Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wool, by Hugh Howey

Genre: Post-apocalyptic dystopia for adults, short stories

Reason for Reading: This was the choice for my real-life book club several months ago, but I only finished it this month. I had a bit of a reading slump in there, but I prevailed! 

Synopsis: In this collection of related novellas, we explore a post-apocalyptic world in which everyone is living in a "silo" spanning downwards into the earth, instead of up into the sky. There, they are safe from the toxic fumes that ravage the earth's surface. However, it's not at all clear how humanity got into this underground silo, why the people of the past have revolted so many times, evidence arrives to suggest that possibly the people in power are hiding something nefarious. This set of novellas follows several different characters as they independently discover secrets of the silo.

My Thoughts: This book had a really slow start for me since I prefer novels rather than short stories. I like the character and plot development that is only possible with a novel-length story. Wool is a long book, but it is a collection of loosely connected novellas rather than one continuous story. This creates an intriguing atmosphere of mystery, and allows for different characters to discover different types of secrets of the silo - which is a refreshing turn from most dystopic literature these days in which one character manages to discover all. I guess this format is more believable in that way. But the format slows down plot and character development. The book started picking up about half-way through for me, though. This is when it started focusing on certain characters for longer. Thus, more character development. Also, about half-way through the book is when I started to realize that perhaps Wool was ideologically different than most dystopias. I began to wonder if maybe the choices the government was making really were protecting the people. Maybe ignorance - though abhorrent - was necessary in this case? I'm not going to say what my final conclusion on this subject'll have to find out for yourself. And I probably still need to read the prequel, Shift, and the sequel, Dust, in order to come to a conclusion.There's still a lot of mystery to me about the silo.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Jonah and the "great fish" on the South doorway of Dom Saint Peter
Image source: Wikipedia
I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with the story of Jonah. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to prophesy against their wickedness. But Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh. He was afraid to prophesy in a foreign land full of wicked people who hated Hebrews. Plus, he didn't want God to show mercy to his enemies. So he ran. But he couldn't escape God, who in His Great Wisdom made a whale swallow Jonah until Jonah was able to see the error of his ways and continue more willingly on God's path.

I've been thinking a lot about Jonah recently. So I was surprised when a coworker jokingly compared ringing at the registers of our bookstore as her "Nineveh." She added "but if God told me to go to Nineveh, I would go." I half jokingly answered "then perhaps you haven't found your Nineveh yet." (She looked a bit taken aback. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut.)

I think we all have a personal Nineveh (even those of us who are agnostic or atheist). Some of us have more Nineveh than others. Recently, I have found a Nineveh. It's a personal issue, and I don't think the details matter for this post...but the basic idea is this: I have a series of choices that I feel God has encouraged me to make. I don't like those choices, because I'm very much afraid of getting hurt. After much prayer, I decided to go ahead and have faith and make the plunge. It backfired in my face, I got hurt, I hurt someone else, and it all seems to be spiraling downhill from here. 

I am faced with two interpretations: I can assume that I foolishly mislead myself with wrong expectations; or I can have faith that God led me down this path, that He had a reason to do so, and that some good will come of it.

Neither interpretation is inherently wrong as a Christian. Lots of people mislead themselves into thinking they're doing what God wants them to do when they're really doing what they want to do. Easy mistake to make. And with this interpretation, I can safely backpedal out of the situation I've created and abandon the path that I'd foolishly chosen. (Yeah, it leaves a mess behind, but .... woops! my bad!) Unfortunately, losing faith in myself isn't too healthy. If I choose this interpretation, then I need to believe that I don't really know when God is calling me and when He's not. Because I was pretty darn certain He was calling. And if that wasn't God calling me, then I'm probably a little crazy and certainly can never have faith in my interpretation of God's call again. So it seems like a good choice, as long as I'm ok with losing faith in myself and in God. 

The second interpretation is more scary. It means I have to continue on the path I'd chosen, having faith that I was, indeed, hearing God's call, and that if He got me into this mess, something good must come of it. 

I haven't yet chosen which of these interpretations to make, and am fluctuating a lot lately. But my instinct tells me that as a Christian I ought to believe that God was calling me, and that he's still calling me to follow that path. The path to Nineveh. Where I really, really, really don't want to go.

And while I wallow in self-doubt, as well as religious doubt,  let's not forget that Jesus asked God to take away the burden of His chosen path: "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36 NIV, see also Luke 22:42). Let's not forget one of Jesus' last statements on the cross: "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" (Mathew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. He was quoting Psalm 22.).

Jesus, that miraculous man who is loved by millions of people even 2000 years after his death, also had a path he didn't want to follow. He also had his moments of doubt. Doubt is human. None of us should ever forget this fact when we are struggling with our own doubts. We need to always remember that we are human. That doubt is natural. 

Always accept that you are human - that even Jesus doubted - and forgive yourself for your weaknesses. That is the best way to restore your faith. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan

The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan

Genre: Middle School fantasy / adventure

Reason for Reading: This is the third book in a series that I've already started. 

Synopsis: In this third book of the Heroes of Olympus series, 7 heroes - Percy, Hazel, Frank, Jason, Piper, Leo, and Annabeth - set out on a dangerous quest to Rome. The Romans and the Greeks must cooperate if they are to quell the rise of Gaia, but war is brewing between the two camps. Our heroes must try to postpone war while saving Rome from apocalypse-hungry giants and following the Mark of Athena - an ancient clue that only Annabeth can decipher. 

My Thoughts: I'm not a huge fan of Riordan's writing, though I think this series is a heck of a lot better than the Percy Jackson series. While reading this book, I finally figured out what it is about Riordan's writing that bothers me - the audience is too childish. All the adults in these books talk as if they were kids. That grates on me. I guess I prefer kids books where adults sound like adults - even if they sound like silly or disinterested adults (which is often the case in middle school books). Despite my dislike of the style, though, I found this book well-researched and interesting. The plot isn't very complex, but there's a lot of action and some good humor. I'm not rushing to Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of the next book, but I'm planning on reading it "some day." (Which probably means I'll wait until the NEXT book comes out and reminds me that I still haven't read House of Hades...which is what happened with Mark of Athena.) One thoughtful question about this book - and maybe this will be answered in House of Hades - is why did Riordan only write first person narrative from the Greek heroes' points of view? Is he hiding something about the Romans?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hero's Lot, by Patrick W. Carr

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. :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January Update

Well, it's a new year! Last year was a difficult one for me - I moved back "home" to Minnesota, and was immediately distracted by family issues. Illnesses and other stresses abounded in my family this year. But I'm thankful that I was living in Minnesota at this time because I was able to be there for my family. Unfortunately, my family problems took away from my available internet time, so I got behind on writing my own blog as well as reading everyone else's.

Resolution 1: Blog about it! One of my New Year resolutions is to get back to writing blog posts and checking everyone's blogs again. So hopefully I'll see you around soon! I'm also going to make a better effort to write editorial pieces for my blog since it tapered off to ONLY book reviews lately. I'm not going to stop with the book reviews, of course, but I'd like to include some other thoughts as well.

I'd been studying the "Question of Evil" for a while, but my studies tapered off when I became too involved in internet-based reading challenges and with my family. This year, I resolve that I will not commit myself to so many challenges and group reads - I will focus on my own interests. Those are: social justice, the "question of evil," and, my new interest, the "Question of Jesus." 

Even when I was a child, I asked myself who Jesus was and why people prayed to Jesus instead of directly to God. As the good little Catholic girl that I was, I decided that this was a very sticky question and decided to shunt it off to some corner of my brain and stop worrying about it. Because of this shunt, I have very little relationship with Jesus at all, and even feel a little uncomfortable when other people talk about their bond with Jesus. I just simply don't know who Jesus is, I suppose. I'm a rather liberal Christian who believes that all religions are "right," and so I've ignored my lack-of-bond with Jesus for quite a long time. However, I have recently decided to read a little about Jesus and find out what He means to me. 

Dedicated to this cause, I went to Barnes and Noble, and browsed the Christian Life and Christianity sections. I resolved that I would buy a "spiritual" book rather than an academic one - because I think the root of my problem is that I have always viewed the question from an academic standpoint. Of course, I failed miserably at my resolution, and bought four academic books. :) Oh well. There's always next time! Or maybe since I think academically, perhaps I'll find the answer in academic books? We'll see. Hopefully I'll do a better job at keeping my "blog about it!" resolution. Christian friends be warned - my thoughts on the subject of Jesus will most likely stick to academic ponderings.

Resolution 2: Just do it already! I make exercise goals for myself every year, and sometimes I complete them and sometimes I don't. I DID end up doing a couple of sprint triathlons a couple years ago, and I had been thinking of doing one last year. But I realized that I simply don't like swimming. It's so wet and chlorinated! I've always wanted to do the Tough Mudder, but that's one of those mud races where you need a team. And I couldn't find a team. 

But this year, I have a coworker whose friends do the Tough Mudder every year. Now I have a team! :) So I'm going to train for the 2014 Tough Mudder (Minnesota). I'm a little skeptical that I can make the July 2014 race because right now I would consider myself a "mudderling" in the Tough Mudder Boot Camp. At the very least, I'll be fit enough for the 2014 Warrior Dash (Minnesota), right? Sadly, I hear the Run for Your Lives races have now been canceled or I'd certainly to THAT again this year. :(

Resolution 3: Move forward! I resolve to move my career forward. 

Resolution 4: Keep up! I resolve to do a better job of keeping up on my reading of the news / current events magazines. My problem is I really want to know what's going on in the world, but I'd much rather sit down and read a nice relaxing novel. I need to keep my reading more balanced with heavier stuff that I want to read but am always too tired to get around to. I'm also a pretty slow reader, so my book clubs take up a bit more of my reading availability than I'd like. I wish I had more free time!

Resolution 5: Please, just stop! I resolve to make fewer resolutions. I always make so many of them, and then I get burnt out and don't complete any of them. I need to focus on those resolutions mentioned above. So no reading challenges! I'll read whatever I want whenever I want, and not commit myself to group reads and challenges (unless I'm really eager to participate). I set a personal challenge this year to finish up as many already-started series and off-the-shelf (currently owned) books as possible. 

Good luck to all of you and your New Years resolutions!

Reading and Film Completed Last Month

My nephew and a friend of mine watched the first season in one weekend. My friend had just had surgery, so she had a lot of down time to just sit - and my nephew just kept wanting more and more. He also learned to use the rainbow loom while watching Doctor Who, and made me this awesome bracelet (pictured below). I'm glad that we agreed to watch this series through in order, it's a lot of fun. So far, I'm impressed with the fact that British TV has so much racial diversity - American TV tends to have shows that are biased towards one particular race, but Doctor Who has a more believable race ratio in its casting. Also, I admit that the Dalek are the most awesome enemy EVER. Lethal trashcans with suction cups and lasers?! AWESOME! They make me so happy. :)

Awesome Bracelet made by my nephew with the Rainbow Loom
I managed to find the money to re-subscribe to The Economist, which is my favorite current events magazine for foreign news. My first copy was the December 14th - 20th edition.
  • It had an interesting article about the pros and cons of raising minimum wage in America - though the lean was slightly conservative (at worst, it won't harm anything! It COULD help.) Personally, I don't understand the deeper economic repercussions of raising minimum wage, but my gut feeling says that it would probably help people who are struggling at the current minimum wage, and I doubt it would cause a permanent dent in the unemployment rate. 

I'm still not a great fan of Rick Riordan, but I'm going to bully through and finish this series. He did a much better job both in writing and in research for this series than he had for the original Percy Jackson series, but there are still some quirks about his writing style that grate on me. Check my upcoming review for more details. 

I watched the first story arc of the 1963 Doctor Who Series - An Unearthly Child - with my good friend and her parents. We enjoyed this campy B&W show, though the Doctor certainly isn't as charismatic as the more recent ones. And I had a really hard time believing that the 23-year-old Carol Ann Ford was a 15-year-old child. She DID slouch a lot to add verisimilitude.  

In this show, we are introduced to the Doctor and his grand-daughter Susan. Susan's teachers begin to wonder who Susan is, and why she lives in an old junk-yard. So they follow her in to the TARDIS and are accidentally swept away into the stone age.
I'm slowly puttering through these fairy tales. I end up reading one every couple of weeks. It's great fun to read this mixture of familiar and unknown stories. Folklore is pretty fascinating, isn't it?

The Story of Bensurdatu: Three princesses disappear and the King promises that anyone who should rescue his princesses will get to marry one of them. A couple of knights set out to rescue the princesses, but they fail miserably and become servants in an inn because they're out of money. Then Bensurdatu sets out, rescues the two knights from servitude, and rescues the princesses by jumping into a magical river which the knights are too cowardly to enter. The knights betray Bensurdatu, though, and they leave him to die and take the three princesses home, claiming that they were the rescuers. They marry two of the princesses, but the youngest refuses to marry anyone but Bensurdatu. Luckily, the young man manages to rescue himself, and returns to the king as a hero. He marries the youngest princess, and the two nights are expelled from the kingdom. I feel sorry for the two older princesses, but I guess they should have been strong like the youngest one. :)
Newly Acquired

Advance Review Copy. Never read a book by Lisa Unger, but thought I'd grab it since it was free. 
I got an autographed copy of this book for my mom for Christmas. Klassen is supposed to be a fantastic writer, and apparently does fantastic historical research for her novels. I'll have to read it when mom's done with it. 

Nook Free Friday