Monday, December 12, 2011

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to mean on whom his favor rests."

Have a wonderful, Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Books for your Christmas list...

Need some suggestions for the book lover on your Christmas shopping list? Here are some of my favorites:

If you know someone who loves detective novels, Mark Mynheir's The Corruptible is an excellent choice for them. If they tend to prefer the classics, you can't go wrong with a Father Brown short story collection from G. K. Chesteron or Agatha Christie's famous Belgian private detective, Hercule Poirot.

Have a preteen/teen on your list that devours books, but you have no idea what kids are reading these days (besides books starring lame, sparkly bloodsuckers)? Kat Heckenbach's Finding Angel is an amazing read that the teens (and you) will love! Other ideas are the Dark Sea Annals (The Sword in the Stars and The Errant King) by Wayne Thomas Batson, The Homelanders Series (The Last Thing I Remember, The Long Way Home, The Truth of the Matter, The Final Hour) by Andrew Klavan (if they're not fantasy fans) and, for the girls, Erynn Mangum's Sketchy Behavior.

Adult fantasy/science fiction? ;) Bryan Davis' series Dragons of Starlight is an excellent series, as is Becky Minor's The Windrider series from DMG Publishing. Other ideas include anything from Marcher Lord Press or Splashdown Books--I've read many of the books from both publishers and I honestly have nothing bad to say about them.

Hope that helps! Enjoy your Christmas season, and God Bless until next year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Popcorn and a Movie: The Three Musketeers

Storyline:

D'Artagnan is a young man who has always dreamed of joining the king's Musketeers. When he journeys to Paris, he not only insults three of the best musketeers (Athos, Aramis, and Portos) one after another, but also discovers that Cardinal Richelieu has disbanded the musketeers and is plotting to take over the country, while the young king fritters his time away worrying about clothes and how to win over his young queen.

Of course, D'Artagnan won't stand for that. He inspires Athos, Aramis, and Portos to work against the Cardinal. Along the way, they run into Athos' old traitorous girlfriend, Milady de Winter, and her new


MY THOUGHTS:

Cons: Um, plenty of them. The costumes are quite period, which (of course) means low-cut necklines for the gals. Milady de Winter's outfit of choice for breaking into the queen's chambers is...ahem...let's just say that it pushes the limits of what should be allowed in a PG-13 movie. (And honestly, that was the killer for me. If I'd known exactly how bad that outfit was, I wouldn't have gone to see the movie.)

My apologies to anyone who still likes Orlando Bloom, but...yeeeeuck. I could stomach him in LotR and PotC, but he just doesn't look good here. Especially in a bright purple brocade. Ick.

There are some suggestive comments, mostly involving the beautiful double agent Milady.

Overall, the violence isn't bad, until we get to D'Artagnan and Rochefort's duel on the rooftop of a church. D'Artagnon is repeatedly stabbed and grabs Rochefort's sword-blade a couple of times to prevent another wound, which is incredibly wince-inducing.

Quite a few cuss-words, and plenty of drinking.

Pros: After all that, it's amazing that I could find some good stuff about this film. But, I did. Whether or not it balances out the bad remains to be seen.

Portos, Athos, and Aramis (and later D'Artagnon) are a loyal team. They work well together and watch each others backs.

The storyline itself is entertaining and fun. Plenty of swashbuckling and sneaking going on here. I thought the beginning sequence with the musketeers and Milady de Winter breaking into Michalangelo's secret vault was pretty cool. And there were some added steampunk elements, like the giant airships built by the cardinal and the duke of Buckingham.

CONCLUSION: This one definitely isn't family friendly and, as much as I liked some parts of it, other parts force me to conclude that this is one I won't be watching again.

Two stars.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead

Storyline:

Ancient legend tells of an army of knights that will remain sleeping until the last days.

The knights are waking up.

A homeless man is stalked by a pale, wraithlike creature with a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. Maimed animals and a host of suicides cluster around a mountain in Scotland. And deep beneath the cobbled streets of Oxford, a malicious hoard besieges a hidden city.

Freya Reynolds is a university student with a touch of OCD and an obsession with myth and folklore. Daniel Tully is living rough on the streets of Oxford, waging a secret war against an enemy only he can identify. Years ago, they found themselves in a world few know is real. They have since gone their separate ways and tried to put that adventure behind them.

But the mythical world is now bleeding into our reality-a dark spiritual evil that is manifesting itself in forgotten corners of the British Isles. Alex Simpson is a Scottish police officer who specializes in hunting mythical creatures. Together, they must confront the past, the present, and points beyond to defeat the ultimate threat to humanity.

MY THOUGHTS:

Cons: I didn't feel like Alex Simpson had enough to do in the story. I actually liked his part of the story best and wanted to know more about him and his work.

Ross Lawhead is, in ways, like his father Stephen Lawhead--he is pretty wordy and not all of it is necessary. I almost thought that this book might have benefited from a more minimalistic style.

The jumping back and forth from past to present was interesting, but a little confusing/annoying at times.

Pros: The storyline is really good. I just started reading urban fantasy this summer, and from what I've seen, this is a good example of the genre.

Normally I wouldn't compliment about how creepy the book was, but in this case I think it deserves it. There were just a few bits of the storyline that were creepy, but I thought they fit the storyline perfectly.

I thought the characterization was pretty good--I felt like I got to know Daniel and Freya as real people. Alex remains a bit of a mystery, but since it seems like they'll be working together, I'm sure the readers will have a chance to get to know him better.

Family Friendliness: Ehhh...don't give this to your 13-year-old. I think 15-16 and up is about right for this book. There weren't any cusswords, but the violence plus the creep factor would be a little much for anyone younger than that, I think.

Conclusion: I think that The Realms Thereunder is a great addition to urban fantasy. I enjoyed it and will be awaiting the continuation of the series.

My Rating: three out of five stars

**I received this book for free from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review**

Monday, November 14, 2011

Novel Spotlight: The Windrider: Divine Summons by Rebecca P. Minor


STORYLINE: When a dark plot to undermine the security of the elven nation emerges, Captain Vinyanel Ecleriast must decide. Will he allow his contentious relationship with his half-elven mentor, the Prophetess Veranna, to interfere with his sworn duty to protect his people and his homeland? Newly ordained as the future High Commander of the First Airborne Division of the Elven Cavalry, Vinyanel sets off astride his new mount—a silver dragon—to intervene before the elves’ enemies disappear into the wilderness not only with priceless artifacts pivotal to the elves’ safety, but the life of the elven king in their hands. Only if he can put aside his preconceptions and take full hold of Veranna’s teaching will Vinyanel find the strength to fulfill his Divine Summons.

MY THOUGHTS

Cons:

Too short! But I can live with that since there are two more books in the series. :)

It took me a bit to really get into the book. I think that was because of the situation the book starts with and the backstory needed to understand it.

While the characters certainly didn't feel two-dimensional, I found myself wanting more backstory on them. How did Majestrin and Veranna met? Was Vinyanel born a continually sarcastic grouch, or did he become this way because of an event in his life? I'm guessing that as the series goes on, we'll see a bit more of these characters' backstories.

Pros:

The lyrical writing style coupled with the first person point of view really pulled me into the story. It meshed very well with the more formal elvish culture, so that not only Vinyanel's speech but his narrative and thoughts matched his culture.

Like I mentioned above, the characters weren't two-dimensional.

And of course, I'm always partial to books that feature beautiful descriptions of riding dragon-back. :)

I'd say the family-friendliness of Divine Summons was pretty good. There's a part where Vinyanel's horse breaks his leg (which turned my stomach a little, but my stomach is weak when it comes to breaking bones anyway). Vinyanel gets captured and knocked around, and there's a near-sacrifice that might be a little scary for kids. I'd probably feel comfortable handing it off to a 13 or 14-year-old. No profanities (unless you count a dragon saying "Blast!" when he gets into a situation where he can't breath ice). :)

I really enjoyed this book! It made a quick, beautiful read. I'll definitely be buying the rest of the series as they come out.

My rating: 4 stars.

**NOTE: A week from tomorrow, on the 22nd, the third Windrider book will be available for purchase as an e-book. For those who don't do e-books, the print editions will be out next January.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

STORYLINE:

Incarceron is a prison so vast that it contains not only cells and corridors, but metal forests, dilapidated cities, and wilderness. It has been sealed for centuries, and only one man has ever escaped. Finn has always been a prisoner here. Although he has no memory of his childhood, he is sure he came from Outside. His link to the Outside, his chance to break free, is Claudia, the warden's daughter, herself determined to escape an arranged marriage. They are up against impossible odds, but one thing looms above all: Incarceron itself is alive . . .

MY THOUGHTS

Cons:

Dark. Grim. Claudia and Finn both live in extremely hostile worlds, though Finn's is the more obvious one. The Prison is creepy and gruesome, with violence, strange beasts, and creatures called half-men (part human, part machine) part of daily life.

A couple of mild cuss-words.

Pros:

A very well-written story. Catherine Fisher developed interesting worlds, both the Prison and Outside.

She also knows how to create sympathetic characters. I definitely commiserated with both Finn and Claudia, even though he's a thief and she's a sneaky conniver.

CONCLUSION:

I wouldn't hand this book off to anyone under 16, mostly because of the darkness, gruesomeness, and cusswords. It definitely made me glad that we live in a very real, very free world.

Rating: three stars

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Bone House by Stephen R. Lawhead

Storyline:

ONE PIECE OF THE SKIN MAP HAS BEEN FOUND. NOW THE RACE TO UNRAVEL THE FUTURE OF THE FUTURE TURNS DEADLY.

Kit Livingstone met his great grandfather Cosimo in a rainy alley in London where he discovered the reality of alternate realities.

Now he's on the run-and on a quest-trying to understand the impossible mission he inherited from Cosimo: to restore a map that charts the hidden dimensions of the multiverse. Survival depends on staying one step ahead of the savage Burley Men.

The key is the Skin Map-but where it leads and what it means, Kit has no idea. The pieces have been scattered throughout this universe and beyond.

Mina, from her outpost in seventeenth-century Prague, is quickly gaining both the experience and the means to succeed in the quest. Yet so are those with evil intent who, from the shadows, are manipulating great minds of history for their own malign purposes.

Those who know how to use ley lines have left their own world behind to travel across time and space-down avenues of Egyptian sphinxes, to an Etruscan tufa tomb, a Bohemian coffee shop, and a Stone Age landscape where universes collide-in this, the second quest to unlock the mystery of The Bone House.

MY THOUGHTS

Cons: Stephen Lawhead's longwinded literariness sometimes gets in the way of the story sometimes--but only sometimes.

The characters are growing a little, but for some reason I'm still not attaching to any of them.

Pros: This book seemed to move faster than The Skin Map did. The storylines diverged and converged and twisted, so it seemed more action-packed. Again, this plot amazes me.

Conclusion: This is a rather typical Lawhead book--longer than it really needs to be with characters who aren't super well-drawn. Still, it's an interesting time-travel read and I'm enjoying it.

Rating: four out of five stars.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Novel Spotlight: Finding Angel by Kat Heckenbach


Storyline: Angel doesn't remember her magical heritage...but it remembers her.

Magic and science collide when she embarks on a journey to her true home, and to herself.

Angel lives with a loving foster family, but dreams of a land that exists only in the pages of a fantasy novel. Until she meets Gregor, whose magic Talent saves her life and revives lost memories.

She follows Gregor to her homeland...a world unlike any she has imagined, where she travels a path of self-discovery that leads directly to her role in an ancient Prophecy...and to the madman who set her fate in motion.

MY THOUGHTS

Cons: the only problem I have with this book that is was too SHORT! :) OK, and I thought that some of it was a little too much horror for a middle-grade novel. Most of the book was fine, but there was just one scene in a laboratory with specimen jars and dissections that I really thought showcased the author's horror side. Maybe I underestimate today's middle graders, but that scene felt a little too much to me.

Pros: The characters are awesome. Angel and Gregor as the main characters are pretty cool, but my absolute favorite character was Kalek, a rocker elf with quite an amazing Talent. I can't tell you anymore because I want readers to discover that for themselves and be as totally in awe of that scene as I was (favorite scene in the book, right there).

And speaking of Talents...I liked the magic system of the world. Each person has a primary magical ability, their Talent, as well as other magical abilities. For example, Angel's mom's Talent was painting pictures, then pulling the object out of the picture (as long as it wasn't alive). Gregor's Talent is making gates in trees to get from one place to another.

The storyline likewise was fun, quirky, and nicely paced. The climax had me biting my nails (after a successful month of not chewing them) and muttering, "I know where this is going--please don't go where I think it is--you can't just DO that! No, no, no!" and the conclusion was extremely satisfying, though tinged with sadness. Though there was no mention of a "God" figure, there were hints, and I'm looking forward to how the author will pull those hints out in further development of the world.

Conclusion: Obviously, I can't talk enough about this book. It's another Splashdown Books release, and probably my favorite to date that they've put out (as well as gaining a spot on my all-time favorite fantasy books list). The writing is great, and the story is one that, while I would hesitate to give it to anyone below 13-14, could easily charm anyone above that.

Rating: five out of five stars.

Next week: Review of the second book in Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series, The Bone House.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Sword in the Stars by Wayne Thomas Batson


Storyline: Haunted by memories of a violent past, Alastair Coldhollow wagers his life on the hope that a sword will appear in the stars and the foretold Halfainin, the Pathwalker, would come. Meanwhile, tensions simmer between Anglinore and the murderous Gorrack Nation, threatening war on a cataclysmic scale. The fate of all could rest on an abandoned child and the decisions of those who desperately seek to identify him.

My Thoughts:

Cons: The storyline covers a long amount of time, several years of which are covered by letters between two characters. It's interesting to see the two characters' relationship develop just by reading the letters, and I understand that it was the best way to make the time pass quickly, but I just didn't personally care for it.

The conversations seem to be stilted a few times, and a few scenes seem slightly misplaced to me (such as the scene where High King Aravel and King Morlan are born, which could have been a great foreshadowing piece if placed as a prologue, but instead seems a little...flat.)

At the beginning of the book Alistair heavily drinks Witchdrale, a drink that is supposed to be awful and extremely addicting. It's not portrayed in a good light and Alistair eventually repents of his weakness for Witchdrale.

Pros: I was fascinated by the world of Myriad (and love the name choice). The names sounded beautifully Celtic or Jewish and all the peoples were slightly familiar, yet tweaked enough to be unique (I love the Willowfolk!). The scenery he describes sounds beautiful, especially the land of the Willowfolk. I think Batson did an excellent job with his world-building.

I like that Alistair Coldhollow, the main character of the book, is deeply flawed and repentant but vulnerable to the temptation of falling back into his old ways. It made him see very real to me. I also like Abbagael and the relationship she has with Alistair. That's all I'll say about them so I don't ruin the book. :) Sprye and the Willowfolk were also fun characters and I wish they had been in more of the book.

For someone who loves one-on-one battle scenes, this book was amazing. I'm always in awe of master swordsmen in fantasy novels and Alistair was no exception.

Conclusion: I like this book a lot but felt that the quality was a bit lacking. Nevertheless, it's a great book for teens, despite the fact that many of the characters are quite a bit older than that. I'd give this book to a 14-year-old without hesitation.

Rating: Four out of five stars

Next week: Novel Spotlight of Finding Angel, yet another fabulous Splashdown Books release!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead

Back Cover:
It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingston's great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard, and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code--a roadmap of symbols--that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The Bright Empires series--from acclaimed author Stephen Lawhead--is a unique blending of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, fantastical adventure like no other.

MY THOUGHTS

Cons:

The book can be sloooooow.

As is usual with Lawhead, there are a few wince-inducing moments. And just the fact that the map is made out of...well, human skin...makes me shudder a little.

Pros:

The cover is pretty cool.

I don't mind how complicated it is, you just have to walk into reading the story prepared for it. It makes for a long series, which I like. Definitely not a book for a quick read.

Kit is a bit of a sweet bumbler, always trying to do the right thing and somehow never quite making everything work. Hopefully he improves over time, though, otherwise he could get old pretty quick. I really didn't connect to the characters that well, though. We'll see how the rest of the series progresses.

Conclusion:

Mainly, I love The Skin Map for its plot, not its characters. We'll see how Mina and Kit grow on me throughout the rest of the series.

I'd say the story would be suitable for 16 up, because of the intensity and aforementioned cringe-worthy moments.

Rating: Four out of five stars

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Corruptible by Mark Mynheir


Back cover: How much money would it take for you to betray the truth?

Ex-homicide detective Ray Quinn never had glamorous thoughts of the life of a private investigator—but being cornered in a bathroom stall by the enraged philandering husband of a client? That’s something he could live without. Retired from homicide and living with a painful disability, Ray’s options are limited. Stick to the job, keep impetuous sidekick Crevis alive, and spend quiet evenings with trusted pal Jim Beam, that’s about the best he can hope for.

As a new client emerges, Ray finds himself in an impossibly large boardroom holding a check with enough zeros to finally lift him from his financial pit. The job seems easy enough: find Logan Ramsey, an ex-cop turned security officer who’s taken off with sensitive corporate information. But few things are easy in Ray’s world, regardless of the amount of zeros in the check.

In what should be an open-and-shut case, Ray stumbles across Logan Ramsey in a seedy motel room. Only Ray wasn’t the first to find him. Now Logan’s dead, the client’s information is nowhere to be found, and Ray’s employer is less than forthcoming with the details. Suddenly the line between the good guys and bad guys isn’t so clear. With a foot in both worlds and an illuminating look at an unhappy ending that could well be his own, which will Ray choose?

My Thoughts:

Let's look at the cons first:

Ray Quinn drinks. A LOT. But it's not shown in nearly as much of a glamorous light as in The Maltese Falcon, nor is it even shown to be funny like it often is in the Thin Man series. Ray pays the prices for drinking and he knows he has a problem.

I think there was one or two mild cuss words in the book.

And, this is a detective story. It's full of nasty people doing nasty things like cheating and taking drugs, and there are suggestions of boyfriends/girlfriends living together/sleeping together. However, it doesn't show any of these things nor dwell on them, unless a detective is speculating about how someone had the opportunity to kill someone else. Nothing in it made me squirm.

Now the pros:

This book reminds me of an old detective movie like The Maltese Falcon or one of the Thin Man movies. And honestly, I love love love the old detective genre. So I really enjoyed this book and I bet anyone who likes Agatha Christe, Dashiell Hammett, or even a more modern book like Randy Alcorn's Deception, would love this book.

The characters are well-drawn. We have the stereotypes of the story (of course) like the grouchy old codger detective, the bumbling, over-eager assistant, and two beautiful women. But since you can't really have a hard-boiled detective story without some some variation of these stereotypes, it didn't bother me at all.

The story is well-written and had quite a few twists and turns. I guessed the culprit correctly, but not too much before the end of the book.

Conclusion:

I'd definitely recommend this book to people 16 and up, not because there's necessarily anything bad in it (besides the mild cuss words), but because of the intensity of the book. If you like detective stories, buy The Corruptible and look for other Ray Quinn novels.

Rating: five out of five stars

Monday, September 12, 2011

Novel Spotlight: Aquasynthesis

Aquasynthesis is a collection of short stories from the authors at Splashdown Books. They range from a miracle-working ring, to learning sentient computers, to a Lucky Penny, to an obsession with ears, all tied together with short snippets from the viewpoint of a girl watching a pool of water freeze and melt.

If you think that sounds weird...well...it's speculative fiction.

Let me quickly review some of my favorite stories in the mix:

Dude by Kat Heckenbach: This story made me laugh so hard! It was a creative, non-traditional use of an elf and I loved it. This was easily my favorite story in the entire collection. Kat's two other stories, Between the Pages and The Artist, were also amazing. He book, Finding Angel, came out on September 1st. I have to get it!

When the Game Became Too Real by Ryan Grabow: I. Need. Air. Gulp. An adrenaline-laced story with the protagonist stuck in virtual reality, based on his forthcoming novel, Caffiene. Yeah. I'm gonna need this book too.

The Kissing Part by Fred Warren: A companion story to his novel The Muse, this is a cute story that reminds me of something my little sister did to one of my stories once.

Summer Snaps: a deleted scene from Keven Newsome's Winter, the book that launched Darkwater, the supernatural imprint of Splashdown. It's a supernatural thriller about a Christian Goth named Winter who receives visions from God. I wasn't too sure about the book--I mean, Christian Goths? Really?--but reading the story made me interested. Add Winter to my must-buy pile.

The Unjust Judge by Adam Graham: The story about a man who refuses to mete out justice and a widowed alien who refuses to give up...sounds just like something the author of Tales of the Dim Knight would write. Serious and funny all at once, and an excellent story.

The Field Trip by P. A. Baines: Hahaha! A story about two aliens learning about earth...and the difference a comma can make. Oosha. (Oops.) ;)

Overall thoughts: Some of the stories were better-written than others, but all made me curious to check out the authors I haven't read before. For people concerned about content, most of the book is clean. One story (Bob by P. A. Baines) contains a mild cuss-word, and Caprice Hokstad's story Fettered Soul contains a little sensuality (but nothing happens, not even a kiss. Oh yeah, and I really like this story too. Add two more books to my "must-buy" pile.). Aquasynthesis should be fine for those over 16.

If you like Christian speculative fiction and want a book you can read in short snippets, I'd definitely recommend Aquasynthesis. It wiln give you a good introduction to the fan-tabulous authors at Splashdown!

Rating: four-and-a-half stars

Monday, September 5, 2011

Favorite Summer Reads 2011

Well, it's amazing to me that I read as many books as I did this year--what with having at least one event a week and all my writing stuff. OK, so I neglected my writing stuff. ;) I read quite a few great books this year and it was really hard to pick out three favorites...but here they are.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
:

Wow!!!!!! I thought I liked The Hunger Games Trilogy, but I think this book beats them hands-down. Can't wait for the rest of the books in the series!

Pros: Sympathetic if not totally likable main character & I love her nickname). Interesting secondary characters and sympathetic love interest. Quick moving, complicated, compelling storyline. Some people say it drags in the middle (since much of the book is about her training) but I didn't think so.

Cons: One or two cuss words. Some sensuality. Wouldn't recommend it for anyone under 18 because of the previous points & the violence.

Description from Amazon page: One choice can transform you. Pass initiation. Do not fail! Thrilling urban dystopian fiction debut from exciting young author. In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior's world, society is divided into five factions -- Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) -- each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a "perfect society." At the age of sixteen, teens must choose the faction to which they will devote their lives. On her Choosing Day, Beatrice renames herself Tris, rejects her family's group, and chooses another faction. After surviving a brutal initiation, Tris finds romance with a super-hot boy (MY NOTE: ehhhh, not really.), but also discovers unrest and growing conflict in their seemingly "perfect society." To survive and save those they love, they must use their strengths to uncover the truths about their identities, their families, and the order of their society itself.



The Tea Shop Mysteries by Laura Child
:

OK, yes, a bit kitschy. I like them, though. They're relatively easy and clean reads (the two I read, anyway) and decent murder mysteries.

Pros: Easy, cozy-mystery reading. Yummy-sounding recipes & tea! ;) Perfect for a day at the beach or a long car ride.

Cons: one or two minor cuss words.

Description from Amazon page of Shades of Earl Grey: Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning is finally invited to a social event that she doesn't have to cater-but trouble is brewing at the engagement soiree of the season...



Sword In the Stars by Wayne Thomas Batson:

Awesome cover! And good story, too. ;) I love how the main character struggles to be a "good guy" throughout the book. It seemed very consistent for who and what he was. Of course, it had moments of typical Wayne Thomas Batson humor and sticky "oops" situations. I like books that make me snicker.

Pros: Great main character and fun secondary characters. Freaky bad guys (is it just me or does Batson seem to have a gift for this?). Humor sprinkled throughout the book, sometimes in just the right place to give you a much-needed breath.

Cons: covers a long period of time.

Description from Amazon page: Haunted by memories of a violent past, Alastair Coldhollow wagers his life on the hope that a sword will appear in the stars and the foretold Halfainin, the Pathwalker, would come. Meanwhile, tensions simmer between Anglinore and the murderous Gorrack Nation, threatening war on a cataclysmic scale. The fate of all could rest on an abandoned child and the decisions of those who desperately seek to identify him. Sword in the Stars is the first release in The Dark Sea Annals series.

FULL REVIEW TO FOLLOW ON THE 3RD OF NEXT MONTH (OCTOBER).


**NOTE: I received Sword in the Stars free from AMG in return for posting an honest review.**

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dragons of Starlight Book 1: Starlight by Bryan Davis

Sotryline: Jason Masters doesn't believe in the legends like his brother, Adrian. But a message from their missing brother, Frederick, changes everything. What if dragons had really stole people away to be slaves on their own planet? What if there really was a portal that could take him to the dragon planet?
Seeking the answers to his questions only brings Jason more trouble. Manipulated by men in the government, wanted for murder, Jason knows his only chance to prove his innocence is to find the portal and figure out what these men want.

My thoughts:
Having read Masters and Slayers, Jason's brother Adrian's story, I thought Starlighters was also an excellent book. I enjoyed getting the chance to see Jason's side of the story, a side that's only partially glimpsed by Adrian and Drexel in Masters and Slayers.
I was a bit worried that Jason would be a younger copy of his brother, but there were definitely differences. The other characters were well-done and I'm glad there are more books to the series, because I was left with a feeling that I hadn't spent nearly enough time with all the characters. :)
The plot was good and fast-paced, though I felt there were a few small points that came too easily to the main characters (like finding the crystal peg that allowed the portal to be opened from the dragon world). Like I said, small nitpicky points.
There's nothing in the plot that would keep me from recommending this book to teens as young as 13--one reason I like Bryan Davis' stuff so much. Another great book of his that you should definitely check out!
Rating: 5 stars

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Storyline: It begins with a dark being, glimpsed out of the corner of Rand al'Thor's eyes. When he and his father arrive in the village of Edmond's Field, everyone ignores his uneasiness, save his two best friends--Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara. Even Rand forgets it when he encounters two strangers, a giant of a warrior named Lan and a woman named Moraine.
That night, the village is attacked by Trollocs and Fades, servants of the Dark One. Moraine immediately takes Mat, Perrin, Rand, and a village girl named Egwene away. She knows something about the boys, something she won't tell them. But she does tell them one thing--the Dark One is searching for them.

My Thoughts:
Well, that synopsis only gives you a vague understanding of the plot. The Eye of the World is a 400-plus-pages behemoth of a fantasy, the first in a series of 14 books all as large or larger. It's rich with characters, magic, and description of an amazing fantasy world.
I was a little nervous when I cracked open the book, but beyond a few mild cuss words and a questionable Eastern worldview, it's very good. It has a Tolkien-esque complexity, as well as a detail and a mastery of language that I would love to achieve some day. The descriptions, though long, seem to stick to the details for understanding the world.
The characters are all well-drawn. Some of them I didn't particularly care for--mainly Egwene, because she just doesn't allow Rand any slack. The three main characters I liked and I can't wait to see what happens to them.
I think the biggest problem I had with the book was the mythology and magic of the world. Given that it's a secular fantasy, I expected that. I didn't like that the good guys and bad guys are basically using the same magic, and the world is full of feminists because the "male half" of the magic is tainted with evil, while the "female half" isn't. It was a bit odd.
Despite that, though, I enjoyed the book. It gets 3 and a half stars.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Novel Spotlight: City of Light by Peter J. Dudek

Hey everyone! Welcome to the new reviews I'll be doing--the Novel Spotlight. Since I began posting a book review every week over at the Magical Ink Bookshelf, I wanted to keep this spot open for indie-published or self-published books I think merit a lot of attention. So, welcome to the first Spotlight, City of Light by Peter J. Dudek!

Storyline: Tarin is a shy boy who would rather sneak around and listen to gossip through windows than speak with or touch his fellow villagers. Quite unwillingly, he befriends Sarky, the son of Woodend's gatekeeper, and his adventures begin.

Two strangers--warriors--arrive in Woodend. Tarin--and only Tarin--sees dark, smoky, cloaked figures skulking around the village, though Sarky throws up if he gets too close to them. The banished governor is rumored to return, and the people's dislike of the current governor, Willerdon, grows.

And finally, another stranger arrives--Gildareth, herald from the long-absent King of Arvalast. The country is in danger. The people's faith is waning, and their Illumina--phials of pure, holy light given to believers by the King--are loosing their light. Some are even turning red, overtaken by a weird usurper who claims to be the true King. Evil beings stalk the land, seeking to destroy the King and his followers.

And Tarin, Sarky, and Governor Willerdon's family are in the middle of the conflict.

My Thoughts: I unexpectedly won this book in a contest. When I received it in the mail, I was struck by the cover art--it was a very cool, well-done picture. That was my first clue that this book was a cut above most of the self-published stuff out there.

Then I opened it and started reading. It took me a little bit, but I was sucked into the story.

A few things may seem to echo The Lord of the Rings--shadowy beings, phials of light--but the further I got into the story, the more I saw the differences. There are some sticky spots of stilted dialog, draggy action, or omniscient pov, but those are few.

Much of the story is amazing. The characters are fun and quirky, the description well-placed, the action exciting even without many fight scenes in the first half or so of the book. What at first seems to be a straight-forward plot soon evolves into something epic in proportions, with multiple storylines and lots of characters.

And the best part? Nothing objectionable, yet still a fabulous story. This book doesn't read like a normal first-time author's book.

Peter Dudek has woven a skillful, amazing story in City of Light. As soon as I finished it, I got on his website and checked for the second one--What? Not out yet?!? When??? :) I'd definitely recommend it!

Rating: Five out of five stars

Next week, be sure to check out my interview with Peter Dudek on Magical Ink!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Popcorn and a Movie: Thoughts on Voyage of the Dawn Treader


Since the movie version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has been reviewed and hashed to pieces, I just wanted to share my thoughts about it.
Let me start out with the Cons:
1) I was really afraid that they were going to go the Peter-I'm-the-High-King-so-I-can-do-anything-I-want route with Edmund at first. "I'm a king!" Well, no, not in this world, as Lucy points out. Thankfully, he doesn't stick with that very long (more on this in pros). Let's just say I would have been highly ticked if they'd messed up Edmund (I mean, seriously, he's the only character who made it through Prince Caspian without being screwed up. Leave off messing with my favorite characters already, Hollywood!).
2) They kind of whacked apart the storyline. And they added the "magical swords" (can you say Tolkien-esque AGAIN?). And the green mist. Again, Hollywood...grrr. However...
3) This is petty, but...Ben Barnes, round 2 = yuck. At least they let him act closer to his age.

Cons:
1) The green mist didn't kill the story as much as I thought it would. The way it threaded the temptations throughout the entire movie was pretty neat. OK, Hollywood, so it wasn't as complete of a failure as I thought.
2) Edmund doesn't stay an idiot like Peter did. In fact, his "I'm king of Narnia!" moments interestingly occur only when he's weak (ie driven nuts by the thought of staying with Eustace any longer) or tempted (Deathwater). Nicely done, in my opinion.
3) Eustace was perfect. I wanted to strangle that kid in the first part of the movie! And I thought I had annoying cousins? ;)
4) Reepicheep. 'Nough said! :D
5) They kept my all-time favorite scene in Narnia! The whole bit of leaving Narnia made me bawl (yes, I'm a softie!). Seriously, I started crying the instant they started rowing through the white flowers because I knew what was coming. I was so glad they kept Aslan's line:
Because there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.
YES!!!!! :)
So here you are. My thoughts. I really liked The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, despite the changes. It was an improvement on Prince Caspian though they still didn't quite get up to the precedent set by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Hopefully, they'll make the rest of the series because I really want to see The Silver Chair (my personal favorite) and, speaking from a movie standpoint, I think The Horse and His Boy would make an excellent movie.
PS: When we walked out of the theater from this movie, it was snowing. Absolutely perfect and beautiful enough to bring even more tears to my eyes!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Popcorn and a Movie: Tangled

(Since I'd alrady posted a review of my 2010 Book of the Year, I thought I'd post a movie review today).

Disney's newest fairytale, Tangled, was one of the cutest movies I've seen in a while. The story is loosely based on the fairytale Rapunzel.

Before Rapunzel was born, her mother was deathly ill. In order to heal her, the king ordered his men to search for a healing flower that had grown from a drop of the sun that had fallen to earth. They found it, but earned the wrath of a lady named Mother Gothel, who used the flower to keep herself young. Mother Gothel decides to steal Rapunzel when she discovers that her hair holds the healing power of the sun-flower, but only if it isn't cut.

Years later, Rapunzel is eighteen and very, very eager to get out into the world on her own. But "Mother" won't let her leave her tower. Enter Flynn Rider, a rakish, over-confident thief who tries to use the tower as a hideaway. Rapunzel promptly clocks him with her trusty frying pan, hides his treasure and bullies him into taking her out to see the lanterns set every year for the lost princess. And so their adventures (and love story) begins.

I laughed until I cried during most of this movie. The animal "sidekicks" were, of course, unrealistic but completely lovable: Maximus, the police horse with an attitude; and Pascal, Rapunzel's cute chameleon. The soundtrack was beautiful. The scene when Rapunzel finally sees the lanterns was so gorgeous that it almost brought tears to my eyes. The characters were fun and unique and well-built.

Of course, the film had its issues, namely an old man playing Cupid (wearing a diaper), Mother Gothel's curve-hugging outfit, a "healing incantation" disguised as a pretty little lullaby, and Flynn Rider's comment that a "little rebellion is healthy." However, those are little and nitpicky. The two things I remember most about the movie are sweet and wonderful and, quite frankly, amazing.

The first is when Flynn comes to rescue Rapunzel toward the end of the movie and is fatally stabbed by Mother Gothel. Instead of allowing her to even heal him, he cuts her hair, making all the healing magic in it dissolve. Wow. It was an exquisitely wonderful scene with something that's not often seen anymore--a hero who is self-sacrificial even to the death.

The second, and the one that made the most of an impression on me, was when Rapunzel's real parents, the king and queen, are getting ready to light the lanterns for their missing daughter's birthday. The devotion of the parents was wonderful to see, but what made the scene a tear-jerker for me was the king. He doesn't speak in the entire movie, but as his wife adjusts his cloak, movie-goers see a single tear running down his face. To see that tear spoke volumes of his sorrow and devotion that giving him lines wouldn't have done. Beautiful and exquisite! It ranks among my top favorite movie scenes ever.

So, my recommendation? Go see this movie. Buy it when it comes out. I give a hearty 5 stars to Disney's Tangled!

Popcorn and a Move: The Legends of the Guardian: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Storyline: Soren and his brother Kludd are just learning to fly when they fall out of their nest and are kidnapped by the Pure Ones, owls who are intent on building an empire. Kludd embraces the Pure Ones while Soren and his friend Gylfie escape. Soren thinks that the only way to save all owls may be the Guardians of Ga'Hoole—but first, he has to find out whether the legends are true.

My Thoughts: The biggest problem I had with this movie was the predictability. I nailed it from the start who was going to be the bad brother and who was going to be the good one.

Characterization seemed a little stereotypical, mostly because of Kludd's immediate connection with the Pure Ones. Everything seemed to move really fast, too, but this film was based off the first three books of the series, so that's understandable. Some may have problems following which owl is which, but I kept track pretty easily.

Other than that, the battles were pretty cool, and the characters were likable. Young kids will especially like Twilight, an owl who fancies himself a poet, and Digger, Twilight's companion who is hyper and supposedly dislikes Twilight's songs. The animation was extremely well done, with plenty of slow-motion to show off the realistic owls and scenery. The Great Ga'Hoole Tree was stunningly rendered.

My only caveat is that some young kids may not be able to handle the intensity of the film. The violence is bloodless, but it includes owls falling into and fighting in a forest fire, an owl being stabbed with a sharp, fiery stick, a friendly owl being brutally knocked around and murdered, and plenty of sharp swords and talons being brandished.

Popcorn and a Movie: How To Train Your Dragon

Calling all fantasy/dragon lovers! There's a new movie you guys should see! A while ago Justin and I went to see How To Train Your Dragon, Dreamworks' latest film. The story is about a Viking boy named Hiccup who isn't like the other Vikings. He's small and skinny and his father, the Viking chief, won't let him fight dragons because he knows Hiccup will just mess up everything. But one night during a dragon attack, Hiccup pulls out his latest invention, a cannon that will fire ball-and-chain missiles. He hits a Night Fury, the dragon that no one has ever fought before. The dragon falls over another part of the island.

When he goes looking for it, Hiccup discovers that he can't kill dragons. He just can't. So he sets the dragon free and goes home, only to find that his father is determined to give him a fresh start. He wants Hiccup to start dragon-training the next day while he goes on a sailing mission to try to find the dragon nest.

Of course, Hiccup can barely hold a shield, much less fight off dragons. But as his friendship with the Night Fury (dubbed Toothless despite having a mouthful of sharp, retractable teeth) goes on, he discovers something—in stead of fighting dragons, he can tame them. Soon he's the wonder of the village, and he's also riding Toothless. All seems well until his father discovers that he's just using tricks to avoid fighting the dragons—and that Toothless showed him where the dragon's nest is.

My Thoughts: There's a couple of slightly questionable jokes, and if you're squeamish, Toothless does cough up half a fish to share with Hiccup. Hiccup has a crush on a Viking girl, Astrid. They do kiss (although it's a funny, lighthearted moment). And, of course, Hiccup lies to and disobeys his father.

But, at the end of the movie Hiccup and his dad are on good terms. They both apologize to each other at one point. Hiccup really does try to help both the Vikings and the dragons see that they can peacefully coexist. And—the part that I was really glad for—Hiccup's heroism is shown with a cost to himself, but a cost that he doesn't mind because he knows he saved everyone else.

There are some really laughable lines ("Thanks for nothing, you worthless reptile!"), and the dragons are pretty cool looking (and really unique/diverse!). I thought Toothless was cute--he acted like a big cat at times, and the part when he tries to imitate something Hiccup does is pretty fun! The parts that I enjoyed the most were the flying scenes, with Hiccup and Toothless darting between rocks and soaring into the sunset-colored sky.

This is definitely one to see, and I'm definitely planning to buy it.

Alpha Redemption by P. A. Baines

The Synopsis:

From despair he fled, through tragedy he lived on, and journeyed to innocence.

His trajectory: the stars. His companion: a computer poised at the brink of sentience.

An unlikely friendship on a prototype spaceship at lightspeed towards Alpha Centauri, and redemption.

When Brett loses everything in a tragic accident, he gladly accepts an invitation to take part in a prototype speed-of-light trip to Alpha Centauri, knowing that he may not survive. His only companion is the ship's on-board computer, Jay. At first he finds Jay an annoyance but, as time passes, the two become friends. With the voyage drawing to a close, Jay develops a sense of self-awareness and a belief in God. When it becomes clear that they cannot both survive the return trip, one of them must make the ultimate sacrifice.

My Thoughts:

Alpha Redemption is a slow book. Fortunately, in this case, that's a compliment! There's a bit of tension about two-thirds of the way through, as well as at the end, but for the most part, it's about a guy in a spaceship who hangs out, teaches the computer about emotions, and...

Ah, if I told you what else happens, that'd be a major spoiler. Can't do that, now can I? Let's just say that in the beginning of the book, we know nothing about Brett's backstory--who he is, why he's important, or why he volunteered to take such a dangerous job. But the further along the story progresses, the more backstory we get. And the way the backstory ties in with the main plot is sheer genius.

Another neat thing about Alpha Redemption is how it raises questions about life, God, and even--to me, at least--about artificial intelligence developing emotions and self-awareness (more on that in an upcoming post). It's definitely a book you want to hand to friend and family and say, "Hey, read this--I want to talk about it with someone. What do you think?"

The writing is quite good for a first-time book and the content is family-friendly, which as always, is awesome! Alpha Redemption is a definite must-read for fans of science fiction!

Rating: five stars

Next week (7/18) I'll welcome author P. A. Baines in a Meet the Author interview--and the week after that (7/25), I'll post my thoughts and ideas about artificial intelligence and emotions in science fiction. Also, I'm starting something new--Exploring New Worlds on my FB page, where anyone is welcome to join in as we talk about the featured book of the month.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Splashdown Books in exchange for writing an honest review.*

The Muse by Fred Warren

Creativity can't kill--or can it?

In Fred Warren's book, The Muse, creativity is a deadly serious thing. The story starts out with Stan--an ordinary guy working an ordinary job, who aspires to be a fantasy writer--meeting with his writing friends, a paranormal author named Jilly and a science fiction writer named Davos. As they commiserate over being stalled in their various works-in-progress, a sweet librarian-looking lady stumbles into their meeting. She introduces herself as Leila Starling, a freelance editor, and offers to help them.

Divine intervention, right?

Well, Stan's wife Charity isn't so sure. She thinks its just a little too coincidental. Stan gently ridicules her fears, but events quickly change his minds. He has several writing sessions where he doesn't remember writing a thing--yet fills 20 pages of the best writing he's ever done in his life. All three experience great writing and wonderful opportunistic meetings that Leila sets up for them. But when Jilly lands in the hospital, apparently in a coma, Stan decides that thy have to take action.

The Muse is a wonderful fantasy that is part hilarious, part creepy thrilller, and part heart-breaking. I teared up at the sweet, achy ending. And I laughed out loud at the three writers as they bemoaned their writing problems. Don't I know how that feels! Wanna-be authors will probably find this book especially fun to read.

I was impressed with the way the story was written. The dialog especially is natural and sounds like it's coming from real people, instead of cardboard characters. All the characters are easily distinguishable from each other and have their own, fun quirks. They all made realistic choices and I could identify easily with them. Another thing that impressed me was that there was no cussing or intimacy (beyond kissing and flirting between Stan and Charity).

Overall, this was a great read that I recommend to anyone that enjoys speculative fiction. Five stars!

~I received this book for free from Splashdown Books as a book reviewer~

Eternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge

Eternity Falls stars Rick Macey, a private detective who excels in using the neural technology of the day. When Macey is called to investigate the cause of a movie star's death, he finds the woman had been receiving GenTec's Miracle Treatment, designed to reverse the aging process and enable someone to live forever. Only, GenTec's marketing guru Sheila Dunn is afraid that the Miracle Treatment might be construed as the cause of death, and she wants Macey to prove that there was a different killer.

Several obscure clues lead Macey to the underpinnings of a deadly plot. What's worse (besides falling in love with Sheila, no matter how hard he tries not to) is that he's sure he knows the mastermind. Macey is forced to confront his past and his faith as he fights to stop the plotters.

The book is written in sharp, biting way that matches PI Macey's personality. Author Kirk Outerbridge does an excellent job pacing the plot, sprinkling a few slower scenes in between chases, explosions, and shootouts--you know, all the stuff of a good hard-boiled cyber-thriller. There were times I felt as if I'd barely caught my breath before Macey and Sheila took off again. The technology is believable and easy to understand without long explanations.

The characters were well-developed with understandable motivations, and the plot was familiar enough to make me comfortable, but new enough to keep me interested. Some of the theology interplay and thought processes of the characters really intrigued me, and one of the biggest questions in the book--would God approve of treatments that allowed someone to live forever--gave me food for thought for several days afterward.

That said, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under 16. My reasoning for this lies in the blatant references to questionable lifestyles, homosexuality and hard-core partying being just a couple. I understand that the author did this to show the depravity of a largely anti-Christian, bored culture (I say bored because everyone who has been given the Miracle Treatment lives pretty much forever, so they quickly begin indulging themselves in whatever they want), but I would have preferred less information than what he gave.

Eternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge is a worthwhile, thought-provoking, exciting read nonetheless. Four stars.

A Christmas of Classics 2010

Every Christmas season, especially with snow on the ground, I want to curl up in a blanket with a hot drink and read what I call "my classics", which may not be "classic" or even "old". Here are some of the ones I've enjoyed this year:

Auralia's Colors by Jeff Overstreet (a very new book, but definitely a classic in my mind).

The Rose Rent by Ellis Peters (in the Brother Cadfael Chronicles, about a medieval monk who solves mysteries. Almost as good as Agatha Christie's novels).

The Oath by Frank Peretti (very scary and interesting).

And, once again, At Home In Mitford by Jan Karon (I've been reading it aloud to Justin--it makes such a good book to enjoy at the end of the day).

Hero In Hiding by Mitchell Bonds

Cyrus Solberg is back with more adventures, lame puns, and magic-wielding mishaps in the latest Hero Complex book, Hero In Hiding by Mitchell Bonds. This time around, the hero and his new wife, Kris, are on their way to hide on Starspeak, Cyrus' old home. A run-in with a vicious pirate strands them on Phoenix Island, where a prophet tells Cyrus that in order to defeat his archenemy, Voshtyr Demonkin, he must learn to master his magic. Though Cyrus initially refuses, circumstances conspire against him to set him forth on a quest to save the world.

My apartment neighbors probably heard me howling in laughter at 2 o'clock in the morning and thought that they had a crazy person next door. I love this book! It reminded me of The Princess Bride and the Talking to Dragons series by Patricia C. Wrede. A self-narrating swordsman? A villain who quotes word-for-word from the Villainic Phrasebook? A hero who has a penchant for bursting into flames when he's upset? Count me in! This book is just begging for people with good senses of humor to not take it seriously.

But even amid the goofiness, chaos, over-blown stereotypes, and ridiculous number of Important Places and Things In Capitol Letters, there are some genuinely touching scenes. The characters are likable and sympathetic--with exception of Demonkin, of course. It's also obvious that, if the story isn't to be taken seriously, Mitchell Bonds takes his writing seriously.

For some, the huge amount of magic may throw you off a bit--but don't let it. I've read fairytales with more serious magic in them than this book. Pretty much the only thing I didn't like about this book was the huge amount of made-up "cuss words"--it was just a little over the top, in my opinion.

All in all, another great book from MLP!

Rating: four and a half stars.

The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathon Rogers

"I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud."

The only life orphan Grady has known is a dangerous one, tramping from village to village with a huckster named Floyd. Grady and Floyd specialize in a show called The Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp--because everyone wants to see a real live, in the flesh feechie, right?

Not necessarily.

When Floyd and Grady get down on their luck, they try out some other schemes, to no avail. Seems like the only thing they were ever good at was the feechie scam. So they dream up an idea guaranteed to make them money--they're going to create a big feechie scare that will have folks flocking to see their act!

The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathon Rogers is a fun read in an unusual world. Corenwald is populated with coal miners, farmers, buckskin-clad hunters, hucksters, and of course the infamous feechie, a creature with a propensity for bad grammer, worse manners, fisticuffs, and gator-grabblin'. Readers were first introduced to Corenwald with Rogers' The Way of the Wilderking Trilogy: The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, andThe Way of the Wilderking, an allegory of King David.

The Charlatan's Boy continues the fun as Rogers chronicles the escapades of Grady and Floyd. I can't count the number of times I giggled while I was reading this book. Floyd is a ridiculous old shyster, always scheming up the next big thing, and sometimes it made me want to give him a big kick. Grady was a sweet character, loyal, funny, and even honest, despite his trade. And all the supporting characters had quirks that added a lot to the general fun of the book.

Reading this book was like curling up in a camping chair to listen to a storyteller by the campfire. This isn't an action-filled book, so the plot tends to take it's own sweet time getting to the conclusion, but that's not a bad thing at all. In fact, the book wouldn't be half so fun if it had focused just on the action and conclusion.

In my mind, The Charlatan's Boy makes a perfect family read-aloud story. It gets five stars!

~*~I received this book for free from WaterBrook Press's Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review~*~

Popcorn and a Movie: Inception

This movie took my breath away.

Literally. My ribs hurt afterward because I forgot to breath so many times!

The story follows Dominic Cobb, a man who specializes in entering people's dreams and planting suggestions so he can steal information from them. At the beginning of the story, Cobb is being taken into a Japanese home by security guards, who show an old man that he is carrying a pistol and a spinning top.

The movie then flashes back to where the story really begins--Cobb and a team of two, Arthur and Nash, are attempting to steal secrets from a man named Saito for another company--coporate spying intensified. The mission goes awry and Arthur and Cobb barely escape. However, Saito finds them and offers Cobb a deal--if Cobb plants an idea in a certain subject's mind, Saito will arrange it so that he can go home to his children. Of course, Cobb accepts and goes immediately in search of a team.

Planting an idea in someone's mind, called inception, is something that his right-hand man, Arthur, argues can't be done. But Cobb says he's done it before. And he puts together a team--consisting of Arthur, Saito, a man named Eamus, a young architect named Ariadne, and a man knowledgeable about sedatives, Yusuf--that can pull it off. Only, Ariadne discovers a hitch.

Cobb's memories of his dead wife, Mal, have been taking over every dream he's entered. And she's becoming maniacally nasty.

I can't say any more without ruining the suspense of the story (for those who haven't seen it). On to my thoughts:

This movie is amazing. The story is one that makes every writer I know start wishing they'd thought of it. It's complex and breath-taking scenery is some of the best I've ever seen. I have no complaints about either of those, nor can I gripe about the acting. Instead, I have to warn you that the only way to wake up from a dream that Cobb and his team create (besides a "kick", the sensation of falling that all dreamers have experienced at one time or another) is to be killed or commit suicide. While the killing is mostly bloodless and of dream figures that don't exist in real life, the suicide moments make up a key part of this plot and are cringe-worthy, though all off-screen. It makes the film pretty dark.

And there's quit a bit of cussing.

But, overall, it's a must see movie. Five stars to Inception!

Bok of the Year 2010

I know I've already reviewed this book, but it was the best book I read during 2010.

image

THE MENDING BOOK 1: STARFIRE by Stuart Vaughn Stockton.

Rathe is a late-hatch saurn with something to prove. Someone born into such a low caste has no hope of achieving much of anything in this life--unless he can prove himself as a warrior. Through his own skill and a fortuitous encounter with a massive creature, Rathe seeks to rise through the trials to secure a position within the imperial army.

But larger forces are at work in the world, and Rathe has been chosen for a grand and terrible destiny. Through an enemy invasion, revitalized technology from an ancient civilization, and supernatural entities beyond his understanding, Rathe is presented with an unfathomable choice. No matter what he decides, it seems an empire--or a world--will be destroyed.

And the only things informing Rathe's decision are affection for a small saurin under his care and the admonitions from the mystical representative of a god Rathe doesn't believe in.

The Mending: Starfire by Stuart Vaughn Stockton

Storyline: Rathe has managed to rise above his hatch status, but all it does is give him trouble. First, everyone keeps asking about the jerkrenak tooth he wears—second, he stumbles upon an ancient technology named Karey Or who is determined to get to this thing called the Starfire. Third, it seems that he is the main player in a prophecy that warns him not to allow Starfire to be activated. Top that with a traitor trying to steal Karey Or and a mass invasion of his country, and he is one confused saurn.

My Thoughts:

First of all, this book has no objectionable content WHATSOEVER! I was incredibly pleased to finally find an adult Christian spec fiction book that was completely clean. Thank you, Stuart Vaughn Stockton!

Something that is very neat about this book is that it features no human characters. Everyone in the book is a saurn—a sentient dinosaur. I know that sounds strange, and when I first heard about it, I thought, "Weird. How could he pull that off? I don't know if I'd like that."

I love it.

I loved the characters—even the traitor (before I knew he was a traitor). Stockton has a knack of turning his non-human saurns into lovable military types, from the new kid who keeps getting in trouble, to "the bigger is better" weapons expert, to the tough-talking leader. That's not to say that they're stereotypes--far from it.

I enjoyed the spiritual element. Struth displayed a very bold faith and made no apologies for his beliefs—something I thought was wonderful. I also can't wait to learn more about the jerkrenaks and why the Wayfarers seem to hold them in such high respect.

The writing style felt a little stilted to me, but the story overrode anything I noticed.

This book is action-packed, and one of the few that I've lately read where I couldn't get enough of it. I really want the second book to come out…now!

A FUN NOTE: Brandilyn Collins featured Stuart Vaughn Stockton in her Kanner Lake series as S-man, an author who was always muttering over his novel in the Java Joint coffee shop. How fun is that?

The Blood of Kings Trilogy Overview: Book 1: By Darkness Hid; & Book 2: To Darkness Fled by Jill Williamson

Book 1: By Darkness Hid

Storyline: Achan Cham's name means trouble, and he seems to attract it in large quantities, from getting in fights to falling in love with a girl he'd never be allowed to marry. He's resigned to a life as a stray (orphan and slave), but Sir Gavin Lukos has other ideas. He picks Achan for his squire. After Sir Gavin deprives him of a tonic he's had every morning for his entire life, Achan begins hearing voices--lots of them, both male and female--in his head. Suddenly, everyone seems to take an interest in Achan's life.

Vrell Sparrow is in hiding from an undesirable marriage. She masquerades as a boy stray in the home of one of her mother's dearest friends. Their plans are turned upside-down when two Kingsguard knights show up, claiming Vrell as an apprentice for a master bloodvoicer. Vrell can only hope that her disguise will fool everyone, even the knight who is determined to pry her secret from her.

Book 2: To Darkness Fled

Storyline: In escaping from the false prince Esek, Achan, Vrell, and three Old Kingsguard knights are now in Darkness. They plan to go to Tsaftown to free many Old Kingsguard that have been imprisoned there. Before they can do that, there are enemies to face and fears to conquer in Darkness.

Achan worries about his duties now as the true prince of Er'Rets. The Kingsguard keep talking about how he will push back the Darkness with Arman's help--but how can he get Arman's help when he doesn't believe in him as the only true God?

Vrell worries about traveling in the company of so many men. How will she ever get home to her mother without revealing her secret?

My thoughts: Jill Williamson's world of Er'Rets is wonderfully crafted. The scenery and different cultures make it easy to get immersed in the storyworld.

The characters are also wonderfully crafted. Their thoughts and actions are thoroughly believable and the dynamics of the group in Book 2 are at times hilarious. I especially love how developed all the characters' backstories are, and how the author brought them out. Oh yes, and Sir Gavin's blunders in trying to deal with people made me laugh time and again.

A couple of things I didn't like: while realistic, one or two of the things that Vrell had to deal with while traveling as a boy were a little much. One of the Kingsguard knights is a drunkard and a womanizer. And, there are a lot of tragic love stories--realistic in a medieval fantasy setting, yes, but still, one or two many for my taste. :0)

However, the redemption and overall coolness of the books more than make up for the things I didn't like. Jill Williamson's books are definitely a worthwhile read.

Summer Favorites 2010

I only have one favorite this year, Jeffrey Overstreet's Cal-Raven's Ladder in the Auralia Thread series.
Back Cover:
A deadly menace is breaking through the ground. The people of Abascar must abandon their stone refuge and flee into the forest. But their king has seen a vision...
Following the beacon of Auralia's Colors and the footsteps of a mysterious dream-creature, King Cal-raven has discovered a destination for his weary crowd of refuegees. It's a city only imagined in legendary tales. And it give him hope to establish New Abascar.
But when Cal-raven is waylaid by fortune hunters, his people become vulnerable yo a danger more powerful than the prowling beastmen--House Bel Amica. In this oceanside kingdom of wealth, enchantment, and beauty, deceitful Seers are all too eager to ensnare House Abascar's wandering throng.
Even worse, the Bel Amicans have discovered Auralia's Colors and are twisting a language of faith into a lie of corruption and control.
If there is any hope for the people of Abascar, it lies in the courage of Cyndere, daughter of Bel Amica's queen; the strength of Jordam the beastman; and the fiery gifts of the ale boy. who is devising a rescue for prisoners of the savage Cent Regus beastmen.
As his faith suffers one devastating blow after another, Cal-raven's journey is a perilous climb from despair to a faint gleam of hope--the vision he sees in Auralia's colors.

My thoughts:
There are trhee things I absolutely love in this book.
The first is Cal-raven's story. Cal-raven is full of hope and joy, then he plummets into doubt and struggles with his faith. That resonated with me deeply. I felt sick to my stomach when he doubted. I wanted to say, "Cal-raven! There's so much that has been done for you--how can you loose faith now? Keep going!" It just highlights just how richly rounded Overstreet's characters are.
My second favorite was Krawg's story. I read online that some reviewers said they found it boring or jarring and just skipped over it. What? The Six Tricksters was not only a great showcase of Krawg's character and storytelling talent, but a lovely story within itself.
The third thing was the true beauty/inner beauty versus false beauty plot thread. It was satisfying to read, especially given our culture's obsession with the airbrush.
This book is my favorite of the series. I can't wait for The Ale Boy's Feast!

The Auralia Thread Book 1: Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

Storyline: An orphan girl is found by two Gatherers, outcasts from the House of Abascar. As the girl, who names herself Auralia, grows older, she discovers she has a gift—she can create wonderful, colorful weaves from what the forest has to offer. The only problem is that the king of House Abascar has forbidden anyone to wear colors.

The older Auralia becomes, the more she understands that she was sent to House Abascar for a purpose. Though reluctant, Auralia forges ahead in her task, aided by the Gatherers and some unlikely allies, including the prince of Abascar.

My Take:

I love the descriptions in this book. They are breath-taking, beautiful, and awesome. Overstreet makes his book shine with the vivid pictures of people, animals, and the world. Next to The Lord of the Rings, I think its one of the easiest, prettiest worlds for me to imagine. The characters are very real to me as a reader.

One of the best things (to me) was the fact that not all of the characters are handsome or pretty. A lot of books have beautiful main characters. I realized not long ago that I'm guilty of this very thing. While I think that Auralia herself was pretty, others--Krawg or the ale boy, for example--aren't, and I really liked that.

I also like the mysterious spiritual elements in the book. The Keeper, the Northchildren--all to me present mysteries that I ponder over even after reading the book. It reminds me somewhat of MacDonald's stuff.

There were a couple of things I didn't care for, but overall this was an incredible book.

Rating: five out of five stars

The Chronicles of Berinfell Book 1: The Curse of the Spider King by Wayne Thomas Batson & Christopher Hopper

Storyline: Eight hundred years ago in the world of Allyra, the Elves suffered a devastating loss. Their capitol Berinfell, was destroyed by the warrior Gwars and their leader the Spider King. Worst of all, the Spider King's assassins known as the Drefids have stolen seven babies—the descendants of the Seven Elf Lords.

Present day, the Seven are scattered around the earth, adopted by human parents. Their lives are cruelly shattered when, one by one, the Drefids try to hunt down and kill them.

Their only hope are the Sentinels and Dreadnaughts, exiled Elvish warriors who have dedicated their lives to regaining the Seven. The teens have a terrible choice in front of them: do they go back to Allyra as the final hope of their people, or do they stay to be forever hunted?

My Take:

Readers beware—this book will give you arachnophobia for life! I'm never going to look at spiders in the same way.

Wow! I've been hoping for a Christian author to write a book about Earth and another world, one populated by Elves. And finally one came!

Batson and Hopper tend to switch povs in the middle of scenes, and sometimes even include omniscient pov, but that's fine. I wasn't ever confused about anything.

The writing besides that was well done, the book tense, the world well built. I liked the kids (and their gifts), I liked the Elves who help them (especially the Dreadnaughts), and I liked the enemies they face: the wraith-like, shape-shifting Wisps and the clawed, humanoid Drefids. The Elvish history books were very, very cool too!

Since I like so much of the book, I'll forgive Batson and Hopper for killing my favorite Elf. :0) I'm looking forward to the sequels! The second book in the series, Venom and Song, comes out on July 13th.