Category Archives: Featured

2015 BookGateway.com Booky Awards

BookyBookGateway.com is pleased to announce its books of the year award, the Bookys, for books published in 2015!

The Booky is awarded annually by the editors of BookGateway.com, a book review website for reviewers and book bloggers founded in 2010 with the express goal of encouraging a lifestyle of continued learning through the love and practice of reading. The Booky awards recognize the best books published and reviewed at BookGateway.com during the preceding year. Each reviewer that submits at least 10 reviews during the calendar year along editors of BookGateway.com can nominate books for Booky award recognition. Final decisions are made by the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com.


Children’s & Teens:
I Am Princess X
by Cherie Priest | Arthur A. Levine Books | May 2015
From the review: “This is an outstanding, tense book! It’s a mystery, drama and young reader novel all in one and the best part is that no fluffy romance muddling up the core story. No love triangles.”


Fantasy:
Hunt for Valamon
by DK Mok | Spence City | April 2015
From the review: “What the reader gets in the end is a fantasy that is fully developed, complicated but approachable, fun and adventurous and overflowing with heart. It will be enjoyable for teens and young adults as well as high fantasy readers. As for this reader, I have to admit that this was the most fun I’ve had reading a fantasy in a really long time.”


Graphic Novels:
The City on the Edge of Forever
By Harlan Ellison | IDW Publishing | February 2015
From the review: “Each page is fully painted and visually represents the characters very well. Fans of the original series and science fiction will appreciate and enjoy this excellent graphical version of the original teleplay.”

Darth Vader and Friends
by Jeffrey Brown | Chronicle Books | April 2015
From the review: “This is a whimsical, easy read that makes for a perfect gift book for fans of either humor or Star Wars.”


Literature:
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
by Jonathan Evison | Algonquin Books | September 2015
From the review: “No spoilers, but the ending left me floundering. I was expecting something completely different, and Evison threw me for a loop.”


Non-Fiction:
Fragile and Perfectly Cracked
by Sophie Wyndham | Independent Book Publisher’s Association | July 2015
From the review: “Having traveled the same path as Sophie, it’s VERY hard for me to be objective. The fact that she’s willing to open the pain of these moments and share with the world is highly commendable. Sophie doesn’t sugar coat what she endured. It’s a recommended read, but readers should be prepared for graphic details. There are unhappy parts to any journey through loss and infertility, and Sophie doesn’t hold back.”


Thriller & Suspense:
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die
by Marnie Riches | Harper Collins, Maze | April 2015
From the review: “This novel is AMAZING! This is the first of Riches’ work that I’ve read, and I would quickly grab another! What seems to start out as a simple crime store with religious motivation quickly becomes so much more. Riches throws a plot twist into the novel that is completely unexpected, yet perfectly executed in this fast-paced, exciting novel.”

Soundless by Mead

SoundlessWith four Young Adult readers in our home, I was very excited to dig into Richelle Mead’s new book series. After all, she is the author of the Vampire Diaries, a series that several of us in my home read and enjoyed. The problem with this book isn’t that Mead did a poor job writing it or that it didn’t have a compelling plot or characters. The issue is that we’ve already read almost this same book – Princess Academy by Shannon Hales).

Soundless
by Richelle Mead
Razorbill
November 2015

The Chinese setting and cultural distinctives are new to YA I’ve read and are appreciated. I also appreciate that there isn’t a love triangle! (So thankful!) But almost everything else is strongly reminiscent of Hales’ Princess Academy. Consider the setups:

Fei lives on a mountain. She wakes up to find she’s the only one in her village that can hear. She has a male friend who she has liked since they were young, but because of her social class does not act on her feelings. She finds out that there is peril because the people who live down the mountain who normally feed her people are not sending as much food as they used to so goes on an adventure.

Miri lives on a mountain. She finds out that someone in her village is a princess (and it may be her). She goes on an adventure to an academy to learn how to be a princess. She has a male best friend who she has liked since she was young but hasn’t acted out on her desire. She finds out that there is some peril from bandits and goes on an adventure.

I’m not suggesting that Mead stole the ideas here. What I’m saying is that almost any YA is starting to sound like another one already written. I was excited to read the Chinese aspects of this but they play very little role in this very straight forward story. And if that’s the distinctive and selling point (other than this author’s fan base,) then I’m left wondering why I would read more in this series.

Unfortunately, I don’t recommend this series. I really thought I’d love it but it fails to stand apart from the dozens of other YA titles that are released every month.


Arieltopia, Young Adult Editor, is an 15 year old avid reader – usually going through a book a day – who gives readers a unique perspective on Young Adult, Teen Fiction, along with adult fiction: an actual teenager’s perspective.

Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Implications Abound by Adam4d

2015-03-17-implications-abound2Like The Oatmeal, but for Theology Nerds.

Implications Abound
A collection of curiously Christian comics
by Adam4d
CreateSpace Independent
March 2015

In his first collection of comics from his website, Adam4d chose an eclectic collection of his work. Some of it is clearly earlier – the art is less detailed, and tends to be more issue based – while some looks and works like some of his more recent work – having more detailed characters acting out quotes from historical figures, pastors and authors or providing more in-depth commentary on Christian issues. While the art style varies, the theme is the same: modern Christianity is under the microscope. But it never comes across as intending to harm.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-58-01-1 Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-58-10-1

Some use satire simply as an attack, while others make a point. (Think political cartoons). Adam4d’s work is primarily a way of teaching. Even those who may feel attacked have to admit that it wasn’t the artist who did the attacking; it is the Word, quoted faithfully in context, or quotes from theological and intellectual greats from history that convicts.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-56-10-1If there was a letdown it was in how short the book was. I understand that with full color it would have to be shorter to be affordable, but, like many fans of his webcomic, I have my favorites that I’d have liked to see included. Some of his newer stuff is really top notch as well. But that’s what the second collection if for, right?

With religious work there can be – rightly so – concerns about orthodox views. Nothing I’ve read so far would not be considered orthodox. While I don’t know the author, his work strikes me as tending to Reformed if any set of doctrinal beliefs without any controversial or secondary issues to cause readers of different backgrounds to stumble. If you are an orthodox Christian you will find a lot to agree with here. Beware, though, should you hold to unorthodox beliefs as they will come under the scrutiny of the Word.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-52-26-1I haven’t had as much fun reading about theologians, laughing at (and being rebuked for) so-called Christian behavior, or learning complex theological arguments in clear, deep ways since I read Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like a few years back. Hilarious, poignant, needed. This webcomic and book are part satire, part teaching, and part rebuke and 100% required reading.

I highly recommend it!


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

2014 BookGateway.com Booky Awards

BookyBookGateway.com is pleased to announce its books of the year award, the Bookys, for books published in 2014!

The Booky is awarded annually by the editors of BookGateway.com, a book review website for reviewers and book bloggers founded in 2010 with the express goal of encouraging a lifestyle of continued learning through the love and practice of reading. The Booky awards recognize the best books published and reviewed at BookGateway.com during the preceding year. Each reviewer that submits at least 10 reviews during the calendar year along with each Genre Editor of BookGateway.com can nominate books for Booky award recognition. Final decisions are made by the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com.


Children’s & Teens:
Galaxy’s Most Wanted
Written by John Kloepfer | Illustrated by Nick Edwards | HarperCollins | July 2014
From the review: “I would call this a perfectionist’s masterpiece. All the adventure and non-stop fun and danger made me not want to put the book down. And it’s a cliffhanger, too. I’m dying to read the next book. It was absolutely amazing.”


Fantasy:
Raising Steam
by Terry Pratchett | Doubleday / Randomhouse Audio | March 2014
From the review: “What’s interesting is that Pratchett threw most of the protagonist from his last several series together in this one in a sort of all star cast of funny and it worked! Vimes and Moist play off each other very well. Vetinari gets to exercise his awesome evilness at times, although unseen, of course. And characters from all over the Discworld make an appearance. All that to say that anyone who enjoys any of the Discworld series will love this one. Funny as always but building towards more.”


Graphic Novels:
Outcast
written by Robert Kirkman | art by Paul Azaceta | Image: Skybound | June 2014
From the review: “The artwork by Azaceta is dark, brooding and heavy. Which is perfect. The story is tight and intriguing. A book that horror and suspsense fans will be thrilled to read. It is also a book that fans of the Walking Dead and Kirkman’s other work (not counting his superhero stuff) will enjoy because of the complex character development. This is another story where the supernatural is merely the setting that our characters move through.”


Non-Fiction:
The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion
by Martin Thielen | Westminster John Knox Press | February 2014
From the review: “There is a lot of bad press about Christians today. Sure, a lot of negativity is stirred up in Hollywood but there is enough smoke here to say a fire exists. So a message that clearly explains why someone shouldn’t abandon Christianity because of Christians is a welcome and needed one.”

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know
by Kari Kampakis | Thomas Nelson| November 2014
From the review: “Reading through the book I not only thought these were truths that my daughters should know but that I wished that I had known these things when I was a teen. These really are “ultimate truths” as they speak to who we are as created and loved beings and speak to an inner peace that just doesn’t come from any other source but the foundation of God. This is a must read for teenaged girls and their parents. I highly recommend it.”


Romance & Chick Lit:
The River
by Beverly Lewis | Bethany House | September 2014
From the review: “This is a story of redemption, healing, forgiveness, and family. Both girls have to find peace and resolve and be content in their decision that led them away from their Amish roots… this is a worthwhile story that will pull at your heart strings and break your heart at the same time.”


Science Fiction:
Star Wars: Tarkin
by James Luceno | LucasBooks & Randomhouse Audio | November 2014
From the review: “Luceno’s great accomplishment is how he has readers cheering for Tarkin’s success. We grow to like him and understand his decisions. (Obviously not those decisions in the movies, but the decisions prior to those that made up his character.) I don’t recall the last time I rooted for the bad guy. I’m not talking anti-hero here, but actual bad guy.”


Thriller & Suspense:
Personal
by Lee Child | Delacorte Press / Random House Audio | September 2014
From the review: “Child’s character and this story is outstanding. Far and away more enjoyable than most “big name” series I’ve read over the last decade. I’m definitely a fan from this point on and the great news is that I’ve got a bunch of old books to catch up on!”

Deep Black Sea
by David M. Salkin | Permuted Press | June 2014
From the review: “In my opinion, this book is perfectly set up for being made for a movie. It has everything that other survival horror movies has but it’s in a situation that hasn’t been done often or for a while. There have been some movies set at these depths but not many. And the pace of this book is very similar to that of a movie. I read most of it in a single night – not wanting to put it down. Very cinematic.”

The City on the Edge of Forever by Ellison

Screenshot_2015-01-03-14-18-47-1“No woman was ever loved as much, Jim. Because no woman was ever offered the universe for love.”

The City on the Edge of Forever
Star Trek
By Harlan Ellison
IDW Publishing
February 2015

A crewman named Beckwith decides that he should end his tour rich so becomes a drug dealer on the Enterprise. When one of his junkies decides that his habit is endangering the ship he decides to Screenshot_2015-01-03-13-17-35-1come clean prompting Beckwith to attack him and flee the shop to a nearby planet. The planet is somehow, against all odds, habitable and hosts a city occupied by ancient creatures who guard a gateway to all of time and space. This is a city on the edge of forever.

Beckwith takes a chance and flees through the portal to the 1930s earth and changes the universe and timeline. To repair things Kirk and Spock go back in time as well. The guardians are clear though: there is a certain event that must not be Screenshot_2015-01-03-13-42-01-1changed or time will irrevocably change the universe.

After a time adjusting, Kirk and Spock find the focal point: a woman. More than that, as Kirk gets to know her – and maybe love her – Spock becomes convinced that the only way time is reset is if she is killed. This sets us up for one of the most emotional and powerful science fiction stories written. Can Kirk let her die, as he must, or will he holds on to this love at the possible peril of the universe add they know it?

Each page is fully painted and visually represents the characters very well. Fans of the original series and science fiction will appreciate and enjoy this excellent graphical version of the original teleplay.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Lumo Project: John

With the popularity of so-called Biblical movies this year is so very refreshing to see a movie that actually issues the Bible as its source. The Lumo Project’s The Gospel of John is narrated with the exact text of the Gospel of John in the versions: NIV (David Harwood), KJV (Brian Cox) and in Spanish via the Reina-Valera 1960 Version (unknown). Visually all three narrations are over the same film.

The actors chosen are a revelation – they look like they should. This is not a European looking cast. Actors have missing teeth, come in all sizes and shades of brown. Even Jesus looks like he should, solving a problem that troubles so many Bible films.

It is also set in a very realistic Palestine. The settings from markets to outskirts are very respectful of the actual text.

johnThere are some well done connections to the other Gospels as well. John doesn’t have the first communion, for instance, but the filmmakers add it in during the last supper while Jesus is talking. The Lumo Project will ultimately show all four Gospels in the same way and based on this film will be doing some tying together of them to show the consistency without hiding the differences.

Not everything is perfect, however. As a teacher in my church I am sensitive of and cringe when I see condescension to tradition show up, like the wise men in the manger. There are some casting decisions like Jesus’ brothers looking older than him that I also wondered about. And when Jesus does miracles he acts like it drains him, which is in contrast to his diety. My thoughts are below about this and other situations.

The biggest gap was in how the crucifixion was depicted. Mel Gibson ruined every future movie that will try to demonstrate the anguish of Jesus and this movie pales in comparison. It also fails to show Jesus’ anguish. The actor who did such a good job elsewhere really disappoints on the cross. Very tame.

Theses are minor quibbles compared to the ridiculous films that have come out so far this year. 2014 is the year of the missed opportunity when it comes to showing off the actual Bible. Be it films that take Bible stories and reimagine them in their creator’s own unbiblical image (Noah), or just start and stay extra biblical (Heaven is For Real), or disappoint because of substandard writing (God’s Not Dead.) And dont forget Christian Bale as Moses. But this film is exactly what we needed. A strong retelling of the Gospel that treats its watchers as adults and doesn’t shy away from trusting the source material.

imageI’m very impressed and looking forward to the other films. When it comes out on Netflix give it a shot. Fans of the Bible will undoubtedly love it.

The Lumo Project presents The Gospel of John – coming soon to Netflix. I was given advance screening for review purposes by the production company and FlyBy Promotions. Live blog thoughts below:

VIP by Manic Drive

A decade in and Manic Drive is further down the road towards electronic pop from their roots of guitar driven rock. It’s up to you to decide if you like that change.

VIP
by Manic Drive
Bema Media LLC
October 2014

A quick listen through and you’ll find a band that sounds just like modern secular electronic pop bands. Full of rythm and electronic noise with boy band vocals. Fans of modern pop will find a home here with fast paced songs that sound nearly the same throughout. For those of us who aren’t big fans of pop and are looking for rocky music more in alignment with Reset and Rewing (2007) – when they were touring with rock bands like Seventh Day Slumber and Fireflight or even after that album was re-released as Blue (2008) and they toured with Styper! – you won’t find what you’re looking for here. This is all pop all the time.

But that’s not a bad thing. For Christians looking for something pop-like without losing the message VIP fills the gap and it picks up right where Epic (2011) left off. Fun, energetic music with a message.

There are the occassional ballad-like songs where the music gets lower and slower if only for a minute. Think of Street Lights or I Hide You Seek. For my money, I fully expect that if any songs from this album get picked up by local Christian music stations they’ll be playing Song to Sing and or especialy Fire, which fits the bill of easy listening for a broad audience, while holding on to a storng message with a catchy hook. It;s probably my favorite from this album. It also strongly reminds – lyrically, not musically – of Ellie Goudling’s Burn with the constant refrain in the chorus.

It’s worth a listen for pop fans.

Thanks to Flyby Promotions and the producers we have a CD giveaway! Giveaway closes 11/13/2014 at midnight!

Congratulations to J. Freyenhagen of Owens Crossroads, AL for winning a copy of this CD.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Personal by Lee Child

Don’t hate but this was my first Jack Reacher novel. Hey, 10,000 books get published a week I read somewhere! Whatever the cause, it was definitely a mistake.

Personal
A Jack Reacher Novel
by Lee Child
Delacorte Press / Random House Audio
September 2014

After a sniper attempts to assassinate a high profile leader in Europe, Reacher is called upon by the U.S. government to track down the sniper before an upcoming meeting of European and American leaders in London. One of the possible snipers is someone Reacher put in jail years ago and who is recently out of jail and may carry a grudge.

Paired with a young CIA teammate, Reacher’s quest takes him first to Paris, then all over London and puts him directly in the crosshairs of two large gangs. Fighting through thug after thug, Reacher has to get to the sniper in time and all the while needs to find out who exactly is behind all of this. Twists and turns that make sense in the end but surprise as they come.

Child’s character and this story is outstanding. Far and away more enjoyable than most “big name” series I’ve read over the last decade. I’m definitely a fan from this point on and the great news is that I’ve got a bunch of old books to catch up on!

A note about the audio version: Dick Hill is outstanding. Gravelly, breathless and slightly musical in his approach to the story. Every sentance brought a pacing that made the story so much more enjoyable than most readers. His characters were easy to understand and differentiate. He does many of the other Reacher books as well lending a permanent, tough cop voice (in contrast with the Tom Cruise movie).


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Unbelievable Gospel by Dodson

Modern stereotypical evangelism isn’t the way it is supposed to be. It has become rote, by the numbers and simply unbelievable.

The Unbelievable Gospel
Say Something Worth Believing
by Jonathan K. Dodson
Zondervan
September 2014

The good news (pun!) is that there is a cure. What sinks is how obvious it is. What truly sucks is how underutilized. Be a real person and build relationships based on actually caring.

The world around us isn’t interested in hearing old words that don’t mean anything and canned responses to questions. But people are definitely still hurting and have needs that we know God had the answer for. How to bridge that gap? Do like Jesus and Paul did.

Dodson calls readers to real relationship and then customized metaphor for the Gospel. Instead of a one size fits all approach we should listen and then speak in the language and express the facet of the Gospel that would make the most sense to our friend.

This is a message that is very well written, scripturally sound, and so needed.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Deep Black Sea by David M. Salkin

A team of scientists and sailors plan on living in a 5 story sphere on the bottom of the ocean, at 20,000 feet, next to an underwater volcano, for a year with no way to be contacted by the outside world and where rising to the surface could take days. What could go wrong?

Deep Black Sea
by David M. Salkin
Permuted Press
June 2014

In 2020, a new president is voted in office who believes that instead of focusing on different planets, like Mars, we should focus on the planet we still haven’t fully explored: ours, in the deepest oceans. So he pulls funding from Mars missions and fully funds an ultra-deep water sea lab that is meant to stay under water at over 20,000 feet for a year. He staffs it with the best and brightest from the Navy, NASA, and NOAA. These seven people – a skipper, a ship doctor, a mechanic/ sub specialist, a former top sonar man/ scientist, and three dedicated scientists – were trained and prepared far in advance and selected for their abilities and skills. The problem is that not everyone has the same agenda.

The NASA scientist Ted Bell, upset at being scrapped from the Mars mission determines that this trip is the perfect opportunity for him to do some human experimentation with exposure to a bacteria that lives in the most inhospitable place on the earth, with no oxygen, no food, and a toxic environment like none other – except for deep space. When he purposefully changes the landing site then introduced the dangerous bacteria to a crew member things quickly go downhill.

This book’s set up reminded me quite a bit of many films and books of similar setup: scientists mess with something that maybe they weren’t prepared for leaving the crew in a life or death situation where we know that many if not most won’t make it out alive. Think: the film Deep Blue Sea (1999), Jurassic Park (1990 book, 1993 film), and so on. This is not to say that this is derivative. But this is a tried and true formula to set up character dramas, thrills, and ultimately chills. It can be done really, really poorly or really, really well. Salkin fits firmly into the second category. This is a very taunt, fun read and very well done thriller.

Unlike most horror-thrillers, Salkin’s characters are interesting and their thought process and decision making makes sense and is credible. No “hey, let’s hide in the shed with all the hanging knifes” moments. Characters like Theresa go back and forth between Ted’s view and the other scientist’s views as she struggles between scientific discovery and her abhorrence to Ted’s methods. The main example of over characterizations would be in the relationship between two characters who seem to want to have sex in nearly every scene, and sometimes at both the start and end of scenes, once they start hooking up (no spoilers).

In my opinion, this book is perfectly set up for being made for a movie. It has everything that other survival horror movies has but it’s in a situation that hasn’t been done often or for a while. There have been some movies set at these depths but not many. And the pace of this book is very similar to that of a movie. I read most of it in a single night – not wanting to put it down. Very cinematic.

If you enjoy science driven horror/ thrillers, or survival horror stories this is a very well done book that I believe won’t disappoint.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.