Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Merlin's Shadow

Merlin’s Shadow continues the imaginative reworking of Arthurian legend begun in Merlin’s Blade. While it makes no pretense of being a historical account, the cultural background of cultural structure adds depth and a fresh perspective to a familiar tale.  I especially appreciated the tension in Ganieda’s subplot; the author skillfully walks the line between the reader’s expectations and the girl’s devotion to her druid grandfather.
 I was especially impressed by the scenes where druidic powers are used. Magic powers are common in fantasy, but they are most often portrayed as inept or totally under the user’s control—scenarios where the magic overpowers the magician are rather rare in my reading experience, and increase the stakes. If no one knows what the magic can do, then it cannot be used to resolve situations without first making them worse.
Likewise, the conflict between the druids and the Christians avoids flanderizing both sides (though I know less about the Druids), and tries to include honorable characteristics in both leaders.  I also enjoyed seeing the knights of Arthur slowly gather. 
I’d recommend this book not only for YA readers, but also for anyone wanting a new approach to Arthurian legend. 

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

As a veteran of long-distance car trips ever since I can remember,  audio dramas have been a significant part of my life. We’d measure the six-hour drive to my grandparents’ house in Odyssey episodes (twelve episodes long), though I also gathered the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre adaptations of Narnia.
In the past few years, I’ve realized how amazing the format can be. I still own over a dozen Odyssey albums, as well as several Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, a few digital Big FInish albums, and a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neverwhere.
When I was in elementary and middle-school, there was a radio station that aired three or so hours of radio dramas on Saturday mornings. So I’d creep out of bed and listen to Children’s Bible Hour, Down Gilead Lane, Ranger Bill: Warrior of the Woodland,  Fables of Faith, A Visit with Mrs. G,  and some other ones I can’t remember. My favorite was Down Gilead Lane, a family drama much like Adventures in Odyssey, but on a lower budget.  
Once I started going to public school, I had less desire to get up early on Saturdays, but I kept listening to Odyssey and keeping up with Radio Theatre. Besides Narnia, I have or have heard At the Back of the North Wind, A Christmas Carol, The Screwtape Letters, Les Miserables, Dietrich Bonhoffer: The Cost of Freedom, and The Hiding Place. I remain particularly impressed with Screwtape, as they took the epistolary format and adapted it into conversations, with Andy Serkis as Screwtape. And it still feels exactly  like the Lewis I know and admire.
But my current audio fixation is the Big Finish line of Doctor Who adventures. Or, more accurately, the lines, as the company lists eighteen ranges under the Doctor Who tab itself, not counting various spinoffs focusing on characters (Sarah Jane Smith, Jago and Lightfoot), locations (Gallifrey) or villains (Cybermen, Davros).  Without the limits of a visual effects budget, settings are scattered across time and space. They also boast a higher diversity of companions than the main series, ranging from an Edwardian adventuress to a senior citizen professor. 
Even BBC Radio adaptations and original dramas offer high quality, with actors like Benedict Cumberbatch lending his voice to the Cabin Pressure series and the Neverwhere adaptation as the Angel Islington. The later is even available on iPlayer and accessible worldwide through the end of the year. 
While the genre may seem old-fashioned, audio dramas are amazing,and still a great way to spend a long drive.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The First (Doctor) this Face Saw

So, before my post (s?) about Time of the Doctor, I have to comment about familial reactions to my reactions.  Specifically, my mom’s reaction.
My younger brother and I were lying on his bed, watching Time of the Doctor on my laptop, lights off, propped up on pillows, and vocally responding every few seconds with cries of  ”The cracks!” “Trenzalore!” and most frequently “River should be here.” 
Then there were flashing lights. Hm? Was something odd going on with the screen? Oh, Mom was taking pictures. “Mooomm,” I muttered. What’s up with this?
Not to mention a few random comments. “Are you okay in there? What’s going on ?”
After I came out, she’s like “What was going on in there?”
"He grew old, he grew old and River wasn’t there, she should have been there."
"Who’s River?"
"His wife," *tone between laughter, tears, and snorts.
Since I graduated in December, I’m likely to be home for a while, and I’m trying to figure out how to explain the feels to her. Or if I even should. I sat her down for The Eleventh Hour , but she’s pretty much a stranger to Doctor Who and scifi in general.  
Should I even try to explain why Matt’s wig had me shouting “Put it back on, put it back on.” Or  why his mention of River had me punch the air.  Or the fish custard and Amy Pond…Amy, Amy, Amelia…Raggedy Man, goodbye.  
I have a feeling she’d keep looking at me like “and, why?” On the other hand, I do want her to have at least some idea why I’m shouting at the computer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Day of the Doctor

Time Lords of Gallifrey, Daleks of Skaro. I serve notice on you all. Too long I have stayed my hand. No more. Today you leave me no choice. Today this war will end. No more. No more.

I apologize for the delay--or would, if anyone else was reading this. But I've had homework and break and work and all sorts of other real life commitments. Even now, I really should be studying for my Shakespeare final....
Well, onwards. I will admit, I had my doubts about this episode, particularly regarding the return of Billie Piper as Rose, but Moffat totally pulled it off.  Furthermore, the return to the Time War--which I had firmly placed in the never-ever-see-because-impossible-to-portray--was absolutely, completely terrifying. Not just because of the Daleks or the explosions, but because of the children.
Given Eleven's love for children, and the emphasis the Moment puts on the children of Gallifrey...all those scenes of children in red robes, hiding in the rubble or dancing in the fields...yes. That's how you portray a war of that magnitude--by its impact on innocents.
Ten was a bit more of a womanizer than I'm used to, and some of Eleven's jabs were very mature for a family show, especially with regards to the Zygons.Just...ew.
Other interesting things: Baker reappearing at the end--regardless of who he was, that was epic.  And Osgood is so cool--like, she has a scarf and follows Kate around.
Actually, never mind, I can't think this all over right now.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Songs and tales fall utterly short: the Desolation of Smaug

“Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of the reality, O Smaug the Chiefest and greatest of Calamities.”
First of all, I am now convinced that Jackson is covertly borrowing from Unfinished Tales, as Gandalf and Thorin's meeting in Bree is not in The Hobbit proper, but as  "The Quest for Erebor" in the former. It's not entirely necessary, but it provides more information on Gandalf's goals.  As for the film proper, I was immensely pleased with Beorn's house. I wasn't sure how they'd manage the lighthearted tone, but it was wonderful.
As for Mirkwood and the spiders, I was pleased that they left the soundtrack low, as I had sat through Unexpected Journey less than an hour before and was rather over-run by the warg/orc fights.  Thranduil's palace was intriguing--did anyone else get distinct echoes of Menegroth from the First Age? After a quick web search, I learned that Thranduil was originally a Sindarin elf from Doriath, so it makes sense that he'd model his fortress and foreign policy (especially isolationism) after Thingol. However, Thingol had a Maia to wife--her power was the main reason the kingdom stood against Morgoth as long as it did. Without divine power on his side, Thranduil's not likely to be as fortunate.
And what was up with that weird flash of burned skin? I don't get it at all. Not to mention how extraordinarily creepy his interactions with Thorin were.
And for Tauriel...ah, Tauriel. I would have been fine with a female captain of the guard, even one with feelings for Legolas, but a love triangle with a Dwarf? Of four confirmed interspecies romances in Tolkien (only one of which is in the Fourth Age), three are female elf/male human and one is Maia/male elf. Only one does not end in tragedy. It only got worse with the healing of Kili--why does a Silvan elf get to do the magic healing-other-side thing? In The Fellowship of the Ring, Glorifindel 's power(whose role was taken by Arwen in the films) was explained by his having lived in the Blessed Realm, Valinor. The Silvan elves never made it to Valinor.
At least Laketown/Esgorath was good. If I had to explain it to someone, I'd say "Venice in Minnesota," which aligns with Dale's Mediterranean style. Bard was a good character, the setting was developed well, etc.
Gandalf and Radagast's quest was quite good--I really appreciate the White Council storyline. And I noticed  the word "sharku" in one of the Dol Guldur scenes--the Orcish word was the origin of Saruman's nickname Sharkey in the Scouring of the Shire chapter, so nice in-joke there. And the shot of Gandalf hanging in the cage--poor wizard.
The Lonely Mountain itself was very impressive. Taking into account the differences between film and literature,  the scenes were really good, but did they have to add the golden statue sequence?
When I left the theatre, I was 50/50, or even 70/30 against this film, but after taking some time to think about it, I think several of the changes are due to pacing/adaptation limits, but I still wish they hadn't made Tauriel a love interest or had the Dwarves make that huge statue.

Friday, December 6, 2013

There are too many people around and not enough friends.

Amish Vampires in Space

This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill.
Amish Vampires in Space exists. And it's exactly what it says on the cover. When their planet's sun enters its red-giant phase, an Amish colony must decide whether to accept the help of a spaceship to evacuate. But their troubles don't end after the decision is made...
This book began as a joke: Amish titles dominate the Christian publishing industry, while vampires are trending in secular markets, especially the YA subgenre. But despite the parodist elements, the novel has carefully developed characters. The author has considered how Amish pacifism would respond to vampires, as well as setting up conflict between the spaceship crew and the Amish. It also avoids the reverence of Amish culture common in many Christian novels while still treating them with respect.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rest Now~A writing thing

I'm not entirely sure what this is. Part eulogy for Matt Smith and Eleven, part allegory, and all feels. 

"Well , then," I swallow the lump in my throat. It's just my cold, just the slimy, disgusting leftovers of everything that doesn't clear up in two weeks. "I guess...it's just that...it's not fair!"  No one ever said life was fair--but if anyone brings up the truism, I'll punch him. Okay, glare sullenly. As a scrawny English major, I'm not much of a physical threat to anyone.
"I'll still be around. Stop by every now and then."
"It won't be the same. " No more late nights munching jammie dodgers or arguing if bow ties are cool. No more terrifying stores or amazing adventures. I grab the fleece throw off the couch and throw it around my shoulders. "I wish Amy and Rory were still around. Have you heard from River yet?"
"She'll turn up when she turns up."
"Spoilers!" we chime together.
"Clara will be there," he remarks.
"I'm not really fond of her yet."
"Give her time. Any of your friends coming?"
"No, just me." I sink onto the couch. He sits next to me, letting me lean on his shoulder.  "It...it just seems like more than three and a half years. All the places I've been, things I've learned, books I've read. Even with homework, stress, colds and roommates, college beats high school hollow. And now..."
I'm sniffling now, soon to slip into full-blown crying: ugly crying, with red eyes and drippy nose and a headache. "I'll have to be an adult. Get a full time job and pay rent and find new friends and buy $20 pots with lids and everything. I'm not ready."
"There's no point in being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes," he quotes himself. "It's not all bad. There are some good points too."
"Like what?"
I make a noise. "Not helping. Can you wait a few months? Just until I find a real job. Not five days after graduation."
"It's all lined up, I can't change it."
"Not coming." I drape the throw over my head and curl up into a ball.  The light filters through the red material, giving only vague outlines.  But the air is stuffy. "I was lying."

"It's time."
I can barely breath around the lump in my throat. And this time, I will admit that it's tears.  I want to beg him to stay, there's so much more we could see, but I can't speak. Would I? There's no turning back now--move into the future or embrace empty memories.
He smiles and is gone.

Monday, December 2, 2013

No Cape Required

As a fan of sci-fi, fantasy and graphic novels, this devotional caught my eye. Although it was a quick, easy read with a few good questions, I was disappointed by the superficial lessons and simplified story lines.   For example, Robin Hood is provided as an example of charity, while ignoring that Robin’s charity came from criminal gains.  Jake Sully is listed as “protecting others”, which is similar to the listed trait for Katniss. 
Another problem I have is some of the author’s sources. His chapter on Eustace is drawn entirely from the film adaptation, including quotes.  And for the Hunchback of Notre Dame, he refers to an old film very few people will have access too.

 While I can admire the author’s intentions, I did not find this book useful.  It might be useful for upper elementary children, but older kids would benefit more from reading the books or watching the movies mentioned for themselves.   Parents might  use this book to movies to watch, but the oversimplification annoyed me. Stories, while they may have good lessons, should not be boiled down to those lessons; students should be allowed to explore stories for themselves. Perhaps they’ll find something new that no one else did.

Friday, November 22, 2013

autumn thoughts

I need space. I need somewhere I can go, shut the door, and not have to worry about someone coming in to take a nap or wash dishes or practice a dubstep routine.  Instead, I'm sitting at the table in the end lounge, with people loudly walking by every five minutes and talking over my BBC Radio 4 extra streaming.

Why did I volunteer to work tonight? That makes every night from Weds to Sunday working, four hours each. Right, I wanted the money. Stupid fiscal motivations. It would be a bit better if I had a chance to get to Barnes and Noble to buy the latest Doctor Who magazine, but I don't have a car and I'm not even sure they have it at all.  Anyway, I'm tired and fed up with being stashed in a dorm like sardines.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dig /Overlooking the Troops / Trenzalore (a music tag)

I decided to play with some things. Plain text is my general shuffle, orange is my audiobook tracks, and blue is for soundtracks.

Are you male or female?
Cassabrie’s Song 
 Stone Cold Killer
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship/Pterodactyls

What do people feel when they are around you?
Christ in Me 
More than Meets the Eye
Merry Gejelh

Describe your current relationship
Oh Come all Ye Faithful
Last of the Nephilim Prolouge
Dr. Who, TV series theme

Where would you like to be right now?
March to the Scaffold
Epilogue (Luke Reports)
The Ring Goes South

What do you feel about love?
All about love
The TARDIS arrives
First Attack

What's your life like?
Bring it On 
The Underborn Reborn
The Chemical Castle

What would you wish for if you only had one wish?
One Toy Soldier 
The Prophetic Woe
Adrift in the TARDIS

Say something wise:
Hello to Goodbye 
And so, Sally, my brief career as a pirate queen was over
Blink (Suite)

If someone says "Is this okay. . ." You say?
Silver Lining
Welcome to Mercy

How would you describe yourself?
Getting Even 
It's a Repeating Pattern
A very unusual melody

How do you feel today?
Days of Elijah 
You're Awake
Together or Not at All

What is your life's purpose?
Silent Night
Pilgrim's Progress Revisted

What is your motto?
No Matter What 
Walter kicked at the snow.
Airthir the Ranger

What do your friends think of you?
Gotta Move 
You shouldn't be here, Lucie
Forth Eorlingas

What do you think of your parents?
You’ve Got Me 
Scouring in Glastonbury
Finale "Wicked"

What is 2+2?
Praise the Father, Praise the Son
The Price of Betrayal
Battle in the Sky

What is your life story?
His Great Love
A Tale of Two Daughters
Corridors and Fire Escapes

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Run in the Night
As we walked, the landscape slowly changed
Athelas and the Evenstar

What will you dance to at your wedding?
I heard the Bells on Christmas Day
The Huge Boat
Beneath Stonehenge

What will they play at your funeral?
Charred Bones
Cirith Ungol

What is your hobby/interest?
It’s been a long time 
Where is this Map?
Father's Day

What is your biggest fear?

Ne’oul Aih 
The two continued across the silent mountain.
Friends and Neighbors

What is your biggest secret?
The Spectral Promise

What do you think of your friends?
Watching Over You 
I'm Rather Busy Counting Blades
Ancient Bloodline of Kings

What will you re-post this as

Overlooking the Troops

Friday, November 15, 2013

Merlin's Blade

While Merlin is one of the most famous wizards of all time, few series focus on his childhood:  only T.A. Barron’s Young Merlin and Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave come to mind. The Merlin’s Spiral series by Robert Treskillard attempts to take a new approach to Merlin’s youth by combining the historical and fantasy elements of Merlin’s tale. 
Merlin is a young man growing up in post-Roman Britain, half-blind after a wolf attack several years ago.  Christianity has come to the isles, but the druids still linger.  When the druids come to his town, they bring a strange stone that has the power to turn copper coins into gold and blind people.  The stakes are further increased when the High King and many of his warriors are enthralled by the stone.
The characters were distinctive and interesting, with flaws that lead to realistic conflict. The struggle between druids and Christians was shown through the characters and their actions, instead of just debates. The story also had a good plot flow, following characters and providing a balance between intense fights and quieter scenes. I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

I was given a free print copy of this book by Thomas Nelson’s booksneeze program but was not obligated to write a positive review.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Goddess Tithe

The latest work by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Goddess Tithe takes readers back to events portrayed in Veiled Rose. Instead of merely expanding the story, the novella is told from a minor character's point of view, providing a greater insight into the world..
Although i haven't reread Veiled Rose for a long time, I found the novella to be fresh and invigorating. Another cool feature is the illustrations. It contains eight full page sketches. There's a perfect symmetry of text and illustrations. 
I was given a free copy in exchange for a review.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Change: How to Remain a Strong Leader during your Church’s Transition

I don’t like change, especially at church. Over the past two years, my home church has had both the senior and youth pastors resign; currently, we have an interim senior pastor and the youth pastor has returned on an interim basis at 80%.  So, when I saw Change: How to Remain a Strong Leader during your Church’s Transition by Janice Eliane Stinnett, I thought it might be worth reading.
As the title indicates, this book is aimed at church leaders, not lay people.  “Church leaders” includes positions other than pastors or elders—some of these lessons are also applicable to Sunday school teachers and other ministry volunteers. Therefore, this book also contains lessons on spiritual leadership in general, with certain principles of greater significance.
The author used many Scriptural references, but the formatting (at least in the ebook) was inconsistent.  Most passages were set off in quotation marks, but some were left as ordinary paragraphs. In the latter case, it sometimes felt that the author was merely providing passages without any insight or commentary.  While there were some good personal insights, the train of thought was difficult to follow in some places.  
Worth borrowing, but not buying

I received this book from Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wizards vs Aliens Thoughts

Despite the tragic origin of the CBBC show Wizards vs Aliens, I tried to give it a fair try during its first season. While the first season had some shaky stories, I was willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt, especially with the amount of world-building necessary, but I'm starting to doubt them.  This show seems much more heavily pitched at a young audience, with few to none of the touches that made SJA such a cross-audience show. 
One of the main flaws of the season premiere was heavy use of the Idiot Ball. Why didn't Tom just show Chloe his magic instead of merely insisting she couldn't go on TV? Why is a TV special considered ultimate proof of  magic, instead of something most people will say "oh, special effects?" 
Likewise,  the secondary characters fail to develop. Chloe may be realistic, in that she welcomes fame as most teenagers do, but she has few traits beyond that. In contrast,  a similar character in the SJA episode "The Madwoman in the Attic" has a friendship with one of the protagonists before the story opens and with another character during the story itself. 
Finally, any characters taken by the Necross are prematurely aged and never mentioned again.  It would be really neat to see one of them again and learn more about how it affected them. I mean, are they now biologically 50, 60? It feels really callous to just leave them. My vote would be for Mark from the series premiere, since he's played by Elisabeth Sladen's husband, but I'd be fine with Chloe or anyone else.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Reichenbach Problem

Conan Doyle is not Sherlock Holmes. And he's sick of people treating him that way.  He just wants to get away from it, but his vacation to Switzerland is off to a bad start when he picks up an accidental traveling companion . It only gets worse when someone at the hotel where he's staying is found dead in the mountains--why, of course he'll want to investigate!
This book, although historical fiction, is not based on an actual incident. I've only read one other series of real person fiction, and that was closer to fantasy than historical fiction. The author notes the fictional elements in the preface, but the story itself should make it clear to readers that this never happened.
The mystery was well-written, with interesting characters and a consistent tone, but there were some elements of a modern worldview that snuck in. Doyle (admittedly, against the normal mindset) dismisses homosexuality as a live-and-let-live issue, and his religious views are very palatable to modern readers, though the latter may be closer to the trope. Also, some modern terms such as "whirling dervish" appear. 
Overall, I think this novel is a decent read, but not historical realistic. 3/5

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Blessed Child

Ted Dekker is known for his intense fiction that focuses on spiritual truths, either in alternate realities (The Circle Trilogy) or realistic thrillers (Thr3e). Blessed Child has a more intimate plot and a smaller cast of characters used to good effect.
Ten-year-old Caleb has never seen the world outside the Ethiopian Orthodox monastery where he was raised, but when rebels attack, he is sent to safety with Caleb, a Peace Corps volunteer and Leah, a Red Cross nurse.  When Caleb heals a blind boy at a church service, he becomes the center of a media firestorm.
While I wouldn’t rank this among Dekker’s best works, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to be challenged in their views about spiritual gifts.  While the book may seem to glamourize displays of power, it also makes a point that healing hearts is just as significant.
This book really made me think about spiritual gifts and the power of God. As a an evangelical Christian, I have a certain amount of skepticism about gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, and other gifts associated with the more charismatic denominations.  While the Bible does tell us to “test spirits,” we also need to realize that God doesn’t always work in the ways we expect, and his power is beyond our imagining. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What's your favorite season (of television)?

I love autumn. The leaves fall to the ground and die and that reminds of my favorite BBC characters.
--tumblr post
Yes, it's that time of the year again. Despite lacking a TV, I've been watching a few shows, just to see how they go.

Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon)
Season two is receiving mixed reviews online, mostly due to romantic entanglements. I really enjoyed the previous show Avatar: The Last Airbender, but if twelve to sixteen-year-olds can win a 100-yr-long war with minimal adult support, older teens should be able to cope with civil unrest, especially with the mentor figures they have. Tenzin and his children are cute, but my problems with Korra really go back to her first words onscreen
 (after she Earthbends  a wall across the room and bending three elements at once.) 
I'm the Avatar. You gotta DEAL WITH IT!
Yeah, I'm not exactly a fan of that kind of attitude.

Agents of Shield (ABC)
 It's a sequel to the Avengers. With Agent Coulson. Enough said.

Once Upon a Time (ABC)
I quit season two after "Lacey," and a lot of the concerns I had are still there. But I'm willing to give it another try. The new villain has potential, though I hope all the family bickering comes to an end.

Waiting for:

Sherlock (BBC on PBS)
No air date known yet.

Wizards vs Aliens  (CBBC)
A spiritual successor to The Sarah Jane Adventures, this show struggled to find its feet, but there were some good characters and funny moments, so I have high hopes for season two.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (ABC)
Maybe the spinoff format will help keep the sprawling characters in check.

Watching on DVD

Warehouse 13
Kinda cool, acknowledges that people exist between California and DC.

Dresden Files
Didn't even finish one episode. Sorry, creepy monsters just work better as a book. The skinwalker just reminded me of the Slitheen.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fictional Feels

So, I've been reading all sorts of stories recently, basically because I don't have any time or transportation to go anywhere besides the library.  Just thought I'd share some of the highlights.
spoilers abound

Dresden Files, Small Favors

Micheal asking Harry about the blasting rod.  To put this in context, Harry's a wizard- for-hire, a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor, the guy everyone calls for help when weird stuff goes down.  Micheal, on the other hand, is a Knight of the Cross, married with several kids, who goes around slaying monsters with Excalibur. He's also one of the few friends Harry has. At this point, Harry's struggling the shadow of a fallen angel, fighting against the originals of the Billy Goats Gruff, and other various sources.
Harry, where is your blasting rod?
Someone had been messing with his head. When Micheal prays for him, the memory block is lifted. It's just amazing how much Harry respects Micheal, how powerful Micheal is.  Micheal is one of the few people who helps Harry more than the other way around. And Micheal trusts Harry, not foolishly, but out of character, which is more than Harry often grants himself.

The ending of Cubs of Toyland (Fables)

And every bit tasted like dust and ashes in her mouth. 
It's one of those horrible plot twists, a place of  toys and wonders that ends up being a nightmare. And the consequences. There's no getting out of it. The pacing and imagery...you know the survivor is going to live with the guilt for a long, long time.  Not just her guilt, but the impact on her family...oh, man...

The Map Across Time by C.S. Lakin

 In contrast to many fairy tales and their emphasis on romantic relationships, this story focuses on the bond between a brother and sister. It's also delicious timey-whimey and multiple-choice timeline full.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cover Reveal: Goddess Tithe

“And what do you make of him yourself?”
Munny dared glance his captain’s way and was relieved when his eyes met only a stern and rigid back. “I’m not sure, Captain,” he said. “I think he’s afraid. But not of . . .”
“Not of the goddess?” the Captain finished for him. And with these words he turned upon Munny, his eyes so full of secrets it was nearly overwhelming. Munny froze, his fingers just touching but not daring to take up a small teapot of fragile work.
The Captain looked at him, studying his small frame up and down. “No,” he said, “I believe you are right. Leonard the Clown does not fear Risafeth. I believe he is unaware of his near peril at her will, suffering as he does under a peril nearer still.”
 Munny made neither answer nor any move.
“We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly, won’t we, Munny?” the Captain said. But he did not speak as though he expected an answer, so again Munny offered none. “We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly and there let him choose his own dark future.”
“I hope—” Munny began.
But he was interrupted by a sudden commotion on deck. First a rising murmur of voices, then many shouts, inarticulate in cacophony. But a pounding at the cabin door accompanied Sur Agung’s voice bellowing, “Captain, you’d best come see this!”
The Captain’s eyes widened a moment and still did not break gaze with Munny’s. “We’ll keep him safe,” he repeated. Then he turned and was gone, leaving the door open.
Munny put down the pot he held and scurried after. The deck was alive with hands, even those who were off watch, crawling up from the hatches and crowding the rails on the port side. They parted way for the Captain to pass through, but when Munny tried to follow, they closed in again, blocking him as solidly as a brick wall.
“Look! Look!” Munny heard voices crying.
“It’s a sign!”
“She’s warning us!”
“It’s a sign, I tell you!”
Fearing he knew not what, Munny ran for the center mast and climbed partway up, using the handholds and footholds with unconscious confidence. Soon he was high enough to see over the heads of the gathered crew, out into the blue waters of the ocean. And he saw them.
 They were water birds. Big white albatrosses, smaller seagulls, heavy cormorants, even deep-throated pelicans and sleek, black-faced terns. These and many more, hundreds of them, none of which should be seen this far out to sea.
They were all dead. Floating in a great mass.
Munny clung to the mast, pressing his cheek against its wood. The shouts of the frightened sailors below faded away, drowned out by the desolation of that sight. Death, reeking death, a sad flotilla upon the waves.
“I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Munny looked down to where Leonard clung to the mast just beneath him, staring wide-eyed out at the waves. “How could this have happened? Were they sick? Caught in a sudden gale? Are they tangled in fishing nets?”
There was no fear in his voice. Not like in the voices of the sailors. He did not understand. He did not realize. It wasn’t his fault, Munny told himself.
But it was.

As a great fan of Anne Elisabeth Stengl's work, I am excited to be part of the Goddess Tithe cover reveal.  This novella, to be released this fall,  returns to some familiar characters and introduces new ones.  

The Vengeful Goddess Demands Her Tithe

 When a stowaway is discovered aboard the merchant ship Kulap Kanya, Munny, a cabin boy on his first voyage, knows what must be done. All stowaways are sacrificed to Risafeth, the evil goddess of the sea. Such is her right, and the Kulap Kanya's only hope to return safely home.
Yet, to the horror of his crew, Captain Sunan vows to protect the stowaway, a foreigner in clown's garb. A curse falls upon the ship and all who sail with her, for Risafeth will stop at nothing to claim her tithe.Will Munny find the courage to trust his captain and to protect the strange clown who has become his friend? 
 I had the fun of designing this cover—finding reference photos, inventing the composition, applying the text, etc.—but the actual artistic work was done by talented cover artist Phatpuppy (www.phatpuppyart.com), whose work I have admired for many years. It was such a thrill for me to contact and commission this artist to create a look for Goddess Tithe that is reminiscent of the original novels but has a style and drama all its own.
 The boy on the front was quite a find. I hunted high and low for an image of a boy the right age, the right look, with the right expression on his face. Phatpuppy and I worked with a different model through most of the cover development stage. But then I happened upon this image, and both she and I were delighted with his blend of youth, stubbornness, and strength of character! It wasn’t difficult to switch the original boy for this young man. He simply is Munny, and this cover is a perfect window into the world of my story.
 You can’t see it here, but the wrap-around back cover for the print copy contains some of the prettiest work . . . including quite a scary sea monster! Possibly my favorite detail is the inclusion of the ghostly white flowers framing the outer edge. These are an important symbol in the story itself, and when Phatpuppy sent me the first mock-up cover with these included, I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement!

The cover isn't the only exciting part. For the first time, the story will include illustrations; a total of eight full-page images. 

 This is the first one in the book. I decided to share it with all of you since it depicts my young hero, Munny the cabin boy, under the watchful eye of his mentor, the old sailor Tu Pich. Munny is on his first voyage, and he is determined to learn all there is to know about a life at sea as quickly as possible. Thus we see him utterly intent upon the knot he is learning to tie. Tu Pich is old enough to know that no sailor will ever learn all there is to know about the sea. Thus he looks on, grave, caring, and perhaps a little sad. He might be looking upon his own younger self of many years ago, fumbling through the hundreds of difficult knots his fingers must learn to tie with unconscious ease.
I enjoyed creating all the illustrations for Goddess Tithe, but this one was my favorite. I love the contrasts of light and dark, the contrasts of young and old . . . youthful intensity versus the perspective of age.

Read the first chapter here.

Author Bio:
Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, including Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, and Dragonwitch. Heartless and Veiled Rose have each been honored with a Christy Award, and Starflowerwas voted winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.


I am offering two proof copies of Goddess Tithe as prizes! U.S. and Canada only, please. To include the giveaway in your feature, get the Rafflecopter widget here:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Praise Chapel Notes

For most people at my school, praise chapel is their favorite one of the week. It's certainly the most interactive, with student worship teams leading the auditorium in songs. 
But I can't worship in that setting. I'm sure all the worship teams have good intentions, but I can barely focus, let alone worship. There are several reasons for this:
1. The room is completely dark. I know there are good reasons for this, but between my glasses, the sloped floor, and the dark, I get slightly dizzy when I try to stand up.
2. The backgrounds for the lyrics move. Why can't they just pick one simple, pleasing picture and leave the words on that, instead of choosing an image that bubbles like a lava lamp or shows clouds passing over a cityscape?
3. Of, say, eight songs, 2 will be ones I am familiar with. The rest are either completely new or ones I have only heard in other praise chapels. 
4. This is my biggest problem: IT'S SO LOUD!
Sometimes the bass is turned so high that it feels like a heartbeat filling the air. Even hymns are given the amped-up treatment with electric guitar and drums and goodness knows what else.   It feels more like a concert than worship.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

And if you had not loved me first, I would refuse you still

I’ve said before and will say again, I love the Doctor and River, I love everything about them, but there’s something special about Let’s Kill Hitler. In some ways, I think it shows his love for her better than any other episode.
From the Library onwards, (for him). she knew him, more than that, she was secure in her relationship with him. It didn’t matter if he knew it or not, she did, and that was enough for her. You don’t see River analyzing their relationship or second-guessing her behavior. She just flirts with him and pushes all his buttons. 
At first, it seems Berlin is more of the same. Okay, she shoots the TARDIS, but hey, high spirits. And then 
: It was never going to be a gun for you, Doctor. The man of peace who understands every kind of warfare, except, perhaps, the cruellest. Kiss kiss.
She’s not just killing him—she’s mocking him. Yes, she gave him a royal scolding at the end of GMGTW, but she was serious then, she was trying to warn him about certain tendencies that could get him in trouble. Instead, she’s calling him a hypocrite, a criminal, heartless with no concept of love. 
I was born to kill the Doctor
The Doctor sends Amy and Rory to follow her and staggers into the TARDIS.  When he learns about the poison, he factually responds
better regenerate then
Even when informed that he can’t, his reaction is quite interesting, especially if you consider Ten’s panicked reaction to death in Stolen Earth and End of Time.  Ten tried to hold out as long as possible, even lashing out at Wilf. 
Eleven, on the other hand, is all business. His primary objection?
River needs me. She’s only just beginning. I can’t die now. 
Not one word about fair or unfair, nothing about timelines being rewritten.  He has to take care of River. Sure, she seems to have things under control, but it’s a self-destructive path: how long do you think she’ll last in the middle of Nazi Berlin at this rate?
But the part that really chokes me up is the Tesselecta scene. I’ve already written about it here. Not only does he defend her, but he boils it down to one simple question.  Yes, she is/will/has killed him (not yet, by fixed points.)  Sure, she’s been brainwashed.  Yes, she’s the daughter of his best friends. But he doesn’t defend her on any of those grounds.
"According to records, the woman who kills the Doctor."
And I’m the Doctor. So what’s it to you?
If you look at other places—Power of Three,  Bells of St. John—it’s clear what he’s doing here. This is a giant UNDER MY PROTECTION sign, no explanation necessary.  Nothing else matters.
And later, when he leaves her the message and she realizes who she is—who River is, because at this point they’re different people—I love imagining what she must have thought at that point, because I don’t think she’d known that sort of love before. Madame Kovarian and the Silents weren’t the caring sort, Amy and Rory were nice but they weren’t her parents yet and couldn’t protect her.  
He can protect her. He did.  What she did wasn’t even mentioned. 
But even then, he’s still giving her a choice. He didn’t tell her that she could save him. He didn’t even hint. He flat-out lied,knowing he could die for real.  She wasn’t indebted to him unless she chose to be. 
That’s real, true love.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Summer Reading Highlights

Best Audio Drama: The Blackgaard Chronicles
This Adventures in Odyssey album collects all the episodes of the Blackgaard Saga in one album. Because I was too young to listen to the episodes when they originally aired, it was amazing to hear them. Oh, these are classics. Plus, it totally, completely confirmed my theory that Blackgaard is a Time Lord. He even offered to show Aubrey the Time Vortex in one episode!

Best Standalone Fantasy:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“I liked myths. They weren't adult stories and they weren't children's stories. They were better than that. They just were.” 
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the latest Neil Gaiman work, was absolutely beautiful. I loved the fairy-tale atmosphere and mysterious setting. It may be classified as a novella, but it just left me feeling like I'd gotten inside something so much bigger and bigger than I am.

Best Familiar Reread : Dragons in Our Midst/Oracles of Fire/Children of the Bard
I  read all of Bryan Davis's anthrozil books in about a week, partially because it had been a while since I had read them and also because I felt like I was reuniting with old friends. Oh, I was watching them grow and mature and suffer all over again--especially the latter, they do that a lot! And by the time I got caught up with Children of the Bard, I felt nostalgic for the old days, when you only had to worry about your principal trying to kill you, not angels who wanted a situation where death was impossible.

Best Newly Discovered Series: The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica 
Oh, man....this is good. This is really, really good. When Jack, John, and Charles happen to arrive at an Oxford's facility office, it's an interesting coincidence--but when the man they came to see is dead, then things get really, really interesting. '
There's so much I want to say, but I can't because all the punchlines come in with the surnames. Anyway, READ IT!

Best Media Tie-In: Shada

 There are at least three versions of Shada, and this one is the most complete. It's based on the original Douglas Adams script, with lots of continuity nods to the new series.  
This story was originally meant to be a season seventeen episode, with Four and Romana, but a writer's strike left the filming unfinished. It was released in 1992 as a clip-and-narration production, a  Big Finish audio with Eight, and finally this 2012 novel based on the final script.

Best Poetry: The Fall of Arthur
Okay, I wanted to put this one under "Best Posthumous Author", aka Best Book by a Dead Guy, but A. that seems rather ridiculous. B. Shada also qualifies.
Seriously, Tolkien had more books published after his death than he ever finished alive; thank you Christopher Tolkien!
But it's a really interesting poem--perhaps not as good as  Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun--but the atmosphere is really, properly English, and I'm always up for more Arthurian legends.

Best New Book in a Series: Dragonwitch
I absolutely adore Stengl's writings. I actually received a free copy of this book as part of the blog tour, but it didn't arrive until the last week of July when I was busy with VBS. Then I was at camp for most of August and didn't have time to type up a review.
This book goes back to the past of Goldstone Wood, the world of Imrelda and other legends. I was slightly confused by the reappearance of the Dragonwitch, but after thinking it over, it made more sense. I think I'm prone to confusing the Dragonwitch with the Bane of Corriland. In any case, I love this series and highly recommend it. Reviews of the books are available on Quasars and Feathers.

Best New Author:  City of A Thousand Dolls
New authors can be hard to learn about, but Miriam Forster's debut novel is excellent. She manages to create a wonderful, complex world that feels fresh. She draws from Asian cultures to make a distinctive culture and setting,
The title location is a refuge of sorts for abandoned girls, who are brought up in one of the Houses and trained for service of various sorts.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thrice-Told Tales: Follow the Yellow Brick Road

As someone told me latelyEveryone deserves the chance to fly
Much like Alice in Wonderland,  The Wizard of Oz is a classic story that has grown and changed through many adaptations: from the original L. Baum book to the hit Broadway musical.  One of my favorite sites, Speculative Faith, has done a series on the changing story. But I'll focus primarily on two other adaptations, as the original is fairly well-known.
 The musically, loosely based on Maguire's novel, takes a lighter tone, portraying the Wicked Witch of the West as a misunderstood rebel, a young woman with a tragic past and a genuine desire to help the folk of Oz . I actually saw it performed in London and was greatly impressed by the special effects. While I was concerned about having a villain protagonist, I thought the show managed to maintain a moral code, if not a Christian one.

On the opposite end of things, "The Great Wishy Woz" is a two-part Adventures in Odyssey serial parodying the normal story, with Metal Guy, Mystic Mountain Lion, and Manny Kin played by familar voices.  It contains four short songs, but my favorite part is the ending, which subverts the traditional ba-humbug wizard while still having a fraud.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce Namesake, a webcomic that plays with several stories I've already mentioned here, including Alice and the concept of metafiction.  The main character, Emma Crewe, finds herself inside the Wizard of Oz , years after the original Dorothy. I won't say too much more to avoid spoilers (And because I'm about three months behind).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Death on Lindisfarne

This book, the sequel to The Hunted Hare, is the second in Fay Sampson's Aidan Mysteries. While mysteries are not my favorite genre, I love the author's blending of Celtic history, Irish scenery, and modern mysteries. In fact, it sometimes feels like I'm taking a vacation to these locations, without the inconvenience of long flights, poor weather, and traffic.
While The Hunted Hare was told through the eyes of Aidan and his wife Jenny,  Death on Lindisfarne uses multiple points of view. While this can be useful, I feel it is a mistake to use more than two points of view in a mystery novel, as the reader learns more than an one character knows on his or her own.  However, as the author generally stuck to Aidan and the group leader,  I feel the possible damages were limited.
While I am looking forward to any further books in this series, I also think there's a limit on how many murders one individual can stumble onto without breaking suspension of disbelief. I'm hoping to see some theft or missing persons cases, just to mix things up a little.

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions

Last night, I stumbled back to my dorm after an eight to midnight shift, wondering how on earth I was going to get myself out of bed for my 7:50 science class. I was tired. I was hot. I had a sore throat.  Honestly, I just wanted to curl up in bed and sob. Raw emotion? If I was steak, I’d still be mooing. 
I know I have a problem controlling my emotions. I can generally stuff them in for a while, but eventually the smallest thing can set them off.  Although I haven’t read any of Lysa TerKuerst’s other books, this title jumped out to me as something I needed to read. Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions? Yes please!
One of her main points is that emotions should be indicators, not dictators. Easy to say, but not always so easy to put into practice.  However, the author draws from examples in her own life to show how different patterns of reacting can be destructive.  She also acknowledges that people tend to react differently to different people,  so we should be aware of multiple behavioral patterns.
Another point that she brought up is the need to replace negative self-talk with the truth of God’s Word.  I know I tend to beat myself down, especially when I realize what I’ve done wrong .  It’s good to read reminders of these things, because I’m so bad at putting them into practice.

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Memory's Door

When I requested this book, I didn’t realize that it was the second in a series.  However, I managed to follow the characters and events fairly well.
Spiritual warfare is a difficult genre to write because of the fine line between speculation and accurate doctrine.   Since I have not studied the topic in any depth—and as a Baptist, I tend to be wary of such claims—I can only offer my opinion based on gut feelings. 
As fiction,  Memory’s Door  is interesting. As doctrine…that’s where things get fuzzy. The “opposing side” was realistically portrayed—they were given enough points to be sympathetic, but enough flaws to be realistic opponents.  However, I’m not so sure the protagonists were accurate in their theology.   I can’t point out any particular flaws, but the general nature of fiction, especially speculative fiction, makes it hard to separate the two.
Perhaps I’d understand the theology better if I’d read the previous book. However, I did think that the showdown at the end of the book is well-written and plays with the reader’s expectations. While I was genre-savvy enough to recognize the trap,  it was still a believable threat.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review from Thomas Nelson’s booksneeze program.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Thrice-Told Tales: We’re All Mad Here

The story of  Alice in Wonderland is one of the early examples of Victorian literature directed at children. I didn't read it too many times when I was younger, but the crazy logic (or lack thereof) has given rise to all sorts of theories about the sanity of its author and audience. People also confuse the first book with events from the sequel, Through the Looking Glass.  I can't really testify one way or the other, but I will say that the Disney animated version crept me out  when I watched it.

The 2010 Tim Burton adaptation is even tripper. I mean, I don't exactly know what's going on, beside that 19-yr-old Alice is having a seriously weird day after refusing to marry some minor dignitary or royalty.  Depp always creeps me out anyway (his Willy Wonka was unsettling, and only part of that was the androgynous costume).

My personal favorite adaptation is The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. In this version, Alyss Heart barely escapes her aunt's invasion and ends up in our world.  There is also the companion Hatter M. graphic novels, beautifully illustrated stories of Hatter Milligan searching our world for Alyss. The Lewis Carroll novels, in this au, are garbled versions of the stories Alyss told a friend of her adopted family.