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.

Book Review: Robinson’s Dream

Robinson’s Dream is about a couple who thought they did everything right raising their teenage son only to find out that their efforts really didn’t pay off as expected. Their son found himself in a mess and they weren’t sure how to approach the situation. The husband (Robinson) and wife decide to sleep on it, and while doing so, Robinson falls into a dream and dreams within dreams of strange events having to do with his fears, anxieties, his son, family members, friends, and a kaleidoscope of other things.

Like Lages’s other book, King Clown, this book has a similar style, however, the pacing was much better in this one. From start to finish, I was immersed. There’s really not a huge plot or rising actions. It is a story of situations that take place without an obvious climax but still gets the message across. The humor is excellent. A lot of it is dark but well done. I laughed my heart out. The story itself is not very serious but the messages are. It’s just a wonderful read and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to laugh and cry and think deep about life.

Book Review: King Clown

King Clown by Mark Lages is a literary fiction written in the form of a memoir. It is about a man named Adam Stern who has pneumonia and who ends up staying in the hospital for a few days. His time in the hospital is when we get to learn almost everything about who he is, from his childhood, to how he met his wife, to learning about his children, his friends, and so forth.

Reading this book was like listening to a stranger tell you his life, a stranger with humor and an unusual outlook on life. A lot of things/topics/situations Adam touched on were thought provoking. At times, I found myself putting the book down to ponder.

What I enjoyed about this book:

  1. Mostly the humor. Adam seems really laid back. His experience in the hospital was spot on (except, I’ve always liked hospital food). He has a way with his imagination. The ins and outs of sleeping and waking, and not knowing if he was dreaming or awake was interesting. His dreams really cracked me up.
  2. Loved how Adam talked about his children and siblings, especially his sister. She reminded me of someone in my family.
  3. The joke near the end had me in tears…about the trash truck. I tried to tell my husband about it but started laughing so hard, it took forever.

What I didn’t enjoy so much:

  1. Parts dragged on and on, mostly at the beginning. I think that’s why it took me longer than normal to finish.
  2. There was a moment in there where I felt the author was coming out, trying to throw his spiritual beliefs at me. I get it. Adam isn’t young. He’s probably scared about the afterlife or the lack of an afterlife, but it felt less of the character feeling his fears and more of the author proving that believers are odd people. I think that could have been worked out a little differently.
  3.  The title. I wasn’t sure if it was meant to make fun of Adam or someone else. References were made to both, so I guess I’m still a little unsure there.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The style of this book reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and I loved that book. This is a great read if you’d like something calm and humorous with very low rising actions (is that even possible?), no climax (unless leaving the hospital was the climax), and no resolution…yeah, pretty much the style of Slaughterhouse Five.

Book Review: American Dirt

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a fiction modern story about a mother named Lydia who loses everything in a cartel shootout at her home. She and the only other survivor of her family, her son Luca, flee Mexico into the U.S. to escape the cartel leader who could potentially kill them both if they remain in Mexico. **There are spoilers in this review so if you haven’t read it and plan to, I would recommend not reading this review.**

This story is tense, a bit gory, and mature. It begins with action (the shootout) to grip the reader. It then leads into ups and downs of Lydia and Luca finding their way out of town and out of Mexico. About halfway in, the story begins to drag going into the backstory of two teenage sisters they meet. It continues to drag for the most part until near the end when the story picks up again.

What I enjoyed about the book:

  1. Luca’s strength. I think his character could have been done better, but this isn’t to say it wasn’t done well. It was just okay. He was only eight and having to go through seeing his whole family murdered made him grow up real fast. Not only that, he had to endure seeing the things done to his mother and the sisters and many other things an eight-year-old shouldn’t have to see.
  2. Soledad’s character. She was way too shy and afraid at first but when she went crazy, I felt that. I wanted her to be more crazy. I wanted her strength to really show.
  3. The tension early on in the story, in the mountain/hills, and at the border was great. They were well written and had me eager to keep reading.
  4. Loved Cummins’ writing style. The words flowed and created a story that, if it weren’t for the lack of research, would have truly captivated me.

Initially, I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads.com. However, I thought more on it and decided to give it 3 stars for the following reasons.

  1. Lydia didn’t feel real. It could be that because I grew up in a highly populated Mexican community, had Mexican friends, and worked with them as well, I know their strengths and weaknesses somewhat and Lydia felt more Asian (shy, quiet, keep to themselves, etc.) in her demeanor. She seemed very clueless and surprised at how the cartels operated, how sneaking on the trains worked, etc. Her character felt more like a tourist in a country she didn’t know very well, not a native.
  2. All the Mexican males were either wanting to rape the three females or they were older and fatherly. Or, they were with one cartel or another. I wanted to see a good-hearted man who neither wanted to rape nor was part of a cartel. I don’t believe they are all bad.
  3. Cummins wrote in the book that ALL Mexican illegal immigrants come to the U.S. because of some dealings with the drug cartels. This isn’t true and I hope others who read it don’t take this as a truth. I get the feeling Cummins is trying to make the reader sympathize with why Mexicans need to be in the U.S. illegally. She also mentioned something about more journalists were being murdered in Mexico during Trumps administration in 2017. I personally wish she’d left the political stuff and party favoritism out. It puts a sour taste in my mouth when an author favors any party and tries to shove it down the reader’s throat.
  4. Lydia and Luca wanted to come to Denver where a distant uncle lived but the uncle and Denver weren’t mentioned again at the end. Also, Denver is a big city and there is a large Mexican population there and not all are illegals. Luca would have made lots of friends easily. If all the illegals were escaping the cartels, it would mean they’d all share a common story and help each other to survive in a foreign country, but that’s not so. There is a huge gap between Lydia and Lucas’s story and the reality of what’s really out there. I don’t claim to know everything and am open to learning facts, but this story was hinting at facts that wasn’t. I felt like it was a bit of propaganda because of the election coming, and it’s unfortunate because I really wanted to love this book.
  5. If the cartel really wanted to go after Lydia and Luca, they’d find them in the U.S. or any country for that matter. Borders won’t stop them from getting what they want in a different country.

What I truly enjoyed about the story was the action and suspense. If the setting was in a post-apocalyptic world, the story and style would fit perfectly.

Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up the book, The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood at Barnes & Noble. It was B&N’s book club pick and I’ve never gone to a book club before so I figured I’d give this one a go. The book club experience was really enjoyable. I was super nervous but the others made it very welcoming. Our facilitator was also pretty cool. Her questions got us all thinking. I wasn’t able to finish the book before attending but we still had good and debatable conversations about it. A few days later I finished the book and found myself completely immersed and loving it.

The Testaments is the second book to The Handmaid’s Tale. I read The Handmaid’s Tale five years ago and liked it but it wasn’t as powerful as this one. And since it’s been awhile, I really can’t remember the details or the characters. What I do remember is that it was from one character’s point-of-view and the world she lived in was completely controlled.

The Testaments is written in first-person point-of-view through three female characters and tells their story. At first, I wasn’t so sure I liked the idea but as the story moved along, I began to really enjoy it. The Testaments is right up there with 1984 and Brave New World, and even A Clockwork Orange. Atwood mentioned something along the lines of, “2+2 sometimes equals 4.” In 1984, 2+2 always equals 5.

The Testaments is a powerful story about totalitarian in a dystopian society in what was once New England. It’s about control going awry and how three women, but mainly one strong woman with a plan to save the two from losing their lives and bringing down the Republic of Gilead.

When I purchased the book, I saw this notebook with the cover from The Handmaid’s Tale and just had to have it. I don’t have the book though (borrowed it from the library). Not sure what I’ll be using the notebook for.

January 2017 Book Reviews

A goal this year is to only read about 12 books.  One book per month or around there.  I’ve really reduced it because I want to focus more on writing than reading.  I know I’ll probably end up reading more than 12 books but if I do, that’s okay.  I don’t want to stress out over trying to hit my numbers.  So far, I’ve read two books this month.  It wasn’t expected but once I learned Veronica Roth’s book, “Carve the Mark,” was out, I had to buy and read it.  Below are the reviews for the books I’ve read this month.

Behind Closed Doors
Author: B.A. Paris
Genre: Fiction, Psychological Thriller

behindcloseddoors_350This story is about a couple whom everyone thinks has the perfect relationship but deep down there are secrets.

Although the pacing is fast, the story starts out a bit slow.  There is a tenseness in the beginning especially when one of the supporting characters, Esther, questions their “perfect” marriage.

The characters were well developed and stayed true to themselves. The back stories to the main characters really helped in shaping them. The setting was clear and done well. The story line was interesting and kept me in suspense and intrigue, which was what kept me reading.

What bothered me most about the story was the protagonist and the main antagonist. Grace didn’t seem very smart or wise and Jack wasn’t as evil as he could be. I felt that Grace could have easily gotten away from Jack and even reported him but she let it go on for too long, doubting herself all the time, and not trusting her own intuition. She was so strong and determined at taking care of her little sister, I didn’t get why she suddenly gave in to Jack and put her sister on the sideline. As for Jack, I wanted him to be even more evil than he was but he seemed to also give in. There was no explanation why he gave in to Grace so much since his back story made him to be this person who enjoyed torture/pain, etc. If it was because he was afraid he’d get caught, then that fear should have somehow made it into the story or the back story.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. The suspense stretched out further than I had anticipated which almost led me to stop reading because it got to the point where I almost just didn’t care what happened (because as mentioned, Grace wasn’t very smart) but Esther got me hooked. She was the person who made the story interesting. I was annoyed by her at first but I was also curious as to why she was always prying. I was surprised by her at the end, and have to admit, I cried. She was amazing.

Carve the Mark
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Fiction, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Young Adult

carvethemark_350This story is about…I’m not even sure exactly what it’s about, to be honest, but I’ll do my best to describe it.  I believe it’s about two families who are enemies, where the evil family gains rulership and tortures the other family in hopes to continue ruling.

The story was interesting and the powers the characters had were unique. I liked the idea that it took place in outer space and other planets.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I had expected. It was pretty fast paced. Too many characters were introduced so I couldn’t feel for the main characters. Some characters were introduced and then only had small, almost irrelevant, parts. I tried to visualized the world they lived in and found it difficult because I felt as though there were pieces of Dune by Frank Herbert and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Every time I came across the word “Benesit, ” (the name/title of one of the families) I kept wanting to say “Bene Gesserit” from Dune.

As for the relationship between the two main characters, I felt very little for them. As mentioned, because it was so fast paced and so much information was being thrown in, I really couldn’t relate to the relationship or to their situation.

What was very obvious was the pain the protagonist felt and how she learned to deal with it. I think if the focus was solely on this as the story, how she was chosen to have this type of power that would cause herself pain, and how she learned to control or manage it, would have been a great story on its own.

I really wanted to like this story. I love sci-fi and fantasy combined and I love Veronica Roth’s style. The scenes merge seamlessly and the transition from first to third person was well done.  I’m just a bit bummed that there was so much thrown into it and it felt rushed.

Book Reviews and Ramblings

I’ve got quite a few book reviews to share.  It’s a busy time but I still found time to read, usually right before bed, and while I wait for my girls at the dance studio.  Lately, I’ve been finding that I’ve spent way too much time researching Korean skin care products.  Not sure how that was brought on but I think I was initially looking at Korean makeup (and I can’t think why I was looking at Korean makeup!)  which then lead to skincare.  I learned that Korean skin care technology is about 2 to 5 years ahead of the U.S.  I was fascinated and continued to read and learn about Korean’s advance products, including sunscreen, which I’m hoping to get my hands on because I am sold on the high SPF, broad spectrum, gel consistency or just less opaque compared to the ones I’ve used in the past, and cost.  Oh, and I might add that my curiosity got the best of me and I YouTube-ed a handful of Korean before and after plastic surgery.  I was saddened by their obsession for the V-shape jawline, big American eyes with thick eyelid folds, and super pale skin.  It made them look all very similar and reminded me of a book I read a couple of times called, Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.  Interestingly, there was a time in my teen years in which I had wished everyone looked the same and lived in a socialistic totalitarian society, and I had good reasons for feeling that way, but as I got older I realized how bad that would be.

Anyway, let’s get the book reviews started.

Title: Shatter Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, paranormal, YA

This story is written in the first person through the eyes of a girl named Juliette.  She is gifted with the ability to absorb life from others and in the process kills them but she is aware of this so she tries not to touch anyone in fear that she’ll accidentally kill them.  She also has super human strength that she was unaware of until she broke down a metal door in her haste to escape The Reestablishment.  There is a love triangle going on.  Juliette likes Adam-a soldier of The Reestablishment, and Warner-the leader of The Reestablishment, likes her.  Warner wants her to use her ability to gain power but she doesn’t want to.  She escapes eventually and ends up in a facility with others who also have abilities of their own.

This book was recommended to me by my teenage daughter.  She loved it to death and couldn’t decide if she liked Adam more or Warner.  She compared the post-apocalyptic totalitarian world to the book, The Giver, by Lois Lowry.  Personally, I just found this book to be okay.  Juliette’s ability was exactly like Rogue’s from X-men so I couldn’t get a good description of her in my head because I just kept seeing Rogue.  The relationship between Juliette and Adam was okay.  Nothing new, nothing exciting.  The coddling was overdone and unrealistic.  I liked that Adam had a cute little brother whom he wanted to keep protected and that Juliette finally met up with others who had supernatural abilities as well, although, their abilities again reminded me of X-men.

 

Title: American Sniper
Author: Chris Kyle
Genre: Memoir, biography, war

This books is a memoir by Chris Kylie on how he became a SEAL and then a SEAL sniper and the four tours he fought in during the middle eastern war in the mid 2000’s.  He goes into some pretty good details about the weapons he used and what he did as a sniper.  He also talks about the friends he made and the soldiers, his “brothers”, whom he saved or tried to.  He talks about his family life and wife and their struggles while he was overseas.  There are clips of his wife’s point of view of his deployments which really helped in understanding the stress war and military life can bring on.

Overall, it was a good read.  Chris came across to me somewhat cocky but he is also quite humble.  He’s very proud of his country and would do whatever it took to take down the enemy for it.  I was very heartbroken over the other SEALs, marines, and army men who died.  The language/prose was very simple like someone speaking to you about their life.  This book is not for the faint of heart.

 

Title: Ralph S. Mouse
Author: Beverly Clearly
Genre: Children, fiction

This book is about a little mouse named, Ralph.  He lives in a hotel and is friends with a boy named Ryan and his mother who also live in the hotel.  He decides that he wants to get away from the hotel and maybe live in the school Ryan goes to.  While at the school Ryan tells him to stay quiet and not peek out of his shirt pocket but curiosity got the best of him and he peeked.  A classmate saw him and suddenly he becomes the center of attention.  He is put through a maze and also makes a new friend.

Read this with my daughter.  We both thought it was okay.

 

Title: Ribsy
Author: Beverly Clearly
Genre: Children, fiction

This book is about a dog named Ribsy who jumped out of his owner’s car to be with him but accidentally got into someone else’s car.  He escapes, and while trying to find his owner, ends up in meeting strangers who take him in.  Some treating him better than others.  In the end his owner finds him and they return home.

Read this with my daughter.  She didn’t like it so much but I thought it was cute.

 

Title: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne
Genre: Historical fiction, war, children

This book is about a boy named Bruno, who’s father got promoted to Commandant, and they moved from Berlin to Auschwitz.  Bruno became very lonely and wanted someone to play with.  He saw people working in the distance from his bedroom window and found his way to where the people were to see if there was someone he could play with.  He becomes friends with a little boy his own age named, Schmuel, on the other side of the fence.  He doesn’t know why there is a fence separating them but he is determined to become good friends with Schmuel.  At one point Schmuel ends up at his house and he’s excited but when he learns that Schmuel was only there to clean the wine glasses for a big gathering he becomes confused.  He realizes that Schmuel is hungry so he gives some food to his friend to eat.  The soldier that had brought Schmuel in to do the work saw the food in Schmuel’s hand and berated him.  Schmuel told the soldier that his friend, Bruno, gave him the food.  The soldier asked Bruno if that was true and Bruno, scared of the soldier, said he didn’t know who the boy was nor did he give him any food.  Later on when Bruno went to the fence to meet Schmuel, he saw the bruise on Schmuel’s face and felt terribly bad.  Schmuel forgave him and they continued to be friends.  Bruno would sometimes bring food and pass it under the fence where a small opening existed.  Bruno’s mother, who didn’t like their new living arrangements in Auschwitz, decided that she was going to return to Berlin with him and his sister.  Bruno didn’t want to move back to Berlin because he now made a new friend that he really liked.  Just before they were to leave, Bruno and Schmuel arranged for Bruno to cross over the fence to help Schmuel find his father who mysteriously disappeared.  Life on the other side of the fence was not what Bruno had thought and he wanted to go home.  The soldiers were loud and vicious.  They made Bruno and Schmuel and a bunch of other people wearing the same clothing, the striped pajamas, get into a line and had them enter a large metal room.  The soldiers told them it was time for a shower.  The two little boys had no idea what was going to happen.

This was a very very very heartbreaking book.  This book was recommended to me by my teenager who read it in her language arts class and whom also saw the movie.  She loved it so much she had myself and her dad watch it with her her second time.  I totally loved the movie, more than the book, but both were very good.

 

Title: Tuck Everlasting
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Genre: Fiction, children

This book is about the Tuck family, a mother, father, and two sons, who drank from a spring in the Treegap woods that stopped them from aging and dying.  Over a hundred years had passed and the Tuck’s felt it was safe to return to their old home since everyone they knew had either died or were too young to remember them.  Jesse, the younger Tuck son who is about 17, stopped by the spring in Treegap to drink from the spring and a 10-year-old girl named, Winnie Foster, saw him and wanted to drink from the spring too.  He wouldn’t let her and told her she couldn’t.  They got into a little disagreement but luckily Jesse’s mother, Mae, and older brother, Miles, caught up to him and they were both surprised to see the girl.  The girl told them that because the wood belonged her her family she would drink from it when they left so in fear they kidnapped her.  They took her to their home and explained to her why she couldn’t drink from the spring and that for her to never tell anyone about the spring.  They didn’t know but there was a man who followed them who had heard rumors about the Tuck’s.  He stole their horse who had also drank from the spring and returned to town to tell Winnie’s parents that she was kidnapped and he knew who did it.  He told them that he would return Winnie to them in a trade for their woods.  He also reported the kidnapping to the constable.  Winnie was at first scared she was kidnapped but she learned to trust the Tuck’s and soon called them her friends.  Jesse really liked her and asked her to drink from the spring when she turned 17 so they could marry.  The man returned the next morning to the Tuck’s home and was going to take Winnie with him but Mae shot him.  The constable was on his way to the Tuck’s and saw the scene and took Mae in to be hanged for her crime.  The day before Mae was to be hanged she escaped.  Years rolled by and Mae and her husband returned to Treegap to find that the woods were no longer there.

Read this with my daughter.  She cried.  I cried.  Such a wonderful book.  I’ve read this book probably about 4 or 5 times and every time I always get so teary-eyed.

Title: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Author: Barbara Demick
Genre: Memoir, biography, war, history, political

This book is biographically written following six North Koreans in their lives and escape from North Korea to South Korea from the mid to late 80’s up to about 2005.  I enjoyed the read and all the research gone into it.  The escape process was similar to the book, In Order to Live, by Yeonmi Park, whom is actually mentioned in a paragraph or so in this book.  It is really strange how I too have wondered about a free and united Korea.  I’ve wondered when that would happen, if it will be something similar to the coming down of the Berlin Wall in a nationally televised way, or if it would happen subtly, and if it will happen in my lifetime.

Neverhome Book Review

Title: Neverhome
Author: Laird Hunt
Genre: Historical Fiction

NeverhomeThe book is about a wife who leaves behind her husband to be a soldier for the Union army during the Civil War.  It is written in the first person through her eyes.  She gets captured and jailed by the Confederates but she outsmarts them and escapes.  Then she gets betrayed and thrown into an asylum by the Union where she’s tortured.  So much happens to her that she doesn’t know whom to trust anymore.  There is humor and sarcasm and great details of war.  The prose is wonderfully done.  The author did amazing research work creating true to life characters and atmosphere.

At first I was hesitant to read this story because when I read the synopsis, and it mentioned the Civil War, I just wasn’t ready to read into that part of history again, even if it was a fiction story.  But, what intrigued me was the fact that women went into the war secretly in disguise.  I wanted to know how they were able to do it and so the journey with this book began.

I find it odd that I never learned about this part of American history throughout my schooling.  I was very touched by it all that I felt compelled to do additional researching.  Not only were the women brave in making this choice but so many young boys (not even men yet!) fought for the emancipation of slaves in the South.  Over 620,000 lives were taken.  I think there could have been another way.  Not war.  Not all those lives.  It tears at my heart.

Overall, this was a wonderful read.  I cried and laughed and I came out with a whole new respect for the women who fought in the Civil War.  The only downside to this book was that it was too short.  I would have loved an additional 300 to 400 pages.

A quote from the book:

You stand in a line in your bright blues with your filthy face and your lice and all the dead you now know and get shot at regular, your thinking takes a change.  You get to where you can do things you couldn’t have dreamed up the outline of before.”