Saturday, June 24, 2017

Seeking Guest Bloggers

Have you been looking to spread word about your blog? Or are you interested in blogging, but want to give it a try before you commit to running an entire blog on your own?

Or perhaps you just have a speculative movie you want to talk about from a Christian perspective. Maybe you have a book to review, or some music to talk about, or a character to analyze.

Regardless, The Book Hound could use your help!

I'm going to be travelling abroad for three weeks from the end of July into August, and I could really use some help with guest posts while I'm gone!

Articles don't have to be long at all and I'm open to pretty much any idea that fits in with what you've seen on the blog.

If you're at all interested, shoot me an email using the contact form in the sidebar. I'd be more than willing to return the favor in the future if you'd like.

Thanks for considering the opportunity! I'd love to hear your idea(s)!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "All Things Now Living"

The Short:

All Things Now Living
(Seventh Daughter, Book 1)

By: Rondi Bauer Olson

4.5/5 Stars

What: A girl in the future is given the chance to save an entire city—but what if it’s the will of God that the people die?

Recommended to those who like: Teen, dystopian, Christian

The Long:

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wow. I have to say that this book was one of the most thought-provoking Christian books I’ve read in a while that wasn’t an allegory.

In the future, the world has been wiped out by a plague. To protect themselves, the people of New Lithisle built a dome and modified their genetics. But the dome is failing, and it’s up to one girl to find a way to save the people inside. The problem is, she’s pretty sure that God has doomed them to die for meddling with human nature.

There was just so much that this book talked about without coming across as preachy or contrived at all. Genetics, humanity, and different branches of Christianity were but the surface of what were discussed, but everything came up naturally in the course of the story. I absolutely adored the fact that not all the Christians in the story agreed on everything (or even most things). So often, Christians are paper-cut outs who all agree with one another.

In a world dominated by female protagonists, I thought that Amy stood out nicely. She’s not incredibly rash or emotional, but she’s not a robot, either. Furthermore, she’s good at some things and bad at others (rather than being a superstar at everything). While I can’t say that I related to her deeply, I thought that she was a well-crafted character.

Unfortunately, like so many YA/teen novels, this book just had too much insta-love for me. Fortunately, the author didn’t hinge the entire story on the love between the two insta-lovers, or else I would have had a hard time justifying Amy’s actions.

I also just wanted a little bit more of the back story. I got some little tidbits here and there, but I’d really like more. I have a feeling there’s a really good story behind everything!

The Bottom Line: A thought-provoking story with regard to its examination of Christianity, this book spins a good tale that is likely to be a hit with fans of YA dystopian fiction.                                                     
 There's currently a free giveaway for this book over at Goodreads! Hurry to enter!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What Hero Does the World Deserve?

This article may contain some mild spoilers for Wonder Woman.

I have a...spotty...attraction to superhero movies. Sure, I like Captain America and Thor (and therefore the Avengers), I was hooked on Arrow for a little while, and I enjoyed The Dark Knight trilogy, but they aren't my go-to genre. Guardians of the Galaxy didn't do too much for me (other than Drax), Man of Steel was forgettable, and I really have no urge to see any of the X-Men movies.

So when my roommate suggested going to see Wonder Woman, I was neither thrilled nor appalled. I didn't expect much out of it.

While I definitely wouldn't classify it as one of my favorite movies, it was a pleasant surprise. It had an interesting exploration of good vs. evil, a touch of humor, and some good fight scenes. Its setting in World War I provided an interesting backdrop.

Aside from the question of evil, I think one of the most interesting aspects of the movie was the idea of what humans deserve. Diana (Wonder Woman) is repeatedly told that the human race does not deserve her help.

In one of the scenes, several of the characters share a drink, toasting: "May we get what we want, get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve."

Obviously, the characters have decided that they don't deserve anything good. It's easy to see why they would think that--the world is embroiled in one of the most bitter and deadly conflicts it had ever seen. Corruption, violence, and depravity surround many of the characters. All have lost something dear to them and many have also lost a sense of their moral compass during the war. Indeed, the human race doesn't seem to deserve a hero--especially a good one.

This attitude is also reflected elsewhere in the DC universe. At the end of The Dark Knight, Lieutenant Gordon says of Batman, "He's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now."

One can conclude from these quotes that it's obvious to the writers of these films that humans don't deserve good things, but they also sometimes need something good, like mercy or grace.

The idea of undeserved redemption is further explored at the climax of Wonder Woman. Faced by her nemesis who offers her one last chance to have her deserved revenge, she replies, "It's not about deserve. It's about what you believe. And I believe in love."

I'm sure the writers didn't stick a "hidden Christian message" into either story, but it certainly brings to mind the fact that we did nothing to earn Christ's sacrifice for us. We deserved death, but instead He became the hero we needed, but didn't deserve, sacrificing Himself for us out of love.

The best art always has at least a shadow of the truth in it.

What recent movie unintentionally reminded you of a Christian idea or concept?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Traitor's Heir"

The Short:

The Traitor’s Heir
The Knight of Eldaran, Book 1

By: Anna Thayer

5/5 Stars

What: A young man finds himself allied with a usurper who has targeted his best friend for destruction.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Christian, Young Adult

Note: This book contains mild to moderate language, along with other adult subjects (PG 13).

The Long:

Eamon Goodman is set to be sworn into the Master’s service—something he’s wanted for most of his adult life. But when an old friend places misgivings in his heart, he suddenly finds himself entrapped in a web of lies, deceit, and an oath he doesn’t think he can keep—or break.

I picked up this book because the cover intrigued me. (Yes, I’m a cover judger. Guilty as charged). The back cover description looked interesting, too, in my defense.

It didn’t disappoint! While it took me a little while to get into, it soon had me hooked. The book provides a nice blend of supernatural action with swordfighting. The characters are believable, with real, conflicting values that turn them from allies to adversaries and back to allies.

What really set this book apart, however, was its examination of everyone’s internal struggle with good vs. evil. There’s great external conflict, but the best part was Eamon’s struggle between his two allegiances—one to his former best friend, and one to the Master, whom he has sworn to protect. Following either gives him supernatural powers, but he knows that no one can serve two masters.

The other thing I loved about this book was the fact that the “good” guys weren’t always perfect (or even trying to be good) and the “bad” guys weren’t bad for the sake of being bad. It’s easy for good vs. evil allegories to produce paper cut-outs, but this story avoided doing so. Furthermore, the story didn’t neglect the fact that, in spite of bad "good guys" and good "bad guys", good and evil are still very, very relevant. The lessons portrayed managed to be thought provoking without ripping the reader out of the story, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

I would recommend this book for mature teens/young adults and up. There is frequent language use by characters who are serving in the military and the issue of carnal temptation is also visited. Overall violence/grimness of the story also makes this a better pick for a more mature audience. I would give it a PG-13 rating.

The Bottom Line: This fantasy story for young adults and up challenges many conventions of Christian fiction while still providing a thoughtful discussion of the battle between good and evil.                  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Is Your Villain Scary Enough?

Inspiration for this post came from this episode of Issues Etc., a Christian talk show that analyzes current political events as well as some pop culture trends.

No, seriously, does your villain actually make you worried for your characters? Is there a chance your characters might lose to the villain? How do you show your readers that your main character is in true danger of losing a battle--whether internal or external?

In reflecting on the (many) Christian fiction stories I've read, I think this is something that we struggle with as a genre. We know as Christians that the ultimate battle has been won. Ideally, we should be living like we have that knowledge.

But our fiction doesn't always need to show that right off the bat.

How many times in our lives do we "lose" individual battles--though we know that the war has been won? We cave to sin. We lose people we love. We lose jobs, possessions, friendships, security, abilities...the list goes on.

Life doesn't always feel like we're going to make it through or that we're going to reach our promised happy ending.

Don't let your characters get away with feeling like they're going to get through their story unscathed. Even if they know the whole war has been won, make them doubt that. Make your readers doubt that.

Maybe you have your characters fall dangerously close to the "dark side" due to temptation presented by the villain (the quest for power's a little overdone, but what else does the villain have that your character wants?). Perhaps characters die or lose what's dearest to them.

Don't let your readers think that their favorite characters are perfectly safe. You have to draw your readers into a little bit of fear. Make sure they're actually scared of what the villain can do to your characters, or you'll end up with seemingly invincible characters.

Who's the scariest villain you've seen or read about?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Sequel Review: "Merlin's Shadow"

I would recommend reading Merlin's Blade prior to this book. I'll be back with a new series next week! As always, I've tried to keep this review spoiler-free. 

The Short:

Merlin’s Shadow
The Merlin Spiral #2

By: Robert Treskillard

4.5/5 Stars

What: Merlin and his friends are taken captive. Will they be able to protect young Arthur? And will 
their faith remain strong?

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Arthurian Legend, Christian, Teens

Not recommended to those who dislike: Significant magic use by antagonists

The Long:

I would definitely read Merlin’s Blade prior to starting in on this book, even though I preferred this second installment over the first. The many threads started in book 1 have started to weave their way together quite nicely.

I love the character growth in this book. It seems like none of the characters are side characters, even if they play a minor role. Each has his or her own arc, ups and downs, and character quirks. I can hardly wait to read the third book; I think the villain we were introduced to in this book will play an epic role in the final installment.

I also liked that Mr. Treskillard spun some new elements into the Arthur legends while keeping some other elements intact. It would have been easy to keep the story wholly in line with the “typical” legends, making it predictable, or, conversely, to neglect the legends so thoroughly that it no longer felt like an Arthur story. He managed to find a nice balance between the two.

The writing was of a good pace, but it did take me out of the story at a couple points. However, I did enjoy the very visual nature of the storytelling.

The Christian element did not feel forced in this book and actually played an integral part in the story at a couple of points. I really enjoyed that the characters struggled with their faith for various reasons at different parts in the story. It made me feel like the Christian element was warranted.

There is significant magic use by the antagonists in this book (using a seeing stone, invoking some spells, various visions), so take that into consideration if you decide to read this series. Personally, I thought it was well done and added to the story. There are also numerous descriptions of dead bodies/other somewhat creepy elements, so this would be a better fit for a more mature audience.

The Bottom Line: This fantasy book combined good story arc, great worldbuilding, and a believable
Christian element to make for a good read for teens and up.                                                                

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Guide to Being an Adult who Writes

Folks, I am nearly an officially independent adult. I'm working, living on my own, cooking my own meals, and will soon be paying my own bills. For the most part, I'm handling it well. (Other than nearly getting stuck in the parking garage after work yesterday because I couldn't properly work an ATM. That was embarrassing.)

So, in my vast wisdom of having two and a half weeks of working under my belt, I present to you my guide to being an adult who writes.

  1. You probably don't feel like you have time to write. Old news, right? When has this ever not been the case? Unfortunately, you can't speed up the time clock like you can homework. Also, laundry will not do itself. Nor will the dishes. Nor will supper, and eating out is expensive. (And yes, you'll likely still feel like a broke college student. Sorry to burst your bubble.). Write anyways. 
  2. You probably don't feel like you have energy to write. 11 hour days are long. Especially if you stand for 8 of those hours, and only get ten minutes for a lunchbreak. You probably won't want to write when you get home. Write anyways. 
  3. You probably feel like a dork for writing. You've been working on projects for years. Saying you're going to get published. Saying that spending hours editing and rewriting and brainstorming is worth it. You're now an adult. You're now working, paying bills, and doing all the other tiring, time-consuming adult things. You sort of awkwardly avoid questions when people ask you what you do after work. Staring at a screen dreaming about made-up characters seems odd, almost childish. Who would dream of being published? Write anyways. 
If this is still your dream, if you still want to write, do it. You'll face new challenges. Life will put new demands on you and you'll have to adapt. Regardless of what life gives you, write anyways. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Blogiversary Wrap-Up

Thanks for sticking around for The Book Hound's second blogiversary celebration! I hope you found some new books to read!

Congratulations again to all of our 2017 Blogiversary Bone Winners:

  • Middle Grade: The Book of the King, by Jerry Jenkins and Chris Fabry. 
  • Sci-fi: Out of the Shadows, by Emma Carrie.
  • Fantasy: The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr.

Normal posting (Tuesdays and Fridays) will resume this upcoming week. As always, I'd love to hear your comments and book suggestions!

Announcement: Looking for an opportunity to write a guest blog post? I am looking for about 3-5 guest posts during late July and early August.  It could be a book review, a character analysis, thoughts on Christian Speculative Fiction, ideas about the writing process, a movie analysis, or something else. Really, the sky's the limit. Use the contact form to send me your idea!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Blogiversary Bone 2017: Fantasy

This category was decidedly less lean than the science-fiction category. The qualifications for consideration were: 4 stars or more, distinctly Christian writing, and either a first book in a series or a standalone novel. 

Third Place: Prophet, by R. J. Larson

A young woman is chosen as a prophet. Two problems: no woman has ever been chosen as a prophet of the Most High, and all true prophets die young. Will she have the courage to confront the people she has been sent to prophesy to?

Third place was very difficult to decide in this category, but I ultimately decided on Prophet for its exploration of the idea of God's wrath--it's not a topic many authors would dare to explore. While it's a little heavy handed on the message at times, the thought-provoking topics explored and quick action made up for any flaws. 

Second Place: The Book of Namesby D. Barkley Briggs

Two brothers are transported into a world where good and evil are tangible and old tales come to life. Can they lay aside their personal problems to help a dying kingdom?

This was one of the first books I ever read that was Christian speculative fiction intended for teenagers, and it really resonated with me the first time I read it--it still resonates with me, in fact. The themes of good vs. evil, the reality that evil often appears attractive to us, and the victory of the light against seemingly impossible odds never fail to move me. 

Winner of the 2017 Blogiversary Bone for Fantasy:

The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr

Willet Dura has always had a knack for getting to the bottom of murders. But when he's given a strange gift with the scream of a dying man, he becomes entangled in a web even he might not be able to figure out. An arcane group seeks his allegiance, various nobles seek his death, and the mysterious threat of the Darkwater Forest seems to be growing. 

Patrick W. Carr's tight writing, the level of suspense, and the moral dilemmas presented by the story provide a solid case for first place. The worldbuilding is fresh and original and many of the plot twists took me by surprise. 

Honorable Mention: 

So, apparently I was in the mood for King Arthur re-tellings this year? Anyhow, check out some of the following stories that didn't quite make it into the top three, but are still more than worthy of your time. 

-Merlin, by Stephen R. Lawhead. A retelling of the classic legends with a beautiful writing style.

-Emissary, by Thomas Locke. Magic combined with a coming of age story. 

-Merlin's Blade, by Robert Treskillard. A blind boy finds that his entire village is falling under the spell of a group of druids and their stone. 

Tomorrow, we'll wrap up the Blogiversary Celebration!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Blogiversary Bone 2017: Science Fiction

The Sci-fi category was a little lean this year on fresh Christian series (though I did read a lot of sequels). I'll be looking to remedy that next year for sure! Here are my top picks for the sci-fi Blogiversary Bone. Remember, books must be standalone/first in the series, received a rating of 4 stars or above, and be distinctly Christian in order to qualify. Due to the limited field this year, I used the term "sci-fi" loosely. 

Third Place: The Emerald Enigma, by Paul Regnier

Captain Starcrost and his crew of misfits are on a quest to find a legendary treasure--er, well, good luck charm. But when enemies from his past place a bounty on his head, he and his crew have to focus more no not getting their brains blown out than reaching the treasure. 

This book is the quintessential humorous sci-fi story. It probably would have made me laugh my socks off on-screen. As it was, it was a pleasant read that earned an honorable four stars, and a solid seat in the top three (even if the field had been larger, I likely would have still ranked this book highly). 

Second Place: Failstateby John Otte

A teenage superhero wants nothing more than to get his vigilante license, which would remove some of the restrictions on his nightly escapades. But to do so, he'll have to defeat nearly a dozen other superheroes--including his own brother--on a gameshow. 

Full of wit and action, this sci-fi/superhero novel made for a fun and fast read. It has all the charm of your favorite superhero movie, plus a side of Christianity that wasn't overwhelming. The idea was original and I loved many of the characters. 

Winner of the 2017 Blogiversary Bone for Science Fiction:

Out of the Shadows, by Emma Carrie

A genetically engineered teen assassin is placed up for adoption. But will her handler find her, endangering her newfound family? And how does her faith play a role?

While I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review, it still rose to the top of the list. Although the sci-fi elements have only been hinted at so far, there's definitely some good futuristic action coming down the pipe. Good pacing and suspense, along with intriguing characters, made for a good read. 

You can also check out my interview with Ms. Carrie here

Honorable Mention:

-Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole. Artificial intelligence decides to take over the world. Humans are so engrossed in virtual reality, they probably won't notice anyways. (Please note: brief language, otherwise clean). 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Blogiversary Bone 2017: Middle Grade

Today we kick off the Blogiversary Bone Awards with the Middle Grade Fiction category. These books are geared toward young teens/pre-teens and are typically fast, easy reads written at a lower grade level than what I normally review. Due to their different target audience than most of the books I review, they receive their own category to even out the competition. Books in this category can be found in any speculative genre (fantasy, dystopian, steampunk, etc.).

These books can be found by entering "Middle Grade" into the search bar at the top of the page. For rules on qualifications for the Blogiversary Bone, check out yesterday's post.

Ready? Here we go!

Third Place: Fire Prophet, by Jerel Law

Children of the Nephilim have been granted special powers by their angel blood. But when they and all the other angel descendants are under attack, will they be able to defend themselves from the oncoming tide of demons? And what about those whose faith is still new? 

This is the second book in the Son of Angels series, but it stands alone nicely by itself. The Christian message may be a little heavy-handed at times, but some unique worldbuilding and fast-paced spiritual warfare make up for it. 

Second Place: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson

Janner Igiby leads a normal, peaceful life. Except for the reptilian invaders that have overtaken his homeland, the odd expectations placed upon him by his grandfather, and the dangerous toothy cows that live in the forest outside his home. Will he and his family find a way to stay together in spite of the odds?

This book is just about bursting at the binding with wit and humor. It's utterly over the top and totally ridiculous at times, but it's a fun read for young and old alike. Fantasy creatures and a well-paced plot add to the fun. 

Winner of the 2017 Blogiversary Bone for Middle Grade Books: 

The Book of the King, by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry.

Owen Reeder leads an unexciting life. The only child of a widowed bookstore owner, his only adventures are found in the imaginary worlds he finds within the pages of books. But when a stranger comes to town with a mysterious, magical book and his father reveals a terrible secret, his life will change forever.

This book won the category for its unique narrative voice, fast pace, and ability to balance a Christian allegorical message with a good story. Older readers will find this book as easy to pick up as younger readers will. Recommended to fantasy fans. 

Honorable Mention:

-Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield. This clean steampunk novel didn't qualify for the Blogiversary Bone, but it's still worth a read!

Let's give a big round of applause to all these authors for their great work! Tomorrow we'll be looking at the top sci-fi books from the past year. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Blogiversary 2017 Kick-off

It's incredible to think I've been blogging two years already! Thank you for all of your wonderful comments and support!

Just like last year, I'll be re-visiting my favorite books of the past year in each of the following four categories. Last year, I fielded four categories. This year, due to the nature of what I read, I will not be holding a "Miscellaneous Speculative Category", narrowing the fields to Middle Grade, Sci-fi, and Fantasy.

Another change for this year is that winners of categories will be receiving an unofficially official award--the Book Hound Blogiversary Bone!

Alea Harper of Elvish Pens, Fantastical Writings created the awesome award button at the right. Be sure to check out her blog!

To qualify for the "Blogiversary Bone" award, the book must be considered "Christian" (not just clean), be rated 4 stars or higher, and it must be a book that can stand alone or is the first in a series. Books that were given to me for free in exchange for a review may still be considered; status as a "free" book has no bearing on the award. Likewise, my membership in any fan clubs, street teams, or other organizations associated with contestants has no bearing on their ratings or statuses.
Contestants from this year were reviewed from June of 2016 through April of 2017. Each category will have my top three picks listed, as well as any other books that I felt deserved to be mentioned..

But, before we kick off this year's awards, I'd like to take one last look at last year's winners. (Even though there wasn't an official award then. I'm not even sure it qualifies as an official award at this point, so we'll still call them winners).

2016 Middle Grade Fiction Winner: 

Dreamtreaders, by Wayne Thomas Batson.

A teenager has the remarkable ability to control the world of his dreams, but he also has the responsibility to protect it from encroaching evil.

The unique worldbuilding, lovable characters, and quick action propelled this fantasy/worldtravelling story for middle grade readers out of the doghouse and into first place. 

2016 Sci-fi Winner: 

A Star Curiously Singing, by Kerry Nietz.

In the future, the world is maintained by slaves. With chips planted in their heads, they have nearly unlimited control over technology--but their masters also have ultimate control over them.

The main character's wit and dry sense of humor landed this dystopian, futuristic sci-fi novel on the top of the dog pile. 

2016 Fantasy Winner:

A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr.

The village drunk discovers he has the God-given ability to tell the future at a time when the kingdom is at stake.

A refreshing view of the faithful as flawed, fresh worldbuilding, and tight writing combined to allow this book to edge out a win in the competitive fantasy category. 

2016 Miscellaneous Speculative Winner:

A Time to Die, by Nadine Brandes

In a world where everyone knows when they're going to die, a young woman resolves to make a difference in the little time she has left. 

This dystopian novel brought a much-needed sense of hope to a depressing genre, along with a beautiful balance of faith and plot. It definitely won "the best in show" of the miscellaneous category!

I'll see you tomorrow to kick off the 2017 celebration! 

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Red: The Heroic Rescue"

The Short:

Red: The Heroic Rescue
The Circle, Book 2

By: Ted Dekker

5/5 Stars

What: Thomas is trapped between two dying worlds—modern history, which is being attacked by a killer virus, and the future, which is about to be overrun by the fearsome Horde.

Recommended to those who like: Action, Fantasy, Interdimensional travel/multiple realities, Christian, Allegory, End times

The Long:

This is by far my favorite book out of the Circle series. While Black will give you a bit better appreciation for what’s going on, it’s not strictly necessary to read it prior to diving into Red. The recaps of prior events are pretty thorough.

Thomas Hunter lives in two realities. In the present day, he’s trying to stop a deadly virus from overtaking the world. Meanwhile, his alternative self has lived 15 years in the distant future, which seems more like the past. There, he’s perfected a rudimentary style warfare against the Horde, which threatens his people, their religion, and their way of life. But he might be facing more danger from his own people than the Horde.

This book has one of my favorite portrayals of redemption in it. It never fails to make me stop and think for a little while.

The action in this book isn’t lacking, either. I mean, in one world, we have high-tech weaponry, espionage, and cross-world chases. In the other, there are sword fights, cavalry battles, and martial arts. It blends together nicely without feeling like there’s no time to stop and catch your breath.

I would probably recommend this book to teens and up for some violence that’s a bit on the detailed side. It’s probably equivalent to a PG-13.

The Bottom Line: This allegory combines modern day action and fantasy for an exciting read that would be suitable for teens and up.                                                                                                                                     

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Under Construction

With the help of Alea Harper from Elvish Pens, Fantastical Writings, I've been redesigning the blog. Please pardon the (cyber) dust as I move objects around, change formatting, and update some other pages over the next several days. The blog may be in various stages of disarray as I tweak settings and struggle with technology. (Apparently, my generation is supposed to be really tech-savvy. I guess I missed out on that boat!)

Depending on how much time I spend messing around with Blogger, there may or may not be a Tuesday post. However, there will be a Friday Fiction Fix (along with a hopefully bug-free, updated blog).

Also, next week will bring us to the blog's second blogiversary! Make sure to stop back in for the week-long celebration!

Thanks for your patience!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sequel Review: "Freeheads"

The Short:

The DarkTrench Saga #3

By: Kerry Nietz

5/5 Stars

What: SandFly and HardCandy return to Earth, only to find that it’s nothing like it was when they left.

Recommended to those who like: Christian, dystopian, sci-fi

The Long:

I’m incredibly happy that I finally got around to finishing this series. The ending did not disappoint, but continued to build on previous characters while also introducing higher stakes, new concepts, and fresh faces.

SandFly and HardCandy return to Earth, only to find that the entire system has changed. Will their newfound faith be enough to pull things through? Or will they be left behind as outdated and malfunctioning?

This was a fitting end to a great series. The worldbuilding was fresh in each novel—no small feat. And while faith definitely took a bigger role in this volume, it wasn’t overdone or forced. Also, though God takes an active role in the story, there really isn’t the feeling that He’s fixing everything without letting the characters do the groundwork first. That’s another great accomplishment.

Overall, a job well done on this series. I may have to look into picking up the companion series soon!

The Bottom Line: Freeheads is a fitting end to the DarkTrench Saga, a series I would recommend to teens and up who are fans of
Christian science fiction.                                                                    

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pastors in Fiction: King Ealden

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 may want to check out my review of the source book, The Sword in the Stars
I would recommend the series to fantasy fans, teens and up.

King Ealden

Book: The Sword in the Stars, by Wayne Thomas Batson

Genre: Christian fantasy; teen

Role: Minor/Supporting Character

Personality: Brash, forthright, pious

What he brings to the table: King Ealden is one of the rulers of Myriad. He is one of the few faithful people left who follow the First One’s ways, making him come across as stuck up or self-righteous at times.

Spiritual role:
While King Ealden is not a formal priest, he serves as the spiritual conscience of Myriad’s rulers, often reminding them of when they’ve gone astray from the First One’s teachings. He also serves as an antagonist to Alastair, telling him that he’s unable to be the Caller of the promised redeemer due to his past sins. He is always the first to point out other faults and shortcomings, using the harshest letter of the law.

Pastorly/Worship notes: King Ealden is always quick to lead people in prayer or thanks to the First One. Most of the time, this is simply a prayer or reading to start a meeting. He is very keen on the idea of righteousness before the law and tends to emphasize this.

Ninja Status:
Black Belt. King Ealden is one of Myriad’s fiercest warriors and is shown singlehandedly taking down waves of invaders at the end of the story.

Further Discussion: 
Christian fiction is often obsessed with portraying pastors/ priests in the best light possible or, conversely, showing how wrong the priesthood can go and examining a “fallen” pastor. King Ealden follows neither of these two paths. In spite of his obsession over making sure that the law is followed, he is also portrayed as a man—er, Wayfolk—who is genuinely devoted to the First One.

In The Sword in the Stars, we only get a brief glimpse into why he might act the way he does. But, after a particularly harsh interaction with Alastair, he prays for forgiveness and mercy—a fresh look at his otherwise abrasive character. I look forward to learning more about his motives in upcoming books.

Have you ever read about a hypercritical pastor? What book?

Please note that I may be slow to respond to comments this week. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Sword in the Stars"

The Short:

The Sword in the Stars
The Dark Sea Annals #1

By: Wayne Thomas Batson

5/5 Stars (And possibly on the favorites shelf)

What: A former assassin sees the chance to redeem himself by finding the prophesied savior of Myriad.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Darker stories, Christian

The Long:

It’s probably no secret to any of you that I’m a fan of Wayne Thomas Batson. I’ve reviewed many of his books on the blog, such as Dreamtreaders and Isle of Swords.  I love the stories he writes—they’re filled with adventure, a touch of Christianity, and a look deep into the heart. He also introduced me to one of my favorite Christian bands, called Theocracy, which blends some hard-hitting theology with power metal. (AKA, it’s probably not what you’re hearing on your local Christian radio station. However, if you’re willing to try something different, I’d recommend “Hide in the Fairytale”, “30 Pieces of Silver”, or “Theocracy” as starter songs).

*Clears throat awkwardly*. Anyways, I was supposed to be talking about The Sword in the Stars, which tells the tale of Alastair Coldhollow. He’s certainly not the person you’d expect the First One to choose for finding the redeemer of Myriad. He’s a former captain of the Wolfguard—the most elite group of killers in all of Myriad—and he’s addicted to the most vile drink ever concocted. Nevertheless, he’s sure that he’s been chosen to find the promised Halfainin. But even if he does find the Halfainin, will the kingdoms of Myriad be able to survive the storm of invaders that are bearing down from without and the treachery within their own ranks?

The resulting story is a dark one—I would only recommend it to mature teens and up for fantasy violence and just overall creepiness of the story. However, the darkness contrasts nicely with the light of the First One’s promises.

It would be really easy for such a clear-cut good vs. evil story to become preachy or predictable. However, Mr. Batson does a wonderful job of making sure that even the good guys have their believable flaws.

While some plot elements were predictable, there were also some nice twists to the story. I can’t think of a point past about 50 pages in where I didn’t want to keep reading or was tempted to put the book down.

The worldbuilding was perhaps the crown of the story—it even avoided falling into the dragons, elves, and dwarves trap that fantasy tends to wedge itself into. A job well done!

The Bottom Line: Excellent worldbuilding, good characters, and a quick plot combine for a fantasy story that would be a nice pick for more mature readers.                                                                                        

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Time to Get Organized

Folks, for approximately the 772nd time in my life, I've decided to get organized. It's serious this time. I bought a whiteboard. Color-coded markers. Dug my planner out of its hiding place in the bottom of my black hole of a book bag and dusted it off. My desk once again has a writing surface available.

Books don't write themselves. They certainly don't edit themselves. And it's time to buckle down and start taking things more seriously.

At some point, if you take writing seriously, you'll have to act like you take it seriously. That means putting in the time, effort, ink, and elbow grease to get things done. It means carving out time, resolving to make some sacrifices.

I'm not an organized person. (If you don't believe me, check out my closet. I never worry about monsters hiding in there because they'd just be knocking things over on their way to come out). But if I want to get writing done, I need to organize it into my life and make it a priority.

If I'm serious about this writing thing (and I hope I am), it'll mean working two jobs--my day job and my writing job. That means dedicated sufficient time to writing so that I can actually get things done. That means being intentional about my time and not wasting three hours on facebook. (Guilty as charged).

This time around (since I've done this approximately 770 other times, give or take), I know it won't be easy. Life will be great for about a week and then I'll hit a road bump and I'll give up on being organized. Except, this time, I hope I can dig up the endurance to not give up.

It'll be hard. Frustrating. A struggle. But in the end, I hope to come out with something publishable on the other side. And maybe, this 772nd time will be the time that it works. That it pays off. I hope so.

Do you struggle with being organized?

How do you work writing into your life?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Do Not Underestimate the Power of Graduation

Also known as: I totally didn't read a book to review this week because I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off between graduation, ironing out job details, and driving all over the state.

But we'll say that it's the fault of it being "Revenge of the Fifth" (the day after Star Wars Day, May fourth). Until next week, enjoy some of these Star Wars Day favorites!

Rebel Alliance Health Insurance: A fun skit covering the more mundane aspects of the rebellion.

Cello Wars: A Star Wars mash-up on cellos, with some humor thrown in.

Trailer for The Last Jedi: Does any more need to be said?

What's your favorite Star Wars movie? 

May the Force be with you!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Before the Book

Have you ever thought of what life was like before you met your favorite book? (And by favorite book, I mean "one of your favorite books", because we all know it's nearly impossible to choose).

What was your life missing that you didn't even know it was missing? Was it a character you could associate with? A saying about life? The knowledge and deep-down belief that good will prevail in the end?

What if that book had never been written? What if you had never found it? Would you have grown less? Been more empty?

How did the book make you grow? What did you find or discover about yourself or the world around you?

The greatest books and literature touch us to the heart. They inspire us, renew us, and drive us to new heights of knowledge, new depths of compassion, and farther breadths of thought.

Ultimately, they bring us closer to the Truth. They resound with the universal truth of the universe, of a Creator and His Son, of our fall and our redemption. They might not speak to it directly, but like ripples in a pond, they point us there.

So here's a salute to good literature. Whether that's what you're reading or what you're writing, may it ever bring you closer to the Master Storyteller.

What's your favorite book? How did it change you?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sequel Review: "Tangled"

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. If you haven't already, check out my review of Out of the Shadows, the first book in the series. (Tangled is set to hit digital shelves soon, so it gives you plenty of time to read the first book!)

The Short:

The Tacket Secret, #2

By: Emma Carrie

4/5 Stars

What: Jessie finds herself hunted again—only this time, she has her new guardian to protect.

Recommended to those who like: Sci-fi, action, mystery/detective, Christian.

The Long:

Jessie’s sure that she’s being hunted by her handler again. That would have been complicated enough without her new guardian, Detective Vick Tacket, poking her nose into her business. When three Russians show up on her doorstep, looking for information on genetic engineering and tissue generation, things start to get messy.

Just as with the first book, the action keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. It’s a fast-paced, quick read, with a hint of Christianity thrown in (without getting preachy). There’s also a touch of humor to several of the scenes, which made for a few refreshing moments in what otherwise might have been a dark novel.

However, this book failed to deliver on any of the major secrets introduced in the first book, which was a little frustrating. While we get to see the characters grow and develop, we didn’t get to learn any more about their gritty and mysterious back stories. I want to know how Jessie became such a skilled assassin! What’s Vick hiding? Argh. I suppose I’ll have to read the next book to find out, because this one didn’t give me the answers I was looking for.

The author provides nice refreshers on what happened in the previous novella, so you can probably jump into this one without reading Out of the Shadows, if you really needed to. However, I think you'd miss some of the more subtle character nuances if you did that. 

The Bottom Line: Recommended to action fans who like a hint of sci-fi and Christianity thrown in.            

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April Update


As you've likely gathered from the sporadic posts over the past few months, life's been a little crazy lately. Fortunately, it should be re-settling into a routine here soon. (Yay!) I have a real, adult job lined up and I'm ready to tackle the next part of life while also continuing to write. Thanks for your prayers over the past few weeks.


Ahem. I haven't written or edited anything since February, but that was just last week, right? No big deal.

Oops. It's almost May.

Obviously, that means I haven't been participating in Camp NaNo. However, once I regroup, I'll be tackling my re-edits of Crossroads and Crossfire. (Yes, I know I've been working on them forever. Yes, I'm trying to get them published eventually. Yes, I know I should work on some other project at some point so you don't have to put up with me moaning about editing on a regular basis).

The Blog:

The blog will likely be staying the same for the forseeable future, with the noted exception being the second blogiversary at the end of May!

Also, if you want to get out your binoculars and gaze at the distant horizon, there will be guest posting opportunities coming up in a few months for multiple weeks in a row. Use the contact form to tell me about your great idea(s)!

That's about it! There will be a Friday Fiction Fix this week, along with a (better) Tuesday post next week.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Emerald Enigma"

The Short:

The Emerald Enigma
Space Drifters #1

By: Paul Regnier

4/5 Stars

What: A crew of misfits strives to find the ultimate good-luck charm while not getting their brains blown out.

Recommended to those who like: Sci-fi, lightly Christian, humor

The Long:

I picked up this ebook on sale after having it on my to-read list for some time. When I cracked it open (can you crack open an ebook? Powered up the screen?), I couldn’t have even told you anything about it, other than that it was sci-fi something or other.

What followed turned out to be a pleasant, humorous sci-fi story with a quick pace. Captain Starcrost is a swashbuckling, underdog starship captain who quickly learns to regret his decision to wear pajama pants to the bridge. His first mate is a pacifistic, all-too logical Vythian named Blix, who offsets him quite nicely as they attempt to avoid the bounty placed on their heads. Add into the mix a moody computer and several other colorful characters and you end up with a fun, lighthearted read with a nice touch of Christianity thrown in—without being obnoxious. This is something easily recommendable to non-Christians, at least at this point in the series (based on the ending, the tone may change a bit in upcoming books).

I just can’t seem to get into humorous books as much as I can with movies, and I think that’s why I didn’t care for this book as much as some others I’ve read. If it had been on screen, I probably would’ve laughed my socks off. If you’ve watched/read several sci-fi books, you’ll likely also pick up on some hidden gems in the book.

The Bottom Line: A great, humorous sci-fi read suited for pretty much any reader.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reality, Meet Fiction: Alphabets

The Star Wars Allphabet


Those of us in the Western world, especially in the western hemisphere, find it easy to take for granted the fact that we (typically) use the Latin alphabet. The Oxford dictionary defines the alphabet as "a set of letters or symbols in a fixed order used to represent the basic set of speech sounds of a language..."

However, there are many other alphabets in the world, such as the Cyrillic (which Russian uses), Greek, or Arabic alphabets. Some don't include vowels, such as Hebrew and Arabic, in which case, they are referred to as "abjads".

Most alphabets we would think of are considered linear, meaning that they are designed to be written on paper. However, there are non-linear systems in existence, such as Braille.


If your characters are literate, launch some confusion upon them by introducing some different alphabets. Have different writing systems used in different parts of the country, or have them travel to a foreign country where they can speak, but not write.

Consider the number of letters in an alphabet and how that might affect electronics and their practicality for your characters to use them. How has technology influenced the style of writing? Carved letters might tend to be blockier, while handwritten letters might be smoother in nature. Do the machines in your story that read writing need a certain type of script to be able to identify letters? How does the number of letters in your alphabet affect spelling, contractions, or signage for the story?

Really, the possibilities are endless. Enjoy thinking up some ways for writing and alphabets to play into your characters' lives!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

There will be no post today in observance of Good Friday. I pray that you have a blessed and reflective weekend remembering Christ's death and celebrating His resurrection. We'll return to normal posting next week.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

More than Sans-Serif

This post was inspired partly by this article on Speculative Faith. 

Have you noticed something about church signs lately? Not the funny ones that have really corny jokes on them using the old-style slidey letters.

How about the new ones, that look more like this:

The signs are inevitably in sans-serif font and everything is either upper or lowercase. Likely, one of the words is bolded and the designer left out one or more spaces. 

Why the weird capitalization (or lack thereof)? And for crying out loud, why sans-serif fonts? 

Wait, wait, wait, you say. My church sign doesn't look like that. I help to pick out the corny joke every week. My church is named after a saint. My church doesn't have a sign. My church sign is in cursive, or a serif font, or actually follows grammar rules. 

Folks, I propose that we have a similar problem in Christian fiction. 

Have you ever noticed that most Christians in Christian fiction feel like the same characters? This is especially a problem in "contemporary" settings. The Christians probably come from a non-denominational church (or church of unnamed denomination). If there are multiple congregations mentioned, no one seems to act like they're different. They're willing to commune together, to pray together, to attend service together. 

"Grandma's" church, if mentioned, likely sings hymns on piano. Young or youth characters probably attend a church that has a praise band. It's unlikely you'll find a pipe organ or a church that forbids instrumentation. There's probably no liturgy or order of service followed.

The pastor is probably a kind young-to-middle-aged male. His wife is likely his adoring partner in ministry. 

If there's a youth pastor in the story, he's likely to be young. I'd be willing to bet that he has tattoos, or colored hair, or some other "shocking" item. 90% of the time, he tries to be cool, but fails. 

People who are unchurched just need some good apologetics thrown at them or else to have someone "relate to them"--unlike so-and-so at Grandma's church who wasn't understanding. 

Churchgoers are most interested in finding a church that relates to them or where they feel connected. They aren't concerned about theology or anything else. 

Sound familiar? It's almost like all our Christian characters and fictional churches are written in the same font. 

Why don't we go for some more variety in our Christian characters? After all, I sing with an orchestra and a pipe organ following a liturgical pattern at my church. We have two pastors, both older gentlemen. One's wife is rather sassy and quite forward with her opinions. One serves a dual role as the youth pastor and doesn't have anything crazy going on. I can't imagine either of them wearing skinny jeans. During service, they wear their clerical collars and robes. Outside that, they typically wear dress slacks and button-down shirts. On retreat, I might see them wearing jeans and t-shirts, and it's odd to see them out of clerical attire. Neither tries to be very cool. They're just genuinely nice people. Have you read about a church like that in a book lately? And it's not even that different from the "typical" church you read about.

There's such variety in our faith; why don't we explore it more?

I've attended churches where they don't sing with instruments, because they think it detracts from the focus of worship. I've visited others where dance is encouraged. Some services include almost everyone raising their hands, while other congregations I've visited are quite stoic. Some congregations I've visited have prohibitions on clergy marrying while others promote a family life for their pastors. A church my friend attended for a while insisted on worshiping on Saturdays rather than Sundays.  

Christianity has quite a bit of variety in it--and the above is just a sampling of style, not theology. Some congregations prohibit communing with others who don't have the same confession; others won't even pray with others outside their congregation. Some groups baptize infants while others will only baptize adults. We won't get into the theology behind those distinctions, but consider the variety we have in real life compared to our fictional stories. 

Don't be afraid to vary your Christian characters in your stories. You don't have to prove them right or wrong. But if you're thinking about how to make your story more life-like, you should include some differences of opinion that really affect how your characters worship, interact, and live their lives. 

And by all means, please don't make the church sign in calibri font. Liven things up a bit.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Fire Prophet"

Although this is the second book in a series, it could be easily picked up without reading book 1, Spirit Fighter. As always, I've tried to keep my review spoiler-free. 

The Short:

Fire Prophet
Son of Angels, Book 2

By: Jerel Law

4/5 Stars

What: The children of the Nephilim are under attack—and it’s time they learn to defend themselves.

Recommended to those who like: Spiritual warfare, middle grade, Christian

The Long:

For starters, let me offer the disclaimer that I am not this book’s intended target audience. Even though I read middle grade books quite frequently, I still have an adult’s perspective on things (unless we’re talking about puns, in which case all bets are off).

Jonah and his siblings are under attack, along with the rest of the quarterlings—children with special abilities who are one-quarter angel. To learn to defend themselves and their families, they’ll have to train diligently and overcome their differences.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the first book in the series. I can’t tell you exactly why that is, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the children’s objectives in this book were less clear. I normally like stories where the heroes are training and learning to work together, but this book didn’t do a whole lot for me.

It also felt like the author was trying a little too hard to tie circumstances with Bible stories. There were at least three instances where the circumstances in the book paralleled Bible stories without really needing to. The circumstances were then pointed out rather blatantly. However, it’s a middle grade book, and, like I said, I’m not exactly the intended audience. And most people wouldn’t recognize the story of Jael and Sisera, so I probably shouldn’t complain about that reference.

Overall, the book is a good read for middle-grade readers. In my opinion, it can be a little heavy-handed on the Christian message, but it’s not overly unreasonable for the age group. I’m hopeful that the series will pick back up a bit and continue to improve. It’s a really good premise for a series.

Readers could likely pick up the series starting with this book without a problem. As with many books geared for younger readers, there are frequent reviews of what has happened previously.

The Bottom Line: Although a little heavy on the Christian message at times, this book would still be a good choice for fans of spiritual warfare and middle-grade novels.                                                                   

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Salute to Non-English Majors

It still amazes me that I'll be graduating college (university to my non-US folks out there) in less than a month. I'll now have a slew of letters behind my name that mean I spent a lot of money, effort, and time learning something.

That "something" wasn't English. Or literature. Or the social sciences. Or pretty much any other area of study that would have involved reading fiction or writing mounds of papers.

In fact, I didn't even take an English class in college. All the papers I wrote were for classes outside of my program or to fulfill Honor's requirements.

I spent my time learning how to place IV catheters, wrapping my head around how electrical conduction differs in the canine and equine heart, memorizing methods of action for various drugs, and trying to understand how to comfort someone who has lost their pet to disease.

I'm almost a licensed veterinary technician, if you're wondering.

Getting here didn't involve writing papers. It didn't involve studying literature or story structure or marketing.

But I think it made me a better writer.

When I was getting ready to graduate high school, I told a friend about my plans. He had read several of my WIP's and knew that I rarely went anywhere without a book. He was shocked that I wasn't doing something writing related--not even minoring in it. He asked me if I planned to continue writing and how I was going to improve if I didn't take classes in writing.

The answer? I carry my daily experiences with me. They shape my writing, how I look at life. Now that I'm in the hands-on portion of my learning, I deal with distraught people on a nearly daily basis. I see how people react to stress, how they react to death, how they react to not being able to save someone they desperately wanted to save. I know what it feels like to have someone depend on you, to blame you for something that's not your fault, and to feel in way over your head. I've seen the look of despair on surgeon's face who has been on duty all night and is now being asked to scrub back in one more time. I've experienced the panic of watching a patient slip away and trying to find something to bring them out of the downward spiral.

 These are not so very different than the things we write about in fiction.

Am I saying that every writer should become a veterinary technician? Certainly not. What I am saying is to find a career you enjoy, even if it's not full-time writing. Let that shape your understanding of people and characters. Live life to the fullest and let your writing flow out of that.

Working part time at an espresso bar? Take advantage of being able to people-watch.

Majoring in engineering? Understand what goes into the science behind everything we see, build, and use.

Working with a roofing crew over the summer? You'll know first-hand what it means to work hard all day.

Whatever you do, you can shape it toward your writing. There are craft books to help you learn some of the finer points of writing and to develop your skills. For me, not writing for classes helped me to enjoy writing as a reprieve from my daily routine. (That's changed a bit this year, as I've had to write reflections on my experiences in the clinic; I've noticed that my urge to write has dwindled a bit during this time.)

The bottom line? Don't feel like you have to be a writing major to be a writer. You can still write, even if you spend all day painting, or using a staple gun to nail down shingles, or looking at chemical structures. Take what life has taught you and run with it. Learn from it. And write about it.

Did you study literature or English? How has your major or day job shaped your writing?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Book of the King"

I'm finally back! Here's a book review to get things started again. Thanks for your patience over the past few weeks.  

The Short:

The Book of the King
The Wormling Series, Book 1

By: Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry

5/5 Stars

What: A young man discovers a hidden realm through the words of a book.

Recommended to those who like: Christian, Allegory, Fantasy, Middle-grade

The Long:

It’s been quite a while since I read this series for the first time, but I’m finding that I still enjoy it, even though I’m much older than I was when I first read it.

Owen Reeder is a rather unremarkable young man. The only child of a widowed bookstore owner, he finds most of his solace in books and imaginary realms. But when his father reveals a terrible secret and a mysterious man shows up carrying a fascinating, magical book, he finds that the world is much bigger than he ever could have imagined.

The voice used to tell this story is unique and has a very narrator-like tone to it. It lends the story a sort of fairy-tale quality that it might otherwise lack.

The Christian message is strong (it is an allegory, after all), but doesn’t overwhelm the story or become too preachy.

This story can likely be enjoyed by anyone, but it is geared more toward middle grade readers and can be classified as a coming-of-age story.

The Bottom Line: A solid allegory told in a unique voice, this fantasy novel can be enjoyed by young and old alike.