The Comic Book Story of Video Games: A Review

The Comic Book Story of Video Games

Image Credit: Ten Speed Press

As he has done in Alexander Hamilton, the last book I reviewed, Hennessey has created another meticulously researched, historically-based graphic novel sure to delight tech buffs. In his new graphic novel, author Jonathan Hennessey teams up with illustrator Jack McGowan to create a visual history of a favorite American pastime. The Comic Book Story of Video Games features ten chapters that covers everything from the technological environment that birthed video games to their most recent development.

The book starts out with the Industrial Revolution and explains how the technological climate of this event in history laid the foundation for video games. Hennessey and McGowan then walk readers through the technological developments of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s up to the most recent developments in gaming technology. The book flows from one development to the next instead of “chunking” the discussion of video games by era. This liquid discussion of technology is also facilitated by contextualizing each development in light of the historical period that influenced it. For example, in discussing computer technology of the 1950s, the authors provide a bit of context by discussing the Cold War.

Throughout the book, there are spotlights for important gaming pioneers and video games. For example, Hennessey and McGowan include brief biographies of individuals like Alan Turing, Shigeru Miyamoto, and John Carmack. They also include spotlights on groundbreaking games like Pong, Asteroids, and Angry Birds, providing information on the maker, country of origin, and console with which the game is associated.

Pros:

  • Intensively Researched – Hennessey has done a masterful job researching the history of video games. The content is so information dense – straight-forward and to the point.
  • Spotlight Features – I liked the author’s decision to showcase important gaming pioneers and video games. It allowed me to better comprehend the “important stuff” in an otherwise slightly overwhelming ocean of technological information.

Cons:

  • Highly Technical – I am not a computer or gaming buff. Computer jargon may as well be Chinese as far as my comprehension is concerned. So, I had a bit of difficulty grasping the importance of the histories detailed in this book. Hennessey writes assuming his audience is already familiar with gaming and computer technological jargon. So, if you’re a tech buff, this book should be no problem.
  • A Few Content Issues – Although this book is largely on the PG level, there were some instances in which I was a little surprised by the content. A few cases of mild profanity are sprinkled throughout the book. At least two instances of strong profanity are included. Although some of the letters are *** out, the reader will still get the word in his or her mind. Also, there were a few images that may be an issue for some readers (i.e. scantily dressed women and an illustration for a peep show advertisement). These instances coupled with the highly-technical nature of the book would probably make it more conducive to high-school+ readers, not middle schoolers.

Overall, I did not enjoy reading this book very much – not because it was poorly written, on the contrary! This book was so meticulously written and I was so outside of its target audience that I simply did not have the background knowledge necessary to enjoy the reading experience. I ordered this book for my classroom library. I feel this book would be enticing for older, middle grades students – especially those with a knack for technology and/or gaming. However, I probably would not use this book with students in 6th or 7th grades.

The Comic Book Story of Video Games is now available for purchase. For more information regarding the book and/or purchasing, visit Amazon or the book’s webpage.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

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Alexander Hamilton: A Review

Jonathan Hennessey’s new graphic novel, Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father, is 168 pages of living history. The biography, illustrated by Justin Greenwood, chronicles Alexander Hamilton’s life – from his birth in the West Indies to his death in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Hennesey uses both summarization and primary sources (i.e. direct quotes from historical figures) to create dialogue and narrate the events of Hamilton’s life. The 24 chapters in the book, all of which cover Hamilton’s life, also provide readers with a glimpse into other American historical events, including the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the Critical Period, and the Federalist Age.

Pros:

  • Illustrations: Greenwood’s vivid illustrations lend life to events nearly 200 years old. Textual passages like Hennesey’s, if found in a textbook, may disconnect readers from visualizing the historical situation in context – not because the writing is bad, but because Hennesey’s writing style is semi-formal and sometimes difficult to digest.

Cons:

  • Content: Several instances of language are used in the book. This is easily solved with a good Sharpie. Hennesey does cover Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds, and there are some illustrations relating to this affair that are too risqué for younger audiences.
  • Writing Style: As mentioned above, Hennesey’s writing style is semi-formal. The diction level and syntax structures may be difficult for adolescent students to grasp. The illustrations, thus, help enormously in aiding comprehension.

Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father is currently available for purchase through Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats. For more information on the book, check out the biography’s webpage.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

 

 

 

 

31 Proverbs to Light Your Path: A Review

Psalm 119:105 reminds us that God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and light for our path. Proverbs 4:7 urges us to “get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Liz Curtis Higgs, renowned author and speaker, reaches out to her sisters in Christ to help them in this pursuit of walking in God’s wise ways. In 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path, you’ll join Liz as you examine one verse from Proverbs a day.

This book features 31 chapters, each detailing a different verse in Proverbs. The verses are not in chronological order (i.e. Chapter 1 does not address a verse from chapter 1 of Proverbs and so on), but rather deals with a variety of verses ranging from envy to making plans. In each chapter, Liz breaks down the verse into bite-size chunks, comparing multiple translations for each “chunk” to help us get a better image of the message. She supplements this with personal anecdotes of how the verse in question has applied to her life. Finally, each chapter closes with a “One Minute, One Step” activity, a short and simple prompt to help you apply the verse to your life.

I have never read anything by Liz Curtis Higgs, but I must say, I enjoyed this book, particularly Liz’s writing tone. She challenges her readers to examine their hearts, but never in a way that brings condemnation. She reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) by recounting some of her own mistakes and encourages us to remember that we are all “justified freely by His grace” (Romans 3:24) with the anecdotes of God’s faithfulness in her life.

Pros:

  • Study Guide – The book comes with a study guide, with 2 questions per chapter, making this a great resource for a ladies’ Bible study.
  • In-Depth Analysis of Small Scripture Passages – Instead of trying to digest an entire chapter of Proverbs a day, Liz takes one verse and zooms in on it, pulling out words and examining their meanings.

Cons:

  • Personally, I was expecting this book to be a chronological walk through the Proverbs (see note above) that would allow me to read through the book of Proverbs in one month. Although the book was not what I expected in that sense, I was still very pleased with it.

31 Proverbs to Light Your Path is set to release on October 3. For more information on purchasing options, visit the publisher’s website or Amazon. This book is available in hardcover and e-book editions.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

 

 

 

 

Jane of Austin – A Review

In her newest novel, Jane of Austin, Hillary Manton Lodge puts a modern spin on Jane Austen’s timeless classic, Sense and Sensibility.

Jane Woodward’s life has been turned upside down in years past. Her mother was tragically killed in a car accident, and her father’s name has been defiled in the midst of an embezzlement scandal. Due to these familial problems, Jane and her older sister, Celia, have gained guardianship of their younger sister, Margot, and are running a vintage tea salon in San Francisco to support themselves. But an unexpected series of forces them to start life over. So, armed with her tea plants and a long list of playlists, Jane and her sisters leave the Bay area for Austin, Texas.

In Austin, Jane and her sisters move in the casita that belongs to their cousin Ian and his wife Mariah. While staying here, the girls meet ex-Marine Captain Callum Beckett, Ian’s old friend who has recently been discharged after losing a leg during a mission.  Jane, however, seems to overlook Beckett’s quiet strength, however, as her attentions are split among searching for a new location for the tea salon, trying out new scone recipes, and falling for the handsome Sean Willis, a charming rock musician. Jane finds her feelings for Sean are straining her relationship with Celia. Her older sister warns her not to get too close too fast, but how can Jane resist her knight-in-a-shining-Stetson?

This was a really fun read. I particularly enjoyed the characters of Jane and Celia. Jane is girly, but not frivolous. She loves good tea so much that she always carries loose leaf tea in her purse. Her spunky, yet practical, spirit nicely contrasts Celia’s quiet gentility. I also enjoyed drawing the comparison between the characters and events in the novel and Sense and Sensibility. I felt like I was like solving a mystery as I realized that such-and-such a character in Jane of Austin was really so-and-so from Sense and Sensibility. Another element I particularly enjoyed about this book is its symbiotic relationship to tea drinking. In order to enjoy this book even more, you must have an ample supply of tea at the ready, as I delightfully discovered. And, if you’re any good with the oven, you can use the recipes featured in this book to whip out some of the treats the characters enjoy in the novel.

Although I enjoyed this book a lot, I have to say it resembles a Hallmark Romance movie. That being said, the plot is a tad bit cheesy at time. I had a hard time envisioning a hardened marine captain admitting in casual conversation with an old crony that he may or may not be in love with a girl he hardly knows. When explaining these kinds of cheesy instances to my sister, we both found ourselves rolling in laughter. (We would not be enjoyable companions for a Hallmark movie marathon. We both crack up at the first sign of overtly dramatized rom-coms.)

Jane of Austin is now available for purchase in paperback or eBook versions through WaterBrook Publishers as well as Amazon. For more information about the book or the author, visit Hillary Manton Lodge’s web site.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

 

 

 

 

Windfall: A Review

Windfall

Photo from Amazon.com

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith is one young adult novel I will not be recommending to you, my readers. Before I explain why, though, I’d like to give you a brief run-down of what the book is about.

Alice is an orphan. Her parents died about 1 year apart when she was only 9 years old, so for the past 9 years, she has lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in Chicago. During these years, she has spent many happy hours with her cousin (Leo) and their mutual friend, Teddy. Gradually, Alice has fallen in love with Teddy – the caring, happy-go-lucky, laid-back guy she jokingly calls Ted E. Bear.

For Teddy’s 18th birthday, Alice purchases him a coming-of-age gift – a lottery ticket. But not just any lottery ticket. The winning lottery ticket.

And suddenly Teddy’s (and Alice’s) life changes.

Since Teddy’s dad left him and his mom when Teddy was a child, he has lived in humble circumstances. So the $141.3 million lottery win opens endless opportunities. Unfortunately, these opportunities start to go to Teddy’s head. He’s no longer the caring, happy-go-lucky guy Alice knew. And now, she’s afraid he’ll never return the romantic love she has for him.

The book itself is typical of the YA genre. Fairly cheesy by my standards, but I can see where teenage girls would lap up this frustrated love story. So why am I giving this book a negative review?

I generally do a little background checking on the author of books I choose to review before I request the book for review. I found one of Jennifer E. Smith’s books for sale on Christian Book Distributors, so I thought Windfall would be a “clean” read. I was, however, very disappointed by the overt homosexual themes in this book. Leo – Alice’s cousin – has a boyfriend, Max, who attends college in Michigan. Leo is torn between pursuing his dream at the Art Institute of Chicago or going to college with Max.

I tried to ignore this in the beginning of the book, hoping it would just be a background “fact.” But as the story progresses, Leo’s relationship with Max gains more importance. He plans to visit him during spring break, and the conversation between Alice and him unquestionably exposes the immorality of this relationship:

[Leo to Alice]: “I still can’t believe my parents are letting me -”

[Alice to Leo] “Spend the whole spring break alone with your college boyfriend?…I can. They love Max. And they trust you.” (138)

By Leo’s plain proclamation on page 175 (“I love him”), I was done.

It’s not so much that this book features homosexuality. I would be OK if homosexual relationships were portrayed as sinful. But they are not only recognized as OK, but they are also given equivalent legitimacy with straight relationships.

I ordered this book with the intention of putting it in my classroom library (I’m a middle school education major). However, as a Christian, I feel responsible for the type of literature I endorse in my classroom. For this reason, I cannot endorse books, like Windfall,  that portray sin as “good.” With this in mind, I will not be recommending this book to anyone.

And this book will not be going into my library stash.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my  honest opinion as represented in this review.

 

English Lessons: A Review

What is it like to go from a Bible-Belt Texas home, where your father is a local pastor and world-renowned Christian author, to a historical, yet predominantly atheist, English town? Scary? Exciting? A little bit of both?

In Andrea Lucado’s first book, English Lessons: The Crooked Little Grace-Filled Path of Growing Up, Andrea gives readers a glimpse into her time as a student studying English Literature in Oxford, England. In the 221-page memoir, she shares the challenges faced and conquered, the lessons learned, and the person she became while living in Oxford. This is a story of doubt, questions, loneliness, identity, and confusion penetrated by heavenly answers, comfort, and strength.

Andrea Lucado grew up with church as her life. Could you expect any less from the daughter of Max Lucado? Andrea’s life in her Texas hometown was centered around the Christian faith. She attended a Christian school. She went to church camp every summer. All of her friends went to church. So, when Andrea moved to Oxford for a study-abroad graduate program, the cultural barrier was only part of her problem. Andrea felt alone in her faith in England. What is more, this loneliness and constant bombardment by a secular, atheistic culture left her questioning her faith. Yet, in the midst of her questioning, Andrea found strength in God.

Although this memoir chronicles the serious issue of Christian identity in a lost world, the book is not without its light side. Andrea also details her trip’s some amusing perks. In the book’s 14 chapters, she discusses

  • Suffering caffeine withdrawal symptoms while fasting coffee for Lent (“In Oxford I resolved that if I could make it in life without coffee for forty days, I could do anything.” -Page 85)
  • Having one, only ONE, battery stolen out of her bicycle headlight
  • Meeting an Austrian-Korean soulmate
  • Surviving in an English cottage with no microwave
  • Experiencing a Thames River moment or two
  • Arguing with a statue of Christian martyrs
  • Visiting a variety of movie-worthy British pubs

Andrea’s story is a testimony of God’s faithfulness in the midst of doubts and weaknesses. Her coming-of-age story is not your typical self-reliance, be-yourself mantra we find in society today. Rather, it is a story of Christian identity, of finding faith beneath the doubt, of facing fears and overcoming them in the grace of our Savior.

Pros:

  • Illustrations – I have to admit, one of my absolute favorite things about this book are the illustrations. The cover of this book immediately led me to anticipate great things inside. The black and white, watercolor-esque headings of each chapter are distinctly British, yet feminine and modern. Illustrator Hannah George’s contributions to this book add a new dimension to the memoir.
  • Use of Metaphors – From bicycle front lights to field crickets, Andrea utilizes a variety of metaphors to connect more strongly with her readers.
  • Writer’s Humor – Although this isn’t a comedic memoir, the reader gets a nice taste of Andrea’s youthful humor. Not too much for the seriousness of the memoir, but enough to bring a smile to your face.
  • CS. Lewis References – Can you really write a Christian memoir about studying at Oxford and not mention him? Bonus points in my book for bringing one of my favorite authors in on the action!

Cons:

  • Imagery – Although imagery is employed, I would have liked to have been able to visualize Oxford a little bit better through the descriptions written in the book. I think the book’s cover and the blurb on the back had me setting my hopes a little too high in this department, so I was a tad disappointed that I couldn’t quite get a full “mind’s eye view” of Oxford. Imagery is definitely used in the book, just not as much as I would have liked.

English Lessons is set to release on May 2nd in both hardcover and e-book editions. For more information, visit Waterbrook Multnomah or Amazon. For more information on Andrea Lucado and to get some behind the scenes coverage of the book, visit her blog.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.