own, but everything SOUNDS controversial. The chapter might’ve been called “tassels”. It was about how the way we receive and interpret Scripture is influenced by other Christians and by our own experiences. The idea that someone can say “I don’t care about this or that, I just do what Scripture says” is absurd to think that you are thus the only one who understands Scripture because you are free of agendas and influenced thought. Scripture is holy and living and active, but even the fact that there was a group of Christians who prayerfully chose which letters and books to count as the 66 books of the Bible meant that we trust the judgment of the Holy Spirit in other Christians. He said it so much better than me, but he said things that I had somehow thought but couldn’t put into words and it just made sense and I liked it.
Other chapters of his (I can’t remember
which ones) I didn’t love as much, and sometimes he had a way of saying “this
makes sense as a cause and effect, so clearly this is the result” that made me
want a little more leeway, and while I trust that he (and people like him) have
done thorough and honest research, whenever someone says “this word means this
in Hebrew, which meant this in this culture, so obviously that verse meant this
and not this”, I have a hesitation in believing it’s completely fool-proof
accurate because he doesn’t always cite those types of things. But he’s really
good at putting scripture references that he uses at the back of the book, so
maybe I just needed to check that out some more,
I would definitely reread this book again,
and I will probably search out some more of his stuff at some point just to see
what all the fuss is about with what he has to say to Christians. But in Velvet
Elvis, I think he had some very good things to say, and I think he did it very
humbly and without arrogance.
“At some point we have to have faith… that God is capable of guiding people…
that the same Spirit who guided Peter and Paul… is still with us today.”
2. THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE by CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS
(suggested by Calista Kern-Lyons, “character story”)
This is apparently a spin-off to a book by the same author called “Bud, Not Buddy” in which the young girl Deza Malone shows up. This book (sequel-les as far as I know) follows this 12-year-old girl and her family (parents and brother) during the depression. They start off with both parents working and both children in school, but as near-tragedy strikes and jobs are cut, the family end up separated and spend most of the time wandering around the country, trying to find each other while surviving and working towards better circumstances. It was a great book to read for Black History Month, though it was assigned to that month accidentally.
While it doesn’t have a continual series
revolving around this character, she is a wonderful person who stands out even
in this single book. Deza is bright and energetic, and very dramatic. She is a
writer who loves to use big words even when she doesn’t know how to use them.
There’s a great scene when her favorite teacher gives her a slightly imperfect
grade, and Deza practically has a mental breakdown until she learns that her
teacher did it to help her better take criticism and take it seriously, the
only way that a girl of her potential will ever be able to grow. Deza keeps
talking about her “second brain”; it calls her “kiddo” and tells her to do bad
things, like beat people up or jump on them and start biting.
Her family are also distinct and
well-written, and the foursome are a special family that have each other’s
backs while still having realistic difficulties and fights.
It was a short book, but easy to read and
very enjoyable. Another read a year or so down the line will confirm how high
this lands as a long-term favorite versus a one-time enjoyment.
“I’m different from most people and one of the mains reasons is I think I might
have two brains. Whenever I get angry or scared or upset, I have thoughts that
are so different from my normal thoughts that there isn’t any way they could be
coming from just one brain.”
3. THE PARTNER by JOHN GRISHAM
(suggested by Travis Bryant, “a lesser known book by a famous author”)
This was a good example of something I
enjoyed reading that I probably would never have read outside of this
challenge. I feel like a lawyer book would have intimidated me, and it’s not a
genre or a book premise that I would’ve jumped at if I had just been browsing
my library shelf. But even though it definitely had some politics and lingo
that I didn’t completely get, the story and plot was still something I could
follow along with. It was interesting, and did a good job of revealing the
“past” plot in spacious intervals; we didn’t get it all at once, and there was
still enough surprised saved for the end. The main guy was pretty likeable,
I am not sure what I thought about the very ending; that’s the one thing about this book that throws me off. I think it worked, but it was still slightly jarring and it wasn’t what I expected.
It was nice to have something that was
definitely a new genre that I thoroughly enjoyed.
“Why couldn’t he escape again? A third life was calling, without the sorrow of
the first or the shadows of the second. This would be the perfect life with
Eva. They would live somewhere, anywhere, as long as they were together and the
past couldn’t catch them.”
4. JUST LISTEN by SARAH DESSEN
(suggested by Bethany Morgan, “modern fiction”)
This one was really good. It reminded me
of a few other stories I’ve read, but it did interesting things with it. I liked
the main girl a lot (I can relate to parts of her personality) and watching the
gradual changes between her and the people around her was moving. I liked that
her relationship with Owen was real, and seeing them get to know each other in
such a weird way was cool. I almost got mad a few times in the romantic drama
part, because they almost stooped to this cliché that I hate (when somebody has
a right to not tell something, and the other person gets super mad and
unreasonable about it because “how could you not tell me?”), but they didn’t
quite go there. They had enough of a balance in the conversation and nuance
both directions that it did feel like a real argument, and not just a
self-righteous guy who gets mad because he’s supposed to and teaches her the
lesson. It’s important that a person is allowed the time and space to wait to
speak up until they are ready, and when it finally happened it was important and
it was right.
I also really liked seeing her family and
all their interactions and changes that they went through. Despite the coldness
and separation between them in the beginning, by the end you really see that
they all have each other’s backs, which I liked a lot.
My one criticism is that the editor needed
to do a read-through one more time; I caught between 5-6 different typos in the
text, and that feels like a lot for one book.
Overall, this book hit a lot of the right
feels for me, so I’m going to have to keep an eye out for this author.
“There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing
left is your own heart. So you’d better learn to know the sound of it.
Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.”
5. ANCILLARY JUSTICE by ANN LECKIE
(suggested by Jacob Keefer, “something unusual”)
This was definitely an interesting book, and it’s a perfect pick for “something unusual”. The singular-gender thing was quite intriguing, and the entire world felt like it was it really well put-together. It was a world of its own with structures and politics all created solely for this book/series. It’s creative and complex and sophisticated.
The issue is that it was so completely its own thing that it took me a very long time to get to the point where I had any idea what was going on. The author doesn’t strictly explain things; she sort of just immerses you in the world, following the modern time with flashbacks and backstory every couple of chapters, and you have to figure out what’s going on as you read. That meant that it was a lot of mental work, and the first half of the book moved very slowly. About halfway through I started finding my stride with the story and the characters, and the main character is a good one. I enjoyed the progression and the last third of the book.
But even though I understood enough to be able to appreciate the story by the time it got to the end, I still had so many things that I know that I missed about the politics and the motivations and the technology. It’s not a flaw of the book, though; I consider myself an intelligent person, but some of this writing went over my head, and it put a lot of responsibility on the reader to catch on quick and it was not always easy to do.
I’m not sure if I’ll continue the trilogy,
but with book 1 out of the way and already knowing the world, I’m sure the next
one would be an easier start. But since it took so much effort, it’s not likely
that I’ll make it a high priority on my reading list. But I hate to leave a
series unfinished, so I imagine I’ll get to it someday. It is definitely a
series I can appreciate, I just wouldn’t say it’s one I LIKED.
“I saw them all, suddenly, for just a moment, through non-Radchaai eyes, an
eddying crowd of unnervingly ambiguously gendered people… twenty years of habit
overtook me, and for an instant I despaired of choosing the right pronouns, the
right terms of address. But I didn’t need to do that here. I could drop that
worry, a small but annoying weight I had carried all this time. I was home.”
This is the 3rd year that I have watched as many romances as I could in the month of February! (2016 and 2018 were my others; poor ’17 got skipped.) There were a lot of popular ones that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere, oddly enough, so I will try harder with those next year. Three of these were rewatches, and nine of these were new-to-me.
Here are my reviews! (Asterisks* are for rewatches.)
*The Proposal (Feb 3rd) suggested by Emily H.
I saw this when it first came out about 10 years ago; it was my first Ryan Reyonlds movie. I don’t remember being impressed but I didn’t remember much. On the rewatch, my thought in the first few minutes was that Sandra Bullock isn’t really as fierce or as mean as she’s implied to be by all of her co-workers and the terror they have for her, at least not from what her actions show. Sure, she seems no-nonsense, anti-social, tough, and used to having her own way. But the firing of the guy, while sudden, appeared to have grounds, and her conversations are terse but not insulting or particularly terrifying. If you’re going to set her up as someone that her co-workers describe as “it” and seem to be frightened around, you’ve gotta show that a bit more to the audience so that we can believe it.
That being said, it’s not a bad premise and the execution is decent. Sandra and Ryan are sufficiently awkward in their fake engagement, and the gradual getting-to-know each other and showing vulnerability felt authentic. The family was sweet, and Ryan is charming. (I DO remember that I had a celebrity crush on him from first watching this movie. I think it’s his sympathetic face.) I would’ve enjoyed more chemistry and banter between the two of them. But overall, it was a good rewatch.
Nights in Rodanthe (Feb 11th) suggested by Auntie Donna
It is annoying that I cannot figure out how to pronounce the name of this town (do I say the “e” or not?) but the movie was quite sweet. I didn’t know it was a Nicholas Sparks story, but by the end I was thinking “this sure feels like a Nicholas Sparks story” so he clearly has a style. I was worried it was gonna be an affair movie, but while she might not’ve been technically divorced from her husband, she was separated as if divorce proceedings were in order, so it didn’t have the same feel for me as an affair movie, which was good. The two characters were well-developed and were played very charmingly, and it had a good ending even though it was sad. The part that moved me most, though, was Diane Lane’s relationship with her daughter and the conversation they had on the porch swing. I was touched by their reconnecting. It was a sweet one.
500 Days of Summer (Feb 15th) suggested by Maria
This was super creative! I was intrigued by the style right off of the bat, with the bouncing back and forth for days and the sporadic little moments of narration and the artistic style… it kept me interested all the way through. It was interesting, the characters were fun and quirky, and I really liked both of their arcs. I particularly liked Zooey Deschanel’s conclusion and the fact that, even though it wasn’t their own love story to each other, their romance with each other kind of propelled them forward into their next relationship. She learned how to open up and be ready for that kind of relationship, she just needed to wait for it to come along. And he matured and had his expectations become a bit more realistic, even while keeping the faith in romance. Finally glad to knock this one off of my “to watch” list!
Raising Helen (Feb 16th) suggested by Emily S.
I was hanging out at a friend’s house and this ended up being an impromptu watch. This one is actually much more of a “parent and children” movie than it is a romance, but the cover does NOT indicate that at all. The cover just has Kate Hudson and John Corbett, and I think the back said something like “she has a glamorous life until circumstances force her to head to her hometown and she has to juggle her new life and love” or something vague like that. It says nothing about the fact that she is given 3 children to take care of and that the whole movie revolves around her learning how to be a parent. But it was sweet; I knew all of the kids (who are good actors), and John Corbett is such a nice guy. I enjoyed watching her relationships develop and how she really was a good fit for them. The only thing I didn’t quite get was the whole deal with the letters. There was this big mystery of “what was the reason that Helen was gonna raise the kids?” and the answer was either “because Helen was a lot like the mom” or “Jenny was a lot like the mom” and I couldn’t understand which one and why it was a motivation or why it was so important. But aside from that confusion, it was a pleasant watch and I would happily see it again.
Once (Feb 17th) suggested by Myself Because I Own It
I’ve owned this one since last year and still hadn’t seen it, so I figured it was about time to get it watched! And while it was not what I had expected, I think I liked it. It’s not quite a musical, and it’s not quite a love story, but it’s in both categories. I wasn’t sure if I was gonna like the very amateur style of filming; there was one moment when the person with the camera walked up to Guy and you could see the camera jiggling, and it made the whole thing seem like a documentary instead of a movie. But it didn’t seem to affect my enjoyment of the film, and I think it was what they were going for. I thought the relationship between Guy and Girl was really sweet. I loved the accents, and I loved watching their natural connection of music, and each of them being so excited to listen to the other person’s art. I also enjoyed seeing their own individual stories play out, even if they were small. I am kind of surprised that “Falling Slowly” was the only song out of that movie that became famous, though. I’m gonna have to go listen to that soundtrack since it had a lot of original music and see if there are any others that grow on me more. This was different, but cool!
*The American President (Feb 17th) suggested by Emily H.
On a rewatch, I actually knew who Michael Douglas was! I’ve only seen him as the crabby old man in Ant Man and its sequel, but he is very cute in this. He has this great unassuming smile that is wonderful in scenes with the two of them together. I enjoyed this as much as I did the first time, but it had been a while since seeing it so I needed to know if it was still deserving of its praise. While it’s not the most amazing movie or the most memorable, they had a good romance and it was a fun plot to delve into. Both characters were likeable. There were the typical clichés about “guy makes a promise, guy seems to break it, girl gets mad, he fixes it and wins her back”, so that part was kind of predictable; but most romance movies are, so what can ya do? It’s definitely one to remember that I like for future watches.
Sliding Doors (Feb 18th) suggested by Myself On Netflix When I Didn’t Feel Like Watching Any of the Ones I Needed to Watch
This was a really interesting one! I watched it of my own accord on Netflix because I didn’t feel like watching one I was supposed to watch ? and I definitely liked it. Gwyneth is good in this, and her schmuck of a boyfriend is sympathetic even though he’s a thoughtless jerk, and James is adorable! I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything else, but he was just instantly likeable in this movie and I routed for him so hard. I had no idea what to expect for the ending, but I was pleased with it despite the several sad moments. Definitely gonna have to remember this one! It was creative and executed well.
Safe Haven (Feb 21st) suggested by Greg
I watched the last 20 minutes of this at some point last year, so I kind of knew where it was going when I finally put the full movie on today. But I didn’t remember enough of it to spoil anything. Basically all that I knew going into it was that her husband who was searching for her was abusive. I liked her as a character pretty well, and I liked watching her relationship with the daughter. I liked parts of Josh Duhamel’s character, but he sometimes didn’t feel cohesive; for example, all of his conversations with his struggling son felt flat, like there was supposed to be more to it. I also sometimes got irritated with his strong reactions; not because he was always in the wrong, he wasn’t, but just because he was living out the romcom clichés of “somebody has to get mad at someone in this conversation, oh, I guess it’s me who’s doing that even if it’s not completely reasonable”. He really wasn’t horrible, he just didn’t click with me.
Also, the whole ending with Cobie Smulders was something I practically guessed, I just didn’t officially guess it because I didn’t think it was gonna be a movie with ghosts. Also, does that mean that Cobie just went around and haunted every single eligible female until she found the one that he was gonna marry? Also, if they hadn’t answered who Cobie’s character was, Cobie’s existence would have been utterly pointless because she did NOTHING in the movie and was just weird and mysterious… so even though the answer was sort of silly, it was sweet and it worked better than it not being there at all. So not a great movie to me, but not bad.
*Penelope (Feb 25th) suggested by Faith
I had seen this twice before, years ago, and I had a memory of not really liking it. I also didn’t care for James McAvoy at the time.
this rewatch, it somehow worked a lot better for me. I like James a lot more as
an actor now that I’ve seen him in more movies, and his charisma shines through
stronger than on previous watches. I understood the story better, and I the
characters all make more sense to me. I think last time I didn’t understand any
of their motivations; but this time around, I much better grasped her whole
desire for freedom (why she left in the first place) and the fact that he
couldn’t propose but then didn’t really get the chance to tell her why.
The one gaping problem for me is that the climactic solution really doesn’t make any sense with the way the curse was originally phrased; I totally don’t buy that that’s the answer and think it’s stupid. But it doesn’t ruin the movie, I just think they should’ve tightened up the wording. The romance still works, and that’s the main thing that matters.
The Big Sick (Feb 27th) suggested by Hannah
This was not what I expected, really; I thought it was gonna be a traditional yet quirky romance, so when all of a sudden the chick is unconscious for the whole middle 3rd of the movie, I was like “oh is this the direction it’s going?”. I did like it, though; the main guy was funny and sweet and complex enough. I really enjoyed watching him develop a relationship with her parents, from the awkward “you shouldn’t even be here” to them wanting him around and defending him. I think the characters are nicely fleshed out, the humor lands, and it was heart-warming with a realistic but satisfying ending. I expected to feel slightly stronger about it, but it might grow more on future watches.
Pretty Women (Feb 28th) suggested by Elizabeth Because I Needed More Movies and She Owns This One
This was another one that was pretty high on my “I’ve heard of it and probably should see it” list. It was also the second Richard Gere one that I saw for this month, though it was the first time I’d seen him with some not-gray hair. While seeing a Garry Marshall movie that’s R-rated was weird to me and threw me off a bit, I definitely liked it. Julia Roberts is adorable and believable; it’s fairly unique as far as movie plots go; and it’s fun to just watch Richard Gere’s face as he watches her. He’s got a good “thoughtful, falling in love” face. He’s not majorly expressive, but he’s subtly charming. Hector Elizondo is always a fun bonus character and he was great in this. I also appreciated the fact that they didn’t constantly make her stick out like a sore thumb once she went with Richard to his parties. I was worried that they were going to turn her into the “she just can’t hide her uncouth behavior and will always make a spectacle of herself” character as a comedic thing, but they didn’t. She was both professional and interpersonally complex. It was a good watch with a satisfying conclusion and story execution, and I’m glad to finally cross it off my list.
Train Man (Feb 28th) suggested by Hannah
This took a bit of finagling to download and make sure it had subtitles (since it is foreign) but I finally got it watched in the last 2 hours of the last night of February. ? It is definitely a cute movie. It’s hard to know whether it’s the romance itself that is more adorable (because they are both super cute people), or the friendship and support from his online friends. It’s the combination of the two, for sure, that makes it such a sweet movie. I loved that we get to see teeny-tiny glimpses into the lives of the main 7 or so online friends, and the moment on the train where they’re all in front of him and then you realize it’s a whole horde of encouraging commenters all cheering… it’s pretty awesome.
I did think it was a little overdramatic at first and for a few moments I didn’t understand why he was having such a hard time with things; but then I think it kind of clicked that he has this social anxiety about even the seem-to-be simple things and that it wasn’t just another teen movie. I especially connected it when the other kid, the guy who always stays in his room, kind of said “hey, everything you’re doing is brave and the things you’re doing are hard for me, too”.
(Side note: my sister Elizabeth says that one of the things that they do a lot in Japanese anime is that the characters are always sweating, shaking and gasping as their way to emote, and it’s a bit too weird for her. They kind of did the same thing in this movie to demonstrate his anxiety, and I wonder if it is a cultural movie thing.)
Anyway, this was definitely a sweet one with some really special moments that were created. It was a good way to end the month!
1 foreign language
1 based on a true story
2 Richard Gere movies
2 Nicholas Sparks stories
2-3 where romance isn’t the main story line
3 with a time frame in the title
3 1/2 where the couple doesn’t end up together at the end of the movie
5 that involve people of noticeably different classes/situations getting together
5 where the woman has 2 potential “suitors”
6 where I’ve seen BOTH actors in at least 1 other movie
MY TOP 5:
500 Days of Summer
The Big Sick
Here are the final 7 books from my Book Challenge that I started back in… 2016, I think. Victory!!! 🙂
A Book That Was Banned Before
22. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
This one was a fascinating read,
especially knowing that it was Anne’s actual diary. I’ve read many fiction
books written in diary form, but this is the first real diary story I’ve read,
and that made it all the more interesting to me. Anne Frank was clearly a
writer by nature, and she does a great job of telling the narrative throughout
the book’s time frame. I smiled at her dramatics (which she had a lot of; she
is a young teenage girl, after all) but was also touched by her character; she
was honest, aware of her faults, tried to make her situation liveable, and grew
as a person throughout the 2 years she was there. I was impressed by the way it
worked as a book; there might have been some dry, repetitive entries but it was
still very readable, and knowing what comes after it created very poignant
moments within the story, like when she talked about how she wished she could
write something that would last. After the intimate way she described herself
and her family’s life in the Annex, the abrupt cut-off followed by a factual
description of their capture and eventual deaths was jarring and sad. There is
very good reason for this to be the classic that it is, and I’m glad I finally
A Book I Didn’t Finish
23. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
This is definitely a creative
concept. It has great world-building, even if I didn’t always understand the
politics or what was going on or how anything worked. I felt like Jasper Fforde
really knew what was going on, which sounds obvious, but what I mean is that I
feel like he was very consistent and ingenious with his own world, and wasn’t
just trying to throw together whatever sounded cool (because there are books
that do that and don’t pull it off). It had some really clever moments (I loved
how the bookworms affected the way the dialogue was written) and good
characters, and clearly was having a lot of fun with creating “the new ending”
for Jane Eyre. My biggest problem was that the writing style was just a bit
too… advanced for me? I know I’m not stupid, but it was just sometimes too hard
to catch on to things, and it made it a bit difficult to read. I’m glad I
finally got to it, but I will have to put a lot of shorter books in between
this and the next time I read one of his again. But it was definitely fun.
A Book That I Own But Never Read
24. The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
I was supposed to read “Three” by
Ted Dekker because I’ve had it longer, but I really didn’t feel like falling
asleep reading a thriller type, so I switched to Sophie, who is much more
light-hearted. She has the same format for every book: some adorable and quirky
girls gets herself in an awful conundrum where she constantly has to lie and
hilarity ensues, and then things almost go horribly wrong but then she manages
to save the day and falls in love in the process. I’m always stressed out until
she resolves it, but everything always turns out better than you expect. This
was no exception; it was ridiculous but has a great ending and a fun time
getting there and was a solid read by this author.
A Book That’s Intimidating
Les Miserables by Hugo Face
I read this one in 3 months out of determination, which only means I had to renew it 4 times. ? It is very long; it’s got 5 parts (Fantine, Cosette, Marius, Something-Involving-the-Rebellion, and Jean Valjean) and each part is divided into about 10-15 chapters, and each chapter is divided into about 5-12 “sections”. At the beginning of almost every “part”, they had an entire chapter about something unrelated to the specific characters (the history of Waterloo, nun life, types of revolutions, the building of the Paris sewers) with the exception of the Priest section at the very beginning of the book. Some of these were very long and hard to read and they were the most boring part of the book.
But the rest of it is filled with
rich characterization, plots that are all interwoven with each other, and
fascinating descriptions of mental battling. Jean Valjean is a fantastic
character who has an incredible arc that still feels natural. Knowing the play
beforehand helped me to follow the storyline, and I think the musical does a
good job of taking the right portions of it and putting it together while still
creating intimate moments with all the various characters. I loved Jean Valjean
more after the book and Marius less. I am very glad I read it, and if I figure
out the long sections to skip for a reread, I will want to read it again down
A Book I’ve Already Read
26b. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’ve seen 3 versions of this
movie and decided it was time to reread the book, because the last time I read
it was in school and I just didn’t get it. This time around it made a lot more
sense. It’s quite an interesting story; I can’t decide if it’s more about
Gatsby and his character or more about the insincerity of those around him in
that part of New York. The whole ending saga, Nick is quite disgusted by all of
the people in the town, which seems to seep into his overall view of the
society in the big city, which seems to be his point for the whole book. The
characters are all interesting, and it’s rather sad. I don’t feel like I have a
lot to say about it as a book; it was quick-reading, but occasionally I had
trouble following the basic narrative with the guy’s writing style. But it was
nice and short, and quite intriguing as stories go.
A Book That Was Made Into A Movie
27. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
I liked this one! It was super
fast reading, which was nice shortly after Les Mis. The hopping back and forth
between characters kept the pace moving very quickly, and I liked all of the
girls. I think the one I have the hardest time getting into is Lena, the girl
who went to Greece. Maybe it’s because nothing happened except her wandering,
painting, and making all kinds of conclusions about this guy in her head? She
doesn’t even talk to him, so their falling in love is very cheesy. But the
other 3 had very interesting arcs, and the conclusions were sweet and fairly
realistic. I’m sure I’ll give the sequels a go at some point.
28. The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stopard.
I asked my dad “what’s another play I should read?” and he went upstairs and found this book for me and so this went on my list as the very last book! (A year later, he claims he doesn’t have a copy of it, so maybe he gave it away.) This was wacky, but I surprisingly really liked it! I was worried by my dad saying over and over again “it’s weird and surreal” that I wouldn’t get it at all, and I don’t know if I could explain the point to you, but I thought it was clever, funny and really interesting. It was so short that I read it a second time to pick up on more stuff. I loved the way the characters in the play within the play describe each other out loud in the style of a character bio; I liked the hinting throughout the first half of what’s going to happen in the second; I loved the sudden switch when the play is being repeated with different people, and I liked the conclusion even though I might not have understood everything. It was entertaining, very clever and just a good read. Now I’m gonna be on the hunt for ever seeing this play live. Fun choice for ending my challenge, Dad… the only one I felt the need to read twice!
And that is the end of my 28-Book Challenge! Some final notes?
THE “CLASSICS” I FINALLY READ: Connecticut Yankee, Wuthering Heights,
Great Expectations, Grapes of Wrath, Don Quixote, Jane Eyre, Cyrano de
Bergerac, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Diary of Anne Frank, Les Miserables, The
Great Gatsby (11)
BOOKS I WOULDN’T HAVE KNOWN ABOUT WITHOUT DOING THIS: I Feel Bad About
My Neck, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, the Gary Paulsen books, Bunnicula,
Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Eyre Affair, The Real Inspector Hound (7)
BOOKS WHERE I PREVIOUSLY KNEW A WORK BASED OFF OF THEM: Connecticut Yankee, Wicked, Don Quixote, The Fault in Our Stars, Where the Red Fern Grows, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Great Gatsby, Sisterhood (8)
ONES I AM NOT LIKELY TO REREAD: Connecticut Yankee, Wuthering Heights,
Wicked, Judah’s Wife, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Diary of Anne Frank, The
Eyre Affair (7)
FAVORITES: Calamity, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Fault in Our Stars, Alcatraz, Les Miserables, Sisterhood, Real Inspector Hound (8)
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Mo Willems (Gerald and Piggy books), I Feel Bad About My Neck, The Fiction Class, Don Quixote, Bunnicula, The Undomestic Goddess (6)
Thanks to everybody who helped make this a wonderful challenge! Now, on to the next one! 🙂
Two years ago I picked a fast food restaurant (Culver’s) and a sit-down restaurant (Applebee’s) and decided that I was going to eat through the entire menu for each of them! Food, trying new things, adventure… why wouldn’t everyone do this?
Unfortunately, I did not come up with very good methods for recording my thoughts on the food I tried. I am almost done with Culver’s, and when I pick my next fast food place I’ll find a proper method for keeping track of everything. But for Applebee’s, I have taken a picture of everything that I’ve tried, and while I might not remember all of my impressions since I made no notes after I ate the food, I’ll do my best to sum up my opinions in a short “12 dishes in!” blog.
I actually did 13 dishes this time, though, because the last 2 on the list were tried together, and it feels wrong to separate them. Also, this is mostly in order, but I know that the middle ones have some mix-ups, so just ignore that.
- Bourbon Street Chicken & Shrimp
This was quite a while ago as it was the very beginning, but I thought the picture looked really appetizing. While I am a big fan of almost all kinds of meat and am not a picky eater, I remember this one having a flavor that was disappointing. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting; it must’ve been the actual taste of the bourbon that I didn’t anticipate. But everything was cooked wonderfully, and I’m sure I would try it again because chicken and shrimp is a hard combo to pass up.
- Spinach Artichoke Chicken Cavatappi
I don’t remember much except that it was very green. I think it was good, but I don’t recall it being particularly amazing, and not one that I would try again over other pasta dishes. But I would eat a LOT of pasta dishes, so that just means I like everything else better.
- Four-Cheese Mac & Cheese w/ Honey Pepper Chicken Tenders
This was a good comfort dish, although I sometimes have a hard time when I have whole pieces of chicken on my pasta and then I have to finagle how to cut it so that it actually works in bite-sized pieces. While this wasn’t anything fancy or anything I loved, it’s certainly a good option for something basic and filling.
- Hand-Battered Fish & Chips
Sometimes I really don’t like fish, and sometimes I really do, and for this dish I really do. I’ve probably over-hyped it in my head by now because I don’t expect to like fish and so when I do I’m pleasantly surprised, but then my mind thinks it was the best thing ever and so the next time I try it it’s not as good as I thought it was, and so finally on the third time I have -both past memories, the good and the bad, which leads to the more accurate “ah this is good but not the life blood of food” reaction. Also, I tried this the night that the cast and crew of Nunsense went out to dinner when our second show got rained out, so that’s definitely a fun memory associated with the fish as well.
- Chicken Fajita Rollup
I have no memory of trying this one… wait, maybe I have one. I think this was really good! I know I tried something with tortillas with my sister across from me who got a similar thing, and maybe we both tried each others. That’s probably what happened with the brisket tacos! Anyway, the event isn’t strong in my memory, but now that I think about it I think the fajitas were really good.
- BBQ Brisket Tacos
See above comment. Also, not a fan of BBQ, so even if I liked them when I ate them I wouldn’t order them again by myself.
- Grilled Chicken Breast
This I also don’t remember… but it’s grilled chicken breast, which is a great way to cook and eat chicken in a really simple way… you can’t go too wrong with that, right? I’m sure they didn’t.
- Chicken Wonton Stir-Fry
I was hanging with a friend of mine when I tried this one. I think it was quite tasty, but it didn’t have gripping flavors that demanded that I try it again in the future. But I also have to try the shrimp version of the same dish, so we’ll see if I can remember what the stir-fry tastes like after 2 attempts.
- “8” Oz Top Sirloin
I remember this being a really satisfying meal. When you just want some good meat to chew into (that’s a phrase now) with some healthy broccoli and a side of seasoned potatoes, something that’s simple and flavorful and doesn’t make you feel like you ate out of a bucket of grease, this is a great dish for that. I tried it medium well, I think, maybe medium rare. I think I would go rarer. We’ll see.
- Caprese Mozzarella Burger
I don’t remember this either. This is one that looked intriguing but I would probably never get on my own, so it was nice to have a chance to try it. I wish I had more of a memory for how it tasted. I think it was okay but not great. How’s that for a descriptive review?
- Quesadilla Burger
This had really good flavor and everything, and it tasted just like a combination of quesadillas and burgers… and yet somehow it didn’t entirely work for me. Like, if I feel like a burger I think I want a BURGER burger. Maybe I should get this when I’m in the mood for American Mexican food? Definitely worth the try, but I don’t think it’ll be repeated often.
- Classic Chicken Parmesan
My sister ordered this and let me have a portion of it so that I could cross it off my list. It would probably have been better if I had ordered it, so that the pasta was hot. But the chicken was pretty good, and I’m sure the whole dish would’ve been lovely. But as I ate, I did remember that while I love chicken and pasta, chicken parmesan with marinara sauce is not my favorite combination of those foods. It’s one that I always think is a good basic food, but one I don’t actually enjoy as much as I think I’m going to.
- Riblet Platter
Got these when my sister was in front of me so she could eat some. For having BBQ flavor, they were pretty good (remember, I’m not a fan of barbecue?). HOWEVER! Who in the world decided that ribs were a great dish to make and serve to people when it is all slathered in sauce? Ribs are ridiculous to eat! You eat them in the privacy of your own home when you can gnaw the bones or where you have a sink right next to you, or else the waiter has to bring extra napkins over because the plethora of bones makes it RIDICULOUS to eat! Who would ever intentionally choose that method of consuming meat over other methods? I barely managed to eat everything with a knife and a fork and was indignant at having to grab it with my fingers. Ribs are NOT going to be on my menu again anytime soon. Worst way to eat meat in public. Get your act together, somebody!
I’ve been having a kind of stressful year. Well, the last two years have been stressful, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I love owning my house and being on my own and learning about responsibility and all that fun stuff… but ever since I lost my steady office job 2 years ago, I’ve been having a hard time both getting to a stable place financially (which causes a lot of stress when you’re suddenly paying bills and house repairs that you never had to worry about before) and finding confidence in my “work” part of my life.
Through various stresses and situations, I have been struggling with feeling inadequate. It’s hard not to compare myself to people who seem to have their life more together than me, or who have more ambitious goals, or who seem to have fewer struggles with the things that are really hard for me.
Add to that… I’ve been going through a spiritual dry spell for about 4 years, and while I’ve had good moments and am hopefully on the upswing, not connecting with God like I want to has made the whole “life thing” a little bit harder. I keep thinking to myself “if I could just spend more time with God, if I could read my Bible more faithfully, if I could relearn to connect with God in song, then a whole lot of these problems would be easier”. And yet I still haven’t gotten back into consistency with most of those things.
I was sharing some of my inner struggles and worries with some Christians earlier this year, and someone asked me what my biggest fears were. My two-fold answer is the same deep-rooted worry that’s been in the depths of my heart as long as I can remember: 1) I’m afraid that who I am now won’t ever change… 2) I’m afraid that I won’t find my purpose in life.
I have confidence in who God is and in His power; I have confidence that He can. I tend to doubt that He will.
I don’t have answers to all this. I have Scriptures to cling to, but I haven’t quite knocked out that niggling, mental commentary that says I am somehow holding God up by my lack of initiative, knowledge, and ability to grow.
You know, sometimes I get jealous of people who have all of the flashy, “draw-attention-to-themselves” talents that some Christians have. But deep down, what I really want is to have a heart like Jesus’. I don’t need attention or awards or accolades. I just want to know that I am moldable, that I am a (wo)man after God’s own heart, that my simple pursuit of Him will bring Him joy and can be used to lift up those around me. I get discouraged when I feel like even that’s not happening, like all the compassion and kindness I wish to live out is somehow less than it should be or selfishly motivated. And feeling like even the simplest of things I try to do is wrong can get discouraging.
But maybe the desire to desire God is enough for today? Here is the chorus of Nichole Nordeman’s song “Your Heart” that she wrote from the perspective of King David:
At the end of the day I wanna hear people say
My heart looks like Your heart, my heart looks like Your heart
When the world looks at me, let them agree
That my heart looks like Your heart, my heart looks like Your heart
Maybe having a long cry over wanting to be more like Jesus is already on the way to having a heart like His. Maybe God is pleased with the way I want to pursue Him, even if I don’t always succeed. Maybe the first step of being like humble, being like Jesus, is by saying that I know I’m not there, but being willing to be willing to be so. It’s not even about trying hard enough, because we can always try harder. It’s about caring about trying. Even that simple desire towards desire, when that’s all I can muster up in a day, that’s enough for Jesus to be pleased with me. Our works mean nothing; God looks at and knows our hearts, and as someone who is covered in the righteousness of Christ because of what HE has done, God loves what He sees when He sees me.
You know what else I thought about the other day? God knows the end of my story. He knows my story arc. He sees every episode of my life, and He knows where all my points of growth are. I had this revelation that, if my life is a TV show that God created… I need to remember that He is NOT impatiently watching each episode in order to get to the ending. God isn’t saying “ugh, I have to get through all of these boring seasons of Bethany being stupid before she is finally who I want her to be”.
God does not look at my life like that. He LOVES watching each episode, because He likes spending time with me! He finds me adorable; he laughs when I’m being goofy and wants to give me a hug when I’m going through a tough time. He relishes the moments that I’m learning, and he sees where all of the story is going even when I’m stuck in the center of the drama. But He DOESN’T make the story just to get to a perfect end goal. He makes the story because He loves the process, and He wants to walk with me through the process. I’m one of His favorite characters.
I don’t know why that analogy hit me so hard, but realizing that God is not just sitting around and waiting for me to get better, knowing that He is walking with me despite all the mistakes and all of the drama and loving every moment because He loves His creation… that somehow really connects with me and give me a new perspective. And yet He loves me so much more than any TV show character, because our lives are real. Thank you, God, for creating my story and finding me adorable.
Who’s ready for another Chris Rice blog? I haven’t blogged in a while and wanted to do one, so this is a previously prepped blog for your enjoyment. If you don’t like Chris Rice as much as I do, well, it’s probably because you haven’t had enough exposure to his songs! So I’m going to help you by providing you with a playlist of how Chris Rice’s songs can get you through your whole day! Let’s get started.
Time to wake up! One always needs a good, energetic tune to get one moving in the morning, so play all three of these songs or pick just one:
-If you wake up “Smellin’ Coffee” after a long night’s sleep, then you should be ready to kiss yesterday goodbye and embrace the fresh morning with a cup of java in your hands and the birds singing out the window.
-If you’re an artistic person, sing an ode to your creative side by listening to “So Much for My Sad Song” and let that inspire you to write something happy!
-As your alarm starts ringing and you rush to beat the clock, let “Tick Tock” set the mood of your day by reminding you to live life to the fullest.
Although this song may not have a lot to do with eating, this pleasant tune IS called “Breakfast Table”, so hum along while you make yourself some toast and imagine what it’ll be like when you can reunite with passed loved ones in Heaven.
Driving to Work
Now it’s time to head off to work, or to school, depending on your vocation. So you turn on your music to Chris Rice singing “On the Other Side of the Radio”! Do you feel that connection? “Maybe this’ll bring us together somehow”? You’re bonding already and your day is just getting started!
Life Goes Downhill A Little
Alright, so maybe you drop a box of glass items when you’re trying to stock the shelves, accidentally delete your work report that you wrote yesterday, or trip over a puddle of spilled chocolate milk in the cafeteria. It’s ok! Just remember that no matter how “Clumsy” you get, God is always loving you and wants to be near you.
You See Your Crush
Suddenly, you spot that person that you like, the one who makes your heart pitter-pat a little bit faster! Do you talk to them? Do you play it cool? Whatever you do, don’t panic! Just take a deep breath and listen to “Here Comes Those Eyes” for some sympathy and understanding.
Going to Lunch
Time for lunch! How did your day go?
-If you’re feeling embarrassed about your clumsiness and your crush encounter, cheer up with the song “Everything’s Ok” as you go out to lunch with a friend, spend some catch-up time with God or connect with a favorite character in a book you’re reading!
-If your encounter went well and you’re walking on air, drink a glass to the song “Lemonade” as you dwell on all the good things in your life. I’m a sucker for happy endings!
Ah, good old social media. It can be both a wonderful way to connect with people, as well as a way to get irritated very easily.
-If you feel like all that you’re seeing is ranting and raving from people who seem set in their ways … it’s time to play “You Don’t Have to Yell”, and make sure YOU’RE taking the time to listen and being wise with what you post.
-If your feed is full of good memories and Buzzfed quizzes about the 80’s, reminding you of simpler times, you can listen to “8th Grade” to remember that you made it through life so far.
-Sick of everybody being on their phones all the time? Listen to “Kids Again” and then run outside to play in your backyard instead!
You finally get a break from your day and have a chance to relax and get a quick power nap! Fall asleep to the pleasant song “Deep Enough to Dream” as you let pictures of Heaven drift you into slumberland. And make sure you listen to “Questions for Heaven” when you wake up, to remind you to store up all the questions for God that you gather throughout your day!
Out and About on the Town
-With Heaven on your mind, you head out to do your end-of-day errands and reflect on the importance of sharing and caring about others. Rock out to the inspirational driving song “Me and Becky” as you go!
-As you pull into the grocery store, you see a homeless person standing with a sign on the sidewalk. Click to play “Face of Christ” as an encouragement to be more giving and less judging as you hand them a gift card or just smile and say “hello”.
-Continue this awareness of other people as you finish your errands; notice the joys and the sorrows of life, listen to “The Final Move”, and remember that love always wins.
Getting a Drink
Don’t forget to stay hydrated… so when you get “Thirsty”, slow down and sip your favorite beverage and listen to this melancholy tune about the journey to find true spiritual water.
Main Event of the Day
Whether you are heading out to a movie at the end of a long work day, or it’s the weekend and you’re ready to party, there are several song choices according to your taste!
-If you’re heading out to watch the newest Marvel movie, listen to “I Need A Hero” to remind yourself of our need for a Savior.
-Going to see a magician or a carnival? “Magic Wand” is the song for you as you ponder the wonders of magic (or lack thereof) in this world!
-Par-tay!!! While Chris Rice’s music isn’t exactly, well, hip-hop, you can listen to the cheerful and charming “Circle Up” and dance to it!
-Maybe you’re spending the day out on the lake or the ocean with a family member! Reconnect with your relations and have some spiritual discussions as you sway on the water to “Sailing With Russell”.
-If you plan on just staying inside and watching TV, you can appreciate this tribute to fictional characters as you listen to “Cartoons”.
Worried About a Friend
We all have people in our lives that we know are going through something tough… maybe they’ve been in your mind or you got a chance to talk to them today. Listen to “Spare an Angel” and spend a few minutes praying for them, or let the energetic “Love Like Crazy” inspire you to take the initiative and make their life a little bit better.
As you head home for the night, watching the sunset and thinking of your day, it’s time to enjoy some easygoing tunes. Admire the world around you as you listen to “Hallelujahs”, or contemplate which of these songs you enjoyed the most as you imagine when “The Best Song Ever” will be written.
Whether you like to read before going to sleep or have a child who wants a bedtime story, “Tell Me the Story Again” is a great listen while you pick just the right book.
Maybe this is a command from you to your children, maybe you’re experiencing a power outage, or perhaps you just want some low lighted candles to enjoy the quiet of the evening. “Carry Your Candle” around the house while you listen to this song!
It’s the end of a long day! How do you feel like ending it?
-Keep your window open and listen to “I See the Moon” so you can fall asleep to the glowing stars overhead and the people you love on your mind
-Perhaps you have insomnia troubles and tend to stay awake with questions for a long time; go ahead and give your concerns to God as you remember that He is “Big Enough”.
-Spend some time in prayer as you listen to the melancholy “Missin’ You” before falling asleep.
Morning AND Evening Songs
If you like having a song that’s great for both beginning and closing your day, one of these might just do the trick:
-“And Your Praise Goes On” is a sweet and gentle song that sings about how all of creation, from morning to work to death, is all about bringing glory to God.
-You can wake up to the first verse of “Sleepyhead Sun” for a good lazy Saturday, and then end it by listening to the last verse as the sun sets.
-If you’re looking for a reminder of the importance of a simple 24 hours, let this sweet song get stuck in your head and prove that “Life Means So Much”.
(I like how my titles have no consistent formatting for this particular blog series.)
A Book That Was Published This Year
- Judah’s Wife: A Novel of the Maccabees (The Silent Years) by Angela Hunt
I’ve read a lot by Angela Hunt and have gotten into some of her Biblical fiction, though that’s not usually a genre I particularly enjoy. This is the start of her new series about characters in the Maccabees, something that I know absolutely nothing about, so I can’t say anything on the accuracy of her fiction. (Accuracy of her fiction… that feels like it’s an oxymoron?) It was fairly interesting, but not great. It definitely had some good elements to the storytelling, but it dragged a bit too much for me to really get into it. I’ll keep up with the rest of the series, but not very adamantly.
A Book You Can Read In A Day
- Six Kids and a Stuffed Cat by Gary Paulsen
The Time Hackers by Gary Paulsen
The Schernoff Discoveries by Gary Paulsen
I randomly picked an author who had multiple short-enough books that looked interesting. The only one I read in a day was the first, but I’ll give a brief review of each one!
- SIX KIDS: A very short book about quirky kids who get caught in a bathroom during a false alarm storm; a new kid, the narrating kid, and 4 others who don’t normally hang out. They have conversations, ask questions, bond and eventually leave the bathroom as friends. It’s silly but quite fun, and it has a play version of itself in the back of the book!
- TIME HACKERS: This had a more complex plot and right now I can’t remember most of it, but the world set-up is interesting and it’s also a good and entertaining read. I think I was a little confused by the ending but not in a bad way, just in a “time is confusing” kind of way. It had a satisfactory last few pages.
- SCHERNOFF: The longest of the 3, this follows two awkward teenage boys from years ago and their wonky adventures together because of the crazy one’s imagination. This was one of those where you know every chapter is going to end ridiculously and they’ll probably “learn a lesson” about things not to do, but they’ll have fun along the way. This one had a slightly more mature tone to it, as if the author was describing his real life with a slightly adult perspective on it. It was pretty good.
A Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read
- Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
I loved The Reckoners Series by the same author and have been meaning to read this because all my non-reading brothers love it. Book 1 was definitely enjoyable. It has a great premise with fun characters, even though there were a few that I don’t care about yet. But Alcatraz is a great narrator, like a less sophisticated, more sarcastic Lemony Snicket. (I was going to say “more cynical”, but I don’t think that’s possible.) And the story definitely has potential to have a lot of growth as it goes on. It was a great opening book and I look forward to finishing the rest of it.
A Book Recommendation From A Librarian
- Bunnicula by James Howe
Recommended by Beth, this is a kids book that was also one I read in a day. I didn’t know how dark it was going to be (the cover pictures are kind of scary!) but it was just the right amount of “almost-darkness” followed by a good wrap-up that made it just right for me. It’s silly, clever and the narrating dog is quite fun. I would recommend this to several of my siblings.
A Book I Should Have Read In School
- Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
I vaguely remembered visuals from the movie as a child but I didn’t really remember the plot. This turned out to be an easy read with a good main character and a touching story. I’m usually not that into animal stories, but the author did a good job of getting into the head and heart of the kid and showing just how much the dogs meant to him. The ending was, of course, quite sad; I was a little thrown by the way the parents comforted him at the end of the book. It felt a bit insensitive at first, but I think that’s because I’ve had so much discussion with people around me about how to handle people who are grieving, and for this kid it’s possible that what he DID need was a reason to believe why what happened happened, rather than thinking that it happened for no reason. So I guess it worked out.
A Book Recommendation By A Family Member/Friend
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This was recommended by my friend Jami. As soon as I started this, I knew it was going to take some work to get into it because the dialogue was written out SO slangy that it was really hard to follow. I can hear and understand this kind of talk all right when it’s in a movie, but seeing it on paper is just a harder process. But I eventually got used to it, and for the most part I enjoyed the rest of the story. It was set in the 30’s about a young woman named Janie who is pushed into marrying for convenience and her regrets and mistakes and eventual happy endings that follow as she starts making decisions for herself. It’s set in the black community so there’s not a lot of content about division between different races (though there are one or two scenes about it), but it has some strong examples of some prejudiced mindsets amongst the community itself and the division between upper and lower classes. It was a very interesting read, although there was a scene that caused an angry rant on Facebook from me about how to treat women. I don’t think I’d read it again because it was so difficult to get through, but I’m glad I have read it once.
By the way, here’s an example of the slang writing: “All day Ah’m pickin’ beans. All night Ah’m pickin’ mah box and rollin’ dice. Between de beans and de dice Ah can’t lose. Ah’m gone right now tuh pick me uh job uh work wid de best man on de muck. Before de rest of ’em gits heah. You can always git jobs round heah in de season, but not wid de right folks.”
A Book That Was Published Before I Was Born
- Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
I had not realized that this was written back in 1979, so I was excited to do a lighter book for this category. And for a non-romantic adult book, you don’t get a whole lot lighter than this! Unless everything in here has some deep, double meaning, this was pretty much a Wayside School-style story of just silly jokes, fun sci-fi-ish plot without any real conclusion (did he plan on making the sequels originally?) and him just having fun making stuff up. I laughed out loud a few times. It felt fun but pointless; not in an “why would anyone ever waste their life on this?” way (though some may still ask that question) but more of an “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mean anything dramatic in there, I think he’s just enjoying whatever’s coming off of his typewriter” way. Anyway, I might have to go find the sequels because while I’m not exactly falling off the edge of my seat to find out what happens next, it was definitely enjoyable and I am curious.