Afterlives of the Saints by Colin Dickey- Mini Review

Afterlives of the Saints: Stories form the Ends of Faith by Colin Dickey
Published by Unbridled Books

Afterlives of the Saints is a woven gathering of groundbreaking essays that move through Renaissance anatomy and the Sistine Chapel, Borges’ “Library of Babel,” the history of spontaneous human combustion, the dangers of masturbation, the pleasures of castration, “and so forth” — each essay focusing on the story of a particular (and particularly strange) saint.

I must admit, Afterlives of the Saints was not exactly what I thought it would be. The jacket copy on the advanced copies opens by mentioning “the strangest stories of the saints.” I expected that Afterlives of the Saints would be a compendium of bizarre stories. Instead, Dickey uses these stories as a way to understand the reality of history, the way it is both more and less than a narrative of ultimately inevitable events. Certainly some of the stories of the saints he mentions are bizarre, but Dickey is more interested in the way that these saints interacted with either those who went before or those who came after than in ogling them for their strangeness.

Dickey’s writing is strong and his storytelling engaging. Afterlives of the Saints may have been less salacious than I expected, but it was still a fascinating look at some little-known lives and would likely hold even more interest for people raised Catholic.

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Changeling by Philippa Gregory – Audiobook Review

Changeling by Philippa Gregory, narrated by Charlie Cox
Published in audio by Simon and Schuster Audio, published in print by Simon Pulse, both imprints of Simon & Schuster

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Synopsis:

Luca Vero has a curiosity that cannot be squashed by the strictures of the church and his religious order. Luckily for him, the intelligence that accompanies this curiosity has been recognized by another order, a secret sect within the church known as The Order of the Dragon. Luca is recruited by the order and sent out to investigate strange occurrences across Europe that may signal the end of the world.

For Isolde, the world as she knows it is indeed ending. Her father, who treated her as a virtual equal, instead of a piece of chattel like many medieval women, has died, and the life she knew is no longer. Now her brother tells her that she must either marry, or join the local abbey as the Lady Abbess. When strange things begin happening at Isolde’s abbey, she and Luca are set at odds, even as there is a growing attraction between them, despite their vows.

Thoughts on the story:

This is Philippa Gregory’s first foray into YA literature, and it was quite successful. I’m finding that much YA historical fiction is, even more so than other YA fiction, based almost solely on marketing decisions. There is not much about Changeling that has a particularly young adult feeling. Yes, the characters are in their late teens, but as they’re not really dealing with parents and high school, it doesn’t seem to matter much, they could just have easily been in their early to mid-twenties.This is not to say that teens would not enjoy Changeling, indeed it is a great crossover novel, but there is no reason for adults to shy away from this because of the YA label.

As for the story itself, it was highly engaging and absolutely kept my interest the entire time. Although it did fall victim to a bit of Gregory’s propensity to repeat herself, those sections weren’t too egregious and they did not significantly diminish interest in the plot or the characters. I was always interested in seeing what would come next, and am excited to know that this is the first in the series, although Changeling is sufficiently self-contained that you could read it without reading the sequels, although I suspect if you read Changeling you will want to continue with the series.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Charlie Cox did a great job narrating Changeling. He kept the story moving and got out of the way of the characters, conveying the story without being a focus himself.

Overall:

I really enjoyed Changeling and would not hesitate to recommend it. This is Philippa Gregory at her most engaging.

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Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Paradise Lust by Brook Wilensky-Lanford – Book Review

Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden by Brook Wilensky-Lanford
Published by Grove Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic

When Brook Wilensky-Lanford learned that a relative of hers had, in his younger days, searched for the Garden of Eden on Earth, she was a bit perplexed. After all, her family definitely did not subscribe to Biblical literalism. As she began to dig a little further into his motivations, however, she found an entire subculture – both religious and secular – dedicated to the discovery of the Garden of Eden. Soon Wilensky-Lanford was on a quest of her own, to discover the breadth of the mania for Eden.

Paradise Lust is a comprehensively researched look at humankind’s desire to return to an Edenic paradise – whether that paradise represents unity, civilization, or progress to any given supplicant – mixed with just a hint of humor and sarcasm. The subjectivity of humor could be a problem in a nonfiction book such as this, but Wilensky-Lanford does a fabulous job of separating the historical record from her own opinions.

It is simply fascinating how many different motivations have driven people to search for the Garden of Eden, particularly the fact that there were secular, not only religious ones. Similarly fascinating is the number of Eden-seekers who have placed paradise in the New World. Columbus, for example, believed he located the Garden in Venezuela, and more than one group has claimed its existence in middle America.

Wilensky-Lanford is an engaging writer, and brings a great deal of clarity to the profusion of quests for Eden. That people continue to search for the Garden on Earth is not an idea that would have ever occurred to me, but regardless, Paradise Lust makes for an intriguing read. Recommended.

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Source: Publisher, via NetGalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Statues That Walked by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo – Book Review

The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo
Published by Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

If you have read Jared Diamond’s Collapse, you know that the natives of Easter Island caused the collapse of their own civilization in the course of building their famous statues, causing the deforestation of their island by cutting down trees to transport the giant heads. Hunt and Lipo did not set out to disprove this widely accepted truism when they ventured to Easter Island, called Rapa Nui in the local language, but disprove it they did and, in the course of doing so, they unraveled many of the mysteries surrounding Easter Island: from the true cause of the deforestation of Rapa Nui, to the social structure that supported statue building, to the statues themselves and how they were moved.

One need not be an archaeologist to find The Statues That Walked fascinating. Hunt and Lipo lay out their arguments for the past of Rapa Nui in a clear and articulate manner, providing just enough evidence to lend them credibility, but not so many technical details to lose their lay readers. Assuming their science is valid – and Hunt and Lipo give the reader no reason to assume it is not – this team seems to have made great headway in explaining the history and basic culture of the people of Easter Island, not least the explanation that the statues were moved by ‘walking’ them.

The only real problem with The Statues That Walked is the extent to which its authors inserted themselves in their story, which was either too much, or not enough. In no way did they introduce themselves or give any sense of who they were, and yet they referred to their findings, their state of mind going into the research, etc. Inserting oneself into a story such as this one can lend a greater sense of narrative flow and make it easier to engage readers, but in order to do that, an actual sense of the personality of the authors must come through. The writing was clear and engaging enough that the authors were not a necessary plot device to keep readers interested. In the end, their random insertion served only to distract from the fascinating picture of Easter Island painted by The Statues That Walked.

A solid work of nonfiction, odd insertion of the authors not withstanding. Recommended.

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Source: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Gospel of Anarchy by Justin Taylor – Book Review

The Gospel of Anarchy by Justin Taylor
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

Disillusioned with his empty and unfulfilling existence, David accidentally finds a new life while walking aimlessly late one night. When he finds an old friend, Thomas, digging through a dumpster to find uneaten sandwiches to take back to his anarchists’ collective, David returns with him, determined to find anything more meaningful than work at a call center and internet porn. At Fishgut, Thomas’s home, David finds himself becoming involved with two women, Katy and Liz, and the religious fervor which has grown up around a former housemate who has disappeared, and of which Katy is the champion.

In “The Gospel of Anarchy,” Justin Taylor has written a beautiful book about human weakness and our desire to connect and grow, our need for something bigger than ourselves. I am as surprised as anyone to call a book beautiful that has, in the beginning of the first chapter, an extensive scene regarding a character’s porn-viewing habits, but David’s pain and self-loathing is manifest in that scene, and his desire to change his life and his circumstances is incredibly moving. None of the characters are particularly likable, but they are written with such empathy and they are so indicative of the human spirit that they are impossible to ignore. Perhaps these characters have different vices than most of us, but they are no more flawed than we are and, like all of us, deeply long for physical and spiritual connection.

One thing that works very well in “The Gospel of Anarchy” is Taylor’s hodgepodge of styles. Within chapters the point of view changes from character to character, from first person for David to third person for the rest of the housemates. At one point, the tense even changes between past and present. Considering this entire book is about anarchists, however, this added to the veracity of the story being told and, surprisingly, managed not to be distracting.

Highly recommended, but definitely not for everyone. I love it as an exploration of the role of religion and human connection in our lives, but sensitive readers may be turned off by some of the language and sexuality.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher via NetGalley.
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