Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Queen of the Tearling - Book Review

I picked this book out from our local library because I needed to read a "400 page or more book" from my book list. I took a look at some of the things some critics were saying and decided to give it a try. 

The book takes place in the very distant future, but time seems to have reversed and gone medieval. Not because of time travel, but more because I believe something awful happened that set humanity back into the dark ages. The book mentions something called "The Crossing" that I am somewhat curious to know what happened. The garb the characters wear involves armor, crowns and head pieces; and there are also swords, horse travel, and primitive homes. There does seem to be some form of technology still around, but it is very rare. There is an evil Red Queen that rules her kingdom and other surrounding kingdoms with terror with the help of the "dark thing". That's another angle the book has, there is a mixture of magic and human sacrifice in the book. 

There are some very evil characters, and a lot of human depravity in the book. The Queen of the Tearling is a young woman (Kelsea) that was raised by foster parents that trained her to become the next queen of a kingdom called Tearling. Kelsea's mother was not a very good queen and left it to her brother as regent until Kelsea came of age. Both Kelsea's mother and the regent did a horrible job as rulers allowing their people to be sold as slaves to the Red Queen through a lottery in order to keep her from attacking.  Kelsea does her best to cement her rule with the help of a really likeable guard named Lazarus aka The Mace and the magic of her sapphire necklaces. She is destined to become a queen of legend.

To the Christian: I don't usually read these kinds of books, but regardless it was still a well written book. The author does well in developing her characters, and the plot is okay. I really don't like how the author represents the church - which she makes out to look very Catholic, and that somehow has returned to pre-Reformation days. Either the book is fantasy or it is not. There is a lot of magic in the book which I don't mind, but placing it in a dystopian-post American-era and then adding on top of that the Catholic church really didn't jive with me. Kelsea is an adamant atheist, the Church is obviously one of the bad guys, and the Bible is another religious book that only has good advice in it. I usually wouldn't mind reading some things like this if I am reading historical fiction set in the Renaissance, but in a sci-fi/fantasy book, come on! I get it, you hate religion - specifically the Christian religion. There is  profanity and the violence and gore is descriptive. The Red Queen is an  awful and evil woman and she sacrifices children to a dark force known as the "dark thing". There are several sexual references that are demeaning and shameful. If this was a movie, it would be rated R.

This book is the first book of a trilogy, but at this point I am not sure if I am that interested in reading what happens next. According to IMDB this book is in development in becoming a movie starring Emma Watson as Kelsea and as executive produce. 

I really can't recommend this book. But if you like science fiction, dystopian or fantasy books with very strong female roles you may like it. I wouldn't like any of my teenagers reading this book.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Isabella Warrior Queen - Book Review

For the past two years I have printed out Tim Challies "Reading Challenge Book List". Last year I read a total of 17 books off that list and it was so much fun trying to find "new" books I wouldn't normally read. This year, so far, has not let me down!

The first option on the reading list is to read a biography. So I chose a book on Queen Isabella of Spain. I had never read on her and the few things I did know about her were indirectly because I am an absolute fan on all things relating to Henry VIII's wives. (Queen Isabella's last daughter was Katherine of Aragon and she became King Henry VIII's first wife.) 

The book "Isabella The Warrior Queen" covered everything about her and it also provided mini-biographies on other major people influenced by her like Christopher Columbus, Mehmed the Conqueror, Pope Alexander VI, Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba, Henry VII of England and other very interesting people. 

The author - Kirstin Downey - did a very great job in providing first hand account information on both sides of history. The war accounts given in the book are bloody. The slavery, kidnappings, rape, torture, disease and outright hopelessness mentioned in this book really gave me a sense of gratitude that I live in the day in age I do. 

The Spanish Inquisition is covered extensively, but new insights of how many actually died in it were given.  And some of Isabella's thoughts on leniency in this matter are evident in her letters to her Inquisitors.

There is also a rather big section on the degeneration of the Catholic church. She boldly reprimanded Pope Alexander VI for his lascivious behavior and simony. She even imprisoned his son Cesare (yes, they are supposed to be celibate) for murder. Another large section on Christopher Columbus and the Americas was also surprising. She expected both these men to represent Christ (especially the pope!!) where they were at and she did not shy away from pointing out their many faults in their representation - always reminding them where their money came from. 

I was also very surprised by how well Isabella knew war and strategy. Even when her husband Ferdinand didn't think she could win, she proved him wrong several times. It was with her campaigning and insight that Spain was able to stop the Muslim expansion into her kingdom and because of her that they conquered even more ground. She truly was a warrior queen! It is even believed that the queen piece in chess was given more "power" in the game due to Isabella's prowess in war.

She loved her husband passionately and her children also. But she did not let that love hinder her from making sound decisions on all aspects regarding her kingdom.

I also couldn't stand King Ferdinand throughout the book. On Isabella's death bed, Isabella begged Ferdinand not to marry after she was gone so as not to jeopardize the inheritance of their children and grand-children destabilizing all they had worked for.  Ferdinand promised her he wouldn't, but less than a year later, he was married again. Throughout the book he is a conniving man that really got on my nerves.  Ferdinand died several years later due to a bad concoction of bull testicle juice that supposedly would help his vigor in producing a male heir.  Very fitting I thought.

There is so much more to her in this book that makes for a great soap opera and what is amazing is that it is true! She really existed! She really was a fascinating woman in a time when the only fascinating thing about women was their beauty. She was a great debater and protector of women and children. She was a learner, a warrior and a reader and she loved her God. The faults she did have, the whole world can judge for themselves on her motives. Regardless, I do not believe it takes away from what she accomplished. 

To the Christian: This year marks the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I was very pleased to read in this book that Isabella was reading material that Martin Luther read as a young man and that influenced him later to nail his 95 thesis. She defended men who called out the outright debauchery of the Catholic church. I wondered a lot about where she would have stood during the times of the Reformation due to other opinions she had about the way the Church was going. This book also gives us plenty of  history of what was going on in the church and I shudder at what many did in the name of Christ. But there were glimpses of light still there during such a dark time. Some things to ask ourselves is how do we twist Scripture to enhance our fleshly agenda? How and when do we call out behavior that paints the Church or Christ in a bad light? How best can we exemplify Jesus in a world that is so divided and dark? With many flaws, Isabella did it in a way she thought best, having effects that still impact us today. For example, I speak Spanish and most of my family is Catholic even though we live thousands of miles away from her kingdom and it is because of her. What we do as Christians can also impact generations from now. 

May all we do bring glory to God.  


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gorditas de Azucar - Sugary Fat Ladies

"Gorditas" in Spanish means "little fat ladies" and "azucar" means "sugar", so basically the name for these "cookies" is sugary little fat ladies. I had never made them before but they were a great after school snack for my crew yesterday and the husband finished them off. So total time they lasted was about 3 hours. 

They are not too sweet and they are less chewy than a typical American cookie (making them perfect for dunking in hot chocolate!) These cookies are not baked in the oven but grilled on a skillet. 

Some patience is required in grilling them because the skillet does need to be set to low. Any higher and you risk burning the cookie and having a raw middle. 

Here is the recipe: (Makes about 15 medium sized cookies)
2 Cups of flour
1/2 Tablespoon of Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon of Baking Soda
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1/4 Cup of butter (softened)
1/4 Cup of whipping cream
1/2 Cup of sugar
1 Egg at room temperature (I ran mine under warm water for a couple of minutes because I had forgotten to take it out)
1 teaspoon of vanilla

* In a medium bowl sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside

* In a large bowl mix the butter and whipping cream for 2 minutes with a whisk. Then mix in the rest of the ingredients. You should have a smooth batter.

* Slowly add the flour mixture to your batter and mix with a spatula. Once it starts forming a soft dough use your hands to knead. The dough should be soft, if it is too hard, add some more whipping cream. If it is too soft add some more flour. 

* Place your dough in a bowl and cover with some clear wrap. Let it "rest" for 30 minutes.

* Once you are ready to grill the cookies. Set your skillet on low. Take a spoonful of the dough, make it into a little ball and flatten using your hands. Then place it on the skillet. You can make these as wide as you like, but make sure the thickness is about half an inch. If you make them too thick you risk having a raw middle. Flip once  you see the bottom of the cookie begin to cook. Constantly flip until the outer edges are no longer doughy. (These cookies will rise as they are heated.)

*Wrap them in a clean kitchen towel to keep them warm.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sing - Movie Review

This animation is about an entertainment business koala who is about to have his theater foreclosed on. In a desperate attempt to keep his theater, he promotes a singing contest, but things are not what they seem. Also, in the storyline, we get to see into the lives of several contestants and their various plights, and most of us could identify with at least one of them. I, personally, identified quiet a bit with Rosita the pig. 

What a fun movie! I saw this with my 8 year old daughter and we both just loved it! There was even a time when I had to force myself to stop laughing because I thought I was starting to annoy people - if you go see it, it's the Koala car wash scene towards the end. Oh my! I'm chuckling here thinking about it!

The plot wasn't as predictable as I thought it would be so that made it even a better movie. And the music is fantastic. 

If you like reality shows like the Voice or American Idol you will really enjoy this movie. All the contestants have extraordinary voices. Meena - the elephant, all I can say is just "wow". I read that there are about 85 different songs in the movie, so the kids will be entertained.  

Here is a pretty funky "Sing" original by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande:

 To the Christian: This movie is a great movie to watch with the kids and will not be a hardship to watch for parents like other animations can be. All the songs are secular. Except if you want to count "Hallelujah" as a non-secular song. (K-love might. Don't get mad, you know it's true!)

A great topic to talk about with your kids is what common grace is. God has given all a common grace and one of those common graces is the ability to sing beautifully. Most singers are not saved, but can still produce beautiful music that can point us to a Creator. "How does God use music and other forms of art to reveal His beauty?" and "How can the world use it to influence us negatively?" are both good questions to ask your kids after watching this movie. 

There is nothing that really stood out to me as being inappropriate in the movie.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Star Wars - Movie Review

Don't worry, no spoilers!

My husband introduced me to the Star Wars movies, and I have been a fan ever since. My favorite character being Chewbacca. I just love him! Deep down inside, I think Chewy would understand me. 

Anyway, a couple of days ago, we saw the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One. And although the movie did start off a bit slow and was a little confusing because of the lack of introduction, we soon figured out what was going on. To help you out if you haven't seen it, the movie ties part 3 - Revenge of the Sith and part 4 - A New Hope together. If I would have known that going into the movie, it would have helped me a lot to understand what was going on.

I was a little disappointed that they didn't start the movie with the usual music score that will be forever famous in American culture. And like I said before, there was no traditional written introduction that helped us understand what was going on as the movie opened. I felt lost for about 20 minutes trying to figure out where exactly the movie was in regards to the series.

The director does do a great job in bringing back that Star Wars feel the older movies have. The CG is awesome, but it still feels "old", but not in a bad way at all. It's nostalgic and the director does a superb job in reproducing that, especially in the garb of all the characters.

The end of the movie was spectacular and reminds us that the hope that was given to the Rebellion in The New Hope - Star Wars IV, did come with a tragic cost. 

I recommend this movie to the star wars fan. You will love how everything ties together! It is not a good movie to start with if you would like to begin watching Star Wars movies.

To the Christian: The movie is great and clean! It also contains a good message of sacrifice and selflessness that you could talk about with your kids afterwards - if you decide to take them. As 21st century Christians we too are standing on the shoulders of many who sacrificed a lot for Christianity. A good subject to talk about would be how we got our Bible in English. I took my 8 year old daughter and she did mention that it wasn't as exciting as Star Wars 7 - The Force Awakens.  

Friday, December 9, 2016

Pilgrim's Progress - Take 1

Last Sunday, my pastor gave us a brief biography on John Bunyan. What a beautiful life! Obviously, he also spoke about John Bunyan's famous book, Pilgrim's Progress. I vaguely remember a very poorly drawn cartoon I saw as a child about this book. Regardless, I decided to check the book out and read it to my daughter. 

There were two books to choose from at our local library and I picked the one with the prettier cover. (YES! I broke the first cardinal rule of book worms! Stop judging, you've done it too!) Although the illustrations were great, this particular book (published by Christian Focus) was in its original text, and I had all kinds of trouble reading it out loud to my daughter. So as I read, I "translated" it to a more modern English, but that got a little frustrating. Also, there were asterisks almost on every page about odd sentence structure and word usage and where I could go in the book for an explanation of what the heck I just read!

Needless to say, we didn't finish the book. The story - regardless of my choppy reading - was interesting to my daughter though, so I still think it will  be a great book to read to her. I will just get a version that uses a more modern English. 

I do not recommend this specific translation of the book, unless you are studying the English language or want to expand your knowledge of the language. It was a tough read, even for me. 

This is something Charles Spurgeon had to say about the book: 
"Next to the Bible, the book I value most is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire; and the secret of its freshness is that it is so largely compiled from the Scriptures."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Alchemist - Book Review

If you are looking for a good book on audio, then this is a great book!  I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it! I had never read a Paulo Coelho book, but had heard of him. This book came as a recommendation from some of my family members, and I am so grateful to them for it.

The book is about a young man who is looking for his treasure and his personal legend. Throughout the book the reader is unaware if the treasure is actual gold and jewels or if it's a person or if it's some form of knowledge. The young man sets off to find this treasure and meets several very interesting characters along the way. The story is set in southern Spain and North Africa and there is a lot that I learned from that part of the world in regards to their culture and customs. The book also provides a bit of magic in the book that is just enough to make for a great story. 

The book is easy to understand and at the same time it is very deep and profound philosophically. There are a lot of life lessons and positive perspectives that could be learned from this book. The boy in the book is a natural optimist and that was very attractive to me. He learned a lot on his travels and we learn with him as he journeys to find his treasure. 

Recommendations: I recommend this book to the wanderer or traveler at heart, to the person who loves stories about wonder and adventure, and to those who may want something easy and fun to read. I also recommend it to anyone who has an unfulfilled dream that they may still aspire to accomplish one day.

To the Christian: The book is clean and at its center it reveals a God in control of His creation. Knowing the history of southern Spain and northern Africa, you would assume that there is a lot of mention of the Muslim faith, and there is. There is even mention of some Hebrew practices. I had a slight problem with God and Allah being interchangeable in this book, but I took all this very lightly due to the magical and fantastical subjects found in the book. For example, one of the characters found a way to change any metal into gold; and the sun and wind can literally speak. There is also transfiguration and immortality is attainable. So I didn't take his interpretation of God too seriously. The alchemist in the book does cite Jesus' words several times as words of wisdom, and unlike a devout Muslim, he even mentions Jesus as the Son of God. There are also dreams and visions that are important within this book and the author references back to Joseph the son of Jacob and his ability to interpret those dreams and visions. My only caution would be that Mr. Coelho does have a universalist leaning, but again, to me that wasn't a problem due to the fantastical prose of the book. There are some beautiful things written about God. If you have a young reader this would be a good book for them to read. You could discuss with them later about who God truly is and what God's Word has to say about man and the nature of his heart. Mr. Coelho believes that God can be found if we look within ourselves. I would argue that we, ourselves, are found if we look within God. 

You can get the book here.