Monday, May 27, 2013

Goodreads and blogs

For those of you who don’t know, I’m an avid reader. I love romance best of all (Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book ever, followed swiftly by Ella Enchanted), but humor, historical fiction and the occasional sci-fi are other loves of mine as well. 

When I started this blog, I intended it to be a mashup of posts that were on DIY/home updates, photo montages for distant relatives (and family updates that read like letters to them), random thoughts and opinions on any and everything, and… book reviews. I got out of the habit of taking photos, have thought of plenty of topics to blog about, but always told myself, eh I’ll do it later (I’d rather read), and though we intended to buy a home several years ago, we continued on with renting, so there’s not been much DIY work around here. Then I nixed the book reviews. 

A friend pointed me to Goodreads (which has been pretty awesome) so I was thought to myself, this is a really cool site, I love pretty much everything about it, from the rating system to how things are linked together, the “shelving” system, listopias and recommendations, plus meeting new reader friends and reading reviews from average people (which, as it turns out, are much more entertaining and useful than “professional” reviews).  So I decided to stop doing reviews on here and do them exclusively on Goodreads.

This left me with family updates. I think that’s been fine. And I hope the other aspects will again follow in time. BUT I recently applied to do book reviews in exchange for getting free book copies and ARC (advanced reader copies for those who don’t know, which are awesome because, as the name suggests, you get a copy of the book before it’s released) and the publisher was not satisfied with Goodreads; it’s exclusively for bloggers. SO, I’ve decided to start posting the book reviews that I do on GR on here, again. Which, incidentally, should help with my NYR to post more than last year. ;] Yay!

So watch out for a flood of book review posts! Happy reading and reviewing!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

6th anniversary

* My first draft I was writing (for over an hour) was lost when firefox crashed. Uggghh. So naturally, a second attempt at the same topic brought about some different thoughts.*

Today we celebrate that we have been married for six years. I’ve learned a lot between 19 and 25, but not the things that I was told I’d learn. Well meaning, or just cynical, I was told that as a teenager, I couldn’t possibly know who I was and that over time I would learn about myself. And if I didn’t know myself, I couldn’t possibly know who I was marrying. I understand the logic and the concern. But they were wrong. If you ever think that you’ve figured out all there is to know about yourself and/or your spouse, you’ll get bored. A successful marriage doesn’t rely on knowing each other or yourself inside and out, it thrives on two peoples’ commitment and determination to love one another for the rest of their lives.

Thankfully, ‘love’ doesn’t just mean passion or the warm and fuzzy feeling, or even that struck stupid feeling. As the Bible outlines, ‘love’ encompasses so much more than that. Loving someone isn’t something you have no control over. Some days, it’s effortless, other days you have to work at it. Love is verbal, it’s emotional, it’s physical. It’s in our actions, choices, sacrifices. There are a lot of great books that explain different aspects of how to love someone well (Jon liked The Five Love Languages and Love Life For Every Married Couple), but the point is that love and a successful marriage are not based on luck or age or experience or a healthy introspection. I think it’s that attitude that crumbles so many unions. That, and the selfish notion that marriage is about your own happiness and living in a constant state of that early on infatuation period. No wonder our divorce rate is so high.

But back to happier musings. The things I have learned since 19 are more about my husband than me. And I think that’s how it should be, if your focus and attention is on the right person- your spouse rather than yourself. Six years still sounds like a really small number to me. But in our six years together we have crammed in an awful lot, including many extreme highs and lows. When we were dating, I knew enough about Jon’s character to want to marry him. Despite the many issues I had back then from failed relationships on several different levels, I’m so thankful that some part of my sense remained intact so that I recognized how wonderful he was and how lucky I was.

Through early marriage and having kids, I’ve learned what a hard worker he is, the kind of devoted, intentional father he is, and what he’s capable of. I knew he was the most intelligent person I’d ever met, but I’ve since learned how brilliant he is in creativity, too. I knew he was good, noble, ethical. But I’ve since learned the depths of them, and how hard he strives to be these things. I knew he was modest, but I’ve since learned how humble he really is, given that most of the time he doesn’t even recognize his own humility. The thing I’ve loved learning the most is the kind of Godly man he is. I knew his potential when we first started dating, but over the course of our relationship, he has changed. In everything he does, but especially His walk with Christ, he inspires me.

I’ve learned how to encourage, support, listen and comfort. I’m still learning patience and how to communicate so that he hears what I mean and even more importantly, so that he remembers. These are works in progress. There are many more things I have yet to uncover and learn. But we work because the things I have learned make me appreciate him more and more. He’s not perfect. There are plenty of things he does that drive me crazy, but these are opportunities for one or both of us to grow in character, for us to change.

The cool thing is that because of the way our early years were, we dealt with a lot of the hard, defining things upfront. Now we’re in a more fun stage. Our youngest will be in school full day in the fall. It’s going to change things again. But things are already drastically different now that a lot of the burdens have been lifted.

It’s weird because we are comfortable with one another. There is trust and ease between us, the security that comes with time. But we had to delay much early on, because of our lifestyle. After years of dates via letters, text messages, phone calls, emails and quick kisses in passing, we are learning how to date. We are finally getting the chance to do more normal things and see each other regularly. Because these normal things are new to us, it makes me nervous, anxious, sometimes. For example, a couple of weeks ago we went on a double date for what I think was the first time, apart from going out with siblings, which is just different. We had a great time, but we were both nervous in the beginning; this was new, uncharted territory.

I think that’s the key: to find things that keeps the unknown in your relationship, the butterflies in your stomach. All of the things that come with time in a relationship are wonderful. The ways that the dynamic changes between husband and wife is a beautiful thing. But you don’t have let go of the earlier parts, the excitement, the mystery, in exchange for it. Don’t get lazy; don’t take each other for granted. Flirt, court, want what you have. Keep seeking opportunities to grow and change and learn together. That’s what I’ve learned this year. I hope it’s something I never forget.

On a seperate note, it turns out the anniversary gift for 6 years is salt and pepper shakers. We never got them because most are surprisingly ugly and/or expensive, so we've just done without. But this year we splurged and got a nice set. It makes sense to me a sentimental level, spices of life and all that, haha. It's amazing how simple things make such an impact. After 6 years without, I doubt anyone will take as much joy in their shakers as we do! :P

                                                   Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teen Mom 2 Insight

We all have our guilty pleasures, right? Mine are the 16 & pregnant/teen mom/teen mom 2 shows on MTV. I suspect that the majority of viewers watch them because it's like a trainwreck and they are simultaneously repulsed and inexplicably intrigued at the same time. While most people enjoy watching and criticizing, I enjoy watching and empathizing. I watch it because I've been there. And not 15 or 20 years ago like some people. I started on my track about 2 years before MTV's first round of preggo teens, so I was still in the thick of it when the shows started.

I watch it still because being a teen mom is one of the most isolating experiences: you don't really fit in anywhere or have anything in common with anyone. People don't want to build you up (you're an example now!) and they're quick to tear you down (you're an example now!). Your emotions, priorities and often times even your personality changes. I could go on and on. I watch it because, though I am well into my twenties, I am still frequently isolated because my life still doesn't match up with others' lives and I get what these girls are going through. It's a reminder of what I've come through, to be grateful for the blessings I have, and it's a kind of kinship. I want to see things work out for them because I know how hard it all is.

Again, as I've said, I'm well aware that this sentiment is not the norm. A quick glance through the comments on any of those shows will give you a flood of damning judgment from people who usually  have no idea what it's like or what they're talking about.

I see a lot of the same kind of comments week after week, show after show, and while I cannot speak for them and I don't expect to actually change anyone's opinions, I thought I'd address some of them because in classic cowardly fashion, these things are posted online and said behind their backs, not to their faces, so that they don't have an opportunity to address them and defend themselves. I have some experience in this as well. The two top comments I see (and coincidentally, two of my biggest pet peeves):

1. It annoys me to no end when people complain that the show "encourages" teen pregnancy rather than prevents it. First of all, you're incredibly naive if you think that MTV created this show as a public service. They created it because it makes for good television. Come on, immaturity + adult responsibilities + hormones = drama. They do encourage safe sex quite frequently, and I think that's about as much as anyone could expect from MTV. Seriously.

Do they glorify it? Mmm no, I'd have to say they don't. Sure most of the time, these girls look better put together than the average girl. But remember we're only getting facetime that's considered interesting. When they're sick and look like crap- it's not tv worthy. When they're in they're jammies on a Saturday watching movies all day, we don't see that. When they're in jeans and tees studying for hours on end, we might get a blip of it. We primarily see them when they're going somewhere or meeting up with someone, which yes, oftentimes includes looking presentable.

Sure some of them have fake nails and other luxuries that most teen moms don't have. But these girls are on tv. Realistically, they probably get some kick backs. Whatever the situation do I think that any teen girl watching the show takes away from it: "Her nails look so cute! If I get pregnant, I'll have cute nails too"? Mm no, not so much.

2. "I can't believe these girls are getting married and having more kids!" well yeah, that tends to happen, statistically speaking. But on a personal level, as the saying goes, "having a baby changes everything." It really does. It doesn't change everyone the same way, but I can speak from experience. When I was seventeen, my biggest priority was getting out of my parents' home and being independent. After I got pregnant I still wanted those things, but they were under the bigger umbrella of wanting my own stable family. Getting pregnant with my daughter changed the way I looked at life and the way I looked at myself. Even though it looks like they're just desperate for a husband, they're really desperate for normalcy. We're not designed to be doing it on our own, though we can. It's supposed to take a woman and a man. More than the financial and childrearing support, it's the the emotional support that matters most. They want that partner for life, and while many of us are looking for that too, it becomes a lot more crucial when you're raising a child. At the end of the day, you just need your spouse there with you, exhausted too, to laugh together and cry together, to hold each other accountable and encourage each other.

Not to mention, you feel an overwhelming need to catch up. You can't go back to being a teen and the average twenty-something experience has been forfeited. Naturally, they're trying to acclimate themselves with an age group that has kids and whose priorities are family and stability, hence marriage, more kids, buying houses, etc. You may think they're moving too fast and it doesn't make any sense, but their needs and wants have changed. They don't match up with their peers anymore, so you can't judge them on what an average 16, 18 or 23 year old is doing. They're not the average 16, 18 or 23 year old.

Okay, that's my two cents. I'll probably have more loose change later.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Song of a Soul Review

Song Of A Soul

Song of a Soul

When Deborah Burke is given the opportunity to go to Cambridge and train with world-famous mezzo-soprano Clarisse Pela, she is certain all her dreams have come true. Under Signora Pella's tutelage, she can refine her gift and prepare herself for a glamorous life upon the stage.Deborah has no idea, however, what moral dilemmas will face her in her new life. She finds herself falling in love with a man who is not at all what he seems to be. And as her dreams open up before her, she must decide how far she can comprise her Christian values for her career.

My Review:  9.5
 This was the best of the four in the series. I put off reading it because the back cover really turned me off. Having started with, and deeply loved, the Gresham books, Blackwell's other books disappointed me. They did not compare and many had a common theme of an unworthy scoundrel taking up a good majority of the plot, which made me feel like I was wasting my time and energy, just like the heroine. The blurb on the back of Song of a Soul portrayed this plot in a similar way with: "Deborah has no idea, however, what moral dilemmas will face her in her new life. She finds herself falling in love with a man who is not at all what he seems to be." It made me cringe inside and I avoided reading it but for a chapter at a time here and there.

Thank goodness I felt compelled to see the series through to the very end and still had hopes, though small, knowing Blackwell's capabilities. The love story was sweet. I loved the Christian elements, and was so proud of the progression with Deborah's faith, especially in relation to her career. I was invested in the subplots and came to love the supporting characters too. I'd read it again.

The Fairest Beauty Review

The Fairest BeautyThe Fairest Beauty 
A daring rescue.
A difficult choice.

Sophie desperately wants to get away from her stepmother's jealousy, and believes escape is her only chance to be happy. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother, and everything twists upside down. This could be Sophie's one chance at freedom—but can she trust another person to keep her safe?

Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: the girl's inner and outer beauty has enchanted him. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother's future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he promises himself he will see the mission through, no matter what.

When the pair flee to the Cottage of the Seven, they find help—but also find their feelings for each other have grown. Now both must not only protect each other from the dangers around them—they must also protect their hearts


My Review: 2/10

I was so disappointed. I loved the healer's apprentice and enjoyed the merchant's daughter, so I was so excited to read this book. But this felt like a cheap imitation.

Sophie seriously annoyed me. I understand that your master constantly trying to hurt you and insult you by telling you things like "you're ugly, you're wicked" could take its toll on a person's self esteem, but not usually when you you have no esteem or regard for that person either. In the beginning, as the duchess is hurling these words at her, in her head, she's is not agreeing or questioning, but outright denying the accusations. Her self-esteem seems pretty healthy to me. Plus she has Petra telling her not to believe any of it. And almost all of the other servants are showering her in affection. She doesn't cave when a man (Lorencz) pays her attention. All signs point to a confident, strong young woman. And then, as soon as the romance starts between her and Gabe, all of these insecurities start. And she becomes stupid.

She can plainly read Gabe's emotions, whether it be longing or pain, but constantly tells herself that he doesn't love her and will leave her. Ugh. And despite a couple of other adjectives, like virtue, innocence and kindness, Gabe seems to only love her for her beauty. 9 times out of 10, that is what he is commenting or fixating on. It seemed like a very shallow passion built on shaky foundation.

Previously, I really liked the Christian elements Dickerson had woven into classic fairy tales, but this was a sham. They were both betrothed! So what was with all the kissing?! Totally inappropriate. Even if she had not yet met her fiance, she knew she was engaged, yet she allowed and encouraged Gabe's advances. Both of them were cheating. It was not okay. The whole time it was happening, I kept thinking of one of my favorite lines from Pride and Prejudice: "How little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue." How fitting.

Neither of them seemed concerned about what God wanted for them, despite the Bible references, and were determined to do what they wanted. Nothing like the steady faithfulness displayed in the healers apprentice.

All of the family coming out of the woodwork at the end was too much. I'm all for happy endings, but it just... it seemed tied together without much substance. All of a sudden, Sophie has a fiance, a mother and father in law and SIX sibling-in laws to live with. Okay, fine. And now she knows the duchess was really her step mother. BUT what? Her father is alive! And a soon to be new stepmother has been keeping watch over her all this time. Soon enough they will produce half siblings for her. It was all too good to be true. Like gritty, sugary sweet icing on the cake. I don't want the cheap artificial sweetening. I would have been happier with just a rich chocolate cake.

I can't think of anything I liked about it, anything worthwhile. This book left me with a stomachache.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Jewels for a Crown Review

Jewels for a Crown

Jewels for a Crown 

Jenny Price graduated as one of Florence Nightingale's top nursing students. Her assignment: to care for Celeste Harrington, the spoiled 12-year-old daughter of remote and tormented Graham Harrington. Jenny is about to face the most difficult challenge of her life, a challenge that will test the limits of both her skills and her faith.
My Review: 7.5/10
Lawana Blackwell impresses me with her historical concepts. They are not at all trite, tired, worn. This is the first piece of historical fiction I've read featuring Epilepsy in the 1800s. Fascinating.

I thought the end relied a little too much on chance, the relationship buildup was not deep enough and the marriage proposal was rather sudden. Annnd the villain was a little too shallow, predictable, not really creative.

As a side note, it surprised me that Jenny referred to her step dad as just her dad. In this book she seems to think nothing of her real father apart from his being a drunk. Previously, I thought he seemed rather the victim. It just didn't add up to me that she forgave her mother but not her father, and seemed content to wipe him from her memories altogether.
And I still have no idea where the title fits in.

Measures of Grace Review

Measures of GraceMeasures of Grace 

Corrine Hammond, a beautiful pretender, has made her living by conning wealthy men out of their fortunes. But when she accepts God's love, her life is drastically changed. Now all Corrine wants is to make amends with the husband and daughter she abandoned eight years before. And so she sets out for her old home--fearful, yet believing that God is calling her to set things right.

What she doesn't know is that someone is following her--someone who is determined to take her back to stand trial for her crimes, someone who will, by a strange twist of fate, find himself at her mercy. And when that happens, Corrine--and her newfound faith--will face the greatest test of all...


My Review: 6/10

**spoiler alert** 

Completely predictable, of course. Better than the first book though. Jenny's experiences were creepy. Even at ten years old, I would not have put up with a single bit of it. I would not have slept in a dead kid's shrine or worn her clothes or cuddled her dolls or answered to her name. Yikes. I was amazed that she seemed so untouched by it. Just kind of tired and weary. I think that would mess with any kid, or person for that matter.

I thought Corrine's story was not too far outside the realm of believeability and I enjoyed the Christian aspects.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Catherine's Heart Review

Catherine's Heart (Tales of London #2)

Catherine's Heart 

Book 2 of Tales of London. Eighteen-year-old Catherine Rayborn is thrilled with her first taste of independence when she begins Girton College in Cambridge in 1880. Amid all the excitement, however, comes the painful realization of the vast difference between true love and shallow infatuation. Lawana Blackwell skillfully endears a cast of loveable characters to readers in a story that will linger long after the last page is turned.
My Review: 7.5/10 
 While very interesting, it was painful to read. With about 85% of the book building up an extremely toxic relationship, I just felt too much anxiety and dread. Not enough time was devoted to the sweetness of the right relationship. I liked that we kept plugged into him from time to time, but it just wasn't enough.

And one thing just did not sit well with me: *spoiler* and that was Milly's betrayal. No explanation given. Initially I thought, this has to be a set up. But then, nope. After everything they had been through, and what Milly had JUST said about not being comfortable around him and then... that?! It seemed totally out of character.