Monday, March 30, 2020

Series To Binge

If you're not trying to finish writing your book, like I am, you probably have more time for reading and watching TV right now. So I thought I'd share some book and TV series I like that are available on various digital platforms. Most are subscription based, like Disney+ and Audible, but if you live in GA, you should have access through your library to eRead Kids (I LOVE this resource), and you can always check your library's standard eLibrary collection (most likely Libby/Overdrive or RB Digital). 

Note: I don't actually have Audible or Kindle Unlimited, but they've got a lot of great stuff. Also, Prime Reading no longer limits you to one book a month, but allows you to borrow 10 books at a time, which makes me super excited. Additionally, if I wouldn't recommend a series for children, I'll rate it Teen+.

Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan
Available on eRead Kids and Audible
You knew I was going to say it. This is a fantabulous series that I've raved about enough times you should have read it already. ;)  Will wants to go to battle school, but instead is trained as a Ranger. And lots of awesome adventures ensue.

Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight
Available on Kindle Unlimited, Book 1 Available on Audible
Again, you should know I'd recommend these. Non-magical fantasy where people are persecuted for believing in the one true God, gladiators and dragons and awesomeness and Jace and Kyrin. <3

The Blades of Acktar by Tricia Mingerink
Available on Kindle Unlimited, Books 1-3.5 Available on Audible
Leith is a trained assassin for King Respen, and he'd never questioned his loyalty...until he meets Renna and Brandi, whose family he helped destroy. Forbidden faith and questions of loyalty and LOTS of injuries, and Leith is awesome and I can't wait for the next book to come out!

The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
Available on eRead Kids and Audible
I'm only on book 2, but my sisters really liked the whole series. Gregor and his two-year-old sister Boots fall down a hole in the laundry room and find themselves in the Underland, where there are enormous cockroaches, talking bats, and rats who are at war with the people of Regalia. And a prophecy that might mean Gregor can rescue his missing dad, but also means he could die.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Available on Kindle Unlimited and Audible
If you don't know what this series is about, you've been living under a rock, but in case you don't, Katniss volunteers in a fight to the death to save her sister, and inadvertently sets off a rebellion against the Capitol. I love this series so much. But then, I am a big fan of evil government stories. But I will never forgive Suzanne Collins for what she did to Peeta.

Firmament Series by J. Grace Pennington
Available on Kindle Unlimited, Book 1 Available on Audible
You've definitely heard me talk about these too. It's Star Trek inspired outer space adventure, and even though I never could get into Star Trek, Firmament is one of my absolute favorite series. Andi's adoptive father starts losing his mind, mutiny breaks out, and secrets from her past come to light, and that's only the beginning!

The Shadow Children by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Available on Audible, Books 1-3 Available on eRead Kids
In a world where families are limited to two children, subsequent children live in hiding, under false identities, and wish for a day when they can legally exist. But what will it take? This series was my first introduction to Margaret Peterson Haddix, and I now consider her one of my favorite authors.

Jedi Quest by Jude Watson
Available on Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited, 
Books 1-4 Available on Audible, Books 6-7 Available on eRead Kids
I LOVED these as a kid and really enjoyed them when I reread/finished the series a few years ago. They're about Anakin as a Padawan, so they take place between Episodes I and II. Good stories, lots of adventure, plenty of Obi-Wan, and I will never get over what happened to Darra in the last book. Legends is so much better than the new books.

Last of the Jedi by Jude Watson
Available on Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited
Anakin's former rival Ferus Olin left the Jedi Order at the end of Jedi Quest. Now, after Order 66, Obi-Wan is recruiting him to gather the remaining surviving Jedi. Adventure and secrets and double agents and Ferus wants to know: Who is Darth Vader? And there's death and pain, but anyway...

Rebel Force by Alex Wheeler
Available on Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited
Books 1, 5, and 6 Available on eRead Kids
It takes place between Episodes IV and V, and builds off of Last of the Jedi. The Empire is determined to find the identity of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star, and they manage to send an undercover assassin into the Rebel Alliance. Luke's life is in danger (as always). As are the lives of his friends.

Time Captives by Morgan Elizabeth Huneke
Available on Kindle Unlimited, Books 1-2 Available on Audible
Yup, I'm going there. Go check out my books. ;)

Merlin (BBC Series)
Available on Prime Video and Netflix
This is my favorite TV show. It's also the only King Arthur thing I've really gotten into. In this version, Merlin is about Arthur's age and works as his manservant, Uther is alive for several seasons, and magic is illegal because of SPOILERS. It's funny and sad and heartwarming and heartbreaking and I just love the brotherly relationship that grows between Arthur and Merlin. Plus Guinevere/Lancelot is handled very well.

Available on Prime Video
It's a jungle out there. Gotta love OCD detective Adrian Monk. Yes, I've seen every single episode. It's a great show. Lots of murders, of course, he's a homicide detective, but he always figures it out. "Here's what happened." I have to say though, I tend to straighten pictures a lot more when I've been watching a lot of Monk. XD

The Flash
Seasons 1-5 Available on Netflix
Literally the only DC thing I like. Barry Allen develops superspeed when he's struck by lightning during the particle accelerator explosion, and everything just gets crazier from there. I love these characters so much. I'd approach the crossover events (especially "Crisis on Earth X") with caution, though.

The Andy Griffith Show
Available on Prime Video and Netflix
This show is my childhood. Sheriff Andy Taylor, Deputy Barney Fife, Opie, Aunt Bee, Helen Crump, Thelma Lou, Otis Campbell, Floyd the barber...they're all old friends. And I've seen most of the episodes multiple times. I especially like the episode where Bill Bixby is a spoiled rich kid.

The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982)
Free with ads on IMDb TV
Dr. David Banner, physician, scientist, searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body's chemistry. Now whenever David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. The creature is driven by rage and pursued by an investigative reporter. "Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." The creature is wanted for a murder he didn't commit. David Banner is believed to be dead. He must allow the world to think that he is dead until he can find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.

Yup, I did that entirely from memory. And it's been years since I watched an episode. Great show.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Available on Disney+
My sister and I only got about halfway through season 2 before we started over with the rest of the family, but I love this show. The dynamic between Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka is awesome and Anakin and Padmé trying to be subtle about their relationship? Oh, goodness. XD Oh, yeah, and the Clone Wars are going on.

The Mandalorian
Available on Disney+
Everybody's already seen this, right? But just in case you haven't, go watch The Mandalorian. It's a really cool adventure set in the Star Wars universe, has more of an Expanded Universe feel than anything else Disney's put out there, and BABY YODA!!!!!!!!!

Agent Carter
Available on Disney+
We just watched this not too long ago, and I loved it! I love Peggy, and I love this type of sci-fi. Now, I haven't quite figured out how I'm reconciling it with Endgame, because I really do like Daniel Sousa, but I was rooting for Cap to go back in time to be with Peggy since the first time I saw Captain America: The First Avenger. Lots of action and danger and sci-fi weirdness and just awesome.

Now, there are other series I love, but I can't find them all on streaming or other subscription platforms (like Gilligan's Island). But I figured this was probably enough for now. ;)

What are your favorite series?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Quarantine Life

So my library is closed, so I have no work to go to. We're still keeping up with each other and our extra e-services while we're closed, but, well, I'm at home. I'm still teaching, but via FaceTime, which is...interesting. It's been going decently, and I'm super glad we live in a time when that's an option, but I'll be glad to do in-person lessons again. It is a little annoying to stop driving to students when I'm only one disc into Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane. The rats want to kill Boots and I have nowhere to drive so I can listen!

I've been writing, getting several chapters of Acktorek done. I'm now done with 21 out of 37 chapters. Ironically, I'm also done recording 21 chapters of Crannig Castle, though that book only has 30 chapters. I finished binge reading the Jedi Apprentice series, and I'm not actually allowed to return them to the library right now. I...haven't been practicing violin and piano more. I should.

It's gotten warmer and we've had some rain-free evenings, so I've spent some time shooting baskets with my middle sister, and the other night I had a lightsaber duel with my youngest sister. I'm so out of practice at both, but it's been fun.

My sister likes watching dumb movies to laugh at them, so we've been watching the High School Musical movies for the first time. (We didn't have Disney Channel when they were a thing, and I thought they sounded dumb anyway.) It's a funny thing about dumb movies—if you go in expecting them to be bad, they can be quite amusing and rather entertaining. Just don't take it seriously. And honestly, they're better than a lot of Hallmark movies. I've also somehow ended up watching Lava three times in one week. 😳

It'll be nice when life gets back to normal. It'll be nice to get out of the house more than going out to the driveway. It'll be nice to see my students again, not on a tiny phone screen. But right now, social distancing to slow the spread is what we're doing. I feel bad for those who are directly affected by the virus. They need prayer.

Those of us who are well and staying home, well, we can choose how we handle this. We can be angry about staying home, be too stir crazy to actually stay home, and all round have a bad attitude about it. Or we can choose to see this as a gift, a chance to slow down, spend more time with our families, and be grateful we live in a time when we can stay connected via the internet.

I, for one, am glad for more family time. Most of my friends live out of state anyway, so nothing changes there. We should all keep praying that the sick will recover and the well will stay well, but we should also trust God, and make the most of a bad situation by, well, introverting and doing introvert things. 😉 I have lots of books, a book to write, parents and siblings, FaceTime students, friends the same text away as always, and Disney+, so, well, it's like I was made for this.

Now off to read my book...

Monday, March 16, 2020

Trust in the Lord

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." —Proverbs 3:5-6

I know I've blogged about this kind of subject a number of times before, in various ways, including how my plans for my life get derailed. But right now, with all this COVID-19 stuff, I feel like it's super important to remember Who's really in charge here.

See, there's always stuff to be afraid of. Whether it's diseases (from COVID-19 to the flu to Ebola), wars, terrorist attacks, bad drivers that could cause a car accident, the possibility of kids getting into dangerous things like cleaning supplies or boiling water, a potential bad job situation, losing your job, not being able to buy toilet paper, cancer, heart attacks, drowning, failing your loved ones, getting rejected (whether in a personal or job/professional/writing situation), bad book reviews, wasting money on ineffective marketing, house fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, falling off a ladder, getting attacked by a shark when you go to the beach, burglaries, accidentally dropping the baby you're holding, forgetting something crucial...

Honestly, I could probably go on forever brainstorming things to be afraid of. I have a pretty good imagination when it comes to those things. Those things are always going to exist. And when there's some new kind of thing to be afraid of, like there is with COVID-19, people panic.

I'm not saying that this illness—or any of these other things—are not legitimate concerns. We should always use common sense in life. You know, drive defensively and pay attention to the road and the cars around you. Wash your hands and use basic hygiene/standard disinfectants. Don't leave lighters where kids can get ahold of them. Do reasonable research before you spend money to make sure it's not a straight up waste.

But the fact is, the world is scary. Life is scary. We live in a fallen world with legitimate threats of many, many kinds. And there is Someone Who is still in control.

Is everything always going to be great? Not by a long shot. Is God always going to deliver us from everything that might give us pain in this life? Not at all. But does that mean that God isn't there, isn't in control, and that we shouldn't still trust Him? Certainly not.

God is still in control, no matter what way the media is currently telling us the way the world is burning. Do people die of COVID-19? Yes. Do people die of the flu? Yes. Do people die in car accidents? Yes. Do people die in house fires? Yes. Do people die in wars and terrorist attacks? Yes. But people survive these things too, and we can count on the fact that no matter what, God is still there with us in the midst of every tragedy and every normal bad day and every good day too.

If it's time for God to take you home, then it's time and you get to be with Him forever. If your new job is terrible, God will be with you through it, and He's ultimately going to use that situation for good, though you may not see how that is possible. If your house gets broken into, God is still there. If that great opportunity you thought you had last summer turns out to be nothing whatsoever, God has a reason for putting you through it that will ultimately bring Him glory.

Point is, bad things happen. We live in a sinful, fallen world. But God is still sovereign. God is still in control, no matter what.

I know it's hard to trust Him. Believe me, I have a lot of personal experience in this area. I wouldn't have written those previous posts if I'd always found it easy.

But God has commanded us to trust in Him. He's commanded us not to fear. He has told us that things will go according to His will. Most of the time, His will is not ours. But that doesn't make it any less good. That doesn't make Him any less trustworthy. That doesn't give us license to panic.

So whether you're afraid of COVID-19, or getting in a car accident, or a new job, or terrorist attacks, or snakes *shudders*, just remember that God is in control and put your trust in Him.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." —Joshua 1:9

Monday, March 9, 2020

A Relationship Question

I hope I’m not opening up a major can of worms here, but I want to know: what happened to close, entirely platonic relationships? 

It seems like these days, characters in fiction can’t be close without there being something romantic or sexual about their relationship, and if there isn’t in canon, the fans put it there. 

This is sort of brought on (as in, I started thinking about it again) by a Disney-canon Star Wars book. Basically, there were implications that there was romantic interest between some of Padmé’s handmaidens, and even possibly something between Padmé and Sabé, at least on Sabé’s side of things. It wasn’t explicit, wasn’t constant, and I liked the political side of the story, so I read the whole thing, but on the whole, it was disappointing, out of character, just wrong, and fuels my determination to stick with Legends. Read my full review here.

But it’s not just that book that sparks these thoughts. There’s also the Reylo kiss in The Rise of Skywalker. Yes, Rey and Ben had a strange kind of deep connection (I was still hoping for them to turn out to be cousins or siblings, but anywho), but there was nothing about it that seemed romantic. And then they had to throw in that kiss at the end, I guess to try to please that faction of fans. But both Pitch Meeting and HISHE made comments about it being out of nowhere, so it’s not just me thinking it felt super forced. (I have other issues with the Reylo ship too, but they aren’t the point of this post.) 

And then there’s Merthur (Merlin/Arthur from BBC Merlin). This is something that bothers me to no end every time I come across it on Pinterest. In the show, I thought it was pretty clear that Arthur and Merlin have a close sibling-like relationship, albeit with Arthur having the authority to order Merlin to clean his room, polish his armor, etc. Yes, the show is absolutely more about the relationship between Arthur and Merlin than it is about the relationship between Arthur and Guinevere. The show is called Merlin, after all, so naturally it’s going to focus on what Merlin himself is actually a part of. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything romantic between them at all. There’s not. 

I know it’s an exaggeration to say that there are never close, non-romantic relationships in fiction anymore, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s prominently featured. And if it is, then it gets the Merthur treatment, even if one member of the duo has a spouse, like Arthur, or John Watson. I just don’t get it. 

Yes, I enjoy a good romantic storyline, but there are so many more ways to love people than romantically. There are parent/child-type relationships, and sibling-like relationships, and cousin-like relationships, and it’s entirely possible to be best friends with someone without being romantically attracted to them. There’s more to life than romance, and those other relationships are super important. I don’t know what I’d do without my mom, and no one gets me like my sisters do (it’s great in games like Catch Phrase). I love my honorary sisters, and I love the time I spend with them (though I don’t see my honorary big sister nearly often enough anymore). I love my students and all the other children I’ve taught and mentored and babysat throughout my life. And none of these relationships are any less valid or less important because they aren’t romantic. 

Something I really loved about early seasons of The Flash was Barry’s relationship with Joe. Joe may not be his biological dad, but he raised him. And while things were rocky at the beginning, before Joe believed Barry about the night his mother died, their relationship grew to be very strong and I loved it. I also loved the relationships between Barry, Caitlin, Cisco, and even Wells. None of them romantic at all, but so good and fulfilling and meaningful. Well, that’s debatable in the case of Harrison Wells. But the longer the show goes on, the less focus we get on those relationships. It’s frustrating. It seems like there’s just too many characters and too many storylines now, and that means we don’t get our core team working together and playing off each other like they used to. And because of that, while I don’t dislike the current season, per se, I don’t like the show as much as I used to. Yes, we still get Barry/Iris, which I love (except that Iris is stuck in a mirror and there’s an evil fake Iris out there fooling Barry!), but the show is missing something it used to have. 

I guess maybe this is why I’ve always liked writing sibling stories. Plus the fact that my MCs are pretty much always kids or teens, and sibling relationships are more important at that age anyway. I don’t dislike romance at all. I just recently gave you a list of romantic pairings I like (and how they almost—or actually do—die). But there are other kinds of love. Every relationship doesn’t have to have a romantic angle. In many cases, that would be creepy and/or gross (though that doesn’t stop some fanfiction writers…thank goodness for warning tags), so please don’t try to make every relationship romantic. And other relationships don’t vanish just because you got into a romantic one. You’ve still got parents and siblings and grandparents and cousins and friends, etc. and they’re still important. 

So let’s have some good representation of non-romantic close relationships, and please, fans, don’t read more into it than is there. Because it’s really okay to be close to someone without a shred of romantic interest between you.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Luke Skywalker and the Power of Love

Random observation while watching Return of the Jedi for the hundred millionth time the other day: Vader doesn’t Force choke anyone in that movie. 

In Episodes IV and V, Vader’s all Force choke first, ask questions never. No mercy. No kindness. No remorse. Devoted to the power of the dark side. But he really isn’t like that in Return of the Jedi

I’d always laughed at Vader’s “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am” before because Vader forgiving? But he’s actually more sympathetic in this movie than before: he doesn’t seem to have any desire to punish Tiaan Jerjerrod, commander of the second Death Star (I had to use google to find his name—I’m not THAT much of a Star Wars nerd). And when Luke is trying to convince him not to take him to Palpatine, Vader’s attitude is more of a “it’s too late for me, he’s too powerful, I don’t have a choice” than it is an “I love the dark side.” Possibly due to the Jedi teaching that “once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny” perhaps? And obviously he wanted Luke to help him defeat Palpatine. But the way he was speaking to Luke wasn’t at all angry and resentful. It was sad and resigned. And Palpatine was the one primarily attempting to convince Luke to turn; Vader’s few comments were only made in Palpatine’s presence. 

What happened to change Vader like that? He met Luke. Luke, the boy who was convinced there was good in Darth Vader. The man who loved his father despite all the terrible things he had done, and wanted him to be a part of his life. Luke, the one who saved the galaxy with love. Love is a powerful thing. And I love seeing how just a short encounter with Luke started Vader on the path back to the light. I mean, "I'd rather fall into a bottomless pit than join the dark side with you" had to be a major wake up call. But Vader spoke to Luke through the Force, so you know there had to be some kind of connection. And while Luke did ask Yoda to confirm Vader's identity, you know he already knew. And he loved his father, enough to fight for his return to the light. And you know Vader had to feel that. Luke and Padmé were both convinced there was still good in him. And his son's love, and his love for his son brought it out. Because Luke didn't just give up on him. (Though he did kind of freak out about the idea of his sister being turned.) Love is a powerful thing.

So I just want to say, to myself as well as you, never stop fighting for your loved ones who aren’t walking in the ways they should. Yes, Star Wars is just a story and it’s unlikely any of our situations are as dramatic as that (nothing quite matches Skywalker family drama). But we may have unsaved relatives. We may know someone who indulges in destructive behaviors. We may simply know someone who is failing to reach their full God-given potential out of fear or uncertainty or goodness knows what. But we can’t stop fighting for them. Because God didn’t stop fighting for us. 

And what I’d initially intended as a fun Instagram post about Star Wars just got a whole lot deeper and more serious (and too long for Instagram). But it’s really something to think about. Not everyone is going to be saved. Not every Sith will turn back from the dark side. ;) Not everyone is going to be redeemed. But that doesn’t mean we give up. 

There’s a lot of bad stuff in the world due to sin. And sometimes there’s so much it gets overwhelming. But as long as there is love (and I’m not talking about romantic love here, more 1 Cor. 13 kind of love) there is still hope. We can love others. We can reach out to them. We can pray for them, fight for them. Because Christ first loved us and gave Himself to redeem us. 

I’m also reminded of Kyrin Altair. Jace was in a really bad place for, well, the majority of the series, but Kyrin never gave up on him. She kept fighting. And he told her that she’s really good at sharing Elôm’s love. 

I did not expect my brain to go this direction when it occurred to me Vader didn’t Force choke anyone in Return of the Jedi. But I’m glad it did. I needed the reminder to not give up. To be compassionate and kind. To love those who may not be the easiest to love. To extend to others the love my Savior showed me. 

And yes, this is really the track my brain took from that starting point. My brain is a very interesting place to be.

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." —1 Cor. 13:13