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I have been an avid reader from as early as I can remember. Since becoming a Christian in my early 20s, my passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on this blog. I love reading new author's novels or author's who have not had many reviews or exposure and giving them much needed encouragement where appropriate.   
This blog is the intellectual property of Peter Younghusband, and any quotation of part or all of it without his approval is illegal

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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Spencer Murdoch and the Portals of Erzandor by James M M. Baldwin



A construction worker risks his family’s safety to fulfill a prophecy and stop a global storm ushering in the reign of an evil ruler. Spencer Murdoch unearths a supernatural portal and discovers an ancient being guarding a gateway between heaven and hell. Spencer must find the person chosen to enter the portal before a power hungry doctor can use it to release evil into the world.

The Guru's Review: 
 
This novel kept showing up on a few Facebook feeds from some of the groups I belong to and on my Amazon Recommendations. It was only when it was made free that I finally relented and downloaded it as the premise is what kept my interest in this novel. This is the first novel of Baldwin's I have read and I doubt it will be the last. He writes well and shows very creative imagination. 

Looking at the title of this novel, gives me the impression its construction needs to be a combination of it being character and plot driven. The reader needs to know what makes Spencer Murdoch tick seeing he is he centre of the adventure and there needs to be enough background to the plot or world building to make this adventure worthwhile for Spencer to be involved in. Baldwin seems to be successful here as he has depicted Spencer as an ordinary guy, family man, Christian, construction worker, definitely not a hero or adventurer extraordinaire. I liked this character construction as it makes it relatable for the reader, and you find yourself thinking what would I do if I was involved in something like this? Right from the start when Spencer discovers something suspicious in his street, Baldwin has you drawn to him and uses this to introduce you to the mysterious Dr Ubel, his henchmen (who provide some comedy relief in their bumbling and banter) and the supernatural mystery that thru sts Spencer, his family and his friend Jack, into an adventure that puts the future of the world into Spencer, Jack and CJ's hands.  

It is this that showcases Baldwin's imagination and is very well reflected in the world building that bases the science fiction and fantasy elements of the plot. I loved the riddle that Spencer had to solve in order to fulfill the prophecy. The underground world and the journey to this world that Spencer and Jack make is very enjoyable and suspenseful reading and very much adds to the plot development. It is this that gives the impression that there is enough going on in this plot to keep you coming back for more. And you do! 

I have only one gripe and that is the missing spiritual aspects. This is very much an edgy, speculative fiction novel with Christian themes, a guardian entity to a portal to Heaven, a Christian thrust into the middle of this quest for world dominion by the antagonist trying to thwart the prophecy from God coming to fruition. During this, Baldwin has Spencer showing very little prayer or reliance on God. It is exactly these events that in a novel of this genre that an author has a great opportunity to show a Christian character being submitted and obedient, relying on God to provide guidance and direction as not only is this extraordinary circumstances that he finds himself in, but this should be normal practice in any Christian life. The way Baldwin has portrayed it could be interpreted that prayer and asking for God's involvement is only when extraordinary circumstances occur or when you are at the end of yourself. This is just not so from a biblical point of view. I don't mean this to sound harsh just what struck me as I read.

I also feel that a plot line involving Ubel's son is left unresolved and if this is to be addressed in the next book, there is no indication of this in this volume. This plot line is not a minor issue, Baldwin's portays this as a major motive that keeps him trying to thwart Spencer from fulfilling the prophecy. That is disappointing and adds an element of plot derailment. 


Despite these two negatives, this is a good novel and sets the stage for an engaging series.

I look forward to the next instalment being released on September 2, 2016

Recommended (3.6/5 Stars).

World Building 4/5

Characterisation 4/5

Story 4/5

Spiritual Level 3/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 3/5

Average Rating 3.6/5

To read a sample from this novel or to buy it, click on the cover image below:


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Interview With Jason Dahl

I read and reviewed Seberian:The Hidden Battle Revealed, a few weeks ago and loved it. A combination of the supernatural, spiritual warfare, angels and demons, science fiction all rolled into one and it works very well. After reading this, I wanted to know more about this novel and its author, Jason Dahl so I sought him out and asked him for an interview.

So sit back and let Jason Dahl talk about his passion for this novel, his writing and the spiritual aspects that undergird Seberian. 

Thanks Jason, for stopping by! Let's start by you telling us a little about yourself.

My name is Jason Dahl. I’m originally from upstate New York. I majored in Bible at Houghton College and then worked as a youth pastor for three years. For the past ten years I’ve owned and operated a construction company in Florida. For roughly 7 of those ten years I’ve been writing and working on this book & movie project, SEBERIAN.

What inspired you to become an author?

A near death experience. I fell off a roof, 12 feet, head first onto concrete. Thankfully I was not injured but it freaked me out for weeks. I thought, “I could be dead or paralysed.” I believed that God had rescued me from death but I started to question how he does that in the physical world. I thought, “What about angels?” My very next thought was, “No, that’s cheesy.” That thought really surprised me. I questioned myself as to why I doubted the idea of God using an angel to protect me. Angels interacting in the lives of humans is completely Biblical. Somehow I had I bought into the misconception that God doesn’t do that much here on earth anymore. That was one of three big things that got me writing. The second was some other medical problems in the family. And the third was the fact that my youngest brother was sent to Afghanistan. He is infantry in the Marine Corp. I was worried about him and all the things going on in the world that required that he go to such a dangerous place.

With all those things going on I started writing because I needed to get things out of my head. So I used writing as a therapeutic tool.

What obstacles did you encounter in this endeavour to write your first novel? How did you overcome these?

Time has always seemed to be an obstacle for me. I need to have very few distractions as I write and setting aside that type of time has been a challenge. I know that many writers get up early and put in a couple hours before their regular day job but that has never worked very well for me. Mainly because I’m not a morning person. So working late at night and sometimes till 3am was my best option.

How has writing and being an author impacted your relationship with Jesus Christ?

As I mentioned earlier working out problems and questions from life reminded me of the fact that God does still work in this world physically and supernaturally. But one of the biggest parts of studying and writing about spiritual warfare was the fact that it helped me to better understand the power and victory that we have over Satan through Christ.

Do you have a favourite genre that you read?

I read more fantasy than Sci-Fi. Primarily JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.

What have you learnt about becoming an author?

It requires a great deal of patience and perseverance. (Patience with ourselves and others.)

How long did it take you to write this novel?

My first novel is based on my first screenplay. That screenplay took a little over a year to research and write. Then it took approximately one year to convert the screenplay to novel form.

You write well. Have you always found this to be an easy feat? Some authors engaged in a writing course before they wrote their first novel. What have done? If you have, would you encourage other budding authors to do so?

I did not take any courses. I read several books and articles on screenwriting and the writing of novels. If I had found an online course I probably would have taken one. I think they are a great way to learn.

I have written a curriculum on screenwriting, converting to novel form and self-publishing. I think that writing is a great therapeutic tool and I want other people to be able to experience the benefits of it. Soon I’ll be releasing a free version of that course. If anyone is interested in checking that out they could sign up for my e-mail newsletter on my website and then shot me an e-mail letting me know that they are interested. I’ll put them down on a list and send the course to them when it is ready to release.

How do you come up with the character names in your books?

I think I’m different than other authors, I wait until the story is done and I know the character inside and out before I name him or her. While I’m working on the story I keep a running list of possible names. I try to use names that have some meaning that connects to who the character is.

Have you ever written yourself or people you know as a character in one of your books?

Yes. At least in part. Not a carbon copy of any particular person.

When did you decide to make a career of writing?

When I was almost killed falling off a roof. I thought, “I need to find something safer.” (Just kidding.) One moment that was a turning point was when a professional writer director, producer read my script and said, “Jason this is epic, you need to produce this.” He also said, “I think you are a really good writer and I want to read more of your work.” That was really encouraging and made me think, “Yeah, maybe I can do this.”

What do you do when you are not writing?

Building things. I work a lot with my hands. Both in my regular daily business as a carpenter and as I work on concept art for the project like the helmet that I sculpted for one of the main characters Tekel, (see below). That is the helmet on the book cover.

I also have my amazing wife and daughter that I spend was much time with as possible.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

Keep writing.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Don’t give up and don’t be afraid of rejection. It is not possible for everyone to like your work.

Who are you reading right now?

This is a little embarrassing but, Louis L’amour.

What’s next, do you already have a new project in the works?

I have a list five miles long of things I need to do on this project. (ie finish book #2, produce book trailer)

What tools have you found most successful in advertising/marketing yourself and your books?

Amazon giveaway of the e-book and using promo sights to promote the giveaway. Biggest thing, building an email list using mail chimp.

Did any specific author(s) motivate you to begin writing?

Tolkien, CS Lewis, George Lucas (screenwriting).

Now lets disucuss your novel, Seberian:



How did you develop Seberian, by extensively plotting it out (plotter), or as it came to you (pantser, that you write by the seat of your pants) or was it a bit of both?

I’m extremely visual. I plot things out on a big sheet of paper on the wall and then stand way back to get the big picture. I draw out a lot of time lines to see the flow of action. I also sketch out scenes and do thumbnail story boards.

What inspired you to write Seberian?

As I had mentioned I needed to get things out of my head and onto paper as a way of processing life. I think that a lot more goes on in the hidden spirit realm that we realize. From a Christian perspective it’s sort of strange but there is far more written about demonic activity than angelic activity. (Billy Graham noticed the same thing and mentioned that in his book, ANGELS.) I wanted to remind all of us that God is good and that He is for humanity and not against it and at the same time we have an enemy who is out to destroy us.

What is the current status of Seberian being made into a movie?

The next step is to produce the book/movie trailer which is an action sequence from chapter 5. If anyone would like to see what that will look like I have produced a trailer animatic, or moving storyboard. People can see that if they sign up for my e-mail newsletter at the website, seberian.com.

That trailer will also function as pre-production for the film. Several of the character’s body armor will be designed and built in order to produce that trailer. That will move us along in preparation for the film itself.

Amazon has described Seberian as “A Space-Age Supernatural Thriller full of Angelic and Demonic Warfare”.  Have you read or are aware of any other Christian novels that have blended the genre of science fiction with angelic and demonic warfare?

No am not aware of any. Frank Peretti wrote some really good novels with spiritual warfare but I don’t know of anyone who has blended Sci-Fi & Spiritual Warfare. There might be some novels out there like that but I’m just not aware of any.

We had a great response to this concept at the 2016 Tampa Bay Comic Con. Everyone (and I mean everyone) said, “Angels and Demons is space? That’s awesome! I’ve never seen anyone write that.” On top of that the supernatural can be really popular in non-Christian books and films so I wanted to use that genre as a vehicle to communicate biblical truth to people who have no interest in reading the Bible. There is hope in Christ and I want people to see that.

Reading Siberian, I was wondered about the background to this Seberian soldier group and how they were formed. You write about them so briefly in this novel that I feel a spin off novel or prequel on how the Seberian soldiers came about it would further add to the world building you have already created. You whet our appetites for this when you describe them as,

“A group of men and women that God has trained and gifted to fight the evil forces of not only mankind but also of Satan.”

I really liked Seberian but one thing that I found a bit of a shortcoming was the length of the novel, 182 pages. You pack so much into this story, it is action packed and fast paced, reads like a movie, I got so engrossed in it that I wanted more. I would have loved to have had this as a 300+ page novel. What made you construct it at this short length?

First of all I love the fact that you, “got so engrossed in it.” That is exactly what I wanted. I did keep is short for several reasons. Let me lay those out.

1) I wanted to reach people who are not necessarily avid readers. A big book can intimidate or discourage some people from even starting a book so I didn’t want that to happen.

2) I wanted to keep the pace very fast so that the reader felt like he or she was watching an action film as they read it. In order to keep that fast pace I kept the writing very lean. No extra stuff.

3) As I read fiction I don’t like too much setting or scene description from the author. I like to create the mental pictures on my own. I might have gone too far on this but I think it can be hard to strike a balance. One of the difficulties is that you as the author have had the scenes in your head for so long it can be easy to forget that the reader is trying to visualize it for the first time. One reason to have a good editor.

4) I didn’t want to lose the reader. This book is just act one in a larger story and I very much wanted the reader to stay around and finish the book. I think that we live in an age that has so much distraction and so many things competing for our limited time and attention. So I wanted to keep the reader through to the end. In order to do that I kept it short, fast and maintained as much suspense and intrigue as possible. And yes, I tell a lot more about the Seberians and their foundations in book 2.

I also left some space so that I could write some bonus chapters. I’m working some now that I’ve entitled, “The Demon Wars.” This novella, or bonus chapters, will cover the time frame directly following Satan and his demons being expelled from heaven. That would fall into this first book around chapter 13.

Is Book 2, Seberian: The Great Gate, going to be longer?

Yes.

When Cloin was explaining to Lonan and company about who is behind the enemy and who they are, you state,

At the beginning of all things, the one God created countless galaxies and then made mankind in his image to inhabit many of them

This is not mentioned in the bible about having mankind inhabiting many of these galaxies, the bible states that mankind was delegated to Earth. Do you think that this scenario you have included in this novel will be considered controversial and initiate criticism of you for this?

I did take some artistic license as I wrote that. I can’t image that I would upset anyone with that statement. It is Science Fiction, after all. But I know that I will receive some criticism and in fact already have. (Not about that statement.) There is so much diversity within Christianity that it’s impossible for me to not offend someone.

What’s really sad is when we let that diversity create separation. We need to be united in Christ. We argue over some trivial things… speaking in tongues, dunking verse sprinkling. Honestly I think the enemy loves it when we get caught up in those things and turn against each other rather than loving and supporting one another and being a source of light and hope to a dying world.

Is this poetic license on your part only or is it based on any research you have conducted?

No research. I just took creative license.

This is your first novel. Did you find it hard transitioning your skills from producing films to constructing a novel? From my point of view as a reader, I would say you have successfully transitioned this as Seberian reads like a movie and I could imagine this unfolding in my mind as such. Some of the reviewers have stated that it reads like a movie or that it would make a great movie.

Converting it to novel form was a little more difficult than I thought. However, at the same time, I think using a script format for an outline is great for putting together a story. Script writing is very lean and mean. NO SPACE for anything that does not move the story forward. One page in script form is equal to approximately one minute on screen. So a two hour movie script would be around 120 pages. Those pages fill up very fast which forces a screenwriter to write only the essential narrative description and dialogue. Because it’s so stream line you can check for problems in your story before you go through the long process of writing it out in novel form.

That is just my opinion and the way I like to work.

I liked the poetic license you have taken in explaining how the Leviathan army acquired their power. Later in the novel, you describe to Lonan how to deal with what this power consists of. Is there a spiritual message or analogy you were wanting to convey?

Yes there is defiantly a message I want to convey. The story has a message of hope but it also has a message of non-violence. Let me say right away I’m not a pacifist. I believe that we as people have the right to protect ourselves from physical harm. I also love and support all our soldiers in the US Armed forces. Many of my family members served and I did some Army training in college and nearly joined.

The problem is that the world is becoming far too violent. Something that is interesting to remember is that the Bible says that when God destroyed the world with a flood in Noah’s time part of His reason was the fact that humanity had become so violent. “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” (Genesis 6:11 NIV) Life is a precious gift from God and think that He is disrespected when we are quick to deal out death and punishment.

I’m planning on starting a “Soldiers Of Hope” campaign encouraging people to commit acts of random kindness. I’ll share more about that in the future.

Is anything in your novel based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Real life and people inspired some of the ideas but not specific scenes or events.

The word Seber is Hebrew for Hope. Obviously this is the message of this novel. What is the background to why you included this theme in the novel.

I think the only hope that the world has is in Christ. As I wrote the story I wanted to work through the struggles that we have in this world and show the answer to those struggles. The root problem of all the world's struggles started at the fall of humanity. That fall was initiated by the fall of Satan and the third of the angels that he convinced to follow him. So all the sin of the world is not only our sin but our cooperation with Satan. (That element is one specific theme of the story.)

But there is hope to redeem humanity through Christ. That hope is the overall theme of the story. I want to show how Jesus is the Christ and how He frees us from not only the guilt and penalty of our sin but that he can also free us from the strongholds that the enemy has put in our lives. Strongholds like: addiction, un-forgiveness and a big one, fear.

I want to show (in the later parts of the story) how Jesus won victory for us. That is the hope of the story, Jesus giving us victory over Satan.

What take home message do you want readers of Seberian to embrace?

That we have victory over the enemy in Christ.

Anything else you would to say about Seberian?

I hope that everyone will check it out and also signup for the e-mail newsletter to stay up to date on the progress.

Where can readers find you?

Best place to reach me is through the website. Seberian.com Go to the “CONTACT” page and e-mail me there.

Website: seberian.com


Twitter: https://twitter.com/JasonDahlAuthor

Amazon Author Page: J. R. Dahl

Any closing comments?

The best way for people to support this project is to sign-up for the e-mail newsletter on my website (I’m not selling emails so don’t worry, no spam). That allows me to keep you up to date in order to let you know how you can help make this project a reality. We can’t achieve this big audacious goal without support from good people who believe in a message of hope in Christ. Plus it’s going to be a ton of fun so come along for the ride!

And to you Peter, thanks so much for your support! I really appreciate it!

Jason, it has been my pleasure in interviewing you and helping give your novel some much needed exposure as it is very much worth reading, not just for the entertainment value, but for the presentation of the Gospel message and the specific message you have embedded in the story. 

If this interview has whetted your appetite for more of Seberian, then click on the link below to read a sample. Jason has made Seberian free in e-book format from Amazon from this link from Thursday 18th to Friday 19th August 2016. It is also available to buy in printed form from Amazon.  



It can also be bought at Barnes and Noble in printed and e-book formats.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Seberian: The Hidden Battle Revealed (Book 1 in SEBERIAN Series) by J. R. Dahl.



Seberian: The Hidden Battle Revealed

An enormous army of mysterious supernatural Leviathan is marching across the galaxies taking entire planets captive. Lonan, a brilliant young engineer of the planet Helion, fears that his home will be next. In an attempt to protect his family and people he sets out to find answers about this seemingly unstoppable army. His quest leads him to the Seberians, a small force of humans who are the only warriors capable of defeating the Leviathan.

The Seberian leader, Armon, informs Lonan of the immense demonic power behind the Leviathan pawns and of the battle that has raged for millennia in a hidden spirit realm. The people of Helion and the Seberians are about to experience the sinister plot of Satan, the chief of all demons, who is gathering his forces for the largest battle ever waged on any spiritual plain. The Seberians and their unseen allies are the only hope for humanity as the hidden battle is revealed.

The Guru's Review:

 

I came across Seberian when it was offered free a few months ago. What made me download it was the mixing of the different genres that it contained and I wanted to see how well he could pull it off. The other reason was that I love Christian science fiction and spiritual warfare so to have these two genres amidst space-ships, soldiers, romance, suspense, angels and demons was very intriguing.

I understand that this is Dahl's debut novel and I must say it does not for the most part read like it. I don't consider it only to be due to the fact that he writes well, but mainly that his experience as a screen writer lends itself well to this novel and how it is constructed. While reading this, I found it playing out in my mind as if I was watching a movie and this just added to the sense of the plot flowing well and the action and suspense rolling off the pages without slowing down or being disjointed.

I wondered how Dahl would introduce the spiritual aspects of this novel and it seems that his strategy was to create a solid world building in the galaxy he describes with its back story as to whom the various races and peoples are together with the organisation that is a cover up operation for what is really happening and then introduce these spiritual aspects against this backdrop. Up until the Seberian Commander explains who the invaders are and the reason behind the Nemaron Corp, Dahl successfully keeps the reader on the edge of their seat wondering about these invaders and what their purpose really is. Just when you are getting desperate wondering, Dahl introduces the Seberians (who, until they are introduced formally, the reader only has hints of this mysterious warrior group fighting in the background against these invaders). It is they who reveal the identity of the invaders and through a very simplistic biblical account concerning the angelic rebellion in Heaven outlined in Genesis, the reader sees how well the demons fit into this science fiction backdrop together with who the Seberians are and why they exist as well. 

Dahl uses this development to further the plot and the pace. Everything revves up from this point on and the enjoyment of this novel also rises to the next level. 

Speaking of this spiritual side, it seems that Dahl may have been limited to the length of this novel (182 pages) in including more of this spiritual background but he has succeeded in laying a good foundation for expanding on this in subsequent novels and I can see that if this is so, this series would really come into its own and really pack a good punch. One has only to research the supernatural and Ufology from a Christian worldview to see that what Dahl has begun in this novel really does live up to that saying that truth is stranger than fiction. There are many more Christian authors who have treated their novels in a similar manner that also reveal the spiritual/demonic deception that even unbelievers are agreeing with and revealing more and more evidence that back this up.

One spiritual warfare aspect that I enjoyed was where one of the Seberians outlined to Lonan where the Leviathan army acquired their supernatural power and what he needed to do to not contribute to it and how to deal with it. I was not expecting this and I applaud the author for including it as it is an obvious spiritual lesson for the Christian to adopt or have reinforced.

I loved the relationship between the Seberian characters and Helion characters. In a novel like this that is mainly plot driven, having characters that are relational and developed is essential to a plot that is well balanced and that does fall flat by lack of character development. However, I would like to see more character development of these characters in the next and subsequent series; I feel that Dahl had just got there with these characters. This may have been hindered by the length of this novel. I am sure though that most readers would gravitate as their favorites toward Lonan, Sevran and Averine of the Helienders and Ahren and Cloin of the Seberians, and Tekel of the angelic force.

I would love to see a prequel novel to this series that outlines the background and history of the Seberians. This would increase the spiritual aspect of this entire series and add more depth overall to it. The other alternative way to do this would be to include this at various parts of plot lines in future novels but I would prefer a separate novel for this. I have mentioned this in my interview with the author.

I intend the following comment to by no means be uncomplimentary to the author, but I guess most readers of science fiction will liken this novel to either Star Wars or Star Trek. I wonder how much influence both of these icons have had on Dahl and the world building he has created so successfully in this new series. I don't however, see his novel as a copy of one or the other or a blending of the two. One has only to listen to the trailers on his website to see this. Hmm, this is a question I now realise I did not include in my interview to the author!

I was very captivated by this novel and really loved it. I look forward to more of what this author has to offer and seeing more character development, expansion of the spiritual warfare elements and developing world building. All the basics for this are in this novel.

Strongly Recommended (4/5 Stars).

World Building 5/5

Characterisation 4/5

Story 5/5

Spiritual Level 3/5

Enemy Spiritual Level 3/5

Average Rating 4/5

To read a sample from this novel or to buy it, click on the cover image below: