Bridge to Haven: An Underwhelming Story

bridge-to-havenThis review may contain mild spoilers.

Francine Rivers’s lastest book, Bridge to Haven, tells the story of Abra Matthews. Found abandoned beneath the bridge to the small town of Haven as a newborn, Abra spends the first five years of her life with the town pastor’s family. But after the pastor’s wife dies, Abra is shuffled to a new home in which she grows up, discontented and unhappy.

When a handsome young man comes to town and lavishes Abra with attention, she runs away with him, which turns out to be a terrible mistake. During her years in Hollywood, more than one man manipulates her for his own ends, and Abra eventually realizes that she will not find fulfillment at the end of journey to stardom. She makes bad decisions along the way until she at last returns to Haven, broken and weary. Abra must finally face those she left behind and choose to accept God’s love for her.

I have always loved Francine Rivers’s books. From A Voice in the Wind to The Scarlet Thread, her books draw me in, and I become emotionally invested in the characters. She tackles hard themes and situations that people face in the real world, and as her characters overcome by the grace of God, so she offers hope to her readers.

That said, Bridge to Haven was thoroughly disappointing. The characters did not ring true for me, the plot felt contrived and ripped off from several of her other books, and the writing itself is sloppier and far less than what Rivers is capable of.

Abra and the man who loves her, Joshua, are both fairly stock characters. Neither of them has a truly distinct personality or unique response to situations. Joshua and his father, the pastor, are the perfect Christian men with no human flaws or frailties. They wait patiently for Abra to return and promptly forgive her without struggling at all. Even when Joshua learns some of the darker moments of Abra’s years away, he responds with only love and reassurance, never any anger or distress. Honestly, he’s the type of man some Christian girls and women fantasize about, that does not exist because no one is perfect. I was not pleased to find that type of character in one of Rivers’s books.

I felt that several of the characters’ motivations were bizarre or lacking. The pastor allows his wife to take in the abandoned baby even though another family wanted her, despite knowing that taking on the burden of a baby would devastate her health. Lo and behold, his wife dies from the health problems, and the pastor promptly passes on the little girl to the family who wanted her in the first place. That whole chain of events is stilted and contrived. Abra struggles with the emotional damage through the rest of the book, yet the pastor is never indicted for his actions by any of the other characters. Even when Abra reconciles with him, the burden of apologizing and asking forgiveness is all on her. The pastor’s actions are never painted as anything other than positive.

At the end of the book, Abra’s struggles are far too easily resolved. Although she spends years in Hollywood, making one bad decision after another, culminating in a truly terrible moment where I finally felt sympathetic, once she returns to Haven, there are no consequences, emotionally, physically, or relationally.

I did enjoy the piano teacher forcing Abra to memorize hymns that came back to her at her darkest moments. Characterwise, I also like Penny Matthews, Abra’s sister, who is one of the most unique characters in the book, and a few of the people Abra meets in Hollywood.

Ultimately, Bridge to Haven covers no new thematic territory for Rivers. I was strongly reminded of her best seller Redeeming Love throughout the entire book, and occasionally of The Atonement Child. This book is by far not her best work.

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Steelheart: In Which Superheroes are Not Super

Steelheart

“I’ve seen Steelheart bleed. And I will see him bleed again.” Thus opens Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, a YA novel set on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Ten years ago, Calamity appeared in the sky. No one knows what it is or why it showed up, but they know what it did: gave ordinary people incredible powers. These people are called Epics, and their powers range from illusion to invincibility to control of the elements.

But Epics are not superheroes, as protagonist David discovers in the book’s prologue. He and his father are at a bank when Steelheart shows up. David’s father shoots him, the only one to ever draw blood from the invincible man, and is brutally murdered for it. Steelheart then decimates the bank and everyone in it, except David, who manages to escape. No one will ever know of Steelheart’s weakness if he has anything to say about it.

That was the day Steelheart took control of Chicago, now known as Newcago. Across the world, Epics battle for domination of cities, destroying anyone who gets in their way. Supervillains abound, but not a single Epic uses his or her powers to be a superhero.

David makes it his life’s quest to learn Steelheart’s weakness and get revenge for his father’s death, and he finally has his chance. He joins the Reckoners, a guerilla group of ordinary humans who fight back against the Epics as best they can. They are reluctant to accept him at first, but when he shows them his notes on Epics and their individual weaknesses, his life’s work, they take him on.

The Reckners have been striking at Epics for years, but they have never dared touch the most dangerous, like Steelheart and his various underlings. David and his information gives them the push they need to take the next step, and in the end, they face Steelheart.

Sanderson turns the idea of superheroes upside down in this novel. Epics are all villains, and ordinary people have to step forward and be the heroes, the ones who fight back. Comic book fans will recognize that genre translated into a novel with Steelheart, the descriptions and plot itself leaping straight from the pages of a comic as inspiration.

The main characters are well-rounded, with layered motivations and complex emotions about the work the Reckoners do. Prof, leader of the Reckoners, struggles with a lust for revenge even stronger than David’s, and fights his own dark side every day. Megan, the token beautiful young woman, turns out not to be a token, but instead a strong character in her own right. David develops a crush on her, but rather than descending into teenage angst and mush, his feelings and her response form an subplot of the book that ultimately has an important effect on the resolution. Steelheart, his command Epics, and his minions are fascinating villains, with unique identities and powers.

Steelheart is tightly plotted, with the intricate worldbuilding he is known for. The Epics’ powers are less defined than his usual logical, orderly magic systems, but their powers have individual rules and limitations, and David even comes up with a classification system for them.

Although the book moves rapidly, there is a section in the middle where the pace sags somewhat, when the Reckoners are preparing for their final showdown with Steelheart. A lot of planning happens with little forward movement, but it does not last long before the pace picks up again, and then it is a race to the finish. Several of the side characters are fairly one-dimensional, with only verbal quirks or one to two defining characteristics, when as members of the Reckoners, the reader would expect to see them more fully realized. David himself is almost too perfect for reader credulity. Despite having little to no training in the skills the Reckoners use in their attacks, David keeps up with the experienced Reckoners and is often a crucial part of the plan, which is odd, given his lack of experience and skills.

The plot twists were nicely foreshadowed, but not so obvious that most readers would see them coming. I guessed two twists before they happened, but I wasn’t sure of the details and was still surprised by the end of the book.

Steelheart is a book worth reading for anyone interested in superheroes or an adventure packed YA novel. Although it does not end on a cliffhanger, the book leaves several plot threads unresolved. First in a trilogy, Steelheart opens the door on a fascinating world and asks the question: What if superheroes were evil?

Frozen Melts Hearts

November 1st, 2013 @ 20:51:56

Frozen kingdom, frozen hearts, and a singing snowman: Frozen (2013) lives up to its name. Sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) live enchanted lives. Princesses of Arendelle, they build snowmen and play in the snow and ice. Snow and ice that Elsa created, that is. She has a special power that quickly spirals out of control, and she accidentally injures Anna. Only with the help of mysterious rock trolls is Anna’s life saved, but her memories are altered in the process. Out of necessity, Elsa locks herself away in her room, nearly severing the bond between the sisters in order to keep Anna safe.

Over the years, Elsa’s power increases and Anna’s loneliness grows , and everything comes to a head on Elsa’s coronation day. Elsa accidentally reveals her power to the kingdom and flees to a faraway mountain, freezing all of Arendelle in the process.

Anna, refusing to let her sister stay in exile, embarks on a quest to save both Arendelle and Elsa. Joined by snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), ice merchant Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and reindeer Sven, Anna must melt both Elsa’s heart and her own.

Disney steps away from traditional definitions of true love in Frozen, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, which replaces Tangled (2010) as the newest Disney princess film. With gorgeous animation and an unforgettable soundtrack, Frozen 3some critics are calling Frozen the best Disney movie since The Lion King. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Snow Queen”, Frozen blazes a new path.

The soundtrack features fun songs such as “For the First Time in Forever” and “In Summer”, but the most striking and poignant song, “Let It Go”, features Idina Menzel’s Broadway talent as Elsa breaks free from her self-imposed prison. The filmmakers paired “Let it Go” with some of the most beautiful animation in the movie, and the song has rightly won an Oscar. Frozen has also won the award for best animated feature.Frozen 2

In a twist ending, Frozen celebrates family and loyalty between sisters, thawing both Anna and Elsa’s hearts. Although the princesses suffer from the Disney trope of deceased parents, family is the center of this movie. A journey of self-discovery that ends with family brings a fresh, positive message to the big screen and captures the hearts of audiences worldwide.

Catching Fire: The Movie “On Fire”

catching-fire

In the words of Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), “This trip doesn’t end when you get back home.” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) may have won the 74th Hunger Games, but her life will never go back to normal. First she must go on the obligatory Victory Tour, and then she must face the Quarter Quell and watch more children die at the Capitol’s hands.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), based on the second book in Suzanne Collins’s best-selling trilogy, proves to the film industry that a movie starring a strong female character can be an enormous success. Francis Lawrence replaces The Hunger Games (2012) director Gary Ross as director for Catching Fire, and moviegoers breathed a sigh of relief at action scenes without any shaky camera footage.

As Katniss struggles to reacclimate to life in District 12, other districts seethe with turmoil and rebellion. President Snow presents Katniss with a choice: convince him that her romance with fellow victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is real, or lose the ones she loves. Katniss’s PR situation goes from bad to worse on the Victory Tour, and when she defies a Capitol peacekeeper to protect her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), President Snow decides that she, and all the previous victors who pose a threat, must die.

Instead of mentoring in the Quarter Quell, the 75th Hunger Games sends Katniss  back into the arena. But this time, nothing is as it seems. Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has a plan, and it’s not the one that President Snow has in mind. Katniss is no longer just the Girl on Fire; now, she’s the Mockingjay, symbol of the rebellion.catching-fire 2

In this second movie, viewers learn the real depths of the corruption and decadence of the Capitol. The violence and child murder of the first movie is fully condemned in Catching Fire, which presents the Capitol, embodied in President Snow, as the true villain. Laughing and cheering for children killing children is wrong, and the movie points a finger at a society consumed by entertainment in the form of violence and built on the suffering of others.

Suzanne Collins’s satire and social commentary has reached the silver screen. The consequences of the Capitol’s immorality will hit theaters in Mockingjay Parts I & II in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Enjoy your debauchery now, Capitol, because the Mockingjay is coming for you.