ECW Press is a small, Canadian press that I have really come to trust for quality work. You can’t always say that about indies who publish works by unknown authors. Their latest offering is For The Love of Mary by Christopher Meades, a satire and coming of age novel that plays with small town religious rivalries. Continue reading
I’ve been putting off reading The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer for a while because I was pretty sure I was going to love it and i did. It’s about a family of Sanskritists during the tumult of 1970s to present day India. That description hardly does the novel justice. It is, in fact, an epic exploration of the family, memory, trauma and how the past exists in the present. Continue reading
I want to thank Trish at Love, Laughter, and A Touch of Insanity for organizing The Sparrow read-a-long. It gave me the opportunity to read this book that I’ve heard so much about in the past year, but had yet to read. In fair warning to all of you, I finished the book over the weekend – I literally couldn’t put it down – but this post will be entirely spoiler free. Continue reading
I picked up A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray without knowing entirely what it was about. This was both good and bad. I knew that it was set in a Mormon family and a crisis of faith. Hear that? That’s all my boxes being checked. What I didn’t know was that the daughter of the family dies near the beginning of the book. I do not read books in which children die. They are just too sad for me. But I decided to soldier forth because i do love me a crisis of faith. Continue reading
I walked in to the library earlier this week and The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart leaped out at me, calling my name. I remember a few months back this was making the rounds on some of my favorite blogs and getting good reviews. It’s set in the Shaker community and deals with questions of belief. If that’s not up my alley, then I don’t know what is. So it seemed fated that I read it. Continue reading
You know when you get a book hangover, and you just can’t move onto a new book even though you’ve finished the previous one? Yeah. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris did that to me. It’s been two days, and I’m still not ready to leave those characters behind. You may recognize the title as Harris’ debut novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013. Continue reading
For me, 2013 has been the year of novels about lesser known and often ridiculed Christian sects. Weird, I know. And the even odder thing is that I have really liked all of them, especially The Friday Gospels, Elders and Amity and Sorrow. Well throw Watch How We Walk by Jennifer Lovegrove onto the pile as well, because it was amazing.
The thing about Watch How We Walk is that it just get better as you read. The first chapter left me thinking it was good, but nothing too special. But as all the pieces start to fall together and the subtleties glide to the forefront it wallops you in a really great way.
The story focuses on Emily and her coming of age in a Jehovah Witness family. Her older sister is overtly rebellious and dapples in punk music. Her father clings to his religion like it is a life buoy and her mother seems uninterested in the JW life. So where does Emily fit in? The story also jumps ahead to when Emily is in her twenties. The hints at psychological trauma alluded to in her childhood become the major force in her life.
There are so many stunning scenes in the later part for the novel that I literally shut the door and told my family to leave me alone. I read the novel in less that 24 hours and loved just about every second of it. Lovegrove does a great job at exploring the complexities of life through the lens of a pre-adolescent.
Who would like this book? This book would appeal to a wide range of people, but I am going to pin point children of the eighties. It seems like all good books set in the eighties have a pretty kick-ass sound track to accompany them, and Watch How We Walk is not different. Emily’s sister is moving into punk territory and music I was not familiar with, but she also references The Cure, The Cult and The Misfits. The music beautifully accompanies the angst of fitting in, especially when you come from a conservative background. If the growing up in the punk ’80s aspect appeals to you then I beg you, you must go read Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson. It is one of the most underrated and under-read great novels of the last five years.
I was turned onto Elders after hearing an interview with author Ryan McIlvain on the radio. The topic of the novel fascinated me: Mormon missionaries doing service in Brazil. Yes, the novel is about members of the Church of Latter Day Saints going door to door in a mid sized Brazilian town. I really did not understand the distribution of Mormons throughout the world until I read this. I thought the movement was a largely North American phenomena focused predominately in Utah. Not so.
Throughout the novel the protagonist, Elder McLeod, struggles with his faith (all Mormon missionaries are referred to as Elder). He comes from a prominent Boston Mormon family, but is not as convinced of his religiosity as those around him. Added onto this is the overwhelming sense of anti-Americanism Elder McLeod experiences in post 911 Brazil. These pressures compounded with a zealous missionary partner propel McLeod to make some questionable decisions. In fact, Elders is very much a coming of age novel about self discovery.
As much as I was fascinated by the topic of the novel, my over all feeling was that it fell a little bit flat. That may be because I had built Elders up in my head after hearing the interview with McIlvain on the radio. It is an okay read, certainly not a waste of time, but I was expecting amazing. The main characters are well drawn out, though some of the secondary ones are predictable and flat. The internal and external conflicts McIlvain encounters are wide ranging and interesting: from issues of sexuality and sexual expression to being American when America is not the most popular nation on the block.
Who would like this book? I was attracted to Elders because of the insight it gave into the modern, international world of Mormonism. In recent years there have been a spate of books dealing with Mormons, but most of the deal with the more extreme forms of the religion and the plight of women (see Amity and Sorrow). Elders stands apart from those as it deals with more mainstream Mormonism in a cosmopolitan world.
I didn’t think I was going to read Amity and Sorrow. Not really what I’m into at the moment, is what I thought. Though I am interested in religion and cults I was concerned that this was going to stray into the territory of bonnet lit (Amish and Mennonite romances) given the cover illustration of the North American edition (the UK edition has a very different cover). I must admit, however, that Amity and Sorrow was not half bad.
Amity and Sorrow are sisters on the run with their mother Amaranth from their father, the leader of a cult-like Christian sect, reminiscent of hard core Mormons. Due to an unexpected accident they end up on a farm in rural Oklahoma. Until now Sorrow has always acted as her father’s Oracle and resists their move. She is also prone to arson and believes that the end of days will come in flames.
Overall, first time author Peggy Riley does an astounding job or portraying what life would be like for a teenager leaving an insular cult and finding herself out in the unfamiliar world of men. Unfortunately this is somewhat undermined by Riley’s portrayal of Amaranth, who is both still under the thrall of her charismatic husband and his arcane rules and only too ready to jump into bed with the farmer who takes them in. Amaranth’s character and the story as a whole would have been stronger and more compelling if she had not given into her desires so effortlessly.
Who would like this book? I suspect Amity and Sorrow is going to be a big book this spring and summer. It will undoubtedly be marketed as a great book club pick: focused on women’s experiences with enough controversy to spark good discussion. It reminded me of David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife, which depicts the estrangement of Brigham Young’s wife in the early days of Mormonism. For research Riley relied quite heavily on Under the Banner of Heaven by noted journalist Jon Krakauer, which is a fascinating account of Mormon fundamentalists in the United States and Canada. Also out this spring is Elders by Ryan McIlvain, a novel dealing with Mormon missionaries in Brazil.