Monday, May 27, 2013

The Judgment Stone by Robert Liparulo - Book Review

The Judgment Stone, Robert Liparulo
What if praying became a curse instead of a blessing?
Former Army Ranger Jagger Baird thought he had his hands full with The Tribe—the band of immortal vigilantes fighting to regain God’s grace by killing those opposed to Him. But that was before he encountered the ruthless group of immortals known as The Clan. The Clan is after a prize that would give them unimaginable power—a piece of the Ten Commandments known as the Judgment Stone.
Those who touch the Stone can see into the spiritual world: angelic warriors, treacherous demons, and the blue threads of light that signal the presence of believers in communion with God.
By following the blue beam radiating from those closest to God, the Clan plans to locate His most passionate followers and destroy them.
Jagger quickly realizes his high-tech gadgetry and training are no match for these merciless immortals. But how can he defeat an enemy who hunts believers through their prayers . . . and won’t stop until they’ve annihilated all those close to Him? 
In this high-action thriller, best-selling author Robert Liparulo examines the raging battle between good and evil on earth . . . and beyond.

The Judgment Stone, by Robert Liparulo, is the 2nd book in the Immortal Files series, after The 13th Tribe (my review is here). It manages to take the thrills, ideas, questions, and energy of the first book and take it up a notch. 

Jagger Baird is coming to terms with the fact that he is an immortal.  As he and his wife, Beth, and son, Tyler, are beginning to get past the Tribe's attack on them, it all begins to happen again.  This time it begins when an archaeologist at the monastery/sacred site where they live discovers a piece of the original 10 Commandments, the ones Moses broke.  Touching the Stone lets a person see into the spiritual realm, with angels and demons all around us, and prayers in the form of beams of light showing a person's connection to God.  A wonderful discovery and treasure, it is quickly taken by yet another group of immortals, known as the Clan. 

Unlike the Tribe, the Clan has no wish to please God, end their lives, and get to Heaven.  They want to hurt and grieve God, and the Stone will allow their leader, Bale, a clear view of where he can do the most damage.  As the carnage begins, Jagger and Owen try to track the Clan and take back the Judgment (God) Stone.

Interspersed with this story thread is the story of Neveah and the rest of the Tribe as they try to kidnap Beth (again) in order to discover the secret to reconciling with God.  They begin an attack on the monastery, causing Beth, Tyler, and the monks to play a deadly game of hide and seek.

The characterization is great, particularly the contrast between Owen and Jagger.  Beth and Tyler form a solid spiritual backbone for Jagger to lean on.  Bale and the rest of the Clan are vividly described, and radiate pure evil.  The yearning for God and not-to-subtle spiritual message is drawn throughout the book.

The plot moves forward rapidly due to the non-stop action and Liparulo's writing style.  There are no long, boring paragraphs, and short chapters and jumps in viewpoint keep the reader constantly wanting more.

Liparulo brings the varying stories together in an explosive and exciting finish, with quite a few surprises and revelations along the way. Reminiscent of the classic novel This Present Darkness,  The Judgment Stone is well worth reading, and proves even more that Robert Liparulo not only writes great Christian thrillers, but great thrillers in general.  I'm looking forward to the next installment.

I received a review copy of this book through Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze program in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp - Book Review

From the publisher: Egil and Nix have retired, as they always said they would. No, really – they have! No more sword and hammer-play for them!
But when two recent acquaintances come calling for help, our hapless heroes find themselves up against the might of the entire Thieves Guild.
And when kidnapping the leader of the most powerful guild in the land seems like the best course of action, you know you’re in over your head…

A Discourse in Steel is the 2nd book in Paul S. Kemp’s Egil and Nix series.  It is a fun sword and sorcery fantasy in the tradition of Fritz Leiber and others.  It is also a nice change from the large, world-changing fantasy series, as it focuses on a smaller group without the threat of an army/bad guy looking to enslave everyone.
Egil and Nix are adventurers, tomb robbers (in the vein of Indiana Jones), and part owners of a bar/brothel.  They don’t go looking for trouble, but are fiercely loyal to their friends.  The story is a traditional sword and sorcery tale, wherein Egil and Nix investigate Blackalley, a mysterious entity that lures unwary citizens into it, causing them to disappear.  Shortly after this, Egil and Nix become mixed up with the local Thieves Guild, due to an unfortunate circumstance involving two friends of theirs, a pair of sisters that are near to their hearts.  Magic, mayhem, and deaths occur in short order, as the various threads of the story begin to come together.  The resolution is satisfying, but also a little melancholy.
While the plot of A Discourse in Steel is entertaining, it wasn’t anything particularly new.  It is in the characters, particularly Egil and Nix, that Kemp shines and draws the reader in.  The comparisons to Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are obvious, and are a nice homage to the classics of the genre.  However, I also was reminded of the Hawk and Fisher series by Simon R. Green.  Egil is the power of the duo, a large kind-hearted priest (the only one of the god he follows), who is constantly dealing with the loss of his wife and daughter.  Nix is the smaller of the two, the brains and the one who leans towards using magic (he was a student at the Conclave, a magic school of sorts, for a time).  The interplay between the two is well-done, and their friendship is the bedrock of the story.  As I continued to read, a nagging feeling that I knew these characters already kept popping up.  They had an easy interaction, often insulting each other as only two good friends can.  Additionally, the roadblocks they encountered grew worse and worse, if there are varying degrees of life-threatening circumstances.  What struck me was that none of what they were doing was for their benefit; they were simply helping out friends who needed it.  Also, Egil and Nix have a very strong moral compass.  They are not “good” people, but they are willing to take on and do hard things to prevent others from having to do them.  In short, Egil and Nix are Spenser and Hawk, the heroes of Robert B. Parker’s fantastic Spenser series.  And that is good company to be in.
The city of Dur Follin is an interesting setting.  It reminds me a little of Leiber's Lankhmar or Green's Haven.  It feels like there is a lot there to explore in future tales of Egil and Nix.  There is also some sense of the greater world outside Dur Follin, as Egil and Nix leave the city for a portion of the book.  The setting is ripe for many further adventures, and bears exploring.

I would highly recommend this book for any fans of sword and sorcery.  It is well worth your time.

I received a copy of this book from Angry Robot Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Kindergarten Graduation

On Sunday afternoon, Cami and Griffin had their official graduation from kindergarten at church.  It was a nice time and the kids were proud.  Also, Cami is now wearing headgear to help move her teeth forward.  She has 6 months or so of wearing it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Softball Update

Cami's game was a rain out today, but by the time Lexi's double-header rolled around, the ground (and sky) were dry and the field was playable.  The highlights include Lexi fielding a ball while playing 2nd base, Lexi driving in a run (although she was out at 1st, she hit the ball hard), and my entire head turning red because apparently the sun only comes out when I forget my hat and sunscreen.

I Call Shotgun by Tommy Newberry and Curt Beavers - Book Review

From the back of the book (a selection):
For fathers who long to make a positive, lasting difference in their sons’ lives, passing down a legacy of values and ideals that will help them mature into men—into true men, leaders, voices of strength and wisdom for the next generation and beyond—the challenge has become more daunting than ever. I Call Shotgun is a practical playbook designed to equip dads for this vital task, increasing our influence and deepening our father-son relationships.
Written as letters from the authors to their own sons, the book’s sixty-three bite-size chapters cover a wide range of territory, from courage and compassion to finance and faith, from peer pressure and purity to hard work and humility. The life lessons within these pages teach sons how to cultivate integrity, follow True North, avoid victimitis, hang with the wise, laugh at political correctness, train for adversity, seek God first, make no excuses, build productive habits, and much more.

When I had the opportunity to review I Call Shotgun, by Tommy Newberry and Curt Beavers, I seized the chance.  Being a father to a young son, I'm always looking for helpful advice in raising him to be a man of God. This book seemed to be right up my alley, especially since it contains many short chapters tackling a single subject.

The chapters, or letters, contain many varied topics.  Some of the topics addressed are as follows: Do
Courageous Things, Celebrate Other People's Success, Treasure America's Personality, Seek God First...Every Day, Learn How to Read the Bible, Revere Our Founding Principles, Think Before You Speak, and Memorize Bible Verses, among many others.  In total, 64 topics are covered. I feel like reading these different topics was a mixed bag.  Some were vary pertinent to me, while others were a good idea but didn't really connect. This may be a function of where I am as a father and my son's age.

While the letter format makes it easy to pick up the book for a few short moments, I also found it a little distracting.  The authors used different fonts to represent their letters.  They also addressed the letters to their sons.  My issue was that I kept trying to figure out who was writing to who.  It's a minor quibble, I know, but one that interfered with my immersion in the topics.

As a whole, I feel that this book is average.  It probably hits right in the middle of the father/son books I've read.  The content was average, with some topics more relevant or covered better than others.  I would recommend this to fathers looking for a quick-hitting guide with varied topics, with sons in the tween to teen age.

I received a review copy of this book from Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze program in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Cami and Lexi have both had multiple softball games over the past several days.  Cami has continued to hit, although she is getting a little jumpy at the plate and is hitting off the tee again.  She is starting to swing with power now, though.  Also, on Monday she played 1st base and put two girls out, including one of her church friends.  She thought that was pretty cool. Lexi had her best game on Saturday, getting two hits, stealing bases, scoring once, and getting two RBIs.  Last night she played third base, and was ready to field anything hit to her.  It's a lot of fun watching my girls play ball.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Playing Tyler by T L Costa - Book Review

From the publisher: When is a game not a game?
Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.
Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games, and, well, that’s probably not going to get him into college.
Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald's, Rick asks him to test a video game.  If his score's high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have.  And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.
That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother--and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

Playing Tyler by T L Costa is a great new entry into Young Adult (YA) fiction.  It’s a captivating story about Tyler MacCandless and Ani Bagdorian.  Tyler is a teen with ADHD, a heroin-addicted brother (Brandon), a disconnected mother, a dead father, a jones for flying, and tremendous gaming skills.  Into his life steps Rick, a former military man who is mentoring Tyler and teaching him to fly.  Tyler is beta-testing a new flight simulator, a game in which a pilot controls multiple drones and provides air support for missions in the Middle East.  Ani is a Yale freshman, an early high school graduate who both programmed an award winning game and also won the world gaming championship.  She is currently the designer of the sim Tyler is playing, and she is the girl of Tyler’s dreams.  As their relationship begins to blossom, Brandon disappears from rehab, and Tyler begins to have questions about his missions in the game.
Costa’s writing is very easy to read, pulling the reader along with barely any time to breathe.  Alternating perspectives between Ani and Tyler really help to develop characterization and provide insight into actions and motivations.  Both characters are well-drawn representations of teenagers looking for their place in the world and struggling with the newness of a relationship.  I also really like how Tyler’s ADHD is written, often using run-on sentences to show the hyper-activity.  The supporting characters, including Rick, Tyler’s mom, Brandon, and Christy (Ani’s roommate) are all fleshed out enough to help propel the story forward, but never enough to distract from Tyler and Ani.
As a middle/high school English teacher, I’m always on the lookout for something to recommend to my students, and Playing Tyler fits the bill perfectly.  It’s as if John Green channeled Cory Doctorow and wrote Ender’s Game.  This book has it all: action, romance, teen angst, and a struggle with moral integrity against corporate/government/military recklessness.  I highly recommend it.
I received a review copy of this book from Netgalley and Angry Robot Books in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair by Len Wein - Book Review

From the publisher: Discover what happened before WATCHMEN. The team of legendary writer Len Wein and acclaimed artist Jae Lee--in his first DC Comics' work in nearly a decade--delve into the mind of the smartest man in the world: Ozymandias. How does one go from the son of immigrant parents to becoming the world's smartest man? Adrian Veidt begins his journey, both spiritual and physical, that will one day make him one of the most pivotal players in the world-changing events of WATCHMEN.

Collects BEFORE WATCHMEN: OZYMANDIAS #1-6, "Curse of the Crimson Corsair."

This book contains two stories: Ozymandias and Curse of the Crimson Corsair.

Ozymandias was fantastic.  As the prinicpal force behind the events in the original Watchmen, we don't learn much about Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) other than that he is the "smartest man in the world" and he has a plan to save civilization from nuclear annihilation (from ourselves). This story changes all that.  We are taken back to Adrian's childhood and shown how he grew up as a prodigy.  Interspersed with this is his growin concern for humanity, particularly in the face of Dr. Manhattan and nuclear weapons.  I found Veidt's life and plans fascinating, as he becomes a somewhat sympathetic character, as opposed to the egotistical near-villain he is presented as in the original series.  Discovering the plan weaving through Watchmen was pretty cool.  Len Wein did an amazing job placing his story with the framework of the original, and also tying in to the various other prequels, particularly The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan. Jae Lee's artwork fit the tone and subject wonderfully.

The second story, Curse of the Crimson Corsair, was a link to the Tales of the Black Freighter in the original series.  I believe this particular story was a 2-3 page back-up in each of the prequel comics.  I was not interested at all in this story.  Nothing about it really captured my attention.

As a collection, this was a little disappointing.  However, the Ozymandias story was fantastic.  If you are a Watchmen fan, it is nearly required reading.

I received a review copy of this book from Netgalley and DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan - Book Review

From the publisher: The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.
It's a bloody business overthrowing a king...
Field Marshal Tamas' coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas's supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.
It's up to a few...Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved...
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should...

Promise of Blood was part of a new wave of fantasy books labeled "Flintlock Fantasy".  Rather than taking place in a medieval setting, they are set in a time where gunpowder is prevalent (think 1700's).  This puts a new spin on the traditional fantasy trappings.

Promise of Blood starts out with a revolution among the people of Adopest, led by Field Marshall Tamas, a legendary military leader. It is similar to the French Revolution in that the nobility were taken out and beheaded in order to change the status quo and allow the people true freedom.  This part of the story is relatively minor, though it does springboard Tamas and Adopest into a conflict with the neighboring country of Kez.

The characters and magic, though, are what set this book apart.  There are three types of magic. The first is the Priviliged, a group of  sorcerer-types who have the ability to touch "the Else".  These are generally nobles or work for the nobles, particularly the King in the form of a Royal Cabal.  With the advent of gunpowder came the Powder Mages.  These are people who get a rush/power from gunpowder, allowing them to heighten their senses, ignite powder, and transfer the released energy to another object.  They are typically commoners.  There is a great divide and dislike between Powder Mages and Priviliged.  The final type of magic is the Knacked, people who have a relatively small ability, such as a photographic memory or the ability to go without sleep.

Tamas is the greatest Powder Mage, and with his fellow revolutionaries, including his son, he sets about trying to establish equality in Adopest.  The trouble is, there is a prophecy that declares that Kresimir (their god) will return if the King is deposed.  This will result in war, strife, and the destruction of Adopest.

The story follows several characters as they try to prevent this end, including Tamas, his son Taniel, and Adamat (an inspector tasked to find a traitor among Tamas's group). I particularly enjoyed the development of Taniel and Adamant and look forward to reading more about them.

While the story drags a little in the middle, the climax comes speeding ahead.  By the time the reader reaches the end, the stakes have been changed and many preconceived notions have been turned on their head.

I recommend this book to fantasy fans who want to try something new.  It may also appeal to fans of Brandon Sanderson, both in the uniqueness of the magic systems and due to the fact McClellan was a student of Sanderson's.

I received a review copy of this book from Netgalley and Orbit in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Thought (Lyric) of the Day

I'm really digging the chorus to "Forgiven" by Relient K:

'Cause we're all guilty of the same things 
We think the thoughts, whether or not we see them through 
And I know that I have been forgiven  
And I just hope you can forgive me too

Enjoy the video here as well.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach by Brian Azzarello - Book Review

From the publisher: The controversial, long-awaited prequels to the best-selling graphic novel of all-time are finally here: BEFORE WATCHMEN! For over twenty years, the back stories of the now iconic characters from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's landmark graphic novel have remained a mystery, until now. DC Comics has assembled the greatest creators in the industry to further paint the world of WATCHMEN, with this second volume starring two of the most polarizing anti-heroes ever, COMEDIAN and RORSCHACH.

Eisner Award-winning writer and creator of 100 Bullets Brian Azzarello brings his gritty, nuanced storytelling to these two recognizable characters. In RORSCHACH, Azzarello again teams with superstar artist Lee Bermejo (JOKER, LUTHOR, BATMAN/DEATHBLOW) to illustrate how one of most dangerous vigilantes the comic world has ever seen became even darker. COMEDIAN, featuring art by J.G. Jones (FINAL CRISIS, Wanted), plants the famed war hero within the context of American history, as we find out how the Vietnam War and the Kennedy assassination revolve around him.


This was a great collection of stories.  Brian Azzarello is one of my favorite writers and he did a great job with both Rorschach and The Comedian.  He added depth and insight into both of these characters (I hesitate to say heroes).  Both of these series were worthy of the Watchmen legacy.

The Comedian story added a lot to a character that is really hard to like.  He is vulgar, coarse, crude, unsympathetic, and inappropriate at best.  Somehow, though, Azzarello added some empathy.  The story centers on Eddie Blake's (The Comedian) relationship with the Kennedy family (yes, those Kennedy's) and his time in Vietnam.  While not excusing or justifying his actions, the reader begins to understand why Blake  does what he does.  I felt like this gave me a new perspective on Blake, yet was still consistent with the character as he was originally written.  The story also dovetails nicely with several of the other prequel stories, particulary that of Ozymandias.

Rorschach is probably the most popular of the original Watchmen characters.  He is gritty, dark, and unapologetic, but maintains a very strict code of morals and ethics, almost to the extreme.  Azzarello goes further into his background, adding humanity and feeling to the character.  The story deals with Rorschach's relationship (such as it is) with a waitress at a diner he frequents, while he is fighting a drug lord and trying to catch a serial killer.  All the while, more information about his personal life is dropped in.  This was a great story, and added much to the background of Rorschach.

Overall, this was the best of the four Before Watchmen collections.  Top to bottom, it was great.  I highly recommend it.

I received a review copy of this book from Netgalley and DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre by Darwyn Cooke - Book Review

From the publisher: The critically acclaimed and Eisner Award-winning creator of DC: THE NEW FRONTIER Darwyn Cooke lends his talents MINUTEMEN. As the predecessor to the Watchmen, the Minutemen were assembled to fight against a world that have more and more rapidly begun to spin out of control. Can these heroes from completely different backgrounds and with completely different attitudes on crime come together? Or will they fall apart before they begin?

SILK SPECTRE takes an introspective look at the WATCHMEN feature player's struggles with her overbearing superhero mother and her scattered path toward taking the mantle of the Silk Spectre. With gorgeous art by co-writer and illustrator Amanda Conner (POWER GIRL, The Pro), SILK SPECTRE takes a very different perspective at the world of BEFORE WATCHMEN.


This collection is a mixed bag for me.  The Minutemen story is very interesting, adding more depth and background to the original Watchmen book.  The original Nite Owl’s point of view was a nice lens to see the various characters and events from.  There was a lot of behind-the-scenes drama going on that was just hinted at in Watchmen.  Also, it was a nice prequel, connecting just enough to the original to add to the depth of the series.

On the other hand, the Silk Spectre story was just average. The villains, evil businessmen trying to turn hippies into unknowing consumers, just weren’t that engaging.  Lauri’s relationship to her mother, the original Silk Spectre, didn’t add anything to what was previously shown in Watchmen.  I had a hard time finding any depth to this story.

Overall, I recommend this comic to diehard Watchmen fans, but it's really only worth reading for the Minutemen story.

I received a review copy of this book from Netgalley and DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Softball and other stuff

This has been a busy week.  Multiple softball practices and games, play practice, an art show, and a field trip.  Thursday, Trisha and I went with Cami and Griffin (and the rest of the kindergarten) to the Muncie Children's Museum.  It was fun to spend time with the twins.  As soon as school was out, we grabbed Lexi and headed to the Art Show.  All three kids had artwork on display. As soon as dinner was over, Cami had a game, and then Lexi had a game.  Saturday, Cami had another game and Lexi had a double-header.  Cami had three legitimate hits over her two games.  All three were good shots down the third base line, with one even staying in the air most of the way.  She also field several balls at third and threw them them to first.  It was fun to see her confidence growing.  Lexi didn't get a hit, but took several good swings.  She also fielded a couple of balls in the outfield.  Both girls are having fun.
Griffin's Picture

Lexi's Picture

Cami's Pinch Pot