Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Selection - mini book review

"When we got the letter in the post, my mother was ecstatic. 
She had already decided that all our problems were solved, gone forever. 
The big hitch in her brilliant plan was me." 

"I didn't want to be royalty. 
And I didn't want to be a One. 
I didn't even want to try."

The Selection
In the book which is often described as "The Hunger Games meets the Bachelor," Kiera Cass tells the story of America Singer, a middle-class girl living in a prejudice society which is run by a mostly-inoperative monarchy. 
It is every girl's dream to marry a prince and become a princess. Every girl, that is, except for America Singer. America is a stubborn seventeen-year-old girl who hates doing what she's told. When her family received a letter informing them that America was eligible to enter The Selection--a competition between thirty-five other girls between the ages of sixteen and twenty to compete for the prince's hand in marriage--America wanted nothing to do with it. The odds of getting selected were slim (about the equivalent to someone winning a lottery), but America didn't even want to try.
Not only did she despise the thought of leaving her life behind and having to marry the seemingly stuffy Prince Maxon, but America also had a secret; she was in love with Aspen, a nineteen-year-old boy who was a caste below her. The caste system, numbering from One as the highest to Eight as the lowest, was taken very seriously. America was a Five and Aspen was a Six, meaning that a marriage between the two of them would not be a praised one.
After a series of events and a plethora of persuasion, America decided to enter the Selection. Lo and behold, she got...well...selected. From that moment on, America's world turned upside down and her life changed forever. 
Just like every YA fiction novel, there were things I loved about this book and things I couldn't stand. Rather than trying to get super analytical and critical (much like the people who write reviews on Goodreads...those readers are scary!), I decided to simply write up a Pros & Cons list on The Selection. 

  • story was very fast-paced; it never felt like it was dragging 
  • most of the Selected girls were very relatable; they felt real 
  • had a different feel to it; wasn’t just like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Mortal Instruments, etc. 
  • lots of drama 
  • the maids reminded me of the maids in Downton Abbey and I don’t know how that’s relevant but I liked them so I’m making this a “pro” 
  • decent character development between America and Maxon 
  • May. So many giggles while reading her dialogue. 
  • entertaining minor characters 
  • because the story moved quickly, more could have happened 
  • the teenage girls were SO REAL (aka: annoying) 
  • really weird character names 
  • mostly romance; not a lot of action 
  • very...very...very much like The Bachelor *cringe*
  • lots of drama 
  • relationship between America and Aspen was way too dry (and physical) 
  • unclear background story about Illéa as a nation 
  • love triangle was very forced and cliché 
All in all, I appreciated this book. While it didn't exactly give me a sense of purpose or bestow any life lessons upon me, it provided me with girly entertainment and I loved it. Other than two short make-out scenes, this book didn't try to be sexy and I greatly appreciated that. Also, the friendship-that-grows-into-something-more between Maxon and America is adorable. I have to say, though, my favorite relationship was the father-daughter relationship between America and her dad. It warmed my heart, and some aspects of it reminded me of my own relationship with my dad. I loved it. 

I give The Selection 4 stars and suggest you read it if you're looking for a sweet story that will entertain you and leave you wishing you could own a closet full of beautiful palace dresses
Wait, what?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Reflections

(Note: this post was written on December 31st, 2013)

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? ♪ 

I'm reflecting! 

I was a bit bummed out earlier because I didn't do much looking back on my year today. Many of my friends have been recalling all the blessings which they have experienced throughout 2013; posting on their blogs, updating their facebook statuses, and uploading "flipagrams." Meanwhile, I was doing nothing but browsing through my various social media sites, reading about everyone else's nostalgia. It's time to do some reflecting of my own. Sierra Boggess, one of my favorite Broadway actresses and role models, posted this list of reflections on her facebook earlier today. It's time to fill in my answers to her prompts, and reflect on how wonderful life has been to me in the past year: 

[Looking back on 2013]

5 biggest highlights from 2013

  • traveling
  • Disney World visits
  • joining DeArmon CAST 
  • Steubenville Youth Conference in Orlando, FL 
  • meeting new people and forming beautiful friendships 

What are you most proud of and why?

  • I truly grew as a person this year. I learned what it meant to be self-disciplined, honest, and happy. I made mistakes and I went through hard times, but I realized how very important it is to focus on the good moments in life. I am proud of how I've grown. 

What did you learn most about yourself?

  • I learned about myself in many ways. Once I allowed myself to just be genuine, I stopped conforming to the norms of society and my peers and I began discovering myself. I learned that I do not like 90% of the modern music that's popular. I learned that I would rather stay in and have a movie night than stay out super late. I learned that when spoken words fail me, my strength with written words are heightened. I learned that I love working with people, especially children. I learned that I like to treat everyone with kindness, even if they seem as though they do not deserve it. 

What surprised you the most?

  • How brave I actually am. 

What goals did you succeed in accomplishing? 

  • I got excellent grades in my college classes this past year. At the beginning of the year, I said I wanted to basically be Hermione Granger. Well, several A's and a couple B's later, my GPA is looking fiiiiiiiine. Hard work pays off! 

What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you handle them?

  • Trying new things...everything from riding scary roller coasters to touring colleges to learning how to dance; each of these things, and many more, required stepping out of my comfort zone. That's something I've never been good at, but I did it! I definitely plan on trying new things throughout the course of 2014, which is good, because I'll have plenty of opportunities to do so. 

Who were the people who had the greatest impact on you and how did [they] affect you?

  • Audrey Hepburn. Class, humor, grace, quirkiness, sophistication, and youthful light, all rolled up in one personality. She's my inspiration. 
  • Veronica Roth. She taught me so much through her characters in her bestselling book series, Divergent. She helped me learn the importance of trust, friendship, agape love, balance, and striving to become our best selves. 
  • My new friends from CAST. They are such positive people with a desire to love and honor the Lord in all they do. They honestly make me want to be a better person, and I'm so thankful for them. 

What professional accomplishments are you most proud of and why? 

  • I GOT A WONDERFUL NEW JOB! I work at my local aquarium as a photographer, and I love what I do. I get to meet so many interesting people, including some really incredible children and people with handicaps or special needs. Also, we have a lot of guests come in who are deaf, and I can converse with them using American Sign Language. I'm the happiest I've ever been at work and I feel so blessed! 

What didn't you do that you wish you [had] done? 

  • I wish I had gone to more social events that my friends hosted. There were several parties I missed out on, simply because I did not want to drive an hour to get there (most of my friends live at least 45 minutes-1.5 hours away). I love my friends, though, and I'm willing to sacrifice the hour or so it will take to drive--I hope to see them more frequently in 2014! 

What friendships meant the most to you and why? 

  • "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold." I made so many new friends this year, each of whom mean so much to me. Not only did I grow new friendships, but I also took care to nurture the ones I've had since a young age. It is true that some relationships are not meant to last forever--people will come and go, and that's perfectly fine. I've learned that this year. You can still love people without devoting all your time, energy, and life to them. Sometimes in life, we have to sift through our unhealthy friendships in order to make room for the positive ones. God has opened up many doors for me this year, allowing me to meet new people and form friendships that will not only last a lifetime, but transcend it. 

What was one of the best decisions you made? 

  • Deciding to be genuine and be myself 100% of the time. 

What day would you [relive] if you could relive one day?

  • I would relive April 21st, 2013. I went to the R5 concert for their LOUD Tour, and it was honestly one of the best days ever. I made new friends, spent most of my time with Taylor Mathews (LOOK HIM UP! HE'S WONDERFUL!), met the boys of Hollywood Ending (also a great band), and of course got to listen to some really awesome music. R5 puts on a great show, and that is one concert I will never forget. 

What, if any, regrets do you have? 

  • Not planning ahead better...I wish I had been more balanced and less scatterbrained. But, you live and you learn, and balance is what I'm working on in 2014. 

What made you laugh? 

  • Too many funny memories to count! 

What was one of the biggest risks you took and how did it turn out? 

  • I decided to speak my mind to someone, and it turned out better than expected. 

If you could change one thing, what [would it be] and why? 

  • Well, maybe the elimination of a few embarrassing moments, but other than that...nothing. I've come to the realization that everything happens for a reason, so there isn't really anything that happened during 2013 that I wish I could change. 

What was your biggest disappointment? Knowing what you know now, would you do anything [differently] if you had it to do over again?

  • The world does not revolve around me, I know. I'm not that extreme. However, I hurt a few people over the past year by being too enamored with myself; what did I want, where did I want to go, what benefited me me me? It was ridiculous, and not only was it inevitably disappointing to me, but I let down those around me. I am now making an effort to obtain a balanced form of selflessness. 

What did you do that deserved some kind of recognition? 

  • In January, I attended the March for Life in Washington, DC. There were over 500,000 people participating in the event, yet it got no publicity. Other than ETWN, a popular Catholic TV channel, there were no news reports of the event. The March for Life has been going on for decades, and has never gotten mainstream media recognition. Respect for all human life deserves to be noticed! 

What was one of the most meaningful things someone did for you?

  • There are several accounts from 2013 of people doing meaningful things for me. I loved whenever people would see or hear something that made them think of me, and they would send me a text or give me a phone call, just to tell me about it. Just the fact that I was on someone's mind in a positive way meant so much to me. 

What was one of the most meaningful things you did for someone?

  • In February, my family and I took my best friend Anna to Disney World with us. We took a weekend trip there to celebrate my 17th birthday, and I loved having Anna tag along. First of all, she is like the older sister I never had. I love having her around. Secondly, she had never been to Disney before, and so seeing her there was like watching a child see magic for the first time. It was such a beautiful memory and I'm so glad I got to play a minor part in it for Anna. 

What was one of your favorite romantic highlights?

  • Honestly, just learning how to become friends with a guy first, before developing romantic feelings for him. That's my highlight. Patience is important, and true love waits. 

How are you different now than a year ago?

  • I am more open to trying new things. I am more confident in myself. I have a closer relationship with Christ. I am no longer a conformist. I am more creative. I am more self-disciplined. I am learning to be more balanced. 

What were some meaningful compliments you received? 

  • "Seeing you smile just instantly puts me in a good mood." That one melted my heart. You never know when someone needs to feed off of your positive energy. Something as simple as a smile can turn someone's entire day around! 

What's still incomplete for you? 

  • There are a couple of unhealthy relationships which I have not ended completely yet. I feel like I'm floating in limbo right now, but it's time to let it go. 

What are you most thankful for? 

  • My faith, my family, my friends, and the opportunities I have. 

Reflect on the upcoming year

What would you like to be different in your life year from now? 

  • I'd like to be able to get projects done in a timely manner so that I can enjoy myself once I'm finished. I'd also like to be more open and honest with people. 

What personal goals [and] commitments are you willing to make?

  • I want to blog at least once a week. I want to have something fun that I do on a regular basis; something to look forward to, but something that also helps with my creativity and consistency. (I have not picked a "blog day" yet, but I'm thinking it'll be the Thursday of every week.) 

What bad habits would you like to [rid] yourself of? 

  • Eating way too much/too little when I'm stressed, biting my nails, cutting people off just because I'm tired of hearing them talk. It's important to eat right in order to reduce stress, I want to have pretty nails, and everyone has a story, so it's important to listen. 

What unfinished business do you need to complete? 

  • I need to get my college stuff in order; class registrations, applications for when I transfer, and my frame of mind when it comes to growing up. It's time to look at it with positivity. 

What would you like to have more of in your life?

  • Quality time with the people I love and the ones who build me up. 

What would you like to have less of in your life?

  • Stress, negative people, and an imbalanced life. 

What relationships [do] you need to improve upon? 

  • I need to be more honest in some of my friendships. "Sugar-coating" the truth isn't always in the best interest of the other person. 

What's the best advice you could give yourself? 

  • Don't worry so much. Enjoy the life with which God has blessed you! 

What personal challenges do you anticipate? What is your strategy to handle these? 

  • Learning how to juggle family, friends, work, and school. My strategy is to plan ahead but at the same time remain flexible. 

[What] professional challenges do you anticipate? What is your strategy for handling these?

  • Figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. My strategy is to try new things, experience new areas of business, and look into as many opportunities as I can. 

What special memories would you like to create? 

  • The types of memories that I will gladly share with my children and grandchildren some day. I want memories I can be proud of; memories which I have no reservations sharing with others. 

What do you plan to do just for you? 

  • I want to read and write more. No more excuses about "not having time." I will make time. 

What are you going to do to create healthy balance between family, friends, work, and play?

  • Same as stated a bit earlier: plan ahead while at the same time remaining flexible. Also, keeping Christ in the center of all that I do. If I start every day with the Lord, He'll carry me through the course of it. 

What are some personal growth opportunities?

  • Diving deeper into my prayer life. It's been existent throughout 2013, but there's always room for improvement. As stated in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "pray without ceasing." 

What are you looking forward to? 

  • Everything God has in store for me. 

2013, you were wonderful. 2014, I'm ready for you. 

Bring it on.