Archive for February, 2012

AlienationAllow me to begin by pointing out that I have yet to read Invasion, the first book in the CHAOS series.  I’m going to assume that, once I read that, this book will make more sense.  That said, I love the fact that the book doesn’t begin with a chapter or two of backstory.  There’s action and character development before Lewis gives even a full paragraph to the events of the previous book.  Memories come up naturally in the main character’s train of thought and observations, not in an awkward info-dump that would bore people familiar with the first book.  I appreciate that Lewis realizes that some readers may be diving into the middle of the story and takes the time to help us get acquainted with his character and unique world without alienating his loyal readers.  (I’m very sorry about that horrible pun there.  Sometimes I just can’t help myself.)

Speaking of Lewis’ unique world – this part confused me.  Unless I’m missing something (which I probably am, since I won’t have a chance to get the first book until Friday), jet packs are a thing in this book’s universe.  They’ve been a thing since World War II.  When I first started reading and realized that it wasn’t supposed to take place in some future world, I did a bit of a double take.  Once I got over my initial surprise, accepting the jet packs, hoverboards, and robots was easy.  It fascinated me.  Sci-fi tech just lights something in my mind.  If hoverboards are, indeed, a possibility, what else could people create?  Could that lead to landspeeders like the ones in Star Wars?  As long as Gungans never make an entrance, that would be awesome!  But I digress.  The advanced technology also explained how anyone in this ‘verse would think that Earth could stand a chance against technologically advanced super-monster aliens.

That’s right – aliens.  Of course there are aliens; it’s right there in the title.  The title has two purposes, the second of which I’ll get to in a moment.  The first, most obvious reason is the aliens.  Apparently, in the first book, aliens invaded.  The Earth suddenly met some of the other inhabitants of the galaxy.  Some are friendly; some are evil.  The evil ones, the Thule, are shape-shifters bent on destroying humanity to make Earth their new home world.  Several other kinds of alien life forms are visiting Earth, as well, but most of the others are actually helping humans.  The science of whether or not aliens would survive on Earth is barely mentioned.  Aliens simply exist in this universe.  Thankfully, Lewis avoids the pitfall that has ruined many good books – too much information.

Here’s what I loved about this book: No info-dumps.  There were no major ones for backstory and none for boring data.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Lewis had everything figured out about the boring bits.  Maybe he even has it written down somewhere in a manuscript.  Or maybe he saw a future of aliens trying to exterminate us and he’s trying to warn us without sounding like a crazy person.  (Oddly enough, I tend to assume that about pretty much every well-written sci-fi/fantasy book I read.  What if…?)

Okay, for the second reason for the title.  Lewis’ main character, Colt McAlister, loses most of the people he loves in the first book (it’s not a spoiler if it’s on the back cover blurb).  By the time Alienation really gets going, he’s built himself a small network of friends and family.  Within a few days, he discovers reasons to distrust most of them and gets in situations that push the rest of them away from him.  He truly is alienated.  He needs to learn who he can trust.  If he chooses the wrong person, he dies.

The stakes are high and the action is fast-paced.  One of the supporting characters is a “real-life” comic book hero.  The world is infused with aliens and futuristic technology.  This is the perfect story for teenagers, especially boys.  I give it 3.5 stars.  I have a feeling that, once I read Invasion, that rating will change to 4.5 stars.  Enjoy.

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Monday seems to be my Flash Fiction day.  This week’s challenge was to write a scene about a character making  a sandwich.  I thought it sounded insane at first, but then I realized it could be pretty fun! This one comes in at 992 words.  See if you can find the names that connect this story to last week’s.  Let me know what you think in the comments!

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Lenora’s stomach gurgled as she threw open the door to the apartment.

“Nora, that you?” Shane called from the common room, never looking up from his video game.  Muffled gunfire and zombie groans drifted to the kitchen.

“Yeah!” she whipped open the breadbox.  She growled.  Empty.  Again.  She braced herself on the counter and ground her teeth.  “Who ate all the freakin’ bread?” she barked.

The violent sounds silenced.  Shane stood in the doorway.  “Are you okay, Nora?”  He took a tentative step towards her.

“I’m hungry,” she seethed as her nostrils flared and her eyes became green slits.

“Okay…it’s okay.  There’s more bread in the fridge.”

Lenora shoved him backwards when he moved to get her a plate.  “I don’t want your help, Shane.”  He held up his hands in surrender and leaned against the door.  Opening the fridge, Lenora’s face suddenly split into a grin.  “It’s ciabatta bread!” she cried.

Shane just laughed.  “Guess you’re okay.  I’m just gonna go finish kickin’ zombie butt, then,” the gunshot and zombie noise resumed as soon as he left the kitchen.

After retrieving a bread knife, Lenora happily sliced the ciabatta roll.  Sandwiches make things better.  Especially on special bread.  She hummed tunelessly to herself as she spooned horseradish sauce on one piece of the bread.  She let it soak into all the airy holes.  Ketchup went on the other piece of bread.  In the dim light from the single bulb, the ketchup almost looked like thick blood.  She smiled and licked her lips.  The bread absorbed some of the red.  Just like cloth.  Like lab coats and stupid little sweaters underneath.  Like paper, too.  All their notes and research.  She stuck the condiments back in the door of the refrigerator and reached for the rare roast beef from the night before.

The ketchupy redness had filled a few more holes in the bread.  Her thrill at finding the ciabatta bread evaporated.  Like towels and rags, the knife in her hand shook.  A quick picture of once-white towels, soaked in blood, overtook her.  No.  No, no, no, she dropped the blade to the counter.  No remembering.  The smell of almost raw meat drew her away from the memories lingering at the edge of her mind.  She shook her head and quickly sliced a thick slab of beef.  She slammed it on the horseradish-covered bread.

She wrenched the refrigerator open one more time to find the cheese she had stashed in the vegetable drawer earlier in the week.  A deep frown creased her forehead.  Half of the cheese was gone.  So much for that hiding spot.  Sharing a dorm-like apartment with four other teenagers had its disadvantages.  Lenora almost stormed into the living room and demanded that Shane tell her who ate it.  With a flick of her wrist, she tossed the half-block of sharp cheddar back in the otherwise empty drawer.  She didn’t bother to shut the drawer before she slammed the refrigerator door.

Crack.  Lenora winced.  Her stomach growled again, now more insistent.  She opened the door to see the damage and sighed.  They were almost out of duct tape.  I’ll fix the stupid drawer later, she decided.  Once again, she retrieved the cheese and plopped it on the counter next to the half-made sandwich.  She sliced the remainder of the block and laid the thick slices on top of the beef.

The unexpected memory still had her shaking inside.  She refused to let it mess up her sandwich eating.  I really do love sandwiches.  The light bulb above her head flickered and dimmed.  She glanced up at it and shrugged.  I’ll get Shane or Ian to change it later.  Ketchup oozed out of the sandwich when she squished the top piece of bread on top of the meat and cheese.  Oh gosh, the blood again.  It’s the blood again.

She wasn’t in the little apartment kitchen anymore.  She was fifteen again, desperately trying to grasp what was happening to her.  A choked sob barely escaped her throat.  The only color in the bright white and chrome lab was the bright splotches of red scattered all around the table.  They had nicked an artery when she got one arm free of the bindings.  One of them had his hand on her mouth, forcing back her screams while one of the others tried to stop the bleeding and strap her arm back down so they could open her arm and take tissue samples.  The third one was on the floor with a couple of thick towels.  “It’s gonna stain the floor,” he complained.

“I told you to put down plastic,” the one gagging her looked down on him.

The floor?  That’s what they’re worried about?  The freakin’ floor?  That was the only coherent thought Lenora could remember.

“Nora!  Nora, it’s okay!” a disembodied voice called to her.  Something wrapped around her chest.  She struggled and tried to kick and bite, but the something seemed to know how to keep away from her attacks.

“Let me go!  Let me go!” she cried.  “Please,” her tears overcame her struggles.

The strong something lowered her to the floor and rocked her back and forth as she sobbed.  “Shh,” it whispered in her ear.  “I’ve got you.  It’s gonna be okay.”

She was back in the kitchen, her carefully made sandwich in pieces on the dirty floor next to her.  The strong something was Shane.  He stroked her hair and kissed her forehead.  “Shane?” she murmured.

He pulled back to look her in the eye.  “What happened?”

She pushed her hair out of her face and shook her head.  “I don’t know.  But it’s happening more often now.”  She pushed herself off the floor.  Without a glance at the mess she’d made, she strode to the porch door.

“What’re you going to do?” Shane frowned, not sure if he should let her leave so soon after an episode.

“I’m still hungry,” Lenora suddenly grinned.  “I’m going hunting.”

“Love your eThe Next Targetnemies.”  We hear this phrase all the time.  Many of us even claim to follow the instruction.  It’s easy to use this Bible verse when we’re telling a kid how to deal with the annoying people in their neighborhoods or when giving advice to someone dealing with aggravating co-workers.  Is that all it means, though?  Nikki Arana, in her upcoming novel, illustrates that it is a far bigger and grander love than what we are used to offering.

Austia Donatelli lost the love of her life to the Muslims with whom he was sharing the love of God.  Despite the counsel of many people, she continued his outreach after his tragic death.  She spreads God’s love by simply loving the Muslims in her town of Agua Viva, California.  She even opens a Career Center to help immigrants find jobs and teaches an ESL class for women.  Through the ESL class, she is given an opportunity to share her faith with a young woman.  The young woman’s conversion to Christianity unleashes a series of events that culminates in both a spiritual and physical confrontation that threatens to destroy all those dear to Austia.

The characters in this book are incredible.  While Austia is the main character, there are several other viewpoint characters, each with his or her own story arc.  No character comes to the end of this book unchanged.  Twists and turns abound in this fast-paced suspense story that keeps the reader quickly flipping pages to watch the race between Austia, the FBI, and a terrorist cell intent on unleashing a devastating attack on America.

While the action never stops and we desperately want to know if Austia will make it through the physical confrontation, The Next Target’s true conflict is spiritual.  It is a battle between love and hate, between God and Satan.  The love and respect Austia gives her Muslim neighbors should challenge us all.  Can love survive such attacks?  Can hatred turn to love?  As a Christian, Austia believes the answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes!” We say “Love your enemies,” but when those enemies are different than us, when they are distrusted because of their heritage, how we will respond?  Can we change the way we feel?  Can we, especially Christians, show love and respect to everyone?

This book releases in June.  I encourage you to pick it up as soon as you can.  The message is so pertinent to our world today.  The challenge is clear: Will you put it all on the line to share Christ’s love?

Forbush’s firsHeil Americat novel takes the reader to the not-so-distant future, beginning in 2013.  She uses the framework of a fictional story to show where past and current political and economic trends could easily take this country.  Her main character, Becca, is a blogger who has managed to anger some very powerful people.  Within the first couple of pages, a mysterious message forces her to flee for her life.  She winds up hiding in the basement of some other members of the Underground.  Eventually, a family with a house in the country gives her a safe place with a little freedom.  Becca’s research, writing, and conversations with the family show the reader some of the problems that, even now, plague this country and that are only getting worse.

I have always had severe misgivings about big government and large corporations, but this book really woke me up to the schemes of some of these people.  I am in the process of Googling some of the information she includes in the book, just so I can see for myself what is happening.

Heil America Incorporated” is Forbush’s first published novel.  The plot and characters are quite interesting, and, of course, the information provided within these pages is very eye opening.  Unfortunately, grammar and punctuation typos distracted me a bit, making me take much more time reading it than I otherwise would have.  The dialogue also tends to be a bit wordy, but that just may be the character’s personalities.

Overall, I would recommend this book.  Just remember when you pick it up to ignore the problems I just mentioned.  Do not let them keep you from diving in to this book.

I received this book by participating in Goodread’s First-Reads program.  Check it out, and while you’re there, feel free to friend or follow me.

Flames and Havoc

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Short Stories
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This is a short story I wrote based on a prompt from the Terrible Minds blog (quick note – there is some language on the blog, but also some great points).  The characters here are from a larger story I’m working on at the moment.  The plan is that I’ll write short stories as background pieces for the larger one.  The prompt was to write an unlikable, but compelling protagonist in 1000 words or less  This comes in at 998 words.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Willow lounged in front of the fireplace in the townhouse she shared with Ian and Kendra.  Usually people flocked in and out of the house at all hours; alone time was a luxury.  For once, no other Fae were using the house as a hostel.  Kendra was in her room reassembling a computer.  Ian was “on a date,” which would end either here or at the girl’s place.  Either way, it would probably end badly for the girl.  Unless date wasn’t actually a euphemism for make-out and then drain body of blood.  It’s been a while any which way, Willow shrugged.  She didn’t care about Ian’s late-night urges.  Human safety wasn’t high on her list of priorities.

She took a sip from her wine glass and laid her head back on the puffy couch, her red hair draped over the cushion.

Kendra suddenly pushed aside Willow’s feet and plopped next to her on the couch, plucking Willow’s wine glass out of her hand and taking a sip.  “Ugh,” she made a face.  “It tastes like feet.  How can you drink that stuff?”

“Some of us would rather have finer things than beer and whiskey,” Willow retorted, snatching the glass back.  “You just have no culture.”

“Culture?” Kendra snorted.  “Weren’t you just saying the other day that we should make our own culture?”

“Yes, and my culture happens to like fancy wine.  Occasionally humans get something right.”

“Whatever,” Kendra rolled her eyes.  “So…Lucas might be coming over to talk soon.”

Willow narrowed her eyes.  The fire leapt up, green and angry.  Kendra jumped up and grabbed the always-handy fire extinguisher, just in case the fire escaped or Willow lost more control.   “Will, relax!  He just wants to talk!”

“He never just wants to talk, Kendra!  He’s going to try to make us change our minds.  Again.  He wants us to go back to New Avalon and I’m not going!”  The fire hopped onto the stone floor and back into the fireplace.  Kendra quickly shot the stray flame that stayed behind with the extinguisher and glared at Willow.

“He’s coming, whether we want him to or not, so get a grip!  I’m sick of covering up scorch marks.”

The door opened quietly.  Ian just glanced at the girls, dejection written all over his pale face.  He silently sat in the middle of the couch.  He frowned at the new scorch mark and then at Willow.  He grabbed the bottle of wine from the floor and tipped it into his mouth.  After a few swallows, he spoke.  “Is there something wrong with me?”

“Of course not, Ian,” Kendra sat and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

“She said I creeped her out.  That I looked like Dracula or something,” he laid his head on Kendra’s shoulder.

“Sounds like a compliment.  Why didn’t you drain her?” Willow asked.

“I would’ve had to follow her; she left pretty early.  With another guy.”

“So?” Willow asked.

“Willow,” Kendra admonished, shaking her head.

“I was on the drunk side of tipsy by the time they left.  It wouldn’t have ended well.”

A knock on the back door interrupted the conversation.

“Lucas…” Willow clenched her fists.  Kendra got up, still holding the extinguisher.

“Why’s Lucas coming?” Ian frowned.

“Because he’s an idiot.”

“Oh.”

“Hi, Kendra.  Are Willow and Ian home, too?” Lucas’ low voice rolled through the rooms to reach Willow and Ian.

“Yeah, they’re in the living room,” Kendra replied.  She lowered her voice to a whisper, still audible to the two on the couch, “Be careful, Lucas.  Willow already has a fire going.  There won’t be a warning if she gets ticked off.”

Willow snorted and stood, arms crossed, to greet the man.

“What do you want?”

“We need to talk about the company you three keep.”

“We like our company just fine, thank you.”

Lucas sighed and leaned on the mantle.  “The Council isn’t happy.  They want you to come home.”

“We are home.”

“They want to talk about what happened two years ago and get you some help…”

“I don’t need or want the Council’s help!” smoke wisped from Willow’s hands.  “What do they want to do, send me through some freakin’ 12-step program or something?  I’m not apologizing for anything.”

“Yeah, well, the window for apologizing is closing pretty fast.”

Kendra paled.  “They’re sending Hunters, aren’t they?” she whispered.

Lucas swallowed hard and gave a slight nod.  “Soon.  I’m here to warn you.  You took an offer from them and now you’re using it to give shelter and provision to their enemies.  They want this over.  Now.”

Willow’s jaw clenched.  She held her hands away from her sides and small flames engulfed them.  The fire-tongues licked her skin, but didn’t burn her.  She unleashed a small fireball into the fireplace with a muffled boom.

“What we did wasn’t wrong!” she exploded.  “You know what people can do, what they did to Nora!  You’re her mentor; you’ve heard her horror stories!  How can you not just want to rip them all apart?  Besides, that ‘offer’ was just what the Council owed us anyway,” Willow’s pupils held a small flame.

“How long do we have?” Ian asked.

“A few days, a week,” Lucas shrugged.  “Not long.”

“We were just stupid teenagers!” Ian pleaded.

“And now you’re adults and need to start behaving like it.  If you come crawling back, begging forgiveness, if you agree to confinement on the complex, they’ll let you live.  But that’s only if you come back now.  Of your own accord.”

“No,” Willow spat.  Her hair drifted around her face; heat billowed from her skin.  Lucas gulped; he had seen her lose control before and didn’t want to see it again.  “Get out,” she demanded.

“Fine, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Lucas took long strides out the door.

“What’re we gonna do?” Kendra whispered.

“We’re not going back,” Willow decided.  “We’re stronger than we were.  We can handle ourselves.”

“What’s your plan?” Ian asked.

“We wreak havoc.”

ImageLast summer, I received a copy of the first book in the River of Time series, Waterfall, from the author.  I read it in about a day and a half.  I was nervous about starting it, since I had been told that it would appeal to fans of a certain vampire romance which shall remain unnamed.  That nervousness evaporated as I read the first few pages and got completely hooked on the main characters.  Lisa Bergren didn’t fill these books with one-dimensional or Mary-Sue-type characters; each main character (and some secondary characters as well) is fully fleshed out, with believable personalities and flaws.  Even the settings are brilliant characters!  Rather than place the heroines and heroes in a generic setting, every place and time is unique and beautifully written.  The characters’ interactions with each other and their settings are very well written. 

Two things really concerned me going in to this series: time travel and historical settings.  Neither concerned me any more by the time I finished the first book.  The time travel is limited and decidedly magical in its origins.  This is not simply a cop-out, however.  The time travel itself is not the focus of the story.  Being a sci-fi nerd, I’ve read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies that involve time travel.  Every writer seems to have his or her own take on the science of time travel and, quite frankly, I was thrilled that Bergren didn’t go in depth on how it worked. 

Bergren took a few artistic licenses with historical accuracy.  She admits that much in the after word of Waterfall.  That doesn’t mean she neglected to research her time period and area, however.  She spent time inItaly where the book takes place and used some wonderful resources for research.  Unlike most fiction books, especially those geared towards teenagers, she even includes a bibliography!  I cannot tell you how incredibly happy that made me. 

The adventure and romance in this series is so intertwined, it’s impossible to separate the two.  The romance is not cheesy or ridiculous and the action is epic and exciting.  I highly recommend this series for any age, but especially for tweens to twenty-somethings.  Don’t worry if you don’t usually like romances; I don’t either.  The River of Time is so much more!  Even hard-core fantasy fans will enjoy this series.

Click the titles to purchase:
Waterfall 
Cascade 

Harbinger – Jonathan Cahn

Posted: February 8, 2012 in Book Reviews

I could not put this book down, once I got intImageo it.  That took a bit of time and encouragement from someone who had already finished reading it.  The outer framing from which much of the story hung bothered me a bit; but once I got past that and into the narrative, made up primarily of back-and-forth dialogue, I read it in just a few sittings.  The ideas behind this book are incredible.  Seeing some of the parallels between the USA and ancient Israel is jaw dropping.  I have never believed in coincidences – I know that God is in control of absolutely everything – but the historical and current events marked out in Harbinger were things I had never before considered or pieced together.

Basing much of the book on the scripture of Isaiah 9:10 (for context, read Isaiah 9:8-21), Cahn breaks the verse down and compares it with events of the past decade, beginning with 9/11.  He points out how many things had to line up perfectly for things to play out the way they did.  The almost unbelievable detail of everything lining up with the words of Isaiah 9 is well documented; Cahn includes detailed footnotes, allowing readers to do research on their own.  We are called to study and understand for ourselves the things we hear.  This book makes it very possible to do that.

The biggest problems I had with this book were stylistic choices.  As I mentioned, the opening framework was slightly awkward, but it picked up quickly.  The ellipses felt overused to me, but I have been noticing that more often lately in fiction designed to excite the reader.  There were also a couple of ideas that Cahn expressed with which I don’t fully agree, but that’s to be expected with any book.  I wouldn’t argue with most of his major points.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book to any reader.  Be prepared to have a couple of sleepless nights.  This book will challenge you.  It’s time to wake up and look at where we, as a nation, are compared with where we could be, if only we would remember Who gave us the blessings we enjoy every day.

Click here to purchase