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I have been an avid reader from as early as I can remember. Since becoming a Christian in my early 20s, my passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on this blog. I love reading debut author's novels or those author's who have not had many reviews thus providing them much needed encouragement 

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Saturday, 10 February 2018

Death is Not the End, Daddy by Nate Allen

Death is Not the End, Daddy 

John Doe is a killer. Fourteen children in the last twenty-six years. Teddy tells him to and he listens. He has to listen. He is parked across the street from the elementary school in Payne, North Dakota, waiting for Teddy to tell him the name of the next child. He hasn’t yet, but he will…

For Matthew Mills, God is good. It's the only truth Matthew needs. But, pain is still pain. It has only been a week since his wife had her second miscarriage in the last three years. She has become a shell of who she was. Only his daughter Marcy is a light in his life.

What would happen if she was taken away?

The Guru's Review: 

I should start out by saying if the description makes you uneasy, please ignore this uneasiness and persist with this novel. 

I was uneasy when I read this description as I don't like serial killer plots, especially when it involves children. However, the author asked me to review this and having read some of his other novels, I know his mindset. I therefore I know it will be based on the Bible, it will not glorify serial killers, it will not be gory and his motive for writing it is not to show horror for horror sake. I know it will show victory over our fallen nature through faith in God, through his Spirit or not in any strength of our own.  And the author definitely shows this in this novel. 

He has described this novel as his best. It is not his latest, but I agree with him, it is his best.  Very different to The Faceless Future trilogy that he has released now (episodic instalments of a novel) in writing style, genre, pace and narrative. All this does is show how versatile this author is. 

When I started reading this novel and John Doe starts describing how he kills under the instruction of a "talking" stuffed toy (a teddy bear, hence the name Teddy), I found this very creepy. I hate novels or movies where inanimate objects have control over humans. It speaks of one thing and one thing only. Demonic possession and/or possession. I did not like this half of the novel. And I nearly gave up due to my dislike of serial killer novels involving children. The other aspect to this dislike is that I hate the mindset of the perpetrators. The TV show Criminal Minds contributed greatly to this, I did not finish Season 1 of that TV show! 

Towards the end of the first half of this novel, I wondered when Allen would show the why and the how of this demonic oppression and if John becomes free of this? Allen does not keep you in suspense for too long. The second half is where it all falls into place and as it did, I then wondered when the author was going to deal with it from a Biblical perspective, as I knew he would. 

I was not to be disappointed! This second half adds a much detailed spiritual layer to the plot and the mindset of John Doe and Teddy compared to the first half. It is here that Allen shines with the biblical point of view in dealing demonic oppression. The first half describes the consequences of the demonic oppression that John is in bondage to while the second describes the how and the why and provides one very satisfying resolution to this from the Biblical point of view.

What helped my uneasiness in reading this novel was the alternating character arcs of Matthew and Janet Mills, their pain and grieving of losing two children due to miscarriage, and then the subsequent kidnapping and murder of their 8-year-old daughter Marcy by John Doe. Just when I was getting further creeped out by John and his actions and control by Teddy, I was given a reprieve by the further development of the plot arcs concerning Matthew and Janet. However, this was a bit uneasy for me too as I could relate to this couple losing children through miscarriage as my wife and I lost two prior to our existing two daughters. One of these was through miscarriage and the other through premature birth. I was affected by Matthew's reaction and Janet's reminded me so much of what my wife went through. It is every parent's nightmare to have their child abducted or go missing without a trace and I shared the Mills' grief, despair, loss, anger, frustration at this loss. These circumstances definitely endeared me to Janet and Matthew. I wanted to so much offer my empathy and counsel to them!

It is a very clever plot construction when an author intertwines plot arcs together and you know that they will eventually intersect and bring the ending of this novel to a climatic ending or one mighty cliffhanger where you wait in bated breath for the next instalment. The former is true in this novel. The alternating plot arcs of the Mills' grief over their miscarriages, their waxing and waning faith and feelings towards God in relation to this, and John's desire and quest to be free of Teddy's bondage give you plenty of indication and suspense that these two paths will eventually intersect. I must confess, I was convinced I knew when this would occur, but then Allen changed course and this intersection occurred at a point that I was not expecting! This led to a great ending! I was exhilarated, spiritually uplifted and even felt a measure of closure in my own grief (left over from our loss of children over 25 yrs ago) that had troubled me since. I thank the author for portraying grief and God's response so realistically and sensitively. This reinforces my belief that God can and does use fiction to minister to the reader where they are at. All it takes is an author who is willing to be a willing instrument for the Spirit to use and one who wants to write for God and let Him be the real author. This novel shows Allen as one of those authors. 

One highlight of this novel was how Allen developed the spiritual aspects. I appreciate the inclusion of God in a novel where He interacts with the characters. In this novel, we have Him minister to both Janet and Matthew Mills and John directly either in a supernatural appearance or for the most part, as a voice to their mind or spirit. For John, it was the latter. I found this depiction of the Spirit refreshing and how Allen had Him guide, encourage, and instruct these three characters was as what I would expect Him to say if He was doing the same to me. It is relational, specific and appropriate. Throughout the Bible, we can see that what God says in His interaction with His human creation shows the nature of His personality and His many attributes and I felt the same here with Allen's depiction. But it also shows Allen's commitment to writing for God and being used by the Spirit to write a novel that shows the Omnipotency of His character and Jesus's victory over sin and death, including over bondage from demonic possession.

Allen's depiction of the Spirit guiding John to deliverance from the bondage of the demon inhabiting Teddy, the stuffed toy, is a joy to read. Allen has depicted a side of spiritual warfare using the Biblical principle of calling on the name of Jesus to be saved in order to be delivered from demonic oppression. This is very effective in breaking the bondage John is under and he revels in his new found freedom. The end result is that He becomes the new creation that only happens when God frees us from sin and death. There is more that Allen includes that follows on from this in him getting to know God once he accepts God's forgiveness. I pray that Allen's depiction of this deliverance will be a great encouragement to anyone who is under any degree of demonic oppression and be the same for the Christian who does not know anything about this topic. It was a wise depiction showing this.  

I also found the same with how Allen has depicted the Spirit ministering to Janet and Matthew Mills. Both had different reactions to their loss and relations ship with God. God meet their needs according to what would heal them and restore them to Him. I loved the open channel that Matthew had with God and even when his faith wavered and he rebelled he still came back, repented and restored himself to God. I loved the spiritual lesson that Matthew learnt from their last miscarriage. I can see how this would be easy to fall into without realising it until it is brought to your attention. Matthew was humble enough to see his mistake, the reasons for it, its consequences and repent of it. In the process he was letting go of his pain, dealing with his grief and being a support to his wife in her grief. And likewise, Janet had her own issue with rebelling against God in her grief and only God's intervention restored her faith and she then became a support to Matthew as he struggled with his grief as described above. 

Allen's depiction of the demonic oppression of John was dark and devasting. This demonic spirit shows up as a result of John's father's actions through his sin and is a generational one as described by his father. Not only did this spirit exert its power over John but it affected negatively many others including Matthew and led to the death of an adult. However, it is no match for the invocation of Jesus' name when John in being oppressed by this spirit. Very biblical as evidenced by the following verses: 
Acts 2:21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.’
Romans 10:13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Allen is quite the master at showing the complexity of this demonic oppression and how it manifested in John and the connection to his father (it borders on being dark and tense). From reading the events surrounding this oppression and the explanation as to the how and the why of it, this spirit's manifestation in John was far more extensive than his father. Reading how the events played out, one can only feel compassion for John from the emotional devastation this oppression and the murders had on him. It is all the more joyous when you see him decide to be free from this spiritual bondage and respond to the promptings and revelations from the Spirit of God including the use of visions that God provided of his mother to show more of the truth of this spiritual bondage and what John must consider in being free.

I must make mention that it was a clever plot construct having a spiritual connection from Marcy that sparked the desire for John to be free and subsequently joining both the major arcs of the Mills and John together that led to one very successful and satisfying ending. There is a hint of something through an event in the novel concerning Matthew that comes to light at the very end of the novel. This just made my enjoyment and appreciation of the novel all the more.

Despite my dislike of serial killer plots, abduction and murder of children and this making this novel difficult to read at first, there is much to be enjoyed, edified and faith strengthened in this novel. This novel is Allen's best and it showcases his creativity, talent and willingness to write for God and allow Him to compose the story He wants to be written. The author has stated that he was guided by God through every word. To me, this shows.

I would love to see Allen compose more novels like this one. They would minister to the reader who is going through similar or can relate to these issues. And it strengthens the faith and knowledge of God in the believer and may even spark the beginning of faith in the unbeliever and lead them back to God. 

Highly recommended.

World Building 5/5

Characterisation 5/5

Story 5/5

Spiritual Level 4/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 5/5

Overall Rating 4.8/5 Stars

Spiritually, based on my review and on the following reference booklet,

A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland, and that Death is Not the End, Daddy contains elements of the criteria of what constitutes Christian Redemptive Fiction outlined in this booklet, together with David Bergsland we award Nate Allen with

The Reality Calling Redemptive Fiction Award

Congratulations, Nate!

If you would like to buy or preview this novel, click on the BUY/PREVIEW icon on the image below:

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Scrooge and the Question of God's Existence by Steve Luhring

Scrooge and the Question of God’s Existence 

Created as an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this novel is set in the modern day time period. It chronicles the overnight adventures of the world-famous atheist, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is on a crusade to rid the world of religion and things could hardly be going better. But his fortunes soon change and he has a “Dickens of an evening” filled with ghostly encounters during which he’s given a chance to reconsider the meaning of life and his answer to the question of God’s existence. But Scrooge is a brilliant, hard-core sceptic, so the thought of the ghosts convincing him of anything or bringing about a change of heart is, as Scrooge would put it, a “bah-humbug!”

The Guru's Review: 

This novel grabbed me as soon as I discovered the genre, apologetics. The other was the description. This was the deciding factors to accept the author's request to review it. I even showcased the author in an Author/Novel Spotlight post to explore this novel, its apologetics and the author's history behind it. It can be found here. I was impressed with the reason that Luhring crafted this novel: 
I’ve been fascinated by A Christmas Carol since I first saw a movie version on TV when I was an adolescent. From the moment Marley’s ghostly face appeared in the knocker of Scrooge’s door, I was hooked. Now as an adult, I realize the reason this story has such universal appeal and has become a classic is because of Dickens’ genius in portraying so convincingly the complete transformation of a human being from so believably rotten to so believably good in the context of an imaginative, sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious, and always entertaining story. In a similar way, I’ve humbly endeavored to adapt Dickens’ story to portray the complete transformation of one so believably sceptical to one so believably embracing a reasonable faith. I think the only way to portray that type of transformation in a convincing manner is by introducing reason and evidence into the equation. The project in ways resembled putting together a puzzle -- fitting compelling Christian apologetic arguments into one of the greatest stories ever written. The result is a modern-day adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” which chronicles the overnight transformation of the world-famous atheist, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is on a crusade to rid the world of religion (bah-humbug!), and things could hardly be going better with the passage of a new hate-speech law designed in part to target the religious. But his fortunes soon change and he has a “Dickens of an evening” filled with ghostly encounters during which he’s given a chance to reconsider the meaning of life and his answer to the question of God’s existence. But is there really anything the ghosts can say or do to bring about a change of heart from this brilliant, hard-core sceptic?
I was also impressed with what two other apologists had said about it as well: 
“While Charles Dickens' immortal story is a compelling tale of transformation, imagine what it would look like had Dickens been ambitious enough to have had Scrooge go on to tackle some of the greatest questions in life, such as Does God exist? If so, why is there such evil and suffering in this world? Is there meaning and purpose in life? Is there an after-life? Is freedom worth fighting for, and what's at stake if we lose it? These pages are bold enough to do exactly that, and do it brilliantly.”—Dr. Paul Maier, author with over 5 million books in print including A Skeleton in God’s Closet. 
"The choice of a modern retelling of the Scrooge story is very clever, perhaps even brilliant.” Dr. Heck, C.S. Lewis scholar and author of the book, From Atheism to Christianity: The Story of C. S. Lewis.
I read Maier's A Skeleton in God's Closet and its sequel many years ago, so I am not surprised at Maier's endorsement in the Foreword and it was this connection that also clinched it for me to read this novel. He was the first apologist author I read and I still have fond memories of these two novels and the impact they had on me. I can definitely understand Luhring's respect and admiration of this author and his endorsement for this novel. 

But it was not only these factors that encouraged me to read it. It was the fact that Luhring has travelled down the path that the Bible exhorts us to do as Christ's disciples in 1 Peter 3:15
.....but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
I was encouraged with how he did this: 
I started pursuing in earnest my passion for Christian apologetics (otherwise known as “defending the faith” or “dealing with doubt”) after stumbling upon a Dr. William Lane Craig podcast in 2007. I vividly remember listening to the first podcast while shoveling snow in my driveway. It was quickly clear to me that Dr. Craig’s effectiveness rested not only in his command of the facts and logical argumentation, but also in his ability to communicate concisely and persuasively - and with wit no less. From that point I was hooked. Within about a year, having gained reasonable and convincing answers from a Christian point of view to some of life’s biggest and toughest questions and with enthusiasm only building to learn more, I felt that I needed some productive outlet for sharing. I began teaching bible studies at my church that focused on dealing with doubt and answering the big questions in life, like “Does God Exist?” Over the years, I’ve been a student of the writings of other great, persuasive Christian apologetics including Dr. Paul Maier, C.S. Lewis, Professor John Lennox, G.K. Chesterton, Greg Koukl, Frank Turek, and Ravi Zacharias (whom my son and I had the privilege to hear speak in person at a nearby university earlier this year). During that time I also had the idea for the Scrooge book which I see as an ambitious attempt to reach both the heart and the mind through a gripping story.
This was a breath of fresh air to me when I read this. Apologetics is such an important discipline that is either not taught or very little taught in most churches today. It should be and needs to be, if and only due to the verse mentioned above, but more importantly for why it was written, to show the hope of Christ and what He has achieved by His death on the Cross: salvation and redemption of mankind. For us in today's world of increasing secularism, humanism and rejection of all and everything relating to God, the Bible and Jesus, we are seeing laws created and enforced that are forcing the human race to think and behave in such a way that is tolerant of everything as long as it is not connected to Christianity and everything Christianity stands for. 

How many of us know enough our faith, why we believe it, and then be able to defend it? I admit that I need more of this knowledge and discipline too. It is a sad indictment that we are not encouraged to so or that we do not do so on our own accord. We need to be competent in this discipline and obedient to the instruction of this bible verse that also undergirds and support the Great Commision. Hence my interest, challenge and conviction that this genre of Christian presents to me as well as to all those who have a righteous relationship with God.

I applaud authors such as Luhring for writing novels in this genre for this very reason. And sadly again, it is not a popular genre of Christian fiction and it should be and needs to be. Hence my interest and promotion of this genre and specifically this novel.

Luhring has created a very unique concept with this novel. Not only has he given A Christmas Carol a twist and set it in a modern setting, it is also a story within a story. When you start this novel, you are not introduced to Scrooge. The character that creates this story within a story, Professor Edward Spassnicht, emerges in the Introduction and the reader meets him again in the Epilogue, with him achieving what he set out to achieve, through adapting A Christmas Carol to tell of his opportunity to reconsider the meaning of life and (through Scrooge) his answer to the question of God’s existence. Luhring has adapted this classic very skillfully. How can I say that when I have not read Dicken's classic tale? Simply from reading what others have said who have read both novels and the various annotations that reference the many inclusions of the original parts of the original in this novel. I do regret not taking the opportunity to read this Dickens classic before reading Luhring's novel as it would have enhanced my appreciation of both. I did not have time with my review schedule and life in general. However, I have seen enough snippets of the various movie adaptations and it being referenced and described in various other reading material I have read, so I did get more than a gist of the story.

And for someone like me who has not read Dickens first, I can say that this reworking of the former could stand on its own. Luhring's creation here reads like it is an original story. There has not been one reviewer who has said the opposite. It is a great novel. Luhring writes very well. The flow and pace of the novel are not disjointed or has peaks or troughs. This is an impressive debut novel.

Readers appreciate reading a novel where it shows that the author has done their research and has seamlessly included this into the plot where it does not stick out or appear misplaced. Luhring succeeds here. He has a solid grasp of the rise of atheism and scepticism that is evolving into the suppression of free speech by laws and ideologies to adhere to. Luhring uses the example of Bob Cratchit speaking out against a fictional community with liberal lifestyle choices to show how these laws come into effect and affect those who are in opposition to them. He effectively portrays how this will clash with the tenets and doctrines of the Bible and how Christians will be the direct target of these laws and their severe penalties. This is a real depiction of spiritual warfare played out in the human arena with its aim to abolish religion and increase the liberality of mankind. 

Using the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Luhring takes the reader on a journey showing Scrooge having all of his worldview and belief system challenged by some of the greatest Christian apologists of our time, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Blaise Pascal, John Lennox, Ravi Zacharias, Dostoevsky, Martin Luther, William Lane Craig, Leibniz,  and John Newton! This supports my statement before about being well versed and knowledgeable about why we believe what we believe and being able to defend it. In this case, it is about challenging different worldviews and seeing how they stand up against Christianity. Luhring's novel definitely shows that when we do this, the Spirit takes up our cause and works in the heart of the person being challenged. It also shows despite how strong one is in their worldview and belief system when it is "their time" as stated by Marley, the Spirit has done His work and the person is ripe for accepting God on His terms and only His terms. It was entertaining and engrossing seeing Scroope challenge the three Spirits and try to outwit them by disproving the existence of God but against such a huge weight of evidence, and God at work, he finally realised that God does exist based on this evidence and the Gospel being presented to him through this.

I highlighted so much of the text in my Kindle while reading this novel that I felt I was a kid in a lolly shop! A treasure trove of insight and evidence showing God's existence outside of the Bible! The Bible is more than enough but having other apologists add to this that supports it, is an added bonus. There are some great quotes and snippets that I could add here but it would make this review far too long and this is long enough as it is! The list of references at the back of the novel is worth reading that gives the background to the evidence he has included but in the Kindle version, you can press the reference number and the reference content is shown on the page and can be read immediately. A great feature that lends itself well to having references in a novel like this.

I also listened to a few of the radio interviews listed in his Facebook page that Luhring has participated in and this reinforces some of the existing plot structures but does give more background to the novel and his reason for writing it. Well worth checking out. 

Luhring has developed this novel so extensively that I feel an apologetic study guide could be created to allow the reader to explore these issues and evidence further, thus equipping them to be ready to give a defence to the hope that is in us as the Apostle Peter exhorts us as stated above. He is more than equipped to do this from what he outlined about his own journey in studying apologetics and now creating this novel. 

I have been challenged, uplifted, convicted and my faith increased by reading this novel. For Christians who read Scrooge and the Question of God's Existence, I pray that they would also understand the insight into the worldview that the unbeliever, particularly the sceptic and atheist has in their belief system.

I have stated many times in reviews and I have it listed in the Why Christian Fiction? tab in this blog that I like to see in Christian fiction that,
  • it has entertained me immensely, 
  • it has encouraged my walk with God, 
  • it has not deviated from known biblical doctrine, and it will not, I believe, lead a non-believer astray or promote false doctrine, 
  • it honours God, 
  • it does not encourage worship of the created (eg angels) instead of the Creator (God). 
It seems that apologetic Christian fiction will meet all or most of these criteria due to the specific nature of what it is. This will make for some great Christian reading and experience and if Luhring continues in the path he has set and the standard in Scrooge and the Question of God's Existence he will be one author to follow and I won't far behind him. 

Highly recommended.

World Building 5/5

Characterisation 5/5

Story 5/5

Spiritual Level 4/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 3/5

Overall Rating 4.4/5 Stars
Spiritually, based on my review and on the following reference booklet,

A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland, and that Scrooge and the Question of God's Existence contains elements of the criteria of what constitutes Christian Redemptive Fiction outlined in this booklet, together with David Bergsland we award Steve Luhring with

The Reality Calling Redemptive Fiction Award

Congratulations, Steve!

If you would like to buy or preview this novel, click on the BUY/PREVIEW icon on the image below:

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Better Things Ahead (The Faceless Future Trilogy Book 2) by Nate Allen

Better Things Ahead

Better things ahead? If you ever want to reach heights where you can fish disease from family members—if you ever want to step into the next stage of evolution, we must be united. United in how we think. United in what we believe. And united in cultivating a future that our closed-minded ancestors never could have dreamed of. 

A tragic trinity of losses weighing heavily on Ken, he has only just begun to trudge through his endless field of grief. But, time stops for no man. In less than six months, the Credit Chip will be the only form of currency accepted. He can either prepare for what’s to come or suffer the consequences of having the rug pulled out from beneath him.

Pastor John and the Matthews girls have more than enough money to prepare for the coming cashless society. But, life has a tendency to throw curveballs. In order to be prepared for what’s to come, they will have to decide what they are willing to lose. 

Successful in a business she never wanted, fishing cancer from animals with her mind was always supposed to just be a stepping stone to President Pummel’s heart; instead, Margaret is stuck in a niche, her popularity never higher. But, it isn’t high enough. Time to move onto the next stage…

A man in the middle of an infuriating infestation of Christians, The President needs to take some anger out on the stragglers as he works to dismantle them from the inside out. Able to kill from a distance and in secret, he finds that the high from it fades too quickly. With a new and far more volatile power branching forth, he has found a way to have his cake and eat it too. 

The Guru's Review: 

I was asked by the author to review this new episode. Like the previous one, it is just over 100 pages. And like the previous one, it is action-packed and Allen has packed a lot in this page length.

This episode is definitely darker than its predecessor. Not surprisingly seeing the first one set the stage for what is to come, introducing the characters, the spiritual themes, spiritual warfare and the evil scheme behind the Chip and the demonic control it exposes the recipient to.

This novella revves up everything on all levels. It will definitely be the springboard for more plot and characterisation and darker elements that Allen has in store. Readers of the initial episode will love this one.

You hit the ground running from page one. The cliffhanger plot arc from the previous continues where this left off. We are introduced to a new plot arc that of The Holy Army who is comprised of Christians who exist to resist the efforts and effects of the Chip and the President who has set up this demonic dominion while parading as an angel of light. We don't hear much of this group until the very end which sets up as another cliffhanger for two characters from the previous instalment. It seems this group will be dominant in the next instalment from the involvement of these two characters.

The spiritual journey of Ken continues as he strives to know God and Jesus more. I love the honesty he shows to God in admitting that he does not know Him and how does he apply Him to his life. Just as in real life, God will answer questions like this when they are based on an earnest and honest heart. This reminded me of the verse in Hebrews 11:6, 
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
We may not get a tangible answer like Ken received, with a direct answer such as "Know Me", but He does answer us in many other ways that we know are directly from Him. I appreciated Ken standing up to another character who tried to encourage him to accept the Chip and rather than give in, stood firm in his conviction that the Chip was not for the good of mankind but is of demonic origin leading to eternal damnation. This plot point raises a confronting question for us Christians. Will we be prepared to do the same as Ken here? Taken to the worst case scenario are we going to be prepared to be tortured/killed/murdered if we refuse to accept this Mark of the Beast as outlined in this novel and representative of the same as described in Revelation? Will we stand firm in our faith, knowing that God will be on the other side to accept us into His Kingdom or will we give into the pressure put on us by society and the ruling authorities to accept this? Are we certain that this Mark is demonic and lead to Hell?

I do like the plot arc concerning him at the end of the novella. It will good to read what happens to him from this in the next episode. The same can be said for his mother, Deborah.

Allen develops further the previous plot arcs from the previous novella. Margaret Still's desire to secure the affections of the President lead her more into the demonic as she deceives the masses into healing that comes at a price, that of demonic bondage but for one person, he pays the ultimate price. I found that the consequences of what she has allowed are all too real. These consequences begin to take us over and change us. In this novella, it is a combination of the effects of the Chip but it is also due to the effects of the sin that so easily ensnares us, as the Bible puts it. This also happens to another main character that leaves the novel on yet another cliffhanger and an even more dramatic one than the last. I can see readers cheering at what happens to this character but if the reader knows anything about demonic possession, it does not end the way Allen has depicted it for this character. I can only say that Allen had not left this next novella too long with this cliffhanger the way it is!

Allen likes to depict flawed characters and this includes his Christian ones as well. Even more so for these! One example is the crisis of faith Pastor John has when someone close to him has a life-threatening event. He nearly journeys down the wrong path but like Ken, God looks after His own and restores John to Him. I panicked with this plot arc as I did not want to see John make the wrong decision based on an easy, tempting solution that has a hidden price tag with eternal negative outcome. The turmoil that John goes through shows how easy it is, even with a deeply grounded faith in God, to be tempted for other solutions that are not in the perfect will of God when the situation gets dire, any immediate action from God is not forthcoming but we feel something must be done immediately. But what peace and security occur when we realise that God will intervene in His timing and His outcome that is the best for the situation we are in and that the battle belongs to the Lord and not us!. I rejoiced when John found this peace and security again albeit when God spoke directly to him. But John's answer was one of obedience and submission. That is the important thing when we respond to God. Obedience and submission. Such a hard lesson for us to learn when we fight against our fallen nature which pulls us in the opposite direction to this. 

Getting back to Ken in his flawed state, I was a little concerned as to why Allen had depicted him falling so easily into sexual sin when he seemed to be seeking God and even recognised Him as Lord and Saviour. I spoke to the author about this, as I could see that this could be a stumbling block for both Christian and non-Christian readers. Allen replied, 
Even though he is technically saved, I tried to convey that it was more done out of obligation. His whole arc, along with Willow's, is finding a point of entrance with Jesus. In many ways he was trying to return to the Ken before he came to Christ. I appreciate you pointing that out for me. I like writing characters that are flawed and I'll keep that in mind when finishing off the series. 
His spiritual growth has only just started......Do you think Ken's situation, having lost three people pretty suddenly, will help readers understand his distraction with Katie? (into sexual sin?) 
I also have found that we don't always ask for forgiveness until convicted by the Holy Spirit. I will definitely address this in part three. The pacing didn't really allow for it in book 2 (Better Things Ahead), considering how much information comes to light in Ken's final part.
An author's insight into a character's motive and behaviour is always beneficial and feedback can help them clarify issues in future works and help them to become better authors. When this is achieved, readers know exactly where the author is going with a plot arc and can better understand and relate to the character(s) and their situation. It also shows why the author included this issue in the plot. In this case, it was not to show sex for entertainment or promote society's attitude towards this and there are no graphic accounts or titillation. I understood to a point why Ken acted as he did, it was just not as clear as it could have been depicted. 

Allen has also shown more of the spiritual journeys of Willow, Lily and Deborah since Book 1. All of these plot arcs show more of the redemptive power of God and how some Christians will submit themselves to God as the events leading up to His Second Coming draw close and how some of those who do not believe will come to know Him. This is absorbing reading and is an essential element of Christian/Evangelistic fiction. 

All these plot arcs are contrasted with the darker elements of the spiritual deception that affects Margaret and President Pummel. Both reach new heights of darkness and demonic possession and I must say, I found some of it difficult reading. Of note is that of the President. Allen shows the conflict he has as his own desires for domination and control of the world conflicts with that of the demonic spirit that possesses him. The consequences are not just dramatic but far-reaching and Allen leaves the reader with a cliffhanger that is swaying in the wind. 

If there is one thing that Allen has succeeded in depicting in these books (that will make up this full-length novel) is that the Chip, Mark of the Beast, or whatever it is being called worldwide, or will be called, is not just a physical addition to control whether we buy or sell, but one that will control every aspect of our lives on every level, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically. Total control and submission to the controlling power that is behind this Chip/Mark. This will connect mankind to satan in a way that those deceived and who take this Mark will not be able to return from it. God makes that very clear in the Bible. Allen shows why this is so through the demise of Ken's brother, Kyle, who was not just deceived by the promises of what the Chip/Mark offered but was totally taken over by it on every level so described resulting in demon possession and death.  

All the events in this novella set the stage for more action-packed plot arcs and deepening character developments. This is gearing up to be one explosive good versus evil story but if Allen continues to expand on the redemptive elements and adherence to biblical principles, he will be on a winner with this series. 

Highly Recommended. 

World Building 5/5

Characterisation 5/5

Story 5/5

Spiritual Level 5/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 4/5 

Overall Rating 4.8/5 Stars

To buy or preview this novella, click on the BUY/PREVIEW icon on the image below:

Friday, 26 January 2018

Guest Post: Michael Boncher And His Akiniwazi Saga Series

I came across novelist Michael Boncher in an author's Facebook group where he was seeking advice from fellow authors relating to the covers of his novel, A Light Rises in a Dark World. I checked it out and was impressed with the evidence of detailed world building and an epic fantasy plot. I bought this book straight away and decided to invite Michael to talk about this trilogy and its worldbuilding. 

So sit back and let Michael guide you through his trilogy and how he has woven a Christian worldview into it. 

Over to you, Michael!

Thank you, Peter for allowing me the opportunity to share the creative foundations that you will discover in the setting of "Akiniwazi Saga: A Light Rises in a Dark World".

Hello, I'm M.D. Boncher, an aspiring writer from Green Bay, Wisconsin. To pay the daily bills, I am a Night Logistics Admin for now. I have been steeped in the storytelling tradition since I rolled up my first character for Basic Dungeons &Dragons, thirty-eight years ago. I have written off and on for decades, everything from comic books and RPG manuals, Action/Adventure to Horror, to Cyberpunk and Space Opera short stories and novellas. The Akiniwazisaga is my first published work.

Now let's have a look at the first novel in the Akiniwazi Saga:

A rejected boy who only desires his father's approval.

A band of children sold by their parents for food.

A disgraced monk and his dog sent on one last quest.

A Faith ready for revolution.

Two civilizations of spirits and steam trapped in a war they cannot end.

In Akiniwazi, the Land of the Seven Freshwater Seas, the war between Heaven and Hell is joined, and all souls hang in the balance.

I asked Michael what type of Christian themes are in "A Light Rises in a Dark World"?

At first, I was inspired by what I could not have. I love fantasy, but even then I have to be very careful about it because certain themes and subjects are not spiritually healthy to me due to my walk with God. That means lots of popular fantasy subjects and stories are off limits if I pay attention in the spirit. 

Most fantasy is now off limits to me and began to upset me for it seemed all the games and books or movies I wanted to experience turned out to have such a foundation. I was not familiar with the amount of Christian fantasy so much and what I did find often preached a sermon before getting to the story. That was not what I wanted. This is what drove me to consider writing Christian Fantasy.

My central themes run around redemption, hope and following your individual walk with God. My characters are broken, defeated characters that need to come to terms with their situation and see how God can use these and how it is all part of a greater plan. Reimar and Finn are in many ways flip sides of the same walk of faith. One just starting out, and the other deep into his journey. 

This theme of redemption includes the land of Akiniwazi as a whole. From the individual to the nations of Forsamling and Skaerslinger who are trapped together and are struggling to survive the other. 

Originally, this was going to be only a trilogy, but it now looks as if it will become a nonology (nine book series) to cover the story arc of not only my main character but an epoch of history in a land undergoing a great transformation. You won't see all of this in just one book, mind you. It is an evolving thing that will connect all the upcoming books as well

Four thought experiments became the core philosophies of the world I created.

1. How can literal Christianity be used as a spiritual basis for fantasy?

The first hurdle for me was that I wanted literal Christianity in my fantasy. After 30 years of playing role-playing games, I knew the conventions of the genre. Monsters, unknown lands, ancient mysteries, "magic systems"... all the tropes. Most of which are antithetical to Bible. I also wanted to use actual scripture from time to time, particularly in spiritual battles that would be part of the setting instead of making up gibberish or pagan mantras I would use scripture. That required Israel, Judea, Babylon and Rome to be as we knew them in the real world.

The answer came with the realization that till around 800AD, the entire western hemisphere was "off the map". That fitted perfectly for my needs. If I wanted to make a fantasy world, that was where I could play! I could create new continents and leave Asia, Europe and Africa as we knew them! Tada! Literal Christianity and a fantasy land that nobody knew. I then isolated them behind a sea of ice thanks to a geological disaster tied into the same period as the "Little Ice Age". This allowed their society to grow independently and gave me much more flexibility while preserving the history of the Old World.

The problem then rose of what would a "Magic System" look like? The D&D mindset is a hard thing to get around. Readers expect it. On the other hand, we have Spiritual Warfare/Deliverance Ministry/Exorcism. The key to reconciling this was to give the Gifts of the Spirit the "This is Spinal Tap" treatment and turn the special effects "up to 11". This would make them more dramatic and more akin to trope appropriate fantasy magic more palatable to the public.

All things supernatural in Akiniwazi are based on a relationship with the divine/demonic. If something impossible is happening, there is a demon or angel doing it. I knew that people who would play the setting wanted "Magic like coal" as I thought of it. Akiniwazi does not do 

2. What if the Vikings colonized North America?

Once freed from North and South America as is in the real world. The Vikings, being the first discoverers from the "Old World" who came to the land became my focus and worked out very well historically. This is where history in the setting changes from our literal past to the fantasy. I did research on the era the Viking era and their Christianization, the Monastic orders that would have done most of the missionary work of the Church during that era. Blending in other trends of the era helped to create the Forsamling, who are the Viking descendants of the setting was a lot of fun.

3. How does Great Lakes/ Lumberjack Lore, myth and mystery lend itself to fantasy?

I also love my local history. I'm a Wisconsinite. "A Cheesehead, born and bred" I like to joke. I love reading about the history of the upper midwest, and realized that there were great resources to be mined for an atypical fantasy setting. I deliberately looked up old Indian tales and myths as well as the lumberjack lore. I found a Bestiary of forgotten folklore creatures you never see in fantasy novels. Creatures people do not consider because they are too modern despite having long histories, or just like Paul Bunyan, silly tall tales. They became the basis for fantastical monsters I use from time to time. Never expect a dragon, goblin or elf in this setting. Nor will you see the usual old world traditional Viking fairies and trolls which may be explained some book in the future. Get ready for Draugr, Manitou and Thunderbirds.

This also lead to the creation of the map being a re-envisioning of the upper midwest of the US and Canada with the Great Lakes as its center. The Name Akiniwazi came from a corruption of the Ojibwae terms for "Land of the Seven Freshwater Seas". 

4. What if a society discovered steam power without discovering gunpowder?

I blame Sid Meier for this one. While playing a game of Civilization a decade ago, I managed to discover steam power before getting gunpowder. There was the map. Ironclads and pikemen side by side with railroads soon to come. That made me wonder what a society with steam and sword would look like, so I coined the term "Fantasteam". But when it comes to steampunk styling, I demanded realism. With the supernatural always attached to a spirit, I decided that all steam creations must be grounded in realism. Therefore you get steamships and primitive railroads, but no "Steamboy" or "Wild Wild West" super steam creations that could never exist in the real world. This was an area I decided must be "hard science" once you get around the fact they discovered this technological leap about four centuries early. 

I spent years cobbling together the names of the setting, its map and features. I took inspiration from Old Norse, Norwegian, Icelandic, Inuit, Finnish, Swedish, Danish to create flavor of the setting for the Forsamling Vikings (The name means "Congregation"), and named their language "Noerrent" which some of my research said was a common name used in the language of that era. For this reason, I provide what I'm now starting to call my "Encyclopedia Akiniwazi" in the back of the book to help pars the terms, meanings and pronunciations of the book. It his constantly being referred to by myself for names as well as reminding me pronunciations. I erred on the side of historical adherence rather than convenience of American readers.

I also had the natives who lived here before the Viking's arrival to create with. I decided to mash together several aboriginal cultures but centered mostly on the woodland tribes as a model, but included inspiration for the Incas, Mayans, Carib, Sami, Hopi, Huron, Inuit, Aborigine, Picts and others from around the world who were encountered by emigrating cultures. Ojibwe was chosen as the basis for the languages of this fantasy tribe who I called "Skaerslinger". Ironically, years after I named them, I came across the name "Skraeling", which was the term given to the Inuits by Greenland Vikings. The term roughly means "Rough" or "Rude" fellows. Funny how that all works out?

To present the world that was stuck in my head, I decided the only way left to share the world was to follow the life of two characters, a ten-year-old boy named Reimar and his unlikely mentor, Brother Finn. Together they provide a view of the world both innocent and cynical, and how their trials help them to heal their own wounds as well as the others.

The following excerpt is one of my favorite scenes that I wrote early on. It touches on many things that make the scenario different (You will notice there are no horses as one detail!) The scene blends the Fantasteam elements and the nature of the supernatural throughout the setting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~Start of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bright light blasted Reimar awake as another train thundered by. He gasped and jerked back from the sight. Once it was past and he could think again, he saw another train behind them stopped on a siding. Dawn's dim light was just coloring the eastern edge of the sky a pale blue. Their train crawled alongside a slow-moving river. It was wide and shallow, thick with reeds and mud bars. Fishing boats were casting nets out on the water while other fishermen dug for clams on the shores. A steam knarr trailed a plume of thick black smoke and hugged the far shore while pulling a barge, her decks piled high with cargo between a pair of huge arches that followed the length of the shallow drafted boat. The fore and aft figureheads were flanked by long raised gangplanks. Its center mast was replaced by a tall smokestack which belched sparks to the waning night.

The train was travelling down a long gentle slope to the water's edge. In the distance ahead the first hints of a town could be seen. Overhead seagulls circled and headed out over the lake to fish. Off to the east, huge back-lit clouds could be seen. As winter approached, storms were frequent and powerful. Reimar wondered if this was a storm on the way or just an unseasonably warm day.

The forest had been thick, tight up against the ribbon road, with branches hanging over the tracks from the land side, but the trees and brush on the shore side were cut back sharply as they came closer to a town. Fisherman's shanties and farmer's sod houses were now scattered through the thinned pinery with slices of cleared land that up came to the ribbon road.

As they approached the port of Meidrhvall, the temperature began a noticeable drop. The boundless waters of Lake Neezhoday controlled the weather around its shores for many miles inland. A narrow road came out of the thinning forest and wove through the trees next to the train. Farmer's carts, piled high with harvest goods, were going into town as morning brightened. Some kusken had teams of oxen that were pulling very large dray wagons, but most were carts drawn by two or four llamas, and a post rider trotted along on a caribou. Some animals baulked at the train's passing, but most ignored it, content to keep plodding along.

The Port of Meidrhvall was the largest city the children had ever been to. Only a few hundred souls resided there but that was more people than they had ever seen in one place. A handful of tall chimneys produced smoke as the boilers of the mills, workshops, and ships came to life. A tattoo of quick whistle blasts startled the brakemen awake, moving them into position to slow the train. Then a strange bell began to rattle a warning. The train lurched as it slowed. Lethargic Huskarls sprang forth and made ready for dangers to appear. Brakemen rushed to their places and the train was abuzz with excitement. Brother Finn stood up and looked at the bleary-eyed children around him.

"Do not fear. We are coming into town and must go through the gate, but the warning flags are flying on the stockade. Skaerslinger are near!" That familiar tingle of fear flew down their nerves and made eyes sharp, their ears straining to hear anything over the slowing train. Squealing brakes, banging carriages and loud chugging made it impossible. The road next to the tracks was so close the two almost merged. On a thin strip between the road and ribbons, there were pikes taller than the train, topped with the heads of the executed. The image shocked the children, and Anja began to cry.

"What is that?" Talo asked.

"They are the heads of those who were either criminals caught by the local borgvordr or Skaerslinger killed in a raid against the local lands."

"Why do they cut them off and put them so high up?"

"To show that to kill or try to harm any Forsamling, you must pay a terrible price in return. They keep the heads and secure them high up, just in case a manitou tries to animate them into Draugr. That is why Gallows are so rarely used or are quickly emptied. Those spirits have terrible strength and could rend the bars if the bodies were kept whole. It does not happen often, but occasionally an unclean spirit will take up residence in a head and torment those passing by." Brother Finn pointed to one of the fresher heads on a pole, "If you will notice though, many have had their mouths sewn shut and packed with salt just in case."

"Why salt?" Liesl asked. The idea giving her some discomforting ideas.

"An old custom that some practice. It is a superstition of course, for the salt does nothing, and a determined manitou could break any threads or sinew used to close the mouths. Other heads might be bound by an oil seal made upon it by a priest. Those never come back. After all, what is bound in Heaven will also be bound here on Earth."

A commotion began on the road ahead. The train slowed to the pace of a walking llama. The rising light revealed the remains of a Skaerslinger attack on a kusk. The oxen lay dead and the wagon was on fire. Around it, a few dead bodies of both Skaerslinger and a kusk. Meiderhvall's borgvordr were already attending the scene, tossing the bodies onto the burning cart.

As one corpse was being grasped by the arms and legs, it spasmed to life with a green light that came from the soil below! The borgvordr cursed as the corpse grasped at them looking to free itself and rend them with its dead hands. The corpse screamed an unearthly language and began clawing and kicking its captors. Shouts of alarm came from the train's passengers as they rolled by. The engine shrieked the whistle in alarm but kept moving. On the last car, a Huskarl took aim with a massive springbow. The borgvordr at the head of the animated body let go and tried to step back as the possessed corpse grasped at his Gambeson sleeves. His axe tangled in its holster while the other borgvordr at the body's feet fought to pull him free. A loud metallic snap was heard and a bolt the size of a javelin rocketed out from the last springbow. It struck the no longer human creature in the chest, tore it free from the borgvordr, and pinned it to the damp earth with enough force to tear it loose from the town guard it had assaulted. A third borgvordr rushed in with the opportunity, and with his glaive swung at the pelvis of the thing. The blade chopped through its target in one swift motion. A chilling scream went out from the creature.

Brother Finn, who had remained still in all this stood up and shouted.

"In the Name of our Lord Jesus, silence, foul spirit!" From his mouth, a thin shock wave of breath came out, glowing in the dim morning. "I command thee bound. Come out of there! Obey and be gone!"

Angels appeared.

They appeared like figures of mist on a pond out of the morning light. Delicate as frost.

A chill went through Reimar at seeing the divine for the first time. Their wings spread and towered over the men and the fire that burned there. The fell creature inhabiting the body turned to see the angels, its expression now one of awe and terror. Their beauty and grace washed over the fetid scene and the two divine figures stepped between the borgvordr, grabbed hold of the horrible manitou, and tore it from the dismembered but still fighting corpse. Like a flash of blue and white lightning, the angels and captive demon vanished. The body tensed and then became still as death lay claim again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~End of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michael can found at the following social media platforms: 

If your interest has been piqued from Michael's account of the Akiniwazi Saga series, this can be bought from Amazon in either individual volumes: 

or as Book 1 which comprises these 3 volumes:

Thank you, Michael, for giving us an insight into your writer's mind and passion for writing for God's Glory and using the talent He has given you to do so. I am looking forward to reading the Akiniwazi Saga and I pray others will also. It has been a pleasure having you as a guest blogger on this blog. Please consider visiting again! 

Readers and reviews are an author's best asset, so I encourage any reader who likes reading in the genres of Christian inspirational, science fiction and fantasy, to consider reading the Akiniwazi Saga and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).