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.

Oxblood by Grant

OXBLOODVictoria Asher and her older brother are untimely orphans when their parents die in a plane crash.

Oxblood
The Victoria Asher Novels
by AnnaLisa Grant
Open Road Media Teen & Tween
September 2016

After a settlement and after her brother is old enough to take custody of her, Victoria finds herself on her own for a summer while her brother is on a work assignment. When she receives a package with his journal and the word “oxblood” she comes to believe he’s in trouble. When she calls around looking for him she can’t find him anywhere – it’s clear he hasn’t been honest about what he was doing in Italy.

Victoria travels to Italy to find her brother [SPOILER] only to find herself in front of a man who works for interpol, where apparently her brother was working to combat sex trafficking. She joins the team to find her brother and stop the criminals. [END SPOILERS]

There are a lot of plot twists to keep the young reader interested. Comedy and a little bit of romance as well. Victoria Asher is a good heroine – fearless, smart and tenacious. Only a few minor cuss words are spoken by the bad guys.

Overall a fun, clean novel for middle schoolers aged 14 and up.


Freckles is a long suffering wife of twenty years and mother of four children in every stage of adolescence who enjoys coffee and silence. She gets coffee sometimes.

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

Family Christian Store Giveaway

familyFamily Christian Store is a nonprofit online and physical store that sells Christian and family books, music, movies, decor and apparel. If you’ve visited a local Christian book store you’ve seen the types of products for sale. I was invited to try out the online store and to share my experience. Normally this kind of post is not a good match for this site’s readers. However, because of the mission of this organization (and their offer of a chance to win a gift card for our readers!) I made an exception.

The first thing you notice when visiting us that there seem to always be discounts: 20% off of you receive email or text alerts, BOGO 50%, $10 off $50 with code all shoe in the first page. You’ll value those as the process of products tend to be priced higher than non-Christian Stores.

I looked through knickknacks and books and noticed a trend to focus highly on current movie tie ins. It’s what sells are what people want so it makes sense even if those things are not something I personally like. There is a lot to like, though, for anyone who enjoys Christian music or books.

After checking out the store I looked at the most important page on the site: the about page. It’s incredibly impressive. From donating bibles to people in countries that don’t have access or can’t afford to supporting orphans, like in Haiti, and adoptions to supporting missions trips to provide shoes, fix homes, install stoves and more to storm clean up Family Christian Stores is making a difference.

This is a small site with a limited selection that costs more than Amazon or Walmart. When you know that the additional price you’re paying for a book goes to communities in need, however, it makes it easier to pay.


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 post was sponsored by Family Christian store.

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.

Origins of a D-List Supervillain by Bernheimer

OriginsOfDListSupervillainSupervillainy was forced on Cal Stringel. Just ask him.

Origins of a D-List Supervillain
Written by Jim Bernheimer
Narrated by Jeffrey Kafer
Self Published
July 2014

Stringel is an engineer at Promethia Corporation, the home of Ultraweapon, an Iron Man like battle suit worn by the rich CEO. He becomes disgruntled when his work product is copyrighted by the corporation instead of giving him credit. (Never mind that the reason is actually pretty good: do you really want the bad guys to know you were the inventor of the weapons that stopped them?) Stringel decides he will quit Promethia and get another job where he is better recognized for his genius. The only problem is that Promethia has the ability to stop him from getting any job at any other company as an engineer. In fact, since so many engineers have left Promethia recently, the lawyers at the corporation decide to use Stringel as an example of what happens to quitters.

Blacklisted and ostracized from any good paying company in engineering, Stringel gets jobs wherever he can, like a strip club and a small auto shop. When the rich owner of a car he is working on dies, he decides that fate (and Promethia) have given him no choice. He will have to build his own suit of armor and get back at the evil (good guy) corporation. Never mind that he is an incredibly inept genius.

The rest of the novel is over the top hilarity, ala Mr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, where Stringel does his best to get back to Promethia while also trying to perfect his own battle suit. Bernheimer writes a very funny loveable loser and it can be very easy to forget that Stringel is the bad guy and to start to root for him. There are laugh out loud and also cringe worthy moments.

This book, Origins of a D-List Supervillain, is written after 2011’s first book, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, which would be the second in a trilogy, and before the newest entry, the third in the trilogy, 2015’s Secrets of a D-List Supervillain. Normally the first book written in a series works as a jump off point, but Origins is the right one to start with because Origins doesn’t so much as end as stop. Having not read Confessions I can only assume that it starts immediately after the cliff hanger ending.

In the end, I am definitely looking forward to the second and third books in the series. This is the second book I’ve read of Bernheimer’s, after Prime Suspects, and both have been very enjoyable reads. The narrator Kafer does an excellent job maneuvering between the silliness, melodrama and pomp of the characters in this book.


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.

Prime Suspects by Bernheimer

primeA fun hard boiled whodunit with a protagonist who plays the part well while waiting to wake up from the nightmare he finds himself in: he’s a clone. The 42nd clone in his line. His “Prime” or the human who he and his brothers are cloned from has been killed. By one of his brothers. Since he was literally born today, he’s the only non-suspect among them.

Prime Suspects
A Clone Detective Mystery
EJB Networking
by Jim Bernheimer
read by Jeffrey Kafer
August 2012

While there is some interesting world building going on here, the main thing that sets this book apart from so many other sci fi novels is that it is fun! Not kitschy or corny fun. It’s solidly rooted in Maltese Falcon-esque detective stories but constant references to Hitchikers, in jokes and the extremely fast pace had me hooked from the start. I’m actually reading another science fiction suspense story by an author that I really enjoy – I’m enjoying that book as well – but when I had to make time for one of them I chose this one. In fact, I chose this one and listened to the whole audio in only a couple days.

I don’t know if there are other books in this series or world, but it is ripe for others. The clone economy is something I haven’t read before and was well done. I’ll definitely check out more books from this author.

A note about the audio version: Jeffrey Kafer was great! His quick, flat and sometimes monotone detective voice fit the mold of how I expected 42 to speak. The one thing I would have liked is a slightly longer pause when moving through a break. Chapter breaks were clear, but internal breaks (where you’d see a couple of blank lines in the text allowing the story to quickly progress or change to another location or character) weren’t. So occasionally, I’d find the story going in a new direction and not understand what was happening at first. One more beat of silence would have been perfect.


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.

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