CSFF Tour – Numb Day 2

Usually, being numb is not fun.

I can attest, as I currently have a pinched nerve that is affecting a couple of fingers on my right hand. BTW, if you see any typos, I blame it on not feeling the keys.

But one author saw something different in that idea. Thus, the new adult science fiction book Numb by John W. Otte.

Crusader is numb.

He doesn’t feel emotions or pain. This makes him the perfect instrument of God’s divine judgment, as divined by the Ministrix. If he stays obedient, he will earn his justification and receive pardon for his sins.

As one of the Ministrix’s top operatives, he is used to success. But when he is charged with killing Isolda Westin, something happens.

A rush of emotions.

Suddenly Crusader can’t process with his usual clinical coldness. Instead of killing Isolda, he kidnaps her to discover the secret of this strange failing. But doing so will damn his soul.

What is a holy assassin to do?

What an intriguing premise! The good news is that John delivers on all fronts: characters, plot, and the science fiction setting. Set against a war between the atheistic Praesidium and the holy church Ministrix, the novel finds Crusader striking down heretics and protecting the Church’s interests.

His name is appropriate, yes?

Crusader is a driven character and his resistance to emotional or physical pain is something he leans on heavily to accomplish his mission. When he freezes with the feelings that Isolda triggers, he doesn’t know what to do. The conflict keeps the reader guessing and intrigued throughout the book. The action keeps careening through space stations and starships.

Not only does the action hold attention, the characters have depth so they aren’t just plot puppets. Isolda has strengthens and doubts, and Crusader wrestles with these pesky feelings that he hasn’t had to deal with before.

Finally, the ideas that Numb introduce are very thought-provoking. The Ministrix believes that Christ came down from the Cross as a conquering Lord, ready to impose His will after defeating death. This idea gives the brutal treatment of Ministrix opponents a logical justification. There’s a fringe group that has different beliefs, and their quest to avoid the heavy hand of the Church plays into the conflict as well.

Overall, John Otte has written an intelligent and exciting science fiction novel with a sincere wrestling of spiritual issues. Any sci-fi fan should enjoy this book.

If you’d like more on this book, see Becky Miller’s post for all of the participants and updated info.

CSFF Tour – Outcasts Day 2

Hey-o boys and femmes!

It’s day 2 of our featured book, Outcasts by Jill Williamson, the second in the Safe Lands series. Yesterday I recapped book 1, Captives.

What about Outcasts? Does it avoid the sophomore slump? Is it another Empire Strikes Back?

The story follows the remnant of Glenrock, a village that survived the thin plague but stayed out of the walled, totalitarian Safe Lands nearby. In Captives, they were forcibly taken into the Safe Lands.

Levi, the oldest brother who had to take over eldership of the Glenrock remnant, is hiding out in the underground with his group. He’s working with Rebel leaders, but he doesn’t know if he can trust them with his people. They have their own agendas, and it may not be what Levi thinks.

Mason, the middle brother, continues to work and act as an undercover spy for his people. He’s trying to get information out of Ciddah, the head medic he works for. His heart is betraying him, but what if she betrays him first.

Omar is the youngest brother who opened the door for the Safe Lands enforcers to come to Glenrock. He regrets his actions and tries in his own way to atone for them, but his addictions developed from the Safe Lands hinder his progress.

Together they need to free the Glenrock children from the boarding house before they can find a way out of the Safe Lands. But with powerful enemies and questionable allies, will they survive or will they be caught and prematurely liberated from this life?

Jill Williamson is a dynamo of a woman. She is full of energy and imagination in real life, and it shows in Outcasts. There are tons of fun touches in the futuristic world that make the Safe Lands come alive. There are many futuristic novels out there to compete, but Jill puts a unique spin on many things. The reader will enjoy making connections with some of our real life items and how they develop in the future.

As Becky Miller pointed out in her first post, Outcasts deals with real life issues head on, from drug addiction to sexual desires, but it is all handled in a realistic and honest fashion without glamorizing any of it. The negative consequences of vices are clear, but not in a preachy manner. This book has ideas that give it a heft that some other books miss in dealing with teens and twenty-somethings. The characters anchor these ideas, as they wrestle in different ways with the issues. Omar gave himself over to pleasures that he realizes is damaging, but he has a hard time getting past them. Some of the consequences come out at very inconvenient times, which keeps the plot twisting. Meanwhile Mason, the reasonable brother, still deals with some real temptation.

Overall the book is a very enjoyable read. There are a few sequences where a lot of characters are doing things and it gets confusing for a little while. The book is the second in a series, so there are things that a person would be confused about if they started with Outcasts. The solution is simple – get Captives and read it first!

Becky Miller has all of the posts from the tour updated on her blog. Be sure to check them out, and I’ll be talking a little deeper about the book tomorrow.

CSFF Tour – The Shadow Lamp, Day 3

In Which The Butter Is Stretched Too Thin Over The Toast

Hello again CSFF Tour fans. The monthly focus on Christian speculative fiction is wrapping up on the fourth book of the Bright Empires series, The Shadow Lamp by Stephen Lawhead. Yesterday I did a brief recap of the other three books so far. This link will take you to all of my prior posts on the Bright Empires series. 
Lawhead said this was an ambitious series for him and that he didn’t think he could write something like it earlier in his career. Now he was at a point that he could wrestle it.
Out of four rounds so far, the score card for this fight would be Lawhead 3 to 1. Unfortunately, The Shadow Lamp misses the mark in comparison to the other books. 
It is a major challenge to find a story that can stretch for a trilogy, much less five books. There has to be enough conflict and high enough stakes to carry a reader through to the end.
The Bright Empires series has a significant crisis to solve by the end of book five – the potential destruction of the universe. So that’s something.
The problem with book four is that it became too much of a set up story. There is a lot of shuffling the pieces to get them into the proper position. However, the stakes do not often grab the reader and make them care enough about what happens. 
For instance, Lady Fayth and her loyal manservant Giles separate from the main group of heroes and get lost in an unknown dimension. There are harrowing circumstances, but the reason for their departure and the subsequent trial is nebulous. I shrugged my shoulders. Okay, why did that happen?
There are numerous plot points swirling around from the various players trying to figure out ley travel through dimensions for their own purposes. Some of them explain some background or seem to be moving somewhere, only to fizzle out. Maybe there is more to the story of Douglas, or the pirate attack suffered by the Burleigh men, but the significance was lost to me.
There were also two gatherings where educated people talked. A lot. They set up the huge consequences that happened in the prior book and pointed to the final act, but there wasn’t much action or development within The Shadow Lamp itself.
The writing quality was still well done. Lawhead is so good at description and setting from his research and experience. I’m invested enough in the story that I will see it through to the end. I have faith that the last installment will be worth following this series for five years from when it released to its conclusion next year. But The Shadow Lamp will be the filler episode that is quickly forgotten in the midst of the other books.
One other factor has been discussed elsewhere in the tour, but Lawhead has discussed a little more theology in books 3 and 4 over the first two books. 
I could see the seeds he planted and was excited about the firstfruits revealed in The Spirit Well. But in The Shadow Lamp, he takes the mythology he’s created for the story regarding time and the idea of the multiverse and places it against the nature of God, in my opinion. Basically, if the heroes don’t fix things, the timestream will collapse on itself and destroy everything. 
I don’t have a problem with a big cataclysm in a book – the bigger the stakes the better, usually. Like bacon. You can’t have too much bacon. But I digress.
The issue is when this can happen despite God. That’s what it sounds like could happen. Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe he’ll clarify things in book five. Until then, my opinion was that this particular point is a detraction to the whole.
So, the take-home point? The Shadow Lamp is not a bad book. It’s just not very memorable. It is by no means a deal-breaker in reading the Bright Empires series. My experience with Lawhead is that he can be a streaky writer. Some of his books have been my favorites. And some…not so much. Unfortunately The Shadow Lamp will stay in the shadows of my memory when all is said and done.
If you wonder what others are saying, Becky Miller has the list of all the participants. So I’ll see you on the other side of the ley lines. 

CSFF Tour – Captives Day 3

If you’ve been following along the past two days, you are brave. Now I can reveal my secrets.

I’ve been posting updates on the controversial book Captives by Jill Williamson. As you can see by the warning above, it is a dangerous book. According to Safe Lands Enforcers, it should be reported.

I’m here to tell you I’ve read it.

If you get caught and point back to me, I’ll deny it. But it isn’t what the warning says. It is something far different.

How Jill Williamson came by her knowledge is hidden, but she has told the story of the villagers taken into the Safe Lands in an engaging manner. You may only pick it up to flip through a couple of pages to see what the fuss is about. If you do, you’ll be hooked. Questions will form in your mind: Why does the Safe Lands need help with reproduction? Why was Omar willing to betray his people to the Safe Lands? What does Mason and Levi expect to accomplish by playing along with the authorities?

These two brothers, forced into leadership by the death of their village elders, are the lynchpin of the tale. Levi takes action and tries to break his family and friends out. Mason investigates, looking for a deeper truth that can shake the Safe Lands to its core.

A reader may be willing to shoot the traitor Omar themselves half-way through the book, but is everything as it seems on first glance?

Jill compares the simple life and faith of the outsiders with the flashy but empty diversions of the Safe Lands, offering a stark contrast between the two lives. Now that I have read this, I do not believe everything shown on the Wyndos, or every proclamation from the Enforcers.

I have questions, but the problem is this book is incomplete. It ends before all is revealed. Rumors of another tome, Outcasts, have been whispered from lips hidden in darkness. Is there more to the story of the Safe Lands and the outsiders, or has Jill been captured and liberated into Bliss early?

Now that I have seen this, I can’t stay quiet and pretend nothing has happened. Share this post. Tell people, no matter the risk to me. And more information can be found. Rebecca Luella Miller has been active in collecting all the myths and legends regarding Captives and the tale Jill Williamson exposes, so visit her site for the latest.

May you find what you’re looking for, searcher.

Book Review – Daughter Of Light

On this fine Writing Wednesday I need to highlight a friend of mine.

Morgan Busse is a pastor’s wife and one of the authors of the well-regarded Marcher Lord Press. She also plays a mean game of Fiasco, so you have been warned. She’s been a member of the Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy Tour in the past, and that’s how we connected at the ACFW Conference in Dallas last year.

Her first book released last year, called Daughter Of Light. I recently had the chance to read it.

Synopsis:
Rowen is an orphan girl left on the doorstep of a military hero living outside a small village in the Ryland Plains. She grows up as an outcast from the tight-knit community, but when her father is killed in the war, it seems they are finally opening up to her. However, a strange mark appears on her hand, and when she touches someone with it, all of his dark secrets are revealed to her.

She is forced into exile as a witch, narrowly escaping being burned at the stake. Her only option is an offer from the White City, where as a favor to her father she is given the chance to become the bodyguard of Lady Astrea, daughter of Lord Gaynor. She hides her mark under a leather glove as she trains under the guidance of Captain Lore, a seasoned veteran who remains a follower of the Word, even as most of the culture has forgotten Him.

As Rowen wins the title of varor, there are forces building that will challenge her to the core. In the east, the dark Shadonae have risen once again, with a lone scribe fleeing for her life to reach the White City. From the south an invasion force mounts, and the assassin Caleb Tana is pursuing a bold plan that would free him from the banality of the army and allow him to retreat to his comforts back home.

Rowen plunges into the chaos swirling around her, wrestling with her own trials from her abandonment, exile,  and unwanted curse on her hand. Somehow she must discover the mystery of who she is and her strange calling before the world around her collapses.

Review:
Marcher Lord Press has cultivated a reputation for turning out the best in Christian speculative fiction, one that is well-deserved from what I’ve read from them so far. I’m pleased that Morgan continues in this tradition with a strong fantasy adventure that also challenges the heart.

Her characters make good heroes – they are determined to pursue what needs to be done despite their wounds and weaknesses. The drama from the plot is heightened by the internal conflict Rowan, Lore, and Caleb face. They are believable and sympathetic. I would have liked a little more about their habits or other desires, a quirk that grounds them, but otherwise they were well done. The secondary characters didn’t stand out very much, but there aren’t many of them to track.

The plot keeps the reader guessing. The conflict and suspense builds, and I never felt like the book dragged. There were no stretches of boring detail. The prose was crisp and kept the momentum growing. The best part of the book though is the heart. The theme of being damaged and dealing with what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you, is a powerful message. The book is by no means preachy, but there are touching passages with opposing characters that make for a brilliant contrast. Rowen’s damaged soul is an obvious point for this, but a surprising actor also plays a part in this. I was very impressed with how the theme was handled.

One of the best things was also the most frustrating. Morgan built up enough suspense that the one book couldn’t contain it. There are questions at the end of the book whether certain characters are even alive. I wondered about the threat from the Shadonae, the war against the White City, and what would happen to Rowen. I liked that it didn’t draw things together into a neat bow. There was enough resolution to the book, but I need to read the next one now. That’s the frustration. I want it now.

Thankfully I don’t need to wait long. The second book in the series, Son Of Truth, is set to release in a few weeks. I’ll be adding it to my reading pile very soon.

Overall, Daughter Of Light is a very enjoyable and thoughtful read and an excellent debut. Yes, Morgan is a friend, but I’ve read enough fantasy that I’m picky, and I wouldn’t say this without meaning it. With some more layering of the character traits this book could be approaching 5 star range. However, I would say it is 4 stars because a debut author always has room for improvement. Morgan’s only problem is that she set the bar pretty high from the get-go!

CSFF Tour – Angel Eyes Day 2

Is Angel Eyes the Christian version of Twilight?

I hope that sentence doesn’t scare anyone off! I aim to explain. 
Yesterday I introduced the January CSFF feature Angel Eyes by new author Shannon Dittemore. She takes an intriguing nugget of an idea and runs with it. 
Becky Miller addresses somewhat the idea of the similarity between Angel Eyes and Twilight. Both books feature a wounded girl moving to be with a single father in a rural area, and both girls end up meeting a mysterious guy who is also very good looking and intrigued with said female. Becky was surprised about the comparison. 
I wasn’t. 
Because I *ahem* read the Twilight series. 
Okay, I guess I will hand over my man card. Won’t be the first time. I was bored and had a lot of time to read that year. But I digress. 
The trick is that anytime there are similarities, people are going to call it. And in the Christian market, where we do have a reputation (often deserved, but not always) of copying a trend or style in the mainstream market, it is going to come fast and furious.
So here’s a main difference:
Angel Eyes is way better. 
I kept reading Twilight because I did like Stephenie Meyer’s voice. But aside from the questions the plot offers, her writing needs some severe editing. I’m not sure I could read it again after four more years of studying writing under my belt. Meyer gets too thick with her description, going on and on about how perfect Edward is.
Dittemore hits the right notes. Sure, there are points where someone who’s read both will see comparisons. I don’t think it was intentional. There’s nothing new under the sun, remember. Her Brielle is not a whiny wimp that doesn’t feel good unless she’s around her hunk, and even then she’s a bummer. Brielle is damaged, like any good fiction character. There’s issues that create conflict, but they don’t drag her into a quagmire of blah.
The book has great description. For instance, in the book Brielle is always cold. She can’t get warm. It is a plot point, and it has to be repeated a lot. To me an idea that gets repeated over and over can really bog down a book if it is done poorly. Dittemore reminds us enough about this particular detail without being overly repetitive or boring us with the same words.
Another similarity is the attraction between Brielle and the mysterious guy, Jake. Now, I probably wouldn’t have used the name “Jake” (Jacob the shirtless werewolf, anyone?), but there is no love triangle in this book. There’s no sparkly vegetarian vampires. I repeat, NO SPARKLES. One criticism of the book I have is that Jake is sometimes too good – he doesn’t seem to be a fully three dimensional character. But again, the comparison between the romance is superficial.
Ultimately, this is a Christian novel. It deals with faith, doubt, suffering, and other real world issues in a touching and believable way. Believable considering a girl can see the supernatural and there are angels and demons. But the angels know their place. They serve the Lord Almighty, and that is brought out in the book in a very strong way. Not preachy, but it isn’t hidden either.
So, I do not believe Angel Eyes is the Christian Twilight. It stands on its own, with some shared conventions since they are both YA, both romance, and both supernatural in nature. But I would not hesitate to recommend Angel Eyes to a young woman who likes to read or anyone who enjoys speculative fiction. Which I would hesitate with Twilight with some people. 
Well, shoot Becky. You forced my hand early. I’m going to have to get creative for tomorrow’s post. In the meantime, Becky keeps a tab of all of the posts for this tour, so check them out for more opinions and info. 

My Top Books of 2012

Hello 2013.

I must confess, so far you look a lot like 2012 – except you’re a lot colder. Minus 11 degrees Fahrenheit when I got to work today? Ouch.

I wonder what books will come from you. It’s always cool to look back and see just what I’ve read and what tickled my fancy.

But it’s still 2012’s turn. For such a crazy year I’m impressed I can remember one book I’ve read. Thankfully, book blogging and using Goodreads is helping. So here are my favorite books* from last year.

5. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson. The first book I blogged about in 2012 stuck with me throughout the year. From the eye-catching cover to the intriguing premise and suspenseful examination of medical ethics, it was a striking book to me. It’s listed as a teen book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, even if the first few chapters took a little getting used to, as the author used an interesting layout and chapter structure in the early going.

4. The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead. The CSFF Blog Tour is always a highlight to me, and one of the benefits has been to read many of Stephen Lawhead’s recent books. His writing skill is remarkable, and he seems to be avoiding the consistency issue I felt he had in earlier series. The Bright Empires series is an ambitious project delving into the multiverse and the price of coffee in 1600’s Vienna (seriously). The Spirit Well is the third in the series and holds the storyline solid as the midway tentpole.

3. Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland. A friend put me in touch with Ms. Weiland, who was looking for some advanced readers of her latest fantasy. I’ve enjoyed her writing advice site through the year, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if the rubber met the road. I was very pleased with the idea of a person living in a dream world while they slept. It’s been done before, but she did it with style and substance.

2. Proof by Jordyn Redwood. I really enjoyed the debut novel by Jordyn. A pediatric ER nurse by day, she has been offering her medical advice blog Redwood’s Medical Edge as a service to writers for a few years. She also proved her writing chops with a thrill ride of a medical mystery. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the ACFW Conference in Dallas, but I had already read her book and enjoyed the page-turner. Looking forward to number 2 in her Bloodlines trilogy coming out soon.

1. Rare Earth by Davis Bunn. I had read a book by Mr. Dunn a long time ago but lost track of him. He kept churning out books, and I picked up Rare Earth for another blog tour this summer. Finally it gave me a template in the CBA publishing realm for my project – an international suspense with heart. He wrote a thrilling book that opened up eyes to problems in the real world of displaced people, but did it with dignity and a very enjoyable read.

*My only caveat is that these are my favorite fiction books of 2012. Out of the non-fiction books that I read, there is one that made the biggest impact on me last year. But you’ll have to wait for Mission Monday for that one.

How about you? What were your favorite books from 2012?

Review – Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland

What happens when you dream?

This question has made men wonder for millenia. Leave it to a woman to answer it for us all.

Author K.M. Weiland of the popular Wordplay blog for writers has taken this idea and weaved it into her latest fantasy book Dreamlander.

Chris Redston is a down on his luck writer who has always dreamt of  far away lands and amazing battles. Lately he’s having a dream that scares him: a beautiful woman rides up to him on a horse, pulls out a firearm, and warns him not to come – right before shooting him between the eyes.

If that didn’t make him paranoid, he’s being called by a strange man who knows Chris is having weird dreams. When Chris is finally able to confront his stalker, the man is shot. Chris is knocked out and awakens to meet a psychologist who promises to help Chris get rid of the dreams. All he needs to do is sleep, do what he’s told in the dream, and it will break the cycle.

Allara is a princess of Lael and is also the Searcher – the one person tasked with finding the Gifted and guiding them through their world. The Gifted is the one person who can remember both lives on Earth and Lael. Everyone else thinks they are dreaming. Allara was a young girl when a Gifted came to Lael and betrayed everyone for the treacherous Mactalde. Even though that Gifted and Mactalde were killed, the prophecy that Mactalde would return has her on edge. Especially now that a new Gifted is about to cross over, which shouldn’t happen again in her lifetime as most Searchers only ever have one Gifted a generation. She tries to warn him away, but he keeps appearing closer and closer to fulling coming over.

Chris didn’t realize that the psychologist was Mactalde still living on Earth. Chris unwittingly brings Mactalde back over, sparking a war between Lael and Mactalde’s army. Even worse, by bringing someone across the boundary, both worlds are stretched to the breaking point by unusual storms wreaking havoc on both sides.

As Chris and Allara are thrown together, they must overcome her mistrust and his cluelessness about their world to find Mactalde and end the chaos before two worlds crash down. But the shifting alliances and strange ways of Lael may prove too much for even the Gifted to handle.

An epic fantasy needs a strong plot, a deep world, and compelling characters. Dreamlander has all three aspects in full force here. The fish-out-of-water part of the story with Chris trying to survive and deal with a fantasy realm is not new, but it is handled deftly in the author’s hands. The tension builds steadily on both sides of the dream as Chris tries to avoid death on Earth and trains in Lael. There is no dull moment as every part of the steps taken pull the reader deeper into a grand conflict.

Chris and Allara are appealing characters that battle internal demons along with the dangers that Mactalde’s invasion brings. They both grow and develop throughout the story and anchor the story well. The secondary characters are also well done. Instead of being cardboard place holders, they are all 3-D figures that occupy their own space in the story and add to the mix.

The fantasy world of Lael is an intriguing one, as it isn’t all swords and horses. Those elements are there of course, but this world has some mechanical, almost steampunk type elements. There are tram cars enabling quick travel across lands and fantastical firearms that operate with a special energy. These are cool factors that make Dreamlander stand apart from a typical fantasy.

I’ve enjoyed following K.M. Weiland’s blog posts for writerly advice and videos. Now reading Dreamlander I know she has the skill and talent to back up her training. She doesn’t just teach – she can ply the craft as well. I really enjoyed Dreamlander as one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in a while, and I can highly recommend it for a great Christmas gift for a loved one – or even a treat for yourself.

Full disclosure – I did receive an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review – and I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t really like it.

CSFF Tour Day 2 – The Spirit Well

In Which The Blogger Brings It All Home In Style.

Welcome back to the CSFF Tour of Stephen Lawhead’s latest book in his Bright Empires series, The Spirit Well.

Yesterday I did a quick overview of the first two books in the series, but if I was really walking in the spirit of this series, I might well do things out of order.

Why is that?

The whole series focuses on the idea of the multiverse (called in the books the Omniverse) – an infinite number of alternate dimensions out there. Imagine a world where the Nazis invaded North America, or one where the wheel wasn’t invented. The characters in this series don’t go in the past per se, they jump to different dimensions. In the first book a ley traveler stops the Great London Fire in the 1600s by waking the baker who inadvertantly started it.

With that as a background, shall we begin?

A detailed synopsis is impossible without giving away fun things from the first two books. The main protagonist Kit is stranded in Stone Age times, which doesn’t seem to bother him all that much. His girlfriend Mina is busy mastering ley traveling and avoiding the machinations of the ruthless Lord Burleigh. A new character, paleontologist Cassandra Clarke, goes from a modern-day dig in the Arizona desert to 1930’s Damascus and becomes a popular woman with a group that looks to play an important role in the rest of the series.

The centerpiece of the books are the Skin Map, the tattooed skin of one Arthur Flinders-Petrie. This gentleman was the leading expert in ley travel and kept a unique code on his chest to help him navagate the complicated waters. The Spirit Well delves into the unpleasant business of how Arthur became separated from his map, while other characters both fair and foul seek the Skin Map for their own purposes.

Lawhead has attempted a complicated story, a tale only a master at his craft could accomplish. Thankfully, the author is such a master. The book gives a handy list of important characters followed by a short recap of the events so far. He then introduces the new character Cassandra to be his launch point into book 3.

One must pay attention and hang on tight, as the book does not proceed in a truly linear fashion. If you’re dealing with the multiverse, why should you? It weaves back and forth through many characters and locales in pushing the plot forward (for the most part). For readers of the series, there are points that explain questions from the first two books, which just whets the appetite for more.

There is action and excitement at times, but other moments are chances to admire Lawhead’s gift for bringing the reader into the varied settings. He is a world traveler and excellent researcher, so the details are expressive and inviting. I want to visit Damascus after reading the book (though perhaps not right now).

The story winds its journey like a lazy river. There are moments of rapids and white water, other times with beautiful scenery to enjoy, and occasions where it seems to wind back on itself. Still, the tale flows toward an ending that looks to be a revelation.

I really enjoyed the first book, but felt the second book had a slight letdown. The Spirit Well wins deeper affection from me. I am frustrated that I’ll be waiting another two years for the final resolution, but the Bright Empires journey is quite worth it.

So this is one man’s opinion. Becky Miller keeps a list of all of the tour participants, and there is more information there. Jim Armstrong picked up the book fresh without reading the others, and shares his thoughts on a complicated book viewed with new eyes.

I’ll be talking more about the faith element of the book tomorrow – this is a Christian tour after all. How can a book of multiple dimensions be considered Christian fiction?

Oh, I did receive a free copy in exchange for a fair review – nothing else.

The Just Church

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.  

The words of the prophet Micah are spoken in churches all over the world. Believers love this simple declarations of what Jesus asks of His people.  

Christians try hard to walk humbly with the Lord. We strive to show mercy to people. However, we often ignore or struggle with the clause of “acting justly.” Especially for Western Christians, the command for justice is flat-out missed or simply misunderstood.  

There is a new move of the Spirit, awakening His people to the need to provide justice for those who cannot speak up for themselves, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to minister to the widow and orphan. It is a slow burn, but it is exciting to see the embers leaping into flame in various places of the body.

 A new spark is being provided by the new book The Just Church by Jim Martin of the organization International Justice Mission (IJM).

IJM has been fighting for justice for many years now and is one of the leading organizations battling injustices like forced labor, human trafficking, sexual exploitation of women and children, and modern-day slavery in all its forms.  

Jim Martin has been working with them after transitioning out of the pastoral role in his church, becoming a church liason with IJM. This experience made him especially qualified to write The Just Church.  

This book is a challenge to the body of Christ to reclaim the lost aspect of Micah 6:8 and to actively act justly in the world. There are other books that try to awaken Christians to the need of justice and to expose the problems of modern slavery and other forms of bondage towards vulnerable peoples that is easy to overlook in our daily lives. The Just Church is a book that takes the church on journey to forming a viable justice ministry to compliment evangelism and mercy ministry.  

The book is laid out in three sections. The first section establishes a theory that faith doesn’t really grow without significant risk and suggests that justice ministry is a needed part of the church and can help develop a healthier discipleship in His people. The second section takes the reader through a practical journey on establishing a justice ministry in the local church. It isn’t a step by step approach, allowing for the individual characteristics of any body guide the process. The last part of the book is a series of appendices with Scriptures on justice, resources for following through, and study materials. Each chapter ends with a QR code that can be scanned by a smart phone or tablet, leading to a video with Jim summarizing each chapter’s main point.  

It is well-written with an easy conversational style. Jim lays out the challenges inherit in this type of ministry and doesn’t sugar-coat it. It won’t be easy. But he recognizes the hope that is out there for people if Christians will rise up and stand in this gap, so the book is infused with this balance of challenge and hope.  

Any critiques are minor. The videos are a very nice multimedia touch in this day and age – but I’m a fast reader so I’d rather not slow down and watch a movie. Those who like this feature will be pleased. Also, sometimes the book seems too much like a selling tool for IJM. I realize Jim works with them and is most familiar with their work, but there are other fine organizations out there doing similar work as well. This isn’t a big issue, and I support IJM financially myself.  

Overall I am thrilled to have had a chance to read this book and see the new horizons coming in the fight against injustice. The need is starting to become known in the western Church. The Just Church takes the movement to the next step and provides a practical tool to those churches looking into how they can join in the justice ministry sphere. It isn’t for special groups like IJM or others listed on my links on my blog. The Bible speaks very clearly about God’s love of justice and it is every Christian’s responsibility to see the threefold thrust of Micah 6:8 walked out in the world today.  

I’m thankful to Jim Martin and IJM for their work. I did receive a preview copy for promotional purposes, without any expectation of a positive review. My endorsement is heartfelt. The Just Church is a powerful tool in the battle against modern injustice. I highly recommend it.
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