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.

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.

In our last volume, Lag became an official Letter Bee only to find out that Gauche went missing. Moving in with Gauche’s sister (as a roommate), Lag spent his time learning the ropes while seeking for evidence of his role model’s disappearance.

Story overview:
In continuing his Letter Bee training, Lag learns that not everyone shares his same feeling of heart. Among these is Moc Sullivan; a Bee who believes in not getting involved with the letters or the people associated with them.

Lag also comes across a man named The Corpse Doctor, who takes an interest in Steak (the little creature that sits on Niche’s head). Unfortunately for Steak, the doctor’s interest in him is for dissection. While attempting to rescue Steak, Lag receives additional insight as to Gauche’s possible whereabouts.

Investigating the lead, Lag travels to a town named Honey Waters–a place no Bee has been in a long time. While there, Lag leans why: a large anti-government organization has taken over the town. Lag and his companions find themselves in a mess of lies and confusion, and, as always, Lag seeks to find the heart of the matter.

My thoughts
Having watched a good part of the anime, I started becoming bored with the story and almost drop both it and the manga. For the most part, I thought the anime followed the manga quite well. At least, in the beginning. It wasn’t until I got further along that I realized the manga and the anime differed quite a bit. From what I can tell, the anime added a ton of filler episodes, which is what caused me to become bored with the story. The book, however, had a much better forward progress. I might give up on the anime altogether and stick with the book, but curiosity will probably keep me viewing both.

Things to consider:
There are a few shots of Niche wearing tight underwear, forced upon her by Sylvette in an attempt to make her more like a girl. Niche prefers to keep Lag’s boxers–as it is the symbol of their bond (read volume 1). Other than this, I found nothing questionable, and even so, this was really quite tame. The age target continues to be fitting for preteens and older. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
One of the letters Lag delivers is filled with lies, which, greatly disturbed him. He believed that all letters contained the heart of the person who wrote them. This caused Lag to question the letter’s value, and whether it was worth risking his life to deliver. In the end, he realized that regardless of the content, it was his job to take it to its proper destination. In doing so, Lag discovers that the recipient was already aware of its misgivings, yet because it was written by her son, it’s true heart was still intact. Warn your children that, when they grow up, there will be times when their job seems unfulfilling and meaningless, but in all things, there is cause to be thankful. By fulfilling ones duties to the best of our abilities we may be accomplishing more than we know.

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

As one of my all time favorite animes, I figured it was about time I read the manga version. Instead of reviewing all seven volumes individually, I decided to treat this series as a whole.

Story overview:
A gifted young woman named Nausicaä (Na u shi ka) lives in the distant future. The world has long since survived an apocalyptic massacre called the “Seven Days of Fire.” What’s left of modern civilization and technology consists mostly of a few aircrafts, dug up from deep within the earth.

The creatures that are left have been genetically altered, and a poisonous forest spreads across the land, killing mankind in its wake. As the princess of the Valley of the Wind, and the daughter of a man close to death, Nausicaä takes on the responsibility of representing her people.

Called into war under the Torumekian Empire, Nausicaä deviates from her path by seeking to rescue all life, regardless of ancestry, race, creed, or species. She is driven by her love and compassion, yet brings with her a terror and horror like none other.

My thoughts:
I was thrilled to find so much more to this story than what was in the anime. As stated on Wikipedia, “The tale depicted in the film roughly corresponds to only the first quarter of the manga.” It’s like taking your favorite chocolate bar and adding caramel to it, making it even better than before. As a manga, you do lose the illustrious colors and epic music that was in the anime, but if you use your imagination, you can easily put them back into the manga. If you like one (manga or anime), I strongly recommend you look into the other. My only complaint is that, after the finale, the story came to a quick end (I wanted it to close at a more leisurely pace). Overall: Strong, powerful story. Beautiful, brilliant. A+.

Things to consider:
There are no sexual situations or foul language, however there is very graphic and detailed action violence. It’s done in a way that does not glorify the violence. Rather, the story uses it as a strong anti-violence message: showing the bitter results of war and hatred as it really is. Because of this, I would caution some children and age rate this for teens and older. The protagonist is a girl, but I would equally recommend this for both boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:
The true heart of this tale is about anger and hatred, and the blindness and death that follows in its wake. Anger begets anger, destruction begets destruction, and violence begets violence. Yet there is one girl who stands against this. She takes no sides with quarrels and wars. She only takes the side of love, kindness, compassion, and sacrifice; turning enemies into friends and allies. It reminds me of the second greatest commandment. Mark 12:31 (NIV) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is this relevant? Because loving your neighbor fulfills all other commandments. If you love them, you won’t manipulate them, steal from them, or cause them harm. Ask your children when the last time it was they showed love in place of hate. If they say never, tell them it’s a feeling unlike any other, and suggest they try it the next time they find themselves in such a situation.

I am pleased to announce Book For Youth’s first official book release. From the author of The Cat That Made Nothing Something Again comes a new and magical journey.

Story overview:
As the son of a great wizard, Traphis doesn’t understand why his mother and father have forbidden him from learning magic. Raised to tend fields, he often dreams of a bigger life–one in which he performs in front of an awe-stricken crowd.

A year after the death of his father, Traphis, now fifteen years old, spies his mother tossing a collection of magic books into a nearby creek. Unbeknownst to her, he is able to rescue them and read their contents hidden within his secret cave.

Opening himself up to the world of magic, a dark presence surfaces–one which has been seeking to track him down for years. Hidden secrets of the past unfold as Traphis joins with other trainees in hopes of learning the skills necessary to survive. The more answers he uncovers the more mysteries arise, sending him down the path of a true wizard, which is far more dangerous than he ever imagined.

My thoughts:
Ever since I can remember, I have loved the Narnia series, which was read to me at a young age. As I grew older, I was surprised at how little Christian Fantasies there were out there; the Christian bookstores had little to nothing of them. It was disappointing to say the least. Traphis, with a subtle/non-preachy Christian angle, targets fans of series like Narnia as well as secular ones like Harry Potter and Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle). It is not meant to compete with them, but to provide a new fantastical world in which youths can follow and come back holding onto messages of faith, hope, forgiveness, and redemption.

Things to consider:
Since this was written to appeal to teens and young adults, there are a few places that may be considered disturbing to younger children. No foul language or sexual situations, but there is action violence–done to enhance the story rather than shock the reader with sensationalism. Nothing inappropriate for the right ages (preteen and older). This should appeal to boys and girls; there are strong characters representing both genders–though the protagonist is a boy.

Opportunities for discussion:
Forgiveness is one of the leading elements in this story. Traphis’ need to forgive God for taking his father away, and his need to forgive his own failures. Skinny Jack learns he needs to forgive his abusive father, and Falin offers grace to his brother who rebelled many years ago. One thing this story also shows is the difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgiveness is about releasing the power for vengeance and setting it into the hands of God, but one should not forget the past; we can learn from it and grow stronger as a result. Christians are not blind, they just learn to see with different eyes.

Availability:
Traphis: A Wizard’s Tale is currently available on the Kindle and Nook for $2.99 (which is a good price for a 155k word novel). If you don’t have either a Kindle or Nook eReader, don’t worry, you can download the story and read it on your computer, smartphone, or tablet using the free Kindle software.

Purchase the eBook at:
Amazon (Kindle – $2.99)
Barnes & Noble (Nook – $2.99)

What is an eBook? It’s an electronic book format that can be read on digital devices, removing the need for paper. Learn more about the story at: http://awizardstale.com.