2 December 2015

Review: Emma by Jane Austen and Crystal Silvermoon

A Graphic Novel

Note: in writing this review, I’m assuming everyone knows the basic plot, either from reading the book, or seeing the movie. Well, one of the movies (personally, I prefer Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd in Clueless rather than Gwyneth Paltrow’s period portrayal).

Emma has never been my favourite Austen heroine—she doesn’t have Lizzie Bennett’s wit, she’s lacking in intelligence, and she’s a snob (e.g. refusing to allow Harriet to pursue a relationship with Mr Martin because he’s only a farmer, yet ignoring the fact Harriet is parentless and can’t expect to marry into Emma’s class). I’m also not sold on Mr Knightley as a romantic hero. Sure, he’s waited all these years for Emma to grow up, but isn’t there something a little creepy about marrying the guy who used to rock you as a baby?

But I needed a graphic novel for my 2015 Reading Challenge, and the manga version of Emma appeared on NetGalley (thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review). I’ve never read manga before, and it did take a little getting used to: it starts from the back, and pages are read right-to-left, not left-to-right like the American and British cartoons I read as a child. So that took a little getting used to, and I did have to re-read a few pages because I accidentally started on the left.

I enjoyed the story once I got into it. The adaptation is excellent, especially in the way it captures the essence of the story. The visuals helped bring Emma (and Knightley) to life in a new way, and I was struck again at how brilliant Austen’s writing is. Recommended.

This counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a graphic novel.

30 November 2015

Review: Deadlock by DiAnn Mills

Unconvincing Romance but Excellent Suspense

Amazon Description

Two murders have rocked the city of Houston. Are they the work of a serial killer, or is a copycat trying to get away with murder?

That is the question facing Special Agent Bethany Sanchez, who is eager for her new assignment in violent crimes but anxious about meeting her new partner. Special Agent Thatcher Graves once arrested her brother, and he has a reputation for being a maverick. Plus, their investigative styles couldn’t be more opposite: he operates on instinct, while she goes by the book.

When hot leads soon fizzle out, their differences threaten to leave them deadlocked. But an attempt on their lives turns up the heat and brings them closer together, and a third victim might yield the clue that will help them zero in on a killer. This could be the case of their careers . . . if they can survive long enough to solve it.

My Review

I’m a longtime fan of DiAnn Mills’s romantic suspense novels—I love her plots, her characters, the fast pace, and the way she weaves in the romance. After all, that’s a vital part of any romantic suspense novel!

The suspense plot in Deadlock was excellent, with a series of murders which might be a serial killer—or might be a copycat killer imitating a serial killer. The plot was fast-paced, with plenty of twists and turns, and an end which surprised me (no, I didn’t see that coming!) and pleased me (I actually don’t like working out whodunit halfway through).

What was less good was the relationship between Bethany and Thatcher, professional and personal. A lot was made about how they were opposite characters, but then they both did things which were out of character at some point in the story. But what I liked even less was the complete lack of romantic tension between the two.

In some of Mills’s novels, like Breach of Trust, the tension between the lead couple sizzled (without ever being inappropriate for a Christian novel), and as a reader I could almost feel the fireworks without a word being said on the page. In contrast, Deadlock felt like I was being told they were attracted to each other, but never really seeing it. In fact, at one point I questioned whether Thatcher was actually the Other Man, and I’d missed working out who the hero was. Oops.

Deadlock is the third book in the FBI Houston series, but can easily be read as a standalone novel (I actually thought it was the first in the series, even though I’ve actually read the first—Firewall—because none of the characters seemed familiar.) Read it as a pure thriller/suspense novel and you’ll probably think it’s great. Just don’t expect much from the romance.

Thanks to Tyndale House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

27 November 2015

Friday Fifteen: Erin Burnett

I'd like to introduce Erin Burnett to Friday Fifteen. Erin is a teen from Northern Ireland who has recently released her first fantasy novel for children and young teens, Liza's Avenger.

Hikari once lived an idyllic life in the far-reaches of the Maysea Continent, but when her sister Liza is killed by the mysterious Kellua race everything changes. She is plunged into a perilous journey filled with epic battles, life or death situations and new friends that share her determination to stop the Kelluas. However, will destroying her enemies really bring her peace?

Hikari must decide what is best: revenge or reconciliation.

Welcome, Erin!

It was difficult to narrow my list of authors that have inspired me to just fifteen! They are listed in the order I read them, childhood up to present day. Thank you, Iola for the opportunity.

1. CS Lewis

Just about every Christian fantasy author names the Northern Irish born Lewis as an inspiration, which is proof of how impactful his books are even after sixty-five years. The Chronicles of Narnia are a triumph, as are his other books such as Mere Christianity.

2. Alexa Tewkesbury

When I was younger my main issue with Christian middle grade books, especially those from the big publishing houses, was that there was very little Christianity in them. This wasn’t the case with Tewkesbury’s Topz series. It was relevant, meaningful and entertaining – what all children’s Christian fiction should be!

3. LM Elliot

Another example of a great middle grade author, even if her books are not explicitly Christian. Elliot writes historical fiction very well using turbulent periods such as the world wars and Vietnam.

4. Michael Morpurgo

Morpurgo was the UK Children's Laureate when I started primary school. I believe is one of the best children’s authors out there and his books were great to study in the classroom.

5. Cornelia Funke

Funke is a master of writing fantasy. Her books resound with all ages and the worlds she creates are so detailed and rich. They are the sort of books you can read time and time again without them losing their charm. My personal favourite is Dragon Rider.

6. YĆ«ichi Suzumoto

I’m straying from the brief slightly, because Suzumoto writes visual novels as opposed to physical ones. Regardless, his stories never fail to be extremely moving and have influenced me greatly. His visual novel Planetarian use Christian themes and hymns as part of the story.

7. HG Wells

The most impressive thing about Wells is how he wrote such futuristic science fiction in the 1800s. His political writings are also interesting and he helped promote equal rights for all races during the time of the Second Boer War.

8. Nick Downing

The first time I read Christian science fiction was Downing’s Talon’s Test and the Shield of Faith. It took all the classic elements of space opera – adventures through space, futuristic worlds and chivalric romance – and gave them a Biblical twist.

9. Jo Zebedee

Zebedee is a fellow writer from Northern Ireland. Her space opera Abendau’s Heir has excellent character development that is established early and continued throughout. The overall plot and world building was very good. She always supports local writers.

10. David Mitchell

The reason I like Mitchell’s novels so much is how he entwines several seemingly unrelated plotlines into one, the most obvious example of which is Cloud Atlas. I enjoy novels that require some figuring out. He has also written books set in Tokyo, which is a city I love.

11. Lee Strobel

Moving on to non-fiction, Strobel’s book The Case for Christ was instrumental in my coming to Christ. It details his own journey from atheism to Christianity. He logically sets forth the historical evidence for the events of the New Testament and refutes many so-called contradictions within the Bible.

12. John Calvin

I genuinely can’t remember how I first came across reformed theology, but I quickly wanted to study further into it. No-one has ever produced a more extensive, well thought-out summary of it than in Calvin’s Institutes. Of course, we must remember no man is infallible.

13. Stewart Dinnen

Dinnen writes very practical guides about the Christian life and service, weighing up the pros and cons of different areas of ministry and encouraging the reader to seek out their own calling.

14. Takashi Nagai

I had never heard of Nagai until I visited Nagasaki, Japan, and purchased his book Leaving My Beloved Children Behind on a whim. It was written as he died from radiation-induced cancer during the aftermath of the atomic bombing which claimed his wife. There isn’t a hint of self-pity or anger in his writings even as he endures such suffering. I was extremely glad to hear that this year his story has been adapted into a film. Hopefully more will be able to learn about his life.

15. K.P. Yohannan

Yohannan is founder of Gospel for Asia and his book Revolutions in World Missions is available for free, including international shipping. It tells of the encouraging missionary developments in Asia. A strong desire to see the lost saved is evident in every chapter.

About Erin Burnett

Having enjoyed writing from a young age Erin Burnett felt compelled to write for Christ, and wrote the first semi-readable draft of Liza's Avenger on a school computer when she was thirteen. Since then she has joined Belfast Writers' Group and strives to improve her writing. She firmly believes that with God, nothing is impossible.

In addition to writing Erin enjoys cycling and travelling. Of the 58 countries she has visited, her favourite is Japan. She is currently a sixth form student and lives with her wonderfully supportive family in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She aspires to study theology at university level.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lizasavenger
Amazon: Liza's Avenger

25 November 2015

Review: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

A Play

Depending on which conspiracy theory you follow, William Shakespeare is either the most brilliant and influential playwright England has ever seen, or William Shakespeare never existed (or was an actor with little talent) and the plays were penned by Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, or any one of a number of other possible candidates (although no women, as far as I could tell).

The whole debate probably isn’t important: what’s important is that we have the plays, they are considered culturally and historically significant, and they have been used as instruments of torture for generations of schoolchildren the world over (and it's all Blackadder's fault).

I can remember studying Othello, and I know I studied at least one other, but I can’t remember which. I do remember thinking Shakespeare wasn’t as bad as people made out.

Then I attended excellent outdoor Shakespeare performances in Greenwich Park in London, and watched Clare Danes and Leonardo diCaprio fall in love in Romeo and Juliet on film. Shakespeare was great—good plots, great characters, plenty of pace and action, and even some humour.

Then I read Romeo and Juliet. Well, the play hasn’t changed in the almost-twenty years since the movie came out . . . but it’s almost unreadable. Yes, there are flashes of humour, but there is also too much time devoted to minor characters, and all the characters are far too prone to unnecessary unintelligible speechifying. It reminds me why I don’t read the 1611 version of the King James Bible (actually, almost no one does. They might think they’re reading the ‘original’ KJV, but most of them are reading the 1769 version).

Overall, I think plays were made to be watched, not read.

This counts towards my 2105 Reading Challenge as a play. Yes, it’s a little predictable and I should have chosen something more contemporary.

23 November 2015

Review: Emergency Response by Nicki Edwards

Enjoyable Australian Medical Romance

Amazon Description

Intensive care nurse Mackenzie Jones is no stranger to running. As a teenager she fled her family home, leaving tragedy and loss in her wake. Now, after fifteen years alone in Sydney, with the strain of working in a city hospital wearing her thin, she's tempted to run again.

Mackenzie jumps at the chance to work in a mining town in the Western Australian desert – anything to lift her spirits. Though she barely dares to hope, she wonders if she might find the kind of love that can ease her loneliness.

In the outback, Nathan Kennedy is at a loose end. He's been making money in the mines for years, and pressure from his family to return to the east coast, settle down and get married is reaching fever pitch. The problem is, he hasn't met the right woman.

When Mackenzie turns up in town, there's an instant attraction between her and Nathan, maybe even true love. But tragedy's not done with Mackenzie Jones – the past is about to catch up with her in more ways than one.

Can Nathan convince Mackenzie to stop running, or is this just another tragedy in the making?

My Review

Mackenzie Jones meets the handsome Nathan Kennedy at a wedding, then finds herself on the other side of the country, but working in the same tiny rural town as Nathan. They start seeing each other, but the relationship is cut short when Mackenzie is called back home—her estranged father is dying, and as the oldest child, the unattached child, and the nurse in the family, he becomes her unwelcome responsibility.

The writing was very good. There were some intentionally humorous lines (“she’s got a better backside than Pippa Middleton”) and some I found funny even though they weren’t intended to be (“she had a strong New Zealand accent”. Really. Have these Aussies ever listened to themselves?).

And one part of the story was unexpectedly poignant—a visit to the degazettted town of Wittenoom, site of the blue asbestos mine made famous (to me, at least) by Midnight Oil and their song, Blue Sky Mining. That’s not for the faint-hearted.

Although Nicki Edwards is a Christian, Emergency Response isn’t Christian fiction. This means there is some content you wouldn’t normally see in a Christian novel (e.g. consumption of alcohol), but it is still classified as a “clean read”. Well, except for the blood. But I guess a little blood is to be expected with a medical romance set in rural Australia. Recommended. As long as you don’t mind the blood.

Thanks to Momentum Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.