March 28, 2012

Book Review: The Man Who Created Narnia

For thirteen years now - ever since my mom handed me The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and told me to write a book report on it, I've been a diehard C.S. Lewis fan. Over the years, as writing became a bigger and bigger part of my life, Lewis became a role model for me. And as my faith has grown and deepened, my admiration for Lewis' non-fiction works has grown as well.
So, imagine my delight when I found this -

-at my local library sale.
It's definitely not the most thorough or in-depth biography I've ever read, but nonetheless I truly enjoyed it. In fact I couldn't put it down. Okay, to be completely precise, I read the entire thing in an hour and a half.
The book is written in a very laid-back style and contains numerous photographs of Lewis, his friends and family, and significant locations such as Oxford and The Kilns, throughout his life. Together, these factors made the book a very easy read and I'm sure they contributed greatly to my enjoyment of it.
A few of the subtle, passing remarks made by the author lead me to wonder whether he is a Christian or not, which, considering the subject matter, is bound to cause some skewed perspectives in a book like this, but fortunately it didn't prevent him writing an absolutely lovely overview of C.S. Lewis' life.
As a hardcore Lewis fangirl, I found that this book only whetted my appetite and has probably driven me to the brink of yet another Lewis craze (anyone up for a Narnia marathon?). For anyone wanting to do serious research on the life of one of Christianity's greatest modern minds, a world-class writer, and a founding father of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, The Man Who Created Narnia would need to be read in concert with other, more in-depth works, but would nevertheless be an excellent volume to have on hand.
And if by some wild, evil twist of fate you know nothing about C.S. Lewis and his writings, well, this book would be an excellent place to start. Immediately... if not sooner.

Do you have a favorite biography of C.S. Lewis, or your favorite author? What's your favorite C.S. Lewis book?

March 19, 2012

Book Review: Replication {The Jason Experiment}

By Jill Williamson
Published by Zondervan

I've never won a blog book-giveaway before winning this one, and I was thrilled to receive a copy, signed by the author!

Martyr - or, J:3:3 as he's officially called - lives in a state-of-the-art facility deep under ground, safe from the toxic air of the dangerous world above. A few weeks before his eighteenth birthday, he's about to expire - his life will end, a sacrifice that will provide the much-needed antidote for the people trapped above ground in the hostile environment.

Or so he's told.

Out in that 'hostile environment' is Abby Goyer, a brainy high-schooler looking towards studying forensics in college. Her father works for a science lab in Washington D.C, and their relationship has been pretty strained since Abby's mom passed away. The strain becomes even worse when Mr. Goyer announces that they're moving to Alaska, where he's taken a job at a state-of-the-art research lab.

I have to say, I loved this book. The characters were all remarkably well-developed - even Martyr, who naturally has some peculiarities from living in an underground laboratory his whole life. The plot was straightforward and clear-cut, another plus. (I occasionally get tired of plots with so many twists and turns that by the end you can't even remember what the initial point was.) The writing was very skillful, another huge plus.
In this story, the author dealt with the highly controversial issue of cloning with skill, honesty, and grace, which I found highly refreshing. She doesn't mince words, and she calls things what they are, which I admire, but she did it all without sounding in the least 'preachy' or militant about it.
One or two things that bothered me:
First, there were several kiss scenes between teenagers. They were nothing humongous or grossly over-the-top, just straightforward kisses, but they still bothered me, since both characters were Christians.
The only other thing is a pet-peeve annoyance for me, more than anything else. The character Abby - who has studied crime for years and should know better - lets herself get pushed around very easily by a guy from her school who follows her around uninvited and even ends up forcing his way into her house. Abby isn't happy about it, but she doesn't do anything about it. There were several instances in which she should have thrown the creep out of her house at knife-point and called the cops on him, but she did nothing. It made me highly irritated at her.

Aside from those two little issues, though, I really, really enjoyed this book. I honestly couldn't put it down - and it takes a special book to captivate me that completely. I wouldn't recommend this book for younger readers, certainly. But for anyone 16 and up, this would make a fantastic read. I definitely recommend that you check it out at the first opportunity you get!

March 6, 2012

Survival Tips for Real-Life Adventurers, Part II

In Part I, at the frantic insistence of my lawyers, I presented the Department of Adventure Research's statistics on the risks of getting involved in adventures, as well as a long list of advice on how to avoid getting into them. The responses in the comment section were much as I had expected: My readers saw the advice as entertainment rather than sound counsel, and most of them expressed the desire to get involved in adventures in spite of the risks.
I expected that response because, truthfully, I feel the very same way. I would much rather go out and get myself tangled up in a delicious adventure than stay at home and be safe. That desire is what prompted me to write this post in the first place. Unfortunately, due to the undeniable risk of adventure involvement, my lawyers saw such a post as an enormous liability risk, and would not be satisfied unless I first published a post advising against adventure involvement.
So I did, and now that the old buzzards can't squawk at me over liability, we can move on to the topic we're all actually interested in: adventure itself.
I won't argue that adventures are a risky business, so for all you noble adventure-seekers out there, here are some tips for surviving one, should you be so fortunate as to get involved in it.

The first thing to remember, as I mentioned in Part I, is that real-life adventures do not come with a happy-ending guarantee like most fictional ones do. It is extremely important that all adventurers remember this, mainly to avoid becoming lax and passive mid-adventure, assuming things will eventually work out a happy ending on their own. Should you choose to step out of the central, decisive flow of action, things will definitely work out sooner or later, but their odds of working out happily will plummet.

For this reason, adventurers should work to stay as close to the central course of action as possible. Not only will this enable you to stay more in tune with the inner workings of the adventure, but also, the closer you are to the center of the adventure's workings, the more actual meat of the adventure you usually get. Also, if for any reason you end up outside the 'loop' at the heart of the adventure, there is always a chance you will be dragged back in at some point, in which case you will have a terrible amount of catching up to do if you want to be knowledgeable and effective in the rest of the adventure. During your absence from the central loop, you may have missed something vitally important - something the other adventurers involved might forget to mention (adventurers are reputed to have very finicky memories and often forget to share vital information with comrades).

Know the category, type, and genre of the adventure you are involved in. This is a very important point to remember, as each and every type of adventure comes with a unique set of risks and dangers (e.g., Jason Bourne is not likely to have to fight off a fire-breathing dragon, whereas Aragorn is not likely to be hunted by CIA assassins.). Since my field of expertise centers around the speculative genres, the advice presented in this post will focus on those genres and their related categories. (Note: if you are involved in one of these modern, action-type adventures, I advise you to locate and consult an expert in that field at once.)

Layer your clothes. With few exceptions, adventures are extremely hard on the wardrobe. And, since in real-life adventures you won't have a costume crew with 10 extra sets of each outfit for you, you'll have to deal with problems on your own. It's best to have a few layers on, preferably with something very rugged and durable as the outside layer. That way, if you get dragged behind a truck or runaway horse or tumble down a mountain, hopefully your clothes will take the brunt of the abrasions. I recommend leather for the outside layer - besides being tough and durable, it looks extremely cool (which is a must for adventurers). And, if you lose a layer or two (as happens in a very high percentage of adventures) you'll still be alright.

Ladies, whatever you do, do NOT wear high-heeled shoes at any point during the entire duration of the adventure, even if it seems to be at a lull. Without fail, the instant a heroine puts on a pair of high-heeled shoes something drastic breaks loose and she usually ends up climbing out fire escapes, or hijacking a train, or camping in the wilderness while wearing high heels. Not the place you want to find yourself, sister. In fact, if you plan on making adventure a significant part of your life, I would recommend you simply go through your closet and get rid of any high heels to begin with, to reduce your risk. Wear combat boots instead. If anyone sneers, just tell them combat boots with dresses are the latest fad in Parisian couture. Who's going to know?

Carry First-Aid supplies. For some utterly inexplicable reason, adventurers never have first-aid with them. So when someone inevitably gets hurt, they end up having to scrounge around for whatever they can find to use as a splint, bandage, sling, tourniquet, stretcher, etc. Nine times out of ten they end up using someone's shirt as a bandage or sling (another reason to layer your clothes), but you can avoid that in real-life adventures by simply having the foresight to carry actual first-aid supplies with you.

Learn how to perform First-Aid. This should go without saying, I know. But unfortunately, a surprising number of people wouldn't know how to perform first-aid, with or without supplies, if their lives depended on it (pun intended). If I catch any of you people out in the wilds of Middle Earth somewhere, scratching your head and trying to figure out how to apply a tourniquet while your comrade lies bleeding to death, I will not be happy.

Save the melodrama for some time when you're not trying to perform First-Aid. I understand, melodrama is an important part of fictional adventures, and you are more than welcome to incorporate it into your own real-life adventure as well. But First-Aid is not the time for it. We've all seen the heroine rush to the wounded hero's side to find that he's either bleeding profusely, not breathing, pulse-less, or a combination of the above. Rather than doing something constructive (like CPR) she throws herself across him and begins weeping. If he's conscious, they usually have a brief but heart-wrenchingly poignant conversation, followed immediately by his death. If I may say something frankly, it's this:
The death rate of heroes would be reduced dramatically if heroines would just learn CPR and do it rather than weeping. It's traumatic, I know. But seriously, you can tell him you love him after he's breathing on his own again.

Write EVERYTHING down. Unless you have a photographic memory, this is an extremely important tip to remember (you may even want to write it down). Documenting your adventure step-by-step and in detail (and keeping all your notes together in one place, preferably a notebook) will not only serve to make writing your autobiography much easier, but more importantly it will increase your chances of surviving the current adventure and achieving a satisfactory outcome. You've seen it as well as I: the central characters in an adventure all standing or sitting around, scratching their heads and pacing the floor; one of them usually says something to the effect of 'There has to be something we're missing!'
Well, voila! That's when you, the well-advised adventurer, whip out your notebook, flip back through the pages, and find the answer to whatever the problem is. As I mentioned before, adventurers have finicky memories, and they forget everything. So save yourself the trouble and write stuff down!

If everything seems easy, beware! Adventures almost never work out the first time you think they're going to work out, or in the way you first think they're going to work out. No matter how perfect and natural and logical everything seems, if it's easy and perfect, watch out! This is one of your most vulnerable points as an adventurer, and you are statistically more likely to experience something awful and unexpected and horrendous at this time than almost any other time in the course of an adventure.

If you meet someone of the opposite gender whom you simply cannot stand, be aware that you're probably going to fall in love with them. Sorry if I just horrified anyone, but it's just a statistical fact, and you should be informed about it. The earlier on in the adventure you meet this infuriating person, the higher your risk of falling in love with them is. Don't worry - yes, I know s/he is the most annoying and exasperating person on the planet - but s/he'll grow on you. Statistics prove it.


These are just a few general tips to get you started in becoming a well-advised adventurer. If you should happen to find yourself involved in an adventure without further education on the subject, these bits of advice will at least increase your chances of surviving and achieving the ultimate adventurer's goal: a happy ending.
Please bear in mind that there is much, much more to adventure education than what I have included here. I heartily advise each and every one of you to continue learning and studying. With time, diligence, and experience, you may even achieve the status of Master Adventurer!