2014-12-12

DVD Review: Burning Questions

I'm a person who wrestles with a number of philosophical (or religious) questions in real life, and in the interest of full disclosure I'm also an open Chrisitan.

I was thrilled when I was offered a chance to review a new DVD documentary entitled "Burning Questions" which wrestles with a number of common, difficult questions about the deeper meaning of life.

With all of that being said, I also consider myself to be somewhat of an intellectual. I'm about to complete my second university degree, and I can appreciate both an intellectual and faith-filled response to these questions.

That is precisely where "Burning Questions" fits in for me. I appreciate the fact that the documentary makes use of a number of different thinkers in this area: it isn't merely restricted to Christian apologists despite being a Christian-focused documentary.

The first video session, entitled "Is there a god?" includes well-known thinkers such as Dr. Peter Atkins (an atheist), Dr. Chrisitan Sinkinson (Christian), Professor Richard Swinburne (Christian), Dr. Anna Robbins (Christian), Rabbi Mendel Kaplan (Jew), Dr. Stephen Law (atheist), Sensei Taigen Henderson (Buddhist), Pandit Roopnauth Sharma (Hindu), and Shabir Ally (Mulsim - who I'm previously famliar with, as he's spoken on The Agenda with Steve Paikan a few times), Dr. Stan Fowler (Christian), and Professor Alister McGrath (Christian).

While "Burning Questions" will have a greater appeal to Christians, it still has a place for those who may be seeking to hear from different perspectives. Even from within a religious perspective, this is an important documentary to hear from because of how it includes a number of different perspectives. It clearly focuses in on the Judeo-Christian God, and offers an explanation as to why they choose to focus on this one interpretation.

Some viewers may benefit from further explanation by way of a primer to explain some of the basic ideas being discussed here; the first session launches into a fairly involves discussion on philosophy about the existence (or lack) of god. Much of it focuses on the identity of god, as perceived by the guest speakers.

DVD set has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  All of my thoughts and opinions here are my own.

2014-11-27

Book Review: Black Ice

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick
Release Date ~ October 7, 2014
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN13: 9781442474260
ARC received from S&S Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Danger is hard to resist in this sexy thriller from Becca Fitzpatrick, the New York Times bestselling author of the Hush, Hush saga.

Brit Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn't prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

Britt is forced to guide the men off the mountain, and knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there and in uncovering this, she may become the killer's next target.

But nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

Black Ice is New York Times bestselling author Becca Fitzpatrick's riveting romantic thriller set against the treacherous backdrop of the mountains of Wyoming. Falling in love should never be this dangerous. 

Black Ice is a fast-paced, mysterious read that left me guessing the whole time I was reading it; as much as I thought I had predicted all the twists, I usually ended up being surprised by one reveal or another. I never read Hush, Hush so this was my first impression of one of Becca Fitzpatrick's books.


  1. Britt's natural growth and changes:

    Britt's character is going to bother some readers, I knew that from the very first chapter. She isn't your standard character who's easy to like or maybe even identify with - she's definitely spoiled and rather immature because she hasn't had to figure out much of life for herself yet. But the idea behind Black Ice is that Britt is forced to go through a situation where she can only rely on herself - and you can see her fight that at times. She doesn't have a clue what to do or how to deal. And by the end of the book, I'm not sure I'd say that she's figured that out entirely - but she's clearly changed and there is improvement. She's flawed and far from perfect, but that made the story seem more real to me.
  2. A story with a heavy crime element:

    I am one of those people who has always enjoyed crime stories (weird? maybe a little) so these elements in Black Ice really worked for me. There's a larger part of the plot devoted to a big mystery, but there are a few smaller ones as well. I liked how suspenseful the book was (particularly in a few scenes), but it also doesn't cross that line in to horror/scary territory for readers who are wary of that. 
I had a much harder time with some of the secondary characters - a couple of them are left without any redemption (which is fine) but it can feel awkward when other "bad" characters get their moment to explain at least some of their poor behaviour and actions. It's one of the main ways that a character instantly feels shallow to me. 

I'm not too sure where to include this in my review, but I had very mixed feelings about Mason. I wasn't entirely sold on his character but I also didn't hate him. He clearly had his own issues to work through, and I almost wish I could have a book about Mason in order to see his development - he's certainly not a lost cause and there were many times when I liked him. But by the end of the book, I just wasn't wholly convinced. 

The simplest way of putting it is that while I enjoyed Black Ice as a thriller, I had a harder time with it as a romantic book. Depending on how you feel about either of those genres (and the types of elements you like in those genres) will likely determine your thoughts on Black Ice. 




2014-11-24

Sleeping Secrets


I have had trouble sleeping soundly for as long as I can remember. But lately, it's been worse. Sleeping pills are a last option for me - I always try other things before resorting to those. Along the way, I've picked up a few different tricks to help with this and I'm sharing my secrets with the hope that some of you might find them helpful!

Secret #1 ~ Tea to make you feel sleep-tea 

I'm a big fan of tea (all tea, all day!) and it's a normal part of my bedtime ritual to have a cup of caffeine-free tea before bed.

I love DavidsTea because they sell good tea, and I love supporting Canadian brands. There are two options which include valerian root: their organic Mother's Little Helper and The Big Chill (also organic). If valerian root is an ingredient you'd rather avoid, try the herbal Sweet Dreams (which is somewhat similar to Mother's Little Helper with its chamomile and lemongrass flavour) or Jessie's Tea (a rooibos with lavender and coconut).

I've been eyeing the Relaxed Collection, which includes smaller bags of Sweet Dreams, Mother's Little Helper, and Jessie's Tea - I've been meaning to try Jessie's Tea and I can always use a refill of Little Helper!

Secret #2 ~ White noise and music

I actually like a little bit of background noise while I'm falling asleep so I have two picks for this - first, a handy white noise app for my phone and second, a great music album. I've grown accustomed to the Thunderstorm setting on iHome Zen, but I'm also not very picky. My A/C works too (in the summer).

But on a more exciting note, lately I've been listening to Ellie Holcomb's latest album titled As Sure As the Sun and letting Night Song repeat about three times - works like a charm.  Her voice is so gorgeous and soothing. This song is peaceful for me, and very calming when I often feel anxious at night.

Secret #3 ~ A silk eye mask

Even though I like a little background noise while drifting off, I need darkness! Since I'm a die-hard Audrey Hepburn fan, I'm currently using this Breakfast at Tiffany's-inspired mask which I purchased from AdorabellaBaby on Etsy. I love that it's large so it covers my eyes well, it has an adjustable strap, and it's silk which is nice for my facial skin! (I have one tiny little complaint which is the plastic connector on my strap broke after a couple of months - it's an easy enough fix, but still disappointing.)


Do you have any tips or suggestions that work for you? 
I'm always on the look out for new things to try. Lately I've been thinking I'd like to try some lavender scented body lotion before bed - I've always heard that lavender can help, but I haven't been a big fan of floral scents until this year. I've been using a nice vanilla body lotion from LOVEFRESH (another Canadian brand! The vanilla scent is divine, FYI) and I'm dying for their lavender body butter. Well, I'm actually dying to try out a whole bunch of their products but the lavender is first on my list!


2014-11-11

Book Review: Stitching Snow

Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis
Release Date ~ October 14, 2014
Disney-Hyperion ~ Hachette Book Group Canada
ISBN13: 9781423187974
ARC received from HBG Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

Science-fiction infused fairytale retellings are no longer completely out of the ordinary, thanks to the popularity of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles books, but R.C. Lewis makes Stitching Snow all her own. Despite the popularity of both sci fi and fairytale retellings right now, Stitching Snow is a refreshing story that is thrilling from the very start with memorable characters.


  1. A truly creative take on Snow White:

    I love when an author can take a story readers are familiar with and then write a completely unique spin on that same story. The trick is to maintain enough of the familiar features while infusing them with different explanations and purposes. Stitching Snow is a perfect example of how well this can work, because while it's very clearly a "Snow White" story, at the same time... well, it isn't. It's Essie's story and her adventures as she's plucked from her familiar life and thrown into a political mess.
  2. Essie's independent personality:

    When we first meet Essie, she's living on the snow planet Thanda (let's be honest, I'm picturing Hoth in my mind when I think of Thanda) and the icy temperatures are only partially responsible for her icy heart. She's fine with her mundane and mostly isolated life. And this is precisely what makes it interesting to see her emotional walls begin to crumble in Stitching Snow. She's forced out of the life she's built for herself, and thrust into a life she's been trying to avoid. I love that throughout all of this, Essie continues to take control of her situation - she's an assertive young woman!
  3. Exciting sci fi elements:

    I'm a fan of science fiction, so it is extremely pleasing to me when I read a book that reads like true sci fi and Stitching Snow is a recent addition to my collection of fantastic YA science fiction. I loved learning about the different planets, and I thought it was very cool that Essie was a mechanic who's great at computer programming. 
Once I started reading Stitching Snow, I had a hard time putting it down. I devoured it fairly quickly, and the pacing was perfect for me - there's tension gradually building throughout the story, yet there's action from the very beginning and enough hinting at secrets to grab my interest and hold it. Stitching Snow also has excellent romance - it doesn't overpower the entire story, and it has a nice, natural build to it. 

My only (small) issue was that this is the type of story that I could easily live in if it was spread out over a few books - I would be happy if this was a series. There are some interesting secondary characters introduced, and I think they could have benefited from further development (but I understand, books can only be a certain length before it's ridiculous). Some parts of the plot are fairly predictable, but it didn't bother me since the story was still interesting and there were still a few surprises for me.


2014-11-03

Book Cover Reveal: Anne and Henry


I'm very excited to share with you the cover reveal for Dawn Ius' upcoming 2015 release, Anne and Henry! But first the description:

A love worth losing your head over

ANNE
Wild, brazen, mischievous, bewitching

HENRY
Driven, haunted, charming, magnetic

ANNE & HENRY
Apart they are bound to destroy themselves. Together, they are bound to destroy each other.

HENRY TUDOR’S LIFE HAS BEEN mapped out since the day he was born: student president, valedictorian, Harvard Law School, and a stunning political career just like his father’s. 

But ever since the death of Henry’s brother—perfect, high-achieving Arthur—his family has been twice as demanding. And now Henry’s trapped: forbidden from pursuing a life as an artist or dating any girl who’s not Tudor-approved.

Then Anne Boleyn crashes into his life. 

Anne is wild, brash, and outspoken. She is everything Henry is not allowed to be—or to want. But soon Anne is all he can think about. His mother, his friends, and even his girlfriend warn him away, yet his desire for Anne consumes him. Henry is willing to do anything to be with her. But once he has her, their romance could destroy them both. 

Inspired by the true story of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, ANNE & HENRY reimagines the intensity, love, and betrayal between one of the most infamous couples of all time.



Interesting, yeah? You can really tell that it's a modern story, and I'm curious to see Dawn's take on Henry VIII's relationship with Anne in a contemporary, updated setting.

You can add Anne & Henry to your Goodreads shelf here!

About the Author
DAWN IUS is a short-story author, novelist, screenwriter, professional editor, and communications specialist. She is an active member of the International Thriller Writers association, co-founder and senior editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the author of nine educational graphic novels published by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. When she’s not slaying fictional monsters, she’s geeking out over fairy tales, Jack Bauer, Halloween, sports cars, and all things that go bump in the night. Dawn lives in Alberta, Canada, with her husband, Jeff, and their giant English Mastiff, Roarke. 


Connect with Dawn:
Twitter: @dawnmius

2014-10-28

Blog Tour: Earth & Sky


Earth & Sky (Earth & Sky #1) by Megan Crewe
Release Date ~ October 28, 2014
Razorbill Canada ~ Penguin Random House Canada (Skyscape in the U.S.)
ISBN13:  9780670068128
ARC received from Penguin Random House Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Seventeen-year-old Skylar has been haunted for as long as she can remember by fleeting yet powerful sensations that something is horribly wrong. But despite the panic attacks tormenting her, nothing ever happens, and Sky’s beginning to think she’s crazy. Then she meets a mysterious, otherworldly boy named Win and discovers the shocking truth her premonitions have tapped into: our world no longer belongs to us. For thousands of years, Earth has been at the mercy of alien scientists who care nothing for its inhabitants and are using us as the unwitting subjects of their time-manipulating experiments. Win belongs to a rebel faction seeking to put a stop to it, and he needs Skylar’s help--but with each shift in the past, the very fabric of reality is unraveling, and soon there may be no Earth left to save.

I loved one of Megan Crewe's others books, The Way We Fall, and I'm interested in reviewing more books written by Canadian authors. The fact that Earth & Sky is a new science fiction read was more than enough to convince me I needed to read this, because Megan Crewe writes science fiction so well!


  1. Intelligent time-travel:

    I'm a very picky reader when it comes to time-travel stories, because they need to be JUST RIGHT for me to accept the time-traveling as purposeful rather than gratuitous and too few books convince me of this. But Megan's conception of time-travel is reasoned out well and very intentional. It's a necessary component of the story and it didn't rely on cheap or cheesy time-traveling scenes or jokes. It also isn't needlessly complicated so that the story flowed nicely.
  2. Strong character relationships:

    One of the things that I find Megan writes really well are strong dynamics between her characters. Her writing allows for natural relationships to develop among the characters, and nothing is rushed or forced. And this is important when so much of the story in Earth & Sky revolves around its two central characters, Skylar and Win.
  3. Solid world-building:

    Earth & Sky excelled in creating a world I could perfectly imagine. The story is like a carefully constructed puzzle, where each piece slowly comes together and the big picture is revealed to the reader. I liked how intentional much of the story was, and how there's a strong, underlying purpose connecting Skylar to the aliens and the discoveries she makes. All of which is hinting at more secrets we have to learn about. 
Earth & Sky has a very narrow focus for its story and I was left with further questions about the world and Win's people that I need answered - but I'm glad to see that there was a clear ending to this first book and that a sequel is scheduled to come out next year. Hopefully that will satisfy some of the questions I have!

Another thing I like about Earth & Sky is that it isn't the type of science fiction book that might scare readers away - there's still a contemporary feel to it, to help keep readers grounded in a ore familiar world if they're less comfortable with science fiction. This would actually be a great gateway book to science fiction.


------

Megan very kindly took time to answer some questions about Earth & Sky I had for her as part of the blog tour! Her answers are so insightful and they tie into the story really well - I hope they increase your interest in reading the book!


Q: The plot in Earth & Sky is one of the most creative ideas I've read in a long time. I was so intrigued by the idea of aliens using Earth as an experiment - it's a great sci fi story! But I'm wondering if you could share what inspired you to write about this?

A: Aliens experimenting on Earthlings is a pretty common idea in science fiction--but usually the aliens are just kidnapping Earthlings here and there, and either returning them after a short time or taking them away to study them elsewhere. When I realized I could combine that element with my base idea of a character who was sensing that things on Earth had been altered, I knew that the aliens had to be affecting the entire planet. The scope of their manipulation added an intensity to the story that I found exciting. And it captured a feeling I wanted to give of how little Earthling life mattered to the aliens--that they were looking down on our planet much like people on Earth might study bugs in a terrarium or fish in a tank.

Q: I'm a very picky reader when it comes to time-travel. But I really loved how you incorporated time-travel as one element of the story. What was it about time-travel that interested you enough to include it in Earth & Sky? Did you find it difficult to write about? 

A: Because the story started with the idea of the main character sensing things around her were "wrong" somehow, time travel was really the most essential element to EARTH & SKY. It was the best explanation I came up with (after considering various magical and supernatural possibilities) for how her world might be shifting, and it also allowed for those shifts to not just be a wearing down but people and events having completely changed, which gave me many more avenues to explore. I've always been fascinated by speculation about how the present might change if certain key factors in the past were altered--how one small change might have a massive effect, for example--so I was eager to dive in.

It definitely was difficult, though. It took me a while to figure out the rules of how my version of time travel would work, and even then I regularly ran into scenarios I hadn't considered but that needed to be addressed in a way that fit with what I needed for the rest of the story. At times it got a little tangled! Thankfully my critique partners were a huge help in sorting out what made sense and keeping everything logically consistent.

Q: There are some big revelations in Earth & Sky that surprised me as a reader. Were there any surprises for you as you were writing it or did you know how Earth & Sky would end?

A: I knew all of the big twists before I started writing, but that's mainly because I'm a devout outliner and I never start a story before I have all the key points worked out. But the revelations didn't all arrive with the initial idea, and many of them hit me as I was working out the plot with an excitement I hope they give the reader too.  There are also always some smaller pieces that don't emerge until later drafts… For example, the idea of "standard protocol" and how that affected Win's decisions about contacting the rest of his group was something that came up during later drafts, though it seemed obvious when it occurred to me because it fit so well with everything else that was already there.

Q: I always like to ask authors this question about their books, because the answers are so interesting. Personally, I sensed what seemed to be a theme about free will, and I'm not sure how intentional that was. Do you have any sort of a thought or overall message you'd like readers to take away from Earth & Sky? 

A: I do always consider theme when I'm planning a book--I find it hard to direct a story unless I know what the main concept behind it is. With EARTH & SKY, free will is definitely a factor. To me, both Skylar and the Kemyates are dealing with a similar struggle between keeping their lives the same so they at least know what to expect and can feel prepared, vs. taking risks in changing the course of their lives not knowing for sure whether those changes will end up being for the better or for the worse. Is it better to stick with an unfortunate but livable situation you know or to risk screwing things up more for the chance at something good? My stance, as I intended to come across in the book, is that you never can be completely certain of what the future will hold either way, so you're better off actively reaching for the life you want rather than hoping things will work out the way you'd like without you having to step up. But I realize readers will have their own perspectives on the issue.  :)

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Megan!

And make sure you follow along with the rest of the blog tour and visit other blogs on the schedule to learn more about Earth & Sky!

2014-10-21

Book Review: Press Play

Press Play by Eric Devine
Release Date ~ October 28, 2014
Running Press Kids
ISBN13: 9780762455126
e-galley received from publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads Synopsis:
Greg Dunsmore, a.k.a. Dun the Ton, is focused on one thing: making a documentary that will guarantee his admission into the film school of his choice. Every day, Greg films his intense weight-loss focused workouts as well as the nonstop bullying that comes from his classmates. But when he captures footage of violent, extreme hazing by his high school’s championship-winning lacrosse team in the presence of his principal, Greg’s field of view is in for a readjustment.
Greg knows there is a story to be told, but it is not clear exactly what. And his attempts to find out the truth only create more obstacles, not to mention physical harm upon himself. Yet if Greg wants to make his exposé his ticket out of town rather than a veritable death sentence, he will have to learn to play the game and find a team to help him.
Combine the underbelly of Friday Night Lights with the unflinching honesty of Walter Dean Myers, and you will find yourself with Eric Devine’s novel of debatable truths, consequences, and realities.

Press Play is not the typical book I choose to read. But this is a case where I'm grateful that I branched out from my preferred reading picks and tried something different, because Press Play was a pleasantly unexpected read for me.

It's a contemporary read which is much more male-oriented than I'm used to (main character is a teenaged guy, and many of the other characters are male although not all. And it's written by a male author) and it deals with particularly relevant issues for teens in 2014. Not only that, but the main character, Greg, isn't the type of male character I'm used to reading.


  1. Greg's an interesting character to read about:

    In many ways, he seems like a very ordinary teenaged guy. He's far from perfect - fairly self-centred most of the time, with his own insecurities and frustrations. He's interested in girls and doesn't know how on earth to act around them. But at the same time, he's also unusual and different which makes life harder for him. Greg's overweight and on a quest to change that - he's making different food choices and working out with a friend. In many other modes of entertainment, there's "that fat guy" who's just a joke - people are either laughing because he's funny or they're laughing AT him. But with Greg, the reader has an insider's perspective as we experience so many of his embarrassing moments and struggles with his image and trying to take control of his body.
  2. An up-close view of bullying:

    We all know that bullying is a real problem. And we've likely all experienced it at one point or another in or lives (to some extent). Press Play looks at a very serious case of bullying (and hazing) and Greg's attempts to change that. But it also offers a very thoughtful perspective on how we can all do and say things that hurt others - and why it's so important that we recognize that and deal with it. 
Some of the imagery (depictions of events) and language used is rather crude - I point that out as a warning, not a criticism. I had no problem with it, because it always felt genuine and true to the character and his story. But I understand not all readers will be a fan of that. 

Press Play is a surprisingly dark story. The struggles these characters encounter are HEAVY - and in a few instances, I felt like I needed to see further resolution to feel reassured. For the most part, however, I thought the issues were handled well considering this is a standalone book tackling a whole spectrum of real life problems.

This is the kind of book that I believe is important because it's going to appeal to readers who may not be big fans of reading in general and are looking for a different type of book. I think it's realistic presentation of certain high school situations and characters is also going to appeal to readers who can appreciate that which is what makes Press Play worth reading.




 
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