Category Archives: @ashertopia

Like Clockwork by Bonnie Dee

Victoria Waters, a rich scientist who created synthetic skin to clothe automatons, called Clockworks, is on her way to speak to the Commission for Animatronic Affairs when she is kidnapped by Dash, a member of the Brotherhood, a group of unemployed and disenfranchised who want to stop the spread of Clockworks in society due to the effect on employment on the lower income caste.

Like Clockwork
by Bonnie Dee
December 2010
Carina Press

When Victoria wakes, Dash finds an ally to the cause and a willing partner in trying to slow Clockwork adoption in society. Their plans to challenge the Commission are thwarted when Dash’s former mentor is killed by the Southwark Slasher, a fiend who kills women and steals their hearts.

The story quickly moved into conspiracy and politics, which would have been satisfying if not for the fact that these areas are severely underdeveloped. Instead, Bonnie Dee takes this novella (just over 100 pages on a Kindle) straight and true on the well worn and shallow path of lustful romance. The overused themes of love overcoming class, loss and providing redemption become more important than the plot itself. I admit that much of my dissatisfaction with this novella is that it is sold as Steampunk Romance, but in reality is it trashy, dime store romance set in a Steampunk world that is fully unnecessary to the story.

Readers who enjoy Romance – and I know there are many of you – will enjoy this story as well, but you already knew that as all cheap romance novels are basically the same with different names and settings. But those looking for a smart Steampunk novel that includes romance will be sorely disappointed. As for me, I have to admit that I moved through the book quickly and I never lost interest. In the end, though it was over too quickly with little to no resolution to the societal issues and too little development of the murders.

A final note for those readers who may be sensitive to this topic: the book includes sexuality and a detailed description of sexuality in the epilogue to the point that it can only be describes as pornographic. Be warned.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on current events and Christianity.

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

The Action Bible

A comic book version of the Bible? Yes, please! When I saw that this book was coming out I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’ve been a lover of comic books and graphic novels since I was a child and this book would have been very well read if I were to have had access to it as a child.

The Action Bible
Illustrated by Sergio Cariello
David C. Cook
September 2010

Nearly 750 pages of fully illustrated, full color Bible stories come to life in the Action Bible published by David C. Cook. As the subtitle suggests, dozens of stories from the Bible come to beautiful life, through the excellent illustrations of Sergio Cariello, in biblical-chronological order to tell God’s Redemptive Story.

It is important to note that this is not actually a “Bible” in the sense that it does not contain the complete text of the Scriptures nor does it illustrate all of the sections of the Bible. (Which makes sense as many sections are not good fits for being made into a visual story medium like graphic novels. The epistles are examples of this and are, for the most part, skipped over.) Instead this is a collection of short illustrated stories of key historical figures and events from the historical portions of the Bible.

If I had one complaint about this book it would be that there isn’t a clear distinction between the historical and metaphorical / apocalyptical portions of the Bible which led to many stories being portrayed literally when they should have been portrayed figuratively, if possible. For instance, Jonah is swallowed by a giant “fish” depicted as having massive teeth and a nasty glare, and the dragon in Revelation is shown visually fighting against a floating-in-space Jesus instead of interpreting the symbols as apocalyptic literature. At times, this book becomes too wooden interpretively for my tastes. Fortunately, this book is for a different target audience altogether… and with them it is a smashing success!

This book exists for one reason: to get young people, most likely young boys, to read and become familiar with the stories of the Bible. Something that they would be highly unlikely to do if they only have access to print versions of the Word. And on that point it is singularly successful. I read this book to my young son while flipping through the pages and he was enthralled. He wouldn’t let me stop! When he learns to read I have no doubt that he himself will not stop.

The Action Bible fills a need that has been too long neglected. It is a very well made and illustrated book that every young boy and many young girls should have on their shelf. I highly recommended it to anyone who enjoys graphic novels and especially those who are or have children who are reluctant readers.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on current events and Christianity.

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

Originally Published at

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick

After a local girl commits suicide live on the internet, and no one tries to stop it, the high school counselor determines to interview all of the students. In his interview, it is determined that David suffers from “dissociative disorder” and is prescribed that he utilize a Companion – a robot designed to encourage human interaction. At first David would have none of it until the day that it arrived. Rose, red hair flowing over tight curves, was in David’s words, “smoking hot!”

Girl Parts
by John M. Cusick
Candlewick Press
August 2010

Charlie is a geek. He and his scientist father live off the grid across the lake from rich kids like David. In the aftermath of the suicide the councilor determined that Charlie is depressed and prescribes anti-depressants. Rejecting this prognosis, Charlie lives in anonymity longing for an opportunity to ask out the bombastic celebrity star of the school drama department but worries that she is out of his league.

While Charlie pines away for his crush, David and Rose slowly move forward in their relationship always getting further around the bases. David becomes consumed with getting into Rose’s pants but is hindered in his lusts by Rose’s programming which sends a violent shock through David if he touches her prior to building up their relationship past a certain level. Like a game, David puts in the time ranking up their relationship until the night finally comes where Rose takes off her clothes for him.

As the story progresses the three characters intertwine perversely. Charlie does end up asking out Rebecca, the actress, but ineptly handles the date causing more doubt and depression. Charlie and Rose end up friends through happenstance and end up having an easy relationship, without hindrance of sexual tension. David ends up hooking up with his ex-girlfriend in college who, after waiting months to get into Rose’s pants, he ends up getting into hers for a brief one night stand. Afterwards, she promptly takes her leave of him. By the end of the book more characters end up having sex and, in fact, the book seems to revolve only around sex.

Lost are the issues that the book started with so promisingly, like the effect of cyber interaction instead of social interaction, dissociation, and the lack of connection with other humans. Instead this book devolves into the search for sex.

I still held out hope late in the book that the moral of the story would be the emptiness of the search and the glory would be found in true human friendship. This was supported by David’s careless one night stand and the way it cheapened sex for him. But in the end, at the culmination, it is all about sex; all about girl parts.

So what are we to take from this book? That the ultimate goal of high school students is to connect sexually to other high school students? This is after all a “14 and up” book according to the publisher – an age that would be entirely inappropriate to recommend this book to.

A fast starting book with lots of promise, Girl Parts ultimately goes off course midway and by the end has completely lost its purpose and we are left with an emptiness more pronounced but less profound than the one we begin with. As much as I love the idea, I cannot recommend this book.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on current events and Christianity.

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

originally Published at

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

After the death of his parents, young man David Balfour determines to spend time travelling before settling down to a family and home. As he is leaving the town of his birth, his good friend and minister Mr. Campbell gives him a sealed letter from his father and told that he should take the letter to the Lord of Shaws, Ebenezer Balfour, his uncle. Young David is elated to find that he may have an inheritance and family and sets off at once.

by Robert Louis Stevenson
published in 1886
read by Mark F. Smith

When he comes to Ebenezer Balfour, though, his enthusiasm is quickly dashed by the reality that the current Lord of Shaws is a paranoid, anti-social outcast in his own land living in a never finished estate in complete darkness. David is greeted and treated as an enemy to Ebenezer, who send him on an errand that would have ended in certain death if not for a lucky lightning strike uncovering the design. Once confronted, Ebenezer promises to take David to his lawyer the following day and set things right by giving him his rightful inheritance.

In town, Ebenezer meets with Captain Hoseason, a merchant ship captain that Ebenezer has a partnership with and entices David to visit the ship. David, having never seen anything like the ship or the sea complies. Once on the ship, though, Ebenezer quickly rows back to town leaving David with the seamen. Realization sets in too late. David is knocked out after trying to call for help and wakes to find himself on the way to America to be sold as a slave on a plantation.

Stevenson takes his time describing each episode of this adventure (for there were several sections, the kidnapping on the ship being just the first,) in great detail so much so that each could have been a novella in itself. After the kidnapping there is the voyage at sea, the muder of a Scotish Lord during the sensitive time just after the Jacobite Uprising, a wild flight through wild lands, and finally a memorable conclusion.

There is something special about classic novels of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Authors didn’t concern themselves with moving through stories quickly to get to the action. There are no Tom Clancy stories where inevitably someone gets blown up or assassinated in the first chapter thus setting up the novel as “action packed.” Be that as it may, Stevenson’s Kidnapped is every bit as full of adventure and more so than some current story tellers who play to the impatience of modern audiences.

Mark Smith is excellent as always as the reader. His calming voice sooths and relaxes the listener. While there were a lot of words and accents that were beyond him (which he admits to in a disclaimer at the start of the book) it is likely that very few readers today – professional or otherwise – would have known the correct pronunciation of the names and words from 19th century Scotland. As such, I certainly could not tell when a mistake was made or not and for my part enjoyed the story immensely.

This is a great example of classic literature that was well read and enjoyable. Visit  to download this audio book for free and enjoy it yourself. You wont regret it.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of and has generously provided this review. He reviews for the commercial site and previously on Bookboro. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Audrey Niffenegger, the best selling author of the beloved The Time Traveler’s Wife, indulges her dreams as a teenager with The Night Bookmobile a graphic novel both written by and drawn by Niffenegger.

The Night Bookmobile
by Audrey Niffenegger
Abrams ComicArts
September 2010

Like all good stories of love and lust, this one starts with a fight. Lexi, our narrator and main character, is out walking late at night after an argument with her boyfriend Richard when she happens on a Winnebago blaring Bob Marley. The door is open. She glances inside to find a librarian sitting at the wheel inviting her to view the collection of books. The collection is every book that Lexi has ever read – novels, school books, even her diary. After reading for most of the night, Lexi takes her leave promising to come back. When she does come back the next night she finds the bookmobile missing.

Lexi’s search for the bookmobile continues for years; her obsession with the books she is reading (and thus adding to the collection) knows no bounds. By the time she finds the bookmobile again – or perhaps by the time it finds her again – she is alone and consumed with reading. This cycle is repeated as we find Lexi pulled further and further away from the world and more and more into her lust for books.

I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that I was surprised and disappointed. After reading the Afterword the ending makes a little more sense. Lexi’s obsession with books should be read as a cautionary tale of lusts and addiction gone awry. However, since Niffenegger ends the book on such a positive note she seems to undermine that moral leaving the reader with an almost too positive outlook on obsession: obsession as an ultimate reward in itself.

There is no doubt, regardless of the ending, that this graphic novel is very well done. Niffenegger’s stilted, put-upon amateur art style is perfect for this story. The art clearly conveys feeling and setting without overwhelming the story. Unlike so many graphic novels today, this book remains story driven and the art serves the story. This is not about splash pages and action shots. This is about emotion and a woman driven.

A stellar artistic debut from the best selling author. I look forward to the next one.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on current events and Christianity.

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

Originally Published at

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

In the most recent 111th congress, representatives discussed and argued new laws concerning regulation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) as food (for instance, should cloned animal meat be sold and consumed and if so should it be labeled?), a carbon emissions trading scheme (also known as Cap and Trade) where polluters trade carbon credits as an incentive to lower carbon emissions, green jobs to help with the United States jobless rate all the while dealing with radical Islam and its rise in the Middle and Far East. Proponents of these regulations asked us to imagine a world where global warming cause sea levels around the world to rise, where GMO foods are the norm and unanticipated damaging side effects cause food shortages and possibly contagions and oil and other non-renewable resources are no longer in abundance. Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine this world. Paolo Bacigalupi, Hugo and Locus award winning author, has done it for us.

The Windup Girl
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Night Shade Books

The Windup Girl is set in a future Thailand where steep walls are all that hold back the rising seas, where gene-ripping (using genetic material from food to create genetically modifying foods) has led to terrible food shortages as meddling with the food sources has led to several incurable defects that not only destroy the crops but also infect humans virally, and where countless refugees live after leaving certain death in China after an Islamic revolution and subsequent purge. Gone are the empires and nations of our time, replaced instead by powerful corporations that hold power by constantly creating new versions of food that the starving world needs. The Thai Kingdom is one of the final South Asian nations still independent of the militant corporations and their quest for dominance.

If the setting alone doesn’t set Science Fiction fans salivating then consider the characters and their actions to the terrifying future setting. Bacigalupi adds murder, revolution, countless “gun” fights (with weapons that use springs to shoot spinning discs instead of bullets,) racial and religious tension, the mob, and more all surrounding one unassuming windup girl, a genetically modified person (called New People,) held captive and sexually abused nightly for the pleasure of a curious mob at a seedy bar.

When tensions between two powerful government agencies rise to the tipping point, the windup girl becomes the key player in the future of the Thai Kingdom as she struggles to rise above her genetic programming and secure her freedom.

The setting is timely and filled with social commentary without being heavy handed. Like good Science Fiction should, The Windup Girl sets about asking the question of what if as a way of warning us of the possibilities. This book isn’t about taking positions on current debates and laws. Instead it takes for granted that the worst imagined has happened. Now what?

Not an easy book to access, Bacigalupi uses language and social customs that fit perfectly in the Thai scenario and setting. Unlike movies like the Prince of Persia where Caucasian actors play Persian characters and speak with weak English accents, The Windup Girl is authentic. I was never once startled out of the narrative by an out of place or time phrase or word used. Once past the steep learning curve, the book really hits its stride as the several forces in the story align against each other and characters are revealed for whom they really are and who they work for. The last hundred pages are breathtaking. The conclusion is uplifting and terrifying at the same time. It will stay with you long after you put this book down.

The Windup Girl is an excellent work of literature that should find itself on a short list of modern must reads in the same vein as venerable classics such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 (while at the same time being somewhat more entertaining.) A must read.

Originally Published at

The Red Tractor & Halfway Herbert by Francis Chan

Francis Chan, bestselling author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God, gives fans another reason to celebrate: a line of children’s books. Fully illustrated beautifully by Matt Daniels, these colorful and large children’s books are great looking and excellent resources for Christian families looking for a children’s book that doesn’t star vegetables.

In Halfway Herbert, we meet a child who does everything halfway. He brushes only half his teeth, ties only one of his shoes, eats only half his food. Importantly, he only pays attention half the time as well and soon finds himself in a bit of pain. When he only tells half the truth he find that being halfway isn’t good for him.

The story quickly moves from entertainment to instruction when his father calls him on his half-truths mixing in Herbert’s actions with how God wants him to act and love. Herbert’s father tells a parable and soon Herbert is convicted (full-way) of his errors, praying and vowing to do things all the way going forward.

While the ending is a little heavy handed compared to what we normally get from children’s books it is hard to say that Chan is wrong to move the story in that direction. It is rare to get a Christian book that directly challenges readers – or children – to make good decisions because God wants us to. Furthermore, as adults we may grimace a little at the abruptness, children won’t. I read this book to my four year old and he took the change from story to teaching in stride and loved the book. A very good children’s book for those in the market for Christian alternatives.

In a little village, the farmers had an old red tractor that they used each year to plow the ground. They would start up the tractor, then using a rope pull or get behind it and push the tractor around the field one row at a time. They would take so long plowing this way that they finished just in time to plant and then harvest.

One day, the farmer Dave found the owners manual, which read “How the tractor was made and all the great things it can do.” Dave read the whole manual one night and was excited to tell the others that the tractor could actually move on its own. Unfortunately, no one believed him. Undeterred Dave started working on the tractor, fixing it up. Once it was finished being renovated, he started it up and plowed the field in one night. The people of the village were astounded, calling it a miracle. The people of the village were now able to grow so much produce that they were able to share their veggies with surrounding villages in need.

Chan uses the story to illustrate the use of the Bible in our daily lives. We can do things we have never even considered or things we wouldn’t now believe if only we went to the owners manual.

More obvious (for adults) but less preachy than Halfway Herbert the main draw of this book is the tractor. Little boys, like my son whom I read this book to, love the tractor and the action in this story. The moral is obvious and easy to digest. Chan does a great job breaking down the need and the desire for more in life and how it is easily obtainable if we go to the right sources.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on current events and Christianity.

These books were provided by the publisher as review copies.

Originally Published at

Master of the World by Jules Verne

I’m going through a phase where I’m reading quite a few classics and – as in this case – books by authors of classics. There is something special about the way that English in literature was used a hundred years ago. I love the tempo and naive hope and civility of the stories. And thanks to, many of the classics are available by excellent readers for free. Verne’s book was read by Mark F. Smith, one of the best readers – at least as good as any professional I’ve listened to. So when I decided to listen to this book I was excited by the prospect of another great classic. Verne’s greater known books are adventure and excitement, dashed with science fiction. I expected the same here, but was sorely disappointed.

The Master of the World is about a man who creates a machine that can change forms between automobile, submarine, boat and airplane. At the time of the writing, submarines and airplanes were anticipated but not realized. To readers of this time, an automobile that could travel 120-200 mph would indeed seem near impossible. As a result of the invention, the Master of the World decides to flaunt his superiority, ignoring offers by governments to purchase the invention. Investigator Strock is charged with discovering and capturing the madman before his invention can cause harm to citizens of the United States.

One would think, as I did, that the premise would serve up an adventure worthy of reading. However, the book is a complete failure. The hero is merely a bystander, affecting the plot and the story in almost no way. The chase is wholly unsatisfactory. The resolution is so ridiculous and abrupt that when it was over I cried out loud, “Really? That’s it?!” Nothing happens in the book. And the book is not worth reading. By far the worst book I’ve read in years. There is a reason this is not a well known story by Verne.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of and has generously provided this review. He reviews for the commercial site and previously on Bookboro. 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.

Hot X:Algebra Exposed by Danica McKellar

Danica McKeller is a genius! One of the subjects most in need of some excitement is math and she found a way to do that. McKeller takes the subject of algebra and curls its hair, does its makeup and buys it a new gown. We are left with an amazingly easy (and fun) to read book that takes the mystery out of the feared subject. Each section has info on the topic at hand, then peppers in Quick Notes (tips), Step-by-Step examples (showing work), Takeaway Tips (reminders) and a bunch of examples on how to do the topic.

I was so enamoured with the book that I gave it to my daughter who is 11 years old to see what she thought (and how this played out with the target audience. After all, every parent is looking for the next best way to help their children learn but we all wonder if it actually works.) Here is what she said about the book:

Arieltopia: This book was about how easy algebra is when you understand how to do it. I think it is a great book and I recommend it for all young ladies in junior high through high school. Girls only because it talks a little about guys, but not anything parents would need to worry about. I really enjoyed this book and I hope you do too. The author has also written two other math-related novels. This book is written by the New York bestselling author of Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. Her other book is titled Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss. The three are related and at the bottom of every page, page numbers in the other books are listed in case you are either lost or just do not understand. This book really does help. My math grade increased alot and I can only use some of the facinating algebra tips in this book. Just think what it would do for girls in high school! I really learned alot of cool math tricks and I hope you pick up a copy of this book right away!

I agree. This is a great resource for parents and teens alike.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of and has generously provided this review. He reviews for the commercial site and previously on Bookboro. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

Arieltopia is a founding book blogger for and has generously provided this review. She is an 11 year old avid reader – usually going through a book a day – who gives readers a unique perspective on Young Adult and Teen Fiction; an actual teenager’s perspective. Her blog is

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

Support by purchasing this book through Amazon: Hot X: Algebra Exposed

Warlord by Ted Bell

Alex Hawke, Ted Bell’s popular cross between James Bond and Dirk Pitt, wants to die. When last we read of his adventures, in 2008’s Tsar, the love of Hawke’s life along with their not-yet-born child were taken from him. Warlord picks up the story a year later with Hawke attempting to drink himself to death. Then comes a call from his close friend, his Royal Highness Prince Charles, with a problem that only Hawke can solve.

(An Alex Hawke Novel)
By Ted Bell
William Morrow

In a matter of pages Hawke changes from docile with a death-wish to the in-shape and ready-to-kill hero that readers know and love. For the sake of his friend Prince Charles Hawke promises to find the killer behind a deadly threat to the Crown. With the aid of his trusted friend Ambrose Congreve he sets out on a quest to solve the murder of Lord Mountbattan – possibly committed by the same man who made the threat against Prince Charles. Meanwhile in Miami, Americans Stokely Jones and Harry Brock are at work infiltrating a new multinational terrorist organization, the Sword of Allah, after several attacks. Like all good adventures, the stories merge and we end up with the heroes united against a common enemy. And of course, the good guys win.

As far as action adventure books go, this is cookie cutter. The amazing, almost ultra-human hero, takes on problems with style and charm and on the way to saving the world gets the girl. This is James Bond minus the high tech weaponry. It is Dirk Pitt without the archaeology. As far as adventure books go, Warlord isn’t bad. The story moves quickly and the action is intense and satisfying. But not everything worked for me.

I was disappointed with Hawke’s attitude at the start of the book. Ted Bell attempts and fails to transition Hawke into a deeper character by detailing Hawke’s sorrow and loss. Readers are meant to understand the gravity of the loss by how far the hero has fallen. But how far has he really fallen? Hawke’s one page physical recovery and his sexual encounter with the first woman we come across in the book belie the real Hawke (and Ted Bell): shallowness is in their DNA.

Warlord is a popcorn novel, pulp adventure with little depth but much action. If that is what you are going for then you will be supremely satisfied. If you are looking for something more then look elsewhere.

Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of Along with his contributions to BookGateway, he reviews for the commercial site His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on current events and Christianity.

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

Originally Published at