Friday, September 22, 2017

I Fear Something Terrible has Happened...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The 2017 Tolkien Tag


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


How long have you been a Tolkien fan?

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

Has your love of Middle-earth affected your life?

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

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


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

Which is scarier, Shelob or the Balrog?


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

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


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

Whose wardrobe would you like to have?

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


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

What do you think an Ent Draught would taste like?


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

Where in Middle-earth would you like to live?


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sequel Review: "Exiles"

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

The Short:

Exiles
Ilyon Chronicles #4

By: Jaye L. Knight

4/5 Stars

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

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

The Long:


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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reality, Meet Fiction: Disaster Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Frayed"

The Short:

Frayed
DarkTrench Shadow #1

By: Kerry Nietz

5/5 Stars

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

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

The Long:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Reality, Meet Fiction: Architecture



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

Reality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What buildings do you know of with an interesting backstory?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday Fiction Fix: "Orphan's Song"

The Short:

Orphan’s Song
Songkeeper Chronicles, Book 1

By: Gillian Bronte Adams

4/5 Stars

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

Recommended to those who like: Fantasy, Loosely Christian

The Long:

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

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

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

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


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