Ye Olde Book Reviews

Not that anybody asked, but here I am with am with a list of book reviews for the things I’ve recently read. I think I mainly do this for the sense of accomplishment I get in looking at my list of conquered books haha.

Also, books are proving to be my sanity this winter (she says un-ironically, though books have always been her sanity since forever).

I shall group them into genres, because I’m an English teacher, yo.

Books about medieval and Reformation England, featuring…

…Ken Follett’s trilogy about the city of Kingsbridge, the site of a cathedral (built in book 1, The Pillars of the Earth, set in the 1100’s). I actually read this one several years back and loved it, which made me super jazzed to see book 2, World Without End, which happens in the 1300’s and features everyone’s favorite pandemic, the Black Plague. You guys, I LOVED this book. Ken Follett is smart and writes a straightforward, readable story about architecture, war, engineering, public health & disease, and regular everyday life in the middle ages. I relished this book and then joyfully drove to Costco, where book 3 was available in hardback. This one is called A Column of Fire and is set in various locations in Europe, including England, in the 1500’s where the Reformation rages and turns people’s lives on their heads. I love me some good historical fiction about the periods which were the hinges upon which everything turned. Give me all the English history. I’m obsessed.

YA Fantasies

These are the books I read at the gym. Behold:

Hunted by Meagan Spooner. This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, a story I’ve always been partial to. Did I love this version? No. Did I like it enough to zip through it while on the elliptical? Yes. It was fine, enjoyable even, but no Robin McKinley.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, a Russian fairy tale with equal parts ethereal and creepy. Apparently it’s part of a planned trilogy (since this is how YA books are written these days). I may or may not read the subsequent books. Again, it was sufficiently intriguing during my workouts.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. A dark Phantom of the Opera-reminiscent story/also part fairy-tale set in olden time Germany. It’s about a girl with a difficult home life who composes music, and who (through various foibles) gets sucked into the underworld of the Goblin King. It’s rather Goth and pretty creative. I would not describe the characters as especially well-developed, yet again, I ate it up on the exercise bike.

Beast of Ten by Beth Brower. I’m reading this one now, and it’s pretty addictive. This is super high fantasy, as in a fully-realized invented world where people have various innate super powers that they employ in the service of good or evil. Literally, light and darkness play big roles in this story about Ember, a girl held captive in the perpetual winter of the Pyre, which is a giant fortress. It kind of reminds me of Brandon Sanderson, but I stopped reading him halfway through the first book, so this is better. Brower (a Utah author!) also wrote The Q, which I also enjoyed.

YA Classics

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I obviously re-read this in preparation for the upcoming movie, along with most of the book clubs in America. I read it when I was in elementary school, but I didn’t like it then. In fact, I didn’t finish it, mainly because I hadn’t lived enough to appreciate it. With maturity comes a greater ability to grasp the nuances and beauty in a groundbreaking book like this one. I read it in a single day and I am now converted to the Wrinkle in Time devotee club. The theme of this book is love, people! We need this book and it’s movie.

Mormon Feminist/Spirituality Poetry & Essays

Just to clarify, feminist writings aren’t man-hating or spirituality-denying. They are female-driven and equally value the female experience, which brings us to…

One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly by Ashley Mae Hoiland, or Ashmae, as she is known. I’m halfway through this book of essays about being a human–referencing Ashmae’s mission in Uruguay, her life as a mother of tiny people while living overseas, and as a sister grappling with family members, love, and belief. I’m so glad she wrote (and illustrated) this. Books like this give me hope that there’s room in the world for talking about God and doubt and spiritual things.

Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother by Rachel Hunt-Steenblik, illustrated by Ashmae Hoiland. Approximately 18 months ago, as Jeff and I were driving Jack on one of his 10,000 Sunday drives which were our duct-tape-on-the-leaking-dam survival method for the endless weekends, I bewailed a Gospel Doctrine discussion where the comments were dominated by men. Entirely. I raised my hand and shared a comment about trials, which one dude (I’m not kidding) invalidated, telling me my interpretation of the Book of Mormon was wrong. For real. I was disillusioned by everything in my entire world. And I wanted to spew fire, dragon-like. Instead, I vented to Jeff about my absolute need to understand my Heavenly Mother. She’s God, too. She created me, too. We don’t talk about her, which isn’t a doctrinal thing so much as it is a church culture run amok thing, based on (I believe) a fear of sounding feminist when feminist is a dirty word to many people. I said to Jeff, “Knowing about Heavenly Mother and understanding Her could give me strength, which I need in my life.” Two things have happened in response to this: a) I explored and wrestled and came to terms with the fact that everything I know about my Heavenly Father, reveals as much about my Heavenly Mother. They’re both God. They both created all human spirits. They are completely unified. So there is a divine feminine, even if lots of folks think it’s blasphemy to talk about (WHICH IT ISN’T), and b) I read this book of lovely poems which resonated with me. Women are divine, too. My Heavenly Parents say so. Also, I still comment in Gospel Doctrine, and my insights are smart and honest. And I don’t bloviate.

Amazing Books That Wes Anderson Needs to Cinematize

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I read this book because Ann Cannon said it was the best book she read last year, and when it comes to the books, Ann gets around. I’ve already mentioned it plenty on this blog, so I’ll just say, this book is intricate and beautiful. The writing, characters, and story are fully-realized and astonishingly crafted. I love this story. Thanks for the recommendation, Ann.

And thank you, world, for having books.

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