The Night Circus: Subtle Magic and Unseen Drama

This was supposed to be last week’s post. I was gone all week and just noticed that somehow it ended up posted as a separate page for some reason. Here it is in normal post form…whoops! 

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My Rating: 4.5 stars

 

Plot Summary

The circus arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

I loved this book. It was unlike anything else I’ve ever read, in characters, plot, and writing style, and it definitely pulled me out of the slight reading slump I had been in for a little while! I couldn’t put it down.

First of all, the premise is incredibly creative and unique, and the plot spun out in an unpredictably lovely way. I have to say – this is not a fast-paced book, and I can understand that therefore it may not be some peoples’ taste. But I love character-driven, beautifully written stories that focus on thought and emotion (inner action, rather than outer action, if you will), and this book was definitely that. So I loved it, even though some people don’t.

I loved the cast of characters in this book too! Each of them were interesting and I cared about them all. Celia and Marco, of course, and Bailey and the twins (also can I just say that naming him Bailey is a stroke of genius…cough cough circuses), Chandresh, Mr. Barris, Tsukiko…everyone is different and they all felt so real and three-dimensional.

The setting, too, is almost a character in itself. The circus. It is a place that feels slightly creepy, but not in an obvious way. It is a place that is ever growing and developing, and it is a place that is simmering with unseen magic and a drama that the people flowing through the gates have no awareness of. The descriptions are phenomenal, even though the circus really seems like a setting that we can’t properly imagine, that perhaps even the author can’t properly imagine. But she still manages to help us picture some semblance of it, whatever our limited minds can.

There were so many intertwined plot threads and characters and perspectives that were put together so well…it’s the type of book that I’ll probably have to reread at least one more time, because I’m sure there are things I didn’t catch the first time.

My only real complaint is that it didn’t have a lot of thematic depth; I’m not even sure I can identify a theme. But the writing is so beautiful and the story is told so well that it really doesn’t matter all that much. The writing style is absolutely captivating as it twists and turns, making the already-unique plot even more incredible. If anything, perhaps, the theme of the book is beauty itself. And the writing captures that.

Really, I can’t even describe it in a way to do it justice. The Night Circus is truly unique, something that you can’t imagine reading until you actually read it. The way the writing, the setting, the characters, and the jumps in perspective all come together to tell a story is fantastic. It’s creepy, but in a subtle, sinister way rather than in-your-face. It is fantasy at its finest.

 

Content Info: one short, nonexplicit love scene between the main characters in addition to several other kisses; one use of a strong curse word (which I whited out in my book); some of the magical scenes/plot points might disturb younger readers, and there are a few violent deaths (not explicitly described).

Overall recommended for ages 16 and up.

What do you think? Have you read The Night Circus? If so, did you like it? If not, will you add it to your reading list? What’s the most unique book you’ve ever read? Share in the comments below!

love, grace

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Checking In: College Apps, Writing Stuff, and Just General Updateyness

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Hi everyone!

I had five extra minutes so I thought I would just pop in and share a little bit about what’s going in my life and what’s next for this blog.

First of all –

I miss blogging. I miss my regular schedule, my constant flow of ideas, and my interactions with all of you. Blogging has become something that I can’t really imagine my life without, and this unplanned (and supposedly still unofficial even though I haven’t posted in a month) hiatus has just confirmed that. So I promise I will be back, because I still think about this little blog quite often!

So why am I not coming back yet?

Well, first of all, college applications are happening. November 1 is rapidly approaching and I’m trying to get all of that madness done.

Also, Nutcracker is happening. I go to rehearsals three times a week and on those days I basically don’t have time for anything else. I have eight parts. It’s a lot, but I love it.

Also, my novella for the Rooglewood Press contest is trying to happen happening. I’m struggling to make it a priority, but I’ve come far enough and I think it has enough potential that I desperately want to meet that December 31 deadline.

And of course I also have school and church and laundry and studying and all of that. But those things are always around. The three things I’ve mentioned above will all go away after December. I’ll still be dancing, but not quite as intensively, and the other two will be over and done. (And I will be one relieved human.) So my plan right now, unless the mood to post strikes me sooner, is to return to blogging in January. 

I wish I didn’t have to wait until then, but I want to be able to truly put effort into this blog. I just wanted to update you all on what’s going on, after my super-vague hiatus post in September and my one random book review (which was a free copy I agreed to review, so I figured I might as well post it here).

I hope you are all doing well! I miss you lots!

love, grace

Mini-Hiatus (or why I’ve disappeared lately)

So I didn’t post last week. That was a conscious decision on my part, because I was overly stressed and needed to take a few things off my plate. I was totally planning to get back to regular posting today, but I find myself in the same situation again.

Basically, my life feels slightly out-of-control right now and I just need to let you know that I might not be posting regularly on here.

This isn’t an official hiatus, because I might end up posting more regularly than I think. Or I might not. I just never really know what each week is going to look like, and I need to get rid of the pressure to post weekly for a little while. So I’ll still be around when I can be. But if you don’t see me very often, it’s because I’m in the middle of an incredibly busy season.

Have a great day and a great week, and I’ll see you when things calm down!

love, grace

Brief Hiatus

Just stopping by to let you know that I will be taking a two-week blogging hiatus (beginning, ahem, yesterday). July is really crazy busy for me, and I thought I could keep up with blogging, but I need to take it off my plate for the next little while. I usually take a break for part of the summer anyway.

So, I’m going to take a break, and I’ll come back in August! See you then!

love, grace

Lessons from the Law: God and Social Justice

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I hit 100 blog followers this week…what?? Thank you so much to all of you wonderful followers! It means so much to me that you take the time to read what I have to say, and I hope it continues to be an encouragement to you!

So far in this series, I’ve covered the sacrificial laws and the building instructions. There’s another major category I have yet to talk about: the social laws, the laws for justice and equality. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, read Exodus 23:1-9.

These are the laws that provided for order in the community, for justice and fairness. They seem mundane, addressing issues like being a court witness, lost animals, dealing with bribes. After talking about the glorious symbolism of the sacrificial system, what’s the point of these? After all, the civil law of the Bible is kinda obsolete. It’s not the civil law of the modern world. Why do we need to know it?

Because of what it teaches us about God’s character. There’s one big thing we can learn from all of these social laws: God cares about justice. 

In fact, the only hope for true social justice lies in God. All the people in our world today who are trying to cure world hunger and get rid of poverty and everything else? Those are noble goals. But they can never be accomplished by fallen humans.

Christianity is the key to true social justice: because being a Christian means loving others, treating them better than ourselves, and believing in the dignity and worth of every human being.

What better foundation for social reform could there be than that? 

Christianity’s social reform is perfectly consistent. Christianity’s social reform is based on eternal things. Christianity’s social reform will succeed when all else fails because it has God behind it. And when it doesn’t succeed in this world, there is always the hope of heaven to look forward to.

In these social justice laws of the Old Testament, we see the foundation of Christianity’s belief in loving others and caring for others. God is justice, and nowhere do we see that better than in the law books. That’s what laws are all about, after all; protecting the innocent and prosecuting the guilty. And that structure ultimately came from God, not men.

That’s why we read the civil law of the Old Testament: because it came straight from God, and it shows us what God values and cares about. And our goal as Christians should always, always be to learn more about the character of God.

love, grace

What do you think? What else have you learned about God’s character from the law books? Share in the comments!

 

Book and Movie of the Year 2016

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It’s already time for another book and movie of the year post! I had so much fun doing this last year and so I’m excited to do it again.

The choice, especially for books, was slightly agonizing, but I’m happy with the titles I’ve picked. In the end I just had to go with a gut feeling about which books most deserved this title.

Disclaimer: I am not getting paid to promote C.S. Lewis. Futhermore, this blog is not sponsored by C.S. Lewis, who happens to be no longer living anyway so how he would sponsor my blog, I don’t know. 

All jokes aside, I was a little concerned about choosing another C.S. Lewis book for my Book of the Year (last year’s was That Hideous Strength), but what can I say? C.S. Lewis is truly one of the greatest authors ever, and out of all the books I read this year, this one was the best. I do not take this choice lightly, and I didn’t want to choose a lesser book simply so that I wouldn’t have the same author two years in a row.

(It’s my award. I make the rules. And I say that the book can be by the same author two years in a row.)

So with that out of the way, I present to you…the 2016 Book and Movie of the Year! 

Book of the Year: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

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Runner-up: The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart 

The Last Battle is the final book of the Narnia series, the culmination of every plot in the other books. I had definitely read it before, but I was so young I didn’t remember, and this year was the first time that I sat down and read the whole Narnia series, from start to finish within a few weeks, on my own. The Last Battle blew me away.

The endings of the other books are all so bittersweet, with the children returning to the real world, unsure if they will return. But not this one. This one displayed the great climax of human history and the great resolution of final peace and joy. The ending is made even sweeter because of the previous books, all of the characters reunited in eternal happiness. This book somehow captures what the feeling may be like when Christ returns, and it is a picture of heaven that I will never forget.

The runner-up is a whole series, because taking one book out of the series robs it of its magic. The four books together make The Mysterious Benedict Society series what it is: a wonderful story of friendship and good defeating evil. While a children’s book, it has such important messages for all ages, and is a story that everyone can enjoy. It is a happy story that is deep and meaningful at the same time, a rare find in this age of dark and depressing or light and fluffy books.

Movie of the Year: Big Fish (2003)

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Runner-up: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) 

I don’t think Big Fish is a movie that can really be explained. I can’t explain what it’s about, or why it had such a huge emotional effect on me, but I’ll try anyway.

The movie is the story of a father and son, shown in the present and in flashbacks through the father’s life. All during the son’s childhood, the father told wild stories about his own life, passing them off as truth. As an adult, the son greatly distrusts his father and resents those stories.

The movie explores their relationship, especially when the father becomes very sick. It explores the power of stories and the lasting effect they have on our lives. The ending had me crying my eyes out, and the whole movie is fun, humorous, entertaining, deep, beautiful, and sad all at the same time.

And yes, more Narnia as the runner-up. This year I watched a Narnia movie for the first time, and was really pleased with how well it was adapted! The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is visually gorgeous, well-cast, and stays very true to the book. I’m hesitant to watch the rest of the movies from things I’ve heard, but this one at least did a very good job and left me happy and satisfied.

 

What do you think? Do you like my choices? What are some of the best things you read and watched in 2016? Tell me in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Christmas Albums I Love

Christmas music is what really makes it feel like the Christmas season for me. When I turn on that first Christmas song, it makes me so happy. At that point, the holidays have truly arrived.

I’ve been listening to Christmas music obsessively, and today I want to share some of my favorite albums with you. Hopefully this will introduce you to some artists you haven’t heard before and provide you with some new things to listen to!

(I wish I could share my actual playlist with you, which includes most of these songs and a few more in a very specific order, but I don’t have Spotify or anything so this will have to do for now.)

Noel: Josh Groban

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If you haven’t already listened to Josh Groban’s Christmas album, go do it! It’s classic and gorgeous and usually one of the first albums I listen to at the start of the season.

Two of my favorite songs:

Christmas: Michael Buble

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Here’s another album with a classic sound and gorgeous vocals that is a good way to start off the season!

That’s Christmas to Me AND A Pentatonix Christmas: Pentatonix

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Pentatonix is so talented and can sing so many different styles; all you have to do is listen “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to hear both their classical and contemporary sound.  The songs are so fun, catchy, and well-arranged!

Christmas Beyond the Lights: Sons of Serendip

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I just discovered this group, and their music is so beautiful! Some has vocals (and wow, is the vocalist great), and some is just instrumental (and wow, are the arrangements gorgeous). Calming, reflective, and beautiful.

Rose of Bethlehem: Selah

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I mentioned Selah in my November Month in Review for their hymns album. Their Christmas album is probably one of my top favorite albums in this entire list. It is perfectly balanced with classic carols and amazing original songs, reflective pieces and toe-tapping ones, and every song is gorgeous. So highly recommended!

Plus Two More Songs I Love…

So there you are! A huge list with six favorite albums of mine and my most favorite Christmas songs of the moment. I hope this gives you some new things to listen to during the Christmas season!

love, grace

 

 

Purposeful Pages November 2016

Purposeful Pages Meme

Linkup info: Amanda’s blog / Hannah’s blog

And now, for the final Purposeful Pages installment. I’ve really loved participating in this linkup! Hopefully you got to know me a little better and found encouragement, inspiration, or motivation through my answers to many of these questions.

If you want to read or reread any of the previous installments, here they are:

July 2016:  a novel snippet, hanging out with Mary and Aragorn, and “licit”

August 2016:  3 books I was dying to read (only one of which I’ve actually read since then…), my blog’s name, and my dream road trip

September 2016: inspiring people, my theme song, and my blogging habits

October 2016: why I write, banned books, and my Myers-Briggs type

I’m not going to copy and paste the description again. You can read it in any of those four posts or on Amanda’s or Hannah’s blog. If you’ve been following me for any length of time you’ve likely read it before, so let’s just get on with the questions!

November 2016 Questions

Question One // Is there an organization, website, or collaborative blog that you encourages you?

The Rebelution. I think that actually fits under all three of these categories. It started when I read Do Hard Things in middle school, then I found the website. It’s an incredible book, blog, community, and movement that is really changing lives. Whether in the posts, the discussion forums, the comments, or whatever else, it’s full of similar-minded people striving to live their lives for God. You can’t get much more encouraging than that.

Question Two // When do you feel the most empowered to live life to the fullest?

Right after I read a book/blog post or listen to a song that has that sort of message. A few examples that come to mind:

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris 🙂

Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper

“Do Life Big” by Jamie Grace

Question Three // Who is an author that has impacted you deeply?

If you have read my blog for a while, I’ll give you a chance to guess what my answer to this question is…

C.S. Lewis! Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy… it’s all so beautiful and some of the best literature/nonfiction I’ve ever read. Narnia has been a part of my life forever and as I’ve gotten older the others have become just as fundamental in my understanding of the world. Mere Christianity especially is a book that I plan to reread often.

For more: The Trinity According to C.S. Lewis / C.S. Lewis: God Outside of Time

Question Four // Love. What Bible verse has shown you the depths of God’s love recently?

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

-Revelation 1:5-6

I just love the connotation of God’s people as priests, and what a personal nature that gives our relationship with Him. Also, yes, I am reading in Revelation at the moment. I absolutely love it! It’s such a beautiful book literature-wise and has lots of passages like the one above that just encourage me and lift me up.

Question Five // What words do you love the sound of?

Oh man. I know I have a favorite word (definitely in Latin, and probably in English too), but I can’t think of it right now. If I do think of it I’ll update this post!

Question Six // When do you feel most alive?

When I perform for the glory of God. Dance, singing, piano, acting, anything…it can all be done to bring glory to God, and that is when I find the most joy and fulfillment in it. I love performing on stage in general, and the extra layer adds so much more to it.

Question Seven // How has blogging impacted you?

Blogging is something that I cannot imagine my life without. It has given me a platform to share encouragement and sort out my thoughts on topics and issues. I have learned how to articulately express my beliefs. I have discovered that there are far more people in the world who think the same way than I ever realized before. I have learned that friends who I have never met in person can be just as wonderful as the friends I see every day. And I have learned how much I truly do love to write and express my thoughts through writing.

Question Eight // What do you wish you could tell your five-years-younger self?

Enjoy the next few years of your life. Homeschooling and private school are incredible blessings, whether you might like them at the moment or not. Appreciate them. Public school is nowhere near as good. Plus, these years fly by. Before you know it, you’ll be a junior and have to start thinking about the rest of your life. Enjoy the last little time that you get to be a child and stop being impatient to grow up.

Question Nine // When you think of joy, what comes to mind?

A full, heart-stirring, soul-lifting love that overflows into the lives of others. A smile here, a greeting there that warms the hearts of those who go by. A life lived to the fullest with no room for regrets, every moment seized to use for God’s glory. The ability to get through all circumstances, no matter how hard, leaning on God for courage and support.

Question Ten // What kind of legacy would you love to leave?

I want to leave a legacy of putting God before everything and putting Him into everything; of loving learning and education and believing in its value; of valuing life, people, and morality; of using every gift for His glory; of joyfully living life like described in the previous answer. I want to leave a legacy of faith and trust and joy.

 

So there you have it! The last installment of Purposeful Pages. Let me know how you liked this linkup, and be sure to follow Amanda and Hannah! If you participate, leave your link in the comments, or just share your answers to some of these questions! 

love, grace

Remember…Take It One Step at a Time

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Last week I reminded myself and all of you that we can’t do everything. Today, I have one more thing to share with you that I hope will help you manage your stress and enjoy life.

Because the truth is, even if you are only doing essential things and not trying to do everything, life as a teenager can be very stressful, confusing, and somewhat scary. Once you hit high school, you have a million things flying at you and you’re suddenly expected to make a bunch of decisions that will impact the rest of your life (or at least some of it).

School, church, extracurriculars, college prep, home life, friendships…it can get overwhelming. But the Bible has something to say about that.

I want to bring the encouragement of Matthew 6 to any of you who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed:

“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” -Matthew 6:34

This is the answer to the stress of this phase of life and every other phase after: Take it one step at a time. 

Don’t think about the things you have to do in two weeks. Don’t think about how many decisions you have to make in the next year. Just think about this:

What does God want you to spend today doing? 

And then, to narrow it down more, what does He want you to spend the next hour doing?

Just do that thing, with your full attention, to the best of your ability. And then, do the next thing, and the next.

When a big decision comes your way, choose the best path that you can and move forward from that, one step at a time once again, trusting that God is in control and that one decision will not make or break your life.

If you trust God to direct you, all you have to do is keep moving forward, using your time wisely to complete the work that He places in front of you.

Let Him take care of the rest.

Let’s seek peace together this school year by placing it all in God’s hands and simply moving forward each day, one step at a time.

love, grace