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.