Monday, March 31, 2014

SpokaneFAVS 2nd Annual Faith Feast!

Well, we pulled it off!  Last night SpokaneFAVS had its second annual Faith Feast interfaith progressive dinner and it was a success! (Here's what I wrote about the last one, if you need a review. And here's a collection of live tweets from the event.)

We started in the sanctuary at the Spokane Buddhist Temple where Jefferson Workman, one of the assistant ministers, taught us a bit about Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, also termed "blue-collar" or "householder buddhism" for its accessibility to the working classes back when Buddhism was seen as only for the Japanese wealthy.  We learned, among many other things, about the symbolism of the wisteria medallion - wisteria hangs down when it grows and blooms, denoting humility - and that this Spokane congregation is run entirely by volunteers.

Jefferson Workman, assistant minister at Spokane Buddhist
Temple.  You can see the wisteria medallion I mentioned above
on the podium to the right.
Then we went downstairs where they fed us delicious Japanese appetizers:

I can't even begin to describe the amazing aromas!
And this beautiful display caught my eye:

After that, the rest of the group headed over to Temple Beth Shalom for a kosher entree while I drove straight to the LDS Stake Center to help set up the dessert buffet.  Fortunately, my father was attending the Faith Feast and with the help of Josie, one of the other SpokaneFAVS volunteers, snagged me some of the delectable brisket to eat later.  Now, this is the same brisket served at TBS's annual Kosher Dinner, so I already knew how melt-in-your-mouth amazing it was, and I'm glad I didn't have to miss the entire experience.  (I'll steal some photos from my dad and post them as soon as he sends them to me.)

[Edited to add photos!]

These quilts were displayed at Temple Beth Shalom and my dad thought my mom, who is a quilter, would like to see them. (She's in Virginia playing with the new grandson and doting on the other grandchildren right now.)

Photo credit: Frank Hutchison

Photo credit: Frank Hutchison
And he insisted on photographic evidence that he delivered the brisket yumminess as requested, so here it is:

The sun was shining right in my eyes, so I went for a profile stance.
Photo credit: Frank Hutchison
Finally, it was time for dessert with the Mormons! The Spokane Stake Relief Society Presidency outdid themselves with a beautifully arranged buffet table with green and yellow highlights - including lemons and limes in vases and lots of chevrons! - and a dozen or so different kinds of cookies, brownies, cakes, and other goodies (pictures here!).

The impressive dessert buffet!
Photo credit: Frank Hutchison
I introduced President James Lee, the Spokane Stake President. He spoke for a few minutes on basic LDS beliefs focusing on the first and thirteenth Articles of Faith and then answered questions from the guests. And then we ate! After a half hour or so of consuming sugar and great conversation, Tracy wrapped up the gathering and everyone started heading out, many stopping for a quick tour of the chapel along the way.

All in all, a very successful interfaith evening! Can't wait for next year!

(Awkward! I'm still working on how to take selfies...)
This was my uniform for the evening. The stylish t-shirt has a quote from Desmond Tutu: "My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." Donate $25 to SpokaneFAVS and you can have your very own!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: Slayers by C.J. Hill

Dragons are real. They are dangerous and they are back.

With Slayers, C.J. Hill has written a fast-paced, suspenseful beginning to a new fantasy series.  Dr. Alastair Bartholomew is the world's foremost expert on dragons and one of the few who believes they didn't die out centuries ago.  Their eggs, he's learned, can hibernate for hundreds of years, if necessary, in order to perpetuate the species once the threats have disappeared, and several are now on the cusp of hatching.

Fortunately, there are also dragon slayers, modern-day warriors whose mothers came within a certain proximity of dragon eggs while they were pregnant.  This inadvertant exposure to dragons-in-embryo activates "superpowers" inherent in the fetuses' DNA - powers like flying, or superhuman strength, or heightened vision - all skills that are invaluable in fighting and killing dragons.

Tori Hampton, the youngest daughter of a wealthy family, arrives at "St. George and the Dragon Camp" feeling a bit out of place.  Most of the campers are five years younger than she is and, despite the fact that she's been obsessed with dragons since she was little and has been begging her parents to let her attend this specific camp for years, she's pretty sure she's made a mistake.  Especially when she's placed in a cabin two miles away from the main camp with the few others her age. They immediately start testing her on horse-riding, target shooting, strength, endurance and speed while she tries to catch up with their previous years of camp experience.  And then they drop the bomb that dragons exist, she's a slayer, and her duty in life will be to work with them to kill the giant lizards.

She doesn't take it so well at first.

Eventually, Tori comes around and sees herself as part of the team of dragon slayers.  Her powers, which were late to manifest, show up just in the nick of time and she proves herself capable of handling battle with a dragon.  There are hot guys, jealous girls, great new friends, evil enemies, and action-packed dragon battle sequences. Hill sure knows how to tell a story and keep it moving! Slayers is a perfect first installment of a series. There's plenty more story to be told, but the readers have been thoroughly introduced to the world, have lived through one exciting episode with the characters, and have an inkling of some of the complications still on the horizon.

I appreciate the dragon-lore Hill includes in Slayers.  Rather than romanticizing dragons, she emphasizes their dangerous and uncontrollable nature. "Dragons are a wild force like the fire they breathe...For something to be good, it must be controlled, kept within boundaries. Fire, electricity, and water are like that, too. And if you think about it, so are power and love and procreation...We have no way to control dragons...It was a Pandora's box that never should have been opened. And it's our job to close it. Permanently." And she throws some pop culture references in for good measure, poking fun at Eragon fans who would likely send the slayers hate mail for killing dragons.

There are several nods to LDS beliefs that I think only those very familiar with Mormon doctrine and history would notice.  For example, the mention of procreation as a good, but wild, force that must be kept within boundaries is a standard image in LDS youth lessons about the law of chastity.  And then there's this statement from Dr. B: "A leader shouldn't rule like a dictator.  A leader should teach correct principles and let the people govern themselves." Great principle - straight out of Joseph Smith's teachings.

I'm picking up the sequel at the library today and I'm looking forward to diving right in

by C.J. Hill
ISBN: 9780312675141
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 59


If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll have noticed that I've been posting much more lately than normal, and far more fiction than is my standard operating procedure.  I decided to try to read as many of the Whitney Award finalists, all fiction written by LDS authors, as I could before the winners are announced at the end of April.  (You can see all of my reviews of Whitney Award finalists by looking on my Fiction list; they're marked with a *.) Now, I'm somewhat limited by what the two library systems in my area carry, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the Whitney Award finalists they have.

Fiction is usually a quicker read for me than non-fiction, and YA or middle-grade fiction is even quicker, so I've been able to fly through books lately. But there's the complication that several of the Whitney Award finalists are the second book in a series, so I had to read the first book in the series before I could get to the actual finalist. And then some of them already had subsequent installments published, so if I was really into the story, I wanted to finish the series while it was fresh in my mind.

This is easily the longest streak of fiction I've read in a long time and it's been a nice change of pace. I have a couple more weeks' worth of Whitney Award finalists to post and then I'll get back to my more sedate, non-fiction regularity.


Carli Davidson is a photographer who specializes in snapping shots of animals in action.  You can see several portraits of dogs from her recently published book Shake here.  Their poor little faces are so contorted, you can't help but laugh!  Check out the eyes; they are my favorite part.  The slobber...not so much.


Scientific American published this photo essay of 15 portraits of women in science: Marie Curie, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Jane Goodall, Ada King, Sally Ride.  I loved studying the artwork depicting the women I knew and learning about some brilliant women scientists I'd never heard of before.


Headlines like this one - "Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer" - always catch my attention.
“Deep reading” — as opposed to the often superficial reading we do on the Web — is an endangered practice, one we ought to take steps to preserve as we would a historic building or a significant work of art. Its disappearance would imperil the intellectual and emotional development of generations growing up online, as well as the perpetuation of a critical part of our culture: the novels, poems and other kinds of literature that can be appreciated only by readers whose brains, quite literally, have been trained to apprehend them.
The article cites several recent studies that show that "individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective." One study that looked specifically at children found that "the more stories they had read to them, the keener their “theory of mind,” or mental model of other people’s intentions."  That's worth the extra effort to read aloud to your kids, I think.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Esther the Queen by H.B. Moore

I'm a sucker for novels in scriptural settings, especially those that strive to shed light on the lives of women in Biblical times.  I admire the imagination, study and effort it takes to fill in the gaps in the scriptural text to make these too foreign stories make sense to our modern minds.

In Esther the Queen, a Whitney Award finalist, Heather B. Moore does a solid job of making Esther come to life as a realistic, sympathetic character.  King Ahasuerus is given depth as well, as Moore allows him to express his regret for the decisions that he made leading to Queen Vashti's banishment, accepting his own responsibility for the situation and willing to look at how he can improve. The tensions between the dominant Persian culture and the Jewish minority are well explored and explained.

The elements Moore adds to the story to help us modern readers connect the dots may or may not be how it "really happened," but they move the story forward in a plausible way.  She provides Haman believable impetus for hating the Jews as virulently as he did in the Biblical text.  I really like how she orchestrates the first accidental meeting between Esther and Ahasuerus, too, that sets everything in motion.  Mordecai could have been fleshed out a little better, I thought, though I enjoyed the introduction of his children at the beginning.

I greatly appreciated that while Moore emphasized the positive influence Esther was on her husband, King Ahasuerus, their relationship was marked by mutual respect for each other and, particularly at the end, each other's religious beliefs.
Since the rebellions had died down, they'd slowly focused on making some adjustments in the palace. The cooks prepared food that was acceptable according to the law of Moses for those Jews who served in the palace. The Jews weren't penalized for leaving their stations early on the Sabbath eve. And Jewish religious celebrations were accommodated.
And there had been allowances on Esther's part as well. She agreed that their children would be taught both religions, and they would be allowed to choose as they reached adulthood. Esther had come to respect the beliefs of her husband and his deep spirituality, which didn't include the Lord she believed in.
While perhaps a bit biased toward a more modern representation of Esther and her story than would have been reality, I thoroughly enjoyed Moore's take on the tale behind Purim.

Esther the Queen
by Heather B. Moore
ISBN: 9781621084174
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George

Princess Celie and her family - and Castle Glower, of course - are back in this sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle.

Wednesdays in the Tower is a Whitney Award finalist in the Middle Grade category and picks up shortly after the events of Tuesdays at the Castle. Castle Glower is acting a bit oddly.  It's always sprouts new rooms occasionally, but when an entire gallery shows up full of dangerous magical weapons and armor, the king forbids anyone but his son, the wizard Bran, from entering.  And the holiday feasting hall that usually only shows up during that festive time of year, suddenly appears out of season.  And then there's the new room that the Castle will only allow Celie to enter - an open room at the top of a tower with a large orange egg in the middle.

The Castle starts affecting what people can hear and see as well as it hides the new tower room, the egg, and what hatches from the egg, from everyone but Celie.  Even Celie is getting confused and worried by the Castle's strange behavior.

Then Wizard Hadlocke shows up, ostensibly to help Bran study the magical weapons, but he seems far more interested in the castle itself.  Celie and Bran, whom the Castle finally lets in on the secret, try to gather as much information about the history and mythology surrounding the Castle as they can without raising suspicions.

Wednesdays in the Tower is definitely a little darker than Tuesdays at the Castle. There was less humor to balance out the threatening enemies, and more questions raised than answered. The Castle's quirkiness, which was unexplained but fairly benign in the last book, becomes a threat itself, a destabilizing force for the children and the reader. The story ends in a decided cliffhanger, so I'm sure we have Thursdays in a Strange Land or something coming up soon.

Wednesdays in the Tower
by Jessica Day George
ISBN: 9781599906454
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperbackebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Tuesdays at the Castle is a delightful little story about kings and queens, wizards and magic, and a castle that has a personality all its own.

Princess Celie's parents, King Glower the Seventy-ninth and Queen Celina, embark on what should have been a brief journey to attend eldest son Bran's graduation from the College of Wizardry.  On the way home they are attacked by bandits and all three are presumed dead. Celie and her siblings Lilah and crown prince Rolf reel at the news as their world is flipped upside-down.

To make matters worse, it appears that some of the courtiers are plotting with the evil Prince Khelsh from neighboring Vhervhine to take over the kingdom and the children don't know who they can trust.

Fortunately, the castle is on their side.

Castle Glower is no ordinary castle; it "wasn't just magic, but a living thing."  It grows new rooms, stairways and hallways, and redecorates old ones to demonstrate its opinion of the occupants. (Prince Khelsh's rooms are small and dingy, while Celie's rooms are large, bright, and comfortable.)  Doors appear or disappear at the castle's whim to help its friends and to stymie its enemies.  In fact, it's even the castle that picks the new ruler, ejecting those it doesn't like and welcoming those it does. Celie has a special relationship with the castle, spending hours and hours of her childhood mapping its corridors and chambers, and becomes the foremost expert on navigating its odd ways.

There were a few holes in the plot, and some unexplained motivations, so it's probably a good idea not to think too hard if you want to enjoy the story. (For example, if the castle didn't like Khelsh, why didn't it just expel him at the beginning?  After all, "Cast Glower finds a way to get rid of chambermaids it doesn't like." And why on earth would the Emissary who'd served the king faithfully for his entire lifetime suddenly join with his enemies?)  And the ending is a deus ex machina if I ever read one, but it's a fun, quick read and I see potential for the sequels.

Tuesdays at the Castle
by Jessica Day George
ISBN: 9781599906447
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Whitney Award finalist The Runaway King is the sequel to The False Prince, last year's Whitney Award winner for both the 2012 Middle Grade category and the 2012 best youth novel of the year, so it has a lot to live up to.  And for the most part, I think it does admirably.

Jaron is now on the throne of Carthya, but his troubles are far from over.  After an assassination attempt and signs of impending war, he is convinced that his safety and the stability of his realm are not to be found by hiding behind the walls of his castle. So, as the title suggests, Jaron runs away.  Well, not so much "away" as "toward a very dangerous situation that has only the teensiest chance of success, which is, however, more than any of the other options."

King Vargan of the neighboring kingdom Avenia is a threat and has recruited the notorious Avenian pirates, the same ones charged with the previous unsuccessful attempt on Jaron's life, to ensure his takeover of Carthya.  Jaron's regents want to appease their enemies rather than follow Jaron's plan to fight, and propose basically dethroning him, having Jaron go into hiding and installing a steward to rule in Jaron's place until he comes of age. With few loyal and supportive friends in court, especially after sending Imogen away and alienating Amarinda, Jaron decides to take matters into his own hands and goes undercover with thieves on the Carthian/Avenian border and then the pirates themselves.

Nielsen writes tension and suspense with deft skill.  The stakes are high, but believable.  As a middle grade book, you can be pretty sure that all will turn out okay in the end, but I've been impressed with how well Nielsen keeps me right on the edge of uncertainty.

I also appreciate her varied characterization. Of course, there are some characters that are pretty thoroughly evil and some that are pretty thoroughly good, but there are also several in the middle gray area that surprise you. Thieves with integrity, pirates with honor, regents without either.  There was one major shift in a character that stretches credulity, but I think Nielsen sells it well, and even uses it to good effect in the final installment of the trilogy.

She also allows Jaron to grow and mature. It's easy to forget how young he is to be under such enormous pressure until his immaturity and recklessness shines through. Fortunately, he's surrounded by characters who are willing to provide counsel and support, and he is willing to learn from them.

Of course, as the middle of three books, The Runaway King lacks real resolution, but it sets the scene perfectly for The Shadow Throne (which, fortunately, my library already had, so I didn't have to wait before diving directly in!).

The Runaway King
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
ISBN: 9780545284158
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperbackebookaudiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Come unto Christ: Comments at New Beginnings

At the beginning of the year, young women participate in a program called "New Beginnings". The purpose of the program is to introduce any girls who are turning 12 in the next year, as well as anyone else who is new to Young Women, to the Personal Progress program and the Young Women values. Our ward's New Beginnings was held back in February and the young women chose this year's mutual theme - "Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him" (Moroni 10:32) - as the theme for our program. I was so pleased with how Christ-centered and Spirit-filled the evening was as the young women shared their thoughts and testimonies of the values. The girls asked me to speak on the theme "Come unto Christ" and below is an approximation of what I said, based on my notes.

I was thrilled when I learned that the Mutual theme for this year was "Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him." Moroni 10:32 is one of my all-time favorite scriptures (with the possible exception of Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me") and I love that our focus this year is so Christ-centered.

The invitation to "come unto Christ" is repeated over and over in scripture, literally dozens of times. The mere fact of how many times this invitation is extended should emphasize to us its importance and central position in the gospel.  As I was preparing for these remarks, I took a closer look at these many invitations and I want to mention five points that really jumped out at me as I studied this message.

First, it’s a universal invitation.
2 Nephi 26:33 – “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God.”
Christ wants everyone back. No one is outside the reach of His love & grace, not even the “heathen” who doesn’t believe in God. That should provide us great comfort for ourselves and our loved ones, but it should also change the way we look at and treat other people, especially those we don’t like or don’t get along with or don’t agree with. They have the same invitation from our Savior that we do. He loves them and suffered and died for them just as he did for me and for you.

Second, perfection comes through Christ, not our own efforts.
Moroni 10:32 – "Come unto Christ & be perfected in Him..."
From Stephen E. Robinson's Believing Christ: “If it were possible to perfect ourselves, to make ourselves worthy of the kingdom of God by our own efforts, we wouldn’t need Jesus Christ at all…If we could be justified by our own efforts, then we wouldn’t need a savior…and Christ’s infinite sacrifice would have been all for nothing.” And further, “It…belittles God’s grace to think of it as only a cherry on top added at the last moment as a mere finishing touch to what we have already accomplished on our own without any help from God. Instead the reverse would be a truer proposition: our efforts are the cherry on top added to all that God has already done for us.”

I think this is a fairly common misconception in the Church, that we do everything we can to live as close to a perfect life as possible and then Christ just puts the finishing touches on. But there is such a chasm between the best human being and the perfection of Christ that no matter how good we are we will always fall miserably short if we’re going on our own efforts alone. We need Christ desperately. He is the way, the truth and the life, the only way back to our Heavenly Parents.

Third, we still have to do our part.
Alma 5:35 – "Come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness..."
The fact that our perfection comes through Christ is not a free pass to do whatever we want or to ignore the commandments. We’ve been given commandments to stretch us, to help us become better, to help us be happy. Following the commandments to the best of our ability, "bring[ing] forth works of righteousness," even though we mess up sometimes, shows the Lord that we are all in, that we are committed to our covenants.

Again, from Robinson's Believing Christ, “Trying our hardest to keep the commandments and be like Christ is part of our covenant obligation, not because we can succeed at them in this life, but because the attempt, the commitment to try, demonstrates our sincerity and our commitment to the covenant; it is a statement of our goals and desires…Faith is always willing to try – and to try again and again.” (71-2)

Fourth, coming unto Christ requires our whole hearts, it has to be what we really want.
Jacob 6:5 – "Come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you..."
The baptismal covenant as described in Mosiah 18 and in the sacrament prayers stresses the desire of our hearts, our willingness, to love and serve God and to love and serve others. Coming unto Christ has to be what we really want; it has to be the full purpose of our hearts to cleave unto God. This is the tricky part because it’s easy to look at a checklist and go well, I’m saying my prayers, I’m reading my scriptures, I’m keeping the word of wisdom, I’m not using swear words, so I'm good! But it’s possible to be doing all the right things and just be going through the motions, to not have really given our whole hearts to God. It’s much harder to gauge how much of our hearts we’ve given to God. That’s a personal reckoning we each have to make on an individual basis.

Fifth, coming to Christ provides rest for our souls.
Matthew 11:28-30 – "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
What "rest" does Christ give us when we come unto him?

Br. Robinson explains: “There is no heavier yoke than the demand for perfection – the curse of the law. And many of the Saints still struggle under its load. But the good news is that in Christ we are set free of that crushing burden. He bore that particular burden for us, and his perfect performance extended and applied to us frees us from a similar requirement at this time. In the gospel covenant, we exchanged the burden of sin for the obligation to love him and each other and to do the very best we can.” (44)

Christ doesn’t want us to live in fear or anxiety or to compare ourselves to others in either direction. We are all in need of Christ’s grace, so there’s no reason to envy others or to look down on others. Coming unto Christ gives us rest from that constant comparison with others and from the fear of not making it, as well as the anxiety of feeling like we have to do it all ourselves.


Coming unto Christ is the essence of the Gospel.  Jesus Christ has to be at the core of our faith.  We have to choose to make Him, with His infinite love and understanding and compassion, the center of our lives.  We must recognize that his invitation is to everyone and treat others accordingly.  We need to humbly acknowledge that He is the only way back to our Heavenly Parents, that our own efforts will never be enough. We can show Him where our hearts are, and that we truly love Him, by doing what He's asked of us and following His example. When we come unto Him, He can give us rest from our burdens.

Again, from Br. Robinson: “All the negative aspects of human existence brought about by the Fall, Jesus Christ absorbed into himself. He experienced vicariously in Gethsemane all the private griefs and heartaches, all the physical pains and handicaps, all the emotional burdens and depressions of the human family. He knows the loneliness of those who don’t fit in or who aren’t handsome or pretty. He knows that it’s like to choose up teams and be the last one chosen. He knows the anguish of parents whose children go wrong. He knows the private hell of the abused child or spouse. He knows all these things personally and intimately because he lived them in the Gethsemane experience. Having personally lived a perfect life, he then chose to experience our imperfect lives. In that infinite Gethsemane experience, the meridian of time, the center of eternity, he lived a billion billion lifetimes of sin, pain, disease, and sorrow…All that the Fall put wrong, the Savior in his atonement puts right. It is all part of his infinite sacrifice – of his infinite gift.” (123)

And one final quote from the wonderful Chieko Okazaki: “If one great constant in the universe is the unfailing love of the Savior, the other great constant is his unfailing respect for human agency. He will not override your will, even for your own good. He will not compel you to accept his help. He will not force you to accept his companionship. He leaves you free to choose...Give him your whole heart, all the pieces, and let him heal you...He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief...The Savior calls us to do two things – to come to him, and to open the door to our hearts and let him come to us.” (Lighten Up, 185)

Make the choice today to come unto Christ and to let Him come unto you.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 58


I stumbled across this textual analysis comparing several Young Adult fantasy series: The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, and Divergent.  Veeeeery interesting!  The author compares most common sentences, most distinctive descriptive words across the four series and it's fascinating to see how much of the feel of the books comes across just through those two factors.


Photo courtesy Raymond Bryson
I love questions and questioning on just about every topic.  Answers rarely drop into our laps when we're not looking for them and exhibiting at least some curiosity about the world.  But are we encouraging our kids to keep asking questions or are we inadvertently stifling that natural curiosity because it's more convenient for us, both as individuals and as a society, when they don't ask questions? I know that sometimes my children's unending stream of questions can get on my last nerve, but I never want them to feel they can't ask me anything, and I think that message has gotten through to them.

In general, as kids grow, they start questioning less and less.  And I think that's a bad trend. As this article states, we need to find ways to make questioning both "safe" and "cool."  And speaking of the importance of questioning and curiosity...


Marianne North. Mary Kingsley. Alexandra David-Neel.

Ever heard of them?  Me, neither.  Until watching this four-minute video on upworthy.

With the "power of curiosity," these women accomplished incredible things, traveling all over the globe, during a time when most women never left the area where they were born.  "The harder the journey, the better the story..."


This amazing slideshow was up on the yahoo homepage on International Women's Day and I just loved flipping through the portraits of mothers and daughters together around the world from Mogadishu to Mumbai and Tokyo to Tepito. The mothers' hopes and dreams for their daughters are beautiful and more than anything else convinced me that we have far more in common than we do different.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: The House at Rose Creek by Jenny Proctor

While competently written and fairly pleasant to read, I can't imagine any audience for this book beyond active Latter-day Saints for this Whitney Award finalist.

Kate Sinclair is an orphan. When her parents died in a car accident when she was 7 or so, she went to live with her aunt and cousins - one of whom, Leslie, is very close to her in age - in a small town in North Carolina and became part of their family.  When she grew up, she left the small town for the big city, becoming a powerful career woman, neglecting her family back home.  She didn't even return for her cousin's husband's funeral, leading to hard feelings and more distance.  At the beginning of the book, she receives word that her aunt, the one who took her in and raised her, has passed away from a sudden heart attack.

With a heavy heart full of regret for missed opportunities, Kate returns home for Aunt Mary's funeral and to try to repair the damage done to the other family relationships.  When Mary leaves her the old family home, she is shocked and has to determine what to do with it, sell it and go back to her life in Atlanta, or decide to live there and focus on family. To complicate matters, it's discovered that a new freeway is planned to go straight through the property and it's up to Kate to fight the county commissioners and save the house.

Honestly, I think there's plenty of a plot right there to hold a book together, interpersonal conflict, repentance and forgiveness, family relationships, fighting the bureaucracy to save the family home.  But Proctor tosses in a few more things for good measure and, I think, overburdened and weakened the story because of it.  Of course, Kate meets a mysterious, attractive man - Andrew - while out running, so there's a romance factor - and you all know how I feel about romance ("some connection, some mystifying force of gravity, was pulling her in, grasping tiny pieces of her soul, and one by one, tying them to his..." Oh, blergh!) - but then there's also a religious conversion plot inserted as well.

Spurred by her discovery of an ancestor's journal, she starts researching family history after a couple of LDS missionaries happen to show up on her doorstep at just the right time. Initially she's not interested, but when one of them echoes almost word for word some comments made in her ancestor's journal about awaiting a restoration of the gospel, she invites them to sit on the porch and share their message.  They end up talking for a couple of hours.  There's quite a bit of fatalism implied as one of the elders explains: "I was driving...God might as well have dropped a bowling ball on the brake pedal for how sure I was we needed to turn down your drive. He wanted us to find you. I'm sure of it."

Anyway, her family is none-to-pleased about this new development, and are instantly suspicious that her new flame is the source of this new interest in religion since he's LDS as well, a fact that Kate didn't know when she first met the missionaries. They are unhappy with her investigating the Church and it adds additional stress and tensions into relationships that are just starting to mend.

I found the family relationships much more intriguing than the romantic one, including Kate's growing love for her ancestors as she learns more about them and their lives.  However, I thought that the conversion plot was just too neat and convenient.  And frankly, I was really upset at the very end when Proctor chooses to close the book with a short passage about *spoiler alert!* Kate and Andrew's temple wedding: "They waited until spring when Kate was able to go to the temple. On the anniversary of her baptism, Kate entered the Lord's house and married the man of her dreams."

Really? After working so hard to rebuild relationships with her family, why would she deliberately choose a path that would cause further resentment and hurt feelings among her family, already uncomfortable with her new faith, especially when there was another option? Being a new member of the Church, it would have been perfectly acceptable for Kate and Andrew to be married civilly before she'd been a member for a year and then to get sealed to Andrew in the temple on the anniversary of her baptism. That would have allowed her to both follow her faith and honor her family relationships, both of which are constant themes through the rest of the story. Instead, Proctor had her character modeling behavior that has driven a wedge through the heart of several families I know. It seemed out of character for Kate and I was very disappointed in that choice.

The House at Rose Creek
by Jenny Proctor
ISBN: 9781608618941
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review: Blackout by Robison Wells

This is the fourth and probably last Whitney Award nominee I'll be reviewing in the category of YA Speculative Fiction.  (The fifth nominee is a sequel, so I have to read the first book in the series before getting to it, and I can't promise I'll get through them both in a timely manner.)

When writing the first book in a planned series (the sequel Dead Zone is supposed to be published this September), there's a delicate balance to maintain between telling too many of the story's secrets too early and leaving too many questions unanswered at the end. You have to give the readers enough so that they're invested and feel like they're "in" on the mystery, but not so much that they've got it all figured out all ready. Personally, I thought Blackout doled out the answers a little too slowly.

As is the case with many of these YA Speculative Fiction novels, once again we have people with superhuman abilities, this time caused by a virus called Erebus that only infects teenagers.  And again, the abilities range across the board from incredible strength to invisibility to mind control to spontaneously creating heat or changing the color of objects.

At least some of these infected teenagers have been organized into small three-person terrorist cells, so the government starts hunting down all infected teenagers in an attempt to both contain possible terrorists and to enlist the aid of those who aren't terrorists in fighting the terrorists.  Forcibly separated from their families, two teens Jack and Aubrey learn how to control their powers - respectively hypersensitivity and invisibility via mind control - while being conscripted to fight a war they didn't even know was happening.

At the beginning of the story, we learn that Jack and Aubrey used to be close friends. When Aubrey's powers started to manifest, a popular girl at school, Nicole, discovered her secret. Nicole encouraged Aubrey to use her ability for Nicole's gain, by shoplifting and spying, in return for giving her access to the "in" crowd. Consequently, Aubrey left her old friends behind only to discover later that what she needs more than anything is true friends she can trust.

The character development seemed stilted to me, and there was absolutely no explanation of the terrorists' aims or goals or purpose, despite the reader accompanying them on several of their missions.  There were a few inconsistencies in the use of their abilities that could probably be explained away by the teenagers' growing control over their powers, and some dipping of the toes into some philosophical questions.  For example, Aubrey wonders how her using her powers to shoplift is different from the terrorists using their powers to destroy landmarks and kill people.
They'd all started like she had. She'd been a normal girl until she got the virus. It hadn't taken long before she shoplifted her first thing--a box of medicine that she couldn't afford. It hadn't seemed evil...Audrey couldn't make a direct connection between shoplifting and terrorism--that was crazy--but there had to be some path, some series of bad choices...She wasn't a terrorist, but what was she? A criminal? A thief who just wasn't stealing anything at the moment?"
I have to admit this was not my favorite of the nominees in the category, too many unanswered questions, not enough pulling me to the characters.  I'll probably pick up the sequel when it comes out, though, if I remember to.

by Robison Wells
ISBN: 9780062026125
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book Review: Pivot Point by Kasie West

Pivot Point is up for a Whitney Award in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category, against Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart and J.R. Johansson's Insomnia, among others yet-to-be-reviewed-here.

Addie Coleman lives in the Compound, a self-contained city entirely populated by people with paranormal gifts.  She has a great best friend, a popular boy starting to show interest in her, and life seems to be going pretty well, until her parents announce that they are getting a divorce. To make matters worse, her father is leaving the Compound to live among Norms, people without paranormal abilities who don't even know such things exist, and Addie has to choose whether to stay with her mother or leave with her father.

Addie has a distinct advantage in making a decision, however.  She is a Searcher, someone with the ability to see the future down two alternate paths.  All she has to do is look a few months down the road, see which option is more appealing, and pick that one. Simple, right?

Of course, there's a catch.  While to an outside observer the process only takes a few minutes, Addie essentially has to live each of the two possible lives in her mind, feeling every emotion, experiencing every sensation, for the entire time period. The chapters in the book alternate back and forth between the two options, a gimmick I frankly thought would be distracting and difficult to follow. I was pleased and surprised to discover I was wrong and that it was easy to jump back and forth between the two story lines. It's interesting to compare the similarities and differences between the two paths as similar events occur in each line, and Kasie West does an impressive job making the stories even and balanced.  The eventual outcome of her two options is far more life-or-death than she could have imagined and, to avoid spoiling anything, I'll just say she finally makes the only possible choice, though it involves personal sacrifice and heartache.

Even with her paranormal ability, Addie comes across very much as an average girl, someone I'd like to hang out with.  She had me when she identified her five favorite words: "My bookcase is all yours." There's some teen angst and coming-of-age stuff - "without  my ability, I'm not sure who I am" and "I never cared what people thought of me before" kind of stuff - but that's par for the target demographic. On the whole Pivot Point is an engaging story about the choices we are faced with, how we make decisions, and the effects of our choices on others.

Pivot Point is the first in a planned two-book series and I just got the sequel Split Second from the library yesterday, so I'll be sure to let you know if this is one to keep on reading!

Pivot Point
by Kasie West
ISBN: 9780062117373
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperbackebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: Insomnia by J. R. Johansson

Yet another Whitney Award finalist for YA Speculative Fiction, Insomnia straddles the line between psychological thriller and horror novel, with strong elements of both throughout.

Parker is a high school junior who, every night, experiences the dreams of the last person with whom he made eye contact.  Some dreams are hilarious - his friend Finn's dancing pirates, for example - and some are terrifying - the school janitor's memory of murdering his wife. But they all disrupt his sleep, forcing his mind to stay awake while he experiences the emotions of the Dreamer. He hasn't had a full night's sleep in four years and it's taking a dramatic toll on his health and ability to function, until he runs into Mia (almost literally) one night.

Mia's dreams are peaceful and calm,  unlike any others he has ever entered, allowing Parker to rest.  Parker becomes more and more desperate to ensure that Mia's eyes are the last ones he sees every day. He's convinced that his death is inevitable without the rest her dreams allow him to have - that without her, the Darkness in his own mind will take over - so he goes to greater and greater lengths to enter her dreams every night.  Unfortunately, his obsession begins to frighten her.  When she starts receiving strange, threatening messages, she believe they're from Parker and even he's not sure whether or not he sent them.

Darkness and control are recurring themes.  How much is Parker doing of his own free will and choice?  How much is the Darkness within him controlling his actions?  How does he deal with his own darkness and the darkness he sees in others through their dreams?  As one character puts it, trying to convince Parker that he's not the danger to others he thinks he is: "We're all dangerous.  We hurt others all the time without meaning to."  But the fact remains that so much of Parker's ability is outside of his understanding and control, and he worries about the effects it will have on him and those he cares about.

Johansson keeps a good, suspenseful pace in this novel, the first of a planned trilogy.  However, there were several plot twists and leaps that didn't necessarily follow well for me.  It's hard to write too much about them without spoiling the story, but the "bad guy" came out of nowhere at the end.  I'm all for the twist ending, but there needs to be something the reader can look back at that makes the twist plausible; in Insomnia, I didn't think the seeds had been planted earlier in the story for it to make sense, it was just...convenient. There's also a mysterious character who keeps showing up and remains completely unexplained at the end, though I'm sure he'll be addressed in the sequel.

Writing trilogies or series seems to be the new "thing", even for brand new authors.  So many debut novels aren't stand-alone stories anymore, there has to be a planned continuation for at least two more books.  In some ways that's great: authors get to tell more of the story without having to worry about capturing a huge following from the get-go before they can sell the rest of a series.  But I wonder if it is detrimental in some ways, too.  It almost felt to me like Johansson held back and didn't put as much into Insomnia because she knew she had to fill another book or two.

by J.R. Johansson
ISBN: 9780738735931
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Friday Four, Part 57


Even though Mormons don't follow the liturgical calendar, I've been observing Lent the past couple of years. I just love the idea of preparing spiritually for Easter.  In 2012 I gave up facebook for Lent, and last year I worked hard on replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.  This year I've set a couple of goals.

First, I'm reading the entire New Testament over the 40 days of Lent.  A few friends set up a facebook group to help keep each other encouraged and on track, as well as to discuss our thoughts and insights as we read.  As much as I love delving deep into detailed study and footnotes and historical context, there's also much to learn from taking a more "forest" than "trees" approach to reading scripture occasionally.  I finished the book of Mark yesterday and I'm launching into the first four chapters of Luke today.

Second, I'm "giving up" raising my voice.  With three boys in the house, I've noticed that the volume gets rather loud at times, and then I add to it in order to be heard over the din, often with impatience or anger.  So I'm taking a new tack and trying to keep my voice calm and at a normal volume.  Please notice the word "trying".  While I have caught myself before yelling several times in the past week, I've failed spectacularly a time or two, as well.  Or three.  But who's counting?


As I was thinking about my struggles with Lent, a facebook friend posted this article about what to do if you're having a hard time with whatever you decided to do for Lent.  The author, Melissa Keating, is a Catholic missionary and has some great thoughts on the purpose of Lent and how to redirect your efforts to be more successful:
Lent is NOT a time to earn God's love. Nor is it a time to punish yourself for every bad thing you've ever done. Lent should be a time to fall deeper in love with Christ. Your penance should help you do this.
You can do this Lent thing. Just let it be a time of growth, and not spiritual pride. Look at where Christ is asking you to grow, and follow Him. That easy.
Seriously, she has really effective and specific suggestions for different difficulties you may be having with Lent.  Check it out!


Go stare at these illustrations by Mary GrandPre, the woman who illustrated all the Harry Potter books.  You'll see how she envisioned Diagon Alley, what Harry saw in the Mirror of Erised, and what pixies really look like, and lots of other scenes.

I think it's about time for me to re-read that series.


One more Harry Potter related link.

For the most part I thought the films did a fairly faithful job adapting Rowling's stories to the big screen, keeping in mind the limitations of time and medium, but as Emily Asher-Perrin points out in this article, not all of the changes made were particularly true to Ron's character from the book. Talking about the vital role Ron plays in the Harry-Hermione-Ron trio, the author says:
He actually tends to a very clear gap in the ranks—providing a sense of family unity and street smarts. While Ron himself may often feel crushed by the burden of familial expectations, he extends the closeness of the Weasley clan to his friends both figuratively and literally. Harry and Hermione do both eventually become members of his family through marriage, but more importantly, Ron always treats them as blood. It’s there in every holiday Harry spends with the Weasley family, with that first sweater Harry receives on Christmas, and the unconditional love Harry and Hermione are both offered only because Ron’s family know how much these children mean to their son. I mean, he steals the family hover-car with the help of the twins because he’s worried that Harry is being held hostage by his abusive relatives. That knight parallel from their mega chess battle is looking more and more apt.
In addition, because Ron is only one out of the trio who grew up in the wizarding world, he has an immediate frame of reference and level of comfort that they both lack. Even Hermione’s book smarts cannot make up for Ron’s practical know-how, a kind of intelligence that often gets no credit at all. More to the point: you cannot be a whiz at chess and be an idiot.
Of course, he has flaws - don't we all? - but the Ron depicted in the films doesn't always live up to the Ron depicted in the books. Asher-Perrin concludes: "Characters don’t have to be perfect to be good—in either a well-written sense, or a personally likable one. And it is precisely Ron Weasley’s imperfections that make him tangible and so easy to love. 'Easy to love' are Rowling’s words concerning Ron, by the way. Not mine."

I really need to re-read these books!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

Every once in a while I pick up a romance novel and try again, but I think I have to finally admit defeat.  I just don't care for novels where the romance is the central conflict and/or motivation.

It has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, the rounded-ness of the characters and relationships, or the historical setting or lack thereof.  Stories about romance don't capture me.  Now, if there's a bit of romance on the side, that's just fine, but when romance takes center stage, I lose interest.

After reading a book which several of my friends have loved and sung the praises of, a finalist for a Whitney Award, obviously highly regarded by many, and still reacting with a "meh," I think it's time to accept that romance novels are just not my thing.

(I hasten to reiterate that the "meh" is in no way reflective of the author's talent or ability, but rather simply a genre that doesn't speak to me.  I've mentioned before my general lack of sentimentality and, not surprisingly, that breeds true in my preference for reading material.)

Kate, who is not an orphan - though she perhaps wishes she were - is finally invited by Henry and Sylvia, her friends since childhood, to visit them on their summer estate, Blackmoore.  Her mother pushes her to accept the marriage proposal of a much older man, which Kate refuses, and then Mother lays down this ultimatum: if Kate can receive and reject three marriage proposals while at Blackmoore, she can go live with her aunt in India.  Otherwise, she must agree to accede to her mother's demands and marry this older suitor.  Kate rashly accepts the bargain only to discover that the indiscretions of her mother and older sister have tainted her in the eyes of the other guests at Blackmoore, dooming her to fail.  Of course, friendship and fate intervene.  Don't want to spoil it for you, but it shouldn't be much of a surprise in this genre when all turns out right in the end.

I appreciate that Blackmoore is "A Proper Romance".  There's no bodice ripping or heaving bosoms or what-have-you.  Kate is a sympathetic character: fiesty, independent, proud, but also compassionate, curious, and unfairly limited and burdened by the actions of others.  Her greatest fear is "that all of my dreaming will end in if I am incapable of truly being happy. As if my ambition will be my curse. My dreams will turn into my condemnation."  Kate obviously feels very trapped by her circumstances, her family, her financial and societal limitation, and we, the readers, want her to succeed and be happy.

If Romance is your kind of genre, I'm sure you'll love Blackmoore.  Even if it's not your genre, Blackmoore isn't a bad way to spend a few hours.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find an action-packed adventure or sci-fi novel...

by Julianne Donaldson
ISBN: 9781609074609
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperbackebookaudiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince isn't actually a Whitney Award finalist this year; it's sequel The Runaway King is. But I didn't want to start in the middle of a trilogy and since The False Prince won both the Middle Grade Whitney Award and the Best Youth Novel of the Year in 2012, I figured it was a good place to start.

I was immediately sucked in by Jennifer Nielsen's story.  An orphan named Sage - there are an awful lot of orphans as the protagonists in these Whitney Award finalists, aren't there? - is captured in the middle of an attempted theft in a marketplace by the nobleman Conner.  Conner hopes to groom one of the four boys he's found to impersonate the missing-and-presumed-dead prince of the kingdom.  He appears to have the best interests of the kingdom at heart, especially when we learn that the king, queen, and crown prince have been assassinated, a fact which is being kept quiet to head off civil war and chaos. Producing the legitimate heir to the throne would provide stability to the kingdom in a way nothing else could.

But Conner is not as altruistic and patriotic as he seems.  Of course, whomever he manages to put on the throne would owe everything to him, would have to bend to his will or risk exposure. The other orphans, those who did not make the final cut, would be a liability, too dangerous to allow to live.

Sage and the others are trained in sword fighting, table etiquette, and proper royal speech patterns. They are educated regarding the history and geography of the kingdom and neighboring lands, the royal genealogy, reading, writing and other knowledge a prince would be expected to know.  The threat of death if they don't win the competition hangs over them and causes wedges in their relationships, but the experience also acts as a bonding agent; no one else could possibly relate to what they are going through.

There's quite the plot twist about two-thirds of the way through, and it really caught me off-guard, changing the entire thrust of the story in an intriguing and compelling way, clarifying the motivations and personalities involved. The book was engaging before the twist and absolutely un-put-down-able after.

I'm picking up the second in the series from the library today, and I'm already on the waiting list for the third, which should be out any day now.  When we're doing with Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series, this may be the next one I pick up to read aloud to my boys; that's how much I liked it.

The False Prince
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
ISBN: 9780545284134
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperbackebookaudiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Rump is a Whitney Awards finalist in the Middle Grade category.  This retelling of the story of Rumpelstiltskin is inventive, amusing, and far more sympathetic to the eponymous character than I'd thought possible. I love these alternate-perspective tales where the story is told from a completely different angle!

Rump is an orphan. His mother died giving birth to him, and he's lived in near poverty with his Granny ever since. The village in which they live is overseen by a miller named Oswald.  Oswald demands that all the villagers, including children like Rump, work mining, digging, and panning for gold in order to trade with him for food and other necessities.

On Rump's twelfth birthday, however, things start to change. He discovers his mother's old spinning wheel, makes friends with one of the village girls, Red, and his grandmother becomes very ill.  Rump learns that he has some surprising magical abilities, but that they can be uncontrollable and more trouble than they are worth.  As Red warns him, "All magic has consequences, Rump. Even small magic can have big consequences."

Rump is kind-hearted and, even though it puts him at risk, goes to help the miller's daughter when she's in over her head through no fault of her own.  The miller's sons, Frederick and Bruno, bully Rump throughout the story, leading Rump to the realization that "I didn't think meanness was ever in anyone's destiny. Meanness was a choice."

Shurtliff sprinkles nods to various other fairy tales throughout Rump - Hansel & Gretel, Rapunzel, Snow White, even lesser known ones like The Seven-League Boots - creating a fairy tale continuity that is quite charming and delightful.  Her characterization of trolls is very different from most fantasy stories and amusing, as is her description of troll farts. (I'm sure my boys will love that one when we read it together.)

There were a few less-than-smooth transitions and a couple of awkward holes in the plot, but Rump is really an enjoyable and engaging first novel from Shurtliff. I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff
ISBN: 9780307977939
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperbackebookaudiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

The Whitney Awards finalists were recently announced.  For those of you who've never heard of them before, don't be too ashamed; I only heard about them last year for the first time.  The Whitney Awards are given annually to LDS authors in several categories - all fiction - and are appropriately named after Elder Orson F. Whitney, who was an apostle in the early Church.  His declaration that Latter-day Saints "will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own" has been both aspirational and encouraging to many Mormon writers and readers.

So, I checked my local library to see which, if any, of the nominated books they carried to see if those aforementioned Miltons and Shakespeares had shown up yet.  Fortunately, there are several of the Whitney finalists in the library system, though they were oddly weighted toward the YA categories. Anyway, I checked a whole stack of them out and have been indulging in far more fiction than usual over the past couple of weeks.

Let's start with Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart.

Many of my friends have been singing Sanderson's praises for years and I thoroughly enjoyed his humorous youth series Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians, so I had high hopes for Steelheart. I wasn't disappointed in the least.

Sanderson has created a world set in the not-too-distant future that is populated with ordinary people just like us and then superhuman creatures called Epics.  These Epics all started out as humans but their powers started to manifest when Calamity, a large red star-like orb that hangs perpetually in the sky, arrived - and no one is quite sure how.  These powers vary widely from being able to create illusions, to becoming incorporeal and walking through walls, to invincibility.  Each Epic also has an individual weakness, a closely guarded secret, as unique as his or her power.

Unfortunately, Epics are not benevolent.  A particularly powerful Epic named Steelheart conquers Chicago, redubbed "Newcago", and rules with an iron - er, steel - fist, instilling fear in the hearts of the citizens at every opportunity. He cannot be killed or even harmed, and has the ability to turn any inanimate object to steel.  There is a shadowy group called the Reckoners, regular people who actively fight against the Epics, picking them off one by one, but for the most part people simply live in fear, trying to stay out of the Epics' way.

David, an 18-year-old seeking revenge for his father's death at Steelheart's hands a decade earlier, joins the Reckoners after years of doing his own intelligence-gathering and study of the Epics.  He brings valuable knowledge with him, knowledge that only he has: Steelheart can be hurt.  David has seen him bleed.

The story is gripping, a definite page-turner and the action never lets up.  David is endearing, half awkward teenager and half determined avenger.  His unintentionally mixed metaphors sprinkled liberally through the book are the perfect touch to lighten the mood when it starts to get just a bit too dark.  The Reckoners David joins become a surrogate family, a tight team, and the relationships that develop are close and easy to believe. Prof, the leader of the Reckoners, becomes a father figure to the orphan David.

David is still young, trying to grow up and find his way in the world.  His single-minded focus on destroying his father's murderer gives him direction and purpose, but he also find space for questioning his motivation for fighting what seems to be an un-winnable battle, and what else there is to life.  In an insightful moment he realizes one reason he's fighting:
So few dared resist the Epics. I'd watched children be murdered in front of their parents, with nobody brave enough to life a hand to try to stop it. Why would they try? They'd just be killed.
He did it to me too, to an extent. I was here with him, but all I wanted to do was escape. You make us all selfish, I thought at Nightwielder. That's why I hate you. All of you. But Steelheart most of all.
One character points out that while living under Steelheart's control isn't great, Newcago enjoys several benefits that other cities don't: power, jobs, a working infrastructure.  Prof responds adamantly:
"Newcago is one of the best places in the Fractured States to live," Megan continued..."We should be focusing on Epics who aren't good administrators, places where life is worse."
"No," Prof said, his voice sounding gruffer.
"Why not?"
"Because that's the problem!" he snapped. "Everyone talks about how great Newcago is. But it's not great, Megan. It's good by comparison only! Yes, there are worse places, but so long as this hellhole is considered ideal, we'll never get anywhere. We cannot let them convince us this is normal!"
Fast-paced, engaging, great plot movement, interesting characters, there's a lot to love about the thoroughly enjoyable read that is Steelheart. The only downside here is that Steelheart is only the first book of a trilogy.  The second book is scheduled to come out this fall, and the third in 2015.

To quote Inigo Montoya: I hate waiting.

by Brandon Sanderson
ISBN: 9780385743563
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperbackebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).