Book Review: Jesus and Magdalene

Title: Jesus and Magdalene
Author: João Cerqueira
Genre: Fiction, Literary, Satire, Contemporary
Year Published: 2015, 2016

Jesus and Magdalene by João Cerqueira is a contemporary fiction with satire and thought-provoking points. The story follows Jesus and Mary Magdalene as they try to figure out how to stop environmental damage, greed, and racism.

In the story, Magdalene is an environmental activist working for a group known as Green Are the Fields. This group consists of the apostles and Jesus’s mother, Mary. Judas is the leader of the group and while everyone goes along with his plans, Magdalene somewhat begins to listen to Jesus on a different approach. Jesus isn’t part of the group. He comes into the picture a little later, appearing from thin air. Magdalene brings him along to where the group was camping near the farm where genetically modified (GM) corn was being grown. They were planning to destroy the crops, but Jesus told them it was better to teach the farmer about the effects of GM rather than destroy his property.

The story jumps from GM crops to a town where a resort was going up. The labor and services provided from the resort would in turn provide money to the townspeople and boost their economy. However, greed from the engineers led to a terribly built hotel and thus nothing came of that town.

Then, the story jumps to a future Europe where gypsies, blacks, and whites live among each other. Things were peaceful until one group began blaming the other and things ended badly for everyone, including Jesus and Magdalene.

This was a very interesting story. I found myself enjoying it. I’d have to agree that in our world today, if Jesus suddenly appeared, he would actually be like the Jesus described in the book. However, if he was born and raised from birth in our world today, I believe he would have found a way to do what he could to make the world a better place. It’s not that he wasn’t trying in the book, he just wasn’t given the momentum as he was given in the New Testament. With that said, what if Jesus is actually in our world today and doing just that (making a difference) and we just don’t realize it like the characters in the book?

There were a couple things I found lacking. One was that the three chapters had no real ending or resolution. The third chapter also ended very quickly with little explanation. And two, none of the chapters came together to form one cohesive story. That aside, I didn’t find either of these points to impede the message and the sarcasm of it all.

The book is a great conversation starter and worth the read. I didn’t get the feel that the author was forcing anything onto me. It was satire at its finest. If you are faithfully religious, I’d recommend reading it with an open mind.

NOTE: This book was given to me to read and review, but the opinion is purely my own.

July’s Playlist

This playlist is unique in that it’s mostly freestyle from the 80’s. My top three most listened to were:

“Fantasy Girl” by Johnny O

“Together Forever” by Lisette Melendez

“Show Me” by The Cover Girls

The lead singer of The Cover Girls reminds me so much of the lead singer of the Sneaker Pimps. They both are tiny with cute voices and personality. Especially in this song:

I was seriously on a freestyle kick last month. Other songs that made it on July’s playlist were:

“Promise Me” by The Cover Girls

“If Wishes Came True” by Sweet Sensation

“In My Fantasy” by Gina T.

“Shelter” by Dash Berlin

“Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac (The Glee version sung by Santana)

“Poppiholla (5am Mix)” by Chicane

“Beyond Time” by Blank & Jones

A Moment Like This

Class of 2020 will forever be one of the craziest graduation year of the century. This morning was my daughter’s graduation ceremony and I’m still going through the feels. I literally have unshed tears lingering in my eyes all day. From the moment they sang The Star-Spangled Banner until now, my eyes have been wet.

I am happy that the school went ahead with a ceremony. It was very limited to only two guests and everyone was expected to sit six feet apart in the stands. Graduates were seated six feet apart as well on the field.

Less than half the students walked at the ceremony, but it was still a pretty big group. When I graduated high school in the mid-90’s, my class was around 300 students. There were just a little more than 300 at today’s ceremony.

In April, the school decided to cancel the graduation ceremony due to COVID, which totally makes sense. In late May, we threw a small graduation party for daughter at our house just to be able to celebrate her achievement. We separated the guests (mostly family) about an hour apart for safety reasons. It worked out pretty well. We thought we were done and were ready to move on.

The school deciding whether to have a ceremony or not was a whole lot of confusion. At first, they decided it wasn’t going to happen. Then, they said possibly. Then, they said they would. When the decision was made to have one, we couldn’t decide if we wanted to go to it. Initially, we decided we wouldn’t be going because it was too dangerous. Then, when daughter went with her friend to pick up her friend’s walk packet, she decided then that she also wanted to go and picked up her packet as well. So, then we decided we’d go. The last minute decision put stress on husband because he had to ask for time off from work and because it was last minute, sometimes he’s not able to get time off. Daughter really wanted her dad to attend because he helped her a ton through all the ups and downs and homework throughout her four years. She said she’d be really sad if he couldn’t go. Luckily, he was.

The ceremony was organized exceptionally well. I was impressed. However, there was a somber-melancholy feel about the whole event with a light dusting of excitement and hopeful joy. It was a really strange mix of emotions.

Aside from all that, I couldn’t help but to be reminded that my 18-year-old was done with high school and will be starting university this fall. High school was a roller coaster for her and her dad and I. Yet somehow she turned out okay, and for me, that’s good enough. I’m not sure what the next few years will bring, but I hope it won’t be as crazy.

Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Sci-fi, YA, Dystopian
Year Published: 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is a dystopian sci-fi about a young Coriolanus Snow before he became President Snow. The story takes place many years earlier, before The Hunger Games trilogy, when Coriolanus was seventeen and climbing his way up in the Capitol in Panem.

We follow Coriolanus through the 10th Hunger Games in which he is a mentor to a tribute named Lucy Gray Baird from District 12. It’s tough in the arena and Coriolanus does whatever he can to help Lucy Gray win. Outside of the Games, Coriolanus begins to fall for Lucy Gray and starts showing his attraction for her. She notices and reciprocates.

After the Games, it was revealed to a higher up that Coriolanus assisted Lucy Gray in unethical ways so that she would win. He was forced to become a Peacekeeper but was allowed to choose which district to work in. He chose District 12 to be closer to Lucy Gray.

In District 12, Coriolanus learns that Lucy Gray, along with a few others, including Lucy Gray’s ex-boyfriend, were planning an escape. One of the other members in the plan was Sejanus Plinth. Sejanus was originally from District 2 but moved to the Capitol as a young kid and became good friends with Coriolanus. Sejanus was also a Peacekeeper in District 12. After having seen how poorly the District people were being treated, he vowed to help the small group escape. A crime occurs during the planning in which Coriolanus took part in, thus causing the escape to terminate.

Lucy Gray still wants to run away so Coriolanus agrees to go with her. He was also afraid the crime would catch up to him and didn’t want to be hanged. On the day he was to sneak out to run away with Lucy Gray, he gets a promotion and is required to head to District 2 the next morning. He has to choose between his future and the girl he loves. He chose love, but while they were out of District 12 in an area where the Peacekeepers were not monitoring, he finds the weapon he used during the murder and attempts to discard it. He also learns that Lucy Gray had betrayed him and goes after her to kill her, but he couldn’t find her. He returns to District 12 and leaves for training the next day.

During the flight to District 2, they made a stop at the Capitol. It turns out that the Head Gamemaker, Dr. Gaul, wanted to train Coriolanus at the university because Dr. Gaul found Coriolanus brilliant with his Games ideas.

In The Hunger Games trilogy, Coriolanus is the antagonist and someone we detest because of his cold-heartedness and brutal ruling. In The Ballad, he is the protagonist and someone we are supposed to like and feel sorry for. He does come across as a decent person in Ballad. His love for Lucy Gray was real. He went out of his way to help her win, even doing things he shouldn’t be doing. It felt as though he wanted her alive because she meant so much to him. Even if he never saw her again, at least she’d be able to live her life in the District. However, because he was found out, he got the opportunity to be with her and to really know her. She was all that she said she was: a singer and song writer; a free spirit. She was also very clever. In the Games, her cleverness helped her survive and it also, at one point, helped save his life.

The story goes much deeper than a dystopian story about a young adult falling in love and learning about who he is. I read the QA, which included the idea behind the story, and was completely surprised. I did get the sense of a struggle between an authoritarian world and a romanticism or “freedom” ideal. It wasn’t about which character I liked better or who I should like more than the other. It was more about understanding people’s behavior based not only on their upbringing but also the environment they’re exposed to. It was a very powerful book with so many hidden messages and meanings.

I wasn’t expecting to say this, but I’m totally shocked by how great this book was.

Courgettes and Hmong Pepper Sauce

Two weekends ago, Mom picked courgettes (aka zucchinis) and gave me quite a bunch. The baby ones were juicy and delicious grilled. The larger ones I boiled and bagged and froze for occasions when I want to have them with a meal. Mom did this when I was young and she still does it now. It’s convenient and keeps from wasting all these beautiful and mild flavored squashes.

The herbs and garlic were from Mom’s garden in her backyard. She gave me way too much spearmint that I decided to see if I could grow some in water. They seem to be sprouting roots so sounds positive. I’m not good at growing things unless it’s a plant in dirt, but even then, the plant needs to have strong roots otherwise they don’t live very long. The cilantro was the perfect amount to make four batches of Hmong pepper sauce.

As mentioned a few months back, my daughter’s boyfriend (who is African/British/Canadian) loves my Hmong pepper sauce. He eats it with everything so now when I make it, I make sure to pack some for him.

Gardening

I purchased a garden plot earlier in the year in a community garden near my parent’s home to grow some of my favorite vegetables. Now, I’m no gardener so Mom is taking care of it for me. She loves gardening and asked me to buy a plot so she could tend to it. She’s been with this community for awhile now. I’ve been to her garden a couple of times and really liked the place, but since I’ve purchased the plot, I’ve only gone to visit once.

I should go more often.

I asked Mom to plant cucumbers, some melons, Thai peppers, and corn.

Daughter and husband looking real happy. We were on our way to my sister’s housewarming so they didn’t have a choice but to come to the garden.

My cute parents. They are so passionate about gardening. There is no way they can eat all the stuff they grow so at the end of the season, when everything’s ripe, they will donate and sell to the community and relatives.

Mom picked a lot of zucchini’s for me. I’ve already frozen some (the Hmong way) and will be grilling some today to have with grilled salmon.

Community goats. I believe they are used for milk. The man who’s in charge of the garden and the goats said there were three goats but someone stole one of them.

Mom likes to feed the goats the zucchini leaves. I helped throw the leaves over the fence and those leaves have these pokey hairs that prick painfully. I don’t know how my parents can touch those things!

Chic Sparrow Carroll Leather in Alice + Unboxing Video

This is an A5 Chic Sparrow Carroll leather in Alice. It is a deluxe which means it has pockets on the inside. The color is very close to Tiffany Blue but maybe not as bright. It’s a very soft full-grain leather. There is no shine to it. As far as scent goes, I’ve heard a lot of people say it has a strong unpleasant smell but mine just smells like leather and I have a pretty sensitive nose. Maybe I got lucky.

I love these traveler’s notebooks so much I keep buying them but I’m running out of what to use them for. The Carroll Duchess just released and I want it too but I don’t have any idea what I’d use it for at them moment. With this Alice, since it’s an A5, I’m going to use it for writing and for style sheets for book reviews and beta reading.

June Favorite Songs

Before I share my list, just thought I’d mention that I’m doing Camp Nano this month. Goal is 30K words for a romance novella. It’s something different from the sci-fi and fantasy stuff.

As you know, I love music. I track monthly favorites in my bujo. I do it pretty sloppily but it’s nice being able to flip back and see what I’ve been listening to. I used to track it on this blog but stopped and I’m not sure why. I enjoyed doing that so I’ll continue it.

Here’s my top favorites/most listened to songs from June:

“Aeternum” by John Lunn for The Last Kingdom series on Netflix. The soundtrack for the series is simply amazing. It’s one of the best out there. I’d say it’s just as good as The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. “Aeternum” is so haunting. The drums and bass from 3:10 on is one of my favorites. In the show, they play that beat without the singing and it gives me goosebumps.

“Enso” by The Alliance. This is a trance song and has a pretty fast beat but at 2:00, it slows down to nothing and then picks up with an epic tune from 2:23 to 2:50.

“Last Hope” by Antoine Heid. I’ve shared this song before but I’ve started listening to it again. Mainly because I’m editing my sci-fi novella, but also because there’s a part of the song that has this really good drum piece that I missed before. It’s from 1:45 to 2:45. It’s sort of like a rolling drum but I’m not sure. It’s just fabulous!

“Zocalo” by Armin van Buuren. This is an old tune but I could never get enough of it. The breakdown from 3:35 to 5:15 kind of takes all my worries away.

“I Should Have Known” by Jovani feat. Jazzu. Love Jazzu’s voice, but also love the rolling drums. I’m a sucker for rolling drums.

Book Review: Aftershocks

Title: Aftershocks
Author: Marko Kloos
Genre: Sci-fi, Military Sci-fi, Space Opera
Year Published: 2019

Aftershocks by Marko Kloos is a military sci-fi novel following four characters. The main character, Aden, a POW on a foreign planet, is freed and makes his trek to a new home. Things don’t go as planned and he ends up working for another group of people under a fake identity.

The other characters are minor to Aden, but they equally share their stories: Solvieg, a young vice president of her father’s business has just started her position when terrorists attack her city. She’s also Aden’s younger sister; Idina, a ground soldier whose team was destroyed in an ambush; and, Dunstan, a fleet captain whose cargo ship also comes under attack.

The story is about interplanetary treaties and things going awry when one or more groups choose not to keep their word. Those on the planets agreed to work together due to limited resources, but due to power control, the planets with the most resources have the upper hand and those in charge then manipulate the others, leading to confusion as to who started what and who to trust.

This is book one of The Palladium Wars. The ending was a cliffhanger which makes sense being that it will continue in future books.

I enjoyed the military and space opera writing. Kloos is an amazing in-depth military storyteller. I loved all the details and space/military terms. It was well done. I thought Aden was put together well. I like how his story started and where it ended. Dunstan wasn’t so bad either. He didn’t have a lot of chapters but I’m guessing there will be more of him in the following books. What I didn’t enjoy so much were the two female characters. Idina was tough at the beginning but then her character changed. I wasn’t sure what role she played after the ambush. And, Solvieg seemed way too young to be vice president of a large company. She’s 23 and came aross clueless. Initially, it came across as though she worked hard for the position but then as her story grew, it felt more like she was handed the position. I wasn’t sure if that was the point or if she was meant to be a strong, intelligent character.

Overall, it was a good read.