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.

Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

I really need to stop reading books that have sparked movies I love. If I know a movie is being made of a book I liked, I will see it with a high amount of skepticism and low standards. However, when I love a movie (Practical Magic) and I learn that it’s based off a book…I excitedly search out the book. This is a problem.

The book, by Alice Hoffman, was…alright. However, I can’t concede to give it any higher praise. There was nothing inherently wrong with the book. It was a sweet love story about some women who have uncanny circumstances all the time. They aren’t inherently witchy nor do they practice magic in any way. It’s more of a combination of homeopathy, gardening and old wives tales.

Point of warning, from this point on there will be spoilers, because I assume most of you have seen this movie. If you haven’t you should.

Issues I had with the movie versus the book:

- It doesn’t take place in the amazing house the movie portrays. This house is mentioned, and the sisters do grow up there, but they leave as soon as possible. The book takes place mostly in suburbia.

- Sally’s daughters are not the same as they are in the movie. Their names are reversed, and their personalities are nothing alike. They are also about 6 years older in the novel, with the oldest being 18 during most of the book.

- The Aunts are creepy old spinster ladies who have a hate on for color. They aren’t the adorable old biddies who like to toy in people’s lives Stockard Channing and Diane Wiest portray so well.

- There is no magic. People do die, but they aren’t resurrected. There is no cursed tequila (except for the fact that all tequila is a curse). There are no women coming together to bond over the banishing of an abusive asshole. There is no lifting of an age old curse upon the “Owen’s women”.

- Sally and Gillian are not nearly as close as they are in the movie; they actually really hate and resent each other. They are close out of sheer familial bond. Gillian shows up at Sally’s door with a body…

- There is no fun banter between Sally and the Cop. It’s disappointing actually. Sally made me want to punch her through most of the book.

- Also. I really just wanted a voice over by Stockard Channing…but nooo….

All in all this is a situation where I’m glad I love the movie. Generally I would accuse the screen writer of attempting to write it from a memory of the book. However, this is a case where I’m convinced a twelve year old read the book and told her mother all about the book and its enchanting nature, and the mother then wrote the screen play. The book and movie have little to do with each other, despite name similarities, and loose plot features. Go see the movie.  Read the book if you like subtle magic and enchanting love stories.

Serial Killer: Chima, Rioridan, and Pierce (Wow, Elite!)


Battle Magic (Tamora Pierce)
-

If it weren’t for my dedication to having books to put into my Serial Update, this book would have definitely gotten its own review. Battle Magic is an explanatory novel of events between two novels in Tamora Pierce’s amazing Circle series. In a world where mages draw power from everyday items and crafts, we forget that they too experience the world and all of its tragedy.

This is technically book 11 of 11 (10 of 11, chronologically) but you can click here to see what I think of the Circle of Magic series prior to this. This book follows Briar, his mentor Rosethorn, and his apprentice Evvy. We see them traveling through the ‘east’ which has a very Asian feel to its structure. The types of magic they can do is something of an oddity to a world where Academic (use magic from inside themselves and spells they’ve stored magic in) mages are prevalent but Ambient (can call a rawer form of magic from their craft/element) mages are not something recognized. They call attention to themselves during the onset of a war.

Tamora Pierce has a way of writing characters that are so dynamic you find yourself disliking quirks of the main characters. Most authors write a character that is liked by most, which isn’t necessarily a problem, who doesn’t want to like the character they’re following around? It’s not that she has terrible characters; it is more that she writes them so people form bonds with them the way they form bonds with real people. Those are the best types of characters after all, right?

 

House of Hades (Rick Rioridan) –

We were left with a cliff hanger. Rioridan is quite good at these, every book ended just before it should have. I have a love hate relationship with him. This novel takes the interesting concept of the Greek Underworld and twists everything you thought you knew. It’s not that he gets things wrong it’s just he puts them into a different perspective. As is standard with his mythology stories he knows them very well.

Percy and Annabeth travel through Tartarus and experience a mix of horrors and some interesting surprises. The characters they meet deep in the pit of a terrible place help readers and characters alike realize that life doesn’t rely on destiny and fate, but rather your power to overcome what you are being told to do.

One character has a terrible secret that holds them down greatly. I loved this part. It was slightly predictable but maybe it’s the kindred spirit? Whatever the reason, I appreciate Rioridan so much more after this update to his beautiful series and look forward to what comes next.

Dragon Heir (With brief summaries of Warrior Heir and Wizard Heir) (Cinda Williams Chima) -

This novel was an interesting conclusion to a series I started a long time ago. As I aged I became obsessed with not only reading but owning books, I have become the proud owner of almost a thousand books, but as a result some series’ get lost to the shelves. I saved this one from such a fate and read it probably five years after finishing its predecessors.

This series has characters with stones grown into their hearts. We have met Warriors, Wizards, Enchanters, Soothsayers, and Sorcerers. Each has a particular talent and each has played a powerful role in the first two novels.

In the first we meet a wizard boy who was born without a stone, and shouldn’t have survived, except that wizards in power had a plan which includes placing a Warrior stone in his empty heart. The stone transplant was a success. Warriors are important because as the rules of the world exist Wizards control everything, and the two factions use Warriors, to fight on a yearly basis to alternate control over the horde of magical items.

In the second book we meet a Wizard who was abandoned by his parents, for his safety, as a child. As he grows, he ends up a school for the ‘gifted’ where talents are both extended but also extorted. The end of this book is an attempt to rewrite the covenant that dictates the subordinance of the other classes. During a bunch of chaos the signed covenant is stolen and the book ends with a central town becoming a magical safe haven from the likes of the evil wizards.

This third book is a final piece to the puzzle. We get an origin story of the main classes and see how they became what they are today. We also see a source of power that dates back to the Lady who gifted all of those with their powers. This novel is full of teenage trust issues, power trips, and side swaps that show the true heart of many of the characters. Chima follows through with her epic story about teenagers being given too much power and wielding it better than most might. There is even a dragon in this book. Cool!

Book Review: Krampus by BROM

I can’t say that I am a fan of Santa Claus. I think he is a terrible facade for capitalism and an awful twist of true traditions. Sure, there are classic movies that make the holiday fun. There is a certain magic created by the atmosphere and the anticipation of a young one’s Christmas Eve. Krampus by Brom, a dark twist on the already warped folktale, is a powerful combination of my distaste and that magical anticipation. That sounds awful but people who appreciate anything that would fall under Noir will certainly appreciate the dark threads that tie together old stories.

Surprisingly this novel is rooted in Norse myth, where Krampus is the grandson of Loki and Santa Claus is a reincarnated Baldr. As Norse myth goes Bladr was guaranteed immortality because Odin asked all the entities of earth to never cause harm to Baldr. However, in his arrogance he neglected to ask Mistletoe, and Loki found this knowledge particularly useful. Through his trickery Baldr falls to an arrow crafted from Mistletoe and spends his time in/with Hel. (Not misspelled) Krampus is the Yule Lord, a powerful nature spirit, reminiscent of both Dionysus and the Green Man. During his reign he would give wonders to those who believed and punish those who deserved it. Once Bladr was resurrected after Ragnarok, he was left with no one to guide him, as Asgard alone had suffered Ragnarok. So he wandered earth. He was found by Krampus and taken as an apprentice. Baldr became unsettled with this and found a new patron among the Catholic pantheon in the form of Saint Nicholas. It is a touch of myth, and some fiction, but a great story to be sure.

The novel focuses on a human named Jesse who lives in a dark but not-so-unrealistic town set in modern day West Virginia. As a struggling musician, afraid of his own talents, we see opportunity for a coward to blossom into the hero. It’s a hard fight and death may be the only cure. He struggles to survive when his wife left him for the vicious and corrupt Chief of Police who is in cahoots with the aging crime lord. These two characters take special interest in Jesse for various reasons and decide he should be taken out of the picture. Needless to say, in thanks for his hospitality (can we get an *Amen* for Xenia??), Krampus has other ideas.

I didn’t think I would like a fantasy noir about killing Santa, just because of its nature. However, this novel was enjoyable and comes with pretty awesome art the author has crafted himself. Brom is so multi-talented.