Beforever: Catch the Wind by Ernst

imageA young girl’s mother is going to serve in the military and she isn’t handling it well at all. She is given a compass that her ancestors – also service people in the military – that transports her back in time to meet her ancestor Caroline, an American Girl, during the war of 1812.

Catch the Wind: My Journey with Caroline
American Girl Beforever Series
by Kathleen Ernst
illustrated by Juliana Kolesova and Michael Dworkin
American Girl Publishing
August 2014

Growing up I was a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure. As an adult I love mobile phone games and Kindle books, like Click Your Poison, that serve the same purpose: allowing you to put yourself and your decisions in the story. Unfortunately, the American Girl Beforever series is no CYOA.

I’ve now read three of these books and each one provides endings that aren’t very compelling, although there are many choices. Here’s the key difference in a nutshell: in good CYOA type books you feel like you are playing the book. In AG: B books you feel like you are making the choices that the writers want you to make. It’s tied, in my opinion, to the fact that these books serve as advertisements for existing dolls with their own histories and stories so there is no wriggle room. If these were new dolls with new stories this wouldn’t be an issue.

Further, what is up with requiring readers to go online to beforever.com/endings to see certain endings? When you visit that site you see the endings for ALL the books in the series! (Try the ending out for this one and you’ll see what I mean about the choices.) This is a terrible way to end a “book” but a great marketing way to target young girls.


@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.

Guardian Herd: Starfire by Alvarez

GuardianEvery 100 years a black foal is born to destroy or unite the five herds. Last time the foal nearly destroyed everything. The question is whether or not this new one, Star, will follow in those hoof prints.

The Guardian Herd: Starfire
by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez
Harper
September 2014

The other horses are afraid of Star’s first birthday and do what they can to stop him from ever becoming who he is prophesied to become. The book is about whether or not Star will make it to his first birthday and the realization of his powers. Other herds decide they want Star to get his powers – but for their designs. War between the herds ensues.

I gave this to my 12 year old daughter, an avid reader, to try but she couldn’t get through even a few chapters before becoming bored. I have to admit that while the book recommends this to 8 to 12 year old kids the truth is that the age really is closer to 8 to 10. This is strictly written for elementary students in my experience. It’s very simplistic and fantastical, but not in a mature way that will hold more mature reader’s attentions.

It is well written, however, and there is a lot going on in the story and is set up to be a series of easy reads. Language and content is clean as well.


@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.

Disestablishment of Paradise by Mann

paradiseThis isn’t your normal science fiction book. Interestingly, the difference is the addition of metaphysics and the supernatural to one being’s journey of spiritual discovery.

The Disestablishment of Paradise
by Phillip Mann
Gollancz
June 2014

Dr. Hera Melhuish, leader of ORBE – a scientific project on the planet Paradise – is upset. Not only is ORBE’s role on Paradise being cancelled, but the planet is being disestablished. In the future humans don’t just colonize planets. Instead they try planets out for some time then determine whether or not to colonize longer term. In some cases, like the planet Paradise, a decision is made that the planet will never be hospitable enough for humans and so it becomes ‘disestablished.’ That’s what happens here.

What ensues is the story of how Hera deals with the loss of her scientific pursuits, her time with her team of researchers, and also her connection to the planet. She is blessed with a repreive to stay on the planet during disestablishment (where all human things are removed or torn down), thus giving her several month’s time to spend with herself. What she finds is that the planet is much, much more than just a rock in space. Could it also be sentient in some way?

What’s fascinating about this book is how the story is told. It is written from the perspective of Hera through interviews given with the ‘author,’ a female children’s book writer who is chosen by Hera to document her life and the story of Paradise. Occasionally, the story will pause while a dialogue between Hera and the author ensues, many times a transcript from a recording during the interviews. This breaking down oft he third wall by the author character works really well. Coupled with the world building of the actual author, Phillip Mann, where not only is the world deeply but fantastically realistic, but end notes and an appendix of short stories from ‘settlers’ and other pioneers on Paradise fill in backstory via footnotes. It is deep and rewarding to read the stories or even the introduction once the book is over to really make sense of so much that happens.

As to the story itself, [SPOILERS] I have to say that I found the main thrust to be weak. That Paradise is somehow sentient or physic in some way was far too naturalistic a way to describe the powers we see. With the telepathy and leylines or physic power this is almost a fantasy novel rather than science fiction. That a planet could be sentient isn’t the issue, but rather the conclusions of Hera and the author on the causes of the powers and the point. Rightly summarized, I think, this is a cautionary tale of human avarice and how that darkness can destroy untainted things. Very Adam and Even in the Garden. But with an odd conclusion that didn’t bring home that message. No lesson is learned other than Hera’s which is to open herself up to metaphysical science (divination, psychic communication, etc). [END SPOILERS]

I also found that the book took a very long time to build momentum. It wasn’t a slow buildup, but rather a meandering one where readers may have been wondering about the point for most of the 500 plus pages.

All in all, this was a well developed world written well, but that moved a bit too slowly for the first half and that didn’t satisfy this reader in the conclusions. Still, a read worth your time.


@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.

You Can’t Sit With Us by Nancy Rue

CantSitWithUsThis is the second novel in a fascinating trilogy that deals with the same events but from different perspectives.

You Can’t Sit With Us: An Honest Look at Bullying from the Victim
Mean Girl Makeover
By Nancy Rue
Thomas Nelson
December 2014

Book 1 of the series, So Not Ok, dealt with the bullying of Ginger from the perspective of Tori, a bystander. This book is from the perspective of Ginger, the bullied girl. The final book will be from the perspective of the bully, Kylie – [SPOILER] and progresses the story to what happens after she is caught [SPOILER]. Here are the descriptions of the first two books:

So Not Okay tells the story of Tori Taylor, a quiet sixth grader at Gold Country Middle School in Grass Valley, California. Tori knows to stay out of the way of Kylie, the queen bee of GCMS. When an awkward new student named Ginger becomes Kylie’s new target, Tori whispers a prayer of thanks that it’s not her. But as Kylie’s bullying of Ginger continues to build, Tori feels guilty and tries to be kind to Ginger. Pretty soon, the bullying line of fire directed toward Ginger starts deflecting onto Tori, who must decide if she and her friends can befriend Ginger and withstand Kylie’s taunts, or do nothing and resume their status quo. Tori’s decision dramatically changes her trajectory for the rest of the school year.

You Can’t Sit With Us tells the story of Ginger Hollingberry, a new sixth grader at Gold Country Middle School. Ginger has been the brunt of teasing and taunting from the queen bee of GCMS, Kylie Steppe, and her so-called Wolf Pack. Kylie and the Pack favor a new and especially hurtful medium of taunting: social networking. What follows is a candid look into the growing world of cruel cyberbullying, showing kids that bullying doesn’t always end at school—it can now follow you even into your home and torture 24 hours a day.

The focus, of course, is to teach empathy and encourage young readers to attack bullying – not the bully. An important distinctive.

Here’s what my tween daughter said of the book: In the book “You Cant Sit With Us” I realized that bullying is a serious thing and that even though at times some people take it as a joke it can become very serious. I also learned that to a bully, bullying is just a joke to them but to the victim it hurts deeply. This book helped me see what bullying is really like. It gave me a new vision of real life problems that needed solving. I can now understand what its like to be seriously bullied or hurt because of this book. I really enjoyed this book because of the way the characters solved the problem and how it was all sorted out. I saw that even though your problem is big and scary you can still fix it no matter how hard it looks because nothing is impossible.

This is a “Christian” book and there are some references to spirituality and to the Bible. However, it is done in a very natural way that connects the dots between God, his will for us, and our situations. This is an intriguing trilogy that young readers will learn a lot from, parents will rejoice in their children reading, and will teach empathy in a world that sorely needs a lesson in 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.

Treasury of Bible Stories: Rhythmical Rhymes of Biblical Times by Pulley

Treasury of Bible StoriesLike Dr. Suess’ version of Bible stories.

Treasury of Bible Stories: Rhythmical Rhymes of Biblical Times
Magnificent Tales Series
by Kelly Pulley
David C. Cook
September 1, 2014

The author doesn’t hid the fact that his main influence was Dr. Suess. And it comes across immediately and throughout the book of stories. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it seems almost like a parody. Consider this one:

God made a storm,
and the rain beganlashing!
The wind was whish-wooshing!
The waves were slipsh-splashing!

With 20 stories from the Old and New Testaments, this book covers quite a lot of ground. We get some more obscure (in terms of kid Bible books) stories (Esther, for instance) but all of the ones you’d expect (Noah, Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection.)

Something I really liked was that the characters were every race and color. So many times in kid’s Bible books and shows Jesus and his Jewish disciples are depicted in a distinct European pallet. This story has black, brown, beige, peach, and every color in between for characters. Could they all be light brown showing more accurately the middle eastern color aesthetic? Sure. But by using all the colors no reader should be left out.

The artwork is whimsical and fun. The lyrics are definitely more pastiche than original. But they get the job done in telling the story well and keeping young readers engaged. A very well done book.


@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.

Devastator #11: Otaku

otakuSNL meets Mad Magazine but the sensibilities of Family Guy and TED takes on Japanese manga.

Otaku
Devastator #11
Devastator Press
September 2014

The gags go on and on and come in a ton of different guises. There are joke ads (like Joe Lo Truglio, of Brooklyn 99 fame, in PillowMingle.love, where he, ahem, meets his pillow match), written transcripts (like Phoenix Wright’s Asinine Attorney court case), manga parodies (Sailor Moon, etc), and a lot more. To truly enjoy the parodies one would need to be very familiar with the original content. Speed Racer’s suicide dictation (after he determines that he can no longer stand Americans putting words in his mouth – dubbing) make so much sense for fans of dubbed Japanese cartoons.

What you need to know upfront is that there are really funny parts of this book. But this is definitely for those who enjoy potty humor. This is not a “clean” book. So those who mind harsh language may want to pass on this. But if you can stomach it and you love manga this will be really funny distraction. In my opinion, while there are very funny parodies there are too many jokes that end, basically and literally, with an F bomb. While a shocking expletive can be a funny way to end a joke it shouldn’t be the main way. Shock really only works once or twice. After that it can be very ho-hum.

This is the 11th Devastator published on different topics. Even with some of the flat jokes (no pillow pun intended) I still eagerly checked out the other topics and would have read them with gusto. (Who wouldn’t read parodies of the Apocalypse or Toys and Games?) So there is that.


@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.

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.

VeggieTales: Pirates, Mess Detectives and a Superhero by Poth

veggieWho doesn’t love VeggieTales? And who doesn’t want their young children to learn to read better? If that’s you this book is NOT for you.

VeggieTales: Pirates, Mess Detectives and a Superhero
I Can Read Series, Level 1
by Karen Poth
Zonderkidz
February 2014

This book collects Pirate in Training, LarryBoy and the Mudslingers and Listen Up Larry.

In Pirate in Training, Junior Asparagas decides to join the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything because he believes he will be able to skip school work. The Pirates work together to show the benefits of going to school – using math to split lunch bills or using maps to travel. But Junior agrees that he needs school and the story ends with his promise to come back during the summer. Very, very shallow. There really are only two reasons given for why he should go to school other than learning about stuff he may want to do. The story is tied loosely to Proverbs 13:4 about how people who work hard are completely satisfied.

In LarryBoy and the Mudslingers we get a lesson from Luke 11:4 about avoiding temptation and falling in to sins and forgiveness. Curly the worm and Bad Apple start a mud balloon fight between Laura and Junior at a waterpark that soon spreads to everyone at the park. LarryBoy learns the lesson that if he joins in the mudslinging the battle will never end. To end the fight, he has to forgive those who got him muddy and stop the cycle. Everyone learns the lesson, apologize to each other and have fun at the park. This one is a clever story that parents can use to teach clear messages.

In Listen Up Larry, we get a detective story with Larry and Bob solving a mystery where they learn to apply Proverbs 1:5 about wise people listening and adding to what they learn. It turns out that Junior doesn’t pay attention in class and isn’t being wise, but the lesson is lost on Larry who also isn’t paying attention. The lack of listening leads to Larry being lost on the road (and spiritually) and when he learns his lesson solutions start coming. A mixed bag as Larry seems to continue to suffer from not listening even through the last page.

As far as lessons go, this collection is a mixed bag. But it is VeggieTales and young readers will want to know what comes next. I guess I have a higher standard when it comes to books with morals; I expect an actual lesson. The artwork looks great but is unattributed, which, as an artist, I’m against. Overall, a fun book, but with so many better books out there I think I’d pass on this collection and buy Can’t Wait Willow instead.


@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.

Galaxy’s Most Wanted by Kloepfer and Edwards

galaxyWhen an alien visits Earth it’s up to Kevin, Warner, Tara, and TJ to handle business at summer camp while also getting rid of the alien. What ensues is a hilarious teen story filled with drama, twists and turns and witty resolutions.

Galaxy’s Most Wanted
Written by John Kloepfer
Illustrated by Nick Edwards
HarperCollins
July 2014

As a parent of teens I thought it was great, clean fun. But to ensure that it actually was as funny to its intended audience I gave it to my (almost) 12 year old daughter. This is what she said:

“This book is unlike most books I’ve ever read because from the beginning I could tell it would be an exciting adventure with many mysteries and fun filled days. Other books most of the time start out as boring and are often annoying to most people because you basically have to wait 4 or 5 chapters to get exciting. This book was nothing like that at all for me. The details and descriptions made it full of adventure and excitement. 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.”

So yeah, adults and teens will love this funny adventure.


@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.

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