“Space Station ICE-3” by Bruce Coville

In revisiting old reads, I picked up this sci fi tween mystery (the protagonist is sixteen, so I’d call it YA…except that it’s much closer to a Hardy Boys than a Hunger Games).

Young Rusty has discovered a dead body in the disposal vat on the colony space station…but no one believes him except his earth-bound grandpa, and his grandpa’s “old friend” – the legendary genius scientist who basically invented most of the space station.

Dead bodies…space…check, check. I enjoyed it as a tween/teen, and I enjoyed it now…though I also noticed more of the author’s secular, exploratory worldview peeking through.

Rusty: Teen, Researcher, Detective…Talking Point

The first thing that struck me about our teen protagonist is something I missed when I was a teen myself.

The voice is masterfully done – actually sounding like a real sixteen-year-old might – and the first-person perspective acts like he’s recording these events for posterity.

Thus, when Rusty opens his book by describing the colony space station he lives in floating about the Earth, he notes as an aside:

I realize we all know these things, but my grandfather [an author] “keeps reminding me that just because we all know something now, it doesn’t mean people will know it ten years from now. He says I should never underestimate the human capacity for ignorance, and if I want people to read this book ten years from now, I’d better make everything clear.”

Cute way of introducing us into this world while still maintaining a realistic perspective for the characters in the world.

But…did you pick up on what I picked up on?

There’s a slight condescension, the hint of a “some people are just so ignorant” – and this permeates the whole story.

This fits right in with the thesis of the story.

After reading the story with an adult perspective, the “message” of this little novel could well be phrased as: “Smart people should be allowed to ask any questions/study any problem they want to.”

All fine and good, as far as it goes…but how far does it go? And besides that, Rusty repeatedly complains about stuffy gate-keepers, thick-headed authority figures…basically anyone standing in the way of Science! because of foolish misgivings.

Interesting for a “scientific researcher” to be so dismissive of other viewpoints…

(I’m also never a fan of the “adults don’t take me seriously!” trope.)

Aside from that…

Rusty is a great protagonist. He has normal, understandable faults – that actually tie in to the plot. He sees problems, and digs around for a solution. If someone is in trouble, he races to help (against the better judgement of people who have that).

One of the biggest elements in my original read was his soft romance with a girl he meets in the course of his adventures. Now – as then – I appreciate how it’s crafted realistically (an awkward yet hormonal boy wants a suspicious yet intelligent girl his own age to like him)…while also not pushing it beyond where the plot could take it (they do run off in the middle of the night to do investigating by themselves, but in the last chapter they’re about to have only their first date).

The first-person record is also handled expertly, with little asides from time to time as Rusty explains things we need to understand this part of the story, or reminds us that he wasn’t thinking clearly in the stress of the situation, so don’t be too hard on him.

Mystery and Smarts

Part of the difficulty with writing – especially writing mysteries – is making your characters look smart, not just claim to be smart.

For having so many PhDs in the story – and placing so much of the action on a floating research lab – the author does a pretty good job of painting a picture of actual scientists doing actual research (test tubes, microscopes, computer banks, literal lab mice).

This goes for the characters, too.

The legendary reclusive genius – who helps Rusty investigate the disappearing body in the disposal vat – is introduced to us with an ego the size of the moon…and the smarts to match.

After telling us this, however, the author then goes on to show this character making logical deductions, extrapolating from incomplete data, and doing other mental detective work. With just the right amount of detail, we can watch the genius being a genius without needing a Robert-Ludlum-sized conspiracy to unravel.

As for the actual murder…

I can’t say too much without getting into spoilers and a discussion of the Science! theme…

But I can say the villain’s motive isn’t super strong or clear.

Most of the side characters are fleshed out enough for their roles – and some of them border on the complex – but while the villain has touches of nuance, they don’t have enough screen-time to really explore why they do what they do.

On the other hand, they aren’t laughably “evil for the sake of evil,” nor a “twist villain for the sake of shocking the audience.” The clues that lead to the mastermind are subtle, but there…especially on this re-read.

Except for one forehead-slapping incident, the teen-detectives in the book act pretty smart.

Sure, they run off in the middle of the night to do investigating, but when they get in trouble they at least try to call for help. (They apparently don’t remember that doors open from either side, though.)

I have a couple other quibbles (especially about the “twist”), but I don’t need to go into them here.

Everything Comes Down to Science!

The author clearly had fun building his dream colony, where everything is recycled down to the last atom (except human bodies, which get sentimental burials-in-space), every occupant pulls their weight (whether in scientific research, supporting the running of the station, or both), and everyone has been background- and personality-checked for maximum harmony.

A big thing in the beginning of the book is that the station has no police force – just the entirely different “Office of Dispute Management” – so Rusty doesn’t know who to report a murder to.

And yet, for all that the colonists were screened to avoid “explosive personality combinations” (yes, really) and live in a rational, scientific paradise…Rusty still gets in heated arguments with his parents. Some individuals are still skirting the rules – and willing to commit violence to cover it up.

For all their advanced technology and scientific exploration, the characters still yell at each other, make mistakes, and have all the real, human problems people have always had.

I’d call this deliberate…except for the novel’s thesis.

I think the author was just too good. He knew what human beings were like, and so wrote them with all the flaws and weaknesses we have in real life.

Meanwhile, his intellectual, humanist worldview insists that humans can improve ourselves, screen out “explosive personality combinations” (unless a couple has a kid they’re not compatible with…), and push the boundaries of the physical – and moral – world.

Rusty closes out his little book by insisting scientists should be allowed to “follow any question,” no matter where it leads.

Even after watching one scientist use gene-splicing to accidentally create a deadly rage virus…realizing there’s a black market for scientific discoveries – and genius scientists…

Even after seeing all the ways this could go wrong, Rusty still thinks that “repressing” the scientific mind only encourages more risky behavior in the pursuit of the answers.

Are people more likely to create human clones if you tell them it’s too morally risky to do so? Will some people just gene-splice, no matter what you say, so you might as well let them gene-splice “safely” – in the open?

In some ways, these are two different questions:

Should Bureaucracy A dictate what Scientist B does in his lab?

If they’re paying for it, absolutely. Otherwise, my libertarian side says, “No way.”

But – Are there some things that shouldn’t be explored? Some questions that shouldn’t be answered?

Are clones human? Or replacement-organs-on-demand? If we can protect some babies from some disease by altering their genes, does that give us the right to change their actual DNA – theirs, and that of any kids they might have…through all time?

My Christian, trans-temporal worldview tells me, “No. Some things should not be grasped. Some answers should not be given.”

God has put a lot of things into the creation to help us and heal us…but we shouldn’t pursue those things beyond their proper place. Whether we’re chasing Science! because we want to see new things, or because we want to cheat death and suffering, we must be pursuing Jesus first and foremost.

Imagine if Adam had been content with not being God.

Find Answers for Yourself

This little novel is about as squeaky-clean as they come. There’s some light descriptions of death and decay, and some even lighter description of Rusty’s adolescent crush on the girl.

The science is solid – but not heavy enough to scare off non-nerds.

Really, the most problematic thing about it is the worldview…and we should be discussing that with our kids about every book we read.

So – whether you’re a Christian homeschool teen looking for something fun (that you won’t be embarrassed to read)…or you’re a parent looking to keep your voracious reader busy with things that will feed his brain…this is a solid story with decent characters, a mystery that will engage the brain, a dash of outer space – and enough questions about the morality of Science! that will keep the whole family talking at the dinner table!


Space Station ICE-3 is available on Amazon, eBay, and Albris (though they don’t have an image or description, just the metadata). Finding old, discontinued books is hard, apparently! Here is its Goodreads page.

You can also find out more about the author at his Amazon Author Page and on his official site: BruceCoville.com.

“Eight Cousins” by Louisa May Alcott

"Eight Cousins" by Louisa May Alcott — Kimia Wood My tattered paperback attests that this simple classic was my absolute favorite book at the age of twelve.

Revisiting it a full fifteen years later not only brings fresh perspective on the situations and characters I once adored, but confirms that this “Young Adult” novel is one for the ages!

Seven Boys and a Girl

Rose Campbell has recently lost her father, and so is forced to move in with her great-aunts on the “Aunt Hill,” where the whole of her large extended family is eager to meet her.

But all seven of her cousins are boys! Oh, what is a poor, sheltered little flower to do?

Worst of all, when her new guardian – her uncle Dr. Alec – shows up, he turns out to be so eccentric that he wants her to run (the un-lady-like horror)…to wear loose-fitting scarves and dresses of bright colors (not the belt that held in her petite waist)…to eat plenty of healthy, wholesome food…to work with her hands…and overall to fill out her small frame, rosy up her cheeks, and draw her out of herself so that she can become the healthy, confident, caring young woman she was meant to be. Continue reading

“My Hero Academia” (Seasons 1 thru 4)

"My Hero Academia" (Seasons 1 thru 4) — Kimia Wood In a superhuman society, these kids work hard to one day use their abilities as Heroes.

Anime has opened up a new world for me. After hearing My Hero Academia hyped enough on the internet, we checked it out…and, well, it made it onto my list of 27 things I like best.

The themes, world-building, and characterization are astounding, and the arcs they take the characters on are impressive, too. It’s not perfect – some story-telling choices are sloppy, and the main lead is insufferable at times – but it’s still incredible…and with only a few caveats, I can recommend it to everyone (even my mom, though she’s not into shonen).

(Note: I am only reviewing the anime…not the manga, any of the movies, or the video game – because, yeah, apparently there’s a video game. Who knew?)

The Super-Charged Cast

MHA accomplishes the remarkable feat of creating a large cast where each member is memorable, and has their own personality.

At the beginning, there are, say, four or five stand-outs that serve as our “power trio” (I know the math doesn’t come out – work with me), while the rest of the first-year class is a blur of unpronounceable Japanese names.

But after a season or two, every single member of the class has had a chance to shine…to display a personality quirk, reveal depth of character, or establish a stable relationship dynamic for us to remember them by.

Let’s start at the top.

Whiny Green-hair

Our young heroic protagonist is Deku, a boy born without a Quirk – this universe’s term for the unique superpower that 80% of the population is born with.

These abilities range from having a big tail, to being invisible, to cancelling gravity on things you touch, to shooting explosions with your hands.

But Deku was born without any Quirk. He still dreamed of being a great hero like his idol All-Might (the Number 1 professional hero – “saving everyone with a big smile”), and when the inciting incident gives him a Quirk, he enrolls in “hero high school” to train his abilities and join an agency one day.

Why did we give him the nickname “Whiny Green-hair” before we could remember his Japanese name?

Uah…He’s one of the three problems with the show.

Deku is earnest and selfless…but he’s also one big bundle of insecurities. Raised by a single mom and used to being the underdog, he’s a wheezy nerd who has indulged his hero fandom by analyzing fighting styles and brainstorming new ways for others to use their Quirks.

But all that means he tends to over-think things, and almost every encounter involves him mumbling to himself in a frenzy of anxiety.

Sure, it’s realistic considering his age, his upbringing, and his personality…but that doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying when he wastes time wondering whether he can succeed instead of mapping out ways to succeed.

The first season is practically drowning in his angsty internal monologue…and my dad says the voice actor they got for the English dub is grating. (I guess his voice does have a tendency to squeak and whine — couldn’t they have gotten someone who’d already hit puberty?)

All that said…

What saves Deku (and the show) is the way he changes. As Deku grows and stretches his abilities, we see how his obsession with studying others and their abilities makes him a better team leader – better able to use the talents of his fellow students to get them out of situations.

Not only does he gain more confidence, but he’s forced to leave behind the weepy, abasing personality bit by bit. He’s still not a battle-hardened chill-dude who does what needs to be done without dithering…but he is a driven hero-in-training whose determination to help others is matched by the spine to stand up to opponents.

He cries way less than he did earlier, and he’s a much faster thinker in combat than he used to be.

And this willingness to take their characters’ personality crutches and rip them away is what raises MHA above the rest.

Speaking of which…

Lord Explosion Murder

Deku’s childhood best enemy is a Class A jerk, braggart, and violent borderline-psychopath. (The second problem with the show.)

His name is Bakugo, but when the class is coming up with Hero names for themselves, one of his attempts is “Lord Explosion Murder.”

His Quirk is nitroglycerin-like sweat that lets him fire explosions from his palms, and since his Quirk manifested about age four, he’s been praised and doted on for being so strong.

This twisted into an inferiority complex/imposter syndrome that displayed itself in Bakugo being a toxic bully to everyone – but especially to Deku, who somehow thought they were friends and that it was his own responsibility to reach out to Bakugo and “fix” their dynamic.

Well, a full discussion is probably beyond the scope of this review…so let me explain why this walking bomb doesn’t derail the entire show.

Well…he does get on my nerves…

But he also gets a slow, painful, subtle, yet powerful character arc.

TV shows are often high-lighted for their ability to tell long, drawn-out stories with more subtlety and depth than a short movie could squeeze in. MHA has used this strength on Bakugo.

Throughout the show, his hair-trigger temper and verbal threats of actual bodily harm make you wonder why he isn’t in a straight-jacket. Are the teachers and other adults in the show as idiotic as Deku? Sure, Bakugo is attending the Hero course, but his self-centeredness, pride, and domineering personality paint him as more of a Villain.

Then…you see the mastery of the delicate brush.

Bakugo builds friendships with people who are not Deku…and through clashes with villains, tests for school, and other plot arcs he is forced to realize his abrasive habit of lashing out is not who he actually wants to be.

Unlike Deku, he doesn’t prattle on in internal monologue, telling us exactly what he thinks about himself and why. However, just as much can be achieved with a few terse lines of dialogue, a few facial expressions, and the way Bakugo interacts with people who are not Deku.

Time will tell where he ends up…but the mere fact that he’s not allowed to be “the bully character no one feels bad for” but forced by the story to grow and change is…well, it’s why MHA is 100 times better than Avatar YES I SAID IT.

Adults Actually Adulting

MHA doesn’t just force the child characters to grow up and get spines, self-control, perspective, etc.

It has Adult characters that actually behave Grown Up!

The teachers are the most obvious example.

They aren’t just token adults to let the kids interact with no oversight or input. Oh, no.

These teachers actually know their jobs…their jobs being – not only to push the kids past the limits of their Quirks and make them effective fighters, but also – to forge the characters of the students into mature, thoughtful, other-focused, quick-thinking, big-picture Heroes.

My favorite is Mr.…er, his Hero name is Eraser-Head. His Quirk is the ability to cancel out the Quirk of anyone he stares at – until he blinks. This makes him a perfect choice for training students who are still getting a hold of their powers.

But he’s also brutally hard-core. He himself is a beast of a fighter, but he’s also ruthless in pushing his students to do their best. Several times, they come within an inch of being expelled because, after all, if they don’t have the mind-set to learn, adapt, and push themselves…then they’re wasting their time trying to become Heroes.

All-Might is the Number 1 Hero – the self-proclaimed “Symbol of Peace” – and Deku’s childhood idol. But he’s also joined the faculty at their Hero school, so he becomes a vital character of the show.

He’s not a one-note paragon, though. He has doubts, and weaknesses. As the show progresses, we see more and more of his back-story and struggles, and get a sense that even the grown-ups have things they can’t handle.

Though he has a special mentor relationship with Deku, he has made an impact on every character in the universe – from the students, from the Heroes who worked with him, to the villains, to the street-crawling thugs. His towering personality adds complexion and depth to a million other characters and relationships because of how each person views him – and his ambition to give civilians a “Symbol of Peace” to take comfort in.

"My Hero Academia" (Seasons 1 thru 4) — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Dualshockers.com

Everyone gets fleshed out.

Ally or antagonist – policemen, teachers, parents, villains, or dudes – everyone gets the extra brushstrokes to turn them from a talking head into a person with their own agendas and desires.

What’s more, the majority of the students are mature, quick-thinking, hard-working, cool-headed, and focused on the end goal of becoming Heroes who help others.

In fact, one of the reasons Lord Explosion Murder is sufferable is that he’s actually pretty intelligent – good at summing up a situation and seeing what needs to be done from a big-picture standpoint – and then actually doing what needs to be done – even if he’s grumpy about it and pretends he’s not really doing it for the good of those around him.

Whenever a side character gets a chance at the spotlight and we see some more depth and maturity to their personality, I giggle in sheer glee.

Finally, as of Season 4, the parents and teachers are firmly on the side of the students – backing them up, shielding them, and forcing them to grow so that they’ll be strong enough for the trials ahead.

In short, being real, big-boy-pants, dithering-free Grown-Ups. I love it.

Once Upon a Time: Quirks, All Over the Place

My Hero Academia is vaguely set in our world, far-future…so the occasional reference to real geography or literature pops up.

However, now there are superpowers…in fact, a majority of the population has superpowers.

While plenty of Quirks seem basically the same (during the school’s fight tournament, two students are frustrated to find their Quirks are essentially re-skinned copies of each other), there’s enough flex within the abilities of each individual to make each character stand out.

First, the World

Human beings are twisted, selfish beings. When you randomly sprinkle superpowers onto them, you’re going to get villains.

The world seems to be pretty stable right now (from the perspective of our teen protagonists), but it becomes clear that this is the work of All-Might (Earth’s mightiest hero, etc.).

In the past, super-villains ran free in the streets – and even now, the government-sanctioned Hero Agencies fight a constant battle against street thugs and organized crime.

And that’s not even counting the villains slowly emerging from the shadows, who’d like nothing more than to see the world burn.

It’s also pretty realistic that using Quirks without a Hero license is outlawed.

While I’m personally all about self-defense and letting the man-on-the-street defend himself, there are also some examples of why it’s a good thing there are designated “do-gooders” to help those in need.

After all, with so many crazy abilities in the world, physics itself could get pretty unpredictable pretty quickly.

Speaking of Crazy Abilities…

There are 20 students in Deku’s class. There’s also a second Hero Course class, not to mention all the teachers, the rest of the school, the parents and families, the dudes on the street, the villains, organized crime –

In short, you’ve got a lot of Quirks to figure out, especially if they all have to be at least slightly unique.

At first glance, this leads to a few lame Quirks. One girl can make her hands grow to the size of her body. Deku’s mom can levitate small objects – small objects, from a short distance away. Another student can voice control small animals.

But, as the teachers use their classes and obstacles to drill into the students, it’s not what your Quirk is – it’s how you use it.

And part of the joy of MHA is seeing all the creative ways people use their Quirks.

Deku is one of the most obvious examples, since he didn’t even get his Quirk until the start of the show, so he hasn’t been experimenting with it since childhood. However, it’s also a powerful strength Quirk, and so a lot of his struggle is working to control it without destroying his own body in the process.

(One of the reasons he’s such a popular protagonist with the internet is that every single victory is an uphill battle…and even then, he often doesn’t conquer – at least on the first try.)

The out-of-the-box thinking – and the obvious fun the creators had in coming up with new ways to bend the rules of Quirks – make this element one of the best in the show.

Caveats

The show isn’t perfect. A couple story-telling choices hold it back, and some inappropriate humor might make it unsuitable for some audiences.

Non-Linear Story-telling & Repetition

The third biggest issue with MHA is the pacing, and the times when they don’t trust the audience to get the point.

I’ve pointed out above that MHA excels at building elements over several episodes, painting characters through repeated actions – not just dialogue – and then paying off great character development that we didn’t even know they were setting up.

Which makes it so frustrating when the show uses flash-backs to constantly go over material we already know.

I haven’t seen the manga, so it’s possible this is an issue with the anime specifically – possibly to fill out episodes while they waited for more plot content. But it’s frustrating.

Deku, especially, has a tendency to lapse into flash-backs of his childhood, the dramatic circumstance of him getting his Quirk, previous conversations (sometimes conversations from this very same episode), pervious interactions with different people, dramatic declarations (“I will be a hero that saves people with a smile—”)…

Not just that, but the beginning and ending of each episode is usually a recap or a teaser, respectively…one of which is material we already know, another is material we could know by just watching the next episode.

Y’all know there’s this thing called binging? We aren’t actually waiting a week between episodes…we just stream it from our favorite service over the internet, and – there it is.

Even if we did have to wait – we’re intelligent adults! We can remember things and make connections and get references to previous conversations without you having to constantly replay the same clips over and over again!

The very fact that not all of their story-telling is so ham-fistedly blunt proves that the creators have better skills than this — several of the side characters and minor villains, especially, are expertly sketched and fleshed out without the need of this mind-numbing repetition and exposition.

Perhaps the creators will eventually grow enough confidence in their craft to leave the copy-paste flash-backs behind. It would tighten and streamline the episodes immensely.

That’s not the only kind of confusing flash-back, though.

I don’t even know what to call this narrative device, but once in a while the show will skip over important information, then pause in the middle of the action to go back and show it.

This can be done well, as where Deku makes a clever plan for the group of friends to escape a situation — then, as we watch them act out the plan, we hear his voice-over directions to them, explaining how it should work. That compresses the narrative and lets us experience the action while still seeing how clever Deku was to plan it all out ahead of time.

When it’s badly used, it throws the characters into a confrontation, then jumps back to the characters discussing their plan of attack, then jumps ahead to what they’re doing…and that’s an example dealing with an actual physical confrontation.

Sometimes characters have conversations, but they’re chopped up – and we don’t get to see the more dramatic or meaningful moments of the talk until a flash-back from one of the participants later on.

This is all just frustrating – making it feel more like the authors withholding information for maximum emotional impact rather than letting us experience events smoothly with the characters.

I mentioned how nice it is that the villains get fully fleshed-out motives and personalities?

Yeah, only to a point. When we get to the point of stretching about one episode worth of conflict out across three episodes, padding the run-time with extensive flash-backs of information we either 1) know already, or 2) could pick up from a single facial expression…that’s just bad story-structuring. (YES, I’m looking at you, Gentle Criminal!)

Slowing fight scenes to a crawl so we can explore the backstories of each of the bad guys through flash-backs is also not the best way to handle it.

Yet…for all my complaints…the show still made it into my top five of all time.

If they fixed some of these issues? One Punch Man might be in danger of losing its crown…(not big danger, because Genos, but still…)

Sexual Humor

My Hero Academia is blissfully romance-free. One of Deku’s classmates has a crush on him, but she is currently channeling it into trying to be as hard-working a Hero as he is…not angst. And that’s exactly what actual real love is built for – to draw us out of ourselves and inspire us to be better, not to gratify our own desires!

The writers seem more interested in growing the characters into mature Heroes – not pairing them off…which is delightful. (They’ve also avoided falling into the trap of LGBTXXX-posturing, which is so refreshing.)

But nothing is perfect – not even MHA.

One of the students is girl-crazy (it’s like his single biggest character trait), and the humor department gets a lot of milage from his pathetic attempts to see their curves. There’s a scene where the boys and girls are bathing (separately) and he tries to climb the wall that separates them to get an eye-full. He fails…but the audience sees some naked back-sides (both genders).

Several of the female Hero costumes are…not appropriate. And one girl’s Quirk involves her being naked from time to time (though we don’t see any of the “essentials” that a bikini wouldn’t cover).

The show mostly plays it for humor – or as a realistic portrayal of female heroes using their “qualities” to boost their own PR – but it means I can’t blanketly recommend MHA to all the younger siblings out there.

Yes, girls have anatomy. Maybe we need to acknowledge that fact from time to time. But not everyone is ready for that.

Region 1 DVD Set Pretty Please!

You can come for the cool fights with different super-powers…the writers know that’s what you want, and serve up plenty of that.

But you can also come for long-form relationship development and character growth…growth focused on taking selfish, unsure, inexperienced children and turning them into strong, responsible, chill, kick-butt Adults.

I really, really hope the later seasons don’t go off the deep end…and also that they publish a reasonably priced DVD set soon.

Until then, head to your favorite anime streamer and queue it up! Yes, they have the “continuing story” threads that you’d expect from a series…but they also know how to close each separate story arc with cathartic resolution! Kimia-Hater-of-Cliffhangers approves.


Cover image credit: Newsweek.com

The brother and I watched it on Funimation. You can also find it streaming on CrunchyRoll, BestDubbedAnime, YouTube, and Hulu, plus I’m sure lots of other places. (Obviously you’d have to subscribe to whatever service you want to use. I can make no recommendations.)

Amazon does offer some DVDs (apparently so does AnimeCornerStore) but each season is split up for some reason and CHECK YOUR REGION BEFORE YOU BUY (also make sure it’s in a language you speak!).

“Avatar: The Last Airbender”

A"Avatar: The Last Airbender" — Kimia Wood kids’ animated series has not previously been in my box of tricks, so this was a fresh, new experience for me and my viewing partner.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has cool characters, awesome moments, great fights scenes, and interesting world-building…mixed in with immaturity and Buddhist mumbo-jumbo. But, hey, it’s all about the #siblingtime, right? Continue reading

“Never Leave Me” by Priscilla J. Krahn

"Never Leave Me" by Priscilla J. Krahn — Kimia Wood I hadn’t recently read the description blurb before I opened Never Leave Me, so I jumped into this Christian indie novella without many pre-conceived notions.

On Page 1, Amy’s dad (sole custodial parent) sweeps her from in front of the TV, across state lines, and dumps her on the doorstep of some cousins she’s never heard of, let alone met (while he flees the police).

Within the next chapter or two, the large, farm-living, “homeschooler” family has shared Jesus with her, and Amy is “born again.”

Within a chapter or two of that, we have a kidnapping, threats of violence, and hints at Amy’s dad’s dark secrets.

So…of all the “indie Christian” books I’ve read, this one probably does the best job at equally balancing raging evangelism with melodramatic adventure.

Amy

I did know this was a series before diving in (the “Adventures of Amy”, in fact). So I was perfectly ready to study Amy as a main character…and also anticipated her adventures taking longer than a single book. (Well, sort of. See below.)

However, I did struggle with the character of Amy from time to time.

What’s well done:"Never Leave Me" by Priscilla J. Krahn — Kimia Wood

Amy is just thirteen. She’s not a superhero, or a detective, or even emotionally mature. When her dad (ahem – the man she’s called Dad all her life!) snatches her away from her predictable life, and reveals on the drive that he’s a criminal, she’s realistically shocked and skeptical.

As traumatic events continue to pile on, she shows relatable signs of stress, anger, panic, and fear. At the same time, her rational side fights with her emotions as she tries to please her new Heavenly Father, and figure out what’s going on around her.

What challenged my disbelief:

Some things are foreshadowed so heavily I saw them coming several chapters before Amy finally tumbles to them.

She also exhibits fanatical devotion to her dad (except when she persuades herself to cooperate with the police).

I understand that family loyalty is complicated (which is one reason domestic abuse situations are so messy). But as a third-party, observing the situation from the outside, I saw plenty of evidence and red flags that left me sighing heavily at Amy. It was obvious to me that the man who had raised her wasn’t all he claimed to be…and while it was realistic for Amy to struggle with this, I think it needed something more.

For instance: later in the book, she reminisces about the good times they had together…piggy back rides, movies, all the things he did to demonstrate his love for her. I realize flash-backs are hard to do well, but if I were writing the story, I would have sprinkled some of those good memories into the narrative early on to remind the audience Amy is adding Dad’s current illegal behavior to his previous loving behavior…and isn’t just blinded by her own love for him.

Another niggle:

Speaking of planting things earlier…

Amy dashes out of her home with a single suitcase of clothes. But it never states what those clothes are.

About three-fourths through the book, the author drops that Amy’s wearing a skirt.

This may seem like a really weird thing to bring up, but here’s why. Amy’s seven-sibling cousin family has family meals together, does family devotions, lives on a farm…you can practically smell the Christian homeschooler on them. Thus, it is totally legit for her female cousin to wear skirts.

But worldly, “city girl” Amy?

See, when Amy is (SPOILER) being placed in foster care by a social worker, she thinks about how she’s a different girl now…after her adventures, and after coming to Jesus. She thinks she wouldn’t like the same music as she once did. She’s wearing a different clothing style now…because she doesn’t care about style and popularity anymore, but about pleasing Jesus.

Bringing these pieces together: if the author had made a bigger deal about how Amy dressed in the beginning (being careful to pack her favorite jeans; feeling weird that she’s wearing make-up, but her girl-cousin isn’t) then the change at the end (her cousin was much older than she was, but her old skirt fit Amy perfectly…) would make the character change clear to the audience from the evidence. It wouldn’t just be something the author pulls out of nowhere.

Christian Transformation

Speaking of character changes, though – Amy’s Christian transformation is pretty deep. Her dad is an atheist (and apparently her mom converted mere weeks before dying in an accident)…but after Amy “gets born again” in the early chapters, she jumps into evangelism with both feet. Within a month of her conversion, she’s led a man to the Lord, and has shared the gospel repeatedly with her relatives (and a few strangers).

Maybe…Maybe coming to Christ at four years old is a drawback. I don’t want to bare my soul too much here, but let’s say that has not been my experience. Not only was I not challenged with evangelism from Day 1 (or even Day 2), but over a year after “getting serious” about sharing my faith with others, I have yet to see a single fruit (in the form of unbelievers showing an interest).

It makes sense that someone who came to faith later in life would be more inspired with the part of Christian discipline that directly led to their conversion (AKA evangelism), and I also recognize that we have different testimonies.

This is just one of those things that’s really hard to balance. Just like real life.

Balance

I’ve read stories that were almost horrifying in the way they shoved the gospel to the forefront, at the expense of the tale they were supposed to be telling.

I’ve read stories that wore their evangelism on their sleeve – and carried it with varying degrees of success, but with no misconceptions about what kind of story they were presenting.

And then there’s this story. I don’t think it’d be overestimating to say a full half of the book is devoted to religious/Christian themes. The cousin family is deeply religious…and the need for Amy to “trust God” with her traumatic situation and let Him “keep her in perfect peace” (and perfect King James’ English) is heavily leaned on.

But there’s a lot of action layered in there, with constant kidnappings, evil uncles jumping out of cupboards, guns, child abuse, threats of violence or use of deadly force…it’s like an adrenalin junkie’s playground.

Even the ending, which is stuffed with more religious theme-izing than the rest of the book, has actual story conflict issues to keep the tension and pacing brisk.

For all the book’s missteps, the juggling act between gospel-mission and Impossible-Mission is pretty well-handled.

Cliffhanger!

(I could make you all wait until the next review to see where I was going with this…but that would be really dumb! :D)

I knew this was a series. I fully understood that further adventures were in the wings. And yet…

I mentioned briefly how Amy was such a bad deducer (or the clues were laid on so thick) that the plot twists could be seen a mile off.

Thus, I felt a certain story element was so heavily hinted as to be a foregone conclusion…but the book ends before I could see if I was right!

Not only does the book have a kind of unhappy ending, but if I really wanted to see the resolution of that plot-thread, I have to get the other book(s)!

Blah! Don’t the foolish mortals realize I never pay for anything if I can help it? Why should an author want to eat off their earnings? In vengeance, I shall wreck havoc with their review rating –!

Anyway.

I know about the pitfalls of balancing a series-wide story arc with stand-alone installments. I wrestled with the same thing in the White Mesa Chronicles. In this instance, though, I felt disappointed that something had been so built up, just to have it unresolved at the end.

While I’m complaining…

The professionalism of the book was pretty good. Only towards the end (call it the last fourth of the book) did the copy-editing slip, and petty things like typos and word choice crept into the text.

The author does note at the end that this is the first book she wrote — and it’s pretty good for a first book! My own first publication is not mentioned on my online presence…

Incidentally, for some weird reason, the PDF copy I had went cray-cray on my Nook…and used two different fonts (and size of fonts) on the same page – usually within the same paragraph or sentence! Reading it in the programs on my computer, though, had no issues.

TL;DR

If this really was too long, and you didn’t read it, how did you get all the way down here?

The balance of pulse-pounding action and shameless evangelism was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The characters (especially the main character) were a little clueless. Even the villains had one-track minds…but who expects villains to be rational?

Pick it up, support a young, independent, Christian author, and form your own opinion!


"Never Leave Me" by Priscilla J. Krahn — Kimia WoodDISCLAIMER: I received a FREE copy of Never Leave Me for participating in the November 2017 Indie Christian Book Sale. I was not required to write a review of any kind, and all opinions are my own personal opinions.

You can find out more about the author on her website – PriscillaJKrahn.com – or in my interview with her here on the blog!

Never Leave Me is available on Amazon.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing exploits.

“A Newbery Christmas”

"A Newbery Christmas" — Kimia Wood — Christmas story Christmas is…an interesting topic.

What do you think about when you hear the word? What does a “Christmas story” mean? It forms an entire genre of fiction…but defining that genre is in the eye of the beholder.

Besides which, for some of us Christmas has the deeper purpose of celebrating Christ – the Anointed One – the Eternal God taking on flesh and walking the earth in the form of a human.

This collection of “Christmas” stories, penned by fourteen different Newbery Award-winning authors, was interesting on a number of different levels. Not only did the tone and style change depending on the attitude of the author, but also their view of Christmas (and what it means) was remarkably varying.

So, what is a “Christmas story”?

The “Just So” Fable

Some of them recalled the roots of Christmas. Theses stories have the flavor of a “fairytale retelling” as they relate the basic story elements – Mary giving birth to a special baby in a stable – and sprinkle it with their own twists.

For instance: Mary giving birth without making a sound…animals being given the gift of speech so as to relate the events from a thousand years ago…and Catholic saints traveling through time and space to get a peek at the manger scene.

For some people, this is what makes a “Christmas story” — Saturday Evening Post-type nostalgia mixed with church traditions.

The “Santa” Paradigm

The Newbery Award is for children’s literature, so the stories in this anthology are naturally geared toward children.

Some children view Christmas solely in the context of the presents they get. Older children are usually concerned about the presents they give away, also.

A good author captures the attitudes and thoughts of her viewpoint character.

But there is a line between accurately portraying a child’s limited worldview, and structuring your narrative with only these materialistic elements that reenforce the limited worldview. Sometimes, that line is very hard to find.

Is a “Christmas story” about giving gifts? Is it about discovering that what you really, really want is not as important as what you need?

Perhaps. For some people, that’s what they mean by a “Christmas story”.

My Personal Favorite

My favorite story is the selection by Madeleine L’Engle (ironically enough).

While not an “orthodox” Christian, she does a good job giving readers a sense of the “true meaning of Christmas” (as the clichés call it). Not only does her story follow a family celebrating the holiday with church, food, and snow – it gives a realistic portrayal of Christians acting in a way consistent with the character of God: with love, grace, and peace in the face of unexpected stress.

What is a “Christmas Story”?

To borrow Andrew Klavan’s explanation, a “Christmas story” is the tale of a character exchanging their value set. As in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer Scrooge exchanges his own value set (selfishness and money) for a more “heavenly” value set (generosity, legacy, and community) his motivation, actions, and lifestyle change.

He is transformed. He is a “man who learns better” because of the new values that descend on his life (and once he accepts them, his behavior changes).

This mirrors the original “Christmas” story, where our paradigms of self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and selfishness are confronted by God’s system.

That system being that we could do nothing to rescue ourselves, but God in His grace came down to earth (wearing human flesh and bone) and gave Himself to us…not only showing us the example for perfect love and kindness, but also making it possible for us to live in a way that pleases Him (through His Holy Spirit setting up shop without our own hearts and changing us from the inside out).

This strikes me as a good, understandable explanation of what makes a “Christmas story”.

Does something count as a “Christmas story” if it’s a peppermint-flavored romance set in December? According to this paradigm, only if they focus on the protagonist’s value set being exchanged for a “higher” one.

How about all the stories that wrap around a child getting exactly what they want for Christmas? Well…is the point that they don’t get what they want, but rather what they need? That focus on receiving a fresh values set would make it a Christmas story under this definition.

(For what it’s worth, Mr. Klavan says that Holly in Die Hard is in a Christmas movie, because the system she uses to evaluate and measure the world is challenged and replaced…but John from Die Hard is in an action movie, instead. Having never seen the movie, I can’t appraise his appraisal.)

But This is Actually a Review

What do you expect from a “Christmas anthology”? What are you looking to get out of it?

A couple of these stories are thought-provoking or emotionally resonant. A few of them are short and quippy, or more geared toward kids.

So…to resolve your itch for “Christmas genre” stories, or to give your kids something short and easy to read, it would work. Also works as a Christmas-themed coffee-table gift.

These stories probably won’t change your life. But it’s all a matter of expectations.

So, what does “Christmas” mean to you?


A Newberry Christmas features fourteen stories, by fourteen different Newberry-winning authors from Ruth Sawyer and Rachel Field to Lois Lenski, Eleanor Estes, and Madeleine L’Engle. It is edited/compiled by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh.

It is available on Amazon.

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic novella Soldier, plus periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

Best Video Games for Kids

I grew up on video games from my earliest childhood. Many of these I watched my dad play — in fact, we have a photo of my brother, not yet old enough to walk, sitting on Dad’s lap watching Warcraft III.

But I myself played my share of video games. You may scoff, but some of my fondest memories, the most enduring stories, breathtaking characters, and immersive experiences have come from games.

If you have kids, you want them to be encouraged, educated, and edified by the media they consume. This includes watching the books they read and the friends they play with.

Dare you let video games play a role in their development? If so, let me share with you the best and brightest games from my youth…the ones that taught me most, or touched me the deepest.

DISCLAIMER: CHECK YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM AND THE GAME’S SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS BEFORE BUYING ANY GAMES. After all, I’m not exactly a spring chicken…

Teaching Games

Admit it. We parents are duplicitous, and want to sneak little nuggets of knowledge into the things our kids think are just fun.

Sure, there are lots of games like this, some more recent or successful than others. But from my own vast childhood experience, these are my top picks:

Alphabet Express

Best Games for Kids — Kimia Wood

Image credit: mobygames.com

Do you know your alphabet? This game has a colorful scene for each letter, filled with colorful characters and hidden “H”, “L”, “Q”, or the like.

This “game” is simple, but entertaining. Clean and cheery, it’s also perfect for little kids.

The Blaster Games

Blatant educational content has a name. In my childhood, it was Science Blaster Jr., Math Blaster Jr., Reading Blaster, and Math Blaster (Ages 6-9).

There are many more in the series, as I learned from the walkthroughs on YouTube. (A walkthrough for a kids’ educational game? That’s like taking a Dr. Seuss book, designed to get kids to read, and making it into a movie! Ya dig?)

Best Games for Kids — Kimia Wood

Image credit: EliSoftware.org

Meet Spot, G.C., and Blasternaut – my first self images. Spot is also my first game crush; he’s the cute little blue robot. I even have a notebook featuring a pictogram story about them.

These bright characters introduced basic science facts, easy math, and reading puzzles to us youngsters on their spaceship full of mini-games. Not so arduously academic as my exposure to Reader Rabbit, and not so story-driven as the Humongous games, the Blaster games hit a sweet spot of fun and function.

Be careful playing the Big Kid game, though: Math Blaster Ages 6-9. It features Gellator – the Brain-Drainer…an evil yellow ooze-being who kidnaps Spot and terrified my five-year-old self. To the point that I would never play the actual story-line, only test mode.

Ah, kid fears. Continue reading

“Over the Waves” by Marianne Olson

 The year is 1918, and Joel wants to be a newspaper reporter – not a tailor in his father’s shop. When his mother decides to visit her family back in Sweden, Joel gets the chance to accompany her – and prove that he’s responsible enough to choose what he wants to do in life.

On top of the normal dangers of a steamer voyage, the Great War breaks out, stranding them on the wrong side of the ocean! Continue reading

“Poison Kiss” by Kendra E. Ardnek

Poison Kiss by Kendra Ardnek — Kimia Wood — fairytale You must pick up a fairytale with open eyes. The well-worn road to fairyland is practically paved with princesses, curses, and talking cats. Yet for those not too “grown-up” to venture into the land of fairies, ogres, and millers’ sons, Poison Kiss offers a quick, entertaining read that delivers exactly to genre.

Everyone’s heard of the “Sleeping Beauty” story, so when the king hears that his daughter is to fill the role in the next cycle of the tale, he deliberately snubs the evil fairy and prepares to ban all spinning wheels.

When the fairy responsible for the curse brings originality to the course of events and switches the cure for the curse, the horrified kingdom is left to fear “love’s first kiss” – and wonder how a spinning wheel will help reverse the whole thing. Continue reading

Get To Know Author Priscilla J. Krahn

Get To Know Author Priscilla Krahn — Kimia Wood — InterviewToday I get to share my very first author interview – starring Priscilla J. Krahn! This was a new experience for me, and it was great fun to get to know a like-minded author. Please join me in welcoming her!

Interview Q&A

What made you decide to be an author? What encouragements have you had along the way?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I’ve dreamed of being an author for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until one of my big brothers told me that I would never get published that I decided I was going to become an author! Once I decided that I wanted to write, my mom was the greatest encouragement. She never discouraged me and always made sure I didn’t give up. I would NEVER have gotten my first book published, if it hadn’t been for her. Continue reading