5 Scary New Things I Did

I did my first ever Twitter poll and asked what people most wanted to read, and this post won! Welcome to 5 scary things that I’ve accomplished to date. Some of these are more physically challenging than others; all of them brought me some form of reward or valuable lesson about life. Let’s get into them!

Quick note: Tell me in the comments below something you conquered that frightened you, and what you learned from it! 

  1. Karaoke on a cruise ship.

Summer of 2015, my family vacationed on our second Disney cruise. I’d seen the family karaoke lounge nights the first trip, and promised myself that if I ever boarded a Disney ship again, I’d partake. Well, here I was. That night, the lounge was lit by spotlights in the shape of flowers. The host running the sparsely populated event told us to go to the DJ booth with our song choice (there was a book of options, Disney and also classic songs). Fortunately, the groups that were there were few, and several had little kids. Everyone who sang had at least two performances. As people’s vocals left much to be desired, I felt more assured that mine wouldn’t be too much worse. Little girls of course chose “Let it Go” and other iconic princess ballads. I made up my mind to go to the booth and picked a Taylor Swift song. 

So, yeah, allow me to say that God’s gifting on my life is not singing. It’s so much harder than everyone makes it look. And nerves play a bigger part than I expected. Ever record yourself and get a painful awakening when you play it back? Yeah, that was kind of like this. My dad did me the honor of recording my rendition of “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and I never showed it to anyone besides my loving parents. 

The benefit of trying karaoke was two-fold. One, I can say that I fulfilled my promise to myself. I didn’t shy away from something I wanted to do. I came out of my comfort zone and sang– on a cruise ship journeying to Alaska, for goodness’ sake. That, I will never regret. Secondly, I now know that if by chance, at a social gathering, the urge to throw caution to the wind and perform a solo ever seizes me, I have the experience to tell that urge to sit down and come back to its senses. 

Here’s a picture of my awkward, cute little song. I also did “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin afterwards, because Aladdin is my childhood favorite and, let’s be honest, I had my first kid crush on the Genie.

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2. Riding serious roller coasters.

San Antonio holds the wonderful Fiesta Texas grounds, with a mix of mild rides and more serious drops. When I was in late middle or early high school, my friends kept telling me that I had to ride the Superman. Here’s a lovely stock photo I don’t own.

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I was like “No way, Jose.” But secretly, in my secret heart, I thought in a secret fashion, “Perhaps….someday, Jose.” There was one occasion I stood in line with my pals all the way to the front only to chicken out at the very end. It was all the factors: speed, drops, the unknown. I just wasn’t a remarkably courageous youth. 

Then, one morning, after staying over at my friend Jessica’s, I distinctly remember eating our breakfast of Eggo pancake sticks or whatever those things are and thinking, “Today is the day. I will ride this thing today, no matter what.”

Well, I rode it. We got to that circle at the top and I asked her why she let me do it, but I rode it, and it was fun, and then I hacked up breakfast all over the inside of her mom’s minivan afterwards.

That first ride led to me absolutely loving roller coasters, and I went on more and more daunting ones. I’m not afraid of them anymore, and it’s all because a friend encouraged me to get out of my head and take a literal leap of faith. 

3. Leading a high school Bible study.

I ran cross country for 5 years. In high school, I was going through a spiritual exploration of who I was. Junior year, I had a deep desire to lead a cross country team girls’ Bible study. I both wanted to share encouragement and truth with my teammates, and step into the role of team captain that I’d wanted for months. 

Here’s a picture of my sweet teammates and I (I’m top left):

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My intention was to grow my leadership skills and uplift the girls. This item on the list is probably the one that surprised and grew me most. In desiring to lead so much, and in trying my hand at it, I discovered that when I want to, I can come on really strong. Probably too strong. For instance, my first lunchtime session that comes to memory, I think I literally tried to deliver a sermon to the girls. It was less a discussion and more me talking at them. 

When they would bring up other classmates during our times together, I’d remind them that gossip isn’t something honoring God or others. I was so focused on trying to control the atmosphere, and so inexperienced in leadership, that I tried to dictate more than I tried to learn about and appreciate my teammates. 

There wasn’t a fallout or anything– I just became self-aware and humbled by looking back and reflecting on my shortcomings. God enables all of his children to lead in certain capacities. However, as far as leading big groups, I’ve discovered that I’m not the strongest candidate. I do really well with one-on-one interactions; and, when called on, I offer valuable advice. However, this experience really showed me the value in collaboration and “iron sharpening iron,” as God’s Word says. I believe it made me a better person, and a better encourager. 

4. Submitting a poem for publication

As a writer with a dream to be published, I have a remarkable (probably shared with many writers) aversion to submitting my work for evaluation. Maybe it’s insecurity; maybe it’s not wanting to be qualitatively judged based on one snippet of writing; maybe it’s pride. Whatever the case, our poetry class required three submissions last semester. So, submit I did. 

It wasn’t as scary as I thought. For one, most publications take months to reply. The rejection email I received from one wasn’t that emotionally jarring, to be honest. I was like, “Cool, my first rejection email. I’m initiated into the writer’s club now!” I pinned it to my whiteboard. 

And then, I got this email from my university literary magazine: 

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Moral of the experience for me? Don’t worry about what people will think! Share your valuable words, your story, your voice. Use wisdom, and good timing, and get your dream out there! You have the power to make it happen, and leave the results up to God. 

5. Traveling to another country/culture.

For two consecutive summers, my dad and I traveled to the South American country of Guyana for mission work. The first trip was based in the capital city, which was a bit of an adjustment; but we still had basic technology and resources. The summer of 2015, though, after our cruise, we returned to venture into the Guyanese interior. The village we stayed in is named Mabura. We led VBS, helped with construction, and shared love with the people. 

For me, the concept of journeying to a place with no electricity, no running water, no AC, and numerous questionable insects was new, and intimidating. The kids I was going to be getting to know weren’t familiar at all with me. We were visitors, and there was no resources for a good hour or two nearby. So we were committed. 

The nights and days were sweaty, humid, and full of more little kid hugs than I had expected. The village kids warmed up to me, and I to them. I was the youngest member of our team, so I spent the most time with them. These children brought out my uninhibited, silly side. The mornings were damp, crisp and beautiful in Mabura: the trees and black, glossy water created a beautiful panorama around us. The vast number of different birdsongs, we couldn’t even name. I had the privilege of baptizing a boy, having the girls play with my hair, and creating genuine bonds with people in the week we stayed. Totally worth it. And confidence-building, as well. 

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In all these situations, I was blessed when I stepped out of my comfort zone and embraced the new lessons that accompanied scary experiences. I am able to smile and feel thankful on the other side. Some choices we make aren’t the best; but there’s always an opportunity for benefit in them. 

I hope this post encourages you to prayerfully push the limits of your abilities and comfort. I hope you cherish new challenges and joys this year, and realize that inhibition is just something that keeps the world from seeing your beautiful, valuable, God-created self. You can do new things. I believe in you.

With love. 

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“One King at a Time”: Live Love Lead Review

“One King at a Time”: Live Love Lead Review

Two and a half years ago, my boyfriend and his family generously bought me a ticket to go with them to the Hillsong concert in San Antonio (I still lived in Texas at the time). Brian Houston provided every single attendee with a copy of his book, Live Love Lead. So, on top of close seats at a beautiful Christian concert, I received a hardcover, glossy book filled with encouragement. Talk about feeling pumped!

Of course, I proceeded to let it sit on the shelf, with one or two attempted starts, until recently. Have I mentioned my TBR shelf is overweight and somewhat neglected? Anyway, I finished Brian Houston’s book yesterday and wanted to pop a review up.

I enjoyed Live Love Lead a lot. The format is appealing—chapters and subsections are short and full of personal stories. I didn’t previously know much about Houston and the history of Hillsong. In relating how they came to be the blessing they are, Houston’s tone is conversational. He remains humble, always pointing the credit back to God, which I found reassuring. In addition, his accounts are full of fitting verses and references to stories from God’s Word. The feel of this book is akin to sitting down with a new acquaintance over dinner or coffee. I really enjoyed that aspect.

Brian Houston gives the believer encouragement and advice on how to live as an overcomer in life, not a victim. His emphasis, both towards and for Christians, is one of grace, not condemnation. Pointing back to Jesus’ redemptive work, Houston reminds believers that we live under the power and permission of His name, not our own. He spurs us to focus on what we have—what we can do—and to let go of what we don’t control.

One aspect of his voice I really appreciate is the fact that, as a positive believer who emphasizes victory, Houston doesn’t subsequently discredit the promised existence of pain. The Christian life, he empathizes, is filled with harrowing hurt and trial. It’s how we handle them that showcases our faith and glorifies God. The fact that these struggles are tangible and exhausting is something to which Houston personally attests. He connects with the hurting, those who have lost significantly, and shares private stories of feeling overspent. Live Love Lead isn’t a cheesy mantra of a book, but a genuine connection among people walking through the same mixed bag that is the Christian life (or looking into it, for that matter).

If there’s one suggestion for improvement I could offer, it would be the overall organization of the book. If you’re looking for practical application, that’s not really Houston’s shtick in this volume—he’s more focused on uplifting than offering 15 points. What I didn’t love is that some of the lines ring somewhat cliché, and some are repeated in different areas of the book. I would concentrate the concepts, and eliminate the excesses. Again, that’s just me. Overall, I enjoyed it remarkably. As proof of that, it’s time for Hannah’s Favorite Quotes (I really need a theme song for that!) Here we go:

27: “The abundant life Jesus came to bring us frees us from the confines of culture, competition, and comparison.”

37: “You see, it is easy to fill your mind with what you do not have and lose sight of what God can do with what you do have.”

84: “Although my God is all-powerful, I am not. My body, mind, and spirit have limits.”

86: “I myself have learned to recognize and acknowledge the process of pain, and I’ve learned to cooperate with the answer rather than remain a victim to the problem.”

172: “Every field has its pioneers who dedicate their lives and careers to innovation and experimentation. It might be in a laboratory or on a laptop, in outer space or an inner office. It’s the commitment to be the best you can be at what you’re called to do.”

180: “Individual success is an illusion; anyone who claims sole credit for the successes of life allows pride to deceive them.”

199: “Faith is the answer, and robust and ready faith is the key. Because the only way to defeat thirty-one kings is one at a time.” [This is perhaps the quote that personally stood out to me most in the entire book! I love it. It’s applicable to so many battles!]

204: “What is the enemy trying to steal from you to impede your relationship with God?”

All right, guys. Feedback time: For my Christian readers, what’s the best faith book you’ve read lately? For those of you who aren’t, what’s a good, “real life” motivational book, and why?

Thanks for reading! Have a blessed day. ❤

“Gold MacGuffin”: The Maltese Falcon Review

“Gold MacGuffin”: The Maltese Falcon Review

This semester, my university’s English seminar course is Detective Fiction. We’re learning background information on the genre as we delve into detective works. Our first title is Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel, The Maltese Falcon. I really enjoyed this book as an introduction to the group; here’s the recap: 

Private detective Sam Spade is approached by a slew of mysterious characters with various loyalties, all in pursuit of a historical treasure. There’s murder, gunfights, and break-ins; perhaps the most enjoyable facet of the mystery is attempting to unravel the motivations of Spade himself. Spade is an enigma: his appearance, mannerisms, and words conceal much of his character. In class discussion, we reflected on how memorable, intriguing characters render stories timeless. This definitely rings true in The Maltese Falcon.

World-building and detail is conveyed in a fashion befitting an inspector being the central voice of the novel. There are lots of physical descriptions, and not a ton of “telling.” I found this refreshing. Hammett utilizes sparse description without venturing into Hemingway territory; he adds a bit more flesh and color to his characters and the San Francisco setting. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

3: “He looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.”

19: “It’s a long while since I burst out crying because policemen didn’t like me.”

22: “Spade looked at the lieutenant with yellow-gray eyes that held an almost exaggerated amount of candor.”

28: “‘You’re an angel,’ he said tenderly through smoke. ‘a nice rattle-brained angel.’”

46: “His skin was the complexion of polished lead except where the elbow had reddened his cheek.”

94: “The boy spoke two words, the first a short guttural verb, the second, ‘you.’” [I just think this is such a creative and classy way to include swearing in a story. I’ve never seen it done this way, and I found it really amusing and clever.]

104: “As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown.”

174: “His dark eyes had the surface shine of lacquer.”

It’s not a long read, landing around 200 pages. If you’re like me and you’ve never explored mysteries or detective fiction enough to develop a liking for it, this is a good entry point. Of course, there are always the short stories—Holmes, or Agatha Christie’s—as well.

Have you ever read a detective fiction piece that stood out to you? Let me know in the comments. 🙂 

“Scholarship or Insurrection?” Think Review (Audiobook)

“Scholarship or Insurrection?” Think Review (Audiobook)

Preacher, author, and theologian John Piper addresses a contemporary issue in the Body of Christ’s view on intellectualism in his 2010 book. Titled Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, Piper’s work calls for Christians to embrace the kind of thinking Jesus encouraged: that is, a balance between deep thought and pursuing God-revealed truth. The problem, Piper notes, is that Christ followers tend to lean one of two ways on the spectrum. Either we elevate human intellectual achievement too highly, or we rely on mystic, spiritual experience for our revelation of God.

To illustrate his point, Piper’s book is both filled with appeals to logic and packed with Scripture. Using two principle verses, 2 Timothy 2:7 and Proverbs 2:1-6, he points out that finding truth results from two elements coupled together: our ardent seeking, and God’s benevolent giving of the truths we’re powerless to discover as finite beings. He concludes: education is not for our personal prowess or pride, but for the purpose of more fully knowing and worshipping God, as well as subsequently loving others.

This book is enjoyable to listen to: the audiobook is read by Wayne Shepherd, who does a superb job. I had it on 1.25X speed and still understood every word. Additionally, the chapters aren’t too long. Listening to Piper talk, I felt wonder at the concept of my mind and consciousness. He reminds readers what miracles our brains are: so finely-tuned and complex, these created machines of ours.

The only downside I would point out would be that, given the deep theological nature of his writing, the text at times began to feel dense, a bit repetitive, and long. For instance, Piper refutes several important arguments, which occupy most of his second half, and at times feel a bit distant from his main point. However, that could simply be my personal preference.

Overall, Think was beneficial and positively convicting for me. A lot of times, I can slip into the trap of feeling haughty because of my education level or experience with the Word. Piper reminded me that that’s not Christ’s intention for His followers at all. It was refreshing to hear him call out believers to be loving and embrace continued learning at the same time.

If you’re looking for an intellectual challenge, whether you’re a believer in Christ or not, I would encourage you to give Think a try. Do consider taking it in four-ish doses, which I didn’t, for your mental stamina’s sake. To whet your appetite a bit, here are some of my favorite quotes.

What’s your favorite spiritual or intellectual read?

I hope you guys have a good week.

Quotes:

“I would like to encourage you to think, but not be too impressed with yourself when you do.”

“If all the universe and everything in it exist by the design of an infinite personal God, to make his manifold glory known and loved, then to treat any subject without reverence to God’s glory is not scholarship, but insurrection.”  

“We are meant to know that the Gospel is true and that we are saved—not cross our fingers.”

“Relativism cloaks pride with the guise of humility.”

“Not thinking is no solution for thinking arrogantly.”  

[Quoted from Norval Geldenhuys]“The contrast pointed out by the Savior is not that between educated and uneducated, but between those who imagine themselves to be wise and sensible, and want to test the Gospel truths by their own intellects, and to pronounce judgment according to their self-formed ideas, and those who live under the profound impression that by their own insight and their own reasoning, they are utterly powerless to understand the truths of God, and to accept them.”

“Knowing and thinking exist for the sake of love, for the sake of building people up in faith.” 

“The Bachelor(ette), Round 2”: The Crown Review

“The Bachelor(ette), Round 2”: The Crown Review

Ah, the enjoyment of returning to YA reads after heavy doses of intellectual literature. The pages fly faster, and it’s good morale for meeting those Goodreads reading goals. Plus, lighthearted love stories are simply fun. While I enjoyed Kiera Cass’s original Selection trilogy, the last two books in the series (#4 and #5) didn’t appeal to me as much. Here’s why.

America Schreave has become queen of Illéa (futuristic, monarchical America, to catch anyone up who needs. And yes, America is a girl’s name). Her daughter, Eadlyn, is the focus of the last two installments. She’s of age to marry, and is the first princess to hold her own Selection (basically, it’s been The Bachelor exclusively, until this point). To add to that, the country doesn’t love Eadlyn, and she’s putting pressure on herself to pick the right man for the sake of appearances. She also wants to be perceived personally as empathetic to her people, given that she’s pretty intimidating.

I feel the quality of Heir and The Crown dropped noticeably from the original trilogy. While reading YA romance entails some cliché lines and stereotypical aspects of relationship-building, I found The Crown a bit too packed with these for my taste. Eadlyn ends up choosing a man whom, for the majority of the process, she didn’t notice that much. Their relationship explodes in a matter of days. They don’t fall in love from spending ample time together, but from a series of enlightening moments. The dialogue was fairly weak in places, and several scenes felt tailored in terms of time to fit what Cass needed. For example, after having a heart attack, Eadlyn’s mother wakes and summons her children to see her. They have a conversation that lasts less than five minutes before husband/king Maxon orders the kids back to their daily routines to let Mom recover. Eadlyn’s been agonizing over her mother’s wellbeing for days, and this is the only interaction they get now? I thought that was strange. Another instance comes near the end, when Eadlyn is torn between two choices and is out of time to decide. Her mother makes a comment that’s essentially, “I hope you figure it out and do what you truly want,” before leaving her. I feel like a mother would want to be of more help than that in such a life-altering crises; but hey. Who knows…? (Rhetorical, of course: come on, America).

Another aspect of the novel that I didn’t understand was the abundance of palace characters. It’s not that having a large cast for a kingdom-oriented story isn’t feasible. But our glimpses of side characters shift so often, and are so limited, that the reader has a hard time connecting to them. If Cass downsized and zeroed in on a few (especially given the fact that we have five or six suitors to get to know as Eadlyn narrows the men down), they would have been more effective. As it was, I found myself trying to recall faces behind names that popped up throughout her story. It’s been a while since I read Heir; so perhaps that’s part of it.

Lastly, and I know this is another facet of YA romance at times, I found the stakes for Eadlyn to be exaggerated. There’s drama going on with her as ruler, attempted sabotages, and the question of who she’ll pick; yet, without giving too much away, these problems seem to be exacerbated for the sake of suspense. Eadlyn convinces herself that the people’s opinion needs to imprison her in terms of choosing a husband; in terms of squelching threats; and as it ties into her personal self-image. Her parents might have emphasized to her that she had more agency; however, she does take leaps of her own volition that drastically reorder society (of course, without consulting any the people in place to help her with these things). So I’m not sure what I think of Eadlyn. She seems to wield more power than a teenager should, without possessing a solid identity. This makes her intriguing, but hard to get behind.

All that being said, the enjoyment of YA literature sometimes comes in sitting back and letting go of your writerly senses: rooting for a certain contestant until they are eliminated (yep, definitely happened). I like light reads, and this one is entertaining despite possessing potential for improvement. That being said, I would give it about 2.5/5 stars in terms of quality, and 3 for entertainment value. If you’ve started the Selection series, you might as well complete it to see how Cass wraps everything up in the world of Illéa. And if you haven’t started it, why not take a crack at it and see if you enjoy it?

What’s your favorite YA read/series at the moment?  

“Less Talk, More Smiles”: The Hamilton Affair Review

“Less Talk, More Smiles”: The Hamilton Affair Review

After digesting over 1100 pages of Hamilton-related content, I believe this will be my last book review related to the treasury secretary for a while. However, I did receive a beautiful copy of The Revolution for Christmas, which covers the making of the musical; so I may continue being a paper snowflake fan after all. We’ll see.

Elizabeth Cobbs, author of The Hamilton Affair, is a historian and novelist, among other accomplishments. Her novel personalizes events from the lives of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton, revolving around their relationship and the factors that influenced it. It’s 400 pages exactly, which is a notable undertaking. Still, it’s a doable slice of pie next to Chernow’s 700-page biography (read my review of Chernow’s work here). That being said, here are some of the good and bad attributes of this novel.

First, The Hamilton Affair has a beautiful, shimmering cover and text that’s enjoyable to look at and read. The story contains creative imagery of places such as New York and the countryside in which Eliza grows up. Characters are developed well: Cobbs gives tasteful hints throughout the story as to Alexander’s and Eliza’s personalities, foreshadowing later developments. At the end of the novel, I had a consistent, satisfying picture of realistic characters. The chemistry and fondness between the Hamiltons felt charmingly tangible, as well. One of my favorite aspects of the story is how Cobbs surrounds her figures with a slew of spot-on details. She weaves historical events in seamlessly, making her characters come to life. She’s able to flesh out landmark moments in American history by viewing them through Alexander’s and Eliza’s eyes, which I found intriguing.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

22: “The spring twilight had just started to gather, turning the rushing current of the wide river the color of dark plums.”

31: “On the gentle hillside she would hear the boom of the surf on the island’s clean sand and no one could ever again insult her honor in ways that sent a dagger through his heart.”

67: “Purple lilacs sweetened the air of sunrise, though Alexander barely saw them as he walked along the Hudson two years after his first breakfast in New York.”

98: “Alexander opened his eyes and dug stubbornly into the stew. Chunks of beef glistened among the cabbage and potatoes.”

144: “When Aunt Gertrude invited her to visit, Eliza knew it would bring her into the constellation of bachelors orbiting George Washington.”

333: “The Bible helped tamp down sorrow, anger, shame, and fear as the leafy shoreline slipped by. Just read, she thought, forcing herself to find meaning in characters that spilled like rice across the page.”

385: “The morning air was crisp. He drew in a deep breath as he reached the end of the forest trail, stepped into the clearing, and looked out upon the wide river and uninhabited shore opposite. Pink clouds streaked the crystalline sky.”

Next, I’m going to talk about some of the reasons why, for me, this book deserves a rating of about 3-3.5/5 stars. There were some elements that turned me off. These include an abundance of “telling,” which is something I mention fairly frequently in my reviews. Things that could have been spoken, shown, or left out instead interrupted the action in The Hamilton Affair. Many conversations are interspersed with background information to catch up the reader (chapters jump ahead years at a time, which is another facet of the story that renders the action a bit choppy). These intrusions feel awkward. For a short example of telling, on pg. 325, young Philip Hamilton makes an appearance. The narrator states, “Philip picked up a calico sleeping under the tall sash and sat down again. He had inherited his mother’s fondness for animals.” While reading, I felt that the second sentence wasn’t necessary to my understanding, and is fairly implied in the first.

Another major factor I disliked was the existence of quite a few racy lines or scenes. Don’t get me wrong: this is nowhere near other literature of our time. And while physical intimacy is a major part of the Hamiltons’ relationship, the blatant nature of some passages struck me as surprising and unnecessary. Simply a step too far.

Lastly, this is a minor issue, because, for the most part, Cobbs handles Eliza’s (and Alexander’s) faith lives well. When Eliza learns of the Reynolds affair, she turns to Scripture for comfort. Cobbs also includes Alexander’s dying reminder to Eliza that she is “a Christian,” to encourage her to be strong. On the last page, however, I ran across something that troubled me a bit. Elderly Eliza is reflecting on Alexander’s legacy and eternal destination: “It comforted Eliza that Alexander had atoned for his own mistakes years before, even though it flayed her pride at the time. She knew she would find her husband in Heaven. His sacrifices and generosity—his mercy toward even Burr—far outweighed his sins.” This threw up a little red flag in my mind. Christianity is founded upon the conviction that man cannot atone for his own sins, but requires the blood of Christ to render him righteous. In fact, the idea of “good outweighing bad” is directly opposed to the new covenant brought about by the resurrection. Eliza would have known her husband’s eternal dwelling with God wasn’t due to his own actions but rather the grace of God Himself. Again, in the scheme of the book, this is a minor detail; but faith is presented as a remarkable asset of Eliza’s identity throughout the novel. I thought it was worth noting.

In closing, I’d recommend a work like this to anyone who doesn’t have the time or motivation to complete something as imposing as the Chernow biography of Hamilton. In my opinion, Chernow’s work is superb; however, not everyone has that kind of time. Pick up something a bit lighter, like The Hamilton Affair, if you enjoy fiction more, and want a quicker course on the life of one of the hottest figures in pop culture at the moment.

Has anyone else read this novel? What are you guys reading right now? I hope you have a good day. 🙂

“Readin’ Every Treatise on the Shelf”: Alexander Hamilton Review

“Readin’ Every Treatise on the Shelf”: Alexander Hamilton Review

Happy 2017, and thanks for joining me on my blog!

This review will be my endeavor to surmise half a year of gnawing on the enjoyable contents of a book over 700 pages long. Together with my boyfriend, Josh, I’ve journeyed through Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography a few chapters at a time. The legacy of the founding father has boomed in popularity this past year; so, in June, we thought delving into a scholarly account would be a fun long distance activity. After finishing the book, I can say that it most definitely has been.

Ron Chernow is the author of many renown biographies. His works include studies of the Morgan family, the Warburgs, and Rockefeller. He is respected by other prominent historians and authors such as David McCullough, who called Alexander Hamilton “grand-scale biography at its best—thorough, insightful, consistently fair, and superbly written.” The length of the work is daunting, especially to those who, like me, haven’t immersed themselves extensively in historical works.

Here’s my case for why Alexander Hamilton is worth it.

First, Chernow’s style creates a story-like atmosphere, in which he recounts the neonatal stage of American politics. He utilizes beautiful prose and description. His biography is embellished with settings, dramatic encounters, and character sketches. The biographer gives detailed portraits of not only Hamilton, but supporting figures in his public and private life. Chernow foreshadows events and ties plot lines together smoothly, rendering the political scene of the late 1700s/early 1800s intriguing.

Secondly, Chernow serves as an agreeable yet authoritative narrator. As he gracefully integrates a myriad of sources, the author analyzes this research to provide balanced conclusions. At times, Chernow does favor Hamilton a bit, in an effort to depict the founding father’s point of view. For the most part, however, throughout his extensive coverage of Hamilton’s life (from ancestry to the aftermath of his death), Chernow remains ambivalent when contrasting viewpoints of the time and their results.

As a last point, picking up Alexander Hamilton is satisfying simply because of the masterpiece it is. Being able to finish a historical piece this size, and enjoy it throughout the process, made me happy. It’s entertaining to read Chernow’s creative chapter titles along the way: monikers such as “The Little Lion,” “A Grave, Silent, Strange Sort of Animal,” “Dr. Pangloss,” “City of the Future,” “Seas of Blood,” “Sugar Plums and Toys,” “The Man in the Glass Bubble,” “Reign of Witches,” “Pamphlet Wars,” “Fatal Errand,” and “The Melting Scene.” These titles give hints of the creative flourish with which Chernow leads his readers through the full life of a man whose imprint has remained on America since its commencement.

Long story short (and I really mean that), pick up this biography to increase your perspective; enjoy Chernow’s writing to widen your vocabulary; and learn a wealth of Hamilton facts so that, when your social gathering inevitably begins discussing the musical, you can (pun glaringly intended) blow them all away.