Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Heretic

The Heretic by Henry-Vyner Brooks is a vivid story of the Protestant Reformation in England under Henry VIII.  The story contains a vivid cast of characters, including a Benedictine monk, a leper, and the children of a couple arrested for heresy. While the story is slow to get started, it picks up in the middle and the last two hundred pages or so are quite intense.
Although I generally don’t read historical fiction, the Tudor period is one of my favorite eras, so I thought I’d give this novel a try.  It seemed fairly accurate, not only in terms of events and setting, but with worldviews. One of my pet peeves with historical fiction is when characters have fairly modern worldviews: a 15th-century girl complaining about arranged marriages, for example. Even if I disagree with the historical views, I want characters to be accurate.  It’s not wrong to have ‘progressive’ characters, but they shouldn’t be the norm. And the characters in this book were historically accurate in their perspectives.
The book was a little too long. It covered two or three years, possibly four—necessary for some of the plot points, but perhaps not the best decision for pacing.  It’s an improvement over books in which trials take weeks or months, but the first chapters were so heavy and full of setting the scene and putting all the threads in place that I didn’t feel interested in reading more.

Overall, though, it was a good book, and I will probably reread it at some point.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Traitor's Heir

Eamon Goodman is on the cusp of swearing loyalty to the Master and joining the Gauntlet,  an elite band of men who help maintain order in the River Realm, putting down "snake" uprisings. But when he hears their version of history,  he must reconsider where his loyalties lie.This book is historical-fantasy, with only a few special abilities that would be outside the ordinary; particularly important are the 'breachers,' men who can break into others' minds and discover what they're thinking.
As the first novel in a planned trilogy,  I expected this book to lay the groundwork for further character development and set the main conflict in motion.  Did it succeed? Somewhat.  In over five hundred pages, the main character discovers that the world he's always lived in is more complex than he's been led to believe, but is reluctant to take a stand for either side. Even at the end of the book, I'm not sure which set of vows he'll chose to follow.  Furthermore, I fail to see how one side holds any attraction for him at all--power and pleasure are concretely on the Master's side.  Eamon may have resisted "easy treachery," but I was hoping to see more development by the end of the book.
Overall, the book was interesting, but I doubt I'll re-read it any time soon, and I'm not sure I'd recommend it either.
I received a free copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Five Glass Slippers

The story of Cinderella has been told many times in many ways. The anthology Five Glass Slippers  contains five variants on the tale with different perspectives on  the characters and settings. The first story “What Eyes Can See,” spends most of its time after the ball, as the prince tries to woo his reluctant betrothed.  Told in a lovely, old-fashioned tone, the contrast between audience expectations and the  characters’ wishes creates a lovely, humorous story.
Rosalind, the heroine of the second tale, “Broken Glass,” has her own plans; while she may want to marry into the royal family, the proposal came from the wrong brother. In order to marry the one she wants, she’ll have to concoct a few schemes of her own.   Likewise, “The Windy Side of Care” features a  heroine who is determined to reclaim the throne.  The last two tales take up the Cinderella tale and resettle it in strange soils—outer space and the realms of faerie.  “A Cinder’s Tale”  occurs on a planetary mining settlement, while “The Moon-Master’s Ball” contains strange, unearthly creatures.

The variety of stories fit together perfectly, providing something for readers with a variety of tastes.  The stories are well-written and enjoyable.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Edwin: High King of Britian

The Roman legions left Britain many years ago, prompting many small kingdoms to rise and fall in their wake. Edwin, the exiled king of Northumbria, has spent nearly a dozen years traveling from court to court,  but when his current protector considers selling him out to his enemy, he sets out to flee again. He is stopped by a mysterious stranger, who prophesies that Edwin will ascend to greater power than any king in the land and learn of a new god.
The story of Edwin and his subsequent rise is told in the Venerable Bede's (8th century) history of England,  but relatively unknown to most people. The author vividly describes the land and people and keeps the plot moving.  Even the strange names are distinct enough to distinguish characters. Not only do readers see Edwin's political and martial triumphs, but the man's personal struggles are well-written and historically grounded.
Even though this book is historical fiction, I would also recommend it to fans of fantasy because of the well-characterized world and the echoes of Arthurian legend.
I received a free copy of this book from  Kregel Publications but was not required to write a positive review.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Merlin's Nightmare

The Arthurian legends have been told in retold over the years, from Lord Tennyson’s poems to the BBC drama Merlin.  Among the many adaptations, the Merlin’s Spiral trilogy stands out  with its emphasis on historical context and portrayal of conflict between Druids and Christianity.
Merlin’s Nightmare, the third book in the series, picks up roughly fifteen years after the High King’s death.  Merlin and Natalenya live in relative peace in the homestead of Ector, raising their own children and Arthur. But the fragile peace is cracking under Saxenow and Pieti invasions.  When Vortigern attempts to raise an army to fight the invaders, Arthur unknowingly heads out to aid the man who killed his father.
Like the previous books, Merlin’s Nightmare blends historical settings with fantastic elements.  While Morganthu and her grandfather may think the Voice and the Stone are under their control, they are playing with wildfire that could easily devour them as well as their enemies.  The unpredictability of this power increases the tension instead of providing an easy solution.
The book ends with a surprising twist that sets up a new series: the Pendragon Spiral, while concluding several threads from the previous books. I am looking forward to the new series and seeing what happens next.

I was given a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Like Insects--Agents of Shield ramblings

Agents of Shield may be the little brother of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that's not a bad thing. Complaints about the lack of canonical superheroes miss the point.  Yes, we got to see New York under attack in The Avengers,  we saw SHIELD descend on the New Mexican desert when Thor's hammer fell, but we haven't seen how that knowledge affected ordinary people. How can you sleep at night when you know that aliens could tear open the sky and send down armored beast? If a man can wake from a seventy-year sleep and another swell into a giant green monster, what secrets might other people be hiding? Even the main characters further ground the show. Instead of a raging green monster or a billionaire genius, the main characters are
  • A one-man combat ops team
  • Awkward scientist duo with British accents (yes, the accents are significant. British accents immediately add classiness)
  • An ace pilot with superior unarmed combat skills
  • A civilian hacker with mysterious origins
  • Former right-hand man of Nick Fury
Three pairs of themes keep reappearing throughout the show:  information/secrecy,  trust/loyalty, and government/the little guy. Skye's position as a hacker brings her into conflict with SHIELD on all three fronts.
 The truth is in the wind. It’s everywhere. You cannot stop the rising tide. You will not find us. You will never see our faces but rest assures-we will rise against those who shield us from the truth.
At first, this rhetoric sounds familiar. It is the language of freedom fighters and activists, of the Arab Spring and Soviet-era protesters, of anyone who resists a corrupt government. But Skye's interactions with Mike Peterson  provide another perspective on the little guy fighting the government.
You said if we worked hard, if we did right, we'd have a place. You said it was enough to be a man but there's better then man! There's gods... and the rest of us? What are we? They're giants... we're what they step on.
The devastation of New York showed exactly what happens when gods bring their war to earth.  As Loki said, an ant has no quarrel with a boot, but recognizing their utter helplessness is bound to unsettle the ants And Coulson manages to calm Mike down with an affirmation of "little guys."
 I've seen giants, up close, and that privilege cost me, nearly everything. But the good ones, the real deal? They're not heroes because of what they have that we don't, it's what they do with it.
It's the same theme as Doctor Who-- "nine hundred years of time and space and I've never met anybody who wasn't important."  The Doctor showcases this by his choice of companions; Coulson's team was chosen on similar grounds.  Just as the Doctor and his companions develop trust and loyalty towards each other (with a few exceptions),  the Bus grows throughout the season and develops into a family. Not that this comes easy.

May doesn't want to be there, Ward is used to following procedures, and Skye's loyalty is suspect.  The latter plays a key role in "Girl in the Flower Dress," where she is finally forced to chose sides, but is still in play in "The Hub." Ironically, in the same episode, Skye discovers an irregularity that puts Ward and Fitz at risk.

Coulson repeatedly tells Skye to "trust the system," but his faith in SHIELD bureaucracy is shaken.  Not only did Agent Hand send his team out without an exit strategy, but this was kept a secret. Some agents are sent out without extraction plans--Romanov and Banner--but they know this. Instead, Coulson and the team fly to the rescue in a big damn heroes moment, reminding me of this quote from Firefly:
Simon: You don't even like me. Why'd you come back?
Mal: You're on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?
The team bond is cemented in "The Bridge," and stated outright in the best moment of "TAHITI." After being told Skye's family should have a chance to say goodbye, Coulson says "We're her family." I never doubted he'd do anything necessary to save her, just as the whole team came to his rescue only a few episodes before.

But Coulson's loyalty to his team conflicts with his duty to SHIELD and the secrets they keep. From the first episode, viewers know that Tahiti is a lie, but the double revelation of Coulson's trauma and the serum's origins shake faith in SHIELD. Even Fury's friendship with Coulson is questioned--what sort of man would have a friend undergo half-a-dozen surgeries, have him injected with a serum of questionable origins, and who knows what else, over the objections of the patient and surgeons.  Was this choice motivated by friendship, or did Fury have other objectives in mind?

With seven episodes still to go, we'll have to wait to see how it plays out. My hopes are high for renewal, and the writers have admitted mapping the show out through season three. This show isn't just about aliens or shipping or tiding fans over between movies. It has thematic and character depth with intriguing plots, and I am looking forward to more.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shadow Hand

(spoilers for Moonblood)

Foxbrush's life is falling apart. Sure, he's prince of Southlands, engaged to the Lady Daylily, but years of the Dragon's poison have withered the land. Furthermore, Daylily only agreed to marry him as long as they never loved each other. When she learns otherwise, Daylily flees on her wedding day and disappears into the Wildlands. Foxbrush follows her and finds himself in a strange jungle that seems vaguely familiar. What are these beasts demanding tribute? Why the repeated references to the King of Here and There? And why are elder figs available in abundance, when he's only know them to be dry and tasteless?
Before reading this book, one should read Veiled Rose and Moonblood for context, while Dragonwitch provides background for other characters.
While I love all the Tales of Goldstone Wood books, this book really explores the fluid nature of time between realms, as well as the nature of prophecy. I completely recommend it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Take This Cup by Brock and Bodie Thoene

Nehemiah has grown up in the mountains of Persia, herding sheep and hearing stories from his parents. Stories of Torah. Stories of how his father met his mother while selling his wool in Jerusalem. Stories of his rabbi’s visit to Bethlehem thirty years ago to see the newborn king.  When Nehemiah’s family is attacked by bandits, the rabbi sends him to Jerusalem with a gift for the Messiah—the cup of Joseph.
Much of the plot focuses on the cup that is known to legend as the Holy Grail, but before the events that earned it such fame. Instead, it is traced even further back, to the time of the patriarchs. While some people might find this ridiculous, I thought it was well written and a good way to remind readers that everything in the Bible  is part of a united whole.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the authors’ previous series , the AD Chronicles, for its vivid portrayal of minor Biblical characters, such as the blind beggar in John 9. This book has the same characterization as the previous series, but the book stands well on its own.   Even readers who aren’t normally fans of historical fiction will appreciate the detail and characters of this book.

I received a free ebook from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Romance of Religion

The Bible is a guidebook, a source of wisdom, a record of history. But above all else, the Bible is a story—one that happens to be true.  Not only is the Bible a story, it is a fantastic story—a romantic story. Not the boy-meets-girl definition, but the chivalric romance, a tale of battles and danger and conquering heroes. In fact, the word “fantasy” could easily replace “romance” throughout the book.
Many apologetics have been written, but very few authors have tackled the relationship between story and Christianity, with the exception of the Inklings and their predecessor Chesterton.  The Romance of Religion establishes what it means to be a romantic in today’s cynical world, ranging from ethics to philosophy and faith.
Many portions of this book reminded me of Chesterton, from the chapter topics to the author’s illustrations. The first chapter was originally presented as a paper to the American Chesterton Society 2006. It also draws from elements in C.S. Lewis’s  “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” and Tolkien’s “On Fairy- Stories.”  While none of the book’s insights are particularly new, it is always good to be reminded of truth and the power of story.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Only the Emotional Damage is Real

Even though only two of my fandoms are currently releasing new TV episodes, I'm still buried neck-deep in emotional, fictional drama.  Currently airing shows are My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Call the Midwife. MLP, as good as it is, is not the sort of show to inspire intense feels or generate worry.  Call the Midwife, while primarily consisting of cute babies, also has the ongoing storyline of the Turners for fans to brood over.
As one of  (if not the most) developed, morally-upright of my OTPS, and one of my few non-speculative OTPs, they don't have the tangled, tormented possibilities of, say, Eleven and River Song, but that almost makes it worse. They've already been through enough--just let them be happy for once! Furthermore, some fans have a tendency for thorough analysis based on plot summaries, while I'd rather wait for the actual episode. But it's such a friendly fandom that I'm almost okay with it.
But the primary cause of fandom anxiety right now is Agents of Shield and the fate of Sky. Since "TRACKS" aired February 4, I've been on pins and needles regarding the character's survival odds.  She's a cute girl in a show connected with Joss Whedon--bad. But she has all sorts of dramatic potential and her situation could bring to light some things about Agent Coulson's experience, so maybe she'll live. On the other hand again, the episode is called "Tahiti," which raises all sorts of  red flags. Furthermore, I like Sky--she's funny, has a knack for noticing certain things, and her dynamic with Couslon is adorable beyond belief. I keep thinking he should adopt her, if such things are possible with legal adults.
Also sitting in my mind, like a pebble in the shoe, is the upcoming season eight of Doctor Who.  The Doctor's regenerated, Clara's staying on, and it was recently announced that another character will be joined the team sometime during the season. Just because I don't like judging characters before I see them doesn't mean I'm not mulling over things and missing Eleven.  And with this many months before the next season, the tension is killing me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cover Reveal and Giveaway: Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the 
emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be 
contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.
But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?
For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

Golden Daughter, coming in November 2014will be the seventh novel in the Tales of Goldstone Woods series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I have read and enjoyed the first five works in the series, as well as the novella Goddess Tithe.  Like classic fairy tales, the stories stand on their own, yet create a rich, detailed world, from the harbors of Parumvir to the wilds of Southland and the wonders of the Far Realm.  
I know people say "don't judge a book by it's cover," but this series might be an exception. The images are so vivid and yet fantastical, perfectly conveying the tone of the story.  And dare I hope that our favorite feline rascal is is once again a key player in the story? Well, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. And if I had to guess, I'd say we're visiting a new realm, as the character's robe doesn't seem to fit Parumvir, Southlands, or previous destinations.

And for those of us who can't wait for a preview, here's a sneak peak:
Sairu made her way from Princess Safiya’s chambers out to the walkways of the encircling gardens. The Masayi, abode of the Golden Daughters, was an intricate complex of buildings linked by blossom-shrouded walkways, calm with fountains and clear, lotus-filled pools where herons strutted and spotted fish swam.
Here she had lived all the life she could remember.
The Masayi was but a small part of Manusbau Palace, which comprised the whole of Sairu’s existence. She had never stepped beyond the palace walls. To do so would be to step into a world of corruption, corruption to which a Golden Daughter would not be impervious until she was safely chartered to a master and her life’s work was affixed in her heart and mind. Meanwhile, she must live securely embalmed in this tomb, waiting for life to begin.
Sairu’s mouth curved gently at the corners, and she took small steps as she had been trained—slow, dainty steps that disguised the swiftness with which she could move at need. Even in private she must maintain the illusion, even here within the Masayi.
A cat sat on the doorstep of her own building, grooming itself in the sunlight. She stepped around it and proceeded into the red-hung halls of the Daughter’s quarters and on to her private chambers. There she must gather what few things she would take with her—fewer things even than Jen-ling would take on her journey to Aja. For Jen-ling would be the wife of a prince, and she must give every impression of a bride on her wedding journey.
I wonder who my master will be? Sairu thought as she slid back the rattan door to her chamber and entered the quiet simplicity within. She removed her elaborate costume and exchanged it for a robe of simple red without embellishments. She washed the serving girl cosmetics from her face and painted on the daily mask she and her sisters wore—white with black spots beneath each eye and a red stripe down her chin. It was elegant and simple, and to the common eye it made her indistinguishable from her sisters.
The curtain moved behind her. She did not startle but turned quietly to see the same cat slipping into her room. Cats abounded throughout Manusbau Palace, kept on purpose near the storehouses to manage the vermin. But they did not often enter private chambers.
Sairu, kneeling near her window with her paint pots around her, watched the cat as it moved silkily across the room, stepped onto her sleeping cushions, and began kneading the soft fabric, purring all the while. Its claws pulled at the delicate threads. But it was a cat. As far as it was concerned, it had every right to enjoy or destroy what it willed.
At last it seemed to notice Sairu watching it. It turned sleepy eyes to her and blinked.
Sairu smiled. In a voice as sweet as honey, she asked, “Who are you?”
The cat twitched its tail softly and went on purring.
The next moment, Sairu was across the room, her hand latched onto the cat’s scruff. She pushed it down into the cushions and held it there as it yowled and snarled, trying to catch at her with its claws.
“Who are you?” she demanded, her voice fierce this time. “What are you? Are you an evil spirit sent to haunt me?”
“No, dragons eat it! I mean, rrrraww! Mreeeow! Yeeeowrl!
The cat twisted and managed to lash out at her with its back feet, its claws catching in the fabric of her sleeve. One claw scratched her wrist, startling her just enough that she loosened her hold. The cat took advantage of the opportunity and, hissing like a fire demon, leapt free. It sprang across the room, knocking over several of her paint pots, and spun about, back-arched and snarling. Every hair stood on end, and its ears lay flat to its skull.
Sairu drew a dagger from her sleeve and crouched, prepared for anything. The smile lingered on her mouth, but her eyes flashed. “Who sent you?” she demanded. “Why have you come to me now? You know of my assignment, don’t you.”
Meeeeowrl,” the cat said stubbornly and showed its fangs in another hiss.
“I see it in your face,” Sairu said, moving carefully to shift her weight and prepare to spring. “You are no animal. Who is your master, devil?”
The cat dodged her spring easily enough, which surprised her. Sairu was quick and rarely missed a target. Her knife sank into the floor and stuck there, but she released it and whipped another from the opposite sleeve even as she whirled about.
Any self-respecting cat would have made for the window or the door. This one sprang back onto the cushions and crouched there, tail lashing. Its eyes were all too sentient, but it said only “Meeeeow,” as though trying to convince itself.
Sairu chewed the inside of her cheek. Then, in a voice as smooth as butter, she said, “We have ways of dealing with devils in this country. Do you know what they are, demon-cat?”
The cat’s ears came up. “Prreeowl?” it said.
“Allow me to enlighten you.”
And Sairu put her free hand to her mouth and uttered a long, piercing whistle. The household erupted with the voices of a dozen and more lion dogs.
The little beasts, slipping and sliding and crashing into walls, their claws clicking and clattering on the tiles, careened down the corridor and poured into Sairu’s room. Fluffy tails wagging, pushed-in noses twitching, they roared like the lions they believed themselves to be and fell upon the cat with rapacious joy.
The cat uttered one long wail and the next moment vanished out the window. Sairu, dogs milling at her feet, leapt up and hurried to look out after it, expecting to see a tawny tail slipping from sight. But she saw nothing.
The devil was gone. For the moment at least.
Sairu sank down on her cushions, and her lap was soon filled with wriggling, snuffling hunters eager for praise. She petted them absently, but her mind was awhirl. She had heard of devils taking the form of animals and speaking with the tongues of men. But she had never before seen it. She couldn’t honestly say she’d even believed it.
“What danger is my new master in?” she wondered. “From what must I protect him?”

While waiting for the release, why not enter to win a novel from the Tales of Goldstone Wood series? There's a  link to the rafflecopter at the bottom of my page.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Since the Madronians conquered the people of R'tan, the R'tan have suffered the loss of their culture, including freedom to worship and severance of their bonds, but for Tiadone, the worst choice was made at the moment of her birth. Because of the Madronian preference for firstborn sons, firstborn daughters are either left exposed in the desert or--rarely--declared male. A declared male must wear an amulet to suppress feminine qualities at all times, and is legally male in the eyes of  the world, save that one cannot marry.
As the first declared male in her village, Tiadone's coming of age is viewed with suspicion by many. If she succeeds, other families may choose to declare their firstborn daughters--but is the choice worth it?
There were several fresh, outstanding elements in this book. First of all, the story is set in a wilderness, rather than the standard fantasy forest or castle. It also presents a cultural clash in a way rare for young adult fantasy.
But the element I found most intriguing was the publisher's willingness to promote a book with elements of transgenderism. Blink, a YA imprint of Zondervan,  seems to be willing to risk a controversial topic that could earn the foes on both sides of the aisle. Without giving away the end of the story, I will say that perhaps emotional complexity was sacrificed for moral clarity, but I'd still be willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt on any potential sequels.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Can I get paid for this? (the continuing saga of my life and job hunt)

I was happy for three-quarters of an hour on Tuesday: between the arrival of Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl and a letter in the mail and leaving for my brother’s last at-home basketball game of the season. 
I’d spent the morning scrubbing the kitchen cabinets, but that wasn’t a matter of happiness—more like satisfaction and accomplishment.  And even the basketball game wasn’t necessarily a gamebreaker; it was only a five-minute drive in, instead of the fifty or seventy-minute drives to the last four games over the past two weeks.
First off, I don’t like to drive. I didn’t even get my license until a year and a half ago. But because “I’m going to get a job eventually,”  I’ve been told to drive at every opportunity.  After so much concentrated behind-the-wheel time, I’ve reached a level of apathy. I got a few comments on the way in, which didn’t improve my mood in the least.  
Nor did someone’s comment that I should be watching the game instead of reading or playing on my Kindle.  The icing on the cake was that my mom agreed with her.
Okay, more background. I am a compliant introverted firstborn. Which means that in any argument, I am completely aware that she has my best interests in mind yet incapable of stating my own position without excessive cavorts. And she agreed that I am not an extrovert and should not be forced to be one, but should still be “social” at games. 
But my main point was as follows (having conceded the value of athletics):
Athletics are valuable. Drama is valuable. Scholastics are valuable. But you set up a poetry reading, you’ll get only English majors. You set up a play, you’ll get a broad audience, especially because people have friends in the drama.  But we only have one play a year here, albeit a very good one. And poetry readings—forget it! Instead we have multiple (high school) athletic events a week, and people keep coming even when they’re not doing well. 
And then it was followed up with a talk about jobs, which is just something that makes me uncomfortable all around and deserves its own post. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Through the Wilderness: Thoughts on Call the Midwife and the Journey of Sister Bernadette

One element of CTM which impressed me was the treatment of religious material in general and Sister Bernadette’s story line in season two in particular.  Most modern media, whether journalists, television producers, or movie directors, see religion as a source of dogma and intolerance.  While completely removing the religious element from Worth’s memoirs would be impossible, it might have been tempting for BBC executives to portray the religious elements as outdated or narrow-minded.
Instead, viewers are treated to a group of nuns who are neither self-righteous, walking sex jokes, or dogmatic.  As said in the first season “We are nurses first, nuns second, and midwives primarily.”  Not only does their work at Nonnatus House fulfill a critical need in the community, but they are allowed to observe moral standards without coming across as judgmental.  Perhaps the shows leans too contemporary at times, with a “live-and-let-live”perspective, but overall, the producers refrained admirably from impressing a modern perspective on the events. 
Sister Bernadette’s character arc not only continues the respectful treatment of religious topics, but avoids several sentimental flaws common in Christian fiction.  Part of this is due to the format—a television drama does not lend itself to a first person, introspective narrator who spends hours analyzing or suppressing emotions. Viewers are therefore in the same position as Sister Julienne, aware that Bernadette is struggling but unsure why.   It also avoids the “easy emotion” of the relationship commencing in the wake of Bernadette’s diagnosis.  Instead, Bernadette uses her convalescence to determine her next step.
In all, Bernadette’s story, including her romance with Dr. Turner, is portrayed with sensitivity and skill.  I’d rate it among the most-realistically portrayed romances in all dramas.  First of all, Bernadette doesn’t spend her time moping or bemoaning her fate. In fact, she seems to have been content and fulfilled as a nun/midwife for a good many years. And she doesn’t seem to value her work less—she is not torn between bad and good, or even good and better, but two goods of almost identical worth.
Also, the romance doesn’t change Bernadette’s character. From her introduction through all the episodes I’ve seen, she remains dependable, self-restrained, and caring. And as someone who doesn’t like to make trouble, who would rather spend an hour helping someone else than ask someone to help me, who has a tendency to bottle and say “it doesn’t matter” when I’m breaking down inside—-I know how that feels, I know why she’d keep everything quiet, and so I adore every scene with Bernadette and Julienne, because I wish I had someone like that to talk with.
I really appreciate what Sister Julienne says to Sister Monica Jones at one point; I can’t find the precise quote, but she says that Bernadette didn’t have a crisis of faith, she had a wilderness experience, and believes God has given her a different path. In both Christian and secular circles, struggle is often equated with doubt, and doubt with falling away, but the three are not necessarily equal.  Losing the specifics of a path does not mean you are not secure in faith or that you have lost sight of what is most important in eternity. And as a college graduate trying to figure out where to go next, that message is most reassuring.
But it’s the season two finale that really hit all the emotional buttons—and not in a manipulative way either. First of all, Bernadette asking for secular clothes, because she doesn’t feel like she can wear the habit anymore, and Sister Julienne and Evangelina’s reaction to the contents of her suitcase. She may not be their sister anymore, but they still want to take care of her.
And when Sister Bernadette calls Dr. Turner first about being discharged—I didn’t need to be told that she was truly breaking with Nonnatus House, that she wasn’t going to come back, even for a moment, for fear that she would stay because it was easy.  And even then, she still didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, she was just going to take the bus.
Dr. Turner’s response to her call was one of the most heartwarming scenes I’ve ever watched. He just tore out of his office and drove to get her. Even over her protestations, because that was what she needed most at that moment, as she stepped onto a new path. 
(I can’t find a clip, so I’m going to include a scene transcript from TV Tropes)
Dr Turner: What if it had started raining? What if you’d got lost?
Sister Bernadette: I was lost. I got the wrong bus.
Dr Turner: I was on the right road.
Sister Bernadette: Yes. [deep breath] I know you so little but I couldn’t be more certain.
Dr Turner: I am completely certain. And I don’t even know your name!
Sister Bernadette: [beaming from ear to ear] Shelagh.
Dr Turner: Patrick.
Sister Bernadette: There. We’ve made a start.
The first thing he does is feel her forehead. Then he wraps her in his coat, to keep her warm on the foggy road. And their wedding in the 2013 Christmas special is adorable. Initially, Shelagh doesn’t feel comfortable inviting the nuns, given that she renounced her vows. But throughout the preparations, little things—someone’s overheard comment that Shelagh is doing things second-class because she’s like a divorcee, the shop lady’s comments about needing a mother or sister to adjust the veil—just keep probing that tender spot. Not to mention Timothy’s sudden battle with polio. 
Marriage is not the end of Shelagh’s struggles, which is as it should be. It brings with it its own problems, just as life in the convent had struggles and challenges.  And while I haven’t seen all of season three yet, I have seen hints and suggestions that more heartache lies ahead.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Loving isn't Knowing (The Almost People Suite)

While listening to the Doctor Who season six soundtrack, I was struck by the title "Loving isn't Knowing (The Almost People Suite)." At first, the title seems not only odd, but even paradoxical.  Most of the other titles are derived from dialogue ("Run, Sexy," "Always with the Rory") or a situation ("Chemical Castle,"  "The Impossible Astronaut"), but the significance of the title requires more thought.
In context, it's a reference to Amy's ganger, but the wider context applies to both of the Pond couples. Most people associate love with knowing everything about a person--even the Biblical "to know"  implies intimate, physical knowledge of another person.
But what is River's catchphrase? "Spoilers?" And in Angels take Manhattan, she says "Never let him see the damage." The Doctor and River keep secrets from each other all the time, secrets of identity and love and death.   Amy is much the same; in both Pond Life and Asylum of the Daleks, she refused to tell Rory why she was pushing him away. Perhaps that's part of the reason this song is so sad. If we can never know anyone else, what does it mean to love?
"Trust me," River told Ten. "One day I'm going to someone that you trust completely."  She then proves it by whispering his name in his ear. Given the Doctor's timey-whimey lifestyle, perhaps that is the only he can interpret love--as something he can trust, not something to know.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

20 and Something: Have the Time of Your Life (And Figure It All Out Too)..

This slender volume (88 pages) contains a wealth of information about the Millennial generation, including graphs, charts, illustrations, and other eye-catching images. While the subtitle “Have the Time of Your Life and Figure it Out too” suggests a multi-step application plan, the true value of this book lies in its succinct analysis of 20-something culture and its causes.
As a member of this age group, I can confirm that many of the observations are right on, though others surprised me. For example, 82% of Millennials want to be married, and 77% want to have children. But due to the high rate of divorce among their parents, many are choosing to put marriage off in hopes of being better prepared. These statistics also illuminate the high rate of cohabitation among young adults—they want to test each other before committing.
Another area that surprised me was the definition of adult.  57% said emotional maturity, while 20% said economic independence. No traditional marker—age, marriage, or education—even reached double digits. With the challenging job market and the abstract nature of “emotional maturity,” it’s not surprising that many Millennials are caught between adolescence and adulthood.
This book is one of the first in the Barna group’s Frames series, which attempts to provide a Biblical worldview of common cultural issues.

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Empty Hearse

After a two-year wait, the return of BBC Sherlock on PBS made me very happy.  And the episode kicked off with quite a bang: direct flashback to the conclusion of "The  Reichenbach Fall," with the promise of finally learning what happened.
Except we didn't--it was just Anderson's theory, played out large for all to see. The process was repeated twice, once in a ridiculous slash scene and again with Sherlock's (misleading?) explanation.  Anderson's theory explained the fate of Moriarty's body, but Sherlock's seemed more rational.  But I wouldn't put money on either of them--I know Moffat's trolling ways far too well.
Either way, Sherlock and John's reunion was everything I wanted--particularly the three punches. Sherlock may be a genius, but the average Whoniverse alien has a better understanding of human emotions and psychology than he does. Nothing John said would convey his frustration and anger--so bring on the punches.
The actual plot of the episode was wonderfully, brilliantly British. While some Americans may miss the historical significance of the 5th of November, the episode had enough references for uninformed viewers to get the gist of it. It also alludes to Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta.  And that was just one of the in-jokes and allusions in the episode. The motorcycle and helmets that Sherlock and Mary used to rescue John are probably the ones used in "The Bells of St. John." And if Sherlock's explanation is correct, he was listening to John's grief, just as Eleven was in "The Impossible Astronaut."  Even the episode title not only alludes to the original Doyle adventure, but subtly foreshadows the railway carriage.
Finally, the casting of Sherlock's parents and Mary is hilarious, especially in light of this old interview:
Interviewer: Are you going to be able to keep your actors after season 3? They’re both quite big stars in The Hobbit..Moffat: Yes, but we have their families locked in the cellar.  
I guess he decided to let them out for filming (Sherlock's parents are Benedict's actual parents, and Mary is Martin Freeman's partner.).

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


With the growing popularity of dystopic literature for young adults, authors must find a fresh perspective to make their work stand out.  Aquifer by Jonathan Friesen has a government that maintains its power not through subtle mindwashing or social planning, but by control of the world’s remaining freshwater supply.  Given the rising concern about water supplies—even in America,  farms and urban areas dispute water supplies, especially in the barren Southwest—the scenario seems closer to reality than some of the elaborate systems in other dystopias.
However, the water restrictions are minimalized in the novel. If only one freshwater aquifer remains, why aren’t countries attempting desalinization? How is it piped across the world? And how much water are people allowed to use? Wouldn’t the world be on some sort of rationing system?  The author did mention water pirates, but there was no indication that people were suffering from lack of water.
In addition, the “dials” that each member wore felt unnecessary.  While most fictional dystopias restrict emotion, such a restriction didn’t fit with this government. The author seemed uncertain about the mechanics of his dystopia—while harsh, rules-bound societies are the genre norm, this book would have worked better if citizens were permitted an illusion of freedom. 
Fans of dystopian literature will probably enjoy this book, though other readers might be bored.

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program in exchange for a free review. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Divergent: Virtues Gone Mad

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues (...) full of the old Christian virtues gone mad.  The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care only for truth, and their truth is pitiless. Those some humanitarians care only for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.
--Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton (emphasis mine)
This week, I finished reading Allegiant, the third book in Veronica Roth's trilogy. For those who have not yet heard of Divergent  (adaptation in process) and its sequels, it occurs in a vaguely future environment. The main character, Beatrice, grows up  in a city divided into five factions:

  1. Candor, the honest
  2. Erudite, the scholars
  3. Amity, the friendly
  4. Abnegation, the self-sacrificing
  5. Dauntless, the brave
When Beatrice goes in for her faction test, the results are inconclusive--she is a Divergent, with characteristics of multiple factions. Without spoiling the rest of the books, I will say that each book reveals further flaws of the system, though not as many as I would have liked.

What would a society of people devoted to telling the truth--with no regard to other people's feelings--be like? The Abnegation, for example, don't even share details of their own childhood with their children. because that would be selfish.  And once Dauntless have grown too old to face physical challenges, they are left behind.  

Even though dystopias have reached saturation, the unique set-up of this book provides plenty of food for thought.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Every Waking Moment

Every Waking Moment contains engaging characters and quiet tension with its story of a young girl who has a special gift to engage with the elderly.
Although I generally prefer fantasy novels to realistic fiction, this book held my attention from the beginning to the end. It also made me think about nursing homes and the way we care for the elderly in America. While assisted care facilities provide valuable services, they also enable us to avoid people who need our respect.

One Realm Beyond

One Realm Beyond, the first novel in Donita K. Paul’s Realm Walkers series, invites readers into a series of worlds crafted with imagination and originality.  Young Cantor has desired to be a realm walker, with access to the nine planes, for a long time. When his guardians finally allow him to leave, he looks forward to finding a mor dragon to serve as his constant and explore the worlds. But the first dragon he meets doesn’t quite fit his plans,  fellow traveler Bixby seems to know more than he does, and  the realm walkers might not be the noble order he’s been told.
I enjoyed the author’s previous  DragonKeeper and Valley of the Dragons series, and this new tale is even better. She creates memorable characters and deepens her world by considering the social impact of crossing between worlds.  I’d recommend this book for fantasy fans of various ages, with enough detail for older readers and action for younger fans.

I received a free copy of this book through the Z Street Team program, but was not obligated to write a positive review.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

When the Doctor Was Me

My Doctor, my first and favorite, is and always will be Matt Smith. And I'm still not over Time of the Doctor. It doesn't help that my emotions were still amuck from graduating December 20th and extended socialization with Mom's side of the family.*
While I adore Moffat's storytelling, respect Matt's decision, and anticipate Capaldi, I dreaded this episode.  Endings are hard. Change is harder. So I avoided trailers, scrolled past spoilers, and generally tried to avoid thinking about the episode until I sat down to watch it.
Every five minutes, another brick dropped. Gallifrey. Trenzalore. The Papal Mainframe. A crack.  I kept yelling at my laptop until the weight in my chest was too much  to bear. At first, the episode seemed another blockbuster, a grand finale--but a comment on Tumblr also pointed out how intimate the heart of the story was. The Doctor stayed for Christmas--one small town, on one dark planet--because no one else did. Because it had to be protected, because there's no such thing as unimportant.
The only way it could have possibly been better is if River had been there for him. She could have grown old with him, lived a straight line with him, and no need for spoilers. I understand why she wasn't; I hadn't had much hope of it anyway, but I'm still gonna write that fanfic where she does come.
But it boils down to the last ten minutes. I have no issues with the extra regeneration cycle or the use of the energy as a weapon; I was too busy listening for his last words. Big badass boast--that's fine. That's fine.
Except it wasn't. Seeing the clothing on the floor felt like seeing a body, the absent body in every regeneration episode. His young appearance was even worse. It felt like seeing a mirage in the desert; you know it's not real, but you want it so much that you force yourself to believe.
Who's coming?
 The Doctor. 
But you, you are the Doctor. 
Yep, and I always will be. 
That whole speech leaned on the fourth wall so hard,  and it hurt so much. It said so many things that I was feeling. It glimpsed the future and affirmed the past, took everything that was and everything that will be, and said Remember this. 

And Amelia. Wee Amelia, our Amy Pond, came to say goodnight to her raggedy man. All stories have an end, but make them the best they possibly can be. I didn't even hear what she said the first time I watched the episode--I was too overwhelmed seeing her again, young and happy.  Even if River couldn't be there, she was mentioned, and Amy Pond, the first face he ever saw with this face, was there for the end.

I'm not even going to comment on Capaldi's performance at the moment; it's still too much for me to believe that Smith is gone..
*nice interaction, but still wearing on an introvert.