Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Do you remember the first time you experienced the story of Peter Pan? I can’t quite remember whether I saw the Disney cartoon or watched an old movie with a girl playing the lead role first. I do remember being thoroughly upset with having a GIRL play a boy’s part in that movie. The adults seemed to handle this fact OK, but then they were adults. What would they understand anyway? Peter Pan represented a boy’s world and to use a girl undermines the entire point. (Of course, I now find that Peter Pan is traditionally played by girls, but I still find that at odds with the purpose of the script.)

Peter and the Starcatchers captures the power of the original story. Most children wrestle with two competing desires: the desire to be a grownup and the desire to play all of the time without responsibility. For every little boy (and even big boys) stories of pirates and stories of Indians are thrilling. Besides, who could turn down the ability to fly? These elements were mixed well by J. M. Barrie (the original author of Peter Pan). In Peter and the Starcatchers these elements are begun as separate threads and woven expertly together to form the world of Neverland and Peter Pan.

In an engaging style, Barry and Pearson draw the reader into the story behind Peter Pan. Who is Peter Pan? How did he become the never-aging flying boy? Attempting to answer these questions and many more, this story begins with Peter and the four (future) lost boys being sent away from the horrid orphanage St. Norberts. They are thrown onto the dumpy little ship Never Land and life only gets worse as the food still moves in the bowl, the scruffy crew dislikes them and the captain remains drunk in his cabin. They are off on an adventure that will change them forever.

Over the course of the story, Peter encounters two enemies in an ancient battle of good and evil. He meets Mr. Grin, Black Stache (as in mustache) the fearsome pirate, Fighting Prawn the Indian and many more enjoyable characters. Peter teams up with Molly, another passenger on the Never Land to fight evil over the greatest treasure in history. Action filled pages keep every reader seeking more. All too soon, the story ends leaving you wishing for more. This is not a desire because the book leaves you feeling empty, but because the story is so enjoyable that you wish it would never end. This is a fitting statement for a book about never-ending youth.

Besides being delightful reading for all ages, this book is a great tool for teaching children to handle objectionable elements. With two swear words and some violence this 400+ page book has relatively minor problems. Further, the book presents the opportunity to deal with the effects of slavery, cruelty, and people’s reaction to them. All told, a pleasurable read.

Declaration of Independence by Rodd Gragg

Holding history in your hand while being moved by the words of a just war and an honorable revolution enlivens the past. Seeing the men who struggled for freedom and liberty enriches the truths they espoused; truths for which every heart passionately beats. Looking on the faces of these men, revolutionaries who threw off the yoke of an unreasonable king, is to see men in whom the hand of God moved providentially. To read their impassioned speeches and their private letters is to know their fears and dreams. To know the heartbeat of men who desired to know freedom for their families is to understand them.

Liberty. Freedom. This idea fuels dreams of hope, strengthens the weak, and empowers the oppressed. This idea ignites men souls and burns the hands of the oppressor. This idea underlies the formation of America’s greatest document. This idea is at the heart of a nation that serves the world, grants freedom to its citizens, promotes religious expression, and gives to every citizen a future.

Liberty and freedom characterize the story of the Declaration of Independence. This is a story of men who chaffed under unfair taxes and tariffs, and of men who submitted to their king. This is a story of men who wanted to be equal, and of men who wanted freedom. This is a story of men who sought a home without oppression, and of men who wanted the right to govern themselves. Most of all, this is a story of men who put their lives, their families, and their fortunes at risk for one dream. To live without oppressors; to have a voice in government; to express opinions without fear of being silenced; to be free.

This story comes to life neither through words nor through pictures. This history becomes passion in the heart as the replicas of maps, speeches, and official declarations are held, pondered, and considered. Replicas of history have been reproduced in the pages of this book. Holding the map of Philadelphia while reading about the sights, sounds, and prides of its people allows the city to spring to life in your mind’s eye. Setting the book down to read the letters from one rebel to another brings to life the words on the page. This book transports history from black and white dusty pages into vibrant colors, smells, and sounds that live in our minds; sounds of men arguing for freedom regardless of the cost, smells of city streets and marketplaces, and the dark colors of a night raid in the Boston Harbor. This book takes the past and places it into your hands through aged replicas, rich text, and gripping pictures that reveal the heart of our America.

Out of the Shadows by Sigmund Brouwer

True to form, Brouwer engrosses the reader in this interesting tale of lies, deceptions and hidden wrongs among Charleston’s elite. The great southern city has charm and beauty, but beneath the exterior of southern charm, a web of deceit lies buried amongst the rich and wealthy….

This tale, told from a first person perspective, grips your heart and mind. Nick Barrett wakes to find himself behind the steering wheel of a car. Claire, his bride of four days, is missing, her brother hurt badly in the rear seat, and Pendleton, his cousin, is unconscious in the passenger seat. So begins a tale of money, power, and scandal. After the amputation of his leg, Nick has two options: sign an annulment on this marriage and leave town on a stipend, or face criminal charges in the accident. Nick chooses to leave Charleston behind.

Now, a decade later, Nick returns because he has received a strange and unsigned note. This note instructs him to a bed and breakfast where a room is reserved for a week. It also tells him where to look for his mother. Nick had not seen his mother since she abandoned him….

This story is a compelling tale of conspiracies, blackmail, old money, and aristocratic arrogance. It is also a tale of a man coming to terms with his past, the present, and moving into the future. It is about a man who finds the bitterness of revenge, learns about love and forgiveness, and most of all: he learns about a God who loves and forgives.

Brouwer writes in a style that is almost poetic in description. The style fits the quiet streets and the secret deals brokered among the aristocrats. These gripping descriptions keep the pages turning. You understand how Nick feels. You can empathize with his anger and betrayal at learning that he was born a year and a half after his father left for war. You can understand his callousness toward those who mocked him and mistreated him after his mother left. He did not have a reason to like them and every reason to hate them. You can appreciate his reason to forgive….

The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket

Just finished reading Lemony Snicket’s latest release into the realm of
literature, The Penultimate Peril. If you’ve read the previous eleven books in the Series of Unfortunate Events, be prepared for more of the same; Snicket has built his popularity on the formulas of depression, obscurity, and general vagueness, and this book falls right into that line. As such, if you’re hoping that this book will begin to clear up some of the muddied waters surrounding the Baudelaire orphans, you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you like the feeling of, “What in the world is going on here?”, this book will be a great addition to your literary pantheon . . . .

These books are wonderful in that they appear to be moving while actually standing still. In none of these books has any of the characters changed; information is being collected, situations arise, but there is a kind of prolonged stagnation, a repetition of the same things in different locations. This can be frustrating for those who like a point in every book. This does, however, put a great deal of pressure on Snicket to deliver something great with the thirteenth and final book in the series; otherwise, it’s going to be a great joke on all of us who have purchased the first twelve . . . .

Snicket’s wry sense of humour is in full display in this book, and as he has learned what works well and what his audience is looking for, he is giving us more and more. He continues with his slyly political asides; in a conversation about justice being blind, Sunny, the baby, says, “Scalia,” which is pretty funny in its own right. (I almost laughed out loud on that one; not as outwardly funny as Dave Barry or Douglas Adams, perhaps, but very penetrating in its satire.)

This book is dramatically more personal; we are beginning to see the way in which Snicket and the Baudelaire children are linked by the V.F.D. and the reasons why he is the one to tell their story. Again, we are not allowed to see the entire story, merely hints and clues of what might be; hints and clues that are so vague that it leaves almost every possibility still open. He’s given us another set of triplets, a place in which nobody knows whether anyone else is friend or foe, and a gathering of almost all the characters (at least, those who have not been killed off) from the previous eleven books, all looking for a sugar bowl.

Snicket is wonderfully creative when it comes to wordplay, especially acronyms, and this book is no exception. More and more possibilities are added to the initials V. F. D. and J. S., and more and more acronyms keep popping up, such as Jerome Squalor’s book, Odious Lusting After Finance. Snicket certainly pays great attention to detail and is very meticulous in his treatment of each one.

I’m beginning to think that book thirteen will need to be as long as Rowling’s recent Harry Potter efforts in order to bring all the threads into a coherent whole; but that is part of the brilliance of a good writer, who can shake out all the tangled knots at the last possible moment and leaves you gaping at the mastery of plot and events. (P. G. Wodehouse is the undisputed master of this, in my opinion, with Jeeves as the quintessential deus ex machina.) At least, we hope that Snicket is a good enough writer to draw a satisfactory conclusion to this narrative, even if it is as pessimistic and depressing as he claims it will be . . . .

Showdown by Ted Dekker

Not for the faint of heart. Showdown makes a point and it does so well and at times in a graphic manner. Still, the best part of any Dekker novel is the intertwining of the message with the plot in a gripping manner. You can never extract the message from the plot, because the plot would die. And yet, you never quite reach the point of feeling “preached at”. Dekker does a fabulous job of making this story sufficiently allegorical to subdue the message without going overboard in the allegory.

Showdown takes place in a small town named Paradise in a Colorado valley. Paradise lies beneath a hidden and mysterious monastery. When a mysterious “Preacher” enters town with a message from God, things go from sleepy and quiet to insane in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, back at the monastery, a David Abraham leads a group of teachers who have been raising thirty-seven children. These children are being raised outside of the “wicked” influences of society in an experiment on human nature. Unfortunately, a rebellion is brewing amongst the ranks of the children. The crucible for these children and the town of Paradise is coming sooner than anyone expects. What is the place of “love” in religion and life?

Showdown lends itself to the gory in the first several chapters. After that, it tends toward unpleasant but not gross. Every character in the town of Paradise has a sin nature. One complaint is that a deacon runs the town saloon and the characters are introduced as they sit around the bar drinking. They are all church-going people. Another problem is the use of the name of God. Dekker uses the title of God in several ways that are questionable at best. There is no need for a Christian writer to write in that manner.

Overall, this isn’t his best book, but certainly better than the vast majority of Christian fiction writers. Well worth reading. Oh, and as a teaser: several elements from the Circle Trilogy show up in this book.

Alien Intrusion (UFOs and the Evolution Connection) by Gary Bates

This is a thought provoking book. I have been mulling over this book for sometime now and still do not know what I should think. This book has created a paradigm shift in my thinking. I will have to read it again to evaluate the concepts espoused in this book further.

Have you ever wondered about “alien abductions?� Do they really occur? On a more basic level, do aliens exist? By aliens, I am referring to extraterrestrial beings with actual intelligence as opposed to microbes on other planets. Are there aliens like those popularized in Star Wars or Star Trek? Do aliens exist like those in the shows Independence Day, Signs, or Men in Black? This question of the existence of aliens reveals much about what you believe. As Gary Bates convincingly proves in this book, the idea of extra-terrestrials requires evolution as its base. No, this book is not just about evolution and/or creation. It is much more than that; it is a study on the Science Fiction (Sci-Fi) movement (or possibly obsession) in the world around us.

I have said that this book has caused a paradigm shift in my thinking. I will explain this shift. I enjoy the concept of the aliens found in Star Wars. It would be fantastic to have those aliens exist in our society. I have understood for many years that aliens require evolution and as a creationist, I have always thought wistfully about aliens. I knew that they did not exist, but thought that it would be neat if they did. To have an author detail this to me would be boring; I knew it already. What Gary Bates did was much more profound. Bates explored the Sci-Fi movement and details the philosophies, concepts and many other details that exist within these writings and movies. The shocking part was this: I was rudely reminded of how naïve I have been regarding what I read. I understood some of the problems, but I had no idea of the depth of the problems within this movement. Now, I feel as if blinders have been removed from my eyes and I am beginning to see these stories in a completely new light.

Bates begins the book with an introduction to his subject. This intriguing chapter covers the gamut of the topics that he plans to cover. He then delves into the problems of the science contained within sci-fi stories. He moves into the issues of life on other worlds followed with the question, “Did aliens create life on Earth?� He follows this with discussions of conspiracies and money. Following his details about abductions, he begins to work with the teachings that these abductors are propagating through their victims. He finishes with some thought provoking questions and possibilities about the nature of the alien abductions.

One of the benefits of this book is the exposition of the philosophies that underlie sci-fi beliefs and writings. For example, many books and stories (including episodes of Star Trek) describe utopian (i.e. optimal) societies as being characterized without crime and without moral restraint. In other areas, universalism and polytheism reign supreme. Another major theme is tolerance for the foolish religions of others. Those who are above religion are well adjusted while those who follow religions are respected but inferior. These superiority and inferiority views are seldom explicit, but usually very evident to a careful observer. Tolerance reigns and the priests of tolerance are those without religion that benevolently accept others who have strong religious views.

Another benefit of this book has to do with alien abductions and possessions. There seems to be a bit of an obsession with this especially in TV shows. The other side of the abduction scenario is scarier. Many of the abductions in real life as well as in stories involve a spirit being taking control of or possessing a physical body and this experience of being possessed is a not uncommon for those who write sci-fi materials. They experience alien possession and they are vocal about it.

Let me move to the crux of the matter. The responses of those who have been “abducted� clues us into the reality of these abductions. Victims respond very similarly to rape victims. Men and women who study abductions write that those who are abducted move through a series of responses that parallel the responses of victims of repeated rape. At first, they despise the attacker and then they become to accept and love the attacker. This is frightening, but especially since many of those who detail this phenomenon do not believe in the Bible, demons or the supernatural. These are “unbiased� men and women who are studying this movement. Further, some of these researchers believe in aliens, but are trying to warn the general populace of the danger that some aliens pose.

Who or what are these abductors? Whether you agree with the conclusions of this book or not, you should read this book. Even if you aren’t excessively interested in reading all of this material, you need to at least skim through and read the highlights. The information in this easy to read volume is accessible and timely. Please consider this as an education on the state of our society. At least make an effort to be more aware of the world you in which you live. This book will help in a small way.