I had to leave off my current book, Last Of The Amazons, which needs a bit more concentration, in favor of a lighter read for a whole night’s vigilance in the I.C.U.    As I have volunteered for night duty in attendance to my ailing father, I figured an easy but interesting YA book would be just the thing to keep me wholly alert ’til the morn. 

Among my choices for the Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010 challenge lists, Hush, Hush just fit the bill.

Author :  Becca Fitzpatrick

Publication Date :  October 13, 2009  (Hardcover)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

ISBN-10: 1416989412

ISBN-13: 978-1416989417

No. of Pages :  400

The Story :

When God made man and Earth, some angels have looked on these creations with a consummate desire for dominion. A league of angels conspired to tempt Eve to eat of the Tree of Life, so God stripped them of their wings and cast them to Earth.  These fallen ones were denied  human perception of  the world  with all  its sensual clarity.   To experience the world through vivid sensations the way humans do — this what a fallen angel covets.

After the fall, a race emerged known as the Nephilim, immortals born of a union of angel and mortal. Only through the possession of the Nephilim can a fallen one experience the world as humans can.

For a Biology project, Nora is partnered with cocky, mysterious, and uncooperative Patch. She must get to know him enough to complete her project or risk failing the subject. While she knows almost next to nothing about him, he, disconcertingly, knows so much about her.

Forced to get to know him, she discovers dark and dangerous layers. For Patch is no ordinary boy. In fact, he isn’t even human. However, Nora can’t seem to shake off her dangerous attraction. Suddenly, her normal life doesn’t seem so normal after all. Someone is dangerously after her.  Who and why, Nora must find out to save herself.

The Review:

I can understand the allure this book has. The stunning cover hints of an irresistibly dark but sexy fantasy, which may not disappoint for some. This is primarily a romance with the supernatural as a very attractive component. As a deviation from the ubiquitous dark creatures like vampires, this time it is fallen angels, character concepts not often used and therefore a novelty for many young readers.

The protagonists are in their teens so this must contribute to the book’s categorization as young adult literature. But in my book,  the qualification for YA stops here.   As I have reiterated before, books in the YA category may have very adult concepts and jargon inappropriate for the preteeners and possibly, for those in their early teens. This book exemplifies this. Although there are no explicit sexual scenes, a lot of sexual innuendo exists. Moreover, there are hints of what some people may even consider as sexual harassment in the dialogues. The relationship between Nora and Patch may also be viewed as abusive at most or disrespectful at the least.

Although there is always something irresistible about the “bad boy” which ups those delicious romantic shivers in any romance, this particular characterization simply isn’t what one would want kids to admire in a romantic lead. To make it even more objectionable as YA,  the disrespectful ways of Patch toward Nora and Nora’s increasing attraction in spite of (or because of ?) it, feelings which I suspect may border more on lust than love, aren’t what I would rate as good fodder for teen and pre-teen minds.

However, despite my adult reservations, I feel this book is one of those  which young girls would gravitate to (the cover is simply irresistible).  The premise of fallen angels  and the dark romance are certain come-ons.   Writing is mundane, the characters not imbued with much depth; but these aren’t objectionable in a book designed to be  a 400-page breezy read.  They just makes reading effortless and fast.

Regardless of my misgivings on its classification, I  enjoyed Hush, Hush. I’m not saying it is a real page-turner but true to its bestseller status, it did keep me up and awake.  It was interesting enough in spite of its flaws.  Perhaps to like it, just suspend disbelief and go with the flow.

If you are a teen, chances are big that you will love it as it is.  As an adult in your thirties or beyond,  you probably will tend to be more judgmental of this book.

I won’t be surprised if this book morphs into a movie.  It just has that mass appeal to it.

As An Aside :

Becca Fitzpatrick is coming out with the sequel, Crescendo, this year.   For Hush Hush fans,  something to keep you on tenterhooks.  smiley

My Mark :  Good  —  Entertaining!

After witches and black magic,  I wanted to lean towards the other end of the pole for something inspirational and good.  The Shack is my second read for my Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.

Author :  William P. Young

Date of Publication :  July 1, 2007 (1st edition — paperback)

Publisher :  Windblown Media

ISBN-10: 0964729237

ISBN-13: 978-0964729230

No. of pages :  256

The Story:

Mackenzie Phillips is an average family man whose Christian faith is perhaps, like all the rest — seemingly steadfast,  until tragedy of immense proportions strikes.  Mack takes his kids, one day, on a camping trip where this life-changing event takes place.  Missy, his six-year old daughter is kidnapped and the worst is presumed.  A massive manhunt begins.  Soon evidence of Missy’s brutal murder is found through her bloody red dress on the floor of an old, ramshackle shack in the middle of the woods.  Not a trace else can be found, neither her body nor any DNA imprints from her abductor.

After four years, Mack still has no closure.  As he struggles with relationships within a family still struggling to cope in the aftermath, so does he wrestle with his relationship with God.  One day, Mack receives a note inviting him to go up to the shack.  The note is signed, “God”.

Angry, intrigued and prepared for the worst, Mack makes a trip up to the shack.  To his surprise, he does meet God…Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well.   But They are not who Mack expects.

My Review :

This is a kind of book that strikes the core of anyone who has ever been a parent. For what is a parent’s greatest fear but that of losing his beloved child? And how does one cope with a loss this staggering; more emphatically how does one come to terms with God, the only One a person is supposed to rely on when all else fails? How can one trust Him who has allowed such a horrible tragedy to happen? How can one even believe He exists?

These are the painful and complicated questions to which The Shack ambitiously tries to grapple. It does so by laying down the the framework of  Christianity, told through a beautiful story of a grieving father coaxed back toward redemption through face-to-face conversations with the Holy Trinity about questions that have plagued many a religion. Why does God allow evil? Why is there evil?  Why me?

This book answers philosophical questions with simplicity, distilling them down to their essences. It aims to cover man’s questions about existence sans religion;  although, it really pushes “Born-Again” Christian philosophies more than anything.

At the onset of Mack’s meeting with God, the author wipes out preconceived notions of God’s physical attributes giving totally different “looks” and personality to Him. God the Father is a big black woman; Jesus is an average looking Middle Eastern guy; the Holy Spirit is an Asian woman. Thus the author signals us that what his God will say are probably stuff that never occurred to you or was never taught in school theology.

The Shack is really a touching book, if you allow it to be.  It is over simplistic ; but God’s lessons,  although delivered so plainly does need some time to absorb. You may have to re-read some conversations and mull over them in order to get the full import of what the author wishes us to realize.

It’s quite easy to understand the popularity of this book.  It is by no means preachy (thank goodness, as I have an aversion to those).   I think the author was careful not to make it so.  He cleverly persuades the reader to look at it his way by creating casual conversations between God and Mack.  This way, he isn’t directly telling the reader what he ought to believe. The book is popular because it is simple, fictionalized into a heart-warming story which can touch Christians of all persuasions— Catholics, Baptists, Adventists, etc.  The author’s objective, I believe, must have been to write a book that would reach a wide audience, and to be sort of a subtle “missionary” piece of work. From this perspective, I’m sure it has achieved what it was meant to do.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Whether to read this or not, I give mixed encouragement.

If you are put off by authors who humanize God, the depiction of God as a colored woman in a colorful “mumu”, baking pies while fielding answers to serious questions may not be your cup of tea.

To read this book, you must drop all prejudices and just try to get into the author’s head — really look at what he is trying to say and you may just discover some really good philosophies. They may not answer everything but what man can, anyway? William P. Young, though, makes a marvelous try.

Some Catholics may find this a bit pushy on the “Born-Again” Christian concepts; but then, most of the lessons here are pretty universal and the reader may be enriched by them:

God : “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”   — p. 185

God :  “All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice.  If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning.  This world is not a playground  where I keep all my children free from evil.  Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say.  Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t.  If I take away the consequences of people’s choices , I destroy the possibility of love.  Love that is forced is no love at all.”  — p. 190

In A Nutshell:

One important criteria I usually keep in mind when reviewing a book is how successful an author has been in accomplishing what he set out to do.   He may have characters I may not like nor identify with but if he was able to do what he aimed to do, (ex. create a character and develop him realistically),  I regard this as a success and factors heavily in my decision toward a good rating.  Why do I say this?

A number of condescending reviews have been written to complain of the naivete  of Young’s concepts, his lop-sided depiction of  God— kind, patient, forgiving, loving… (where is His other side, the side that punishes (ex. The Great Flood),  that is wrathful of  sin (ex. Sodom and Gomorrah)?)

Perhaps, they have missed the point of this book.  The author’s mission for this story is  redemption, about persuading people to turn back towards God and faith. This is what I believe Young set out to do.  Therefore,  to inspire people to do so, he wrote something simple, easy to read, with a topic close to people’s hearts, and with a God who is benevolently reaching out to them.  If this book has touched someone enough for him to discover God again, then Young is a success.  And this book has touched many.

If The Shack has made a mark on you, however small, then it is a good book to get back to from time to time, one deserving of a permanent space on your shelf.

My Mark  :  Outstanding

Sometimes, life does get in the way of blogging. That and large doses of TV miniseries in its various seasons have kept me away from my bookshelf for quite some time. But, I’m glad to be back, dishing out more reviews for you.

After the book, “Waiting” by Frank M. Robinson, the subject of human evolution had piqued a great deal of my interest in human origins. Luckily, I had this book in my collection which has temporarily  satiated my appetite on the subject.

Author : Nicholas Wade

Date of First Publication :  April 20, 2006 (Hardcover)

This Edition’s Date of Publication :  March 27, 2007 (Paperback)

Publisher :  The Penguin Group

ISBN-10: 014303832X

ISBN-13: 978-0143038320

No. of pages :  320

What It Is About :

Before the Dawn” is Nicholas Wade’s dissertation on human evolution. It traces our roots through the infallible footprints of our DNA, bringing us to our earliest known origins which is Africa, and to the first chromosomal Adam who supplied the definable Y chromosome that started the ancestral human population.

The treatise goes on to define how modern man evolved through genetic mutations, made prevalent by natural selection, to include large changes such as vast improvements in intelligence, capacity for language, and increasing behavioral complexity.

Wade states that human evolution is an irrefutable truth than can be proven by DNA:

“…in the past few years an extraordinary new archive has become available to those who study human evolution, human nature and history. It is the record encoded in the DNA of the human genome and in the versions of it carried by the world’s population. Geneticists have long contributed to the study of the human past but are doing so with particular success since the full sequence of DNA units in the genome was determined in 2003.” — p. 2

“As a repository of hereditary information that is in constant flux, the genome is like a document unless ceaseless revision. Its mechanism of change is such that it retains evidence about its previous drafts and these, though not easy to interpret, provide a record that stretches deep into the past. The genome can therefore be interrogated at many different time levels. It can supply answers that reach back more than 50,000 years to the genetic Adam, a man whose Y chromosome is carried by all men alive.” — p.2

“The human genome is a new source of data that enriches all the disciplines concerned with the human past. It furnishes two quite different types of information, one to do with genes, the other with genealogies. “ — p. 6

Wade lays down the main issues covered in the book:

1.  There is clear evidence that the human and ape species are descended from one common ancestry.

2. In response to environmental pressures, human social relations have evolved as a survival necessity. Behavioral developments such as communication, alliances, trust, etc. have arisen as tools to ensure being one step ahead of competition.

3.  Human physical form was attained first before significant changes in human behavior occurred. Bipedalism, increase in brain size, shedding of hair are examples of development toward modern human physique that did not occur simultaneously with advanced human behavior.

4. “Most of human prehistory , occurred in and was shaped by, the last ice age.”

5.  In our evolution, man’s acquisition of the gene that is responsible for our language ability is one of the most important evolutionary gifts bestowed on man. Language has enabled us to form three principal social institutions that have shaped human societies : warfare, religion, and trade.

6.  The ancestral people were too aggressive to live in settled communities as their lives were dominated by constant warfare. Gradually, humans had to evolve into less aggressive individuals in order to be able to live in larger societies with new structures such as social hierarchy, ownership of property, and specialization of roles.

7.  Human evolution has not halted and is continuing to the present day.

8.  “People probably once spoke a single language from which all contemporary languages are derived.”

9.   “The human genome contains excellent records of the recent past, providing a parallel history to the written record.”

The Review:

Wade does an excellent job of explaining human evolution which makes “Before The Dawn” a highly absorbing read.  This book is based on various sources covering a variety of esoteric topics, such as “Ancient DNA Evidence for Old World Origin of New World Dogs”, “The Neolithic Invasion of Europe”,  “Hunter-Gatherers and Human Evolution”, etc.  from which details were culled to create a cohesive, well explained summary for the layman’s understanding of human evolution.  About 367 source materials, most of which have been only recently published (1996-2006) are cited, so the information is guaranteed to be current.

A lot of fascinating facts may keep one glued to Wade.  This is one of his footnotes:

“Most people in Africa and Europe have wet earwax.  But dry earwax is the rule among East Asians.  A team of Japanese researchers has traced the difference to a mutation in a gene called ABCCII….”  —- Footnote no. 153

According to Wade, one can date the invention  of clothing through the time at which the body louse evolved from the head louse.  When body hair started to fall off, the louse was confined to a restricted area of hair–the head.  But once man started using clothing (perhaps animal skins), the louse now had more area to live on but it just had to evolve to acquire different claws to be able to cling to clothing instead of hair.  So, studies into louse DNA to discover when this evolution occured would give an answer to when men took to wearing clothing.  This turned out to be 72,000 years ago, give or take several thousand years.

A very well put-together work, this is not a difficult read for the common reader as long as one does a little research on some of the jargon (i.e. paleolithic, australopithecines, mitochondria, et al.).  Get past it and one should be off on a very interesting educational treat.  Moreover, the explanations are clear and concise, the writing informative without being heavy.  Chapters are also organized and well- laid out so it isn’t a chore to pore through this book.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Nicholas Wade certainly raises questions regarding Biblical writings, most of which center on the Genesis.  It renders the literal story of the Creation and the Christian belief that we are unique and not creatures of evolution, as myths.  This may be disturbing to those whose religious beliefs center on Biblical truths , as these are challenged in the light of current scientific evidence.   But those who are truly interested in human history, biology,  genetics, anthropology,  archeology or even linguistics, or those who simply have an open mind toward the subject of human evolution,  shouldn’t pass this one up.  The range of topics and the fascinating informational asides do add tremendously to one’s store of knowledge while providing entertainment as well.

In A Nutshell :

Since the human genome was unraveled in 2003, this book rests on DNA as the incontrovertible evidence upon which human evolution can sit on and be proven.   Our DNA suggests that not only have we evolved but that our evolution continues and will continue well into the future.

As per Publishers Weekly editorial review: “This is highly recommended for readers interested in how DNA analysis is rewriting the history of mankind. “

My Mark :  Excellent