Archive for the ‘John’s Reviews – books, movies, whatever’ Category

Awakening by Christy Dorrity

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on April 14th, 2014

Art is a huge part of what draws me to science fiction and fantasy. I still have the Hildebrant LOTR calendars I got back in the early eighties.

On the web you can browse awesome work on and But something that’s been around for much longer is Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. It’s an art annual released each year that highlights the best art produced that year in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and the Surreal.

This year will mark the 21st year of publication.  Spectrum has become the broadest distributed art annual in the world. Having art included in Spectrum is top honors for artists around the globe.

So why am I telling you this?

Well, Devon Dorrity, the guy who helped me pull together my covers,  not only had his sculpture “Queen of the Seas” included in a past annual, but he’s just won a spot in this year’s annual with the cover he created for his wife’s book, Awakening. It’s a big honor.

Here’s the description of how he put it together.

For the book cover for Awakening by Christy Dorrity, Devon Dorrity selected the cover model, Shelbilee Lee, from hundreds of local models.  Jason Morrison, a photographer friend, was hired to do the photoshoot.  Devon purchased the wig, fingernails, and props from Amazon. Then Dennis Dorrity, Devon’s brother, did an illustration of the photo selected from the photoshoot.  Devon then composited the illustration and the photo together blending the two to emphasize the best of both pieces.  After applying various effects and custom color, the piece was finished.

After the book’s publication, Devon submitted the cover to Spectrum with Dennis Dorrity listed as the Artist.  Dennis did the illustration that plays such a heavy role in the finished piece.  Devon was listed as the Art Director/Designer.  Spectrum announced in the end of March that the Awakening book cover was selected for inclusion in The annual.  Spectrum 21 will be released in November 2014.

Awakening: Book One of The Geis is itself a clean young adult fantasy filled with Celtic mythology, magic, romance, and mystery. And it’s been getting great reviews.

“Dorrity invites her readers to a céilí that will quicken the pulse of anyone with Ireland in their blood! AWAKENING will draw you deep into the mysteries of the Celtic worldview—and leave you wanting more of McKayla and her fascinating Aunt Avril!”
- KERSTEN HAMILTON, author of Tyger Tyger and the Goblin Wars books

“I thoroughly enjoyed AWAKENING, a captivating and unique debut novel that creatively integrates Irish dance.”
- CHRIS NAISH, Riverdance member and Creative Director of Fusion Fighters Irish dancers.

5 Stars! “AWAKENING is an exciting mashup of fantasy, action-adventure, and mystery, with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure.”
- KATE MCCURRY, top 100 Amazon reviewer

How many authors do you know who have unlocked the achievement of having someone from Riverdance plug your book? Awakening right now is free. If you like YA fantasy with a bit of romance, this is the perfect time to give this new author a go.


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Murder, Courts, and Bart D. Ehrman

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on April 6th, 2014

I’m going to talk a bit about some murderers in Detroit, Jesus, and a couple of books I recently read that I think are just awesome.


Highers BrothersSo, the murderers.

Let me start by asking this question: can you establish the truth in a court of law?

Is that what the judge and jury are deciding? The Truth, with a capital T?

Think about Tommy and Ray Highers, brothers from Detroit. They were convicted of murder. Open and shut case. No parole. They were two nasty buggers who shot a man down over some dope.

But then twenty-five years later (last year, in fact) they were back in court because new evidence had come to light that undermined the original conviction. For the curious, this awesome Dateline episode reveals the amazing way the evidence came to light and what happened because of it: Watch it. You’ll be happy you did.

So the Truth. Capital T. Can you establish that in a court of law?


What the justice system does is try to determine which story about the evidence available is the most convincing.

It’s about telling and judging stories.

There are many types of evidence folks use when telling their stories. Some of it is very strong. Some is so unreliable, like hunches and hearsay, that the court won’t even allow it to be presented.

Whatever the evidence, the fundamental nature of this is that you can often tell a number of different stories using the same set of data, the same evidence. Sometimes the stories are variations with minor differences. Sometimes the stories are radically different.

It’s like having only some of the pieces of a 100 piece puzzle. You look at the four, twenty, or thirty pieces you have and imagine what the rest of the puzzle looks like. And then you invent something that seems reasonable.

You invent it.

And if that story meets certain standards of proof, then our system allows the authorities to take certain actions. If the standard of a “reasonable suspicion” is met, it allows a police officer to stop someone. If the standard of “probable cause” is met, a higher standard than reasonable suspicion, an officer can arrest you. If a jury in a criminal case decides the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” an even higher standard of proof, then the justice system authorizes the authorities to sentence the defendant.

But at no time does the system seek to establish the absolute truth, the truth with a capital T. It only seeks to establish some level of probability that the story being told about the evidence is true.

All of this is made more complex because what’s “reasonable” is based on other people’s opinion. We have guidelines and rules to help folks be “reasonable.” But reasonableness is still affected by culture, background, history, etc.

It’s still opinion.


What other realm of knowledge works like the justice system and consists of inventing stories about missing parts of the puzzle?

Well, history does.

In fact, if you think about it, history is what courts do. The processes and principles of our justice system guide everyone involved in how they go about telling the stories that make up that specific type of history.

And all historians (lawyers, judges, and juries included) have no means of establishing the absolute truth.

They can’t use science. Science requires you conduct experiments and reproduce results. But how is a historian going to reproduce the same events? What, they’re going to get Lincoln shot all over again and let the rest of us watch it? Dang, John Wilkes Booth did shoot the man. We all saw it happen down in the lab.

Sure, they can use science to date a manuscript, or determine what something is made of, or establish some other fact. But all science is doing is providing facts about the pieces of the puzzle you have. About the claims the evidence makes.

But science can’t fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. It can’t tell the story. The historian has to invent the story that makes the pieces all make sense.

And then the rest of us determine if that story, that sketch of the full puzzle, is reasonable.

But that isn’t all there is to it.


Think about conspiracy theories like the ones that claim that the US government perpetrated the 9/11 bombings. Conspiracy theorists are practicing history. They are inventing a story that seems to fit the evidence available to them.

But what happens when you have only five or ten pieces of a 1,000 piece puzzle? What happens when you don’t thoroughly vet the evidence? What happens when someone screws around with the evidence? And I’m not just talking about tampering or invalidating it by thoughtless handling (contaminating DNA, for example). Folks with the best intentions have biases. In fact, we all have biases that lead us to include and exclude various pieces of evidence based on whether they support or oppose the ideas we want to believe.

Jonathan Haidt explains these biases in his excellent book The Righteous Mind. He explains that with things we want to believe, we often use the standard of “Can I Believe It”?  We look for anything at all that would allow us to believe our position. If we find it, even if it’s flimsy, we discount all the other evidence that may point another way and conclude we have met the burden of proof for our view.

For things that we don’t want to believe, we often use the standard of “Must I Believe It”? When falling prey to this bias, we look for anything at all that would undermine the thing we don’t want to believe, even if that evidence is flimsy. If we find it, we ignore all the other evidence, even if there’s a mountain of it pointing another way, and claim we have met the necessary burden of proof.

In court there are all sorts of procedures and standards that need to be followed to help us avoid invalidating evidence or falling prey to our biases. Those procedures and standards don’t remove all risk. But they do remove a lot.

Which court system would you want to be processed through? The current American justice system or the medieval witch trials?

Oh, for sure I’d want to be someone accused of witchcraft back when a claim of “I saw her as a witch in my dream” was admissible, as was the test of poking a mole on the accused’s body with a needle to see if said witch flinched enough. I’d be so happy to go back to the days when a confession obtained by torture was incontrovertible evidence.

So when practicing history, it’s important to have some guidelines, some rules to establish which bits of evidence are more likely (not guaranteed, but more likely) to be reliable. And it’s important that when folks tell their story, they not only share the evidence, but also all the assumptions they’re making.


Where does Jesus of Nazareth come into all of this?

Misquoting Jesus by Bart D Ehrman

Well, Jesus has affected the world more than any other person who has lived on it. The stories we tell about him (the history we have practiced about him for the last 2,000+ years) have changed the world. And those stories will continue to affect us, especially folks in Western cultures, on everything from foreign policy to which clothes think are fit to be worn in public.

Who was Jesus? Did he really exist? Was he a god? What did he really teach? Have his teachings been changed?

These are all fundamental questions. And for the last two-hundred years historians have been re-examining the pieces of the puzzle, finding new pieces, and telling new stories to explain it all.

Some of these historians believe in Jesus as a god. Some don’t. Either way, the conversation is fascinating.

Jesus Interrupted  Bart D Ehrman

I just read three historical books about Jesus that were awesome. AWESOME. Not because I agreed with all of the author’s conclusions, i.e. his stories. I don’t. But because of the way he practiced his history. The way he told his stories. And because what he shared gave me new insights to my stories about Jesus.

The three books, all by Bart D. Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, are:

  1. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
  2. Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)
  3. Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

I’ve read the Bible many times, and I’m a believer. Of course, the question is a believer in which story?

Did Jesus Exist Bart D Ehrman

What Ehrman so engagingly makes clear is that there have indeed been many stories about Jesus. In fact, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the writings of Paul (most of the rest of the New Testament) seem to all portray a different man and message. Not only do they say things that flat out contradict each other on some details, but if you look at each book separately, each author seems to have a slightly different take on Jesus.

Furthermore, it appears that what we now have has changed over time. For example, it seems the last twelve verses of Mark were not in the oldest manuscripts. There have been other changes. One of the more notable ones occurs in John 5:7-8.

Our earliest texts say:

“For there are three that bear record, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

But later texts say:

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”

Nowhere else in the New Testament do we have anything that states that creedal doctrine so explicitly. Did John write that? Or was the extra material added to make the idea of the trinity scriptural?

And what do we make of the fact that we have no manuscript that dates to anywhere close to when Jesus lived? We have some small fragments of manuscripts with a few verses of John, Revelation, and Matthew dated around 150 AD. But the oldest manuscripts we have that contain the majority of any of the gospels are for the gospels of Luke and John, and these are dated around 200 AD. The oldest manuscripts with the full New Testament are dated around 350 AD.

That’s more than 300 years after Jesus died!

Have you played the game of telephone? Are we sure that the oral traditions that were written down weren’t changed? What happened to the books mentioned in the Bible that we don’t have now? For example, Jude mentions a prophecy of Enoch that we don’t have in our current Bible. Are we sure that the copyists didn’t add to the text like it seems some did to John?

And what about the term “Christ”? It’s actually the Greek word for “messiah” which just means one anointed with oil to perform a special service for god. Christ wasn’t Jesus’s last name. It was a title: Jesus the anointed one.

The anointed ones in those days were kings and prophets and priests. It appears most of the historical sources suggest that a “messiah” to the Jews of that time was someone who would throw off foreign rule and establish the kingdom of Israel as David had. In fact, there were a whole bunch of people who claimed to be messiahs. Here’s a nice list:

Judas Maccabeus was considered a messiah because he threw off Greek rule in 164 BC. But then around 63 BC Israel was taken over by Rome. And Rome wasn’t too keen on revolts, so around 4 BC they crucified Judas the Galilean for claiming to be the messiah, the king of the Jews. Crucifixion, it seems, was the punishment reserved for seditionists. They crucified Jesus and a whole bunch of other guys claiming to be the king of the Jews. And their crimes were written on a board above them, which is why they hung the words “King of the Jews” over Jesus’s head on the cross. Here’s the criminal, and here’s his crime. These other messiahs were not claiming to be a god that came to earth to atone for sins, but anointed by God to throw off foreign rule and establish his earthly kingdom again.

Jesus talks a lot about the kingdom of God. Was Jesus just another one of the seditionists?

Ehrman examines these and many other questions as a historian, providing all sorts of insights.

But the fabulous thing is that he doesn’t just tell his story. He gives his evidence. Exposes his assumptions. And in all three books he explains the guidelines or “rules” historians use to when trying to determine which stories are more likely and which evidence is more reliable.

I was enlightened, challenged, and delighted. I learned things about Jesus’s life and times that have helped me understand what I read in the Bible better.


Of course, the historical method has its limits.

Historians, because they are looking for explanations (stories) that are more probable, automatically select against things that are improbable. They exclude miracles. They exclude any story that says Christ was actually resurrected.  They may establish that a lot of folks thought he was resurrected, but they don’t have any methods to establish something like a resurrection actually occurred. And so they ignore it. Historians exclude modern revelation. If someone today were to have a visitation from Jesus as Paul did, the historians would exclude that.

But we all know that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. We all know that sometimes the less likely thing is exactly what occurred.

Historians are looking for what is most probable. Not what actually happened. Because they can’t go back and time and verify their story.

Excluding “improbable” things changes the types of stories the pieces of the puzzle support. For many of us, me included, we do accept evidences many historians don’t as pieces of the puzzle. And because we have these pieces, we’re able to tell different types of stories.

The cool thing about Ehrman is that he explains this. He’s not trying to hide anything. Instead, he’s explaining how to approach the Bible from a historical point of view, and where the principles of the historical method lead him.

And I have found that those methods in his hands have a lot to offer.

If you’re someone who is interested in religion–as a believer, agonistic, or atheist–you will love these books. Ehrman himself was once an ardent believer, but is now agnostic. However, his respect for believers, including other scholars in his field who believe in the divine Jesus, comes through loud and clear. Ehrman has no axe to grind. He is simply sharing the stories of Jesus that make sense to him and many other historians. And he does it in a very interesting and easy-to-read style.

If these books sound like something you want to try, I’d start with Misquoting Jesus, move to Jesus Interrupted, and then finish with Did Jesus Exist? And if you enjoy those, let me recommend two more of Ehrman’s books. The first is The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed, which looks at the discovery and content of a very ancient manuscript that calls itself The Gospel of Judas. The second is Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, which explores the variety of Christian faiths that existed in the few hundred years after Jesus’s death.

Happy reading!

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Orson Card’s Literary Boot Camp

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever, On Writing  by John Brown on February 3rd, 2014

Just apply already!

Orson Card has just announced the dates and location for this year’s literary boot camp. This one is in North Carolina. Card usually usually holds a session in the west every other year. But here’s the deal: east or west, if you are a new writer, this is THE workshop to attend. It is hands-down THE best workshop I have ever attended.

If you want to learn how to write fiction from one of the masters, you will apply (the boot camp is limited to 12 people) and then do whatever it takes to attend if you’re selected.  The two day writing class is also great. I don’t know that I would spend hundreds of dollars to fly in for that, but I would and did spend hundreds to attend the boot camp (way back in ye year 2002).

For more information, go here:


Short Reviews: Icefall, Gravity, 42, Z, and

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on November 21st, 2013

The last few weeks I’ve been burning the candles at both ends with publication tasks. So no time for long reviews, but I still wanted to share.

Icefall by Matthew KirbyIcefall by Matthew Kirby

Wow. I loved this book. LOVED IT! It’s Norse historical fiction. A war is coming, and the king sends his children away to a remote fjord steading to keep them safe. He also sends a number of trusted warriors, a company of beserkers, a cook, a thrall, and a skald. But the fjord isn’t remote enough.

It’s a fine tale full suspense, wisdom, surprise, and two lovely character arcs. It’s told from the point-of-view of Solveig, the king’s plain daughter. And her voice and the details Kirby includes totally transported me to their world. A wonderful tale, wonderfully told.


I don’t know if I like 3D very much, but Bullock and Clooney do a marvelous job. Do you remember Tom Hanks in the excellent Castaway where he’s marooned on a tiny island? This is Bullock’s Castaway, except the physics of space are deadly. A great film.


This film is about Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in the White leagues of American baseball, and recounts his first year. It stars Harrison Ford as the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the guy who is determined to bring Blacks into the game he loves, as well as Chadwick Boseman who is new to me. I watched this with the whole family, and we were all enthralled. What a great story.

World War Z

I not a big zombie fan. So for me to recommend this means it had to be good. It was good. A delicious thriller with plenty of scare. I really liked the thriller feel to this. My wife and two youngest daughters sat on the couch holding each other’s hands. I sat in my La-Z-Boy throne heart pumping with the action.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been working hard trying to get my books out the door. (Please, boys, just get out! It’s time for you to make your way in the world!) I’m using Adobe InDesign to format them for Kindle and EPUB, but I barely know the program. That caused some big problems. But then I subscribed to–a training website. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I did.

For $25 per month (and you can just subscribe for one month), you get access to hundreds of high-quality online classes recorded by experts. Each class is usually a few hours long, made up of videos that are usually each shorter than ten minutes. The site allows you to create playlists of various courses you want to take, makes recommendations, and lets you know which videos in a class you’ve watched. It also includes a verbatim transcript so you search for the part of the video that’s interesting to you.

The workhorse I’ve been using is “InDesign CS6 to EPUB, Kindle, and iPad” by Anne-Marie Concepcion. It’s 7.5 hours long.  I’ve also been referring to parts of “InDesign CC Essential Training” by David Blatner and “Creating Long Documents with InDesign” by Mike Rankin. And I have 16 other courses in my playlist that I can’t wait to get to like “Designing a Book Cover” by Nigel French and others on graphic design, typography, and logos.

If you need training on some software product, go out to and see if they have a course for you.

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Brown Family Christmas Fun — I Hope

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on October 25th, 2013

I like paintball.

My wife and girls do not. Something about bruising and pain.

We could get pantywaist nerf guns. We do have some PVC marshmellow shooters. But a man wants something with a bit more kick.

I think I’ve found it. They’re called AirForce BlowGuns. Like PVC guns, you power them with your own breath. Unlike a lot of those guns, these seem to have some power.

Watch the video here to see them in action:

We just ordered six. I really, really hope this one funds.

If you’re looking for some family fun on Christmas morning, maybe this is it.

Update and Fage

I passed the 90% mark today on SERVANT. It’s been wonderful going back through this story, remembering why I loved these characters so much. The cover too is coming along. I’m looking forward to revealing it in the near future. Right now everything looks like it will release on target, although that may change.

While you’re here, you know I have been on a quest for delicious low-sugar yogurt for some time. I have found it at last. Behold.

Fage 2 percent yogurt

No Greek yogurt has a better taste or texture. And there’s no added sugar. Add some fruit and it’s heaven.

It’s pronounced “fa-yeh.” Except, how do you pronounce that? Who comes up with product names nobody can pronounce? 

But it doesn’t matter how you pronounce it. We luvs it, Precious.



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