Jael’s #CBR #5: The Story of My Face by Kathy Page

After much procrastinating, I’m finally going to get my reviews done.                                                        Image

The Story of My Face is the story of the past and present of Natalie Baron.  When she was thirteen, she became involved with a religious sect that followed the teachings of Thomas Envall.  Neglected by her mother, Natalie grows close to Barbara and her family, who invite her to an Envallist retreat.  Natalie is clearly an outsider there and her presence leads to conflict and division amongst the church members.  It also stirs up painful memories for Barbara, which eventually lead to the tragedy that disfigured Natalie’s face.

As an adult Natalie becomes a lecturer in religious history.  She goes to the birthplace of Envallism in Finland, to research Thomas Envall.  There is still tension between Natalie and the Envallists, who remember the trouble that was caused in the past.

I was interested in this book as I studied religion and am interested in stories about extreme sects.  And it partially takes place in Finland, which you don’t get in many books.  I was curious to find out what had happened to Natalie’s face, and why she had such an uncomfortable relationship with the Envallists.  The tension is slowly built throughout the book until everything finally unravels at the end.

I wish the author had gone into some more detail about a few things.  When Natalie is thirteen, she just walks up to Barbara off the street, and is suddenly like part of their family.  I thought it happened too quick, and I re-read that part to make sure I hadn’t missed anything that explained why she went to them or why they were so accepting of her.  There weren’t many details about what the Envallists believe, other than that they ban pictures.  There is also a seduction that comes out of nowhere.  Despite these minor complaints, I did enjoy the book.

3 stars

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #82: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

bitter kingdomThis was a great ending to a great series. Rae Carson sets a standard for writing competency that other lesser YA authors would be wise to measure themselves up to. It might not sound like a compliment when I say that Rae Carson’s best quality as a writer is her dependability, but it is. While her writing style doesn’t really lend itself to WOW moments, and those she tries to create fall somewhat flat, the underlying strength of her characters, her prose, and her world-building provides such a good foundation that her stories flow along smoothly even without the kick of a WOW moment.

And honestly, that might be kind of the point here.

The Bitter Kingdom concludes Elisa’s arc in a very satisfying manner. Elisa and her companions journey into enemy territory to rescue the scrumdiddlyumptious Hector, wrapping up plotlines as they journey back to ELisa’s kingdom. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say while none of the resolutions were earth-shattering, they all made sense and fit in with the overarching themes of Carson’s story.

The focus of the Fire and Thorns was never the war or the political alliances or the religion and mysticism. It was Elisa. Her growth from the first book is kind of astounding, and even more astounding is Carson’s ability to have her main character grow and change so gradually that we barely notice it as it’s happening. It’s only after something happens to call attention to it that we realize, hey, something’s different here.

And I absolutely loved that SPOILER (highlight to read): the reveal of the purpose of Elisa’s Godstone was so anticlimactic. This whole series we — and the characters — have been laboring under the impression that Elisa having that Godstone in her belly would play a significant part in the endgame of the series, but it doesn’t. Elisa’s destiny is essentially to dig a giant hole. All the rest of that stuff, the stuff that’s filled three books? She did it all on her own. And that is really nifty, and not just in the way it’s playing off expected genre tropes, but for Elisa’s character as well.

If you like YA and/or fantasy, this is definitely a series you should check out. It’s smart and well-written and it’s got a good head on its shoulders, even if it isn’t as flashy as others. Looking forward to Carson’s next series very much.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #21: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I forgot I hadn’t reviewed this book and I finished it quite a while ago, so I have to go into the reaches of my memory for my thoughts. I hadn’t read much Neil Gaiman, and I had high expectations because of solid recommendations from some fellow readers and I was not disappointed.

American Gods is the telling of the battle between the two factions of gods in america: the original deities that traveled with our ancestors vs the gods of today, the things that we worship such as Internet and Media. They battle for the affections of man, the old guys skating buy with remnants of belief while the gods of today are flush with power and greed. The concept alone is sobering and profound and combined with Gaiman’s gift for rich and thoughtful prose an impressive combination.

“None of this can actually be happening. If it makes you more comfortable, you could simply think of it as a metaphor. Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an iconist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you – even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, triumphs over all opposites.”

The unreliable narrator/protagonist is a common literary device, but this book boasts the opposite. The main character, Shadow, is reliable, a rock in a sea of turmoil, but everyone else is full of secrets and deception. When he must be dishonest, he somehow still does so honestly, which makes an interesting contrast and foundation. In fact, he suits his name well as he is really more of an echo of the action of all the other characters and a pawn in the game.

Gaiman’s imagination and creativity simply blew me away in this epic battle and you are compelled to read on, though rooting for a side isn’t easy. Will anyone win? Should anyone win? What does winning even mean? These are the questions you are hoping to have answered and without giving much away, I for one walked away a little unsatisfied and conflicted. But like the subject matter, there are no clear answers and the unease I felt was welcome and to me a sign of a damn good book.

taralovesbooks’ #CBR5 Review #31: Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman

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Cannonball Read V: Book #31/52
Published: 2011
Pages: 444
Genre: Nonfiction

I’m officially burned out on Scientology books. I actually bought this one before Going Clear, but figured since I already bought it, I might as well read it to. I figured it would be pretty redundant since Going Clear was so thorough, but I was surprised to find some new stuff in Janet Reitman’s book.

I’m just going to say this again: Scientology is scary. I don’t really care what religion people want to believe in, but when a religion refuses to allow people to leave that’s when it starts crossing the line over into cult territory (at least for me). Although Scientology constantly is refuting the claims of abuse from ex-members, I’m finding it really hard to believe it’s not true with all the first-hand accounts. And those are just from the people they haven’t scared or paid off to keep quiet.

Read the rest in my blog.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #34: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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I make the mistake sometimes of thinking that a novel of fewer than 300 pages will be a quick read. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson proves the lie. It is a very dense 280 page novel written as a letter by a 75-year-old midwestern preacher to his 7-year-old son circa 1955. It’s heavy on religion and theology, and it’s sometimes repetitive, which is perhaps not too surprising with a septuagenarian narrator. Robinson makes her preacher John Ames a kindly, gentle, flawed, but likable fellow whose family history spans the Civil War, the influenza epidemic, the Depression, and the two world wars. But those earth-shaking events seem to make less of an impression on him and his flock than the vagaries of their common, every day lives and relationships in the small prairie town of Gilead.

John Ames is writing this letter to his little boy in preparation for his own death. It’s sort of an explanation of his life and an apology for not leaving more for the boy and his young mother. It’s also John Ames’ attempt to come to terms with his impending death and making sure that his spiritual house is in order. In the course of the rambling letter, he discusses his grandfather, a preacher and abolitionist who helped settle Kansas and fought in the Civil War; his father, a preacher who embraced pacifism; his brother, who rejected religion for rationalism; his friend preacher Boughton, who is also old and dying; and Boughton’s wayward son, John Ames Boughton, godson of John Ames. John Ames struggles with anger (as his father and grandfather before him) and his distrust of his godson, recently returned to Gilead for reasons no one seems to understand.

Naturally, as this is a rambling letter, we do not get a linear story line, and there are certain mysteries about John Ames’ father, grandfather and godson that take some time to clear up. While the novel can sometimes be ponderous and drag, there is at its heart a pure and forgiving love that better exemplifies John Ames’ Christian theology than any of the texts he is fond of quoting. Gilead won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, and while I liked the story, I can’t say I loved it. I found it okay, but it’s probably outstanding to those who enjoy theology and have a lot more time to reflect on it than I do.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #53: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

3.5 stars

Amal is sixteen, and about to start her second year as the only Muslim at a posh private high school, when she has an epiphany while watching Friends.She decides to start wearing the hibab full time, fully aware that this will attract all sorts of attention, and that it may be the most popular of decisions. Her parents, worried that it will give her too much negative attention, try to make her change her mind, but the more she thinks about it, the more resolved she is. Of course, when she shows up in school, the principal and a lot of the teachers think she’s been coerced into it by her parents, or religious leaders, and she has to be very firm about the fact that it’s her own choice, her own decision, and that they can’t prohibit her from her personal expression of her faith, no matter what the school regulations about uniforms state.

Most of her friends, while a bit puzzled at first, are extremely supportive. Only the mean girl clique try to bully her about it, but as Amal points out to herself and her friends, now they have something specific to tease her about. Amal is more concerned about the opinions of Adam, her lab partner, and one of the cutest and most popular boys in school. She has a massive crush on him, and would hate for him to see her as some sort of religious fanatic just because she chooses to wear a head scarf. More on my blog.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #27: Buddhism Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen

Although I’m kind of fascinated by religion, it’s never really worked for me. I’m too practical and honBuddhism Plain and Simpleest with myself to pretend I believe the stories–even in a metaphorical way. I can see the community and support that can come from church, but I also see the hypocrisy and judgment that often comes along with it and it turns me off. But I’ve never looked into Buddhism before. I don’t remember what first prodded my interest, but it seemed like a philosophy that would fit better with my personality. So, I picked up Buddhism Plain & Simple (1997) by Steve Hagen after reading some reviews on Amazon. And now I am intrigued and confused.

The introduction sucked me in, stating that a lot of us feel that we are intelligent creatures living in a meaningless world; that we try to gain security through money, power, education etc., but that real security is impossible. However, Hagen states that it’s our minds that are causing all this fear and uncertainty, and we can change that through enlightenment. He goes on to say that Buddhism is not about making up stories as explanations, but it’s about people finding the Truth for themselves. I appreciated that Buddhism didn’t include another creation myth, and I liked the idea of people finding things out for themselves rather than being told how and what to think.

Read the rest of my review here.