Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Peter's Angel

Title: Peter’s Angel (first volume in the Peter’s Angel trilogy)
Author: Aubrey Hansen
Page Count: 336 pages

Stars: 4.5 of 5
4.5 = an excellent book that was gripping and enjoyable

Teaser: In the wake of a lost War for Independence, Peter Jameson, a young colonel, struggles to protect his tiny patriot state of Rhode Island from the oppression of New Britain. When New Britain invades, Peter finds himself leading his small cavalry against the massive British army. But war becomes the least of his worries when his own men kidnap him and hold him for ransom. Facing certain death, Peter is freed by a mysterious boy who vanishes without leaving his name. Peter determines to find his "angel" and reward him. But his rescuer has a secret of his own, and he will do anything to keep from being found.

That summary barely does anything to scratch the multifaceted surface of Peter's Angel, but it'll have to do for now until you read the book for yourself!

Age level: Teens and up (13+)

Violence: 2 of 5
2 = PG-level violence that's a minor theme in the book

Romance: 2 of 5
2 = romance is minor but present

Language: 0 of 5 (although language is implied in one scene)

Christian worldview: Peter’s Angel is an explicitly religious/Christian novel, which makes it particularly interesting to read and review. Altogether, I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle-yet-present thread of spiritual commentary throughout the story. It worked perfectly in light of the setting in alternate-American-colonial-times. Also, Hansen wove in discussions on courtship, swearing, and God’s role in world events in an extremely skillful way—some of the best I’ve read in Christian fiction. Peter’s Angel presents an excellent example of how to write a Christian book.

My Personal Opinion: First, a few comments about what bumped this book from 5-star status. The beginning felt a bit heavy and factual and, although interesting, it could’ve used a bit more conflict. Also, even considering that Peter’s Angel is a trilogy, the ending felt rather abrupt and made me very, very impatient for the next book.

Now for the good points. The concept itself is extremely fascinating. It’s historical fiction plus that sense of questioning and exploring reality, that sense of asking, “what if something had happened differently?” In terms of the writing, the characters were my favorite aspect of the book. Each voice was distinct and the use of details to differentiate the various characters worked well. Although the action may have been slow to start, once it did begin, there was an excellent balance of character and plot-driven conflict. The setting was well-crafted, and Hansen’s marvelous use of details made each scene spring to life before my eyes.

All in all, I’d highly recommend Peter’s Angel. If you’re at all interested in Christian fiction, I’d definitely suggest that you read Peter’s Angel, both for pleasure and to learn from a job well done!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

4 Myths About YA Fantasy

Today I have the honor of being part of Inklined’s blog tour on young adult books in honor of National Teen Read Week (in the US). 

For those of you who regularly visit my blog, you may have noticed that many of my recent book reviews have dealt with young adult (YA) fantasy books. Well, today’s my chance to explain why you should read YA fantasy too. To do so, I’ll bust four common myths about YA fantasy.

Myth #1: All YA fantasy is about vampires.
Falser than false teeth! Sure, there’s Twilight and Vampire Diaries and a whole slew of vampire-related books. However, they certainly don’t dominate the entire market. There are sub-genres of YA fantasy about fairies (Swift), about Greek myth (Percy Jackson), about fairy tales (Ella Enchanted), about traditional Medieval fantasy (Inkheart), and so much more. The vampire books may coat the surface of YA fantasy, but just like when searching for gold, you need to dig a little deeper to find the treasure.

Myth #2: YA fantasy has less mature content than adult fantasy.
Sadly, this myth is both true and false. There are many books, especially those intended for a middle-grade (preteen to early teen) audience, that have a minimum or no adult content. However, especially as you start progressing into full-on YA fantasy, the mature content escalates until, sometimes, it’s indistinguishable from an adult book. So before you plunge into a YA fantasy book, be sure to check out reviews to make sure you won’t be in over your head.

Myth #3: YA fantasy is too short.
Okay, so some YA fantasy doesn’t top 200 pages. But there are other works of YA fantasy that are 600, 700, even 800 or more pages long. For a few examples, think of the Eragon series or the Harry Potter series (at least the later books). One benefit of having such a wide range of page counts to choose from is that you can pick a book according to how much time you have to read. Pick a short book to breeze through for the weekend, and a long book to relish over winter break.

Myth #4: YA fantasy is “second-rate” fiction.
Definitely false! YA fantasy is just like any fantasy, or any fiction, for that matter. There may be shoddy work, but there are also plenty of gems waiting to be discovered. One way to discover them is to look for books that have won awards (ALA best book for young adults, for example). Or go to your favorite book reviewer and ask them for recommendations. Whatever you do, I can assure you that you will eventually find an example of YA fantasy that you truly love.

I hope this blog post has piqued your interest for YA fantasy. Check out some of my book reviews, or stop by Inklined to see some more blog posts about YA fantasy. And, of course, don’t forget to comment about YA fantasy myths you’d like to bust!

Sienna North is a writer, poet, and photographer. Her hobbies include reading Medieval literature, traveling around the world, and doodling in watercolor. She blogs right here at Faerie & Faith as well as on her photo blog, Sienna North Photography. She plans to self-publish her first novel, a YA book about Japan's 2011 tsunami, in March 2013.

Faerie & Faith is a blog for writers and readers of Christian fantasy. Since its inception in mid-2011, blog posts have dealt with such issues as using magic in stories, "God" in fantasy, and book reviews of (mostly fantasy) novels. While the focus of the blog has begun to shift away from strictly fantasy-related subjects, the fantastic will always be an important part of Faerie & Faith.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Review: Inkheart

Title: Inkheart
Author: Cornelia Funke (Translated from the German by Anthea Bell)
Page Count: 534

Stars: 5 of 5
  5 = an amazing book that delivers a punch. Read this! 

Teaser: Imagine it were possible to bring the characters from a book to life. Not like when someone reads a book with such enchantment that the characters seem to jump off the pages and into your bedroom…but for real. Then, imagine if those characters brought their world into ours.

One cruel night, Meggie’s father, Mo, reads aloud from Inkheart. As he reads, an evil ruler named Capricorn escapes the boundaries of fiction and lands in their living room. Somehow, Meggie and Mo must learn to harness the power of reading aloud to end this nightmare.

Age level: Teen and up (13+)

Violence: 3 of 5
3 = between PG and PG-13 violence that plays a major role in the story

Romance: 1 of 5
1 = there's a hint of romance at a PG level

Language: 1 of 5
1 = replacement swear words, implied swearing, etc.

Christian worldview: The major “magical” element is that certain characters in Inkheart can read aloud and bring fictional characters and objects into the “real world.” This is basically explained as a skill and/or a genetic trait, so it doesn’t conflict the Christian worldview. The villains also converted an old church to use as their “audience hall,” but that’s clearly seen as wrong.

My Personal Opinion: This book is one of those rare few that qualifies as an all-time favorite. The concept alone is breathtaking. What if characters in books were real? Funke also opens each chapter with a thought-provoking quote. What’s more, Funke’s characterization made each character seem distinct, vivid, and real. Meggie’s voice especially enchanted me (in a literal and figurative sense). The plot was so gripping and each twist and turn completely unexpected. The climax was absolutely perfect and brilliant.

The one problem with this story? Funke wrote a sequel—in fact, she made it into a trilogy. The story that ends in Inkheart is beautiful, but the story that she continued…well, it didn’t have the same “magical” quality to it that Inkheart did. I finished the trilogy and enjoyed it, but the ending left me definitely disappointed. If you liked Inkheart, then give the other books a try, but be warned: they’re very different in substance and even in style from the original. Inkheart has also been made into a movie, which doesn’t live up to the original at all, but it’s not a horrible movie. In fact, I rather enjoyed it.

So, bottom line: read Inkheart! It’s truly breathtaking.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: The Silver Shawl

In today’s post, I’ll be reviewing a book, but not just any old book. Today's story is a historical mystery novella by Elisabeth Grace Foley. Why the changeup? For one thing, today is the publication of The Silver Shawl, and it’s fun to celebrate with authors as they release their new books. For another thing, I love Agatha Christie’s books—if you don’t, you need to—and The Silver Shawl was highly reminiscent of Christie’s work. Plus, it’s enjoyable and fun to read. So, with that said, let me enter full review mode.

Title: The Silver Shawl
Author: Elisabeth Grace Foley
Page Count: 45

Stars: 4 of 5
4 = well-written and a good read

Teaser: In a small town in turn-of-the-century Colorado, a young woman has disappeared from the boarding-house where she lives. Her distraught fiancé is certain that she must have been kidnapped. But the case takes a new turn when a city detective appears on the scene, looking for a woman who matches the description of the missing girl. Was Charity really kidnapped, or did she have a reason to flee? Mrs. Meade, a gentle but shrewd widow lady who lives across the hall in the boarding-house, feels that there is something wrong with the story of Charity's disappearance...but can she unravel the mystery before it is too late?

Age level: Preteens and up (10+)

Violence: 2 of 5
1 = mild injuries appropriate for all ages

Romance: 1 of 5
1 = there's a hint of romance at a PG level

Language: 0 of 5

Christian worldview: No religious concerns of note. On the positive side, Silver Shawl had a sweet and Biblical portrayal of the fiancé-fiancée relationship.

My Personal Opinion: I don’t usually read novellas, much less historical novellas, much less historical mystery novellas, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began Foley’s book. From the beginning, however, I was captivated by Foley’s use of details. The descriptions of characters, the settings, the small gestures—everything felt vivid and true-to-life.

In the larger, overall structure of the story, the book read a lot like a short story by Agatha Christie. Mrs. Meade wasn’t quite a Mrs. Marple, but there were certain similarities nonetheless. The mystery wasn’t obvious, either; it left me guessing for quite a long time, which is saying a lot, for me. 

My one point of criticism is that the end of the story lagged a bit. There wasn't quite enough tension to keep the story going for the last few pages. However, otherwise, the story and characters were spot-on.

So, in all, I enjoyed The Silver Shawl quite a bit. If you haven’t had the chance yet to discover this marvelous world of short historical mystery, I suggest that you start right now! And you can leave a comment, too, to celebrate a fellow-writer’s self-publication day.