watching, reading, and writing stories

Why you should go to the Library this Summer

It’s officially summer now and I have a bit more free time on my hands so I’ve been going to the library more regularly. I don’t know why, but for a good portion of my life I didn’t take advantage of our public library system here in Texas. But now that I’ve started, I can’t imagine not having it. So if you’re hitting those summer dog days and needing something to do, check out your local library.

Here are my three reasons why you should check it out.

1. Books! Whether it’s rereading one of your favorites or getting into a new series or even getting audio books for those long road trips, you can’t beat the library’s policy of three weeks rental for free. This summer I started reading the Guardians of Ga’hoole Series. I saw the movie years ago and always thought the series sounded interesting, but I finally got around to it with the help of my local library. And I’m currently starting John Flanagan’s Brotherband Series. I loved his Ranger’s Apprentice series and this one is starting off just as exciting.

2. Movies! Did you know you can rent movies at the library? They even have some Blu-ray movies! No download time, no fees, no quick return to the Redbox. You pick your movie for free and can keep it for 3 weeks! There’s no other place that can compete with that. I’ve been finding quite a few movies I’ve always meant to watch and never have. And since Blockbuster is out of business and Netflix has limited options, this seems like the best way to finally watch those old films. They even have newer releases. Although it might be a bit of a wait, so if you really want to see something, you might want to still use Redbox or another movie watching option. And you should always check the DVD’s before you check out, some have smudges and scratches and I’ve had trouble with a few. But for the most part, this is an excellent way to get some summer entertainment.

3. Programs! Now I don’t really get involved with these, I’d rather just get my books and movies and be gone. But libraries always have cool things going on, like Summer Reading Challenges where you can earn a free book, or events for kids and parents. So if you need some free entertainment, check it out.

And lastly, since I’m talking about libraries, I want to give a quick announcement. As many of you know, I have published 2 youth adventure books in my Finding Home Series: The Orphan’s Journey and The Lost Brother. This week La Vernia Public Library will be getting a copy of each of these books for people to check out. I hope whoever lives near La Vernia enjoys the addition to the library and gets a chance to check out the books.

Well that’s it for now, enjoy the summer and take advantage of your local library.

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My Favorite Pixar Movies

In honor of the new Pixar movie coming out this Friday: Inside Out, I thought I’d do a list of my Top 5 Pixar movies. Now I’ve grown up on Pixar movies and I have to say all of them are good, so it’s really hard to narrow them down to the best ones. But I’ll try my best.

Before I start, I need to give a shout out to Finding Nemo. It would have made it on this list except that it was my favorite movie when I was younger. So I watched it so many times that I got tired of it. It’s a great movie with a great story, memorable characters and great music, but unfortunately it will always be hard for me to watch because it was seen too often. Maybe Finding Dory will fix this for me, but for now, it doesn’t make it in the top 5.

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So on to Number 5: Ratatouille
When I first saw this movie, I didn’t love it, but after multiple viewings it’s gotten better and better. I love Linguini’s antics and the fact that Remy does not speak English but is in fact a rat. There are so many quotes I love from this movie, that I use everyday such as “Let’s do this thing!”

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Number 4 is: Wall-E
I wasn’t sure about this movie when I first saw it, since there is very little dialogue but I’ve found it’s one I can watch again and again. The love story between Wall-E and Eve is so cute and the constant playing of old musical music gives it a joyful quality that is endearing.

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Number 3 is: Cars
Cars has been one of my favorites since it came into theaters. I love the music and still play Life is a Highway on every road trip I go on. Not only is the music amazing but the story is so beautiful. I love the message of taking life slow and actually building relationships with other people (or in this case cars).

Cars- The Movie Wallpaper

Number 2 is: The Incredibles
I think the Incredibles passes up other Pixar movies for me, simply because it reminds me of my own family. I love how real the relationships are in this movie, how the little arguments and discussions perfectly reflect real life issues in real families. But in the end, even with all the craziness I can say along with Dash “I love our family.”

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And finally number 1 is: Toy Story 2
I love all the Toy Story movies but #2 is my favorite because it came out during the right time in my life. The first Toy Story was a bit scary to me when I saw it for the first time, and even though I loved Toy Story 3, there’s something special to me about the second movie. I saw it three times in theaters alone and again and again since. I love the storyline of Woody being kidnapped or toynapped and all of the other characters going on a rescue mission. Plus any of the Toy Story movies have countless jokes that keep me laughing. The addition of Jessie and Bullseye probably helped too. It was also the first time I’d seen animated movies create a blooper real, that I found hilarious as a kid.

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So there’s my list. It probably differs form yours, and it may change for me in the future. Especially with Inside Out coming out this week and Amy Poehler, one of my favorite comedians, playing a large role, this list may change before the week it done.

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Christian Movies and TV Shows

Person, Men, Theater, Curtain, Stage, Human, Silhouette

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There seem to be more and more movies and TV shows about Christian topics these days. Recreating Bible stories has become especially popular in the entertainment industry.  For example, “A. D. The Bible Continues” is a new TV show that has started quite recently. But recreating Bible stories is not the only Christian themed entertainment out there. There have also been a slew of Christian films coming out in theaters. One such film that I got to see recently was “Do You Believe?” As a Christian, or Christ follower, I thought I’d give my opinion on these most recent Christian entertainment pieces, and how we as Christians should react to them.


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I’ll start with A.D. Since Easter this new drama has been playing on NBC. It follows the stories of Christ’s disciples and what they had to face in the early days of the Church. The network picked the right time to start the series, launching the show on Easter Sunday, with the Resurrection of Jesus being the main focus of the first episodes. The 3rd episode showed last night. As a Christian, I was naturally interested in this show. I’ve read about the history of the early church in the gospel accounts and in the book of Acts several times, and I was excited to see how this TV show would portray it.

But just as a movie can take liberties with it’s source material, (It seems like fans of books that were made into movies are never satisfied with the outcome), so this show can take liberties with the Biblical accounts. And I admit, there were a few instances when something was left out of the story. For example, in this most recent episode I was looking forward to seeing Peter give his sermon that brought thousands of people to believe in Jesus. In the Bible, this happened right after the Holy Spirit came, as a result of people asking questions about the disciples strange behavior. But this part of the story was skipped over in the episode, and instead the focus was put on Peter and John getting arrested in the temple.

From what I’ve seen of this series so far, the focus is on how hard it was for early believers, and the trials they had to overcome. It also gives us a look into the Roman ruler’s life and how they viewed what was going on. And although it is enjoyable to watch, and much of the story is consistent with the Biblical account, you can tell that this is meant to be a drama. And just like any cop drama on TV, there are good guys, bad guys and action and adventure with the audience always left hanging, so they’ll want to watch more. I will probably keep watching this show with interest, and I think the quality of the plot line and acting is all nice and good. But in the end, this is a TV show, not God’s Word. So keep that in mind, and remember that the screenwriters have taken a creative license with their source material.

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Next, I’d like to talk about “Do You Believe?” Like so many other Christian films, this movie attempts to give a Christian message through the telling of a compelling story. It ties together the lives of several characters all with the focus of if they will choose to believe in Jesus and act on their faith. The movie was well made, the story compelling, and I liked the character development. I think the film had a good message; that Christian’s can’t just say they believe and then go on living however they want to, that it takes commitment to follow Christ. It can be an encouraging story to see played out. But in the end, it is just a story. The events did not really happen, and even though God is at work in our lives for real, we often don’t see things work out as nicely as it does in a movie script.

So in conclusion, here’s a few things I think we should remember when watching Christian entertainment, whether it be a movie made by Christians, or by Hollywood, or even a TV show.

1. Always Come Back to God’s Word. 

Don’t base your faith on a movie or TV show. Base your faith on Jesus Christ and no other. He didn’t leave us a movie when he went back to heaven, but He did give us His Word, the Bible. Don’t take his gift lightly. Use it, and get to know Him for yourself. And make sure your view of God is shaped more by His Word, and a pastor’s teaching, than by the entertainment you watch.

2. Don’t let watching something become a substitute for doing it yourself.

If can be easy to watch some compelling movie or show, get caught up in all of the emotions, and enjoy the thrill of it. But don’t confuse it, with real life. God didn’t just use the disciples in His work, He wants to use you too. It’s not enough for us to watch and clap when someone else does the right thing, we need to do the right thing in our life. And we need to keep doing it, even if things don’t work out the way we want, or we don’t get the happy ending that we expect. God’s plan is so much bigger than our own, so much bigger than a human writer’s script. We won’t get to see the Big Picture in our lifetime. Maybe we’ll get hints at it, little previews of how God is working things together for good. But even if we don’t see it all, we can still have faith that it will because God is Faithful, and He is Good.


The Christian’s Line for Entertainment

I had a long conversation the other day about where to draw the line when it comes to participating in entertainment. As a Christian, I care about what I put into my mind and what I let my eyes see. But I also want to be able to connect with the people around me, and sometimes that means watching a movie together, or discussing a TV program.

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As I thought about it, I developed the idea of a line, with the middle being where you would ideally stay. At one extreme of the the line there’s some pretty obvious things that a Christian should not be looking at, like sex, porn, black magic, sorcery, that kind of stuff. My standard for what I allow myself to watch in this area rests on how it makes me feel. If the scenes, (whether it involves magic, sex, or bad language) is making me feel uncomfortable, or if I feel guilty after watching it, I try to avoid seeing them. I think what you allow yourself to watch can vary from person to person, but no one should do what they “feel” is wrong. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

In the middle of our line we have a basic enjoyment of some kind of entertainment, with no feelings of guilt or obsession.

But if you keep going towards the other end of the line, you can start to idolize the entertainment that you’re enjoying. In the past I thought of “fangirls” as simply being people who enjoy a certain actor or show or whatever and I didn’t see anything wrong with it. But as I thought about it more, “fangirling” can easily become idol worship where the thing that is so exciting has become what your life is all about.

I think this side of the extremes goes more easily unnoticed to Christians. We immediately notice if a show or book has “sex scenes” in it, or bad language. But do we also notice if our enjoyment of some kind of entertainment has gotten out of hand? I’ve definitely been caught in this, making my whole day revolve around the show that comes on at 7, or the movie that’s finally coming out.

It’s a good idea to remind ourselves not to slip in either direction and to keep a balanced life, with our focus strictly on the Lord.

I think this verse sums it up well; “Everything is permissible for me”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything. -1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV

Whatever I allow myself to watch, I want it to be beneficial, and something that won’t start to control me.

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Two Great Movies: The Hobbit and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Over the Christmas holidays, I found myself busy as always. And although I intended to write reviews for these two movies earlier, it just kept getting put off. But here they are, two movies that I highly anticipated and that managed to still impress me.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Movie Review

Let’s start with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I’ve done a blog post about this series already. And I have to admit I was a little worried going into this movie. I didn’t want to be upset at the changes Peter Jackson was likely to make, but I had just reread the book recently. Thankfully, although there were quite a few changes made, I still found the film intriguing. In fact I was almost glad that Peter deviated from the book, because then I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I became more engaged with the stories.

Not everyone will like the changes he made, and there were a few that I wasn’t thrilled about, such as splitting the dwarves up and only sending a few to the Lonely Mountain. It didn’t seem right to do it, but there were so many other changes that I loved, that I can forgive this one.

For example, I loved how the dwarves actually try to battle Smaug in the Mountain, instead of sitting in a tunnel, fearing for their lives, like in the book. I also liked getting to see more from other perspectives, such as the elves, or even Gandalf. These storylines were skipped over in the original Hobbit book, though I’m pretty sure some of them were discussed in other Tolkien books.

In any case, I enjoyed the movie, it was exciting, interesting, had good character development, and it really sets up the next film nicely. I can’t wait for next Christmas!


Now on to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This film hasn’t gotten the good reviews that I think it deserves. Some people may not enjoy the “artsyness” of this film, but I thoroughly did. From the beginning of the movie seeing the opening credits etched onto building sides and pavement, I knew I liked this film’s style. It has gorgeous footage of far off places, and a great soundtrack. But beyond all that, the story that it tells can relate to us all.

Walter Mitty is a guy with a big imagination. Ever since he was a kid, he wanted to explore, and discover and do great things. But he had to grow up quick and be the provider for his family, after his father passed away. Yet even in his routine life, he can’t help but imagine being the hero, catching people’s attention, and doing great things.

I know I’ve felt this way, wanting to be different, to make an impact on the world, to do “something mentionable or noteworthy.” To have a life.

As the film progresses, Mitty begins to take steps towards fulfilling these dreams, and begins to actually go to new places, do new things, and fulfill that desire.

I found the movie a perfect fit for the new year. It reminded me to not be afraid to try something new, and to go out and live, love and laugh.

So if you haven’t seen either of these movies, I’d encourage you to check them out. Or if you have, feel free to leave a comment.

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Society, Morals, and Choice in Movies

10. Katniss Everdeen - Hunger Games


Recently I’ve gone to see both the new Hunger Games movie and Ender’s Game in theaters. In the process of doing this I’ve also seen previews of a new movie coming out next year called Divergent. All of these movies are based on book series and all of them are coming out around the same time. And that’s not all that these movies have in common. They also bring up deep themes about society, morals, and choice, and the various perceptions of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Now these story lines are all unique and I haven’t read the Divergent series so I can’t say too much about how it fits into this trend, but it seems like there is a strong current towards these topics, at least in popular films. And I think it’s worth looking into.

Are these types of books and movies becoming more popular because the idea of being controlled by others and not being free to make your own decisions is a growing fear among the United State’s population?

Is it simply that stories that portray a darker future seem more realistic and connect with us more than the fantasies of years past?

Or is it just money hungry publishers and producers that saw one success and that led to others trying to mimic the successful book or movie and make some money?

In any case, I think it’s worthwhile to look more closely at what is similar in all of these story lines. In the Hunger Games we are given the perspective of Katniss, who is living in an unjust world that tries to punish the descendents of rebels in hopes of avoiding any future conflicts. Their punishment includes restrained freedoms, limited provisions, little privacy, and the horror of children being forced to kill each other in the Hunger Games. In essence it is a scary society, at least from Katniss’s perspective. And as the audience we can all agree with her that there is something sickly wrong with the way things are set up.

However, we are also given glimpses of another perspective, those of the people who are privileged and live in the Capitol. They seem completely unaware of the evils in this system. They have plenty to eat and happily go on eating after they are full, without thinking of the thousands of people who are starving. In addition, they focus on entertainment so much so that the Hunger Games becomes a grand event to be watched, celebrated, and invested in, instead of seeing it for the slaughter that it is.

To the audience, these opposite perspectives reveal how wrong the collective thought of a society can be. Just because everyone says “it’s okay,” or “it’s fun,” or “may the odds be ever in your favor” that doesn’t mean that what they’re talking about is morally right. Seeing this in the movie, could force us as the audience to start evaluating our own culture and what we view as right only because our society says it is, and not because it actually is. Similarities can be seen in our own culture as we hear about starving kids in Africa but still insist on eating our super-sized meal. The list could go on and on, with many subjects becoming touchy because it is real and affects us directly.

Ender’s Game, however, takes a different take on our world’s possible future. In this storyline, it is not people who are viewed as the enemy, but an alien species. In this world people fear the possibility of another attack from aliens so much that they decide to train children to become the best army possible. Kids are tested for brilliance and told that learning to kill is okay. I haven’t read the book series, so I could have some of this wrong, but I did at least see the movie. And it haunted me that young teenagers could be trained for a war, and told over and over that the tests they are going though are simply that; a test. Only to find out that the last test was no test at all, but a real war, that caused real deaths.
It was a horrifying realization to the main character, Ender, to find that he wasn’t winning a game, but he was killing real creatures and destroying their entire planet. He wished he had known the truth so that he could have acted differently.

I think this plays into our society as well. I’ve heard about countless debates over whether violent TV shows or video games are appropriate for children, or if they can be directly linked to real violence. This movie plays around with these thoughts and I think brings us some valuable questions.

When does something become more than a game?

Is it okay to trick kids, or use their intellect without their moral consent?

Who should be allowed to make the ethical decision: Is it generals, the government, or the individual who is doing the killing?

I think both of these movies have serious undertones that reflect our own culture’s perspective. There’s a reason that these movies and books are popular now, and not fifty years ago. Maybe the government taking control of health care is scary to people. Or maybe there’s a general fear of the future instead of a hope of better days to come. Who knows, there could be thousands of reasons, and each one could be different for each individual. But collectively as a society, something in these movies is striking a chord and resonating with people.

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Lone Ranger 2013 Movie Poster

It was my birthday this past week, and as a present, I got to go see two new movies in theaters. Now in general, I prefer kids movies. If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know that I liked Monsters University a lot more than The Man of Steel. It seems to me that kids movies, in general, have a fairly good storyline without crude language or questionable scenes. However, it is not always the case that kids movies end up being more enjoyable than other movies, as you will soon find out.

So, as I was saying, it was my birthday and one of my good friends wanted to take me to see some movies. We decided on Despicable Me 2 and The Lone Ranger. Now, I think a big part of what makes a movie enjoyable is EXPECTATIONS. If you really want a movie to be good and then it doesn’t meet those high expectations, you end up disappointed, even if the movie itself wasn’t that bad. Or if you go to a movie, expecting it to be lame, you might be surprised by some emotional moments and end up liking the movie. Of course this isn’t always the case. When I went to see Tron Legacy, I was expecting it to be a bad movie, and when I walked out of the theater I was only more convinced that I didn’t like it. And when I went to see Monsters University, I was hoping it would be really good, and it fulfilled my expectations. But no matter how you look at it, expectations do influence us.

So, the big question before I tell you about the movies I saw is: what were my expectations for each?

Let’s start with Despicable Me 2. I did see the first Despicable Me, and to tell the truth, I was disappointed. From the previews I was hoping for a hilarious kids movie, and I found the jokes, especially involving the minions, not very entertaining. I know a lot of people who really liked the movie, but I wasn’t a fan. So going into the sequel, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be more of the same? Or perhaps an improvement to the original? In any case, my expectations were not very high.

Then there’s The Lone Ranger. I’m not a diehard fan of the old TV series, but I have seen about 2-3 episodes on Hulu of how the show started. So I had a grounding in the characters, but wasn’t sentimental about how the show was made. I was looking forward to an updated version of the old west drama.

And now to the results! I enjoyed The Lone Ranger more than Despicable Me 2. A lot of this had to do with expectations, but it also had to do with storyline. I expected Despicable Me 2, to be like it’s predecessor, and it was. Since I didn’t love the first movie I didn’t love the second. It was an average movie, with a fairly predictable plot line, a few new characters, and some more minion jokes. But with the Lone Ranger, I had no preconceived notions about what it should be like, and only a basic understanding of the original plot of the TV series. So I thoroughly enjoyed finding out about Tonto’s past and why he acted the way he did, and seeing John slowly transform from a city lawyer into The Lone Ranger. I think the film did a good job balancing a connection to the original, while sill being able to poke fun at some of it’s aspects. It had a satisfying ending that wasn’t completely predictable, and interesting characters that I cared about.

So there you go, expectations are a big deal. They done completely determine a movie’s likeability, (the movie has some work to do too) but it does play a significant role.

So How to Train your Dragon 2, you better be good, because I’m expecting big things from you!

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Books, movies, and tv

Have you ever read an awesome book and wished there was another? How about seen a good movie and hoped for a sequel? Sometimes our dreams come true, but oftentimes authors, or movie producers leave us hanging. Have you ever wondered why that is?

I think is has something to do with the reasons we engage with a story, whether it’s from a book, movie or even TV show. There are a few different ways to attract an audience and surprisingly, they all work rather well.

The first way to attract an audience is find something that works, and then repeat it. I know as I was growing up, I always loved series books: Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, etc. Even though the stories were generally the same, I kept reading them. And this happens in TV shows too; every episode or book is set up in a similar way, some are better written than others, but odds are if you like one, you’ll like the next one too. There are plenty of successful sitcoms, like the Office, or shows that don’t have an overarching drama but still suck the audience in, like Elementary. Just like all the Hardy Boys books and Goosebumps stories we will continue to be read and enjoy them. Once a show, or book series has an audience, it can continue.

But then there are the stories that keep you on the edge of your seat. I read the Hunger Games not too long ago, and even though I think my favorite book was the first one, I had to keep reading all three books so I could find out how the story ended. These type of stories always leave an audience wanting more. TV shows like Once Upon A Time and 24 use the same idea, where you have to tune in next week to find out what happens.  I recently watched Kyle XY on Netflix and I was so drawn in to the back story and drama that I found myself watching 3 or 4 episodes in a row. These drama-based TV shows are similar to book series like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, or Percy Jackson. Not only is each episode, or book engaging and thrilling, but the story is continuous and always ends leaving you wanting more. Authors or writers in this category use the appeal of a continuing story to keep an audience interested.

And this is where our desire for more comes in. Because we are used to some stories continuing and engaging us time and again, we sometimes expect movies to do the same thing. Unfortunately movie sequels tend to leave us disappointed. It’s not very often that a movie sequel is considered to be even on the same playing field as it’s predecessor.

The reason, I think, that most movie sequels fail is because movies are made using the last category of audience engagement; basically giving the audience a compelling story. Movies stand alone, they aren’t made to have sequels or an ending suspense. They draw you into a story and leave you satisfied. Now I’m not saying this is always the case, but in general movies follow this mold. It doesn’t require repeating a generalized story, or leaving an audience longing for more, it simply tells an engaging story. I would say most movies, are similar to a novel. It has no connection to anything beyond itself. If you like it, you like it. And if you hate it, you hate it. There’s not suspense at the end, encouraging you to buy the next book, or watch the next episode. It’s just a story, but hopefully a compelling one. Yet this is where the Classics reside, those beautiful stories that engage us to the core. Movies like The Notebook, Rudy, Lincoln, or Les Miserables. Books like Pride and Prejudice, Treasure Island, and To Kill A Mockingbird. You can’t make a sequel to them, but you don’t need to, they are complete all on their own.

In the end, we all enjoy a good story, perhaps that’s because each of us is living our own story and hope that it is exciting and other people will want to hear about it too.

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