Category Archives: religion
Title: Where Things Come Back
Author: John Corey Whaley
Publisher/Year: Atheneum, 2011
Length: 228 pages
Genre: YA literary fiction
Source: Purchased from Amazon
Winner of the 2012 Printz Award
A giant woodpecker. A missing brother. An African missionary. Where Things Come Back is the story of each of these. All of these. It’s one of those stories where three seemingly different tales weave together to create one narrative.
First, the woodpecker. Lily, Arkansas is an in a tizzy because one man, a Mr. John Barker, has sighted an extinct woodpecker. The Lazarus woodpecker, to be exact. Everyone in town, especially the media, is a buzz with talk of the woodpecker and hopes for confirmation. The local motel, a cheeseburger, and even a hairstyle are all named after the woodpecker.
Second, the missing brother. One day, Gabriel Witter disappears. His brother, Cullen Witter (our protagonist) is left to deal with the situation and search for meaning in what has happened. Cullen’s also trying to date and manage his friendships in small-town America. He’s also a little skeptical of the whole woodpecker business. Basically, he’s searching for answers.
And finally, the African missionary. Benton. He’s a got a crappy home life, and his mission isn’t quite helping him find the answers he’s searching for. He’s in a crisis of faith.
I’ll admit, it took me some time to get into this novel. In fact, I think it took me a couple of months and a couple of tries to keep going. The main conflict wasn’t apparent and I couldn’t tell where the story was going. Maybe the woodpecker thing just didn’t intrigue me. I don’t know. But once I got about 1/3 of the way in, I had to admit that John Corely Whaley knows what he’s doing. It’s a coming of age novel set in front of a mystery. It’s Cullen’s story, but it’s also Benton’s story. It’s biblical allusion out the wazzu.
If YA fiction has a “literary fiction” genre (which I would argue that it does), this novel would be among the small number of novels in that group. That’s why it won the Printz. For me, the book gave me a “WOW” moment at about the 80% mark, when I really didn’t know what was going to happen. For the first time in the novel, I felt fear. The quiet, crafted story entered the arena of suspense, and I was hooked. I dropped everything and read to the end. It all made sense and it all came together and I barely even saw it coming. I tip my hat to you, Mr. Whaley, for that.
FINAL GRADE: A Well written and memorable. Unpredictable. Solid, steady, and beautiful. I give books As for different reasons: the thrill ride that was Divergent, the slow-burn romance of The Sea of Tranquility, and the thought provoking/edgy Every Day. When I think of those books, I know Where Things Come Back must be among them. Excellent writing, multi-dimensional characters, phenomenal plot, and a killer ending. This novel may be short and it may be a little difficult to get started, but trust me: it’s worth it.
Required Reading: Required for anyone who doesn’t typically like YA, high school teachers, and fans of contemporary novels. Stay away if you need vampires or intense action to enjoy a book.
Library Recommendation: Strongly recommended for high school. I would skip it for my middle school library (I just don’t think it would interest them).
What do you think of Printz novels or the category of “literary fiction” in YA?
Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher/Year: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Recorded Books, 2012
Length: 14 hrs and 14 mins, 549 pages
Series?: His Fair Assassin #1
Genre: YA Historical/Paranormal
Format: Audio Book
Source: Purchased from Audible
Challenge: Feminist Reads Challenge
You heard me right.
The year is 1588. The location, Brittany. Seventeen-year-old Ismae has been rescued from the life of an arrange marriage to an awful man, and is sent to the convent of St. Mortain. There she learns that she is the daughter of St. Mortain, the god of death, and she is trained to serve him. She discovers her great powers, hones her skills, and learns of a destiny she had never imagined. At the conclusion of her training, Ismae is offered an assignment: posing as a spy in the high court, killing anyone who bears the mark of St. Mortain and attempting to discover who in the court has been a traitor to Brittany.
Okay, so my summary isn’t that great. This is a very hard book for me to describe. Check out the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads if you need a better description. Just know this: there’s romance, bad ass-ery, and poison. Lots of poison.
I can’t say this was an escapist read for me in the traditional sense. I mean, c’mon. The 1500′s were kind of gross and plague-y. And I certainly do not feel like killing people. Granted, the story does a good job of justifying the process (a god has marked the targets — you can’t argue with the gods) (…or can you?), but I’d rather be the duchess. Anyway, I don’t want to BE Ismae. But I’ll be along for her story. The 549 pages here are full of mystery and intrigue, and even a sloooooooooow burn romance. I’ll take it.
But you know what? I’m having a hard time writing this review because I just didn’t LOVE it. I picked it up because of all the gushing 5-star reviews all over ALL THE THINGS, so maybe this was an issue of hype. There wasn’t really anything wrong with it. Ismae is probably one of the best protagonists in any story I’ve read. It’s different, it introduced me to a time period I knew very little about, and somehow, still, I just thought it was good. Worth the $10 I paid on Audible, sure. Maybe not worth buying a shelf copy for a re-read.
FINAL GRADE: B I’m an anomoly. Seriously. Everyone else gave it 5 stars, so I wouldn’t take this review too seriously. I’m going to chalk this up to the format (audio book) just not holding my interest as well as a print book. Sometimes that happens. In this case I think it was because of all the French names and unfamiliar words/places. I have pretty poor auditory processing skills, so I had a hard time following who was who and where they were going and why in the beginning of the story. I’ll probably read the second book in print. Yes, this is a trilogy.
Required Reading: I’d require this to high school students and lovers of historical fiction. There is a paranormal element, but that’s not the focus of the novel.
Library Recommendations: Buy it for a high school library. I can think of about six of my more sophisticated middle school readers who would have LOVED this book, so I probably would have bought it for my library. But, honestly, I can’t see many of the under-14 set really enjoying this.
What did you think of Grave Mercy? If you loved it, inspire my readers in the comments! If you didn’t…leave me virtual fist bump of mutual understanding.
Title: Order of Darkness: Changeling
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 3/24/2102
Length: 314 pages
Series?: Order of Darkness #1
Genre: YA historical/paranormal(ish)
Source: ARC from publisher
Challenges: Feminist Reads Challenge
When I first read the blurb for Changeling, I had a hard time figuring out what the story was actually going to be about. Now that I’ve read it, I’m going to give you the summary I would have wanted to have: Changeling is about the journey of a church detective, Luca, as he investigates strange occurrences across Italy in 1453. Luce investigates as a member of the Order of the Dragon, a secret sect commissioned by the Pope to question these strange occurrences in preparation for the end of days. But basically…he’s a church detective. His first case is a abbey where the nuns seem to be possessed by evil spirits. Lady Isolde happens to reside at the abbey, locked away when she refused to marry after her father’s death. All signs in Luca’s investigation point to Isolde’s involvement in the abbey’s unsettling events — but what’s really happening when the women go to sleep?
First off, I have to say that I have never read a Philippa Gregory book. So I am not coming at Philippa Gregory’s first stab at YA with any kind of expectations about her writing. I’ve seen some mixed reviews over this novel and, well…I don’t agree with them. I liked the book. It does feel like two different stories (the inquiry at the abbey and an inquiry about a werewolf), but I thought of it more as a detective novel. It seems like other people may have been expecting either A.) heaving bosoms and lustful glances, B.) swashbuckling action and adventure or C.) intrigue in the royal court. This is more episodic, traveling through the countryside to uncover lies and deception.
What I felt really made the book work was the characters. Luca is kind of dull (though I imagine he will develop over the series), but everyone else made for a good cast. Luca’s companion, Freize, offers some comic relief and unpredictable moments. Lady Isolde is smart and stands up for what she believes in. My favorite character by far was Ishraq, Lady Isolde’s companion and friend. Ishraq is such a fascinating character, and not just because she’s a Muslim surrounded by nuns. She definitely doesn’t follow the rules and she has a fiery side.
FINAL GRADE: B I love logic. And the use of logic. And using logic to prove that seemingly fantastic scenarios are not actually all that fantastic, a la an episode of Scooby Doo. So that’s why I enjoyed Changeling, and it’s why I know I’ll find myself reading the other books in the series. I recognize that this is a first book in a series, so I’m hoping there will be additional development of the characters, romance, and this whole “changeling” plot line (which is barely explained) over the later books. I’m also feeling like there’s some big-time stuff with the church that will come out later, too. I’m very glad I decided to try this book!
Required Reading: Required for fans of historical fiction for sure. Gregory knows what she’s doing in this genre. Also required for anyone who loves romance, since this is going to grow over the course of the series. And, as noted by the Feminist Reads Challenge note at the top, this is a good book if you love a good feminist read (but one realistic to the time period).
Library Recommendation: Appropriate for middle or high school. Be aware that there is an attempted rape early in the story, as well as a murder and a violent death. I’ve also had readers wonder how similar books portray Christianity, so I will say that the story does highlight corruption of individuals who are acting pious, but the overall goal is to reveal the corruption to save the church.
April @ Good Books and Good Wine reviewed the audiobook: “Gregory has this talent for bringing history to life and infusing it with a hefty dose of drama”
Zabet @ Reading Between Classes: “It really feels like two separate stories; one that features the nunnery and one a village with a werewolf. The stories felt disconnected, almost like two novellas that were strung together in an attempt to make a full book.”
Have you read any Philippa Gregory novels? What do you think of her writing style overall?
Title: You Got to Be Kidding: The Cultural Arsonist’s Literal Reading of The Bible
Author: Joe Wenke
Publisher/Year: Trans Uber, 2012
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Source: ARC from NetGalley
The premise of this book is simple: Joe Wenke reads the entire Bible and write snarky summaries/commentary about each book as he goes. He offers up witticisms about everything from the story of Noah’s Ark to God’s apparent obsession with fruit. I can’t sum it up for you very well without sharing a few quotes:
“They say the Bible is perfect, but it appears that God needs an editor.”
“Fruit—it’s one of the weirdest motifs in the Old Testament.”
“God is crazy. If he thinks you’re messing around with other gods or doing anything he doesn’t like, he’ll kill you as soon as look at you—and not just you but your whole family and all of your livestock, too.”
Now, I’ve never read the entire Bible. I want to, but that’s going to have to wait until after grad school (seriously — it’s on my shortlist of life goals). This book definitely makes me want to read the whole thing, since I’m fairly certain I’ll agree with a lot of what Wenke’s trying to say here: that the Bible is a weird, inconsistent book that represents different people’s voices in different time periods, but that it probably isn’t the literal word of God. I don’t like to get into my religious beliefs too much, but I will say that I agree and believe that humanity would be better off reading the Bible as a general guide and historical text rather than an infallible reference book. I came to this conclusion after reading all of the Gospels during Lent one season, realizing there is no possible way all four stories of Jesus’s life could all be true. But I digress.
If you are interested in the Bible, there are probably better sources for reading on this topic. Bart Erhman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why and Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Why We Don’t Know About Them both provide good info on these topics, and AJ Jacob’s A Year of Living Biblically is a great source of humor on the topic. I think having already read those going into this book, I just wasn’t impressed. I know Wenke is not trying to be an academic, he’s writing comedy. And there were some GREAT one-liners! Overall, though, I wanted more. More info, more comedy, more depth, more…something.
FINAL GRADE: D I hate giving books a D. I really do. But in this case, I feel it is deserved. This book had the potential to be really good, but it felt like there was not enough time, editing, and creativity put into it to get it there. The idea of looking at the inconsistencies and weirdness in a satirical way is clever and cool. It just wasn’t followed through. As a reader, I was let down. I’m glad I didn’t pay money for this book. It did have its funny and interesting moments, so I would say borrow the book or get it on sale.
Assigned reading: If you are interested in weird Bible trivia, humor, or inconsistencies you might want to skim this book.
Library recommendations: I wouldn’t put it in a school library, but I think there would be a definite market for this book in a public library e-book collection — I think it might actually see high circulation, as opposed to sitting on the shelf unread.
Without getting too controversial, do you have a favorite piece of Bible trivia/weirdness that you find interesting and want to share?
Title: The Book of Blood and Shadow
Author: Robin Wasserman
Publisher/Year: Listening Library/Knopf, 2012
Length: 14 hrs and 17 mins
Genre: YA thriller
Format: Audio book
Source: Purchased from Audible
[#70 in my 75 book challenge]
The title is true. This is a book about blood. And shadows. Nora is just a high school girl with an above-average love of translating Latin, two best friends, and an angsty boyfriend. When one friend ends up dead, the other catatonic, and her boyfriend is missing, Nora knows she’s not safe. There’s something in the Latin she’s be translating — something ancient, something dangerous — that someone wants. Nora’s questions lead her to Prague, where she follows a path of clues and learns of a secret society that will stop at nothing to get what they what.
Nothing is as it seems, and everyone has secrets. With all the Latin, history, and secret societies, this book feels like a YA DaVinci Code. And that’s okay! It’s been a long time since Dan Brown’s little novel had us all talking, so The Book of Blood and Shadows will feel new to teens. Of course, there’s a healthy dose of romance (though I didn’t really care for Max) and female friendship. But this action-adventure novel is fast-paced and un-put-downable — it’s not all hug and rainbows. People DIE. A LOT.
If they don’t make this into a movie, they’re crazy. (whoever “they” are)
Perhaps the best part about Wasserman’s novel is her kick-ass protagonist. Nora is smart, but flawed, and stands on her own two feet by choice (not by circumstance). She has boyfriends, but she doesn’t depend on them. She also places as much value on her female friendship with Adrienne as she does on her romantic relationships. Nora and I could be buddies, and I find that to be a rare phenomenon. Though, if I were her friend I would probably end up very, very dead. So…I’d have to be careful. Girl power!
FINAL GRADE: A It wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t care. I loved Nora and I loved the setting (Prague). Puzzle novels make my heart sing because, though totally unrealistic, they are so exciting!
Assigned Reading: If you hated The DaVinci Code, you’ll probably want to pass on this novel. You may also want to pass if you like The DaVinci Code too much, because you’ll be disappointed. But if you love Latin, Prague, history, puzzle novels, action, twists, or strong heroines, then you should definitely check out The Book of Blood and Shadow!
Recommendations: For library recommendations, I’d say definitely buy it for a high school or public library, but go ahead and skip it for the middle grades — it’s definitely a 14+ book, mostly for historical themes.
Have you ever been to Prague? Read the DaVinci Code? Read The Book of Blood and Shadow? Any combination of those? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Since tomorrow’s post is Top Ten Tuesday, I’ll post this on Christmas Eve. I hope you are all able to spend some time reading and relaxing with family and friends. I know I’ll be able to get lots of reading done (I’m thinking of starting Grave Mercy!). What are you planning to read by the Christmas tree?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week is my favorite TTT topic of the year: my favorite reads of the year. I think about this while I’m reading, only assigning grades of A to books that might be contenders. Of course, my A books didn’t come out to exactly 10 books. I’ve had to do some reflecting, re-evaluating (both of books I assigned an A and books I assigned a B!), and reconsidering to come up with the final list. So, here it is, the best of the 75 books I read this year!
Top Ten Books I Read in 2012
in no particular order]
[in order. why not? rank away.]
Links go to my reviews of each book
1.) Unwind by Neal Schusterman – Why did I not read this sooner? I loved every second and HIGHLY recommend it to everyone, especially fans of dystopian lit. Y’all, this book rocked my socks in early 2012 and I’m still thinking about it.
2.) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Sometimes you are just in the right mindset for good hero’s journey novel. I read this one at the right time (lazy family vacation in Vermont) to really get completely lost, distraction free, in the 80′s video game goodness.
3.) Every Day by David Levithan – I like what you did here, Levithan. I like it a lot.
4.) Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz – Though this book doesn’t even come out until 2013, I read it in 2012 and it was definitely one of the best. My review will post closer to the review date. It’s a gripping tale of a boy who survives ten different Nazi concentration/death camps during World War II.
5.) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness — So. Beautiful. And the crying. So much crying.
6.) Across the Universe by Beth Revis – I loved the premise of a girl being un-cryogencially frozen before her spaceship reached its destination, and the mystery surrounding how and why that happened. Since I love sci-fi/dystopia, it’s no surprise. Also loved the dash of romance and the world building.
7.) A Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs – Much better than The Know-It-All, this novel armed me with some biblical trivia and anecdotes to drop over coffee. Jacobs taught me a lot about the Bible, religion, and helped me solidify my views on both.
8.) Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart – Because it’s Ruby Oliver, and she will ALWAYS BE ON THE LIST.
9.) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys – A beautifully written novel about an awful time in history. I can’t imagine being sent to Stalin’s work camps in Siberia, and admired Lina’s strength and dedication to her art throughout the entire process.
10.) The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf – They had me at the cover, with the picture of the Titanic tipping into the ocean. I loved how Wolf told so many stories from so many points of view, and wove them together so effectively.
What were your favorite reads of 2012? See any here that spark your interest for 2013?