Review: Until That Distant Day

France, in 1792, was an unsafe place, and not only for the king and queen. As revolutionary fever seized the nation, and Paris descended into tumult and violence, everyone’s security became threatened; everyone’s peace melted away.

Colette, in the thick of things with her revolutionary brother, finds her spirit drifting away from it. Regretting the past and fearing the future, filled with concern for those she loves and can no longer protect, Colette now reaches for things that have nothing to do with politics.

But, as the old saying has it, just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.

Until That Distant Day is a historical romance written by Jill Stengl and published by Rooglewood Press. The story fully entrenches itself in its historical setting; all sorts of fine details show a high level of research and create an encompassing sense of realism. The unrelenting heat, the political turmoil, the carriages in the streets, the characters’ reactions to a black slave – all invoke the world of 1792 Paris. But just as important are the little things. We watch the characters do small, daily acts, like going out to rain barrels for their water, and we taste the life they live.

The one historical element I would have liked to see expanded was the political conflict – not so much what happened but why it happened. Everybody wanted a republic instead of a monarchy, but why? I didn’t feel that the book explained the “first cause”, whatever troubles or grievances led the people to revolution in the first place. If I understood that unhappiness better, I might have understood better, and felt more, the cause and the passion surrounding it.

Until That Distant Day is a very character-driven book. Colette is a strong and complex character, both flawed and admirable. Claude and Pascoe, though sometimes unlikable, were yet understandable and ultimately sympathetic. All the characters felt very real, very human, from Tressy to Adrienne to Arnaud.

Although a romance, the novel is not primarily focused on the heroine getting her man. Other relationships are just as important to the story and just as deeply felt. I enjoyed seeing the brother/sister dynamic – a relationship that, for some reason, is often neglected in fiction. Even when stories feature sibling relationships, they tend to be brother/brother or sister/sister.

In some ways this novel is a study of humanity, and all our passions, faults, and virtues. Until That Distant Day shows sin and goodness entwining, in the world around us and in our own hearts. As a novel, it digs deep.

The historical milieu of Until That Distant Day is compelling and it imbues the story with a sense of danger. Impelled by its characters, with a wealth of human emotions and motivations, Until That Distant Day is a rich and profound novel.

CSFF Blog Tour: Like a Crusader

“Crusader perched like a gargoyle on a second floor ledge …”

So begins Numb – with Crusaders and gargoyles, icons of the Middle Ages and the Catholic Church.

Although there are obvious and significant differences between the True Church of Numb and the medieval Catholic Church, there are also definite similarities. The power exercised in the state is one such commonality, and so is the persecution of heretics. In the True Church’s schemes to subjugate the heathen Praesidium there is some parallel to the Crusades. Yet the parallels are limited. The Crusaders had two motivations absent entirely from the True Church: the Turkish persecution of Christian pilgrims in the Middle East and the apprehension of that land as the Holy Land.

There is a story from the Crusades to which Numb bears a remarkable resemblance. The First Crusade succeeded in taking Jerusalem in 1099, but as the years went by, the power of the Crusaders in the Middle East declined. They lost territory and Jerusalem became threatened.

So it was time for the Second Crusade. Pope Eugenius III urged King Louis VII of France to take part in the new Crusade and commissioned Bernard of Clairvaux to preach it. As Urban did for the First Crusade, Eugenius III made participating in the Second Crusade a cleansing penance for sins. He wrote to King Louis: “[B]y the authority granted us by God we concede and confirm to those who decide out of devotion to take up and complete so holy and so necessary a task and labor … remission of sins.”

And Bernard declared to the crowd at Vezelay, with King Louis at his side, “The din of arms, the danger, the labors, the fatigues of war, are the penances that God now imposes upon you. Hasten then to expiate your sins by victories over the Infidels.”

Now the king’s sin, which he wanted to expiate, was this: While waging war in Champagne, Louis VII sacked the city of Vitry and caused its church to be set on fire. More than a thousand people who had taken refuge in the church died in the flames.

These cruel deaths plagued the young king with guilt and remorse. The Pope and Bernard showed him the way to expiate his guilt: a Crusade to the Holy Land.

That is the similarity to Numb. As the Ministrix directed Crusader, so did the Catholic Church direct King Louis: service to God for the remission of sins, absolving guilt for death by inflicting death.

CSFF Blog Tour: Numb

Crusader is the best assassin the Church has, carrying out all his missions with heartless thoroughness. He is intelligent and methodical in his work, his skills well-honed. And he’s numb. No pain can stop him, no emotions can get in his way.

Until he is assigned a new victim and, for reasons he doesn’t understand, he can’t kill her.

Numb is a science fiction novel written by John Otte and published by Marcher Lord Press. The various technological trappings of the story give it a feel of classic blaster-and-spaceships sci-fi. I loved the idea of the space stations and of the Ceres colonizers. The abandoned Waystation was particularly evocative, giving me a feeling of how vast space is and how very easy for even large things to get lost.

The world-building showed some very nice touches; the cube-shaped New Jerusalem Station is one of them, but my favorite is this comment, delivered by one of the novel’s protagonists: “Tell me, did the earliest Christians arm themselves when the Emperor Nero trundled them off to the Vatican hippodrome as arsonists?”

This is a clever blending of fact (Nero’s scapegoating of Christians for the burning of Rome) with error (“the Vatican hippodrome”?). Time blurs history, and I enjoyed seeing that acted out in Numb. I appreciated that Otte in no way pointed out the confusion of facts, trusting his readers to catch it on their own.

The oblique reference to the Catholic Church was also interesting. The True Church is essentially a speculative version of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, transplanted from the Middle Ages to outer space. You could list the discrepancies between the True Church and even the medieval Catholic Church, but it still mirrors the Roman church in its political intrigue, persecution of heretics, and attempted subjugation of infidels. Alongside this, names like Inquisitor and Crusader and the Cathedral of Light are only superficial similarities.

If I had to name one fault of this book, it would be that characters’ actions didn’t always logically follow their motivations. It happened rarely, and even then was usually minor. One character, for example, showed himself wary of certain visitors to his installation but then casually shared vital information about the place.

In one place, however, it wasn’t minor. Reason would caution against helping, and then falling for, a bloody-handed assassin, especially one who had been assigned to kill you. But that’s what Isolda did. I think her decisions could have been justified, but she made them too quickly and with too little explanation.

Numb is a fast-paced story that takes surprising turns and, in it all, leaves space to the characters, through whom the novel gains emotional power. Add an intriguing framework built from the history of our past and theories of our future, and Numb establishes itself as a winning piece of sci-fi.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Sci-fi and MLP

And so the CSFF blog tour begins again. This month’s book is Numb, written by John Otte and published by Marcher Lord Press.

Numb is science fiction, a distinction in Christian speculative fiction these days. At some point fantasy became the dominant subgenre, trailed by apocalyptic fiction, dystopians, the angel/demon stories, “supernatural thrillers” (basically horror, people), and, yes, science fiction.

With an abundance of fantasy to enjoy, I am always happy to come across Christian sci-fi. I like well-done sci-fi as much as well-done fantasy, and I don’t often find it in my wanderings through Christian fiction. I was glad to receive Numb for review, and I will be glad to write about it these next two days.

Numb is, as far as I know, the first book released by Marcher Lord Press to be toured by the CSFF. But then, my knowledge of CSFF tours is not exactly exhaustive, so you probably don’t want to quote me on that. I won’t even mention any speculation that this month’s tour of Numb is somehow resultant of MLP changing hands at the beginning of the year. So you shouldn’t quote me on that, either, unless of course we learn someday that it’s true, in which case you can tell everyone you heard it here first.

But enough rumor-mongering. On to the links:

Numb on Amazon;

John Otte’s website;

and the blog tour, so that you may see what our tourers made of this sci-fi offering:

Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Nikole Hahn
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Jennette Mbewe
Amber McCallister
Shannon McNear
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Faye Oygard
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White


From the Office of Cooking Experiments

We at the Office of Cooking Experiments are proud to once again offer you, the home cook, the benefit of our experience and knowledge. “We make mistakes so you don’t have to” is our motto. So read on, cooks of America, and do as we say, not as we did.


Always cook from a recipe. That way, nothing is ever your fault. You can always blame the recipe, like so:
I don’t know why it’s taking so long. The recipe said half an hour and it’s already been in the oven forty-five minutes.
I wasn’t sure about the amount of salt, but it’s what the recipe said.
The combination of anchovies and peanut butter sounded weird, but the recipe had a four-star rating.


When making meatloaf, you should add either oatmeal or bread torn into pieces. We prefer oatmeal. It’s easier.


Everything needs salt. You wonder why this is, why even chocolate cake and strawberry lemon zest mousse need salt? We wonder, too. We don’t understand it. But put the salt in, like the recipe says.


Do not use celery. There is no purpose to celery, except to maybe exercise your jaw muscles. We have left the celery out of many, many recipes that called for it and never noticed the difference.


Do not try to make any recipe with more than two ingredients you have never heard of.


If a recipe calls for buttermilk, you can buy the buttermilk at the grocery store, or you can whip up an easy substitute, taking normal milk and mixing in one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice for every cup of milk. Or you could take the normal milk and just pour it right in. We at the Office of Cooking Experiments project that adding vinegar or lemon juice will make the milk sour, and who needs sour milk? We recall the old Irish song about drinking buttermilk through the week, and we judge this to be one of the reasons so many of the Irish ended up in America. There are many Irish-Americans, but you’ll notice that none of them drink buttermilk through the week.


The experienced cook evaluates recipes for three things: flavor, cost, and ease of preparation. As a general rule, each one comes at some cost to the others.

Movie Review: Peter Pan

All children grow up, except one. And Peter Pan, eternally young in Never Land, has another sort of immortality in the real world. Everyone knows who Peter Pan is.

Of all the re-tellings of Peter Pan over the years, Disney’s 1953 film may well be the most famous. A skilled artistry underlies the whole movie. The animation shows an expert hand. The writers wove together a complete story, with a villain and resolution and change, and sprinkled it generously with humor. The composers contributed a few lively songs, as well as the classic “Second Star to the Right” and the tender “Your Mother and Mine”.

While the Darling family is sympathetic and more or less normal, the denizens of Never Land have a strange tendency to seesaw in their natures. Captain Hook is sometimes a villain of brute and even senseless force, sometimes a villain of considerable cunning. At some points in the movie he’s a dapper sophisticate, and more often he’s a victim of comic mischance and the sort of slapstick only an animated movie could pull off. (I recently watched the movie with a small child, and apparently the slapstick sequences are hilarious.)

Tinker Bell spends the first half of the story in a fit of such burning jealousy that she actually tries to engineer Wendy’s death. But if she, among all the protagonists of the story, commits the most ignoble act, she also commits the most noble one. Her self-sacrificial rescue of Peter Pan grows into the only tender scene that revolves around Peter.

Which leads me to Peter Pan, the title character who is so much at the center of the action and so much on the edges of the film’s emotion. He whisks Wendy and her brothers to Never Land, and he sets off Captain Hook’s aggravated quest to get him. Though he readily engages Hook, all the life-and-death passion is on the captain’s side; Peter Pan plays the game with zest, but no gravity. And though he brings Wendy to Never Land to be his mother and the Lost Boys’ mother, he begins to forget about her shortly after they arrive. First the mermaids, then Tiger Lily draw his attention away.

In addition to this forgetfulness, Peter Pan showed a streak of mean-spiritedness – laughing as the mermaids ganged up on Wendy, humiliating Hook after defeating him.

Yet there is the scene of Tinker Bell’s rescue, which takes Peter Pan out of himself and his own self-enjoyment. And there is a poignant moment where he – listening alone to Wendy’s song about mothers – snaps his arrow in half.

Walt Disney was dissatisfied with Peter Pan when his company finally finished it, finding Peter Pan cold and unlikable. But there’s no greater tribute to Disney’s success than calling Peter Pan one of his failures. It’s a fun movie, an adventure filled with memorable and sometimes charming characters. Even Captain Hook is entertaining; even Peter Pan is fascinating.

In Praise of LibriVox

Some time ago my brother told me about an organization called LibriVox that offers countless audiobooks free of charge. And I did not check it out, because I have never been that crazy about audiobooks.

I do aerobics for my exercise. (Yes, we’re still on the same subject; stick with me.) The aerobics are okay, but after a while it can get very boring. For a long time I listened to music; then I tried a few podcasts. Then I had what was, for me, truly a novel thought:

Why not listen to audiobooks?

So, long after hearing about LibriVox, I finally made my way to www.booksshouldbefree.com, where I found LibriVox recordings of many books. I first listened to G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who was Thursday, because it had gotten snagged in my imagination and I was thinking of it anyway.

Yes, that’s how I started my adventure into audiobooks: With a book I had already read. After poking around Chesterton’s works, I decided to see what they had under the “science fiction” heading. Since then I’ve wandered back and forth between authors I’d never heard of and authors I’d already tried. I’ve listened to some good books, and one or two that disappointed me.

All books on LibriVox and Booksshouldbefree are out of copyright, and consequently, they’re old. The most contemporary books I’ve listened to are about fifty years old; the others are one hundred or more. On these sites I’m largely outside my normal selection. I browse through authors and titles, most unfamiliar, and just choose. Often enough I end up listening to books I would not have had the time or inclination to sit down and read.

And so LibriVox has expanded my horizons. The last book I listened to was The Diary of a Nobody, written by George and Weedon Grossmith in 1888-89. The book is now so old that it has become historically interesting, and it possesses a dry humor. But if I had seen it on a library shelf, I probably wouldn’t have set aside my normal reading for it.

LibriVox audiobooks have helped me in another way. I almost never listen to these books except while I’m exercising, but it has given me a whole new motivation to exercise. “If I exercise, I’ll get another chapter or two,” I think to myself now.

So here’s a word in praise of LibriVox – good for your mind and, under the right circumstances, good for your body, too.