Saturday, December 21, 2019

Why I've Been Gone So Long

                         white and red ceramic mug on books

I haven't posted since the fifth of November: Guy Fawkes Day, for those of you who know or care about British Holidays. Stay tuned for my Boxing Day Post! (Joke. Probably.)

Why have I been gone so long? I'm so glad you asked, because I have some fantastic excuses!

As I write said excuses, I am watching The Knight Before Christmas with Vanessa Hughens on Netflix. Here's a preview if you're interested, and I'll put a mini review at the end of this post.

Excuse Number One November was NaNoWriMo, the month in which I wrote 50,191 very rough words on two different story projects. So I was a little bit busy, and by the time I got done writing 2,000ish words a day, I had No Desire to blog, even though I had a whole string of fun seasonal posts planned. I'll just have to condense some of that content here. When I'm done making excuses.

Excuse Number Two I started a new job! After a good year and a half at Carefree Kitchens, I was offered the position of Development Associate at Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit organization that ministers to post-combat veterans and their families, healing the wounds of war. And can I just say, it's an honor.  I went from a job that paid the bills to some of the most meaningful work I've ever done. But it's been an exhausting emotional adjustment learning a new job and building relationships with new people. I hate change. I hate it so much. Even when it's obviously a really, really great change. I started the second day of December, and until today, I haven't had the leftover bandwidth to write anything. But as you can see, it's getting better.

Excuse Number Three I'm in a play! I've mentioned this before, but as show dates approach, more and more of my time and energy has gone into rehearsals and such. If you're interested in seeing me play a country wench in a love triangle in William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost sometime between January 16th and January 19th, you can get tickets here. Early bird pricing holds through the day after Christmas! *Shameless Plug*


                       coffee cup near orange vegetable on brown wooden surface

I was going to do a post where I complained about how I can't enjoy Pumpkin Spice Lattes without being called Basic (which I really hate). I was going to do a little rant about how horrible it is that humans can't seem to just let each other enjoy the little, simple, and silly things in life without putting down each other's tastes. Why is it so fun to be a hater? Let me know what you think in the comments.

I was going to combine my Pumpkin Spice Rant with my thoughts on the Appropriate Time to Begin Listening to Christmas Music debate, but then my thoughts and theories on that developed so far beyond the Pumpkin Spice Rant realm, that I decided to do a whole separate post on that and just scrap the Pumpkin Spice thing altogether. Stay Tuned.

MOVING ON for now to the Christmas books I've read so far this season:

           10 Blind Dates   Chasing Christmas Eve (Heartbreaker Bay, #4)   Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1) 

                           One Day in December    Entwined

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston
Four Stars
When Sophie goes through a breakup just before Christmas, her big Italian family gathers around her and conspires to lift her spirits. They wrap her up in closeness and love and get her to agree to ten blind dates. I thought this book was adorable, funny, warm, and sweet. It's not crazy-deep, but it's exactly the light, aggressively Christmas thing I want this time of year.

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis
Two Stars
This is a novel about a runaway author and a rich California guy. For a book with Christmas in the title, this was the least Christmas-y Christmas book I've ever read. It happens to be a romance set around Christmas time. That's it. There are zero Christmas vibes. Zero. I could have forgiven that if the romance had been any good, but it really wasn't. I gave it two stars instead of one because I liked a few parts, and there was a cute dog.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Four Stars
I really liked this book. It's a middle-grade novel about adoption from the child's perspective, ghosts, role-playing games, smuggling, mystery, and magic. The whole aesthetic was unique and fascinating. This was a high four stars for me. I couldn't quite give it five, but it's right up there. I love a good children's book at Christmas time!

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Four Stars
Another Christmas romance novel, but this one had so much more depth and emotion and raw life to it. It's a star-crossed love story spanning ten years and a host of good, bad, and grey relational choices. Some parts made me laugh, some made me cry. It's heartfelt all around, thought-provoking, and troubling in places. Takeaway: love in real life can be as ugly as it is beautiful.

Entwined by Heather Dixon
Five Stars
A familial love-filled, mildly-allegorical retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I read this for the first time four years ago, and reread it again this November. It spans one year of enforced castle mourning from Christmas to Christmas and the exploits of twelve girls, who only want to dance, and have no idea what sort of magic they're getting mixed up in, as well as a sad father who'll do anything to keep them safe. Highly Recommend.

And the ones I'm currently reading:

              Frostheart   My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Because I haven't completed these yet, I can't give them ratings, but I can tell you that all three are perfectly lovely so far.

Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
Three novellas about three pairs of high school kids whose story threads weave together, or so I hear. It just got a Netflix adaptation, which I'm excited to watch the minute I'm done reading.

Frostheart by Jamie Littler
I've barely started this, but it's been getting just a ton of love in the bookish community, and the illustrations are adorable. It's about a little orphan boy with a big heart and a magical ability that frightens his snowy, little village. Also snow leviathans and a stoic yeti. Yes, please.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins
I'm about halfway through this collection of short stories that cover everything from Christmas to Yule to New Years. I've been impressed with the depth of each tale and the quality of the themes being discussed. So far, highly recommend.

Alright, that's *nearly* all for now, although I did promise to give a little review of The Knight Before Christmas.
                      Image result for the knight before christmas
I'm going to judge this on the Christmas movie scale, not the movie movie scale, because on the movie movie scale it was like a two and a half out of five stars, but on the Christmas movie scale it was a four and a half. Cute. Made me smile and laugh. All the Christmas vibes. Includes accidental time travel and a knight trying to learn how to talk to Alexa. Golden.

What are your favorite Christmas books and movies? Are you a Hallmark person? Have any holiday pet peeves? Leave a comment below, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November


                   "The Fifth of November" English Folk Verse (c.1870)
                                                              (Found here)

    Remember, remember!
    The fifth of November,
    The Gunpowder treason and plot;
    I know of no reason
    Why the Gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot!
    Guy Fawkes and his companions
    Did the scheme contrive,
    To blow the King and Parliament
    All up alive.
    Threescore barrels, laid below,
    To prove old England's overthrow.
    But, by God's providence, him they catch,
    With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
    A stick and a stake
    For King James's sake!
    If you won't give me one,
    I'll take two,
    The better for me,
    And the worse for you.
    A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
    A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,
    A pint of beer to wash it down,
    And a jolly good fire to burn him.
    Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
    Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
    Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

^Poem says it all, right? Or do I need to explain myself?


Explain myself, it is.

Ever seen V for Vendetta? That's a movie (obviously) that mined its plot from the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (PLOT, see what I did there?). The Gunpowder Plot was an anarchist/Roman Catholic conspiracy to blow up the Protestant government of the time, which included King James I, his wife and son, and all of Parliament. However, Guy Fawkes, one of the plot's members, was caught by the gunpowder stockpile, allegedly with a match in his hand, and what would have been one of the most devastating terrorist attacks of all time was averted. Imagine how the USA would celebrate 9/11 had we stopped it before it happened...


Remember, remember the 5th of November.

That's why the United Kingdom celebrates Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night, on this day every year. To the British, this holiday is as significant as July 4th is to Americans, with some of the resonance of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 thrown in. Festivities include fireworks, bonfires, iconic Guy Fawkes masks, and the burning of Mr. Fawkes in effigy.


How, you might ask, being American, do I even know about all this? Well. When I was younger and living in Africa, many of my family's missionary neighbors, coworkers, and friends were from the United Kingdom. It followed then, that on every 5th of November, we constructed bonfires of sizes that would make Smokey the Bear cringe, hid a box of fireworks in the pile for shock-and-awe, and burned that nasty Fawkes guy time and time again.


It sounds a little terrible, I'll give you that, but I have such fond memories of this holiday. I love the spirit and aesthetic of it. It's very much a light-up-the-darkness/stop-the-evil-men-in-their-tracks celebration of justice and averted crisis. It's a simultaneously sassy and relief-filled holiday. Even after all these years.

Being in America now, however, I've had to be a bit more creative about celebrating. This year I treated myself to Nadine Brandes's YA historical fantasy book Fawkes, which I Highly recommend. 5/5 Stars.

Brandes uses the allegories of color magic, masks, and a spreading stone plague to suss out the Roman Catholic/Protestant tensions of 1650. Our main character Thomas Fawkes is the (fictional) son of Guy Fawkes, and, terminally ill with the plague, he is turning into stone. Guy Fawkes and a band of conspirators believe that if they kill the king, the curse that is the plague will end. Thomas must decide what he believes, why, and how far he'll take his convictions. It's fun. It's thought-provoking. Poignant in places. Colorful in a great many ways. I started it last night and finished it this morning, and I will say, I haven't loved an allegory so much since The Chronicles of Narnia. You should check it out.

As far as further celebrations, my sister, Liz and I have some stuff planned. And by stuff I mean, we plan to light up the grill and cook some pork chops and then cook some Guy Fawkes. And then we will eat the pork chops and stomp on the ashes of Guy Fawkes, and we will probably do all this on Instagram Live for your amusement somewhere between 9 and 10 PM; so here's a link to my Insta, if you don't currently follow me, and don't want to miss out on this action: abbypaulielibby.

In other news, today, November 5th, 2019 is the Release Date AKA Book Birthday of not one, but two of my most anticipated releases of The Whole Year. These are:

The Toll by Neal Shusterman, finale in the Arc of the Scythe trilogy, which I HIGHLY recommend.
And Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater, first book in the Dreamer trilogy, spin-off to the Raven Cycle, which I AdoreSoMuchICan'tStandIt.


In short, between Guy Fawkes festivities and book releases, I have absolutely no chill today. NO CHILL. I expect it will be a November 5th to remember. *Remember*

Monday, October 28, 2019

Is ANYONE ready for NANOWRIMO? Because I'm not.

                         vintage teal typewriter beside book
Nanowrimo. November. The month of 50,000 words. Or maybe 8 words (*counts on fingers* It. was. a. dark. and. stormy. night. Yep, that's 8.) OR MAYBE ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS. Or maybe 20,000 words. Maybe 2,000. We're going to just do our best okay?

Today I'm going to give you a gift. I'm going to give you the gift of the Super-Top-Secret-Making-This-Up-As-I-Go-Along-Nanowrimo-Success-Checklist.


  • Step One: Throw Away Your Writing Standards. Seriously. Toss them right now. Unless you're some sort of super-human, you are NOT going to write a complete, polished, plot-hole free novel in one month. You are not. The point of Nanowrimo is not to write a book that's ready to publish by December. The point of Nanowrimo is to write a Rough Draft. Emphasis on Rough. And to connect with other writers while you're at it. 
  • Step Two: Connect with other writers while you're at it. Nanowrimo connects authors and aspiring authors together in a community of support, ideas, and general shenanigans. The community has always been the reason I do Nanowrimo. There are coffee shop write-ins, virtual write-ins, library write-ins, and unofficial Abby's-living-room write-ins all month long. There are chat rooms and prompts and pep talks and sprints all available on The Official Website. Lots of stuff to help you through. Also you should join my Super Top Secret and Exclusive Facebook Group.
  • Step Three: Speaking of the Nanowrimo official website, use the official website. Update your wordcount, and watch your numbers climb on an automatically-generated graph. Let the website's algorithms let you know how you're doing. If you're ahead. If you're behind. How much you need to write any given day in order to finish on time. Oh and you can earn badges. It's brilliant. 
  • Step Four: Purchase Swag. This step is not entirely necessary, but there's nothing like a shirt that says "I survived Nanowrimo 2019" to motivate you to survive Nanowrimo 2019. 
  • Step Five: Either outline beforehand (you have less than a week left! *screaming*) or don't make yourself write the story in chronological order. This year will be the first that I attempt to work from a chronological outline. In the past I've found that the only way I can maintain pace is to write scenes as the ideas hit me, whether or not they're in order. I've spent many a December cutting and pasting and putting my chapters in order. Pro Tip: Do Not, I Repeat, Do Not attempt to number your chapters. You will invariably add one later and then have to renumber everything and it's............just don't do it, okay?
  • Step Six: Give yourself a big coffee budget. 
  • Step Seven: Hide your cell phone. No Distractions!!!
  • Step Eight: Tie your husband/significant other/cat up, and put him in the closet. No Distractions!!!
  • Step Nine: Alternatively remind your husband that the new Skyrim game is coming out on the 11th. "Absolutely babe, whatever you want, I just want You to be happy. Yeah can you just wear your headphones, and not yell too loud, thanks."
  • Step Ten: Write every day. Even if it's just a little bit, make it a habit. You only have to do 1,667 words a day. They don't have to be good words. They don't have to be punctuated or spelled right or even entirely story. As long as you sit down and write, it can be a tirade about how you can't think of anything to write and everything you hate about your main character, and you Will Still Get Somewhere. A lot of writing, so I hear, is teasing out your thoughts and your imaginations and tackling the questions that knock about in your head. Nanowrimo is about putting all that nonsense on paper so you can See it and start to make something of it. 
  • Step Eleven: Find some good writing music. I learn toward slow, nostalgic stuff like Sky Sailing, Fleurie, Handsome Ghost, and unnoffical playlists of every song on all eight seasons of The Vampire Diaries. Alternatively, find some good white noise. I recommend Rainy Cafe, which has rainstorm noises and cafe noises that you can adjust and mix together in whatever volume combination you like. I usually do Rain: 100%, Cafe: 50%, but you do you. 
  • Step Twelve: Read. It might sound counter-intuitive to read when you're supposed to be writing, but reading books and writing books go hand in hand, and it's a much better place to go looking for story inspiration during Nanowrimo then Netflix or Hulu. My Nanowrimo Reading list? So glad you asked. 
                                          Paperback The Night Circus Book

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was originally a Nano novel, so I thought it'd be a perfect fit for this month. 

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is about an internet-famous fan-fiction author. So, perfect. 

                                          Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer, #1)

And Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater, a spin-off of the Raven Boys Cycle, is about a boy who can pull things from his dreams and make them concrete, which is basically what writing is all about, right? I cannot tell you how ridiculously excited I am for this November 5th release!!!

                                           Fawkes: A Novel

Speaking of November 5th, November 5th is the English holiday, Guy Fawkes Day, in case you were a plebeian/peasant/American and didn't know.  In celebration I will be reading Fawkes by Nadine Brandes, burning a very small effigy of Guy Fawkes on my landlord's grill, and, naturally, writing a blog about it for your general enjoyment. You're welcome. 

And finally, I'll need to make time for the Booksplosion Book Club book of the month: 

Cursed by Frank Miller is a feminist twist on the Arthurian legends in the vein of "What if the Lady of the Lake drew Excalibur from the stone? It's also got illustrations, and it's going to be a Netflix series starring Katherine Langford, so that's exciting. 

And wow. I should really quit before this post devolves into a 200-item-long books-I-really-wanna-read-right-now list.

Are you doing Nano this year? Can I talk you into attempting Nano this year? Join my Facebook Group. Leave a Comment! Talk to you soon!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Abby and Liz Recommend Spooky Books


A Quick Reminder About What the Stars Mean:
1 Star-Hated it, 2 Stars-Disliked it, 3 Stars-Soft Like, 4 Stars-Hard Like, 5 Stars-Loved it

And these are general quality/enjoyment ratings not specifically "amazing writing style" or "contains only moral excellence" or "I promise you personally will feel the same way," they're just overall ratings.

Abby: Well hello everyone! My little sister and I thought we'd do a collab for you today. We've got a list of good books to read around Halloween: everything from lightly spooky and atmospheric to true crime to horror/thriller. We've got some new releases, some tried and true classics, and some titles you probably never knew were books before they were movies. We tend to be of the opinion that you shouldn't know too much about a scary book going in, so we're only going to provide short teasers and Expect You to Take Our Word For It *Cackling*.

In case you get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options we're about to present to you, we're going to give you our top recommendation up front.
It's short. It's a classic. And it's creeeeppppyyyy.

                                      The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Published 1948) *5 Stars* 

Recently made into a Netflix series, which neither of us have watched, this book is the Standard in haunted house stories. It's an absolute horror classic, and if you don't read Anything Else from this post, Liz and I both agree, you should read this. It's about a group of supernatural experts who take a holiday in Hill House in order to study it. And bad things happen. Obviously.
Do Not Read Alone In The Dark.

Spooky Young Adult Fantasy 

                   The Beautiful (The Beautiful, #1)    
                                   A Drop of Night

Abby House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig (Published August 2019) *4 Stars*
A nail-bitey retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, this fairy-tale adaptation is briny and chilly and full of ghosts(?) and nightmares and pretty dresses and dancing slippers. It revolves around what may or may not be a deadly family curse, a suspicious death, and a wicked(?) stepmother. The seaside atmosphere of this book is fantastic; you can just Smell the salt. The plot wasn't the Greatest Ever, but it was a good time, and I recommend it for anyone who loves the fairy tale and the sea.

Abby The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh (Published October, 2019) *5 Stars*

Vampires in post-civil war New Orleans. That's all you need to know. Booktube is raving about the resurgence of vampires, and I think they have a right to. I wouldn't say this book is scary, it's just vampires. And murder. No biggie.

Abby The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (Published January 2018) *4 Stars*

Dark fairy tale characters come to haunt the granddaughter of the woman who published their stories? Yes. Sign me up. This book examines the relationship between happy fairy tales and dark fairy tales, and between stories and reality. It's not scary exactly, but the deep-deep-woods-fairy-tale tone is unsettling and perfect for the season. Sequel arriving in 2020!

Liz The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, and Emma Trevayn (Published 2016) *4 Stars but only because they're not all by Stefan*

This is a collection of creepy, unsettling stories. Some of them are quiet and unnerving, but others will stick with you for years to come. I may be biased (I’m not biased), but Stefan Bachmann’s stories are clearly the best ones.

Liz and Abby A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachman (Published 2014) *5 Stars* 

I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a literary crush on Stefan Bachmann. Why would you say that? This book was amazing. It's about a group of kids studying an underground palace in France. Creepy stuff happens. I don't remember the rest it was kind of a blur. You should read it. 

Adult Thrillers

Red Dragon (Hannibal Lecter Series #1)

Liz Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (Published 1990) *5 Stars*

Raise your hand if you’ve seen the movie. Okay, put it down now, no one cares. Everyone’s seen the movie. But have you read the book? Have you read it, huh? Yes, the movie was good, but *transforms into raging bookwyrm* *breathes fire* the book was better. From the slow build, where everyone ignores vital details until the problem has progressed out of control, to the dramatic climax, the story is both an adventure in blind terror and an essay on cruel mathematics. I love how it calls us humans on our arrogance in assuming we can play God by controlling every aspect of our environment.

Liz Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (Published 2009) *5 Stars*

Most of you are familiar with Hannibal Lector. More specifically, most of you are familiar with the movie The Silence of the Lambs. But what some of you might not know *cough* Abby *cough* is that the character of Hannibal originated in a four book series, of which The Silence of the Lambs is the second book. Red Dragon is the first, and if you’re tempted to skip it to get to the action that is Silence, you’d be missing out. This book has it all: a serial killer you sympathize with, smart cops, impending doom, and so much more. And while Clarice is amazing, and I would never say otherwise, you haven’t experienced Hannibal until you’ve seen him reflected in Will Graham.

Liz I’m A Therapist And My Patient Is Going To Be The Next School Shooter by Dr. Harper (Published January 2019) *4 Stars*

If you are familiar with the thread /r/nosleep on Reddit, then you’ll know it’s a forum where people commonly post fictional horror and everyone pretends that it’s real, because it’s more fun that way. (Unless… *checks over shoulder* Unless it /is/ real.) Obviously, with threads like that, you have to wade through some junk, since everyone and their uncle are free to post, but you can find some really cool story concepts as well. That’s where I’m A Therapist And My Patient Is Going To Be The Next School Shooter originated, before the author self-published it and its sequel. While it is not perfect, and the sequel has even more plot holes and weaknesses, it is twisty and fascinating and references the dark web and sugar free Haribo gummy bears and everything else that’s a true nod to Reddit. What’s not to love, I ask you?

Abby Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (Published 2017) *5 Stars* SECONDED BY LIZ
Holy Crap. Is what I said when I finished this book. This is a magical realism novel with lucid dreaming and mysterious strangers. So good, though I will warn you that the plot turns on an extramarital affair. But trust me, no part of this book is suggesting that an affair is a good thing that will take you lovely places. Not at all. Not. At. All.

Stephen King Novels

                Needful Things  The Shining (The Shining, #1)  

Liz Needful Things by Stephen King (Published 1992) *Five Stars*

This book, guys. While everyone, including Abby, is getting distracted by mainstream Steven King books like It *Abby, don’t hit me, there are witnesses*, some of his other stories get overlooked. But seriously, you need to read Needful Things. It is, first and foremost, about greed. Is there something you need, more than anything else in the world? Is there one thing that can make your life perfect? You can buy it at Needful Things, for a price. Here’s the catch: maybe you didn’t know you needed it before, but once you see it in the shop window, you will be willing to do anything to acquire it, and anything to keep it, and when you have it in your possession, you will be so terrified of losing it that your life will fall to ruins.

Liz The Shining by Stephen King (Published 1980) *Five Stars*

Speaking of mainstream Stephen King books, The Shining is also pretty good. Of the books on this list, this one has the most spiritual horror, so if that’s something you shy away from, then be forewarned. When Jack brings his wife and son, Danny, to the Overlook Hotel, which they will take care of over the winter, they expect nothing bad to happen. But the Hotel is sentient and evil. It has fixated on Danny, and it will use anything, even Jack’s addiction, to claim him. In typical Stephen King fashion, the horror in this book comes less from the outside influences themselves, and more from the worst they bring out in the characters. P.S. The Shining's sequel, Dr. Sleep, has a movie that's hitting theaters soon.

Abby It by Stephen King (Published 1986) *Four Stars*
At the risk of quoting my own Facebook statuses...
I was terrified to pick this book up, both because I've heard horrible things, and because it's So Much Book. But honestly it wasn't that bad. I mean it was. But it wasn't.
Also I had to constantly lay it upside down when I wasn't reading because the cover was too scary.
I have issues.                   **Trigger Warnings for Everything**
Once you get through 1,000 pages of well-written documentation of the filth of the human condition the book is SHOCKINGLY Hopeful. There were a couple plot points that made me angry, and I wish they weren't there, but I'm not Stephen King, and no one asked me to help edit this book before it hit presses in 1986 before I was even born (I know, Rude). This is a book about a monster that's been living in the sewers of Derry, Maine for decades if not centuries. It comes out to play (*tear people to pieces*) once every 27 years or so, but this time the Loser's Club of Derry believes they've defeated it. Except they haven't. King tells this story in constant time-jumps from kids-fighting-It to grown-up-kids-fighting-It with interludes of other vile moments in Derry's history.
I would only recommend this book to those with reasonably strong stomachs and enough security in their own faith and morality to descend into the sewers of humanity (literally and metaphorically) and admit that the scariest thing living in the world is NOT INTER-DIMENSIONAL SHAPE-SHIFTING CLOWNS but human beings. But if you're willing to take it on, I promise it's worth it. So much to think about.
Real Life Scary

Liz Obviously we’ve been talking about fiction so far, but if you want some truly disturbing material (in case Stephen King isn't enough for you), you only have to look at real life. Here are some true crime titles to freeze your blood.

                                The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery   The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story

The Man From The Train by Bill James (Published 2017) *Five Stars*
I’ve talked about this one on my blog before, but it bears repeating. This is a chilling work of research. Bill James has taken a string of brutal ax-murders from the twentieth century, discovered additional murders that were never linked, and come up with a possible name for the perpetrator. Even if he is wrong (which I don’t think he is, but then again, I’m not a detective), his research is still impressive.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (Published 2011) *Five Stars*
A lot of you are very familiar with Ted Bundy, but maybe some of you don’t know that the popular true crime writer Ann Rule knew Bundy before he became infamous. (I didn’t.) It’s probably bad that I’m geeking out a little about this, but I like firsthand accounts, and I like books by people who know what they’re talking about, and this one sits in the middle of that Venn diagram.

Christian Thrillers


Abby But seriously, we really tried to bring you some Christian thriller recommendations. We both picked up Frank E. Peretti novels since Peretti is allegedly the Stephen King of the Christian Publishing World. But we did. not. like. what we read, and can't recommend it. We found the plotting poor, the spiritual aspects problematic, and the characters, particularly the female characters, flat.  We're not saying that all Christian thrillers are low-quality, we're just saying that we have yet to find any worth recommending, sorry. We do share an opinion that Christian thrillers tend to make a poor parody of the Powers of Darkness in an attempt to create jump scares. We find this concerning.

If you'd like to take our word for it, go ahead and avoid:

                                House (Movie Edition) by [Peretti, Frank]   Monster

I read House by Frank E. Peretti and Ted Dekker, and found the portrayals of demons, rednecks, women and retarded humans, to all be so problematic (for various reasons) that I gave this book 1 star out of sheer disgust. Liz read Monster by Frank E. Peretti, and found it both less problematic and less entertaining. She DNFed it, and she didn't rate it. It was simply not well plotted, in her opinion, which I trust or I wouldn't have invited her to collaborate on this post!

Speaking of...

Give it up for Liz, everybody! She had far more to bring to this post than I did, because she reads way more scary books than me. *Shocker* We actually had to cut a bunch of her recommendations for space, so if you're looking for more adult thrillers or true crime novels, hit her up, okay?

Have you read any of these titles? Planning to pick up one or two in the next couple weeks? Strongly disagree with any of our opinions? Have any recommendations for us? Leave a comment! 
Oh and please direct all hate mail to Liz at 140 B***REDACTED***


Monday, October 14, 2019

In Defense of Harry Potter

                   person holding wand on top of bowl

Hello Friends!

First off, I just want to announce that the Gorgeous Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling is out now! This is book 4 of 7, so in just a couple more years, we'll have the entire series illustrated by the talented Jim Kay, and I am So Excited. Look Look Look!

                                     Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter Series #4)

If you've never read Harry Potter, or if you're someone who tends to feel that Harry Potter is not for Christians, then I'm going to try, in the following paragraphs to talk you out of your position. But if I can't, I still respect you and support you in your conviction.

Okay. Let's get into it. Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time when I was a little girl, a bunch of mainstream pastors started preaching against J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and my parental figures, like a great many members of the Christian community at the time, took their word for it. This was an understandable life choice as the alternative for taking their word for it would have been reading thousands of pages of supposedly-evil children's literature. But I think it is valuable to note that we Christians have a way of doing this: of taking the advice of our spiritual super-leaders without doing much personal research. And while sometimes we have to take this route for lack of time or energy or resources, it's not the optimal way to make life choices or come to spiritual conclusions.

I first began to read Harry Potter soon after my 18th birthday, and finally finished the series around this time last year. It starts out as a working-hard-and-making-friends-at-school story with a battle between good and evil thrown in for good measure. But it grows into a coming-of-age story with that battle between good and evil threatening everyone's ability to grow up at all. It's really good, guys. Really Good. And there's a part of me that's a little heartbroken that younger-me didn't get to face life with these stories of courage and friendship and personal growth in my back pocket. I know my parents--now proud possessors of the entire movie series--also have regrets.

                                  Image result for harry potter books

Harry Potter, as I think we all know, is set primarily at a boarding school for witches and wizards, called Hogwarts, and this is the reason why all those pastors said it was bad to let your kids read it.

And in truth, if Harry Potter was a book set in the Real World and glorified a school that taught Wicca and Satanism to young people, then yeah...that would have been pretty messed up. But that's not even a little bit what it is.

Harry Potter is set in a fantasy world in the same way that The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia is. This fantasy world has people in it who either are or are not wizards (male) or witches (female). Anyone who is not genetically (for lack of a better term) a wizard (or witch) is known as either a muggle (regular old human) or a squib (a child of wizard parents, yet without magic). I think this is important to note for two reasons: Witchcraft in the Real World is condemned by the Bible because it is something people Do not something that they Are, and it is a reaching into the spiritual world for spiritual (read: demonic) energies through things as benign as incense burning and as not-benign as ritual sacrifices of goats inside pentagrams.

No goats are sacrificed in Harry Potter. No pentagrams are drawn in Harry Potter. All the magic in Harry Potter is inherent to the Witch or Wizard or Magical Creature or Plant in the same way that superpowers in Marvel movies are inherent to the superhero. The wizarding world has its own laws which include Not using your magic to commit crimes, and Not terrorizing muggles with your magic, and just generally being an upstanding citizen of both the magical and non-magical world.

                                     Image result for harry potter illustrated

In order to create atmosphere, J.K. Rowling used a lot of the trappings of cartoon-y witchcraft: pointy hats, cauldrons, flying broomsticks, friendly ghosts, and Halloween-y foods such as pumpkin juice. These elements can further the discomfort parents feel toward the Harry Potter stories, but your typical Satan worshiper does not use a cauldron, and in all my many hours working with a practicing witch at a local pie shop, I never saw her mount a broom and fly around. My point is, generally when you see the word "witch" or the word "wizard" in a fictional story--it is so far from being a reference to real world witchcraft as to be not worth comparing, in my opinion. If a book does glorify real-world witchcraft or occult practices then I naturally choose to read other things.

However, I would argue that there is no similarity of any substance between the wizards of J.K. Rowling's fantasy world and the witchcraft that the Bible condemns, and that equivocating the two is just that: the logical fallacy known as equivocation. The bad characters, the antagonists, the ones who practice "dark magic" are the only ones who dabble in anything that could really be called unBiblical, and even that is mostly just killing people. It's certainly not summoning demons. There are no demons in the world of Harry Potter, only people and more or less scary magical creatures.

Now, if Harry Potter was just another book series that dealt with magic, I wouldn't belabor this point, but it's not. Harry Potter is one of the cleanest middle-grade to young adult book series out there. It's got no sex. Only the mildest and most British of swear words. Strong friendships. Well-rounded, dynamic characters, who grow massively over the course of the series--each dealing with a fatal flaw or two. The series features and celebrates an incredibly strong family unit: the Weasleys, and uses them as a foil for some of the more broken and disfunctional families such as Harry's guardians. The series deals a lot with bullying, both how to deal with it and how to not do it. It advocates working hard at your schoolwork and hard at your hobbies. It celebrates strong, respectable adult figures: both parental and elder. It celebrates siblings and friendships and delves deeply into the highs and lows and complications therein. It even tackles a set of monsters that J.K. Rowling wrote as a metaphor for depression. What I'm trying to say is: It's Very Family Friendly and Super Uplifting.

                                            Image result for harry potter illustrated azkaban

Harry Potter is ultimately a years-long struggle of the good against the evil, as well as the good against the complacent who would deny the evil's strength. It shares a lot of similarities in broad plot line with Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm and other accounts of the lead-up to World War II. The characters in Harry Potter deal with fear and prejudice and difficult subjects in school and opposing sports teams and grief and betrayals and secrets and tempers and jealousies and crushes and corrupt authority figures and strict-but-just authority figures and generational wrongs and so. much more. Harry Potter is right up there with The Chronicles of Narnia and A Series of Unfortunate Events in my book as a fictional-handbook-for-kids-on-how-to-face-the-world-and-grow-up-brave.

A Caution on Age Range: There are seven books, and each corresponds to a school year beginning with nine-year-old main characters. The stories each have a certain amount of peril and violence especially as the series progresses, and the challenges certainly age as the characters do, so this is just something to be aware of. I have personally decided to either hand the series to my kids when they turn thirteen, or else read one per year aloud to them beginning at age nine. As far as the movie adaptations go, just look to the ratings. The first three are rated PG, and the rest are PG-13.
                                                      Image result for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Ultimately, it is up to you as an individual to determine if you're morally comfortable reading the series. I have one or two close, respected friends, who feel it's not for them, and I deeply respect that. Each person has different needs and sensitivities. I'm not advocating taking my word for it and handing it to your kids without a second thought. The series does deal with very grown-up things and features characters who face great darkness. I think that's what makes it so powerful. To others, that's what makes it so inappropriate. I encourage you to read it for yourself: at least the first one or two, preferably the Illustrated Editions because those are Delightful, and tell me what you think!

Do you agree? Disagree? Have Further Questions? Leave a Comment Down Below.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

In Defense of Halloween

                     two lighted jack-o-lanterns during night time

Growing up, my family never celebrated Halloween. Once or twice we attended a "Halloween Alternative" church event or put on costumes to bum candy off my grandmother. I did insist on carving a pumpkin most years, but only with a happy face, and that was the extent of it. And I just want to state upfront that I really respect my parents for taking the stance: "This isn't for us." Their reasoning behind that stance was loving and logical, and their application of it was consistent.

The following thoughts of mine have Everything to do with how I approach the holiday now as an independent adult, and how I'd like to approach it with my kids whenever Jon and I get around to procuring some. The following thoughts have Nothing to do with putting down anyone who has a heartfelt conviction that Halloween is evil.

I just want to state really clearly that it is wrong to go against your convictions. If your convictions change over the course of your life, and you grow or change into deeper or more relaxed convictions on different topics, that's great, but don't ever force yourself. Don't dive into a deeper conviction to please a human being. Don't loosen your convictions to please a human being. I believe that the only reason you should ever allow an edit to a conviction is with a genuine understanding that not all of your moral and philosophical convictions are 100% right at any given time, and allowing God to work with you to hone those is always appropriate. Just be careful you're not deciding that God told you cheating on your husband is His will. It's not. He didn't tell you that. You gotta be careful with your ears. Your ears are just as sinful as your eyes and only slightly less sinful then your tongue.

That said. This IS a post in defense of Halloween as suggested by the title, so here goes.

So the general concern I've heard from Conservative Christian people about Halloween is that it celebrates demonic activity, witchcraft, the occult, fear, and spiritual darkness in general. And this is a valid concern. I absolutely shared this concern until I started having conversations with non-Christian parents who explained to me what the holiday means to them and their children.

See, I think that Christians tend to react to what they perceive Halloween to be about without ever really understanding what the holiday actually is about.

I think Christians often react to the trappings of Halloween (witch costumes and horror movies) as well as some of the ways it's misused, and don't ever see the good in it--the really fantastic potential that Halloween has as a healthy family celebration of The Confrontation of Fear.

Let me say that a little more clearly:

I don't think that Halloween, at its heart or even in its historical roots, is a celebration of fear and evil. I think it is a celebration Of The Confrontation of fear and evil, and that is such an important distinction to make. 

In the same way that The Day of the Dead in Mexico is not a Celebration of Death, but rather a celebration of Life in the Face of Death and a celebration of the Lives that have Passed, even though it looks like a celebration of death...

And in the same way that Christmas is a celebration of the advent of Christ and of selfless love and family even though it Looks An Awful Lot Like a celebration of materialism... I have come to believe that Halloween is a valuable celebration of something really important.

There are scary things in the world. It's important for us to face our fears and confront our demons and remind ourselves that Darkness never has and never will have power over the children of the Light. Darkness only ever has power over us when we let it--when we fear it and hide from it instead of shining light into it.

For a child, dressing up as the monster underneath her bed can be the best way to conquer her fear of that monster. For a child, walking around in the dark, safe with parents on a mission to get candy can be a Great context within which to discuss that which frightens us and why it needn't. It can be a great time to talk about spiritual light and spiritual darkness and our place in that Great Battle. It can also be a great time to discuss the difference between fear and prudence, i.e., "No, you don't need to be frightened of the monster under your bed, but yes, you need to look both ways before crossing the street and never take candy from strangers when I'm not here with you."

I believe it is So Very Important that we teach our kids not to be frightened of the trappings and symbols and exaggerations and cartoons of evil, but only to be wary of evil itself. Appearances can be deceiving, and if we spend our time teaching our kids that Halloween and Halloweeny things are evil because they look a certain way, I think we miss out on teaching them to tell the difference between something benign that's cloaked in black and something wicked that's cloaked in white.

It is really hard to tell the difference between good and evil sometimes. Anyone can put on a costume and wear it their whole lives. Even Satan appears as an angel of Light. The primary thing about Satan and his followers is that they are deceivers. The primary role of demonic powers in the world is not to scare us. It's to deceive us. I think a holiday that encourages the confrontation of fear and evil, a holiday about dressing up as something else but not forgetting who you are and not forgetting that everyone else is dressed up too, can be a really, really good thing. Also pumpkins are Super fun to carve and candy corn is bae.

For me, setting aside the month of October to get cozy and read scary books is a great way for me to grapple with the things in the world which are terrible and frightening and horrific and continue to hone my responses. This is something I've found is really healthy. There is something Incredibly Safe, especially to children, I feel, about setting aside a holiday on which it's okay, and even cool, to be scared. Rather than promoting shame about being frightened (something kids get bullied over all the time), there is a holiday season in the year where we, as a culture, have decided that it's fun to be scared, and to face down scary things, and to ultimately stop being scared in time for Thanksgiving.

Now that my piece is said, I want to invite all of you to share your thoughts and opinions and concerns with me. More than any other post, I covet your comments. Leave one below! Talk to you soon!