Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman

I feel like I should have wildly excited things to say about Gloria Furman's newest title, Missional Motherhood. Certainly it was a great book, full of encouraging remarks about how we as mothers ought to think of ourselves. I have zero complaints about it and can do more than just recommend it -- I purchased copies to give to friends of mine that I thought would connect with it as well. When it comes to writing up a review of it though, all of my thoughts are falling flat. I've been debating why that is and one reason stands out above the rest and I'll get to that in a moment. First though, let me tell you about the book itself.

Missional Motherhood is a unique title in the world of books on motherhood in that it addresses all women everywhere as "nurturers" who are created to "mother" natural born/these-are-the-children-in-your-neighborhood kids. Furman doesn't limit the term "mother" to someone who bore a child in her womb, gave birth to it, and who now oversees that children's day-to-day living experiences. Rather, she calls on women to rise up and nurture all those around them in the love that Christ has given to us as sinners  whatever their standing or season or life.

Furman, I didn't realize, is a missionary, serving overseas with her husband and children. While the obvious audience for this book is the American woman, the reader is quick to see that Furman has a more global outlook on life. She sees women as being called to serve others in any variety of endeavors, situations and locations, and focuses in on the idea of loving your neighbor as you love yourself. For some people our "neighbors" are those aforementioned natural born children. Other neighbors might include girls in the church youth group in need of discipleship, fellow MOPS moms, babies in the nursery, children in an orphanage in another country, and/or virtually anyone that a woman has been placed in front of and asked to serve in some capacity. She wants her female readership to focus on their God-given role to nurture and build up and do those very things for the glory of the Lord. To make her argument, Mrs. Furman begins by spending the first half of the book taking her reader on an overview of the Old Testament and concludes with Christ's death on the cross. The idea is to cause her reader to see just how much they have been given so that they understand what all they have to give. It's a good message and Furman has a writing style I engaged with well. I had zero objections to what she had to say, liked her globally minded mission (my children weren't all born in the U.S. of A.!), and generally found this book appealing. As I say, I gifted it to others so clearly I don't have any major objections to it.

However, I have to say that while I was reading this title I thought a lot about why I was reading it. My chief reason was that I am a mother and I felt it was time to pick up a book on mothering to learn more about my role and how to improve in it. It's always great to be encouraged in my job by a book and so, of course, I was looking for a "pick me up" as well. I don't think there is anything necessarily wrong with that except that it just made the book feel sort of "forced" if you know what I mean. I wasn't able to value it as much as I could have because I felt almost guilted, thinking that's "what I ought to be reading." In certain ways this was a "want to" read but in other ways I felt like it was the thing I should be doing as a mature, responsible mother. It was like it seemed time to box myself about the ears, so to speak, and figure out how to do this job of mine better. The joy of the reading journey was sort of lost on me and I thought that was a pity even while I was engaged with Furman's book. I can in every way acknowledge Missional Motherhood to be a worthy read. At the same time, my heart wasn't in it and I had the sobering realization that to be a good mom I didn't need to be spending my immediate time reading a book to tell me how to do better. What I really needed to be ok doing was relaxing with a book that  I found purely enjoying and entertaining for enjoyment sake. If a work of fiction fit that bill, I didn't need to bemoan my immature tastes, but just relax and enjoy a good story for the sake of story alone.

I realized something that I think is important: while picking up instructional books which explain life and roles and duties is an important thing to do from time to time, sometimes the best thing one can do is to mentally relax with a fun story. No guilt. No strings attached. Just enjoyment. Sometimes the best thing that I can do to be a better mom is to have fun in my "downtime" so that I'm more relaxed and at peace when I need to be "on."

My personality is pretty intense (as I've said before) and relaxing is not something that comes very naturally to me. Even my "relaxed" reading tends to have a purpose around it which is fine. I can't very well turn my brain off and I wouldn't want to do that. But a thought process that I wrestled with when reading Missional Motherhood was that I'd be a better mother if I didn't feel like reading the book was on my "to do" list, know what I mean? Sure, sometimes I'm going to find an instructional book all kinds of happy but when life is tense and stressful in its own right, I began to see that my reading choices didn't need to be all mentally/spiritually stimulating as well. (Note again: Furman is an excellent writer and she is not writing to guilt!) All I'm saying is that I realized there is value in relaxing and I shouldn't read a book because I feel pressured to learn more about this, that or the other. Rather, I should read a book because I find the book a joy to read. Reading is a joy and a pleasure and to take away from that not only hurts the reader but also the writer who so wants to make a positive connection with their audience.

I really did appreciate Furman. Really. But in this moment of life, reading for the mere fun of it is ok too. In fact, I think it's more than ok. I think it's mentally healthy. Maybe other people won't think my reading choices "mature" but if I can close a book with a sigh and a smile and feel relaxed and ready to tackle the next round of things on my To Do list then I think my reading time was well-spent and plenty productive.

That's all I really want to say. This was a great book. But if I had never read it and read a work of fiction in its place, for the strict purpose of having fun, then that would be ok too. For some of you I imagine that this sounds like common sense but for my sometimes over active and analytical mind, it was something of a break through.

Monday, July 25, 2016

What's On My Nightstand July/August

What's On Your Nightstand

It's that time again! The ladies at 5 Minutes for Books are hosting their monthly meme, What's On Your Nightstand, which gives readers an excellent opportunity to review their prior month of reading and plan for the coming month. I always find this exercise a little helpful as it helps to keep me on track with what I need to be focusing on, book-wise.

Reviewing last month's goals:

1. In conjunction with the Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge the kids and I re-read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (reviewed here). We've also been reading this children's biography about C.S. Lewis which we've just about completed.

2. I hoped to finish Paper: Paging Through History but, alas, I haven't touched it. That book will roll forward into next month.

3. I finished Missional Motherhood. Review forthcoming.

4. I completed reading Seventeen, by Booth Tarkington. I've written up my review for that but am holding it back until my in-town book club has a chance to meet and discuss. Our meeting was delayed in July due to travels. But I'm all set to go!

Those titles were my official goals for the reading month of July. Of course, I strayed from the plan and read a few titles which were not on my list, including:

Up next for the month of August?

1. I really need to finish Paper: Paging Through History, by Mark Kulansky. That's on my list!

2. I checked out Paper Wishes, by Lois Sepahban from the library and ought to finish it before it's due to be returned.

3. Last week I received an ARC of The Bicycle Spy, by Yona Zeldis McDonough in the mail and that looks to have great potential. I'm looking forward to the read.

4. I'm halfway through Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard which I am really enjoying but for one exception which I'll explain when I review it. It's a lot of fun though and I'm having a great time with the book.

5. The kids are begging to re-read Prince Caspian and so I suppose that's next on our joint reading list.

After that? Well, I'll just read whatever I feel like picking up. ;)

Now it's off to see what's on YOUR nightstand for the coming month!

Happy Summer to you!

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

Another year, another Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge. This year I asked my kids which book from the series they'd like to read and they collectively voted to re-read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe so that's what we did.

I feel the story is well known enough that I don't really need to bother with a description of it so I'll skip straight to sharing our experiences this go around.

For starters, we ordered a box of Turkish Delight to be enjoyed every day during the reading. This is an annual treat for us and each of the children get a piece (or two) to enjoy each day. It's all very exciting and we enjoy it. If you've never had it, you've got to give it a try! There are multiple brands available on Amazon at fairly reasonable prices.

This is the third year that my oldest has listened to this particular story and he has it down pat for the most part. My second son also remembered a great deal of the story but despite the number of times we've referenced this book, my third born (age 5) didn't recall much of what happens in the book and I was therefore reminded of the importance to keep at this reading challenge, even if no one else ever joins in. This reading challenges gives us a reason the excuse to keep this series ever before us. They are worth reading over and over again and I'm glad to have a special month set aside for it.

This year's reading was also special because Bookworm5 is new to the family and she was given a Narnian name to match her siblings. (Four out of five of our kids are named after C.S. Lewis/Narnia in some form or fashion and so you can correctly ascertain that these books are sort of a big deal to me.) I didn't read this series until I was an adult but each year I re-read them I find that they have the incredible ability to drive certain scriptural truths home to me in fresh new ways. It should also be noted that the stories themselves are so imaginative it's easy to relax with them for the simple purpose of enjoyment.

During this particular reading I noted one thing, one sentence actually, that I wished to make note of and it's found in my favorite scene. Aslan has just returned to life after his sacrifice on the stone table. The girls, Lucy and Susan, have somewhat recovered from the shock of his death and have finished rejoicing with him in life. They ' no longer felt in the least tired or hungry or thirsty.' Aslan gives a loud, triumphant and terrible roar and then begins to focus on the business of gathering up an army of Narnians to join Peter in defeating the White Witch. With the girls by his side, Aslan says:

"We have a long journey to go. You must ride on me."

C.S. Lewis then says of their ride on Aslan's back:

"That ride was perhaps the most wonderful thing that happened to them in Narnia. Have you ever had a gallop on a horse? Think of that; and then take away the heavy noise of the hoofs and the jingle of the harness and imagine instead the almost noiseless padding of the great paws. Then imagine instead of the black of grey or chestnut back of the horse the soft roughness of golden fur, and the mane flying back in the wind. And then imagine you are going about twice as fast as the fastest racehorse. But this is a mount that never grows tired. He rushes on and on, never missing his footing, never hesitating, threading his way with perfect skill between tree-trunks, jumping over bush and briar and the smaller streams, wading the larger, swimming the largest of all." (Chapter 15, Deeper Magic From the Dawn of Time)

Aslan, as most scholars will agree, is representative of Jesus Christ. In this book he appears as a fictional character with enough things in perfect comparison so that by knowing Aslan for a little in Narnia, we might know the Lord better here in our own world. I love how Lewis describes the power and the might that is Aslan in this passage.

". . . [T]his is a mount that never grows tired."

Aslan had just made the ultimate sacrifice and yet rose victoriously back to life as a result of a deeper magic which the White Witch did not know. Death defeated, life triumphant! Still, there was work to be done. Peter and Edmund, along with a host of other Narnians were in the thick of a raging battle against all that was evil in Narnia. Their valiant forces were surely weary. Aslan, resurrected, thinks of them and begins actively working to bring them relief (and ultimate victory) but in this midst of this he also does not ignore Susan and Lucy. He will not leave them behind at the Stone Table. It is clear that they must come with him but Aslan also knows that they do not have the strength to go on running and fighting this battle. They can't possibly hold up. So what does he do? He tells them to climb up on him and ride on his back. He will bear their weight and he will carry them the distance necessary so that they might participate in and know the victory for themselves. Wouldn't it be easier for him to leave them behind? Perhaps, though it wouldn't have fulfilled the prophesy now, would it have?

Friend, are you weary? Climb up. There is likely still a long journey to go but the Lord invites you to ride on His back, so to speak.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Creator of the ends of the earth does not grow weary.
He does not faint!
Wait on Him. He will renew your strength.
Isaiah 40:28-31

If you feel like you can't walk, and/or the distance from here to relief and victory is far too great -- RIDE! He invites you to do so.

I have this sculpture at the top of one of my bookcases. I've loved it because it represents my favorite scene from this book but this year it means a little more.

The road of life is long and filled with sorrows, sadness and challenges. But my ride is strong and does not faint or grow weary. Remember this, friend. Remember! You aren't being left behind in some remote place where you will be forgotten. The Lord invites you to come with Him, to participate in and to enjoy His victory.

For the glory of the Lord, RIDE!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Million Little Bricks, by Sarah Herman

A Million Little Bricks: The Unofficial History of the LEGO Phenomenon, by Sarah Herman is a book I picked up to read for work. There's nothing like running a LEGO shop and having all of your young customers know more than you do to compel you to find out more about the history of Lego! Ha!

I'm really not sure that I have too much of a review to offer on this book, per se. Mostly I wanted to note that I read it for my own list making purposes. A Million Little Bricks offers a rather comprehensive overview of the history of this much-loved brand. With glossy pages and colored photographs, it's easy and entertaining to track with in order to learn about the various Lego lines and directions which the company has branched out into.

Author Sarah Herman starts at the very beginning, telling the reader about how the company got started and what prompted the owners to create the brick in the first place. She proceeds by explaining the variations and themes which Lego has taken up all the way to the present day (or, specifically, to 2012). Anything and everything you've wanted to know about Lego, Herman covers with enthusiasm. I confess that I don't feel quite the die-hard fan in relation to her. I like the brick and all (obviously) but mostly I just think the toy is fun and cute to play with and offers more creativity than any other toy on the market. I enjoy building with them myself and have my particular preferences as to the ones I care to collect. One of the many awesome things about Lego is that it appeals to all people, universally, at almost any age. You never have to outgrow it. Lego is there to be enjoyed long term! On this, author Sarah Herman and I see eye-to-eye. The shared love of Lego definitely exists between us and I appreciated her passing along some knowledge of its history to me.

A Million Little Bricks is a handy resource if you feel the need or want to brush up on your Lego facts and history. It's also a great gift idea for the Lego lover in your life who thrills in their knowledge of the company and lines. This is a fun book, being bright and cheerful, and it makes for easy reading. If you're looking for a Lego title, this is definitely one to consider.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox, is honestly not a title I would have necessarily sought out for its own sake, except that it's part of a middle grade fiction project that I'm working on. This title was released in March of this year and has been reviewed fairly positively, both by fine folk at Goodreads and also reviewers on Amazon. I'm not normally one for ghost stories (and this most definitely is one) but I was in the mood for a mystery so I snatched this from the top of my middle grade fiction book stack and plunged right in.

Katherine Bateson is the twelve-year-old protagonist in this story which begins during the Blitz in 1940's London. Katherine and her younger siblings are being sent from the city to a castle/(manor?) in the Scottish moors which is purported to be a boarding school. The school is run by a Lady Eleanor who has no children of her own and who expressed to Kaherine's father her desire to care for the children during the duration of the war. The moment the Bateson children arrive in Scotland, Katherine realizes that something is not quite right with Lady Eleanor or the castle. She and the other children are aware of various oddities, including ghost sightings. This is a creepy tale about witches, monsters, Nazi spies, encrypted codes and soul-less children.

As I say, I'm not really one for ghost stories and wouldn't normally seek them out. I made sure I only read this book during daylight hours and I did fine with it. That said, I wouldn't dream of handing it over to my own kids. It's not too terribly disturbing for an adult, but I like to sleep at nights and would prefer not to give my children any nightmares which would potentially keep us all up. I also have to confess how hard it was to limit my reading of this title to daylight hours (most of my free reading time is at night when the kids are in bed) because I was curious enough about the story to want to find out how the story would end! There is something to be said for its spell-binding quality. Once you are engaged with the story, you rather wish to revel in it a bit and enjoy the ride (as able).

Ultimately my review isn't going to be sparking and positive. I am happy to say that clearly unique story lines still exist in this world and that Janet Fox was in possession of one. It's always nice to run across unique stories which have the potential to really stand out in a crowd. So many, many books are published these days that it feels dizzying and it's hard to know which ones are worth your quality reading time. I'd love to be able to say that The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is worthy of your time but if I'm being terribly honest I have to recommend to you that it isn't. Which begs the question of how on earth I can simultaneously say that it's a spell binding tale and not worth your time in the same paragraph. I'll do my best to explain.

As far as a story line goes, it's imaginative, clever, and unique. This book had fantastic potential to be everything you'd want in a book in terms of intriguing and mystifying characters and a good spot of adventure. Sadly, it's not very well researched or written and as a result the reader is left holding the bag, so to speak, having to make decisions to ignore glaring historical errors and the author's "voice" changing between chapters in order to enjoy the read. I found it possible to put my own mind to work to explain away errors and chose to enjoy the idea of the story for story sake. Clearly I'm not the only one who managed to enjoy this title but I do have reservations that might not be as widely held which I'll explain in a moment.

On Goodreads I noted a couple of other readers who mentioned the fact that Fox didn't do enough research on the time period during which she placed her characters. This was obvious to me in the first chapter when - in 1940 - Kate's father tells her to, "Keep Calm and Carry On." This is a running refrain throughout the story which is so very unfortunate, rather embarrassingly so. (I truly do feel rather guilty for pointing this out.) Americans are kinda bad at knowing their history and I don't wish to call attention to it most times, especially when the mistake is so clearly an accident. However, it's important to note that the Keep Calm and Carry On sign that we know (and love to varying degrees) was not actually used during World War II. Oh yes, it was printed to be used but was never placed in circulation. An original poster Keep Calm sign was discovered almost 60 years after the war and was displayed at Barter Books in Alnwick. People began to notice of it at the bookstore and the rest, as they say, is history. (You can read the fascinating story of the sign HERE. After visiting Barter Books last year, I posted a video that they made about the sign here.)

It is hard to write a book. The amount of research which has to go into such a project is mind numbing to think about and I feel bad that Fox is catching flack on that point of incomplete research but should that be cause to ignore the issue?. She thanks her editors profusely in the acknowledgements but I don't know that they did her much good. Too many things were missed to make this a classic piece of literature (which,  frankly, is something I hope to find with each new book I pick up).

But aside from the various historical inaccuracies, and far more importantly, conservative readers will want to know that there is a strong focus on the subject of magic and the occult. Fox focuses more heavily on black magic and only references (or names?) the occult near the end. There are ghostly walks through walls, ghost children singing, blank eyes and magicked items. Near the end we read of some incantations which were more disturbing than ye olde general talk of magic. Overall, this is a title that is pretty steep in dark magic without much white for counterbalance. The lack of clear right/white magic is the chief reason I'd urge caution in reading this work. I don't mind talk of black magic when it is clearly painted out as being evil and wrong. While Fox does make it evil, there is also some confusion afoot in what is right or wrong when Katherine herself is "infected" with a bit of the black magic. Without some clear direction and distinction between good and evil I am forced to sit back and take stock of the story as a whole and my concluding opinion is that right didn't win and therefore this is a bit of a "broken" story.

I'd like to say that The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is an interesting new look at the battle of good vs. evil which we face in this world (whether we call it "magic" or something else entirely). However, without clear victory on the side of the right,  I am hesitant to recommend it. That being explained, the book ends on a cliff hanger, causing the reader to believe that there is a second book in the works. Perhaps good wins. Perhaps white magic rises up and begins to conquer. I do not know and I cannot confirm a second title but I can say that I am quite unlikely to read it. I intended to read this book as a stand alone, not realizing it might be only the first book in a new series. I just wasn't made comfortable enough with the use of magic to feel compelled to pick up the next in the series, should there be one.

As a concluding note, I am well aware that it's not fun reading a negative review on a beloved book but we each have our own reading experiences and Reading to Know is my book diary documenting my own personal experiences and preferences. For my part, I can't recommend this title but you are certainly welcome to go seek out a second opinion.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Goblin's Puzzle, by Andrew S. Chilton

First, an aside: You're going to see a lot more reviews of recently released middle grade fiction around these parts for a bit. I'm involved in a little project and middle grade fiction is what it's all about me for at the present. Head's up!

I "discovered" The Goblin's Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton when looking through a list of new titles and thought I'd give it a go. To my way of thinking, this book had a lot of things going for it at first glance:

1. It's middle grade fiction which is one of my favorite genres. Why do I like it? Because it's typically clean fiction (i.e., short on foul language and sex scenes or innuendos) and therefore a book you can relax with a bit.

2. The typical length of a middle grade fiction book is around 250-300 pages which gives enough time for the author to provide a meaty tale of some sort.

3. Middle grade fiction is also much more imaginative than most modern day fiction. The readers aren't assumed to have grown too old for fairy tales. (And truly, who among us is really too old for fairy tales? I imagine that "being a realist" is somehow more romantic to some but I'm not buying the exceptions.) Do note that I'm not saying real life doesn't involve hard subjects with which we have to deal, but I also think there is still a bit of magic left in this world and that a great deal can be learned from fairy tales in order to help us overcome life's difficulties. At any rate, The Goblin's Puzzle looked like fun.

As we proceed, I think it's important to note that this is the debut novel of Andrew S. Chilton. It's an interesting and unique storyline which I would be happy to describe in my own words except that I'm feeling lazy. Instead, let's just read the description from Amazon, shall we?

THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.

All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.

I ended up reading this book in one sitting, partly because I was enjoying it well enough and mostly because I had the time to do so (a rarity these days). If I were to summarize my thoughts on this one I'd tell you that it was a book that had great potential but flopped a little for me. Obviously I know that's not what any author wants to hear and I'm sorry to disappoint but perhaps I can explain a bit? While I didn't prefer it, I can completely see how another reader could enjoy it quite well. It has its highlights, I just wasn't completely won over.

Where to start? I'll go by numbers and try to stay organized!

1. Chilton's writing style has a heavy dose of humor attached to it with asides that reminded me a great deal of Gail Carson Levine. Perhaps it reminded me of Ms. Levine's work because I recently read Ella Enchanted and even more recently watched the movie (which I found kinda cheesy). The Goblin's Puzzle isn't a fairy tale story told in a classic manner, so I don't know that it'll have any sticking power over the decades, but it is very much suited for the modern audience for which it is written. It's Shrek-like and Levine-like and I might even go so far as to say a bit Princess Bride-like (my best compliment for Chilton!). If you don't care for those styles, you won't care for this title. It would be remiss of me not to note for you that some of the humor in this book involved nudity and references to affairs (which, frankly, I didn't appreciate it a bit).

2. Regular readers around here know that I always want to get at what the author of any book ultimately wishes to communicate to his readers. I felt that Chilton had three main arguments to make. I agreed with two of his arguments, but not the third. I'll use the alphabet to continue subdividing my points. Heh. 

a.) Chilton is a former attorney and wanted to use this book to explain the basic concept of logic. At the conclusion of the book, he explains the study of logic and its purpose (i.e., premises, fallacy, conclusions, etc.). This is both a positive and a negative aspect of the book, depending on your world view. It is good to use logic, (obviously), and understand how to think. Actually I find it imperative that children be taught how to think for themselves. We, as a society, do not spend enough time learning how to learn/think/process and this is a huge problem that needs to be rectified. I'm all for thinking! If Chilton's desire is to promote logical thought, we're in tune with one another.

b.) That said, my worldview does not quite match Chilton's and part of his desire to use logic is to rationalize away any belief system that would exist outside of one's person. One of the major ideas which Chilton is promoting in this book is that we as individuals are not bound to a predetermined fate or design of the "universe" (or, if you will indulge, Providence). The unnamed boy in this book is questioning who he is and what his role is in life and the question posed is whether or not he is free to make his own choices or if he is bound to a belief in gods who would dictate who and what he is on his behalf. The idea set forth by Chilton is that an individual is truly free when he or she does as he or she pleases without being "shackled" by a (presumed) faulty belief system.

"While he searched for what he thought was his fate, he had been forced to act as though he had none. He had made his own choices without regard for who he was supposed to be. For the first time, he had lived with doubt and uncertainty. Not knowing meant exploring and discovering. Yes, it was frightening, but it was also fun. Some of his choices were wise, and some were foolish, but all were his and his alone. Once he had thought fate was an anchor, holding him steady, giving him a place in the world. Now he saw that it was a shackle, binding him in place. Except that he was held prisoner not by iron bonds but by his own belief. When he let that go, the shackle simply vanished." (Chapter 15, page 220)

Chilton seems to begin with the premise that faith in something is a prison whereas I begin with the idea that faith - specifically in a Creator God - is the most freeing and liberating position from which to tackle life head on. I am not bound in chains by my belief in God, but instead know my liberties to explore the world and delight in it. My faith is an anchor which gives me the ability (and even the right) to live life to the fullest. Within the bounds of my faith I am exhorted to use my gifts and talents well, to test the limits, and am even authorized to enjoy the ride! You might say that Mr. Chilton and I start on different pages and so I found myself disagreeing with some of his seemingly forgone conclusions.

b.) Chilton desires to make a strong argument against slavery in this book - something with which I have no objection whatsoever. (I agree with both his premise and his conclusion on this point!) My only qualm is with the way he decided to argue his points. We understand throughout the book that the boy with no name is a slave and he is wrestling with his position in life as a result. Perhaps Chilton is setting the stage for his closing arguments but he really went off on his "jury" (i.e., the reader) within just the last few chapters about the evil which is slavery. Again, his arguments are fair, fine, and right but tossing it at the readers at the end of the book made me feel as if the thing I was supposed to remember best about the book was his stance against slavery instead of a carefully crafted and beautiful tale. In a courtroom setting you do want to hammer home the vital points of your arguments at the conclusion of the trial in hopes that the jurors will remember what you deem most important. In a book, you want the reader to be internally arguing with you over the course of the entire read and then to leave the story with a compelling conclusion which subtly wraps up your point in a way which drives said point home. Instead I felt like we sort of tiptoed around the issue of slavery throughout the book only to be walloped on the head before saying goodbye to this particular cast of characters. In short, his argument was abrupt. Given Mr. Chilton's background, I completely understand why this is and maybe this will ultimately prove his style of writing. A second and third book over a period of time will be telling! Other readers might not nitpick on this aspect of the book and might not even notice it. I can only tell you of my own personal reading experience.

On the whole I'd say I appreciated The Goblin's Puzzle for its unique storyline. It's incredibly interesting to me to read someone's first work and I do feel like Chilton shows great promise as an author. From the book jacket I'd say he plans to write more stories and if he did write another, I'd read it. Next time I would just know that we're coming at life from two differing perspectives and so that's going to cause some friction. It's not the sort of friction that would make me avoid his books necessarily, but I would offer a caution to other readers to pay attention to his main points and style of humor. Beyond that, you've got to think it through for yourself and form your own conclusion!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle, by N.D. Wilson

Twitter alerted me to the fact that N.D. Wilson was coming out with a new title and, as it had been awhile since I'd read anything by this particular Wilson family member I thought I'd give it a go. I did what I very seldom do and pre-ordered a title. (I'm usually not so antsy.) I thought Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle would be fun to read aloud to my kids. (For reference sake, my kids range in age from 1-9 years old.) Having read a few N.D. Wilson titles I didn't think much of the need to preview it, but figured on having my kids join me in the discovery. More often than not, I preview new-to-me titles but my oldest has grown up on me to the point where that's no longer always possible. Sometimes we just have to go with books and see what happens!

My kids and I launched into this story with gusto. We collectively agreed that the story was "exciting so far" when we were about two chapters in. At about four chapters in the kids seemed a little confused by the tale and it started to drag a bit for us as a group. I asked if they would rather set this one aside for the moment and read something else instead and everyone voted on that plan. This is something we've done with books every now and again. A great book can be enjoyed in various ways and times and laying it down for a bit is not always a negative thing. Sometimes you can know that you will enjoy the book but the present moment is not the best time to do so. I believed such would be the case with Outlaws of Time and I'm happy for that to be the case still. Having made my way a little bit into the story, I wanted to see where it went for myself and decided to preview it before handing it over to Bookworm1 (age 9) to read on his own. Ultimately I am glad that I did so because I don't think he'll be ready for this story for a few years yet.

Outlaws of Time reminded me much of  N.D. Wilson's 100 Cupboards series in that you have to pay attention to details because he likes whipping his characters into alternate realities. There is a lot to track with in this story. If you are familiar at all with Wilson then you'll recognize his wit which dances across the pages from a mile away. You'll understand the desire of his to craft a phrase in order to catch the reader off guard every few paragraphs or so. You'll have to read with a plan to pause a lot as you go along in order to catch Wilson's deeper meaning. I suspect that he likes to be read that way. All of this to say, he has a distinctive writing voice and in some ways reading a book of his is like meeting with an old friend. You can smile at your friends' idiosyncrasies and enjoy their company much like you'd enjoy this new Wilson tile if you've enjoyed one before. This all explained, I would offer some caution in the way of a suggestion that you read this story yourself before handing it over to your kids.

Sam Miracle is the fallen hero in this remarkable tale about a boy who is called to defeat The Vulture, a villain who has managed to conquer time and space and who can only be stopped by death. Sam and colleagues are also able to move about time but the how and why of this is a bit hazy to the reader as the story begins. Sam is also a bit confused as well, both to time travel and to his purpose in life as his memory is not all that it should be. All he really knows and understands is pain. He has constant daydreams in which he suffers a myriad of horrible deaths at the hands of The Vulture and his cronies. Sam's view of reality is clouded and distorted until the character of Glory is inserted into the story. Glory becomes Sam's female friend and close companion as she is called upon to keep his thinking focused as he is whipped in and out of time with the goal of defeating The Vulture. You'll not find out whether or not he succeeds in his endeavors though, because this is only the first title in Wilson's newest series.

Readers should expect to see a darker side of Wilson in Outlaws of Time. There is quite a bit of violence in this title which is not something I'm going to object to point blank in a children's book. Sometimes violence is called for and in this case I think that it is. Saying that though is not saying that I think all children are necessarily ready to read about gun fights, bullet holes in flesh,  and crusty blood. Frankly I was glad that my kids opted to sit this story out for the moment because Wilson paints some rather vivid death scenes in this book that I don't think my children are quite ready to handle. Even I wouldn't normally sit down and read this book "for the fun of it" but I pressed on because a.) I bought it and b.) I wanted to find out what happened.

Is the violence in this book worse than what you'd find in, say, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter? No, I don't think so. The "problem" (if it can be called a problem which is debatable) is that I know Wilson is always working to improve as a writer. He absolutely loves being a wordsmith and this drives him to be as descriptive as he can be using new words and clever phrasing to tell his stories. Is this a habit I find fault with? Absolutely not. It serves to make him a colorful writer. This is a good thing! And, in the case of Outlaws of Time, it means you're likely going to want to preview this one in advance of having your kids read it. I wouldn't dare set an age on it because every child reader is different and what one kid of a certain age can handle, another cannot. My nine year old should sit this one out for a few years but I suspect that my seven year old will be ready for it around the age of ten. You're going to need to use wisdom and discernment for yourself and come to your own determination for your family when it comes to this title.

Once again, Wilson has presented the reading public a thrilling and exciting adventure story. It just might be a little too much excitement for some.

Favorite quote?:

". . . I only get one life story. I don't want mine to be safe. I want it to be worth writing a book about." - Glory

I'd carve that quote on the walls of my house. At the very least, I've seared it into my heart as well as possible. This is an idea that is well-worth passing along to children: we have but one life, so live it well. Or, as others have said, "Do not dare not to dare." I can only add my own "Amen" to that!
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