Book review

If I Stay... - A Book Review

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

There are times when I pick up a book simply because I've heard the title so many times.  The media has gotten their claws on it and they are filling corners with a certain title.  To be honest, this persuasion usually leads to a horrible read, leaving me upset and frustrated over the wasted time.  I always tell myself I won't be sucked into that phenomenon again, but alas, I have yet to truly learn my lesson.  That all being said when  I sat down with the popular If I Stay... novel  by Gayle Forman, I was pleasantly surprised.

They style of If I Stay... is completely different than any book I've picked up since I as in school and it was a pleasant change of pace because of that.  This piece of fiction takes a look into a world that many people fear and most of us have no clue as to how it would work.  Forman has crafted a story that looks at the choice to stay alive or to leave this world, and we aren't talking about suicide at all.

If I Stay.... by Gayle Forman    A Book Review on Reading List

Story Overview 

If I Stay is a young adult novel that follows Mia as she is forced to decide between living and following her family into the world after life.  Mia and her family are in a horrific crash that takes the lives of her mother, father and brother.  The story comes in a series of thoughts and flashbacks as Mia struggles with the choice to open her eyes and join the world again or let go and follow her family. As Gayle Forman says, even those this is a book dealing with death on almost every page, love is at the heart of the story. Somehow that love keeps such a heavy subject matter from crushing the reader.

Personal Likes

I really enjoyed the point of view and voice that Mia gives us in this book.  She is in a coma in a hospital throughout the book.  There isn't a ton of action, with the exception of the car crash that kicks of the events of this story, and yet the voice keeps pulling us forward waiting to see what Mia decides. 

There are so many books about death, about giving up and wishing for a quick escape.  And yet the idea that death separates us from the world, meaning we will have to leave some of this world behind no matter what is on the other side of life (granted I do believe that heaven is waiting for those of us who know Jesus, and therefore that side will be amazing...) doesn't seem to be in those stories ever.  That is not the case in If I Stay. In fact Mia wrestles over that exact point through the entire book - is it better to try to live with those people still alive, to make an impact on the world, or is it better to let go and find the unknown beyond life.

This book explores the idea that our will is powerful. Ultimately it suggests, that we can will ourselves to live through anything. So on that concept, it is easy to ponder just how significant it is to let go of our human will and bend into God's will - what a gift to the One who created and sacrificed to show us love.

If I Stay....  A Book Review on Reading List

Personal Dislikes

My main dislike on this book was that with the subject of death as the focus, I felt like heaven and God should have found a way in, naturally. Yes I know that this is a secular book, but it seems that no matter what a person claims to believe during the mundane routine of life, when death is staring him in the face God, heaven and faith always creep in.  And that was missing in this book completely.

Also, this was obviously a young adult novel - the phrases were one hundred percent directed to the current young adult audience.  It made me realize that I am certainly past that stage of life, and while this might not be a bad thing, I felt like the author missed out on allowing her book to speak to generations. But that is the thing about writing, we get to pick our audiences and we can write to them alone if we so choose.  So this is a minor drawback.

Reasons to Read

As a Christian, this might not be at the top of your to read list.  It deals with a subject that we are not as afraid of, at least I would hope you have found security in your faith...  However, it is a popular book, in fact it's a movie (I haven't seen the movie as of yet...) now!  So there is a chance that if you have a teenager this might sneak into her to read list.  And that is why you should at least be willing to read this one.

This book allows us the chance to discuss death with some of the crushing emotion that is inevitable. As parents we should be interested in our children's thoughts and feelings on death and the afterlife. And there is no denying that this book opens up that discussion. 

Besides, it is a fun read, and quick.  Who knows, maybe you'll be confronted with your own fears over death....

Reading List Rating

Overall, I did like this book. There were some good ideas explored, and for teenagers it opened up thought on a subject that many ignore!  But there were many times where the memories, flashbacks and thoughts seemed extremely disjointed, so I have to give this a rating of three hearts.  
three heart rating from Reading List

My Suggested Audience

This is a young adult fiction piece according to the publishers, and I can totally agree with young adult, and not really preteen lit. The topics of death and afterlife, love and family are explored with the depth that will sit better with a mature reader.  While the scenes are fairly clean and there is little in the way of sexual or violent scenes. However the tone and the subject matter can sit heavy on a young mind and heart, so I recommend readers that are at least 14 years old in maturity.

While the subject of death is one that impacts all of us, I do think that many adults could gain a ton from this book.  Fair warning though, that Mia is a young girl and her voice is young... 

 Have you discussed with your kids death and heaven? Did they surprise you with their thoughts? Do you think books that explore heavy topics, like death, are necessary for teenagers to read?

I'd love to hear from you, please leave me a little note!

Marissa @ Reading List

**If you are considering purchasing this book, please consider using the affiliate link here and support Reading List in the process. 

***If you're interested in writing a book review on Reading List, please message me on the Facebook page! If you're curious about a book, ask me...  I love to hear from you!

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Bible study

Gideon: A Review

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The story of Gideon leading a tiny army of three hundred against the Midianite army and then defeating them without using any real weapons is one that stands out in the Bible. However, I've never done much beside read through it quickly, probably because it's in the middle of Judges in the Old Testament, and seriously I am not an OT Bible Study person.  It is just too much for me!

So when my church group put this up for the study last session, I was sure I would never make it through the entire study.  I would be bored, or in way over my head and give up.  Surprisingly enough I loved it!  Priscilla Shirer's Gideon: Your Weakness, God's Strength was an amazing study that truly reached in deep into scripture to force participants to reevaluate their relationships with God.

Priscilla is down to earth and knows the pressure of raising kids while keeping up a home and caring for a husband, not to mention keeping up with a career for the Lord.  She admits to times when she's messed up or when sin and the broken world have overwhelmed her, which allows the participant to feel a real connection to a teacher in a forum that could alienate the participant.

There is so much in this study, I could do a whole series, but then you might not set up this study for your own group, and that would be a shame. So here's my review, and let me know if you are a Priscilla Shirer study fan also.

Study Overview

This is a video lead group study that focuses on the three chapters in Judges that tell the story of Gideon.  The study has seven video sessions with six weeks of daily homework. The study is taught by Priscilla Shirer.

The homework takes about fifteen to twenty-five minutes a day, five days week. So while there is a considerable amount of time needed to complete, you do not leave the study without being stretched spiritually, which is a great thing!

Priscilla does a great job of incorporating historical information along with a verse breakdown of the events shown in these three quick chapters. No matter where you are in your faith journey, she will make a point that will make you stop and really think about your relationship with Jesus. 

Personal Likes

This was my second study that Priscilla Shirer taught, and I'm still a fan.  She is a great Christian woman for women today. She has a spunk in her voice as she shares what she has gleaned through the Word and is passionate in helping others dig in deep.

The study really did pull so much out of three chapters that many people know in some form. It's the great underdog story of the Bible, second probably only to David and Goliath.  I certainly was well acquainted with the bargaining with God where Gideon asks for the dew to be on the grass one night and then the next night asks for the dew to be on the mat only... So it was nice to see all the details of the whole story flushed out and presented in a light I'm not sure I would have seen otherwise.

I also enjoyed the digging deeper sections where Priscilla had some great details on the historical nature of equipment, status and such to help add to the Bible's account.

Ordinary is often the disguise of the divine.   Gideon: A Review on Reading List

Personal Dislikes

I know I've said this over and over, but man there was a ton of homework!  I have three little ones underfoot and more responsibility than I'd care to count, so to take a good thiry-ish minutes to work through the study homework always seemed daunting.  Yet I pulled through and it was rewarding.

Also I struggled with the end of each section recap question. The question never seemed to directly follow the study in a way that lead me to think over it throughout the day.  I'm sure for some it was perfect though, just a personal issue.

Another minor point was with the video - the filler music of the menu screens was this campfire/wilderness noise. It just grated me, mostly because it filled the background during the group meeting times. I know that isn't really a major fault... 

Reasons to Read

This study is great at making you really dig into your own belief system and make sure you are allowing God to be the rightful leader in all aspects of your life.  It is so easy to see success while following God and then we lose our humble spirit and pride creeps in because we've tasted a small bit of success. Even paying lip service to God is not enough. We have to have the right heart attitude. This study helps you dig in deep and see where you're only paying lip service and not really following His lead and plan. 

Reading List Rating

I'm giving this study five hearts, because I really did glean so much from it.  And to be honest, if you do the work and stick with it, I don't think anyone can walk away from this study without being changed at least a little.

My Suggested Audience

I'd say this is a great large group study. Since there are videos, you would need to be able to invest some money into it, but in a large group that isn't so hard to do.  Plus there are many discussion questions and topics through out the study and more minds always make those discussions more rich.

Also I would say that mothers, of any age, would get the most out of Priscilla's personal stories and vantage point. 

Do you enjoy being part of large Bible studies? Does homework keep you involved, or is it a hurdle that keeps you from taking part?

I'd love to hear from you, please leave me a little note!

Marissa @ Reading List

**If you are considering purchasing this book, please consider using the affiliate link here and support Reading List in the process. 

***If you're interested in writing a book review on Reading List, please message me on the Facebook page! Of you're curious about a book, ask me...  I love to hear from you!

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Book review

Red Queen : A Review

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

As my kids are growing up, and school reading lists are making there way into our house, I'm finding myself drawn to more popular fiction again.  As I have always loved literature, I'm very particular about the level of writing I pick up, in case you are used to my past reviews, I am not very forgiving on books that are not edited well and all my favorites in fiction need to have well developed characters and extensive settings.  I think this speaks to classic literature.

That being said, I've been drawn to popular literature again.  I'm reading it mostly because so many young readers are allowing literature (and other forms of media) to have a say in their development.  Personally, I think that literature is a great source to allow for self discovery and to open the lines of discussion on new ideas.

As parents, we have a great responsibility to guiding our kids in their development, but at some point they will search out other mediums to guide them - why not literature?  So if we can read similar books that they might be interested in, we have the chance to have great discussions on life and humanity and faith that we might lose otherwise.

Red Queen was released just a few months ago (February 2015) and it was met with a great amount of praise. It is a wonderfully weaved story that brings up the issues of power, loyalty, status and courage.

Red Queen

Story Overview

No surprise that this book is getting a ton of hype, as the story concept echoes many popular fiction pieces from recent literature and back (Think Red Rising... The Hunger Games... Game of Thrones... the like...). Mare Barrow, the heroine, is a Red, and as a red, she is in the lower class. The upper class, Silvers, are likened to gods, as they have special capabilities, powers.  As a result the reds are subjects in this fantasy world.  The reds of course are treated poorly and there are many hints throughout the story about an organized uprising against the Silvers by the reds... maybe even reds that somehow have powers too...  

Anyway, through some twists Mare ends up publicly displaying her own magic ability in the middle of a kingdom wide event that is searching for suitable mates for the royal family's two sons.  This twist is of course not acceptable to the Silvers as a Red simply cannot be equal to the Silvers.  

The story then follows Mare as she is forced to become a Silver, the royal family fabricates a story about her heritage. She has to let go of her past and her family as she tries to fit into a role that is not for her.  

A love story is at heart of Red Queen - Cal (the Prince) is drawn to Mare, as he simply cares for people and is clearly attracted to her.  Then Maven, the younger prince, becomes Mare's mate (all part of her cover story). So through her own insecurities and attempts to obey the commands of the queen, Mare allows herself to trust Maven.

Of course there are some great plot twists that allow for this book to be the perfect opening to a trilogy that is coming. 

Personal Likes

I loved the pace of this story.  Once you, as a reader, are able to accept this fantasy world and society structure, you can get whipped into a trilling story as Mare tries to figure out who she can trust, including herself. Mare is a great character, in that she has the qualities most teenage girls often feel... dealing with surprising self discoveries over her body and her feelings toward boys. Plus she desperately wants a place to belong and find her place in. 

I also appreciated Cal's character. Here is a young man who was raised to be loyal to his family, and the family role as the royal family. He sees his kingdom full of people who need to be protected and cared for.  He desperately wants to make his father proud, while dealing with a step-mother and step-brother. He cares deeply and feels deeply.  You can clearly see how his kind heart shapes his actions and thoughts. 

Personal Dislikes

Personally I wish there had been more back story on world the story takes place in.  There seem to be some ill-thought through concepts that tie back to the world and the powers of the Silvers. Of course I understand the need for suspended belief in a fantasy story.  However, I just wanted more clarity in how the Silvers got to be so powerful, magical even.  

Also, there are some complaints over the authors technique in writing, specifically her descriptions - they are full of flourish.  I can see where people get this from... And while this is different than many popular stories right now, there is something refreshing in an author who isn't afraid to use more words to clarify the tableau she is establishing. If only she could have spent some of her words on the history.... 

Reasons to Read

This book is a great tool for opening conversations with your teenagers on finding out who you are, and then being loyal to your personal standards and morals.  The story of the royals allows for points to be discussed on leading others, and how our actions will effect others, while simultaneously showing how we must be prepared for the actions of others to possibly disappoint us. 

Another great point in Red Queen is the points made towards humanism, and how people have value. What a great way to use popular fiction with your kids to point straight to scripture.  Use this story to lead you and your kids to Ecclesiastes.  Allow your discussion to look at the similarities of this story to the idea that humans are really no better off than beasts, and how as a result social class form, and in those classes people are made low and unworthy of certain respect. Make the point of how God sees us, and what we are called to do when we are given the opportunity to act superior... 

Reading List Rating

I'm going to give this book five hearts because I really enjoyed it.  I do feel that this book was well written, especially considering it is Victoria Aveyard's first book.  And I can see how many can get drawn into this captivating story.

My Suggested Audience

I'd suggest this book for kids 12 and older.  There is violence and death, so be prepared, however the concepts are popular and allow for great openings in discussions that young teenagers should be pondering as they prepare to stand more independently. While I think girls would be more drawn to this story, there is certainly enough action and fighting to keep boys in on this story. 

Of course adults can get into this book also - it is full of fantasy, science fiction, and action.  

Have you taken the opportunity to use popular fiction to open up discussions with your teenagers about scripture?  Do your kids even want to talk to you about the books they pick up?

I'd love to hear from you, please leave me a little note!

Marissa @ Reading List

**If you are considering purchasing this book, please consider using the affiliate link here and support Reading List in the process. 

***If you're interested in writing a book review on Reading List, please message me on the Facebook page! Of you're curious about a book, ask me...  I love to hear from you!

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