Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year! - Best of 2014

It was a great year of new books and old favorites! After some long deliberation, I present my top reads from 2014!

The Runners-Up: One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson.

3. On the Shoulders of Hobbits by Louis Markos

2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

1. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Happy New Year and here's to another great year of reading! 

What were the best books you read this year? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review: "Alby's Amazing Book" by Catalina Echeverri

Alby's Amazing Book by Catalina Echeverri is an adorable book about a squirrel named Alby and his very favorite book: the Bible.

Alby shows us how books can take us on great adventures! I love that Alby proudly displays his love of reading and how it is so much more than just words and pictures that he gets out of the books.

His favorite book is different though, because the adventures it describes are TRUE. Alby's Amazing Book shows illustrations of the Garden of Eden, the miraculous catch of fish from John 21, and David and Goliath.

My only complaint is a single page that is very dark and a little hard to read, but it's not too bad.

I'm very excited to share this book with my niece. The amount of detail is stunning - the pictures are even printed over a running Bible verses in the background.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Cross Focuses Reviews for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: "The Christmas Promise" by Alison Mitchell and Catalina Echeverri

The Christmas Promise is a short, catchy children's book explaining Jesus's birth. Throughout the book, there is various repeated phrases to keep a child's attention. One such use is a "WHOOSH!" for when the angels appear. Unfittingly though, this "WHOOSH!" was also used for the star appearing, which was not my favorite word choice.

There's no denying this wise man's excitement at seeing the star though!

One of those repetitious elements was accompanied by strange grammatical choices. "He sent: a NEW KING; a RESCUING KING; a FOREVER KING." I don't think I've ever seen semi-colons and colons in a children's book, and here they're not even necessary. Of course, it's not like this will bother my one and a half year old niece.

I know my niece will love these adorable, goofy animal illustrations. I certainly did!

I also really appreciated that at the end of the book there is a page saying where you can find the Christmas story in the Bible. It also lists places to look for the Old Testament promises of a new king. I can definitely see this book being a good transition into reading the Christmas story from the Bible as my niece gets older.

The use of fun, curvy words to tell the story could have been more frequent, as the designer employed this technique only twice.

 All in all, a great introduction to the Christmas story and a great gift for the young ones in your family.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Cross Focused Reviews for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: "Tell Me a Story" by Scott McClellan

In Tell Me a Story, Scott McClellan's aim is that you "identify yourself as a storyteller, an artist committed to narrative, and that in so doing you'll experience God and your life more deeply than you did before" (21). He works towards that goal by telling the reader to think of life as a story and that each and every person has a story worth telling. 
McClellan talks about God as the narrator of our story, and "In God's story we find that the lost need not stay lost, the sick need not stay sick, and the runaways need not stay away" (58). God's loving redemption is a part of our stories as much as it is a part of the stories from the Bible that McClellan uses to support it.

My favorite chapter is the one that focuses on sharing your story: the relationship between the storyteller, the church and the community. The most powerful moments of the book are when McClellan shares his story about the difficult adoption process. He talks about how having community to share his story with was vital to getting him through all of the mishaps he and his wife experienced.

However, these moments were not frequent enough in the book. Perhaps that in itself is proof that McClellan is on to something with his storytelling theory - it is important because it is what connects people. 

Little connectivity and lots of repetition made this book feel like a blog post that's been stretched to the breaking point. Even with the chapters of this book coming in at a grand total of 109 pages, the idea felt tired and forced almost immediately.

There were definitely some gems throughout, but overall it was very difficult to get through.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Moody Publishers for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Seeing double?

Two great new children's books in and ready for blog tour reviews in the next two weeks!

First up, The Christmas Promise by Allison Mitchell and Catalina Echeveri followed by Alby's Amazing Book, illustrated by Catalina Echeveri!

Both are published by The Good Book for Children and are a part of Cross Focused Reviews.

Find out whether these books will make the cut and be passed along to my year and a half old niece!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween! with "A Night in the Lonesome October"

Well the Read Along for A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny has come to an end after 31 days of attempting to read only one chapter a day.

I don't want to spoil anything for those who have not read (or who are not caught up), but I did want to share a few final thoughts.

As a general recap, the story is narrated by the dog Snuff, a companion to Jack who is a player in a Game that is not fully explained until late in the game. Other players of this Game also have animal companions, and most of what we see is Snuff trading information with the other animal companions. Through this, great friendships are formed. During the month of October, the players all go about collecting ingredients and preparing for Halloween night, when the Game begins.

Humor is also a big part of the book, from shape-shifting Things trying to woo Snuff by turning in to different dogs, to a disguise rendered so well that all characters are clueless to the true identity, aside from Snuff.

The characters of the book are some you may recognize from other spooky tales - some more overtly than others.  The Great Detective, the Count, and the Good Doctor are a few that everyone is sure to recognize.  It is an intriguing dynamic to see these classic characters interact.

Perhaps even before next October, I would like to reread this book.  There are so many little things mentioned throughout that don't make sense until you find out what is really going on, which isn't until the last week. I'd really like to start from the beginning now knowing what's going on!

That being said, I still really enjoyed the book the first time through. There's great friendships, lots of mystery, and most of all anticipation - as the whole book leads up to the final day and everything until then is just preparation.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Read Along: Week Three - "A Night in the Lonesome October"

Last week's discussion of Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October raised the question of what inspired this quirky novel. Apparently this mix of humor, mystery, suspense, and horror is what happens when someone dares/bets a talented author that he can't make Jack the Ripper a sympathetic character.

The consensus was that it's successful so far. Half-way through the month, we continue to be endeared by not only Snuff and the other watch animals, but also the total loyalty between Snuff and Jack. 

This week, things take a turn for the darker, but if anyone knows who's to blame for the mysterious murder, they're not sharing. There's also more cooperation between other players, but they are just as reciprocal as their companions - they will trade ingredients, sure, but few players offer something for nothing. October 17th shows the mad tossing around of body parts that takes place in the cemetery during one such exchange.
What an image Zelazny creates with “'Has anyone the broken vertebrae of a hanged man?’” and then a moment later “something white and rattling flashed through the starlit air” (90). So that removes any doubt about the nature of the ingredients that Jack and Snuff collect. It remains to be seen what they’ll be used for though…

With the last day of the week beginning with the ominous line “Soon it begins,” I know we’re in for another exciting week!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

To Review: "Tell Me a Story" by Scott McClellan

It's been a while since my last book review, so here's the next one that'll be on the blog soon. It's Tell Me a Story by Scott McClellan, and it just arrived in my mailbox this week from Moody Publishers!

To give you a taste, here's a line from the back of the book:
All the best stories have a few things in common; sometimes we just have to step back from our daily routine to see them....When we recognize the elements of a great story, we begin to see our lives as a part of God's story. ...We are right in the middle of a page-turner - and God is in it with us.
Look for my review coming soon!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Read Along: Week Two - "A Night in the Lonesome October"

"Why are you growling, friend?" Jack asked. 
I shook my head. I was not sure. (18)

This week Snuff has been meeting with other watchers and trading information.

One of the other watchers got into a tight spot, and Snuff saved her, showcasing the relationship between the watchers. Of course, their masters are still competitors, but "it's too early in the Game to begin eliminating players" (41). Of course this rescue counts as another favor and favors are to be traded like information. It's a very reciprocal system and each of the watchers obey the unwritten rule. 

One of the Things in the master's house has the ability to shapeshift and keeps attempting to woo Snuff by transforming into different types of dogs, which is increasingly funny as we read Snuff's commentary about all the elements the Thing got wrong. All of the Things are trying to escape, using whatever trickery possible, but Snuff is too good of a watchdog for that. 

We meet the Great Detective, who is investigating some murders and grave robberies. Perhaps the players of the Game are to blame. Who knows what type of "ingredients" they are collecting! There were some hints that point to the possibility that Dr. Frankenstein is involved, which would explain the grave robberies at least. 

All in all, a very exciting week full of mystery and humor!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Read Along: Week One - "A Night in the Lonesome October"

While week one of October was a short one, it was definitely an exciting one in the Night in the Lonesome October read along. I’m having a hard time only reading one chapter a day because I want to learn more about this exciting life of Snuff, the watchdog and narrator!

In the first three chapters, I specifically enjoyed seeing Snuff from three different sides: first, with his
interactions with the antagonizing Things; second, with another watcher (a cat no less!); and third, with his master, Jack (and later his new acquaintance, Needle, a bat).

It’s the relationship with Jack that has me most invested and quotes like “He had donned his cloak and said to me, ‘Snuff, fetch!’ And from the way he said it, I knew that it was the blade he required” (11) only add to the intrigue.

Slowly but surely, we get to see more of Snuff and Jack’s mission – they go out collecting ingredients every night, and on night three, we learn that a new player has entered the “Game,” though we do not know what the game is.

I’m still only reading the chapter on the day I'm supposed to, but it's a only been a little tease so far with chapters less than three pages.

You can follow the read along on Twitter (#GoodDogSnuff and @ChiReviewPress).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Read Along: "A Night in the Lonesome October" by Roger Zelazny

“The last great novel by one of the giants of the genre.”  —George R. R. Martin

“Jack the Ripper meets Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, and a few other choice individuals in this romp through the annals of literary horror and mystery. . . . Zelazny’s quirky humor and Wilson’s appropriately creepy drawings complement each other in grand style.”  —Library Journal

Apparently it is a tradition among Roger Zelazny's fans to read A Night in the Lonesome October one chapter a day during, you guessed it, October. The chapters are even aptly titled "October 1," "October 2," etc. So this month, I'll be joining the Chicago Review Press in doing a read along!

Today I met Snuff, a watchdog and the narrator of the novel. It is his job to help his master, Jack, as well as keeping watch, of course. Together, they are the keepers of curses and their work is "very important." I don't know much else yet, as the first chapter is only two pages long!

If you have a copy, grab your book and read chapter one—it's October 1st! You can follow our adventure on Twitter (#GoodDogSnuff and @ChiReviewPress). I'll be updating weekly as we progress through the book.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: "The Story Keeper" by Lisa Wingate

A story within a story, Lisa Wongate's The Story Keeper follows the adventure of a New York editor following a mysterious manuscript to its roots in the Blue Ridge mountains.

The novel weaves Jen's history growing up in the Blue Ridge together with the story of Sarra, a local legend all the way back to the person Jen thinks may have written it - renowned author Evan Hall. It's no easy task for her to try to contact the reclusive author, who retreated from public eye after his mega popular fantasy series developed a cult-like following.   She also must confront some of her own uncomfortable memories. Her family is living in poverty, trapped in an endless cycle of overspending, under-educating, and being trapped by an oppressive religion.

The manuscript that Jen discovers appears in sections through the novel. As she reads the story, we read along with her.  She was hooked immediately and very attached to the manuscript after only the first two chapters, but it wasn't until later in the book I began to appreciate it as much as the story being told around it. 

This novel definitely worth reading for any book lover out there as its message is crucial: Everyone has a story. Someone just needs to care enough to share it.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Tyndale for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To Review: "The Story Keeper" by Lisa Wingate

This week I received The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate in the mail from Tyndale.

As I'm about to start a job at a publishing company, the synopsis of this book immediately caught my attention. A successful editor starts a new job and finds a dangerous story in the slush pile. The editor follows the trail of the book to discover the "book's hidden origins and its unknown author."

Sounds exciting! I can't wait to get in to it. Look for my review on the blog soon!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: "Just My Typo" by Drummond Moir

"If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written." (266)
As is to be expected, Just My Typo by Drummond Moir is a novelty, flip-through type book.  Though I do love a good typo, this book didn't hold much beyond what a blog post or Buzzfeed article might contain.  Moir broke the typos up into chapters of similar types: literature, historical/political, legal, Bible, and even autocorrect typos to name a few.

In some cases, the book told a story about the typo, which were my favorite part.  Specifically, I enjoyed examples of typos that made a reader misinterpret the text so completely.  A Harvard literary critic analyzed a passage from Melville's White Jacket that read "soiled fish" instead of "coiled fish."  He wrote "rather gushingly, that 'hardly anyone but Melville could have created the shudder that results from calling this frightening vagueness some 'soiled fish of the sea'" (11).

In a later example, a misprint in a Bible leads a preacher to discuss what "I am fearfully and wonderfully mad" meant, as the "e" had been left of "made" (141).

Most of the book though was repeated examples of the same type of mistakes, such as four separate examples of when "pubic" was used instead of "public." I get that these are funny because of the serious nature of the documents they usually occur on, but I don't need to see it four times to get it.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Interview: Kyle Tennant of "Unfriend Yourself"

A while back I posted my review of Unfriend Yourself, a book about the implications of social media use and how it has changed us and our communication.  It was a book that challenged readers to go three days without social media to reflect on how it affects our lives, especially through our relationships with others.

I've just come across this interview with the author, so it might be worth a read if you're interested in it at all.  He reiterates some of the important messages of his book, namely how some people use social media to replace face-to-face conversation.

The Blessings and Curses of Social Media: An Interview with Unfriend Yourself Author Kyle Tennant

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: "MindWar" by Andrew Klavan

Former high school football star Rick Dial is sought out by the government for his video game skills in MindWar by Andrew Klavan, the first of the trilogy.  With four months of doing nothing but playing video games after an accident left him crippled, he became the world leader in three different games. His quick thinking and reaction time is put to the test by entering the Realm, a virtual world created by a Russian genius that intends to use it to take over American computer systems.

"My name is Rick Dial," said Rick, and he drew Mariel's blade. "And I'm here to destroy this place."
The demon's face contorted with anger, yet he managed to nod with a measure of respect. [...] "I am Reza. And I'm going to kill you." (284)

Two stories weave through the novel: that of Rick exploring the Realm and that of the Traveler, a man on the run as he assists the government with the MindWar project.  This second branch of the narrative is never fully realized, though, and his role in the project is unclear. Rick's story was interesting enough to follow, especially the dynamics with his younger brother, but the story of the Traveler was too vague and seemed to be more of an unnecessary plot addition.

The book is hokey at best, where a huge suspension of disbelief is required with every page. Becoming the best in the world at three different video games in only four months? Unlikely. The government asking for your help by drugging you and putting you in the back of a van? Exciting, but no.

Another gimmicky-tacky route this novel took was assigning each chapter a title that belongs to a video game: Call of Duty, Portal, Portal Two, Hitman.  The thing that put me over the edge was a chapter called "Words with Friends." I actually cringed.  However, one thing I should have been thankful for was the chapter breaks, since in the last section of the novel they're forgone completely.  There's about 80 pages that are only broken up by a symbol serving as an asterisk. There's 29 chapters in the first 3/4 of the book, and one for the last quarter.

The intended audience for this book is probably pre-teen boys, so perhaps these can be excused. But for an adult reader, this book left a lot to be desired. The plot was barely enough to keep my interest and all of the minor annoyances kept adding up.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from BookLook for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

To Review: "Just My Typo" by Drummond Moir

This week in the mail I received Drummond Moir's Just My Typo, a "charming collection of
typographical errors, slips of the pen, and embarrassing misprints."

  • "Illegally parked cars will be fine." -Anonymous sign
  • "Thou shalt commit adultery." -1631 edition of the Bible
  • "Sinning with the choir"
  • "The Untied States"

Should be a lot of fun! Look for a (hopefully typo free) review coming soon!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

To Review: "MindWar" by Andrew Klavan

"Government agents have uncovered a potentially devestating cyberthreat: a Russian genius has created a digital reality called the Realm, from which he can enter, control, and disrupt American computer systems...from transportation to defense."

Next on my list to review is MindWar by Andrew Klavan, from BookLook. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: "The Panopticon" by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon is the first novel by Scottish poet Jenni Fagan.  Anais, the fifteen year-old-protagonist is thoroughly a hard to love chronic offender who has found herself in the Panopticon, the 23rd home she's gone through. Despite the young lead, I wouldn't classify this as a YA read due to extensive vulgarity, heavy drug use, and subject matter including prostitution, rape, suicide, and murder.

The novel started slowly, with Anais being introduced to her a new home. However, once the other occupants of the home are fully introduced, I became much more invested and soon was hanging on every page waiting to hear good news for the fates of the young outcasts.

Anais has a theory: She's part of an experiment, born out of a test tube, raised under a constant watchful eye, and put to the test time and time again just to suit the whims of this experiment.  It's a broad fear that appears throughout the novel at random intervals. The idea of a constant fear of being watched is ingrained in the novel's title (Panopticon), but it isn't really developed as much as I would've liked for the intriguing premise.

The use of dialect was very distracting for me during the first third of the book, before the translations became second nature. "Tae" for "to" was simple enough, but words like "umnay" and "urnay" took me awhile to switch over to "am not" and "are not". It's important for a novel to stay true to the vocabulary of the characters, but I didn't like the imposition of a dialect that could've been described instead of written out throughout the entire novel.

There are also some great supplemental materials at the end of the novel: discussion questions, a list of inspirations, and even a playlist to go along with the story.

All in all, the story line was interesting, I was invested in the characters even if I didn't like them, but the dialect, profuse cussing, and lack of development of the "experiment" really brought the book down. 

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: "101 Secrets for Your Twenties" by Paul Angone

101 Secrets for your Twenties by Paul Angone was expanded from a an article, "21 Secrets for your 20s" and maintains many of the same characteristics.  Sometimes the "secret" is just a one line statement and sometimes it leads to a larger section of multi-page explanation.

There are many great points made in the book, teaching young adults that they're not alone in their struggles with jobs, friends, love, faith, and family. Some of my favorites were "Rocking adulthood is sometimes nothing more glamorous than Patient Ever-Day-Ness" (162), "If you don't define success, success will gladly define you" (168), and "A college diploma is NOT our golden ticket into DreamJobLand" (42). The secrets are presented in a light, humorous way, but are still impactful in their message.

In many ways though, this information was better presented as an article than as a book.  101 is a lot of secrets, and as far as I could tell, there was no organizational structure for what was discussed where.  For example, Angone presents #49, a secret about breakups, followed by #50, a secret about not knowing the plan for our lives, and then #51 is another secret about breakups. I would have appreciated if the secrets were organized by category so that if you needed inspiration or comfort, you'd know where to look for it.

The light-hearted fun feel of the book also goes a bit far with too many made up words, making the book seem childish - not something someone in their 20s would appreciate.  As a 23 year old reader, I was not amused by things like "Round-Mound o' Goodness" as a description of chocolate (37) or "LivinginYourParentsHouseAgainVille" (42). That kind of informality is fine for a 21 point internet article, but it didn't really work for a full book.

My advice to my peers would be to read the article, but skip the book.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Moody Publishers for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Monday, June 30, 2014

To Review: "The Panopticon" by Jenni Fagan

Next on my list to read and review is The Panoptican, the first novel by Jenni Fagan, which arrived earlier this week from Blogging for Books.

I'm an experiment. I always have been. It's a given, a liberty, a fact. They watch me. Not just in school or social-work reviews, court or police cells-they watch everywhere.
                                      - Preface

Intrigued? Look for my review in the coming weeks!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: "Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab" by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's first mystery, High-Voltage Danger Lab, had the most interesting, spooky (but not too scary) plot line of all of the Nick and Tesla books. From wild dogs, ghostly sightings, warning messages, and kidnappings, Nick and Tesla are in for a wild summer at their Uncle Newt's after their parents suddenly left them to go do work in Uzbekistan.

Though most 11-year-old kids would be out of place living with a "mad scientist" type uncle, Nick and Tesla are (nearly) right at home. They use his lab to create their own inventions, and there are instructions so that the reader can build the projects right along with them in the story! High-Voltage Danger Lab includes step by step directions for making bottle rockets, intruder alarms, and even an inventive way to follow a vehicle using highlighters!

My only complaint for this book is actually about the illustrations by Scott Garrett, not about the story itself. I was not too happy with the way he chose to depict one of the characters.  Though she is described as having "pale skin and long black hair and circles under dark, sunken eyes," I thought the illustration took it a too far and she actually looks deathly ill, an image I wouldn't want to get stuck in children's minds (82).  The other illustrations in the book are just as well done as previous books, and I really enjoyed them, especially especially in displaying Nick and Tesla's inventions.


This book is a great way to get kids excited about science experiments and mystery books. It's an adventurous, exciting book for elementary aged children and parents to read together and invent along with the protagonists. Due to the experiments along the way, it's a good thing to read when there's time to build along with the story. It would also help to stock up on supplies before you get to that part in the story, so you may have to peek ahead!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Quirk Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

To Review: "101 Secrets for Your Twenties" by Paul Angone

101 Secrets for Your Twenties by Paul Angone arrived in the mail last week from Moody Publishers!

As a sneak peek, I'll let you in on a few of the secrets:
#11: Lousy Jobs are The Twentysomething Rite of Passage.
#48: The biggest surprise about becoming an adult that no one ever talks about...Adulthood. Never. Stops. 
#70: Making and keeping friends in your 20s take intentionality.
#72: The most dangerous phrase you can say in your 20s is "if only..." 
Look for my review of this book coming soon!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: "Countdown City" by Ben H. Winters

Book two of The Last Policeman trilogy, Countdown City, by Ben H. Winters brings the pre-apocalyptic world steadily closer to the impending doom of the asteroid destined for Earth. There are a few nods to the previous book, but it is not vital to have read it before this one.

Detective Hank Palace, though no longer technically an employed detective, has found himself another case.  He attacks this case with the same ardor and unfortunately, with the same questionable motivations.  Palace is propelled through impossible and dangerous situations simply to keep his word.  It seems to be a way for him to maintain order in a world gone mad.

The mystery of this book was in essence a missing person search, though more developed as the story progressed. The case is based upon a web of lies and many secondary characters that make the story line hard to keep up with.  The amount of randomness in the book is also hard to ignore.  It seems that even in the most dire situations, someone will just happen to show up to save Palace, even if there is no apparent reason for them to show up at all.

I still love the premise of the book: police mystery meets end of the world drama.  I enjoyed the parts of the book that showed how other people were handling the end of the world by hoarding up supplies or going to fulfill bucket list dreams.  I'm excited to read the final book in the trilogy, I just hope it has more definitive character motivations and that the asteroid actually hits during the book.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Quirk Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review: "On the Shoulders of Hobbits" by Louis Markos

Walk the Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis in On the Shoulders of Hobbits by Louis Markos. In this concise, but powerful book English professor Markos makes a passionate argument about the value of a story and how it has the ability to transform and inspire.

On the Shoulders of Hobbits is broken into four parts: The Road, The Classical Virtues, The Theological Virtues, and Evil. Each part has four chapters and each chapter has a section that introduces the topic, usually with a Biblical reference, a section of Tolkien, and a smaller section of Lewis.

Focusing mainly on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the book walks through the authors' work thematically, paralleling them with the Bible, with each other, and with other famous literature like Dante's Inferno and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The connections don't stop there though either; Markos also connects the stories to history and philosophy as well.

The book reminded me of the Hero's Journey, or monomyth, as it lined up common elements between different literary works.

In the chapter "Responding to the Call", both the Hero's Journey connection and the Biblical implications are quite clear. In the Hero's Journey, the protagonist displays some hesitancy, but ultimately responds to the call by crossing the threshold and taking to the Road in the "extraordianry world." Markos begins the chapter by explaining that God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things by fulfilling with faith that which they have been called to do.

The next section is the Tolkien connection where "Sam sees that his individual call (and that of Frodo) is part of a larger tapestry in which each individual call works together to bring about the destiny and hoped for end, what Tolkien liked to call the eucatastrophe: the good end that rises up, miraculously, our of what seemed, at first, to be defeat and death" (36). It's later explained that Tolkien said the greatest example of the eucatastrophe is the resurrection of Jesus.  The final section explains how Lewis's mouse Reepicheep may be small, but he has a great destiny to fulfill and he is dedicated to his high calling.

This is a phenomenal book for people who have read Tolkein and Lewis and want to learn more about the messages of their writing.  It was easy to read and interesting, though it does jump around with all of its references to different books.  I actually enjoyed the semi-chaos of having multiple allusions in the same paragraph and was thankful for all of the reading I had in my English classes that allowed me to keep up with Markos's explanations.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Moody Publishers for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: "Silenced" by Dani Pettrey

The fourth book of the Alaskan Courage series, Silenced by Dani Pettrey, is a suspenseful, romantic, Christian book that combines the beauty of Alaska, love, and faith with a murder mystery investigation, making for a book like nothing I've ever read before.

Kayden, an avid rock climbing adventurer, discovers a body while out on a tough mountain pass. Jake, a former detective, comes out of early retirement to work the case for what they realize was actually a murder.  Overcoming a history of distrust, Kayden and Jake work the case together, and as they do, they realize there's something brewing between them.

The first half of the book involves a lot of running back and forth between different suspects and witnesses, garnering what seemed like one fact from each person, only to return the next day for another single question to be answered.  Though perhaps true to how a detective works, it was repetitive and slow paced to move between about four different people, each "questioned" upwards of three separate times.

The second half was a whole different story, literally. By the time I finished reading, I couldn't remember what happened in the first half, since the first story line completely stopped and was never mentioned again.  That being said, the story really picks up in the second half and moves quickly - impossible to set down.  In the midst of a suspenseful and sickening kidnapping, family bands together to show the impossible strength of love and faith.

Silenced did a beautiful job of describing the scenery and explaining Alaskan life. It got cheesy at times, due to the romantic side of the book, but the adventure/investigation side was all business.  Though it was hard for me to stay interested during the bouncing between interviews part of the investigation, the rest of the novel made up for its shortcomings with exciting detective work and chases through the woods.

This book has it all: adventure, love, faith, murder, investigations, kidnapping, heartbreak, Alaskan wilderness, and family values.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Bethany House for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.