Posted in Books

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Overly inspirational

I’ve got some beef with Christian fiction.

I love C. S. Lewis and realize the great impact his Narnia novels had on Christian literature. The problem with Lewis’ work is that it inspired other Christians to write painfully obvious allegories that barely cover up the gospel message. Instead of telling stories, they get preachy.

I’m not offended by the gospel. My faith is part of my life and will undoubtedly be woven into my work. Someone including their personal philosophy in a work is not automatic grounds for me to hate it.

The problem with Christian fiction is the same problem I have with the last 30 pages of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and the last third of 2007’s “Hairspray”: it’s fine to give your story a message, but not at the expense of the story.

The passage from today’s book, Dear Mr. Knightley, doesn’t work because it’s trying too hard to be inspirational. Generally, I liked the book–except for the ending, which I won’t ruin–but this was its biggest problem and it was consistent throughout.

The dialogue reminds me of James Dobson’s stuff. People who know me well know I’m not a fan, but not for the reason they might think. In one of Dobson’s books, he mentioned being present when Pete Maravich died. I’m not minimizing that experience; I can’t imagine how awful that would be. However, any emotional impact for me was shattered when he wrote next about going home and giving his son Ryan a dramatic speech on the fragility of life. Yeah. Right. That’s not how people talk in real life, James.

This passage strikes a similar chord. You can’t expect me to believe that during this chance encounter, Alex Powell pulls out a full-on speech on the perils of fame, coming to the mindblowing conclusion that money doesn’t buy happiness. Nope. Nope. Does not happen. Nice try.

Also, “trust your heart” is terrible spiritual advice. Speaking from experience.

Posted in Entertainment, Movies, Theater

MAKE-YOU-CRY MONDAY: “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” from Rent

So far, I’ve never attended a funeral.

Christian funerals have a different focus than others. Even the word “funeral” is avoided; many Christians prefer “celebration of life.” Because we believe the deceased person is better off in heaven and we will see them again, there’s an emphasis on joy rather than sadness.

I don’t disagree with that perspective, but it’s hard to imagine making that my reality. To lose someone–a friend, a lover, a brother–you love so much and then acknowledge it’s for the best seems impossible to me. Even knowing that person is in a better place, I would rather they were still here with me. That’s why watching “Rent” cuts me up (aside from the fact that it’s one big sobfest). No matter which version you watch, all of the characters want the same thing: they wish Angel was still alive.

Lucky for me, there are billions of versions of “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” on Youtube. Today’s post came down to three: Jesse L. Martin’s rendition from the 2005 movie, Michael McElroy portrayal from the filmed Broadway play, and Michael Levesque’s version from a more recent production.

A lot of people didn’t like the film version, and I can see why–compared to the stage play, it comes off as restrained. It, however, has most of the original cast. Jesse L. Martin’s tremulous vocals and shots of the others crying are enough to get me–by this point in the film, I was weeping (though that was in large part due to “Without You,” the subject of a future post.)

I’m not in love with Michael McElroy as Collins, but I loved the other actors. Their voices got progressively shakier as they proceeded with the funeral, so much that I was crying before I even got to the song.

I found the ensemble cast in the last version less than impressive. When Michael Levesque started singing, I was first impressed that that voice was coming from that body. His voice cracked several times and he had trouble standing. Finally, near the end, he broke down completely.

It’s still a toss-up and I’ll probably change my mind later today, but for now I’ll go with the Broadway version because I can’t get past the intro without tearing up. If you have time, please check out the other versions. Jesse L. Martin is forever my favorite Collins.

Need cheering up?
Several songs were cut from the film version of “Rent,” so I had no idea this existed until I saw the Broadway version.

Pure chaos. Intricate harmonies. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. The best Roger I’ve ever heard. This is “Christmas Bells,” my favorite song.

Posted in Books, Entertainment

BOOK REVIEW: Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

The premise: It’s been 6 years since the last Princess Diaries was published. Forever Princess ended the series on a good note, wrapping up every plot thread and relationship while hinting at future possibilities.

Royal Wedding picks up 8 years after Forever Princess. Mia is living in the Genovian consulate, plagued by paparazzi. Her father is (once again) losing the race for Genovian prime minister, and her longtime boyfriend Michael is planning a supersecret proposal that is obvious to everyone but Mia. Complicating matters is the discovery of Olivia Grace O’Toole, Mia’s long-lost half-sister.

Similar to: Any other Meg Cabot book (not much of a stretch)

My reaction: The book features Meg Cabot’s trademark humor and lighthearted tone. Even at 400+ pages, it’s a quick read. I’ve always found Cabot’s writing to be predictable, so I wasn’t too shocked by the many “plot twists” sprinkled throughout. (The half-sister twist was ruined long before publication; Royal Wedding was announced at the same time as Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, a new series starring Olivia Grace.)

I was surprised by some of the choices Cabot made regarding characters. Lilly and Kenny have broken up, as have Tina and Boris. Mr. Gianini is dead, leading Mia to name her community center after him. This death makes room for a couple that did not work in the previous 10 books: Prince Philippe and Helen Thermopolis.  I understand that people change. However, this book felt like a rewrite of the original characters, at times coming across as more of a fix fic than a genuine part of the series. While it might be more “realistic” to have longtime couples break up, it’s hard to feel satisfied as a dedicated reader when Royal Wedding undoes in a matter of sentences relationships it took the whole series to develop. Royal Wedding functions as an overlong epilogue to an otherwise great series.

I didn’t hate this book. I always have fun reading Princess Diaries books and this one was no exception. I’m having trouble with what feels like a flipping of universal laws: the typical outlandish Princess Diaries elements have been replaced by stark realism (including infidelity, a dead stepfather, an abused half-sister), which contrasts oddly with a chipper optimism that feels out of place in the series’ only adult novel. I’ve always preferred Cabot’s YA stuff. Royal Wedding is more reminiscent of her historical romances and adult series; that is, it’s a little too peppy to feel authentic.

The book lacks an arc and is not something I would recommend to newcomers. However, for longtime fans, Royal Wedding is an entertaining return to much-loved characters. Princess Mia deserves a happy ending and I am more than happy to see her get one.

Posted in Books


I was the type of teenager who read nothing but corny chick lit and snickered all the while. Feel free to call me a hypocrite.

Today’s Terrible Prose Tuesday features another letter from a YA book called “Love Undercover” by Jo Edwards. The book is about–I kid you not–a girl named Kaitlyn who falls in love with a guy in the Witness Protection Program. I’m pretty sure the climax involves her rescuing him from an assassination attempt at the school dance. It’s awesome.

So since the Witness Protection Program CLEARLY failed to protect this poor guy, they give him yet another new identity and place him with a different family. Hearbroken, Kaitlyn writes him a letter about her true feelings because she “wanted [him] to know.”

Truth be told, this letter might not actually be that terrible. Okay, it’s pretty terrible. There are some surprisingly good lines (the “karate chop you to oblivion” line comes to mind.)

Kaitlyn forgets that when you write a letter, you have the power to edit said letter. You DO NOT have to admit to blushing “50 shades of red.” You DO NOT have to say things that embarrass you. You DO NOT have to talk about things that make you uncomfortable.

…or you could do all those things and send the unedited product to the boy of your dreams, like Kaitlyn did.

I shouldn’t complain; it worked out fine for her. Rats, that’s probably a spoiler.

Posted in Entertainment


A Chorus Line is my mom’s favorite musical. Though it’s not my favorite musical, I have a soft spot for it because of her and because of its story.

If you’ve never seen A Chorus Line, go see it live or get your hands on a recorded performance. Don’t waste your time on the 1985 movie. “Let Me Dance for You” has nothing on “The Music and the Mirror” and never will.

If either of those options is hard to come by, the next best thing is 2008’s Every Little Step, a documentary chronicling the audition process for the musical’s 2006 revival. Viewers meet dancers across the country, experience the hope, despair, optimism, and determination of professional dancers, and get background information on the musical, its development, and its creator, Michael Bennett.

Though A Chorus Line  is a musical with plenty to cry about, Paul’s monologue tends to be the emotional zenith of the show. In Every Little Step, the director and others claimed Paul was the most difficult character to cast. Just before this clip, there was a montage of prospective Pauls who were all wrong for the part.

And then Jason Tam.

I watched this documentary with my parents in 2011. My mom went upstairs to do something and missed this scene. She came back to find my dad and I sobbing. In the tiniest voices you’ve ever heard, my dad and I told her, “You have to watch it.” We replayed the scene and my dad and I started crying again.

I hate you, Jason Tam. I love you, Jason Tam.

Need cheering up?
This clip is from a traveling production of A Chorus Line that I saw at the 5th Avenue Theater last September. “Dance Ten, Looks Three” is the musical’s funniest song, and Taryn Darr easily shows up Jessica Lee Goldyn. Yeah, I said it.

Fun fact: In Every Little Step, actress Chryssie Whitehead auditions for the role of Kristine. I saw her in last year’s production as Cassie. Watching her was the closest I’ve ever been to meeting a celebrity.

Posted in Entertainment, Television

BBC: The Musketeers

Yes. YES. I found the greatest TV show of all time.

It has everything:

  • Brooding dark-haired men
  • Facial hair
  • Swashbuckling uniforms
  • Screaming
  • People with British accents even though the show is set in France
  • Regret
  • Peter Capaldi
  • This guy
  • Do rags
  • Duels
  • Slow-motion walking
  • An excellent score

” The Musketeers” is all I’ve ever wanted in television.

I’m only one episode in, but I’m optimistic.

Posted in Entertainment, Television

Why I love and hate “The 100”: THE ROMANCE

WARNING: Major spoilers for Season 1 of “The 100” ahead

I know people who dislike romance, especially when it distracts from more important plot elements.

In my view, there’s no such thing as too much romance.

Okay, that’s not true. I get how frustrating it can be when a subpar romance takes over a great story.


The show started EARLY, setting up couples that both drew my ire and inspired my sympathy.

So they didn’t go the direction I was hoping and make Clarke and Wells a thing.

Clells? Warke? Graha? Jiffin? No wonder they didn’t work out.

Nothing else interesting romance-wise happened for the first few episodes. Finn was around, but you know how I feel about him. Octavia kept hooking up with random dudes (boring), and the writers sexed up Bellamy so you knew he was the villain.

Pictured: necessary character establishment.

I started to like Bellamy in “Day Trip” when he was plagued by visions of the people he killed. He acknowledged that he deserved whatever punishment was coming, which was a step toward humility. Then he and Clarke had a nice conversation about guilt and redemption, which was a positive change in their relationship and…wait a minute…


This is a ship. The writers are shipping these two! I’m…I’m not even mad!

What I love about Clarke and Bellamy: it’s not love at first sight (I HATE YOU, FINN). It’s gradual. It feels natural. No one is talking about intense feelings or true love or soulmates. This is a relationship I can get behind.

The other relationship I really liked was Octavia and Lincoln’s.


There was the forbidden love element, the ethical dilemma of torturing for information, multiple rescues, Olivia as Lincoln’s caretaker–basically everything I’m ashamed to admit I love when it comes to romance played out between these two.

When Lincoln kissed Octavia out of nowhere, I thought it was a little fast–not to mention kind of gross, since he was still bloody from the torture–but otherwise fine. Surely their relationship would continue to develop as the season went on.

The very next episode I asked myself why Octavia and Lincoln were having sex when they barely knew each other. Silly me.

I realize Ricky Whittle and Marie Avgeropoulos are beautiful people. That’s no excuse to skip relationship development in favor of fanservice. Hope you liked the two episodes of sexual tension; the rest of the season is the two of them “in love” because that’s how love works.


My other romance pet peeve, of course, involved Finn.

I hate Finn. I HATE Finn.

My problem, as I’ve said before, is that the writers want me to buy into this Finn-Clarke pairing. They’re asking me to ignore

  • the fact that Finn has a girlfriend
  • the fact that Finn cheated on said girlfriend
  • the fact that Finn won’t dump said girlfriend

I have no reason support this relationship. Finn is not a tortured, confused, all-in-all good guy. His relationship with Clarke is boring and cliché, based on a “chemistry” that the writers haven’t show me. Finn is the writers going, “Look, a bad boy! Everyone swoon!” after they’ve already shown they can do better.

This is the last of my rants until Netflix puts out season 2. I’ve heard a few things about the second season (“Look, girls kissing! Everyone swoon!”) but am otherwise in the dark. Can’t wait to see what other twists the writers have prepared. All hail Bellamy and Clarke!

Posted in Books

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Well played, Meg. Well played.

Today’s passage doesn’t qualify as terrible prose. Mostly.

It’s from a book I really enjoying. It’s kind of corny–there’s a love triangle and this guy has a bodyguard crush on this Russian princess–but the premise is intriguing and I love it.

Then, out of nowhere, comes this letter. I’m a fan of epistolary novels; I can do with one or two letters in a story this good.

This is the sleaziest letter I’ve ever read.

I’m pretty sure the guy who wrote it is going to turn out to be a villain and it will be a huge twist…but come on. How could you read this and not come away with a bad impression?

Don’t take my word for it. Just listen.

Posted in Books


Let’s talk about book characters, shall we.

I’m going to straight up spoil all of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, so ye be warned.

Ronan Lynch is hands down my favorite Raven boy. Here are some of the things Ronan has to worry about:

  • His father was murdered and Ronan was the one to find the body
  • He’s been banished from his childhood home and forbidden from seeing his mother
  • He’s plagued by nightmares and has the power to bring the creatures in his dreams back with him
  • His older brother hates him and is always on his case

If that wasn’t enough angst for one, person

  • He’s gay, in love with his presumed enemy, and harassed by a homophobic acquaintance

I might be in love with Ronan’s pain. I identify with characters who have a lot of self-loathing. Ronan perfectly embodies what it’s like to carry this guilt and self-hatred without coming across as whiny. He’s also brutally honest and really funny – the series’ best scenes have something to do with him.

The following is a scene from The Dream Thieves that made me cheer when I read it. After Ronan’s younger brother is kidnapped, Ronan tries to bring back a dream creature capable of defeating the unstable Kavinsky. My favorite lines are in bold.

He closed his eyes in relief.

It would be all right. They would give him a weapon, and he would wake and destroy this dragon of Kavinsky’s before anything else happened.

In the blackness of his closed lids, he heard: tck-tck-tck-tck.

No, thought Ronan. Not night horrors.

But there was the rattle of their claws. The chatter of their beaks.

Dream to nightmare, just like that.

There was no real fear, just dread. Anticipation. It took so long to kill him in a dream.

“This won’t help,” he told the trees. He knelt down, bracing his fingers in the soft soil. Even though he knew he couldn’t save himself, he couldn’t ever seem to convince himself to stop fighting. “This won’t save anyone.”

The trees whispered, Quemadmodum gladius neminem occidit; occidentis telum est.

(A sword is never a killer; it is a tool in the killer’s hand.)

But the night horrors were not a weapon Ronan could wield.

“I can’t control them!” he shouted. “They only want to hurt me!”

A night horror appeared. It surged over the trees, blocking out the sky. It was like nothing he had dreamt before. Three times the size of the others. Reeking of ammonia. Glacially white. The claws were yellowed and translucent, darkening to red tips. Pink veins stood out on the tattered rag wings. Its red albino eyes were tiny and furious in its wrinkled head. And instead of one ferocious beak, there were two, side by side, screaming in unison.

On the other side of the lake, Adam held up his hands, pointing at the sky. He was an alien version of himself. A dream version of himself. Lightning struck the stone beside him.

Like a heart, the ley line jerked and spasmed to life.

Cabeswater was alive.

“Now!” Adam shouted. “Ronan, now!”

The night horror hissed a scream.

“It’s only you,” whispered Orphan Girl. She was holding his hand, crouched down next to him. “Why do you hate you?”

Ronan thought about it.

The albino terror swept in, talons opening.

Ronan stood up, stretching out his arm like he would to Chainsaw.

I don’t,” he said.

And he woke up.

Need cheering up?
Ronan has a pet raven named Chainsaw and it is adorable.

Also, this happened:

Ronan’s bedroom door burst open. Hanging on the door frame, Ronan leaned out to peer past Gansey. He was doing that thing where he looked like both the dangerous Ronan he was now and the cheerier Ronan he had been when Gansey first met him.

“Hold on,” Gansey told Adam. Then, to Ronan: “Why would he be?”

“No reason. Just no reason.” Ronan slammed his door.

Gansey asked Adam, “Sorry. You still have that suit for the party?”

Adam’s response was buried in the sound of the second-story door falling open. Noah slouched in. In a wounded tone, he said, “He threw me out the window!”

Ronan’s voice sang out from behind his closed door: “You’re already dead!

Posted in Real Life

Post-Graduation: What now?

Dear graduate,

Congratulations! Now that you’re done learning, acquiring life skills, and becoming a well-rounded person, you’re well on your way to doing something worthwhile. The next chapter of your life will be a confusing, amorphous mess. Take some advice from someone who is only marginally more knowledgeable and is in the same boat. These three tips will bring you success in whatever you do.

  1. Push your body past its limits
    Be glad you don’t have health insurance, young ones; doctors are for the weak. In order to succeed, you have to forgo any comfort or well-being for the sake of self-promotion. Wean yourself off sleep until you reach vampire status. Consume copious amounts of caffeine to function. Take on more things than are humanly possible. Never say no to any new opportunity. If you find your efforts make you physically, emotionally, or mentally unwell, you’re on the right track. Success is being too exhausted to enjoy what you’ve earned.
  2. Do things you don’t want
    Being a well-rounded person means stepping out of your comfort zone and never returning to it. Don’t think you can get away with tiny deviations from your normal routine; pursue huge life changes against your better judgment. Give up writing to pursue mechanical engineering. Sell all your stuff, motivated by white guilt. Date someone you know to be a bad idea. Convert to the first religion that pops into your head. Anything you choose will contribute to your betterment and will have no lasting harmful effects.
  3. Develop your weaknesses
    Think of the talents and passions you’ve been honing your whole life. Now push them aside and don’t look back. The workforce is full of talented people; anyone can be good at something. Set yourself apart by becoming mediocre at that one skill you’ve never had. Put all your time and energy not into things you love, but into things that could be done better by someone else. Devote yourself to becoming the second-worst public speaker in the room, the so-so dental hygienist, the subpar babysitter. Become known for the area in which you’ll never excel.

If you hadn’t realized by now, none of these things will lead to success. Americans are obsessed with the appearance of success, which is what these things bring, along with a misguided sense of satisfaction. This is advice given by exhausted, unhappy people who repress regret by assuring themselves their choices weren’t in vain. Don’t be fooled by what the culture deems wise. Shine off your rugged individualism, graduate. You are a person with talents and preferences, likes and dislikes. Your story is unique; it never has to look like someone else’s if you don’t want. You have the freedom to pursue what you love, whether or not it’s lucrative. Make that your reality and let it guide your future.

Your friend,
Lauren Leshley, recent graduate