Realmscapes from Brimstone Fiction

I have wanted to share this book with you for a year now! I picked up a copy at last year’s Realm Makers Conference, but I’m sure you know how life goes — my review kept getting pushed back for one reason or another. So, in honor of my return from my second Realm Makers Conference last weekend in Reno, NV, here’s my review of Realmscapes and a little recap of the fun I had with fellow Christian Speculative Fiction authors and fans.RealmscapeA

Isn’t that cover beautiful??

Back Copy:

“From robot apocalypses to seemingly haunted nursing homes, these seventeen otherworldly stories will drive you to escape from your everyday existence. Featuring well-known authors such as Ben Wolf and Jeff Gerke, as well as new, up-and-coming writers, these stories may transfix you with visions of alien planets…or leave you with an itch that nags at the edges of your memory.”


My Review:

This is a wonderful collection that spans a wide swath of speculative genres and includes at least one story for everyone’s tastes. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this anthology and getting to know some authors that I may never have read on my own.

Some of my favorite stories include “Tick Tock” by Pam Halter (which was also the “Realm Makers Reader’s Choice Winner”); “The Dragon Hotel” by Lisa Godfrees: such a cool story — a Faust for today; “Undermined” by Gretchen E. K. Engel, where slavery is not always what it seems; “Darkness” by Kat Heckenbach; and “Time for a Change” by Ben Wolf.

And those are only a few! Did I love every story? Honestly, no. But that’s the beauty of an anthology: there’s something for everyone. And if you find that you don’t like a story so much, they’re all short, so…. But, truly, this is a terrific collection that I highly recommend, for die-hard spec fic fans and those who have been curious about Christian spec fic, but aren’t sure where to start. This is definitely the book for you!


And now for a little about Realm Makers 2017:

20170726_084515I started out driving down to Arizona to meet up with some awesome friends (from the right: Sherry Rossman, Willow Dressel, and Louise Burcham) and commence our roadtrip to Reno (after getting coffee, of course!).

We enjoyed some of the sights along the way, including hanging out with a mob of Big Horn Sheep in Boulder City, NV:20170726_140225

20170726_163116 (2)Looking for aliens in the Nevada desert (and after a long day of driving across that desert, I’m pretty sure I did start to see some…):

 

And checking out Virginia City, NV, home of Mark Twain, ghosts, and, obviously (because, why not?), the TARDIS!

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And that was all before we even got to Reno, where the real fun began! Realm Makers opened with a keynote by. . .wait for it. . .Ted Dekker! 20170729_165541 (2)

That was followed by the Thunderdome Fight Workshop, by the always informative and hilarious Carla Hoch (you should check out her blog at fightingwrite.blogspot.com – awesome stuff!). I laughed so much while learning some really handy techniques for both fiction scenes and my everyday life.

 

My Friday was filled with classes like “Embrace the Strange” by the amazingly talented Robert Liparulo and a panel discussion on “Blood, Guts, and the Physiology of Fiction.” I was fascinated! And that was all before the Realm Awards Banquet, where I got to dress in cosplay and hang with people just as weird as I am. 🙂

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Never trust a double-agent (especially a literary one!)

 

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Sherry as Miss Peregrine with me as Bronwyn Bruntley 🙂

Seriously, where else could you eat dinner with a S.H.I.E.L.D./ Hydra double-agent (Steve Rzasa), a Founding Father (Kerry Nietz), Carol from the Walking Dead (Louise Burcham), Miss Peregrine (Sherry Rossman), a wizard, a warrioress, and Indiana Jones, just at your table.

 

Not to mention having Gandalf behind me and Star Lord and Gomorrah at the table next to ours, as well as a whole host of Steampunkers, super heroes, and just about every character you can imagine. And they are all fabulously talented authors of Christian Speculative Fiction and genuinely nice people!

 

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RealmMakers’ Founding Father

My Saturday was packed with classes on everything from our continuing session with Robert Liparulo to learning about character motivations with Lisa Mangum and building a magic system with David Farland. We capped off the weekend with a huge multi-author book signing — which I took full advantage of!! Many thanks to all the authors I cornered for so graciously signing your books for me!

 

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The Williamsons are here to Guard our Galaxy!

It was such an awesome weekend of learning and fangirling with a group of funny, brilliant, kind, creative people. It is going to take me a while to settle back into reality (and I’m going to fight it every step of the way – maybe even using some of the techniques from the Thunderdome!).

 

If you have ever had even an inkling to write and are looking for tips and inspiration, RealmMakers is the place for you. Can’t wait to find out what city we’ll be invading next summer!

Till then, happy reading (and writing)! 🙂

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Requiem 4 by Mike Duran

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Blurb from the author:

Graviton Cemetery—the biggest, oldest, most haunted graveyard in the world.

And Requiem 4 is here to clean things up.

In a dystopian, war-torn future where a godless global network reprograms the masses for compliance, the Requiem units are a dying breed. Manned by sciocists—scientific exorcists—and armed with state-of-the-art technology, the units sweep cemeteries of ‘latent soul energy.’

However, there’s a lot more than just ghosts in Graviton.

Father Aguste Lax, military chaplain to Requiem 4, has his own doubts. The cross around his neck is a feeble reminder of his waning faith. Yet when they encounter a Type Six entity, no amount of quantum firepower can save them. Lax becomes their only hope for escaping Graviton alive. But can his faith prevail against an evil this ancient? Or will Graviton Cemetery become the final resting place for Requiem 4?


My review:

I’ve heard people say, “Christian Horror Fiction? Isn’t that an oxymoron?” And to be honest, I kind of used to think that myself. Then I read Mike Duran (check out his Reagan Moon series — so cool!), and I found that, just like Christian Death Metal, it can and does exist — and it’s pretty awesome.

Requiem 4 is Duran’s latest work. It’s a novelette, so it’s only around 100 pages long. But trust me, those pages are packed with nail-biting tension and lots of “Whhaaattt?” (think of the sound Scooby-Doo makes — yep, that’s exactly what was going through my mind) and “Oh my tripes and trollibags!” (don’t ask, just go with it). It’s like Ghostbusters on a whole new level. He does a superior job of meshing mythology, religion, adventure, social commentary, and just enough fright to keep me wanting more. Duran is skilled at creating an atmosphere of tension, at leaving the reader on the precipice, so you feel compelled to continue reading just to keep you from teetering over while you’re trying to be good and clean the house or something.

And so you know, this would probably be considered a PG-13 story, so take that into consideration before you let your kiddos steal your copy. But do snag a copy (it’s available on Amazon) — I highly recommend it!

Many thanks to Mike Duran for the advanced copy of this story for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Ending Fear by Deanna Fugett

Welcome to Stop #12!

I’m super excited to be a part of the Blog Tour for Deanna Fugett’s debut YA Dystopian novel, Ending Fear, released just yesterday! Check out the beautiful cover and more about the book:

Teenage girl portrait

From L2L2 Publishing:

Fourteen-year-old Fear learns she was a parachute baby, dumped over the edge of the Gliding Lands as an infant. Fascinated by the floating cities in the sky before, now she’s desperate for answers.

But a slave isn’t likely to get those answers.

When her abusive Downer family throws her from their hovel, Fear takes refuge with a family who shows her love for the first time. Surely they can’t be trusted. Years of abuse and molestation has taught her that.

Then her brother discovers where she’s hiding and tries to kidnap her. Fear will never let him touch her again. Her new family conceals her at The Fallen, a ranch that hides parachute babies from the Uppers who discarded them.

Just as she’s beginning to embrace yet another home, Fear’s new little sister, Happy, is kidnapped and taken to the Uppers’ temple harem. Fear must go against her namesake, find a working hoverpod, and journey to the dreaded Gliding Lands before the little girl’s innocence is ripped from her forever.

Can she save Happy in time?

And will she find answers to the burning question of why anyone would throw her away?


My Review:

There is so much to like about Deanna Fugett’s debut novel! First, I love how she used her characters’ predominant trait as their name (Fear, Hate, Courage…) — so creative and unique. And yet, her characters are so much more than just their dominant trait; she’s crafted a collection of characters with depth and fullness that can both frustrate you and tug at your heart.

And she uses the dystopian genre so fantastically. Her futuristic societies of Uppers (who live in floating cities and are slaves to popularity and pleasure) and Downers (who live on terra firma and are enslaved by poverty and propaganda) are an insightful commentary on our own society and what could happen if attitudes don’t soon change. Yikes!

Ending Fear was a fun read: one that kept me up at night, turning the pages, and wondering how Fear would overcome her namesake and glorify Abba. I highly recommend you snag your own copy of Ending Fear and settle in for a great ride.

Many thanks to Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing for the advance copy of the novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂


The Rest of the Good Stuff:

Be sure to sign up for the Facebook Launch Party tomorrow from 7-9 pm MST for fun and prizes!

And don’t forget to add Ending Fear to your Goodreads to-read shelf!

If you’ve missed any of stops on the Ending Fear blog tour, be sure to go back and check them all out. They are all filled with tons of great info on the book, on the coloring book, and on Deanna Fugett.  And if you visit all fourteen blog tour stops and collect all of the words of the sentence (from the images like the one at the bottom of this post), you can enter to win a signed paperback copy of Ending Fear and an Ending Fear Coloring Book (U.S. only; outside the U.S., you can win an Ending Fear e-book). Here are links to all of the stops:

 

To purchase your own copy, visit Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing.

And now what you’ve all been so patiently waiting for: the next clue in Ending Fear’s Blog Tour Scavenger Hunt! And if you’re like me (you tend to not do things in order…), and this is the last word you needed, simply click on the picture to bring up the entry form for the Scavenger Hunt. 🙂

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And be sure to connect with Deanna Fugett on social media:

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Google+ // Pinterest // Instagram // Goodreads

Unblemished & Unraveling by Sara Ella

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From Goodreads: Eliyana has always recoiled from her own reflection in the mirror. But what if that were only one Reflection—one world? What if another world existed where her blemish could become her strength?

Eliyana is used to the shadows. With a hideous birthmark covering half her face, she just hopes to graduate high school unscathed. That is, until Joshua hops a fence and changes her perspective. No one, aside from her mother, has ever treated her as normal. Maybe even beautiful. Because of Joshua, Eliyana finally begins to believe she could be loved.

But one night her mother doesn’t come home, and that’s when everything gets weird.

Now Joshua is her new, and rather reluctant, legal Guardian. Add a hooded stalker and a Central Park battle to the mix and you’ve gone from weird to otherworldly.

Eliyana soon finds herself in a world much larger and more complicated than she’s ever known. A world enslaved by a powerful and vile man. And Eliyana holds the answer to defeating him. How can an ordinary girl, a blemished girl, become a savior when she can’t even save herself?

I read this lovely book, Sara Ella’s debut novel, back in February and was absolutely fascinated. She created such an imaginatively unique world in the Reflections, yet managed to firmly anchor the story in the real world at the same time, easily drawing in the reader and keeping them invested.

The story is rife with beautiful emotion, cool imagery, and just the right amount of tension to make you want to keep turning the pages. It’s a fabulous start to a fantastic series.

And Unblemished won the INSPY Award for Literature for Young Adults 2017, and it’s up for awards at the RealmMakers Conference next week!

And, just a note here, the review of the second book in the series, Unraveling, is below, but there are **some spoilers for Unblemished** in the description of the book. Know that, if you choose not to read the rest to keep from ruining the first story, I highly recommend both books, and like the second even more than the first! 🙂

 

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From Goodreads: What happens when happily ever after starts to unravel?

Eliyana Ember doesn’t believe in true love. Not anymore. After defeating her grandfather and saving the Second Reflection, El only trusts what’s right in front of her. The tangible. The real. Not some unexplained Kiss of Infinity she once shared with the ghost of a boy she’s trying to forget. She has more important things to worry about–like becoming queen of the Second Reflection, a role she is so not prepared to fill.

Now that the Verity is intertwined with her soul and Joshua’s finally by her side, El is ready to learn more about her mysterious birth land, the land she now rules. So why does she feel like something–or someone–is missing?

When the thresholds begin to drain and the Callings, those powerful magical gifts, begin to fail, El wonders if her link to Ky Rhyen may have something to do with it. For light and darkness cannot coexist. She needs answers before the Callings disappear altogether. Can El find a way to sever her connection to Ky and save the Reflections–and keep herself from falling for him in the process?

I enjoyed the first book, but I loved the second! Unraveling made some parts of Unblemished make more sense, because as Eliyana learns more about the Reflections, so do her readers. And learn she does! Eliyana grows so much throughout this part of her story, and I seriously look forward to what adventures we will join her on in the next part of the series. We also get to know what drives and shapes some of the other characters and get to see their various facets shining or dimming as the Reflections change around them.

Seriously, I looked back at the notes I made while reading Unraveling, and they were all along the lines of “Wow!” and “Oooh, that’s a cool description.” Sara Ella’s world-building and character development get better with each installation of this series, which definitely bodes well for the next one!

I do highly recommend you read these imaginatively inspiring novels from Sara Ella. They will add a lovely tune to the soundtrack of your reading life.

Many thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers and NetGalley for the digital copy of Unraveling for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. My opinions are my very own! 🙂

And join me on Wednesday as I get to participate in a blog tour to help launch Deanna Fugett’s debut novel, Ending Fear! I’m so excited to be part of the tour and to share the book with you!

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

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From the author’s website:

“In 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle’s café. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She’s a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service.

When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome.”

Kate Breslin has crafted a lovely story that is rich with both historical detail and an intricate and engrossing plot. She is absolutely marvelous at building tension, throwing in plenty of unexpected plot twists to keep the reader on her toes.

But that’s just the half of it. She has also created a cast of multi-layered characters – the best kind of characters: the ones you both love and want to smack at the same time. Her main character, Evelyn Marche, was even inspired by real historical women from the First World War.

It is a tale of strength and fragility and how both are necessary to survive in the tough times. It is a story of guilt that cripples the soul and the freedom found only in redemption. It is a novel of how love can conquer all, even self-induced heartbreak. And it is a beautiful read. It is heart-pumping, heart-squeezing, and heart-warming.

Do yourself a favor and pick up your own copy of High as the Heavens, then snuggle in for a fascinating read.

Many thanks to Bethany House for the copy of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

Zachary by Raymond Springer

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From the publisher:

“Two enemy factions race toward a childbirth: The Circle of Benediction, a secret society whose mission is to destroy anyone with supernatural abilities, and the Watchers, an underground group sworn to protect those with powers.

“The Watchers, led by Jacob Pennington- an elderly man of unnatural strength, secure the child just before the Circle destroys him. But, can they keep him alive despite the Circle’s resources?

“Held up at Pennington’s Rampart Industries, the Watchers will make their stand. Will they withstand the assault without the assistance of the child, or the child’s blood?

“The birth of this child changes everything…and so would his death.”

I’m really sorry to say, but it took everything I had in me to finish this book. The blurb was intriguing, but that was probably some of the best writing in the entire novel. The idea for the book was okay, but the execution was barely mediocre — and that description does not even include the horrible state of the grammar and spelling throughout most of the book.

And the “Christian” fiction classification is loose at best. There are a few references to the story of the Nephilim before the flood in Genesis, but otherwise everything else is extra-biblical, not to mention the superfluous and rather explicit sex scene near the end of the book. Seriously?

I rarely say this, but don’t bother to pick this book up. Even if an editor cleaned it up (which would be a huge task), the overall story is not good enough for me to recommend it to you. Sorry. 😦

Thanks to NetGalley and Black Rose Writing for the digital copy of this book for review purposes. I (obviously) was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own.

NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible

 

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From the back cover: “The NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible brings the Bible to life in full-color illustrated splendor. Featuring over 700 illustrations, colorful photos, engaging maps and important facts located near the relevant verse — this study Bible is as eye-popping as it is informative.”

Some of my favorite features:

  • “Over 700 four-color photographs, illustrations, infographics and maps throughout” — this Bible, geared for tweens (ages 8-12), incorporates a wide variety of illustrations to help the young Bible scholar, including some of those fabulous charts and drawings from the Quickview Bible.
  • “Book introductions, including important facts and an image to orient the reader” — every book is introduced with a quick list of facts to help young people get an overall view of that particular book, such as who wrote it, what happens, and what are some of the key stories/events/chapters in that book.
  • “One-column format with sidebar study notes for ease of reading” — I really love this feature, because it not only includes notes, but still, usually, leaves some room for the young student of the Bible to write down their own notes and keep track of some of the things God is teaching them through His Word.
  • “The complete text of the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible” — yes, this is one of my favorite features. Why? Because I remember that the only “Bible” we used when I was little was a Bible storybook, not a full-text Bible. Sure, it had all the classic stories (Noah & the Flood, Jonah & the Whale, Jesus feeding the 5,000, etc.) and pretty pictures, but it didn’t have everything. When I finally “graduated” to a full-on Bible, I was given a King James Version. Nice, but difficult for my young mind to really understand. This is the complete NIV translation, with those classic stories told in context and with illustrations to help young minds discover what God’s Word is really all about.

This is a Bible that can grow with a kid: the pictures/illustrations/charts/maps can help spark interest in the Word in younger Christians, while the full-text and study notes can draw kids deeper into knowledge of God and His Word.

If you have tweens in your family, I’d highly recommend you get them an NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible. Honestly, even if it’s just for you, it’s a pretty cool Bible with some great reference information that could absolutely aid in anyone’s study of the Word. 🙂 

Many thanks to ZonderKidz and Handlebar Marketing for the copy of this Bible for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review (but I couldn’t help it, because it’s a cool Bible!). All opinions are my very own! 🙂