Captives By Jill Williamson – A Review

CaptivesSafeLandsI know I just finished the blog tour for Broken Wings and did the review, so most visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction probably aren’t expecting another review so soon. But, hey, I waited a day and I can’t wait any longer. 😀

Unlike my normal reading pattern these days, I inhaled Captives, a young adult dystopian fantasy by Jill Williamson. What an awesome book. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to give you a disclaimer so you understand my perspective as you read this review. I haven’t read a dystopian novel since Brave New World and 1984. No, I didn’t read the Hunger Games series or Veronica Roth’s books or any of the others in that genre which has been all the rage.

Why is that significant? Perhaps what I think is fresh and inventive will not seem so, at least to the same degree, to those who have read the more recent dystopian novels. All I can tell you, of course, is my opinion from my limited perspective.

For those of you who may not know what kinds of stories fit into the dystopian category, they are ones like the TV series Revolution. So here we go.

The Story. A plague initially carried in the water supply wiped out most of the population of earth. However, a small community with access to clean water survived. They walled themselves in, named themselves the Safe Lands, and built a society utilizing some of the most advanced technology available. The goal of the citizens is to live happy, pleasurable lives. Their “have a nice day” has morphed into “have pleasure in life.”

A handful of small communities exist outside the walled city, also relying on the same water source, but these people do not have the resources or the technology of those in the Safe Lands. They rely on scavenging and hunting to survive. To them, family and community relationships are of utmost importance, and they adhere to the traditions that have been passed down from their elders.

Another major difference exists between the two cultures: the people in the Safe Lands are all infected with a virus passed through bodily fluids. Along with other symptoms, their women can no longer bear children.

The outsiders, however, are healthy, monogamous, and have strong familial ties.

The Guild governing the Safe Lands decide they need to bring in outsiders to repopulate their land. Hence, with the help of one young disgruntled outsider, they forcibly take the entire village of Glenrock captive—those they don’t kill—and move them into the Safe Lands. One young man, engaged to be married, was away during the attack, and he determines to get his people back.

Strengths. What isn’t a strength in this story? I’ll be honest—I love Jill Williamson’s writing. Her stories engage me from the beginning, and I race through them. You might say I find them to be page-turners. But in my experience, page-turners, books I gulp down, tend to be ones I quickly forget. That’s not the case with Captives.

First, the characters are memorable, distinct, engaging—even the sell-out who enabled the Safe Landers to capture the people of Glenrock. From time to time I complain about multiple-points-of-view stories, largely because I feel disconnected from all the characters. Captives is a story about Levi, Omar, Mason (three brothers), and Shaylinn. There’s even a prologue in the point of view of one of the Safe Landers, and yet I feel equally invested in each one of the characters, though I admit I was initially partial to Mason.

Jill has done a remarkable job making me care for each person as they adjust to life as honored prisoners. I understand their motives and the decisions each makes. I cheer for them to be wise and careful and strong. I want them to resist the temptations that the “have pleasure in life” way of living throws at them. I even want them to escape the consequences of the situation in which they’ve been thrust. It’s heart rending at times.

The plot obviously is filled with conflict. The overarching story question is, will the captives escape or will they choose to become a part of the Safe Lands? That question, in one form or another, drives the plot.

Stated in that way, it doesn’t seem so different from run-of-the-mill kidnap stories, but another significant factor in Captives is the setting. Jill has created such an incredible world–with advanced technology but with enough connection to our culture today, that it feels so real. She’s created future slang, future attitudes toward reproduction, future monetary system, future approach to employment, future entertainment, future penal system, future outlook on growing old and on death, and more.

Each of these, standing in stark contrast to the outsiders and their traditions, creates a spotlight on our own culture, which of course, lays the groundwork for the themes of Captive. In short, this novel has all the elements of a good story, in the proper doses.

Weaknesses. I have one issue that’s really too picky to mention and another one I’m willing to ignore. So that’s it.

OK, for those of you too curious to accept such a brush off, the too picky issue has to do with time. The story takes place in 2088, but that seems too close to now for the traditions in both cultures to have built up. I like the fact that it isn’t in the distant future because that makes the similarities with our culture believable. But I think a better time might have been another generation later–maybe 2120 or somewhere around there.

The other point which I willingly ignored and only thought about because I was planning this review, is something that happened too easily. It would be a huge spoiler to go into detail, but there was a character made a dramatic change. I thought it was believable and well motivated, but other characters seemed to accept this change with little angst or serious working through of issues that should be worked through.

Recommendation. Great book. Really entertaining, full of material that provokes thought and, potentially, discussion. Love this story. For young adults–must read. I think any reader could enjoy it. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys a story with a gripping conflict and engaging characters.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher with no restrictions or requirements on what I might write.

What’s The Bible All About?

Shepherds005I think a lot of people have misunderstood the Bible–Christians and non-Christians alike. Some see it as a rule book, others as the Christian version of Confucius’s sayings. Many people use the Bible to prove whatever point they want to get across–sort of a handy debater’s list of proof texts. A number of folks believe the Bible shows people the way to God. Some say it is a record of God’s dealing with Mankind and others call it “His Story,” referring to Jesus.

These last two views are true as far as they go. The Bible does indeed record God’s dealing with Mankind, but what are those dealings? And the Bible does, from cover to cover, either explicitly or implicitly point to Jesus Christ. But what particularly does it say about Him?

As I have said in this space from time to time, the Bible is one book and needs to be understood as a whole. Any use of its individual parts–verses, passages, chapters, books, or even testaments–needs to be measured against the whole message of the Bible.

For example, there’s a verse that contains this: “There is no God.” Someone might point to that statement and say, the Bible claims that there is no God. In reality, that line needs to be understood in relation to the entire Bible as well as to the specific context in which it exists.

A quick scan of the Bible shows that God appears throughout; consequently the “there is no God” statement is not an accurate reflection of the Bible’s teaching. In addition, the specific context of the phrase is this: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Psalm 14:1).

Recently I’ve seen a number of people quoting from the book of Ecclesiastes to prove various points of debate. Again, that’s a suspect approach since much of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s thinking apart from God’s direction–his view of the world “under the sun” as opposed to his view informed by God’s wisdom. The question should always be, Do these thoughts align with the rest of Scripture?

But that brings us back to the central question–what particularly is the rest of Scripture all about? My pastor, Mike Erre, gave an insightful and simple answer to this question, starting in Genesis.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they did two specific things–they hid their bodies from one another (covered their nakedness) and hid themselves from God.

In the cool of the day, God walked in the garden and asked Adam where he was. Of course, omniscient God wasn’t seeking information. He wanted to give Adam a chance to give up his feeble effort to cover his sin and to confess. In other words, He was seeking Adam in a much deeper way than to see where Adam’s flag on his Facebook page showed him to be.

A quick scan of Scripture shows that God continued to seek the people He made in this same way. He said in Ezekiel, “For thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.’ ”

ParablesfindingtreasureHe took up Enoch and saved Noah. He chose Abraham and took David away from his sheep to become His anointed one. Jesus most graphically illustrated God’s relentless pursuit of us when He gave the parable of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to find the one lost lamb. He followed that with the illustration of the woman who looked throughout her house for her lost coin. And then there was the story of the man who found a priceless pearl, so he sold everything he had in order to buy the field hiding the pearl.

And there in is the message of the Bible–not that we seek God, but that He pursues us, giving up all that is precious to Him, even His own beloved Son, in order to bring us back to Him.

Published in: on April 29, 2013 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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Broken Wings Tour Wrap

CSFFTopBloggerApr2012In case you haven’t picked up on this, I love the CSFF Blog Tours, but I have to admit, some are more fun than others. The tour we held this week for Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore ranks as one of my all time favorites.

Why so? We had a good turn out–twenty-three participants–though certainly not the greatest number we’ve had. We had a nice number of posts–forty-six, which averages to two apiece. We had some give-and-take–participants answering one another in comments or in posts. A lively exchange always makes a tour more interesting, but we’ve had ones with greater amounts of discourse in the past. So what made this tour so good?

I think it was the quality of the posts. I don’t remember a time in which so many bloggers went to Scripture to research or compare or study. When a novel can push readers to examine God’s authoritative Word to see what is true, well, that’s the ultimate in “thought-provoking,” I think.

Then, too, there was more enthusiasm than many a tour. Bloggers said they found a new favorite or they’d become fans or they were anticipating the third book in the trilogy. More than one who said they weren’t partial to angel books said they were pleasantly surprised by Broken Wings. More than one said they found this second in the trilogy to be a stronger book than the first. More than one said the book crossed over from its target (female) young adult audience to adults of any stripe.

In short, enthusiastic bloggers writing quality posts makes for an outstanding tour. Thanks to all the participants and those who commented. But now . . . (drum roll, please) all that’s left is for us to pick the April Top Tour Blogger–which I don’t think is going to be easy.

Here are the nominees and the links to their articles. You may want to peruse them before you vote.

Published in: on April 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm  Comments Off on Broken Wings Tour Wrap  
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Blog Tours In The Age Of Social Media

csffbannerWhen a group of us speculative writers started the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, Tumblr and the like did not exist. Blogging itself was fairly new. The concept of a blog tour seemed like the perfect way to create a community of like-minded people willing to talk about the books we wanted to see in bookstores.

When we first approached Donita Paul, *our first author, about touring one of her books, she asked, What is a blog tour? For some time we answered that question fairly regularly, but before long, the concept caught on. Now there are sites dedicated to setting up and running blog tours.

As late as three years ago, however, I had an industry insider note the lack of immediate book sales from a particular tour, then say, “It seems that the main body of people reading the blog tour reviews consisted of other reviewers on the tour.”

At the time I thought that comment was short-sighted. No one other than the blogger knows the traffic his or her site receives unless there’s a visible stats counter. No one else knows how many subscribers are receiving the blog in their email in-box or in a reader. The fact that people who had read the book in question were carrying on an intelligent discussion about it should have been appealing to other visitors. And why would those who had not read the book jump into the conversation? That they were silent doesn’t mean they weren’t listening.

Add to that the marketing idea that a buyer needs to hear about a product X number of times (I think it’s 7) before buying. Here CSFF voluntarily puts the name of these various books out over the Internet for any number of people to get their first nudge, or third, or sixth.

Clearly, I believe blog tours, from the beginning, have helped books sell though their impact may not be immediately felt.

But today we have another whole layer to our blog tours–social media. In the past, if someone wrote a particularly good review, the author might link to it or excerpt it for his blog or website. That may or may not have attracted more readers.

With the growth of social media, however, authors can link to posts on their author Facebook page or Tweet to their followers. In turn, those fans can read and share posts to their social media contacts. So, not only are visitors to my site finding out about the tour reviews and the books we’re featuring, but in essence, the author’s loyal followers are now sharing the reviews with their friends and followers as well. People I don’t know and can’t reach are getting the word.

But the author could do that without the tour, some say. Not really. The author can’t say, Go look at this post, if there is no post to go look at. The tour, operating independently of the author, gives him something to point to.

Interestingly, the tour works best when there is either controversy or positive accord. The books that garner tepid posts won’t stir up a great deal of conversation or receive outside notice. Those that create some passion in the tour participants, however, end up having memorable posts, discussions, and reviews to which the author can point.

In short, blog tours seem to me to be more effective than ever, as long as they do more than regurgitate the back cover copy of the book they are featuring and as long as the book is well written. Somehow, it still comes down to that point, doesn’t it.

– – – – –

* For the record, CSFF opened in May 2006 by featuring a Christian fiction reviewer’s website, specifically a page he called “Focus on Christian Fantasy.” We highlighted Donita Paul the next month as our first author. If you check out that inaugural post, you’ll see a few names you may recognize as current active tour participants.

Published in: on April 25, 2013 at 5:36 pm  Comments Off on Blog Tours In The Age Of Social Media  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore, Day 3

brokenwings-coverToday is review day, but first I want to mention a couple of my fellow CSFF Blog Tour participants’ posts for Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore. For the first time in tour history we have a video review. As a matter of fact JoJo Sutis posted videos all three days of the tour, but check out her review. It’s pretty cool hearing the enthusiasm in her voice as she gives her recommendation at the end–something that words on a screen can’t quite capture.

Also Karielle @ Books à la Mode has a wonderful interview with Shannon Dittemore, and she arranged for a publisher book giveaway–a great opportunity for anyone interested in reading the Angel Eyes Trilogy but thinking it’s hard to spend money on three books. Well, the winner of the giveaway can buy Angel Eyes now, enjoy Broken Wings as a freebie, and start saving for the final installment Dark Halo coming out in August.

Another participant–one of three new to the tour this month–is also holding a giveaway, so anyone interested in winning a free copy of Broken Wings might consider entering both to double the chances. This second offer is from Emma or Audrey Engel.

And now my review.

The Story. Broken Wings continues the Angel Eyes story where the first book left off. Teenagers Brielle and Jake are looking forward to a future together, but Jake now has a secret. Before long, trouble surfaces in the form of a young woman who shows interest in Brielle’s father and who seems to have a negative influence on him because he has become belligerent toward Jake and has started drinking heavily.

If those real life issues weren’t enough, the forces of evil have targeted Jake and Brielle because of their special gifts–his to heal, hers to see beyond the terrestrial.

Strengths. I posted yesterday about Shannon Dittemore’s quality of writing because I wanted to do it justice. That still didn’t happen, but suffice it to say, I think the strong voice and the poetic language are huge strengths in the story. But so is the theme.

I don’t often rave about the theme (which, by the way, I’m not giving away, because that would be a huge spoiler) of a novel because some readers may immediately conclude that the book was preachy. For me, it’s just the opposite. A theme isn’t really well done if it stands like gaudy decor that can’t be overlooked. Shannon weaves the themes of her story seamlessly in with the other elements of character development and unfolding plot.

Speaking of which, there is lots going on in this book–conflict in the heavenlies, discord at home, mysteries surrounding Brielle’s mother and Jake’s parents, and a key issue of trust. Never a dull moment, you might say.

Weaknesses. There’s one aspect that Broken Wings can’t get away from–it reads like a middle book. That’s because it IS a middle book. Although Shannon does a masterful job in bringing each book to a resolution, there’s no denying that the Angel Eyes Trilogy is one grand story and Broken Wings is the middle piece, the equivalent of The Two Towers to Lord of the Rings. Is that really a weakness? Only in the sense that readers not knowing what they were picking up might be dismayed–either by not having read Angel Eyes, Book 1 or by realizing that much of the mystery won’t be answered until Dark Halo, Book 3.

Earlier this week another issue came up in a post by Shannon McDermott. She said she found she didn’t care as much for the two main characters in this second installment. I realized I had a similar experience but for a different reason. I didn’t find anything the characters did or their unfolding personalities objectionable. In fact, in many ways I learned to know them better, especially Brielle, because of the interactions they had with different people.

Then why did I feel some distance? I believe it’s because I didn’t know early in the story what the characters wanted or needed. There was lots going on, mind you, but it seems the characters were mostly responding to what was happening to them as opposed to making things happen. It’s the latter that gets me cheering for characters, hoping for their success, fearing their failure. Certainly this was what I experienced during the climax which was beautifully engineered. I would have felt closer to the characters if this had been the case throughout the story.

Recommendation. In no way am I any less wildly enthusiastic about the Angel Eyes Trilogy or Shannon Dittemlore as a writer. In fact, I’ve noticed on the tour reviewers who were mildly in favor of Book 1 are now declaring themselves to be fans or moving these books into the category of favorites. More than one has said they believe Broken Wings is a stronger book. It’s an indication, I think, that these books have what Christian readers are looking for–a wonderful story, told well, which reveals deep spiritual truth. I rank the Angel Eyes Trilogy as Must Read for Christian teenage girls, and I highly recommend it for all teens and adults.

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

CSFF Blog Tour – Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore, Day 2

brokenwings-coverToo often I hear negative comments about Christian fiction–still. Begrudgingly, serious critics have begun to concede that the quality of writing has improved, and yet those who loudly proclaim, “I don’t read Christian fiction,” often justify their stand with the accusation of poor quality.

In reality, no genre, no publisher, no author, no market is producing perfect books, or even great ones, all the time, every time. Mixed in with the best of the best are those that are good, OK, and sometimes, pretty bad. The key, then, no matter where readers are turning for their books, is to find those that are truly worthy of reading.

Enter reviews and blog tours like CSFF.

Shannon Dittemore writes worthy books, and her newest release, the CSFF Blog Tour’s April feature, Broken Wings, is a case in point.

I’ll take a closer look at the story itself tomorrow when I do my review, but today I wanted to highlight the beautiful language Shannon uses. Note that each word also is useful in some other capacity. Shannon hasn’t brought her story to a stop to deliver a bit of prosaic poetry. Rather, the beauty of the language supports the action or character revelation or thread of backstory.

Here’s an example from early in the book which serves in part to remind the reader what happened in the first book of the trilogy.

I’m alone.

The room is full of people, but I don’t see them. Not clearly. They’re a blur of summer colors and shadowed faces as my legs push me across the stage. My arms bow and curve, matching my inhales and exhales. Flutes, clarinets, and instruments I can’t even name trill from the speakers, the music telling a story. The dance sharing a journey.

My journey.

Getting back to the stage was not an easy path, and my mind is full of the circumstances and the players that brought me here. I rise to my toes and I think of Ali, my closest friend. I think of the life that was taken from her. I think of her boyfriend, Marco, and the case built against him: smoke and mirrors to hide what really happened.

But truth is stronger than lies, and as the music slows, my black skirt whispers against my knees and I remember the first time I saw the Celestial. Light and life everywhere, and on every surface colors that never stop moving.

This passage accomplishes so much. For example, it establishes the time frame of the setting in the poetic phrase “They’re a blur of summer colors.” It highlights one of the main character’s particular qualities–not being a singer but a dancer–with the statement “instruments I can’t even name.” She isn’t enamored with creating music but with performing the dance which the music evokes.

Shannon’s language also paints the picture of the dance with a few short sentences: “. . . my legs push me across the stage. My arms bow and curve, matching my inhales and exhales . . . , the music telling a story. The dance sharing a journey.”

Then too, it brings back key story elements–the main character has returned to dance, her best friend had died, the boyfriend had been falsely accused of her murder, and the main character has the ability to see into the heavenly realm–the Celestial.

With all this going on, there is still beauty in the expression. My favorite is “as the music slows, my black skirt whispers against my knees.” It’s visual (black skirt), audio (music slows, skirt whispers), and tactile (against my knees) all in one, which gives it the power to evoke a strong image.

Among my favorite passages are those describing worship. Here’s one:

The Sabres [a type of angel] open their mouths and lift up a song, and tears pour down my face at the sound. I sniff, trying to keep another round at bay, and that’s when the fragrance catches my nose.

It’s the smell of worship.

Sweet like honey and smoky like a campfire. Deep and thick like the ocean’s waters and fresh like their spray all in one inhalation.

I could get lost finding those kinds of passages in Broken Wings. Suffice it to say, it’s a beautiful story (well, part of one–the Angel Eyes Trilogy together is one grand story), told beautifully.

Please take time to see what others on the CSFF Blog tour are saying about Broken Wings (participants’ list posted at the end of the Day 1 post), then come back tomorrow for my review.

CSFF Blog Tour – Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore, Day 1

brokenwings-coverI don’t often take time to give publishers recognition, but the fact is, some seem to have a knack for doing things right. Presently, it seems to me as someone looking from the outside in, that Harper Collins, with it’s Thomas Nelson and Zondervan imprints and now the Zondervan offshoot, Blink, are doing Christian speculative fiction as well as it’s been done before.

Case in point is the kind of reception the CSFF blog tour has had with Thomas Nelson, allowing us to feature Shannon Dittemore‘s Angel Eyes, Book 1 of the trilogy by the same name, in January and turn around and tour Book 2, Broken Wings, here in April. I mean, really? Normally you have to wait six months at least before you can find out what happened next.

There’s also the wonderful willingness to provide either print or ebook to those wishing to participate in the tour. Love the flexibility and hope that can catch on with others so that the CSFF members who live outside the US and Canada, who often don’t have the opportunity to receive books because the mailing cost is prohibitive, might at long last be able to join in.

Add in a creative cover, solid editing (especially notable in this day and age when editing seems to have taken it on the chin at some houses, with the number of uncaught obvious errors mounting), and author acknowledgments that ring with authenticity in her praise for the team at Thomas Nelson, and you get the picture that this publisher is doing things right.

Too often we hear of the ways that traditional publishing fails, so I’m happy when I see a genuine positive trend developing. As I see it, Thomas Nelson found a talented Christian speculative writer and is doing right by her to help sell her work. May they go on to find many more!

Undoubtedly readers want to know about this trilogy and the author behind it. There are already some good, thoughtful posts up discussing the book or the genre, and I have it on good authority that there will be an author interview later in the tour. For now, I highly recommend Phyllis Wheeler‘s review at The Christian Fantasy Review, Shane Werlinger‘s thoughts about mortality, and Julie Bihn‘s Biblical look at Satan, stemming from this second of the trilogy.

I’ll also mention that I too used Broken Wings as a jumping off point in my article today at Spec Faith.

Here is the entire list of participants and once again the check marks link you to specific tour articles. (For those who are part of the tour, please note, there have been a few additions and corrections to the list you received. You may wish to make adjustments to your post accordingly.) Enjoy.

Christy Award Nominees Announced

ChristyAwardLogo[1]It’s award season for novels. The Christy’s, the Carols, Inspy, and of course the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. I’m sure there are others, but the one that has been the most coveted prize has been the Christys. There are nine categories, and judges have whittled the entries down to three nominees in each (four in one category in which there was a tie). A different set of judges will then pick the winners and those will be announced at the International Christian Retailers Show this summer.

Needless to say, to be included on this list is a terrific honor.

Here are the nominees announced today:

Contemporary Romance/

The Breath of Dawn
by Kristen Heitzmann (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Lethal Legacy
by Irene Hannon (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Wildflowers from Winter
by Katie Ganshert (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)

Contemporary Series, Sequels, and Novellas/

Two Destinies
by Elizabeth Musser (David C Cook)

You Don’t Know Me
by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House Publishers)

Waiting for Sunrise
by Eva Marie Everson (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Contemporary Standalone/

The Air We Breathe
by Christa Parrish (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Borders of the Heart
by Chris Fabry (Tyndale House Publishers)

Not in the Heart
by Chris Fabry (Tyndale House Publishers)

First Novel/

Into the Free
by Julie Cantrell (David C Cook)

Tangled Ashes
by Michèle Phoenix (Tyndale House Publishers)

Wedded to War
by Jocelyn Green (River North, an imprint of Moody Press)


Flame of Resistance
by Tracy Groot (Tyndale House Publishers)

Wedded to War
by Jocelyn Green (River North, an imprint of Moody Press)

A Wreath of Snow
by Liz Curtis Higgs (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)

Historical Romance/

Against the Tide
by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Be Still My Soul
by Joanne Bischof (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)

Love’s Reckoning
by Laura Frantz (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group)


by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

The Last Plea Bargain
by Randy Singer (Tyndale House Publishers)

Rare Earth
by Davis Bunn (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

by Dani Pettrey (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
*This category includes four nominees due to a tie in scoring.


Daughter of Light
by Morgan L. Busse (Marcher Lord Press)

Soul’s Gate
by James L. Rubart (Thomas Nelson, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

Young Adult/

Child of the Mountains
by Marilyn Sue Shank (Delacorte Press, a division of Random House)

by John W. Otte (Marcher Lord Press)

Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words
by Rachel Coker (Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Congratulations to each of these authors. What a great accomplishment!

Published in: on April 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm  Comments (2)  

We Want More, We Want More

More Not LessI suspect that most humans would say they desire to be content, but I also suspect we’d say there are comparatively few moments when we actually are content. Facebook updates and Tweets show us this.

How many complaints, bad news, and frustration do we read in undates? Quite a few. A second kind announces things to support, buy, attend, endorse, promote. Those messages say either help me, or your life is incomplete unless you __. Put in terms of contentment, some are saying, I’m not content because I don’t have X, and the others are saying, you ought to be discontent because you don’t have Y.

Understand, I’m not discounting the proper place for people to ask for help or to announce offers such as discount prices on particular products. After all, I pass along book bargains whenever I feel I can enthusiastically encourage others to buy because of a great price or a great story or both.

Rather, what I’m noticing is a cumulative effect of wanting. We want the snow to go away or we want the rain to come. We want the wind to stop and we want the air to be clear. We want flowers but we don’t want weeds, and we especially don’t want to be the one to pull them.

We want convenient travel, but we don’t want traffic jams. We want affordable public transportation, but we don’t want dirty trains or unkempt stations.

Our culture is programing us to believe that sitting and thinking is boring, that doing one thing at a time rather than multitasking makes us lazy or slow. So in the words of the child in the AT&T commercial, “We want more, we want more.” Hearing a child try to explain why we think more is better, is funny, but it also makes me aware that we think the reason is self evident. It’s really what the little girl ended up saying: more is better because we want more.

And we always will.

We want what we don’t have, and when we have what we want, we want more of it. Until we have too much, then we want something different.

Wanting, needing striving–all those are central to the human condition, and as it happens, central to a good story. But here’s the thing. When none of the stuff we want, no matter how much of that something we gain, brings contentment, perhaps C. S. Lewis was right when he said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We aren’t content here the way things are now because we weren’t made for this here and now. We were made for some place else. Some thing more–further in and higher up.

Published in: on April 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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People Who Make Me Smile

smiling peopleLife is hard, and then we die, some people say. Others work to fill their days with something, anything, just so they won’t feel bored. Neither is a happy way of looking at life.

On top of this sort of everyday ennui, we also have the news. It’s bad enough that we have to learn about the latest home invasion in a nearby town, but now we see the images of the attack on spectators at the Boston Marathon. Something fun and healthy and traditional which should be celebrated, turned into a horrific memory of anonymous cruelty and devastation.

The world’s become such a fun place!

Nevertheless, there are people who make me smile:

  • The long distance friend who calls me every year for my birthday
  • The writer who sent me a copy of her book so I can read and review
  • The former student who has become a good friend
  • The pastor whose face lights up when he sees me
  • The neighbor who surprised me with a bowl of fresh fruit
  • The Facebook friend who posts pictures of her kids reading and writing instead of watching TV
  • Another Facebook friend who talks basketball with me
  • A former teacher friend who passes along interesting newspaper articles
  • The cross country friend who talks theology with me over the phone

Which brings me to the most important Person who makes me smile. Yes, I’m talking about Jesus, the Messiah, seated now at the right hand of God. But He makes me smile because of what He did for me at the cross, what He does for me daily through His Spirit, and what He will do for me throughout eternity.

I realize this is all very “me”-centric, but the cool thing is, Jesus is the kind of friend who can give and give and give without ever wearing out. In other words, what He gives to me in no way exhausts His supply of gifts so that He has nothing for the next person. In fact, there is no end to what He wants to give each of us.

This is one of the truths the word of faith people have right–up to a point. The really cool thing about Jesus is that He knows what I need even when it’s different from what I think I need. Being a Good God, He will not give me something I want when He knows it would be bad for me. Parents who spoil their children do that–giving candy for breakfast, letting them stay up until 2:00 a.m., allowing them to ditch school whenever they want.

God loves me, so He won’t give me razor blades to play with just because I ask. Rather, His good gifts–even the ones that feel like cod liver oil instead of ice cream–are designed to draw me closer to Him, to shape me in the image of Jesus.

What could be better? To think that the One who knows all the stupid stuff I’ve done, the hateful stuff I’ve wanted to do, the selfish stuff I try to do–that King of Kings and Lord of Lords, that One Who is highest and best, accepts me, loves me, and wants me to hang with Him forever. Yeah, that One makes me smile.

Published in: on April 17, 2013 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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