Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Priest's Graveyard

Ted Dekker strikes good again! Actually, I'm a little late on reviewing this book, which came out in the spring. I read and reviewed his fall release first since I got an advance reader's copy in the summer. I like to receive Dekker for my birthday (he does write at least one book a year these days), so I waited on the spring release.

Lately, Dekker has been writing murder thrillers, geared toward a mainstream audience, and The Priest's Graveyard falls into that category. But no matter how crazy his books get, I always find gems about God and what it means to be a true believer within the pages of his crime stories. Really, that's why I keep reading. I absolutely love the way Dekker sees the world and God. He's not preachy, but oh, is there always a message! And a very good story. The message wouldn't be much without that first and foremost.

Dekker's surprises don't jump out at me as much as they did in his earlier books. I guess I know too well what to expect now! I could see some of the ending of The Priest's Graveyard a mile away, but what mattered was getting there, and it was worth it. In comparison to his other recent murder thrillers like Boneman's Daughters and The Bride Collector, The Priest's Graveyard is perhaps less dark but more soul-gripping. A book that makes you identify with the killer is a fascinating read, especially when it deals with issues we all struggle with, in this case, justice for evil. In those other two books, the villain is truly the villain, evil and psychotic, but the priest in this book is a man whose heart might match many a Christian's. He just takes justice into his own hands rather than leaving it to God or even to the law.

The priest is Danny, a survivor of the religious war in Bosnia, an immigrant to the United States. He meets a formerly abused woman, Renee, with justice and revenge on her mind, and the two form a bond over their mutual interests. I'll leave the plot at that for the benefit of those less familiar with Ted Dekker's twists and turns.

My husband often asks me when I finish a Ted Dekker novel how it compares to his others, particularly my favorites. Unfortunately, when I was first getting to know Dekker and he was first coming into his own, he had some really crazy story plots that I read with the proverbial rose-tinted glasses, so I don't know if anything he could ever write now would compare with those first impressions. But some are definitely better than others, in my opinion. The Priest's Graveyard is one to read, and when I rate Dekker novels between three and five stars and give this one a four, that's no average rating to scoff at.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Real Steel in Theaters Now

I must preface this review with an observation. I wouldn't be surprised to look back at all the reviews of the past few months and find that many of them are emotion-based. I am pregnant, after all, and pregnancy, I hear, often leaves women with more of an emotion-based memory than a fact-based one. And here in the home stretch with about two weeks until delivery, I have got to be at my emotional peak.

So, it's no surprise that Real Steel affected me emotionally. But having seen it only today, I feel fairly certain that I can give you a well-rounded review with all the facts intact.

Real Steel stars Hugh Jackman (love that actor!) and young, new talent Dakota Goyo as an absentee father and his recently half-orphaned son, respectively. Charlie is a washed-up past boxer who now boxes robots in a world only a few years removed into the future from ours. But Charlie doesn't believe much in himself, and he tends to find himself on the losing side of things. Max is his eleven-year-old son whose life Charlie has invested nothing in. When Charlie's old girlfriend, Max's mom, dies, law dictates that Charlie gets first say on whether he wants the kid or not. Charlie is more than ready to pass the buck on, but his need for a little extra cash gets him an unwanted son for the summer.

The two antagonize each other at first, but quickly, they discover their mutual love for the sport of robot boxing, and no matter how unwilling a father Charlie is, he can't resist the pull on his buried emotions.

This is an underdog story, a story of failing and getting up again, a tale of broken relationships staggering to be made whole, a combination of sports and science fiction genres put together in epic scope for an ending that will make you cry the good kind of tears. I absolutely loved it.

The movie is rated PG-13 for some intense robot action and mild cursing. There is a scene where the dad gets beat up in front of his kid, which as a mother, I found heartbreaking to watch. PETA might get upset over an odd match between a robot and a bull (yes, you read that right). The antagonism between the father and son might bother a few conscientious parents, but it turns out as it should be. I would simply discuss the parental issues with younger kids. I think the main issue would be the robot violence, so just be aware of what your kids can handle before taking them to see this.

An interesting, mostly unrelated side note: two of TV's Lost characters appear in this movie, Evangeline Lilly as Charlie's old friend and love interest (extremely downplayed) and Kevin Durand (Lost villain Keamy), playing a villain once more.

Other interesting facts: this movie is based on a short story from the 1950s, "Steel," by Richard Matheson (who also wrote a novel called I Am Legend), and one of the executive producers is Steven Spielberg (no surprise there), who seems to have had his hands in several of this year's blockbusters.

I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone, but let me just say, what sort of movie can make you cry happy tears in the middle of a boxing match between two robots (if you're not a man, that is)? A good one, that's what.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wisdom's Kiss

Wisdom's Kiss is a very different sort of young adult novel, just out in September. It takes place in the world Catherine Gilbert Murdock created in Princess Ben, which I also read and enjoyed, some decades after the events of that book.

In Wisdom's Kiss, Princess Wisdom has selected a husband-to-be based purely on her wish to see the world. Trudy is an orphan maid at a small-town tavern, her only friend a boy named Tips who's gone off to be a soldier, so his letters say. Wilhemina is an ambitious duchess with plans to see her son wed a queen and, therefore, have a chance at eventually ascending to the throne of the whole empire. And Ben is back, the queen mother of Montagne, grandmother to a queen and a princess about to be married. Add to this colorful cast of characters a cat who seems almost human and a few royals who have vowed never to use magic again, and you have an intriguing, adventuresome tale.

But the book is unique for another reason. Most books you read are pure prose, separated into chapters, telling a story from a certain point of view or several, but all in one format. Wisdom's Kiss combines diaries, plays, encyclopedia entries, letters, and memoirs to piece together one whole humorous tale. If you are having trouble picturing what that would look like, I'll try to explain. Each chapter is a piece of the puzzle, but each chapter takes the form of one of the above. One chapter might be like a Shakespearean play. The next is a very serious encyclopedia entry of pure facts with an obvious disdain for anything fictional. The next is Princess Wisdom's own diary entry, full of the emotional angst of a young woman on the verge of marriage. And these entries keep coming up every few chapters so that when you look at the whole book, you have a full picture of what's going on. It could be confusing, but it works, for the most part.

I have to say "for the most part" because, personally, I don't love the style. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to stories. I like to be drawn in from the start so that I hardly even realize I'm reading a story and not part of it, but the very nature of a book like Wisdom's Kiss keeps the reader somewhat at a distance. You feel like an outsider piecing together history. I imagine it was a fun exercise for the author to write the story this way. But from experience, I know that what an author enjoys writing and what people enjoy reading can be two different things. Still, the more I got into the book, the less the various storytelling styles bothered me because the story is really a good one.

Three stars for Wisdom's Kiss, a very creative fairytale, to say the least.