'The Man Who Created Narnia'

Author: Michael Coren
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Publisher: Eerdmans

Definitely not the most thorough or in-depth biography I have ever read, but nonetheless I truly enjoyed this book. In fact, I couldn't put it down. To be completely precise, I read the entire thing in an hour and a half.
The laid-back writing style and numerous photographs of Lewis, his friends and family, and significant places in his life made this a very easy read, which I'm sure contributed to my enjoyment of it.
I did gather from some of the remarks that were made by the author throughout the book that he is most likely not a Christian, so his perspective on a few things seemed a bit skewed to me, but that didn't prevent him writing a lovely overview of Lewis' life, fortunately.
For a diehard, hardcore Lewis fan like myself, The Man Who Created Narnia was just enough to sufficiently whet my appetite and drive me to the brink of yet another Lewis craze (which I experience on a fairly regular basis), so expect some reviews of Lewis books coming up in the next few weeks. ; )
For anyone wanting to do serious research on the life of C.S. Lewis, this book would need to be read in concert with others more detailed and in-depth, but it would definitely be a good volume to have on hand. Or, if you're not familiar with Lewis and his work at all and would like to get acquainted, this book would be a great place to start.

'How the Irish Saved Civilization'

Author: Thomas Cahill
Series: The Hinges of History
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Anchor Books

The period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the High Middle Ages is a difficult one to study and learn about, due mostly to the state of almost total chaos the entire civilized world had fallen into. Much of the knowledge accumulated over the centuries was lost completely, and what did survive did so just barely.
In this book, author Thomas Cahill makes the compelling assertion that, thanks to the work of Saint Patrick and the fervor with which the Irish embraced the Christianity he brought to them, the tenets of civilization - complete copies of the Holy Bible, great works of literature such as The Iliad, and other writings - were preserved and eventually redistributed to the world by the Irish.
While I would naturally want to do some more research and investigation before taking Cahill's conclusions as gospel, I'll admit that it makes a lot of sense. The Irish were an isolated people group relatively untouched by the influences of Rome until Saint Patrick's time, and remained isolated throughout the period of Rome's decline and fall, so it seems completely reasonable that knowledge and literature could have been preserved there.
The author's worldview was somewhat difficult to determine, (though I suspect he's probably Catholic based on some of his statements) but nothing he said seemed at all disdainful towards Christianity - a refreshing find in a history book!
The only real problem I had with this book was in regard to the pagan religion held by the Irish prior to Saint Patrick's work among them (and even held by many afterwards). Many of the practices recorded and described by the author are distasteful at best, obscene at worst. I know that such practices are historical fact, so I'm not saying the author should pretend they didn't exist, but it still made this a book I definitely wouldn't want anyone but a mature adult to read. (Fortunately, these passages made up an extremely small portion of the book.)
Along that same line are two or three of the photographs included in the book, which are of pagan sculpture and artwork. Again, I understand that those sculptures and carvings do exist, and we shouldn't pretend that they don't, but I still would much prefer not coming across them in a book I'm reading.
Overall, How the Irish Saved Civilization made a compelling historical read and a fascinating look into what is perhaps the most uncharted period of western culture.


'Anacaona: Golden Flower'

Author: Edwidge Danticat
Series: The Royal Diaries
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic

Within the context of the Royal Diaries series, this book was definitely a unique reading experience. Most of the books in the series are building up to either the main character's marriage or assumption of power, and end when one of those is achieved. This book actually carried through Anacaona's marriage to the chieftain of a neighboring territory and the first couple of years of their life together.
I loved the way it portrayed her loyalty to and love for her husband, and her devotion in both ruling and fighting beside him. That alone would have made the book a joy to read.
But in addition to that, it was a great look into the Haitian culture of the 1400s. Their perception and measurement of time were confusing and even a little frustrating, since they don't have the spring-summer-fall-winter season pattern that I'm used to, and their 'months' are all twenty days long and measured by the moon. But I learned to enjoy it, and the descriptions of the tropical climate, landscape, and lifestyle were beautiful and delightful.
A word of warning: Fans of Christopher Columbus either won't like this book, or won't be Christopher Columbus fans by the end... or possibly both. Just sayin'.


'Where Lilacs Still Bloom'

Author: Jane Kirkpatrick
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Water Brook

Based on the life of Hulda Klager, Where Lilacs Still Bloom tells the story of a woman with a passion for plants of all kinds - particularly lilacs. Her passion leads her to a fascination with hybridizing and selectively pollinating to improve the flowers and share their beauty with others.
While the scientific aspect of the book was both interesting and entertaining (people had some crazy ideas in the early 1900s, and I loved the author's portrayal of social concerns revolving around scientific issues), the rest of the story was somewhat... well, lacking.
The main character, Hulda, frequently keeps things from her husband who doesn't share her all-consuming passion for plants and doesn't always approve 100% of it. That really bothered me. That, and the way her gardening and hybridizing projects always seem to take equal or even greater precedence over her family. Everything that happens gets twisted around into an opportunity/excuse to work more in her garden, and I often felt like the garden mattered more to her than her family did.
On top of all that, the storyline itself was somewhat depressing. I really can't be more specific than that without giving something important away. I understand that it's based on a true story and all, but still, I like reading books that leave me feeling refreshed and uplifted at the end... not tired and depressed.
All in all, Where Lilacs Still Bloom, while providing a great peek into science's past, wasn't really a book I would want to read again.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my review. A favorable review is not required; my opinions are my own.


'Liberation: Teens in the Concentration Camps, and the Teen Soldiers Who Liberated Them

Author: E. Tina Tito
Genre: Non-Fiction/History
Publisher: Rosen Publishing Group

Most people don't often stop to think about or focus on the teenagers involved in WWII. I know I didn't, which was probably why this book caught my eye at the local library sale.
Both of the author's parents were teenagers during the Holocaust, and both suffered as a result. Drawing on that connection, the author has created a series of horrifying and heart-wrenching first-person accounts of the teens whose lives were touched by the horrors of concentration camps.
The book contains accounts of teens exiled to the infamous Jewish ghettos, teens imprisoned in labor camps, and the teen soldiers who came face to face with living nightmares they wouldn't have thought possible.

While no book like this can really be 'enjoyed' in any normal sense of the word, I have found it nevertheless to be a valuable and eye-opening source of information in my studies of WWII. It provides a glimpse at yet another layer of an incredibly vast subject - a glimpse that is all too necessary for those of us who want to ensure that such a thing is never allowed to happen again.


'Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare'

Author: Chris Smith
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

As a huge LOTR nerd, I was ecstatic when this book arrived! Over 200 pages of glorious photographs and detailed, thorough, well-indexed information have made it a joy to read, or just browse through.
Weapons and Warfare has also provided me with an indispensable arsenal as a writer, as well. There are pages and pages dedicated to describing and explaining each piece of armor, each weapon, its uses, and weaknesses. So when I need a weapon or suit of armor for a character, I have a wide variety of ideas at my fingertips.
The book doesn't just focus on who carried what sword and wore what armor, though. It provides an excellent overview of the history of the War of the Ring and backstory for several of the central characters.
And it doesn't just focus on the good guys, either! There are entire chapters dedicated to the armor and weapons used by orcs, goblins, and Uruk-Hai.
All that, along with maps, indexes, and battle strategy outlines, make Weapons and Warfare a volume I'll be keeping on hand for a very, very long time!


'1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ'

Author: Jonathan Falwell
Genre: Non-Fiction, Christian Life and Thought
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Categorically, I would have to say that this book is definitely milk, not meat. Early on in the book, the author makes the statement that the book is intended for anyone, whether a long-time Christian, a new Believer, or someone who's just curious about what Jesus and His life were all about. Having read the book, though, I would definitely categorize it as being geared towards a new Believer.
1000 Days presents an overview of Christ's roughly 3-year ministry, basically just hitting the highlights. For someone unfamiliar with the ministry of Christ, it could be useful.
That being said, though, I don't know that I would recommend it. There were several instances in which it seemed like the author was reading far too much into a given biblical text. For example, in the chapter discussing the Beatitudes, the author suggests that the statement "blessed are the peacemakers", the word "peacemakers" actually refers to people who are helping others make peace with God. However, neither the original language nor the context of the passage suggest this.
In another chapter, the author is discussing the incident of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. When Satan suggests that Jesus turn the stones into bread and Jesus responds by saying that "Man shall not live by bread alone", Falwell places particular emphasis (his own, not the original text's) on Jesus' use of the word 'Man'. He makes the statement: "Jesus was telling Satan that He was not an animal." According to Falwell, Jesus was implying that He could exercise self-control over His hunger instinct, unlike an animal that simply follows instinct blindly. This may have been a valid point if the wording or context of the biblical passage actually inferred this, but it doesn't.
Statements of that nature (i.e. 'What Jesus really meant was...') always make me very nervous. Yes, the Bible is a deep, many-layered book that requires careful and diligent investigation and searching to understand, but we need to stand guard against making assumptions about 'what Jesus really meant' - especially so when the text itself does not make the issue completely clear.
Along that same line, another issue I had with 1000 Days was the lack of referencing. The author often said things like "Luke 9 tells the story of..." or "such and such fulfilled the prophesy of Psalm 69..." but as a general rule there were very few actual chapter-and-verse references to show where the author got the information he was citing. The Bible makes it clear that we as Christians should not simply take a teacher's word for anything (no matter how qualified or respectable that teacher may be). We are to search the Scriptures for ourselves to determine whether the things the teacher says are true. It stands to reason then that, if a teacher wants to prove the biblical basis for a particular statement, he should provide a biblical reference for it, and this book often failed to do that.
Combining those issues with the somewhat juvenile feel of some of the discussions and study questions at the end of each chapter, I'm sad to have to say that this book was a disappointment. A book that provided an in-depth study of the ministry of Christ, geared towards new Believers, would be a wonderful resource that I would love to be able to recommend to people. Unfortunately, 1000 Days isn't that book.
I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


'Shadow of Colossus'

Author: T.L. Higley
Series: Seven Wonders
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: B&H Books

Set on the Greek island of Rhodes, Shadow of Colossus is the story of Tessa, a slave since childhood. Tessa is hetaera to Glaucus, a powerful politician. In the opening scene of the book, she is planning to kill herself, convinced that suicide is the only way that she can ever be free.
Then Glaucus meets an accidental death--but the circumstances make it appear that Tessa murdered him. If charged with the crime, it is almost certain that she will be executed. But quick-thinking, clever Tessa isn't about to let it go at that, and she sets in motion a dangerous plan to hide Glaucus' death and use it to escape to the island of Crete.
This book doesn't 'open with a bang' by any means. In fact, the first few pages were a little slow getting started. However, once you do get into it (which doesn't take long--by Chapter 2 I was completely immersed) it is absolutely riveting. I sometimes have trouble letting go of my Analytical Writer side and letting myself become completely engrossed in a book as a reader and nothing more. That was not a problem with this book. After years in slavery, Tessa has let herself become impervious to emotions in order to avoid pain and sorrow. Then she meets Nikos, who encourages her to let herself feel, because feeling is what makes you alive. This causes a huge struggle for Tessa, and I the reader could feel every part of that struggle.
Another great aspect of the book is that the romance that develops between Tessa and Nikos actually feels natural, unlike so many books in which the main male character and the leading lady seem to fall in love simply because the writer wanted to include some romance in the story and there was no one else around for them to fall in love with.
And as if all that weren't enough, T.L. Higley transports you completely to ancient Greece with her fabulous descriptions and writing style that presents Rhodes to you as easily as if it was right outside your front door. Reading this, I felt like if I were suddenly transported to ancient Rhodes, I would know my way around (and know which creepy characters to avoid).
Read this book, you guys! If nothing else, use it as a textbook on how to take your readers on a thrilling journey they will not soon forget!

'Replication: The Jason Experiment'

Author: Jill Williamson
Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: Zondervan

I've never won a blog book-giveaway before winning this one, and I was thrilled to receive a copy, signed by the author!

Martyr - or, J:3:3 as he's officially called - lives in a state-of-the-art facility deep under ground, safe from the toxic air of the dangerous world above. A few weeks before his eighteenth birthday, he's about to expire - his life will end, a sacrifice that will provide the much-needed antidote for the people trapped above ground in the hostile environment.

Or so he's told.

Out in that 'hostile environment' is Abby Goyer, a brainy high-schooler looking towards studying forensics in college. Her father works for a science lab in Washington D.C, and their relationship has been pretty strained since Abby's mom passed away. The strain becomes even worse when Mr. Goyer announces that they're moving to Alaska, where he's taken a job at a state-of-the-art research lab.

I have to say, I loved this book. The characters were all remarkably well-developed - even Martyr, who naturally has some peculiarities from living in an underground laboratory his whole life. The plot was straightforward and clear-cut, another plus. (I occasionally get tired of plots with so many twists and turns that by the end you can't even remember what the initial point was.) The writing was very skillful, another huge plus.
In this story, the author dealt with the highly controversial issue of cloning with skill, honesty, and grace, which I found highly refreshing. She doesn't mince words, and she calls things what they are, which I admire, but she did it all without sounding in the least 'preachy' or militant about it.
One or two things that bothered me:
First, there were several kiss scenes between teenagers. They were nothing humongous or grossly over-the-top, just straightforward kisses, but they still bothered me, since both characters were Christians.
The only other thing is a pet-peeve annoyance for me, more than anything else. The character Abby - who has studied crime for years and should know better - lets herself get pushed around very easily by a guy from her school who follows her around uninvited and even ends up forcing his way into her house. Abby isn't happy about it, but she doesn't do anything about it. There were several instances in which she should have thrown the creep out of her house at knife-point and called the cops on him, but she did nothing. It made me highly irritated at her.

Aside from those two little issues, though, I really, really enjoyed this book. I honestly couldn't put it down - and it takes a special book to captivate me that completely. I wouldn't recommend this book for younger readers, certainly. But for anyone 16 and up, this would make a fantastic read. I definitely recommend that you check it out at the first opportunity you get!


'City of the Dead'

Author: T.L. Higley
Series: Seven Wonders
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: B&H Books

Book Two in the Seven Wonders Series by T. L. Higley.
I'll be honest, the cover made me a little edgy when I first saw it. It kind of had that 'romance novel' look to it, and I am really not into romance novels. Rest assured, dear readers, this is not a romance novel! Yes, a romance does develop between two of the characters over the course of the story, but ... well, that's different. And as for the woman on the cover... honestly, I'm still not sure which character she's actually supposed to be. (I know, it's strange. But whatever.)
Anyway, the main character, Hemiunu, or 'Hemi' to his friends, is Grand Vizier to the pharaoh Khufu, and the designer and architect for the Great Pyramid at Ghiza. He and Pharaoh Khufu grew up together, and both are hiding a dark secret regarding the mysterious death of a young woman many years ago, when they were still boys. Both of them are hiding the secret, but neither of them actually knows the full truth of it...or so they claim.
When Hemi's friends start being murdered, he begs Pharaoh for permission to investigate, but uncovering the murderer may mean uncovering the truth of an event they have both sworn to keep secret forever. It also leads Hemi to meet some new and surprising people who introduce him to a God other than the statues he serves in Egypt's temples.
This books makes a fabulous read; it combines an historical adventure with a delicious murder mystery. The only problem I found with it was that it is written in first-person from the viewpoint of a man. Being written by a female author, I think it sometimes doesn't accurately reflect the way a man would view or think about a given situation. But, the character development is deep and thorough, and we the readers get the feeling that we know Hemi personally.
The mystery and intrigue of the story are exciting and kept me turning pages. I wouldn't say it's T.L Higley's best book ever, but definitely a great read I highly recommend!


'Tyger, Tyger'

Author: Kersten Hamilton
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Goblin Wars
Publisher: Clarion Books

I suddenly found myself in the mood for something different, and at the moment I happened to be standing in the teen department of the library. Tyger, Tyger made its way home in my book bag as a result.
Set in modern Chicago, the book follows the adventures of Teagan, a high-school senior looking towards college, who discovers that her ancestors weren't just Irish... they were the characters of Irish lore and mythology. And not only that, they're an integral part of an ancient feud between the agents of good and evil.
The plot of the story is fast-paced and exciting, and frankly, I loved it. From chases through the streets of Chicago to expeditions into the treacherous world of Mag Mell, this story was definitely the 'something different' I was looking for.
The characters were delightful as well. From walking MP3 player, 6-year-old Aiden, to the tough and chivalrous Finn Mac Cumhaill, and from no-nonsense Mameio to wild-child Abby, the cast was rich, vibrant, realistic, and lovable.
I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the rich layers of Irish mythology and folklore woven into the plot. It added a great deal of depth and intrigue to the story, and it was cool to find the references to characters I already knew from reading Celtic lore.
Tyger, Tyger is not a Christian book, so I wasn't expecting it to behave like one (I say that a lot, I know) but there were still a few elements about it that I didn't like.
One was an incident towards the beginning of the book in which Teagan accidentally pulls her t-shirt up while taking off her sweater. She's on a public bus at the time and once she gets her sweater off she realizes that a guy on the bus is videotaping her. The video later shows up on the internet. As if that isn't bad enough, that incident didn't even have anything to do with the plot of the story, which makes it even more annoying.
Another issue was the language scattered throughout the book. I did appreciate the fact, however, that at one point one of the guy characters uses a swear word and Teagan's dad reprimands him and tells him not to speak that way in front of ladies.
Another issue was the teen-angst-type stuff surrounding Teagan's attraction to Finn, but perhaps that would be better categorized as an annoyance rather than an issue.
One thing that I really liked was the fact that, in spite of this not being a 'Christian' book, the characters (Irish Catholics) made it clear that God, or, 'The Almighty', was the creator of all worlds, not just this one. He created the alternate universes they visited as well as Earth, and He created all the creatures, goblin and human alike. The goblins were evil because they chose to follow that path, not because God made them that way. I found that highly refreshing, coming from a secular book.
On the whole, Tyger, Tyger was fun, exciting, and of course, something different. I don't know that I'm necessarily eager to read the rest of the books in the series, but I certainly wouldn't mind doing so if they came across my path.