Saving Truth Blog Tour


I have the privilege of being part of the blog tour for the apologetics book Saving Truth by Abdu Murray which has been available for purchase now for one whole week. I’ve already written a number of posts based on what I was learning from the book. It’s a deep well. Hence, I’m happy to tell others about the book, to recommend it unequivocally.

Abdu Murray establishes his premise—that western culture has passed into a post-true era that essentially dismisses the question, “What is truth” in favor of the question, “What’s your opinion, based on your perceptions and feelings?”

In the opening chapters Murray does a masterful job explaining how this post-truth mindset brings on chaos and confusion. As a result, any number of “truth claims” clash. There’s no rational, logical, consistent way of looking at the world, at society. At one university campus, for example, an atheist received such a negative reaction, he was dis-invited to a particular event because he took a stand against Muslims. But at the same campus, violent protests prevented a conservative speaker from taking the podium.

I especially appreciated this perspective because I have repeatedly decried the inconsistencies that have taken hold of society. So on one hand the powers that be claim science and only science can be taught in school when addressing the origin of the universe. But on the other hand, those same powers say a person can determine his, her, its, gender identity, not based on the observable science at all but on what the individual feels like inside.

Abdu Murray sensitively addresses the issue of gender confusion in one of the chapters in Saving Truth entitled “Clarity about Sexuality, Gender, and Identity.” Interestingly, Murray expresses deep understanding for those in the throes of confusion, in part because of the identity upheaval he himself experienced as a Muslim who converted to Christianity.

Many of his remarks brought to mind Rosaria Butterfield who was an English professor steeped in feminism and the LGBT community, until she found Christ. As Murray expressed, Butterfield found the radical change from leaving one group and embracing a vastly different one, to be somewhat unsettling. I can well see why Abdu Murray’s remarks on this subject are full of compassion, while providing the clarity promised in the chapter title.

Clarity is precisely what this muddled post-truth society needs, and Murray includes other particular topics: science and faith, religious pluralism, human dignity, and freedom.

I found Murray’s remarks on the subject of freedom to be particularly enlightening. He explained that what the society based on personal perceptions and feelings is looking for is autonomy, not actual freedom. (See this post for a more complete discussion on the subject.) Autonomy, or self-rule, wants to throw off external authority in order to “have things my way.”

As I read the opening chapters of Saving Truth , I not only found clarity, but I began to wonder just what solution Murray could offer readers as we do our part to “save truth,” to reverse the trend, to restore the absolute in place of the chaos and confusion.

I’ll be honest, I should not have been looking for some human magic bullet that would sway our society away from the way of the world. I know better, but when I came to the end of the book, I felt humbled before the infinite Creator actually does know the end from the beginning and has not been caught off guard by the trends of our time.

It was a powerful ending. Clarifying, just as the chapter titles promised.

Who should read this book? I wish people who are think all religions are basically the same would read it. I wish those confused about sexual identity—their own or someone else’s—would read it. I wish those uncertain about the origins of the universe or the place humans play in the scheme of things or ones struggling against authority would read this book.

I don’t know if any of those people who desperately need the book will pick it up. Are they looking to find the answer to Saving Truth?

Perhaps just as important, and perhaps more realistic would be for Christians who want to understand these issues better, who want to know what to say to the people in their world who struggle with these ideas, to read the book, even to study it with like-minded people. I’d go so far as to say, Christians who are engaged in our culture, who take our faith seriously, well benefit in innumerable ways from reading Saving Truth.

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Published in: on May 16, 2018 at 6:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Lesson In Persistence


A guest Post by Kristen Stieffel, author of Alara’s Call. This article, part of a blog tour for the new novel, includes Kristen’s remarkable publishing journey. Well worth the read.

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I once made the mistake of telling an agent just how long I’d been working on Alara’s Call. She said, “If you’ve been trying that long without success, you should probably give up and try something else.”

It’s the only time an agent made me cry.

There were times—many times—I tried to walk away from this book. When I wrote the first draft—longer ago than I’m going to admit—I did not know what I was doing. I had only written short stories before, never a novel.

I wrote this book eight times before I learned how to write a novel. And if you check out the stop I made at Steve Rzasa’s website on September 17, you’ll see that even then it had a lot of room for improvement.

I got feedback from a book doctor, implemented his recommendations, and started pitching. At first I got rejections like the opening was confusing or the worldbuilding was insufficient. I got feedback from another editor who helped me fix the opening. I kept revising. I kept submitting. I kept getting rejections.

Some of the rejections were just angry-making, like, “Many Christian denominations don’t have female clergy, so this book won’t appeal to those readers.” Others were just wrong, like, “There’s no market for that.” It took me a long time to figure out that what agents mean when they say this is, “That market is too small to be worth my time.”

In addition to agents, I started pitching to small-press editors who were willing to work with unagented authors. Finally, finally, early in 2013, I got a contract. Not just any contract—a four-book contract on the series. I was over the moon. This was the fulfillment of an over-the-top, big hairy audacious dream. New novelists don’t often get four-book contracts.

I never got editorial notes from the publisher. All I got was a cover mock-up that still had the stock photo site’s watermark on the image.

Then I heard nothing. Months. Years.

Fortunately, my contract specified that if the publisher didn’t release the book within two years of my turning it in, the rights automatically reverted to me.

So by 2015, I started looking for a new publisher. Collected a bunch more rejections. A few were silly, like, “We already have a fantasy novel with a female lead.” A lot were the dreaded, “Does not meet our needs at this time.”

In the summer of 2016, at the Realm Makers conference, I pitched to Michele Israel Harper of Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing. She loved the story and offered me a contract—only on the first book. A reasonable offer.

Meanwhile, I had finished Book Two. And as Book Three took shape, Tyana, a character who’d barely been mentioned in Book One, came to the forefront as one of the major players.

When Michele sent her editorial notes, I told her I was going to make other changes as well, to beef up Tyana’s role. She gave me the go-ahead. So when I turned in my edited copy of Book One, I had laid the groundwork for Tyana’s appearance in Book Three. This would have been impossible if Book One had been published two years earlier.

Isn’t it awesome that God knows what he’s doing, even when we have no clue?

When my first contract fell through, it seemed like a disaster. In hindsight, I see the four-book contract as God’s way of granting my big hairy audacious dream while reserving his right to bring the work into fruition on his schedule rather than mine. During the year between getting my rights back and finding my new publisher, I pitched to several editors who rejected me, and queried many agents who ignored me. Knowing my story was worthy of a four-book contract kept me going.

Paul tells us, “. . . suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV). There were days I thought I had quite enough character building, thank you very much. But God is no more finished with me than I am with my characters.

Persevere, my friends. Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) will ensure that your troubles are not in vain.

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Michele Israel Harper with Tim Akers and Kristen Stieffel, both Love2ReadLove2Write authors
Photo Credit: Fen Wilson

Kristen Stieffel is a freelance editor and writer who specializes in speculative fiction. Although she edits projects in varied genres for both the general market and the Christian submarket, she is a novelist at heart. Member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Christian Editor Connection, mentor with Word Weavers International, and on the planning committee for Realm Makers, Kristen stays busy doing what she loves most. She is also the associate editor of Havok, a flash-fiction magazine focused on science fiction and fantasy. Visit http://www.KristenStieffel.com to learn more about this many-faceted author.

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Book Summary

Alara sees visions of other’s futures, but never her own.

A young clergywoman with a fiery passion for her Telshan faith, she has been assigned to a mission abroad but longs to lead a congregation in her homeland. Her father, the prime minister, jeopardizes her dream and her safety when he coerces her into what he calls a diplomatic mission.

But it’s a ruse.

The trip is meant to end with her marriage to the crown prince of a foreign nation, where members of Alara’s faith are persecuted and women oppressed. All for a trade agreement her father is desperate to enact.

But her mentor intervenes and takes Alara to Dorrel, the suitor she left behind. They believe they are safe, but foreign soldiers are under orders to bring Alara to the king’s palace . . . by any means necessary.

Published in: on September 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Shock Of Night – A Review


cover_ByDivineRightSo if this is a review of The Shock Of Night, why is there a picture of the cover of a different book? Preceding the latest CSFF feature is the FREE e-novella entitled By Divine Right. It’s well worth the time, and did I mention, it’s free? It’s a great introduction to the fantasy world of The Darkwater Saga and it’s protagonist, Willet Dura.

The fantasy novel we’re featuring, The Shock Of Night by Patrick Carr, is in many respects familiar. The story takes place in an imagined world that shares many similarities with medieval times, and there is an element of “magic,” depicted as gifts bestowed by Aer, the God of the world. But another thread of familiarity is the crime-solving component of a good murder mystery. Indeed, The Shock Of Night is somewhat of a genre mashup, which makes it unique, interesting, fresh, compelling.

It is definitely an adult book, not because there’s bad language or sex, but because it’s complex and layered. The book is the first in a series—The Darkwater Saga—so there are many unanswered questions and threads that aren’t brought to completion. Still, the end is satisfying in the sense that a beginning is confirmed.

The Story

I’m going with the ridiculously short version.

Willet Dura, the king’s reeve, stumbles into a mysterious gift—the ability to delve into the thoughts of people he touches—in the process of investigating a murder. He soon finds himself in the hands of a secret society calling themselves the Vigil who also have this gift. Their job is to deal with people who have entered the Darkwater Forest because 99.0 percent of them go mad. Willet Dura is the lone exception.

While trying to solve the original murder, which the Vigil suspect him of committing, Dura uncovers a much greater plot—one that threatens the king and country.

Strengths

This novel is situated in a well-developed world. The place feels real, with a history (and a map!!), an economy, religious orders, class struggles, political intrigue, and more.

The story is filled with intrigue and is layered with subplots that point to greater purpose. There is murder, betrayal, warfare, secrecy. And yet it’s a very personal story, dealing with doubt and inner darkness.

The main character, Willet Dura, is a flawed person, with a darkness in his heart, but a darkness that doesn’t control him. Nevertheless, he is a bit reckless, brash, stubborn, but also compassionate and loyal and sacrificial. He’s someone a reader can care about.

The themes of the story are largely left open because there are more books to come. There’s the obvious struggle between light and dark—murders and later, attacks, come only at night and have some connection to the Darkwater. Then there is the thread that points to the inner scars of men who have gone to war. Today we refer to this effect of war as PTSD, and this story taps into the reality of such.

Another theme deals with the church, its obligations to society, the four orders and the Clast which defies the theology of them all. More prominent is the socio-economic theme, exhibited by a city divided along economic lines and ruled by the wealthy elite who also hoard the gifts given by Aer for the betterment of the world.

In other words, there’s much that this book delves into.

Weaknesses

My biggest concern was something different from most mysteries I’ve read. I found that the characters knew things the readers didn’t know. At times there was a suggestion, a hint, a conclusion that the characters came to, and there seemed to be the expectation that readers would reach that same understanding, but I didn’t always think there was enough information to go by.

In addition, there were events that took place that the main character didn’t know about. So as he was surprised, so were readers. The problem in this not knowing is that readers can’t anticipate or fear for the main character. Or hope for success. Because we didn’t know all the plans or all the dangers. In short, I think the story could have used a bit more foreshadowing.

Oddly enough, though the protagonist’s portions of the story are told in the first person, and though Willet Dura has flaws and strengths to make him believable, I didn’t find him someone I cared for deeply.

I tried to figure out why, and what came to me was that I didn’t know what Willet Dura wanted. Oh, sure, I knew he wanted to solve the murder and that he wanted to marry Lady Gael, but I didn’t see him wanting to deal with his flaw—the darkness that resided in his heart. He seemed willing to live with it. So the things he wanted were primarily external and kept me from cheering him on for his own sake, not just for the things he was fighting for.

But maybe that’s just me.

Recommendation

I’m so glad I read The Shock Of Night. It’s exciting to find another fantasy series with such a well-developed world. Plus I love mysteries, so this is the best of both worlds from my perspective.

The novella—a free ebook, in case you missed that—entitled By Divine Right introduces readers to the character. It’s interesting and well written and lets readers see Willet Dura in his role as reeve, solving mysteries and hiding his own darkness. I’d recommend reading By Divine Right first, then moving to The Shock Of Night.

I highly recommend both to readers who enjoy being challenged by though-provoking stories with many layers. You’ll be entertained, but there’s no fluff here. You’ll have lots to chew on for days and days.

BTW, I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it during the CSFF Blog Tour.

The Shock Of Night – CSFF Day 2


cover_ShockOfNightOne aspect of The Shock Of Night, book 1 of the Darkwater Saga by Patrick Carr is the silent chaos that exists beneath “normal.” I looked at Willet Dura’s own private chaos in The Shock Of Night . . . And Peace, but the fantasy world in which this story takes place is riddled with chaos. However, much of it is hidden away out of sight.

Spoiler Alert: of necessity, some of the details I mention may be spoilers.

Some of the most obvious “hidden chaos” includes the slow expansion of the Darkwater Forest. It’s slowly eating into the farmland and is putting the food supply of Collum into jeopardy. Then there are the tunnels—in a land that forbids delving deeply in the earth, no less—beneath the city of Bunard, and it’s impregnable royal tor.

On the human level, there are nightwalkers—soldiers who returned from the latest war with a scar on their soul that causes them to walk the city at night. During day, they appear to be normal. Only at night do the ravages of war show themselves. More serious are those few who survived entrance into the Darkwater, only to turn into killers when they suddenly and without warning snap.

Built into society there is chaos, too. First there’s the economic chaos created by Aer’s gifts, Aer being the God of this world. The gifts are intended for the betterment of society, but generally the gifted, who received their gift as an inheritance, either whole or divided, have become rich down through the centuries. Those without gifts make up the lower merchant class or the poor.

The city is carefully divided by four sections based on four classes, the wealthy merchants and the nobles completing the strata. Night after night the wealthy nobles go to court where they dance and feed and prattle while gifted musicians and entertainers perform despite the disinterested and unappreciative audience. Meanwhile urchins train to be pickpockets and thieves so they can eat, and prostitutes become courtesans to various noblemen in order to survive.

Add in the religious chaos. The four divisions of the church, having survived wars between the factions, now live in tension with one another. Each day the four divisions send representatives to the public square where they take turns giving a homily to people who mostly don’t listen, explaining their position concerning the gifts. Tour participant Bruce Hennigan pulled out quotes that summarize their positions very well in his Day 1 post:

The “Servants” say “The purpose of man is to serve others, placing them above himself. If every man looks to use his gift in his own interest, we will descend into selfish barbarity.”

The “Vanguard” say “I must take issue with my brother. While service is a noble goal, there will always be evil in this world. Unless we are bold in confronting the enemy’s malice, servanthood will only provide fuel for its excesses. The gifts of Are are given so that we might eradicate evil from the world.”

The “Absold” say “While I can sympathize with the desire to serve and to fight evil, as my brother and sister so eloquently express, I must disagree. Our principle purpose here is not dependent on what we do, but on what we are. We are all fallen. Only by extending forgiveness freely to each other, in imitation of Aer’s forgiveness for us, can we free ourselves from those internal chains that make us less than we are. Then you will see your gift shine forth.”

The “Merum” say “The strictures are these, You must not delve the deep places of the earth, you must no covet another’s gift, and above all you must honor Aer, Iosa, and Gaoithe in all.”

A new player has recently shown up—a group calling themselves the Clast who advocate for a removal of all gifts, which they see as the source of the economic divide. Why, they reason, should the nobles get to hoard the gifts that simply make them get richer?

Perhaps the most chaotic aspect of the gifts is the gift Dormere, only rumored to exist, which allows those who have it to delve into the minds of those they touch. In fact, they absorb the thoughts and memories of their subjects, and the danger is that they will lose themselves in the process. Those who have this gift have formed a more or less secret society called the Vigil. They have dedicated themselves to tracking down and eliminating those who come out of the Darkwarter Forest before they can turn into murderous monsters.

One more bit of chaos—plot chaos. When Reeve Willet Dura searched the body of a murder victim, who turned out to be the leader of the Vigil, he found sewn into an inner pocket, a small sliver of metal, something extremely rare, given the church’s admonition against delving into the deep places of the earth. Why is it there? Was this what his killers were looking for? Is it even the metal Willet Dura thinks it is?

When one of the Vigil becomes a traitor, the chaos expands. When the Vigil try to kill Willet Dura because they believe he actually murdered their former leader and stole the gift intended for another, plot chaos is in full control.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the love story or the loyalty Willet Dura has for his king. Or the friction and mistrust between him and the guard the Vigil assigned to him.

End Spoiler Alert.

Some on the CSFF Blog Tour have called this story dark. With all the chaos swirling in and through it, I can understand why. But the protagonist, in spite of his own personal demons and the alienation he experiences from so many others, does not have a bleak outlook. He mourns the loss of his chosen profession—until being sent to war, he was an acolyte in the Merum order with the intention of becoming a priest. He is charitable to the poor and diligent at his job. He sees the foibles of the nobility but still serves his king.

Willet Dura also is planning a future with the love of his life. At some points, when his life is at risk, he prays, and from time to time he goes to confession and takes communion (or thinks he does)—not the acts of someone with a dark, brooding outlook on the world.

Is the world of The Shock Of Night dark? Under the surface it is. Is Willet Dura, the protagonist of the story, dark? That’s really the question. Some think he is, but his “underneath,” though filled with mystery, is much lighter than those looking only on the surface would suppose. In the end, he just might have the answer to all the chaos that is beginning to surface.

Published in: on December 8, 2015 at 7:23 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Shock Of Night . . . And Peace


Prince of PeaceThe Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring The Shock Of Night, the first book in Patrick Carr’s new series, The Darkwater Saga. And this is the second week in Advent during which I want to focus on Peace.

It’s quite an ironic pairing because if there’s one quality by which you’d characterize The Shock Of Night, it would not be Peace. In fact, the main character, the king’s reeve—similar to a sheriff—Willet Dura, is thought by some to be eccentric and by others to be insane. He has few, if any, friends, and the nobles of the king’s court uniformly look down on him, though the king elevated him to the status of nobility by conferring a title on him.

So how do Peace and a troubled mind fit together?

I suppose in general, they don’t. But the reality of Peace is that there is no peace. The world is in chaos, with wars and rumors of wars, with sex trafficking an expanding industry, with domestic violence and abuse on the rise despite the efforts of society to bring them under control, with terrorism spreading from abroad to home.

Peace, peace? We recognized it last year, and we revisit that same truth this year: there is no peace. No means by which humankind can banish conflict and escape discord. We live in a world of greedy, selfish people whose needs and desires collide with one another. Hence, we fight and quarrel.

cover_ShockOfNightIn the same way, Lord Willet Dura has no peace. He “night-walks” but not as most troubled soldiers home from the war do. He only leaves his quarters in an unbreakable trance when someone in the city has been murdered. As if that wasn’t enough, one of his investigations leads him to the House of Passing and a dying man who imparts a gift many in the realm do not believe to be real. By his touch he can see into the hears of others, absorbing their memories and thoughts. The problem with this gift is that he can easily lose himself, to the point that he no longer knows where he ends and the other person begins.

There’s more. Lord Dura has a secret. He’s created a vault inside his mind that holds past memories—the truth about what took place when he entered the Darkwater Forest ten years ago.

So peace? Not for Willet. Not with people on the left and right trying to kill him. Not with mysteries abounding and the threat from the south growing.

The similarities are fairly obvious. Willet’s world is filled with chaos and mystery and more things out of his control than he imagines—a perfect mirror of the real world. We might pretend or even go through life deluding ourselves that we’re in control, but the peace we so anxiously look for and try to maintain, doesn’t last because we can’t catch hold of time and make it stand still.

Our beautiful children grow up and start doing drugs or become angry, disobedient teens. Our beloved spouse cheats on us or grows cold or loses himself, herself, in their work. Our best friend moves away. We lose our job. The economy tanks. The bank threatens to foreclose. Someone steals our car. Our parents die. Our friend gets cancer. Nothing ever seems right for very long.

But all that bleakness doesn’t take into account the hope which leads to peace. Willet has a hope that quiets his heart. And we here in the real world have hope that can quiet ours, too. Truth is, we have a choice.

Jeremiah 2:11 lays it out for us—we can turn to the Fountain of living waters or we can dig our own dirty wells that can’t even hold water. We end up with a fistful of mud, a world mired in chaos.

Night is a shock. In part it’s a shock because we weren’t build for the night, for the chaos, for the mire. We were created to live in the Light, to enjoy the peace which comes from harmony.

At Christmas we celebrate the coming of the Light Of The World! That’s where peace can be found.

For Willet Dura?

Well, you’ll have to take a look at The Shock Of Night for yourselves. 😉

You can also read what others participating in the tour for The Shock Of Night are saying (check marks link you to posts I’ve found):

Published in: on December 7, 2015 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 3


Marissa Shrock with First Principle.image The CSFF Blog Tour wraps up the September jaunt from one participating site to another, all focused on the debut novel by author Marissa Shrock entitled The First Principle. The story is a dystopian fantasy aimed at young adult (twelve to eighteen) readers.

It takes place in a future world after the Great Collapse and the Second Civil War. Because of the unrest in North America, the Council of World Peacekeepers stepped in and created the United Regions of North America, consisting of seven regions which incorporated what had been Canada, the US, and Mexico.

The protagonist is sixteen-year-old Vivica Wilkins, daughter of the governor of the Great Lakes Region.

And now, a closer look at this novel.

A Review

The Story. Vivica is part of the elite class, the ruling class, and as such enjoys privilege. In addition she’s bright, has mad hacking skills which she uses to create a little side business changing student grades, and just recently broke up with her boyfriend, Ben. Not her choice.

She wants to be over him, thinks she is, but can’t help noticing that he’s been hanging with Meredith Alderton—the very girl Officer Martina Ward from Population Management wants to talk to. Meredith refuses to go with her, so Officer Ward publicly accuses her of being pregnant, a crime which mandates termination under the Posterity Protection and Self-Determination Act.

When Meredith tries to run from the room, Officer Ward shoots her with a tranquilizer gun. The incident creates a stir among the students, and they press their history teacher to discuss the termination law, why it came into being, and why it still exists.

Days later, one of the students who protested the law the loudest has disappeared and the teacher has been fired.

Vivica’s mother is in line to be named the next President because the current President is about to retire. Shortly before the Governor’s Ball, Vivica discovers she’s pregnant. She doesn’t immediately tell her mother, and in fact covers up the fact by using her hacker skills when she’s called in for the mandatory pregnancy test.

Vivica, her mother, and their entourage travel to the Capitol where the announcement will be made that Governor Wilkins has been selected to succeed President Hernandez, but as she’s introduced to the crowd, an assassin opens fire. The President is killed and Vivica’s mother, wounded. Vivica herself is not hurt.

The Vice President assumes control of the government and declares the assassination to be the work of rebels—those throughout the United Regions who chafe against laws such as the one which mandates pregnancy vaccines, enforced pregnancy termination, and others which oppress people and keep the poor in their place.

Vivica is convinced that her old boyfriend, Ben, who gave her a copy of the illegal Bible, is a member of the rebels. She wants to warn him, but ends up telling him she is pregnant—and he is the father. He wants her to keep the baby. Vivica struggles to decide what to do. If she leaves and goes into hiding so she can have the baby, she will most likely destroy her mother’s chances of becoming President. And does she want to give up her life just when she might have a chance to influence more young people?

The decision seems to be made for her, however, when her mother calls her into her study and asks her if she’s pregnant. She tries to cover up the truth, but her mother knows somehow. And now Vivica is certain she wants to protect her unborn child.

Can she? That and many other intriguing twists and turns make up the bulk of the story. Telling you any more would certainly be to spoil it.

What Did I Think. The First Principle has much more action and intrigue than I expected. I wasn’t expecting people to die. It is a dystopian story, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Certainly the level of violence increased the stakes.

The world was believably futuristic, though I thought there were some places that could have used a bit more inventiveness. I thought in light of the retina scans, self-propelled vehicles and such, there would be further advances in things like music and make-up and air travel. There was appropriate slang terminology, and nothing distracting. In short, for the most part the world felt as if it was the kind of place our world could become, given the current trends.

Vivica and her friends acted remarkably like sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds. The author, Marissa Shrock, is a language arts middle school teacher, and her familiarity with teens shows. At times I would have liked to see the protagonist act out her emotions more. Generally we’re told how she feels. For example, her body guard is killed protecting her mother, but Viv shows very little grief despite the fact that this man was someone she clearly liked and was with every day.

The story was unpredictable and action packed. I didn’t know from one moment to the other what would happen. There was intrigue, romance, danger, betrayal, kindness, faith, courage—all on display through the twists and turns the plot took.

The themes about liberty and protecting new life and faith in Jesus Christ were naturally woven into the fabric of the story. These are powerful and thought-provoking especially in light of the SCOTUS ruling on same sex-marriage and the undercover Planned Parenthood videos.

All in all, The First Principle is a quality book. I’m so glad CSFF featured it this month. It was through their partnership with Kregel Publications that I received a review copy. I’m happy to say, unreservedly and without any agreement to write a review promoting it, I highly recommend this novel to teens and to parents of teens and to any readers who love dystopian stories.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out what the other participants in the tour have said.

CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 2


united-states-constitution-we-the-peopleThe First Principle by Marissa Shrock, this month’s CSFF feature, is a young adult novel, but its themes are quite adult.

In some ways, this is a warning, and in others it’s a recommendation. Warning: parents would be wise to discuss this book with younger teens. I taught 7th and 8th graders for years, and I know that as a group they are not naive. They’re aware of what’s happening in the world—movies and television almost insure that this is so.

But at the same time, they may not have thought through how their own life or the lives of those they care about might be affected by their choices. They might not have thought about what a loss of freedom of religion and freedom of speech would mean for their own lives. They might not have come to grips with what living under an autocratic government might mean.

In other words, this novel can serve as a wake up call, if parents choose to use it in this way by discussing some of the big issues the book raises. Younger readers would certainly benefit from the help of their parents as they process these themes.

Because the book does deal candidly with things like disobeying governmental laws that are wrong, adults can also benefit by reading this book and applying it to the circumstances in which we live today.

We saw so recently the flood of protest aimed at the Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis for allowing her religious beliefs to affect her compliance to a court order in regard to doing her job. Some Christians lined up with the general public to throw verbal stones at her, saying that the only way she could exercise her freedom of religion was to quit her job.

But The First Principle raises the question about complying with a law mandating abortion. Do people of faith have the freedom of their beliefs to resist such a law? And if those rights are trampled upon by the government, should Christians fight the government or comply?

In the novel, the underground movement, largely involving Christians, determines to lead a revolution. Is this where our religious beliefs should take us?

These are questions adults should think about, not just teens. Here’s a Prager University video entitled “Why We’re Losing Liberty” which gives more food for thought.

Of course, the ultimate arbiter of our actions should be God’s word and His Holy Spirit. In the case of Kim Davis and the court mandate to issue marriage licenses, including to homosexual applicants, Christians on both sides quoted Scripture which seemed to conflict, such as render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, on one hand, and we ought to obey God rather than man, on the other. How is a Christian to resolve what the Bible says when it seems to offer contradictory principles?

Then too, how do we reconcile our religious beliefs with government mandates that contradict those beliefs? In The First Principle, the word of God itself came under attack by the government and the belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life became branded as exclusivist and therefore hate speech.

Is this where America is headed? And how are Christians to respond?

Indeed, The First Principle raised issues that adults need to think about.

See what other members of the tour have to say about this book and the ideas it raises. You’ll find the list of participants and links to the articles I’ve read at the end of the Day 1 post.

CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 1


cover_TheFirstPrincipleThis month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring The First Principle by Marissa Shrock, a young adult novel produced by Kregel Publications.

Within the first few pages, it’s apparent that this book is another futuristic dystopian story, but there’s a twist. Instead of being in a group of outsiders, oppressed by the authoritative government, the protagonist, Vivica Wilkins, is the daughter of one of the ruling class. She’s been schooled in The Way Things Work, and knows what to expect. Why, then, is she bothered when Population Management tries to do their job?

This slim book (235 pages) packs a mighty punch, confronting relevant issues of our day. After all, seed for autocratic rule that makes a futuristic dystopian world possible, is sown decades before the fact.

Two things are clear from the start: only a state approved version of sacred texts is allowed, so Christians have to hide their Bibles and worship in secret; and birth is “managed” by the state, either through birth control, or in the event of a “problem,” through abortion.

Clearly, more than the seeds of the kind of state-controlled birth management revealed in the book are in place today. With Planned Parenthood receiving tax dollars to provide health services to women, including abortions, our government is already complicit in the deaths of millions of unborn babies.

Should our government now turn a blind eye to the selling of infant body parts, we will move further down the road of autocratic control, and ultimately of mandated abortion. So, yes, Marissa Shrock has exposed a pivotal and relevant issue, not simply in an imagined future world, but in our society today.

Other CSFF members participating in the blog tour for The First Principle include the following (check marks link to articles I’ve read):

Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Shane Werlinger

CSFF Blog Tour-Storm Siren, Day 3


Mary Weber's web site background pic

Steampunk, classic fantasy, superhero fantasy, a fantasy mash up; a slow start, a terrific plot, a surprising twist, a devastating ending—thoughts and opinions abound when it comes to Storm Siren by Mary Weber. And so they should. This book isn’t your run-of-the-mill fantasy or your ho-hum-been-there-done-that young adult novel.

My Review

The Story

Nym is unique—a female Elemental. Her power is over the weather, except it seems more like it’s over her since she can’t control the storms she calls up or the lightning strikes she detonates.

As a slave she also has no control over who owns her or what they’ll want her to do. Until Adora buys her. Now she has a choice—learn to use her powers to help the country of Faelen in their war against Bron, a nation with superior forces and weapons, or die for her crimes.

Choosing what seems to be the lesser of two evils, Nym enters into training with another Elemental. Soon she’s caught up in court intrigue and discovers those who surround her aren’t what they appear to be.

As her abilities progress, the need for her to use them to save Faelen grows urgent. But the question surfaces—is Faelen worth saving?

Now she has a choice to make again, and it’s complicated because of the feelings she’s developing—and struggling against—for her trainer, Eogan.

Strengths

I think the greatest strength of Storm Siren is Nym’s voice. She is brash and quirky, a bit unafraid, maybe a little fatalistic, but much of the attitude is a cover up for the fear she feels. Not fear for herself, but of herself. She knows she can wreak havoc and she doesn’t want to kill any more undeserving people.

Imagine her turmoil, then, when she’s bought to do just that to a whole army.

Another strength of this novel is the plot twists, the intrigue, the unexpected. It’s hard to know who to side with, what to hope Nym will do because her path is anything but clear.

Another strength is the way Ms. Weber weaves in the backstory through the use of a minstrel’s song, later repeated and expanded during one of Adora’s parties. I suspect much of the Christian worldview comes through in that song.

“The Monster and the Sea of Elisedd’s Sadness” tells the story of Faelen’s foolish king who made a deal with the devil—well, with a monster. In order secure a peace treaty, he agreed to kill the Elementals. Here’s the key section:

” ‘Twas the night compassion forsoooooook us.” He’s singing, referring to the night an agreement was struck between Faelen’s past king and the great, flesh-eating Draewulf. The price of which had been Faelen’s children. “And the big sea, she roared and spit up her foam at the shape-shifter’s trickery and our fooooooolish king.”

I swallow and feel my amusement over how much he’s enjoying himself catch in my throat at what I know comes next.

“The ocean, she’s begging for our salvation. Begging for blood that will set our children free.”

And for a moment I swear I can feel the sea waves calling, begging my blood to set us all free.

Salvation? Blood? Those are certainly Christian images, but Nym is no Christ figure. So how much of the Christian worldview is in this story? Hard to say. Of course, when I say “story” I mean then series in its entirety. At this point, I see hints and suggestions: a great evil that destroys and lies and possesses, one that has been invited in, not declared the enemy he actually is. A people robbed of their children who ought to be their hope and salvation. And blood needed to set them all free.

That’s pretty much the way the world looks to a Christian, but these elements of the Christian worldview operate in the background of the story—at least this first installment of the story. That’s also a strength, I think.

Weaknesses

The opening scene is captivating. Nym is intriguing, sassy—a female protagonist who appears to be strong minded though clearly something troubles her. From that point, however, the story slows down for reasons I addressed in my Day 2 post.

I’d like to see Nym take a more proactive approach to her life and situation. I would have been more emotionally invested in her plight, I think, if I’d seen her make plans and try to better her situation rather than accept whatever was thrown her way.

Recommendation

I cared about Nym, but from a distance. I thought the action and intrigue drove the story. I liked the romance and wanted Nym to learn to trust. I wanted her to learn control, too, and I wanted her to be a hero.

All in all, I think readers who like fantasy, who like superhero type stories, who appreciate a well crafted novel, will be fans of Mary Weber and the series Storm Siren kicks off. They’ll be especially happy to learn that book two, Siren’s Fury, releases in June. Now’s the time to get on board with the first in the series.

You might also be interested in connecting with Mary Weber on Facebook or at her web site where I’m sure you can learn where else she hangs out.

Published in: on April 15, 2015 at 7:06 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour-Storm Siren, Day 3  
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CSFF Blog Tour-Storm Siren, Day 2


cover_StormSirenOne good thing about a blog tour is that you get to compare what different readers think about the same book. This includes views about the writing, the story, the issues engendered, the genre, the characters, the pacing—whatever the bloggers wish to discuss.

A good tour also isn’t a rah-rah club. The participants will give genuine, honest reactions, so there will be positives and negatives. The current CSFF tour for Storm Siren by Mary Weber is no different. Here are some of the observations I’ve made half way through the tour.

First, I’d say there’s a consensus that this book is well written. There seems to be a split decision about the ending, however, and an equal mix concerning the level of darkness in the story. A fourth issue many participants in the tour mentioned was a dynamic opening scene followed by a slow section.

This pacing problem is one I’d like to address because I think it’s all too common and something I think is fairly easy to fix. Here’s how one CSFF blogger described the problem:

After an intense opening sequence, Storm Siren settled into a long, relatively quiet interval that built up the characters and their world, with all its dangers. The shift surprised me, but it didn’t dismay me. I’m not as hyped for action as some readers are; I like the building and the exploring. I like introspection, I love characters, and more to the point, I liked Mary Weber’s characters.

And yet I reached a point, reading this novel, where I was just waiting for something to change. (Shannon McDermott)

Others mentioned putting the book aside for a time or reaching a point where the pace picked up. The point is, there does seem to be bit of a lull. Some seemed to think this was a necessary aspect of the book—all the world-building and character-introduction pieces needed to be put in place.

I used to think that a natural lull was part of telling a story. After all, readers need to know who is who and where the characters are, what the places are like, and what’s at stake. While we’re learning all these things, it’s hard to keep the story moving forward.

But here’s the crux of the issue and why I believe the fix isn’t all that hard. All the world-building and character introduction can take as long as they need to with one proviso: the main character needs to have a goal to acquire what she needs or to fix the problem at issue. As long as she’s working toward something, readers will be patient as things unfold because they want to know if her plans succeed or not.

In Storm Siren, the story opens with the protagonist, a teenage girl named Nym, on the slave auction block. One thing that pops out is how feisty this girl is, how easily she reads what others are thinking, and even how much she wants to shield those weaker than she.

She’s interesting—a cross between a vulnerable young girl (she is a slave after all, and one who has been sold fourteen times in eleven years) and a strong, even cocky, resilient, nonchalant character who can handle anything, epitomized in this bit of internal monologue:

Eleven years of repeatedly being sold, and it’s sad, really, how familiar I’ve become with this conversation. Today, if Brea has her way, I will meet my fifteenth, which I suppose should actually bother me. But it doesn’t.

So there’s the issue: what is it that bothers Nym? Readers learn there are a few things, most notably her own anger which triggers uncontrollable destruction. But here’s the problem: Nym doesn’t have a plan to change or better her circumstances or to overcome the unfairness or escape. She’s not trying to enlist allies or work to improve her lot. Rather, she pretty much lets things happen. When things are bad, she toughs them out as best she can and when things are good, she proceeds with caution. But she doesn’t make any plan to overcome.

It’s this “go along” attitude, this lack of initiative, that reduces tension and thus slows the pace. As a reader I was not dragged forward by my desire to know if her plan would succeed because she didn’t have a plan and wasn’t working toward anything. Rather, things were, or were not, happening to her, or around her, or to her friends.

I found these things interesting, but I wasn’t emotionally invested until Nym had a goal and seized on something she believed she needed to do. At that point, the pace of the story picked up.

And now, I encourage you to read some of the excellent posts by CSFF Tour participants who are writing about Storm Siren. Steve Trower, who participates in the tour though he can seldom get books across the pond, wrote an especially funny post based on what he found out about the book on the Internet.

Chawna Schroeder, who is often a tough reviewer, wrote part 1 of her analysis and praised the craft by saying, “Storm Siren provides a phenomenal story with a strong driving plot and unpredictable characters.”

Joan Nienhuis looked at the various elements of the story and observed that there is more going on than winning a war between two countries: “The war is somewhat twofold. One aspect of it is for Nymia’s soul. Will she ever be healed of the pain and horror of what she did as a child?”

Good, thought-provoking reactions to Storm Siren. Be sure to see what others had to say in their posts. The list is at the bottom of the Day 1 post.