Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Thirteenth Tower

Oh fantasy.

Somehow, after a long week and a run of more serious reading material, there is something about fantasy that  feels like coming home. Seeing as I realize that fantasy and sci-fi often talk about serious issues as well I can understand the awkwardness of that mentality and yet I feel this ever time.

This week I had the opportunity to delve into Sara C.Snider's new book The Thirteenth Tower.

As an orphaned servant girl Emelyn has few prospects in life and hasn't planned much beyond the chores that would allow her to attend this year's festival in the village. However, when strangers overpower her village, leaving herself, a stranger apprentice, and two magisters unaffected Emelyn finds herself caught up in a delicate journey between forces that could lead to her destiny or her unraveling.

 I enjoyed Snider's offering. Emelyn was a character I could easily identify with and support in her journey to unravel the truth that was hidden all around her. Cobbe and her pig, though not as relatable were a great addition and showed the contrast in character styles that Snyder is able to infuse with life throughout her pages.

I also enjoyed Snider's use of the world's mythology in order to drive the story along. Although this, along with certain storytelling techniques, did allow for major plot points to be guessed fairly early in the story the character and charm won me over and continued to hold my interest.

I also enjoyed the villains in this story, the back story, the emotions and reasoning given to major decisions. However, I cannot think of a single way to explain more without giving away to much of the story so I'll content myself to leave it there ;)

My biggest disappointment was that the book feels like a solid set up for a series or, at the very least, opens it up for a good sequel to explore the events that followed the climax of this book. No sign of any second offering could I find online though. Hopefully this is something that can be rectified in the future though.

For fans of fantasy and classic fairy tales, Snider offers a wonderful new offering to this genre.

4 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from NetGallery in exchange for my honest opinion.

Update: For those who, like me, felt this story ended too quickly be sure to drop in at Snider's website  for some exciting news!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Answering your kids toughest questions.

I received this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

After some wild and wonderful mail adventures, I finally had the chance to sit down and read Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson recent offering Answering your kids' toughest questions. As a mom, I am acutely aware of the fact that, although I currently spend my days encouraging my son in basic life skills like talking, there will come a day in the near future where his questions may lead us into interesting spaces.

The greatest strength of Thompson and Fitzpatrick's work is that it challenges readers to think and question how they would approach certain topics with their children when approached. I'm a huge fan of materials that seek to engage parents and foster an atmosphere of learning and openness after seeing far too many situations where adults try to "fake-it-til-we make-it" or flat out avoid the questions being asked, regardless of their severity or importance.

My issue was that much of the book felt as though the reader was being pulled into extremes. Some of the examples, including what seems to be a fairly infamous one in reviews regarding snapping one's fingers and sin, border or march into extremes and could easily be seen as justification for legalism and Pharisaical teachings.
On the other hand, many of their explanations regarding at the end of each chapter regarding the separate age ranges (dividing into really nice categories)  felt very pat and simplistic. In all fairness this may be my own education influencing my perceptions. I love being challenged in my thinking and spent most of my college and seminary years discussing ideas and concepts including ones covered in this book at great length. However, I felt that the answers outlined were more likely to result in rolled eyes or misunderstanding than the open communication the authors desired, perhaps due to the lack of focus concerning living out and modelling the gospel and creating an atmosphere of learning and growth from childhood?

Overall, I think the authors did try and provide what they set out to do within a very specific and controlled audience. The effect just fell flat for me personally.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen

Sometimes all it takes is a person, a story, a word to make a difference. With one connection a story goes from being facts to becoming personal, touching those who hear it and generally it takes a powerful story or a gifted storyteller for that connection to come through. In Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen by Lisa Shannon readers are gifted with both.

Lisa Shannon has long been known for her activism and her work among the Congolese people. Before the frenzy and fallout of Kony 2012 and afterwards when interest faded Shannon has continued to hold a place in her heart for the people who live the reality of a life unfathomable to many in North America. In Mama Koko Shannon takes the easiest and yet most painful route to further this need - she shares stories.

Mama Koko is not a book for the feint of heart and, in fact, it's a story that will probably pain your heart or at least open it to the realities of life in an often overlooked part of the world. Shannon starts with stories of friendship, memories of a time in Africa most stereotypes don't often unearth due to convenience before delving into stories of loss, pain, and sadness that are often overlooked for the same reason.

Shannon doesn't hold back as she recounts the stories of Heritier, Roger, Antoinette, and so many more tied together through Francisca and Koko. Young, old, living, dead, and those caught in between each are represented in these pages, each are given a chance to be heard.

This is not a feel good book but it is a book worth reading if you are willing to learn and take this book beyond it's pages: grow in awareness, find an appropriate and certified venue through which to offer the recommended aid.

I received this book through NetGallery as an advanced copy (release date is February 3, 2015) and the opinions are my own.

Mama Koko is a book that will stay with me for a long time and occasionally brought me to tears as I was able to see a glimpse into this conflict with new eyes.

5 out of 5 stars

The Galaxy Game

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord has all the makings of a good read for me: the potential for character development, sci-fi, interesting tech, and mysterious dealing.This is why I'm still confused as to how one book could travel so far off course.

I'll be honest, I almost gave up on this book a number of times. 

The Galaxy Game was very hard for me to follow, in fact, I haven't included a summary of the book because after reading it, I'm still not sure what the point of the novel was. It struck me as more a collection of half plots than a fully realized, coherent story.This greatly weakened the story for me as well as increased my confusion and sadness with the book.

Transitions between characters were hasty and often did not provide any context or warning for the shift. This required constant re-reading so that I could grasp whose point of view I was now supposed to be following.  

The characters themselves had great potential but never reached it. 
Rafi could have been a solid main character but none of the solid leads for character development were ever built upon. Though his family might have been a great source of emotional growth and development it was only introduced, ignored, and then "resolved" chapters later with a passing comment. In fact, none of Rafi's growth seemed to involve him or his actions.
The same goes for characters like Serendipity who sole purpose in the beginning seems to have been to bring forward a "familiar" pilot later in the plot. That kind of writing needs to be executed flawlessly not to feel lazy, unfortunately I can't say that happened here.

Perhaps I was just tired, perhaps I'm the wrong audience and maybe someone else will love this book, however The Galaxy Game is not a book I will be picking up again.

1.5/5 stars

I received this book through NetGallery in exchange for my honest opinion.