Monthly Archives: January 2020

Caraval

I decided to join an online book club where, instead of reading the same book, we read the same genre or type of book, and start from there. To kick things off in January, we started with local authors. And after debating what book I wanted to buy (we were challenged to read something outside our usual style), I remembered that I had a book that fit the bill already at home. So I dug Caraval, by Stephanie Garber, out from the bottom of one of my TBR piles.

Sisters Scarlett and Donatella have always lived on the island of Trisda, and when their mother was there, things went well. But after their mother vanished, their father moved from protective to controlling and abusive. All the sisters want is the chance to experience life for themselves, and maybe a little magic.

Scarlett is soon to be married when she receives an invitation to Caraval, a magical game where players work to solve a mystery and win a prize. This year’s prize, a wish, could change the girls’ lives. Though Scarlett is more reserved and cautious, Donatella is impulsive, so despite the danger, the girls end up on the magical island hosting Caraval–only they are separated. Scarlett planned on staying only one night then hurrying home to be in time for her wedding, but this year’s game for some reason seems to revolve around the sisters, and Scarlett can’t go home without Donatella. But as she gets deeper into the game, Scarlett starts to wonder if she’ll get through the game with even her life.

Young Adult isn’t generally a genre I read. It’s hard to pinpoint why, exactly, the writing style just doesn’t appeal to me. It often feels a little trite and unreal. Caraval was a little different. Though the story felt a little Disney at times– love-at-first-sight kind of romance, inexhaustible source of optimism, knowing everything would work out fine in the end–it was a good story, unique in it’s twists and turns. When she begins the game, Scarlett is told not to believe anything, that everyone and everything is out to fool her. With this in mind, it keeps you guessing throughout the story, wondering if anyone is true, or if it’s all just lies and pretend.

However, while some twists were a little surprising, the style and genre gave a lot away, too. Without giving spoilers for what happens in the book, you just know that it’ll all work out in the end. Perhaps it was knowing that the plot of the story revolves around a magical game that made certain twists less than believable, in terms of permanence, or perhaps it was most the genre that gives me that sense, but it was a deterrent for me, as far as continuing on in the series. While I’m curious about a few things, I’m not chomping at the bit to go buy the rest of the series. And as long as I’m reading books I’m moderately interested in (instead of allowing myself to buy the shiny new books I’ve been drooling over this holiday season), I may as well make a dent in the hoard I’ve got at home.

 

Series review: The Darkness books

Yes, I did just make up a series title for two books because I don’t feel like writing two reviews when one will suffice.

Frank Peretti is a name I’ve known for a while, once I started getting into Ted Dekker’s writing. People said they were similar, and while I can see it, in some ways, they deal with significantly different topics, based on reading Peretti’s most well-known books, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. In this series, Peretti looks at spiritual warfare as a physical, but invisible way.

In This Present Darkness, a small town in America is targeted by demons looking to control and destroy as part of a larger scheme by a stronger demon. The only thing standing in their way are the Christians in the local church. To conquer the town, they must destroy the local pastor. But when the town newspaper starts to get a hint of unsavory things going on in town, the reporters start digging, and they’re not willing to give up. Unseen, but the force behind everything, are demons, manipulating humanity for evil, and fighting against the angels for dominance in the town.

In Piercing the Darkness, the fight continues in a different town, this time focusing on a young girl who was taught in school how to tap into forces from beyond our world. When a Christian teacher disciplines Amber, a lawsuit ensues, pushing for government limitations on freedom of religion. Caught in the middle is Sally Beth Roe. No one quite knows the key role she must play, but Sally is running for her life, trying to piece it all together before it’s too late. And with so many key players in the hands of the demons, “too late” could be just a moment away.

Peretti brings spiritual warfare to life by showing characters literally in the clutches of monsters, invisible but powerful–addiction, despair, insanity, witchcraft. These demons latch on to the characters and wreak havoc. Whether an accurate picture or not, Peretti’s stories give one plenty to think about, in terms of fighting against the darkness, fighting against things that seem too powerful, like anxiety, depression, or hatred.

These books cropped up at an interesting time for me, after a summer of growth dulled into a long season of disappointment, frustration, and what felt like failure. It certainly felt like spiritual warfare, an elusive something destroying the small gains I worked so hard for. It was an interesting take at an important time for me, as I trust is the point of the books, to make you think a little differently than you had before.

So whether you’re actually looking for something to think about, or you’re just looking for an interesting, short series, Frank Peretti is a good place to start.

The Girl Behind the Red Rope

Why is it the best writers take the longest to put out books? Yes, I know the answer is obvious, but, you get the idea. When you have a favorite author, you just always want more.

Ted Dekker and his daughter Rachelle Dekker teamed up to write The Girl Behind the Red Rope, an engaging novel that feels quite reminiscent of The Village.

Grace lives in an isolated community tucked away in the mountains of Tennessee. The community fled the world invasion of Fury, demons bent on destruction. Only obeying the rules and remaining within the boundaries will keep them safe. But Grace and her brother start questioning the rules, but their doubts could prove to be the undoing of the whole community.

But Grace soon finds herself torn between what she’s always believed and the new ideas that are so persuasive. And when she has to make a decision, it may cost her her life.

In true Dekker style, the story is engaging and fast paced, breaking down theological ideas into easily-understood experiences.

While sometimes co-written stories can feel choppy, this one was seamlessly woven together, which is great because it doesn’t distract from the message of love.

If you’re looking for something engaging, be sure to check it out.

Series review: His Dark Materials

I remember my first encounter with this series. I’d just finished my summer reading journal for the library and I pulled The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman as my free book. I read it a little while later, when we headed off on our houseboat trip in Canada. So… 2004?

Years later, when the movie came out, my mom asked me about it. She wanted to know if they really killed God in the end of the series. I couldn’t really remember, but there was controversy in the Christian community about whether the series was OK to read or not. Now, with HBO making a tv series out of it, I decided to come back and give it another read.

The series starts with The Golden Compass and follows Lyra, a young girl living in an alternate London. Her life has always been full of adventure and capers with her friend, Roger, and her daemon, Pan. But then the adults around her start getting interested in this elusive “dust,” and children are going missing. Lyra finds herself joining with unlikely allies as she dodges from one danger to another, trying to rescue Roger, save the children, and figure out what’s got everyone so upset.

In the Subtle Knife, Lyra has accomplished what she set out to do, but now she’s alone in another world. Until she runs into Will, a boy her own age who escaped his own London, and wants nothing more than to uncover the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Together, they have to navigate new worlds, overcome new obstacles, and find ways to reunite with their friends who can help them.

The Amber Spyglass wraps up the story with everyone coming together for one great battle in an attempt to bring freedom to all the worlds. But first, they have to visit the world of the dead, and try to escape with their lives. Will and Lyra have some final allies to meet, and one final challenge, which proves to be the hardest of all.

I can’t lie, after reading the series again, I’d be find if The Golden Compass was simply a stand-alone novel (though, it would need a better ending. You can’t end a stand-alone with a gaping hole at the end). The series dabbles with some interesting ideas, but even as an adult, I found myself struggling to piece it all together and grasp the overarching theme. Dust is such a driving force in the first book, but then sort of takes a backseat until the very end, when it has a role to play in the story wrap up. Maybe I’d just need to read the series again, slower, in order to get all the allegory. But, then, the kids reading the series are sure to miss all that, too.

As far as the question of killing God in the end, while the series does suggest that it’s the Christian and/or Catholic religion they are after, it is still a work of fiction. In Pullman’s series, his version of god is an angel who took over and raised himself above the rest, and has since been intervening in the material world, setting rules for morality and passing judgment. As he weakened, he set his right hand in charge. In the end (forgive the spoiler), no one actually kills the Authority, as they call him. He just floats away, as all Pullman’s angels do when they die. The right hand, who is never referred to as god, is cast into a void. So, while parents will have to make choices as their convictions lead, I really don’t see it as problematic. I never thought of it as commentary on my Christian faith as a kid, and I don’t think of it that way now. I’m inclined more to suggest that it’s an opportunity to discuss the idea of fiction versus truth, and how fiction is different than lies. This is a fantasy series, no one is supposed to believe it’s speaking truth or reality.

Anyway, as far as the series goes, it’s a fun read, though as I said, it gets a little muddy on what the important themes are. The characters have depth, though, and it forces you to consider, what does repentance (for lack of a better word) mean, and does a life time of bad choices make it impossible for someone to change or make a good choice?

All in all, not a series I feel the need to have on my shelf, but not one I feel the need to blacklist, either.

The Gifts of Imperfection

This year has been all about personal growth for me, drawing on the wisdom of a lot of different books to put into practical application the things that can help me get to where I want to be.

With that in mind, I’ve been excited to get back to Brené Brown and her research. So when I got a gift card to Barnes & Noble, I didn’t think twice, I just bought it.

Drawing from her research on shame and shame resilience, Brown uncovered some practical steps or guideposts for wholehearted living, which she outlines in this book. By embracing imperfection and vulnerability, Brown says that people living wholeheartedly experience more courage, compassion, and connection.

Her guideposts include things like authenticity, self-compassion, gratitude and joy, creativity, and more. Each chapter tackles a specific guidepost, providing a definition and practical ways to cultivate them in your life.

The Gifts if Imperfection is a short book, but it’s packed full of powerful stuff. I’m sure I’ll have to reread some chapters to really soak up the applications. But already Brown’s research has once again already given me a lot to think of.

If you’re looking for ways to keep growing as a person, Brown’s books are a great place to start. Though primarily researching shame, Brown’s research touches on a variety of topics related. For me, her insights on vulnerability are practical and provoking, especially right now, when vulnerability and authenticity are two aspects I’m struggling to cultivate.

Check her out. Even though she’s an academic, she writes in a way that makes it easy to follow, not getting bogged down in the research and data. Brown uses her own experiences to show what she’s talking about, and she does so in a refreshingly honest way.

A year of books in review

Believe it or not, I don’t actually set reading goals every year. I simply read as much as I can, and try to read what I want along the way.

In 2019 I read 101 books. It’s hard to pick the best ones, but I’ll give it a try, in no particular order.

Of nonfiction books, I’d say the best ones I read were Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott; The Fitting Room, by Kelly Minter; Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo; The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown; and Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Each of these books gave me a lot to think about and a lot of practical applications. I’ve still got a lot of growing to do, but I like to think I’m on my way.

Of fiction books, the bulk of my reading, there were a lot of good ones, it’s extra hard to just choose the best, but I’ll try: Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier; Where’s You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple; The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern; and The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Each of these stories provided something special– an escape from reality, a message of hope and love, or just something to laugh at.

Here’s to a new year of reading; a new year full of books to learn and grow from.