Author Archives: Editor

About Editor

Editor and writer, homeschooling veteran, computer skills teacher, occasional engineer. Mother of triplets, mother of two with Asperger’s.

By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson, a Review

williamson1

By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson, a Review
Book 1 in the Blood of Kings series
Published 2009 by Marcher Lord Press, 490 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for teens and adults

The kingdom of Er’Rets is pretty hard on its orphans. It calls them “strays” and beats them up. So Achan grows up a stray in the household of a minor nobleman, picked on and beaten regularly. The nobleman, Lord Nathak, makes sure he takes a red herbal potion drink every day. But one day, Achan doesn’t take the drink. Then he hears voices in his head, and is mightily puzzled. He figures out how to hold the voices at bay: think of his favorite refuge, the shade of a huge tree.

Achan’s household is fostering the spoiled brat who will be king–an orphan about Achan’s age. The prince intends to marry a young woman, Vrell, daughter of the duchess of the northern part of the kingdom, for political reasons.

Vrell, though, will have none of it. In fact, she puts on the clothing of a boy and goes into hiding. Circumstances bring her to the same city where the prince is to be crowned; the prince has chosen Achan as his bodyguard, so Achan goes too. We discover that both Achan and Vrell are able to communicate telepathically, a gift given to few. Disguised as a boy herbalist, Vrell tends Achan’s battle wounds. Making friends with him, she teaches Achan to control and use his “bloodvoicing” telepathic gifts.

In this city, some startling news comes to light, and Achan’s circumstances change forever. I’ll let you read the book to find out more.

What do I think?

Vrell is a very engaging character, full of courage and pep. Because of her, I was happy to dive into this story and stay engaged. Achan deals well with his awful circumstances, although occasionally his reactions are too noble to feel true–for example, rescuing an ungrateful person from some bullies, and rescuing the ungrateful prince from attackers. The fantasy world is well drawn; I can easily enter in. Although by the end of the book much is revealed, plenty of mysteries remain, such as why exactly half the country is covered in darkness, and why exactly half of Lord Nathak’s face is withered and under a mask.

It’s a Christian book, clearly; Achan is raised praying to an idol, but he learns to recognize that the one true God speaks to him in his thoughts. Vrell is already one of the relatively few followers of this one God, and Achan is becoming one.

This book was very hard to put down. In fact, I didn’t! I read it all the way through on a Sunday afternoon and evening. It’s quite a page turner. It’s a wonderful book, one that is sure to draw readers into the Christian fantasy genre.–Phyllis Wheeler

This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour, meaning a number of other bloggers are writing about this book too during the next three days. Please take a moment to check out what they are saying too~

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Gina Burgess
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
R.L. Copple
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Sarah Flanagan
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Leighton
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

AND last but not least, the author’s blog: http://jillwilliamson.wordpress.com/

Nominate a book for Clive Staples Award!

All you Christian fantasy and sci fi lovers out there, it’s time to nominate a book for the annual Clive Staples award. Clive Staples being, of course, what C.S. stands for in C.S. Lewis. The award, administered by several major players in Christian fantasy-sci fi, is nearly new–the first award went last year to Dragonlight by Donita K. Paul.

For the 2010 award nomination, a book must be published in 2009 by a royalty-paying publisher. The actual selections will be made by reader’s choice. You might want to put in an email subscription to the Clive Staples Award blog so you’ll know when the polls are open! In order to vote, you have to have read at least two of the books which have been nominated.

What’s the point of all this? Why, to generate buzz and admiration for our favorite genre, of course! The more buzz and admiration, the more sales, and the more books will be published. So readers like us will be happier with all the books to choose from.

So, take a minute to think about it, and then go to this link:

http://clivestaplesaward.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/clive-staples-2010-accepting-nominations/

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, a Review

ravensladder

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, a Review
Published by Waterbrook Press, 2009, 380 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for teens and adults

I read the first book in this series, Auralia’s Colors, but didn’t have time to read the acclaimed second one, Cyndere’s Midnight. This is the third in the series of four called The Auralia Thread. As I read Raven’s Ladder, I missed out on various references to previous happenings. I do recommend you read these in order!

Raven is Cal-Raven, the young king of the refugee community of House Abascar. In the first book, Abascar’s King Cal-Marcus made some terrible decisions that resulted in the loss of the community’s lovely dwelling, most of their people, and the death of Cal-Marcus.

Now Cal-Raven is trying to lead his refugee people through a dangerous land to a new home as revealed to him by the Keeper, an Aslan figure. Problem is, they mostly don’t trust his vision for a new home, or for a new order for them where previous class lines are erased and former nobles are expected to rub shoulders with former criminals. They remind me of the reluctant Israelites following Moses in the desert.

After a year of hiding out in a large cave, they take a sojourn in Egypt, so to speak: another of the four houses of the Expanse, Bel Amica, draws them in. In Bel Amica they find plenty of food and material wealth and are given jobs to earn their keep. However, it’s a Godless place, where everyone is out for himself. Wicked seers are in charge in all but name. Treason is afoot. Will House Abascar be able to leave?

Another thread in the story involves more refugees from House Abascar who are prisoners of the beastmen of House Cent Regus. House Cent Regus at some point in the past was accursed, and its people became hideous beastmen, addicted to the elixir that binds them to beastliness, mindless in their aggressions.

The Keeper has sent a boy named Rescue to save them, but he needs Cal-Raven’s help. Will these prisoners be set free?

What do I think?

This book is very lyrical, full of wonderful and original uses of words. It’s also a great page-turner of a story, impossible to predict and full of illusions where things are not as they seem at first.

I was struck by the portrayal of godless House Bel Amica, where everyone is out for himself, people worship moon spirits, and occult seers are in charge in all but name. The materialism described sounds familiar. Could it be a version of America? What does this vision have to tell us about ourselves? Interesting thing to ponder.

Men who become beasts, with their exterior imitating their dark interior, is a theme as old as the folktale. Like other stories, this story includes a beast who is redeemed. Also good to ponder: where is the beast in me?

In short, this book engaged me on mental and emotional levels, and tickled my beauty appreciation sense. I suspect other lovers of fantasy will want to feast on this book too. –Phyllis Wheeler

My review of the first book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/2010/04/26/auralias-colors-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

My review of the fourth book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/2011/05/16/the-ale-boys-feast-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

This is Day Two of the CSFF Blog Tour on Raven’s Ladder. Check out what others have to say about this book. Participants who had blogged about it as of this morning have a “+” by their name below.

Author’s Blog

+ Brandon Barr
Rachel Briard
Keanan Brand
+ Beckie Burnham
+ Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
+ Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
+ Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
+ April Erwin
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
+ Jason Joyner
+ Julie
+ Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
+ Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
+ John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
+ Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
+ James Somers
+ Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
+ Fred Warren
+ Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet, a Review

auralia
Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet
Published 2007 by Waterbrook Press, 333 pages.
Genre: Christian Fantasy, suitable for teens and adults

Auralia’s Colors is a multi-layered story, the beginning of a longer story arc called The Auralia Thread. Auralia, an orphan of mysterious origin, comes to live with the outcasts outside the kingdom of House Abascar. As the story unfolds, Auralia’s unusual powers become apparent; she has powers of healing related to amazing uses of colors.

In the Expanse, the land where Abascar is one of four houses or communities, color has different properties from what we are used to. It’s possible to hoard colors and even ban them, which is what the misguided king of House Abascar has done.

This king, full of fears, burdens his people and keeps them from joy. He is confronted with Auralia, who bravely weaves and wears colors to bring healing in defiance of his ban. He fails the test, with disastrous results.

What do I think?

I had a bit of trouble getting into this book and identifying with Auralia, who seems somehow otherworldly. But once I got into the book, I had trouble putting it down. The characters are well drawn, the plot has wonderful twists and turns, and many subplots with a variety of characters weave together to create a cohesive whole.

It’s not an overtly Christian book, but the Christian worldview is plainly there. There is a deity called the Keeper who figures in the plot, and who reminds me a bit of Aslan–appearing as an animal, yes, but far more than that.

Auralia’s Colors clearly lays the foundation for a larger work, and I am very interested to read the rest! –Phyllis Wheeler

My review of the third book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/2010/04/27/ravens-ladder-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

My review of the fourth book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/2011/05/16/the-ale-boys-feast-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

****************

This is the first post for the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour on Jeffrey Overstreet’s newest novel, Raven’s Ladder. That book is third in the series that began with Auralia’s Colors, so I thought I had better read Auralia’s Colors first. For my take on Raven’s Ladder, take a look tomorrow at this blog! In the meantime, please take a look at what others on the blog tour are saying about Raven’s Ladder, and possibly the books that came before it too.

Author’s Blog

Brandon Barr
Rachel Briard (BooksForLife)
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

A controversial book!

The Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour bloggers had enormously varied reactions to Athol Dickson’s 2009 book Lost Mission. Many, like me, loved it. Others couldn’t get into it. Yet others disapproved of it. What a wild tour!

Here’s a little roundup of some of what they said:

Amanda Barr “Lupe was such an inspiring character. Her faith, optimism and thankfulness were convicting.”

Keanan Brand “Faith without works is dead, but works do not make faith. We show our faith by our works. Many of the works done by the characters spring from reliance on themselves rather than faith in God. Sounds like us, doesn’t it?” He also finds this book to be like a mirror.
Keanan Brand again
Use of omniscient narrator works well.
Valerie Comer Found a podcast interview of the author and discussed it.

Timothy Hicks Full of contrasts and parallels
Timothy Hicks again “As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, many of the characters started out with good intentions. When they took their eyes off God they lost their life’s focus or mission.” Hence the name Lost Mission.

Cris Jesse Objects to a woman, Lupe, as a preacher teaching men. Switching time and location too confusing. Foreign names too confusing. Doesn’t like the book.
Jason Joyner Found “a rich tale to chew on for a while.”

Krystine Kercher “Each of these four characters does things that we as readers may disapprove of. Each of them also does things that are right. But in the end, the real story is not about them; it’s about The Story; HIS story…
Dawn King Couldn’t finish the book–didn’t see any sci fi or fantasy in it, found it dragged.

Rebecca LuElla Miller Themes of obedience, how Christians handle wealth
Becky Miller again
This book produced controversy!
John W. Otte Interested in idea that America needs evangelizing

More from John Otte In each of these cases, each person lost sight of what God really wanted. They trusted in themselves and their own abilities and ultimately, they wound up seeking after their own will.
Donita K. Paul What is “magical realism”? Turns out some Latin American writers made it up. She quotes a definition for us, and tells us she seems to be writing a magical realism novel too.
Chawna Schroeder “Yet there does seem to be an underlying, unifying thought, captured by the title—lost missions. At its core, the novel seems to focus on people who feel called or driven to a specific purpose and somewhere along that way loses sight of that purpose. The reasons are as diverse as the characters themselves, as are the results and their responses to such lost mission, but this only gives more for the reader to ponder.”
James Somers “It wasn’t my cup of tea.”
Steve Trower It “isn’t science fiction. Or fantasy. At least, not in the strictest, where-to-look-in-Waterstones sense.”

Phyllis Wheeler A review
Phyllis Wheeler again An author interview

Athol Dickson speaks

Lost Mission author Athol Dickson agreed to an email interview. Here it is:

Q. The Christian characters in the book are both Catholic and protestant; the protagonist is Catholic. Are you a Catholic? What is your take on the Catholic faith vs protestant? What can you tell me about your own faith journey, briefly?

A. I am not a Catholic because I don’t agree with some of their doctrine. I
don’t believe in the immaculate conception, for example. I believe the Bible is very clear that Jesus is the only person who ever lived a life unstained by original sin. I have a few other areas of disagreement which make it impossible for me to be a Catholic, but think God has faithful followers in every part of His church, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, just as there are many people in every part who are tragically mistaken and lost.

We can disagree on everything except the basics of the gospel, and still be
brothers and sisters in Christ. The Catholic Church has gotten the gospel wrong in the past, basically making the mistake Paul warns against in Galatians, but then so have many Protestant denominations. Many Catholics believe that we are reconciled to God by faith in Jesus Christ through God’s grace alone, and not by virtue of baptism or christening, nor by any other liturgical ritual, nor because of anything else that we might do. As far as I’m concerned, that makes them my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

Q. There is a character in the book I would call an angel. Is this how you
think of him, or would you categorize him as something else?

A. I was careful not to use the word “angel” in the book, because I wanted
readers to decide for themselves about the nature of that character.

Q. The plot is “paranormal” except for the fact that the spirit being appears
to be an angel, not a demon. (Though there does seem to be a demonic
influence as well, which isn’t very developed–the one that keeps the friar
from painting the retablo.) Do you think this book belongs in the paranormal
genre?

A. Ah, genre. That’s always been my nemesis. I focus on making my stories as interesting as I can. In the service of telling a fascinating story, I’ll
follow an idea almost anywhere. Sometimes that means my novels end up
straying far outside the lines of any one genre. People have called
different novels I’ve written everything from suspense to mystery to gothic
romance to speculative to magical realism.

Now you’re calling it “paranormal.” Ha! A new one. The publisher’s marketing people get headaches trying to tell people what my work is like, but I think that’s okay. There’s something to be said for opening a new book and not knowing exactly where the ride will take you. Where I try to be consistent is in a high quality of craftsmanship, a sense of redemption, a love of the natural world, and in the fact that the stories are as fresh and original as I can make them.

Q. Was this book a long time in the gestation? It seems very difficult to pull
together, with the parallel stories in different times.

A. Yes, it was hard to write. It took me about a year, including all the back
and forth with editors, which is about how long most of my other novels have required. They’ve all been hard to write, mainly because I won’t follow a
formula.

Q. Did you intend parallels involving the duo of the warring friars and the duo of the rich man and the pastor?

A. Oh, absolutely. Everything that happens in LOST MISSION is connected across both space and time, just as it is in life. That’s one of the themes in the story. How do we deal with that reality? What does it mean in terms of the choices we make next? Are we stuck in some kind of eternally repeating loop, or can we break patterns and strike out in new directions?

Q. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

A. Writing is a rotten way to make a living, so the only sane reason to do it
is because you love it.

So, readers, this book is generating quite a bit of discussion on the CSFF blog tour. Take a look!
Amanda Barr
Keanan Brand
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Timothy Hicks
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, a Review

lostmission

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, a review
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2009, 345 pages
Genre: “Magical realism” according to the publisher. I will call it supernatural suspense. Suitable for teens and adults.

There are two alternating story lines, each with its protagonist, that unfold as the book progresses. One takes place around 1772 and the other in modern times. Both story lines focus on the same location near Los Angeles.

The two stories, while seemingly not similar at first, become more and more alike. A small three-paneled painting is common to both stories, as is a certain character, described as an Indian with shining hair, who I think must be an angel.

In 1772, three Franciscan friars and some Spanish soldiers set out on a missionary journey northward from Baja California. They eventually start a mission in a desert spot near an Indian village. We readers know from the beginning that the mission fails and that just one of the three friars, Fray Alejandro, and an Indian miraculously survive the fire that burns the place down.

The sad tale of the failed mission unfolds as the book progresses. The other two friars, keeping secrets, are at cross purposes. The superior of the three routinely mistreats the Indian converts. Through it all, Fray Alejandro works on his assigned task, painting the three-panel altarpiece painting, but oddly cannot make any headway.

In the modern tale, a devout young Mexican woman, Lupe, feels called to travel to the US and confront Americans with their wickednesses. She’s a missionary to the lost in the modern U.S. Miraculously she survives walking through the desert to California, carrying two panels of the three-panel painting (given to her by the village priest). We readers learn that the painting shows something extraordinary–apparently Lupe’s own face is in it, along with faces of others.

The other two main characters connect with Lupe in Orange County, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Eventually we can figure out that these two characters, a rich man and a preacher, are given parallel personalities to the wayward friars in the earlier story.

As I read the modern day and historical stories, I tried to guess the outcome for the modern story and the reason for failure for the historical story. I must say, I missed the mark widely for both. I did figure the painting had something to do with the outcome, and that was true.

Both stories contrast grace and redemption to punitive, limited, prideful versions of faith. The book will cause a wise reader to stop and take stock: am I acting like a prideful pharisee? Where am I unrepentant? What are my own sins that I, a sinner, am too blind to see?

This complex book is intended for adults and would make a fine read for teenagers as well. There are even some discussion questions included at the end.

Full of symbolism and parallels, this work is a reach feast for a reader, hard to put down and wonderful to savor.–Phyllis Wheeler

This review is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour.

Check out the author’s websites:

Author Web site
Author blog

Check out what others on the blog tour are saying about this book:
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

The Oerken Leaves by Thomas Clayton Booher, a Review

oerken

The Oerken Leaves by Thomas Clayton Booher
Part 1 of The Whole Creation Groans trilogy
Published 2008 by Tome Publishing, 292 pages
Genre: Christian sci-fi/fantasy, middle grade and up, ideal for read-aloud

John Eaton is a 13-year-old boy who lives in North Carolina near an abandoned farm, Griffin Farm. John is curious and feels moved to investigate after his father mentions mysterious disappearances of yesteryear at Griffin Farm.

A hundred years earlier, a family of four vanished from Griffin Farm. There were some very mysterious circumstances–we learn that they involved crystal-encased oak leaves and a huge oak tree that’s here one day and gone the next.

Also investigating is Brutus Malroye, the school bully, whose relatives actually lived on Griffin Farm for a time after the disappearances. It turns out that Brutus is aware of and wants to go to the paradise-like place reachable somehow from Griffin Farm. Experimenting with crystal-encased oak leaves, he manages to get himself there.

It’s a planet called Eskathoer, out there in the universe where individuals can planet-hop using gateways that are actually oak (“oerken”) trees. But access to the dark planet, Earth, is forbidden.

Eskathoer isn’t a fallen world. Its inhabitants are trusting and sweet, and they aren’t ready for Brutus. So they call for John and his two siblings to help them persuade Brutus to leave. John and his siblings agree to help.

As the story goes on, the task looks more and more difficult. How will John, Josie, and Matt get Brutus to stop spoiling Eskathoer and come home? And how will the Lord of creation save Eskathoer? In fact, since this book is part of a trilogy, the problem isn’t resolved at the end of this book.

What do I think?

This book has a classic, slow-paced feel, especially at the beginning. So it’s not particularly fashionable. But I like classics, don’t you?

Multiple characters are well-drawn and are given distinctive voices. Booher excels in this area.

There are lots of fun details about Eskathoer, which has a lot of parallels to earth. Instead of traffic lights, there are manned traffic baskets. Popcorn is unknown. People live to be hundreds of years old (except for Brutus who seems to be aging fast). Brutus provokes people to argue with each other, and they clearly aren’t any good at it. The fantasy world is refreshingly original.

The story does have a few flaws. For example, the author doesn’t develop Brutus’ motivation for wanting to leave Earth while a child, leaving me wondering whether Brutus’ family was hard to get along with. Also, the prologue puzzled me a bit. These flaws are quite outweighed by strengths, however.

Booher writes a tale particularly engaging for children in a read-aloud setting. Unlike some others of the same genre, this book has a fairly upbeat mood. Violence is absent. Families comfortable with the level of magic found in the Narnia tales will enjoy this book, which clearly has a lot to teach about recognizing our sinful natures.

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by RJ Anderson, CSFF Blog Tour

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R.J.Anderson, a Review
Published 2009 by HarperCollins, 329 pages
Genre: Fairy fantasy, middle grade, appealing to girls. Underlying plot is a whodunit, with romantic overtones. This work, a bestseller in Britain, is not overtly Christian.

I’m republishing my earlier review of this work for the current CSFF Blog Tour.

A faery child, Bryony, is part of a colony of faeries (seven-inch-tall, winged creatures, all female) living in an oak tree in England.

One day the child Bryony impetuously breaks the rules and climbs out of the tree trunk. She comes face to face with a human child, an encounter neither ever forgets.

The problem is that the faery colony is slowly dying. Only the queen of the colony still has magic. A wasting sickness has taken some members. The queen is valiantly doing what she can to preserve it. Or is she? What happened to the magic, anyway?

Bryony grows up and takes a new name: Knife. She becomes the colony’s Hunter, fearlessly flying abroad to capture small animals for the colony to eat, dodging attacks by crows and foxes. She also spies on the family in the house not far away.

Her story entwines with that of Paul, the boy she encountered in the tree. What will be the result? And will the colony be saved?

What do I think? I think this story is very well written. The characters are fully realized and believable. Knife is a very feisty protagonist, fearless although all her peers are fearful.

The whodunit is well conceived and carried out. We wonder who broke the magic for the faery colony and why through most of the book. There are various red herrings laid before us. Finally there is an answer.

The friendship/ love story between Paul and Knife is less defined. It could be because this book is intended for middle grade, not young adult. We don’t see that obsession with each other that characterizes most love stories for teens and up. But we don’t need that either.

And the Christian foundation? It’s there–the faeries invoke the Great Gardener on occasion, but they never discuss their relationship to him, nor do they depend on him or ask him for help. I know RJ Aderson is a Christian, so I would love to see this more developed in a sequel. I also expect the sequel to address the question of how to fix the faery colony’s magic, now that we know why it is broken.

This is a very good book, with great characters, hard to put down. I’ll be looking forward to reading more in this series.–Phyllis Wheeler

Check out what other CSFF bloggers have to say:
Sally Apokedak
Brandon Barr
Amy Browning
Melissa Carswell
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
Nissa
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Alice in Wonderland Movie Review

by Jim Tudor

Tim Burton has built a major career for himself with his particular brand of “outsider cinema”. This one-time outcast from the Disney Animation Studios is now one of the pre-eminent visual stylists in the world of filmmaking. His success has been such that major studios are willing spend untold millions to be in the Tim Burton business. Ironic, then, that this former outsider has become one the great, rare success stories in Hollywood, a land known for its blind conformity and lack of new vision. Then again, Burton himself has generally had nothing new to say since his earliest, most triumphant works. Perhaps it is this stunted artistic growth that leads to the conclusion that Tim Burton had in fact fallen into the Hollywood spin-cycle long ago, forever recycling his unique twisted visions into a string of overblown but commercially viable variations on the theme of “I’m a weirdo and no one understands me.”

His latest film, Disney’s colorful but dull “Alice in Wonderland”, brings the dualistic nature of Burton’s career to the forefront. On the surface, it embraces madness, claiming from the get-go that “some of the best people are absolutely mad”. But beneath that repeated claim, “Alice in Wonderland” is an almost shockingly conventional tale – a Campbellian hero’s journey, complete with Alice’s final sword-wielding showdown against a dragon, preceded all the while by her strongly felt denials that she is in fact “the one”. This sort of conventionality seems to fly in the face of the oddball freeform quality of Lewis Carroll’s original stories. But then, this is in fact not Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” at all; it is in fact a sequel. This is the very first problem one encounters with this film – the highly deceptive title.

The film centers on a nineteen year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska), an outsider in aristocratic Victorian London. Not content with the era’s rigid notions of womanhood, we once again have a typically anachronistic female movie heroine – a character with values plucked from today but belonging to an earlier, contradictory time and place. This version of Alice only vaguely recalls her previous childhood trip down the rabbit hole. Once she returns as a young adult, the story becomes a series of overly familiar vignettes as she unknowingly repeats so much of what has gone before.

“Alice in Wonderland” looks, sounds, and feels like a typically overblown Tim Burton venture, complete with swirled tree branches, an overly-familiar Danny Elfman score, and plenty of his stock talent: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Christopher Lee voicing maybe two lines, tops, of the evil Jabberwock beast whom Alice must destroy in true Arthurian style. In this final battle, “Alice in Wonderland” turns into a “Narnia” movie on acid. It is a huge final battle that the audience is expected to take seriously, and yet it is stocked with cartoony talking mice and other obviously computer generated animals that are peppered amid the human chaos of it all. Silly white rabbits in topcoats running from dramatic flaming destruction just don’t add up.

But never mind all of that – “Alice in Wonderland” is just plain difficult to watch. Gaudy colors and shallow artifice everywhere, all of it overflowing with annoying, overacted eccentric weirdos. (Although it must be said that Depp has a few nice grace moments as the Mad Hatter.) The focal planes are downright screwy at times – foreground, middle ground, and background characters all in sharp focus while the background itself is in proper soft focus. For all of Burton’s visual flourishes, this aspect is a major failure. Perhaps it was meant to evoke a pop-up book, but instead it delivers a potentially headache-inducing experience.

I’m not trying to out-and-out condemn Burton for foregoing true artistic statements in favor of his trademark, huge, artifice. The man has forged a career doing what he loves, his way, in a town where few can make it. But bigger budgets and more impressive casts do not equal artistic growth – but that’s really all Burton has to show for himself after all these years. Not every movie with a large budget needs to justify its existence by having an artistic point, but this one is just a mess, devoid of fun. An overblown retread of a thousand other stories, “Alice in Wonderland”’s various odes to madness are superficial, hollow, and hypocritical.

Christian parents may appreciate knowing that nightmarish and surreal imagery abound in this film, not unlike all of Tim Burton’s other work. The film is built on its own overblown design, and ultimately betrays the anarchic spirit of Lewis Carroll by going the conventional Hollywood route. Those looking to expose their children to the central ideas of this film, which is a story of a spirited girl who must come to the realization that putting on one’s armor and taking up one’s sword – a metaphor in all our lives in one way or another – will likely find it a dull and lifeless retread of that idea, which is played out so much more effectively in “Lord of the Rings”, “Harry Potter”, and “Star Wars” films.

On a more specific note, there is a gratuitous extreme close-up of a beast getting one of its eyes plucked out that may trouble some. Also, although nineteen year old Alice does grow and shrink out of her many dresses throughout the film, it is only the idea of that, not the presentation of that which is sexualized here. All in all, this element is very latent, but I would argue that it is there. In any case, “Alice” is a trip not worth taking.

– Jim Tudor