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.


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.

The Wingfeather Saga Overview, Book 1: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness; & Book 2: North! Or Be Eaten! by Andrew Peterson

Book 1: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Storyline: The three Igiby children, Janner, Tink, and Leeli, live in Skree, a land under the oppression of Gnag the Nameless and his soldiers, the lizard-like Fangs. While Nia, their mother, and their grandfather Podo Helmer, try to keep them out of the way of the Fangs, one, named Slarb, seems particularly interested in harassing them.

Then on Dragon Day, when the Sea Dragons come up and sing at the cliffs of the Dark Sea, the Igiby kids are thrown into jail for defending themselves against Slarb and his buddies.

Nia comes to their rescue by offering the Fang general some precious jewelry in return for her children. But, unfortunately, she didn't notice that one necklace bore the insignia of their former life—the life that she'd hoped to hide from her children and from Gnag the Nameless.

My Take: Andrew Peterson doesn't take much seriously. His goofy footnotes, bizarre creatures, and equally bizarre things like snotwax candles and remedies for itching, make this an enjoyable fantasy romp for younger kids, especially boys—well, and certain people like me. :0)

He's built a well-fashioned world peopled with lovable characters, like the owner of Books and Crannies, Oskar N. Reteep, and Peet the Sock Man.

However, there are some things he takes seriously—fighting evil, for one, and praying to the Maker, for another. He also builds in lessons of taking care of one's siblings (and I agree with Janner—sometimes taking care of siblings can be difficult!) among others.

Besides the occasional head-hopping and the abrupt ending, the book is excellently written. The head-hopping isn't confusing, really, and the abrupt ending can be forgiven because we know that this is just Book One; and it makes us go crazy for Book Two.

Book 2: North! Or Be Eaten

Storyline: Janner, Tink, and Leeli are now hiding in Artham's (Peet the Sock Man) treehouse. They think they're safe for a while yet, but one day Oskar N. Reteep comes charging through the woods, bellowing for them to run. On his tail are hundreds of Fangs and several trolls.

The Igibys run, and through various circumstances (including Artham's capture) make across the River Blap and into Dugtown, where Oskar knows someone who can get them safely to the Ice Prairies, where they hope to be safe. The Fangs can't follow them there, can they?

But plans go amiss when Janner and Tink are separated from their family, and then Janner is separated from Tink.

My Take:

This book is a little more serious than On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. Sure, there was the usual humor (including a bit of grossness), the usual goofy footnotes, and the usual crazy tales.

But as the kids grow into their new roles as heirs of Anniera, the world consequently grows with them. New enemies are revealed beyond the gluttonous Fangs, that are more sinister and creepy. Artham's backstory is unfolded. Podo's true past is revealed.

It's a story of kids growing up quickly and learning that the world is dark. But Peterson does a good job of making sure that there's always some humor, and (more importantly) that you can always see the Light shining through everything.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Worlds Unseen by Rachel Starr Thomson

Storyline: Maggie Sheffield unwittingly stumbles into adventure when she and her guardian, Mrs. Cook, take in a dying man. She discovers that the man, Old Dan, and Mrs. Cook know each other from long ago, when they sat on a secret council intent on discovering the world's secrets. And Old Dan has a scroll that could deal a heavy blow to the evil that has taken over their world.

Maggie decides to take the scroll to one of Dan and Mrs. Cook's old friends, hoping to gain answers about her own life. Along the way, a Gypsy named Nicolas Fisher, his pet Bear, the rebel Jerome, and the blind seer Virginia join her.

My Take: technically, this book had a few things that jarred the smooth flow. But, to paraphrase Brandilyn Collins, the greatest rule in writing is that the story rules. This was very true for this book. It was fast-paced and heart-pounding. Though the urban-fantasy feel is very different from anything that George MacDonald wrote, it reminds me a little of his works because of the deep, spiritual undertones.

I was very intrigued by the world Rachel Starr Thomson created—a world very similar to our own in the 1800s, with faintly familiar place names such as Sloczka, Londren, and Pravik, and familiar things like trains. It's scary to read about a world so similar to ours being inhabited by the Order of the Spider, hell-hounds, and sorcery-ravens (but I wouldn't mind having a pet like Bear). :0)

She has woven a very good tale with likable main characters, and one that is worth reading. It's available for free on her website, as is her other fantasy e-book, Taerith.

The Ember Books Series Overview: Book 3, The Prophet of Yonwood, & Book 4, The Diamond of Darkhold

The Prophet of Yonwood

Storyline: Nickie travels to Yonwood to help her aunt Crystal clean out her great-grandfather's house. Nickie wants to stay in Yonwood—she imagines a sleepy little town will be a lot better than Philadelphia, where she and her mother live in an apartment.

She has three goals for the time she'll be in Yonwood: make her ancestor's house her home; fall in love; and help the world. When she arrives, though, she finds that the town is anything but sleepy. A girl is hiding in the house's closet—a man searches the heavens for signs of extraterrestrial life—a boy is fascinated with snakes—a woman has recently seen a vision of disaster—and the townsfolk are determined to eradicate evil in their midst so that they may be protected from the disaster.

When Nickie decides to help Brenda, the woman spearheading the effort to eliminate evil, she finds herself over her head.

My Take:

The only interest I found in this book was the origin of Ember and it's location. Other than that, there's not much of a reason to read it.

It seems to portray God as some grouchy man in the sky. While the book does speak a tidbit of truth in saying God dislikes things that take our love away from Him, the "Christians" in it are portrayed as people who don't know what they're doing and who try to bully others into being "saved" with prophecies of doom. There's no mention of repentance and acceptance of God's sacrifice for us. Certain things in the town are forbidden, like singing, dogs, and romance novels (the book does show Nickie looking at and reading romance novels left by her friend Amanda. From what the author could have done, the account is relatively chaste—it just was unnecessary for a kids' book). Anyone refusing to obey these "laws" has a humming bracelet put on them and is ostracized by the townspeople.

And in the end, we still don't know where the vision came from.

It really tells me that believers have to show grace to the world around us, lest we be taken as bullies determined to take away the enjoyment of life.

Rating: two out of five stars

The Diamond of Darkhold

Storyline: Lina is unsatisfied with her life aboveground. Everything is too hard—there's no electricity, no running water—and no messages to carry. It's cold, there's thunderstorms, wolves, and many other dangers.

Then Doon trades a match for a book from a roamer. Though there are only eight pages left, he finds hints of a useful treasure left in Ember. He and Lina plot a secret mission back to Ember so they can retrieve the treasure and maybe some other supplies that could help the people of Sparks through the winter.

Things take an unexpected turn when they discover other people living in Ember. But they can't last long—the city is mostly dead. Doon and Lina have to find the treasure, before it's too late—not only for them, but for the people of Sparks, too.

My Take:

One thing I really didn't like: at one point, two kids from Sparks (Torren and Kenny) and one Emberite girl (Lizzie) decide to go after Lina and Doon. Lizzie thinks that Lina and Doon might have run off together somewhere to "set things up like a real home." While she goes into no detail, just that little tidbit was very unnecessary for a kid's book.

On the technical side, there's nothing wrong with this story.

Doon and Lina's shenanigans without telling adults are getting a little old. Other than that, it's just as good of a read as any other the other books. It's fast-paced and exciting, and has several good-sized obstacles they must overcome to read their goal. Their discovery leads to an easier life for their people.

Once again, Doon's experimenting and curiosity is well done. It's his experimenting that leads to learning how to use what they've found to improve their situation.

Still...It's definitely time to take a break from the Ember books.

Rating: three out of five stars

My Top 10 Christian Fantasies, 2010

Here's a list of my top 10 Christian fantasies to date:

*Lord of the Rings (some people may find this dry and dull...I personally don't. Also, some may argue that it's not a "Christian" book. I think that even though it was published in the secular world, Tolkien's faith shone through the work. And truly, if you're considering writing fantasy, Tolkien is a must-read).

*The Chronicles of Narnia. (Once again, this wasn't strictly "Christian" fantasy. Lewis himself said that he didn't mean to make it allegorical. But as with Tolkien, his faith shone through his work. Another must-read for the fantasy writer.)

*The Door Within Trilogy by Wayne Thomas Batson. (This is a very imaginative work, with lots of action. The only thing I regretted was not getting to spend more time in the world and discovering more about Glimpses.)

*The Dragonkeeper Chronicles. (Anyone who loves dragons has to read these books. Some people may not agree with the magic usage in them, but I think Paul did an amazing job setting magical boundaries.)

*The Curse of the Spider King by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper. (This book was amazing! I loved how our world intertwined with the Elvish one, Allyra, and the comings and goings between the worlds--fascinating! And they had some really creepy, imaginative bad guys...I'm envious that they came up with the Drefids! I'm looking forward to the sequel, Venom and Song.)

*Auralia's Colors by Jeff Overstreet. (This one I'm not sure about...for being an amazing, imaginative work of fiction with gorgeous description, it's one of my favorites. But I'm not sure where he's going with we'll see)

* The Circle Trilogy by Ted Dekker. (Once again, the comings and goings between our world and Otherworld are so cool! ery imaginative)

*Lonoma's Map by F.W. Faller. (It seems no one has ever heard of this book or the prequel, A Sword For the Immerland King. I love these books! The world building is incredible within itself--I mean, the author has a whole fantasy explanation of the moral guidelines in the world!)

*The Sword of Lyric series by Sharon Hinck. (OK, these books are cool. Way cool. The world is cool, the characters are cool, cool books!)

*Lilith by George MacDonald. (MacDonald's kids books I hear about often, but not so much his adult fantasies. This one takes a Jewish myth about Adam's first wife, Lilith, and turns it into an incredible fantasy set in another world.)

The Ember Books Series Overview: Book 1, The City of Ember, & Book 2, The People of Sparks

The City of Ember

Storyline: Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow have grown up in the city of Ember, where floodlights provide their day, no one ventures beyond the city limits, and the generator that provides their electricity is slowly dying.

On the final day of school, Assignment Day, where the students of Ember receive jobs, Doon draws messenger and Lina draws Pipeworks laborer. They trade because Lina has always wanted to be a messenger, while Doon wants to be close to the generator because he thinks he has ideas on how to fix it.

But things twist in a different direction than they expect. Doon discovers that the generator's workings are far beyond his knowledge, and Lina's grandmother finds a strange box in their closet. Unfortunately, Lina's little sister Poppy takes and eats half of the paper in it before Lina can look at it.

Lina and Doon discover a hoarding plot by the mayor of Ember, plus instructions for leaving the city. They decide to take action before the generator breaks and the city is lost in darkness.

My Take:

Though it's written for younger teens, the post-apocalyptic premise of this book snagged my attention. Technically, it's very well-written except for the head-hopping she does. And even that isn't as confusing as it could have been.

I saw the movie first, but as I read the book, I wondered, Why couldn't they have stuck to the book more faithfully? It's fully exciting enough as is. The giant mole didn't need to be added, nor the story of Lina's parents changed.

There's mention of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship between a 12-year-old girl and an I-don't-know-how-old guy, though the book leads us to assume that he's only a few years older. But nothing worse.

There's a definite humanistic/socialistic outlook to the books, with the assigning of jobs and the belief that humans can fix the mess they created themselves. It mentions Believers, people who think that the Builders of Ember are coming back to rescue them. Whether that's making fun of spiritual issues (not Christianity specifically, I think) or if it's just a part of Ember's ordinary life, I'm not sure.

Altogether, though, this is a fun, exciting book most suitable for kids 11-14, though I think older ones could enjoy it.

Rating: four out of five stars

The People of Sparks

Storyline: The people of Ember have made it out of the mountain! Doon and Lina lead their people from the mountains, inadvertently stumbling upon a small town, Sparks. The town leaders agree to let them stay until the month of Chilling, winter.

The Emberites eagerly begin learning how to survive in the world. But it's much harder than they imagined—their muscles aren't nearly strong enough, and their pale skin is susceptible to bug bites, poison plants, and sunburn.

Lina decides she dislikes it in the village, and when a roaming trader comes through, she secretly hitches a ride to a ruined city, which she discovers isn't what she expected.

Doon, intent on making their situation better, struggles to understand the new world. But Tick, another young man, is intent on one thing—stirring up trouble.

My Take:

I found Doon just as curious and likable as ever, but Lina seemed—sneaky. I didn't like that she slips off without telling anyone that she's going to the ruined city.

I think there would be more hope in these books if there was any mention of God. But there's not. Even the Believers seem to have vanished. And, once again, Lina's friend Lizzie attaches herself to a loser guy (this time Tick instead of Looper).

However, this is a decent read. The story of a group struggling for survival is intriguing and brings to mind stories of pioneers. The reminder that some things really aren't worth all that much in the grand scheme of things is very welcome. It's good to see kid protagonists shown working hard (even if they complain about it). Also, it shows how ingenious people can be when they have to come up with stuff on their own.

And, though it sounds hard, the life of a roamer (roaming trader) sounds interesting. It made me wish she'd write a book specifically about a roamer.

Rating: four out of five stars

Book of the Year 2009: Shadows of Lancaster County by Mindy Starns Clark

~*~Hey, everyone, to explain--my annual Book of the Year choice doesn't necessarily mean that the book was published in the year I write about it. It just means that I considered it the best book I'd read all year. Hope you guys pick it up and enjoy it as much as I did!~*~

Storyline: Anna Bailey is not her real name, and California is not her real home. She moved from Pennsylvania following a tragedy within the Amish community she lived close to. She hoped to never go back.

But her brother has disappeared, and his wife frantically calls Anna, unsure of who else to turn to. Anna finds herself embroiled in a tangle of DNA experiments, family secrets, and the loving arms of God's mercy as she fights for her life.

My Thoughts: Wow! Mindy Starns Clark may have had typos and grammatical errors in this book, but for the most part I easily overlooked them.

Four words: This. Book. Was. Amazing.

Yes, there were a few things in it I didn't like—one scene is a teen party involving underage drinking and marijuana among other things—however, there were drastic consequences for these actions and they are part of Anna's past that she regrets, which makes her redemption that much more moving.

The tense scenes where Anna tries to figure out what happened to her brother, plus all the interesting facts about DNA research and the Amish community, make this an enthralling read. It's not just a thrilling mystery, it's a science and history book too! Plus the twists she throws in it really knocked me for a loop!

Do yourself a favor—if you want to read a compelling, fast-paced read that is well-written, read this book. I can't recommend it enough!

Rating: Five out of five stars (I just bought it two days ago!)

Also by Mindy Starns Clark: Penny For Your Thoughts, Don't Take Any Wooden Nickels, Dime A Dozen, and The Buck Stops Here (The Million Dollar Mysteries); The Trouble With Tulip, Blind Dates Can Be Murder, and Elementary, My Dear Watkins (The Smart Chick Mysteries); Whispers of the Bayou and Under the Cajun Moon (stand-alones); and The House That Cleans Itself (housekeeping).

The List by Robert Whitlow

Storyline: Renny Jacobson is a bored young Southern lawyer who dreams of enough money to fulfill his (many) wants. When his father dies, he leaves Renny a chest of papers, a post office box in Charlotte, and inheritance in an organization called the Covenant List.

Before long, Renny receives a letter in his post office box calling him to a meeting of the Covenant List. On his way, he meets a another person with interest in the List—a young woman whose father recently died, named Jo Johnson. Renny is immediately attracted to her, but when they meet with the others members of the List, they discover a problem. The Covenant List, formed in the late years of the Civil War, has only been passed from father to eldest son. No women are allowed to inherit their share in the List—which happens to be a Swiss bank account of substantial numbers.

Renny is ecstatic, but Jo cautions him to thoroughly look into the List before joining. Renny ignores her and signs his name into the ledger book of the List. But before too long, he has reason to suspect that the List is more than just a group hiding money. When Jo falls ill, Renny delves into the background of the List—and discovers a centuries old evil waiting to be unleashed.

My Thoughts:

The first half of the List was (I thought) somewhat boring. Jo is a Christian, Renny is not, so there are several conversations about God that seem cliché or awkward. Altogether, it seems like a lot of the first half is stilted and uncomfortable. However, towards the middle Whitlow begins to pick it up—and wow!

This book is all about the power of prayer while fighting spiritual evil. While Whitlow doesn't delve into the spiritually creepiness of it all as much as Peretti or Dekker, there's still enough to leave goosebumps crawling over your arms. And although at first, you may think, "Oh yeah right, no way that could happen", the more you read, the more you realize—this is happening today.

Maybe there's not a sinister List infused with the power of darkness, but there are spiritual battles swirling unseen around us. There are people, Christians and non-Christians alike, caught up in this battle. And for us Christians, we are duty-bound to use our prayers like swords for Christ.

Despite the stilted conversations and the slow first half, the powerful message carries this story along. I'd definitely suggest everyone read it.

The Women of Valor Series by Elyse Larson

Book 1: For Such A Time

Storyline: Giselle Munier and Jean Thornton were like sisters from childhood. Now, Giselle is a Resistance worker in occupied France, and Jean works with the Red Cross in England. One day Jean hears that Giselle was captured by the Gestapo, tortured for information, then rescued and hidden in France by fellow resistants. Giselle's children, Angie and Jacquie, have been safely hidden on a farm—and no one knows where her husband Claude is.

Jean decides to undergo rigorous training by the British secret service, then head over to France and rescue her friend. But once she's over there, she discovers it's a difficult matter trying to get people out of occupied France. And even if she does succeed, will Giselle and the children be safe in England when there's a traitorous resistant shadowing them?

My Take:

On the technical side, this book wasn't all that well-written. For example, Jean tells her friend Marge her life history near the beginning of the book—even when Marge has known Jean for years. There were a few other technical mistakes, but none that are glaring.

The book dragged on and on between Giselle's rescue and the climax. I guessed the traitorous resistant at his first appearance. The women also have a slight feministic attitude, but that was typical for the time period I would think, since women had to take over the tasks that the men previously did.

But despite all that, it was a mildly satisfying read. I thought the section with Jean's training and rescuing Giselle was particularly well done. All the code words reminded me—it sounds bad to say it—of the old TV series Hogan's Heroes. But I know that it was very true of that time. That section, which comprised most of he middle of the book, was a good spy story.

I sympathized with both characters (though Giselle more). In a few short sections, I was very glad that the author didn't delve into the Nazis' brutality further. And Jean's short spurts of humor were pretty funny although her romance story felt a little thrown-in.

This book was, I think, a fairly accurate portrayal of the WWII times, and it was pretty enjoyable.

Rating: three out of five stars

Book 2: So Shall We Stand

Storyline: War widow Nella Killian, along with her friend Jean, discovered the body of a supposedly disturbed patient from a war hospital in the first book in the Women of Valor series, For Such A Time. It was ruled suicide. A few weeks later, Nella discovers a letter from the soldier in a book her father loaned to the hospital, hinting that the man was fully sane and had stumbled upon a Nazi plot that claimed his life.

Before too long, threats make their way into her hands. Nella decides to leave and go work as a Land Girl (women who took over men's farming jobs) on nearby Westmoreland manor. She's a day's journey from her parents and little girl, but her best friend Peggy Jones teaches the village school. While Nella tries to uncover the plot, she finds herself drawn to Bryan Westmoreland, the lord's son. Despite Peggy's precautions and her own uncertainty about Bryan's motives, she falls in love with him. Then she overhears him plotting with two men. It sounds like he's mixed up with Nazi spies. And one of Peggy's young students goes missing. In the final rush of everything, Nella realizes she should have listened to Peggy. Now she's put her family, Peggy and a young girl in danger.

My Take: This book was slightly more exciting than For Such a Time. Several red herrings are dropped in our way, but for an aware reader, they're not too difficult to figure out. The final twist about Bryan is the easiest one of the bunch. And there were also a lot of clichés and gushing, poorly worded choices.

We're also treated to a subplot about Peggy's troubles with the lady of the manor complaining about the way she's conducting school, and her own little romance with one of Bryan's gentry friends.

It was interesting to realize the potential for Nazi spies in England as well as English spies in Nazi-occupied countries. It wasn't anything I'd given much thought about, which made it for an interesting read. But on the whole, the book didn't ring very true to me. I didn't feel particularly drawn to any of the characters, though I sympathized a little with Nella's bitterness at God because of the death of her first husband. It felt very fake, and without the mystery, we'd be left without any story.

Rating: three of five stars

The Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K. Paul

Storyline: Tipper is a young woman with a mother whose mind wanders, an estate to manage, and a grand parrot, Sir Beccaroon, as her guardian. Everyone thinks that her father, the famous artist Verrin Schope, has abandoned them.

Tipper has been selling her father’s artwork to bring money into the household. Despite that, they’re still struggling. Then, inexplicably, Verrin reappears with a couple of wacky companions, his artistic skills better than before, and an urgent quest for three of his missing statues.

My Thoughts: Donita K. Paul has done it again!!

I’d grown to love all of her characters from the Dragonkeeper Chronicles—Kale, Bardon, Swamp-wizard Fenworth, Sir Dar, Toopka—and wasn’t sure I’d like a new book with new characters. But a couple of old friends showed up, much to my delight, and the author kept her old perfect mixture of high adventure and humor. In fact, there were several breathtaking scenes, a few heartwarming moments as Tipper and her father bond, and several exchanges involving Sir Beccaroon or the prissy artist Bealomondore that had me laughing out loud.

One thing I didn’t like (granted, it took up only one sentence of the book): a male friend gives Tipper a kiss on the cheek. Once again, my “unmarried couples kissing” thing.

Some of you might not like the whole “good wizards” and magic element, but I find that Donita K. Paul did very well with it. The good magic follows a very specific set of rules set by Wulder (God) and wizards are evil when they bend and twist the rules. Plus, a lot of the magic done by good wizards involves something useful, light, and fun. To me, that doesn’t make it so difficult as when the good guys consider always consider their magic serious. The part I like least about it is mindspeaking (although there's plenty of humor involved with the mindspeaking dragons), but the other stuff is fine.

And there are dragons. I love dragons! I find Donita's classification of the dragons according to sizes very cool and original, plus the different talents she gives to the minor dragons are always fun to read about (minor dragons are kitten-sized). I honestly wish I could have about a dozen minor dragons. :0)

If you appreciate good fantasy and humor, definitely check out this book and the others by Donita K. Paul (DragonSpell, DragonQuest, DragonKnight, DragonFire, DragonLight).

Rating: four and a half stars

*Update: This book is now called Dragons of the Valley*

Exposure by Brandilyn Collins

Storyline: Kaycee Raye is paranoid about multiple things. Rollercoasters. Bees. Darkness. Most of all, she’s frightened with the thought that someone is watching her every single instant.

She’d begun to conquer the fear, then her best friend died, leaving a young child behind. For the past year, Kaycee’s fears have taken on a life of their own. Her coping skills no longer help.

And it all starts one evening when she walks into her house and a camera goes off—with no one to press the button. Every one of her fears begin to stack up, paralyzing her. The local police think she’s crazy. Kaycee also has her doubts—until too many things happen too conveniently.

My Take: Wow! I read this book in three hours. Suspense is always difficult for me to put down (and obviously I had way too much time on my hands that day).

This book was well done. Even though it was somewhat short, I connected to the characters, especially the main character Kaycee, well. Kudos to Brandilyn Collins’ ingenious character building schemes!

It was also tense. I don’t think I relaxed a single bit while I was reading it. Definitely not a book I’ll revisit if I’m ever at home by myself right before bedtime.

I think everyone could connect to Kaycee well because she represents the fearful part of us. I mean, I connected with her fears of darkness and bees. And it made me examine why I particularly feared those things—both of mine are pretty tame compared to Kaycee’s. (I dislike darkness because I have poor night vision, and not being able to see things makes me jumpy. I dislike bees because they sting and hurt! Duh! :0) ) And I cheered happily at the end when Kaycee is well on her way to defeating those fears.

A couple of dislikes: description of lots of blood at a couple of points. I know this won’t be a problem for most people. I just happen to get sick at the sight of a lot of blood (and my imagination works too well to read that kind of description). And, it's definitely edgy Christian fiction.

On the whole, though, I really enjoyed this book. If you can handle heart-pounding suspense, go for it!

Favorite Summer Books 2009

One of my goals this summer was to read 25 new books. I made it to 22. Out of all of those, my favorite were The Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K. Paul, Shadows of Lancaster County by Mindy Starns Clark, and 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie.

Here are summaries:

Shadows of Lancaster County: Anna Bailey is not her real name, and California is not her real home. She moved from Pennsylvania following a tragedy within the Amish community she lived close to. She hoped to never go back.

But her brother has disappeared, and his wife frantically calls Anna, unsure of who else to turn to. Anna finds herself embroiled in a tangle of DNA experiments, family secrets, and the loving arms of God's mercy as she fights for her life.

Genre: Modern-day United States, suspense

4:50 From Paddington: Elspeth McGillicudy did not have hallucinations. Ever. So the sight of seeing a woman strangled in the window of a passing train turns her to her old friend Jane Marple for help. But Miss Marple is far too old to go tottering about the English countryside by herself, so she enlists a young friend Lucy Eyelesbarrow to be her eyes as she sets her mind to solve the mystery.

Genre: Late 1940s England, murder mystery

The Vanishing Sculptor: Tipper Schope manages her parents' estate since her father disappeared several years ago and her mother has a fuzzy mind. Her guardian, a Grand Parrot named Sir Beccaroon, is always trying to help her, but sometimes Tipper just wishes she didn't have so many worries. Then her father reappears with a problem--Tipper sold three of his statues that were made from on of Wulder's Foundation Stones, and because of that all the portals in the world are becoming unstable.

Genre: Fantasy, same world as the DragonKeeper Chronicles (Dragonspell, Dragonquest, Dragonknight, Dragonfire, Dragonlight). *Update: Now called by the title of Dragons of the Valley*

Check out these books if you have the chance, especially Shadows of Lancaster County, even if suspense isn't your normal genre. It is an amazing book!!

Breach of Trust by DiAnn Mills

Storyline: Breach of Trust by DiAnn Mills is a romantic suspense, with a bit of a different twist.

The protagonist, Paige Rogers, is the librarian in Split Creek, Oklahoma, a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere.

We immediately assume she’s different than most of the folks around her—for one thing, she carries a Beretta pistol in her car. For another, she severely hates the Republican running for governor’s office, Daniel Kreary. And despite some obvious advances from the town’s handsome football coach, Miles, Paige repeatedly speaks of her disinterest. She spends her days working at the library and helping her friend Voleta balance her checkbooks.

Then we discover she’s an ex-CIA operative who was on the same team as Kreary. They went through a horribly botched mission that left Paige in the hospital. She discovered that Kreary had sold out to the enemy. After finding out that she knows his secret, Kreary blackmails her into leaving the CIA, taking on a new identity, and living in this tiny little town.

And now, he’s after her again.

My Take: I’m a fan of anything suspense. This was a bit more romance than I usually enjoy. But it was a decent read. There were just a few things I disliked.

One—I dislike it when couples in books kiss before they’re engaged, especially Christian couples, without extenuating circumstances. A kiss is a sacred thing, not something we should throw around to anyone.

However, I enjoyed watching her relationship develop with Miles. You really gotta love somebody to get on a Harley with them!! :0)

Two—Paige wonders about her role as a CIA operative and a Christian. At one point in the book, she thinks about her former methods of getting information from men with disgust. But a couple chapters later, the author has her in a short, tight dress and flirting with a man for information. To me, this was an unbelievable step for Paige to take—especially since a few pages before, she’s irritated with her friend Voleta because Voleta’s wearing tight, revealing clothing.

So technically, there were (I felt) a few flaws in the storytelling. But I did appreciate that the story made me think about the danger CIA operatives—and others—go through to keep our country safe.

I think this was a pretty good book. I’d definitely recommend it. It has some endearing small-town scenes in it, a pretty good plot, and a

couple of surprising twists. Enjoy your reading!

The Gypsy Morph by Terry Brooks

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Storyline: The world as we know it is falling apart. Poisoned by years of nuclear, the earth is slowly dying. Strange creatures—Lizards, Spiders, and Croaks among others—have emerged, former humans that are mutated by the radiation. And demons are determined to wipe out humanity forever.

Out of it all, an elf-boy named Kirisin has come into possession of the magic known as the Elfstones. He must place the elvish city into an Elfstone known as the Loden and transport it to a safe place.

A boy named Hawk discovers that he is the Gypsy Morph, a creature made of wild magic, who is the only hope for humankind.

And two Knights of the Word, Angel Perez and Logan Tom, are tasked with defending these two boys, bringing them together, and helping them to a place of safety.

Tracking them all is Findo Gask, a demon with a horde at his command.

My Take: To say I was mildly impressed by the technical part of this book is an understatement. Brooks’ writing is amazing—he knows how to drop one character’s storyline in the middle of an exciting part, to pick up another character’s storyline. He flawlessly sticks to his viewpoint character in scenes. And to credit his editors, I noticed no spelling or grammatical mistakes.

But the storyline was…OK. It was an interesting twist on apocalyptic times. This is the third in a series, so I know I was missing parts of the story.

But I think the main thing I disliked was the fact that Brooks’ writing is incredibly dark and humanistic. There are demons, but there is no supernatural “good” being to counteract them—we only have magic that both sides can use.

Brooks’ worlds (both in the Shannara books and his Landover series) revolve on magic. If I’m reading books with magic, I prefer ones like Tolkien, where magic is only a tool, and the good guys use it as little as possible. Plus, there are differences to Gandalf’s magic versus the Balrog’s. There’s no difference between Logan and Angel’s and Findo Gask’s.

However, Brooks had a conversation between Logan and Kirisin that I found extremely interesting. In one scene, Logan abandons his staff to rescue Kirisin using only his sneaking skills. That, Logan explains, is because he wanted to prove to himself that he didn’t have to use the magic. Logan explains that their magic (Kirisin’s Elfstones and his Word magic) is an integral part of who they are. However, they must be extremely careful with it, because the more they use it, the more it consumes them.

“It [the magic] erodes the defenses you create to keep it from overwhelming you, from stealing your soul. Do you think I exaggerate? Think again. Magic can do that. It does do that. It is an addicting, corrupting influence, and the more you use it, the more it makes you want to use it.”

Sounds very, very truthful to me.

While I dislike Brooks’ stories for having such a huge magical element in them, I admire the fact that most of his writing is connected and interwoven. That said, I was still not impressed with the storyline.

Popcorn and a Movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008

Hey everyone, sorry for not posting on Monday. It's been a slightly crazy week, with the weather (and the internet still not working properly). Every second it's not raining it seems like my mom wants to get outside and do some project. :0) I don't blame her; we have a ton of stuff piling up on the outdoor to-do list since it's been rainy. At least it's no longer gray-the rain has made the leaves and flowers start popping (finally) and I can enjoy a good rainy day as long as there's some kind of color to look at.
Now, onto the post: a review of the new The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves.
Yes, this new version had cool special effects, and more mysterious "ships" than the glowing disk of the old black and white classic. However, I can safely say that it wasn't a movie I liked. I spent the entire time picking it apart. Normally I can shut my brain off the first time I watch a movie to just enjoy it (except in the case of something like Inkheart, where Dustfinger caught my attention so quickly I had a hard time focusing on the movie).
The Day the Earth Stood Still isn't my favorite old movie, but I think they ruined it the in the remake. Ending violence (naive as it may sound) was a better idea than the aliens destroying mankind because they're ruining the earth.
Seriously? They built a mvoie on that premise? Yes, seriously.
Now, do I agree that we should take care of the earth? Yes. God gave mankind the authority to rule over the earth, to dominate and take care of it but not destroy it. I really don't agree with the people who think that humans are destroying nature.
Especially aliens.
If you're going to remake a movie, make it better, not worse, than the original. Making the main character a scientist--OK, that could pass (although I liked her better as a ordinary person who didn't try to explain away everything because of science). Giving her a stepson who's a brat (and who really doesn't have a character arc) doesn't pass with me. I like the kid in the original much, much better.
I also liked the original version where Klaatu comes to earth already in human form. This new version where he comes as an alien and is "born" as a human in our world is kind of ridiculous. Plus, though it fits within his character as not caring for the humans, he hurts and kills multiple people (although he then heals them, which doesn't make sense for his character at that point in the movie). The new Klaatu does eventually stop the plan to destroy mankind (I guess at risk of his own life...) but I still like the old, peaceful Klaatu better.
Then there's Gort the robot. Pretty corny in the old one, yes. Plain ridiculous in the new one. Gort (the name is given to him by the scientists who study him...I don't remember what it means) is made up of billions of little mechanical bugs (at least I assumed they were mechanical) who's sole purpose was to destroy everything living on earth (except the animals who have already been taken away in little versions of Klaatu's spaceship).
Now, could I have enjoyed this film if I'd turned my brain off and just watched it? No. It was so in-your-face that I couldn't enjoy it. Story themes should be subtle. This was anything but.
Am I irritated I watched this movie? No. For one thing, I didn't pay to see it. For another, I enjoy every now and then watching a movie that makes me think. Do I care to watch it again? No. Do I recommend it? No.
Sorry if this seems jumpy and random. I didn't have much time to put it together. But I think you get the general idea. Keep in mind I'm not saying, "Don't watch this movie." I'm expressing my opinion of the movie. If you want to watch it, go for it! But remember to keep your brain on during this movie.