Book Review

The Abarat Series by Clive Barker

Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Candy Quackenbush is sick of her life. She lives in Chickentown, the world’s most boring town, her father is a loudmouth drunk, and everyone except her soft-spoken mother views her as a freak. One day, however, Candy finds herself literally swept away by the magical sea to a place called the Abarat. The Abarat has 25 islands and each one is frozen at a specific time of day—for example, on one island the time is constantly midnight—and each island is filled with extraordinary creatures. Thrust into a world of magic and adventure, Candy is definitely no longer bored. However, Christopher Carrion, the fearsome prince of midnight, is dead set on capturing Candy by any means necessary. But why? What does the Prince of Midnight want with an ordinary girl from Chickentown? And furthermore, why is Candy so drawn to the Abarat?

Thoughts

Abarat is one of the most unique fantasy series I’ve read in some time. Rather than having traditional fantasy creatures populate the Abarat, Clive Barker filled the entire series with never-before-seen creatures. My personal favorites are John Mischief, a man with large antlers that has eight additional heads hanging from them also named John; and Squbb and Squiller, two tiny squid-like creatures that, when placed on your head, serve as binoculars. The introduction of these new creatures is aided by Clive Barker’s inclusion of elaborate paintings and drawings of his creations. If you’re considering reading this series I would highly recommend getting a copy that includes his art. Even though they are slightly more expensive, it is completely worth it. His artwork can only be described as eerily enchanting, and that, combined with the fact, this is the first time these creatures have ever been seen, it really allows you to relate to the wonder that Candy feels.

Speaking of Candy, she is a wonderful female protagonist. I often find that female characters in fantasy can sometimes be shoehorned into either being the damsel in distress or the ‘not like other girls’ archetype that completely rejects and looks down upon anything feminine. Candy Quackenbush subverts both of these effortlessly. She is a strange girl who is delighted to have found the Abarat and, despite its many dangers, is unafraid to rush headfirst into the unknown. She is also fiercely clever and kind, often helping those she comes across without a second thought. That being said, the author did not forget to give her flaws, and her fearless nature often leads to her attracting unwanted attention and putting herself into danger. Overall, she is an exceptional protagonist that I absolutely adored throughout the three books.

The most fascinating aspect of Abarat is how the book handles the themes of darkness and light. As stated before, each island on the Abarat is stuck in a particular time period, and throughout the book there is a prejudice towards the people and creatures that exist in the darkness. At first, we as the reader agree with these prejudices—especially since the creatures from the night islands tend to be horrifying—but as the story continues, we come to understand that looks can be deceiving. The creatures of darkness are fully capable of sincere love and heartbreak, while the creatures of light are also fully capable of unspeakable cruelty. Without giving too much away, this trilogy succeeds in having both an impressive villain redemption arc and a reverse arc where a beloved hero is revealed to be a bitter monster.

Going off of the themes of light and dark, Abarat is definitely not afraid to get exceptionally dark. After all, one of the characters keeps their pickled nightmares in a glass collar that they wear around their neck to remind them to never love again! The feud between darkness and light leads to many horrific acts being perpetrated by both sides—not to mention the dangers that eventually come from Chickentown once they learn of the Abarat. This book, though technically meant for all ages, does not shy away from death and suffering, and fully embraces the complexities of those themes.

With all my gushing about this series, you may wonder if there is anything negative I could possibly say about it. Unfortunately, there is one issue that may deter readers, and that is how the series has ended—or rather, how it refuses to end. Abarat is supposed to be a five-book series, but since the release of book three Abarat: Absolute Midnight in 2011 there have been no new books in the series. The author still occasionally posts about completing the series, but aside from that, there has been virtually no news. While I definitely do not regret reading this series I would warn those who don’t like cliffhangers that the final book leaves plenty of plot points up in the air. Despite this shortcoming, I honestly couldn’t bear to give this book any less than five stars. Even though I may never know how it ends, I still consider it one of my favorite book series and I cannot wait until the day I can finally read the last two books.

In summary, the Abarat series is absolutely fantastic. Clive Barker is an incredible author and the effort and care he put into every aspect of this series shines through. While I may never get to see the end of Candy Quackenbush’s adventures in the Abarat, I will always be fond of the fascinating three books I was able to read. I fully recommend this book to fantasy readers of all ages.

Book Review

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Adeline “Addie” LaRue was born in Villon-sur-Sarthe, France in 1714. She prays to the New God and the Old ones, but is warned to never pray to the God who answers after dark. However, in a moment of desperation, she accidentally does—and so begins the next 300 hundred years of her life.

In this life, she cannot die, but is remembered by no one once she is out of sight. She can’t even tell anyone her name. She lives her life alone, learning languages and watching the world as we know it evolve. Until, in New York City in 2014, she meets someone who remembers her, and everything changes.

Thoughts

This book continued to pop up everywhere I looked, so finally I caved and bought it. From what I had gathered, the book had a surprising twist and left a lot of people in tears—which is my kind of novel. It’s safe to say I had no idea what I was getting myself into. From the first chapter, I was drawn to Addie’s character, rooting and feeling sorry for her at the same time, while contemplating what I would do in her position. Schwab has created incredibly complex characters who pull at your heartstrings in every direction.

The story itself takes you through history as Addie watches events all around the world take place, with only the darkness to truly keep her company. Schwab has effortlessly weaved fantasy elements and historical events together, making the reader feel as if they were there too, walking the streets of Paris in 1750 or watching the Opera in Italy in 1870. The reader is just as much a part of the story as Addie, and I found myself furiously turning every page, and staying up until the wee hours of the morning just to find out more.

Just as I was warned though, the ending was like a knife to the heart. I kept wondering what it was going to be, what everyone was getting so worked up over, and then it happened. Of course, I won’t spoil it—but get your tissues ready. Not only is the turn of events shocking, but you will find yourself so invested in these characters and their relationships that when you do experience the ending, it breaks you.

I can honestly say I have never read a story like this; it is truly a unique experience. I cannot recommend this book enough, (I have already told all of my friends about it). This is one story I look forward to reading again and again.

Book Review

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Anchor
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

The Night Circus tells the story of a mysterious circus that arrives without warning. Le Cirque Des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) is only open at night, and the wonders inside seem truly magical. From the delectable treats to the performers and tents, every aspect of the circus seems to delight and defy reality at every turn. Of course, few know what is really occurring behind the scenes.

Celia and Marco have been engaged in a duel for most of their lives. Entered into a competition by their vindictive guardians when they were children, they know little about the contest—including the rules, the goal, and against whom they are competing. All they do know is the venue, a circus wherein they can showcase their abilities as illusionists and magicians.

Thoughts

One of the first words that comes to mind when I try to describe this book is enchanting. Morgenstern weaves a narrative that seamlessly blends what appear to be unrelated storylines with an elegance that seems to reflect the winding paths of the circus itself. A large cast of characters are introduced right off the bat, and it seems impossible that all of their stories can be treated with the same level of importance. Doing the impossible, however, is a specialty of the titular circus, and the book makes a serious (if not entirely successful) attempt to bring you deep into these characters’ lives. An especially captivating touch comes from the occasional passages in the second person: you truly become the person experiencing the wonders housed within Le Cirque Des Rêves. The descriptions of the circus itself is also deeply captivating: from the intoxicating smell of apple cider to the wonderfully-disorienting layout of the circus tents, you’ll find yourself mesmerized and, like the Rêveurs—the self-dubbed devoted followers of the circus—eager to explore more.

It’s worth noting that the actual plot of the book can be a bit slow to progress in some places, but the aforementioned descriptions do much to keep the reader’s attentions during these stagnant moments. One drawback of the large number of characters included in the story is the subsequent lack of characterization as a whole. Aside from the main duo of the novel, Celia and Marco, many characters are not given special attention or notice. A notable exception to this rule is found in the character of Bailey and the young circus twins he befriends, Poppet and Widget. It is also worth noting that the book is divided into many (many) chapters—each segment is only about a few pages long. While this division makes the book easy to read in pieces during a busy time (midterms, anyone?), I cannot stress enough the importance of noting the identifying information at the beginning of each chapter—namely the year. The contents of the story span a few decades, from the inception of the circus to the conclusion of the competition between Celia and Marco.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this story comes from the family created by everyone involved in the circus. As a close-knit community formed by the performers themselves, it’s touching to see the circus grow to something greater than itself, something that makes dreamers everywhere feel seen and understood by. This is perhaps most clearly seen in Bailey, who sees the circus as an escape from his dull life on a rural farm, and Herr Friedrick Thiessen, the clockmaker who creates a cult-following from his captivating publications about the circus. At its core, beyond the magic and mystery, The Night Circus is about family, and the bonds that we form when we are allowed to truly be ourselves. The love shown by the characters to one another—and to the circus itself—is the true magic at work, and serves as an inspiration to dreamers everywhere.

Book Review

Fantastic Fungi: How Mushrooms Can Heal, Shift Consciousness, and Save the Planet

Publisher: Earth Aware Editions
Genre: Nonfiction, Ecology, Spirituality
Pages: 184
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Can mushrooms change the world? Can they heal the planet? Can they repair your body? Can they realign your spirit?

Simply put, yes. In Fantastic Fungi, legendary mycologist Paul Stamets offers a beautiful collection of essays from the director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Dr. Andrew Weil, food science journalist Michael Pollan, professor of Forest Ecology Suzanne Simard, and nature and food writer Eugenia Bone. Along with the essays are visually arresting photographs of fungi and mushrooms. Organized in three sections, these essays explore what mushrooms mean for the planet, our bodies, and our spirits. Reading the collection is a transformative experience where learning about issues like the mycelial internet, mushrooms as therapeutic intervention, and the stoned ape hypothesis will leave you seeing the world and your place in it from a totally new perspective.

Thoughts

That mushroom you see peeking up out of the mulchy forest floor? That’s only the tip of the fungal iceberg. A mushroom is only the fruiting body part of the organism, a way to release spores and reproduce when conditions are right. But below the surface? In the soil, branching out into a vast network of interconnection lies the vast entirety of the fungus, the mycelium stretching out—sometimes for miles. Mushrooms are much more complex than you may think.

Paul Stamets’ Fantastic Fungi accompanies a documentary of the same name. Both can be enjoyed alone or explored together in a complementary way. They are truly a fantastic journey into the big and tiny, micro and macro beautiful world of fungi, mushrooms, and our human relationships with them.

Did you know fungi are not plants? They’re not animals, either. Rather, they comprise their own kingdom. Stamets’ documentary suggests that perhaps fungi are the dominant species on earth. The biggest organism on earth is no whale, elephant, or giant squid, but a honey fungus that spans 2.4 miles in Oregon and is perhaps almost 9,000 years old. Fungi are the most common species on earth and are literally everywhere, “under every footstep that you take…all over the world.”

“Take a breath. You’ve just breathed in 10 fungal spores”

Grief, anger, and depression about climate change are normal, but at times reversing environmental destruction can seem hopeless. However, Fantastic Fungi is optimistic, and you can help. Become involved in fungi activism with organizations like The Radical Mycology Mycelial Network, which seeks to increase community resilience, support local ecologies, and recompose organic waste. The documentary and book offer a promise of hope about our environment. Mushrooms can save bees from extinction. Mushrooms can safely break down and recompose hazardous waste and industrial pollutants. Mushrooms can repair soil that has been over-tilled and damaged by pesticides. To quote Stamet: “Nothing lives alone in nature, and communities are more likely to survive than individuals. What a beautiful inspirational model for how human beings might live: in a shared economy based not on greed but on nurturing relationships and mutual cooperation.”

Fantastic Fungi calls us to action—as amateur mycologists, naturalists, and ecologists, citizen scientists, and change agents. Anyone can appreciate, learn from, and heal with mushrooms and fungi. We can—and should—work with fungi for the betterment of the planet.

Book Review

Paris for One & Other Stories

Publisher: Penguin Random House LLC
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 274
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 3/5 stars

Summary

Jojo Moyes, best known for her novel Me Before You and the film by the same name, waxes optimistic in Paris for One, a collection of nine short stories all told from the female perspective. Offering up relatable and recognizable female characters in the midst of change, Paris for One takes the reader on journeys of self-discovery, relationships gone wrong (and right), and the life-changing power of a pair of Louboutins.

Thoughts

Worn out from life in quarantine, and never ending political and civil strife, Paris for One is part female empowerment, part escapism, and could be just the distraction you have been looking for. I am a sucker for anything Parisian, and impulsively tossed this book into my online shopping cart without even bothering to read the reviews. My instincts ended up being right on, as this collection is a series of delightful, breezy reads that will help take the edge off a tough week of scrolling through social media and wondering where we all went wrong. 

Moyes seems fully aware that sometimes all you need is a little mental escape. She fills her stories with relatable, “every woman” type characters—which excuses her a little for placing some of them in pretty predictable situations. An excellent example of this comes in the form of the titular story where Englishwoman Nell’s failed Parisian getaway turns surprisingly into just what the doctor ordered for her overly stable existence. It’s a familiar theme, but who hasn’t dreamed of throwing caution to the wind, boarding that flight, and facing adventure head on with a brooding Frenchman on a scooter?

Another playful entry is the sweet and funny “Christmas List,” where a day of shopping leads to something you just can’t buy—a change in attitude. Neither story pushes the envelope in the genre, but they made me smile, and just because they are familiar doesn’t make them any less fun!  

Wisely though, Moyes does switch gears by adding a little drama and introspection into the collection with “Bird in the Hand” and “Love in the Afternoon.” Exploring the complexities of married life, these stories ground the collection from flying off into a Parisian cotton candy cloud filled sky. In both, Moyes reminds us that sometimes things do happen for a reason, and the grass may not be greener on the other side when it comes to life and love.

Moyes’s writing style is straightforward and uncomplicated, which makes this the perfect easy read for a lazy Sunday afternoon…or Monday through Saturday given the current state of the world! While these aren’t stories you will be pondering days later, it’s clear that they weren’t meant to be. So curl up in your favorite chair with Paris for One and indulge yourself with a few life-changing fantasies. My guess is you deserve just that! 

Book Review

Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light by Apryl Stott

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s Literature
Pages: 40
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

This year has been exceptionally stressful. I’m not going to sugarcoat it—life has just hit every single person with a thick, hard, brick. However, in the “season of giving,” no book could be more suited to bring some light in the darkness than Apryl Stott’s Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light. This children’s book is a perfect holiday gift or family read both because of its winter-esque imagery, but also its message. As opposed to telling the stories of typical holiday novels and children’s books, this picture book takes the reader on the journey of a young girl named Coco and her best animal friend, Bear (who is also a bear). Coco and Bear go around the woods attempting to share gifts with the other forest friends to show how kind and loving Bear is, despite his grizzly appearance. However, when this doesn’t work, Coco and Bear discover that kindness and light isn’t about tangible gifts, but continuous selfless actions for others. 

Thoughts

I remember reading Christmas stories when I was a kid at school, or seeing The Grinch and A Christmas Carol on T.V. However, I didn’t really appreciate the value of such stories because they were continuously played. However, this Christmas I wanted to revisit my childhood and longed for a story that would bring light in the darkest of years and emphasize one thing everyone needs in life—kindness. 

For adults, this book may be simplistic—however, if you look deeper than the short script and thin pages, you’ll find characteristic artwork, a heartwarming plot, and an inspiring message. The truth is books like Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light are not just for children because it conveys a strong message in simple language; one that is too-often forgotten. Coco and Bear could not have been more different, but they were connected by their inherent friendship. That love is what ultimately allows the other forest animals to see Bear better: it wasn’t elaborate gifts or active promotion of how good Bear was, but their actions that demonstrated Bear’s character. I appreciated this message, not only because of the tense and stressful climate of the past year, but especially because it is the holiday season. It is not about what we physically give others, but how we show respect and kindness to our family, our peers, our neighbors, and most of all to strangers.

I’m not going to tell you how this book ends, but I will note that perhaps this holiday season we can all bring light and kindness to our friends, family, strangers, and most importantly ourselves. And remember this season and as we approach the new year—“When life gets dark as winter’s night, share some kindness, bring some light.”

Book Review

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4.7/5 stars

Summary

Ages ago, the Empire was saved from the clutches of the tyrannical Alanga by the ancestors of the current ruler. But a new evil looms over the islands.

The emperor is slipping. He is leaving more and more administrative responsibilities with his constructs—magical automata created from parts of human and animal carcasses. These constructs can be programmed to follow any sequence of commands. But they are powered by bone shard magic.

Every year, young children of the islands are rounded up for the Tithing festivals. A small shard of bone is taken from each child’s skull and stored in the emperor’s vault. One day the shard might be used to power a construct. Then the owner of the shard will start to feel their life leaking out of them slowly until years later they die.

On the Imperial Island, Lin, the emperor’s daughter, suffers from amnesia after an accident. She knows her father is failing to protect the people of the empire. She wants to become the next emperor and save the empire, but she must regain her memory before the emperor can trust her to be an effective ruler. Meanwhile, she has to wait and watch Bayan, the emperor’s foster son, get trained to be the heir.

Jovis, an infamous smuggler with a price on his head, is out on a boat after finding a clue that might lead him to his missing wife. He plans to search every island and every other boat in the Endless Sea till he finds her. But he inadvertently rescues a boy from a Tithing festival and finds himself the new face of hope for parents and guardians of young children.

On Nephilanu Island, Ranami and Phalue are struggling with their relationship. Ranami steps into a dangerous path to alleviate the condition of the people of the island; a path on which Phalue, as the governor’s daughter, cannot easily meet her. Phalue is empathetic but obtuse due to her privilege. She sincerely believes the tax and ownership rules imposed by her father on farmers are fair. But she is scared of losing the love of her life, so she decides to risk her position and her father’s trust by reluctantly joining Ranami in her mission.

Thoughts

As the first book in a trilogy, this post-adolescent fantasy novel is inviting and engaging. I found the concept of using bone shard magic to power constructs particularly fascinating because it sounded like an ancient form of artificial intelligence. The engravings on a bone shard determine the commands that the construct will follow. These engravings can be combined in different ways to form a more complex set of instructions. This is just like programming an AI agent!

The young adventurers in this story are all interesting in different ways. They have had a variety of experiences and each one has a unique skillset. Their names suggest their ethnicities also differ slightly, which is uncommon in a medieval-based fantasy novel.

The backdrop of the story is an empire on the verge of collapsing into anarchy. Against that, the dialogues on social justice and equality taking place in the story make it clear that the narrative has a strong inclination to democratic principles. The dynamics between the monarchy and the revolutionary element among the people will make the next two books interesting to read, especially if new forms of magic are introduced. It would also be interesting to meet new characters in the next book. I am looking forward to the sequel.



Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

Guantanamo Voices By Sarah Mirk

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Nonfiction, Journalism, Anthology, Graphic Novel
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Guantanamo Bay is often regarded as the world’s most infamous prison. Some believe it to be a place of unspeakable suffering that America continues to justify. Others hold firm to the belief that those held in this former refugee camp are criminals who deserve to remain there. But what was it like for the soldiers, prisoners, and lawyers who worked closely with this infamous prison?

Sarah Mirk, a multimedia journalist whose work focuses on sharing diverse human-focused stories, shows us what it was like by detailing nine accounts from inside Guantanamo Bay. From the conflicting emotions of those who worked at the prison, to the abuse and daily struggles of the prisoners as they fought to return home, to the lawyers and advocates who fought day and night to free them, this anthology strives to provide readers with a nuanced perspective of one of America’s most complex and controversial institutions.

Thoughts

I came into this book with my own opinions on Guantanamo Bay already formed and fully expecting this book to agree with them—as such I was pleasantly surprised when this book not only subverted my expectations, but left me questioning my views. Sarah Mirk’s diverse collection of interviews allowed this book to address all aspects of Guantanamo Bay and brought a humanizing element to a story that is often viewed in black and white terms. I firmly believe that anyone, whether in favor of Guantanamo Bay or not, could benefit from reading Guantanamo Voices. Those who believe that Guantanamo Bay is a prison for only the worst of the worst would greatly benefit from hearing the story of Moazzam Begg, a Guantanamo prisoner who was held for three years without ever being charged with a crime while his wife and children were left behind. By the same token, those who condemn those who work within Guantanamo would benefit from hearing the story of Matt Diaz, a Navy Veteran who struggled with his duty as a soldier and his personal belief that what they were doing in Guantanamo Bay was wrong. Regardless of belief, Guantanamo Voices is written so that anyone can gain perspective into the controversial history of Guantanamo Bay.

One of the more unique aspects of this book is that it is written in a graphic novel format. This uncommon format for a nonfiction book is utilized to show the different perspectives of each interview, as each section has a slightly altered art style to reflect the different perspectives. This gives each interview its own sense of storytelling, allowing for the distinctions of each person’s story to shine through. This style also allows for a visualization of the treatment of the prisoners, allowing for some truly heartbreaking scenes. The one that sticks with me the most is from Moazzam Begg, who was imprisoned while his wife was three months pregnant. He breaks down crying after a soldier informs him that his wife gave birth without him present, and the imagery in the scene is incredibly powerful.

The first and last chapters of this book detail Sarah Mink’s personal trip to Guantanamo Bay. While not as emotionally stirring as the other stories told in this book, it does provide a look into Guantanamo Bay today. The secrecy and isolation of the base helped me to understand the isolation described in the interviews, and showed just how frightening Guantanamo Bay really could be. These sections also helped establish Sarah Mink’s journey from hearing about Guantanamo Bay to interviewing those who were involved, and finally visiting Guantanamo herself. Her personal journey comes full circle within these two chapters, giving the book a sense of narrative rather than just consisting of a collection of interviews.

Guantanamo Voices fully embodies the complicated factors that lead to places like Guantanamo Bay. It tackles the fears created by 9/11, the pain of the prisoners who lost decades of their lives, and the struggles of those on the outside to spark any policy change. I rarely step outside of my personal tastes in books, but I am so glad that I did, because Guantanamo Voices‘s human perspective on an often controversial and divisive topic truly touched me, and I look forward to seeing what other topics Sarah Mirk may choose to address.


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices

Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: Nonfiction, Spiritual, Self-Help
Pages: 224
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Could walking your dog be a spiritual experience? Is it possible to turn your yoga or Crossfit class into a community? Can reverently reading the Harry Potter books or watching your favorite movie transform your life?

According to Casper Ter Kuile it can, and will. In The Power of Ritual, Harvard Divinity School Fellow Ter Kuile discusses why people have often flocked to religion for ritual, purpose, and community. Yet, with an increasing number of people listing themselves as “nones,” how can one find rituals and traditions to sustain, nurture, and fortify themselves? Ter Kuile explores how everyday activities such as eating, walking, showering, watching a movie, reading, and gathering are all powerful rituals that can heal and energize. From exercise and connection with nature to tech sabbaths, he provides ways to turn the ordinary into a transcendent experience.

Thoughts

There is a strong vein of religion and theology running throughout The Power of Ritual, which is understandable considering the topic of spirituality. For some, spirituality does look like what most of us visualize— going to church and participating in the corresponding rituals. This book, however, is not necessarily for those people. This instruction manual is for the “nones,” those without a dedicated denomination, who are remixing their lives by taking from the old and adding in the new.  

One of the many interesting rituals that Ter Kuile outlines within this book is the concept of a Tech Sabbath. Closely aligned with the Jewish tradition of Sabbath, his tech version involves shutting down digitally for a 24-hour period. Friday at sundown he stows away his phone and laptop, refusing to engage with them until Saturday at sundown. For a lot of us, this would require massive amounts of willpower, and even Ter Kuile admits to slip-ups now and again. Still, the clarity he receives from this practice (every week!) more than makes up for any type of FOMO, and he uses the time to journal, read, and reflect. 

If this seems too daunting a prospect, not to worry. I found his other suggestions to be far more manageable, and most of the time the activities are ones you already engaged in. All that is required to make an ordinary activity a “ritual” is to put intention behind it. This is something he discusses at length when it comes to building community, connecting to nature, and even watching a film. As one of the founders of the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, Ter Kuile specializes in making a movie night a revelatory and ritualistic experience.

The Power of Ritual easily mixes in history and theology discussions with pop culture references to make the reading enjoyable without getting too mystic or preachy. It really is about turning what you are already doing into a tradition, ritual, or sacred experience. There are some action items on how to get started, and a framework for prayer (it may look a little different than you think!). Pilgrimages are discussed at length, changing my perspective on what that actually looks like. Spoiler: you don’t have to travel across the globe to complete one, just as far as your door!

I, myself, was surprised at how many rituals I am already engaged in. From my morning journaling to decompressing in the shower, Ter Kuile’s theories ring true. This book will certainly cause you to reflect on those activities, and help you reframe how you participate in them. I did balk at his suggestion to think about your own death. While I am not one to shy away from the eventuality of death, I am just a little apprehensive about telling myself “I might die today.” That statement’s purpose is to remind you (and yes, there’s an app for that) to be grateful for your life and the gifts you have. But I am still not sure I can, on a daily basis, tell myself this.

At this moment, many have found their spiritual practices being curtailed. The pandemic and all the uncertainty it brings has restricted many of the social gatherings, pilgrimages, exercise routines, and religious rituals. Yet, perhaps by utilizing some of the ideas set forth in The Power of Ritual, you may be able to bring some harmony and tradition back into your life!


Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review. 

Book Review

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Publisher: Dial Press
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

This story is about a set of fraternal twins, Noah and Jude, as they begin to navigate young adulthood. The two share a love for art—but  Noah is very open about sharing his artistic ability, while Jude tends to keep her talent to herself. Despite being extremely close as children, their relationship begins to shift as tensions rise in each of their personal lives. Further pressuring them is the impending application deadline for a prestigious art school that both twins applied to. 

As their lives progress, Noah and Jude are each faced with their own set of challenges that push them further away from one another. In addition, they begin to lose sight of their own identities. Just as it appears that things couldn’t get any worse, an unanticipated disaster strikes, changing both of their lives in the aftermath. Will something—or someone—bring them back together?

Thoughts

This novel was recommended to me by one of my close friends. I had never heard of it, and as such dove in without many preconceived expectations. To my excitement, the novel was not slow to start and it wasn’t long before I was fully immersed in the stories of each of the two protagonists. Both were very accessible characters, mostly because of the book’s multi-narrative format. Reading from each character’s point of view added a lot of relatability to the novel—I was able to empathize with both Noah and Jude and became invested in each of their stories. 

Perhaps one of my favorite components of this story was the way art was used to develop the theme of personal identity. Throughout the novel, art is something both of the twins use as a form of self-expression and communication. However, Noah and Jude are both dynamic characters—and their relationship to artwork changes as part of their development. At the beginning of the story, both use art as a way to express themselves, privately. By the end of the novel, each character has learned to use art to communicate who they are as people and as a mode to display how they want to be seen. I loved reading as each of the characters experienced this shift in perspective. It even influenced the way I viewed my own ideas concerning creative expression. 

Adding to the novel’s magic are many beautiful quotes riddled throughout. One of the most notable is “We were all heading for each other on a collision course, no matter what. Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story.” In the context of the story, this signifies that fate may play a role in Noah and Jude’s relationship. No matter how hard they try to distance themselves from one another, they continue to be pulled back together by some unseen force. Although this may not be the case for all real-life relationships, I think it serves as an interesting examination of what causes some people to fall back into each other’s lives, no matter the circumstance.

I removed half a star from my rating of this book because it romanticizes life a little bit too much for my taste at some points. Although it was a great escape from reality, there are some parts of the story that are too overtly chauvinistic to take seriously. I do think the story offers a lot of profound insight on the meaning of life and relationships—but some are too whimsical to buy into. That being said, the moments where the book misses the mark are few and far between, and it didn’t impact the story’s readability at all. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thought-provoking and heartwarming story.