Friday, January 29, 2010

CSFF Tour - North! or Be Eaten Day 3

On the 600th post of this blog (whoa), I'm happy to finish off this CSFF Tour with my review of our feature book North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson.

The last two days have been my take on a whimsical overview of North! and the previous book On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. Whimsical, because that's the tone that Peterson has used for this series. You can tell he has a lot of fun writing these books.

North! is actually a lot more intense than the first book. It is a little dark at times. In Dark Sea, he probably had fun setting up the fictional world of Aerwiar, while the second book takes on the tone of an Empire Strikes Back. The Igibys are forever being chased, hiding, or escaping some impossible situation. The short, punchy chapters keep the action going, and the almost non-stop cliffhangers always leave my boys howling for more (as we have been reading it at night the last couple of months).

Peterson has a wonderful imagination, and it shows in his characters. They are deep characters for a young adult novel. Most of the viewpoint is from 12 year old Janner, who feels a burdening responsibility for his family, in the midst of all the peril. He is a noble young man who has faults, loses his temper, and makes mistakes.

Also, Peterson is a noted songwriter/singer, so there is a lyrical nature to his prose. You can tell he takes care with the words he uses. The result is a finely crafted book that is entertaining and offers some deep insight into the human nature, sin, forgiveness, and rising up to your potential.

As I said, I'm reading it to my boys, ages 9 and 8. My eight year-old thinks it's the best book he's ever read, and he's a good reader. I think it is a great book for reading out loud, because it's fun enough to really get dramatic with it. It is well-written enough for adults to really enjoy it as well.

If you're wondering if there is quality Christian fiction out there for your children, then this would be the first place I would recommend. And if you want more information, go to the bottom of Becky Miller's first post, where she has a list of all those who have posted for the tour.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

CSFF Tour - North! or Be Eaten Day 2

On day 2 of our tour supporting the latest book from Andrew Peterson, North! or Be Eaten, you may wonder "Why North?" and "Why would they be eaten?" or perhaps even "Who's eating who?"

Never fear, for your questions will be answered.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post about the first book in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the Igibys are running from the only home the children have known to avoid the dastardly Fangs of Dang. Janner Igiby now knows he is the Throne Warden of Anniera, charged with protecting the king, his younger and impulsive brother Tink. Along with his sister Leeli (the first Song Maiden in generations), his ex-pirate grandfather Podo (complete with peg leg and bushy eyebrows), mom Nia, and family friend Oskar N. Reteep, they are fleeing the grasp of the Nameless Evil that drives the Fangs (known as Gnag the Nameless).

Since the Fangs of Dang are green, scaly, and resemble walking lizards, the Ice Prairies in the North would be the ideal place to hide from them. That is where the Skreean resistance, lead by the mysterious Gammon, hides. Biding their time, they wait to find the key to rid their land of the terrible invaders.

Unfortunately, they have to survive the terrors of Glipwood Forest, make it past the thieving, murderous lot of Stranders of the East Bend, and even face the dark bowels of the Fork Factory.

Will the children, heirs of a lost kingdom, and their family make it past these woes and travails? Will Janner find what it takes to fulfill his position as Throne Warden? Will Oskar again be able to be the Appreciator of the Strange, the Neat, and/or the Yummy? And what of the new and terrible Grey Fangs? The Florid Sword? Bomnubbles?!

As you can see, there are many more questions about this young adult fantasy. Questions that may not be answered here, but you can be sure will be stoked as much as possible as I give my review of the book tomorrow, the penultimate day of the tour!

Oh, and see my pals on the tour for further strange and neat posts (doubt they will be particularly yummy...)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CSFF Tour - North! Or Be Eaten Day 1

Ah, the CSFF Tour is back again! And we have an excellent book to discuss, the latest in the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, North! or Be Eaten. (Please note the exclamation point is part of the title...)

I featured this book in 2009 for another book tour (for which I did receive a review copy of the book, for disclosure purposes, see addendum on page 39084 subsection HK-47).

For those who missed out, let me explain the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

Wait, there is too much. Let me sum up:
- Fangs (they're bad) invaded Skree -
- The Igibys include Grandpa Podo, Mother Nia, boys Janner and Tink, and the youngest Leeli
- Nobody likes the Fangs
- The Fangs don't like nobody either
- Peet the Sock Man is strange, but he seems to watch over the Igibys
- Nia makes great maggotloaf
- The Fangs are looking for the Jewels of Anniera, a far away land no one believes in anymore
- The Igiby kids don't know what the Jewels of Anniera are...

(Spoiler for the first book)
- The Igiby kids are the Jewels of Anniera

- Watch out for toothy cows
- Finally, the Igibys are on the run from the Fangs

If you kept up with that, then you will be ready for more silliness tomorrow! Until then, enjoy my fellow tourmates, who should be able to provide some more useful information, and perhaps more silliness...

(P.S. I love ellipses...)

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Steve and Andrew
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams
KM Wilsher

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bible Study Resources

The best 9 month investment of my life was spent reading a book 5 times.

Back in 1995 (getting farther all the time...) I was privileged to go to the School of Biblical Studies through Youth With a Mission in Canberra, Australia. Yes, we basically read the Bible five times through those nine months.

We learned the Inductive Bible Study method, which places an emphasis on learning the literary and historical context for the book of the Bible one studies, and reading the text and listening to what it says. It is contrasted with Deductive Bible Study, where one goes to the text with a preconceived idea and tries to find support for it in the Bible.

Those nine months did more for me in grounding me in the Word, and was invaluable to this day. Now I have found that it can be a resource for anyone.

There is a website entitled "The SBS Podcast" that gives downloadable teachings from some of the key leaders in the SBS system. You can download them directly from the site, and you can also subscribe to it through iTunes.

I highly recommend this resource for foundational Biblical study. There are topics from the Trinity, to Israel in New Testament times, to specific teachings on books of the Bible. I have a longtime personal friend as one of the teachers, and Ron Smith, who runs the SBS program within YWAM, has been a Bible teacher and author for years.

Oh, and the best thing: it's free.

I encourage anyone interested to check out this great free resource for the Body of Christ. YWAM's motto is, "Know Him and make Him known." One of our best ways of knowing God is through His Word.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is Avatar Eden?

Is he still talking about the movie Avatar?

Yeah, one more time. Sorry.

I posted a couple of times about it last week. It's a fertile topic on the blogosphere. I didn't think about writing on it until I saw the CNN article that described how some fans of the movie were depressed that life on Earth wasn't as good as on the alien planet Pandora, and angry at our own race for ruining our planet.

It seems people are considering Pandora as equivalent to the Garden of Eden, or even heaven. A new CNN article talks about the eruption of new fan sites related to Avatar. A member on one forum encouraged people to get over their "Avatar blues" with this advice: "'Start living like Neytiri: in touch with nature, the environment, and not being greedy and wasteful.'"

I think God's creation is wonderful. Watching the clouds envelope a snow covered butte in the desert sun this afternoon was breathtaking. I get mad when I am hiking and find garbage in streams (and I'm known to carry a bag to pick up trash). So I'm not against caring for creation and enjoying its simplicity.

Fiction and stories exist to light our imagination about other places, ways to live, viewpoints, and experiences. I can't fault people for taking in Avatar and making fan forums and such. I've always enjoyed the Star Wars universe, and have been involved in similar internet activities.

Still, when people idealize the Na'vi and Pandora, and call it the new Eden, I think there's some faulty thinking there.

The Na'vi are shown as warriors, but at peace with their environment, even one with it through the goddess All Mother, or Eywa. Pandora is a beautiful sight to behold, with the colors and luminescence shown throughout the film. Still, where did they develop their fighting skills, and why do they need them? Neytiri mourned the alien 6-legged canine-like creatures she killed, but she sure knew how to deal damage. We miss out on a lot of context - the movie is cut and edited in such a way that the Na'vi are shown in the best light compared to (most of) the humans. They sure exhibited human-like emotions like jealousy, aggression, and contempt. If those behaviors are present, then how can we expect that the Na'vi won't mess things up like we have.

Becky Miller had a good insight into the artificiality of the movie when she commented on my first Avatar post. She said:

The article also made me think more about the Eden-like world of James Cameron.
Since we weren't actually there, we experienced it as free of insects, snakes and spiders, though it was dense jungle. The temperature was a comfortable 72 degrees (or whatever the theater folks set it at), so Pandora never got too hot, or too cold, no matter how high in the clouds they went.

We were programmed to have an optimal experience, from comfortable chairs, ambient temperatures, and probably fattening snacks. How well would we enjoy Pandora with some of those critters after us?

Finally, there seems to be an inclination that we need to "return to Eden," i.e., return to a simpler time. Native tribes that are still left are also idealized, although they may commit acts that the rest of the world finds barbarous, like the Amazon tribe that leaves any suspect baby out in the elements to die, considering it unfit.

We think pristine wilderness is ideal. It is beautiful, but also, by definition, WILD. There's a reason we call it that. It is hard to survive nature in comfy chairs and soft pillows padding us.

Christians should understand that we are not actually heading back to an Eden-type lifestyle. The book Revelation tells us that God is preparing a New Jerusalem for us. We are moving into a grand city, a heavenly community, that is our final destination for those who trust in Jesus. We are not going back to a primitive state. We are moving into a new ideal, where we join together like we were always meant to be, with trees whose leaves provide healing for the nations (Revelation 22:2).

I have no problem with people enjoying a movie and a created universe so much that they bond together in forums and groups to kindle their shared interest. I just think Avatar is not the high and holy standard that some are making it out to be.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Where Do You Avatar?


It is a recent movie you may have heard about. It is a popular term on the internet and in gaming, speaking of a representation of the person interacting via techonology. This meaning comes from the descent and incarnation of a diety in earthly form, associated with the Hindu god Vishnu (from

James Cameron made this recent film, another blockbuster movie. The term used for the title may be more appropriate than he realized. In the film, humans take on avatars, forms of the alien Na'vi people, to interact with them. According to CNN, people are dealing with depression because they want to live in a paradise as beautiful and spiritual as Pandora, the alien planet depicted in the movie.

This is a sad story. I feel bad for people who feel they don't have anything more worthwhile in their life than a fictional visual presentation. One could almost laugh about it, but there is a definite lack of community in the modern world. Where did we lose track of being a part of something?

People in the article saw the interconnectedness of the Na'vi with their planet and felt a longing for such connection in their own lives. There's been a lot written about technology destroying meaningful relationships, replacing them instead with status updates and tweets. This problem started before Facebook and company ever sprang up on the interwebs anyway.

In the past, there was much more need for villages and communities to work together to survive. Now we don't know who is across the street from us, and we are too independent to declare our need for each other (unless it is the barista handing us our caffeinated nourishment - some people REALLY need that).

As my friend Nicole said in her comment to my Monday post on Avatar, people long for community and belonging because that's how they were designed. We were meant to be part of a body, part of a kingdom. Jesus came to tell us that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.

If you're not a believer, this may seem like a strange concept. If we realize that we are God-breathed, we all have value, and it elevates our relationships because we realize everyone from our best friends to our family to the people we don't like at work (or church) are made in the image of God, and He said this was very good. It puts a import on each human, that there is intrinsic value and dignity in everyone. If everyone has a design, a purpose, then that makes community important, because we are the threads that God wants to weave into a majestic tapestry.

For my Christian friends, we need to work on our relationships. If we can't model real community to the world, then they may see their only hope in a fictional world.

A few more thought on this new "Eden" before I'm done blabbing on Avatar.

Help for Haiti

I know there are lots of ways to help in Haiti, with the large earthquake that has devastated Port-au-Prince. We donated through World Vision, which is a well-respected charity with people already on the ground.

Air 1 has a list of other reliable organizations on this web page.

Every little bit helps, but most of all prayer. Someone on KLove radio this morning who has been to Haiti and sponsors a child there shared this:
Psalm 46
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Depressed "Avatar"

I've seen Avatar.

So have approximately 10 billion people.

Or so it seems.

I don't always make it to the "big" movies, unless there are talking animals or race cars involved. When I first heard about Avatar, I wasn't all that interested in it either. Over time, the previews and early reviews changed my mind, and once it became a phenomenom, I was ready to go.

I enjoyed the movie a lot. The visuals were striking and immersive. It certainly was memorable. The story in my opinion, as many others, was recycled and preachy in a not so subtle (or accurate) way. Still, I appreciated my time in Pandora.

Apparently not as much as the people in this CNN article. The title for the article is "Audiences Experience 'Avatar' Blues." It quotes people as saying they so longed to live like the Na'vi (the tall blue skinned aliens in the movie, if you weren't one of the 10 billion) or in a beautiful place like Pandora (their Eden-like planet) that it depressed them.

Some thought there was no reason to go on, since humans have pretty much trashed Earth at this point, and there's no way to reverse things. A couple of the people contemplated suicide, as everything seemed "meaningless" since watching Avatar. One wanted to "escape reality." Another thought if he killed himself, he'd be "rebirthed" in a place similar to Pandora.

Thankfully those quoted have seemed to find a little comfort in online fan communities for Avatar. I was surprised by the depth of feeling that people had in the article.

Perhaps according to my friend Becky Miller, I shouldn't have.

She's been posting for over a week on the movie. She enjoyed the movie as well, but had concerns that Christians weren't showing discernment over the worldview espoused in the movie (panentheism, slightly different from pantheism).

I certainly agreed with her over the need for discernment. Nothing comes from a vacuum - James Cameron has a certain worldview, and whether he is actively promoting it or thinks he isn't, it is still going to come out. Christians (and everyone really) should realize this and use a little analysis when doing anything from voting to watching movies. You won't convince me that is "is just entertainment."

Still, she and I debated somewhat in the comments of one post. I suggested that Christians take the movie as a "Mars Hill" moment (the time when Paul, visiting Athens, used the idol to the "Unknown God" to explain Christianity to the pagan philosophers). There are certainly some aspects of the movie that can be used as conversation starters, even if the thrust of the movie is contrary to a Christian world view.

After reading this CNN article, I'm a little more disturbed. I don't think James Cameron's intent was having people take his movie quite so seriously, but Holy Unobtanium, Batman!

I think I'll take up some of these thoughts in the next post or two...


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tim Downs - Head Game

A day late and a dollar...

So I said on Monday I'd be posting about my favorite book of the year (that wasn't published in '09), and my favorite author.

Head Game by Tim Downs was published in 2006. Right before that, I became a fan of Tim Downs after reading his book Plague Maker, a taut thriller about biological warfare, revenge, and forgiveness. I kept my eye out on his books even as I missed reading Head Game. Last year one of the blog tours I participate in offered his latest book Less Than Dead , which continued with his famous "Bug Man" character, forensic entomologist Nick Polchak. That book ended up my favorite for 2008. I also really enjoyed the follow up book to it, Ends of the Earth just recently.

Head Game is a different book from his previous tales. It starts with an unusual twist - a suicide note in the form of a comic book (drawn by Downs himself, who was a former cartoonist!). It then follows Cale Caldwell, a member of a 3 person PsyOps (psychological operations) unit from Desert Storm. He had recently moved to Charlotte, NC, with his beloved wife and 13 year old daughter. A drunk driver tragically took his wife, and now a grieving Cale is struggling to connect with his depressed teenager.

Soon he finds obstacles that he can't believe - his daughter is turned against him, his new job is in jeopardy, and he finds secrets about people in his past that shake him to the core. He doesn't realize that someone has learned the game of psy-ops, and now he is the target.

Downs is very, VERY good at his research and weaving it in seamlessly into his novel. Even though we see some events from the perspective of the bad guy, and we think we know what is going to happen, he plays out the suspense skillfully. The thrills build up until a dramatic final conflict that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat and their heads spinning with twists and turns.

The only thing that lacks is some of the great humor he writes for Nick Polchak, but the book really doesn't lend itself to that. Still, his wit is clear at times.

Tim Downs is probably my favorite author right now. Between the way he writes with humor and intelligence, with great suspense and rich characters, I am really trying to take in his writing style and understand his craft. He also manages to pluck the heart strings with themes of hope, forgiveness, fear, and love. He is never overt in his spirituality, but he always manages to apply subtle tones of God in there. I've seen critiques of his work that he really doesn't put Christianity in his books. I disagree. It is there, but his books are not meant to be a neon sign to follow, but gentle hints and teases that make us long for the destination. He's not going to spell it out, but he'll carefully and cleverly reveal a Hand at work.
I don't hear a lot about Tim Downs within the CBA community. Like Tom Morrisey, Downs seems to operate under the radar, without the fanfare of a Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti. This is too bad, because between the thrillers Head Game and Plague Maker, and the Bug Man books, Tim Downs is one of the best authors out there. Check him out!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Top Books for 2009

Ah, that time of year. What books stood out in 2009? I didn't read nearly as many books in '09 as I did in '08. I read 44 books in '08, but I didn't have 4 kids for most of the year, and I rode the bus to work all the time. Almost an hour both ways makes for good reading time.

The following are all books released in '09. I have a couple of other comments on books not from last year at the end.

5. Through the Fire by Shawn Grady. This impressive debut from a former firefighter weaves a tale of revenge and finding oneself through the haze of smoke and embers.

4. Cyndere's Midnight by Jeffrey Overstreet. The second strand in the Auralia thread, this fantasy series continues with lyrical writing, wounded characters trying to reach for nobility, and a little more action than the first book. This is a stand-out series in Christian fiction, and I'm looking forward to further strands.

3. Blaggard's Moon by George Bryan Polivka. Polivka has created a rich fantasy world rich in pirate-y tales. Moon is a prequel of sorts to his Trophy Chase trilogy, but stands on its own with humor and a heart-felt story of two lost souls intertwining, along with colorful buccaneer commentary!

2. Try Fear by James Scott Bell. The third installment of Bell's legal thrillers starring smart (and smart-mouthed Ty Buchanan) continues the fast paced, zig-zagging, and humorous prose which Bell has about mastered. I don't know if this series is going to continue, but I certainly hope it is. The last 3 years now he's held down my #2 spot for favorite books.

1. Pirate Hunter by Tom Morrisey. Yes, this blog has a soft spot for anything related to pirates, but that doesn't explain the allure of this book. Morrisey wrote two stories in one, bouncing between the tale of a freed slave in the 1700s and a modern setting of shipwreck diving. He is an adventure aficianado, so his books have great detail, but his characters make the books so compelling. Tom Morrisey doesn't get enough credit in the CBA, and this is a shame.

The top three books were almost interchangeable, and there were a couple of near misses for the list as well:

Exposure by Brandilyn Collins wins the most exasperating award for spinning my head around with the twist at the end.
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson wins for best title (and there's a pirate!).
Curse of the Spider King by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper gets best cover and best blurb by a 7 year old.

Bust of the year:
I've heard so much about Flannery O'Conner, how a Christian writer has to read her books. I read Wise Blood recently, and only finished it to try and figure out "why." I've never read a more pointless, bizarre book. I must not be sophisticated enough...

Tune in tomorrow for my favorite book (that's not new) I read in '09, by my favorite author!