Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Unraveling Isobel

Unraveling Isobel
By Eileen Cook

I have enjoyed several books written by Cook and Unraveling Isobel is one of the most fun. It has elements of teen angst, ghosts, an evil stepfather, peer pressure, romance and psychosis. What is real and what is simply in Isobel's over-active imagination? Is she going crazy like her father? Who can she trust - her new gorgeous stepbrother or the local high school cheerleader captain?

I am not going to say much more about the plot because there are several mysteries and surprises throughout the book. I will say I would recommend reading this during the day. It is a teen novel, so there are some expectations that come with that, including the fact that the main character is still maturing in many ways. But you will find yourself cheering her on by the end of the book.

I am a bit disappointed in Isobel's parents. Neither one seem to be great at parenting. Why didn't her father make more of an effort to communicate with his only daughter? What is the deal with her mother -- she is just as immature as Isobel?

The question of ghosts is a very real issue in this book. Are ghosts real? If so, how come not everyone sees them or experiences them? Can you be a Christian and still believe in ghosts? That is my faith question for Unraveling Isobel. As far as I know, I have never seen a ghost. However, there have been times when I have felt a presence that I couldn't just explain with my imagination. I have taken pictures where there is an unexplained orb of light floating there. Is this a ghost or a trick of the light? Isobel and her friends use a ouija board which I have never done -- as the book highlights, it is too easily manipulated. And if we are Christian, with a sense of the holy and the Holy Spirit, is anything too great or wonderful for God? Or even the father of lies? Can unhappiness linger in a place without the actual presence of a spirit?

I would be interested in your ideas and responses to these questions!

And I highly recommend Unraveling Isobel!

Happy reading!


Monday, February 18, 2013


By Ally Condie

Okay, I have reviewed Condie's first books in this series and recommended both. You can follow or re-read these by clicking on Matched and Crossed. Before getting a copy of the final book in this series, I read some reviews on Amazon that were not great -- many reviewers talked about Reached being boring or lacking in action. I have read such reviews before and often disagree with them, so I didn't let their opinions stop me from reading the conclusion to Cassie's, Ky's and Xander's story(ies).

I have to say I was very disappointed in Reached.

It wasn't a lack of action that let me down. Instead, it felt like Condie was having a hard time simply ending the book. Maybe she didn't know how to end it or where it should go. I never got a good grasp of why some things had happened and other reasons seemed way to contrived or simplistic. And the ending was like a whimper. Usually in the conclusion of such a story there is a battle or huge problem to overcome -- the odds seem insurmountable yet the hero or heroine are able to overcome all obstacles and there is - if not a happy at least a- satisfying conclusion. The big issue here? Finding a cure for a disease. Bring in the big guns! Loud music! Move to the edge of your seats! NOT!

In fact, the cure is found way before the ending and I am not sure really if there was a good ending to the book. I came away not really impressed with Ky. Cassie also seemed to lose her fighting spirit. Xander still seemed to be living in another world -- he was in love with and determined to win Cassie until he wasn't. I would have liked there to be more discussion with Xander and Cassie but they never did. Condie seemed to constantly keep everyone separated like she was afraid of what might really happen if they all got together.

That makes me wonder how we react or act when our faith disappoints us. What do we do when what we have prayed for does not happen? How do we feel when God seems to let us down? Do we lack a blessing if the good stuff doesn't come our way? Those are the questions Reached seemed to spark in my own faith walk.

Not a recommendation unless you just want to conclude the series.

Happy reading!


Friday, February 15, 2013

Story of a Girl

Story of a Girl
By Sara Zarr

Deanna Lambert got caught by her Dad in the middle of an act when she was only thirteen years old. Although the boy was seventeen, Deanna's father did not bring charges against him. Instead, the boy, Tommy, although best friends with Deanna's older brother, made Deanna into the local slut of the school. Three years later, Deanna has cleaned up her act (quit smoking, doing drugs, being with boys at all) but she has been branded for life. The worst is the way her father looks at her -- or better doesn't look at her. There is nothing she can do to receive his forgiveness. Both her school life and her home life are pure hell.

I wasn't sure I really wanted to read this book. It sat for a long time on my bookshelf. However, I am glad I did. This is a powerful book about redemption, forgiveness and moving beyond our mistakes. It is also a book about wanting to be loved and to belong. Deanna is not a bad kid. She really just wants to be loved and accepted. The only one who seems to get this is her brother. Deanna proves that forgiveness and moving on are possible, even in the face of social judgment and ostracism.

I would not recommend this book for younger teen readers but it is a powerful lesson about being forgiven and forgiving. That is what Story of a Girl has to do with my faith. How forgiving are we as Christians? My husband says that the people in his AA group are often far more understanding and forgiving than people in the church. I think that is because the AA folks know they have been there, done that. Why don't we see ourselves in the church as sinners? We are quick to point the finger but reluctant to hold someone in love. Can we see beyond someone's mistakes and allow them new life in Christ -- even for the umpteenth time?

I recommend Story of a Girl.

Happy reading - and forgiving!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Riyria Revelations

Riyria Revelations Series
By Michael J Sullivan

I loved, loved, loved this series! This is actually a review of six books, although they are published in three volumes. If you love fantasy - like Tolkien - you have to read these books! Humans, dwarfs, elves and a very intelligent group of goblins fill the pages. Sword fights, magic, ancient languages and corruptible religion are also central to the story. I am trying to decide if my son is quite old enough to read them but I may wait until he is 12. I have also discovered that two more prequel books will be published later this year.

The first volume is called Theft of Swords. This is where you meet the two main characters in the series: Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn. They are thieves. Royce is the darker of the two characters and is the one who picks locks and climbs. Hadrian is the fighter and the conscience of the two. They are so different it is hard to see how they are friends but you get the feeling from the first of the series that they are more like brothers and have an incredibly deep connection.

The second volume, Rise of Empire, is really the darker of the three. Nothing seems to go right and Sullivan never pulls the Star Trek plot device where every main character survives. Don't be surprised that someone who seems significant doesn't make it to the end. In that spirit, you are on the edge of your seat wondering who will make it. But don't worry - Royce and Hadrian are on the final cover of the volume at least!

Heir of Novron is that final volume and Sullivan does not disappoint the reader. Sullivan keeps the reader guessing as it does not seem like things are going to end well for anyone. Could all these bad things really happen to all the major characters in this short of time frame? What is wonderful is the depth of character and issues like forgiveness, redemption, grief and love are fully explored. I kept hesitating to finish because I was afraid of the ending and a little sad that I would have to leave this world of Sullivan's making.

What did this series have to do with my faith? I found that Sullivan really delved into despair and grief -- that "dark night of the soul" which Christians don't speak of very often. Some equate such a feeling as depression and I suppose that could be part of it. But I think Sullivan really points to the fact that even when our faith seems strong, life can really tear it apart when we lose those who are dearest to us. The question remains is this: how will we deal with grief and loss? What do we do when our faith has fallen in pieces around us? It is much easier to believe when things are going well. I think that rebuilding faith takes courage, time and companions who love us with tough love. Not everyone can crawl back to the light, either. And no one does it like others have done it before us: everyone is different.

I highly recommend the Riyria Revelations series!

Happy reading!