Author Archives: Editor

About Editor

Editor and writer, homeschooling veteran, computer skills teacher, occasional engineer. Mother of triplets, mother of two with Asperger’s.

Captives by Jill Williamson, a review

Captives by Jill Williamson, Book One of The Safe Lands series, a review
Published 2013 by Zondervan, 381 pages
Genre: Dystopian suspense, young adult and up

Three brothers live in a tenuous settlement that shares a Colorado valley with a huge walled city called the Safe Lands. The year is 2088, and the Thin Plague has wiped out the population of the United States except for isolated pockets close to clean water sources. It’s a hard life for the brothers and their kin, surviving off the land and off what they can glean from the empty Denver City not far away.

Omar, a sensitive boy mocked and bullied by their father, decides to make friends with the people who live in the Safe Lands, although others warn him that those who go in never come out. Maybe there he will feel like he belongs. It turns out the Safe Lands desperately needs people like Omar and his clan, people uninfected by the Thin Plague who can help the Safe Lands repopulate. Omar decides his family will like the apparently easy life in the Safe Lands, and he arranges to have them taken there.

Levi, the oldest brother, is away on a trip when the Safe Landers arrive, and he returns to a village empty of life. As son of the village elder, he is elder now. He must go in to rescue the survivors, including his fiancee Jemma. But will he be able to control his temper?

Mason, the middle brother, is a gentle vegetarian who finds himself in a position of responsibility in the Safe Lands. He’s a medic, with access to the others from his village from time to time. Will he be able to make a difference for them? And can he begin to figure out what how to defeat the Thin Plague that is stunting the lives and eliminating the fertility of the Safe Landers?

Jill Williamson has delivered another impressive tale with believable, detailed characters and a strong plot line. Dystopia is a new genre for her, and she does very well in it. Her vision of 2088 Colorado has some similarities to the authoritarian world of the Hunger Games, of course, and a lot of differences too. The faith element is present but not center stage, and so I expect non-Christians will be comfortable reading this book (and hopefully thinking a bit about the faith part). There’s a clue at the very beginning: a verse from the book of Daniel. Is Mason a recasting of the Biblical Daniel, a vegetarian living in a hostile kingdom and working for the good of his people?

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series!

The Rock of Ivanore by Laurisa White Reyes, a review

The Rock of Ivanore by Laurisa White Reyes, Book One of the Celestine Chronicles
Published 2012 by Tanglewood Press, 347 pages
Genre: Middle grade fantasy, not specifically Christian

Marcus Frye, 14-year-old orphan apprentice to the magician Master Zyll, has learned a bit of magic that sometimes works. Now his town is sending him and the other five boys his age on a quest as their coming-of-age rite. They’re to head off through the woods across the large island and find the Rock of Ivanore. Problem is, none of them knows what it is or where it is.

The stakes are high: those who come back with honor will live in honor, and those who come back in disgrace will have to work menial jobs the rest of their lives. Will Marcus find courage within himself, or cowardice? Will he work with the other boys, or against them? Once he makes a promise to an apparent enemy, will he keep his word? Will he have compassion? And how can he tell who his friends are?

What do I think?

Marcus moves through a moral minefield on his way to discover the Rock. This book, for kids aged 8 and up, is sure to provoke some family discussions about honesty and open-mindedness to people who look different. It would make a great read-aloud. While it doesn’t have an explicit faith component, it certainly does not contradict or undermine the Christian faith. It’s a great story with a surprise ending, carefully plotted with increasing suspense and some good characters. If you have boys who are reluctant readers, give them this book!

Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Brouwer, a review

Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Brouwer, Book Two of Merlin’s Immortals
Published 2013 by Waterbrook Press, 217 pages
Genre: Middle grade/young adult historical fiction with Arthurian tint and steampunk flavor

In the first book in the series, we watched the orphan Thomas regain his father’s throne from a usurper using his wits and using science from ancient manuals he inherited. Now in the second book, we continue to see Thomas’ pain at not understanding the intrigue swirling around him. Forces for good and forces for evil vie for Thomas’s allegiance. He had enough of an education from his mother, who died when he was ten, to be able to turn from darkness when it presents itself. But he can’t get anyone to explain to him what is actually going on. The good guys fear Thomas is a druid spy.

Thomas longs to trust the Earl of York, whose domain contains Thomas’s kingdom. But the kind earl wears a ring with a druid symbol. Clearly he can’t be trusted. Or can he? And how about the two mysterious beautiful women, Isabelle and Katherine, both of whom are clearly lying?

What do I think? This book contains delicious hints of Merlin, who allegedly built the fortress that Thomas now rules. The scientific explanations of what the common people believe to be magic lend a steampunk flavor, though of course this setting is A.D. 1312, pre-steampunk. What fun!

Our hero Thomas should be a hit with teen boys. The book has a bit of romance, too, enhancing its appeal to girls. Characterization is strong, the plot is highly twisty, and all in all I wish the book was a bit longer with more description. However, I suspect that the intended target audience, reluctant readers, wish otherwise. Good job, Mr. Brouwer!

Here’s my review of the previous book.
This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Check out what the others are saying.

Author Website – http://www.sigmundbrouwer.com/
*Participants’ links
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Eve Nielsen
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler

The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer, a review

The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer, Book One of Merlin’s Immortals
Published 2012 by Waterbrook, 220 pages
Genre: Middle grade Christian historical fiction with Arthurian hints

It’s England, AD 1312. Thomas is a slave, an 18-year-old orphan raised by cruel, selfish monks. Thomas knows he has a destiny, some of it revealed to him at age 10 as his mother lay dying. He knows he’s destined to rule a kingdom that a usurper took from his family. And he’s determined to bring justice. But how can he do it by himself? He’s just an orphan with no family, no tribe, no helpers, and no faith.

He puzzles over the mysterious words his mother spoke: “My prayer was to watch you grow into a man and become one of us, one of the Immortals.” And then she died. What did she mean?

Thomas in his quest picks up some unreliable companions: a thief, a deaf-mute woman, and a former Knight Templar. Secrets abound. There are bad guys about, and good guys too. Whom can he trust? Anyone?

What do I think?

It’s a middle grade story, meaning it’s briefly told. I’d love more description and so on, but for the intended reader, it’s a good book, not too long. The characters are well sketched and consistent, and the settings are detailed enough to be visualized. There’s a good story arc , and there is a faith element in the book which I expect to get stronger in the sequels as Thomas learns more about God. In short, it’s a very good book for middle grade readers. It even mentions Merlin and King Arthur, topics which I hope come to the fore in the next books.

As it happens, this book has a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions in it. One of them really nags at me though. Why does Thomas decide to rescue the knight who is about to be hanged near the beginning of the book? Did his mother predict the hanging and tell him to be there? And it’s odd that she’s an Immortal who died. Immortal seems like a funny name for a mortal, if you ask me. I suppose these questions will eventually be answered later in the series, and so I’ll be happy to read more.

This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Check out what the others are saying, and come back tomorrow for a review of the sequel!

Author Website – http://www.sigmundbrouwer.com/
*Participants’ links
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Eve Nielsen
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore, a review

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore
Published 2012 by Thomas Nelson, 311 pages
Genre: Young adult supernatural with romance elements, Christian

I rarely re-read books. But the blog tour I partake in, Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF), is currently looking at a book I reviewed last year. Should I just recycle the old review?

I picked up the book, couldn’t remember exactly what the plot was, and read the first page. Then the second. And … I couldn’t help myself, though my time for reading is limited. I dove right in.

I loved this book the first time around. I wondered: would I love it the second time around too?

The answer is: yes! Fans of Christian supernatural fiction will surely agree with me that this book is strongly plotted, has a memorable premise, has unforgettable characters, and strengthens the reader’s faith walk. Not only that, but Dittemore crafts some beautiful prose.

Here’s my review from last time, in case you want more details: http://www.phylliswheeler.com/angel-eyes-by-shannon-dittemore-a-review/

Be sure to see what the others on the CSFF Blog Tour are saying in the next three days, too:
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Beckie Burnham
Theresa Dunlap
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website http://www.shannondittemore.com/
Author Facebook pagehttp://www.facebook.com/ShannonDittemore

Brad Roth, South American writer?

The Roth family in Peru

I was intrigued by the wonderful book I reviewed yesterday, Rumi and the Savage Mountain by Bradley Roth. Its protagonist is a boy who lives in a village in the Andes mountains, and it’s very convincingly told. In addition, it has plenty of what looks like magical realism to me, a genre invented by South American writers. So how did such a book come to be written by a gringo with a name like Bradley Roth? So I asked him some questions:

1. Have you heard of magical realism? If so do you consider this book to be in this genre?

Yes, I have heard of magical realism. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende come to mind. My experience with Marquez or Allende is that their magical realism uses the absurd to pique our moral imagination. My writing is set in the mythical Andes, drawing from authentic Andean myths and legends, though modified a bit to fit in a few things, like the faith of Tayta Siwar or the story about Junior’s dad. It’s a different way of looking at the world, but it’s not intentionally absurd as I see magical realism being.

2. Do you envision adults reading your book as well as kids?

Yes, but I’ve tried to gear my story toward the 8-12 set.

3. How were you able to get into the head of someone who lives such a different life from that of the average American?

Great question. We recently returned from a year of missionary service with Eastern Mennonite Missions in the Cuzco, Peru. We were based in the city, but as part of our work we travelled out to extremely rural villages. We got a taste of what life was like in the mountains. During our time in Cuzco, we also studied Quechua. A few Quechua words pop up in the story. And I’m interested in Andean culture, folk beliefs, and history.

If you’re interested, you can read more about our journey in Peru at www.Facebook.com/rothsinperu

I would also add that the voice of the characters is intentionally a bit anachronistic. Rumi, Kiya, and Junior talk a little like kids in 21st century US.

4. Does Rumi live in Peru?

It could be Peru, or any place in the Andes. It’s my imagining of life shortly after the Inca Empire was overthrown by the Spaniards–except that creatures out of myth are alive and well and walking about. And there’s a bit of alternative history woven into the background: the Lamb was born into the Andes, and the faith centered in his life and way is embodied by the Taytas.

5. What literature do you like to read?

I like fantasy and sci-fi that takes questions of faith seriously. There’s scant little of it. I read Narnia when I was a kid. Ursula LeGuinn’s Earthsea series and Mary Doria Russell’s Sparrow and Children of God books strike me. I would like to find compelling fantasy that takes Christian nonviolence seriously. I’m working on that.

Rumi and the Savage Mountain by Bradley Roth, a review

Rumi and the Savage Mountain by Bradley Roth
Self-published 2012, 136 pages
Genre: Christian magical realism (fantasy/fairy tale) for middle grade and up

Rumi is an 11-year-old boy who lives in the Andes mountains. His main worries are dealing with the local bully and caring for his younger sisters while his mother is at work in the fields. Suddenly a strange messenger appears and convinces him that Rumi’s beloved friend, the village holy man, will die unless Rumi brings some snow from the snowcap of the nearby mountain. The messenger from the Most High leaves him with a few odd items to help in the journey: a feather, a grain of quinoa, a clay whistle, and a potato. Is this all a joke, or should he go?

Rumi’s faithful dog, Junior, can talk and advise, like a human friend. What if the holy man dies? The two of them decide to go. And so begins an adventure filled with perils.

What do I think?

This story, intended for youngsters, is very readable for adults as well. It reminds me strongly of the magical realism work of South American authors. Magical realism matter-of-factly describes events that are actually bizarre or impossible, but the characters accept them as if they are normal. This tale is full of instances of this, starting with the talking dog.

What makes this book so cool is that it is convincingly told from the point of view of Rumi, the boy. This child leads a subsistence lifestyle very unlike that of the average American kid, and he’s facing all kinds of tangible supernatural forces. Yet his story is believable because he shows us his emotions in each situation. It doesn’t hurt that Roth uses rich metaphors as he weaves the story. While the book is self-published, it’s free of errors, making it a joy to read.

There’s a great faith lesson in this book when Rumi refuses to worship something that is not God, providing great fodder for a family discussion. In short, read this book. I expect you’ll love it too.

Read my interview with Brad Roth.

Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, a review

Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Tales of Goldstone Wood #4
Published 2012 by Bethany House, 348 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for middle grade and up

Starflower is a mortal woman who flees a life of abuse and loses her way in a faerie wood, tortured by dreams of what she left behind. She had sought to save her sister’s life. Now that Starflower has escaped, is her sister dead?

An immortal faerie man who is also a cat (in a world where the immortals shape-change readily) sets out on a quest to rescue his lady fair from the clutches of a dragon witch, bumbling into dangers he little can understand. But since he’s a poet, he expects to make beautiful songs about the quest. And does he love his lady fair? Well, he certainly thinks he does.

Soon their paths cross. The cat-man doesn’t want to help Starflower, who is after all a mere mortal, but for some reason he it anyway. Both the cat-man and Starflower soon find themselves called to the path drawn for them by a golden hound. This is a mysterious being who speaks to their hearts and calls them out of themselves as they each must deal with terrible evil.

How will each respond?

What do I think?

This book has a lot of great things going for it. The characters are unique and well drawn, and the story line is unforgettable, with characters faced with heartstopping dilemmas. One of the best things is the Hound of Heaven, whose guidance and presence ring true. The heroine is dark-skinned, a welcome change from most heroines in Christian fiction. Setting, dialogue, and description work well together to create a wonderful story. This story has two memorable faerie villains, a double helping.

However, I had some trouble getting into the book, and I think it’s for these reasons:

  1. The lengthy prologue was from the point of view of a villain, whom I couldn’t identify with. The prologue was full of many details about this story world that I didn’t latch onto.
  2. The two protagonists are in an emotionally broken state to begin with, making it hard for the reader to identify with them. This is a common story problem, as any author must move the protagonist through a character arc. But it’s usual to create some kind of an early bonding moment for the reader, often known as the “pet the dog moment.” There such a moment for the minor protagonist (cat-man), but not for the main protagonist, Starflower.
  3. As we get to know Starflower, we readers are kept from knowing anything about her past for a very long time. In fact, she is asleep for a lot of the first part of the story.

So, my counsel for you readers is to pick up this book and stick with it a while until it grows on you. It will bless you mightily.

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour. Check out what others are saying about this book during the next three days:

Gillian Adams
Beckie Burnham
Nikole Hahn
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website – http://anneelisabethstengl.blogspot.com/
Author Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anne-Elisabeth-Stengl/120543861335559#ts&fref=ts

A Storm in Tormay by Christopher Bunn, a review

A Storm in Tormay by Christopher Bunn, a compilation of the Tormay trilogy: The Hawk and His Boy, The Shadow at the Gate, and The Wicked Day.
Self-published in 2010, 738 pages
Genre: Fantasy, suitable for teens and up

A young apprentice thief is given the task of stealing an item from a house guarded, or warded, by magic. Jute has got a natural talent for detecting the “wards” that protect the house, and he manages to steal the item and give it to the man who ordered it. But not before he disobeys instruction and opens the box. He can’t help himself somehow. And so the beautiful dagger inside it draws blood from his finger.

As a result, a variety of people suddenly want him dead or captured. Can he stay ahead of them? How can he outwit the wizard and the various collection of bad guys? Will the new powers he’s developing help him or betray him?

What do I think?

This book is not in the genre I normally enjoy, Christian fantasy. There seems to be a deity who set the world in motion and created and assigned four guardians to protect it, but there’s no benevolent God in charge, and the forces of evil at times seem overwhelming.

What’s the rating? There are many violent scenes but no sex.

That said, I found the book to be well written. This is a sprawling, page-turner story with a huge cast of characters, each one well drawn. It reminds me a bit of Avatar, the Last Airbender–I wonder whether the author got some inspiration from that, as the boy Jute discovers he has become one of the four guardians, the one in charge of air (as opposed to earth, water, and fire), and slowly grows into his powers. I suspect that fans of secular fantasy will enjoy this book.

Gateway to Gannah: Words in the Wind by Yvonne Anderson

Words in the Wind, Book 2 in the Gateway to Gannah series, by Yvonne Anderson
Published 2012 by Risen Books
Genre: Christian science fiction, suitable for teens and up, featuring a strong faith element

This book is the sequel to The Story in the Stars, Gateway to Gannah Book 1, which I reviewed earlier. About 12 years after the end of the first book, the second book opens to show us Dassa and Pik married and parents of two children, heading a settlement of a thousand “earthers” who are attempting to begin to repopulate Gannah. (Dassa is the only native of Gannah who is alive, the sole survivor of a plague, and therefore is the toqueph or ruler of Gannah.)

Dassa is returning from a mission elsewhere, and she’s in an aircraft in a storm. As things go horribly wrong, she realizes the folly of the way she has been living lately, relying on herself rather than the Yasha, the benevolent creator of the universe who longs for her prayers.

Dassa survives the crash but finds herself stripped of the telepathic communication that links her to her children and to the animals of Gannah. She’s also unable to hear. Her arm is broken, she’s caught without a coat in the beginning of an arctic winter. Can she trust the Yasha to take care of her?

Meanwhile Pik, the doctor who was once her worst enemy and who came to love her, is struggling with a host of problems in her absence. Some of the settlers are rebellious. So is his little daughter, whom he just wants to spoil. The sentient animals of Gannah seek to resume their deadly war against humans, but only Dassa can deal with them.

He wants to go and look for Dassa, but his responsibilities and technical problems prevent that. Can he too trust the Yasha to take care of Dassa and provide what he needs?

What do I think?

I enjoyed Yvonne Anderson’s richly drawn characters, her gripping story style, and especially the faith message, which I found very satisfying. The book contains story arcs that begin and end with this book, but it also contains story arcs that aren’t tied up neatly. So, I’ll be looking forward to reading the next book to find out what happened!

Read my reviews of this series:

Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4