Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

finding-angel-coverHaving written stories for several anthologies, Heckenbach launched her debut novel “Finding Angel” on Sep 1, 2011. As a homeschooling mother, fantasy lover, and self-proclaimed science geek, Heckenbach put her skills into creating the Toch Island Chronicles. There are currently two books released in the series, with Seeking Unseen (Book 2) published a year after the first. Finding Angle is available as a Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook.

Story overview:
Angel knows that her family isn’t related to her by blood, but she loves them just the same. Particularly her younger foster brother. Having been adopted at a young age, and lost her childhood memories, she often wonders what her birth parents are like.

Fascinated by the world of fantasy, whether books or pictures, Angel feels a close connection to otherworldly elements. Not only is she smart for her age, but her recent curiosity over a beetle that her brother found sets her to task. Her mission: to find out what type of beetle it is.

Before exhausting the library’s resources on the subject, Angel meets an oddly dressed boy by the name of Gregor. Little did she know that the beetle was magical, and the boy had been searching for her for years. But most of all, Angel was soon to discover that her love for magical worlds wasn’t based on fantasy at all.

My thoughts:
Cleanly written in the third-person limited narration, I quite enjoyed this story. Some elements of it made me think of Inkheart (by Cornelia Funke), with Gregor’s personality a bit like Farid’s. Only, instead of obsessing over Dustfinger, his eyes were fixated on someone else. Some reviewers likened this book to Harry Potter while others to The Lord Of The Rings. But, magical and elven elements aside, I thought it followed its own path fairly well–standing on its own two feet. If you like a good young adult fantasy, don’t hesitate to give this one a look.

Things to consider:
There is no foul language or sexual situations (considering two teens of the opposite sex live alone together for some time). No excessive violence to speak of, but there are a few scenes regarding death and a few that contain some gory elements. Overall, nothing objectionable that I could detect. I’d recommend this for preteens and older, with a slight emphasis toward girls as the protagonist is female, but boys should also come away feeling significantly satisfied.

Opportunities for discussion:
Like Angel, who dreamed of being in another world, Christians believe that we were created for something better. Something beyond what we see before our eyes. It is this longing that sometimes leads us into obsessing over fictional worlds. We know things have gone wrong, and we know they need to be fixed; therefore, many authors have sought to create environments in which they can express such struggles. Fiction is a wonderful place, a place where we can be more than who we are, and the world can be larger and better than the one we live in now. Yet these are only shadows of the true thing which is to come–as C.S.Lewis speaks to in Narnia’s The Last Battle. Remind your youth that the wonders of fantasy and fiction are an important part of a bigger picture, one with which we can all be a part of in the hereafter.

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On a trip to Chicago, Kingsley took a set of mythology books with her. The stories she read from Jason and the Golden Fleece to The Trolls of Norway were so vivid and beautiful that they inspired her. On New Year’s Day of 2004, she sat down to collect her thoughts of what became Erec Rex. As she plotted the series, bits of mythology wove their way into her ideas, and, on April 7, 2009, the first book was published.

Story overview:
Twelve-year-old Erec Rex lives as one of several adopted children–moving from one place to the next–supported by a woman (who he calls his mother) with little income. His biggest problem is a strange voice that makes him do odd things. Thankfully, so far, the things have all been good.

Shortly after the story begins, the voice sends him out to seek for his mother, who had been missing since the morning. After meeting a strange girl, Bethany, he is lead down a mysterious stairway and into a magical world.

Coming across unusual characters, Erec is directed to a meeting place where a large group of children are preparing to complete in a set of games. The games are being held to determine who will replace the current rulers of Alypium, Ashona, and Aorth. As Erec searches for his mother, he finds himself caught up in the events of this magical world.

My thoughts:
I absolutely loved this book. I know it’s dreadful to say, but I liked it better than Harry Potter. There were a few things borrowed from the Potter world, such as the games (particularly the one which requires an underwater goal), but as many experts say, imitation produces great results. Then again, since the author heavily researched mythology before writing this tale, there’s a good chance she didn’t borrow from Potter at all. Regardless, I highly recommend this story. So far, it’s my best read of the year.

Things to consider:
No sexual or romantic scenes. No foul language that I remember. The action violence is fitting and non-gory. For those who are sensitive to chiromancy, there is an old woman who reads the protagonist’s palm. Personally, I found nothing offensive–it’s a wonderfully creative world. Great for ages 12 and up.

Opportunities for discussion:
It’s easy to doubt the ones you love when it appears as if they have been misleading you. But sometimes trusting family is more important than knowing all the facts–Erec learned this lesson when his mother was held captive. On the flip side, sometimes parents need to be more open with their children. Ask your youth if they ever felt like Erec, not knowing certain truths about their lives. If so, ask them what they’d like to know, and then make a decision to share if that’s the right thing to do.

On the long list of British children’s authors is Jenny Nimmo. In 1986, she began The Magician Trilogy, which was completed in 1989. From there she wrote several miscellaneous works before starting The Children of the Red King. This series went on for eight books, beginning in 2002 and ending in 2009, with an extension written in 2011 called The Secret Kingdom.

Story overview:
10-year-old Charlie lives in a house with his mother, two grandmothers, and uncle. His father supposedly died in a car accident when Charlie was still an infant. With his father’s side of the family known for their dark and shady ways, Charlie prefers to be more like his mother.

In fact, Charlie is content with being an average boy. He wants nothing to do with his crazy aunts or their power. But when a magical ability surfaces from within him, he can no longer stay in the background. The label, endowed, is bestowed upon him as his tyrannical grandmother, Grizelda Bone, forces him to attend Bloor’s Academy—a school for the gifted. But not before Charlie learns of a missing baby, now a girl his own age. With determination, Charlie makes it his mission to find her.

At the school, he meets kids who wish to help his cause, while others go out of their way to create obstacles to interrupt his mission. Yet help from unexpected places aids him and his friends as they seek to save the lost girl.

My thoughts:
There are some books where it takes me a few chapters to get interested. Midnight for Charlie Bone wasn’t one of them; I was hooked after the first few pages. The characters are dynamic and believable, the plot development is flawless, and the story itself was an enjoyable read. It’s written in a mixture of third-person omniscient and limited. Where the author does switch character heads during a scene, it happened so smoothly that I didn’t find it jarring like so many other books I’ve read. I look forward to continuing this series down the road, and recommend it [so far] as a great read.

Things to consider:
I found nothing questionable in this story. No foul language or sexual scenes. There are a few violent situations, but not many and nothing I’d consider inappropriate for this age group—9 and up. Good for both boys and girls, but perhaps a little more geared toward boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
Charlie’s uncle, Paton, is a man who kept his head down. In a family with dominating—and wicked—women, all he wanted was to be left alone. It wasn’t until Charlie drew Paton out of his small world that his eyes began to open. And once they were, he finally made a decision to step into action. Ask your children if there was ever a time where a friend or someone they cared about was being mistreated. Find out what they did or didn’t do about it and how it made them feel. There are times when it’s best to leave things alone, but there are other times when one must make a stand against a wrong. Share Paton’s story with them, and remind your children that ignoring problems may seem like a good solution, but in the bigger picture, doing so will only makes matters worse.

We finally find ourselves at the end of Paolini’s Inheritance series. What started as a self-published novel written by a homeschooled teenager–with a love for reading–ended up as one of the most widely read fantasies of our age. Received with a fair amount of criticism (some I agree with, some I do not), the three-book series turned into four, and a poor interpretation of a movie had been released. Regardless of the different opinions regarding this tale, one thing holds true: the Inheritance Cycle made a signification impact on the world of fantasy.

Story overview:
Now older, and a little wiser, Eragon and his dragon Saphira continue their quest alongside the Varden (a rebel alliance) to overthrow the wicket king, Galbatorix, and turn around his tyrannical Empire. Eragon’s cousin, Roran, also fights alongside the Varden in an attempt to keep his family safe, and in the process, he makes a name for himself along with a few enemies.

The closer they get to Urû’baen (the King’s fortress), the more apparent it becomes that Eragon doesn’t have a chance against the King in his current state. With the aid of the elf Arya (Eragon’s unrequited love), and dragon Glaedr (now living as a soul in his heart of hearts), Eragon works on improving his skills, yet he knows it still isn’t enough.

When a memory of something the werecat, Solembum, said to him in the past arises, Eragon follows up with the disgruntled feline only to uncover a larger mystery. He seeks for an answer that might give him the leverage he needs, and ultimately a way to save both Alagaesia and his half-brother, Murtagh, while removing Galbatorix from his seat of power.

My thoughts:
I quite enjoyed this final book. In fact, I thought it was the best one of the series. I really liked the first book, Eragon, and was somewhat disappointed with the middle two (Eldest, Brisingr). If Paolini had stuck to his original plan and written a trilogy, I think he would have done better. Though, instead of combining books 3 and 4, I would have merged 2 and 3 into a single volume. My biggest complaint with those books was that they were too long, and could easily have been cut down. That said, I still really enjoyed the series as a whole, and, one day, will probably read it again.

Things to consider:
I didn’t come across any foul language or sexual situations, but there was a fair amount of action violence and some gory scenes. Personally, I didn’t see anything inappropriate for this type of story. However, I was hoping that Eragon would have come to have a relationship with God, or at least an understanding of His existence, but in the end that wasn’t the case. The Elves are atheists, Saphira (Eraon’s dragon) thinks dragons are better than any god, and the Dwarfs believe in multiple deities (polytheists). Where Eragon didn’t refute the possibility of there being a deity, he did take the stance that relying on his own morality and conscience was enough. Perhaps a reflection of Paolini’s own struggles?

Opportunities for discussion:
One thing that stood out to me was the process of finding one’s true name. It required an individual to perform a great deal of soul searching. Not only would they have to perceive the good parts of themselves, but the negative ones too. In doing so, they got to know who they truly were. I think this is a good lesson to share with our youth. More often than not, teens seek out odd–sometimes dangerous–things in an attempt to form an identity. In the end, they are not really being themselves, but looking for acceptance from others. We should not shy away from who we really are, and who we were created to be. If we only ever focus on our positives, then we will never find growth. If we focus only on our negatives, then we will find ourselves in a state of depression. Coming to terms with who we really are is the first step to approaching the throne of God and allowing Him to form us into the people we were meant to be. And thus, ultimately, receive a new name (Revelation 2:17) as did a few characters in the story.

Past reviews in this series:
1) Eragon (Inhertitance, Book 1)
2) Eldest (Inheritance, Book 2)
3) Brisingr (Inheritance, Book 3)

Story overview:
After defeating the gaichuu, Lag gets a glimpse of Hunt’s and Sarah’s old memories. Apparently they came across the real “man who could not become spirit,” who had happened to meet up with Gauche during a fight. This man represents the anti-government organization, Reverse, and he wants Gauche to join them.

Having falsely taken this man’s identity, Hunt and Sarah see the horrible results of their crimes. Yet, because of them, Lag was able to get another hint as to the location of his dear friend.

To Lag’s great surprise, his current letter delivery leads him to the source of his quest. Yet what he finds puts him into a deep state of despair.

My thoughts
Because of the time gap between reading volumes 4 and 5, I was a little confused as to what was happening when jumping back in, but after several pages it came back to me. I was pleasantly surprised at the advancement of the plot in this volume–so unlike the filler episodes of the anime. After reading this I’ve determined that I’m pretty much done with the anime; the manga is way better (since it moves forward so much faster). I even thought this volume was better than the last two, and nearly as good as the first.

Things to consider:
I found nothing questionable or unfitting for preteens and older. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
When Niche fails to protect Lag, she struggles with feelings of inadequacy. She even goes so far as to run away. Lag, on the other hand, doesn’t care about her failure. He only wants her to come back, and so he searches far and wide to find her, his dear companion. I think so often that we don’t feel we are good enough for God’s love. In one sense, we aren’t, but ultimately God has extended his forgiveness to us anyway, and, like Lag, acts as a Shepherd, searching to bring back His lost sheep.

Past reviews in this series:
1) Tegami Bachi (Volume 1)
2) Tegami Bachi (Volume 2)
3) Tegami Bachi (Volume 3)
4) Tegami Bachi (Volume 4)

After having finished the first three novels, I anxiously awaited this next release. Each of the first three books pulled me in with great characters, colorful scenes, and suspenseful storylines. The fourth novel was no different, and well worth the wait.

Story overview:
Having finally arrived at the mysterious floating island known as Cielis, Emily becomes anything but relaxed. At first, the expected assembly with the Guardian Council was delayed, and then she’s told that she must first pass a test.

Meanwhile, Miskit and Cogsley are rescued by a mysterious man who has ties to their old master. And back on Cielis, Leon and Enzo investigate the reason for the oddly empty streets.

Things go afoot when Emily learns that she must not only pass a test, but compete with other Stonekeepers. What should have been an open invitation turns into a big ordeal. As she works through the trials, that uneasy feeling from before only intensifies.

My thoughts:
Now I can’t wait for the fifth volume to come out. One of the best graphic novel series out there. Be sure to check them out if you haven’t already.

Things to consider:
No sexual situations, harsh language, gore, or extreme cases of violence. There are a few scenes that could be considered scary to younger children, but otherwise the tale is harmless. Good for preteens and older. Equally good for boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
Without giving away any spoilers, I want to point out that deception is a key factor in this story. No one likes to be deceived, and no one likes to feel used. God also does not like it, as said in Proverbs 12:22 (ESV) “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Ask your children to share a time when they had been deceived, and ask them how it made them feel. Help them to understand the difference between being deceived and being the deceiver.

Past reviews in this series:
1) The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1)
2) The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Amulet, Book 2)
3) The Cloud Searchers (Amulet, Book 3)

I came across this book in the library, and it sounded interesting, so I checked it out. There are four books in the original series, followed by another series of four more called The Circle Opens. It finishes off with a standalone named The Will of the Empress.

Born into a hillbilly family, Tamora Pierce understood what it meant to be “American poor.” She fell in love with books at a young age and started writing when she was only 6 years old. It is said that many of her stories contain feminist themes. If you’d like to know more, you can read her Bio at http://www.tamora-pierce.com/bio.html .

Story overview:
Four children with three completely different backgrounds come together at a place known as Discipline Cottage. Other than being troublemakers, the only thing they have in common is the ability to control magic.

Sandry–the book’s namesake–comes from a noble family. She has the ability to work with threads. Tris, a heavyset merchant girl, told from a young age that she had no magical abilities, discovers a dormant power that can manipulate weather conditions. Daja, the lone survivor of a terrible shipwreck, learns how to master metals as a smith. And, finally, Briar, a young street boy and thief, who is given the name of a shrub due to his divinity with plant life.

Under the supervision of Niklaren, and a few other magical users, the four children learn what it means to form unlikely bonds under abnormal circumstances.

My thoughts:
Tamora fans, please understand that I’m only saying how I honestly felt about this book. That doesn’t mean others won’t feel differently. Firstly, I didn’t like how I was thrown into the heads of four different children. It got confusing at times, and I can see how younger children may feel the same way. I also didn’t care that much for the story progression. There was a plot, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t feel mapped out; the story mainly centered on the individual progression and relationships between the characters. I know this isn’t a bad thing, but for me, I became bored not having the supporting goal to pull me along. I wanted to see where I was going. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, then the book was over. I’m sure this was done to introduce the following books in the series, but honestly, the first book didn’t make me desire to continue on to the next. So, this will probably be my only review of the Circle of Magic. I just couldn’t get into it, but I can see others doing so, so don’t take my word for it.

Things to consider:
No sexual situations or extreme cases of violence. The most I remember hearing in the way of foul language was a few made-up insults. There are instances of meditation, but I didn’t get anything overly creepy out of it. Good for teens and older, though, as I mentioned above, may be a little confusing to some. Probably targeted more toward girls, but overall is equally acceptable for boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
The children learn to overcome their differences and focus on what they have in common. Whether it is race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, status, age, or whathaveyou, the world has known, and still knows, what happens when people find contention with one another. Where we know that some differences are beyond our control (and in some cases, are good), all humankind is seen as equal in God’s eyes. It is good for us as believers to be reminded that humility was one of the most frequented subjects in the Bible. Loving our fellow men and women should not be restricted by external observations. Just remember, unless you are a Jew, you were not among His original chosen people. Remind your children that God allowed the possibility of all gentiles into His family. No one should consider other human beings as being below him or her. Finding what we have in common, and growing upon that, is sometimes the only way we can really extend God’s love.