Tag: religion

Sep 29

The Sparrow Readalong Finish Line

Readalong, Religion, Science 17

Greetings Bookworms!

As you know I’ve been participating in a readalong of The Sparrow hosted by Trish of Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity. I took a short break from reading this bad boy in the midst of Banned Books Week and Diversiverse, but now that those are in the history books, as it were, I was able to finish reading The Sparrow and what a ride it was! WARNING: If you hate animated gifs, run away now!

sparrow-Readalong

Where do I even begin? Thanks to some heavy foreshadowing, I knew how things were going to end up… In a manner of speaking. But the way they got there? Holy crap balls! I did NOT see that coming! As far as romantic entanglements I was like:

Rachel_shocked

 

After which I thought, “well, okay, that’s probably for the best then.” But then there were some journeys and some revelations once people got back and I was like:

shocked-gif-529-16641-hd-wallpapers

And THEN we found out the nature of the relationship between the very nice folks with tails and the rather suspicious folks with tails and I was like:

Shocked

Are you KIDDING ME?! And then the rest of the story came out and I was like:

Love-and-Other-DrugsSo basically, The Sparrow shocked, appalled, and ripped me to pieces. And I liked it! The hype is well-deserved, kids! Mary Doria Russeel is the real deal. Big thanks to Trish for putting this party together!

Let’s talk, Bookworms! What’s the last supremely well-plotted book you read?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I will NOT be using it to attempt contact with alien life forms, unless I can be assured that they’re only the NICE FOLKS WITH TAILS.*

 

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Jul 23

How To Keep Katie From Reading Your Book (Top Ten Tuesday)

Top Ten Tuesday 98

Salutations Bookworms!

It’s Tuesday and I’m back in action! The ladies of The Broke and the Bookish have asked us to list the top ten words or phrases that will keep us from picking up a book. (Coincidentally this topic is the counterpart to to a previous Top Ten Tuesday, which you can find heeeere.) In case you were wondering what topics I’m not into, today is your lucky day. Ready, Freddy?

TTT3W1. Self Help. Yeah, so there’s a chance that I don’t like being told what to do. There’s definitely an audience for these type of books, but the audience isn’t me. (This goes for diet books too… Actually, it especially goes for diet books.)

2. Christian. I know right? This makes me sound like I’m hating on religion. I’m not. It’s just… I REALLY don’t like being told what to do. The rules I apply to self help and diet books also apply to religion. In the same way I’d avoid a missionary knocking on my door, I avoid these types of books. (Jim wants me to work in a reference to Kirk Cameron, and I’m grasping at straws. But Growing PainsNow that was a great show. Because of Alan Thicke… And Boner.)

3. Paranormal. I most definitely have come across books that are exceptions to this rule, but it’s not my go-to genre. Vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, ghosts, and whatnot are only welcome in moderation.

I ain't afraid of no ghosts. (Source)

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. (Source)

4. Dragons. Unless you’re the Khaleesi or Harry Potter, I don’t want to hang out with your dragons. Probably. Don’t quote me on that.

5.  Military. I have the utmost respect for the armed forces. However. I don’t get the inside jokes, I don’t understand the hierarchy, and I think I’d be emotionally scarred by reading graphic battle scenes on a regular basis.

6. Cookbooks. I am capable of cooking. That does not mean that I enjoy it. Also, Jim is a picky eater, so new recipes throw him for a loop. Cookbooks full of Katie proof recipes and easy things? Sure, at least that’s practical. But Julia Child? You can keep all that souffle nonsense to yourself. My favorite “cookbook” is a collection of recipes my Mother-in-Law compiled as a wedding gift. They’re all the family favorites, complete with modifications, shortcuts, and notes on how not to ruin it. I don’t want to brag or anything, but when I put my mind to it, I can make a mean jello salad.

What is that? Delicious is what that is. (I've never taken a photo of my own pistachio salad so I had to borrow from wikipedia.)

What is that? Delicious is what that is. (I’ve never taken a photo of my own pistachio salad so I had to borrow from wikipedia.)

7. Politics. Much like religion, I don’t like discussing politics in polite company. I probably wouldn’t read a book written by a politician. I probably wouldn’t read a fictionalized account of Washington insider scandals. I probably would have been completely bored by the long discussions of Swedish politics in the Millenium Trilogy (Oh wait, I totally was!)

8. Leopard Seals. Don’t expect me to have any sympathy at all for these penguin eating savages. These aren’t even the cute seals that sometimes get clubbed for coats or whatever. These are enormous, ugly, giant toothed villains of epic proportion. Circle of life my fanny. I’d embrace a world overrun by penguins.

Magestic! (Source)

Magestic! (Source)

9. Sports. Yeah. I don’t dig sports. If nobody is doing a back flip, I’m not really interested. (Which is to say I probably would read a book on gymnastics because back flips are the COOLEST!)

10. Coleslaw. Why does coleslaw even exist? It is so yucky! Whose idea was that awful white dressing anyway? Cabbage and I get along just fine without you, icky dressing. Just stay in your jar, okay? (I may be running out of legitimate book topics and just listing things I don’t like…)

What about you, bookworms? Is there a word or phrase that will send you running from a book?

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Apr 19

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley… And Katie's Phobias

Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Family, Psychological, Religion 42

Have you heard the good news, Bookworms?

Have I ever told you about my intense, paralyzing fear of religious cults? The Children of the Corn is the most terrifying movie I have ever seen. I have absolutely no intention of ever reading the book, because that would be giving the creepy preacher kid permission inhabit and chew up my soul. When I saw that I’d been pre-approved for Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley on Netgalley (yes, boys and girls, that means I got another free book!) I was concerned, but like the proverbial curious cat, I couldn’t stop myself from giving it a whirl.

Amity & Sorrow is a novel about a woman named Amaranth who escapes a polygamous religious cult with her two daughters. Her elder daughter is named Sorrow, and believes herself a vessel of holiness and a prophet. Her younger daughter, Amity, is a 12 year old girl who is trying to make sense of her life’s upheaval.

amity&sorrow

Their wrists are strapped together because Sorrow has had too much of the metaphorical kool-aid and is a flight risk…

A little about this cult. This is NOT a fundamentalist Mormon sect, thought that’s certainly what I typically associate with polygamy and prairie dresses.  It appears the patriarch Zachariah originally hailed from such a society, and he’s borrowing some of their traditions to create his own little world. Most notable is that instead of this being a community, it is a SINGLE family (if you’re interested in some fiction about a fundamentalist Mormon sect, check out The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff .) Zachariah is the ONLY husband in a community of FIFTY wives and twenty seven children. There are no elders, organization, or other men (over the age of 16.) Every time Zachariah takes on a new wife, every wife watches him ceremonially consummate his union with the new wife (this part reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale.) Now. I am all for freedom of religion. But making your 49 wives watch you get busy with the new one? That can’t be good for anyone. The cops get wind that in addition to the many. many wives, there is something untoward going on with one or more of the underage children. (SPOILER ALERT- there is.) But polygamy isn’t Zachariah’s only passion. He’s also CONVINCED that doomsday is nigh. When the authorities close in? The temple goes up in flames.

BUT! Amaranth escapes the flames with her daughters in tow. Unfortunately, she totals their getaway car in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle and has to throw herself on the mercy of an unsuspecting farmer. Sure, it will be difficult for them to adjust, but they’ll be okay now, right? A farm’s a good spot for people who are used to an agrarian lifestyle to rebuilt their lives, right? Maybe it would have been, if Sorrow wasn’t so FREAKING CRAZY. That cult and her father did a NUMBER on her and she’s just not stable. Not even a little. She is manipulative and cruel and violent and a bit of a pyromaniac.

Sorrow is a Firestarter, but unlike Drew Barrymore, she needs to use matches (laaaame.)

Sorrow is a Firestarter, but unlike Drew Barrymore, she needs to use matches (laaaame.) Source

Amaranth is an emotional mess because once she’s removed from the cult she sees just how horrifically it has affected her daughters. My dear sweet anti-cult LORD, the girls CANNOT READ! (This also reminds me of The Handmaid’s Tale, but Offred is smart enough not to like it…) It doesn’t really help Sorrow’s decent into madness that her mother decides to spend some quality naked time with Bradley the kindly farmer, but nothing short of intense psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs could really have helped Sorrow.

Sound crazy? It is! It was a tough read for me, subject matter wise, because, cults are my personal phobia (that and swimming in fish infested water…) The story sucks you in, and it certainly got to me. I gasped aloud at several points, much like a coached live studio audience at a sitcom taping (do they do casting calls for audience members? Because I’m REALLY good at the gasp, and the giggle. I’d even throw in a catcall if the need arose…) I understood the characters’ motivations, even if I wanted to inject them with tranquilizers have them committed. I don’t know that I would recommend this to everybody, because it’s got a lot of disturbing elements, but the crowd that enjoys tales of psychological trauma will eat this up. You want something to get under your skin? Amity & Sorrow just might me the book for you!

(PSA: It could seriously upset people who have suffered physically or psychologically at the hands of an oppressive religious group, and it’s probably NOT a good idea for survivors of rape and/or incest.)

So, Bookworms. I am very interested in hearing about YOUR phobias so I don’t feel all vulnerable and whatnot. Share with me. What are some of your greatest fears?

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Nov 12

Have a Little Faith in Me: Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Book Club, Family, Religion 19

This month’s book club for Wine and Whining took place on election night. Our regular venue was inundated with political cocktail parties… Which was annoying. Our venue is normally a terrible open mike night we hide from in a back room while drinking wine and eating desserts. Plus, it’s not like anyone could DO anything except watch voter returns with like 2% of the vote in. See? Whining!

Anyway. The book we read for this month was Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult (oh you like Jodi Picoult? Check out my review of Plain Truth HERE.) From what I could hear over the blare of the bad open mike night, the din of political schmoozing, and the chatter of impecibly coiffed political analysts, it seems that we all agreed on this book (a fairly rare occurrence, I assure you.)

It was great! The novel starts off with us following a somewhat neurotic stay-at-home-mom named Mariah. She builds dollhouses and tiny furniture in her spare time (which CLEARLY is not a pastime you’d expect out of a laid back sort of lady.) She’s married to a traveling salesman named Colin and they have a 7 year old daughter named Faith. Mariah has a history of depression (and really, who doesn’t?) so she copes by keeping her life in methodical order. Each day has its assigned duties, and everything is orderly. Everything is orderly, that is, until she and Faith arrive home during an unscheduled leotard emergency (seriously, is anything involving leotards NOT an emergency?) and catch Colin in a compromising position with another woman.

Mariah crumbles and calls her mom in for backup. Millie arrives and takes care of Faith while Mariah gets back on her meds and spends a week crying in bed. Colin initiates a quickie divorce and takes off to Vegas to marry his newly pregnant mistress. He’s not exactly the best person in the world. Things start to get a little hairy back on the home front when Faith develops a relationship with an imaginary friend she refers to as her “guard.” Mariah was raised Jewish, Colin was raised Christian, but Faith was raised without religion of any kind.

Which is why it gets pretty crazy when her “guard” turns out to be “God.” Faith starts spontaneously healing people and suffering from stigmata. Yep. Stigmata. The literal manifestation of the wounds of Christ. I googled an image of Stigmata, but they were all really disturbing, so I’m saving you some gore here. Also, most of the Stigmata sufferers in google images are Catholic priests and nuns. But Faith? She is a little kid who has ZERO concept of the story of the crucifixion, resurrection, saints, martyrs, or any of the trappings of a Judeo-Christian up-bringing. This fact actually works to her advantage in helping her doctors and therapists  believe the unbelievable. A child from a highly religious household quoting bible verses isn’t really cause for concern… From a kid who’s never SEEN a bible, it’s a bit different. It’s a lot less likely to be a mental disorder and more likely to be… Real.

Enter Ian Fletcher. Ian is a sort of reverse televangelist. He’s like… Mythbusters on religious happenings… Otherwise known as a total buzz kill for the faithful. Colin eventually returns from Vegas and realizes there’s a media circus surrounding his daughter. He decides to sue for custody. I’ve read four Picoult novels now, and every one of them involves a court battle. If you have a violent hatred of lawyers or despise Law & Order, you might want to steer clear of her work. Just a little public service announcement.

Jamie and Adam can sniff out phonies. With science!

I don’t want to be the queen of spoilers, but I will tell you that by the end of the book Faith’s visions seem to have abandoned her. I’m certainly no expert in religious phenomena, but, you know, every reasonably knowledgeable Catholic-raised human knows a few stories of saintly happenings. The Virgin Mary is particularly fond of appearing to children and giving them messages. Unfortunately, celestial visions typically are a short term thing. It’s not like the kids from Fatima got to hang out with Mary every day for the rest of their lives. It’s really up to the reader to interpret Faith’s experiences. Was she really being guided by God? Was she faking it all? Was some other explanation of the events plausible? I myself felt pretty darned warm and fuzzy at the end of this book. The way the story played out gave me a little boost in “faith.”

So Bookworms, let’s be all controversial-like. When presented with the latest instance of Jesus appearing in toast crust or spontaneous healings, are you more the pilgrim type or the skeptic type? Let’s discuss!

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Oct 16

Mythology vs. Technology: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Fantasy, Mythology, Religion, Supernatural 14

Howdy Bookworms! I think you should know that I’m highly susceptible to marketing tactics. Also, highly susceptible to suggestion… From people I admire, anyway. When The Bloggess talks about how amazing an author is and I’ve never read any of said author’s work, I take action. The Bloggess is a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan, so I decided that I needed to read one of his books. If you keep up with cinema (which I do not, but I knew this anyway) you’ll recall a few years back there was a movie released called Coraline. Neil Gaiman wrote that. He apparently writes books for all ages, so I went to his website, picked one of the books targeted toward an adult audience, and promptly bought it on Amazon. (Hey marketing people, I’m your target audience! Send me free stuff, yo!)

Seeing that it’s October and Halloween is right around the corner, American Gods is a festive choice. It’s all supernatural and stuff. The premise of the story is that as immigrants came to America they brought their gods, demons, and superstitions with them. And we’re not just talking Ellis Island immigrants. We’re talking like Ice Age immigrants. All the immigrants ever. These gods, demons, fairies, and whatnot became literal manifestations as they were brought to this new land. There’s like leprechauns hanging around getting into bar brawls and pulling gold coins out of thin air. Unfortunately for the supernatural types, they feed on the belief of people… And in the modern day US, there aren’t too many people making blood sacrifices to Odin.

I googled Odin. He rocks an eye patch. Now Pirate Dog has someone to look up to.

Our protagonist is a recently paroled convict named Shadow. Shadow is released from prison after serving a three year sentence only to learn that his wife was killed in a car accident… And had been having an affair with his best friend. Harsh. When Shadow is approached by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and offered a job as an errand boy, he’s really got nothing to lose.

Mr. Wednesday is trying to rally the old school gods to battle the new school. The new school gods include manifestations of the internet, telephone, media, etc. As people moved their faith from mythological figures to technology, the gods have lost their influence and power. They’re starved for belief.

This is Eostre, Celtic goddess of rebirth and spring and stuff. Her name and festival got all smushed together with Easter so she manages to stay fat and happy even though people don’t realize they’re celebrating her. (Don’t get riled up. Students of history must realize that in order for the world to accept Christianity, early missionaries drew an awful lot of comparisons between monotheism and pagan traditions. That’s just a fact, y’all.)

Shadow’s journey introduces us to Norse mythology, ancient Egyptian traditions, Hindu deities, African gods, Celtic folklore, Arabic demons, and Native American history- and that’s just the beginning. There are twists and turns and cons and mysteries. There’s even a good portion of Shadow’s tale where he meanders through Illinois, pointing out all the ridiculous town names. (I totally dug the shout outs to Peru, El Paso, and Cairo… Because Illinois is more than just Chicago, y’all. There’s also a bunch of farm towns that share their names with other famous places!)

The story is long and involved, and I think giving you a blow by blow account would be doing you a disservice. (That, and my brain hurts so I don’t feel like writing up a whole synopsis.) If you like Tim Burton movies, mythology, or supernatural books, I highly recommend American Gods. 

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Sep 18

Don't Let the Bonnet Fool You: Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

Mystery, Religion 15

I read a lot, obviously,  but I also watch a lot of television. I’m only human. Sometimes I watch cheesy reality television. My latest fascination has been Amish: Out of Order on the National Geographic channel. It’s a reality show about a bunch of people who have left the Amish and are trying to adjust to life in the outside world.

I’ve read a few novels by Jodi Picoult, but my favorite by far has been Plain Truth. It’s about an Amish community being shaken by a shocking crime. As I’m watching my Amish reality show, I find myself saying things like “Ah yes, Rumsrpinga.” Or “listen to their odd accents- they speak a particular dialect of German in addition to English, and due to their seclusion it has morphed into nearly its own language entirely…” Clearly I am an expert in all things Amish thanks to Jodi Picoult (I’m not an expert in anything, but I did learn a lot from this book.)

Don’t let the bonnet fool you. That Katie Fisher is a sinner, yo.

Plain Truth centers on an Amish girl named Katie (I swear this is not the only reason I like this book.) Katie is 18 and unmarried, but appears to have given birth in a barn (a colossal no-no in Amish-ville. They know good and well how babies are made, and shenanigans of that kind are NOT okay amongst the unmarried.) The baby is later discovered by a farmhand, dead. The cause of death is unclear.

It’s difficult for me to write this review without making it a mess of spoilers, and I like this book enough to not want to ruin it for anyone. I’m going to try to focus the Amish-ness of it all instead of spoiling all the saucy bits for you. Not only is it incredibly rare for an Amish girl to get pregnant out of wedlock, Katie appears to have no memory of the conception or birth. That certainly doesn’t help her case when she’s put on trial for the murder of the newborn. It throws the whole community into a tizzy, because the Amish are also devout pacifists. A murder charge?! Against an Amish girl?! Inconceivable!

All I really knew about the Amish before I read this is that they were a quaint religious sect who didn’t use electricity and built high quality cabinetry. I mean, most people know that the Amish dress differently, they drive horse buggies instead of cars, and they make gorgeous quilts, but I don’t think most of the world really pays attention to the religion itself. It can be beautiful and incredibly harsh all at the same time. The Amish are a very peaceful people- they don’t participate in violence and are very focused on the health of their overall community. It’s also a very simple way of life, so it sounds idyllic when you’re up to your elbows in credit card statements and emails.

It has a darker side as well. School is not allowed beyond the 8th grade, which makes it very difficult for those who leave to find gainful employment. Many sects shun those who choose to leave the religion. Like for real. Hardcore shunning. You decide to leave the church and you’re completely disowned by your family and the only life you’ve ever known. You can’t even go home for Christmas. Can you even imagine how much that would suck? No matter how jacked your family is, they’re still your family. Only now, they’re forbidden to talk to you, because you’re going to hell. Way harsh. (The Catholic guilt complex has nothing on Amish shunning. I’m just saying.)

Jodi Picoult takes you into this world through the eyes of an outsider, Katie’s lawyer. The lawyer comes out to the farm to live with the family while working on the case. Eventually, we get to the bottom of Katie’s story. How she came to meet an outsider. How she became pregnant. How she was confused and in denial about the whole process. What really happened to that baby in the barn.

Like I said, I don’t want to ruin the ending, but there are quite a few twists, turns, and discoveries made through the course of this novel. Courtroom drama isn’t normally my thing, but I was so enthralled learning about Amish culture that the Law and Order rigamarole didn’t phase me. It’s definitely worth the read. If you’re looking for something a little different (and you haven’t been reading a bunch of Jodi Picoult, because she can get a wee bit formulaic…) give it a shot!

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Aug 29

Pope Joan: More Than Myth?

Historical Fiction, Religion, Women's Studies 13

I was a women’s studies minor in college, and as our final project, we had to write a research paper on… anything to do with being a woman. Pretty broad topic, right? I had just finished reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown and I was completely obsessed with the idea that women may have been written out of important roles in the Bible. I set about writing my research paper on the subject. My results were inconclusive and random. It’s a fascinating subject-but it’s unbelievably frustrating to try and research anything to do with the Bible. I don’t even know how old the Old Testament is-several thousand years? There is no way to corroborate facts or compare accounts or even find reliable primary resources from that long ago. My grand dreams of unearthing some previously overlooked tidbit to piece together the absolute truth of religion and humanity ended with a wimper.

There’s a silver lining, though! My women’s studies professor, Dr. Stacey Robertson (who is awesome and writes books and can be found here) presented each graduating senior with a book. Because I had been so enthused about my research project, despite turning up no spectacular insights, she presented me with Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross.

Pope Joan! Joan of Arc! If you want your daughter to be noted in the annals of Christian history, you’d better name her Joan!

Pope Joan is based on a legend widely accepted during the middle ages that a woman disguised as a man somehow rose through the religious ranks and became Pope. You are taken on Joan’s journey from her poverty stricken childhood to the halls of Rome. At a young age she demonstrates a particular aptitude for learning and is taken under the wing of a rogue tutor in spite of the commonly held belief that girls should not be educated. We follow Joan through school, through a Viking battle (seriously- marauding Vikings!), through her stay in a monastery, and all the way to her work as a priest/physician in Rome.

Joan is eventually elected as Pope, and is only exposed as a woman when she gives birth during a procession through the streets. You read that correctly. She takes a lover, gets pregnant, and OOPS gives birth in the middle of the street. The birth also kills her (so ladies, don’t get any ideas.) It makes for enthralling historical fiction, but could it be true?

The middle ages are nearly as bad as biblical times for digging up reliable resources, so historians mostly dismiss the story of Pope Joan as a legend. What historians agree on, however, is that for centuries the Vatican and much of the population BELIEVED the story to be true. Supposedly, there was even a special chair used during medieval papal coronation proceedings with a keyhole shape in the seat used to check the newly elected Pope’s genitalia. (Lest they suffer another embarrassing birthing episode mid-parade.) If you watch The Borgias on Showtime, you’ll have seen this chair in action. You’ll also have heard Jeremy Irons bellow “LECHERY” a lot, which is awesome.

Personally, I think it would have been entirely possible for a woman to have lived as a man in a monastery. People in the dark ages didn’t exactly bathe often, and bulky brown robes don’t accentuate one’s figure. I think a woman who wanted to learn may have seen a life as a monk as her only option. Convents at this time were hit or miss on allowing the education of their sisters, so taking the male route through religious education would have been a more secure plan. While I have no doubt that there were women who did fly under the radar and join monasteries and the like, I don’t think there ever was ACTUALLY a female Pope. The giving birth during a public procession bit smacks of “cautionary tale.”

But hey- this is historical fiction! That’s what makes it so much fun- taking history and making it pop! I love this book- I feel like it writes women back into a religious tradition that has largely written them out. I know this review sounds kind of controversial, but seriously give this book a chance. You won’t be sorry! What about you, bookworms? Do you think it’s possible that there was ever a female pope? I’m open to theories!

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