Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: The King's Daughters

Three out of four stars. Would be four stars if it didn't have that one sex scene.

Sci-fi, action, mystery, romance... Nathalie Mallet successfully combines them all in the second installment of her Prince Amir’s Adventures series, The King’s Daughters. Normally, such a large grouping of genres would ruin a story, but Mallet manages to focus all these genres under the roof of her fantastical world, a world very much like our own.

As Prince Amir travels with his beloved Princess Eva, he has high hopes for a marriage approved by Eva’s father. Amir and Eva enter an increasingly hostile environment, however, when they arrive in Eva’s homeland, Sorvinka. Bandits have already attacked Amir and his men on the roads surrounding the kingdom; and once he arrives at the castle, Amir receives a greeting as cold as the icy winter environment that surrounds him: The king does not like Amir, one of Eva’s four younger sisters has been kidnapped, and an unclassified beast revisits the castle every night, killing anyone in its path. The king fears that his enemies, the Farrellians, are behind the evil deeds, but Amir suspects something far more mysterious and evil. Already having trouble making a good impression, Amir adds to the difficulty of his stay as he determines to solve the mystery. He explores the castle, meeting ghouls, gods, magic, and suspicious characters that all seem to have a motive. Meanwhile, the queen’s health fails and Amir begins to wonder whether more than just the princesses are in peril.

Could the culprit be the witch in the woods, known for kidnapping children? What about the one-armed lord and his three sons, loved by the people and next in line for the throne after the king’s nephew? Perhaps the two barbarians that don’t speak the country’s language and that seem to have the ability to walk through walls and be in two places at once had something to do with the kidnapping. Or maybe the green-eyed girl seen near the plant used to make deadly potions? It seems that even those closest to Amir cannot be trusted.

Mallet keeps her readers guessing, revealing clues that may or may not contribute to solving this mystery. A master at deceiving the reader until the very end, Mallet weaves characters and their stories together. Characters blend, clash, and fight, making for the perfect mystery filled with action and adventure.

Now, don’t forget the romance. There’s plenty of that in store, even a racy, yet non-explicit sex scene that lasts about a page. Although Mallet could have easily left the sex scene out (this is not a Harlequin romance), she does a good job of describing the lovers’ actions without becoming too detailed. Eva and Amir are the only characters in King’s Daughters that appeared in the first book, making it easy for anyone who has not read the first book to follow the plot. Some might worry that a continued romance from the first book would ruin the second book (just look at TV: every series ends after the couple gets married), but Mallet does not disappoint. Eva stays away from Amir for the majority of the book, but she plays a crucial role in Amir’s motivation to find the missing princesses, as well as in the book’s conclusion.

Mallet’s talent for words amazes readers, as she wrote both her fantasy books in her second language: English. Her characters are lovable, believable, and easy to relate to. One character named Diego proclaims himself a “dandy” and resembles the famous literary hero The Scarlet Pimpernel in both his wit and his charm.

Mallet includes all the details needed to make the setting feel real, leaving only one or two gaps unfilled -- not enough to confuse the reader or stop the reader from reading. In fact, Mallet pulls everything together in the end with a satisfying finale that leaves the way open for future books. A page-turner for young-adults, adults, and fans of fantasy and mystery, The King’s Daughters delivers big time. Unlike its story, the book’s success will be no mystery.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: Secret Life of the American Teenager Season 2

The “secret lives” of these “American teenagers” aren’t so secret. 15 year old Amy (Shailene Woodley) is pregnant. Amy’s parents are getting a divorce, and Amy’s boyfriend, Ben (Ken Baumann), struggles to find his place in Amy’s and the coming baby’s life. Ben and Amy want to get married. The father of the baby, Ricky (Daren Kagasoff), is sleeping with Adrian (Francia Raisa) who is sleeping with her step-brother. Ricky’s sexually abusive father wants to cash in on Amy’s baby. Ricky’s Christian girlfriend, Grace (Megan Park), is really in love with Jack (Greg Finley), and refuses to have sex before marriage. Grace’s mentally disabled brother wants to marry his new girlfriend after only one date. Meanwhile, high school students Henry (Allen Evangelista) and Alice (Amy Rider) are sleeping together.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager revolves around one thing: SEX. Characters struggle to balance high school, dating, and, of course, the hot topic of sex (although viewers never see characters actually having sex). Gossip resounds in the halls of the institution known as high school, and melodramas erupt. Soap opera for teenagers, it’s no wonder that this show has lasted for two full seasons. People like drama, and they’ll definitely find it in American Teenager.

But beyond the seemingly mindless and unending soap opera drama, American Teenager has heart. Despite the bad acting and the sometimes boring script, the show deals with real issues that many teenagers face on a daily basis. While some parts may offend conservatives – a gay couple wants to raise Amy’s baby and a Christian family doesn’t put the most positive light on Christianity – Amy’s story, connected to the stories of those around her, rings true. She learns to accept responsibility for her actions, Ben learns that he can support Amy without becoming her husband just yet, and Ricky learns that he is not his father. Meanwhile, there are plenty of laughs in store for viewers with characters like Amy’s sarcastic sister’s dry sense of humor and Amy’s father’s “delight in vexing” his soon to be ex-wife’s nerves.

As with any television show, American Teenager takes the viewer on a journey. As the characters come together in the hospital to await the arrival of the new baby, they realize that they are all connected in one way or another to Amy and the situations that have surrounded her pregnancy. The viewer, too, connects with the characters and the stories they tell.

The complete second season DVD comes with a music video recapping the first season, “Character Secrets” – in which cast members talk about the plot of the show, and “Cast Close-Ups” – in which a random young girl (who doesn’t have the best interview skills) asks cast members about their own “secret lives.”

Book Review: The Noticer

Five out of Five Stars Recommended

Quick Review:
Sit down to a relaxing and thought provoking conversation with The Noticer, an old man with much wisdom and a new perspective on your circumstances. Readers never discover who this Christ figure really is, but they observe the seeds of light that he leaves behind in the lives of others, and they are invited to become one of those seeds.

Based on a true story, Andy Andrews’ The Noticer is a simple, but inspiring story about an old man, the people he notices, and the wisdom he has to offer. Jones, an old, dark-skinned, white-haired, blue-eyed man who wanders from person to person carrying only an old suitcase and who meets each character where they are, under a pier, on a dark road, at a restaurant, under a tree... forget formality, these are not business meetings, although they involve serious business. With a humble attitude, Jones digs into his listeners’ hearts without judging them, and he establishes relationships and helping his new friends to live in hope, peace, gratitude, and grace.

Jones, meets with people of all sorts: a homeless man who thinks he has no hope for a positive future, a couple about to divorce because they don’t speak the same love language, a man with suicidal thoughts, a few teens wondering what positive boyfriend-girlfriend relationships should look like, an old woman who feels useless now that her husband has died and her children have grown, a workaholic so busy that he makes ethically wrong decisions and forgets to see those around him as people, a soon to be father worried he’ll be a bad influence on his child, a rich man gone bankrupt, and a woman facing her husband’s death. Each person learns a valuable lesson, lessons that the reader, too, can learn -- lessons that all lead to one ultimate lesson: The best has yet to come. So take on a new, positive perspective and live life to its fullest.

Jones leaves each character changed, and perhaps the reader, too. But whether you like The Noticer will depend on the one thing Jones seems to focus on: perspective. You can pick this book up as a quick, time-filler read (and it is a quick and easy read) and think of it as a rehashing of books that already exist, or you can sit down and allow its characters and their stories to speak to you. If you take the time to think about the wisdom Jones offers, you’ll find you gain a new perspective, a new wisdom, and a new desire to share that wisdom with others. Andrews provides enough variety in situations and lessons, allowing most readers to relate to at least one of the characters. Weaving historical lessons, real life situations, and Christian advice (without forcing doctrine on the reader) together, Andrews gives the reader a new way of looking at life.

Readers never discover who this amazing old man really is, but the man’s purpose in life gives them more than enough information about him. As Jones visits and revisits characters' lives, teaching them to never give up because the best it yet to come, he takes on the persona of Christ on earth.

Could Jones be Jesus in person? Or an angel in disguise? After all, Jones does seem all knowing, and he often disappears when characters look away. He takes on different names, appearances, and languages depending on who He talks to. His name does start with the letter J, and, like Jesus, he does act as a character that readers will both want to have and reflect in their lives.

How many of us could use a Jones in our lives? And how many of us have the potential to become a Jones in the lives of other? The Noticer opens and ends with Jones‘ invitation to step into the light. We have a light to step into -- God’s light. God has given you a new perspective; now, use it to give new perspectives to others. Show them the way to the light.

Written for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers
To visit Andy Andrews' website, click here
To learn more about the Noticer Project, click here
To view this product and its description on Amazon, click here

Blog of Harmony Wheeler

Keep updated on Harmony Wheeler and her writings through this blog, where she will post reviews and other published writings as she continues to build her resume.

Wheeler, freelance writer and author of numerous movie, book, and CD reviews, has written for various publications including,, The Aboite Independent, Christian Communicator, Church Libraries, TUFW Alumnus, All American Homes, TUFW Student Newspaper The Express, and The Modesto Bee.