Tag Archives: spirituality

Review: Eagle Drums by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson

Eagle Drums by Nasugraq Rainey Hopson

Eagle Drums
Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson
Roaring Brook Press
Published September 12, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Eagle Drums

A magical realistic middle grade debut about the origin story of the Iñupiaq Messenger Feast, a Native Alaskan tradition.

As his family prepares for winter, a young, skilled hunter must travel up the mountain to collect obsidian for knapping―the same mountain where his two older brothers died.

When he reaches the mountaintop, he is immediately confronted by a terrifying eagle god named Savik. Savik gives the boy a follow me or die like your brothers.

What comes next is a harrowing journey to the home of the eagle gods and unexpected lessons on the natural world, the past that shapes us, and the community that binds us.

Eagle Drums by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson is part cultural folklore, part origin myth about the Messenger’s Feast – which is still celebrated in times of bounty among the Iñupiaq. It’s the story of how Iñupiaq people were given the gift of music, song, dance, community, and everlasting tradition.

My Review

I loved the writing style of this book. It reads like a folk tale, with straightforward descriptions and a focus on Piŋa’s family’s traditions and ways of life, and a lyrical feel to it, too. The story follows a boy named Piŋa whose family has lost two sons, both while they were away hunting for the family. He and his parents grieve for that loss, and it still feels very fresh.

When Piŋa goes with the eagle god, he worries his parents will assume he has met the same fate as his brothers, and the drive to get home to them helps keep him going as he faces tasks and challenges set out by his host. Piŋa is an easy character to root for. He does his best to be a good son, and he gets frustrated when he can’t master a new task as quickly as he wants to. Super relatable.

I can definitely see this book appealing to modern audiences and readers who enjoy folktales or historical fiction as well. I think the narrative balances the expectations of young readers and the preservation of folk-style storytelling really well.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Major characters are Native Alaskan, Iñupiaq.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
The main character, Piŋa, meets an eagle god and the god’s family.

Violent Content
Piŋa learns that the eagle god killed both his brothers.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of EAGLE DRUMS in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.

Review: A Song of Salvation by Alechia Dow

A Song of Salvation
Alechia Dow
Bloomsbury YA
Published July 11, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About A Song of Salvation

From the author of THE SOUND OF STARS and THE KINDRED comes a YA space opera about a reincarnated god and a grumpy pilot on a mission to save a beloved space DJ and stop an intergalactic war.
 
Zaira Citlali is supposed to die. After all, she’s the god Indigo reborn. Indigo, whose song created the universe and unified people across galaxies to banish Ozvios, the god of destruction. Although Zaira has never been able to harness Indigo’s powers, the Ilori Emperor wants to sacrifice her in Ozvios’s honor. Unless she escapes and finds Wesley, the boy prophesized to help her defeat Ozvios and the Ilori, once and for all.
 
Wesley Daniels didn’t ask for this. He just wants to work as a smuggler so he can save enough money to explore the stars. Once he completes his biggest job yet—bringing wanted celebrity Rubin Rima to a strange planet called Earth—he’ll be set for life. But when his path crosses with Zaira, he soon finds himself in the middle of an intergalactic war with more responsibility than he bargained for.
 
Together, Zaira, Wesley, and Rubin must find their way to Earth and unlock Zaira’s powers if they’re going to have any hope of saving the universe from total destruction.

My Review

I’ve read both THE KINDRED and THE SOUND OF STARS before and enjoyed them, so I knew I wanted to give this book a try. It’s got the same deep characters and vivid descriptions that made Dow’s other books so great, along with a found family vibe. The story also involves themes about colonization and the spirituality of creativity versus destruction.

One of the things I haven’t seen in the marketing for the book (via a peek at Amazon, Goodreads, and the top Google search results) is that these are maybe companion novels? They exist in the same story world. And they have cameos of characters from both of Alechia Dow’s other YA books. I’m not sure if I’m mixed up or if maybe they aren’t being marketed as companion novels on purpose for some reason?

In any case, you can easily enjoy this book as a standalone. It’s got a bit of romance and social commentary as well as some humor. Rubin and Blobby are my favorite characters. I love that Zaira could communicate with Blobby, and Rubin’s upbeat, always-prepared manner made him such a fun character.

On the whole, I had a great time reading this book. I think fans of Claudia Gray should check out all of Alechia Dow’s books.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Representation
Major characters are Black and Brown.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Contains made-up swear words.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two boys. Kissing between a boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Zaira is a reincarnated god of creation, Indigo, and has supernatural abilities. Ozvios, the god of chaos and destruction is the oppositional spiritual force in the universe. Fish-like creatures called Jadu bestow the ability to see the future to those they bite. Some people have the ability to sense others’ emotions.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. One scene describes a cage fight and a main character participating in one. Fish surround and bite someone. Battle sequences with fatalities. No graphic descriptions.

Drug Content
When people aboard a ship experience fear or anxiety, the ship offers a chemicallent, a substance which calms them when it’s pumped into the air.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of A SONG OF SALVATION in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.

Review: She Deserves Better by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenback, and Joanna Sawatsky

She Deserves Better: Raising Girls to Resist Toxic Teachings on Sex, Self, and Speaking Up
Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenback, and Joanna Sawatsky
Baker
Published April 18, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About She Deserves Better

You want your daughter to thrive–to be strong, confident, and equipped to step into the life God has for her.

But what if the church is setting your daughter up to be small?

Armed with data from an all-new survey of over 7,000 women, the authors of THE GREAT SEX RESCUE reveal how experiences in church as teens affect women’s self-esteem and relationships today. They expose common evangelical teachings that can backfire–the purity emphasis that can cause shame rather than good choices, the dating rules that can prime your daughter for abuse, and the one overarching belief that can keep her from setting healthy boundaries.

Instead, the authors advocate biblically grounded, freeing messages that are more about the dos and less about the don’ts. By reframing (and sometimes replacing) common evangelical messages to teen girls, this book will equip you to raise a daughter who can navigate the tumultuous teenage years while still clinging tightly to Jesus.

You can raise your daughter with the discernment to resist toxic teachings. Because she deserves better than a faith that keeps her small.

“Sheila, Rebecca, and Joanna are an all-star team, confronting the harm done to our daughters in both the church and the world. The title says it all. Full stop. Our daughters deserve better! This book is full of thorough research, refreshingly commonsense biblical wisdom, and practical help on how to talk with our daughters and prepare them for confidence and maturity.”–Aimee Byrd, author of The Sexual Reformation –This text refers to the paperback edition.

Why I’m Reviewing She Deserves Better

I’m finding writing up my review to be a bit overwhelming, so I’m going to break it down into sections to help me focus my thoughts. First, let’s talk about why I decided to review this book.

I was raised in what would now probably be identified as a fundamentalist/evangelical church. To be honest, I had some good and bad experiences there. That complexity sometimes makes it hard for me to sort out my feelings about certain faith-based things. Though I am still myself a Christian, I am not part of the evangelical community. I once heard someone describe her family as Liberal Christians, and I would say that’s a label that’s closer to accurate for me.

Periodically, I dip my toes into the Christian literary market to try to find books and resources that resonate with me and are things I can confidently promote. Sometimes I regret it. But other times I find books that deeply energize me and encourage me in my faith journey.

I first heard about SHE DESERVES BETTER on one of the authors’ Twitter pages during some discourse about church scandals and the treatment of women in the church. As I read more of the posts on the author’s page, I found I agreed with several of her statements. When I noticed she was part of a team of three women who had a book for moms and daughters coming out, I decided to try to get a copy for review.

Rejecting Purity Culture But Replacing It with… What?

My home growing up didn’t adhere to some fundamentalist ideas, (my mom has always been an assertive person who expresses her views, for example) but we were part of a church community that absolutely preached the values and ideas of purity culture.

While I’ve rejected… most? all? I’m not thoroughly sure here… of those ideas, I’ve struggled to find healthier/more reasonable ways to express what I do believe about some of these issues. For example, I recently had a conversation with a family member about the way my daughter dresses. I don’t have a problem with the way she dresses, but this family member had some concerns and related those concerns in the language of purity culture. “She needs to remember there are boys in the house while she’s wearing those things,” etc.

I defended my daughter (the problem seemed to be that she’s young and curvy) and pretty plainly said that I would not make the burden of someone else’s possible thoughts her responsibility. But I struggled to explain my parental boundaries for her clothing choices. I do have them. But they’re about how she feels about herself and what she thinks about her body, not what someone else thinks. Still, I found myself wishing for a resource to help me quantify this and help me reassure my daughter. I also handle wanted better tools to handle people coming at me with purity culture complaints so I can respond in a way I find satisfying.

My Review of She Deserves Better

Lemme give you the nutshell version first. While I didn’t agree 100% with everything the authors said and how they said it, I came pretty close. I loved the premise of the book. I loved the consistent calls to do what is healthy and loving. The authors also state multiple times the importance of being in a church community that is itself healthy and supportive of young women. They go so far as to counsel families to leave churches with toxic teaching because of the potential damage it can cause. I recommend this book to anyone raised in purity culture and/or anyone raising girls in the church today.

Essentially, they studied the effects of the purity culture movement and other teachings that young women in evangelical churches are often still being taught today. A bible verse warns us to look at the outcomes of behavior using the metaphor of trees producing fruit. If a tree produces bad fruit, the tree should be cut down and tossed in the fire. So the authors break down different teachings and looks at the outcomes. For example, they look at the effects of teaching a girl that her outfit choice can cause a man to sin. Does this make her more likely to end up in an abusive marriage? Does it make her more likely to have low self-esteem? To report problems in her sexual relationship? (Yes to all these.) Things like that.

Tools to Process My Own Experiences and Teach My Daughter a Healthier Way

There were certain chapters that read like pages out of my own life. It was honestly pretty eerie. I’ve known for a long time that some things I believed in high school and shortly afterward were wrong and dangerous, but those beliefs absolutely cost me. They left me vulnerable to situations in which bad stuff happened. They left me feeling as though I didn’t have choices in things that happened, and that I didn’t have any allies to whom I could turn for support.

So. Yeah. I don’t want to pass any of that on to my daughter. We’ve done a lot of learning about consent and a lot of teaching about personal boundaries and expectations. All of the things I’ve learned about those topics lined up with what the authors were saying here in SHE DESERVES BETTER.

I loved that again and again the book comes back to asking the question, “what happens to girls who were raised with these teachings?” That’s so important. We know that some of these things are really harmful, and it’s time to stop teaching them, and to push back in spaces where they are still being taught.

Topics Explored in She Deserves Better

Here’s a list of some of the topics/teachings explored in the book:

  • How teachings regarding feelings, especially anxiety and depression, can impact a girl’s health and life.
  • How teachings on boundaries impact girls and the importance of teaching girls they can set personal boundaries and expect them to be respected.
  • How dating and dating rules impact a girl’s lifelong relationships.
  • Learning to and teaching girls to identify red flags for toxic or dangerous people.
  • How a comprehensive sex education empowers girls to be safer and happier longterm.
  • How teachings about consent impact girls (and boys).
  • How teachings about modesty or clothing choices impacts how girls see themselves and others.
  • How teachings about leadership and submission impact girls.

Each chapter gives examples from the authors’ research supporting their assertions. They also offer conversations topics and exercises that moms and daughters could work through together.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Representation
Doesn’t specify race details in any of the text or example stories. The intended audience is evangelical Christians.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
The authors use a metaphor about a candy that tasted delicious but caused explosive diarrhea to describe the harmfulness of teaching that looks or seems biblical at first but is not and causes harm.

Romance/Sexual Content
A fair amount of the book focuses on the way parents and church leaders teach girls about sex and relationships. It discusses how those teachings impact the likelihood of good or bad outcomes (happy marriages versus abusive relationships, etc).

The authors talk about the damage caused by rejecting a child or their feelings if they come to you to reveal their gender or sexual identity. Essentially the authors point out that being a part of a faith community generally lowers a child’s chance of experiencing suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide unless they are LGBTQIA+. Then, participation in a church community actually increases the likelihood they’ll have those thoughts or attempts.

Later on, the authors refer to an LGBTQIA+ identity as an “unwanted identity”. I’m not sure from the context if they’re intending to speak globally or referring to the feelings of homophobic parents.

The authors very plainly ask parents to choose to validate and love their kids no matter the feelings they have. They emphasize the importance of support from within their faith community.

Spiritual Content
The core premise of the book is to approach teachings about sex and modesty in the church and look at their effect on specifically women’s lives. Do those teachings bear good fruit, as described in Matthew 7:17-18?

Violent Content
Brief mentions of domestic violence, assault and abusive relationships.

Drug Content
Mentions of teens drinking alcohol and using drugs (as a negative behavior).

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of SHE DESERVES BETTER in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Her Story, Her Strength by Sarah Parker Rubio

Her Story, Her Strength
Sarah Parker Rubio
Zonderkidz
Published March 7, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Her Story, Her Strength

Girls are beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image. This comprehensive collection of stories focused on 50 women of the Bible shows how God worked in their lives and continues to have a plan and a purpose for his beloved daughters today.

In a world that too often tells girls that they are not enough, HER STORY, HER STRENGTH uses biblical retellings and reflections that include the historical context behind each story to remind young women that they have a God who loves them deeply and empowers them to live and love like he does. For any girl ages 8 and up who is asking questions about her worth, identity, and place in the world and church, this colorful and engaging book provides a positive, loving, and scriptural lens that helps them interpret the messages they receive from their peers, media, and society.

Girls who read HER STORY, HER STRENGTH will:

  • come to a profound, unshakable understanding of God’s love for them and their value in his eyes.
  • see how they reflect God’s image both innately and through the actions, words, and attitudes they choose each day.
  • learn about biblical characters and events in a way designed specifically for them.

My Review

I have some feelings about this book. Let me start by saying that I love the idea of a book filled with the biographies of women from the Bible. I think that’s a really cool idea. Celebrating the lives of women mentioned in the Bible and talking about God valuing women sound like great goals for a book for young readers.

I also love that there’s a cartoon illustration of each of the women or characters profiled in the book. Those show brown-skinned women, and the author comments on this in her biography of Mary. The author points out that artists often depict Mary, Jesus’ mother, with fair skin and blue eyes when she would have looked like someone from the Middle East. I love that the author commented on this.

Was including 50 women’s stories too ambitious?

The book profiles 50 women (including four stories from writings in which a woman is depicted as part of the story rather than being a person who was born and lived). 50 is a pretty ambitious number.

The book includes all the stories I was familiar with as women heroes of the Bible: Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Elizabeth, Mary, etc. And it included some stories that I didn’t remember. One that stood out to me were Shallum’s daughters, who helped him rebuild his section of the wall that would protect the city of Jerusalem even though that was considered the duty of a father and his sons.

The book also included some choices that I thought were odd, like Wisdom, the Woman of Virtue, and the Bride from Song of Songs. Those are not actual women, but are virtues personified as women.

I found myself wishing that instead of 50 stories, the author had chosen a smaller number of stories and focused specifically on the “positive, loving” ways it shows their value in God’s eyes.

Instead, the book feels muddied by the inclusion of stories in which the author has filled in assumptions about the woman’s character or motives that aren’t included in the Bible. There are also stories in which women are treated in harmful, immoral ways and the author doesn’t comment on how God views this treatment.

Assumptions and Lack of Comment on Immoral Treatment of Women

HER STORY, HER STRENGTH also tells the story of Naaman’s servant, a young woman who the book identifies as having been carried off into captivity as one of the “spoils of war”. The general who captured her falls ill, and she suggests he visit a prophet to ask for healing. The virtue identified in the story is her great forgiveness for the captors who enslaved her. That’s quite a lesson to pull from this story. Also, the Bible is not clear about her motivation. It felt like a big leap to assume she spoke up because she forgave her captors and then frame a whole lesson around that idea.

Several stories mention the practice in those days where a woman would “give” her servant over to her husband to impregnate her. If the servant had a child this way, the child belonged to the people who enslaved her. That’s stated pretty matter-of-factly and without any judgment passed on the inhumanity and immorality of that practice. Seems a weird choice for a book with a goal of teaching women their value in God’s eyes.

Conclusion for My Review of Her Story, Her Strength

I really enjoyed some of the stories in the book, especially the stories of Deborah and Rahab in addition to Shallum’s daughters, which I mentioned above.

Telling fewer stories would’ve allowed the author to emphasize stories that best teach spiritual lessons on women’s value. Some of the problematic stories could be left for discussion with an older audience, where it would be easier/more appropriate to address those issues. I would have liked to see more in-depth stories of women like Esther and Miriam, too. I’d love to see something for kids that went into more depth on biographies like those.

Content Notes for Her Story, Her Strength

Mentions of murder, torture, and sexual assault.

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Representation
Most of the women profiled in the book are Middle Eastern, and the cartoon illustrations show brown-skinned women. Many of the women represented in the book are also Jewish.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
Vague references to sex. This isn’t identified as rape in the book, but it is. Many characters become pregnant in their stories. The book identifies Rahab as a prostitute.

See violent content for note on sexual assault.

Spiritual Content
These are stories from the Bible. A section called “Her God” encourages readers to reflect on spiritual principles and ideas raised through the narrative biography.

Violent Content
In the story of Jael, she murders a general with a tent stake and hammer. The story doesn’t overtly describe this, but we see her contemplate killing him. She picks up those weapons before the narrative jumps to after the man’s death.

There are also several stories which reference a woman “giving” her servant to her husband with the intention that he will have sex with her (the servant has no say in this arrangement) and hopefully get her pregnant. Nowhere does the book challenge this practice as immoral, cruel, or evil, not to mention that it’s rape.

One story describes a group of women who watched as Jesus was tortured and executed via being crucified.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of HER STORY, HER STRENGTH in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez

Written in Starlight
Isabel Ibañez
Page Street Kids
Published January 26, 2021

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About Written in Starlight

If the jungle wants you, it will have you…

Catalina Quiroga is a Condesa without a country. She’s lost the Inkasisa throne, the loyalty of her people, and her best friend. Banished to the perilous Yanu Jungle, Catalina knows her chances of survival are slim, but that won’t stop her from trying to escape. It’s her duty to reclaim the throne.

When Manuel, the son of her former general, rescues Catalina from a jaguar, a plan forms. Deep in the jungle, the city of gold is hidden, home to the fierce Illari people, who she could strike an alliance with.

But the elusive Illari are fighting a battle of their own—a mysterious blight is corrupting the jungle, laying waste to everything they hold dear. As a seer, Catalina should be able to help, but her ability to read the future in the stars is as feeble as her survival instincts. While searching for the Illari, Catalina must reckon with her duty and her heart to find her true calling, which could be the key to stopping the corruption before it destroys the jungle completely.

An adventerous South American Tomb Raider! This hotly anticipated companion to Woven in Moonlight follows an outcast Condesa, as she braves the jungle to forge an alliance with the lost city of gold.

My Review

I always feel super nervous going into the sequel of a book that I adored. WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT was one of the best books I read last year, so I had high expectations for the companion novel, and I really wanted to read Catalina’s story.

I thought the book was great, so let me go no further without saying that. The jungle setting felt so spongy and deadly real. Catalina’s fierceness, her total, unquestioning commitment to her people made her admirable. I liked the slow burn, forbidden romance.

Perhaps the thing that kept me from falling in love with this story the way I did with WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT is that because I’d already walked with Ximena through her journey to understand and love the Llacsan people, it was difficult not to feel like Catalina was being selfish and narrow-minded as she dug into her prejudices and clung to them.

On the other hand, I think the things she felt and believed made a lot of sense for her character. I guess I just wish that the resolve of her hate had begun to crack sooner. That would have allowed more time for her spiritual journey, too, which I would have liked to see.

Even with all that, I enjoyed the book and loved seeing Catalina grow into the person she was meant to become. The jungle setting was fantastic, and the slow burn romance totally delicious.

I think fans of GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson (still one of my favorites) would really enjoy this book. It could probably be read on its own, though some characters and relationships from the first book are referenced. I think it’s written in such a way that you could infer a lot of what happened in the first book. (That said, if you want to read both, definitely start with the first book, otherwise WRITTEN IN STARLIGHT will spoil a lot of the plot.)

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Characters are Latinx-coded.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used pretty infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. At one point they bathe together but stay pretty far apart.

Spiritual Content
Catalina was raised worshipping the moon goddess, Luna, and believing that her people were the only ones to do so. Other people worship the earth goddess or the sun god. Some prayer and meditation rituals are shown, and some characters speak with and experience the presence of the gods.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. The jungle is full of dangerous animals and people who attack Catalina and her allies. A vicious monster literally tears some limb from limb. Magic wielders use their magic against Catalina and the others.

Drug Content
None.

Note: I received a free copy of WRITTEN IN STARLIGHT in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support running this blog.