Monday, December 16, 2019

Sounds of Christmas

Music has always been an important part of my life. Whether it was Greg and Steve, Cedarmont Kids, Michael W. Smith, John Williams, or Vivaldi, music really means something to me. And there are particular songs that mean Christmas to me. So let's take a journey through Christmas music.

There are certain songs that are acceptable before Thanksgiving. Namely songs from the Nativity Ballet. As soon as festival season was over, we started rehearsing for the Nativity. These are the ones I danced to, and thus the ones I love the best. I still remember my parts in "No Eye Had Seen," "Christmastime," and "All is Well." I never did "Gloria," aside from it being used for curtain call, but it still means Nativity to me.

Closer to Christmas, we expand our selection. Some of the others are still Michael W. Smith.

And what really sounds like Christmas is Mannheim Steamroller. We would sometimes turn it on while decorating the Christmas tree, and it just sounds like Christmas to me.

So there you have some of the songs that sound like Christmas to me. What are your favorite Christmas albums?

Merry Christmas and I'll see you in 2020!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Top Ten (Twelve) Books of 2019

I'm just going to admit upfront that I can't pick just ten this year. Even with honorable mentions (which I still have). So I'm not going to try. Quick apology to Full Ride, Children of Jubilee, and most of all Redeeming Love for being read last December after I published my top ten list, because they deserve top ten recognition. Also quick apology to whatever I read between the writing of this post and December 31 for not having a chance at top ten status.

I probably should have reread the whole series before diving into this one, but I didn't have time for those big books during NaNo. So I didn't probably get full enjoyment out of it, but I still really very much enjoyed this book. It was both great and heartrending to see the Society struggling with what their lives will look like now that they've grown up and been given great opportunities for their futures, but I'm not going to say what they decide. Tai (new character) is super cute, Constance is as grumpy as ever, and I love Reynie, Sticky, and Kate so much. The plot was a little confusing, but enjoyable, and I probably would have understood it better if I'd reread the series. But I enjoyed it enough to expand my list to 12.

11. Return of the Temujai by John Flanagan

There was a new Brotherband book this year! Now, Brotherband isn't quite as good as Ranger's Apprentice, obviously, but I still enjoy the series because John Flanagan is awesome. This is definitely one of the better Brotherband books, and I kind of stayed up late the night before NaNo started finishing it. Because it got to a point where I just couldn't put it down. It got pretty intense. The Temujai are trying to attack Skandia and take over! It's up to the Herons to stop them. And the poor, poor Heron. It wasn't quite as sad as Tug, but it still made me so sad. Gotta love Thorn and Hal and Ingvar and Lydia. And of course Kloof.

10. The Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale

We're back in normal "top ten" territory with The Books of Bayern. The Goose Girl was a random read I picked up while visiting a new library because it's by Shannon Hale, and I love Princess Academy. I really enjoyed The Goose Girl, and I was pretty emotionally invested. Poor Falada. I mean, I knew it was going to happen because I read through the Grimm version before I read the book, but it was still horrific and heartrending. That said, it was more of just a "like" than a "love" until I read Enna Burning. I wasn't expecting to like it as much because Enna was the main character and not Ani/Isi, but I actually ended up liking it better. Since it was an original story and not a retelling, I felt like she had more freedom and thus it was a better book. I started River Secrets, but had to return it unfinished because Camp NaNo.  So then when I was working on my costume for Realm Makers, I discovered the library had River Secrets and Forest Born on eaudio with a full cast. So I listened to those and loved them so much. Even though each book has a different main character, something which will normally (and almost did) turn me off, they are all amazing, always involve characters that were a part of things from the beginning, and really build off of and tie in with each other. And the Full Cast Audio productions were amazing.

9. Duel at Araluen by John Flanagan

I admit, this one would rank a bit higher if Halt had been in it and if Will had been in more than just the ending, but it was still a really good book and I love seeing Maddie and her parents and their whole family dynamic. Plus plenty of Gilan and lots of danger and sneaking around and Horace being proud of his little girl but also afraid for her safety. And Cassandra having to defend her right to the throne, and Horace and Maddie letting her, but being absolutely ready to step in if need be. And I really do love these characters. I just need another Royal Ranger book, one where Maddie and Will and Halt and Horace go on a mission together because that dynamic would be amazing. Especially if Gilan popped in once in a while. :)

8. Remarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This is the book that finally pulled me out of a major book hangover. I can always count on Margaret Peterson Haddix to give me a great un-put-down-able story no matter how I'm feeling. This book was such a perfect blend of ordinary troubles of a middleschooler who had to move away from her best friend after they had a fight and adjusting to having a new baby brother, and the bizarreness of people who appear and disappear at the house next door. Marin, the MC, isn't the only person who can see them. Charley can too, but he isn't exactly the most friendly, normal kid. I don't really feel like I can say a whole lot more without major spoilers, but it's so raw and emotional and beautiful, and the ending was perfection. Plus, I also loved how normal and natural it was that one of the first things they did moving to a new state was look for a church.

7. The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Yup, another Haddix book. Have I mentioned she's one of my favorite authors? This one is the first book in a new series (not sure how many books it's supposed to be), and the new one doesn't come out until next April and just AAAHHHHH!!!! It was such a cliffhanger. Finn and Emma and Chess live with their mother and have a good, secure life, but then they see on the news that three children with their exact names and birthdays have disappeared. Then their mom starts acting strange, having to leave them with someone the children don't really know, and they can't get ahold of her and mystery and science fiction and danger and that cliffhanger! The next installment of Greystone Secrets can't get here fast enough.

6. Romanov by Nadine Brandes

See, this book (and Risked by Margaret Peterson Haddix) are the reasons why I just can't really get that into Anastasia. And yes, I'm aware that Nadine herself likes the movie, but when you've read two really good books about the Romanovs that don't completely destroy history, how can you properly enjoy something that didn't even try to preserve the real story? Romanov is historical fantasy, and it's a very interesting retelling of the story of the Romanovs. The fantasy elements are relatively light until about...three quarters of the way through? And at that point, things really get interesting. So many feels and I love Zash, and it's just so good.

5. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Okay, so this book gives me mixed feelings. On one hand, it's an amazing historical fantasy about the Gunpowder Plot and I love the stories and the characters so much, but on the other hand, I stayed up for hours reading it for comfort knowing that the next morning we were putting my dog down and I don't think I can ever separate it from that experience. That was February and I know Sophie was old and suffering, but I still miss my dog terribly. Fawkes, though, was a fabulous book. I love Thomas and Emma and I love the way she wove in so much true history with a fantasy twist, and that cover is absolutely gorgeous. Read my full review here.

4.  The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers

This is the book I read instead of working on Acktorek. Oops. When I start a Francine Rivers book, it's just too hard to stop. Dynah has a perfect life: she's attending a Christian college, is engaged to a man studying to be a pastor, is a proper good Christian girl...and then she gets raped and everything falls apart. Pressured to abort her child from all sides (even and especially Christian ones), Dynah struggles to know just what she is supposed to do. It's a heartrending, multi-generational story that is just so important and meaningful, and I've just got to say, Francine Rivers is a good writer. She does a very good job dealing with tough topics in an inspiring way. Highly recommended, though not for anyone younger than sixteen.

 3. Beyond the Tales by Tricia Mingerink

Dagger's Sleep played a part in my major book hangover a few months ago. It's a Sleeping Beauty retelling, but not really in the way you'd expect. The worldbuilding is rather Native American, but they have castles, so there's a bit of medieval mixed in too. And the prince is cursed to sleep for one hundred years after pricking his finger on his own dagger. I just love Daemyn and Rosanna (the cursebreaker) so much, and Tricia's a beary good writer. Then you've got Midnight's Curse, which is a Cinderella, but again, not in the way you'd think. The glass slippers could be a dream come true, or her worst nightmare. It picks right up shortly after Dagger's Sleep, continuing that story while seamlessly telling another. And there'd better be another book coming before long...and the next Acktar book, of course. ;)

2. No Man by J. Grace Pennington

My heart. First off, I was so extremely excited to finally get a new Firmament book this year! I wasn't expecting it and we got it, and I reread the series within a week, and binging Firmament like that is just...all the feels. It was a really good decision to binge it, since she draws in elements from previous books because, you know, they lived it and it's still affecting them. Plus, Gestern did very much leave us hanging. I love Andi so much. And the rest of my Firmament family. I wrote a full review of it wherein I fangirled like crazy, so I won't rehash all of that, but I can never love Firmament enough. And so far as I know, the next book should be the one where we see Elasson again, so squeeeeeeee!!!!!!!

1. Blood of Kings Trilogy by Jill Williamson

Meet the series that gave me the biggest book hangover I've ever had. Achan and Vrell and I love them so much and I never wanted to say goodbye and I need more of them and I totally want to name a daughter Averella now and these books are so beyond amazing and Jill is a fabulous person too and I love her and you need to go read these books right now. Seriously. Do it. Yes, up until the end of By Darkness Hid I still liked Replication better, but then everything changed and I just can't be coherent about it. Go read what I said earlier this year. Magical telepathy that follows the royal bloodline, princes and knights and squires and strays and adventure and danger and a darkness that's spreading over the land and deceit and hidden identities and just go read it already. And then come back and tell me that I was absolutely right and it was amazing and you're going to be recommending it to all your friends now.

Honorable mentions, because I have to: the original Box-Car Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner which can be found on, Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos, Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler, and, yes I'm going to include The Flash series by Barry Lyga as it's a fabulous tie-in to the CW show and I really enjoyed it.

What are your top reads of 2019?

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Horrors of Shopping for Clothes and Shoes

Walmart, oh, Walmart, where are the extra small sweatpants?

If ever you thought clothes shopping was a joyous occasion, you must either have deluded yourself, or not be of the size that all the clothing manufacturers have conspired to discriminate against. If you love skin-tight denim with pre-ripped holes, and your pants size is 8 or higher, rejoice, for the clothing manufacturers are your best friend. You have endless styles of jeans, skinny, straight, boot cut, ripped and not. You have numerous choices of sweatpants and active wear pants. All the color selections are available to you. No alterations necessary.

But alas, if you wear a size 4, prepare yourself for clothing discrimination.

At Ross and Beals, there is nothing that will fit you, since you're larger than a 14-year-old, but apparently not as large as a woman is supposed to be. And when you go to Walmart, you finally find styles of pants that are satisfactory, but you may have to clean out their stock of size 4 jeans in your style, and still have to alter the sweatpants because the "S, 4/6" is actually just a 6 and they don't carry XS. When you find the one section of active wear pants that carries an XS, your choice of color is narrowly limited because even here, where they have XS, the bulk of the stock still leans heavily towards average to large waist people, very obviously discriminating against small waist people.

In the end, you buy the only two size 4 straight cut jeans on the shelf and resolve that you have no choice but to alter the sweat pants so the 2" too big waist doesn't slip off. And wonder why on earth the clothing manufacturers hate small waist people so much. And you feel sorry for the next small waist person walking into Walmart to replace their worn out pants because you've narrowed the selection even further.

And then there's the discrimination against people with big feet. Why, oh, why is the 9 1/2 section so small? And if your foot happens to be larger than mine, your luck is just the same or worse.

Why is it that the five size 9 1/2s on the shelf at Ross are either hideous or acquired from extortioners exploiting the necessity of big-footed people? Why is it that I must constantly settle for a less than ideal shoe or continue to walk around in shoes with holes in the sole? More than once, we've searched store after store for a pair of shoes to replace my worn out pair, only to come home with a cute pair for my small-footed sister instead.

Do the shoe manufacturers think that big-footed people only care for hideous styles? Do they think we can't pull off a cute shoe the way a size 6 person can? Do they think we have endless funds to pay $60 for a pair of sneakers? Must we bring back foot binding so we can have all the choices of the small-footed people?

This is discrimination. Put on weight and bind your feet, or you will never find clothes and shoes.

P.S. While the experiences recounted in this post are 100% true to life, the claims of discrimination are satirical and intended to illustrate that anyone can find anything about which to claim discrimination. Lets just get over ourselves, stop focusing on the differences that divide us and focus instead on the things that unite us.

P.P.S If you've ever wondered why I wear so many skirts and only own a handful of shoes, read the above post.