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Book Challenge #2: 1/5 of the Way Through

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!

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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.

QUOTE: “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.”

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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.

QUOTE: “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.”

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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, too.

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.

QUOTE: “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.”

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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.

QUOTE: “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.”

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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.

QUOTE: “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.”


My February Romances 2019

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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*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.

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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.

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*BIGGISH SPOILERS*
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.
*END SPOILERS*

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*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.

On 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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OVERALL CONNECTIONS
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
Sliding Doors
The Big Sick
Pretty Women
Train Man


Book Challenge: Part 4… Finale… The End!

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 read it.

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 the line.

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.

A Play

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! 🙂


The Applebee’s Adventure: The First 12 (and a bonus)

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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. “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.

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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!

“Chris Rice All Day Long” Playlist

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.

 

Waking Up
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.

 

Breakfast
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!

 

Facebook
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!

 

Nap Time
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.

 

Heading Home
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.

 

Bedtime Story
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.

 

Lights Out!
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!

 

Good Night!
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”.


Book Challenge: Part Two, First Half

(I like how my titles have no consistent formatting for this particular blog series.)

A Book That Was Published This Year

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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                   

  1. 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.


Book Challenge: Original Challenge Completed Once/Halfway Through!

After months of struggling through Don Quixote, taking some time off to catch up on some other books (aka reread LOTR), and then finally getting back into these ones, I finished my Book Challenge part 2! I have finished the original challenge the first time through, so now I just have to do it all again with different books. So here are my reviews for the last 7 types of books I read!

A BOOK THAT WAS BANNED BEFORE

  1. Grapes of Wrath (by John Steinbeck)
    I was rather intrigued by the format in this one, where there would be one regular chapter about the Joad family and their trip, followed by a chapter that’s… kind of hard to describe, but is a fascinating literary trip through the minds of banks, and the folks who have to leave, and the stores that they stop at, and the Californian land-owners; sometimes it was dialogue with no narration, other times it was a rhythmic, verb-filled description of tractors destroying things. It was kinda cool. Other than that, I think the book was written well and gave quite an interesting perspective into that time in history. It got pretty depressing near the ending, but I guess it got across its message. Other than “this is what happens when greedy people push poor people around, don’t do it”, it really had a strong theme of sticking together and the poor helping each other out.

A BOOK I DIDN’T FINISH

  1. Wicked (by Gregory MaGuire)
    I heard that the book was definitely different from the musical that was based on this, and that I probably wouldn’t like it. Whoever said that was right! It was weird, and really hard to follow, and super political but in a world that I didn’t understand, and I didn’t get either Galinda or Elphaba as characters very much.  Parts of it were interesting, and I will always be grateful for the way it inspired Wicked the musical, but this will not be one I will be rereading. It was just too bizarre and unpleasant.

A BOOK THAT I OWN BUT NEVER READ

  1. The Fiction Class (by Susan Breen)
    I bought this cheap at a book sale because why would I not enjoy a book about a class learning to write fiction? Which sounds like I’m going to explain to you why I didn’t like it, but I actually did. It was a pleasant story with some good conversations in the actual classroom about writing, the main character was fairly complex but not unrelatable, and the chapters had all these different “writing challenges” and “prompts” at the end which really made me want to try them out. It wasn’t anything super memorable, but I’m not sorry I bought it and it would be an easy reread for a “before bedtime” book.

A BOOK THAT’S INTIMIDATING

  1. Don Quixote (by Miguel De Cervantes)
    Oh my goodness, the notorious Don Quixote which took me 7 months to finish! This book was fairly easy to understand when it was focusing on the action or on the characters telling stories (Don and Sancho were constantly running into strangers who told them chapter-long stories); it occasionally was hard to decipher what was being talked about when the characters had debates about chivalry and politics. Don is an iconic character who is kind of fascinating and Sancho has some hilarious moments. But it was just so long! The unchanging and unreasonable part of Don Quixote’s character got me very frustrated at times and caused it to drag. Also, the ending felt abrupt and kind of really sad. But I got through it eventually, and I made it, and I can say I’m glad I’ve read it, and I am now very worried about my next intimidating book!

A BOOK I’VE ALREADY READ

  1. Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Bronte)
    I hadn’t read this since high school and only remembered a few vague things about it. This is not in competition with most of my favorite Victorian books for awesomeness in my opinion; I love Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. (Though I’m always biased by books where I grew up watching the movie first.) This one is still pretty interesting; the plot is definitely a bit weird, and I think the ending bit with St. John is kind of fascinating. There are parts that really work, and I think I understood her character. But I have a hard time liking Mr. Rochester; he’s controlling, pushy and grumpy. I’m not bothered by him enough that I think it was wrong for her to marry him; for whatever reason they make each other happy, and it definitely resolves in a way that he learns to chill a bit. But I think it’ll take some movie watching to decide if this is a story I really enjoy/respect or not.

A BOOK THAT WAS MADE INTO A MOVIE

  1. The Fault in Our Stars (by John Green)
    I quite enjoyed the movie, and from what I remember of it it was a good interpretation of this book. This story has very real characters with plenty of humorous moments, plus it has a good blend of both cynicism and heart. I think I understood her obsession with the author better in the book, too, so that part made more sense. It didn’t get my emotions the way that it did for most people I know, but it was well-worth the read and one I will definitely look for to buy and reread.

A PLAY

  1. Cyrano De Bergerac (by Edmond Rostand)
    I’ve heard raves about this character from my older sister who’s recommended this to me for years. I definitely think he’s an awesome character; his magical wordplay, audacity and stupid courage makes him super fun, plus his vulnerability with his one thing he doesn’t have the courage to do helps make him more complex than just “the man with all the nerve”. I think this one would be great to see onstage; plays always feel like they go by so fast when reading them, and I feel like I would get more out of the other people and the politics and the warring plot and all that. But this is definitely an important one I needed to have read, and I definitely liked it!

February Romances 2018

I did another February “Romance Movie Watching” challenge this year; my goal was 5, and I managed to get in 12! I took a bunch of suggestions from Facebook people, and there were only 8 suggestions that I didn’t get to. I also added a few of my own. So here are my reviews!

LARRY CROWNE (suggested by Stephanie)
This movie is well-cast with a fairly simple premise; it’s a pleasant watch, I liked the main characters, and I laughed a few times. It just didn’t have any strong connection for me emotionally. I found myself not understanding the motives of the characters, and while we saw Hanks and Roberts in their individual lives, they didn’t get enough “together/watching them fall in love” time for the ending to be very triumphant. It also kept almost playing around with “taboo” things; the older guy and the younger girl, the (married) teacher and the student… never an actual problem, but kind of distracting. But I think I liked the conclusion. And one highlight was that the girl who plays Charlotte Lu in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was in this movie for a few seconds!

HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN TEN DAYS (suggested by Susie)
While this was not very deep, it was definitely an entertaining watch, with the intentional over-the-top plot making the silliness work and causing me to giggle out loud multiple times. Since both characters had their own agenda, I didn’t have to feel bad for either one, which helped to make the Kate Hudson nonsense bearable as she did a great job of being horribly annoying. I do wish that he had kind of apologized at the end of the movie, since it was both of their faults and I kind of felt like she’s the one who had to “learn the lesson”, which didn’t seem fair. But despite that, I will happily put it down as an enjoyed RomCom.

FRENCH KISS (suggested by Emma)
In contrast to the previous movie, this romance has a subtle humor to it, with more “meat” in getting to know the characters than either of the first two. I enjoy seeing their friendship develop, and they both were realistic but likeable characters. It had a complex enough plot that it wasn’t exactly what I suspected and I wasn’t always sure where it was going, which was a good thing, and the transition from liking one guy to liking the other felt natural. This didn’t necessarily leave a strong impression on me, and I don’t know if the plot or characters or humor will stick with me far into the future. But I did like it, and this is the type of movie that might really grow on me after multiple viewings.

BAREFOOT IN THE PARK
This was a random movie that I watched at 4am, but I’m pretty sure I was awake enough to give it an authentic review. 🙂 I was drawn into this one pretty quickly; Jane and Robert’s banter had enough wit, sarcasm and affection that I giggled out loud several times right off the bat. The pacing was good, the characters were likeable, it was a bit silly at moments but also super sweet. I really liked Robert Redford’s character, and although Jane Fonda was funny, I was kind of thrown by how quickly their fight made her go insane; either I can’t relate to her character at all, or their fight scene was too over-the-top because there was no reason for her to get that instantly mad. But it resolved itself well for the most part and it captured my attention throughout. It also had really cute music!

BYE BYE BIRDIE
Didn’t have super high hopes for this one since I don’t like the soundtrack much, but I needed to see it anyway. It had some good moments; I enjoyed the dance sequence in the teen bar (Hugo’s voice is better than Birdie’s), and the song where they all faint is silly, and Dick Van Dyke is mostly charming in “Put On a Happy Face” even though it’s super cheesy. But I was annoyed by Dick Van Dyke’s entire plot, and although I love him in Mary Poppins and his TV show, I am not a fan of his character or his acting in this; he’s just awkward. I liked Hugo and Kim’s storyline best; they were sweet and fairly believable.

RETURN TO ME (suggested by Susie)
I knew nothing about this going into it, but I started predicting things that would happen pretty quickly. (Though that’s kind of usual in a romcom, so I guess I shouldn’t hold it against it.) It was a pleasant movie, with neither main character being particularly special, but they certainly weren’t annoying. It had funny and sweet moments, and I really enjoyed the group of older men and their banter; they were quite charming. The plot in this has a good blend of sweet and tragic, but I just wasn’t as moved by the execution of the story as I felt like I was supposed to be.

MOONSTRUCK (suggested by Kristin)
Definitely a quirky movie; was I supposed to be laughing at Nicolas Cage’s overdramatic character who is just ridiculous? I am going to think that I am, hoping that it’s a kind of sweet, tongue-in-cheek cheesiness and not supposed to be super serious. The story does have some somber moments, which are a nice compliment to the quirky ambiance of the film. I thought it was sweet and entertaining with a good conclusion, and Cher was absolutely the character she was supposed to be.

JANE EYRE
I recently reread the book and am planning on watching other movie versions. Obviously trying to condense a Victorian novel into a 1 hour 40 minute movie will take out some content, and I understand that; but removing the majority of the end transition (all the stuff that happens with her while she’s living with St. John) threw me off. I feel like it doesn’t give her enough of a change in motivation before her final decision. I have a hard time liking Mr. Rochester, both in this movie and the book, but Ciaran Hinds seemed to do him fairly accurately. I think I should watch another few movie versions to see how this one ranks in comparison before I judge it too harshly for not getting the book right.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO + JULIET
First “non West Side Story” version of this that I’ve seen. Leo Dicaprio is always super cute, and he is no exception in this movie. Despite the fact that Romeo is a bit of a fickle dweeb, Leo at least plays his character with a lot of heart and charm, and Juliet was good. I wasn’t a big fan of the artistic choices for ambiance, though I liked dramatic opening with the narration and the ominous music.

However, whether it’s the play itself or my misunderstanding of this movie, I have a hard time seeing how the feud actually led to Romeo and Juliet dying. I’m pretty sure they were running away because there was no way her parents would let her marry Romeo, but that was because she was already set up with a rich dude; if he was just poor (and wasn’t a Montague), it would’ve been the same issue, and HE only died because he’s overdramatic and chose to take the poison, followed by her for the same reason! If the whole thing is supposed to say “prejudice leads to all of the destruction”, WSS does a much better job of telling that than this movie.

DIRTY DANCING (suggested by Kristin)
This was the “famous” one I wanted to get in this month. The plot wasn’t what I expected, but I guess I didn’t really know anything about it. I think I enjoyed both the characters; Swayze was more vulnerable and less “punk” than I expected, and the girl was sweet and believable. I really liked the moment when she apologized to her father but was still honest about how he was treating her. And the dancing was fun, with not as much “dirty dancing” as I thought it would have; it had actual DANCE dances, which was great to watch. Overall, I liked it but I don’t have a lot to say about it.

BENNY AND JOON (suggested by Eli)
I saw this YEARS ago and remembered maybe 2 moments from it, so I didn’t even realize until my rewatch that Benny was the brother and not Johnny Depp! Actually understanding the plot on it this time around, I liked it a lot. I loved the cute quirkiness of the music and of Johnny Depp’s character. I definitely get how it was more about the brother and Joon, though; the romance was a conduit for the siblings to work through their issues and for her to gain independence that was leading towards something, and while I was probably more entertained by Sam than Benny (which was the point), the depth of the character dynamics made this more than just a cute romance.

RUBY SPARKS (suggested by Hannah)
This one was super creative! It was done really well and Paul Dano did a fantastic job. I loved the blend of comedy and dark tones throughout; the montage when she wouldn’t stop touching him was very giggly, but then it veered quickly into more serious issues, and the climactic scene in the movie where he’s typing is so eerie and haunting. But the movie also resolves itself well. I had some theories about what the movie means that I don’t think I was necessarily SUPPOSED to think, but I’m satisfied with the conclusion either way.

MY TOP THREE:
Ruby Sparks
Moonstruck
Barefoot in the Park

MY BOTTOM THREE:
Bye Bye Birdie
Romeo and Juliet
Jane Eyre

MOVIES I’LL WANT TO WATCH AGAIN
French Kiss
Benny and Joon
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

MOVIES THAT I HAD TROUBLE CONNECTING WITH
Dirty Dancing
Return to Me
Larry Crowne


Gratitude and Trust

It’s been a little while since I’ve been this sensitive to tearing up unexpectedly. But I cried in the dentist’s office yesterday when they asked me if I wanted to pay the extra $300 to sedate myself in a future surgery; I cried because I would much rather be sedated than see them pulling out my teeth, but I didn’t know if I could afford it.

I cried today right after a phone interview that was cut short because I tried to honestly answer the question “can you stand on your feet for 8 hours?”, and when she sensed that the stand-up job wasn’t what I wanted she asked if I wanted to cancel the interview; I cried because I don’t know if I’m supposed to be picky and only apply for sit-down jobs or if I need to just suck it up and take whatever job might be offered to me.

I know that I’m not in the worst of situations; in fact, I’m pretty lucky right now! My sister and I bought a house last year that we both love living in, we both have steady part-time jobs, I have good friends, and there are plenty of things that I love to do in my community and my church.

And yet I’m super stressed out lately. I have random parts of my body that are always in pain (my feet and my shoulders) and even though I know there are people with much more debilitating and chronic pain than I have, it’s still stressful to have a job that just exacerbates it the more days I work in a row.

I’m also super stressed about finances. God keeps providing in some cool ways, but every time I think I might be able to see my savings grow rather than shrink, I have to fix my car or pull my teeth or something else comes up that takes another large chunk of money out of my account.

And I’m just tired of filling out job applications. I have filled out 73 since February, I’ve had probably 12 different interviews (both for jobs I didn’t really want and for jobs I really did) with no luck so far on either a full-time or a sit-down job. Someone tells me “oh I heard this place is hiring, you should check it out” and I think “maybe this is the one!”… but nothing has panned out yet.

This may not be the most dire of situations, but finding a good job and getting financially stable and keeping my pain at bay are all things that I have no control over. I have this strong, emotional weight over me that keeps coming out in the form of heavy sighs or random tears or just wanting to throw my laptop down and escape from job applications into all the Netflix shows. I keep praying and asking God again and again to “fix this”, but why hasn’t it changed yet?

I have had Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude” running through my head lately. It’s about how we pray to Jesus for rain, and bread, and peace, and yet we still have to understand that He is good even if we don’t get what we want when we ask. When I wake up in the middle of the night with tooth pain and just cry that God would make all my problems go away, I may not wake up with a better job, but I do go to sleep with a stronger sense of God being next to me.

Nichole also does a song called “Every Season”, which talks about how she can see God in every season of life; in the joy of summer, in the change of fall, in the sleep of winter, in the new life of spring. Even though some seasons of life are “prettier” than others, God is still here and a part of it, and He’s working even if we don’t see it.

I don’t know when I’ll get another job; I don’t know if I’ll ever get my ideal job. What I do know is that God has not left me, and He’s not just enjoying watching me flounder. He’s using this season for a reason in my life, maybe to teach me how to trust Him better, maybe to give me stronger character, which I could always use. And at some point I will come out of the hibernation of winter and see new beginnings where it feels like it’s just been blizzarding desert. Until then, I will try to remember who’s got my back, and remember that He loves me more than I can imagine.

“We’ll give thanks to You, with gratitude,

In lessons learned in how to trust in You

That we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream

In abundance or in need,

And if You never grant us peace

But, Jesus, would You please?”


Seven Things I Learned Working at Christian Care Ministry

A few years ago when I quit McDonald’s, I wrote a blog about 5 things I learned while I was working there. So now that I’m no longer working at CCM, I figured it would be appropriate to do the same type of blog for that job!

To sum it up, CCM is a healthcare sharing ministry for Christians that has a large location in Melbourne, Florida, a smaller location in Illinois and recently opened up one in Colorado. Our Illinois department basically dealt with incoming bills by getting them to the right department and then processing them, which required a lot of focus with minimal distractions. Many employees of CCM are remote employees and work from their own homes.

I first started working at Christian Care as a temp in June 2014; I became the main mail sorter and worked at that for 9 months. In March of 2015, I got hired on full-time and started doing more computer work. In October of 2016 I transitioned to working from home, which I loved… but the work I knew how to do was growing scarce, and my attempt to learn one of the more complicated tasks proved to be much harder than I expected. So they switched me to a seasonal department in December, and when the work ran out in January I was let go.

So after my total of 2 years and 7 months working there, here are 8 things I learned in the office!

  1. The Importance of Community
    It was understood that having many remote employees meant that it was probably going to be harder for them to feel connected to the rest of the workers. Even our smaller office felt out of touch from the larger location at times. So the leaders tried to find ways for everyone to stay connected as a community in spite of the distance!

    – We gathered for chapel every Thursday and had devos every Tuesday
    – We had food and fellowship day once a month and all our remote area employees commuted in
    – There were email groups for prayers and praises
    – There were walking, baking and decorating contests throughout the year
    – Christmas brought Secret Santas and “Random Act of Kindness” challenges to get to know employees you didn’t know well
    – Skype, videos, pictures, conference calls and emails were utilized to bring everyone together at various times

    I loved the creativity that led my co-workers and I to make friends with each other and with those that we worked with on the other side of the country. Since the work was often very isolating, it was great to have so many technological and face-to-face outlets for making connections.

  1. How to Use the Right Hand Keypad
    One of the most practical things I learned while working at CCM was how to use the numeric keypad on the side of my keyboard. I had never had a need to type so many numbers before, and was not particularly fast at the keys on the top of the alphabet. So with the speedy data entry I needed to complete, I was forced to learn how to use the numbers on the side… and it wasn’t long before I was an expert at typing away with phone numbers, socials and certification numbers!

  1. Ask Questions
    My learning style is what I’m gonna call “instructional hands on with a guide”; I like being told what to do and then trying to do it while somebody watches me to make sure I’m doing it right. Attention to detail was very important in my work, so in order to learn exactly what I needed to do, it was important that I was able to ask questions.

    If you give me the ability to do written communication, I’ve realized that I can be a bit overwhelming with how long and rambly my emails/texts/Facebook messages are. I’m sure I annoyed my supervisors several times with how much I pestered them with questions until I learned how to condense and figure things out on my own. 🙂 But they were very patient, and the “make sure you know that you’re doing it right” mentality served me well. There were times when I had to figure things out based on my own expertise, but knowing when to ask questions and being willing to do the work to get the answers I needed saved me from a lot of mistakes.

  1. I Enjoy Simplistic Work
    As someone who has never had a dream job or a career plan, it’s nice to find something I like to do, and there were 3 distinct times where I had the kind of work that made me say “I enjoy doing this every day”.

    The first was the mail table. I liked physically handling the mail, I liked the organization of it, I liked having to rush to get it done and the satisfaction of getting through a Monday; I liked gaining enough of an expertise on it that I got to train the newbies; I liked knowing the answer to where a document went, and having a partner to sit next to and chat with.

    After that, I moved to the computer and became in charge of multiple tasks: indexing documents, sorting out the faxed documents, printing medical CDs, logging in received checks, and being the back-up mail person. Occasionally having so many responsibilities was a little stressful because I have a tendency to procrastinate, but I also loved the variety of jobs and the satisfaction of completing all of it.

    Lastly, I learned the task of “keying in RXs”, which was processing prescription costs. They were more complex than indexing, but their consistency made it easy to learn the ropes; they were interesting enough to not be monotonous, but routine enough that I could listen to music and still focus on them.

    Those 3 different phases of my work were times that I really enjoyed. I like the feeling of doing something that I know really way, and I like simplistic organizational tasks. So hopefully in the future I can find jobs that let me do the same kinds of things!

  1. My Handwriting Is Really Recognizable
    Since I did mail I had things that I wrote on, so people who did mail alongside me caught onto what my handwriting looks like. Which meant that, during our Secret Santa’s, I had to try and disguise my handwriting on cards and such by writing in different fonts or using my right hand.  But even when I did that, there were people who could always recognize that it was mine. So whether that means that they have good eyes for handwriting or that my writing is so distinctly “me” (and if it’s the former whether it’s a compliment or not), I am not sure. But I will have to come up with some new tricks in case this type of thing happens in the future. *starts collecting magazines and newspapers for cutting out words*

  1. Take The Initiative
    Being in the new job, it took me a while to feel the freedom to jump in with chitchat or share during devos without being specifically addressed. So when I started to feel myself getting closer with my co-workers and finding my place in the group settings, I wanted to get into the practice of taking the initiative.

    I’ve been working on improving my friendships the last few years, and “initiative” is one thing I’ve been focusing on. So I tried to send people emails to thank them if they said or did something encouraging. I tried to tell people what I appreciated about them when I thought of it. If I had an idea to make another person laugh, I tried to follow through on it. I am not always the best at conversing with people I don’t know super well, but remembering that I was half of the relationship helped my perspective. I made some great friends at CCM, mostly because they are super nice people and take the initiative themselves… but I am glad that I put the effort in that I did because I know we’ll still get together as friends even though we’re no longer co-workers.

  1. Stop Being Afraid
    Another thing I was focusing on the last few years was to not NOT do something because I was afraid. Not that I had to do everything that was scary, but if fear was the only thing holding me back, I had to find another reason or go through with it. I didn’t live by that entirely (there are lots of things I wish I had done or need to work on) but it did help me a couple of times. I had several opportunities to lead activities and teams during my time at CCM, and I enjoyed jumping into those even though it was a little intimidating.

    The thing I learn about not being afraid is that it doesn’t mean whatever I do is going to be perfect; being courageous doesn’t always pay off with a flawless performance or without being rejected. But taking that step and being willing to accept the outcome of the risk is something I can always learn to be better at. It’s something I’m going to keep in mind in the future, because even when I audition for plays or jump into a temporary job offered to me or initiate a conversation with someone who intimidates me, being willing to do it even if I make mistakes will help me become more courageous anyway. And that’s worth it.