Book Review: Starlighter by Bryan Davis

Hi there…

Every now and then, a new young adult (YA) book comes to my attention to read. As a parent, I’m always on the lookout for well-written fiction with positive role models. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that YA is based in the real world and fairly boring for those of us a bit older than the target audience. Though the real world can be exciting in and of itself, I tend to look for a bit more of an escape for my eldest daughter.

Though the Eragon and Harry Potter series both have kids in leading roles, except for the first couple of books I never really felt they were aimed at the pre-teen market. Starlighter, the first in the new Dragons of Starlight series from author Bryan Davis seems to be tailor made for younger readers.

Starlighter focuses on two main characters from two different worlds linked by history – Jason Masters, newly appointed bodyguard to the governor; and Koren, a slave to the whims of dragons. Each seems built to be a hero and save the day.

Jason’s brother Adrian is the bodyguard to the governor. When Adrian goes on an adventure to discover the truth behind a conspiracy that’s lived in rumor and half-truths for a generation or more, Adrian leaves Jason in his role as bodyguard to Governor Prescott and gives him a message tube with a cryptic message. The message opens a can of worms that leads Jason on a wild ride through dungeons, caves, and into a whole new world…

Elsewhere in the solar system, Koren is discovering that the dragons of her world may also be keeping secrets. For generations, her people have served the dragons tooth and claw – mining, cleaning, raising more children as slaves. The dragons say they are protecting her people, but Koren discovers many of them are waiting for the prophecy of a mysterious black egg to come true. Unfortunately, the prophecy may also lead to the destruction of her world.

As with much young adult fiction, these characters are larger than life with amazing resolve and fantastic skills to keep them alive on their perilous journey between worlds. Along the way, they meet other characters like Randall Prescott, son to the governor who turns out to be an ally; Elyssa, a girl thought kidnapped by bears who can see glimpses of the future; and Tibalt, a crazy prisoner with riddles containing clues to what they should do next.

With 400 pages, the book moves quickly with great descriptions to help readers visualize each step of the way – from the smell of the noxious gas released during mining, to the rising cold waters as the group is trying to figure out how to open the gateway between Jason and Koren’s two worlds. Davis’ writing style reminded me a bit of The Eye of the World – the first book in Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series.

By the end of the book, I was left with many questions and wondering what Jason and his friends would do to survive the trouble they find in the dragon world of Starlight, so I’ll definitely be interested to see what happens in the next book of the series. However – I would definitely recommend this book to younger readers instead of adults seeking more complex themes.

That’s not to say that Starlighter isn’t an enjoyable read. The concept of a pair of worlds bound together through a shared history and the enslavement of humans by dragons is not something I can recall in other fantasy fiction. However, it’s pretty easy to see who the good guys (and dragons) are and who isn’t helping out the characters as they chug along.

If you have a pre-teen interested in a fantasy story with swords, magic, and dragons – I’d definitely recommend you pick up a copy of Starlight for their enjoyment. Davis has a gift for storytelling I’ll be sharing with my daughters soon!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great books from Barnes & Noble below!

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DVD Review: Batman: The Brave and the Bold – Season One – Part One

Hi all!

Though I’d seen a few comic books in my youth, my first exposure to the Batman phenomenon was in 1989 when I saw Tim Burton’s Batman on the big screen. From that moment on, Michael Keaton captured the duality of Batman for me – playboy by day (as bazillionaire/tychoon Bruce Wayne) and crime fighter (Batman) by night.

Then in 1992, Batman: The Animated Series really drove that home the comic legacy of the Batman character. Paul Dini and around 30 other writers took the Gotham City from the pages of DC Comics and breathed life into the heroes and villains that walked its streets. It was really the series’ four seasons that Batman graced my television screen that made me appreciate the depth of what DC Comics and Bob Kane had created from the late 1930s to today.

In 2008, a new chapter of Batman animation would unfold as Batman: The Brave and the Bold. But where previous incarnations of the world were portrayed in a serious vein, this new series amped up the campy, fun nature once seen in another Batman television product starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin in the 1960s.

The Brave and the Bold uses Batman (voiced by Diedrich Bader – The Drew Carey Show) as the straight man while still managing to incorporate the classic heroes and villains of the DC Universe with humor. Now DC Animation and Warner Brothers are releasing the first 13 episodes of season one in a two-DVD set – Batman: The Brave and the Bold – Season One – Part One.

In the first 13 episodes, we see an amazing array of heroes share the stage with the Dark Knight… We meet the Blue Beetle (Will Friedle, Batman Beyond, Kim Possible) as he’s just getting used to his alien powers; Plastic Man (Tom Kenny, SpongeBob SquarePants) who’s constantly struggling with his criminal side; the Red Tornado (Corey Burton, who seems to have been in 100+ different cartoons over the last 30 years) who is an android trying to understand what it is to be human…

We also meet:

  • Green Arrow
  • Wildcat
  • Deadman
  • Bronze Tiger
  • The Atom

But Aquaman (John Di Maggio, Futurama, Penguins of Madagascar, Ben-10) is by far my favorite. He manages to be endearing and annoying at the same time. Larger than life and willing to tell of his adventures to anyone who will (willingly or unwillingly) listen.

Not to be outdone, we also see many of the classic villains appear along with some I had never heard of… Kite Man (Jeffrey Combs, The 4400, Justice League, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), gliding thief, nemesis and former employer of Plastic Man; Black Manta (Kevin Michael Richardson, The Penguins of Madagascar, The Cleveland Show), a surface dwelling criminal who seeks dominion of the sea; Gorilla Grodd (Di Maggio in another role), super-intelligent gorilla from Gorilla City seeking revenge over the human race; and many more…

  • Kanjar Ro
  • Gentleman Ghost
  • Fun Haus
  • Morgaine le Fey
  • Slug
  • Chemo
  • Despero
  • Terrible Trio
  • Clock King
  • Owlman

Honestly, when I watch an episode of Batman: Brave and the Bold it’s a very guilty pleasure. It’s fun to see how cheesy some of the lines can be (deliberately) and how the bad guys inevitably foul up and let the good guys win. These are definitely simplified hero vs. villain stories, but they’re great for kids and adults who want to become kids again for a little while.

Other than the episodes and a game trailer, you don’t get any extras, but that shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying any of the 13 great episodes in this collection.

So if you’ve seen an episode or two and want to catch up or simply want to have a good time, be sure to check out Batman: The Brave and the Bold – Season One – Part One. I’m very excited to see when Part Two comes out so I can enjoy my favorite episode of the series so far – “Mayhem of the Music Meister!” starring Neil Patrick Harris as the Music Meister!

This article first appeared at Blogcritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Batman: The Brave and the Bold today and enjoy some campy fun!

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Book Review: The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit by Whitney Ferré

Hi all…

Creativity is a difficult thing to cultivate, whether you believe yourself to be an artist or not. There have been many books about enhancing your creativity over the years. Of these, my favorite so far has been The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It takes a simple approach to brief field trips and exercises you can explore to stretch your artistic muscles. And the beauty of her approach is that it works across all disciplines – writing, drawing, painting, sculpture, and so on.

Whitney Ferré’s book The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit takes a slightly different path, which I think might work better in a group setting than as an individual. I am fairly conservative but feel I have a fairly open mind, and though I appreciate what Ferré was trying to do, it didn’t really work for me.

The first chapter works through the “Eight Principles of Design” to provide a foundation for the rest of the book. The eight principles are emphasis, balance, proportion, unity, harmony, contrast, rhythm, and repetition. And, as she says, these principles “are not the result of a panel of art academics who felt the need to create more rules… They have been used by artists for centuries to create paintings that successfully communicate their heart’s desire, the natural beauty of a landscape, the spirit of a portrait, or the innate element of objects in a still life.” These couple of sentences for me define what the book is all about – expressing yourself through a graphic artistic medium.

After that, I really found myself struggling to work through the exercises. I held on as she had me simply scribbling on paper (which is a great exercise for stress relief if you haven’t tried it), but really started losing interest when I was supposed to find a “Personal Symbol” among the square, triangle, spiral, circle, and plus sign. This to me was similar to the notion that being born during a particular time of year ties a person to the behavioral pattern of an astrological sign. The power therein only works if you believe it does. And evidently I lost the faith early on in this book.

From there, she works through the eight principles of design a chapter at a time, using exercises like leaf rubbing, dream collages, clay charades, magazine mosaics, and so on. As I said earlier, I seriously feel that this book might work in a group setting – especially with children. But as an individual seeking to get “creatively fit” I couldn’t get behind the “touchy-feely” aspects of the approach.

If you’re looking for a book about inspiring your own creativity and aren’t working in a group, I’d avoid Whitney Ferré’s book The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit and look for The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. If you’re looking at a book to serve as a pattern for an art class for children or adults, Ferré’s book might be just what you’re looking for. But it didn’t work for me.

Article first published as Book Review: The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit by Whitney Ferré on Blogcritics.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other art books from Barnes & Noble below!

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