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The Idiot by Elif Batuman ⇉ A Twist on the Bildungsroman + Giveaway!!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Books about college life are difficult to come by. A college story with a title that draws to mind a Russian classic and which features multicultural characters? Less so. These elements drew me to The Idiot by Elif Batuman.

The Idiot is the type of novel that I appreciated more as a college student when I wanted to be super intellectual and, like the protagonist Selin, was in the process of discovering my identity.

Despite the use of first person narration, the simple, straightforward narration and intellectual tone gives the reader distance from happenings in the novel. It also suggests that Selin is trying to gain distance and thus a larger perspective on her life. This makes sense given that she is a freshman at a prestigious university and in the process of working through new emotions. She is essentially in a foreign world.

I like how The Idiot features a more intellectual take on college life. It captures the college experience for many students: it encompasses none of the extremes, but there's a sense of falling in a void with no clear way out. Like many students, Selin struggles to find, or create, an exit, and she will eventually come to a conclusion that will make the reader reflect on their own life story up to this point.

What I didn't like so much is partially the result of my own coming-of-age story. Having gone through the college experience, I used to be in a similar position to Selin. I even went through the confusion of first love there (though a couple years later than Selin). The answers I found were very different, and so the last lines of The Idiot felt like a void had opened, sucking in everything that had just taken place and making me wonder what just happened.

While The Idiot didn't end up being for me, it was definitely an interesting reading experience. I can see this novel generating good discussion, especially in circles that have more knowledge and appreciation for the nuances in literary styles and literary influences.

Would I read another work by Elif Batuman? I wouldn't be opposed to it. Batuman is a masterful writer, and I look forward to seeing what she presents to us next!

A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself.

The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.

At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan's friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin's summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.


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Which classic story do you consider a mirror to your own life? (Or, what was your most memorable experience freshman year?)

Publication Info
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Published by Penguin Press
  • On March 14, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 448 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
  • N/A
  • start

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.


Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy of The Idiot to give away to one lucky winner on the continental USA!

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Logan ⇉ A Fitting End to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine

Monday, March 27, 2017

With what is likely Hugh Jackman’s last on-screen appearance as Wolverine, Logan does not disappoint. As the last mutants struggle against a world that continues to reject them, this film is both gritty and highly emotional.

God Gave Us Easter and My First Book of Prayers ⇉ Celebrate Easter with a #Giveaway of Julian's Easter Surprise + Plush Bunny

Saturday, March 25, 2017

With April coming around the corner, Easter books are filling the shelves. Some feature bunnies and light-hearted Easter stories. Others features popular nursery stories. Still others tell the story of Jesus and the Resurrection.

Put Me in the Story has put together a collection of Easter books that feature all of these themes along with some gift set options. I wish I could share them all with you on the blog, but it would result in a lengthy review. To view them all, click here.

Today, I have the pleasure of reviewing two of these books an sharing with you a giveaway of Julian's Easter Surprise gift set (featuring the book and an adorable plush bunny).

Disclaimer: I received copies of the books for review; no other compensation was provided. All thoughts expressed are my own honest opinion.

God Gave Us Easter
by Lisa Tawn Bergren, art by Laura J. Bryant

Genres: Children's Book

My Thoughts: In simple words and illustrations, God Gave Us Easter explains the story of Easter and how God sent Jesus on Earth so that whoever believes in him receives life. It doesn't go into detail on Jesus's life, death, and resurrection. However, it is the perfect introduction to Easter themes—in particular, God's love for us and His desire to spend eternity with us.

The texture of this book is soft and comfortable to hold. If I were a child, I would love holding this book for the feeling, and I could spend hours turning the pages to look at the pictures. I loved animals as a child, and the illustrations are beautiful. You can have fun with your child counting the number of eggs you can find scattered throughout the pages and looking for places your child's name pops up. Put Me in the Story books always have fun ways of incorporating your child's name in the stories!

This is a book that I will be keeping for my future children.


"God loved us so much he wanted us to always be with him too. That’s why God knew he’d need to give us Easter.” This personalized edition of God Gave Us Easter will take your child on an adventure through the Arctic to learn how Easter came to be.

In this story, your child will become the main character, a curious polar bear cub, while Papa Bear explains that Easter is more than egg hunts and bunnies, and even better than Christmas! Personalize either the boy or girl version of God Gave Us Easter with a child’s name, photo, and a special dedication message.
God Gave Us Easter will gently guide young minds and explain all the questions surrounding this very special day of the year.

My First Book of Prayers
by Melody Carlson, art by Judith Pfeiffer

Genres: Children's Book

My Thoughts: My First Book of Prayers features 41 short and simple prayers to get young children started. Prayers cover a wide range of situations from waking and sleeping to gratitude for different gifts (like parents, sun, and food) to times of sadness and repentance . . . and that's to name a few.

I like this book not only because the prayers are short and simple but because they rhyme and are easy to remember. I can easily see parents integrating this book of prayers into their child's everyday life to teach them how God plays a role in every aspect of our lives and to remind them to come to God in prayer in any situation.

A good companion to this book would be a journal to show children how God answers our prayers.


Help your little one grow in faith with a personalized edition of Baby's First Book of Prayers. This collection of blessings features simple, illustrated rhymes about the everyday moments that make life so special. Teach your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew to greet the new day, offer thanks for friends, and settle down to sleep with a grateful heart. Your little blessing will build trust in God as they learn to approach God with each new day


What is your favorite Easter tradition?


Thanks to the publisher, U.S. readers (18 years or older) have the opportunity to win an Easter gift set to keep for yourself or to gift to a loved one. The giveaway runs until Mar. 20th at 11:59pm EST.

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Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller ⇉ A Fascinating and Beautifully Complex New World + #Giveaway!!

Thursday, March 23, 2017
I love books that feature political intrigue because of the potential for complex world building. The fact that much this novel takes place in space is an added bonus.


Fast-Paced, Thrilling Action
Shadow Run is a fast-paced, action-packed read filled with suspense and intrigue. As soon as you think the characters are safe, you can expect something else to happen.

I love the detail and thought put into the action scenes. I could see the events play out before me like a movie. Time and time again, I found myself wishing that this book was on the big screen, so I could enjoy it alongside friends and family. That said, nothing can replace a good book and the freedom to envision the world yourself.

Complex Characters
All the members of the Kaitan Heritage (Qole's ship) carry their own baggage. They have pasts that they wish to keep hidden. The characters on the ship are all interesting in their own right; I wish that more time was spent developing them. (Which can be hard in a book with two MC's narrating.) As this is a first book in a series, hopefully we'll have more time to get to know them!

World Building You Can See and Hear
I appreciate the time that Strickland and Miller have spent developing the world. Longtime readers of the blog know my deep love for books with carefully crafted world. I can tell that the authors know their world. It's apparent in details that bring the environment to life, in the distinction of the characters' dress, and in the dialogue (one of the more difficult elements to nail).

Nev and Qole will switch back into familiar language when they're emotional, and this language makes them sound like entirely different people. I especially enjoyed seeing Nev lapse into formal speech when he's nervous. It's a sharp contrast to Qole's rougher, more common speech and highlights the disparity in their backgrounds.

Political Intricacies
Whenever politics come into play, I look for power struggles, hidden agendas, and unresolved conflicts. While it was considerably lacking compared to the action sequences, the political intricacies of Shadow Run have more depth compared to most YA novels I've read. We get a good look at the evil hiding underneath the glamor of the court. And while it's pretty predictable that there is corruption underlying the court, we do get to see some good (which I wish had more of a chance to shine even if only through flashbacks via Nev).

While the political intricacies ended up being predictable, there are complications that make you feel for the different parties involved (though some more than others). I hope to see the complexities further developed in later books. My especial hope is that there the villainous figures in this book have a chance to show the potential good that is in them.

Star Wars Vibe

Destructor blades. Plasma guns. A ship in space. Being chased by destructor ships . . . among other things I shall not name because spoilers.

This wasn't an exact replica of Star Wars (because Star Wars is Star Wars and Shadow Run is Shadow Run), but there were countless moments that did have me comparing this to the world of Star Wars. Another reason why I would love to see this novel on the big screen.


Fast-Paced Romance
I can understand an early physical attraction. What's concerning is the rapidity with which Nev and Qole find themselves basing important decisions on their attraction to the other party and the fact that they want to trust the other. For example, we later learn that Qole pretty much let Nev on the ship against the advice of trusted crew members because she found him attractive (the sidenote being that her brother had met him and recommended him—which is her best argument and should have come first).

Qole and Nev are both leaders. They're in positions where their actions influence many lives; they should not be letting their emotions influence their decisions. Sure, Qole is seventeen and Nev seems to be in his early twenties. They're hormonal teenagers in our world. In their world, however, they've been adults for a long time.

While I wanted to support the two, their relationship moved much too quickly and even overshadowed some of the other elements of the plot. Given that this is a series, there is plenty of time for the two to actually get to know each other and let their romance grow alongside their friendship. It would have been better to tone down the romance in this first novel.

Side Characters on the Side
The crew of the Katain Heritage is filled with likable characters. I would have liked to see more of them, but they fall on the wayside after Qole's POV is introduced. This was disappointing as I had enjoyed seeing Nev and Arjan interact in the first chapter and was hoping to see more of the supporting cast.

Hopefully they have more of a chance to shine in the next book. (As well as some of the characters with whom they interact. We never really got to see much of Nev's people.)

First-Person Alternating POVs
Longtime readers of the blog know that I'm not a fan of first-person alternating POVs. It makes it difficult to track who is speaking and is just overall confusing. There were times in Shadow Run when I lost track of whose chapter it was because of the alternating first-person narration.


Despite my complaints with the novel, this is definitely a novel that was hard to put down. Strickland and Miller are well-versed in keeping a plot moving forward through. I felt like I had a movie playing in my head as I was reading. I wouldn't recommend this one to younger readers because of the mature content (see notes below), but otherwise if you're a fan of space adventures, political intrigue, high-packed action sequences, and magic-like powers, then you'll enjoy this one.

In fact, if you live in the continental USA, then you're eligible to win a copy of Shadow Run today on the blog! For giveaway details, keep scrolling down.


Nev has just joined the crew of the starship Kaitan Heritage as the cargo loader. His captain, Qole, is the youngest-ever person to command her own ship, but she brooks no argument from her crew of orphans, fugitives, and con men. Nev can’t resist her, even if her ship is an antique.

As for Nev, he’s a prince, in hiding on the ship. He believes Qole holds the key to changing galactic civilization, and when her cooperation proves difficult to obtain, Nev resolves to get her to his home planet by any means necessary.

But before they know it, a rival royal family is after Qole too, and they’re more interested in stealing her abilities than in keeping her alive.

Nev’s mission to manipulate Qole becomes one to save her, and to survive, she’ll have to trust her would-be kidnapper. He may be royalty, but Qole is discovering a deep reservoir of power—and stars have mercy on whoever tries to hurt her ship or her crew.


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If you were on a space adventure, which fictional character would you add to your crew and why? (Feel free to name one from any book, but below are some choices you can pick from this novel.)

  • Nev: a handsome prince from an old influential family (whose talents shall remain hidden for now)
  • Qole: talented young ship pilot with a Shadow ability she considers a curse
  • Basra: androgynous figure with a mysterious past; a whiz at negotiating trades
  • Arjan: older brother to Qole, talented pilot in his own right but has his own fears
  • Telu: gifted hacker
  • Eton: a bodyguard; talented fighter and cook with an arsenal of weapons

Publication Info
  • Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller
  • Published by Delacorte Press
  • On March 21, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
Series: Kaitan Chronicles
  • Shadow Run
  • Untitled
  • Some language (much replaced with words specific to the world)
  • Making out, hints at sexual relations (clandestine affairs that took place in the past for some characters)
  • Homo-erotic scenes (primarily because of Basra's androgynous character; because no one is sure of Basra's gender, Basra is referred to as a her)
  • Torture (involving visible guts)
  • Violence (lots of blood, dismemberment, and death)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.


Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy of Shadow Run to give away to one lucky winner on the continental USA! To enter, follow the directions in the form below.

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Six Reasons to Watch Your Name ⇉ A Story That is More Than Body Switching, Teen Angst, and First Love

Monday, March 20, 2017

What if you were tired of your life and yearned for something else? What if you made a wish on a comet and woke up in someone else's body? What if, in the process, you developed romantic feelings for someone living far, far away?

What if?

In his latest film Kimi no Na wa. (Translated: Your Name), Makoto Shinkai explores the emotional struggles and growths of Mitsuha, a small town girl, and Taki, a Tokyo city boy, as they adapt to life switching back and forth between each others' lives.

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black ⇉ Aliens, Mecha Knights, and Unlikely Heroes

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Ninth City Burning has many elements that I enjoy in a good book, least of which is an interesting plot. Aliens, war, and unlikely heroes come to save the world? Count me in!


Detailed World Building
Reading this novel has me constantly amazed by the level of detail that J. Patrick Black has put into this novel. Few books go into the world as in-depth as Black has with the world of Ninth City Burning. I felt like I was right there with the characters experiencing the world with them.

If this book contained the procedure manual for the world, I'm sure someone could easily recreate it with little additional guidance. (Though I wouldn't be surprised if Black had the complete manual lying around somewhere. It's clear that he's very familiar with this world. This book has footnotes—on some pages; don't worry, you don't have to read all of them. But they are interesting and clever!)

Complex Characters
Ninth City Burning is narrated alternately by several different characters as appropriate. Each new one comes in as the time comes for us to see another part of the world; as each new narrator jumps in, so does a new layer of complexity—for the story and for the character. It's rare that I see characters come to life as they did in this novel. It's clear that Black knows his characters as well as he does his world.

I won't specific each narrator or the exact number because I do want to leave some surprises, and knowing who the narrators are ahead of time may spoil something!

"Archaic" References 
Imagine a world where I♡NY, Good Cop / Bad Cop, and Star Wars references have lost their original meaning but continue to float around waiting for the observant reader to spot these relics of another time. Have you ever wondered what future societies would think about our time period? Black gives us a peek into how a post-apocalyptic society at war may view elements of our culture. Such references help break tension (at least, for the reader) at important moments. I myself am partial to the Star Wars references.


Extremely Verbose
Given all the world building, this novel is rather verbose. Given my experience reading classics for which authors were paid by the word, I actually don't really mind the text-heavy nature of this work. It's refreshing in a market where books have cut back heavily on the world building in favor of fast-moving, action-driven plots. However, some readers may have a hard time getting past the first two "acts" (parts) of this novel to the actual war front.

Multiple POVs in the First Person
The book features several different points of views all in the first person. This made it difficult for me to sort the characters in my head until I became better acquainted with them. With multiple POVs, I prefer for the story to be told in the third person as it makes it easier to keep track of the characters.

Furthermore, while narrating a novel through multiple POVs is especially appropriate for world building in a sci-fi fantasy novel, it means sacrificing character development. The more a novel jumps around from character to character, the spend less time we spend with each given character. A good bit of time can pass before we return to one character, so I had some catching up to do each time I became reacquainted with a character. That said, I do acknowledge that this allows us to fast forward through parts of their stories that may not have been so entertaining.


Ninth City Burning is an imaginative, complex debut from J. Patrick Black. Few books have brought a world and its inhabitants to life as Ninth City Burning has for me. I very much enjoyed the time that I spent in this world. (So much, in fact, that this review is actually coming a bit later than I had anticipated—I really wanted to take my time with this one.) While I would love to spend more time discussing the story, this is a novel that you need to read to appreciate the complexity of the world and story. I definitely recommend getting this one if you enjoy a good sci-fi fantasy with good world building and well-developed characters.

I'm looking forward to seeing what J. Patrick Black sends our way next!


We never saw them coming.

Entire cities disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving nothing but dust and rubble. When an alien race came to make Earth theirs, they brought with them a weapon we had no way to fight, a universe-altering force known as thelemity. It seemed nothing could stop it—until we discovered we could wield the power too.

Five hundred years later, the Earth is locked in a grinding war of attrition. The talented few capable of bending thelemity to their will are trained in elite military academies, destined for the front lines. Those who refused to support the war have been exiled to the wilds of a ruined Earth.

But the enemy's tactics are changing, and Earth's defenders are about to discover this centuries-old war has only just begun. As a terrible new onslaught looms, heroes will rise from unlikely quarters, and fight back.


« Click to read reviews »

You can also read a guest post by J. Patrick Black on the blog on his "Top 5 (admittedly impractical) Survival Tips for an Alien Invasion."


500 years in the future, what relic of our culture would you like to remain?

Publication Info
  • Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black
  • Published by Ace
  • On September 6, 2016
  • Genres: Science Fiction
  • Pages: 482 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
  1. Ninth City Burning
  2. TBD
  • Violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Dusting The Old Bookshelf: 10 Books to Read as I'm Spring Cleaning

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spring is the season for cleaning. Old clothes, books, and miscellaneous items see the light of day as we bring them out of the storage. We may even find items that we thought were long gone. (Just a couple weeks ago, I pulled out an old purse and found a flashdrive that I'd been missing for a year now.) This is the perfect season for reading old favorites that have been collecting dust as well as books that we haven't gotten around to opening.

Moana ⇉ "If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you're a princess."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Unsurprisingly, Disney stuck to its safe classic formula with its latest film. However, Moana turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

The First Book That I Ever (Remember Having) Read

Thursday, March 2, 2017
I don't have memories of the first book I ever read. Or the second or the third. By the time I was a pre-school kid, I was already reading chapter books. (Anyone else in the same boat?)

Charlotte's Web is the first book that I remember standing in line to purchase with my mom. It is the first book I have memories of reading. It made me smile; it made me laugh; it made me cry inside (because of Fern and because of Charlotte).

It made me realize that the world isn't perfect—but that, through the efforts of individuals like Fern and Charlotte (and all the other farm animals who supported Wilbur in their own ways), life can be made not just more tolerable but livable.

Today, I decided to take a break from the normal review schedule and share a (more) adult perspective on one of my favorite childhood reads. I'd love to hear about your favorite (and / or first) childhood read in the comments below!


I believe I can fly~
Charlotte's Web taught me never to give up. Wilbur is destined for slaughter (being a farm pig), and there doesn't seem to be any hope for him (given that his life is in human hands). Nevertheless, his friends never give up on him, and their actions change the direction of his life.

Perhaps we can't fly on our own. Perhaps we need help lifting our heads out of the mud in our own pig sty to see the blue horizon of a bright future. That's okay. Wilbur broke that ground before us.

Talking animals! Talking animals!
Animals were my life as a kid. I really wanted to be Mandy from the Animal Ark series, and I still have a fancy for books that feature animal life. I adore how Charlotte's Web introduces important themes like friendship, working hard, and the value of life through the story of farm animals. Younger children will be drawn to the animal characters, and as they grow up, they'll come to appreciate the lessons learned from the human characters.

Everyone needs a Charlotte in his or her life
If it wasn't for Charlotte . . . so many things wouldn't have happened. In fact, Wilbur would be bacon (or ham or pork chops). Charlotte doesn't always know what to do (and needs help from time to time), but she always does what she believes is right and trusts the answer to come with time.

Charlotte is a true friend. I hope that you have a Charlotte in your life and that someone sees you as a Charlotte too :)

Children can make a difference too
As a child, I admired how Fern takes a stand for Wilbur when he's still a baby piglet. She inspired me to want to make a difference in an animal's life as well, and I learned to be more appreciative of the animals at home. As Fern taught me, it's never too early to start changing lives.

Nasty rats can save the day too
I've always had a soft spot for characters that the reader loves to hate on. Templeton is the resident rat and quite a bit of a selfish character. What I love about him is that he adds character to a community of otherwise pretty bland characters. (The farm animals are nice, but they're also really naive.) I was really happy to see him take a turn in the spotlight (err, moonlight).


Wilbur is needy. Very needy.
Wilbur is entirely dependent on others (*cough*Charlotte*cough*) to save him. The only time he really makes a decision is at the end, but it's arguable that he makes this decision out of a selfish need. A part of me wishes that Wilbur had taken more of an active role in his story.

(The other part of me argues that this makes for a good friendship story and that's what it's really all about. What are your thoughts?)

Fern abandons Wilbur (Debatable? Perhaps. I still say so)
My little three-year-old brain couldn't comprehend why any sane human would leave such a cute pig alone. Especially for boys and ferris wheels. (A part of me still can't. I don't seem to have grown in human terms. Can't the boys come play with the pig too?)

I've grown up with animals. While they can amuse themselves for a while, animals also need love and attention. It breaks my heart how sad Wilbur is to be left alone. He eventually makes new friends, but I don't think anyone can replace Fern's place in his heart. She's like a mother to him.

Charlotte! I can't! Charlotte! Charlotte!
While I was reflecting on my childhood emotions upon reading about Charlotte's end, Chuck Noland's cries upon losing Wilson came to mind (Castaway, anyone?). Why did this have to happen to her? This (along with the events leading up to her and Wilbur's first meeting) was my first lesson in the unfairness of life.

I still can't think about that scene without all sorts of feels.


Charlotte's Web is a classic for a reason. While I may have fangirled over the animals, I strongly believe in the lessons this novel teaches children: lessons like growing pains, fighting to live (really live), and making true friends who will fight for you. This book handles tough subjects (for children) delicately and empathetically. It's definitely a book that I want to keep in the family. I look forward to reading this with the next generation one day!


Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte's Web, high up in Zuckerman's barn. Charlotte's spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur's life when he was born the runt of his litter.

E. B. White's Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.



What is your favorite childhood read? And / or what is the first book you remember reading? Tell me your story!

Publication Info
  • Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
  • Published by Harper Collins
  • On October 1, 2001
  • Original Pub: 1952
  • Genres: Children'sClassics
  • Pages: 184 Pages
  • Format: Paperback
  • N/A
  • Fern's father is seen taking an axe out to kill the runt.
  • Wilbur finds out he's being fattened for the slaughter.

Christian Cosmo by Phylicia Masonheimer ⇉ The Sex Talk You Never Had

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Christian Cosmo is the conversation that I wish someone started with me when I was in high school. Yes, "The Talk" can be awkward and scary. It's a huge responsibility to should as the one discipling a younger woman (or man—given that this book was written by a woman for women, however, I'll be addressing this post to women). Yes, I have a loving mother who did her best to instruct me in the importance of saving myself, but I never connected the dots between purity and love for Christ. The same can be said for many young women out there.

Because of the lack of connection, many, like me, stopped and will stop following Christ. Fewer still will return unless we open the doors for an honest conversation about sex.

Phylicia does just that in Christian Cosmo.