Friday, January 8, 2016

Why I Love Compassion International

It's been a while since I've blogged for Compassion. It's also been a while since I volunteered for one of their events (both things I am going to have to change this year). But I had an experience this week that I want to share with you.

There are a lot of child-sponsorship organizations out there, but I've gone through Compassion International for over ten years now for a reason: they care about people. They care about the children and families they minister to, certainly, but they also care about their sponsors and partners.

I could tell you about how more than 80% goes directly to the sponsored communities or how they consistently receive the highest ratings from independent charity investigators, but I'm not going to. I have three personal incidences that I want to share with you that emphasize what I passionately support Compassion.

1. Forgiveness

Several years ago, I was between jobs and, due to an error (on my part) saving my debit card on the website, I fell many months behind. Like, hundreds of dollars behind. Thanks to automatic withdrawals, I didn't pay attention to the envelopes coming in. I had no clue until they called asking about it. Making only $50 a week, there was no way I'd be able to pay that back. I was near tears and in shock, and didn't want to have to give up my sponsored child (although I knew they would cover that child's sponsorship until a new sponsor could be found). But then the operator said something amazing. Compassion was going to wipe my debt and give me a fresh start. That started the tears, for sure. The man on the phone was so kind, even though I'm sure he was following a script. I fully believed in that moment that he and Compassion knew life happens and truly forgave the debt. If any organization practices what they preach, it's Compassion.

2. Accountability and Integrity

A few months back I received a letter from Compassion that the community center my child was a part of was being less than honest. They didn't tell the details, just that their standards for distribution and honor were not being followed. They were working with the community leaders and had given them 60 days to show improvement or Compassion would have to pull their support from the area. I received three more letters on the subject, keeping me informed along the way. Fortunately, everything was resolved and support continues in this area of the world.

One of the things I love about Compassion is that they work with local centers that are already making a difference in their communities. They don't come in as the "American Savior", but partner with the local church to empower communities. This incident helped confirm for me that Compassion is serious about how the money they collect is used. More importantly, they give chances. They extend forgiveness. While mistakes were made by leaders in the community, Compassion didn't immediately abandon ship. They worked with the local leaders to resolve the issues for the sake of those in need, and kept the sponsors informed of everything happening.

3. Birthday Wishes

My birthday was this week. I got a call a few days ago that I ignored because I didn't recognize the number. When I finally listened to the message, I found it was someone from the Compassion Advocate Program wishing me a Happy Birthday! I joined the Advocate Program about a year ago, and regrettably haven't done as much as I would've liked for them over the past year. But Compassion cares about people, so I got a personal phone call for my birthday. Does your child sponsorship program do that?

I adore everything that Compassion does for children and families struggling in the world. I passionately support their ministry and will continue to sponsor children through them for as long as I am able. If you would like to support a child through Compassion, click here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Top 15 Books of 2015

2015 ended up being a much better reading year than I expected! I read a total of 70 books this year, after setting a goal of 50. I think joining Booktube and having a place to talk about books with other people pushed me to read more, and I'm so glad! I read a lot of really good books this year, but let me tell you about my favorite fifteen.

Note: These are not necessarily books that came out in 2015, just books that I read in 2015. Books I have reviewed on my channel will have a link.

Runner Up, Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

Look at these gorgeous new covers! They form one giant picture and it's beautiful. This series follows a boy named Percy starting on his 11th birthday when he finds out he's a demigod- his dad is the Greek god Poseidon. Throughout the series (and it's follow up series Heroes of Olympus) we see Percy and his demigod friends battle monsters, strengthen friendships, and save the world. I'm working my way through all of Rick Riordan's books and none have been disappointing.

15. Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie pulled off the greatest surprise ever for the 10th anniversary of Twilight (besides publishing Midnight Sun. THAT would've been the greatest): she published a new book in the Twilight world. It's not a completely brand new story, it's Twilight reimagined with all the genders swapped. Because Bella is now Beau, some little things change, and then the whole story changes a little bit. And I loved every second. In addition to my review linked above, I have a reaction video here.

14. Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards

This book was a total surprise! The cover drew me in at Barnes and Noble, the blurb on the back sounded interesting, and then I stayed up all night to finish it. When Chloe wakes up in study hall, six months have passed and she can't remember anything, but everything in her life has done a 180 degree twist. No one will answer her questions and she's determined to get to the bottom of it all. Really intriguing book! She has another book out and I'm going to have to get it this year, because SMO kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time!

13. We Were Liars by e. lockhart

This book. I can't tell you a lot about it. In fact, e. lockhart told me to lie about this book if asked about it, so let's just not say much. A wealthy family summers on their private island, and some dark secrets come out. This book is incredibly easy to fly through, and makes you wonder what the heck is happening most of the time. I initially disliked this book, but here we are months later and I keep thinking about it. So it's moved up my rating a bit. Just read it, and then we can chat.

12. The Heir by Kiera Cass

I loved The Selection series so much, so when I heard about this one I was so excited! And I was not disappointed! I liked Eadlyn more than I liked America and really enjoyed seeing her go through her own selection. Getting to see the whole process from the royal perspective was a nice twist. She has some wonderful contenders, and I can't wait for the final installment of this series to see who she chooses!

11. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi 

This book. This book has the most unique, gorgeous writing style I've ever read. It's sort of train of thought with certain things crossed out and other things written in. Juliette has a...talent, shall we call it? Her touch is lethal. Because of this, she's been locked away for most of her life, until the beginning of our story, when she is rescued and suddenly treated more like a superhero than a monster, though people still don't trust her. This story is just so great and I'm looking forward to finishing the series this year.

10. The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst

I think every woman, really person, in ministry should read this. It is geared towards women, but I think men could get something out of it too. It's about making wise decisions that lead you to your best life, not the busy life. About knowing when to say yes and when to say no. In fact, there are three chapters dedicated to "no" in this book about The Best Yes! Terkeurst also helps you chase down decisions, to step back and see what that small yes may lead to and if it's where you really want to go. Great book!

9. You're Never Weird on the Internet...Almost by Felicia Day

YES. I love Felicia Day (hence the photo of us in this post about her book), and this memoir was fantastic. I loved learning more about her life, her passion for the things she loves, and her drive to make things happen. This book made me laugh, and while I would have liked to see at least one story about the boys of Supernatural, this still got five stars from me.

8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Set only 40 years in our future, humanity is crumbling and seeks relief in an online world called The Oasis. Not only is it an escape from the depression of daily life, but with a chance to win the inheritance of The Oasis' creator, it holds the promise of lifelong happiness and comfort. This book is so well done. Yes, it's very detailed, but Cline has literally created dozens of new technologies and worlds in this book. The characters are wonderful and the story line will keep you hooked. This is set to become a movie next year by the great Steven Spielberg and I can't wait to see this translated to the big screen.

7. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

No one can write about mental health issues as hilariously as Jenny Lawson. Her first book cracked me up and made me literally laugh out loud, and this one was no different. This book focuses more on her depression, anxiety, etc. than the first, but all with the signature Bloggess touch. I'm pretty sure the people around me on the plane thought I was crazy, because I was crying-snort-laughing in my seat. Just read this. 

6. Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

Okay. I know how this looks.
But you guys, this is a real book. A hefty 400+ page book. And it's sorta kinda awesome. It's literally about Amish Vampires in Space. And there's a sequel!! I need to get my hands on's Amish Zombies From Space. But in all seriousness, I really enjoyed this book, despite the insane premise. While the subject is obviously interesting, the characters lived up to it, for the most part. I just really enjoyed this book.

5. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

This book is simply lovely. Maddie is allergic to everything and is content in her quiet bubbled life with just her mom and her virtual tutor. That is, until a cute mysterious boy moves in next door. Suddenly Maddie is doing things she never imagined and the results are at turns disastrous and heartwarming. My only complaint about this book is that it's not a tad bit longer. I just needed a little bit more to this story; it wrapped up too quickly! 

4. 52 Ways to Live a Kick-ass Life by Andrea Owen

My friend lent me this book for a plane ride and I lapped it up in just over one flight. With several pages of notes in my journal (since it wasn't my book I couldn't write in it). This is a self-help type book with very simple steps to take to help you live your best life. I absolutely loved this book. I had also read You Are a Badass this year (different author) but 52 Ways was much better, in my opinion. I related to Andrea and just liked her style more.

3. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Oh man. This book. I picked it up looking for a light, sweet read. I was very wrong to assume this would be that book. However, it was amazing and I'm so glad I read it. This novel deals with themes of suicide and hints at bipolar disorder, and Jennifer weaves such a beautiful story through these themes. I laughed, I cried, I hugged the book when I was done.

2. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A friend sent me this book (thanks Jess!) when it came into her possession but she wasn't interested in it. It sat on my shelf for a little while before I finally picked it up and I LOVED this book so much more than I expected to. And it's just grown on me as time has gone by. Kel has the ability to travel between the three different universes that contain a version of London, a gift he shares with only one other person. One day things begin to go terribly wrong and a spunky girl named Lila gets mixed up with the drama.

This book was unique for me in that when it ended, I was satisfied with the ending while still having some lingering questions. Lucky for me, when I looked it up on GoodReads, I found out it's part of a series! YAY! The next book comes out this year and I can't wait!

1. Illuminae by Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff

Here we are, my absolute favorite book of the year is 1000% Illuminae. I read it twice in 2015 because I loved it so much. I had picked it up at BookCon and started reading it a few months later without knowing anything about it. That is absolutely the way to go. What sets this book apart and makes the story so much better is the way it's told. Illuminae uses a collection of documents to tell the story of the Kerenza Incident, such as security transcripts, emails, interviews, medical records, and artificial intelligence reports. This book has so much happening in it, you just need to read it to understand my love and excitement (and this massive gorgeous book is only $10 on Amazon, so you have no excuses). I show some of the pictures and gorgeousness inside during my video review, so click the title up there to see it.

So there you have it, my favorite reads of 2015! Which one do you want to read? 
What were your favorite books of the year?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Year of Dahl Challenge Announcement

It came to my attention in 2015 that I haven't read any of Roald Dahl's books. I know many of the stories, of course, and I've seen the movies, but never actually read the books. Since the box set was $150 at the time, I started collecting some of his books from used book stores and came up with a new brilliant plan. This plan required a little work, so it took me a few months to pull it all together, but now I'm ready to go for it and share with all of you.

I am declaring 2016 the Year of Dahl. 
I am going to read (practically) all of Dahl's work in one year. 

I say practically because there are a few snags to reading everything. First of all, one of his novels (his first adult novel) is out of print everywhere except the Netherlands. You can find it on eBay if you're willing to shell out several hundred dollars, though. Then Dahl also wrote a bunch of short stories- and I do mean a BUNCH. Without buying every short story collection and having a lot of overlap, I don't know that I'll get to read all of them.

From what I understand after scouring several websites, there are a total of 27 books (including novels, children's literature, and nonfiction works) and 48 short stories written by Dahl. I plan to read most- if not all- of them in 2016.

To help me in this, I've compiled some resources that I'd like to share with you.

First, the ultimate list of books and short stories. I've created a few spreadsheets all on Google Drive here. The first sheet is a list of the books and any special notes. The second sheet is a list of the short stories and where to find them. The third and final sheet shows 7 short story collections side-by-side listing the stories in each collection.

Next up, I've made some printables!  Here's an adorable little checklist of all the Roald Dahl books.

I can't wait to use it! I've also created one for the short stories.

I'll be posting monthly updates of my on my YouTube channel, and hopefully here as well. If you decide to take this challenge, let me know; I'd love to follow along! I'm super excited about this, and if you can't tell, watch the video below!

Do you have a favorite Roald Dahl story? Let me know down below and I'll move it towards the top of my TBR.

Disclaimer: I do not claim the images used in the checklists. They are Quentin Blake's works from the original Roald Dahl stories. Also, some of the books and stories on these lists contain adult content. Not all of his works are child-friendly. 
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