Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Skin Map-Stephen Lawhead

Kit Livingstone's great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm.  He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds.  To those who know how to see them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most.  Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery.  Ever on his guard, and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code-a roadmap of symbols-that he tattooed onto his own body.  This Skin Map has since been lost in time.  Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal.  It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The plot, in essence, was interesting.  Who doesn’t enjoy a strange twist of suspense, mystery, science fiction and fantasy?  I certainly do.  It wasn’t the plot that bugged me as much as it was how it was carried out.  The plot got quite confusing at points and to put it bluntly, dry.  I think the synopsis and hype of the book made it out to be more then it was.  The plot didn’t really start up, or actually get somewhere until page 150, and even then, not much.  A good fifth of the book must have been spent on the development of a coffee-shop, granted, in Old Prague.  But still, a coffee-shop.  At other points it felt as if the author was confused himself.  He sets us up for a third of the book saying it’s all about the Skin Map but then twists it saying the old “It’s much bigger then you know” but then turned it back to the Skin Map again.  Quite annoying if you ask me.

Characters:  The characters were believable and relatable.  One part of the book where I thought the author did quite well at.  He gave a perfect amount of time before switching point of views, giving me enough pages to connect to Kit in a personal way.  Cosimo and other characters came with time, but all fictional characters do.  One I liked especially was Etzel Englebert a little German fellow from Old Prague.  A baker, no less.  His light-hearted nature and good spirits are contagious.

Writing Quality:  This is where the book falls apart.  Stephen Lawhead has all the mechanics of writing down-but he’s missing the key part of novels, at least in this instance.  And that key is keeping things interesting.  The plot was grabbing but the writing felt long and tedious.  It took more then a little effort to read some parts.

Conclusion:  The book’s plot was great.  Characters?  Awesome.  But because of that one key element that was missing, the book just was lost on me.  I don’t think I’ll be picking it up to read it again.  It also didn’t contain any good Christian elements.  It wasn't a terrible secular book, though.  It was clean of anything bad (except for possibly a few cuss words in England) but it was also clean of anything about Christ and such.  From what I’ve read about the novel I don’t think it will get much better in this aspect, either.  But I do have hopes in many areas.  I will continue reading it when the next novel comes out.
My Rating: 3 Pens
Genre: Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Adult
First in five part series
Where to buy: Amazon, Christianbook, Borders
Page number: 203.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Masters and Slayers

Many of you would remember last month when I featured the Oracles of Fire series and Starlighter by Bryan Davis (giveaway is still going on, by the way.  Check out the sidebar!).  Mr. Davis is also releasing a series for adults, the first book titled Masters and Slayers.  Below is the synopsis.

Expert swordsman Adrian Masters attempts a dangerous journey to another world to rescue human captives who have been enslaved there by dragons. He is accompanied by Marcelle, a sword maiden of amazing skill whose ideas about how the operation should be carried out conflict with his own. Since the slaves have been in bonds for generations, they have no memory of their origins, making them reluctant to believe the two would-be rescuers, and, of course, the dragons will crush any attempt to emancipate the slaves. Set on two worlds separated by a mystical portal, Masters and Slayers is packed with action, mystery, and emotional turmoil, a tale of heart and life that is sure to inspire. 

I am psyched to read this book.  I want to see how the author handles what is new territory-the adult genre instead of Young Adult-but I'm really excited just for the book.  Starlighter really has me excited for the story and the storyworld and I'd love to hear more about it.
Also, *psst* I have a special code that can get you a discounted price for Masters and Slayers, Starlighter, The Bones of Makaidos, Eye of the Oracle, I know why the Angels Dance, and Raising Dragons (Yeah, lots of discounts)-somewhere around 3-6 dollars off! And signed, too *psst*  Email me at smr411 [at] gmail [dot] com and I'll send it your way.  Or you can just buy any signed book by Bryan Davis at his online bookshop, of sorts-DavisCrossing.com/Shopping.  Also enjoy a song which I am told is in the book-lyrics composed by the author, Bryan Davis, music created Gwendolyn, and performed by Jessica Coleman.

You can also check out the book website at MastersandSlayers.com

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I haven't posted in forever...

Actually, I have.  For some reason, my follower widget isn't working properly, though.  So no one has been receiving any of the posts I've written.  Since I don't like that and you won't know when I'm doing a giveaway or a review or what not I have come up with an evil plan.
Well, maybe not so evil.  Basically, until I can get the follower widget working again which would deliver the posts to you, you can subscribe by email on the sidebar.  You're probably asking "Why would I do that?" though.  It's a valid question.  Why would someone want to waste their time subscribing?  Simple.
Everyone that subscribes will receive an extra entry in all my current giveaways and possibly ones to come.  Simple as that.  You subscribe to find out all the newest stuff going on here, and you also get a better chance at winning stuff.  Win-Win.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Immanuel's Veins-Ted Dekker

Immanuel's Veins is a romance novel.  I'm not going to describe it otherwise.  I say this because I know  several of my readers can't stand even the smallest amount of romance.   I, on the other hand, am a sap for romance if done right.
That's not to say there's not a little suspense or fantasy in the book, just that it's not all swords and arrows.

I read the book within a week of receiving it.  That's not a huge deal, though.  I've read many in that time.  But I can say without reservation that if I was able to stay up all night reading a book, I would have finished it in one nights' time.  It was absolutely captivating.

When I finished I wanted to rush out and buy a thousand copies, only to give them away to any and every person in sight.  I wanted everyone to hear the story of redemption that is contained within these two covers.  The message of this book is simple: the saving power of love.  God's amazing love and man's greatest possible love for another person.

Many people have said that this book is simply the same as any of Dekker's other novels.  I would say I agree, it's much like his other novels.  Almost exactly the same.  But it's different.  I don't understand why, exactly, but this one's better then any other I've read by the author.  I got lost in it.

The plot is a simple one as I've stated before.  It's something else I can't quite wrap my head around, and I'm not sure I want to.  That is the love that is portrayed in this book.  It's utterly beautiful.  The writing flows effortlessly as to not get in the way of the love portrayed.  Ted Dekker has outdone even the greatest of his previous works.
Needless to say, I give this book five pens.  It was awesome.
Notice: I received this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers and was not forced to write a positive review.

This book has been officially been released and can be found on Amazon and most major bookstores.

I have been asked to do something pertaining to the book. That is to answer a question.  That question is: What is sacrificial love?
My answer:
Sacrificial love is full willingness to give any and everything for someone else.  It is to love without reservation.  Sacrificial love is to give everything for another with the knowledge that they might not care.  That they might not return your love.
It is love in the highest and most beautiful form.  Sacrificial love is to forsake everything you have and hang your pride on a stake and never return to it.  Sacrificial love is to love without abandon.

As you can see, sacrificial love isn't something we see everyday.

I am also happy to bring you a giveaway celebrating this books' release, but more importantly, the message it carries.  "Spread the Love".  It will be a shirt giveaway, and judging by Dekker shirts I've seen (I own one too) and what I've been told, it's going to be a good one.  Right now it seems as if these shirts won't go on the market, so you won't want to miss the opportunity to snag one.  To enter, simply comment on this post!

Also, enjoy the book trailer and what other readers have to say!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Clives Staples Award Winners!

Congrats to the winners of the Clives Staples Award!  Bryan Davis', The Bones of Makaidos took first place.  The Bones of Makaidos is a terrific book.  If you would like to read my comments on it, you can go here.

Donita K. Paul's The Vanishing Sculptor took second.

Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper's Curse of the Spider King took third.

Jill Williamson's By Darkness Hid took fourth place.

To see all the details or learn more about the books head over to Clives Staples Awards' website

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Starlighter Giveaway

You can find my review of this book here.

Dragons are enslaving humankind and a black egg signals the end of the world. Jason Masters must journey to another realm and join forces with a slave girl named Koren to rescue the captives and save two worlds from destruction. What if the Legends Are True? Jason Masters doubted the myths: people taken through a portal to another realm and enslaved by dragons. But when his brother is taken, he must uncover the truth and find the portal before it's too late. Once he's through the portal, he meets Koren, a slave in the dragons’ realm, who struggles to destroy a black egg prophesied to doom all mankind. Jason and Koren must work together to save their two worlds before the dragons learn that their secrets have been discovered.

I will be giving away a SIGNED copy of Starlighter!  Unlike my other giveaway(s) you do not have to be a follower.  There is only one requirement, and that is simply filling out the form below.  However, for extra entries, you can comment on some of my reviews and my interview.  The deadline to enter is September 14th.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Interview with Bryan Davis

Bryan Davis is the bestselling author of over fifteen novels.  He has been writing for over six years.  He is the author of the Dragons in Our Midst series, the Oracles of Fire series, and the Echoes from the Edge series.  He is currently writing two series that are related to each other.  One an adult series the other a young adult series titled Dragons of Starlight and Tales of Starlight.
I'm happy to welcome Mr. Davis to The Narrowing Road to answer some questions on his writing life.

Seth-Masters and Slayers is the first part in an adult companion series for Dragons of Starlight.  Tell us a little about that.  What makes it a more adult suitable book than some of your other books?

Bryan Davis-Although Masters & Slayers is designed for adults, it can be read by teenagers, especially those who have enjoyed Starlighter, the first book in the Dragons of Starlight series. The adult designation is due to the fact that the story follows the adventures of adult characters instead of teenagers.

The good-versus-evil violence in this book is similar to that of the young adult series, except for a few more graphic events, such as the fiery execution of a boy and the severing of a murder victim’s fingers. There are no sexual scenes, but the breeding of humans by order of the slave-master dragons is mentioned. This practice takes place “off-screen” and is not described, though one character explains his dilemma when faced with an order to participate. There is no profanity or sexually provocative language.

Seth-What was (or is) your favorite book or series to write?

Bryan Davis-I have a hard time answering “favorite” questions, because sometimes my favorites change, especially when I get emails from readers who have been strongly impacted by a particular book. At that moment, the book the reader mentions can quickly rise in my favorites list. Because my favorites are influenced by reader feedback, the three books that often rise to the top are Circles of Seven, Eye of the Oracle, and The Bones of Makaidos. I get more emails about their impact that about the other books, though I have heard from readers about impact from all of my books.

Seth-What would you say has been the most important event in your career as a writer?

Bryan Davis-Probably meeting Dan Penwell at the Florida Christian Writers Conference in 2003. He was the acquisitions editor for AMG Publishers. He took a liking to my work and decided to take a chance on an unproven author. I am deeply indebted to him, and I honor him highly. He passed away earlier this year, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to let him know how much he meant to me.

Seth-Before you started writing Raising Dragons were you a big reader of the fantasy genre?

Bryan Davis-I probably wouldn’t be considered a “big” reader of fantasy. Of course I read the standards, like The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, but I my range of reading beyond these wasn’t broad. I tried many novels, such as Eragon, but most didn’t interest me. I found many of them to be lacking depth and purpose.

Seth-People have said that you can learn from teaching.  Do you find that you learn while teaching at conferences or other events where you teach writing?

Bryan Davis-I do learn when I teach. Teaching brings to mind persistent reminders of what I need to remember so that I don’t become lax and assume that my writing will be fine without the usual rigor I apply. Remember “show, don’t tell.” Don’t forget to foreshadow. Keep in mind the magic of vivid scenery. Don’t force dialogue. Every time I speak such words, they reinforce these principles in my mind. That’s definitely helpful.

Seth-Being a full time author, how often do you actually get the chance to sit down and read for your enjoyment?

Bryan Davis-Very rarely. Many people send me manuscripts to read, hoping to get endorsements or helpful pointers. It’s a blessing to know that people value my opinion, and I want to help as much as I can, but the pile of requests pretty much eliminates any time I have to read for enjoyment. And since most of these requests come from inexperienced writers, the manuscripts are usually poor, so the reading isn’t enjoyable. I’m afraid that’s just the nature of my occupation, and I am willing to live with it.

Seth-Where does the inspiration for your stories come from?

Bryan Davis-I get most of my basic story ideas either from my children or from dreams. Raising Dragons came from a dream about a boy who could breathe fire, and Starlighter came from an idea my daughter Amanda gave me. My gift is to be able to enhance and grow these seeds, but most of the seeds are provided by others.

Seth-You run a very active forum, correct?  Does this forum have any effect on your writing?

Bryan Davis-My message forum is quite active. I sometimes ask the members for ideas, and I get great feedback. Their opinions have influenced my stories, so I am grateful for their participation. It’s really fun interacting with them.

Seth- How does an author who has as many books as yourself go about looking to publish their next book?  Do publishers at that point come to you?

Bryan Davis-Publishers have sought me out but not often. Since God has granted success, I am able to submit a simple idea without much development, and since I have proven my ability to complete well-crafted stories in a timely fashion, publishers trust that I can deliver. I don’t have to finish a novel before they are willing to contract the work. They don’t even require a full proposal. That’s very helpful.

Seth-You are a Seat-of-the-pants writer if I’m not mistaken.  Have you ever been or thought about being an outliner?  Why is it that you prefer being a Seat-of-the-pants writer?
    Bryan Davis-I have always been a seat-of-the-pants writer, because I enjoy going on an adventure with my characters. Every day I look forward to sitting down and finding out what will happen next. An open-ended story feels more realistic and allows for unexpected twists. If I am surprised by an event, then surely my readers will also be surprised. Of course, I sometimes have to go back and set up the surprises with appropriate foreshadowing, but it is still an organic way to write. The story feels alive.

    I have thought about outlining a story, but those thoughts are always negative. I can’t imagine why I would do that. It would be wasted effort, because I know the story would change as I write it.

    Seth-If you could go back and change any of your books, whether it was the plot or whatever it may be, would you do it?
      Bryan Davis- It’s possible. I hope that my writing is improving, so it’s likely that I could improve my older books if I were to go back and polish them. Yet, I know that I did the best that I could at the time, so I would rather focus my time and efforts on new books. Still, if a reason cropped up that made sense for me to rework an older book, I could be persuaded to do so.

      Seth- How does your faith in the Lord affect your writing?
        Bryan Davis-My faith is central to my writing. What I believe infuses every story with sacrifice, courage, heroism, and life-giving hope. I don’t always intentionally plan spiritual themes in my stores, but because of my Christian worldview, they appear naturally. It’s the way I think.

        Seth-In your experience, what has been the hardest part about writing Christian Fantasy?

          Bryan Davis-The hardest part is likely the struggle to get Christians to understand the value of fantasy and that it is one of the most effective ways to communicate truth. Some Christians dismiss fantasy without understanding what it’s all about. Others even demonize it, some because of ignorance and some because of intentional folly.

          Seth- Every author has a unique story that brings them to publication.  How was it that you came to be a published writer?
            Bryan Davis-Since these books are faith-based, the mainstream publishers didn’t show any interest. I often heard, “Too spiritual” or “Too Christian.” The Christian publishers at that time weren’t producing fantasy at all, and certainly not a series about dragons. I couldn’t find a significant Christian fantasy series for young people that had been published in the last thirty years. It didn’t matter that the Chronicles of Narnia had been one of the greatest sellers in history. In fact, when I mentioned that to one editor, hoping the Narnia success would open a door, he said, “You’re not C. S. Lewis.”

            Between agents and publishers I collected about two hundred rejection notices, which I might use to wallpaper my office someday. I rewrote Raising Dragons about twenty-four times, changing it drastically in some of the rewrites. I think I made it even more radical as time went on, perhaps thinking that it might just end up as a story for myself and my family.

            As I mentioned above, I finally met Dan Penwell of AMG Publishers. He had already contracted with me for a non-fiction book called The Image of a Father, and although AMG had never produced fiction, he took interest in my weird dragons story. AMG liked it so much, they started a fiction line with the series, and it has become their best selling line of books.

            Seth-How, if at all, does being a homeschool dad affect your writing? (I myself being homeschooled)
              Bryan Davis-It is because of homeschooling that I became a writer. Hoping to get my children excited about writing, I began writing a story for them, and I asked them to contribute. During the process, I developed a passion for writing that hasn’t faded. My kids continue to provide me with ideas and input, so homeschooling has definitely been an important contribution.

              Seth-You started writing Christian Fantasy during somewhat of a revival period for the genre.  Why do you think it is that there are so few Christian Fantasy books on the market?
                Bryan Davis-Actually, I started writing Christian fantasy when the genre didn’t exist in the Christian publishing industry. When Raising Dragons came out, it was among the first produced in traditional Christian publishing in decades. The same month, Dragonspell (Donita K. Paul) and Beyond the Summerland (L. B. Graham) also came out, so, if my research is correct, these three books opened the gates for the Christian fantasy market.

                Seth-Going on the previous question, what advice would you give to an author trying to get published in this very difficult field of writing (Christian Fantasy)?
                  Bryan Davis-I know many aspiring fantasy novelists. It seems that’s what half the authors I know want to write, but the Christian publishing world hasn’t caught up yet with the demand, which isn’t completely they’re fault, but that’s another topic. I would tell those authors to break free from the Tolkien and Lewis mold. Don’t try to create another Middle-earth with elves and orcs. Don’t send kids to a new world through a wardrobe-like portal where a new kind of Christ-figure dwells. Make faith a real component that fits naturally with characters of real faith.

                  I’d like to see another contemporary/fantasy blend like mine. I think young people of today relate to a world they recognize, and they enjoy seeing weird happenings within it. Still, there are many ways to explore new other-world fantasy ideas as well. Think out-of-the-box and write your passions. Don’t chase after what the market appears to want.

                  Seth-Is there anything else you would like to add?
                    Bryan Davis-Aspiring writers, I commend you for wanting to communicate your ideas and passions. That motivation will carry you far. You will hit roadblocks, and the temptation to become discouraged might be overwhelming. Don’t give up. If God has put within you the passion to write, then you can’t give up. Continue learning the craft. Get better and better all the time. Don’t lose sight of the message that God has given you to convey. If God has really called you to pursue this dream, then you have no choice but to continue.

                    I want to think Mr. Davis again for sharing some very helpful thoughts on writing, fantasy, and the Christian faith.  You can get in contact with him or check out some of his books on his website.

                    Friday, September 3, 2010

                    Starlighter-Bryan Davis

                    Starlighter is the first book in Bryan Davis' newest Young Adult series, Dragons of Starlight.

                    Dragons are enslaving humankind and a black egg signals the end of the world. Jason Masters must journey to another realm and join forces with a slave girl named Koren to rescue the captives and save two worlds from destruction. What if the Legends Are True? Jason Masters doubted the myths: people taken through a portal to another realm and enslaved by dragons. But when his brother is taken, he must uncover the truth and find the portal before it's too late. Once he's through the portal, he meets Koren, a slave in the dragons’ realm, who struggles to destroy a black egg prophesied to doom all mankind. Jason and Koren must work together to save their two worlds before the dragons learn that their secrets have been discovered. In Starlighter, bestselling author Bryan Davis masterfully weaves fantasy and inspiration into a captivating novel for young adults

                    The plot was not the usual Bryan Davis plot.  His pacing was much different then his past books which threw me for a loop.  Because there are two full plots, they both felt short.  It was as if you cut a book in half and then duplicated the first half, simply changing it up a little bit.  One moment I’m reading the beginning pages of the book, and the next I’m two pages until the end.  Not to say that this wasn’t just because of the pace.  I’m certain it was also because of the author’s ability to weave a fascinating tale-because that’s what it was, a fascinating tale.
                    Other then the change of pace, I loved the story.  It was an excellent mix of fantasy and science fiction.

                    Jason and Koren are the main characters in two plots.  Jason is a swordsman on the ‘human’ planet trying to find the portal to the dragon planet while Koren is the human on the dragon planet trying to free herself and her fellow slaves from the dragons’ tyrannical rule.
                    I didn’t connect to either character very well.  I’m not going to try to dumb that down.  It’s a big deal.  If I can’t connect to a character then I don’t feel passionately for the characters.  Some books are plot-driven while others are character-driven.  I don’t mind a book that’s plot-driven, in fact, as far as I can tell, I’m a plot-driven writer.  But I still need to feel attached to a character on a deep level.  Sadly, I just didn’t connect with Koren or Jason.

                    Writing Quality:
                    When it comes to writing mechanics, the book was practically flawless.  No contrived dialogue.  No messed up dialogue tags or faulty descriptions.  It was great.  The problems are what I have stated before-besides those, the book was great.

                    I can deal with the plot and the character problems.  Even what I’m about to say, I can deal with.  What I was really upset about was the rather small amount of God in the novel.  Sure, there were Christian themes and references to the Creator, but it wasn’t as spiritually uplifting as his previous works such as Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire.  I’m hoping this changes in the next books.
                    My Rating:
                    4 Pens

                    Genre: Young Adult Christian Fantasy
                    Intended age group:  12-15 (but can easily extend in either direction)
                    First installment in series
                    Where to buy:  AmazonChristianBook, or authors website (signed if requested).
                    You can get in contact with the author by going to his website where you can go to the very active forum, check out fan art or go to his blog.