Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pictures from Wittenburg

As we wrap our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I thought that I would share a few pictures from Wittenburg, Germany that I took on my trip over the summer. Hope you enjoy!


Downtown Wittenburg. If you're looking for Luther gifts, you can find it here.

A monument to Luther, about halfway between the two churches he's come to be associated with.

The Theses doors. All 95 theses are printed on them. The original wooden doors were lost.

The Schlosskirche (castle church) where Luther nailed the Theses. The top of the tower has the opening lines to "Ein Feste Burg" (A Mighty Fortress is Our God).

The Stadtkirche (city church) where Luther preached regularly.

Inside of the Stadtkirche.

Luther's House, which is now a museum.

The altar piece in the Schlosskirche. 

The stained glass at the front of the Schlosskirche. For perspective, this is above the altarpiece shown in the picture before. Aside from being beautiful, it was a powerful reminder that, at the end of the day, Jesus is above all else--even famous, snarky theologians. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Sequel Review: "Fortress of Mist"

I would highly recommend reading The Orphan King prior to picking up his sequel. I'l be back with a new series next week!

The Short:


Fortress of Mist
Merlin’s Immortals Book 2

By: Sigmund Brouwer

4.5/5 Stars

What: Two opposing forces have their eyes set on Thomas, new Lord of Magnus, as the centerpiece to their schemes.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, King Arthur/Merlin, intrigue, Christian


The Long:

The tension continues to build right from where The Orphan King left off. While I would definitely recommend reading these books in order, you can easily pick up Fortress of Mist after taking a break from the series; the offer provides enough of a recap to make the story understandable if you have some memory of the characters.

Thomas is placed in an ever deepening web of deceit, intrigue, and plots as the new Lord of Magnus. Two groups seem to have their sights set on his soul and knowledge, but which is worthy of his allegiance? Can he even rely on the wisdom of his departed mother? What if he was wrong about who he could trust all along?

The resulting tale is a quick read and could easily be enjoyed by younger audiences (through early teens—some violent scenes), though older readers will also likely enjoy he captivating, twisting storylines just as well.

The Christian message is more fleshed out in this book than the previous book, but continues to complement, rather than overwhelm, the main plot lines.


The Bottom Line: I would recommend this fantasy series to fantasy fans who enjoy a touch of intrigue.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hound Dog Harmonies: "The Lutheran Song"

I'm going to be a terrible blogger and inflict "Lost and Found" on you twice within a month.

Unfortunately, this song doesn't really have any themes to analyze, but it does list off people who are--or were at one point in their lives--Lutherans. With no further ado, you can check the Famous Lutherans Song

If that wasn't enough Lost and Found for you, you may be slightly crazy, just like me you can also search for their songs about the LCMS and ELCA. (Unfortunately, they don't have a WELS song that I can find.) I think you'll recognize the tune right away.

Next week I'll be wrapping up my Reformation series with a series of pictures I took in Wittenburg, the birthplace of the Reformation.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Chains of Gwyndorr"

The Short:


Chains of Gwyndorr
The Poison Tree Path Chronicles #1

By: Joan Campbell

5/5 Stars

What: A young aristocratic woman is a prisoner in her own home, but maybe the stone she’s found will provide her way of escape.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Christian

The Long:

Wow, what a pleasant surprise! I picked up this book during an online sale and didn’t expect a whole lot out of it. The worldbuilding, characters, and plot sucked me right in.

Shara is the adopted daughter of two aristocrats. However, she’s not allowed to leave the house and it seems that her parents are interested in just about anything but her. One day, she finds a magical stone that may hold the key to her past—and her future.

But her future looks more uncertain by the day. Her freshly rekindled friendship with the low-born stable hand seems to be causing more trouble than even her headstrong nature could. The law’s on his tail for teaching low-born children how to read and saving them from the raids that send them to the deadly Rif’twine forest. If he’s not careful, he’ll be sent there himself.

The resulting story is one of intrigue, friendship, and excellent worldbuilding. The author opened the story by giving us a load of mysteries and she revealed just enough at a time to keep me drawn in. She left quite the assortment of mysteries to keep me intrigued for the next installment, as well.
The book has some Christian undertones, but nothing strong as of yet. I look forward to seeing how those themes might be explored in the next book, which was just released.


The Bottom Line: This Christian fantasy was a pleasant surprise and has a lot to offer to fans of the genre. I would definitely recommend it!                                                                                                                     

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Luther(an) Tag

Alright, here's a little impromptu fun to share around as part of our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. All are welcome to participate, even if you aren't Lutheran.



What significance does the 500th anniversary of the Reformation hold for you?

Like Luther, I was not born a Lutheran. I was a "latecomer" and therefore have a weird perspective on Lutheran-y things. On one hand, I think it gives me the clarity to prioritize Scripture over other things (like the liturgy) that can be a bit more difficult for life-long Lutherans. This also makes me hesitant to place too much emphasis on Luther. (He was, after all, just a man--and he would have been the first to admit it).

On the other hand, I'm quite happy to be a Lutheran, especially since I've more or less consciously chosen to be here with the other back row-sitting, coffee slurping, change-resistant folks who have a theology that I can agree to in good conscience.  This gives me a sense of pride and belonging that I didn't always get growing up in an inter-denominational school, where the theology and style often made me raise my eyebrows a bit. 

Regardless, 500 years is quite the momentous occasion. It brings a sense of pride that I'm part of something so storied and historic. My trip to Germany was organized, in part, to be part of the celebration of the anniversary, so that's a pretty big piece.

Going forward, I hope the anniversary inspires a steadfastness in the faith for myself and my fellow Lutherans, especially as the culture (here in the U.S.) seems to be changing so rapidly. 

List up to 5 of your favorite Luther quotes.

"Are you ignorant of what it means to be ignorant?"
"To go against conscience is neither right nor safe."
"I have held many things in my hand and lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess."
"The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship."
"Peace if possible. Truth at all costs."

List up to 3 of your favorite church/Luther websites (serious or otherwise).

Bring some thick skin and a desire to laugh at yourself or others (especially "experts" on the internet). No denomination is off-limits, including Lutherans themselves. "Horus Ruins Christmas" is highly recommended.

Nerd-dom meets pointed theology. Bible Studies to current events.

They excel at mediocrity! Everyone's second favorite theological game show, containing hits like "Praise Song Cruncher", "Church Sign Theology", and "Iron Preacher".

Which version of "A Mighty Fortress" is your favorite?

And you thought I could get through this tag without being controversial! The classic hymn that has two competing tunes, causing nearly as much consternation as what color hymnbook is the best.

I have to say that I prefer the "isorhthmic" version of the song, a.k.a. the one that's easier to sing and has eight notes instead of an overabundance of half notes.

Got an answer you're dying to share? I'd love to hear it in the comments!

Feel free to steal this tag!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Raising Dragons"

The Short:

Raising Dragons
Dragons in Our Midst, Book 1

By: Bryan Davis

5/5 Stars

What: A boy finds out that he has dragon blood—but he has no idea the trouble it will bring him.

Recommended to those who like: Christian, fantasy, middle grade

The Long:

I had a harder time reviewing this book than I thought I would. This is the book that was responsible for getting me hooked on dragons—a momentous happening, considering probably about ¼ of the books on my shelf involve the mythical creatures.  I read it close to 10 times between middle school and high school. The pages are dog-eared, and my friends and I discussed it in spurts over our lunch breaks. It was one of my favorite stories I had ever read, but I hadn’t read it since probably a year or so before I went off to college.

I approached it with a load of excitement, expecting to dive into one of my favorite stories and come out with a new, fresh perspective on it, the same way that I have with A Wrinkle in Time or The Lord of the Rings.

That didn’t happen.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the book—it was still a good story. It just…isn’t one of my all-time favorites anymore. That hurt a bit. I can’t relate to Billy and Bonnie the way that I used to, my inner editor found some storytelling styles that are perfectly fine for the middle grade audience (but not appealing to my current self), and I left feeling happy that I’d reread it, but oddly discontent.

Alright, enough of me being nostalgic. Let’s get on with the actual review.

Billy Bannister is your normal young man. He attends school, goofs off with his best friend, and seems to always get up too late for breakfast. That all changes in one shocking week, when he accidently sets off a fire alarm with nothing but his breath. The resulting chain of events reveals secrets that nearly everyone has been keeping—from his principal and parents to the mysterious orphan who sits next to him in history class. Everyone has their inner dragons, whether figuratively or startlingly literally. Can he and his friends escape those who will stop at nothing to destroy him?

The resulting tale is likely to resonate most strongly with middle-grade readers, but people of all ages can easily enjoy this fantasy story. The characters are quite vibrant and likable and the premise of the story is intriguing.

The Christian element to this story is definitely strong, but certainly not overwhelming.


The Bottom Line: This Christian, middle-grade story has great characters and an intriguing premise, making it a worthy pick for fantasy fans of all ages.                                                                                         

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hound Dog Harmonies: "Nailed"

The Schlosskirche (Castle Church) where
Luther nailed the 95 Theses.
The top of the tower has the opening lines
of "A Mighty Fortress is our God"
written in German.
Today we kick off our month-long celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with a rock song about Martin Luther and the 95 Theses. 


The Short: 
Song: "Nailed"

Artist: Theocracy

Album: As the World Bleeds

Genre: Metal

Listening Suggestion: With some Abendbrot to celebrate some German food?

Christian Author Listener(s): Wayne Thomas Batson

Selected Lyrics:

Here I am, a broken man who's done all that a man can do
And found that it's only filthy rags.
Monasteries, religious schools, indulgences, laws and rules
It all added up to nothing and darkness and death.
Vanity, heartache, and emptiness...
Never fight it anymore,
For the burden on my life has been released--
Nailed it to the door...

There's fire in my spirit, and fire in their eyes,
And now they'll want to burn me alive--
Yet freedom rings. 
Unworthiness is all I bring.
The blood of Christ is all I claim,
This grace revealed everything...


You can listen to the song on the band's YouTube channel, though brace yourself for a bit of strong metal--albeit with a really cool pounding sound for the hammer. It's also fairly easy to find on Spotify.

The Long: 

While this song might not suit all tastes musically (I'm a self-professed headbanger and even I can only stand to listen to it occasionally), I think it does a good job of telling Luther's story--you might even say it hits the nail on the head. From his brokenness as a monk trying to reach God through his own works to his final reliance on Christ and realization that all the works in world won't save him, Luther's story is relayed in this somewhat angsty rock ballad.

Beyond just telling Luther's story, the song does a fair job of referencing the gospel--the fact that we can't save ourselves, that Jesus is ultimately everything, and the confidence of knowing that fact  as we face troubles in life. 

Also, let's be honest--it's just exciting to find a song about Luther. I may have had a little nerd moment when I initially heard it.

What songs about Luther do you know of?


Friday, September 29, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Misadventures of Strylun and Xerk"

The Short:

The Misadventures of Strylun and Xerk

By: Wayne Thomas Batson

4.5/5 Stars

What: Two bounty hunters fatefully meet in a tavern. The only catch is, they each have the warrant for the other.

Recommended to those who like: Fun, Novella, Clean, Fantasy

The Long:

This was a bit of an impulse buy for me a while back. I love Batson’s writing and I thought I would pick up this novella for kicks and giggles.

While I wasn’t so sure of my choice at first, I quickly fell in love with this humorous and fast-paced story. Strylun and Xerk each arrive at a remote tavern with a warrant for a fugitive. The only catch? Strylun has a warrant for Xerk’s arrest, while Xerk has a warrant for his—and that just won’t cut it. After all, there’s gold on the line. But if they can somehow work past their differences, they may eventually find a way to earn enough gold to keep them both out of prison.

The resulting story is a humorous, fast-paced read that manages to balance good character development, a few deeper thoughts, and wit.

While Mr. Batson is a Christian author, this story would fall simply under the “clean” category. I hope he revisits the characters in the future; they’re quite entertaining and he hints at some interesting larger plots afoot in the story world.


The Bottom Line: This humorous novella would be well-suited for fantasy fans out for a (mostly) light-hearted read.                                                                                                                                                                        

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

October Blog Update

Look at me! I actually managed to write a blog update post without it eating up a Tuesday slot. Here's a look at what's coming up at the blog over the next couple of months, as well as a chance for your input.

"Little Luther" at the 95 Theses Door

October

This October 31st marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation! As an unabashed Lutheran nerd, I'll be celebrating the occasion here on the blog throughout the month. Expect some pictures from Wittenburg, Germany, some music, and some other celebratory things. 

Meanwhile, in the writing realm, I'll be gearing up for NaNoWriMo. I haven't fully decided what project I'll be working on in November, but I'll be plotting it out in October. 

November

It's NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I know that I won't be working on Crossroads and its sequels this year, but I haven't decided what project I will be working on. 

Likewise, I haven't decided what posts I'll put up on the blog during NaNo. This is where I need your help. Is hosting word wars a good idea? Or are there too many other places to do that? Should I ditch the blog for the month? Should book reviews continue during November? I'd really appreciate it if you take the time to fill out the five question survey below to help me decide. Thanks in advance!


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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hound Dog Harmonies: "Opener"

The Short: 

Song: Opener

Artist: Lost and Found

Album: "Lost and Found Comes Alive"

Genre: Speedwood (Really, there's no category for it. The alternate term they suggest is "acoustic thrash". Take it as you will)

Listening Suggestion: Somewhere where no one will laugh too hard at your odd taste in music, such as in the car.

Christian Author Listener(s): John W. Otte, author of Failstate.

Selected Lyrics:

You see, every Sunday, it's just like the last.
As if the church has no history, and the people have no past. 
We just sing the songs we like to sing and we preach about the news
And we think up some gimmicky thing just to fill up the pews. 

But I want palms on Palm Sunday, I want Pentecost still to be red.
I want to drink of the wine and eat of the bread. 
But they strive for attendance, while I starve for transcendence. 
And I count among this body both the living and the dead.

So whether it's guitars and amps, or video screens and cordless mikes
Or incense and robes and ropes, and candelights,
Let's stop all the fighting over words and ways 
And tell about Jesus, like in the good, old days.

You can find a link to the song here. There's a short introduction to the song as well, but if you just want the music, you can fast forward to 1:05.

The Long: 

Now, if you survived listening to the song, I congratulate you. Lost and Found is definitely more of an acquired taste, and they're far better in concert than they are on recording. 

I can't credit Mr. Otte with introducing me to them, as that honor distinctly belongs to my pastor. I still distinctly remember pulling up behind a neighboring church to find something entirely different than what I had expected. Rather than a worship band and teenagers, there were two older dudes (one with crazy hair), a bunch of people with folding lawn chairs, and everyone seemed to have slinkys (perhaps more on that another time). Lost and Found is certainly unique. 

While many of their songs are rather cheesy, they do have a number of serious songs as well. This is one of my favorites. If you took the time to listen to the introduction to the song, you'll find their reason behind writing it is partially rooted in one of the member's experiences as a hospital chaplain. He found that many people in their last moments would cling to words from church--such as The Lord's Prayer or Psalm 23. They placed great value on the traditions of their childhood church in their final moments, but even more than that, they clung to Jesus. 

The resulting song is critical of "cheap" Christianity that aims to create attendance, rather than seeking to connect people deeply with Jesus. And while the author (like myself) seems inclined to have a more traditional view of how to accomplish the latter, he also acknowledges that, in the end, it's not the appearances of the service that matter; it's whether the service points to Jesus or not. 

While I don't think every band should sound like Lost and Found, it's my opinion that we need more songs like "Opener" that discuss real issues in Christianity, such as the need for more Jesus in church. 

Thoughts? What quirky band do you like?

Friday, September 22, 2017

I Fear Something Terrible has Happened...

Source
Only this time, it's not that millions of voices cried out in the Force and were suddenly silenced. Rather, the last few books I've read for the blog haven't panned out for one reason or another. Some, like The Chronicles of Riddick, I didn't really expect to review here, while others, such as Dreams of Caladria, didn't strike my fancy enough for me to finish them at this time. I ate through the last of my back-up reviews last week, so there will unfortunately be no Friday Fiction Fix this week.

In the meantime, you can see some short reviews of my recent reads over at Goodreads. I routinely read more than what you see here on the blog, so you can check out some of my other reading interests, as well. (Such as Dante's Inferno or historical novels).

Or, if you aren't into that, you can check out some old full-length reviews at the links below:

By Divine Right, by Patrick W. Carr--Murder investigation meets epic Christian fantasy.

Dreamtreaders, by Wayne Thomas Batson--Christian, middle grade, world-travelling fantasy.

Tainted, by Morgan L. Busse--Christian steampunk with a dash of romance.

Next Friday, I promise to have a new series for you! I'm re-reading a favorite to write up a review for it. Once again, I apologize for the delay.

As always, I'd love to hear your book suggestions! Shoot me an email using the contact form in the sidebar.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The 2017 Tolkien Tag


I finally remembered to post on timefor the Tolkien Blog Party this year! This is an annual event hosted by Hamlette over at "The Edge of the Precipice". She does many read-a-longs, book reviews, and other fun events. I'd definitely encourage you to check her blog out!


How long have you been a Tolkien fan?

Probably since I was around 10 or so. I watched the movies and fell in love with the wit, archery, and swordplay in them. I then found a copy of The Silmarillion at a flea market and absolutely loved it, in spite of its difficult wordings.

Has your love of Middle-earth affected your life?

Besides obnoxiously quoting the books at random points, it's truly affected a lot of the way I think. On probably a weekly basis, I find myself pondering whether one person can change the course of history, the nature of power and duty, whether I have the courage that the characters have in the books (and drawing on them for inspiration), or any other number of Tolkien's concepts. 

If you had to take the One Ring to Mordor, which character would you choose for your sole companion?


Not to be cliche, but probably Samwise. He's the supportive friend we all need and he's already proven that he can resist the temptation of the Ring. Faramir ranks as a close second choice, as he's one of my favorite book characters.

Which is scarier, Shelob or the Balrog?


Shelob. Giant spiders and I don't get along. This is why I will likely never willingly live in Australia.

Which two towers do you think Tolkien was referring to in the title The Two Towers?  (i.e. Orthanc, Barad-dûr, Cirith Ungol, Minas Morgul, or Minas Tirith)


Ooh, a question I had never considered. I think Orthanc and Barad-dur, not only because that's the two I had always assumed, but also because The Two Towers focuses rather centrally on Saruman and Sauron's alliance. If The Return of the King had been named The Two Towers, I might have considered Minas Morgul/Barad-dur and Minas Tirith.

Whose wardrobe would you like to have?

Aslan's!-Wait, wrong author. And wrong type of wardrobe.


Eowyn, I think. I really admire her/empathize with her as a character. She also has a variety of outfits suitable for more formal occasions or riding off to fight the Orcs, so points for versatility.

What do you think an Ent Draught would taste like?


I guess rather planty? As long as it's not like the kale smoothie I had an encounter with a while back. In that case, I'd never grow taller because I wouldn't be able to finish it!

Where in Middle-earth would you like to live?


Rohan. I am growing to like horses. Furthermore, it seems to be a very down-to-Earth sort of place with honest people.

Do you have any Tolkien-related opinions that surprise other people?


Not that I can think of. I think my opinion of him as one of the greatest fantasy authors of all time doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who has read my blog or talked to me for very long.

List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotations from the books or movies.

(I decided to challenge myself a little bit and not repeat any of the ones that I listed last year.)

-Frodo: "What course must I take?" Gandalf: "Towards danger, but not too rashly, nor too straight."

-"Books ought to have good endings." (Frodo)

-"The only just literary critic is Christ, who admires more than does any man the gifts He Himself has bestowed."

-"Shadow lies on me still. Look not to me for healing! I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle." (Eowyn).

-"N-nothing important. That is, I heard a great deal about a ring, and a Dark Lord and something about the end of the world..." (Sam)

-"But if we stayed home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later." (Treebeard)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sequel Review: "Exiles"

This is the fourth book in the Ilyon Chronicles. I would recommend reading the previous books prior to picking this one up. I'll be back with a fresh series next week! Also, thanks for helping The Book Hound reach 10,000 page views! 

The Short:

Exiles
Ilyon Chronicles #4

By: Jaye L. Knight

4/5 Stars

What: The Resistance must find new allies to survive the persecution coming their way.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, dragons, Christian, romance

The Long:


I would have loved to have been in on the release party for this book, but it occurred while I was in Germany. Better late than never, I suppose. 

Jace, Kyrin, and the rest of the Resistance are hard pressed against Daican's new advances. Their survival, as well as the survival of their faith may rest in the hands of unlikely allies. Meanwhile, Prince Daniel fights for his newfound faith in spite of his father's protests. Will the Resistance be able to survive?

There were some parts I absolutely loved in this book. Jace (as always), Prince Daniel, and Ann are some of my favorite characters ever. However, I sadly felt rather distanced from many of them. There was so much going on in different parts of the world! As someone who hasn't read any of the prequels in a while, it was a little difficult to hop back into the story.

While Elon's appearance was well-done in the last book, it seemed to have relatively little consequence for the story overall (excepting a few key characters' story arcs). I hope the story returns to his influence in the coming books; His part of the story was quite well written in the previous novel, and I would love to see Him play a bit bigger of a role in the coming installation(s). 

Finally, I hope you're a fan of romance if you pick this one up! While there was definitely enough epic dragon-flying adventure to keep me entertained, it is a little heavy on the romance. However, I will tip my hat to Ms. Knight for exploring some different aspects of romance that prevented the insta-love feeling. That's quite the accomplishment.


The Bottom Line: This Christian allegorical fantasy was a pleasant read that offers hope for a return to stellar character development and plot points in the coming novels.                                            

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reality, Meet Fiction: Disaster Response

Reality: 
Three hurricanes: Katia (far left, toward Mexico), Irma (center),
and Jose (right).
Picture from NOAA.

The past month has been incredible with regard to natural disasters in the United States. Wildfires in the west are on track to be the third worst in the past decade, with more than 26,000 firefighters working to keep the fires at bay. The National Guard (part of the reserve armed forces that states call in for extra support, roughly equivalent to modern-day militia) has been called into action in four states to assist governmental efforts.

Meanwhile, the American South is facing a horrifying series of hurricanes. Harvey, the first major hurricane (Category 3-5) to hit the U.S. since 2005, made landfall on August 25th as the wettest hurricane to hit the United States in recorded history, devastating many Texas cities and overflowing levees. The President has requested 6 billion US dollars to be placed toward relief efforts.

At the writing of this post, the next major hurricane, Irma, is lurking off the coast of Florida. Prior to making landfall in the Caribbean, it was one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes recorded, with wind speeds at 185 miles per hour, placing it solidly in Category 5. It's still a threatening Category 4 hurricane. Approximately 1/4 of the Florida population has been evacuated at this time, possibly the largest evacuation attempt in U.S. history. Further emergency funding has been requested for FEMA, the federal emergency relief organization, which is already stretched thin by Harvey. The entire Florida National Guard has been called into active duty. 

Unfortunately, the danger doesn't seem to be over yet. Jose, a Category 4 hurricane, is following close in the wake of Irma, scheduled to strike many of the same Caribbean Islands so recently devastated by Irma. 

In addition to FEMA and other national agencies, many private organizations, such as the American Red Cross and various church bodies, have mobilized in response to the various disasters. Foreign aid has also been offered by other countries. 

Fiction:

How do people in your story world respond to disasters--natural or otherwise? Are there alliances they can rely upon to pull in aid from other non-affected countries? Is there a central government that provides relief? If so, how does that government determine where funds are used? 

Are local efforts coordinated, such as a fire brigade? Are local charities seen as more helpful than larger ones? Who organizes things at "ground level"? Is it civilians, civilian officials (such as the mayor), the clergy, the military, influential people, or something else? 

Do people organize trips to help those in need, or is there an attitude that each group should fend for themselves? 

How is money raised for relief efforts? Does it come from donations? Fundraisers? Taxes? How do organizations decide where the funds should go--alliances, favors, favored groups, etc.? 

How does the media cover disasters? Do they flee or provide on-the-ground reporting? If multiple disasters occur in quick succession, what determines which disasters receive the most attention? 

What disasters have occurred recently in your area or country? How has your community responded? 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Frayed"

The Short:

Frayed
DarkTrench Shadow #1

By: Kerry Nietz

5/5 Stars

What: A young, lowlevel debugger gets the promotion of his dreams—or is it really a nightmare?

Recommended to those who like: Sci-fi, Christian/Clean, Futuristic, Dystopian

The Long:

I’m always a little nervous to read spin-off series. They can be anywhere from good to horrible. If the former, then I rejoice at reading them; if the latter, I can spend a solid two weeks bemoaning my decision to ruin a perfectly good story world.

So far, the DarkTrench Shadow series is turning out to be the former.

Unlike many spin-offs, the story and characters are fresh, without unnecessary interruptions by previous characters. Furthermore, the story continues to build and offer a fresh perspective on the world first introduced in A Star Curiously Singing.

In the future, the world is under Sharia law. Some of the lowest—yet oddly respected—members of society are debuggers, men who have been implanted with technology that allows them to link with machines in order to repair them. The cost of this gift is their freedom; even their thoughts are policed.

One such man is ThreadBare, a young man just trying to survive and, if possible, get a promotion. But when he gets his coveted promotion, is it a dream come true or a nightmare? He feels he has no hope of making any decisions, but, at the same time, maybe he has more freedom than he thought. Can he make what he believes to be the right decision, even if everything else tells him it’s wrong?

The resulting story is a fast read and quite enjoyable. I would recommend it to mature teens and up for some violent/disturbing scenes. It’s not gratuitous, but rather serves to initiate questions on the nature of morality, a central theme of the book.

Although SandFly is still my favorite DarkTrench Universe character, ThreadBare is a nice character as well. He manages to be an engaging narrator while still being distinct from SandFly.
It is not necessary to read the original trilogy prior to reading this book, but it may help to explain a little bit more backstory.


The Bottom Line: Frayed is a solid pick for mature fans of science fiction and a promising introduction to a new series. 

Looking for the original DarkTrench Saga? It starts with A Star Curiously Singing.

Or, check out my interview with Mr. Nietz where he talked about his inspiration for Frayed, faith and writing, and the publishing industry.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Reality, Meet Fiction: Architecture



A view of the Berlin governmental district across the river Spree.
The dome pictured is the Reichstag Building, where the
German Parliament meets.

Reality:

Growing up in the Midwest, my exposure to different types of architecture was rather limited. My home state is only a little over 200 years old, so old buildings are hard to come by. If they do exist, they're typically simple structures, such as log cabins. One of my favorite aspects of Germany was the variety of architecture present in the country and the stories behind their design.

One building that had a particularly interesting story was the Reichstag building, seat of the German Parliament, or Bundestag.

The building originally housed the Reichstag (Imperial Diet) during the time of the German Empire. When it was succeeded by the Weimar Republic, it housed the Reichstag, or Parliament. 

However, just before Hitler came to power, it burned down under mysterious circumstances. Some hypothesize that the Nazi party was responsible for the fire, which gave them an excuse to arrest political enemies immediately prior to electing Hitler as Chancellor. 

Throughout the Nazi era, the building was left mostly unoccupied and in deteriorating condition as WWII raged on. 
Courtesy of Avda
(I wish I could take credit for such a nice picture.)

The building was repaired more fully during the Cold War, but the German Parliament, now called the Bundestag, did not return to the building until after German reunification in the 1990's. The current glass dome was built on top to replace the cupola that had been destroyed. It is made of glass to symbolize transparency in government, a theme that is repeated throughout most governmental buildings, which also utilize large windows. Walkways allow visitors to climb to the top of the dome, symbolizing that the people are above the government. 

In short, the building's architecture tells the story of a nation that has faced many trials in the past few centuries. 

Fiction: 

Perhaps the nations you feature in your book have a more straightforward history than modern Germany, but how can you have architecture tell a story within your story?

Why did your characters (or their government) decide on a certain style of architecture? Is it due to the region's climate and available materials as a primitive society? Does it represent part of their religion? 

Does your nation honor past rulers with statues and monuments? Or do they eschew such gestures due to a checkered or short past? 

Does your nation's architecture reveal any of their fears--fears of peasant revolt, invasion, dictatorship, etc? How can these be revealed in the architecture? Is it well fortified, or does it have more of an open design? 

Does your nation's architecture reveal their values? Is this reflected in materials they use (or don't use)? If they value fresh air, are large windows present? If they value strength, do they rely on materials they consider strong? Are buildings designed to be beautiful or utilitarian? 

How long has your nation been in existence? Do they value buildings from older, former kingdoms? Or do they feel the need to replace these buildings and place their own mark on the world? Have wars or natural disasters impacted which buildings remain? 

What buildings or styles have cultural significance? Have certain buildings served important purposes in the past? What buildings would your nation choose to rebuild if they were destroyed?

What buildings do you know of with an interesting backstory?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Orphan's Song"

The Short:

Orphan’s Song
Songkeeper Chronicles, Book 1

By: Gillian Bronte Adams

4/5 Stars

What: An orphan discovers that she has a terrible gift that makes her the target of an invading force.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Loosely Christian

The Long:

Birdie is just an orphan trying to survive at the hands of her often cruel mistress. But when she discovers that she’s been gifted with terrible power and responsibility, she gains new foes and calls old friends into question. Can she survive long enough to discover the secret behind the song that only she can hear?

Ky is a street thief trying to balance the strict rules of the Underground with his own conscience and sentiments. When push comes to shove, which will he choose?

The story was a well-woven fantasy tale with many of my favorite fantastic elements—strange creatures, powerful gifts, and a rich story world that feels cozy and familiar. Unfortunately, the book just failed to really strike a chord with me. Some of the characters behaved in ways that I found a little confusing and I felt like I was missing some key elements of backstory that would help to explain events more satisfactorily.

The book did seem to have a Christian slant to it, but I wouldn’t call it a “Christian” book, strictly speaking. Overall, it was just a well-woven, familiar-feeling fantasy tale, suitable for a nice spot in an easy chair with a cup of coffee or tea.


The Bottom Line: While this may not be a ground-breaking book, Orphan’s Song is sure to please fantasy fans looking for an easy read.                                                                                                                      

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Reality, Meet Fiction: Translation

Zion Church in Berlin, the site of one
 of a handful of
underground print shops in
communist East Berlin.
As you may have noticed, my posting schedule decreased for a while as I was gone in Germany. This is the first of (hopefully) several posts that was partially inspired by the trip. 


Reality: 

While most people in Germany speak a fair bit of English, there were a number of times where our group leader had to translate signs or tours for us, especially if the subject was rather technical or if we were along on a German-only tour. 

Whether it's just his personality or the fact that he's a physicist, our guide tended to shorten things quite a bit for us to understand. Occasionally, with my (very, very) limited amount of German, I could tell that he was omitting some parts of the narrative or making them more succinct for our understanding. (This was totally fine with me, because being in a country where pretty much everyone seems to be at least bi-lingual, it's embarrassing to admit that you only speak one language and I also felt like I was an inconvenience to native speakers by needing everything translated).

However, when translation got really interesting was when there was a flurry of back-and-forth rapid German between our group leader and the tour guide, followed by a quick consultation with another bi-lingual speaker in the group. The result of this conversation usually began with a statement in English something along the lines of, "I don't think you have a word for it, but it's a similar concept to..." followed by a few sentence description of what was probably one word in German. A couple of times, he also added, "It's pretty much untranslatable."

Even though I went into the trip realizing that different languages don't always have a word-for-word equivalence of concepts, it surprised me how frequently these exchanges occurred and how narrow one language can be for expressing ideas.

Fiction:

While it's common to see multiple languages used in fantasy books, I don't think I've run across the idea of something being lost in translation. It would be a cool concept to utilize more frequently.

What factors influence what each language in your story has vocabulary for? For example, a sea-faring society likely has more words for nautical and marine terms than a desert society. How can this cause confusion in translation between characters?

Are certain languages considered valuable to learn for economic or social reasons? Are others looked down upon for being local dialects?

Is there a trade language or a language that most characters are expected to learn? Do certain professions require training in a certain language? (Church work in the Middle Ages and Latin). What factors influence what language(s) your characters know--schooling, social class, occupation, country of residence, language spoken at home, age, etc.?

Are certain languages considered more difficult to learn? How are languages in your storyworld related? What history--conquests, trade, etc.--affects shared vocabulary or similar syntax?

Have you traveled to a country that doesn't speak your native language? What was the experience like?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sequel Review: "Crown of Fire"

I'd strongly recommend reading Firebird and Fusion Fire prior to picking up this book. Check back in next week for a new series! As always, I've tried to keep this review spoiler free for both this book and the previous books. 

The Short:

Crown of Fire
Firebird Trilogy, #3

By: Kathy Tyers

4/5 Stars

What: Firebird and Brennen must face their own fears and flaws while trying to put down the most dangerous threat to the Federacy yet.

Recommended to those who like: Sci-fi/Space Opera, Christian, Space Battles


The Long:

Firebird was one of the first non-Star Wars sci-fi universes I read about that I felt that I could really fall in love with. In spite of focusing on just a couple of key characters, the universe feels spectacularly huge and rich. While this is the end of the original trilogy, it looks like there are two more books to read in the same universe, so I look forward to picking those up sometime in the future.

Regarding Crown of Fire, while it wasn’t my favorite in the trilogy, it was still a solid read. It was great to hear about the adventures of Firebird and Brennen again and to wrap up some plot points that had been introduced as early as the first book. However, I felt like there were still a couple loose ends that would have been nice to tie up. Maybe they’ll be finished off in the later two books?

One of the things I really appreciated about this trilogy was the fact that both Brennen and Firebird struggle with different character flaws throughout the trilogy, yet these flaws spring out of their own fundamental personalities. It destroys the common stereotype that Christian characters are perfect (or become perfect by the end of the first book and then no longer have any character development left).

As usual, the worldbuilding was fantastic and rich. The Christian themes of the book were a little stronger than in the earlier books, but still weren’t overwhelming.


The Bottom Line: I’d definitely recommend this series to fans of Christian science fiction who enjoy a bit of action and don’t mind some romance.                                                                                                        

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Changing Seasons

It's late summer here in the American Midwest. The air has a bit of a different smell to it in the morning, the bugs sound different than when I left for Germany, and there's a subtle darkening in the color of leaves on the trees. School supplies are everywhere in the supermarket and tailgating supplies are making their appearances. Soon it will be fall, the days will get colder and shorter, and it'll be time to break out my hoodies and my apple crisp recipe card.

When I was younger, I used to dislike the changing seasons, especially as summer transitioned to fall. Now I enjoy and appreciate the change in life it brings. (It may also have something to do with the fact that I no longer have high school in the fall. High school and I weren't the best of friends.)

 As I've grown older, I've also started to realize that life has its seasons, just as the year does.

Full confession: I didn't write anything this summer. I haven't even opened a word document to do some editing.

I used to rely on the summer to do the bulk of my editing and writing. It finally clicked for me that I can no longer do that; career jobs don't exactly give you two months out of the year with nothing to do. (Hello, Captain Obvious.) I'll have to figure out how to fit in writing and editing around my already busy schedule.

At first, I was angry about this change. You mean I can't just pound out 5k words a day for three months and take the other nine months off entirely?

Then came a wave of self-doubt. Is it worth it to be writing? Is this something to carry into my next season of life? Should I make time for it? I spent some time ruminating on it and decided that, yes, this is something I want to do.

There's too much I want to write about and dream about to not write.

I used to think that I would pay for my college by writing a great self-published book. That seems silly now. Indeed, the idea of just making something worthy of being published (self-pubbed or otherwise) seems daunting. It's a responsibility. Something to do right or not at all, because it would bear my name on it.

But that doesn't mean that things don't need to be written, because they do. It's how I process the world; I see things through stories, through characters on a page.

I think I still have a lot of growing to do; in fact, I hope I do. It'd be rather sad if I never matured past my young adult self. But I think that it's time I accepted that I'm moving into a different season of life. One where writing is less about influencing people and more about putting out a kernel of truth, even if it just sits on my hard drive and only affects me. One where writing isn't something to pass the time when bored, but something essential to who I am.

It's time to appreciate where I've been, but also to embrace where I'm going. And if that seasonal change brings hoodie
weather, I'm all for it.

How have your thoughts on writing changed as you've grown older?

If you're curious about what I've been up to lately, you can check out my updated biography under the "About Me" tab.