Archive

Posts Tagged ‘catholic’

Book Review: The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Boy's legs dangling from a branch.Summary:
Christy is a Traveller, what Irish gypsies call themselves, in the 1950s.  He’s eleven, and his family is about to stay in one town for a whole 40 days and 40 nights for Lent so he and his cousin, Martin, can get ready for confirmation.  Christy has always thought his mam died giving birth to him, but when his grandda dies, he finds a newspaper clipping that shows his mam holding him when he’s months old.  Thus begins a quest to find out who he really is.

Review:
The particular copy I read I won on a book blog somewhere (I’m afraid I didn’t write down the name), but I also received an ARC during one of the holiday swaps one year.  It’s interesting to me, then, that this book wound up on my tbr pile both because I was interested and because someone else thought I would enjoy it.  And of course I did.

It is honestly, immediately abundantly clear that Christy’s mother isn’t a Pavee (a Traveller).  I was thus skeptical that the story would hold my interest, since predictable ones don’t tend to.  I am pleased to say that I was wrong about this on both counts.  Although it’s true that Christy’s mother isn’t a Traveller, everything else about her and Christy’s history is actually quite surprising and moving.  I’m glad I stuck with it.

The book examines many different issues, some universal and others specific to Irish history.  There of course is the issue of identity.  Who we are and what makes us that. Is it nature or nurture?  The often tough relationship between fathers and sons during the son’s adolescence is also wonderfully presented.  Of course a book about gypsies also addresses prejudice, stereotyping, and the norm.  Cummins doesn’t sugar coat things.  She shows the positive and negative aspects of Traveller culture, which is as it should be.  No culture is all perfect or all bad.  What the book does a great job of doing is showing how kids learn prejudice and how multiculturalism can enrich everyone’s lives.  Some people are one way and some another, and neither is necessarily bad.  The book also touches on the animosity between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, as well as the very real issue of Irish society stealing babies from single mothers in that time period.  I know that sounds like a lot, and honestly I’m surprised now that it’s all listed out at how much was touched upon.  Cummins strikes the perfect balance of touching on real issues without ever seeming pushy or forced.

Although the storyline and characters are good, it didn’t 100% draw me in.  I think it moves a bit too slowly for me in the first half or so of the book.  I also, honestly, struggled to like Christy.  I eventually came to understand his viewpoint and choices, but I still find him kind of annoying.  His father, on the other hand, is incredibly interesting and wonderful, and I kind of wish we had a book about him instead of about Christy.  But, some readers enjoy more slowly paced books and others might relate better to Christy than I did.  It just personally is what made it a book I liked but didn’t love.

Overall, this book is an interesting entry in historic Irish fiction.  It looks at Ireland in the 1950s through the eyes of a small band of gypsies, which is certainly a unique viewpoint.  The writing is fluid, if a bit slow-moving, and the plot is not as predictable as it seems at first.  Recommended to fans of historic fiction and works set in Ireland.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Won on a book blog (If it was yours, let me know, and I’ll link to you!)

Buy It

Book Review: The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

February 18, 2012 6 comments

Image of a wolf's eyes.Summary:
Reuben Golding is a talented new journalist who feels as if he is floundering around with no direction in his family of wealthy, talented people.  That all changes when he’s bitten in a mysterious attack while writing about an old house on the seacoast.  He shortly discovers that the bite has turned him into a man wolf–like a werewolf, but with the ability to change every night.  Oh, and also he has an insatiable desire to devour those who smell like evil.  His quest for answers about his new situation will open up a whole new world to him.

Review:
It needs to be said that having read only Anne Rice’s earlier books, I somehow missed the memo that she went from atheist to Catholic in the early 2000s.  As an agnostic myself, one of the things I love about her earlier novels, beyond the poetic writing, is this search for meaning without belief in a god that the characters demonstrate.  So.  I was less than thrilled to find god all up in my werewolves.  *growl*

But it of course is more than philosophical differences that make this book bad.  The writing is just….not what it used to be.  The pacing is off.  Parts of the novel wax eloquent about the redwood forests, but then action sequences feel like Rice was trying to mimic the style of pulp authors like Palahniuk.  (Something that she does poorly, btw).  I get wanting to try a new style, but you need to pick one or the other.  The up and down almost randomness of the style changes made it difficult to get into the story.

Then we have the story itself.  If Rice had gone just slightly more absurd, this would make an excellent humorous novel.  Of course, it’s not meant to be.  A perfect example is one scene that I keep thinking over just for the giggles it gives me.  The scene, is supposed to be one of the pivotal, more serious ones in the book, naturally.  Reuben is in his wolf form and having just run through the forest eating animals, he stands on his hind legs and spins in a circle while singing the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.”  And then a woman in a cabin sees this and naturally they have the hot hot beastiality sex.  (Note: I do not actually find this scene hot at all.  In fact I find it really fucking disturbing, and I don’t find ANYTHING disturbing usually).  It isn’t like scenes of sex and violence in other novels that are part of an overall narrative designed to help you understand something.  It’s not an allegory of anything either.  It just is there because….yeah, I don’t know why it’s there, actually.

Then we have the wonderful presence of an atheist character who is clearly there so Rice can lecture atheists via her book.  Oh you silly atheists! Of course there’s a god!  The whole of nature is reaching toward him and yadda yadda yadda *eye-roll*  This is just bad writing.  It’s such an obvious attempt to be able to directly lecture the readers that it’s painful to see.  Particularly after knowing that Rice is capable of actual eloquent writing.

Also the whole entire concept of having werewolves actually be evil-fighting do-gooders is like a furry version of Batman. And who wants that? Nobody, that’s who.

Speaking of Batman, if I have to read one more book about a poor little privileged white boy, I’m going to lose my mind.  Aww, poor Reuben, he has a high-achieving lawyer girlfriend who loves him, a surgeon mother, a giving brother, and a professor father, but Reuben is bad at science and everyone tells him a 23 year old can’t write.  People need to take him seriously!  Poor Reuben.  And Reuben claims he changes after getting the “wolf gift” but he really doesn’t.  He still whines to anyone who will listen and runs around trying to tell everyone else what to do but never bothers to actually force himself to grow up.  He could have been an interesting main character if the wolf gift actually challenged and changed him.  But it doesn’t.  He’s still the same, whiny, privileged rich kid.  Only now he’s surrounded by the slightly creepy doting wolf pack.

Oh, and Rice?  Wolf packs don’t consist of only one gender, idiot.  Research? Have you heard of it?

Overall, this was an incredibly irritating and frustrating read that I disliked so much I’m not even going to do my usual of passing on my reviewer’s copy to my dad.  This one is going in the recycling bin.  And you all should give it a pass as well.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

Buy It

 

 

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

January 30, 2012 8 comments

Planets and stars with an old painting in front.Summary:
It is the year 2060, and the Jesuit priest Emilio Endoz has been found on the planet Rakhat by the second Earth ship to travel there.  Found in a whorehouse and killing a native inhabitant in front the UN members’ eyes, they nonetheless strap him into his original spaceship and send him back to the Jesuits.  There he is treated for his horrifying wounds and through a series of flashbacks and current conversations with the various Jesuit committee members assigned to his case, we slowly see how everything that started out so right went so horribly wrong on Rakhat.

Review:
It may have been a while since it made it onto my tbr shelf, but I still have a crystal clear memory of why I acquired this book.  I entirely blame Little Red Reviewer, who just so happens to be the only other female scifi fan who book blogs that I’m aware of.  (Feel free to enlighten me to more in the comments).  Her review that religion is there but in a questioning way that honors the tradition of scifi made me give this book with a Jesuit priest and mission at its core a chance.  I’m glad I did.

This is a first contact story that takes the all-too-infrequent route of Earth finding the inhabited planet first and sending a mission to them.  There’s so much more than that that makes this book unique, though.  The future Earth just barely has the technology to make it to Alpha Centauri, and only the most tech-savvy are aware of it.  Thus, we’re not an incredibly advanced civilization making first contact, just one slightly more so than Rakhat.  I’d say a fair comparison might be late 19th to early 20th century earth to early to late 21st century Earth.  It’s a short span of difference.  Additionally, Russell made the intriguing choice of the first contact being run by missionaries, instead of a political unit.  When you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  Who tended to be first to the New World? Religious groups.  Who can organize themselves quickly and have vast finances? Religious groups.  Having first contact be missionaries makes so much sense that I’m shocked I didn’t think of it first.

That said, thankfully this book is not a love letter to organized religion or mission work.  It is instead a complex, scientific, and anthropological study of the human condition, the difficulties of vastly different cultures meeting, linguistics, and much more.  At its core it is all about why does god (if there is a god) let evil happen, especially to good people who are serving him?  These issues are more easily addressed and made further complex by having agnostics, non-practicing Catholics, and a Jewish woman members of the mission team.  The non-believers are about at even numbers with the priests.  In fact, the deeper into the book I got, the more it tore at my heart-strings.  Varying types of questioners are represented, and of course it’s possible to identify with many of them, particularly for a reader who once was religious but is not anymore.  There’s the priest who is secretly gay, the Jewish woman who was wounded terribly by war but comes to learn to love again, the Father Superior who thinks he may be seeing the formation of a real live saint, the priest questioning the very existence of god, and the agnostic who wants to have the beautiful aspect of faith that she sees in those around her.

This book reads, it sounds a bit odd to say, almost like an agnostic’s prayer.  Of course agnostics don’t pray, but if they did pray, the pain and wondering and intelligence found in this book would all be there.

We are, after all, only very clever tailless primates, doing the best we can, but limited. Perhaps we must all own up to being agnostic, unable to know the unknowable. (page 201)

The problem with atheism, I find, under these circumstances…is that I have no one to despise but myself. If, however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God.  (page 394)

People more into science than the questioning human spirit will find plenty for themselves as well.  The science of linguistics is astoundingly well presented.  The way the two “sentient” species on Rakhat have evolved is also incredibly well thought-out and realistically drawn.  The problems of poverty and war on earth are briefly explored too.

All of these things said, I do feel it took a bit too long to get things set up and moving.  Granted, I tend to be a bit of an action-focused reader, so others may not have a problem with that.  It was still a draw-back of the book for me though.

I sort of feel like I’m not doing the experience of reading this book justice.  Suffice to say if you’ve ever questioned whether or not to have faith and love your big questions to be wrapped in well-thought-out scifi, this is the book for you.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

Buy It

Counts For:

Movie Review: The Nightmare Never Ends (1980)

Man with light coming out of his eyes.Summary:
A devout Catholic woman married to an atheist professor who has just published a book called God is Dead starts having nightmares about Nazis and dead people in the water.  Meanwhile, a Jewish hunter of Nazi war criminals shows up mysteriously murdered with his face ripped off and the numbers “666” tattooed on his chest.  The tenuous connections between these two soon reveal a dark presence on the planet.

Review:
This movie can best be summed up in the phrase: Satan at the Disco.  Satan is not just alive and beautiful (not handsome, beautiful) but is a disco-going playboy complete with a harem of hypnotized women who actively participated in Nazi atrocities back in the day.  In spite of Satan’s presence at the disco, I found myself wanting to go there.  I have to say, it certainly seemed more appealing than Tequila Rain on Lansdowne Street.

This film is an odd mix of things done well and things done horribly badly.  The special effects are surprisingly good for the time with certain scenes managing to surprise and/or gross out my friend and myself.  Of note is one particular scene where a character’s eyeball pops out from his head.  Quite gruesome for the special effects of the time.  On the other hand, the actress playing the Catholic woman cannot act to save her life.  She can, however, scream quite well, which is apparently what she was hired for.  The plot is creative and features a fun twist at the end, but it wanders around a bit too much and is confusing for about the first 40 minutes of the film.  It needed some serious editing before being filmed.  Similarly, the set designers clearly had no comprehension of Jewish culture at all as they decided to show that the Jewish man’s ethnicity by randomly having a fully-loaded menorah ever-present on his nightstand.  *face-palm*

In spite of these shortcomings though, the story is still unique enough that the film is enjoyable, particularly if you enjoy bad horror with a touch of classic 1970s disco.  I therefore recommend it to the tiny percentage of the population for which both of those statements holds true.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

Buy It