Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books I Read in 2014

Well, I can't believe this year is almost over! It's really flown by, but I did manage to read more this year than I did last year, and I completed half of my resolution from last year! I did actually start a book journal, and kept reviews of what I read. I did NOT read 1 non-fiction for every 5 fiction books, though, but I am pleased that half of my book resolution was successful, and I hope I'll read more non-fiction this year. As usual, I did read the Bible and my two small devotionals every day, and I've been reading in my tuning text book, and selections from the other books required for the course, but I'm not counting those.

Missing 15 and 17 on the list, the flowered book is my journal.

1. Tomorrow by Maria Edgeworth (1823) - Recommend
     I started the year off with a book that shows you the devastation that can occur from procrastination. It was frightening to see what happened to the procrastinating hero due to his bad habit of procrastination about EVERYTHING. Very motivational beginning to the year for me.

2.   Emma by Jane Austen - Recommend
     I've read Emma several times before, of course, this time I was reading it with my younger brother as he was studying British Literature. I'd never noticed before how truly unlikeable and flawed Emma is, I've always forgiven her mistakes and liked her anyway, but this time I was struck by how talented Austen is to create such a realistic and annoying character, and yet make us love her anyway, and even believe that Mr. Knightley could love her. 

3. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis - Recommend
    Sometimes amusing, often sobering, I always enjoy this eye-opening fictional imagination of how demons may try to influence our lives. It's a short book, I read it in one afternoon babysitting while my little charge was napping, and I think it's worth rereading often, as a very useful reminder that "we wrestle not with flesh and blood."

4. Divergent by Veronica Roth - Undecided
    Even though I saw the movie first, and that perhaps gave the movie an unfair advantage in my opinion, I liked the movie better. I couldn't help but compare Roth's style of writing to Suzanne Collins's, and it came up quite inferior. The movie cuts some of the uncomfortable romantic scenes, makes more sense, flows more concisely, has a better characterization of Tris (didn't like book Tris at ALL) and much better personalization of Four/Tobias. Thankfully, I read it so quickly that it wasn't too much of a waste of my time.

5. Insurgent by Veronica Roth - Do NOT recommend
    Yes, okay, I disliked Divergent, but I couldn't get the interesting world out of my head, and I wanted to know what happened next without waiting for the movie. It got me through a tedious day in the car. I was disappointed by the lack of character development, and dizzied by the confusing, whirlwind tour of their city. I definitely felt that Roth's already lacking writing abilities took a further decline in this book. 

6. Allegiant by Veronica Roth - Do NOT recommend
   I am ashamed that I caved and read the 3rd book. I had a spoiler for the end, and I didn't enjoy the writing in Insurgent, but I only lasted a week before giving in. I didn't think the writing could get worse, but it did. I didn't think the characters could get worse, but they did. Besides that, she ruined the cool world, threw all kinds of mess in, wrote way too many inappropriate scenes for Tobias and Tris, and did the ending in the absolute worst way possible. It was horrific. I don't think she had a plan for this series past the first book, and I sometimes wondered if she'd even had an editor.

7. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens - Recommend
   After all that awfulness, I decided to read a good classic. We watched the lovely miniseries, which is what finally inspired me to plunge into another Dickens. Well, actually, it inspired Sarah, and I had to wait for her to finish before I could read our copy. I've read Dickens before, and had begun to think that I would rather just read Austen. Well, Austen may be easier to digest, but after LD, I fully appreciate Dickens! This was a very good read, and in spite of the daunting length, a good intro book for someone just starting Dickens, I think. Great Expectations is shorter, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as well. Little Amy was a wonderful character. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, even though I expected to like it in the first place!

8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - Undecided
    I actually took a short break in between book 1 and book 2 of Little Dorrit to read this, because Sarah wanted to see the movie, and she insisted that I read the book first. I wasn't even sure I wanted to read or see a story about two cancer patients who fall in love (I could tell from the trailer it was going to contain death and sadness) and if it weren't for Shailene Woodley, I probably wouldn't have. I went in steeled against any tear-jerking, and not one tear did I shed. I enjoyed the funny parts, but the sad parts didn't touch me, not even a lump in my throat. (The movie was different, that did wrench some emotion from me...) It was well-written, but definitely not very appropriate, and one I won't likely read again.

9. Death by the Book by Julianna Deering - Recommend
    My fun summer read! I enjoy Deering's vintage-style murder mysteries very much. I was a little disturbed by the motive for the murder, and who the murderer was, but I guess murder should always be disturbing. The Christian additions are nice, not too preachy, and it's pleasant to have a good, Christian character to rely on in one's hero.

10. Murder at the Mikado by Julianna Deering - Recommend
      Second fun summer read! I enjoyed the mystery better in this one, but the characters got a little stale, and the conflict was mostly irritating, and seemed like nothing more than a silly plot manipulation, because I knew it would work out fine in the end. Looking forward to more!

11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Recommend
      Can't let a year go by without reading P&P at least once! This time I was taking notes on income, numbers and signs of social status (servants, etc.) as research for a post I hope to do soon about why the 2005 P&P makes the Bennets look too poor and the wrong social status. I also noticed more of what was happening with Mr. Collins, and also Elizabeth's interest in Wickham and Colonel Fitzwilliam. I hadn't really realized before that Wickham and Colonel Fitzwilliam were almost sort of suitors, and that Elizabeth would possibly have entertained the notion of accepting one of them, had they asked her! I still can't choose a favorite Austen, but I do love P&P.

12. The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe - Recommend
      Though it has only the dubious recommendation of Harriet Smith, I enjoyed Udolpho last year and decided to read another Radcliffe. I was amazed at some of the scenes that were clearly parodied in Northanger! For some reason I felt that it was mostly Udolpho being parodied, but clearly it was the entire genre, and there is actually a scene in Romance that nearly exactly appears in Northanger - when Catherine discovered the papers and then her candle is extinguished! Except, of course, in Romance is actually a tale of woe and horror, and not just laundry lists. So much fun to read! And it makes Northanger SO much funnier to understand the gothic novel! Anyone who likes Northanger at all should read at least one gothic novel.

13. The Giver by Lois Lowry - Recommend
      Yet another on my list of dystopian fiction this year. This one was written a while ago, and it's a nice, short book. The background, whys and reasoning aren't explained really, but it's an interesting commentary on humanity and feelings. It made an interesting movie, too.

14. The Maze Runner by James Dashner - Undecided
      I guess I could label this year as "the year of dystopian addiction in which no story was quite as satisfactory as the Hunger Games." Maze Runner is basically for guys... a little too sci-fi for my taste, very lacking in character development, the monsters are ridiculous... and that's saying something compared to the HG creatures. Another book where the movie was better, I think, sadly. I liked the main character better in the movie, anyway.

15. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie - Recommend
      I am a little ashamed to announce that this was my first Christie. I grew up reading all kinds of mysteries, Nancy Drew, Hardy boys, Boxcar kids, Mandie, Bobbsey twins... and I've watched a lot of Marple and Poirot, but never read it until now. Oh my goodness, what I was missing out on! Christie isn't called the queen of mystery for nothing! It was fabulous, and the characters are amazingly realistic. Must read more!

16. Scorch Trials by James Dashner - Not recommended
      Even with Christie fresh in my mind, somehow my weird addiction to dystopian drew me back to the uncompelling Maze Runner series. This book has a terrible case of middle book syndrome, where the world and plot got more ridiculous and tedious. As if the first book wasn't distasteful enough for me, this one throws in a zombie-like element. I wondered the whole time why I was even reading it.

17. The Death Cure by James Dashner - Not recommended
      You're not surprised. I finished Roth's series, why not find out how this ends? It was a very unsatisfying finale. New levels of gross were reached, one of the characters that I was finally starting to like met a gruesome end when I was hoping he'd be saved, and the plot was tired and uninteresting. I thought there would be a twist, but there wasn't. I may not even watch the movie, thankfully I have a few years to get over my dystopian addiction. 

18. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie -Recommend
      Nothing much to say since I don't want to spoil the mystery, again, a truly enthralling mystery. I really enjoy Christie's writing style, and hope to read every single one, eventually!

19. Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie - Recommend
      In an interesting change for me, this book was from Hastings's perspective! Christie's writing talent can handle many switches I imagine, this book was just as delightful as the others. I can't believe I waited so long to start, thinking they would be boring! Oh my!

20. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen - Recommend
      Taking a little break from Christie to read some less mind-exercising literature... I can't let a year pass by without reading S&S any more than I could P&P. I can't choose a favorite book, but one thing I have decided, Elinor is my Austen role model. I think I am naturally too much like the negative parts of Lizzy, and I wish to be more like Elinor. Her strength, and effort for serenity through her suffering is inspiring.

21. Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss - Recommend
      I love the growth and alteration in the heroine as she becomes more and more like Christ. Her early days are much like I tend to be, willful, defiant and fiery, and through the grace of God becomes a sweet, faithful, totally surrendered woman of God. It's so inspiring, and I hope that I may grow to be so changed. I intend to read this book more often.

22. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - Recommend
      This was my second time reading N&S, and I enjoyed it so much better! The movie, while very enjoyable, did not give me a good opinion of Margaret, so it took the second read for me to develop my own character for her, and I found that I liked her very much! But Mr. Thornton is still my favorite. Richard Armitage did a great job in the movie, but the script really didn't do his character justice either. The book is so much better!

23. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - Recommend
      I decided to round out the year by another read through of what is definitely the funniest Austen. It was funny enough the first time I read it, some of Mr. Tilney's lines make me laugh out loud, and Catherine is such a funny heroine, but it is even funnier now that I understand the gothic novels it's parodying! Such fun.

How many of these books have you read? What's on your To-Read list for 2015? Happy New Year!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

There have been many attempts at sequels to Jane Austen's wonderful novels. I have a very low opinion of almost everyone who thinks they have any right to try to add on to her works, but for some reason, I was silly enough to watch Death Comes to Pemberley, in spite of expecting it to be horrible from the beginning. Perhaps mixing murder and Jane Austen is better than mixing in some excessively steamy romance (which is just my vague impression of some of these "sequels," as I've never actually read any) and I certainly think a murder mystery component is a better choice than zombies or sea monsters. But seriously folks, I know all Jane Austen fans wish there were more... but there isn't. And there never will be. This is NOT Austen. This was torture.

 First of all, the characters are pretty awful. Darcy and Lizzie's relationship and personal characters were mutilated in a most infuriating fashion. Darcy was loud and irritable, even Matthew McFadyen's pouty portrayal of Darcy in the 2005 P&P was more tolerable. Lizzie was boring and flat, none of that sparkle, wit and vivacity that she should have. Their relationship was terrible, more about that later. Georgiana's relationship with her brother was also contorted and strained, completely unfaithful to Pride and Prejudice. Colonel Fitzwilliam was cold, mysterious and weird, also unlike he's supposed to be. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were sadly bland, the first not sarcastic and dry enough, the second not silly and irritating enough. Wickham, Denny and Lydia were pretty good, but only in comparison to the awfulness of the others. Lady Catherine makes a pointless appearance, unless you think appearing just to complete the thorough ruination of all the characters has a point... she was completely unlike Lady Catherine, and much more like Aunt Augusta from The Importance of Being Earnest. It was very disorienting.

Thankfully, one bright spot was the lovely costuming. When everything else was irritating me, I'd just zone out and admire one of Lizzie's dresses. Even though the actress was much too old, and had eyes that were nearly the opposite of "fine eyes," at least her dresses were pretty and authentic (so far as I know). Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the scenery, the woods around Pemberley were made out to be scary and mysterious most of the time, and they used the same mansion as the atrocious 2005 P&P for Pemberley, which has that stupid, contrived man-made lake in the front that seems to go RIGHT UP TO THE HOUSE. It never ceases to make me groan.

And that fountain! What?!?
The mystery plot was not very good at all, either. I'm afraid that's what happens when you try to mix two things that aren't meant to be mixed... you ruin both of them! The mystery was quite unsatisfactory to me, as a fan of good mysteries like Sherlock, Miss Marple and Poirot. It was lacking in clues, lacking in sleuthing, lacking in intrigue and definitely lacking in suspense. The mystery was terribly boring, except when it was being annoying by injustice in the courtroom.

Perhaps to make up for the pathetic mystery, or perhaps just to annoy me further, the story added flashbacks in which they further tainted the true, beautiful original Pride and Prejudice by showing us the scene with Lizzie and Wickham when he tells his lies about Darcy, the worst mutilation yet of Darcy's first proposal scene (yes, we believe it was worse than the 2005 P&P first proposal scene in the rain, where they almost kiss. Hard to believe something could be worse than than that, but there it is!) and a scene where Darcy pays Wickham to marry Lydia in a twisted, weird way.

Also, the story added unnecessary and irritating drama between Darcy and Lizzie in their present time, with Lizzie thinking that Darcy regretted marrying her because of the connection to Lydia and Wickham, and if I understood correctly (I may have been hallucinating or something) Darcy insinuating to her that he was actually feeling that way about her in a most unpleasant conversation! 

Georgiana had a little love triangle; she and a nice young lawyer were in love, and Colonel Fitzwilliam also wanted to marry her. For the sake of duty she was going to marry Colonel Fitzwilliam, and that was one of the points of the obnoxious conflict between Lizzie and Darcy, as Lizzie wanted Georgiana to marry for love, and Darcy wanted her to marry Fitzwilliam for security, and the horrible conversation ends with him saying something about how it's better to marry for security and honor than to marry on a sentimental whim! Oh my goodness, I could write a whole blog post on that one quote, and all the terrible, infuriating, ridiculous ways that is so wrong, and NOT AT ALL Mr. Darcy! Does P. D. James think he changed for the WORSE after their marriage instead of for the better? Did she even READ Pride and Prejudice?!? Okay, okay, calming... deep breaths...

Let me just say, almost the entire movie Darcy and Lizzie are at odds - this is not how I want to see one of my favorite Austen couples in a sequel after they're married! Finally, near the end of the movie, their relationship is mended and then this horrible mutilation of Austen flops the other direction with a scene where Lizzie and Darcy begin to take each others clothes off! Amid much shrieking, hiding of eyes and exclamations of "No, no, no, no, no, no!" we managed to fast forward. Ugh!

Georgiana agrees to marry Fitzwilliam, but that's put to right at the very end, and her young lawyer comes riding up on a horse in a very 2005-esque manner... it might not be early on a foggy morning, but he's improperly clothed (what do these film makers have against cravats, anyway?) and they're standing in a field. At least there are no incredibly stupid lines, there, he just asks her to marry him, and she says yes and then they kiss passionately. (Which, of course, doesn't seem very authentic, but at least is less that offensive than that OTHER scene...)

This is the beginning of the mystery... Lydia is hysterical and everyone gathers around.
Thankfully, in spite of much boring mysteriousness, the "murder" case is finally solved by a pull-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat sort of trick, and Lizzie rushes up onto the gallows at the last second with a signed confession from the guy who didn't even murder anyone. After being mistaken for Wickham, and non-fatally whacked on the head by the brother of the woman Wickham seduced, who then realized the mistake and did no more damage, Denny just fell down a hill and managed to fatally hit his head on this random gravestone of a Darcy that shamed and disgraced the family, almost lost the estate, turned into a hermit, built a cottage in the woods, killed himself and was buried way out there as a symbol for future generations. What, was that confusing?  What about the ghost of the woman whose very young boy was hanged for poaching off of Pemberley land when years ago when Darcy was a boy, so she then hanged herself in the woods of Pemberley and is rumored to appear whenever anything bad is getting ready to happen at Pemberley? I wish I was making this up. I feel like I'm forgetting some of the ridiculous things, but I don't want to waste any more time ranting.

Like my dad said, they make these things just to trap Austen fans. They know we can't resist, just because it claims to be Austenish, so once they hook us with that, they don't even have to try to write a good story, or even satisfy the craving that they tempted. This is completely unsatisfactory as a murder mystery; more than terribly frustrating as a sequel to P&P with the issues about Darcy and Lizzie. They never would have fought like that, and Austen never would have given us a glimpse behind their bedroom doors... neither extreme was at all enjoyable. Perhaps fans of 2005 P&P would like it, but I recommend everyone else stay away. It's not worth it just to satisfy your curiosity, you'll be wasting 3 hours of your life. There, your curiosity is now satisfied.

If you're trying to decide, don't watch it, seriously. It was like hoping for chocolate and biting into carob instead. Or when someone accidentally puts salt instead of sugar into the cake, you know, that kind of disappointing. Just look at these pictures of pretty dresses and tell yourself that you got the best part of this movie without all of the torture. You're welcome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Janeite Tag (I'm finally back!)


Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice tagged me for The Janeite Tag! Thanks so much, Hamlette, this looks like fun, and a great way for me to ease back into blogging after my long hiatus! (I probably have thousands of missed blog posts, but I'll try to pop in on all of you soon!)

The Rules:
  • Thank and link back to the person who tagged you.
  • Tell us how you were introduced to Jane Austen and share one fun fact about your Janeite life (this fun fact can be anything from "I stayed up all night reading Emma" to "I visited Chawton and met Anna Chancellor.").
  • Answer the tagger's questions.
  • Write seven questions of your own.
  • Tag as few as one or as many as seven other Janeites and let them know you've tagged them.
I was introduced to Jane Austen first by the BBC Pride and Prejudice (1995). My parents loved it, and I watched bits and pieces sometimes when they watched it, until I was finally old enough to really "get it" myself around age 14. Then I loved it so much that I read the book, and then all the other books, and watched lots more movies/mini-series! 

One fun fact... um, I tried to keep track of how many times I've read P&P in my life, and I lost count somewhere around a dozen... you see, I was trying to keep a tally at the beginning of one book, but then I got two more editions that I like to read too, and I forgot to tally in those a few times... I reread P&P a LOT. I guess that's the best fun fact I have, hehe!

Hamlette's Questions:
1.  Would you rather board with the Bennets or the Tilneys for a fortnight?
Hm, I have to say the Tilneys. I think the silly Bennets would get on my nerves too much, and I would enjoy the thrill of staying in an abbey, plus Henry is my favorite Austen hero, so maybe I would steal him from Catherine! ;)
2.  Would you rather have Edmund Bertram or Edward Ferrars as your pastor?
Edward Ferrars, definitely! I have never liked Edmund much, and Edward is my second favorite Austen hero. I think he would be a very kind, thoughtful pastor with good knowledge to share... whereas Edmund was so dense that he fell in love with Mary Crawford! Ugh.
3.  If you could play any Austen character in a play or movie production, who would you want to portray?
Oh my, that's hard... I think Lizzy, Elinor, Catherine or Emma would be a lot of fun. But if I have to choose one, I would probably choose Lizzy. She's so fun, quick-witted, intelligent and energetic. Her "playful manners" and "bright eyes" would be delightful to try to portray, and I think the first proposal and the Lady Catherine confrontation scenes would be so much fun to do!
4.  Which Austen book makes you laugh the most?  (Or do you not laugh over any of them?)
Northanger Abbey makes me laugh out loud every time! It's so funny, and I find it even more amusing now that I've read both The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Romance of the Forest. It's an absolutely hilarious parody of the gothic genre! Henry has some of the best lines... "Now I must give you one smirk, and then we may be rational again."
5.  How many times have you read your favorite Austen book?
Well, I definitely can't choose a favorite, and like I mentioned in my fun fact, I lost count of how many times I've read P&P! It is somewhere around 13 or 14 times though, I think. And I refuse to say that it's my favorite, but it is the one I've read the most... you may draw what conclusions you choose from that.
6.  Which Austen parents do you think do the best job of parenting?
I think Mr. and Mrs. Morland are probably the best parents out of the lot. They didn't know she was going to be sent home in the middle of the night in such an unsafe way when they let her go to Bath with the Allens so they weren't knowingly neglectful, and they seem to be very sensible, kind and intelligent.
7.  If you could make a new movie version of any Austen book, which one would you adapt, and who would you cast?  (Feel free to get as detailed as you want, or just cast the principals -- your choice.)
I think Mansfield Park and Persuasion both need new editions... but...

For Mansfield Park, Sarah and I (Okay, mostly Sarah, I'm pretty horrible at imaginary casting) were talking just recently about what a good Edmund Tom Hughes would make! Edmund is a little annoying, but Tom Hughes does somewhat annoying characters in a very enjoyable way. I liked him a lot in The Lady Vanishes and "Silk," and can't wait to see more of him! Sarah mentioned casting Claire Foy (a favorite since Little Dorrit) as Fanny, which would make her goody-goody side more appealing, and I think she does the quiet, sweet and sincere characters really well, and might even make me like Fanny (definitely not my favorite Austen heroine by any means) and understand her better. 

Now, let me try a little by myself... the extra characters. I would cast (this is how my brain works) Tom Hughes's co-star from an episode of Agatha Christie's "Marple," Joanna Vanderham (also star of "The Paradise") as Maria Bertram. 

So far I've only seen her do completely sweet characters, but I think this looks like a Maria expression. I think she could pull off a little cold, greediness under a sweet, mild mask.

 And Tom's co-star from "Silk" Natalie Dormer as Mary Crawford.

I think she would do the character fabulously.
Just ignore the robes here, and pretend they're rehearsing their scene from the infamous play! Isn't it perfect?
Based on that casting, Sarah helped me pick Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Henry Crawford. 

Like this, but DEFINITELY without the mustache.

More like this, but I like the lighter hair... although I think the Crawfords were supposed to be dark... what do you think, blonde Crawford siblings, or no? Natalie Dormer looks good as a brunette, too...

Aunt Norris should be Penelope Wilton. 
Yes... we started stealing Downton Abbey cast members....

And Lily James for Julia Bertram. 

She and Joanna Vanderham look like they could be sisters, right?
So, on my own again, and a little stuck. Really, I don't think anyone could top James D'Arcy's performance as Tom, but he's way too old now. Colin Morgan has grown up nicely since his appearance in Doctor Who and Merlin, what do you think?

Mr. Tom Bertram, perhaps?
 Mr. Rushworth was done very well by Rory Kinnear, I don't know who I would choose to do better. He has to do silliness and ignorance just right. I'd be interested to see James Corden in the role, I saw him in a couple episodes of Doctor Who with Matt Smith and I think he'd be a good Rushworth. Maybe a little old, but he could be a bit older than Maria...

"I come in 3 times, and have two and forty speeches. That's something, is not it?"
  For Lady Bertram, Sarah suggested Sylvestra Le Touzel, who played Fanny in the 1983 Mansfield Park, (which we commonly refer to as "the ugly Mansfield") and then played Mrs. Allen in Northanger Abbey

I do think she'd be better as Lady Bertram than she was as Fanny...

When I went looking for pictures of her, Google suggested Owen Teale as a related interest. Apparently he's in Game of Thrones (as is Natalie Dormer, and maybe someone else I searched for this post...), which I don't watch, but we have seen him in The Hollow Crown as some Captain that I don't exactly remember.

He looks pretty good, right? (I'm getting lazy now... this is the end...)
 I very much enjoyed recasting Mansfield Park! I may just have to reread it now, and try to imagine my cast. ;) 

Since I'm a bit late getting around to this, and I haven't caught up on who has already completed this tag, I'm going to skip the last two steps. If anyone reading this hasn't done this tag, and would like to, consider yourself tagged, and answer the same great questions that I did from Hamlette! Then please drop your link in my comment box, I'd love to come see your post!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On Science and Christianity

I know, I wasn't planning on writing much this summer, but this is a topic that has been weighing on my mind, and I was so excited, I just had to write down what I was thinking. 

We were very excited to have Ken Ham speaking at a church in our area one recent Sunday, and I was very stirred by his message. It clarified what I had been pondering over the past few months, and gave me renewed determination and courage to stand for what I believe.

For those who might not have heard of Ken Ham, he is a Christian scientist who believes in a 6-day creation period and an earth that's about 6,000 years old. He founded Answers in Genesis, an apologetics ministry to help equip Christians to defend our faith and share the gospel effectively. His ministry built the Creation Museum (which I still haven't visited yet) and their latest project is building a full-size reproduction of the Ark. Yes, Noah's Ark.

Why is Genesis so important? See, our society currently is pushing "scientific" things like an earth that's millions or billions of years old, and evolution as a "fact." The sad thing is, that so many Christians think that we can just fit that in with the Bible. We feel pressured to, because as Ken Ham pointed out, if you do not accept the current scientific beliefs as true, you will be ridiculed, mocked, scorned, called names like "anti-intellectual" and worse. We have our pride. No one wants to experience all those unpleasant consequences for nothing. So we've begun to wonder, why is the Genesis account of creation so important, anyway?

Well, answering that question was basically Ken Ham's entire message, and I'm not going to try to replicate all of it in a blog post. The part that really grabbed my attention most was his extremely popular castle illustration. I've seen it before, but this time it fit so perfectly with what I'd been mulling over, it was a light-bulb sort of moment!

Notice that the cannonballs aren't aimed at our little "Christian" flag. Satan doesn't care if we call ourselves "Christians" as long as our faith in God (and His word) isn't thriving. As a matter of fact, I think one of the deceptive places Satan likes to have people is smugly thinking that they are Christians when they actually aren't, so they can ignore the gospel message and arrogantly believe whatever they want in the name of Christ. Look at the little Christian guy in the diagram firing his cannon at the castle's foundation. That's what Satan can trick fake Christians, or even just weak Christians into doing. It's a stealthy attack on Christianity.

Really, I don't think it actually a very sneaky attack, we're just not doing a very good job being "wise as serpents" (Matt. 10:16)  If you think about it, it's obvious that the attack on Genesis doesn't stop with Genesis, the attack is on Biblical authority versus modern "scientific" authority. Current science says the earth is really old, the Bible says the earth is relatively young. If we fit in the millions of years, what's to stop them from convincing us to reinterpret other things with a modern secular science viewpoint?

It's already happening, just look at the churches in our country: homosexuality is spreading quickly, and becoming acceptable even among Christians. The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22), dishonorable and debased (Romans 1:26-28), but "science" and modern society claim that people are born homosexual, and that their unnatural behavior should be accepted as good. Pedophilia and bestiality are on the way, folks. Don't even get me started on transsexuals.

How far will we let them go? As Christians, we have a faith that is founded on and surrounded by things that cannot and should not be explained scientifically. For example, my family has been studying Genesis 17-21 lately, and how the birth of Isaac was pointing toward the miraculous birth of Jesus. Sarah was 90 years old (Gen 17:17), she was past menopause (18:11) and she had been barren her entire life. How scientifically possible is it that she could bear a child?! But nothing is impossible with God. (Matt. 19:26) How scientifically possible is it that a virgin could conceive our Savior? And yet it was prophesied (Isaiah 7:14) and fulfilled in Jesus (Luke 1:34-35).

If we reinterpret everything in the Bible so that it fits with science, we end up with a Savior who was "just a good man." He couldn't have been fully man and fully God, because that's not scientific. He couldn't have healed the lame, sick, and blind, raised the dead or cast out demons (I don't think demons are even scientific in the first place) with just a word, a touch. He couldn't have taken our sins upon himself, he couldn't have died and then ROSE from the dead! That doesn't happen scientifically!

Romans 4:16-25 says:

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness[c] of Sarah's womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (emphasis mine)

So ultimately, the question isn't actually "how important is Genesis?" but rather: "who will you choose to believe?" Do you believe God, or science? Where is your faith? Is your faith in God's word, or man's explanation? Friends, we must be strong in faith, and able to defend and believe the Bible above science. If we don't, our foundation will crumble, and we'll lose our faith. Science can only be as knowledgeable as the men who study it, but we have the word of God, He who created everything, and who has supernatural power outside of human constraints. Which do you choose?

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. - John 15:18-19

Jesus warned us that the world would hate us. We can't be true Christians and fit in with the world.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18 

They will call us many horrible names, and say terrible things about us. That's just light persecution. Someday we might be tortured and killed for our beliefs. Are you ready to take some verbal abuse? In Acts 5, the apostles were beaten for telling people about Jesus. Verse 41 says that they left after their beating "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name." For the name of our Savior. 

Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. - Joshua 1:9

Monday, June 9, 2014

I'm Alive!

Yes, I haven't posted since April! If there is anyone still following me, here's a little, rambling update on my life... and an explanation of why I probably won't be posting much for the rest of this summer...

Enjoying the beautiful outdoors with my cat, Twila.
In May, I had my 4th annual Spring piano recital with almost all of my students! This was the second year that my students have been too numerous for a recital in my living room, so we were at a local piano store playing on a beautiful Steinway! I so enjoy being a piano teacher, and all my wonderful students! 

Then I took a break from teaching for the last week of May so that we could paint. We painted our porch railing in one day. Then we did the living room. It took us about 4 days of painting to do the living room, we painted the ceiling, and the walls, and the trim. 

Painting the ceiling, or painting these little spindles... both were hard.

After! Still need a new picture for over the mantle.

I'm very happy with the stairs because they've been scuffed and smudged ever since we moved in, and finally they look nice!

Exciting family events include the high school graduation of my 19-year-old brother, my "baby" brother turning 17, my sister turning 21, and me becoming an official old maid (by Lydia Bennet standards) by turning three-and-twenty. 

Strawberry frozen yogurt and chocolate "ice cream" cake for my little brother's birthday.

My summer plans include: 

-Continuing to teach piano lessons to all my students who take lessons during the summer (which is most of them, yay! I think summer piano lessons are a good idea for most students), the count is at 21 summer students, right now.

-A part-time nanny job taking care of an adorable two-and-a-half-year-old boy, and sometimes his two older siblings 2 mornings a week.

-Volunteering as a kid-pusher (I get to lead cute little girls to their spots for their races) at my youngest brother's swim meets this summer, and cheering him on in the sweltering heat on Tuesday nights. He's a very fast swimmer, and one of the oldest guys on the team, now. Next summer will be his last summer of swim meets, and I'm going to savor every one!

-Practicing piano and studying with my teacher... we're hoping to work up a full recital program for me to perform soon! I'm trying to memorize a whole Beethoven concerto, and learn all three movements of a Schubert sonata, plus some Chopin and more!

-Learning to tune pianos through a correspondence course I ordered. Now that I see how busy I will be this summer, maybe starting a tuning course right now wasn't a good time, but I really want to be able to tune my own piano, as I've gotten pretty picky, and it's been going out of tune faster than I'd like due to our crazy weather here!

-Spending time with friends doing some fun things, like going contra dancing, movie marathons, maybe some day trips... this weekend I get to see my sister perform in the stage musical version of Pride and Prejudice, and also Pirates of Penzance! (Yes, her crazy theatre group is doing P&P on Friday night, and Pirates on Saturday night! And she is in both shows!)

-Reading Little Dorrit by Dickens and trying to catch some sunlight (and Vitamin D!) at the pool whenever I can find some spare time.

Just reading all that, even I think I'm crazy. So I'm sure you'll all forgive blogging not being on my list... I do have some health-oriented post ideas swirling around in my brain, and I'm sure some more food attempts and just maybe, perhaps, a finished Regency gown will eventually appear, but for now, I wish you a happy summer!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Mud" (2012) vs. "The Way, Way Back" (2013)

Two movies that are remarkably similar in basic plot: somewhat shy, socially awkward boy on the threshold of growing up, with no good father-figure, navigating life and trying to find his place, searching for meaning, finally meets a man that he can emulate, look up to and admire. Why did I love one and hate the other? Why is one a 5/5 stars, and the other 1 star (or, actually, 0, if that's allowed...) What did one get so right that the other got so wrong? Let me count the ways...

Allow me to introduce our young stars: as I already mentioned, our 14-year-old heroes are both a little shy and awkward. They are quiet, serious, intelligent, sensitive and deep-thinkers. 

Here's Liam James, as Duncan from The Way, Way Back and Tye Sheridan as Ellis from Mud

At the beginning of The Way, Way Back we see Duncan in the very back of his mother's new boyfriend's station wagon. The boyfriend, Trent, played by Steve Carrell, asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10.. Duncan eventually answers with "6" to which Trent counters with "3." He then prompts him to improve on that number while he stays at the beach house that summer while Duncan shoves his ear-buds back in to escape.

At the beginning of Mud we meet Ellis, driving around and selling fish with his dad, who seems to be a bit gruff and callous. After selling the fish, Ellis goes with his best friend, Neckbone, to scout out an old boat that was deposited on an island in the upper branches of a tree by a flood a long time ago. I didn't connect with Ellis as well as Duncan because it took almost the whole movie for me to begin to understand him. I felt for Duncan and had a connection with him in the first 5 minutes. None of the characters from Mud really resonated with me at all. That's 1.

Note: Spoilers ahead! If you haven't seen either of these movies, and you're interested in seeing them, I suggest that you not read on. Here are my sister's spoiler-free reviews for Mud and The Way, Way Back from her blog, How To Watch A Movie.

Enter the new father-figure/role model/mentor. Duncan in The Way, Way Back gets Sam Rockwell in the form of irresponsible water-park manager Owen. He's goofy and a bit immature, but sees that Duncan needs him  and needs an escape from his "family," so he gives him a job for the summer. His acceptance and encouragement helps Duncan grow, and escape his despondency. Owen also matures through the movie, and by the end has become a bit more mature and responsible. Whatever his flaws, he truly cares about Duncan, and was a good influence.

Ellis in Mud isn't quite so fortunate in his father-figure/role model/mentor. Matthew McConaughey plays Mud, a murderer and a fugitive from the law, living in the boat up in the trees. He seems nice enough, the murder was for the sake of his girlfriend, anyway, and he convinces Ellis and Neckbone to help him by promising to give them the abandoned boat once he leaves. As Ellis discovers later in the movie, Mud was just using them as messengers and for supplies, he didn't really care about them. He comes to care for them later, but so far as I see it, his influence on Ellis was only bad. He made him a thief, a liar, and guilty of harboring a fugitive. And he even broke his promise about the boat. That's 2.

Duncan and Susanna at the water park.
Both boys and both men have their own love interests. In The Way, Way Back, Owen has Caitlin, his assistant manager at the water-park. She's a bit frustrated at his continued immaturity and irresponsibility, but loves him anyway and tries to motivate him to be better. Duncan is attracted to the beautiful Susanna, and she is consistently nice to him in spite of his awkwardness, which also helps him come out of his shell. I found both relationships to be sweet, and being a die-hard romantic, I'm happy that neither relationship really ended, they are left with the potential for an eventual happily-ever-after. More so in the case of the adults than the teens, but still a cute ending.

May Pearl and Ellis on their first "date."
In Mud, the adult relationship is Mud and his girlfriend, Juniper, the girlfriend that he was willing to murder someone for. Juniper is revealed to be unfaithful, she leaves Mud for other guys, but then comes back to him, and over and over again, he takes her back. Mud set up this rendezvous point, intending to take her with him when he escapes the law. Ellis, apparently a hopeless romantic, tries to help reunite them. He also has his first romantic experience with older girl May Pearl. She encourages and strings him along, and then turns on him, dumps him and makes fun of him in front of her friends. Juniper also leaves Mud again for another guy. That's 3.

Cold, selfish, annoying and conflicted Juniper from Mud.
 From all this, you could see why a romantic like myself would find Mud tragic and unpalatable, with an unfortunately pessimistic viewpoint about true love, but that's not all. Besides unhappy endings in Mud, and the poor character that Mud is, and how unsuitable he is to be a role model for Ellis, and the fact that I didn't connect with any of the characters in Mud, I think the absolute worst part is the lack of change and character growth in Ellis. Perhaps the whole reason I didn't like him is because he doesn't seem to change over the movie, or if anything, he gets a little worse. (After all, he started off an honest kid, and Mud turned him into a thief and liar.) At the end of the movie, Ellis is at the new apartment that he and his mom have just moved to after his parents separated, and he sees some older girls going into an apartment across the street, and smiles. Really, Ellis? You didn't learn your lesson about older girls?

Ultimately, I think that Mud sends the message that life is hard, true love doesn't exist, and no one is really a good person. I can agree that life is sometimes hard, and no one is really a good person (without Christ), but I don't like to watch depressing entertainment and I definitely disagree on the point that true love doesn't exist. The hard parts of life and bad characters can serve to sweeten the good characters and happy parts of life, so I'm not saying that they don't have a place in a movie, but when there are no good characters, and no cheerful sides to the story, I'm not going to enjoy it. Mud had no redeeming aspects for me, and I didn't enjoy it at all. Watching it was about as enjoyable as sitting and staring at real mud. That's 4.

Sweet special moment as Owen comforts and encourages Duncan.
The Way, Way Back, in contrast, is a great story about a boy growing up, with some hard times, painful moments and bad characters, but the contrast is there - Duncan also has sweet moments, encounters good characters, and in the end, is improved by the experience. He grows, and changes, and by the end of the movie, you feel that Duncan is going to be just fine. The messages I get are that there is hope for love, there are some jerks in the world, but there are also kind people, and life may be hard, but hard times can strengthen you, if you'll let them.

I look for hope, real love, and Christ-likeness in every movie. The Way, Way Back has its flaws, to be sure, but I found in it what I like to see. After seeing The Way, Way Back, I found Mud to be a waste of my time. I'd rather just watch The Way, Way Back again, instead.

Have you seen either or both of these movies, or maybe you just read the spoilers? What do you think? Agree or disagree with my analysis?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Genuine - 2014

I've heard of picking a word for the year, or a Scripture verse for the year, and while it always seemed like a nice idea, until recently I have only been able to pick a word or verse in retrospect - "well, that word would have fit, or this verse would have been good..." It may have taken me around 4 months into the year, but I finally have a word for this year: genuine.


Genuine - adj. \ˈjen-yə-wən
:  actual, real, or true : not false or fake
:  free from hypocrisy or pretense :  sincere and honest

Several years ago, I think I was pretty genuine. I would say what I meant, I wasn't afraid of confrontation or friends disagreeing with me. Then I spoke up about something, honestly thinking that almost everyone would actually agree with me, and instead, I incurred the disapproval of many adults, and alienated a few of my closest friends. It was a big change, and a turning point in my life, I think.

Even though it was painful, I can see that it was a good thing that I learned who they truly were. I was deceived about what kind of friends I had, and now I know they weren't truly my friends, or the kind of people I'd want for close friends, anyway. Seeing through their artificiality made me more determined to be myself, although I haven't been putting it into practice very well for the past few years. It's a little scary to realize that you can so quickly be rejected by those you thought were your friends, but isn't better to have real friends who truly know you, and love you anyway?

I'm tired of feeling like a fake, tired of wondering if the people I'm around actually know me. I'm not going to try to be who others want me to be, or try to be the kind of girl that attracts friends. This year, I intend to be the person that one person, the most important person, wants me to be; I'm going to strive to be who God wants me to be. 

I think I was on the right track before, but I let the disapproval and loss of my former friends derail me. I started to doubt myself, and doubt my stance on certain issues. Then I let bitterness and self-pity take over my heart. But finally, I forgive. I've let go. I'm ready to get back on track. I want to follow God, and say whatever He leads me to say, no matter what the response might be.

If I'm just chatting with people, I want to be natural and not self-conscious. I may sometimes be a little silly, or say something dumb, but I don't want to be afraid to speak up. Likewise, in important issues, a person of genuine character wouldn't keep quiet in the face of lies and deception. I want to have the courage to speak the truth, and be a genuine follower of my Lord.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. - 1 Peter 1:3-9

Because of the wonderful mercy of God, those of us who are born again through our resurrected Savior have a glorious inheritance in heaven. We can rejoice in that, even though our short lives may be filled with trials. Those trials are to test the genuineness of our faith! And that genuine faith is for the praise, glory and honor of Jesus. May my faith be found genuine by the testing.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. - Romans 12:9-13

This is the passage that I have chosen for my scripture of the year. This a very concise set of instructions that gives me a great starting place in being genuine. I'm excited and inspired, and after a few years of the bondage to what other people think of me, I feel so free and relieved! I'm looking forward to who God will lead me to be, and living genuinely the rest of my life.

Do you have a word for 2014? Or a special scripture verse for the year?