2.27.2015

This Girl Likes #10

Hello, and TGIF!  I am looking forward to the weekend, especially since I've had a crazy busy week.  I'm here today to talk about some things I've been enjoying lately from around the web.



  • Yeah, basically English is the best.  
  • I love this post on the Barnes & Noble blog about what to do when your non-reader friend keeps interrupting you while you're reading.  And while I don't struggle with this a whole lot, I sometimes want to ask my family members sometimes if they are trying to stop me from reading.  Like, just be quiet, okay? #problemsofabooknerd
  • On this blog, I sing my praise of and affection for Sherlock Holmes from the rooftop.  Therefore, when I heard that there might have been a new Sherlock mystery by Conan Doyle discovered, I kind of flipped out.  But, we're not sure it's legit.  That issue was brought up on the Book Riot site this week, and it's worth a read here.   
  • I love when authors talk about reading, and this post  in the Huffington Post spotlights several quotes by Jane Austen and other authors describing "the divine pleasure of reading."

  • Finally, the internet kind of blew up last night (especially Twitter) over a dress.  Yeah, that's right.  The dress looks fairly normal: white with gold lace, except for those who think it's black and blue.  I totally see white and gold and I have not seen the colors change for me, but my family says I'm wrong and that it's black and blue.  Supposedly this has something to do with how sensitive our eyes are to certain colors or something, but you can read more here and here.  It's the craziest thing.  
Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

2.26.2015

Book Review: A Monstrous Regiment of Women

So, uh, whoops.  I lied.  In a move that is awfully uncharacteristic of me, I am disobeying my own rule for this month, and doing three book reviews, instead of two.  Okay, I kind of had a feeling this would happen.  Because, ya know, the book was just too good.

Title: A Monstrous Regiment of Women

Author: Laurie R. King

Publisher/Price: Picador/$11.34 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Mystery


Number of pages: 304

Number in series: 2

My rating: 5 1/2 out of 5 stars (favorite!)

Overview: Mary Russell has graduated from her position as Sherlock Holmes's apprentice: she is now an Oxford graduate with a degree in theology.  She is coming of age and is hit with the realization of her woman-ness vs. Holmes's masculinity.  Both of them seem to realize that their relationship/partnership has changed, perhaps romantically, but do not mention it to each other.  Russell meets up with an old friend, who introduces her to a mysterious woman, Margery Childe, a charismatic, early-feminist mystic, who conducts a variety of ministries for the underprivileged women of London and who holds talks geared toward women.  Her group of followers are tight-knit, and when Russell is inexplicably drawn in, she and Margery strike up a friendship.  When members of Margery's circle begin to be targeted: a couple are killed, and a few meet with accident, Russell doesn't think it's coincidence.  She finds that the women who met with misfortune had recently changed their wills, and she looks deeper into Margery Childe's organization.  She is kidnapped, then injected with heroin for 9 days, after which she is rescued by Holmes, who helps her overcome her dependence on the drug.  They eventually discover that Margery's husband had been targeting the women, holding out for a share of the money they were planning to leave to his wife's work.  The ensuing chase leaves Margery wounded, her husband dead, and Holmes narrowly escapes.  At the end of the novel, Sherlock expresses his love for Russell, and they marry.

My thoughts:  Well, judging from that ridiculously long/detailed overview, this may get kinda long.  My thoughts are multitudinous and I have a feeling they will come tumbling out all over the place, because I just loved this book. so. much.

Last week, I reviewed Garment of Shadows by Laurie King, and I was disappointed, to say the least.  (ICYMI, you can read it here)  That book was the 12th in the series about Mary Russell, wife of Sherlock Holmes and sidekick/ex-apprentice.  After reading it, I decided that in order for me to truly enjoy the series, I was going to have to fall in love with the main character, Mary Russell.  There wasn't enough Sherlock to keep me reading based on my love for him alone.  But I won't go into detail; you can read all about it in that review.  Well, I am happy (read: dancing with ecstasy) to say that I have fallen head over heels for Mary Russell thanks to this book.  It was absolutely brilliant (I'll be using that word a lot in this review).  I've attempted to organize my thoughts somewhat, and I want to talk about the characters first.

Obviously, the main character is Mary Russell, and after Garment of Shadows, I came to terms with the fact that this series is not about Sherlock Holmes, it is about Russell.  She is the type of girl I feel like I would want to be best friends with.  She essentially lives in Oxford and is devoted to her studies.  She is absolutely confident, has a good head on her shoulders, is a bit of a daredevil, and is always up for anything.  Not to say she is fearless, but she is completely sure of herself, which is really refreshing for a heroine in a mystery series.  Mary does things all the way and she doesn't give a second thought to what people think of her.  She is totally unintimidated by Sherlock, doesn't put up with his sometimes less-than-pleasant personality, and their banter is one of my favorite parts about the book.  She has a quick whit, and it is also refreshing for him to be with someone who is his equal in snark.  I also want to talk about Sherlock's character for a second.  While he is not quite the Sherlock I am familiar with: he is older, wiser, more mature, and a lot less scatterbrained/manic, a great deal of his quirks still pop up here and there.  For one, his crazy disguises make numerous appearances, as do his infamous housekeeping abilities, though sometimes his thoughtfulness and housekeeping surprise Mary, as well as the reader.  After the last book I read by King, I am surprised to say that I adore this version of Sherlock Holmes.  Like, can I be Mary Russell?  Please?

Easily the best part of the book for me was the relationship between Russell and Holmes.  The dynamic between them is just fantastic.  In this book, Mary is coming of age: she turns 21 and is on the brink of receiving an inheritance, and all of the sudden, she realizes that Holmes is a man, and she is a woman, and that revelation so overwhelms her whenever she is around him, that she cuts back the time she spends with him.  The book made it unclear whether there was any sort of romantic feelings surrounding this situation for Russell, but I'd like to think so.  I think up to that point, Mary had viewed Holmes solely as a mentor and instructor, and now that that element is gone, I think she realizes there could be a future between them beyond that of a teacher and student.  I found this dynamic absolutely compelling and enjoyable.  It introduces a sort of love/hate behavior on Russell's part, as she wrestles with what to do with her unfamiliar feelings toward Holmes.  The romance in this book is the subtle, veiled, hidden sort of romance I love.

Another thing I noticed, and which surprised me, was the fact that I liked the way Mary seemed so independent of Holmes.  At times, they were working on individual cases, then pursuing a single one in their own ways, independent and separate from the other.  I'm surprised to admit that I really enjoyed Russell's independence of Holmes, that she went wherever she pleased, without thinking about where he was, or having to send him a telegram whenever she changed her plans, etc.  Obviously, that changed when they married, though their marriage was more of a partnership, which was due in part to their age discrepancy, her independence, and the fact that he is Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes will be Sherlock Holmes.  And really, I can't imagine him in any other kind of marriage.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself – that's for another review.   Basically, Russell's independence works for me.

The only thing I wasn't totally hyped about in this book where the subplots.  Margery Childe, who runs the The New Temple of God is an early semi-feminist, with ideas about the Bible I don't agree with theologically, and a mystic approach to God.  She is a charismatic speaker who gives talks about mainly female issues.  She isn't the type of feminist who hates men and believes women should rule the world or anything, but there are certain verses in the Bible which she interprets to mean that God is both man and woman, or something like that(?).  And while feminism is not a major plot point, it is a subplot, along with Margery's strange mysticism I found kind of annoying.  Her theology is kind of fuzzy: she is Biblically literate and incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the Bible, but it is unclear what she believes when it comes to fundamental Christian principles.  So while I didn't hate these subplots, I didn't love them, or think they made for a terribly exciting mystery.  But as I have come to realize, the real gems when it comes to King's writing are the characters and relationships, and for that reason, this is at the top of my book wish list.

To close out this super long review (oops), I saved the best for last, and I want to talk about Holmes's proposal at the end of the book.  Ugh, it was so good.  It was everything a mature Sherlock proposing to a whip-smart, witty young woman should be.  It was something I have been longing to read and didn't even know it.  It wasn't a long, drawn out, Austen-esque proposal – it was short, a little intense, and it was absolutely perfect.  I can't even.  And because I can't even, you need to check the book out from the library or buy it from a bookstore and read pages 327 to 330.  By far my favorite proposal to date.  Sorry 'bout dat, Mr. Darcy.  Sherlock was always gonna win.  And holy cow, this is a long review.

I think this book is going to make it onto my list of favorite fiction books for this year – it was absolutely, without-a-doubt-ed-ly brilliant, and I love it like crazy.  If you're a Sherlock lover or a fan of kick-butt women with a penchant for detecting, you need to read this.  You can thank me later.   xo, Ella

*This was a book I picked up for the Snagged @ The Library Reading Challenge this year.  Find out more about that challenge here.

2.24.2015

Book Review: Taking God At His Word

Hello, and happy Tuesday!  I had the day off yesterday due to a birthday in the family and naturally, I took advantage of my three-day weekend to do some serious blogging, and hopefully get ahead for this week, which kicks off in my next three months of busyness (yikes).  

Anyway, I am here today to talk about Taking God At His Word, a book I ended up enjoying way more than I was expecting.  It was awesome.  

Title: Taking God At His Word: Why The Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means For You And Me

Author: Kevin DeYoung

Publisher/Price: Crossway/$15.17 here

Type: Nonfiction

Genre: Christian Living

Number of pages: 144

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Overview: Taking God at His Word is a book about the Bible.  More specifically, it's a book about the Bible's necessity, its relevance, its authority, its inerrancy, and its sufficiency.  DeYoung lays out what the Bible says about the Bible.  He looks into the Word itself to explain itself.  He looks at what Jesus believed about the Bible to understand what we should believe about the Bible.  Because what better way to know someone than to read His Words?

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book.  DeYoung has an incredibly practical, straightforward way of writing: this book is succinct, concise, and to the point.  And for this kind of book on this topic, I think that style of writing is absolutely necessary.  This is not the kind of book that must be puzzled over, that gives you a headache, or makes you feel like you know exactly zero.  It is free of technical jargon, heavy theological principles, and the like.  And while I enjoy that sort of stuff, DeYoung's stripped down message was refreshing.

Probably the thing I loved most about this book was how DeYoung set it up.  It read like one of those essays that answers all the questions in brilliant ways by the end and restores your faith in humanity.  He starts off with Psalm 119, the longest Psalm and also the longest passage in the Bible.  The psalm is one long love song about God's Word.  He begins the book with Psalm 119 with the hope that by the end, that is where the reader will be regarding the Word of God.  Or at least he will want to be at that point.

The bulk of the book is within the chapters entitled, 'God's Word is Enough,' 'God's Word is Clear,' 'God's Word is Final,' and 'God's Word is Necessary.'  My favorite part of the book, though, was the second to the last chapter: 'Christ's Unbreakable Bible,' in which he looks at the Bible through Jesus's beliefs about the Bible.  I found that fascinating.  I mean, it was all stuff I knew already: Jesus believed every word of the Bible, but it was awesome to see that evidence in one place.  Jesus knew the Bible and He depended on it.  "For Jesus, Scripture is powerful, decisive, and authoritative because it is nothing less than the voice of God (DeYoung 108)."  DeYoung also makes the point in the beginning of the book that people today are so eager to hear the voice of God.  But Jesus saw the Bible as just that: the voice of God – written down for us.  I don't think we realize how amazing that is, how life-changing.  We have an entire book, written by men, but dictated by the voice of the One who created us.  After reading Taking God At His Word, I am so much more overwhelmed by the gift of the Bible, and the truth that it holds.  It is God-breathed.  I love that word picture.  Another quote from the book: "The Scriptures are our spectacles, the lenses through which we see God, the world, and ourselves rightly.  We cannot truly know God, his will, or the way of salvation apart from the Bible (DeYoung 87)."

Taking God At His Word moved me to love the Bible and see the Bible in ways that I did not before. I think every Christian, whether new or old, needs to read this book.  I want to close with a quote from the final page of the book.  "So let us not weaken in our commitment to our unbreakable Bible.  Let us not wander from this divinely exhaled truth.  Let us not waver in our delight and desire.  God has spoken, and through that revelation he still speaks (DeYoung 124)."

I encourage you to pick this book up, whether you have been a Christian for many years or are just starting out.  Taking God At His Word is a no-fuss, no-nonsense, utterly confident look at the Word of God; it takes a clear stand on the authority of the Bible in our lives and in our theology.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

2.20.2015

Grammar Talk: Who vs. That


As a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi, I have many pet peeves when it comes to grammar used incorrectly, but lately, one thing has been irritating me above all the others: who versus what.  Let me explain the context of this particular situation.

Typically, this crops up when someone is referring either to a person or object.  For example...

– Do you know the man that turns into the Hulk when he gets angry?  (It physically hurt to write that)

– The woman that owns the pink house by the lake is my aunt.

I see this happen all the time, and it drives me nuts.  The correct way to write this is, "the woman who owns the house..." and "the man who turns into the Hulk...".

By using the word that when referring to a person, you are referring to them as an object, because you would say, "the vase that is blue," or "the serum that is dangerous."  The use of 'who' further distinguishes them as a person.

So, the rule is: when talking about a person, use who.  When talking about a thing, use that.  However, when I did a little research on this issue, just to make sure I was right, I ran across a weird (annoying) thing.  In the Grammar Girl's post here on this issue, she explains that in the American Heritage Dictionary, it allows either 'that' or 'who' to be used when referring to a person.  However, she prefers to stick with the strict rule because, once again, the use of 'that' as a relative pronoun when regarding humans make them seem less than human, and unless you're trying to do so, no one would intentionally want to do that.

To me, it just sounds wrong to say, "the guy that did so and so", and therefore I will be sticking to my guns and encouraging you to do so too.

I hope you enjoyed this slightly informative post and I will be back this weekend to talk about War & Peace!  xo, Ella

2.19.2015

Author Focus: C.S. Lewis

I thought that since I talked about a couple books by C.S. Lewis last week, I would bring back the post in which I talk about a favorite author.  You can read the first of these here.

C.S. Lewis is by far my favorite nonfiction author, and his books have made a big impression on my life.  If you're new here, in these posts I do a brief summary of the author's life, do mini reviews of my favorite books by him or her, and list some of my favorite quotes.  Let's get started.

Bio:
Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland on November 29, 1898.  As a toddler, Lewis declared that his name was Jack, and was called the same by his close family and friends for the rest of his life.  Lewis was best friends with his older brother, Warren, and the two boys had active imaginations that served them well throughout their childhoods, and for Lewis, throughout his life.  When he was 10, Lewis's mother died, and he and his brother were sent to a boarding school.  During WWI, Lewis served until he was wounded by shrapnel and sent home.  He graduated from Oxford University with a focus on literature and classic philosophy, and he went on to be awarded a teaching position at Magdalen College, which was part of the University.  There, he was taken in by a group who called themselves "The Inklings", a loose, informal collective of writers and philosophers, who counted in their number Lewis's brother, and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Through several of the group's members, C.S. Lewis became a Christian, for he had previously been an atheist.  In the mid-1920s, Lewis began publishing books, and it was during this time when he published the first of his sci-fi trilogy.  During WWII, he gave a series of radio broadcasts in which he dealt with primary Christian beliefs/principles and these were later gathered into the book known as Mere Christianity.  Lewis began publishing his possibly most famous works during the 50's: The Chronicles of Narnia.  In 1954, Lewis joined the faculty of Cambridge University as a literature professor, and in 1956, he married Joy Gresham, an American English teacher.  Their marriage was filled with joy, and so, when Joy passed away in 1960 due to cancer, Lewis was devastated.  He wrote about his grief following her death in his book, A Grief Observed.  Lewis resigned from his position at Cambridge in 1963 after experiencing heart trouble.  He passed away on November 22, 1963, in Headington, Oxford.

Books:

The Weight of Glory:  I "read" this book as an audiobook, and I really enjoyed it.  The Weight of Glory is more of an essay than a book.  Lewis wrote it during wartime, when people were dealing with fundamental issues like truth and justice.  He covers several issues in the essay, including the subject of glory: what it means when used in the Bible, every human being's intrinsic longing for another place, a sense that this world is not our home, and he also writes about people – how there are "no mere mortals" and that each person we meet will essentially become either a creature of unspeakable beauty or one of hideous evil.  I really enjoyed this.  Lewis is again, absolutely brilliant and he makes so many fascinating points.  I highly recommend.  (Note: the audiobook I have included some other essays CSL wrote, but I am only speaking of TWOG here.)

The Great Divorce:  Another brilliant book.  Based off a dream Lewis had, The Great Divorce is an idea of what heaven/hell may be like.  There is a bus that takes people from a place (perhaps hell, but may be purgatory(?)) up to heaven, where they can "visit" and decide if they want to stay.  It is physically uncomfortable for the people, who are ghosts at first, not solid bodies, but those who are already in heaven have normal bodies and are quite at home.  There are fascinating conversations between the residents of heaven and these visitors, whom they are trying to convince to stay.  The visitors each have their own sets of reasons and excuses and problems with the idea of heaven, and thus most of them return from whence they came.  It is an absolutely fascinating look at heaven, and you can read my full review of it here.

The Chronicles of Narnia: You knew this had to be in here.  I am an avowed fan of the Chronicles of Narnia.  I absolutely love them.  They are essentially a series of books for children, some of which are allegorical, and others which are simply symbolical of aspects of the Christian worldview.  I truly love each book, though I would have to say that The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe or The Horse and His Boy are my favorites.  I am also a fan of the first two movies (LWW, and Prince Caspian).  I reviewed The Chronicles of Narnia back in December, and you can find that post here.

And, of course, the two books by Lewis I spoke about last week (Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters) in my top nonfiction books post are also favorites, and would have made it on this list, too, if I had not already described them/reviewed them last week.  You can find that post here.

Quotes:

There are soooo many quotes by C.S. Lewis I absolutely love, but since this is a long post already, I am going to have to keep it under 20 (just kidding, it'll be less than that).  But I encourage you to find a more exhaustive list of his most famous quotes: you're sure to find some favorites.

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

"Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in His great campaign of sabotage." (Love this!)

"If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world." (And this!)

"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this."

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." (He's totally my dude)

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

"I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.  You are yourself the answer.  Before your face questions die away.  What other answer would suffice?

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” 

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” 

Oops.  I got a little carried away.  Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this very long post and I hope it inspired you to read a couple books by C.S. Lewis.  He is such an amazing writer and theologian and his works have made a big impression on my life.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

2.16.2015

Book Review: Garment of Shadows

Hello!  Today I am kicking off the book reviews for this month with a mystery; one which I am not sure about.  Mixed feelings over here.

Title: Garment of Shadows: A Nobel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

Author: Laurie R. King

Publisher/Price: Bantam/$12.61 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Historical Mystery

Number of pages: 304

Number in series: 12

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overview: Garment of Shadows is a historical mystery set in Morocco at the time of the Rif Rebellion in the early 1920s, which involves France, Spain, Morocco, and could easily end in war.  War lords grapple for power, and Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice-turned-wife, Mary Russell, are there to help sort things out.  Well, Holmes is, that is.  Mary has signed on with some film company is and working on that in the desert when she is abducted.  When she comes to deep in an unfamiliar Moroccan village, she realizes she has blood on her hands, a major concussion, and has no idea who she is.  Holmes, who assumes she is with the film company only realizes she is missing a few days later and seeks her out with the help of some Moroccan friends.  Russell really truly has a bad case of amnesia, causing her to forget about her relationship with Holmes, but her memory gradually returns.  We are not introduced to the mystery until deep into the book, and it has to do with Mary's abduction as well as the abduction of a friend of her and her husband.  The story is heavily-laden with political intrigue, and there is a sharp plot twist right a the end.  

My thoughts:  Ugh, I'm not sure what to think about this book.  I desperately wanted to love it, desperately wanted a woman/Holmes duo to work and be absolutely brilliant, but I'm not sure it worked for me.  So first off, I want to talk about that dynamic.

Now I have said before and still believe that Sherlock Holmes is such a classic literary figure that he can be remade in myriad ways and reamain Sherlock Holmes.  That may still be true in this case, but that doesn't mean I completely agree/enjoy the husband/wife dynamic between Holmes and Russell.  I tried to take extensive notes on my phone while reading this book, and I had some thoughts on their relationship and Holmes' role in the book.  The Sherlock Holmes of King's novel is completely opposite from the Sherlock of BBC's TV Show or even Conan Doyle's original detective of Baker Street.  He is barely recognizable.  Granted, he is a little older, a little wiser, but I saw none of his quirks or even brilliance in this book.  His wife solved the mystery, and it seemed he had little part in it.  She rescued him when he was in a bind, she suggested the crazy theories.  The Sherlock I know and love would have been the one to shock everyone with his impossible ideas and deductions.  There was zero of that in this book.  There were no deductions, no eccentrics, no Sherlock.  I guess the reason for my disappointment in his character was that I went into the book thinking Sherlock would be a main or even co-character.  But I felt like he was sidelined, and we don't even meet him until far into the book.  I was expecting, or rather, hoping, that Mary Russell and Sherlock would have a relationship a little like him and John Watson: Sherlock would pace around working through his crazy hypothesis, and Mary would act as the practical, level-headed one, fielding his questions, reassuring his doubts, etc.  That's what I was hoping for, but their relationship/partnership was nothing like that.

When I finished the book, I realized that in order for me to enjoy the series and the chemistry between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, I would have to fall in love with Russell.  After Garment of Shadows, I enjoy her, but I don't love her.

Second, I want to talk plot, for a minute.  The book opens with Mary Russell dealing with the fact that she has a concussion and has lost all her memory.  I have never read a book where a character had to deal with amnesia, but from the reviews I've read on Goodreads, and otherwise, amnesia seems like a slippery thing to write about.  I guess it's been done too much too badly, that there was a lot of wariness when it popped up in King's story.  However, like many reviewers said, I have to say that the amnesia thing really worked in this case.  I enjoyed it a lot and King executed it perfectly.  For someone who had never been introduced to Mary Russell prior to this book, it was a little confusing, but also an interesting way to get to know her.  I really enjoyed that.

Moving on to the main plot of the book.  It was confusing.  Like, I had to keep reminding myself of the mystery and what was going on and who was good or bad, and that's not a good sign.  I don't know if I was just distracted while reading it, or what, but I honestly had a hard time with it.  There was a ton of history about Morocco: more history than I've ever encountered with a historical mystery.  As some reviewers said, there was almost too much.  And you know me, I love my history, but I'll read a nonfiction book for that, thank you very much.  It was a lot to slog through in this one.  There was a lot of political intrigue, which got a little hairy, several long conversations, and a couple characters who got fuzzy.  But, I may have been seriously distracted while reading it.

Third, I want to cover a few more random things.  First, King nails description.  Like, wow.  After Russell wakes up with the concussion and no memory, she begins her journey of moving around the city and eventually finding Holmes.  I don't necessarily think it's essential to the story, but King paints an amazing picture of the Moroccan town where Russell is.  You can almost smell it.  She is amazing with words and metaphors.  Second, and this goes along with what I just said, King is a brilliant word smith.  The writing in this book is beyond amazing.  I would read it all over, just because of the way she writes.  It's astounding.  Finally, if you're new to the series, I would not recommend this book as a starting point.  I rarely start series with the first book, but it is essential in this case.  I think my confusion would have been a lot less had I known the characters going in, especially since there were some in here from Russell's prior adventures.  It would have been really helpful to have had backstory.

So in conclusion, this book is not for superfans of Sherlock Holmes, like me.  I will have to fall in love with Russell before I fall in love with the series, and for that reason, and because I so greatly appreciate/respect good writing, I will continue to read this one, starting with the first book, of course.  If you are not a diehard Holmes fan (you're breaking my heart), you will probably enjoy the series, because you won't care about his role being less than he is worthy of.  I will give this series another chance, in fact, I have the first book in my room now, but I will go into it with a different perspective and expectations having read Garment of Shadows.  

Thanks for reading!  I will be back on Wednesday to talk about a special author.  xo, Ella

P.S. I fell behind on my War & Peace reading this week, so I will be back this coming weekend for an update about that.  Oops.  

2.13.2015

This Girl Likes #9

This week seemed to fly for me and all the sudden I'm back to talk about stuff I like again!  I found some good links this week and a couple images, so let's get to it.

I am a big fan of listening to music while I read – I love listening to that music later and recalling how I was feeling while reading a certain book (it's the best) – and I found this article about multi-tasking while reading fun and interesting.

If you've ever struggled or still struggle with deciding when to use 'which' or 'that', this article should help straighten you out.

I love a good grammar joke, and this one's super funny.  Onomatopoeia is the formation of a word that sounds like its name.  For example: sizzle, honk, etc.
Well, the Fifty Shades of Grey movie comes out this week in time for Valentine's Day, and World Magazine wrote an excellent article on 5 myths some people believe about the movie/seeing it.  It's a good one.

Finally, I pinned this image a while ago and it just always makes me stop when I see it pop up in my feed.  It's so amazing to think that God will some day take all that's messed up about the world and make it beautiful.  That's the power of redemption.  Lately, that has struck me hard.  


And those are some of the things I've been enjoying this week!  Enjoy your weekend and I will be back next week to talk about a favorite author.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

2.12.2015

Top 7 Nonfiction Books

Seven.  That is a super random number, but I'm just going with it.  Today, as you probably figured out, I am here to talk about my favorite nonfiction books.
I love nonfiction.  I think most of my favorite books would fall into this category.  The seven I am going to talk about today are my top, top favorites, but half of a very tall stack of books in my room are other nonfiction books that I love.  Obviously, though, fitting seven into a blog post is more realistic.

Let's All Be Brave – If you have been a reader for any amount of time, this one should come as no surprise.  And I wouldn't be surprised if you're tired of me talking about it.  I just love it so much and it is firmly placed in my top favorite books ever (btw, the order of the books in the collage is completely random).  I'm not going to rave about it here: you can check out the full review here and I also talk about it here.

Knowing God – I read this book a couple years ago when my dad and brother went through it too and we'd meet at Starbucks to talk about it.  It is such an awesome, solid, no-nonsense book about how to know God.  J.I Packer talks about how we were created to know God and how when we grow closer to God, He draws nearer to us.  Written in a way that is utterly profound, but also clear and understandable, Knowing God is one of those books that changed my life.  J.I. Packer is amazing, by the way.  I hope to reread this book again in the near future (oh hey, avalanche of to-be-reads).

Jesus On Every Page – Now here's a book that changed. my. life.  Like, wow.  I have never read a book that so dramatically changed the way I thought about and read the Bible.  Before I read this book, I had a basic understanding of the Bible: I knew the Gospel, mostly stuck to reading the New Testament, and Psalms was my favorite Old Testament book.  I had a foggy idea about why the Old Testament was even in there...we learn lessons from the stories of David, Esther and Daniel, but not much else.  Well, I read this book and it turned that completely upside down.  The entire Bible is about one person: Jesus Christ.  Every story that fills its pages speaks about the Messiah.  The stories in the Old Testament I thought were lessons about how to live?  They speak of one person: Jesus.  Now, I get excited about reading the Old Testament.  I look out for and recognize words, stories, people that/who point to Jesus.  My understanding of the Bible is so much more complete or balanced rather (when is our understanding of anything about God complete?).  I want every Christian everywhere to read this book.

The Screwtape Letters – I could not have a list of my top nonfiction books without C.S. Lewis making an appearance once or twice.  He is one of my top authors, and I absolutely loved the Screwtape Letters.  It was such an eye opening book about how Satan tempts believers and I need to add it to my collection so I can reread it every six months or so.  There were so many times reading this that I just put it down in amazement.  It's fantastic.

Eats, Shoots, & Leaves – Gah, I love this book.  It's written by a fellow Grammar Nazi (one of the most Nazi-ish), Lynne Truss, and it is brilliant.  Equal parts snarky, entertaining, and enlightening, Eats, Shoots, & Leaves is a tirade about how grammar is being put to death all over the place, and how you and I can join in the cause to rescue it.  Truss's love of grammar and the English language shines forth in her book that rights every guilty abuser and galvanizes every lover of language.  She fills her book with examples of both punctuation used well and punctuation sorely neglected to make her case for respecting the abused marks of the English language.  I absolutely love this book, and even if you aren't super passionate about punctuation, I bet you'll still enjoy it.

Mere Christianity – This is one of those books that is impossible to read quickly or easily.  It's not easy reading, but C.S. Lewis is such a phenomenal writer and he lays out his points in such a way that it doesn't seem like you're reading a theologically heavy book.  I love every part of MC, but my favorite part is the earliest chapters where he starts from the ground up in building a case for the existence of God.  I find that stuff fascinating.  Mere Christianity is a smart, practical, utterly confident and trustworthy book about the basics of Christianity that is an excellent read whether you're a Christian or not.  I highly recommend it.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy – Yep, you knew it was coming!  Like Let's All Be Brave, this is another book I talked about quite a bit last year on TGW, and one that is definitely on my list of favorite books ever.  I have written lots about it already, so I will link to those posts, but I wanted to make mention of it here again, because it is certainly one of favorite books of the 7.  You can check out my full review here and I also talk about it here.

And that wraps up my top 7 nonfiction books as of now.  As I continue reading, I'm sure a few of these will get bumped out, but for now, these are my faves.

I will be back tomorrow to talk about some stuff I've been enjoying.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

2.11.2015

Mini Book Reviews // January Library Reads

As I said in my first post of this month, I'm cutting the full book reviews down to two a month at least until the end of May, due to a particularly busy season coming up.  I also said in that post that I planned to do "mini" book reviews per month, so as to keep up with the Snagged @ the Library challenge.  And today, I am here to do just that.  Today I plan to talk about the books I read from the library last month.  My goal is to read at least 3 books from the library a month (to meet my goal for the challenge), but as I am reviewing one of those books this month in a normal book review, I'm talking about only two today.  Confused, much?
These are two books by the same author: Tasha Alexander.  I spoke about discovering her in my Books of 2014 post, and since then, I've picked up a couple more from her.  She has quickly become a favorite historical mystery writer.  The book on the right, And Only to Deceive was Alexander's debut and the first in the series about Lady Emily.  The one on the left is #5 in the series, and it takes place shortly after Emily's marriage to Colin Hargreaves (*spoiler alert*).

For these mini reviews, I'm not going to outline the plot or talk about the writing really; I'll just go over the things I loved or did not love about the book and whether or not I'd recommend it.

And Only To Deceive: This book was awesome.  I know that the debut of a new author tends to be pretty good, especially if they are writing a series, and that was definitely true in this case.  In a way unlike the other books from this series, And Only to Deceive was really hard to put down.  Lady Emily had just lost her first husband, whom she hadn't really known, and the book is her journey to finding out more about him and actually falling in love with the man he was, when there had been no love on her part prior to his death.  There is a mystery involved, too, and she eventually discovers that her husband had been murdered.  I loved that this book had some romance in it, albeit in a weird way, and it was fast-paced enough to keep me interested all the way to the end.  There were twists and turns, engaging characters, and it was an excellent introduction to Lady Emily.  I would definitely recommend it if you're looking for a historical mystery series set in Victorian England and, if like me, you appreciate your historical mysteries to have a pleasant, but not overwhelming amount of romance .  This one gets a thumbs up from me – it is definitely my favorite book in the Lady Emily series so far.

Dangerous To Know: I didn't like this one so much.  The story took place shortly after Emily's marriage to Colin Hargreaves, and in the book right before this one (#4), she had miscarried due to injuries she incurred while working on a case.  As a result, Colin is very protective of her in this story – to the point where he forbids her (or at least tries to forbid her) from taking part in his next case.  There is a lot of back and forth between them: she's angry with him for taking her independence, he's angry with her for going against his wishes...blah, blah, blah.  It got old real quick.  It did not help that Emily was a hormonal, emotional mess after losing her unborn child (I'm not saying she shouldn't have been – obviously she should be), but with the issues with Colin and complications with the case they were working on, it was just too much.  Too much emotional garbage and not enough mystery.  When I read a mystery, I absolutely want to learn about the character and his or her story/feelings, but I don't want that to overwhelm the mystery.  In this book, the character's emotions and feelings were so intertwined with the mystery itself that they just seemed to overwhelm the storyline.  When this happens, I feel like I have to keep reminding myself of the mystery they are trying to solve, and I don't think that should happen in a mystery.  I am not saying that I did not respect Lady Emily's emotions/situation – I do – but I didn't like that they were so prominent and overwhelmed the mystery.  Also, unlike And Only To Deceive, I felt like the book got a little long and seemed to drag.  There were many characters all doing their own thing, and playing their own parts in the story, and it all added up to a plot that was a little sluggish, and a that book I wasn't dying to finish.

And those were the two of the three books I read last month from the library!  One hit and one miss, but an author whose work I will definitely continue to read.  I will be back tomorrow to share some of my favorite nonfiction books.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

2.09.2015

War & Peace: Week 5


This post is certainly a little late this time, but I was gone all weekend, so I have a viable excuse.  This week's reading was a little more interesting: thankfully we're done with the battle stuff for now.  Phew.
Pierre Bezukhov who has become the unexpected heir of his father's fortune finds himself the new lovechild of society.  Everyone is suddenly friendly towards him when before he was ignored due to his questionable behavior, awkwardness and illegitimacy.  Pierre naively believes his overnight admirers to be sincere.
One of the first people to work himself into Pierre confidences is Prince Vasili Kuragin, who had been anxious to receive Count Bezukhov's fortune before his death.  Vasili's motive in befriending Pierre is to see him married to his daughter, the beautiful Helene (the only reason is Pierre's significant fortune).  Anna Pavlovna, whose party opened the novel, hosts another party after Pierre's sudden promotion in society, and sings the praises of Helene to Pierre.  While he is overcome by her beauty, Pierre is also struck by Helene's apparent stupidity, which puts him off.  Over time, however, Pierre's lighthearted infatuation with Helene deepens until he believes that marriage between them is inevitable.  In a rather strange, confusing scene at a party hosted in Helene's honor, Prince Vasili convinces the dazed Pierre, that he and Helene are engaged.  Soon after, they are married.  I can't say that it looks good for the both of them.
This week's reading was all about Prince Kuragin trying to marry off his children, because after the affair with Pierre, he sends word to Prince Bolkonski (the father of Andrew and Mary, who lives in a secluded castle in the country) to tell him that he plans to visit with his son, Anatole, who is known for being a bit of a troublemaker.  Kuragin plans to try and get his son married to the Prince's daughter, Mary.  Prince Bolkonski does not approve of Prince Kuragin, and his visit puts him in a bad mood, which is nothing new.  Mary is attracted to Anatole because he is handsome and strong, and he charms her.  However, Mary feels bound to her father, and when he gives her the choice of whether to accept Anatole's courtship or not, she turns the young man down.
And that wraps up this week's reading.  Rather appropriate for the impending Valentine's Day, though I doubt there is much true love between Pierre and Helene, and Mary would definitely be hosting an anti-Valentine's party, I think.

I will be back tomorrow for some mini book reviews!  xo, Ella

2.06.2015

This Girl Likes #8

Hello, and happy Friday!  It's that time of the week again where I talk about stuff I've been loving recently and today I have some awesome things to mention.

First.  We got dumped on this week and so I have been loooving all the snow!  I have the biggest itch to go skiing again...


You may have heard of the story of the woman who publicly announced on her blog her decision not to wear yoga pants/leggings because of the lustful thoughts they might inspire in men.  Since then, the woman and her husband appeared on Good Morning America and her decision has sparked a heated discussion among the Christian community.  I totally get where she is coming from and agree with her decision, but I really appreciated this post that points out how we can get so focused on things that seem so small in the face of the world's biggest problems.  I am not saying (nor is she) that modesty is not important, far from it.  Rather, she argues that the huge discussions/controversy/rants/anger/obsession the church has over things like this is wrong.  It has happened before, and she bravely posits that there are far more important and critical things Christians could pour energy and time into than adding their two cents to online debates on clothing.  I really appreciated what she said.


I know I mention something about She Reads Truth in almost every "This Girl Likes" post, but their newest study is on the book of Esther and though I'm only a day in, I can already tell it's going to be awesome.  You can follow along on their app, or sign up to receive the daily studies in an email on their site.

This tweet popped up in my timeline last week and I have to say that I can definitely relate.  It just says what I have thought for a long time.

And that's it for this week!  I will hopefully have a War and Peace update up this weekend, and thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


2.05.2015

Movie Review // The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

I am here today to review the final installment of the Hobbit trilogy – The Battle of the Five Armies.  I saw this movie over Christmas weekend, but I've been thinking about it since then.  This could end up being a sort of a long rant – just a warning.


Since seeing this in the theatre, I have read different reviews: ones that don't like the entire trilogy and Peter Jackson's execution of it, and other that love the trilogy.  Now I have not read The Hobbit – I'm planning on reading it this year – and I'm honestly not really excited to because it is a children's story, whereas the LOTR is not.  I know the plot, though, and I don't love the idea of a treasure hunt.  I love the LOTR because it has a point – trying to save Middle Earth.  So first off, I love that Peter Jackson adapted the story so that more is at stake.  I love that these movies are not just about a dragon and treasure, but that there is an actual evil force that needs to be destroyed.  There is a lot more danger, good vs. evil and bravery (which I was all over).  With that, I loved. this. movie.  I read a couple reviews that claimed that BOTFA didn't have a lot of Hobbit or Tolkien in it.  I have to agree with that a little (there is a love story that is very un-Tolkien-ish, and I kind of loved it #noshame), but unlike those reviewers, I think the movie retained a lot of hobbit wisdom.  Of course it's not going to be full of hobbits, because there is only one in the entire trilogy, but I feel like the spirit of the hobbits and their common sense was present throughout the final film.  I'm gonna go through some of that real quick before I get into the other stuff I loved (oh, we are just getting started).

Bilbo is small, but he is brave.  Like Frodo, he seems like the least likely person in the story to be brave.  When he is faced with a mission, when he has a chance to do the right thing, bravery seems like second nature.  Maybe, when a hobbit is faced with a situation in which his friends are in danger, his fear of danger is drowned by his fear for their safety.  Which would mean that in addition to bravery, another attribute of hobbits is selflessness, or love.  Bilbo's wisdom overwhelms his fear as well.  In the film, when he keeps the Arkenstone from Thorin, he risks his life (Thorin would do anything to get that stone) to do what is better for Thorin in the end and keeps him from being completely overtaken by the Dragon sickness.  Bilbo is also incredibly loyal.  Not the sort of loyal that follows Thorin blindly in whatever he does, but the sort that inspires him to risk his life to do what is best for his friends, even if they don't see it that way.  Finally, there's the plain old wisdom and common sense the hobbits became known for in the LOTR.  The wisdom that comes from a simple people small of stature but great of heart – wisdom that is unclouded by the greed of dwarves and men, wisdom that is unblemished by pride.  Tolkien's message has always been this: even the smallest person can change the course of the future.  Bilbo's role in the BOTFA (Battle of the Five Armies) is simply another example of that message that has been central in LOTR and now in the Hobbit films.

Now I have no idea how this is all worked out in the book, but for me, the trilogy demonstrated an understanding of the principles that govern Tolkien's hobbits – I just listed a few that stood out to me.
 
Next, I want to talk about my favorite part of the film.  The fighting was all amazing, Bard doing his thing in Laketown was awesome, Thorin's cousin dwarf was sweet, that time the elves jumped over the dwarves was the best, but my favorite part (and the first time I cried) was when the dwarves came charging out of the mountain, yelling at the top of their lungs and following their king.  I kind of lost it.  They were such a small group against such a huge enemy force, but their appearance changed the tide of the battle and revived their allies.  I just loved that part.  I would see the whole movie again just to see that one scene.

Finally, before I get onto the fun stuff, I want to talk about bravery (you knew it was coming).  Sitting in the theater watching this movie, crying through the end and hoping my waterproof mascara was as waterproof as it claimed, one thought kept going through my head as I sat there.  "There are so many brave people in this movie."  I already talked about Bilbo, but there was Thorin towards the end (after the epic running out of the mountain part), Legolas and Tauriel (when the battle was really none of their business: T was chasing her man crush and Legolas was chasing his wom– whatever), Thranduil (even though he was a major jerk), and Kili (who basically sacrificed himself for Tauriel) (he rocks).  So much bravery and sacrifice and even though the battle had begun over treasure, greed had awoke a greater evil in the Necromancer (which would later come to fruition in LOTR) and so the stakes seemed so much higher by the end of the film.  Now, granted, it would have been better for Thorin to have shared with Bard/Laketown, buuuuut, he didn't.  Anyway, there was so much bravery among the dwarves, certain elves, Bilbo and that was what stood out to me the most.  And now, I'm going to run through the fun stuff I loved quick because I need to wrap this up.  ASAP.  I mean, look how long it is!?

First, the love story between Kili and Tauriel.  Um.  Yes.  I have to say this one was better than the *thing* between Arwen and Aragorn in the LOTR.  I never really liked Arwen.  I think Aragorn should have gotten together with Eowyn, but that may just be because Aragorn is like my favorite fictional guy evah and I just think Eowyn rocks.  K, done.  Anyway, I really enjoyed that between Tauriel and Kili: I think Kili was nothing short of awesome and Tauriel was ahhh-mazing!  I had always wanted a female version of Legolas, I just didn't know until now.  Her red hair is so good and her fighting is seriously on point.  And even though I know that such a thing would never happen between a dwarf and an elf, I think Peter Jackson really did a good job with it.  The ending really couldn't have been better, because would they really have worked out if they had both made it?  Not sure 'bout that.  Also.  Legolas.  He is back, except in the past, and older than in LOTR, but not really.   What?  And yes, it's nearing that hour of the night where I am no longer coherent.  He is back and maybe even better(?) than in LOTR, even though there was no sliding down stairs on an orc shield.  His fighting is super awesome and it was fun seeing him get snubbed by Tauriel.  Next, I really did not want that slimy sniveling dude who reminded me of Wormtongue and whose name I really forget to live.  He was such a jerk.  Although that one scene was pretty funny (you know the one).

Last but not least, the visuals in this film kind of blew me away.  The Middle Earth films are by far my favorites when it comes to the all around visual amazing-ness.  It's incredible.

And now I should probably wrap this up.  I'm sure I left something out (the brain's not exactly functioning at its highest capacity at the moment), so I may have to write a follow-up post, but, let's hope not, because this was way too long.  The Battle of the Five Armies has its faults, but it also has moments of endearing hobbit-ness, lots of bravery, and some scenes I will remember forever.  It's really sad to think there won't be any more Middle Earth films for a while, but I plan on doing a major re-watch every six months or so (major marathon possibilities).  Congratulations if you made it through this whole thing, and may the force be with you (oh, wrong franchise.  oops)

(btw, what is with the parentheses?)

2.02.2015

On the Stack // February

Wow!  It's hard to believe February is already here!  Feels like we were just ringing in the new year.  Anyway, I'm here today to share the books I plan on reviewing this month.  The next few months I'm gonna be super busy, working 2-3 full days a week plus trying to fit school in.  So, yeah.  Until my schedule lightens up or I figure out how I'm going to swing it, I'm going to cut back my reviews per month to two.  I might throw in some mini-reviews, though, which I should be able to do pretty quickly.  So without further ado, let's get to the books.  


Another month, another recreation of Sherlock Holmes.  This time, he's married, and his wife, Mary Russell, seems his equal in just about everything, and I'm excited to finish it.  I gotta say, though, the writing is incredible.  Like, wow.  Laurie King is an incredible writer.  Amazon description:
Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, comprise one of today’s most acclaimed mystery series. Now, in their newest and most thrilling adventure, the couple is separated by a shocking circumstance in a perilous part of the world, each racing against time to prevent an explosive catastrophe that could clothe them both in shrouds.
 
In a strange room in Morocco, Mary Russell is trying to solve a pressing mystery: Who am I? She has awakened with shadows in her mind, blood on her hands, and soldiers pounding on the door. Out in the hivelike streets, she discovers herself strangely adept in the skills of the underworld, escaping through alleys and rooftops, picking pockets and locks. She is clothed like a man, and armed only with her wits and a scrap of paper containing a mysterious Arabic phrase. Overhead, warplanes pass ominously north.
 
Meanwhile, Holmes is pulled by two old friends and a distant relation into the growing war between France, Spain, and the Rif Revolt led by Emir Abd el-Krim—who may be a Robin Hood or a power mad tribesman. The shadows of war are drawing over the ancient city of Fez, and Holmes badly wants the wisdom and courage of his wife, whom he’s learned, to his horror, has gone missing. As Holmes searches for her, and Russell searches for herself, each tries to crack deadly parallel puzzles before it’s too late for them, for Africa, and for the peace of Europe.


 I got this book for my birthday last year, and I have been meaning to read it.  This book is also on my winter TBR stack, so I am excited to crack it open.  It's all about understanding God's Word and its God-breathed-ness, and I've heard a lot about it.  Amazon description ahead:
Can we trust the Bible completely?
Is it sufficient for our complicated lives?
Can we really know what it teaches?
With his characteristic wit and clarity, award-winning author Kevin DeYoung has written an accessible introduction to the Bible that answers important questions raised by Christians and non-Christians. This book will help you understand what the Bible says about itself and the key characteristics that contribute to its lasting significance.
Avoiding technical jargon, this winsome volume will encourage you to read and believe the Bible—confident that it truly is God’s Word.
I'm excited about the books for this month, and I'm looking forward to reviewing them!  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

2.01.2015

War & Peace: Week 4


Hello, and happy Superbowl Sunday.  I'm sitting over here stalking Twitter and cheering for the Patriots because they're who Chris Evans is cheering for, so obviously (honestly, though, I don't really care who wins because the Superbowl bet will turn out awesome whatever happens).

This week reading War & Peace was rough.  It was a long half chapter with mostly boring battle stuff and dumb generals and annoying arguments.  So what I'm saying is this will be short.  Because I need to get back to my Twitter feed.
So the Russians are waiting for a battle that is imminent.  The troops think about life and death.  The battle begins.  Andrew senses that Prince Bagration reacts to news of events on the field as if he had planned for them.  Andrew notices that this helps the morale.  The two come upon many wounded soldiers, their detachment having been overwhelmed.  The commanding officer pleads with Bagration to turn back, but he refuses.  
At the same time, Nicholas is in the hussar lines anxiously waiting his first battle.  All of a sudden, it begins and he is unsure who the enemy is and whether he is wounded, as he feels the warmth of blood and is pinned by his fallen horse.  He sees the approaching French and wonders how they could kill him, someone whom everyone likes.  He waits for aid.  
Dolokhov, Nicholas's friend, is also wounded while capturing an enemy officer.  Andrew wanders among the wounded soldiers and saves a Captain Tushin from wrongful accusations of imcompetence by Bagration, but he is unhappy about it.  
And thus, the second book comes to a close.  I hope we move on from the battlefield/army in the next one, and the pace picks up a little bit.  But, War & Peace isn't like 3 inches thick for no reason, eh?

I will be back tomorrow to share the books I'll review this week!  Enjoy the Superbowl if you're watching it and I cannot wait to see the outcome of #twitterbowl.  And yes, I will be stalking Chris Evans and Chris Pratt on Twitter for the rest of the night.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella