2018 Reading Recap: Reaching for the Goal

Creating 2017’s reading recap was so fun that I’ve done it again for 2018! Once more I put myself through the difficult process of choosing books to highlight from my reading life last year, which is also a highly enjoyable process. I met my goal of reading 80 books, although I’ll admit I had to knock out two shorter ones on December 31st, and so many of those books forced me stay up late for just one more chapter.

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Three books in my current pile…

While my To Be Read list grows faster than I can finish books, I don’t want to forget the best ones I read in 2018, so I’m sharing them to convince other readers that these are books worth devoting time to.

Remember, I read a wide variety of genres with varying content, so I’m issuing a blanket content warning for any and all books I mention online. Use your own discretion for your comfort level, and feel free to ask me about the books I’ve read.

Do you want to read more but don’t know what books to pick up? You aren’t alone; lots of people struggle with that. There are tons of ways to find good books, but finding the right book for you can be a different story.

I recommend Modern Mrs. Darcy and the podcast What Should I Read Next, or you can ask the readers in your life if they have any recommendations for you. Don’t be afraid to put a book down unfinished if it’s not for you – there are too many good books in this world to waste precious reading time on a book that you don’t like. (I need to take my own advice!)

Let’s do this!

his majesty's dragonThe Book I Finally Read: 

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

In the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, a young naval officer accidentally bonds a dragon hatchling and his entire life changes. I love a good fantasy where the worldbuilding is so matter of fact that no one blinks at the wild and unusual places the author’s imagination goes, and this book has that in spades. Nineteenth century Europe with dragon, aerial corps fighting in some of the biggest battles between Napoleon and the rest of Europe, all narrated in Regency prose. This book has been on my TBR for ten years, ever since I saw a 4-H friend reading it before bed on a club trip to the Rolex Kentucky. My friend was killed in a car accident three years later, as a college sophomore, and I’m so glad I finally read the book, with her in mind.

what's so amazing about grace

The Best Spiritual Book: 

What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey

An exploration of grace at the levels of ordinary life and overarching church culture, this book is remarkably relevant for being twenty years old. I was challenged, inspired, and humbled by Yancey’s words. It’s filled with true stories and simple prose, and Yancey shares some of his own journey toward grace. Our world is full of anger, bitterness, and hatred, but this book challenges us to take a hard look at ourselves and ask if we are truly ambassadors of God’s grace to the world, or if we are doling it out only to the ones we think deserve it. I think it says a lot that we as a church are struggling to give grace to the same people we struggled with twenty years ago, and I think this book offers powerful thoughts to consider.

unbrokenThe Book I learned the Most From:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

An Olympic runner joins the Army Air Forces, is stranded at sea, becomes a Japanese POW, and somehow survives to tell the story. Not only is Louis Zamperini’s story an incredible tale of grit and bravery, with an amazing twist toward the end, but I learned so much about the Pacific front of the war that I was completely unaware of. From the thousands of POWs, the terrible accident rate of the planes and their crews, and the sheer enormity of the war, Hillenbrand provides mountains of detail without ever losing her narrative. If you never read another book about the Pacific front, read this one – she’s a powerful storyteller and you won’t be disappointed.

the secret horses of briar hillThe Most Fun Book: 

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

A young girl, living in a hospital with other children in the English countryside, finds that one of the winged horses she sees in the mirrors every day has entered her world. An absolute delight, this book would have been one of my favorites if it had existed when I was a child (although it’s high on the list for me even now). Not only does the girl have a special bond with a winged horse, she has to protect the horse by collecting objects of specific hues of color while also living with the realities of life during WWII in an English hospital. Whimsical while dealing with serious themes, strongly influenced by The Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend this book for younger readers.

nothing to envy

The Saddest Book:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

A journalist traces the stories of six North Koreans over fifteen years, through the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise of Kim Jong-il, and the devastating famine that killed millions of people. For me, North Korea has always been a vaguely menacing, partially absurd Communist dictatorship on the other side of the world that I knew little about. Now I know quite a bit, and it’s all heartbreaking. Demick vividly sketches the country’s slow grind toward industrial death, economic collapse, and starvation, and the wide gulf between south and north becomes ever more stark and terrible, depicted on a personal level by the six North Koreans and their stories. This book was written prior to Kim Jong-il’s death and his son assuming control of the country, and I would love to find an update detailing the changes – if any – that a new regime and the immense shaping of the world by the internet has brought to a country so isolated.

Bonus Book: Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison

A foster mom tells the stories of just a few of the dozens of children she has fostered, and I cried at several points (which I rarely do for books). Yet somehow, the book also fosters hope.

the glass castleThe Best Nonfiction Book: 

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

A family’s story is never simple, particularly a story that begins with charismatic parents chasing wonder and nonconformity on a nomadic trip across the country, stops in a poor mining town where the children must employ all their grit to carve out a life from intense neglect, and reaches New York City, where the children build lives as empowered adults and their parents choose homelessness. The beautiful, clear prose is nothing compared to Walls’ ability to present her family’s story as she saw it unfolding with no hindsight, no bias, and no filters. Her childhood was both magical and terrible, sometimes simultaneously, and I recommend this book as an incredible memoir.

the golem and the jinni

The Most Evocative Fantasy: 

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker

A golem and a jinni find themselves in New York City at the turn of the century, meeting by chance, and their opposite natures bring them together yet push them apart as they seek to create lives for themselves in the shifting chaos of the city. With the magic of folktales and literature, Yiddish and Middle Eastern culture, history and fantasy all woven together in one story, this book is compulsively readable. It brought me back to my middle school days of devouring fairytales by the dozens (although this book is not intended for youngsters). The prose is clear and elegant, but the characters really shine. Chava and Ahmad come to life (literally, in Chava’s case) through their emotional journeys, and although the book doesn’t end quite where I wanted it to, I was delighted to discover that a sequel is in the works.

You may have noticed that I mostly chose books for the same categories as last year, but that I replaced the favorite category. This year I read a lot of books that I loved, so I couldn’t bring myself to pick just one favorite. Last year was an anomaly!

I could share dozens more fantastic books, such as the two Guy Gavriel Kay titles I loved, the multiple memoirs and nonfiction narratives that taught me so much about other peoples’ lives and worlds, or the quiet dystopian novel that surprised me with its power, but I won’t overwhelm your TBR list.

If you want to keep up with what I’m reading all year, I post on Goodreads regularly, so come friend me! I do confess that I want you to friend me so that I can stalk follow your reading life – my TBR list is always ready for more titles.

In 2018, I read Jane Eyre, the final Harry Potter book, and a Shakespeare play (Titus Andronicus), just as I intended to, and in 2019, my priority list includes PersuasionThe Merchant of Venice, and The Martian.

This year, I’m not setting a goal for my reading life. I originally set goals to help kickstart my reading habit again after graduating from college, but now I want to see how many books I tear through without the numeric finish line taunting me. Also, I want to reread some old favorites, and I’m not inclined to do that with a goal, for whatever reason.

Right now I’m going to go finish a thriller with characters that are pretty boring (so maybe I should actually just put it down for good…). My library is closed for carpet replacement for most of January (so sad!), so I’m currently limited to books from my own shelves, with a few thrown in from my roommate’s collection. Time for those rereads!

Happy reading, everyone!

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4 Awesome Podcasts

headphones-791078_1920Have you hopped on the podcast bandwagon yet? Who needs radio when you can listen to a podcast? Don’t worry, there’s a podcast out there for everyone. With shows covering everything from politics to money, pop culture to sports, food to comic books, this form of media is hopping.

I started seriously listening to podcasts about a year ago, although I had been listening to a writing podcast for longer than that. I’m also a completionist, so when I find a new podcast I like, I go back and listen to the archives. You don’t have to do that, but if you really like what you’re hearing and don’t want to wait for the next episode, that’s the best way to hear more.

I don’t know what you are into, although if you have a favorite writer or media personality, definitely check to see if they have a podcast. I just want to share four of my favorite podcasts with you as a starting point. None of these podcasts are related; I like them for varying reasons. They are wildly different from each other, but they are all super great. (And all the hosts have perfect podcast voices – that’s not always the case for some shows!)

WSIRN

 

What Should I Read Next

Episode Length: 45 minutes to an hour

Release Day: Tuesdays

Anne Bogel hosts this literary matchmaking podcast with a different guest each week, bringing a wide range of bookish interests and reading lifestyles to her audience. I followed Anne’s blog, ModernMrsDarcy.com, for a couple of years before I finally listened to the podcast. I can’t believe I waited so long!

In the standard show format, the guest and Anne chat about books and the guest’s reading life, including such possible topics as the guest’s bookstagram account, how the guest tracks their books, bookish quirks like only reading certain books before bed, and reading challenges.

Then the guest shares three books they love, one book they hate (or, more gently, say is not for them), and what they’ve been reading lately. Usually Anne will ask if there is anything the guest would like to change about their reading life, and then she tells the guest the pattern(s) she sees in the books they talked about and what they said about the books. For example, in one recent episode, the guest liked spunky iconoclastic female characters, fast paced books, and did not care about beautiful prose, so Anne recommended books with those traits in mind.

The show has featured people ranging from authors to librarians, parent-child reading duos to readers with specific book requests, podcasters to pencil shop owners. Many guests have blogs or other media presences, but many are just regular people who were chosen from the vast amount of guest submissions the show receives.

My to-read list has ballooned as a result of this podcast (and Anne’s blog! she has the best book lists), even though I don’t share book interests with the majority of the guests. If you consider yourself a book person, you definitely should check out this podcast. As Anne says, book people are the best people.

Anne has also written a book for book people: I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life. I’m waiting for the cold winter months to savor this small book of essays, but I know I’ll find myself in the pages.

AA

 

Afford Anything

Episode Length: 1 to 1 1/2 hours

Release Day: Mondays, with a bonus episode on the first Friday of each month

Paula Pant talks business, personal finance, financial independence (also known as FIRE*), real estate investing, and ruthless prioritization of your time and energy on this highly intelligent show. I started reading Paula’s blog, AffordAnything.com, about five years ago, and I find her message so inspiring.

Paula’s core theme is that you can afford anything, but you can’t afford everything, and this not only includes your money, but also your time, energy, and your whole life. You can afford to travel the world, but not if you also live in a luxury condo and pay $1,000 per month on your student loans, for example. You can build your own side business, but not if you also watch hours of TV daily or allow yourself to focus on pleasing others with the way you spend your time.

The show consists of two interviews per month and 2 Q&A episodes per month, one of which focuses on real estate. Paula is best known in the FIRE circle, particularly for her use of real estate rental investing to become financially independent. She practices what she preaches!

Recent episodes have included a controversial (and viral) interview with personal finance guru Suze Orman, and several episodes responding to that firestorm, an interview with James Clear about building better habits, and a personal finance Q&A episode with Joe Saul-Sehy that tackles some out of the box ideas for funding your kids’ college expenses.

Paula is a great interviewer, but she also does a great recap at the end of each interview, highlighting the key takeaways and action steps. The interviews are typically packed with information and points to consider, so Paula’s summary helps listeners to focus on the significant and limit the overwhelm.

If you are interested in starting a side hustle, improving your finances, or prioritizing your life goals, I highly recommend this show. And if you are curious about rental properties, Paula is super passionate about this topic and shares lots of great information.

*Financial Independence Retire Early

SA

 

Sorta Awesome

Episode Length: 1 hour

Release Day: Fridays, with the occasional bonus Extra Awesome episode

Meg Tietz talks all things awesome with her co-hosts Rebekah Hoffer and Kelly Gordon, which means having girlfriend chats about all of life’s topics, both serious and silly. From fashion and pop culture to recipes and personality types, this show covers it all. In the archives you’ll find episodes on rest, self-care, parenting, the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, The Bachelor franchise, and so much more.

In each episode, Meg and one co-host or guest share their Awesome of the Week, which could be anything from a product to a TV show, or anything else that is making their lives just a little more awesome. Then the episode moves into the theme of the week, which could be a serious topic such as anxiety or adoption, or a light and funny topic such as Netflix or a seasonal top ten list.

My favorite episodes are the confessional episodes: one group show has all the co-hosts sharing their unpopular opinions, like hating Christmas and an affinity for the uni-boob. Most recently, a confessional episode covered homemaking, which included confessions such as making children sleep in the closet (don’t worry, it’s a large closet) and letting an elderly neighbor plant the co-host’s garden for years on end. It’s all the things you would never confess to anyone but your closest friends, shared for the world to hear.

If you’re looking for thoughtful conversation on life’s issues and moments that make you laugh out loud, this show is for you. (There’s also a very active Facebook group for the show’s listeners, if you can’t get enough Sorta Awesome from just one weekly episode.)

TNRT

 

The Next Right Thing

Episode Length: 15 to 20 minutes

Release Day: Tuesdays

Emily P. Freeman creates a quiet space for your soul to breathe with this show. Decisions are hard, and as we make thousands of decisions every day, we get overwhelmed and lost in our own lives. As Emily says, this podcast is for those who have a decision to make, the chronically hesitant and the second-guessers, and I’d say this show is for everyone, perhaps especially those who think they don’t need it.

Every week, Emily offers a reflection, often in the form of a story, a small action, and a benediction. Her mission is to help you determine your next right thing in love, and that’s made easier when you take the time to slow down, listen to an episode, and follow Emily’s gentle suggestions. I invariably feel refreshed after listening. Emily always points her listeners back to Jesus, and offers quiet support for the next right step in our lives.

If you are seeking clarity in your life, struggling with the daily grind, or just in need of some quiet, meditative space, this show is for you. This is the one podcast I have never listened to as I also do something else, because emotional and spiritual clarity can’t be found while multitasking.

Emily is also a writer; her projects include hope*writers, an online community for writers both published and aspiring, her blog, at EmilyPFreeman.com, and four books. All of her work is dedicated to helping people discern their next right thing in love, particularly in the creative spaces.

Do any of these shows catch your interest? I think it’s time you joined the podcast world! If you are technologically challenged and aren’t sure how to find and listen to podcasts, you’ll find plenty of simple guides online, but your best bet might be to find someone who already knows the podcast world and can help you figure it out. (And if you’re the podcast savvy person, it’s time to subscribe your mom to those shows you know she’ll like but will never find by herself.)

Most podcasts drop a new episode each week, but sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. If it’s a good podcast, the host will usually publish episodes on a schedule and let you know if that schedule changes.

If you don’t know how to listen to podcasts, you’ll need a device that can access a podcast app. You can pick a podcast app in the app store, such as Overcast or Stitcher or a host of others, or you can use the IOS or Android podcast apps.

Happy listening!

2017 Reading Recap: Books, Books, and More Books

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Library books for the win! I still haven’t read The Golem and the Jinni

This year was a really good year for my reading life. Two days ago I finished reading my 75th book of the year and achieved my goal, which was especially exciting because the last 2 years I was too busy reading fanfiction to read enough books to meet my goal. Oops.

I read a lot of great books this year, and quite a few books that made me say, “Meh.” But because I want to share the book love, I’m going to share some of the most memorable books I read this year.

Two notes before I dig in:

First, if you like reading or want to get back into the habit, set a reading goal for yourself! Find books you think you’ll really love, not books you think you ought to read. Don’t compare your reading goal to anyone else’s, either. I read 75 books, and am aiming for more next year, but I am a literal speed reader. People who read at normal speed can’t keep up with me, and that’s okay. Don’t let comparison keep you from enjoying some fantastic books in 2018.

Second, I read books of many genres and varieties, so I’m issuing a blanket potential content warning for all the books I tell you about. Use your own judgment and feel free to ask me about any book I have read.

Here we go!

The Book I Finally ReadHarry_Potter_and_the_Sorcerer's_Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

A boy discovers he’s a wizard and gets to attend magic school while an evil wizard tries repeatedly to kill him. I missed out on the Harry Potter books as a kid, and in college thought I was too old for the series, but in January I decided this would be the year I finally read Harry Potter. And wow, was I missing out! These books are just so much fun, and there’s so much packed into the story that anyone can find something to love. I read books 1-6 this year, but didn’t quite make it to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you like fantasy, children’s literature and YA, or just want to finally be in the know, you should definitely give the first book a try.

The Best Spiritual BookGray Matter

Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer… One Patient at a Time by David I. Levy

A neurosurgeon begins asking patients if he can pray with them before surgery, and the results are incredible and fascinating. I read quite a few books this year about missionaries, incredible conversion stories, and persecution of Christians that were all moving and important, but this book stands alone for me. I often make prayer a complicated thing in my head, but this surgeon’s simple and quiet prayers with people facing intense medical situations strips away any eloquence or trappings, and I found myself convicted of the power of prayer, quite unrelated to the words I use or the length of the prayer I pray.

The Book I Learned the Most FromSlave My True Story

Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer

A twelve-year-old Sudanese girl is kidnapped and sold into slavery to an Arab family in Khartoum, Sudan, before finally escaping seven years later, thousands of miles away from home in London, England. I still don’t know much about modern slavery or its victims, let alone the terrible conflicts raging through Sudan in the past several decades, but Mende’s story gave me a glimpse into a world far removed from anything I have ever experienced. Her courage despite her enslavement and abuse humbles me. Bonus book: Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir presents the story of a female Sudanese doctor who grew up and worked in the middle of the conflict, before fleeing to England for safety.

The Most Fun BookNo Biking

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Faye Green

An American family decides that four kids is not enough, and adopts five more from Bulgaria and Ethiopia, leading to the hilarious, poignant stories Melissa shares about the trials and joys of international adoption and her big, crazy family. With nine kids, including four teenage boys, nothing is ever quiet for long around this house. This book touches a lot of serious topics, but the humor and joy Melissa writes with make it a delight to read. I haven’t read many memoirs yet, but I think this one will stay at the top of my list for a long time to come.

The Saddest BookNight

Night by Elie Wiesel

The horrific autobiographical account of one teenager’s survival in a Nazi death camp, and how he lost everything. It’s a very difficult book to read because of the absolute horrors Elie Wiesel endured and witnessed. I was unaware this was a classic Holocaust account until I read it, but the author’s spare and haunting prose makes it unforgettable. How could humans do such monstrous things to each other? The death camps cannot be allowed to vanish into the murk of history.

The Best Nonfiction BookEvidence

Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II by Darlene Deibler Rose

The story of a young missionary’s survival and faith in the jungles of New Guinea and through four years in a Japanese prison camp. I was humbled by Darlene’s faith in the middle of terror, abuse, and isolation. She lost her husband and her health during those four years, but she never lost her trust in the Lord. She and the other Christians she was imprisoned with spread the gospel and served their fellow prisoners without ceasing. This book is an incredible testimony!

 

My Favorite BookGoblin

 

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

 

The half-goblin youngest son of the emperor is recalled from exile when his father and older brothers are killed, and is thrust into a court of danger, prejudice, and intrigue as the last surviving heir to a throne he has no idea what to do with. I read a lot of awesome fantasy books this year, but I adored this book above all others. Maia, the new emperor, is completely unprepared for the complexity and turmoil of his new court, and struggles to deal with the psychological damage of his father abandoning him to exile and his mother’s death while learning to be a ruler. Yet he is one of the kindest fantasy protagonist I have ever met, and ultimately it is that kindness which allows him to survive and thrive as emperor. The worldbuilding, lovely prose, and fascinating use of pronouns only add to the sheer delight I experienced while reading this book.

 

I could tell you about so many more books I read this year alone, including the 1200 page epic fantasy novel that was book 75, or the fascinating story of a nineteen-year-old Alaskan schoolteacher, but that would require writing a novel of a blog post.

 

So instead, check out my Goodreads account! You’ll find all the books I read in 2017 as well as previous years, and my enormous TBR list. I’m so excited for all the books I’ll read in 2018, and I’d love to hear what you’re going to read! My 2018 list includes Jane Eyre, the final Harry Potter, more books by Guy Gavriel Kay, because he’s amazing, and a Shakespeare play that I have yet to choose. But first I have to finish the books due back at the library in just a few days…

Happy reading!

Bridge to Haven: An Underwhelming Story

bridge-to-havenThis review may contain mild spoilers.

Francine Rivers’s lastest book, Bridge to Haven, tells the story of Abra Matthews. Found abandoned beneath the bridge to the small town of Haven as a newborn, Abra spends the first five years of her life with the town pastor’s family. But after the pastor’s wife dies, Abra is shuffled to a new home in which she grows up, discontented and unhappy.

When a handsome young man comes to town and lavishes Abra with attention, she runs away with him, which turns out to be a terrible mistake. During her years in Hollywood, more than one man manipulates her for his own ends, and Abra eventually realizes that she will not find fulfillment at the end of journey to stardom. She makes bad decisions along the way until she at last returns to Haven, broken and weary. Abra must finally face those she left behind and choose to accept God’s love for her.

I have always loved Francine Rivers’s books. From A Voice in the Wind to The Scarlet Thread, her books draw me in, and I become emotionally invested in the characters. She tackles hard themes and situations that people face in the real world, and as her characters overcome by the grace of God, so she offers hope to her readers.

That said, Bridge to Haven was thoroughly disappointing. The characters did not ring true for me, the plot felt contrived and ripped off from several of her other books, and the writing itself is sloppier and far less than what Rivers is capable of.

Abra and the man who loves her, Joshua, are both fairly stock characters. Neither of them has a truly distinct personality or unique response to situations. Joshua and his father, the pastor, are the perfect Christian men with no human flaws or frailties. They wait patiently for Abra to return and promptly forgive her without struggling at all. Even when Joshua learns some of the darker moments of Abra’s years away, he responds with only love and reassurance, never any anger or distress. Honestly, he’s the type of man some Christian girls and women fantasize about, that does not exist because no one is perfect. I was not pleased to find that type of character in one of Rivers’s books.

I felt that several of the characters’ motivations were bizarre or lacking. The pastor allows his wife to take in the abandoned baby even though another family wanted her, despite knowing that taking on the burden of a baby would devastate her health. Lo and behold, his wife dies from the health problems, and the pastor promptly passes on the little girl to the family who wanted her in the first place. That whole chain of events is stilted and contrived. Abra struggles with the emotional damage through the rest of the book, yet the pastor is never indicted for his actions by any of the other characters. Even when Abra reconciles with him, the burden of apologizing and asking forgiveness is all on her. The pastor’s actions are never painted as anything other than positive.

At the end of the book, Abra’s struggles are far too easily resolved. Although she spends years in Hollywood, making one bad decision after another, culminating in a truly terrible moment where I finally felt sympathetic, once she returns to Haven, there are no consequences, emotionally, physically, or relationally.

I did enjoy the piano teacher forcing Abra to memorize hymns that came back to her at her darkest moments. Characterwise, I also like Penny Matthews, Abra’s sister, who is one of the most unique characters in the book, and a few of the people Abra meets in Hollywood.

Ultimately, Bridge to Haven covers no new thematic territory for Rivers. I was strongly reminded of her best seller Redeeming Love throughout the entire book, and occasionally of The Atonement Child. This book is by far not her best work.

Steelheart: In Which Superheroes are Not Super

Steelheart

“I’ve seen Steelheart bleed. And I will see him bleed again.” Thus opens Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, a YA novel set on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Ten years ago, Calamity appeared in the sky. No one knows what it is or why it showed up, but they know what it did: gave ordinary people incredible powers. These people are called Epics, and their powers range from illusion to invincibility to control of the elements.

But Epics are not superheroes, as protagonist David discovers in the book’s prologue. He and his father are at a bank when Steelheart shows up. David’s father shoots him, the only one to ever draw blood from the invincible man, and is brutally murdered for it. Steelheart then decimates the bank and everyone in it, except David, who manages to escape. No one will ever know of Steelheart’s weakness if he has anything to say about it.

That was the day Steelheart took control of Chicago, now known as Newcago. Across the world, Epics battle for domination of cities, destroying anyone who gets in their way. Supervillains abound, but not a single Epic uses his or her powers to be a superhero.

David makes it his life’s quest to learn Steelheart’s weakness and get revenge for his father’s death, and he finally has his chance. He joins the Reckoners, a guerilla group of ordinary humans who fight back against the Epics as best they can. They are reluctant to accept him at first, but when he shows them his notes on Epics and their individual weaknesses, his life’s work, they take him on.

The Reckners have been striking at Epics for years, but they have never dared touch the most dangerous, like Steelheart and his various underlings. David and his information gives them the push they need to take the next step, and in the end, they face Steelheart.

Sanderson turns the idea of superheroes upside down in this novel. Epics are all villains, and ordinary people have to step forward and be the heroes, the ones who fight back. Comic book fans will recognize that genre translated into a novel with Steelheart, the descriptions and plot itself leaping straight from the pages of a comic as inspiration.

The main characters are well-rounded, with layered motivations and complex emotions about the work the Reckoners do. Prof, leader of the Reckoners, struggles with a lust for revenge even stronger than David’s, and fights his own dark side every day. Megan, the token beautiful young woman, turns out not to be a token, but instead a strong character in her own right. David develops a crush on her, but rather than descending into teenage angst and mush, his feelings and her response form an subplot of the book that ultimately has an important effect on the resolution. Steelheart, his command Epics, and his minions are fascinating villains, with unique identities and powers.

Steelheart is tightly plotted, with the intricate worldbuilding he is known for. The Epics’ powers are less defined than his usual logical, orderly magic systems, but their powers have individual rules and limitations, and David even comes up with a classification system for them.

Although the book moves rapidly, there is a section in the middle where the pace sags somewhat, when the Reckoners are preparing for their final showdown with Steelheart. A lot of planning happens with little forward movement, but it does not last long before the pace picks up again, and then it is a race to the finish. Several of the side characters are fairly one-dimensional, with only verbal quirks or one to two defining characteristics, when as members of the Reckoners, the reader would expect to see them more fully realized. David himself is almost too perfect for reader credulity. Despite having little to no training in the skills the Reckoners use in their attacks, David keeps up with the experienced Reckoners and is often a crucial part of the plan, which is odd, given his lack of experience and skills.

The plot twists were nicely foreshadowed, but not so obvious that most readers would see them coming. I guessed two twists before they happened, but I wasn’t sure of the details and was still surprised by the end of the book.

Steelheart is a book worth reading for anyone interested in superheroes or an adventure packed YA novel. Although it does not end on a cliffhanger, the book leaves several plot threads unresolved. First in a trilogy, Steelheart opens the door on a fascinating world and asks the question: What if superheroes were evil?

Frozen Melts Hearts

November 1st, 2013 @ 20:51:56

Frozen kingdom, frozen hearts, and a singing snowman: Frozen (2013) lives up to its name. Sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) live enchanted lives. Princesses of Arendelle, they build snowmen and play in the snow and ice. Snow and ice that Elsa created, that is. She has a special power that quickly spirals out of control, and she accidentally injures Anna. Only with the help of mysterious rock trolls is Anna’s life saved, but her memories are altered in the process. Out of necessity, Elsa locks herself away in her room, nearly severing the bond between the sisters in order to keep Anna safe.

Over the years, Elsa’s power increases and Anna’s loneliness grows , and everything comes to a head on Elsa’s coronation day. Elsa accidentally reveals her power to the kingdom and flees to a faraway mountain, freezing all of Arendelle in the process.

Anna, refusing to let her sister stay in exile, embarks on a quest to save both Arendelle and Elsa. Joined by snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), ice merchant Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and reindeer Sven, Anna must melt both Elsa’s heart and her own.

Disney steps away from traditional definitions of true love in Frozen, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, which replaces Tangled (2010) as the newest Disney princess film. With gorgeous animation and an unforgettable soundtrack, Frozen 3some critics are calling Frozen the best Disney movie since The Lion King. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Snow Queen”, Frozen blazes a new path.

The soundtrack features fun songs such as “For the First Time in Forever” and “In Summer”, but the most striking and poignant song, “Let It Go”, features Idina Menzel’s Broadway talent as Elsa breaks free from her self-imposed prison. The filmmakers paired “Let it Go” with some of the most beautiful animation in the movie, and the song has rightly won an Oscar. Frozen has also won the award for best animated feature.Frozen 2

In a twist ending, Frozen celebrates family and loyalty between sisters, thawing both Anna and Elsa’s hearts. Although the princesses suffer from the Disney trope of deceased parents, family is the center of this movie. A journey of self-discovery that ends with family brings a fresh, positive message to the big screen and captures the hearts of audiences worldwide.

Catching Fire: The Movie “On Fire”

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In the words of Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), “This trip doesn’t end when you get back home.” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) may have won the 74th Hunger Games, but her life will never go back to normal. First she must go on the obligatory Victory Tour, and then she must face the Quarter Quell and watch more children die at the Capitol’s hands.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), based on the second book in Suzanne Collins’s best-selling trilogy, proves to the film industry that a movie starring a strong female character can be an enormous success. Francis Lawrence replaces The Hunger Games (2012) director Gary Ross as director for Catching Fire, and moviegoers breathed a sigh of relief at action scenes without any shaky camera footage.

As Katniss struggles to reacclimate to life in District 12, other districts seethe with turmoil and rebellion. President Snow presents Katniss with a choice: convince him that her romance with fellow victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is real, or lose the ones she loves. Katniss’s PR situation goes from bad to worse on the Victory Tour, and when she defies a Capitol peacekeeper to protect her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), President Snow decides that she, and all the previous victors who pose a threat, must die.

Instead of mentoring in the Quarter Quell, the 75th Hunger Games sends Katniss  back into the arena. But this time, nothing is as it seems. Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has a plan, and it’s not the one that President Snow has in mind. Katniss is no longer just the Girl on Fire; now, she’s the Mockingjay, symbol of the rebellion.catching-fire 2

In this second movie, viewers learn the real depths of the corruption and decadence of the Capitol. The violence and child murder of the first movie is fully condemned in Catching Fire, which presents the Capitol, embodied in President Snow, as the true villain. Laughing and cheering for children killing children is wrong, and the movie points a finger at a society consumed by entertainment in the form of violence and built on the suffering of others.

Suzanne Collins’s satire and social commentary has reached the silver screen. The consequences of the Capitol’s immorality will hit theaters in Mockingjay Parts I & II in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Enjoy your debauchery now, Capitol, because the Mockingjay is coming for you.