Into the Book

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Fantasy


  1. Have you ever had someone tell you a dream they had? Everything is unexpected and nothing makes sense. It’s all just people and things strung together in a string of chaotic nonsense. You get the feeling that there should be a story there, and yet at the same time you think that this story should never be written at all. Such is the case with Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”

     The story rambles through the tale of Alice, an imaginative little girl who gets whisked away on an adventure through the looking glass in her nursery. And that’s about all that can be said for plot. Alice unexpectedly finds herself in one crazy and chaotic setting after another. Talking flowers. Mischievous twins. A demanding Queen. Roads that lead nowhere. Unknown lands where one forgets his own name. “Curioser and curiouser…” the list goes on and on.

     I once read that children are often uninterested in, or even frightened by Lewis Carroll’s book because it lacks the order that children need in life. It’s all too familiarly nightmarish to be considered a fairy tale. Going into the book, I expected to find nothing worth writing a review about. However, I was unusually surprised. There’s a glory for you.

     Ironically, I read this book during one of the worst travel experiences of my life. I found myself commiserating with Alice as I too found myself whisked away through one chaotic place to another, always feeling as if I didn’t know the rules, and yet trying to be as cooperative and pleasant as possible. And so, these words from the White Queen were quite a comfort: “Consider what a great girl you are. Consider what a long way you’ve come to-day. Consider what o’clock it is. Consider anything, only don’t cry!” This book was worth the read because it gave me something to do as I sat through surprise layovers and long flights. It also helped me to laugh at my situation, because no matter how bad it got, Alice’s journey was ever so much more ridiculous.

     That said, I don’t feel like I can recommend this book. I definitely wouldn’t rank it in my top category of literature, simply because it didn’t have the “realness” that I love in literature. I most enjoy literature that is true to reality, and this is not to throw out fantasy and fiction. Good literature has the ability to express truths of life under imaginary circumstances. This is not definitive of “Through the Looking Glass.” The plot is an incoherent dream, lacking the order and structure that would otherwise ground it in reality and give it that lasting quality characteristic of classic literature. While Lewis Carroll includes a statement on the human existence (“Life, what is it but a dream?”), his conclusion just doesn’t ring true of real life. For those looking for a refreshed view of life: you will not find it here. For those looking for a redeeming statement on the condition of human existence: you will not find it here. For those looking for chaos: that you will find, but look before you leap. No one sets out on a journey hoping for things to go wrong. Proceed with caution, but enjoy the dream. And at the end of it I recommend a good dose of fresh air and strong coffee. ~Alisha

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  2. Merlin’s Blade, by Robert Treskillard, promises to deliver a fresh take on the often-repeated stories of Merlin and King Arthur, holding out the tantalizing offer of an entire series of Arthurian legends, of which it is only the first. Surprisingly, Merlin’s Blade actually meets many of these very big promises. While its flaws still remain very evident, overall it is a solid book that is engaging and interesting. Read on for more.

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  3. What a shock to open a book and discover you’ve already read it. This was surprisingly the case with Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer, part of the Merlin’s Immortals series. This is Waterbrook Multnomah’s attempt to republish the very obscure Wings of an Angel series that was released in the early 90s. I found the series and enjoyed it some years ago, so upon finding that this book was part of the same series, albeit renamed, I was delighted.

    This is in a series, so I recommend starting at book 1. I only received this as a review copy, not expecting it to be part of a series, nor expecting to already be familiar with the story and the series overall. All of the books have been renamed, shuffled, and rejigged, so that this book doesn’t exactly correspond to the ‘old’ book 3. I was happy to find out that these obscure books are being published, with much better cover design and interior. The old book covers were printed in puke-colored shades and the books themselves were so small as to be difficult to read. The new editions are much better.

    Since it’s been years since I’ve cracked these books, my memory was dusty. Thankfully, everything is just as I remember it — and my memory was faulty enough to still produce surprises and even remember some plot twists. Thomas and Katherine are as delightful as they were when I first opened the book in high school, mixed in with medieval English places, Merlin and magic, and a nice dusting of Robin Hood.

    The story is largely the same as before. Thomas is battling the Druid priests who have exiled him from his reclaimed island kingdom, Magnus. He discovers the origin of the priests’ power, finding himself in an ancient battle between Merlin’s Immortals and the evil Druids. The source of his answers, and the only place where he may yet be safe, is the holy land. Thomas is followed by Hawkwood and Katherine — friends who helped him in the past, but have lost his trust in the present. As time winds on, answers continue to elude Thomas, and it becomes ever less likely for Thomas to reclaim his kingdom and defeat the Druids forever.

    There’s my attempt at a back-cover blurb. Good thing I don’t write those. Suffice it to say, the story is as good as ever. This book does suffer from much lower stakes than the previous books: after Thomas’ loss of Magnus and his adventuring escape, the book shifts gears to setup for following books. The conflict in the second half is largely personal — definitely interesting, especially after becoming attached to the characters after the first books — but less exciting than horseback chases and battles. The book does opt for lower stakes, coupled with some information-dumping in preparation for the following books.

    It’s medieval England with swords and magic — what’s not to love? The quality of the writing is fair. I definitely noticed it a lot more reading through it in college than in high-school. But it’s definitely good enough. Though the dialogue can be choppy, and the internal thoughts plain distracting, the book flows very nicely, and it’s such a good story that it almost makes the writing better. Junior or senior high readers would love this — even re-reading this story after so many years had me pleasantly surprised and turning the pages quickly to find out what happens next. This is a great, all-around fun fantasy book, and you’re missing out if you pass on it.

    ~Andrew
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    Learn more about the author. I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.


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  4. What if they’d invented rock ‘n roll way back in the 19th century? What if it could take over the world and change the course of history?

    In the slums of Brummingham, the outcast gangs are making a new kind of music, with pounding rhythms and wild guitars. Astor Vance has been trained in refined classical music. But when her life plummets from riches to rags, the only way she can survive is to play the music the slum gangs want.
    A book that celebrates steampunk and music. Honestly, can it get any better?

    Having previously read Richard Harland’s Worldshaker and enjoyed it, I immediately latched onto this book when I saw it advertised at a book store. I was captivated by the title and theme, and curious as to how it could be pulled off. Steampunk and music, in a book no less? I was not disappointed. 

    When Astor, a young lady brought up in a well-to-do British home visits the powerful Swale family with her mother and step-father, she is under the impression that the intended purpose of their visit is to arrange a proposal for her to marry the youngest Swale brother. Not so. Her step-father has contracted her out of the house to become a governess to the Swale’s three bratty youngsters, and Astor is horrified that her position has been so drastically lowered. The children make her life a misery, and no amount of effort on her part can possibly make them learn, so Astor is reduced to trying to keep order whilst the young Swales make mischief out of everything. 
    The one comfort she was granted was a servant from home, however Verrol seems to be much more than he appears. After the two eavesdrop on an important political conversation between the older Swale brothers, Astor’s letter to her influential step-father warning him of the Swales traitorous dealings is intercepted and causes both Astor and Verrol to flee from the household into the dirty slums of the outer city. 
    It is here they come across “gang music” and its players, but it is nothing like the delicate harp and stringed music Astor has known. However it being their only hope for protection, Astor and Verrol join the band and before Astor realizes it, the music has captured her; and it may become the key to how they can fight back against the looming revolution.
    Though not a particularly fast moving book, this was one compelling read. My biggest concern was how well the appreciation for music would be portrayed, since the plot was so pivotal on this point. I needn’t have worried. There were so many moments throughout this amazingly fascinating story that stood out for me as a musician – the author knew exactly what he was talking about. The essence of the musical world was captured so fully, I found myself grinning with delight or laughing with the dialogue because I knew the feelings so well. 

    The whole band was as if bonded together in a single state of euphoria. When they started to speak, they all spoke at once.
     “I hit that note and just kept following it‒”
     “It was bouncing off the walls‒”
     “What about our fast version of‒”
    “How did it even manage to work?”
    “Remember that bit in‒”
    “That was you‒”
    “We were all waiting for that chord, and you kept holding it off‒”
    “The audience almost stopped breathing‒” 

     I also love the author’s recognition of the power music has. It’s not just a pretty noise, or a pointless art; music is a movement, and it can state a belief or conviction with more passion than words alone. Music is God’s gift to mankind, but like all His gifts, it can be perverted. We as Christians often need to be reminded to recognize what a powerful tool music is and be responsible stewards of it. Music can be the voice of God, or the voice of the devil.

    He stopped pacing and faced the group around the table. “It’s a power that can be used for good or used for evil. It’s our responsibility to use it for good. We choose. We can create feelings of joy and warmth, or we can create feelings of rage and revenge. It’s up to us.”

    Bang on, right there.

    The world and setting of the book is gritty and authentic; a very real, tangible depiction of what futuristic 1846 could well have looked like. The book – though not fast nor slow – moves through the story at a good pace, and the characters grow and mature over the way; not changing so fast that the facts are spat at you. The historical elements were also very believable, as were the political references.

    Content wise, there is nothing to speak of. The book is clean language wise, and although this could also be dubbed a ‘gaslight romance’, I feel that the romance is so well written that it is on a deeper level than today’s general romantic fiction. There are no kisses or anything physically romantic shared between said characters, but the heart of the matter was clearly visible. Definitely one of the more brilliant examples of romance in fiction that I have come across. This book is proof that a romance can be pure and simple, without anything physical shared or really even said. This is showing-and-not-telling at it’s best.

    In closing, I give Song of the Slums five very hearty stars out of five. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of Mr. Harland’s steampunk works.

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  5. I had such high hopes for the book. In the author’s note, he asks “Could the Works of God in nature give us a lens through which to understand the Works of God in Scripture?” Being a fan of Creation Ministries International, I was really hyped up by that question. Unfortunately, the book actually compromises the Bible, which means I can’t recommend it.
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  6. “Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house…”

    When young Coraline Jones finds a mysterious passageway in her family’s home, she crawls into a world exactly like her own – only better. Here, nobody says her name wrong (“It’s Coraline, not Caroline”), the toys are marvelous, her bedroom is delightfully pink and green, and the food is actually edible (unlike her father’s “recipes”).

    But of course, there’s a catch.

    Her parents in this alternate world look exactly like her real parents, but with shiny black button eyes and ghastly paper-white skin and a fervent desire to keep Coraline on their side of the door. Coraline can have everything she’s ever wanted – so long as she’s willing to allow her own eyes to be replaced with buttons.

    Did I mention this couple is just a tad bit creepy?

    Clearly, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline isn’t your typical Disneyfied fairy tale. It’s dark, whimsical, sinister, smart, and funny – frequently all at once. You will recall it was Lewis who once said that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” If this is true (as I believe it is), then Coraline is a very good children’s story indeed.

    I haven’t read any of his other novels, but judging from this one, Gaiman is a firm believer in the “short and sweet” method of writing. His style is spare yet colorful, fraught with crisp dialogue and fantastically bizarre images that flicker out of the gloom like candles in a haunted house. It is precisely this restraint that keeps the story from becoming overly dreary or morbid, while still maintaining a keenly creepy edge.

    Like all the best fairy tales, this one isn’t without a moral or two tucked slyly up its sleeve. Be careful what you wish for is one; be thankful for what you have, however imperfect it may be is another.

    The world on the other side of the door looks like a lot more fun than the one on this side; but like a child’s version of the Matrix, its “betterness” is merely illusory. When the curtain is pulled back, and the masks come off, we see monsters have been running the show all along.

    Coraline sighed. “You really don’t understand, do you?” she said. “I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that, and it didn’t mean anything. What then?”

    It seems getting everything you want can be an exceedingly ugly business after all. Who’d’ve thought?

    – Corey P.


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  7. Upon hearing of this book before publication, I was hoping it wouldn’t be a simple retelling of the classic Arthurian tale. I am happy to report that it is not. Instead, Treskillard brings the perspective a few steps back, beginning with the humble Merlin and his story. The language differences don’t just make an appearance to keep things in perspective, they occur often enough to make the reader uncomfortable enough to figure out what they mean. Also, he steeps the events that happen (not just the atmosphere) in the time period. Families, leadership, and professions all reflect the age, but at the same time deftly shape the course of the story.

    Considering the people, Treskillard often found ways of skirting the recent character norms and cliched views of the medieval setting. ::SPOILER:: The only weak point I found was Vortipor’s engagement to Natalenya, which didn’t amount to much. ::END SPOILER:: Merlin was crafted well, with carefully-chosen words, as were Owain, Garth, Uther, and Morganthu.

    Merlin’s Blade doesn’t drag at all. The pace is set very well, and a great deal happens. It’s lengthy, honest, and a pleasure to read. As for the story elements that make up the Arthurian legend, Treskillard has included them soundly in the lore of this series. Many items/characters don’t show up immediately, or are only hinted at, but I have little doubt they will come further to light soon.

    *This book was provided free by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed are my own.*


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  8. In Godsmacked, Paul Cicchini tries to be the Christian Douglas Adams. As a big fan of the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy of Five, I really wanted this book to work. Unfortunately, while the plot could have worked, theological problems means that there’s no way I can reccomend this book.
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  9. I read The Realms Thereunder, Ross Lawhead’s first book, over a year ago, and found it to be a confusing but generally engaging read. The second book, A Hero’s Throne follows the trend: it’s more than a little confusing in parts, but isn’t a terrible book, at least. Still, it probably won’t be worth much to you unless the first book completely hooked you.

    The Realms Thereunder introduced us to Neidergard and an entire cast of characters that returns in A Hero’s Throne. Unfortunately, my first impression of the book was confusing. There’s a lot of talking, more weird flashbacks (though of a different sort than the first book), and an ending that leaves you on the cusp of action, feeling as if there hasn’t been any action throughout the entire book.

    As a matter of fact, both books (and the third, unreleased book), feel that they could have all been condensed into a single book. The plot moves slowly, the characters don’t change incredibly throughout the book, and in general this book feels stale, as if the author had a bunch of backstory and telling that he needed to get out before he could get to the real meat in book 3.

    I digress; there are some good parts to the novel. Things do move forward, we discover many disturbing things, and there are some interesting twists The incorporeal chapters in particular are interesting to read, even without the rest of the book, being rather disconnected (no pun intended) anyways. But in general the novel feels like backstory, plain and simple.

    Now, if the first book hooked you and you’re engaged with the characters, backstory is tolerable at best. I highly recommend re-reading the first book before reading the second — something I regretted not doing as I had to keep referring back to the first book to remember the characters and sequence of events. If you do so, this will be a slightly boring book, but necessary if you want to read further in the story.

    While The Realms Thereunder was passably good, A Hero’s Throne doesn’t make that grade. At best, it’s an interesting read if you’re bored with nothing to do. At all. In general, it’s best not to waste your time with this book or the series in general: they’re mediocre books, but written by an author with great potential. Keeping an eye on Ross Lawhead would not be a bad idea (his father also writes excellent books), but this series is a pass in general.

    ~ Andrew


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  10. The Hopper/Batson duo has returned once again! After being shut down by Thomas Nelson, they have headed up copyrights, editing, and marketing all on their own, an impressive effort for such a large volume.

    The Tide of Unmaking is definitely aimed at the 8-14 year range, but could be enjoyed by anyone. However, I found it to be populated with some corny lines (along with good ones, don’t get me wrong) and (sans spoilers) a predictable plot. If that doesn’t bother you, and if you haven’t read much fantasy, you’ll be surprised and really like it.

    Plot and writing aside, the morality behind the book was very good. Many characters developed a lot further, but I couldn’t relate to them as well as a younger audience would. Similarly, if secular readers were to pick this up, they would find “salt and light” sprinkled throughout.

    In conclusion, this is a good book for younger readers, but not for an older audience looking for a new story.

    This ebook was provided free by the authors. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions expressed are my own.

    ~Noah


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