Vacation Bible School

I received – not to Current Resident, but to myself personally – an Oriental Trading catalog of Vacation Bible School supplies. If signing me up for this was someone’s prank, it was a brilliant one. This is a thoroughly disturbing and delightful catalog.

I hadn’t thought of it in years, but I did go to Vacation Bible School when I was five. It was at the same Methodist church where I went to kindergarten, and it was basically the same as kindergarten – an afternoon of Bible stories, naps and being kept out of my parents’ hair. I do remember being scared by and with God at the Methodist church, but no one meant any harm, and for a Mississippian, I got off easy. When I was a teenager, I volunteered for an Episcopalian VBS, which just involved mild supervision of pretty well-behaved kids. There were no alarming doctrines propagated there by the friendly Whiskeypalians.

There was, to be sure, no ridiculous plastic bullshit at any VBS that I remember, nothing at all like what is being sold by Oriental Trading. I took pictures of the catalog; although of course there is a website, it doesn’t carry the uniquely American flavor of madness that the paper catalog does.

walkhisway

A man died on a cross. His name was Yeshua bar Miriam, and he was killed, depending on who you ask, because he threatened the power of Rome, or he threatened his fellow Jews, or he was fulfilling the will of God, for he was the Word made Flesh. Although I am not quite up on all doctrine, I am fairly certain he was not killed for one amazing deal at a time.

waterfall

Was he killed to cleanse elementary schoolers of the sins of sassmouth and laziness? Again, I personally cannot clarify the point.

blindman

Children did have jointed puppets and instructional toys long before the days of Yeshua bar Miriam. Yeshua would probably recognize these and their purpose. Why the children of an expatriated collection of Celts, Iberians, Picts, Alemanni, Nubians and Asians are raised to have any interest in his doings would take a good deal longer to explain to him.

science

The “Divine Discoveries” kit is a cargo-cult science line for magnifying bugs, or creating baking soda volcanoes, or anything else that allows a little paddling around the niftiness of science without asking any of the questions that science is, in fact, the very process of asking. A wacky mad-scientist outfit, along with “funny nerd glasses,” is available to demonstrate to children that scientists are goofy ridiculous characters, who really can’t be taken very seriously after all.

secretagent

Kids love playing secret agent games. But playing secret agent means you’re hiding secrets from someone – running from someone. An adversary. An enemy. Who? It’s not mentioned in these pages. I suspect it is, more or less, me: a secular humanist, someone who will not make you play these games in order to be considered good, to be worthy of love.

My review for KBR of Logos by John Neeleman

NOTE: The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.

Like many of those who wandered away from Christianity, I am fascinated by any close examination of the life and times of Yeshua bar Miriam. This well-researched, sprawling historical novel (and yes, it is required to describe historical novels over a certain length as “sprawling”) aims to put the reader deeply in first-century Palestine and Rome, when people first came to debate among themselves what Yeshua was.

The hero, Jacob, begins as the weakest point in the novel. He is too much of an Everyman, too eager to fight for the right at every turning point in the dark history of Jerusalem’s revolt against Rome, and too easily taken to the bosom of major historical figures.

Nonetheless, the pace picks up considerably when Jacob stumbles across the story of Jesus as the Christ. Then the novel offers a fascinating rendering of life with the Essenes and with pre-Islamic Bedouins, and becomes a much more compelling read. The novel’s theory of the “invention” of Christianity as a syncretic, Hellenized religion is thoroughly plausible. I recommend this read as a primer or a companion primer for those with an interest in the birth of Christianity.

My review of At the End of the Line by Kathryn Longino for The Kindle Book Review

NOTE: The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.

In this cinematic novel of the ’50s and ’60s, Beanie, a teenage Mormon girl, is sold into plural marriage by her parents. Desperate, she tries to make a long-distance call to the only person she knows outside the hell of Utah. It’s a wrong number. Instead, she reaches an aristocratic Boston lady who has been chafing at the confines of her manicured life. The lady hears the panic in her voice, responds with concern and with kindness – and their years-long story begins.

The beginning of the novel is suspenseful, heartrending, difficult to turn away from. The main characters, Beanie and Adeline, are well-drawn and appealing, although Adeline is the only one who is complicated and occasionally unlikable. Beanie’s evolution into a civil rights worker is too quickly done, especially for a girl who would have been taught all her life that African-Americans were lesser beings in God’s sight. The ending twist is too neat by half; life is never wrapped up so neatly – and yet there was a great deal of potential in it.

This book is a quick, gripping read that would make a fine movie, if it avoided making Nice White Ladies of Beanie and Adeline. I would give it 3.85 stars if I could.

My review of A Curse Upon the Saints by J. Rutger Madison for KBR

NOTE: The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.

As a Mississippi sf/f author, I am perhaps biased by my delight at finding another one. This was only the first thing to delight me about Madison’s book. A Curse Upon the Saints is a dark, rugged fantasy, the first block of book laid down for an edifice of epic. This is a world shattered by religious war and interspecies rivalries. The vicious goat-men who appear in the first pages of the novel, the Sarbarah, are demonically cruel, but not entirely without honor or tenderness. The most appealing of the protagonists – a lawyer, of all people, who is enslaved by an invading army of Sarbarah – is allowed to survive because he happens to play the flute. Through his patience and cunning, he manages to purvey this tiny influence into a perilous position of power.

The author cheerfully acknowledges the influence of George R.R. Martin in this sprawling work. The depth of intrigue and worldbuilding make this the same kind of addictive setting as Westeros. The dialogue could have used some polishing, and the various sniping factions are often confusing, but this is not enough to keep one from turning the pages. I would give this 4 1/2 stars if I could, and I look forward to seeing more.

My review for KBR of Where Tomorrow Waits by Din Ka

NOTE: The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.

The sheer scale of the brutality of the Cambodian genocide makes one gape, useless. It is blank, incomprehensible, a sheer mountain of skulls. This novel approaches it through a young girl’s life, one full at first of universal family traumas, dark personal secrets, money troubles. The heroine Dara’s life is far from an idyll, but the sudden rise of the Khmer Rouge is a wave of madness, sweeping aside every hope of stability she had.
A compelling story and a powerful, observant protagonist make this a difficult book to set aside. The absurd, murderous “agrarian society” of the Khmer Rouge is even harder for the mind to set aside, after reading. Although the prose is often pedestrian and the pace drags near the end, Dara’s story has genuine resonance, and the book is well worth a read.

To be the body of the state

An image of a “virtual autopsy” of Tutankhamun has been released in order to promote a new BBC documentary. It’s breathtaking.

Here is the image of the man – so barely a man – as the king that he truly was. How do I say “that he truly was”? Is that not cruel, dismissive, ableist? We could never say of an ordinary disabled person, or indeed of any person, that she “was” her body. But a pharaoh’s body was the body of the state. He was a god; his flesh was supposed to be of gold, his hair of lapis lazuli. At his jubilee festivals, the king ran ritual laps around a track to mark the boundaries of his kingdom. He was the Mighty Bull, the Horus and the resurrected Osiris.

And there he was, little Tutankhamun, the son of a brother and sister, the last male left in the path of his father’s wake of destruction. The sickness and suffering at the heart of the kingdom must have struck everyone that looked on him – except, perhaps, for his half-sister-wife. Ankhesenamun’s virtual autopsy will probably never exist in this detail, but if it did, it would no doubt look much like this one with a wig on top.

What it was to be Tutankhamun is inextricable from what it is to see, to inhabit, this body.

My review for KBR of My Name Is Thank-You by Kaizen Love

NOTE: The Kindle Book Review received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review. We are not associated with the author or Amazon.

This is a warm and immediately engaging story of two young African-American girls, one a biracial orphan, and another who, despite her family’s wealth, might as well be an orphan. The sweet, rich narrative voice of the girl named Thank-You drew me in right away, and it was well contrasted with the cool, educated voice of Josephine, the girl who grew up in another world right next to her, in the divided, half-patrician South.

There are some minor flaws. I wondered particularly why a very important choice was never mentioned in the narrative, in regards to Josephine’s health, but it’s impossible to mention here without spoiling the book, and in any case that would have meant a very different story. Nonetheless, this is a great book for young readers, or for anyone who wants something to make them choke up a little as they smile.

– L.T. Patridge (The Kindle Book Review)