Tuesday, February 28, 2012

One Step Away by Eric Wilson

Wow. I'm impressed.

I was given One Step Away by Eric Wilson at an event back in August. Focusing issues and other books needing to be read kept it away from me, but at long last it was the next item on my list. I was certainly not disappointed.
"A Modern Twist on One of the World's Oldest Tales." 
Bret and Sara Vreeland have been targeted. Someone has plans for them, a plot that reaches into their past and threatens their future. 
When one of Sara's patients dies, a mysterious old man, he leaves his fortune to her and her family. They have no idea they are part of an experiment. Satan once tested Job through trials, but failed to break him. Now Satan has sought God's permission to test the Vreelands with a $6,000,000 blessing. 
As their lives take turn for the better, will their souls take a turn for the worse?
The book description implies that One Step Away is of preachy nature, but I assure you, it is not. I'd say it could fit in the "drama" genre, but that in no way hinders this amazing tale. It definitely has its share of thrills and chases.

One Step Away is not the kind of story that grips me, draws me in and doesn't let go. This would normally be a bad thing, but the novel is filled to the brim with clever and humorous bits of wording that it is more than made up for. I was impressed at the author's writing ability, and numerous lines of dialogue gained my respect of him many times over.

The story isn't an explosion of awesomeness that left you sitting on the edge of your seat, but rather something to lay back and relax while reading. I may have many books in the near future that I'll be on deadline to read and review, but as the next on my list has not yet arrived, I saw no need to speed through this one. I took my time, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters are fun, especially when you get to know them, and their adventure, if you could call it that, is one of the best stories I have read in quite a while.

In conclusion, this book is amazing. I was wowed by it. I took it at slow pace, but you in no means need to do the same. Eric Wilson is an extremely talented writer, deserving a lot more publicity than he has at present. If you have an upcoming weekend or two with nothing to do, I highly recommend you pick up this book.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Coming Soon: The Sanctuary by Ted Dekker

The Sanctuary was first announced in early 2011, under the working title "Meltdown". To those involved in Ted Dekker's Share the Love campaign, it was revealed that it is about the characters Danny Hansen and Renee Gilmore, meaning that it is a sequel to the recent Dekker thriller, The Priest's Graveyard. The initial release date was for September 2012, but it was pushed back to early 2013 with the announcement that Mortal and Sovereign (books two and three in The Books of Mortals trilogy) are both being released in 2012. However, just yesterday it was announced (along with the amazing cover image above) that The Sanctuary will, in fact, be released in October of this year. I don't know what that will do to sales, as Sovereign is being released in just September, but I am certainly looking forward to this novel.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

You Love Me

To tell the truthful true, I've neglected from posting anything... obviously Christian on my blog. I've stated and implied before that I'm a Christian, but I've always stayed away from reviewing things like devotional diaries and intentionally never got around to typing up interesting points of theology. The reason for that is actually that I just... well... I don't want to turn people away. I want people to read my blog, and I don't want them to get some opinion that I'm a "religious person" or something. I hate religion, but what I actually believe doesn't affect impressions other people may get from what I write.

But tonight, I don't care.

Tonight I had a conversation with my mother, and because of it and a string of events afterward, I had one of the most unique and emotional nights of my entire life. It inspired me to compile this blog post, which is a list of quotes I typed myself over the course of the past short while. Looking back, for some reason this past week has somehow been one of the longest weeks of my life.

These are the ones explaining the depression I'm going through.
Hey guys, I need prayer. Recently my depression has pummeled me with full force, and it's just not fun. (Ya think?) I don't know what it is that causes it, but I'm always abnormally tired, unable and unwilling to focus on anything, extremely depressed, and overall just feeling terrible. I'm on a medication that helps for a very short time, and then seems to make it worse when it wears off. I feel like I really can't do anything at all, be it school or writing or whatever the heck else. Still don't know the cause, but I need a lot of prayer.
-- my Facebook writing group, 2/14/12
My ability to focus or work efficiently is hindered, but lusts and rage are not. A couple nights ago I finally flipped out at God. I know I've probably flipped out like this at him before, but it's not in my memory. Most people who get angry at God annoy me because I've always seen (obvious, at least to me) reason in what God did to them. But the reason I've always been mad at God -- though I'd never blown up this way -- is because of something I've NEVER been able to understand.
-- my Facebook writing group, 2/14/12
Suffering from an unusual depression. That's why I've been angry and snapping at people recently.
-- a writing forum, 2/14/12
Guys, I really do need lots of prayer. I've been meaning to ask you guys to pray for me for quite a while now, but I've never gathered the courage. You might be having a depression of your own and thinking, "He doesn't truly know what depression is like," (I've done so myself to other people before, shamefully) but that doesn't change anything. Something is hindering my ability to do the simplest things, and it's greatly hurting my relationship with God.
- - -
I don't know you guys a lot, not enough that I would truly call you friends, but you're fellow followers of Christ, and at least some of you have been through (or perhaps are going through now) something similar to what I'm going through. I don't even know what's wrong with me, but whatever the heck it is, God can provide a solution. I just don't know... when... or how...
-- an internet forum

But then, despite all the frustration this disorder or whatever has caused me, I had a deep and meaningful conversation with my mother tonight, and this is a little bit of the aftermath.
I love my parents. I love them so much. :')
-- Facebook status, 2/18/12
My mother and I are so vastly different. If not for the special connection between us, which is the fact that we've lived together for fifteen and a half years, we'd have nothing in common except a love for words and a love for Christ. If we went to the same church but weren't related, I doubt we'd ever even hold a whole conversation, because we're so different. But because we're connected as such, I love her as a mother and she loves me as a son, because that's what we are. And if it weren't for our vast differences, our all-too-rare meaningful conversations wouldn't be nearly as meaningful as they are.
I love my family. I would never let my blood family onto [this group], because I can truly be myself here and be a person I'm not in the real world, even around my closest real-world friends. But I love my brothers as true brothers and I love my parents as true parents, because even though we have our differences, we're a family. I true family. We have arguments, we have differing interests, my brothers sometimes seem to think that I haven't matured nearly as much as I have, but... we love each other. We've experienced life together. Both of my brothers have struggled with depression and lack of friends. Both of my brothers have struggled with motivation. Both my brothers have been physically weak for their age, no matter how hard they work. Both of my brothers have been ME, or at least a part of me. We're all extremely different, but we've all gone through similar ordeals. That; along with having lived together for fifteen and a half years, and having similar reading, gaming, and music interests; is what truly binds as together as brothers. 
If not for my family... my mother's impossibly frustrating discipline, my oldest brother's lectures, my middle brother's encouragement (and abuse), and my father's... I guess my father's approval... then I have no idea where on earth or hell I would be right now. Sometimes I hate who I am, but sometimes I just need to remember who I could have been if my family were someone else's family. 
I know God exists. The fact that I exist as who I am is proof enough to me that God exists. The fact that I have a genetically-connected family that truly loves me -- even my extended family on both sides is absolutely amazing -- is proof enough to me that God exists. The fact that my little idea for [a Facebook group] could inspire some of the initial members to start a writing group that turned into what [this group] is... is proof enough to me that God exists. 
I love my family. My physical family, you guys, and the Father who is the head of it all.
-- my Facebook writing group, 2/18/12

This entire blog post feels to me as if it has no meaning. Partway through I felt like just quitting, since it doesn't seem to have a point, and there's nobody would would want to read it, but there's at least One out there's going to read it and enjoy it, and that's reason enough to me to post it.

I guess the point might be that no matter how dark a shadow is, a simple minuscule of light can scare it away. I might be suffering from some sort of disorder that makes life impossibly hard. I might be struggling through an impossibly dark night. But I was handed a candle tonight, and the darkness just shrank away.

God is awesome. You know that? You can be going through the absolute worst in life, but He's always standing by with his stock of candles, ready to light your way. No matter what happens or what we've done, He's there, and He loves us anyway.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

After being in development for five years by over a hundred full-time developers, the chronologically first Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, was released to the world this past November. Though I'd had my eye on it for most of that half decade, I did not obtain it myself until late December.

This was the game I had been waiting for longer than most people knew it existed. Critics and developers alike had been saying that it may be the greatest Zelda game of all time, and the hype for the game before its release had grown so large that my expectations were extremely high. When I started the game, I thought to myself, If this game doesn't live up to the hype, I'm going to be pretty dang mad. Within three hours of playing . . . those oh-so-high expectations were already exceeded.

The setting in Skyward Sword is unique. It starts in a world far up in the clouds, specifically the town of Skyloft. Throughout the millenia this strange sky world existed, there have been legends of a vast surface world far beneath the clouds. I would give a short synopsis of the story, but instead of typing one up myself, since I can't find a good one online, you should just play the game yourself. The story, in itself, is probably one of the best video game stories I have ever played through, and I found myself falling in love, once again, with the magnificent world Nintendo created.

One really cool aspect of the game is its use of Wii MotionPlus technology. You wield the Wii remote as you would a sword, so to speak, and the accuracy is truly great. It makes for a fun new way to play through a game, being able to actually slice through obstacles with your saber. Just be sure you don't accidentally break anything in your house from swinging that remote too wildly.

At the first public release of what the game would look like, many were disappointed. It looked like a mixture between Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker, and it just looked horrible. The visuals were eventually changed ever slightly, and regardless, they are actually quite beautiful once you get used to them. As one of the lead developers mentioned years ago, it's meant  to look a little bit as if it could be in a painting. This is especially true when looking off into the distance. I am quite satisfied with the final graphics, and they fit the game better than any other style could have.

I usually give a game's soundtrack a good rating if it fits the game well, regardless of if it's a good score on its own. For Skyward Sword, however, the music was not only fitting, but it was one of the best game soundtracks I have ever heard. Though it has never happened for any other game, I've found myself wanting to buy the OST. Unfortunately, it is not currently available.

The amount of content is actually quite large, and you can literally spend hours playing minigames and completing side quests. However, I do have to say that with Skyward Sword's format I really do miss Hyrule Field. The game takes place long before the kingdom of Hyrule was ever established, so it would be impossible to implement it in, but there is so much more you would be able to do if you had a massive overworld field to explore. Most other games in the Zelda series have one, but the game that took the series to its highest peak didn't. It was a little disappointing, but the amount of content they fit into a game without such a place (without packing it in tightly at all) is outright inspiring.

Skyward Sword uses many elements from previous Zelda games, and improves them, ranging from returning enemies to items to even the treasure system. There are numerous subtle references to games that take place later in the chronology, such as finding a forest spring identical to a key location in a game that takes place thousands of years later, or occasionally finding Hyrule's sacred crest without the Triforce.

Of course, there is no such thing as a game without flaws. Skyward Sword has furthered the maturity of the Zelda series with its upgrade in quality level, full effort put into the soundtrack and story, and several other aspects that have made the game amazing, but there are still little things here and there that did not make the jump to higher maturity. The dialog of the game is all in text, so there isn't vocal speaking for the player to hear, yet still there are voice actors for groans, breathing, sighing, etc. In theory it's not a bad idea, but in Skyward Sword it's terrible. In addition, the poses and expressions Link still makes when he gets a new item are sickeningly childish.

The biggest downside of them all is actually your sidekick and companion, Fi. Fi is the intelligent being or artificial intelligence who lives in your sword, and who's duty it is to guide and assist you on your quest. She can project an image of herself, but can make no physical contact. The only good thing about her is the fact the that she looks cool, but that's about it. Of all the companions who have assisted the different incarnations of Link throughout the thousands of years that different Zelda games take place, many have been unbearably annoying. Navi, your ever-constantly-bugging-you fairy in Ocarina of Time, has often thought to be one of the most annoying companions in any video game. I would have to say Fi is even worse. She seems to have an obsession of telling you the completely obvious facts (and not the things you actually need to know), and making sure she elaborates in full, or more than full, often boring the player to the point where they feel like throwing their controller across the room. It doesn't help that she . . . always . . . talks . . . extremely . . . slowly. . . .

In conclusion, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword may be one of the best games I've ever played. At present it is dueling The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for being both my favorite Zelda game of all time, but also my favorite Wii game of all time. The story, setting, graphics, music, gameplay, variety, locations, and overall ingenuity of it all made for an amazing experience. Nintendo doesn't cease to amaze me, and I can't wait for the next home console Zelda release. No doubt that will be in another five years.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword gets a well-deserved 10/10.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Commentary: Seven Lies about Homeschoolers

On January 16, 2012, YouTube user Blimey Cow released a video that received a lot of circulation around Facebook and people I know. And by a lot, I mean a lot. You can check it out below.

I thought it was hilarious. As many of you know, I was homeschooled through eighth grade and now attend a private high school, uncoincidentally founded by my mother. The video is full of great (and quite true) points, but I thought I would give a few points of my own. Here is my take on Blimey Cow's "Seven Lies about Homeschoolers."

7. Homeschoolers are really sheltered.

I actually was really sheltered when I was younger: I hadn't even heard of 9/11 until a few years ago. When I found out, I reacted, "What!? Why didn't anybody tell me about it?" It turns out that, apparently, I was told, but that was a decade ago. I just wasn't ever told again, until I found out myself just a few years ago. But for his point about Lady Gaga... I hadn't heard of her until just a year or two ago, and I regret doing so.

The coolest latest movies? I know more about upcoming movies than probably eighty percent of the entire United States of America! I do research and find things years before they come out. I knew about The Hobbit movies half a decade ago, even though they started filming only a year ago, whereas many people still don't yet know it exists. I have loads of information about upcoming movies and film adaptations that most people don't know have even thought up yet. If someone were to think that because I was homeschooled and later private schooled I didn't know about the coolest latest movies, they've lost my respect and will never get it back.

Hmm... I was pulverized by the real world. Actually no, not a real world. It's called the internet. I was an innocent, partially sheltered child when I first stumbled onto a certain internet forum. It wasn't like others I had been to: this one was crawling with trolls. That changed me. Over the course of three years, that really did change me.

I say I was sheltered, but actually, I know many other people who have been far more sheltered than me. That mock example shown in the video? Unfortunately, I've known people like that. Their parents shouldn't even call themselves parents. But if you think all homeschoolers are like that, do more research.

6. All homeschoolers go to church 7 days a week.

Oh, shoot, I only go once a week. Is that a bad thing? Does that mean I lied about being homeschooled? Thankfully, I don't know anybody like the weirdo in the example given, but I know they're out there. Actually, I have heard of that guy's church denomination. It's called a psychiatric hospital.

That's another thing: people seem to think of all homeschoolers as Bible thumpers. I just have to say that is utterly ridiculous. Many are, but many more are not,

5. Homeschoolers don't actually do school.

My school is easier now in private school—a place where former public school students comment that the work is hard—than it was my eighth grade year of homeschooling. It's true that my private school is much more organized, and the teachers do everything in their power to make it easier for you, while still forcing you to learn things, but homeschooling was pretty dang hard. The upside to that? I got an actual education, unlike most public school attendees I know.

Trust me, homeschoolers do school, and we do a lot of it. And it's a lot more fun than public school, according to almost every public-schooler-turned-homeschooler I've ever met. I know far too many public schoolers who do almost no school. Why? Because they don't really care. For a homeschooler or a private schooler, people confront you when you have bad grades and force you to do better. Sometimes at my school, if somebody's grades are too low in a subject, they need to stay at school afterward and work with a teacher until they have learned or studied enough.

4. It's impossible for homeschoolers to have friends.

I actually didn't have that many friends during my homeschooling years, and it depressed me. But my problem wasn't that I couldn't have friends, it was that I couldn't stand other kids my age. For some reason, people in my grade have always, throughout my entire life, been annoying and stupid. No offense to any public-schooled ninth and tenth graders reading this; I was making a generalization that (hopefully, though maybe not, depending on who you are) does not apply to you.

I used to live in a log cabin, actually. Well, a house that years and years and years ago was built up around a log cabin. It was the closest you could get to the wilderness around here, since it was on the property of a summer camp that had miles of trails through the woods and fields. But no, it wasn't an hour away from Walmart. More like ten minutes.

3. Homeschoolers are really shy.

This is true for me, but not for pretty much any other homeschooler I have ever met. What scares me is that the example given actually brings back memories. Whoops, did I say that?

As you can probably figure out, I have changed much since then. ;)

2. Homeschoolers have no lives.

This one actually made me laugh my head off. I had to stumble around blindly until I found it again and could put it back on my torso. It wasn't that hard, because I was still laughing, so I just followed the sound of the laughter.

I used to get up before everyone else and go outside for an hour or so. To get to school ever day, there's no bus: you get out of bed and walk down the stairs. You get your work done in the early morning and have the entire rest of the day to do whatever you want. If you're bored and want to take a quick break from school, go outside and climb a tree or something. You can have other homeschoolers come over to your house and do your work together; that way you're getting your needed education and hanging out with your best friend at the same time!

Many times I have come across people who think homeschoolers have no lives. I used to get angry at them, but in the future I think I'll just laugh at them. The concept is hilarious, after all. :)

1. Homeschoolers do school in their pajamas.

"But this isn't so much a lie as it is... a reality. It is the very, very, very best thing about being homeschooled."

I completely agree with that statement, but why then list it as one of seven lies about homeschoolers? That's an inconsistency there, Blimey Cow. But regardless, it's true, and it's awesome.

In Conclusion...

Homeschoolers probably aren't what you think. In fact, I know more smart people who were homeschooled than smart people who were public schooled.

You may have noticed from this article I have a grudge against public schoolers. Do you wonder why this is? No reason. Just the fact that most I've met have very perverted minds and don't care if what they say is offensive to anybody. They're often terribly educated, and far too many times I've found myself gaping at their pathetic attempts to spell or at the utter stupidity in their logic.

I'm not trying to say that all public schoolers are like that, or even that most are. It might be true, but I know there are many people out there who would be offended if I said so. I certainly don't believe any such thing. As a matter of fact, some of my best friends are public schooled. One such friend likes making fun of other people in his grade because, as people who hang around him can easily deduce, he has the IQ of somebody many years older than he is. I'm thinking that might be due to the fact that he was homeschooled for several years.

Anyway, thanks for reading my article. I put a good three hours into it, and I hope you got something from it.