Author Archives: Alisa O'Donnell

About Alisa O'Donnell

I am an alumna of Western Washington University, born and raised on the Puget Sound. I live in Modesto, California with my husband and my cat, reading books and writing anything.

Rise of the Mystics

Ted Dekker wasted no time in writing the second book to his two-part series that returns to the world of the circle trilogy.

In the first book, The 49th Mystic, a young girl named Rachelle Matthews suddenly finds herself thrust into a strange new world where she is the only one who can bring peace and fulfill an old prophecy. Rachelle lives both on Earth and Other Earth, dreaming of one world when she falls asleep in the other. In both worlds, though, she’s in terrible danger. And fast learning that nothing is what it appears to be.

Now, in Rise of the Mystics, Rachelle is still in danger. With the crumbling of everything she once knew on Earth, Rachelle has been convinced that she is schizophrenic and subject to various hallucinations. But the fate of both worlds still hangs on her shoulders, even though she doesn’t dream anymore. But in both worlds, she’s finding that blindness can refer to so much more than sight, and that sight doesn’t necessarily mean seeing truly. But time is running out, and if Rachelle doesn’t get back on track and complete her quest, it will be the end for everyone.

Dekker’s latest series wrestles with the challenges of the Christian walk, and in some parts of each book it gets a little heavy on the teachings, paraphrasing and using new metaphors. This is definitely a series that wasn’t meant to be rushed though, as I did with it. It’s a series Dekker means to have read slowly, soaking in the metaphors of truth.

But the Mystic series maintains Dekker’s quality style, complete with twists and turns, even as he paints a broad, sweeping story with more meaning than what you see on the surface.

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Jane Eyre

I don’t remember how old I was when I got Jane Eyre as a birthday present. I think maybe 12. I remember it was a birthday party at a park, and my aunt had put it in a bag that said “Have a phat birthday” or something like that. And I remember thinking it was weird, but cool.

Fast forward several years and I’m somewhere in my teens reading it for the first time, probably 15 or 16, when I got on my classic literature kick. And I still think the illustrations are weird and cool.

Fast forward another 10 years, and it’s mid-October (yes, these blog posts are written in advance. Sometimes even more than a month in advance), and I’m scrounging through my books looking for anything remotely creepy to read in an effort to be festive. I know Jane Eyre isn’t really creepy (though, secreted lunatics always make stories a little bit creepy), but the illustrations have always stuck with me, and so, Jane Eyre made the cut. Plus, I had very limited options.

I remembered most of the general plot of Charlotte Brontë’s work, but I had events out of order in my mind, so I was glad to read it again.

Jane is an orphan, and we meet her living with an aunt and cousins who dislike her, simply because she is poor, orphaned, and not one of them. It’s not long before Jane is sent off to boarding school, where she is much better off. Upon completion of her schooling, Jane advertises for and accepts a position as a governess, and flourishes in the position, teaching a young French orphan in a large mansion.

But Jane finds herself falling for her usually-absent employer, who, upon meeting Jane, seems to take up residence in Thornfield Hall. But not everything is as it seems, and just when Jane is in the cusp of achieving happiness, everything falls to pieces, and she steals away in the wee hours of the morning, looking to put herself back together. Alone, penniless, and without friends or family, all seems hopeless for Jane, until the kindness of a stranger sets in motion a second rise to happiness Jane never dreamed would be hers.

The first thing to note about this book is that it is a classic, which means, it can be a slog to get through. Modern novels don’t contain nearly as much soliloquizing as the classics. And yet, this very thing is often what gives classic novels their unique voice.

With everything that happens to poor Jane, it seems like Brontë took to heart the suggestion to constantly make things worse for the character. And yet, it moves the story along, and shows the character of Jane in a way that is more believable than a character description.

What makes this such a good story, I think, is that Jane suffers abuse upon abuse, and yet still holds herself to such standards that she will not take happiness where it isn’t moral to do so, perhaps because she is so used to having little to no happiness at all. Jane’s character is an interesting case study of how seeking approval can become an obsession when approval is rarely given.

Muppets Meet Classics: The Phantom of the Opera

This may be the best book I’ve read all year.

Naturally, as a children’s book, Erik Forrest Jackson had to make some adjustments to Gaston Leroux’s original Phantom of the Opera story, but overall, the story is largely the same.

Young Piggy Daae is coming in to stardom at the Opera, thanks to her secret and mysterious Koozebanian of Music. But when Piggy starts getting the attention of her childhood sweetheart, Viscount Kermit de Chagny, the Koozebanian gets jealous and spirits her away to his underground carnival. Kermit must find the secret entrance and rescue his love.

This book is absolutely full of puns that probably will go over the heads of any children reading it, and yet that was the best part of the book. It’s the kind of book I dream of writing. It’s so much fun.

Now, I haven’t read the original book, only ever seen the movie, but I think any creative liberties taken were well within the realm of reasonable, since this is a children’s book. And the general story is still the same.

If you’re looking for an easy read, or even something silly to share with your older child, this is it. Jackson’s writing is easy and conversational, funny and relatable. You won’t regret reading this book. But you’ll probably wish that it was a movie, too.

Revival

Horror has never really been my thing, and for that reason, I’ve never picked up a Stephen King book.

I decided it would be worth trying, though, and I’ve had one sitting at home for a while. As I came to an end of what I had lined up for reading, I decided it would be fitting to slot him in for the month of October.

Revival is the story of Jamie Morton, a young boy who is the first in town to meet the new preacher, Charles Jacobs. The two have a unique collection, but when tragedy strikes and Jacobs leaves town, Jamie thinks that’s the end of it.

Yet somehow, their paths keep crossing. And Jamie soon realizes that Jacobs’ obsession with his secret electricity isn’t the same harmless tinkering from when he was a child. Jamie can’t quite tell if Jacobs is doing good or evil, or if he even cares. But Jamie has another battle– one between stopping Jacobs, and satisfying his own curiosity.

This book, I know, was not really a horror novel, more of a supernatural suspense. But I expect it was a good sample of King’s writing, and I enjoyed it immensely.

King draws you along through Jamie’s narrative, and even though it’s just a story of one man’s bad choices, somehow it’s still a page turner. King drops just enough hints about what Jacobs is really doing that you can’t stop reading for want of knowing just what’s going on.

The style and even the storyline reminded me of the Paradise novels by Ted Dekker, only a little edgier (granted, I haven’t read those books in probably 10 years, so I could be a little off).

All in all, I enjoyed it. I may not be ready to dive right in to IT, but I might be able to dip my toes in to a little bit creepier books.

Pretty Baby

I’m quickly coming to believe that Mary Kubica always delivers a twisting thriller of the utmost quality.

Pretty Baby opens with a Chicago woman noticing a homeless girl and her baby waiting for the train. Heidi Wood is an empathetic woman, and when she gets the chance to help Willow and her baby Ruby, Heidi can’t say no.

Heidi’s husband and daughter are less than thrilled to have Willow and Ruby in the house, not knowing her past nor what she might be capable of. But while Willow may not be as she seems, she’s not the only one with issues.

Kubica is two for two with page turning thrillers that keep you guessing. You know certain things, going in, but you still wonder. But more than anything, Kubica writes complex characters. They aren’t what they seem on the surface. But as you get deeper into their minds, you see that they are so much more than good or bad. The things that motivate them might lead to bed decisions, and an act of kindness might be a cover for selfish behavior.

Pretty Baby doesn’t have any heroes and villains. And while things get wrapped up in the end, you’re likely to have a lot of mixed feelings about the way things turn out. But for me, that’s part of what makes it enjoyable to read, wrestling with how much a person’s past can excuse their behavior, and where to draw the line.

I’m going to have to start following her work closer, instead of waiting to get throwaways from work.

Driving Miss Norma

In a wild transition from what I’ve recently been reading, my latest read has stirred up an awful wanderlust in me, and its not going away any time soon.

I was sent the book Driving Miss Norma by my mom. I didn’t really know what it was about, but my mom doesn’t usually send me crappy books, so I didn’t hesitate to add it to the top of my list.

Driving Miss Norma is the story of a 90-year-old woman who, upon discovering she has cancer, decided she’s rather live the last bit of her life traveling the United States with her son and daughter-in-law, saying “yes” to whatever new experiences life offers her.

Written by her son, Tim Bauerschmidt, and daughter-in-law, Ramie Liddle, Driving Miss Norma is an inspiring story about living in the moment and saying yes to life. Whether it was meeting and opening up to strangers, participating in the town parade, or simply trusting her son to safely wheel her around a National Park, in the final year of her life Miss Norma and her family chose to embrace the opportunities life gave them, instead of living in their comfort zones.

While not all of us (not even most) can live the nomad life in an RV, a close look will reveal plenty of opportunities to step out and experience more than the comfortable, predictable life we’ve built. Whether it’s to recover from loss, to find oneself, or to simply live instead of just exist, Miss Norma serves to remind readers that life can be so much more, if we just say “yes” instead of sticking to the comfortable “no.”

As a creature of habit who doesn’t do change well, this is particularly meaningful to me, reminding me that, when life feel stale and stuck, maybe I should find something new and scary to say “yes” to, instead of remaining in the slump.

And reading, even just briefly, about all the places they adventured to definitely had me checking to see how many short weekend trips I could make to various national parks without having to dip into vacation time at work.

Even though it’s a bittersweet story, Driving Miss Norma leaves you with a smile on your face and a resolve in your heart to love your family, make sure they know it, and to embrace life as fully as you can. Why wait until tomorrow to make the memories you could have today?

A Song of Fire and Ice: A Series Review

I’m not sure which was worse, not having read the Song of Fire and Ice series (Game of Thrones), or now having read it, and knowing that it could be the rest of forever before I get closure in the form of a book.

George R.R. Martin writes a sweeping saga full of love, lust, violence, intrigue, betrayal and so much more, each book adding layer upon layer to the story.

In short, it’s the story of a country fracturing after the death of the king. In this unstable time, many and more people rise up to play the game of thrones– a game in which you either win, or you die. And when you play the game of thrones, you’d better expect a lot of collateral damage.

Throughout the series, we watch several of the main characters grow from children into men and women who are faced with impossible tasks and impossible decisions, and yet they decide, anyway. Decide to seek revenge, to become a new person, to save lives through unpopular alliances, and to turn a city’s social norms upside down.

One thing I appreciate is how not every good guy is a hero, and not every bad guy is a villain. While many of the main characters are fairly black and white, in terms of where they stand morally, there are quite a few characters who come in shades of grey, and we see from their perspectives as well. I will grant Martin that it can’t be easy to write such a long series from so many different view points, and draw it together into a cohesive narrative. It certainly takes time. (But does it take 8 years? Does it really? I feel bad for everyone who started this series 21 years ago and is still waiting for closure.)

While we’re all due to get some closure with the final season of the show (at some point), I wonder how much the latest season of the show has divulged from Martin’s plans for the book. Already I noticed quite a few things different (from what I can remember), and naturally quite a bit abridged from the page to the screen. When I finished A Dance With Dragons, I was a little shocked to find that my characters weren’t quite where I expected them to be, after having seen the show. And it’s a little disappointing to know that some twists in the final promised book have no doubt been, and will be, ruined because the show gets there first.

But overall, I enjoyed the books. While I know some people find them hard to get into, and certainly some characters’ chapters are more fun to read than others, I slipped into the world of Fire and Ice with ease. Everyone dies, and that’s OK with me. Some of the sex is over the top and gratuitous (and Martin writes those scenes like a stereotypical male author, which makes me roll my eyes more than anything), but not nearly so much as the tv show.

Part of me wishes I’d read the series before watching the show, so I could more fully enjoy the depth of the intrigue. But another part of me wishes I hadn’t read the books until the show was done and the final book at least had a release date. But I suppose that’s the nature of the Game of Thrones. If you’ve lost everything to win, did you really win?