Monthly Archives: December 2013

Bad Romances and Boring Thrillers: My 1 Star Reads from 2013

Amy’s One Star Books

What does it mean to give a book 1 star? While two stars, or even some three, may hint at mediocrity, one star remains an unequivocal not worth the time. The book might have had a good plot or interesting characters, but some major feature drove me away. Without much ado, then, I present….some of the worst books I read in 2013.

The Firm by Josh Grisham

Why not jump in with a controversial one? I realize this was particularly popular when it came out. I’ve had several people tell me how much they loved it. It was not much to my taste. Mitchell McDeere is fresh from law school when he receives a job working for a Memphis law firm…with extremely high benefits. It’s an almost too-good-to-be-true job, and as Mitchell begins looking into the company that employs him he uncovers corruption and power…etc. etc. For a legal thriller, it was kind of boring. I was irritated by several scenes, did not like any of the characters, found the pacing off. Overall, it bored or irritated me into increasing oblivion.

Marked by P.C. Cast

Summed up in a sentence? Zoey Redbird gets bitten by a vampire and goes to a vampire high school where subsequent pages involve sex, swearing, and general teenage hormonal angst. I recognize that this “R rated” concoction might be “nothing new” for a teenager in high school, but it was not something I’d recommend.

Enigma by Robert Harris

Another thriller turned sleeper. Details…description…long flashbacks. Summary claimed a genius numbers guy experiencing a breakdown would try and find his girlfriend and a spy. Except both plot points only get going by page 180. Though the twist at the end was interesting, it took too much slogging to get there.

Scarlet Moon by Debbie Viguié

A fairytale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood…and not one worth bothering with. The romance was shallow, hormonal, and instantaneous – a horrendous trio. The plot was entirely foreseeable and had a lousy ending. The writing was dreadful. In short? A really badly done retelling of a classic fairytale.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

I actually like a lot of Sarah Dessen’s books. Despite being ‘teenage fiction’, they often strike a relevant cord and make for some slightly escapist but also realistic reading. This book follows a girl who has to move in with her sister and her sister’s husband…it gives her an education and a future but she mainly gives into teenage angst and falls for the neighbor guy and I don’t even remember what all else. Not particularly likeable or relatable on any level. Not worth the time.

The Trial by Robert Whitlow

Another legal thriller…except from the “Christian” genre.  The message is “become a Christian and everything good happens. You get out of jail, crazy people are healed, and you won’t faint after not eating for over 14 days.” Good things happen as long as you are a basically good person who has a nice come-to-Jesus-moment. There is misuse of Scripture, including verses taken out of context for a self-application that is sketch at best. Courtroom scenes were incredibly dramatic, the “thriller” portion badly passed and mainly crammed into the end. Being harsh on the novel but found it not worth it

The Ghost by Robert Harris

Though paced better than Enigma, the book contained a lot of unnecessary scenes and details. A lot is crammed into the end, but the climax doesn’t flow well into it. The main character is boring and unknowable, no character in the entire book is particularly redeemable. In the end, read more like a critique of Tony Blair’s government (or an episode of ‘Life With the Clintons’….) than a believable plot. Also, practically every American – or pro-American- is a bad guy. Meh.

Violet Eyes by Debbie Viguié

Arguably my biggest disappointment this year. It is a retelling of Princess and the Pea…my favorite fairy tale! I waited years for my library to get this one (not joking…). In the end, it was a weak novel with inch deep characters, irritating and predictable drama, and a thin storyline. It left the reader with more questions than answers, hardly a satisfying novel. More than that, it wasn’t even a so-so read worth the read. More irritating than interesting

Morning’s Refrain by Tracie Peterson

I really should avoid Christian romances. They annoy me so much. However, in this case it wasn’t the overt sickly-sweet ‘Christian’ plot that threw me off. That part wasn’t so bad. It was the nonexistent plot, boring characters, and lousy writing. Not much else to say. If you like this sort of thing you read it, and if you don’t you probably have more sense than I do to not pick it up.

Happy Days Are Here Again by Steven Neal

A sugar-coated account of FDR’s 1932 political campaign for president. Though it traces some interesting political maneuvering, overall a very biased and mediocre read

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik

Who knew a title could be so self-critiquing? A “modern” teenage version of Pride and Prejudice. It adds nothing to the story and hardly stands on its own without a working knowledge of Pride and Prejudice. The entire idea has been done before…with much better results. In short, an immensely useless book.

Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols

Leah Jones is trying to escape her trailer park life…through the skies. She flies for an aerial advertising company flying planes with banners. When her boss suddenly dies, though, she is forced to confront his sons. This book could have been incredible. Minus a the language, it has a huge amount of potential. The general plot is good. The characters are (mostly) good. The storyline is good. The content is …substandard. It boils down to sex and f-bombs. What might have been a great book became awkward, unnecessary, and eventually unreadable.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

In a world where dragons and humans remain at uneasy peace, Seraphina enters the royal court as a gifted musician hiding a dangerous secret. Think Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George but not as good.  There is no happy ending. The book comes to a crashing conclusion and I suppose that means I ought to find the sequel but I don’t have any inclination to do so. By the end I was sick of all the characters, every last one of them. The romance was distracting. The climax was anti-climatic. I remain dissatisfied

Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson

Gosh was this book hyped up. Anna Silver is a cop and Paul Falcon works for the FBI. An old case brings them together…and eventually hey fall in love. Somehow I missed the memo that it wasn’t so much a mystery as a Christian romance novel. The entire plot is like – Ann Silver walks in, tells a story, Paul Falcon falls for her. They drink soda.
Stuff happens.
More soda is consumed.
More stuff happens.
More soda.

Interesting plot but the writing was not fabulous and I found myself bored with both characters. A disappointment…but I should have suspected as much the minute I realized it was mainly a romance.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Oh it was clever, I suppose. The ‘story’ behind Oliver Twist’s Dodger, Charles Dickens’s interaction with a street boy. However, mainly it was uninspiring. Bit of a sleeper. Possibly more like 1.5 stars, but I’m willing to keep it at its entirely uninteresting 1 star level.

A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss

A fictional account of Sarah Edmond’s adventure as a young woman who disguised herself as a boy to join the Union Army. I suppose, if I knew nothing about Sarah Emma Edmonds/Frank Thompson, if I knew nothing of women who disguised themselves to fight in the Civil War, if I enjoyed sappy romances….I might have enjoyed the story. But I didn’t. Because Sarah Emma Edmonds/Frank Thompson was one of my heroines growing up. Even though it has been a few years, I remember quite a bit about her. Lots of creative license taken with this book that distracted me. The first person style of writing only worked to a point. It was limiting and cluttering for the story. The romance was obnoxious. The modern mindset glaring. Not a bad story but had too many of my pet peeves to let slide. The story has been done before…with much better results.

The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

A Christian fairytale retelling of Snow White. The characters are shallow, perfect, or self-centered. Most of them are not well-developed. I ended up despising the hero and the romance. My least favorite Dickerson novel to date.

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Most of the book involved the main character getting sexually harassed and molested by pervs while pining after a guy. I seem to have missed the redeeming elements of this one. Not my cup of tea. Beautiful writing and description, however it wasn’t enough to distract me from my dislike of this particular ‘coming of age’ story.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

To conclude, I’m going to offer my angry rant written this summer about this book…mainly because I find it really amusing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few months ago, I exited a fabulous used book store in Chatanooga with 15 books. I’d gotten some great deals. While waiting for my ride, I sifted through the free book bin and discovered an old copy of “A Short History of England” which I guarantee no one has ever heard of because never exactly was on the bestseller list, even in its heyday, and is hardly short. But it was old, 1920’s or ‘40s, and had a good binding and was getting rained on. I know. Awful. I immediately snatched it up and stuck it in with my other books.
A true book-lover immediately understands my horror. Bad enough to have books get rained off, even awful ones that won’t sell at a used bookstore, but that such an old one would be so destroyed! (I’m pleased to say it came from the experience no worse for wear)
Mrs. Allison Hoover Bartlett would not understand. She is not a true book lover.
“Unrepentant book thief” John Charles Gilkey would not understand. He is most definitely not a book lover.
That the two of them even masquerade as such in this “I want to be a memoir but got hyped as a real-life crime mystery and really am lousy attempt at investigative journalism” is a travesty. I am so irritated right now I should probably wait till I cool down. The book Finally. Freaking. Ended.
Took forever.
Part of the problem is that I am a speed reader listening to my first book on CD since I was like, in first grade. And parts where I could zip-right through get dragged out. The smug tone of the writing, the reader, and just about everything about this book made me want to punch someone in the nose. My, I’m turning violent.
But seriously
You know what makes Ms. Bartlett and I different? I may tell you about saving an old book, but I don’t expect you to care. She, on the other hand, uses her book / biography / memoir wannabe as a platform to express her views about e-books and book banning and her own childhood favorites. And, to add insult to injury, she bores the world to tears talking about how she doesn’t understand. Here’s the thing. I don’t care about her. I don’t care about her son. Or her daughter. Her thoughts. I don’t care what emotions she felt, who she is attracted to, and who has a paunch.
I sound utterly heartless. This just wasn’t the context for her observations. Or maybe it was and this book is totally misrepresented. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the context much for anything. Though random trivia is thrown in and occasionally interesting bursts of book-loving quotes, I can’t help wonder when she glosses over things I know about what else is being glossed over. Oh how great of Jefferson to sell his private library to Congress! Never mind that he was hugely in debt…
See, we didn’t exactly hit it off well immediately. In fact, I scribbled down because I was so indignant:
“Nuh-uh, you did not just try to explain who Moriarty is to me.”
She gives way to many unneeded details. Like when she is visiting the prison and has to remove her bra. Did not….need…to…know…that. I did not need to know that she had to RUN out to her van to “wrestle” it off. That does not add to the story. In fact, it rather disturbs me.
I found her description of the people she interacted with equally irritating at times. Sanders and Gilkey are trumpeted as the two main characters of this book. The “persistent sleuth” and “serial book thief” respectively. Sanders is not given enough time. He isn’t. Not for what he is trumpeted as. However, there is only so much you can say. They really aren’t great, life long rivals or anything. Only so many times you can quote this foul mouthed book selling hippie. In the end, I don’t think she painted him in a great light either. Gilkey comes off as “misunderstood”, while Sanders is “close minded”.
Um, ‘scuse me?
And Gilkey. Let me tell you, he is exactly what is wrong with America. There is no sense of right and wrong. He views everything as a personal injustice against himself. It’s other people’s fault that he can’t afford books. “All” he wants is a good library and to become a gentleman. To live high on the hog without spending a penny of his own personal cash. Why, the penitentiary is perfect for him! He can live on the taxpayer’s dollar. But no, being in jail, those were “sacrifices” for his dream, “forced pauses”. I wish I were making this up.
I really do. He does not love books. He does not love learning. He loves the prestige that comes with books, the aura that comes with knowledge. His craving is for personal recognition, not a selfless esteem for the written word.
But oh no! He’s such a victim. He just loved books too much. His sense of right and wrong just a little skewed, but isn’t he basically like every other book collector?
Um, no, the comparison is offensive.
And Ms. Bartlett, the sucker, falls for his pity party!
What just irritates me to no end, though, what simply ruins this book is that Ms. Bartlett is no book lover. She’s a good little Freudian disciple. But no book lover.
Quote: “a large part of any book is sensual”
She connects everything as sexual. It’s “erotic” pleasure in the book. Holding the book automatically is assumed to be sensual. She almost trips over herself in her eagerness to mention “gay classics” or point out that she has a “feminist classic” on her shelf. Everything is so intense! As if the world depends on her….dates with this creepy criminal dude.
Ijustdon’teven.
Worse than the “characters” that populate this story is the author’s discussion of herself. Because in this book she is the “heroine.” She is mortified in the bookstore, she wants to (and sort of kind of not really who are we trying to kid) “confronts” him over his crime. She is the one wondering if she should tell the FBI…the one who lies and checks up on the statute of limitations…the one who wants to single handedly discover where his book stash is and “save the day” so to speak. But she never does figure out where the stash is and so she just ends up looking like an idiot. “Even a fool is considered wise when he is silent”, alas that no one ever taught her that proverb!
I am being harsh on this book and I realize that. I am being particularly harsh on the author. However, this book was packaged as a great story about a book thief and the amateur detective who tracked him down. If it was even just the story of rare book collectors and their obsession and the criminals who steal, as the book tries to be, it would be passable. But this book aims too high, tries too hard to be wise, and finally just bores the reader out of their mind. A pretty big disappointment.

~~~

You now know which books to avoid in 2014. Happy New Year, readers!

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2013 Reading Challenge – My 5 Stars

As 2013 draws to a close, I am forced to acknowledge a painful reality. The truth is…

I am not going to reach my 2013 Reading Challenge. *sob* I know. It hurts. Every year I bite off a little more than the year before, spend half the year denying I’ll ever make it, then out-read the goal by a good twenty books by the end of December.

But not this year.

It is December 30th and I, Amy, am acknowledging that I have not accomplished my 200 book reading goal.

I’ve only read 179 books, putting me at…ouch. 90% of my goal.

So close, yet so far. I think I might manage to finish The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander by tomorrow, but that only gives me 180 books. A noticeable 20 books short. However, it is still 28 more books from last year and 2,490 more pages. Total, I have 48,628 pages recorded reading for this year, though several of the older books I read didn’t have page numbers on the Goodreads website and weren’t counted.

My reading has been incredibly eclectic…stretching the book recommendations from high schoolers in Dayton TN to more scholarly works read through the Summit Worldview program in Oxford, England. Some books were really good. Others were….less so. I’ve gotten better about being more discriminatory in my reviews and book ratings. In 2013, I marked 14 books as 5 stars and 22 books as 1 star. That’s what gave me the idea. Not everybody has the time – or the inclination – to read 179 books.

But I have. And, most conveniently for me, I have a record of each one. So, without further ado, I present a list of Amy’s Top 5 Star Reads from 2013. (In the random order ordained by Goodreads)

The Last of The Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper.

The Last of The Mohicans follows the adventures of Cora and Alice Munro as they travel to join their father at Fort William Henry during the French and Indian war. Accompanied by Major Duncan Heyward, the scout Hawkeye, and the two Mohicans Chingachgook and Uncas, their adventure spans the treachery of Magua, the taking of the fort, and flight for safety. It is a “romance” in the old fashion sense of the word that often comes across as a comedy because of the antiquated language until the end where it becomes the world’s most depressing tragedy.
And it is utterly brilliant. There is a reason it is a classic. There are some themes that never grow old, themes of virtue and manliness. And The Last of the Mohicans has it. Well worth the time.

City of Masks by Mary Hoffman

Lucien is a British teenager with cancer. Everything changes, however, when an old Italian notebook gives him the power of a stravagante, a time traveler to 16th century Italy. Caught up in a world of assassinations, intrigues, and spies, Lucian grows strong and healthy in this new world even while dying in his own time. With time running out, he is faced with the impossible choice. Should he spend his last days with his family…or stravagante permanently to Bellezza?

A terrific book full of adventure, suspense, mystery, and intrigue. I love the writing. Good young adult fiction, which is not always easy to find. Wasn’t so thrilled with the sequels.

Life At the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple

One of the best books I have read in a long time. Theodore Dalrymple has spent years as a doctor working with the underclass in Britain. What is poverty? Every person seems entitled to four walls, a roof, a TV, and full healthcare but does that make them grateful? He illustrates the mindset that keeps generations and their children trapped in a cycle. “Undiscriminating” policy makers do just that, “un-discriminate” and the result is a dual problem of people getting aid when it offers them no insensitive to better themselves, and people being refused aid because they are trying to do just that.
Dalrymple is blunt, unafraid to point directly to the problem, and not a policy maker. Those three things make this book utterly valuable. Though he writes about the white underclass in England, he might be writing about the inner city of Milwaukee or New York. Highly recommended.

Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke

A weird book to give five stars, I acknowledge. Even at the time it was widely noted that Burke’s historical accuracy is sketch. The rhetorical power of this book, however, is brilliant. His burns are great! More importantly, his arguments are extremely relevant, even today. His reasons for opposing the French Revolution are well worth considering. He recognized the dangers posed by inalienable rights…and where they eventually led within the Revolution. Not exactly a ‘light’ read, but worth the time investment.

Two Treatises of Government by John Locke

I really love John Locke. The man talks 17th century smack. I read his First Treatise of Government in one sitting, mostly giggling. The Second Treatise involves fewer rebuttals of arguments and more theory of government. Drenched as I have been in American government, it was fascinating to see Locke’s arguments carried out in the Constitution. I suppose not something your typical reader will find appealing, but I loved it.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

Mill argues for individual freedom and liberty, both from the government and society. It’s a fascinating read, inspiring, and worth the time. Easy to understand for laymen and political nerd alike. Good quote – “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

Steinbeck’s Ghost by Lewis Buzbee

I’m not much of a fan of Steinbeck or Madeleine L’Engle, but I ended up loving this book. The writing was a little slow at first, but intense, aching, and beautiful. Love all the book references. I fell in love with the book the first time I read it and was eager to find more by him, but The Haunting of Charles Dickens proved disappointing and my initial enthusiasm for Buzbee died. However, Steinbeck’s Ghost was worth the time for a good bit of fiction and a well-blended connection of classic books.

The Spirit of the Law by Montesquieu

A thick, but well researched book. Its impact on history alone makes it worth of 5 stars. The impact Montesquieu had on the Founding Fathers is evident on every page. It isn’t an easy book, necessarily, but another one I’d recommend for a good grounding in political theory. The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu changed the vocabulary of political theory. His analysis and synthesis of the emerging separation of powers in England defined the way Englishmen, and later Americans, understood their political identity. Well worth the read

The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis

An allegory written by Lewis within a year of his conversion, The Pilgrim’s Regress proved a challenging, but understandable read. The book made sense, which I appreciated, yet couched theological terms in imagery. Not Lewis’s best work, or his easiest, but worth the time and read.

The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf

A very useful book for equipping Christians to defend their pro-life views. Very handy, though I wasn’t always thrilled with his “mock” conversations. At times they came across as a little naive, but I realize he has more experience in those conversations than I do. Scott Klusendorf is a terrific speaker, a great writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his book. It is very clear and easy to understand He makes a lot of great points and at more than one occasion, I started jumping up and down and shouting “YOU HAVE TO HEAR THIS ARGUMENT IT IS SO SIMPLISTICALLY BRILLIANT” in the general direction of my flatmates in Oxford. Previously they assumed the only thing that got me so excited involved Koreans.
Really, though, well worth the time for Christians seeking some solid arguments.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan is as much about possible futures as alternative pasts…That’s the nature of steampunk, blending future and past.”
What if Charles Darwin had discovered more than evolution? What if he unlocked DNA? What if he learned how to blend the DNA of different creatures to create flying machines and impossibly strong working beasts? Think how different history might be. Of course, some might object to the English creation. The Ottomans or the Austro-Hungarian Empire for example. They might create machines of their own to counterbalance. As the world veers towards World War 1 in the summer 1914, what might life have been like?  Young Alek is a prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, though unable to claim the throne because of his mother’s commoner blood. When his parents are murdered, supposedly by Serbian anarchist, his only choice is to flee. His life is being hunted. Only a few faithful men stay by his side, their only goal to get him to safety. Meanwhile, in England, Deryn Sharp disguises herself as a boy to join the British Air Service. It’s the only way she can escape being turned into a proper lady by her mother and aunts. Danger abounds, especially when a lady doctor joins the crew. As Europe goes to war, the Deryn and Alek cross paths and their futures take another drastic turn.

I usually end up feeling frustrated with steampunk, lots of potential and few live up to it. Loved Leviathan, though. Intriguing plot, good balance of action, science, adventures, mechanics. My only comment is that I am intrigued by authors who add a spiritual dimension to steampunk, which this novel didn’t have. However, it didn’t need one. It had plenty of “future” and “past”, history and science, intermingled to be truly a steampunk novel. Good teen novel for 14 and up

No Wind of Blame by Georgette Heyer

Who murdered Wally Carter? Certainly there are suspects…but none of them were near the murder weapon. In a who-done-it worthy of Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer sweeps up the reader in an exciting adventure that keeps the reader guessing. Though I love her historical romances, my previous experience with Heyer’s mysteries was not very satisfactorily. This is one is very much a pleasure to read.

The Searchers by Joseph Loconte

Beautifully written and detailed, The Searchers is well worth reading. Dr. Loconte uses personal stories, pop culture references, and historical examples to illustrate the passage from Luke of the road to Emmaus. He explores not only grief and doubt, but the nature of angels, conspiracy v conspiracy theories, and humanity’s desire for something beyond, among other things. By taking a few verses of the passage at a time, he uses it as a springboard to explore surrounding themes and illuminate meaning. Nothing extremely surprising, but an easy read that weaves several complex themes.


3 am: Oxford Update 9

“I will NEVER forget this week. Every moment was so…” insert tears, “so special. Like, we cannot forget. We’ll need a reunion. And if Todd doesn’t text you, I’ll…I’lll….ohmygosh, this week. So incredible.” More tears.

The two girls on the bus from Oxford to Heathrow Airport in London were a tad emotional. I’m fairly sure their mascara is still all over the seats. They were Americans who had spent the last week in Oxford, mission work I think. And obviously, it had been:

“So incredible.”

I wasn’t trying to overhear their conversation, but when two girls are sobbing their eyes out in the seat in front of you…common decency demands some attention, right? Plus, they were really funny. It was the best week of their lives, nothing would ever compare, what would they do now? How could life ever be the same?

The 4 am bus is an interesting place. You don’t take it unless absolutely necessary. The silence was the strangest part of the walk from my flat to the bus stop. Oxford is a bustling city. Tourists jostle with students. Carolers, street performers, and tour guides strive to outdo one another for attention. Even late at night, lines of scantily clothed and fairly drunk pub and club-goers keep the place hopping.

But not at 4am.

At 4 am the train rumbling by does not offer background noise, but a strange interruption. At 4 am no friendly janitor cleans the local daycare and offers a sense of security despite the late night. At 4 am the shuffling shadows outside of the hostels offer no reassurance. It’s kind of creepy.

At 4 am the businessman climbs aboard the bus and settles down without a word. The tourists stress over ticket prices and double check that their bags are properly stowed. Some chatter nervously. Others immediately fall asleep. Families wave farewell and disappear into the darkness. Oxford slowly fades.

And that is goodbye. Not with tears or exclamations, but a quiet unrest in the early morning before dawn. I don’t feel the surge of emotion of my near neighbors. This is goodbye, but I have been whispering ‘adieu’ on every street for the past two days.

The bus makes good time; we’re at the airport by 5:30. Baggage check doesn’t open till 6 am. My passport doesn’t want to scan, but there are no attendants around to ask for help: a final testament to British customer service. When they do start trickling in, they glare at the line of waiting passengers balefully. The coffee has clearly not kicked in. Anyway, they get their revenge. Its 6:20 by the time they start checking suitcases.

4 hours until my flight.

Security is the next hurdle. I set off the metal detector. The invasive pat down following still fails to finds the watch I absentmindedly slipped in my pocket. Whoops.

However, the excitement has only begun. My carryon gets flagged. The TSA agent motions me over. Any reason why my backpack scanned for trace explosives? No? She starts removing items…a hairbrush. An i-pod…

My underlined, pocket size copy of The Koran.  The War Against Jihadism. Machiavelli’s The Prince. A whole semesters worth of ideological and political books from my tutorials and the Summit Oxford readings.

This puts a new angle on things. The agent waves over her boss. You can tell she is the boss because her heels are higher. And her badge says so. Did I understand what was happening? Every item needed to be scanned. Nothing registered for trace explosives. Eventually, they take down my passport information and send me through. I wonder if they’ll notify my plane, or better yet Chicago. Will I be on the record as a potential terrorist? That might make this flight more exciting.

My plane is on time but there is no boarding gate. I am still 3 hours early. The airport is beginning to fill up. I’ve brought books. First is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. Apparently it was made into a movie with Amy Adams in 2008. I have no idea if it is anything like the book. Written in 1938, the plot follows Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, a down and out governess suddenly swept up into a world of glamour, night clubs, and parties for a day when her application as a nursery worker gets mixed up with a request for a personal maid. A fun story, slightly ridiculous, and very fluffy but it passes the time quickly.

By the time I board my plane, I’ve started my second book, The Lost World by Sir Arthur Con Doyle. “Before Jurassic Park….dinosaurs existed in The Lost World.” A romping adventure story with danger, dinosaurs, and dreams of glory. Description got a little tedious at times, and the terminology a little old fashion, but overall worth it. Similar to something by Jules Verne.

My flight was relatively calm. The in-flight movies were Now You See Me which had a good twist but was otherwise so-so and Jack The Giant Slayer which was painful. There were some TV shows I forgot immediately. The girl sitting next to me was my age visiting the US from Switzerland. She had graduated from high school in Minnesota and mostly tried (and failed) to sleep during the flight. Every time she started dozing the flight attendants walked around and woke her up asking for her drink order. As the plane came down for a landing, America’s Top Chef started playing. By this point the volume was off so we bonded over trying to follow what was happening in the show based on the judges’ expressions. It wasn’t pretty for the filet mignon.  Someone got voted off, but as everyone was hugging and crying we couldn’t tell who. I think it was the chef who stayed a perpetual shade of deep red.

Our fellow passengers were slightly less noisy than the flight over, but a few made for some excellent people watching. The woman in front of me ordered a glass of wine every time the attendant came by for drinks. I’m amazed she could stand by the end. The man two seats behind me was a former US Army ranger involved in a noisy conversation with an American English teacher who worked in the Middle East. She liked making loud comments like, “Well, Jordan is SO beautiful but dangerous. Not that I was afraid…” Finally, my personal favorites were the two middle aged women with spray-on tans (no-one gets that tan in England…or that orange) who loudly complained when “Section A was seated before Section D.” They were both wearing ripped jean mini-skirts and t-shirts that weren’t designed to be one-shoulder, but had become so. Mainly because the poor shirts kept getting yanked down.

Customs was a breeze. Apparently, they missed the memo about me being a potential terrorist. Signe and my Mom met me outside of security.

Initially, the weirdest thing about coming home wasn’t the snow. I was prepared for snow. It wasn’t seeing my Mom again; I couldn’t wait to hug her. It was my cell phone. Or more precisely, the texts on it.

My texts.

When I came back from my first semester at college, I half expected everyone to be struck by how different I looked. Taller, maybe, or bolder. Something to show how much I had matured over the past months. I knew how much I’d changed, how could others miss it?

This time around, though, it was me who missed it. I knew I would change. Everyone told me what a fabulous experience it would be, how I would grow. And I knew I had…in some areas. Intellectually I was stronger, more confident in my ability to reason and debate. But the texts from three and a half months ago surprised me the most…they were nothing special. Goodbyes, mostly. Bored, nervous, jumpy texts.

Yet they revealed a whole different mindset.

In three and a half months, I tackled a new country. Toured London and Bath on my own. Bought my own groceries, cooked my own meals, made friends. I joined a church family. I showed “particular aptitude” for political theory. I stretched my reading ability and discovered it could go farther. I survived computer crashes, getting my debit card eaten, even sleeping on a mattress for several weeks (minus the bed frame). Not only did I gain confidence intellectually, but in everyday life experience. I learned to say ‘trousers’ and ‘chips’ and ‘term’. At 18, I moved to Tennessee knowing almost no one. Now, at 20, I tackled Oxford.

You don’t think in those terms when dealing with everyday life. Where to buy postcards? What bus to catch? Did I buy minutes for my phone this month? Then you’re home…and Mom is grocery shopping and cooking, there are enough blankets and none of them are moldy, the fire alarm doesn’t go off when you make toast. And there are the texts. Texts that can’t begin to understand what a few months will do.

I guess that’s why I didn’t – and don’t – feel the need to bawl about my “incredible” semester like the girls on the bus. For me, studying in Oxford wasn’t one passionate, emotional week of intense experiences. It was days of waking up and drinking coffee and hoping the hot water would last another day. Some moments were incredible, like seeing Les Mis in London or the unveiling of the C.S. Lewis memorial stone. Others were quieter and more repetitive. And, with all due respect to those same girls, I think my experience will last longer because it went deeper. I’ve been in their position, swearing eternal allegiance and perfect memory. Turns out, neither really last. But habits, emotions, day to day experiences change us. And that’s coming home for me. Different but better.  I love being home, I love seeing my family, but I’m looking forward to going back to school. I am looking forward to writing papers and reading books. I’ve seen what I can do…and I look forward to going farther.

Potential Terrorist  (Potential Terrorist And Mother)


My Library Card No Longer Works :( Oxford Update 8

There is a lovely walk from my flat to the main part of town. Thought I would share it today!

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Some of my favorite graffiti…

Graffiti 01 (“SORRY FOR RUINING THE WALL”)

Graffiti 02 (“ha no”)

Graffiti 03 (“Have a good day”)

Graffiti 04 SOMEBODY painted over my favorite graffiti, quite rude. What it used to say was “Still no cows : ( .”

Thames Path

Thames Path

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Thames Path

Thames Path

Thames Path

House boats are a neat aspect of the Thames Path

Thames Path

Thames Path

Thames Path

Duck

Sleeping Duck Yes, people, you now know what a blinking duck looks like.

Thames Path

Went to Christmas dinner at New College hall…this is me in my “robe”

Me

Today I returned to Blenheim Palace with friends for the Charles Dickens Christmas Festivities

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Only one more week left in Oxford. I will miss this place! Said goodbye to my friends at the Focus table on Thursday, they’ve been incredible this term. Our access to the Bodleian Library ended today 😦  My tutorials are over. One more week of Summit Intensive. One more week of going to Eynsham. It has been such an incredible past few months. Thank you to everyone who made this possible. I have been so blessed.