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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

July 2014 CSFF Tour

This month the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy tour is featuring final installment in the Wingfeather Saga, The Warden and the Wolf King, by Andrew Peterson.

I'll be posting a full review tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's the pertinent links for those participating this month:

Keanan BrandBeckie Burnham
Pauline CreedenVicky DealSharingAunt
Carol GehringerVictor Gentile
Ryan HeartBruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner, Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher, Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller, Nissa
Writer Rani, Nathan Reimer
Jojo Sutis, Rachel Starr Thomson
Shane Werlinger, Phyllis Wheeler

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dream Treaders

Title: Dream Treaders

Series: Book #1

Author: Wayne Thomas Batson

Genre: Teen Fantasy (Multiple Dimensions)

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


Excerpt from “Night Terrors,” Chapter 1 of Dream Treaders:

The howls grew louder. The hounds were closer, closing in.

“They’ve got my scent!” Archer Keaton growled as he raced down the moonlit mountain path into a misty dell full of black pines. “Gotta throw them off.” But how? Then he knew.

Archer launched himself skyward. He let his feet brush the treetops a moment, and then purposefully let himself crach down through the crisscrossing pin branches.

Creak. “Ouch.” Crunch. “Oof!” Crack! “Oww!”

The fourteen-year-old yelped with each bounce, smack, and breaking branch. He tumbled to the ground in a sticky heap. When he stood up and tried to brush the pine needles from his coat, vest, and pants, the sap kept most of them glued tight. “Good,” Archer whispered. “The more sap, the better. Now, gotta go!”

He broke out from beneath the pines and sprinted across the uneven ground. The howls were still there. Deep, throaty, mournful howls. And they were still getting closer.


Craft: Dream Treaders presents a fascinating premise where dreams gain substance and meshes with reality in unexpected ways.

For the most part, the adventure promised is delivered with high action in a surreal fantasy realm. Unfortunately, I still struggled to get into the story. I didn’t connect with the characters at first, but rather found them reckless and somewhat self-centered. Their more redeeming qualities were simply buried too far into the book. So while the plotting is strong, it wasn’t compelling enough to propel the first half of the book without the character connection.

However, in the end, all the elements come together, creating an exciting adventure through the latter chapters of the book.

Content: I found the content of Dream Treaders . . . mixed. On the one hand, though the book doesn’t seem to have a strong, central theme (at least as far as I observed), Dream Treaders has many good things to say about keeping one’s word, the consequences of choices, and the problems of ignoring authority or wise advice.

On the other hand, I am slightly concerned about some of the spiritual/supernatural elements. The ability of a human to change/distort reality (e.g. turn a knife into flowers), seemingly on whim, seems to border on certain traits of occultic magic. Also I question how the main character can have such close ties to the angelic (Gabriel) while ignorant of the God Gabriel serves. Likewise, Scripture is also conspicuously absent, all authority and instruction pulled from the special “Dreamtreaders” book.

Yes, I understand about the use of allegory. I also realize some of the spiritual elements may be concealed, even suppressed some, in order to reach a wider audience with this first book. But the character of God does not change nor the basic principles derived from that character, no matter the storyworld—and especially not in one rooted in the real world.

Now I haven’t seen a direct violation. Rather, my concern arises from areas of potential problems. However, since Mr. Batson has proven trustworthy in other books I’ve read of his, I’m willing to wait a bit longer for explanations, in hope they will resolve those potential problems.

Concerning other gray areas, there’s no language that I am aware of and no sexuality, though there are hints of a romance thread. There also exist moderate amounts of fantasy violence and a couple of school fist fights. Finally, the main character disobeys a direct order and shows a tendency to defy authority, but each time with consequences, some of them quite severe.


Summary: Dream Treaders offers a fantastical adventure full of action within a well-built storyworld. I personally found the characters difficult to connect with and some of the content raised my eyebrows. However, based on trust built from other books, I don’t foresee major problems and believe that, with moderate discretion/discussion with an adult, many teen readers will enjoy Dream Treaders, especially boys.

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


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

June CSFF Tour Stats

Featured book: Dream Treaders
Author: Wayne Thomas Batson
Participants:
Beckie Burnham, Jeff Chapman, Pauline Creeden,
Vicky DealSharingAuntCarol Gehringer,
Victor Gentile, Rebekah Gyger, Christopher Hopper,
Jason Joyner, Carol Keen, Jennette Mbewe,
Shannon McDermott, Meagan @ Blooming with Books,
Rebecca LuElla Miller, Nissa, Writer Rani,
Nathan ReimerJojo Sutis, Steve Trower,
Shane Werlinger, and Phyllis Wheeler