A Year in Books: 2017

It’s the end of another year! In light of this fact, I thought it might be fun to do a summary post of different books I read. I wish I had kept up writing book reviews, but I can at least give a one sentence blurb for each book/series I read! So here you go! 2017!

Fiction Books Read This Year:

  1. Beauty by Sarah Pinborough: A quick read that is an interesting and dark twist on classic fairytales. 
  2. The Green Rider Series (Green Rider, Rider's First Call, The High King's Tomb, Blackveil, Mirror Sight, and Firebrand) by Kristen Britain. The first three of these books were a re-read for me. I had been hoping to wait until the series had finished and for some reason...I thought it was finished. But it is most definitely not. Firebrand just left me wanting more! This is an epic fantasy series in length and breadth, but starring a female main character who is awesome. I highly recommend this series for it's fun, it's depths, and it's exploration of imperialism and colonialism. And...time travel? Yeah I didn't expect that either but it happened. I am still waiting with anticipation for the next book and hopefully, eventually the conclusion!
  3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Honestly before I saw the trailer for the TV series, I thought this book was about a mouse? I know, weird misconception. It's most definitely not. I highly recommend this book, even if you've seen the Hulu series. The writing is beautiful, the world terrible, and Offred compelling. Definitely a must read.
  4. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. This is a Middle Grade Fantasy book about a girl who is basically left as a sacrifice for a witch, and about a witch who doesn't understand why a nearby town leaves an infant in the woods once a year. I highly enjoyed this book for it's magic, it's setting (a dystopian fantasy town!), as well as it's compelling characters. Definitely recommend for any younger readers in your town.
  5. A Purely Private Matter by Darcia Wilde. My husband picked this book up for me because it looked like a regency romance meets murder mystery, and that's....basically exactly what it is. Highly enjoyable.
  6. A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer. This book was recommended to me by a good friend and had been sitting on my shelf for a while. A regency romance about a couple who get married for basically monetary reasons and how over time they fall in love. My husband and I both read and enjoyed it.
  7. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. This was a reread of one my favorite books of all time. If you want to hear me gush about this book, for well over an hour, listen to the podcast I guested on where this book was the topic! (Hence the re-read!)
  8. Burning Brightly by Alexa Donne. This book actually hasn't come out yet, but I got the honor of reading the manuscript. This book, you guys, it made me like Jane Eyre. I hate Jane Eyre. All my problems with Jane Eyre this book fixed and made more intriguing and exciting and SPACE. Yes it's Jane Eyre set in space. Amazing. It comes out in May, you must read it!
  9. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Do you like Star Trek or Firefly? Do you like Space shenanigans? Are you looking for a book where you get to know the crew of a little ship really well? Then read this book. Two thumbs up from both me and my husband.
  10. The Raven Cycle (The Raven Boys; The Dream Thieves; Blue Lily, Lily Blue; and The Raven King) by Maggie Stiefvater. This series is like an intense dream sequence that last for four books, and I mean that in the best way possible: intense, dreamy, filled with magic and mystery. One of my favorite things about this book is that it features several boys who are best friends, something I feel like YA books don't do enough. My experience in high school is that boys move in crews, and these Raven Boys are the perfect example of that. Blue--a local girl--gets caught with them and falls a bit in love with all of them. Together they chase an Arthurian type legend, and well, it won't end the way you expect, that I can guarantee. I devoured this series in like three days--including while I was at DragonCon. I literally stayed up too late at DragonCon reading this series. Which...is unheard of. So that's a high recommendation.
  11. The Broken Earth Series (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky) by N.K. Jemisin. I contend that N.K. Jemisn is one of the masters of modern fantasy. Her works are always amazing, and this is no exception. It follows a woman in a world undergoing an apocalypse. This series will give you much to think about.
  12. The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky by Summer Heacock. I don't normally read romance, but this book you guys, it's hilarious. When my husband read it, he literally giggled out loud while reading it several times. It's about a woman who is trying to fix her broken vagina (you read that right) and get her cupcake business of the ground. This book is basically wall to wall shenanigans. If you're looking for a hilarious read, this is the one you want to read.
  13. Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston. It's not a year in my life if I don't read at least one Star Wars book. When I heard that the Clone Wars' Ahsoka was getting her own book and it would cover what she got up to after the end of the series and during the onset of the Empire, I had to read it. If you like Star Wars, this is definitely recommended. 
  14. That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston. After reading her Star Wars novel, I had to read E.K. Johnston's original story, and boy am I glad I did. The story is set in a future where the British Empire never fell. A princess in disguise visits Canada, hoping to experience her coming out in society as a normal girl instead of a princess. Romance! Balls! High Society Tea! All set in a wonderfully diverse future. A heartwarming, adorable romance that resolves itself in a very refreshing way. I'd totally read a sequel about our main characters as they move forward in their lives. (Though sadly I don't think one is forthcoming.) 
  15. Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey. This was a re-read and while Anne McCaffrey's novels don't always hold up like I would like, they still fill my heart with warm memories and nolstagia. I spent my middle school years devouring the Dragonriders of Pern and am hoping to re-read them all in the next year or so.
  16. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. The title is a spoiler and a warning. This bittersweet romance is set in a future where you get a phone call the night before you die, so that you can live your last day to the fullest (so sort of a science fiction/magical realism thing.) Two incredibly different teenage boys get the call, and we follow them on their last day. Despite this not being a love story that is going to end with "they all lived happily ever after" it can at least be said that before they died, they lived.

In total that's 25 books I've read this year. I would have to say my favorites are a tie between The Broken Earth trilogy and They Both Die at the End, but the two are so radically different that I can't pick between them!

Non-Fiction Books Read* This Year:
(I listened to them on audible, but that still counts!)

  1. Torn by Justin Lee. Actually wrote up a review on this very website! Spoiler: I loved it.
  2. The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns. I loved this book, and learned so much. This book asks hard questions and instead of giving trite answers, it dives deep into them, exposing the issues and looking at why ancient people might have written something a certain way, even if it doesn't reflect "factual history" as we imagine it might. Enlightening and engaging, and written in a very readable manner. Also I really wish I had read it before I taught my Middle Schoolers about Moses so I could explain to them how the plagues of Egypt correlate to God defeating the various Egyptian gods!
  3. Love Wins by Rob Bell. I'm gonna be honest, I only read this because I wanted to read the book that caused Rob Bell to fall from grace of the evangelical church. And having read it...I don't get the fuss. Instead of being a hotbed of heresy, it's really just a book that asks questions that we've all asked at some point. It really doesn't have answers. But still a very easy listen, as well as one that makes you think about why you believe what you believe, and makes you confront what parts of "heaven and hell" are Biblical verses Christian culture.
  4. For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. This book was not written for me. I'm not a mom, and this book is clearly written for moms--for women who are drowning under the balance of life. Despite that fact that i wasn't this book's intended audience, Hatmaker's voice is so engaging that I couldn't stop listening to it. Hatmaker also confronts parts of our Christianity that are cultural with the idea that if a piece of theology doesn't work for a working single mom in Haiti then it doesn't work, which I think is a concept many in the church could use.
  5. Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue: I really enjoyed the first half of this book that was Mike McHargue's testimony and not so much the second half which was talking about brain science--but that's ultimately because I'm squeamish and any discussions of brain injuries is going to nauseate me--which is no good when you're driving. That said I would still recommend this book--but don't be fooled by the subtitle. This is not a book about using science to prove God. Ultimately it's about how something explainable happened to a man who considered himself an atheist, and how God wouldn't let go of him. 
  6. Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. A personal exploration of one woman's wanderings through the church and to faith, all presented in the context of the sacraments. Beautifully written with both hilarious and poignant moments. Anyone who has ever questioned the church or their faith or why they do this thing called Christianity will find solace in this book, in knowing that they are not alone. 

Fiction and Non Fiction books, I'm at a grand total of 31 books for the year, which didn't quite meet my goal of 100, but what can you do? And of course this doesn't include the mountains of fan fiction I read this year, which is much harder to quantify and keep track of. 

I plan to start my 2018 on the right foot--reading!--so if you have any book recommendations just leave them in the comments!

Torn by Justin Lee

Statistics:
Title: Torn: Rescuing the Gospel form the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate
Author: Justin Lee
Pages: 272
Genre: Faith, Biblical Living, LGBT issues,
Age Range: Adult
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Publisher: Jericho Books
Medium: Audiobook

What brought this book to your attention?

I heard about this book from two different fronts: (1) Rachel Held Evans recommended it on her blog, and (2) I stumbled across Justin Lee on the internet. I immediately knew it was a book I wanted to read, since the "Gay vs. Christian" debate is a very real debate in our modern world. I've struggled with wanting to be an "affirming" Christian (i.e. someone who wants to affirm gay relationships) but unsure how I can Biblically take such a position. So I've been trying to seek out books that discuss this issue.

This book is definitely one of those books. In Torn, Justin Lee tells his story as growing up Southern Baptist and discovering he's gay. This book is his testimony, his journey with God and his struggle with his sexuality. This is not a man who lightly made a "choice" to be gay. This is a man who struggled mightily against the sexuality he was born with, who denied it, tried to change it, and struggled with God and His Word before coming to any conclusions. This not a man who takes God's Word lightly, and neither does he ask his reader.

I've never read a book that is so fair to all parties involved. Lee is not condemning the Christians who tried to change or fix him. He understands and loves them, because they are his family, his people, and once upon a time he was them. He just wants to tell his story, so Christians understand his struggle as a gay Christian. He wants to educated and enlighten.

We of the Southern Baptist flavor of Christianity have always put a strong emphasis on personal testimonies, personal stories of how God moved in people's life. This is Justin Lee's testimony. And a very gracious and educational addition to any reading list on the topic. 

Did you learn anything?

Any Biblical arguments Justin Lee made in his book I had already heard; however, for anyone new to the discussion of the Biblical arguments for gay celibacy or gay monogamous relationships in a Christian context this book provides a high level groundwork for that discussion. Justin Lee takes a stance towards the end of where he stands on this discussion, but he is certainly not of the "YOU MUST AGREE WITH ME OR ELSE" variety of person. He's just like "This is what I believe and these are other things other people also believe."

However, I did learn a lot about the ex-gay movement. I didn't know a lot about it, because the ex-gay movement only came on my radar as it was ending. At the time this book was written, the ex-gay movement was still strong and on-going. Now most ex-gay groups have closed doors and admitted that their promise of changing people from gay to straight basically never worked.

It was fascinating and heartbreaking  to hear this personal story of a young man's struggles with trying to change his orientation, his struggles with his faith in the light of the fact he couldn't change it, and trying to figure out what it meant for his life going forward.

Did you disagree with anything?

You can and may disagree with Justin's conclusion that gay married relationships are acceptable in the Christian faith. Personally, I am becoming more convinced every day to the affirming position. However for me, one of the nice things about this book is that he allows for disagreement. He doesn't require you agree with him, because getting you to that solution is not his final point, not the purpose of his book. Justin's main point is to educate the straight Christian community on the struggles of gay Christian, and why some gay Christians get to the solutions they do: whether that's pretending to be straight, celibacy, or a same-sex marriage. Justin is clear in which solution he has chosen, but he's also clear that we should support celibate gay Christians, and that if a gay Christian decides to enter into a straight marriage they are as equally held to those vows as any straight person.

How did you like the book overall?

I loved this book and honestly think every Christian should read this book--whether you're struggling with the debate or not. Even if you think gay people should never be allowed to enter into romantic or sexual relationships and at the end of the book you still think that, the book allows for that and better shows you how to love the gay Christians in your midst. We can not help our brothers and sisters in Christ if we do not understand their struggle. We should not condemn them without listening to them. And that is ultimately Justin's moral. Listen first.

That is advice any Christian can use in any situation, but especially in this one. We jump so quickly to condemnation without even hearing people's stories and trials.

Read this book. Hear the story. You won't regret it.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Note: This review was originally posted on my blog "Shelf of Friends" on March 6, 2012.

Statistics:
Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Pages: 576
Genre: Dystopian
Age Range: YA
Publication Date: 5/3/2011
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers

What’s it about?

Beatrice, Tris for short, lives in the city of Chicago, but a Chicago of the future, and a Chicago that seems isolated from the rest of the United States. In her society, people are divided into five factions. The selfless and serving Abnegation, the honest and candid Candor, the artistic and caring Amity, the knowledgeable and studious Erudite, and the brave and fearless Dauntless. Every citizen is a member of a Faction, and those without a faction—the Factionless—are an untouchable caste.

Tris grew up in Abnegation, but every teenager is tested for which faction will best suit them and allowed to choose. The test is a simulation where several scenarios are presented and the reaction shows whether they are selfless, honest, caring, studious, or brave. Tris must choose to either stay with her family in Abnegation—where she has never felt she fits in—or to choose her own path—which will mean she will never truly be with her family again.

When Tris chooses to follow her heart and become a Dauntless, she must face the consequences of leaving her family and jumping into the dangerous initiation rituals of the Dauntless faction. And she must also keep secret the true results of her test, a secret that if revealed would be even more dangerous than the often deadly Dauntless initiation.

It’s YA. Tell me about the boy!

Four (yes, his name is a number) is everything you expect from a cliché YA boy….at first. He’s mysterious, aloof, unpredictable, and dangerous. But he’s a member of the Dauntless Faction so “dangerous” pretty much characterizes everyone in that faction. And I was really afraid for a good half of the book that Four was only going to be that dangerous, cliché boy—the one that you cringe to think about any girl being with. However, as the story progresses and our main character gets to know Four better, we see that all this cliché expected stuff is a very surface interpretation of him by a girl who barely knows him. The more we learn the more we discover that Four is anything but cliché. He’s a fully realized character, and if anything seems like a real boy in his late teens. (And really making a character seem real is the highest compliment.)

What makes Four real is not only his characterization but the relationship he develops with Tris. This is not your standard dangerous boy that girl is mysteriously drawn to and can’t help it. And it’s not your standard, boy completes girl by being awesome and being so much stronger than her at everything. Four is good and strong in some areas, and in some areas he really needs someone like Tris in his life—someone to be strong for him, to protect him. I really can’t say more than that without being spoiler-y, but I thought the relationship that developed between Four and Tris was amazing.

What makes this dystopian different from all the rest?

In most dystopias—especially YA dystopias—the main characters somehow know or quickly learn there is something innately wrong with the world they live in. One day they find an old document that describes how the world used to be and the main character thinks “What freedom people used to have! We are so oppressed. I’m dissatisfied! Argh!” Now in some dystopias, this response makes sense (example: Dark Parties. I don’t really think there is any other reaction you could have upon learning what she learns.). But this response doesn’t make sense in every dystopian situation.

A dystopia by definition is the opposite of a utopia, a land that is not a perfect idyllic place. Well, I love my country and I’m so glad I live in America, but let’s be honest. We don’t live in a utopia. Star Trek is a utopia. Modern America is not. But most of us don’t look at our world and think “I must overthrow all of this now!” Instead we look at our world and say, “I see the good intent here. I see the beauty and strength of the Constitution. But we as a society are missing something. We need a course correction.”

That is exactly the response Tris has to her world and it’s beautiful. It fits perfectly. She doesn’t look at her society with horror, seeing it as a place of restrictions and oppression. She looks at her society the same way we look at ours. She sees the intent behind the society, understands it, and wishes not to completely alter her world but to bring it back to its roots and intents. Is she correct? Should she want to completely alter her world and make it our own? Some people probably think the answer to that is yes. I think that’s a little ethnocentric. Our own society of freedom has its downfalls, it’s aspect of dystopia, just as hers does. Perhaps we’ll discover in sequels that her society is even darker than we think and the answer is to overthrow it. But for now, I think her desire not to overthrow but to fix is more realistic, and I love that. It’s a different perspective than most dystopias have, and honestly I think it’s the more realistic one. And that makes this book worth reading.

If this was a movie, what would its rating be?

This book is pretty safe when it comes to sexual situations and language. At the most there is some kissing and I can’t recall any bad language. But there are a couple of other things for parents and readers to be aware of.

Tris is encouraged to do many things that in our society would be viewed as reckless (jumping on and off of trains, jumping off buildings….). She also gets multiple tattoos, and I know some people don’t like tattooing in general, so just be aware of that.

However, the worst thing rating wise is undoubtedly the violence. The students are trained in hand to hand combat—which overall I wouldn’t say is a bad thing, but the hand to hand combat takes a turn for the worse when one of the instructors basically encourages the students to beat each other to a pulp. There are also some rather violent assaults (people being stabbed, people being threatened with being dropped over a cliff) and a suicide. There is also basically a massacre. I’m not talking a war. I’m talking people being lined up and shot. So yeah. Violence wise this probably gets an R. However, I think it’s important to note that none of the violence is gratuitous. It all makes sense in the world that Tris lives in and the story that is being told. And the violence isn’t glorified; most of the violence is viewed in a negative light.

So even though violence is R, I would say everything else is around PG or PG-13. This book is more than appropriate for teen readers (who are the target audience) and even advanced younger readers. I could have read this in fifth grade with no emotional scarring.

Overall, how was it?

Overall I loved this book. It was quick, fast paced and it sucked you in. It had great tension and characters who readers can relate to. If you love dystopians or just YA in general, you will love this book. I give it two thumbs up!

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Statistics:
Title: A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master'
Author: Rachel Held Evans
Pages: 352
Genre: Faith, Biblical Living, Woman's Issues, Feminism
Age Range: Adult
Publication Date: 10/29/2012
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Medium: Audiobook

What brought this book to your attention?

When I read non-fiction it's usually because either (a) a book has been given to me by someone else, (b) a book has been so highly recommended I can't ignore it, or (c) it covers some issue I'm struggling with. For me, this was definitely an option c.

I got married a little over a year ago, and leading up to my marriage I was concerned by a couple of issues. The theological idea of "complementarianism" was something I had been raised in, the idea that the man is the head of the household and a woman should subjugate herself to him. This wasn't an idea that had ever sat well with me--strong, independent, headstrong me. And if complementarianism was true, where did we draw the line? Was I supposed to cover my hair when I prayed (1 Corinthian 11:5)? And if I was supposed to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), did that mean I was always supposed to keep my hair covered? Suddenly I was wearing hats to church every other Sunday, unsure if I was supposed to be doing this or not, but at least seeing what it felt like.

But wasn't Christianity about freedom? Wasn't always wearing a hat legalism? How's a modern Christian girl to navigate these waters?

Well I found the blog of Rachel Held Evans and discovered I wasn't the only modern woman asking these questions. In this book, Rachel tries to follow the different aspects of being a woman, as expressed across the Bible or encouraged by certain belief systems. A modern twenty-first century woman was asking the same questions as me and trying to follow through--for a whole year--and then seeing if there were any conclusions to be drawn. The book isn't quite the scientific methods by any means, but it had enough of that idea to draw me in. So I got the audiobook to listen to on my drive to and from work.

Did you learn anything?

I was actually surprised how much I learned. I consider myself pretty well learned when it comes to things of the Bible, which is probably a mistake since the Bible is such a diverse and controversial book.  I always thought I knew what Proverbs 31 was about: a description of a woman we should all aspire to be. But I learned in this book, that's not true. Proverbs 31 has been used too often in churches as some sort of measuring tape all women have to stack themselves again, instead of what it truly is: a poem of praise of wise women, women of valor, "eshet chayil" in the Hebrew. The woman in the poem is just an example of a wise woman--but she comes from a very specific economic and social bracket. Should we all be holding ourselves to the standard of a wealthy, ancient Jewish woman? No! We should be seeking to be women of valor in our lives and that looks different ways! MIND BLOWN.

Also I had never before heard of the apostle Junia. Was it because I had Bible translations that misgendered her as Junias? Was it because my Sunday School teachers and complimentarian pastors just never wanted to point out that a woman was given the highest honor the apostle Paul could give her? I have no idea. But I learned she was a woman, "outstanding among the apostles" who Paul considered his equal and friend.

I also learned a lot about the many ways different Christian and Jewish faith traditions have interpreted the role of the woman. Rachel went and met with Amish women. She made friends with an Orthodox Rabbi's wife. She didn't limit herself to just one faith tradition but really tried to dwell in how women across the Christian spectrum have interpreted these different verses. And it was enlightening for me. I learned so much.

Did you disagree with anything?

I honestly don't remember disagreeing with anything in any visceral way, and that's probably because Rachel's end claim really that there is no one single prescriptive way to be a Christian woman. I maybe disagree with some of the woman she spoke with on their particular beliefs, but these beliefs aren't put forth by the book as things we should all believe, but rather different interpretations of the same faith. I think the only people who will disagree with this book are people who do believe there is only one distinct way to be a Christian woman and all other women are wrong. Which is an opinion people can have, but not one I maintain. So no, I didn't disagree with anything the author said really.

How did you like the book overall?

I loved this book. I learned a lot, and the audiobook narrator was very good. It was a perfect book to listen to on my commute to work. And I highly recommend this book to any woman who is struggling with what it means to be a "Biblical woman." 

Hawkeye: A Truly Terrible & Brilliant Idea

 Hawkeye, Issue #1

Hawkeye, Issue #1

Note: This post was written by me, but originally posted on the website Spellbound Scribes on January 6, 2014. It is a review of Hawkeye #1 by Matt Fraction and David Aja.

There are some ideas that are so amazing, so beautiful that you can’t help but grab the book and say, “Yes, this is the story I’ve been looking for all my life.”

And then there are some ideas where you just find yourself thinking, “What the hell was the creator on that he thought this was a good idea?”

A comic based on Hawkeye is one of those truly terrible ideas.

Hawkeye is probably the most mocked Avenger, and for good reason. Captain America is a freaking super-soldier--the peak of human capability and awesomeness. Thor is a good. Tony Stark describes himself best as a "genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist." The Black Widow is a super-spy, a combination of super-soldier serum and KGB training. The Hulk is the Hulk. And then there is this regular human with a bow and arrow running around. Yeah, Hawkeye's got nothing other than a carnie past to recommend him.

He’s the one Avenger who time and time again has not been able to support his own individual comic title. Everything about a Hawkeye comic was a bad idea.

Except…this isn’t really a Hawkeye comic. As in, it’s not about Hawkeye doing missions for SHIELD or the Avengers. Matt Fraction had another idea, the tag-line that would be on the title page of every issue:

 Hawkeye, Issue #1

Hawkeye, Issue #1

A comic about what Hawkeye does with his downtime is not something anyone had ever seen before, and it turns out, it’s a completely brilliant idea.

Clint Barton isn’t Special

Clint Barton is not a super-soldier, he’s not a god or a genius, he doesn’t come from money, and he sure as hell has no idea what he’s doing.

Hawkeye is the Avenger who is trying to pay his rent, deal with life, and not die.

 Hawkeye, Issue #1

Hawkeye, Issue #1

Basically, he’s who you and I would be if we were an Avenger. And since we’re not Avengers, he’s the Avenger you and I could hang out with and not feel completely out of our depth.

And this issue shows us that in detail. Clint Barton needs weeks to recover from injuries in a battle that any of the other Avengers would have walked away from. He’s a guy who lives in a run-down apartment building and knows all of his neighbors. He’s a guy that sees a dog get hurt and can’t leave him there to die.

He’s just a good guy. Your average guy, sure, but he tries his best to do his best.

And that’s something we can all relate to.

“Paleolithic. I looked it up.”

Voice in comics is a much harder thing to pin down than it is in novels, because in comics you can have multiple voices: the narrator’s, the character’s, the artist’s, etc. But in the best comics they all meld together into something perfect and beautiful. Like in Hawkeye.

 Hawkeye, Issue #1

Hawkeye, Issue #1

Clint is our narrator, and his voice is spot on: it’s the compelling voice of the every-man do-gooder that he is. A guy who came from nothing and in many ways still views himself as nothing. Perfectly underscoring that we have David Aja’s art and Matt Hollingsworth’s coloring. I can very much believe this is the world as Clint sees it: a world where he isn’t anything special to look at and a world that has perhaps a little more purple than it should. (I mean that last bit literally. Purple is Hawkeye’s favorite color, and man, the colorist for this comic is a master of coloring entire scenes using only varying shades of purple).

And that’s what a truly great voice does. It’s not just slang or word choice that pops off the page. A great voice filters the entire world as the narrator sees it. We come to understand the world as the narrator understands it. And that it was the creative team behind Hawkeye does. They give us the world according to Clint Barton.

Basically…

Hawkeye had everything going against it. This was a comic that when it first came out, people heard about it and laughed because who the hell thought a Hawkeye comic was a good idea? It is now the most popular Marvel comic, the one that everyone is talking about.

Every issue is as good, if not better, than the first. It’s one of the few comics where truly interesting things are being done with the medium. But none of those other issues would exist if the creative team behind Issue #1 hadn’t stuck the landing.

And stick it they did.

If I write a first chapter half as good as Hawkeye Issue #1, then I will have done a good job indeed.

Feed by Mira Grant

Note: This review was originally posted on my blog "Shelf of Friends" on February 28, 2012.

Statistics:
Title: Feed
Author: Mira Grant
Pages: 571
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic (Zombie)
Age Range: Adult
Publication Date: 5/1/2010
Publisher: Orbit
Series Name: Newsflesh Trilogy

What's it about?

It's been twenty years since the zombie apocalypse, and zombies are now a way of life. Georgia and Shaun Mason are siblings who can't even remember a time before zombies. They live in a world that's been changed, but not that much. There is still politics. And candidates still go on campaign tours for the job of America's president.

When the Masons are selected to follow the campaign of a presidential candidate as reporters, they jump at the career-making opportunity. But going on campaign means leaving the safety of the fortified cities where non-zombies live in fear. They must brave the zombie ridden countryside of America on this campaign to the White House.

The Masons expect political drama and zombie threats. What they don't expect is to uncover an assassination plot and a dark government conspiracy that threatens them all.

Zombies? Really?

Yes, zombies. Don't roll your eyes. This isn't another zombie apocalypse novel where the main characters are minding their business and then--bam!--zombies. Rather this is a novel where zombies have been around for twenty years, and people have survived. Life goes on. A lot of zombie novels and movies are extremely bleak. Either everyone pretty much dies as zombie food (and then becomes a zombie) or the world breaks down into a Mad Max level of disorder. Mira Grant doesn't present that sort of bleak outcome. Zombies are an obstacle, and like any other obstacle people learn to deal with them.

Granted zombies aren't like you're regular vermin that people deal with in our modern era. The book presents a constant fear, a constant danger in the background mindset of everyone. Sure life goes on, but it's a life where anyone around might become a zombie at any moment. It's not just a bite that can turn you into a zombie (though a bite guarantees it). At any moment a person could just randomly become a zombie, because the zombie virus is present in everyone at every moment.

The book also presents interesting mutations of the zombie virus that affect people without turning them into a zombie, and I love that. Because viruses rarely stay in one form. I love the Georgia's eyes are extra sensitive to light because she has a mutated form of the zombie virus. I think that's fantastic. (And that's not a spoiler. That's like chapter one.)

So yes, this book is about zombies. But it's zombies as you've never seen them before. I promise.

Wait...a presidential candidate campaign? Is this just a political novel in disguise?

No! Be not afraid! This novel isn't preachy. Don't worry about it preaching politics you don't believe in at you. Don't worry about your children being brainwashed to one side or the other of the political spectrum. Unless you have really strong feelings on how the government should behave in the case of a zombie apocalypse.

The presidential candidate the Masons are following is a Republican, and he's also a genuinely good guy. But there weren't any rants on Republican values or anything like that. It's mostly concerned about politics in a post-zombie world. Policies are keeping people safe from zombies, searching for a cure, etc. And the Masons bring a healthy dose of skepticism to the campaign. They don't blindly follow this presidential candidate. Georgia openly tells the the candidate that if they're looking for people to write propaganda they've found the wrong reporters. The Masons are there to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

If this was a movie, what would its rating be?

I'm fairly certain that zombie movies are almost always rated R. Zombies pretty much equal violence. Though the language of the writing isn't coarse, the characters sometimes use rather coarse language, including the f-word. But there isn't any sex. I can't even recall any kissing other than the candidate kissing his wife in a sentence here or there. These people are too concerned with surviving zombies and uncovering conspiracies for any lovey-dovey stuff.

Overall, how was it?

Let me see: politics, conspiracies, and ZOMBIES! I loved it. Articles written by the reporter main characters are interspersed throughout the novel which give it an extra feel of reality. And I was surprised how quickly I became attached to the Masons, and the risks that Mira Grant was willing to take with them.

This is a fantastic novel with an end even I didn't see coming. If you like zombies or conspiracies or fast paced novels with a strong voice, Feed is the right book for you.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Note: This review was originally posted on my blog "Shelf of Friends" on February 21, 2012.

Statistics:
Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Pages: 432
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Age Range: YA
Publication Date: 9/27/2011
Publisher: Little, Brown, & Company

What's it about?

"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."

The above line is how the book begins, and really it's an apt summary of the novel. But this isn't angels and demons in a Biblical sense. These angels and demons are creatures of another world (or perhaps dimension is the better word choice), creatures locked in a war thousands of years old. Not a war of good and evil, but a war that is very common in our own world: a war between a more technologically advanced race and their "barbaric" neighbors.

But that's just the background of this novel. This story is really about Karou, an art student in Prague. She seems like an ordinary student, despite her cobalt blue hair that seems to grow that way straight from her head. She works hard at learning her art. She's trying to get over a boy who refuses to recognize he's been dumped. And she has a job--a job that involves collecting teeth for the monsters who raised her: Issa who is half human and half serpent, Twiga who has the neck of a giraffe, Yasri with a parrot-beak and human eyes, and Brimstone the Wishmonger, with his giant ram's horns. Brimstone collects teeth of all sorts, animal and human, and grants those who bring them to him wishes.

Karou runs errands for Brimstone and his seemingly monstrous crew, and despite their strange look they are her family. The reader can easily see how Karou loves her and they love her in return--despite the fact Karou seems to be merely human.

But then mysterious hand prints are discovered burned into the doors that lead to Brimstone's dimension. And suddenly, Karou is alone with no access to her monstrous family.

There is a war going on between Brimstone's people and the people who left the hand prints on the door, and Karou is stuck in the middle. She embarks on a journey to figure out how to get back to Brimstone, while discovering the angelic enemy. And Karou begins to discover she may be more involved with this war than she ever knew.

It's Ya. Tell me about the boy!

Akiva is not a mere boy. Akiva is an angel, one of the very angels fighting against Brimstone and his more demonic seeming crew. He is beautiful--as only an angel can be--but also like an angel he is deadly. He is a trained killer, having spent all of his life in a war against the demons.Karou and Akiva first meet as enemies, but Akiva's strange attraction to her--this seemingly ordinary human girl--is what saves her life. The dangerous, mysterious Akiva does seem rather cliche for a paranormal romance at first, as does their strange attraction to each other which seems almost against their will. But there is more going on than there seems to be, and Akiva hasn't always been a dedicated soldier to the war.

I'm always willing to give strange attraction story lines a pass at first when magic is involved (because magic can create strange attractions people can't explain in many fictional scenarios), as long as by the end of the story the magic is explained and makes sense. And in this case, it makes sense, though it does take over half of the book for it to actually make sense.

What makes this book different from every other YA paranormal romance?

I don't read a lot of paranormal romance, so I can't honestly say what differentiates it from the rest. But for me it has to be the world building. First off, the magic! At first, all the reader knows is that you can trade Brimstone teeth for wishes, and like Karou, I wondered "what the heck does Brimstone need all those teeth for? And how does teeth power wishes?" Well, I'm not sure the book ever really explained how teeth powered wishes (maybe the second book), but when I discovered what the teeth was used for...well, it was unexpected. And fantastic. And make perfect sense for these monster who are fighting a war against angels. Which brings me to my second point.

The war. I loved how the war was based on perhaps one of the most common and ancient situations in our world's history. This wasn't some esoteric or ridiculous reason for war. No apples of beauty or Helen of Troy here. It made perfect sense, and the demon's need for teeth fit right into it. Which is how thing should work in great world building. Everything should be tied in together for the world and societies to make sense.

I eagerly await the next book which promises to spend more time on the other world/dimension and less in ours. We got a great window into the demon's world in this book. They were presented as extremely sympathetic, whereas the angels were not. I hope that a deeper look into this world will give us a fully realized angel society that is equally sympathetic. Because that makes for the greatest stories, where you feel sympathy for both sides who are locked in this endless battle.

If this was a movie, what would its rating be?

The book takes place during a war, so there is violence. I would only describe it as PG-13 violence though. There are a few distinct violent scenes: one-on-one fights, bloody battles, and an execution. But there is no glory in the violence, and if anything the main characters are tired of war and wish the battles could end.

I can't remember any cases of bad language, so it's probably in the PG or PG-13 range.

This book does have several sexual situations. None of it is descriptive. It's very PG-13 fade to black, but it is a paranormal romance so the feelings and desires that accompany these situations are described in detail. Karou clearly thinks having sex before marriage is ok (and before the events of the book she did sleep with her boyfriend though she regrets it because he's a jerk), but I love Brimstone's response when he discovers it. He says, "Stop squandering yourself, child. Wait for love." And that it something I can get behind. Don't squander yourself. Wait.

Overall, how was it?

I've never made a secret of the fact I'm not a huge fan of paranormal romance, and I'm going to be honest, I spent over half of the book waiting for some huge plot driven story line that never came. But this story left me with the promise of more plot in the sequel. Because there is a war going on, and the events of this book most definitely made one side more likely to come out victorious. I can just imagine that in the next book we're going to see politics and battles that lead towards the end of the war. So in many ways this book was only a set up book for bigger events to come.

But if you like stories about angels, books about romance and past lives, or beautifully written stories with fantastically built worlds, you'll probably like this story.

Bumped by Meg McCafferty

Note: This review was originally posted on my blog "Shelf of Friends" on February 14, 2012.

Stats:
Title: Bumped
Author: Meg McCafferty
Pages: 336
Genre: Dystopian
Age Range: YA
Publication Date: 4/26/2011
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
 

What's it about?

In the future, a virus will sweep through mankind that will make nearly everyone infertile. Nearly everyone, except teenagers. In this future where procreation depends on the young, birth control has been allowed and being pregnant has become the latest fashion piece. No ensemble is complete unless a girl has a nice round bump of a baby growing inside.

Melody is a teenage girl who has contracted out her womb to a rich couple who want a child. Melody is pretty much a perfect choice being intelligent, beautiful, and athletic. But because she's on contract, she can only reproduce with a male selected by the rich couple. So while Melody waits for a guy to be picked, her friends are all on their second or third pregnancies. Being a virgin without any pregnancies to her name, Melody finds her popularity quickly slipping.

And it doesn't help when her twin, Harmony, suddenly shows up at her house. Harmony has grown up in a deeply religious society, one that is a cross between Amish and extremely conservative Christianity. Harmony has come to save Melody's soul, to bring her to God and to keep her from selling her body and her womb. But having grown up extremely sheltered, it is no surprise that Harmony is shell shocked by the world.

The two identical twin sisters have starkly different beliefs, but through a case of mistaken identity, the two come to question everything they've been taught and they begin to take their futures into their own hands.

It's YA. Tell me about the boys!

We have two girls, so of course there is more than one boy! Zen is Melody's best friend, but that's all he can ever be. Even if Melody didn't have to abstain in favor of some boy her rich benefactors are going to pick, Zen is not the sort of boy any girl would date. Despite his good looks and intelligence, he is much too short, making his genes not favorable.

Jondoe on the other hand is the most desired male stud (for lack of a better word). He's everything a couple could want in their kid's genes: beautiful, intelligent, and athletic. On the surface he seems like any other superstar: arrogant and extremely confident. But beneath the surface superstar Jondoe is a boy named Gabriel, whose personnel beliefs might seem odd for such a premier stud.

Ram is a shy quiet boy from the same sheltered community as Harmony, who follows Harmony from their community out into the world. He just wants to take her back and live a normal life, even though he has his own secret that means he can never truly fit in their religious community.

These three boys are vastly different. All three have varying beliefs and feelings about how the world has turned out and their role in it, helping to flesh out this controversial world.

Wait....what? Is this book glorifying teenage pregnancy?

No. In fact, I believe that's the point the author is trying to make with this book, that often in today's world teenage pregnancy has been glorified, whether it's Juno or Teen Moms. In the world presented, teenage pregnancy has been glorified: both in the secular world and the religious community. In Melody's world, being pregnant is the cool and fashionable thing to do; it's also a smart financial decision, and her parents are relying on the money her womb will bring. In Harmony's world, it's her religious duty, a role that she must fulfill in order to be viewed as an adult and a real woman. As we follow both girls through the story, we discover the danger of both views and of when this pressure is being put on such young girls. There is a world of adults who want children, and they're exploiting teenagers and even preteens--making them sacrifice their lives and their bodies to the cause of procreation.

I assure you it does not glorify pregnancy, if anything it argues for why teenagers should not get pregnant, and the dangers of a world where such extreme pressure is put on teenagers.

Does this book portray Christianity negatively and poorly?

This was a real worry for me in this book, being a Christian myself. I completely agree that in a scenario like this, societies like the one Harmony's from. I don't agree with her society, finding it highly judgmental and too much emphasis on becoming what they want you to be, but I think it would exist. Groups like that exist now.

The book also presents a different view of Christianity which probably aligns more with what I believe, except what they believe about allowing their kids to have sex for procreation and for money outside of marriage. Now I can generally get behind what these people said about children being the greatest gift of all and such, and how their kids are filling a need and showing love by having babies--but it left me wondering what happened to artificial insemination in this world. I could totally see what these parents were thinking and then letting their son's donate sperm and their daughters get artificially inseminated. I guess sex is cheaper and easier than artificial insemination, but still. I just don't see any Christians being cool with their kids sleeping around for money to produce kids for other people.

So basically this book presented two views of Christianity that I don't really agree with. But if you're a Christian it definitely makes you think--how would Christians react to this situation? What would be our response? And what is the right course of action when only teenagers can get pregnant?

If this was a movie, what would its rating be?

I can't recall any bad language, and there is pretty much no violence. But this book is pretty much all about sex and pregnancy, so yeah. I would definitely not have been comfortable reading this as a middle schooler or early high schooler, and probably wouldn't let my kids that age read it either. But for older teens, it can lead to really good discussion and thoughts about what would happen in this scenario and about the pressures around teens regarding sex. None of the descriptions of sex are graphic, it's very PG-13 fade to black, but there is some honest talk about pregnancy that can be disturbing for those of us who are squeamish, though there is no birth seen on screen in the book, so not graphic in those terms. But pregnancy is a way of life for the teens girls in this book, and it doesn't always end well for all of them.

Overall, how was it?

This book presents a very interesting world that can lead to a lot of interesting discussion. If you're looking for a dystopian about a pair of girls overthrowing an evil regime, this isn't that book. If you're looking for a world not that different from our own where one virus changes everything, this could be that book. It definitely leaves you waiting for the sequel, wondering what's going to happen next--how these girls are going to go on with their lives after the events of this book.