Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CSFF Tour: Storm Siren Review, Part 2

Title: Storm Siren
Series: Storm Siren Trilogy #1
Author: Mary Weber
Genre: YA Fantasy

Yesterday I discussed Storm Siren and how well it was crafted, concluding the story was phenomenally written. However, that is only one half of the equation, which brings me to . . .

The Content: There are basically two types of Christian novels on the market.

The first is what many associate with “Christian fiction.” These novels have a clear gospel message, Christian characters dealing with spiritual matters, strong allegorical parallels to the spiritual, or some other predominate Christian element that pushes Christ into the center of the story’s focus.

The second is more subtle. In these novels, God often works behind the stage, and Christ is the foundation of the story, not the focus.

Neither style is wrong, nor is one better—or more Christian—than the other. They simply approach life, story, and readers from different angels.

Storm Siren seems to lean toward the latter style, at the moment. While God’s presence is acknowledged and is even integral to the climax of the story, He remains mostly in the background, possible because the main character’s notion of Him is somewhat hazy. This means the story’s style could shift in the coming books; it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

As a result, Storm Siren raises many questions while answering only a few. The characters wrestle with issues as diverse as what makes a person good or bad, free will versus predestination, the depravity of man, how you handle a gift (especially its dark side), penance, honoring others, and forgiveness of self.

Concerning other topics of common concern, there is no graphic sexual content, but several sexual innuendos and references to rape. A fair amount of swearing/cursing occurs, but it uses a fantasy vocabulary, which most find less offensive, probably because its odd wording inhibits its use in the real world. Violence is very strong, dealing not only with typical fantasy battle violence, but also with more personal violations, such as demonic possession and especially the issue of cutting.

The supernatural elements in Storm Siren also play a major, as the premise of the story indicates. However, the supernatural seems to be handled correctly. Much of the power is genetic, and much like other natural talents, it can be augmented spiritually by either God or Satan. The other supernatural elements which go beyond this are clearly shown to be either from Satan or God, with the appropriate qualities (e.g. a gift from God is uncontrollable).

Finally, these areas of concern combine with the themes to give the book a dark cast overall. It is not excessive, nor is it inappropriate given the target audience and the topics tackled. However, it may be a difficult read for those with a heightened sensitivity to darkness in fiction or with personal connections to the topics dealt with, such as the cutting.

Summary: Storm Siren is a wonderfully written book that deals with some tough issues and asks some hard questions. It is not the type of story I would recommend for anyone, and indeed, this book is not recommended for those under thirteen. However, depending on your background, level of discernment, and personal limitations, many will find this an insightful and worthwhile read.


Ratings: Craft—5, Content­—3, Overall—4.2 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

CSFF Tour: Storm Siren Review, Part 1

Title: Storm Siren
Series: Storm Siren Trilogy #1
Author: Mary Weber
Genre: YA Fantasy


Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Storm Siren:

“Fourteen circles for fourteen owners.”

I shade my eyes to block the sun’s reflection off the distant mountains currently doused in snow and smoke and flesh-eating birds. The yellow flags above me snap sharp and loud in the breeze as if to emphasize my owner’s words that yes, she’s quite aware such a high count is utterly ridiculous.

Waiting for it . . .

“Fourteen?” the sweaty merchant says.

Ha! There it is. Eleven years of repeatedly being sold, and it’s sad, really, how familiar I’ve become with this conversation. Today, if Brea has her way, I will meet my fifteenth, which I suppose should actually bother me. But it doesn’t.

Brea nods. “Fourteen.”

A teen with the gift of controlling the weather is trained for war.

The Crafting: Storm Siren provides a phenomenal story with a strong driving plot and unpredictable characters.

At least, that’s my opinion. It is possible some will see the story as derivative: characters who wield the forces of nature are not unheard of in the various realms of science fiction and fantasy. Indeed, there’s character from the Marvel Comics universe who is also a female with white hair (Storm).

Does that make Storm Siren a copy cat? Or is the author merely drawing on the collective imagination to move quicker into her story by using what will be familiar to some, if not many of her readers? It is difficult to say.

After all, there is little that annoys science-fiction and fantasy readers, including me, faster than stories which are merely knockoffs of another. Why would I want to read another Narnia series when I can enjoy the original by the master, often for cheaper?

Yet, the science-fiction and fantasy genre expands across a vast universe, and most of the stories are far removed from our familiar, everyday world. This can cause these novels to become weighted down in description. But by relying upon images already embedded in the reader’s imagination—such as the basic feel of Star Trek’s spaceships—fewer details are necessary, and the reader can get to what is more important much sooner: the characters and the action.

So derivative or streamlining—which is Storm Siren? Personally, I lean toward streamlining. However, that could be due to my unfamiliarity with the mythos she plays off of, and other readers may strongly disagree with me.


However, lacking that inhibitor, I found Storm Siren to be strongly written. The world is vividly drawn; the characters are very human in their virtues and flaws, yet remain accessible and empathetic; and the plot’s tension keeps the pages turning, placing the caliber of this book’s craft on par with many secular series. 

Stats for the April Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Tour

Book: Storm Siren
Author: Mary Weber
Series: Storm Siren Trilogy #1
Genre: YA Fantasy

Participants: 

Julie Bihn
Lauren Bombardier
Beckie Burnham
Vicky DealSharingAunt
George Duncan
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Simone Lilly-Egerter
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Audrey Sauble
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Michelle R. Wood

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: N is for Neighborhood

Neighborhoods come in many shapes and styles. The buildings may be sleek and ultra-modern or simple and old-fashioned. An area can be primarily industrial, retail, or residential. Some of us thrive in the urban and some of us prefer suburban, while others enjoy the rural or small town.

Whatever the type, whether or not it’s to our taste, we all live, work, and play somewhere, even if in a vacuum like dust bunnies and astronauts. Why is this important? Because the time we spend in these environments will naturally impact us, both for good and for evil. Live where harsh criticism flows freely and you may find the same jumping to your mind, if not your lips. Work among those who want success at any cost, and that mentality could easily infect you.

Now our instant reaction to such environments is to get out, and sometimes, when a place becomes exceptionally poisonous, that is exactly what we need to do. Most of the time, however, such an extreme move is not necessary. Indeed, it may not even be desirable. After all, no place is perfect. We live in a broken world with broken people. We must deal with that wherever we end up—we must practice discernment, separating good from evil, tossing the bad, and storing up the good.

So don’t run from your current position. Study it:

What is good? Almost every place has something positive about it. Find it and imitate it. Think up ways to encourage more the same.

What is bad? Even the best of places has dangerous points. Working exclusively among Christians, for example, can cause you to lose perspective. So what counterbalance can you implement to prevent the bad seeping into your life? How might you encourage the opposite good? E.g. Using the gossip chain to build others up instead of tearing them down.

What are the pervading attitudes/worldviews? Understanding what others think helps you avoid absorbing their views unconsciously and can provide a bridge to talk about God’s truth.

Then as you better discern the environments you interact with and their impact on you, the better you can set the appropriate boundaries so that you might walk in the truth and shine God’s light brightly into the dark world. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

January & February 2015 Reading

The hard part of springtime for me is the prep which goes into the homeschool conferences I vend. Numbers and business detail absorb much of my time, and not much writing gets done, including my blogging. However, the good news is that I’m often piling through books during this time too, trying to catch up on the latest releases. So here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been consuming of late:

Beelzebed
Series: #1 in untitled series
Author: Bryan Davis
Genre: Rhyming children’s picture book

Synopsis: A young boy wrestles with his bed—literally—when it’s time to sleep.
Review: The rhythm and rhyme of this story is a bit stiff and even awkward at times, but the humor of a young child struggling with bedtime will endear this story to many kids.


Girl in the Gatehouse
Series: Stand alone novel
Author: Julie Klassen
Genre: Adult historical romance (Regency)

Synopsis: Dogged by scandal, a hopeful novelist retreats to an old gatehouse and catches the eye of the captain leasing the estate.
Review: Rich in historical detail, this vivid story provides colorful characters and a delightful plot. Especially pleasing for those who are Jane Austen fans.


The Tide of Unmaking
Series: The Berinfell Prophecies #3
Authors: Wayne Thomas Batson & Christopher Hopper
Genre: Teen fantasy / alternate reality
  
Synopsis: Seven eleven lords must an evil army before two worlds blink out of existence.
Review: An open-ended conclusion to the trilogy, The Tide of Unmaking, though not a favorite book of mine, will be mostly satisfying to the reader. On other notes, it contains a slightly higher-than-normal amount of violence, and the spiritual thread is somewhat forced.


Brentwood’s Ward
Series: Bow Street Runners #1
Author: Michelle Griep
Genre: Adult historical romantic suspense

Synopsis: A member of the early London police force gets more than he bargained for when he’s hired to protect an heiress hunting for a husband.
Review: Larger-than-life characters mix with a plot full of intrigue and humor in this novel. Great for the Austen romantic who doesn’t mind a pinch of mystery thrown in.


Knox’s Irregulars
Series: Stand alone
Author: J. Wesley Bush
Genre: Adult Sci-fi (space opera?)

Synopsis: A sudden invasion places a reluctant solider in charge of an underground militia.
Review: This is definitely a military story targeted for adults with its very strong violence content, which is more graphic than most Christian novels. However, the violence fits the story with its high tension, rapid-firing plot, and this may make it a good read for men who like the military thriller-styled book.
  

Season of Wonder
Series: Remnants #1
Author: Lisa T. Bergren
Genre: YA Dystopia

Synopsis: Supernaturally gifted teens seek the rest of their prophesied group under the eyes of a government who wants them dead.
Review: Not my favorite as far as dystopias go, but this novel (which is very reminiscent of Bergren’s adult series, The Gifted) still offer plenty with an intriguing mix of the supernatural and the dystopic.


Sabotaged
Series: Alaskan Courage #5
Author: Dani Pettrey
Genre: Adult Romantic Suspense

Synopsis: A dog trainer races to locate her kidnapped cousin before her uncle reaches the end of the Iditerod.
Review: An entertaining mix of romance and suspense with the fun interactions of a tight-knit family, very similar to Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series.

 
A Plague of Unicorns
Series: Stand alone
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Midgrade fairytale

Synopsis: A boy full of questions is sent to an abbey plagued by unicorns
Review: A light but fun fairytale-styled story.



Storm Siren
Series: Storm Siren Trilogy #1
Author: Mary Weber
Genre: YA Fantasy

Synopsis: A teen gifted with the ability to control the weather is trained for war.
Review: A dark-edged fantasy dealing with some heavy topics. It has some strong writing which draws deeply from the collective imagination of the sci-fi/fantasy world. I hope to post of full review of this complex novel later in April.


Now your turn: With which books have you kicked off 2015? 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: M is for Me

Everyone is created by God, and since God has an infinite amount of creativity, everyone is uniquely made. Oh, we may share this quirk with that person or that passion with this friend. But my particular combinations of traits, passions, quirks, skills, gifts, and talents belong to me alone, while your particular combination belongs to you alone. Indeed, even identical twins, who share the same genetic code, often have opposite personalities.

This affects discernment in that we each have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, which lead to a unique set of personal limitations. This doesn’t mean you share none of your limitations with anyone else. Rather, like with character traits, your limitations may overlap with others’ in certain areas. Just not in every area. No one person’s set of limitations will completely apply to another. This requires each of us to uncover who we are, flag our potential problems, and then set guardrails—or personal limitations—accordingly.

So what are some of the areas we need to be aware of? The list is vast, but here are four areas to start your considerations:

  • Talents & Gifts: Every strength has a corresponding weakness. Every gift has a dark side. Every ability can be wielded for harm as well as good. When something comes naturally for us, the temptation to depend on and abuse that skill increases, as does the amount of potential damage. For example, a gifting with words can tear down as well as build up. Guardrails might include avoiding situations that encourage wrong use (e.g. spending time with known gossip, in the case with word gifting), spending time with those who are equally gifted in the same area (iron sharpens iron, and can help prevent an inflated ego), and learning from/listening to those different from yourself.

  • Passions: We all have issues that are near and dear to our hearts, things we love and long to share with the world. These topics, however, tend to be hot buttons too; a violation of something we are passionate about can also provoke out-of-control anger or hatred for those who violate that area. E.g. A love of freedom can become indignation or even rage over violated rights. A guardrail might be finding a safe environment/method (like journaling) with which to blow off steam.

  • Fear: Fear is a very powerful motivator, and we will go to great lengths to avoid what scares us. In some case, our aversion will drive us to do the unpleasant, distasteful, and even wrong. For example, a fear of failure often pushes us to maintain the status quo, even when we dislike the status quo. Some guardrails we can employ might include set times to confront areas of fear and avoiding media which feeds those fears.

  • Fallacies: Closely connected to our fears, we each have lies that we believe. We may know they are lies, but for one reason or another, we can’t convince ourselves of the truth. Often we wonder if we’re the exception or doubt the extent of the truth. Either way, we are easily dragged down when attacked in these areas of vulnerability. E.g. A woman who believes herself unlovable may be tempted to do or endure anything to keep the attention of a guy. As a result, our lies will cause us to pick our company and media carefully—we want to hang around those who reinforce the truth, not the lie.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Valued, Not Valuable

Valued and valuable are not the same.

This is the truth God has been impressing upon my heart this past week. It is a simple truth, perhaps an obvious one, apparent to most people. However, for me, I somehow missed the vast difference between the two, and truthfully, it distressed me.

For I have frequently heard in Christian circles that I am valuable in the sight of God. This was said with the intent to comfort and reassure. It did anything but comfort or reassure me. Instead, it raised a niggling question in the back of my mind, a question that would not go away but I was not brave enough to voice: What happens when I have nothing of value? No fruit, no influence, no souls won, no positive impact made—and very little potential for any of it in circumstances which seemed very isolating? Would God regret choosing me?

That doubt was a lie. I knew that and tried to refute it as such: God makes no mistakes; He promised never to forsake me or forget me; He sees me, loves me, and that would never change because He never changes. But despite knowing all this with my head, the niggling doubt lingered.

Then I realized, from watching a secular television show of all things, the difference between being valued and being valuable.

Man looks at people and sees them as valuable. Therefore, man values other people. However, this value is dependent on the person valued: what he is or what she does determines his or her value. So when we no longer have anything to offer or our status changes or another surpasses us, we are no longer valued because we are no longer valuable. As a result, we are tossed aside and forgotten, neither needed nor wanted.

This is not how God sees us. He created us and therefore values us. And since He values us, He treasures us as something valuable. So my value is not dependent on me or who I am or what I do or not do. It is dependent on God, on His actions and His character. And because He does not change, His value of me will not change either.

So God loves me and He values me. 
Therefore, I will always be valuable to Him.