Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Scarlet Moon"

The Short:

Scarlet Moon
Children of the Blood Moon, Book 1

By: S.D. Grimm

4.5/5 Stars

What: Jordan's supernatural powers are the key to delivering the kingdom; the only problem is, the people who want her to use those powers killed her parents.

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, loosely Christian, some romance

The Long:

I don't know why it took me so long to pick up this book, but I'm glad that I finally did! I really enjoyed it and definitely look forward to reading the second book in the series. 

Jordan lives a peaceful life with her adoptive family. Her greatest worry is her looming wedding to a man she likes, but doesn't yet truly love. 

Until her special talents bring the Feravolk to her door. Now forced to flee, and her family in tatters, she's faced with a choice: help overthrow the queen that she despises with the help of her family's murderers, or try to make her own way in the wild. 

The resulting story is one of some romance, a healthy amount of action, and some fresh worldbuilding. My only significant complaint was that there were so many questions about the world left unanswered! 

The Christian element to this story is quite loose, but I think it may play into a bigger role in later installments in the series. 

The Bottom Line: This loose Christian fantasy would be a good pick for fantasy fans who enjoy fresh storyworld development and a small bit of romance.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December Blog Update

It's that time again--I don't have a posting idea, so I'm just going to make up some fluff that's hopefully mildly interesting. Enjoy?

What's Been Happening:

In general, a vague disbelief that Christmas is coming in less than a week, which has resulted in a flurry of shopping, gift-wrapping, and chocolate consumption. 

More to the blog's point, I've been reading (duh). If you want to follow what I've been up to on the bookish front, I would highly recommend my Goodreads page. Most recently, I've been re-reading the Legends of Karac Tor series by D. Barkley Briggs, as well as what you've seen me review on the blog. 

Additionally, I've been participating in Hamlette's "Another LotR Read-Along", which is excellent. If you're a book nerd like me and secretly have been missing bookish discussions from your high school English days and you have a desire to read The Lord of the Rings, I would definitely refer you to the event. (I promise I won't tell  your English teacher or any of your classmates). 

Outside of reading, I've discovered I enjoy painting, I've procrastinated on cleaning, and I'm working. (That last one's totally a shocker. I thought you worked for like two days and paid off your college debt? That's not how this works?) I'm keeping up with a volunteer editing project as well. 

Looking Ahead:

For the next two weeks, I'll be posting on Fridays only due to travelling for the holidays. After that, I plan on resuming a normal twice-weekly posting schedule. 

However, I'd love to have some feedback from you folks on what you want to read about for the next few months. Character analyses? More author interviews? More reflections? More writing posts? Different tags? Something new, like a read-along or more discussion-based posts? As much as I'd like to be a mind reader, I'm not. Shoot me an email with the contact form or sound off in the comments--I won't even make you fill out a scary survey, so there's no reason not to respond ;) !

Have a blessed Advent week! 

(And please comment with ideas!)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Fall of Lucifer"

The Short:

The Fall of Lucifer
Chronicles of Brothers, Book 1

By: Wendy Alec

4/5 Stars

What: Satan's fall and the birth of mankind from an angelic perspective.

Recommended to those who like: Spiritual warfare/supernatural, Christian, some sci-fi elements

The Long:

I must say that I was really intrigued by the concept of this book. It depicts the fall of Lucifer from heaven from the perspective of the other angels--mostly Michael and Gabriel. To a somewhat lesser degree, the book also portrays events on earth such as the fall of man and the flood. 

The imagery in the book is stunning to the point of being almost overwhelming. On one hand, this is one of the book's greatest strengths; it's a hard task to bring heaven and the direct presence of Christ to life. On the other hand, the descriptions are a bit like eating Thanksgiving dinner--it's good, but there's so much of it that it's hard to appreciate all of it at once and by the end you're wondering why you ate (or read) so much of it. 

It's important to note that this is a fictional book and it's difficult to discuss in-depth theology with a novel. That being said, I thought that the author did a solid job of describing some of the basic tenets of Creation and its fall while filling in some of the unknown gaps. It gives a new flavor to the term "speculative" fiction. Given the prologue and epilogue to the book, I think the series could get into some dicey areas when it comes to theology regarding Revelation/other prophetic books, but if one reads it as a work of fiction rather than theology, it works out fairly well. 

The characters were well-conceived for being such untouchable figures, though I felt they still retained some of their distance. Also, the very nature of trying to fill in the gaps for a tale that's already been told make it a difficult story to construct. We know that Lucifer has to become Satan and fall from grace, but how can you do that while making him something other than just the ultimate villain? I thought the author achieved a fairly nice balance between his ultimate evilness and his initial grace. It was a fine line to tread and, for the most part, it was trodden quite well. 

The Fall of Lucifer does contain some sci-fi elements, which was an interesting twist. For example, much is made of mankind's DNA, the composition of matter, and other scientific pursuits. This adds an interesting flavor to what could otherwise be a very heavy-handed theological story. 

The story does address some issues of sexual immorality (not in detail), so it would be more suitable for teens and up, even though the writing style isn't strictly age-prohibitive. Furthermore, I would say that it's important to give this tale only to people well-versed in the Christian faith and who are willing to take it as a book of fiction; taken too literally, I could see some pitfalls for heresy. (In short, make sure that whoever you give it to understands that theological questions should be addressed to their pastor, not a work of fiction, especially concerning God's judgement and mercy, levels of heaven, eternal punishment of sinners, the nature of sin/original sin, etc.) On the flip side, it could make an interesting book for someone who's vaguely interested in the Christian faith; it offers many opportunities for discussion.

The Bottom Line: The Fall of Lucifer is an engaging book that could be thoroughly enjoyed if given to an appropriate audience.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sin, Cancer, and Antagonists

Working in a veterinary hospital exposes you to any number of sad cases on a weekly basis. It's a sad fact of life that many of our companion animals live shorter lives than we do. Beyond old animal issues, there are traumatic cases, contagious diseases, and freak accidents that take the lives of pets

But one thing in particular that seems to claim a lot of critters: cancer.

It has a lot of names, some unpronounceable, some simple. It's not uncommon to hear someone ask if they're looking for "the badness" in a particular animal. Positive results are greeted with a string of profanities cursing the disease, deep sighs, and a sad pat on the head for a dog that probably still wags its tail.

Old, young, healthy, unhealthy. Doesn't matter.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about it is that it isn't anybody's fault. It's the body attacking itself from within, eating itself from the inside out. Sometimes it doesn't even show itself until the last moment, when there's nothing to be done.

Animals don't smoke a pack a day. They don't go to tanning salons. They don't choose to microwave their food in styrofoam or take unnecessary hormone replacements or drink excessive alcohol or work in high radiation areas or do any of the other things we avoid to try to escape the "c" word.

The badness comes for them anyhow.

Sin comes for us in much the same way.

We try to go to church and say the right things and do all the right things. We try so hard to be conscientious of our tempers, of our words, of our thoughts. But in the end, we fail.

Because the badness is already in us, eating us from the inside out.

We are by nature sinful and unclean. We cannot escape our sinful nature, our soul's innate desire to self-destruct through selfishness. It's growing within. And we can't fix it on our own. We need something from outside of us to cure it, something more powerful than ourselves. And that cure must be miraculous, or else sin will merely rear its ugly head in some other form somewhere in the body.

I think we're missing a key story element here. So often our antagonists in our stories are outside of the protagonists. We miss the opportunities that our characters themselves present. After all, if our characters are fallen humans (or fallen aliens, I suppose), they have sinful natures struggling to consume them from within, in spite of all their best efforts to prevent it from growing and spreading.

Don't get me wrong--I'm a fan of taking the Ring to Mordor to destroy the Dark Lord. The devil's real and we need to acknowledge that evil powers exist outside of human nature. However, the most terrifying battle line isn't drawn between Gondor and Mordor as good and evil clash head on; it's drawn down the center of every human heart. One side has the true picture of what God intended; the other has sin struggling to break free. It consumes from within, slowly at first, but growing.

Sometimes the enemy within is the most frightening--even if that enemy is yourself. Don't discount it in real life and don't miss out on the chance to utilize it in your stories.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Archive Highlights

I apologize for the unintentional hiatus as I take some time to re-stock my review pile. In the meantime, please enjoy some reviews from the archives.

Never to Live, by Just B. Jordan. 

A Christian fantasy novel suitable for teens and up due to some darker elements. 

Embers, by Ronie Kendig

A Christian fantasy novel with some vibrant characters. 

Failstate, by John Otte

Awkward teenage superheroes. Need I say more? 

Thanks for your patience! I plan on returning to a normal posting schedule next week. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Sequel Review: "Awakened"

I would recommend reading the first book in the series, Tainted, prior to reading this sequel. However, this review should be spoiler-free for both books. 

The Short:

The Soul Chronicles, Book 2

By: Morgan L. Busse

5/5 Stars

What: Kat and Stephen must find a cure for her while avoiding bounty hunters, international disputes, and their own troubled pasts. But time's running ut. 

Recommended to those who like: Steampunk/sci-fi, Christian, Romance, Young Adult.

The Long: 

It felt like it took forever for this book to be released. In looking back, it's only been a year and half since the first book was released. Regardless, it was certainly worth the wait. In fact, I enjoyed Awakened even more than I had enjoyed Tainted. Reuniting with Kat and Stephen was definitely enjoyable. And even though it's been some time since I read the first book in the series, it was easy to hop right back into the action. 

Kat and Stephen are on the run from the Tower once again. This time, they also have to contend with their own troubled past. Will they be able to overcome their differences before Kat's mysterious condition overcomes her? And will the doctor they seek even be able to help?

The resulting tale is one of romance (though not too much, even for a stooge like me), imaginative steampunk action, and solid worldbuilding. Not only have the stakes been raised for Kat and Stephen, they've also been raised for the entirety of World City. 

I'm not one for romance (as most people reading this blog know), but I did think that the romantic element of the story was well-played in this novel. It addresses some real issues in the couple's relationship in a realistic manner, heightens some of the tension in the story (without being there for tension's sake), and even manages to be fairly believable. 

I was even more impressed by the Christian element in this story. While it occasionally dances the line with cliche, it largely avoids many of the common problems of Christian fiction. Turning to God doesn't miraculously make everything better, true struggles with Christian dilemmas are addressed in an honest manner, and what many authors would have left as a deus ex machina at the end was beautifully executed to be logical and spiritually miraculous at the same time. 

The Bottom Line: Awakened is not only a good sequel, but a great book on its own for execution of a Christian plotline as well as fantastic worldbuilding and character growth.   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Reflections on Limitations

This month was a long month. Not much went as planned. I didn't even make 5k for NaNo, posting fell off the map for a while, and not much reading happened. In "real life", my apartment fell apart, my mood sagged into a pit of self-misery, and my temper flashed short.

I don't have a good reason for it. There are some things I can point fingers at that made life difficult--the loss of a pet, a stressful, changing environment at what was already a high-tension workplace, putting in extra hours at work, fighting off a cold, or a half dozen other things. Some of those reasons are good reasons to take a moment, regroup, and reflect on life. Other parts, well, those parts are just life. Those were parts of life that I was capable of handling like a mature adult, but found every lame reason not to do so.

Instead, I found myself curled under the covers, binge watching TV while eating junk food, and dreading the work next day because I "couldn't" do anything else.

In short, I allowed myself to set fake limitations on what I could do and lived comfortably within those bounds, bemoaning how awful things had become.

Have a good attitude going into work? Nope. So and so was downright dreadful yesterday. I can't bear to work with her while having a good attitude. Who works 55 hours and comes into work with a good attitude one day later? Not me. 

Writing during some spare time at home? I'm already behind on NaNo. I'll never catch up. So what's the point of trying? It's a stupid story anyway. I've never finished something to the point of publishing it. Why do I keep trying?

Journaling? Does it even help? Why should I try? I'm so tired, and it's a waste of time. 

Clean the apartment? Tomorrow. I don't have energy today. I just want to lay here. Tomorrow I'll do better. How about today? Tomorrow. I still don't feel great. I don't have enough time after work. Even 15 minutes to do it will take too long. 

Take the dog on an extra walk because he's antsy? I'd probably feel better, but it's too cold. Maybe tomorrow. 

It quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy of unproductivity and unachievement. I can't do that. It's too hard. Nobody even expects that of me. Why would I try? It's easier not to try. 

Too hard. Can't do it. Won't do it.

How many times are our perceived limitations just that--perceptions? What if we sat down, took a good look at ourselves, and asked what we could really do if we set our minds to it, if we let go of our comfortable limitations?

Now, I'm not saying that you should push yourself over the brink of insanity. The first two days of the month, I was legitimately taking some time for self care. As the month's gone on, I've been sleeping a lot, not out of sloth but because I can't even keep my eyes open at work as I fight off the latest bug that's been floating around. Pounding out NaNo words after getting out of work at 3 AM wouldn't have been a great choice in the interest of me being a functioning human being the next day. There's a time for self care and reasonableness and I trust you (and myself) to respect the limits we do truly have.

What I'm asking is, what if we push through the limits that we set in front of ourselves because going outside those limits would break our comfort zones?

What if we dared to clean our room because it needed done and we had a moment? What if we didn't hold back, even though we've always had a messy room so why change now?

What if we exercised even though we didn't feel like it and we never did exercise much anyways? Would we surprise ourselves by how far we could run? (If you're me, the answer is yes. Though, you may also be surprised by how much your calves burn the next day.)

What if we determined to show up to work with a smile on our face in spite of the slights our coworkers had given us, in spite of the stress, and in spite of the hours we've worked?

Our limitations are often a result of what we expect of ourselves. We expect to keep a messy room because we've always done that. We expect to not write because we haven't written the past three days. We expect to be grumpy at work because it's been a hard week. Then, rather than exceeding those expectations, we limit ourselves.

It hurts to push past expectations and limitations. We have to give up a part of ourselves that we've become attached to, begun to identify with. We have to give up our identity as someone who was never good at organizing. We have to give up our self-loathing over the fact that we can't write as often as we want. We have to give up our entitlement to grumpiness and brooding at work.

A lot of people in books became heroes because they did what "couldn't" be done. No one could reasonably expect to hit the exhaust port on the Death Star--after all, it's impossible, even for a computer. But Luke didn't let that stop him from giving it a go.

You don't simply walk into Mordor. Not with 10,000 men could you enter and destroy the Ring. But a three foot hobbit set out without knowing whether Mordor was left or right.

Likewise, working people can't possibly self-publish a book, or keep a clean house, or exercise, or do other things they love. People working long hours can't possibly muster a good attitude on a Monday.

Yet people do it all the time.

We scoff and wonder how they do it, say it must be fake, wonder what else they're doing to do what they do, and allow ourselves to whisper, I could never do that. 

That whisper becomes our safe haven, our justification for our limitations. I'm not like them. I can't do it. I'm not strong enough, old enough, smart enough, tough enough, resourceful enough... the list goes on.

But what if we told that voice to stuff a sock in it and gave it a shot anyways?

You're out of shape. You're not mentally tough enough to run 2 miles anymore. Oh yeah? I'll run 4. And this time, I'll take a hot bath so I don't gimp around for two days.

You just drove for two hours. Nobody expects you to clean the dishes in the apartment, so why don't you just be lazy and let them sit? Because the place has been messy too long and I have the time to clean, that's why. I'll do the dishes and clean my closet, too.

Your  workplace is full of people with awful attitudes. Nobody would notice if you picked up on the same tone. It's easier that way. Maybe it's easier, but it's not who I want to be. It's not who God wants me to be. I can at least come in with a smile on my face and be ready to work. I can learn from anyone, even if they can be condescending. I can be pleasant and professional, so I 'm going to be.

Why write if you're never going to get published? You've never finished anything. Maybe I haven't. But maybe I just haven't found the right story yet. And if writing helps me process life, it isn't a lost cause.

You're never going to be the smartest, or the toughest, or the best technician, or a best selling writer. Why bother? Because even though I might not be the best of the best, I can be the best of me. And I know I'm going to fall on my face and leave dishes in the sink and complain at work and not exercise and not write in spite of my best intentions, but I'm not going to let that become my norm. I'm not going to set those limitations on myself, even when I fail and fulfill only my basest expectations for myself. When that happens, I'm going to ask for grace and mercy from my Father, who knows all my failings and all my potentials. I'm going to ask Him for forgiveness and the grace to do better.

And then I'm going to dust off my bloody knees, pick up my pen, roll up my sleeves, stick a smile on my face and tell that stupid little voice in my head to go fly a kite instead of telling me what I can and can't do.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Reflections on Thanksgiving

This week is Thanksgiving week in the U.S. It's a time where we remember our history, but also a time for reflection on the many blessings that we've been given. While it's a state-instituted holiday, many churches take the time to offer an extra service in special observation of gratitude for God's many blessings. Today's thoughts come from my pastor's sermon this past Sunday in preparation for the week, as well as some of my own personal thoughts from the past month or so (which hasn't been easy).

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a naturally thankful person. It takes effort to remind myself to be grateful for the many blessings that I've been given. Perhaps this unsettledness is a result of my striving for greater things and dreaming big. I'm always planning my next project, my next goal, my next hobby. And it seems I never have the time, the energy, the money, or the right mood to do what I want, even as an adult with a well-paying job.

I get sucked up in what I don't have. On the late shift? I don't have evenings to make dinner. On the early shift? I don't have time to work out or work around the house. (Keep in mind these shifts are the same length of time and only two hours different).

Just got a big paycheck, but I couldn't do what I wanted because I spent the extra time at work. Just got a small paycheck but couldn't do what I wanted to do because I didn't have the extra money.

It's too cold. Too hot. Too rainy. Too muddy. Too dark.

I don't have enough time to write a full NaNo novel, so I won't write at all. I don't have enough time to clean the apartment all at once, so I'll waste an hour on Facebook instead of starting cleaning even a little bit.

There's a parable that Jesus told to the disciples--commonly referred to as the parable of the talents. A master is leaving on a trip and he entrusts three of his servants with varying sums of money. The one with the most doubles his money, as does the one with the second most (albeit for a smaller overall sum). The third, however, hides his money in the ground.

In short, he goes about his life as though he's been given nothing from his master.

Perhaps the servant wanted more. Perhaps he wanted something different. But rather than using what he had, he disdained the gift he had been given and acted like he had nothing--even though he had quite a lot.

I'd never heard this interpretation of the parable, but it struck me pretty hard. Just like that servant, I'm frequently focused on what I don't have--a romantic relationship, a new car, as much time as I would like, or as much money as I would like. Lacking those things, I often neglect to be thankful for what I do have and appreciate them to the fullest.

I might not have a boyfriend, but I have some great friends. I don't have a new car, but my car runs great and I can use it to help other people, like so many helped me when I didn't have a car. I don't have a ton of free time, but I do have time to do the things I enjoy and to give back. I might not have time to write an entire novel this November, but I could still write a few chapters. I might not have as much money as I would like, but I have more than I did when I was a student, and I can use those funds for things I enjoy and to give back to my church and other ministries that I care about.

I can be grateful and thankful for the many, many blessings I've been given, and actually act like the exist, rather than focusing on what I don't have.

I've been focused on what I don't have for a long time, but I want to change my focus to what I have been given.

Long day at work? I have a few hours now to relax and use for what needs done most.

Don't have $50 extra dollars for new arrows this paycheck? I can still save up and maybe buy them next paycheck.

Don't have great story inspiration? I still have time to sit down and jot a few words on the page.

Don't have energy to read half a book to review tonight? I can still read a few chapters.

Too cold out? I have a coat that I can wear that will help with that.

God's blessed me with more things than I can count--a great family, some amazing friends, good health, a funny dog, a good job, a running car, time to relax, a warm apartment, food on the table...and so many things that I can't even begin to fathom.

More than that, he's given us His Son, Jesus, who has freed us from sin, death, and the devil. We can either act like that gift means nothing to us or we can act like it does. And even when we don't, we can still turn to Him in repentance. He is still faithful and offers us forgiveness, even when we are faithless. And that's definitely something to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Bibliophile Sweater Tag

This tag was shamelessly stolen from Josiah over at The Steadfast Pen. If you haven't visited his blog yet, you should definitely check it out. He has some great perspectives on Christian writing and also shares some hilarious snippets from his early writing. 

As always with tags, there are rules to follow. Or are they more like guidelines?

1. Give the person who tagged you an endless supply of cookies. (Since I tagged myself, can I still do this?)
2. Answer the questions and use the blog graphic. 
3. Pass along the tag (since I'm following the pirate code and these are more guidelines than actual rules, feel free to pirate this tag from me).
4. Wear a sweater. Does wearing one yesterday count?

Fuzzy Sweater--The Epitome of Comfort
For this book, I'm going to pick A Wrinkle in Time. I know that I bring it or LotR up in pretty much every bookish tag that I do, but I can't help myself. It just really picks me up when I'm feeling blue--just like a fuzzy sweater.

Striped Sweater-A Book which you Devoured Every Line
It's going to sound weird, but Ender's Game. I read it on my Kindle and I think about a third of the book is highlighted."Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be," is one of my favorites.

Ugly Christmas Sweater--Book with a Weird Cover
Even  though I loved the book, I'm going to have to go with this version of Daughter of Light. It makes more sense once you've read the book, but it's still weird. 

Cashmere Sweater--Most Expensive Book
I didn't buy it, but the most expensive one I own is a really nice copy of LotR that my parents got me for my 21st birthday. 

Hoodie--Favorite Classic
To veer away from LotR, I'll say A Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne.

Cardigan--Book Purchased on Impulse
Most recently, The Chronicles of Riddick. I actually enjoyed it a fair bit.

Turtleneck Sweater--Book from Your Childhood
Pippi Longstocking. I'll still read it if I've had a bad day and it doesn't fail to cheer me up.

Homemade Knitted Sweater--Indie Book
I've reviewed a number of Indie books on the blog, so I went searching for one that I haven't given much publicity through book reviews, buttons, or multiple books reviewed in a series. I rediscovered The Collar and the Cavvarach, which I would definitely recommend.

V-neck Sweater--A Book that Didn't Meet Your Expectations
The Messengers: Discovered. I really wanted to like it, but I didn't. It had all the things wrong with Christian apocalyptic fiction and even the spot-on theology wasn't enough to save it. I partially set it up for failure because many of my friends on the internet really enjoyed it and I therefore had similar expectations, especially considering that it came from a publishing house that I trust (albeit more for non-fiction). I'm still debating on reading the sequel.

Argyle Sweater--Book with a Weird Format
I hate myself for even writing the title of this book. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Apologies if you like it. My opinion on it is that someone was eating far too many mushrooms in the woods. It was the 70's, after all. 

Polka Dot Sweater--A Book with Well-Rounded Characters
There are quite a few that I could pick for this one, but I'm going to choose A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr.

What would you answer for some of these questions? 

Feel free to steal the tag!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Just Dropping By

Hi folks,
Sorry for the quietude on the blog lately. Between some matters in my personal life, an increasing work schedule, and some other issues, writing for NaNo (and the blog) has taken a bit of a back seat for the moment.
Thanks for your patience! I hope to get back to posting and NaNo'ing soon.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Hood"

Beginning next week, posting during November will be reduced. Posts will go up on Fridays, but watch out for pop-up posts during the week, word wars, and other NaNoWriMo fun. 

The Short:

King Raven #1

By: Stephen R. Lawhead

5/5 Stars

What: A young prince finds that he is his people’s only hope of freedom—but will his brash, strongheaded ways cause him to fail?

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Robin Hood, Loosely Christian

The Long:

Bran ap Brychan is the reluctant prince of a piece of Welsh countryside. He wants nothing to do with the kingship or his father, but he seems to be doomed to be drawn into the conflict brewing between the Welsh lords and the invading Normans. However, when the conflict comes to a head, he’s forced to step up and become the leader he was born to be.

I remember trying to read this book a few years ago, but I didn’t finish it before the library wanted it back. (Silly libraries—wanting books returned to them). I’m not sure whether it was some maturity I’ve gained in the past few years, the gloomy weather, or the fact that I just wanted to sit down and read a book from start to finish in a couple days that compelled me to finish it this time around.

I enjoyed it, too. The weather has suddenly turned cold here in the Midwest and this was the perfect book to read. It’s relatively realistic fiction for fantasy, but it’s eerie and a bit gritty, perfect for some gloomy, rainy weather. However, that does make this book better suited for teens and older audiences.

The pace is a little slower than many books and takes several Tolkien-esque detours, so if you’re looking for a book that’s fast-paced and action-packed, I would steer you away from this one. (One detour in the middle of the book caused people on Goodreads a certain amount of consternation and star-reduction). The castle politics and larger political scene can also be a bit mind-boggling at times. This is on par with much of Lawhead’s other works, such as Taliesin, so if you’ve read those you have an idea of what to expect.

Also on par with Lawhead’s other work is the somewhat ambiguous Christian nature of the story. I’m expecting him to come out with a bit of a clearer message with the next installment, like he has in his other stories. This story planted a seed of Christian thought, but it hasn’t quite sprouted yet.

The Bottom Line: This grim fantasy story is well-suited for teens and up who are looking for a more ponderous read. 
What's your favorite fall read?

Are you NaNo'ing this year? Find me on the NaNo site under the name R. Lutz!

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


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. 


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?