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.

  11 comments for “Ye Olde Book Reviews

  1. January 29, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    When I read A Wrinkle in Time in elementary school, I fell in love. I ate up L’Engle’s books and wrote to her. She wrote back. Of course, it was likely an intern at the publishing company or something. I have it on my list to reread this prior to the movie as well. I put L’Engle in a similar category as C.S. Lewis for writing good books that weave Christian messages throughout. A personal favorite that not many are familiar with is A Ring of Endless Light.

  2. Blue
    January 29, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    Madeleine L’Engle was my all-time favorite childhood author. Love WIT series, but for whatever reason, my fave book was A Ring Of Endless Light…so maybe that’s one you’d enjoy of hers.

    I listened to A Gentleman In Moscow last year and it was so charming.

    My son’s fave author is Brandon Sanderson and he just finished listening to the latest tome, Oathbringer…don’t know if he loved it as much as the earlier works but will have to ask him…and recommend Beth Bower for a future read.

    Oh and I just now saw Larrie’s comment about a ring of endless light…GO LARRIE! I’m glad to find a fellow lover of it! So that’s two endorsements.

  3. Terry
    January 29, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Megan have you read L’Engle’s journals – Crosswick journals? I really enjoyed them.

  4. Jean
    January 29, 2018 at 7:17 pm

    I, too, would love to know more about Heavenly Mother. Perhaps you already have these sources on LDS teachings regarding Her, but just in case, I attach some here.
    Official LDS Church essay
    https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng

    Article from BYU Studies quoting Church leaders (male and female) on our Mother in Heaven:
    https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/mother-there-survey-historical-teachings-about-mother-heaven audio file

    Talk by President Kimball at the first general women’s meeting; includes statement about Heavenly Father and Mother, intelligences and spirits
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1978/11/privileges-and-responsibilities-of-sisters?lang=eng
    “This is a partnership. God and his creation. The Primary song says, “I am a child of God.” Born with a noble birthright. God is your father. He loves you. He and your mother in heaven value you beyond any measure. They gave your eternal intelligence spirit form, just as your earthly mother and father have given you a mortal body. You are unique. One of a kind, made of the eternal intelligence which gives you claim upon eternal life.”

    • Megan
      February 1, 2018 at 6:27 pm

      Thank you, Jean!

  5. Mary
    January 29, 2018 at 11:28 pm

    I’ve had Gentleman in Moscow on my list for a while. I will have to bump it to the top.

  6. Jennie
    January 30, 2018 at 8:11 am

    OH I have so many thoughts. Thanks for sharing your books. I have intense desire and internal push to read more, and I need to carve out more time. Follet has been on my list forever, I just read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time as well. Love the love theme. And I can’t believe how long it’s taken me in life to miss a Mother in Heaven, but that absence is more prominent, but also more filled with my own interpretations and confirmations and it is oh so disheartening to hear some of the main stream discourse. But I hear you and am sorry that happened.

  7. allysha
    February 1, 2018 at 10:30 pm

    I’m going to have to add some of these to my list! I’ve never read anything by Ken Follett, but now I’m very curious. I just finished The Narnian, about CS Lewis, for the second time. And I am attempting to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is the second oldest English fictional text (next to Beowolf). Why am I reading this? I’m not entirely sure, but it was suggested from another blog I follow, and I thought why not?
    You’ll have to drop me a note when you finish Beast of Ten; I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

  8. Barb
    February 4, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    I loved these reviews, thank you for sharing! I just finished A Gentleman in Moscow and found it delightful- I laughed at so many parts and highlighted entire pages that were just clever and charming and fun writing.

    I teach a primary class of all six year old boys and they are wild. I love them anyway. Last week, I was teaching about the preexistence, and I asked, “Who was there?” and the one that raised his hand first said, “Heavenly Mother”. So so sweet and true and wonderful. It made me cry.

    • Megan
      February 8, 2018 at 10:28 am

      That primary answer is the absolute beset!

  9. Megan
    February 8, 2018 at 10:28 am

    Oops *best haha

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