Weekend Reads (and Watches)

Happy Friday! I’m off to winter camp this weekend with the high school kids from church. We’ll be spending the next few days with youth groups from several different churches in our area, attending seminars and worship services, playing games, and learning what it means to be faithful to God in all aspects of our lives.

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To tide you over until Monday and keep you entertained this weekend, here’s a compilation of some of my favorite internet gems from the past week or so.

What one guy learned from his week of wearing makeup.

A fellow believer’s take on why people leave the church.

The cutest little seashell ever.

As a wife, am I treating my husband fairly?

A vending machine of sorts that gives food to stray dogs!

I don’t actually live in San Francisco, but I’ve definitely thought, said, or heard almost all of these things at some point.

Looking for a new job? Avoid these five cover letter clichés.

On the list of the 25 most amazing college concert halls, number one looks awfully familiar!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Gone Girl (Spoilers!)

Note: This post contains spoilers!

I think I’m probably the last person to get on the Gone Girl wagon, but now that has been righted! I finished reading it in a mere ten days, which is ridiculously fast for me if I’m not on vacation. It was that good.

Like everyone else who has read this book (or seen the movie, I assume), my attachment to the various characters can be summarized thus: I liked and/or sympathized with certain characters until I didn’t, and vice versa. It was a sudden, 180-degree turn. If you’ve read the book, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Nick is a thoroughly unlikable character throughout the first part of the book, due partly to the chapters in his point of view and partly to the way Amy describes him and their relationship in her diary entries. Author Gillian Flynn does a fantastic job of making the reader hate Nick right off the bat by hinting (in no uncertain terms) that he played a major role in Amy’s disappearance and potential death. From what we know of his character, this seems more and more likely as we read on, and we hate him more and more, until we get to Part 2 and turn the page and everything changes in about two sentences.

At this point, of course, the tides completely turned for me. All of a sudden I saw everything in a completely new light, which was obviously Flynn’s strategy all along, so kudos to her. As I continued reading and even as I finished the book, my overwhelming thought was (and still is), “Amy Elliott Dunne is freaking psycho.” What kind of disturbed sociopath would you have to be to fake your own murder, sending your husband to prison and ultimately the death penalty, because you found out he was cheating? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a terrible human being himself, but STILL. Plus she obviously has no trouble offing Desi Collings later in the book, but only after she forces him into having sex with her so she can accuse him of rape when she returns home. And all this because she decides that Nick will forgive her after all and that she can force him into loving her again. Are there actual human beings in the world who are this cold, unfeeling, and utterly insane? I sincerely hope not.

In a way though, the complete psychosis of the story and the characters, particularly Amy, made the book that much more fun to read. Not fun in a light hearted, easy-beach-read way, obviously, but in a gripping way that made me not want to put it down. I haven’t felt like that since I discovered Dan Brown’s books (but before I realized they were actually all the same book). The way Nick and Amy constantly try to outsmart each other and predict each other’s next move is jaw-droppingly twisted.

I haven’t decided yet if I will see the movie. To be honest, I feel like this is the type of movie that would freak me out even though I already know exactly what’s going to happen. Also, while I did spend the entire book picturing Ben Affleck as Nick, I couldn’t bring myself to envision Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings. In my mind, NPH plays the classy gentleman, whereas Desi struck me as an extremely weak, whiny child who would go to extremes to get his way just for the sake of getting his way. But maybe I’ll be surprised.

In case you haven’t gathered, this is a book I totally recommend, if not for the faint of heart (Mom, this book is not for you!). And it allows me to check off the first book of the 2015 Reading Challenge: A book that’s currently on the bestseller list!

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Have you read (or seen) Gone Girl? What are your thoughts? I’d love to chat more about it with you!

2015 Reading Challenge

Reading more books is always at the top of the New Year’s resolution list. It’s right up there with “work out more” or “get organized” or “travel to three new countries.” Last year I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read twenty books, and I didn’t quite make it. I’ll be trying for that same number again this year, but in addition, I’ll be participating in the 2015 Reading Challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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I’ve already kicked off the year by starting Gone Girl, which definitely falls under the category of “everyone has read it but me,” and I can’t wait for the fun of choosing a book to fit each criteria. Some of them can probably be accomplished with one book (for example, my mom is probably my #1 book recommender, which fits two different categories), but I’m going to try to allow just one category per book. Many, many reviews to come!

Would you consider joining this particular challenge?

Orange is the New Black

While I was in Germany this summer, T started watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, but abandoned it after a few episodes because he kept thinking, in his words, “My wife is GONE! She’s in JAIL for a whole YEAR and I’m never going to see her again!”

Obviously neither of those things was true, but it did spark my curiosity about the show. When I stumbled upon the book at Barnes and Noble on my lunch break one day, I couldn’t resist picking it up.

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It took me about three pages before I was completely hooked. From the very beginning, Kerman’s writing is simple and honest, thoroughly descriptive but not flowery. It’s easy to see where she is coming from––she’s young, experiencing true adult freedom for the first time, and she wants an adventure. Unfortunately, that adventure ends up involving a drug ring, and even though Kerman eventually escapes, she is busted several years later and finds herself spending a year as an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut.

Orange is the New Black offers a rare look inside the U.S. prison system. Kerman describes the stresses, restrictions, and sometimes even horrors of prison, things that she acknowledges most Americans are very curious about. She writes about inadequate physical facilities, lack of any sort of training programs to prepare inmates for their future in the outside world, and verbal abuse by prison staff. At the same time, she expresses deep care and gratitude for the women who were her fellow inmates, and I got the sense that she really wants to communicate to the reader that prisoners are human beings too, no matter what they have done in the past. The end of the book has a somewhat surprising twist, but I won’t spoil it for you.

After I finished the book, I read several negative reviews on Goodreads arguing that Kerman and her cast of real-but-protected characters weren’t believable, that she was a snotty white girl with entitlement issues, and that the story was too much of a narrative. I have a hard time taking those comments seriously, since a) everyone in the book was in fact a real person, even though she (understandably) wanted to protect them, b) Kerman does recognize that she had a much easier prison experience than most of her friends, and c) the story, by definition, is a narrative.

Obviously everyone can form their own opinions, so I highly suggest you read the book for yourself. Personally, I can’t wait to start watching the show!

Currently…

Sometimes your blog just has an uninspiring couple of weeks.

T understands and supports my struggles.

T understands and supports my struggle.

That’s my life right now. When you get into a routine, it can be easy to miss the unique little moments in each day that are worth taking note of and holding onto. That’s not to say that nothing good is happening… in fact, quite the opposite. For the most part, I’m quite content with how life has been rolling along lately, and I’m really looking forward to the upcoming holiday season and spending tons of quality time with my family and friends.

Here’s what has been occupying my time lately, and the things that are receiving my mental energy.

  • Reading: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. Did you guys know this was a book before it was a Netflix original series? I didn’t until I was browsing Barnes & Noble one day on my lunch break and came across it. I was a little hesitant to dive in, but I’m enjoying it so much that I’m already almost done with it. Her writing is so straightforward and honest, and she’s very candid about the emotional facets of her prison experience. I’ll be posting a review as soon as I’m done, which will probably be by this weekend. It’s that good!
  • Binge watching: Friday Night Lights. Holy cow, people. T and I are fully aware that we are super late to the party on this one, since our friends have been telling us about it forever, but we started watching it last weekend, and by the end of the pilot episode we were absolutely, 100% sucked in. I think we probably spent 8 hours on Saturday on it, and when we weren’t watching, we were thinking about it. Neither of us can get it out of our heads.
  • Planning: My church choir’s Christmas extravaganza. We’ve done Christmas concerts of varying sizes and difficulty levels since I was a kid (under the direction of my dad for many years), but this is the first time I’ve been fully in charge of it. It’s a little nerve-wracking, especially since I will be conducting an orchestra as well as the choir, and that involves a whole extra level or three of preparation. There’s a lot that goes into this, including preparing the choir during our weekly rehearsals, hiring orchestra members (thankfully my mom is a fantastic orchestra manager), prepping and distributing their music, making sure I’m completely familiar and comfortable with the score, rewriting the narration for our speakers, arranging the logistics and movement of people throughout the program, and more. The performance is on December 14th and I’m anxiously counting down the days (exactly 31 to go).
  • Looking Forward To: Taking the train up to Sacramento at the end of next week to join T at a conference… which really means he’ll be going to seminars while I go to coffee with a couple of friends and get in some snuggle time with our baby nephew. We may or may not also drive around and window-shop houses for sale.
  • Buying: Christmas presents! I’ve already bought a few things for T, my mom, and my brother, and I’m marinating some ideas for my dad and T’s parents. I love coming up with the perfect gifts for people.

What have you been up to lately?

Songs of Willow Frost

I mentioned in my October goals wrap-up post that I managed to finish not two, but three books by the end of the month. The third, bonus book was Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford, a New York Times bestselling author. I received this book as a Christmas gift from my mom, who gives all three of her children (including T) a “book package” every year. She and I have very similar tastes in books (and most things really), so I knew I would enjoy it before I even started reading.

And I did enjoy it. The story takes place in Depression-era Seattle, where a Chinese-American boy named William tries to escape from an orphanage and reconnect with his mother, whom he believes is still alive. The timeline bounces back and forth quite a bit between William’s story, in 1934, and his mother’s story, which begins in 1921, but it’s not hard to follow because Ford always includes the year in parentheses at the beginning of each chapter.

The writing is straightforward, not too flowery but also not too simple. I don’t tend to like reading long descriptions of places or people; I prefer for the story and the characters to unfold more naturally instead of being all laid out at the beginning, and I appreciate that Ford writes like that. Having only been to Seattle once, I don’t know the city well at all, but I also didn’t want to read a lot about the geography. Thankfully, he doesn’t include more of those details than are necessary, and he does a great job of describing specific locations like the Sacred Heart orphanage and Chinatown.

I found the subject matter pretty fascinating as well. Willow Frost is a stage and film performer whose parents were both Chinese opera singers. Obviously this appealed to me quite a bit and I could relate to Willow and her passions and interests more than most other readers probably could. I’m also particularly interested in that era of American history, so that helped too.

What makes this book really special, though, is the character development. When I first met William’s mother, I thought she was incredibly shallow and a horrible person for doing what she did. However, the more I read, the more deeply I felt for her and for the things she went through that caused her to make the choices that she made. I found myself thinking about what I would have done if I had been in her position, which to me is the mark of an excellent writer.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a fairly easy read that keeps you engaged and on your toes. It’s heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time, and who doesn’t like that in a good book?

October Goals: Mid-Month Check-In

At the beginning of this month I set some goals for myself. It’s now halfway through the month (can you believe it?!), so let’s check in to see how I’m doing.

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1. Have at least two voice lessons.

I’ve had one so far, and I have another one tomorrow. Success!

2. Go to barre class at least twice.

I haven’t even gone once. Womp womp. Guess I have some catching up to do in the next couple of weeks. I’m determined to call today and reserve my spot for tomorrow’s class so I’m forced to go.

3. Learn all my recitatives in Don Giovanni.

I’m about halfway there (almost done with Act 1 of 2), so I’m on track to accomplish this one by the end of the month. Huzzah!

4. Save at least $300.

This one isn’t going so well. I had excellent intentions at the beginning of the month, and I even transferred $150 from my paycheck for the first half of the month into savings, but I had some unforeseen expenses, i.e. Blue Shield being one giant idiot, so I’ve only managed to save $225. Hopefully I can do more next month.

5. Finish That Hideous Strength and read another book in its entirety.

I finished That Hideous Strength and reviewed it, and I also read #GIRLBOSS in its entirety and reviewed it as well. Now I’m reading Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford.

I think I’ve done pretty well so far. How are you doing on your monthly goals?