Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Review: Chronicles of Steele: Raven

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51D9-4cK5ZL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-46,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpgToday's Book Review:
Chronicles of Steele: Raven, by Pauline Creeden
Pauline is also the co-author of Armored Hearts, and the author of Abiding Flame.

From the "Back of the Book":
"Human life has value.
The poor living in the gutter are as valuable as the rich living in a manor.
The scoundrel is no less valuable than the saint.
Because of this, every life a reaper takes must be redeemed.

Raven has lived by this first tenet since she was trained by her father to become a reaper. But since his death, she’s been spending years redeeming the lives she’s taken. By her count, she’s even and it’s time for that life to end. If she settles down and becomes a wife, she might just feel human again. But on the way to the life she thinks she wants, the baron of New Haven asks her to complete a task which she cannot ignore… Just when Raven decides to give up on her life as an assassin, she’s pulled right back in."
The story is steampunk fantasy, and the beginning reminds me a lot of the anime "Moribito". It distinguishes itself fairly quickly after that, and I happen to like that anime, so it hooked me into the story quickly.

The story has action, adventure, and cool gadgets.  Most importantly, it has characters that I want to spend time with, and the grow over the course of the story.

I'm not sure whether to give this one four and a half stars, or five. It was really good, and I can't wait for (and for sure will buy) the next book in the series... but I'm picky with the five stars I give out. This book was very, very close, but not quite as adored as the other five stars I've given, so I'll go with four and a half.

Don't believe me? Try the first quarter of the story for free here

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: Abiding Flame

Abiding Flame is the latest sci-fi title from Pauline Creeden.

From the "Back of the Book":
"Darkness can be overcome… Terminally ill Lynette Lamb is forced to reunite her wayward son and grandson. Her options are as limited as her strength and mobility. Through a fateful series of events, the rejoined pair will leave Earth to become part of a colony orbiting a new planet. Sam Austin and his wife mourn the loss of their only child and decide to make a fresh start at the space station. The same ship holds the one who will fulfill the dark planet’s prophecy, but a demonic force boards to stop the vessel. The demon’s obedient but unwilling servant is sent on a suicide mission to keep the ship from reaching its destination."

The good:

The characters were awesome. Sam is pretty much your typical "everyman" surrounded by a whole bunch of crazy/evil. He reacts like we would. Bill great as a villain. He's evil, yet you can almost sympathize with him. Jeremy... well, I'd like to get to know his character better. At first, I thought he was going to be the main character, but it turns out not. I think he'll show up in a sequel though...

The plot is pretty good, with one minor caveat that I'll get into later. A one-line summary for the first half of the book is "What if you were the last person of your faith left on the planet?" The book takes a good look at how spiritual warefare might look, and blends that with a good sci-fi setting. This is one of the things sci-fi is good at--looking at something, and asking, "What if...?"

Also, I have to mention that it read fast and kept me turning the pages, and read bits in every spare minute. Normally, this goes without saying, but I just gave up on another book written by someone else that just didn't suck me in, so I had to mention that here. Good books are like vacuums: They suck ...you into the story. ;)

The bad:

The book is going to be "too preachy" for some people. I don't think it is, as given the subject matter, a lot of faith and theology and such is going to come up, but I'll be shocked if at least one person doesn't rant about how preachy it is (and probably whines that the author should be "more tolerant" in the next paragraph, but I digress...)

Mostly what I dislike about the book is minor nit-picky things... - a part can't be machined and has to be crafted by hand because machines aren't capable of being that delicate (uh, yeaah...) - The ship is portrayed as large as a cruise ship... but is landed on Earth's surface at the beginning of the novel (this isn't really feasible, even given Star Trek type tech, it's extremely in-efficient to land such a large craft) - Jeremy gives away his Bible --one of the last left after the book was banned for being "hate speech"-- so someone else can read it, but it's okay because he typed a copy for himself (uh, if he had an e-copy, couldn't he e-mail it? And what happened to Project Gutenberg? The "Banned Books" website? I find it EXTREMELY unlikely that there isn't a single (non-hand typed) e-copy floating around somewhere, and that it's impossibly to send it to someone...)

And their's a few more, but you get the drift. Hey, If I can nit-pick Star Trek and love it, why not this? ;)

Overall, I liked this book, and want to read more... I really hope this is the first in a series, as it started to explore a theme that hasn't really been done much in sci-fi, and should be. Namely, what if there are aliens... what would that do to Christianity? The book ended before it really got to that point, but there are some hints that it's going to be explored farther.

I give it four stars.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Young Adult Author, Emerald Barnes, is releasing her latest novel, Entertaining Angels, today. It's a Young Adult Christian romance that faces the issues of self-esteem and weight in teens. It's a story that will hopefully grab the attention of girls - and boys alike - and help them understand that no matter what they are beautiful.

About Entertaining Angels

"I've read many books that tackle the issue of spiritual warfare, but I especially loved this one. Mads was alive and real and jumped off the page! Her character is so strong, she needed strong characters to balance her, and Barnes certainly provided that in the characters of Chase and Zach." - Author Precarious Yates
"This story is beautiful and so profound." - Author Sylvia Stein
"I would recommend Entertaining Angels as a graceful stepping stone to self-acceptance and self-love." - Author Christine Cunningham
Madison Andrews can’t face her reflection in the mirror. All she sees is a big, fat nobody. Yet, deep inside she longs for something more, something that’s not skin deep.
Along comes Zach, the new guy in school. He’s smoking hot and totally out of her league. She somehow catches his eye, and he makes her feel beautiful for once. But just as she gets close to Zach, her nerdy best friend, Chase, won’t let Madison doubt her true beauty, no matter how many meals she skips. Even as Madison begins to realize that she is more than what she thinks, darker forces are at work, darker than the lies and mocking from her peers, stopping her from amounting to her full potential. Can Madison find true happiness in her own skin?

A Word from the Author

Entertaining Angels is near and dear to my heart. Essentially, it's my story. I have struggled with my weight issues for many years, and I remember clearly the very first day I fell victim to the word fat I am more than that label. I am a Child of God, and He wanted me to see that. Making a long story short here, I have began to realize that although I am overweight, it's not who I am. I am so much more, and He wanted me to share that story with everyone else, especially young adults and woman who need to be reminded just how beautiful they are. If you do buy Entertaining Angels, I hope that it shows you just how beautiful, or handsome if you're a guy, you are.

Giveaway Time!

Enter to win this autographed (by Emerald) tote bag with the Bible Verse Psalm 91:11 on it, and this notebook that says "God Makes Beautiful Things." (US Only please. If you're international, Emerald will send you an e-book and choose another winner.)

Where can you purchase Entertaining Angels?

Amazon / Barnes and Noble

Monday, June 2, 2014

Realm Makers 2014 Re-cap

Realm Makers 2014 Re-cap

I got back from the 2nd Realm Makers conference yesterday. What a blast. I learned a lot, got to finally meet a bunch of awesome people for the first time, and let my geek flag fly high.

I'm a huge geek. Need proof? Grace Bridges posted this preview photo of her costume before the conference:

I guessed it within about two seconds. You give it a try (well, if you weren't there, or haven't seen it...) I'll post the full later on...

The campus at Villanova was beautiful.

Full of late 18th and early 19th century architecture. Well, most of it. There was this tunnel under the railroad tracks that we had to take to get from the dorms to the conference rooms. Brick walls, peeling white paint, flickering florescent bulbs, and the sound of dripping water. It was like something out of HP Lovecraft or Mary Shelly. The kind of place you expected to be haunted by monsters. And, in fact, it was.

 (Wait... that's just the Splickety staff. They always look like that. Never mind.)

Thursday night was the pre-party. If that's the kind of thing that you think you can miss, you should reconsider. What's it worth to you to see a literary agent, a New York Times best-selling author, and two editors read through five different submission samples and tell what they like, what they don't, and some ways they could be improved?

For me, that was one of the (many) most valuable things at the conference. There were all sorts of really cool classes, but I'll give you a few things that stood out to me:

- From Jeff Gerke: The rules of writing aren't as important as engaging a reader. Granted, most of these rules can help you do that, but the average reader doesn't care about POV, passive voice, three or five act structure, etc... they want to be sucked into the story, and if you can do that, they'll forgive a wide range of writing sins.

- From Kat Heckenbach: if you're writing YA (that's "young-adult, for those not in the know), you can't just have teen characters and write, you have to write that character without the life experience you've accumulated after those years. (Also, avoid slang, it'll just date your novel unless you're REALLY good at it.)

- From Travis Perry: Oh man, lots of good stuff here. Most battles in books and novels are very unrealistic. Most battles are fought not to the death, but to make the enemy surrender or turn and run. There was a bunch of fascinating human (and horse!) psychology behind this. Really good stuff that will make battle scenes better and more relateable, real, and engaging.

- From Steve Laube: "There are two kinds of people. Those you have read a slush pile, and those who haven't. You have no idea how far you ahead of [the other submitters] you are when you come to a conference like this to improve your writing."
I might be slightly miss-quoting this, but you get the idea...

- From Torry Martin (and the marketing panel): Don't just push your stuff on people. If you want to use social media to market, post a bunch of stuff that your audience will love/find of value to them. Also network a lot. Comment on other peoples' posts.

This really works. I went to Realm Makers for three reasons: to learn my craft, to network, and to gush about my favorite books to their authors. It really amazed me that when I stepped up and introduced myself, everyone said "Oh, you're Aaron, I've really been wanting to meet you!"
That blew my mind. I'm nobody. My book isn't out yet, I'm not famous. You're the author who writes ten times better than I do, why are you excited to see me? It was really cool.

- And last, but not least, what I learned from Tosc Lee (who's books I've REALLY got to read...): Everyone has a writing superpower. There's one thing we each do really well. Don't ignore it just to get the rest of your writing up to average. You'll just end up with an average book. Feed your writing superpower, and you'll end up with a super book.
Also, New York Times best-selling authors aren't some kind of super-being that we mere mortals can't ever dream of aspiring to. They have the same fears and faults as the rest of us.

And finally, one of the highlights of the weekend, the costume dinner. There's something wonderful about holding a literary conversation with a zombie when no one in the entire room thinks it's at all unusual.

Here's me and Grace Bridges of Splashdown books:

Me with Sir Fluffy (aka Jeff Gerke):

And lots more on my facebook page, and the Realm Makers page.

And I think I'll make a meme of this one:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Book Review: Forever Layla

Book Review: Forever Layla

From the "back cover":

"Layla isn't her name...or is it?
What if the woman you envied most is the person you are destined to become?
In 1994, high school senior David Foster was the lackey and soundboard geek for his best friend's grunge band. During spring break, the band lands a dream gig playing at a motel in Myrtle Beach, SC. David expected all the girls to ogle the guys on stage, but when a beautiful blond "Bond Girl" approaches him and calls him by name, he's shocked to find out she knows more about him than a stranger should.
She even knows about his notebooks and his visions of time travel.
What she thought was a quick time-travel-sightseeing trip takes a surprising turn when she meets the young adult version of the man she'd heard stories about as a child. His fairy-tale romance with the woman he'd loved, Layla, inspired her to accept nothing less than a love just as strong...but hopefully not as tragic. When she won't tell the younger version of him her name, he calls her Layla--and the world as she knows it changes forever."

Fair notice: I received a free copy of this book for an honest review.
(Short version of the review: It was so good I bought a Kindle and paperback copy. And no, I don't know the author.)

First, the genre. It's being marketed as romance. If you don't like romance, but love time-travel books, you still need to buy it. I'd call it sci-fi and romance.

If I'm counting right, this is Melissa Lee's fifth novel. Her first few were good, and they keep getting better and better.

I love everything about this book. The romance is just right. Once again, Melissa Lee paints a picture of romance that is accurate and beautiful, and, better yet, isn't confused with lust. Parts of it get a little weird.... but if they didn't, it wouldn't be a time-travel story ;)

Speaking of which, I generally don't like time travel stories. I've been a sci-fi fan forever, so usually the bad physics and lack of thought in a story ruins time travel stories. Pick a Star Trek episode with time-travel. Most of have you thinking "Why didn't they just...."

Forever Layla avoids all these pitfalls. The story is solid, and it had me thinking about it for days. It's beautiful how all the parts fit together, even when you mentally re-construct the timeline from another characters point of view. I could go on and on about the great stuff in here, but it'd all be spoilers... on the one hand, it wouldn't matter too much, because one of those books, you know the kind, the ones that you can re-read again and again and delight in noticing little hints and things you didn't see, or wondered about the first time through. But people don't like when I do that, so I won't. I'll let you discover them on your own. Go read this right now.

How would I rate Forever Layla? Well, let's put it this way. It's easily in the top five books I've reviewed here so far (and that's facing some pretty stiff competition.... including Armored Hearts... also by Melissa Lee (and Pauline Creeden....))

Five Stars. Easily five stars.

What, you haven't bought it yet? What are you waiting for? It's on sale for 99 cents, for crying out loud. I'd pay six to eight bucks for the eBook of this... and I'm cheap!

(I got a free review copy, and I STILL paid for this, it's that good!)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Hop

Hello! Today we're talking about about my writing process. Who's we, you ask? A bunch of authors doing a blog hop.

I was invited by Celesta Thiessen, so when you're done reading this post, go check her site out, as well as more friends of mine (that you'll find linked below...)

So, I'm supposed to answer four questions about my writing process:

1) What am I working on?

I'm working on a few things. I'm finishing edits for A New Threat (coming this summer from AltWit Press), working on the second draft of the sequel to that book, and doing the second draft of a completely unrelated book, Wings of Truth.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Since I have a few projects, I'll answer for both of them.

A New Threat is pretty much standard space opera, as far as plot goes. There's telepaths, spaceships, sentient cat aliens... What I think sets it apart are characters. You can only do so much with a plot and still have it flow and make sense, but there's almost infinite variations with characters. And when you apply those different personalities to a "standard" plot, you get something unique.

Here's the blurb for A New Threat: "When an alien ship lands unexpectedly in the middle of her clan's territory, Bast is sent to investigate as part of her scout trial. After an accident, she meets these new visitors. She and her senior scout Rrrark are invited to return with the aliens to their home planet to open diplomatic relations. What started out as a simple mission becomes complicated when they discover a pirate scheme that might be more than it seems. Are Bast, Rrrark, and two of the aliens called Psygens capable of stopping the pirates?"

Wings of Truth is a little different. I like to describe it as "Romeo and Juliet in space... with a happy ending, and some techno-mage sword fighting thrown in."

Okay, so I need to work on the blurb for that one... but I'm really excited about it.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Why does any of us do what we do?



I've always loved sci-fi. It all started almost before I can remember, when we came home from church on Sunday afternoons and Dad would turn on Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Battlestar Galactica (In that order, I think... and I believe Buck Rogers was in there too...) Some people get excited about some Super Bowel Sunday thing (did I get that right?) We got excited for sci-fi. Our family had a special night were we had snacks and got to stay up late to watch the premier of Star Trek: The Next Generation when it first aired.

I've always loved to read too. Science fiction (among almost every other genre) was always on my list. Tom Swift, Jules Verne, Anne McAffery, and tons of others.

So, why is sci-fi my favorite? If you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a geek (or nerd, or whatever of the two terms is currently the most popular...) and I love the tech. What cool stuff can we make based on the latest discoveries? How can it benefit mankind? What if it goes wrong. And the adventure. Jules Vern stated that he didn't write sci-fi, he wrote adventure stories. All good sci-fi has adventure elements to it. What's out there? What would it be like to go see it in person?

4) How does your writing process work?

Well, I start with a thousand typewriters, then I get some pet monkeys....

... Okay, not really, but it feels that way some days.

All my best ideas come from dreams, or thinking and uh, heavily modifying a dream idea. My subconscious is MUCH better about this than I am...

Next, I pretty much just start writing. I usually have an idea of a few major milestones I want to hit in the book, and how it ends, but not necessarily how to get there. My brother and I used our imaginations a LOT growing up, which has helped for this part. Instead of forcing the plot how I want it to go, I get into the mind of the characters and think about what that kind of person would do in this situation, and how the other characters would react to him or her doing that, and it all kinda snowballs from there.
A lot of times I find that I've hit every character moment that I wanted to hit in a book, but the plot is a little lacking. In that case, it takes a lot of heavy mental lifting to figure out what needs to be added, cut, or re-arranged.

An example: Near the end of A New Threat, the good guys captured the bad guy. The characer arcs were all wrapped up. Then, one of my wonderful beta readers (who gets a character named after her in book 2 for this...) pointed out that not only had the bad guy been captured off-screen, it was mentioned almost in passing, and one of the minor characters caught him.


When I read that feedback, I face-palmed and re-wrote the whole scene. It's MUCH better now!

Who is on next week? These fine people!

1. Cindy Koepp, author of the awesome Remnant in the Stars (seriously, if you love sci-fi, go read this book!)

With the supportive sound effects and antics of her African Grey, Cindy Koepp writes science fiction and fantasy from a Christian worldview.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cover Reveal, Forever Layla

Cover Reveal, Forever Layla

A friend of mine has a new book coming out soon. Here's the details:

Title: Forever Layla
Release date: May 27th 2014
Publisher: AltWit Press
Here's the synopsis (I got to beta read this, and if you love sci-fi time travel, or romance, you're going to LOVE it!)

What if the woman you envied most is the person you are destined to become?

In 1994, high school senior David Foster was the lackey and soundboard geek for his best friend's grunge band. During spring break, the band lands a dream gig playing at a motel in Myrtle Beach, SC. David expected all the girls to ogle the guys on stage, but when a beautiful blond "Bond Girl" approaches him and calls him by name, he's shocked to find out she knows more about him than a stranger should.

She even knows about his notebooks and his visions of time travel.

What she thought was a quick time-travel-sightseeing trip takes a surprising turn when she meets the young adult version of the man she'd heard stories about as a child. His fairy-tale romance with the woman he'd loved, Layla, inspired her to accept nothing less than a love just as strong...but hopefully not as tragic. When she won't tell the younger version of him her name, he calls her Layla--and the world as she knows it changes forever.
Melissa Turner Lee holds a BA in Communications with a concentration in Journalism from the University of South Carolina. She has studied fiction writing since 2008, attending various writing conferences and workshops, along with guidance from professional writing coaches. She resides in Spartanburg, SC with her husband and 3 sons.
Blog | facebook.com/MelissaTurnerLee@melissatlee1975
Hey, look, there's even a giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

And, the moment you've all been waiting for... the cover!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: First Impression

Today's book review  is First Impression, by Pauline Creeden.

(Notice: I received an advance reader copy of the e-book for a fair and honest review.)

From the "back of the book":

"Chira Kelly thought she didn't need anyone...until she met Ben.
Because of one ugly rumor, Chira lives as an outcast at her school. Which is fine with her, because she works better alone. Always has, always will. And at least she has her one and only true friend, Tasha. When Tasha insists that they join a group to visit a possibly haunted abandoned old schoolhouse, she's wary, but joins her friend. Because of that decision, their lives are in jeopardy as a malevolent spirit targets the group. Tragedies and accidents pick them off one by one, and Chira finds herself drawn to the one person who can see the truth. But can he protect her?"

From the author of Armored Hearts, and a handful of other novels, Pauline Creeden brings us the first book in a new series. The book is marketed in the Paranormal Romance genre, and while it does fit that bill, it's also a paranormal mystery, if that's more your style.

Insert standard "The characters are awesome" line here. (Hey, if they weren't, my review would be a LOT shorter. ;) ) So, lets talk about them.
Being a romance, the characters hit all the genre requirements: the loner, misunderstood girl, the loner, brooding boy, the best friend... fortunately, none of them go overboard into cliche land. For example, Chira has the (almost genre required) crazy step-dad that hates her for no reason that she can discern, but she handles this by avoiding him, studying hard, and hanging out with her best friend (as opposed to brooding and moping...)

Her best friend's family provides a second home for Chira, so between that and her relationship with her mom, she avoids cliche and stays relate-able.

The whole "ugly rumor" (as mentioned in the blurb above) really brought me back to junior high (yeah, I wouldn't want to be that age again...)

Also, the love interest is a nice guy who you want to root for, instead of the creepy stalker type, like you'd find in some other paranormal romances *cough*.

The writing is nice and clean, and pulls you into the story without getting in the way. The whole world is filled out nicely with one tiny exception...

So, what didn't I like about this book? Only two things really:

- owls wings DO NOT make noise
- it's written in first person, present tense

Yeah, the first one's a nit-picky point, but it bothers me. Possibly because I've been about six feet away from a wild snow owl, and it flying away in complete and utter silence is one of the coolest things I've not heard.

The whole first-person present thing, I'll admit, is just a preference. I just don't like it. The only thing worse is 2nd person present (I'll quit reading those... yes, I hated the "Choose Your Own Adventure books...anyway...) A book written in firs-person present tense has to have REALLY good writing if it wants to keep me engaged, along with great characters and an interesting plot. This book had all three.

So, how to rate this one. I'd say four and half stars. Allow me to explain...
No, a book doesn't have to be "perfect" for me to give it five stars, and I'm not opposed to giving five stars to a book written in first-person present tense (though it would have to be as well-written as this one is...)

So, why not five stars? For me, one star is: "Ewww. I hate this, and am never reading anything by this author again." Two is: "I didn't like it." Three is: "Eh, it was okay, I guess..." Four is: "I really liked it!" Five stars is: "I LOVED this book and am totally fan-boy geeking out over it! I'm totally buying anything related to this awesome book!"

First Impression didn't quite do that for me... but it was close. It was more than four, but not quite five... Still, I'm definitely going to read more books in the series.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Should "Christan" Books have swearing in them?

So one of my writer friends posted a link to this article.

Go ahead and read it, then come back for my thoughts on this topic. I started to reply to the the person who posted it on facebook, and the reply got a little out of hand.... I've seen a LOT of this kind of article over the past few years, and they all seem to say the same kind of thing.

 I see a LOT of articles on various sites asking "What's wrong with Christian fiction", or a variant of that question. They don't every say, but they must not be reading the same stuff I am. There's a LOT of good stuff being put out by small presses and indies in the last few years. Even the CBA has a small fingerfull of good stuff (Anything by Donita K. Paul, Cast of Stones series by Patrick W. Carr, the Prophet series by  R. J. Larson). Okay, it might have improved in just the last year or so... but why do these articles, all by different people on different sites, but still saying the same things, keep popping up?

They there's my pet peeve. This sentence, or one almost identical to it, pops up in every one of these articles: "Stories with compelling drama, convincing heroism and well-crafted, true-to-life characters are often dismissed by Christian publishers because of things like swearing, violence or overtly sexual references."

I completely, wholeheartedly reject the notion that a book must contain anti-biblical content to be considered "good."

Don't misunderstand me. I think I know the point they're trying to say, that books are too "clean", that the bad guys in some books are more good than the good guys in some secular books, that it isn't telling the truth to show the world as if it's populated entirely by Pollyannas.

In part, I disagree with that premise as well, but that's a rant for another time, and since I at least partially agree with them on this point, I'll refer you back to my opening paragraph. None of the books I mentioned are like this, yet they're not filled with filth either. (I could give you a list of indie and small-press examples, but we'd be here all day...)

The point that really irritates me is the call in all of these articles for Christian fiction to contain foul language and sex (we've already dealt with the violence issue above, in which I've partially conceded. I can rant more on that topic if you'd like, though... ;) ) These articles always seem to include of list of words that seem to make the reader think "Gosh, there's no harm in most of those words..." But there's always at least one word that is offensive to most people tossed in.
Are these lists of disallowed words overly excessive? Yes. But where do we draw the line? Why are we "pushing the envelope" of what's acceptable? Is it really to tell a better story, or do we have a spiritual problem that we are afraid to deal with, so instead we lash out at others that don't?

These articles always cry out for realism. Every one says we must include these controversial elements 'for realism.'  Why? The real word is a horrible, awful place. We all know that. Why must fiction remind us of that? Instead, why can't fiction point the way to a person that shows us that it doesn't have to be that way? (In the long term, at least...) Sure, in a good story, we paint a world that the reader can relate to... but I think those calling for Christian fiction to be indistinguishable from secular fiction to be considered 'good', are hiding there candle under a basket. We must be different to stand out. Different isn't necessarily 'bad.'

Do I have a problem with some of these words? No, not if there used appropriately. I use the word "breast" in one of my stories, and I've read several indie Christian books that have had 'gasp' sex in them, in a proper married context, without being gratuitous.

We must ask ourselves, however, if we are lashing out at perceived restrictions in language because they truly hurt our stories or not. And, if the removal of such words does truly hurt our stories, we need to take a hard look at them and see if they are honoring to Christ, or not.

That's what really bothers me about such articles. On the surface, they try to take a literary look at the problem, and don't bother to address how we can best serve and honor Christ with our words. Oh, sure, they always pull out the phrase, "We can reach more people with our message if we put in (un-biblical thing here)...", or a variant of it. But reaching more people is pointless if the message has been corrupted.

The authors of the articles seem to anticipate this criticism, and thus toss in a sentence like this: "Such an attitude comes at least in part from a poor reading of the Bible. Jesus spent much of his time engaging with and speaking into the darker sides of life - prostitutes, the demon-possessed, the ill and rejected."

Yes, Jesus did spend his time with such people. Paul even said "To the Jews, I become like a Jew, to the Greeks, I become like a Greek, all so that the message may be preached."
Still missing the point. The whole article goes on about how we need filth in our Christian books so that non-Christians will read them, then tosses this in here to support it? Talk about missing the point. Yes, Jesus hung out with sinners. He didn't, however, change his message. When the woman who was caught in adultery was brought before Jesus, did he condemn her? No. "Ah-ha!" the author of the article is probably saying, "You've proved my point!". Hold on. What'd Jesus tell her next? "Go, and sin no more." (emphasis mine.) We shouldn't change our message to get a bigger audience. Change how it's done? Sure. But if we change what we're saying, what's the point? What's the worlds number one criticism of Christians? It's that we're hypocrites. What's going to happen if we 'reach' someone with our violent, sexual, and foul-languaged book, then try to witness to them? Yes, I know, we can't change them, only God can, and its only our job to tell them... Still, what's going to happen to that person spiritually when they're reading the Bible, and the Holy Spirit tells them not to do... the stuff they just read about in a book by a 'Christan' author....

Okay, this one's actually new to me (in these articles, that is. I've heard plenty of people spew this ill-informed crap in real life):

"There is a sentimentalism in Christian culture, there's a definitive division between good and bad guys, and there is a simple way of making these separations. When you deal with a theological tradition dealing with the fallenness of humanity, you realize there are no white hatted good guys. The only means to fight evil are often evil themselves."

Does anyone else smell horse manure? The sad part of this kind of comment is that it's half-true. We do live in a fallen world. People do make mistakes, and there often shades of grey. That's where the 'truth' here ends, though. There IS such a thing as absolute truth. It IS possible to know it (him). The phrase "theological tradition" here is also a warning sign, but I don't have the time or space to go into that quagmire...

Also realize that I'm not saying we can't have shades of grey in Christian fiction, but what I am saying is that this is not a valid argument for putting filth into "Christian" fiction, and calling it good. Now, this is a good time to step back and ponder where the line is... I'm not going to tell you that, that's something that you have to decide for yourself. You might have a problem, though, if you find yourself fighting for any kind of an excuse to include such content, and flippantly ignoring any reason against.

Another quote from the linked article:

""In noir fiction, they accept that there are no white hatted good guys. We all have this potential to be seduced and corrupted. I can't explain why that topic doesn't interest the evangelical reader."

I can explain it. Quite easily, in fact. It's because we can be seduced and corrupted. We all know that, its a fact of the world we live in. Playing it out on the page is just depressing. Now, if we take that same concept, and show that God can get us through it, that there IS a way out, that it doesn't have to be that way, now we've got something interesting.

And now, for a quote that I DO agree with:

"The first book I published, I had a ghost in there. Ghosts are not welcome in Christian fiction because evangelicals often see ghosts as demons. It had a lot of rejections early on because Christians have a lot of problems with ghosts.
"When it was published, I was asked to write an afterword explaining my understanding of the possibility of ghosts. Speculative fiction challenges a whole bunch of theological concepts, very sticky for lots of Christian publishers.
"That's why fantasists and speculative writers look badly on the Christian market. They don't want to jump through all the theological hoops just to tell a story. If the guy's a wizard, he's a wizard, why do I need to have theological explanation for where his power's coming from?"

Note that I haven't read the book in question (but I have read a really good christian ghost story...) This is a better way to do things. Yes, the Christan market status quo needs to be challenged, but we can't toss the good things of Christianity out just to do so.

And, my favorite, the topic that comes up in all of these articles: "The evangelical drive to know the answers and not to let fear and confusion in strangles our fiction," says Metcalfe."
Ah, yes, those pesky evangelicals, they're the real problem. How dare they look for answers, how dare they try to be like Christ... anyone else see an undercurrent of spiritual jealousy? No? Just me?
I'll grant that no one is perfect... but lets leave our theological turf wars out of the discussion of fiction, hmm?

(In case you didn't know, the indention of "evangelical" is:  "of or relating to a Christian sect or group that stresses the authority of the Bible, the importance of believing that Jesus Christ saved you personally from sin or hell, and the preaching of these beliefs to other people." Thought you might want to know that, as they way we are portrayed... everywhere... is, um, not like that definition...)

The argument here goes that evangelicals have their shorts in a twist, and the stick is up there so far that they can't tolerate anything that's not 10000% literally true. Horsehockey. That's not true at all. Sure, there are people like that out there. Problem is, there are people like that in any kind of people group you can find, and they're always the loudest ones. Doesn't mean they're all like that.

Another quote:
"But the key factor here is that these are 'Christian' publishers. While they are a business, that should not be their first identity. Their first identity should be as a ministry sharing the kingdom of God with others, and it is clear that the bland flavour of large swathes of present Christian fiction isn't doing that.
Too many Christian publishers are looking at a commercial interest of selling to their market ahead of representing Christianity to the literary world. Representing Christianity should mean the best possible books, with the best possible stories, because we believe that at their heart is our God who is the best there possibly is."

With this, I wholeheartedly agree.
Wait, we're supposed to represent God who is "the best there possibly is", with content that that he told us he finds offensive? Back to our ghost story as an example. First, the Bible does contain ghosts (sort of) in it, so there's that... The article here also makes a good point that this is fiction. Speculative fiction especially deals with "what if..." Asking "what if..." is obliviously going to take us out of reality. For example, I write about aliens. Do I believe they exist? No. What I write is just a story, which, among other things, deals with the question "Well, what if they did exist?"
So, in my story, I'm not being literally true with the real world, just like the ghost story isn't being true to the real world, as it takes place in a fictionalized version of reality where ghosts do exist.
So, how is such fiction "Christian" if it's not real?
I believe that a story can still stay true to christian principles.

If you throw any kind of secular content in, as these sorts of articles seem to want to do, what makes it Christan fiction?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Book Review: A Draw of Kings

Book Review: A Draw of Kings

A Draw of Kings is the third book in the Staff and the Sword trilogy by Patrick Carr. (The first is A Cast of Stones)

From the "back of the book":

"Dark Forces Have Gathered and the Final Battle for Illustra Has Begun.
Their journey to Merakh should have made Errol and his companions heroes of the realm. Instead, they've been branded enemies of the kingdom.
In the wake of the king's death, Duke Weir is ruling the country--and he intends to marry Adora to bring an heir from the royal line. With Errol and the others imprisoned and the identity of the rightful heir to the throne still hidden in secrecy, Illustra is on the verge of civil war--and threatened by hostile forces gathering on every side.
A dangerous mission to free Errol is attempted, but the dangers facing the kingdom mount with every passing moment. The barrier has fallen, ferrals are swarming toward the land, and their enemies draw ever closer. Will the discovery of the true heir turn back the tide of Illustra's destruction?"

The final book in the trilogy has all our favorite returning characters. Errol actually gets some respect for a change... and then he volunteers a suicide mission this time. Adora gets fleshed out into a full character in this book. We got to see a little of that in A Hero's Lot, but she gets almost as much screen time here as Errol (I still say Rhoka's a better match for Errol, but... ;) )

Being the final book, I can't talk much about it without spoilers, but I'll try...
All the plot threads are wrapped up nicely, and it doesn't feel like anything has been stretched too far plot-wise. We finally find out why the cast for the king failed, and yes, it's just what I thought it was (the reason was fairly obvious... the author practically spelled it out...) The plotline for Errol or Liam as king was handled nicely though.

One critisiam that can't be handled without spoilers, so be warned: (un-spoiler version: the ending is a bit of a deus ex machina)





(highlight to read)

So we find out that Liam is Adora's sister, and the nephew of the King. Okay, makes sense... except, why did the barrier fall if there was still a descendent? Okay, so he wasn't a direct descendent, so the barrier is down. What make it come back up, then? Errol's "death", or Liam's being crowned? If the first, that doesn't make sense, as Errol had no children, so how'd that work? If the latter, why didn't Deas reveal his will WAY long ago (you know, thousands of deaths and such ago) and just crown Liam before Rodran died? To get the book back and clean out the church? Seems there'd be a WAY better way to do that...

So short version, I thought the ending was a bit of a deus ex machina. I like that Errol didn't stay dead, though.





Spoiler end.

So, I give this book four stars.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Review: Dune

For February, my book club read the sci-fi classic, Dune, by Frank Herbert.

I've been familiar with it, of course, but hadn't actually read it. (I had seen the movie... the one with Patrick Stewart and Sting.)

For those who haven't read it, the galactic emperor assigns Paul Atreides father to govern the planet Dune, where the spice comes from. The spice is used to extend life, and makes interstellar travel possible, etc..., so everyone wants it. One of the rival houses, who manged the planet before the Atreides, assassinates Paul's father and his whole family except his mother.
They flee into the desert, and try to survive until they can take back the planet.

To try to sum this up would take a while. It's one of those books with an "epic" scope. Everything gets fleshed out, and it feels like the world is real...sometimes to the point of excessive wordiness. The characters and plot are excellent, but it almost feels like the author tried a little too hard to cram a lot of differing religious ideas into the story. On one level, this works, as it fills out various characters, and does appeal to the human need for myth, but there's a little too much of it, and contradicting philosophies are espoused by the same groups. It's a fascinating mix of christian, eastern, and atheism. This works in the story, but on earth, wars have been fought over much more minor points. (The author attempts to explain this in an appendix, but it'd be better left unsaid, as it was in the story proper.)

My biggest complaint with the story is, that if it were published today, it would be edited a lot. The book is written in third-person omniscient, which tends to throw a lot of readers. I've read a lot of older books, so this is actually my favorite viewpoint to read, but even I was confused as to the viewpoint character on occasion. Also, most of the book is in standard English, but for some reason Chani picks up a King James English accent... in the middle of the book... then loses it again at the end... that was weird...

Despite that, this is a really good book. It's been called the "Best sci-fi book ever." I'm not sure I agree with that, but it is really good.

I give it four stars.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Preview: Thorns of Betrayal

Book Preview: Thorns of Betrayal

Lynn Donovan has a book releasing this month! Thorns of Betrayal is the sequel to The Wishing Well Curse.

From "the back of the book":

"His destiny brought them together, but will her past rip them apart?

Ever since her father’s mysterious death, Rose Bauer has suffered with migraines.

Visions and voices reach out to her from the intense pain. Is her father’s spirit trying to contact her? Or is she going crazy?

Now is not a good time to be crazy.

Zeke Clayton claims destiny led him to her door. But how strong can destiny bind two souls when one is as tainted as hers? Is his love for her and faith in God strong enough to survive all her secrets? Will justice ever be served against the one who has betrayed them all?"

Look for Thorns of Betrayal on February 28th!

Read more about Lynn and her books on her website.

And, as a bonus, here's an excerpt from the book:


     She had to get away from him, away from his lies. She pulled onto the county road. Her tires fishtailed on the wet asphalt and her head banged against the driver’s window. She slammed her transmission into second gear and then third. She could barely see through the downpour. How could she let herself get caught in a spring storm? She knew how bad they could get. Lightning flashed and momentarily blinded her. She blinked and blinked. The residual ball of light obscured her vision. Her VW splashed through a low-
water crossing.

     She down shifted as her car traveled through the water but returned the gear to third and pressed the gas. He’s lying! That’s what Russell did. He lied! Nobody knew that better than her. Wipers flapped vehemently across her windshield. Her mother did not kill those people. They killed her. Her body shook as she sobbed. Tears poured down her face. She scrubbed a knuckle across her nose. Around the curve a granite outcrop became part of the view. Her little bug dipped and climbed with the contour of the road. She needed to talk to Keisha.

     The wipers squealed against drying glass. The downpour had stopped. She reached into her purse for her cell phone. Her car slammed into another low-water crossing and hydroplaned to her left. She jerked her eyes up. Terror shot through her chest. Oh God! Her cell phone crashed to the floorboard and broke apart. She gripped her steering wheel with blanching knuckles, but it didn’t help. The current pushed her little Beetle off the concrete road into the water. It tipped to the left and then righted itself. The Volkswagen bobbled but favored the left side. She leaned toward the center and frantically looked around. Men and women ran from vehicles along the side of the normally dry gulch.

     Hysteria barely in check, she pounded the windshield and screamed, “Help me!”

     The people were throwing ropes across the river down from her car. Thank God, they’ll catch the car. Her eyes met theirs. They were yelling something at her.

     “What?” She rolled down her window.

     “Don’t move,” the crew hollered. “Don’t move!”

     Three men spilled from a black Hummer. Many voices yelled for her to be still.

     A warm sensation cascaded over her like a sheer drape. Her fear flushed out like a drain and peace filled her heart. She would be saved. She sat back in her seat and sighed.

     Her VW jerked, and her head slammed against the steering wheel. The ropes had caught. The current roared against the hull, filling her ears, drowning out the people’s voices. A warm trail of fluid ran down her neck. She touched her chin. Blood! Fear crept back and tightened in her throat. Like a terrifying roller coaster, she tipped in her seat. Her car was rolling over! She screamed as it continued to tumble.

     Water punched her in the face and shoved past her as it poured into her car, quickly filling it. Panic clawed at her mind as the water engulfed her. Her door opened. She jerked her head toward it. A man! She could get out. She grabbed at his shoulders, his arms, whatever she could get hold of to pull herself out. But she couldn’t get out! She was stuck. He pushed back from her.

     Oh No! Don’t leave me!

     Her lungs burned. Raw pain tore at her throat. Choking convulsions. Pain…fading…darkness.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Thorns of Betrayal Cover reveal

A friend of mine has just revealed the cover to her new book:

This the second book in the series, and is a sequel to The Wishing Well Curse (You can read my review of it here)

From the "back cover":

His destiny brought them together, but will her past rip them apart?
Ever since her father’s mysterious death, Rose Bauer has suffered with migraines. Visions and voices reach out to her from the intense pain. Is her father’s spirit trying to contact her? Or is she going crazy?
Now is not a good time to be crazy.
Zeke Clayton claims destiny led him to her door. But how strong can destiny bind two souls when one is as tainted as hers? Is his love for her and faith in God strong enough to survive all her secrets? Will justice ever be served against the one who has betrayed them all?"

Make sure to visit Lynn's blog for more... and a give away!