Monthly Archives: March 2009

Seabird by Sherry Thompson, a review

Seabird by Sherry Thompson, a review
Book One of the Narentan Tumults
Published in 2007 by Gryphonwood Press, 349 pages
Worldview: Christian

At the beginning of this young-adult novel, Cara Marshall, age 17, is beginning a beach vacation with her family. She buys a silver seabird necklace. When she puts it on, she is suddenly transported to another world, Narenta, a place like our world and yet not like it.

The Narentans make it clear they expect great things from her. They tell her she has a perilous task to do, as an Outworlder, to help them.  But Cara isn’t attached to Narenta and sees no reason to help the people there. She wants no part of the quest they would impose on her. She demands to go home, but finds no way to leave. A new twist on Oz!

She flees and finds she is placing herself and others in deadly peril, as evil sorcerers seek to kill her. She repents and decides to help the Narentans, but not before a kindly couple is dead because of her detour.

Cara is rescued by two enchanters, who do “good” magic and are followers of Alphesis (Jesus), and two seabirds who are sentient beings on Narenta, larger than eagles and full of warmth and good humor. Together, their path leads to a monastery island where Cara meets Alphesis and learns more of her task. She gradually learns to trust Alphesis and becomes braver.

Meanwhile, the evil sorcerers are declaring war on the good Narentans. Cara’s quest, if it succeeds, will allow the good Narentans to win. If it fails, they will lose.

Does she succeed? And does Alphesis allow her to return to our world?

I really enjoyed this book. Sherry Thompson excels at character development.  She gets inside Cara’s self-centered head very well, and also shows her gradual turnaround.  Other characters are shown in consistent detail as well. Cara must learn to trust that Alphesis will tell her what her next step is at the right moment. So this book does model the Christian walk well.

The world Thompson creates is one where good and evil may be easier to spot than in our world. Alphesis is front-and-center: there is no one who thinks he doesn’t exist.  His action in history is obvious, destroying a sorcerer’s castle and locking the sorcerers up for millennia.  We glimpse Alphesis’ action in history in snatches here and there, Tolkien-style.

But there are plenty of illusions as well, created by the evil sorcerers and by the good enchanters. There are imaginative details, such as woods full of copper-colored leaves, not green leaves, and “serpent-hawks.”

A drawback: a number of the characters have names starting with HA.  Halprin, Harone, Hathel.  I had a little trouble keeping them straight, even though they are very different characters. The two seabirds also have similar names, which also was a stumbling block for me.  In addition, the opening scene (which gets the plot rolling) is disconnected from what follows immediately, and so I forgot it completely until I went back to look over the book after I had finished.

Because the protagonist is a typical 17-year-old girl who is eventually enabled to do brave things, I expect girls will like this book. There is also a minor love-interest, which may widen the appeal. The book also has plenty of action. Sherry Thompson is working on a sequel, Earthbow. I’ll be looking forward to reading it.–Phyllis Wheeler

Thinking of buying this book? You can help support this blog by buying it through me.

Interview with Allan Miller: Blog Tour Day 3

This is the final day of the CSFF March Blog Tour, featuring Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow by homeschool graduates Christopher and Allan Miller. These brothers live in the Seattle area. Both are married and have two young boys. Allan kindly granted me an email interview. Here it is!

Q: I saw a banner ad at homeschoolblogger.com that indicated you and your brother were homeschooled. Can you tell me about that? All the way through?

A: We were homeschooled for my 6th-11th (I graduated one year early) and Chris’ 8th-12th grades. Prior to that we attended a private school in Fairbanks, AK. The year we moved from AK to WA (my 2nd grade and Chris’ 5th grade) my mom had homeschooled us so we could be flexible during the move. We loved it! However, this was 1986-87 and homeschooling was not very “popular”. Not yet comfortable with the idea that she could successfully teach us at home, my mom enrolled us in private school the following year after we moved. However, neither us or our parents were settled with the decision.

After my brother completed his 7th grade year he asked mom if we could homeschool again… she had been feeling the same way. So, we bravely jumped back into it and we will forever be indebted to our parents for that gift. Homeschooling truly is a gift from parents for every kid who receives it. One of the greatest benefits of home-based learning is the opportunities it gives you to discover your strengths and invest time into those.

We found that our base subjects (math, english, science, etc) were able to be completed rather quickly, leaving us with time to explore interests like art, animation, or writing stories. Additionally, as our parents started seeing our passions forming, they encouraged us to incorporate them into all of our studies – leading to us writing/illustrate children’s books as our science projects – books that creatively taught the concept of physics or light/color through story. I believe this is a HUGE contributor to directing our future path towards becoming published author/illustrators.

The time homeschooling also allowed Chris and I to really grow in appreciation for each other as friends which eventually led to us attending the Art Institute of Seattle together in 95-97. The combination of our friendship and our strong foundation in faith, nurtured through homeschooling, helped us stand firm in our convictions even amidst a strongly secular college environment. So, in short, we would never wish we had our schooling any other way. It was fantastic!

Q: Who is older and by how much?

A: Chris is older by 2 1/2 years. Somehow that didn’t stop us from becoming great friends – sharing many of the same friends throughout our teens.

Q: Apparently you also worked in a Christian bookstore while homeschooling?

A:My parents and grandparents (mom’s side) ran a Christian bookstore up in Fairbanks, AK for a number of years. So, soon after entering the world both Chris and I were brought into a world of books – tucked behind the counter. Many of our earliest memories are of roaming the aisles after-hours and making little forts between the tent-shaped bookshelves where we’d peek out through holes of the peg-board backing to spy on customers (you never knew there were spies in the bookstores did you?)

After moving to WA our parents started a Christian School Book Club (think Scholastic) and after selling that began traveling as Representatives for a homeschool distributor. So, we never really could escape books. In fact, Chris and I recall thinking about how we would be glad to never have to haul another box of books after high school… oh the irony that we now haul our OWN books from and to events and schools!

Q: Did you find a lack of Christian fantasy works to read as you were growing up?

A: As a matter of fact, we did. The older we got, the thinner the selection of GREAT Christian books became. There were some wonderful books, to be sure, but not enough in our opinion. This is one of the driving factors in why we’ve chosen to write the Codebearers Series. In fact, you could say that we are writing these books for ourselves – the 10+ year-old versions of ourselves. These are the kind of stories we loved to read (and still do) These are the stories we believe we’ve been called to write and we hope our work answers that call well. There has been nothing more fulfilling than hearing from a reader or parent about how it connected with them and met that very need.

Q: Is the second book out now?

A: The second book, Hunter Brown and the Consuming Fire, is written going through the editing and illustrating process right now. It is slated to be released 9/9/09. You can follow our progress through our website, Codebearers.com, and blog, http://themillerbrothers.blogspot.com

Q: How long are you planning the series to be?

A: We have a 3 book story arch for Hunter Brown that Warner Press has contracted us to complete. The 3rd book should come out summer/fall of 2010. However, we have some other storylines we’d like to explore that may extend the series into more books… possibly following another main character, but that’s all I can tell you now!

Q: Is there a videogame to go with the book? If so, is it similar to the book trailer?

A: There is an online game off of our Codebearers.com website, but it’s not animated in that sense. It plays more like a first-person mystery – where you get to solve visual puzzles and riddles to discover the message that Hunter eludes to at the end of book 1 – so it’s a continuation of the story between book 1 and 2. If you’ve ever played the popular PC games, Myst or Riven, then you’ll be familiar with this style of game. Ours is built with the widely distributed Flash plug-in, so it works on any browser (though dial-up is not recommended). We try to add a new level every month or so, but it’s tough when you are writing a book too!

My brother and I are professional website designers/programmers. That has been our “day job” for the past 11 years. So, much of what you see on Codebearers.com is a direct application of our skills. The website also offers a great community for kids to interact with each other. We also make appearances via a fun “3D Chatroom” every so often. I should also mention, the online game plays for points as does other things like writing a review of the book, recruiting a friend to Codebearers.com, etc. On December 15th we awarded a $400 gift card to Best Buy for the top points earner. It was a lot of fun and we will be starting up the next round of competition soon. (end of interview)

Be sure to check out what other bloggers are saying on this today on the CSFF Blog Tour:

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Magma
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Wade Ogletree
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow, a Review

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Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow by Christopher and Allan Miller, a review
Book 1 of the Codebearers Series

Published by Warner Press, 2008, 366 pages.

Worldview: Christian

In this middle-grade Christian fantasy novel, Hunter Brown keeps making bad choices. Nevertheless, he finds redemption.

The book starts off with a prank that goes bad.  Soon Hunter finds himself visiting a mysterious bookshop with an odd little man as the proprietor. He is given a book. The book soon leads Hunter and his friend Stretch into another world, Solandria.

Solandria is connected to our world, which Solandrians call the Veil. Both worlds are ruled by the Shadow. In our world, the Veil, people aren’t aware that the Shadow rules. They are fooled by appearances.

However, the Book showed the truth about us, our dark and evil eyes, to Hunter and continues to guide him. In Solandria, it’s obvious who the evil folks are. In fact, Hunter seems to have some of their evil characteristics. He certainly makes some choices that reflect that. But friendly folk, the Codebearers, teach Hunter how to use a special force-sword, activated by speaking words from the Book. They send him to look for Aviad, the son of the Author–Author of life and of the Book.

After many trials, Hunter finds Aviad. It turns out that he is the bookseller, the odd-looking bookstore owner–a man with short legs and too many cats. Now Hunter must seek to undo the curse that has fallen on Solandria. Aviad has a role in lifting the curse as well.

This book has good characterization, with consistent, well-drawn characters. It has plenty of action, and keeps you turning the pages, that’s for sure. It does a good job of portraying the Christian walk. Clearly the swords used are the swords of the Spirit, activated by the Word of God. This book is an allegory in many ways, but it is also a page-turner.

Hunter learns to ask Aviad for help, after first going his own way and heading for disaster. When he finally calls for help, he receives it. Through most of the book, Hunter thinks he is OK, when he really is under the curse.  In the end, when he submits to the Author, the curse is lifted for him, and he becomes a Codebearer like his friends. And so it does describe the path to Christ pretty well.

I do have a minor reservation about this book. I am uncomfortable with the idea of portraying Jesus as an odd-looking man with short legs, wispy hair, and so on. This is no Aslan. But Isaiah did describe Jesus as unremarkable in appearance, so this Jesus could be more Biblical than Lewis’ Aslan.

In short, this is a great book for your middle-grade boys to read. They will like it, and they’ll learn something about the road to Jesus from it. –Phyllis Wheeler

Tomorrow: an interview with the authors!

If you want to buy this book, you can help defray expenses of operating this blog by ordering here:

Check out others on the blog tour and what they have to say:

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Magma
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Wade Ogletree
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Middle-grade reader recommendations

A Christian mom emailed me and asked for recommendations for her middle-grade reader who likes science fiction.

So I asked Becky Miller of A Christian Worldview of Fiction what she would recommend, since I didn’t know. She kindly responded. She only knows of Christian fantasy, not science fiction, for that age group.  Here is what she recommends:

  • The Landon Snow series by R. K. Mortenston starting with Landon Snow and the Auctor’s Riddle (Barbour)
  • The Wilderking trilogy by Jonathan Rogers starting with The Bark of the Bog Owl (B&H Publishers)
  • The Knights of Arrethtrae series by Chuck Black starting with Sir Kendrick and the Castle of Bel Lione (Multnomah Books)
  • The Codebearers series by the Miller Brothers starting with Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow (Warner Press)