The Sword of Six Worlds (Book 1) by Matt Mikalatos

I have been reading children’s, middle grade, and young adult fiction for a while but now that my daughter (8) is reading more seriously I am more focused on what she might like and what seems a good fit.

So when I heard Matt Mikalatos had published a middle grade fiction book as part of a planned longer series I was intrigued.  I managed to get a copy of The Sword of Six Worlds, Book One in the Adventures of Validus Smith at the local library (I have since purchased the Kindle version).

sword of six worldsFor centuries the paladins protected the Earth from a creeping darkness known as the Blight. That all changed when a new enemy destroyed the paladins, plunging the free worlds into danger. Validus Smith—an ordinary girl in an ordinary town—is next in line to become the paladin. Untrained, unsure of her destiny, and hunted by monstrous forces, she must recover the fabled Sword of Six Worlds, the only weapon capable of defeating the Blight. The Sword, however, is not on Earth, but in a strange fantasy world connected to her own. In an unfamiliar world of monsters, talking animals and living rocks, can an ordinary girl like Validus survive?

I finally got around to reading it recently and found it to be a creative start to what feels like a promising series.

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Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos

I said of Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos that “the book walks the fine line between slapstick comedy and insightful spiritual commentary – and in my opinion manages to pull it off for the most part.”  Mikalatos follow up, Night of the Living Dead Christian, attempts to walk that same line – with less successful results.  What starts out as a slapstick spoof on cheesy horror movies suddenly turns into a very serious story and spiritual commentary. The transition is abrupt and gives the book a very odd feel.

Publisher’s blurb:

What does a transformed life actually look like?

In his follow-up to the critically acclaimed Imaginary Jesus, Matt Mikalatos tackles this question in an entertaining and thought-provoking way—with MONSTERS!!! While Christians claim to experience Christ’s resurrection power, we sometimes act like werewolves who can’t control our base desires. Or zombies, experiencing a resurrection that is 90 percent shambling death and 10 percent life. Or vampires, satiating ourselves at the expense of others. But through it all we long to stop being monsters and become truly human—the way Christ intended. We just can’t seem to figure out how.

Night of the Living Dead Christian is the story of Luther, a werewolf on the run, whose inner beast has driven him dangerously close to losing everything that matters. Desperate to conquer his dark side, Luther joins forces with Matt to find someone who can help. Yet their time is running out. A powerful and mysterious man is on their trail, determined to kill the wolf at all costs . . .

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Night of the Living Dead Christian is a spiritual allegory that boldly explores the monstrous underpinnings of our nature and tackles head-on the question of how we can ever hope to become truly transformed.

The challenge Matt faces is trying to use the unique fictional element (the story and his own role within it) to both entertain and offer insight; to make it a story that works while making the points he wants to make.  In Imaginary Jesus I thought it largely came together without any one aspect dominating and toppling over the balance. This time the balance was off and it came out as the foundation of a good story (Luther Martin) surrounded by a lot of silly distractions and ending with mostly preaching.  The hook of viewing Christian living through the lens of monsters is interesting but in the end it felt like too many ingredients forced into a style and structure that didn’t quite fit.

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My Favorite Reads of 2010

I mentioned on Twitter last night that it looks like I will close out 2010 having read about 60 or so books. A few people asked about my favorites so I figured it would be worth it to wrap up 2010 with a post.

After looking at the list I decided to do so by breaking it out a bit. The list breaks down into three categories which divide my reading into roughly thirds: Young Adult Fiction, Fiction, and Non-Fiction.  So below are my favorite reads in each of those categories.

Young Adult Fiction

Cover of "Leepike Ridge"
Cover of Leepike Ridge

Yes, I’m a grown man and I read young adult fiction. As I have explained a few times, I do this because I find the YA fantasy fiction genre creative and entertaining. Some of them are just fun relaxing reads (admittedly quick and easy as well) but some of them are complex and imaginative in ways that make the label superfluous. They are just great books.

The List (in no particular order):

  1. Factotum (The Foundling’s Tale, Part Three) by D. M. Cornish (If you love epic fantasy that is a mix of Tolkien and Dickens you will enjoy this series.)
  2. Boom! by Mark Haddon (A great little story – action, adventure, intrigue and humor all in less than 200 pages.)
  3. The Necromancer by Michael Scott (An enjoyable fantasy thriller where you race to read the book only to be forced to wait for the next release to dive back in again.)
  4. Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson (“An original mix of Robinson Crusoe, King Solomon’s Mines, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Odyssey”)
  5. Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill (A creative and intelligent mix of myth, mystery and coming of age stories.)

“Adult” Fiction and Non-Fiction below.

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The Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

I found out about Imaginary Jesus from the Tyndale Blog Network.  I received my free copy and promptly read the book. But I only manged to post anything to Goodreads. So I wanted to rectify that and offer my take on this book in this space in a more formal way (at least slightly).

Here is the basic plot (cribbed from the publisher’s blurb):

When Matt Mikalatos realizes that his longtime buddy in the robe and sandals isn’t the real Jesus at all, but an imaginary one, he embarks on a mission to find the real thing. On his wild ride through time, space, and Portland, Oregon, he encounters hundreds of other Imaginary Jesuses determined to stand in his way (like Legalistic Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus, and Magic 8 Ball Jesus). But Matt won’t stop until he finds the real Jesus—and finally gets an answer to the question that’s haunted him for years.

As you might be able to tell even from this short synopsis, the book walks the fine line between slapstick comedy and insightful spiritual commentary – and in my opinion manages to pull it off for the most part.

Mikalatos has a lot of fun with his spiritually themed romp but the issue of how Christians create imaginary Saviors in order to avoid dealing with the real Jesus is worth exploring. The author touches on some rather profound and emotional issues but never gets too heavy or loses the rhythm of his largely comic story.

I don’t think Mikalatos offers any startling insights or deep perspectives. Instead he simply creates – based in part on his own experiences – humorous and thought provoking examples of how we try to pigeon hole or caricature Jesus.

Imaginary Jesus is a quick and chuckle inducing read but one with a valuable lesson at its core.