Category Archives: religion

Wish You Were Here

Have you ever read a book that frustrated you SO MUCH because you know that it could have been better? That was my experience with Beth K. Vogt’s Wish You Were Here. I liked it up until the end, which just ticked me off in the worst way.

Allison and Seth are five days away from their wedding day. They dated for six years, and now it’s time for them to finalize their commitment. Allison doesn’t like her wedding dress, which she felt coerced into buying, and she isn’t wild about the flowers. But she and Seth have been together for so long, and she does love him, so the obvious next step is marriage, right? Right? 
Well, not so fast. When Seth’s older brother Daniel shows up to help her pack, an innocent farewell peck on the cheek turns into a passionate kiss. What will Allison do now? Quicker than you can say, “Runaway Bride,” she heads in the wrong direction down the aisle.
So far, so good. It’s a cute set up, and we can all see that Daniel is better for her than Seth. Her best friend Meghan puts it perfectly:

“Think about it. You let Seth make all the major decisions, from what dress you wore to our high school prom to where you were going for your honeymoon.” Teal polish glinted off Meghan’s nails when she pointed an accusatory finger at Allison. “You’re a smart woman – except when Seth Rayner’s in the picture. And he’s been hogging the picture since you were sixteen.”

 Seth, you see, is a major control freak, and he controls every aspect of Allison’s life, from her college major to what she orders at a restaurant. He isn’t a bad guy, though; Vogt does a good job letting us see that he is oblivious to his Machiavellian streak. And it’s good that he’s a character with depth and not rote or flat. Daniel, too, is fleshed out. Both may be predictable, but they aren’t dull.

But then the problems come.

Vogt tells us why Allison enjoyed, if not needed, Seth’s control. We also learn about how she coped with a painful period of her childhood. We understand her, and it makes sense to us. But quite suddenly, those issues are resolved with great alacrity and neatness. Allison’s fractured relationship with someone in her family is mended with no explanation as to how. Why does she trust this person with seemingly such lack of hesitation? What about the way she soothes herself? Why does she suddenly stop? Or does she? We never really find out. And what about her relationship with God? Allison has questions for Him, and she struggles with relying on Him. One quick conversation with Meghan, though, and everything is fixed. It doesn’t really work that way.

Look, Wish You Were Here has a sweet core. Allison and Daniel are adorable, and you will cheer for them. Daniel earns our sympathies and affections, and we cheer him on in his pursuit of her. But the ending feels cheap and forced. It’s almost insulting, as if Vogt doesn’t think we can handle the anguish that Allison surely suffers as she rights the listing ship of her life.

Here is a lesson for authors: do not sell your audience short. Don’t assume that we want neat and happy. If you spend three fourths of a book giving us realism, don’t patronize us at the end.

Published by Howard Books and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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Filed under religion, romance, sometimes the book just isn't good

Living Proof by Kira Peikoff

Fifteen years from now, in Kira Peikoff’s vision, the United States is under siege. Religious conservatives have banned not only stem cell testing, but the destruction of all in vitro embryos. Those embryos, the conservatives believe, are human beings who deserve the opportunity to exist, whether in continued embryonic form or not. Destroying them is akin to murder.

But what if you had a debilitating, life threatening disease, such as multiple sclerosis? What if the only path by which you could be cured was through stem cell research and testing? What happens then?

Such is the quandary in Peikoff’s Living Proof, a fairly well balanced suspense and romance focused on the battle between religion and science.

Arianna Drake is an OB-GYN with her own fertility practice. She also has MS and desperately wants a cure. Toward that end, she is cloning embryos in an attempt to outwit the DEP – Department of Embryo Preservation, a fierce watchdog organization run by Gideon Dopp, a former priest. Arianna believes that Dopp and his colleagues are religious zealots determined to shove their faith down the throats of people such as herself, those who believe that saving lives is just as important as saving embryos. Dopp is convinced that Arianna is breaking the law, so he enlists Trent Rowe to go undercover. Get to know Arianna, Dopp commands, and see if you can figure out what she’s hiding.

Trent goes undercover, all right, and the man who believes that the DEP is doing the right thing quickly has all of his beliefs questioned. Is Dopp right? Is the DEP doing God’s will? Are they on the side of righteousness and goodness? Or does Arianna have a point? Isn’t saving lives just as important?

What Peikoff gets right in Living Proof is presenting a reasonably balanced discussion of science versus faith. As Trent tries to make sense of the struggle, he goes to talk to his family priest, Father Paul:

“You’re right, the Church isn’t perfect, but that’s because it’s run by men. Remember the whole idea of faith, Trent: Let go of reason adn give in to God’s higher plan. We can’t question Him, we can only follow.”

“I guess so. It’s just hard when I’m so torn.”

“No wonder you’re miserable, Trent. If you think about yourself and your problems all the time, it only depresses you because deep down you know how selfish you’re being. Think of Jesus. You need to learn to sacrifice your own desires in order to do something that will help others. That’s the only way to come out of this. Let the Lord guide you back to grace.”

Trent remains somewhat confused. Isn’t using stem cells a way of doing something that will help others? Gideon Dopp agrees with Father Paul, and, unlike Trent, Gideon has experience with fertility clinics. A former priest himself, Gideon fell in love with his wife when she was his parishioner, and the two resorted to in vitro fertilization after four years of failed attempts. He believes that their “suffering was God’s punishment for Dopp’s abandonment of the priesthood,” and after giving up on in vitro, they were blessed with not one but two pregnancies. Dopp is self-righteous, but Peikoff does an excellent job of not making him a caricature. His motives are pure, if not narrow minded.

Arianna presents the opposing point of view, as it were. As she says to Trent:

“I believe that following your own happiness is what life is all about. What makes religion so bad is that it condemns you for caring about exactly that.”

“But they say you should devote your life to others.”

“… Why are you doubting your own doubt? When you abandon your reason for faith in God, you succumb to the notion that you’re a pawn of some higher being. But you are the only one in control of your life – of what you love and who you love.”

Arianna despises what she views as religious manipulation, and decries the fact that the faithful give good lip service to having faith over proof, yet they deny evidence of the help that stem cells provide.

The suspense comes when Arianna’s pals come oh so close to a cure. Will she be saved before she gets caught? And what about Trent? Whose side will he choose?

Living Proof will give you a lot to think about. If you believe that stem cell research is evil, you might find yourself admitting that it can lead to some good things. If you believe that fundamentalists are freaks and kooks, you may come to see that it is not so simple.

While not perfect – Living Proof has moments where it drags, and drags badly – this nonetheless is an engrossing book that is sure to stir discussion. It would be a good book club choice, because it certainly offers a lot to talk about and debate.


Published by Tor Books and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

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