Silver Sparrow: A Review

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
My rating: 3.5 of 5 star

This was the pick for November for the Modern Mrs Darcy Book club. I had read her other book, An American Marriage, which I reviewed here. So, I knew what I was getting into when reading her novels.

Her books make me feel uncomfortable. They are full of very flawed characters and sad situations. But what she does well is she shows how people survive in flawed, sad situations. It’s not an optimistic worldview, but there is still some hope.

James Witherspoon is a bigamist, living in Atlanta. His first wife and daughter don’t know about his second family, but Dana Lynn and her mother know about them. It affects Dana in so many ways throughout her life. And when revelations come to light, there are no winners.

The book is divided into two parts, the first from Dana’s perspective and the second part is from the perspective of the second daughter, Chaurisse. The limitations in these perspectives really reveal the truth that we don’t know everything that is going on in another person’s life. At one point in each part, the girls talk about each other and better the other life or person, not knowing all the pain that they have gone through.

It is well-written, but very sad. I’m not sure if the book is one for me because of how frustrated I get with the characters and the situations. It’s amazing how emotionally connected and invested I get, but the end, I just get depressed. So, I really struggle to rate these books because they are amazing works of literature, but they don’t lift my spirits, so they aren’t books I would willingly gravitate towards. Still, I think they are important to read to understand people around us who may not be like us.

There is a profanity in the book. There is also sexual content. I made note when reading this that said, “Everyone has sex in this book.” But sexual content played a significant part in explaining plot and character flaws. There is also a little violence, mainly in a story that is told throughout the book about this famous, or infamous, girl who pours grits on Al Green. Other than that, there is a little pushing people, but no real serious violence. There is some mention of rape, but not violent, yet a significant plot point.

Alex Rider: A Review

Alex Rider created by Guy Burt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This probably showed up in a random advertisement, either on Amazon Prime or Imdb.com, but it immediately was intriguing. British spy movies about a boy who isn’t technically a spy, but seems to have been unknowingly trained to be one will always be on the “To Be Watched” list. Apparently, it is based on a book series from the early 2000s, and the plot of the first book was already made into a movie in 2006.

Compared to the trailer of the 2006 film, the new series is a bit darker. It uses gadgets less (which apparently was a big deal in the books), and it contains less well known actors. But it has its merits.

The plot of the series revolves around Alex Rider, an orphaned teen who lives with his uncle and a family friend (not sure the connection between the two). When Alex’s uncle dies unexpectedly, a series of events throws Alex in the middle of the undercover world. In order to find out why his uncle died, he has to go undercover to reveal a nefarious plot.

The writing was fun. The action was intense, though it was a bit predictable. The main character did feel a bit flat in both expression and energy. The other characters were much more charismatic which carried the muted demeanor of the main character. The stunts and resourcefulness were pretty cool as well.

It was a nice escape full of action and adventure. It was surprising that it was an IMDBTV original, because I didn’t even know IMDB made content. Overall, it was fun and I look forward to a second season.

There may be a few words of profanity, but it is not significant. Sexual content includes some light kissing at a party. Violent content includes shootings, stabbings, blood, and a flatlining scene.

Gratitude: Psalms 131

Since Thanksgiving is at the end of this month, I’m sure there will be a lot of gratitude challenges on various social media platforms. I thought I would do my own challenge to share my favorite gratitude Psalms every Friday this month.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

Psalm 130

I am grateful to have a God who redeems. I am grateful that I am not defined by my mistakes, even when I hold on to them longer than I should.

I’m a perfectionist in the worst sense of the word. I procrastinate on my projects, on everything really. I get very frustrated when it’s not perfect. I am my harshest critic. And this year has been filled with anxiety and depression and loneliness. My world got a lot smaller and my flaws got a lot bigger.

But this is where the beauty of redemption seeps in. Through the blood of Christ, his sacrifice, God doesn’t see that I am flawed. He sees that I am forgiven. And that freedom allows me to let go and love my neighbors. I’m not caught up in what I have or haven’t done, but what I can and will do.

Redemption isn’t just a second chance. It is a fully infusion of power and love that strengthens me to become what I was created to become. To do what I was created to do. To go where I was created to go. I am allowed to completely become the divine creature God created me to be.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the world, temptation, sin and brokenness are not still prevalent on my path going forward. If anything, they are almost guaranteed. And yet, God promises to walk the path with me, to never leave or forsake me, to press on toward the goal, to win the prize.

I am thankful for a God who walks with me, redeems the pain and hurt I have experienced and caused, whispering in my ear his love for his creation in me. And one day, redemption will be completed at the sound of trumpets and oh what a day that will be.

Gift Ideas for Christmas

Christmas is coming. I mean, some people have had their decorations out all month. And I know that gift lists are already being shared. If you are looking to add to your list or are looking for a gift idea for someone else, I may be able to help. I have read a lot of books this year (and some in years past) that I think are very noteworthy and would make great gifts

For the kid selections, I will preface this with the fact that these books are based on my own experience of having a toddler. Here are some of our favorites this year.

I try to buy a new Christmas book every year, and this year my favorite children’s book author released one in September called All The Colors of Christmas! In a nutshell, it’s a beautifully illustrated, beautifully written book full of nostalgia and the real meanings of the Christmas season listed by color.

The Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson is a double murder mystery set in an elite boarding school. Each of the three books in the series reveals a little more of the clues of each mystery, one set in the 1930s and one present day. The character growth and inclusion in this series is stellar. I wrote about the first one here.

Neal Shusterman’s The Arc of the Scythe series is a bit more science fiction. It faces the ideas of death, mortality, love, and humanity in a three book series. It also strives to be inclusive as well. While the ending wasn’t what I expected, it was still a fun ride. The first book’s review is here.

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton, which is more of a straight historical fiction based on a hurricane that Florida in 1935. It follows three different women as they are searching for different things within their lives, defining what freedom really is in a post-WW1 America.

For a literature friend, or someone who loves Jane Austen books, The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner is an absolute delight. There is the trigger warning of pregnancy loss, but I felt that it was appropriate and well done. I wrote more about it here.

The last three are my favorite authors, so any from them I would recommend, but here are a few ideas.

Deborah Harkness who wrote the All Souls Trilogy. She is a professor and historian which comes across in her books in a beautiful way. I first read Discovery of Witches back in 2014 and wrote this review.

VE Schwab, or Victoria Schwab, is also an amazing author who writes YA, Adult, and Middle Grade. There are so many I could recommend. Most of her books are in paranormal or fantasy genres. Her middle grade series starts with the City of Ghosts which is excellent, and the next (and I think final) book in the series is coming out soon, so it would be a fun series to read straight through!

Erin Morgenstern hasn’t written as many books, but the ones that she has are amazing, lyrical fantasies. I would recommend Night Circus first, though her books are not connected. I just felt like the Night Circus was a little easier to follow for someone who hasn’t read her before.

This year there have been a lot of books about race and racial justice, and a lot of suggestions in this category from years past. I haven’t read nearly as many as I would have like, but if you have someone in your life who is reading these topics, I would recommend How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi. It follows his own journey in social justice, people who inspired him and mistakes he made.

Another book in this category that leans more towards history, particularly within the church is The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. I learned a lot about the evolution of the church in America, both white and black.

And finally, Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski has to have been my all time favorite book this year. It changed the way I saw stress and how I was contributing and sabotaging my own life. Game. Changer.

There are so many books that I loved this year, that it was hard to suggest just a few books. What are some books you have enjoyed this year?

Holidate: A Review

Holidate directed by John Whitesell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is Christmas Rom-Com time! This is the first, but certainly not the last, new Christmas film on Netflix (more have already been added to the list). And in a nutshell, it is one of those very self-aware movies.

Emma Roberts plays Sloane, a work from home admin of some sort who is unlucky in love. Her last boyfriend left her for a barista, and she is the last single in her family. She meets Jackson (played by Luke Bracey), an Australian golf pro who seemingly works at a golf course, maybe? They decide to be each other’s Holidate, a person who accompanies one to various holiday parties and get-togethers.

The premise was a little fantastical for a year like 2020, as the big end of year holidays are approaching. It was weird to see big parties and family events without the social distancing and masks. However, that will be a common theme in most of the Christmas movies this year.

The movie was very self-aware, making jokes about tropes in romantic comedies and relationships. But then they go ahead and do the tropes they complained about, to perhaps show the walls coming down for Sloane. There were some very hilarious moments, and some very cringe moments, but overall, a great start to what will hopefully be a season of sappy love stories filled with plot holes and silly tropes that resolve too neatly within the 2 hour time line until the last second of 2020 is over.

There is a lot of profanity in this film. It even becomes a joke towards the end. There is some grinding and “sexy” dancing at one point, and there is one sex scene but not incredibly steamy. Violence includes a lot of slapstick, like losing a finger while shooting off fireworks. It’s lighthearted and silly for the most part.

Gratitude: Psalms 111

Since Thanksgiving is at the end of this month, I’m sure there will be a lot of gratitude challenges on various social media platforms. I thought I would do my own challenge to share my favorite gratitude Psalms every Friday this month.

Praise the Lord.

I will extol the Lord with all my heart
    in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

Great are the works of the Lord;
    they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
    and his righteousness endures forever.

Psalm 111:1-3

I am grateful to have a Creator God.

Mythology has always been a fascination of mine. The Greek Gods, the Norse Gods and all of the ways people explained the seemingly unexplainable. One of the fascinating threads that weaves through these stories is that the gods were awful. They would pillage and rape and seize. They were mercurial and wreaked havoc on the lives of humans.

But God, Yahweh, is god of love and creation and beauty. He wants a relationship with humankind, not to take advantage of them but to share in the perfect love that God is. And that’s beautiful.

I also love nature. My kid and I go to the park various throughout the week. It’s a time when I can just breathe, take in the trees changing with the seasons, watch animals go about their day. Recently, I watched as these ducks circled a pond two or three times before skimming the surface, waving their wings to slow themselves, and land on the water. Then just continue swimming around the pond. It was fascinating.

I’m so thankful for the ducks, the ponds, the trees. I’m thankful for the sunrises and sunsets, warm weather that seeps into the skin and cooler weather that evokes cozy cuddling. And I’m thankful for a God who gives us life and wonder and awe in the little and the big.

Middlegame: A Review

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 star

This book was in a Page 1 Subscription box. If you haven’t tried this subscription, I highly recommend it. They send a carefully selected book based on your reading interests, wrapped in brown paper, along with a few bookish treats. Check out my instagram (@katyslifestory) for more, as I frequently share my monthly treats.

The world in this book is based in alchemy, but even if you aren’t completely knowledgeable in alchemy, the world is so well-written that it’s hard to get lost. There are a lot of twists and turns that feel like getting lost, but everything gets revealed and explained down to layman’s terms. Outside of that, the plot is a bit difficult to explain.

Roger and Dodger are two kids, around seven years old, when they are introduced. The book follows them as they grow up on opposite sides of the country. Roger is a language prodigy and Dodger is a genius with numbers. When they are very young, they are able to talk to each other through what is described as quantum entanglement. As they grow up, they realize that they are two parts to an even bigger, more nefarious plot, which they must figure out before it is too late.

The book moves back and forth in time, specifically forward in time to one specific point which is done over and over, and each time a little more is revealed. Until finally we reach that same point towards the end of the book. McGuire expertly leads the reader through the maze of knowledge and discovery without revealing anything too early.

The characters are relatable in the loner, coming of age, kind of way. It is easy to root for them, to feel for them, to understand their loss and pain. They connect with the reader really well. Erin is also a relatable character, specifically to those who have a penchant to organize life around them.

The story is a quest, both to a specific place and to learn more about oneself and grow confident in who a person is meant to be. The plot is fast-paced, especially in the last 100 pages, which seemed to fly by as each action brought on another action until the finale. The rules in this world were interesting, and there were references to scientists and authors who used a lot of metaphor in their writings, connecting that they were all alchemists. Some Easter eggs might be lost on a reader who doesn’t know much about alchemy, but it is still a fun ride regardless.

There is a substantial amount of profanity in the book. Also, there is some sexual content, as this follows two people from about the age of 7 to almost 30 so there is sometimes sex, however not explicit or steamy. There is a significant amount of violence in this books. Trigger warnings for suicidal attempts. There is murder, horror movie style, described fear. The books opens with the words “There is so much blood.” It is a bloody book.

Secret Society of Second Born Royals: A Review

Secret Society of Second Born Royals directed by Anna Mastro
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This Disney+ film came out in the summer. It was on the list of “To Be Watched” films that finally got scratched off at the end of October. It is similar to most made for TV movies by Disney in that it is full of cheese and weird plot holes.

Sam is a royal princess of Illyria, the second born daughter. Because her older sister is destined for the throne, and all the responsibility that entails, Sam is allowed to do pretty much whatever she wants, which mostly includes playing gigs with her friend, Mike that include a lot of “Down with the Monarchy” content. She is a good kid with a rebellious streak.

And it is revealed (in the trailer) that she has superpowers. Apparently, every second born child of a royal family has them, and they are sent to an elite training summer camp to either hone their skills or have them removed by the end of summer. Some powers are interesting, like controlling bugs (similar to Antman) and others were pretty typical (like invisibility). But all of them pretty much lived up to mediocre expectation when it came to actually using these powers.

Most of the cast was pretty new, though Skylar Astin (from Pitch Perfect) and Greg Bryk (from Bitten) were notable. Their acting was good and carried most of the scenes they were in. All of the emotion, especially in Bryk’s character, seemed limited, stunted. This is a Disney, straight-to-video, film so to speak, but there never seemed enough time to really develop any of the relationships making all of the choices seem stilted and lacking in tension.

And there were so many plot holes. The backstory, the relationship between Inmate 34 and Sam, where exactly all these other royals were from and why they wouldn’t be invited to a royal coronation, and the whole DNA thing towards the end were just a few of the confusing twists the film tried and failed to make. It pulled the viewer out of the movie completely.

The film is cute, but it would have worked better in a shorter TV series format, allowing for more relationship development and at least a little tension. Ignoring all of the blatant plot holes and confusing connections made throughout the film in order to show that teamwork is important and listening to family is cool can make the film a fun viewing on a bored Saturday afternoon. But honestly, there is better content, even just on the Disney+ platform.

There is no profanity in the film. No sexual content, other than making puppy dog eyes between two characters. Violent content mostly included heavily choreographed fights and a lot of CGI, nothing graphic, grotesque, or detailed. It is Disney+ after all.

Gratitude: Psalms 34

Since Thanksgiving is at the end of this month, I’m sure there will be a lot of gratitude challenges on various social media platforms. I thought I would do my own challenge to share my favorite gratitude Psalms every Friday this month. This is a longer psalm, and while there is a lot of gratitude in this one, I want to focus on the first seven verses.

I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.
 I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
 Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together.

 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.

 Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.

Psalms 34:1-7

I am thankful we have a God who will deliver us from our fears. Fear is not forever. And fear is not a signifier for a lack of faith.

There are so many instances in the Bible of people who were afraid, and yet stepped out in faith even in the midst of their fear. Moses was afraid to go back to Egypt and speak to the Pharaoh. He was afraid to even go back to the Jews and tell them that God was going to deliver them. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was afraid when the angel came to tell her that she would be pregnant with the Savior. The angel says “Do not be afraid” because she was troubled. And yet, these two (and so many others) are held up as great models of faith.

This is why I get so upset when I hear someone tell a person who is anxious, who is afraid, of certain circumstances in their life that they should just have faith. Because having faith does not guarantee the outcome we hope for or deter the outcome we fear will come. Faith is not the opposite of fear, they go hand in hand. We can still be afraid of the fire as we walk into it, knowing that God is holding our hand through it. My faith is not dependent on my circumstances, on my comfort. It is dependent on an unchanging God who can take anything this world can throw at me and use it for good, which means anything in this world can be thrown at me.

Christ’s faith did not keep him off that cross. It held him to that cross. He had faith that God was going to overcome, that he was going to defeat death and rise up on that third day. Faith shines a glimmer of the hope of redemption when we are in the darkness of fear.

My faith allows me to sit in the discomfort of fear and sadness. It gives me the strength to sit with others in their own discomfort without trying to will it away with platitudes. And I am so thankful for a God who gives me that strength to keep going, even when I am afraid.

A Gathering Of Shadows: A Review

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 4.5 of 5 star

This review is going to be short because it is the second book of the series, and I don’t want to spoil anything if you decide to pick it up.

The book focuses on a lot of character growth, particularly with Delilah Bard. There is a pirate storyline in this book, which was really fun. Plus, the tournament in this book is used to pull all the characters together, explaining how they are all growing as characters and relating to each other. There is also a lot of processing through the outcome of the last book, and it’s used beautifully in this book as a bridge to the final book.

There are also a few more characters introduced in this storyline, Alucard takes a fairly large role in the book, though only the original three main characters – Lila, Kell, and Rhy – have the story told from their point of view. Still, the author does a beautiful job of seamlessly introducing these characters without too much of an information dump.

It is a fun second book, but was slow in some parts, mainly because I wanted to get back to plot lines I preferred, but all of the book makes an impact by the end. All the seemingly small pieces of information become big plot points by the end. I loved the ride and look forward to the last book in this series.

There is not a strong amount of profanity, but it is present. There are a few kissing scenes in the book, but nothing too graphic or steamy. There is a lot of violence. The tournament involves attacking each other with magic, but there is also murder and death and physical harm throughout the story. Nothing too descriptive, though.