01 August 2013

Quickie Book Reviews for July 2013

Star Wars: Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson: Despite all the critical drubbing he seems to get, I usually enjoy the writings of Kevin J. Anderson.  Whether it was his Jedi Academy trilogy, or his DC-Comics-based works (The Last Days of Krypton, Enemies and Allies), I almost always thought they were better than others did.  However, as much as I hate to say it, this one was yet another disappointment from the Star Wars expanded universe.  Only somewhat interesting, a bit hard to follow, lacking in action...that's not what I want from a space opera novel.

Content Concerns: Two or three profanities, and some slight violence.

Score: 2.25/5
Colorado (Celebrate the States) by Eleanor H. Ayer: When I was in third grade, my teacher had a display of posters about foreign countries, alongside the words, "If you can't go...read about it!" Almost a decade and a half later, I am taking her advice by reading books about places that I have yet to go, this being the first one. Full of facts about everything from the history of the state to famous folks from Colorado, it's everything one might want to know about the state, all in one convenient package.

Content Concerns: Homosexuality and gambling get mentioned briefly.

Score: 4/5
Halflings (Halflings, No. 1) by Heather Burch: I was a big-time Nintendo fan when I was younger, and one of my favorite franchises of the Big N's was Pokémon. Though I liked all of the games--at least, the ones I played--what I didn't like was how other two-bit game companies were trying to ride off of the success of Ash, Pikachu, and friends. There were so many rip-offs for the Game Boy systems alone--Robopon, Dokapon, Dragon Warrior Monsters, etc.--that Nintendo Power even said, "Just about every Game Boy [game] with a three-syllable title ending in 'on' is some sort of Pokémon clone."

I mention that because the Halflings series feels like nothing more than a big rip-off of Twilight. I've never read any of Stephenie Meyer's books or even seen any of the movies, but, from what I know about the series, it seems like many of the details are the same. Love between a human girl and a non-human male? A love triangle? Action and suspense? Come on, Christian authors; don't you have any original ideas? (Ted Dekker, Melody Carlson, and Bill Myers' works prove that the answer is "yes".)

Content Concerns: So, you still want to read this mess? Okay, then: Supernatural violence is present, including the killing of an animal by a demonic being. A character risks eternal damnation for romantic love. (This is supposed to be a Christian book!)

Score: 1.25/5
Back Home Again (Tales from Grace Chapel Inn, No. 1) by Melody Carlson: The start of a expansive multi-author series, Back Home Again made for an easy, quick, and enjoyable read.  Like the series premiere of a TV show, the book sets up characters and relationships for later in the series.  Fans of other small-town, Christian series such as Jan Karon's Mitford will definitely enjoy this.

Content Concerns: Nothing in this department; it was completely innocent.

Score: 4/5
On a Whim (Katie Weldon, No. 2) by Robin Jones Gunn: Continuing the seemingly never-ending life and times of Christy Miller, Katie Weldon, and friends, this book features Katie continuing to deal with the stresses of everything from her relationship with Rick Doyle, to her car breaking down, to her strained interactions with her mother. Anyone who has enjoyed the books leading up to this one should find plenty to love about it. It also makes a good point: Even when interactions with the opposite gender seemingly stay friendly, they can lead to problems! (Katie definitely learns that lesson here.)

Score: 4/5
Supernova (Star Power, No. 1) by Catherine Hapka: Star Calloway is just that--a star--at only fourteen years old. Along with the normal teenage drama, she has to deal with stop-at-nothing paparazzi and jealous fellow celebrities. Though nothing special, it will likely appeal to young fans of music-themed kiddie shows and movies such as High School Musical, VICTORiOUS, or Austin & Ally.

Content Concerns: Nothing worse than two girls referring to a male celebrity as "yummy" and a use of the euphemism "freakin'". Definitely as innocent as the average DCOM or G-rated film.

Score: 3.5/5
Timefall (Timefall, No. 1) by James Kahn: James Kahn, author of the original Return of the Jedi novelization, weaves his own sci-fi fantasy tale in Timefall, a book which combines elements of Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones and Christopher Nolan's Inception. The story definitely enraptured me; compared to the other books I've been reading lately, the writing and flow of the plot is amazing. Fans of time-travel stories and/or mind-bending tales should definitely seek this out, although it may prove hard to find, as it appears to be out of print.

Content Concerns: Roughly ten profanities, including a single use of an unfit-for-network TV expression. The violence isn't graphic, but there is a lot of intensity, and at least one character appears to die. A few sexual references are present, though there's nothing graphic, save for one almost-sex scene. Not for young children.

Score: 3.75/5
Eight is Enough (Holly's Heart, No. 13) by Beverly Lewis: In this penultimate volume of Holly-Heart's life, her mom and stepdad/uncle have big news: they're expecting a baby! Holly is not too thrilled with the news, and upsets her parents with her reaction. Will Holly realize the error of her ways before it is too late? Pretty much more of the same for this series!

Content Concerns: Though completely innocent, Holly acts in a improper way throughout the book. (Spoiler: She repents of it by the book's end.)

Score: 3.75/5
It's a Girl Thing (Holly's Heart, No. 14) by Beverly Lewis: This literary series finale features more drama than any of the prior Holly's Heart books, but that's a good thing. If you've read Holly-Heart's adventures up to this point, you should definitely finish it off with this final volume.

Content Concerns: Mention of a cesarean section might confuse some young kids.

Score: 3.75/5
Fearless (Fearless, No. 1) by Francine Pascal: Gaia was born without the fear gene, and happens to not only be quite tough, but also insanely brilliant. When a female classmate ends up hospitalized because Gaia, out of disdain, failed to warn her about impending danger, things get very dicey for Miss Fearless. Things are only going to get crazier for her, though.
What could have been a great action/adventure story was ruined by content--see below--and magazine-esque formatting that took up a lot of space, made the novel choppy, and seemed just weird. It's no surprise that the series is apparently sponsored by Alloy, a magazine for teenage girls; I'd expect that teen monthly would read just the same. The core story was actually passable, but everything else made it a struggle to finish.

Content Concerns: Profanity abounds; the s-word and b-word are used at least three or four times each, and other expletives (the d-word, the h-word, the euphemisms "freakin'" and "jeez") all appear once or twice, if not more. God's and Jesus' names are also misused multiple times. Violence includes a young woman being stabbed--as mentioned above--and others being attacked or engaging in melees. Some sexual allusions are made, including Gaia bemoaning the fact that she is a virgin and alluding to her private anatomy. Spoiler: The final scene includes both sex and violence among teens, and a young man ends up dead as a result.

Score: 1.75/5
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry: Shadows of the Empire was probably the biggest non-movie Star Wars event up to that point. Though no film was made, a CD soundtrack was released, and there was a video/computer game for the Nintendo 64 and PC based on the book. However, even all that promotion doesn't take away from the actual novel's lackluster feel. Though not terrible, it's merely mediocre, and the Expanded Universe has much better fare to offer than this. Only read this if you love absolutely everything related to Lucas' space opera, or have an insatiable curiosity about this much-promoted book.

Content Concerns: As usual, there is violence, though none of it is bloody or graphic. More notable is the sexual content, where new villain Xizor attempts to seduce Princess Leia. Additionally, gambling gets a few mentions, and profanity is implied.

Score: 2.75/5
The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers: Abortion has never affected me personally, but, as an emotionally sensitive person, this novel still moved me nonetheless. Dynah's struggle about what to do with her unborn child, and her desire to do the right thing without knowing what it is, made for very gripping reading. Though it wasn't perfect--that's why I didn't give it a perfect score--the overwhelming emotional themes make up for any complaints I could come up with.

Content Concerns: Themes of abortion, rape, and sex outside of marriage, as well as emotional intensity, are all through this book. Anyone who is unable to understand or deal with such material should probably stay away.

Score: 4.5/5
Vision of the Future (Star Wars: Hand of Thrawn, No. 2) by Timothy Zahn: Though George Lucas space opera is made up of many parts--romance, tragedy, triumph, humor, etc.--the main attractor of Star Wars for most fans is the action. Unfortunately, this last volume of a tie-in duology proved to be a bit light in that department. It still made for somewhat enjoyable reading, but it's not the lightsaber-dueling, interstellar dogfighting adventure that we got on the big screen.

Content Concerns: There isn't all that much violence, but one scene does feature a few stabbings. "Shavit," which obviously sounds and looks like an English profanity, is said fully once and left unfinished another time, the latter seemingly indicating the Earth vulgarity.

Score: 2.75/5

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