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REVIEW: Angel with a Ray Gun by Deb Kinnard

Dear Ms. Kinnard,

Despite absolutely loving the title of your book, I finished it with a sense of disappointment. And a feeling that if this is what contemporary Christianity is supposed to be, I want no part of it.

Matt Greenlee, Senior Pastor of New Hope Church, has a secret life. For years, he’s been writing a successful SF series under the pen name of Morgan Grimaldi. Now he’s just gotten the bombshell news that his trusty editor is in Nepal “finding himself” and Cairn Publishing is assigning him a new, and untried, editor.

AJ Mercer hopes to whip through the editing of the newest Jake Starborn novel. The series might be a best seller, but she has plenty of ideas to tighten this book up. Imagine her shock when she discovers the author is a minister. And that they’re slowly falling for each other. But there’s a snake in this garden which might just end not only their blossoming romance but Matt’s calling as a man of God.

First off, I wanted more about the Starborn books. After an opening in which Matt is working on finishing the latest one, we get almost zip. There are a few instances during which Matt “hears” his hero trying to give him life advice and a bit about AJ doing some red pen editing but not much more. I wanted to watch Matt get ideas for his next book or defend his opinions on AJ’s editing. How about his thoughts on cover art or back blurbs. Anything. And I thought that the publishing business was centered in NYC not Chicago. No? Are Matt’s thoughts about editors taken from your experiences? Hmmm, maybe you shouldn’t answer that.

AJ initially comes off as if she has something against Christianity, eg has been hurt/rejected/whatever in the past but then we find out that she’s just got an unconventional upbringing that has never included it. Her acceptance of Jesus in her life is fairly quick for someone with no background in the religion at all but then Saul’s conversion took even less time. I found myself puzzled by her idea, which Matt never seemed to take much time to correct, that she was so unworthy compared to the lifetime Christians at New Hope. If this is the feeling she’s getting from this congregation, then they’re not a bunch of people I want anything to do with.

I like that Matt doesn’t go all “hard sell” on her but rather lays out his beliefs, his enthusiasm, his openness to discuss faith with AJ and lets things go from there. I like that he prays not to convert anyone but for the Lord to give him the words needed to show his faith. But then, he seems to change slightly and makes comments about how he’ll help her change into her new identity as a Christian. I kept getting the subtle feeling that her old self was somehow being deemed “unworthy.”

But where Matt really loses me is when he goes into his crisis of faith and chickens out when he should at least call AJ and tell her why he doesn’t want to take her calls anymore. He just clams up and even gets his secretary to lie to AJ regarding his where abouts. Then when AJ pulls back, and rightly so IMO, he has the nerve to try and call her on it. What a hypocrite.

There was a fun early interaction scene of Matt with his buds playing hoops. But then what happens to all these friends of Matt’s when the elders attack him? Or for that matter, what happened to them on a regular friendship basis? It’s literally months later when the guys make another appearance.

And for a senior pastor, Matt seems to have relatively few demands on his time from his congregation. One crisis that does rock him but then after that, he seems to have all the time in the world to walk the beach with AJ, go to cons, reflect and pray for hours about how his life is circling the drain. And shouldn’t he have an associate pastor?

I find it hard to believe that Matt doesn’t know more about cons. Even the basics about them seem to be news to him. Wouldn’t the publisher have wanted him to attend some before now? I also find Matt’s belief that no Christian would read SF to be silly.

The initial attitude the elders have about Matt’s writing is what gives Christianity a bad name. What’s wrong with a Christian minister writing what he wants? Must they all write “rapture” novels? They, along with Courtney, make me furious. I realize that a minister is accountable to his congregation for matters of faith but I would hate to think that my private life, especially if not steeped in sin, could be dictated in such a way. At the end of the book, when the elders discover just how much of Matt’s authorial salary has been funneled into the Church, the greed that seems to change their whole attitude about his writing is sickening.

Matt’s secretary tells AJ that New Hope needs to work on its welcoming of new and potential members and all I can say is, amen sister. No church I’ve ever attended has seemed this cold to me.

But you didn’t portray all Christians as wonderful and all non-Christians as horrible. AJ’s mom at first seems as judgmental but then backs off and admits that she and AJ aren’t the same person and that one’s lifestyle won’t work for the other. The Church elders make me ill, but a few others in the congregation, mostly Matt’s buddies, appear to be warm and caring people.

I had hoped that this book would feature more of Matt’s writing as well as showing a different side to ministers. I’ve enjoyed the books which appear to fall between the inspirational cracks such as Beth Pattillo’s “Betsy” books and Cynthianna Appel’s “Preachin’ to the Choir.” It’s too bad that this book would be enough to turn me off of Christianity were I not already a member of the faith.

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in ebook format only at Amazon, Fictionwise, and other retailers.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

17 Comments

  1. Maili
    Aug 10, 2009 @ 15:15:02

    What a shame because the title also had my attention, which got me hoping it might be a good fun futuristic or SF romance.

  2. Angelia Sparrow
    Aug 10, 2009 @ 16:01:46

    Intriguing.

    I totally get the elders’ condemnation.

    There is the thought, in some Christian circles, that most SF is evil because it portrays a humanist future, one in which humans solve their own problems. And “real” Christian already KNOW how the future is going to go. No shiny towers of glass and steel or journeys to the stars. Just fiery hail, 70lb hailstones, famine and war and Hell for everyone else at the end.

    A “real” Christian wouldn’t go to cons because of the exposure to the occult from the gamers and horror fans, the incipient lust from too much femfan flesh on display and the general contact with lots and lots of non-believers. (Remember what happened to Dinah, when she went out around non-believers!)

    For a better discussion check out the blog of Marcus Broaddus, The Sinister Minister.

  3. Deb Kinnard
    Aug 10, 2009 @ 17:52:48

    I wish you had liked it better, Jayne, but I sure appreciate your thoughtful reading and commentary.

  4. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 10, 2009 @ 20:11:05

    There is the thought, in some Christian circles, that most SF is evil because it portrays a humanist future, one in which humans solve their own problems.

    It’s not a train of thought I’m familiar with, not as a Christian, nor as a reader of SF. Thank God. Many people of the Christian faith are interested in trying to lead a Christ-like life, doing good unto others, judge not, and so on.

    Matt's secretary tells AJ that New Hope needs to work on its welcoming of new and potential members and all I can say is, amen sister. No church I've ever attended has seemed this cold to me.

    I’ve met a few, thankfully not many, who claim to be of the Christian faith, but they honestly seem more interested in the ‘appearance’ than actually living the faith. They are more interested in embracing the ‘religion for the masses’ than actually walking the walk.

    I really do love that title.

  5. Karen McCullough
    Aug 10, 2009 @ 20:54:12

    Some quite well-respected Christians have written fantasy and science fiction. G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and Andrew Greely are all avowed Christians as well as authors who recognize that God’s creation is far larger than our human horizons, and that we might find something to extend our understanding in speculating about what lies beyond the small piece of it we see every day.

  6. Janny
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 06:49:00

    “And I thought that the publishing business was centered in NYC not Chicago. No? Are Matt's thoughts about editors taken from your experiences? Hmmm, maybe you shouldn't answer that.”

    It’s a particularly telling irony that someone who spent half this review ranting about how nasty the Christians were in this book felt it was OK to indulge in the kind of snottiness reflected above…while asserting her Christianity the whole time. Clearly, there’s more at stake here–and more was being attacked–than the book itself. But more to the point…

    NO, Virginia, “the publishing business” isn’t centered in New York anymore. Yes, traditional brick and mortar publishing houses are, by and large, headquartered there, as are many agents and other publishing movers and shakers. But despite what the myopic NY publishing world would LIKE us all to keep believing, they are not gods anymore…if they ever were. Lots of publishing, specifically academic and technical, is headquartered in Chicago. Increasingly, fiction is being published out of Chicago…and out of all kinds of other places that are Not New York. Major religious publishing occurs in Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, and Florida–as well as Chicago; the breadth of the publishing world is growing, not narrowing. (And that’s not even touching e-publishing, self-publishing, small press, and the like.)

    So it’s only fair at this point to ask–since the reviewer opened this door–where SHE’s been hiding herself for the last, oh, twenty years or so, while “publishing” has taken on a whole new complexion.

    Even though there are other thoughtful points made here, a gaffe like this should make anyone reading it question the credibility of the entire review. If prospective readers are smart, they’ll at least look around at other review sites to find this book reviewed by someone who doesn’t feel it’s her right to ridicule an author personally–all the while condemning such behavior in fictional characters. It’s more hurtful when it’s real, people. It also says more, unfortunately, about the reviewer than about any book she’s reviewing…and none of what it says is good.

    JB

  7. nutmeag
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 06:56:25

    Along with what Karen McCullough says, there are a few modern Christians writing SF, and even including the Christianity in the SF. A few of my favorites from my Jr. High days are The Dream Voyagers by T. Davis Bunn and the Firebird trilogy by Kathy Tyers (who I believe also wrote a few Star Wars tales). Karen Hancock (Arena) is another proficient modern fantasy Christian writer.

    As for the story itself, I’m glad the preachiness was at a low. It’s an issue that a fair number of Christian writers have, so I’m glad Ms. Kinnard got it right.

  8. Jayne
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 07:09:05

    It's a particularly telling irony that someone who spent half this review ranting about how nasty the Christians were in this book felt it was OK to indulge in the kind of snottiness reflected above…while asserting her Christianity the whole time. Clearly, there's more at stake here-and more was being attacked-than the book itself. But more to the point…

    Snottiness? WTF? And whatever else you think might be “at stake” here, you’d be wrong. I don’t attack books. I give my opinion on them.

    So it's only fair at this point to ask-since the reviewer opened this door-where SHE's been hiding herself for the last, oh, twenty years or so, while “publishing” has taken on a whole new complexion.

    Where have I been? I’ve been reading books and not giving a damn where they were published. My impression was that NYC was still the center of print publishing. Obviously that is not the case. I did leave myself open to a correction by asking, “No?”

    If prospective readers are smart, they'll at least look around at other review sites to find this book reviewed by someone who doesn't feel it's her right to ridicule an author personally-all the while condemning such behavior in fictional characters. It's more hurtful when it's real, people. It also says more, unfortunately, about the reviewer than about any book she's reviewing…and none of what it says is good.

    Ridiculing the author? Where the hell are you getting this from? Not from my review because that’s not what I did, nor was it what the intention of the review is. I do hope that people go to as many other review sites as they want. Get lots of opinions then make up their own minds as to what they want to read.

  9. RStewie
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 07:20:04

    I think it’s a little silly to be attempting to defend these imaginary Christian characters from any imagined slight perceived in Jayne’s review, Janny.

    I agree that I would be hesitant (to say the least) to visit and join a church that evidenced so much internal turmoil as that portrayed in this book, as evidenced by Jayne’s review. I profess to be a Christian, too…but let’s be realistic. People are people, and the chances of finding a perfect church are slim to none.

    I’d rather Christians were portrayed as what they are: regular people, who try from day to day, rather than some glorified humanitarians who are above reproach constantly and forever. That is not what would turn me off from reading this book.

    Rather, the fact that the life of the lead character was not really in keeping with what I know the actual day-to-day life of a pastor would entail. Our pastor has a congregation of about 100-120 people. He is busy ALL DAY, EVERY DAY with them, going to the hospital to visit, going on visitation to elderly homes and elderly communities, planning lunches for the 50 and older group every other Thursday, besides raising two kids and planning a sermon for Sunday AM and PM and Wed PM, and Sat PM at the jail and whatever else he has that day.

    Add to that the fact that his writing career wasn’t really fleshed out like I would hope (I do find different careers interesting, and I would expect that a published author would be going about doing stuff with his work on a regular basis).

  10. Sue T
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 09:04:11

    Geez, Janny, all I gotta say is you need to go back up and reread Jayne’s review. Nothing in this slams the author or personally attacks her. In the years I’ve been a faithful follower of this site, not once have I read a personal attack on an author by one of the reviewers. I’m offended by you coming here to attack Jayne. Even the wonderful Deb K (the author for pete’s sake!) (who I’ve read most of her books and love her) came on line and while she wished Jayne liked it better, she thanked her for the review. Who are you to determine it was a personal attack? Please go and misread someone else’s review at another site.

    Jayne and DA – You Rock!

    Deb Kinnard – You Rock too for being so gracious. While I don’t read inspirationals, I’ll eagerly await your next non-inspirational story.

  11. Robin Bayne
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 10:51:44

    I always enjoy Deb’s books and her professional attitude.

  12. MaryK
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 14:47:33

    @Karen McCullough: Apparently, George MacDonald and Lewis Carroll were as well.

    and

    @Janny:

    spent half this review ranting

    Really? Ranting?

  13. Angelia Sparrow
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 17:49:19

    Please note, I never said Christians couldn’t or didn’t write SF/Fantasy/Horror.

    I just grew up in the kind of church that was fond of reminding me that the word “imagination” never appears in the Bible without being prefaced by the word “wicked.” And some were of the opinion that fiction was wicked because it was lies: stories about people who never lived doing things that never happened.

    Of course, some of this subgroup also maintained that “real” Christians should have no books other than the Bible in their house.

    I rather like the Slacktivist’s take on this notion, posted today. Weak.

  14. Leah
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 20:08:05

    by Angelia Sparrow August 11th, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I just grew up in the kind of church that was fond of reminding me that the word “imagination” never appears in the Bible without being prefaced by the word “wicked.” And some were of the opinion that fiction was wicked because it was lies: stories about people who never lived doing things that never happened.

    Since Christ himself used parables to illustrate his teachings and make them more accessible to his disciples (although they always seemed to get confused, lol!), the people you grew up with were obviously not thinking things through! I think that the fact that God gave us imaginations to create music, literature, art, science, fashion, recipes, needlepoint tissue boxes, what have you, shows that He cares about our ability to express ourselves and wants us to enjoy life on earth, brief as it is.

    Oh, and there’s tons of romance, fantasy, and sci-fi reading going on in our conservative congregation!

  15. Angie
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 01:31:55

    Just as another data point, many of the SF conventions I go to offer religious services on Sunday and/or Saturday for Christian and Jewish attendees. The gentleman who usually leads the Christian services on my end of the country is a Catholic priest, but has been a fan longer; I met him in ’82 when we were both working one of my first conventions. And clearly there are enough people attending services for the con committees to believe it’s worthwhile to schedule them and provide rooms.

    It sounds like Matt’s church — or at least the people of influence within it — are portrayed as particularly conservative and small-minded. That’s a shame.

    Angie

  16. SandyW
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 06:55:56

    Fictionwise says this book is no longer for sale. I don't own a Kindle. I finally found it for sale at the new publisher's web-site.
    http://stores.desertbreezepublishing.com/-strse-23/Angel-with-a-Ray/Detail.bok

    I dislike it when Christians are painted with a wide stereotypical brush, but the review makes me curious. I will say that I know one of the Elders in my church plays Dungeons and Dragons on a weekly basis. We have a decent assortment of gamers, SF fans, etc. and it doesn't seem to be a problem with most people. There are always people who are ready to disapprove of anything too imaginative. I'd like to think they're in the minority.

  17. Deb Kinnard
    Aug 12, 2009 @ 17:28:34

    SandyW, Fictionwise doesn’t carry Desert Breeze’s books yet. That’s in the works, though.

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