Category Archives: @ashertopia

The Journey of Captain Scaredy Cat by Andrés & Wimmer

There are three areas that a children’s book must excel at, and where this one fails: language, story and artwork. So if the story doesn’t matter, the artwork isn’t important and you don’t mind pausing the story to explain the words used then this book is for you.

The Journey of Captain Scaredy Cat
Somos8 (Book 21)
Written by José Carlos Andrés
Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
NubeOcho
April 2016

The story is supposed to encourage children who deal with fears to cover come them by asking the question, “is this fear real?” and then responding, “[thing] isn’t real” three times. This idea isn’t a bad one. Many times, a child’s fears are irrational. Ghosts? Sure, they aren’t real and self-talk is helpful in overcoming that fear. Vampires? Werewolves? Yes and yes. In fact, those are the three fears that Captain Scaredy Cat faces.

The problems start when the author starts the book out with the captain being scared of real things and it continues when any adult recognizes that children have fears that are all too often actually real. Death? Abuse? Fighting with siblings? Divorce? Yes, yes, yes, yes and more. And saying, “divorce isn’t real! Divorce isn’t real! Divorce isn’t real!” isn’t helpful. This logic applies to the things that Captain Scaredy cat is inexplicably afraid of as well: his clothes, his height, his shadow, the size of his shoes. How does saying, “It’s not real!” help any of his stated fears? They don’t. If a child is afraid of ghosts, well the refrain may work. But not so much for real fears.

If your child is afraid of ghosts, by the way, I wouldn’t recommend this book anyway. The very well done art can be terrifying for younger children. The ghost was his blanket that inexplicably turns into a giant monster ghost. The vampire and werewolf are similarly giant and scary. I have four children. I’ve never once, when one of them were afraid at night, thought, “I should show them scary pictures! That will help!” A shadow or the hint of a scary thing would be much more effective without actually causing fear in the viewer.

The choice of language used in the book is poorly selected. Odd words, including words not usually used by children (or even many adults) leaves the adult reader to explain words rather than moving through the story. Do you normally refer to “rancid” milk? Me either. I know that’s a thing, but a child may better understand “spoiled” or “rotten” milk leaving them free to follow the story.

In my experience with my children and with working with children for more than a decade I can tell you I would not show this book to them or recommend it to parents dealing with fear. The message is a good one for dealing with not real fears and in those cases I could see me asking guided questions like the book does, “Are ghosts real?” Then a refrain like the one included may help. Otherwise, I would pass on this one.


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.

17×23 Showcase #1

An anthology by five artists who have ten pages to tell any story they want to. Unfortunately, most don’t actually tell a story as much as color in pages.

17×23 Showcase #1
by Isaac Lenkiewicz, Kyle Platts, Henry McCausland, Nick ‘Showchicken’ Sheehy, Joe Kessler
Nobrow Press
November 2012

From the start, the book seemed to celebrate a lack of clarity and purpose. There is almost no narrative in the stories. The art is interesting and visually most of the stories are appealing. But like the story about cardboard boxes, the vicious drum playing bird, or the son of the moon, there wasn’t much that made sense. A fact that most likely made the artists more satisfied with their work as they celebrate this anti-narrative achievement.

Being fifty pages with almost no dialog a reader can finish in only 15 minutes without any real effort. That same reader will, if they are like me, shrug, set the book down and move on to a better graphic novel.


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.

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.