Monthly Archives: August 2012

RTW: Book of the Month for August, 2012

Yes, it’s the end of August already, and it’s time for Road Trip Wednesday‘s Book of the Month. Road Trip Wednesday is a meme hosted by YA Highway. They set the topic, we blog our answer, and then link to our answers on the YA Highway blog article. People can then travel around to each blog to see how each person responded, and leave a comment (or not, but you know it’s the friendly thing to do!).

I didn’t get as much reading accomplished this month as I’d planned, so my pool of books to choose from is a little shallow. I usually pick a “shout-out” but I really don’t have one this month. None of the books I read were of the shout-from-the-rooftops-how-great-this-book-is quality, at least for me. The best of the bunch was probably…

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This classic novel tells the story of millionaire Jay Gatsby, and his obsession for lavish parties–and Daisy Buchannan. It’s told from the first person perspective of Gatsby’s neighbor, Nick Carroway, whom he befriends, and eventually enlists to help him reconnect with his old flame. The novel gives an interesting snapshot of high society in the 1920s, and while it’s fictionalized, Fitzgerald does a good job of giving the 21st century reader a sense of the period. It’s a relatively short novel, and I could probably have read it in a day. However, I didn’t really have much reading time this month, so it took me longer to get through as I would have to put it down and pick it up again later. One of the things I came to appreciate is the fact that the novel has a fairly simple and straight-forward story line, along with a limited cast of characters to keep track of. This meant that I rarely lost track of what had happened in between readings. I found Fitzgerald’s style quite readable, and his descriptions made sense to my imagination. And there were moments when his observations, or a turn of phrase, would make me smile. It was certainly an enjoyable read.

As I mentioned in my Goodreads review, I would give this book a PG, perhaps PG-13, rating for some mild language, but would probably recommend it to upper YA and older simply because I don’t think the subject matter would appeal to a younger audience.

What are your thoughts on THE GREAT GATSBY? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? Read it in school and you don’t want to relive the painful memory? Read it in school and couldn’t get enough of it? Let me know in the comments. And if you have a book of the month to share, hop over to YA Highway and join the Road Trip Wednesday fun!

TTT: The Literary Confessional

Photo Credit: Mark S. Abeln

I’m not Roman Catholic, but for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, the folks at The Broke and the Bookish want us to take a seat in the booth and pour out our bookish sins… well, ten of them anyway. I’m not sure I can come up with ten, but we’ll give it a try. Here goes (in no particular order):

Colin D. Smith’s Top Ten Bookish Confessions

  1. When I first read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I called it “boring.” Okay, so I was fourteen, and I really only read the first page or two. But really, those are not excuses. This is one of the best novels ever written (IMHO), and I should have been given a detention for such a comment!
  2. I used to fold page corners to mark my place in a book. Again, this was a crime of youth and I later learned the value of book marks. Nevertheless…
  3. There was a period in my life where I eschewed fiction–well nearly all fiction. And not just because I preferred non-fiction, but because of some really stupid, and frankly egotistical reasons that I’ve discussed before, and find truly embarrassing now.
  4. As a result of #3, I’m playing catch-up with a lot of fiction I should have read (e.g., I have yet to read most of Shakespeare’s plays, any John Steinbeck, any Tolstoy, most of Jane Austen’s works, most of Dickens’s works, and the list could go on I’m sure).
  5. As a result of #4, while I’m probably better read than average, I’m not nearly as well-read as I ought to be.
  6. It grates my nerves if I’m collecting a series and the publisher changes the cover design mid series so they no longer match (e.g., the SHATTER ME series, and the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series). And if I start a series in hardcover, I feel the need to complete the series in hardcover. Likewise, if I start in paperback.
  7. I don’t like buying books used that aren’t in nearly new condition. I try to tell myself that it shouldn’t matter–it’s about the words, after all, and as long as it’s legible, who cares? I could probably afford to buy more books if I could convince myself of this.
  8. I’m hesitant about reading books in translation (which might account for why I haven’t read any Tolstoy, and only one book by Dostoyevsky). Something’s always lost in translation, and when I read an author, I want to read that author’s words, not his words as interpreted by someone else. I want to be able to appreciate the author’s style, not the translator’s. This is one of the reasons why I learned New Testament Greek and Biblical Hebrew at university, but doesn’t explain why my French isn’t as good as it should be, and I don’t know any Russian, and very little German.
  9. I have an iPad, but I don’t read much electronically. I’m still getting used to it. In fact, right now, I’m trying to decide whether to buy a certain book in electronic or paper form. The ebook is much cheaper, but I’m not sure which I’d prefer to read.
  10. I rarely ever throw away or give away books. There are books on my shelf that I’ve read once and will probably never read again. But I’d be very reluctant to part with them. The main reason for this is because I’m building a library for my kids, not just for me. But also I just like knowing those books are still there if I should ever need to refer to them.

How about you? Any bookish confessions you want to get off your chest? You can comment here, or join in the blog fun at The Broke and the Bookish–just add your confession to the Linky List.

Sunday Devotional: 1 Corinthians 15:5-8

5 And that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve, 6 then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at the same time,  most of whom are still around, though some have died. 7 Next he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all–as though to a miscarriage–he appeared to me.

As we have seen over the past couple of weeks, in this section of his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is asserting the centrality of Christ’s death and resurrection–and the importance of resurrection for the believer–in the face of some who deny it. He has stated that the central truth of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection was handed down to him, presumably from the apostles, and these events were all fortold in Scripture. Now he undergirds the testimony of Scripture with the testimony of eyewitnesses.

The Gospel accounts detail the way in which the risen Jesus appeared to Peter and “the Twelve”–Paul’s shorthand for Jesus’s inner core group of twelve apostles. We don’t have a written account of Jesus’s appearance to “five hundred brethren,” but clearly this was known to Paul, and possibly to the Corinthian church. It’s not unreasonable to assume that as significant an event as Jesus appearing to five hundred people “at the same time” (Greek: ephapax) would have been told throughout the Christian world at that time. The fact that only some of those five hundred have died, but most are still alive (Greek: menousin, literally “they remain”), indicates that this was an event that happened relatively recently, and people were still alive to talk about what they experienced. Jesus then appeared to James, and then the other apostles. Since he already mentioned Jesus appearing to “the Twelve,” this must be a reference to a subsequent appearance. We could discuss which occasion he means–one from the Gospels, or the appearance in Acts 1 prior to the ascension, or an occasion not recorded–but that would be way beyond the scope of this brief devotional.

Finally, Paul mentions that fact that Christ appeared to him, meaning, of course, at his conversion on the Damascus road. “Finally” could mean that this was Christ’s last post-resurrection appearance, or it could simply mean that this is the last appearance in the list Paul wishes to mention. It’s certainly the most significant for Paul, since it was at this appearance that he was converted, and that his ministry began. Paul speaks of this event as Christ appearing to him “as to a miscarriage.” The meaning behind the Greek (ektrôma) is that of a child born before the full gestation period has been completed. Since, in the ancient world, this would normally happen in the case of a miscarriage, Paul’s use of the term points to the fact that a) his re-birth was “untimely”–he wasn’t one of the original Twelve, so he was a late-comer to the core apostolic group, and b) he considered himself to be “the least of the apostles” (verse 9), because he was a persecutor of the church.

Paul provides all this testimonial evidence to bolster the Corinthian church’s confidence in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. The fact that he was seen by so many people at different times–and people whose testimony is trustworthy (e.g., the apostles, from whom they received the gospel message via Paul)–should put an end to the speculations going around that Christ wasn’t really raised from the dead.

These days, we tend to look down on eyewitness testimony, unless it is corroborated by solid evidence. We know how unreliable our memories can be, and how prone we are to allow our recollections to be shaped by our own perception of reality, or how we want to remember things we saw or experienced. In his book JESUS AND THE EYEWITNESSES, New Testament professor Richard Baukham re-evaluates eyewitness testimony, and makes some excellent points with regard to the New Testament accounts. First, eyewitness testimony in the ancient world was not uncritical. They also had standards by which a testimony could be accepted, often involving corroborating accounts. Also, he points to studies that show how it’s the mundane things in life that we often have the most trouble recalling, especially in detail. When it comes to extraordinary events–especially events that have great shock or emotional effect on us–our memories tend to be more precise, and more reliable.

So when Paul talks about groups of people of various size all seeing the risen Christ, he expects this evidence of the resurrection to be taken seriously, as it should be. These were no mass hallucinations, but different people at different times all seeing the same thing that Paul saw: Christ raised and glorified, and leading his church.

I hope this brief study has strengthened your faith in the truth of the resurrection, and emboldened your proclamation of this essential gospel fact.

Have a great week!

Doctor Who News: Series Seven Date Announced!

It was made official this week: I was right! What do I mean? At the end of last month, I posted an article about the death of Romana actress Mary Tamm, and made some comments about the upcoming series. Remember? If not, here’s that article. Anyway, in that article I said the following:

Does this mean the new series will start the following week (September 1st)? That might be implied, but nothing has been explicitly stated. I would say it’s possible, especially given that US TV schedules appear to be less flexible than BBC schedules. Announcements for when shows will run are given months in advance here in the US, whereas in the UK, the BBC may not announce a date and time until two weeks before! So, while there’s a good chance the new series will start in September, I wouldn’t mark the calendar until an official announcement has been made.

Well, mark your calendars Who fans, and everyone else because you all really ought to be Who fans. Next Saturday, September 1st, marks the beginning of series seven–the series that will take us into Doctor Who’s fiftieth year. Here’s the BBC America trailer:

The episodes that will run this side of Christmas are:

It promises to be an interesting, and exciting ride (as usual). So, if you need to catch up on Doctor Who, this is the week to do it! And if you are new to the show… umm… you’d better get started, and don’t plan on getting much sleep. You’ve got six series of the re-vamp to get through!

RTW: Novel (or WIP) Love List

Today’s Road Trip Wednesday looks like one that might help me refocus my dissipated attention on my current literary enterprise (a.k.a., my Work In Progress). The question posed by the writers at YA Highway comes from an idea author Stephanie Perkins discussed on Natalie Whipple’s blog: Love Lists. What’s a love list? Here’s Stephanie’s description:

Whenever I begin a new project, I also begin a list called “What I Love About This Story.” I start by writing down those first ideas that sparked the fires of my mind, and then I add more ideas to it as I discover them during my push through early drafts.

So this week’s question is:

What is your novel’s “Love List”?

My current WIP is about a teenage alien who winds up in Victorian London. She got there by accident, and needs electricity to re-power her travel device and get home. But domestic electricity is still a thing of the future. And she fears she’s left her best friend in trouble back in her own time, so she has to find a way back quickly. To make matters worse, my alien’s race is not known for their technological skill–they’re still impressed with DVD players!

That’s the basic premise. So what did I like about this story when I first started developing the idea? Here’s my initial list:

  • Teenage alien
  • Time travel
  • Victorian era/Victorian science
  • Aliens who aren’t smarter than Earth people
  • Alien teenage “voice”

It’s a short list, but this is what started me off on the story. I must admit, I’m not a big fan of the Victorian period (or I wasn’t when I started), but what I liked about it with regard to this story was that it was a time of discovery and enormous scientific enterprise. My MC is not very scientifically-minded, so these Victorians are, in many ways, more knowledgeable than her about these things. And given she already has a great respect for Earth technology, I think this sets up an interesting situation that I don’t often see in sci-fi. The story is first person, so another interesting challenge is writing from a female alien’s perspective. I struggled with this to begin with, but I think I’m getting closer to her voice. It’ll probably take a couple of drafts to nail it, though.

There’s my short list. What’s on the love list for your novel (assuming you’re writing one)? It can be short like mine, or much longer. Check out the YA Highway article for today, and participate by writing a blog post on the subject and commenting on the YA Highway article with a link.

TTT: Favorite Reads Over the Past Year Or So…

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Someone there posts a list challenge, we blog our top ten list, and then use the link widget on their blog to point people to our responses. This week’s top ten list is:

Top Ten Favorite Books You’ve Read During The Lifespan Of Your Blog

Regulars will know that I celebrated this blog’s first birthday back in June. Since I’ve been posting a Book of the Month as part of YA Highway‘s Road Trip Wednesday for most of that time, this should be fairly easy. So, here are the top ten books I’ve read since the end of June 2011:

  1. SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi
  2. DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth
  3. THE GIVER by Lois Lowry
  4. NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman
  5. LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld
  6. BEHEMOTH by Scott Westerfeld
  7. GOLIATH by Scott Westerfeld
  9. THE IONIA SANCTION by Gary Corby

Okay, so I know I’ve listed each of the LEVIATHAN series, but any one of those could have been a dud. I’ve seen it happen with other series books, where the first is great, but others are either okay or kind of *meh*! All three LEVIATHAN books are great reads. Likewise Gary Corby’s “Athenian Mysteries” series (so far). Do you have any favorites among this list?

Sunday Devotional: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

3 For among the first things I passed on to you [was] that which I also received, that Christ died on behalf of our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

This, for Paul, is the heart of the gospel message. Indeed, Paul clearly thought this was of great importance since it was “among the first things” (Greek: en prôtois) he shared with these people. This must be why Paul thought the anti-resurrection teaching that was going around needed to be dealt with: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the basis of our faith. You can’t be a Christian and not hold to these truths. If these things are not true, our proclamation and our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).

And these central elements didn’t derive from Paul. He received them. We aren’t told here from whom, but evidently he received them from the apostles. One of the things we’ll see next week is the importance of testimony to validate Paul’s claims. Eye-witness testimony was given a lot of weight in the ancient world. Here, Paul is testifying to the fact that he received the things he told the Corinthians directly from those who had been there and witnessed them first-hand.

Paul boils the most essential part of the gospel down to three simple points. First, Christ died on behalf of our sins. He didn’t die to make us happy, or to bring world peace, or even to show us how to be more loving (though the self-sacrificing nature of divine love demonstrated on the cross is a very important thing to grasp). He died because in order to have peace with God, our sin needed to be dealt with. God could not simply forgive our sins and remain just (otherwise, on what basis would He judge anyone?). The only way to satisfy God’s justice was for a perfect man to pay the penalty on our behalf. That man was Jesus–the God-man–the only one qualified for the task.

Second, Christ was buried. Jesus’s death was real. He didn’t fall unconscious, and he wasn’t faking death. The wounds he suffered on the cross were fatal. What’s more, there was a physical tomb located outside Jerusalem Paul could direct them to if they wanted to see where Jesus was buried.

Finally, Christ was raised on the third day. That is, he spent three days (counting inclusively, which is how it would have been done) dead in a tomb. Our sins paid for, and God’s justice satisfied. On the third day, he rose from the dead by the power of God, demonstrating his own divine power, but more than that, enabling us to be born again–renewed from within–and to receive the promise of our own resurrection. Sin no longer binds us thanks to the cross. Death no longer claims us thanks to the empty tomb.

A last point. Note Paul says twice that these things happened “according to the Scriptures.” If you read Matthew’s gospel, you’ll see constant references to the Old Testament where things Jesus did fulfilled ancient Messianic prophecies. Not only did these things happen in history, and could be verified by eye-witness testimony, but they prove Jesus’s Messianic status by the fact that they were foretold by prophets hundreds of years before the event.

As a closing thought, bear in mind that Paul isn’t trying to convince non-Christians here. Paul is underlining the core truths of the gospels that his readers, claiming to be Christians, should already believe. He’s trying to give them confidence that the gospel he received and passed on to them is not only trustworthy, but it is the very thing upon which they base their hope.

I pray we, too, would have a renewed confidence in the truth of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and this would cause us all the more to worship our great God and Savior. Have a great week!

A Tale of Two Writers–and Lessons for Us All

This week saw the publication of Dan Krokos‘s much-anticipated debut novel, FALSE MEMORY (click here for the Goodreads summary). In light of this, I thought I’d take the opportunity to consider Dan’s unusual road to publication, and also that of his fellow Janet Reid client, Gary Corby. I think they both represent how non-linear the path to getting an agent and a book deal often is, and hopefully this will encourage all of us in our own writing journey.

Dan’s literary story starts with a submission to Janet Reid’s Query Shark site. Here’s his query, as read on this BBC World Service interview with Janet:

Ford Kelly spends his days driving an ambulance, and his nights driving a getaway car for his uncle, the contract killer. But when his uncle dies mid-contract, Ford has two choices: also die, or convince his new employers he knows more about taking lives than saving them. The contract: snuff out a ring of dirty cops who demand hush money after stumbling across a new drug being prepared for the street. The problem: the last cop on the list is Ford’s wife, who left him after the death of their son a year ago. That’s when Ford discovers how good at killing he really is.

Janet says she signed him 20 seconds after reading this. However, if you read Goodreads, you’ll notice this isn’t FALSE MEMORY (though it sounds like an awesome book). And Janet said three major publishers were interested in the book he initially queried. What happened?

Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe Dan will share somewhere, but if I might engage in some semi-educated guesswork, somewhere along the way, Dan and Janet concluded that this novel was not ready. Either the initial interest didn’t pan out, they couldn’t agree with publishers on editorial changes, the market wasn’t ready–there are a billion-and-one reasons why the book that got you an agent may not end up being your first novel. It happens a lot, it seems.

What I think is really interesting, though, is that while the query that provoked Janet to offer representation is for a genre she represents (crime/thriller), FALSE MEMORY is a YA novel, and YA is not one of Janet’s areas of expertize. But, like most good agents, Janet doesn’t represent books so much as authors. She clearly loved Dan’s work enough to continue representing him for a book that’s outside her normal parameters. She did call on YA agent Suzie Townsend, now with New Leaf Literary & Media, for help, but the point is Dan didn’t lose his agent because his next book was one she might not have taken had he queried it. Clearly, she signed Dan because she believes in him as a writer, not because he will always write her genre. And from what I’ve read, this is not uncommon among good agents.

Gary’s story is told by Janet on her blog, and by Gary in the acknowledgements pages of THE PERICLES COMMISSION. Briefly, Gary queried his novel to Janet. Janet loved it and sent a request for pages. But her email bounced. The writer’s worst nightmare, yes? But Janet really wanted to read those pages, so she posted a plea on her blog for Gary to contact her, hoping he might be following her site. In fact, Janet’s blog readers came to the rescue: they managed to chase Gary down (in Australia) and provide Janet with his contact information. It seems the provider Gary uses for his website and email switched host servers, causing a disruption to his email service. But the point here is that Gary’s query was so good, Janet was willing to exert energy to find him and get more pages. The rest of the story is history: Janet signed him, and soon after (well, relatively soon–we’re talking about publishing here, remember!) Gary’s first novel was published.

So, the lesson from Gary: make sure your query is so good, an agent would do anything short of calling the FBI to find you and get pages from you. And we should be encouraged to know that while we need to follow guidelines and rules (like having a working email account), in the end, it’s the writing–the novel–that matters most to an agent.

I hope these stories give you hope as you pursue your publication goals. And congratulations to Dan! May you have a long and successful career.



RTW: Wanna-be Sports Novels

Oh, nooo… not another challenging Road Trip Wednesday!! Every week, the YA Highway team pose a question or a challenge to their readers which we then respond to on our blogs. We can then link our blogs on the YA Highway RTW post comments. It’s fun, and most of the time I can participate without having to stretch the grey matter too much. But last week’s was hard for me, and now this week, the challenge is:

In honor of the end of the Olympics, share your favorite sports book

I can’t think of any novels I’ve read and enjoyed that have been sports-based. There might be one or two, but the fact I can’t recall what they were demonstrates that they had little impact on me. So, once again, I’ll have to be creative. Thankfully, my wife, the real creative genius of the family, is firing on all cylinders and has come up with an excellent way to answer the challenge: Books whose titles might have been sports-related. For example:

Now it’s your turn to join in the fun! Can you think of any non-sports novels whose titles lend themselves perfectly to a sporting theme? Offer your thoughts in the comments! And if you have any real sports novels you want to share, you can use the comments here, or share at YA Highway

Monday Misc: C-Pop K-Pop J-Pop

My 16-year-old SecondBorn daughter is currently teaching herself Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. To say she’s an Asiaphile is a bit of an understatement! So, noticing that the music I post tends to be 20+ years old (i.e., older than some of my readers!), and many of my blog friends manage to find fresh new music to post, I asked SecondBorn to provide me with current music to share. I asked SecondBorn because the music she listens to is mostly Asian pop (C-pop is Chinese, K-pop is Korean, and J-pop is Japanese), and chances are you’ve never heard it so it’ll be fresh and  new to you. Not only does SecondBorn like the music, but she uses it to help perfect her pronunciation of these languages.

So, for your edification and education, I present to you SecondBorn’s choice of music from Asia. First up is EXO-M. As I understand it, EXO is a band that produces music in both Chinese (Mandarin, hence the “M”) and Korean (yes, there’s an EXO-K too!). This little number is called “MAMA”:


Next up is a song from a Korean band called SHINee (as in “shiny”) and this is called “Hello”:


“What’s with the boy bands?” you might be asking. Remember, these are from my 16-year-old daughter. Need I say more? Okay, to be fair, for the J-pop she offered up this song by a girl band called Perfume. (We briefly discussed why a Japanese band would give themselves an English name–and one that’s not easy to pronounce in Japanese. Apparently this is not uncommon!) This song is called “A Spring of Life” (note: there are subtitles in English and French, for my French readers):


You’ve got to admit, even if you’re not into the music, the videos are quite creative. Do you listen to songs sung in languages other than your native tongue?