Monday, December 31, 2007

Top Books for 2007

Ah, the time of year where we are all allowed to climb up on our individual pedestals and pontificate on our favorite movies/books/albums/etc. for the year.

OK, so I'm a little cynical about this. But - not cynical enough to avoid participating in such an event. Heh.

Without further ado, I give you my favorite books for 2007:

5. Wedgewood Grey by John Aubrey Anderson. Book 2 of the Black or White Chronicles continues an amazing tale of spiritual warfare from Mississippi. He continues a great beginning with a strong second effort.

4. Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead. Another second in a series. I enjoyed the start of the King Raven trilogy with Hood, but the voice for Scarlet was just perfect. No one does historical fiction quite like Lawhead.

3. Fearless by Robin Parrish. Hmm. As I write this post, I see I had a weakness for sequels this year. Anyway, I gushed plenty about the amazing suspense in Fearless. I'm still waiting for a copy of the next book to proofread for Mr. Parrish, so I don't have to wait until July '08. Still waiting... (Oh, and this book inspired this essay by me - shameless self-promotion)

2. Try Dying by James Scott Bell. Ha! It isn't a sequel. Mr. Bell is a prolific writer, but I had only read a How-to book on fiction by him. Well, this taut legal thriller caught my interest in both his writing and the legal thriller genre in general. I definitely will check out more of his work.

1. Abiding Darkness by John Aubrey Anderson. I read this book early in 2007, and it stayed my favorite book throughout the whole year. This was a book that had me crying at one point, and a couple chapters later I was laughing out loud. The description, the characterization, the setting, and the plot all caught me in a strong way. It was an amazing first book for Mr. Anderson, and it started the Black or White Chronicles off on very firm footing. If you haven't read it yet, you are certainly missing out. Just a note: I received an email from the author recently asking for prayer, as his latest book is being considered by a publisher. I hope it is the fourth book of B or W, as it was intended as a 6 book arc.

A few honorable mentions:
Snitch by Rene Gutteridge - still the best comedic writer I've come across. Fun characters with whimsy and a catchy read.

The Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock - a bold start for the very enjoyable Legend of the Guardian King fantasy series. This Christy award winner is a must read for fantasy fans.

In High Places by Tom Morrisey - a touching book from a man who knows his adventure.

To Dance in the Desert by Kathleen Popa - a literary women's fiction book that drew in this action and mayhem man. Great first book!

--

Anyone else have a great read this year they'd like to mention? I'm always up for hearing about books (affording to buy them is a different story...)

Oh, and Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Come and Gone

Wow. That was fast. Did you see it? That was Christmas, come and gone so fast.

Having three little boys, I see the holiday through their eyes in a lot of ways, I think. I'm excited for them to open their presents, as we'd planned for several months what we'd get them. The snow isn't always fun to shovel, but taking the boys sledding and watching them romp around in it helps change my perspective on the white stuff. They all love eggnog and rum cake, all things that we get during the Christmas season. Overall, kids are great for keeping one from getting Scrooge-y with all of the baggage that goes along with this time of year.

As an adult, I think (at least I *hope*) I have enough maturity to be able to see things from their perspective. The hard part is working on the boys to see some things from MY perspective. My greatest desire in life is to have my boys become strong and healthy men of God, reproducing life and advancing the Kingdom wherever they are. This is so hard because you don't know if you're on the right track until it is too late to change course. If they're grown and off somewhere else, then it is out of my control.

Of course, I know Who is in control. I know He will be faithful. I just want my boys to know the love and grace and purpose I have in Jesus. Christmas creates one of the best ways for showing them the true meaning of life. We read Luke 2 first thing on Christmas morning. My wife makes sure the kids know what December 25th is really about through songs, singing "Happy Birthday Jesus" and other things.

So if I had a Christmas wish, it would be for my boys to know the love that propelled the Son of God from heaven to a manger, and to share that love around them wherever they go. Thankfully, I've got great kids, and they are on their way to fulfilling their father's wish.

I hope everyone who stops by here had a wonderful Christmas full of blessing!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

CSFF Tour - Wayfarer's Journal

Greetings Science Fiction fans! This month's Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy blog tour is focusing squarely on the sci-fi aspect of our moniker. The highlight is the website Wayfarer's Journal, a resource for short science fiction that isn't afraid of the spiritual.

I went to check the site out this weekend, and it was unfortunately having some difficulties and I wasn't able to access it. The site is fully up and running right now, but between holiday events and my work I have been severely limited with internet access. I'm afraid I don't have much to contribute, only to point out that there are many others in this tour listed below, and I encourage you to check them out to see what they have to say about Wayfarer's, and to visit the site yourselves. I hope to peruse it over the weekend, and I'll try to post a little belated review myself.

Blessings to all of my CSFF tourmates! Have a wonderful Christmas season, and may you all experience the joy and wonder the star of Bethlehem foretold!


Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Michael Heald
Kait
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Rachelle
Steve Rice
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Donations for YWAM Arvada for Shooting Victims

Here is a note from YWAM Arvada's accounting department. I asked them how we could give to support YWAM and the families in this tragedy. I want to remind people that YWAMers all serve as volunteers, raising support from their churches and family to go on these mission trips or to be on staff. I'm sure that there have been extra costs the Arvada center to deal with issues from this event. The families of the victims have extra bills, and there is a scholarship now established in the name of Phillip Crouse and Tiffany Johnson. See the note below. I know there are so many financial obligations and possibilities to give at this time. I only ask you prayerfully consider joining me in donating.

Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers at this time. We are grateful for your desire to pray for us and to also help meet some of the immediate financial needs for the families. We have established three separate funds that you can give towards:

1) Victims Assistance Fund (to help family needs in re: to burial, etc.)

2) Phil & Tiffany Scholarship (for future students wanting to do missions)

3) YWAM Denver Emergency Fund

If you would like to give, you can do it in the following ways:

1) Check

Please make all checks payable to “Youth With A Mission Denver.” Mail the checks to 12750 W. 63rd Ave/Arvada, CO 80004 with a note designating it to the fund you would like it to go to.

2) Credit Card

We take Visa, Master Card, and American Express

You can call our accounting office at (303) 424-1144 or via email at accounting (at) ywamdenver (dot) org.

Thank you for standing with us at this time of need. It is deeply appreciated.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh! Christmas Tree

Author's note: Best read while listening to Switchfoot's song Oh! Gravity, link provided below.

I've always enjoyed getting the Christmas tree each year and spending time as a family decorating. The ornaments especially bring out nostalgia - as you dig out boxes of decorations, it is like unpacking memories that have been lost in the clutter of everyday life.

Of course, as the man of the house this means I get to do all the heavy lifting. Hauling the tree in, wrestling it into the stand, pulling out all the boxes from storage. My wife loves snowmen, and our house looks like the Invasion from Winter Wonderland every year. It's still all fun and good times - I just appreciate things more having to do them myself.

We've never had holiday disasters at our house before. This year didn't seem like a problem either. We found a nice, full tree that even had soft needles. Didn't end up with a "Charlie Brown" tree. For the money we paid for it, it better not be!

Last Saturday we picked the tree out and got it home on top of our minivan. I scavanged around until I found the stand, and the boys were helpers as I cut a little off the base and brought the evergreen into the living room. Since having kids, we've always put the tree up on a little table to keep it a little farther from curious hands, but this year the boys were old enough I kept the stand on the ground. It got late, so we promised that we'd decorate after church.

Sunday afternoon came and the kids were terribly excited to put on their favorite ornaments. Spiderman, Peanuts, Veggietales were objects of coveting. My mom collected decorations each year since the mid-70's, so the older ones I grew up with were my choice. The lights sparkled from the boughs. We had ourselves a pretty Christmas tree.

Except for the problem with leaning.

As we put on ornaments it liked hanging to one side. I adjusted the screws a little tighter, and it seemed to be stable. Later it tipped a little more, so I backed the screws off and twisted the base to line it up straighter. Problem solved, and we put the finishing touches on.

After dinner I plopped on the couch to watch the last few minutes of America's Funniest Videos since the football game was a blow-out (in the first quarter). I glanced up at our hard work, only to notice...

The tree was headed right for me.

Cat-like, I sprang from my comfy spot and caught the darn thing before I was picking needles from my nether-regions. The boys squealed and my wife shouted. Disaster averted. Except for the fact that the tree had rebelled, I suppose from too many cutesy decorations, and would not stay put at all. The bark was so soft that it just gave in to the screws. Obviously I would need to make a Wal-Mart run (being Sunday night) to get a new base.

Now the question was how to keep the tree behaving.

We tried tying a rope to it and hooking some hand weights to it, but that wasn't going to work. My wife took over for me and I ran out to the car. Then I promptly dashed back in to shut the blinds so the whole neighborhood wouldn't see her holding the tree for 30 minutes as I did my errand.

Thankfully Wally-World had a different type of stand, and after un-decorating a half of the tree, we laid it down and cut a few branches off the bottom so it would fit the new stand. Now, the test: would the rogue conifer stay upright?

It worked.

The boys got to worry if their decorations had suffered in the ordeal, and fight over who put which green ball up again. I had to hurry and clean up the house to be ready for the next day. What... fun.

It looks nice now, and I can laugh about it. I was even inspired by Switchfoot's song Oh! Gravity.

Oh! Christmas tree
Why can't we
Seem to keep it upright.
Sons of my wife
This is going to keep us up all night.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Service for YWAM Arvada Staffers

So much focus goes on the killer in these type of things, and I despise that. Denver Post has a touching article on the two YWAM staff members who were senselessly killed this weekend. Here's to Tiffany Johnson and Philip Crouse - may you always rejoice in your Creator who loves you and will never leave you. We'll see you soon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More on Colorado Christian Shootings

Since I first blogged about this, there was a second shooting, this time at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Two more victims died at the church shooting, while the gunman there was shot by a security guard. The authorities are investigating to see if the two events are connected. More information is from this MSNBC link.

I've had an amazing number of hits on this blog since news broke. To fellow YWAMers, I offer a heartfelt greeting and hope you are encouraged wherever God has you at this time.

I was thinking this morning that there may be a lot of extra things going on at YWAM Arvada. If any reading this is not familiar with Youth With a Mission, it is a volunteer organization where all the staff and students pay their own way to serve. There are always "adventures in faith and finances" at YWAM due to this policy, as many times people are following the leading of the Lord and walking in faith. So many people have stories of God's faithfulness in finances and His provision.

I would encourage anyone who feels led to consider contacting YWAM Denver to donate to the mission organization to help them with extra costs incurred in this tragedy, and as a way to honor the memory of Tiffany Johnson and Philip Crouse. As I get more information, I'll post it here.

As an aside, an AP article about YWAM was posted. I think it is pretty fair and explains things well overall. Having been misquoted in the media a couple of times, you always wonder how things will come out in print.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Pray for Victims of YWAM Colorado Shooting

"Once a YWAMer, always a YWAMer."

Many groups can say this, but attending a program through Youth With a Mission is always life-changing. This is why my heart is so heavy today as I read about the shooting that occurred at a YWAM training center in Arvada, Colorado. It happened early in the morning of 12/9/07. So far there are two staff members confirmed dead, and two others wounded. One of the wounded is in critical condition and is slated for more surgery today.

It is always a tragedy when innocent life is taken, no matter the circumstances. I have prayed for the families of the Omaha mall incident earlier this week, and I also grieve for those who go missing in large cities anonymously every day. It is unavoidable that some situations hit us more as individuals than others.

I was just looking over pictures of my own time in YWAM, so the thought of what those young people were doing when this happened is very fresh in my mind. As of this writing, the killer has not been apprehended, and there is little information as far as motive.

Please pray for the families of those who were injured and killed. Pray for the healing of the wounded. Pray for justice. Pray for those who have survived and the people in Arvada. Pray for YWAM, as a global family they will be grieving as well.

Lord, we don't know why these things happen. We don't understand. But we can trust in Your great faithfulness, grace, and mercy. I pray for the wounded to be healed by Your touch. I pray for those who died, that they will realize the reward You have prepared for them. I pray that Your strength will be evident to all those at the YWAM Arvada center and for YWAMers around the world.

In Your great name Jesus, Amen.

For more information, see the MSNBC link, and YWAM has limited information at this time.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Roundup

There are some link-worthy posts out there today. Make sure you check these out.

First off John C. Wright gives a wonderful little essay on the the rationality of Christianity compared to other world paradigms. I don't agree with the first few paragraphs all the way, but still worth a look.

Then Mike Duran gives a good exposition of the paradoxes in Christianity, and the changing viewpoints in physics. Again, a thoughtful post.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

What's Your Super Power?

I've decided that I have a super power. It is uncanny how this ability manifests time and time again in times of stress. I've always imagined being able to fly, having super strength, or having laser beams come from my eyes to zap the twit that just cut me off in traffic. I never thought something like this would happen to plain, ordinary me.

Now I wonder how I can harness my gift for the greater good. What can I do to serve people with this amazing power?

What is this awesome and terrible display of super-human ability, you ask?

I have the ability to make traffic lights turn red.

DO NOT LAUGH. It proves itself over and again. I will be hurrying to work, running to the store, or on a leisurely drive through town. It never fails. The crimson orb hanging in the intersection glows in my presence. Why I would be chosen for such a talent does vex me. Also, how can I use it effectively to fight crime and evil-doers? Perhaps I drive around with a police scanner, and start following any nefarious people and trap them at the light? I must ponder this...

Anyone else out there have some ability, something unique that you can't explain, but you know it is meant to be wielded by you alone? What is this gift, and how do you use it?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Book Recommendations

I'm taking a little break from reviewing books for blog tours. The biggest thing was that the books for December and January weren't ones I was interested in reading or reviewing. However, I have been in a mode of continually having reading obligations. I enjoy the reading of a variety of things, and it is great to participate and get books. I found that I wasn't able to read other books that may interest me due to my commitments.

I'll keep highlighting books for the CFBA and CSFF tours here through those months, so I can add to the internet buzz. I'll continue to post relating fiction. I just want to branch my reading out a little bit.

There's several books I already know I want to read. I have Gilead, always touted as a must read. I would like to start Rene Gutteridge's Boo series. I have an adventure by Tom Morrisey. I need to get into Fugitives of Chaos by John C. Wright. To borrow a quote from a friend, "my to-be-read pile threatens low-flying aircraft."

I'm also looking to read some other books outside of areas I'm not usually reading. Can you believe I've never read Dean Koontz? I'd like to check out one of his. Anyone have any recommendations regarding him? I'd prefer more on the suspense side than horror. I've had one person recommend Odd Thomas. Any other suggestions for Koontz? How about general fiction overall? I'm actually trying to stay away from CBA books for a month, to see what else is going on in publishing.

What say you people? Can you help me out?

Friday, November 30, 2007

CFBA Tour - Auralia's Colors

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing Auralia's Colors (WaterBrook Press September 4, 2007) by Jeffrey Overstreet.I am almost done with this book. I will have more to say about it for a later blog tour since I'm not quite to the end yet. What I do want to point out is that this book is the most unique piece of fiction that I have read in my 1 1/2 years of actively reading/reviewing novels.

The description of this book before I received it was that it was a beautifully done literary work, with language that paints a vibrant a picture as Auralia's Colors do in the story. Jeffrey takes time painting with words a very vivid description, full of metaphor and using the power of language in a formidable, haunting tale. In the recent Novel Journey interview with Dean Koontz, the famous author described the importance of using rich figures of speech in such a way - I would suggest that this book is what he had in mind when he talked about it.

The book takes a little more effort to read - it is suspenseful, but not in a way that zings the reader along. It takes a little more effort to mine the riches here. Sometimes the book suffers in the way it changes point of view characters in chapters - I got a little lost at times with the overall "where is this going?" Still, I am highly enjoying this story, and am looking forward to completing this particular thread.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
As a baby, she was found in a footprint.

As a girl, she was raised by thieves in a wilderness where savages lurk.

As a young woman, she will risk her life to save the world with the only secret she knows.


When thieves find an abandoned child lying in a monster’s footprint, they have no idea that their wilderness discovery will change the course of history.

Cloaked in mystery, Auralia grows up among criminals outside the walls of House Abascar, where vicious beastmen lurk in shadow. There, she discovers an unsettling–and forbidden–talent for crafting colors that enchant all who behold them, including Abascar’s hard-hearted king, an exiled wizard, and a prince who keeps dangerous secrets.

Auralia’s gift opens doors from the palace to the dungeons, setting the stage for violent and miraculous change in the great houses of the Expanse.

Auralia’s Colors weaves literary fantasy together with poetic prose, a suspenseful plot, adrenaline-rush action, and unpredictable characters sure to enthrall ambitious imaginations.

Visit the Website especially created for the book,
Auralia's Colors. On the site, you can read the first chapter and listen to Jeffrey's introduction of the book, plus a lot more!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Final Thoughts on Stephen Lawhead

On this tour for Stephen Lawhead, I was thinking that I may have come across as a little hard on his books. I mentioned that he was streaky, and listed a few books that came across as disappointments for me. After thinking about this, that may be a little unfair. I've enjoyed other books of his so much, if others didn't hit that standard, then that's when I felt they didn't measure up.

I was reading Stephen Lawhead before I really understood about "Christian fiction." Getting into the first two books of the Song of Albion series was a wonderful fictive journey. Yes, I didn't find the last book of that trilogy as catchy, but the end of it was such a wonderful payoff. There was a thread he'd woven through the whole series that I would've missed had I not persevered until the end. It still rates up in the two top "Wow!" moments I've had when reading books.

His historical fiction novel Byzantium was another greatly enjoyable book. It was entertaining, but it also illuminated a time in history that I had never known about before. Anyone with a love of Celtic and Middle Age history should pick up that book.

So yes, I still hold that some books of his are better than others. When is this not going to be the case with an author? It may hit Mr. Lawhead because so many times he writes series, so it is more noticeable. I just didn't want the wrong impression. Stephen Lawhead is one of the top craftsmen in Christian fiction (and historical fantasy fiction in general). Don't miss out on his work.

Monday, November 26, 2007

CSFF Tour - Review of Scarlet

Yesterday for the CSFF tour I posted my review of the first book of the Raven King Trilogy, Hood. In it I mentioned that, while I have enjoyed many of Stephen Lawhead's books, I have found him to be a streaky writer. In the Song of Albion series, the first two books were great, while the third one got a little tedious. I enjoyed The Iron Lance of the Celtic Crusades series, but bogged down in The Black Rood. Same with the Pendragon Cycle: loved the first book, lost interest in the second. Does the sophomore curse affect the second book of his new series, Scarlet?

I can answer a resounding NO.

Scarlet is a better book than its predecessor. Not that Hood wasn't very enjoyable, but Scarlet improves some pacing issues and kept me intrigued more. It is the story of Will Scarlet, here a Saxon forester who is displaced from his lands and decides to seek out the infamous King Raven, who is tormenting the Normans (Ffreinc) who have invaded the lands of the Welsh. After joining Rhi Bran y Hud, Scarlet's skill allows him to become a trusted member of Bran's inner circle. As the fugitives work toward eventual freedom for their kingdom, Will becomes captured and is set for the noose (hence the cover of the book).

The book has an interesting structure. It is mainly from Will Scarlet's point of view, first person, as he is in prison awaiting his hanging. He is telling his story to a priest who is acting as a scribe. It is a unique way to tell a story such as this, and it surprisingly works very well. There are some asides from Will to the poor Norman priest throughout, but instead of being distracting, it adds to the understanding of who Will is. The book occasionally shifts to third person when it moves into another character's point of view.

Lawhead's ability to weave an enchanting story from history and legend is unparalleled. His research and knowledge base is always top-notch, it is only a matter if he's created a strong plot to go along with it. This time around he keeps the action near and the suspense palpable. The back and forth between Rhi Bran and the invaders is never fully decided throughout the book. There is also a nice tension with the politics running through the book that leaves us with an imposing cliffhanger that won't be resolved until the third book, Tuck, comes out (which sadly won't be for a while due to the author's recent illness).

The storytelling sequence by Angharad is interesting yet the slowest part of the tale, much like in Hood. Occasionally the POV changes among different antagonists is confusing. However, this is a book with great setting, characters, and plot. I highly recommend the series so far, as it is a very good introduction to Stephen Lawhead.

See Day 1's post for others in the tour, and I'll have some wrap-up tomorrow.

(Another's) Thoughts on "The Golden Compass"

I can't say that I've read any of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials. I'm interested to read them at some point, but all the books... *le sigh*

However, I came across a great article written by Jeffrey Overstreet discussing the movie The Golden Compass in a very intelligent manner. I highly encourage you to check it out.

Hat tip to the illustrious Mir

CSFF Tour - Scarlet, Day 1

This month's CSFF tour is featuring the book Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead. As it is book two in the King Raven Trilogy, I thought it would be nice if somewhere in the tour there was a review of the first book, Hood.

Oh. I just happened to write one last year.

Today you get this review, and tomorrow I will provide my review of Scarlet. At the end of my post is the list of participants - make sure to check them out as well.

From December '06:


Most of the books I review are through the two blogging groups I belong to. I keep busy enough with those books, but I do venture out to the library for other stories. One I read this fall that I enjoyed very much was Hood, by Stephen Lawhead.

He seems to be a streaky writer. He'll have a very strong story followed by one that loses my interest quickly. I was very interested in his new King Raven trilogy, but would it catch my attention and hold it?

Thankfully, yes.

Hood is a re-imaging of the Robin Hood legend. And not of the Kevin Costner variety. I am sure there are many aficionados on this subject out there who might begin to argue with Lawhead's premise, but I think he will quickly short-circuit any criticism. He sets the story in Wales instead of England, during the time when the French (Ffreinc) control England and are encroaching into Welsh territory. As a point of interest, he gives an appendix that discusses his research and choice of scenery.

Bran ap Brychan is a spoiled lout of a prince when his harsh father is cut down by the troops of a Norman count. As a fugitive he is almost killed, but is saved by a withered old woman whose mysteries both repulse and intrigue the young lord. As he is nursed to health, he catches a vision of what he could become.

Meanwhile, political intrigue is stirring in the land, which may include a young woman named Merian. Will Rhi Bran follow his destiny and free his lands and people from their cruel masters? How will he overcome the invading forces of the Ffreinc?

The book will appeal to fans of historical fiction, action tales, and fantasy alike. Lawhead has a gift for tales of British folklore, and Hood is the perfect subject for him to tackle. He catches your attention quickly with tragedy and discovery. You will come across familiar faces set in new ways - and in this prepare to be enchanted! He does a fun turn with some of the famous Robin Hood supporting cast.

The turning of Bran's character is thoughtful and inspiring. The wickedness he is up against is a good foil - you're ready to root against the enemy. But you don't always know who the enemy is either. The book does slow a little in the middle, but it does not disappoint. The ending leaves you hanging and anxious for book 2 (Scarlet).

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Wayne Thomas Batson
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Chris Deanne
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Kait
Karen
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Karen McSpadden
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Cheryl Russel
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Jason Waguespac
Daniel I. Weaver
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Review - Dance in the Desert

I promised a review of the book To Dance in the Desert by Kathleen Popa. It was part of the CFBA Tour at the end of July, and my wife gave me her thoughts on it. I don't typically read this type of book, but I'd had contact with Katy through the forum at Faith in Fiction, and wanted to check it out for myself.

Reviewing this book makes me want to pull out all the pretty adjectives I know! The book is sparkling, airy, and heartfelt all at the same time. The writing was a real treat away from the suspense and mayhem I usually read.

Dara is a young woman who has moved to the desert to get away from the world. She thought that no one would interfere in her life, and she could have security. Like her late father always said, "It's not a safe world."

However, her seclusion is shattered when a mysterious older woman named Jane dances out in the desert and shocks Dara out of her cocoon. The two unlikely friends develop a friendship and move to a small town to help revive Jane's brother's struggling restaurant. All this time Dara is fighting against the call to join in with life rather than running away from it.

Ms. Popa's prose truly is sparkling and inventive. She has a way with words to catch beauty in mundane things, and to make the remarkable even more poingnant. She keeps the pace moving along nicely - none of the literary belly-button contemplation that can be found in some books. Smaller points like scrambled eggs and a furry cat become significant in her hands.

The book struggles a little toward the end. It's almost like the author only had so much room to put things in, and the lyrical pace gets hurried with rapid plot developments and resolution. As this is her first book, that this is the only significant complaint actually speaks a lot about her talent. I'm sure that there will be a lot more beauty coming from the pen (or keyboard) of Kathleen Popa, and for those who like contemporary women's fiction will not want to miss out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

An Amazing Gift Idea for Christmas

Last Tuesday the movie Amazing Grace came out on DVD. I saw this movie in the theatres in March. Below I have posted my review of the movie. This would be a wonderful gift for anyone on your Christmas list (Christian or no, it is not preachy to turn off people). It is a very entertaining movie that touches the heart with the plight of the slaves and the performances given by the actors. To me it hearkens to Schindler's List, a movie that is quality art and also moves.

Also see John C. Wright's intelligent (as always) discussion about the DVD.

From March '07:
This weekend I saw the movie Amazing Grace, dealing with the story of William Wilberforce and his fight to end the slave trade in the British Parliment. Because England was the world power, especially on the seas, it could single-handedly end the slave trade from Africa by virtue of its naval might.


It was not a popular cause, because of the economic impact it would have on the country (sugar prices would go up - how would they enjoy tea!). Wilberforce was called a firebrand and even had it insinuated that he was a trator to the throne, due to the political turbulence of the American and French revolutions that affected England's affairs at the time. His health was not good, and he battled his body as well as powerful lords in Parliment.

The story of William Wilberforce is underappreciated in our modern world. Here was a man who lived to the highest Christian standards as well as fighting against the greatest human injustice of his day. His life truly deserves to be told to be an example for us today.

Thankfully, the movie is a highly entertaining vehicle for this! It starts out a little discombobulated, as we catch Wilberforce mid-life, fighting sickness and despair for not prevailing in the battle already. Soon the flashback/modern settings are clear, and it is exciting to see the development of events that lead to the ultimate victory.

Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower, Reed Richards in Fantastic Four) does a masterful job both in Wilberforce's youthful exuberance and his measured responses as he matures and wises to the nature of the battle he is in. He brings a strength to the character, and he is a very admirable hero. Albert Finney gives an emotional performance as John Newton, the former slave ship captain who turned away from that evil and penned the immortal hymn, Amazing Grace (hence the title). I was near tears at one point when Newton and Wilberforce interact.

So? GO and buy the movie! Then, check out The Amazing Change site. This is a great movie that is worth seeing on its cinematic value alone. However, the people behind it have a greater goal: to inspire people to take action themselves. The Amazing Change is one opportunity to follow through in Wilberforce's legacy.

Enjoy the show. Impact the world.

Congratulations Broncos!

Last week was a hard week (evidenced here as a lack of blogging). However, one of the highlights was by my alma mater, Blackfoot High School. After years of futility, the Broncos have delivered a state championship to this little burg. I've heard two different accountings, that this is our first Idaho championship, or that it is our first one since 1932. Either way, it has been a long time in coming.

I admit I jumped on the bandwagon when the JV season ended and my sophomore nephew Anthony Clarke moved up to varsity. The quarter- and semi-final games were the stuff of Friday night lore. On 11/2 we played Minico, the number 1 team in the state at Holt Arena in Pocatello. We scored with around 40 seconds left on the clock to win that game.

The next week we faced Pocatello, the team that knocked us out in the semi-finals the prior two years. The game was held outside at Blackfoot to nullify the home field advantage Poky would have if held where they usually play (much to their chagrin). It was a great night of community as the town poured out in the mild autumn evening to enjoy a tailgate barbeque and support the team. Again, we were treated to a thriller of a game as Pocatello took the lead back with 1:40 on the clock, and the ensuing kickoff was caught with the returner's foot out of bounds at the 10 yard line. Blackfoot took their one time out on the field and marched down to score with 13 seconds left. I've never seen our community celebrate like that night!

The championship game was almost anti-climatic. The Nampa Bulldogs came to Holt Arena without their main QB, as he had broken his foot in the previous game. They tried hard, but the injury was too much to overcome and the team rolled 46-14. Wow.

Congratulations Broncos. You made a city proud!

Friday, November 16, 2007

CFBA Tour - Try Dying

This week's CFBA Tour features the book Try Dying by James Scott Bell. It is the first book of his that I've read. I've always heard glowing things about his writing. He is also a regular contributor to Writer's Digest magazine, so my impression was that he must know his craft.

And how.

Try Dying is a great tale of suspense. Bell's past experience as a lawyer gives this legal thriller the type of authenticity that immerses the reader in the story. The opening chapter fully captures your attention, and the plot rarely gives you time to put the book down for mildly important things, such as sleep, work, and eating.

The story is told in first person view, from the perspective of Ty Buchanan, an up-and-coming lawyer in Los Angeles. The tragic loss of his fiancee in a freak accident sets his world on its edge. Then a startling revelation from a stranger loitering at the graveside service puts his life in a tailspin that will envelope the high-profile case he's working on, a prominent service organization, and the gang scene in Southern California.

The characterization of Buchanan and the people he encounters are tremendous. The motivations and actions make sense and drive the thrilling tale along. There are surprises along the way that have you second-guessing the plot and where it seems to be going the whole time.

This book has moved Bell into an author that I definitely want to check out more. So far Try Dying has moved into position as one of my favorite books of the year.

See Bell's bio and teaser below for more information. Also, Brandilyn Collins had an interview with him recently on her blog, so be sure to check it out.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

James Scott Bell is a former trial lawyer who now writes full time. He is also the fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine and adjunct professor of writing at Pepperdine University.

His book on writing, Plot and Structure is one of the most popular writing books available today. The national bestselling author of several novels of suspense, he grew up and still lives in Los Angeles, where he is at work on his next Buchanan thriller.




ABOUT THE BOOK:

On a wet Tuesday morning in December, Ernesto Bonilla, twenty-eight, shot his twenty-three-year-old wife, Alejandra, in the backyard of their West 45th Street home in South Los Angeles. As Alejandra lay bleeding to death, Ernesto drove their Ford Explorer to the westbound Century Freeway connector where it crossed over the Harbor Freeway and pulled to a stop on the shoulder.

Bonilla stepped around the back of the SUV, ignoring the rain and the afternoon drivers on their way to LAX and the west side, placed the barrel of his .38 caliber pistol into his mouth, and fired.

His body fell over the shoulder and plunged one hundred feet, hitting the roof of a Toyota Camry heading northbound on the harbor Freeway. The impact crushed the roof of the Camry. The driver, Jacqueline Dwyer, twenty-seven, an elementary schoolteacher from Reseda, died at the scene.

This would have been simply another dark and strange coincidence, the sort of thing that shows up for a two-minute report on the local news--with live remote from the scene--and maybe gets a follow-up the next day. Eventually the story would go away, fading from the city's collective memory.

But this story did not go away. Not for me. Because Jacqueline Dwyer was the woman I was going to marry.

In Try Dying, this fast-paced thriller, lawyer Ty Buchanan must enter a world of evil to uncover the cause of his fiancee's death--even if he has to kill for the truth.
"Bell is one of the best writers out there...he creates characters readers care about...a story worth telling."
~Library Review~

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NaNo - Not a Mork and Mindy Rerun

Okay, so how dated does the title make me?

Anyway, I'm sure most of my writing buddies out there know about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days must seem like self-flagellation to some people. I don't think I could ever do it.

However, I did, for some strange reason unknown to me now, sign up for it two years ago. Because of that I am still listed as a NaNo participant for Idaho. So before November 1st, I got an email discussing a write-in being held in Idaho Falls. I considered going, and when I mentioned it to my wife that I was thinking about it, she announced, "Great! I can go shopping while you're doing that."

Not quite the response I was anticipating.

I ended up going to the write-in the first Saturday in November at a little coffeeshop called The Villa. Nice place with good atmosphere. When I first arrived there were a couple of ladies in line for coffee with obvious notebook bags. Holding my trusty writing folder, I found that they were there to NaNo. We ordered and adjourned to a separate room to don our quills and write away.

I was the only guy initially, but soon a couple of other brave masculine souls showed up. We had nice introductions. "Hi, I'm Jason, and I write action/suspense. Who are you, and what do you write?" I was the lone computer-less person, although another gal had problems with her connection and had to switch to old-fashioned paper.

We had a good time connecting with other crazy writer-type people. We decided to meet again the following Saturday. There was a little attrition, which should be expected. Gained another guy (yeah guys!) and got some more writing done. I'm not going to vouch for the quality of writing, but there is official ink on paper documented.

I'm not officially trying to do the whole NaNo 50,000 word thing. It has just been nice for a little accountability to sit down and write with like-minded folks. Also, shutting off the internal editor and just doing it is another benefit. I know there's a lot of crap in what I wrote, but it also is helping me plot and see how the scenes should go.

Anyway, that's my writing life the last few weeks. I'm grateful for the camaraderie and accountability. So if any of you haven't been writing lately, close the web browser now, and open up your file and WRITE!

Friday, November 09, 2007

November 11 - Time to Pray











This Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. For those of us in the protected West, we have no excuse not to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who hold up the mantle of our Lord Jesus and those saints gone before who suffered for the gospel. We do not suffer persecution here. Any perceived persecution pales compared to that of Christians in Myanmar/Burma, China, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, North Korea, and numerous other places around the world.

Here are some resources for you to pray knowledgeably and effectively:

The website of Open Doors and their IDOP materials page. Another news page from Open Doors.

The Persecution Blog of the group Voice of the Martyrs.

Operation World has daily prayer guides for the world.

Please make time this weekend to pray for those suffering in Jesus' name. That's the least we can do if we are truly little Christs.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

CFBA Tour - Deadfall

The latest book from Robert Liparulo is Deadfall. If you like intense suspense, then you should probably check this book out. His last book Germ was one of my favorite books last year. I've started reading Deadfall, but wasn't able to finish it in time for this tour. The beginning is classic Liparulo - fast and furious. I'll review it when I finish (which may be a couple weeks with other things in the way), but check out this back cover copy for it.

Also at the end of this post is a special offer from Bob Liparulo - don't miss it!

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Deep in the isolated Northwest Territories, four friends are on the trip of a lifetime. Dropped by helicopter into the Canadian wilderness, Hutch, Terry, Phil, and David are looking to escape the events of a tumultuous year for two weeks of hunting, fishing, and camping.

Armed with only a bow and arrow and the basics for survival, they've chosen a place far from civilization, a retreat from their turbulent lives. But they quickly discover that another group has targeted the remote region and the secluded hamlet of Fiddler Falls for a more menacing purpose: to field test the ultimate weapon.

With more than a week before the helicopter rendezvous and no satellite phone, Hutch, a skilled bow-hunter and outdoor-survivalist must help his friend elude their seemingly inescapable foes, as well as decide whether to run for their lives...or risk everything to help the townspeople who are being held hostage and terrorized.

An intense novel of character forged in the midst of struggle, survival, and sacrifice. Deadfall is highly-acclaimed author Robert Liparulo's latest rivetingly smart thriller.

Get Downloads and EXCERPTS at www.LIPARULO.com


A NOTE from Bob: I’d like to give away five signed copies of Deadfall to readers of CFBA blogs during my tour. All they have to do is sign up for my e-mailing list (they won’t be inundated!) by going to my website (www.robertliparulo.com) and going to the “Mailing List” page. Or email me with “CFBA giveaway” in the subject line.

And a second NOTE from Bob: I wanted to let you know that I’m holding a contest on my site:

**one winner a week till the end of the year for a signed Deadfall
**one winner a week till the end of the year for an unabridged audio MP3-CD of Deadfall
***and on Dec. 31, I’m giving away an iPod Nano, pre-loaded with an unabridged audio recording of Deadfall

Winners are selected from my e-mailing list—sign up at my site. If a winner has already purchased what he/she wins, I will reimburse them for the purchase price (or give them another—whichever they choose), so they don’t need to wait to see if they win before buying Deadfall.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Link to Interview with Dean Koontz

Last week Novel Journey put up a great interview with suspense master Dean Koontz. I really don't know very much about him, to my chagrin, but it was a very good interview. If you didn't catch it, go here and read it. It has especially good comments regarding using metaphors and similies, something my writing can definitely use work on.

I'm going to take a little pause from reviewing books over December so I can catch up on some other books, including reading some Koontz!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Thoughts from the Blogosphere (non-mucous edition)

I tried to shoe-horn these quotes into my discussion on violence, but they didn't really fit. Still, they are thought provoking, which may be dangerous around these parts (watch yourself Mark).


From Mike Duran's interview of Coach Culbetson of Coach's Midnight Diner and Relief:

It seems to me that dedication to things of God is a dedication to reality, regardless of what that reality is. So, our publishing efforts reflect that value. My wife Kimberly and I have walked some tough roads, and we’ve found out that life isn’t always what we thought it was, or should be. So our goal is to allow authors to write with an abandon to reality, either directly in creative nonfiction or symbolically in fiction and poetry. When the authors of the Bible wrote their stuff, they weren’t abashed to talk about anything. Sex, violence, unresolved conflict and issues, tough calls, they’re all in there. We like to skip a lot of that because it’s not pretty, isn’t safe for our 6-year-old, or doesn’t jive with the picket fence world that we’d all prefer. But if it’s good enough for God to let into His book, we figure it’s good enough to let into ours.


This is from an article on Breakpoint discussing Russell Kirk, a Catholic thinker who writes ghostly tales:

“Alarming though (I hope) readers may find these tales,” Kirk writes, “I did not write them to impose meaningless terror upon the innocent . . . what I have attempted, rather, are experiments in the moral imagination. . . . All important literature has some ethical end; and the tale of the preternatural—as written by George Macdonald, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and other masters—can be an instrument for the recovery of moral order.”



Monday, November 05, 2007

Violence in Christian Fiction - Day 6

What to say in the end? I've raised different facets that play into the discussion of how much violence in Christian fiction and is there a line to cross? Honestly there have been several good comments that hit on where I was planning on going with this.

1. I still believe in the idea of the Christian artist having the freedom to write what they feel like they need to in order to make the story what it is supposed to be. That doesn't mean freedom from critical reviewing, because any time someone puts out a creative effort it is open to critique.

2. It depends on the genre and audience the author is writing for. I wouldn't expect graphic violence in a prairie romance, (unless written by Chris Mikesell ;-) ), and it would probably turn off the intended readers. If I pick up a Robert Liparulo novel, I am definitely anticipating it, and that is my choice as a reader and consumer if I make that choice.

Some genres like war or suspense pretty much require some violence, mortal danger, etc. It wouldn't be true to the story if it wasn't included. If it makes sense with the overall story, then it probably is needed. Yet a necessary scene of violence can become gratuitous if overblown. That may well be a point of taste that is impossible to quantitatively determine, but falls under the old adage, "I'll know it when I see it."

3. I am reminded of the quote from Jurassic Park regarding cloning: "Just because we can doesn't mean we should." I will state continuously that Christian artists should creative in freedom and integrity. Just because we can have greater freedom in publishing to write violent scenes doesn't necessarily mean it should be done. I like what Merrie said in a comment, about the toolbox of a writer and using different techniques at the right time. Using all sorts of dramatic settings or plot twists can enhance the story. She mentioned Hitchcock showing just enough to scare without being voyeuristic about things. Sometimes the subtlety is a better way of portraying a scene than hitting the reader with a gross-out hammer.

Sure, tastes have changed since his day, and audiences are supposedly more "sophisticated". Maybe our culture is just dulled from being able to appreciate subtlety and the build-up of suspense over showing the violence.

4. Just tonight I was watching a show on the life and martyrdom of William Tyndale. Here was a godly man who lived in constant fear and danger of being discovered, yet still managing to translate the Bible into English and write books that would change history. Finally he was betrayed by a friend, imprisoned for 500 days, and when brought for execution had the privilege to be garroted so that he was dead when he was burned at the stake. I'm reminded again how our faith is not the sanitized, dressed up in "Sunday go meeting" clothes faith we live in America. Our predecessors suffered terribly for our rights and abilities to serve Jesus, and there are millions today who also are persecuted to the point of death for His name. To ignore this dramatic history and its legacy, to whitewash the blood of the martyrs, it would be a horrible injustice to the strength of our witness.

5. Overall this was a question without any definitive answer. People in the comments hit that right away. I don't have answers that will satisfy. We won't have labels or ratings on books. Reviews may or may not expose issues for sensitive readers. I'll defend an Christian artist's freedom to do something even if I think it may have crossed a line, and I may bring it up as a reviewer. Some books won't be for everyone.

Ultimately as Christians it comes down to us being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and His guidance. If we write something that is integral to a great story, yet we realize that it will grieve the Spirit, do we serve the muse or the Lord? (Reminds me of the ending to Stranger Than Fiction) As I try to write, I want to increase my skill and what I can portray with words, but it has to come down to how it works out in my relationship with God. If being true to that means writing books that leave the squeamish behind, so be it. If it means sacrificing a little artistry to being a disciple, then make it so.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Violence in Christian Fiction - Day 5

Philippians 4:7-9
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

I've been heading each of these posts with examples from the Bible of violence. In winding down, I thought that this completely different passage was appropriate, but it needs explanation.

I've seen this beautiful Scripture used as a bludgeon on anything that didn't meet one person's view of "whatever is lovely, pure," or etc. I don't think it is meant to be used like that, and it is definitely not my intention in this argument to do that either. I even debated whether to use this verse because of past misuse of it, but I felt that it still had an important consideration.

I've honestly meditated about this, and I've decided you can't use "lovely" or "pure" to the exception of "admirable," "noble," and "right." Some may argue that an author shouldn't use any violence or portray a dangerous situation without blood and gore. I don't agree. The contrast from showing true nobility overcoming true evil is a powerful image in fiction.

This leads to context. Sometimes, even most times will call for an example of the trial the protagonist. A hero escaping mortal danger is inherently more dramatic than our hero escaping from a group of grey-haired grandmas at a potluck accosting him for having a tattoo. It is a potent tool to let us see, hear, feel, smell, or taste the danger.

So the use of violence can clearly fall under the guidance of Phil 4:8. I thought today would be the end, but this topic fleshed out more than I intended, so I'll finish up (likely...) tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

CFBA Tour - The Return

We interrupt this on-going series for the latest CFBA blog tour - The Return by Austin Boyd. This book was featured in the Christian Scifi Fantasy blog tour for September. I didn't read it as it was 3rd in a series and I hadn't read any of them. However, I compiled all of the quality posts from the CSFF tour on my 9/19/07 post. Just go to those links and search for Austin Boyd on the individual blog, and you can get a plethora of informative posts regarding this unique series in Christian fiction.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Violence in Christian Fiction - Day 4

Psalm 137: 8-9

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.


Yesterday I talked about the Bible and violence within Scripture. The main points were that yes, the Bible has violence in it; it is not very graphic; however it is not written as entertainment - the literary purpose is different.

What about the influence of other media? You can use the terms "the world," "secular," or "non-Christian" for this question. What kind of influence does shows like CSI, authors like Stephen King, and movies from Silence of the Lambs to Saw have on authors of Christian fiction.

That question will have to be addressed to specific authors, I'm afraid. TL Hines, author of Waking Lazarus and The Dead Whisper On, admits to being a fan of Stephen King. While Hines writes some intense fiction, even though he looks to King as an influence, his writing does not approach the horror master in terms of graphicness.

The influence of secular media also plays a role in the reader. I've read one Stephen King book, and still wish I hadn't. I recall that he was very good with suspense, but the subject matter was not something I want to partake in anymore. I've read one James Patterson book. Besides my feeling that his writing is shallow and low quality, his cavalier language and treatment of violence left a nasty taste that still regurgitates anytime I see one of his titles.

Someone who is more comfortable reading King or Patterson, or who routinely watches CSI type shows may be more accepting of levels of violence. Perhaps I'm not the best person to address this subject. As others have mentioned in the comments, it does depend on the comfort level of the individual reader. Some people shouldn't read certain types of books.

Yet the discussion here is simply, is there a point of too much in Christian fiction, and if so, what is that point? I think this can be asked by anyone. I also think I've covered the most important variables that relate to this topic. Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Violence in Christian Fiction - Day 3

2 Kings 9:30-37
Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, "Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?"

He looked up at the window and called out, "Who is on my side? Who?" Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. "Throw her down!" Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.

Jehu went in and ate and drank. "Take care of that cursed woman," he said, "and bury her, for she was a king's daughter." But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, "This is the word of the LORD that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel's flesh. Jezebel's body will be like refuse on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no one will be able to say, 'This is Jezebel.' "

There have been some great comments so far! I'm enjoying reading them. If you're new to this discussion, make sure to check them out.

I've been starting off these posts with certain Bible stories for a reason. We don't necessarily have a sanitized, violent-free faith. We know life has violence in it, and if fiction is going to accurately depict stories of life, there are going to be moments of danger, episodes of violence, and people getting hurt and killed. The Bible is definitely not immune to it.

Things aren't sugar-coated in the Word. The King James Version would use English euphemisms for sexual issues - "Adam knew Eve." It doesn't shy away from stating that Sisera had a tent peg hammered through his temple, or like the above example with Jezebel getting trampled and most of her body getting gobbled up like Kibbles and Bits.

I referenced a discussion that went on in September 2006 across several blogs. At Faith * in * Fiction, there was passionate dialogue about this issue (I think Nicole was a part of that one too!). Anyway, Mark Andrew Olsen (author of The Watchers, another CBA novel that had significant violence in the beginning) had a strong response discussing a man who was unfairly arrested, tried, and then beat and tormented with flogging, thorns, and was finally nailed to a tree to hang for his alleged crimes (Olsen wrote that up much better BTW).

Our Lord experienced some of the worst violence that mankind could dish out, all on our behalf. It seems that at times his crucifixion gets rushed by or pushed aside at times by the church, when it was an awful, bloody affair. I remember rehearsing a drama in youth group re-enacting the crucifixion, and those playing soldiers were half-heartedly doing their parts. The pastor saw that and came rushing in, incensed that we were not taking the act seriously and really showing what Jesus went through. Obviously it made an impact on me. It may not be as much of an issue after Passion of the Christ, even though that movie had its criticism for its violence.

Then again, the Biblical authors didn't really detail gore or what happened. We don't get descriptions of the blows that drove the tent peg through Sisera's noggin, or Jael's thoughts as she did it. The above passage is about as graphic as it gets.

Going back the other way, the Bible is written in different literary forms. History, law, epistles, gospels and so forth. No novels are found in it (no matter what some may say about fiction in the Bible). The passages about Jezebel, Jael, and Jesus are not written for entertainment purposes, but as part of a larger narrative. It didn't serve the purpose for the author of Judges to write from Jael's perspective, and they probably wouldn't have known it anyway. Writing fiction has a very different purpose and different requirements.

Where do we go with this? How does it apply to modern Christian fiction?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Violence in Christian Fiction - Day 2

John 19:32-34 (New International Version)

The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

I'm talking about violence in Christian fiction right now, and already there's some lively discussion in the comments section for Day 1. Be sure to check those out.

I reviewed the book Illuminated this week, and it prompted this line of thinking. I want to reiterate that I am not trying to pick on it - just using it as an example. And to be fair today I want to show that there are other examples of violence and gore out there that can easily fall into this dialogue.

Perhaps the author who belongs here more could be Robert Liparulo. His first two books are known for slam bang action and some pretty intense scenes. His first book, Comes a Horseman, had the scene that inspired this post from Publisher's Weekly's religion editor. His next book Germ had a special type of bullet that ripped people apart when shot with it, along with a designer virus that liquefied the victim's internal organs. Had I received his latest book Deadfall before Illuminated, it may have inspired this topic, as the first chapter vividly describes a man getting immolated. And that's only as far as I've gotten currently - there may be more examples lurking!

Ted Dekker is one of the major players in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) and has written numerous best-selling novels. I haven't read many of his books, but Showdown has some memorable scenes. When the book starts out with a vision of a man's eye getting poked and pulled out by the antagonist, that will catch your attention!

One of my favorite books from last year was Plague Maker from Tim Downs. Most of the suspense is psychological, but one intense moment has a character disemboweled. Only one small paragraph, but enough to use as another example.

I had a couple other examples in mind yesterday, but my head is full of mucous today, so my thoughts are a little stringy. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of books giving an intensity to their stories with sometimes graphic imagery. If anyone can think of other examples, list it in the comment section. Monday I'll hopefully have a free brain, and can bring out some other thoughts on this subject.

Fire away!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Violence in Christian Fiction - Day 1

Judges 3:20-23
Ehud then approached [the Moabite king] while he was sitting alone in the upper room of his summer palace and said, "I have a message from God for you." As the king rose from his seat, Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly. Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it. Then Ehud went out to the porch; he shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.

Yesterday I did a review of the book Illuminated. The book is a suspence/thriller story. These stories should be intense, with palpable danger for the protaganist and those he cares about. However, there were a few scenes in the book that seemed to push the envelope a little in regards to violence. A significant scene had a bad guy torturing another rival bad guy, discussing the difficulty in cutting up the legs (while the rival was still alive). The torture guy had a necklace of eyeteeth from his victims, and cut the bodies up to destroy the evidence with acid. Another plot point dealt with a security system accessed with hand prints and retinal scans - and the subsequent loss of said body parts by a character so the bad guys could enter the vault.

This is not a new discussion, as there were some posts regarding this issue last September that I referenced in my own blog. Reading Illuminated brought this to my mind again, and my pondering inspired me to post some more on violence.

Today's an introduction, and the day for disclaimers. First of all, I respect the author, Matt Bronleewe, and I am not trying to disparage him. I must point out that he does not go into gratuitous detail into the above circumstances. I know of several reviewers that really enjoyed his book and didn't comment on any potential excessive violence or gore.

Confession: I watch violent movies sometimes. I enjoyed Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator, among others. I've read other Christian fiction books with violence in them. I'll probably use them as examples down the road. I am attempting to write a novel, and there is some violence in my plotline.

I've posted previously in a discussion of art and Christianity about the need for artistic freedom, that the author/director/musician should be able to pursue their artistic vision. (See this link to bring up all of the pertinent discussions). Does this make me a hypocrite now, in critiquing this book? Well, I don't think so - I don't believe I said anything about not having art exempt from critique and discussion. I'm also not condemning this book, just using the example as a jumping off point for dialogue. As a side point, I think it is fine for reviewers to point out potential stumbling blocks so readers/viewers know what they're getting into with their money and time.

Having said all this, the question I want to ask is: Is there a point of too much violence in a Christian novel, and if so where should the line be drawn? I'd really like to hear from people and entertain some thoughtful wrangling of this subject.

Tune in tomorrow for the next thought.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

CFBA Tour - Illuminated

Illuminated is the first book from Matt Bronleewe. This guy is amazing. He helped found the band Jars of Clay. He currently writes songs and is a very sought-after producer by artists such as such as Michael W. Smith, international pop singer Natalie Imbruglia and Heroes star Hayden Panettiere. To think that he has added a new career in writing is pretty remarkable. And an added bonus: Matt composed a soundtrack for the book that is available for free download at his website. How cool is that?

Illuminated tells the story of book specialist August Adams returning from a successful trip acquiring a rare copy of a Gutenberg Bible. Little does he know that he holds the key to a secret spanning hundreds of years, and there are people dedicated to getting that secret - at any cost. All August holds dear is at stake in this thriller.

I admire Matt a lot, reading his posts on Infuze and seeing the type of culture-impacting work he's done. His new novel has several strengths to it. The plotting is very suspenseful. You can't end a chapter without catching your breath and wondering where he's going next. The plot was intriguing, with nice insights into history. As mentioned in marketing for the book, it can appeal to those who liked The DaVinci Code or the movie National Treasure. It was hard to tell at times who the protaganists could trust, and this kept me constantly guessing. Overall it is an easy read.

There were some weaknesses as well - many of which I think are the mark of a first novel and should clear up down the road. The writing sometimes didn't hold up the circumstances of a scene. Whenever a book tackles a historical topic, it is hard not to have a passage of "info dump", where the narrative slows to catch us up on context. This book is not exempt, although it is not near the problem this was in DaVinci Code. The ending seemed to wrap up quickly with some contrived situations. Finally, sometimes a character does some things that are highly improbable for their situation (an eight year old boy with an incredible amount of fortitude for his age.)

There is one issue in this book that makes me want to discuss it further. It is pertinent to bring it up in a review, and I'm going to spin it off into a discussion on this blog. The issue is violence, specifically the level of violence in Christian fiction. In Illuminated, it is a suspense with secret orders, chases, and narrow escapes. There has to be danger and violence to make it realistic. Yet there is a level of violence and gore in a couple of sections that seem extreme. Body parts are carted around. A rival agent is tortured, killed, and sawed apart to dissolve in acid. Another aspect that made me uncomfortable was violence around Charlie, the 8 year old son of August. He wasn't harmed, but his frequent association with it made me cringe.

Overall, I think Matt Bronleewe has crafted a unique book for the CBA world, a book with some flaws of style that should improve with experience, and some plot choices that may push some boundaries in the Christian fiction field. It wasn't my favorite read this year, but it is not a bad thriller for fans of those books. People with a queasy factor may want to give it a pass.

Like I said, this book made me ponder the issue of violence within Christian fiction. If you're interested, please join me for subsequent posts discussing the topic.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

CSFF Tour - Bark of the Bog Owl

This month's CSFF tour features the YA (young adult) novel Bark of the Bog Owl by Jonathan Rogers, first of the Wilderking trilogy. It is geared toward kids from 8-14 from the sounds of things, though I think my boys who are younger ought to like it. I am intrigued by all I've read about it.

I must confess that I didn't do anything for this tour as I had major personal commitments this month. I really enjoy participating in this tour, and haven't been really involved the last two tours. That will change next month.

However, I can participate by highlighting certain blogs that offer something special. At the bottom of this post are all the participants. Sometimes they, like me, don't have time to post much. At least posting helps promote the book. I've gone through all of them and pulled out specific posts to highlight for this week (as of Tuesday afternoon). Also, Mr. Rogers has a great website for his books that offers a little more in-depth into the world he's created out. So check these following folks out:

Leave it to Steve Trower to give a list of top ten "king" songs.

See Deena Peterson's blog for a chance to win a copy!

James Somers has a mini-review and interview with the author. Plus a review of book 2 in the series. And Janey DeMeo has an interview as well.

The best blog post title of any CSFF tour (and a succinct overview) by Eve Nielsen.

A good overview is done at Karen McSpadden's blog.

Mike Lynch gives a man's perspective.

Interesting thoughts and some critique at Andrea's blog. Just ask!

Chris Deanne thinks the book would be good for both Christians and those who aren't so Christian-y.

Finally, see what is on Brandon Barr's mind regarding the book and the possibilities for fantasy and using the Bible as inspiration.

Also see an introduction video of the series by the author.



Brandon Barr Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Janey DeMeo Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream Jeff Draper April Erwin Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Christopher Hopper Becca Johnson Karen Dawn King Mike Lynch Rachel Marks Karen McSpadden Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Eve Nielsen John W. Otte Lyn Perry Deena Peterson Rachelle Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Steve Trower Speculative Faith Donna Swanson Daniel I. Weaver Laura Williams Timothy Wise