Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice – A Review


Destiny_Rewritten-coverDestiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice is a wonderful middle grade, general market novel of the coming-of-age variety.

The Story.

Emily Elizabeth Davis loves happy endings and she wants one for her own life, but there are a couple problems. First, she lives without knowing who her father is, and second, she seems to be trapped in a destiny determined for her before she was born.

Emily sets out to discover whether or not she can alter her destiny, but the situation quickly turns into a hunt for her misplaced copy of The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson in which her mother has recorded all the important events of her life, including the name of her father. With the help of her best friend and her cousin, Emily makes every effort to take charge of her own destiny, all the while wondering if her mother might be right–that a person can’t force things to happen and must simply wait for fate to unfold.

Strengths.

Kathryn Fitzmaurice is a brilliant writer. Her characters pop off the page, each with their little quirks and passions. But I think what I love best is how wonderfully woven together her plot is, starting with the epigraph, lines from an Emily Dickinson poem:

In this short Life
That only lasts an hour
How much–how little–is
Within our power

That’s really the focal point of the main character’s quest, and readers will likely find themselves weighing in on the subject in their own minds.

The brilliant part of the story is the way Kathryn weaves this central theme into the subplots involving the minor characters–Cecily Ann and her love of poetry, Wavey and her environmental causes, Mortie and the stray dog he named Samuel Morse, and even Conner Kelly and his choice of where to sit in class. And of course there is Emily’s mother.

Kathryn’s prose is beautiful–perhaps not as picturesque as her earlier books, but she’s writing a character who isn’t a poet, so the language fits her protagonist. It’s still lyrical and there’s still lots of creativity and fun.

Here’s a sample.

In the exchange below, Emily is talking with her best friend Wavey right after their science teacher, Mr. Hall, asked two boys in the class to carry some boxes for him to the storeroom, then for Emily and Wavey to pour ten milliliters of water into cylinders on the science table.

“Have you ever noticed how Mr. Hall never asks a girl to carry boxes?” I said to Wavey as we walked to the science table. “But he’ll ask us to do easy stuff, like pour water into graduated cylinders.”

“That’s because he thinks we’e too weak and frail to carry boxes.”

“It’s like Mr. Hall is living in that old movie Star Wars, where Princess Leia is waiting to be rescued by Luke and Han Solo, and all she can do is wait because she’s a girl,” I said.

“And then Luke breaks into the jail cell where she is, and she’s all, what took you so long to get here,” said Wavey.

“So he has to explain all the extremely dangerous things he did to get to her,” I told her.

“Which he can do because he’s a guy.”

“Meanwhile,” I said, “Princess Leia finally gets back to the ship, where everything is always in disrepair, mostly because of Han being the type of guy he is.”

“But Mr. Hall, who is Luke, would be like, why don’t you just sit down and rest,” said Wavey.

“Or make coffee,” I added.

“She could make coffee and then paint her nails.”

“While lounging around letting Han carry heavy boxes of spaceship parts,” I said.

“Which he would have because he’d know how to fix anything mechanical,” added Wavey.

“At which point, I said, “Chewie would come in and say something only Han understood.”

“And Han would have to pilot the ship through an enemy attack while at the same time repairing some gauge that their life depended on.”

“And Princess Leia would be letting her nails dry,” I told her.

“While reading a magazine,” said Wavey.

“And pouring sugar into her coffee.”

“This is like that,” Wavey told me.

“I know,” I agreed, filling the last graduated cylinder with ten milliliters of water. “This is exactly like that.”

I might have initially enjoyed that exchange because of the Star Wars references, speculative fiction lover that I am, but there are a couple similar dialogues between Emily and Wavey later on, and I found those equally delightful.

In fact, the whole story is delightful and even heartwarming.

Weaknesses.

Whether this is actually a weakness or not, you can determine. The book was almost strangely without angst. Emily lost her book because of something her cousin did, but she held no grudge and didn’t seek any kind of payback. Wavey faced a difficulty toward the end of the story but quickly bounced back. Emily did something I won’t say what because it would be too big a spoiler, and her mother reacted with amazing calm.

To be honest, in this day of angst-filled young adult books, I found this story to be refreshing. The problem was big, mind you, at least to Emily, and certainly the question about destiny could be one kids her age might begin to wonder about. I felt her tension throughout the story, but there was not much tension between people.

In the scene I quoted from above, for example, Emily and Wavey didn’t seem to hold any ill will toward their science teacher. Further, throughout the story there was a lack of bickering and backbiting and scolding. Because of this, it was honestly a more delightful read, though I can see some thinking the characters lack a bit of believability.

Another thing, and again, readers will have to judge if this is actually a weakness, Emily seemed to have an innocence, almost a naivete, and at the same time remarkable freedom to go places without adult supervision. I thought the tension between these two factors kept the story in balance, but I can see how others might question the realism of the circumstances.

Recommendation.

Buy it. Read it to your kids, read it with your kids, discuss it with your kids. What a great book to begin a family conversation about who controls your destiny.

I received a copy of this book as a gift from the author with no strings attached.

Fantasy Friday – A Review: The Sword Of Six Worlds


sword of six worlds coverMatt Mikalatos, known for his humorous quasi-autobiographical contemporary adult fantasies, Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christians, has shifted gears, proving yet again how talented he is. His latest book, released last December in paper, is a middle grade fantasy entitled The Sword of Six Worlds, Book One in the Adventures of Validus Smith series.

The Story. Validus Smith and her best friend Alex Shields know something is seriously wrong when their substitute teacher takes the side of the class bully. When he changes into a creature with fangs and tries to attack Validus, they escape by following two new students through a hole into a different world–one in which animals talk.

The “new students,” in fact, are animals–a tiger and a horse–who only took human form to bring Validus back to their world. They have been informed that she is the new paladin, and they desperately need her help in fighting the Blight which is bent on turning a series of worlds into dead planets. And so the adventure begins.

Evaluation. The Sword of Six Worlds is a delightful story. Both Validus and Alex are well painted. In their own world they are smart, obedient, polite, and survivors of the constant torture Jeremy Lane inflicts upon them with his words and his fists. In other words, they are sympathetic characters.

They aren’t perfect, and they have quirks. For example, Alex doesn’t text Validus to let her know he’s coming over, or even ring the doorbell. He tosses rocks at her window. Validus’s mother is always checking her temperature, worried she has a fever, and her dad is constantly reminding her not to lose her temper at school.

While Validus discovers she is the paladin, Alex discovers he is unique as well. They both have larger-than-life callings and they grow into their roles as events demand. They’re also fiercely loyal to one another, in spite of fears, and end up making other friends that are just as faithful.

The plot moves at a quick pace, with lots of tension. The story is not predictable, until perhaps towards the end–but then, it’s the end, so you can hardly say the story is unsurprising. As a matter of fact, I thought there were several unforeseen events.

I also like the cool fantasy elements. The talking animals worked, and Mikalatos played with them at times to give the story a bit of his humor.

The armadillo settled his monocle onto his needle nose, giving him an enormously magnified right eye. He twiddled his claws together in a nervous gesture, then motioned for the rat to climb back up with the scroll. Just as the rat reached the top, Benjamin [the tiger] cleared her throat and said, Yorrick.” The armadillo was so startled he knocked the poor rat to the ground again. The rat squeaked his displeasure and then lay on the ground, wrapped in the scroll like a toga. The armadillo slowly peeled his fingers from his eyes and peered out at Benjamin. “Ah,” he said. “You must learn not to use someone’s name without warning him.”

Better still was the Rock of Many Names and the things the rock mage could do. In all, the setting adds to the enjoyment of the story.

The plot certainly held my attention, but there were a couple places where I could see a need for improvement.

One is a situation that arose because Validus didn’t speak up. She was asked to speak up and she gave an answer, but when it became apparent she’d been misunderstood (and it should have been apparent right away), she did nothing to correct the mistake. This not speaking up continued for several chapters and actually led to a major plot point. Characters that don’t speak up generally irritate me, and I was feeling frustrated with Validus because a major dangerous situation could have been avoided if she’d answered the questions clearly, or at all.

The other point I thought could be strengthened was the climax. Up to that point, I had abandoned myself to the story and it proved to be as believable as discovering a world inside a wardrobe or having tea with a Faun. I loved it. The end, however, seemed a tad rushed, which made some of the elements seem not as believable as those at the beginning.

Recommendation. I’m excited to find this wonderful story that introduces the Architect who created the passageways between worlds and who guides the paladin. It’s a delightful tale middle grade children will enjoy, whether they read the book themselves or whether an adult is reading it to them. I highly recommend The Sword of Six Worlds to parents who want a fast-paced fantasy for their middle grader. This one will hold their interest and entertain from start to finish.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher free of cost.

Recommended Christian Fiction – From Middle Grade to Adult


From time to time I get requests for a list of recommended Christian fiction. A couple years ago, I put together a Best of … [insert year] List, and I may again some time, but I found myself having to qualify the list, primarily because my reading is far from exhaustive. There are some genres I rarely touch, for instance. So it seems wiser to me to go with books I can recommend because I’ve read them. Some of these, if not all, I’ve reviewed, so I’ve linked to that post (either here or at Spec Faith) in case you’d like to read more.

Middle Grade
Chuck Black – Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione
R. K. Mortenson – the Landon Snow series (Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum, … the Volucer’s Dragon)
Jonathan Rogers – The Wilderking Trilogy (The Bark of the Bog Owl)
Andrew Peterson – The Wingfeather Saga (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness)

Young Adult
Wayne Thomas Batson – The Door Within Trilogy; Isle of Swords
Bryan Davis – the Dragons in Our Midst series
Donita K. Paul – the DragonKeeper Chronicles (DragonKnight, DragonFire, DragonLight)

Adult
Fantasy
Karen Hancock – The Guardian King series (Return of the Guardian King)
Sharon Hinck – The Sword of Lyric series (The Restorer, The Restorer’s Son)
Stephen Lawhead – The King Raven series (Scarlet)
Tosca Lee – Demon: a Memoir
Kathryn Mackel – The Birthrighter series (Trackers)
Jeffrey Overstreet – Auralia’s Thread (Auralia’s Colors)
George Bryan Polivka – The Trophy Chase Trilogy (The Legend of the Firefish, The Hand That Bears the Sword, The Battle for Vast Dominion)

Science Fiction
Austin Boyd – The Mars Hills Classified trilogy (The Evidence, The Proof, The Return)
Sigmund Brouwer – Broken Angel
Chris Walley – The Lamb among the Stars series

Contemporary
Julie Carobini – Chocolate Beach
Kathryn Cushman – A Promise to Remember
Sharon Hinck – The Secret Life of Becky Miller; Renovating Becky Miller
Kathleen Popa – To Dance in the Desert
Sharon Souza – Every Good and Perfect Gift

Suspense
Brandilyn Collins – the Kanner Lake series (Violet Dawn, Coral Moon, Crimson Eve, Amber Morn)
Athol Dickson – Winter Haven
T. L. Hines – Waking Lazaras

Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments. 😀

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