CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 3

DreamtreadersCover3So today is technically the day after the tour for Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson—I’m counting on a little grace, what with the computer issues I dealt with earlier this week (which mostly seem to be resolved. I’ve even been able to make the rounds and see what other participants are saying).

The consensus seems to be that this middle grade/young adult contemporary fantasy is first rate, an enjoyable story well suited to its target audience. I’ll admit, I’m a little surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion about dreams and their significance or the weightier themes the story touched upon. I personally think the meat in this story is one of its strengths. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Review

The Story. Archer Keaton is an apparently normal though conscientious student by day. By night he is a dreamtreader, one of three tasked to patrol the world of Dream, standing in opposition to the Nightmare Lord.

When a new boy comes to school in the last month of the school year, everything in Archer’s daily life changes. His best friend, Kara Windchil, seems smitten by Rigby Thames, but so do most of the rest of the students. Still, it smarts that Kara no longer sits with Archer on the bus or talks with him or texts him.

Things in Dream are not so great either. An increasing number of tears in the fabric separating Dream from the Temporal—the real, though temporal world, as opposed to the real, though eternal world of the hearafter—have begun to appear. What’s more, the other two dreamtreaders are missing.

And off the story goes.

Strengths. There’s much to like in Dream Treaders. For one, Wayne Batson has a wonderful ability to portray young teens truthfully and accurately. He does not treat his teens in a condescending way or write as an adult who is living through his characters or, with one exception, create teens based on how an adult expects teens to act. Rather, they seem to come alive and each is a unique individual. The quirks and foibles of one are completely different from those of the other characters.

The premise of this story is also fresh and interesting. Yes, as noted in an earlier post, there are dream stories or stories centered on the fight to control the mind, but this one takes a different approach and gives it some really strong elements—people capable of lucid dreaming, with the ability to think into being whatever they need, but also with rules they must follow if they are to avoid dire consequences.

The plot of this story is not particularly new, but it is well executed. It’s apparent from the beginning what Archer wants, and it’s easy to pull for him, to hope he succeeds, to worry when he makes a bad decision. The pace is fast but not dizzily so.

The theme is expertly woven throughout the story, not in a subtle way exactly, but naturally so that the important truths arise from the characters and not as an aside the authors tells the reader. And the truths are important. In yesterday’s post I dealt with the concept of an anchor—a thing that ties a lucid dreamer to reality. The point becomes clear that those in the real world also need anchors—solid, reliable constants to keep us from drifting away from truth. Coupled with the fight to overthrow the Nightmare Lord, there’s a lot of grist for the reader to digest.

Lastly, the worldbuilding in Dream Treaders is stellar—both that of Dream and of Dresden High. They seem like real places and are easy to visualize without having the action come to a stop while paragraphs of description paint the picture. Rather, Wayne Batson skillfully incorporates the details of setting with the events of the story.

Weaknesses. When I read the first chapter, I closed the book and realized I’d been entertained but didn’t really care. When I came back to the book and read chapter two, everything changed. The fact is, chapter one takes place in Dream and chapter to in the real world. Chapter one is immediate action; chapter two shows the main character in relationship with others. In short, once I got to know the character, I cared.

I don’t know if switching the order of the chapters would work or not. I do know, for me as a reader, getting to know the character was like throwing a switch from not engaged to engaged and caring.

There was one character, though, I think Wayne Batson missed—Archer’s brother Buster who supposedly was in love with all things Best Coast (though I think he called it West Coast 😉 or maybe even California). The problem was, he used slang that was fashionable in the 1980s or ’90s at best. I (living on the West Coast) haven’t heard a lot of those slang terms he used for a generation. His character, in other words, seemed forced and artificial—an adult’s idea, gleaned from old TV shows, most likely, of what a kid in California must be like. Fortunately, Buster had a very small role, and most people not living on the West Coast may not even notice the weirdness of his portrayal.

Recommendation. I think Dream Treaders is a triple (with nobody out) if not a home run. It’s a great book for middle grade boys, a reading group that is highly under served, in my opinion. I applaud Wayne Batson for such a wonderful story (and Thomas Nelson for publishing it). I think this one is a MUST READ for the target audience. I think readers of all kinds will enjoy it.

CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 2

DreamtreadersCover3Yes, I’m running a day behind the blog tour. For whatever reason, I’ve been having trouble posting. First it appeared to be a problem with my server . . . or possibly with my computer. But today everything seems to be working except for my access to WordPress. Well, I can open WP blogs just fine, but it’s connecting to the back end where you write and edit posts that I’m having trouble with. But at least today I can put up an article. Which may or may not be good, depending on what you think of what I have to say. 😉

And what I have to say today has to do with Dream Treaders, the middle grade/young adult contemporary fantasy by Wayne Thomas Batson. I want to pick up on one of the concepts rising from this story about a young boy put in charge of a territory in the world of Dream. Archer Keaton’s primary responsibility, at least now, is to patch the breaches in the fabric between the temporal world and Dream.

The danger, readers come to understand, is that people in the Temporal will lose the ability to tell what is real and what is a dream—or nightmare. One other important point: the person who seems to be behind these breaches and the potential rifts that will allow Dream to break through into the Temporal, is the Nightmare Lord.

Now it’s clear that the Nightmare Lord himself has someone else he answers to, so there is no effort on Wayne Batson’s part to create an allegory. And yet, by painting an evil antagonist, there are necessary parallels to the true adversary of the human heart—the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.

Except, in this instance, the Nightmare Lord seems more closely related to another name for Satan—the Father of Lies. I couldn’t help but think how the false ideas prevalent in society and in the church stem from the great liar and render it harder and harder for people to discern what is true. That’s what lies do—they mask the truth.

In Dream Treaders, this confusion between what is and what is false is depicted by this threat that Dream and the Temporal will merge so that people will be confused and will think something is happening that is nothing but a dream.

As I see it, that picture properly reveals the confusion of our day. How is it that our good and perfect God is accused of being a wrathful tyrant—by people who claim to be Christians, no less? How is it that the Bible, God’s holy word, is looked down upon as a box which people try to paint around God and in which they want to keep Him?

How is it that a manuscript depicting a young man’s wedding vow to care for and protect his soon-to-be wife can be considered misogynist by an editor (true story)? How is it that abortion, ending the life of a fetus, is considered good in society because it preserves the right of a woman to control her own body, but killing an endangered frog is criminal?

The point is, in my life time, I’ve seen green become red and red become blue. When I was in middle school, a college psychology textbook listed homosexuality as deviant behavior. Today an athlete who reacted with shock at a man kissing his male partner when he received news that he’d been drafted into the NFL, was immediately reprimanded and slated for “sensitivity training.” The individual who thought the homosexual behavior repellent is now the one considered deviant.

Something has happened in the last twenty, thirty, forty years—a ripping of the fabric separating what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false.

Consequently, I find the Dream Treader quotable quote, which Wayne Batson is so good at creating, to be so important: “Anchor first; anchor deep.” In the world of Dream the dreamtreaders needed to anchor before they did anything else so that they could find the way back to the real, waking world. But Archer learned those in living in the real world also needed anchors.

This is not merely a story truth. This is a truth for all people in all times. It actually reminds me of an old gospel song, “The Solid Rock” by Ruth C. Jones:

In times like these, we need a Savior
In times like these, we need an anchor
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock

This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the one
This Rock is Jesus, The only One
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock

So, yes, anchor first and anchor deep, my friends. 😀

– – – – –

You might also want to read what Wayne Batson himself had to say about this book and other matters. He kindly agreed to interviews for the tour and you can find one with Shannon McDermott and another with Jeff Chapman.

CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 1

csffbannerThe CSFF May/June feature is Dream Treaders, a “tweener” book (between middle grade and young adult) by Wayne Thomas Batson. I’ve been trying to think how I can describe this book or what topics it brings to mind about which I could post. The truth is, the premise behind this novel seems quite unique, and the thoughts it inspires aren’t necessarily reflective of the book.

The closest thing I’ve read to this kind of story is Soul’s Gate by James Rubert, but again that comparison could be misleading. On the other hand, what Dream Treaders makes me think of is spiritual warfare, but it’s not an angel-versus-demon book.

So what is Dream Treaders about? I guess you’d say, it’s a fight for the mind, but not in the traditional sense. Not that Soul’s Gate is a traditional fight for the mind either, but Dream Treader isn’t the fight for the mind, one person at a time. It’s got a greater scope, I guess you’d say.

But I’ll give my review later in the blog tour.

For today, I’d like to think a bit more about this issue of fighting for the mind. In reality, I think the fight for the mind is the real spiritual warfare. Yes, there might be demons and angels involved—Daniel learned that demonic activity interfered with a timely answer to his prayer, so there is spiritual battle going on in the heavenlies, including activity that affects humans. However, that kind of warfare is not something most of us observe. Elijah apparently did, but he’s the exception.

The battles that we can and should be aware of are those for our mind and heart. Eve, when Satan confronted her in the guise of a serpent, was in a spiritual battle. At stake was what she would believe about reality—God’s version (if you eat of the tree, you’ll die) or Satan’s version (you surely shall not die).

Of course there’s also the matter of the heart—not just what I believe to be true but what I care about most. This, I tend to think, was the issue Adam faced. He knew what God had said. Satan was not fooling him in the least. But he still chose to eat from that tree. Why would he do such a thing?

Might it have been because he loved Eve so much he couldn’t imagine living if she had to die? If that were the case, he was essentially loving Eve more than he loved God. He was also doubting God’s ability or willingness to care for him. Unlike Abraham generations later, Adam couldn’t imagine a way that God could make this situation better. He couldn’t grasp the idea that God could redeem Eve and restore her to Adam.

Of course there’s also the possibility Adam wasn’t choosing Eve over God. He might have been choosing his own curiosity over God—perhaps he did, in fact, want see what it would be like to taste the forbidden fruit. Or perhaps he wasn’t content any more to be so compliant. Maybe he decided he did want to be more like God than he already was.

Whatever the case, it seems clear that Adam knowingly chose to disregard God’s clear direction because something else mattered to him more than God did.

The battle Adam and Eve waged with Satan is essentially the battle we all have had to wage ever since—every day, every hour, every minute: Will I believe what God has said and will I choose to do what I know He wants?

To some degree this is the battle that’s being played out in Dream Treaders, both in the contemporary world and in the Dream. Wayne Batson, of course, never points to this parallel. Rather, readers are left to think through the issues themselves. And that’s as it should be.

See what other participants in the tour are saying about the book, the story, and the meaning behind it. (Because I’ve been having computer issues, I may or may not be able to post specific article updates.)

It Takes Work

No one likes to talk about it when they’re starting out, but it’s true — relationships take work. Friendships, business associations, marriages, sibling or any other familial connections, neighbors, and more — if the bond is to become strong, then the people involved need to work at getting along.

Perhaps the first and most important part of this work consists of getting to know the other person.

This is no less true for Christians getting to know the God with whom we’ve entered into relationship. Yes, relationship. One of the descriptions used a generation or so ago of someone redeemed by Christ’s blood was that he had a personal relationship with Jesus. That’s accurate, though coming to Christ might best be understood as meeting God. How strong the relationship, how deep the friendship, seems to depend on what happens next.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you,” James says. But how, precisely, are we who are mortal and finite to engage the immortal and infinite? We couldn’t apart from His initiation of the relationship. For one thing, He’s revealed Himself in the world and in His word. We can go looking for Him in both.

Recently author friend Wayne Thomas Batson started a series of blog posts about knowing God. He’s making his way through the book of Matthew and one of the things he’s asking is, What do I learn about God from this passage?

It’s a great question, a great way to read Scripture, and a great way to learn more about God. Reading Wayne’s posts brought to mind a variety of ways I’ve approached Bible study. By far my best experiences have been studies without the filter of some other teacher or writer. Don’t misunderstand. I’ve done studies, and benefited from them, designed by a Bible teacher. But the ones that have impacted me most were the ones similar to what Wayne is doing.

The first one I did was when I was just starting out as a teacher. I got involved in a small group Bible study in my church, and we did a study of Romans, I think. It was unusual, to me. We had to commit to regular attendance, as I recall, and the structure of the study was to outline ahead of time the passage we’d be looking at. Outline! Fortunately I’d had a high school teacher who had been a stickler for outlining, so I didn’t shy away from it. And what I found was connection. I started seeing how one verse related to another, one thought illustrated a larger concept, how the parts all fit into the whole.

The key, though, was that we were to formulate an application based on our study, and that was to become the thing we asked the group to pray for us that week. Effective! So much so that when I went on a three-year short term mission, I ended up finding a small group willing to try the same study approach with the book of 2 Corinthians.

When I returned to the US, I initiated a Bible study with my class (I taught in a Christian school and the subject was Bible!) using a different method similar to what Wayne is doing. We studied three or four verses a week, first paraphrasing them, then answering five different questions, and finally making a personal application. The questions were (1) what do these verses teach me about God, (2) what sin do these verses show or teach me to avoid, (3) what command am I to obey, (4) what example am I to follow, (5) what promises do these verses give me to claim.

At some point, when I was having a hard time connecting with the Psalms, I decided to take the first question and write down in list form what each Psalm taught me about God.

Later there was a Bible study method a former principal had given us teachers which I found helpful, in particular as I prepared lessons for my high school Bible class.

The point is, there are lots of different ways of studying the Bible, but one thing I found to be true about them all. Well, two things. One, they took work. Two, I drew closer to God.

How can we not, if we spend significant time in Scripture?

In our relationships with other people, as we spend time with them we get to know facts about them — where they went to school, where they were born, what flavor ice cream they like, and so on. We also get to know their character — are they honest, do they gossip, are they funny. And we get to know their dreams and desires — what do they hope to do or become.

We can learn all those same things about God from what He’s told us about Himself in the Bible. Sure, He doesn’t give us His favorite color or food — probably because He likes them all equally, seeing as how He made them all — but He does tell us what He loves, what He’s passionate about, what He wants to see happen, what His character is like, what He’s done in the past, what He’s planning to do in the future.

Some things He comes right out and says (e.g., God is love) and some things He illustrates. Some things we have to deduce. (e.g., God created the universe, therefore God is creative).

The point is, God is a person, and as in any other relationship, if it is to grow, if it is to become strong, it takes work — a lifetime of work. That’s OK, because when we draw near to God, He draws near to us, and that makes it worthwhile.

Published in: on April 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm  Comments (3)  
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Celebrity Influence

Today at Spec Faith I wrote a post about the “It Factor” — the something that some books seem to have that separates them from the crowd.

One of those is what I called “The Celebrity Factor,” by which I meant some writers by virtue of their name sell books. Marketing may call this “branding” — readers aren’t so much buying a book as they are buying the author.

Once musicians did the same thing, which is why they sold “the best of” albums and eventually CDs. Fans didn’t really care that they were simply buying a re-packaging of music they already owned. If the artist they followed put it out, they bought it.

Several people who commented on my Spec Faith post, however, looked at “The Celebrity Factor” in broader terms than just the celebrity standing of the author. They correctly identified the importance of celebrity influencers. One person mentioned how Oprah’s recommendation could sway people. This (from Facebook) is so good, you have to read it:

It could be old hat, new hat, or controversial & it will sell if any known person backs it. Oprah is the perfect example. If she promoted potato sack dresses with corn-on-the-cob belts, they’d be flying off the shelves tomorrow.

😆 I laughed at that one because I think she’s absolutely right. Personal taste would go out the window if a respected celebrity gives approval. Rather than wondering what happened to Oprah’s good sense, people would line up to get whatever it is she said is great.

The point is, it would become great because the influential celebrity said it was great.

I know I’m influenced by names I recognize and respect. My first awareness of Wayne Thomas Batson and his writing, for example, came one December when I was shopping in (the now defunct) Borders for Christmas presents. Right next to a new Cornelia Funk fantasy was this beautiful hardback book with the most intriguing cover. When I opened it, on the flyleaf was an endorsement by Josh McDowell. That’s when I realized the book was written, most likely, from a Christian worldview, and that’s when I knew I wanted to read that book.

The endorsement essentially sold me. I didn’t know anything about this Wayne Thomas Batson character ( 😉 ), but Josh McDowell I’d read. I knew what he stood for.

Interestingly, today on Facebook, author D. Barkley Briggs asked me to spread the word about a poll he is running (for the title of book 4 in his Legends of Karac Tor series) to my “network of fantasy friends.” After he clarified that he did indeed believe the friends are real, not make-believe, ( 😉 ) I got to thinking a bit more about the idea of finding the talkers.

I’d read about it before in Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing: part of the strategy to get people talking is to identify the talkers — the people who know people and who will talk about your product.

I am certainly no Oprah, but Dean knows of my connection to the CSFF Blog Tour and to Spec Faith. In other words, he recognized that I could be one voice reaching out to his target audience. I then become one of his talkers.

The problem that I see with this “celebrity influence” is multifaceted. For one thing, in an area like Christian fantasy that is just developing legs, who are the celebrities? Wayne Batson went outside the genre to acquire his influencer, and that might be the way to go.

But there’s also the problem of access. There simply aren’t enough celebrities to go around, and the ones that exist are undoubtedly bombarded with requests. Many writers — not even of the celebrity category — have decided they must adopt a “no endorsements” rule because they receive so many requests. A few reserve their endorsements for personal friends. Which brings us back to the access issue. How does a beginning writer become the personal friend of a celebrity writer? Or a celebrity anything?

It feels a lot like the conundrums I faced as a young adult. In looking for my first teaching job, I was asked for my teaching experience … In applying for a credit card (in the days before they were handed out like candy at Halloween), I was asked for my credit history …

Here are a few closing thoughts on the subject. When writing about all the people who would line up to buy an Oprah-endorsed potato sack, I was reminded that “all we like sheep have gone astray.” How like sheep we are!

Regarding celebrity endorsements, I think how much better it is to have the King’s approval — the eternal King who knows the beginning from the end, who loves me and has my good at heart. With Him, I have no access problem. And I can be confident that He’ll see to it my writing will end up where He wants it.

– – – – –

Don’t forget to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll — it will remain open for four more days.

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 3

My turn. I’ve spent a good part of the day reading other blog posts from CSFF tour participants, and now I get to say what I think. One of the cool things about the tour, though, is that as I read what other people are saying, my thoughts crystallize a bit more. And I have to say, they needed some crystallizing.

I recently read (on an agent’s blog, I think, but don’t quote me on that) the best way to evaluate a book is to see if it accomplished what it set out to accomplish. That made sense to me. As a guide, it helps me give an assessment of a book that goes beyond, Well, I liked it (or not)! Which brings me to my review of Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper (Thomas Nelson).

The Story. This second in the Berinfell Prophecies continues the story where Curse of the Spider King ended. The young elven lords, three teenage girls and four teenage boys, newly arrived from earth, must train in the history, culture, fighting techniques, and use of their individual powers. But most importantly, they must learn to work together, which is where their true strength lies.

Clearly, they will need all the strength available to them because the plan is to take the battle to the Spider King. The time is right, the prophecies give every indication that victory is at hand. And yet, there will be a cost.

Strengths. The greatest aspect of this book, I think, is its appeal to the target audience (see yesterday’s post for a more detailed analysis of this point). The authors “get” young teens and late pre-teens. They understand how they think, and the story will resonate with those readers.

There are also important themes woven into the story, the greatest being the need to work in unity as opposed to disharmony (see Monday’s post for further discussion of this point)—the greatest theme, but by no means the only one. The story also shows the need to accept one’s gifts (abilities) and work to grow them for the good of others. There are examples of sacrificial love, submitting to those who are wiser and more experienced or to those in authority, depending on God, and not underestimating someone based on appearance. In fact, the falsity of the outward appearance is a recurrent theme first introduced in Curse of the Spider King.

Beyond these important lessons—all good things for teens to learn—the story is fast paced and unpredictable. There’s not really a point when I felt like I knew for sure what was coming next. About the time I thought I saw which way the story was going, it changed. Not in a random way, however. The surprises were, for the most part, set up well.

The imaginative elements were another strength. There were cool hidden rooms with old parchment and wicked birds that turned out to be good. There were amazing capturing devices and some impressive natural powder used for offense. There were some hideous baddies and a bear of an ally (who reminded me of three-headed Fluffy). Lots and lots more. A room that was booby-trapped. A betrayer that betrayed more than once. You name it—from places to powers, the imaginative elements were impressive.

Weaknesses. I’m pretty sure that what I consider to be weaknesses, the target-age reader won’t even notice. But I tend to think these things might be the difference between Venom and Song being a well-liked book versus a well-loved book.

Others have mentioned the omniscient point of view and the many characters. These two factors keep readers at a distance. This may work for teens. And yet, I would like to see the reader drawn in closer so that when danger comes, when tragedy strikes, there’s an emotional response, not just an adrenaline rush.

In addition, this story felt big and yet it went by so fast, it didn’t go down deep. Some things were introduced that showed great potential, then faded away to insignificance. (I. E. how did the seven lords continue on their way when the gnomes had burned their boots? Were they so toughened by their training that it wasn’t an issue—apart from the initial pain they experience upon waking? That’s a tiny example. I’d rather see the point omitted altogether rather than introduced and go nowhere).

My guess is the writing and editing was fast because of deadlines. Consequently there was an abundance of telling. At times I felt like I was reading a screenplay with the action delivered via exposition rather than carefully sculpted for the reader to experience along with the characters.

There were some bobbles, too, such as Jimmy going down the zip line twice.

But will the readers to whom the story is aimed notice these things? I doubt it very much. If they do, they’ll tuck it away and keep on going because they’ll want to keep up with the break-neck pace.

Recommendation. For “tweeners”—young people between the ages of twelve and fourteen—this is a great story. Some middle graders as young as ten may also enjoy the book, though there is considerable violence, none of which is graphic. Parents should read this with their children, and as Jason Joyner discussed on day one of the tour, perhaps they should read it out loud as a family.

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

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 2

I may have mentioned that Venom and Song by Wayne Batson and Christopher Hopper (Thomas Nelson) is a young adult fantasy, but apparently Amazon has it listed as a middle grade novel. Neither is quite accurate. A better description, though book stores don’t have a section labeled in this way, is a “tweener” book—not middle grade, not young adult.

Since I taught “tweeners” (ages twelve to fourteen) for years, I am somewhat familiar with that audience. In fact, when I first started writing, I wanted to create stories for this group that was, at the time, overlooked. Consequently, I’m happy that Wayne and Christopher, along with a handful of other Christian fantasy writers, have stepped up to meet the challenge.

Here are some reasons why I think the Berinfell Prophecies, of which Venom and Song is book 2, give tweeners what they’re looking for.

Tweener humor. This is slightly different than regular humor. A part of the requisite elements is bodily functions, and Venom and Song provides just the right touch with the little problem the gnome king has. 😳

A distant perspective. Tweeners are self-conscious and consequently not at the “getting in touch with yourself” stage. Above all, they want to feel normal (though most don’t) and fit in. The omniscient perspective in which Venom and Song is written allows for some distance—some non-threatening distance that I think the target audience may prefer.

Fast pace. In response to one reviewer, Wayne used the term “high energy” about his co-author. I think the term fits Venom and Song like a pair of Spandex biker shorts. 😆 From the first page, the story is action oriented. Danger, intrigue, and betrayal alternate with near-death experiences. Nothing slow or meandering about this one.

Tweener themes. The story has well-crafted themes that tweeners won’t miss but also won’t reject because of a strong-handed delivery. I suspect instead, many will see themselves in at least one of the characters—the unloved son, the bully who lashes out because of his anger, the pushed-to-perform daughter, the girl who doesn’t fit in, the nerd, the jock, the perfect student.

Each of these true-to-life personas was established in book 1 of the series, Curse of the Spider King. Now in book 2, the characters find the assumptions upon which they constructed their paradigm for living no longer hold true. In fact, maybe they never did.

Was Kat ever ugly because she was different? She thought so, but now she finds it isn’t true. Was it ever true? Was Kiri Lee’s worth only in the applause she received for her performance? Was Jimmy’s life ever worthless because he didn’t receive the love at home he so desperately craved? On and on the story takes the teens who will identify with these types of struggles and questions.

I suspect there are factors I’m leaving out, but I’m quite confident the elements I’ve named make this a very appealing book to tweeners.

Lots of buzz on the CSFF tour about the book. You won’t want to miss the excellent interview Amy Browning has with Wayne or John Otte‘s confession leading to an analysis of Christian fiction. Jason Joyner has some heartfelt words about reading the book aloud to his sons, and Jeff Chapman once again has some worthwhile analysis of the book.

These are just a few of the highlights. Any number of reviews are available, and it’s through the accumulation of comments, I think, that you can get a real feel for how readers are receiving this book.

Take time to check out the check marks in the list at the end of yesterday’s post. Each one is a link to a specific tour article.

CSFF Blog Tour – Venom And Song, Day 1

This week the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour is featuring Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper.

Unfortunately, I’ve been late on this one—late and hasty. So here are my errors. After telling co-author Christopher that I would correct the errant link to his blog, I forgot, so most of the tour participants are posting an old link (there’s no /blog after the .com).

I also sent out the notices to our members late in the week, so some didn’t notify me in time to have their links included on everyone’s list. Then there is our month-old member Sarah whose link I mangled last month … and failed to correct on the list I sent out. 😳

Confession, they say, is good for the soul, and I’m hoping it’s good for the CSFF blog tour so visitors interested in learning what bloggers are saying about Venom and Song can find what they’re looking for.

As per my usual pattern, I’ll be discussing aspects of the book or its content today and tomorrow, then give my review on Wednesday.

The most striking theme, to me, in this YA fantasy is unity in diversity.

This second installment in the Berinfell Prophecies features seven main characters. Seven. Seven different teens. One is a jock, another a musician. There’s a bully and a kid who never succeeded in anything. You get the drift. Each is unique.

Upon reaching their teen years, however, each develops an equally unique magical gift. But as they discover their place in the fantasy world to which they go, these seven teens learn they must work together to accomplish what they need to do.

It’s a wonderful point, one made clear through the plot elements. I couldn’t help but think a lot of adults need to read a book such as this to learn about working together rather than pulling apart.

God gave Christ’s followers very specific commands—love our neighbor, love our brother, love our enemy, to “malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”

Here’s the contrast:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

– Titus 3:9-11

Somehow, no matter how clear the Bible is, this point doesn’t seem to get home. A handful of professing believers assume the mantel of purity police. I read a post today (not from anyone in CSFF, I assure you) who began by decrying the evils of Narnia and C. S. Lewis as a heretic.

Certainly, while I believe readers must be discerning, must think about and evaluate the books we read, there’s a point of foolishness and a way of speaking about others that becomes divisive.

May the Berinfell Prophecies teach young adults and adults alike that being different doesn’t have to mean being divisive.

See what others on the tour are saying about Venom and Song:

Fantasy Friday – Bits and Pieces

I decided it would make sense to let readers know a little more about the Clive Staples Award nominations. After all, of the nineteen books, I’ve only read nine so far, and I consider myself knowledgeable of the genre. Not as knowledgeable as prolific readers and reviewers like Phyllis Wheeler or John Otte, but still, more so than the average person. And I haven’t yet read half the selections! 😕

The upshot is, I’ve begun posting a series over at the CSACSF site introducing the nominated books. I suggest you subscribe to CSACSF so that you’ll be sure to receive each of the posts.

And speaking of awards, Amy of My Friend Amy’s blog and a group of her blogger buddies have started a new award for excellent faith-driven lit. The cool thing is, there’s a Speculative category. And nominations come from bloggers.

The only thing I’m not crazy about is the fact that the books that are eligible span the last half of 2009 and the first of 2010. I’ll have to go on Amazon and track down publication dates before I can nominate, but I definitely plan to do so.

By the way, the organizers are looking for judges (not just in the Speculative category) so if any of you are interested, be sure to click on the above link and you’ll find instructions in the post.

If like me, you missed the live feed of the Christy Awards, you can still see them. Also, Jill Williamson now has the Christy Award Winner decal affixed to her cover. You can also see Marcher Lord Press editor Jeff Gerke’s very home video of the moment when By Darkness Hid was announced as the winning entry. 😀 (You think he was a mite excited?)

There are some excellent books coming out this summer or fall. If you haven’t heard yet, CSFF member, crit group leader, Mount Hermon Writer of the Year winner, and friend, Merrie Destefano is prepping for the October release of her debut novel Afterlife (HarperCollins/Eos). Take a moment to view the intriguing trailer.

Writer friends and CSFF members Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper had the second of the Berinfell Prophecies, Venom and Song, release a little over a week ago. I missed the ordering blitz this time, but I’m sure it’s quite fine to still get a copy. 😉

Jonathan Rogers of The Wilderking Trilogy fame will be releasing The Charlatan’s Boy (WaterBrook) in August.

I know there are more, but I need to save those for another day. Besides, I think this gives you enough info to check out, even on a long holiday weekend.

Happy Fourth of July, US’ers.

CSFF Blog Tour – Curse of the Spider King, Day 3

Review, Part 2 of Curse of the Spider King by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper.

More Strengths. I wanted to mention a couple other things I really enjoyed about this book—primarily things important to writers and less so to readers.

First, I thought Wayne and Christopher created an incredible mood through their writing, evoking tangible creepiness, even fear. Some of this was accomplished by creating such diabolical creatures as Wisps, so that even “friends” couldn’t be trusted completely.

Another means of creating this mood was through brilliant foreshadowing. How many times did a character nonchalantly brush aside a spider web or did a window crack spider-web across the pane? How could a reader not anticipate the presence of creeping evil, given such hints and suggestions?

A second thing I really liked was the hand-copied history book that showed scenes to a select few, as if the readers were actually there. I thought this device was a brilliant way to insert flashbacks. It gave a feel of mystery and magic, made the backstory interesting, even exciting, and promised more of the same as the story moved the protagonists toward the fantasy world.

Weaknesses. There aren’t many, in my opinion, and the ones I noticed were again something another writer might think about but would probably not stand out to the average reader.

The first problem—and it was a problem for me at first—was the host of characters. One of my pet peeves is books that have so many point-of-view characters, the reader has no one to root for. I was feeling similarly peevish at the beginning of Curse until I realized what tied all the young people together. From that point on, I cheered for the group—or actually for any particular individual who was a member of that group.

Still, I easily mixed the characters up. I did not wish to slow my reading at the beginning of a point of view switch to consult the chart at the beginning of the book that tells who everyone is. Within a page or two I was back into the new character’s world … until the characters came together. Then my confusion was more noticeable and costly.

This “many characters” mix-up was exacerbated by the fact that a number of the names were similar—Tommy and Johnny and Jimmy and Jett, Kat and Kiri Lee. Autumn was the only one with a name that easily identified her.

A second weakness, from my perspective, was the first chapter, which was actually a prologue. The action occurs in the fantasy world, but the authors missed a chance to anchor the readers by clearly revealing the elfin connection. Here’s the opening:

Concealed in a grove of alder trees, two cloaked figures waited, their whispered voices lost in the soft rustle of wind-stirred leaves.

“Commander. I had forgotten how brilliant the moon is.”

“I know, Brynn,” the burly warrior replied, absently rubbing a whitish furrow on his cheek, one of many scars on his face and neck. “Since we are allowed only rare views … I, too, drink it in.” He sighed.

“How many hundreds of years since we could gaze our fill?”

Clearly this scene is occurring in the fantasy world, but why hide the fact that these are elves? That point, along with the fact that I only learned two paragraphs later Brynn was female, and that the whole conversation smacked of a “As you know, Bob” exchange for the sake of the readers, not the characters, made this opening irritating.

I didn’t know these people, didn’t understand what they were doing or why, didn’t believe the story was about them because chapter two created a completely different world, so I felt those opening pages were superfluous. Actually, I still think so. At any rate, I didn’t retain anything in those first pages. For me, the story started with chapter 2.

Recommendation. There were a couple other writerly things like the last point, but from the moment I accepted the seven protagonists as a collective, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. It was fast paced without feeling reckless. The characters were well-developed and interesting. I felt for each one of them, in different ways.

For young adult readers who enjoy fantasy, this is a Must Read. For other fantasy lovers, I highly recommend Curse of the Spider King. For readers who want a good adventure story, I highly recommend this book as well. In other words, you’ll be richer for having read the book.

Don’t forget to take a look at what other blog participants are saying. John Otte has some divergents view from mine, so you might want to see what he’s saying.