Wednesday, November 3, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour Review: The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead

The CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead this month. This is the first of the Bright Empires novels. In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Summary (from Barnes and Noble's website):

Kit Livingstone's great-grandfather has re-appeared with an unbelievable story--the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legends but truly are pathways to other worlds. So few people know how to use them, though, that doing so is fraught with danger.

But one explorer knew more than most. Because of his fear of being unable to find his way home, he developed an intricate code and tattooed his map onto his skin. But the map has since been lost and rival factions are in desperate competition to recover it. What none of them yet realize is that the skin map itself is not the prize at the end of this race . . . but merely the first goal of a vast and marvelous quest to regain Paradise.

Enter the ultimate treasure hunt--with a map made of skin, a playing field of alternate realities, and a prize that is the greatest mystery of all.

How I felt about the book:

The idea of travel to other worlds through ley lines was very interesting. Old, mysterious stuff like ley lines can be fascinating, and Lawhead did something very cool with them. I was always eager to get back to reading the book so I could see what would happen next and what interesting place I'd get to experience. What I found interesting is that it's almost like reading historical fiction at the same time as speculative fiction. It was fun, especially since I like historical fiction.

The book had good, vivid descriptions. His words drew beautiful, clear pictures in my mind. I felt like I was in the different times and places where the book takes place.

However, the author sometimes repeats certain descriptions. Or, more often, he repeats a word in close proximity to the first time it was used. This got a little distracting for me. Other times, it's like he's taken his first description, changed the wording a bit, and reused it. I got frustrated with having the same details told to me twice. An example of when he did this is on pages 322 and 367. Compare the descriptions of the wadi. You'll see that both times, the wadi has air described as dead, but the "shade" "revives" the two characters who experience it (words in quotations are words that were the same both times). It's so close that one time it says, "Cosimo felt himself slightly revived," and the other time it says, "Kit felt himself revive." It was like having a case of reading deja vu.

I would have preferred if an indication of the general time period of each chapter was given sooner, or if more of it was given. Sometimes it was pretty clear where the travelers were, like in the London, Prague, and China chapters. But when Burleigh was there for the opening of the tomb, I had no idea when it was taking place. All I knew was that they had cars.

I think that Lawhead handled all the different places and times really well. He wove them together with all the threads leading to the climax, where they began to explain each other. He did a marvelous job in that aspect.

The untranslated German when Etzel and Wilhelmina met confused and frustrated me. I want to know what they said. If it's put in a book, the reader should be able to understand it, or it should be explained.

Another thing that bothered me was that sometimes the author contradicted himself. The first time we see a particular wadi (page 322 again), he says that it was cut "by water from the melt runoff during the last ice age." The next time we see the same wadi (page 367 again), he says that it was cut "by the abundant rains of a much younger world." Also, he writes that Cosimo and Sir Henry's hands are bound with rope. Later, they wipe sweat from their faces, take off their boots, etc. with no mention of their hands having been untied. There were a couple more contradictions, but those were the two that stood out to me the most and distracted me.

At one point, the story is split into five threads, each of which follows a different set of characters. I felt that the five weren't balanced well enough. It took too long for the story to get back to Cosimo and to Kit. Kit is the main character, isn't he? So why didn't we hear about him for so long?

On the subject of characters, I didn't feel like I identified enough with all of the viewpoint characters. Their emotions and/or motives were often hidden from the reader, which made me feel distanced (or made me wonder how they managed to fall in love with someone). The characters I empathized with most were Wilhelmina and Etzel.

Speaking of those two characters, I loved reading about them. They were real people with real emotions. It's funny, because from Kit's description of Wilhelmina in the beginning of the book, I thought I wasn't going to be able to stand her. But she turned out to be my favorite character and a smart, sweet person. I looked forward to the sections with the Kaffeehaus.

I'm definitely reading the next book when it comes out. Lawhead left it at a couple cliffhangers, and I especially want to know what happens with Flinders-Petrie.

You can read more about the book at Stephen Lawhead's website or by visiting some of the other blogs participating in this tour:

Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
George Duncan
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Allen McGraw
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Donna Swanson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Elizabeth Williams
Dave Wilson

Becca Johnson

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Restorer's Journey by Sharon Hinck

I just finished reading The Restorer's Journey by Sharon Hinck. I can't believe I waited this long to read it. It was great, and I had been missing out.

This is the third book in The Sword of Lyric trilogy. I reviewed the first book here. Unfortunately, I never reviewed the second book, The Restorer's Son, after I read it. It's especially unfortunate since that was my favorite book. It has Kieran, my favorite character, as the main character. But I read it too long ago for me to go back and review it now. I don't trust my memory that much. However, I do trust it enough to tell you that it was a very good book and that I recommend it.

So, back to The Restorer's Journey. This book's main character is Jake, Susan's son. However, it still follows Susan's journey (just like in the other two books) and there are some chapters in her point of view. Here's a summary I found on Sharon Hinck's website:

The world he knew is gone.

Confident in his new Restorer signs, Jake crosses the portal into Lyric to stage a heroic rescue. But everything has changed.

Jake is forced to confront hostile friends, the mental control of a corrupt king, and deadly lies that have claimed the clans. His path leads him to alliances with outlaws, dire battles, and even the temptation to forsake his calling.

Susan faces her own battles as she struggles to survive a brutal captivity. Can she find freedom before enemies destroy her spirit? Will Jake’s choices save the clans or lead to her death?

-I didn't feel like I connected with Jake as much as I had with the previous two main characters (Susan and Kieran), at least not at first. That doesn't mean I didn't like him, he just didn't seem as strong of a character in the beginning.

-There's one moment in the book where I'm curious how one of the characters knew what was going to happen so that they could plan it the way they did. I can't say more without giving something major away. And maybe there's an explanation I haven't thought of yet, but it just made me wonder.

-My favorite character was only mentioned a few times. :( He never showed up in person. But that's my own silly complaint. :P

Reflection in the middle:
This next thing isn't really a weakness. I thought it was at first, but it actually turned out to be a strength. So I'm sticking it here in the middle.

I started really enjoying the book once Jake started following God's plan for his journey. The book was a little frustrating up until that point. But now that I've finished the book and looked back on it, I guess that makes sense. Of course things would be frustrating when he wasn't where God wanted him to be. So this is the weakness that turned into a strength...wait a second. That sounds familiar. :P ;)

-Sharon Hinck did a great job of portraying God's love and guidance in His children's lives. It felt very personal and not at all preachy. Watching how He guided and spoke to the characters reminded me of how close He wants to be to us, how active He wants to be in our lives, and how even when His plan sounds crazy, it's really the only sane way to go. Great reminders!

-The world this story takes place in is very original. Even the atmosphere and weather is very different from our own, but not so weird that it's difficult to imagine. The world has its own creatures, Verses, cultures, and peoples. And it's a world I enjoyed going back to visit again.

-There's some good action in this book. There are lots of sword fights and battles that are described well, but that don't get unnecessarily gory. I never got bored with the book, even when there weren't fights going on. It held my attention throughout.

-The song that Jake wrote is in the back of the book, along with the music so that a musician could play it. I plan to try it out tomorrow on the piano. I love it that Sharon Hinck includes music in these books. :D

I really liked this book, and I think you will too. I think it would appeal to all ages and both genders, since it has both a teenage boy and a mom as main characters. Besides, Sharon Hinck did a good job of appealing to everyone even when all she had was the mom as the main character. You should go and buy The Restorer's Journey (and the two books before it) right away so you can get lost in the adventure and wonder too. That's what I think. :)

Here's a last glimpse of the covers of the first two books to get you even more interested:

-Becca Johnson

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I'm finally back, and I'm planning on writing reviews of some of the books I've read recently. At last, I've had more time to read, and I've discovered some fun books.

Leviathan is one of those books I enjoyed reading. It's directed toward young adults, and I'd describe the genre as a mix of steampunk and alternate history. The book starts with the beginning of World War I and some of the circumstances that started it, but nothing else is really the same. In this world, the two sides are divided into people who use giant machines that walk on mechanical legs and people who create ships, draft animals, and other creatures by mixing a whole bunch of animals' genes together. It's a very imaginative world that Westerfeld has created, and inside the book are many beautiful full-page drawings that bring the scenes to life.

Here's a little description I found on Scott Westerfeld's website:

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

-There are parts of this book that promote Darwinism, and that got annoying. I just ignored it, but I don't like knowing that an author has an agenda in their book.

-Westerfeld does a good job of pulling his reader into the world of the story. You feel like you're there, and it sticks with you when you're done reading.
-The characters were engaging, particularly Alek. I liked his smart, compassionate POV.
-There's plenty of action, which is what I like.
-The cover's cool, and the detailed illustrations were a bonus for me. Here are two examples so you can see why I liked them so much:

I recommend this book to anyone who likes steampunk, fantastical imaginings, and adventure. I think you'll have fun with this book.

-Becca Johnson