Friday, September 5, 2014

August 2014 Reading List

August didn’t see as much reading time as July, and more books fell into the required reading category. Nonetheless, I did finish three speculative novels, interestingly all for teens and all third books in their series.

Title: Michael Vey: Battle of the Ampere

Series: Michael Vey #3

Author: Richard Paul Evans

Genre: Teen Superhero

Synopsis: A teen with electrical powers works to free his friends before they’re executed as traitors.

Review: This secularly published series might never qualify for great literature, but these books provide a fun and fast afternoon read. This third book has a couple of nice twists I didn’t see coming, a few scenes of surprisingly intense emotions, and some good thematic material on sacrifice, guilt, and responsibility.


Title: Merlin’s Nightmare

Series: The Merlin Spiral #3

Author: Robert Treskillard

Genre: YA Arthurian Legend Retelling

Synopsis: As threats grow on every side, Merlin tries to protect a young Arthur as he takes his rightful position as king.

Review: This book provides for late teens and adults a richly drawn and highly suspenseful twist on the familiar legends. Although the book contains fairly high amounts of violence and magical elements, they seem well handled, and this book will thrill, I believe, any ardent fan of Arthurian Legend.


Title: Rebels

Series: The Safe Lands #3

Author: Jill Williamson

Genre: YA Dystopia

Synopsis: Three outsider brothers seek to unmask the truth about the land of their captivity.

Review: I don’t want to say too much about this book yet as I will be reviewing it in full later this month for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour. Let it suffice to say, this final book will not disappoint!

In addition to these books, I’ve continued to read through my list in Artful Exposure. This month I breached the mid-grade level (8-12 years) with great reads like My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett and A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond. I’ve also discovered with great delight the whimsical animal tales by Dick King-Smith, perhaps best known for The Sheep-Pig (or, as it is called here in the U.S., Babe, the Gallant Pig), the book which inspired the movie—you guessed it—Babe.

Now it’s your turn. What have you been reading of late? What was the book about and did you like it, why or why not?


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CSFF: Merlin’s Nightmare (Merlin Spiral #3)

Title: Merlin’s Nightmare

Series: The Merlin Spiral #3

Author: Robert Treskillard

Genre: YA Arthurian Legend Retelling

Ratings: Craft—4, Content­—4, 
Overall—4.0 out of 5 stars


Excerpt from “The Pact,” prologue to Merlin’s Nightmare:

Mórgana scowled at King Gorlas’s back as he dug into the grave.

“Accursed shovel!” he yelled to the darkness, slamming the iron edge once more into the ground and flinging the dirt up. Five more times he jabbed at the loamy clay before twisting his wiry neck around and gazing at her savagely. “Are you sure she’s here?”

“Yes.”

Gorlas wagged his wild bread, and a silver torc shone from under its disheveled black fronds. “If not, I’ll have your spleen sliced out—”

“Tell me again why you want her back.”

“I’ve told you.”

“Tell me again . . . while you dig,” she crooned.

“Igerna ran away.”

“Two months past, it was, remember?” She took a step forward, stooped, and stroked his cheek with one finger.

His eyes lost focus. “That’s right,” he said, digging the shovel in and throwing dirt from the hole. “When the moon was full.”

“Yes, the moon. Go on.”

“And yet you claim she died sixteen years ago.” He dug into the soil again. “But it makes no sense. She’s buried here, you say?”

“Yes,” Mórgana said, looking up at the stars winking down through the trees. “Her body is here. Keep digging.”

As threats grow on every side, Merlin tries to protect a young Arthur as he takes his rightful position as king.


Craft: With Merlin’s Nightmare, the Merlin Spiral doesn’t so much finish a series as much as lead into a new one, the Pendragon Spiral.

Actually, that is a bit of an annoyance for me as a reader. I expect closure, the feeling of completion or coming full circle for the main character, with the final book of a series, even if that book is opening doors for a sequel or a spin-off series. Merlin’s Nightmare seems to offer none of that. The ending doesn’t feel merely open; it feels unfinished. If closure is presented, it has gotten lost, and the result is that this book reads more like a transitional book in the middle of a series as the story shifts focus from Merlin to Arthur. Personally, I would have preferred to seen these books presented as one series rather than two, for it is disconcerting to “finish” a series when the story has only reached its midpoint.

However, I understand the a split in related series are done for a variety of reasons, some of which the author has no control over, and there is an upside in this for the readers who have fallen in love with the rich tapestry of this Arthurian retelling: The story isn’t over yet.

So concerns over the ending aside, Merlin’s Nightmare offers a vividly drawn world rich with details. Familiar elements—such as the sword in the stone—are deftly woven into the tale, but often with a fresh take that will surprise the reader. The characters are complex and often conflicted. This makes them sympathetic and the story compelling, even if the journey isn’t comfortable. Add to this a plot full of danger and suspense, and the result is a riveting read.


Content: Like the story itself, Merlin’s Nightmare offers rich thematic material.

On one side, you see Merlin wrestling with his desire to protect and live in safety with the need to let go and take risks. One the other side, you witness the reckless bravery of Arthur and his growing realization of what it means to lead. Sandwiched between are threads on sacrifice, responsibility, balancing decisions with advice, and the sovereignty of God. For me, the moment when Merlin must answer the question, “Who am I?” was especially poignant.

Concerning other topical concerns, both violence and magic exist in high amounts. Although the elements aren’t out of line with the story but seem to be appropriately handled, those with sensitivity to either or both those areas will have to carefully weigh whether they should pursue this story.


Summary: Merlin’s Nightmare is not so much the end of a series as much as transition into the second half of the tale. As long as that is held in mind, this novel continues to offer a richly drawn and highly suspenseful retelling of Arthurian legend. Some caution recommended for younger readers and those with high sensitivity to violence/gore and/or magical elements, but a must-read for fans of King Arthur.


Ratings: Craft—4, Content­—4, Overall—4.0 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 25, 2014

CSFF Tour: Merlin is Back!

The August Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour begins today, and this week we return to the realm of Arthurian legend with Merlin's Nightmare by Robert Treskillard. The third and final book in the Merlin Spiral, Merlin's Nightmare finishes the story before the story that has focused on bringing to life Merlin before Arthur takes the throne.

I will be posting a full review tomorrow, but in the meanwhile, take the time to find out what others are saying about this fascinating twist on Arthurian legend:

Beckie Burnham Jeff Chapman
Vicky DealSharingAunt April Erwin
Carol Gehringer Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirriam Neal
Joan Nienhuis Nissa Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer Audrey Sauble
Jojo Sutis Robert Treskillard
Phyllis Wheeler Elizabeth Williams

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Entitlement

The only thing we are entitled to is death.

That is a sobering thought, isn’t it? All we have, all we desire—we deserve none of it. Even a roof over our heads, clothing on our back, and food on our tables are divine gifts provided by the Sovereign King whom we has rejected, scorned, betrayed, and rebelled against in the harshest sense of each of those words. Only His deep love and longsuffering mercy prevents Him from sending each of us—you, me, our families, our friends, our churches—straight to hell.

Yet we presume on His patience and His grace. We act according to what is right in our eyes. We demand He gives us what we what when we want it. Then we become upset when He doesn’t do it or forget to thank Him when He does.

And such is the insidiousness of entitlement that it creeps into our lives unseen in numerous ways: Frustration over someone cutting in front of us or when a store doesn’t have what we want. Jealously over another person getting what we want, whether the latest electronic device or that job promotion. Anger at the “unfair” treatment we receive as individuals or as a collective group united by ethnicity, religion, or political beliefs.

O LORD, forgive such arrogance and presumption! Humble our hearts to see what a gracious gift all we have is. Fill our mouths again with praise instead of grumbling. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Interview at the Barn Door Book Loft

One of the topics I have frequently blogged about in the past is the basics of discernment: what discernment is, why we need it, and perhaps most of all, how we obtain it.

Last year I complied these thoughts and more in a curriculum for high school students called, Bearing the Sword: Developing Discernment through Scripture & Story. Broken into fifteen five-day weeks, this first part walks through what is discernment, how we can practice it, and the biblical definition of what is good. This is done through intensive Bible study and the analysis of media, specifically pre-selected film clips.

To help promote this work, the Barn Door Book Loft is graciously featuring the curriculum on their blog this weekend—Saturday, August 16th, and Sunday, August 17th. They asked some great questions, which pulled together a nice snapshot of both my work and me as an author. Plus, if you leave a comment there, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free copy of a complete pack of my curriculum: One manual, one workbook, one answer key, one media log, and one DVD set, worth about $65. Of course, you could save yourself the agony of waiting and simply buy the books at my website or at Amazon.


Anyway, since being an author is a solitary occupation and because this curriculum is self-published, I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to talk about the things I’m passionate about—books and discernment. So giveaway aside, I would love for you and your friends to stop by this weekend and chat up a storm.

You will find the posts here (starting the 16th) and here (starting the 17th).

Meanwhile, check out all of the Barn Door Book Loft blog—it is a treasure trove for book lovers!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

July 2014 Reading List


I like to read. A lot.

Reviewing, on the other hand, doesn’t rank anywhere near the top of my preferred ways to spend an afternoon.

That saddens me some. I don’t like reviewing, and so I only do one or two full reviews a month. But there are many great books out there—and I want to share them all with you.

Therefore, I’ve decided that perhaps a few of you might enjoy seeing  a list of what I’ve read each month, a snapshot of some great (and not so great) books I’ve been encountering. So here’s what I read in July:
 

Title: Rock Harbor: Lost & Found

Series: Rock Harbor Kids #2

Authors: Colleen Coble & Robin Caroll

Genre: Tween Suspense

Synopsis: A fourteen-year-old girl training for SARs seeks the truth behind her friend’s adoption and a school fire.

Review: The prose felt a bit choppy to me, but the plotting is solid and will provide many a preteen a good, suspenseful read.
 

Title: Dark Halo

Series: Angel Eyes Trilogy #3

Author: Shannon Dittemore

Genre: Teen Supernatural Suspense

Synopsis: An angelic war grows as the Dark Prince himself targets two supernaturally gifted teens.

Review: A solid, satisfying conclusion with some nice twists to a fascinating series. Well-worth reading as a teen or an adult.


Title: Silenced

Series: Alaskan Courage #4

Author: Dani Pettrey

Genre: Adult Romantic Suspense

Synopsis: A rock climber and a former cop investigate a suspicious death of a climber.

Review: I fell in love with the family at the start of this series, which is the real draw of these books, and that doesn’t change with Silenced. I was a little disappointed with the plotting--this duel plotline didn’t feel as cohesive as the plots of first three--but is still a good breath-catching suspense.

 
In addition to my normal reading, I’ve also challenged myself to read through part of the reading list I composed for ArtfulExposure, a list of worthwhile art. This month I covered 21 children’s books, primarily easy readers and beginning chapter books. Some of the old friends I revisited:
 

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik

Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant

The Littles by John Peterson


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Warden and the Wolf King


Title: The Warden
          and the Wolf King

Series: Wingfeather Saga #4

Author: Andrew Peterson

Genre: Mid-grade Adventure/Fantasy

Rating: Craft—4, Content—3,
Overall—3.5 stars out of 5
 

Excerpt from “The Slog of War,” Chapter 1 of The Warden and the Wolf King:

“What happens next?”

“How am I supposed to know? I’ve never been in a war.”

“But we’ve been here for three hours at least. And we haven’t eaten a thing.”

“Look, all I know is we’re supposed to sit here and be quiet until the tribes are finished pledging—or whatever it’s called. And we’re all hungry, but at least you don’t get cold.”

“How many tribes are left?”

“You can count.”

“Wait, how many tribes did we start with?”
“Kal, can you just find some way to be interested in what’s going on? Mama said this hasn’t happened in decades. And they’re here for you, after all. The least you can do is show some interest. Shh! Here comes a tribesman.”

Janner and Kalmar sat on a wooden platform overlooking the Field of Finley, now covered with snow. These were the fields, Janner remembered, where many years ago Podo Helmer had won the heart of Wendolyn Igiby by competing in the games of the Bannick Durga against the roughest and rowdiest of the Hollowsfolk. But there were no games today. Today was about war. Which meant boredom.

Three siblings work to use their gifts to end an evil ruler’s reign of terror and reclaim their homeland.


Craft: The Warden and the Wolf King marks the end of the Wingfeather Saga, and it does so in dramatic fashion as the Lost Jewels seek to reclaim their homeland from the Nameless one.

As a result, the story is filled with intense action and high tension for the most part. The opening drags a little, as various elements are set into place, but soon battle lines are drawn, wars are being fought, and risky plans are set into motion. From that point on, there is no catching one’s breath.

The cast, which has grown with each successive book, now stretches across two continents. Yet the characters remain unique and easy to identify as each faces their own personal battle within the larger scope of the story. Arcs are completed with satisfaction, though some of the secondary characters’ feel rushed a bit at the end (Sara, Artham) in order to bring the story to a rapid close. 

The one downside to all this is that The Warden and the Wolf King is very serious and even dark in tone. It is the logical conclusion of the story that has been built, as each book in the series has become more somber. Nonetheless, the tongue-in-cheek humor and rollicking fun of book one, the elements which first drew me to this series, have now been shoved far into the background of the story, and that saddens me some. Sometimes it is nice to have a lighthearted series that provides a simple, comical adventure to lose yourself in.

But once I get past my original expectations of the series, The Warden and the Wolf King offers a sound conclusion to the Wingfeather Saga.

Content: I only say The Warden and the Wolf King provides a sound conclusion, because though it is the logical end, it lacks, at least for me, the final pressure release that comes with the satisfying end of a good story—you know, the kind that allows you to close the cover of a novel with a big sigh of contentment (or that bittersweet smile with a sadder ending), knowing that all has cumulated as it should. 

Again, it’s not this ending is ill-chosen for the story; indeed, it suits the story, the logical end for both the book and the series. However, it doesn’t satisfy. Instead, it feels oppressive, suffocating and even a touch hopeless. Perhaps it because the end is kept short, so we don’t get a chance to really absorb the shock of what has happened in the final climax, much less savor the results in a way that convinces us that this really was how it had to happen. Nor does the predominance of death throughout the story help, especially when you remember the target readership is from elementary school to early middle school. Indeed, if it weren’t for the brief epilogue, even I, as an adult, would have found the end crushing.

That said, this story has much going for it thematically, as it provides strong illustrations of the power of a name and the impact of fulfilling one’s calling, among other things.

Concerning other typical gray areas, there’s no sexuality and only some light romantic threads. Violence is a bit higher in this book—there is a war going on—but it is done in typical fantasy style.

The supernatural also comes more the fore in the story. Much of the “magical” elements are perceived as either evil, attributed to non-human characters, or straight from the Creator. It does push the boundaries some with the three children’s abilities to use their supernatural gifts basically on whim. But for the most part, I don’t see the use of the supernatural as problematic.

 
Summary: The Warden and the Wolf King turns in the final installment of the Wingfeather Saga with high dramatic fashion. But while the ending fits the story, it is more unsettling than satisfying, and extra caution may need to be exercised with younger readers due to the resulting darker tone. Otherwise, many readers will find this a thrilling conclusion to a rollicking adventure.

Rating: Craft—4, Content—3, Overall—3.5 stars out of 5

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