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

6 10
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

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Fall Semester Book Reviews

While almost all of these books were for my English classes, there were many wonderful tales present over my semester’s worth of reading. It was a good set of fiction and nonfiction books, with a good variety for people of many tastes. In all honesty, I’ve always been someone who is not fond of nonfiction and I tend to think it’s incredibly dry, but I read some exquisite memoirs that have officially transformed my view of the genre.

Some of these books are easy reads and some require more effort and dedication, so whether you have multiple weeks of break ahead of you or only an hour after work every day, there should be something in the mix for everyone.

  1. Persuasion by: Jane Austen

Austen writes with such lovely language and this was my fourth book I’ve read by her (the others being Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma). After reading four, I can also tell you her books all center on the same ideas: a wealthy family, romance, and endings that usually have everyone coupling off. While I think men could enjoy her books as well, they are usually going to be enjoyed by females mostly.

The story centers upon Anne Elliot, one of three sisters, who’s considered an outcast in her family because she’s not as concerned about wealth or beauty. This ties in closely to Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, protagonists of Austen’s other stories. As one might guess, the novel also centers upon the theme of persuasion and how that has an impact on decision-making and interpersonal relationships in one’s life, whether positively or negatively. People who enjoy romance and the importance of individualism will find this book entertaining. I gave it four stars, as I appreciated the themes and her smart wittiness and sarcasm among dialogue.

  1. The Glass Castle by: Jeannette Walls (reread)

Initially I did not plan on including this book, only because I have read it before in high school. However, since I reread it for class this semester, I decided to review it for those of you unfamiliar with the memoir, because it is a great story (and now a movie!).

This memoir follows former gossip columnist, Jeannette Walls, through her adolescent years, as she grows up within an incredibly unconventional family who lives a rugged, unstable lifestyle always on the move. A beautiful woman with a glamorous professional career, Walls initially generated extreme shock across America with the publication of the book, because the hardships throughout her past were completely unexpected. The book begins with Walls sitting in a taxi on the way to a fancy party, when her ride stops next to a woman rooting through the dumpster: her mother. The story is authentic, unforgettable, and a page-turner for anyone who enjoys an intriguing narrative. It’s definitely a five-star story and I appreciated getting to reread it to find new details I missed the first time.

  1. Jane Eyre by: Charlotte Bronte

Last year, I saw this story come alive through my college’s musical version, but the novel contains far richer detail than the play could ever have conveyed. Jane’s story contains themes of faith, romance, and independence—not too different from Austen’s style, except less sarcastic and more genuine in character interactions. Certain aspects are even reminiscent of Les Misérables, such as Jane’s firsthand experience of different social classes and a Christian friend who permanently influences her outlook on life, similar to Jean Valjean.

Unfortunately, I had to rush through this novel in particular and was not able to give it the full attention it deserved (as anyone familiar with college knows). But anyone who enjoys Austen’s work would appreciate it, as well as anyone appreciative of feminist undertones. I gave Bronte’s book four stars, because while there were many well-written sentences and sentiments, it would not be at the top of my recommendation list for everyone, like my five-stars.

  1. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by: Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson’s fictional work is very science-based and reminiscent of the scientific revolution within Britain’s Victorian era. (One of my classes was British literature, as you can probably tell.) It’s a novella and a quicker read if you’re not looking for too big of a time commitment. Some might classify the story as horror or science fiction, but I also think mystery is a large part of the plot. Without sharing too much, the story focuses on good versus evil, as well as individual identity. Anyone intrigued by mystery or science fiction would enjoy this story that I rated four stars.

  1. Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir by: Donna Johnson

Johnson’s memoir centers upon the Pentecostal tent revivalist culture most prevalent throughout America in the mid-twentieth century. It forces readers to consider the religious practices and form an opinion on them, even though Johnson makes her opinions clear in this recounting of her childhood. Anyone curious to learn more about different denominations of Christianity, religion in general or aspects of culture that are lesser known would find this book a page-turner. Similar to Walls, the stories Johnson tells are extraordinary in good and bad ways. Her accounts will astonish and surprise you, especially her sentiments at the end. I gave it four stars, as it stood out as less of an objective perspective to me and the timeline was confusing—qualities I think are crucial in memoir.

  1. The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up in the Big Dry by: Joe Wilkins

Wilkins wrote this memoir about his life in the Big Dry, a place in Montana. With his father passing away while he is young, he continues to search for a father figure and his values without someone constantly there giving him direction, in this coming-of-age story. Every sentence breathes memoir covered in poetry; it’s an incredibly artistic book. Rather than a chronological story like Walls and Johnson, his is comprised of short chapters, each one a different memory. This book is great to pick up and put down if you have limited time to read, which makes it even more attractive to any kind of reader. Despite the general lack of female figures, I thoroughly enjoyed it as a woman and think it’s also an important dialogue for grasping the pressures and confinement surrounding the concept of masculinity.

This memoir was by far my favorite book I read this semester, considering I already read The Glass Castle. As my one new five-star read, I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.

  1. Uninvited by: Lysa TerKeurst

My friends and I are just finishing this book up as our semester ends, and it’s honestly the perfect book for group discussions. TerKeurst writes vulnerably and beautifully in this Christian book explicitly geared toward women. Concerning rejection, Uninvited speaks directly from TerKeurst’s personal experiences and how she has changed her perspective with God’s help, in order to keep the negative feeling from running her life.

I have only read a few explicitly Christian books, but I would probably give it four stars. That’s not to say it wasn’t great—it was! But certain chapters were not as engaging as others, and compared to other Christian books I’ve read, every sentence didn’t resonate as fully.

~Annah

Band Gives Monday a Good Reputation

(Note: Original title was “Almost A Growing Sensation.” Sadly, strikethroughs aren’t formatted to the title… I was bummed.)

I’m interrupting my normal blog rotation to tell you about this really special band, hot off the press of the industry. Everyone wave, because they’re likely reading this.

Almost Monday
Photo Credit: Almost Monday

A new band has entered the music fray and they are off to a strong start. Who are they? Almost Monday, a San Diego-based band comprised of Dawson Daugherty, Luke Fabry, Cole Clisby, and Michael Leto.

I had the honor of discovering this band through Switchfoot last fall. With such a genuine, introspective group of men backing Almost Monday, I can only imagine what bright, joyful personalities these guys must have. Anyone approved by Jon Foreman has to be pretty special, and that’s becoming increasingly clear to me as I witness and interact with the talent that is Almost Monday.

The band’s official debut single “Take Me Higher” aired across iTunes, Spotify, and Tidal streaming platforms Nov. 1. Plenty of praise has already been conveyed through the band’s fan base, already nearly 600 people strong. This number will quickly rise as devoted fans spread Almost Monday’s name to other friends and across social media.

However, you could never tell that “Take Me Higher” is their first official single. It exudes a confident, knowledgeable tone of a band that fully understands the music scene and has created a unique sound that fits perfectly into the present-day desires of music consumers. The combination of pop and disco-funk elements, among the synthesizer, bass dynamics, and Daugherty’s well-trained falsettos, ring with a Michael Jackson flavor that result in irresistible dancing.

From here, the potential future projects from Almost Monday seem limitless. They have already showcased their infectious, talented dynamic through one single—clearly, they could excel in many different genres. Until then, I will be streaming “Take Me Higher” on my “Jams” playlist, and I encourage you to do the same.

Follow Almost Monday on Facebook (@ALMOSTMONDAYBAND), Twitter (@ALMOSTMONDAYY), and Instagram (almost.monday) for more updates from the guys!

With a catchy musical sound and amiable personalities, Almost Monday’s just getting started and will surely be doing big things for the music scene.

~Annah

Flicks that Fill my Heart

Each movie at the top of my recommendations list, that I consider favorites, are a diverse group. They are all different genres and highlight different values in my personality. Hopefully you like some of them or find one of interest to you. Most I would recommend to everyone.

  1. Harold & Maude

MSDHAAN EC016
Photo Credit: Winnipeg Film Group
My favorite movie: a twenty-year-old meets an eighty-year-old with subtle humor that sends you keeling over until your sides hurt. This past April was the first time I saw this flick, but I’ve watched it at least four more times since then and died laughing every time. While it is definitely my favorite film, I would not recommend it to everyone. Honestly, it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy this movie, but if you have an acute sense of humor, love quirky storylines, and have an analytical mind–friend, meet the love of your life.

A shallow movie-watcher would say this is about a weird romantic relationship, an average movie-watcher could tell you about all the quirky jokes or how, for one reason or another, they just didn’t get it. But a few deeply attentive movie-watchers could explain the emotional pain planted in between the notes of humor. The cry of the broken, beaten, kicked around, and spat out… and all I want to do is give the Harolds and Maudes of the world a hug.

“If you want to sing out, sing out and if you want to be free, be free.” -Cat Stevens (Also the soundtrack to the movie, if you’re a Stevens fan.)

  1. Les Misérables

Les Miserables
Photo Credit: Good Reads
“I’ll escape now from that world,

From the world of Jean Valjean.

Jean Valjean is nothing now.

Another story must begin.”

-Jean Valjean

I like to say my favorite stories are those of redemption and I think my value of Les Misérables displays just that, through Valjean’s change of heart. When I place my life’s belief on a Being who is the key to redemption, it only makes sense. As the title suggests, this musical (based on Victor Hugo’s rich, colorful novel) revolves around “the miserable” in France. But more importantly it touches upon the lost, the forgotten, and the overlooked humans of the world.

It is a story, simply put, that I deeply desire every human to experience. To see or read or listen to. My father brought me, my sister, and my mother to the theatre in 2012, and I knew zip about the plot. I spent the following two hours absorbed in the story before me, listening to Fantine’s grief and bursting into tears, and watching humans overcome by the joy and hurt others have to experience through revolution, love, and suicide. Once again, it’s not a story of France; it’s a story of humanity. How immensely that touches my heart.

It’s a narrative that hits you differently every time you interact with it. Even if you aren’t into musicals, you will likely surprise yourself and enjoy it, as happened to one of my friends. You can and will take it seriously. It will resonate with you.

  1. Leap Year

Leap Year
Photo Credit: Blu-Ray
Ireland is my true love, which is no secret to any of my loved ones. I love everything about it and anything even slightly related, so it’s no surprise that my favorite romantic comedy is set in Ireland. While other people might fawn over the main actor in the movie, I’m drooling over the country backdrop.

For anyone in the mood for a sappy movie with good banter, give this Amy Adams film a try. All the background settings are beautiful, cozy and inviting, which only enhances the experience, and until May, when I visit Ireland (WHAT?!), is my substitute for the real thing.

This movie also holds a dear place in my heart because it’s associated with a hard time from my first year of college, during my worst weekend of anxiety, when one of my best friends stuck by my side the whole time. Besides her empathetic, wise words of comfort, she knew just the trick to cheer me up/distract me, and introduced me to this. Thank you, Kaitlyn.

  1. Begin Again

Begin Again
Photo Credit: Begin Again Movie Website
When I watched this romance/drama for the first time this past summer, the credits rolled and I instantaneously decided it had to be on the top of my movie list. This movie centers on a musician and an A&R representative, which for those of you who don’t know, is my dream job. It also has a wide array of actors, including the stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, as well as Adam Levine and James Corden. Basically it’s my love of music in a narrative movie. And naturally, that means I thoroughly enjoy the music within the movie.

The main criticism seems to arise from people who dislike Knightley’s singing, but I thought she did a fantastic job, especially considering that’s not what she normally does. This movie is perfect for anyone who loves music and the hard work behind producing songs, as well as any of you who want a feel-good ending that puts a smile on your face and makes you thankful that you took the time to watch it.

  1. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Mr. Magorium
Photo Credit: Empire Online
Every line that comes out of Dustin Hoffman’s mouth is reason enough to love this movie. This narrative centers upon the owner of a magical toy shop, his apprentice, a boy who loves hats, and a mutant. That’s about all I can divulge, but trust me; it is not a movie to pass up. Everyone who’s a kid at heart needs to watch it.

This fantasy will tug at your heartstrings, as it did mine. So much so, in fact, that I distinctly remember this as the first film I cried over. Films with the most accurate messages about life make me the most emotional, and like Les Misérables, this is a movie that hits me differently every time I watch it. Mostly it touches and addresses patches of loss in our hearts, but in a healing and loving way.

It’s a gentle, sweet reminder that you can pull through and you are capable.

 

Begin Again and Leap Year are both on Netflix for those interested. If nothing else, you can listen to the majority of Les Misérables songs on YouTube with the videos. You’ll have to hunt a bit more for Harold & Maude and Mr. Magorium. But I hope you take the time to watch or re-watch one of these. Entertainment is such a lovely way to relax, but also to analyze and reflect on the world and our place in humanity.

You can engage with entertainment. You don’t just have to absorb it.

~Annah

TV Shows that Captured my Heart

Note: I’m trying my best to return to consistent Friday postings! (Yes, I know, today is a Saturday…) But expect Friday (or Saturday) posts weekly. I have a blog rotation I’m starting: worldly ponderings (which are my thoughts on different aspects of life, e.g. beauty standards or the violence in our world), creative writing (I can’t always guarantee I’ll have new content for this one), Christian life, and reviews/entertainment posts.

Without further ado, here are the shows I would consider my favorites. (I think I would also include Friends, but everyone pretty much knows about it.)

  1. Gilmore Girls

    Gilmore Girls
    Photo Credit: Neil Jacobs

This is by far my favorite television show, because of the warm family dynamic between Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter, Rory. They’re incredibly sassy and witty characters, which makes their interactions with others highly entertaining. One of my favorite lines is when Emily Gilmore, Lorelai’s mother, drops a box of items off at their house and Lorelai says, “What is it? It’s heavy… must be her hopes and dreams for me.” I will add that the dialogue is incredibly fast-paced, which can make or break the experience for some (I get a kick out of it, but it tires my mother out.)

If you appreciate  coffee, sassy remarks, small town life and a warm “dramedy” with plenty of popular culture references, buckle up for 7 seasons of Gilmore Girls, plus the six-hour revival series that came out this past winter. It won’t be long before you feel like a part of Stars Hollow, with all of its eccentric characters.

  1. Parenthood

    Parenthood.jpg
    Photo Credit: UPTV.com

Another “dramedy,” Parenthood appealed to me because my sister recommended it and Lauren Graham, who played Lorelai in Gilmore Girls, is also a character in this show. But after watching all six seasons, I grew to love it as its own entity. There is also a strong family dynamic that warms the show, with the plot shifting between four siblings (Adam, Sarah (Graham), Julia, and Crosby), their children, and the siblings’ parents. The close-up, intimate camera shots make the viewer feel a part of the action in a way that the generally wider camera angles of Gilmore Girls don’t. A vast majority of episodes end on a positive note with the entire family coming together for the final scene, which appeals to those of us who enjoy large families and the community family provides.

While it is a fictional show and should generally be taken with a grain of salt in many aspects, I will say that watching the parents interact with their kids and teenagers made me empathize with my parents. Oftentimes growing up, children take our parents for granted, especially in the angst-y period of adolescence… but they daily need to deal with tricky decisions in the case of finances, family illnesses, and absent parents, among other issues.

Another reason I love this show is the way it highlights each generation, from the grandparents to the kids. I think people of all ages can enjoy this show, and while Gilmore Girls can sometimes be a little feminine, Parenthood is relatable to everyone, and you will laugh and cry with the Bravermans.

  1. Riverdale

    Riverdale.jpg
    Photo Credit: Netflix

Calling all fans of Archie comics, this one’s for you! However, it’s not the lighthearted, silly take you would expect, but a dark mystery that also happens to be, in my opinion, the most dramatic drama in all of existence. But I have to be honest… it is SO addicting. Almost every episode ends in a cliffhanger; a clever filming technique to keep viewers interested. The first season premiered in January and this coming Wednesday (10/11), the second season will premiere on the CW at 8:00 EST. I never watch shows live, but you can bet I’m eagerly waiting for Riverdale to start!

With the first season culminating in the solution of a murder mystery and another Riverdale community member being shot, it’s likely this season will revolve around a mystery too. The show revolves around the well-loved characters in the comics: Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica. Jughead is definitely my favorite, with his strong writing skills and brooding-yet-witty personality. (Have you sensed a theme? I love witty people.)

As one of my friends pointed out, there are also similarities to Harry Potter, with Veronica’s mom named Hermione and the evil biker gang named “The Serpents” with snake tattoos, so that’s probably a subconscious appeal for me too. Those that live for mysteries, intense drama and a bit of romance—make some popcorn and watch Riverdale!

  1. Once Upon a Time

    Once.png
    Photo Credit: ABC.com

You probably inferred this from the title, but Once Upon a Time is a show that develops a plot around children’s fairytales, with Disney stories holding the most prominent influence over the plot. So all of you that hold a love for Disney near and dear to your heart, give Once a go. Fantasy, action, adventure, and mystery are all meshed together to form this magically entrancing storyline that has shaped six seasons of the show.

The seventh season started yesterday, but in all honesty, I have not caught up. Supposedly almost all of the main characters have left for the seventh season, so many fans are unhappy about that. My friends and I have discussed our mixed feelings about the show. Some people feel that certain characters become too repetitive with no character development and some plotlines in the later seasons seem weaker than previous seasons in others’ opinions. I will admit I was more eager to continue watching the earlier seasons than I am now. However, I do still adore the Disney and fantasy aspects, which has kept me watching. I can’t give a fully-informed opinion with where I’m at right now, but if you enjoy magic and fantasy, that will keep you watching and interested regardless of characters and plotlines.

  1. Sherlock

    Sherlock.jpg
    Photo Credit: PBS.org

Finally, what is television without sleuthing and Sherlock Holmes? Shout out to my English readers and those that appreciate British entertainment! They know how to produce an enthralling show. If you’re even the slightest bit familiar with Sherlock Holmes, there’s no need for me to explain. Some of the episodes are even based on short stories from Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, including the first episode, entitled “A Study in Pink,” which is loosely based on A Study in Scarlet. Four seasons are out so far, with 3 episodes per season, 1 hour and 30 minutes each. I have only watched through the first episode of season 4 because it was a pretty sad episode…

Truthfully, I am unsure if there will be more seasons, as I don’t know how four ends (and am too scared to know…). But with stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the lead roles, if there were more, it surely wouldn’t be for another year or more.

 

Hopefully at least one show caught your interest and if you have watched any (or all!) of my favorites, please let me know! I love talking to people about any and all of my favorite entertainment, and am always up for discussing any of the delightful characters! Good news: all the shows listed are also on Netflix! Unfortunately, for those of you without Netflix, the only show I could find to legally watch online (that is also available in America… Sorry Sherlock fans) is Riverdale, on the CW website. (If you’ve found the others anywhere, please share the link!) Happy binge-watching!

~Annah

Summer 2017 Books

Nowadays, reading can be a challenge for many, because we have an internal debate that was nonexistent even a decade ago: to read or to watch Netflix? Seriously, it’s a struggle. For me, they both always sound so inviting, but one has to win out over the other. My reading patterns consist of either seasons of constant reading or seasons without reading. But whenever I begin seasons of reading I always wonder why I ever stopped. It is relaxing, it is engaging, and it is fun. I wholeheartedly believe that if you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book for you yet.

My “to-read” list is probably about a mile long, but this summer I was able to take out a teeny chunk of it. I’ve been tempted to start a new section of my blog where I review all kinds of entertainment, so why not kick it off with my summer booklist? I’ve read a wide range, from self-help, to novels, to religious books this summer. So sit back, grab a refreshing drink, and see what grabs your interest.

  1. Les Misérables by: Victor Hugo (Sort of…)

I actually already read three-quarters of this book two years prior for AP English, but I finally finished that last quarter this summer! (I know, very long overdue.) Although a long time coming, this is actually my favorite novel. I’ve realized what warms my heart the most within books are redeemed characters, which Jean Valjean most certainly is. The theme of redemption provides the hope that no one has to be enslaved to a certain lifestyle or attitude, and our circumstances are always susceptible to change.

This is also one of the longest books I have ever heard of with the most intricate detail and is not for the faint of heart. But if you want to really invest yourself in a story and characters with great depth to them, if you like the musical or movie and want more detail, if you enjoy seeing a cast of characters of all kinds, then this one’s for you.

  1. The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak

Set in Germany during Hitler’s reign and narrated by Death, this book became popular a few years ago. Unfortunately I was not a part of that trend, but after blowing through it in two days and crying my eyes out, I can confidently say this is one of my new favorite books. Voice and language is what Zusak does best and are the tools that will keep this story embedded in your mind. The characters are easy to fall in love with and the narrative is a powerful page-turner. I would recommend this to everyone, regardless of your reading interests.

  1. Mary Poppins by: P.L. Travers

I grew up with this movie and absolutely loved it, which may be part of the reason that I personally was a little let down by the book. I have always been a firm believer that a movie can never be as great as a book, but have always loved both equally in their separate entities (I’m a very optimistic entertainment-retainer, you could say). This is a lovely book for children, with its imaginative series of events. However, if you’re anything like me, and love taking deep themes and messages away from stories, this book is not the best for that. Something I really enjoyed from the movie was the character development of Mr. Banks and the contrast between the fun and silliness with Mary and the kids, to the serious troubles of an adult man, which really caters to every audience and hits a deeper chord. Mr. Banks’ development was not present in the book and Mary was also a much more serious and stern character in the book (although that character change had to have been a result of Disney.) Personally, I preferred the more lighthearted version of Mary that Julie Andrews portrayed and thought a stern Mary who created imaginative events wherever she went seemed a bit odd. But if you want a light read with lots of silliness and imagination, or a good book for your children, this is a great one.

  1. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by: Don Miguel Ruiz

This was a different kind of book for me, but I wanted to read it because it meant a lot to a friend. I’m really thankful I did, though, because I think it’s crucial to read all kinds of viewpoints and lifestyles, not just those like your own. That’s how we learn from each other and understand each other better.

This book is perfect for those of you looking to better your life and seek personal happiness outside of the major religions. I appreciated the sentiments behind the four agreements, and as a Christian, was able to see some similarities between the two different belief systems, which was super interesting. If finding new ways to personal freedom or seeking to understand other viewpoints interests you, here’s your book.

  1. Mere Christianity by: C.S. Lewis

I’ve always been a Christian who prefers to stick with the Bible and is not interested in other Christian books, but I ended up reading not only this spiritual book, but the next two on this list, which is really different for me. (Not going to lie, during the period of reading The Four Agreements and these three, I basically had separation anxiety from novels.) Lewis is so intellectual that it blows my mind. Everything he writes is so articulate and it makes me think he came out of the womb using words like ‘obsequious’ and ‘taciturn.’ Talk about thorough though, this book is 100% thorough. It’s also dense and not a quick read, so expect to really put your thinking cap on every time you sit down to read. This is not a book to change anyone’s mind about anything, but if you really appreciate sound, structured arguments with solid examples to back them up and/or you want to reaffirm your Christian beliefs, you have exactly that within this book.

  1. Mister God, This is Anna by: Fynn

This is one of my mother’s favorites and so I thought I’d try it out. Sure enough, I opened to the first page and she had ‘Anna’ and ‘Joy’ circled, which are my first and middle names. The author is actually the main character in the book and it appears to be based on a true story, but the difference between the truth and fiction is not certain. The story centers around a wild and confident four-year-old girl named Anna who is taken home to live with a nineteen-year-old man named Fynn and his family. In the time he lives with Anna, Fynn learns about ‘Mister God,’ this important relationship in Anna’s life. This book offers unique perspectives of God that may offer a fresh viewpoint for interested Christians.

  1. Jesus > Religion by: Jefferson Bethke

Like The Book Thief, I made quick work of this one. Not only was the title intriguing, but I’ve been watching Bethke’s YouTube videos for a couple years now and knew I would love his style of writing. Compared to C.S. Lewis, Bethke is almost the opposite writing style—very simplified but straightforward, with many emotional and real-life examples to back up his points. His points don’t require a ton of concentration, but may stir up some disagreement among Christians, as he focuses on how we are living/where we’re failing as a church versus how we should be living.

  1. The Good Earth by: Pearl S. Buck

As I write this, I still have 50 pages left, so this may be “cheating,” but I’m going to give my review from what I know of most of it. This is an incredibly intriguing novel that deals with Chinese culture and Buck received the Pulitzer Prize for it back in 1932. I never read nearly enough ethnic literature, so I’ve enjoyed this excursion (added to the fact that it’s my first novel in two months). It focuses on Wang Lung and his family as they battle through multiple famines and family hardships. This is a great book to help expand your cultural knowledge (within reason, as it is still a novel) and would also be awesome for a book club—my copy even has some great discussion questions in the back!

I hope you enjoyed this review post! There were a lot of ‘firsts’ within this group of books and the eclectic mixture ended up being really cool. So I hope you all could find one you’re interested in taking the time to read and I will try my best to keep reading and reviewing books whenever I can! I definitely have a reading list that will keep me busy.

~Annah