A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Review by Jarad Johnson
This book is absolutely wonderful and I need to start by acknowledging that fact. I say that because this book surprised me in the best way possible. I expected the fantasy elements and the steamy vampire, but I did not expect the beautiful and descriptive writing, the extremely creative world-building, or the rapid and well thought out progression of the plot. It was a book I had heard about before, but for some reason did not have high hopes for. Needless to say, I was blown away, and I cannot wait for the sequel.
The plot begins with a thirty something year old scholar named Diana Bishop requesting manuscript called Ashmole 782 in the course of her research at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. When Diana begins to see signs of magic in the book, she takes a few cursory notes on the curious images and sends it back, because, although she is descended from an extraordinarily powerful line of witches, she herself wants nothing to do with magic. However, she doesn’t know that this particular tome has been lost for centuries, and has set the magical underworld abuzz with its sudden appearance. And soon after, a distracting bunch of vampires, daemons, and witches descends on the library. One of these creatures is Matthew Clairmont, an eminent geneticist, yoga enthusiast, and wine connoisseur. He’s also a 1500-year-old vampire with an especially keen interest in Ashmole 782.
This book is equal parts history, romance, magic and suspense, and doesn’t fit onto any specific genre. It is a novel set on a grand scale, of epic scope and imagination. It spans the dusty libraries of Oxford all the way to the elegant Chateaus of France. It also takes the reader back in time, with a rich history that covers the Crusades, the Knights Templar, and the American Revolution. Moreover, as Matthew and Diana’s relationship deepens, she must confront her own family’s sordid history, and face the bigotry of socially ingrained taboos, and she must reconcile being a modern woman with her ancient lineage.
As much as I adore this book, I did have an issue with it. When Matthew and Diana become closer than expected, he takes a bit of a possessive role. In the book this is explained as common vampire nature; and while, in the end, they do work it out and become even closer, it is a little cringeworthy at times. However, that issue does not really take too much away from the book.
I truly could talk about this book for pages and pages, and I still could not say enough about it. I loved every single character in this book (especially Matthew), mostly because they were so well written, even the villians and side characters were not superfluous to the plot, but on the contrary added to it. It’s a brilliant read for fans of the fantasy genre.
Jarad attends Fayetteville High School, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad wants to be an English major. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!
How Jesus Saves the World From Us :
12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity
by Morgan Guyton
Review by Julie Carpenter
I have been a long time reader of Morgan Guyton’s blog, Mercy Not Sacrifice. I grew up in the Southern US in an evangelical setting (though I find it difficult to find a foothold in the current evangelical culture or belief system) and I always find his viewpoints interesting and refreshing. So when he said he was publishing a book, I was eager to read and review it. From the very beginning of the book, I knew I was not going to be disappointed.
Guyton begins with an anecdote about G.K. Chesterton. When a newspaper asked its readers to share what they thought was wrong with the world, Chesterton replied, “I am.” Guyton then goes on to explain the premise of the book.
This is a book for Christians who are troubled by what we’ve become and want Jesus to save the world from us. It’s also a book for anyone else who wants to eavesdrop and see whether Jesus might have something better to say than what you’ve heard from Christians before.
The book is both an indictment of all of us who have called ourselves Christians who have been part of the “salvation industrial complex” as he so astutely calls it and a call to return to what Christianity could and should be – becoming like Jesus.
The book covers quite a few different topics from how to love people (hint: it’s not by hitting them over the head with a Bible either metaphorically or literally - as I once did to a little boy at church camp, lucky for him it was only a small leatherbound King James, by the next year I had a hardbound Oxford annotated) – to conflict resolution and reading the Bible as poetry. While I think this book might be easily used by a small church group to discuss the toxicity of modern Christianity and their own reaction to it, it might also be interesting to readers who are not familiar with any Christianity other than that represented by the news media. If you find that you’re becoming more and more afraid of Christians or confused or put off by the current Christian culture this might be a good antidote.
The book will be released on April 18. Buy it here:
How Jesus Saves the World From Us
Review by Orla McAlinden, finalist in the Greenbean Novel Fair, 2016.
Orla is a new contributor to Sacred Chickens Reviews. She's a talented writer in her own right as well as a marvelous reviewer. Her award winning collection of short stories The Accidental Wife is coming out this summer so look for announcements and information right here at Sacred Chickens. After you finish her review? Keep reading because we'll link you to a few of her short stories and her website.
Jan Carson, Liberties, 2016
In reading, as in life, it is important to acknowledge and face one’s own prejudices and bigotries. Two years ago, when sent a debut novel by a Northern Irish writer (and theology graduate) with the rather evocative name of Jan Carson, entitled Malcom Orange Disappears, I had a good look at my own preconceptions, before turning the cover. To my confoundment, the story was a joyous and imaginative romp in the magical realist genre, set in Portland, Oregon. Malcom quickly became my book of the year.
In Children’s Children, Carson, who was born and raised in Ballymena, County Antrim, has come home with a bang. Having worked as Arts Outreach Officer in Belfast’s Ulster Hall for several years, Carson has set her debut collection of stories in east Belfast, the location she now calls home. The stories reek of Northern Ireland, authentic and richly imbued with the dialect and black humour of the people. From Bill exacting his petty meanness and revenge on his wife’s doorstep, to Samuel the Jon Bon Jovi fan, these people could have come from nowhere else but the cold and brittle streets of the six counties (or “Northern Ireland”, as some of them would very definitely prefer.) These are our people. And how will the people fare? Will we come together, for the greater good? Carson does not answer her question, leaving us to wonder whether we can make the necessary changes within ourselves.
The collection embraces a variety of styles: realist, surrealist to fantastic. We have the mundanity of a life in the day of an unpaid family-carer, but we also have floating infants who must be tethered to the ground, and writers who recycle their unpublished novel of six years, in the hope that it may come back to life as a dictionary, or something useful. Hope, despair, loss, isolation, and a deep sense of duty; duty to a parent, to an unwanted child, to a spouse at home waiting for his ice-cream, to a dream of a life once to be lived, now nearing its end — a gorgeous smorgasbord of stories to be enjoyed in several giant mouthfuls, or savoured, story by story.
Whilst reading In Feet and Gradual Inches, my left hand flew up to my mouth in distress and remained clamped there until the very last word, a rare corporal reaction to the printed word that last happened to me while reading the final story of Laura Weddle’s collection Better than my own life.
A tear slid down my face during the spare and pared-back Den and Estie do not remember the good times, and although I often cry when I read, I will not forget this plain, simple story quickly.
The family in the sixth story must be cousins of the criminal family in Bernard MacLaverty’s classic Belfast story, The Trojan Sofa. Carson’s story evoked that same, pragmatic northern world so clearly that I had to set the book aside and dig out and reread MacLaverty’s (Matter of Life and Death, Vintage 2006). Carson’s tale, We’ve got each other and that’s a lot, is a funny and back-handed glance at middle-class stiff-upper-lipness, and the importance of not being made to look foolish in front of the neighbours. The story also brought to mind the kidnappings of Elizabeth Browne and Patrick Berrigan from Dublin in 1950 and ’54, and it is perhaps no coincidence that both of those children were eventually found in a respectable Belfast home.
Carson has had a wide and varied role in her career as Arts Outreach Officer in the Ulster Hall, and is particularly proud of her Tea-Dances for senior citizens. She has collaborated with other artists to raise funds for the Alzheimers Association’s “Singing for the Brain” workshops. These events use music as therapy for those with dementia, recalling the vital role of The People’s Committee for Remembering Songs which is pivotal in rescuing Malcolm Orange from his incipient disappearance. In this new collection, Carson invites us to look afresh at our society, and at how we treat our most vulnerable; our young, elderly, demented or simply lonely citizens. A prayer of a book, without a word of preaching, even in the penultimate story which is a gentle, carefully nuanced look at faith, and how it is absorbed and passed on.
Children's Children by Jan Carson
Orla is an Irish writer,
In Summer 2016, Sowilo Press, Philadelphia, will publish her first collection of short stories, The accidental wife, which won the Eludia Award, 2014.
Read her story The Visit
Read her story Bleeding
You can learn more about her at http://orlamcalinden.com/