New Religions and the Theological Imagination in America by Mary Farrell Bednarowski

New Religions and the Theological Imagination in America

(Caidyn)

3.5/5

You’re probably wondering: “Caidyn, why are you reading this?”

Well, let me tell you. It’s called summer classes. This was one of my assigned textbooks for a class. I had to read this in six days, or a chapter per day. Fun, right?

Bednarowski’s book covers six different religions, which you can see on the cover. She pairs each of the religions together, one that has older roots in America and the other that’s newer. Mormonism is paired with Unification Church. Christian Science with Scientology. Theosophy with New Age. It’s all very logically done, too. Mormons and Unificationists put a focus on the physical world; Christian Science and Scientology focus on the spiritual world or a world beyond us; Theosophy and New Age look to blend the physical and the spiritual worlds together.

I came into this with a passing knowledge of three of the six religions. I’ve heard at least something about Mormonism, Scientology, and New Age. The religion I was actually brought up in is a part of New Thought, which is an outgrowth of New Age (and, therefore, Theosophy). The other ones, I knew nothing about.

As I said, this book is very logical. Besides the introduction and epilogue, there are four chapters that topic different topics in each of these religions. God, humanity, death, and ethical considerations. It’s broken down into those pairs, then compared as a whole to see the common themes in the six religions, even if they have very different ways of expressing it.

One of my biggest problems is how it was structured. I love the pairings, but I think it would have been smarter to structure it not by themes but by the religions. One chapter on Mormonism, one on Scientology, one on Theosophy, etc. It was hard to keep track of all the information when I was simply trying to keep the key concepts of the religions straight since they delved into topics I was unsure on.

However, I learned a whole hell of a lot and it was extremely readable for an academic book. (Bednarowski kept calling the book “this study”, and it didn’t really read like a typical academic work.) If you have an interest in any of these religions or new religious movements from America, I’d recommend it.

Read for: New Religious Movements

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Since We Fell

(Caidyn)

2.5/5

 

Guys, I have a dilemma with this book. This is the second Lehane novel I’ve read, my first being Shutter Island. Practically everyone seems to like Lehane, but this book…. it’s not the top of his work. It’s barely cohesive and never when it counts.

Fundamentally, there are two stories to this novel, both circling around Rachel Childs. Rachel had a horrible upbringing with a mother who held something over her head with the claim of trying to protect her. What was she holding over her? Her father’s name. That’s because he abandoned her when she was three, far too young to remember much of him. And that’s the first story. Her search for her father. Along with this story is her burgeoning agoraphobia, something I’ll discuss more.

The second story technically starts at the beginning of the book, but you don’t pick it up until later. Her marriage and how it unravels quickly. And then, after it unravels, how it just gets even worse. I can’t discuss much more without spoilers.

What I can say is that those two stories don’t come together. They would have been better as separate stories in different books, not in one. I liked the stories, though. They were both very well written and well handled, but they should have been separate or severely cut down. Both of the stories are compelling, but they don’t add up or link together, especially into the second story that I consider the main one.

Now, I’m going to discuss Rachel’s agoraphobia. It could get spoiler-y, so I apologize.

Throughout the first story, Rachel develops severe agoraphobia that carries into the second one. One of the various threads in the second story is her husband trying to help her work through it. Then, that whole thing implodes and it ends up with Rachel having to go through it on her own. All of a sudden, she’s going out of the house and driving and traveling long distances on her own. It simply felt like Rachel suddenly was fine and got over things very quickly with the degree of impairment she had. I’m no expert on agoraphobia, but I know enough to realize it all happened very suddenly.

So, this was a good book that I did like, but simply didn’t cohesively work. There are other, better, Lehane novels out there. It just didn’t feel like he was on top of his game, despite the good writing.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods (American Gods, #1)

(Caidyn)

5/5

Listening to the full-cast audiobook was probably the best choice I ever made. This is one of my favorite books. Hands down. I won’t add any more to the conversation, nor can I talk about the show since I don’t get Starz. (sob)

The audiobook is amazing. It’s the author’s preferred text, so you’re getting the experience he wanted to give all along. Then, you get a full cast reading to you. Which is wonderful. Gaiman reads as well every so often and if you’ve never had him reading to you, it’s a treat. He’s a wonderful storyteller and even better.

For those afraid of this book, it is weird. It’s fucking weird on so many levels. But, it’s about gods. What do you expect? Gods are weird. Religions are weird. It’s only to be expected. If you can get past the weirdness, it’s a great book. Mystery, horror, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi, romance. This book has it all.

Mystery, horror, thriller, fantasy, sci-fi, romance. This book has it all. Perhaps it’s not a perfect book, but it’s so damn close and captivating that I had to give it five stars. I think that this is the only Neil Gaiman book that I’ve absolutely adored, and it’s definitely the only five-star book by him.

There are three main characters to this. Shadow, an ex-convict; Laura, Shadow’s wife; and Mr. Wednesday, Shadow’s employer. The story is Shadow’s discovery of identity. And, along the way, you meet some gods. Get into a war between the old and new ones. Have a few mysteries and a romance. Some weird acid trip like journeys. (Which is why Bryan Fuller is the perfect person to adapt this. If you’re in doubt, watch Hannibal and you’ll see what I mean.)

There’s no real plot to the book. Sure, there is something. I can tell you that it’s the battle of the gods, but that just doesn’t encompass the whole thing, you know? It makes me feel like I’m leaving out so much because that’s just the rough plot.

It’s one of those books that you finish and want to reread right away because you want to experience it again. There’s so much to it that you miss.

And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga, #1)

(Caidyn)

2.5/5

YA isn’t my go-to genre, but I’ve heard so many good things about this book that I had to give it a try. And, what I found, is that this isn’t a “great” book. It’s mainly good. At times, it’s great. At other times, it really sucks. So, this is going to be a good mix of good and bad opinions of this.

Let’s start with Lada. The main character. She’s a female version of Vlad the Impaler. I’m all for making “what if” stories. What if Vlad the Impaler was a girl? How would that change things? Super interesting. My biggest thing is that… Lada sucked. I expected her to do this to me:

I expected to be terrified of her and also weirdly rooting for her. Sort of like Jorg from The Prince of Thorns. Utterly scared, never would want to meet her in my life, yet rooting for her to get her way.

However, this is what I was actually like towards Lada:

She annoyed the hell out of me. I have no issue with characters who are utterly insane and crazy and also strong, but her weaknesses were so annoying. Like, yes, I get it. You have rather severe gender dysphoria (more on that in a second). I don’t need to be reminded every single damn time some guy shows an interest in you on some level or you realize again that you are a woman.

Gender dysphoria is typically seen as a problem that transgender individuals have. It’s marked by severe discomfort with the incongruity between your biological sex and gender identity. I am not saying that Lada is transgender. Applying a modern concept to the past where that just wasn’t a social construct is pointless and idiotic. It was done so well that it bothered me, so props to White there. Not a lot of cispeople can write gender dysphoria well.

Yet, it distracted me from the story. Every time she freaked out about being a woman, it just brought me out and I had to set it down because it bothered me. It added a lot to her character, but it was so awkwardly handled. Written beautifully, but awkwardly handled. All of a sudden, she stopped being so dysphoric without any reason why it was resolved.

Second on my list of grievances, it was distinctly YA. Aka, love triangles. And weird ones, too.

There are two love triangles in this.

I liked both of them, however… needed? Were they truly needed for the story in the long run? I’ll have to wait for the sequel to find that out, but it annoyed me since I don’t particularly need love triangles in my life.

Third, this book is all exposition. So, 37% of it is literally setting the stage for later things. Then, when you look at the book in the long-run, it’s setting the stage for the sequel. That is not plot. A plot is a distinct story for the book, not literally setting the stage for the ending. Good books hold both and this did at times, but it was so long and winding that I couldn’t keep a grasp on it.

As I said, I’m going to read the sequel. This book and the characters have a lot of promise to them. The ending interests me since I do want to see how the series progresses. However, this wasn’t a strong start in my opinion. Many people will disagree with me, I know, but it could have been a lot better. Too much hype and too little follow through.

Release by Patrick Ness

Release book cover

(Chantel)

4/5 – Note: Release has only been released in the UK and will be released in the US on September 19, 2017. If you’d like the UK version it’s available now at Book Depository.

Let me get one thing out of the way really quick, I’ve read two of Patrick Ness’s novels already, A Monster Calls and More Than This and those two books alone have made him one of my favorite authors. A Monster Calls had me weeping and More Than This was one of the best books I read last year. I don’t have a formal review on it, but seriously, go check it out.

Obviously, I was excited when I heard he was coming out with a new book this year and I even preordered it through Book Depository because if you want to read this book and you live in the US, you have to buy it from the UK or wait until September when it’s released here. I wasn’t going to wait five months, and the UK cover (see above) is absolutely gorgeous compared to the US cover.

Now, when I heard the concept for this novel, I was immediately in. It’s a day in the life of a gay teenager named Adam Thorn. Patrick Ness took inspiration from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Forever by Judy Blume. I have not read either book, but another of my favorite books/movies is called The Hours by Michael Cunningham which heavily features inspiration from Mrs. Dalloway as well as a fictional portrayal of Virginia Woolf. Needless to say, I felt like this book was written for me.

I was partly correct. The parts that involved Adam’s day were amazing and hooked me from the beginning. I could’ve read this book in one day if I had the motivation. I actually finished this book, reading a little over two hundred pages in one day. I adored Adam as a character the way I adored Seth from More Than This, and he didn’t disappoint with the side characters. Adam’s best friend Angela was hilarious, his brother Marty was surprisingly complex, and his boyfriend Linus was adorable and sweet. The way he went from flashbacks to present day was brilliant writing as it not only showed how spacey Adam was as a character but it gave us history without being clunky.

There was so much to like about this book and Patrick Ness really did a great job of telling a story of a gay teenager with strictly religious parents and his struggle with all of the relationships in his life. All in one day. We don’t get answers on how life is going to go when this day is over, but things aren’t figured out in a day. You take it one day at a time and that’s so real.

Another thing I’d like to hit on is Patrick Ness doesn’t shy away from sex in his books. There are multiple scenes of sex that Adam has had through his teenage years and that is so important. Sex, in general, is something to normalize especially in YA, but it’s so rare to read about gay characters having sex and it’s important to normalize as well. Especially when it’s safe sex.

Okay, now that I’ve raved about this book I had one huge problem with it. Interweaved with Adam’s day is the journey of the ghost of a girl who was murdered, roaming around town trying to figure out why she died and how she died. There was beautiful writing in these passages, but they ruined the pace of the book for me and I didn’t get it. It took me out of the story every time, and I just wanted to skip over the passages whenever they came up. The book would’ve been a five-star book without them, but because they hindered the pace I have to drop it down to a four-star book.

That being said, I’d still highly recommend picking this up now or in September, whichever tickles your fancy, because I think Adam’s story by itself is worth a read.

Time Travel by James Gleick

Time Travel

(Caidyn)

4/5

This little book covers a lot of territory. And not through time travel, sadly.

What it does cover is almost everything under the sun to do with time travel. It starts off by examining literature, then takes a step back to talk about the history leading up to when time travel is a concept coined by H.G. Wells. Then, it goes back to reviewing all of the literature, the changes and so on. Philosophy gets brought up. Science and how it differs from science fiction to the point where scientists say it’s possible while authors say it’s not really a thing. Television and other media.

On and on.

This book literally covers so much ground and does it so well. Each topic is logically examined by Gleick and each thing that feels like a tangent adds back in and really matters. It’s very impressive and I’m glad that I listened to it.

At times, it got a bit too long for me and too winding. As I said, there was a lot of territory covered, so that means there’s a lot of information. It got too much at times. I could space out and feel like a simultaneously missed nothing and everything. I think that it would have worked better if it was organized into concepts. Such as, a section on science and then one on philosophy and then the bulk on literature. I think it would have been better to cover history, then science, then philosophy, and finally literature. That’s what makes the most logical sense to me.

However, the way it weaved everything together also worked. It made me have to pay attention at times, or I was going to miss the importance of why this was being explained.