Book Review – A Time To Speak

So the last couple weeks I’ve been helping with the launch team for Nadine Brandes and her latest book. She’s a fellow Idaho author who has crazy adventures and uses them as fuel for her fiction.

After the success of her first book, A Time To Die, which won a Carol Award, it’s a pleasure to review the next book from this talented author.

A Time To Speak is the second book of the Out of Time series. (Spoilers for book 1  ATimetoSpeak5-663x1024ahead)

Parvin Blackwater is dealing with the shocking aftermath of A Time To Die. She had been so sure that her Clock was running out and she was about to die, but now she needs to find a reason to live. Her family struggles with the shock of the events, but Parvin finds a new ally in Solomon Hawke, an Enforcer with a conscience.

She learns how the Council has manipulated her and events to increase their hold over the populace. This leads to her new mission, to speak out against the Council and bring truth.

But no one wants to listen.

As Parvin wrestles with God over her seemingly ineffective actions, the Council pulls an unexpected stunt that has Parvin and hundreds of Radicals shipped far away for experimentation.

Now stranded in a barren wasteland, Parvin and Solomon have to rise up and lead the survivors if there’s ever to be a hope of speaking out again.

Nadine has a unique voice and space in YA fiction. She loves dystopian, but there’s an element of hope that doesn’t usually cross over in this genre. The world-building that was set up in book one expands in this book, creating an interesting world with real consequences for characters. Nadine-Brandes-Head-Shot-295x300

Parvin continues to suffer. This is not a character who skates above the trouble, and details aren’t spared. Sometimes Parvin gets down and doubts herself, but her faith in God is growing, and she clings to her perceived mission with dogged determination. She can be headstrong and a bit stubborn, but she’s also a literary character that can be a strong role model for readers.

The action builds throughout the story. At one point it seems things are coming together too well, but Nadine ably blows our expectation at appropriate times.

I definitely enjoyed the book a lot. My main complaint would be that some segments drag on a little too long, and sometimes we spend too much time having Parvin’s thoughts ruminate on a plot point or issue. Overall, the rich world-building, rising consequences, and damaged but determined heroine make it a strong read for lovers of YA or dystopian fiction.

Oh yeah, the legal mumbo-jumbo: I did receive a review copy in exchange for a fair review.

And if you want to win a free book from Nadine, check out the contest below.

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Crazy Author Research – Interview with Nadine Brandes

If you know an author, then you’ll realize that they’re not entirely…stable folks. They talk to the voices in their heads. If they see something unique, BAM, it goes in a book. No one is entirely safe around them.

Nadine Brandes is an especially adventuresome sort. In honor of her book release this week of A Time To Speak, the second book in the Out of Time series, I picked her brain as we compared experiences we’ve done for writing research.

Nadine, I’ve seen some conversations online of crazy things you’ve done for researching your book. But you write speculative fiction. Isn’t that all made-up stuff anyway?

Stepping out of our understanding of normal is what connects spec-fic books with real life. Think about it. Fantasy/sci-fi novels create new worlds. . .and traveling to a different country is like being immersed in a new world. You’re forced to see things differently, to interact differently, to stretch into a new and adaptable person in order to function.

I agree totally. You remember the sensory details, your imagination is heightened, and you are inspired. I’ve been blessed to travel overseas myself. In fact, I used a lot of situations from my Thailand travels for my first book. What was a recent international adventure for you that helped you in writing?

I had the privilege of transiting the Panama Canal on a pretty little 44-foot sailboat. The same sailboat that instigated my adventure of being a sea-cook, in fact.

Here’s how it all came about:

At a certain point, in one of my books (no, I won’t tell you which one!) a character travels through the Panama Canal. My dad’s boat just happened to be traveling through the Panama Canal this January as it is being moved to the west coast. In Dad’s words, “You can’t not go, Nadine.”

Shoot, who could pass that up? Now that I’m writing a YA novel set in Silicon Valley, when visiting family in the Bay Area we toured the headquarters of Google and Facebook for research. Anything more local that you’ve done lately?

I live in the type of place where I can post on Facebook, “Anyone have dogsledding connections? I need it for book research,” and the next day I get a message from a friend saying, “I can get you a ride!”

I know, I’m spoiled.

So last March, I went on my first all-day dogsled ride to Granite Hot Springs out in the wilderness.

After some mushing commands, some dog intros, some warnings about flying off the back of the sled at the take-off (“Excuse me?!”), I hopped on, pressing down the brake with all my weight. And then, with a very un-Hollywoodish, “Alright, hike!” we took off.

I was an official musher.

Wow. And I thought it was interesting when I took a scooter for a test ride to see how to control the thing. Let’s see, what else have I done? Running on the beach to understand a getaway scene, trying out rock climbing walls, watching videos on YouTube of medical procedures. Any other research items stand out?

1. Walked a tightrope four stories off the ground (yes, I had a harness.) Also walked on slacklines without a harness.

2. Crawled across a river on a log

IMG_32233. Chased down a boxcar train to record sounds, movement, and the size of boxcars.

4. Ate grilled cattails

5. Sailed on the open sea for four days, getting ridiculously seasick.

6. Ate a raw potato

7. Rock climbed real cliffs and man-made rock walls, as well as frayed ropes to get the right feel.

8. Walked through a cattail pond barefoot to get an idea of what it’d be like to be stuck in one for weeks.

Okay. I’d say you win. But I’m not going down easily. Anyway, what would you say to aspiring authors about research and being so adventurous? 

Life experiences and adventuring have everything to do with writing! Stories I can use in my future novels, stories I can write about for you to use in your future novels, stories to inspire others in their future novels. Or stories that don’t have to be in novels at all–they can just be memories! My life is my greatest story. I’m a storyteller and writing is what I’m called to do. I can’t just limit it to fiction.

That’s great advice for anyone, not just a writer. Memories and stories to tell are priceless. 

Since everyone’s probably intrigued with Nadine now, here’s where you can find her online. 

Nadine’s website

And check out her books, A Time To Die and A Time To Speak. She’s got a great adventure going on in those pages. I’ll have a review of Speak next week. Check out the Amazon link or enter the contest below to win a free copy!

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Fundraiser for Human Trafficking Movie

This is brilliant.

I’ve seen movies about human trafficking, but they’re for American audiences. This movie is for southeast Asia. It’s being filmed on location by locals, and will be dubbed into regional languages and shown to raise awareness there.

Part of the reason human trafficking thrives in southeast Asia is due to lack of information. The same ploys to trap people are used because they aren’t exposed to the problem. This seems to me to be a great way to prevent trafficking before it happens.

YWAM Thailand is a great organization. I’ve had first-hand experience with them, and can vouch that the leadership is above reproach. Check out their GoFundMe campaign and do what you can to get involved.

Called To Speak – A Blog Hop


Hey gang, I’ve joined in with the Called To Speak Blog Hop to discuss the question: What Hashtag-Called2Speak-3-300x227makes you want to speak out?

It’s inspired by the new book A Time To Speak by Nadine Brandes, the second book in the YA dystopian series Out of Time. It releases on October 16th, and it is also to encourage myself and others to speak out for our passions and against injustice.

A passion of mine is speaking out against human trafficking and modern day slavery. A quick search of this blog will show multiple posts about the topic. The scourge of human trafficking is shocking that it happens in this day and age.

But it is deceptive, because there’s more slaves in the world today than during the entirety of the African slave trade.

It takes many forms: workers forced onto Thai fishing boats, prostitution in NYC or brothels in Cambodia, whole families trapped in indentured servitude on brick kilns in India, or domestic helpers with their passports confiscated.

In the paper this week was a story about a former cheerleader who was sentenced to prison in Oregon for leading a teen into prostitution. It happens in our backyards, not just around the world.

I hate the injustice of someone being forced to do things against their will. I’ve worked to raise awareness of the issue for several years now. This dark secret is being brought into the light more and more, and there are many organizations that are fighting in various ways and areas to combat this horror.

One of my favorites is International Justice Mission, a leader in the modern day slavery battle. However, there are many worthy groups that will show with a Google search that may hit areas closer to your heart.

I love the idea behind this blog tour because if we aren’t afraid to speak out, then we can see change come in the world. If we all keep silent, then what will change?

So thanks to Nadine for starting this campaign. Below you can find more information about her books and other bloggers in the hop. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to enter a contest to win copies of her books!

I’m Jason Joyner, and I’m #called2speak against the injustice of modern day slavery and human trafficking.

What happens when you liveParvin-Quote-ATtS-2 longer than you wanted to?

Parvin Blackwater wanted to die, but now she’s being called to be a leader. The only problem is, no one wants to follow.

The Council uses Jude’s Clock-matching invention to force “new-and-improved” Clocks on the public.

Those who can’t afford one are packed into boxcars like cattle and used for the Council’s purposes.

Parvin and Hawke find themselves on a cargo ship of Radicals headed out to sea. What will the Council do to them? And why are people suddenly dying before their Clocks have zeroed-out?

Book Two in the “Out of Time” series. Read about the first book, A Time to Die, here. You can connect with Nadine Brandes at all of these links:

9.28.15 – Gretchen Engel
9.30.15 – Nadine Brandes
10.01.15 – Jason Joyner
10.05.15 – Gretchen Engel (part 2)
10.06.15 – Tricia Mingerink
10.08.15 – Gretchen Engel (Scriblerians)
10.09.15 – Emilie Hendryx
10.11.15 – Janeen Ippolito
10.12.15 – Zachary D Totah
10.14.15 – Brittany Valentine
10.15.15 – Andrew Swearingen
10.17.15 – Megan Besing
10.19.15 – Angel Roman
10.20.15 – Charles Franklin
10.21.15 – Lisa Godfrees
10.27.15 – Natalie Walters
10.29.15 – The Artist Librarian
11.02.15 – Rosalie Valentine
11.17.15 – Amanda Fender

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A Changed Life

Twenty years ago, I finished a life changing year.

I spent nine months in Canberra, Australia. Living in another country will be a landmark for anyone, but that was just the frosting on the cake.

I spent the nine months immersed in the Bible.

Seminaries are great tools to prepare people for ministry, but my program was a little different. I went to the School of Biblical Studies through Youth With A Mission. Instead of different classes covering doctrine, church history, counseling, and other skills required by pastors, we did one thing.

Read the Word.

We read the Bible five times in nine months. Probably more, honestly. We did the inductive Bible study method. The idea is to study the background, history, and literature style of each book, and read/study it in context.

When we did Galatians, we read about the region, the peoples there, what issues Paul seemed to be addressing. We then read through the book in one sitting, out loud. It would give us the overall context of the book. Then we would start drilling in until we went paragraph by paragraph through the Bible (except for some Psalms and Proverbs).

Reading Isaiah out loud in one sitting took over three hours.

It was an amazing time. We had a small class of students from Australia, Germany, Sweden, the Philippines, and me as the token American. This was on an international campus, so we were exposed to a lot of other nationalities as well.

I work as a physician assistant, so I have had many difficult classes dealing with physiology, medical assessment, and pharmacology. But the SBS was the hardest in the sheer fact of doing the work. We ended up doing a commentary on the whole Bible by paragraph. It was intensive, and there were no short cuts.

I can’t believe that I was leaving Oz about 20 years ago to the day. It seems just a few years ago. However, the mirror confirms that it has been a while. That, and my teenagers. Life has definitely had its twists and turns, things that I didn’t see coming. Relationships, love, death, birth, and all the in-between items. Life has been glorious at times, and life has been very hard.

Through it all, it has been such a blessing to have that background in the Bible. It has served me so well through the years. I can’t think of another investment in my life that was as profound as pouring through the Bible like we did.

So a simple piece of encouragement for today: dive into the Word. Learn the story of the Bible, dig into it as much as you can. It has given me such a foundation. I would be lost without it. You may not have the opportunity I had, but don’t forsake studying and learning the Bible.

So thank you Alan, Joyce, Sue, Sandra, and Mholly. Thank you for your service and faithful training to us. Thanks to all my classmates who allowed me to grow alongside you. I am forever grateful.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 109:105



Get Physical

Now that the glow from Realm Makers is wearing off, it’s time for the rubber to hit the road. The inspiration of RM has me fired up with goals and dreams. I have to get them implemented.

A primary goal is to edit and revise the first draft of my YA story so it can be submitted. And writers just LOVE editing.

Some actually do. I like it when I get into making a story better, but it can be a slog as well.

One of the best decisions I’ve done with my writing is to work with freelance editors. On an early draft of my suspense, my heroine wasn’t likable. Thanks to Becky Miller, I was able to turn my main character around.

Then I worked with Ben Wolf after a couple of revisions of the full novel. This is where the nightmares set in.

See, Ben would see all the spots where I was telling something, instead of SHOWING what happened. Early in the book, he’d explain in his comments. As it went along, the code became:

Get Physical.physical

I’ve had a couple dreams where I see red over the manuscript, and the continual admonition to “get physical.” And it’s a great code to remind me to not be lazy and just tell the reader something.

Of course there’s time for telling. I’m not going to show you every breath a character takes. But we writers need to be ever vigilant on letting bad habits slip in.

That’s my encouragement to my writer friends, especially those Realm Makers Alumni who are hard at work on their WIPs. Keep going. Remember what Robert Liparulo said.

And get physical.

The Quiet Moments

Realm Makers is an amazing opportunity.

I just got back from St. Louis for the 3 day speculative fiction conference. In just three years, the staff has produced a high quality gathering that was informative, yet it was so welcoming and encouraging. As far as I can tell, there’s been universal praise for it from writers coming back ready to tackle the writing world.

If you look for posts from other attendees, you’ll see them rave about the fun, the great books and authors, the study of craft, and being fired up to keep writing.

I can say “ditto” to all of those, but Realm Makers stood out to me for a different reason.

They were the quiet moments.

Like meeting my new friend Herbert. He’s not a writer. He’s a homeless Vietnam veteran who I met on the train after arrival. We got caught in a downpour together, and we ended up sharing pizza and prayers the first night. I could’ve caught a group going to dinner if I’d gone right to the dorm. Instead, I had a cool moment with a guy in need, and with God.

I may seem outgoing in the crowds there, but I’m also kinda reserved. I don’t like to impose on people. But when I goofed and was waiting for the shuttle to get to my first pitch appointment, I had to be bold. Because I timed things badly and was waiting for the shuttle during its down time. No shuttle to take me 15 minutes away with 5 minutes to go (after I’d waited 20 minutes).

That’s when Pam came in.

She was a random lady getting into her car when a crazed author flagged her down and asked for a ride to the conference center a mile away. God bless Pam, as she didn’t hesitate, and I made it on time.

Probably a good thing I wasn’t dressed for the costume dinner.

I met so many cool people during the conference, or got reacquainted with friends I’d met before. But one time stood out. My roommate Josh Smith had his van, and was very kind to run us back and forth (he wasn’t there for the last story). We got time to share heart to heart, especially when talking about ministry we each did back home.

God is good, and He works through pizza, hitchhiking, and simple talks among brothers.

And Realm Makers rocks. I’m sure many others have their quiet moments as well. Anyone want to share?

Not quite the same image Pam saw.

Not quite the same image Pam saw.

Book Review – Heir of Hope

Here I am, with a new blog post after 4 months away.

What could drag me back into the blogosphere? Not a lot as I try to focus my writing on other areas. But one thing that could is the final book of my friend Morgan L. Busse’s trilogy, Heir of Hopemorgan busse

I became acquainted with Morgan through the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog Tour, but we met at a writer’s conference in 2012 and hit it off. That’s when I first read her Follower of the Word series, when the first book Daughter of Light was available at the conference bookstore. (I got it signed, be jealous.) My blog review of it is here.

The deep story was a welcome addition to the fantasy I had read before, and I really enjoyed it. Then she came out with Son of Truth, the second book in the series, another heir of hopegreat fantasy read. You know how the second part in a trilogy is always darker? Yeah, Morgan nailed that with this book. Her poor characters were probably ready to revolt by the end.

Now we get the epic conclusion in Heir of Hope.

The final book in the Follower of the Word series did not disappoint. Morgan created some deep main characters that had many obstacles to overcome throughout the trilogy, and it doesn’t get any better for them in Heir of Hope. Rowen Mar has been captured and taken to the Shadonae, her mortal enemies. Caleb Tala, the assassin with a change of heart, is forced to work with Captain Lore to escape the Great Desert. Since Caleb had killed Lore’s former charge, it isn’t an easy alliance. And they have the scribe Nierne, who hasn’t had much experience outside of the monastery. 

This fantasy is character-driven, and each of the main characters have a lot to lose. Their internal and external battles are intriguing and keep the reader invested. As they head toward a final confrontation with the enemies taking over the land, there are steep consequences for all involved. 

I really enjoyed the whole series, and Heir of Hope does not disappoint. It could have been trimmed down a little and still maintain the tension and depth, but the flow doesn’t lose out. There’s wonderful themes about love, forgiveness, and sacrifice in the novel that make it and the series a great addition to any fantasy fan’s library. 

How about a little contest? Leave a comment telling me your favorite fantasy series, and I’ll pick a random winner to receive a paperback copy of Daughter of Light. Thanks for stopping by, and leave a comment to get the start of a great series.

CSFF Tour Day 3 – The Fatal Tree

In Which We Tie It All Together With A Pretty Little Bow, With Questions…

imageOkay fellow travelers – we have reached the End of Everything. Well, at least the end of the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead, with the fifth and final book The Fatal Tree.

On 12/15 I tried to give some semblance of a recap of the first four books, which is really difficult considering the books deal with dimension hopping that has people doing things in book 5 before they happen in book 1.

On 12/16 I discussed a couple of the big ideas: the grandeur of Creation and the question of what if you could go back and change something.

But how does the rubber meet the road? How is The Fatal Tree? And how is the full five book series? Is it worth investing in now that we’ve reached the end?


Out of all the books individually, I enjoyed The Skin Map (#1) and The Spirit Well (#3) the most. The Bone House (#2) was close behind, but it had a little slower pace than the first two. The Shadow Lamp (#4) was fine, but it felt too much like a set-up for the finish. Instead of being a strong stand-alone book, it seemed like it was needed to put all the pieces in place for the finale. Which makes sense, but it could’ve used a little more kick and less exposition to set the stage for The Fatal Tree.

Throughout all of the books, Lawhead’s mastery of research into historical settings and talent for putting the reader in these varied places from ancient Egypt to 1600’s Prague and Middle Ages Byzantium is stellar. Perhaps The Fatal Tree does this a little less as it races toward the grand conclusion.

And it is a grand conclusion, since the various characters like Kit, Mina, Cass, Gianni, and even the villainous Lord Burleigh have their roles to play in trying to prevent the End of Everything, where the Omniverse collapses. Weird things like temporal displacements (Napoleon’s troops in 1930’s Damascus) are just the beginning of the strains in the world.

The trials the main characters have to go through tend to leave their further characterization in the background. We don’t see much change from folks like Mina or Cass, though a very nice loose end gets tied up midway through the book. Otherwise most of the main cast has to do something.


The exception is Lord Burleigh, and his predicament from the end of The Shadow Lamp carries over and is the heart of the book. The way that he is challenged, grows, yet still struggles is exemplary. If people wondered where the Christian content was in this Christian speculative fiction book, this is where the payoff is.

Enough with the technical stuff now. How was the book?

When I first finished, I honestly was a little disappointed. The fun characters from earlier in the series turned into chess pieces. We knew where people needed to end up, so it was inevitable when they got there, and not terribly suspenseful. Still, there were twists at the end that I didn’t see coming, and I wanted to finish after investing into four books at this point.

I wondered: did the series fizzle out? Was the Bright Empires not worth it?

But after I’ve pondered the book for a week, I realize how skillfully Lawhead maneuvered things together in the whole series. A seemingly pointless thread from The Shadow Lamp became the capstone to the series. There was redemption, but not full redemption for certain characters. Their journey would continue on outside of the book. Lawhead gave hints for how things would end up, without giving everyone the spelled out, neatly tied up ending that a beginning author would probably do.

Yes, the series suffered a little in The Shadow Lamp. The characters for the most part didn’t grow or change much in The Fatal Tree. Those that did made up for it.

If The Fatal Tree were a stand alone book, I would judge it differently. But since it is relying on the work done in the previous four books, the characterization is fine. As a series, Stephen Lawhead attempted a very ambitious work that twisted back on itself as characters jumped to different times and dimensions. Some books were stellar, and the others were all fine works. Together, I feel after reflection that it is an intriguing series that overall is a great read.

I would recommend the Bright Empires series to speculative fiction fans who like big ideas and thoughtful literature. It’s not a fluff piece by any means. Some thought is required. Bravo, Mr. Lawhead.

For more of our fellow blog tour travelers, see this post for all of the discussion on The Fatal Tree.

CSFF Tour Day 2 – The Fatal Tree

In Which The Blogger Gets Deadly Serious

Hey, you’re back. I didn’t lose you yesterday in trying to discuss the Bright Empires series by Stephen Lawhead for the CSFF Tour. If you missed it, I gave an overview of the first four books. This month we’re featuring The Fatal Tree, the final book in the journey.51j3xiTUiTL._AA160_

Tomorrow I’ll give my review of the book and the series, but I wanted to talk about a couple of the Big Ideas from the series.

The series revolves around the idea of the Omniverse. Similar to the idea of a multiverse, the key hypothesis is that travel between other realities is possible via ley lines, ancient structures made on the Earth when ancients felt the power resident in the lines. The characters in the book can’t travel into future possibilities, but they can enter variations of past events.

This is wondrous, fertile ground for a speculative fiction author or reader. The idea of exploring what happens when different choices are made is very intriguing. One character prevents the Great London Fire of 1666 by simply waking the baker whose oven triggers the catastrophe. But in another version of London in 1666 the baker sleeps, and London burns.

Characters wrestle with this idea along with the idea of God and His role in it. It seems that Creation is more mysterious and mind-boggling that we can conceive, and the idea of the Omniverse and the interconnection through the ley lines is one way that the author contemplates the power of God in the universe/multiverse. The concepts introduced in the Bright Empires series have a lot of potential, and a story is a much more interesting way of wrestling with them than reading a textbook or paper on theoretical astrophysics. In my opinion, at least.

There’s another thread of redemption and trying to correct wrongs done in life. The way these threads are intertwined are very powerful. Can an evil person change? Can we undo damage that we’ve done with our actions in the past? Who wouldn’t like to change a bad choice from our past.

I remember a day when I was five. My dad was mowing lawns on a Sunday afternoon, first for an elderly lady, and then at our house. He came to take a break on the bed we had on our back deck, while I read comic books at the kitchen table.

I went outside and found him breathing funny. I got my mom right away, and before I knew it I was taken to a friend’s house while an ambulance came. I knew it was serious because my friend already had someone over, and he never was allowed to have two friends over, yet I stayed.

My dad died of a heart attack that day.

I wonder at times what would have happened if I had found my dad sooner. Would he have survived? But if he had, I can’t imagine that I would be with my wife or have my kids. Even though I missed having my dad, the chance to change that one event would drastically alter my life.

There’s power in the Bright Empires to do that, and the characters discover the consequence of such choices.

So know that The Fatal Tree and the Bright Empire series as a whole isn’t afraid of Big Ideas. There’s meat in there. Come back tomorrow to find out my final thoughts, and check out the other tours listed on Becky Miller’s blog.