Posted in Book Reviews

Highlight: When Christmas Comes Again by Beth Seidel Levine

And the 12 Days of Christmas Books tour continues! We are halfway through this fun Literature Approved event and I’m so, so excited to share my second (and last) review for the tour. The Christmas book I chose to review this time is When Christmas Comes Again, one of my favorite books from one of my favorite middle grade series–Dear America.

I love this book for many reasons…but before I start ranting and get ahead of myself, you can find out for yourself below!

This book is part of the Dear America series, a middle grade historical fiction series near and dear to my heart. I hope to review many Dear Americas in the future, but I’m excited that my first one happens to be one of my all-time favorites!

When Christmas Comes Again by Beth Seidel Levine is one of the few (if not the only) Dear America about a seventeen-year-old girl. Most of the Dear America heroines are between twelve and fourteen years old, so you can imagine my excitement when I was finally the exact same age as the main character. Therefore, Simone’s questions about her future and her meaning in life are very relatable as I asked myself similar questions at that age. Also, Simone’s family is French and as I am French-Canadian, I loved the bits of French language and references throughout the diary.

Click here to finish reading my review! And when you’re finished, check out the other Christmas books Rayleigh has reviewed this week of various genres. These posts are a fun ride you want to be on!

Contributor Reviewer

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Posted in Book Reviews

First Five Books of 2016

“It is very pleasant dining with a bachelor,” said Miss Matty softly, as we settled ourselves in the counting-house. “I only hope it is not improper; so many pleasant things are!”

-Cranford

This first post beginning the discussion of the books I read in 2016 is long overdue, but here I am at last! I just now decided that I’m going to do something different this year by starting each of these posts with a quote from my favorite of the five books I read in the current post, so…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. *

  1. Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George – My mom, sisters and I listened to this series on audiobook together. This is the third book in the series and I believe a fourth was published recently. It is an enjoyable series with sassy characters and interesting plot twists, but I’ll admit that I remember little of the content a few months after listening. In conclusion, I have enjoyed listening to these books, but I’m in no hurry to read them again.
  2. * Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – THIS. BOOK. I am a total sucker for the classics, so if you don’t read “the old-fashioned books” then you will not understand my love for this novel. Needless to say, Elizabeth Gaskell is by far one of my top favorite authors and this book of hers does not disappoint. Cranford focuses on a small town, the majority of which are older women who are either single or widowed. The result are many shenanigans, misunderstandings and scandals–basically, I was laughing out loud pretty often–but at the end of the day, I was also tearing up at the tender hearts these women had when faced with the everyday trials of their time. Gaskell does such a beautiful job of creating both hilarious and witty conversations and moving descriptions of a character’s death. I am already itching to read it again (and I don’t often re-read books).
  3. * The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – We read this together for school (back when I was homeschooled 😉 ) and it was my little brother’s first time hearing the story. This series is a must-read for anyone who claims to love reading good literature. I enjoyed reading this book for the second time and recalling the differences between the book and the movie. To me, the Pevensie children will always be those brothers and sisters I grew up with…even though I never met them.
  4. Not a Nickel to Spare by Perry Nodelman – This is a Dear Canada book about a Jewish girl living in Ontario during the Great Depression. Growing up, I hadn’t realized how badly the Great Depression hit Canada along with the United States. But an even more devastating discovery was the discrimination some Canadians held against Jews. Certain places specifically banned Jews from entering–including a beach!–and there were gangs that gathered to threaten and hurt any Jews they came across. It was a fragile time between the world wars when people were unsure just how worse life would get before it got better. I really enjoyed learning more about this time period while reading this book.
  5. Janitor’s Boy by Andrew Clements – My family loves listening to books by Andrew Clements in the car. While none of his works can ever beat Frindle, Janitor’s Boy was still a funny and heart-warming story about a boy embarrassed about his dad’s job. Until he realizes just how hard his dad works and how unappreciated he is. One of my (many) pet peeves is children being unnecessarily embarrassed by their parents, but this book held the most perfect response to such behavior. In the end, the janitor’s boy told his class that he wants to be a janitor when he grows up–just like his dad.

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

Posted in The Ponderings of Life, Words Upon Words

Life Update: March 2017

Where does the time go? Way too often have I told myself that I’ll try to blog more often, at least one to two times per month. Then that month flies by and I never even started drafting a single blog post. Well, I either have way too much going on or I’m not very good at managing my time. You can take your pick. 😉

This blog post is going to be like many others I’ve written in the past–not about anything specific, just a bunch of different pieces all thrown together.

First off, I’ll start with writing. To be honest, I haven’t written much since January. I sent Bridget Returns to my aunt for preliminary editing after going through the whole thing myself for the first time over the course of two weeks. I hope to read through it one more time this spring/summer and attempt to cut back some more words. As for Endeavoring, I’ve basically reached the halfway mark and while the story itself is definitely starting to pick up the pace (or maybe I am), I haven’t had much sit-down time to really work on it in a few months. While I definitely look forward to picking it up every once in a while, I don’t feel an exact hurry to get it done. I already have three completed novels awaiting editing and publishing, so I’m not sure I’m ready to add a fourth to the list quite yet. Though we all know writing is so much more fun than e d i t i n g.

As for reading, I’m always listening to an audiobook in the car on my way to work every morning and I’ve been trying to get through some library books that have been sitting on my shelf for weeks. I recently finished reading a twisted version of the classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale and accordingly started reading The Two Towers. My hope is to finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy this year! After The Two Towers, I’d like to read Stolen Magic by Gail Carson Levine and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. Those are both waiting expectantly on my shelf right now. 😉

Now on to life. Where do I start?! I’m still working at Meadowlands preschool and I’m always involved in some kind of church activity. I am officially a Lumerit student as of January 2017 and I’ve already completed my first course, Comparative Worldviews. Yay for getting another three credits under my belt! Between school, work, church and babysitting, I still manage to find free time to watch some really great shows (mostly British dramas) which really ignite my writing imagination. And some things I’m really excited for in the upcoming weeks pertain to my favorite time period: World War 1. I just finished picking some classes around that time period, there’s an educational movie completely dedicated to World War 1 coming up on PBS AND the history museum in Raleigh is opening a World War 1 exhibit in April. It’s a great time to be alive. 🙂

Speaking of history, I wanted to give a brief introduction to a blog post I’m planning on putting it up in the near future. I recently saw a post on social media of someone’s textbooks and the caption read “I hate history”. Wow. That hit me really hard, right in the chest. Of course, the person was being sarcastic and simply making a “funny” remark. But I took it personally. Very personally. Why? Well, for one thing, I’m kinda majoring in history. Basically, I care a lot about history. My passion for history over the years has really shaped who I am today. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say “I didn’t like history when I was young, but I find it interesting now”. Of course, not everyone is going to like history as much as I do. I’m not asking you to. Everyone is different. But I think it’s really too bad that it takes so long for people to understand how important and interesting history is.

All I’m trying to say is, I love history a lot. And when someone says they hate it, I can’t bear it. It shouldn’t, but it really hurts me. But that’s when I realized that I do the same thing, but about a different subject. Math and I have a really complicated relationship. But unfortunately, I’m guilty of doing the exact same thing. I say “I hate math” ALL the time! But some people really love math. I’ll never understand why, but they do and I should respect that. I’ll never truly excel at math and that’s okay. Other people are good at math and they love it and all I can say is “wow, good for you!” I know why math is important and I use it all the time. That’s what’s really important. So the blog post I’m planning to write up is about why history is important for everyone and why I personally enjoy it so much–why I’m majoring in it.

Until next time! 🙂

Posted in Book Reviews

FINAL Five Books of 2015

Before January of 2017 comes to a close, I really wanted to finish putting this last blog post together for my 2015 books. Hopefully I will be more on top of things this year for the list of 2016 books I read. 😉 Let’s get straight to it!

As always, if you missed out on my previous 2015 books posts, you can find books 1-5 here, 6-10 here, 11-15 here, 16-20 here and 20-25 here!

*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. *

26. The Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart – This is the third installment in the Mysterious Benedict Society series. This one was definitely an improvement on the second, but nothing can ever beat the epic feels of the first. We listened to this book on audio during on of our road trips. Enjoyable, but I honestly don’t remember a lot of it compared to the first book–of which I remember almost every detail. Needless to say, I could learn a lot from Trenton Lee Stewart’s vocabulary and sentence structuring for my own writing.

27. * The Varken by Erin Phillips – I look forward to giving this one an official review on Amazon when it is published–which will hopefully happen later this spring! I read through it to give Erin some feedback when she was in the editing stages. This is a sequel to Erin’s self-published debut novel The Keeper. While I think The Keeper will always hold a special place in my heart since it was my first work of Erin’s to read, I think this book is definitely just as good. The characters have interesting back stories and development, there is a mystery to be solved, new things to discover and a lot of action and intrigue. I couldn’t stop reading.

28. Wednesdays at the Tower by Jessica Day George – We listened to this one in the car on audio. I’ve listened to the first three books in the series and have yet to listen to the most recent addition. This is the second book in the series, but I will admit that I don’t remember exactly what happened. I’m afraid I get the last two mixed up. I believe it had to do with each royal family member wanting their own gryphon to raise and fighting with the youngest child about it. It’s a fun series with mysteries, suspense, a little romance and the loyalty of siblings growing up in the strangest castle you’ll ever come across.

29. A Time for Courage by Kathryn Lasky – I know you were waiting for me to mention either a Dear America or Dear Canada. 😉 Well, here it is. This book is part of the Dear America series and while I picked it up at the library because it takes place during World War I (my favorite time period), it’s mostly about the Suffragette Movement, which the main character’s mother is deeply involved in. While generally enjoyable and interesting, there was a lot about this book that frustrated me. To be frank, I’m not a feminist in any way, shape or form. In fact, feminism is one of my biggest pet peeves. So you can probably imagine how I felt reading this book. Without going into too much detail, there were two main things that bothered me about this book. One, Kathleen’s mother and friends were protesting against President Woodrow Wilson, claiming that instead of paying attention to the war going on in Europe, he should instead spend time giving women the right to vote. I tried not to think too harshly of them, for I know that they had no idea what was really going on in Europe, but it was hard. In the end, the women were complaining about something that was so unimportant in light of the fact of all the men and women sacrificing their lives overseas to protect their countries. Don’t get me wrong. Having the right to vote as a woman is great and all, but there’s a time and place for protesting for it. Two, the most important point, is that by the time we reach the end of the book, Kathleen’s mother has completely forsaken her family. Literally. She is never home because she is always out protesting. Kathleen is left alone at home every afternoon. She has to do her homework by herself, she eats supper by herself or with her equally deserted and lonely father. And if she wants advice or encouragement from a woman, her mother is not there to give it. When her mother is home, she’s cranky or too tired to take care of her household. Every day, Kathleen is filled with worry that her mother won’t return home someday, perhaps being trampled by the crowds. The book ends where she really doesn’t come home one day: her mother is put in jail for protesting. Kathleen, only thirteen or fourteen year old, is now left to manage the household and finish raising herself. In the end, Kathleen’s mother put her personal desire to vote over her daughter. It just didn’t seem right.

30. * The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien – Ah. Now this is a book I enjoyed from cover to cover. It was slow going, but every time I picked it up to read another chapter, I was impressed. Unfortunately, I’ve had The Two Towers on my list all year, but still have yet to read it. I’m determined to read it and The Return of the King this year. They are some of my favorite movies of all time. In reading The Fellowship of the Ring, I received a lot more information and detail than the movie is able to provide. Since I already had the basic idea of the story in my head, whenever I came across something in the book that hadn’t been put in the movie, it was like discovering a bit of treasure. Tolkien is probably one of the most brilliant writers of all time. Not only are his characters three dimensional and his plot tight and alluring, his writing is flawless. There is a certain charm to The Lord of the Rings series that no other series can ever have. Every sentence flows smoothly to the next and the next. And I especially loved in reading this book the lack of adjectives and adverbs when someone is speaking. I tend to use a lot of those to help my readers understand what tone my character is currently using or what facial expression they’re making. Tolkien doesn’t need any of that because his characters speak so distinctly from the essence of their inner being that I know exactly how Sam or Gandalf is saying something. I can even tell who’s speaking before he tells me. If I could only write a story even half as inspiring as he, I would be content.

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

Posted in NaNoWriMo, The Ponderings of Life

Bridget Returns~Seventh Novel

On Saturday, October 1st, I finally finished writing the recently titled Bridget Returns.

With 137,000 words, I finally completed my NaNoWriMo 2015 novel. The feeling of finishing a book really never gets old. A feeling of exhilaration starts tingling down from my heart to my fingertips as I type every author’s two favorite words: The End.

Now, while there is still much work to be done before I am ready to present Bridget’s sequel to you, I’m just so happy to have finished it. This is the seventh book I’ve finished writing and hopefully will be the fourth to self-publish. What a journey it was from November of last year to today. This book has hands down given me the hardest time in more ways than one. I don’t think I truly knew what writers block was until Bridget Returns. 😉 Even though this book was probably the most plotted out before I began writing, for some reason, I just had a hard time delving into the story. It took me about halfway to get really passionate about the plot and characters. After November ended and NaNo’s motivation sizzled out, I dragged on in the spring of 2016, writing a scene here and there when I had time. By the time the summer started, though, I was burnt out and didn’t care anymore.

It’s strange, now that I’m on the other side, to remember asking my sisters (in July, I think) whether I should quit on Bridget Returns and move on to other stories. Man, am I ever glad they said, “No!” and reminded me that I always finish what I start. So, I took their advice and plowed through. In August, I decided to go back and re-read what I’d written already, to remember what the goal of the book was and find where it went wrong. Once I figured that out, I started writing again. It wasn’t easy, but it did get easier. And then, I finished it, writing almost half of it in September.

So, was it worth it to bite the bullet and just finish it? Absolutely! Even with my major outlining, Bridget Returns really changed a lot from what it was in the beginning to what it ended up being. It also turned out twice as long as I planned, but at the same time, the story became a lot more important to me as I continued writing. It was no longer just a sequel to a book I’d written in middle school. I guess just as I grew up, so did Bridget. Bridget’s Journey, don’t get me wrong, is a sweet book, but Bridget Returns brings in a lot of elements that the first doesn’t have. There’s more at stake, decisions hold more weight and relationships are both more delicate and stronger. The character developments were bigger and better than I’d hoped. And who would have thought it possible–but the characters themselves ended up teaching me some valuable lessons.

I hope whenever this one is published, my readers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it (mostly 😉 )!

P.S. Now that I’m done writing Bridget Returns, I have been going back and forth between reading through it for the first time and plotting my NaNo 2016 novel. More details on that to come soon…