The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials # 1)

I read this for the first time back in high school. The second time through was recent for me. I tore through this first installment fairly quickly, because it’s just as engrossing and well-written as the first time I read it.

I was once warned by my pastor Grandpa not to read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials because his novels “go against God.” I felt bad back then–for I had read The Golden Compass–but my Dad later reassured me that it was okay.

I’ve read many fantasy books that feature gods and goddesses, religions different and similar to my own beliefs. Why was Pullman’s work more dangerous than the morals of, say, Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire?

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Darius the Great Deserves Better


Darius’ life has changed since visiting his grandparents in Iran:

  • He’s part of the varsity soccer team
  • Darius has a great internship at a tea shop going for him
  • Sohrab is only a Skype call away
  • Darius and his dad are connecting again
  • Landon is Darius’ first boyfriend!

Darius still has depression, but he’s doing much better. He finally feels like he’s supposed to be Darius Kellner.

But just as everything seems to have fallen into place, just as he’s sure that he’s got everything he could ever want, little things start to fall apart:

  • Sohrab isn’t answering his Skype calls
  • Dad goes away on a business trip
  • Darius grandmothers come to visit, but he’s not sure they even really like him. (It’s just so hard to tell)
  • He’s sure he likes Landon, he really does, but then he starts hanging out with his former bully Chip Cusumano, & now he’s not so sure about anything anymore

Thoughts on Darius the Great Deserves Better

This is one of my favorite YA books series. I loved the first book, Darius the Great is Not Okay, and recommend it to anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to have depression. Or, if you’re like me, and live with depression, it’s nice to see depression accurately depicted through the eyes of a teenager.

Darius is one of my favorite characters. He’s funny, smart, nerdy, and just wants to live his best life. He sounds like a real, normal teenager. (Writing good characters is tricky, but Adib Khorram pulls this off effortlessly. He makes writing seem easy, which is a sign that he’s a good writer.)

In this companion to Darius the Great is Not Okay, Darius’ life is finally looking up. As I’ve mentioned earlier, he’s got a lot going for him: a good job that he loves, he’s reconnecting with his dad, and he has found a niche at school where he feels comfortable being himself. He has a first boyfriend, Landon, and stays in touch with his good friend Sohrab regularly. But as the school-year progresses, he starts to question whether he’s really has everything he really wants.

I personally really enjoyed the character development in this. I liked the addition of Darius’ grandmothers, and the dynamic of him having to balance having a boyfriend and discovering that he maybe likes Chip instead. (This is actually a good thing, because Landon begins to pressure Darius, wanting to have sex with him when Darius isn’t so sure he wants to connect like that with Landon.)

This was another emotional rollercoaster, one that I would definitely ride again. I’m really hoping that there will be a third book in the wings.

Thanks for reading,
Meghan B.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Les Miserables

“Another Story Must Begin”

This is one of my favorite plays. I’ve memorized all the songs, and know the story quite well. But one thing was missing: I hadn’t read the famous book yet.

A year ago now, I embarked on what was to be an epic journey: reading the translated English version of Les Miserables. Despite my obsession with the play, I’d never read the book until now.

The story is simple: a desperate young man tries to steal bread to help save his sister’s dying child. Jean Valjean gets caught, sent to prison, and endures hard labor. 20 years later, he’s on parol, and scrabbling to find a place in the world. In despair, he begins stealing. One day, a kindly bishop offers him food and lodging. Jean Valjean is shocked by his generosity, but steals from him in the end. The police catch him, and return him to the bishop’s house. Here is where the bishop offers Jean Valjean his expensive silver candlesticks, as yet another sign of his generosity. “You must use this precious silver to become an honest man,” the bishop tells Jean Valjean. (This is a line in the play.) Jean Valjean literally has a come to Jesus moment afterwards, perplexed by the bishop’s kindnesses and his religious advice.

Jean Valjean then vows to use the candlesticks to become a better person.


What astounds me is how closely the play hits all the important parts of the novel. The most important scenes from the novel are in the play.

What I don’t mind leaving out are all of the long tangents and commentary that Victor Hugo presents throughout Les Misérables. A couple of them were kind of interesting–like the bit about wanting to start a second revolution–but most of them seemed to drag on forever. I ended up skipping the tangent about the sewers of Paris–that got gross pretty fast.

Overall, the important bits from the novel are in the Broadway play. Which is impressive, considering how much Hugo goes into depth about things.

Final Thoughts

The beauty of Jean Valjean’s story is that he tries to do the best he can to become a better person. This is mirrored in the play, and expounded upon in the novel.

Jean Valjean learns how to love an orphaned little girl named Cosette, after promising her mother on her deathbed that he would care for (and raise) her little girl. He also becomes the Mayor in a town, and does his best to help remain honest about his past identity as a convent.

In a moment of despair, Jean Valjean questions the kindly bishop’s words and generosity. But, after bargaining with God, he comes to realize that he must change in order to adhere to the bishop’s words: “You must use this precious silver/to become an honest man.” Meaning that he must use the candlesticks to better himself.

Les Misérables is a story of a life lived by performing good deeds. Les Misérables is a sad story at times, but also full of hope and love.

And of course, the music is amazing.

I’m so glad I finally read this classic novel!

Real Life

Wallace is a Black, queer student attending a Midwestern university. He’s “at odds” with everything in his life: his (vastly) White peers, and his friends. Wallace hasn’t escaped the trauma of his youth; he’s gone straight from Alabama to college. Here, he’s singled out because he’s Black, because he’s not straight, and because he’s made himself distant with everyone around him, for personal reasons. But, over a weekend, this changes. Wallace must confront his trauma and becomes an individual among his friends (as well as telling some of them what he really thinks). This is a novel “of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost” (from the dust jacket).

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Saying Thank You to my Characters


For the past 11 months, I’ve been working on a fantasy/urban fantasy novel. My main character Judeaus (Jude for short) is the upcoming ruler of the realm Tarlimain. He’s readjusting to his life in his parents castle after a traumatic event. When his aunt and uncle and their adoptive son Desmond show up with the rest of their traveling caravan, Jude falls in love with the handsome young man, especially after Des saves his life. The two, though new to their relationship, end up traveling to the city together, embarking on a world-changing view for Jude, who has never been outside his home. When trouble arises in the city, when Jude is confronted with enemies old and new, he must rely on his inner strength, and his budding magical abilities, to save himself.

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20 Things I did in my 20s

Birthday Girl Backstory

March 1 is my birthday. I can’t believe I’m turning 30! (Squeals.) The big 3-0 isn’t just another number to me, it’s a testament to surviving a very premature birth. I was lucky because I had only a few things go wrong because I was born so early. I was supposed to be born in the summer. Instead, I came 24 and a half weeks early.

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The Book of Longings

I am Ana. I am the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth. All my life, longings lived inside of me, rising up like nocturnes to wail and sing through the night. That my husband bent his heart to mine on our thin straw mat and listened was the kindness I most loved in him. What he heard was my life begging to be born.– pg. 3


Ana is a normal girl living in Sephoris, listening to her aunt’s stories and recording narratives about the women in the Torah.

Ana longs to be a woman with a voice; she even puts her sacred prayer in her prayer bowl: “When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice” (pg. 11). She wants to be someone who is heard and remembered, that her voice, as well as her writings, will live on long after she’s passed.

Her fierce aunt teaches her how to become her own person, and to revere the women in the Torah.

Then she learns that she is going to be married to a man she doesn’t know, and certainly doesn’t like.

Ana’s life changes once her betrothed dies. Relieved and overjoyed, she only wears the mourning clothes for show.

Her life changes again once she meets Jesus, a stonemason who is clearly devout. She is at first curious about this man, then falls in love with him. They end up marrying, and Ana goes to live with Jesus and his family.


Jesus begins to preform small miracles, as well as what I will call acts of kindness. He helps the lepers into the pool to bathe, and begins to form a following based around his beliefs about God. As he decides to leave his home to further create outreach for his ministry, Ana is left behind, and left excluded from the tales of Jesus of him preforming further miracles and practicing his ministry/what he teaches.

Final Thoughts

The story is limited, unfortunately, by telling the story of Jesus through the eyes of Ana. I feel like, while I know the story of Jesus, it would’ve been interesting to hear his take on what’s happening to him as he formulates his own ministry.

This is my only major critique of the novel. That, I guess, and the pacing. It takes a while for you to really get into the story, and then the novel itself is lackluster for large, exciting plot-lines.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Book of Longings, it just wasn’t my favorite novel by Sue Monk Kidd. I have The Secret Life of Bees, and am eager to see how the book matches up with the film.

I really appreciate, however, a woman’s perspective on Jesus, especially when women aren’t the narrators/writers of Jesus’s life in the Bible. Yes, women are mentioned in the Bible, but they aren’t the center of the Bible. They are put second in a world where men are put first. So, I enjoyed the perspective and Ana’s fierceness very much. I loved how she wrote poems and composed literature on the women of the Torah, giving them the credit and credence that they deserve.

If you like novels about religious figures, this book is something you should at least try. Even if you’re a practicing Christian like me, I say that this book helps give you something to think about in terms of women, the Bible, and who it’s written by and how this could have been different if women had been allowed to write the Scriptures alongside their male counterparts.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Little Fires Everywhere

In Shaker Heights, the Richardson family lives a comfortable life. They rent out their rental home to Mia and her daughter, Pearl. Mia and her daughter turn out to be interesting people, someone Mrs. Richardson can’t stop thinking about. She begins to obsessively hunt for clues about Mia’s life, determined to find out more.

Continue reading “Little Fires Everywhere”

In Shaker Heights, the Richardson family lives a comfortable life. They rent out their rental home to Mia and her daughter, Pearl. Mia and her daughter turn out to be interesting people, someone Mrs. Richardson can’t stop thinking about. She begins to obsessively hunt for clues about Mia’s life, determined to find out more.

Continue reading “Little Fires Everywhere”

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury’s classic futuristic novel focuses on a world in which firemen burn books instead of putting out fires. Guy Montag, a fireman, has his whole world turned upside down when he begins taking books from houses. He begins to question everything, thanks to his new neighbor Clarisse. Once he learns that books are sacred, Montag must make a decision: Should he return to his old life of burning books, or should he keep growing and run away from his peculiar life?

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The Giver

Jonas lives in the Community. In the Community, there is no more hunger, or pain, or colors. When Jonas gets his assignment to be the new Receiver for his Community, he meets an older man called the Giver. The Giver will teach Jonas about the world he’s missing: colors and snow. But he will also pass onto Jonas more sinister feelings and memories. Jonas will finally know the haunting truth about his Community.


Jonas lives in a Community where there is no more hunger or pain. There’s also no more colors in the world. Everything has been altered to create sameness, even among the children as they grow up. Jonas has no idea that he’s trapped in a dystopia; he believes that everything is for the good of the Community. He feels content. But when he gets his assignment at the age of twelve to become the new Receiver for his Community, he will learn the terrible truth about his world.

Jonas’s journey

Jonas, as the new Receiver, must learn about the past from the Giver. The Giver has an ability to pass memories, sensations, and emotions through Jonas by placing his hand on the boy’s back.

Slowly, over the course of a year, Jonas learns about what he’s missing: snow, colors, and the sight of a rainbow. But, as time goes on, he learns the terrible truth about the Community: the old and the very young are killed, removed from the Community by lethal injection in a process called release. The process for the old is a ceremony, a supposed happy occasion where the older member’s life is remembered and recited for the older generation to hear. Then, they are led away through a door, and never seen again. The lie is that the older person will have gone to another Community, when in reality they are lethally injected.

The very same process is done to underweight babies. Jonas watches in horror as a underweight baby is injected, then dies before him on a screen. Shocked, Jonas realizes that release is actually a death sentence, and refuses to go home. His father, who is a nurturer to infants, preformed the release. He was very caviler about the whole thing, even telling the baby “bye, bye, little guy,” before dumping him down a garbage chute.

Jonas and the Giver devise a plan for him to escape, with baby Gabriel, that same night. (Gabriel is scheduled to be released, and has been temporarily living with Jonas and his family.)

As he and Gabriel make their steady way to another Community, they encounter dangers along the way: a snowstorm, as well as people in aircraft searching for them.

Will Jonas and Gabriel make it to their new home safely?

Final thoughts

I love how The Giver is written. Lois Lowery is an excellent children’s author and does a fantastic job of writing through the eyes of a young boy who doesn’t know that he’s living in a dystopian community. I’ve read Messenger (the third book in the series) long before I read The Giver. As an adult, I’m able to grasp the darkness, and am able to understand the complex issues that are tackled in the novel. While this is intended for children, I feel like anyone can read these books, partly because they are so readable.

Lois Lowery is one of my favorite children’s authors, right up there with Tamora Pierce, who writes for young adults.

I cannot stress enough how important books like The Giver are to children and adults alike. Like most dystopian novels, it’s a warning about what might happen should we control the world around us.

Rating: 5 out of 5.


In Room,Ma lives with her five-year-old son, Jack. Room is where Ma has lived for the past seven years. After being kidnapped at nineteen, Ma was put into a shed and physically and mentally abused by a man she and Jack call Old Nick. The shed is soundproofed, so no matter how loud they scream, the neighbors can’t hear them. Jack doesn’t know that the outside world is actually real. He thinks that the TV features stuff from other planets. He thinks that the world is like outer-space. Until one fateful day when Ma tells Jack everything.

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Proposal: Fight for Love

I did a surprise proposal, & it went surprisingly well. Here’s the song lyrics & words of my own that I used to propose to the love of my life, Rory:

Dear Rory,

There’s something I can’t quite explain: I’m so in love with you/You never take that away

You’re never second best,
you’re my one, completely

Where you go,
I will follow you.
Where you go,
I’m going too.

You’re the love of my life. I can’t believe how fast six years has flown by. It’s a long time that feels—honestly—like nothing at all.

I want to spend six more years by your side. I want to spend six decades with you.

You lift me up whenever I’m down. You help me laugh even when I’m sleepy. You’ve loved me through rainy, cloudy days & through sunny ones.

I just want to know…Would you marry me?


edited 1.4.2021]

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Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius has depression.

As a teenager, he’s had it for as long as he can remember. When his family decides to visit Iran, he feels apprehensive about finally meeting his grandparents—whom he’s only seen on Skype calls over the years. While in Iran, Darius befriend Sohrab, a young man about his age. As the two of them bond, Darius begins to open up to Sohrab, forming the first real friendship he’s ever had.

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Station Eleven

book cover for Station Eleven

A strain of flu creates an apocalyptic world, one where technology and modern comforts are seldom seen as the norm. Amid this new world are a group of traveling actors, a symphony of men and women who have survived the pandemic that altered their world.

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Tara Westover’s memoir left me wondering how a life can truly change with the help of an education.

I loved going to school. Throughout my childhood, I was taught in elementary school how to read, how to write, and learned common facts and ideas about the world. This continued throughout junior high and high school. In college, I expanded my knowledge of the world around me, and chose to declare a major in English as my main (and only) focus. I grew up learning to love getting an education: I worked hard, tried to teach myself how to study, and (more so in college) what it means to have an education. After reading Educated, I’m thinking more about what it truly means to have grown up with an education.

Tara grew up with very little of that. At a young age, her father stopped her from going to school.

On the highway below, the school bus rolls past without stopping.
I am only seven, but I understand that it is this fact, more than any other, that makes my family different: we don’t go to school.

pg. xiii, Prologue, Kindle edition

Tara grew up living in the mountains of Idaho, where she lived out her days running wild and free. As she got older, she worked for her father in the junkyard, then worked elsewhere. Her brother encouraged her to get her GED and go to college; he helped influence Tara into getting out of her parents house.

With a survivalist Mormon family, with an un-diagnosed bipolar father, and with a brother who became steadily more abusive, Tara sought getting an education as a way of getting out of her dysfunctional family.

At seventeen, Tara got into college, and later went on to Cambridge University. Tara first learned about the Holocaust in college, and had to further educate herself about topics that were common knowledge to her classmates. With the help of her mentors, she learned how to think critically, and how to navigate the world of academia. Her roommates helped her, too, mostly in teaching her personal hygiene, because her father didn’t believe in using soap to wash your hands after using the bathroom.

Educated has taught me how important it is to have an education. It’s important to have a basis of knowledge about the world around you, and to learn how to challenge yourself through higher learning by attending a university.

I’m so grateful to my family for having me pursue a college education. I not only learned how to write better, but how to be independent and live on my own. Without a higher education, I wouldn’t have my amazing English degree. I wouldn’t have made the close friends I now have because I went to college. If I had just gone into the workforce, I feel like I wouldn’t be as confident as I am now. I wouldn’t have the extra classes that I took under my belt.

For Tara, getting an education meant escaping her family, and becoming independent from her parents. While her education came at a cost, she still feels grateful that she went to college: “You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education” (pg. 328, Kindle edition).

If you like reading memoirs, and if you like compelling non-fiction, Educated should be on your reading list.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Girl, Woman, Other

Girl, Woman, Other is a multi-faceted story about several women—young and old—who live in Great Britain. At first glance, it seems like the novel is comprised of vignettes, but the deeper you venture into the novel, the closer these women become. Every one of the characters is connected to someone else in some way: a daughter, a friend, a lover, or a mother.

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