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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dopple Ganger Chronicles: The Secret of Indigo Moon

I don't actually remember how I first ran across The Dopple Ganger Chronicles by G.P. Taylor about a year and a half ago. I probably either found it in the catalog or the Lifeway Christian Stores catalog. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like these books before. They're not a novel in the traditional sense; many parts of the story are told in graphic novel format. But they aren't strictly graphic novels either, because there are many pages that are filled partly or completely with standard text, like a novel. If you flip through one of them, it almost looks like a very stylish novel with cartoon-style illustrations, but if you think you can read the story and skip the pictures, you're wrong. When the narrative ends at a cartoon section, it actually picks up in the cartoon! It's a great format for a book targeted at tween readers, even ones who are reluctant to read for pleasure. My then 9-year-old son enjoyed the first one very much! (He hasn't read book #2 yet, but he's planning to very soon!)

Book #1, The First Escape, introduces us to the main three characters: twin girls named Sadie and Saskia Dopple, and their friend, a boy named Erik Ganger. I should explain, for anyone who doesn't get the joke here, that "doppelgänger" is a word meaning a double or an alter-ego, so there's a "double meaning" to the series title. The girls are "Dopple" and the boy is "Ganger," and the girls are mirror-image twins so each is a doppelgänger of the other. All three of the children are orphans; they live in an orphanage for girls called Isambard Dunstan's School for Wayward Children (Erik lives there as sort of a part-time janitor; all of the other "wayward children" are girls.) The First Escape also introduces us to some other characters who turn up again in the second book: some of Sadie and Saskia's schoolmates, cranky and slightly shady headmistress Miss Rimmer, tyrannical cook Mrs. Omeron, an odd and threatening magician named The Great Potemkin, and, key to the first book, famed author Muzz Elliott. A very mysterious, ghostlike woman named Madame Raphael also appears quite briefly; her part is small in Escape but she plays a more important part in book #2, The Secret of Indigo Moon. I suspect her character will become more and more important as the series continues on.

I enjoyed The First Escape very much... so much that I actually blew through it probably a little more quickly than I should have, maybe missing a few details in the process. These books lend themselves best to reading at a leisurely pace, particularly in the graphic novel sections. The artwork is very stylish and, in some cases, quite detailed; the comic format is often used for action sequences where a lot is going on at once. The first book is sort of a mystery with some ghosts thrown in (most notably a seance which turns out to be a hoax). There's lots of action and lots of peril; the villains spend a lot of time chasing the heroes around in an attempt to kill them, but at the end, things basically turn out fine (more or less). The things that I don't like about the first book are that the story seems a bit unfocused, with two plot streams going on at once but never really dovetailing in a satisfying way, and that the children don't ever come upon an adult that they can truly trust. Madame Raphael almost qualifies, but her part is so brief and her character so unearthly and mysterious that she barely counts. It turns out that Muzz Elliott was probably the adult that the children could have trusted the most, but Muzz is so self-focused and unavailable that the children wind up having nobody to turn to except each other. It's not that there are no grown-ups; there are lots of grown-ups. It's just that most of them are bad guys, or at best, unreliable good or neutral characters.

The Secret of Indigo Moon does better on both counts. At the beginning of this second installment, the two girls have (sort of) been adopted by Muzz, or at least they have a family-style relationship with her, although they still spend a lot of their time living at Isambard Dunstan's School. Muzz does not appear in this story, but her presence as a trustworthy figure, sort of a safe home base, runs throughout. There are other sympathetic adult characters, too: a newspaper reporter named Dorcas Potts, and her uncle, Lord Gervez. I was happy that the young hero and heroines had finally found some people they could trust. It's important that kids understand that adults are not the enemy, and in the first book it almost felt like that to me. Some of the villains from the first book return in the second book, and some new bad guys appear. And Madame Raphael has a much more important part to play; I'll get back to her in a minute.

I enjoyed how this book deepens the characters and their relationships with each other; the world they move about in seems more real and nuanced in Moon than in Escape. Like the first book, this story is about a band of thieves; the girls get separated, Sadie with Erik and Saskia on her own. But the individual stories seem to merge back together in a more satisfying way in book #2 than in book #1; Sadie and Erik's side adventure serves to advance the plot this time, where in the first book it seemed almost contrived, like a way to get the twins separated so Saskia was out on a limb by herself with nobody else to turn to. But to me, the biggest difference has to do with Madame Raphael and her increased role. Before I go into the details I will mention that her identity is left mysterious at the end of the first book, so if you want to avoid spoilers, you might want to quit reading now and return to this review once you've enjoyed the books on their own merits.

In Escape, Madame Raphael doesn't do very much. She mysteriously appears in Saskia's room, gives her an etiquette lesson, leaves her a key with no real explanation, and disappears, and that's pretty much it. But her appearance obviously made a big impact on Saskia, because in book #2, Saskia seems to think of her in religious terms, to the point of praying to her. But she actually appears several times, and by the end of the book she has implied that she is an angel (one of the angels who was present at the birth of Jesus, in fact) and told Saskia that she should not pray to Madame Raphael, but to someone she refers to as The Companion. The approach is soft-spoken and almost mystical, inviting without being demanding, and I think it's quite effective in a book that is as enjoyable for a tween with no religious upbringing at all as it is for a tween who grew up in church. I look forward to finding out how that character develops over time.

G. P. Taylor, author
Both books contain a quote from a BBC show calling G. P. Taylor "the new C. S. Lewis." I'm not sure there is a direct comparison; the work of both is compelling, but Lewis was never much of an action scene writer, and Taylor doesn't seem to be that much for symbolism, which was a big thing for Lewis. Like Lewis, Taylor is Anglican (although I don't think C. S. Lewis was actually a minister, while Taylor is). Taylor rolls out fiction much more regularly than Lewis typically did; Lewis also wrote many scholarly works and works of apologetics. But Taylor certainly has a gift for engaging and holding his audience's attention, and the hybrid novel/graphic novel format is quite exciting. I have recommended these books to children's librarians, and I would recommend them to any parent of a child who enjoys books containing fantasy elements (Narnia, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc.) But I would even recommend these books to parents of children who do not like to read. The pacing is fast, but the plots are complex enough that they invite you to participate in the story. This is good stuff. I'm looking forward to book #3, The Great Mogul Diamond, scheduled for release in May!

After I wrote and posted this review, I gave the book to my 11-year-old son. He read it immediately, and at the end of two days he had finished it... TWICE! He can't wait for book #3 (and he wants me to buy him the first one, which we got from the library)!

I was provided with a review copy of The Secret of Indigo Moon by Tyndale House Publishers. I read The First Escape before requesting the review copy of Moon. The opinions expressed in this review are mine alone.

Monday, April 25, 2011

You, Youth

In my one-year trip through the Bible (which has now turned into a one-and-a-half-year trip through the Bible!), I've made it through the incredible book of Isaiah and into the book of Jeremiah, which is also pretty incredible, but in a completely different way. (Actually, I've heard so much about Jeremiah's "weeping" that I was expecting a depressing read, but it's not that way at all. You can read it for yourself and see what you think about that. He does weep several times, though.)

Anyway, I was reading the first chapter, where God calls Jeremiah to his ministry as a prophet, and I came across this:
But the LORD said to me,
    “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
    for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
    and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
    Do not be afraid of them,
    for I am with you to deliver you,
    declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8 ESV)
Jeremiah was a young man at this time; likely he was in his early 20s, maybe even in his teens. God told him that that didn't matter, because when God calls you to something and you're walking in His will, He'll make a way for you to do it. Being young doesn't disqualify you... ask David, or Gideon, or any number of other young people that God used mightily in the Word!

I turned 40 years old last year; in a few months I'll tick over to age 41. Most people would not classify me as a "youth." But I remember what it felt like when I was a kid, then a teenager, then a young man, and started off on something new. It was scary! I can remember it very well because when I start something new these days, at the age of 40... it still feels exactly that way! When I'm starting something that I haven't done before, it's scary. I feel like I'm not big and strong enough to do it. I feel like I might fail. I might as well be a little kid! As I told my son recently, every grown man you see walking around, even if he's a hundred years old, still has a little kid inside there.

How about you? Do you turn into a "youth" when God calls to try something new? If you do (and come on, you know you do!) heed the words God said to Jeremiah. Don't tell God how small and weak and incapable you are. Go where He says to go, say what He tells you do say, and don't be afraid: God is with you, making your victories possible!

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Nobody knew His secret ambition.
Nobody knew His claim to fame.
...Nobody knew His secret ambition was to give His life away!

He is risen!

He is risen INDEED!


Saturday, April 23, 2011


One of my favorite Easter songs of all time! It's based in part on Galatians 2:20-21:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Lyrics are below, since the "Cookie Monster" Jamaican rap parts are a little tricky to make out. Enjoy! (Oh... and it's okay to DANCE!)

by Christafari
as recorded on their album Soul Fire
He died for me so I could live for Him.
He gave His life for me so I could give mine to Him.
He died for me so I could live for Him.
He became like me so I could become like Him!

And so me cry: and so Lord Jesus He died, the same way I have been crucified. Take up your cross and follow Him as He said to His children "Live in no more sin."

Everyone say! And so Lord Jesus He died, the same way I have been crucified. Take up your cross and follow Him as He said to His children "Live in no more sin."

It's by faith through which you've been saved, and according to the mercy the Father did give. Just like the faith of one mustard seed, the smallest in size, but becomes the biggest weed.

It's by faith through His grace that put me in this place of righteousness that you cannot erase. So I've been justified, and-a sanctified, I am glorified with the Spirit inside. So do not bother filling up yourself with pride; as a humble lion you must be crucified.

He died for me so I could live for Him.
He gave His life for me so I could give mine to Him.
He died for me so I could live for Him.
He became like me so I could become like Him!

He was born so He could die, died so we might live.
We lift His name on high, pure love that we give.


And so Lord Jesus He died, the same way I have been crucified. Take up your cross and follow Him as He said to His children "Live in no more sin."
Everyone say! And so Lord Jesus He died, the same way I have been crucified. Take up your cross and follow Him as He said to His children "Live in no more sin."

Watch this!

I've been crucified with Christ for eternity, it's I that no longer live but Christ that lives in me. The life that I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of Yahweh. He who loves-a me and He gave Himself for me, I do not set aside the grace of God, can't you see? For if through the law righteousness could be, then Jesus Christ, He died for nothing.

He died for me so I could live for Him.
He gave His life for me so I could give mine to Him.
He died for me so I could live for Him.
He became like me so I could become like Him!

And so Lord Jesus He died, the same way I have been crucified. Take up your cross and follow Him as He said to His children "Live in no more sin."

So don't big up your music, don't big up your fame. You must come refuse it, don't big up your name. Don't big up your status don't big up your wealth, me cry don't big up anything just die to yourself.

You must first count up the cost, then you take up the cross... and follow Him.

Hallelujah! Amen. Amen. Amen, amen, amen.

I have redemption and propitiation, election and pure substitution, adoption and reconciliation, confession and regeneration, expiation, and joy, enough conviction, and strength over temptation, me have discipleship and fellowship, security for surety in this life (relationship) with God.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Pleading Three Times

Olives in Gethsemane-3photo © 2009 Ian Scott | more info (via: Wylio)
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42 ESV)
Jesus' suffering at Gethsemane was excruciating. In fact, in Luke it says that He was sweating so much it was like blood dripping off Him. He was pleading with God that there would be some other way, but God's answer was silence: Jesus already knew God's will. In fact, a few weeks earlier Jesus had said:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11,18 ESV)

Jesus knew God's will, and so He submitted Himself to it. The Father's will was that He die, so he would die. Jesus had His mind so set on obeying God's Will that He actively resisted defending Himself: "Do you think," Jesus said when one of the disciples struck out at the soldiers who came to take Jesus into custody, "that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53 ESV) Jesus could have called in the cavalry, but instead He chose Calvary. Three times Jesus plead for relief from His suffering, but God's will in this case was that He suffer, and Jesus chose God's will.

The Apostle Paul had an enormous revelation of the Gospel. He talked about it in letters to churches with which he had worked, and those letters were later collected and compiled to make up more than half of the New Testament. But God apparently foresaw a problem in Paul's life:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)
Paul had a problem. Like Jesus, he pleaded with God that there would be some other way, but the Lord Jesus did not let him hang in silence. Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you. Jesus' own grace. The grace that Jesus had when He was pleading with God in the Garden was also sufficient for Paul when he was pleading with God. The grace that got Jesus through the Cross was available, and sufficient, to get Paul through his trouble.

Is there something you've plead to God about three times? Something excruciatingly painful? Does it almost feel like you're going to die? God answers prayer, but in this life, the answer is not always an immediate change in the situation. In fact, God often receives much greater glory, and you get to experience a much greater victory, when God brings you through a hard time, and you endure with His grace. I don't believe that God wants His people to suffer, but sometimes instead of alleviating the suffering by changing the external situation, He alleviates the suffering by giving us peace in our hearts that, by His grace, the grace that carried Jesus Himself through death and to resurrection, He will also bring us through our dire situations to the resurrection on the other side.

Happy Good Friday, and Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Shifty or Stable

At my church we've been doing an ongoing study of Colossians. This passage is part of what we were looking at this week:
    And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23 ESV)
This week was my wife's birthday, and that day saw the addition of a new member to our household: a brand-new Wii Fit Plus setup. To play the Wii Fit game, you use a device called a "balance board." The balance board is about a foot wide and about 20" long, about the size of a very large bathroom scale, and it interacts wirelessly with your Wii as you stand or walk or jump (or whatever else the game requires) on it. The Wii Fit Plus game is designed to help you burn calories and get in better shape, and it does a surprisingly good job at getting your heart rate up and getting you on the move. We've all been having a great time playing with the board... who knew working out could be so much fun?

Several of the games and tests in Wii Fit Plus are about balance. A crosshair appears on the screen, and a smaller area in the center is colored orange, and there is a red dot on the screen that moves as you shift your center of gravity. You would think that standing completely still would be quite easy, so getting the red dot centered in the cross-hairs would just be a matter of stepping up on the board and not falling off it!Burning off the pounds: 40/365photo © 2009 Sasha Wolff | more info (via: Wylio) You would be wrong. The first time you try to center that red dot, it requires immense effort to even get it into the orange zone, and almost as much effort to keep it there. It's even harder to keep it motionless. Apparently standing completely still, never shifting even an ounce of your weight from one foot to the other, requires a great deal more strength than it sounds like. We were able to do it, but it wasn't easy!

The more you practice, though, and the more you work out and gain more and more leg strength, the more and more stable you become. Even then, it's critically important to focus all of your attention on the dot. If you look over at someone in the room, your dot will move. If you relax and shift your weight, the dot will move. You have to dedicate yourself to keeping that dot still, and if you do and if you have the physical strength and endurance to do it, you can hold that dot in place.

Now look back up at Colossians 1:21-23 at the top of this post. Think about what it takes to remain "stable and steadfast" on the balance board, "not shifting" your weight to one side or the other. You have to be strong, and you have to remain focused. And that's what living a mature Christian life requires, also: you have to be strong (see Paul's prayer in verse 11), and you have to remain focused, "not shifting from the hope of the gospel." The hope of the Gospel is that God has changed us from people who are "alienated and hostile" to God, into people who are "reconciled" to God, and that one day He will present is to Him "holy and blameless and above reproach." The hope we remain focused on is that we no longer need be separated from God, but God has made a way for us to run into His arms. If you keep as your life focus that God has made a way for you to be with Him, on His side instead of camping out with His enemies, then you can grow, you can mature, and you can become strong as a Believer.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What's in the Bible? #5: Israel Gets a King! (First & Second Samuel)

It's been a while since I blogged about the "What's In The Bible" DVD series for kids (and adults!). Video #5, Israel Gets a King! will be in stores very soon, and I'm pumped! Here's a teaser for ya:

You can find some more clips from the video here. These videos are crammed full of songs, puppets, cartoons, and sometimes popsicle sticks. Oh, and LOTS of information about the Bible. And not just the names of the books and major characters, either... these videos go quite in depth as to what major themes are there on the pages. This ain't some two-bit puppet show that the youth group from the church down the street made up in their spare time; these shows are well-researched, well-written, and performed with a Kermit-and-Piggy-inspired gusto that will keep your kids (and probably their parents!) riveted. And when the credits roll, I can almost guarantee that everyone in the room, kids and parents alike, will have learned something. And I don't say that lightly. It's seldom that someone manages to create something for kids that is simultaneously so filled with information that it almost makes your head swim if you think about it, and also so interesting and fun that you don't want to look away. That's what these videos are like.

My kids are ages 3½ and 11. My 3-year-old girl calls them "the puppet show" and asks for them periodically; my 11-year-old is too big and manly to ASK to watch them, but I don't see him walking out of the room to get away from it, either. They both watch and learn and have a great time. Your kids will too! You can order a copy from or pick it up at your favorite Christian bookstore, but you could also enter a contest to win one of five copies right here (I did)!