Monthly Archives: June 2014

Writer Q&A Thursday

Writing Adult Fantasy vs. YA Fantasy: Writer Q&A

In the wake of my last post on YA Fantasy and the original internet backlash prompted by one blogger’s scorn for YA, I thought it would be interesting to have some writers (two of whom currently have their books on the market) weigh in on several questions regarding writing Adult or YA Fantasy. My guests today are W. M. Beck Jr., Sophronia Belle Lyon, and A. D. Poole.

Why do you write Adult/YA Fantasy?

Beck: There is something in us that longs for the fantastic, the epic, the transcendent; we inherently feel that there is more to life than just what our five senses tell us. Writing fantasy allows me the artistic luxury of blurring the lines between the world I cannot see and the one I can. It is a space where I can make concrete that which is abstract.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul wrote: “We take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” For many years I thought of that scripture within the context of my own thoughts. Then one day, God showed me the larger context of what Paul was writing about there; he was talking about the thoughts of others. I asked the Lord to show me how I could possibly take other people’s thoughts captive, especially since I had such a difficult time taking my own captive. He took me to Matthew 13, where Jesus tells the parable of the sower. When the disciples asked Jesus why he was always telling stories, he answered by quoting a passage from Isaiah, saying, “For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes–so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.”

When I put all of that together I came away with: “People’s hearts are hard, they cannot receive the truth outright. But if you capture their imagination you can soften their hearts and, in that moment, you can sow seed.”

That is why I write YA Fantasy. To sow seeds of truth.

Lyon: I write fantasy because I like to speculate on what might happen if things are a little different from reality. I write for adults because I deal with issues such as sexual slavery, human trafficking, and the upset of the moral order in society, which are not always suitable for younger readers.

Poole: I’ve been writing since I was a teenager but I had decided to write for adults by the time I was in college. Back then I hoped that mature kids could read my books, too (I read harder fiction such as classics as a teen), but more recent story concepts I’ve had I would recommend only for adult readers. I believe this goal of writing for adults is related to my goal to write for the secular market. As a kid and an adult, I’ve been frustrated at how hard it is to find adult fiction that isn’t filled with sex and profanity. I decided that as a writer, I would write that secular adult story that wasn’t full of sex and profanity to show that good action/adventure stories don’t require a roll in the mud. I wanted to be a light in a very dark market.

What appeals to you most about writing fantasy for your audience?

Beck: The YA age group has a much broader appetite for potential, I find. One of the basics of storytelling is to have relatable characters, and while older adults have many, and varied, experiences to draw upon, young adults view their lives much more through the lens of what might be, of who they wish to become. I like trading in potential. I like to dream.

The other side of that coin, however, is also the need for guidance in the lives of young adults as they walk that journey. In a society so saturated with media content, I think it is important to have an active presence in the ongoing cultural dialogue of our times. There needs to be a voice that shows a better way, that points to God, that presents choices and consequences in a way that is consistent with biblical truth. Inasmuch as I enjoy flights of fancy and wild imagination, the opportunity to impact the next generation is even more appealing.

When an adult tells me they liked the message of my books, despite the setting being a little “further out there” than they usually care for, that’s just gravy on top.

Lyon: I like a medieval type of setting because it minimizes the problems of more complex technology, the use of brand names, colloquial language, and other changeable things that might go out of date.

Poole: My love of writing fantasy used to have a lot to do with a love of creating my own civilizations, like playing Age of Empires only with far greater customization, hah! My interest in writing fantasy has shifted, though, as I most often write fantasy stories within historical real-world settings. One of the fascinating things about the main era I write, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, people all over the world believed in a wide variety of fantastical creatures—they still retained sense of wonder and mystery in their Cosmos, even amidst the dawning of the Scientific Revolution and the beginnings of the modern nation-state system. Historical fantasy lets me explore what the world might have been like back then if such creatures really did exist.

What do you think the main difference is between writing Adult Fantasy vs YA Fantasy?

Beck: The main differences are the characters and the themes. I didn’t set out to write YA; I set out to write books that I would want to read. Somewhere along the way, however, I realized that the themes and characters I was working with were most applicable to the YA age group. That isn’t to say that adults don’t enjoy my work as well, but themes such as discovering your identity, or learning the value of relationships are life challenges more relevant to a young adult audience.

From a character standpoint, there are a few identifying traits that make characters relatable. Two of the most obvious are age and gender. Young Adults can generally relate to a character older than they are, since they can view the character as who they would like to become, but there should still be at least one main character that is the same relative age as they are. This enables them to experience the story from that character’s perspective, and thus have a more immersive experience.

Ultimately, a message is only as good as the people it reaches. While there is the part of me that dislikes over-categorizing and qualifying art, I also recognize the pragmatism of targeting a specific group with a specific message. Better to reach a few through being focused, than none through being indiscriminate.

Lyon: As I said in the first question, writing for adults allows more leeway in subject matter. It’s not the freedom to write porn or lurid violence or to use lots of bad language, but to explore topics that are best not presented to younger readers.

Poole: Ruth Graham’s recent article for Slate, “Against YA,” has triggered a heated debate in the blogosphere on the literary merits of YA and even groping to define what, exactly, YA is. Graham and those of her persuasion miss a timeless truth: good storytelling has no age limit. C.S. Lewis was an Oxford professor of Medieval literature but rather than donning the academic elitism currently in vogue, he stated in simple language that “a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Just what YA is has become a matter for debate, but it boils down to who the author’s target audience is. YA is naturally going to be about things that matter to young people, and young people are going to be drawn to characters their age. Yet many adults read YA unabashedly—once again, good storytelling has no age limit. Certain content may not be appropriate for younger readers, but the majority of adult fiction includes content that is not appropriate even for adults. Interestingly, while there’s both good and bad YA and adult fiction, it seems that the most creative fantasy ideas are found in YA while adult fantasy recycles safe archetypes.

Agents usually limit the fantasy submissions they are willing to represent to YA only. Would you explain, briefly, why you think this is so?

Beck: The publishing industry, like any other industry, is a commercial enterprise. Agents are in the business of selling stories and generating continued revenue off of them. Authors like Rowling and Myers have proven that what was once only marketed to a YA audience can also be voraciously consumed by an older one. Presenting a work in several markets is just good business as it gives the greatest exposure and thus greatest potential for sales.

While this may seem shallow, even offensive, to our artistic sensibilities, I feel it is actually a good thing. Commerce establishes the societal value of a thing, i.e. the value at which a thing is exchanged among a people group establishes its relative worth among them. By creating a high value for fiction, and thus art in general, we are thus creating the financial potential needed for artists to sustain themselves and continue to work on their art.

Lyon: Fantasy is more popular among younger readers. They often have more free time and more disposable income. Adults sometimes look at fantasy as childish or assume what is written will be too unrealistic to tempt them.  Some fantasy writers have very low standards for writing and are unappealing to grownups.

Poole: I haven’t yet had any experience with agents, but the fact that YA books tend to be fantasy (and is thus a crowded market for competition) and that the literary police look down on YA as inherently inferior reading material may be contributing factors. This is only my speculation, however.

What is one thing you hope your readers will take away from your writing?

Beck: I want readers to know that our God is so much bigger and greater than our ability to perceive. There is a quote by H. P. Lovecraft that I am fond of where he talks about how we become “dull and prosaic from the poison of life.” He’s right in that our accumulated experiences, with all of the hurt and damage that come along with them, have a way of shaping us into a mode of banal self-preservation. When we only focus on what is directly around us we eventually stop dreaming; we begin to believe that this world we see really is the sum total of life.

But that is not the truth.

The truth is that we have a Father who created all things and sent his son to die for us so that we might live. The truth is that through a saving relationship with Jesus we are reconciled to the source of all things, an infinite God of infinite power and glory who fellowships with us and sends his spirit to abide in us. The truth is that for those of us who are his children, the best is yet to come and will remain eternally.

Lyon: The world is overwhelmed by secularism. God is not in all their thoughts. Satan has inroads everywhere. It’s past time to try to restore godly moral order and reverence for the Word.

Poole: When my readers reach those final words, “The End,” it is my wish that they had been taken on an adventure while having something to think about after the book is put back on the shelf. I hope, too, that God will use my stories to draw others to Christ.

I’d like to once again thank the writers for taking time out of their busy weeks to answer these questions. I think it’s clear that content has a very large role in what makes a fantasy YA or Adult, even more so than the age of the protagonists. As Christians, we have to hold our work up to a high standard – Does it honor God and does it point my readers in some way or form toward God? This shouldn’t vary whether our targeted audience is the adults (secular and Christian) or the pre-teens and teens.

Note: Writer Q&A Thursday is currently experimental and will occur once a month. If you have specific questions you’d like to see answered, please submit them in the comments below or via my contact page. Fantasy authors, if you would like to have your name added to the list for future contributors to Writer Q&A, please let me know via my contact page or in the comments below.

W. M. Beck, Jr. is a pastor, author, husband, father and nerd. He lives in Spring City, PA with his wife, six children, four cats and a dog. When he’s not tending to any of those things, he spends most of his time inside his imagination. He writes the Marlebonne Tales series, which chronicles the lives of Animals living in the post-apocalyptic, steampunk Kingdom of Marlebonne—a place where colorful characters abound, the fantastic is frequent, and anything is possible. Visit him at www.wmbeckjr.com

The first book in the series, A Light in the Dark, is available on Amazon.

As Sophronia Belle Lyon, I drink tea, create mechanicals, shoot when I can, travel widely, and write Steampunk Literary Tributes. My husband is the genius who inspires my never say die heroes and inventors. A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist is the first book in the Alexander Legacy series. Characters from classic 1800s novels band together to fight human trafficking and the rise of an empire of slaves and masters determined to turn the social order into a web of deceit, domination, and debauchery. They combine steam and gear technology with families, friendship, faith, and fortitude.

A. D. Poole – Scholar, swordsman, and scribe for the King of Kings. I write historical fantasy tales of courageous cavaliers and redeemed rogues. In the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), I study Italian rapier combat and portray a Renaissance German mercenary officer under the name Melchior von Wolfsburg. If you’re looking for an editor for your manuscript I’d be glad to help! Check out my editing page at http://www.illuminatedmarginalia.weebly.com for more details. You can also follow me on Twitter @writeradpoole or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/writeradpoole or contact me via email at IlluminatedMarginalia@yahoo.com

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Book Review Wednesday – Switched

Switched by Amanda Hocking

Amazon Book Description:

Amanda Hocking is an indie publishing sensation whose self-published novels have sold millions of copies all over the world, and Switched is the book that started the phenomenon.  Prepare to be enchanted…

When Wendy Everly was six years old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. Eleven years later, Wendy discovers her mother might have been right.  She’s not the person she’s always believed herself to be, and her whole life begins to unravel—all because of Finn Holmes.

Finn is a mysterious guy who always seems to be watching her.  Every encounter leaves her deeply shaken…though it has more to do with her fierce attraction to him than she’d ever admit.  But it isn’t long before he reveals the truth:  Wendy is a changeling who was switched at birth—and he’s come to take her home.   

Now Wendy’s about to journey to a magical world she never knew existed, one that’s both beautiful and frightening.  And where she must leave her old life behind to discover who she’s meant to become…

Like most aspiring writers, I had heard of Amanda Hocking’s amazing success story (sold a million copies of her self-published books then signed a two million dollar contract for a new series with the original hit trilogy also being published traditionally) and I was curious. I mean, every writer is curious about the success stories, so I finally decided to pick the book up.

Plot – Grade C+

The main focus of this book is about Wendy learning the truth of why she doesn’t fit in with the humans. She’s a changeling (the babe switched out for a human baby by Trolls or Faeries in folklore) and it’s time for her to go home. I was pleased that this wasn’t another “guess what, you’re a Werewolf or I’m a Vampire and I’ve bitten you…sorry” story. However, the potential for a unique plot is hampered by poor execution and a very unlikeable lead (I can’t call her a heroine). First, the Trylle (the proper name for Trolls in this story) are described as coldly beautiful with special abilities and, aside from their love of riches, resemble Faeries more than Trolls. Admittedly, this bothers me more because I have spent years poring over folklore and mythology than for any other reason, but still I expect Trolls to look like Trolls, not Faeries. 🙂 Second, the plot of the first book does not stand up well on its own. Too many of the important “Whys,” such as why does this faction want to kidnap Wendy, were waved off as being meant to be told by a specific person and the characters who actually talked to Wendy couldn’t tell her because she doesn’t know already. I hate that tactic, don’t you? Considering the ending of the book, I really wished at least one big “Why” had been answered instead of left dangling in the wind, hoping you’ll pick up the next book in search of the answer.

Content – Grade D

I already mentioned that Wendy is not a relatable or even likeable character. However, I was not impressed by the language present in a book that the publisher recommends for “Age Range: 12 – 18 years; Grade Level: 7 and up.” The F-word is used frequently, “bats-” appears on the first page, “p- and p- off” is more frequent than the F-word, the female B- word also used frequently, “damn,” “hell” and “crap” are the mild words and also used far too frequently. I would never give this book to a seventh grader to read based on the language alone. There is violence, including a knife attack on a six-year-old, which readers might find disturbing.

Romance, or at least, sensuality is also present in this book. Wendy is immediately infatuated with Finn and she keeps describing herself as trying to do things in a “sensual manner” such as when she’s rubbing lotion on her legs while Finn bursts in to pick out her outfit but that fails because he’s not paying any attention to her. Unfortunately, this is another “he’s such a stalker but it’s okay because he’s hot” books. Even though Wendy notes that he’s being a stalker and tells him it’s creepy…she still basically glosses it over because he says he’s doing it to protect her. Not a good role model for impressionable teenage girls who might decide an older guy who’s watching them creepily is their own Finn. Furthermore, Wendy spends most of her time saying Finn or two other male characters are attractive/foxy. And then one of the other two male characters is obviously infatuated with her and tries to kiss her then tries to bargain for a kiss even though it’s ALSO forbidden for her to be involved with him. What I found sad was that she doesn’t refuse the second boy’s advances (which occur after she’s spent most of the book declaring her infatuation/love for Finn and also shared a very passionate kiss with Finn) out of a strength of character and moral fiber but because “I didn’t want to do anything to spoil having Finn back” (Switched, page 283, Paperback Edition). Then after this statement she and Finn have another passionate encounter where they end up kissing in bed and then he tells her to go put pajamas on where upon she protests and “tried to sound flirty, but I knew there was a panicked edge to my voice. As soon as we’d come in here, I thought things were going to go much further than pajamas would allow.” (Switched, page 286, Paperback Edition). They still end up sleeping in each other’s arms but not going any further. But, this is never called out even though her mother walks in and finds them that way because it doesn’t matter at that point.

Wendy is very much a Mary Sue although she is not as bad as the infamous Bella Swan but she has no character growth. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the secret princess stories when they’re well executed. However, Wendy is pretty classic in her Mary Sue symptoms: describes herself as bland but if she puts a little effort into dressing up, every one compliments her on being “most beautiful,” she came into one of her abilities early prompting her Tracker to bring her home to the Trylle early, does incredibly selfish and delinquent things (and has been doing them for a long time) but no one really expects her to change her behavior (it takes most of the book for one person to finally point it out), and she fits in…absolutely nowhere. Individually or presented differently, these wouldn’t be so bad (save for the persistent delinquency) or too Mary-Sueish and more in line with common teenage thinking, especially the “I fit in nowhere and I’m hideous even though people tell me otherwise.” My main problem is that Wendy is seventeen, almost eighteen, but she never ceases to be petulant and childish. She’ll feel bad on occasion about the consequences of her actions, which only seem to fall on her family (specifically the brother she grew up with, such as losing out on an internship and having no job after she is expelled from yet another school) and not truly on her, but she never makes a true effort to change. Where is her growth? Where is her maturity? The only thing that really changes is the setting and people she complains about, which is quite sad.

Technical – Grade C

The good news is that I didn’t see any glaring typos. The bad news is the grammar and description falls quite flat. One character is described as putting her fists on her “fashionable hips” and then there is this example that I’m still shaking my head over: “In the morning, while I slept soundly on the couch in Rhys’s room, I had no idea that a commotion was going on in the house. I would’ve been happy to sleep through it too, but Finn threw open the door in a panic, jolting me awake.” (Switched, page 159, Paperback Edition). This one bothered me so much that I had to go scribble a “correct version” of that paragraph. My inner editor and writer were in pain reading this book. Hocking continually told instead of showed and there is a bad habit of Wendy saying so and so launched into this tale and I said this. So many parts were glossed over, such as the tour of the palace, in a paragraph that could have been used to expand on the world, the secondary character in question, and Wendy herself. I wish Hocking’s editors had made her go back and switch from telling to showing, especially the parts where she starts a conversation and then Wendy jumps to glossing over such as the very important decision made at the end of the book. I wanted that conversation written out in full so I felt for the characters instead of thinking “oh great, she’s being selfish and dragging someone else down with her.” I should not think that about the main character who is meant to be the heroine.

Final Grade – a D or 2 stars

While the plot had potential, it ultimately fizzled out being drowned by poor, elementary-level writing and a lead character who’s morally bankrupt and this is when she’s supposed to be kinder/more sympathetic than most royal Trylle. I have no interest in reading the rest of the trilogy and, judging by the one and two star reviews for those books (something I checked after finishing this book), Wendy’s character arc and moral choices do not improve. This book had potential and if someone had urged Hocking to try harder, stretch her writing skills further, it could have been great. I had to force myself to come back and finish this book for this review. I do not recommend this book for anyone.

Switched is available through Kindle and in paperback.

Next Week – Secrets of Gwenla by Laurie L. Penner

Technically, a Wednesday post since it’s still Wednesday except in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. 😉

Book Review Wednesday: A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist

A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist by Sophronia Belle Lyon

Amazon Book Description:

Oh, you’re a Steampunk fan. You just don’t know it yet. The Alexander Legacy company includes a diverse collection of classic characters on the track of a ruthless enslaver of souls. Prowl the foggy London streets. Encounter a nightmare from an Indian jungle. Travel the Thames in Sluefoot Sue’s giant Catfish. Soar on a stealth glider with a Bohemian prince. When Oliver Twist unwraps an Algerian mummy at Charley Bates’ funeral, will he discover his true enemy? Or is it all just another “Dodge”?

“I’m sorry, but my time is very short just now. I have tried for months to locate you, and have only just today succeeded. The other members of the group I propose to create are en route or are already here. Everyone else has been made aware of my plan. I truly wish to explain things more clearly to you, and then if you agree, to invite you to attend our first meeting as a formal association tomorrow. Can I count on you to come, please, and will you hear my plan?” the woman pleaded. “This is the most important thing I’ve ever done, and I pray God I have chosen the right people. I also pray that the right people will choose to pledge their help.”

If ever a woman who had no reason to be desperate still managed to communicate desperation, it was this woman.

“Very well,” I nodded. “But the hotel is not so far from here and the weather has been very pleasant. I shall walk. What time do you desire me to appear?”

“No, no, you cannot walk about London so late. Please. This mail coach will arrive at ten o’clock. Do not be frightened by it, please. It is perfectly safe.”

“Frightened by a mail coach?” I was once again hesitant. “Why would I be — ?”

 
I’ll be honest, Steampunk is not my go-to fantasy genre, especially after a particularly disastrous foray with a series that has been put in my ‘Never to be Named’ pile. However, I find the idea of a Christian Steampunk version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen intriguing. And this book was certainly interesting.
 
Plot – Grade A
 
The prime focus of this book is on establishing the crime-fighting gang and going after the criminal organization run by a man only known as “Dodge.” What makes this book fun is how many secondary/background and lesser known main characters are the featured heroes. I think the only well-known characters people will recognize right away would be Oliver Twist and Mowgli although Austen enthusiasts will no doubt be quite cheered to see someone other than Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet joining the ranks. The crime organization has been exploiting the poorest of the poor, the orphans, pickpockets, prostitutes, and slaves to pull off a rather complex plot and it takes the heroes piecing together the varied clues and desperately hunting for the “Dodge” before they start to realize there’s even more at stake here than they originally thought. There is a twist near the end of the book that was somewhat expected from my perspective but I thought it was handled well as it also set up the next book quite nicely.
 
Content – Grade A-
 
Okay, I struggled with how to rate the content on this one. It wasn’t so much the meat of the content that was occasionally troubled me as it was the execution of the content. This book addresses the various issues associated with human trafficking in a very blunt manner. Lyon does not shy away from the darkness of this practice, which is good, but at times it seems too in your face, so to speak. In particular, toward the last quarter of the book, one of the main characters is attacked and sodomized. What troubled me was the fact that our narrator and the doctor can’t bring themselves to say “sodomy” out loud but then every character save the one who was victimized began talking about it to the extent it felt as though they were harping on it. It went from we can’t say it out loud, which would have been more than efficient to communicate what happened and why the character reacts the way he does in the aftermath, to everyone is harping on the fact that the boys captured in the human trafficking rings often killed themselves to avoid being sodomized and the character was sodomized and so on and so forth. This may not bother some readers or they will instead appreciate the way Lyon doesn’t shy away from being so very blunt about the evil and traumatizing results of sodomy, but others like me may feel the handling this particular situation could have been presented just a little differently and still achieve the emotional impact.
 
There is violence in this book, but it was handled well and the most graphic description was the characters’ reactions to a horrifyingly grotesque facial injury (if it makes a doctor and a former mercenary cry out, you know it’s bad). Language is hinted at but all cursing takes place off-screen with one of the good guys reacting by squirting the cursing minion in the mouth with soap. I will admit that I found several of the good guys annoying and I did not connect with them at all. But, the worst offender was the “fearless lady leader” Mrs. Phoebe Moore-Campbell…she was too perfect and practically worshipped by all the other characters. She was perilously close to being a “Mary Sue” with a near-perfect halo, especially when she seems to provide the most spiritual wisdom. It was a bit odd how Phoebe and her spiritual nuggets came across as more preachy than the minister and his sermon, but I think it was a matter of execution. I hope that improves as the character is dealt with more and is rounded out a little more through other narrators’ eyes. Evangelism is a VERY big part of this book as well, which I don’t mind except when it feels a little too contrived and there was one instance where the evangelism did feel almost too convenient, especially when you already had one minion turn ally and become a Christian and then oh, there’s another one. Yes, it can and does happen in real life but it felt contrived in the story.
 
There is also romance within this book. However, the romance subplots weren’t as well-developed as I would have hoped. The main romance subplot I knew was going to happen as soon as she’s introduced and that’s okay. It was a little weird when she kept calling him her “father in Christ” even as he develops feelings for her and she develops them for him, but they did seem to go together. What confused me was when he professes his feelings for her and calls himself old while she’s young, because I thought he was either right on the cusp of 30 or just past 30 while she’s in her early 20s. But then she says “I will kiss your graying head” and some other stuff that would have been very romantic if I hadn’t been too busy going “Huh? Wait, is he older than I thought or is she a lot younger than I thought?” The second romantic subplot felt like a case of insta-love or at least insta-crush on her part. The character kisses her twice and she loves him and apparently he loves her even though he wasn’t interested in love at all just a chapter or two ago. I couldn’t decide if more time passed than I thought (weeks instead of days) or if it really was just days between their first meeting and “oh, we’re getting married.”
 
Technical – Grade B
 
This book does have some typos, but they’re not plaguing every page or every paragraph. The first true typo didn’t appear until about halfway through the book. However, there are two places where the narrative abruptly switched midsentence from first person to third person. There are also some places where it feels as though it’s a first person narrative trying to be a third person narrative.
 
The handling of accents varies from author to author and the style, such as whether it’s written out in an exaggerated manner or merely hinted at with a specific accent-flavored word or two, also varies. Lyon opted to write out her characters’ accents. I personally would have preferred it if she had only one main character and then a handful of secondary characters with very short speaking parts with these written out accents but between Sluefoot Sue and the cockney accents of many of the other Londoners, it was painful for me to read. Sluefoot Sue’s southern/western accent (“Ah” for “I” is very southern for me) was perhaps the most painful but when she was holding a conversation with someone with a cockney accent…I couldn’t understand what they were saying and, consequently, kept having to re-read a piece of the conversation to figure out what in the world they just said. The Russian character’s accent was the most legible of these written out accents. I hope the accents are somewhat toned down and tweaked in further books since they can make it very difficult for anyone who has dyslexia or other reading difficulties.
 
The phrasing and pacing of the book was rather clunky in the beginning and didn’t flow well. For example, even though this is a first person narrative, the narrator twice describes someone staring into his gray eyes. I think Lyon was probably trying to avoid the mirror trick for describing her narrator but how often do you go through the day thinking about what color your eyes are when you’re not being asked about the color? Ironically, a little bit later in the chapter, the character’s sister is described as having the family gray eyes, which is where I would have put in the little addendum that the trait is shared with the narrator if I had been tackling a similar scene. If I hadn’t been scheduled to review this one, I probably would have stopped before I finished Chapter 7 since it still hadn’t grabbed my attention. However, once we do get to chapter 8, things pick up and I was intrigued by the plot and how were things going and when would a specific character realize that “Dodge” is who I know he is among other things.
 
Final Grade – a B or 4 Stars
 
The plot intrigued me, even though it took a while for it to start really building up steam, and I appreciated how faith was woven into a Steampunk novel (a rare occurrence). I am interested in finding out how the plot twist at the end is handled in the second book so it will be in my To Read pile. However, due to the content dealt with, I would recommend this book for mature Christians and add that parents need to read the book in order to discuss the issues raised with their older teenagers. Recommended for ages 17 and up.
 
A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist is available Kindle and paperback.
 
*Please note I was provided a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not paid to provide a positive review. My opinions are my own.
 
Next Week – Switched by Amanda Hocking
 

One Day You Will be Old Enough to Read Fairy Tales Again

Too old for YA books? Adults not allowed to read YA fantasy?

Last week, a blogger caused quite a stir across the internet by telling adults they should be ashamed of reading YA books. Now, she didn’t just toss out some of the cringe-worthy books, she tossed out the whole kit and caboodle. Then again, she didn’t seem to favor anything save heavy literary tomes. That’s fine for her but please don’t try to force every other adult to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

The main reason I bring this up is the underlying subliminal message that is often communicated in Christian traditional publishing circles runs along similar lines: Christian fantasy is only suited for children and teens and the only reason a Christian adult should be reading fantasy is to determine whether their children are able to read it. There is no market for Christian fantasy that is aimed at the New Adult (college-aged and up) and Adult groups, yet the main reason is because publishers and agents have traditionally routed all fantasy into either suitable for children and Young Adults or take it to a secular publisher. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but in general that is the trend.

I don’t love or even read every YA fantasy out there, but when I want to read a Christian fantasy, more often than not I have no choice but to pick up a novel with the selected audience of teens and children. I admit that I’m not always satisfied with how teen protagonists act, but I would rather read a clean YA fantasy than wade through the moral muck of an Adult secular fantasy. This is especially true when the Adult fantasy in question has riddled its plot with so much gratuitous material that I can’t even skip over the unsavory parts without losing key pieces of the plot. I enjoy reading some YA and some Adult…the only YA series I’m truly embarrassed to have read would be the infamous sparkly vegetarian vampire series that shall not be named. 😉

Not everyone wants to read YA fantasy or fantasy books in general and that’s okay. However, I do adhere to C.S. Lewis’ very wise words:

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

I still read and enjoy Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I have read a number of “children’s stories” that were enjoyable and I’ve read a number of them that were silly and too limited. But, I have run into the same experiences with stories written for an adult audience. As Christians, we are to use discernment, not only in spiritual matters but also in regards to sources of entertainment. However, if you frown on Christians reading secular fantasy, why do you not provide a Christian option?

I am an adult, so I do get tired of only reading about sixteen and seventeen year old heroines and that’s when I start searching for a fantasy with an adult cast. Not because I am embarrassed by reading YA books but because I want a change of pace. Unfortunately, the change of pace is typically quite limited in regards to Christian fantasies and I read secular books. If you really want Christians to read more than YA fantasies but not the at times questionable offerings of the secular fantasy field, you have to provide a Christian option for that genre. Discernment is not about tossing out both the baby and the bathwater; it is about tossing the bathwater and keeping the baby. (I’m beating this saying to death, aren’t I?)

Looking down one’s nose at Christian adults who enjoy a good fantasy is as bad as looking down on the adults who enjoy a good YA. These are unnecessary lines in the sand between genres. Unless a genre simply does not lend itself to wholesomeness or Christian values, e.g., erotica, there is no reason to toss the entire genre out as unsuitable for Christian adults. Is every offering going to be something a Christian of any age should read? No. But, discernment means that many of the “genre superiority” issues are nothing more than childish lines in the sand. Both YA and Adult Fantasy can offer a lot to Christians IF Christian writers take the step and write a story that doesn’t handicap itself by attempting to write only to one audience on one level.

In parting, I would invite everyone who reads and writes Fantasy, be it YA or Adult, to consider one more gem of wisdom from C.S. Lewis:

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. – “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” (1952)

*The post title is another C.S. Lewis quote, taken from the dedication page of his book, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Book Review Wednesday: The Ryn

The Ryn: Book One of the Eyes of E’veria by Serena Chase

Amazon Book Description:

Centuries ago, an oracle foretold of the young woman who would defeat E’veria’s most ancient enemy, the Cobelds. But after two centuries of relative peace, both the prophecy and the Cobelds have been relegated to lore–and only a few remain watchful for the promised Ryn. Finally, a child is born who matches the oracle’s description, but a Cobeld curse accompanies her birth. Led to believe they succeeded in killing the prophesied child, the Cobelds emerge from hiding with plans to overtake the Kingdom. But the child survived. Secreted away and called “Rose” for the first nineteen years of her life, Rynnaia E’veri has no idea of her true identity until a chance meeting with an injured knight reveals not only her parentage and true name, but the task assigned her by the oracle: discover the Remedy that will destroy the Cobelds’ power. Now, her time has come. Offered the assistance of pirates, scribes, storytellers, a young woman who died centuries ago, and the knight who is quickly working his way into her heart, Rynnaia is fortified with friends. But if the Ryn is to complete her task, she must come to terms with not only who she is, but for whom she must be willing to die. For the kingdom’s survival depends on her. THE RYN begins an epic re-imagining of the classic Grimm fairy tale, Snow White & Rose Red, which concludes in Eyes of E’veria book two: THE REMEDY. …but the Eyes of E’veria series is only beginning.

I admit my attention was first caught by the stunning cover of the second book in this series, The Remedy, but then I saw the description for Book One and I had to read it. A spin on Grimm Fairy Tales is nothing new, but some authors really sell it and others miss the mark. The Ryn was certainly in the former category.

The Plot – Grade A

While based on the tale of Rose Red and Snow White, Chase expounds upon the simple fairytale and creates a rich tapestry for her fantasy. While the first book is just over 500 pages long, I never found a moment where it felt as though the plot was slowing down to a crawl. Rynnaia, or Rose as she is called in part one of the book, is a very relatable heroine. Not perfect but not annoyingly inept either. As details about her past come to life, she doesn’t just accept it with a smile and excitement as so often happens. Instead, she shows the shock and anger and worry about living up to much higher expectations than before that one would expect in this sort of situation. She can also be brash on occasion as she is introduced as a teenager who has “borrowed” her guardian’s horse and ridden further than the elected boundaries. However, I appreciated the fact that she does experience consequences for her disobedience and even realizes later on that her actions can have far-reaching consequences. There are several places where anyone who is familiar with the Grimm fairytale of Rose Red and Snow White can see a clear correlation between the scenes or an element Chase writes about, but everything has a different twist than what you might immediately expect. There is a plot twist in the last 25% of the book that I didn’t see coming, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it was executed so it doesn’t feel contrived. Even the plot is not fully resolved at the end, it still stands on its own well enough that it doesn’t feel incomplete. It felt like a natural pause for intermission.

Content – Grade A

This is truly clean fantasy. While there is a hint of a romance brewing between Rose and her knight, they don’t even make it as far as a kiss in this book. Handholding, yes, but no kissing. The romance and Rose’s initial fascination/crush on her knight is handled in a sweet manner but it doesn’t overwhelm the quest for information. There is an age difference with Rose being not quite 19 when they meet while her knight is 27, but since this thankfully doesn’t happen when she is sixteen, it’s not uncomfortable. It also helps that the knights of the kingdom are held to a strict code of honor and propriety.

There are a few instances of violence (primarily when the Cobelds are around), but it’s essentially bloodless. There is also an accusation of Rose being illegitimate in the beginning chapters due to one minor character’s hatred of her (this was addressed as being motivated by that character’s past and not just a random “I hate you because you’re the heroine” motive), which troubles her deeply (as it should) and was brought up rather painfully when her uncle came to visit as he was her original guardian and the accuser claimed he must really be Rose’s father. The emotions run high and intense, but it is handled in a tasteful manner without resorting to crassness. This question of Rose’s parentage since she has no patronymic leaves an imprint on her and makes things awkward/difficult when she finally learns who her father really is as she does have anger and bitterness to work through in regards to his non-presence in her life growing up.

Spiritually, there isn’t a heavy emphasis on things at first since Rose’s foster family doesn’t have a relationship with the Creator other than knowing that the Creator exists and obviously created the world and gave the people all their different gifts. Part of Rose’s journey of self-discovery as Rynnaia is finally learning what and who Truth is. This is most obvious in the last 25% of the book when she has her spiritual encounter with the Living Truth, complete with a baptism by immersion at the culmination of her spiritual journey. Yet, this was not heavy-handed. Ryn questions the seemingly contradictory elements of the tale yet she is not scorned for having doubts or not understanding what the others mean. In fact, it is acknowledged that she lacked the spiritual training others received due to the fact that most of people in the Kingdom have never heard the Truth due to errors in judgment on part of those who had been trusted to study and carry out the Truth. This was one of the best handlings of a character’s spiritual search and conversion I’ve read in a long time.

Technical – Grade A-

This book was superbly edited. In a little over 500 pages, I found only five errors, three typos and two places where there was a space missing between the period and the beginning of the next sentence. These errors didn’t even show up until I was over 200 pages into the story. There are some places where the paragraphs had some wonky formatting (basically three spaces between words) in the first sentence but I’m confident in calling those Kindle-only issues. The only reason I didn’t give a higher score on the technical is due to the fact that once we get to the part where Ryn’s telepathy begins to develop and she is being trained by the rest of her people to communicate with her thoughts, there is nothing to mark the conversations as separate from the first person narration. Having the conversation in unmarked text would have worked if the book had been narrated in third person. But, due to the first person narration, I was lost a few times at what was narration and what was the thoughts-only conversation. It would have been better if Chase had italicized the telepathy.

Final Grade – an A or 5 stars

Overall, this book was an excellent and pleasant Christian fantasy that defies the stigmas still attached to indie authors. The plot moves forward and kept me engaged without causing my inner editor or my inner writer angst due to “how would I have written this differently” musings. I am quite eager to read the next book (not to mention the rest of the series). I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of epic fantasies and imaginative retellings of classic Grimm fairytales and who also enjoys a clean, sweet romance as a side development. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

The Ryn is available through Kindle and paperback.

Next Week – A Dodge, a Twist, and a Tobacconist by Sophronia Belle Lyon

Book Review Wednesday – Tamed

Tamed by Sarah Witenhafer

Amazon Book Description:

Reign Phillips has just earned her PhD in ancient languages when her Professor returns from Greece with treasure for the University of New Mexico; fifty-six mummified remains and a puzzling sealed gold casket that doesn’t seem to fit any time period. Accompanying him is the man responsible for brokering the deal with the university, Damon Sarantos. Unknown to anyone, Damon himself had buried the casket almost two thousand years before. Reign is a woman Damon can’t ignore and desperately wants to win. Her vibrant light soothes the darkness inside him, even as it pulls her away and warns her not to love him. As she decodes the mysterious writing on the outside of the casket, Damon must work to gain her trust and win her heart. Can he be the man she wants him to be? Or will they be eternally separated by his partly demonic nature? The casket holds the answer, and opening it will either bring peace or unleash a darkness that threatens to engulf the entire world.

Are you intrigued by that description? I was, even though I am typically a bit leery of the Demon/Nephilim falling in love with a Human angle since that can venture into bad theology very easily. However, I was pleasantly surprised on that aspect. The Nephilim are not treated as poor misunderstood creatures that the Israelites picked on nor are they presented as wholly evil unless they were among the number who ceased to resist the influence of their demonic ancestor and often became vessels to minor demons. Instead, the Nephilim are presented as being wholly caught up in the desire to be near those humans who are known as a Child of Light, whose souls are filled with a light of varying strength instead of the darkness that usually surrounds the human soul. It becomes clear almost immediately when Damon describes Reign and her light that the source of the light is not truly her (as he believes) but it is the Light of the World indwelling her soul. Much of the book is filled with Damon’s conflict over his desire to have Reign near him because the light is soothing and helps him to push back his inherent darkness since he fears he will damage her light but he can’t stay away either.

The Plot – Grade A

I really liked the plot for this story. It wasn’t all about the romance and “I love her/want her but I shouldn’t have her” or the suspense of what was going on and how did the chest figure in; instead, there is also a spiritual journey taking place. One of the things about the plot that I personally enjoy but it might annoy other readers is how there are two storylines, one set in the present and one set in Cyrene in 115 AD, both were well-done. The characters felt real in both modern and historical settings even with the occasional phrase or word that would feel a little too modern for the second century AD.

Content – Grade C+

Okay, this is the part where the subjectivity of reviews is going to be the most obvious. This story tackles some tough issues including Christians and non-Christians dating plus the always controversial “Date them to Salvation” tactic, teenage promiscuity and abortion although this is dealing more with the aftermath, and how to help at-risk girls rescued from prostitution. I appreciated the fact that Reign struggled with her attraction to Damon knowing he wasn’t a Christian and that she could not marry a man who didn’t share her faith. However, she still let him get too close (something she eventually acknowledged) and did not guard her heart as she should’ve, basically she was trying to date Damon to salvation even though nobody calls it. The good was in how Witenhafer did not shy away from showing how miserable Reign was in trying to struggle through her attraction and what she knew and believed considering unequally yoked marriage and this was before marriage. It’s a good warning about the follies of Christian women (and men) trying to date their boyfriend (or girlfriend) to salvation and it doesn’t paint the picture that this is okay or that it doesn’t cause them any spiritual turmoil. The bad was that the sensuality was a little heavy at times and I did grow weary of reading about Damon’s Greek god physique. That Reign allowed a lot of snuggling and some pretty intense kisses when she knew that Damon was just trying to get in her pants (at first) was foolish and would be part of the letting him too close issue. They never sleep together but I wasn’t too thrilled with how much sensual descriptions from both Damon and Reign’s POVs were present. I felt it toed the line a little too closely, especially considering how often she spent the night alone with him or allowed him to sleep in her apartment with only a token objection of how it will look.

In the modern storyline, the issue of teenage promiscuity and abortion and the consequent fallout is touched on. I felt that was handled well, the character in question had reacted by becoming very rigid in her rules until she realized she was still trying to buy God’s favor, which explains a lot concerning why she reacts to situations in the book as she does. In the historical and modern storylines, it is very clear that Damon is not a Christian and that he is no stranger to women even keeping a mistress, which bothered Reign (I wished it had bothered her more though). Yet, his actions were handled with tact.

In the modern storyline, Reign does some stupid things in her quest to help girls who are at-risk including going into gang territory by herself for a year and randomly taking home a young prostitute. Now, I understood her motivation especially since she grew up in a house where apparently her parents practiced bringing in at-risk teenagers to foster. However, she was taking risks she shouldn’t even though this is only acknowledged and admitted in regards to the gang. The problem with taking the teenage prostitute home is that she lived by herself and was simply going to “trust” that Hope would stay and not betray that trust or do something to hurt her. It made sense for her to take Hope to her parents who were qualified to foster at-risk teenagers and could enact at least some safety precautions. Reign took too many risks in the name of showing people God’s love. I didn’t like how her reasoning implied that the only way to show people God’s love was to ignore basic safety considerations, especially for single women.

There was also a brief touch on homosexuality. First, Damon asked if Reign was gay because she said she didn’t date. I rolled my eyes at that. Second, Hope confessed to Reign that she wished Reign loved her like she loved Damon. What I liked was how Reign explained that she knew it was only reasonable for Hope to feel attracted to women who showed her kindness at that stage in her life due to the abuse she suffered at the hands of men. It was not given the green light of homosexuality is acceptable but it was not written as “hate the sin and the sinner” either. It’s described as “growing pains” because “You’ve never been loved without sex coming into the picture. Your mind just can’t wrap itself around the love we have for you, but Jesus will help you understand it…Men have used you and left you feeling hollow inside so naturally you’re drawn to women, and when they love you, you can’t figure it out because you’ve never experienced someone sacrificing for you.” (Tamed, pg. 369, Kindle Edition).

There was also a lot of language in this book, which frankly caught me off guard since none of the reviews mentioned it. The female ‘B’ word is used a LOT, especially once the main characters go into gang territory and when they meet Hope. Damon curses and is rather crass in his language. Even Reign lets out an “Oh my God” and how a decision/situation is “crappy,” which some Christians will find offensive. I happen to be one of those Christians who does expect Christian books to not write out the curses and to avoid even the mild four-letter words like “crap.” I actually double-checked Amazon to make sure that Tamed was in the Christian category after I came upon all the cursing. Some Christians don’t mind language, especially if it’s added for “realism,” which I think was the goal in Tamed since only the non-Christian characters are truly crass and curse. If this had been a secular novel, I would have been happy at how the language wasn’t pervasive. But, because this is a Christian novel, I was disappointed that the language was written out even for “authenticity” because I do expect MORE from a Christian novel and I believe from both a reader’s perspective and a writer’s perspective that scenes can be just as authentic with the curse words hinted at but not written out. Readers can fill in the blanks quite well.

Technical – Grade B-

There are typos present in this book. Your/you’re is a prominent one and the one time Sumer is mentioned, it is written as “Sumner.” However, there are not typos in every single sentence or paragraph. But, grammar Nazis be prepared to twitch at the typos and wrong spelling, right pronunciation mistakes, such as “main” for the horse’s mane. The way the author used commas was a bit weird and as a writer I kept finding places where I couldn’t help but wonder why she used a comma and not a period. If she had used a line editor, I think it would have gone far in ironing out the structure issues. The pacing was a bit slow in places, but the end made up for it. There were also several places where she told instead of showed a scene that I felt would have been interesting to the reader.

Final Grade – a B or 4 stars

Overall, the plot won me as far as this book is concerned. The technical issues I can attribute partially to the debut novel syndrome, although I do wish she would go back and address those points and then issue a second edition. In spite of my reservations concerning the content, specifically the sensuality and language, I am intrigued enough by the characters and the remaining plot threads that I intend to buy the second book as well as Witenhafer’s third book, which is the start of a new series set in ancient Babylon. I would recommend this book for mature Christians or if you intend to give it to your teenager, I would recommend reading it before they do so you can discuss the issues raised in this book.

Tamed is available through Kindle and in paperback.

Next week – The Ryn: Book One of the Eyes of E’veria by Serena Chase