Sunday, December 31, 2017

Let's Bust a Recap : 2017

2017 has come and gone, and I more than doubled my reading goal for the year! I even exceeded my secret goal. If you'll remember waaaay back to New Years Day, I posted my 2017 book list and stated my official goal for the year as 12 books: one a month. Really, my unofficial goal was 15 books for this year. I wanted to do better than I did in 2015 (my first year with a book list), but I still wanted to keep my expectations realistic. My secret goal evolved throughout the year. At first, it was 20 books. But when I got to October and realized I was already 18 books in and going strong, I upped it to 24 to match last year. When I hit 24, I even flirted with the idea of trying to get to 30, but alas, my final tally ended up at 26. It was a good year, and overall, I read some great books.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie : completed 1/6
A touch of whimsy to start the new year. Loved this charming read.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (re-read) : completed 1/26
Never gets old.

Immediately added to my list of go-to books. Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys are perfect.

Possibly the best Shakespearean comedy I've read so far although it's pretty neck-and-neck with Much Ado About Nothing.

For sure the best presidential biography I've read to date.

Ugh. Worst read of the year.

The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers (re-read) : completed 5/28

Emma by Jane Austen (re-read) : completed 6/14

Not my favorite. Hopefully we can only go up from here with Dumas.


This could be the best book I've ever read in my entire life. So good.

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte : completed 8/29

Excellent. Made me excited for more Hardy.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (re-read) : completed 10/7
11 years since I last read it?? I'm so old! *sob*

All. The. Tears. Perfect ending.

SO much better than the movie.

Left a lot to be desired.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (re-read) : completed 12/11

Kissing Father Christmas by Robin Jones Gunn : completed 12/19

Angels at the Table by Debbie Macomber : completed 12/22
Silly book with outrageous theological implications. After my second Debbie Macomber read, I can't really say I'm turning into a fan. Fun but totally ridiculous.

How did you make out with your 2017 resolutions? Check back in a few days for my 2018 book list!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Word for Wednesday

"Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home 
is to be charged to provisions against danger real or pretended from abroad."

~Thomas Jefferson~

Friday, December 22, 2017

Let's Bust a Recap : Father Christmas Trilogy

Today, we're doing three recaps in one because I just read this sweet Christmas trilogy by Robin Jones Gunn. (Although it doesn't have to stay a trilogy, I'm just sayin'.)
Finding Father Christmas, the first book in this little series, was published in 2007. In it, we meet Miranda who has decided to spend her Christmas trying to track down her biological father. The few meager clues she has about his identity from her mother's belongings lead her on a trip to the small town of Carlton Heath in England. In her search for her earthly father, Miranda meets her Heavenly Father and finally comes to terms with her past. 

Engaging Father Christmas was published the following year in 2008. In this one, we catch back up with Miranda as she navigates her life after learning the truth about her past and as she hopes and dreams for the future. Sidenote: Robin writes one of the most romantic Christmas proposal scenes I've ever read. *sigh*

Last year in 2016, these first two books got picked up by Hallmark for a made-for-TV Christmas movie. These are the first of Robin Jones Gunn's books to be adapted for the screen. When Finding Father Christmas (the movie) became the highest rated and most watched premier in the network's history, they obviously decided to do a sequel the following year with the same name of the book sequel. Engaging Father Christmas (the movie) then broke the record again for being the highest rated, most watched premier. I have not seen either of the Hallmark movies, but from what I understand, they differ from the books pretty significantly, the biggest changes probably being the setting (which was moved from England to Vermont) and the fact that Ian became a key character in the first movie whereas in the book, he was introduced briefly at the very end. 

I'm not sure if it was because of the movie deal or if the idea just didn't come until later, but Kissing Father Christmas was published last year in 2016 right before the first movie premiered on Hallmark. In Kissing Father Christmas, we meet Anna who has fallen in love with the small town and people of Carlton Heath after attending the wedding of her cousin Ian to his bride Miranda. 

These books were hardly on my radar until last year around the time the movie announcement was made. I knew that Robin Jones Gunn had written some Christmas stories, but I never really looked into reading them until she started promoting them on her blog before the movie premiered. At that point, I had read a lot more of her non-Christy Miller fiction and realized that I truly love all her writing. I finally caved this year and bought these for myself, and I don't regret it at all. After reading these, I think I'm only seven reads shy of her entire work (not including non-fiction). I have never been disappointed with any of her books. Her writing is feminine and beautiful and poetic and I love it all.

If you are a woman (these books just aren't really for boys—sorry not sorry) looking for something sweet to read, I can't recommend these books highly enough. 

Have you read anything by Robin Jones Gunn? Do you like her writing style? The 7 books of hers I have yet to read are all in the Sisterchicks series. I have a few of them, so you can bet 1 or 2 will make it on my 2018 book list! Any suggestions for which one I should read next? The only one I've read so far is Sisterchicks in Sombreros. 

Have a Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Word for Wednesday

"The world doesn't seem such a howling wilderness as it did last night. I'm so glad it's a sunshiny morning. But I like rainy mornings real well, too. All sorts of mornings are interesting, don't you think? You don't know what's going to happen through the day, and there's so much scope for imagination. But I'm glad it's not rainy today because it's easier to be cheerful and bear up under affliction on a sunshiny day. I feel that I have a good deal to bear up under. It's all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it's not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?"

~Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery~

Friday, December 15, 2017

Casual Fridays

Hello internet! I have been pretty inconsistent with the Casual Fridays around here lately, but hello. We call them Casual Fridays for a reason. (note the emphasis on "casual") I will now proceed to throw a bunch of semi-recent photos at you and call this a Photo-Prompted Post. May the force be ever in your favor. Or something. 
First of all, books and reading because #priorities. Since our last Casual Friday post, I've finished reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson (not my fav), Anne of Green Gables (ALWAYS my fav), and I've started in on some super-fun Christmas-y reads that I've been saving for the end of the year. I also posted my recap of Murder on the Orient Express which brings me to my next photo/topic....
As promised, I am telling you what I thought of the movie. And I have to say: thumbs down. Now, before you go accusing me of being a total book purist and Scrooge or whatever else, hear me out. I went into this really wanting to love the movie. I had high hopes because, as I told my husband before we went, the book reads practically like a screenplay already. Straightforward. No rabbit trails. Good character description and dialogue. Not hard, right? But once again, Hollywood royally screwed it up. To be fair, this is the only Agatha Christie novel I have ever read so I have no idea if they were drawing from any other stories of Poirot to create a character with more depth, but even if they were: unnecessary. Just my opinion. Hate me if you must. If you want Murder on the Orient Express, skip the movie. Read the book. 

On to happier things like girlfriends and pumpkin pie soda. Yes, you read that right, and yes, I really loved it. I know I'm a little crazy about all the pumpkin things, but even I was a little skeptical about pumpkin pie soda. However, it was fantastic, and I wish I was sipping on an icy cold bottle of it right now. (Thanks, Emily!) The week of Thanksgiving, I got to have these sweet friends over for a little mini-Camp Gilead reunion. We all became forever friends working as counselors the summer of '07, and I'm so thankful we got to snag this little pocket of time to catch up with each other. We're not waiting another 7 years to do this again, right girls??
I can't not share this one. How cute are these three? This is a snapshot of my everyday, and I love it so much. These guys are best buddies, and I love watching them all entertain each other. Definitely makes my job easier. 
And the sweetest ballerina had her first recital. Remember how it was the biggest deal on my calendar? Well, we missed it. Because apparently, 3:00 means 2:50 and "recitals" these days only consist of one three-minute song. Oy. It's totally fine. We made her do her dance for us in the parking lot with the phone cranked up as loud as it would go, and it was the most adorable thing you ever did see. 

Speaking of phones, I am definitely living that flip phone life again (aka: my best life). My little iPhone 4 died a long, drawn out death, and, while that was a fun 2 and 1/2 year experiment, I can't say I'm sad it's over. You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to find a phone that doesn't have a touch screen these days. My little no-contract phone company (shout out to straighttalk!) only had ONE option. Good riddance, Smart phone.
My BFF Danette and I had a little matinee movie and lunch date last weekend, and it couldn't have been more perfect. If any of you are looking for a GOOD movie to see (unlike that Murder on the Orient Express trainwreck—oh yes, pun intended) you should definitely go see Wonder starring Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts. But don't go without tissues because, unless you are the actual Grinch, you will absolutely need them. LOVED it, and I always love spending time with this girl.
My amazing, hard-working man built me this beautiful fire pit this week. Y'all, I know everyone is getting snow and everything but it's cold in Florida. I mean, 55 degrees in the middle of the day? I can't. Anyway, not only did my husband build this fire pit with his bare hands, he tore an eyesore of a fig tree out of the ground and put the fire pit where the tree had been. He's my hero, and I love him. And I especially love sitting by a blazing fire with him, trying to find shooting stars during a meteor shower. Merry Christmas to me.
Our church's Christmas concert was this past Sunday, and I have to say, even though I was singing in the choir and not sitting in the audience enjoying it, I was so blessed to be there. Our choir director chose beautiful music and Scripture passages, and he worked hard with us and the orchestra to make everything excellent. And it came together. If you missed it, you missed out.
Don't miss out again. If you want to take some time out of the crazy that is December to quiet your soul and focus on Christmas, this is the service you want to come to. And you are welcome.

I'm going to wrap this post up with a little Link Love because why not?

- The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul : Yes. Yes, it is.

- Sick People : Just stay home, y'all.

- Free Hugs : Because we just need a little of this in our lives sometimes.

- Arch-Nemeses : Because today's the day! Even though I probably won't get around to seeing it for a few more weeks.

- Food of Life : It's Christmas, y'all. You just eat whatever you want, okay? No judgment here.

P.S. I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who donated to Compassion for my birthday. With your generosity, we raised more than enough money for 15 water filters. That's so awesome. Thank you. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Word for Wednesday

"Never throw off the best affections of nature in the moment when they become most precious to their object; nor fear to extend your hand to save another, lest you should sink yourself."

~Thomas Jefferson~

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Let's Bust a Recap : Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Well, I read two full presidential biographies this year. And I've decided that will be the goal from now on. Because if I don't read more than one a year on a pretty regular basis, there's a good chance I'll never get through the presidents. Because I'm old. *sob* Let's not get sidetracked about this. On to the recap.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power was written by Jon Meacham in 2012, and so far, it comes in 3rd place out of the 4 presidential biographies I've read with John Adams by David McCullough taking 1st place, His Excellency by Joseph J. Ellis taking 2nd, and TR by Brands in dead last. 

I was a little bit disappointed in this biography because it seemed to focus more on Jefferson's character and personality than on his actual life and accomplishments. To be fair, the author did say in his notes that he did not set out to write a comprehensive work of Jefferson's life and times because "too much happened to him and around him for a single volume to do justice to the immensity of scholarship about the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries." I get that. But his notes were at the very end of the book, and I didn't read them until after I was finished. C'est la vie. It wasn't bad, just wasn't what I was expecting.

Jefferson himself was a master-manipulator. Many of his political ideas and goals were carried out by other people through the power of his suggestion. He managed much of his work through letter writing, and a common ploy he utilized seemed to be giving his exact plan or opinion as what must be done but then saying he, of course, would never dream of interfering in whatever circumstance he was writing about because it wasn't his place. Smart. Usually, his ideas really were good so that tactic was very effective. 

He was a philosophical idealist, but a practical politician. He certainly had a talent for stimulating the nation with his visionary and romantic words, but then adapting those hypothetical ideals to real-life practice making smart compromises to achieve his ends. For instance, his entire platform as a Republican was limited government, but he unilaterally made the Louisiana Purchase without the support of Congress, much less that of the people. But guess what: the Louisiana Purchase was truly one of the best acquisitions our country has ever made so Jefferson has been praised for it even to this day. And rightly so. For roughly three cents an acre, he more than doubled the physical size of the United States and effectually bought more security from potential European encroachment. 

He was a southern gentleman and polite to his very core. Even people who were vehemently opposed to him politically-speaking couldn't help but like him after meeting him in person. He was a brilliant conversationalist, and he was good at making others feel important and respected, a talent he certainly employed in getting people to do what he wanted. 

Although after reading this biography I would concede that Thomas Jefferson was a good politician and even an excellent president, he's still an enigma to me and I'm not sure we would have been friends. He truly loved his family, and it's tragic how much of that family he lost while alive. But he also had no problem pursuing married women or apparently carrying on a decades-long sexual liaison with his young (30 years younger than him to be exact) slave, Sally Hemings, which produced several children. Granted, he seemed to be devotedly faithful to his wife while she lived, but before he married her and after she died, he was totally a scoundrel with the ladies. He also rejected the divinity of Jesus while still respecting him as a great moral teacher and cherry-picking the Scriptures for what suited his agenda. While he was a true champion for religious freedom, he also used religion as a political tool to gain power. He loved science and architecture, and he was passionate about education, founding the University of Virginia after serving as president, an institution that endures today. He thought slavery was morally wrong, but was a slave-owner all his life, and, although he did think slavery would eventually be eradicated, he couldn't envision a society in which blacks and whites could live together freely and he did not free his own slaves (except, interestingly, the children of Sally Hemings). He was extremely sensitive to criticism, a trait he shared with George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt, and he expanded the presidency more than Washington or Adams did before him. While I don't really appreciate the power he exerted once he gained the presidency, it's a little more forgivable in him since the presidency was really still being defined while he was occupying it and also because he made good choices. One thing that Meacham made a point of in this biography and something I've learned and come to appreciate about our founding fathers since beginning this journey of reading through the American presidents is that they seriously feared the failure of the American experiment. While it's easy to look back now and criticize them for choices they made, they truly believed that America could quickly collapse and return to a monarchy, and they were making essential decisions through that perspective. The presidency has never been an easy job, but it was possibly an even heavier and more burdensome role then than it is now.

All of us as human beings are complex, but Jefferson was dizzyingly so. If you're looking for a good biography of him, I wouldn't necessarily discourage you from this one, but I might encourage you to look for one even better. I would have liked something a bit more chronological and straightforward that spent a little more effort focusing on some of the major events that happened in his life such as the Embargo of 1807 and the Burr conspiracy (among others). I'm very interested in reading a good biography of Aaron Burr after reading this biography of Jefferson. 

Ultimately, I think Jefferson really tried to do the best he could as a politician even though his methods weren't always praiseworthy. I sincerely hope he placed his faith in Jesus before his death. He did believe in an afterlife and was sure he would be reunited with his loved ones which is very sad if he ended his life condemned. I'm having a hard time wrapping up this recap because of how interesting and discussable Jefferson and the times in which he lived are. So.....the end.

Have you read a good biography on Thomas Jefferson or any of the founding fathers? What do you think of him? Would you have liked living in Revolutionary times? Who from the Revolutionary period are you most interested in learning about? Hamilton? Burr? Marshall? Lafayette? 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Word for Wednesday

"It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will. Of course, you must make it up firmly."

~Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery~