Tag Archives: religion

Lost Boys

Author: Orson Scott Card

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature audience; also, 1) this book made me cry more than I have since Grave of the Fireflies, and 2) kids do get hurt here–it’s dealt with as the heinous, awful thing that it is, but it still happens, so worried moms might not want to read this if they want to sleep at night.

In 1983, Step and Deanne Fletcher move their growing family to the small town of Steuben, North Carolina, for Step to start a promising new job for the growing computer company Eight Bits, Inc. But right from the start, things seem to go wrong. Step’s new job turns out to be nothing like what he’d expected, being relegated to writing program manuals and being told to sneak around behind his immediate supervisor’s back, even though he had great success in the past as a programmer himself. Deanne’s pregnancy makes her constantly sick, adding to the burdens of caring for their three young children. Their oldest, eight-year-old Stevie is becoming withdrawn, spending his time talking to imaginary friends. The house they’re renting seems beset by plagues of insects. And little boys in the area have started disappearing, presumed kidnapped and murdered. But in the midst of all their stress and worry, the Fletchers are determined to not quit, throwing themselves into serving in their new church ward, parenting their children, and generally doing their best with the situation they are given, however difficult it may be to trust all will be well in time.

Lost Boys was an unusual and unexpected book. The only other think by Card that I’ve read is Ender’s Game, and this book is nothing like that. The majority of this story is just this story about this Mormon family and their lives–the most innocuous, simple thing imaginable. And Card does that aspect of the story well, giving us a deep, developed view of Step, Deanne, and Stevie in particular, as well as of their other kids, Robbie, Betsy, and later Zap. The pacing is slow, leisurely, giving us time to get into these people’s day-to-day existence, sharing in their concerns and their little joys and victories, feeling how much their faith and family bolster them. And you know what? I really came to like these people; they’re good people, doing their best to do what’s right, to protect each other, to love others and be compassionate. But underneath this innocuous slice-of-life story, you’ve got this constant undercurrent of something deeper and darker and possibly supernatural going on. It reminds me of some of Stephen King’s books, the way the tension lies just under the surface. There’s a slow, certain inevitability to the plot development in this regard that makes the ending (which I won’t spoil) an expected conclusion by that point–which makes it no less a tear jerker, but it’s kind of cathartic as well. Peaceful, strangely enough. In any case, Lost Boys was a story that struck a deep chord with me and that I would highly recommend, if you have the patience for the slow development.

 

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Gods of the Mountain

Author: Christopher Keene

A Cycle of Blades, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Summary from Goodreads:

““If that’s true, he’s returned from the grave, and you better believe he’s got something in store for this city.”

Accused of murder, Faulk is on the run after his chance at redemption went horribly wrong. He finds himself allied with the mysterious Yuweh, a woman sent by her gods to capture an assassin who is spreading forbidden magic.

Journeying across a land where all magic, cultures, and wars are dictated by its cycles in nature, they uncover a plot that threatens to destroy everything they hold dear. Faulk and Yuweh must reconcile their clashing cultures to prevent the chaos from repeating…

…as another attempts to use it for his benefit.”

Having greatly enjoyed the first two volumes of Keene’s Dream State Saga, it was with great anticipation that I approached his newest work, Gods of the Mountain–and I was not disappointed. While the Dream State books are of the LitRPG genre, having more almost of a light novel flavor, this new book is more of a high fantasy/dark fantasy, so it’s definitely a different style, and I think the author does a great job of expressing that and adapting to the genre styles while staying true to his own personal storytelling voice. One of the ways in which this is most true–and one the things I most loved about this book–is the magic system and the way the reader is introduced to it. I feel like the magic in this story is quite unique and well imagined; it’s different enough that I wasn’t just like “oh, there’s the magic, let’s get on with the story,” but was rather actually interested in the mechanics of the system. And we get a good explanation of it through the eyes of a character who is first introduced to the magic himself, getting to learn about how it works alongside him. The worldbuilding and the complexities of the political situation are also quite well done; in fact, I’m reminded of V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic books in that regard. Keene does a great job of displaying an overthrown country, with conquering overlords but also with rebellious former soldiers still around and unsettled at the situation. Moreover, throwing in the complications of an isolated mountain theocracy dominated by tradition and taboo adds an extra layer of complication, especially when these worlds collide forcibly. There’s some interesting commentary on religion there for those who fancy venturing into those waters. The plot was intense, with lots of twists and surprises, and the pacing worked well–not particularly fast or slow, but steady, which honestly works best for a book of this length. As for the characters, they were probably what I liked least; not that they were uninteresting or poorly written–quite the opposite–but simply because I didn’t find any of them particularly likeable. Surprisingly, that didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story, though. I would still certainly consider Gods of the Mountain to be a solid read, one that I enjoyed and that I would recommend.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Gods of the Mountain from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

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The Inquisitor’s Tale

Author: Adam Gidwitzthe-inquisitors-tale

Illustrator: Hatem Aly

My rating: 5 of 5

The year is 1242, and one dark evening a disconnected group of travelers find themselves together in a small French countryside inn, trading stories to pass the time. Surprisingly, the one evening it seems that all their stories are part of a larger story, a story of three children with seemingly miraculous powers and their faithful dog who is revered as a saint by local peasants. And the tale doesn’t end with the miracles these children have performed, for the very king of France has now declared war against these children. Perhaps, through their interwoven tales, the travelers can puzzle out why such a thing would be.

I was deeply impressed by Gidwitz’s work on The Inquisitor’s Tale. The story is obviously well researched, emulating a storytelling style similar to that of Chaucer’s tales (but in prose), which adds an air of authenticity. It also makes the development of the plot quite interesting, although the pace is slower than that of many tales because of the style. The story draws heavily on both historical research and on the saints tales and folklore of the day, creating a tale that is equal parts historical fiction and fantasy. It’s quite appealing. Also appealing are the characters and the manner in which they develop over the course of the book, particularly after the four of them begin traveling together. Oddly enough, the author does at times choose to use terms which wouldn’t have been common (or even known at all) in 1242–like “allergic” for instance; however, this practice does serve to keep the writing more colloquial, which fits the setting. One of the most powerful and poignant aspects of this story is the way in which it addresses the issues of ignorance and hatred of the alien that were present in that particular place and time, discussing these issues in a way that makes the reader sorely aware of the similarity there is to the discord present in our own day. A painful reminder that we could save so much heartache if we could just learn from history. I also appreciated the way in which complex and difficult theological ideas were incorporated into the story and the way in which the plot tended, ultimately, towards hope and encouraging the reader to be the change we want to see in the world. Demographically, The Inquisitor’s Tale is intended for an upper middle-grade audience, but I think it is an incredible story for anyone that age or older.

 

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Kieli: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness

Author: Yukako Kabeikieli

Illustrator: Shunsuke Taue

Kieli, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

The world Kieli inhabits is cold and dilapidated, a godless people ruled by a militant Church that knows nothing of grace or mercy, whatever they may say. Small wonder then, that Kieli prefers the company of ghosts over that of the living around her. Something begins to change, though, when she encounters a young man sitting alone in the train station, looking like the dead–especially when she finds he is able, like herself, to see the spirits of the dead. Unable to resist, or unable to lose the one person who shares her abilities, Kieli sneaks out of the Church-run boarding school where she lives and follows this unusual man who goes by the name Harvey. Together, the two proceed on Harvey’s purposed journey by train to deliver an old radio inhabited by a ghost to an abandoned mine, little guessing that someone else is also following. Because Harvey isn’t just an ordinary young man; he’s an ageless, deathless soldier created nearly a century before to end the War, one of the legendary Undying . . . and now the Church is ruthlessly hunting down their own creations.

I had heard good things about this light novel before, so I was excited to read Kieli. I have to be honest, it was mostly those expectations that kept me reading beyond the first half of the first chapter; there’s a lot about Kieli’s past, the War, and the emptiness of the Church that is really important background information but was hard to get into. But once I got past that to the part where Harvey enters the story and they’re traveling together, I really enjoyed the story. It would be a difficult story to really categorize: paranormal, science fiction, steampunk, dystopian, and several other things kind of meshed together. But it really works, feeling like its own unique genre rather than a mish-mash of multiple other genres. The majority of the story is a train journey, so you get the experience of the country they’re traveling through and the people they meet. And of course, the adventure of their being pursued and trying to evade capture. But most of all, the story is the development of the characters and the relationships between them: Kieli, Harvey, the Corporal who haunts the ghost radio. I’ve heard the book described (on the back cover, no less) as a romance, but I really don’t quite see it, although I can definitely see it developing into a romance in future volumes. For now, Kieli’s too young, and she and Harvey are really still just building a trust and friendship with each other. In any case, I truly enjoyed reading Kieli: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness, and I look forward to reading further in the series.

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The Gift of Sarah Barker

Author: Jane YolenGift of Sarah Barker

My rating: 4 of 5

It is truly stifling to be a free spirit in a world bound up with rules and ceremony. So Sarah finds to be true living in a highly structured Shaker community where every action is watched and judged. Yet though the consequences may be severe if she’s caught, she still dares to slip away to be alone and delight in the birds and beauty surrounding their small community. Meanwhile, Abel finds himself questioning the same rigid Shaker rules, struggling to match them with both reason and with the rampaging thoughts and feelings that growing up is forcing him through. And when he encounters Sarah, when he truly notices her for the first time, something changes irrevocably in a way that would be direly condemned in their society that forbids nearly all interaction between men and women.

How should I say this . . . The Gift of Sarah Barker, based on its cover, is exactly the sort of book I hate: sordid romance made to seem more thrilling by the danger of a highly disapproving society. If it hadn’t been written by Jane Yolen, I would never have even tried reading it. I’m glad I got past the cover (gross misrepresentation, by the way) and gave the story a try. What I found within was an intriguing historical novel, told in two voices, revealing a fascinating view of a most unusual community. I found out things about the Shaker community in the 1850’s that I had never heard of before, so that was interesting. Moreover, Sarah and Abel are well developed individuals who struggle with all sorts of complex issues (ones that are actually applicable to normal people today) and who have characters that I truly enjoyed reading–not just love-struck obsessives. There is a love story involved, true, but it doesn’t take up nearly so much of the book as I had expected AND it’s actually dealt with realistically. I actually would really recommend The Gift of Sarah Barker, especially to young adult (and older) readers who enjoy historical fiction or are interested in this time period.

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Carrie

Author: Stephen King

There are certain things everyone “knows” about Carrie White: She’s fat and pimply and doesn’t take care of herself. She’s spacey and odd when you do try to talk to her. Her mom’s a hyper-religious nutcase. Carrie’s the obvious victim for everyone’s bullying. But there are things no one knows about her–or if they ever did know, they’ve buried that knowledge deep: Somewhere underneath the surface, Carrie White is a strong person, one who will only take so much. And she’s got an amazing power that’s rarely even heard of. One day, the kids at her school will push her too far, and the resulting reaction will be unimaginable. . . .

Having read two of Stephen King’s books now, I truly get the impression that he is generally misrepresented. I get that Carrie is horror, in a sense–at least in the latter half of the book. But it’s more that just that. It’s a deep psychological study of how bullying, stress, and extreme parental situations affect the psyche of a growing child, especially when going through other extreme changes such as puberty. And King deals with all of this exceptionally. I admit that, had I read this a few years ago, I probably would have been appalled on numerous levels, by the open brutality, the graphic descriptions of first menstruation, etc., but I think for a mature reader, this is necessary setup for what comes later. I love the way King describes part of the story directly and parts as excerpts from various papers and books, all told in alternating voices; it gives the story a more complete perspective and keeps things (even more) interesting. Not that it needs the boost–it’s intense all the way through, even before the inferno begins! My one personal complaint is that there are no chapter breaks, only a separation between the two halves of this around-300-page book; this kept me drawn into the story as there was never a break, but I needed to get up and do stuff, and this made it difficult. Truly though, for a mature reader (may I emphasize that) who enjoys horror/thrillers but wants a bit more complex and developed story, Carrie is an excellent option.

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Armageddon Summer

Authors: Jane Yolen & Bruce Coville

The members of the charismatic Reverend Beelson’s congregations are convinced that he’s right: the world’s ending on July 27, 2000. And based on that belief, they’re packing up their families and heading out to Mount Weeupcut, the only safe place to be for the chosen few, according to the Reverend. In the wake of their respective families’ dissolution, Jed and Marina find themselves dragged along by their remaining parents. Marina wants to believe, if only because her mother believes and she so desperately needs for her mother to be right. Jed doesn’t give a care–he’s just there to protect his dad who’s been a bit batty since Jed’s mom left. When these two meet up on the mountain, they find something in each other they can relate to, someone they can really talk to without feeling judged for their unbelief. Which is good, because if Reverend Beelson’s right, they’re going to be stuck with each other for a long time.

I normally shy away from books like this; they’re just a bit too angsty and mercurial for my taste. But a Jane Yolen/Bruce Coville combo was something I just couldn’t pass up. Armageddon Summer was much better than I expected, even knowing and respecting the authors as I do. I guess the best way to put it is to say that it was tasteful and non-judgmental. Even though they were largely writing about folks who were clearly nuts, they also showed the good sides of those people. Furthermore, they depicted with painful honesty the challenges of faith and uncertainty, especially in circumstances such as when everyone around you is fully convinced or when your parents clearly believe and want you to. I think the struggle of what to do when your beliefs and your parents don’t mesh is a key element in this story–one on which I truly appreciate the authors’ thoughts. The writing itself is, as expected, flawless, engrossing, thoughtful, and dynamic. I really enjoyed the alternating voices between Marina and Jed, as well as the interlacing of snippets from radio broadcasts, sermons, and conversations for flavor. I don’t think Armageddon Summer is for everyone. Some might find it offensive; others may find the challenges it raises to their own beliefs to be disconcerting. But for the brave and the thinking reader, I think Armageddon Summer is sensitive, thoughtful, poignant, and well worth your time.

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