All the Light We Cannot See


Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: There’s not much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said. It’s beautiful, lyrical, and masterful in its language, imagery, and format. It deserves all the awards it has won.

First I have to applaud Doerr for the amount of research he did to craft this novel. There were some sentences where I had to stop and wonder at the research he must have conducted to make that single sentence, and I know there were other pieces of research so subtly threaded into the text that I didn’t even notice.

Also, this is one of the first books I’ve read where the author successfully jumps between characters, times, and even letters and chapters. It’s organized in two different time frames throughout most of the book and mainly follows Marie-Laure, a blind girl living in Paris with her father who works at the Museum of Natural History as a locksmith, and Werner, a young German orphan with snowy blonde hair and an affinity for electronics and mathematics that leads the Nazis to notice him. Another character, von Rumpel, is an old sergeant major for the Nazis whose job requires him to evaluate and locate treasures for the Third Reich. His search for the Sea of Flames, a gem said to have magical powers to prevent death, leads him to the French town of Saint-Malo, where Werner and Marie-Laure also end up. The way paths cross in this novel–the overlapping of radios, gems, light, darkness, birds, etc.–is gorgeous. I’m still trying to untangle the complicated webs of plot and character that appear here, and I think I will always be trying to untangle them. This is a book that is impressed on my memory.

Consider, for example, this description of characters who never directly come into play:

“[Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel] has a wife who suffers his absences without complaint, and who arranges porcelain kittens by color, lightest to darkest, on two different shelves in their drawing room in Stuttgart. He also has two daughters whom he has not seen in nine months. The eldest, Veronika, is deeply earnest. Her letters to him include phrases like sacred resolve, proud accomplishments, and unparalleled in history.” (141)

A later chapter titled “The Simultaneity of Instants” is perhaps the most brilliant chapter of the novel. It jumps from character to character but within the same “instant.” The single paragraph, stream-of-consciousness format of this instant is also brilliant in building suspense.

Letters between Werner and his sister, Jutta, are scattered throughout the book as well. The letters are not important in and of themselves, but the heavy censorship of the letters are interesting and heartbreaking to see.

The jumping between time frames is complicated in that it does reveal certain truths to the audience that the characters themselves are unaware of. We know much early than Marie-Laure, for example, what her father means when he instructs her to look in the house, and I can see how other readers might be bored with this then. Yet the whole truth is never revealed to us. We don’t know what will happen to any of the characters we have come to love until the end of the novel. This is what drove me to continue reading.

Moreover, I think it’s important for this novel to have a non-chronological format. Not only does it build suspense far better than a chronological format and make the novel more unique, but, as historical fiction, it presents a non-linear view of history, which is important. Not everything should be read as a cause-and-effect event. By jumbling the timeline of his plot, Doerr makes history less linear and more circular–or perhaps the more correct term would be “squiggly.” Yes, Doerr’s book is squiggly.

It’s also tragic. Consider this a formal heads up to have tissues ready (if the WWII setting wasn’t enough of an indication). In spite of the tragedy, it ends well–Doerr spends just the right amount of time tying up loose ends.

Recommendation: This strikes me as something fans of The Book Thief would love. I think it’s a good read for anyone with the patience and appreciation for Doerr’s level of detail and an interest in WWII. There is a scene later in the book that may trigger some who have been abused, though Doerr handles the content well.


Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois


Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Review: Sophie Perinot has clearly dedicated much of her time to research for the historical fiction novel Médicis Daughter. Still, I was disappointed.

Not because she failed to represent history correctly; this is a problem faced by everyone who takes creative license with history, no matter how much or little research has been done, and I think Perinot tried to remain true to what she sees as a possibility for history.

No, I’m disappointed simply because Margot’s character was painful in some respects and the book was too slow in parts.

I’m sure it must have been hard to be a daughter to Catherine de Médicis, and Margot is shaped into a strong woman by the end of the novel who I can’t help but admire (the character growth is well-formulated). Through most of the novel, though, I found her to be not only in pain, but painful. Her strained relationship with her brother Henri, for example, felt forced in parts. I think such a relationship is hard to pull off effectively, but it didn’t help that Margot blamed herself after the problem escalated. Throughout much of the book, she blames herself for the actions of others. This is dangerous for a novel, especially as she blames herself even when others threaten to take advantage of her. This is an idea that should be refuted by the end of the novel, but it is not.

The book also lags in the middle, as historical fiction novels so often do. Rather than build suspense, I found Margot’s relationship with a certain gentleman tedious. The character change of that gentleman is not as well-formulated as the change of Margot herself. Moreover, his change felt contrived for the convenience of plot. In this same section of the novel, I found it difficult to follow where in France Margot was.

In spite of its flaws, this book taught me a lot about Margot de Valois and her family as well as the War of Religion and St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and, for historical fiction, having learned something is perhaps the most important quality.

Recommendation: Fans of the TV show Reign or the film The Duchess and similar stories will likely enjoy this book.

Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1)

First off, sorry I’ve been gone so long. This is exam/project/essay season. I really do care about this blog still, but school comes first. As does the newest season of Doctor Who–but that’s over now, too.


Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: Maybe I’m being a little harsh but, while this book is certainly a fantastic start to what looks to be a promising series, it’s not as good as The Lightening Thief. Still, Riordan makes improvements in some areas.

Take the character list. We have a blonde teen as the protagonist Magnus Chase. Then we have his friends: Hearth, who’s deaf, and Blitz, who’s–well, he doesn’t easily fit a mold. Riordan makes an effort for diversity, too, by including Samirah Al Abbas, a Muslim Valkyrie. Annabeth pops up again, too.

Some of the side characters are different from Riordan’s previous work, but Magnus has the same voice and personality as Percy Jackson and Jason Grace. Magnus says all the right things. Even though he gets himself into trouble, he manages to find a way out. He’s snarky and cheesy and loves adventure. He’s the typical hero; I’ve read a number of books in his voice before and, frankly, I’m bored with him. I think Riordan’s philosophy on this is “it’s worked well before,” but this book sounds too similar to the Percy Jackson series for my liking.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book, nor does it follow the exact same path as the previous mythical adaptations. What I think I like most about this book is the lack of romance for the main character. The fact that this is a bestselling YA page-turner without any romance is refreshing.

It’s also different because it lacks the formal “camp” setting that runs through the Percy Jackson and subsequent Heroes of Olympus series. There’s a sort of gathering place for the Norse demigods in the afterlife, but most of the book takes place on a quest. In that way, it’s a little more like the Kane Chronicles.

The book fails to live up to my usual standards for Riordan, though. The climax falls short of the suspense I want it to have. Really, the whole plot lacks tension. I wanted to see the progression of characters. The plot didn’t startle me at all–in fact, it was fairly predictable. I never bought into the whole “end of the world” scenario because I know Riordan’s not going to do that to me. I’m disappointed he didn’t take more risks with this book by putting characters at risk.

Riordan does well shaping the characters of Samirah and Heath, though. Whatever else may be afflicting this book, at least those two are solid characters, unique to the series. And even though the novel runs in the same vein as the other books in this mythical universe, the mythical universe itself is original, and it seems Riordan still has more to explore.

Recommendation: Honestly I feel too old to be reading this series still, but I appreciate the nostalgia of going back to a world I remember losing myself in throughout middle school and high school. It’s not obscene and the violence is mild. While I believe the book is best suited for middle school or upper elementary school students, those who have been exploring this world with Riordan for a while will likely still find pleasure in this novel.

#FlashbackFriday: The Library Window

Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: This Friday I’m flashing back to 1896.

I normally don’t review books I read for my literature courses because they’ve already been widely reviewed. Why do you need me to tell you to read Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night? You’re probably going to read it at some point anyway. (If you haven’t yet, you really should; it’s a good one.)

The difference with The Library Window is that it’s not well known. Though she was a favorite of Queen Victoria and wrote over 120 books, she’s not studied much today. This post is my PSA that Oliphant is an author worth studying. She certainly deserves more than nine reviews on Goodreads.

The Library Window is a Gothic novella (or, if you want to be cute, “novelette”) around 50 pages long. It tells the story of a young, unnamed narrator who begins to notice a peculiar library window across from her aunt’s home. While her aunt’s friends speculate that the window is a fake, the narrator grows more certain that it is, in fact, real. Over time, she begins to see the room behind the window and, eventually, a man living in it. She discounts the older ladies’ claims as a result of their poor eyesight, but the window and the man beyond it still seem not quite right. The narrator becomes obsessed with the man, perhaps to the point of madness.

This was Oliphant’s last book; she died a year later, having outlived her husband, brothers, and all her children. This fact makes the novella even more haunting.

It’s the sort of haunting I can tolerate though. As someone who’s successfully avoided horror movies, I’m not one to read scary books, and I don’t think this books is scary. It’s suspenseful and it sticks with you, but it’s not scary.

It’s hard to talk about this book the way I normally would. There’s no epic romance, but the relationship between the narrator and the man in the window she only sees from across the street is an interesting one. The cast is almost entirely female, but the main character is a girl who enjoys reading and daydreaming; she is a relatable character at first and a strange character later.

The plot is not remarkable in any way, nor is it unremarkable. It is what you’d expect from gothic literature, but that doesn’t detract from my experience of the book. It’s a page-turner because Oliphant writes it in an interesting way. She leads the reader to ask plenty of questions and never answers one without bringing up another. That said, she never answers all the questions, surrendering her story to the reader’s interpretation.

That’s what I love most about this story: its openness to interpretation. The meaning behind the elusive library window, the narrator’s growing interest in it, and her strange relationship with her aunt and her aunt’s friends opens the novel to multiple readings. Even more interestingly, since the book is not widely reviewed, I don’t think anyone has yet found a perfect answer to the meaning of the novella–and perhaps they never will. The questions that remain after the books’ conclusion add to the sense of mystery.

The Library Window is a brilliantly written novella that doesn’t have the readership it deserves.

Recommendation: Literature majors, especially those who appreciate Victorian and Gothic literature, will appreciate this book.

Since it’s such a quick read, I’d say those who enjoy suspense stories and don’t mind them being historical would also appreciate this novella. If you like Poe, this is perfect for you. It’s the sort of book that should be read around Halloween, anyhow. And it’s appropriate for the kiddos. It teaches them to stay away from strange men in the window and diamond rings. I might be stretching it a little, but you get the gist.

If you’re at all interested, please please please read this book.

The Heart Goes Last

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: Margaret Atwood’s new dystopian novel The Heart Goes Last, while initially well-designed, fails to make a lasting impression.

The book follows Stan and Charmaine, a young couple living in the midst of an economic crash. Desperate for safety and normality, they sign up for the Positron Project, a clean, structured town where inhabitants live and labor in the gender-separated prison of Positron for a month and stay in the fifties-esque town of Consilience the next. Atwood manages to patch together a world like that of 1984 and The Stepford Wives mixed with her own developments. When both Stan and Charmaine become involved with their “Alternates,” the people who live in their home the months the couple is in prison, the story becomes more complicated.

The novel focuses on the relationship between Stan and Charmaine, which becomes increasingly tangled as the plot progresses. Atwood does a fantastic job adding depth to the couple by revealing their candid, often disturbing thoughts. Even more hauntingly, the dystopian world Atwood describes so well could easily fit into the next few years.

Though unsettling, the book is, at least, an enjoyable read. Stan’s prison side job as chicken pimp, a woman romantically attached to a teddy bear, and the growing absurdity of the main couple’s situation prompt a few smiles.

Atwood’s voice is also impressive. Some of her lines provoke deep thought while others aim to entertain, and she writes so smoothly there is never a clash between the two. She is even able to catch me off guard with a couple plot twists that stomp my initial predictions away.

In the last quarter of the book, though, the story seems to get out of Atwood’s hands. The stitches that pull the novel together become more obvious and start to fray. The plot gradually loses its realism, pieces don’t match up quite right, and secondary characters lose their depth. Worse yet, the dystopian clichés that Atwood initially appears to use jokingly become more serious and groan-worthy. Near the novel’s end, the story’s humor fades and takes on a more moralistic tone.

Atwood crams the last few chapters with events meant to drive the main themes home, but, though interesting, these events seem too much like an afterthought. The final chapters don’t drive the main themes home as much as they pull these themes to the surface. By the end, Atwood bares the story’s already thinly veiled meaning to readers as though they are incapable of jumping to interpretations themselves.

Still, the central meaning is designed better than similar stories, and it is an enjoyable read.

The problem with The Heart Goes Last is not a matter of enjoyment, though. The problem is that the heart of the novel goes before the Atwood is finished, but she keeps working at it anyway, hoping a frenzy of shocks will keep it alive until the end. In truth, the story flat-lines before Atwood is willing to wrap it up.

Recommendation: Fans of Atwood might be able to overlook these issues and appreciate the author’s intent. I think fans of The Stepford Wives and more mature fans of The Giver may also value this novel. It is a likable read for a general audience, but those unable to enjoy books featuring extramarital affairs, customizable prostitute robots, and “Big Brother” settlements should stay away.

Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book–even if I didn’t review it until it was published.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Review: Another book I was so ready to love–but didn’t.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fan of fairy tales. I love how everything has a purpose even if it seems completely random. I love how they can turn so quickly from romance to tragedy. I love how occasionally–not often, but occasionally–a subtly empowering female figure steps into the fray.

It’s no surprise, then, that I also love adaptations of fairy tales. And, props to Sarah J. Maas, her adaptation draws more from Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast than the Disney version. When “Beauty” (Feyre) mentioned her older sisters, I squealed. That’s how excited I get when authors adapt the original stories. From the first few chapters, I was hooked. I wanted to see this strong, independent hunter girl take down the beast.

But the beast (Tamlin) didn’t need anyone to take him down. In fact, he’s the one who seems to take Feyre down, and even that doesn’t take as much work as I’d like–it’s not so hard to get a human to fall in love with you if you look like a freakin’ god.

Another YA book, another instalove story.

So the first couple hundred pages of the book is that constant “he loves me, he loves me not” questioning where the readers complain about the protagonist’s blindness. Yes, he loves you. We get it. He’s handsome, he thinks you’re beautiful, move on already. In spite of the hostilities and mystery surrounding her, Feyre allows romance to take the central theme of the plot.

And why does Tamlin constantly blame Feyre for being attractive to him? Like he can’t control himself, but he can control Feyre? He tells her “don’t ever disobey me again” and says he “can’t be held accountable for the consequences” even when the consequence is his own lust for her.

I’ve said it. This story doesn’t show love–it shows lust. Aside from one scene where Tamlin notes how easily Feyre understands him, there’s nothing more to their romance than mutual passions. More than lust, it shows the sort of dominant-subordinate roles common in abusive relationships.

And then action happens again and Lucien is amazing and Feyre’s sisters are amazing and Rhysand is amazing and Amarantha is–well, terrifying–and every character seems multi-faceted EXCEPT Feyre and Tamlin and I want to yell at this book because is it really so hard to stick to a strong, interesting female character?

Not to mention the fact that the trials and the riddle are way too predictable.

Why two and a half stars out of five, you ask? Why not lower? Like I said, the rest of the characters are amazing and complex and Maas clearly worked hard to weave the original into the adaptation. The setting is gorgeous and Maas has created yet another fascinating world for this series. I’m hopeful that the second book will focus more on the war in the plot rather than the romance, and from the way the first book ends, it looks like some of my favorite characters will play a larger role in the next book.

Recommendation: Fans of Alex Flinn and Donna Jo Napoli‘s fairy tale adaptations will likely enjoy this read.

I would recommend those interested in fairy tale adaptations to look into Marissa Meyer’s YA sci-fi Lunar Chronicles, Ruth Frances Long’s stand-alone The Treachery of Beautiful Things, or Shannon Hale’s fantasy MS series Books of Bayern instead.

Redeeming Love

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: Francine Rivers’s Redeeming Love is not new to the shelves–it was published in 1991–but it is worth reviewing.

The Christian romance novel adapts the story of Hosea and Gomer to the time of the California Gold Rush. (Short version: Godly man told to marry prostitute; prostitute keeps running back to prostitution.)

The most important characteristic of the novel is that it is incredibly moving. The beginning and Angel’s last attempt to run away are particularly affecting. Angel’s slow transformation and God’s hand in her life are both comforting and inspiring. It is also an interesting book in terms of plot and setting and the adaptation is very well-done.

Still, Redeeming Love is not without a few less-than-redemptive qualities. One such quality is the constant repetition of thoughts.

Hosea: If God wants her to be my wife, she’ll be my wife, even if I struggle with it.

Angel: There is no God and I must run away to enjoy my independence.

I understand that these thoughts and movements keep the story similar to the Biblical account, but is it truly necessary to repeat these same thoughts so many times? The novel may have packed even more of a punch for me if it dropped 100 pages of these repetitive concepts.

Also, why shouldn’t Angel want to enjoy her independence? I understand that “independence” as it means “return to prostitution” is not to be desired, but she is essentially forced into marriage and, as a result, into traditional feminine roles she has little taste for. I understand that, at the time, women had little freedom to call their own, but Angel’s idea of freedom–a cottage to herself–is made to feel impossible and almost laughable.

I love that, near the end of the novel, she gains some independence and makes a proper job for herself, but this independence isn’t lasting, either. I can’t say anything more on the matter without spoiling the book. I suppose that, when it comes down to it, I prefer reading a story with more empowering female characters.

I’m also very annoyed with what happens to Paul–but again I can’t say much without giving the story away.

This is yet another novel where all the characters are physically attractive. Which bothers me because how can they all be so attractive when they lack indoor plumbing? Wouldn’t smelliness and oily hair detract from one’s attractiveness?

Also, the epilogue feels incredibly rushed. It reads like the end of a touching “based on a real story” film where the screen lists each of the character’s happily-ever-afters rather than tell it all through a believable, satisfying story.

Still, the faults of Redeeming Love don’t negate the fact that I couldn’t put the darn book down.

Recommendation: Fans of Christian romance and historical fiction would probably enjoy this read most. Victims of abuse might want to be careful with this one.

The Courtesan: Biographical historical fiction in the voice of a tragic fairy tale

This book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5/5

Review: Though its voice is reminiscent of a tragic fairy tale, Alexandra Curry’s debut novel The Courtesan is actually a work of biographical historical fiction.

The story begins in 1881 with the execution of young Sai Jinhua’s father and her subsequent sale to a brothel. Under the cruel eye of Lao Mama, Jinhua endures footbinding and “bed business” with the support of her maid Suyin. The two girls become like sisters to one another until the haunted Sub-chancellor Hong makes Jinhua his concubine, taking her away from Suyin and brothel life.

When her new husband is asked to serve the Chinese empire as an ambassador to Vienna, Jinhua accompanies him on the journey, where she is drawn to European culture in a way he does not understand. Defying her husband’s wishes, she obsesses over learning German and even begins to fall for a Prussian count.

In keeping with the tragic fairy tale style, Jinhua does not have the blessing of a happily ever after.

She returns to a changed China as a changed woman, and her new-found Western sympathies threaten herself and those dear to her under the rise of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists.

From the beginning, it is clear that Curry conducted a lot of research for the novel. She pulls idioms from the German as well as the Chinese language. She threads other historical figures through Jinhua’s story and holds to her understanding of those figures. Her depiction of Chinese and Viennese culture of the late 1800s is rich enough that I can imagine it without much difficulty.

Still, The Courtesan is not Sai Jinhua’s story—it is what Sai Jinhua’s story might have been. By the end of the novel, it is clear that Curry filled in the holes and questions of Jinhua’s story with her own imagination and interpretation. This did not deter my enjoyment of the story, but those who prefer historical fact over historical fiction might not find the book so pleasurable as a result.

One of my favorite traits of the book—second only to Curry’s fairy tale voice—is her constant movement between characters’ perspectives. While most of the book is told in third person limited from Jinhua’s angle, other chapters explore the minds of side characters like Suyin and Jinhua’s Viennese maid.

My favorite chapters, though, are the ones that tapped into the viewpoint of characters who stand in the way of Jinhua’s desires. The first chapter, for example, details the death of Jinhua’s father from the executioner’s eyes. Other chapters look through the lenses of Jinhua’s father’s First Wife, the go-between who brought Jinhua to the brothel, Lao Mama, and Sub-chancellor Hong’s First Wife.

The constant movement between characters humanizes those who don’t deserve to be humanized and adds gravity to the novel.

That is not to say the book lacks gravity without these chapters; on the contrary, it takes every grim turn a story can take.

The scenes of footbinding and “bed business” are graphic and characters—particularly those from the brothel—swear intensely. These details made the book difficult to read, but I believe they’re necessary for the portrayal of Jinhua’s environment in this novel.

The most important judge of any historical fiction piece, in my opinion, is that the reader wants to learn more about the figures and events covered in the piece by the end than they did when they began.

For this reason especially, I belief The Courtesan is a success. I’m now far more interested in Sai Jinhua the events leading up to the Boxer Rebellion than I was before reading the novel. I’ve already begun poking around to see what others believe to be the true story of Jinhua and to learn more about the Boxer Rebellion.

Though I love the novel’s style and believe it to be a successful work of historical fiction, the novel fell short in the realism of its main character. Jinhua herself is ever-changing—a trait Curry likely instilled to emphasize her “many lives.” It may be less poetic, but I believe the depiction of Jinhua as having one life with many phases would have saved her character from frequent contortion.

Aside from this fault in Jinhua’s character, The Courtesan is a masterfully written novel with a great love for tragedy.

Recommendation: Fans of Amy Tan, Chinese fairy tales, and the historical context of this novel will likely enjoy it.

I would not recommend this book to victims of abuse or those sensitive to a gritty narrative.

The Courtesan will be available for purchase September 8th.

A Place We Knew Well: A book I liked not so well

This eBook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Review: Susan McCarthy’s A Place We Knew Well had intriguing characters and twists but a disappointingly slow beginning and flat ending.

The novel looks at the Cuban Missile Crisis through the eyes of a family living in suburban Florida. It examines the contrast between the cookie-cutter family values of the 60s and the mounting stresses of a potential World War III.

The characters of A Place We Knew Well are complex and add more depth to the plot.

Wes Avery, whom the novel seems to focus on most, is a World War II veteran who fears the worst may come of the Cuban Missile Crisis but continues to behave as though all is well for the sake of his family.

Sarah Avery is a housewife who numbs her worries with pills. Her prejudices and nervous breakdowns make her the most interesting character of the novel.

Charlotte Avery, their only child, struggles to prepare for homecoming in the midst of the Crisis.

The novel opens with the Charlotte of modern day rummaging through her father’s garage, where she finds several odd items that all relate to their family’s struggles during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wanting to know the relationship between the objects and Charlotte’s distaste for that time of her life, I turned the page.

The slow pace and the focus on Wes quickly bored me. I wanted to know more about Sarah and Charlotte. While the beginning of the story offers a good snapshot of the times–particularly with the added perspective of the Cuban boy Wes hires at the garage–I wanted more action. Perhaps because I know from history that the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, I felt little of the suspense the Crisis presses on the Avery family.

McCarthy redeemed herself, though, and renewed my interest with a plot twist that caught me off guard and the introduction of a character very unlike the others.

Though the missiles never explode, the family does.

The loss of two stars on my rating is attributed in part to the initially slow pace and the focus on Wes, who bored me. Mostly, though, the book disappointed me in its final chapter, which was structured as a character’s email to the author.

I’ve read too many stories that end or begin their novels in this manner, and I think it’s not only cliche, but also a bit cheesy. Granted, some of these novels have been a success–such as Rick Riordon’s Kane Chronicles–but A Place We Knew Well would have been better suited to end differently.

I agree that the author should end in modern day, but why not continue in narrative form and finish the scene of Charlotte at her father’s garage? Without a full-circle ending, the introduction feels incomplete. More than that, it feels unnecessary. What is the importance of naming Charlotte’s father’s attorney if he only came up a couple times, and only in the introduction? Will Charlotte ever learn the relation between the items she discovered in her father’s safe? What happened to the character introduced halfway through the story?

The ending McCarthy chose also allows for little emotional weight. I’ve spent over 250 pages with these characters but all I know of their futures is told in a formal, detached letter to a stranger. The long-term effects of the Cold War on the characters is revealed through numbers and politics when it should be revealed through emotional narrative; numbers and politics belong in the Author’s Note.

The novel would have been much stronger if McCarthy had ended it in a place I knew not so well.

Recommendation: Those interested in the Cuban Missile Crisis and/or life in the 1960s might enjoy this novel.

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A read I prescribe to those on all walks of faith

A big thank you to Howard Books for sending me an early copy of this book! And hardcover, no less! It comes to shelves today and I’m excited to see what other readers think.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: In Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome, Reba Riley recounts her experiences with thirty religions in one year–a quest she felt led to undertake on her 29th birthday.

Riley struggles with “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome,” which she describes as “A condition of spiritual injury that occurs as a result of religion, faith, and/or the leaving, losing, or breaking thereof.” While I haven’t faced a big break with the church, I know people who have and I’m sure many can relate to the term.

During her 29th year, Riley also struggled with a mysterious illness no doctor seemed able to diagnose. She felt that, if she couldn’t heal her body, she could at least work toward healing her spirit.

In the novel, Riley discusses her experiences among the Amish, Buddhist, Muslim, Scientologist, Hindu, Native American, Wiccan, Jewish, and a whole hodgepodge of Christian churches varying from virtual reality to a drive-in to a movie theater.

What impresses me most about this book is not the fact that the peacock and disco ball on the cover actually relate to the story (though that is impressive); it’s Riley’s voice. She manages not only to keep me laughing, but also to keep me thinking. I’ve never read a memoir with so prominent a voice. At some point near the beginning of the book, I connected with her (I think it was when she fell down the stairs and flashed her birthday party crowd and everyone on the street). By the end, I felt like we were good friends. If I ever run into her on the street, I’ll probably start conversing as though I’ve known her for years and she’ll just stare back at me wondering who the heck this blonde chick is.

I’m also amazed by Riley’s story. I always have a hard time believing miracles in memoirs because the author is typically biased. But Riley clearly didn’t want to go back to church. And I don’t believe she would change her memory of her story to fit the religion she chose because she didn’t chose a religion at the end of her experience; she simply chose faith.

I don’t fully agree with her theology, but I don’t have to in order to appreciate this book. It is clear that God has made an imprint in her life; miracles are woven into each page. More than her story itself, I was interested to hear her thoughts on religions I’m unfamiliar with. Through her experiences, I feel more open to experiences like meditation and fasting, to which I was previously closed. I also feel more tolerant of beliefs like Scientology and Native American religions, at which I previously scoffed.

Though I believe many of Riley’s anecdotes about visits to different sects of Christianity were important to her personal story, I would have liked to hear more about her visits to other religions. I know there’s not a wide variety of religions represented in Ohio, but at one point Riley casually mentions she visited Christian Science, Unitarian Universalism, Sikhism, and Seventh-Day Adventism. She does acknowledge that these visits “barely registered” because her illness drained her of the energy needed to “research or get into the services.” If she did not attend services, how did she visit these religions? What were her interactions with these religions like? I’ve been curious about the beliefs of Christian Science and Sikhism in particular, and I wish she would’ve explored these more later or written more about what experiences she did have.

Though I would’ve liked to hear more of Riley’s experiences, this is only because I found the experiences she did share incredibly interesting. She doesn’t just attend services of other religions; she does what people of those religions do on her visits, cleaning herself before service at a mosque; getting audited by Scientologists; eating peanut butter, marshmallow cream, maple syrup, jelly, meat, cheese, and pickle sandwiches with the Amish. Anytime an individual steps far out of their comfort zone, an interesting story begins.

Throughout the book, people of all religions tell Riley of her destiny as a healer. I think this is a destiny she lives out through her book and her blog. This book will bring healing to many people, regardless of whether they’re searching for faith, running from faith, or already bound to faith. Reading Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is especially a good remedy for those who identify with the title diagnosis.

Recommendation: Everyone should read this book.

Well, not everyone everyone–I can think of one or two super conservative people who may be disturbed by Riley’s theology to the point of burning or banning it, which I don’t much care for–but people from all walks of faith should read this. (Yes, I’m talking to you.)