Looking for something new and interesting to read? Consider these!

One of the things that seems to help our favorite authors more than just about anything we can do (beyond buying their books in the first place) is posting reviews–on Amazon, and on other sites. I know that some Amazon metrics seem to leave reviews out of the picture, but in other ways they help. 

I have been promising myself I’d sit down and write Amazon reviews of some of the books I’ve read recently, and I made good on that promise today. Once I’d started, it occurred to me that I should share some of them here, too. These are all science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novels that I have recently enjoyed. I hope you will enjoy them, too: 

Fluency and Remanence

By Jennifer Foehner Wells

Both of the covers are the work of artist Stephan Martiniere; Wells credits these covers with much of her early success as an indie publisher.

Grabbed me and wouldn’t let go! Thoroughly enjoyable

I ordered Fluency on the basis of a review posted on Twitter, and boy am I glad I did! This is an extremely interesting story of first contact that kept me wondering what would happen next, and happily “hooked” all the way through. I especially liked the complexity of the relationships and the excellent pacing. Jennifer Foehner Wells really knows how to write! (hint: buy the sequel, Remanence, while you’re at it!).

Gripping sequel adds to the stakes–this series just keeps getting better

Sequels often aren’t as good as the first book, but Remanence is definitely an exception to that. Jennifer Foehner Wells takes us deeper into the universe she has created, adds more fascinating non-terrestrials, and adds dramatically to the stakes. I found this just as gripping as the highly-readable first book, and I’m seriously frustrated that she hasn’t gotten the third one finished, as I write this. This is an excellent series. Buy this one when you buy Fluency!

Great news: Valence, the third book in Wells’ Confluence Series, is now in the works!

The Curse of Jacob Tracy 

By Holly Messinger

Supernatural terrors and engaging characters in the Old West 

Engaging characters and imaginative twists on folklore give this western gothic horror novel a special power. Holly Messinger is a promising new writer with interesting tales to tell. The push and pull between the main characters gives depth and resonance, the historical grounding is solid, and the monsters are vivid and challenging. The best news, once you’ve finished? There’s a sequel in the works!

A note about this novel’s cover: Designed by Jim Lin, the cover is an assemblage of images pulled from Shutterstock and Dreamstime. This is an increasing trend with some publishing companies. 

Ready Player One 

By Ernest Cline

The thrill of the game, and a hero with nerves of Adamantium

I’m not a big video game player and I also didn’t spend the formative years of my early adolescence during the 1980s, so at first I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy this book, but my son insisted, and even made sure I saw the movie War Games and the documentary Atari: Game Over, in preparation.

I’m glad he did. This is a book about an amazing adventure. The stakes couldn’t be higher–either in the virtual world of the OASIS, or in the gritty reality of a collapsing mid-21st-century world in the grip of recession and the effects of global warming. The story chronicles an epic battle between Big Capitalism and the little man; good versus evil; quick wits, nerve and knowledge versus overwhelming force. You’ll laugh, you’ll howl with outrage, and you’ll love the nail-biting suspense that runs right down to the end.

It took some detective work, but I finally discovered that this wonderful painting of “the Stacks” that forms the background of the cover art is by Joe Ceballos. The Stacks are a compelling image in the book, and I dearly love Ceballos‘ visualization.

The Promise 

By Robert Crais

Suspect (2014) introduced us compellingly to Officer Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie, who play an important part in Crais‘ new book, The Promise

This engaging thriller lived up to all of my high expectations 

I was eager to read this novel in which Crais‘ longtime series characters Elvis Cole and Joe Pike meet up with Suspect principals Scott James and his K-9 partner Maggie–and it totally lived up to my high expectations.

Elvis Cole makes a promise to a client–not realizing she has many more things to hide than she thought. Scott and Maggie get mixed into the case in the line of duty–but the dangers they face as a result range far beyond their normal occupational hazards.

This book kept me guessing right up to the satisfying conclusion. Scott and Maggie add an interesting new dimension to the adventures of Cole and Pike. I’d love to see all of these characters return for a third engagement sometime soon!

Another note on the covers: These, too are amalgamations from multiple sources, rather than being the work of a single artist. the Suspect cover is the work of MCJC Design, created partially from a photograph by Joseph Baylor Roberts, via Getty Images. The Promise cover is the work of designer Kaitlin Lim, built from the work of several photographers via Getty Images.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon for the cover art for: Fluency, Remanence, The Curse of Jacob Tracy, Ready Player One, Suspect, and The Promise.

The cover painting for Ready Player One by Joe Ceballos is courtesy of Motornomadics

A role model for being alive

We sure could find worse models to emulate.

puppy with flowers and quote The old cliche about “everything I need to know” doesn’t hold water–there are many things our dogs can’t teach us (how to balance a checkbook or write a blog post, for example). But the basic attitude of a dog toward life, and toward humans, is another story altogether.

Would that we ALL treated each other as gently and with as much compassion as well-socialized dogs treat us.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Mactoons for this image and quote. 

What do you think? An Artdog Image of Interest

As for me, I vote YES. This photo inspired quite a lot of commentary on my Facebook page, so I thought you might find it interesting to see on my blog.

Allow Partner Dog in Hospital Bed?

IMAGE: Many thanks to The German Shepherd Dog Community’s Facebook Page for this Artdog Image of Interest.

Amazing healing powers!

While not a cure-all, you might be surprised.

Sometimes the best cure for depression is something that gets us out of ourselves and focused on other things . . . . such as the love and needs of a puppy or rescue dog. Consider adopting a canine companion from your local animal shelter, if you’ve started to feel as if no one really cares about you. 

There’s no mistaking when a dog loves you! Of course, that love must be reciprocal for the magic to really work. Being someone your dog can count on will nearly always make you a better, happier person, too.

A note of caution, however: there are times when a good psychologist or psychiatrist really IS what’s needed (in addition to the dog, perhaps). Don’t use your dear best friend as an excuse not to seek help, if “puppy therapy” hasn’t improved your outlook substantially in a few weeks’ time at most. There are some chemical imbalances or other difficulties you really do need to see a human doctor about!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Mactoons for this image and quote. 

Great Evening With the InterUrban ArtHouse

This is a reblog of a popular post from my Artdog Observations blog. It was originally published on May 23, 2013.

As I described in last week’s post, a good critique can be valuable and energizing thing for an artist.

2013 05 01-01 I showed my work at Critique Night
Here’s my presentation at the InterUrban ArtHouse‘s ArtMatters Critique Night.  My audience includes, L-R: fellow artists Lori Sohl, Dora Agbas, Adam Finkelston, and Nicole Emanuel. Nicole founded the InterUrban ArtHouse.

I deeply value the insights of a weekly gathering of artist friends which we simply call Art Group.  I also had an opportunity recently to participate in the first-ever ArtMatters Critique Night, conducted May 1, 2013 by the InterUrban ArtHouse in Overland Park, KS.

 2013 05 01-07 Elizabeth Berkshire's presentation
Elizabeth Berkshire’s paintings are inspired by metal surfaces and rust textures. Her viewers, L-R, are sculptor Deron Dixon, JCCC’s Larry Thomas, Lori, Dora, me, and Adam, as above.
This Critique Night was held at a quaint, small-group gathering place called the Vintage House, and artists went through a process of submitting samples of work and applying to be invited.
2013 05 01-29 Larry Thomas comments on Deron Dixon's work
L-R: That’s me (red sweater) lurking in the background, listening to Larry Thomas discussing Deron Dixon‘s sculptu.
 2013 05 01-23 Kelly Seward comments on Linda Jurkiewicz's work
Kelly Seward comments on Linda Jurkiewicz’s artistic quilts.  Also visible L-R: DeronJerry Stogsdill, LarryAlex Hamil, me, the quilter herself, and (far R) Nicole.
 2013 05 01-31 Linda Seiner gives her presentation
Linda Seiner discusses her torn-paper paintings, while Larry and Lori look on at R.
 2013 05 01-10 Alex Hamil's presentation
Alex Hamil answers a question about his work, while (L-R) Lori, Dora, and I look on. You can see some of Dora’s work in the background at left and some of Elizabeth’s in the background at right.

Ten of us were included in the first Critique Night, while two designated experts, Larry Thomas, chair of the Johnson County Community College Fine Arts Department, and Kelly Seward, Director of Business Programs for ArtsKC, took the lead in each discussion.  InterUrban ArtHouse founder Nicole Emanuel was originally planning to offer comments as well, but a scheduling difficulty kept her away until the latter part of the event.

I recognized the work of Alex and Linda, as having also been displayed at the Arti Gras show, which I blogged about in February.

Followup notes:

the InterUrban ArtHouse has grown and expanded its mission since this article was originally written. Read more about its current scope on its website

Jerry Stogstill has taken a detour from his fascinating photography since I wrote this post in 2013. He is now a candidate to become the Kansas Representative of District 7, in an effort to change the current suicidal course of the Kansas Legislature. I love his art, but I also support his platform.

IMAGE CREDITS: I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the InterUrban ArtHouse and its Facebook Page, and to the multi-talented Nick Carswell, for the photos used in this post.  THANK YOU!

Wouldn’t you agree?

Personally, I’m with Will on this one.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Mactoons for this image and quote. 

Art and Religion–in Space!

Vacation Bible School starts at my church tomorrow (June 13, 2016), and runs through Thursday. This year, they’ve chosen a Star Wars theme, and titled it “Journey of the Jedi.” 

My initial reaction, based on the general fannish idea that “The Force” is a religion of its own, and the background understanding that Star Wars was based on the Hero’s Journey as outlined by the vehemently non-Christian Joseph Campbell, was, “Say what??” 

George Lucas based the first Star Wars movie on “the Hero’s Journey” archetype, as described by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book.

And I suspect I wasn’t the only one in the congregation who didn’t immediately put it together. But our Senior Pastor Dr. Michael Gardener addressed any such concerns head-on, in his sermon today. 

He pointed out, quite correctly, that the basic themes of the underlying storygood versus evil, the existence of  an all-pervasive force in the universe that exists beyond human (and nonhuman) comprehension, the “pull toward the light,” the value of self-sacrifice for the greater good, and the potential for redemption for even the lowliest and most unlikely, are highly compatible with the Christian message. 

He also discussed the role of the arts—literature, cinema, music, etc., in translating those concepts into something we can relate to. “So if this is a way that kids can connect” with these deep-level ideas, he told us, it is an appropriate tool for the teacher’s workbench of techniques. I heartily endorse this approach.

Science fiction is an art form that helps us stretch our imagination so we can take in new ideas.

I would add that this function of artistic expression to make ideas meaningful in new ways works the same for humans of all ages, not only kids. 

The arts—and that includes science fiction—are the bridge of meaning-making that we build between the unknown (perhaps the un-knowable) and our own understandings. It can work that way with the great truths of philosophy, faith, and all aspects of human existence, just as it can create bridges between different cultures

I’d like to turn my focus to the value of science fiction as a bridge of meaning-making that is compatible with religious thought

I just do not buy the idea that religion won’t travel with us into space (if you wish to be strictly literal, it already has). 

Anyone who believes that confronting the universe will not inspire spiritual thought hasn’t considered either the universe or humans.

I say this, because there is a persistent school of thought in science fiction that says once humans have become rational, scientifically sophisticated creatures and evolved beyond the need to create “self-comforting myths” about a force greater than themselves in the universe, they’ll leave “superstition and religion” behind. 

I call bullsh*t. 

There IS one part of that idea with which I can agree: the only way humans will lose their innate need for spiritual expression is for them to evolve into something else. Whether that’s a higher or a lower life-form, I’ll leave you to decide. 

Here’s a little perspective on our importance in the universe.

But there’s no way in hell (and I use that term advisedly) that we’re going to venture forth into the vastness of the universe, traveling in fragile little metal tubes that are the only shield between ourselves and certain death, and NOT say frequent and fervent prayers to some power greater than our puny selves. 

As John Young put it, “Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.”

The old adage, “there are no atheists in foxholes” applies fully. The very best way to realize you aren’t quite as powerful and self-sufficient as you thought you were, is to meet a force of nature in one of its more dangerous and powerful aspects. 

Meanwhile, if anyone greets me with the words, “May the Force be with you,” I plan to smile and reply: “And also with you.”

* * *

A footnote may be needed: There are people in the science fiction community, and also in the wider public, who make certain false assumptions about me, when I tell them I am a practicing Christian. So, for the record: 

NO, I do not believe everyone who does not believe exactly the way I do (or is LGBT, or divorced, etc.) will automatically go to Hell. (I also do not personally believe that the God of love whom I follow hates or destroys earnest, thinking people who struggle to live honest, ethical lives but were reared in, or chose, other-than-Christian expressions of spirituality or belief). 

NO, I do not believe that the Earth was created 4,000 years ago, or that a study of science requires one to be an atheist.

Along with my artist friend Lucy A. Synk, I believe that evolution is “a means God uses in the ongoing creation of the universe.”

NO, I do not believe that God created women and persons of color as second-class citizens.

NO, I do not believe that I have any right deny someone the legal right to have an abortion (or use birth control, or get a tattoo, or . . . your body is YOURS to control, okay?)

NO, I am not a social conservative. I am, in fact, a liberal whose focus is social justice, because of my Christian faith.

NO, I am not the only Christian who feels as if my religion has been hijacked in the public discourse by loud, often crazy, terrorists. 

Disagree with me in the comments if you feel the need to do so, but please keep the discourse succinct and civil.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Old Mission United Methodist Church, for the “Journey of the Jedi” banner, to Wikipedia, for the first-edition cover photo for Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to Wall 321 for the sfnal beach image (artist unattributed), to Science Fiction Quotes, for the Ray Bradbury quote (again–artist unattributed!), to Getty Images via HNGN for the image of Earth, the Moon and the universe beyond, to Space Answers for the image of the astronaut in the EVA suit, (and also for the John Young quote), and special thanks to Lucy A. Synk, for the use of her image Evolution.