Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (CBR7 #83)

I don’t really know how to review Pastrix. I think what I’m going to do is tell you a bit about the book itself and its author, and then blog about how some of the things in the book really affected me and gave me some things to ruminate on. So, enter at your own risk, I’m going to talk about faith.

Awhile back Cannonball’s very own bonnie read and reviewed this book and suggested it to me via Goodreads before I even had a chance to read her review (and is why I am counting this book towards my Read Harder Challenge Task 18 – a book recommended to you). I had commented on one of her earlier reviews of another religious book, and she thought this one sounded up my alley. Boy was she right. At its heart, Pastrix is the personal journey of Nadia Bolz-Weber from her teenage years in a conservative Christian environment, her years of living dangerously and then her recovery and rediscovery of faith. In this book she also lays out some general lessons from the trenches wisdom and places to start thinking. I did a lot of thinking while reading this book, which is why it took me almost a week to read its 200 short pages.

Here’s the idea that completely and totally won me over to this book, its author, and her message: “The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.”

Boom. (Yes, we just dove into the deep end of the pool.)

Here in the States (and perhaps in your corner of the world) most of the big issues that divide us are often pulled out of the Bible and people will scream loudly and profusely that their interpretation or reading is correct and anyone who disagrees with them is not only wrong, but unfaithful. And does this ever sting. I am a Catholic who shockingly enough, has read most of her Bible (I have yet to get through some of the Old Testament, but goals are good). In that, and through bible study, I’ve come away with what, to many, would seem a pretty liberal faith. I don’t believe that earth was created in six days; I believe it was created during six passages of time, because that’s both a more accurate translation and also lines up with science. You would not believe the amount of hate that has been spewed my way over the years for daring to hold that point of view and any number of others that I do. I am a lapsed Catholic currently because I have not found a church home that works for me, but I play in a community band based from a Protestant church each week and pray fervently while praising God with our music. These days that is my expression of faith. But getting back to the point up top, that the people who would use the Bible as a weapon against the faithful like me are not using that book for its intended purpose, which is to bring us closer to our faith and God.

Nadia (I’m going to go ahead and call her by her first name, I don’t think she’d mind) also talks at length about how her fundamental Christian childhood created within her a need to place things into boxes: the things that were good, and the things that weren’t. While this is something that she has to come to terms with on her own, the real lesson is learning that while we may put things and people into these containers (I’m SUPER guilty of this one), that God doesn’t. She shares a particularly powerful message from a friend who reminded her that whenever we draw a line between us and others, God is always on the other side of that line – away from us and the decision to exclude. This hit me hard, because, as is completely human, I usually think I’m right and everyone else is wrong. But, in doing so I am not crafting community, I’m creating division. This is not what will heal us, and I unfortunately see it on both sides of the aisle, conservative and liberal, faithful and not. Think about your own Facebook friends, don’t you see the vitriol too? Is that really how you want to be defined? I don’t. My friend Stacey wrote a great blog a few months back about how our friendship strengthens us because we view things differently.  Very, very differently. We don’t have to agree to be friends; we just have to care for each other and that we do. That, to me, is God.

The final thing I want to talk about is Nadia’s discussion of Matthew 20:1-7 which is the story of the farmer hiring laborers which speaks to the idea that God’s generosity and grace may appear unfair. Nadia was assigned this passage to preach, and in a truly beautiful chapter she describes how she got herself in a mental space to preach about it. Here’s her reasoning:  “What makes this the kingdom of God is not the quality of the people in it. What makes Lutherans blessed is not, as I once thought, that they’re somehow different from the people in the Church of Christ where I was raised. Rather, what makes us all blessed is that, like the landowner in the parable, God comes and gets us, taps us on the should, and says ‘Pay attention, this is for you’. Dumb as we are, smart and faithful as we are, just as we are.”  I got chills when I read that because we each have moments, even if we are not the faithful sort, where we feel like we have been placed somewhere for a reason. We made friends with someone; we got a new job somewhere, SOMETHING that seems larger than ourselves. For me, those are the moments when I remember that God is for me. He is working on my behalf, even though I have the pugnacious quality to throw my free will back at him. But here is how Nadia describes the personality of God, as she has experienced it, and how Matthew describes it to us: “it’s the fact that the trampy landowner couldn’t manage to keep out of the marketplace. He goes back and back and back, interrupting lives… coming to get his people. Grace tapping us on the shoulder.” He just can’t stop but coming to get us, and we don’t have to earn it.

These things, as well as a great discussion about the nature of Grace are all in the front half of the book. If I had stopped reading then this would have easily been a five start book for me, but I kept reading and the back half felt a little disjointed. It was mostly organized by theme, but the chapters didn’t hold together as well. But, what made the reading journey completely worth it to me was this thought near the end: “God was never about making me spiffy; God was about making me new.” New is rarely perfect and almost always messy, and I think we can all relate to that. It reminded me of a quote from Jane Fonda when she did the Masterclass program on OWN (yes, I’m a lady who liked to hear people tell their stories) where she talks about how we aren’t meant to be perfect, that we’re meant to be whole. That quote has stayed with me since I first watched that episode many years ago, and I have a feeling that Nadia’s quote about not being spiffy, but new will stay with me as well.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (CBR7 #82)

After discovering that I had not, in fact, read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I rectified that this year, and giving the audiobook version a spin I was excited. The story I was familiar with came alive and Stephen Fry was simply delightful as the narrator. I was so enthralled that I immediately downloaded the second book in the series The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, from Audible without thinking much about it.

After finishing Pronto I decided to revisit the satirical world of Douglas Adams and set out to listen to another leg of the journey with Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford Prefect, Trillian, Marvin, and Arthur Dent. But this time I was left underwhelmed. It’s been several days since I finished listening to the book and other than an idea that there really wasn’t much narrative structure left under all the satirical whirligigs and tricks I don’t really know why I didn’t fall for this one the way I did for the first.

The plot is simple – immediately following the events of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy we pick up with a hungry crew aboard their ship fighting with the improbability drive to get to the restaurant at the end of the universe. Except Vogons are attacking, Zaphod’s great-grandfather’s ghost gets called in for a consultation, and our motley crew gets separated from each other, brought back together again, only to be separated once more. They eventually get to the restaurant, and find the person actually running the universe, but it all felt rather – flat.

It’s not that the book is without humor, it has that. It just felt like a set of episodes that weren’t really tied together. Zaphod off with Zarniwoop and Ford and Arthur crashing down onto Earth several million years ago never really felt like they belonged in the same book. Also, this feels like heresy, but I didn’t like Martin Freeman’s voice for Zaphod. I know how Mr. Freeman would react (and likely many of you).

Well then, I think I’m done with this now. While I’m sure I’ll eventually read/listen to the rest of the series I’ve gone a bit off the journey just now.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers (CBR7 #81)

This year I have read three of Mary Roach’s books: Packing for Mars (spoiler – it’s great), Bonk (also very good), and now Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. It was… it was good. But it wasn’t great. Maybe because it was Roach’s first book (before this one she was mostly a freelance writer for publications like GQ, Vogue, and Reader’s Digest) or maybe this topic just made me see some of the weaknesses in Roach’s style. Let’s discuss!

While I was talking to Ale the other night about why this book only mostly worked for me, and I didn’t love it the way she had when she read it a few years ago, I landed on the idea that there were just too many asides, too many extraneous bits of nothing that took away from central thesis of her work: that there are any number of things that could happen to your body after you are done with it. Great! Tell me all the things. I love learning things, and I love having a bit of a laugh while I do. And that’s Roach’s signature style, humor with a bit of learning new things. But… we spent a lot of time not talking about that as much as talking about other things happening around what happens to your body. I didn’t care very much about those parts.

I did very much care about surgeons practicing techniques on severed heads, gross anatomy labs, and bodies being used as crash-test dummies to make cars safer for those of us who are still living, and the use of cadavers in weapons and ballistics research. Woohoo! I was even all about the chapter about historic grave robbing in order to provide cadavers for early anatomists. But there was too much extra in all of these chapters. Then there was the other thing: the gross out factor. Bear with me, I am not easily grossed out. I have no problem with wounds, poop, what have you. But, and this is such a weird complaint, I had a really hard time reading about the smells Roach describes. It’s a testament to her writing ability that she could turn my stomach by describing odors, but she did.

I still recommend this book if the topic interests you, while it is starting to show its age it is still full of fascinating information. I am now even surer that I will likely ask that my body be donated to science upon my eventual death. I have no interest in being cremated (I hate fire) and burial doesn’t sound that great either. But I could be useful, and that would be nice.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Romancing the Duke (CBR7 #80)

I can’t believe I’m writing my 80th review for the year. We are now well passed my goal of a cannonball and a half. Because of you crazy people I have endeavored to read more authors in romance, not just more romances. This brings me to Tessa Dare and Romancing the Duke.

Meet Isolde Ophelia Goodnight, impoverished 26-year-old securely on the shelf and without a means to support herself. She’s just inherited a castle (in serious disrepair) from her godfather whom she did not know well at all. This is good, because she needs a roof over her head having spent the past many months relying on the kindness of fans of her father’s writing to support her. However, this particular castle is currently inhabited by the Duke of Rothbury, who due to his recent blindness following a dueling accident has been hiding away from society for the past seven months and is understandably behind on his correspondence. Which means he didn’t know the castle he was living in had even been put up for sale, let alone sold and then inherited by Izzy. This story could have gone any number of routes, but I’m glad Dare chose the one she did.

Dare went for quirkiness. There are a lot of quirky, whimsical details in this book. Izzy’s father’s books are romantic tales of daring do in serial format (think Princess Bride). Those stories The Goodnight Tales, have their own brand of cosplayers who travel the countryside basically doing a cross between re-enactments and Renn Faires. I had been appropriately warned about this type of shenanigan by Mrs. Julien, narfna, and Malin and I am about it, so all these things worked really well for me. I love comedy. I have enough DRAMA in my life  and sometimes you just really want to swoon and laugh. And being able to do both in the same book and sometimes on the same page? Delightful.

I also didn’t really care that there wasn’t an actual historical time frame. Its sometime in the early 19th century and Dare is playing around with the motifs of gothic novels. That’s fine by me.  My biggest (only) problems with this one? The stupid pet ermine and Ransom’s name. Otherwise this book worked really well for me.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Blonde Date (CBR7 #79)

I wasn’t planning on reading Blonde Date immediately after finishing The Year We Hid Away. But I had a book hangover and spending some time with the ancillary characters that were to be featured in their own novella seemed to be the perfect plan.  One of my few complaints about The Year We Hid Away was that we didn’t get to spend much time at all with other characters or parts of Harkness College, and Blonde Date fills that gap well.

The story is the blind date set up by Scarlet in the previous book. Andy is Bridger’s next door neighbor from Scarlet’s hometown, and an all-around good guy. Having read The Year We Hid Away I already only wanted good things for him. Katie is one of Scarlet’s two roommates (Blonde Katie as opposed to Ponytail Katie) who needs an athlete date for her sorority’s Christmas party. She has just broken up with her football playing boyfriend, but thankfully as Scarlet and Katie move towards being actual friends and not simply roommates, Scarlet is happy to offer up our good guy Andy, who plays basketball for Harkness.

Bowen could’ve made this a meet cute, wham bam thank you ma’am story and been done with it. But no, she decided to deal with the issues of consent and sexual manipulation in the Greek system at the college and university level. Handled with a deft hand, Andy learns exactly why Katie is hesitant to be at this party, and uses his personality and skills to set her at ease and help her cope. All while making her comfortable with the fact that being sexually active and desirous of sexual activity does not mean that others can take advantage of that. At this point I loved the character of Andy even more.

Things progress from there, and we see what happens on the other side of the fire door from Bridger. Bowen also flips back and forth between each character’s reactions, which was fun. I was pleased with the way the story wrapped up, although not as excited to visit Katie’s ex for the final perspective. Unless Bowen is setting up some sort of redemption for him down the line, I don’t see the point.

All in all a good read – a solid 3.5.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

This Is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl (CBR7 #78)

This summer I treated myself to something I rarely do – a concert ticket. In a little getting to know Katie moment, I suffer from claustrophobia. But I’m not the usual small spaces type, instead I’m the all fun too many people in a given space type. It makes going out and doing things socially SUPER fun and easy. (Ah sarcasm, how I love thee). Honestly though, concerts in particular are tough for me, so even though I love music and live music in particular I have only ever been to a handful of concerts in my adult life.

But, my sister wanted to go see the Foo Fighters and I desperately wanted to go with her. So we spent a little extra money and got seats in a section that meant I wouldn’t be likely to feel crowded in. It was expensive, but it was totally worth it. That concert was the Foo Fighters this July when they played at Fenway. A few days after that concert Cannonball’s own janniethestrange posted her review about This Is a Call: The Life and Times of Dave Grohl and I knew that it would be the perfect accompaniment to what I’m sure will be one of the best live music experiences I’ll have.

foo sign

I wasn’t wrong. Paul Brannigan uses Grohl as a wheel hub for talking abo
ut the music both created by Grohl, and the music that inspired him. In many ways this book serves as a fantastic companion to Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life which I reviewed back in 2013. The two works cover the do-it-yourself ethos of music between 1981 and 1991. Those ten years saw the birth of the American punk, post-punk, hardcore, noise rock and twee pop movements. Indie rock oases popped up all over the US, and Grohl was a part of the ones in Southern California, D.C., and Seattle.

Brannigan, like Azerrad, approached his book as a journalist. While Azerrad told the story of thirteen different bands in an era, Brannigan instead focuses on music and scenes that impacted an artist, and then the music that artist creates. Brannigan uses his own interviews with Grohl (which date back to the late 1990s), as well as interviews with major players in the music scenes in question to write both a biography of the man, and a history of his brand of music.

Something that came to the surface for me while reading this book is that Grohl has never been afraid to change, to grow. He wants to be doing music, and he has pursued that goal always. That also means that as he has spent nearly 30 years in bands and playing live, his tastes are going to change, he is going to be inspired by new things, and that shows in the discography of the Foo Fighters as well as his other bands. While This Is a Call was published in 2011 and ends with the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light album, I think Grohl’s HBO series Sonic Highways which accompanied the band’s latest album also captures that idea, and shows the band playing around with it. I highly suggest watching that series, but particularly if you think this might be a book for you as many of the people that appear in the book are in the series, and it always helps to but a face with a name.

Now off to listen to some more Foo Fighters.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Year We Hid Away (CBR7 #77)

When I finished reading The Year We Hid Away I commented on Goodreads that the struggles these characters face should make this one unreadable, but Bowen has a knack for writing believable characters in unbelievable circumstances. I was completely absorbed in the world of Bridger and Scarlet

Normally the topics at hand in The Year We Hid Away would be found in darker, grittier fiction – not the Romance Novel department. Bridger, who we met in The Year We Fell Down, is in his junior year of college studying for Bachelors and Masters Degrees simultaneously. He’s left behind his partying and hockey playing ways from the year before because as he predicted, his bigger life problems have crashed in on his college experience. His mother is a drug addict and his sister Lucy is no longer safe in her home. In an attempt to keep Lucy out of the foster system, Bridger moves Lucy into his dorm room and proceeds to be her primary care giver. This means his life just got incredibly complicated, and very full.

Meanwhile, when we meet Scarlet, new freshman at Harkness College, she has just changed her name in order to outrun a world that is crashing down on her. The previous year her father – a famous former professional hockey player and now college coach – has been accused of molesting young players. Scarlet’s senior year is spent hiding out in her bedroom avoiding a town that now views her entire family as pariahs and the media who are constantly parked on her lawn. By becoming Scarlet, which includes a completely new backstory about who she is and where she came from, she hopes to begin a new life away from the tragedy that is her father’s possible actions and the nightmare that is the pending court case. However her fears and insecurities prevent her from making new friendships or really trusting anyone.

Even with all of this drama, Bowen gives these two have a traditional college meet cute. They share two classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (Statistics which Bridger excels in, and Music, which is Scarlet’s domain). Catching glimpses of each other in class, Bridger orchestrates it so that Scarlet sits with him at lunch. From that point the two forms a tentative friendship (which will eventually bloom into a relationship) based on the understanding that some things must always be held back and no questions asked. But Bridger isn’t able to keep Lucy completely hidden from Scarlet and when things go from bad to worse, it’s time for Bridger and Scarlet to decide if they are really in this together, or not.

Bowen does a great job at keeping the stakes real for her characters, whether it’s Corey’s injury in The Year We Fell Down or the life circumstances for Bridger and Scarlet in this work. She also excels at keeping her characters from being ridiculous caricatures of people. Both Bridger and Scarlet have what would be considered rational reactions to the problems they are dealt. In keeping with the tone of the seriousness of the issues the characters face Bowen also has her characters take their time falling for each other. Sure, they have the hots for one another, but this relationship is built on time spent getting to know each other, and then choosing the other person.

There were weaknesses in the book, but they make sense with the overall story arc. Of course we aren’t going to see a lot of other characters in Harkness if Scarlet is reluctant to make friends/trust people and Bridger is literally hiding another person for fear of being kicked out of housing. But, that meant we lost the dynamic of the college itself that Bowen had built into the first book of the series. I hope it comes back in later works. Also, this book may be much bleaker than the average romance reader is looking for, and that should be considered when making the choice to read it. Things do work out (not actually a spoiler, this is a romance novel after all), but it’s not always easy going getting there.

I am very pleased with this series, and have already read Blonde Date the companion novella to this one, and have The Understatement of the Year ready to go.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

CBR7 An Offer From a Gentleman (CBR7 #76)

I love a retelling of a classic story. I particularly have a soft spot for Cinderella. I mean, let us never underestimate the glories of Gus Gus.

gus gus

While this retelling did not feature delightful animated mice, the third Bridgerton novel by Julia Quinn tells us the story of second son, Benedict and the woman he falls in love with at a masquerade ball. However, Sophie is the by blow of an earl but following his death has been relegated to the life of lady’s maid at the hands of her vicious step-mother. She leaves the ball at the stroke of midnight, never telling Benedict her identity. Its two years until they see each other again, but Benedict doesn’t recognize Sophie the maid he rescues from rape as the same bedeviling woman he only knows as her.

This novel worked for me on all levels. Sure, there are a lot of convenient plot points (Benedict happens to fall ill immediately after saving Sophie which requires her to stay at his cottage in the country with him, the nasty stepmother lives next door to Benedict’s mother),  but I just don’t care. This was a light, easy read that dealt with some tougher points (the life of maids, no upward mobility, etc.) that also featured more great family dynamics within the Bridgerton clan, which I really do think is Quinn’s specialty. We meet some of the younger siblings for the first time in any depth. But this time Colin was largely missing, which is sad, but Anthony was too, and that was not.

I’ll be putting in my request for Colin’s book from my library soon.

Read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Pronto (CBR7 #75)

When trying to decide which book to read for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Task 2, a book written by someone over the age of 65, I discovered that Elmore Leonard hadn’t started his Raylan books until he was in his late 60s. Yes! I had been looking for an excuse to read some Leonard, and the Raylan books sounded particularly interesting to me because I have been on and off watching Justified on my Amazon Prime account. I knew I liked the character already, and I knew from interviews and reviews that the show hewed closely to the source materials in the big, important ways.

The story in Pronto the first Raylan book is centered on Harry Arno, bookmaker for the mob. He has been living and working on Miami Beach for decades and has skimmed off enough to have a nice healthy retirement. If only he had pulled the trigger and left when he when he turned 65. At 66, he has been caught up in a federal operation to take down his boss, Jimmy ‘Cap’Capotorto for racketeering. Since Harry was planning to retire to Italy anyway, so Harry figure now’s as good a time as any. Enter U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens who knows Harry’s trick – the bookie ditched him once in an airport while in the marshal’s custody. So Raylan’s determined to find the fugitive’s Italian hideaway before a cold-blooded Sicilian “Zip” does and whacks Arno and anyone else caught with him.

What Pronto boils down to is a chase caper. And it’s a good one. The pace is tight and crisp; the characters pop from the page showing that Leonard was an author in control of his craft. There were a few drawbacks for me notably that the book shows its age. Published in 1993 there were certain phrasings which pulled me out, and there’s a bit of a technology/changing landscape of Miami problem too. Not that Leonard didn’t write about Miami accurately – he absolutely did. It’s just that a lot has happened in the 22 years since this book was published.

I enjoyed this book and am glad I chose to go the audiobook route. I am looking forward to my next adventure with Raylan and Harry, Riding the Rap.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Trade Me (CBR7 #74)

When I reviewed Anna and the French Kiss I mentioned that while I would consider that book New Adult, I still had a tough time being invested in the romantic life of high school seniors. College, fine, that works for me. So when I reviewed the Contemporary/New Adult The Year We Fell Down I had no trouble with the age of the characters or believing their life in college. Which is what I kept thinking about when I settled on a rating of three stars for Courtney Milan’s Trade Me – I just didn’t ever truly buy into their set up, and it kept me from truly enjoying the book.

Let’s start with what works (spoilers):

  • In a move that I appreciate from authors in the New Adult genre, our leading lady Tina is neither completely inexperienced or a prude. Tina has hang-ups about being intimate with Blake, but they are not about the physical, they are about the emotional. This I can relate to.
  • Like all Milan books this work highlights social issues with a deft hand, weaving them into the fabric of the story. Blake with his bajillionty (I’m going with my made up word) dollars is removed from ‘the real world’ but doesn’t want to be. Tina’s family is refugees from China, and the subplot with her mom and working with their friends and community on the immigration process was powerful stuff.
  • Our dashing hero does not fall into hero tropes, and is instead believable and with issues of his own that go beyond just his daddy/inheritance issues. Here Milan swims into deep water by having the male protagonist be dealing with an eating disorder based on control. In her author’s note (which I am an avowed fan of) Milan talks through how she came to write this plot and what she based it on. Important work as well.
  • Feminism.
  • No insta-love, no whiny angst.
  • The parent relationships. Seriously, I want a whole novella of just Blake and Mr. Chen hanging out on the couch. The banter between Tina and Adam is pretty great too.
  • I am thrilled that she is going to be the lead in the next book in the series and that Milan is going to be tackling issues of gender indentity and the transgender community. Let’s. Do. This.

So if so much was good, what didn’t float my boat?

  • Tina and Blake’s connection and chemistry suffered a case of tell not show. Milan has these characters TELL us how they feel, but they don’t show it that well.
  • Even though it was handled about as well as can be expected Blake’s bajillionty dollar life trade with Tina just never felt plausible or believable.
  • We got stuck in a feedback loop of “this is never going to work” by each character. Too long, the middle of the book dragged.
  • For a character super concerned with being able to keep up with her studies WE NEVER SEE TINA IN CLASS OR DOING SCHOOLWORK FOR THE FINAL TWO THIRDS OF THE NOVEL.
  • While I am accustomed to Milan’s style of writing good but not abundant smexy times, this book felt like a desert.
  • I need more explanation about Blake’s parentage, and that better be coming in later books. I thought for sure we were headed to a plot point where Blake finds out that his dad is actually gay, and that’s why he’s so broken up about the death of his partner is why he is being such a demanding mess and not noticing Blake’s issues. But, apparently, no.

Also, and I may be the only one who feels this way, the last 15% of the book when things went all kinds of crazy off the rails really worked for me. This all leaves me rating this book three stars, slightly better than Talk Sweetly to Me, but not much. I remain excited about Hold Me, which will be out later this year and will be working my way through the Worth Saga soon-ish.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.