Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Blogiversary Bone 2017: Science Fiction

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

Third Place: The Emerald Enigma, by Paul Regnier

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

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

Second Place: Failstateby John Otte

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

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

Winner of the 2017 Blogiversary Bone for Science Fiction:

Out of the Shadows, by Emma Carrie

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

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

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

Honorable Mention:

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Blogiversary Bone 2017: Middle Grade

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

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

Ready? Here we go!

Third Place: Fire Prophet, by Jerel Law

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

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

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

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

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

Winner of the 2017 Blogiversary Bone for Middle Grade Books: 

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

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

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

Honorable Mention:

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

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Blogiversary 2017 Kick-off

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Middle Grade Fiction Winner: 

Dreamtreaders, by Wayne Thomas Batson.

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

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

2016 Sci-fi Winner: 

A Star Curiously Singing, by Kerry Nietz.

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

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

2016 Fantasy Winner:

A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr.

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

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

2016 Miscellaneous Speculative Winner:

A Time to Die, by Nadine Brandes

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Red: The Heroic Rescue"

The Short:

Red: The Heroic Rescue
The Circle, Book 2

By: Ted Dekker

5/5 Stars

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

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

The Long:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Under Construction

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

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

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

Thanks for your patience!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sequel Review: "Freeheads"

The Short:

The DarkTrench Saga #3

By: Kerry Nietz

5/5 Stars

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

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

The Long:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pastors in Fiction: King Ealden

I've kept this analysis spoiler free to the best of my ability. If you want a little more context for this character analysis, you may want to check out my review of the source book, The Sword in the Stars
I would recommend the series to fantasy fans, teens and up.

King Ealden

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

Genre: Christian fantasy; teen

Role: Minor/Supporting Character

Personality: Brash, forthright, pious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "The Sword in the Stars"

The Short:

The Sword in the Stars
The Dark Sea Annals #1

By: Wayne Thomas Batson

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

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

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

The Long:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Time to Get Organized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you struggle with being organized?

How do you work writing into your life?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Do Not Underestimate the Power of Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

What's your favorite Star Wars movie? 

May the Force be with you!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Before the Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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