Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, was published in 1982 by Delacorte.
Jakkin is fifteen and a bond servant, which is little better than a slave. He labors for Master Sarkkhan in the dragon barns, tending to the beautiful beasts who are raised to fight in the pits. Jakkin’s only hope of freedom is to steal a hatchling, secretly train it as a fighter, and win gold enough to pay his way out of bondage. But does he know enough to train his dragon to become a true champion?
Clearly influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, Dragon’s Blood is a science-fiction/fantasy that didn’t turn out to be anything I was expecting when I picked it up. I thought it would be a fun dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon still makes me squeal in excitement); I was not expecting something akin to McCaffrey’s works. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing—it just caught me off guard.
I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, especially this kind, where strange terms and words are introduced and everything is described in detail—but sometimes not until midway through the book, where it seems strange. So I didn’t love Dragon’s Blood. I have nothing against Yolen’s worldbuilding or plot; there was some neat stuff at the end and as a whole the world made sense and the plot was pretty strong, though perhaps a bit rushed at the end. I simply don’t really like science fiction.
I can’t even say I dislike Dragon’s Blood for being such an obvious tribute/imitation of McCaffrey. I have read some of McCaffrey and liked it, but I had the same problems with it as I do with Dragon’s Blood. I like my dragons in fantasy, not science fiction. I like my worlds less meticulously and strangely described, or perhaps at least more smooth integrations of infodumping. This is a genre issue, not a particular issue with characters, world, etc. In fact, I didn’t even really dislike Dragon’s Blood at all—I just didn’t really love it.
Science fiction. It’s just not my thing.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some innuendo, breeding terminology.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
All dragons, he reminded himself with the conventional trainer’s wisdom, all dragons are feral, even though they have been domesticated for over two centuries. And especially dragons like Blood Brother.
As if hearing his name, Brother jerked his head up. Deep inside the black eyes there was an iridescent flicker, the sign of a fighter. Involuntarily Slakk stepped back. Errikkin stood his ground. Only Jakkin went forward, holding out a hand.
“Hush, hush, beauty,” he crooned, letting Brother sniff his hand. “It’s the baths for you.”
Disclaimer: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, by Bethany Turner, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Note: No back cover summary on this review, as the publisher prefers that reviewers not post it.
I’ve never experienced a book that started out mildly interesting and then quickly devolved into incredibly annoying quite like The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck. It started out a little bit intriguing and humorous, and then, right around the time Sarah ran into her pastor and fell in insta-love with the “lean, muscular” (of course, because they all are, because apparently that’s the only body type that exists) perfect man, it quickly became frustrating.
I appreciate that Turner is willing to address some things more openly than other Christian novels have done, but the amount of cringing I did while reading this book because of the ridiculous amount of attention spent on attraction and intimacy is more than I’ve ever cringed before. It’s almost the only thing they talk about, oftentimes in cheesy, cringe-worthy ways, and the whole relationship comes across as more of a physical attraction than anything else.
To add to the ridiculous amount of time spent on talking about sex (not explicitly, of course, but way more than I’m used to a Christian novel addressing it—again, props to Turner, but perhaps a more less in-your-face approach would have been better), we have the perfect pastor and perfect man Ben, of the “lean and muscular” build, who is flawless, always says the right things, and is about as interesting as my left shoe. Then we have the melodramatic plot, complete with “who’s the father of my baby?” drama, that ends with Ben being completely unconcerned that the church he’s pastoring is going under, leaving its congregation to find new places of worship, an event that’s literally almost shrugged off by the characters, when in real life something like that would be slightly more devastating, or at least difficult to adjust to.
Did I mention that all Ben and Sarah talk about are how much they want to get married so they can get around to having babies? And you might be thinking I’m exaggerating, and I am, a little, but they literally spend pages talking about it.
The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck has insta-love (my least favorite), the typical Christian-fiction love interest (lean, muscular, perfect, always says the right things), dialogue and conversation topics that would have been refreshing if they hadn’t been so prevalent and blunt (Christian fiction tends to avoid intimate language; Turner has way too much), and a plot that’s melodramatic and cliché. If Turner had been more original in her characters and in her plot, I think the book would have been vastly improved.
Warnings: Sex is mentioned a lot. Nothing explicit or necessarily in poor taste, though.
Disclaimer: Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity, by Chip Ingram, was provided by Baker Books. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Responding to the perception that Christians are prejudiced, anti-intellectual, and bigoted has become a greater challenge than ever before. The result is often intimidation, withdrawal, and even doubts among God’s people about what we really believe. Chip Ingram wants to change that. In Why I Believe, he gives compelling answers to questions about
the resurrection of Christ
the evidence of an afterlife
the accuracy and intellectual feasibility of the Bible
the debate between creation and evolution
the historicity of Jesus
His solid, biblical, logical answers will satisfy the honest doubts that every believer experiences, and will provide thoughtful arguments for those who are struggling with their faith, are curious about Christianity, or who honestly want to follow Jesus without checking their brains at the door.
I struggled for a long time as to what rating to give this book.
Finally, I decided to rate it how I normally rate books, which is roughly 40% related to the content of the book and 60% related to how I feel about the book while reading it.
Why I Believe’s content is great, for the most part. Ingram discusses basic reasons for the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, and the reliability of the Bible, while also briefly touching on the creation/evolution debate. It’s incredibly condensed, which I feel is a pity, because he only dedicates a few paragraphs to each point, whereas whole books can be, and have been, written about each of those points. As a result, it seems a little rushed. Ingram is hitting the highlights, but there’s not a lot of meat to the book.
I do wonder if this book adds anything to the apologetics table. It rehashes common apologetic arguments, arguments that have whole books dedicated to them as I mentioned above, and contributes nothing new or foundational. Ingram does make the book a little more personal, but it’s less of a “let me tell you my story” and more of an “I’m going to give you these points and then also give you a sermon.” As an intellectual, rational person, those parts of the books didn’t appeal to me. The juxtaposition between “here’s the evidence” and “here’s the sermon” was jarring, as well.
Why I Believe may appeal to people who want a more personal, sermon-y feel to a basic apologetics book, but it treads no new ground and condenses everything so much that it’s shockingly shallow in depth. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone interested in apologetics. I’d go with classics such as The Case for Christ or Mere Christianity instead, which deal with the subject much better.
Disclaimer: The Delusion, by Laura Gallier, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
By March of Owen Edmonds’s senior year, eleven students at Masonville High School have committed suicide. Amid the media frenzy and chaos, Owen tries to remain levelheaded—until he endures his own near-death experience and wakes to a distressing new reality: the people around him suddenly appear to be shackled and enslaved. Owen frantically seeks a cure for what he thinks are crazed hallucinations, but his delusions become even more sinister. An army of hideous, towering beings, unseen by anyone but Owen, are preying on his girlfriend and classmates, provoking them to self-destruction. Owen eventually arrives at a mind-bending conclusion: he’s not imagining the evil—everyone else is blind to its reality. He must warn and rescue those he loves…but this proves to be no simple mission. Will be h able to convince anyone to believe him before it’s too late?
I realized something while reading The Delusion. I realized that I really don’t like books that try to get metaphorical about Christian ideas/theology, because a lot of the time the metaphors are wildly inaccurate and/or downright silly.
The Delusion, which is a little bit like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in its spiritual warfare plot, relies heavily on metaphors as it sets up this world where monstrous gray oozing creatures feed off of people and incite them to do bad things. Besides reminding me of Peretti, the book also reminded me of John Bibee’s Spirit Flyer series, which also has descriptions of people being chained by shackles they can’t see.
I understand the premise of the story, or at least the premise Gallier is going for: there’s more going on in the material world than what we can see. Yet, the way Gallier presents it, with gray monsters and tall golden warriors (angels, I suppose), makes it seem more like some disturbing alternate reality. I’m not going to deny that the supernatural exists, but I find it difficult to believe that it looks anything like what Gallier describes it as.
“But, wait, you’re missing the point,” you might say. “It’s not meant to describe reality. It’s meant to be a metaphor, a way to describe things.” True, and I get that. But I balk at the point Gallier seems to be going for here, which is that evil is caused by possession, not human choice; that people are compelled to do bad things because some gray monster squelched into their body and took over their mind.
Yes, I know it’s a metaphor. Yes, I know Gallier is simply personifying emotion and doesn’t necessarily mean to indicate that humans are forced to do evil by demons, and if it was their choice they wouldn’t do it.
But I think it’s a clumsy metaphor.
Or, I simply don’t like this sort of book and my dislike of the genre is rubbing off on Gallier’s presentation.
In any case, The Delusion is mildly gripping and definitely creepy, which is good for the genre it is. I didn’t like the metaphorical mess that Gallier created, though, and most of the characters were so bland and one-dimensional that I’m struggling to even remember their names. Also, I found some of the scenarios unbelievable, and not the metaphor part, like when Owen gets beaten and then walks away like he had just been punched a couple of times. The Delusion was definitely not my type of book, but I can see it appealing to people who like this sort of supernatural thing.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi, was published in 2002 by Hyperion.
“Asta’s Son” is all he’s ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less – no home, no family, or possessions. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village. All the boy takes with him is a newly revealed name – Crispin – and his mother’s cross of lead.
I wasn’t all that impressed by Crispin: The Cross of Lead. It has a rich historical background, which lends itself well to the Newbery, but Crispin himself is an annoying protagonist and the plot is incredibly obvious. Bear was also a confusing character, in that the first moment we meet him he seems kind, then devolves into some sort of cruel master the next moment, then turns into a gruff man with a soft heart.
Avi clearly did his research with the setting, depicting the Middle Ages with particular emphasis on the influence of the Church as well as the feudal system and the call for reform. Perhaps that’s why I’m so disappointed at the plot, which seems clumsy and even a little obtuse. It’s a fine fit for the setting, I suppose, but the mechanics themselves are obvious, to the point where fifty pages in I already knew what was going to happen.
I also didn’t much like Crispin, especially towards the end of the book where he consistently refuses to listen to the adults around him and goes sneaking off three times in succession. The third time actually had me speaking out loud to my book, which is almost never a good sign (“Stop it, Crispin!”). I really don’t like rash protagonists. I suppose he’s a teenage boy, so of course he would do rash things, but that doesn’t make me like him any better.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead has that historical background that seems to attract Newbery Medals, but I wasn’t impressed with the plot or the main character. I actually didn’t mind Crispin at first, but once things started getting moving and he started doing really stupid things, I started getting annoyed. I also very quickly figured out the entire plot, due to the limited possibilities and obvious clues. Unlike another one of Avi’s books, I’m not fond of this one.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Asta’s son,” came Aycliffe’s voice, “in the name of Lord Furnival, you’re herewith charged with theft. Give way.”
I was too stunned to move.
“The boy’s a wolf’s head!” the steward shouted. “Slay him if you can.”
After the perilous adventure of The Hollow Bettle, the dark reign of the Nightshades is over at last, and a new day has arrived in Caux, a land long ruled by poison and deceit. The ancient Prophecy—the coming of a Noble Child to cure the one, true King—has finally begun. But fear still grips the people of Caux, for they live in the shadow of the powerful, poisonous Tasters’ Guild. Sequestered high within its corrupt walls sits Vidal Verjouce, the Guild’s diabolical Director, his dark magic more potent than ever. Eleven-year-old Ivy, famed healer and Noble Child, and her friend and taster Rowan must venture inside the Guild itself if they are to find the door to their sister world, Pimcaux-and fulfill the Prophecy. But a deadly weed-once thought extinct-threatens their journey: scourge bracken, a plant dedicated to domination and destruction, also known, ominously, as Kingmaker. Who else has detected it? And will Ivy’s remarkable gift—her dominion over plants and nature—be enough to thwart it?
The Tasters Guild is a decent follow-up to The Hollow Bettle, with more revelations (including a rather obvious one that at least the characters admit is obvious), some interesting plot mechanics, and a more established sense of danger and threat. Just like the first book, I still started on the fence about whether or not I would actually enjoy the book. I liked the first one enough to read the second, but now that I know what to expect in terms of style and voice, that gave me more opportunity to reflect on other things, such as characterization.
There are some prominent weaknesses of The Tasters Guild. For one, it highlights even more how absurd and rushed the ending of the first book is. There’s a whole lot of handwaving going on and I still don’t buy what happened as a plausible or realistic option. Once I noticed that, I noticed how specifically tailored the chapters in the book are to deflect attention. The beginning of each chapter is always a distraction, either through the use of filler or switching points of view in order to avoid explaining important details. I actually grew quite irritated with the way the chapters are structured. At least twice during the novel, some things happened that needed more explanation, but instead—chapter break, viewpoint switch, convenient hand waving.
I may get the last book just to finish out the trilogy, since I do think there is some promise yet even though I grew quite frustrated with The Tasters Guild. I still like the characters, even if both Rowan and Ivy seem to make the same mistakes over and over, and there were some plot developments that I thought were interesting that I would like to see resolved. I’d have to bear with the irritating chapter structures and the glossed-over worldbuilding and plot mechanics, though, and I’m not sure I’d end the trilogy in a very good mood if that’s the case.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Dumbcane has somehow come upon scourge bracken, and it, beyond anything else, must not be allowed to fall into the hands of Vidal Verjouce, or—”
“Or all of Caux’s green earth will be reduced to ash. There will be no Prophecy to fulfill, no Doorway to Pimcaux.” Cecil walked over to Dumbcane’s window and upended the dead potted plants to illustrate. “Just blackness and destruction.”
Wildwood, by Collin Meloy, was published in 2011 by Balzer + Bray.
Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird. You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands from “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it. And this is where the crows take her brother. So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the mist of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends finds themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.
Wildwood is a Narnia-esque fantasy novel that plucks unsuspecting children from their world into the midst of a world they knew nothing about. Meloy does this through a mysterious forest on the outskirts of Portland that Portia and her friend Curtis are drawn into when Portia’s brother is abducted by crows. Along the way, they encounter anthropomorphic animals, birds, and humans, as well as the White Witch—I mean, the Governess.
I wasn’t particularly enthralled by Wildwood—in fact, the book bored me. I did manage to finish it, if only because I want to make progress on my Goodreads Reading Challenge, but I didn’t like it much. It’s not that it’s a bad book, it’s just that I’ve read books that use the tropes better. It’s not so similar to Narnia as I made it sound, but it’s hard not to think of Narnia, or Oz, or something similar, while you’re reading this book. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I didn’t consider it to be. It was just a little bit too tame for me and not nearly magical or wondrous enough.
Wildwood really lacked the “wow” factor for me. It interested me enough to be able to finish it without much grumbling, but nothing about it amazed me or wanted me to get the next book to find out more about the magical world revealed in the book. If Meloy was trying to draw on Narnia vibes for this novel, he failed spectacularly. It’s not a bad book, or badly written, but it failed to engage me. Also, I’m not a huge fan of anthropomorphic animals living alongside humans in fantasy, to be honest, Narnia aside, so perhaps that’s why Wildwood fell so flat.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Birds? What birds?”
“The birds that kidnapped my brother. Crows, actually. A whole flock of ‘em. A murder. Did you know that? That a flock of crows is called a murder?”
Curtis’s face had dropped. “What do you mean, birds kidnapped your brother?” he stammered. “Like, birds?”
Disclaimer: The Day the Angels Fell, by Shawn Smucker, was provided by Revell. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened. After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to turn back time. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Samuel begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Samuel to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?
My rating: 2/5
The Day the Angels Fell is a sort of mythological story that seems to have been inspired a great deal by Frank Peretti. It starts out really strangely, so strangely that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to either take it seriously or even remotely enjoy myself. There’s strange, magical fortunetellers (who don’t really seem to fit in the story as anything but a way for the protagonist to hear the name “Tree of Life”), shadow beasts, and a mysterious quest that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the beginning.
The book starts fitting together a little better when the main premise of the plot is told via story. Then, things start making sense, though the whole thing is so far-fetched, even as obviously mythological as it is, that I had trouble swallowing the entire premise. I also spent far too long wondering what in the world the title had to do with anything, and wondering if the cat Icarus held any more importance than simply being the vehicle used to start the whole “quest” in motion.
I liked the jumping-back-and-forth through time that happened at the beginning of each section of the chapter; it was interesting to see OldMan!Samuel reflect on and narrate what happened when he was twelve. I also liked that Samuel much more than twelve-year-old Samuel, though at least boy Samuel was acting his age (precisely why I didn’t like him).
I also had a very hard time buying Smucker’s entire message, which is that “death is a gift.” It just smacked of callousness, and to me the tone and delivery was all wrong. You can’t just encompass people’s suffering into one big box and simply say, “Death is a gift.” I mean, I get that Smucker was also pointing out that the power to bring someone back to life might not be all that great to use, but since people who read this will be thinking in terms of general loss, and don’t usually have Trees of Life popping up in their backyard waiting for them, the message falls a little flat.
The Day the Angels Fell is full of MacGuffins, from Icarus the cat, existing solely to jumpstart Sam’s main motivation, to the fortunetellers, who exist solely to have Sam hear the name “Tree of Life” and introduce the mythical nature of the book. It starts out strangely, gets marginally better once all that strangeness is established in a (albeit hard-to-swallow) mythical story, and ends fairly well, though by that time it was too late for me. I liked the older Sam moments, but the younger one annoyed me. I also didn’t particularly like or agree with what Smucker was apparently trying to say about death, which is really only applicable if one has access to a Tree of Life, but a fairly useless, even callous message if there isn’t such a tree. A miss for me, overall, though I will admit I liked Abra and there were some interesting moments in the story that weren’t so bad.
Murder. One of the Allerdon sisters has been charged with a premeditated killing and taken to jail. It doesn’t seem possible—but it’s happening. What was supposed to be a typical summer is anything but for this seemingly ordinary family. Shortly after the Allerdons arrive at their cozy family cottage on the river, Lander meets and is smitten with a handsome young man, and they begin to date. Miranda has a bad feeling about her perfect sister’s new boyfriend. And when the family must suddenly deal with an unimaginable nightmare. Miranda can’t help feeling that the boyfriend has something to do with it. The police say they have solid evidence against Lander. Miranda wants to believe in her sister when she swears she is innocent. But as Miranda digs deeper into the past few weeks of Lander’s life, she wonders why everything keeps pointing to Lander’s guilt.
Caroline B. Cooney was one of my favorite authors of my teenage years, offering the sort of mildly dark and angsty reads that I devoured at the time. I’ve wanted to return to her older books as an adult to see if my perception of them has changed any, but one of her newer books caught my attention instead.
No Such Person is a murder mystery, and a fairly tame one at that despite some of the more intense scenes at the end. Unfortunately, it’s pretty predictable, especially once some more details are revealed throughout the investigation. I started losing interest in the book once it became obvious what exactly had happened and the characters were still floundering around trying to figure it out.
The strongest aspect of the book is probably the setting and the characterization and interaction. Lander doesn’t do much but cry the whole time (I guess that’s not surprising, considering her position), but I liked the riverside interactions and the whole idea of the tranquil river community shocked by murder (a common trope in murder mysteries, but still done well here).
However, since this is a murder mystery, the atmosphere and setting of the book were not enough for me to think particularly highly of it. I liked it, yes, but I found the motive and the “behind the scenes” of the murder to be, if not far-fetched, at least poorly executed and a little random. I love intricate, detailed plots in mysteries, and No Such Person has no such thing. It’s simplified for the audience, perhaps, but I’ve had better murder mysteries in books like Between and even Before I Fall. This one was a little tame in comparison.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult
She wants to warn her sister again—to cry out, He’s bad news! Stay away from him!
But her sister is so happy.
And their mother, seeing this happiness, also lets it go. Lander’s happiness is worth a lot to her.
They were mysterious. Some claim they were merely the stuff of legend—the Rangers with their mottled green-and-gray cloaks and their reputation as defenders of the Kingdom. Reports of their brave battles vary, but we know of at least ten accounts, most of which feature the boy—turned man—named Will and his mentor, Halt. There are reports, as well, of others who fought alongside the Rangers, such as the young warrior Horace, a courageous process named Evanlyn, and a cunning diplomat named Alyss. Yet this crew left very little behind and their existence has never been able to be proved. Until now, that is…Behold the Lost Stories.
I thought that The Lost Stories was a prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice series, but it’s not. It’s actually a bunch of filler stories, telling stories about what the characters were up to in the time between The Emperor of Nihon-Ja and The Royal Ranger, the next and last book. Some of the stories are prequels, but most of them tell about things like Horace’s wedding, Will’s wedding, and other odds-and-ends.
As a collection of filler stories, The Lost Stories stands out as a filler book, ultimately unnecessary and only important for completionists’ sake. I enjoyed the stories, but their shortness and the switch from one issue to another made everything choppy and disjointed. Plus, I’ve never liked the “talking horses” aspect of Ranger’s Apprentice and there is too much of that going on in multiple stories.
My favorite story is the one with Jenny because it was so strange and hilariously random. There’s another good one, too, where Will decides to use a bigger vocabulary, and then Horace’s wedding is also fairly memorable. The rest, however, are mostly forgettable and I think in one or two of them Flanagan forgets his own worldbuilding (or I’m misremembering details). It’s nice to get a look at some of the early years, but it’s not entirely necessary—especially since Flanagan now has a spin-off series dealing with young Halt.
The Lost Stories also serves almost as a set-up for Flanagan’s Brotherband series, which again marks the book as a filler or a bridge rather than as a cohesive, entertaining unit by itself. Of all of the Ranger’s Apprentice books, I suppose the collection of stories is the best candidate to be the worst book. I’ve never understood the desire of authors to “fill in the gaps,” although I suppose in this case, Flanagan was just trying to extend his ending since The Royal Ranger came afterward. The Lost Stories is a good addition if you like Ranger’s Apprentice, but it doesn’t go beyond mild charm and memorability.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
“I’m trying to track down a man called Foldar,” Gilan said. “You may have heard of him.”
Now Philip’s face darkened, anger replacing the former nervousness. “Foldar?” he said. “I’ve never know a man so evil. In my opinion, he was worse than Morgarath himself.”