Friday, October 7, 2016

Review: The Tapestry series by Henry H. Neff

It's been too long since I posted a book review here. I guess it's been a while since I read one so worthy of the time it takes. This one is a Huge Winner! I am adding Max (and David and friends) to my favorite character list. I might even love him more than I love Harry. If you love fantasy this is a must read.

Amazon: The Tapestry series by Henry H. Neff   

Synopsis from Henry H Neff web site:
The Tapestry is a contemporary fantasy fiction series that follows the life of a boy named Max McDaniels. The series comprises four novels of which two, The Hound of Rowan and The Second Siege, have already been published and nominated for a number of awards. In addition to compelling characters and an epic story, the books are notable for combining a range of genres, including fantasy, history, mythology, folklore, and science fiction. Henry H. Neff both writes and illustrates the books.
The story of The Tapestry occurs in our world and during the present day. Old Magic is reawakening and a demon named Astaroth has returned to raise the stakes in an ancient war. This war threatens to consume not only cities and governments, but history itself.
Mankind's greatest hopes for independence and survival lie with Rowan Academy. Rowan is the last school of magic where those possessing special gifts are trained to serve as stewards of the arcane arts and guardians of mystic creatures that have faded with the modern age. From Rowan, powerful Mystics and deadly Agents continue the struggle against things that go bump in the night.
With Astaroth's resurgence, however, Rowan is overwhelmed. The battle passes into the hands of Max McDaniels and his roommate, David Menlo. The same Old Magic that is transforming the world also courses in their veins, making these two boys extraordinary even by Rowan's standards. While David's abilities rival those of the greatest sorcerers of the past, Max is believed by some to be a modern incarnation of the Irish hero CĂșchulain. The two boys are called to combine their gifts and face a world marked by a new hierarchy of creatures great and small, which are pushing humankind beyond the fringes of civilization.

Watch a little video of the books here.         

My Review:
I have just finished this series. Having never heard of it, the boys and I picked up book one, The Hound of Rowan, in audio format at the library. From the first 5 minutes we were hopelessly hooked on the series. We eagerly listened to the first four books, hanging on every word. To our great dismay, we discovered that the series finale, The Red Winter, is only available in e-book form. I am not sure what failure on the part of the publisher this was due to. But the fact that I had never heard of this book may be a sign of poor wide spread publicity, though they did receive several awards. This series is a fantastic blend of everything we love about Harry Potter and Percy Jackson rolled into one. I can honestly say this series may actually top Harry and Percy for me. And I, being a big fan, don't say that lightly. If it were publicized more it could have made some movie company, Harry Potter rivaling, mountains of profit.
In my opinion, any book you dream about nightly while reading and after, can't wait to get to reading time for, stay up too too late because you CAN NOT put it down, that's a very good book. That is The Tapestry series by Henry H. Neff.

My sons are 11 and 12. This book is appropriate for late elementary school age and above. I would not read it to or put it in the hands of a child less than 10 years of age. For one, they will skip the hard to pronounce words which is poor reading. (There is a pronunciation key, which is invaluable). There are deep concepts to navigate. The violence is more of a PG rating. It is also helpful to have read folklore and mythology from around the world, especially Celtic and European.

Some of the things I love about this book:
  • Very well written and edited. A big plus these days.
  • Does not shy from large and descriptive words.
  • The diverse genres that it embodies.
  • The seamless cohesiveness between books in plot, characters, and style.
  • The sub characters, not just the main ones, flow into every book together. Or you at least can easily place where they come from.
  • Well developed and endearing characters.
  • Fantasy taken from mythology.
  • Action packed. On the edge of your seat!
  • Exciting plot twists that surprised us.
  • Proper emphasis on family relationships and bonds.
  • Excellent character traits embody the main character Max, who really is a worthy role model. He is humble, kind, loyal, honest, faithful to family and friends, brave even when afraid. He struggles, and succeeds, to master self control and do what is right. He is generous to others, fights for the underdog, he faces his failures and makes amends.
  • Evil is treated as such.
  • The concept of bias/prejudice is addressed and confronted in context of the story line.  It encourages discernment rather than pre-conceived assumptions about those who are different and even long standing oppositions.
  • Romantic elements are G rated and tastefully endearing.
  • There are no lulls or dead parts that drag in any part of the series.
  • While many battles are fought, I appreciate that the gore is not overly descriptive. PG
  • The ending is VERY satisfactory and does not leave you thinking that there should have been better closure, but it is a question as to whether or not that will happen right up to the end. I like that a lot. 
  • Read the pronunciation guides in each book. Many names and terms are in Gaelic.
  • There is some mild cussing. None extraneous.
  • There are a few characters who apparently are womanizers. They are not written as favorable characters.
  • For those sensitive to such topics: there are witches, demons, and magic. Celtic in nature mostly. There is also positive mention of the one supreme God. This is in no way a religious book of any sort.
  • I strongly recommend this as an outstanding book. And I strongly recommend to the publishers to print the last book, The Red Winter.
He is writing another book. May be a series? I will be interested in reading it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Percy Jackson (first 5) Rick Riordan

Ok, I know, I know, I am a late comer to the world of Percy Jackson. Why? Well I really can not tell you. I have no good excuse, especially now that I have read them all and am glad I finally got around to it!

The first 5 books, a series called Percy Jackson and the Olympians is AWESOME.
Ok, I said it. I love Percy Jackson as much as Harry Potter and Frodo and Sam and Gregor.

So, just in case you haven't read it yourself, here is my review.

This book series follows a boy, Percy, from age 12 to 16 as he learns the shocking and unsettling fact that his father is a Greek god from mythology. He learns his demigod powers and place in the world including his flaws, weaknesses and strengths.
Percy has a lot to overcome. He has moved schools every year because weird things he can't explain keep happening to him. In the first book he learns that there are monsters who try to kill him at every turn. He is raised by his mother and step father who is a vulgar and abusive man. Making friends, let alone keeping them has been a source of sadness for Percy and he has never felt he belonged anywhere. In this series he learns the meaning of family, loyalty, truth and doing what is right even when it is hard. Each book gives Percy a new challenge to work through that develops his character and faith in who he is. By the end Percy has really grown up and is a true hero and good role model in many ways for the kids who read about him.

What I like:
Family bonds. Loyalty to friends and family. Seeking truth. Doing right even if it is hard and not what you want at all. Looking beyond yourself for what is right and good to do. Literary and historical facts thrown in all these books. Mythology and the classics. Greek stuff. To be honest, what kid does not dream of the what if of legends. What if I had super powers, what if the myths were real, what if the mythological gods did have kids with mortals, what if? It's fun to dream. The good guys always win. There are hard challenges to face. It is hard to guess accurately what is going to happen.

What I don't like:
Ok, from a Christian perspective, the kids saying oh my g---. Is not really what I want to be reading or having my kids pick up on. So, depending on your take on things this may be a conversation worth having. While I understand the place this has in the books, I was not comfortable with it. That is the only thing.

Age of reading:
I would say that a kid in 4th-5th grade could read this. It certainly appeals to kids in JH and HS as well. And, well, obviously me too and so that could include adults. :)
I think both boys and girls will like this book, but it has a particular draw for boys. I like that the co- main character is a girl though. A tough one, who is very likeable. 

Appropriateness of content for what age: PG
These books do contain a lot of violence and some of it is somewhat graphic. The books are also very intense with the battles and monsters, etc. So, I would say you have to gauge how your child's personality is. Sensitive kids will need to wait. No harm in that!!! Younger kids might not get the development of Percy and Annabeth's relationship in later books, it is pretty subtle.

Educational value:
This book series is an awesome accompaniment to any curriculum that has your child studying Greek mythology. It is helpful to have had some lessons on this already. It really brings to life some of the stories and ideas of Greek Mythology that the kids learn. If you have a Core Knowledge curriculum at your your school this is going to be 3rd, 5th and 6th & 8th grade. I would say wait until after 3rd and maybe have them read the first book at the end of 4th just before 5th grade and then all of them by 8th grade.  (A good follow up is the next series called Heroes of Olympus and it adds Roman Mythology to the mix).

I read them all in about a month. You can get them anywhere or your library or library kindle loans. 

So, go meet Percy Jackson, he's worth knowing.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ledgends of Karac Tor by Dean Barkley Briggs: review

I was in a bookstore and on the $5 table was the first book in the series called The Legends of Karac Tor. The Book of Names. The description on the back intrigued me. Five dollars, hey it could be good. Good is an understatement, it sucked me in. It left me hanging and I did not even know it was a series! I guess i did not read the back very well. So, come to find out it was written a while back, but the stores don't carry the rest of the series. Who could just leave it there? I had to know the rest of the story. So, to Amazon I went. The next two were on Kindle so I read them fast, the fourth book came out mid February. I had to wait for it to go on Kindle. All were around the $5 price for Kindle version. Great buy. Now that I have finished the fourth book, I have to wait until Mr. Briggs finishes that fifth book. Grand finale. I can't wait.

The series consists of :
The Book of Names
Corus the Champion
The Song of Unmaking
The Raveged Rhelm
The War of Swords- coming

You can find them on Amazon
You can learn more about the author and the series at Hidden Lands website 

General overview:
The basic gist of the story is that things are not as they may seem. Maybe, this world, what we see is not all there is. Maybe, just maybe the histories of our world are interrelated more than we care to admit. Perhaps there are other worlds, what if they intersected, what if they interrelated. What if?
The Barlow family has recently lost mother/wife. They have also moved. Chasing a dream of their archaeologist father.
What happens next is nothing any of them expected, not even the dad, who has been researching this a long time. The boys one by one stumble into another world, become and intricate part of it. Dad follows. Their lives are changed, by hardship, grief, joy and promise. It is a clear and beautiful picture of what happens when we acknowledge God as the master story teller, the author of our unique stories, so distinct and so intertwined. He reveals, he heals, he makes all things new. This is a great story about our journey, our story, the hand of God. I also really like the example of gifts. God gives gifts to his children and the Barlow's and Odessa's clan have gifts too. I like that.

Ok, now the story line overview:
Reggie Barlow has recently lost his wife. He has four boys. All are in varying stages of grief. They move to a small town to a farm. While clearing a field of thorns a mystery unfolds. I won't spoil it for you.... but one by one the boys find themselves in another world, then dad too. This takes two books. The boys find that in the transition they each acquire a new gift that is very useful in the many quests and adventures they find themselves in. They make some really great new friends and find a new home and purpose in the land of Karac Tor. The boys and dad are intricate parts of the end time saga of this world or other dimension.

In the first book, The Book of Names, Hayden and Ewan must help to defeat an evil enchantress who desires to cast the world of Karac Tor into darkness and evil. Does she work alone or is there another behind her evil work? Will the boys accept the call or will they go home? Can they?

In the second book, Corus the Champion, the twins, Garret and Gabe have made it to the Hidden Lands. All four boys have a part to play. The enchantress is at work again and someone worse is rising up. A long lost champion must be retrieved from the clutches of evil before it is too late and a long sleeping King of another world must be awakened to stop the spread of evil and destruction. Will the boys rise to the challenge, even if it cost them greatly? Will they find a way to their father?

In the third book, The Song of Unmaking, dad finally makes his way through the portal and into Karac Tor, grief torn over his wife and the seeming loss of his four sons, he takes an entire book to find the strength to stand and be part of the story. Meanwhile his sons are off and running, adventure at every turn. A dark evil threatens Karac Tor. A machine, an army of unliving beasts. Will they find the strength in faith to do what they have been called to do?

In the fourth book, The Ravaged Rhelm, two plots unfold and intertwine in book one and book two of this novel. The song has unleashed a fury of destruction and change for those given to evil and those given to good. The rest must decide who leads them, will the king from another world hold them together? Will the humans turned monster destroy the people? Will the Barlow brothers even survive this? Lost and wandering each finds their own mission and works hard to follow the call. What of their father? He just disappeared along with one of the rulers and three of her children. The second half of the book follows them in their journey, a call to find the last voice of prophecy required for the end times of Karac Tor. This can't be the end for Reggie though as he finds he is falling in love again.  The book ends with some solidarity and and answer, much of the riddle the books are based on is solved. We await the end in book four, The War of Swords.

Good: This series is a great read. Captivating and engaging. The author uses great words to challenge the vocabulary of the reader. I like that. He uses just enough description to lead us into our own imagination. Each book ends at such a place that there is sufficient closure but leaves you hanging so you just must read the next book. The characters are developed in such a keen and personal way that you really feel that you know them. I found myself laughing out loud, crying and clutching the book in stressful anticipation. I also really liked the historical and mythological aspects that Briggs brought to the book, makes one think about things a little deeper. I liked the mirroring of different cultures and language use (some of that needed some translation), it is refreshing to have a cast of characters who are multi cultural.  I also really appreciated the spiritual aspect of the book, showing us the story line God has for us is not always, well, rarely is, what we think it is. The artwork on the covers of these books are quality, eye catching works of art showing care and consideration for the story.

Not as good: Well, the only negative comments I have for this series is in regard to flow and editing. While the author really does the story, the editor helps to put things in an order that makes sense and I think either the editor was off or I got an unedited copy. The third book does not flow as well as the first two, leaving you hanging for more than one or two chapters with some of the characters as they go back and forth between what is happening in different parts of the story for longer chunks of time. Not too bad really, you still get a well rounded idea of what all the characters are up to and how they are feeling. The fourth book has a few more issues. I am guessing that something happened in the upload of the kindle version from the publisher and a previous edition was put out instead of the final edit. There were multiple editing errors in spelling and phrasing and actually once a totally different name was used for one of the twins. This did not bother me, but it could be a distraction for others, land is unprofessional. I am pretty sure this was an error on the part of the publisher and will be fixed soon. I just don't have that new official copy. The other issue with the book, it is an editing issue as well, is that it started out going back and forth between two parties (three of the brothers) then went and focused on one of them entirely for many chapters. In the first part of the book there was little mention of dad, who had suddenly disappeared at the end of the third book. Also Hayden was only mentioned in the first and last chapters and we have only an inkling of an idea what he has been up to, he was our main character in the first book and it seemed unfair to readers to leave us hanging with out so much as a minor chapter in between to let us know what he was up to. Ewan also seemed a secondary character and he was just re-developing his skill and I would have liked to see more of his personal struggle with this. We did get to know Gabe and Garret more in the first part of this book, especially Gabe. The second part of the book (and they are broken into book one and book two), we follow dad, Reggie, and Odessa, a ruler on Karac Tor, and three of her kids as they traverse worlds looking for the prophet to bring commencement to the end times on Karac Tor. While this was interesting it felt disjointed. It also brought a budding romance to the scene with characters we had not previously gotten to know and love, so it seemed awkward, though by the end I was certainly rooting for them and glad for the outcome. Looking forward to more closure to that in the last book. Considering that this book is for teens, the adult thought process of love and commitment, grief and hope are a bit out of context for the general audience. Not a problem for adult readers who will understand. Given that this is semi autobiographical in that the characters and relationships reflect real ones it is understandable, but not really what a teen audience is interested in. Now, if say, Hayden or Ewan had fallen for Odessa's daughter, now that is a good teen story, and would also have been unrelated to the real life characters. I prefer the back and forth of the first two stories and even the third. The second really felt like the two separate books it was broken up into, which does not fit the style of the first three books of a series. Usually a series sticks with the same format. I wanted to know more about the other characters and what they were doing and how they were developing in their new calling and life on this other world. I missed them in the second half, and somewhat in the first. Despite the critique here I still really enjoyed the book, I just thought the editing could have been better in how the story was put together in chapters, alternating rather than grouping. These issues did not take away from the message or quality storyline of the book, and that is a good thing since it is such a fabulous story.

I think that D Barkley Briggs is a very fine and noteworthy author who deserves a better editor or maybe a publisher who checks which edition they put out there for sale. 

Reader level: I would put this book at a Junior High/High School reading level. It uses big words which is great. It is a complicated plot line and it uses some logic and historical connections that are at a more advanced reading level.

Reader appropriateness: I would give this a PG rating for kids under JH because of the violence of battle and Reggie grappling with grief and love.

Alerts: I have no cautions for parents in this VERY clean book. No bad language, sexuality or convoluted witchcraft that could be confusing. The violence is aptly described for war scenes and is not over the top, but would not be appropriate for kids under 5th grade.

While this book has a good story line for both boys and girls it would be quite well received and related to by boys in particular.

 All in all, I loved this book series and can't wait for the final book to come out later this year.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Starfish by James Crowley

Blackfoot Nation children Lionel and Beatrice steal a horse and run away from their boarding school to spend nine months hidden in a cabin in the Montana mountains, surviving in the old ways, thanks to the teachings of their grandfather and the help of an African American fugitive. Set in the early twentieth century, this appealing adventure includes horseback-riding feats, fights and children's games, and narrow escapes. Crowley's filmmaking experience is evident in this first novel. The pacing is solid, and both setting and action are clearly described and easy to picture. From nine-year-old Lionel's point of view, his 12-year-old sister, Beatrice, is larger than life: she looks like a warrior on the stolen horse and she goes her own way. In addition, the adults are complex characters—not all boarding-school officials are evil. This slightly romantic but well-written survival story includes an author Q&A that discusses his contacts in the Blackfeet Nation and a list of resources. Grades 4-8. --Kathleen Isaacs

This book is a fairly easy read. I read it in three evenings. This is a fiction book based on historically accurate era information. What I like about this book is the development of relationships between the characters and the strong family bonds.  The emotion Mr. Crowley is able to get us to feel is significant. The details he provides and historical accuracy is good and really gives life to the story and makes you feel that not only are you there but that this could be a "for real" story too. This book carries a lot of emotion. For me, being a person with a rather strong sense of justice and mercy, this holds some strong emotion for me. I hate injustice. It is one thing that will fire me up every time.

I rate this book PG because of violent thematic elements as well as the undercurrent of racism. It is a late elementary to middle school reading level and content. It would be a great book for a kid to read to enhance a school lesson on the early 1900's and the creation of reservations and the mis-treatment of Native American's. It does warrant a parent-child discussion on racism and the wrongness of violence used for any reason.

For his first book James Crowley has done quite well. I hope he keeps writing. 

The Magicians Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo--author of The Tale of Despereaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane--has crafted another exquisite novel for young readers. The Magician's Elephant tells the tale of Peter Augustus Duchene, a ten-year-old orphan who receives an unbelievable piece of information from the local fortuneteller. Peter learns that his fate is tied to an elephant that has inexplicably fallen from the sky when a magician's trick goes terribly wrong. Why did it happen? And, how can an elephant possibly change the course of Peter's life? This darkly atmospheric yet hopeful tale demonstrates that when the answers to life's big questions are opaque or unforthcoming, all is not lost. DiCamillo's rhythmic writing, combined with Yoko Tanaka's mysterious black-and-white illustrations, enchants and calls out to our sincerest wishes and dreams (recommended for readers ages 8-13). --Lauren Nemroff

What I liked about this book was the simpleness of it. This is a good book for a younger child who can grasp a story line that is not as direct as other children's books. I read it in two evenings. I am not a really fast reader, but adults still read faster than kids. This book can entertain a young child in that it is simple, and an older child as it has depth that must be imagined between the lines. 

A word of caution on this and other books by Ms DiCamillo. There is a lot of sadness. Children are orphaned, separated, ill treated. There is sadness in other parts of the story too. Much sadness. I think the story ends happily. Depending on your child this could be an emotional read or a average read. If your child was adopted, how he or she reads this will be effected by his or her own story and how you have presented it to him or her.

I would suggest this book for the reading ages of  6-10 and the emotional level of 9+. I rate it PG because of the sadness and implied mistreatment of children.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Movies for teen girl parties

Movies for teen girl parties:

Ok, so I have two teen girls who love to have a bunch of friends over for social time. Sometimes movies are in the mix. These are really hard to find. So, since we keep having this conversation and search, I thought we would just put all the ones we find in once place so we can find them next time. And maybe someone else out there can too! 

requirements: no bedroom scenes, minimal language issues, minimal violence/within reason for the movie and audience, no drug use glorification.

Princess Bride
Princes Diaries 1 and 2
You Again
Ice Princess
Confessions of a Shopaholic
What a girl wants
A Cinderella Story
Ever After
One Night with the King (Ester story)
Ella Enchanted
Mansfield Park
Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Ballet Shoes
Nancy Drew
Tin Tin
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Mirror Mirror
We Bought a Zoo
Soul Surfer

For teen girls and boys:
Harry Potter
Lord of the Rings
National Treasure
Indiana Jones
Hunger Games

Any other ideas???? Post your ideas in the comments.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Peter and the Starcatchers by Barry and Pearson

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Don't even think of starting this book unless you're sitting in a comfortable chair and have lots of time. A fast-paced, impossible-to-put-down adventure awaits as the young orphan Peter and his mates are dispatched to an island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They set sail aboard the Never Land, a ship carrying a precious and mysterious trunk in its cargo hold-and the journey quickly becomes fraught with excitement and danger. Discover richly developed characters in the sweet but sophisticated Molly, the scary but familiar Black Stache, and the fearless Peter. Treacherous battles with pirates, foreboding thunderstorms at sea, and evocative writing immerse the reader in a story that slowly and finally reveals the secrets and mysteries of the beloved Peter Pan.

I read this book some time ago and was reminded of it recently. It was a really good book, one I could not put down. Too many late nights. How did Neverland get there? Peter Pan? Fairy dust? Who was Captain Hook anyway? Wendy? Well, this fun and thrilling book gives us some supposed history on the childhood classic, Peter Pan. I would recommend this book for the average 3rd or 4th grader. The suspense is there, but nothing graphic. My daughters read this in 3rd and 4th grade and gave it to several friends as a book of choice for gifts. That must indicate that it is really quite a good read.

Note: I have not read any of the other books in this series.