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Christian fantasy romance review: Dauntless by Dina Sleiman

DauntlessEarly quibbles: I signed up to review this book because it looked like a fantasy or at least a “Robin Hood” type of story. It is a Robin Hood-type of story, but mainly it’s a romance. I was afraid of that. Huge portions of a book which could have been so much more are spent with “OMG, where are these feelings coming from?” “Nope, I can’t do it. It’s too risky.” “I don’t trust him or her.” “Am I evil or sinful?” “Why am I feeling this spark and compelling attraction?” The last question has an easy answer, “They are fleshly feelings which have little to do with what the Lord wants to do in your life.” But then I’m very strange. I knew my wife well as a friend and close fellow traveler of the narrow way. I settled who the Lord wanted me to marry well before I asked her, and before feelings got in the way. [Yea, I know. Weird!!!]

There is a good story hidden behind the romance

And, the romance was fun—if you could disregard the angst of teenage love/lust/confusion. It is extremely predictable, but thankfully all the many twists are resolved to the good by the end of the book. I hate books which punch me in the gut. This one is often tense, regularly grabbing me with concern for the good guys and fear of the bad guys.

About the cover:

I don’t like the cover at all, for many reasons. It’s pretty, but does not really have anything to do with the story. The tale’s about an outlaw leader and a lesser noble with no station dealing with the trouble, danger, and shear nastiness of medieval England at the time of the emergence of the Magna Carta. All of these compelling issues are overwhelmed by the romance.

As usual, the woman I visualized in the book has nothing to do with the image on the cover. I wish authors could realize that the internal images developed while reading a book are much better than a supplied face on any cover (other than in a biography or non-fiction history book). This story is about a wonderful, strong, gifted, female leader. The archer part is but a very small portion of who she is. The level of makeup is far beyond the reality of the story. And the cleanliness of the woman merely makes me laugh. It’s as bad as the characters found in a 1950s Western.

The male lead is not even hinted on the cover. He is largely a very confused boy driven by the flesh with his desires for position, fame, power, grief avoidance, and the list goes on. It turns out good in the end. But the distaste I developed for him in the first two thirds of the book hadn’t left my mind by the time he actually turns into a likable, solid person. He never makes it (in my mind) to trustworthy.

Malene Thyssen, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Malene

Malene Thyssen, Wikimedia

The vacuous, unrealistic white space by Merry’s head in the cover should be dark leaves. A forest is dark—especially old-growth forests like these. It is glorious, beautiful, and inviting to those who know forests and Merry certainly does. The image to the left would work better and help the typography.

The rest of the world Dina built has similar issues. The culture, architecture, customs, geography, and all the rest are given short shrift in this book, and it hurts the story.

Will you love the book?

Probably. This is entertainment. It really is a very good tale about admirable people in very difficult circumstances. I’ll give it four stars, but as a fantasy two stars. Sadly, it’s CBA friendly—translated a clean read with little or no spiritual content of any importance.

Spiritual level: mainline PC

It is Christian, but it’s not really the core of the story. It will offend no one, meaning it’s not edifying or helpful spiritually. Thank God, it’s at least on the Kingdom side of things. But much of the Christian living shown is not believable, and none of it is about the realities of walking in the Spirit in the midst of an antagonistic, heathen world run by the Enemy.

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Christian thriller book review: Sky Zone: A Novel from the Crittendon Files by Creston Mapes

This is a fun read. It’s a typical thriller with some very good Christian twists. Here’s the blurb:

A rally for a controversial presidential candidate.
A terrorist threat.
A nightmare of cataclysmic proportions. 

Jack and Pamela Crittendon have hit the breaking point. After months out of work as a reporter, Jack is playing Mr. Mom and working part-time at Festival Arena with his survivalist friend Brian Shakespeare. Meanwhile, Pamela has gone back to work full-time while eight months pregnant. Having her recently widowed mother on hand isn’t making matters any easier.

With financial pressures boiling, Jack reports for duty at a rally for controversial presidential candidate Martin Sterling where he expects a mindless night on the job. But when Homeland Security picks up intel about a potential terrorist threat, Jack and Shakespeare are thrust into a life-or-death battle to save their own lives–and the lives of thousands of innocent people.

This third book in The Crittendon Files reminds us of the power of family, friendships and faith–and why we are never in as much control as we think.

Sky ZoneThis book will not change your life, but it’s definitely a step up for most current traditionally published Christian fiction.

This is merely entertainment

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s expensive fluff. It’s positive, clean, and on the edge of boring. Creston is a good writer, but it’s like hoping to see something really good on TV or in the movies. It’s all aggressively heathen or pablum, in most cases. At least this is a good clean read.

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#christianepicfantasy book review: The King’s Scrolls, Book #2 of the Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight

The King's ScrollsThis is the second book in what is supposed to be a five-book series called The Ilyon Chronicles. I really dislike waiting for series to be complete. But…

It’s as good as I hoped!

Here’s the blurb from the Amazon page:

“Following the harrowing events that brought them to Landale Forest, Jace and Kyrin have settled comfortably into their new lives and the mission of protecting those under the emperor’s persecution. The fast approach of winter brings with it the anticipation of a quiet few months ahead. That is until the arrival of four mysterious, dragon-riding cretes who seek aid in a mission of great importance—not only to their own people, but to all followers of Elôm.

Hidden in the vast mining valley north of Valcré, a faithful crete has spent years sharing his knowledge with the destitute miners and their families and is known to possess what may be Arcacia’s last surviving copies of the King’s Scrolls—the Word of Elôm. Joining the cretes, those in Landale must find the crete teacher and bring him to safety, but it is a race against time. Should Daican’s men find him first, execution and the destruction of the Scrolls is certain.

When disaster strikes, all seems lost. Could Elôm have a plan even in the enemy’s triumph?”

This is a typical second book of a trilogy: doom and gloom, disaster after disaster. But the characters remain intriguing and people I want to know better.

I wish the spiritual level would up it a little

It’s still not really Christian (no savior). The Lord does interact with his people, but there are no healings, prophecy, spiritual warfare, and any of the reality of a walk of faith. It’s all hanging on by the toenails and fingernails, hoping to make it somehow. That may be reality for many younger believers, but there is no maturity offered to give hope. The reality of God’s presence within is not part of this book. The good people know God. That’s nice. At least the story is very good.

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#christianspeculativefic A Time To die by Nadine Brandes

Time To DieBarely Christian, exotically speculative, this novel seems to be a concept looking for a story. As the main character is lost and blindly roaming a world of fear and the unknown, the reader never really finds out what is happening either.

The blurb sounds quite interesting:

“How would you live if you knew the day you’d die?

“Parvin Blackwater believes she has wasted her life. At only seventeen, she has one year left according to the Clock by her bedside. In a last-ditch effort to make a difference, she tries to rescue Radicals from the government’s crooked justice system.

“But when the authorities find out about her illegal activity, they cast her through the Wall — her people’s death sentence. What she finds on the other side about the world, about eternity, and about herself changes Parvin forever and might just save her people. But her clock is running out.”

The actual story is much less interesting. There’s far too much teenage angst. As in many modern movies, shows, and books, the strange, exotic, and weird takes the place of insight, growth, and transformation. But Nadine seems to be a good writer. Her future work might be really good.

Spiritually there is really nothing here. God occasionally drops thought into Parvin’s mind. But the whole thing is pretty hopeless. So, the Gospel is missing entirely.

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Book marketing: how to make it work

English: Marketing

There’s an excellent article today on Site Pro News about online marketing of your Website, called How to Create Shareable, Likeable and Organic Content. The two typos in the headline worry me a bit. However, Julia tells us the truth about marketing that we, as authors, need to take very seriously.

It must be real communication about content that matters

One of the most common emails I get from Goodreads says, “Get ‘my book’ today. It’s free!” Occasionally the title gives me a clue about what “my book” is about, but usually not. I don’t know the genre. Often I don’t know the author. This isn’t marketing—it’s the result of being in the way when the kaka hits the fan blades. The best such an author can hope for is that I’ll note his or her name so I can reject out of hand anything else I receive from him or her. I don’t want to hear, “It’s the best book of the year,” either.

Consider the image to the left, for example. Undoubtedly it misses the mark for you. Even if you’ve visited the museum referenced, it has nothing to do with what I’m talking about this morning. In her article Julia talks about the necessity of organic content. I don’t know about you, but the “organic” appellation shuts me down immediately. So, what is she really saying?

She starts her article with the following.

In order to sufficiently engage your audience and encourage social sharing, your 2015-friendly content must meet one or more of the following engagement criteria:

  • Entertaining
  • Educational
  • Relevant
  • Insightful
  • Thought-provoking
  • Answers questions
  • Creates a connection
  • Easy to understand
  • Passionate

While these qualities are simple in theory, content marketers must align content with these characteristics just right. This is the early step for creating content that is sharable and likeable. Missing the mark during this phase can completely derail your content efforts.

Ah! Here’s some useful stuff. When’s the last time you asked these questions of your latest Facebook posting, Pinterest link, or tweet?

For God’s sake, literally, we are called to write for Him

We are writers. Certainly we should be able to write useful, interesting, and compelling information to the people who actually want to read our books. So, why do I see such horrible book marketing by Christian authors on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest? In many cases, the problem is radically misinformed expectations. In Writing In Holiness, I mention some of them.

“…in most cases, (there) are preconceived notions of what it takes to sell a book, unrealistic assumptions, a ridiculous schedule, and the belief that it will all happen within a few weeks or months at most.

One of the worst expectations is the very common one which has you believing that you can take a simple Word document, upload it through an easy conversion process, and sell ebooks like crazy. That is wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin.

You may be able to get away with it if you are selling ninety-nine cent formula novels in a popular genre. But it won’t work well or long for anything better than that. You need a well-written, edited, proofed, and professionally formatted book which is attractive, easy to read, and tells the readers you are targeting that this book is for them.”

Excerpt From: David Bergsland. “Writing In Holiness: While Keeping It Real.” iBooks.

But the biggest problem is the communication attitude

Remember what kind of postings you like. Be careful to explain what kind of book you wrote and give answers to the questions your readers are asking. Friendly communication of meaningful, enjoyable content will do the job you are hoping for.

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#christianepicfantasy An update of my review of “Resistance” by Jaye L. Knight

Jaye has a new book coming out soon: The King’s Scrolls will be released next week. As I prepared to review the new book, I reread book #1 in the Ilyon Chronicles.

Resistance by Jaye L KnightI liked it better the second time

If you recall from last March 2014, I wrote a glowing review about the Makilien trilogy by Molly Evangeline. I finished by saying I was looking for good things under her new name of Jaye L. Knight. Ms. Knight has not disappointed me.

This is one of the best Christian fantasy books I have read recently. The characters are amazing. My hope is that they get beyond a basic evangelical stance into a place where they are talking with the Lord, hearing instructions, and coming to know Him well.

Jace is a half-breed, with one half a despised race considered to be animals without a soul, plus a human mother. But he comes to trust the Lord. What do we do about that? He has a LOT of anger and bitterness from his treatment as a slave and gladiator, plus all the other abuse he’s been the brunt of. Tall, strong, lightning quick, deeply distrustful. A wonderful man.

Kyrin Altair is gifted with a complete memory recall and excellent character. Her race doesn’t commonly know the Lord, but she’s met Him through another race who commonly does—along with her twin brother. She was stolen from her parents at an early age and trained to serve the Emperor, who is planning on killing all believers now that he has made it illegal to worship the true Lord.

The book is filled with action, love, suspense, trial, deliverance, and all the other things you can hope for in a book like this. Jaye has done a marvelous job.

You will love this book!

You can tell it is a more mature work from an author coming into her own. My biggest complaint with Makilien was with the covers. No worries here! This is a superb, professional cover for a well-written compelling tale of good versus evil and the righteous ones serving the Lord with joy, strength, and purity. Of course, there’s some violence, nasty evil, and all the rest. But then, like I told you: It’s a good story.

Read it now, to be ready for The King’s Scrolls next week

You can preorder here.

 

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An excellent review on “Writing In Holiness”

Writing In HolinessRob Natiuk emailed me about his review of my latest book this morning, and it really blessed me. It’s wonderful to have a reader understand what you are trying to say.


 

I’ve been a Christian writer for almost 50 years in TV, radio, promotion, film, books and magazines. When I read David’s book, I felt I finally found some answers to how I can express my faith in a creative way that would appeal to others. Over the years I realized some of the spiritual lessons of writing that he shares. But he helped to clarify and nail them down.

At first I thought David came on a bit strong with his “holiness” thing. But later as he expanded on his beliefs, that was well balanced out. I more clearly saw how the Christian mind can share the mind of Christ through both fiction and non-fiction, even if the books are not on strictly religious topics. Actually, for David, me and other Christian writers committed to our faith, everything is spiritual–we ask God to come into our life and work and create works that glorifies Him and His creation.

From John Bunyan with his PILGRIM’S PROGRESS and C. S. Lewis with his Narnia books, to today’s modern Christian novelists, we see that fiction can make a big difference for good. Because of that power, we want it to be a testimony to Jesus Christ. As the author states, we want our work to matter for God by giving insights to readers who are searching for answers to life.

About the first half of the book addressed our attitude toward writing. And then the author got into the nitty-gritty that affects all writers. What is the goal of our books? Our own publishing house? Where we do go for cover, artwork, layout, printing, etc.? What about ebooks, PDFs, Smashwords, Gumroad, Ganxy, and so many other publishing sites? Then we have to promote and market. So how do we go about in an honest way to build a market presence and let the world know what we’ve written? Or at least let a small group know, if that’s our calling for a particular book.

In this book I believe the Christian writer–and the moral writer who wants to share goodness–has the main points covered. The author also shares himself in a very warm and illustrative ways. This makes for an intriguing and personable reading experience. And a spiritual experience, I need to add. That experience is so much more than the other books I’ve read, as helpful as they were, on just writing, publishing and writing.

If you want to write and publish good things and do it well, this book is your answer.

Writing In Holiness is widely available

It can be bought for $2.99 at SmashwordsNookKoboAmazon (Kindle and Print), Page Foundry, Inktera, and Gumroad. It can be read, by subscription at Scribd.

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#christianepicfantasy book review: Beneath the Forsaken City by C. E. Laureano

This is book two of the Song of Searle series. The blurb is as follows:

Conor and Aine have barely escaped Seare with their lives. Conor knows he must return to find the harp that could end the Red Druid’s reign of terror, but in the midst of their escape, he and Aine are torn apart once more. Surrounded by despair and thrown into as much danger as they left behind, Conor and Aine must cling to the whispers of Comdiu’s plans for them and the homeland that depends on their survival. But at what cost? Will they learn to depend on Comdiu completely? Or will they give up hope?

Beneath the Forsaken CityI never read book one, The Oath of Brotherhood (though it sounds very intriguing). But it was no real hinderance. Actually, at the price of book one, I’ll probably never read it. $10 for a Kindle book is a bit extreme. This does make the print book more attractive, but I don’t read print any more. However, Tyndale (NavPress) gave me an Advanced Review Copy of the print book in PDF form in return for an honest review, and I’m glad for the opportunity. It was a very good read.

The characters are strong and believable. The main hero and heroine seem to be regularly almost overcome by hormones and emotional longings, but then it is YA. One of the heroine’s “gifts” is an overwhelming attractiveness to any male who sees her—which is irritating…certainly not a spiritual gift. But in general, the good guys (male and female) are strong, honorable, of good character, and so on. The bad guys tend to be dupes of the demons, or self-centered people only interested in power and wealth. Several of the characters are simply non-believers pushed around by their flesh. But in this day and age, that’s believable.

This is really an excellent book

This is epic fantasy the way I like it, almost—medieval technology and culture with gifted, spiritually strong warriors fighting an evil, occultic foe. The culture is intriguing and well described except there are few details about the economical/geographical side (agriculture, manufacturing, crafts, trade) of things.

But mainly, it has been a long time since I read a traditionally published book with good spiritual content. Of course there are problems. For example, I vaguely remember the mention of the name of someone I believe is the son of God/savior, but I may be remembering another book. He’s certainly not part of this one in any meaningful way. But Comdiu is recognizable as the Abba I love. So, it’s a mixed bag but not Christian (no savior, no christ, not christian by definition).

The problems come in with Comdiu’s gifts. Hearing from Him is presented as a very direct, a recognizable voice in your head giving powerful, clear advice and direction. Yet, the ability to hear God’s voice is a gift spoken of as magic. It is not available to the general populace—at least not by the end of this book. It’s attached to leadership. The book has an Old Testament level of content combined with an accessible God of love, humor, and compassion. But then the good guys protect their city by setting wards—which is normally an occult practice.

All the gifts have these strange problems. They are given to a person and that person exercises them at his or her discretion. These gifts can be relied upon, most of the time. But the Lord I serve gives gifts of power which are not predictable even though very real (and even more powerful than what is shown in this world with in the book). They are not permanent gifts of magical talents and abilities, rather they are powerful aid given as needed for service.

Plus, gifts in this book tend to look and feel more like normal fantasy fare: telepathy (one-way only, listening), scrying (distance viewing, but only by the enemy spirits and subject to the twists caused by the lying enemy), possession (only by the enemy), healing (very quickly wounds disappear and much more—healing restoration is available if even a spark of life is left).

However, the general spiritual feel is that this is all recognizable spiritual truth—and much of it is. God is presented well and favorably. The enemy is an unexplained evil spirit who possesses a person (and gets a new body to use as the old one grows old and/or useless) called the Druid.

But it is exciting drama played on a rich, thoroughly developed stage. It is spiritually strange to the place where teens might need help with discernment. I suggest parents read it first so they can intelligently discuss the book with their children. But, it’s clean CBA stuff without offense.

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Christiansciencefic book review: Dawn of Destiny (Epic #1) by Lee Stephen

Dawn Of DestinyIt doesn’t get much better for a Christian Science Fiction military thriller. The spiritual side of things is downplayed, but realistic. As it all plays out in the rest of the series, the evangelical side of the hero might well set up more clearly in view. But the key is that it is done well in this first book.

The military side is wrenchingly violent with ugly nasty aliens as it would be if this scenario really happened. The spiritual side of the aliens are really not known as there is no explanation for the alien presence.

Evil is more present in the black-armored, Russian super warriors. But the characterizations are very well done. The people are realistically drawn and many are compelling.

Scott Remington is a true, Godly hero. He seems to be the only believer in the military.

But that’s enough. I don’t want to spoil anything. All you need to know is that aliens have invaded and Earth is fighting back.

For a scifi military thriller, this book is truly excellent. My only beef is that the rest of the books in the series are too expensive. I’ve got them on my wish list, but at $5 for book 2 and $7 for books 3 & 4 (as they say around here in southern Minnesota) they’re a bit spendy.

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Are long tail keywords the best hope for Christian Speculative Fiction?

There is a long, but interesting, post about long tail theory in Publishing Perspectives this morning. The theory is 10 years old, according to the article. If you do not know, the basic idea is that long keywords of three to six words can capture an entire specific niche. Actually, that is greatly overstated and clouded with a lot of my own experience—but it’s close enough.

As a theory it ranks right up with using keywords in titles and posting headings. Marketers have been using this wisdom effectively for quite a while. The news in the article linked above is that it no longer is used much by the Big Six, at least it’s not nearly so effective.

Christian speculative fiction, Christian science fiction, and Christian fantasy are very small niches

The superstar Christian authors in these genre seem to be into horror more than anything. More than that, those not doing mind-bashing tales of unbridled evil write about a powerless, palatable Christianity. I reviewed The Patmos Deception recently, and it typifies this type of book. The spiritual content is religious not real, life-changing Christianity. I must confess that I’ve never made it beyond a few chapters of any Ted Dekker book, so I can’t talk about them—but they are too popular to have much spiritual truth in them IMHO. But I’ve read many Frank Peretti books until I gave up—partially because the topics didn’t interest me any more and a lot because of the non-reality of the Christianity depicted. For people who have had a ministry in deliverance and spiritual warfare, Peretti is simply sad—talking about real problems with non-real solutions. But that discussion is far beyond to content of this post.

In Twitter, long tale hashtags are minimally used

#christianspeculativefiction #christiansciencefiction and #christianfantasy are used a little—to good effect. But Xian High fantasy, Xian Epic Fantasy, and Xian Space Opera are not used at all. To further this end, I started eight Twitter Lists:

Please use and subscribe to these lists and use these as hashtags, as well as keywords. Maybe we can get something going. I must confess I don’t use Twitter much anymore because it is so littered with repetitive promotion, but let me know what you think of this idea.