Tag Archives: christian fiction

Kathi Macias addresses human trafficking in her new book, Deliver Me From Evil

25 Oct

Author Kathi Macias brought attention to the plight of persecuted Christians across the world, now she is turning her attention to those enslaved by human trafficking in her new book, Deliver Me From Evil.  This interview was provided by Christian Speakers Services.

How did you come up with the idea for Deliver Me From Evil and the Freedom series?

It actually came out of a phone conversation with Andrea Mullins, the publisher at New Hope. We were discussing the Extreme Devotion series (about the persecuted Church), which I was still working on at the time, and we began to consider topics for a second series. Andrea was the one who suggested human trafficking, and it really struck a chord with me. The more I researched it and worked on the proposal, the more excited I became about joining forces with others working to abolish modern-day slavery, which is exactly what human trafficking is.

What was your favorite scene to write in Deliver Me From Evil?

This book/series has been the most difficult I’ve ever written, simply because the subject matter is so dark and heavy. More than once I had to walk away and clear my thoughts before moving on from one scene to another. But interspersed between the heartache and tragedy are several lighter scenes (written and incorporated into the book out of necessity), dealing with a pastor’s family and their Bible college-bound son who inadvertently discovers the human trafficking ring and becomes involved in the heroic and dramatic rescue attempt. Any scenes revolving around the absolutely functional and loving life of the Flannery family are my favorites.

What was the most difficult scene, and why?

There were many difficult scenes in this book due to the subject matter, but the hardest had to be when the main character, 18-year-old Mara, realizes that one of the younger girls is being tortured and killed in an effort to extract information and punish her. Though the actual violence is done offstage, Mara experiences each blow and muffled scream, as does the reader.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? If not, how did you catch the writing bug?

Oh yes, I never wanted to be anything else. From the time I discovered the power and allure of words, I was hooked! I was an avid reader before I started kindergarten. A short story I wrote in the third grade was turned into a play for the entire PTA, and I won all sorts of awards for poetry in high school. I even told my then boyfriend (now husband) Al when we were in our early teens that I was going to be a writer one day.

How do you go about writing your fiction books? Which comes first for you, plot, characters, and/or theme?

I usually get what I call “a niggling in my soul,” which eventually emerges into the very basic theme of the book. I hate outlining and writing proposals because I do NOT develop plots or even characters ahead of time. I start with a couple of main characters, a starting and ending point for my story, and just let the rest unfold as I go. I know. We’re not supposed to do it that way, but it works for me, and I so enjoy the surprises as the story develops and my characters take over. So much fun! So long as they don’t try to lead me away from my pre-determined ending. Then I have to reign them back in a bit.

How do you get your ideas for your books?

I have ideas coming out of my ears! I am a seriously addictive idea person. You want ideas? You can have my overflow! My challenge is to figure out which ones are worth pursuing. Not every cute or fun or even meaningful idea that pops into our head is meant to be a book. I pray, think, study, bounce them off people, etc., before committing to moving ahead with one of them. For the most part, however, nearly all my book ideas are, to one degree or another, born out of some moral or social issue that I care about.

How can we find out more about you, The Freedom Series, and other books you are writing?

Please visit my website at KathiMacias.com.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for posting the author’s interview on my blog. This blog tour is managed by Christian Speakers Services (ChristianSpeakersServices.com).

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FIRST Wild Card Tour + Review: Breath of Angel by Karyn Henley

20 Jun

AMY’S REVIEW:

A thrilling novel about humans, angels, and immortals, Breath of Angel is an interesting addition to the ranks of fantasy work by Christian authors.  From the start, I knew that humans and angels had to work together to restore the stairway to Heaven, so I was interested in seeing how a publishing company focused on Christian literature would tackle the theological quagmire sure to erupt in Breath of Angel.  The short answer is—they didn’t.

The plot itself revolves around Melaia, a young priestess whose life is thrown into chaos when a winged angel falls into the courtyard temple and dies in front of her.  Suddenly, all the mythical stories Melaia has heard about angels turn out to be true—angels do exist.  Since the stairway to heaven was destroyed, many angels have become earthbound, choosing to live with, and in some cases, marry humans.  Melaia learns that it is her duty to restore this staircase by breath of angel and blood of man as she tries to navigate the world of angels, figure out her romantic feelings for a certain someone, and save the day.  The first in the Angeleon Circle series, Breath of Angel has a steady plot line that doesn’t disappoint.

While I immensely enjoyed Breath of Angel, I feel confused.  I know what the Bible tells me about angels, what I’ve learned from pastors and theologians, and even researched the mysterious “Nephilim.” The angels in this book are nothing like the Bible’s depiction of angels.  I find it disturbing when fallen angels (or angels in general) choose to live and breed with humans, creating angel/human hybrids, and a book like this encourages the idea that humans can and should fall in love with angels and that angels have an identity apart from serving God.  To me, this is very dangerous.

However, Henley also invents a different world—another kingdom—in which all this plays out, so one could argue that these angels are more like elves or fairies.   Therefore, perhaps the author isn’t trying to make a theological argument, just write a fantasy novel with angels, half-angels, humans, and some other creatures.  But, then, why not call them elves?  Or fairies?  Or something else entirely?  Why did Henley choose angels to be the paranormal stars in her novel?

Henley plays off Christian theology and Scripture–such as the hierarchy of angels (though she renames them), the idea that angels are in the presence of God (who she refers to as “the Most High”), the Nephilim and theory that angels or demons did marry humans at one point in history (found in the books of Genesis and Numbers), Jacob’s ladder (Jacob’s dream/vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to Heaven), and finally, the mention in the book of Genesis that the Garden of Eden was closed to Adam and Eve and humankind so that they could not eat from the Tree of Life and become immortal. However, none of these are clearly explained mixing theology and imagination in a way that could be damaging to young Christians, who may incorrectly believe these fantastical renderings to be Scriptural truths about angels.  Also, I believe this promotes an unhealthy interest in angelology and the unhealthy worship of angels themselves.

Here are a few of the renderings of angels that bother me in light of the authority of the Bible:

1. Angels control the elements appearing as wind, fire, and so forth.  This seems to be a misrepresentation of God appearing as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night when leading the Israelites out of Egypt.  He also appeared to the prophet, Elijah, as a “gentle whisper.”

2. Humans and angels are friends.  Never in Scripture does this happen; angels seem to serve a purpose, send a message, and then are on their way.  Angels do spend time at Lot’s house and save his family from the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah, but that’s about it. (Unless you include the references in the New Testament in which Jesus was ministered to by angels after his 40 days in the desert.)

3. Humans and angels are more than friends.  Again, we come back to the Nephilim–referenced in Genesis and Numbers, but no one really understands who or what the Nephilim are.  The Bible says that in heaven we will be like angels who do not marry.  This is problematic when considering the marriages and offspring between angels, angels and humans, as well as angels and immortals.  There is no evidence that offspring from these unions is possible or even probable given that humans and angels are different creatures with different purposes.  From my understanding of Scripture, angels are genderless (though only appearing as men to humans in the Bible) and do not reproduce.

4. Angels do things other than serving God.  Nowhere do angels do anything but serve God, except for Satan and the fallen angels, who refuse to serve God.

5. The malevolents or “bad angels” are at the bidding of an immortal human.  This gives humans way too much power.  Perhaps it will come out later in the series that the malevolents are secretly using the humans to wage war against the vaguely mentioned “Most High,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the first book of the series.  Demons are kept in check by God, but can very much affect humans as seen in the book of Job as well as the references to the demoniacs in the Gospels.

Other than these gaping theological issues, Breath of Angel is a good read—one I would gladly recommend if Henley has chosen to use something but angels.  I am just unsettled by this author’s depiction of angels, find it contradictory to the Bible, and cannot endorse this book.

*The following contains more information on Breath of Angel, including the book’s first chapter.  Read on and decide for yourself if Breath of Angel is for you.*

***

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Breath of Angel

WaterBrook Press (June 21, 2011)

***Special thanks to Lynette Kittle, Senior Publicist, WaterBrook Multnomah, a Division of Random House for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Karyn Henley has written over 100 titles, along with being an accomplished songwriter nominated for a Dove Award. She also received a regional Emmy Award as Music Composer for a television special and lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, a jazz drummer.

Visit the author’s website.

***

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In Breath of Angel (WaterBrook Press, June 21, 2011), award winning author Karyn Henley brings to life the tale of Melaia, a young priestess who witnesses the murder of a stranger in the temple courtyard. A place where age-old legends recited in song suddenly come to life, in this story of two immortal brothers quest for restoration.

With Angels. Shape-shifters. Myths and stories… Melaia finds herself in the middle of a blood feud between two immortal brothers who destroyed the stairway to heaven, stranding angels in the earthly realm.

Young readers are sure to be intrigued and dig deeper into this make-believe story that explores the payment for redemption.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 21, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307730123
ISBN-13: 978-0307730121

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

The prick of the thorn drew blood, but Melaia smiled. The last ramble rose of the season was well worth a pierced thumb. She carefully drew the blossom from the vine that clung to the side of the temple. As she breathed its rich, sweet scent, she sensed someone watching and looked up, expecting to see one of the novice priestesses. She saw only dry leaves skittering across the flagstones of the walled courtyard, along with a black feather, no doubt from a bird scavenging seeds in the woodpile.

Then a haggard young man stepped through the gate, and Melaia drew back. The chill autumn breeze riffled the edge of his dirt-stained cloak, revealing the corner of a journey pack and the hilt of a dagger. Melaia gave him a tentative nod.

“I’ve come—” His voice was dirt dry. He wiped his fist across his mouth.

“I’ll fetch water.” Melaia tucked the rose into her waist sash and headed for the stone urn by the arched doorway. “Travelers are always welcome at our temple. We’ve pallets if you wish to stay the night.” She would have to check with the high priestess, but Hanni rarely turned away weary travelers.

“My thanks,” the man croaked.

Melaia flipped back her loose honey brown braid and dipped a pottery cup into the cool water. “I’m chantress here, always eager to hear new tales from travelers.”

The young man looked too weary to tell tales. Or too ill. His dark-ringed eyes darted from one afternoon shadow to another, and he cocked his head as if he heard something beyond the walls.

“We’re healers here as well,” she offered.

For a moment his wild eyes focused on her. Then he glanced above her head, and his hand went to his dagger.

But he never drew it.

A hawk, larger than any she’d ever seen, shot like an arrow past Melaia and sank its talons into the stranger’s chest. The man’s raw screams pierced the air as the hawk’s beak knifed at his throat.

Melaia stood stunned and speechless. But as the hawk flapped its great wings and lifted the man a handbreadth off the flagstones, her senses surged back.

She snatched a branch from the woodpile and swung it at the hawk. The raptor screeched and dropped the stranger. “Fight!” she yelled at him. “Fight back!”

But it was the hawk that fought, its wings beating at her stick as its claws snagged the man again. At last Melaia struck a solid blow to the hawk’s head, and it skidded sideways. She chased after it, but the raptor took to the air, quickly rose, and soared away over the domed roof of the temple.

Melaia flung aside the stick and fell to her knees by the bloodied man. Then she covered her mouth and swallowed a bitter taste. “Most High, have mercy,” she croaked. Seeing wounds so deep and blood flowing freely, she wasn’t surprised that the stranger’s mistlike spirit had emerged from his body.

As a death-prophet, she could see the shadowy echo writhing around his form as he struggled to live.

“Mellie? Is it safe?” Dark-eyed Iona stood in the temple doorway, holding back the other two novices. At fourteen, she was the motherly one, although Melaia was two years older. Curly-haired Peron, still baby plump at six, peered around Iona, clutching her skirts, while twelve-year-old Nuri broke away from them and ran across the yard, her usual dimpled smile gone.

“Is he dead?” Nuri asked.

“Not yet,” Melaia told her. “Take Peron and fetch a basket of plumwort. And water.”

Nuri stared at the man’s wounds. “We saw the hawk.”

“Go!” said Melaia. “I need plumwort to stanch the bleeding.”

As Nuri dashed away, Melaia wondered why the high priestess hadn’t appeared.

“Where’s Hanni?” she called to Iona.

“Summoned to a birthing. The weaver’s wife.” Iona nervously twisted the end of her black braid.

“Then come help me carry the man inside.”

Melaia hesitated. She was often called to the bedside of the dying to confirm the moment of death, but never had she been required to reach through a spirit to touch someone. Of course, other people did it all the time, she told herself. They just couldn’t see the struggling, mistlike layer. She took a deep breath, grasped the man’s bloodied cloak, and pressed it to the gashes in his chest. His spirit pooled around her wrists, vibrating like a throat quivering with speech.

“Can you hear me?” Melaia asked, keeping pressure on his wound. The stranger’s spirit thrummed frantically, as if he were trying to say something.

“Where’s the plumwort?” Melaia yelled.

Nuri ran across the yard, sloshing a jar of water. Peron trotted behind her with the basket of plumwort. Iona knelt at the man’s feet, her mouth moving silently in prayer.

Melaia reached for the plumwort, but the man’s spirit slid off his body, thinned into a stream, and seeped through a crack in the flagstones. A sudden, grim silence fell over the yard. Melaia shook her head at Nuri and Peron and closed the man’s green-flecked eyes.

Peron stuck out her lower lip. “I was too slow.”

“No, I was.” Nuri’s shoulders drooped.

“No one’s at fault,” said Melaia, but she couldn’t help thinking that the man might still be alive if she had only laid into the hawk sooner. “Let’s get him inside.” She lifted his upper body. For his bulk he was surprisingly light.

Iona lifted his legs. “Starved twig-thin,” she said. “Poor man.”

They carried the stranger to the sanctuary altar, the bier for those who

could afford no better. Melaia took a deep breath, wishing Hanni were there.

“Iona, find me a winding-sheet,” she said. “Peron, go with Nuri. Fetch more

water and scrub the courtyard.”

“But it’s bloody,” said Nuri. Peron wrinkled her nose.

“Would you rather clean the man’s body?” asked Melaia. Nuri and Peron

scrambled out the door. Iona followed.

Melaia gently eased the man’s cloak from his chest and winced, wondering where Hanni would begin. She exhaled slowly. “Start with the easiest,” she murmured.

She untangled his pack from one forearm. As she slipped it free, she noticed the end of a small scroll clenched in his fist. “First the pack,” she told herself, glancing around. Her gaze fell on a shelf of incense bowls. She stashed the pack there, then turned back to the altar-bier and froze.

The stranger’s cloak had fallen back and, with it, a long, white, bloodstained wing.

Melaia’s knees almost buckled. “An angel?” she whispered. It couldn’t be. Angels were found only in legends. Chanters’ stories. Bedtime tales.

Iona’s voice echoed down the corridor. “Do we need more water?”

Melaia jerked the cloak back around the man.

Iona strode in with a bundle of white linen. “Do we need more water?”

“We need Hanni,” said Melaia.

“You look as if you’ve seen the man’s ghost.” Iona looked around. “Has he

returned?”

“Just go get Hanni.”

Distant drums signaled the closing of Navia’s city gates and the change of watch on the walls. On the altar-bier in the temple, the winged man lay serene and clean, covered in white linen up to his chin. Melaia didn’t often sit with the dead, but as she lit the oil lamps behind the bier, she decided that tonight she would request a vigil. She hoped the high priestess would join her, for she had a night’s worth of questions to ask.

But so far, the high priestess hadn’t returned. She had sent Iona back to say

that the birthing was a difficult one and she must stay with it, although she was upset at the news of a death in the side yard. Hanni intended to stop by the overlord’s villa and bring his advisor, Benasin, back to the temple with her.

As Melaia held the flaming twist of rushweed to the last wick, she eyed the three girls munching their supper on a reed mat across the room. With Hanni gone they had asked to stay with Melaia instead of eating in the hearthroom down the hall. She was glad for their company. She felt as shaky as they did, although she hadn’t told them about the stranger’s wings. She wanted Hanni’s opinion first.

Melaia tossed the spent rushweed into the brazier in the center of the room and stirred the coals into flame. For a moment she watched the smoke curl up and drift like a dying spirit out through the roof hole above. Except dying spirits always drifted down, not up.

“I’m saving my scraps for the chee-dees,” Peron said, scooping her crumbs into a tiny hill.

“Fetch your crumb jar from the storeroom, then,” said Melaia. “When you’ve finished cleaning up, I’ll tell a story.”

Peron stared warily at the dark corridor that lay beyond the bier.

“I’ll go with you.” Nuri slipped one of the lamps from its niche. With an uneasy smile she guided Peron to the corridor, giving wide berth to the bier.

Iona stoppered the olive oil. “Peron is telling tales again. This time it’s about two falcons scaring away her songbird friends.”

“She must have been inspired by the hawk in the yard today.” Melaia stacked the empty wooden bowls and glanced at the stranger who should have eaten a meal with them tonight.

“Peron said the falcons were darker than closed eyes,” said Iona. “I can picture that.” Melaia lifted her harp from its peg.

“And they had people hands.” Iona rolled her eyes.

“That I can’t picture,” said Melaia. “Too ghoulish.”

Iona laughed. “With such an imagination Peron will surely become a chantress.”

A shriek came from the corridor. Peron darted into the room, hugging her crumb jar, with Nuri on her heels. Both girls were open-mouthed and wide-eyed.

Behind them limped a sharp-nosed, beardless man wearing a cloak fashioned

completely of feathers—brown, black, and an iridescent blue that glinted in the lamplight. The skin around one of his round gold eyes was blackened, and a scratch jagged across his brow.

Melaia went cold, head to toe. How had the man entered? Had she left the side door unbolted?

Nuri and Peron ran to Iona, and all three huddled by the wall. Melaia stifled her impulse to join them. Hanni had left her in charge, so in charge she would be. She had fought off a murdering hawk. She had prepared a bloody winged man for burial. She would stand up to this intruder.

She strode to the brazier, her hands clammy as she clung to her harp. “This is the temple of the Most High,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t hear the quaver in her voice.

“So it is,” he hissed, limping to the bier. “I believe I noticed that.” “What’s your business here?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Surely you’re not the high priestess.”

“She’s the chantress,” blurted Peron.

“Ah. Singer of songs, soother of sorrows,” he crooned.

“If you’re here for our treasury box, take it and be on your way,” said Melaia.

“I have unfinished business with the high priestess,” he said.

“You can find her at the overlord’s villa,” said Melaia.

“No doubt.” With a gloved hand he slid back the sheet that covered the corpse. He smiled at the gashes, then studied Melaia. “Chantress, play your harp for me.”

Melaia gaped at him. “You have no right—”

“Or let me play it,” he said. “The little girl can bring it. The one who feeds the birds.”

Peron’s eyes grew round as the supper bowls, and she shrank behind Iona’s skirts.

Melaia hugged the harp tighter to her chest and glared at the man defiantly, even as she fought back a fear that curdled in the pit of her stomach. How long had this swaggerer been spying on them?

His unblinking gold eyes stared back at her. “I do not take disobedience lightly.” His voice was ice. “Send the girl with the harp or play it yourself.”

Melaia swallowed dryly. She felt her courage fall as limp as the poor stranger in the yard. Keeping her eyes on the intruder, she sank to a bench by the brazier and positioned the harp in her lap.

“Let us hear the tale of the Wisdom Tree,” he said. “You know it, don’t you, Chantress?”

Melaia scowled at him and motioned for the girls to join her. As she fingered

the melody, they silently gathered around, and she breathed easier. Together they were safer, with the brazier as a barrier between them and the bully.

She turned her attention back to the harp, and over the music she spoke the tale.

In a time long ago, there lived a tribal chieftain whose firstborn son was

a wealthy trader, his second-born a lone hunter. Each year at harvest festival, his sons vied to present him with the best gift. The Firstborn always gave perfumes, musicians, slave dancers, the treasures of his trade. The Second-born presented partridges, deerskins, lion-claw necklaces, the spoils of the hunt. But the Second-born thought his gifts paltry compared to those of the Firstborn. So he set out to seek the greatest gift of all.

Far and wide he journeyed, to no avail. At last, weary and discouraged, he lay to rest in the shade of a tree as tall and wide as the tower of a citadel. The Wisdom Tree it was, bearing fruit that granted the eater knowledge and cleverness.

Peron popped her thumb out of her mouth and chanted, “Within this tree stood the stairway to heaven made wholly of light.”

“Exactly,” said Melaia, glad that for the moment the tale was distracting Peron from the intruder, whose gold eyes held a hungry glitter. Melaia continued:

An angel named Dreia, guardian of the Tree, saw the Second son lying there and asked the cause of his despair. When he told his tale, she pitied him and gave him the juice of one fruit. “This will grant you knowledge and cleverness to find the right gift for your father,” she said.

As he sipped the juice, the man’s eyes brightened. “I know the perfect gift,” he said. “A fruit from this Tree.”

Dreia hadn’t intended to give the man a whole fruit. Its seeds were precious, carried by angels into the heavens to plant wisdom trees in worlds among the stars. Yet the man was handsome, his entreaties eloquent.

At last Dreia said, “You may take one fruit if you vow to bring me the first creature that greets you when you arrive home. This I shall send over the stairway as payment. Moreover, you shall return the three

seeds of this fruit, for they are strictly forbidden to mortals. Should you fail to repay your debt, the Tree itself shall exact payment in breath and blood.”

The Second-born agreed to the bargain, for the one who always greeted his homecoming was his old hunting dog. Taking his dog and the seeds back to Dreia would be good reason to see the beautiful angel again. So he carried the fruit home.

While he was still afar off, he saw, bounding across the field to greet him, his young niece. “Uncle!” she cried. “Terrible news. Your old hunting dog has died.”

The Second-born fell to his knees and wept, not for his dog, but for his niece, the only daughter of the Firstborn, now to be payment for his debt.

Melaia paused as the intruder slipped off his gloves. His fingernails were long, curved, and sharp. Talons. Her pulse pounded at her throat. His blackened eye, his scratched brow, his feathered cloak, his limp.

She had met him before. As a hawk.

“Is there no ending to the tale?” He smirked at her recognition of him and stroked the corpse. “I favor endings.”

Melaia felt foggy, as if she were in a dream. She tried to gather her thoughts.

“The Second-born knew only one way to escape his debt,” Iona prompted.

“Yes.” Melaia cleared her throat and forced out the words.

The Second-born knew he had to destroy the Wisdom Tree.

Dreia saw an army approaching, the Second son in the lead, betrayal in his heart. She gathered what angels she could. Some plucked the remaining fruit and hastened over the stairway to celestial worlds.

Others stayed behind to defend the Tree. But these were not warring angels. The best they could do was save some of the wood as the Tree fell and was plundered by men who wanted pieces for themselves.

“That was the end of the stairway,” Nuri said.

“And the end of angels in our world,” added Iona.

“But the brothers planted the seeds of the Wisdom Tree,” offered Peron,

“didn’t they?”

“They did.” Melaia set the harp aside. “The brothers learned that cultivating wisdom takes patience.”

The girls chimed in, “Wisdom, over time, is earned.”

The hawkman hissed. “A pitiful ending and woefully false.” He pointed a taloned finger at Melaia. “Remember this, Chantress. The Second-born abducted his niece and headed for Dreia. But fortune was with the Firstborn, for

I discovered the treachery in time to rescue my daughter. To ensure that the Tree never collected on the debt, I destroyed it. My daughter and I ate the seeds, round and shiny, red as blood. We became immortal!”

“You’re trying to haunt us with our own tale.” Melaia took up a poker and stabbed the coals in the brazier, determined not to show her fear. “There were three seeds.”

“So there were,” said the hawkman. “The third I crammed down my brother’s throat. Now he owes his debt for all eternity. And it is my pleasure to make sure he never repays.” He grinned at the dead man. “Son of Dreia, this night you are destroyed.”

He snatched up the corpse, and its wings unfolded. The girls shrieked and ran to Melaia.

The hawkman dropped the body back to the bier as if it had burned him.

Then he cursed and shoved it to the floor. He scanned the room. “The man

had a pack. Where is it?”

“Maybe he lost it in the side yard.” Melaia felt her face grow warm at the half lie.

But the man didn’t press his search. Instead, he stiffened and stared at the front door, his head cocked, listening. Melaia heard only wind, but the hawkman slowly retreated, tense as a cat backing away from danger. He glanced from the door to the window to the roof hole, where smoke drifted into the night. Then he hurtled toward the brazier, and his body contorted.

All of Melaia’s instincts screamed at her to run, but she stayed her feet, clenched her jaw, and gripped the poker with both hands. As the hawk leaped into the flames, she swung with all her might.

She struck only air as he rose in the smoke and vanished.

Book Review:: Blood Covenant by Lisa Harris

5 May

In Blood Covenant, the second book of her Mission Hope series, award-winning author and missionary Lisa Harris once again takes readers into the Republic of Dhambizao, a fictional African country.  This time the story is centered on Dr. Paige Ryan, who joins forces with bush pilot Nick Gilbert, to set up a transitional refugee camp to offer basic needs such a food, shelter, water, and sanitation to displaced people.  However, the war-torn republic is fraught with dangers from Ghost Soldiers, infectious disease, and lack of medicine.

I enjoyed Blood Covenant’s suspense and found the novel to be more realistic than the first book in the series, Blood Ransom.  I appreciated the creation of new characters in a new setting within the same unstable African country.  This book goes where Blood Ransom did not—with more developed characters and a better plot (with a little bit of romance throw in for good measure.)  One does not have to read one book to understand the other, each book is a stand-alone.

Like her first book, Harris takes readers to the front lines of devastating poverty and the tragic conditions that aid workers around the world experience every day.  While this is a work of fiction, Harris’ experiences as a missionary in Mozambique prove to be good fodder for her action-packed novels.  If you’ve yet to read a book in the Mission Hope series, then Blood Covenant is a great place to start.

*With thanks to Zondervan for my review copy of this book.*

What did you think of Blood Covenant?  If you haven’t read it, do you think it is a book you would find interesting?  Did you like the book trailer?

Blog Tour & Book Review:: Bound by Guilt by C.J. Darlington

21 Mar

TitleTrakk.com Blog Tours Presents:

Bound by Guilt
by C.J. Darlington
Published by Tyndale House

Shuttled between foster homes, Roxi Gold will do anything to fit in. Soon she’s traveling the country stealing rare books from unsuspecting bookstores. Police officer Abby Dawson has seen the worst of society—and not just at work. One fateful night, both their lives are changed forever. One searches for justice, the other finds herself on the run. Will the power of forgiveness set them free?

Amy’s Review: Bound by Guilt is an action-packed page turner that will keep you riveted to the end when you will feel satisfied by a story well-told.  This is the kind of work readers can expect from C.J. Darlington, who wowed the literary world with her first novel, Thicker Than Blood.  And, if possible, the sequel may be even better.Once again, we return to the Book Barn and Christy Williams, who so heroically fought her alcohol addiction, reunited with her sister, and fought off a crazy ex-boyfriend in Thicker Than Blood.  But this time, Christy is cop Abby Dawson’s “partner” in a murder investigation, after a shocking character death that occurs in the first 50 pages!

However, this story doesn’t primarily center around Christy, but her fiancé’s sister, Abby as well as our main protagonist, Roxi Gold, a 16 year-old girl, who finds herself in a heap of trouble after being involved in the aforementioned shocking murder.  But Roxi is a sympathetic character, who has been bounced around in the foster care system since she was abandoned by her mother at the tender age of eight.  After running away from her mom’s deranged antiquarian book thieving cousin, Irene, and her son, Diego, Roxi finds herself with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.  Similarly, Abby, who is tracking down the trio, is just as lost.  Darlington marvelously reminds readers that redemption from the guilt to which we are bound, our sin, is found in Christ alone.

Against the backdrop of the beautiful Colorado Mountains, Darlington weaves her tale.  Her descriptions of setting and character are detailed and she always keeps the plot moving at a steady clip.  One fault I find with this novel is that Abby Dawson seems a little flat and one-dimensional.  I didn’t find myself emotionally invested in Abby, nor did I find her terribly interesting.  She was just helpful in moving the story forward.  My other hang-up is that while the Christian characters in this book say they are flawed, I don’t actually see any evidence of these flaws.  For example, Christy Williams enters a bar after learning of the tragic murder and almost drinks, but she doesn’t. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have any of the problems she did in the first book.  I think adding a bit of an edge to these characters would make them more believable.

Still, I immensely enjoyed Bound by Guilt and cannot wait to read more of C.J. Darlington’s delectable writing.

*Thank you to Tyndale House for my review copy of this book.  In an effort to “keep it real,” I should disclose that I am a contributor to TitleTrakk.com, the site co-founded by C.J. and her sister, Tracy.*

Great job! You kept me turning the pages.
Francine Rivers, Internationally best selling author

C.J. is a wonderful, talented writer . . . extraordinary . . .
Bodie Thoene, best-selling author of the A.D. Chronicles

This one engages your senses and reaches your heart.
Jerry B. Jenkins, NY Times best-selling author & owner of The Christian Writers Guild

Watch the book trailer:

About the Author:
C. J. Darlington won the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest with her first novel, Thicker Than Blood. She has been in the antiquarian bookselling business for over twelve years, scouting for stores similar to the ones described in her novels before cofounding her own online bookstore. In 2006 C. J. started the Christian entertainment Web site www.TitleTrakk.com with her sister, Tracy, and has been actively promoting Christian fiction through book reviews and author interviews. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Visit her website www.cjdarlington.com

QUICK LINKS:

Take 5 with author Liz Curtis Higgs

16 Mar

Liz Curtis Higgs is my favorite former bad girl.  Author of the Bad Girls of the Bible series as well as a slew of other award-winning books, Liz just released her latest historical novel, Mine Is the Night (read review), which completes the tale that began with Here Burns My Candle.  Both novels take the book of Ruth and transplant it in 18th century Scotland.  The result is a series that is both breathtaking in its historical detail and swoon-worthy in its classic romance.   I adore Liz—her personality, her writing, her zeal for God’s Word—and am beyond excited to interview her for the first time on Backseat Writer.

You have a special gift for retelling stories of the Bible, yet leaving the message intact.  When did you first discover you were a storyteller?

Almost as soon as I started reading, I started writing little stories on paper for my family and friends. My first go at a novel came at age ten. Yes, I still have it, and yes, it’s laughable! But when I hold it in my hands I remember that young girl who dreamed of writing real novels someday. I kept that dream under wraps for many years, through high school and college, through my radio career and the early years of my speaking career. In the mid-90s I finally confessed to a writing friend, “I believe God is calling me to write fiction,” then waited for her to laugh. Instead she said, “Why not? You’re a natural storyteller.” Her kind words gave me the courage I needed for the next step: showing an editor my work. Thank the Lord she didn’t laugh either! I wrote two contemporary novels and a novella before turning to historical fiction in 2003 with Thorn in My Heart.

I read that the story of Ruth, the basis for Mine Is the Night, has been a longtime favorite of yours.  What do you love about this story?

It’s a romance for the ages, one that goes far beyond girl-meets-boy. A young woman leaves behind her pagan gods to follow the God of Israel, then leaves behind her family to follow her bitter, broken mother-in-law, and finally leaves behind her widow’s weeds to marry a man who is older than she, yet wise in the things of God. It’s the ultimate rags-to-riches, loss-to-redemption, sorrow-to-celebration story. Glorious! By moving Ruth and Naomi’s journey to eighteenth-century Scotland, I hoped I might help readers look at their story afresh and discover what God might be saying to us about his loving-kindness and mercy.

What captivates you about Scotland, where so many of your tales find their setting?

The land itself is beautifully green and rolling in the Lowlands, then strikingly barren and majestic in the Highlands. History is everywhere you turn in Scotland, with castles and cottages dotting the landscape. Traditions are woven into their lives like a thick tapestry. And faith runs through the backbone of Scotland like the Great Glen itself. It’s simply a magical place. I’ve been there a dozen times and cannot wait to return.

Your Bad Girls of the Bible books have greatly impacted my life and the way I look at the Bible.  How has sharing parts of your own story through your writing and speaking helped others? (And maybe even helped to heal you!)

It took ten years of sharing my Former Bad Girl story from the platform before I had the courage to share it on the pages of my first book, One Size Fits All and Other Fables, released in 1993 and now long out of print. So my healing was already well underway when I wrote Bad Girls of the Bible in 1999, praying I might help other women break free from the mistakes of their past and embrace the grace that God offers. Jesus loved hanging around with Bad Girls, with prostitutes, with those who were unclean, unwelcome, unseen. What a Savior! It’s been thrilling—and humbling—to watch God work in the lives of our sisters through the Bad Girls of the Bible series.

When was the last time you laughed out loud in a very unladylike fashion?

I do that on a daily basis! Though I have to say, this little story that arrived in my morning email made me LOL: A woman was in the bathroom, putting on her makeup under the watchful eyes of her young granddaughter. After the woman applied her lipstick and started to leave, the little girl said, “But Grandma, you forgot to kiss the toilet paper good-bye!” Love it.

For more information on Liz Curtis Higgs, please visit her online at LizCurtisHiggs.com.  She’s also on Facebook and Twitter.  Everyone needs a little Lizzie in her life!

Don’t forget to read Backseat Writer’s review of Mine Is the Night.

Book Review:: Her Daughter’s Dream by Francine Rivers

5 Oct

By Donna Landis Where have I been? While the Christian fiction market was burgeoning with great new titles, I wasn’t reading Redeeming Love.  In fact, I am not a Francine Rivers fan. It’s not that I don’t want to be. I’m just one of the few women who has not read any of her books.  Or I was.  But now that I finished her latest book, Her Daughter’s Dream, I now have a list of River’s book on my must-read list.

Carolyn Arundel grows up in the same time period that I did! Ms. Rivers cultural references ring true. Historical details are accurate and realistically influence the characters’ lives and choices. Carolyn makes wrong choices, based upon her understanding and reaction to her family and her world. She lives through the horror of the Vietnam War, drugs, and single motherhood. I wanted to grab her and yell at her to change her life and make better choices. Her daughter May Flower Dawn is similarly affected by the influences of her culture. Her daughter’s dream was…well, you will need to read the book as I’m not giving away the ending! Surprising, yes, but real.

Her Daughter’s Dream is the second part of the epic journey of women that began in the first book, Her Mother’s Hope. I did not have the opportunity to read the first book in this series and, at times, was slightly confused by the past relationships started in it. However, this confusion was minor and I was quickly caught up in the unfolding narrative of mothers and daughters caught up in the effects of past mistakes and misunderstandings. Never having read Francine Rivers novels in the past, I was quickly surprised by the grim reality portrayed in the lives of the women. No sugary sweet and squeaky clean Christian lives here. Rather, Rivers writes about real women living in the real world. Good for you, Ms. Rivers!

I am now a Francine Rivers fan. Read Her Daughter’s Dream and then, like me, make a long list of her other books you must read.

Donna Landis is a retired teacher (over 30 years of teaching kindergarteners was enough).  She has one daughter, Amy, who is the head honcho of Backseat Writer.  She lives in Pennsylvania and owns a cute dog named Katie.

*Thanks to Christian Speaker Services and Tyndale House for the review copy of the book!*

Book Review:: Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck

13 Jul

Perfectly Dateless by Kristin Billerbeck is a YA (Young Adult) novel about a high school senior named Daisy who is determined to find a date for the prom, despite her low social status.  In an often amusing story, Billerbeck shows that she’s in touch with teen culture, even if her tale derails at the end.

Daisy Crispin lives in a world controlled entirely by her parents, who do not permit her to date or talk on the phone to boys.  They have committed her to marriage by courtship.  Not only that, but Daisy is forced to wear clothes homesewn by her mother to her elite Christian high school in California.  As if that isn’t bad enough (I mean, her clothes alone practically spell “social outcast”), Daisy feels invisible at her high school and her church youth group.  Despite her circumstances, Daisy has hope that she will make it to the crowning event of her high school experiencer–her senior high school prom.  She records her thoughts on prom, potential dates, and the like in her pink, frilly prom journal.

While I thought this book might mirror my own Christian high school dorkdom, it was far from my own life.  In fact, my small school didn’t even have a prom; we had a junior/senior banquet (no dancing) and a dress code that eventually matriculated into uniforms.  As far as I’m concerned, Daisy has it made, except her for the fact her parents don’t allow her to experience any sort of freedom in Christ.  Daisy’s eccentric parents change their attitudes towards the end of the book with little explanation, which just seems like poor plot planning.  Also, while the book appears to be a whimsical read, cutting is mentioned and there is a huge plot turn involving roofies and implied date rape.  Is this a serious book or the equivalent of chick lit for teens?  I don’t know because the “serious” parts seem terribly out of place putting a dark backdrop on a pleasant little read.

The truth about life as a Christian teenager, like cliques and bullying prove that Billerbeck  knows teens.  Yet the plot derails towards the last third of the book, which is a big disappointment for this reader.  And the characters don’t seem all that realistic.  Even as a teenage girl and youth leader, I never met boys who were quite so open with in declaring their feelings to girls, especially weird girls.  Daisy’s best friend, Claire, seems more like a mean girl than a gal pal.  Plus, how did these kids not get expelled from Christian school for throwing a wild party that involved both drinking and drugs?

Even for a YA book, Perfectly Dateless is entirely unbelievable with a shoddy plot development and undeveloped characters.  And this is the thing—the book started out great; it just ended poorly.

Available July 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Amy’s Grade: C-

*With thanks for Revell for a review copy of this book!*

Book Review:: Thicker Than Blood by C.J. Darlington

24 Jun

Thicker Than Blood by C.J. Darlington, is an excellent debut novel with a lively plot.  The recipient of the prestigious 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel, Darlington began writing this tale of two sisters when she was only 15.

Christy Williams left her younger sister standing in front of their great aunt’s house 15 years ago.  An unexpected funeral puts sisters Christy and May face-to-face again.  Christy, a 33 year-old alcoholic with a shady past, doubts her Christian sister would approve of her lifestyle.  However, through a wild set of circumstances, Christy winds up at May’s ranch, only to find that the bond between the two women is thicker than blood.

What I love about Darlington’s writing is her use of description.  Whether setting up a scene or describing the process of antiquarian book selling, I was fascinated to learn more about a topic I never considered interesting before.  I reveled in her lush descriptions of mountain scenery, horseback riding, calving, and life on May’s ranch.  However, I did feel that some of the characters lacked true dimension and intensity, which is something I want to see more of in Darlington’s next book.

While Thicker Than Blood shares the gospel and the Christian life—it is, after all, Christian fiction—I felt like the wholesome plot with thrilling twists and turns could appeal to most fiction readers.  Plus, there are some pretty good fight scenes. All in all, I definitely recommend Thicker Than Blood—for its excellent writing, masterful descriptions, and interesting plot.

Amy’s Grade: B+

For more information on Thicker Than Blood and C.J. Darlington, head on over to cjdarlington.com.

*I received this book for review from C.J. Darlington and was, of course, not compensated for my amazing and awesome opinion.*

Book Review:: The Last Christian by David Gregory

26 May

The Last Christian, the latest from author David Gregory, is a story about a brave new world so overrun by technology that people have lost their connection to God.  In fact, by 2088, Christianity is viewed by most Americans as an antiquated religion based on superstition.  The remaining Christians are called “religionists” and treated as radicals.  Humans interact widely in virtual reality (VR) using neural implants surgically inserted into their brains.  Sound complicated?  It is.

As the first trans-human is unveiled, that is, a human who has a biological body and a silicon brain, 34 year-old Abby Caldwell emerges from the Papua New Guinea jungles for the first time in her life.  Raised by Christian missionaries in a tribe closed off from the rest of civilization, Abby seeks medical attention as her entire tribe falls victim to a deadly illness.  Now homeless, Abby engages on a journey of her own to the United States in hopes of sharing the gospel with the deeply irreligious nation.

During her journeys, Abby meets up with several characters—both good and evil who help her on her quest.  Most notably, Abby ends up in the arms of college professor, Creighton Daniels, who is the only character to speak in first person, which goes strangely unexplained.  Like the other characters in The Last Christian, Abby is an underdeveloped female character, who seems like a “nice gal” that all the male characters want to rescue because “there’s something special about her.”  Obviously, Christians are to recognize this as her Christ-likeness.

While the book held my interest, my lack of interest in the characters made me care little about what happened to them.  My main interest, besides writing the review, was to examine the underlying message of how technology can erode our minds to the very point in which we can no longer sense God’s presence due to an overload of information.  The author’s point, I believe, was to show us that life cannot last forever on this earth, and man’s attempts to achieve immortality are foolish.  But the convoluted plot was part thriller, part witnessing tract, part philosophy, and a lesson on using technology wisely.  I think there was a bit of romance thrown in there, too.  Gregory tries to accomplish too much in one book.

What could have been an excellent book comes up short, though the ethical issues about life and artificial intelligence are quite interesting.  Personally, I’d just rather reread Brave New World.

Amy’s Grade: C-

*This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.*

Book Review:: Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs + Giveaway!

25 Mar

Having led Bad Girls of the Bible studies for years, it was fun to actually dig into one of original “former bad girl’s” historical fiction novels, Here Burns My Candle, part of Higgs popular Scotland series.  Having already retold the stories of the matriarchs of Genesis (Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel/Leah), Higgs now turns her eyes to the beloved story of Ruth and Naomi.

Dowager Lady Marjory Kerr is quite concerned about appearances as a socialite in 18th Century Scotland, especially when her son, Donald, dares to marry not only a commoner, but a Highlander as well.  The setting of the story takes place during the 1745-1746 assault on Edinburgh’s Lowlands by Highlander Prince Charlie.  Born in the Highlands of Scotland, Lady Elisabeth Kerr believes Prince Charlie, not an English monarch, to be Scotland’s true king—sentiments which not only risk the Kerr family’s title and wealth, but also offend Dowager Kerr.  Through loss, heartache, and redemption, Marjory and Elisabeth come to rely on one another.

Admittedly, I was a huge fan of Higgs before I read Here Burns My Candle.  Still, I was greatly impressed by how Higgs commands the turbulent history of Scotland’s past, throws in authentic Scottish dialect (glossary in back of book is helpful), and captures the thoughts of characters stuck in various calamities that life presents—an unfaithful husband, a wife who can never please her mother-in-law, a sickly son, a meddling mother—all these characters are rich and realistic.  At times the plot slows down a little too much, but that is a only a minor irritation in a work embroidered with historical detail.

Here Burns My Candle is a fine addition to Liz Curtis Higgs’ Scottish Lowland series, and would make a thrilling addition to any historical fiction lover’s reading list!

Because WaterBrook Multnomah is awesome, they have given Backseat Writer ONE copy of HERE BURNS MY CANDLE as a giveaway to readers.  Giveway runs through April 1 at 11:59 PM.  Winner will be announced on April 2. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only.

To enter, simply leave a comment below.  If you want extra entries, go for it.  Just be sure to leave a separate comment for each and every thing you do (fan Backseat Writer on Facebook, Tweet, regular follower, and so on.  If you think of it, I’ll probably accept it.)  Good luck.

This was book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah.

CymLowell

**Don’t forget to enter my Big 3-0  Bash Stash giveaway for your chance to win over 30 books, CDs & more!  Enter now.**

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