Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Review: Tennis Shoes Adventure Series: Sorcerers and Seers

Picture courtesy of yours truly. Yes, this is the exact copy that I read
It's not often that I do book reviews on this blog because it's not often I dive into books. However, there are some series' that do a great job a sucking me into them and one of those long-standing series' is the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series. The first book in the series, Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, came to the world in the same year that I did, so you can literally say that I grew up with this series. I first picked up the books when I was a young teenager (or maybe earlier) and now as an adult I still enjoy travelling back in time with these characters. They are characters that are so well written that I feel a true attachment to them as if they were my neighbors across the street growing up. The book at hand that I just finished is book 11 of the series called Sorcerers and Seers and it is just as good as any of the previous 10. In fact, the whole series feels like one long book and at the conclusion of Sorcerers and Seers, I became immediately excited for books 12 and 13 that Chris Heimerdinger will have coming up soon.

Haven't heard of the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series? Let me briefly explain. Jim Hawkins and Garth Plimpton were best friends growing up around Cody, Wyoming. Together with Jim's little sister Jenny, the three of them found a cave near their home and went exploring. This cave led them down a long path to a beautiful room that they called the Rainbow Room. This room miraculously worked as a time-travelling cave that led the three back to the time of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. Yes, this is a series of books directed towards an LDS audience. Can non-LDS people enjoy it? I suppose. But the great thing about these books is that it was a great way to learn about the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is an amazing book of scripture. Its focus is bringing the reader closer to Jesus Christ with the many inspirational teachings that it includes. And it will do just that. The Book of Mormon also claims that it's not a history book, but yet one can't help being fascinated with the many great stories included. The Tennis Shoes Adventures Series dives into these stories and it is done so well that upon reading them, I feel like I am going down to the land of the Nephites right along with the main characters.

The first book in the series is a very simple story. So is the second for that matter. Both books are their own story as well. Each additional book after, there are more characters added, especially as Garth and Jim grow older and have families of their own. Jim, Garth, and Jenny are still there, but the stories become more focused on their kids. Also the stories get more complex and intricate as it goes on, and even expands over to the other side of the world via the New Testament mainly. Heimerdinger also gets bolder with the paths he goes down and the creative liberties he takes. Is everything perfectly accurate? Well, that's impossible to know because the Book of Mormon is not a history book and thus is sometimes sparse on the details. So in creating a fictional story, in order to make it good, one has to include creative liberties. Perhaps when this world when our lives are over and we get to look back on everything, perhaps we might find out that certain things aren't quite the way it was written in the Tennis Shoes books, but who cares? It's a lot of fun. Plus, Heimerdinger gets kudos because he does a ton of research before he writes and usually will include his findings in chapter notes, explaining certain points and reminding us what points of fiction he created. Have the fun is reading those chapter notes and gaining that knowledge that he shares.

So onto the actual book at hand, Sorcerers and Seers. The specific story line covered is actually the fourth book of the specific adventure we are going on. A lot of ground is covered in the first three books of this adventure that I'm not going to spend time catching you up on. I'm also not going to talk much about the specific characters we are following and what they are going through. What I do want to bring up is the events that we are witnessing at this point, as this book dives into some pretty major parts of scripture.

The first time period is in Jerusalem during the last week of the Savior's life. These stories are common among all Christians and most non-Christians as well. But it is great experiencing it first-hand with these characters. One of the high points of this book series was back in book four when we were there with our characters in the land Bountiful when the Savior appeared to the Nephites. We got a glimpse of what it would be like living there at the time when the Savior came. And now we get to be on the other side of things. We spend time with the Savior before he dies. Specifically with this, we are with the family and friends of the Savior. We experience first-hand what that week was like. We watch the drama of that week begin to unfold as we learn more about people such as Judas Iscariot and Nicodemus. But we don't get too far into the week during this volume. Just the first couple of days. It's pretty awesome reading through this, but in terms of the focus of this novel, it actually gets the least amount of attention.

Getting a bit more attention in the novel is the second time period, the final battle in the Book of Mormon between the Lamanites and the Nephites on the Hill Cumorah. We're actually split into two parties with this one. The first party is with Mormon. Spending time with Mormon, we get a taste of what it was like for him right before the final battle. The Nephites are just plain awful people. Some of the scenes depicted are rather hard to read, but it's realistic to the time period and you just feel for Mormon. You also gain a ton of respect for Mormon as well as he handles things in the best and most humble way possible despite the circumstances. A lot of political intrigue in this aspect of the story. Also in this time period is where the majority of our characters are. But instead of being with Mormon they are on a journey towards Mormon and the Hill Cumorah. This is the most tense parts of the book as this gang is essentially sneaking their way through enemy territory towards their destination. Ambushes and attacks are waiting for them on every side at every step.

And finally, we have the part of the story that is focused on most. This part is actually super fascinating because we dive into one aspect of the Book of Mormon that is often over-looked. The main character in this one is Josh, the son of Garth. He's spent time as a commander in the Nephite armies, but when his dad Garth arrives, the two of them, plus another named Marcos get sent on a mission by Mormon to hide the sacred gold plates in the caves where Mormon keeps everything. But tragically, the plates get stolen by one of the most evil men in the Book of Mormon, that of Akish the Jaredite. And suddenly we dive right into the middle of the Jaredites. In Ether chapters 8-9 it tells of this very tense drama. Omer is the king at the time, but he gets the kingdom overthrown by his son Jared. Not happy with this, Jared's two brothers fight Jared, take the throne back, and give it to their father Omer again. Jared's daughter sees the sorrow of her father and comes up with a plan. She teams up with the wicked sorcerer Akish by dancing for him and thus giving him the desire to marry her. But in order to do so, killing Omer and giving her father Jared the throne back is required. So Akish sets out do so, but Omer is warned in a dream to get out, so he does. Jared gets the throne back. Omer is not dead, but apparently the daughter of Jared is satisfied, so her and Akish marry. But Akish isn't done. He and his followers were deeply into secret combinations of the devil and thus Aksih murders Jared on the throne and takes the throne for himself. After some time passes, Akish gets jealous of one of his sons and starves him to death. This doesn't sit well with Akish's other son and in turn that son goes and joins Omer. Pretty soon a huge civil war occurs over the space of many years between Akish and his sons that leads to the death of all but 30 Jaredites.

Yes, this is the story we dive into for most of the book. And it's fascinating. It fits very well with our other two time periods, the battle at Cumorah and the last week of the Savior's mortal ministry. Of course Chris Heimerdinger is so invested in all this that he has created a story that has essentially written itself. This is the sign that Heimerdinger is an expert story teller. He's created a world and characters that are so well written, that ending prematurely would not do it justice. It was once that that this series would end with book 11, but nevertheless book 12 and book 13 are on their way. I'm excited to see where this all goes. While we have dove into this epic parts of scripture, we have not yet hit the height of the conflict in either story. The betrayal and crucifixion are still a couple days away. The battle at Cumorah has not yet commenced. And the huge civil war that almost wipes out all the Jaredites has not yet happened. But they are about to. And it should be a fascinating ride when they do. What will our characters do? Will they escape the huge events? Or will they get caught up in these events and be forced to live through them? We will see!

Overall, if you are a fan of the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series, this is a book you will like. And perhaps since this book did come out in 2010, you have already read it. But if you are like me and for some reason, your life got so busy that you never made quite made it through the series, I suggest that you pick it back up. For me, the five year gap between book 10 and book 11 threw me off. When book 11 game out, I didn't immediately jump back in, thus it was close to 10 years of time where I went without reading a Tennis Shoes book. But there came a point where I told me self that it is time. Time to jump back in. I love myself for doing it because Sorcerers and Seers is an excellent addition in Chris Heimerdinger's epic Tennis Shoes Adventure Series. So yes, I would recommend you do the same as I did. Tell yourself that it is time to jump back in. You won't regret it. And if you've never given these books a chance, I suggest you pick them up because they are great reads. I don't give books a grade when I review them, but if I did, this book would get one of the higher grades.

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