Monday, December 19, 2016

The Reason For the Season

I feel like that phrase has become cliche. We say it to remind ourselves that Christmas isn't just about presents and Santa and lights and Christmas trees and cookies and parties and special movies...but how much do we think about what Christmas is really about?

Christmas is about Jesus' birth. That is what we're celebrating. We think of a cozy stable and sweet-smelling hay and angels singing and adoring shepherds, and we get the warm fuzzies over this classic, Jesus-centered Christmas scene. But I still think we're missing the point. (Though as a side note, go read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. It'll give you a new perspective on that picturesque little scene we're all so familiar with.)

It kind of bugs me that we make such a big to do over Christmas, but not over Easter. Don't get me wrong, I have zero problem with making a big deal about Christmas--I love all the celebration and traditions and everything--it's the contrast in culture that bothers me. Christmas is this whole season that everyone's a part of, and unless you do Lent, Easter is confined to one little weekend. Like we're saying the Christmas story is the one that matters most.

And the Christmas story does matter. It matters very much. But I think we tend to forget that Christmas is just the beginning of the story. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary in the fulfillment of countless prophecies, angels and people worshiped him as an infant, wise men followed His star from the East to give him gifts.

And then.

Jesus grew. He taught the people. Performed miracles. Made the Jews angry enough to put Him to death. And in doing so, Jesus took our sins upon Himself and paid the price for them all. He died so that we might live. He suffered the unspeakable consequences that we deserve for our sins so that if we repent and believe, we will be redeemed--freed from all the consequences of our sin. And He rose from the grave because death isn't the end of the story. He rose and went to live with the Father in Heaven, just as we will someday live with God forever.

So this Christmas season--when you remember the reason for the season--don't stop at the wise men. Follow the story through to the conclusion. Because Christmas is only the beginning of the greatest story there ever was.

The story of how God so loves us that He sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins so that we might someday have eternal life.

P.S. This will be my last post of the year. I'll be back after New Year's with a recap of my 2016. See you then and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016

This has been a somewhat interesting year for reading. Interesting as in I read quite a few books I enjoyed, but not very many that kept me up late or got me telling all my friends they HAD to read it. I guess I mostly just ended up reading a lot of mediocre books. That being said, there were some really good ones...some of them just may be unpublished and/or unfinished (you know I'm looking at you, author person whose name starts with a K). 

No, the Jedi Quest series is not going to end up on my top 10 list, and neither are the Monk and Doctor Who books, but I'll definitely tell you about the really good books I read this year. And these will all be books that I've finished and are published--I'm really enjoying The Mysterious Benedict Society (and don't know how I missed it), but I can't pass final judgement until I'm finished. And it wouldn't be fair to tell you about books that it may not be public knowledge I've read.

Pictures link to my Goodreads review.
10. Girl Defined by Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird

I'd been following the Girl Defined blog for awhile and learning a lot, so it was an easy decision to preorder their book with a Christmas gift card--the first paperback I've ever preordered. The things they talked about weren't, for the most part, things I've struggled with, but I still learned a lot about what the Bible says about being a woman, and got a lot of value out of it. I also appreciate how their philosophy on Christian non-fiction (they discussed it in this video) isn't just to accept something that sounds good. They want you to evaluate it all--even their book--by the Bible. This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof

It's rare that I download a book and read it right away, but I'd been slogging through a lot of longer books that weren't necessarily page turners and friends' books that I had to edit, so when Amanda recommended it to me, I went for it. It's a super sad, sweet, historical romance that's a sort of prequel to a series I haven't actually read. But while there were a few more modern words that jolted me out of the time period, it was still sweet and heartbreaking and very enjoyable. Not to mention already edited and not very long.
8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I'd expected to be confused...and I really wasn't. I'm not quite sure why everyone says it's so hard to follow, but maybe I just feel that way because I've listened to several Dickens books and he is hard to follow at times. Anyway, I found myself in the peculiar position of disliking basically all the characters and yet enjoying the book immensely. It's so mysterious and intriguing and fascinating. Sure, it's dark, sure there weren't any characters I could relate to, but there's something compelling about it. Something about it that made it endure. After all, it's a classic. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

So I very much did not expect to like this book. I never used to be a big fan of Jane Austen, but I decided to give her another try when I was looking for an audiobook on Overdrive to listen to while sewing. And boy am I glad I did! I relate so much to Elinor, and to tell the truth, I feel like I've discovered a new author. I suppose I just wasn't old enough before. But there's something about it I really loved. Plus it was great to listen to in the car and read on the beach.
6. Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

After intending to read the Princess Academy books for, oh, nearly a year, I finally started them during my lunch break and rather fell in love with the series. Fact is, they're very deep. And as I'd read/was trying to read some rather shallow children's books at around the same time, it was very refreshing to read something like Princess Academy--specifically Palace of Stone. There's a LOT of politics in it, and if you know me at all, you know that will definitely intrigue me. There are also a lot of questions about how you know what's the right thing to do when faced with a difficult decision. Even the romance made me think. And making me think is one of the things that gets a book to stick with me. Before You Meet Prince Charming by Sarah Mally

I finally managed to read it. I'd wanted to since I was probably about fifteen or sixteen, and while I kinda wish I'd read it then, I'm glad I read it when I did. It really helped solidify my philosophy on purity and relationships. It did teach me things, though I already knew most of it, but mostly it helped me understand the why. Because it's not enough to know what you believe, you have to know why you believe what you believe. On this one, I wrote a pretty long, detailed review, so I won't say more here. If you missed it when it went up and are curious, just click on the cover photo.
4. The Blades of Acktar by Tricia Mingerink

So I'd been meaning to read these books for a year and a half before I finally did. And then I read all three books that are out in a little over a week and was very glad I'd waited until Defy was out. Because let's just say it was a really good thing my sister (whose room is directly above mine) was not yet asleep when I finished Deny. And also that she'd read the books and knew what my problem was. I wasn't totally without complaint, but really, my only one was about worldbuilding. Essentially, Acktar has to be a fictional country in our world because otherwise they couldn't have the Bible. And much of the story is dependent on Old Testament Bible stories (primarily Daniel). Once I made that a headcanon of mine, it stopped bothering me that they had our history, but even so, it's hard to place it in earth's timeline because of the lack of firearms and presence of "pocket Bibles." That aside, these books are FANTASTIC and I TOTALLY see why everyone loves them. Firmament: Reversal Zone by J. Grace Pennington

Of course Grace's book is going to be on my list! I've been a fan of Grace's since I read Firmament: Radialloy back in 2013, and I've dragged several family members along with me. Because while Reversal Zone isn't my favorite of the series, it's still absolutely fantastic. I loved getting to spend more time with Andi...and she was the only one I really got to spend time with because everyone else was so messed up. And That. Ending. I really can't wait to find out what happens next. This one also has a detailed review.
2. Lady Dragon, Tela Du by Kendra E. Ardnek

You had to know I'd put this book on here. I didn't think I'd like it. I thought it would just be a book I had to get through while waiting for Kendra to give me more Clarand in Love and Memory.  And. Then. Petra and Reuben showed up and shoved Clara and Andrew to second place in the Kendra's Couples Ranking (yes, I totally just made that up). Seriously, though, this book has so much good about it besides just cute couples. So much about redemption and love and forgiveness and mercy and family and I can't recommend it enough. Also a detailed review when you click on the picture. Samara's Peril by Jaye L. Knight

And surprised is no one. Am I right? Because as much as I may talk about Rizkaland these days, Ilyon is so super special to me and always will be. Those books are highly treasured. They are to me as a young adult what Narnia was to me as a kid. And that really means something. Jace's struggles in this book are so intense. It's so difficult to read, and yet it means so much more when it's over. Not that his struggles are over--far from it--but this book contains a much longed for break-through. So many questions are answered, Jayrin is finally a thing, and it's just so powerful. I just keep thinking of how wowed I was the first time I read it. It's amazing. Full review when you click on the cover photo. ;)

And I'll go ahead and give honorable mentions to the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and Stars Above by Marissa Meyer because I did really enjoy them, despite some worldview differences that keep them off my top ten list.

Please take a moment to help me refine my blog!

What are your favorite books that you've read this year? Have you read any of the same ones I have?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Plans

♫Christmastime is here. Happiness and cheer. Fun for all that children call their favorite time of year.♫

It always strikes me funny how melancholy the tune sounds even with lyrics like that.


The Christmas season is fun and busy and awesome...and usually each one is different. After all, "Things never happen the same way twice." But that's what makes it exciting.

One thing we always do, though, is decorate. Our Christmas tree is ridiculously crowded with ornaments. So many relatives have given us ornaments, and then we tend to buy more whenever we go to Disney World. The tree may be a bit cluttered, but that's what makes it our tree. We have several little churches, a Nutcracker, some snowmen, several music boxes, and a Nativity set. One year we made a stable out of sticks from the backyard, but, while it was really cool, it was insanely difficult to make. Now I fashion the stable out of Lincoln Logs. And we have two advent calendars. One has an appliqued Christmas tree and little embroidered ornaments hanging on it which we put in pouches for each day of advent. The other is a wooden box with a Nativity on the front...and it has a door for each day, behind which is a piece of candy. We also put lights on the front of our house.

Throughout the Christmas season, we watch lots of Christmas movies and specials. We always watch Charlie Brown, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and usually Frosty the Snowman, and we sometimes end up watching random other ones that come on TV. As far as movies go, we always watch Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story. We also fit in Scrooge because my mom and I like that adaptation best, Disney's A Christmas Carol because most of the family likes that version better, The Santa Clause because it's the only Santa Claus movie I've seen that actually attempts to make it all make sense, The Polar Express, Elf because apparently everyone but me enjoys it, and probably something else I'm forgetting. When we're staying home for Christmas, we watch It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve and make homemade doughnuts.

We give each other presents on Christmas morning...well, half the time. Sometimes we visit relatives in Indiana for Christmas, so those years we have our own Christmas a few days early. It's somehow just not the same as doing it on actual Christmas morning, but oh well. Somebody, well, most of us get books every year because we love them so much, and if you're the same way, I've still got some sales going on. ;)

What fills in the rest of the time, well, that's where things get different. For several years, it was stress and busyness due to Nativity Ballet rehearsals (and the Christmas season has never felt the same to me since, even though it's been nine years since my last Nativity). Many times, it's been a trip to Disney. This year, we have a number of things going on.

Some of them have to do with the library. Like the Christmas parade my sisters and I were in last Friday. It was fun except for having a cold. And I'll be helping out with my library's Santa and Polar Express programs too. 

My sisters and I went to a Christmas dance last weekend, which was fun in spite of being sick. I got to dance a lot more than I'd expected, and really enjoyed the evening. We also have a church Christmas party to look forward to.

Not sure if we really have any other big plans--my family is 100% introverted, so we tend to be more of the quiet evening at home sort--but it'll be a good Christmas.

What Christmas traditions does your family have? Anything special you're looking forward to this Christmas?

And before I forget, please take a few moments to fill out my blog content survey. I'm trying to adjust my blog to my readers' needs...partially because I'm constantly drawing blanks on blog post topics. ;)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

♫Because It's Christmas♫

*knock, knock, knock*

♫Could that be Santa? Could that be him? Could it be the one who brings presents for a cucumber like me? A good cucumber like meeeeeee?♫

I must be waxing nostalgic for childhood or something. You do know what I'm talking/singing about, don't you? ;)

So. You're a book lover, or you've got book lovers in your life. I'm sure one or both of those is true, or else you wouldn't be reading this blog. And Christmas is coming up fast. It's a time for giving gifts, and if you're anything like me, you consider books to be the very best kind of gift. may have missed some Black Friday deals on books you wanted to give. Never fear! The book fairy is here! Okay, now I'm just being silly. I'll chalk it up to long days, stress in anticipation of busyness, and a cold. Just go with it.

In all seriousness, though, Christmas sales are not yet over. I'm still running deals on paperbacks through my own website. 20% off individual paperbacks, and if you buy the whole Time Captives set, you get 25% off! Kindle books are at an even better discount: 66% off. And yes, it is possible to gift someone an ebooks. Plus, I'm keeping them all on sale through New Year's, so when you've got Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket, you can still get discounts. Just visit the "My Books" page up there at the top.

Give someone the gift of a grand adventure this Christmas. Because as Emily Dickinson once said, "There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away."

And I just HAVE to finish with this:

"I'm from the IRS. And I've come to tax your--"

*door slam*