A Breathe of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont

A Breathe of Eyre

by Eve Marie Mont

(Cover from Goodreads)

I’m not really sure why I bought this book. It was a Kindle Deal of the Day, but I bought it before I ever read Jane Eyre. I waited until I read the classic before diving into this one. That said, I read it in one sitting (and stayed up until 5am doing so!).

This book has both good and bad points.

At first, I loved the character. A typical outsider, Emma loves to read, has few friends, and is socially awkward. A true loner with really no friends, I was interested to see how the novel would play out. However, within the first few pages, she suddenly has a love interest and two new best friends who stick with her through thick and thin. Great for the character, but not very realistic. She is today’s heroine, the girl every little girl wants to be, who magically finds best friends and acceptance with little effort.

In fact, there is a great deal of suspension of disbelief in this novel. A lot of it is highly unlikely (how many high schoolers do you know who almost drown, get struck by lightning, get knocked unconscious in a burning stable while trying to save horses, and then almost die saving a friend from an attempted suicide, all in one year’s time? Yes, all of this does happen in this novel.) Plus, this is yet another tale written about a girl in boarding school where the boarding school sounds a little unreal.

Yet, if you can get past all of that, it’s actually a pretty good book. In spite of how unrealistic Emma is, she is pretty lovable. She has great internal conversations and she grows as a character, finding courage both through her friend Michelle and her adventures being transported into her new favorite book,

Jane Eyre.

Yes, this lucky little girl does indeed get transported inside her favorite book, but what happens there is a great (perhaps not so) new take on a beloved classic.

Which leads me to the only point about this book that actually ticks me off: if Charlotte Bronte were alive, I’m pretty sure she would sue for copyright infringement. While Mont has re-written the story from Emma’s perspective of being trapped inside her novel, once Emma starts to lose track of herself and truly become Jane, Mont is basically just retelling entire chunks of

Jane Eyre.

I, having read through that story once (in the much better written original version), decided I didn’t really want to read those sections again, so I skimmed. Perhaps the retelling is necessary for readers who haven’t read

Jane Eyre

, but really, who would read a novel entitled

A Breathe of Eyre

if they haven’t read

Jane Eyre

? It seems sort of like cheating to me and looks sort of like plagiarism. I mean, if this was written for a creative writing course I was teaching, I would probably fail her for using so much straight from the original. Not okay.

But, if you skip those parts and accept the suspension of disbelief, it’s actually a great young adult novel. A great protagonist, a rocky romance, and family secrets—it includes all the makings of a great weekend read for when you need to relax. This is my version of a guilty pleasure kind of book and, in spite of the aforementioned weaknesses, I’ll probably read it again.

And, if you’re a fan of

Jane Eyre

, so should you.

I give it 4/5 stars.


A Breathe of Eyre

is apparently one of a series. I haven’t read the others, but it seems that in the second novel, she finds herself in

The Scarlet Letter

and in the third novel, in

Phantom of the Opera

. I’m sort of tied between wanting to


this character falling into her favorite books all the time and being glad that I don’t have to deal with the drama of being stuck in these particular books!

The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird

A while back, I read the book

The Lion in the Lei Shop

by Kaye Starbird. It was recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy. It happened to be one of the Kindle deals of the day, so I read it on my kindle. 

I think this was a hard book for me to read because, in many ways, it hit strangely close to home. It was a novel that was written from two perspectives, telling the story twice. The two characters are mother and daughter and the story explores the question of perspective and how the perspectives of adults and children differ.

Marty is five years old when her home in Hawaii is thrown into chaos by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her mother, April, who is pregnant at the time, reacts with the dutiful obedience of an army wife and helps organize the women, including her sister, Liz, who is also pregnant and farther along than April. Yet, in the midst of the chaos around them, neither woman seems to communicate with or even pay attention to their children. And that, friends, is the theme of the story.

Starbird tells of how Marty and April travel to Boston to live with April’s parents before ending up buying a small house out in the country. Throughout the story, Marty is expected to take more and more responsibility, all the while April apparently ignores her daughter in her distress. The different perspectives are interesting because you hear Marty’s honest, childlike version of what happened, and then you hear her mother’s version, which rarely matches up with what Marty thought happened.

The story is really good, but the storytelling becomes really infuriating. The characters waver between enchanting and annoying as Marty becomes obsessed with a lion in her nightmare and April spends a good portion of the novel ignoring her daughter (and after the second baby is born, daughters) and the obvious problems she is having adjusting to life after the bombing. Typical of family life in this era, there is no communication between the mother and her daughters, leaving the little ones confused and angry.

This is a hard book to rate because the story and writing are so good, but the characters so infuriating at times. I don’t think I would reread this one, but I will give it

3.5/5 stars. I think it would be a good book for a book group or discussion.

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel

I was recently in Barnes and Noble. When I was browsing the bargain section, I found this lovely little novel,

The Recipe Club

by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel.

At first, I was primarily drawn to the beautiful cover. The best of 1970’s hues in kitchenware, the book simply looked beautiful. Then, picking it up and reading the back cover, I read this: “Loyalty, loss, and the ties that bind: These are the ingredients of

The Recipe Club

, a ‘novel cookbook’ that combines an authentic story of friendship with more than eighty delicious recipes.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, you might not be aware that I’m completely addicted to cookbooks and food-related stories. So, obviously, I had to pick up a copy.

I have to admit that, at first, I was a little disappointed in this novel. The first few pages were not particularly alluring or well written. But, as I persevered, I got hooked on the story of these two very different little girls who were best friends and rivals all at once, whose relationship revolved around food, and who were the only members of the Recipe Club and therefore, each letter that the girls wrote the other included a recipe (all of which sound delicious, by the way).

The basic plot is that Lilly and Val have been lifelong friends. The novel begins with an adult Val writing an email to adult Lilly to tell her that her mother, who loved Lilly as well as her own daughter, has died. The reader quickly learns that these two women, who the back cover asserts as lifelong friends, haven’t spoken in years. The  story continues a bit, then stops after another fight. Then, the  book takes us back to the 60’s when, as children, their relationship grew mostly through writing letters after Val’s family moved to another part of New York City, away from Lilly and her own family.

The writing is not masterful, but the story is good and the characters intriguing. I have to admit that before I even got five pages into the older letters, I turned the pages to the back section that took up the modern day again to find out if my hunch about a major plot twist was right. It was. So, I’m guessing most readers anticipate the same plot twist I did. It was, however, a good one.

One thing that makes this book stand out against other similar fiction made of letters is that there are two authors, and therefore the letters have a distinct feel to them that makes the character more real.

So, while the writing style is less than stellar (acceptable, given that both authors are cookbook writers who have never done fiction before), I love the characters. I love the story, too, and the aforementioned plot twist is one that explores much about childhood, friendship, and the role that secrets can often play in families. Mental illness, teenage rebellion, and loyalty are other themes that are explored.

While I don’t think this book could be seen as life changing, I do think it is a decent book and a good read. I give it three stars. If you like food literature or books about long enduring friendship, check this out (and if you’re near a Barnes and Noble, you might be able to pick up a copy for $5!).

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown

The following is an excerpt from a review I have published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine

Almost two years ago, my friend Lorna told me that I just had to read this book called Sensible Shoes. I added it to my list of books to read, but I never got around to it. So, I was pleasantly surprised when, as a part of a wonderful “PhD Survival Kit,” she gave me a copy. When I was packing to go on my retreat, I slipped the book into my bag without really thinking about it. I figured, why not? It might be a good read.

It was so good that I couldn’t set it down.


To read the rest of this review, download the June issue of Spiritual Uprising Magazine. The e-magazine is available for free! You can find it at http://www.up-ministries.org/current-issue.html

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

 (I’m having a hard time writing a review for this book because nothing I can say will do it justice. Please, just read the book.)

For the Triduum + Easter, I made my retreat this year by reading Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Just as with Jayber Crow, Hannah’s story involves a great deal of reflection on scripture, but especially involves reflection over the line, “Thy will be done,” from the Lord’s Prayer.

Yet, again, it is not a book strictly about theology or faith. This is the story of a woman named Hannah Coulter, told by her as an old woman. She remembers the moments of her life, treasuring them as an old woman sitting alone in her rocking chair.

Berry’s writing is profound. Through Hannah, we experience loss, grief, and the guilt at loving again. We experience acceptance and the healing power of community.  Hannah’s thoughts and reflections over the events of her life made her the perfect companion on my Easter journey this year.

Reading Hannah Coulter was lovely for multiple reasons, not least of all hearing more stories about the characters I fell in love with in Jayber Crow. I long to enter into the books, to take part in the daily life of Port William—a place as real to its readers as the world in which we live and breathe.

Hannah’s story is that of a farm wife, a hard working woman who has known the pleasure of a well-lived life and the pain of children falling away from faith and family. Her story can touch anyone—she is so utterly relatable. I think everyone should read this book.

I give this book 5.5 stars—because 5 stars just aren’t enough.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow is probably one of my favorite books of all time, if not my very favorite book. Reading it was like spiritual reading and prayer and rest all at the same time. The line that will probably stick with me longer than any other is when Jayber says, “The Resurrection is more real to me than most things I have not yet seen.”

Jayber’s reading of scripture and his belief in every line of the Lord’s Prayer make up a constant theme running in the background of the novel. Yet, do not be misled: this is not a book about religion or spirituality. The full title is Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written by Himself. This is a book about the life of a man named Jayber Crow, told from his point of view as an old man looking back at the life he lived with joy and sorrow, pride and shame. He tells the story of his life with this belief: “I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked.” The pilgrimage he speaks of is not one with marked roads like on el camino, but the pilgrimage of life in which one makes his own way.

The story begins with the tale of how Jayber ended up as a child at an orphanage, then tells of his time there and the time after, during which he thought he was to become a preacher. Then, he ends up (as you knew from the very beginning—it’s the subtitle of the book) in the small township of Port William, acting as their barber.

Jayber’s tale is told with care—with the wisdom of an old man telling his story. Berry’s writing is, as always, masterful. There is an element of the story telling that reminds me of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. He tells the story, but often out of order and sometimes two ways.

Jayber writes, “I have raked my comb over scalps that were dirty both above and beneath. I have lowered the ears of good men and bad, smart and stupid, young and old, kind and mean; of men who have killed other men (think of that) and of men who have been killed (think of that).”  Yet, he loves them all—or almost all.

The connections that Jayber Crow makes with the people of Port William define him. They form and shape him. He tells about the old men, farmers who sit and tell stories or bring out their instruments and sing, “I loved to listen to them, for they spoke my native tongue.”

Jayber’s story is about community, about love, and about belonging. I think Jayber’s story can speak to us all. Berry’s expert storytelling gives us an old man that is lovable and relatable, wise and yet, through his reminiscences, in need of wisdom. There is much to learn from the old barber, Jayber Crow.

I recommend this book with all my heart. I give it a sold 5/5, maybe even a 5.5. Read it.

Some favorite quotes:
“The University… was preparing people from the world of the past for the world of the future, and what it was missing was the world of the present, where every body was living its small, short, surprising, miserable, wonderful, blessed, damaged, only life.”

“I became a sort of garden fanatic, and I am not yet over it.”

Of Miss Gladdie Finn: “When she got tired of some of her stuff, she would gather it into her apron and hike off among the neighbors to trade for stuff that they were tired of.”

Of WWII: “What had caused it? It was caused, I thought, by people failing to love one another, failing to love their enemies.”

Of Cecilia Overhold: “Of courses, Cecilia held some secret doubts about herself; you can’t dislike nearly everybody and be quite certain that you have exempted yourself.”

Of Roy Overhold: “Roy lived too hard up against mystery to be without religion.”

“I feel a little weary in calling them “the dead,” for I am as mystified as anybody by the transformation known as death, and the Resurrection is more real to me than most things I have not yet seen.”

“As I buried the dead and walked among them, I wanted to make my heart as big as heaven to include them all and love them and not be distracted. I couldn’t do it, of course, but I wanted to.”

There is much, much more, but for fear of spoiling the story, I will refrain!

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

This review was written for CatholicFiction.net

If you’ve read my book blog before, you know that while I praise Lewis as one of the greatest writers of the last century, I generally avoid doing book reviews of his work. This is primarily because I feel unworthy of writing such a review. As one of my primary influences both in literature and theology, Lewis is one of my heroes. You cannot give an objective review of your hero.

That being said, I want to share with you my thoughts on The Horse and His Boy. Now, The Horse and His Boy is either my first or second favorite of the Narnia series (it goes back and forth between THaHB and The Last Battle).

Unlike most of the books in the Narnia series, The Horse and His Boy is a story of its own, with few references to England and only a small number of hat tips to previous adventures. Fans of the Pevensies get to see King Edmund and Queens Lucy and Susan in their glory (well, Lucy and Ed are in their glory—Susan is silly as ever). A few encounters with the Pevensies as more-or-less grown adults with little memory of their true identities are the extent of direct references to the earlier and later stories. The Horse and His Boy is able to stand alone; yet the story takes place almost entirely in Calormen and Archenland, not in Narnia, which also gives shape to the series as a whole.

The story follows two main story lines. The first is that of Shasta, a young boy who finds out that the fisherman who raised him is not his father when he hears the fisherman plotting to sell him to a Tarkaan. The Tarkaan’s horse, Bree, turns out to be a talking horse from Narnia. Bree, knowing that he cannot escape alone, asks Shasta to be his rider:

“If you can’t ride, can you fall?”
“I suppose that anyone can fall,” said Shasta.
“I mean can you fall and get up again without crying and mount again and fall again and yet not be afraid of falling?”
“I—I will try,” said Shasta. (p.209)*

The other storyline follows a young Tarkheena named Aravis who has escaped her father’s house after finding that her father is giving her as a wife to a much older man. First she planned to take her own life, but was stopped when her own horse, Hwin, reveals that she is also a talking horse and stops Aravis from finishing the act, persuading her to flee instead.

The two storylines collide when the children and their horses meet in the dessert, running from lions. Although they are wary of each other at first, they learn to be friends in the end. They have several short adventures together, trying to get to Narnia where they, and their horses, will be free.

As they are traveling through the capital city and making their way towards Narnia, the two become separated and each child has their own adventure and their own secrets to discover. These adventures in Tashbaan are crucial to both the plotline and the character development for the children. Shasta is given the first hint of his true identity and destiny while Aravis learns that she is made of different stuff than other Calormines and will never be happy among them. Together, they learn things (by listening to conversations that they were not meant to hear) that reveal their quest.

While I have read some complaints on review sites that Aslan does not feature well into this story, I think that is a silly thing to say. As in life when we can look back and see the actions of God in guiding us along, in this book Shasta and Aravis are given the opportunity to see where Aslan gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) guided them, guarded them, and helped them do what they were meant to do. Aslan walks into their lives and brings them to their vocations without them realizing it. In fact, they cannot realize his presence because they do not know. They were not raised learning about the lion who so intimately knows his people, instead they were raised learning about a distant god called Tash and practically worshipping the great Tisroc, their version of a king. They are not like Lucy Pevensie, who always recognizes Aslan before her siblings are able to: Aravis and Shasta must first know who Aslan is before they can recognize him. When they do come to know him, they come truly to know themselves. It is the same for Bree, who is embarrassed by his vanity when Aslan comes before him, and Hwin, whose response to Aslan is perhaps best of all:

Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little niegh, and trotted across to the lion.
“Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”
“Dearest daughter,” said Aslan, planting a lion’s kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, “I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours.” (p. 299)*

Shasta as a character lacks complexity. I think that Shasta could be characterized as a classic shy introvert: he is awkward and doesn’t know social norms, but he is aware of his lack of knowledge, making him even more awkward. Bree, on the other hand, is exactly what you would expect from a showy warhorse. He is prideful, yet honorable.

If you are looking for a strong female character, look no further than Hwin and Aravis. Where Bree (the male horse) tires out and is prone to cowardice, Hwin gives all she can and is remains the strong, practical voice for the group. Modern readers will also be delighted to encounter Aravis—a strong young woman, capable of taking care of herself but not so independent as to refuse to work with others. She recognizes her faults (admittedly, sometimes after the fact) and is given equal importance to Shasta. Her courage and quick thinking often save the day.

In addition to being a strong female character (neither the first nor the last in this series), I think that Aravis is an extraordinary character in this series for her faith perspective. She is not from Narnia, and therefore not a child of Adam and Eve—meaning she is not part of the sacred lineage that Lewis makes so much of in his other works. Yet, Aslan still appears to her, still corrects her when she is wrong, still loves her gently and fiercely. Aslan’s mercy is also found in another even stranger place: his willingness to forgive and pardon Prince Rabadash, a very flat character who never outgrows his flaws of greed and pride. Aslan’s mercy and love are not limited to what could be called the faith community of Narnia and Archenland—two nations devoted to following Aslan. They extend to all the beings who inhabit the world he created. 

Another thing to note is that while Tash is a false god opposed to Aslan, Aslan is able to work miracles even through the temple of Tash. Lewis is saying here the same thing he repeats in The Last Battle: there are many names for God, there are many ways we recognize him, we cannot limit his power to be simply that which we expect from him. Aslan can work in ways outside of the expectations of his own people. He is, after all, not a tame lion.

I dearly love this book, but in each reading I learn something new—often gaining a deeper insight into what I think Lewis was getting at in writing a book so unlike the others. Ignoring the differences, however, we find that the story is yet another adventure story whose deep theological veins connect with the whole work that is The Chronicles of Narnia.

I give The Horse and His Boy  a 5/5.

*Quotations are cited based on the page numbers in the all-in-one version (978-0-06-623850-0)

The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

I guess it’s obvious that I’m hooked. It was less than a week ago that I wrote about The Judas Strain and here I am, writing about another James Rollins book. I just couldn’t resist buying one of his books and then I couldn’t put it down.

At first, I was almost afraid to read another of his books, in fear that after the great experience I had with the first one, this one might be a let down. Nope. The Doomsday Key definitely met and exceeded expectations.

Again, the mash up of genres: archaeological adventure, science/medical thriller, historical fiction, and more. This time, there was even more Vatican/Roman Catholic involvement in the plot and, although I’m sure it would be controversial to some, I certainly enjoyed the read.

This time the plot follows a little more in order (or perhaps I am just getting used to Rollins’ writing). Instead of five different storylines to follow, now there are really three primary lines to keep up with, making it much easier to follow when you do have to put it down (darn work!).

The story begins in the modern world (well, during Benedict XVI’s reign as pope), with three gruesome murders across the globe: one, in Rome, of a Vatican archaeologist; the second, in Africa, of a young man working at a Red Cross camp that is also doing research on GMO corn; and the third, of his genetics professor at Princeton. The main story, without ruining too much of the end, follows two key lines. The first, follows the investigation of the link between the second and third murders by Director Crowe, an investigation that reveals a great deal about the engineering going into GMO crops and the very real dangers of planting GMO seed. The second line follows Gray and his team as they follow the clues left by the Vatican Archaeologist, trying to find what it was that got him killed. As the danger mounts, both teams find themselves traveling around the globe to find the answers before it is too late.

The plot ends up involving Saints Bernard of Clairveaux and Malachy, Malachy’s prediction, the Black Madonna, and the ancient Egyptians. I, whose studies of Bernard of Clairveaux were limited to whatever Dr. John Sommerfeldt has told me, had no idea of the complicated conspiracy theories behind these two best-friend holy men. Rollins’ writing is just generous enough to keep from offending while entertaining and educating. Again, Rollins balances his incredible plot with compelling facts from history.

I give The Doomsday Key  a solid 5. And, if you happen to have a copy of any of Rollins’ other books, I would love to borrow them.

The Judas Strain by James Rollins

The Judas Strain by James Rollins

This past week, I was on Alternative Spring Break with my students at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. While there, my friend Tracy Wilson lent me her copy of The Judas Strain. After reading only the preface, I simply did not want to put it down.

This book is like all great literary genres and modes all rolled into one. There is the historical fiction telling about Marco Polo’s travels, the scientific/medical thriller in the pandemic that is quickly spreading around the world threatening the entire population, the adventure of being on a ship taken over by pirates, the suspenseful story of the sweet older couple being tracked and tortured by would-be assassins, and the archaeological adventure story of chasing after the mysteries left by Polo’s descendants and later keepers of his secrets. Add to this a mysterious language, Vatican involvement, and the possibility of angels walking on earth and you have The Judas Strain. Even the title invokes memory of Judas betraying Christ, a literary character who has been revisited again and again. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the novel is the amount of seemingly fictional information that the author explains in his note at the end of the novel to be true.

So, you can see how this novel would appeal to me. As a history buff and philologist, as a devout Roman Catholic and employee of the RC Church (7 years running), and as someone who enjoys a good thriller, it is like this book was written just for me. And that’s not to mention that I love science literature and sci fi literature—one of my favorite classes was Faith and Sciences at the University of Dallas, taught by Dr. John Norris.

This was one great book. Explaining why is a challenge and I hope that I’m up to the task.

As a work of literature, it has everything. The characters are well written and you can see how they evolve throughout the story. By using multiple character perspectives, Rollins allows us to see each character through at least a couple lenses. The relationships between the characters are as complex as real-life relationships and following the ways that they change and grow makes the novel that much more real.

The plot is windy. A character met before the first chapter is lost until the end of chapter six. Storylines are dropped for a while and then picked up again, weaving a masterwork that brings multiple events and storylines into one larger story. But, while the plot is thick and takes a lot of concentration to follow at the beginning, eventually you can see how every word written ties into the larger tale.

While reason would lead you to question some of the decisions made (mostly by Vatican agents in the 1600s—I mean, come on, why split up a map into three different clues and hide them all over the world?), the pace of the story quickly gets you caught up in even the most intricate conspiracies. By the end, even the fantastical seems realistic (and, after all, the Church did do some pretty strange things during that century).

The end leaves nothing desired. While open to another story with the same characters and a new adventure, there are no loose ends that leave the reader dissatisfied: only new leads that could lead to a new story. And, as a big fan of Doctor Who, at the end I could almost hear Chris Eccleston saying, “Just once, Rose, just once everybody lives.” In spite of the mass death present throughout the book, at the end, there is no need for tears, only hope. That’s a good book.

I give The Judas Strain a solid 5.

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

After watching every episode of BBC’s Sherlock, both of RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes movies, and the first season of Elementary (please, Netflix, get season 2 soon!!), I decided it was time to try out the original.

A Study in Scarlet is the first of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels about the renowned and beloved detective, Sherlock Holmes. Here, we hear the tale of how Dr. John Watson, back in London after serving in Afghanistan, is seeking out lodgings and finds an old friend, Stamford, who connects him with a man named Sherlock Holmes.  Holmes, having found lodgings beyond his means, is looking for someone to share the cost. It is in this manner that the two, now known as two of the most famous characters from all of literature, first meet.

I feel no need to really review A Study in Scarlet, for Doyle’s work was famous and prized long before I was born and will continue to be so long after I am dead. However, I would like to say a few words about the book that surprised me.

First, as a fan of modern interpretations of Doyle’s work, it was fun—yes, fun—to meet the characters I already loved so dearly in their natural and original realm. I speak not only of Holmes and Watson, but of Gregson and Lestrade. The manner of Holmes’ detective work was also familiar, but even more ingenious than imagined after watching the modern television counterparts. Reading the book also helped me to appreciate the genius of the television writers—especially Moffat, who (given the fact that most long-time Whovians hate him), actually surprises me in his skill of interpreting this well-loved classic.

Second, I have to say I was surprised to find in the second book that Doyle takes the reader to America to discover, without any mention of Sherlock and Watson, the history of the events taking place in London. I was even more surprised to find that this history includes Brigham Young as a villain. How utterly unlooked for! But, in my opinion, how great in imagination and cultural understanding. Doyle is a genius. He’s not the grandfather of so many modern retellings for nothing!

I give this novel a solid 4 and I cannot wait to return to Sherlock in his next adventure.

Three by Kristen Simmons

Three by Kristen Simmons

I first started reading the Article 5 series by Kristen Simmons because my dear friend Hannah recommended it. At that point, only the first book was published. Since then, I have read each book as it came out. I recently finished the third novel in the trilogy, Three.

The Article 5 series is yet another in the long line of recent dystopian trilogies (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.) to swamp the market. While the book does belong in my category of guilty pleasure/non-intellectual reading, I think it is very good (and I would remind friends that I place Austen, Bronte, and Arthur Conan Doyle in the same category).

The basic plot of the series is that the United States survived some war and the new government has taken over in such a way that limits and endangers the rights of most citizens (as in all dystopian novels of late). This particular new government is set up to mimic the old US government that we know and love, but in reality has very little in common. The government has taken on a religious identity, using moral codes (the articles referenced in the title) to control the population. Of course, like all such regimes, the religious quality is a sham and the leaders of the government care little for morality.

The articles take our Christian moral codes to an extreme that fly in the face of anything Christians should want to stand for. All those who do not follow the moral codes are either murdered (in the case of adults) or taken to a reform school (as Ember is when she is found to be a child conceived out of wedlock). There seems to be no justice in this new government.

In Three, Ember finds out much more about the rebel movement she learned about in the second novel, Breaking Point. The reader also finally is given some idea and background to understand what happened to make this government able to take over. Some might say that this last novel was Simmons’ way of saving her series (many critics said her world lacked substance because there was no history given to explain the current state of things). I, however, enjoyed the series thoroughly.

I would recommend that readers who find Article 5 less than satisfactory continue reading the rest of the series. Simmons’ writing might have been wanting in the first of the series, but by Three she has learned more about her craft. And, the most annoying part of Article 5 (the incessant whining and love-sickness of the young couple, Chase and Ember) has transformed into something that resembles a healthy relationship.

As with other dystopian novels, the criticisms of society found in the Article 5 series are well placed. Simmons reminds us that good things when taken to an extreme turn bad quite quickly.

I give both Three and the series as a whole a 3. I definitely recommend this series when you are looking for something that is interesting and a page-turner, but not overly taxing on the brain (the emotions are another story). I don’t recommend it when you are looking for something happy and simple! Like all dystopian novels, there is no way for a truly happy ending.

Kaitlyn’s Star Guide:
0 stars: Don’t read it. A waste of your time. Worse than Twilight.
1 star: Read only if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot your brain if you read it too much.
2 stars:  Good for what it is or not my taste.
3 stars: Decent book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
4 stars: Really good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.
5 stars: Earth Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE CHANGING.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

When I was young, probably in the seventh or eighth grade, I saw one of Agatha Christie’s novels in movie format (for the life of me, I cannot remember which). I enjoyed it enough that I picked up copies of a few of her books at a booksale, but never got around to reading any of them. Recently, looking through my shelves for something to read, I found The Body in the Library.

I suspect that for most of my generation, the classic who-dunnit books no longer hold much interest, as we are so used to crime shows and mystery theater that wrap up stories so concisely and beautifully. Actually sitting down and reading a mystery novel in which there is no sex or steamy relationship gossip between the detectives is a far different experience from sitting down to this week’s episode of Criminal Minds, Elementary, or the like. Reading Christie’s novels is really more a practice in patience, for we do not see the truth until the very end. There are no clips of the murder taking place, no visuals or scenes to help us figure out the answer.

Bolstered by my identity as a crime show fan, I began the novel expecting to be able to figure it out before the last chapter. I had forgotten, of course, that Christie’s endings are almost always over-the-top ridiculous and unlikely scenarios. The murderer was so obvious, but his alibi so solid that you began to doubt his guilt and the means were so roundabout that I found myself completely confused before the end.

The basic plot is this: Colonel and Mrs. Bantry are woken up one morning by their very anxious maid, informing them that a dead body has been found in their library. While the colonel calls in the police (Col. Melchett and Inspector Slack), Mrs. Bantry calls her friend, Jane Marple, a local sleuth that seems to figure out the most complex crimes long before the police can work it out themselves. Finding that the young girl, identified by her cousin as a Miss Ruby Keene, was an entertainer at a local hotel (think Penny in Dirty Dancing, only nowhere near as intelligent or talented), Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry head to the hotel as guests to do sleuthing of their own while the police do their own detective work. Eventually, the former head of Scotland Yard, Sir Henry, gets involved. With a great deal of digging around on the part of all four detectives (and after yet body is discovered and a third murder attempted), it is—of course—Miss Marple who puts the pieces together and clears the name of the framed suspect, finding the real criminals right under their noses.

The writing, of course, is quite good—Agatha Christie was an internationally renown writer for a reason (for she hails from the age when you actually had to be a good writer to be internationally renown… ahem, Stephanie Meyer). The dialect puts you in the time and you can easily imagine the voices and picture the characters. The scenes are described well with just enough left to the imagination that you can envision them in your head.

In spite of the high quality of the book, I did find myself becoming impatient. I wanted to know the ending without having to do the work—I actually considered finding a synopsis online, I was so eager to just know the answer! But this, I think, is the genius of Christie’s writing. At the time it was written (1942), there was no way of finding out the spoilers without simply turning to the last chapter. For those purists who do not read the last chapter first, the idea is to read through as quickly as possible, trying to piece the clues together and figure it out before Miss Marple shows everyone the truth.

About Miss Marple, I do find her character absurdly impossible, but in the same way that Sherlock Holmes (to whom she is compared by Sir Henry) is both absurd and impossible (although, I cannot imagine a modern version of a movie where Miss Marple is anywhere near as attractive as Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller). She is, in her own way, a compellingly simple yet profound character. I rather liked her a lot and perhaps should find more “Miss Marple Murder Mysteries.”

I think I’ll give The Body in the Library a solid 3.5 stars—a high praise. I probably won’t read it again, but I definitely recommend it for the lover of detective stories. What fun!

Kaitlyn’s Star Guide:
0 stars: Don’t read it. A waste of your time. Worse than Twilight.
1 star: Read only if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot your brain if you read it too much.
2 stars:  Good for what it is or not my taste.
3 stars: Decent book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
4 stars: Really good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.
5 stars: Earth Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE CHANGING.

Saige by Jessie Haas

Saige by Jessie Haas

I have been into children’s books again lately.  After hearing a lot of criticism about the 2013 American Girl of the Year, Saige, I decided to read her book for myself. I checked it out of the local library and read it, and I have to say, I was sort of pleasantly surprised. Still, I have my reservations about Saige.

The Good: I think that, through Saige, Jessie Haas and American Girl are inspiring young girls to be passionate and are teaching the idea that every person can make a difference. Saige decides to try and raise money to hire a part-time art teacher when her school district makes budget cuts. I like that. I think that it is a good reminder (and message for young girls) that the arts are important. Haas reminds parents (who I certainly hope read their daughters’ books) that children who are exposed to art (music, visual art, etc.) are more likely to get good grades and succeed in life. I, as an artist, hate that art is being cut from schools. That a large company like American Girl would devote a whole year to protesting that through their Girl of the Year is kind of cool.

Another good message is that practice is important if you want to be good at something. Saige’s best friend, Tessa, has just come back from a summer-long music camp where she learned that she will have to practice 1,000 hours before she will be a true maestro. Tessa makes up her own practice schedule and diligently works at it. At the end of the story, her work has paid off and her vocal performance is significantly improved. I imagine that if a book character had talked about that when I was a kid, maybe I would have practiced the piano more often, making those four years of piano lessons worthwhile (then again, probably not). However, when Saige is having trouble getting her horse, Picasso, to do the parade walk she needs to do for the big festival, it works out for her even though she didn’t practice as much as she should have. I think that sort of sends mixed signals.

Another good part of the book is that Saige has to navigate her best friend making another best friend and making new friends. That grief is one that most young girls know and I would hope that reading about Saige experiencing it would help young girls.

So, there are a few good morals to be found in the book. Now, about the bad…

The Bad: The thing that I used to love about American Girl books (Molly, Felicity, Kirsten, etc.) is that the girls were more or less ordinary. Molly was a wild child and her adventures had a tendency to get her and her friends in trouble, but she wasn’t some super-talented musician or anything like that. These girls were not superheroes, models, or superstars. They were just girls with stories to tell. 

The girls in Saige are not just girls. Every character in this book is a prodigy at something. Tessa has a voice like a superstar, Saige can paint like a real artist, and Gabi can train a horse she has never met before to do complex tricks in a couple of hours. These girls are supposed to be nine. Does that sound like any nine-year-old you’ve met recently? I mean, at nine years old, I was convinced I wanted to be a writer and I would spend hours writing (mostly bad) stories in notebook after notebook, but I also wanted to be a nun (yes, really) and a computer scientist and possibly a rock star. We’re talking about fourth graders.

I hate to say it, because I really did like the book, but if I was a mom and my nine-year-old daughter had self-esteem issues (and every nine year old girl has self-esteem issues these days), I would not want her reading this book. The message is that everyone has to be extraordinary at something; everyone has to be a prodigy. Even the mean girl in the book, Dylan, gets to be a super awesome musician. There is no one ordinary in this story. Molly, my favorite American Girl, would never have been able to be friends with these girls—and I don’t think I’d want my kid to be friends with them either. Saige makes a conscious effort to be nice, but Tessa and Dylan are pretty stuck up about their talent. Gabi is the best of the four in my opinion, being shy and not overwhelmingly braggy about her talents. Plus, she has to ask her aunt for help when training Picasso.

In a world where children are being overrun by co-curriculars (the new term for extra-curriculars), filling up all their free time trying to fill a resume (because no one tells you until you graduate college that a real resume is only allowed to be one page long and only one of the things you did will fit), I think that a book like Saige sends the wrong message. Kids shouldn’t be expected to be prodigies or to be able to do things that grown adults, who have more practice, education, and experience, can do. Kids should be allowed to be kids.

And, given that the Girl of the Year this year is a ballet dancer (with a super awesome studio!), I’m betting that tradition is continuing this year.

So, in conclusion, I’ll give Saige 3 stars for adults, but 2 stars for the kids it is meant for. I’d rather have my 9 year old kid reading Saige than, say, Twilight, or The Hunger Games, but it’s still not something I would recommend parents. Read the original American Girl books and then find something that will build your daughter’s self image far better than Saige will. I’ve seen what middle school is like these days— chances are, your daughter will need all the self-worth boosters she can get.

Kaitlyn’s Star Guide:
0 stars: Don’t read it. A waste of your time. Worse than Twilight.
1 star: Read only if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot your brain if you read it too much.
2 stars:  Good for what it is or not my taste.
3 stars: Decent book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
4 stars: Really good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.
5 stars: Earth Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE CHANGING.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

[Warning: Spoilers. If you haven’t read American Gods yet, be aware. ]

I have just now finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This book was recommended to me by my friend, Anna while we were still in college-- a recommendation that was repeated a few weeks ago by her husband, Andrew. Needing a break from LOTR and having bought the book on kindle’s $2 sale several months ago, I decided to give it a try. I liked American Gods, but I must say that at parts I found it disconcerting just how annoying and/or un-godlike the gods were portrayed. In fact, I almost stopped reading it halfway through. However, now I’m  really glad I stuck with it.

The story is about gods and the humans that they interact with, as well as their interactions with each other. The gods in the story run the gamut of Native American folk legends to J-C Biblical characters to Norse mythology. There was very little in the novel of Greek mythology, therefore taking me out of my element (the reason for Zeus’ absence is probably that this novel is about the gods that immigrants brought to America—literally the American gods—and by the time Greeks were coming over, they weren’t really worshipping their mythological gods to the same extent as other groups).  It was interesting to see the parallels between gods and also the differences, but the best part was perhaps Gaiman’s imaginative expression of how they interact together: friendship, rivalry, and all-out war. The modern American gods: cars, trains, airplanes, and the internet, for example, also make a fantastically annoying appearance (and make me re-think my devotion to every one of them).

The protagonist, Shadow, is a human and an unusual hero. At the beginning, he is in prison and passes his time reading Herodotus (a man after my own heart.)  Yet, as the story progresses and you come to understand him better, Shadow’s presence begins to make more sense. In fact, Shadow is a true hero in the Greek sense and the most tragic kind—his father, who is a God, sacrifices him. He’s a pseudo-Christ-like figure, but unlike in the story of Christ, Shadow’s father is sacrificing him for personal gain. I won’t tell you more, but Shadow’s experiences of life and death (and life again) with the gods is fascinating. Gaiman’s inclusion of a mystery story on the side provides a break from the god drama when necessary.

I would definitely recommend reading this book. It is more of a fun read than an educational one, but it also definitely teaches more about mythology: just be careful, some of the gods are of Gaiman’s own creation. 

Three interesting story elements to look forward to:
1.     Shadow’s undead wife who, after her death, kills anyone who threatens her husband
2.     Roadside attractions are the actual seats of power for the gods, not churches.
3.     The god of technology is described as a fat, lazy kid with a  black trench-coat that reminds me of every Dungeon and Dragons junkie I’ve ever met, only really annoying and really rude

I give American Gods 3.5 stars out of 5.
WARNING: There is some adult content. I wouldn’t let my kid read it if they were under, say, 17.

Favorite Quotes:

No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each others’ tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. We know the shape, the shape does not change. There was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or other, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life. Lives are snowflakes—unique in detail, forming patterns we have seen before, but as like one another as two peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There’s not a chance you’d mistake one for another, after a minute’s close inspection.)
            We need individual stories. Without individual stories we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, “casualties may rise to a million.” With individual stories, the statistics become people—but even that is a life, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless….
We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. The are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearl-like, from our souls without real pain.
            Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the pages or close the book, and we resume our lives.
            A life, which is, like any other, unlike any other.
            And the simple truth is this: there was a girl and her uncle sold her.”

“He wondered whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while, or if it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and willed it long enough.”

Kaitlyn’s Book Rating Guide:
0 stars: Don’t read it. A waste of your time. Twilight.
1 star: Read only if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot your brain if you read it too much.
2 stars:  Good for what it is or not my taste.
3 stars: Decent book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
4 stars: Really good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.

5 stars: Earth Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE CHANGING.

What I’m Reading Right Now

What I’m Reading Right Now

For those of you who don’t know (really, read the rest of this blog and you would know), I love to read. Generally, I have at least three books going at once: a fiction, a nonfiction, and a spiritual work. Right now, I’m a little bit more than that. Since I’m in the middle of so many things (5 books, preparing for a personal retreat, my job, and discerning my future, not to mention trying to have a social life!), I thought I would update you about what is on the reading list right now.

My non-fiction:

Main Street Vegan

by Victoria Moran

For those of you who are thinking, “Good heavens, Kaitlyn, you already have celiacs and have to eat gluten free, are you really going to go vegan, too?” you may be consoled: no, I’m not going vegan. Not yet, anyway. Every time I pick this book up, I crave meat—and usually I don’t even eat meat (unless you count the occasional midnight pepperoni binge or stressed sausage-link cravings). But I did live in community with two vegans this summer and let me tell you, they made a big impact on how I see food (thanks, Rebecca and Michael!). I am trying to be more mindful about how I feed myself and by reading more about eating vegan, I am doing that. I’m aware that a vegan diet is, overall, more healthy and gives you more energy. There is a decent amount of scientific evidence that human beings were no originally designed to be omnivores—which actually fits in with the creation myth in Genesis—and we gain more nutritionally from plants than from animals. As a result, and also out of a desire to live in solidarity with those who cannot afford luxuries like meat (and because I really can’t afford luxuries like good, grass-fed meat), I am trying to avoid meat and animal products in my diet. That doesn’t mean I’m becoming vegan (try being gluten free and giving up cheese and eggs as well, it would be really hard!), but I am trying to become what I’ve heard people refer to as respect-itarian. I eat what people feed me (as long as it’s gluten free) because I respect their gift. I eat meat from animals that have been treated in a respectful way, because I support in stewardship theology and not dominion theology. When I do eat meat, I remember to be grateful for the wealth and comfort that has been granted to me that is denied most of the Earth’s population.

Enough of my apologetics about my reading choice, now onto the actual book: I like it, but I have my reservations. I’m only through the first five chapters, not even a third of the way in, so my review now and my eventual review when I finish might be very different. For now, I can say that the author is a typical self-righteous vegan—something that my own vegan friends typically avoid. But she does make an effort to backtrack and applaud the reader for their interest even if they’re not vegan, though of course she thinks they should be. She gives the why, the how, and the practical information as well as some yummy looking (though mostly gluten-ified) recipes. I’ll hold out before I issue a recommendation.

Fiction #1:

The Mists of Avalon

by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I’m reading this book with one of my best friends. We’re supposed to be reading on our own, then discussing. We’ll see how that works.

I’m only in Chapter 9 (page 114 of 876), so I’m not very far. So far, I really like it, but I seem to be in a lull (hence the fact that I have two novels going at once). I have enjoyed the different perspective on the Church as well as a new spin on the Arthurian legends. I recommend it so far, let’s see what happens when I finish!

Fiction #2:

Light in August

by William Faulkner

I have been informed by my students (and they think they are experts on the matter) that I am the ONLY person in the world who reads Faulkner for fun. I assume this is not the case, given that someone at UD must have loved him in order for him to make it into the Core. Please, if you love Faulkner, comment below so I can prove them wrong.

My decision to read

Light in August

right now is based on three things in my life: 1) I own it (as the result of a local library selling a large stack of Faulkner, which I bought all of); 2) It is on the reading list for a PhD program I am interested in and I thought I might as well give it a try; and 3) I wanted to read some serious (read: actually good and not fluffy) literature, but didn’t want to be in the ancient world (for once). Hence, here I am reading Faulkner’s classic.

I’m a little over halfway through. Given that I only just started it a week and a half ago, I think that might actually be impressive (especially since I’m also reading


other books). But really, through a lot of it, I couldn’t put it down. I’m enjoying the story, the suspense. I’ve been careful not to look up any scholarship on the book yet so that I can actually be surprised by the ending. Faulkner’s usual ability to create a character, give you an impression of their character, then go deeper and make you question the first impression while at the same time deepening it—this is exemplified in this story. I know I will recommend this book (umm… it’s a classic, obviously), but I’ll have to hold out on the final review until I finish the story. I’m loving it, though!

Spiritual Book #1:

Twelve Apostolic Women

by Joanne Turpin

I’m reading this book for a book group. It’s good for what it is: an exploration of women in scripture. But what it is not is completely historically accurate—there’s no way to be when you’re writing about women in scripture, some of whom don’t even have names. I’m excited to be exploring these women, but a little wary of how some people who don’t have a good historical understanding of scripture might take this book for absolute truth. I’ll hold off on my review and recommendation until I’ve finished it.

Spiritual Book #2:

Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics

by Thomas J. Craughwell

This is one of the books I’m reading for

Blogging for Books

, and I chose it because I’ve had several students ask me about relics recently. I personally find relics to be a weird part of our faith (and yes, I did live in Rome and see many of them), so I thought this book might help me. It has helped a little, but the part that I really love is that I’m learning about all these saints.

The format of the book is that there is a short introduction on relics and what they are followed by a list of the most popular/regularly visited relics, in alphabetical order by saint. The author is very careful to tell not only where the relic is now, but how it got there, how we know whose it is, and who the saint was anyway. I’m loving the stories about the saints already.

My recommendation: if you’re interested in learning more about individual saints, this is a great book. If you’re looking to understand relics/be convinced they aren’t a little weird, this book is probably not for you. Then again, even this author concedes that it might be a slightly odd practice, so maybe you won’t ever be able to be convinced otherwise. I’ll let you know more when I have finished it.

So, that’s what I’m reading right now. I promise that an actual update on my life is coming soon!