May 29, 2010

By Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson (Blood of Kings Series, book 1)

It’s been a long time since I picked up a book I couldn’t put down. In short, this book drew me in, left me craving more, made me feel more a part of the world of Er’Rets than Earth…so I bought book 2.

In, By Darkness Hid, Jill Williamson weaves a brilliant plot following two main characters, Achan and Vrell, as they unearth the mystery of “bloodvoicing”, fight for their lives and beliefs, and discover the true and only God, Arman.

The story starts with Achan, a stray who boy works in the kitchens. Having no parents, no rank, and a shameful brand marking his low status, his life takes the first of many steps of change when he meets a Kingsguard knight, Sir Gavin. Sir Gavin trains Achan who discovers bloodvoicing—-a type of communication taking place between minds—though he does not accept or understand it until later.

Three chapters in, the point of view switches to another bloodvoicer, Vrell, a high-ranking girl masquerading as a stray boy to escape an undesired marriage. When her plan takes an unexpected turn, she finds herself on a long and trying journey to a strange “master” who only wants to increase her bloodvoicing skills for selfish reasons. The book jumps back and forth by chapter from Achan and Vrell, giving the reader an equal and satisfying dose of both, while keeping the storyline moving.

Achan and Vrell are thrown together, forming a connection that winds their paths in a way they never expected. Achan is confused about Arman (God), whereas Vrell has a passion for Arman and seeks to spread the truth. Through their interactions and time spent in their minds, the reader learns more about the true God through the character’s eyes, which is applicable to every Christian’s life.

When starting By Darkness Hid, I felt slightly overwhelmed by all the different names of people and places, but as the story progressed, I eventually got them straight (thanks to the Williamson’s repetition and reminders).
The writing is very descriptive and I am pleased to say is far above many secular fantasy novels I have read. As critical as I am, there is very little criticism to give. It’s...refreshing to see this quality of writing and storytelling in the Christian market. It’s just what young readers need.

I would put this novel in the teen/young adult and up age group. Many sparring matches and battles take place, bringing with them picture-painting (but not gruesome) descriptions appropriate for slightly older readers. The writing is realistic, but not crude, and the characters are compelling and easy to relate to. Achan is sarcastic and witty. I laughed often at his humor.

Williamson wraps up the first novel beautifully, leaving the reader surprised, excited, and anxious for more, but with a good conclusion. I highly recommend not only reading, By Darkness Hid, but buying it for author support (click on title above to link to Amazon), for good reading, and for a snazzy cover to lighten up your bookshelf and make your other books jealous.

Violence Level: **** (clean, but still present)
Romance Level: **
Christian Focus: **** (builds toward second book)
Readability Level: ***
Story Depth Level: *****
Recommendation: ***** (yes!)

For a more detailed explanation of the above ratings, visit the 6-Point Nutshell post.

May 21, 2010

Raider's Ransom, by Emily Diamand

Lilly Melkun is the one of two main characters from Emily Diamand’s Raider’s Ransom. She’s smart, caring, and has determination that will rival any adventurer on the shelf.

The story takes place in the futuristic year of 2216 in Britain. A “Great Collapse” several years previous threw Britain underwater and forced the inhabitants to start a new way of life. Electricity, electronics, motorized vehicles, etc. disappeared, not only from Great Britain, but from people’s memories. Now electronics are a thing of the past, a thing of mystery, and Lilly lives in a poor, simple fishing town (the new occupation). She sails her own tiny boat with the help of her seacat, “Cat”, fishing along with the workingmen.

The trouble starts when raiders invade and kidnap the minister’s daughter, hoping for the ransom of a great jewel supposedly hidden in the town. Lilly chooses to try and rescue the little girl to save her village from the rage of the minister. On her journey, she receives the “jewel” as a gift and it's actually a remaining, high-functioning gaming device. During her travels, she also meets Zeph, the son of the raider chief. They form a friendship that, after many twists, turns, and accusations of deceit, transforms into faithful devotion and protection on both sides.

I called this book a success when I finished it, though I would limit it to ages 10+ (or even early teens and up), only because it does have serious and intense moments such as when Lilly encounters the pirates and they tie her to a rotating wheel while throwing knives at her

The book focuses on the faithfulness of friendship, discovering the ins and outs of new cultures, and fighting for what you believe is right. There is no reference through the book of God or any religions for that matter, but for a secular fantasy novel it is well written (though it switches between two first-person characters, which was a little confusing at first), very imaginative, and packed with adventure that truly kept me turning the pages.

I enjoyed it, and if you have a few days free of chores, homework, or other duties equally as unpleasant, I suggest reading Raiders' Ransom by the fireside with a cup of hot cocoa and fuzzy socks.

My Ratings:
Violence Level: **
Romance Level: * (just friendship)
Christian Focus: *
Readability Level: ** (easy reading; appropriate for age group)
Story Depth Level: ***
Recommendation: **** (Definite recommendation)

For a more detailed explanation of the above ratings, go here!

May 19, 2010

Request a Book!

Though I intended to mention this earlier, if you have a book in mind that you wish to review, send me a comment or e-mail. Chances are, I've already read it or it is on my list. There is no point in waiting for me to get to it, I might as well write up a review when you need it! Just remember that my targeted genre is young adult, teen, and children speculative fiction (speculative fiction is all the weird stuff--fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, dystopian, etc).

Also, if you have read books in this genre or age-group that you really loved (or really hated), please tell me about them! I'm still broadening my searches and it is good to know what you like and what you don't.

Feel free to post as many requests or comments as you'd like. It helps me serve you and serve the Lord better. :)

The Twilight Saga, by Stephanie Meyer

Where to start?

I had difficulty with this question, partly because there are so many books with which to begin the first leg of this blog journey. Questions concerning hundreds of books swirl unnoticed daily, but one question I have heard several times from both adults and young readers is, “What is Twilight about?”

The Twilight Saga is popular with some, but others say it’s evil; the movies are a hit, but some parents refuse to allow their child to watch them. Why? Because of rumors? Doubts? Worries? Because of the mystery of the unknown?

My 14-year-old sister asked me about the Twilight series. Her friends asked my opinion. And now it’s time I share it with you.

Twilight is the first book in a series of four by young author, Stephanie Meyer. When I first picked it up, it captivated my attention and I did not put it down until I turned the last page. I had watched the movie with my cousin and enjoyed it; the movie, I found, nearly quoted the book word for word and followed every plot twist, so it can be considered accurate in that respect.

The Twilight series revolves around the relationship between a human (Bella) and a vampire (Edward). To pull this off without death and bite-marks around every corner, Stephanie Meyer “tweaks” the history of vampires. In Dracula and old vampire movies, the bloodthirsty creatures do not go into the sunlight because they will die, but in Twilight, they avoid sunlight because their skin sparkles like diamonds and they don’t want to stand out. Meyer's vampires do not sleep in coffins and the main vampire family (the Cullens) strive to live their lives without biting human beings.
Bella (human) encounters Edward (vampire) at school and he is drawn to her because of a couple mystical reasons—-her smell and the fact she is the only human being who’s mind he is unable to read. And so begins the unlikely romance.

Stephanie Meyer has a very unique imagination and her ability to look at things in a different way adds great value to the success of her books. However, I believe the books portray an unhealthy relationship between a man and woman (vampire or not). Through the books, Edward is slightly overbearing, almost obsessing over Bella, and telling her (in many cases) what she may and may not do. Bella follows his every desire and even says she would rather lose her soul than to be without him. In the second book, New Moon, Edward leaves her in an attempt to protect her and she almost kills herself because of life without him.

As the books progress and Edward returns to her at the end of New Moon, a new focus on sex crops up. Bella desperately wants to take that step of intimacy, but Edward does not, only because of his fear of hurting her (being an all-powerful, rock-crushing vampire). In the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, they finally get married and the first several chapters focus solely on the honeymoon.

I think this is a questionable read for young girls for a two reasons:

1. It revolves around an unhealthy relationship. Though the story is unique and interesting in many ways, the “knight in shining armor” syndrome is woven through every word. Bella cannot survive without Edward, she is helpless, and Edward repeatedly appears at the perfect moment to rescue her from danger and death. This appeals greatly to females, but for young girls and teens who are still learning about life and relationships, the Twilight Saga presents a skewed picture (vampires aside). Unless young readers can read it without allowing it to affect their views of a relationship, I would suggest leaving it on the bookstore shelf.

2. It focuses on the “intimacy” factor a lot. Now, intimacy is not bad. Bella and Edward do get married before having sex, but after marriage, the focus on their actions together is a bit overdone. I found myself rolling my eyes and wishing some of the other beautiful sides of marriage were shown.

As stated earlier, Stephanie Meyers has a very remarkable imagination and developed a unique and captivating story. I enjoyed the first two books, but upon reaching the third, Eclipse, the story dragged. Her writing style is very simple and did not captivate me and, by the third book, the plot lost a bit of steam and felt monotonous. A love triangle blossomed between Bella, Edward, and Jacob (a friend who is part of a werewolf-type clan sworn to kill vampires and protect the people) and the plot took a tiny tiptoe forward.

Book four, Breaking Dawn, jammed three times as much plot in, keeping me much more interested, but the conclusion of the book fizzled out, leaving the reader feeling a bit deprived.

Breaking Dawn spent the last half training vampires to fight the “Volturi” (the top leaders of all the vampire world) who were coming to attack. When they finally arrived, no epic war took place, no huge battle; instead, they negotiated and the Volturi left...for the time being. This left the series open for a continuation, but I think it would have been better to wrap it up with a satisfying conclusion.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge the many questions concerning the fact this book is about vampires.

“Aren’t vampires anti-Christian?”

“Isn’t this just a book on evil?”

To tell the truth, I don’t know. I don’t know a lot about the history of vampires. In my own mind, I group vampires in a category with any legend or folklore creature—-werewolves, fairies, witches, mermaids, zombies, wizards, etc. Yes, they seem to be one of the darker creatures of myth, but I read about them with just that in mind—-they are myth. I do not believe they are real, I do not read them as if being real, and I suggest other readers do the same.

If there was a fine line for reading—-this is bad, that is good, this is evil, that is not—-then discerning between what books to read and what books to leave in boxes would be easy as pie. Readers need to build up their own discernment. They can’t let what someone tells them (including me) form their view on books. The key is to know what you believe, know your morals, and know why you hold those beliefs and morals. Then those will help you sort through good, bad, evil, and uplifting literature.

I believe parents should strive to teach their children why they believe these things so that the children can build up their own solid mindset before reading books; because, let’s face it, parents won’t be able to protect their child’s bookshelf their entire life. Eventually that bookworm son or daughter will have to make his or her own choices (the statement that haunts every parent, right?)

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

May we strive to do this through our reading and our writing, and may my blog help fellow readers to establish firm beliefs and morals concerning what literature and novels they choose to open.
If anyone has questions, opinions, or thoughts to add, please feel free! I want this to be a blog where we can discuss books, not just a blog where you read what I write and take it or leave it.

My Ratings:
Violence Level:  ****
Romance Level:  **** (highest in fourth book, Breaking Dawn)
Christian Focus: * (none)
Readability Level: ** (very easy reading)
Story Depth Level: ***
Recommendation: ** (Low)
For a more detailed explanation of the above ratings, go here!

May 18, 2010

My Purpose and Interest

Why would I start a blog? Do I need a reason? Why would anyone start a blog? Any purpose works--to share stories, for sanity's sake, to journal, to exchange recipes, to form a club, out of curiosity, etc.

My cause: to provide thorough reviews from a Christian point-of-view on teen and young adult speculative fiction literature both for parents and readers.

"Mom, what is Twilight about and can I read it?"
"Why do some people say Harry Potter is bad?"
"Is there a fun Christian fantasy to read?"

These are common questions I've heard parents try to answer.

"How do I know what to let my child read when I don't know what the books are about?"

This is a common question I've heard parents have to ask.

My prayer is that this blog, A Quest for Good Writing, will answer those questions for both young readers and their parents (or even old readers and their parents).

When entering bookstores as a child, I searched the Christian shelves for fun adventure novels to bring my imagination to life with every turn of the page. I succeeded a few times with John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress pulled from between two romance novels, or Tolkien's The Hobbit on the bottom shelf, but more often than not, I meandered to the secular section, disheartened by the lack of child-centered Christian writing. These secular shelves, though laden with fantasy, adventure, and new worlds, held a threat of danger behind their pages. With every turn, I risked encountering swear words, inappropriate violence, or morals that conflicted with my own. Though many of the books turned out to be decent and even inspiring, I craved soul-satisfying writing...with fantasy and adventure thrown in.

Now, a child no longer, I want to help parents, children, teens, and young adults read good writing with solid morals, or at least discern rewarding messages from harmful themes in current novels.

"Let each of you look out
not only for his own interests,
but also for the interest of others."

Philippians 2:4

I care about the interest of my fellow bookworms and believers (and then some!), and I pray that, just as Christian movie reviews help me choose a decent family film, my Christian book reviews will help you find an uplifting novel.