Friday, December 30, 2016

Sequel Review: "Outcasts"

If you haven't already, you can check out my review of the first book in this series, Captives. As always, I've tried to keep this review spoiler-free for both books. I'll be back with a fresh series next week! 

The Short:

The Safe Lands, Book 2

By: Jill Williamson

5/5 Stars

What: The people of Glenrock face cultural challenge without and tension within.

Recommended to those who like: Dystopian, Christian, and have read Book 1. Teens/YA

The Long:

Mason and the other people from Glenrock are starting to find their way around their new home. But they still haven’t found a way to rescue their children and trust within the group is at an all-time low. Can they survive while keeping their faith in tact? Or will they figure out what liberation means?

This series absolutely has me hooked. Ms. Williams’ writing style brings life to this tale of courage and finding hope in a new land. The “typical” dystopian backdrop was changed a bit, providing for a fresh setting for the story. Furthermore, teens and young adults will find many applications for the story within their lives. The themes of faith are strong throughout without coming across as trite or preachy.

I would highly recommend the series to mature teens and up. Much of the message of the story centers on the dangers of wanton living, so it would be ill suited for younger readers.

Also, kudos to Ms. Williamson for the continuation of Princess Bride quotes. Those made my day.

The Bottom Line: A fresh dystopian story from a Christian perspective, this thoughtful and gripping series would make a good pick for mature teens or young adults. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pastors in Fiction: "A Cast of Stones"

Today I'll be looking at Pater Martin from Patrick W. Carr's A Cast of Stones. I've kept this analysis spoiler free to the best of my ability. If you want a little more context for this character analysis, you can find my review here.  I would highly recommend the series to fantasy fans.

Name: Pater/Benefice Martin

Book: A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr.

Genre: Christian allegorical fantasy.

Role: Main Character

Personality: Understanding and sympathetic, but with a stubborn streak

What he brings to the table: Pater Martin is somewhat of a hermit at the start of the book. He is one of the people who offers Errol, the protagonist, the chance to change his life. (Errol is a drunk at the start of the story).

Spiritual role: Pater Martin is one of the main spiritual protagonists in the book and wants to convince Errol to come back to the church. He disapproves of how other churchmen have treated Errol over the years and serves as a foil to several of them.

Pastorly/Worship notes: Not much is revealed of Pater Martin's worship or beliefs in this book. He is shown administering the Sacrament at one point. The world is allegorical in nature and his method of administering the Sacrament can be readily compared to Catholic, Lutheran, or other liturgical bodies.

We do know that he holds different beliefs than some in the church and that he is more welcoming to outcasts than many other priests. He also got into a physical fight with an abbot prior to the start of the story over theological issues.

Ninja Status: Orange belt. While we don't often see him in action, we do know that he is "familiar with a sword" and manages to handle himself well when attacked at numerous points throughout the story.

Further Discussion: In this story, Pater Martin is one of the few members of the church who is cast in a primarily positive light. He is set as a foil to numerous other priests and abbots in the story who have abused their power in various ways. (I plan on covering some of them in the future).

While Pater Martin serves largely as a protagonist, he also serves an antagonist to some of Errol's personal goals and desires. For him, protection of the church and state is of the utmost importance. He has pity on Errol, but he's also willing to sacrifice himself and anyone else necessary for the greater good of the kingdom. This can sometimes make him seem uncaring.

I like Pater Martin for the fact that he's a well-fleshed out character with his own desires and goals. Sometimes he's a little misguided or takes things over the top, but he's a man with good intentions overall.

Who's your favorite priestly protagonist?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday Fiction Fix: "On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness"

The Short:

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
The Wingfeather Saga, Book 1

By: Andrew Peterson

4/5 Stars

What: In a town held captive by fearsome invaders, a boy and his family work against all odds to stay together.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Humor, Middle Grade, Christian

The Long:

Janner Igiby leads a rather simple life in a nondescript town on the continent of Skree. It would be perfect for a young man—if it wasn’t for the reptilian invaders who seem bent on destroying his family and the fact that his one-legged grandfather seems to have unreasonable expectations for him. When he makes a mistake that nearly costs his sister her life, will the family be able to hold together?

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a tale sure to delight middle schoolers as well as many older folks. Plays on words, hyperbole, and crazy creatures (such as the deadly toothy cows) combine for a fun and action packed story.

Older readers may find some of the writing over the top or excessive, but the book still makes a good, lighthearted read.

There’s a hint of a Christian message in the story, but it’s by no means overwhelming.

The Bottom Line: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a humor-filled read geared for middle-grade readers that some older readers may also enjoy.                                                                                     
Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

On Purpose

The following post comes after reading a couple of articles on the state of Christian Fiction. The first is Maybe We Should take a Long Look at the "Christian" Genre by Aimee Meester of "To the Barricade". The second is Should Christians Only Write Overtly Christian Books by Alea of "Elvish Pens, Fantastical Writings". I don't think reading either is strictly necessary to understanding my response, but I would encourage you to read and think over both of them if you have the time.

What's the purpose of Christian fiction?

No, I mean, really. Think about it. Why is that adjective on the front of "fiction"? Why does it belong there? Why would we read Christian fiction over regular fiction? Why is it important?

What should the purpose, the intent, or the end goal be for those of us who seek to write it?

Perhaps we first need to ask who our target audience is. I think we can safely assume that we are writing to other Christians. (Although there are some Christian publishing houses that have imprints specifically designed for non-Christians, they're sort of an exception to this discussion).

Then, we need to ask, "What is our purpose in writing to these people?" What do we as authors want Christian readers to take away from our books? Of course, we shouldn't overrun our story with message, but if we had to have a take-home value from our books, what would it be? What's our "moral" of the story?

Is it entertainment? Clean entertainment is a noble task. Heaven knows that it's hard to find clean media to consume.

Is it encouragement? Encouragement is a good thing. In a world filled with sin and awfulness and filth, we could use an encouraging message that reinforces our beliefs.

Is it to feel better about ourselves? Sometimes that's a good thing. But oftentimes, that's our way of hiding a dirty conscience or refusing to acknowledge our own problems.

These are all very important questions for both readers and writers of Christian fiction to answer. However, I think there's another question to be asked once we think we've determined what Christian fiction ought to be.

Can it be something more?

Encouraging, clean entertainment is nice--but is that all we are? Is that all we can be? Because, if that's all we can be at our very best, that's pretty sad.

Can we be challenging? Thought-provoking? Can we make people grow? Can we make people change the way they think--for the better?

You might nod and say that Christian fiction already encourages us to do that. And some books certainly do. But does Christian fiction encourage the "heathen" to rethink his ways while neglecting the believer's problems? Do we see all of our problems as "being out there" rather than turning a critical eye inside? So often, the answer is, "Yes".

If we're writing to Christians, shouldn't we be addressing Christians' problems, challenging them? Why do we spend more time challenging people outside the church than within it in our fiction? People outside the church aren't our typical target audience. So what makes us point a finger at them instead of at ourselves?

It's uncomfortable. It's not what people want to hear. It might give people the wrong idea about Christianity. People will encounter more opposition from outside the church than within. People won't buy books like that. Publishers won't buy books like that. The list goes on.

But are those good reasons to stop ourselves from growing? Are those good reasons not to challenge ourselves or our readers?

Worse, could ignoring areas for growth cause us to stagnate? To become self-righteous? To become comfortable with who we are rather than daily recognizing our need for repentance and grace?

Good fiction challenges and drives thought. It doesn't coddle. It doesn't hide the truth, but reveals it in a different setting.

The truth is, God's children have problems. We're sinners. Christ's blood is what stands between us and God's righteous wrath--not our works. And if we deny in our fiction that we (or our allegorical counterparts) have real issues that need to be addressed, we do ourselves a disservice. We make God's grace a mockery, a gift only imparted to those who are already worthy enough to receive it.

So, what's our purpose in Christian fiction? Is it to make our paper-cut-out fictional Christ followers perfectly take out the terrible people of the world? Is it to show the evil people of the world that they need saving and we perfectionists can lead them there? Is it to encourage the already good Christian that he is on the right road, in spite of obstacles? Is it to make us feel all warm and fuzzy?

Or can it show us our brokenness, our need for God's daily love and mercy? Can it show us how we've failed our neighbors? Can it show us our daily need for our Savior? Can it show us a need for humility?

Please understand that this is more of a criticism directed at myself than at others currently published. I'm wrestling with editing a piece right now and trying to decide what it needs to say. These are the questions that I've had to ask myself. I encourage you to ask them of yourself, too, regardless of what genre you write.

Do you ever struggle with the "message" of your story? 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Sequel Review: "Fusion Fire"

As always, I've striven to keep this review spoiler free for both this book and the original book in the series, Firebird. I'll be back with a fresh series next week!

The Short:

Fusion Fire
The Firebird Trilogy, Book 2

By: Kathy Tyers

5/5 Stars

What: Firebird discovers she’s more powerful than she thought—but can she control that power before it destroys her new life?

Recommended to those who like: Christian Allegory, Sci-fi/space opera

The Long:

Fusion Fire continues shortly after where Firebird left off. Lady Firebird discovers that she has powers that make her valuable to multiple groups. Soon, they’re vying over the right to have her—but only if she can control her power long enough to keep it from destroying her or Brennen.

Like the first book, Fusion Fire is filled with epic action of the space-opera variety. I found the plot a bit easier to hop on board with, largely because I was excited to be re-united with the characters. Firebird undergoes some serious personal growth, which I enjoyed following. Brennen also becomes a much more relatable figure and we’re able to learn more about some of the minor characters.

I really have to congratulate Ms. Tyers on finding a great balance between the plot and faith. The discussion of faith within this book is marvelously executed without coming across as preachy. Firebird struggles with the same questions as many believers. Her struggles draw the reader in with their complexity, rather than feeling contrived or shallow.

The Bottom Line: Fusion Fire is a good follow-up to Firebird and continues to build on its strengths. Overall, I’d recommend the series to fans of space opera with a Christian flavor.                             
Please take a moment to fill out the survey to the right. Your feedback means a lot!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Reality, Meet Fiction: Holidays

It's been a while since we've had a world-building article. I hope this provides you with some good food for thought with regard to your story. 


At least in the U.S., November and December  are considered to be the holiday season. Christmas tends to dominate the season, but New Year's and Thanksgiving are widely celebrated and observed as well. 

Holidays are celebrated for various reasons, including religion (Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah), memorial reasons (Patriot's Day, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day), or calendar changes (The New Year). Celebrations may consist of meals, reflection, music, time with family, services, or other observances.


What holidays do your characters celebrate? Why? Are there disagreements about what holidays should be celebrated (differences in religion, for example)?  Or are there disagreements about how holidays should be celebrated (going to church on Christmas morning vs. spending time with family)? Does everyone agree on what date the holiday should be celebrated? Is it expected that people will greet people a certain way during the holiday season (Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays; "He is Risen" on Easter)?

How are the holidays observed? Is there a specific meal that should be eaten? (For example, eating pork for good luck on New Year's Day or observing the Passover supper). Are there specific decorations? How about music? Activities? How do activities vary by age group? Gender? What roles do various people play? Does the youngest or oldest child have a particular part to play?

What attitude should be maintained on holidays? Is it reflective, such as for Memorial Day, or jovial, as for Christmas? 

How long does the holiday last? Is there a preparatory period before the holiday (Lent prior to Easter)? If so, does it have a different "feel" than the actual holiday? How do preparations contribute to the actual holiday?

Did you invent any holidays for your books?

If you haven't already, please take a moment to fill out the survey in the right-hand column. Thanks in advance!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday Fiction Fix: "Merlin's Blade"

Well, I managed to finish a book just in time to save you from a sequel review! (Plus, it gave me an excuse to avoid cleaning).

The Short:

Merlin’s Blade
The Merlin Spiral, Book 1

By: Robert Treskillard

4/5 Stars

What: A blind boy finds that his village is falling under the spell of a group of druids and their mysterious stone.

Recommended to those who like: King Arthur legends, Christian, teen and up

The Long:
I’m a sucker for King Arthur legends. (I don’t know how much I’ve expressed that on this blog, but it’s a true statement). There’s something about the tale that lends itself to innumerable retellings from various angles. I’ve enjoyed many different versions of the legend, from T.A. Barron’s imagination of Merlin’s early years, to Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle that meshes the Arthur story with tales of Atlantis, to the multi-dimensional traveling Merlin of D. Barkley Briggs’s Legends of Karac Tor.

Suffice it to say that Merlin’s Blade has been on my to-read list for quite some time. I was eager to see what Mr. Treskillard had to add to the Arthur/Merlin universe.

One of the main problems with writing in such a small niche genre is that you face stiff competition and easy comparison to other works. In the end, that’s one of the main reasons I just couldn’t give this book five stars. It didn’t have that special “umph” that made it stand out from others in its genre.

That being said, I did enjoy the book. I loved the version of Merlin that we were given—not confident, but boyish and human. It’s something that we miss out on so often in these tales. I also loved the imagery that brought to mind the book of Daniel. It was a unique way to bring about Merlin’s prophecies. Merlin’s struggle with blindness plays into the story significantly without being overemphasized, which takes skill from an author.

Unfortunately, while I had fallen in love with Merlin by about fifteen pages into the book, I didn’t find myself enjoying the plot until almost halfway through the story. I also didn’t like many of the supporting characters until even further down the line.

The Christian message of the story was well done overall. Although occasionally it bordered on a little too strong, it never jerked me out of the story.

Due to some violence and gory images, I would recommend the story for teens and up. (It’s on the level of The Lord of the Rings movies, if you need a comparison).

The end of the book redeemed the story overall and set up nicely for the rest of the series. I look forward to receiving some answers in the next books and spending some more time with Merlin.

The Bottom Line: A noble addition to King Arthur lore, this book would be suitable for fans of Arthurian legend who are willing to wait a while for the plot to get going. 

What fairytale or legend do you love to see retold?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

NaNo Wrap-Up and Looking Ahead

NaNo Wrap-Up

NaNoWriMo did not go quite as planned this year, as you can see from my rather sad word count and plateau-ing graph. Not planning out my novel beforehand came back to bite me in the posterior.

However, the month was not a complete loss. I now understand my characters enough to actually be able to plot out a more cohesive story, which is far more than I could have said in October.  I'm still excited about the idea, so hopefully I'll be able to share a little bit of it with you over the next few months.

One highlight of the month was word-warring with Victoria, who convinced me to get up at oh-dark-thirty the day after Thanksgiving. (If you have the choice between word-warring with someone and going Black Friday shopping, definitely go for the former rather than the latter). It was quite a bit of fun. Shout out to her for figuring out the time difference between us and staying up late to write with me.


Unlike last year, Christmas and New Year's don't fall on posting dates. (Yay!) That means posting will continue as normal, barring any unforseen circumstances. Please be aware that I may be without internet access or busy for long stretches of time, so I may be slow to respond to comments or emails throughout the next month. I haven't forgotten you!

Tuesday posts this month will probably be an odd assortment of topics while I get the blog organized for next year. It's likely that there will be an excess of sequel reviews for the next month or so; I'm scraping the bottom of my review barrel after NaNo. 

Early 2017

I know that we've got one month left of 2016, but I'd like your opinion on the blog and where I should take it in the next year. Please take a moment to fill out the survey in the right-hand column of the blog. It closes in about two weeks, which will give me time to make changes and brainstorm ideas in time to get them rolling early in the year. 

Got something on your mind that you can't tell me in the survey? I would love to hear from you through the contact form in the left-hand column. 

So far, my plans include weekly book reviews and one other post per week. Beyond that, I'm pretty open to suggestions. I'll be speaking more about my personal goals for the New Year at the end of December or in early January.

Thanks for sticking with me through November! Again, I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sequel Review: "The Betrayed"

I would recommend reading The Gifted prior to reading this book. However, I've tried to keep this review spoiler-free for newcomers! You can also check out my interview with Mr. Dickerson that was posted yesterday, if you're interested in learning more about why, how, and what he writes. 

Although I received a free copy of this book, it did not impact my review. Now that we've got all the fine print out of the way, let's get to the fun part!

The Short:

The Betrayed

By: Matthew Dickerson

4/5 Stars 

What: The company must seek a new way to defeat the Daegmons, whose powers seem to grow more every day. 

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Christian, Tolkien/high fantasy, and have read book 1.

The Long: 

The Betrayed had many of the same strengths as The Gifted--beautiful, sweeping prose; a complex, inviting storyworld; gripping fantasy action; and a plot that defied prediction. As a fan of high fantasy, it was a perfect pick for some gray fall days. 

However, I did find some aspects of the story to be distracting. About halfway through the book, I started losing track of who the minor characters were and why they were important. This distracted from some of the main characters that I've grown to love, such as Elynna. 

As is common in stories with large "casts", the group split early in the story. While I absolutely loved one side of the storyline, I was somewhat confused by the other. I look forward to reading the next book and seeing the stronger plot re-emerge; I think the ending of this book set up a nice opportunity for a wonderful finale. 

I also enjoyed the further development of the "Christian message" in this book. The elements were well-played, providing a subtle message without shoving it down the reader's throat or compromising the story.

The Bottom Line: The Betrayed is more than worth reading if you enjoyed The Gifted. Overall, I'd recommend the series to teens and up who are already fans of high fantasy.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Author Interview with Matthew Dickerson

Give a warm welcome to Mr. Matthew Dickerson, the author of a three-part fantasy series, entitled The Daegmon War. You can check out my review of Book 1, The Gifted, here. Book 2, The Betrayed, was recently released.
What was the most challenging part of writing The Betrayed, your most recent book? What was your favorite part of writing this story?

The most enjoyable part is always the discovery—getting to know the characters better, seeing how they respond to different situations, learning what happens, and (very often) being surprised and delighted (or sometimes surprised and saddened).  The greatest challenge goes hand in hand with that. Writing requires great attentiveness. I need to be carefully listening to the characters, and noticing details in the landscape, the history of my world. It’s like being an explorer or a naturalist.
The delay in this book was more of a frustration than a challenge. The publisher that started the series by publishing Book 1, “The Gifted”, wasn't doing very well and decided to back out of the fiction market except for children’s fiction. They fired my editor and the Vice President. I later learned they were already strongly leaning toward this decision when the first book came out, so they spent $0 on advertising. I’ve been entirely dependent on word-of-mouth to get out news about my books—hoping people will post about it on social media, or tell friends—and I had to take over publishing myself in the middle of the series. I guess the one good thing that came from this is more freedom to let the book follow my own vision.
How would you say that your faith has influenced your writing?
Madeleine L’Engle spoke of writing fiction with the metaphor of “walking on water”, which is to say that writing itself is an act of faith. Trusting the story maybe means trusting the Great Story, and the teller of the Great Story. Just like following God requires letting go of control, following a story also requires letting go of control and letting the story take you where it needs to take you.  
But I guess another aspect is that I can’t imagine a world that was not created, and in which there is not a loving Creator at work.  So that vision is certainly present in my writing, even though I try not to be “religious”.
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Do you have a writing “ritual” such as a favorite beverage or writing spot? Do you plot your novels or fly by the seat of your pants?
As my earlier answer suggests, writing is very much an act of discovery. That is, writing the first draft is. I let the story (and its characters) take me where it needs to go (and where their choices will inevitably take them). I get to know my characters, and as I do I see how they act and respond to situations.  The hard work really is the revision—the focus on prose and the discipline of making every word just right, and also sometimes cutting or completely rewriting large portions.
One exception is that my two medieval historical romances—including the relatively recently published novel The Rood and the Torc--had more of the plot worked out in advance, in part because I was dealing with real historical events and characters. There was still very much a process of discovery, but it had more to do with how things would happen than with what would happen.
You have a strong interest in J.R.R. Tolkien and his works. What sparked that interest? Is there something specific about Tolkien you really enjoy talking about?
Well the interest has been sparked mostly by reading a great deal of Tolkien’s writing. And rereading. First delighting in his work, and then studying it and seeing just how much craft and wisdom is in the writing.  I get invited very regularly to speak on Tolkien, and I think some of the talks that I most enjoy giving—because they are things I most enjoyed learning—are about his environmental ideas, his moral vision, the way his theistic and Christian worldview are so central woven into his works, how he draws on past myths and stories.
Finally, if you found yourself alone in a dark alley at night, which book character would you choose to be with you and why?
Depends if my primary goal is to learn something there, or to get through the alley somewhere I need to be, or if I just wanted to escape the alley. Luthien would be a really good choice, I think. She took pretty good care of Beren in a very dark situation. Gandalf would be a pretty good choice, especially if my goal was to learn something important there. I think he could make it light if he needed to through some sort of spell. And there is nobody I’d rather have if there were Balrogs around.
Although speaking of spells, having Harry Potter wouldn’t be bad if I just wanted to disaparate out of there.   I think, though, Harry might be the sort who would get me into deeper trouble before I got out of it, and there does seem to be a high body count when he is around. So I guess I’ll stick with Luthien or Gandalf. And if they aren’t available, then Aragorn or Faramir.

Although I think having Morgan, the Prince of Hed, would also be a very good choice, particularly if there was some riddle I needed to solve. Morgan is, after all, a riddle-master. And very powerful. At least he becomes powerful.
Thanks for joining us, Matthew!
If you're interested in The Betrayed, you can find it here, or at another online outlet, such as Amazon.
Don't forget to stop back in tomorrow for a review of The Betrayed.