So here's the thing: I grew up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, was baptized, confirmed, and then went to high school and found nothingSo here's the thing: I grew up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, was baptized, confirmed, and then went to high school and found nothing in the liturgy or the service to make me stay in the church.
And then I went to live in Japan and had to wrestle with a WHOLE COUNTRY of folks with a 1000 year old history that has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus.
So I stopped believing the church or Christianity had anything to do with me. I'm a flaming liberal, and a religion that makes outsiders of people is not for me. I wanted religion that was inclusive, and active...and so I left.
But somewhere along the lines, I wanted to sing in a choir again. So I started coming back to church. And somewhere along the lines I realized I could say the words of the Apostles Creed, sing the hymns, and say the Lord's Prayer and it didn't matter one bit whether I believed it or not. It was about doing things that helped me be a better person.
And then I got breast cancer and had to go through chemo and yadda yadda yadda, I couldn't be a strong, independent person anymore, and had to accept help. And somewhere along the lines of accepting help, of being weak, and needing others-- I found friendship. I found a church community.
But my terrible secret remained: I'm not sure the God in the ELCA liturgy is the god I believe. I mean, I certainly don't think 1000s of years of Japanese people are condemned to a fiery pits of hell because Jesus happened to live in the Middle East. A God of love would not work that way.
And that's the long way of saying Nadia Bolz-Weber's book speaks strongly to me. She writes about her failures as a person, and as a PASTOR to love the people around her, the very people who show here the most grace when she commits to speaking in Australia instead of officiating at good friends' weddings, or avoids a parishioner with halitosis and boring stories.
And she verbalizes the twin sides of the "blessing" and "neediness" issue that have been a thorn in my mental side since the first time I did volunteer work in high school. If you go out to do mission and give service, it's so very easy to fall into a mental trap. Here, she explains it better than me:
"While we as people of God are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, the whole "we're blessed to be a blessing" thing can still be kind of dangerous. It can be dangerous when we self-importantly place ourselves above the world, waiting to descend on those below so we can be a "blessing" they've been waiting for, like it or not. Plus, seeing myself as the blessing can pretty easily obscure the way in which I am actually part of the problem and can hide the ways in which I, too, am poor and needing care."
How do we go about doing service without making a distinction between those who are receiving and those giving? I think part of the answer lies in stop giving into the sin of pride about being strong, or independent or being a go-getter or organizational maven or the one who knows where all the spoons go in the church kitchen. It's about being open to the help we all need. We are all broken in our own ways. And about this other side of the service coin, Nadia writes:
"And receiving grace is basically the best shitty feeling in the world. I don't want to need it. Preferably I could just do it all and be it all and never mess up. That may be what I would prefer, but it is never what I need. I need to be broken apart and put back into a different shape by the merging of things human and divine, which is really screwing up and receiving grace and love and forgiveness rather than receiving what I really deserve. I need the very thing that I will do everything I can to avoid needing."
So this is a super-easy book of anecdotes and stories and vignettes about her parishioners and people she's encountered who forced her to confront grace. And I much appreciated the down-to-earth tone....more
This is a prequel story, and I am glad the first book is out already because it ends with the biggest cliffhanger very unresolved. (arrgh)
As a prequelThis is a prequel story, and I am glad the first book is out already because it ends with the biggest cliffhanger very unresolved. (arrgh)
As a prequel, this story does everything its supposed to: it sets up our modern-times-with-demons world, it introduces a bunch of characters, and then it makes you care by having a terrible, unimaginable thing happen to the likable, quarter-back hero who makes mistakes and ignores his girlfriend but basically has a good heart.
On the other hand, there was a lot of fast forwarding. I understand why months have to go by: there's a lot to pack into this story. But I was a bit bemused when something momentous (I have powers! I flubbed the big game! My girlfriend may or may not take me back after I was an insensitive jerkface!) happened for the third time and it was skipped over.
Ah well, I'm pretty sure that won't happen in the first book of the series and I suppose one should be a bit forgiving of prequels. Off now to go read "The Hunted" which is the first book and it looks like, from the summary, will resolve aforementioned cliffhanger....more
I am a little torn with this one, to tell you the truth. I went into it liking the main couple: Irish Colin and Anna and their dem3.5 stars, actually.
I am a little torn with this one, to tell you the truth. I went into it liking the main couple: Irish Colin and Anna and their demon-fighting ways in Louisiana. The story hooked me in with the question of their need for secrecy and the delicious romanticism of Colin's love for Anna.
I also liked how there was just the inklings of a greater problem and world building of demons and angels inherent in the strange demons that Colin and Anna were all of a sudden fighting.
That part was great.
And then just as a human gets turned into a demon and their Hunter friend Luca shows up, things really start getting interesting....and the story was over.
Yep, it's the length of the story that lost this one half a star, otherwise its 4 star. The length of the story keeps this from satisfactorily resolving anything: the romance, the greater problems, the reasons for the demon changes, etc. etc. I wanted about 100 more pages to develop the story.
For some, this might not be a problem. I realize that indie published stuff can go by different rules. But for me, I wanted more in this first book....more
Alex has this social problem that her beautiful, older sister (okay gossip calls her sister a slut sometimes) doesn't seem to have4.5 stars, actually.
Alex has this social problem that her beautiful, older sister (okay gossip calls her sister a slut sometimes) doesn't seem to have despite sharing the same Bruja/Brujo family: magic makes Alex uncomfortable. And after accidentally interrupting her beloved dead Aunt's summoning ceremony, she doesn't want the ancestral magic about to descend upon her on her Deathday (like a magical birthday where you receive the blessing of all your family: living and dead).
So she concocts a plan to get rid of it, and things go awry.
Most of the book is Alex and a mysterious Brujo boy she bribes to help her, traveling through Los Lagos-- a magical Latin-American-inspired Hades complete with awesome things like corrosive rivers of souls, flying bird-women, meadow fae with seductive feasts, and at the heart: a labyrinth that Alex will have to transverse to save her family.
The coolness of Los Lagos and the Bruja elements are fabulous. This is a very cool book. And I loved the fact that Alex and her mysterious Brujo boy have a complicated relationship. And I loved that Alex and her best friend, Rishi, also have a strong, pure connection that shades to the romantic as well.
However, I wanted more. More of Alex's relationships with her sisters and her mother. And more development between Alex and Rishi. Because while traveling around in Los Lagos was fun and cool, what struck me about this book was the depth of the commitment to family and love and supporting each other even when people make mistakes and are cranky. This shone through a little bit, but I took away half a star because I think that more time could have been spent on that and less on the meadow fae.
The book ends with the surprise entrance of a character that bodes for continuation of the story. Hopefully it will let us hang out longer with Alex's sisters....more
There is a fine line to draw when writing fantasy in English based on Asian history-- you can either bombard the reader with historical detail and namThere is a fine line to draw when writing fantasy in English based on Asian history-- you can either bombard the reader with historical detail and names and such and risk being pedantic or confusing, or you can give just enough historical detail to the fantasy story that it makes everything ring true and also be slighly educational.
In this start to the Dragons Songs Sage, Kang actually manages to walk that line fairly well throughout his epic fantasy-esque story about political machinations, assassinations, and musical magic in an alternate ancient China. I loved how the references to things like time, menstruation, etc were authentic sounding euphemisms like "Heaven's Dew." I loved how Kang wove in the presence of elves and orcs and dwarves in a totally believable way. It could have been incredibly jarring to be thinking of Tolkien during this story, but especially the ninja-like Moquan character Jie, who is half elf, makes this a seamless addition.
Sometimes, however, I was a bit off put by many references to gibbous moons and waxing moons, and there was sometimes a lot of things taken-for-granted by characters (like fear of a dragon none of them had ever seen in their lifetime, or Princess Kaiya just non-chalantly risking life and limb just to learn music) that was a bit hard to suspend disbelief on, but it's a fun adventure.
And the action scenes, especially those Moquan-involved ones, are superb. I studied Tai Jutsu just long enough to know when things like breaking elbows over one's shoulders in books ring true and when they seem wrong. These action scenes are fun, technically spot on, and believable.
Excellent start to an Alternate China based fantasy focusing more on action and politics....more
I was impressed with the obviously complicated and rich backstory behind the two main characters of Lillian, who accidentally wake3.5 stars, actually.
I was impressed with the obviously complicated and rich backstory behind the two main characters of Lillian, who accidentally wakes a stone statue of a Gargoyle when she's attacked by evil strangers one day, and Gregory, aforementioned Gargoyle.
Things aren't as simple as they seem; she isn't just a Sorceress, and he isn't just a gargoyle. There are other powers in other realms at work here, and lots of interesting conflict to discover.
I was also confused at times by the complicated backstory. And some of that confusion is because this story uses terms I thought I was familiar with in new ways (Lillian, besides being a Sorceress, is also a dryad, but she calls her tree her "hamadryad" etc).
There is no denying the angsty, forbidden love quotient here is high, though. Gregory and Lillian are forbidden, but that doesn't seem to stop them from willingly dying for each other and getting in some quick muzzle-nuzzling or first base nookie.
In my paranormal/urban fantasy, one thing that's a personal preference is for the magic system or supernatural to have rules and be logical and constrained. I, know, right, that seems a tad ironic. What can I say? It doesn't seem like a contradiction to me. In this book, Lillian and Gregory both have amorphous "power" that they draw from several different sources and seem to be able to do most anything with that power. Not my favorite magic system.
So high marks on angsty love, but not my personal taste for world-building. ...more
There are few authors who can pull off Urban Fantasy series past three or four books and still develop/hone their characters, keep me interested in thThere are few authors who can pull off Urban Fantasy series past three or four books and still develop/hone their characters, keep me interested in the love relationship, and introduce new monsters without escalating their characters' powers into unbelievability. Briggs is one of those rare authors.
Mercy gets abducted-- and at first I was like, been there, done that. But no...actually. This is new. This is Mercy getting abducted by powerful beings from far across the Atlantic Ocean who force Mercy to face her most basic beliefs about what makes a being worthy of respect and how she is willing to use her power over the dead. And also the basic, twin natures of chaos and mercy that form her character.
And there's Prague! I love Prague.
And Briggs used a writing convention I usually am not fond of, and she made me love it, darn her. We get alternating Mercedes/Adam POV here, which was AWESOME and also Briggs puts a little title-thought from Mercedes at the start of each chapter basically telling you where and when the chapter is because, get this, she also time-jumps back and forth between Adam and Mercedes and what's happening.
I know, right? Headache. But it's not! It totally works.
And, there's a reveal at the end that is so delicious, so startling, and yet so very obvious when thinking back to what that character did, that it was like a surprise party for all of us fans.
I keep telling myself that I want the Mercy Thompson series to end because I love Stefan, Mercy, Adam, etc. and I can't help worrying Briggs will write a novel that will let me down. But she hasn't so far, and you should definitely read this one....more
I don't remember the website or blogger who must have recommended this one-- and I definitely did not remember what must have contained a warning abouI don't remember the website or blogger who must have recommended this one-- and I definitely did not remember what must have contained a warning about the confusing place this book has in a series where two different publishers got an author to not only change HER name, but the names of her main characters.
????? Am I right?
So once I figured out that Charles/Melanie were actually the SAME couple Malcolm/Suzanne as in this book, and that Vienna Walz, although referring to like major, major plot and relationship developments, is more or less the first in the Malcolm/Suzanne series that isn't a prequel, etc. things got a tad less confusing. I recommend reading the author's FAQ on recommended reading order before jumping in. (https://tracygrant.wordpress.com/faq/).
Euro-centric history lovers, pull up your garters and tighten that corset-- this one is replete with political manuevering agaisnt the glittering backdrop of Vienna high society as European leaders attempt to redistribute land and power after Napoleon's defeat circa 1814.
Into this morass of love-triangles and power-brokering comes Malcolm Rannoch, attache to the British Ambassador, and his wife-with-a-tangled-past Suzanne. They begin investigating the death of a mistress of some of the powerful figures with an amazing amount of angst-- Suzanne suspects the mistress also had an affair with Malcolm.
That's kind of the theme of the major relationship in this book: "I'm not good enough for you, and I love you, but I"m not going to tell you." Which actually works really, really well here for Malcolm and Suzanne. They both have secrets-- wait, no, MULTIPLE layers of secrets that they are trying to keep from each other despite meeting in the midst of war and entering in a marriage of convenience that has already produced a son.
But the focus here is on emotional entanglements, not steam.
I loved the historical figures, and I love Malcolm and Suzanne (or whatever their names are). Sometimes things got just a tad repetetive with all the glittering figures seeming to say the same things "marriages are a mysterious puzzle" or "you have to trust someone" or whatnot, which is where it loses a star.
Untangling this series could take up a whole summer, and you'd have to have a bit of ambiguity tolerance to follow along the parallel publishing paths. It might be worth it though....more
J. Kathleen Cheney has a gift for creating heroes whose very strength also place them in a position of weakness in their world. They are angsty, and cJ. Kathleen Cheney has a gift for creating heroes whose very strength also place them in a position of weakness in their world. They are angsty, and caring, and unprepared to handle their desire to protect the younger, more willing to risk all heroine whom they encounter.
So we have Mikael Lee -- who is both the ruling/invader Anvarrid and the indigenous "Family" with a psychic power that forces him to dream murders in his city, and broadcast them to any psychically sensitive person around.
This does not make him popular.
And we also have Shironne Anjir-- who is exquisitely sensitive to his projections, but is blind AND a child by their society's definitions.
And there are gruesome, ritualistic murders being carried out somehow tied to people they know.
So I contemplated taking away half a star here because I got confused just a smidge by the complicated military history and the cultural world building at the start. There are Larossans and Family and Anvarrid and it took me a while to sort everything out-- but that might have just been lazy reading on my part (although a short timeline at the back of the book of the major military happenings, or a map might have helped more visual learners like myself).
But I just couldn't. Cheney does such an intricate, layered world-building here, that all along as you're enjoying the exquisite details of Fortress society or Mikael's Boss's backstory, or cringing along with Mikael when his coworker, Kai teases him about a youthful incident where a girl fell on him during a fight, you're not aware you're slowly, slowly being prepared for all those details to actually MATTER later on when more of the mystery is revealed.
Cheney is one heck of a mystery writer able to tie together various plot threads to a quite satisfying conclusion. And I'm already in love with Mikael's solemn desire to do right and Shironne's exquisite need to shield herself as a sensitive prodded on by curiosity. More, please....more
I'm a layman- not a scientist or medical professional of any kind.
Most of this book uses the framework of mild-mannered Herbert Weinstein who beat, stI'm a layman- not a scientist or medical professional of any kind.
Most of this book uses the framework of mild-mannered Herbert Weinstein who beat, strangled, and threw his wife out of a high-rise window one day over an argument, and spent most of the rest of his life in prison.
It turned out that Herbert had a kind of benign cyst that his defense lawyers tried to use as a mitigation factor in his sentencing. This is presented in the book as one of the primary cases where neuroscience imaging about the shape/state of a brain was used to suggest that leniency should be given to the defendant because of the question of how that abnormality intersected with free will.
That's a theme that is brought up throughout this book and its description of how neuroscience began to be used in U.S. courtrooms (mostly as mitigation defense during sentencing and not during the trial phase).
I found that question to be quite interesting, and also the discussions of how many scientists are deeply uncomfortable with making any kind of connection between the shape of a brain or presence of an abnormality and the responsibility for someone's behavior.
Interesting book, but I felt the focus on the Weinstein case somewhat limited the topic, and I wished for a bit more of the science behind the intersection of psychiatric diagnosis and the brain imaging....more
This is an urban fantasy set in Albuquerque, New Mexico...so refreshingly not the gritty, damp, urban city setting Urban Fantasy lovers might have comThis is an urban fantasy set in Albuquerque, New Mexico...so refreshingly not the gritty, damp, urban city setting Urban Fantasy lovers might have come to expect.
It's bright, sunny, desert, and there's chilies in the food. The chilies might seem like a non-sequitur but believe me, one of the pleasures of this book is the fact that our young adult heroine, Rose, loves to eat. And her wild-haired brother Ed owns a Tex Mex-Cajun fusion restaurant and feeds her the yummiest sounding meals. (don't read this book hungry) There's also a lot of description of scents, which sometimes was cool (I liked all the cologne descriptions for Ed, the love interest, etc) and sometimes struck me as too frequent.
Rose has lived with the fear that the power to see dead spirits-- which drove her father crazy-- will descend upon her now that she's reached young adulthood. But high school is over and she's home free. That is, until she goes out with restaurant leftovers to deliver to a homeless man and discovers him dead.
She can't refuse to read the book her father and grandmother and all the necromancer ancestors have written anymore-- even thought how it calls and talks to her freaks her out.
Things get even hairier when it turns out there are sorceresses of light that hate necromancers, and may be coming for Rose.
What's a girl to do? Blow off her high school crush she's falling in love with? Turn away from her best friend? Hang out in cemeteries? Eat more of her brother's chicken chili and jambalaya?
The story ends with a warning of a new foe for Rose, and a major relationship shakeup. I hope the next books also feature Ed's cooking. It luscious food descriptions almost make up for the very, very light romance (my taste runs to more than hand-holding, although there's a palm kissing scene here that was sweet).
I enjoyed the New Mexico setting, the struggle for Rose to decide what kind of necromancer she wants to be, and of course, the food. ...more