Book Review: The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

I can’t write about “The Boy Who Could See Demons” without giving spoilers. Be warned. This book is a lie. However it’s an important lie that needed to be put out there. Mental Health in children and adults is not something we talk about in a positive light. Further, we don’t talk about it nearly enough. This fiction novel focuses on a young boy and his psychiatrist, and their journey working through a possible demonic possession. The young boy, Alex, has a friend named Ruen (pronounced Ruin, I believe…), who only he can see, and who tells him killing people might be fun. The psychiatrist, Anya, is convinced, because of personal experience, that he is experiencing early onset Schizophrenia.

The book takes place in a rather dreary Northern Ireland, and the setting adds to the feeling about the book. There is perhaps one day, one chapter, where the book has a positive swing. We are constantly pulled into conversations with Ruen that make Alex question his morality. He seems too young to question his sanity. There are several unnerving cases where Ruen has the ability to know things about those around Alex. So Alex becomes a pariah everywhere he goes. It gets even worse when it seems Ruen wants to help Alex get even with some of his peers by tempting him with the power to hurt them.

Alex’s mother is also a key player as she is an addict and ends up in the hospital. Thereby, she is removed from most of the picture where Alex is involved. Luckily he has a very loving aunt who also happens to be much more amiable to residential patient treatment. So as Alex also goes into the hospital we get to see the dynamic relationship between the Psychiatrist and Alex begin.

Dr. Anya Molokova, has a very specific history with Alex’s situation. She believes Alex can hear and see demons, as her own daughter threw herself out of a window because her disease convinced her that there was a bridge that no one else could see. Anya also sports a scar her daughter gave her in a fit of rage caused by the disease. Anya has a connection to this boy few other can experience, even to the point that she starts to believe he may actually be seeing a demon. Ruen convinces Alex to transcribe a piece of music so complex most classical music students can’t play it. Anya happens to be a classically trained pianist and can play it, and eerily she’s heard it before. Her daughter had been playing it the night she killed herself.

This book illustrates the fantasy of the mind very well. How very real and tangible something can be and yet how hard it can be to describe or manipulate. It is a masterpiece of literature that had me enthralled all the way to the end. That is, until I got to the end. (IF YOU DON”T LIKE SPOILERS PLEASE STOP READING)

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Modern Day Gilgamesh! – Book Review: Gil Marsh by A.C.E. Bower

Is it a love story? Is it a story about friendship? What about Adventure? Action? Magic? It’s all of the above. Gilgamesh is an ancient story about two people. Whether they were lovers or friends, it didn’t really matter, because they shared each other. I don’t mean that in any slanderous or provocative way because that’s boring. What I mean is, they share something so deep that neither friendship nor lover is an adequate term. Gilgamesh and Enkidu, or Gil Marsh and Enko, in this retelling of Gilgamesh, are two boys thrown together in a competitive situation, but eventually become fast friends because of the rivalry they share. However, as I said it turns into something more, something so deep there are no words in our language to describe.

We live in an entirely Heterosexist society so when this book is viewed through most lenses, we see a LGBT love story that is romanticized and perhaps even fantasized. Though if we strip that away, the one singular notion of straight being normal, and that these boys are deviating, then we see something more powerful. This relationship, was not consummated sexually, but was deeper than most people who do have sex. A connection that was part sibling, part lover, part friend, and part parent. This was true explanation of what a soul-mate should be. It just happens to be between two boys.

The writing of this story felt much like an epic poem too. I’ve seen at least one other review that suggested the writing in this book was dry and boring. I disagree. The original epic poem was discovered in tablet form and parts of it were missing. Further, the translations we have don’t necessarily have the stylistic flourish of Shakespeare or Tolkien, but it still tells a vivid story. Gil Marsh is short, and written in bursts of story, that occasionally seem gaping. I would argue that A.C.E. Bower has captured the feeling of the original and translated it to a story that fits in our world.

I think it’s more important to be able to explore the story. If you are reading a book and allow your biases to prevent you from listening to the story, then you have missed the entire point of picking up a book. It’s about taking a walk in someone else’s life. The writer has explored a path and then presented it to you so that you can hear a different viewpoint. It’s an amazing story that deserves to be heard.

Book Review: Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

The cover picture of the horse made me nervous…

This book was amazing. I don’t delve into high fantasy very often, I have my reasons , but I’m glad that I did. This has renewed some faith in High Fantasy. The world building was interesting and I think the flexibility of the acceptance of new concepts. I was a little jealous. Working on my own fiction, where I specifically work on Urban Fantasy, I find myself running into plausibility road blocks. I believe I actually have more respect for both genres, because of the sheer creativity it takes to both build an entire world, and fit everything into our tiny universe.

Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey is an adventure in Valdemar, a typical rustic middle aged setting, where convenience is amplified by magic. I think my favorite part is I never actually fell in love with the main character. However, I did support the heck out of him. He was an awesome anti-hero. I hated everyone who hated him, but hated him for some of the same reasons. He was pretentious, but it was a defense mechanism, and I’m a sucker for a needy teen.

The magic was definitely interesting. There was a series of Gifts heralds had access to. Being a single series in a multi-series universe, I have a limited understanding of the various positions, as I think she relies a little on a reader exploring book chronologically. I on the other hand only have interest in one series, perhaps more after reading this one, but for now just the one. As I understand Heralds, they are something like Royal Knights. There are some Heralds who are born with Gifts that will usually flower at some point. These are some typical ‘powers’ such as telekinesis (called Fetching, ha), MindSpeach, FarSight, ForeSight, and then the power Mage Gift. This last one allows the Gifted to manipulate energies, basically giving them the ability of spell craft. Vanyel, the Main Character, has had his gifts suppressed for various reasons. Nothing with specific intent but through emotional and physical abuse he hasn’t been allowed to develop. That is until a magical backlash rips open all of the gifts he has, which is actually all of them, and is an enigma to all of those knowledgeable on the subject.

My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. She creates a beautiful story arch, but has some parts where it drags and then compensates in places by speeding up the pacing too much. The beginning is quite the drag and I was wondering if I was going to be able to handle much of it. Five chapters with no magic…not even a mention of it. I was aghast, I mean, the name of the book is Magic’s Pawn. Further, when a love interest is presented, it develops in the negative space between one chapter and the next. I was a little annoyed at that rapid growth. However, my biggest annoyance is not my own, it is my lesbian lover Jenny’s. She detests any character that is given supernatural power and supernatural control with no investment in gaining skill. There is a point when characters seek refuge with these slightly odd creations that are something of a mix between Native Americans and Tolkien’s Elves. In which they essentially implant the knowledge of how to use his gifts into his head.

Needless to say the boy does spend well over half the book suffering, and despite a few minor incidents of annoyance, you learn to love his pain. The series is good, and a rarity amongst main characters as he questions his sexuality. This book was written in 1989, which I am acutely aware was twenty four years ago, because I was born that year. I found it amusing that I had to look up words because even context wasn’t enough to guess what the slang meant. Worth a read if you can dig up a copy. If you’re nice I might even let you borrow mine.

My Easter Sermon…

My usual rant on this day is that it was one of the many that was stolen in an attempt to acculturate other faiths into Christianity. I mean you cannot honestly believe that Easter is Christian when there is no logical connection between Bunnies, Eggs, and a Jewish man telling Death that he can keep what he’s selling? While that’s just rude, there is a bigger problem, and it’s a problem that isn’t restricted to any one faith. The problem that I see is that we as a nation are given things on several ‘holidays’ and for absolutely no reason at all. We come to expect gifts, baskets, and rewards for simply being…which isn’t right. Not that we shouldn’t be given things, because everyone loves a present, but that there are many people who are ‘being’ and never get a thing. We are teaching ourselves a false message.

No wonder we are the nation that we are. We seclude giving to holidays where we are supposed to celebrate how much we’ve been given, and restrict it to our living rooms and to our loved ones. Take it out your front door, give a basket to people you don’t know, to those who can’t give back. We have a life that has the potential to change someone else’s, and yet we don’t. I would love to argue that this is an American problem, but it isn’t. This problem is human. However, America, I’m looking at you to be the change. We are a large culprit, and have effectively destroyed so many different cultures, that we should be one the initiate a newer better world. One in which people care.

Since people in the blogging world like lists so much, I thought I’d put together a short one that speaks to my arguments.

  1. As much as you want it to, your specific religion doesn’t matter. I don’t honestly care what religion you subscribe to. They are old, they are new, and they change with every single person who speaks their words. It does not matter. Every single religion out there tries to get its followers to be kind. So why does it matter who the teacher is, as long as you are being kind…
  2. What are you teaching your kids? You are teaching them to expect rewards (yes, that’s what a gift is…) for doing absolutely nothing. How many of you that could provide gifts actually gave your kids nothing, because they were on the naughty list? Right… Holidays are about giving, but you should teach your kid what it is like to give, not to be given to. (Note: This means more than forcing them to carry that bag of can goods to the front of the church, or letting them hand something to someone else. That’s not teaching, that’s forcing them to do something to make you look good.)
  3.  The ULTIMATE reward of getting into heaven (or avoiding hell) is irrelevant. Whether heaven/hell exists doesn’t matter either. If it does then you should be doing what you need to get in, right? Cool. Then again if it doesn’t, you should be doing right here, because it’s all we have. For those that will say that without heaven you wouldn’t need to do good, then…
  4. For your information, that’s selfish. If you are only good on this earth because you want your just desserts when you leave it, then you are not a good person…
  5. You should want to be kind and you shouldn’t want to be a *insert favorite expletive noun here*.

My point stands. Whatever the religion, no matter the belief, you have a chance to do Good. Every day is a holiday, every day is a holy day because you are living and have power in your hands. When you see what you can do for another, that is powerful, and when you do it, well…that is holy.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. The John Green novels I have read have been great, but the ones I haven’t hold no interest for me. This one fell into the latter category for a long time. I didn’t want to read it for the same reasons I refuse to read “A Child Called It”. I knew what it was about and I had no interest in subjecting myself to that. The Fault In Our Stars is about cancer and dying from cancer as teenagers. As a person who has a serious ambition to live forever, this did not draw my particular interest. However, they’re making it into a movie, and that’s a pretty damn good way to get me to read the book, especially first.

Listen to the warnings anyone gives about this book. You will laugh, and cry, and scream right along with the characters. It is a roller coaster of emotions that keeps you coming back for more, even if it is ever so slightly predictable. Simple plot aside, the depth of characters allows the book to have very few main characters and be more powerful than a book with a full ensemble.

Hazel Grace and August Waters are star crossed lovers who have a date with death. They meet in support group because they both have had entanglements with cancer. They are living but have very different viewpoints on living. However, they both have agreed on one thing. This one thing is a made up book that John Green implanted that is more powerful than any of the ones he himself has written. With quotes like “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities,” how can it not be profound and life changing? One problem, it ends in the middle of a sentence and has no sequel. The characters begin a desperate trip to figure out its epilogue. This leads them to Amsterdam, unsavory characters, and life changing moments.

Story telling like this is only fitting in a teen fiction novel. Teenagers have an ability to sound like adults but still feel things with a raw intensity that overloads any reader. They are both stereotypically more mature than most kids their age (16 and 17), and spend much of their time discussing grand themes. However, it’s a series of obituaries that end up being the most powerful element of the book, not the deep discussions about love or heaven. Only a teenager could say something so powerful that it can only be read in an obituary.

The Fault in Our Stars is quite amazing. I wanted to interject some pithy and thought provoking quip like “it touches your soul” but nothing would do it justice. The book isn’t a book I’ll read again, or even one I will readily suggest other people read. But, this book is a powerful and exciting book. A book that, if I had a kid fighting life (or fighting for life), I would hand to. People who struggle with life or death should read it. People who are completely balanced should read it. People should read it once and continue on, because that’s what August Waters and Hazel Grace would say. Reading it several times might trick you into believing a reality existed after the words stopped, and sometimes it’s better to live.

Book Review: Charming (Pax Arcana #1) by Elliott James

Cool cover right? Yeah, I though so too…

I don’t often force myself to finish books. I don’t have the time or patience to deal with books I just can’t get into. Very few have a surprise ending that make it worth the read. Mocking Jay, for instance, I was pressured into reading. It redeemed, not itself, but the entire series so the situation can exist where an ending can make the book worth it. Here is where I digress. I forced myself to finish Charming by Elliot James. The ending wasn’t what wowed me nor was it the characters or the storyline. Writing these sentences, I have come to the conclusion it was the overwhelming ordinariness of the book. It was such a genre cliché’ that I wanted to see exactly how mundane this book could be.

It was fairly mundane. Supernatural tropes abound! A warrior meant to keep the world safe from werewolves (and other supernatural baddies) turned into a pseudo werewolf. This was the original reason I picked up the book. I didn’t like the idea of a runaway, someone hell-bent to escape the ‘ruling body’. In an act of counter-intuitiveness James manages to create an interest character and then process him through his trope making machine. However, he was tolerated to an extent, though part of the notion he was constantly running was because the Knights were constantly looking for a reason to scapegoat him. These ‘Knight’ are the Knights Templar, the Western Europe section of ordained peace keepers, who have managed to twist their original doctrine. Go figure… So, he was the typical overly suave, multi-talented and multi functional super protagonist.

Next we have the almighty Deus Ex Machina. In Ancient Greek Plays, when they needed to move the plot forward but had no mortal path, they would bring in a God. Deus ex Machina means “God from the machine”. Literally a statue of a God would be lowered onto the stage with a crane, and the plot would progress with divine intervention. In Charming, we have Sig, a mysterious Valkyrie. She is the extra umph the main character needs in a fight, often complimenting him nicely. She was too good, and seemed to only have a weakness for the dashing and…charming…smile of a man.

The ending was what annoyed me the most. It took forever to reach the final battle, which ended way too soon, and the ‘real’ bad guy was an awful transition to the plot of the whole story. Overall the book was worth reading, because it helped me see tropes in my own writing, and either avoid them or embrace them in a hopefully unique way. Silver lining?

 

Wanderings in Religion and Wonderings to Strengthen Faith in Young Ones

I met a new boy at my work, not an uncommon event as I work with kids that rotate relatively frequently. He is sixteen, very soon to be seventeen, and was shocked when I told him I didn’t follow a traditionally Christian path. He started very quickly asking me the typical questions; Did I believe in Jesus? Did I follow the “Best Instructions Before Leaving Earth”? (Actual quote, see the acronym?) Did I have god in my heart? My answers were simple, positive, and also had questions reflected back to him. I wanted to know what he had been taught about his religion, what he knew and what he believed. I don’t make it a habit to tell children they are wrong, but I did here. This boy had been convinced the bible taught a message of discipline and fear.

I took a moment, while he was stunned by my initial surprise, to help him see a message of Love. A message taught not only by Jesus, but by Buddha, and many others before both of them. In a few minutes after a few gaped stares and confused looks he began an all too familiar sentence. “Well actually,…” and proceeded to tell me he wasn’t sure what he believed and that he didn’t like to associate with more traditional church life. He told me he wasn’t sure and he had never met anyone who wasn’t Christian. I asked him one question which gave me an answer that, while I expected it, hurt all the more.

“You’ve never been given the chance to say that out loud have you?” I asked.

“No.” He shook his head earnestly. “I haven’t, everyone has always threatened me with Hell when I asked questions.”

I encouraged him to always keep his mind open and explore every path. I think it’s abominable that people are squished into one mind set so young; not given a chance to express any curiosity, and not given the chance to learn what is and isn’t in this world. How do you gain physical strength? By testing and tearing what you have to build it up again. So why then do we allow our faith to atrophy in the dark recesses of our mind by not shredding it up and letting it get stronger?

I have arguments with people about religion. It usually comes down to what free will means, and a deity that plans everything. The two things can not coincide. It seems relevant to note that faith in something “bigger” is very necessary, for most, in our world. In a world where self-confidence is one of the hardest things to hold on to, and a hardened outer shell is more often mistaken for self-confidence, few people know how to believe in themselves. So having that being, constantly fighting in your corner, really helps you make it through the day. However, one of my biggest issues with mainstream Christianity is it does little to empower those of its faith. It encourages them to be afraid. It recommends they give up control of their life. No, no one thinks this means they have to float through events choice-less, but this sentiment encourages a lack of responsibility to the self. Other faiths can be compared to Christianity and their faults will also be shown. Judaism is probably the Abrahamic religion that takes a crack at empowerment the best. They encourage every member of their faith to take an out of the country trip, a pilgrimage back to the ‘holy’ land. This, while not offering a test of their faith, tests their maturity and adulthood. It’s more than I can say for Christianity.

I have a pair of friends, more beloved to me than many in my life, who are a great example of what Christianity can look like. As they explore their faith they test out different sects. They allow themselves to be engaged about their faith and aren’t generally afraid to confront those who hold on to dangerous beliefs. They even allow me to take cracks at their faith with my own experience and we have beautiful conversations that hopefully help both of our journeys move forward.

No one should allow their journey to stagnate. If you are comfortable in what you are doing then you are not allowing yourself to be tested. No matter what you believe in this life, and all the beauty it has to offer, it comes at a price. If you want to see the world from atop a mountain you have the pain of that hike ahead of you. When you get there you will see the world as no other, but you have the opportunity to share that with others, and you have to hoof it back down the mountain. You then have the exciting event of having to get others interested in the view, and probably hiking back up the mountain with them. This is how life works. If you are comfortable, you’re not doing it right. But I don’t blame you. It’s what mainstream religion teaches. Come to church looking one way. Read a particular version of your holy text. Never betray the adopted family that is your church (which is far easier done then should be). We are indoctrinated in the right and wrongs of a religious life, often before we know what right and wrong are.

I have a proposition. Every child should be given a year or more of time away from their home faith, to explore and learn about other paths. A chance to seek out other faiths (or lack thereof) and see what the world has to offer, if the religion of origin is as strong as most tend to claim then they will return, better for the experience. Give them a chance to exercise their muscles of faith, let them shred them, and let them become much stronger. We would make for a much more faithful and faith driven population if religion was chosen instead of expected.