#BlogTour: A Better Man by Michael Ian Black

I got invited to work with another blog tour, this time working with a celebrity I’ve seen on my screens enough to be aware of the name and to have a generally good impression of. So for this tour, we’re looking at a book written by comedian Michael Ian Black talking about… well, most everything under the sun in what is truly a letter of love to his son on the event of his son leaving for college. This really is one of those kinds of books that so many fathers wish they could write to their own sons, and even more wish they had the ability to tell their sons their own thoughts on these topics and many similar ones. And that is the truest, brightest fact about this book: Black’s love for his son shines through in ways I’ve very rarely encountered in any other book. Which alone is more than enough reason to recommend picking up this book. Yes, I did in fact have a couple of quibbles with it as I discuss below in the Goodreads review. But even more than those, seriously, read this book just to see what so many sons wish their fathers could have told them and what so many fathers wish they could tell their sons. Truly a superb job, and you should absolutely go buy this book for yourself.

And the Goodreads review…

More Solid Than Jello, Less Solid Than Steak: Advice From Father To Son On The Event Of The Son Leaving For College. And with that long-ass title out of the way… 😀 Seriously, this is a near-perfect letter of advice about life, love, and other mysteries from father to son as the son heads off to college and happens to have a celebrity dad. His statements about mass shootings are 100% demonstrably incorrect in a couple of places (and I in particular once analyzed such data at a level *few*, *if any*, others have), and his statements about Ayn Rand and White Guilt are philosophically incorrect (but in line with expectations given his own liberal philosophy), but otherwise what Black writes here rings true. And nearly as importantly, the love for his son rings through even louder than any moral or philosophical point he makes here. This is a type of letter than nearly any man wishes his dad would have left him, and Black truly does an excellent job of showing his own thinking and philosophies about the various issues discussed. In the end, I personally would love a celebrity from the right – as well as one of the very few celebrity anarchists such as possibly Woody Harrelson – to write similar public letters for their own kids, as between the three one would likely get an even stronger overall look at the topic at hand. But for exactly what it is, this truly is a phenomenal work with a quibble here or there, and very much recommended.

#HypeTrain: Hairpin Curves by Elia Winters

In this second of two weekend-bookending #HypeTrain posts, we’re switching from MM romance to FF romance and from the high-stakes world of Hotshot firefighters to a more all-too-real-for-many-of-us tale of broken friendships and a road trip.

Today’s book is Hairpin Curves by Elia Winters, and here’s what I had to say about it on my normal review channels:

What Happens On The Road Trip… Won’t Stay On The Road Trip. This was a fun road trip tale featuring classic road trip items, much angst, some increasingly hot sexy times through much of the back half (ish) of the tale, and, since it *is* a romance, a HEA to close. I’m not quite as prolific in the FF romance ARC scene as MF or MM, but this largely follows the standard romance format no matter the particular sexualities. (Though in my experience, MM tends to have the most sex for some reason.) If you like romance at all, this is definetly a book to try out. If you like road trip tales at all, this is definetly a book to try out. If you’re looking for a good summer read or even trapped inside (for whatever reason 😉 ) read, this is absolutely a good book to try out. Very much recommended.

As I mentioned, this really was a fun book, and I hope you’ll be open to trying it out no matter what you normally read. 🙂

#HypeTrain: High Heat by Annabeth Albert

In this first of two weekend-bookending #HypeTrain posts, we’re returning to the world of MM romances set in the world of hotshots and smoke jumpers that Annabeth Albert created a few months ago now in this second book in that series.

Today’s book is High Heat by Annabeth Albert, and here’s what I had to say about it on my normal review channels:

Less Smoke, More Fire. In this second book in a new series, we follow one of the people who was featured in the first book as he continues his recovery from events there. And the book really is more about recovery and coming to terms with limits rather than the more overt firefighting of the first book. Here we get a much more personal drama rather than being so intensely focused on the overall world of Hotshots and Smoke Jumpers as the first book was. And there is a *lot* more sex. Which fans of the genre will likely appreciate. But much less actual firefighting, though one scene in particular *strongly* evokes the real-life drama of the Yarnell Fire and the book Granite Mountain/ My Lost Brothers by Brendan McDonough or the movie Only The Brave that was based on that book. Ultimately a strong book in its own right, it manages to hold its own in this world and in this particular culture while being free to be its own entity… which is actually a large theme in the book itself. Very much recommended.

These have been my first books from Albert, and she is truly showing a solid range of overall styles here, going from intensely in the overall culture of Hotshot firefighters in the first book to a more character driven focus here. Truly impressive work, and I hope you’ll check it out. 🙂

#HypeTrain: Burn Zone by Annabeth Albert

Been a while since I’ve actively done a #HypeTrain post, and while my ARC work has been going strong I haven’t been participating in as many Release Day blitzes – mostly *because* my other ARC work has kept me so busy. But this week we have a special treat – a MM romance set in a community that normally has been a bit more… resistant… to such romances. So let’s get started with this blitz, shall we?

The book in question is Burn Zone by Annabeth Albert, a Carina Press (an imprint of Harlequin) effort, and here’s what I had to say about it on my normal review distribution sites:

MM Romance Set In The World Of Granite Mountain/ My Lost Brothers. This is book 1 of a new series that takes a fairly bold and atypical approach – it sets a MM romance in the hyper masculine world of hotshots and smokejumpers – paramilitary firefighter specialists seemingly primarily employed in the western part of the US. (Having spent my life in the southeastern corner of the US, I’ve never heard of these groups outside of this book, Smokejumper by Jason Ramos – which I still need to actually read – and Granite Mountain/ My Lost Brothers by Brendan McDonough / Only the Brave, the movie based on that book.)

And Albert does an excellent job of combining the genre expectations of MM romance, where the sex seemingly plays as big a role as the actual romance a lot of times, with the real world implications of such a romance in such a world. At least based on my reading of Granite Mountain – my only view into that world before reading this book – the details provided seem accurate, from the way the teams work and effectively live together to the dangers they face both in training and in actual firefighting missions. And even in the larger world, with how uncommon anything beyond “normal” MF romance is within that community and thus the resistance a “non-standard” couple could/ likely would face there with family and friends.

Truly an outstanding effort in the field, I very much appreciate the author being willing to take risks and go into atypical areas. Very much recommended.

Below the jump, an page and a half or so excerpt that IIRC was about 30% ish through the story of the book (no real spoilers within it, and honestly it is a type of scene here that I probably would have asked for even if I had requested a custom excerpt):
Continue reading “#HypeTrain: Burn Zone by Annabeth Albert”

#HypeTrain: White Peak by Ronan Frost – the Q&A!

This past Sunday, I shared a bit about a new release this week from St. Martin’s Press by “debut author” Ronan Frost called White Peak.

This book was seriously one of the best adventures I’ve read in a while, and the twist ending makes it even more compelling for me. Since I don’t want to wait seven years for the sequel, I’m promoting this book a bit more than normal in the hope that I get to come back to this world sooner rather than later. So go buy it! That’s right, for those that checked the link on “seven years” or recognized that I’ve only ever noted that particular fact for exactly one particular book, “Ronan Frost” is indeed a character in Steven Savile’s SILVER and GOLD. GOLD was a Featured New Release of the Week here back when it released in September, and Steven has been a Facebook friend for many years dating back to when I joined a particular book club on Facebook that he was already an active member in. Below are some questions from me about White Peak in particular, and Steven reveals several things about himself in his answers that I had never known. So let’s get to the Q/A, shall we?

Q: This story begins with an active shooter situation in a shopping mall that sounds somewhat similar to a real life events that happen all too often these days. Was this scene inspired by real life events?

A: A couple of years ago I was sitting in a small café with one of my closest friends, just having a catch up. Life’s pretty slow here in the wilds of Sweden—there are about two thousand trees for every soul—and we’re just BSing about Brexit and the madness of the world when he notices he’s got 35 missed calls from his partner. The stomach tends to sink when you look at your phone and realize someone is that desperate to reach you. So, I decide I better give him a little privacy, thinking something must have happened and wanting to be pretty much anywhere other than that café, right then. So, I take my phone out and decide to give him as much privacy as I can as he tries to call back. I open the app for one of the national papers and the headlines, still developing, claim that a terrorist attack is happening right there and then in Stockholm. So he’s still trying to reach his wife but the phone network keeps dropping the call. I push my phone across the table and he stares down at the news that an eighteen wheeler has killed pedestrians and driven into the perfume department of the big flagship department store. My mate’s face then, I’ll never forget it. His wife has gone down to Stockholm for the day, shopping. Suddenly the 35 missed calls make sense.

He gets through. She’s upstairs in the department store. People are panicking. They don’t really understand what’s happening. But she’s okay. Natural instinct is to go down, there are three main escalators, two banks of elevators. But the elevators come out too close to the perfume department, same with two of the escalators.

Technology is an incredible thing, using my phone we can watch live footage of the news streaming from the department store, and see where the worst of it is, so we know to tell her not to head down into the perfume department. There’s a staff staircase near the back which leads out into an underground parking lot. We tell her to head for that, keeping the line open.

In reality it was a happy ending, but my brain doesn’t work that way. Even as she’s going down the stairs talking to him I’m thinking: Christ, could you imagine anything worse than listening to a loved one caught in the middle of a terror attack and there’s nothing you can do… the answer of course was yes, there’s one thing worse, that’s listening to your loved one die in the middle of an attack and desperately scrabbling around for coins to keep the line open while you do… the fact that the story is set initially in the US meant looking for the kind of terror that is all too common, and that was always going to be more mundane, domestic, if you like. An active shooter situation, watching it play out on live tv, Rye, the hero, trying to steer his wife out of there and instead putting her right into the path of the shooter.

Q: It seems you were pretty busy in your former life and that this debut novel is a way to calm down from that. Is there any new insight you can offer about the terrorist incidents across Europe in the last few years and your involvement in working to stop them?

A: Hah, yeah, that stuff was a long time ago, and not as glamourous as it sounds. I graduated uni in the early 90s, right around the fall of the iron curtain, the end of the cold war. Back home we were rationalizing and centralizing our defence operations. We had several depots duplicating the work of others, so were looking to move all navy operations to Bath, for instance, closing down a lot of the regional stuff. My first day I was basically introduced as a hatchet man. I was going to spend the first few months there evaluating everyone and then writing the competitive tenders for parliament to see who kept and who lost their jobs. I’m basically a kid at this stage, and I’m telling 25,000 people you won’t be able to pay your bills next month. So, when the opportunity to get involved in more faceless stuff, I leapt at it.

A lot of the stuff is covered by the Official Secrets Act, so I can’t go into detail, even though we’re over 25 years on stuff ought to be declassified by now. Better safe than sorry. What I can talk about was after I quit, I decided to go back to uni and do my PhD. Within days of getting the okay I was approached by my old professor from my economics and politics degree, saying he’d been asked to put together an advisory group to go to Russia and help find alternatives for the economic crisis they were experiencing. I don’t know if you remember the times, but you’d see food queues going halfway down the block and around the corner, just hoping to buy a loaf of bread, and McDonalds had just opened their first restaurant in the city, where a Big Mac menu was a full week’s wage for a Russian worker. So, when he came to me asking if I wanted to be involved, given my other background with the MoD, I jumped at it. I mean, few weeks away, all expenses paid, in a different world, who wouldn’t? When everything was set up, all the visas and permits secured, and we were basically on the runway we were approached by intelligence and given various briefings for what was expected of us. There were moments when it felt like I was living in a Le Carre novel, to be honest. It was a different time. There were lavish diplomatic parties and the sheer extravagance of the new money wanting to prove anything and everything was buyable, there were new businesses trying to set up and get established that didn’t understand that everything was dependent upon bribes, even meetings with government officials. Nothing happened without the wheels being greased, but these people weren’t going to say ‘this is what we want to make x happen’ so part of what we did there was work out what it was they wouldn’t or couldn’t say they wanted, and make sure our people knew. Wheel greasing.

Of course, my namesake or should that be pseudonym’s sake, has a much more interesting life than me. You see, I am Ronan Frost and Ronan Frost is me, but long before I became him, I created him. Back in 2011 I wrote a novel under my real name, Silver, which was one of the top 30 bestselling books in the UK that year. It was an assassination plot novel, with Ronan Frost a member of the deniable ops group caught up in the middle of it, trying to stop the credible threat on the Pope’s life…

So why take the name? Well, it goes back to a conversation with my editor at St Martins, who said ‘Why don’t you give us a novel like Silver?’ and we knocked a few ideas around, came up with White Peak, and he said, ‘We’re going to need a name for the contract, doesn’t really matter what it is, we can change it down the line…’ I hate picking pseudonyms. It’s a seriously weird thing to do. So, because he’d said he wanted a book like Silver I plucked Frosty’s name out of the air purely for the contract. Six months later, as I was delivering the book I had a different name on the file, and my editor saw it and said, ‘What’s with you changing the name? We’ve been working with Ronan Frost for months now, let’s stick with it…’ so, when I was wrapping up Gold, the conclusion to the story started in Silver, I got to the last page, all the shouting is done, the bad guys vanquished, and one of the other characters turns around to Ronan and asks, ‘So what are you gonna do now?’ to which he replies, ‘I think I might write a book…’

So, Ronan’s been involved in some pretty hair raising stuff. He certainly made enemies in high places. And done a lot more to fight terror than his creator. But, there’s a line from Silver I think sums a lot of it up – it’s about inspiring the emotion of fear, that means it’s about the spectacle. I grew up during what we called The Troubles in Northern Ireland. These were the days when the IRA were perpetrating terrorist attacks on the mainland. We couldn’t have garbage bins in train stations and shopping malls for fear they’d be used to hide bombs. It was almost civil. They had code words they’d use to identify themselves when they called in to the police to warn them a bomb had been planted in x location. Most of the time that gave people the chance to evacuate, though we did see a loss of life it was nothing like the scale of what it might have been. But that all changed after 9/11. The sheer scale of the horror of that attack made what was happening between the Catholics and protestants in North Ireland almost redundant. They just couldn’t instill fear on a comparable level. There was a new kind of terror. The old gods were dead, if you know what I mean?

Jeff Note here: That last question was designed for Ronan as an easy way for Steven to promote SILVER and GOLD as well as White Peak, and wound up telling me a lot of fascinating stuff about my friend that I had never known!

Q: In any adventure book such as this, the locations tend to be nearly as important as the action itself. Did you get to do any traveling to see the regions these characters find themselves in? What locations presented the most challenges to describe in the context of the story?

A: I’m a huge lover of travel. I’ve got a peripatetic soul. I swear, by the time I was forty I’d lived in forty different houses. The last few years have been the most settled I’ve ever been. I’ve got some bucket list places I still haven’t visited, places like Machu Pichu and the Great Wall, but yeah, I’ve been to a lot of the places that feature in the book, and will feature in subsequent books if the series gets to continue. The private bank scene, for instance, that’s the truth the whole truth and nothing but. And seriously bizarre. But I’ve never made it as far as the Himalayas. The thing is, where I live temps regularly drop down into the low -20s/-30s and if we get snowfalls in November they’re with us until April or May. Last year we had about nine weeks where the snow was knee deep at least, and where it had banked up was head high along the ploughed roads, etc. I’ve got a dog, Buster, an Irish Wheaten Terrier. We go out into the woods every day and hunt for deer spores and stuff to activate his mind. The woods in the wilds of winter, knee deep snow, -30s, it’s not such a stretch to imagine the hell that is high altitudes and low temps. I’d come in from a walk having focused on a turn of phrase or idea to encapsulate the burning muscles, frost-burned lungs, etc, without having to imagine all that hard.

Q: Do you believe there is any factual basis to the legendary myths such as those tracked in this tale? If so, might it be possible to locate them now? If not, why not?

A: I think there’s an element of truth in some of these, sure. I mean, do enough research you start to notice patterns. The idea of wisdom falling from the stars, for instance. It’s vague. It doesn’t feel unreasonable. It’s not like claiming the holy grail is literally a cup that Christ drank from and his blood was collected in, so therefore would contain trace elements of his divine DNA. But legends, some, like King Arthur, not so much, but I like the stories. Others, like the Seal of Solomon being able to translate all languages and command demons, yeah, more unreasonable. But there’s a power to the myths that gives them longevity. We need them. We need the stories of Achilles and Agamemnon, of Lancelot and Galahad, Siege Perilous and the Spear of Destiny. Life would be lessened without them. They resonate with us for a reason, they’re speaking truths we understand and need to hear. But are we going to be able to dig under the ice and find a lost race? Nah, though if we get lucky maybe we’ll find a lost evolutionary step or something equally incredible. And maybe just maybe those legends will inspire new generations to want to look. That can’t be a bad thing.

Q: Since we’re all about book confessions on BookAnon, what is your juiciest secret as an author? What about as a reader?

A: Hmm, that’s not as easy as it might sound… okay. It’s not exactly secret, but… my first stories for were for what we call lads mags in the UK, top shelf stuff. I did maybe half a dozen for different soft core porn mags. I was about 17 at the time, too young to actually buy the magazines my stories appeared in. They had terrible titles like Beating the Meat… a boxing sex story haha… anyway, one weekend my mum was cleaning up my room and found the stash of porn mags under my bed and threw them away… so I don’t have any copies of my earliest stories.

As a reader, I don’t think I have any secrets… though… now I come to think of it… post-divorce, back when I was still teaching and fairly new to Sweden, I used to go to my mate’s bar because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I’d order the ribs or a burger and read at the bar for a few hours while he pottered around serving people and having a good time, and no one ever bothered me. I mean not once. They didn’t ask what I was reading, or if I minded if they joined me, nothing. It was like a cloak of invisibility. Then one day I decided I’d check out this new book I’d heard a bit about, maybe it was something we could use teaching the kids… So I go into the bar, order my food and start reading and within five minutes this woman comes over and asks if the book is any good. We chat for a few minutes. Then she leaves me alone. Maybe fifteen minutes later another woman smiles and comes over saying how great the book is, she’s reading it to her daughter at the moment. And this goes on all night. Seriously. There must have been a dozen women who came up to talk to me that night. The book? Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was way before the hubbub. The next night I was back to reading my normal stuff and no one talked to me. I mentioned it to my barman mate, and we decided to test the hypothesis, so every other night I’d read Potter in the bar, and every time I did at least five or six, and as many as a dozen women would come to talk to me, using the book as an ice breaker. But only Potter. So, during the days I’m teaching college English. I ask the kids to ponder why it might be, what is it about the book that makes it work. And we came up with an answer. See, the women who talked to me were invariably single mums, and there I was, a guy who either had kids or was comfortable enough in myself to read a kids book in public, or a guy in need of mothering. For a little while it was like I’d discovered a super power haha.

Many thanks to Steven for writing this book and giving such great responses to my questions, NetGalley for hosting the ARC I read, and St. Martin’s Press for granting the ARC request and asking me to be on this blog tour. Now go out and buy this book so I don’t have to wait seven years to see a sequel! 😀

#HypeTrain: White Peak by Ronan Frost

White Peak is a book from “debut author” (at least under this pseudonym) Ronan Frost that starts out with a literal bang and becomes an adventure race across much of the northern hemisphere. As of this post, it releases in just a couple of days, on May 21, and can be preordered from any of several outlets via this link.

My Goodreads/ Amazon review shows a few of my thoughts on this book:

Who Knew A Fictional Character Could Write This Well? In this debut work by fictional character Ronan Frost, we get a solid action/ adventure tale of a man haunted by being on the other end of the phone when his wife is killed in a mass shooting being recruited to find a mysterious map for one of the world’s wealthiest men. The action is taut, the mystery is compelling, and the locations include some rarely if ever used in novels before. Truly an outstanding work. Particularly for a fictional character.

Here’s hoping we get a sequel from this new author far faster than we got the sequel he appears in. 😉

Yes, Ronan is fictional and a pseudonym for a real-life long time friend. Ronan is actually one of the primary characters in a book that has been reviewed on this very blog last year, though for now I’m still playing into the mystery and choosing not to reveal him (even though it isn’t an actual secret). All will be revealed on Weds, May 22, when I post a Q and A #HypeTrain post about this same book with the real life friend… that we conducted through St. Martin’s Press’s official channels, as said official channels are actually where I was invited to this blog tour from. 🙂

For now, how about I let you check out the explosive first chapter of the book that I describe in the review above?
Continue reading “#HypeTrain: White Peak by Ronan Frost”

#HypeTrain: The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister

With this post, we’re looking at a book that marks the first time I’ve ever been invited to be a part of a blog tour. The book featured in this tour is The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister, and in general it starts out feeling like The Giver… and then becomes more than even that award winning best selling book ever dreamed of. As of this post, it releases in just under a week on May 21, 2019 – and is available for preorder, which I very much recommend.

Here’s my Goodreads/ Amazon review of the book, to give an idea of my own thoughts:

Observe the World. Unlock the World. This book starts out feeling like The Giver – and considering how long-beloved that book is, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But then it morphs into a tale of a young woman finding herself and becomes so much… more. Truly a spectacular work that ends on the same kind of note as another highly successful pop culture phenomenon – Avatar. Amazing work, very much recommended.

And below the jump we feature the excerpt that this blog tour allowed me to publish here. This particular scene is deep into the book – in the 80% done range – but doesn’t feature any major spoilers (just a minor if somewhat expected one). So consider this a SPOILER WARNING for any who are particularly sensitive to even the most minute of spoilers. I specifically chose this selection because it contains my singular favorite line of the entire book – which I’ll bold – and specifically asked for this exact snippet of the chapter to avoid more significant spoilers. (One interesting note: The chapters of this book are not numbered. They are named. This particular one is called “Cocktails”.)
Continue reading “#HypeTrain: The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister”

#HypeTrain: Robinsonfest 2018

Two weeks from this morning, I take an Uber over to Jacksonville International Airport to fly up to Boston’s Logan International Airport to take a bus to Portsmouth, NH. There, I will finally meet a man I met online back in the Myspace era a decade ago. Back then, the guy had written just two novels, and was publishing them on demand (the Kindle had just come out a year earlier and was still a few years away from becoming what it is now). I ordered both of his books from him, and when I read The Didymus Contingency, I was hooked. (The organization featured in that book is actually the one featured on the light gray shirt in the picture.) Antarktos Rising, featuring a crustal displacement event a couple of years before the movie 2012 would come out and make that idea somewhat popular, just sealed the deal. From that moment, I read every book this author put out – now over five DOZEN books in that decade.

This author – Jeremy Robinson – has become the single one I recommend the most to people, in part because he really is that good and in part because of how prolific he is. I say he is the Master of Science Fiction, and there is a reason for that – I know of no other author (ever) who has written in more science fiction sub genres than he has. And not only that, but with the characters and ideas he writes about, it is to the point that almost no matter what a particular reader is interested in, there is probably a Jeremy Robinson book that is close enough that they may be interested in reading it.

And over the decade, it has been one hell of a ride. I’ve been so scared I had nightmares for weeks (TORMENT). I’ve read PULSE pounding military/ creature thrillers with the Chess Team / Jack Sigler Adventures – which are coming to a close with the next book in the series. I’ve sailed over and under the Atlantic with the fish from the Biblical story of Jonah in KRONOS. I’ve explored the furthest reaches of the galaxy – and my own mind – in INFINITE. I’ve watched a young woman who just discovered she was pregnant try to go THE DISTANCE and survive an apocalypse for herself and her unborn child, and I’ve watched another young woman named Jenna Flood survive a bomb meant to kill her and fight to find out why someone wanted her dead. I’ve watched surviving Nazis try to create a SECONDWORLD, and I’ve seen a man who everyone thinks is Crazy be able to walk in a MIRRORWORLD. I’ve seen a XOM-B, and I’ve seen an APOCALYPSE MACHINE and I’ve seen a DIVIDE to try to save at least some of humanity. I’ve seen a PROJECT with Godzilla and Pacific Rim style giant monster/ robot fights, and experienced an Avengers Level Event that was at least as long in the making as the original Marvel’s Avengers movie – and even more epic. (Without giving too much away there, whereas in Marvel’s Avengers, the team had to come together to save *one* Earth, in Jeremy’s Event his team has to come together from multiple realities to save ALL realities.) I’ve watched a kid be kidnapped by monsters and transform into the King of Antarktos, with unparalleled power over that continent’s elements.

And I’ve even personally caused the Apocalypse by trying to save the planet by solving world HUNGER.

Yes, I – among many of his other fans in various books – have been written into one of Jeremy’s books. So far, I’ve survived – hence the top shirt in the pic above. I’ve even gotten a version of the tattoo that features heavily in UNITY, where a group of kids have to come together to save the world. To my knowledge, I am literally the only real person with this tattoo. (Another fan of Jeremy’s has a tattoo of a symbol featured heavily in the CHESS TEAM books.)

So now I actually get to finally meet the man behind all of these adventures in person and hang out with him for a weekend in his own turf at an event – Robinsonfest – that he has been putting on for a few years now. I get to share a few meals with him and go go-karting with him and go searching for Leviathan with him and hang out in an area somewhat similar to the Chess Team’s base of operations, among other things. I even get to meet at least a few people I’ve met online through Jeremy, including his editor and co-author Kane Gilmour, a friend I run a Facebook group with and who is an author himself in Xander Weaver, and a few other mega-fans of Jeremy’s that I’ve known on Facebook for several years. (And I may wind up dragging them over to Maine to try “barbecue” tofu – because this Southerner distrusts any Yankee claiming to be able to barbecue, and “barbecue” tofu is just blasphemy. If nothing else, I have to go try this stuff myself. :D)

For me, this is more exciting than going to Disney World – and may well be the same kind of trip that most people have at Disney: once in a lifetime.

But even if it is once in a lifetime, it is going to be one hell of an adventure, and I can’t wait. 😀

#HypeTrain: Jonathan Merritt’s Learning To Speak God From Scratch

Earlier this year – back in February or so – Jonathan Merritt told his social media followers that his new book was on pre-order already and would be released in a few months. I’ve been a fan of Jonathan’s since his 2012 book A Faith of Our Own, so there was no question – I immediately pre-ordered the book. Didn’t even have to know anything about it other than he wrote it.

I actually recently had a chance to actually read the book as an ARC, and – to steal part of the title of his 2014 book – it was “Better Than I Imagined“.

The setup was a familiar tale of a kid from the suburban South moving to the Big Apple… and realizing he couldn’t communicate with anyone using the words he had grown up using and had been using as a professional in his field for several years. One of those timeless tales, really.

But that doesn’t even get to the good stuff, and fortunately the setup, while interesting, mostly is there to explain what comes next.

For the rest of the book, Merritt takes words that are heard in nearly any and every Southern/ Evangelical Christian conversation and dissects them down to the message they are really trying to convey, then looks at how we can convey that message better in some way. And just as with his other books, once he gets to this part of the book is where he really shines.

Various words will mean more or less to various readers, but I found a few truly profound.

When discussing PAIN, for example, Merritt reveals his own battle with chronic pain and how it has both shaped and transformed him in unexpected ways. When discussing CONFESSION, Merritt speaks to a controversy that erupted around the time of the publication of his last book and what he now thinks about it.

When discussing BLESSED, Merritt takes aim at #HollowHashtags, and when discussing NEIGHBOR, he connects Fred Rogers to the current refugee crises.

But for me, the most transformative word Merritt discusses in the entire book is also the last word he discusses in the book, and one of the ones far too many Christians use to cause the most harm: LOST. Merritt’s words here are truly profound, more needed for the American Church than anything I have ever heard his former Southern Baptist Convention President father say in any sermon. And not to be spoiled in a blog post a month before release day.

To find out what Merritt the Younger* has to say about Learning To Speak God – words like PAIN, BLESSED, NEIGHBOR, LOST, SIN, PRIDE, SAINT, CONFESSION, GRACE, BROKENNESS, and even GOD – From Scratch, you can pre-order the book from your favorite bookstore by visiting SpeakGodBook.com. If you speak God at all, from any angle and from any belief, this is truly a book not to be missed.
Continue reading “#HypeTrain: Jonathan Merritt’s Learning To Speak God From Scratch”