Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review for The Safe Lands Trilogy by Jill Williamson

I have found a dystopian series to love!

Usually, I am not really a fan of dystopian books. Not because they don't interest me, because in spite of myself I almost always get drawn into the world of "What if?" and "How would I survive?" and "What choice would I make?". No, my problem with dystopias is the fact that I have to trudge through so much despair and the ending is hardly ever worth it. The main characters make decisions that are morally questionable at best and somehow the reader is supposed to accept the decision as the only thing that character could have made. Or, it is clear that it is the wrong choice, but the consequences are either unclear, or I spend the rest of the book reading about the negative consequences and there is no redemption at the end. Many times I am left dissatisfied and unclear about the overall message of the book.

However, I can get behind Jill Williamson's version of dystopia.  The Safe Lands trilogy contains admirable yet authentic characters, difficult decisions with realistic consequences, and a very clear message of hope and redemption.  The trilogy is available as an e-book set on Amazon Kindle.

The Safelands Trilogy: My Review

Have you ever felt trapped by your own culture? Have you ever wanted to escape so badly you would do anything? Have you ever struggled to discern the truth amidst the lies your culture tells you? If so, I challenge you to read The Safelands trilogy.
The Safelands trilogy follows the journeys of three brothers, Levi, Mason, and Omar. Each of them has a unique personality and set of struggles. Levi, the oldest and favorite of their father, is a strong hunter who feels a strong sense of responsibility toward his clan. Mason, the brainiac thinker, is a doctor-in-training, with a strong moral compass. Omar, the artist, with feelings that run deep, has never felt like he belonged in his family.
In the first book, Captives, Omar betrays his family and village to bring them to The Safelands, thinking he will finally gain recognition by improving their lives. Mason, works to find a cure for the plague that infects the people of the Safelands. Levi sets out to free the women who have been taken captive to bear children for the Safelands.
In the second book, Outcasts, the brothers work together with a rebel group, The Outcasts, to rescue the children who are being held in the boarding school. Levi struggles to forgive Omar and adjust to his new role as Elder of Glenrock. Omar struggles with addiction, shame, and the feeling that he is worthless. Mason struggles with his ever-growing attachment to the Safelands medic, Ciddah, knowing he cannot trust her. Meanwhile, Shaylinn, a girl from Glenrock, learns the identity of her unborn children’s father.
In the third and final book, Rebels, Mason and Omar find out what it means to be “liberated” by the Safelands, as well as some other secrets the government did not want them to know. Levi continues to work with the underground Outcast group to expose the Safelands government. Shaylinn is about to give birth to twins.
Jill Williamson does a fantastic job of creating her fictional worlds and her true-to-life characters. I could identify with every major character in this series on one level or another. As the oldest child of four, I could identify with the pressure Levi felt to take care of his tribe and his family. As a peace-maker who wants everyone to get along, I could identify with Mason as he mediated between his two brothers. As for Omar, I could identify with his desire to be loved and appreciated despite his differences. More than anything, I kept reading to see him succeed and find redemption.
The Safelands series deals with addiction, teen pregnancies, and temptation in a true but tactful way. Every character is faced with difficult choices and they experience very real consequences to the decisions they make, good or bad. That said, what I appreciate most about Williamson’s writing is that she weaves a thread of hope throughout these stories, letting her readers know that there is grace and forgiveness for everyone.
The Safelands trilogy is an important read for today’s teenager. It contains well-written characters, true-to-life situations, and a strong message of grace and redemption. I would recommend this book to teen and adult fans of Williamson’s Blood of Kings trilogy, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and anyone who enjoys dystopian or speculative fiction.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review for By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson

I think I may have found another author to add to my list of favorites. I'll be honest, it took me a while to get into this book, but once I did MAN was I hooked! This book is currently free on Kindle till the end of July I think. Check it out!

The author also has podcasts of herself reading this book, and the second in the series on her website at Look under Podcasts or Freebies. She has a lot of other really cool resources as well if you are an aspiring author.

If you love epic fantasy, you will love The Blood of Kings trilogy.

By Darkness Hid: My Review
A boy, unaware of his powerful gift, jumps at the chance to become a knight, hoping to win the hand of his childhood friend and escape his life of slavery. A girl goes into hiding, disguising herself as a boy to escape marriage to a loathful prince. Both of them, drawn together by circumstances neither of them chose, have an important role to play in the redemption of a kingdom taken over by darkness!
Achan Cham wants nothing more than to marry his childhood sweetheart and live in his own cottage somewhere, free from servitude to a cruel master. When a knight takes notice of him and offers to train him as his squire, he readily accepts. One day, he begins to hear strange voices. Voices who want to know who he is! Is he going mad? What is Sir Gavin not telling him?
Vrell Sparrow wants nothing to do with Prince Gidon, who seeks to marry her by whatever means necessary to gain control of her land. To save herself from being married against her will, she goes into hiding, disguises herself as a boy, and becomes apprenticed to a healer. When a powerful man senses her gift of blood voicing and summons her to be his new apprentice, she has no choice but to comply.  As she develops her gift, her disguise becomes more difficult to maintain. Then she hears the voice of a blood-voicer, who does not understand the strength of his gift, or how to control it. Who is this man and why does her master seek him?
This story snuck up on me. It started out slow, as Williams craftily established the setting and the characters. It was interesting enough to keep my attention, mainly because I could tell she was setting the reader up for something big. She did a very good job of keeping that "something big" a secret until the final moment! However, it did not really grip me until about halfway through the story. After that, my problem was going to bed on time. Achan is a very believable teenage boy and one of the best male characters written by a woman I have ever read. He is awkward, uncertain, and somewhat self-centered at times. Deep down he has a beautiful heart that only wants to take care of someone. Vrell’s story was equally compelling, and I was on edge with her the entire time as she worked to maintain her disguise.  I loved the role she plays in the story, and how hard she works to help Achan. I also loved the idea of “blood voicing”, which is basically the ability to communicate with others telepathically, and how it played into the story.
Finally, I loved how Williamson dealt with very real issues faced by teens today. Her stories address issues such as Godly relationships, temptation, honesty, sacrifice, and other moral and ethical dilemmas that modern day teens might face. She does not sugarcoat the consequences of bad decisions, but neither does she glorify them. What I appreciate most in her stories is the message of hope.
If you love stories with “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, true love, miracles…..” this is the series for you. If you are intrigued by the idea of communicating telepathically with others, this is the series for you. If you love stories that address difficult issues and deal with them in an authentic way, this is the series for you. I hope you enjoy Darkness Hid and it's sequels, To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Jonah, Jonah, Jonah....A Commentary

I will not be reviewing this book in this post because it has been several years since I have read it. However, it was through this book, that I first remember encountering the whole story of Jonah.

Bible Class Version:

God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah and tell them to repent.
Jonah says "no", and runs away.
God sends a storm. Jonah is thrown overboard and the storm stops.
Jonah is swallowed by a big fish (or whale if you read the KJV) and prays inside its belly for three days)
Fish pukes Jonah out on shore, Jonah preaches, Ninevah repents.

The End

Then one day I discovered this delightful little children's book, written in rhyme, about a girl who is reading her Bible and is transported back into Jonah's story. Imagine my shock when I read that Jonah wasn't at all happy that Ninevah repented. In fact, he threw a big hissy fit over it!

"Someone has been changing the Bible story," I said disapprovingly, as I put the book back on the shelf. "I'm going to go read the actual story, and then have this heretic book removed from the library!"

Sure enough, when I read the story in the actual Bible for the first time, it said the same thing. After Ninevah repented, Jonah cries out to God,

"O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I KNEW that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." -- Jonah 4: 2-3

Wow. Seriously, Jonah?

Then Jonah goes outside the city and waits for God to smite them....still. Even though he knows they've repented and God has forgiven them, he's still holding out hope that maybe they'll still get their comeuppance.  They still get a consequence, right? It can't be that easy! Where's the justice?

So while he's sitting there pouting, God gives him a plant to shade his hot little head and Jonah's very happy about it. The next day, God gives the plant to a worm, who attacks the plant and eats it up. THEN he sends a scorching wind and a hot sun to make Jonah even more uncomfortable.

Jonah throws another hissy fit.

"It is better for me to die that to live!" Jonah 4:8

God says, "Seriously?" ["Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" v.9]

Jonah says, "Yes! Seriously!" ["Yes, I do well to be angry. Angry enough to die!" v.9]

He has got to know how ridiculous he's being, right? I mean, it's like having a conversation with an emotional preteen....*looks over shoulder* I mean....what?

"You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 PERSONS who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle." Jonah 4:10-11


Translation: Your perspective is really messed up.

I can sit here all day and judge Jonah for his lack of compliance, his lack of compassion, and his lack of respect....and I would be so guilty of all three. How many times have I known God wanted me to do something and I chose to ignore Him? How many times have I had a difficult time forgiving someone and actually wished for them to get what they deserved? Yes, I have even been guilty of resenting an "outsider" for receiving God's love and compassion through one of His servants.

Wow. I'm a jerk.

Here's what sticks out to me from the story of Jonah:

1.You can't hide from God. Seriously, it doesn't work.

2. Jonah did not want to preach to the Ninevites. Did not want them to repent. Did not want God to forgive them. And yet, HE was the one God chose. And they still repented, and God still forgave them. God can use anybody, even those who don't want to serve Him, to do His will. Never think that He can't use someone with a poor attitude.

3. I love the way God speaks to Jonah throughout this story. Even when Jonah is throwing fits, God is patient with him. Almost as if he is equally concerned with Jonah's character development as he is with Ninevah's repentance. Kind of like a father talking to his son. Actually, it's very similar to the conversation that takes place in Luke 15 between the father of the prodigal son and his older brother,

" But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found ” Luke 15:28-32

God cares about all his people, even the judgemental. He doesn't shun them when they are being the worst version of themselves. He goes after them, and is patient with them while he waits for their heart to change.

I am thankful that I serve a God who makes every effort to bring lost ones back into the fold. I am equally thankful that He is patient with me, when I fail to be a willing servant. I am thankful for Grace.

I would love to hear your thoughts. What stand out to you about the story of Jonah?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Why is history important?

Dear Students Who Don't Read My Blog,

You ask me why history is important.Why should we study about people and events from hundreds of years ago? I tell you that history repeats itself. I tell you those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. To myself I quietly add that those who do study history are doomed to watch everyone else repeat it, but that's another blog post. I tell you that these were real people who faced real-life problems and we can learn important lessons from them.

I believe all of the above to be true. But there is another reason we study history, and it became clear to me yesterday as I read through my daily Bible reading plan.  I was reading Psalm 77. The writer begins his psalm in despair. He is crying out to God and receiving no comfort. God is silent and angry. He wonders if God has forgotten him and lost all compassion for him.

“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
Psalm 77:7-9

Have you ever felt this way, students? I have. Knowing I should cry out to God, but feeling so wretched in my sin that prayer seemed useless. God seemed silent and far away. I knew He was there, but I could not access Him.

But that is never the end of the story!

As I continued to read, it was as if the writer knew his questions of God were not in line with His true nature. He begins to talk himself out of despair by reviewing the history of God with His people.

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
Psalm 77:10-12

He then remembers how God led his people out of Egypt, and how he parted the Red Sea. He reminds himself who God is.

Your ways, God, are holy.
    What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
    you display your power among the peoples.
Psalm 77:13-14

Psalm 78 continues,

My people, hear my teaching;
    listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.
Psalm 78:1-4

He remembers all that God has done for Israel since the time of Jacob. How he brought them out of slavery, provided them with the law, fed them in the desert, and continued to be faithful, even when Israel turned away. 

He acknowledges their sin. He knows that Israel is responsible for the broken relationship with God. But by looking back he sees God's faithfulness throughout the brokenness. This enables him to pray to his Creator and to know His presence again. 

Why is history important? Because it shows us patterns that we cannot see in the present.  Sometimes we feel abandoned and forgotten. Sometimes we feel that God does not listen to our prayers. But when we look back we will see His hand in our lives. It is always there. Whether we choose to take hold of it is our choice. The truth may not always feel true at the moment, but it will always hold up to questioning. By studying my past I am able to see the truth about who God is and who I am with Him and without Him. Because of my past, I know that my future will be brighter if I walk with God.