Book Review 32: Daughter of Light by Morgan L. Busse

Every so often, you will get a book that takes awhile for you read for no apparent reason. Work schedule gets a little longer, family obligations eats up more of your time, and distractions from like getting sick or car problems will keep you from giving your full attention to reading.  However, once you’re able to get some reading time, the story takes you away from what life has thrown at you.

Daughter of Light became that book for me.

It’s a debut novel from Morgan L. Busse and the story revolves around Rowen, a young woman who got banished from her village because she was accused of being a witch. Even though she was devastated by her banishment, Rowen gets an opportunity to become a varor (bodyguard) for Lady Astrea, daughter of King Gaynor of White City.

Rowen’s journey from banishment to discovering her purpose and coming to grips with her gift has been told before in many fantasy novels. However, Busse adds her own style to this theme and creates a fully fleshed out fantasy world in Daughter of Light that made a familiar trip truly enjoyable to read.

Moreover, the story is infused with a Christian worldview, with acknowledgement to The Word as an ancient source of power, inspiration and faith for some of its citizens. It is definitely a reference to biblical scripture but Busse weaves it into her narrative pretty well without being preachy or overbearing.

I did think the rhythm of the novel was at a different speed than I’m used to from this genre. There were a lot of short sentences in the narrative where I was expecting longer flowing sentences and more expository passages. However, the characters were fully developed and made up for whatever lack of rhythm that the novel had.

Daughter of Light is an excellent addition to the fledging genre of Christian Speculative Fiction and should be recommended for all readers of fantasy literature.

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Quotes 73

“What is most needed in our time are Christians who are deeply serious about cultivating and creating but who wear that seriousness lightly—who are not desperately trying to change the world but who also wake up every morning eager to create.”

(from Culture Making by Andy Crouch)

Book Review 30: Junior by Ray Donley

“Junior, I did not know if the tape would be helpful, but you can never have enough good information. I did not trust Fairman, in part because I never trust men who marry rich women, particularly if they use their spouse’s money to fund their political amibitions. That’s just unseemly.

Now I had absolutely no idea that Fairman would defile those poor women, but his actions illustrate a truism you should never forget: men–be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, white, black, brown, or purple–are stupid when it comes to sex. At least once in his life, and generally dozens of times, a man will do something stupid because the blood leaves his brain and heads south. Never forget that, Junior. Every man you deal with his this defect, and there will come a time when you can use this defect to your advantage–like we are about to do with Fairman.

And one more thing. Truism number two is that all women know Truism number one. Not only are they aware of it, they rely on it.

Nothing like sex education from beyond the grave.”

That nugget of wisdom is from Joshua Jennings Jr’s journal in the hilarious, zany first novel, Junior by Ray Donley. Junior is a fugitive accused of bombing a Native American Reservation in New Mexico where the President and Vice President of the U.S. were killed along with his father.

However, Junior is shocked to hear his father’s voice on the tape recording saying that bombing was planned by him and Junior would be the main suspect of the murders.

Wow!

Did a father plan his own death and frame his son for the crime? In usual circumstances, a plot like this would be great for a mystery novel. But, Junior’s story is completely different than the standard whodunit story and his three years on-the-run journal is being hailed and praised as a classic study of the human condition.”

Well that hyperbolic statement is one of many in the novel that made me laugh out loud while reading it. Moreover, after reading serious books like Tracks by Louise Erdrich and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a over-the-top hilarious story is a much-needed and refreshing change of pace.

Junior pontificates in his journal on various topics: religion, politics, ethnic behavior and culture, sports, companionship, and his father whom he still loves despite his predictament. For example:

“Some interesting election news today. Dr. Davis and Big Fly Washington, the Democratic candidates, held a rally today at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin. Dr. Davis told the crowd: ‘I am going to say something very unusual, so you should probably pay attention.’ When the crowd stopped cheering, he continued:

A couple of weeks ago our Republican opponents took a bold stand by promising they would never commit this great country to a stupid war. Big Fly and I have talked about Ebenezer Cohen’s “no more stupid wars” speech and the truth of the matter is that we could not agree more. We join with Ebenezer Cohen and General Dozier in their stand that America should not fight any more stupid wars. I know it is rare for candidates to agree on anything, but we think Ebezener and General Dozier are exactly right on this issue and we thank them for elucidating it so clearly.

Civility in a presidential campaign? Agreement on an issue by the candidates? The end of the world as we know it must be right around the corner. Tell the Baptists that the Antichrist is lurking in the shadows.”  

Imagine if our current political climate could adopt this approach?  Hmmm…..

For serious readers, Junior has too many coincidences and over-the-top stories that would stretch the credulity of the story in their eyes.  I must admit I thought some of the journal entries were a little long-winded and bogged the story down a bit. Nevertheless, I had not read a novel this fun and imaginative since Tom Robbins’ counter-cultural best-selling novel, Jitterbug Perfume.

Junior was a breath of fresh air to read and the story had a fascinating premise with interesting characters and revealed the importance of a father/son relationship.

(Lastly, I would like to thank the author for providing me a copy of this novel to read and review for the blog.)

Book Review 26: Athol Dickson’s The Opposite of Art

Athol Dickson is becoming one of my favorite novelists.

Last year, I did a review for his Lost Mission novel and I throughly enjoyed it. Now, I’m doing a review for his latest novel, The Opposite of Art. Also, he is the first novelist I’ve done a second review for on my blog.

The Opposite of Art is the story of the genius artist, Sheridan Ridler, who is known for painting nudes without faces. Ridler got quite a reputation in the art world as a cad to the ladies and an arrogant jerk to everyone else that came in contact with him.

Well, he has an accident at the Harlem River and that begins his spiritual transformation. However, the art world thinks the great artist is dead and Ridler’s paintings are worth millions. But there are reports that he’s alive and his daughter (whom he never met) from one of his models decides to search for him.

Because of her search, the daughter attracts another individual from Ridler’s past who wants to make sure the great artist is dead….and if not, stay dead.

In lesser hands, a story like this could have fallen victim to stererotypes and the spiritual transformation would have been a “Come to Jesus Moment and Now I Have A Get Out of Hell Free Card.” However, Dickson creates a story of intrigue, love, murder, family relationships, and the collision of art and faith. He goes beyond the stereotypes to produce a novel that has depth and reveals the honest struggles of someone trying to come to terms with their spiritual conversion.

Because of that, Dickson has become one of my favorite novelists.  He seems to understand that being a believer is not just about saying the sinner’s prayer, attending at church once a week, and singing Jesus loves and forgives me songs. A spiritual conversion affects every area of our lives and this type of fiction should reflect that and not simplify it for mass consumption.

In both novels I’ve reviewed, Dickson has given the Christian Fiction genre a fresh and honest perspective of what these types of novels should look like and he deserves to be mentioned with writers that preceded him like Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, and Graham Greene who expanded the genre’s boundaries as well.

The Opposite of Art should be a must read for all serious readers and is one of the best novels I’ve read in 2012 so far.

Wisdom From Kammbia 2.27: The New Standards of Fiction (Must Read Novels Published In The Last 20 Years)

I must admit I love lists.  I believe lists are an American phenomenon and they create the three C’s: conversation, controversy, and community.

Well, I want to create a list of twenty novels published since 1992 that will be considered the new standards for fiction lovers like myself.

Also, I will admit I’m a maverick and someone who has gone against the tide quite a bit in my life.  So I want this new standards of fiction list from every genre not just literary fiction like most lists are today.

I do mean every genre: science-fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, literary, romance and even Christian Fiction. As matter of fact I’m nominating the book that is my image for this blog post.  I believe Athol Dickson is one of Christian fiction’s best novelists and deserves a wider audience outside of that genre.

The books with the most responses will be complied onto a final list and posted next week.

(For those readers who do not have a WordPress account, you can email your list to me at kammbia1@gmail.com.)

Here’s my list:

1) Lost Mission by Athol Dickson

2) Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson

3) The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy (a series counts as one book)

4) Bag of Bones by Stephen King

5) The Child Goddess by Louise Marley

6) Chess Garden by Brooks Hansen

7) The Testament by John Grisham

8) Book of the Long Sun Series by Gene Wolfe

9) Trophy Chase Trilogy by George Bryan Polivka

10) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

What are your nominees?

Quotes 67

“As evangelical Christians we have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life. The rest of human life we feel is more important. Despite our constant talk about the lordship of Christ, we have narrowed its scope to a very small area of reality. We have misunderstood the concept of the lordship of Christ over the whole of man and the whole of the universe and have not taken to us the riches that the Bible gives us for ourselves, for our lives and for our culture.

God made the body as well as the soul and redemption is for the whole man. Evangelicals have been legitimately criticized for often being so tremendously interested in seeing souls get saved and go to heaven that they have not cared much about the whole man.”

(Francis Schaeffer from Art and the Bible)

Wisdom From Kammbia 2.19: God Is Not Safe, But We Are Safe In Him

For today’s blog post, I want to recommend a novel that I read last year titled, Lost Mission by Athol Dickson.

One of the characters from the novel was the impetus for this blog post.  Delano Wright is a wealthy Southern California landowner and businessman who faced two events in his life that shaped his character throughout the story.

First, his wife left him for their church’s Sunday School teacher. She was tired of their marriage and wanted more excitement in her life. (I would have never thought a Sunday School teacher would be view as someone exciting. Wow!) Second, Delano’s daughter (and only child) was killed in a terrible car accident.

From those events, Mr. Wright decided he will build his own Christian city for all believers in the area to emigrate to and they could be safe from the sinful, secular world. With his wealth, power, and influence, Delano believed he could finally make a difference and get God’s stamp of approval on his altruism.

I know some of you are wondering what a character from a novel has to do with real life and this message. Well, I would like to give you a definition of fiction to illuminate my point.

“Fiction takes reality and human experience as its starting point, transforms it by means of the imagination, and sends readers back to life with renewed understanding of the world around them.”  (Leland Ryken)

Even though, Delano Wright was invented from a writer’s mind, his character and actions in Lost Mission brings home a reality I’ve seen in our modern form of Christianity.

When bad things happen or the world gets too dangerous, Christians want to retreat to their churches, bible studies, or other church-related activities to protect themselves from the big, bad secular world. Then we could look at the world from behind our church walls and criticize it without getting touched or dirty from its presence believing it won’t effect us.

Does retreating to our churches make us safe?

Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners in his day (Matthew 11:18-19). Who had a problem with his action?  The Pharisees and their safe brand of religion they practiced at that time.

Paul spoke to people of Athens at the Areopagus in his day (Acts 17:16-32). Who had a problem with his action?  Those same people as soon as he mentioned Jesus and his resurrection.

Twelve men were sent by Moses to spy in Canaan and see if the promised land was as God described it (Numbers 13:1-14:11). However, Joshua and Caleb were the only ones to give a good report and validate God’s description. Who had a problem with this action? The other spies and the Israelities whom God just freed from Egypt.

What do those three stories have in common? When God asks you to press into the world, the world will press back.  Moreover, it shows that God is not safe, but we are safe in Him. Jesus, Paul, Joshua, and Caleb trusted God and knew He is the ultimate safety net.

Unfortunately, Delano thought safety would come from his wealth and power.  And there many people in our culture who feel the same way. I would say to them look at our economy, the housing market and their 401(k)’s and ask are they feeling safe?

Hiding behind our church walls (or a church city from the novel) will never make us safe.  And if you think so, then God is not the God whom He says he is. But, if He is whom He says he is, then we should know that our safety comes from abiding in him.