Monday, December 12, 2011

The Canary List -review

The Canary List by Sigmund Brouwer.

Jaimie, a child of the foster-care system, is burdened not only with the struggle of being jaded from an uneasy childhood, but also a dark force weighing down on her. She can sense something evil in the world around her, and that evil is closing in on her, making her run for her life.  Crockett Grey, her teacher, is spending a night alone trying to drown the memories of his daughter's death in alcohol when Jaimie shows up at his door, alone and afraid. Everything spirals out of control on that fateful night when he made the decision to help this troubled student of his. With accusations springing up around him, and conspiracies to put the best conspiracy theorist to shame springing up, will Grey and Jaimie make it out of this mess unscathed? Meanwhile, trouble at the Vatican seems to be twisting intrigue and danger into Grey's and Jaimie's lives.

Overall, I thought this was an intriguing book that kept my attention until the end. Crockett Grey was an interesting character to follow. I do not know if I would say the same for every character (and there were quite a few), but I would say the story came together masterfully.

The Canary's List reminded me of the first time I read Frank Peretti's Piercing the Darkness. There were those elements of spiritual battle and suspense that rang familiar in reading this book, and it was just as captivating in this book as it had been in reading Piercing the Darkness. I would not say the books are amazingly similar, though. Peretti's book was much more spiritual and much less ambiguous than Brouwer's book was.  Peretti's was overtly spiritual, actually, and made it completely obvious this was a book centered around Christian characters in spiritual warfare. Brouwer's is a book with Christian characters (mainly Catholic) battling some sort of evil that may or may not be spiritual in nature. Really, the only reason I know this book was supposed to be Christian in some fashion is because it was published by Water Brook Press. Otherwise I would have simply thought of it as a book with Christians in it.

My main issue with the novel was the negative Catholic element. While it seemed like Brouwer was trying to give a balanced view on the novel (the church does good, but it is spoiled by a few rotten apples), it made me a bit uncomfortable, and I'm not even Catholic. While there is nothing wrong with writing fiction that is relevant to modern issues in the real world, I had to wonder if it was just laid on a bit too heavily.

Another problem was that there was a bit too much going on for my personal taste. I realize some people may like when stories have numerous plot lines occurring at once, with the author shifting from one to the other and back again. It's not something I particularly enjoy. Two or three plot lines at most is what I can handle, and having them clearly laid out so I know what is happening. I think this is simply residual hate from having to read the confusing The Sound and The Fury in Lit class in High School.

*I acquired this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers*

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Never the Bride –review part 2

Never the Bride
by C. McKay and R. Gutteridge

BIG FAT SPOILER ALERT: this entire review is full of SPOILERS. Read only if you want the book to be spoiled or if you have already read it. If you missed it, part 1 of this review is spoiler-free.

I wanted a story where a woman learned to be content in God, and ended up not being married, because honestly romance and marriage is emphasized entirely too much in the Christian community. I ordered this story with the express hope that it would not be a temporal romance, but an everlasting spiritual romance with God. The book synopsis asks “Can she turn over her pen and trust someone [God] to craft a love story beyond her wildest dreams?” and for a brief moment in the book it seemed the love story would indeed be with God, but then she got married to some random guy God had been trying to set her up with the entire story!

Which leads to complaint #2: “the one.” The story gives the impression that there is one person out there God has created specifically for you if you are simply willing to allow Him to lead your life. The problem I take with this spiritual fool’s gold is that romantic people will use it as an excuse to marry some lame wad they have no business being in a relationship with, or they will be on an eternal quest for the Holy Grail of Perfect Spouse. It is also used as an excuse by “Christians” to divorce the person they are currently married to, because “s/he wasn’t The One God intended for me to marry.” Then there is also the fact that it makes it seem like there is something wrong with those singles who have been so for decades, trying to find someone worth marrying. I have heard the complaints of some Godly singles who say they are sick of people telling them “Get right with God, and He will send you The One.” God can send you a spouse whether you are holy or not. He doesn’t need you to be holy and perfect in order for Him, an All-Powerful Being, to do whatever He pleases.

Romance stories are all well and good when people know they are fiction and people know there is no deeper spiritual meaning to it, but when a spiritual lesson is added to a story, more care should be taken to make sure unfounded and harmful clich├ęs aren’t propagated.

(By the way, this explains the complaint I had about God being an author of confusion in part 1 of this review. God is trying to set Jessie up with some random dude, and so when He made Himself corporal, He took on the appearance of the dude He is trying to set Jessie up with. As a result, when Jessie sees the dude, she thinks it is God, and reacts to him as such. It creates confusion that an omniscient God would obviously have known would ensue. It is chaotic, and not something God would do.)

Ultimately, the lessons Jessie learned were sound ones, to a point. God does make a point of telling Jessie her marriage won’t be perfect and that He is only sharing her with her new husband (which, if one spends too much time dwelling on God “sharing” us, it can actually create a headache). The manner in which she learned the lessons was highly questionable, and not very scriptural. If McKay and Gutteridge are as good of story-writers as I suppose they might be, I imagine they could have just as easily created a scripturally sound story without sacrificing the truth of who God is.

I was left with the sense that Jessie’s character was a bit stupid, but she wasn’t a devote follower of Christ (hadn’t been to church in 14 years, and didn’t spend much time studying her Bible to glean a better understanding of God), so I suppose stupid can be labeled as ignorant.

*I acquired this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers*

Never The Bride -review part 1

Never the Bride
by Cheryl McKay and Rene Gutteridge

The story is a humorous one about Jessie, a 34-year-old 11-times-over bridesmaid with an obsession to get married. She keeps journals (a closet-full) detailing her desires for marriage, engagements, and everything thereof, but has not found Mr. Right yet. Her most notable romance is a non-romance crush she has had on a lifelong friend, Blake, who of course knows not a thing of her romantic feelings for him. Amidst her romantic obsessing, God steps in, quite literally, to try to direct Jessie in His plans for her life. It becomes a big question of whether Jessie will be able to surrender her life and obsessive tendencies to God and have faith that the Ruler of the Universe knows what He is doing.

So I ordered this book with exceedingly low expectations because there was a specific ending I wanted, but I was almost positive the ending I wanted would not be the ending I got (note to self: don’t read a book if you are only willing to accept 1 particular ending).

That being said, I will start with what I liked about the book. I must say I finished the book in one sitting, which shows it was an intriguing book. Even though I wanted to hate the book, I found myself smiling in amusement at many parts. I am sure Jessie’s character was also relatable to some people (I’m not particularly obsessed with marriage except to joke with friends about going “husband shopping,” so I can’t quite relate).

I found a good many of the interactions with God to be compelling, and now have a desire to go read the Bible on the beach (the one time living in FL is actually a convenience). Call me sentimental, but the idea of a romance with God totally does it for me (romance in a strictly platonic sense, if that isn’t too paradoxical of a statement). The character growth in the story was rather well-presented, and made it more than two-dimensional. Over all, it was a well-crafted, light piece of work with some spiritual lessons that were appreciated.

Preexisting bias for a particular ending in place, I give the story 1/5 stars for spiritual satisfaction, and 4/5 for an otherwise engaging piece of work.

I have all sort of spoiler-worthy complaints about that story, but I will save those for part 2 of this review. I have 2 non-spoiler-worthy complaints instead.

The one that isn't spiritually related first (save the best for last?):
First part that really peeved me is when God (in the novel) said “Things never happen the same way twice,” which is in fact a direct quote from Prince Caspian (the movie). It certainly doesn’t come from scripture, since scripture says there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), and God is quite willing to do things the same way. So not only did she quote Prince Caspian (the movie), without referencing it, as if she is trying to pass the quote off as some original line she came up with, but she felt the need to quote Chronicles of Narnia, but didn’t even make the effort to actually quote something CS Lewis wrote, but quoted flipping HOLLYWOOD! That’s like a major biting of one’s thumb at CS Lewis there (because Shakespearian insults are so much better than modern ones). Seeing as how CS Lewis is my favorite author, I was not pleased.

This would have been a little less bothersome if a simple reference to where the quote came from had been made. A simple “‘Things never happen the same way twice,’ God said. I smiled in amusement over his stealing a quote from a movie” (the story is told in first-person narrative). Anything!

Spiritual complaint:
The characterization of God at parts throughout the story really bugged me. At times, He had something wise to say, and I appreciated that, or when He would point out a character flaw of Jessie that particularly hit home with me (like when she flat out told God she’d rather spend time with someone else). However, and that is a big however, I really disdained how God was characterized as making Jessie’s life confusing –this becomes apparent the further you get into the story. He would ask her to do things, and when she did them, sometimes it led to results that left Jessie in a position of having been confused. The Bible tells us God is not an author of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33), and if a character of God is written that would lead even the most holy of Christians, let alone a Christian such as Jessie, into scenarios that lead to chaos and confusion, then that is not a true representation of who God is.

I am all for authors taking poetic license in a story, within reason, and that is why the idea of God turning corporal for a person in a story did not bother me: poetic license. I just think too much poetic license was taken at the sake of sacrificing God’s true character. Personally, I would rather a book that only sells 200 copies and stays true to Who God is than a story that sells 200 thousand copies but takes the liberty of crafting God into a character mold unfitting of Who He truly is. God is not a product to be shaped and molded into what you like simply so you can sell more books.

That being said, I’ll make a separate post detailing all the spoilers that detail what truly made me rate the book a 1/5 spiritually. As is, this is an obscenely long blog post as is.

*I acquired this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers*

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dragons of Chiril -a review

The Dragons of Chiril by Donita K. Paul
Book #1 of the Chiril Chronicles

After having read all the books in the DragonKeeper Chronicles, and enjoying them, I thought it’d be interesting to read a book set in the same world but at a different time, place, and with different characters. I don’t make a habit of looking up authors whose stories I like to see what else they have released, so it’s nice that Ms. Paul re-released The Dragons of Chiril, so that people like me might become aware of the series.

Set in a distant continent from the tales of the Dragon Keeper Chronicles, The Dragons of Chiril follows the tale of Tipper, a young emerlindian. Spending most of her short life taking care of her large family estate in place of a father that has disappeared and a mother that is not quite there, Tipper had to resort to selling some of her father’s art pieces to keep the house afloat. Little did she know, her actions have had an effect on the stability of her world, and she must now go on a quest to reverse the effects her actions have had on her homeland, and save her father’s life, a man she had thought gone forever. Along for the ride is her sometimes guardian, sometimes friend, an over four-foot-tall parrot named Beccaroon, and five other unlikely wayfarers.

One sign of a good story is when the character is written in such a way that you find yourself both liking and being annoyed with her at times, just like you might with a real-life friend. Tipper was both likeable and annoying at times. The story itself was not predictable and a fun tale to follow. The sort of beginning to a chronicles that compels a person to want to continue reading.

One thing about Ms. Paul’s writings in the fantasy genre is that they are not as darkly dramatic as other fantasy stories, which can be either a plus or a negative, depending on what you are looking for. Even with characters that might have broken families or perilous quests to fulfill, she makes the tale amusing and light with just the right embument of seriousness to keep the airy tale tethered to the ground. I rather enjoy this manner of story telling, though I certainly would not want all of the fantasy tales I read to be like this. For Dragons of Chiril, it fits.

*I acquired this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers*

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Out of a Far Country -review

Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope by Christopher and Angela Yuan

Christopher Yuan was a Chinese-American born to Chinese immigrants that discovered at an early age that he was attracted to boys. In his early adult years, on a visit home from college, Christopher finally admitted to his parents he was gay, and his mother, Angela, gave him an ultimatum: choose homosexuality or choose his family. Christopher chose homosexuality. And so started a journey for the Yuans as they struggle through years of trial after trial. Angela Yuan struggles with her new-found faith in Christ while praying for her son, and Christopher falls into a life of that of a party boy.

This coauthored memoir tracks Christopher’s and Angela’s story of a prodigal son life, and was a captivating read. While it is a story about a homosexual son and his mother, it felt as if it could relate to any person, regardless of their sexual orientation. People of all sorts struggle with falling into “prodigal son” lifestyles at times, and to read the story of the Yuans was to catch a glimpse into the patient love of God. Of course, I’m a sucker for a well-written memoir that reads like a story. I was worried when I got this book that it might turn out to be horrible and unGodly, but it was not.

On a technical level, the way Christopher and Angela wove their separate memoirs into one was masterfully done. The book works by the son and mother writing alternating chapters, and they all work together. It was interesting to see the different ways the two reacted to the same situations throughout the journey of their lives. If Angela is talking of how she went to visit her son for one reason, Christopher would follow up flawlessly in the next chapter with how a visit from his mother irritated him. They wrote as if it was not a coauthored book, simply explaining their individual thoughts and evolution through time. Yet it worked.

*I acquired this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers*

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Breath of Angel -Review

Breath of Angel by Karyn Henley
Book #1 of the Angeleon Circle

Melaia, a young priestess, was raised thinking she would have the simple life of being a priestess in the town where she was raised, never to travel or do anything more exciting than helping to heal people in need. But after witnessing a murder of an angel, creatures Melaia thought to be little more than myth, she finds herself drawn into a dangerous battle of life or death. It is an ancient struggle between two immortal brothers who destroyed the stairway to heaven, drawing the angels into their feud. Melaia must take refuge with the angels she thought to be myth in order to survive this feud, and soon finds that she has not fallen into the path of the feud by mere chance. Melaia must help end this feud, but at what cost to herself?

Breath of Angel looks to be a splendid start to a new fantasy series by Karyn Henley. It appears to be a Young Adults book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was an intricately written story, with characters that were more than one-dimensional place-fillers. Even in such a relatively short book, as far as High Fantasy-length books go anyways, it was easy to develop a feel for most of the main characters. I look forward to seeing how much more they will develop in the series to come.

*I acquired this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers*

Heart of Ice -review

Heart of Ice by Lis Wiehl (with April Henry)
Book #3 in Triple Threat Series

“‘But sociopaths don’t see other people as people. Something’s wrong with their wiring, … they don’t have any empathy, and they don’t feel fear. So they don’t feel guilty when they kill. If anything, they feel powerful.’”

Heart of Ice is a spiral down into the twisted mind of an ice-cold sociopath as she settles into the community of where the Triple Threat Club girls reside. Elizabeth Avery seems perfect on the outside, with a job as a fitness instructor, a wonderful boyfriend, and a keen sense of apparent-empathy. But Elizabeth Avery is no ordinary woman. She knows what she wants, and will do almost anything to get it. Elizabeth ruthlessly moves from one person to a next in her quest to achieve the perfect life. Along the way she encounters Cassidy Shaw, and the Triple Threat Club finds themselves investigating a string of crimes without knowing the criminal is within their mindst, and without knowing that they may all be in danger of getting in Elizabeth Avery’s way in her quest for perfection.

I found Heart of Ice to be an intriguing read, if only for the fact that it was interesting the way Wiehl could transform herself into the mindset of a sociopath. The parts of the book that were a close third-person narrative of Elizabeth Avery felt like a glimpse into the mind of a true sociopath. The artistry of that writing was quite superb. The plot line was a rather good one as well. Wiehl once again injected a sense of reality into the story by showing the main character (Allison, Nicole, and Cassidy) have lives outside of the intrigue of trying to solve the mysteries surrounding them in the book.

However, the problem I took with the lives of the character outside of the story is that there seems to be a pattern forming of at least one of the main characters having to deal with horrible trials of some sort in each book. Yes, people have trials in real life occur to them, but it seems a bit of over kill to have both a mystery and a trial in their lives to have to deal with in every Triple Threat book. I certainly hope it does not become standard for one of the main characters to have to deal with something horrible in their life in each book.

*I acquired this book from Booksneeze.com*