Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy Birthday to the Hobbits!

via Pixabay

September 22nd, Bilbo and Frodo's birthday...

The memories are slowly coming back to me.

I was trying to trace how I first encountered J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. I had asked my dad if he minded me diving into Tolkien, and he gave me the grand go ahead. I've never looked back since.

I ordered it from the library. The Annotated Hobbit, with extra notes about how Tolkien spelled dwarves differently (I prefer his method) and all the different covers various Hobbit editions had. I took the book to bed with me while I couldn't sleep, trying to read without disturbing the rest of the house. (At the time, it required two stifling blankets to keep the light from leaking out. Now I just go in the living room and turn the light on.)

I don't really remember my first reaction to The Hobbit. Some time later, I ordered Lord of the Rings from the library, and they sent me the gorgeous Alan Lee editions. I was too unversed in Tolkien to know I had encountered the most magical version of the books possible. I still smile at the wonderful fortune of receiving those particular editions out of all the books they could have sent.

The journey continued when we attended a Family Economics conference in Illinois. It must have around 2011, (at least after I read Fellowship of the Ring) because R. C. Sproul Jr. compared God to Tom Bombadil in his talk on the tithe of rest, and I knew exactly what he meant. Among the beauties of that vendor hall, there was a used book booth with a paperback version of The Hobbit. I picked it up and read it aloud to my family.

(I still think it's a shame the movie left out all the funny lines in the spider fights of Mirkwood.)

Years later I returned to The Hobbit, stunned by the epic fight at the end of the book. I could picture that fight--and I wish the movies, much as I enjoyed them, would have done a lot more arial shots and fighting around the foot of the mountain like the book described.

When The Hobbit came out in movie form, they made for my first trip to the movie theatre. I don't go often to the theatre, but I do go for films I know I would like. Those movies were my once-a-year treat. While watching The Desolation of Smaug, I tried my first Coca-Cola freestyle machine, where you can mix and match any kind of pop you like. The next year, when The Battle of the Five Armies came out, I bought a tube of waterproof mascara. It still cracks me up to remember sitting at the end of the row of my brother and his friends, being the lone girl crying during the sad scenes. Those were fun years--wondering if Legolas and Bard were going to have an archery match-off in the films, and hoping Legolas would win--loving Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield--hating the dwarves' table manners, which affected my enjoyment of the first Hobbit film for a while. (I got over it.)

In Tolkien's world, I have wept at grief and heart-throbbed with glory, had dozens of conversations about them with friends, watched the movies, listened to the audio drama, and listened to the musical song, "Now and For Always". I've written a post defending Frodo and watched The Two Towers with my dad the day after a late night Celtic Thunder concert. Now we're watching the movies with the sis, and we've almost made it through all six. Just one more to go.

Tonight, I'm making chicken and mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy (because Hobbits love mushrooms.) I wish the hobbits could drop in to dinner, but that's a bit much to expect for fictional characters. So I'll just wish them well, and maybe curl up with a clip from The Hobbit in honor of the occasion.

How did you discover The Hobbit? 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The One Book When You Need Encouragement for Your Passion

I'm always shoving a book towards someone saying, "You should read this!" I love sharing my favorite things. But this time, someone shoved a book towards me.

My mom and sister kept chatting about this book called Chasing Grace. "You should read it, Schuyler!" And when it came up in my review Program, the BookLook Bloggers, it was really destined to be. I needed a quick, easy read that was still enjoyable, so I put it on hold.

It's been a while since I've read a biography, and I've never read a biography of an Olympian before. The experience was inspiring.

The Book
“For as long as I can remember, life has been measured in seconds. The fewer, the better.”

Most people equate success with having more, but Sanya’s quest was always for less. She started running track as a little girl in Jamaica and began competing when she was only seven. At 31 she’s had a career’s worth of conditioning to run a 400-meter race in 50 seconds, hopefully 49, or even better, 48.

When she started training with her coach, Clyde Hart, they divided her race into four phases: push, pace, position, poise, and with the inherent prayer. For years Sanya worked to hone every phase in practice so that when it came time to race, her body would respond as her mind instinctively transitioned from one phase to the next. As she got older and embraced a life that measures more than just a number on the time clock, she has realized the genius of this strategy for not just racing the 400 meters, but for living her best life.

Sanya shares triumphant as well as heartbreaking stories as she reveals her journey to becoming a world-class runner. From her childhood in Jamaica to Athens, Beijing and London Olympics, readers will find themselves inspired by the unique insights she’s gained through her victories and losses, including her devastating injury during the 2016 Olympic Trials forcing career retirement just weeks before Rio. Sanya demonstrates how even this devastating loss brought her closer to the ultimate goal of becoming all God created her to be.

”Sometimes you think you are chasing a gold medal, but that’s not what you are chasing. You’re racing to become the best version of yourself.”
My Thoughts 
Sanya writes in a warm, simple, easy-to-read style. It's a pleasure to read because it flows smoothly and almost feels like she's having a conversation with you. I love conversational literature. Her life of intense training on the track reminded me in some ways of the training process my sister undergoes for the Bible Bee competition--it's a long process with a brief off-season, and she has to stay pretty intense and focused to keep in shape--just like Sanya.

I was inspired by two things in particular--one was the four phases of the race, which Sanya calls "the four Ps". You cannot always run the race by pushing off and going at the top of your game and energy. Eventually, you have to pace yourself into a steady rhythm so you don't burn out. The discipline of pushing hard at the start and then holding a steady rhythm made a lot of sense, and I want to incorporate it into my projects and mindset as I work.

Another inspiring thing about Sanya's training was just the sheer discipline on the track every day. I had a really tired week last week, and didn't do too great on the rhythm side of things. It's OK to take a break sometimes (pacing, after all) but I want to press on, and not fall into bad habits that could derail the work God has set before me. I hope to remember Sanya's example and techniques to encourage me to run the race faithfully and constantly.

Also, I loved the section when her body could no longer hold out in the running, and she had to retire. Passing the baton into the next season of life with grace was really helpful. I loved the inspiring finish to her book.

I love Sanya's passion. I'm passionate about what I do, and this book gave me tools I needed to run the race well. I highly recommend it for an inspirational and inspiring read.

I recieved this book from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, September 15, 2017

8 Book Suggestions for the Reformation 500

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation that changed the Church as we know it is fast closing in. With that in mind, I thought I'd put together a Reformation reading list, because we still have a couple of months left in which to tackle some books.

*deep breaths* we can do this 

I haven't read all of these yet, so they don't come with 100% guarantee. But they look to be great ones to take a peek at, and I'm going to try to get through at least a couple more of them before the year is out.

1. Martin Luther and His Katie, by Dolina MacCuish
This book is an excellent, quick look at the lives of Martin and Katie and their marriage together. It's a quick read. I heartily enjoyed it, and recommend it for a brief introductory overview.

2. Ladies of the Reformation, by J.H. Alexander
An absolutely stellar book to invest in, this book specifically covers women during the Reformation. Each chapter gives a brief snapshot of different womens' lives, and this was a great starting point for a Women of the Reformation set I'm writing for my Christian girls' group--I'm adding Scripture lessons to go along with their lives.

3. Martin Luther, by Eric Metaxas
While I haven't read this one yet, I've enjoyed Metaxas' biographies of Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce, and his engaging style of writing. While Metaxas wavers wildly off-base on how God created the earth in his book Miracles, I've enjoyed his history based stuff, and I'm looking forward to reading his thoughts on Luther.

4. Rescuing the Reformation, by Erwin Lutzer
I'm going to borrow this book from my mom as soon as I finish my current read. I think this will give a great general overview (Yes, it was supposed to be on my summer reading list. I'm behind.)

5. Reformation Heroes, by Joel Beeke
A beautiful coffee-table book illustrating the lives of various reformers, this is another great introduction to look at for your children or even yourself if you want a big-picture view of Reformation history.

6. Katharina and Martin Luther, by Michelle DeRusha
I haven't read this one, but I'd really, really like to. It's a longer biography about the marriage of Martin and Katie Luther.

7. The Thunder, by Douglas Bond
If you'd like a look at this Scottish Reformer and enjoy Douglas Bond's fiction, this is a great one to check out.

8. The Betrayal, by Douglas Bond
A fantastic fictional biography of Calvin (told, ironically enough, through the eyes of someone who hates him) this will give you another wonderful portrait of Calvin's life and scholarship. Note: Some PG-13 elements of immorality in the church and burnings/torture which may be disturbing for some readers.

Are you celebrating the Reformation this year? Which books would you add to this list?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Tale of Endurance Every Kid Needs to Read

cover via Goodreads 
Jim Weiss' warm, smooth style of narrating kept us company through severals audiobooks growing up. The one I've come back to most over the years is his audiobook edition of Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. It's a children's classic that I look forward to reading to my own kids: a tale of the sea, of love and family and a young man who persevered through incredible odds after the death of his educational dream, his siblings, and his first love.

While that sounds sobering, it's actually an upbeat tale full of educational interest. Including things like the Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, facts about navigation and shipbuilding, and Nat's interest in foreign languages, as well as interspersed beats of humor, you could spend a lot of time discussing various aspects of it in a school curriculum.

I don't own a copy of Carry On, Mr. Bowditch yet, but I did actually find a copy of Nat's book, The American Practical Navigator at a local book sale (not an original edition, but pretty cool to look through, especially since it's so thick.)

But what I'm most excited about when I read it is the themes of the tale itself. Nat Bowditch had nothing handed to him. He was smart enough to go to Harvard, but his dad couldn't make ends meet, so Nat was indentured for nine years--from the time he was twelve until the time he was twenty-one. By that time in history, it was too late to go to college. His dream was dead. Instead of despairing, in a moving imagery of sailing by ash breeze (having to use the oars when there is no wind) Nat taught himself countless things he needed to know simply by having a learning, hungry mind.

Nat learned diligently (he wasn't stumped by anything too hard, even learning Latin to read Newton's Principia). Nat's learning wasn't quick, though he was bright. The story shows him taking months, over a year, to learn Latin, translating Principia sentence by sentence so he could read it.

Nat is a stellar example of a diligent hard worker who keeps on dreaming, keeps on learning, and doesn't forget to turn back and give a helping hand to someone else so they can learn too. His investment in sailors who never would have been able to be first mates without his help showed that in spite of his brilliant learning, he was able to maintain humility.

The characters that people Nat's world--from sweet Elizabeth Boardman with "eyes in the back of her heart" to Polly, with her installments of common sense and good conversation to keep Nat on track with his writing deadlines--to David's funny, adorable romance with Nat's sister, Mary, offer sweetness and love to counterbalance Nat's earnest pursuit of mathematics. It's a world you won't want to miss, written simply enough to delight the children in your life, while being deep and timeless enough to challenge and warm the heart of any adult who reads it along with them. If sons of mine (or daughters) pick up on Nat as a role model, I'll be pretty happy.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A United Kingdom {movie review}

Have you signed up for the War of Loyalties street team yet? Applications close the evening of September 9th! Don't miss the chance for a private street-team view of the War of Loyalties publication process! Check out the details here:

my photo of the movie cover

After watching Rosamund Pike in Wives and Daughters and the 2007 Pride and Prejudice, I think I wanted to watch A United Kingdom just because she was in it. Then as I researched more about the movie to see if it would be worth watching, the story itself grabbed me.

After working hard on War of Loyalties, (and using the soundtrack for this movie again and again as I edited) I decided it was time to pick it up from the library and see if it was any good. So this Sunday afternoon I popped it in the laptop and gave it a try.

The Story
A United Kingdom explores a true-to-life story about a black king of Bechuanaland marrying a white English girl, and the persecution they both endured for their interracial marriage in the 1960s. (I say interracial, wishing there was a better term. I don't believe in different human races.) As Seretse and Ruth try to establish a home in Africa, the prejudice of their families and the opposition of the British government make a happily-ever-after seem next to impossible.

My Thoughts 

  • The opening scenes of Ruth and Seretse's early relationship didn't grab me. They meet in secret, going to jazz dances and taking long moonlit walks together. While Rosamund Pike makes for a mature actress in what doesn't seem like a mature situation, I wouldn't want to handle a relationship as a temporary fling, and jazz dance halls didn't seem like good places to hang out. (Though the line when her little sister said, "He says you could bring me if you want to," and Rosamund says "I don't" is a hilarious zinger.)
  • Rosamund Pike is a pleasure to watch. I appreciate watching some of her interviews because she speaks in a cultured, thoughtful way. She brings maturity to movies (the only sister in the 2007 Pride and Prejudice I truly liked *ducks tomatoes*) and her character has a strength for the challenges of life that is cast in iron without being feministic. She plays a wonderful helpmeet and wife who is able to hold fast in the midst of prejudice and separation from her husband. 
  • After Ruth and Seretse's marriage, when they arrive in Africa, I really pick up with the movie and the emotions it portrays. This marriage was hard for everyone. It was hard for Ruth and Seretse, who didn't deserve persecution simply because of the color of their skin. It was hard for Seretse's uncle, who had raised his nephew to be a king of his people and expected him to take a native wife. And I can't imagine what it was like for Ruth's parents, who saw their daughter marry a man not culturally acceptable and receive persecution from the British government. I'm sure they would have wanted something more respectable and safe for their daughter. While there are villains in this film, there are also real people with real emotions and concerns on all sides of the issue, and I think that brings a more realistic, fully-fleshed view to history than taking only one side on the question. 
  • As well as the main story of the marriage, there's also a subplot as the British government looks for diamonds in Bechuanaland without the knowledge of the people, and Seretse tries to secure the mineral rights for his nation. You see that there's a lot more going on under the surface than an interracial marriage. The British people are fighting for control of Bechuanaland in one of their less shining moments. 
  • While A United Kingdom is a secular film, it offers a good example of marriage--a couple committing to stay true to each other whether together or separated, in hard times and in beautiful ones. 

Not only is this educative about a real-life situation, but A United Kingdom also offers a fun and moving 2-hour British drama for when you're looking for a quality British movie to relax with (as I often am.) With a few brief exceptions of scenes I'd skip, I highly recommend it.

In fact, this article about the real story and the making of the movie might give you a fun Friday read as well:

Parent Guide:
Language: Scattered handful of 6+ instances. Some racial epithets.
Sex: Skippable scene of the wedding night after Ruth and Seretse exchange rings at their wedding. Flirtatious scene of the two of them together in their hotel room after they arrive in Africa. Ruth and Seretse are sitting together on their porch, and Seretse makes a comment about not marrying her because she's beautiful. Ruth says "Liar" and pulls up her skirt hem.
Violence: Brief fistfight in an alley.
Other: Smoking, references to various alcohols, Ruth and Seretse exchange kisses as a married couple.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Announcing the McConkey Press Street Team+Newsletter!

It's time.

what what what schuyler, please tell me 

Fall is the time for cuddling up with a cup of cocoa and a big book (War of Loyalties is about the size of Wives and Daughters or Little Dorrit) and I want to get the book into your hands. Today, I'm excited to make two announcements as the War of Loyalties publication season starts heating up!

Join the Street Team
To be honest, street teams have always sounded like one of the most incredibly fun parts of publishing a book. I mean....who wouldn't want a special community to fangirl and chat with?

I've always loved getting review books and being part of a couple of street teams has been no end of fun. For me, the writing process is truly most complete and most enjoyable when it can be shared. And I would love to share it with you in an inside way.

If you've ever loved War Horse, bought multiple copies of Sherlock Holmes, worn out Great Expectations, or waited week by week for the next episode of Victoria, then I would love to have you join this team of people. We're going to have lots of fun together as we strategize about how to spread the word of War of Loyalties' upcoming release!

Street Team Commitments 
1. Spread the word about the book's release through social media platforms.
2. Help with blog posts, interviews, and guest posts leading up to the release of War of Loyalties.
3. Request the book at local libraries.
4. Join in praying for the book release and the details leading up to it.
5. Review the book on vendor sites and Goodreads (encouraged but not required).
6. And more to come!

Street Team Benefits 
1. Read ebook copies of War of Loyalties (Due cost and budgeting, I'm so sorry I can't offer print copies for this book release. ARC ebooks will be available to street team members sometime in October!)
2. Get exclusive extra scenes connected with the novel characters.
3. Sneak peeks and opportunities to weigh in on future McConkey Press story ideas (including the War of Loyalties sequel!)
4. Recieve a first peek at the book cover!
5. Fellowship with a vibrant community of historical fiction lovers, readers, and writers.
6. Special surprise swag in the mail now and then as a thank-you for all your efforts!
7. Share prayer requests, life updates, and writing/reading related news of your own with each other on special thread posts.

How Do I Sign Up? 
Do you wanna be a Samwise? I would LOVE to have you apply to join the street team! The Google sign-up form is open until September 9th (Jaeryn's birthday!)  and accepted applicants will be emailed a link to a street team Facebook group the following week!

Just a note: don't panic if your social media stats are small. I want a great team, not just a widespread social media reach!

To join the street team, just click the link below:

But wait! There's more! Love the sound of the street team, but not sure about the commitment? Want a chance to weigh in on some secret War of Loyalties details?

There's something for you, too!

Join the McConkey Press Newsletter

Before War of Loyalties is printed, I still need to decide on a series title! A sneak peek at the series title choices (and your chance to tell me which ones you like) will be exclusively for newsletter subscribers. Sign up below and keep a lookout for the first newsletter, coming in the next couple of weeks to an inbox near you! :)

Here's how to join:
1. Put your email in the white box and click "Subscribe".
2. You'll receive an email with a subject line that says something like "McConkey Press Newsletter: Please Confirm Subscription." Open the email and click the link inside to confirm your subscription. (Very important!) This email may be in your "Social" or "Promotions" tab if you have a Gmail address. Or in Spam.
3. You're all set! A newsletter will be coming out sometime in the next couple of weeks! :)

Subscribe to McConkey Press

* indicates required

Whew! That's a lot of exciting news for one day, bibliophiles. I'm so excited with all the Lord has in store!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Movie Review: War Horse

photo credit via War Horse official Facebook page

This week, after a tutoring appointment, I stopped at the big library we don't normally go to and meandered through their used book section. On a rolling cart, they had a stack of DVDs. I never find used DVDs that I want to buy, but since I love movies, I scanned through them anyway.

War Horse was on the second side, bottom shelf. For $1.00.

I popped open the case and looked at the back of the DVD. It had a few scratches--probably wouldn't work, I thought. But...or $1.00...I'd never seen it, but I'd heard good things about it.

Who could say no?

The Story 
It's about a horse--

oh my, schuyler, i never would have guessed. 

--who's bought and sold to help a family make the rent on their farm. Leaving a heartbroken boy behind, who's too young to enlist and travel with him, Joey the horse enters the tragic world of WW1 trenches, where he shuttles back and forth between British, German, and French owners. As the war drags on, Joey's miraculous courage and tenacity bring heart to a horrible fight. But miracles are limited, and the war is a long one. Will Joey ever be reunited to the home he was torn away from?

Release Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Composer: John Williams
My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Thoughts 
Well, when I brought the DVD home, I had to find out if it worked. And fair warning: once you start, it's really hard to stop. Here are the things I loved most:

  • The Devon scenery is beyond spectacular. (I'm assuming it's Devon? Albert, the boy who loves Joey, refers to being from Devon.) It looks like a painted landscape panorama of rocks and rolling hills for the first few minutes of the movie. Interestingly enough, the War Horse Twitter feed said all the sunsets in the movie were real sunsets--not special effects. 
  • When Joey's owner, Ted Narracott, faces the consequence of how his drinking affects his family, he asks his wife if her love for him has changed. In her terse, unsentimental way, Rose says, "I might hate you more, but I'll never love you less." One of the good things about this movie is that Rose sees her husband's faults and the war trauma he has never recovered from and still works hard to stick with him. The movie doesn't tie their struggles up in a neat little bow. Instead, it shows how a family can stick together even with deep-seated flaws and parts about each other that they can't understand. A deep and abiding love can run through and hold together imperfect people. I liked that. (Plus, Rose's purple outfit was my fav.) 
  • What really impressed me throughout the movie was the tough choices the director/screenwriter were willing to make for a war film. Whenever there was a twist in the plot or a dark moment, they rarely gave the easy way out. Joey and Albert save the farm only to have another catastrophe undo all their hard work. A soldier makes it all the way through the trenches only to die at the end. Joey escapes the Germans only to run through barbed wire (more than once). The characters taste victory, but victory is rarely handed to them. You feel the cost of the war. 
  • In counterbalance to the last point, another thing I loved about War Horse was the moments of heart in the midst of horror. Albert finds camaraderie with a Devon boy who was his former rival. A British soldier and a German one strike up a brief friendship over their compassion for Joey. Joey looks out for another horse, Topthorn, when Topthorn is struggling to pull the heavy guns up the hill. Albert looks into the face of a stricken soldier who's just been ordered to kill any of his comrades who run back from the trenches and tries to bolster him with courage. 
  • My favorite scene of the entire movie was the moment early on in the film when Albert realizes he's got to teach this spirited horse how to plow one of the worst, rockiest, un-plowable fields, so they can save his mum and dad's farm. The scene that followed was moving with its endurance in the midst of jeers and obstacles and showed the blessing of stubborn tenacity in the face of impending loss. The obstacle is a more innocent one than the life-threatening dangers Joey faces in the war, but it's bright, shining heart has so much warmth and love to it. 
In reading a bit on Wikipedia about the book and the screenplay, the movie seems to strike a nice balance the two and their differences. War Horse isn't a film for giggles. It's a heart-wrenching depiction of the great hardship of war that fills you with twin emotions of grief and inspiration. In spite of the sorrow, you walk away with a lifted step--a grander, bigger kind of courage that makes you want to go write about something great. It's a story of tenacity through hardship, compassion for suffering, the grief of separation, and the hope of love. Any story that can capture those big emotions and capture them well is worth the time it takes to watch. 

I'll be watching War Horse again. And again. And again. 

Have you seen War Horse? What did you like about it? 

Parent Guide 
It's a bit dangerous giving a parent guide after seeing a movie only once. I don't always catch everything the first time. I mute and fast-forward at necessary moments in movies I decide to watch, so before I pop them in, I generally do a quick search on PluggedIn or IMDb Parent Guide (search the movie title and scroll down the page until you get a link for parent advisory in the "Storyline" section.) Then I'm not caught off guard: I at least know what's coming.

Sexual Content: None.
Language: at least 4 different swear words, 6+ instances of language.
Violence: Men are shot or killed with sword thrusts in battle, a horse runs through barbed wire, two men are executed in a firing squad, soldiers face gas in the trenches, horses are abused.
Other: Man struggles with intoxication, brief instances of cigarette smoking.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...