|Curio, by Evangeline Denmkark
ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley
in exchange for a fair and honest review
A Draw of Kings, by Patrick W. Carr
Genre: Teen / Christian Fiction / Fantasy
Reason for Reading: This was a galley copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This is the third book in a trilogy that I have been enjoying.
Synopsis (May contain slight spoilers for previous books in the trilogy): In this third, and final, book of the Staff and Sword trilogy, the war for Illustra begins. In order to maintain order within the Judica, Errol must retrieve The Book that was left behind in Merakh. Meanwhile, Adora and Liam must journey to the Shadowlands to make a pact with these newly discovered allies. A feeling of dread descends upon everyone, as the people of Illustra realize they are surrounded by vast armies of enemies and demon spawn. They must discover who their king and savior is – or else the barrier will never be restored and the demons will destroy Illustra.
My Thoughts: This book was every bit as good as the previous two – and it tied off most of the loose ends quite well. For fantasy fans, this book was packed with battles, intrigue, foreign lands, and ranging demon-spawn. I was also quite impressed with Carr’s ability to write religious allegory. He deftly got his message across by showing it within the story instead of writing lectures into the dialog as many authors do. In fact, I bumped this book up an extra half a star (something I rarely do) because I admire how much finesse it takes to write a good allegory without sermonizing.
One of the allegorical issues presented is the fallibility of humans (as well as the organizations that we create). The church, in Carr’s world, was composed of many good men (as well as a few villains) who often made mistakes and were suffering under misunderstandings of God which had accumulated after the loss of their religious book. This is the message that I originally interpreted as criticisms of the Catholic Church in my review of Hero’s Lot, though after reading this book the criticism feels more forgiving. The message is: no one is perfect, we are all human, and we’re going to make mistakes. We can’t judge everyone in a group based upon the mistakes of some of its leaders. I’m not sure if this is the message that Carr intended, but it is how I felt when I read A Draw of Kings.
The other allegorical message that I felt was done tremendously well related to faith and doubt. There was a moment when Adora as climbing a cliff and Liam was behind her, and even though she knew Liam was there to catch her if she fell, she suddenly doubted that he was there at all – that he had ever been there. And then he carried her. I’m sorry if that is a spoiler, but I couldn’t help but point out the beauty of that moment. Because it’s so true, isn’t it? It’s so easy to lose faith – even though this loss of faith is irrational when viewed from the outside-the-moment.
My interpretation of this story has evolved so much while reading this third book, that I feel I ought to go back and revise some of the criticisms I made about the second book. Of course, I always have to include criticisms, but…. Which brings me around to my criticisms of A Draw of Kings. My first complaint is how violent it was. I felt that the good guys (Adora especially) were sometimes more violent than they ought to have been. Of course, this could simply be another way in which we are only human – and therefore fallible. So this is only a small criticism. The other criticism is that I felt threads were dropped in relation to the countries other than Merakh. There needed to be a little more tie-up after that much build-up. But that, too, is only a minor issue since the major threads were tied up wonderfully.
Overall I was greatly pleased with this book, and I will recommend it to all of my friends who read books of this genre. In fact, I’m hoping it wins some awards – it’s well-deserving of the Christy Award for Young Adult literature.
The Question that Never Goes Away, by Philip Yancy
Genre: Christian Living
Reason for Reading: A galley copy of this book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I wanted to read this book because I’m interested in theodicy, and I’ve been pretty impressed with the bits of Yancy’s writing that I’ve seen.
Synopsis: After over a decade of traveling the world giving lectures on Where is God When it Hurts, Philip Yancy has decided to revisit this subject in his most recent book The Question That Never Goes Away. I have not read his earlier book, so I can’t compare the messages of each, but I assume the newer book has a similar message to the older, with recent examples and insights that he has gathered since writing the first book.
He starts by describing two different types of disaster: the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan and the horrifying 4-year seige of Sarajevo in 1992. The first example is a natural disaster, but the second is man-made. Such disasters beg the question “Why?” Why would a God who loves us allow such destruction?
Yancy points out that atheists have a field day with such calamity – using it as evidence that God doesn’t exist. For, clearly, a loving God wouldn’t allow such things to happen; therefore it is erroneous to believe in God. But Yancy counters: if, indeed, this is an impersonal universe of random indifference, why are the atheists so shocked and upset about someone else’s tragedy? Clearly, their morals are shaped by the philosophical framework of Christianity.
My thoughts: I don’t really think this is an adequate counter to the claim that God doesn’t exist. First of all, Christianity is not the only religion which is founded on the power of love. Second, there is no evidence that God created our revulsion to other peoples’ tragedy. Such revulsion can be explained by evolution of social behavior. Humans might simply have an instinct to protect our neighbors because we are better able to survive in a group than alone. On the other hand, I don’t think asking the age-old question “Why?” proves God doesn’t exist, either. To think so is a bit naive.
Yancy continues by explaining that there’s nothing wrong with asking the question “Why?” In fact, it is a question asked over and over again in the Bible. God expects such questions, and he understands our grief and frustration at getting no answer. BUT, He still doesn’t provide an answer. Not in the Bible. And not in the world.
Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.
Yancy suggests that we shift our focus from cause to response. When disaster strikes, we should appreciate the outpouring of humanitarian aide that comes from individuals, communities, and countries. Yes – some of this humanitarian aide can be poorly planned, but notice what lies at the heart: love. We, as human beings, want to reach out and help those who are suffering. So where is God when it hurts? He is in those friends, neighbors, and complete strangers who reach out to help the suffering. God hates our suffering as much as we do – but he loves us so much that he sent his own son to suffer among us. Because we can relate to a suffering God.
Finally, Yancy criticizes the claim that God sends suffering in order to build character. He points out that Jesus healed the afflicted. He never once said to them “But think of how character-building this experience is!” Yancy points out that God has promised to redeem our suffering. This does not mean that God sends suffering, but that when tragedy occurs, He inspires and directs good to result from the evil. Thus, we do gain character from suffering.
My thoughts: Well, I know for a fact that good often comes out of bad situations in my life. I don’t know if that is only because I like to be optimistic and think of how I’ve learned from an experience, or become stronger, or had a good experience that otherwise never would have happened. I could just as easily dwell on the tragedy and what good that might have happened if tragedy hadn’t occurred. If I did so, I would certainly live a more miserable life. But would I be any more right or wrong? Regardless, it makes me happy to think that God redeems my suffering. I’d rather not be miserable, thanks.
My thoughts: This is a very difficult book to read because Yancy dwells on quite a few tragic events in detail. However, the book has a strong message and is written with a very humble and personal air. Yancy impresses me with his intelligent observations and powerful examples. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the question of why God allows suffering. I am eager to read more of Yancy’s work.
The Hero’s Lot, by Patrick W. Carr
Genre: Young Reader Christian Fantasy
Reason for Reading: This is the second book in a series I began last year. The first was quite interesting – reviewed here – and I’m eager for the third to come out later this year.
Synopsis: In this second book of The Staff and the Sword series, Errol is compelled by powerful members of the conclave to go to a dangerous land and kill the traitor Sarin Valon. With a mixture of stubbornness and bravery, the princess follows Errol on his dangerous journey.
My thoughts: This book didn’t have quite the flare of the first in the series, but it was nevertheless quite enjoyable. The adventure was much more clearly laid out in this book, which made it less mysterious than the first, but the plot was thicker as a result. The story emphasizes the importance of forgiveness, and raises interesting questions about whether Church authority is “good” just because it follows conservative values that have worked for centuries. I tend to believe that Carr’s church is symbolic for the Catholic Church, and the hints of church-shattering philosophical changes that will come in the next book symbolize the conversion to Protestantism or perhaps simply the disgust many people have these days about the sex scandals in the Catholic Church. However, that’s a message intended for adults, I suspect, and the target audience – ages 12-15 will probably mostly miss it. The dangerous foreign land that Errol traveled to clearly symbolized Egypt / Muslims – Carr included some rather direct hints to that effect. I felt a little sad that the people of that land were generalized as evil, except for those that had been converted by God’s Christian word. Those few characters who weren’t pure evil seemed rather weak and a little selfish. Messages like this always make me sad – especially in children’s books – but I understand that it’s difficult to write an epic fantasy without having a hint of xenophobia. Someone has to be “evil” right? I’m not sure how this problem can be gracefully avoided. At the very least, there were “bad” people and “good” people on both sides of the border, which is as much as I can rightfully wish for, I suppose. 🙂
Merlin’s Blade, by Robert Treskillard
Reason for Reading: A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Genre: Young Adult Christian Fantasy
Merlin has been living peacefully as the blind son of a village blacksmith when druids invade the area with an evil stone that usurps the minds of the villagers and turns them against God. Merlin is the only villager who is unaffected by the stone’s powers. His problems become worse when the High King Uther and his infant son Arthur arrive in the village and are attacked by the druids. Merlin must save his village as well as the young prince. This was a fun retelling of the young Merlin’s back-story. It’s marketed as a Young Adult Christian Fiction, though I think it could be enjoyed by a wider audience. Merlin’s Blade isn’t “preachy,” which is a complaint of many Christian Fiction books, though it does (understandably) perceive the worship of a stone to be an “evil” act. The druids are portrayed as mostly bad (or at least mislead) people, but I appreciated that some of the druids were actually rather likable. I’m a fan of Christian fiction writers who are able to see the humans behind the non-Christian characters. So, if you’re a fan of retellings (especially YA retellings), I think this is a book you might enjoy. It took some interesting liberties with the story of Merlin and Arthur, but it was also rather fun to see how that sword got stuck in the stone to begin with. 🙂
I’ll be waiting for the next book in the series!
Reason for Reading: I’m finishing up the Narnia chronicles in order-of-publication. This is the penultimate book. 🙂 I chose to read this book NOW because of the Classics Children’s Literature Challenge.
When Digory’s evil magician uncle tricks Polly into entering another world, Digory must rescue her. Their adventure heightens when they discover an evil witch and then witness the creation of Narnia. This is the first time I’ve read this adorable classic. I’ve heard it was the book that Lewis meant to start the series with, but it was so difficult to write that he put it off until he had developed Narnia a bit more. It’s probably good that he did, because I enjoyed seeing references to the earlier books…like the story of how the light-post ended up in the middle of a forest in Narnia. 🙂 I look forward to re-reading this book later (this year?) when I read them in chronological order. 😀
2012 Book 73: From Darkness Won, by Jill Williamson. (5/6/2012)
Reason for Reading: Third book in the Blood of Kings Trilogy
My Review 3/5 stars
In this final installment of the Blood of Kings trilogy, Vrell and Achan battle their adolescent romantic problems as well as the forces of evil. I was happy with the outcome of the book, but felt the story dragged a bit. Like I said in my review of the second book, To Darkness Fled, although the story is fantastic, this trilogy does not have enough plot to last three books. It could have made such a sweet standalone book! On the other hand, the characters are very well-developed and lovable (even though their adolescent vices are a tad frustrating at times). And there was a good story to it. The trilogy would appeal only to readers of Christian Fiction—the religious message gets to the point of sermonizing at a couple of points.
2012 Book 68: To Darkness Fled, by Jill Williamson (4/28/2012)
Reason for Reading: Second book in a trilogy
My Review 3/5 stars
In this second installment of The Blood of Kings trilogy (first book reviewed here), our heroes Achan and Vrell gather an army with the help of the Old Kingsguard Knights. The romantic tension between Achan and Vrell intensifies. I didn’t feel that this book was as good as the first. The religious message got a bit heavy-handed, and the plot barely moved forward at all. Sure, progress was made, but it was progress that was outlined by Sir Gavin as their “future plans” in the end of the first book. There were only two small plot-thickening events. On the other hand, there was much character development, and the reader becomes very familiar with the setting (i.e. which cities are where, who’s in charge of them, who’s on our side). I was also a little irked by the cliffhanger ending. I’m not a big fan of cliffhangers—I lose my patience with them quickly, especially if the entire series hasn’t been published. Luckily, this series has been published so I was able to start the third (and last) book with only a few grumblings. Despite these shortcomings, I think the story is very good, and the characters are well developed for a young adult novel. I think it may have worked out better had Williamson shortened the trilogy into ONE book, and edited out a lot of stuff. I realize editing is hard, but there’s really only enough plot for one book! Maybe the third book will thicken the plot a bit more, though. 🙂
2012 Book 66: The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels (4/24/2012)
Reason for Reading Am interested in reading a few of Pagels’ books, and I thought this was the best place to start
My Review 4/5 stars
Pagels objectively introduces the subject of the Gnostic Gospels—she describes the history of the texts, some basic differences between Gnostic beliefs and Orthodox beliefs, and then summarizes by saying that Christianity would have developed quite differently (or perhaps even fizzled out like other mystic fad religions) if Gnosticism had survived. She supports neither Orthodoxy or Gnosticism in this book, but provides an objective historian’s view on the two faiths. This is a fantastic introduction to Gnosticism, and it lacks the sensationalism of many Gnostic scholars today. Highly recommended.
2012 Book 52: The Book of Mormon, by Joseph Smith (3/22/2012)
Reason for Reading: I like to read scripture books from a variety of religions because I am interested in how they compare and what sort of message they relay. This book was given to me by a couple of Mormon elders who knocked on my door last year. “Elder,” by the way, means that they were 20 year old boys who weren’t allowed to enter my home without having an older male as an escort because apparently I am a threat to their innocence. Ah! I feel so sophisticated now! The fact that the escorts were meant to protect THEM and not me. 😉
My Review 3/5 stars
Although I think it’s a good idea to educate oneself on other religions (especially those religions which have an undeserved bad reputation), I’m not sure reading the Book of Mormon is the best way to learn about LDS. It was dense, difficult reading. It starts out with some wanderings in foreign lands, then they have lots of wars, then Jesus comes and saves them all, then they have a bunch more wars. Half the sentences begin with “And it came to pass that…” There are some passages of uplifting spirituality, but these passages were few and bogged down by a lot of unexciting depictions of war. Personally, I think the best way to learn about LDS is to talk to some missionaries and THEN (once you’ve gotten a good idea of what the religion is about) read the Book of Mormon if you’re still interested. But that’s just my humble opinion.