Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: The Ruins of Gorlan

Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Recommended for: Ages 10-Adult

 Rating: PG for violent images mild language

They have always scared him in the past — the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger's apprentice. What he doesn't yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied....

I got this book from the library and finished it the same day. I enjoyed this book very much. Even though it isn't Christian fantasy, it is moralistic, and while it doesn't promote Christianity, it doesn't condemn it, either.  I really liked this about it. 

Writing: 4.5/5
This book was well-written. It drew me into the story and no mistakes ever drew me out. The descriptions were vibrant and the dialogue lively. The one thing that made me take half a star away was minor swearing. The author is from Australia, so the swearing is probably not swearing in Australia, but still, I took half a star away because of it. And just a warning, there is one kiss in it.

Setting: 5/5
The book is set in a fantasy world. It is very well developed. There is just one rational race (humans) but there are fictional beasts named Wargals and Kalkara. These were very well-done. I feel like I'm repeating myself in every review, but the setting was well-done.

Plot: 5/5
The plot was well-thought-out . It was exciting and gripping. I couldn't put this book down because of it.

Character Development: 5/5
This was the part that was the best. The characters were wonderful. I loved the main character Will, and the Ranger Halt. The minor characters were good as well, not flat or typical.

This book was amazing!!! It lived up to my expectations and more! I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a clean, good, non-magical fantasy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Review: DragonKnight

DragonKnight by Donita K. Paul

Recommended For: Ages 10-Adult

Rating: PG (mild action violence and other fantasy elements)

Before vowing his allegiance to Wulder as a knight, Bardon heads to the mountains for solitude. His life is suddenly complicated by a woman and her granddaughter, N’Rae, on a mission to rescue the woman’s son trapped in a chamber of sleep. Bardon learns that more of Paladin’s knights are imprisoned–and suspects one of them is Dragon Keeper Kale’s missing father.

The band travels north, uncertain of their destination and encountering numerous perils. When they unlock the chamber, they discover a dozen knights–who cannot be awakened. The journal holding the secret to rousing them is in an unknown language. How can they find the help they need, and overcome even graver obstacles, to rescue the knights?

Return to the land of dragons and magic you discovered in
DragonSpell and DragonQuest, in this finely crafted and memorable work of fantasy fiction with a core of eternal truth. 

DragonKnight has been my favorite Dragon Keeper book so far. The first two took me several weeks to get through, but this one took less than a week, leaving me disappointed I didn't have a violin lesson this week and so no good reason to go by the library for the second time in a week. Perhaps it was because there was a lot more of Bardon, perhaps because it contains a little bit of romance, perhaps it's just a more interesting story...I don't know, it's just the first one that left me desperate to read the next book.

Writing: 4/5

The writing of DragonKnight isn't really any different from that of DragonQuest. Descriptions are still somewhat lacking, but the story itself is fairly well told.

Setting: 5/5

Same as before, excellent worldbuilding. Amara feels like a familiar place by now. There was again the development of yet another race, the minnekins, which are considered by most to be a myth. There was also deeper insight into the feelings of the people toward half-breeds. This is quite instrumental in Bardon's character. There aren't any contradictions in the worldbuilding, and it all works well together.

Plot: 4.5/5

I don't go to the full fifth point because it really wasn't much different in structure or pacing from the others, but I enjoyed it much more. Bardon's unwilling quest to find N'Rae's father was somehow more compelling than Kale's quests. I do wish Kale had been in it for more than the last quarter, but still, I loved it. As I mentioned before, there is a bit of romance in it. It was clean and sweet, and an addition to the other plot elements, which is precisely how I like it and only caused me to love the story more. The level of intensity again was pretty even throughout the whole book, but the end did seem a bit more dangerous due to the appearance of Pretender.

Character Development: 5/5

The characters are terrific! Toopka, like Kale, didn't come in until the last quarter, but the entrance of N'Rae made up for that. As Kale says, she's a grown up Toopka. N'Rae's beauty does attract attention and so Bardon often warns her in a big brotherly fashion of men that may be up to no good, but it was never anything that made me uncomfortable, sensitive reader that I am. There is a lot more of Bardon, as the majority of the book is from his perspective. Kale has matured as she grew up, Regidor has a decent amount of involvement in the story, and the other minor characters add personality to the group. There wasn't much of Dar, but I can get over it.

DragonKnight is an excellent fantasy book, and I recommend it for anyone who likes fantasy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: Sophia's War

Sophia's War by Avi

Recommended for: Ages 8 to Adult (Interest and reading level)

Rating: PG for disturbing images and a hanging

In 1776, the War of Independence comes to New York City, and to twelve-year-old Sophia Calderwood’s family. William, her older soldier brother, has been missing since the defeat of George Washington’s Army at the Battle of Brooklyn. 

When the British occupy the city, Lieutenant John André of the English Army, is boarded at the Calderwood home. He and Sophia develop a flirtatious friendship, which is tested when the girl discovers that William is being held in The Sugarhouse, a notorious British prison. She hopes André can help. When he chooses not to, Sophia struggles to save her brother herself.

Three years later, Sophia becomes a spy in the headquarters of the British Army. There she finds André, now a Major, working to enable a highly placed American General become a traitor, a treason that will endanger the whole American war effort.  Deciding to stop the treason—and motivated by personal revenge—Sophia becomes desperate. However, as Sophia learns, desperation’s other name is deception. Indeed, the desperate characters in this thrilling tale of spies and counter-spies, act out many acts of deception, not least by Sophia herself. 

Based on true tales of the Revolution, carefully researched, this story will shock and enthrall even those who think they know what happened during the American Revolution. Sophia's War is Avi at his best, a haunting historical thriller.

I got this book from the library and had finished it before the night was up, it was that good. I've read Avi books before, but for some reason always come to them with the expectation that they won't be that good, and always walk away in amazement. This was just such a book.

Writing: 4/5
This book was written in an engaging manner, well-told, and written in a way that the narrator is almost engaging with the reader. The dialogue was well-written and the descriptions were good as well. The reason I don't give it 5 out of 5 is because there is a confusion between the years that passed and the age of the character. This mistake took me away from the book for a minute trying to sort out what happened.

Setting: 5/5
The story is set in New York during the Revolutionary War. It is obvious much research went into this book, it is that historically accurate. It even uses 18th-century words throughout the book to make the book even more authentic. It made it seem as if you were really there. Very well done.

Plot: 5/5
This is one of the areas where Avi excels the most. With  an intriguing plot and exciting action, this book drew me in so I couldn't put it down. No plot holes and well-developed, the plot was one of the best parts of the book.

Character Development: 5/5
This was the other part that was really, really good. The characters were all well-developed, from the narrator Sophia to Major André to the brief appearance of Nathan Hale at the beginning of the book. The even better thing is, excepting Sophia and her family, all the characters are real. The characters were brought to life in this book.

This book is a good read, and if you're looking to learn some history and enjoy a good book at the same time, this is the book for you. I would recommend everyone to read this book.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review: DragonQuest

DragonQuest by Donita K. Paul

Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult (Interest and Reading Level)

Rating: PG (mild action violence and other fantasy elements)

A New Quest Begins

A dragonkeeper of Paladin, Kale is summoned from the Hall to The Bogs by the Wizard Fenworth to serve as his apprentice and tend his newly hatched meech dragon, Regidor. But Kale isn’t going alone. The Hall is sending a student to monitor her performance and report back to the scholars. Worst of all, it’s Bardon–an older boy Kale finds irritating, but who at least can hold his own in a sword fight.

New Friendships Are Forged

Meanwhile, the Wizard Risto has seized another meech dragon, bringing him dangerously close to gaining the power he seeks. So with only a motley band of companions, Kale sets out on a desperate quest to rescue the second meech, to free those dragons already enslaved, and to thwart Risto’s devious plans. It’s up to Kale to lead the search and to embrace the role that’s rightfully hers. But will her efforts be enough to save the land of Amara from the dark future that awaits at Risto’s hands?

Read my thoughts on book one, DragonSpell, on Goodreads.

DragonQuest was an interesting fantasy book filled with Christian themes, adventure, dragons, and wonderful characters. It never truly was a pageturner for me, but still, I really enjoyed it and will be continuing the series to the end.

Writing: 4/5

DragonQuest is technically well written. Grammatically I found no problems and it does get the story across. It doesn't, however, really pull you in, and the descriptions are somewhat lacking. It is very difficult for me to picture doneels (one of the fantasy races). I get the impression that they look a little bit like dogs, but it's not very clear. Also, I'm not positive that o'rants look just like humans. I assume they do and certain things seem to indicate that, but it never really describes an o'rant.

Setting: 5/5

Despite the shortcomings in the descriptions, the world of the Dragon Keeper Chronicles, Amara, is very well built. It feels like a real place and works well internally. The personalities of the different races are well thought out and the cultures distinct. There are seven high races in Amara and seven low races, as well as several varieties of dragons. Though all distinct, I did occasionally have to look back at the glossary to remember what this race was. Also, the explanation of magic is such that I don't think it would really bother even someone who is against magic in stories. Those who have been gifted by Wulder (God) with the ability to do magic use the elements provided by Wulder and arrange them according to Wulder's laws. Meech dragons were an interesting addition to DragonQuest. The whole purpose of DragonSpell was to find the meech dragon, but he was unhatched, so it was interesting to see yet another variety of dragon developed.

Plot: 4/5

The thing I think that causes me to not absolutely love Donita K. Paul's books is that there is an even amount of excitement throughout. The climax is no more epic than the fight with the spiders at the beginning. It just seems to plod along at the same pace and intensity level through the whole book, never really building towards an exciting climax. I did like the story, and I was interested throughout, it just felt like something was missing from the structure. Kale's struggles about her mother were certainly interesting, and I enjoyed Kale and Bardon's discoveries of their mindspeaking abilities. I thought that was really cool. The story is also extremely clean, so no plot elements that prevent young readers from reading it.

Characters: 5/5

This is why I continue to read these books. I love the characters. I can identify with Kale, and I enjoy the company of the others. It was nice seeing more of Dar, with his doneel-like obsession with dressing well, and his big brotherly attitude towards Kale. Fenworth was as entertaining as ever, the absent-minded wizard. I loved the introduction of Toopka. She was delightful and mischievous and funny. There's also Bardon. I liked him a lot, and not just because he provided the initial inspiration for Jaye L. Knight's new series Ilyon Chronicles. I enjoyed getting to know him better and look forward to reading more about him in the next book. Regidor, the meech dragon, was also a fun character, and his interactions with Toopka could be quite entertaining. The characters as a whole are excellently developed, and I loved them.

All in all, DragonQuest was an enjoyable read that I would recommend for lovers of fantasy.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Movie Review: Courageous

Courageous by Sherwood Pictures


Recommended For: Ages 10 to Adult (Interest level)

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and drug content)
  Being about cops, there are some chase sequences and fights as they capture drug dealers, but I did not find the violence to be gratuitous or the content offensive.

Four men, one calling: To serve and protect. As law enforcement officers, Adam Mitchell, Nathan Hayes, David Thomson, and Shane Fuller are confident and focused. Yet at the end of the day, they face a challenge that none of them are truly prepared to tackle: fatherhood.

While they consistently give their best on the job, good enough seems to be all they can muster as dads. But they're quickly discovering that their standard is missing the mark.When tragedy hits home, these men are left wrestling with their hopes, their fears, their faith, and their fathering. Can a newfound urgency help these dads draw closer to God ... and to their children?

Filled with action-packed police drama, COURAGEOUS is the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Viewers will once again find themselves laughing, crying, and cheering as they are challenged and inspired by everyday heroes who long to be the kinds of dads that make a lifelong impact on their children.

Protecting the streets is second nature to these men. Raising their children in a God-honoring way? That's courageous.

Though I'm not a father and never will be, I would be among the first to say that Courageous is a movie you don't want to miss. It has some hilarious moments and some tear jerking ones, and a message we can all take something from, even though it is primarily directed at fathers. The film explores what it truly means to be a father, and why it is so important. Again, I say you don't want to miss Courageous.

Technical 4/5

Watching this movie, it's hard to believe that it was made by the same people who made Flywheel. Where that film screamed amateurish, Courageous shouts professional. The filming and editing appear on par with a professional movie, and while it's not a big special effects film, the ones it does have, (mainly car chases) do not look fake. The acting is miles ahead of Flywheel and Facing the Giants. The reason I didn't give technical 5 out of 5 is because there are a few small lapses in the acting quality. The pastor that officiates the signing of the fathers' resolutions says his lines as if he's not used to acting, and a select few of Javier's lines felt a teeny bit either awkwardly written or said to me. There are also a few bits of dialogue that seem slightly contrived, but still, nothing major enough to take away from the enjoyment of the film.

Setting 5/5

Like the other Sherwood Pictures films, Courageous is set and filmed in Albany, GA. It is portrayed as a very real life, modern, somewhat small town, and it seems entirely realistic. Just as a side note, pay attention to the audio when Adam Mitchell is watching TV. There's a reference to Fireproof.

Plot 5/5

This is the reason the Kendricks brothers' movies got popular before they had the resources to make professional quality films. Not only has it got just about everything in it, humor, sorrow, inspirational moments, non-preachy lessons, it's just plain a good story. It is essentially about being a good father, telling it through a major character arc, but there are other storylines woven throughout, such as Javier's struggles to support his family and the cops' job chasing and trying to capture drug dealers. I never found the story to drag, and it has the right balance of action, drama, and heart to make it a story that is well worth watching and will be long remembered.

Character Development 4/5

The characters are well developed, much better than the characters in Red Dawn. (I had to say it, I hate both the original and the remake of that movie.) Adam Mitchell, as the protagonist, has the biggest character arc, but the rest of the men, Shane, Nathan, David and Javier, also have distinct personalities. My only complaint is that I would have liked to get to know their families better. The family members with the best development are Adam's wife and kids, Javier's wife, and Nathan's daughter. I suppose it probably would have messed up the pacing and storytelling to develop the others more, and it isn't really necessary, I just would have liked to see more of them. SPOILER I would have loved to see more of David's little girl, she's just so cute, but she only gets two little scenes. END SPOILER

Courageous is an excellent movie, and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review: Hard Times

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Recommended for: Teen to Adult (for reading difficulty and interest level)

Rating: PG

Classic 1845 novel offers a powerful indictment of the dehumanizing effects of mid-19th-century industrialization. Thomas Gradgrind raises his children, Tom and Louisa, in a sterile atmosphere of strict practicality. With no guiding principles, the young Gradgrinds sink into lives of desperation and despair, played out against the grim backdrop of Coketown, a wretched industrial community.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens is an interesting book. It has an interesting concept, and it is overall a good read if you are looking for a lesser-known classic.

Writing: 4/5
The writing of the book is wordy and a little difficult to get through, as are all Dickens books. No typographical errors were noticed, however, there may be some I didn't notice. Descriptions were good, just enough to give the reader a clear picture of what the thing described looks like, and not too much to be burdensome. The story itself was told well, and the dialogue was clear, if a little lengthy at times.

Setting: 5/5
The setting was a small industrial town in London during the 19th century. It was well done and believable. Very vivid.

Plot: 5/5
The plot was well-done. There were no holes or inconsistencies. While it wasn't exactly a happily-ever-after ending, it was fairly satisfactory. The plot was not too drawn-out. Very thought-out.

Character Development: 5/5
The characters were well-developed. None of them were flat and they each had their own personality, along with that Dickens charm that makes his books so popular even today.

I enjoyed this book despite the hard writing style. I think this would make a good classic read.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: Third Starlighter

Third Starlighter by Bryan Davis

Recommended for: 16 and up (interest level)

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and graphic injuries and medical procedures)

In this second book of the Tales of Starlight series, Adrian Masters journeys into the wilderness of the dragon planet of Starlight in search of his brother Frederick. Carrying the comatose body of Marcelle, he has to find medical help for her, but the slave master dragons will kill him on sight if he comes out of hiding.

Adrian believes Frederick has set up a wilderness refuge for escaped slaves, so he hopes to join Frederick and devise a plan to rescue the humans enslaved on Starlight. Since Adrian cannot leave Marcelle alone, her nearly lifeless body becomes an anchor, both physically and emotionally as he has to decide to care for her or attempt to rescue the slaves.

Adrian has no idea that Marcelle’s spirit has left her body and has traveled to their home planet in search of military help to rescue the slaves. She is able to materialize there in a temporary body that looks corpselike and feels icy cold. Because of her appearance, Governor Orion persecutes her as a sorceress and sentences her to burn at the stake.

This sequel to
Masters & Slayers is filled with excitement, twists and turns, and thought-provoking dilemmas, which will keep readers turning the pages. 

 Third Starlighter by Bryan Davis is an exciting story that follows two main characters as they try to find a way to free the slaves of Starlight. This fantasy story is different from most, because the characters travel from one fantasy world to another fantasy world.There are also unique things about this story, such as dragons that breathe ice.    

Writing: 4/5
This book is written in a fast-paced manner that puts you into the story. The geographical descriptions  are confusing, but he describes injuries very vividly. He also doesn't describe some of the main characters very much.

The book is set on two different fantasy worlds: Major Four (aka Darksphere) and Starlight (aka Dracon). Major Four and Starlight are both well developed and both have distinct cultures. You get to see how Major Four's government works and what kind of place the main characters are from. In this book you don't get to see much of the inhabited part of Starlight.

The story follows two characters, Adrian and Marcelle. The part about Marcelle was good and was interesting as it showed her struggle through obstacles to meet her goal. Adrian's part was interesting and exciting, but he did not have one main goal that he was trying to accomplish. I liked how you get to learn about the worlds' pasts.

Character Development:4/5
The characters were well developed and each character is unique, even the dragons. You get to know many of the new characters that are introduced in Third Starlighter. Some of the characters from the first book are in it but not focused on, and you don't get to know one character that comes in towards the end very well. 

I enjoyed reading this book. It was interesting and kept my attention, and I would recommend this book for teenagers and adults.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Book Review: The Pirate Daughter's Promise

The Pirate Daughter's Promise by Molly Evangeline

Recommended for: All Ages

Rating: PG for mild action violence

Orphaned at a young age, Skylar McHenry grew up as little more than a servant and shunned by everyone around her because of her reputation as a pirate's daughter. Each day Skye faces is marked by some new struggle. Her only hope is to rely on her heavenly Father's care and comfort and the solace of her best friend, Will, who has become more than dear to her.

Just when an unexpected encounter gives Skye a small glimmer of hope that things might change in her favor, her world is shattered. She is awakened in the night by cannon blasts. Pirates storm the orphanage, drag her away, and force her aboard their ship. The cruel captain's intentions are clear. He will extract from her, through any means necessary, the location of the treasure hidden by her father. For Skye to divulge the location would mean breaking the last promise she made to him. She's certain she never will, but what happens when the lives of those dearest to her are at stake?

The Pirate Daughter's Promise is full of daring high seas adventure; sweet, wholesome romance, surprising discoveries, unlikely new friends, and the rewards of trusting in God even when life seems impossible.

The Pirate Daughter's Promise
by Molly Evangeline is a good, clean, Christian book that is about pirates. Unlike most stories about pirates, it does not paint the pirates as the good guys. I liked this. It is refreshing to read a book with high-sea adventure, pirates, and action where the bad is not glorified as good. The book also had some romance, but it was clean and God-honoring romance, which was also refreshing.

Writing: 4/5

The writing in this book was fairly well done. There wasn't anything to detract from the story, but it wasn't as good as later books show this author can be. The words flowed well, and there was no unnecessary wordiness or too-flowery description (that I can remember). There were a few typographical errors, but that is to be expected in any book.

Setting: 5/5

This book was set in the early 1700s in the Caribbean Sea. The setting was believable, and the author obviously did her research. The majority of the story was on board various ships. The setting was well-done and consistent, and enough was left to the reader's imagination to satisfy the most imaginative reader.

Plot: 5/5

The plot. Wonderful. Exciting. And mainly character-driven. It was original, there was some action, and the pirates weren't the good guys! (Can I emphasize how much I loved that little bit?) The plot didn't seem to drag, it didn't seem forced, and while a teeny bit predictable, still very enjoyable.

Character Development: 5/5

The character development was also well-done. They were easy to get into and the emotions were strong. The more minor characters had their own stories, and all of the supporting cast was well-rounded and not flat. The good characters were a little too good, but I enjoyed them anyways. Over all, the characters were well done.

I enjoyed this book very much. It is a good size, not too long for younger readers, and well-formatted. This book would be good to read by yourself or as a family. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages.