Monday, June 29, 2020

Sign Up for a Carrie Mouse Review Copy!

I need volunteers to review/post about Carrie Mouse and the Piano Lesson when it releases on July 20! Fill out the form below, and I'll send you a copy as either a kindle book or PDF. I'm super excited about this book, and I hope you enjoy it too!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

The world is a mess, and we need Jesus.


I had a pretty safe, secure, sheltered childhood. I mean, yeah, I knew there was evil in the world. My family got involved in politics when I was eight, and abortion was one of the two political issues I understood at a young age. And I was reading stuff like A Wrinkle in Time with very obvious fights against evil powers in second grade. But even so, I don't think I quite realized as a kid how much of a mess the world really is.

All this violence, rage, fear, destruction, infighting and division, you name it. It's not okay. And there's a very simple reason why it exists: Sin.

I know I don't usually go back to the basics of salvation on here, I guess because the way I grew up, that's just fundamental, something I took for granted that everyone knows. But the older I get, the more I realize that not everyone knows it, and even those who have heard it don't necessarily understand. And it's a problem.

All these issues in the world, they're a symptom. Just like a fever or cough is a symptom of an illness and not the root cause of the illness itself, these things that are so terrible in the world are a symptom of sinful hearts.

Sin is the root issue from which all these issues come.

We are all born sinners. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. They sinned against God back in the Garden of Eden, eating the forbidden fruit. And because of that sin, we are all born sinners. We're not born good. 

"As it is written, There is none righteous no not one." —Romans 3:10

The very earth is cursed because of sin (Genesis 3:17-19). And this is why there's so much in the world that is terrible.

It's the sin in our hearts that causes all this. And in this sin, we have been separated from God. We are dead in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). We have no capability to do what is right, what is good. We don't have the capability on our own, with our sinful hearts, to be kind and generous and forgiving.

But that's not the end.

Yes, we are sinners, but we have a Savior.

"And He has said 'All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.'" —John 6:37

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." —Romans 5:8-12

Christ died that we might live. He took our sins upon Him, and paid the price that we deserve. And if we believe on Him, we will receive salvation.

"Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" —Romans 10:9-13

I know it sounds terribly cliché to say that the answer to all of this evil in the world is Jesus, but it's 100% true. Because salvation transforms us. God gives us a new heart and a new spirit, He removes our hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh. That's not to say we'll never do anything wrong ever again—sanctification is a process, not a magic wand—but God transforms us.

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." —Galatians 2:20

So the answer to violence is not more violence. The answer to hate is not more hate. The answer to fear is not more fear. The answer is salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Yes, we still need laws. We still need to protect and defend the innocent. We still have to fight for what's right against that which is evil. Because reality is that not everyone will be saved. Sin will still exist in this world.

But nothing will change unless we seek Jesus. Unless we share the Gospel. Unless God through His grace and mercy changes the hearts of men.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." —Matthew 6:33

Monday, June 15, 2020

Carrie Mouse and the Piano Lesson Cover Reveal

The cover for Carrie Mouse and the Piano Lesson is here!

I rarely say anything about Carrie on here for some reason—I need to fix that—but she's a special little mouse to me. I created her back when I was seven, this headstrong, determined little mouseling with much to learn, and I can hardly believe it's been nearly two years since she was first introduced to the world through my sister's amazing sculpting skills.

So, nearly two years after you got to read about her adventure being trapped in the giant garage, Carrie Mouse is back to take on her newest challenge: piano lessons!

Carrie Mouse and the Piano Lesson is inspired by my own experiences as a music teacher, and so, as someone who enjoys sharing my love of music, it's very special to me.

Carrie loves music, so she's excited to begin piano lessons! But piano takes a lot more work and patience than she expected. Will Carrie work hard to pursue her dream of playing "Oh! Susanna"? Or will piano prove to be too much for her?

And now, without further ado, I present the cover of Carrie Mouse and the Piano Lesson!

Coming July 20!

Monday, June 8, 2020

God Made You Special

I am a stubborn person. Always have been. When I was a kid, my mom would always tell me that being stubborn was a good thing...but only if I used it in the right way. She tried to explain what she meant, but for a long time, I just didn't get it. How could being stubborn ever be good if it was always getting me in trouble?

I'm not exactly sure how old I was when it clicked, but one day, I found I did understand what she meant. God made me stubborn. That's not a bad thing. Just so long as I use that stubbornness to follow God, and never waver from doing what's right, no matter what the pressures around me are. It's wrong to be stubborn to defy my parents (as I so often did), or to stubbornly refuse to admit I when was wrong (the main thing that caused all the issues when I was young).

Which brings me to part of what I was talking to a friend of mine about the other day. God gave us our personalities for a reason. He made us who we are. He didn't make a mistake when He gave me my stubborn streak, and He didn't make a mistake when He gave me a love of teaching. My personality traits can absolutely be used wrongly, as evidenced by the vast majority of the first nine years of my life, but that doesn't mean that those personality traits are wrong. As long as I use them to serve God instead of to defy Him.

The same is true of our gifts and desires. God made me a writer. He made me love music and stories. He made me to love history and to care about our American government. He made me with a desire to be an author, to be a teacher, to make a difference in America. And those desires in and of themselves aren't wrong. (Obviously desiring something inherently sinful as defined by God's word is wrong, but that isn't what I'm talking about here.)

If I write things that are contrary to God's law, then it's wrong. If I use music to dishonor Him, that's wrong. If I campaign for candidates who I know stand for things that are unbiblical, that's wrong.

But if I use those gifts, use those interests in a way that honors God and furthers His kingdom, then that's good.

And I think I've touched on this before, though I don't remember for sure or when that would have been, but not using those gifts and interests at all is also wrong. God didn't give us gifts and abilities and interests just so we could stuff them inside and not use them any more than He gave us these gifts and abilities and interests to use them against Him.

So to sum up, God made us all special and gave us the personalities and gifts and interests we have for a reason, so we shouldn't be ashamed of who God made us to be. We must just purpose to use the way God made us to serve Him in our own unique ways, not to sin against Him.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Can't Resist a Bad Boy?

My family and I like to talk (and joke) about what to do to get Mitchell (main guy of Acktorek) fangirls. Because obviously that's the goal, right? To get fangirls?

And what we've said many times is that he needs to murder somebody (he doesn't murder anybody), because girls have a thing for murderers. We laugh about it, but it's not something we've pulled out of thin air. Fangirls actually do seem to have a thing for...murderers. And I find that to be a rather disturbing trend.

I mean, there are certain circumstances where I do understand (like Leith Torren and Peeta Mellark), but those are very different situations, and I'll get to that in a bit. I'm going to start with the ones I really don't get.

Erik/The Phantom of the Opera


It really bothers me when I come across stuff on Pinterest saying the Phantom deserved better than Christine. I'm just like, what? Implying that the Phantom is this great guy and Christine was stupid for not choosing him. And really, there are people who love the Phantom. I guess because of his voice? (Glad to see there are a few voices of reason in this GR thread.)

People, he's a serial killer. Maybe Christine was naive and easily manipulated (okay, yes, she definitely was), but she was seeing Erik pretty darn clearly IMO in the final lair sequence when she sang "This haunted face holds no horror for me now/It's in your soul that the true distortion lies." There's nothing attractive about a manipulative serial killer, regardless of his face. And before you defend him with "The world showed no compassion to me!" yes, he was treated badly, but there's no reason for that to have turned him into a serial killer. Or for that to have convinced Christine to overlook unrepentant homicide and stay with him out of pity.



I'll give you that Loki is an interesting character, when he and Thor are acting like brothers it can be hilarious, and Tom Hiddleston seems to be a good guy. But...he killed 80 people in two days. That qualifies as mass murder in my book. I've seen fan theories that he was under the staff's control during The Avengers, but I don't remember enough about the theory to know if I think it sounds plausible. Regardless, even if he was under the staff's control, he never shows any repentance for it. Which other characters who killed while mind-controlled do. So not an excuse.

Seriously, mass murder is not attractive.

Kylo Ren


Why oh why do people find him attractive? I mean, I like that he gets himself angry for the role by thinking about traffic and taxes, but still. He throws tantrums, he's manipulative, and everything about his relationship with Rey is abusive (yes, he helps her in TROS after Leia pulls him back to the light, and I'm glad he turned back, but it did feel kind of abrupt). He kills people without a thought and doesn't really show any remorse for it. And girls were all into Kylo way before he was redeemed, so what? And what is romantic about Reylo? I really don't get it. He's an abuser.

Anakin Skywalker


I mean, I don't dislike Anakin, and I'll give you that he's even hotter than Owen and Beru Lars at the end of the fight on Mustafar, but...

Okay. I do like Anakin. He has a tragic story. I love that Luke was able to bring him back to the light. However. I'll never not say that Padmé was stupid to have married him. I mean, someone had to be Luke and Leia's mother, but still. She knew he was capable of mass murder. He straight up admitted it to her when he killed the Tusken Raiders after his mother's death. He wasn't remorseful. He knew it was wrong, he knew that especially as a Jedi he was better than that. But his sentiment was still that he hated them. And Padmé just sat next to him, put her arm around him, and told him that to be angry is to be human. Yes, but being a mass murderer isn't.

I know, he already was somewhat under Palpatine's influence, but the fact remains that he knew right from wrong, and still did wrong unrepentantly. And then when it came to the point, he chose to pledge himself to the evil Sith Lord who had been deceiving them all for over a decade because of a vague promise that he'd teach him to save his apparently healthy pregnant wife. Turning his back on all his friends, and once again committing mass murder. So while I can't say I totally don't understand girls liking Anakin, please don't be Padmé about it. Don't love him in a way that turns a blind eye to mass murder. Love him the way Luke did, the way that didn't excuse mass murder, but believed he could be redeemed from it. And still, give me Obi-Wan and Luke over Anakin any day.

Now to get to those who I'm more okay with, but it's still wise to use caution...

Bucky Barnes and Peeta Mellark

I'm doing them together because it's a very similar deal. They're both good guys who were experimented on by evil scientists and turned into a weapon. In their right minds, they'd never murder someone. In their right minds, they show great remorse for what they've done, even though they had no control over it. Bucky wanted to be cryogenically frozen until they could remove the Hydra conditioning. Peeta straight up wanted them to kill him after he saw what he was like when he went mutt, before he hurt or killed anyone else.

These are guys who need help. They didn't ask to be turned homicidal, and they don't want to stay that way. They don't want to hurt anyone. (And I wanna wrap them both in bubble wrap and keep Hydra and the Capitol away from them.) But they are dangerous. Or were. Both of them have hope. Bucky seems to have done well in Wakanda. Peeta will never be the same, but he can control his mutt tendencies, sort out real from not real, and was cleared to go home to Twelve. But while Haymitch's reprimand to Katniss about her treatment of hijacked Peeta was well deserved, it's also true that it would be very foolish for her to be around him at that time without safety measures. Just like it was dangerous for Bucky to be on the loose as long as the Hydra conditioning was still in his head, as we saw in Civil War.

Honestly, I don't really consider either of them (especially Peeta) to be "bad boys," but they are dangerous.

(I wish I had gifs for them, but they don't have movies. 😢)

Okay, so I said at the beginning that guys like Leith were a different case, and here's why: redemption.

To start off, neither Jace nor Leith were exactly mass murderers. Jace accidentally killed a bully slave who kept stealing food from weaker slaves one day when he just snapped. He immediately regretted it and believed he deserved to die for it. Then he was forced to be a gladiator, where eventually he started refusing to kill, even though he knew he'd likely eventually be killed by his master. Leith was trained to be an assassin from his youth, a life he didn't choose, where it was kill for Respen or be killed by Respen. And with Brandi to show him the way, he rejected that life, and became a double agent to end Respen's reign of terror. They both have killed, they're both still capable of it (and good thing too, since they're at war), but they both regret it. And they're both cinnamon rolls when it comes down to it.

They're a product of circumstances, similar to Bucky and Peeta. Something to approach with caution because of what they have done (and Kyrin and Renna both do), but there are no limits to God's grace and forgiveness. And their stories honestly are about what they do once redeemed, about making things right...not all about the things they did before.

So yeah, I don't get why murder is attractive. Mitchell doesn't murder anyone. He's made mistakes that resulted in death and they haunt him, but he's never going to be a murderer.

Even murderers and assassins can be redeemed, and they should be judged on who they are now, not who they were before they found Jesus. But guys like the Phantom? Just no. Murder isn't attractive and it never should be.

And I'm never going to forgive Suzanne Collins for what she did to Peeta. 😉

Monday, May 25, 2020

Perspective: A Guest Post

My mom has been doing a lot of genealogical research lately, and one ancestor in particular, Nancy Regina Davis Pool, has really stood out to us. She had a tragic life, but she handled it with grace (and I very much want to write a novel about her someday). My mom's been talking about how learning about Regina's life (that branch of the family all went by their middle names) really gives a new perspective on these times we're living in. So I told her she could write a guest post for my blog. Here it is!

by Melissa Huneke

During this crazy and unsettling time dealing with the coronavirus and all of its associated fear, I have spent a lot of time looking into family history. It all started before the lockdowns, because I wanted to gather whatever information I needed to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, but because it is fascinating to find out where you came from, it became a much needed diversion from the news of the day. 

I know you shouldn’t choose favorites among your relatives, but the more I dug into my family, especially the connections leading to the DAR, the more I have been drawn to the story of my third great grandma, Nancy Regina Davis Pool. I’ve known about Nancy Regina (known as Regina) most of my life, because the family Bible from her life with her first husband, George Washington Pool, passed down through the eldest or only sons and has been at my grandparents’ house my whole life. It was pulled out every so often and we were shown various clippings, letters and documents that Nancy Regina saved. 

I had lost my copies of scans of the Bible documents due to a hard drive failure over 15 years ago, but during this time of family research, my uncle sent me the documents again. The more I read of what Regina saved, the more I like her, and the more my perspective on our current circumstances changes. 

Nancy Regina was born in 1854, the eldest child of John W. Davis and Mary E. (Baughn) Davis. Her grandparents (James and Mary Ann Davis) were founding members of the Brush Creek Baptist Church in Jennings County, Indiana, and donated the land where the church was built. Her father was apparently the last deacon of the church (according to a newspaper clipping.) 

Regina married George Washington Pool in 1873. Her first child, William Henry, was born in 1874. Her second son, John Harvey (my 2nd great grandpa) was born in 1876, followed by her only daughter, Elizabeth Pearl, in 1878. In November of 1879, George W. died of “fever malarias.” She was pregnant with her fourth child, George Everett, born in February of 1880. 

Widowed at 25, with four children, in 1880, could not have been an easy life. She didn’t remarry until 1901, at age 47, so she raised her kids alone, presumably with the help of her parents and her church. As if being a widow with four children wasn’t enough to bear, more sorrow and tragedy came into her life. In 1888, little 9 year old Pearl Pool caught fire when home alone from an accident while building a fire in the stove. She lived about a week after the accident. Then her oldest son died in 1893, at age 18, of unknown causes, after being unconscious one morning for several hours. 

Newspaper clippings and letters Regina saved tell us a lot about how she approached her sad and tragic life. A sympathy letter she saved after the death of her daughter urges her not to blame herself for the tragedy, and states this: “You may wonder why this great grief should come upon you when your(?) going on quietly, doing the best you could for yourself and your children, as harming no one. Remember, my dear friend, God’s ways are so far above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts, that we can not understand much of what he permits, to come upon us, as also the many things he designs for us…your little Pearl is safe come what may. Satan hath no power to reach her where she is, or in any way mar her happiness. I dare say you would not now, if you could bring her back from her world of joy, even though you know she would make just the kind of a woman you would wish. You would not want her to taste as many of life’s trials as have touched your own lips(or life)….I know your own Christian experience is such that you are willing to accept God’s dealings even if you cannot understand them…” 

Articles saved from after the death of her oldest son show that she raised her kids in a Christian home. This is an excerpt from Willie’s obituary: “Wm. H. Pool, of Butlerville, Ind., a young man of promise and an earnest follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, passed suddenly from his labors here to his reward on high May 25, 1893, in the nineteenth year of his age. When but a boy, Willie was bereft of his father, but being the oldest of the family, he applied his youthful mind with almost the energy and skill of riper years, to make home and his widowed mother and his little brothers just as pleasant and as comfortable as possible. He was the staff to the household and more, he was a devoted Christian, having given his heart to Jesus at the early age of 13 and since honored his profession by his godly walk in the world. His people are grieved sorely as well as his many friends, over whom he exerted so noble an influence, but they sorrow not as they have no hope, for in that sweet by-and-by we expect to meet him again.” Another news article reporting his death states this: “His death occurred just at eight o’clock last Friday morning after an illness of but three hours, during which time he was never conscious. Willie was a model young man but 18 years of age and a prominent and consistent member of the Baptist church here and as we believe died triumphant.” 

By this time, only two sons survived, John Harvey and George Everett. Newspaper clippings Regina saved indicate that George Everett moved to Illinois and was involved in evangelism as part of the Volunteers of America, which was similar to the Salvation Army. When Everett came home to visit, the newspaper reported this: “They held a nice service on our streets Sunday evening, there being no services at the local churches. The use of the church building was offered them, but they preferred the outdoor auditorium and had a good hearing.” The newspaper also reported on another gathering when Everett was in town: “Everett Pool and wife and Harvey Pool and wife, assisted by local talent, held a gospel street meeting at the Brogan-Perkins corner Saturday evening.” (Note—notice nearly everyone in this family goes by their middle names. My grandpa and great grandpa also went by their middle names. I guess it’s a thing in our family.) 

Nancy Regina passed away in 1927. Her son, John Harvey (my great great grandpa), passed away in 1936. His obituary states the following: “He was one of the faithful workers in the Rodney church and all its activities, having been a teacher for several years. The weather was never too bad or the nights too dark for him to go with his family to his church services. He was a kind and helpful neighbor, a devoted father to his children and a true and faithful companion.” 

What, you may ask, does this have to do with our present circumstances? Not a lot, really, until you look at the bigger picture and compare Nancy Regina’s life and circumstances to how we live today. She lost her husband, daughter, and son, all in unpredictable ways. She could have retreated into bitterness and fear, but by all evidence we have before us, she lived every day of her life in the knowledge that God is the one who gives us as many days as He has ordained, and it isn’t something she needed to fret about. All she could do is live a faithful life and pass along her faith to her children. It is obvious she did so, from what evidence she left in what she chose to save in the family Bible. 

I look at her very tragic life and the way she kept going and I wonder why I should be afraid of this virus or any other illness. We have more advanced medical treatments at our disposal, but still, even with all that, God has ordained my days, and I have to make the most of the days he has given me. I have a much easier life today than Nancy Regina did, and have not experienced anywhere near the traumas and trials she experienced. I truly believe when Regina died, God said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And so, she has become one of my favorite ancestors (although my dear grandma will always be at the top of the list...I look up to them both for similar reasons.) May we all look to examples like Nancy Regina and put our lives into an eternal perspective.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

I Wrote a Fanfic!

Just popping in for a moment to share that I posted a fanfic for the first time over the weekend! It's not the Star Wars sequel trilogy fix-it I mentioned before—that one's still slowly getting planned between working on Acktorek, Carrie Mouse, etc.—but it's still Star Wars, inspired by Secrets of the Jedi by Jude Watson, which has been my favorite Star Wars book since I was about fourteen.

It's about Obi-Wan Kenobi's relationship (or rather, non-relationship) with fellow Jedi Siri Tachi, but from Siri's perspective as she reflects on it through the years. It's heartbreaking, but that's their story. Jedi love is always doomed, I guess. Anyway, I enjoyed writing it, so I hope you'll enjoy reading it!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Misfortune Review

Kendra E. Ardnek has a new story out and it's a Rapunzel retelling!

Tagline: Is the safety of a country worth the sacrifice of one girl - even if she is the daughter of blood and misfortune?

Book Description: 
A Twist of Adventure #4 

The day she was born, her kingdom fell, and so she was branded the daughter of blood and misfortune and locked away. Now a dragon plagues the land and her curse may be the only thing that stops it. 

But is she really cursed? 

Explore the rest of the series! Amazon || Goodreads


This was a very interesting take on Rapunzel. It's set sort of during the book of Daniel, there's a definite reference to Babel, and there's not really a whole lot in the way of magic. So it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but that's not a bad thing.

The way it's written, it really feels like a proper fairy tale. A baby girl was born the day the kingdom was attacked and her father and brothers killed. Her mother called her "the daughter of blood and misfortune" and didn't even give her a real name. Later, Prince Delshad is given a terrible task to execute, and he's not sure he can do it. And he's pretty sure it's not the right thing to do.

This story is pretty short, but it doesn't really feel like anything's missing, and I did feel like I got to know the characters as much as the length allows. Delshad is a good guy and I really feel for the girl. Poor thing. And the way the Rapunzel elements are woven in felt neat and unique to me. All in all, an enjoyable read.

About the Author:
Kendra E. Ardnek is the self-proclaimed Arista of Fairy Tales. She lives in the Piney Woods of East Texas with her dragon babies and massive herd of mini-giraffes, and she is still waiting for one of her fifty nutcrackers to come to life and marry her. When not writing, you can usually find her sitting in a random box, and she’s frequently known to act before she thinks. 
Find her online at:  Website || Blog || Goodreads || Facebook || Twitter || YouTube || Newsletter || Instagram || Amazon

Check out the rest of today's blog tour stops!

May 18
Kirsten Fichter – Seth Stendahl and his Alchemy 
Reality Reflected – Delshad 
Fairy Dust on My Pen – Diamond 
C.O. Bonham – Diamond 

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Underland Chronicles Review

Y'all probably already know that The Hunger Games is one of my favorite series. (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes comes out next week—NEXT WEEK!!!—and I'm so excited.) So for awhile, my sister had been onto me to read Suzanne Collins's other series, The Underland Chronicles. Finally, after I finished Darth Plagueis, I decided to make that my next audiobook. And then I only got one disc into book 2 before I stopped having places to drive. Luckily, one of my library apps had eaudio, and I had sewing to do. So once I started working on sewing (and Carrie Mouse photoshopping) I pretty much listened to the rest of the series as fast as I could. And now it's over and I'm so sad there's no more.

In case you're unfamiliar with the premise, basically it's this: 11-year-old Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots fall down a shaft in the laundry room of their New York City apartment building and end up in the Underland, where Gregor is declared the Warrior of Bartholemew of Sandwich's prophecies and he is sent on a dangerous quest that may lead to finding his father who disappeared shortly before Boots was born. And then there's more prophecies, and more dangerous quests, and war, and lots of gory deaths, but hey, this is Suzanne Collins, so you have to expect a high body count.

To be honest, I wasn't sure about the worldbuilding at first. (Neither was Gregor, if you think about it.) I mean, the first creatures you meet in the Underland are giant talking cockroaches, and then you find out that there are giant bats, rats, mice, spiders, lizards, fireflies, moles, and I feel like I'm forgetting some, but anyway. And even beyond that there are lots of things that could kill you. The people even look strange—after all, they've been living underground for hundreds of years, so their skin is so pale and translucent you can see their veins, their hair is extremely light, and they usually have violet eyes. Gregor's not really comfortable with it all, in the beginning. But by the end, I loved the Underland just as much as Gregor did, and it's a place that feels like home.

Suzanne Collins really did a good job with the worldbuilding. The cultures are very well developed, very distinct from the Overland. The different species of Underlanders have distinct patterns of speech, and it all just feels very real. You might not think giant talking creatures living underneath NYC, humans and bats that swear lifelong bonds to each other (basically best friends who will defend each other to the death, and the humans ride the bats), and all of everything would feel real, but it just works

Regalia is pretty cool. It's a city that's a huge stone fortress with a palace and...okay, not all the history behind it is great, but the particulars are spoilers. They have a museum of things that fell from the Overland, and, well, Regalia is where Luxa and Vikus live.

There's also a super dangerous jungle, and the waterway (with an island full of death mites *shudders*), a volcano, a labyrinth...honestly, most places in the Underland have dangers of some kind, and there are lots of hostile rats. Except Ripred. Well, that's debatable.

I love these characters so much. Gregor is a good kid. He's had a hard time since his dad disappeared, but he's very responsible for his age, he's very devoted to his family, and he wants to do what's right. But he's still a kid and he's still human, so sometimes he does still make stupid mistakes and selfish decisions. Yet his heart is in the right place, and he comes to love the Underlanders—especially Luxa. He always tries to apologize when he's in the wrong, and I love that about him.

Boots is a fun kid. She's not afraid of anything. She makes friends with the cockroaches, or crawlers, right away. She love riding bats. She loves singing songs, and teaching songs to Temp, her crawler friend. But she's also a realistically written toddler. And I love that. It seems rare that authors get little kids right. Either they're written to be way more mature than they should be, or way more babyish. Boots hit it just right, and you can see her grow up throughout the series. (Well, sort of grow up, since she's only three at the end, but she's talking better and she's potty trained by the end, so she does go through some developmental milestones.)

I'll mention Lizzie, Gregor's middle sister, even though she isn't much of a factor until the last book. She's nervous and has panic attacks, but she's brilliant, and Gregor is both incredibly proud of her and very protective of her. And she has a very important role to play. Besides being the one person Ripred actually is affectionate towards.

Luxa. She's an interesting character for sure. She's roughly Gregor's age, but since her parents are dead, she's the queen of Regalia (though she won't technically be crowned until she's 16). She has non-royal grandparents looking after her...Vikus and Solovet. Though I'm not sure Solovet (grandmother) does much to look after her. Vikus is awesome. I don't like Solovet. She's in charge of the soldiers, and reminds me a lot of President Coin. Anyway. Luxa's very stubborn and determined, a good fighter, a survivor,'s hard for me to sum her up. But I really like her.

Ripred is the sober rat version of Haymitch. 😆 Kinda crusty and cynical, a fighter (a rager, actually), an interesting type of mentor character, doesn't show a soft side if he can help it, but he has a good heart. Basically Haymitch, but he's a rat and he doesn't drink. He's good for Gregor. He pushes him to be a better warrior, and a better person, teaches him echolocation and how to handle being a rager (I'm...not quite sure how to explain ragers, but they're fighters who...fight good and if they don't know how to control it they...kill without realizing it?), and...he can manipulate to get things to go the way he wants, but he's a good soul when it really comes down to it. And I think I agree with him about the prophecies, but he doesn't tell Gregor about that until close to the end of the last book, so I won't tell you the particulars.

I want to talk about Ares, the bat, but I feel like it'll be spoilery in multiple ways, so I'll just say that I love Ares. Despite some rocky moments in his friendship with Gregor.

I don't know how much I should say about the plots. Because spoilers. But I like them. Obviously. In one, Gregor has to kill a giant white rat called the Bane who supposedly will destroy the humans. In another, Gregor's searching for a cure to a plague that's threatening the lives of those he cares about. In another, they're in all out war against the rats. And I probably shouldn't say more or I'll give spoilers.

One thing I really love about the series is that Gregor's whole family ends up knowing about the Underland and, while his mom isn't really all that thrilled about the whole thing, his dad truly understands why it's important to Gregor to help his friends in Regalia. 

My only real problem with the series is that the ending kind of...well, it doesn't have an epilogue and I wish it did. I mean, we got an epilogue in Mockingjay. Why couldn't we get an epilogue in Gregor that at least tells us if he ever saw Luxa again? But I have headcanons, and there's fanfiction, so at least I have that.

In short, if you're not afraid of gore and high body counts, read The Underland Chronicles now. They're deep stories, which I love, the characters are great, and while none of it hurts quite as much as Finnick, it's still a really moving series with lots of action, lots of things that make you think, and lots of heart. Suzanne Collins is a good writer. Oh, and the audiobook narrator was good too.

"Fly you high, Gregor the Overlander!"
"Run like the river, Ripred!"

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Book Was Better

First off, MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU!!!!! And make sure you watch something Star Wars today to celebrate. 😉 Now, on to my actual post.

Anyone who knows me knows I constantly (annoyingly, I know) say "the book was better." Talking about 101 Dalmatians? The book was better. Oh, you liked the old Johnny Tremain movie? I was unbelievably disappointed with that one. The book was SOOOO much better. Even with adaptations I really like, The Hunger Games, for instance, I'm always going, "well, in the book they (insert whatever was different)." So I'm going to give you my top three reasons why (generally speaking) the book was better, and three ways to get an adaptation right.

First, why the book is better.

1. It's the original format

Unless it's a novelization, but that's a different story. And don't get me started on novelizations of movies based on books. *glares at novelization of The Tale of Despereaux*

Basically, the book is how it existed first. That's the ultimate authority on how the story goes, what the characters look like, what their personalities are, what the worldbuilding or historical setting is like...I could go on and on. The original format is the ultimate authority on the story. So don't make Annabeth Chase a brunette and what's even up with Gentle Ben (2002)?

2. Books can be longer

I'm not talking overly bloated with unnecessary fluff. I'm talking about how movies are limited in their screentime because most directors aren't Peter Jackson, and so sometimes there just isn't enough time to tell the whole story in a movie. And so sometimes (often) they cut entire storylines out of the film adaptation. *glares at Johnny Tremain* There's also less time for character development, which leads into my next point:

3. Books allow you to get a look inside the characters' heads

You just really can't do that in a visual medium like you can in a book. Sometimes there's voiceover from the MC narrating their thoughts, but it's not done that often, and honestly, I feel like it's really hard to do without being cheesy. It just doesn't work for most stories. Now in a book, you can really be in the character's head. Like in The Hunger Games trilogy. We really see Katniss's internal turmoil, understand what she's going through, know what she's thinking about the books. In the movies, you just sort of get snapshots. Not saying I wish they'd done V.O., or that I don't like the movies—actually, I love them *goes to cry over Finnick*—but you're really missing something if you haven't read the books.

What can you do to get an adaptation right? There are things. Some of my favorite movies are based on books, after all.

1. Respect/understand the source material

LOTR was made by book fans, for book fans. And it's enduring because of that. (Peter Jackson went overboard when he made The Hobbit, but let's not talk about that.) He truly loves the material, and he gets what it's about. Yes, he changed some things and infamously left out Tom Bombadil, but even so, LOTR is filmmaking at it's best. Similarly, while The Giver made some significant changes to the source material, it's abundantly clear the filmmakers understood what the book is about at its core. 

Contrast that with A Wrinkle in Time (2018). Not only did they cast a girl who was too sweet to make Meg's attitude believable, they clearly had no understanding of the book. I mean, how do you go from Meg saving her brother by loving him to Meg saving her brother by demanding "I deserve to be loved"? And the clear "like and equal are not the same thing," anti-communism, it's good to be different message translated to something that boils down to...we all look different, but on the inside we're all just middle class people with first world problems? And don't get me started on how they treated the storyline itself.

2. Involve the author, when possible

Yes, I realize some authors are a disaster to work with on an adaptation (like P.L. Travers). But there's a reason Old Yeller and The Hunger Games trilogy have good adaptations. The authors helped write the screenplays. So glad Francine Rivers adapted the screenplay for Redeeming Love, which is coming next year.

3. If you have to change everything to adapt it to the screen, just don't

Seriously. If a book as it is is "unfilmable," why are you even trying? Some books just don't translate well to the screen and that's okay. Come up with an original idea. I'd far rather go see a completely original movie than endure my favorite book's utter ruin. There's nothing like being excited for an adaptation and leaving the theater or turning off the TV disappointed. Don't do that to me. (Reasons why I've only seen maybe five minutes of Percy Jackson.) So if a book was popular, but unfilmable, just let it be a popular book.

When I was a kid, I wanted to start a movie company that made movies that were actually like the book. That childhood dream will probably never be realized, but it's still fun to think about.

What's your top "the book was better" moment?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Ranking Pixar Movies

So I decided to rank the Pixar movies because I've seen them all now, and why not? My sisters and I were talking about our favorites on Saturday, and it seemed like a good subject for a blog post. After all, I've done Disney rankings before. This list isn't hard and's so hard to rank them, and there are some, like A Bug's Life, that I haven't seen in FOREVER, so there's that. And there are honestly very few Pixar movies I would say I dislike. So without further ado, all the currently available Pixar movies ranked from least favorite to most favorite.

22. The Good Dinosaur

Honestly, I just watched this one so that I could say I've seen all the Pixar movies. My sister pointed out that it does have a good message about overcoming fear, but the problem is, nothing about it was very well done. I don't like the worldbuilding, and just about everything about it was mediocre at best, and I expect more from Pixar.

21. WALL-E

I know a lot of people really like this one, but I just can't get past the premise that humans completely trashed the earth and are now floating around fat and ultra-lazy in space while the robot cleans up the earth so it'll someday be habitable again. Yes, I believe that we have a God-given duty to be good stewards of the earth, as well as of everything else He gives us, but IMO, WALL-E takes the environmentalism too far. But the concept of robots falling in love is cute.

20. Cars 2

This one suffers from some of the same issues as Pirates 4: they took a popular secondary character and made him a protagonist, which pulled him out of the role where he actually shone. Sure, spy stuff is fun, and I'm a huge fan of Mater, but it just didn't work very well. 

19. Finding Dory

This one wasn't a bad movie and I did enjoy it, but I grew up on Finding Nemo, so it can't quite match the nostalgia. But it was nice to revisit old friends and see what's happened since the original, even if my sister does complain that tropical fish could not have survived that long where Dory's parents did, and a friend says that an octopus (or septopus) driving is just too far. P.S. Am I the only one who always shipped Marlin and Dory and is that weird?

18. Toy Story 3

I'm not as into the Toy Story movies as most people my generation, I guess because the first one came out before I was born, so until we picked up the VHS at a yard sale when I was thirteen, we didn't have a copy. And it wasn't one we watched at Grandma's like we did Nemo either. I love the concept of the movies, though, and I thought this one was interesting. Lotso kinda stresses me out a little, and I find the portrayal of daycare quite interesting. It's a decent installment in the series, even though it is super sad for Andy to say goodbye to his toys. Every time I watch a Toy Story movie, though, I feel sorry for my old toys sitting in my closet.

17. Toy Story 2

There are Star Wars references. Need I say more? I like the introduction of Jessie and the fact that Woody actually had a TV show, even if it wasn't a popular one. And "Buzz, I am your father." 😆 It's been years since I've seen this one, though, so that's about all I have to say about it.

16. Coco

"The parents weren't dead in Coco."
"Everyone was dead in Coco." —Frozen Sing-Along Celebration at Disney's Hollywood Studios

I was not expecting to like this movie. I thought it looked weird and skeletons aren't really my thing, but it turned out to be cute and heartwarming and a good story about family. It's really sad how things were misunderstood for generations, and, well, I can't get more specific without spoilers, but while it's not my favorite Pixar movie, obviously, I thought it was pretty good. 

15. Cars 3

This one returned more to what made the first movie great. Same sort of messages, and a good story about passing the torch to the next generation. It's interesting seeing Lightning McQueen becoming the mentor character, and the introduction of the virtual training makes for a fun, cute attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

14. Toy Story

Toy Story is a classic. It's the first Pixar movie, and it was groundbreaking in animation, even if the people are a bit freakish. Hey, they're not as freakish as the baby in Tin Toy. Without Toy Story, Pixar wouldn't be what it is, and we wouldn't have Toy Story Mania at Disney World! (Still one of my top favorite rides ever.) I'm not sure what to say about it...everyone knows Toy Story. "We toys see everything. So play nice."

13. Toy Story 4

Don't hate me that I actually like this best of the Toy Story movies. There's more adventure, the animation is better, and yes, it's super sad that they're not with Andy, but you know, Woody and Bo Peep have a mission now. Woody finally moves beyond the whole "I'm the favorite toy, I'm in charge" thing and is devoting his "life" to uniting toys with children. And he and Bo Peep are together. The ventriloquist dummies are super creepy, and there are some parts where I audibly reacted because Woody's voicebox! but anyway. I liked it.

12. A Bug's Life

It's been I don't even know how long since I've seen this, but I remember liking it quite a bit. Not so with It's Tough To Be a Bug at Disney's Animal Kingdom, though. Who thought it was a good idea to simulate bugs running along the bench underneath everybody??????? Seriously, so many screams at that part of the show. And I get up before that part even though they say to stay sitting because once was more than enough. The movie is good though, and I need to watch it again.

11. Cars

Lightning McQueen and Mater and Doc Hudson and Sally, and Route 66 😊 It reminds me of how my sisters and I used to play with our dad's old matchbox cars. Because we absolutely personified them. Only we didn't race them, they just got stuck in massive traffic jams. It's a fun, cute story, Lightning has much to learn about being considerate, and just Mater. "I'm happier than a tornady in a trailer park!"

10. Onward

Okay, so this one is kind of a tear jerker. Not that that isn't common in Pixar... The worldbuilding is fun for the most part, an interesting blend of classic fantasy elements with modern life. It's a sweet story about brothers, and it's pretty funny too. But that ending. You'll cry. Plus Tom Holland and Chris Pratt voicing elf brothers. How can that not be fun?

9. Incredibles 2

Enter the world's most relatable family. "Math is math. How could they change math?"

I just realized this is the only Pixar movie I've seen in theaters. Wow. How is that possible? Anyway, while it is maybe a little disappointing that they took down the underminers so quickly after we waited fourteen years to find out how that turned out, I like the story they did tell. Screenslaver and betrayal and evil schemes and just classic family dynamics. Yes, they do the Mr. Mom thing, but in the more classic way where Dad ends up being like "How does she do all this?" And yeah, Helen's good at being a superhero, but remember, she was a superhero before they got married, so it's just going back to the roots of who they were when she and Bob met. And they are a family of supers, after all. I feel like it's all the things that are great about the first movie. And it's not really made for the kids. It's for those of us who were kids when the first one came out.

8. Monsters University

I was kind of skeptical about this movie because I love the original so much, but I was quite pleasantly surprised. No, it doesn't top the original, but it's certainly a worthy prequel. (It does seem to contradict the line about fourth grade, but oh well. And the director says they joke that it's a monster expression, so that works.) It's a really good story. Mike's dream is to be a scarer and work at Monsters Inc., and we all know that he isn't a scarer but that he does work there. And then when Mike and Sulley get kicked out of Monsters U, it's kind of like, "well, now what? How do they get there now?" but that's something else I love about this movie. It shows that the popular, accepted path isn't always the only way. You can still work hard and achieve your dreams. And even if you don't exactly achieve your dreams—Mike will never be scary—what you can do is even more valuable and important. And that's why I love Monsters U.

7. Up

I do love this movie. The beginning is super sad and then ending is super stressful, but I feel like this movie is a special one anyway. I love the relationship that grows between Mr. Fredricksen and Russell, and I love Dug and "Kevin's a girl?" I just want to quote every Up line I can think of now, but I need to finish my list. It's sweet overall, though the end. I mean, Carl's been idolizing Muntz since he was a child and now he wants to kill him? So much stress. But it teaches us that our heroes are still just human. And I really do love this movie in spite of the ending. And the beginning. Plus it's fun how they revamped the bird show at Animal Kingdom to include Russell and Dug.

6. The Incredibles

My first super hero movie. 😊 I just love these characters and their family dynamic and just how real they are. I mean, yes, they have super powers and all, but they're so real otherwise. And I'm really struggling to know what to say about this because it is that special. Other than that I want to go watch it again. Or maybe have a Pixar marathon...except that we aren't done with Marvel yet. Anyway. I love The Incredibles. It's a great movie. "No capes!"

5. Brave

I did overwatch this a bit a few years ago when it was constantly on TV, but it's a good one. I love that it focuses on a mother/daughter relationship, and especially the way it plays out. Because Queen Elinor wants Merida to be someone she's not, and that's not okay, but Merida's attitude towards her mother isn't okay either. And when the spell doesn't turn out the way Merida expects, I really love that the cure isn't some actual magical thing, but that they need to mend their relationship. They both need to admit where they're wrong and mend their ways. Because parents aren't any more perfect than kids are, and both need to admit where they're wrong. After all, what better way to teach your kids to admit to their mistakes and repent than to model that behavior yourself? It is a little scary, though. I mean, her mom does turn into a bear.

4. Ratatouille

"Ratatouille sounds like 'rat' and 'patootie.' Rat patootie...which does not sound delicious."

My sister probably isn't happy that this isn't number one for me, but most of these movies are honestly really close to each other and difficult to rank. Very much grew up on this one. And I'm once more getting that urge to quote every line I can think of. Remy is a rat who loves to cook. And Linguini, he can't cook. But he does know how to appear human. I'm not exactly sure why I like this movie so much. I think a lot of it is nostalgia. It's funny too, and just great Pixar. "Anyone can cook!"

3. Finding Nemo

As a kid, my sisters and I would always watch this movie with our grandma. It was special. I love this movie so much. Though I hate the beginning. I've legit not come into the room until that part's over. Just...every bit of this movie. It's so nostalgic and special. I love how it's all about how when you disobey your parents, bad things happen, but no matter what, your parents love you and will always fight for you. Marlin's such a helicopter parent, and it backfires, but he loves Nemo so much and he'll cross the entire ocean, take on sharks, face jellyfish, even hop into a pelican's mouth to get to his son. Nemo quotes and references are a part of everyday vocabulary...I mean, I always want to start my book release posts with one particular quote. It's such a good movie. Also, never go to the dentist in Australia. "Root canal, and from the look of those x-rays, it's not going to be pretty."

2. Inside Out

When the trailers for Inside Out came out, I thought it looked odd. Then my sisters and I watched it when we showed it at the library and I cried and it immediately became one of my top favorite Pixar movies. I love it so much. Riley's having such a hard time adjusting to moving anyway, and then Joy goes and makes things worse...accidentally, of course, but still. It's a very high concept movie, and I love the way they portray the way the brain works. It's so creative, and actually makes a lot of sense (even though it obviously doesn't really work that way), and it's so moving. I laughed, I cried, it moved me, Bob. I loved getting to meet Joy at Disney World last trip. And I will never get over Bing Bong. 😢😢😢

1. Monsters Inc.

Okay, just gonna admit upfront that Randall kinda creeps me out. He's scary. But I love Mike and Sulley to pieces. And Boo, of course. My cousin looked just like Boo when she was little, but she's eleven now. It's again a very creative concept and I love it. I love everything about this movie...except maybe Randall. Yeah, there's Roz, but Roz is fun to make fun of. "We call it 'the face that launched a thousand lunches.'" Though that's from the Laugh Floor. Which we wouldn't have without this movie. It's got action and humor and danger and cuteness and I need to watch it again. I just love the moment where Sulley puts the last piece into Boo's door and he opens it and "Kitty!" Melts my heart. P.S. My sister saw a picture on Pinterest where someone made their kid's door look like the doors from Monsters Inc. and I SOOOO want to do that if I ever have kids.

So that's my not-exactly-definitive-because-Pixar-is-so-good Pixar ranking. What's your favorite Pixar movie?