Saturday, March 17, 2018

Is it St. Paddy's Day already?

I haven't been around much lately.  The good news is that I've been working on a creative non-fiction project. The bad news is that I've been too busy to do many of the things I love.  I have sailed some, but it seems that lately we've had either too high winds or no wind.  As for kayaking, when I have had a chance to get out for a few hours, it seems the wind was just too strong to make me want to fight it.  Yesterday, I decided it has been too long and despite a 10-13 mile an hour wind, I went out for a good seven mile paddle!  That's me in a selfie in one of the few places I wasn't being blown away (in a small creek at low tide).  I hope you are all doing well.
Anyone doing A-Z in April?  I haven't decided yet and curious if others are up for the challenge.
Here is a review I wrote a few weeks ago. Those who are friends on facebook may have seen this as I also published on another site...
Brennen Arkins, The Magic Kings (2015), 259 pages.
The transition from elementary to middle school is a tough time for all students.  For Alan and his classmates, it is made more uncertain by the 911 terrorist attacks that occurs at the beginning of their last year of elementary school. Alan’s life is filled with challenges.  He’s being raised by a single mother. His father died when he was much younger. He’s now slowly coming to a realization of what it means to have a mother that is an alcoholic.  Arkins tells this story through the eyes of Alan. As a pre-teen kid, there are a lot of things he does not clearly understand. Like Alan, the reader is slowly provided clues.  Alan understands his mother is having problem with her former boyfriend, Art, who seems to be a good male role model for Alan. It appears Art and Alan’s mother both have issues with alcohol and even though they break up, Art helps her become involved with Alcoholics Anonymous.

As an escape from the confusing world of adults, Alan and his best friend Zak play in a fantasy world. Yet, they sense things are coming to an end (this will be their last year to “trick-or-treat” so they decide to make the best of it). But while they sense things are ending, they are excited about the fantasy world in which they create. They find a special spot on the other side of town (and across a dangerous bridge that they must ride across on their bicycles) in which they can live out their fantasies. There, Zak looks for his magic wand. But on their second visit, they are challenged by boys from the local neighborhood who have claim on the property. At this point, Zak decides they need a third king, and Joel joins them on their adventures.

As Zak and Alan play in their fantasy world, Alan’s mother begins to take him to church. Before, they had only occasionally attended church. Now they start going to Art’s church. His mother is concerned about Alan’s interest in fantasy and magic and suggests that it goes against the Bible. Their pastor isn’t as concerned as Alan’s mother, but she takes away his Harry Potter books as punishment for him riding over the bridge to their magic kingdom.

The book ends as Alan, Zak, Joel along with others including several girls, move into Middle School.  Alan notices the changes as he is more interested in the girls and less in the fantasy worlds that he and Zak had created. Alan is also more interested in sports and in reading the Bible, which seems to have become his new “magic book.” And construction has begun on the land upon which they’d envisioned their magic kingdom.

I found myself curious about Alan as he navigates his changing world. His challenges kept me engaged. At first I found myself not liking the pastor (who told Alan the only book he read when he was a kid was the Bible). I didn’t find that believable.  But I later liked him when he refused to tell Alan’s misdeeds to his mother, allowing Alan to take responsibility and to work it out himself.

This book could benefit a young boy troubled about his changing world (we’ve all been there, especially in those pre-teen years). The book could also help a boy with parents (or a friend’s parents) with drinking problems.  The story shows the benefits of a religious community and organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous to help address such problems. However, I found myself concerned with seeing the Bible as a substitute for “magic books.” In this way, I agreed more with the pastor, who didn’t appear overly concerned about the magic books. I found myself wondering more why Alan’s mother was so concern. Adding to the confusion was Zak trying to be a good friend to Alan and giving him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ “magic books,” The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe.  Lewis’ use of the fantasy genre as an allegorical way to understand Christianity is well known, and the gift shows that although Zak doesn’t get Alan’s interest in Christianity, he is supportive of his friend’s interests.

As for the Bible being some kind of magic book, I would hope that Alan would come to understand the purpose of Scripture is revelation. By showing us who God is and who we’re to be, the Bible helps bring us into a relationship with God. Maybe Alan’s new found interest in the Bible will help him appreciate it not just as a book with better magic or fantasy, but as a guide to a relationship with (to draw from AA language) a higher power.

I am curious as to how middle school boys might relate to this book.  While those of us who lived through the terrorist attacks of 2001 understand the fear and uncertainty expressed by Alan and Zak, I wonder if this would be the same for those who were born a decade later (Alan and Zak would be in their late-20s today). If Arkins was to do a second publication, I suggest he consider how that event might be perceived differently by younger populations.  The other issues that Alan face (a single parent with alcohol issues, fidelity to old friends while making new ones, and relationships with the opposite sex) are more universal than the 911 experiences.

The Magic Kings is easy to read.  Arkins is an excellent storyteller and his style maintains the interests of the reader.  I look forward to reading more books from him.

Disclaimer:  I am in a writing group with Brennen Arkins and was given a copy of the book for review.


  1. I'm not doing A-Z. Not sure if I'll ever jump back in. There are far too many people involved, in my opinion - feels too overwhelming between that, and needing to post every day.

    An adventurous St. Pat's weekend to ye, lad.

  2. While in Mexico last week I read "Church of Lies" by Flora Jessop ... I will check out "Magic Kings", friend Sage ... as I get older, I find myself reading ma old friends like Hermann Hesse and Luise Rinser though and Hermann Hesse and Luise Rinser, did I mention Hermann Hesse and Luise Rinser? ... anyway ... Love always, cat.

  3. It sounds like an interesting book, but I can understand some of the concerns you had. My dad died when I was 11, so I can relate to some of that difficulty entering the middle school years, too.

    I know you like history and I recently read and reviewed Triangle by David von Drehle. If you've not read it before, it might interest you.

  4. Yes it is! I just wish it was closer to spring weather here. How ever will the Easter Bunny get to hide all those eggs? It's good to hear you're working on something that must be quite interesting. You'll be back at all that other stuff soon! Take time to enjoy the weekend! I'm betting you have nice weather.

  5. Glad you got to go out kayaking even if you did have to battle the wind. I bet it felt good to get out there. That book sounds like one that would be good to read for kids who are dealing with those issues touched. Hope you had a nice St. Patrick's Day.

  6. I’m not doing the A-Z challenge this year. I can’t come up with a good theme, and the challenge is way too time-consuming right now. Great review of The Magic Kings. I love that cover!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  7. The transition from elementary to middle school is a tough time for all students.

    My own transition to middle school was difficult for a whole host of reasons. Making matters worse I remember how the adults in my family didn't seem to care. For that reason I've tried to at least seem more open to what my kids went through during those years

  8. Hi Sage - it's good to be busy, as well as being able to get out and explore your world .. sailing and kayaking - but the weather will settle soon. The Magic Kings sounds an interesting read ... enjoy Spring - and yes I'm doing the A-Z and hope to see you there ... cheers Hilary

  9. Lovely to read this post ...
    Being busy can be a good thing!

    Take Care

    All the best Jan

  10. Good to be busy. I've missed the mountain three weeks now. We've had blizzard conditions since Feb. And really I don't think heading up a mountain when conditions are bad is a imposition on others I won't do. We aren't used to snow at depth and I know you'd know what to do I don't.

  11. Not sure what the A to Z challenge is but it appears to involve daily blogging which seems tough to do these days so I will probably pass. But I promise to read all your entries if you partake.

  12. I agree with you that the other issues are more universal than 9/11. My kids were all between the ages of 7-12 during the event and I wouldn't say it had that big of an impact on them, but they were also living in a stable environment.

  13. No A to Z for me this year. I'm already buried and that would really deep six me.

    The book sounds as if it has some ideas to explore for both parents and kids. I love stories that show kids growing through stages.

  14. Glad you were able to get out for a bit. We've had a lot of rain here that has been keeping us inside. At least I can nap

  15. It's been pretty windy over here too. I ventured out running today for the first time in a long while. I thought, "It's sunny so it won't be that cold." And it wouldn't have been, if not for the wind, heh. Glad you got out for a bit.

  16. I’m glad you’ve been working on your creative non-fiction project.

    I’m not participating in A to Z. I don’t have the time anymore.

    The Bible as a magic book. Well, it’s an interesting idea.

  17. The book sounds like a good read! I only did the A to Z once - it was fun, but I never wanted to do it again. It's a little hard to keep up reading all of everyone's posts who are doing that. They deserve to be read, but it makes April blog reading a pretty full time job. :)

  18. I did the A to Z one time and have thought about doing it again but I just don't have the time.

  19. Always enjoy your book reviews. The TBR stack continues to get higher!

  20. Sounds like a good book. I agree with you on historical perspective for different generations. Always a tightrope-walking threat for an author.

    Greetings from London.