“Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition”

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry, is the book I had no clue I was waiting for. Thirteen-year-old me would have given up sparkly lip gloss and blue eye shadow for a chance to read this book. When much-older me first saw the strange title and the haunting cover with its wisps of smoke rising around Dolssa’s demure face, I knew it was going to be everything I had ever wanted in a historical fiction novel.

In 1241, the reign of the Catholic church was in full swing, and women like Dolssa were the church’s worst enemy. Blessed with strange and questionable gifts of healing and future-telling, Dolssa is on the run from Friar Lucien, an man obsessed with capturing Dolssa and proving that she is nothing more than the devil himself. But Dolssa remains a devout Catholic and insists that her gifts come from a higher power–from God, who she calls her “beloved.”

One of the interesting things about the Passion of Dolssa is that Dolssa is, in fact, not the main character of the narrative. Instead, the story is told from the perspective of a young woman named Botille, a godless bar owner whose matchmaking skills help to feed her and her two sisters. When Dolssa arrives in Botille’s village seeking shelter, she brings with her the full and crushing weight of the Spanish Inquisition.

As a Christian, I have to say that this book made me incredibly uncomfortable. And that’s awesome, because that’s what a good book is supposed to do. It’s supposed to challenge your beliefs and your values and the way you see God, and this book achieved that in so many different directions. I saw a comment online while gearing up to write this post asking if the Passion of Dolssa was a sacrilegious book. The author responded by saying “I’m not sure which parts might seem sacrilegious, but I’m guessing it might be Dolssa’s relationship with her beloved that you’re referring to. In that instance, those details are taken right out history…”

And that’s why the Passion of Dolssa is such a good book. It’s dark and uncomfortable and it doesn’t ignore the facts of history to make us more comfortable in our faith. I became practically feverish reading this book–I couldn’t think of anything else. It has followed me and I hope, if you’ll read it, that it will follow you too.

You can purchase a copy of the Passion of Dolssa here.

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My Endless Pit of WWII Novels

I have an endless pit of World War II novels. I’ve always loved historical fiction, but I’m not quite sure when my obsession with the 1940s era began (probably with the release of the Book Thief movie, honestly), but regardless, I am full of WWII novel recommendations. This afternoon, I received another one in the post–Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke–a sequel to a fantastic book I picked up a few years ago. Since I’ve not yet read it, I figured I’d write about its predecessor, Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman.

One thing you need to keep in mind in order to enjoy Night and Fog is that it is only based on real life events, and mostly, it is speculation on how some events may have gone down with a sprinkling of fiction in between. This allows for certain coincidences to occur, while still producing a genuine, informative, historical fiction. That being said, Anne Blankman has done a fantastic job of getting up close and personal with an extremely touchy subject…that subject being the psyche of fascist mastermind, Adolf Hitler.

Prisoners of Night and Fog takes place in 1930s Munich, the city Hitler considered his true home. Gretchen Muller is a young National Socialist, whose father was killed trying to save Hitler’s life in the infamous “Beer Hall Putsch.” Because of this, she and her brother have been raised in the safest place in all of Germany–under Hitler’s wing. But when Gretchen meets a young Jewish journalist who challenges her views on politics, race, and the true events behind her father’s death, things may not be as safe as she thinks they are.

Anne Blankman delivers an uncomfortably up-close look at one of the most terrifying men in history and still manages to add a hopeful footnote to the beginning of a dark time.

You can purchase a copy of Prisoner of Night and Fog hereor Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke here.

Great Summer Reads

The summer has officially begun for me, which means that after a long break of not blogging, I am finally not-busy enough to start writing again. However, since I have missed actual months of writing, I figured I would catch up by recommending several books in this post. Without further ado, here is my list of great summer reads.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

There are not many books that I have enjoyed reading more than Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, a book of “unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened.” Each chapter is filled with ridiculously crude drawings and contrastingly sophisticated wit and charm that will have you rolling on the floor in laughter. As Brosh processes the hilarity and tragedy of her own life, you are forced to take a good look at your own. Over and over again, Hyperbole and a Half  proves that any situation in life can merit a good laugh and hind sight is truly 20/20.

You can purchase a copy of Hyperbole and a Half here.

Tease by Amanda Maciel

Although Tease is a much darker read than the rest of my recommendations, it’s still a fantastic read for both the summer and the winter months and I cannot recommend it enough. Tease is told from a single perspective that alternates between the before and after of the harrowing suicide of a beautiful high school sophomore named Emma Putnam. While the small town reels from the loss of a student, Sara Wharton and her friends are on trial for bullying Emma into killing herself. Inspired by true events, Tease shows that there is never just one side to the story, and touches on difficult topics while keeping an incredibly authentic voice.

You can purchase a copy of Tease here.

I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I am quite partial to I am Princess X, as it is written by an alumni of Southern Adventist University, the school I am currently attending. Funnily enough, I was applied, registered, and ready to go to college before even knowing that one of my favorite books had been written by a Southern alumni. Regardless, Princess X stands on its own as a fantastically empowering murder mystery in a digital age. When May’s best friend, Libby, and her mother are killed in a terrible car accident, it means the end of May and Libby’s stories of a kickass, katana-wielding superhero, named Princess X. But five years later, May discovers an online comic with a cult following featuring her very own Princess X, and starts to wonder what really happened on the night that Libby died.

You can purchase a copy of I am Princess X here.

Wreck This Journal (everywhere) by Keri Smith

I’m not quite sure when the “wrecking journal” trend began, but for me it started about three summers back when I purchased a copy for ten bucks at my local Barnes and Noble. There are all sorts of versions of the wrecking journal, but so far my favorite has been Wreck this Journal (everywhere) by Keri Smith. Small enough to fit in a pocket or a purse, Keri Smith makes the wrecking journal a portable and interactive experience. Wreck this Journal (everywhere) will force you to get outside, go on adventures, and take every chance you can to make an absolute mess. The rule is: there are no rules. Happy wrecking!

You can purchase a copy of Wreck this Journal (everywhere) here.

The Lifeboat Clique by Kathy Parks

What’s worse than getting stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Getting stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with your worst enemy. When Denver sneaks out of her house to attend a party in Malibu, the most exciting part of her night is supposed to be getting kissed by a boy. Instead, it’s a tsunami of epic proportions that washes her out to sea with none other than her ex-best friend and sworn enemy, Abigail. With the stakes raised to critical, Denver’s dry wit may not be enough to keep her alive, and the fight for survival might just start with the two setting aside their rivalry long enough to make it back to land.

You can purchase a copy of the Lifeboat Clique here.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

The story of Lady Jane Grey is a rather tragic one. Known in history as the Nine-Day Queen, she was made ruler of England when her cousin, Edward, named her his successor instead of his sister, Mary Tudor (AKA Bloody Mary). In the end, Mary fought for the throne and won it, beheading poor Lady Jane. Not so in My Lady Jane, a hilarious rewrite of history in which Lady Jane Grey is given a fighting chance at survival. Compared to the Princess Bride for its wit and humor, My Lady Jane is a wildly false retelling of a girl who never stood a shot at happiness, but somehow gets it anyways. The perfect summer read in every way.

You can purchase a copy of My Lady Jane here.

The One in Which I Gush About C.S. Lewis

And here it is. I knew I wasn’t going to get very far into my blogging experience before I would have to acknowledge one of the greatest philosophical and literary minds of the 20th century. Of course, I am referring to C.S. Lewis who somehow manages to change my life with every one of his books I pick up. I suppose this week’s post is a bit of cheating, because I’m not going to recommend a particular book to you, my reader. Instead, I am recommending that you go to the nearest bookstore right now and buy everything they carry by C.S. Lewis. He does not disappoint.

I came on to Lewis’ books at a very young age. When The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was released as a motion picture, my parents worried that some of the themes would be too thematic for a girl of my age, so we struck a deal–I could watch the movie only after I had read the book. What followed was a glorious love affair between me and the Chronicles of Narnia. I’m ashamed to say that the only Lewis book I ever picked up and couldn’t seem to finish was the Last Battle and it is because I am a coward and cannot seem to let go of Narnia.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I suddenly remembered that C.S. Lewis had written much more than just my favorite childhood fantasy series, and I decided to give it all a try. It started with Mere Christianity which I recommend to anyone and everyone who is searching for truth. Every time I read this book, I find something new and exciting that completely shifts my perspective on faith. The impact that Mere Christianity has on me never stops. It’s linear, forward-moving, and constant in my life.

Another book that I very recently picked up was Till We Have Faces, which Lewis wrote with the help of his wife. Unfortunately, it is his last novel. Fortunately, it is incredible. The New York Herald Tribune called it “the most significant and triumphant work that Lewis…has produced.” I don’t know if that is true, but I know that Till We Have Faces shook me in all of the very best ways. I don’t have words to describe the impact this story left on me, I can only tell you that you must must read it.

Other exceptional books by C.S. Lewis include the Four Lovesthe Problem of Pain, a Grief Observed, the Screwtape Letters, the Great Divorce. The list goes on and on. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a C.S. Lewis book. I promise he’ll find a way to change your life.

If You Want to Get Lost

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston is by far one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. If you are familiar with 1,001 Arabian Nights, you will definitely understand this book better, because on the surface it is a retelling of the old classic. However, those who’ve never read–or even heard of–Arabian Nights will not be at a loss with this story.

The heroine of Thousand Nights is truly incredible. In order to save her beautiful half-sister, she sacrifices herself to be the wife of Lo-Melkhiin–the terrible ruler of the land–who marries a girl from every village and then mysteriously kills them on their wedding night. Our heroine is sure that death will come to her as well, but to the surprise of the entire kingdom, she survives the first night…and then the second, and then the third.

For those who need a good plot in order to get into a story, I do not recommend a Thousand Nights. The plot is stagnant at best, and the story feels as if it exists in only a few places. However, the language of this book is absolutely stunning. Johnston is a master of prose and has you clinging to every single word of our enchanting heroine. While reading this book, I fell so deeply in love with the world Johnston had created that I didn’t want to leave it. It was not hard at all to get lost in the desert sands, the unforgiving sky, the palace with its majesty and terror.

At its heart, a Thousand Nights is about the magic of storytelling, and the importance of understanding and compassion. Our heroine is wise beyond her years, and with her words she breaches the gap between two vastly different worlds.

For anyone looking to get lost, you can purchase a copy of a Thousand Nights here.

For Those Bad Days

I can confidently say that there are two things that helped me to survive my high school career. The first was rooibos tea, and the second was a Charmed Life by Jenny B. Jones.

You know those bad days–those ones that find you in the morning before you’ve even gotten up and stick to you like cat hair on a black jacket until you’re finally safe and sound in your own home? For days like this, I prescribe Jenny B. Jones’ wit and character to restore your sense of humor and lighten your mood.

Charmed Life is actually not a book. It’s a trilogy that consists of So Not Happening, I’m So Sure, and So Over My Head, but you can buy it as one, gigantic book for half the price (which is what I did, and, boy, was I proud of myself). The only disadvantage to having this gigantic book is the fact that if you read it laying down, the possibility for you to drop it on your face increases by 80%. I am speaking from personal experience.

This giant three-book monster is about a teenager named Bella Kirkwood, who’s life as she knows it has just ended. When her mother decides she’s going to marry a man she met on a dating website, Bella must say goodbye to her life as a New York socialite, and say hello to…a farm in Oklahoma? Our slightly selfish, definitely vain, but still lovable protagonist must learn how to adapt to a new family, deal with her parents’ divorce, and try to keep up a spiritual connection with God, all while attempting to solve a mystery at Truman High School.

What I love about a Charmed Life is that it covers a multitude of themes. Bella deals with a lot of heavy stuff, but she always snaps back with a witty remark, and no small degree of sass. Over the course of three books, Bella is drugged, kidnapped, attacked by maxi pads, and beat up by a professional wrestler, and she makes you laugh while she’s doing it.

If you aren’t interested in YA fiction, but still need something to lift your spirits, Jenny B. Jones has also written a few books for adults that are just as funny. Some of my favorites include Save the Date and Just Between You and Me.

Jenny B. Jones has created a cast of incredibly relatable, yet unbelievably hilarious characters, and Bella’s humor and tenacity will never cease to amaze you, or fail to keep you smiling.

You can by a copy of a Charmed Life here.

Or if you want the individual books instead, here is So Not Happening, I’m So Sure, and So Over My Head.

My Favorite

As I have mentioned several times already, I have read a lot of books. So naturally it was incredibly difficult to choose which one would be the very first. In the end I had to start with my favorite book of all time: Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

One thing to keep in mind is that I never said Heartless is the best book I’ve ever read (we will talk about that one as well, dear reader), I only said that it is my favorite, and it shall probably remain so for the rest of my life. My copy of the book is so beat up, it will probably fall apart the next time I reread it. It is so well-loved that it even has blood stuck in some of its pages.

You will have to bear with me here, because Heartless is a story that is easy to dismiss at first glance. It is a faerie tale about a princess named Una who has just come of age and will soon be married to any one of her suitors. She’s a petulant, whiny, childish thing with grand ideas of a handsome prince who sings ballads underneath her windowsill. She is so immature and naive about the way the world works–so caught up in herself–that she hardly notices there is a far greater danger coming for her than getting stuck in a marriage with the boring, stodgy Prince Aethelbald (whose physical appearance is…plain at best).

That is not why you will love this book.

You will love this book because its not really about Una–it’s about us, the children of the world, so quick to dismiss God from our lives and move on to more exciting lovers, unaware of the dangers that wait when we reject His protection.

This book is so quietly beautiful, so full of tiny victories, that, like Una, you will not even notice yourself falling in love. And then the story will take a turn so swift and dark that it will leave you sitting on your bottom, wondering how on earth you ended up on the floor. You will first laugh at our heroine, then you will be amused, annoyed, shocked, and heartbroken, but it is all worth it to see her in the end, standing on the shores of Parumvir, wearing white, with flowers in her hair.

That is why you will love this book–because it is about you.

And when you come to the end, and you find yourself desperate for more, you might consider looking up the Tales of Goldstone Wood, which follows some of Heartless’ most beloved characters through many more adventures. Though none of them have quite reached the exquisiteness that is Heartless, they are worth the read. Some of my overall favorites from the series also include Moonblood, Shadow Hand, and Dragonwitch.

And so, enjoy this beautiful, well-crafted allegory on the redemption of the world. It is, after all, your story.

You can buy a copy of Heartless  here.

 

The Beginning

So here it is–my very first blog post. I am beyond excited!

I figured, for the first one, instead of just jumping right into the ocean that is all the books I have read, I would talk a little about why I decided to start this project.

Upon beginning this semester, my College Writing professor gave us an assignment: to write an essay on the importance of writing. As I began to formulate this essay in my mind, I found myself going back to authors that I was sure had changed my life. I fancy myself a writer, but I hardly ever sit down and create something that will be beneficial to society. I want to improve upon the experience of my fellow human beings in a way that is practical and tangible, just as some of my favorite authors have done for me.

There are a lot of books in this world, and, unfortunately, some of them are not that great. I have found that the more books I read, the higher my expectations become for the next one. This is, perhaps, not entirely fair, but it is the way my brain works, and I am finding it harder and harder to find a truly good book. I am sure that there are others out there who feel the same way, and so, I am determined that I will provide you, my reader, with as many good books as I can possibly find.

Not many things in this world give me more joy than introducing someone to a good book. I was known in high school for having a rather extensive library and would often be seen trading books around the school. One of my friends once remarked, “It’s like you’re a drug dealer, Edyn-Mae! But with books instead!” You could say it was my way of bringing a little bit of happiness into someone else’s life. I want to continue that legacy through my writing.

And so, this blog is my hail Mary, my wild hope, that I can contribute something good to this world. In this little corner of the internet, I will write about books–books that have changed me, books that have angered me or saddened me or elated me. I hope that in writing about these books, I can direct your attention to something real and good. I hope that in doing so, I will have made your life a little bit better.

So cheers!

Let it begin.