Category Archives: Book Reviews

CSFF Blog Tour-Night of the Living Dead Christian, Day 2

I love the humor used in Night of the Living Dead Christian. Humor is a powerful tool. It can disarm the reader, making one chuckle or laugh out loud, and then a second later, grow sober and realize a good point has been made.

Through the story, we follow a werewolf. In reality, he is a man with a troubled past and a problem with anger (major problem). But by turning him into a werewolf, Matt puts a light touch on a dark subject. On the outside, we see the werewolf. He grows hair and claws when he loses his temper. But on the inside, he is just like us: beastly and scary. And is willing to do anything to get rid of the beast within and become a man again.

Of course, not everyone is a werewolf. There are vampires, zombies, mad scientists, androids, you name it. Each one is a monster. Most of them realize this. And want to be human again.

I laughed when I read about the church filled with zombies. They did everything the pastor told them to. They had their study bibles, their podcasts, and their commentaries. The problem was, they never thought for themselves.

As I read that chapter, a part of me pointed and said, “You know these people in real life. In fact, you were once one of them.” That realization made me sad.

I also laughed at the comments the android would say. He was more about logic and calculations that he was about a person’s feelings. But I also knew that some of his comments could have come right out of my mouth.

By using humor, Matt drew me in as a reader. And then held a mirror up for me to see myself. I love books like that :). Tomorrow, I will take a look at the Spiritual Factor of Night of the Living Dead Christian.

 

 

CSFF Blog Tour-Night of the Living Dead Christian, Day 1

The Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog tour (also known as the CSFF) is a group of people dedicated to reading and reviewing Christian speculative novels. This month, we are reviewing Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos.

I. Loved. This. Book. In fact, I loved this book so much I’ve decided to break it down and blog on it for the full three days of the blog tour. So grab your stakes and silver bullets and get ready for a wild night!

Cool Factor: First thing I loved about this book: the title. It’s one of those that makes you do a double take and stutter, “Say what?” Night of the Living Dead Christian. And yes, that’s what the book is about. Monsters, dark creatures, and things that go bump in the night, Christian style :).

Matt uses monsters like Zombies, Vampires, and Werewolves in a tongue-in-cheek way to show how we as Christians can be. It’s a funny and scarily accurate portrayal at the same time (pun intended).

The story starts off with Matt (the author) on neighborhood watch late at night. He finds two of his neighbors out fiddling with an electric box. One neighbor is a mad scientist. The other is a robot (I mean android).

He finds out they are trying to invent a device that will drive away all werewolves in the neighborhood. When they start up the machine, a bunch of zombies come lumbering down the street in the moonlight. Not quite what the machine was suppose to do.

Then the werewolf appears (yes, there really is one living in the neighborhood). Matt realizes it’s one of his neighbors down the street. Matt follows the werewolf to his house. After a jumbled attempt to capture the werewolf, the werewolf actually captures Matt.

The werewolf explains to Matt that he wants to get rid of the beast within. He has given up on Christianity because the promised “transformation” never happened. He is still a wolf. And now it has driven his wife and his daughter away.

The werewolf pleads with Matt to help him find a way to become a man again. And thus the story begins.

I loved this book. I laughed, I cried (tears of sadness, not humor), and I thought about the book long after I finished it.

Tomorrow I will take a look at the Writing Factor and Wednesday I will dive into the Spiritual Factor of Night of the Living Dead Christian. Until then, take a look at what these other CSFF Bloggers have to say:

 

Gillian Adams

Julie Bihn

Red Bissell

Thomas Clayton Booher

Thomas Fletcher Booher

Keanan Brand

Beckie Burnham

Theresa Dunlap

Amber French

Tori Greene

Nikole Hahn

Ryan Heart

Bruce Hennigan

Janeen Ippolito

Becky Jesse

Jason Joyner

Carol Keen

Leighton

Shannon McDermott

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Nissa

Joan Nienhuis

John W. Otte

Crista Richey

Sara Sawyer

Chawna Schroeder

Rachel Starr Thomson

Steve Trower

Fred Warren

Shane Werlinger

Nicole White

Dave Wilson

 

 

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

Book Review: Divine Summons

Elves and dragons. I don’t think you can get any more fantasy than that. Divine Summons by Rebecca P. Minor is the first book in a series she first wrote for the ezine Digital Dragons. The story follows a military captain of the Elven Nation. A sacred relic of the elves is stolen. And Vinyanel Ecleriast must find it.

During his journey he comes across a half-elven priestess of Creo and a dragon. Creo has chose Vinyanel to become the first windrider, a rider of dragons. Between exchanging snarky words with the priestess Veranna and learning to ride Majestrin, Vinyanel has his work cut out for him. Lucky for him, Creo holds his destiny in his hand.

I’m not very fond of books written in first person, especially from the male point of view (nothing against men!). However, I really enjoyed Divine Summons. I liked Vinyanel. He’s a no nonsense, get the job done kind of elf. But he still has a lot to learn, including some humility. Veranna got on my nerves a bit, but I wonder if that’s because I was seeing her through Vinyanel’s eyes (she got on his nerves too).

I like how Rebecca created Majestrin to be uniquely different than most dragons I read about. Instead of breathing fire, he breaths ice. Very cool!

Overall, if you enjoy traditional fantasy stories, I recommend Divine Summons. And after you read that, check out the next in the series, A Greater Strength.

To find out more about Becky P. Minor, visit her website at http://callofthecreator.blogspot.com/

The Merchant’s Daughter

I love fairytales. Magic, young women, knights in shining armor, dragons, you name it, I love it all. So when I heard about Melanie Dickerson’s books about fairytales set during the medieval time period, I had to read them. Her first book came out about a year ago, The Healer’s Apprentice (a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story). I loved the book and wrote up a review about it (click here to read my review).

About a month ago, I received Melanie’s next book, The Merchant’s Daughter. This time she wrote about the Beauty and the Beast story set during early England. I love how she incorporates real history into her stories as if to show how these stories could have happened.

The Merchant’s Daughter follows Annabel, the youngest daughter of a merchant. Her family is too proud to do their share of feudal field work. Instead, they choose to pay for their portion. But when the family ships sink during a storm and the father dies, they owe a lot of gold to the new feudal lord, a badly disfigured young man.

Annabel is different from the rest of her family (kind, humble, the usual fairytale girl), so to help her family with this debt, she indentures herself to the young feudal lord to serve as his servant for 2 years.

You can see the Beauty and the Beast story woven throughout The Merchant’s Daughter. But Melanie’s special twist is to tell it as if it were historically accurate. There are no magical cups and candelabras, no singing, no enchanted rose. Instead, it’s the story of a young man with a bitter past and a scarred face who falls in love with a selfless young woman.

I highly recommend The Merchant’s Daughter and can’t wait to see what fairytale retellings Melanie Dickerson comes up with next :).

*I received an ARC copy of this book to review.

CSFF Blog Tour- The Bone House

It’s been a couple months since I reviewed a book with the CSFF Blog Tour. This month I’m back and with the next book in Stephen Lawhead’s The Bright Empire series. Exactly a year ago I review The Skin Map, the first book in this series. Today I will be taking a look at The Bone House, the second book.

A quick recap: in this series, Stephen Lawhead explores the idea of ley travel. Here is what I wrote last year: Ley Lines: unexplainable forces of energy around our world that allow a person to jump through time and dimensions. Kit Livingstone possesses the gift to make these jumps. But jumping can be dangerous. You never know if you’ll end up in a tiger filled jungle or on the battlefield. You need a map to help you know where to go.

Such a map exists, tattooed onto the body of a man who has mapped out these times and dimensions. This map is priceless and sought by everyone who knows of its existence. Some of those searching for it are willing to do anything to obtain it, even murder.

Stephen Lawhead goes another step and throws in a couple dimensions in The Bone House. He explores the idea of multiverses (worlds like ours, but different, depending on history and choices made). So the characters are not only jumping to different time periods, they are jumping to different worlds.

I found The Bone House a bit complicated to read because the very nature of the story requires the reader to keep track of different time periods and different worlds. However, Stephen did a good job navigating and most of the time I did not feel lost.

He also did an excellent job with description. He carefully painted each time period and world change, giving description to the food, clothing, and general feel to where the character was at that moment.

However, there were two things I did not like about The Bone House. One: all the characters. Actually, I did like the characters; each one was unique and interesting. But I was never with one person long enough to actually start caring about him/her. And if I don’t connect with a character, then I don’t feel submerged in the story.

Secondly: God was hardly there. Now I’m not saying The Bone House needed to be preachy or overtly about God. After all, the book of Esther in the Bible never mentions God. But you know by the context of the story that He is an integral part of it. I saw none of that with The Bone House. It was no different than any other speculative books I see on the bookshelf. It had a great premise and good writing. But what I wanted to see is where is God’s sovereignty in ley lines and multiverses?

When I began reading The Bone House, I thought something like that would be tackled. Or addressed. Or even debated. Instead, I read about a lot of characters on lots of adventures. But hardly any mention of God. And I was disappointed.

In fact, there were things that made me pause: a detailed account of an entrail reading and a world of cavemen. Now as a writer, I know Stephen was writing from the viewpoint of those time periods and customs and religions. But why were these emphasized and hardly anything written about God? Why not at least have one character bring up the question about God and ley lines and multiverses?

It’s a fascinating question and one I’ve thought about myself. After all, God is not only the God of our time, but He even knows what could have been. As I thought about that while reading The Bone House, I found myself even more in awe about how much more God knows and understands than I do. So to read a Christian speculative book without even asking where God is in all of this was disappointing.

Perhaps God will show up in the third book. I have a year to wait.

Do I recommend The Bone House? Good writing, good plot, interesting characters. However, as a book toted as Christian speculative fiction, I think it missed out on exploring some great questions. But don’t take my word for it, go read it yourself :). And check out what these other CSFF Bloggers had to say!

Noah Arsenault

Red Bissell

Thomas Clayton Booher

Beckie Burnham

CSFF Blog Tour

Jeff Chapman

Carol Bruce Collett

Karri Compton

D.G.D. Davidson

Theresa Dunlap

April Erwin

Victor Gentile

Tori Greene

Ryan Heart

Bruce Hennigan

Timothy Hicks

Christopher Hopper

Janeen Ippolito

Becca Johnson

Jason Joyner

Julie

Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Marzabeth

Katie McCurdy

Shannon McDermott

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Joan Nienhuis

Chawna Schroeder

Kathleen Smith

Donna Swanson

Rachel Starr Thomson

Robert Treskillard

Steve Trower

Fred Warren

Phyllis Wheeler

Nicole White

Rachel Wyant

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

October is Speculative Month

October is speculative month! Why? A) Because its my birthday B) I will be covering/reviewing a bunch of sci-fi fantasy books and internet sites C) Marcher Lord Press is releasing 5 excellent books and C) A holiday on the 31st where I get to eat lots of candy, compliments of my husband and children 🙂

So to start off October I want to showcase a book that just released today over at Marcher Lord Press. For anyone visiting or doesn’t know, Marcher Lord Press has been dubbed the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. It is also the publishing company that will be producing my own book Daughter of Light (release date TBA).

Anyone who knows me knows I like the weird, the strange, and the fantastical. So anytime I can promote my love for this genre in book, movie, or game form, I will. And here, to begin Speculative month, I give you Oxygen.

I asked Randy to tell me why he and John decided to re-release Oxygen. After all, the original book was great, garnering both readers and awards. Here is what Randy had to say:

When John and I started working on the new release back in March, we thought it would be pretty easy to tighten up the writing a bit. But then we started talking about the parts of OXYGEN that we didn’t like so much, and we discovered that there were some scenes we both hated.

And that scared the liver out of us, because as a whole, the original story worked very well. A lot of readers loved it and we won a pile of awards for it. So we didn’t want to break anything, but we still wanted to fix those pesky scenes that seemed to us to be clearly broken. It took us months to polish them up, but we finally got it done, and just in time.

The main “catastrophe in space” storyline hasn’t changed at all. That’s still exactly the same.

So what’s changed?

The romantic storyline between our heroine and hero has been buffed up a bit.  We added a little more heat where it was needed early on, and we removed some conflict which we thought was heavy-handed artificial — mainly conflict over faith issues.  Along the way, we inserted a little more humor.

We think the result is better than before.  Not hugely better, but enough better that we feel good about every single scene now.

I can’t wait to read this new version of Oxygen and will probably write up a review sometime. But don’t wait to hear what I have to say about it, click here and check it out yourself. And check back the next few weeks to find more speculative goodness 🙂

Top Ten Books I Love

It’s Friday and I’m coming into the weekend after my first full week of work. To celebrate (and because my brain is recharging), I thought I would do a light fluffy post today. This post is also the kickoff for my next three posts where I will talk about what it means to be a writer (and why you should find a more sane hobby :)). So here we go!

These books are like comfort food. When I want something to read and have nothing new, I grab one of these. I have read them over and over again. These books are old friends who live on my shelf (you know what I mean?).

1)   Anne of Green Gables. L. M. Montgomery’s books take me to a time and place filled with unique characters. If you haven’t read the series (past the first book), I would highly recommend you do :).

2)   The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings/The Silmarillion. It was The Hobbit that first sparked my love for the fantasy genre. I also love the Silmarillion. Basically it’s the history book for anything Middle Earth.

3)   Pride and Prejudice. Personally I think this is the best romance written. Girl meets boy. Girl hates boy. Girl realizes she was wrong about boy. Boy does everything to win girl back. Love it!

4)   The Scarlet Pimpernel. I read this book for the first time a couple months ago and absolutely loved it. It takes place during the French Revolution (fascinating time period) and revolves around a mysterious man who, with the help of a group of young English noblemen, smuggles French nobility out of France.

5)   Jane Eyre. A darker tale of love, but beautiful as well. It is about a young woman who has to choose between the way of love and the way of virtue. She chooses to stand by her convictions. At the end of the book, she is finally free to marry the man she loves who by then has paid the price for his past wrongs. A wonderful book about enduring love.

6)   Mark of the Lion Series. Excellent three book series that takes place during the Roman time period right after the fall of Jerusalem. The story follows a young Jewish woman who is sold as a slave into a roman household. Great historical fiction.

7)   Star Wars: Heir to the Empire series. There are many Star Wars books out there written by many different authors, but my all time favorite is this first series written by Timothy Zahn. If you want to read Star Wars, start with this series.

8)   Harry Potter. I first began reading this series after the teens in my youth group were asking about Harry Potter. This post is not the place to discuss the controversies surrounding Harry Potter (instead, go to this link* where I friend of mine discusses why Harry Potter is important to Christian discernment in reading). I love the books. J.K. Rowling has written an amazing world and deep characters.

9)   Sherlock Holmes. Yep, I love the man of deduction. It always fascinates me how Sherlock Holmes is able to solve each mystery by seeing what we all see, but in a different way. Classic mystery.

10)  Chronicles of Narnia. I could not end a post like this without mentioning C.S. Lewis and his stories about Narnia. I will say the books are better than the movies. So go read them.

So there’s my list. I would love to hear from my readers what are your most favorite books, those books whose covers are worn and pages dirty, but you read time after time after time again. Please share in the comments. Maybe I’ll find a new love amongst your lists :).

 

*http://www.speculativefaith.com/2011/07/07/harry-potter-and-the-issues-beyond-fiction-part-1/

Book Review: The Healer’s Apprentice

Yes, I judge a book by its cover. What can I say? I’m a visual person. A well done cover appeals to me. It says, “pick me up and read me.” When I first saw the cover for The Healer’s Apprentice, I was intrigued. When I read it was a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale (one of my favorite fairytales), I knew I had to read it.

The main character, Rose is the adopted daughter of a woodcutter who is apprenticed to the local healer to learn a trade. Of course, as the story goes, she catches the eye of Duke Hamlin who is engaged to a mysterious noble woman that no one has ever met. And… well, you guys know the story, right?

Here is what I liked about this particular retelling of Sleeping Beauty: Melanie Dickerson places it in a real place during a real time, namely medieval Germany. The architecture, the food, the customs are real. Also, there is no magic. No three good fairies, no Maleficent, no naps for everyone until loves true kiss shows up. It’s a “what if” Sleeping Beauty were a true story.

I enjoyed reading this kind of “what if” take on this fairytale. It is a well-written, sweet, innocent, clean read. For anyone who enjoys fairytales, or is just looking for a good read this summer, I highly recommend The Healer’s Apprentice.

 

For more about the author Melanie Dickerson, go to www.melaniedickerson.com

CSFF Blog Tour- The Ale Boy’s Feast

Its been a couple months since I last reviewed a book for the CSFF Blog Tour, so I am excited to be back this month with the featured book The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet.

I knew this book was the fourth and last book in the series before I even began reading it. But I had heard so many good things about the Auralia’s Thread series that I wanted to jump at the chance to review this book. So here we go!

Quick overview: Auralia is a young woman who brings color into a world where color is forbidden. It is her free spirit and artistry that awakens people to beauty. The four books in this series cover the changes that go on in the world due to Auralia entering it.

That is the briefest summary I could come up with. Trust me, these books are a lot more complex than that. To describe each nuance of the series would take more blog space than I have. That and I would deprive you of the pleasure of reading these books yourself 🙂

So how would I describe The Ale Boy’s Feast? Let me use a food analogy. This is not your “eat a pint of ice cream and watch your favorite reruns on TV while sitting on the couch in an old pair of sweats” kind of book. I have those kinds of books. They line my shelf and when I need something to read, I grab those old friends.

Instead, The Ale Boy’s Feast is like going to an amazing gourmet restaurant. The food is like nothing you have ever tasted. The ambience of the restaurant is candlelight and soft music. You are wearing that dress that you only take out once a year. You spent hours on your hair, face, body, and now you are sitting across from that one person you love more than any other. It is a night you will always remember.

Same with The Ale Boy’s Feast. The writing is so poetic, so flowing with sound and smell and color that you feel like you are savoring a bite of the most luscious cheesecake. There were times I found myself confused by the story, but then the beauty of the story and words drew me in again.

I was never able to really connect with any of the characters or find myself deeply entrenched in the plot. Usually that would turn me off from a book. But like I said above, the writing itself is so captivating it keeps you in the story. It’s a book I would probably read only once (just like I rarely go to an extravagant restaurant), but the experience will stay with me long afterward.

I highly recommend The Ale Boy’s Feast with two thoughts: 1) Start with the first book, Auralia’s Colors. 2) I would say this series is only for teens and adults due to some dark plots and themes (not immoral, just dark in its content).

If you want to see what others are saying about The Ale Boy’s Feast, check out these links below:

Gillian Adams

Red Bissell

Grace Bridges

Beckie Burnham

Valerie Comer

CSFF Blog Tour

Shane Deal

Chris Deane

Cynthia Dyer

Andrea Graham

Katie Hart

Ryan Heart

Bruce Hennigan

Jason Joyner

Carol Keen

Dawn King

Inae Kyo

Shannon McDermott

Shannon McNear

Karen McSpadden

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Eve Nielsen

John W. Otte

Sarah Sawyer

Kathleen Smith

Donna Swanson

Rachel Starr Thomson

Robert Treskillard

Steve Trower

Fred Warren

Dona Watson

Phyllis Wheeler

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

Book Review: The Emotionally Healthy Church

I began reading The Emotionally Healthy Church a couple months ago when Dan asked me to read it with him. Then life happened. The book found its way to the bottom of a pile of books on my nightstand. I noticed it again a couple weeks later. After I finished it I knew I wanted to share this book with all of you.

Despite the title, this book is for everyone (not just pastors or church leadership). As I said last week, we as Christians tend to focus on the spiritual, physical, and intellectual sides of our being, but rarely take a look at the emotional part of our being. This is not healthy. We are not like Data from Star Trek who, with a tweak of his neck, can shut off his emotions at will (as much as I wish otherwise ;p).

Instead of recognizing and learning to deal with our emotions, we bury them. I believe in the Christian community we view emotions with suspicion or worse, as sinful. Peter Scazzero addresses this issue. In The Emotionally Healthy Church, he talks about his own journey as a pastor; how he learned that the emotional baggage he carried from his past, his family, and trying to please everyone almost shipwrecked his marriage and his ministry.

This book has been insightful and helpful on the emotional roller coaster I have been on recently. It covers topics such as grieving and loss, boundaries in ministry, learning to forgive, etc… in a biblical and healthy way.  I am learning to be honest with how I feel, both with God and myself instead of burying the hurt and anger. In turn God is healing my heart, expanding my capability to love, and showing me how I can comfort others who are hurting.

I definitely recommend The Emotionally Healthy Church.