God, Swans and Teenagers

I am ashamed of how long it has been since I wrote to you here. As you can imagine so much as happened, with you as well, I’m sure.

Since January I have been student teaching at smaller high school south of Kansas City. It is incredibly time consuming – so much so, I wish I had time for something else – anything else. But, it has slowed since I will be finished in less that two weeks. I have one class to teach and everything else for the university is completed.

And I bet you didn’t care to read this hearing about teaching high school-ers.

untitledLooking to see what I last posted, I have read some since writing. I always wish I would read more than I have. Among those have been Ms. Kostova’s The Swan Theives. She is brilliant to no surprise. Definitely a title worth picking up. Mentally tortured painter shows up at a mental institute. His therapist tells his journey to find out what happened before he arrived, as his patient will not speak. It folds into a beautiful recollection of a story between a young woman and her uncle-in-law. Their letters, love and talents. Sounds confusing, but clearly evoked. 77203

I also read The Kite Runner, by Khaleed Hosseini. Brilliant depiction of a boy and his friend. How different they are, but so close, like brothers. One brother mistreats the other. I would not do justice trying to explain the story he shared. I will say I enjoyed is second book A Thousand Splendid Suns, a bit more (perhaps because I’m a woman).

I’m currently reading A Feast for Crows in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Thriving on the Season three premier of the HBO depiction. Have not gained much ground with the story, but will hopefully have more time soon.
In addition, I’ve been diving more and more into my Bible. As a result of fantastic role models, maybe a bit of self-pity and a desire for something else – knowing only He can fill whatever void is in my life.

Other things have happened as well. Pending graduation. Engagement. Photography for friends.

I would ask, as a parting wish, to pray for my bitterness. I find myself angry towards those who do not realize what they have, how blessed they are. A culmination of experience has given me an appreciation and independence – but I do not want a hard heart.

Until next time…

Eighteen Acres

18-acresNicole Wallace debuts as an author with this tale of political intrigue. Charlotte Kramer is serving in the near future as the first female president of the United States, while doing her best to repair damages of war in Afghanistan and other areas of the Middle East. Her husband, Peter Kramer is also in uncharted waters balancing his sports’ clients and the role of the “first-ever ‘first man’.” Feeling as if he long ago was abandoned by Charlotte, readers soon discover he is having a long-standing affair with newswoman Dale Smith. The story also follows the White House Chief of Staff, Melanie Kingston who is continuing a strong record of 16 years on the ‘eighteen acres’.
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Wallace attempts to add dramatics. First with discovery of Peter and Dale’s affair. Then with the helicopter explosion in Afghanistan. And finally with the Cinderella story of a ‘non-campaign’ for Charlotte’s second term. All in all, it might have been a good first go for Wallace, but I wanted more. Not something that sounded as if it were written by a high school-er (no offense to those brilliant secondary writers). On top of everything, I caught two typos; one on the first page! C’mon publishers, step up your game.

Wallace, I’ll look forward to pieces yet to come. For now, let’s just say I’m extremely disappointed with the lost potential the back cover promised….

At First Sight

Other than reading this book for the 2013 Nicholas Sparks Reading Challenge, I could not have read this novel at a more inopportune time. 

After making it a few chapters in, I discovered that this was the sequel to another book, True Believer. (I dislike reading books/series out of order.) Almost immediately the audience realizes that Jeremy and Lexie are rushing a marriage because of an unplanned pregnancy. Throughout the entire story we’re experiencing the whole journey of pregnancy – and I do mean the whole journey. If you know me – or have even read some other posts – you’ll know that this isn’t really my idea of a good time. 
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For all this, I’m going to avoid giving any opinion on the book. I would no doubt be biased. But because I struggled through it so, I’m going to reveal the biggest spoiler of the entire novel (and possibly even its predecessor). You better look away now. 

She dies. 

A Storm of Swords

There is a point while reading novels, especially great ones, when your eyes are no longer seeing words on a page, but forming an image of that moment in time. You are transported to a faraway world, to the struggles of a little boy, to the pride of a championed cause. It’s brilliant. And once you’ve found your niche, that place you know you’re meant to be, you don’t want it to end.

George Martin’s ability to create such a place is surreal. The pain and sorrow of the characters are palpable. Every desire, resounding. Each small victory, triumphant. These stories he’s created accomplish what every book should make an audience feel. We’re no longer an audience. We’re citizens of Westeros, the King’s Road, the snow falling beyond the Wall that bears witness to the magnificent secrets of Sansa, Arya and Jon, Tyrion and Ygritte, Brienne and Jaime.

A-Storm-of-Swords-e1346603808470All the while, Martin so adeptly weaves life’s wisdom into his story. I decided to share some of my favorite…

‘In the world, as I have seen it, no man grows rich by kindness.’ – Ser Jorah Mormont

‘A man can own a woman or a man can own a knife,’ Ygritte told him, ‘but no man can own both. Every little girl learns that from her mother.’

…Pylos meant it kindly, but his assurances rang hollow….’A kingdom’s not a ship…and a good thing, or this kingdom would be sinking. I know wood and rope and water, yes, but how will that serve me now? Where do I find the wind to blow King Stannis to his throne?’
The master laughed at that. ‘And there you have it, my lord. Words are wind, you know, and you’ve blown mine away with your good sense. His Grace knows what he has in you, I think.’
– Davos Seaworth and Maester Pylos

‘An ant who hears the words of a king may not comprehend what he is saying,’ Melisandre said, ‘and all men are ants before the fiery face of god.’

‘No man goes hunting with only one arrow in his quiver,’ he said. – Mance Rayder

‘The gods made the earth for all men t’share. Only when the kings come with their crowns and steel swords, they claimed it was all theirs. My trees, they said, you can’t eat them apples. My stream, you can’t fish here. My wood, you’re not t’hunt. My earth, my water, my castle, my daughter, keep your hands away or I’ll chop ‘em off, but maybe if you kneel t’me I’ll let you have a sniff. You call us thieves, but at least a thief has t’be brave and clever and quick. A kneeler only has t’kneel.’ – Ygritte

If he survived this night, he would take Devan and sail home to Cape Wrath and his gentle Marya. We will grieve together for our dead sons, raise the living ones to be good men, and speak no more of kings. – Davos Seaworth

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New narrators, once again. Samwell Tarly. Jaime Lannister. As well as old acquaintances. Catelyn Stark and Jon Snow – among others. And in the preview of A Feast for Crows we find that readers will get a closer look into Cersei Lannister’s true feelings. However in A Storm of Swords, the third installment of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (a.k.a. A Game of Thrones) reveals that Robb Stark, ‘King in the North’, has yet to be beaten on the battlefield and Tywin Lannister has made his way to King’s Landing. Lord Tywin’s arrival temporarily leaves youngest son Tyrion void of responsibilities to the realm. As King Stannis so fortuitously slays his brother Renly Baratheon – the desparate scheming for the Iron Throne continues….

To Sansa Stark’s good luck, the Lannister’s find a more prosperous match between King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell from Highgarden. But the Lannister’s, or rather Lord Tywin, is not prepared to throw a chance at Winterfell to the wind. In the far North, Jon Snow is exploring life as a wildling following ‘The King Beyond the Wall’, Mance Rayder. Jon finds himself mixing pleasure in this ‘reconnaissance mission’ that he does not easily forget once the freefolk make their way back to the Wall.

Brandon ‘Bran’ Stark and younger brother Rickon are thought to be executed and are making their way north with two crannogmen. I find it easy to let them slip to the back of my mind, despite the mysterious powers of Bran’s dreaming. But I’m not about to disregard the Khaleesi, Daenerys Targaryen, ‘Mother of the Dragons’. The Queen is building her army, purchasing thousands of ‘Unsullied’ – fearsome eunuchs dulled to pain – proving the loyalty of her dragons. Although such loyalty cannot be said of everyone in her caravan. Her fate will be one I am eager to discover when I finally decide to open the cover of A Feast for Crows.

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Sarah, Part II

John MacArthur posed some…more personal questions in this chapter of Twelve Extraordinary Women. Exploring the life of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, reader’s are encouraged to understand the patience and enduring hope she had despite bitterness, and the urge to take matters into her own hands. I took some great advice from a trusted friend (after I had already answered the questions), re-read the questions, and will hopefully leave you with some self-reflection as succinct as I possibly can…though I could elaborate far more on some. I also encourage you to share your own opinions, thoughts, criticisms or agreements – regardless your beliefs. 😉

1. What are your first thoughts about Sarai (or Sarah)?
MacArthur’s first impressions of Sarah are obvious within the writing…but I like to draw my own conclusions about an individual. Although extremely beautiful, growing up Sarah may have developed a bit of humility – driving such steadfast faithfulness to Abraham. On the other hand, she may have been a spoiled, temperamental woman, based on the way she suggested and then dealt with her maid Hagar. Either way, I feel ridiculous calling her anything other than what God tells us she is: devoted, faithful and hopeful, remaining warm-hearted despite her tribulations.

2. We first discover Sarah when she was 65 years old. At that time she was beautiful but had no children. Why was it so important that a woman have children?
You wanna know what I wrote down when I was answering questions? “How the heck am I supposed to answer that?” I’m taking the easy way out. Other than inevitable biological reasons, I won’t answer this question. The fact is, I never want to experience pregnancy or give birth to a child (adoption would be fantastic). I’m upset just thinking about it. And I know everyone says, “You’ll change your mind when you’re older,” or “Oh, I used to think that too.” No. That really just upsets me further because you don’t understand how desperately I never want it to happen. I have no remorse for the fact that I don’t want to either. Then things start getting really depressing because it’s supposedly the one finite thing God put women on the earth to do (which I also find depressing, but that’s another story). It’s undeniable that it is our responsibility to further the human race. Regardless of all that, I still don’t want to. I feel positively horrible because I sincerely never want to undergo the one thing I’m meant to do, and I feel selfish and abhorrent for being so unwanted of God’s purpose. That makes me sad, deeply sorrowful, but it still doesn’t change the way I feel.

3. Review the material on pages 28-29. List Sarah’s strengths and weaknesses. Now list your strengths and weaknesses. In what ways are you and Sarah similar? In what ways are you different?
Again, I thought this question was a bit unfair, since what we’re supposed to base Sarah’s strengths and weaknesses off of is what MacArthur’s opinions are. He may have thoroughly researched and made intelligent observations to determine her personality…but still. I listed Sarah’s strengths as: beauty (which ofttimes can be a weakness, but I thought hers would be a strength), faith, steadfastness, deep affection, sincerity, and hope. Her weaknesses as: her barren-ness (making her rash and desperate), bitterness and other shortcomings (possibly with Hagar?). Feel free to criticize or throw in some input; I listed my strengths as: hopeful, good-humored, optimism, patience, and faith. My weaknesses as: meekness, doubt, anger, harshness, and jealousy. I like to think that I’m capable of Sarah’s patience, and I think I would be a bit jealous of someone capable of something I desired with my whole heart. I think I’m different from Sarah – and perhaps it’s just a cultural difference – in that I don’t think I could ever, ever ask my husband and another woman to conceive a child together. Period.
Sarah_bible_472_314_80 4. Because she was childless, Sarah is characterized as frustrated and resentful. When you don’t get what you expect, what words can be used to characterize the way you act? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Explain your response.
It all depends on the situation. Disappointment. Surprise. Utilize (I’ll try to make the most of it). Thankful/humility. Overwhelmed. Draw your own conclusions.

5. Sarah’s actions reveal that she was totally devoted to her husband. Your life reveals the people and/or things to which you are totally devoted. What does your life say is important to you?
I would hope that my actions and company would say that I’m devoted to God. I know that His presence in my life should be even more substantial and continue to increase. Family, friends, Michael, PAS, books and education are more noticeable components of my life.

6. In spite of her year of childlessness, Sarah remained confident that God would do what He promised to do. Your life is characterized by hope. For what are you hoping? How confident are you that God will do what you expect?
I hope for a life fulfilling God while simultaneously doing what I love. Should I really be expecting something from God? Only guidance – which I have no doubt He’ll provide if I seek it. I only hope that I follow it the way He wishes.

541128_543812895662845_609640633_n7. Read Genesis 17:20-21. How do you think Sarah felt when she heard these words?
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes he shall beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.”
I could imagine Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. After all God was much more specific in His reassurance in this instance. Not only that, He provided a timeline. Again we’re reminded that everything happens in it’s own time. MacArthur notes, “His plan all along was for Sarah to have her first child in her own age, after every prospect of a natural fulfillment of the prophecy was exhausted and after every earthly reason for hope was completely dead.”

8. What was significant about Sarah’s laughter in Genesis 18:15? How important is it that we be honest with God?
“Then Sarah denied, saying I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.”
In my opinion it showed that despite her temper and struggles with discouragement, Sarah was able to remain an essentially good-humored woman. To me, this is paramount; her heart didn’t harden. What does it say that she denied it, and later admitted to her laughter? It’s incredibly important to be honest with God – He knows your heart so it’s pointless to hide. So really if you’re being dishonest, it’s only being dishonest, and hurting yourself. We can move forward when we’re honest.

9. What life principles did you learn from the study of Sarah’s life? How will you apply these principles to your life?
Don’t take matters, especially what God has promised, into your own hands. Be prayerful in everything. Don’t let your heart be hardened. Read scripture. How do you think these can be applied?

Be on the look out for the next extraordinary woman from MacArthur’s book: Rahab! “A Horrible Life Redeemed”

The study questions are courtesy of John MacArthur’s book: Twelve Extraordinary Women; image one is from Life, Hope & Truth: http://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/faith/women-of-faith/sarah/; image two artwork of ‘Women after God’: https://www.facebook.com/abundantpeace?fref=ts

The Library

It had been a while since I had even stepped into the Grundy Co. Jewett Norris Library, let alone checked out a book. Last week, while my parents were off to Haiti my 9-year-old fireball of a brother and I made our way inside more than a couple times. He mostly wanted to see what DVDs they had, but he tried out a book too. Getting him to read it would be the hard part. On the other hand, nerd that I proudly am, I even brought my own book to the library. Nonetheless, he found a book (and a couple movies) and even got some info on the summer reading program. Meanwhile I ventured upstairs to the ‘adult’ section – which isn’t dirty, it’s just for anyone who is above the eighth grade reading level. Geesh, get your mind out of the gutter. And in the rows and rows of books I found more than a few titles I’d been wanting to read, but hadn’t been able to add to my own collection. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, some Steven King titles. Of course I hadn’t been in so long, I lost my original library1044501_10151749673631823_1860074247_n card. Now, to obtain one, you need proof of residency and bills and a personal id – just to avoid buying one for $30+. Lucky me, I was in the system and had another card assigned to my account. Thanks to the wonderful librarian I now have this gem (along with one for the Maryville Public Library), and managed to take home my next book as well. Let’s just hope I find the time to read it before it’s due, a week from yesterday.

Sarah, Part I

Wife of Abraham, Sarah is a woman whose hope endured. Originally Sarai (meaning ‘my princess’), she was extremely beautiful and extremely barren. Sarah’s beauty tempted most men, kings and lowborn alike. Scripture does not introduce us to Sarah until her 65th year, and Abraham still feared that Egyptian pharaohs would injure him to take Sarah for their own. MacArthur calls her self-centered, unreasonable, whiny, pouty and temperamental…among other things. It’s possible that she may have become vain and spoiled, knowing her tremendous beauty.

However, Sarah’s first 65 years are summed up in one single statement: “Sarai was barren; she had no child.” (Gen. 11:30) I cannot claim what Sarah may have been like, or pretend to know who she was, but it’s possible she became bitter or ill-tempered over her barren-ness, not just because of her beauty. MacArthur also said she was “obviously tortured by her childlessness.” I wondered to myself, “What made it so obvious?”

As for her husband, Abraham was called to serve the Lord in a time when true believers were scattered in a world of paganism. God promised Abraham that he would father a great nation to be His witness to the world. That sounds like a lot pressure for a woman, certainly for one who was barren. As God made promises with Abraham, he was called into a land reserved for himself and his descendants. Along the way, at Abraham’s suggestion, Sarah and Abraham posed as siblings (a half-truth), to prevent the pharaoh from hurting Abraham (mentioned earlier). Sarah was extremely devoted to her husband, and is recognized for her commitment, as she stood by him even in his mistakes. God found this devotion commendable.
sarah Despite desperate efforts to conceive, Sarah did not become pregnant. God continued to renew his promise for children to Abraham. In fact, Abraham laughed when God promised him a child by Sarah (Gen. 17:17), as they were both pushing 100. But we are told that we should not mistake Abraham’s laughter for disbelief (Rom. 4:20-21). My first thought was to want proof that those who lived to be 200+ years old aged the same as we do now. But Abraham’s humor must mean something. By this time, Sarah has proven faith I’m not so sure I could match. Were I to keep faith and have a child at such an age, I would fear of dying during childbirth. After all, Abraham would have an heir, the prophecy fulfilled – for what would I still be needed? God knows better…to quote MacArthur, “His plan all along was for Sarah to have her first child in her own age, after every prospect of a natural fulfillment of the prophecy was exhausted and after every earthly reason for hope was completely dead.”

Alas, I am not Sarah. What did she do? Take matters into her own hands by bringing Abraham to her maid, Hagar. According to the author, tensions in the Middle East that are seen today can be traced to Sarah’s “foolhardy ploy to try to concoct a man-made solution to her dilemma.” This was the first recorded case of polygamy in Scripture involving a righteous man, but neither was it the last. MacArthur lists several examples throughout the Bible, and each situation exacts its own consequences. Soon, Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Yet, God renewed His promise with Abraham and Sarah once more, providing a timeline and a name for their promised son: Isaac (Gen. 17:15-21). Sarah is present when God verbalizes His covenant this time, and at the assurance of Isaac, she laughs within herself. “Despite her temper and struggles with discouragement, Sarah remained an essentially good-humored woman.” Wow.

A couple years down the road, Ishmael ridicules Isaac, for some unknown reason. Nevertheless, it was enough to set Sarah off and she banishes Ishmael and Hagar. Abraham loved his firstborn son, but God reaffirmed Sarah’s demand. Paul further explains in Galatians 4:24-30.
Personally, I should have guessed that this book would be pages of hard truths, as I am learning through each extraordinary woman. I am not necessarily a feminist, but do not subscribe to the traditional ‘roles’ of my sex. I’ll stop rambling, and leave you to ponder the questions – which become a bit more personal this chapter…

1. What are your first thoughts about Sarai (or Sarah)?
2. We first discover Sarah when she was 65 years old. At that time she was beautiful but had no children. Why was it so important that a woman have children?
3. Review the material on pages 28-29. List Sarah’s strengths and weaknesses. Now list your strengths and weaknesses. In what ways are you and Sarah similar? In what ways are you different?
4. Because she was childless, Sarah is characterized as frustrated and resentful. When you don’t get what you expect, what words can be used to characterize the way you act? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Explain your response.
5. Sarah’s actions reveal that she was totally devoted to her husband. Your life reveals the people and/or things to which you are totally devoted. What does your life say is important to you?
6. In spite of her years of childlessness, Sarah remained confident that God would do what He promised to do. Your life is characterized by hope. For what are you hoping? How confident are you that God will do what you expect?
7. Read Genesis 17:20-21. How do you think Sarah felt when she heard these words?
8. What was significant about Sarah’s laughter in Genesis 18:15? How important is it that we be honest with God?
9. What life principles did you learn from the study of Sarah’s life? How will you apply these principles to your life?

The study questions are from MacArthur’s Twelve Extraordinary Women, as the post summarizes my views of the second chapter. Photo from Jonathan Enns: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanenns/

Summer Nights

“The exquisite art of idleness, one of the most important things that any University can teach.” – Oscar Wilde

After transferring to Northwest Missouri State last fall, I moved into a one-room apartment in early July. With only a part-time job to occupy my time, and a longing for my vast yard back at home, I made my way outside in the evenings to explore the new campus. Of course I would take my book with me in case I found a new place to relax. After my second or third venture on my bicycle, I discovered Colden Pond. Among the beautiful scenery of Northwest – and right near the ‘Kissing Bridge’ – the little pond became my go-to spot. One of my first nights there, I even predicted the engagement of a nearby couple. Now, spending another summer working part-time in Maryville, I find myself coming back to the familiar oasis. And although it’s not being taught in the classroom, I’m doing my best to practice that exquisite art of idleness.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

When I sat down to read this book, the last thing I thought was, “Gee, I’d really like to bawl my eyes out.” Can you guess what happened? I literally had to put down the book at work so I wouldn’t be crying should someone come in for their order. Hard to believe if you know I don’t cry for anything. It’s likely that when he was writing, Hosseini just decided to write down every possible sorrow and horror that could become a woman into one novel. But sweet hallelujah, he does it wonderfully.
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Hosseini is native to Afghanistan and has received medical certification in the U.S. However, with his middle-eastern roots, I would personally consider A Thousand Splendid Suns nonfiction even though the characters may not exist. Hosseini exposes the raw and honest joys and struggles of two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam. Knowing that every person and experience is different, these two portrayals could not give example of each woman in Afghanistan, but I would not doubt if they are apt.

The audience is introduced to Mariam, a harami or bastard of a businessman in Kabul. Mariam’s mother was a maid in her father’s house and was sent to a tiny hut to be hidden from society. Her mother is also prone to seizures and verbally places guilt on Mariam for her misfortune. Nonetheless, she is sure to convey to Mariam the important lessons needed in life: “A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing. It isn’t like a mother’s womb. It won’t bleed. It won’t stretch to make room for you,” and, “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger will always point towards a woman. Always.” Yet, Mariam still eagerly awaits her father and his red tie and special gifts every Thursday. Until the day she sets out to visit him….

Laila is discovered briefly in the telling of Mariam’s tale, but we soon learn all about her family and close friend, Tariq. As her brothers are away to war, Laila’s mother is bedridden and Laila is left solely to depend on her Babi and Tariq. While the war encroaches on her town, Laila soon feels the effects of conflict and the wrath of the Taliban. Before we know it, Laila and Mariam have crossed paths and formed a unique friendship that won’t conclude until Hosseini has divulged each layer of your heart.
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During my reading, it seemed to me that Hosseini was not only revealing the secrets and lives of two Afghan women, but the different men in their life. Each kind or harsh in their own way: Jalil, Rasheed, Tariq, Babi, Mullah Faizulla, Zalmai. Every character, every event twisted my heart. That’s what my favorites do. And this post does not do justice to the incredible lives, and love, Hosseini created between those pages.

The Lucky One

Romance should be every lady’s weakness, right? Eh, well, if not, it definitely becomes such when one brings the writing of Nicholas Sparks into the picture. I hope the fellas find just as much intimacy and longing in his words as us ladies do. And it is my wish that his stories don’t seem too romantic or unrealistic, because why shouldn’t that kind of love be realistic?
3oy7lw I actually read The Lucky One after seeing the film with Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling. For me, the real star of the movie was Blythe Dannar as Nana. It did make me realize that Zac Efron is no longer an adolescent. 😉 And how stunning is Taylor? Jumping into the pages, I knew there would be some dissimilarities, but all in all no big surprises.
Logan Thibault (it’s French) is a Marine on a lucky streak. Returning safely from several tours in Iraq and winning quite a bit of gambling money, the reason for this luck appears to be a photograph found in the desert sand. Upon his return to the U.S., Logan eventually sets out to find the lady in the photo and comes across Beth, her son Ben, and her mother, Nana. The rest is history.
Although the quick read is nothing extraordinary, it is still a little heartwarming. I recommend reading the book before seeing the movie. However I do love that Sparks tells, at least part of the romance from the male counterpart’s perspective. A feature I generally am enthralled with in the rest of his novels as well. The Lucky One didn’t make me cry tears of joy or sorrow, or scream and fist-pump the air (normal signs of a great romance), but I’m always looking forward to his next piece of work. Plus, I got to add one to my list for the Nicholas Sparks Reading Challenge in 2013.
The Lucky One