Category Archives: @ashertopia

40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood by Humphrey

Adult coloring books are all the rage right now. They have complicated, detailed designs that help calm and focus and ultimately reduce stress. Coupling this with a daily devotional sends like a great idea. But it isn’t done well at all.

40 Days to a Joyful Motherhood
Devotions and Coloring Book to Nourish Mom
by Sarah Humphrey
Abingdon Press
August 2016

See the included picture for example of how this utterly fails at being a coloring book. This is a random picture that is very representative of what can be found. The drawings are sparse and uninteresting. They are all hearts and flowers with very little detail and no difference between pages. There is a ton of open space. Nothing that makes the artist do fine designs or focus on the miniscule details.

The cover design is more detailed than almost every page inside the book.

I’m very disappointed.


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.

The Dark Blood by Smith

darkbloodRham Jas Rami is on a mission that only he can do. But he is going to need help. And he is going to have to complete it quickly.

The Dark Blood
by A.J. Smith
Heads of Zeus
December 2016

In the second installment of the Long War, the title moves from Brom (the Black Guard) to Rham Jas Rami (the assassin with uncanny powers) who is the only person who can get past their dark magic and kill one of the Seven Sisters. All the living characters from the first book continue their story as well, including interesting intersections between them as knights confront Free Company barbarians, southern warriors against merchant cities, and the introduction to a new race and participant in the Long War and perhaps the last Old Blood.

What I enjoy about this book is that while characters do rise and some die, they all evolve. They aren’t the same caricatures of fantasy heroes that serve their function and then pass away. They also aren’t morally ambiguous. I love that several characters who are enemies, remain enemies, but join the battle against the dark god who is trying to win the Long War. Why? Because right or wrong outweigh nationality. And good characters are good, bad characters are bad. I find this better and more enjoyable, like Tolkien, rather than the moral mess that Martin has started (but not finished.)

I’m very much looking forward to the third installment. This is epic fantasy in a very well crafted world with characters I enjoy reading about.


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.

Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight by Gibson

knightJust your average story of three fifth graders who look for a missing little girl in their elementary school and who find themselves in a world of magic and nonsense.

Tales of a Fifth-Grade Knight
by Douglas Gibson
Capstone
August 2015

Isaac, Max and Emma’s Narnian transition from school play practice to the domain of the Elf King is equal parts fun and silly. Older readers, like me, will find the King’s threat of the children getting stuck there to be empty, but the fun isn’t in the resolution, but the adventure. All three characters are fun and bring different personalities and perspectives to the adventure. They are joined along their quest by an invisible person, a man-sized bat who is way smarter than he looks, and other zany characters who are slightly different than normal humans (I don’t want to give anything away.)

This is a fun book that kids in fourth or fifth grade will enjoy. My fourth grader did. He didn’t have much trouble understanding words and I was happy to find a clean book without worry about language or activities. We both recommend it.


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.

The Black Guard by Smith

blackguardBrom’s parents are dead, his friends and sister missing, and his home sacked. And he’s too far away to do anything about it.

The Black Guard
by A.J. Smith
Heads of Zeus
September 2016

The Long War has been waged for eons and will continue for eons – unless the Seven Sisters can upset the status quo and win the war for their god. Under their power, kingdoms wage war and established gods find their followers and influence diminishing. By the time the world wakes up will it be too late to stop?

The world of the Long War is suitably small – just three countries, surrounded by waters to the west and between them, ice to the north, sand to the south and unending forest to the east, with a map helpfully included – but also very deep as well. At the start of the saga, Smith gives the reader only information about the three main countries, but as the novel progresses – and the who trilogy – we find a lot more than what met the eye. Additional races, histories and creatures – even more gods – join the war. But the story stays relatable, unlike some “epic” fantasy, by focusing on a core group of characters and their interactions with the war.

Brom, his sister, their friends, and even some knights and warriors of the countries around them give characters that are easy to follow and find yourself rooting for. Unlike Martin’s characters, which this book alludes to on the cover, there are good and evil characters and while death does come it doesn’t come to everyone or in meaningless ways. In this way, I found this series to be superior to the messy, never ending series of books in the Game of Thrones series.

This is a fantastic, fun, deep, and well written epic fantasy more in line with Goodkind, Williams or even Sanderson than Martin. I enjoyed it thoroughly and look forward to the next books.


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.

The Journey by Sanna

As I lay down on the ground with my 7 and 10 year old boys to read this book I considered the reasons for doing so. This book is not your typical children’s book with an upbeat and happy story. This is a story about war, death, destruction, fear, migration and refugees. Why should I read this to my young boys? Because I want them to understand the crisis and to empathize with those who have lost almost everything. Empathy is so powerful and it’s so lacking in the world today.

The Journey
by Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books
September 2016

We took turns reading the beautifully illustrated pages about the war (obviously Syria based on the starting point and the journey). The reading level was higher than my first grader but fine for my fourth grader. As we finished, I took a minute to unpack this for them. We discussed what happened and what it would be like to live through this. I explained that this is a true story and it really happens. I showed them before and after pictures of the destruction in Syria (careful to avoid pictures of casualties and injuries). “Why don’t we stop this?” they asked. I said it wasn’t that easy. In language they could understand I told them about the crisis and encouraged them to care and to pray for these people.

Hours later when they told mom about this story they were still upset that we couldn’t save these people – the nearly 6 million displaced, the over 4 million refugees, and the nearly half a million deaths. My hope is that thanks to a book like this children and their adult readers can come to empathize and care. That this isn’t just a news story that can be ignored.


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.

My First Book of Hockey by Sports Illustrated

Almost everything you need to know about hockey.

My First Book of Hockey
A Rookie Book: Mostly Everything Explained About the Game
Designed by Beth Bugler
Sports Illustrated
September 2016

This children’s book contains cut outs of photos of real players that are used to describe action and how the game is set up. There is a cartoon little boy who shows up occasionally to allow your child to connect and see themselves in the game. It covers very basic information, like how many players, what happens at face offs, scoring and some fouls. Exactly what a young person needs, in my experience.

My youngest guy, who is 7, is taking part in our local NHL team’s training program for new and have never played kids and so this book was my attempt to help acclimate him to that and to his first visit to watch a game live. It was very easy for him to follow along with and to get an idea of what he was watching and what he would be doing. The pictures had just enough visual appeal to keep interest (although as an adult, I found the pictures boring and sometimes out of context, but it’s not for me.)

I recommend this to others who want to introduce their children to the basics. I found it helpful.


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.

What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps by Guthrie

Timely advice, unfortunately.

What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts)
By Nancy Guthrie
Crossway
September 2016

I read this book a couple months after my father died and about the time that my wife’s grandmother died. I wasn’t sure how to respond and whether or not how I felt about how others responded to me was normal or not. This book answered those questions.

Guthrie does a great job of explaining why we should or shouldn’t say something or anything. Each section has details on why she is making the case for the response she recommends in certain situations and then she does an admirable job of sharing her own story of loss to bring the message home. While that would be the end of it in most books, Guthrie goes a step further and includes actual quotes from others who went through grieving and what worked for them and what didn’t. I found these parts the most eye opening. Some of the quotes seem reasonable but the way they came across to a hurting person was surprising and enlightening. They also served as a warning. I don’t want to make those mistakes when I’m speaking to friends about losses.

The only place I felt this book fell short was in the redundancy. I felt that after the first few chapters a lot of what Guthrie said was already said. I got the point early on and then felt it became repetitive to the point that I ended up skipping through the mid to end part, reading the examples but skimming the author’s content. This could have probably been an even shorter book that it was. Whatever the case, the beginning is worth the price of admission.

I used specific tactics learned here with my wife and also with a friend who lost his mother. They worked. They understood how much I cared and really opened up about their loss. This book will help you gain very effective was of communicating.


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.

Wolves by Molles

wolvesHuxley along with his wife and young daughter survive the collapse of civilization by fleeing a city in California for the wilderness to the East. Everything seemed to be fine for nearly a decade. Then the slavers came.

Wolves
by D.J. Molles
Blackstone
August 2016

The slavers pillaged his commune, taking his daughter into slavery in the East. With her dying breath, his violated and soon to be murdered wife gave him a clue: the slaver who did this to them had a scorpion tattoo. With nothing else to live for, Huxley heads East across the desert to find the slaver and exact justice.

This book has all the best parts of a vengeance Western or Civil War Western plus a healthy dose of the post apocalyptic with just the right dash of redemption. It was a book I couldn’t put down because how Huxley’s sorry ending could go a variety of ways – all the way to the end of the book, which I found to be very satisfying.

This was my first novel by Molles but it wont be my last. I was very impressed with this tense, violent and ultimately fulfilling story.


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.

Agent to the Stars by Scalzi

agentTom Stein is an agent about to make his first big splash, but it’s not when he gets an incredible contract for his beautiful, but ditzy beach blonde star Michelle. No. It’s when he becomes the exclusive agent to the Yherajk, space aliens who are intent on introducing themselves to the Earth via Hollywood.

Agent to the Stars
By John Scalzi
Read by Wil Wheaton
Tor / Audible
December 2010

The Yherajk have learned everything they know about Earth from television. So they know all about sitcoms, dramas, and comedies. They also know about science fiction, especially how aliens that aren’t bipedal humanoids are almost always bad guys. They don’t want to be bad guys or perceived as bad guys. Hence, Tom.

The biggest problems that the Yherajk have is their appearance – as see through blobs – and their incredibly foul smell – they communicate naturally through smell, not sight or speech. Tom’s job is to find a way to get the humans of Earth to accept the Yherajk in spite of the differences.

I won’t spoil this odd plot with the solution. It is solved, one way or another, but that’s not even the point of this story, which peters out and ends pretty quickly. The silliness and spoofiness of the story are what compels the reader, or listener, to continue and finish. It is fun!

This was my first book read of John Scalzi. It won’t be my last. While the plot wasn’t much more than a set up for an odd buddy adventure, the characters shine. Thomas Stein is well developed. His boss and secretary are both interesting. The main alien Joshua is sarcastic. The highest praise I can give this book is that it held my attention from start to finish. That’s high praise in a world with so many uninteresting books out there.

A NOTE ABOUT THE AUDIO VERSION: Wil Wheaton is one of my favorite readers. This is my second book with his narration and both have been very well done. He does a great job with fast paced, witty scripts. I’m not sure if he does anything outside of science fiction, but if he doesn’t I’ll be happy to continue to listen to him in just this genre. He makes it work.


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.

Isis Orb by Anthony

IsisOrbI really, really loved Xanth. Loved.

Isis Orb
Xanth 40
by Pierce Anthony
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
October 2016

Hapless, a man who’s Talent is to conjure any instrument and make others play them perfectly but cannot play them himself, is minding his own business when he is visited by the Magician Humfrey and invited to go on a Quest. Deciding that he has nothing to lose and a lot to gain he goes to the castle and starts the Quest. Along the way he meets several seemingly (ahem) hapless characters who help. Their job: capture the five elemental Totems and confront the demoness Isis over the Orb she controls. He can then use the Orb to gain what he wants most.

The same puns I remember from my childhood and young adult years are on full display. The exact same ones. Twenty five years later. Some changes are clear though. There are non-stop references to nudity, sex, and [SPOILERS] a goal of losing his virginity to one of the two good girlfriends and one bad girlfriend Hapless will find along the way. [END SPOILERS]. The Adult Conspiracy was introduced in Crewel Lye (1984), which is the 8th book. I only read through the 19th book, where sex wasn’t the sole focus of the books, when I was last in the world of Xanth so maybe this is the norm now. It seemed like the whole point of this story was for the females to show (and allow touching of) their breasts and naked bodies to Hapless and ultimately to fulfil his sexual desires. The Quest is derivative and boring. The whole story seemed (ahem, now it’s my turn) hapless.

Anthony has published at least one Xanth book a year since 1986, mostly every year prior back to 1977, and two books in 1993 and 2013 – and even another scheduled this year! I have very fond memories of the books I read in High School and college, but after the long gap in my reading of the Xanth novels, from 1995’s Roc and a Hard Place to this book, I’m surprised by the quality of the story. I’m left wondering if 1) the books were never very good and I just didn’t know better, 2) Anthony is getting more derivative in his work product as time goes on or 3) the gap may have given me some perspective, like seeing someone for the first time in 21 years and noticing differences that someone who was there the whole time slowly grew accustomed to. Whatever the case, this book is simply not very good.

It didn’t help my enjoyment of the book to read the Afterward first. Anthony actually tells the story of how a young girl sent him almost the whole plot of this book asking him to write it for her. It mirrors so closely what he says she sent that it seems like she should have been credited as co-author! He also mentions, and I remember this from earlier books, he lists all the puns that readers sent in to him. After finishing the book, unlike in my memories of previous stories, it seems like most of the fan puns are simply throw away jokes inserted where he can fit them in regardless of relevance to the story. This whole book is like fan fiction but with the actual author doing it for you.

(Interestingly, Anthony admits in his notes that the change to Open Road Media was prompted because his old publisher, not sure if he means Tor, Avon or Del Rey, didn’t like the fact that he using so much of his fan’s ideas in his novels.)

In the end, I’m moving on from Xanth. I have my memories. There are a lot of really great, funny authors out there. this book, unfortunately, is, in my opinion, at best a pastiche of Anthony’s own prior work.


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.