Friday, August 11, 2017

Flashback Friday: First Year Books

Are you a newcomer to the blog? I might not be posting new book reviews while I'm away, but you can certainly check out some of my old reviews! Here are some books from the first year of the blog that I'd love to re-read.

Resistance, by Jaye L. Knight.

5/5 Stars. Christian Allegorical Fantasy.

A half-breed man struggles with his own humanity while a young woman strives to maintain her faith in the den of the enemy.

Hero, Second Class by Mitchell Bonds.

4/5 Stars. Christian Humor/Fantasy.

A young man is apprenticed to a hero, trying to increase his classification. As always, there seems to be an arch-villain in the way.

The Word Reclaimed, by Steve Rsaza.

4/5 Stars. Christian Science Fiction.

Amid a spacewreck, the last known copy of the Bible is discovered. 

What book would you love to re-read?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Divergent"

The Short:


By: Veronica Roth

4.5/5 Stars

What: Forced to choose between five factions that each represent a defining attribute, a young woman must face some of her worst fears.

Recommended to those who like: Young adult, Clean/Christian?, dystopian, post-apocalyptic.

Reader’s Warning: Brief language (PG), references to intimate relations (PG to mild PG-13)

The Long:

Once I get back from my trip, I look forward to doing a more thorough discussion of this book. It might not be overly remarkable on its own, but its status as a secular book written by an author who is rather open about her faith is intriguing.

Alas, I shall have to stick to a quick review for today. Ready? Here we go!

In post-apocalyptic Chicago, people are divided by what character trait they value most highly. Beatrice has lived among the selfless Abnegation group for her entire life, but when it’s time for her to choose what group she will ultimately spend the rest of her life with, she faces a deep internal conflict and some of her worst fears.

I found that this book provided some interesting food for thought, which was somewhat surprising. I went into expecting a fast read (which it was), with too much insta-love (mostly accurate), and maybe a couple good action scenes (also accurate). I didn’t expect the questions about the basis of morality that it raised and the conflicts between different value systems, not to mention well-woven commentary on the human condition. However, it was artfully done.

The story was somewhat predictable at a couple of points, and I would have loved to have seen some more in-depth character development of a few of the side characters. I would gladly read the second book just to get a more expanded vision of the post-apocalyptic world. We’re given just the right taste of it to be satisfying while also creating a thirst for more.

As aforementioned, the story was a little too heavy on the love element for my taste. It was still more reasonable than many YA books, for which I was thankful.

The writing was snappy and tight overall, which made for a very quick and easy read that would appeal to teens who don’t even enjoy reading (if I had to guess. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed reading, so I might not be the best person to ask).

While Christianity is not directly involved in this story, the author begins her acknowledgements with a specifically Christian message, and many of the elements of the story reflect a Christian point of view. It certainly makes an intriguing read.

The Bottom Line: A clean dystopian story for mature teens and up, this quick read with good worldbuilding and worthwhile dilemmas is actually worth a bit of the hype.                                                      

Friday, July 28, 2017

Hound Dog Harmonies: "This My Soul"

The Short: 

Song: "This My Soul" 

Artist: The Gray Havens

Album: Ghost of a King

Genre: Folk/ Pop

Listening Suggestion: A relaxing evening on the porch with tea or hot chocolate 

Christian Author Listener(s): Nadine Brandes

Selected Lyrics:

I would really suggest that  you go read the lyrics in their entirety by clicking on this link. However, here are some excerpts:

...The form took its shape as a garden was born.
Then man from the dust came reflecting 
All goodness and beauty and life,
But he lowered his gaze
As he listened to the face of low desires.

...What this man has done,
it all extends to you...

The voice came and swords blocked the garden.
None could return with their lives.
A curse there was placed upon every man to face
For all of time...

Then the perfect son of man
Took the place the voice had planned
Since the garden and before
He took the swords and cursed the grave...

...What this man has done,
It all extends to you...

You can check out the song on YouTube or your other favorite outlet.

The Long: 

Ms. Brandes recently discovered this song and shared it on her Facebook page. I was intrigued at first, then hooked once I read the lyrics to many of the band's songs. In addition to having some thought provoking lyrics with interesting twists, they also make references to The Chronicles of Narnia. Furthermore, I suspect that their band name is a salute to The Lord of the Rings. What's not to love?

I chose to review the song that initially got me hooked on the Gray Havens, "This My Soul", because of its unique perspective on the fall and redemption of mankind. I absolutely loved how it tied in the fall, the curse, and redemption into one song with similar imagery. 

The chorus, which largely hinges on the phrase "What this man has done, it all extends to you", reminds me of Romans 5: 18. The ESV reads: "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men."

Yet, in spite of telling the story of salvation, this song doesn't come across as preachy or contrived--it merely presents a good story that is reflective of the larger truth, much as a good fantasy allegory might. I wouldn't pick it for worship, but it makes a good song to listen to while cooking or just chilling in the evening. 

The sound of this band is a little bit more "folksy" or "pop" sounding than I typically go for, but it does make for a nice blend. 

What's your favorite music genre?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Happy Space Exploration Day!

Yesterday was National Space Exploration Day. It commemorates the anniversary of the first manned moon landing on July 20th, 1969 by the Apollo 11 Crew. To celebrate, enjoy these sci-fi blog highlights!

Feeling like watching some sci-fi movies? Check out my brief reviews of three films about space exploration by clicking here.

In the mood for some character analysis? Here's a Pastors in Fiction article about Shepherd Book from the TV series Firefly. 

Or, check out my interview with author Kerry Nietz about Frayed, his Christian sci-fi novel that was released last summer. I'm excited to (hopefully) read it on my flight tomorrow!

Starting tomorrow, I'll have very limited ability to check on the blog for the next few weeks, but posts will continue to be put up on Fridays. Thanks for your patience!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sequel Review: "The Sword in the Stars"

The Short:

The Errant King
The Dark Sea Annals, Book 2

By: Wayne Thomas Batson

5/5 Stars

What: A young king must protect his kingdom from attacks from without—and within.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Darker stories, Teen and up, Christian

The Long:

While this book takes place 20 years after the events of The Sword in the Stars, I would highly recommend reading this book second so as to not miss the intricate details of the backstory.

Loch has recently come to the throne, but, in spite of being king of the known world, he feels dissatisfied. His mother is wasting away in her grief, he has few true friends, distant relatives make plays for his throne, and attacks upon his kingdom have been numerous. And those are just the threats he knows about within his own borders. Will he be able to shoulder the responsibility that his position requires?

Once again, Mr. Batson has spun a captivating and rich tale, full of vibrant characters, rich action, and deep conflict. Like with the first book in this series, there is a significant amount of darkness, so I would recommend it for only teens and up.

The Christian message is a little stronger in this book (it’s an allegory after all), but it doesn’t overwhelm the story. Rather, it weaves nicely through the background. I look forward to seeing how the threads and hints we’ve had up to this point will play out in the rest of the series.

Unfortunately for us, it could be a while before book 3 comes out. Mr. Batson has decided to self-publish the rest of the series. It’s going to be hard to wait much longer for the rest of the series!

The Bottom Line: A high fantasy tale suited for teens and up, this Christian allegory builds upon a rich backstory and well-rounded characters for a gripping read.

Remember, beginning next week, posts will only be put up on Fridays for the next several weeks.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hound Dog Harmonies: "Light of the World"

Incidentally, I've discovered a few Christian bands through my favorite authors. In this new series, I'm going to explore some of that music and analyze it a little. I'm going to start out with a shorter post/analysis today and hopefully expand to something a little more in-depth. Let me know what you think down in the comments! 

The Short: 

Song: "Light of the World"

Artist: Theocracy

Album: As the World Bleeds

Genre: Metal

Listening Suggestion: Car jam session

Christian Author Listener(s): Wayne Thomas Batson

Selected Lyrics:

You are the light of the world, he said.
But we've blown out our candles and left men for dead.
Singing, "We are the light of the world, he said".
As the darkness descends on us all.

If we were the light of the world today,
Would we hide in the shadows and scare them away?
Are we the light of the world, 
Or are we failing to answer the call?

You can listen to the full song on Youtube, through Spotify, through Amazon Prime Music, or whatever your favorite outlet happens to be.

The Long: 

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not really a Christian music fan. I find most of it to sound similar, to have (at best) questionable lyrics, and overall it just isn't my cup of tea. I found Theocracy about a year ago through a Facebook group and then quickly discovered that Wayne Thomas Batson, one of my favorite authors, is also a fan of the band. 

At first, I wasn't sold on the group. Depending on the song, their sound's a little more "thrashy" than I typically like. However, what sold me on the group was their lyrics. 

Where many bands might have stopped at reminding us of Jesus' statement that we are to be the light of the earth, the Theocracy crew didn't hesitate to point out that we often fail at that mission without any shame. Ouch.

As I wrote about a while back, I find it interesting that we don't always consider the target audience for Christian media. While we as Christians certainly need comfort and uplifting songs, I think there's also a place for songs that convict and challenge us, lest we become lulled into a sense of self-righteousness.

 What was the last song that made you think about your faith?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Edge of Oblivion"

Edge of Oblivion (The Chronicles of Sarco, #1)The Short:

Edge of Oblivion
(The Chronicles of Sarco, Book 1)

By: Joshua A. Johnson

4.5/5 Stars

What: A mysterious ship is bent on the destruction of the interstellar Confederacy. The only hope for civilization seems to be an average starship’s crew quest for archaic artifacts.

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

The Long:

Earth’s history is lost, but a new future has emerged. Spaceflight has been developed and an alliance, the Confederacy, has formed between Earth and other planets. That bright future is now at risk. A strange outside force has invaded and is now bent on the destruction of the Confederacy. All that stands in the way is an average starship crew and their unlikely quest to find religious texts that may be related to the invaders.

This book had one of the more believable sci-fi casts that I’ve read recently. Members were neither absurdly odd nor overly good at their jobs—it’s very believable that this ship is representative of the thousands of others in the Confederacy, making them relatable. Although I didn’t relate to any single one of them in particular, I found them well-developed and likeable as a whole.

The worldbuilding in this book was fantastic. Each world is given the right amount of attention to paint a suitable backdrop without overwhelming the reader. Similarly, there were enough alien species give a feeling of galactic diversity without seeming too large to explore.

I really wanted to give this book five stars, and the plot was promising at first. However, the climax was rushed and came close to becoming a deus ex machina. It fit into the plot and several of the plot seeds planted, but it didn’t depend too much on the characters or their skills. 

The Christian element was well-played and provides an interesting look at salvation and religion in an interstellar story realm. It was never overwhelming and I look forward to seeing the topic explored in more depth in the upcoming books.

The Bottom Line: Edge of Oblivion would be a good pick for sci-fi fans who are looking for a brief exploration of Christianity and a rich exploration of alien worlds.                                                                    

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July/August Blog Update

Due to Independence Day celebrations here in the U.S., I didn't have time to crank out a full post. However, I did prepare a quick update on what you can expect from the blog in the near future.

July/August Posting Schedule

I'm going to be out of the country for several weeks, so my posting schedule is going to be sparse at best. I will likely be unavailable to reply to comments toward the end of the month. 

This week, there will be a Friday Fiction Fix and next week will have a normal posting schedule. Then, from July 17th until August 26th, there will be one post per week on Fridays. Most likely, the posts will consist of archive highlights and the occasional book review; it all depends on what I have time to whip up in between packing and practicing my German. 

If by chance you're struck by the sudden inspiration to create a guest post, you can email me in the next couple weeks and I'll be sure to work it into the schedule!

Thanks for your patience through this time!

Posting Topics

I realize that my posting topics have been a little random of late. I'm working on some new post series and ideas. I hope to continue Pastors in Fiction as I read books that provide good material to analyze. I'm also looking to explore some topics relating to villains and the portrayal of good vs. evil once I get back from my trip. I'm sure I'll also come up with a way to incorporate my travels into some blog posts.

Thanks for your patience! Happy Independence Day!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Sequel Review: Merlin's Nightmare

I would suggest reading Merlin's Blade and Merlin's Shadow prior to this book. As always, this review should be spoiler-free. I'll be back next week with a new series!

The Short:

Merlin’s Nightmare
The Merlin Spiral, Book 1

By: Robert Treskillard

4/5 Stars

What: It’s time for Arthur to take his rightful place as Pendragon—but can Merlin let go of his hopes and fears to allow him to do it?

Recommended to those who like: Arthurian legend, Christian, fantasy.

The Long:

In the final installment of the Merlin Spiral, Merlin and company have settled into their new lives. Arthur is a growing man, skilled in war, while Merlin has settled into his new life as a bard, raising his family. But when disaster strikes Britain, will Merlin be able to let Arthur go meet his destiny? Or will his old fears keep him from trusting God’s plan?

This was a nice conclusion to the Merlin Spiral, though it almost felt more like the beginning of a new series. Several new characters are introduced, while former main characters begin to take more of a back seat to Arthur and his warband. Even though this book wasn’t my favorite in the series, I thought it set up nicely for the upcoming Pendragon Spiral, which I certainly look forward to reading when it comes out.

I found the action to be exciting, but I felt removed in time from many of the villains since the gap between books 2 and 3 was so large in “story time”. I will give the book that it made me genuinely fearful for the main characters at multiple points—that’s more than many books can do—and the villains were genuinely creepy.

The Christian message was good overall, especially in the aspect that it showed characters struggling with past problems and not just miraculously never relapsing into old doubts and fears. However, I did think that it toed the line toward preachy a couple of times.

Overall, this was a good book, but I thought it was a better transitionary book than a true end to a series. I look forward to reading the next series when it comes out.

The Bottom Line: This series would be well-suited for teens and up who enjoy fantasy and don’t object to magic use by antagonists.                                                                                                                                         

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Loading up the TBR List

As many of the sites I rely upon for upcoming releases seem to be behind on updates, I've forgone the "new releases" post for a list of books I've stumbled across that have been (relatively) recently released and have piqued my interest. Excerpts/back cover blurbs taken from Enjoy!

The Remnant

William Michael Davidson

Released February 2017

Colton Pierce apprehends Abberants--those who display symptoms of faith--and quarantines them on a remote island to ensure public safety. Years prior, the government released a genetically-engineered super flu that destroyed the genes believed to be the biological source of spiritual experience in an effort to rid the world of terrorism. As an extractor with the Center for Theological Control, Colton is dedicated to the cause.

But Colton's steadfast commitment is challenged when he learns his own son has been targeted for extraction. An underground militia, the Remnant, agrees to help Colton save his son in exchange for his assistance with their plan to free the Aberrants on the island.

Harvest of Prey

Alexander Preston

Released October 2016

A team of naturalists find themselves facing a nightmare beyond anything they have ever known - and the product of unspeakable evil. 

Philip Caster, a former Green Beret now working as a zoologist, leads an international team in Indonesia whose revolutionary new program may spell salvation for the endangered Sumatran tiger. They will release six artificially-conceived cubs into the wild, accompanied by their surrogate mothers. The effort will prove the feasibility of in vitro breeding as a new tool against extinction. But its success is overshadowed by the sudden emergence of a horror beyond reckoning. Something has been unleashed in the forests of Sumatra. A life-form never meant to walk the earth. One that claims humanity as its only prey. 

As death unfolds around them, Caster and his circle of friends must uncover the truth behind an abomination: the instrument of dark and all-too-human forces pursuing a twisted ideological vision. Their creation has killed already - and their plans will consume millions more.

Scarlet Moon

S.D. Grimm

Released October 2016

The hunted Feravolk are counting on Jayden, a seventeen-year-old, dagger-wielding, storm-detecting orphan, to save their race. Maybe they should have thought of that before they killed her family.

The land of Soleden is dying because the sorceress queen hunts and kills the people who cared for all nature, the Feravolk. Through their special bond with animals, the Feravolk have become more than men. Faster, stronger, masters of camouflage and stealth. Only a Deliverer born the night of the Blood Moon can save them from extinction.

According to prophecy, Jayden is a Deliverer, but it’s not a destiny she wants. She has no sympathy for either side. The Feravolk killed her family, so they can die for all she cares. And fighting the queen with nothing but daggers and her special abilities—storm predicting—is a suicide mission. Destiny can pick someone else...

What recent releases from this list or elsewhere have caught your eye? 

I'm still in desperate need of guest posters while I'm traveling next month. Send me an email using the contact form in the side bar if you're interested!

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.