Fiction Review: R.J. Larson’s “Judge”

I’ve seen modern fantasy takes on the Old Testament prophets before. This one was different, and original, and I greatly enjoyed immersing myself in something that was not predictable.

Jonah, Jeremiah, Samuel; I saw each of their accounts pulled in to the larger story. Yet I didn’t feel like I was just rereading a Sunday school lesson where the names had been changed, and Larson’s created story woven around the parallels kept me intrigued. The universe created by Larson is rich and vivid, well-crafted and full. The different kingdoms, their customs and cultures, the land itself are all well-developed and bring life to the story. I know this is the second novel of a trilogy, and I must tip my hat to the author for not relying on her readers having read her first book to gain context; but also not rewriting everything so readers who start with the second book, as I have, won’t be lost. She found that perfect balance, it pulls the reader in, is well-developed, and the story never lost its footing or pace. I read from beginning to end without feeling bored, and when I put the book down it was with the satisfied feeling you get from a good meal, full and pleasant.

However, there was one major stumbling block for me during my reading. Theologically, this book is at war with itself. This jarred my reading over and over, making me unsure of where the author was trying to head, what the intent and overall purpose she was guiding us to might be. There is a strong battle between the idea of “those who CAN change” as one group and “those who WILL change” as another, and then at times, the book seems to use them interchangeably. The whole overarching theme is that of The Infinite (God’s) mercy toward those who have fallen away, or failed to heed his calling. Yet there are times when the Infinite says “they are condemned”, and then a few chapters later he tells his prophet to cry out to those same people and pray for them, if they repent and turn they will be saved. I am a great fan of stories of redemption, as they point to my Redeemer and Savior, but a story where the God figure rebukes his prophet for praying for the unredeemed made me come away with questions, and dig through my Bible for context.

I liked the book. I probably won’t read through it again, but it’s one I’d give to a friend as an “interesting read”. The theological inconsistencies bother me enough though, that I’m not sure I’d be interested in picking up more of this author’s material, which is a shame, because it’s so very well written.

I received a free copy of this book through the Bethany House Reviewer program.

Non-Fiction Review: Jessica Speart’s “Winged Obsession”

I heard about this book at the Denver Publishing Institute two summers ago, and have been waiting to get my hands on it. For all you fans of Castle, CSI, Miss Marple or any other form of crime-fighting/undercover-work stories, this one’s for you. Best part? It’s TRUE.

With its light blue cover emblazoned with a giant iridescent butterfly, one would not immediately associate this book with a gripping tale of intrigue, international smuggling, and crime rings. In fact, had I not read the first chapter for a DPI project, I probably would not have picked it up on my own. This is a key part of Marketing: to visually attract your target audience. This being my largest quibble with the book however, I think it says something about the strength of the story inside.

The story is about a rookie Fish and Wildlife undercover officer who gets assigned to take down the biggest butterfly smuggler in the world.

Yes, the Fish and Wildlife arm of the government have undercover agents (who knew?!?!)….and yes, butterfly smuggling is a huge  black market industry, rivalling most forms of drug trafficking in size and revenue.

The premise of the book is a little quirky, I’ll admit, but the author does a great job of enveloping you in the story, explaining things and developing the characters in such a way that you WANT to care about them, you get caught up in the web everyone is trying to weave around each other – from the smuggler who thinks he has a new patsy he can use as a fall guy, to the undercover agent who is trying to build his case and bring down the network.

The things the agent has to go through to finally get his man begin to border on the …weird. This book should come with a PG-13 rating, as some of the conversations at the end of the book are definitely not kid-rated. Since this is non-fiction, I have to tread lightly, as it actually happened, but I also think the reader kind of gets the point after a handful of the undercover conversations, and then the text begins to feel like filler to elevate the word-count.

Other than that, however, the story is written well, and keeps the reader engaged. I finished it in one sitting! I have a few people in mind I would definitely recommend this too, and a few I would definitely NOT. So take your chances folks, check this one out and tell me what you think!

~S.o.P.