Monday, February 24, 2014

The Illusion of Control


Letting go is one of the hardest tasks that we humans have been called to do. It goes completely against the grain of what society tells us, of what we desire, of who we are.

Even more, letting go is terrifying. It taps into many, if not all, our greatest fears: It thrusts us into the unknown. It makes us vulnerable to pain and betrayal. It forces us to admit we are weak, broken, limited.

So we clutch and grab. We manipulate and calculate. We scheme and plot and plan. We erect barriers, extract revenge, school ourselves to not care, and defy anything or anyone who gets in our way. All because we do not want to let go. It is safer that way, we try to convince ourselves.

Yet this is a lie, a grand deception we’ve talked ourselves into believing because we want to believe it. We want to control our destiny, produce our own happiness, “become like God.”

The problem is that we have no ability to bring about any of these things no matter how much we might want it. We are powerless, unable to master ourselves much less anyone else. Desires drive us. Cravings control us. Temptations exploit our every weakness, proving resistance truly is futile.

And so in the end we discover our control is only illusion.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Realm Beyond

Title: One Realm Beyond

Series: Realm Walkers #1


Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: Craft—4, Content—4,
Overall—3.9 out of 5 stars


Excerpt from “Raising a Ruckus,” Chapter 1 of One Realm Beyond:

Cantor straddled the thick tree limb suspended less than three feet over his favorite fishing hole. He’d fished from this spot for more than eighteen years, from the time he could barely straddle the fat limb ’til now, when the tips of his sandals almost brushed the surface of the clear, cold water. He watched the small fish circling below him, waiting for the big one just as he had been taught. His fishing mentor, Odem, probably took him fishing here before he was out of diapers. Cantor wouldn’t want to share the limb now. Though the tree had grown with him over the years, he didn’t think the branch would hold the weight of two grown men. He wasn’t eager for a bath in the frigid water from the mountain’s runoff.

Still and patient, Cantor waited for the large carp he called Bully to rise and push the other fish out of the way. A sprinkle of thumb-sized chunks of bread floated on the water. One of the smaller guppies darted off to the side, and a huge, open mouth appeared under the surface. The fish snapped up a sodden crust.

Cantor hurled the stone in his hand.

A teenage boy sets out to find a dragon companion—the first step in becoming an official walker between realms—and gets more than he bargained for.

 
Craft: With One Realm Beyond, Donita K. Paul has delivered another fun, low-key adventure for teenage fantasy readers.

One Realm Beyond introduces us to a new fantasy world, separate from Ms. Paul’s other books. However, the story is still marked by the same quirky, off-beat characters and humorous twists found in all of Ms. Paul’s books.

At the same time, this book also exhibited stronger plotting. No, it’s still not a suspenseful page-turner. I did not expect—or necessarily want—it to be. But the storyline gels cohesively, moving you forward at a steady pace.

Perhaps due to this, the book has a slightly darker undercurrent. This causes some of the whimsy to be lost, which I have loved in earlier books. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad change, but it is definitely different.

Also the end didn’t resolve as well as I like. While I know One Realm Beyond is only the first book, it is also possible to finish a story with a cohesive completion while leaving the ending wide-open for the next book in the series. Instead, this novel feels like it merely stops.

But this is a small defect—if it can be called a defect at all—and it is one which will be solved somewhat with later books.

Content: Like the craft, One Realm Beyond presents typical content for a Donita K. Paul book. There’s no sexuality, and even the romance thread is very low-keyed at this point. I wasn’t aware of any explicit swearing or other language concerns. Violence does exist, but most of it occurs off the page with only broad-stroke results shown.

Magical elements, expectedly, are very strong again. The supernatural is primarily attributed to natural giftings, non-human characters, or objects with special powers, which are handled much like our science’s technology. The way this is handled doesn’t seem to be a problem, but those with a high sensitivity to the supernatural should exercise care when considering whether to read this book.

The spiritual threads rely heavily on clear allegorical parallels to the real world. As a result it is not uncommon for the characters to talk about God, His precepts, and what it means to serve Him. The concepts of allegiance to God and learning to appreciate others in all their strangeness are two threads running through this book.

 
Summary: One Realm Beyond is a fun adventure with quirky characters. Some caution recommended for those with high sensitivity toward magic and the supernatural, but otherwise a good read for preteens to adults.

Rating: Craft—4, Content—4, Overall—3.9 out of 5 stars

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

 Other participants in this Christian Science-Fiction & Fanatasy Tour:
 
Julie Bihn Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt Carol Gehringer
Rebekah Gyger Janeen Ippolito Jason Joyner
Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller Joan Nienhuis Nissa
Donita K. Paul Audrey Sauble James Somers
Jojo Sutis Jessica Thomas Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger Jill Williamson Deborah Wilson

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Celebration!

During the past year and a half, I have been hard at work on several non-fiction pieces in addition to my novels. There’s been a list of 500+ Christian sci-fi and fantasy novels, for those who read voraciously genre. Then there’s been the high school curriculum, which teaches discernment and critical thinking through Scripture and story. A basic list of artwork has also been in the works throughout this time.

So I decided that since today is my birthday, I need to celebrate. And being a book lover, what better why to celebrate than with books?

Therefore, I’m making a special offer on my books from today through Sunday, February 16th. Make a purchase of $30 or more during that time, and you can choose any one of my mini-books for FREE. Just add a note in the “instructions to the seller” section of which mini-book you’d like to claim (“Practical Discernment,” “Life in the Twilight Zone,” or “Why Story, Why Speculative?”).

For more information on my books, click here.

To purchase, click here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Outcasts

Title: Outcasts

Series: The Safe Lands #2

Author: Jill Williamson

Genre: YA Dystopia

Ratings: Craft—5, Content—4, Overall—4.1 out of 5 stars

Excerpt from the prologue of Outcasts:
 
Almost there.

Kendall strode around the curve of Belleview Drive and fixed her gaze on the messenger sign at the end of the block. The flying white envelope on a red circle flickered in the night.


She wanted to run—to at least jog—but held back, forcing her legs into long strides. Kendall swung her arms and breathed in the scents of dryer sheets and waffle cones from the Belleview Laundry and Cinnamonster ice cream shop.

Barely four weeks had passed since she’d give birth in the Surgery Center, and only two since she’d moved out of the harem and back to the Midlands. Kendall’s medic had told her to wait at least six weeks before doing serious exercise. So Kendall walked everywhere, determined to firm up her abdomen, look normal again. Determined to forget.

She wasn’t supposed to work for six weeks, either. But staying home with no baby to hold . . . Add to that her depressing thoughts, worry over the girls from Glenrock, and the task director general’s summons—it had been too much. She’d begged Tayo to let her come back to the messenger office early.


Kendall picked up her pace. What could the task director want now? He’d taken everything from her. She’d served her term in the harem, had given the ultimate sacrifice. This couldn’t be a surrogacy request. Safe Lands customs said she deserved a two-year reprieve for her service to the nation.

This summons had to be personal.

A group of captive teens struggle to reunite their families and find purpose midst a deceptive city of pleasure.


The Craft: Outcasts continues the Safe Lands series with plenty of suspense and intrigue, easily matching Captives stride for stride.

For much like book one, Outcasts starts off at a slightly slower pace as new complications are introduced and new complexities are added to the characters. But each chapter, the tension ratchets upward and the pace accelerates until the story is running at full steam.

The characters continues to be one of the strong points in this series as well. While the cast is quite large, each character is distinctly his own person with unique (and often clashing) personalities and specific, yet mixed purposes.

Add to this the familiar-but-alien landscape of the Safe Lands, and the result is a story you can completely immerse yourself in.

The Content: Outcasts is a book which will offer food for thought as it dares you to consider the different sides of an issue. It will not always be comfortable to read about. However, it is worthwhile as the story tackles everything from addiction and pregnancy outside of wedlock to finding purpose in life and how we perceive those with values different from ours.

Partially due to that, a wide range of gray areas/problematic topics are touched on: drug addiction, alcohol use, theft, and kidnapping in addition to sexual references (including rape and promiscuity, though the sexuality itself is mostly kissing which is interrupted before it can become more) and some violence. However, these topics are handled well, with the power of suggestion liberally applied, so that this book remains accessible to most teens.

Summary: While Outcasts touches on many problematic topics, it handles the gray areas well and in the end offers a solid read full of tension, complex characters, and thought-provoking content. Recommended for most teens and adults, especially those who like dystopias like The Hunger Games series.
 
Ratings: Craft—5, Content—4, Overall—4.1 out of 5 stars
 
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

 

Monday, January 20, 2014

CSFF Tour January 2014


The first Christian Science-Fiction & Fantasy tour of 2014 has arrived.

This month we’re featuring Jill Williamson’s latest book, Outcasts. The second book in her Safe Lands series, this dystopian series tells the story of three brothers who are taken from their village to a city of pleasure, a place their elders have long warned them of. Think the book of Daniel meets the Capitol in The Hunger Games.

 I’ll be posting a full review tomorrow, but in the meantime, enjoy seeing what others have to say:

Jill Williamson, author of Outcasts
Rebecca LuElla Miller , the head of the CSFF tour

Other participating members:
Red Bissell
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner
Julie Bihn
 Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Jacque Stengl
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Deborah Wilson

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merlin’s Shadow: A Question


Much like Elijah in the Old Testament, Merlin experiences the miraculous power of God (Merlin’s Blade) and then falls into a deep period of doubt before renewing his faith again (Merlin’s Shadow).

Remember a season of doubt you’ve passed through. Which events preceded that time, and what do you need to remember about those events? What truth did you (re)discover that renewed your faith?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Merlin’s Shadow


Title: Merlin’s Shadow
Series: Merlin Spiral #2
Author: Robert Treskillard
Genre: YA Arthurian Legends (Fantasy)

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—4,
Overall—3.9 out of 5 stars
 

Excerpt from “Remnants” the prologue of Merlin’s Shadow:

In the half-light of a dying day, Ganieda wept in her mother’s embrace. She felt again the burning of her mother’s forehead.

Ashen birds silenced their squawking and watched the two with hungry eyes. Dark clouds gathered overhead, and farther up the tree-lined ravine, a spring gurgled out brown water that trickled past them in dirge-like procession toward the marsh.


Ganieda had been hungry in the morning—so hungry—but now fear had soured her stomach. As the day had worn on, her mother began to rave, refusing to drink and scratching her puffed, infected arm. Now screeching cries filled the gaps between her mother’s words.


Ganieda pulled her hand from her mother’s forehead. How it burned!

Her mother shrieked, her jaw shaking and lips curled in cracked anguish. “Dark, Gana, my bairn . . . so dark . . . the worms are eatin’ ma skin.”

Ganieda trembled, for the wound on her mother’s left arm had burst open, oozing forth pus and blood.

“Merlin . . . he’s killed me, ya hear?”

Merlin and his allies fight to protect a very young Arthur from those who would use or kill him.


The Craft: Merlin’s Shadow continues to spin a strong story from ancient lore, picking up where Merlin’s Blade left off.

For though it took me a few chapters to get back into the story, I think that was a personal problem. Overall, the story is tightly plotted, and the tension is constantly maintained. Considering legend guarantees certain outcomes (e.g. Arthur’s survival), that can be difficult to pull off, but pull it off Mr. Treskillard does.

The characters are varied and identifiable, even the villainous ones. The descriptions are detailed without dragging the story down. The settings are vividly drawn. Merlin’s character arc felt a bit choppy—even contrived?—but again that may be just me.

Overall, Merlin’s Shadow continues a well-written and fresh twist on the Arthurian legend.

The Content: Merlin’s Shadow has almost as many thematic threads as there are plots and characters. They range from the lure of desire (whether power, life, youth, or love) to the big questions of life, like why does bad happen, while several characters wrestle with the opposite pulls of faith and doubt.

Concerning other common problematic areas, there is (not unexpectedly) a high amount of violence, primarily in the arenas of war and combat. These are elements are described, but not dwelt on.

The extremely high mount of the supernatural is not surprising either, both in the areas of the good and the bad. However, the use of these seems to conform to the basic standards of supernatural power (portrayed for what it is, properly attributed, life versus death, the uncontrollable nature the good supernatural).

Lastly, there are some minor reference to drinking/drunkenness and drugging. No major use of sexuality or cursing comes to mind.

Summary: While Merlin’s Shadow isn’t a book I personally fell in love with, it remains a fascinating take on legend supported by strong writing. Those with hypersensitivity to supernatural or magical elements probably should tread with care, even though the elements seem to be properly handled. However, highly recommended for fantasy fanatics and a must-read for those who love Arthurian legend.

Ratings: Craft—4, Content—4, Overall—3.9 out of 5 stars


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