Iscariot: A Novel of Judas

Iscariot by Tosca Lee Iscariot by Tosca Lee
Publisher: Howard Books
Number of pages: 352
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—the promised Messiah and future king of the Jews, destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, he joins the Nazarene’s followers, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life. But soon Judas’s vision of a nation free from Rome is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—who seems, in the end, to even turn against his own people. At last, Judas must confront the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda.

Iscariot is the story of Judas, from his tumultuous childhood to his emergence as the man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus. But even more, it is a singular and surprising view into the life of Jesus that forces us to reexamine everything we thought we knew about the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history.

* * *

Ever since Tosca announced that she was writing this book in 2010, I have been eagerly waiting for this to come out. I loved her first two books, Demon and Havah: The Story of Eve, and a novel about Judas Iscariot is something that I know only Tosca can write with the same heart-wrenching clarity and sensitivity that she did in her first two books. When it came up available in Netgalley, I immediately got it and saved it in my Kindle. Of course, it took me ages to finally start it, until I decided that it would be my Holy Week read.

Judas Iscariot. The traitor. The betrayer. It’s so easy to hate him, and blame him, because if he didn’t sell Jesus for 30 silver coins, then maybe Jesus wouldn’t have died. It was simple, right? But have we ever wondered that even if Judas hadn’t done what he did, would Jesus still have died? After all, it was salvation history, and it was God the Father’s will for the Son of Man. Would someone else have betrayed him? And we always associate Judas with something evil, but if he was evil, why would he even be a part of Jesus’ closest circle? Why would Jesus even call Judas friend? 

Iscariot doesn’t attempt to answer this, but instead presents what we know of Jesus’ time in an even more clarity. Tosca brings us to the heart of that time — the social and political unrest of the Jews against the Romans, the religious customs of the Jewish and how important it is to them, and how the Pharisees just seem to be everywhere. And then there’s Jesus, who shocks everyone and speaks of a radical faith, heals people, drives out demons and resurrects the dead. We see all this in the eyes of Judas bar Simon, who came from a tumultuous childhood and is desperately wishing for a messiah. When his paths cross with Jesus the Nazarene of questionable birth and he follows him together with eleven other men, he wonders if he is the one. He wonders, and dares to hope, torn between love for his master and wanting a specific vision for the people. In Iscariot, we see Jesus through human eyes — through doubting, human eyes and a heart that is so scared to hope — and it brings the readers this question: if I were Judas at that time, would I have done the same thing if I thought it was the right thing?

What an unsettling novel. It’s kind of hard to explain what effect this novel had on me. It reminds me of the Gospel during the Palm Sunday mass — you know, the one where the priest is Jesus and the mass goers are the people and we all had speaking parts in the Gospel? My heart clenched like crazy when I had to say, “Crucify him!” The second time I had to say it, my eyes burned with tears, because I knew that at several points in my life, I had crucified Christ because of my sins. And I keep on doing it whenever I fail to be loving, when I fall into sin. In Iscariot, we see Judas and the apostles in all their humanity, and how they tried to follow Jesus even if they do not understand him. Tosca weaves a story of how everything must have been like for Judas as he fights against himself in hoping that this charismatic Nazarene could be the savior of all — and how he tries to act as a good friend when he realizes that maybe his master may not be what he expected him to be. Tosca’s writing was rich and colorful, and it puts all those miracles and stories in the Gospels in a more concrete way, so much that it felt like I was also there. Here’s a favorite part, when Jesus calmed the storm:

In a flash of lightning, I saw the sandaled feet of Jesus, flagging against the floor of the boat, loosely in the water, like the body of a dead man, floating. Had he drowned, then, there beneath the stern? Had he departed from us silently, without even a word of farewell? Soon we would all be fortunate to float like that on any water here.

I told myself to let go, to lunge forward and seize him by the legs. Then the boat jinked sideways, throwing us all backward. For a horrifying instant, I thought we would capsize. I opened my mouth to cry out to him, only to be slapped in the face with a crashing wave that slapped my ears and sent my head ringing.

It was John who fell down over us, grabbing me by the arm when I nearly fell over the side. “Master! Save us!”

It was a horrid sound, that scream. I would remember it for the rest of my life.

I covered my face, trying to shield my eyes. Against the dark, I saw him, the pale of his tunic in the sluicing blackness, rising up. In my deafness, I heard him when I should not have against the screeching gale:

Be still.

The words had not been shouted to the furious wind or issued to the sky, but spoken as through directly to my heart.

I’m not very good with history or theology, so I can’t speak if this book is super accurate, but for a piece of historical “fiction”, this definitely made me think. It made me feel sympathetic at the least, and it made me see Jesus in a different light. It made me see my Savior’s passion and death in a different perspective. It made me see my own humanity, and the depth of Jesus’ love even for those who He knew would betray Him.

And aren’t we all that, anyway? Haven’t be betrayed him at some point in our life? And won’t we betray him in the future, because we are human and we are weak? And Jesus knows that…still, He loves us without a doubt.

I finished reading Iscariot before 3:00pm on Good Friday, and I was a little overwhelmed with the time and how it ended. I knew how it would end, and yet…it left me somber. It left me sad. Would there have been redemption for Judas, if he had just waited? Could he have become someone like Peter, who denied Jesus but accepted mercy which led him to become the great church leader that he is? If he had just waited until Sunday, would he have believed that Jesus was indeed the person he had been waiting for his entire life?

We would never know.

I admit that I may be just a little biased because I love everything that Tosca has written, but if you would read any of her work, I think Iscariot: A Novel of Judas is the best place to start. It’s not the easiest thing to read, but it’s one that will leave you longing for your Savior.

Book trailer:

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Rating:

Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
DWD Reviews
Backing Books

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Number of pages: 550
My copy: paperback, bought from National Bookstore

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.

* * *

I tried reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief in 2011, a little over a year after I got the book. Then I stopped, because I wasn’t in the mood to read the book yet, so I shoved it back into my TBR with no concrete plans of reading it. I knew it was good, but I didn’t know when I’d have the time to read it. Two years later, the book was selected for our book club’s discussion this month, and I figure that’s why I didn’t read it back then.

The Book Thief is a World War II story, set in Nazi Germany, about a little girl who steals books because of her love of books and words. But it’s not really that simple, because of the war, and all the other things going on around her and in her life with her foster parents. The story is also a little bit more complicated because it wasn’t narrated by the girl or any other people surrounding her. Instead, the entire story was narrated by Death, who was very busy collecting souls at the time of war and yet Liesel Meminger the book thief caught his eye.

I don’t like WWII stories. I’ve read several books but they weren’t books that totally focused on war or the casualties of it. I never really read much about bombings or the people dying, and I never liked reading about them because it saddens me, and quite frankly, it gives me the creeps. I didn’t know what to expect with The Book Thief, except maybe that people I know who read and loved them cried at the end…so maybe, I will cry too?

Here’s the thing: I thought that having Death narrate this story is quite ingenious. Sure, Death is quite snarky and he loves giving spoilers, but it gives the story a little bit of a different perspective, than say if Liesel was the narrator. I actually liked Death’s segues and the random facts, although it took me some time to get used to. There also wasn’t as much war in the book as I thought it would have, and it was good…but there were enough to make me stop reading for a while and breathe because I felt horrified at what I was reading. War is never a pretty thing, after all.

The little neighborhood in Molching, and the people in Himmel Street grew on me, some quick like Hans Hubermann and some took a while, like Ilsa Hermann. I was constantly holding my breath, hoping against hope that nothing bad would happen to them…but like I mentioned, Death loved giving so many spoilers, so even if I managed to spoil myself accidentally while we were having the online discussion for this book, I realized that getting spoiled early on didn’t really matter because the narrator would do that for you. But in a way, this builds the right expectations, and somehow, a part of me still didn’t want to believe what Death said would happen. Oh how I wished it wasn’t so. I’m also particularly fond of Rudy Steiner, too, and …that boy really just broke my heart.

The Book Thief made me reflect on several things, especially with how words and reading played such a big deal in the characters’ lives. That was my favorite part, how there was so much emphasis on reading and the power of words. I liked how it was illustrated in the book and how it showed that even if words were used for evil, you can use it for good, too, and using it for the latter touches so many people, even Death himself. I’m all about words, you see, and I could really relate with Liesel when she found her words and how she “…would wring it out like the rain.” (p.80) It made me wonder if I can still remember how it is not to have words at my disposal, and not to have the books where I have access to so many words. Furthermore, it made me wonder: do I use my words like the Führer? Or do I use them like Liesel?

I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.

I didn’t bawl at the end of The Book Thief, but I did shed some tears, and it took me a while before I could move on from the story. I suppose, like Death, I was haunted. And I think that I will remain haunted by it for a little while longer, because there’s really so much in this book than what was written on the synopsis, or from its black and brown (at least in my edition) cover. It’s not just a WWII story, but more, and I’d rather that Death the narrator would spoil it for you rather than me.

I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

One last thing: I hope that when Death comes for me, he’ll find my soul sitting up.

Rating:

Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
The Nocturnal Library

Reunited

Reunited

Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Number of pages: 336

1 Concert
2000 Miles
3 Ex-Best Friends

Alice, Summer, and Tiernan are ex-best friends.

Back in middle school, the three girls were inseparable. They were also the number one fans of the rock band Level3.

But when the band broke up, so did their friendship. Summer ran with the popular crowd, Tiernan was a rebellious wild-child, and Alice spent high school with her nose buried in books.

Now, just as the girls are about to graduate, Level3 announces a one-time-only reunion show.

Even though the concert’s 2000 miles away, Alice buys three tickets on impulse. And as it turns out, Summer and Tiernan have their own reasons for wanting to get out of town. Good thing Alice’s graduation gift (a pea-green 1976 VW camper van known as the Pea Pod) is just the vehicle to get them there.

But on the long drive cross-country, the girls hit more than a few bumps in the road. Will their friendship get an encore or is the show really over?

I got my first taste of boyband love when I was in Grade 5, when I first saw the Backstreet Boys perform Get Down on a noontime show when they stopped by the country. I had no idea who they were, but I thought the song was catchy, so I asked for a cassette tape (!!!) of their first album. I fell in love with them (specifically, Nick Carter!) ever since then. I had several friends who were also fans, but I think I was the biggest fan among them. By high school, some of them have moved on from the boyband phase to other pop stars, while I stayed happy in my teenybopper bubblegum pop world a little while longer.

In Reunited, we meet Alice, Summer and Tiernan, best friends who share the love for the rock band Level3. That is, until high school, anyway — when Level3 disbanded and their friendship dissolved for reasons that they didn’t really want to remember. Alice is the good girl, the one who held them together and would want to remain friends with them if things didn’t fall apart. There’s Summer, the budding poet who eventually became Miss Popular. Then there’s Tiernan, who’s the school’s resident rebel, and this rebellion reaches even in her home life. When Level3 announced that they will have a reunion concert, Alice buys tickets without thinking and convinces Summer and Tiernan to go on a road trip with her to watch this one-time reunion concert. So here we have three (ex) friends, a band, and a road trip — oh, I am definitely sold.

The story switches from the point of view of each of the girls, which gives us a pretty equal glimpse of how they feel about each other. There’s this big mystery of sorts about why they fell apart from the first place — things were alluded to, but I couldn’t really guess what happened that made them swear off each other like that. The voices of the three girls were pretty distinct, and I liked being in Summer’s head the most because it felt like she had the most to lose and the first to let the trip go. That almost came true, and in the end, I was happy how she pulled through for the two other girls, and I felt sympathetic with what really happened between the three of them.

As with every road trip, there’s craziness: from an ex-convict to having no gas to falling in love/in crush, to dance contests and parties. There was this one part that felt a little too hard to believe, and I felt like it was used to make that one thing happened, and I wasn’t really completely sold. It set a lot of things in motion, that made the ending a little bit more hilarious than I expected.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. It was cute, but it felt like it was a little bit on the wish-fulfillment side. It’s the stuff my high school fan girl dreams were made of, actually, which is probably why I feel like I can’t really believe it. But maybe that’s just me. It’s not like some of my fangirl dreams never came true, anyway.

Oh and as much as I like reading books that has bands and music on it (Audrey, Wait! and Five Flavors of Dumb, for example), it feels a bit hard to really get into the music when I don’t know how the songs sound like. The lyrics were a nice touch, but I wish books like these come up with a soundtrack of sorts. Although it might be a little bit difficult for this one because Level3 has a pretty big discography in the story. ^^

Reunited is okay — quick and fun and interesting. While I didn’t really feel like it’s totally awesome and groundbreaking, I enjoyed reading it. It’s the type of book I would recommend to anyone who has ever been a big fan of any kind of band at some point of their teenage life. Better if you share it with friends who love the same band, too. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Buried in Books
Kirkus

Happy birthday!

I owe you guys a lot of reviews, and I promise to catch up on them on my long weekend this week and next. A short post is in order, just to let you guys know that yes, I’m still alive. Just terribly busy. And also, a year older.

Anyway, I was watching the latest episodes of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (if you haven’t watched this fun and modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice…why haven’t you? Go watch, now), and I found out that Lizzie and Charlotte recently celebrated their birthdays. Being a March birthday, too, I wondered when their birthdays were, so I did a little search1. And then, surprise! We were all born on the same day – March 17! :)

Happy birthday! - Click to watch the video :)

Happy birthday! – Click to watch the video :)

Okay, fine, they’re fictional characters. But I think it’s still cool to share my birthday with these two girls on Youtube. :) At least, their fictional counterparts.

So, belated happy birthday to Charlotte, Lizzie and me! :) I will end this post now, so you can go ahead and watch The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. Because you really should. :)

  1. Twitter would’ve made it easier, but I’m fasting from Twitter this Lent, so Google is my best friend []

Radiant / Boundless

Radiant by Cynthia HandRadiant by Cynthia Hand
Unearthly # 2.5
Publisher: HarperTeen
Number of pages: 69
My copy: ebook from Amazon Kindle Store

Clara is desperate to get away—from the memories that haunt her in Wyoming and the visions of a future she isn’t ready to face—and spending the summer in Italy with her best friend, Angela, should be the perfect escape. . . .

For as long as she can remember, Angela has been told that love is dangerous, that she must always guard her heart. But when she met Phen two years ago she was determined to be with him, no matter the costs. Now she must decide whether she can trust Clara with her secret, or if telling her the truth will risk everything she cares about.

Alternating between Angela and Clara’s perspectives, Radiant chronicles the unforgettable summer that will test the bounds of their friendship and change their lives forever.

* * *

It’s the summer before Clara and Angela goes to Stanford, and they spend it in Italy. What a summer vacation, right? But Clara was desperate to get away from everything that has happened to her and her family just recently, and Angela just wanted to discover more of their angel stuff…or so Clara thought.

I thought I didn’t have to read Radiant before I get to read Boundless, but I’m glad I had some sense to get this because I wouldn’t have understood the final book in the Unearthly series if I didn’t. Radiant alternates from Angela to Clara, and for the first time since Unearthly, we get to see Angela’s side in things. Is she evil? Is there something about her that will harm Clara and make us hate her? This novella sort of answers that, and we see Angela’s side — the little of it anyway. It makes you wonder if this book will mean something in the end, if the events here would lead to something. 

So is Angela evil? I will leave it up to you to find out. Radiant is enjoyable, but it left me a bit wary of Angela and the repercussions of her actions here. I think one can still understand the next book without really reading this, but if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll want to read this one, anyway. :)

Rating:
My copy: ebook, from Amazon

Other reviews:
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac

Boundless by Cynthia HandBoundless by Cynthia Hand
Unearthly # 3
Publisher: HarperTeen
Number of pages: 438
My copy: paperback review copy, borrowed from Kai

The past few years have held more surprises than part-angel Clara Gardner could ever have anticipated. Yet from the dizzying highs of first love, to the agonizing low of losing someone close to her, the one thing she can no longer deny is that she was never meant to live a normal life.

Since discovering the special role she plays among the other angel-bloods, Clara has been determined to protect Tucker Avery from the evil that follows her . . . even if it means breaking both their hearts. Leaving town seems like the best option, so she’s headed back to California – and so is Christian Prescott, the irresistible boy from the vision that started her on this journey in the first place.

As Clara makes her way in a world that is frighteningly new, she discovers that the fallen angel who attacked her is watching her every move. And he’s not the only one. . . . With the battle against the Black Wings looming, Clara knows she must finally fulfill her destiny. But it won’t come without sacrifices and betrayal.

In the riveting finale of the Unearthly series, Clara must decide her fate once and for all.

* * *

Series finales are a tricky thing, I think. A finale can make or break a series, especially in the paranormal romance genre, and ones with love triangles. Not that I know a lot, except for those that I’ve already read, but there were several finales that just sucked that I wished I never read them because it ruined the entire series for me. However, I had faith in Cynthia Hand, that she would end the only angel series I liked well, and when good reviews started popping up Goodreads as the release date neared, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.

Spoiler warning for Unearthly and Hallowed!

Many things have happened since the end of Hallowed, including the things that happened in Radiant. Now Clara is a college student in Stanford, with no clear direction except that she wanted to protect Tucker from the dangers of her angel life, even if it means breaking both their hearts. Clara tries to make a home in Stanford, but it’s not so easy: she finds Samjeeza, the Black Wing, following her everywhere, her visions are still bleak and scary, and her dad has come to prepare her and Christian for an upcoming battle. Christian remains to be the perfect gentleman that he is and one of her closest friends, but Clara can’t help but think of Tucker even if she knew she made the right decision. With all this happening in her life, is Clara ready to face the the things she’s been seeing in her vision? And why is Angela acting so weird again?

So, Boundless. I went in this book, ready to get my heart broken for some reason, and for tears to come. Interestingly enough, I didn’t get much of those two expectations, but there were so many things in this book that I had a hard time putting it down. I liked how the story revolved a lot around Clara’s growth in Stanford — her classes, her friendship with Angela and Christian and the new people she meets in college — and not just the angel stuff. We see Clara (and Angela and Christian) grow more in this book, face their choices and follow through. I liked that they don’t always have to face their choices alone, and how they all managed to pull through for each other up to the very end. There’s also so much family in this book, both in the good and bad side, and I liked how they were weaved together (even if some of them felt a little bit too convenient in the end). I liked how they never let go of that concept and how it all tied them together.

The book felt just a little bit long somewhere in the middle, and I kept wanting to get to the action, to get to the battle and to finally find out who Clara would choose (of course, we all want to know that, right?). I was honestly a bit teary-eyed at a certain point, and then…things happened. I liked how things were handled, although I’m not quite sure until now how I feel about that last part which changed things for one character. (I am trying to be as cryptic as I can, promise!)

Overall, though, Boundless is a very satisfying ending for a fan of the series like me. I’m quite happy with the ending and this is one of those books where I am pretty happy with everything and I can close the book without needing any more answers or wishing that things were different. I’m quite happy that I decided to take a chance on Unearthly years ago, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have discovered one of the two (the other is Angelfall, but the second book won’t be out until late this year) angel series that I really, really like. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
The Midnight Garden
The Blair Book Project