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Book Review: Hellsbane by Paige Cuccaro (Series, #1)

February 14, 2012 4 comments

Blonde woman standing near statue of an angel.Summary:
Emma Jane Hellsbane has always had the ability to sense other people’s emotions, and she turned that into a comfortable career as a “psychic.”  All that changes when the cute jock from highschool who mysteriously disappeared halfway through senior year lands on her doorstep with a clawed stomach.  She swiftly finds out that he’s a nephilim–half human, half fallen angel–and so is she.  Without intending to, Emma Jane finds herself swept into the war between the angels and the fallen, as well as attempting to pay off the debt for her father’s sin.

Review:
This was a classic case of not a bad book but I’m not the right audience for it.  I definitely don’t think the summary of the book that I read was quite as clear about the book’s Christian leanings as the one I just wrote for ya’ll.  If it was, I wouldn’t have picked it up.

What we have here is what I’m thinking is probably a new category of Christian fiction I was completely unaware of –Christian paranormal clean romance.  Now, I know at least two of my followers who would absolutely LOVE this book for exactly those reasons.  Alas, that’s exactly why I didn’t like it.

The Christian mores and doctrines have a strong presence.  We even go so far as to have Emma Jane come from a Catholic family but be an agnostic herself until hell and heaven literally show up on her doorstep.  As an agnostic myself, I found it rather patronizing to have an agnostic character proven wrong by flesh and blood angels and demons.  Y’know, like that would ever actually happen in real life? The whole scene just felt smug.  On the other hand, I could totally see as a Christian enjoying seeing someone convert from agnostic back to Catholic.  And yes, this book is heavily Catholic.  There is a lot of talk of saints and levels of sin and etc…  This of course means that there are things that I just don’t agree with (like the whole Emma Jane being held responsible for her father’s sin), but that’s only natural considering that this book is geared toward people who believe in those sorts of things.  Kind of like how I can’t stand The Chronicles of Narnia for similar reasons.

The fact that this is a Christian romance also means that there is ZERO SEX.  There is one pretty tame kiss.  If you want clean romance, this is your book, but if you’re like me it, um, is not.

The only thing that bothered me that I can’t chalk up to not being the target audience is the surprising lack of racial diversity in a book set in Pittsburgh.  Seriously, woman, I know there are black people in Pittsburgh!  And we’re not just talking oh the characters are white.  They all seem to be blonde-haired, blue-eyed white people.  This would make sense maybe in um….Wisconsin perhaps.  Not Pittsburgh.  Cuccaro really should focus on more diversity in her future books.

These things said, Cuccaro is generally a good writer.  The plot is complex, the characters well-rounded, and the sentences are well-written.

Overall, this book is well-written for its target audience–Christian, probably Catholic readers looking for some clean paranormal romance.  If this sounds like you, you should check it out.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Buy It

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5 Year Old Me and a Bag of Kitten Food (Virtual Advent Tour 2009)

December 23, 2009 12 comments

I decided to participate in the Virtual Advent Tour in which bloggers sign up for a day of the advent calendar to feature a holiday-centric post.  So, happy 23rd day everyone and welcome!  On to the post.

I grew up in rural Vermont with a brother 5 years older than me and my two working class, highly religious parents.  Since my parents were very serious about their Christianity, to the point that I was homeschooled until the 6th grade, Christmas was a big freaking deal.  Jesus being born was the fulfillment of many prophecies.  Without Jesus’s birth, there’d be no Easter and without Easter we’d have no hope at all.  Jesus’s birth was second only to Jesus’s death and resurrection, and that was only first because the Second Coming hadn’t happened yet.  Therefore, Christmas was one busy season for us.  I’m talking Advent Calendars, baking multiple goodies from scratch, multiple must watch specials and movies, two extended family gatherings, candlelight services, special church performances, and more.  Of course, me being a kid, the only truly important part of Christmas was the presents Christmas morning.  Although, you’d be hard-pressed to get me to admit it, and I would fervently state how much I enjoyed the family reading of the Christmas story from Luke between stockings and presents.

Since my parents fervently believed telling us that Santa was real was akin to telling us Muhammed was right, presents were gradually placed under the Christmas tree, and we weren’t allowed to touch them.  This led to hours of me sitting on the rug in front of the tree pining and wondering erm, *ahem* reading a book.  My brother and I became experts at determining what a present was just by its shape or determining what awesome present the unwrapped accessories under the tree went to.

Every year pretty much from the time I could talk, I asked for a kitty.  We had a dog, Beuaregard, but all I wanted was a kitty to snuggle and to feel purring on my feet when I slept.  Dolls shmolls, I wanted a kitty.  One December morning, when I was (I believe 5, definitely before I was 7) I came into the living room and came to a dead stand-still.  All you needed was to turn me to salt, and I’d be doing the perfect impression of Lot’s wife.  There under the Christmas tree was a bag of kitten food.  My heart raced and I did my best not to shreek in sheer joy, because a family rule of Christmas was if we guessed a present prior to Christmas morning, we weren’t allowed to have it.  It was the veritable don’t ask, don’t tell of holidays.  My mom wasn’t big into giving us what we wanted, she thought it’d be spoiling us, but my dad.  My dad always wanted to give us exactly what we wanted, and I was certain this bag of kitten food was his way of telling me that I’d have my kitty in a few short weeks.

Christmas morning came, and I impatiently went through the stockings and the reading of the Christmas story.  Present opening started, which was always a slow ordeal as we opened them one at a time while everyone watched.  My first present was not a kitty.  Ok.  So they were waiting to give it to me last knowing what a ruckus it’d cause.  I could wait.  Gradually all the presents were gone from under the tree.  Only the never-wrapped chocolate covered cherries and kitten food were left.

“Isn’t there something more?” I asked, as my parents got up to get some coffee.  My mom’s mouth opened to go into her ungrateful speech, but my dad cut her off asking, “Why do you think there’s something more?”

I pointed at the kitten food, “Well, there’s that bag of food there.”

“Oh, that’s a treat for the dog.  He loves cat food.”

No.  My dad had to be kidding.  He was a big teaser.  “What?”

“The dog loves cat food.”  At this point, my mom started tapping my dad on the arm, and recognition dawned on the two of them as I started to wail, “You mean I’m not getting a kitten?!”

According to family lore, I was inconsolable the entire day and crying a good portion of it.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May your day be filled with kitten-like presents.

On Perfectionism

November 9, 2009 4 comments

Human beings are naturally fallible.  It’s one of the things that makes us humans and not a weird race of perfect angels running around the planet.  I accept this in others.  I expect them to make mistakes, and as long as they aren’t evil or huge, it’s no big deal.  But me?  Well, I expect myself to be perfect and when I inevitably fail, I beat myself up over it for hours. (This is a huge improvement over the old time-period of days).  I’m not talking huge mistakes that I should rightfully feel guilty about.  I’m talking about “oh I misunderstood what you were trying to say” or “oh this applesauce doesn’t quite taste perfect.”

Why do I do this unhealthy thing to myself?  With the insane amount of psychology/psychiatry reading I do in the course of my job, I have a theory.  Basically psychiatry believes people are born with a certain personality and every personality has weaknesses.  It’s the parents’ job to adpat their parenting technique to suit the child.  To uphold the strong parts of the personality and improve the weak parts.  This means there’s no one parenting technique that fits all.  Ok, I’m digressing a bit.

Essentially, I think that I was born with a natural tendency to be Type A.  You all know what that means.  Over-achieving. OCD. Etc…  Instead of telling me that I’m only human and can’t possibly be perfect though, I wound up with parents who were following one of the many versions of the Evangelical Christian faith.  I was told that since I was saved and had the Holy Spirit within me, not only should I naturally make fewer mistakes than those god-foresaken heathens out there, but also that I should strive every day to not sin.  Yes, mistakes were termed “sin.”

Sin just drips with this extra layer of connotation that’s not on a mistake.  A mistake is innocent.  Regrettable, but innocent.  Sin is letting demons into your life.  Sin is dripping with darkness and evil and everything that isn’t good in the world.  Sin is Satan breathing down your neck.  Sin makes God cry.

Ok, so a good little Christian girl isn’t supposed to sin as much as the heathens, and she should progressively sin less, but she *sigh* inevitably will.  So she should keep track of all her sins throughout the day and confess them individually in her evening prayers and beg for forgiveness.  But it’s not a real apology if you plan to ever do those things again, so if you ever commit that sin again, well that wasn’t a real apology was it?

Take one naturally Type A little girl, add these tenets, stir, and you get an adult Amanda who must constantly fight anxiety over not being perfect.

Yes, I know I left the religion that added to the Type A tendencies, so I should be doing much better than I am at not being so anxious about being perfect, but even when I let go of the Christian mores I was taught, my mistakes still carry that extra connotation.  My mistakes might not make god cry, but they could hurt people I care about.  My mistakes might not be dripping with demons and darkness, but they could put a damper on the evening.  And what if my mistakes build up so that they do cause problems in my life for me?  (Can you hear the panic attack starting in my head?)

Yes, I know it’s unrealistic and unhealthy to expect myself to be perfect.  And I know that I love the people in my life not only in spite of their faults, but because of them.  It just isn’t always easy to break the thought processes not only born into you but instilled in you.

So why am I blogging about this?  Because I doubt I’m the only person out there who holds herself to too high expectations, and I want those other perfectionists out there who might be reading this to know:  It’s not your fault you are a perfectionist.  Probably a lot of things had to combine to make you that way.  You don’t have to stay a perfectionist, and you also don’t have to be perfect.  People will love you just the way you are, so you should too.

The Rifqa Runaway Case

September 17, 2009 6 comments

Maybe through all the hubbub of the Yale murder this week you heard about the teenage girl named Rifqa.  Rifqa ran away from home.  She told the authorities her parents had threatened to kill her.  Child custody cases happen a lot, so why did this one get picked up by Newsweek?  Rifqa’s parents are Muslim; she converted to Christianity and says this is why they threatened her.

I am angry about this.  I am angry at the way the media is handling the story.  I am angry that representitives from both religions are using this to argue over religion.  I am angry that the court is even considering giving Rifqa back to her family.  In fact, that is what I am the most angry about, because this case should not be about religion.

We have a frightened, terrified child who gathered up the courage to run away from home and tell someone her parents were threatening her.  Most children fear their abusive parents far too much to ever do such a thing, and what is the court saying?  They’re saying there is no evidence.  Rifqa’s testimony is hearsay.  Her father seems genuinely upset.  He was just like any other concerned parent when she went missing.  The Newsweek writer keeps pointing out how nice he seems.

Newsflash!  Abusers don’t seem like abusers!  If they did, we wouldn’t have so many cases of adults raised in abusive homes who never escaped.  Ask any person who was abused as a child.  They will tell you mommy/daddy was a real angel around everyone else.  Only the child ever saw the monster inside.  Abusers can be the most upstanding citizen in your community.  They can be active participants in your local church/mosque/temple/whatever.  They can seem perfectly holy.  Why?  Because abusers are masters of deceit, whether they are deceiving themselves or others around them.  Some abusers actively work to deceive the community.  Others deceive themselves into thinking they never abused their child.  I know people whose parents who abused them claim to this day when confronted that it never happened.  The child is lying.  The child is crazy.

It is awful, terrible that in cases like this, in abuse cases, rape cases–cases where the victims are predominantly women and children–the victim is the one being put on trial.  It is assumed the victim is lying until proven otherwise.  This is wrong!  I am not saying in cases like this where there is no physical evidence that the parents should go to jail, but the child should be removed from the home and placed into protective custody!  That is the very least a terrified victim deserves.  The trust of the authorities that she actually is in danger and the guarantee of protection.

Amazon Isn’t a Library

April 13, 2009 4 comments

Apparently, it recently came to light that Amazon has removed GLBT books from their online ranking system.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t find a GLBT book if you are looking for it though.  I checked myself this morning, so I wouldn’t be going on hearsay.  When I typed in “heather has,” the auto-completion drop down box immediately completed it with “heather has two mommies.”

Another complaint people are putting forward is that a search for “homosexuality” pulls up books that are against the homosexual lifestyle higher in the rankings than supportive books.  I checked this.  The first result I got for “homosexuality” was Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of  the Homosexual Lifestyle.  The second result was a genre tag for “homosexuality, ” and a choice of fiction or nonfiction.  I clicked on nonfiction and was immediately led to a result page consisting entirely of books supportive of GLBT people, including Gay America: Struggle for Equality.  Back to my original results page, the third hit was a book from a gay erotica series.

Ok, so Amazon is still selling and displaying books supportive of the GLBT lifestyle.  No, they aren’t the first hit.  No, they aren’t included in the selling rankings.

Newsflash:  Amazon isn’t a library.  Amazon has no ethical responsibility to fairly and equally display both (or multiple) sides of controversial issues.  Amazon is a private retailer.  Whoever owns Amazon can choose what stock to carry, as long as it is legal.  They clearly cannot sell pot, for instance.  Amazon may also choose how prominently to display their stock.  Imagine a traditional bookstore.  They choose what books to place in the windows to draw people in.  I view the sales rankings as similar to this.

What it all boils down to is that Amazon has the right, as a bookstore, to choose what books to stock and how prominently to display them.  Even if they flat-out refused to sell GLBT books, that isn’t “book banning.”  Amazon is not the government.  For comparison, a couple of GLBT friends could start their own bookstore and decide that they didn’t want to carry anything anti-GLBT or pro-fundamentalist Christianity.  Do you think the whole nation would be up in arms about this?  No, it wouldn’t be.  They would say “good on them, overcoming that adversity.”  Well, the fact of the matter is, if we’re talking rights, anti-GLBT people have rights too.

Amazon isn’t breaking any laws.  Amazon didn’t make some hit-list of gay people to refuse to sell to.  That legally would be considered discrimination.  Amazon isn’t even refusing to sell GLBT books.  It simply isn’t displaying them as prominently.  Well, they are a private business, and that’s their right.  If you have a problem with it, feel free to boycot them and send them a letter explaining why you will no longer be buying from them.  However, stop with all the hate and fear-mongering against them.  Quit making a mountain out of a mole-hill.  Quit being a wanna-be martyr.  There are far bigger issues in the world than where Amazon ranks GLBT books.  If you have a problem with it, boycot them and move on.

For the record, I won’t be boycotting Amazon, as I like them, and I don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.  Odd stance for a libertarian librarian, I know.

Encountering Columbine

April 8, 2009 3 comments

A new book is coming out this week in the true crime genre: Columbine by Dave Cullen.  This, of course, is leading people to talk about the first big American school shooting, with even an article in Newsweek about it.

I’m part of the generation that was heavily impacted by Columbine.  I was a freshman in highschool when it happened.  I’ve read some articles written by members of my generation about it.  They all say similar things.

We were shocked into realizing we weren’t safe.
We instantly became more likely to talk to the loners.
Suddenly schools were having practice lock-downs, just in case.

Of course I experienced all of these things, but Columbine was twisted and used by my religious fundamentalist community to such an extent that even with all of the news coverage, I had some of the details of the shooting completely wrong for years.

You see, my fundamentalist protestant school (that I thankfully got out of my sophomore year) told us that the shooters were targeting the Christian students.

That’s right.  It wasn’t random.  It wasn’t the jocks or the popular kids.  It was the Christian kids.

I remember having an assembly at my school where the principal told us that the shooters asked the kids if they believed in God/Jesus.  If they said no, then the shooters would let them live.  If they said yes, then the shooters killed them.  There was even a book called She Said Yes, which was essentially required reading in my community for all highschoolers.  There is a huge amount of controversy surrounding this book now, with the people who were actually present at Columbine stating that no such exchange ever occurred.

Well, I know this now, but I didn’t know it then.  At the assembly regarding Columbine, my principal hailed the teenager who died saying yes as a martyr.  He grilled us asking us if push came to shove if we would denounce Jesus.  He showed us Bible verses showing that denouncing our Savior would permanently ban us from Heaven.  So fourteen year old me was given the choice of denouncing my Savior and living longer but going to Hell or affirming my belief and dying immediately but going to Heaven.  This, then, became my primary focus that bothered me for years until I left the faith.

While my public schoolmates simply wondered how they would survive a school shooting, I agonized wondering if when push came to shove I would denounce Jesus.  What a choice for a fourteen year old to be weighed down with.  I wasn’t told the logical thing my secular schoolmates were told repeatedly by their parents and teachers:  if a shooting is occurring, do what you need to do to stay alive.  No, no, I was told that my everlasting soul was the far more important thing.  If I was a “TRUE CHRISTIAN,” I would be willing to die.  I shouldn’t be afraid of dying, if I truly believed that I knew where I was going when I died.  This choice haunted me for years.

I quickly became accustomed to the idea that someone could come to school with a gun or a bomb and try to kill us all.  I think pretty much everyone in my generation has simply acclamated to that.  In fact, my highschool had an actual lock-down when one of our students’ parents woke up to find his son and his gun missing.  Luckily for us, he went to his ex-girlfriend’s highschool instead of mine, but we were still on lock-down for hours while the cops tried to figure out where he was.  Frankly I’m not at all surprised I have a story like that, and most people my age who I know have a similar, or worse, one.

What did haunt me for years though was this idea that everyone outside of our community hated us and wanted us dead.  The idea that we were persecuted, even to the point of being a martyr for our faith.  Was I strong enough for such a thing?  The vary thought ate at my soul.

Maybe if the story they told us about Columbine was true, I’d be less upset about it in retrospect.  I’m sure that gay teens are haunted by Matthew Shephard’s murder, and understandably so.  The thing is though, Columbine wasn’t about persecuting Christian teens at all.  It was about a couple of very angry, mentally disturbed teens taking it out on those closest to them.  The story my Christian school told me never actually happened, and that is what makes me angry.  It’s blatant mind-control techniques.  They made me terrified of going to public school, of encountering the secular world.  Frankly, the amount of balls it took me to beg to go to public school and to walk into that building when I had been told repeatedly that it was exactly like walking into a war zone was enormous.  I’m not at all surprised, given scare tactics like this, at the number of fundy-raised kids who remain fundy.

Fundy kids are being raised in fear, and fear breeds hate.  If you think that how fundies raise their kids is their business and doesn’t affect you, you are dead wrong.  For fundy groups, it’s all about an us versus them mentality, and really, that mentality is what the Columbine shooters had too.