Sunday, January 29, 2012

Loving Your Enemies...and the Enemies of Your Friends

Quite awhile ago, I talked about the possibility of religious-themed posts on Sundays as a regular feature. I always meant to follow through with it, but I never did - I never felt like I had anything worth sharing. Now, I do, and so I'm going to revive the idea and try my best to post something like this every week. I'm not trying to push Christianity on anyone, but I definitely feel like it's a way I can use this blog to serve God.

So, onto the topic of this specific post. In the past week, I had an experience that I feel like God was using to teach me something. We were playing volleyball in gym class, and one girl was saying some really mean things about another girl, who's not very athletic and wasn't participating much. She was making fun of her for not hitting the ball, to which the girl's response was, "If I try, it won't do any good, and you'll still yell at me."

I felt horrible about the whole situation. I wanted to say something, but I was too afraid - the girl who was making the mean comments has a reputation for being nasty, and I didn't want trouble with her. Looking back, I wish I had spoken up.

That night when I got home, I prayed for the girl who had been made fun of. I didn't even have to think about it; it was obviously the right thing to do. I prayed for myself, that the next time I was in a situation like that, I would have the courage to speak up. But then I realized that there was someone else I needed to be praying for - the girl who had been making the nasty comments. Based on the way she'd been acting that day and how she'd acted in my other encounters with her, she obviously needed it.

This was kind of a startling thought to me. Matthew 5:44 says, "But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Praying for the people who attack you and your faith is rarely easy, but to me, it's always been manageable. But what about praying for people who attack your friends - or, in my case, people who you don't even know very well? The Bible tells us that we should stand up for the weak; in Proverbs 31:8 it says, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute."

But when we're defending someone, it's easy to hate the person attacking them, when in reality, the attacker needs God's love just as much as the one they're attacking. I've been told many times that I'm an empathetic person and I think that's true, so praying for someone else's enemy is almost harder than praying for my own enemy. God still loves them, though, and He tells us to love them too.

I hope that you were able to get something out of this entry, and I encourage you to strive to love the enemies of your friends as well as your own enemies. My eyes have certainly been opened by this experience, and I'll try my best to do the same.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Song Wars (1)

Song Wars is where I compare two songs with similar titles, meanings, or lyrics, different versions of the same song, or an original song and the covers that have been made of it. I'll discuss what I like and dislike about both songs, then decide which one I like better. 

The exact format of Song Wars has taken awhile to figure out, which is the reason I didn't start posting it last week and part of the reason I'm not writing this post until late this evening. (The other reason is that I've developed a nasty cold/sinus infection and haven't felt like doing much of anything until now.) For a quick overview of how this post and the others will be structured, I'll start with the two songs I'm comparing and how they're similar. Then, in a format similar to the awesome Books vs. Movies reviews found here, I'll compare different aspects of the songs and decide which song is better in each category, which will definitely impact my overall decision of which song is better. 

Now, without further ado, (sorry, I love that phrase), the first official Song Wars post!

This Week
"Set Fire to the Rain" by Adele vs. "Fire" by Ingrid Michaelson

What They Have in Common: Similar titles and somewhat similar meanings and lyrics

Title: The titles are the first and most obvious similarity between the songs. Both of them fit their respective songs perfectly, and I wouldn't change either one of them. However, while I like the simplicity of "Fire", "Set Fire to the Rain" is just a better image in the title. It's unique, and it makes you interested in the song before you've even heard it. So the winner of this round is definitely Adele. 

Lyrics: Both songs have lyrics that are absolutely phenomenal, although in different ways. Each one creates a distinct image that pulls you into the song; while "Fire" has more metaphoric verses, "Set Fire to the Rain" is more descriptive. It's honestly hard to say which lyrics are better. The verses are my favorite part of "Fire", and I definitely like that and the chorus more than the bridge. There's nothing in the lyrics of "Set Fire to the Rain" that I dislike, although I think I like hopeful tone in "Fire"'s verses a bit more. However, the bridge of "Set Fire to the Rain" is beyond amazing. The whole song is more intense, although that doesn't necessarily mean anything either way. This is such a tough decision that I'm not even sure I can make it, so I think I'm going to have to declare the lyrics round a draw. 

Music: The music a song is set to can make it or break it for me. Most of my favorite songs, I love because  of the music. It's the main reason Coldplay is my favorite band - their instrumentals are stunning. So this is definitely a significant category. 

It's also one that's easier to decide than the last one. I cannot get enough of the strings on "Fire." Oh, my goodness. I love string instruments of any kind, possibly more than I love piano instrumentals, which is saying somethings. The best part is right after the first chorus, but all throughout the song, they provide the perfect backdrop to the lyrics. Ingrid Michaelson and "Fire" have this round won hands down. 

I'm definitely not criticizing the music in "Set Fire to the Rain" at all, though. It's nice, and there's some pretty piano at the beginning, but it's not what stands out about the song, and the instrumentals on "Fire" feel a lot more layered to me. 

Singing: I'll start this off by saying that I love Ingrid Michaelson's voice, and that both songs fit their respective singers perfectly - I can't imagine either one being sung by a different artist. That being said, I think most people could guess that the winner of this round was going to be "Set Fire to the Rain." Her voice is just so powerful, and there's only a few artists that I can think of that might have her topped.

Meaning: Overall, these songs are pretty similar in their overall tone and style. They're both about relationships (unless there's some hidden meaning I'm not picking up); "Set Fire to the Rain" has the message of, "You're too flawed for this to work, but you still have my heart; I know we can't continue, but I'll still miss you, even though I shouldn't", I think "Fire" is about the intensity of being in the relationship and how it changes your outlook on life - based on the lyrics, I think for the better. That's why "Fire" comes out slightly ahead in this round. "

The songs came out tied this week, but overall, I have to say that I like "Fire" more. It was very close; "Set Fire to the Rain" is still an amazing song and Adele is an amazing singer. "Fire" is just my personal preference, mainly because I like the music and the meaning better, even though there places where I liked the lyrics of "Set Fire to the Rain" better. If either song had been just slightly different, it easily could have gone the other way. 

So, what do you think? Which song do you think is better?


Monday, January 23, 2012

Inspire (2)

Inspire is a weekly writing prompt or writing exercise, posted on Mondays. Anyone who's interested can participate, and you're more than welcome to share what you've written by posting a link in the comments.

I hope everyone enjoyed last week's writing exercise. This week's prompt is a little simpler and gives you some more freedom with what to write: it's a one-word prompt, and the word is "animal." The idea is to write anything that comes to mind when you see this word: it can be a poem, a story, just random thoughts, or anything you can come up with. The best advice I can give is not to give yourself any limits. Try to keep your thoughts related to the original word, but otherwise, just let your mind go.

Have fun!


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Reading Room (9)

The Reading Room is a weekly update on books I'm reading and planning to read, and was inspired by the feature On Myshelf at the blog All By Myshelf.

I'm still working my way through my list of books from last week, so there's not much new to post. I finished Lament the same day I wrote the last post, and the ending was just as amazing as the rest of the book. I also started and finished Witch and Wizard, which also far exceeded my expectations - it was amazing. Still working on Dracula - once again, I like the book and reading it on my nook is awesome, but I've been distracted by other (slightly more awesome) books. I also started reading Tiger's Curse last night; although I'm not sure I like the writing style, it looks promising otherwise. Incarceron and Firebirds Rising are still patiently waiting on my to-read list.

Since I loved Lament and Witch and Wizard so much, you can probably guess the two books I've added to my reading list this week: The Gift (2nd book in the Witch and Wizard series) and Ballad (Sequel to Lament.) My to-read pile it still pretty significant, but I can't wait to get my hands on these books. I ran into math class today desperate to find out if my friend had returned The Gift to the library so I could check it out, and when my partner for the history project left Ballad on her desk, I was so obviously tempted to pick it up and start reading instead of working on the project that she offered to have the librarian hold it for me once she returned it.

So my reading list just keeps growing. Exactly the way I like it, although I'm not sure when I'm going to find the time to read all these books. Unfortunately, school just takes up too much time. 

Eager for summer, or at least the weekend,

Monday, January 16, 2012

Inspire (1)

Welcome to the first post of one of my new features, Inspire! Inspire is a weekly writing prompt or writing exercise, posted on Mondays. Anyone who's interested can participate, and you're more than welcome to share what you've written by posting a link in the comments.

So, here's the first writing exercise. Since it's January, I'm guessing that most of us are experiencing at least some cold and snowy weather. I always have mixed feelings towards winter: I love snow and think winter is one of the most beautiful seasons, but I hate the cold. This week's exercise is to write two separate paragraphs (you can write a larger amount if you want) about the weather where you live. For the first paragraph, describe the weather in a positive way. For the second, describe it negatively.

Hope you enjoy!

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year, New Look, New Features

So, you may have noticed that my blog looks entirely different than the last time you saw it. I've been thinking that it's needed a makeover for awhile, so last night I started experimenting with some backgrounds and banners from The Graphics Fairy, and once I found this combination, I loved it too much to even consider going back. It's a lot different from my previous layout, but I think the change is for the better. I hope you like it as much as I do!

Over the next few days, I'm going to continue to modify the layout. There won't be any major changes, but I'll be adding some new pages and some things will probably be moved around. I'll post another update or edit this one once those are done.

The layout isn't the only thing new about this blog. I've decided that it's time to add some new features. The only one that I've been consistently posting is The Reading Room, and while I definitely enjoy posting that, I want to add some more.

I'd like to bring music into the blog more, since I love it almost as much as I love books, so I've come up with two music-related features. The first is called Song Wars, which will compare two (sometimes more) songs with similar titles, lyrics, or meanings, different versions of the same song, or an original song with covers that have been made of it. I'll discuss both songs, decide which one I like better (if there is one) and ask for reader's opinions.  The second music-related feature doesn't have a name yet, but is somewhat similar to The Reading Room - I'll share an artist, song, or album I've been listening to a lot that week, and talk about why I like it so much.

As for writing, which is supposed to be the third focus of this blog, I'd like to try again at posting regular writing updates - for awhile I wasn't writing much, so I had nothing to post, and then I sort of gave up the attempt. Before I try to do this, though, I definitely need to come up with a name for this feature. Having nothing better than "What I'm Writing" might drive me insane. I'm also thinking of adding writing prompts as a feature, but that idea definitely needs some more thought.

I haven't decided on when all of these things will be appearing, but a posting schedule is one of the things I'll be working on over the layout. I'll update again soon, and keep an eye out for new features appearing on the blog!


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Short Story Reading Challenge 2012

Hello, everyone! So, I know we're already 12 days into 2012, but hopefully it's not too late to interest the readers of my blog (there's seven of you now, I'm so thrilled) in a reading challenge for 2012. I've wanted to host one for awhile, but was unable to come up with a focus or concept to base it on. The other day, though, I finally came up with something. So here's all the information you'll need:

Challenge Name: Short Stories Reading Challenge 2012

Goals: Read collections/anthologies of short stories in 2012

  • Level One - Read 5 Collections of Short Stories
  • Level Two - Read 10 Collections of Short Stories
  • Level Three - Read 15 Collections of Short Stories

  • Stories must be read between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012
  • Stories can be by any author in any genre, and collections can contain stories from one author or many
  • Collections of short stories can be published in any year
  • If you have a blog, please write a participation post and link back to this post
  • You don't have to know what you're reading or post a list right away, but it would be nice if you'd share what you've read somewhere that other participants can view it. Editing it into your participation post later is fine. Likewise, you don't have to post reviews of what you've read, but if you do they're greatly appreciated. 
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.

Not Sure What to Read?
Here's a brief list of some of my suggestions on GoodReads:
If you have any suggestions for other participants, feel free to let me know and I'll add them to the list!

Sign Ups
Sign Ups will remain open until December 15, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Reading Room (8)

The Reading Room is a weekly update on books I'm reading and plan to read. It was inspired by Ren's On Myshelf at the awesome blog All By Myshelf.

This post is a day late this week, for which I sincerely apologize. Yesterday was crazy, and before I realized it, it was ten o'clock and I was going to sleep. Luckily, I do have quite a lot to post about to make up for the lateness of the post.

First of all, I'm still reading Dracula. Reading it on the nook has been kind of slow, but I don't think that's because of the eReader - in fact, I was reading another book today and found myself missing some of the features of my nook. I think it's the book itself - while it's good and I definitely enjoy it, I'm at a slower spot right now. There's not much to keep me up late reading.

Something that has kept me glued to the page since I started it is Lament, by Maggie Stiefvater - author of The Scorpio Races and Shiver.  One of my friends read it and said it was good, but I never got around to reading it; now that I've finally started, I can't believe that it took me so long to check it out from the library. I love it and I can't put it down. I only started it last night, and I'm already 115 pages into it - I stayed up much too late last night and read all through school today. I'm starting to wonder if anything Maggie Stiefvater writes can be disappointing. Lament is definitely enough to pull her up to favorite-author status.

The school library was closed all last week, so on the same trip to the public library when I picked up Lament, I also checked out Witch and Wizard, by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet. I downloaded a free sample onto my Nook, and liked it enough to check out the book from my library. Ironically, one of my best friends also started reading it about the same time - and she's already finished it and moved on to The Gift. A promising sign - I trust her judgement.

When the school library finally reopened, of course, I had to make a trip in first period. Because I can never have enough books. I checked out two more books that I've been planning to read for awhile - Incarceron by Catherine Fisher and Firebirds Rising, edited by Sharyn November. Firebirds Rising is the sequel to Firebirds, a collection of fantasy short stories that I absolutely loved. I can't wait to start reading it.

Finally, I still haven't gotten through all the books I got for Christmas. Next on the list is Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck, which my grandparents gave me when they visited over New Year's. I wasn't planning to read it before some of the other books I got, but we're studying Ancient India and China in history, and any opportunity I have to relate what I'm studying to what I'm reading, I take - it makes things ten times easier to remember.

That's the end of my reading list - it's crazy-long this week, which exactly how I like it. Now, I have to get back to reading Lament...


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

YA Mythology Challenge - Participation Post


This is one of those reading challenges that just screams my name. I absolutely love mythology, and novels based off it are even better. This challenge - hosted by For Those About to Read... - looks completely awesome. The goal is to read 10 books with any kind of mythology in them in 2012. I'm so excited! I'm going to try to find books with myths from a variety of cultures, not just the more common Greek/Roman myths. 

I'm not entirely sure what else I'm going to read, but I know I'm starting off with The Warlock by Michael Scott, which I started a few days ago and am reading now. I definitely recommend The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series for anyone interested in mythology - there's so many myths incorperated in it, from all different cultures around the world. Plus, they books are just plain awesome. 

Excited for more mythological adventures,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Reading Room (7)

The Reading Room is a weekly update on the books I'm reading and planning to read. It was inspired by Ren's On Myshelf at the blog All by Myshelf.

As you can see, I've finished Clockwork Prince - it was amazing. As I said in my review on Shelfari, it's unusual for me to find a book like this, where I absolutely love all the characters. I can't wait for the next book in the series to come out.

After finishing Clockwork Prince, I couldn't wait to start the next book on my reading list - The Warlock by Michael Scott, which I mentioned in my last post. Right now I'm on Chapter 18, and the series is definitely as awesome as I remembered. I've missed reading about these characters and all the myths that are incorporated into the books. (Okay...I'll be honest. Mostly, I've missed Perenelle and Machiavelli.) I can't believe it's the next to last book in the series - I'm excited, but also a little sad it's ending.

I've also downloaded some books for my nook, so I have something to read on it besides the User Guide. One is The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater. Despite the fact that I try to avoid anything involving werewolves, I really loved Shiver. This new book looks really good - as soon as I read the description, I was intrigued. I can't wait to start it, and I'll definitely post a review (at least on Shelfari) when I'm done. I have high hopes for this one - with luck, I won't be disappointed.

The other book I downloaded came free on the nook: Dracula. Yes, the original vampire novel - but one I can stand, because this is how vampires are supposed to behave and act. I started reading it as soon as I downloaded it, but it took me awhile to get through all the introductions and notes at the beginning. (I've decided that's how you can tell how old a book is and whether it's a classic or not - how much you have to read before you get to the actual book.) I'm only on Chapter Two, but so far I like it. Not much has happened yet, but I really appreciate the way Bram Stoker uses foreshadowing. It's subtle, and if I didn't know Dracula was a vampire, I think it would be just enough to make me curious without giving everything away.

Still working my way through my pile of Christmas books,

Sunday, January 1, 2012

YA Historical Fiction Challenge - Participation Post

I'm not sure whether to call this "irony", or just, "supremely perfect timing." Either way, the day after I posted 2011: A Year in Books and made the comment that I love historical fiction more than you would guess, and said that I should read more of it, I found about this reading challenge. I discovered it through a post on All By Myshelf, and it's hosted by YA Bliss.  It's the perfect solution to my not-reading-enough-historical-fiction-dilemma, and of course I have to participate. 

If anyone else is interested in participating, I highly recommend it. It looks pretty simple - the challenge is to read 5-15 YA Historical fiction books in 2012. For more information, click on the link above - it'll take you to the official post with all the rules and how to sign up. I've decided to attempt level 2, reading 10 books; I'll add the titles as I read them. 

Excited for this challenge,