“How to Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell

If you plan on reading this because you or your children love the movies and TV shows, it’s important to know one thing. Gather in your mind everything you know and love about the video franchise and throw it out the window, now you have the book. That’s not quite true, but it’s also not that far off. Most of the characters names are the same: Hiccup is still the Chief’s son and seen as a bit of a screw-up in the beginning, Snotlout is still a bully and Fishlegs is still Hiccup’s best friend. Some of the biggest differences that are noticed right off the bat is there is no Astrid, dragons aren’t feared on Berk and Toothless is not the last of his kind.

The book begins on Initiation Day, which is the day the boys of Berk start the process of becoming either full fledged members of the Hooligan Tribe or exiled. The task on this day is to climb up into a cave full of hibernating dragons and steal one they will then have to train. Trouble starts right away for our young hero as Fishlegs accidentally wakes up the cave full of dragons before he’s able to grab one. To stop Fishlegs from being exiled Hiccup goes back and grabs the first dragon he comes across without really looking at it.

Antics ensue as Hiccup tries to train Toothless. He uses his special connection with dragons, which comes into play later in the book. The story is a bit on the predictable side with the test not going as according to plan, but Hiccup and Toothless save the day at the end.

All in all, the book is quite an easy read with enough funny bits thrown in to keep younger readers entertained. It’s the sort of series that would be a great way to introduce kids to reading, it’s simple enough for kids to read on their own but also complex enough that parents wouldn’t get bored reading it as well. For me, while it wasn’t a story-line that sticks in my mind, it’s enjoyable enough that I can immerse myself into the story and have a nice distraction from life for a few days. One of the benefits is, according to the author, the books don’t need to be read in order. Which for me is good since I currently own the first and fourth books.

Will I read all twelve books in the series? Honestly, I don’t know, but I can see myself reading at least one more.

Introducing Guest Reviewer!

I’m going to be honest; I’m going to be the odd one out here.

As a child I hated reading. Being diagnosed with ADHD while going to school in French meant I couldn’t read in English until I was 12. I was a “Hooked on Phonics” kid and honestly, I think that was one of the best decisions my dad ever made.

That was when I was introduced to The Babysitter’s Club and Archie comics. My love for reading grew with the introduction of Harry Potter, but it wasn’t until I met Artemis nearly 20 years ago that it flourished. My current tastes are kind of all over the place, my favourites being Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. Most of what I read can be classified as “kid’s books” and need to be fast paced; if I’m not hooked within the first few sentences, I quickly lose interest in the book. I also don’t like when too many things are happening at once, I can’t always keep up.

I’m hoping I can help prove that anyone can enjoy reading, given they find the right stuff!

You can call me Apollo and I’m pleased to meet you!

Guest post by D.Ellis Overttun

I thought the best way to get the word out there about my second book, Genesis: Vision of the New World, would be to give readers a background of the themes that run through the storyline. They are the things that resonated with me and inspired my writing. For those of you who are time-constrained, my wife, Natasha, has created the gif below. 

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As the title suggests, visions underlie the narrative in Genesis, two in particular. The first one is presented as a potential safe haven from the destruction of the universe that was the backdrop of the story in the first book, Universe: Awakening. The second is a genetically engineered memory of creation. The inspiration for this has come from the many doublets in the Bible, in particular “Genesis 1” and “Genesis 2”, that present two different timelines for creation. 

While a vision may seem very real to the person experiencing it, the question that arises is:  What will others think? Part of the answer can be found in societal attitudes and touches upon the issue of mental health. To the Celesti, a vision is a form of communication. There must be a sender and a receiver. Anything else is beyond the realm of reason and logic. It is an indication of potential mental impairment. On the other hand, the Gendu acknowledge the existence of phanai, those who can speak directly to their deity. As a consequence, they are more open-minded to the possibility.

Consistent with the theme of the Bible meets sci-fi, I have crafted excerpts from the Codices of Taru, the primary religious text of the Gendu. The literary style of these verses was modeled upon chapters in the Bible like “Genesis 5”, the lineage of Adam, and Professor Robert Alter’s commentary in his translation, The Five Books of Moses. Like the Torah, the Codices were written to be read aloud with a rhythm established by the deliberate use of the word “and”.

Where does the belief in a higher power originate? Can advanced technology be god-like as Erich von Däniken suggests? Genesis describes an encounter between two Celesti and orangs, a hominoid species that is on the verge of moving higher on the sapiens branch of the evolutionary tree. The orangs make a number of observations from this chance meeting. Their experience can only be described as supernatural: unexplainable by anything in their collective experience. But all observations crave an explanation. How do they extrapolate?

The orangs illustrate my rendering of the beginnings of language based upon the work of evolutionary biologist Professor Mark Pagel of the University of Reading. If we start with English, we can trace its evolution from Germanic and Romance languages back to Indo-European then Proto-Indo-European. A language like the orangs speak goes back to the first words, a very limited vocabulary comprised of a handful of nouns that emerged shortly after the evolution of the physiological apparatus to enable speech.

An experiment in genetics features prominently as the Celesti attempt to engineer a pliant servile class from orangs. Tok and Maag are captured in the wild and are subjected to extensive gene substitution that accelerates their evolution. 

Immortality is one of the characteristics of all divine beings. But how does that happen? Can you become immortal? From the point of view of science, the only way is to violate the second law of thermodynamics or the tendency of things to go from an ordered to a disordered state. Stated more clearly, the disorder in a system can never go down. But that leaves a possibility:  Disorder (or order) can remain constant. In my first book, Universe, I posit just such a place I called the “volume” filled with an energy called the “ether”. Now, this ether has been infused into the body of one of the main characters, and it would seem that he no longer ages. 

I felt the story needed a villain, someone really loathsome and repulsive. Enter Theodor. His demeanor has been based upon Bernardo Gui from the Name of the Rose. I describe an unnatural relationship that my new antagonist has with his sister, Myranda, drawn from the common practice among Egyptian pharaohs. He also has a predilection for young women, very young women. His predatory practices were influenced by recollections from the Me Too movement. However, there is a scene in the story extrapolated from my own life. In my first job after graduation, I was part of a group of new hires for a large company. One of the female members of our group was being harassed by one of the managers. When I found out, I wanted to send him a “message”. I didn’t, but I remember the feelings of anger and helplessness. I wanted to offer more than just my moral support.

Much of what motivates Theodor is power and recognition. However, he is not willing to work towards his goals. He is not grounded in merit only desire. His pursuit makes him culpable in the murder of four individuals. What follows is a cover up and investigation.

His ambition propels him to become Tendai, the leader of the main religious body on the planet. The elements of the election process have been drawn from papal succession. However, I have introduced a slight modification inspired by the acclamation of the people and the coronation of William the Conqueror shortly after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

A lot has been swirling around lately about fake news. It prompted me to introduce a piece of technology I called “Veracity”, a computer program that verifies and classifies content uploaded to social media. It presupposes two things. First, a central authority has control of all content across all social platforms. Second, everyone accepts how the program operates. One of the inflection points of the storyline hinges on people accepting something they know is not true. It highlights what we want versus what is real and speaks to the larger issue of factual consistency versus narrative consistency

Background to Genesis:  Vision of the New World

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The focal point of the cover is a shadowy face overlaid on a planet with a sun peering from its edge circled by a single moon. It is an allusion to the word “vision” that is part of the title of the book. It gives the reader a hint of the story within. The scene could be anywhere except that the planet in the lower left-hand corner looks a lot like Saturn. In that case, the planet in question could be earth. Now, as the title says, this is a “Vision of the New World”. Is this our universe? The universe in Book 1 is 36 billion years old, a lot older than the current 14-billion-year age of our universe. So, is this a vision from the past? “New World” in the title would imply “no” unless this is about time travel into the past. (Since this is sci-fi, it is a distinct possibility.) Another solar system in the same universe configured exactly like ours? Perhaps. Or maybe, it is a vision of another universe.

Series Overview:

Author Q&A posted on The Magic of Wor(l)ds

Author Q&A posted on On The Shelf Reviews

Author Q&A posted on The Book Hole

Author Q&A posted on From Belgium With Book Love

Background to Universe: Awakening posted on Zooloo’s Book Diary

Cover Makeover Genesis: Vision of the New World posted on On The Shelf Reviews

Indie Spotlight – Terra Nova Series posted on beforewegoblog

Universe: Awakening – Excerpts and Commentary:

“Prologue” posted on Simply Phil’s Blog

Chapter 1 – “In the Darkness” posted on beforewegoblog

Chapter 2 – “Beyond a Program” posted on The Magic of Wor(l)ds

Chapter 6 – “Confessions” posted on Read Yourself Happy

Chapter 8 – “In the Darkness” posted on Zooloo’s Book Diary

Chapter 46 – “Tsai and Citrus” posted on Herding Cats

Chapter 60 – “The Awakening” posted on The Reading Chemist

Chapter 66 – “The Second Way” posted on The Tattooed Book Geek

Chapter 83 – “The Dream” posted on Reads & Reels

Chapter 85 – “Heron of Edenoud” posted on On The Shelf Reviews

For a deeper dive:

Universe:  Awakening

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Genesis:  Vision of the New World

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