What to Read on Kindle Unlimited

So, with current events being…well, what they are, some of us may be hunkering down and staying home a lot more than usual. And what better way to pass the time than by some reading? If you’re an ebook type of person (and even if you’re not) this might be a great time to try a free trial of Kindle Unlimited!

The subscription is normally about $10 a month and gives you access to a library of ebooks to read, but you can usually get a month of it free first. (I got a free trial back when I started reviewing for The Fairy Tale Central, and after the trial was over and I cancelled they were like, “Wait! Come back! We’ll give you three months for 99₵!” so I did that and then cancelled. And then they were like “WAIT! It’s the new year…how about another three months for 99₵?” So I’ve literally gotten seven months of Kindle Unlimited for two bucks. Not a bad deal.)

I’m actually NOT a fan of ebooks at all, but I’ve actually really utilized this subscription because if it’s free, I want to get my money’s worth. (I know, I know…just go with it)

BUT it’s not always easy to find good books on Kindle Unlimited. So here are, in the seven months since I’ve been on there, some of the authors & novels I’ve really enjoyed:

39791122. sy475 W.R. Gingell

I’d already read some of her fairy tale retellings, but Kindle unlimited introduced me to W.R. Gingell’s urban fantasy City Between series and I’m HOOKED. They were my favorite reads of 2019 and are hilarious but also heartbreaking, which of course is the best combination.

Kate Stradling Goldmayne: A Fairy Tale by [Stradling, Kate]

Kate Stradling is a recent find—and by recent I mean I read my first book of hers last month!—but I simply haven’t been able to stop reading her novels. I started off with The Legendary Inge, a Beowulf-inspired fantasy, and have ended with her Ruses series. My absolute favorite so far, however, has been Goldmayne—an unusual and fun fairy tale retelling that’s much different than any others I’ve read before, yet still manages to capture the “feel” of the classic fairy tales I grew up on.

Princess of Shadows: The Princess and the Pea Retold (Fairy Tale Adventures Book 1) by [Marshall, A. G.]A.G. Marshall

A.G. Marshall has written some of my very favorite fairy tale retellings—I highly recommend her Fairy Tale Adventures series. And, if you’re looking for a shorter read, her short stories are amazing as well. I’m particularly fond of The Bruised Princess and The Curse of Gold! (Incidentally, these stories are both included in a collection the author recently released.)

K.M. SheaBeauty and the Beast (Timeless Fairy Tales Book 1) by [Shea, K. M.]

Even though K.M. Shea is a name I’ve heard a LOT in the indie community, for some reason it’s only recently that I’ve dived into her novels, and I’m pleased to say they live up to the hype! While I enjoyed her Beauty and the Beast, I admit that right now what I’m really invested in is her urban fantasy series, which is loosely inspired by the Donkeyskin tale. (The next book comes out late this month, and I’m impatiently waiting!)

The Firethorn Crown (Firethorn Chronicles Book 1) by [Doué, Lea]Lea Doué

So far, I’ve only read The Firethorn Crown, the first book in this author’s Firethorn Chronicles. (I actually own the next books from free promotions, so I’m waiting to get to them after my KU subscription is over). However, that was enough to know that if you love fairy tale retellings, you’re going to enjoy these. The first book is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and I’m especially excited to start the second book, because it’s inspired by a Midsummer Night’s Dream!

Britain Kalai Soderquist Glass Roses: A Victorian Fairytale by [Soderquist, Britain Kalai]

So full disclosure: I haven’t actually read this book yet. But Glass Roses is a retelling of both Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, told through letters and set in the Victorian era! It’s a great historical fiction and non-magical option for some fairy tale retellings! (the author has also recently released Apple Blossoms, a retelling of two more fairy tales written in the same manner)

A Name Unknown (Shadows Over England Book #1) by [White, Roseanna M.] Roseanna M. White

Speaking of my historical fiction fans: I just realized that the first book in Roseanna M. White’s Shadows over England series is available on Kindle Unlimited! I enjoyed the whole series, though the first book, A Name Unknown, is by far my favorite. I highly recommend checking it out for a WW1-centered read that involves former thieves, spies, and sweet romance!

And for my fellow fairy tale retelling fanatics, I also recommend looking up Melanie Cellier, Kyle Robert Shultz, Allison Tebo, Nina Clare, and Brittany Fitcher, who’ve all written outrageously fun retellings available on Kindle Unlimited. (And Allison Tebo’s comedic novellas may be an especially good choice for any of my younger readers looking for a squeaky-clean fairy tale retelling!)

And, of course, I’ll end with a shameless plug: you can find my 1920s Snow White JanuarySnowFINALnretelling January Snow on Kindle Unlimited, as well as my ghost story novelette, For Elise. And even if you don’t have a subscription, you can still find my Rapunzel retelling, With Blossoms Gold, for free in the Once collection, along with five other historically-inspired retellings.

Also: don’t want kindle unlimited? Or you’ve already used up your free trial? Check with your library online to see if they have ebooks! My library system uses Hoopla Digital, which has a pretty good variety of books, movies, and comics to check out online for free. And don’t forget that a lot of classic Christian theology books are also available for free online–if you can’t go out to the library, rest assured that the internet, for all its faults, can bring the library to you!

*also, an obligatory disclaimer: while all authors/books I mention here could be described as “clean,” I haven’t read *every* book by these authors, and so cannot vouchsafe for all of their novels. All books mentioned in this post vary in rating from G to PG-13, so use your own discretion!

Aside from reading and  Netflix (or Disney+), do any of you have an introvert-ish plans for our Coronavirus-fueled social distancing? What are your favorite reads that you’ve found on Kindle Unlimited?

Why I Read (and Write) Fairytale Retellings

It’s fairy tale month over at FTC! This month, we’re spotlighting fairy tales in general, in honor of “Tell a Fairy Tale Day” on the 26th. It’s especially exciting to me, not only as a fairy tale lover, but also as an author who has just released her own “Snow White” retelling. So, you may be wondering, “why does this girl like fairy tales so much?”

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I was one of those kids who was always into fairy tales: I remember being particularly delighted as first-grader when my mom agreed to buy me a Disney Princess storybook collection (which I still own!) during the scholastic book fair at school; some of my favorite memories are the days I’d spend inside a couch-cushion fort watching Disney’s Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella.

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Fairy tales don’t always have the best reputation nowadays, mainly by people who dismiss their romance and happy endings as unrealistic, citing that children should learn more about the real world. But the thing is (aside from the fact that fairy tales can be a lot more gruesome and unhappy than these critics give them credit for) is that we are in the real world. We know things don’t work out that way all the time. As a kid and as an adult, when the world is wearying and heavy, fairy tales (yes, even Disney ones) were and are a much-needed break. We all want a little bit of hope, a reminder of happy endings. We want stories about heroes and heroines who succeed and overcome darkness.

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There are a lot of reason I love fairy tales. I could make a list about their historical, cultural, and literary significance. I could wax eloquently on their timeless truths about human nature, making them excellent choices for re-examination and retelling. But the thing is, though those things are important, they’re not really the reason I love them.

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I love them because when I’m reading a good fairy tale, I’m six years old again, cuddled in blankets in a fort quietly lost in a land far, far away. When I read, watch, or write fairy tales and retellings, a little of that childhood magic comes back. It’s warm; it’s comforting; it’s cozy.

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And that’s while I’ll never get tired of revisiting them. ❤

amy would be appalled

I love making things.

I always have, but in the past few years I’ve forgotten the joy of simply creating. One of the ways I plan to bring that back into my life is through journaling; I’ve kept a journal for ages (although lately, only sporadically) but this year I decided to add a little more “art” to my thoughts.

Now, hopefully by the end of the year my words will be scattered in between doodles and sketches and lists of books read and movies watched. Speaking of movies, I set aside a page where I would keep a log of every movie I get a chance to see in the theater this year. My grand plan for the page? A small sketch for each film. The first film of the year (and decade) happened to be Little Women.

So I open my fresh new 2020 journal, practically blank, and start with a rough sketch in pencil. Thirty minutes later I am left with four disproportionately figured sisters, including one Amy with a terribly deformed nose. Attempts to fix it have left her with an inky moustache. She would be appalled.

But perhaps sympathetic with my plight, as an artist herself.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Little Women lately. A friend of mine was reading it for the first time in preparation for the new movie, and on her visits to our house I’d read a chapter or two aloud from whatever spot in the novel she happened to be in at the time. (I got to read aloud the very juicy bit containing Jo’s rejection of Laurie’s proposal, which I hugely enjoyed.)

 

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For me, Little Women has always been one of those books so familiar, so comfortable, that I almost wish I didn’t have to share it with the world. After all, I didn’t have to when I first read it. I wasn’t on the internet, none of my friends had read it; it was simply a book I happened to read and loved. Like The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Swiss Family Robinson, and other childhood classics, it was simply mine. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy were friends, not just characters on a page. And maybe, in some way, I still feel that way.

But one thing I’ve come to love about the story as I’ve gotten older is it’s bustling busy-ness. Everyone is always doing things and being creative. Beth is off on the piano, Jo is writing, Amy is painting, Meg is acting. Little Women is rich in creativity. It’s funny how I never really noticed that before. But now as I miss the crafting days of my childhood and teen years, all of the cozy and breezy art of “making things” jump out at me from the novel’s pages. There’s baking and sewing and ice skating and storytelling.

So whether I tear out my page and start anew, or simply keep it as a painful reminder of my artistic failures, I’ll keep up with my journal.

But I might spend some time embroidering today. After all, I am much better at that.

“but sir that image”

What is art?

Art is a huge part of my life. Writing is a form of art, of course. But I’m also a highly visual person. I like pretty things. I like to surround myself with things make me feel happy, feed my soul, and uplift my attitude.

art

What is both so frustrating and so appealing about art is how subjective it is. We all have an idea that there is something that makes “good” art and something that makes “bad” art. The trouble is, we don’t all agree on it. Even things that I think are obviously marks of good art don’t go unchallenged. And struggling to find the balance between saying “It’s okay, we just have different taste” and “Okay, you just have bad taste” is a difficult task. Especially in this age of “judge not-” if there’s nothing objective morally, how can there possibly be anything objective artistically? (Ironically I think this is one of the most judgmental social environments to ever exist, thanks to the internet where anyone halfway around the world can evaluate not only your art, but your parenting, faith, relationships, clothing, and every other decision of your personal life)

Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase, Jan Davidsz. de Heem - Google Search
“Still Life With Flowers in a Glass Vase” by Jan Davidsz de Heem– one of my favorites.

I remember in my freshman year of college, the professor in my art appreciation class tackled the concept of “bad” art briefly. Mainly, she was talking about Sentimentalism and Victorian art and how it was Not Good. The only problem? The painting she used as an example was one I, well, liked decently well, or at least one that was a million times more appealing than the majority of the paintings after 1935 that we were forced to view. It was this one:

Les prunes-William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1825–1905, French ✿⊱╮

The painting  was “bad” because it was idealized and saccharine. The child should really be dirty and sad. Poor Victorian children didn’t look like that. It was just ridiculous Victorian sentimentality, and an example of their habit of whitewashing social problems with propaganda. (Normally I probably wouldn’t have had much of an opinion about the painting at all, to be honest. But after dozens of Jackson Pollock-like splatters, it was a welcome relief, so to hear that somehow Pollock’s artwork was objectively “better” than Bouguereau’s child here grated a little.)

The funny thing is, lack of realism is exactly what is praised in paintings like Picasso’s. Perhaps it’s “real” to how he sees the world, but what makes his perspective any more valid than Bouguereau’s? Plus, in my opinion, Picasso’s stuff is just…ugly. And if that’s the way he saw the world, it’s not a view I’d care to share. What’s wrong with a little idealism every once in a while…a glimpse of how we want the world to be rather than what it is? Not-appealing art serves purpose, but often I wonder how often we excuse ugliness out of pretentiousness. It’s not hard; you can look at a pile of garbage someone has dumped onto the sidewalk and rationalize why it is, in fact, meaningful art. Meanwhile, you could also look at Michelangelo’s Pieta and explain in great detail why it’s nothing special. We humans can spin our words to convince ourselves of anything.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed that art appreciation class. I was exposed to a lot of art I’d never seen before, many which became favorites. And I even learned to appreciate types of art I never thought I would–even if I didn’t like them, I was able to see why other people might. And that’s a lesson I think it’s good to learn.

As a book reviewer, one concept I’ve tried my best to grasp is differentiating between what is bad writing and what is just antithetical to my own personal preference. Sometimes a book is truly poorly written; other times, it just centers around characters, a topic, or even written in a way that I subjectively don’t like. For instance, I don’t really like novels written entirely in the present tense. I find it annoying and distracting. But that doesn’t mean a writer who does so is doing something wrong; it’s just something I don’t like. But sometimes trying to define what makes art–of all kinds–objectively good in the first place is just a puzzling and never-ending challenge.

Sometimes, it’s best just to let people enjoy things. We all have our reasons for liking stuff that is, for lack of a better word, kind of lame. I’m guilty of it just as much as anybody. I’ve watched plenty of bad TV shows (and by “bad” I don’t mean morally corrupt, but simply poorly written or executed) and enjoyed them because they contain something that I needed at that time. I guess it’s the reason Hallmark movies have so many fans–for as much as I’ve rarely been able to sit through one, I do understand that they have an appeal. They’re sweet and innocent and always have a happy ending. Even if I won’t deny I have major problems with their storytelling, some people eat them up with a spoon because they give a little hope and happiness. And I’m certainly not going to judge anyone for that, although I certainly would have only a couple years ago. Sometimes, it’s okay to like something just because you like it, without having to rationalize or explain why you do. Art doesn’t have to be intellectual, political, or cutting edge for you to like it.

Claude Monet - Poplars on the Epte, 1891 at the National Gallery of Scotland Edinburgh Scotland by mbell1975, via Flickr
“Poplars on the Epte” by Claude Monet

I don’t think that’s an excuse to make “bad” art, but rather an understanding that everyone’s own perception colors what they think is good or not. And sometimes we don’t want a masterpiece, just something a little silly and comforting and predictable that makes us feel good inside. A lot of people knock superhero (or action films in general) for being predictable and mindless, but I love them. While I certainly think there are several action and superhero films that are a lot deeper than most people give them credit for, I also have to admit that for me nothing is more therapeutic than watching good guys punch bad guys in the face for an hour and a half.

My mom, for instance, loves disaster movies. And disaster is exactly why she likes them. She fully admits the plot is secondary; she’s not watching the film for an intelligent plot (although that’s always a plus). She’s watching it to see tornadoes and earthquakes.

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Sometimes, you just want to watch monsters wreak havoc!

Because we are, in fact, allowed to like silly things. I certainly do. Wholeheartedly.

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But sometimes I don’t care that other people have “different” taste and I don’t want to be nice about it.

Sometimes, I want to say that I don’t get it. That everybody is lost in pretentious snobbery and won’t admit that a piece is just worthless.

Sometimes, I want to look at that painting and blurt, with honest brutality like the child in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”:

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via poetryforplebs.tumblr.com

 

a talk over coffee

I really haven’t updated on here very much, have I?

I’m sitting here, coffee in hand (yes, I drink coffee now and I hate myself for it, thanks) while we prepare for a hurricane that may or may not force us to leave. I’ve got a pile of college assignments to keep me occupied, although if the power goes out I’m in trouble, since most of them are submitted through the internet. Basically this means I’ve spent the last five hours doing every assignment I can, just in case. Yet strangely, this is one of the few moments where I find I actually have a couple minutes to spare to write a blog post.

élégance noire

School was rough last month–the entire first week I was shocked at how hard it was to get back into the swing of things. I was depressed, tired, and cranky, and then just as I finally acclimated to the stress of my final fall semester, I came down with a bad cold that’s only now lessening. I’ve also been incredibly slack with my writing: the entire summer was a struggle. I’ve barely written a word since July and felt drained, as if I didn’t have anything to offer. Also, like a lot of us, I struggle with writer’s guilt, that pesky thing that can motivate but more often just nags at me when I spend my leisure time doing anything that isn’t writing. I knew that January Snow, which I had hoped to release in December or January, would definitely not be ready on time. That’s one announcement I have to make–Jan is pretty much going to be put on hold until after I graduate in the spring. Lord willing, it will still be a Dec/Jan release…only in 2019/20 instead of 2018. I apologize for that, but I feel so relieved about it. I’ve got a lot to handle this year (Senior Thesis time!) but for the past few months I’ve also been feeling hopelessly dull about my writing. In fact, Christine’s most recent post encapsulates a lot of what I’ve been feeling lately.

Legit me right now. My characters are fully developed, my world has been built, I have plot... And nothing.

About a month ago, I came up with a story idea that I really, really liked. It was more contemporary, but had lots of elements taken from a bunch of things that I love. The only problem? It seemed better suited for a comic that a novel. Three days ago I decided, “What the heck- I’m going to plan it out anyway.” I’m not sure where it’s going to take me, but since it takes place in a fictional city, I’ve been playing around with it. Naming buildings and my characters’ workplaces, fleshing out my heroes’ backstories and just, frankly, having fun. Brainstorming is always one of my absolute favorite parts of the writing process, and I’m running with it. Today, after I read my allotted chapters of Pride and Prejudice (I’m in a Jane Austen class–yes, be jealous!) I’m going to spend some time mapping out this city. Writing mostly historical fiction, I haven’t done this since my long-abandoned fantasy attempt six years ago, and I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed it!

☽p i n t e r e s t : kgfamilyg☾

Dealing with disappointment in my writing, I’ve been watching a lot more TV- perhaps a little too much, but some good has come out of it. I’ve recaptured my love of story. In some ways, my recent TV viewing habits have prompted me into writing again by inspiring through a different medium of storytelling. Instead of dreading writing, I’m looking forward to it–because I’m excited again by the stories I have to tell.

Basically, I’m changing the way I write (or rather, the way I go about writing). I have a bunch of short story ideas I’ve never pursued because I always wanted to finish my “big” projects first. Now? I’m going to tackle them. Additionally, I’m taking a break from the publishing/advertising side of the indie author scene. Instead, I’m going to start writing for enjoyment again, and finish a handful of first drafts that I’ve never completed before entering into the publishing world again. It’s a break I need. It’s not that I’m becoming less motivated or slacking off in the self-discipline department; if anything, I’m getting my act together. But right now, that means focusing on school (and later, getting a “regular” job). In the meantime, I’ll be discovering the joy of writing again.

On the go. Write anywhere & everywhere.
Also on the list? Embracing my tendency to write things down quickly–even if it’s only a sentence–whenever I have a burst of inspiration or a spare moment, instead of trying to wait until a block of designated “writing time.” Because right now, designated writing times waiver between “rare” and “never.”

For instance, the project I’m working on now? I don’t have any snippets for you yet (obviously) but I can share the description for it that I have on my secret Pinterest board…

A tale of science-y conspiracies, heists, and superhero shenanigans. Like if you put the x-files, batman, and leverage in a blender…but added cinnamon rolls. Lots and lots of cinnamon rolls.

(Did I basically just combine a bunch of my favorite things? Of course I did! What else is writing for, after all?)

That’s another change I’m making–to be brave enough to tackle the weird projects I have, not just my historical and fairy tale retellings. To, you know, work on that time-travel spy novel, that fantasy trilogy, even that middle grade book that I abandoned after half the story I’d already written got eaten by my computer.

It’s all got me rather excited XD

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me. And now? Well, now I’ve got a hurricane to protest–er, prepare for.

 

 

On Wonder In Film

When I was a kid, wonder was everywhere.

We often talk about the curiosity of children, as if its something we grow out of. But is that a strictly natural progression? Or is it something that’s also trained out of us? We learn to laugh at naivete, to play it cool and find it unfashionable to show genuine amazement at things that are new to us or that we don’t yet understand. Maybe because wonder is connected in our minds with ignorance: the ancient man who stands amazed at the eruption of the volcano, so awed by its power and destruction that he names it after his god of fire, must not know that it is simply a naturally-occurring rupture of the earth from its movement of tectonic plates, in which hot lava is able to escape from its magma chamber below the surface.

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Which is ridiculous, because that “natural process” is in itself, amazing.Image result for wonder definitionIn the Christian life, I think we should feel wonder. Looking around at this world that God has created: it is good. For all its problems, it’s an incredible place with creatures like the mantis shrimp which, among it’s other fascinating features, can move so quickly that the water around it boils. But are lightning bugs, with their ability to emit light, any less amazing? Yet we’re so used to them–or the idea of them–that they fade into the everyday mundaneness of everything else.  It’s not amazing: it’s just science. As knowing how something works makes the fact that it does work any less incredible! And too often we embrace that sort of cynicism in all aspects of our lives, even down to the type of entertainment we consume, and especially how we view humans and humanity themselves.

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But often, the media that surrounds tricks us into thinking that innocence and joy are things that we grow out of too, things that are immature and cheesy. We have to have violence and swearing and sex in our fiction and films, because without it they are unrealistic and–what I’ve even heard it said–shallow. But is it really realistic to show only the darker, dirtier sides of life? Even shows and movies that are relatively tame in regards to content often lack the enthusiastic optimism that a person like myself needs sometimes. I know that when it comes to television and movies, I’m usually in the sci-fi and thriller camp. I like things that make me think, that twist my mind and maybe even creep me out a little bit. That’s not cynicism- after all, it takes a specific kind of lack of it to accept some of the more imaginative science fiction out there- but generally I like more “serious” movies, ones with murder and mayhem and political conspiracy. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…so long as it’s not all the art intake that I consume.

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of being a dull, pessimistic person. I’ve been reviewing books since I was about sixteen years old, and as time has passed, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to turn off my “critic” brain. I think we should think about what we watch and read, but sometimes we can go too far, picking to pieces every little thing about every little thing. Sometimes I wish I could go back to being that five year old who liked watching The Swan Princess over and over again simply because I liked it, without analyzing every moment.

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Maybe that’s why I loved The Greatest Showman so much. For the duration of the movie, my critic brain was dormant. For the first time in a long time, I simply enjoyed a movie, without finding plot holes or assessing if the character development was realistic. While I was watching, it didn’t even cross my mind to think about those things, because I was simply there.

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While there have been many complaints about the historical accuracy of the film, for me it’s almost a non-sequiter: everything about the movie screams fantasy, not historical fiction. And for a story following a man who sells the “fake” to create a spectacle for other’s enjoyment, it’s strangely fitting. As we watch the movie, just like Barnum’s audience, we’re lost in the wonder and amazement of the strange and the beautiful, the two often being one and the same. The movie is unabashedly enthusiastic- something I don’t see often on the big screen. Films have a way to amaze us visually that is almost impossible to re-create in any other format. Filmmakers have the ability to dazzle us with color, music, dancing, and cinematic magic tricks and when they do it right, the result is mesmerizing.

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The last movie that made me feel this way was Cinderella (2015). Cinderella was beautiful. There was a sweetness and a purity of character in that movie that drained all the cynicism I was holding inside right out. Were parts of it a bit cheesy, maybe even too syrupy sweet? Perhaps. But I didn’t care, because I was that little girl again. It was refreshing to watch a movie about two good-hearted people who gain happiness and extend forgiveness, even if it meant defying our own culture’s expectation of what it is to be “strong.” And while this isn’t a post to convince you that these movies are flawless pieces of art (because they do have their flaws, indeed) it is a post celebrating those pieces of art, literature, and film that recapture a sense of childlike wonder in us. The movies that act like Giselle pulling Robert into a full-on musical number in the middle of New York. The movies that celebrate the best in us, the created-in-the-image-of-God part of us that is capable of courage and kindness, of a joy that makes us dance in the streets, and of a love that brings us back to our family.

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The Giselles of the world need the Roberts to keep them grounded, but that doesn’t mean the Roberts don’t need the Giselles, either.

If we are created in the image of God, and God has created such wonderful things, isn’t there something inside of us that yearns to create beauty–to see beauty–as well? Sometimes we need a little bit of that wonderment in our lives, and I’m thankful for the people who manage to bring it to us in little ways. That’s just a bit of my rambling and realizing that, however much I may love a meaty, philosophically-driven film, sometimes, I just want to see something beautiful, with loads of heart and goodness.

What are some of your favorite wonder-filled films?