Wednesday, April 28, 2010

CSFF Tour - Raven's Ladder Day 3

The Review of Raven's Ladder

I made it. Almost.

I've had a little fun for this blog tour as I've tried feverishly to finish Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, the second book we've featured this month. Thankfully, I've participated in tours for the two prior titles in the series, so I had "content" to offer while I furiously flipped pages.

I actually finished late Wednesday at work, but I couldn't blog about this until Thursday morning. I guess that's cheating. Anyway, I can offer my thoughts on Raven's Ladder for what it's worth.

The story:
After the fall of House Abascar, the loss of a young woman named Auralia, and the transformation of one savage beastman, the third book in the Auralia's Thread series focuses on the ragtag survivors of Abascar. They are lead by Cal-raven, considered a dreamer by many of his people for his belief in a mystical Keeper and for his willingness to lead from visions and intuition.

In the land of the Expanse, where four Houses (dynasties) were established long ago, two of them are in serious trouble. House Cent Regus has been transformed into horrible beastmen driven by animal desires. House Abascar suffered the loss of their home territory, and as they huddle in cliff dwellings, they are once again driven from their residence out into the wild.

Cal-raven longs to find a new, permanent home for his people. In his quest, he and his people will be swept up in the politics and intrigue of House Bel Amica, a place of outward beauty with a rotting core, and the challenge of the Cent Regus with their hidden secrets. All the while, the amazing colors that young Auralia introduced in the first book are a recurrent theme that offer a new way to all in the story, if they are willing to have faith.

My review:
The problem with trying to read Raven's Ladder quickly is that Jeffrey Overstreet writes dense. This is not a bad thing. His books are written with a lyrical quality that makes one stop and pay attention to the figures of speech used to paint a picture with the words chosen. I would prefer a more leisurely read, but deadlines are what they are!

The book continues the interesting tale of the Expanse. There is a lot to comment on, from the "prosperity" focus of the Bel Amican moon spirit religion to the more explicit faith shown in the Keeper. I would not recommend a reader try to pick up Raven and start reading - the prior books are required reading at this point. In fact, it had been long enough since reading Cyndere's Midnight that I struggled some with keeping  plot and characters straight.

I have said before that this series is an important contribution to Christian (specifically CBA) fiction. Overstreet is trying to paint a beautiful picture, and there are patterns emerging that offer some interesting spiritual insight. He has stated before that he is not trying to push some beliefs, but allow an intriguing story make the reader think. Still, there are pictures coming out that offer a glimpse of where he is coming from.

It is a good fantasy series, but as I read it, there is a distance to the characters that make it hard for me to fully embrace. I can relate better to the noble Abascar captain than the main protagonist King Cal-raven. I have felt the distance throughout the series, but it was a little more noticeable this time, perhaps due to the depth of plot and characters from the prior two books that is hard to keep in mind over two years time.

I recommend the series, but if you are a fan of rapid action and quick moving scenes, this book may not be for you. It is more of a slow burn, requiring time to appreciate the different threads moving through the series (it is the Gold Strand of the Auralia series after all). The books are aiming high - they may not make it all the time, but the goal is lofty enough that even in "missing" it is still an entertaining yet inquisitive examination of beauty, faith, nobility, savagery, and finding what matters most in life.

For other thoughts on Raven's Ladder, be sure to check out other participants listed at the bottom of Becky Miller's Day 1 post.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

CSFF Tour - Raven's Ladder Day 2

The race continues - the race to be relevant for the April (part deux) CSFF blog tour, featuring Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet.

While my mad page-turning continues, in "honor" of the recent Earth Day, here are some recycled posts!

Last year's interview with Jeffrey Overstreet (tried to update it to 3D, didn't work - but you can put on some red and blue goggles if you want).

Did you notice it placing in this notable list of top books of 2009?

Finally, here's some people who have finished this race!

We'll see tomorrow if I make it...

Monday, April 26, 2010

CSFF Tour - Raven's Ladder Day 1

Join me, if you will, in a race.

A race comprised of great hurdles, twists and turns to throw off many a competitor. A race to join my compatriots in joyous celebration of another successful trip.

A race to see if I can finish in time...

Welcome to the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour for April (part deux). We are featuring the latest book in the Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet: Raven's Ladder.

My eyes were too big in picking books for the month of April, and I'm trying to finish Raven for this tour. Forget food, who needs personal hygiene, when I have a book I must finish! (Don't worry, I'm in a dramatic mode).

Still, I have some tasty morsels to tide you over while my wheels spin furiously.

Curious about the first book in the series, Auralia's Colors? Then visit here.

What was my review of Auralia?

What were some other thoughts expressed about this book?

And finally, were there any people who managed to do their homework? Check the list below to see!

Rachel Briard (BooksForLife)
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

Friday, April 23, 2010

CFBA Tour - Blood Ransom

The CFBA is featuring the new book Blood Ransom by Lisa Harris. She lives in Mozambique where her family works as missionaries, so this story set in the fictional African country of Dhambizao has a real authenticity to it.
Natalie Sinclair is an American working with the health ministry to encourage vaccinations, wellness, and tracking of tribal groups to monitor their health programs. The country is on edge due to an impending election, and even though the UN is monitoring this one, the history of violence in past voting has left its scars.

When young Joseph Komboli escapes from his village with a tale of "Ghost Soldiers" taking all the people, including his family, Natalie is not sure how to get involved. However, Joseph's explosive pictures force her to find help from Dr. Chad Talcott, another American expatriot who is volunteering at a nearby clinic.

As Natalie, Chad, and Joseph try to get their information into the right hands, there are others in power who will stop at nothing to bury the truth that could change the whole country. Will they succeed in saving Joseph's family, or will they share a tragic fate as well?
There's a lot to like about this book. It can be classified as a "romantic suspense," and Lisa's knowledge of Africa adds a certain flavor to it. There is plenty of action, and there are a lot of surprises for the main characters. It is easy to get into the story and root for Natalie and Chad.

The plot hinges on the idea of human trafficking, the modern day slave trade. Many people don't realize there are more slaves in the world RIGHT NOW than at the height of the African slavery during colonial times. This is an issue that is dear to my heart, and I am excited to see entertaining fiction that can also educate about an important issue of justice in our world today.

Blood Ransom has some flaws as well. I never felt that the characters had a distinctive voice - Chad and Natalie act and think alike, as well as other secondary characters. Some of the plot points get a little muddled, as the scope of the book switches from Joseph's home village to the whole country and an international shadowy corrupt tycoon. It does all tie together in the end, but the premise gets a little strained.

Overall, Blood Ransom is obviously a work of love by Lisa Harris for a continent and people she loves, and issues she is passionate about. It is an enjoyable story that should satisfy fans of romance with suspense or action thrown in. I'll be interested to see what comes in the future from this author.

If you would like to read the prologue and first chapter of Blood Ransom, go HERE.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sanitized Characters


If you missed it or didn't find it interesting, I encourage you to check out last week's posts on the book Lost Mission. At least for those of us on the blog tour, there was a lot of deep discussion over themes brought up from the book.

A couple of posts got me thinking about our characters when writing fiction. One reviewer didn't like the book because they thought some characters were promoting paganism. Now, this is more of a thematic issue they had with the book, but I commented on their post that the book wasn't promoting paganism, but that the characters were acting according to who they were. The blogger didn't agree with my assessment, and we agreed to disagree.

Another blogger wanted a character to turn to her Bible to get guidance and figure out what should be done. Certainly it would be ideal if everyone did that, and it would have made sense since the character was devout. I know I dive deeper into my Bible when in trouble, but it may not have served the story and the climiax that was building.

After these two comments came up, it got me thinking that perhaps in Christian fiction we subconsciously want the characters we read about to be "sanitized". I'm not saying these two commenters wanted this specifically, but my impression was maybe we do want this a little more than we realize.

Of course the type of book is going to drive what type of characters populate it. Lost Mission focused on five characters, four of whom would be considered devout, so I wouldn't expect rough behavior or language. Still, I think authors can struggle with making a character authentic due to a fear of offending a CBA reader.

There's also been some blog discussion about the homogenized Christianity seen in a lot of Christian fiction. The believers tend to be from a Protestant, non-denominational "Bible" type church, without distinctive doctrines such as speaking in tongues, high liturgical services, or other significant identifiers (that don't break the core orthodoxy of the Trinity, the Bible, salvation, etc.). Catholics or people who may be a little less mainstream don't make it as the examples of a Christian character.

I think this goes back to market forces. The CBA market (it used to stand for Christian Booksellers Association, but now is a term for the specific niche fiction one typically finds in an Evangelical bookstore) is particular and doesn't like certain feathers ruffled. We can have serial killers in CBA fiction, as long as they don't cuss and sleep around. We also don't want the Pew Wars extend into our fiction.

Now the clean-mouthed assassin is a blatant example, but I wonder if we expect too much from our CBA characters. Authors know they have a certain audience to please, and perhaps the edges are knocked off a bit. As I flail away at my work in progress, I did a character bio sheet to help me know my heroine better. One questioned asked about sexual experience. My first instinct is to say, "No, she has been chaste." Unfortunately, in our modern world it would be unrealistic to have an attractive, secular college student be a virgin, so I have to concede that she has had premarital sex. It likely won't come up in the story, so I get a dodge there, but I think my initial reaction is telling.

What say you?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CSFF Tour - Lost Mission Day 3

We haven't had a tour like this for a while!

The CSFF Tour is finishing up discussing the new book Lost Mission by Athol Dickson. It has provoked a wide range of responses, from praise to "couldn't get into it" to "can't recommend it." The writing is almost universally praised, but the style sometimes threw people off. Others had some questions about issues raised in the book, or agendas being promoted. There's a lot to consider, and I can't sum it all up. Be sure to go to Becky Miller's page where she keeps track of all who have posted.

I've even had a hard time narrowing down what I want to discuss, but beforewarned:


One of the issues brought up very prominently is immigration. Two of the characters are from Mexico, and they cross over illegally. One of them comes feeling a holy call to preach, and the other needs work to save up so his family can buy a little restaurant so they can support themselves in their own village. Both of them have noble reasons to come, but they do it by following a coyote across the desert. Another character is a pastor who opens a ministry to the Hispanic immigrants in the city, without differentiating between legal and illegal immigrants.

Athol Dickson gets a little comment in about the "artificiality" of borders, and he may be more sympathetic to one side over the other, but on the whole, I thought he showed issues as they are. Some illegal immigrants go about their business to support themselves or their family. Some get drunk and cause significant problems and suffering. And the rich businessman who rails against illegal immigrants has a Mexican servant for his house for years.

Some of the debate on the tour has been whether it is okay for Christians to do something good by breaking the law - the old "ends justifying the means" argument. I don't want to be a relativist or utilitarian in my thinking, but I can't help but think of missionaries who work in closed countries as "tentmakers", working in their trade so they can share the gospel unofficially, or those who smuggle Bibles into lands where it is forbidden. Certainly there are people who shouldn't be here, and I'm not equating coming for work to gospel work. I just can't seem to think of it as a purely black and white issue.

I always end up thinking of this:
" 'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'" Leviticus 19:33-34

Others on the tour have noted that if one really feels called to preach in America, they could work on getting here by the "proper channels", and that certainly is true. No denying that, but waiting 7 years for red tape makes for a poor novel!

Another interesting issue is the contrast in faith. In Alejandro's time he works with two fellow friars. The head abbott is very legalistic, doesn't show grace to the Indians they're trying to reach, and seems to horde worldly goods. The other friar is well-received by the Indians for the way he integrates with them, but ends up leaving his heritage to "cross over." Then Athol cleverly duplicates this in two of his modern day characters, the wealthy Delano and poor preacher Tucker.

At first glance Delano is the obvious self-righteous character, as he sits in his mansion looking down on those "illegals" and other immoral elements that he feels the church needs protection from. Yet Tucker has his own brand of self-righteousness, as he becomes hard to the wealthy gringo churches that won't help him reach out to the downtrodden. Both become examples of what we should avoid on either side of the spectrum.

A self-described "prophet" once told a group I was in that the Lord doesn't believe in "balance." There is the Kingdom way, and the devil's way, and that balance was a Greek or Eastern ideal that shouldn't be in the church. Certainly he is right in that I always want to walk in God's ways. However, I am a fallen sinner that routinely screws up, and sometimes the balance in tension that Christianity has developed over time (free will vs. sovereignty, grace vs. law, love vs. justice) is the only way we can keep from getting too off track. If anyone knows how to perfectly stay in His will, let me know - I'll be the first to sign up!

Well, if you couldn't tell, Lost Mission was a provocative book! I will go on record as saying it is in a good way, making people think about a variety of issues. I could go into more, but who's going to read this as long as it is anyway! If it intrigues you, check it out. I think you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CSFF Tour - Lost Mission Day 2

There is a lot to ponder in Lost Mission. I'm sure there will be some interesting discussion, and you'll be able to find all of the posts from the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy tour at Becky Miller's blog.

Yesterday I gave an introduction, so check that out for an overview of the plot. Today I will give my thoughts on the book as a review, and then I'll follow up with thoughts on various plot points and themes.

First things first: isn't that a great cover? It captures quite nicely the mood of the book. The story is told from the past flowing into the present time. The author chooses an interesting "omniscient" point of view, where he interjects his interpretation on the narrative from time to time. Nowadays writing teachers frown on this, but it was a useful literary tool in the past, and it is used to good effect here (although it takes a little getting used to).

Each chapter starts in the late 1700's, talking about Fray Alejandro and his fellow priests as they establish a mission in the Southwestern desert to reach a tribe of indigenous people, but it slides thematically into the present time. There are four main characters followed: Lupe is a Mexican of Mayan descent who feels a supernatural call to preach to the Americanos, and crosses the border to follow her mission. Delano Wright is a very wealthy man with lots of land, a devout person who loses his unfaithful wife at the start of the book, and is left raising his precious teen daughter Harmony. Tucker is a fresh seminary graduate who goes to the desert to find his calling, and discovers it in an unexpected encounter. Finally, Ramon Rodriguez is also drawn to the USA from Mexico in order to save enough that his family can buy a small restaurant and he can return home.

The story starts slowly as we are introduced to each character over the course of several chapters. Honestly, the book was a bit of a drag initially, as I contended with the different writing style and the various people. Soon, the tendrils of each storyline start to cross and interweave until a rich tapestry develops. John Otte stated it well, that he started the book and read it as a duty, then he grew to want to, and finally he had to read to finish it. I can totally identify with that.

There is a satisfaction seeing the different points intersect, but it also a book that raises some thoughts that should make us consider carefully our own viewpoints. Can faith be flexible, or is in intransient? Where does righteousness cancel out mercy, if ever? Can we break a law to do the right thing? Some books are only meant to entertain. Lost Mission is certainly entertaining, but it is a thought-provoking book, one of the deepest I've read in a while.

The characters certainly drive the story, as their experiences are key to developing the plot. Each one is created with laudable and lamentable characteristics, and their flawed response to life is the key to the suspense in the book. Even finishing the book over a week ago, they have stayed with me.

The book has a few flaws, as any work. There is a major plot development that disappears as ash after a fire, and I thought it needed more than a casual dismissal at the end. There was a mention of us being aware or having some form of consciousness prior to our birth (page 68). I live in an area with a high concentration of LDS followers, and this idea of a spiritual existence prior to birth is a key point for them, one that I don't believe is Biblical. I was dismayed to see it passed off in this book. It isn't a major point at all - I think he was trying to be poetic, but my context affects how I see it, and I can't let it pass without comment.

Overall, I can highly recommend reading Lost Mission for anyone who wants to be challenged in their thinking and wants a rich tale to chew on for a while. It isn't the easiest to enter into, but it is a destination that will enrich and potentially prick you as well.

As I said, check back tomorrow for final thoughts on some themes from the book, and check out my tourmates at the link above!

Monday, April 12, 2010

CSFF Tour - Lost Mission Day 1

Are you ready to get Lost?
This month the CSFF Tour is featuring an intriguing book, Lost Mission. It is the latest book by Athol Dickson, who has written some memorable books in the CBA market over the last few years. I recall on the old blog faith*in*fiction that his book River Rising was highly touted. I read his last book, Winter Haven in '09, and came away feeling that it was a good enough book, but it didn't really live up to my expectations from prior publicity.

Does Lost Mission rise to the level of his reputation?

Before I answer that, I need to address some context...

What would a Mexican housekeeper, a minister running a shelter ministry, a grief-stricken billionaire, and an illegal immigrant working in construction have in common with an ugly Franscican friar from the 1700's? As smoke from different little conflagurations can swirl together before it becomes a gigantic flame, so these disparate people are drawn together in a dramatic repeat of the doom of the Mission de Santa Dolores, the Spanish mission where Fray Alejandro met the flames so many years ago. Will they succumb to the same evil, or will faith rise above the fire?

Lost Mission is being marketed as "magical realism", as smoke from a fire in the 1700's helps guide one of the main characters, Lupe de la Garza even in the present time. There's a lot to dig into with this book - enough that it deserves a couple more posts to delve into the mysteries.

But if you can't wait, check out my compatriots below or visit Athol Dickson's blog. Just be sure to follow the smoke back here tomorrow, winds permitting...

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

CFBA Tour - She Walks in Beauty

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

She Walks in Beauty
Bethany House (April 2010)

Siri Mitchell


Siri Mitchell graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree and worked in various levels of government. As a military spouse, she has lived all over the world, including in Paris and Tokyo. Siri enjoys observing and learning from different cultures. She is fluent in French and loves sushi.

But she is also a member of a strange breed of people called novelists. When they’re listening to a sermon and taking notes, chances are, they’ve just had a great idea for a plot or a dialogue. If they nod in response to a really profound statement, they’re probably thinking, “Yes. Right. That’s exactly what my character needs to hear.” When they edit their manuscripts, they laugh at the funny parts. And cry at the sad parts. Sometimes they even talk to their characters.

Siri wrote 4 books and accumulated 153 rejections before signing with a publisher. In the process, she saw the bottoms of more pints of Ben & Jerry’s than she cares to admit. At various times she has vowed never to write another word again. Ever. She has gone on writing strikes and even stooped to threatening her manuscripts with the shredder.


For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor.

Debuting means plenty of work--there are corsets to be fitted, dances to master, manners to perfect. Her training soon pays off, however, as celebrity's spotlight turns Clara into a society-page darling.

Yet Clara soon wonders if this is the life she really wants. Especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries.

When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her marriage at stake--the future of her family depends on how she plays the game.

If you would like to read the first chapter of She Walks in Beauty, go HERE.