Category Archives: speculative

Book Spotlight: The Judgment Stone by Robert Liparulo

JudgmentStoneAbout the book:
What if praying became a curse instead of a blessing?

Former Army Ranger Jagger Baird thought he had his hands full with the Tribe — the band of immortal vigilantes working to regain God’s grace by killing those who oppose God. That was before he encountered the Clan, a ruthless group of immortals seeking an artifact that would give them unimaginable power, a piece of the Ten Commandments known as the Judgment Stone. Anyone who touches the stone can see into the spiritual world: angelic warriors, treacherous demons, and the blue threads of light that signal believers’ communion with God.

Read the first chapter of The Judgment Stone, book 2 in the Immortal Files series, by Robert Liparulo.

I received this book from the publisher as part of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

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The Dragon’s Tooth by ND Wilson

Word Lily review

The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson, Ashtown Burials book 1 (Random House Children’s Books, 2011), 496 pages

DragonsTooth

Summary
Cyrus and his sister, Antigone, live at an old, rundown roadside motel with their college-aged brother. They have since their dad died and something happened to their mom (leaving her institutionalized). They practically live on waffles. And then an old man comes and insists on renting the specific room that is now Cyrus’s. When he shows up, things get interesting, to say the least.

Thoughts
I had heard good things about N.D. Wilson’s books from various trusted sources, but mostly I’d only picked up vague shadows. Most of what I’d heard, though, was about 100 Cupboards or at least that series. I am so very glad I read this one, though.

Wilson’s writing is superb. The prose thrilled me. Here’s the first two paragraphs:

“North of Mexico, south of Canada, and not too far west of the freshwater sea called Lake Michigan, in a place where cows polka-dot hills and men are serious about cheese, there is a lady on a pole.

“The Lady is an archer, pale and posing twenty feet in the air above a potholed parking lot. Her frozen bow is drawn with an arrow ready to fly, and her long, muscular legs glint in the late-afternoon sun. Behind her, dark clouds jostle on the horizon, and she quivers slightly in the warm breeze ahead of the coming storm. She has been hanging in the air with her bow drawn since the summer of 1962, when the parking lot was black and fresh, and the Archer Motel had guests. In those days, the Lady hadn’t been pale; she had been golden. And every night as the sun had set, her limbs had flickered and crackled with neon, and hundreds of slow cars and sputtering trucks had traveled her narrow road, passing beneath her glow. When young, she had aimed over the road, over the trees, toward Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Now, thanks to the nuzzling of a forgotten eighteen-wheeler, her glow has gone and she leans back, patiently cocking her arrow toward the sky, waiting to ambush the clouds.”

Isn’t that excellent? And the story’s pretty great, too. I don’t want to give spoilers, but aspects of this book reminded me of Diagon Alley — how right under the noses of the oblivious, magical things live and transpire. Not that this is any kind of a rip-off. The Dragon’s Tooth struck me as a wholly original story. Not that I’m well-versed enough in the genre to know such a thing. (Sheesh. Maybe it’s time for me to wrap this up and go do something else.)

Cyrus is a really great character in the ways that matter most. Intriguing, relatable, flawed. Actually, all the characters are pretty well drawn. Even the villains are nuanced and maybe even likable.

Isn’t it always thrilling to “discover” an author with a backlist? I’m excited to read the next one in this series, The Drowned Vault, and the third one (Empire of Bones) comes out this fall. (Besides reading his older books.)

… And I also feel the need, more strongly than ever now, to read Diana Wynne Jones. In fact, maybe I need to go on a long middle grade and YA fantasy reading tear?

Rating: 4.75 stars

Other reviews
Charlotte’s Library
Pages Unbound
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Lilith by George MacDonald

lilithOnce upon a time, several years ago, when Amy and I made lists of books for ourselves and each other to read, there was one joint read on that list. Finally, at the end of 2012, we read it! That book? Lilith by George MacDonald (1895).

I think part of my motivation to read it stemmed from Hutchmoot that year, either the assigned reading leading up to it or something stated at the actual event. I read a couple other MacDonald books, and I quite liked them. (Phantastes (which I never got around to reviewing, but I took copious notes about) and At the Back of the North Wind)

My expectations going into this book were pretty high, I think, which ended up being a problem (as it so often is).

I found some bright spots in this story. The beginning was good, it started off well and my excitement continued to rise.

Several vignettes I quite liked. But as a whole, I didn’t really love it. For a very short book (236 pages in this edition), it took me nearly two weeks to get through, if I remember correctly.

I liked how MacDonald took the concept of growth (spiritual, emotional, whatever) and made it physically visible. That was kinda neat. But such a small piece of the story, it seemed. And there’s this dangerous area of the world/landscape that, at night, is filled with dangerous monsters, but certain characters simply *had* safe passage because of some aspect of their character, while others acted as a shield to a group. It was a really beautiful image, I thought, how that was worked out.

Now the not-so-good stuff. I really feel like the tagline :: A Romance is realllllllly misleading. I mean, there is a romance, and a Romance, I guess, but.

It read partly as allegory, but as soon as I decided what various characters were, it would totally fall apart. I never really felt like I understood fully what was going on. Some things I never figured out at all. This was a big one.

I seem to have such trouble finding nice (as in, not horribly done) versions of old books like this. Maybe I should just decide that just because there are cheap editions of books like this, doesn’t mean I should buy those ones. This edition wasn’t horrible, but I do think it detracted from my personal potential enjoyment of the story.

Lots of people love this book, but I wasn’t one of them. Maybe from now on I’ll stick to MacDonald’s works for young readers.

Here’s My Friend Amy’s post about Lilith.

Have you read it, or any of MacDonald’s work? What did you think?

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Word Lily review

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985), 336 pages per Amazon, but my copy ends on page 226

Summary
Ender was conceived because the ruling authority thought he just might have the right characteristics to be able to lead the fleet in the Bugger Wars (the buggers are aliens). He advances through the training years ahead of the norm. There’s endless debate about the best way to push him to excel, but all Ender knows is that they make his life hard. He’s good at this stuff, but he doubts himself and resents that his destiny was chosen for him.

Thoughts
I don’t remember why I decided I should read this book, but I bought it to read during the June 2008 read-a-thon. That seems about one hundred years ago. Over the impending years, I’ve had two brothers-in-law bugging me (heh, that pun was unintentional) to read it whenever the subject came up. I challenged myself to read it in 2011, and now, at the end of 2012, I’ve finally fulfilled that goal.

I was caught up in the fast-paced story from the very beginning. Ender is very human, and reading the (apparently begrudgingly written) introduction by the author helped draw me in, too. Card, there, talks about how some readers criticized the book, saying Ender (and the other characters) didn’t talk or think like children, but Card’s response that when he was a child he heard himself speak not as a child but as a person, which I thought was a very good point.

I really loved this book. I definitely see some ways Ender’s Game might have influenced The Hunger Games, or at least some parallels between the two. Ender is incredibly sympathetic.

Now, just a couple criticisms. I liked the references to religion early on, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t addressed more.

The political aspect of the book really reminded me that it was published in the 1980s. Not all bad, but it definitely dated the story.

I’m frustrated about one bit at the very end, and again it’s about religion. Card creates a new religion, and it apparently takes off, but there’s really no reasoning given for its huge popularity, and as described, it seems to be one small ritual, not a full-blown religion. The way he persisted in talking about it was a real turn-off to me. I’m guessing it’s set-up for the next book in the series, but it feels tacked on and awkward in this book. He either needed to explore it more or take it out. This was almost enough to sour the book for me, but really, the rest of the story shines clearly enough to overpower this. And maybe I’m alone in feeling so about this aspect of the book? Or maybe my opinion will change if/when I read book 2, Speaker for the Dead?

Rating: 4.75 stars

Ender’s Game won both the Hugo and the Nebula award.

Other reviews
It’s All About Books
Becky’s Book Reviews
eclectic / eccentric
At Home with Books
Stacy’s Books
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The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I loved, loved, loved The Shadow of the Wind, so it’s no surprise that I jumped on the chance to read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Prisoner of Heaven nearly as soon as it was released.

This is the third book (of four, I believe) in this collection (they’re not exactly chronological, so I’m not going to call it a series) of gothic novels. Set in Barcelona, it takes place primarily in 1957, but some sections are set a couple decades earlier.

Lots of readers were put off by the second book, The Angel’s Game. They found it too convoluted or too vague. I didn’t mind the ambiguity; the twists and turns and lack of one singular reality was apropos to me. Still, I didn’t like it nearly as well as I did The Shadow of the Wind. I didn’t hate it, either. It was just OK.

This one falls somewhere in between OK and all-out love for me. It’s not nearly as complex (practically entirely straightforward) as I remember either of the other two being, which might be good for those who disliked The Angel’s Game, but I was almost disappointed by the lack of levels. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books experience in this book isn’t nearly as magical. In fact, this may be the least magical book of the three (as in, most of this story can be explained by rules of the natural world).

This volume also had a decided lack of female presence, which was disappointing to me.

What I like: It’s very atmospheric and the sense of place is strong. The writing is fun to read.

Not that I exactly know, since I have nothing to compare it to, but I get the feeling that Lucia Graves’ translation is outstanding.

Here are my reviews of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game.

3.5 stars (out of 5)

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Alison’s Book Marks
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Clearing the To-Be-Reviewed shelves

Cascade by Lisa T. Bergren
I loved this book. I mean, seriously: time travel, Italy, and archaeology all in the same book? The adventure, the fun, the ingenuity. Excellent. This is book 2 of the River of Time series (3 books out so far), and while I haven’t read book 1, Waterfall, now that I’ve read book 3, I think part of my enjoyment stemmed from being allowed to fill in those pieces from the bits of background scattered throughout.

Torrent by Lisa T. Bergren
This, book 3, was a letdown. Maybe it’s because the storyline seemed so one-dimensional after attempting to construct book 1 while reading book 2? I also thought book 2 indicated a larger discussion of or focus on elements of faith in book 3, but while there was a bit more, it was still seriously lacking in that department.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games trilogy has been hashed and rehashed countless times while I was getting up the courage to read them. See, I was afraid, when I first heard about them, that they would be too much like The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, which, when I read it early in high school, left me scarred. But the similarities were quickly overcome once I dove in, and I quickly devoured the whole series. The reality TV (a la Big Brother) component is really interesting, but really they’re just great stories. They plumb the depths of what it means to be human.

And, with that, my writing time for today is just about up. Maybe I’ll add some thumbnails to the above and move on with my day. Hopefully this hasn’t drained me too much and I’ll be able to post another set of mini-reviews (or a few) soon. Hey, maybe I’ll even post more than once in a week — now that would feel like a miracle!

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Empaths and prophets

Most of the media experiences (not just books, although mainly books) that really struck me this year have a couple things in common. I learned something about myself, particularly through their confluence. They’re all about being an outsider, working on something that others don’t really understand. And yet this work is something that drives [the person], that it’s impossible to ignore. A calling, even.

Although perhaps not traditional (and certainly not all-inclusive), this is my greatest hits list for 2011.

ANGEL

I think the first one was from the TV show Angel. Along Angel’s circuitous journey, one of the guys who assists in his mission of helping people is an Empath demon. Backstory: The demons in this narrative (that starts with Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are various races and/or individuals with special skills or giftings. Taken as a whole, they use these abilities to further their bloodlust and rage, but there are a few here and there who’ve chosen another path.

This particular Empath demon uses his ability to feel other peoples’ pain to help them. Later in the narrative the gods see fit to give the empath ability to a human, and it very nearly destroys her. (Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen the end of that story line. I know it comes close, but I’m not sure if it eventually does or not.) She should die because a human can’t bear that burden of feeling so much the pain of others.

THE RELUCTANT PROPHET by Nancy Rue

The Reluctant Prophet illuminated what I’d seen in Angel, if that makes any sense. Allison has been asking God what she’s supposed to do, and when she begins to follow through on what she hears, the members of her church aren’t exactly thrilled. It’s a serious examination — in the form of one fictional woman’s story — of what a life of faith looks like and the risks it entails.

It’s a well-written story that I read at exactly the right time. It rings authentic, and I can’t wait to crack open the next book in the series, Unexpected Dismounts. I’ve also been enjoying Rue’s (@NNRue) blog.

THE FALLING AWAY by T.L. Hines

The Falling Away is a truly excellent book (it won the INSPY in December for Speculative Fiction).

This quote will, I think, illustrate how The Falling Away fits into my list: “we’re almost magnets for pain and suffering, but because we have ways to control it, there’s a design to it all” (page 97).

WINTER by Keven Newsome

Winter isn’t really of the same calibre as the aforementioned books writing-wise (or editing-wise), but it does dwell in the same vein, of prophecy. Enough so to earn a place here. It may not speak to everyone as it did to me — the appeal of the others is probably more broad — but that’s not necessarily the point of this list. So.


Switching directions a bit, Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances by Kimberly L. Smith (2011 INSPY winner for Creative Nonfiction) also deserves a spot on the list. It doesn’t quite fit with the others in that, while the others taught me something about myself and showed a bit of the way I should go, Smith voiced so much of what I’ve felt leading up to this time. It’s almost like her words were echoing what my soul had been crying out. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been working in Darfur unbeknownst to you, but I did find significant parallels.

Summary: Several books I read in 2011 seemed to coalesce around a theme, enough so that it made me sit up straight and take notice. Through these books, plus the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, God spoke to my identity, my place/role in the Body of Christ. I don’t have it all figured out yet(!), but it was encouraging to learn. One piece: an implementable way to channel my empathy.

So, there you have it. Not a traditional best-of list — I read lots of other terrific books — but the ones that most stood out to me.

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Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

Word Lily review

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee, book 1 of The Books of Mortals series, (Center Street, September 13, 2011), 384 pages

Summary
In a world ruled by fear (no other emotions now exist), although violence is basically unheard of, people generally go through life keeping their heads down.

A vial of blood and a cryptic page are thrust into Rom’s hands by a man on the run from authorities. The old man says something that makes Rom think his father didn’t live quite the straight-and-narrow life he’d always thought. But he doesn’t have long to think about it, now that he’s being pursued because of what he now possesses.

Thoughts
This was, overall, an enjoyable read for me. I don’t always respect Dekker’s books much, but this is one of his better ones. He’s always been great at pacing, and this book is no exception. The story flies along, dragging the reader from one page to the next. Lee’s influence was clear — at times, the prose really sparkled, which is something I haven’t experienced in Dekker’s writing.

Somehow, while feeling pretty unique, the whole dystopian setup also felt trite.

There was also one scene, in particular, that was overwrought, more bloody than it needed to be. Maybe this will be sussed out in subsequent books, but as it stood in this one, it was out of place and gory.

The part of the book that was most interesting to me was touched on immediately, on the first page of the first chapter: Art, any kind of creative pursuit, only barely survives in this world, and that only because a long-dead expert had written about the educational merits of the arts. The life of an artisan is hard, in a world unmoved by creativity. [Not that the life of an artist is exactly easy, even today.] Even then, “artisan” is a more accurate word than “artist” because the act of creation doesn’t really happen outside the full scope of emotion, which this population lacks.

I love that one of the characteristics we as humans share with God is creativity. God created ex nihilo, and we, made in that image, create.

I can easily see how art appreciation might not happen in a world without love or joy or even anger. But I hadn’t really thought about creating being an act that required emotional undercurrents.

A quote:

“You only feel pain because you’re alive, boy!” the keeper thundered. “This is the mystery of it. Life is lived on the ragged edge of that cliff. Fall off and you might die, but run from it and you are already dead!”

~page 339, Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

What do you think? Could an emotion-less being create?

Rating: 3.5 stars

Book 2, Mortal, is schedule for release in September 2012; book 3, Sovereign, will be published in 2013.

About the authors
Ted Dekker is a bestselling author of more than 20 novels. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Tosca Lee (@ToscaLee) is the author of Demon and Havah.

Other Faith and Fiction Round Table Participants:

I received this book from the publisher as part of the Faith and Fiction Round Table. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.