Archive for July, 2009

Book Review: The Carousel Painter By Judith Miller (ARC)

July 29, 2009 2 comments

coverthecarouselpainterI was quite excited to be the recipient of my first ARC (Advanced Reading Copy).  I hadn’t realized when I put myself on the list that The Carousel Painter was published by Bethany House, a Christian publishing group.  I actually read a lot of Bethany House books when I was growing up, so I am quite familiar with the genre, but since deconverting from Christianity at 20, let’s just say, Christian fiction isn’t my first reading choice.  However, I’d made a promise to the publisher, so I decided to give it a fair shot.  Not to mention, this would be a great exercise in being a fair critic.

After her father dies, leaving her without family, Carrington Brouwer moves from France to Ohio to stay with her friend Augusta Galloway while looking for work in the late 1800s.  Augusta’s father owns a carousel factory, and Carrie sees an opportunity to put her painting skills to good use.  At the pressure of the women of the family, Mr. Galloway hires her, even though she will be the only woman working in the factory.  Carrie must deal with the prejudices and fears of the men and their wives, as well as of the community, while addressing her own problems with pride and God.  She also must deal with Augusta’s suitor, Tyson, who makes inappropriate moves on her and attempts to pin the theft of Mrs. Galloway’s jewels on her.

Miller possesses writing talent on the sentence level, for sure.  The sentences flow well, and the dialogue is relatively believable.  She shows forward-thinking for her genre by giving Carrie an independent spirit and not condemning it.  At first I was excited that she seemed to be offering a relatively unique storyline to her genre.

However, the addition about half-way through of the plot-line of Carrie being a suspect in the theft of Mrs. Galloway’s jewels is a widely used one.  The good Christian must suffer and have faith her innocence will be proven in the end.  It was incredibly predictable.  Plus it simply felt out of place and jarring given the beginning of the story.

I was also bothered by Carrie’s quirk of giggling when she’s nervous or upset.  It’s such a misogynistic stereotype–the giggling female, and it simply did not fit with the rest of Carrie’s character.

I did appreciate, and I think fans of the genre will too, that Carrie’s faith and God were not the focus of nearly every single the page.  Carrie growing in faith is part of her life and is addressed as such, but it is not the focus of the story.  It’s simply a fact about her that comes up periodically.  I know when I was into Christian lit as a teen, I would often wish they’d just tell me the story for once instead of preaching all the time.  Yet I also know that fans of Christian lit will expect at least a little bit about God in the story.  I think Miller struck this balance well.

Overall, it’s a step in the right direction for the genre, but Miller could have done a much better job writing a believable, unpredictable storyline while pushing the envelope against misogyny.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: ARC from publisher via LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program.

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Book Review: The Unlikely Disciple By Kevin Roose

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University
chronicles Kevin Roose’s “take it to the streets” approach to the conservative/liberal culture divide in America.  At the time a student at Brown, Roose decided to spend his semester abroad at infamous Liberty University, one of the best-known Christian fundamentalist colleges in the United States.  He wanted an insider’s view, so for that semester he presented himself as a recent Sinner’s Prayer convert, and sought to blend in with Liberty students, doing what they would do.

You would expect a book like this to come from an Anthropology major, but Roose is actually a Journalism major, and it quite honestly shows.  Roose seeks to honestly present his experiences, peppered with periodic facts about the Bible, Christianity, and the history of Liberty.  While I didn’t need these explanations, I’m sure many readers would, so they are useful.  However, Roose repeatedly fails to truly analyze in any sort of a detached manner the fundamentalist community.  This causes the book to fall short of being academic and reading much more like a short memoir.

While Roose’s writing is surprisingly quite good, his experiment has a few fundamental flaws.  I get it that Roose had to seek to blend in in order to get an insider’s view of the fundamentalist community.  However, he repeatedly fails to encounter the very real experience of not fitting in among fundamentalists.  Kids who are raised in the community didn’t choose to embrace this way of living the way Roose did.  They are born into it; it’s drilled into their heads their whole lifetime; and they often must face the very real possibility that if they leave it they lose their families.  Roose wasn’t raised believing in hell as a a real place.  He never spent nights up worrying and crying over good family members who just aren’t “saved.”  It truly frustrated me when I saw three possibilities in the book for him to have investigated what it’s like for people raised in the faith.

First, he goes to a meeting of a support group for men struggling with homosexual tendencies, but he went once and he didn’t then seek out anybody from this group to talk to him about what it’s like to be gay and a fundamentalist.  What was he thinking?  This was the perfect opportunity!

Second, Roose dates a girl, Anna, who states to him that she’s a more liberal Christian than Liberty would want.  He never extensively talks with her what it’s like for women in fundamentalism.  In fact, he never really seeks out the women at Liberty much at all.  He goes on a few dates to help maintain his facade, but he doesn’t seem to have truly sought to befriend the women at all.

Third, he overhears some of his friends discussing how much it pains them to think of good unsaved people going to hell and worse saved people going to heaven.  This is a classic issue for people raised in fundamentalist Christianity, and Roose simply comments on it in about one paragraph.  You would think he would have sought to address the very real psychological pain contained in that conversation he overheard, yet he didn’t.

What bothered me most about Roose’s experience is he comes away saying that fundamentalist Christianity isn’t all that bad.  The people in it are by-and-large nice folk, and we shouldn’t let a little political disagreement interfere with more cross-cultural understanding.  Well, that’s easy enough for a straight, white male to say.  Of course he found it mostly tolerable!  His two greatest struggles were no sex for a semester and trying not to swear.  He isn’t a person who believes hell is a real place struggling to combat his homosexuality.  He isn’t a woman being repeatedly told she must submit to her husband and that it is unbiblical for her to teach men.  I know that Roose can’t help it that he isn’t any of those people, yet he could have sought to tell their stories too.  The fundamentalist kids at Liberty were nice to him because they thought he belonged, and after that because they knew about the book and wanted to look good.

In the end, The Unlikely Disciple grants the reader a view of what it’s like to be fundamentalist if you fit right in and believe it.  It fails to bring up the very real dangers for people raised in the faith who don’t just naturally fit right in.

I’m concerned that it will make fundamentalist Christianity look far too safe to those who don’t encounter it much in their day to day life.  Although the writing is good, this concern leads me to give it:

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


I’m going to start to attempt to feature a review of a book, videogame, or movie once a month.  Be warned there may be spoilers.  Here’s the first!

A dystopian novel set in a future on the North American continent where the USA used to be.  Land mass is significantly less due to global warming, and a new nation has been in place for quite some time called Panem.  It consists of 12 districts and the capitol.  Once a year each district must send one adolescent boy and one adolescent girl, chosen by a lottery, to the capitol to participate in The Hunger Games.  The Hunger Games is a reality show that takes place in an environmental dome, each year the environment is different.  The adolescents must fight until only one remains alive.  The book focuses on a girl, Katniss, who ends up being the girl token from District 12.

I absolutely loved this book.  I read it in one day, as I could not put it down.  While I love reading, this type of all-engrossing engagement with a book has not happened for me in a long time.

First of all, I love the fact that the hero of the novel is female.  Far too much literature out there features a male main character, and most of the books featuring female main characters are those gushy girly-girl books.  They may be a fun quick read, but they don’t have any meat.  This isn’t true of The Hunger Games.  Katniss needs to be smart and strong in her struggle to stay alive, not only during The Games, but before even entering them.  She is the sole provider for her mother and sister.  Here is a strong female character, but simultaneously Collins does not make an issue of the fact that she is female.  Since it is a first-person narrative, you don’t even realize her gender until around three pages in.  Some reviewers *cough* male ones *cough* have complained that Katniss is cold, unfeeling, and not feminine.  These complaints wouldn’t be made if she was a male character in the exact same situation behaving the exact same way.  Katniss does have feelings, just as people of both genders do, but she is in a tough situation and must make tough choices.  It’s wonderful to watch her struggle to make the right ones.

I also like that Collins took something we use as entertainment, reality tv, and shows how easily it could come to be distorted and used as a horrifying tool against the people.  Dystopian literature is strongest when it takes something from the present and shows a plausible way it could go horribly awry.

Finally, Collins’ writing is beautiful.  The conversations flow easily, the action sequences are vividly depicted, and secondary characters are quickly fleshed-out as complete people.

My only complaint is a major spoiler, as it has to do with the end of the book, so I will just let it be known that I am on Team Peeta and this is one decision of Katniss’s that makes very little sense to me.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Categories: dystopian, Genre, YA Tags: , ,