Independent Author Spotlight: Joseph Macolin0’s The Birth of Death

The Birth of Death by Joseph Macolino is a fantasy novel in the tradition of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. It has enough common fantasy aspects to seem familiar with enough that’s new and different to make it original.

The Good

Macolino does an excellent job with world creation, and he doesn’t spend too many words to do so. Part of that is most readers are familiar with elves and centaurs, but even the less familiar peoples are quickly understood and grasped. If the reader gets confused, there is a glossary to help.

The author also developed characters to a reasonable depth. The four main characters, an elven couple, a centaur, and a cat-like creature are all multi-faceted, and the reader can understand the nature of each and empathize with each. The heroes are not overly perfect.

Macolin0 also handles action sequences well, particularly the battle and fight scenes. He describes the movements of each participant without slowing down the action of the fight. In general, the plot flows well, and the book is a good length.

The Meh

Some scenes take too long. For example, a large number of words go into an elf making a salad. Descriptions of beautiful female characters were overwrought. Readers who don’t like too much gore or violence may find the battle sequences overdone.  Occasionally, the plot stutters so to speak. In the final battle sequence, there is a change of circumstance affecting the main supernatural hero, the Avatar, that doesn’t quite make sense to me. Some areas need editing.

The book touches on several themes that are left open. These topics are authority and tyranny, community and individuality, government control and liberty, collectivism and free markets, dependence and personal responsibility.

Analysis

The book is part of a series, and I am sure many of these themes will be developed further if the close of this book is an indication. The book is a good read. A fantasy reader looking for a new series to start may find a good one here.

Independent Author Spotlight: Jason E. Royle’s The Rapture Misunderstood

Jason E. Royle is pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. In The Rapture Misunderstood, Royle addresses the subject of the Rapture. For readers not familiar with the term and theological debates, the Rapture refers to a moment toward the end of time when Jesus will appear in the heavens, and those who believe in Him who have died will be raised followed by those who are alive and believe in Him. They will rise to meet Jesus in the sky. From there, and even before there, exists lots of disagreement among Christians. Royle’s book deals with themes of eschatology that go far beyond just the Rapture.

Summary

In his introduction, Royle states that he will not definitively answer all the questions. He keeps his promise, and that is a good thing. He divides the book into two parts. The first part is a short story illustrating misunderstandings regarding the rapture. (It seemed that there were a lot of other misunderstandings at work as well.) The second part is a brief summary of different views of the Eschatology. Royle does not argue for any one position over another.

The short story is a puzzling journey that follows Pastor Bell (I assume that he is no relation to Rob) as he leads his small group of disciples to bring about the end of time. Pastor Bell has good intentions but has a salad of theological beliefs and a buffoonish manner of taking himself too seriously. For some reason, a great deal of fictionalized Catholic mysticism shows up in the story, probably a take-off on Dan Brown and the like. In the end, the point of the story is that the timing of the Rapture is entirely in the Father’s hands. We can’t rush it or make it happen.

The second part of the book summarizes the major eschatological views—Historic Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism, including their beliefs regarding Israel, the Rapture, and the timing of Christ’ return.

Analysis

As I wrote earlier, the short story portion though interesting and page turning is strange in some ways. It is hard to know just what pieces of Pastor Bell’s theology the author would agree and which portions he would not, though I suspect with most, that he would not. The Roman Catholic figures that appear are equally confusing. A monk tries to point Pastor Bell and his followers toward grace, but in the end, leads him toward the Vatican and ritual. While his conclusion is well-said, the getting there was hard to understand, because the story seemed to posit that Pastor Bell’s efforts almost worked.

The summary of the different eschatological positions was excellent. I believe that Royle stated each in a way that proponents of the views would find acceptable. For someone looking for a concise and understandable explanation of each, this book is very useful.

(Full discosure: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Independent Author Spotlight: Christopher Villanueva

The Gates of the Frontier Universe: A Society Called to Arms is an intense space opera by Christopher Villanueva. Original and imaginative, it is an action packed book and part of a longer series.

Strengths

A key of Sci-Fi is world creation, and Villanueva does an excellent job. The world (or better described “universe”) that he creates exists in parallel to our own and once interacted with our own while maintaining interest in it. The Galactic Court is like a confederation of peoples and planets that must rise to face the threat of an unknown enemy who turns out to be an old one. Despite the fact that action begins with a back-story, Villanueva develops the back-story with minimal intrusion into the present storyline, yet with clarity.

Villanueva is excellent at describing action sequences, and the novel does not suffer from a lack of them. The book is like an action movie. While most characters remain on the surface of development, some, such as Reed, one of the main characters, have some depth in development. The author manages tension and suspense well.

Weaknesses

My most common complaint about independent authors is length—usually too long. While I grant that Sci-Fi/Fantasy needs more pages to allow for world development, this book goes beyond that. There are too many characters, too many worlds, and too many action sequences. Also, sadly from my perspective, the evil characters are more entertaining than the morally sound ones.

Analysis

If you want an action-filled space opera and are an avid reader who reads a great deal, this book (and series) are probably for you. If not, then perhaps a classic Asimov, Bradley, or Clark novel would be better.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.

Independent Author Spotlight: Katelyne Parker’s Hosanna

I don’t expect first novels from independent authors to be great. I will settle for good. Hosanna by Katelyne Parker exceeds my expectations. It is the best book that I have read recently.

HosannaSet in a small Georgia town in the mid-twentieth century, Hosanna is a child born to an unwed, white mother and an African-American father. Scandalous as that would have been in that era, the mother, Miss Gracie, is in love with the father, Addison. Miss Margret, the grandmother, is racist. The result is a secret that everyone but Hosanna wants to keep buried.

The themes of the story are multiple. The racial issue is central to the story as the walls of segregation are beginning to fall, albeit very slowly. Hosanna grows up victimized by her white grandmother’s racism, her white mother’s silent suffering, and her bitterness at the injustices that she suffers. The depiction of racism both personal and systematic is brutally realistic and thought provoking. Beyond these darker elements, there is a message of hope about what happens when one trust in God. Without giving spoilers, the message is one of love and reconciliation.

Analysis

The writing is first person with the language reflecting the local vernacular. For some that may be a minus, but to my Southern ears, it was poetry. The plot moved forward consistently with a sense of gripping suspense. The characterization was multi-dimensional Few characters were one-dimensional. Hosanna could be an infuriating character, but as a reader, I never lost my sympathy for her and desired to see her reach her goals in the end.

Some readers will find the depiction of racism deeply disturbing. (Shouldn’t it be?) The “N” word is used with all of its malice. The author depicts violence but not gratuitously.

Theology

In the novel, the local church and its pastor struggle to be either the purveyors of racial injustice or the source of its solution. Hosanna struggles throughout the story to trust God and to let go of her bitterness. The author depicts God as being interested in the oppressed and injustice. There is no complete explanation of the gospel, but faith is an important concept throughout the book, especially in the life of the character named Mother Hill. The importance of family and kindness is seen through Hosanna’s love interest, John Irvin.

Conclusion

Read this book. No matter your view of racial issues today, you will find it challenging.

Note to my readers in the great and most awesome state of Georgia: Katelyne Parker will be at the Decatur Book Festival on September 3, 2016, at 3:00pm for a brief talk and book signing.

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Independent Author Spotlight: The One Who Sees Me by Kandi J. Wyatt

The One Who Sees Me by Kandi J. Wyatt is a fictional retelling of the story of Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, in the Bible. In this story, the name is Faru, and the setting is medieval times.

Strengths

The writing is concise with few wasted words. The plot moves along well. Though this is not the kind of book that I would usually read, it kept my interest. The author tells the story in the third person from the perspective of Faru, who represents Hagar from the biblical story. This point of view creates an interesting angle that those familiar with the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael from the Bible likely have not considered. No characters are unsympathetic except perhaps a couple of minor characters. Many who have read the Bible miss the fact that Hagar had a measure of belief and that God made promises to her about her son and descendants.

Biblical?

Fictionalized is the key word to remember. The flow of the story and the major events of the story are faithful to the Biblical account. Faru has a love interest outside of Abraham in the story, which the Bible does not present Hagar as having. Faru’s relationship with this man never moves beyond deep friendship though the tension is there. The plot device works to make Faru a more sympathetic character.

The impression of Lady Cwen, who represents Sarah in this story, is often negative, but not unsympathetic. Since the story is from Faru’s perspective, this fact is not surprising in the story, but some familiar with the Bible story may take offense.

The book does not make any profound or unusual theological claims. Faru develops faith in the Existing One, who is compassionate and full of grace, but also just and wrathful toward sin. The author does not present the Gospel, though faith is presented as a requirement to have a relationship with God

Conclusion

The One Who Sees Me is a well-written retelling of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. If one doesn’t get stuck on the differences between the retelling and the Biblical story, it is enjoyable. However, I highly recommend reading the original rendering in the Bible.

(Full disclosure: I received a review copy from the author in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)