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!