“Red vs. Blue” (Seasons 6 thru 13)

"Red vs. Blue" (Seasons 6 thru 13) — Kimia Wood The internet is a dark, mysterious place…full of dangerous things like web series. If you aren’t careful, you might find yourself…watching Red vs. Blue.

And if you have a little brother, you might find yourself compelled by those big brown eyes to watch it, despite your better judgement. #askhowIknow

In all honesty, though, is RvB really that bad? Well…it has some content “not for mothers-in-law“, but it also has a lot of powerful, heart-moving themes.

You gotta decide if you’re up to getting there.

Premise

This might sound weird, but RvB is a Halo-based Machinima where two teams of soldiers camp on opposite sides of a valley in color-coordinated teams (yes…Red and Blue). It streams free on YouTube (in five-minute episodes organized into seasons), but is also available in DVD format.

I gather that early on, it was basically an excuse for cheap skits and foul-mouthed jokes while these pathetic losers tried unsuccessfully to kill each other.

But I wasn’t brought in until Season 6…when they actually start telling a cohesive story. Continue reading

“Incredibles 2”

 The Incredibles was practically perfect. Gorgeous animation blended with a deft plot; escalating tension melded with heart-warming family dynamics; an adorable yet realistically high-stakes romance between a husband and wife strode alongside the every-man struggle of a middle-aged father to find his place in life again; and weaving through it all was a truly diabolical yet savory villain.

Well, perfect is understandably hard to top…even for a writer and director of Brad Bird’s impressive story skills.

So……did the sequel pull it off?

That’s a question each viewer must answer for themselves—but here is my take. Continue reading

“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.

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“Nomad of the Emirates” by E.B. Dawson

If we met aliens, could we relate to them?

This story is short, but still explores some fascinating concepts.

Earth has sent an emissary to the alien society called “the Emirates” – but a human is already living there. Is it possible the grass-roots free market has bested extensive government training at its own game?

The Opening

The narrator opens in the heart of an alien harvest, watching the new Earth emissary (the “Captain”) as she watches the harvesting operation.

However, we quickly jump into the narrator’s head, a cheerful, self-deprecating human who has forged a place for herself in this alien culture. Through her experienced eyes, we can plunge into this differently-colored world full of complex greeting ceremonies without losing our footing. Continue reading

“Monster Hunter International” by Larry Correia

The book that got my brother out of his reading slump was — chock full of guns and monsters.

It’s a bit of a story: my dad got a free copy during a promotion, and when he finally read it

He shoved it into my brother’s hands when they were taking a long drive together, and ordered him to read. My brother…

Started paying his own money for the next books in the series, geeking out at every opportunity, is currently slavering for the author to finish Book 7, and badgered me left and right to read Monster Hunter.

So here I am. I’ve joined the club. Maybe I’m not normally in the demographic for ripping apart monsters with anatomically correct firearms, but sometimes you just gotta let your inner “Heck, Yeah!” have some fresh air.

Continue reading

“The Book of Were-Wolves” by Sabine Baring-Gould

It’s easy to “poo-poo” were-wolves as superstitious just-so stories, invented by our ignorant ancestors.

Baring-Gould, while not convinced human beings physically transform into wolf bodies, nevertheless has taken a scholarly, detailed, and anecdote-filled look at this phenomenon. Along with his scientific, 18th-century respect for facts, he brings the Christian insight into human nature to his subject (he’s more famous for writing Onward Christian Soldiers).

The resulting book is fascinating, profound, and sometimes disturbing…both by what it says about were-wolves, and by what it says about ourselves. Continue reading

“Ten Thousand Thorns” by Suzannah Rowntree

"Ten Thousand Thorns" by Suzannah Rowntree Some books just “sing”.

Others…don’t work for some people.

What if Sleeping Beauty was a martial artist?

For a hundred years, Princess Morning Light has meditated in a hidden temple surrounded by ten thousand thorns. Could her long-lost sword skill be the key to stopping the Vastly Martial Emperor?

Rebel leader Clouded Sky doesn’t believe in the old legends of Ten Thousand Thorns Temple. But as bounty hunters and imperial guards close in, the martial princess may be Clouded Sky’s last hope.

Who can he trust – and who is planning to betray him?

If you liked the martial arts and fierce female characters of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’ll love this action-packed retelling of Sleeping Beauty!

Continue reading

“Chronicles of Amber” by Roger Zelazny

 The “Chronicles of Amber” have long been my dad’s example of what inspired him to write. He told us that Zelazny’s writing was so bad, he figured, “If he can get published, so can I.” And, at the same time, the story Zelazny was telling was so gripping Dad had no choice but continue.

Now, I’ve had an opportunity to form my own opinion. I agree about the story part…but the writing wasn’t that bad. If Zelazny had gotten an editor who could actually read, we’d have nothing to complain about.

But let’s talk about the story.

Who Is “I”?

Our first-person protagonist starts the story in a private medical institution, with no memory. As he makes his escape and tracks down his past, we’re eased into a fantasy world unlike any other.

Corwin is a good traveling companion. While he has to grow in several areas, he’s got enough deprecating humor, goodwill, and smarts to make us root for him. Continue reading

“Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott

"Ivanhoe" by Sir Walter Scott — Kimia Wood Published in 1819, if you’re looking for some honest-to-goodness, played-straight, exhaustively researched yet swashbuckling-fun story of medieval chivalry and derring-do, you could do worse than Ivanhoe.

Set in the 12th century – during that period of time made famous by every rendition of Robin Hood, when the head-strong and vivacious King Richard was out of the country, and the unpopular Prince John ruled in his stead – Ivanhoe explores racism, classism, male-female tensions, concepts of chivalry, and religion, all mixed with enough action and entertaining turns of phrase to keep the pace going. Continue reading

“Purple Fish” by Mark O. Wilson

 TL;DR: If you need another kick in your Jesus-sharing pants, or if you’d like to read some examples of evangelism from the “more Pentecostal” side of the church-spectrum, it’s worth a look.

As the third book on evangelism I’ve read this year, Purple Fish seemed to depend more on pithy quotes from other writers than the previous books. The outline for the book was also less clear than what I’d read previously.

Fisherman’s Guide to Sharing the TRUTH

The title comes from the idea of hunting for purple shell-fish — the ingredient used in the ancient world for purple dye, an expensive commodity for emperors and senators.

Pastor Wilson urges us to view lost people as “purple fish” — just like Jesus came all the way to earth to hunt after his treasured children, we should go “fishing for men” with the same passion. Continue reading