CSFF Blog Tour—Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum, the Review

For the past two days, I’ve been talking about, or maybe around, Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum by R. K. Mortenson (Barbour Publishing). All that was to whet your appetite because today is review day!

If you’ve visited the other blogs on the tour, you already know a fair amount about the story. Landon, with both sisters this time, returns to the Button Up Library, anticipating another adventure. He is not disappointed, but the journey is far different from what he experienced in the past. Much is at stake and, in the end, the danger is greater.

Strengths. Mortenson has a great imagination and utilizes it wonderfully in this children’s fantasy, but in my opinion, the greatest strength of the series is his writing—his use of words and lyrical language coupled with his sense of humor. In other words, these books are fun! They sound fun as you read them aloud. He utilizes a play on meaning, adds abundant sound imagery (doesn’t that feel like a contradiction—sound imagery? Feels like it should be sound sounery or something instead. [See? that’s the kind of thing reading Mortenson conjures up]), and creates unique voices for each character.

This latter ability, in particular, makes Mortenson’s characters come alive on the page, whether it is Landon or his count-happy sister Holly, the slightly daft Tardy Hardy, or the somewhat stiff former chess piece, Melech.

Overall, the story is just what a fantasy should be—a journey culminating in a confrontation with forces of evil in order to accomplish great good.

Within that fantasy framework, Mortenson gently includes spiritual truth, best seen in Landon’s growing faith. While the first book of the series focused on God’s sovereignty, Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum brings out God’s preparation for and protection in the battle against evil.

Weakness. There are few. From a picky writer’s standpoint, I’d like to see Landon more proactive early in the story. Things happen to him and he seems at times to be more of an observer than a mover. True heroism comes from acting, I think, and I’d like to see Landon seize the opportunity, especially since he knows the likelihood of adventure awaits when he goes through the doors of the Button Up Library.

To accomplish this change in Landon, I think he needs to have something he wants from the beginning of the story—to prove himself to his sisters, to return to Wonderwood to see Ditty or his other friends. He has that in small doses, but it doesn’t seem to drive him to action.

Told you these were picky.

Mortenson, in my opinion, teeters on the edge of breaking out, becoming a household name. He is a skilled wordsmith, and his plots are growing in strength. He has wonderful, engaging, realistic characters, and solid themes that arise from within the events of the story. I highly recommend Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum for children eight years old and up and for the parents who read to them.

You will be doing the book-lover in your family a great favor to include the three Landon Snow books now available as part of his or her Christmas.

– – –

If you haven’t already taken a whirl around the blogsphere to see what others think of Landon Snow, I hope you carve out some time this week. Other participants in CSFF are the following:

Published in: on November 15, 2006 at 11:39 am  Comments (7)  

CSFF Blog Tour—Landon Snow, Day 2

OK, I’m going to rant a bit today. I didn’t realize I even had strong opinions about this subject until I started reading some of the posts on the CSFF Blog Tour for November. Our feature is Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum by R. K. Mortenson (Barbour Publishing), released last month.

    Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum

So what has me steamed? It is not anyone on the tour. (No fire-fights here—or flame wars, if you will 😀 ) However, some folks have quoted other reviews or descriptions. I’ve read that the Landon Snow is a cross between Alice and Wonderland and Narnia, that it is a Christian Harry Potter, that it shows influences of The Phantom Tollbooth (a book Mortenson has yet to read).

The thing is, why do we (is it just Christians?) feel the need to compare Mortenson’s work to someone else’s? I understand when a writer pitches the book to a publisher, this identification can serve as a sort of shorthand so the aquisitions editor understands the premise. But this seems like something more to me.

Was J. K. Rowling up against this when she first published? Were people saying, At last a secular Narnia, or some such vacuous comment? I might have missed it, but I heard no such label. Is this because her world of Hogwarts was so fresh, so new that it reminded readers of nothing? I don’t think that either. I actually couldn’t help thinking about Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride from time to time when I saw the first movie.

So what’s my point? Writers borrow all the time—from the news reported in the paper, from the classics, from the people in their own world. And in all the borrowing, if the writer puts the material through the wash of his own life, out comes a brand new creation. That’s what I believe R. K. (Randy) Mortenson has done.

I mentioned in my post at Speculative Faith yesterday that I think Randy has a unique “voice,” that nearly intangible something that makes a writer so unique that a reader, without knowing the title of a book, could still identify it as one of his.

Randy’s voice is fresh and fun; it’s his strongest quality, in my opinion. Listen to a little section from Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle.

The Weigh Down. These letters didn’t brush off [the sign on the top of a hill which Landon and his new buddy, Melech, a chess-piece knight newly rendered “live,” have fallen onto and wish to leave]. In fact, they looked as if they’d been printed on the board years ago and had faded over time. Landon grabbed the board from beneath and tried to lift …

“What does the sign say?” said Melech.
“The Weigh Down,” said Landon. Hadn’t he told him that before?
Landon looked at him. “Hmm, what?’
“Well,” said Melech, “if weigh means to find how heavy something is, and down is down, I’m wondering why you are trying to lift it up. Merely a casual observation.”

I could go on and on, but I’ll let you discover the delights of Randy’s use of language, of his unique voice for yourself. Is he like Lewis Carroll or C. S. Lews or J. K. Rowling or …? In my book, he is uniquely R. K. Mortenson and well worth discovering.

– – –

If you drop over at Mirtika Schultz’s site and leave a commnt, you will be eligible to win the first three books of the Landon Snow series. As always, Mir has made some truly engaging, informative observations. Well worth your time.

Others on the tour this month are these fine bloggers:

Published in: on November 14, 2006 at 1:05 pm  Comments (14)  

CSFF Blog Tour—Landon Snow, Day 1

Landon Snow is a boy who loves his family, but especially his grandparents, residents of Button Up, Minnesota. Visiting them means he gets to have lemon bars, which his grandmother always makes especially for him, and he gets to visit the Button Up Library where magical adventures take place. Literally.

Landon Snow, by the way, resides within the pages of R. K. Mortenson’s fantasy series, and as the back of his first book, Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle,

    Landon Snow and the Auctors Riddle

warns, you’ll need to be careful not to lean too closely because “this book may swallow.”

Mortenson has a wonderful imagination and a real command of language. His stories, peopled with interesting characters, are inventive, fun, and funny, with ever-more serious dangers. You can get an introduction to them for yourself by visiting the Landon Snow web site.

Here’s a sample of his writing from the first book, where we get an introduction Landon’s relationship with his sister, Holly:

Holly’s straight blond hair shifted back and forth as she swiched her gaze. She was ten years old, too, not even a full year younger than Landon. For an agonizing three weeks and three days, she and Landon were the same age. Even though his hair was much redder than hers, some people asked if they were twins because they were about the same height. Holly liked to say, “Yes, except we were born 341 days apart.” And then Landon would feel his face warm up to match his hair color. Thank goodness his birthday was tomorrow! He would be older than Holly again for the rest of he year.

By the third book, Landon is in middle school, plays running back on the football team, and is primed for another great adventure.

On Wednesday I’ll give my review of this latest in the series, Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum. For now, let me say, this is a wonderful series for middle grade kids especially, though adults who read it aloud to them will enjoy it as much or more.

And, the books would make a pretty great Christmas gift for that little bookworm in your family.

Take some time this week to see what others in the CSFF Blog Tour are saying about Landon and company:

Published in: on November 13, 2006 at 9:06 am  Comments (4)  

A Christian Worldview of God, Day 2

God is complex. (You all didn’t know I was so profound, diid you! 😉 )

Truly He is. Think about the things He has revealed:

  • He is one, but He is a tri-unit.
  • He is merciful and He is just.
  • His Son is all Man but all God.
  • He is King of the universe and the Suffering Savior.
  • He is love, yet ordered King Saul to slaughter a whole nation.
  • He is holy, yet Jesus spent much of His public ministry with the margainalized of society, not the religious.
  • Jesus welcomed tax collectors (white collar criminals) and zealots (terrorists) into his close band of men
  • He created the universe and sustains it, but chose to come … to earth … as a baby … to an unwed mother.
  • These things only scratch the surface, but you get the idea. God—the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit—is complex.

    I doubt very much if one work of fiction can show even half of the contradictions on that limited list. Should it? Should fiction simply concede that we cannot show God accurately and therefore not try?

    The choice then, would be two-fold: either show God in simplistic terms or show Him as a mystery too complex to capture.

    Problem is, He is not. He is not simple nor is He a mystery (a borderline agnostic position). I know the latter is a postmodernly popular thing to say about God, but Scripture, if we take it seriously, won’t let us get away with that notion.

    God makes it very clear He desires to be known. He sent prophets to tell people what He thinks, what He wants. He gave written laws, then sent His Son to live among men. As if that wasn’t enough, He sent His Spirit to live in our hearts. And He gave us Scriptures revealing the truth about His person, His plan, His Word, and His Work.

    Only our sin keeps us from knowing Him.

    But the thing is, until recently, much Christian fiction centered on the introduction stage of a relationship with God:

      Hi, I have a great friend I know you’ll hit it off with. Can I introduce you to him?
      Hi, I have a great friend I know you’ll hit it off with. Can I introduce you to him?
      Hi, I have a great friend I know you’ll hit it off with. Can I introduce you to him?
      Hi, I have a great friend I know you’ll hit it off with. Can I introduce you to him?

    Starts sounding like those old scratched records (ante-CD’s for those of you youngsters. 😀 ) when the needle got stuck in a groove and replayed the same phrase over and over.

    What would it be like to focus on something besides meeting God? A subject to ponder and one I want to get back to after the Landon Snow blog tour.

    Published in: on November 10, 2006 at 1:36 pm  Comments (2)  

    A Christian Worldview of God, Day 1

    Someone might think this a strange topic. A Christian worldview of God?

    Actually this is my passion. One of the things that is a distinctive of my fiction, in my view, is my determination to show God as He reveals Himself in the Bible. Not that I can ever do that completely. That’s much like trying to catch the wind.

    And yet, in the process of writing and reading a story that aims to show God as He is, I think we can come away thinking more deeply about Him, searching the pages of Scripture and spending more time in thought and prayer.

    What spurred me to address the topic here is a post I read at J. Mark Bertrand’s site in which he discussed Lisa Samson’s article at the Master’s Artist, A Theology of Comfort, Detrimental to the Christian Artist. Among Lisa’s thought-provoking comments, she said:

    What God am I writing about? Walking the gritty edge may be realistic, but am I willing to portray a God who laid down power, allowed Himself to be spat upon and still opened not his mouth?

    Lisa points out that much fiction in the CBA portrays God as loving, wanting to bless us, to alleviate pain, to be our Great Physician (my paraphrase of her view). All this is true, but it is not all of who He reveals Himself to be.

    Where is the portrayal of the suffering Servant—the image her words evoked in me. Where is the just Judge? Or the Avenger? The Jealous One? It might be uncomfortable to think of God in these terms because they don’t square with the picture of the kind grandfather we usually think of. Or the harried customer-service rep. Or the blank wall we sometimes feel we’re praying to.

    Here’s the point. If we let a certain attribute dominate our thinking about God, we will end up having a shallow understanding of who He is.

    Good Christian fiction shows multi-dimensional characters, but we have settled for a one-dimensional God. And yet He actually is the most complex person of all. Maybe it’s time our fiction started reflecting this.

    Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 1:55 pm  Comments (6)  

    What’s in Store for Fantasy?

    My poor dial-up program had problems yesterday, preventing me from getting on the internet. The result was, I had lots of time to run errands and get to the polls to vote. Another residual effect was that I learned I like to blog! 🙂 I really do. I missed not posting something, though I haven’t determined the next topic I want to discuss.

    I’ll confess, I’m quite caught up in all things fantasy right now. Besides the CSFF Blog Tour we just finished, we’re gearing up for the next one featuring R. K. Mortenson’s third Landon Snow book and, then I have a seminar I will present to a group of teachers about fantasy.

    Of course I continue to write Battle for Revín, third in the Chronicles of Efrathah trilogy. In addition, I wrote a fantasy story for the Writer’s Digest WD Popular Fiction Awards contest and hope still to write another for The Sword Review.

    And the big thing, at least I hope it will prove so, is the collaboration with the Lost Genre Guild (LGG) founder, Frank Creed, to develop a resource for Christians writing science fiction or fantasy. I’m referring to the newsletter we are planning to produce that will let fans of the genre know what is happening.

    For example, some members of the LGG had not heard of Dragons, Knights, and Angels until CSFF Blog Tour featured the web-zine last month. Others (I was one until a month or so ago when Shannon filled me in) may not know about Chris Walley, fantasy author with Tyndale.

    Who knows where Bryan Davis will be speaking next week? Or what new interview Jeff Gerke posted at WhereTheMapEnds.com, what new review is posted at Christian Fandom, or when Sharon Hinck‘s fantasy book will be released?

    These are the kinds of things I want to see made readily available, not just within the writer community, but to readers. In other words, I envision creating a hub that can point writers and readers alike to all things having to do with Christian science fiction and fantasy.

    In no way would we be a duplication of the great things already taking place—on-line publications for stories and poetry, reviews, interviews, discussion forums, blogs. Others, some for years, have worked hard to establish their web presence.

    But what I see are more and more small ventures cropping up. An author here, a review web site there, a blog tour, a team blog, then another. All good things and all offering something different, something worthwhile. What I think we need is some way to come together.

    So I envision this Spec Newsletter as a publication to inform the subscribing public of what’s happening and let them flock to what interests them.

    Anyway, I’m still trying to sort out how to actually make this happen. By God’s grace, and as it would serve His purposes, it will.

    – – –

    Happy news, at least for one. The winner of Mirtika Schultz‘s free critique is Tina Kulesa. Congratulations!

    Published in: on November 8, 2006 at 11:58 am  Comments (2)  

    CSSF, Bib-Spec-Fic—What Are They? What’s the Difference?

    I bring up this subject because of the interview I did with Frank Creed, founder of the Lost Genre Guild—an interview I posted today at Speculative Faith.

    The conversation includes discussion of the term Frank coined for speculative fiction written from a Biblical worldview—bib-spec-fic. He defined this designation in a post at the Lost Genre Guiild blog (see October 11, 2006).

    Frank even submitted that definition to Wikepedia: “Biblical speculative fiction [Bib-spec-fic], noun: stories with settings or races that are significantly unlike our own, told through a Scriptural world-view and framework.”

    Interestingly, except for the speculative element, I don’t think the meaning is so far off from my definition of fiction written from a Christian worldview (from the March 16, 2006 post):

    So Christian worldview in fiction is not Christian characters doing “Christian” things like going to church or not swearing. Nor is it Christian characters doing sinful things just like everyone else … It is not even the protagonist holding to or developing a Christian philosophy of life.

    Let me clarify that none of those things prohibits the novel from expressing a Christian worldview. Rather, those things are not required.

    So what is? … the secret, in my estimation, lies in the theme.

    … I think it’s interesting to think about Jesus’s worldview. His was a view of the world from God’s perspective. That, I believe, is truly a Christian worldview.

    … That kind of statement can smack of hubris—I mean, how can a novelist ever write make-believe as if viewing the world from God’s perspective?

    That’s where the “Bible believing” part I mentioned earlier comes into play. God has revealed Himself and His thoughts about His creation in His word.

    As a writer conforms his or her themes to what God has revealed, he or she is writing from a Christian worldview. [quote edited; emphasis added]

    I don’t want to get bogged down in semantics, and it seems to me the only way to avoid doing so is to occasionally clarify definitions.

    In thinking about this discussion and clarification of terms, it dawned on me that “Christian” is not a man-made word. In the short run, I suppose it was. Some people in Antioch during the first century started calling the group Christian who believed in Jesus as Messiah; who believed Jesus is the only person capable of accessing the Father; who believed, in fact, that Jesus’s death made God’s sin-forgiving possible.

    Still, we would not have the term today if it had not been recorded as part of the Bible. So, in essence “Christian” is Biblical, part of God’s writing.

    That the term is not clearly understood in contemporary society, or has even been misused throughout the centuries, does not negate its power. From The Oxford American College Dictionary a Christian is “a person who … is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.”

    Maybe, along with reclaiming the lost genre, we need to reclaim the real Biblical definition of Christian as well.

    Published in: on November 6, 2006 at 12:17 pm  Comments (6)  

    Setting the Bar

    A good friend of mine gave me a copy of Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I’d resisted buying it because I assumed it was much like the book by the same name (minus the word “Workbook”), only with exercises to practice the principles.

    I’ve only read the introduction, and already I am convinced otherwise. This paragraph, in particular, caught my eye:

    If you are still early in your career, I hope that the principles in Writing a Breakout Novel and in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook will inspire you to elevate your craft and not be satisfied with merely being good enough to get published. I hope that your measure of success will be not the gratification of getting an agent or seeing your name on a cover, but putting together a novel of real depth—of having something to say and saying it in a story with lasting power.

    I have to admit, the thought of going back to book 1 of my trilogy and reworking it yet again is daunting, but maybe that’s exactly why God has granted me the time.

    I got yet another rejection yesterday, but I am so confident in the fact that God’s plan for me and for my writing, since He’s called me to it, is perfect, that I am not devastated nor discouraged.

    It may seem pretentious, but I do want to write lasting-power literature, and if that means I have more to learn and more work to do, then so be it.

    Therein is the trouble with setting the bar high. I’m constantly wondering if I can do it, if there’s more for me to learn, ways for me to improve. I’m constantly having to work. 😀

    Setting the bar high keeps me off balance; it keeps me from growing complacent; it keeps me trusting our omniscient, good God.

    Published in: on November 3, 2006 at 12:03 pm  Comments (5)  

    Review—Renovating Becky Miller

    Undoubtedly, many who know me and read that title are thinking, It’s ABOUT time; that woman has needed renovating for longer than I can remember. 😀

    Sorry to disappoint you. I’m not the target of the renovation: the fictitious Becky Miller is.

    I’m referring to novelist and soon-to be-fantasy-author Sharon Hinck’s sequel to The Secret Life of Becky Miller.

    Renovating Becky Miller

    I need to preface my review of Renovating Becky Miller with a comment about the timing. I feel quite funny posting a review in early November for a book that won’t be released until February. I’ll chalk that up to my inexperience with the business because I got my Advance Reader’s Copy from the PR guy at Bethany, publisher of Sharon’s Mom-lit books.

    So here goes. You might be familiar with the notion that second books often don’t live up to the reputation of the first. It’s the equivalent of baseball’s “sophomore jinx.” Thankfully Hinck shatters that image in connection to her writing.

    Renovating Becky Miller picks up the protagonist’s story where The Secret Life left off. Becky, hampered with a limp and a cane because of her accident, is working part-time in the new church to set up their women’s ministry department.

    Through the tangles of busy-ness, she realizes some key relationships are not what she wishes, and the harder she tries to fix things, and people, the worse it all seems to get.

    I’m not telling you more. I firmly believe that knowing the plot in advance dilutes the power of the story. This one is too good to let that happen.

    As she did before, Hinck begins each chapter with one of the protagonist’s daydreams, but these are adaptations of a host of popular movies. Part of the fun is recognizing which hero Becky Miller is envisioning herself to be—or more accurately, which hero’s harrowing circumstances she likens to her own.

    Besides the fun, Hinck once again delivers a powerful truth through the story without lecturing or moralizing. Her character digs herself in a hole, lots falls in on top of her, and because of her circumstances she discovers the truth she has been missing. We readers are just along for the ride.

    And boy, are we. This story captured me to the point that I fell asleep at night reading and awoke early only to think of the story and grab the book to read more. Hinck’s writing put me into the protagonist’s skin. I felt for her, worried with her, ached when she did, and cried when she realized what she needed to know.

    Here’s the tell-tale anecdote—true story. The day after reading Renovating, I left my seat in front of the computer to pour a glass of milk. My knee was a little creaky, and I thought, “I should have used my cane.” I stopped myself, had to laugh. “No, Becky, you are not the one who has a bad knee and hip; you don’t walk with a cane. That would be the fictitious Becky Miller.” 😀

    What more can I say? When an author transports you into that other world and lets you live what the characters live, there’s no better writing. There’s no more-satisfying read.

    I will say, at the beginning I experienced momentary uncertainty. The protagonist’s initial struggles sounded too familiar, and I thought we might be in for a reworking of the same issues that she confronted in the first book. I was pleased to be wrong.

    Hinck has a wonderful way of leading you to paths you least expect, but when you get there, you realize that’s where you were headed all along.

    The story is fun, moving, surprising, full of truth and characters that seem as real as you and me.

    Renovating Becky Miller is a must read for Christian women, and I highly recommend it for Christian men.

    The good thing about publishing a review this far in advance: it gives you time to read The Secret Life of Becky Miller if you haven’t already. Not that you need to read the first one to enjoy the second, but why not get in on the fun from the beginning?

    That one, by the way, would make a GREAT Christmas present, especially if you have someone you’re buying for with young children. But, SSSHH. Don’t tell my nieces! 😉

    Published in: on November 2, 2006 at 1:20 pm  Comments (2)  

    CSFF Blog Tour:DKA, Day 3—A Review

    First, today is the last day to make a comment if you would like your name entered in Mir’s contest. First (and only) prize is a free 5-page fiction critique (or a 1-page poem critique). Remember to mention the contest when you leave your comment.

    We had a spirited discussion (love those 😀 ) about the popular term “edgy” in the comments section after yesterday’s post. Thanks to all who voiced an opinion.

    One thing I enjoy about blog tours is seeing what other people who look at the same work I do, have to say. It is amazing to see a blogger’s personality come out—rarely do two people comment in the same way or about the same things. Similar, maybe. But believe it or not, we had a couple people use the exact same titles for their blog entries about our feature. I’ll let you ferret out which ones.

    I read some interesting reviews yesterday. John Otte comes to mind as one blogger who posted reviews of some of the stories published in Dragons, Knights, and Angels, the web-zine we are currently featuring.

    Hoping I won’t come across as too much of a copycat, I decided to do a review as well. I looked for a fantasy story rather than sci-fi or speculative, since that is my particular genre, and settled on “Fang of the Serpent” by Scott M. Sandridge, published in Issue 36.

    This story is about a young woman living under a curse that prevents her from feeling. Her powerful enemy entices her to betray her brother in exchange for learning how to bring an end to the curse.

    I found the story to be entertaining. There were a number of surprises—all Orcs aren’t bad, for instance.

    The protagonist was a strong, skilled woman, a believable character in the Zena-Warrior-Princess mold.

    I had a little trouble caring what happened to her, her brother, or the man she helped in the beginning, which generally tells me the characters weren’t particularly engaging. They were three-dimensional, but I didn’t really connect with them.

    The plot was fast paced, the action clear and easy to follow, even the fight scenes. I found it to be a little jam-packed in such a short piece.

    The theme was not overt, in the sense that the author beat you over the head with it, but it was unmistakable.

    Overall, I enjoyed Sandridge’s imaginative world. I can see him succeeding at a novel-length work if he spent more time developing characters that readers will love.

    “Fang of the Serpent” is a good read, one I recommend.

    I also recommend you take time to check out these other blogs and see what they’re saying today about DKA:

  • Jim Black
  • Jackie Castle
  • Valerie Comer
  • Frank Creed
  • Chris Deanne
  • Kameron M. Franklin
  • Beth Goddard
  • Todd Michael Greene
  • Leathel Grody
  • Karen Hancock
  • Elliot Hanowski
  • Katie Hart
  • Sherrie Hibbs
  • Joleen Howell
  • Jason Joyner
  • Karen and at Karen’s myspace
  • Oliver King
  • Tina Kulesa
  • Lost Genre Guild
  • Kevin Lucia
  • Rachel Marks
  • Shannon McNear
  • Caleb Newell
  • John Otte
  • Cheryl Russel
  • Mirtika Schultz
  • Stuart Stockton
  • Steve Trower
  • Speculative Faith
  • Published in: on November 1, 2006 at 1:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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