The Blood of Angels by Sinisalo

booldofangelsOrvo, a Finnish beekeeper, has been watching the spread of the collapse of colonies of bees worldwide with trepidation and fear. And now one of his colonies has disappeared as well leaving only the dead queen in their wake.

The Blood of Angels
by Johanna Sinisalo
Peter Owen Publishers
October 1, 2014

In the United States and other places around the world the collapse of bee colonies has heralded economic disaster. No pollinization means no fruits or other plants that require bees to grow and develop. Without that food, domesticated animals and humans don’t have enough to eat. Prices skyrocket. Inflation brings nations to their knees. It looks a lot like the apocalypse to Orvo. But what has his attention as much as his newly collapsed colony is the activities of his son.

[SPOILERS] His son blogs for animal rights and equality. As he moved from basic questions and a call for right treatment to radicalization he ends up on the wrong side people who would rather kill him than dialog. And they do. [END SPOILERS]

Dealing with all the loss, Orvo happens upon a magical gateway to another world in, of all places, the upstairs of his barn. The doorway leads to a pristine world that seems to be without humans but abundantly full of bees and plant life. The question is what to do about the door, the impending apocalypse and his personal struggles.

Sinisalo breaks the narrative of her novel into bite sized – or I should say blog sized – entries. All counting down to the final day after the first collapse. In between Orvo’s story we get blog posts, with comments, to move the story along and fill in back story. Since the book does not move day by day, instead it jumps days, we miss some things only to read of them later. This device serves to add tension and interest to a premise that could be rather tedious. After all, other than visiting the “Other World” Orvo doesn’t leave his home for the duration of the novel.

While the story builds to a predetermined end day after collapse it ends in a way that is not sure to satisfy all readers but in a way that is true to Orvo’s character. Without spoiling the story, we see an outcome that leaves the reader with exactly enough to continue to think of the story but not enough to close it out and put it on the shelf to be forgotten. And I think that’s the point. Whether or not Sinisalo agrees with her protagonists son – especially on some of the more radical posts, the message is clear: are we destroying our planet? What would happen is colony collapse were real?

Oh, yeah: it is real. Search for bee collapse online and you’ll find quite a bit to substantiate that bees do in fact seem to be on the brink. And how that would affect our world would be devastating.

A surprisingly intriguing story about a topic that wouldn’t normally be considered as a thriller. A mix of fantasy, science and family drama this book is worth a read.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This game was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Wisdomantics

20141218_223020Wisdomantics is a board game for 2 to 4 players where the goal is to learn and internalize the wisdom of Proverbs in a fun way.

Wisdomantics
Kingdom Games Enterprises
2013

Your goal is to answer trivia questions – fill in the blanks – from 400 DVD questions earning the right to move around a Monopoly -like game. As you move you’ll gain Blessing cards (money), compete activities like telling about ways God has blessed you or paying for others or yourself, and earn resources (cypress, gold and cedar) to be the first to build Solomon’s temple.

20141218_222945I applaud the goal of the game and it can be interesting and engaging for those who use the King James Version. But there are some draw backs. As for the game play it seems odd to collect blessings from God and use them as currency. It’s also a gap where you’ll end up with way too many blessing cards too early making the game less about the board and more about the trivia. In fact, I’d prefer this was more about the trivia instead of the goal of building a temple out of 16 resources that you earn and buy. I’d also have preferred to stay away from the DVDs and go with cards and a timer. I’m not a fan of having to use a DVD without a reason. There are just questions with a timer on the screen so why do we need that? And if you read a modern translation (and you should based on scholarship and accuracy) then you’ll really struggle on the questions at times. But kudos for trying something else with the game. I just don’t think it works well.

20141218_223051Other than game play I’m worried that games like this don’t succeed in their worthy goals because they come off as cheesy or a parody of Christianity. A Christian I showed the game to actually said they thought the game was someone playing a joke on Christians. I see where they are coming from. The chits (game pieces we move) are a dove, a bible with a cross, the 10 Commandments and (for Doctor Who fans) what looks like a weeping angel. (Why? Do we really want people playing as persons of the Trinity? And who gets stuck with the fourth token? Just go with four colored tokens in my opinion.) The artwork on the box and low production value on the DVDs also set the bar really low. And this is a shame.

20141218_222928I get what the developers are going for and if this game serves to help people remember and hold on to the Proverbs then great! I’m just worried that the game isn’t that fun to keep people coming back, is a little clunky to play with odd design choices, and isn’t very appealing so I’m not sure it’s going to get that chance.

The good news is that if you’d like to try this out the developer and the publicity company, FlyBy Promotions, are willing to send out a copy of the game to one winner. Enter your comments below to have a chance to win. One winner only. We will randomly select the winner from these comments or on Facebook. The winner cannot have won from this same publicity company in the past 60 days.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This game was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Hard Carbon by David M. Salkin

hardcarbonIvan “The Butcher” Bulovski has found a way to manufacture diamonds to use in a super computer that is so advanced it can be used to unsettle world markets, destroy economies or execute the largest bank heist in history – double digit billions stolen and untraceable. Can the FBI or the world stop him?

Hard Carbon
By David M. Salkin
Post Hill
September 2014

There are actually three stories here that are fairly unconnected: the FBI’s pursuit of the fake diamonds in the United States, the Butcher’s chase after technological supremacy (and unlimited wealth) and finally Max’s flight from the Butcher to freedom. All three happen simultaneously and all three feature the Butcher but they don’t overlap. And because they don’t tie together in the end I’m left with the impression that these are actually different stories. Unfortunately, the different stories don’t hold up well on their own or together.

[SPOILERS] For instance, the FBI agents, Still, Walker and Hollohan, never encounter the Butcher or even more than a couple mafia thugs. A non-FBI task force takes down a single cell while they watch and then when the Butcher is caught – I called SPOILERS – he is sent to Guantanamo Bay where he is held by the CIA and military. Basically, the FBI agents have a very small role in the story where they serve as a plot device to explain the diamonds to the reader. In that case, it is acceptable that they are not very well developed – they are military-jargon speaking macho-men who mostly speak in cliché. And they don’t come across as heroes when they ignore the law by not giving arrested men their Miranda rights, access to lawyers, and use techniques like you’d expect in a country less developed and less moral than the United States. Walker says, for instance, “Let’s get something straight. This isn’t a Hollywood movie and you won’t be under the protections of the US constitution where we take you… What is going to happen is that you are going to answer a very long list of questions, and then maybe we can discuss how you can survive afterward… You know, a—hole, before 9/11, we might have had to get you [a lawyer.] But the public is pretty fed up with illegal alien scumbags that come here to cause damage to this country… that’s right a—hole. You’re going to Cuba” (p146). On the next page Walker admits that what he is doing is illegal. All this setting aside of laws and morals to, what, find a fake diamond selling ring? The dialogue by the FBI agents and their actions are over the top and I never found myself rooting for them.

[STILL SPOILERS] Ditto the bank heist plot by the Butcher and his computer scientists. I looked it up and diamonds can be used in computers to speed up processing. So that part is fascinating. The use of scientists and the diamond material by the mafia boss to make a ton of money makes a ton of sense as well and the potential to use the new super computer to cause global cataclysm was intriguing but the Butcher never goes there. All he wants is money. The guy who has more money and unchallenged power than anyone in Russia wants only money and retirement. Huh? But why would he take a few billion dollars after a single heist, kill everyone, then move out of his safe zone to an island off the coast of America? Did it not cross his mind that the CIA or any other government agency for almost any Western country (or even Russia) would immediately take an interest in an international terrorist who happens to be on a boat with minimal defenses? It was a death sentence at best as soon as he left his country. It didn’t make sense to me.

[STILL MORE SPOILERS] Max’s story was the most intriguing but also serves to highlight how many of the characters in the book are caricatures. When Max starts running from the Butcher we start cheering for him. It’s easy to ignore the fact that he is a crook who was working for the mob and a murderer like the Butcher and focus on him as the little guy trying to escape. His capture seems inevitable when the Butcher sends his best man plus his two best bodyguards on the chase. I can’t stress enough how unsatisfying it was to see the ex-special forces thugs get gunned down by a single shot from a shotgun by a factory worker in the middle of the night. Why would they all be lined up at the door while breaching? Why wouldn’t they have taken out the guys in the room quickly (like we’d expect from Special Forces guys?) An ancient shotgun from across the room aimed at the door and fired once and all three are basically dead. End of tension. Everything after that is superfluous. We know no one is chasing Max even if he doesn’t. Even rooting for him seems a shallow victory as we know all along that he’s going to make a ton of money off his fake diamond – again, setting aside the fact that he is also a thief – and live happily ever after. But we are given no reason to care after that. [END SPOILERS]

I was a huge fan of Salkin’s Deep Black Sea. The writing was tight and the setting and plot created tension and made for a fun survival horror story. I read in the author’s note that this was the book that Salkin wrote first and then came back to after publishing seven others. I hate to provide negative feedback on what is surely a labor of love but it is my opinion after comparing the two most recently published novels that Salkin is a much better writer now than he was when he started this one. There are a bunch of plot holes, the story doesn’t seem to go together, and the characters aren’t well fleshed out.

I’m sorry but this one is a pass for me.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Nnewts by Doug TenNapel

nnewtsThe Nnewt city is beset by evil Lizzarks in an unprovoked attack that devastates the people and leaves young Herk alone and on the run. The problem is that Herk is handicapped by under developed legs. As he struggles to survive he also searches for a way to restore his legs and find his destiny.

Nnewts
#1 Escape from the Lizzarks
by Doug TenNapel
GRAPHIX
January 2015

At times the story seems disconnected and problems are solved too conveniently and quickly. For instance, Herk has a disability but instead of overcoming it he [SPOILERS] fights the god of the Lizzarks who stole them from him as a child. It’s over with a single blow off a rock to the head. How did he get there? At a temple in the ruins of the Nnewt city, where he finds nnewts2himself after his family is murdered, and guided by an old king who appears and disappears just as quickly. Then he’s at a huge city of Nnewts ams is saved by an arrow from a constellation. [END SPOILERS] I know there is a lot left untold at this point as this is only book one but I felt things really moved quickly with very little back story. Hopefully future books clear some of this up.

This is a book written with 8-12 year old kids in mind and I think that’s the nnewt3right age group for reading skill and interest. It may be rough on some to see the content depictions of Herk’s parent and siblings killed. As my 8 year old said, [SPOILERS]  “The book is interesting but a lot of people die.” (See pictures to the left for the death of the mother.) [END SPOILERS]

The art is great – something you’d expect since the author created Earthworm Jim – and the story, while abrupt is fun and complex. I recommend it to older – 3rd grade and up – readers.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Meet the Bigfeet by Sherry

bigfeetBlizz Richards misses his yeti family reunion but with George Vanquist, self styled cryptozoologist, on the prowl for pics of bigfoot can it be risked?

Meet the Bigfeet
The Yeti Files 1
by Kevin Sherry
Scholastic
September 2014

The family get togethers ended when Vanquist got a pic of fellow yeti Brian. Now everyone is too afraid to get together and no one knows where Brian is. Blizz and his pals travel across the globe to find Brian, get the family back together and avoid Vanquist.

The story is fully illustrated (greyshade watercolor) it looks suitably comical. Characters are wild and wacky and sometimes overly so. Vanquist is called “evil” but until the very end when he [SPOILERS] mistreats his dog and threatens to send him to the pound do we see why he would be considered evil. Prior to that, he was simply a human looking to take pictures of a bigfoot, which doesn’t seem evil at all. [END SPOILERS]

Reading level solidly 2nd to 5th with very few long or difficult words. I provided this book to my son, who is in second grade, and he had no trouble reading the words. He did have some trouble finishing it because it just wasn’t very interesting. While it is an easy read, it really isn’t an exciting read. The story bounces between the elf/goblin parts to the wolf parts to the yeti parts to Vanquist with little or no explanation as to why it jumps so frequently. It seems scattered and in the end there is no lesson learned, no character development, and very little excitement.

This is a numbered series with the second book, about the Loch Ness monster, set up on the final pages. But unless it is more exciting and more happens I’m not sure this series will be successful.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Jesus is the Question by Copenhaver

JesusQuestionTrue to the title, Copenhaver asks questions of the reader to come to a deeper undertaken of who Jesus is to us and who we are to be for him.

Jesus Is the Question
The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered
by Martin B. Copenhaver
Abingdon Press
September 2014

Each of the 8 chapters on the questions of Jesus is filed with anecdote anger story after parable all towards the goal of asking the questions in just the right way to get the response Jesus was going for originally. Starting with “what are you looking for?” and moving through topics dealing with compassion, identity, faith and doubt, worry, love, heading and abundance.

Starting with chapter 9, the author takes us through the very important, eternity impacting questions for us that Jesus answered: who Jesus is, what happened on the cross and what the resurrection. The book ends with nearly 10 full pages of all of Jesus’ questions listed out then some study questions.

A worthy read that should prompt growth and understanding.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

john2

The Lumo Project: John

With the popularity of so-called Biblical movies this year is so very refreshing to see a movie that actually issues the Bible as its source. The Lumo Project’s The Gospel of John is narrated with the exact text of the Gospel of John in the versions: NIV (David Harwood), KJV (Brian Cox) and in Spanish via the Reina-Valera 1960 Version (unknown). Visually all three narrations are over the same film.

The actors chosen are a revelation – they look like they should. This is not a European looking cast. Actors have missing teeth, come in all sizes and shades of brown. Even Jesus looks like he should, solving a problem that troubles so many Bible films.

It is also set in a very realistic Palestine. The settings from markets to outskirts are very respectful of the actual text.

johnThere are some well done connections to the other Gospels as well. John doesn’t have the first communion, for instance, but the filmmakers add it in during the last supper while Jesus is talking. The Lumo Project will ultimately show all four Gospels in the same way and based on this film will be doing some tying together of them to show the consistency without hiding the differences.

Not everything is perfect, however. As a teacher in my church I am sensitive of and cringe when I see condescension to tradition show up, like the wise men in the manger. There are some casting decisions like Jesus’ brothers looking older than him that I also wondered about. And when Jesus does miracles he acts like it drains him, which is in contrast to his diety. My thoughts are below about this and other situations.

The biggest gap was in how the crucifixion was depicted. Mel Gibson ruined every future movie that will try to demonstrate the anguish of Jesus and this movie pales in comparison. It also fails to show Jesus’ anguish. The actor who did such a good job elsewhere really disappoints on the cross. Very tame.

Theses are minor quibbles compared to the ridiculous films that have come out so far this year. 2014 is the year of the missed opportunity when it comes to showing off the actual Bible. Be it films that take Bible stories and reimagine them in their creator’s own unbiblical image (Noah), or just start and stay extra biblical (Heaven is For Real), or disappoint because of substandard writing (God’s Not Dead.) And dont forget Christian Bale as Moses. But this film is exactly what we needed. A strong retelling of the Gospel that treats its watchers as adults and doesn’t shy away from trusting the source material.

imageI’m very impressed and looking forward to the other films. When it comes out on Netflix give it a shot. Fans of the Bible will undoubtedly love it.

The Lumo Project presents The Gospel of John – coming soon to Netflix. I was given advance screening for review purposes by the production company and FlyBy Promotions. Live blog thoughts below:

Beforever: A Brighter Tomorrow by McDonald

imageA young girl who recently moved to San Fransisco from Ohio with her mother and brother finds a mood ring that magically transports her back in time to 1975 where she meets Julie Albright. Your choices move the story along.

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie
American Girl Beforever Journey
by Megan McDonald
illustrated by Juliana Kolesova and Michael Dworkin
American Girl Publishing
August 2014

Growing up I was a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure. As an adult I love mobile phone games and Kindle books, like Click Your Poison, that serve the same purpose: allowing you to put yourself and your decisions in the story. Unfortunately, the American Girl Beforever series is no CYOA.

I’ve now read three of these books and each one provides many choices and endings but they just aren’t as exciting as CYOA.

This was the best of the three I read when it comes to the possible lessons learned as it is my opinion that this one being so close to our own time it is more relatable than some of the farther back ones. Girls cant play on a basketball team?! readers may wonder. And in that way this book actually brings the lessons home. Not necessarily the lessons of the book but more a familiarity with the time. Also, I’m disappointed that it seems like every American Girl Beforever book I’ve read seems to have a common plot point of the main character (you) dealing with having only one parent. In this case, Julie’s parents are getting a divorce and the young girl (you) just moved across the country without her father.

While these are like CYOA, there are some big differences. Here’s the key difference in a nutshell: in good CYOA type books you feel like you are playing the book. In AG: B books you feel like you are making the choices that the writers want you to make. It’s tied, in my opinion, to the fact that these books serve as advertisements for existing dolls with their own histories and stories so there is no wriggle room. If these were new dolls with new stories this wouldn’t be an issue.

Further, what is up with requiring readers to go online to beforever.com/endings to see certain endings? When you visit that site you see the endings for ALL the books in the series! This is a terrible way to end a “book” but a great marketing way to target young girls.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Beforever: Full Speed Ahead by Tripp

imageA young girl is going through a box on antiques and finds an old box camera that magically transports her to 1933 where she meets American Girl Kit Kittridge and learns about the Great Depression. Your choices in the book move the story along.

Full Speed Ahead: My Journey with Kit
American Girl Beforever Journey
by Valerie Tripp
illustrated by Juliana Kolesova and Michael Dworkin
American Girl Publishing
August 2014

Growing up I was a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure. As an adult I love mobile phone games and Kindle books, like Click Your Poison, that serve the same purpose: allowing you to put yourself and your decisions in the story. Unfortunately, the American Girl Beforever series is no CYOA.

I’ve now read three of these books and each one provides many choices and endings but they just aren’t as exciting as CYOA. Here’s the key difference in a nutshell: in good CYOA type books you feel like you are playing the book. In AG: B books you feel like you are making the choices that the writers want you to make. It’s tied, in my opinion, to the fact that these books serve as advertisements for existing dolls with their own histories and stories so there is no wriggle room. If these were new dolls with new stories this wouldn’t be an issue.

Further, what is up with requiring readers to go online to beforever.com/endings to see certain endings? When you visit that site you see the endings for ALL the books in the series! This is a terrible way to end a “book” but a great marketing way to target young girls.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Beforever: Catch the Wind by Ernst

imageA young girl’s mother is going to serve in the military and she isn’t handling it well at all. She is given a compass that her ancestors – also service people in the military – that transports her back in time to meet her ancestor Caroline, an American Girl, during the war of 1812.

Catch the Wind: My Journey with Caroline
American Girl Beforever Series
by Kathleen Ernst
illustrated by Juliana Kolesova and Michael Dworkin
American Girl Publishing
August 2014

Growing up I was a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure. As an adult I love mobile phone games and Kindle books, like Click Your Poison, that serve the same purpose: allowing you to put yourself and your decisions in the story. Unfortunately, the American Girl Beforever series is no CYOA.

I’ve now read three of these books and each one provides endings that aren’t very compelling, although there are many choices. Here’s the key difference in a nutshell: in good CYOA type books you feel like you are playing the book. In AG: B books you feel like you are making the choices that the writers want you to make. It’s tied, in my opinion, to the fact that these books serve as advertisements for existing dolls with their own histories and stories so there is no wriggle room. If these were new dolls with new stories this wouldn’t be an issue.

Further, what is up with requiring readers to go online to beforever.com/endings to see certain endings? When you visit that site you see the endings for ALL the books in the series! (Try the ending out for this one and you’ll see what I mean about the choices.) This is a terrible way to end a “book” but a great marketing way to target young girls.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

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