Posted in The Ponderings of Life, Words Upon Words

Happy 6th Anniversary, Bridget’s Journey!

Yesterday was Bridget’s Journey’s 6th Anniversary! Wow. It’s so hard to believe it’s been 6 years already since I self-published for the first time with my baby novel. Over the years I’ve had many conversations with friends and family about this novel and the different ways it’s impacted them. Those conversations mean the world to me, but what’s funny about it is that I didn’t write it to impact anyone. I was only 14 when I wrote it, barely 16 when I self-published it. The only thing I had in my mind was to write a story and finish it and print it so I could hold it in my hands. And that’s exactly what I accomplished–and so much more.

Back then, I’d only just started my writing journey. Over the past 6 years, I’m happy to say I’ve changed and grown as a writer. I’ve self-published Everlasting, written three other novels and entered a short story contest in which I got an honorable mention! I’m a much better writer now than when I first wrote Bridget’s Journey, but the simplicity and purity of that story is still special even today. And it will always be my first, no matter how many stories I write from here on out. Self-publishing has changed my life in the best possible way and I hope to be able to do it again soon (stay tuned for details)!

To celebrate Bridget’s Journey’s anniversary, it’s FREE to download on your Kindle or Kindle app TODAY THROUGH SUNDAY! Take advantage of this discount and tell your friends!

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P.S. Please excuse my smudgy mirror, but here’s a picture of 16 year old Valerie SO EXCITED (can you tell?) to be holding a piece of her work in her hands. ❤

Posted in Book Reviews

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Another book review is up on Literature Approved! This is one of my favorite books I read over the summer. I finished it during our relaxing beach vacation. Those of you who haven’t read it yet…go read it! It’s life changing–if you let it be.

Two years ago I wrote a short story that took place during the Civil War for a contest. In it I wanted to challenge the perspectives and worldviews of both the Confederacy and the Union, the blacks and the whites. I didn’t feel like there were enough conversations happening where we brought to light the right and wrong of both sides. Well, I might have felt differently if I’d read The Help sooner.

I went into The Help expecting to learn about what it was like being a black maid in the 1960s. And I was genuinely curious to find out. It’s one thing to learn about the Civil Rights movement in a textbook, but another to read a book written in the perspective of these women, learning what it was like first-hand. Let’s just say it delivered.

I felt like I was really there—feeling the heat of the Mississippi sun and the burn of the horrible comments they received from their employers. It was strange to observe the white women these black maids (Aibileen and Minny) worked for. On the one hand, they spoke to them politely, but on the other hand, they treated them like some other species carrying a disease. And yet, these interactions were still within the realm of my expectations.

Click here to read the rest of my review!

Contributor Reviewer

Posted in Book Reviews

Mini Book Reviews of 2018 – Part One

“It’s not for us to choose our times, Jacob. But we must be ready when they come.”
-The Auschwitz Escape

Hello fellow readers!

It’s been a hot minute since I last blogged, so I thought I’d start it up again with a revamped version of something I’ve been doing for a while now. Since 2015, I’ve been writing a compilation of mini reviews of all the books I read per year, usually in sets of 5. I’m always about 1 year behind on these, but I love writing them and giving you guys a glimpse into what I’ve been reading and what I think of them. But I didn’t really like the name I had for them (First Five Books of 2017, Second Five Books of 2017, etc.). So as I start writing about the books I read last year, I thought this was a good opportunity to change the name!

So, as you’ve seen from the title of this blog post already, the new name is: Mini Books Reviews of 20__ Part __! I think this title is more concise, easier to say and easier to work with! So without further ado…here are my first five mini reviews of 2018!

*SPOILER!* I may include some of the book’s plot/content in my reviews for them, so if you haven’t read one or more of these yet and want to read it without spoilers, then you can just skip down. *

  1. Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren – This book was an interesting take on the time-travel romance from the YA perspective. When Gabi and Lia were transported to 16th century Italy, I felt transported, too. I loved Bergren’s descriptions of Italy’s countryside and the Italian architecture. The plot moved swiftly, though there was little conflict until the climax of the novel. I enjoyed Gabi’s character, but didn’t love the romance she had with Marcello. Overall, I enjoyed their conversations, but felt like the actual interactions they had and the corresponding feelings they felt were a little forced. To be in love as much as they were would take a little more than just the outward attraction they had for each other. So I enjoyed the unique setting and Bergren did a great job with the vocabulary of the 16th century Italian characters, but it wasn’t very deep.
  2. * Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling – I enjoyed this book much more than the first one. I think this one made me laugh the most out of all the books in the series (except for Order of the Phoenix) because Ron had so many good one-liners. I loved the climax and twists at the end and was much more intrigued to read the third than I had been to read the second. Click here to read my full review on the entire series!
  3. * The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg – A coworker lent this to me and I really enjoyed it! It was hard to read at times, but I learned so much through it. I think it’s super important to read about hard times in history so we fully realize the atrocities committed back then and can be able to raise awareness to others. There are so many people who turn a blind eye to horrible things that happened in history and that’s just not acceptable. I loved Jacob and Luc and the partnership they established in order to escape. And the detail upon detail of their plan to escape was also so fascinating. I will say that my one complaint was that there wasn’t a lot of emotion in the actual main character’s thoughts, but I think Rosenberg made up for that in the accuracy of the setting and events of Auschwitz. Throughout the novel, Jacob wrestles with his faith. Though he was put in Auschwitz as a Jew, he hadn’t really practiced Judaism growing up and his faith was shaky. By the end, his relationship with and trust in God is strengthened, but I’ll admit, I felt sad. Without Jesus, his life and even his “relationship” with God held very little hope and meaning. I wished so much that he could find that. After finishing it, I was surprised to learn that The Auschwitz Escape was based on a true story. It made the novel that much more impactful for me.
  4. Moral Philosophy: Theories and Issues by Emmett Barcalow – I read this for my Ethics of America class for school. It was very straightforward, with some helpful examples, but besides that, super boring to read.
  5. CLEP American Literature by Jacob Stratman – I read this to study for the American Literature CLEP exam. Most CLEP textbooks are snore-worthy, but this was one of the few where I felt like it was written by a person and not a robot. Stratman seemed really passionate about American Literature and really brought the authors to life with his descriptions.

* Books that I highly recommend have a * next to them

Posted in Book Reviews

Final Five Books of 2017

If you had hope, maybe you could find a way to make things change. Because if you thought about it, there were so many reasons to try.
-Gregor and the Code of Claw
Sooooo it’s been a hot minute since I posted one of these, but now that I’ve FINALLY posted my all-inclusive series review on Harry Potter, I feel free to make these posts again. Enjoy!

*SPOILER!* I may include some of the book’s plot/content in my reviews for them, so if you haven’t read one or more of these yet and want to read it without spoilers, then you can just skip down. *

11. * Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins – The final and best novel in the Underland Chronicles. I read this during our first week-long vacation to Holden Beach, so I have some pretty fond memories of feeling the feels while water lapped at my feet, sand in between my toes. Gregor is just such an amazing, three-dimensional, heroic and compassionate character. It was hard to say goodbye to him! Click here to read my official review on this series as a whole.

12. * The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson – This is a classic in our family. We listen to the audiobook every couple of years just to have a good laugh. One thing I noticed in this most recent listen is how heartwarming the story is, as well as hilarious. And how the main character, by seeing the Christmas Story through the fresh eyes of the Herdmans, gets a new appreciation for Jesus’ birth, too. I think we all need a reminder every once in a while of just how amazing and special it is that our God would come down to us in the form of a baby, placed in a manger.

13. * Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – I finally read Harry Potter for the first time! I read this one over Christmas break. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as I thought it would be, so at first I was disappointed and a little bored by the slow pace, but I enjoyed the climax and resolution enough to decide to continue. SO glad I did! Click here to read my review on the series as a whole.

* Books that I highly recommend have a * next to them

Posted in Book Reviews, The Ponderings of Life

Why I Love Harry Potter – A Conservative Christian’s Perspective

Six months ago, having worked slowly through all seven books over the course of a little more than a year, I finished reading the last book in the Harry Potter series for the first time. I laid down Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, my eyes a little crossed and blurry from having read half of the 750+ page book over the past three days. Then I went downstairs and flopped on the couch in our living room, moaning.

It was over. I’d spent over a year in the mind of Harry—growing up with him, fighting evil by his side and hanging out with Ron and Hermione. To have all of those experiences suddenly ripped from my fingertips as I turned the last page was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. All the journeys I’d taken with Harry, physically and emotionally, were over. Done.

But what’s truly amazing about the emotions I felt in finishing this series is that there was a time I’d told myself I’d never, ever read Harry Potter.

So, let’s backtrack a little bit. Growing up, series like The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, Divergent and especially Harry Potter were on everyone’s tongues. In middle school, these were the only books (it seemed) that kids my age were reading. But I didn’t read them. Having been raised in a conservative, homeschooling family, there were many aspects at work here. On the one hand, my tastes were different than my friends’. While they read these more fast-paced stories, I tended to read slower-paced stories. I read a lot of historical fiction and quite a few classics growing up. These were the books that interested me. On the other hand, while my parents never made an official list of the books we could or couldn’t read, they wanted us to be careful and discerning of the books we picked up. I think we were wary of Harry Potter as a family, not just as individuals. So I didn’t read it. Simple as that.

Then I turned eighteen and graduated from high school. One of my friends, who also loved historical fiction, could not stop raving about The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, both of which she’d read in her later teens. As an adult, my parents made it clear that I no longer needed their permission to read something. I could make the decision on my own. So I decided to give these more “popular” books a try. I read The Hunger Games first. You can check out my review on it to see what I have to say, but I’ll go ahead and give you a hint: I loved it. Next on my list was Harry Potter.

While my family in particular didn’t have a strong stance on Harry Potter in either direction, lots of people around me did. I heard both sides and honestly, I didn’t have a formal opinion. It didn’t seem like either side had it completely right. The only thing to do was to read it for myself and find out.

I was twenty when I started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I wasn’t hooked right away, but I was intrigued. So I read the second book and enjoyed it more than the first, which had been pretty slow. Then I just kept reading and by the time I was on either the fourth or the fifth book, I was a fan. While reading book 6, I started buying the series, even though I hadn’t finished it yet. By book 7, I was changed. In more ways than one, Harry Potter changed me.

I think the biggest argument conservative Christians have is about the magic. Because the kids are witches and wizards and they have wands and use spells. I don’t want to belittle this argument because I think it does them credit to be concerned. It’s clear in the Bible that witchcraft is of the devil and there are people today who do mess with dark magic and it’s a very real, very scary thing. My big BUT is that in Harry Potter, the magic is not real. J.K. Rowling created a world, created its rules and spells, created its magic—it’s fictitious. I’m not an expert on this topic and I don’t pretend to be, but throughout the entire series, not only is it clear that this is a made-up world, it’s also clear that there’s good magic and bad magic. There are certain spells that only the bad witches and wizards use and the good witches and wizards would never use them (unless in a complicated situation). Ultimately, it is up to your own conscience whether you feel comfortable reading a book with witches and wizards and spells in it. All I can say is that my conscience was clear, so I had no qualms in reading this series. And because I was able to give Harry Potter a chance and read it with an open mind, I was able to discover some amazing themes within the books.

Friendship. “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

How do I begin? From whispering to each other during Potions, to Hermione doing their homework for Harry and Ron, to arguing over petty things, to writing letters to each other over the summers, to visiting Hagrid’s together, to defending each other from Draco, to fighting against Voldemort together; yet these instances only scratch the surface of all Harry, Hermione and Ron did with each other, for each other and meant to each other. Through thick and thin, through the good and the bad, their arms were linked, their futures connected. Maybe it’s just because I spent 3,363 pages with this trio, but I do believe these three friends have the strongest bond of any other group of friends I’ve ever read (with the possible exception of Lord of the Rings, but I think that’s a given).

Dumbledore. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry lost his parents when he was only one year old. And while Lupin and Sirius each attempt to fill this hole in Harry’s life in their own ways, I think the real father figure to Harry is Dumbledore. From day one, Dumbledore takes Harry under his wing, gives him advice, helps him grow up, challenges him and finally, let’s Harry come alongside him in the final battles. Harry has great respect for this unpredictable, wise and compassionate man and hates to disappoint him. While Harry just wants to be a normal boy, Dumbledore sees his potential for more. And while Dumbledore acts like he’s just talking to Harry as a professor would to a student, they both know that Dumbledore couldn’t have loved Harry more if he was his father. Their relationship was one of my favorites to watch unfold.

Voldemort. Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.” – Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

At first, Voldemort was just the reason Harry is called the Boy Who Lived. Slowly, as the books progress and we learn about his past, his motivations, his desires, not only does he seem more interesting, he becomes more and more threatening and terrifying. There are so many parallels to Voldemort’s life and actions and Harry’s life and actions. There’s something so similar and yet so strikingly different about them. And ultimately, it is love, in all its diversities, that separates them. Harry, alive because of love and living for love, and Voldemort, not valuing life because of his complete lack of understanding of love.

Harry. “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” … “I have known, for some time now, that you are the better man.” -Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

As cliché as it might sound, Harry is my favorite character in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got mad love for Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, Lupin, Sirius…you get the idea. But Harry truly is my favorite. Why? If you’ve read even one of my book reviews, you know I have a thing for character development. Now, the thing with Harry is that he starts the series at 11 and finishes at 17, so there is a natural growing up we get to watch happen. We watch him go from ignorant little boy to angsty teenager to a young man grappling with serious events and their consequences. And yet, as similar as Harry and Ron might be in their manner of jokes and interests, Harry didn’t have a normal childhood like Ron did. He’s different. Having been orphaned at one, he was raised by an aunt and uncle who verbally abused him and treated him like trash. Even in the last book, there was a moment where I realized that Harry, though 17, is still just an orphan who wants a family—a real, loving family—more than anything in the world. But at the same time, he’s used to being alone. And having encountered Voldemort at 11 and again and again throughout his years at Hogwarts, he’s also used to being in danger. Therefore, while Ron and Hermione would do anything for him, at the end of the seventh book, Harry must face Voldemort alone. He knows what’s at stake. He knows it began with him and Voldemort and that’s where it will end, even if he doesn’t know exactly how. And it’s then, all on his own, that he must decide what the point of this life is.

Throughout his short life, what has Harry learned matters—really matters?

Family. Friends. Life. Love. In the end, he decided that all these things were more important than even himself. Something Voldemort would never—could never—understand.

“You’ll stay with me?”

“Until the very end.” – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

All the reasons I gave above for loving Harry Potter describes only some of what I felt when I turned the last page six months ago. So, going back to what I mentioned earlier, how has Harry Potter changed me? I think the main answer to that question is this: I wouldn’t have rooted for Harry, bonded with him, Ron and Hermione, been horrified at Voldemort’s actions, or been moved by the love and sacrifices of so many different characters if I hadn’t read this series. Because I realized I had signed off this series because of what other people were saying instead of picking it up and deciding for myself. I very well could have strongly disliked this series. It could have been everything people were saying it was and if so, that would have disturbed me to the point of not finishing it, I’m sure.

But this distorted view people have of Harry Potter isn’t real. I know because I once held that view in some mild way as well. Well, I don’t anymore.

As a conservative Christian, Harry Potter only reminded me of how much love there still is in the world, how light will always shine in the darkness and how good will always conquer evil. And how some things—some people—are more important than oneself. This—this is why I love Harry Potter.

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