Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thoughts on Broken Angel

This book has an intriguing premise. At some point in the future America has split, with a fundamentalist Christian state called Appalachia formed inside its borders. The rest of America is a land with computer chip implants, virtual memories, and genetic tampering. These things are absent in Appalachia, replace instead by a theocracy that monitors everyone and drugs people with their communion meal to keep them from questioning things.

The main character in the book, Caitlyn, has a secret hidden from her by her father. This secret has a genetic component, and a tracker chases her to "harvest" this mystery.

However, there are people in Appalachia called the "Clan" who reject the oversight of the church. They try to practice a simple faith (in contrast to the official religion in the land), helping those in need and helping those wanted by the theocracy escape to freedom.

Theocracy. Control. Faith. Surveillance and safety. The future of bioengineering. Genetic manipulation. These are all potent themes for any book to address individually, much less in one book. It is a very ambitious task.

Unfortunately, it's a risk that falls short of what it could've been. My impression is that the project was limited in its length compared with the scope. The author shared on another blog that he was constrained by the fact that the story only takes place over a few days, mostly as one long chase. He's right that it isn't necessarily the best setting to wrestle with so many weighty issues. I wonder if the book was cut too short, compressed too much.

The book is a taut thriller with breakneck pacing that has interesting, fleshed-out characters. It is worth a read for a suspenseful tale. It just seems to overshoot its constraints.

I also read yesterday that the author is writing the sequel. This may allow him to investigate the potential inherent in his bold themes further. I'm hopeful to see what comes next from Mr. Brouwer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CFBA Tour - Twice Loved

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Twice Loved

Avon Inspire (July 22, 2008)


Lori Copeland


Lori lives in the beautiful Ozarks with her husband Lance. Lance and Lori have three sons, two daughter-in-laws, and five wonderful grandchildren. They are very involved in their church, and active in supporting mission work in Mali, West Africa.

Lori began her writing career in 1982, writing for the secular book market. In 1995 after many years of writing, Lori sensed that God was calling her to use her gift of writing to honor Him. It was at that time that Lori began writing for the Christian book market. To date, she has more than 95 books published including Now And Always
and Bluebonnet Belle.


Texas, 1865 Willow Madison and her friends, Copper and Audrey taught school in neighboring Texas communities until the Yankees rode into the area and burned them out. In the midst of fear and chaos, survivors banded together to fight for what remained of their homes. Then word reached the people that the terrible war was over.

Now penniless but still hopeful, Willow vows she will take care of her friends, Copper and Audrey, and her ailing uncle, in Thunder Ridge, Texas, even if it means having to marry wealthy Silas Sterling, a man thirty years her senior. But standing in her way is handsome sawmill owner Tucker Gray, with his enticing eyes and infuriating headstrong manner—the man Willow cannot get out of her head . . . or her heart. Even though her friends beg her not to give up her dream of happiness, Willow is determined to do the right thing for those who are dearest to her. But which path does God want Willow to take: a life of duty and commitment . . . or a life of everlasting love?

If you would like to read the first chapter of Twice Loved, go HERE

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CSFF Tour - Broken Angel

This month's CSFF tour features a book with an intriguing premise and some challenging thoughts about the future - Broken Angel by Sigmund Brouwer. I haven't read any of the other tour comments yet, but it promises to be an interesting discussion.

I plan on posting thoughts about the book tomorrow, but here is my review from a previous blog tour earlier this year. To see what other people are saying, check out the links below (if you go to Becky Miller's blog, she'll highlight which blogs have posted).

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Mark Goodyear
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Carol Keen
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika or Mir's Here
Sean Slagle
James Somers
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams

Friday, August 22, 2008

CFBA Tour - House of Wolves

How many secret societies ARE there in the world?

Matt Bronleewe is back with another adventure featuring rare book dealer August Adams, his ex-wife April, and his 10 year old son Charlie, in the new book House of Wolves.

In the first book of this tale, Illuminated, we're introduced to the Adams family as they work to solve a mystery in a old tome. The basic pattern remains, with more twists and turns and new characters to spice things up, like August's estranged dad Cleveland.

House of Wolves almost never lets up with the suspense, as characters are almost always left hanging in distress while the bad guys (a secret society called the Black Vehm) try to obtain the Gospels of Henry the Lion from August. The action is good and the pacing keeps things moving briskly. For a suspense fan, it will be a good read.

The characterization is a little weaker, perhaps because main characters were introduced in the first book. Other characters receive an extended back story flashback, which slows the pace down at times, and some of these featured people really don't figure deeply into the tale.

The story moves along from Berlin, New York City, and finally Antarctica. There is a good set-up for further adventures with some questions left unresolved.

The book is aimed to appeal to fans of the National Treasure movies, The DaVinci Code, or perhaps Indiana Jones. They should generally please these people. It was an enjoyable read, but not my favorite of the year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CFBA Tour - Merciless

Merciless was a long time coming.

The conclusion to Robin Parrish's Dominion Trilogy is the focus of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance this week. I read the first book, Relentless, through the library in November of 2006. It was a great start to an intriguing series, and I was excited when the next book, Fearless, was scheduled for the CFBA tour in July 2007. Then I found out that Parrish is just plain mean...

Fearless was a startling suspense ride, upping the ante significantly. The problem was that the reader was left with a gigantic cliff-hanger, and I was stuck dangling over the edge while waiting another year until Merciless was released. Ugh. In the meantime I bought Relentless and made sure I read through the series again in June to be ready for the end game. Finally, I couldn't wait for the CFBA tour - I bought Merciless as soon as it came out in July, because I couldn't wait!

How did Merciless do, with that build-up?


First, let me remind you of the synopsis: Grant Borrows was shifted into a new powerful body, with amazing mind control powers. He was a member of the Loci, a group marked with rings on their fingers all sharing stories of being changed from a previous life into a new one with advanced mental abilities. Peyton had lightning-fast reflexes. Morgan could remember anything perfectly. Alex could manipulate a person's emotions however she wished.

Relentless showed how the Ringwearers drew together against Grant's grandfather, the leader of the Secretum of Six, who was trying to manipulate Grant into completing his mad plans. In Fearless, the earth is in throes since that confrontation, and Grant and his friends try to be heroes and help with the devastation. After following clues across the globe, Grant and most of his friends end up in a giant underground cavern in Turkey, where we are left hanging, and where Merciless begins.

Out of the chasm where Grant Borrows disappeared, a new being emerges. Skin like granite, eyes of fire, and touch of death. Oblivion has come, and as time stops around the plantet, the Dark World is being formed. What can possibly stand in the way of such a creature?


On to the question now.

Merciless is a high-octane ending to the Dominion Trilogy. Robin Parrish has crafted a new mythology that explores a lot of high ideas in a power-packed reading that again keeps people with a heartbeat dangerously close to needing a cardiologist.

I enjoyed the book greatly. It was a fitting ending for this tale. I think that it suffered in my situation a little from excessive anticipation: since I was looking forward to the end so much, I think it was hard to meet up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong: the book is very good. However, the plot creates circumstances that dampen some of the characters that I really enjoyed. It was necessary for the story to unfold, but I was a little disappointed to not have the same interaction with people like Alex that there was in the first two books. I can't see how it could be a different way, but that doesn't mean I can't miss something. There are also some characters introduced in Merciless that come across as throw-away characters, there to fulfill some plot/demographic need with no more to them.

The suspense and pacing continue on a breakneck pace, and there are so many surprising twists and turns that he's been holding on to all this time, it will spin your mind in trying to guess what will happen. I was impressed on how so many threads crossed back and forth, only to reveal an unexpected end.

I read one Amazon review that thought there wasn't much in the way of ideas in Fearless. I disagree strongly to that, but Merciless does wrestle with various themes and gives them center stage even clearer than the other books. There is a good payoff at the end.

Make sure to read the first two books, as Merciless is not a good starting point. Fans of suspense, speculative fiction, superheroes, and "big idea" fiction will not be disappointed. My 16 year old nephew read the whole series in about 3 days! I eagerly await what Robin has up his sleeve next - though I'm not sure my poor ticker can take much more.

For more info, check out my review of Fearless from last year. Also, that book inspired this essay of mine, which has been one of my most clicked/searched posts on this blog (so thanks Robin!).

Finally, if you would like to read the first chapter of Merciless, go HERE.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Headlines You MIght Have Missed...

Protests Still Unwelcome in Beijing

Olympic Protester Returns to UK

Olympic Persecution: Inspiration for Olympic Prayer Band Arrested

Just trying to keep awareness up.

CFBA Tour - That's (Not Exactly) Amore

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

That's (Not Exactly) Amore

FaithWords (August 14, 2008)


Tracey Bateman

Tracey Bateman published her first novel in 2000 and has been busy ever since. There are two other books in the Drama Queen Series, Catch A Rising Star (#1) and You Had Me At Goodbye (#2)

She learned to write by writing, and improved by listening to critique partners and editors. She has sold over 30 books in six years.
She became a member of American Christian Fiction Writers in the early months of its inception in 2000 and served as president for a year.

She has been married to her husband Rusty for 18 years, has four kids, and lives in Lebanon, Missouri.


When Laini Sullivan lands a job designing Nick Pantalone's coffee shop, there are two problems: one, Nick's nephew Joe hates all of her ideas and two, Laini has to admit he's right--she's a disaster at design. Still, she can't risk losing the job. To compromise, Joe brings in help on the project, while Laini continues to bake the goodies that keep his customers lining up.

Their relationship is moving along, so when new guy Officer Mark Hall implies that Joe's family is tied to the mob, Laini doesn't want to believe it. But things spin out of control when she meets the family, including "the uncles," who seem to confirm Mark's suspicions. To make things worse, Nana Pantalone makes it clear Laini isn't the kind of girl she has in mind for her grandson. Laini's not sure if she should give Joe the benefit of the doubt or just set her sights on Mark and fuhgetaboutit.

Jason says: My wife did read this one. She could tell it was in a series, but it was a refreshing, enjoyable read. She can sit and read all day if she gets into a book, and I didn't really see her the day she dove into this one!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vampires in Christian Fiction

If you missed the first post, there were very good comments related to vampires and such in Christian fiction. One of the commenters was Sue Dent, who wrote the mentioned Never Ceese novel.

Evangeline noted my objective take on it - thanks. I was trying to present it evenly to see what people came up with before I threw in my own 2 cents. There are a few different facets to this discussion, so I don't think it is a simple "yes it is eviiiiiil" or "no, there's no problem".

Sue brought out the importance of defining what is meant by Christian fiction. I was referring to the notion of the CBA/ECPA. As Sue noted, this is an umbrella group that is responsible for a certain type of "Christian fiction", a type that usually gets ownership of that moniker. It is evangelical and conservative in outlook, and there are certain unwritten rules with these type of rules: no cussing, no sex (unless in marriage, and not on page), and as Sue mentioned, certain literary images like vampires, werewolves, etc., would not be generally welcome. (Oddly enough, you can have mass murderers, super assassins, and a high body count, but that's another post...) "CBA" is almost a brand, but religious or Christian books are not limited to it. Very prominent examples of non-CBA Christian books would be the award-winning Gilead and Peace Like a River, and Sue's novels. So you likely wouldn't find a vampire novel in a Christian bookstore due to the CBA, as Sue mentions.

Evangeline talked about vampires as good objects for symbolism, metaphors, or allegory. This could potentially be a worthy use of the undead in CBA fiction. It would take a compelling author with a bold statement of faith to pull it off, likely.

Carole had interesting, thoughtful insights about the possibility of salvation for vampires, based on whether they were "fallen" men or demons. She also notes that vampires often act as a "bad boy" for the good girl to redeem, which might be a little prejudiced toward the "hot male vampires" LOL.

What are my thoughts? Jumbled as usual. I'll list some out.

1. Regarding the Twilight series specifically, I have finished Twilight and am almost done with New Moon. I share Evangline's concern about the sensualness of the series - even though Meyers keeps the clothes on and the physical touching limited to arms and faces, she still has a gift for romance and sexual tension. I wouldn't want a young daughter of mine to read them. I also don't like that Bella's desire for immortality comes from wanting to become a vampire like Edward, over God's ways.

2. We discussed the Twilight series in a home group/Bible study. A few people automatically didn't like the idea of some many kids reading about vampires and werewolves, considering them evil and demonic, and wondering if Christians should be opening themselves up to such influences. I remember reading Dracula for high school, and my pastor's wife cautioned me to be prayed up for it, as she read it and felt darkness from it. Considering the Twilight series, I told the group I couldn't judge it without reading it for myself.

3. I have experienced evil influence from entertainment before. I used to play Dungeons and Dragons with friends around 9th-10th grade. We didn't go for real heavy use of demons (mostly orcs and the like, Lord of the Ring-ish) and we always made our characters religion "Christian" on the player sheet. Still, it got to us. We had a sleep over one night where we got pretty freaked out with some weird stuff going on. I was the first to leave the group, feeling it was a bad situation. After this these good friends turned on me and I had some bad experiences with them. I wouldn't be against any role-playing game, but I would not want my kids to play D&D specifically.

4. I have argued before for freedom for a Christian artist to produce the art they feel they should make. I wouldn't condemn a Christian for using elements that I felt uncomfortable with, but I would use discernment whether it would be something for me to partake in or not.

5. Vampires and other mythological, typically evil creatures should be used carefully, but I think there is room for them to be used in a conscientious manner. I can't help thinking of C.S. Lewis using witches, giants, the Greek god Bacchus, and other pagan-type supernatural events in his stories. A modern master of using the supernatural for a truly Godly end is Stephen Lawhead in many of his books.

6. Are vampires in essence a perversion of the gospel with their life coming from stealing the blood of people, as opposed to the life-giving power of the blood of Christ? This just came to me while writing this post - don't know if I have the answer.

I think that's more than enough to chew on for now. I'll let y'all sink your teeth into it (grooooan).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympic Prayer

If your house is like ours, the Olympics will be on television frequently over the next few weeks. I've been critical on this blog about China and its human rights record and the way Christians especially are treated. However, I view the Olympics at this point as an opportunity. I am disappointed that China continues to clamp down on its people and expression, as evidenced by various news stories in the last couple of weeks, but I don't expect a tiger to change its stripes without divine intervention.

That is the opportunity presented to all of us enjoying the Olympics. I think Christians can take this chance to really pray and intercede for China and the other nations mentioned during the Olympics. I am very globally minded, but I understand that people in general aren't thinking about various countries around the world. Use the Olympics as inspiration to pray for countries as you see events happen. A swimmer from Zimbabwe? A Brazilian beach volleyball player? A Sudanese track star? If the Holy Spirit stirs your heart, take time to pray for these nations. A great resource is Operation World, which has a nation a day for prayer. Of course it has very good information on China. We can especially pray for China while it is highlighted over the next weeks. If Beijing wanted to showcase itself and the country to the world, let's pray that the Light of the world will illuminate the nation and touch the needy souls.

If you want to find a particular country on Operation World, just google the country's name along with Operation World and it should come up easily.

Take this great opportunity presented to the church, to send prayer on behalf of other countries and peoples around the world from wherever we are!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dragons to Vampires

Two weeks ago the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy blog tour featured DragonLight by Donita K. Paul. The question was raised if dragons were an acceptable subject matter for Christian fiction authors. I had some good response, and everyone seemed to agree that dragons could be used as good or evil depending on context and not contradicting something clear in the Bible.

My question of the week plays off of this topic and the hot book for the weekend - the fourth book in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn. For those who have been in a cave recently, the Twilight series is the hottest thing in youth fiction that has crossed boundaries into all ages. It features a love story between teens Bella and Edward. Bella is a clumsy, ordinary girl, while Edward is a typical hero - fantastically beautiful, pleasantly scented, and he's a vampire. Oh, that last part may not be so typical...

The question: Can vampires or related creatures (werewolves, etc.) be a viable component of Christian fiction? Specifically, can vampires be considered good? Would it be acceptable to have "Christian" vampires?

Is there a conflict with vampires generally considered from an evil origin? If they are undead, how can they fit in a worldview that entails heaven and hell?

I didn't realize until searching Amazon for this post how many vampire novels are out there. I know of one considered Christian: Never Ceese, by Sue Dent, who had werewolf and vampire leads. I didn't read it when it was featured for a blog tour, I just posted the promotional info. Apparently there is a sequel (Forever Richard) coming out soon.

What say you? I just started reading Twilight, so I am far from knowing what Meyer does with the characters, and I haven't really thought about this before. Can it be done? Should it be done? Fantasy has the advantage of being able to re-write rules when world-building, but are there rules for Christian fiction that shouldn't be crossed, other than heresy and explicit depictions of sin?

(BTW, my wife happened to be at our local Barnes and Noble on Friday night when the release party for Breaking Dawn was going on. Wow. There were a ton of folks, with many girls and young women decked out in prom outfits or Gothic/black clothing, along with the scattered classic vampire. For sleepy Idaho Falls, there was a lot of interest. Quite the stir caused by a stay-at-home mom in Arizona!)

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Beijing Surprises

I am so shocked.

Beijing has had trouble with keeping its promise about human rights improvements during the Olympic Games:

"By continuing to persecute and punish those who speak out for human rights, the Chinese authorities have lost sight of the promises they made when they were granted the Games seven years ago," said Roseann Rife, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific deputy director.

Read more in this MSNBC story. Really, it is amazing.