20 Questions Book Tag

Firstly, thanks to Jenny in Neverland for this 20 question tag! Books are something I love immensely that I don’t get to talk about enough. Also fun fact: I can’t stop listening to Cat Stevens. But what else is new?

       1. How many books is too many books in a series?

THE LIMIT DOESN’T EXIST! Let’s not put limits on creativity, shall we? If your brain can keep whirring out more, I think that’s fantastic and inspiring. Plus, I understand… I love writing standalones and short stories, but dang, it’s hard to let your characters go. So maybe this is more of a writer’s point of view, but I definitely don’t think it’s my place to limit authors as a writer or a reader.

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?

I think they’re a very smart way to keep a reader engaged and I’m all for them, as long as they’re not too glaringly predictable. But nothing hits you as hard when you’re reading a book than an unexpected twist at the end of a chapter.

3. Hard copy or paperback?

When I was younger I insisted on only owning hard covers, because I thought they were so much more fancy and official. But now I’m more of a paperback gal (probably because I’m broke and actually pay for things). I don’t care what a book looks like or its “aesthetic,” it’s all about the content. The cover’s pretty irrelevant to me honestly, at least until I’ve read the whole book.

4. One book you read because of the cover:

So as such, this really isn’t applicable to me. I have such a huge list of books to read that I wouldn’t even consider picking up a random book for years, and even if I did, the cover wouldn’t hold weight for me.

5. Favorite book?

Two answers: Les Misérables and The Little PrinceThe most opposite when it comes to length that I could possibly think of but so, so powerful in their own ways. Les Misérables represents my love of redemption and the resilience of the human spirit. It really epitomizes all of the ways I deeply appreciate the human race, because I think too often we let the bad blind us to the immense beauty we can create if we want to. The Little Prince highlights other values of mine that are equally important to me–childhood, naivete, and imagination. I need hard-hitting realities and imaginative complexities in my reading life, and I think these books showcase my personality well.

6. Least favorite book?

I’ve only ever given one book a one star rating and it was THE FOUNTAINHEAD. I’m sorry if you happen to like it, but I swear I’ve never had a book rub me in such a horrible way before, like this one did… I deeply loathe every single character–just like my love for Les Mis, The Fountainhead is everything I despise about humanity in one book. I do not think I’ve ever disliked any piece of entertainment as much as this book… even thinking about it makes me clench my teeth in anger. Yikes…

7. Love triangles, yes or no?

I know this is an overused trope in books, but I genuinely only think I’ve properly read about one–The Hunger Games. I’d like to say I hold a strong stance on this since so many readers do, but I don’t lean either way very strongly. As long as the confusion and ties within the triangle are realistic and it’s a genuine struggle because of the characters’ personalities, I’d say it’s perfectly fine. When it comes to aspects of book plots, even if they are overused methods, as long as you’re portraying humanity accurately–that’s all I really ask of writers.

8. The most recent book you just couldn’t finish?

I feel like these questions are just proving I’m an abnormal reader… I really can’t not finish books, unless you count being little and having a small attention span, so you subconsciously switch books every two seconds. Technically I haven’t finished a couple books in college, but that’s only because I had zero time, not because I actually didn’t want to finish them. When they’re free choice I feel obliged to finish them, even if I don’t love them, because it seems like an unwritten code of polite conduct. And as a writer, I’d hope people would stick it out to the end of my works…

9. A book you’re currently reading?

For my Advanced Fiction Writing class, we’re currently reading Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, and I think she paints such gorgeous pictures and characters with her words. It’s comprised of short stories that are all centered upon two families, but they can each also stand alone. I’ve always been super drawn towards fictional works involving Native Americans so this has been an intriguing read, and while some of the stories can be harsh in nature, Erdrich’s words showcase the hope and evil we each possess in a heartbreaking and authentic way.

10. Last book you recommended to someone?

Yesterday I recommended The Little Prince to someone. What else is new?

11. Oldest book you’ve read?

The Odyssey, but haven’t we all?

12. Newest book you’ve read?

Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning by one of my favorites, Leslie Odom Jr.

13. Favorite author?

I always think of a smattering of people when this question comes up, but never one particular person. But there’s something about J.D. Salinger’s writing that has always stuck with me, and I love incorporating his dialogue accents in my own work. In general, I love simplicity in writing–both the words used and the plot–and when simple language can generate such powerful emotions within us, that matters. We say simple things every day that can have long-lasting impacts on our loved ones, so there’s no pressure to write so abstractly or eloquently all the time. The simple stuff sticks.

14. Buying books or borrowing books?

In case you forgot, I’d like to reiterate how poor I am. But I’m also weird about buying books; I tend to only buy books I’ve already read or authors I know I already love… I don’t like taking chances on books I’m unfamiliar with. Not when it comes to money… #PennyPincher. So I’m forever praising the fact that we have libraries and I’m forever borrowing books.

15. A book you dislike that everyone seems to like?

Moby-Dick. I only read snippets for class, but it was painful. Too slow-moving and abstract for my taste.

16. Bookmarks or dog ears?

Books are beautiful objects and I try to keep mine as beautiful as possible for as long as possible. Bookmarks 500%.

17. A book you can always reread:

Third time’s the charm… The Little Prince. It’s so short, well-written, and easily accessible that I highly doubt I could get tired of rereading it. But also the Harry Potter series, as I’ve successfully reread it who knows how many times already.

18. Can you read whilst listening to music?

Nope. I adore music so much, I just pay attention to music when I put it on.

19. One POV or multiple POVs?

For the most part, one point of view. But Rick Riordan did a great job in the Heroes of Olympus series with multiple characters having their points of view incorporated, and I think he firmly established that by giving each character separate chapters. If the point of view is changing in the midst of a chapter or story without a change of voice established, I think that can read very sloppily and becoming immensely confusing for readers.

20. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

Unless it’s a really short book, I have to read books over multiple days. I think that’s mostly a sentimental thing; I don’t like leaving characters that quickly.

 

Well I’m officially sad I have hardly any time for choice reading right now. But only two months until Christmas break, right?!

~Annah

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Summer 2018 Books

For once in my life I planned out a month of blogs, but of course I was too busy at a dear friend’s wedding last weekend to write anything, so that blog will be pushed back a month, because college is consuming my life now for one FINAL year.

I’ve been dying to share book reviews for a while now, so as you already know, here are the books I read this past summer! There were 9, which is one more than last summer (and once again, I started a book near the end of the summer and didn’t finish, so that’ll be pushed back to Christmas break unfortunately).

I have a little bit of variety, but not nearly as much as last summer, since four books are by the same author. Instead, I read a lot of books that were connected in one way or another. Seasons of life vary immensely, as do reading patterns, apparently.

1. The Scorch Trials by: James Dashner

I started the summer off by delving into the second book in The Maze Runner series. I’ll keep these brief for those of you not interested in this particular series.

It’s a dystopia about a boy named Thomas and other teenagers in future North America who are forced into a contained and controlled living environment, in order to test the limits of their brains and see who is best equipped to survive the harsh living conditions their world has been put in as a result of sun flares. This book follows the teenagers into “the Scorch,” which is an incredibly arid environment. They learn about and encounter Cranks, who are people who have caught “the Flare” disease and since become inhumane, as the disease has eaten away at their brains. Gruesome? Yes. That’s why it’s dystopia.

What I love about Dashner’s writing is how vivid it is. Every sentence pulls you into the moment with the characters. Every book you read is a movie in your head, but Dashner’s writing seems to provide me with much more visual awareness than other books, so it’s no wonder the series became a target for movie-making.

While it’s nowhere near happily ever after, I appreciate dystopian books because I think they speak volumes of what someone (the author) finds flawed about society and the government. Seeing how the fictional government system works and where its weaknesses are in dystopian books fascinates me.

2. The Death Cure by: James Dashner

As you can guess, this is the final book in The Maze Runner trilogy. I won’t say anything more as to keep from spoiling it from anyone who wants to read it.

Overall, I think the series’ themes are important for the intended young adult audience to hear. Hard times are not exclusive to a certain time period or season of life, and it’s okay to be frustrated when the cards seemed stacked against you. But when the cards are stacked against you, that also becomes the opportunity to rise up and not simply let the situations define you. These are great lessons that cannot be spoken upon enough, and I think Dashner conveys the spirit of human resilience well in this series.

3. Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning by: Leslie Odom Jr.

After I finished the series, I wanted a change of pace before reading the prequels, so I proceeded to satisfy my Hamilton thirst. Leslie’s book was by far the most emotional read of my summer. I’m hoping to acquire my own copy soon just to annotate it, which is something I NEVER want to do. But it has had such a profound impact on my creative aspirations at such an uncertain time in my life, so I will gladly write all over it when I get the chance. I’m going to include my Goodreads review, because it truly encompasses all of my emotions:

Failure is necessary and cannot be spoken upon enough. The greatness of any artist is a resilience of spirit, through which dreams are chased, despite rejections.

I knew this would be 5 stars after 20 pages. At 30 pages, I started crying. The thing was I knew Leslie would have some great things to say in a wise, eloquent way and he’s a great inspiration of mine, so I naturally wanted to pick up the book… but little did I know how deeply and personally his story would touch mine. I saw myself in his thoughts and my family in his.

Truly, Leslie gave myself and all of his other fans a gift through this book—to be this vulnerable about one’s struggles and triumphs is never easy, especially when you’re well-known. But what a beautiful comfort it is to read the pages of an inspiration’s and trace out the same fears and doubts within my own life and journey as an artist. Personally I am passionate about words and music, but at a transitional time—my last year of college—so many questions linger in the air: most prominently, how do my passions translate into a career?

Leslie’s words have brought me great comfort, as I know they will for anyone interested in any art form. Despite unconventionality and uncertainty, Leslie reminds us that the outcomes will be okay. As long as we never tire of chasing dreams, they can be obtained. It’s a small world after all.

4. Hamilton: The Revolution by: Lin Manuel-Miranda & Jeremy McCarter 

This is all about the musical Hamilton, which Leslie Odom Jr. starred in for a few years. Basically it’s an additional book for any fans wanting more background on the musical, or readers who are curious what the musical is about and why it’s such a current phenomenon. My favorite part about this book was that Lin Manuel-Miranda included annotations about his lyrics. As a writer reading the work of another big inspiration, I soaked it in like a sponge.

5. The Kill Order by: James Dashner

I dipped back into Dashner’s work with this prequel about how the sun flares initially impacted Thomas’s world. While there was a little surprise at the end that connected the narrative back to the original trilogy, I didn’t think a whole 200-300 pages about the sun flares was necessary. It made me apprehensive to delve into the second prequel, but I did nonetheless.

6. The Fever Code by: James Dashner

Unlike The Kill Order, this prequel was worth the read and it explained some of the questions left about the characters at the end of the original trilogy. Frankly, you could skip The Kill Order altogether and be perfectly fine connecting the dots. While I did thoroughly enjoy Dashner’s writing and dystopia, I was ready for something different at the end of this book.

7. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by: Mark Twain

I had to sneak a couple classics in, because I’m very invested in a healthy balance of classics and contemporaries. Tom Sawyer’s story was a light and fun romp. There wasn’t anything too exciting or intriguing about the narrative, but it’s definitely a good stepping stone for younger readers trying to get into classics. It’s fairly easy to follow and the language isn’t too complex. As someone who adores childhood and themes of innocence vs. a dark world, I still felt it worthwhile to be read once.

8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by: Mark Twain

Of course, you can’t read Tom Sawyer without reading about Huck Finn, too. Unfortunately, this is the part where I come off as a bad English major, because I didn’t love the book. It’s not that I disliked it, I just struggled to grab onto the narrative and feel invested in what happened to the characters. It could have been the heavier dialects present, but I felt distracted every time I picked it up.

I did appreciate the themes of friendship, morality, and integrity, and the fact that the two main characters, Huck and Jim, were outcasts in that historical time period. I can appreciate it for being an important text in the context of the time period. But like Tom Sawyer, there was nothing I really thought would stick with me or change my outlook on an aspect of life. It was with a heavy heart I told my dad I didn’t love it, but we cannot all like the same things of course.

9. Love Does by: Bob Goff

This was a great book to finish the summer on, because it made me feel really inspired to go out and live life better, by placing other people before myself. Bob Goff really has the most incredible stories and he shows God’s radical joy through his words, which I love! If you’re a Christian looking for a book that will make you laugh and also challenge you in your faith, give this one a try.

 

I enjoyed my book journey this past summer; it was a great way to unwind and relax from other emotional stressors… And believe me, I had plenty! But life has been looking up the past month and it appears I’m out of the valley for now, so I’m rejoicing! (Literally! I’ll be at a silent disco tonight!)

Let me know if you enjoy or want to read any of these books! I’d love to talk more about any of them. Any book recommendations?

~Annah

Music is a Breathing Force

I’ve been wanting to do an entertainment blog for a while but have admittedly been a little stuck, as I’m waiting to do larger review posts when this season is over. So for inspiration I looked up what some recent music tags have been, and I found one called “Shuffle the Music,” where bloggers will pick the first 15 songs on their music library shuffle and explain any kind of relevance or importance they are to that person’s life.

I’m going to change it up a bit though. I’m only going to do the first 5 songs that appear on my Spotify shuffle, and I’m going to explain the significance of both the song/artist and one quote from the song that resonates with my life right now.

1. “My Love Goes Free” by: Jon Foreman

“You’re a bird with a pretty mouth / You’re a bird with songs to shout.”

Besides the fact that Jon is my biggest inspiration as a writer and a man of faith, his songs always speak to me in delicate places of my heart. To me, this song is almost a Foreman equivalent to McCartney’s “Blackbird.” It’s essentially about a caged bird singing to be let free, which I think is a beautifully delicate theme that anyone who feels oppressed or underrepresented can relate to.

This particular lyric has the same sentiment that “Blackbird” has for me: I’m a reserved and composed woman, while also being one who feels the need to start new conversations. I will stop at nothing in order to get a message to others that I feel they haven’t heard enough, which is exactly the purpose of my fictional, yet autobiographical novel “Status: Untilled, Moldy Heart.” Many revisions to go before I sleep, but this is for both petite women and everyone else’s self-image issues. This novel is reassurance and victory, and hopefully my readers can rejoice in Ryden’s journey, as they reflect on how far they’ve come on their own.

 

2. “Tear in my Heart” by: Twenty One Pilots

“Sometimes you gotta bleed to know / That you’re alive and have a soul.”

Firstly, this is one of the most refreshing and unique love songs I’ve ever heard. And if there’s anything we’ve heard enough of, it’s love songs, so that means a lot. I mean, who puts romance and the government in one song? Only Tyler Joseph.

This song was one of the first ones I really gravitated towards when I discovered Twenty One Pilots (3?!) years ago. But I really love the opening line, because of how simple and important it is. Even the hard and sticky blood that comes out from heartbreak is beautiful, because it means you’re human. Sometimes you only learn great lessons when you’re bleeding for good or bad reasons. Blood = reassurance. Although I’m going to stop using that word now. Fun fact: I don’t like internal things of any kind (i.e. blood, organs).

As of right now, Gracey Rose is the tear in my heart (and I’d like to hope Jesus is too).

 

3. “Focus” by: Sigrid

“I will not degrade myself / Even if it means that we are not a we.”

Yikes. I’ve been relating to this song a lot this season through inconvenient romantic feelings (can anyone else relate?). The song is all about getting over someone you know is not beneficial for you for one reason or another.

This year, I have been so happy to have stumbled across Sigrid. She helped me through the rough draft of my novel, but also can relate to all of my hardly existent romantic problems. To me, she represents the authenticity we cannot have enough in popular culture: a bare and natural face without makeup, relatable and quirky dance moves, raw vocals, and a grounded 21 year old for younger girls to look up to, who doesn’t feel pressured to sacrifice her values for the sake of being trendy.

The highlighted lyric has always stuck out to me, and I think it’s a sentiment really lacking from female love songs. At least, this is the first time I have explicitly heard a woman sing these words. Although it’s hard to just push feelings aside, as I’ve realized lately, it’s also important to establish that your own self-respect takes precedence over feelings that can oftentimes not be based on that kind of logic. It’s a great reminder to never settle: not in feelings and romantic relationships, nor in career choices and life-altering decisions.

 

4. “Yesterday” by: The Beatles

“Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away / Now it looks as if they’re here to stay / Oh, I believe in yesterday.”

I know I said Sigrid helped me through my rough draft, but honestly I think The Beatles singlehandedly did. Not only are they mentioned a billion times in my novel, but they’re such huge icons for a reason. As many people could agree, they really represent why I love music so much. Many of their songs contain universal and breathing lyrics that are always relevant over the decades, and this song is no exception. One way I’m going to revise my book is to place a relevant Beatles lyric at the beginning of every chapter.

The transition from yesterday to today can make all the difference, whether good or bad. In one day my dog was taken away from this world, in one day I realized I had inconvenient feelings that changed my relationship with a friend, in one day I felt unsafe as a woman.

But throughout everything, I really enjoy ‘I believe in yesterday.’ I think so often we write off the past, but we would be nothing without our past decisions, nor would we have the opinions or drive for change we have today if not for yesterday. I believe in yesterday’s purpose, because it shapes  my entire life, and it has shaped how I can now live in freedom, knowing I am constantly forgiven–a forgiveness that is not based on works.

 

5. “Someone Else” by: The Greeting Committee

“And maybe you didn’t mean it / But when a dog bites, ‘sorry’ won’t stop the bleeding.”

While finding 20 new artists this past semester as an internship goal, I found The Greeting Committee. I’m still getting into their music, and truthfully, this song isn’t as well-known to me as the others I’ve listed. However, I do really love this lyric. I wrote a poem about this a few years ago, but basically even sentiments people ‘don’t mean’ can haunt a person’s thoughts for months or even years afterward. I know casual comments people said to me once have subconsciously affected me to this day.

For example, 7 years ago someone mentioned I ‘talked too much,’ and since then, I grew more reserved in nature. The good news is that comment doesn’t matter anymore: I’m more of an ambivert now than ever before (which means I can be both introverted [reserved] and extroverted [outgoing] in nature). But that’s exactly why you have to be so careful about the kinds of things you spout to others without properly thinking them through. Just because it’s not an explicitly rude comment doesn’t mean it’s an uplifting comment. We need to uplift each other as much as possible, and respect one another’s unique personalities.

What songs or lyrics do you relate to most lately? Who are your favorite artists and why? I’d love to hear thoughts on any of these topics I brought up.

Hopefully this was semi-interesting, I’ve never partaken in any kind of blog tag or trend before! Have a wonderful day, friends!

~Annah

Top Favorite Book Series

Since giving up social media last week, I have gotten bit by the reading  bug again. Although only on my second book of the summer, I plan on growing that number rapidly, as my to-read list is also expanding exponentially.

As you can tell by the title, I thought it would be fun to talk about my favorite book series! I tend to be pretty selective about what books I want to read, especially if they’re a series. Usually I don’t chance getting into a series unless I’m pretty positive I’ll love it, so I honestly can’t think of any series I’ve read that I haven’t loved. I’m more drawn to reading standalone books.

Most of these are well-known, so instead of giving full run-downs of the books, I’m going to briefly describe them and then explain why they have meant so much to me.

1. (You guessed it) Harry Potter – 7 books

Out of all pieces of entertainment, Harry Potter has impacted my life the most. My first venture into Harry’s wizarding world was at the age of 5, when I tried to pick up and read Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, the book I had seen in all of my siblings’ hands. Although my first journey through the book lasted only a few pages, I remember being excited by the prospect of multiple books being about the same people–it was my earliest memory of encountering a book series.

Harry’s adventures have followed me over the vast majority of my life, with numerous rereads along the way (my friend and I are currently reading them aloud together, and trying to finish them before graduation). Although a common answer, Rowling has been one of my favorite authors, because she taught me the true depth of imagination and has continued to show me through Harry that despite deep grief and worldly trials, love will always come out on the winning side.

Through the ginormous phenomenon, Rowling showcased how essential children are to the literary world and how no one is too old to delve into the depths of their brain’s creativity. Childlike wonder is a valuable trait the world needs. 

2. The Hunger Games – 3 books

To me, this trilogy was one of the most unique and intriguing concepts I had ever heard of. When I first started the book, I had no idea what to expect, and was surprised and entranced by the gripping tale of a young woman thrust into a twisted national game show where she must fight other children to the death to win.

It’s no secret that I love dystopic books, and The Hunger Games series tops the ones I’ve read. The combination of politics and game shows seemed so fresh to me, and I loved the concept of a fictional world that was also plausible, by exaggerating aspects of our society. I think dystopian books can be an intriguing look into what others find as downfalls of our society, like political deceit and greed in the case of Suzanne Collins’ popular trilogy.

I think what both draws readers into dystopia and what pushes readers away from dystopia is the fact that in the midst of far-fetched tales of puzzles and violence, we can see some great and disheartening seeds of truth about the evil in our world. But that’s all the reason we root for the protagonists–because as bleak and violent as it gets, they persevere and keep fighting for what they believe is right, even if it means overthrowing a government system.

3. Percy Jackson – 5 books

Rick Riordan’s series both introduced and hooked me into Greek mythology. In middle school, pretty much everyone I knew read these books. What makes them so great is that they center upon relatable and sassy characters that attend a camp–a tangible, warming concept to most children. Riordan then pairs these unique and fun heroes with Greek stories in a fun, understandable way that also educates his audiences. I think that’s a really great example of effectively drawing children to literature and education. Personally, I haven’t read many other Greek-related works except Riordan’s, which makes his tales memorable and unique for me.

4. A Series of Unfortunate Events – 13 books

This series was another childhood, elementary-age staple. I’m also starting to realize there’s a theme in these series… education masked by imagination. Although Lemony Snicket’s writing style is quirky and much less discreet; oftentimes in his narratives he makes asides to define words for the reader within the story’s context. Some people found the writing style odd and awkward, but I thought it only enhanced the story’s voice and made readers feel closer to the lives of the three Baudelaire orphans.

I remember having to wait for a couple of these books to publish and then trying to read them as fast as I could. One friend in third grade and I read The Penultimate Peril at the same time, making it a competition to see who could read it faster. But I also know my favorite part of these books, both as a child and now, is the theme of age vs. intelligence.

For those of you who don’t know, the books center on three children who’ve lost their parents and are transferred to live with a guardian named Count Olaf, who ends up being an evil man that will do whatever it takes to get his hands on their parents’ fortune. Eventually, the adults believe that he’s evil and transfer them to another guardian, but Count Olaf continues to follow them in different disguises. The children try to convince the adults in their lives that Count Olaf is following them, but time and time again, the adults never believe them until it’s too late and he’s escaped.

Too often, adults look down on children or think they know better than others simply because of age, and I think that can cause a lot of blindness among individuals. Yet children are wiser and more valuable than we give them credit for, in mindset, attitudes, and opinions.

5. Divergent – 3 books

This is another dystopian series and one of the most controversial series out of my favorites, mostly because many people hate the ending of the last book. However, I really enjoyed this series and Allegiant was the first book I ever read that made me sob for a good five minutes. Again, the themes or plot choices in the books I like that many others tend to dislike are usually based on reality or truths we don’t like to think about. In this case, not everything is tied up in a nice bow, and that’s life really.

This is another dystopian concept I found intriguing, plus it kind of takes an idea from Harry Potter that is really interesting to me: there are different, distinctive groups/types of people. In this series, people are sorted into different factions when they turn 16, that open up certain types of societal roles for them. There is Amity (the kind), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), and Candor (the honest). But there are also the factionless, who either failed intiation tests into the different factions or refused to join theirs, and divergents, who can fit into multiple factions and are dangers to the society. As you can imagine, the story centers upon a girl, Tris, who is divergent and trying to hide that fact from the government.

6. A Great and Terrible Beauty – 3 books

I adored this trilogy in every way possible; it combines everything from fantasy to romance to adventure. I made quick work of these in high school. My favorite aspect of them is that it takes something very current and enjoyable, a fantasy world, and juxtaposes that in the midst of nineteenth century Britain. Mainly, I tend to enjoy a combination of two very different things in books, and I think that’s a great way for writers to come up with original ideas, especially in fantasy. It also had some hints of Indian culture, which has always been a subject of fascination for me. Definitely the least heard of series in my list, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a dramatic fantasy adventure.

7. The Maze Runner – 3 books

I’m in the midst of the third book now (book #2 of the summer), but I already love this series. Many people dislike it for its graphic imagery, and while I tend to be a bit squirmy with violence, James Dashner’s writing really pulls me into his dystopian world. He has one of the most vivid writing styles I have ever read, and while it’s not the most complex writing, it really allows you to empathize with the protagonist, his emotions, and all of the difficult situations he has to undergo.

This series follows a boy named Thomas, who shows up in this place called the Glade, without any memories of his past, not even his name. He and the other boys living there are stuck with no escape, surrounded by an ever-shifting maze with scary creatures that come out at nighttime. Eventually Thomas is invited to take on the most prestigious role in their little Lord of the Flies-like society: Maze Runner. His job is to help find an escape to the maze, all while getting back before sundown, when the maze doors close and offer certain death. Each book has been incredibly different, so it’s really hard to predict how the series is going to end, but I’m excited (and a little scared) to find out.

8. A Future Trilogy That Shall Not Be Named

Okay, I couldn’t resist. I’ve had a trilogy on the brain for a couple years now. It was one of those lightning-struck, I-don’t-know-where-this-came-from ideas, but I have been really excited ever since the idea landed in my head. My hesitations and reservations that prevented me from getting down to business are now quashed, as I’ve taken a novel class that has presented me with the technical plan I need to tangibly reach my goals that were only abstract before. All of the aforementioned series, with their wonderful characters, are definitely huge inspirations to my own writing. But before I can get to that trilogy…

July is Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a regular part of novelist vocab, but sounds like a weird disease to other people. Essentially, November is the original NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but July is a laidback camp variation. Normally in November, writers around the world attempt to pen 50,000 word novels in one month. But in July, writers are encouraged to work on any writing project (novels, poems, scripts, etc.) and set any kind of goal they wish (e.g. word count, page count). Writers create online “cabins” with friends or strangers, and track one another’s goal progress as a team. Community and accountability are great ways to stay motivated as a writer (and in life in general).

I’m dying to write my trilogy, but I have a standalone I need to complete first, as I’ve decided I want it to be the first glimpse readers have of my work (even though it’s completely different). Now that I already have a rough draft, my goal this July is to spend 100 hours working on revisions, which will include rewriting, revising, and researching different aspects of my story. I’m not going to lie, my characters are bursting to talk again.

So if you need me, I will be camping out at my computer, with a notebook, or with a novel in hand all month, soaking in all of the outside perspective on my story and my writing style as I can, while trying to craft a more vivid, engaging story for my future readers. When I get exhausted I just tell myself–this is for all of the petite women out there who don’t have a voice yet. Not for long.

~Annah

My Favorite Gems of 2017

As the year closes off, I wanted to take a moment to reminisce. While 2017 was emotionally draining in many ways for me, there were also golden nuggets of goodness everywhere. I wanted to highlight random bits and pieces that made this year a little brighter. Some aspects of this list are unique to 2017, while others have been around and I only just discovered them this year. While you read, feel free to come up with a list of your own, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. (…especially anything music-related!)

Song: This has two parts: my favorite song I discovered this year was “Knock on my Door” by Faouzia, but my favorite song that actually released this year was “Rhythm of Your Heart” by Marianas Trench. (Shout out to my sister Cassidy and my friend Hannah for these finds!) In both cases I think they’re great to dance to, maybe even at a New Year’s Eve party?! Sometimes a good dance party can make or break your day.

Book:The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Apparently I missed this bandwagon a few years ago… but better late than never! Rudy stole my heart and Zusak took all of my tissues, but I’m grateful and now I have my own copy. YAY! (99% of the time I only buy books that I already love and would read again/to future children. My book collection is only my absolute favorites.)

Musician/Band: Almost Monday

Still waiting for new music, because these guys ROCK. That’s all I have to say about that. *cues Forrest Gump’s voice*

Bible Verse: Hebrews 12:1-2

This verse has been the tune of my heart this year, and whenever the going gets tough I just remember ‘run with endurance’ and ‘endure for the joy’ set before me. I also shared this verse in a letter to a yellow angel named Luke, with some unique Annah annotations that I copied down in my own Bible. Keep running, friends.

Movie: I found my all-time favorite movie this year, yet it’s an oldie: Harold & Maude. Since watching it and sniggering alone in my dorm room last April, I have watched it approximately five more times. However, my favorite movie that came out this year was probably Dunkirk (which I just watched again last night!)

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Photo Credit: FanFest

It made me cry within the first five minutes, as most of my favorite entertainment does, and I thought it left a powerful impact with its unique musical rhythm and bare movie essentials. It put me constantly on edge and as empathetic as possible to situations I have never experienced. Time and time again, through literature and imagery, soldiers and their sacrifices astound me. Sometimes it seems like the ones that survive sacrifice even more than those who gave up their lives, because the remainder of their lives are transformed by tragedy. To have to rebuild sanity afterwards… I could never imagine the pain.

TV Show: Riverdale

Honestly, I watched season 1 in three days… Based on Archie comics, the dark mysteries alone will keep you watching episode after episode. They certainly know how to attract viewers, I’ll give them that.

YouTuber: Mark Ferris

Honestly, I don’t watch television. Instead, I watch YouTube, and it’s probably one of my favorite ways to unwind after a long day. I subscribe to many different people, but most are usually entertainers, comedians, or daily vloggers (video bloggers). Mark Ferris, a lanky, lovable, amiable man from Britain is probably my male alter ego. His videos make me laugh all the time, probably because we have the same sense of humor. Mostly he just makes vlogs, which I also appreciate as they’re essentially a visual alternative to blogs.

Phone App: Spotify

Most people frequently use Spotify, so it’s no secret that everyone loves this music-streaming app. However, I constantly find and adore different features of the app what seems like every week. As someone who tries to listen to anything and everything, I appreciate that they make playlists of music for you based on your interests. My favorites are “Discover Weekly,” “Release Radar,” and “Your Top Songs 2017,” kudos to a recent feature that summarizes what you listened to the most over the year and how often you listened.

Class: Intermediate Creative Nonfiction

This category is exclusive to students, but  my favorite class I took through the spring and fall this year was definitely “Intermediate Creative Nonfiction.” We focused on writing memoirs, read some great memoirs like The Glass Castle and The Mountain and the Fathers, and workshopped one another’s work. It helped me further develop my creative writing voice and allowed me to let loose with my writing humor.

Album:Self-Titled by Harry Styles

I talked about this recently, but I thoroughly enjoy Styles’ album every time I return to it. There’s no way for me to describe how much I love Styles’ musical work without it sounding corny. Basically, he’s bringing fresh work into what I would consider a ‘bland’ popular music scene. (Controversial opinion, I know…) I still appreciate techno and electronic pop sounds, but that really can never beat the sound of real instruments in my opinion. Also I just read in an interview article that Styles’ popular single “Sign of the Times” is meant to be a mom talking to her baby, so that just added another layer to an intriguing tune. I’m linking the video because the filmmaking is incredible as well! (Did I mention Styles debuted in Dunkirk?! Multi-talented at 23 years old.)

Food: Bunnies

Seriously, just go buy some of these crackers and eat the glorious food. It’s organic. 😉

Concert: Jon Foreman (9/29)

My favorite musician makes for my favorite concert. Foreman asked us for a Grand Rapids ‘Yeehaw’ and we gave it to him. My sister and I had a great night and the honest, intimate question-and-answer at the end was pretty cool. Wise words were spoken by all.

Creative Writing Piece: “Yellow Birthday” poem

I posted this in a previous blog from August with the poem’s title. This was inspired by Luke, previously mentioned. Loss: short-term sadness, long-term joy.

Event: Dance Marathon

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Back in March my college hosted this annual 24-hour event, and we raised money for the Helen DeVos children’s hospital. Money went towards casts, bills, and other medical necessities. Luke used to go to that hospital frequently; it was an incredible opportunity to support those in need. I moraled and cheered on my 24-hour dancer friends for 8 hours. We had a blast and I’ll likely participate again.

Experience: Joining flute choir

This past semester, I joined my college’s flute choir. I joined for zero credit, because flute has always been a great way to de-stress for me. As a junior, I am now officially sad I never knew about the group sooner. It has been an incredible once-a-week relaxation, with lots of laughs and smiles. I’m definitely looking forward to more fun this semester.

I always think simple pleasures are necessary, and this list definitely supports that claim. If you and I were to count the little blessings and enjoyments over the years, I think we’ll likely find that they far outweigh any pains, large or small, that have come our way. There is always more light and hope than we think in dark situations. Here is to another exciting, joy-filled year in 2018. Here is to finding the silver linings, even when our outlooks are looking grim.

Remember, you can and will persevere, you always do.

~Annah

OwlCrate December 2017

Over the past couple of years, subscription boxes have become extremely popular, especially among younger generations. You can order one, pay for a few months’ worth or buy a whole year’s worth, depending on the subscription options per box. There are all kinds of subscription boxes—beauty, fashion, literature, fandoms, and more—for children or adults, all at varying price ranges. The enticing part for many is that the box arrives each month with surprise contents, based on the themed box you ordered.

I’ve always wanted to try one, so for December I ordered a box from OwlCrate. This particular box is $35 per month, and they send you a recently published YA (young adult) novel, along with other literature-themed gifts, depending on the month’s unique theme. December’s theme was “Seize the Day.”

I will give you some brief snapshots (literally!) of what I received, before giving my review of the book, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, which I happened to read in two days!IMG_2875

I’ve never actually owned a candle before, mostly because strong scents give me headaches, and was pleasantly surprised by this candle, called “The Dreaming Tree.” It’s not too strong and contains a comforting apple scent. The blue glitter added a cute touch.

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There were a couple other reading goodies, like the OwlCrate-themed pamphlet with interviews concerning a couple of the box contributors, like Mills, as well as Mills’ autograph, her author note about the novel, a bookmark with other famous novel quotes on it, and a sneak peek into another recently published novel. I loved reading about the creators’ passions for their products and how everything included in the box was handcrafted or personalized for OwlCrate readers. I also appreciated how one box supported multiple authors, not just one.

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Other goodies included a themed pin, a novel-themed patch, a magnet, a wooden ornament, and a book planner/log for weekly or monthly reading schedules. I’ve already started using the book planner!IMG_2878

By far, my favorite inclusion was this tote bag, that’s Harry Potter-themed with a quote which reads: “Don’t let the Muggles [non-magic people] get you down.”

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Mills’ novel Foolish Hearts was a contemporary realistic fiction story that centered upon a senior named Claudia, who becomes mixed up with a new crowd through participation in her school’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Honestly, I haven’t read a high school story like this in years, so I was pretty skeptical about enjoying it at first, but I ended up loving the characters. Gideon Prewitt, the popular-yet-dorky guy ,was definitely my favorite character and many of the teenagers reminded me of former or current friends. One of the other characters is obsessed with a boy band called TION, which reminded me of my teenage years and constantly obsessing over boy bands, whether the Jonas Brothers, Allstar Weekend, One Direction, or 5 Seconds of Summer (although, if I’m honest, I’m still a fangirl). I thought TION had an uncanny resemblance to One Direction, and it turns out they were the inspiration behind the band!

I ended up giving Foolish Hearts 4 stars, because it succeeded my expectations of a teen drama/romance/contemporary story, the characters were lovable, and Mills writes dialogue in an accurate and engaging way. The characters included LGBTQ+ representation through a lesbian couple, which is an aspect of the story readers may appreciate or dislike. However, despite that topic of conflict, I think Mills’ novel is one most can identify with, whether they are currently in high school or had similar experiences when they were in high school.

The book touched upon the importance and value of relationships–not just romantically, but through friendships and family, too. I thought Mills balanced the narrative well between romance, family, and friends.

Overall, my first experience with OwlCrate was positive and I would definitely invest my money into it again in the future. The OwlCrate website features all of their previous boxes that you can browse (and buy!) for a better idea of the themes and contents. For those of you interested in subscription boxes or want to browse/know more about the concept, CrateJoy is a great resource.

I wish you all a relaxing and Merry Christmas!

~Annah

Tunes for the Treats and the Tears

Multiple albums were released throughout 2017 that kept me dancing and finger-snapping throughout every season. Muggy summer jam sessions and numb winter toe taps—music has been the glue holding each season together. These albums have kept the corners of my mouth up, the introspective thoughts pumping through my bloodstream, and the weights off of my lungs on fiery or frostbitten days.

Self-Titled by: Harry Styles

Harry Styles
Photo Credit: Billboard

Although Harry Styles is a debut album, it also happens to be the product of a young and well-versed musician. Styles compiled an addictive album that combines pop, rock, and a flavor of the Beatles’ psychedelic era. Consequently, the nostalgic sixties feel brings a seemingly “new” and attractive flavor to our popular music scene, and has brought multiple singles to the forefront of the radio’s attention.

From slower ballads like “Two Ghosts” and “Sign of the Times” to upbeat rock tunes like “Kiwi” and “Carolina,” Styles incorporates a wide diversity of musical flavor among the ten-track album. Musically, Styles has proven that his tastes expand beyond the small confines of his former band, One Direction’s, uniform pop sound. The beauty of his self-titled album is that every song has a fairly unique composition, yet subtle guitar contributions and Styles’ well-trained rustic vocals tie the tracks together nicely.

As far as mega-popular artists go, Styles tops the list for me. The majority of his songs revolve around love as one might imagine, yet he brings originality and unique taste to each track that distinguishes his work from other avid love songwriters in the industry. Besides small phrases in a couple songs, none of Styles’ music is overtly sexual, which is refreshing for the popular music scene. There are many other important topics to touch upon in music that popular artists seldom do, yet even when resorting to love songs, Styles handles it tastefully. Plus, even if his music is not your cup of tea, Styles maintains a charming, charismatic personality that makes him pretty difficult to dislike.

After Laughter by: Paramore

After Laughter
Photo Credit: Target

Who likes to dance and occasionally cry? After Laughter will hit every emotion with its diversity of song topics. Paramore, led by Hayley Williams’ bold, dynamic-careful vocals, has transitioned from punk-rock to pop-disco in this album.

Synthesizer plays a consistent role across the 12 tracks, which consist of multiple happy-sounding sad songs, like “Fake Happy” and “Hard Times.” Overall, the album tells a cohesive story, starting with upbeat tunes, lulling in the middle for sadder introspections like “26,” catching a second wind of bolder thoughts, and finishing off with “Tell me How,” which questions how to establish new perspectives from past pain.

My favorite lyrics are in “26”: “Hold onto hope if you got it / don’t let it go for nobody.” This album resonates in difficult seasons and can even help prepare for future seasons of struggle. I always think pain can never be addressed enough, and whenever musicians dive into the details, it lightens everyone’s load knowing we all share in such difficulties.

6/10 by: Dodie

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Photo Credit: Genius Lyrics

While only comprised of six songs, Dodie amazed me with 6/10. As a musician and YouTube personality, this thoughtful British woman is still establishing her path in the music scene. She managed to create a catchy album of songs that touch upon anxiety, depression, love’s attractiveness and damage, and a little instrumental thrown in!

Dodie’s voice is soft and meaningful. As I frequently enjoy watching the YouTube videos she creates, I can say that the brief album showcases her personality well. Both vulnerable mental health struggles and an unapologetic happy attitude are woven in, among her yellow-splashed cover and catchy ukulele tunes.

Most songs are pretty simple—vocals, ukulele, piano, maybe some soft drums. The words tend to speak for themselves and I value that immensely (of course). Also the lyrics “let’s write a story / be in my book” are pretty relatable. Dodie’s strength derives from beauty in simplicity.

Flicker by: Niall Horan

Flicker
Photo Credit: Niall Horan (Twitter)

First of all, I realize I’m incredibly biased towards this Irishman (he may or may not be a five year crush… a girl can dream). Also I get to see Niall and go to Ireland next year, which is INSANE.

Now, time to be an objective reviewer. Ha. My family is rolling their eyes right now.

Firstly, two things: there admittedly were more love songs than I had hoped (I could make a whole rant about how we don’t need more love songs, or at least full albums of them). Ironically, I’m incredibly proud of the lyrical content… besides “Slow Hands” and a couple f-bombs—not necessarily grandma-worthy. But Horan generally touched upon songs in a tasteful manner like Styles, his former band mate.

Throughout his debut album, Horan established a classic guitar and soft vocalist theme, similar to musicians like Jack Johnson. “On My Own,” an upbeat, Irish-flavored rock track, brings a Springsteen reminiscent sound into the album’s narrative. Flicker provides a strong value for music’s rawness, through emotional tracks like “Paper Houses” and “Flicker.” Similar to Dodie, it’s clear that Horan wants listeners to focus on the words, especially in vulnerable moments.

As a result, the authenticity in Horan’s work generates trust among listeners. It doesn’t hurt that this laidback Irishman is not boastful in his work, but seeks to transition from an immensely successful boy band to the direction of a quiet, respectable solo artist who wants his backup band to garner as much recognition as he receives daily.

 

All of these albums were worth every penny and deserve all the praise they’ve received. Thank you to each musician and music as a whole. I would not have nearly as many moments of joy without the beautiful art and its products.

~Annah