Monthly Archives: June 2009

Cry for the Moon by William Woodall, a Review

moon

Cry for the Moon by William Woodall, a Review
Published by Jeremiah Press (self-published), 2009, 235 pages.
Genre:  Middle-grade Christian horror (mild)

The protagonist of this book is 12-year-old Zach.  He and his younger sister live with their parents and a grandmother in woods in East Tennessee.  Zach and the sister are just regular kids, but the adults in the family are werewolves. What are werewolves?  They are people who get weird on the full moon, growing claws and hunting game in a very beast-like fashion. But still people.  How do they get to be werewolves? They accept a curse by going through a ceremony during the Harvest moon and then making a kill on the next full moon.

Somehow Zach doesn’t like any of this.  His family is setting him up to be a werewolf too: his grandmother does the Harvest Moon ceremony on him (after making him drowsy). All he has to do is go on a hunt on the following full moon with them, and … well, he will have none of it.

He escapes and flees to find his uncle Justin, who lives in Texas and whom he has never met. He tells the story in the first person, and we get to know him as a likable kid. His flight is an adventure that takes up most of the book–he seeks to avoid detection as a runaway, and so rakes yards and does odd jobs to earn bus money and money for food. It’s a tough life, being homeless. Eventually, he gets to Uncle Justin. When he finds Uncle Justin, how is he received? I won’t spoil the story for you. But I’ll tell you that Justin turns out to be a Christian.

What do I think? This book opens with a pretty disgusting portrayal of the grandmother-as-werewolf taking apart a rabbit.  I think that’s a put-off.  But since it’s about werewolves and all, maybe not too much. Hey, they’re evil, right?

The book lacks a constant antagonist. A really good story usually has an antagonist which provides difficulties and conflicts all the way to the end. This story has the werewolves as antagonists briefly, and then the tale becomes the quest for Justin.

From a Christian perspective, what I wonder about is the apparent inherent goodness of Zach. He is tempted to steal something, a map, but doesn’t do it.  Stealing to eat would be a mighty temptation to someone with hardly any money, just enough to buy some junk cupcakes for his dinner.  Eventually, when he gets to Justin’s empty house, he checks out the place and even finds where Justin keeps a spare $400, but he doesn’t even seem tempted to take it.

So, while it’s a nice story of the redemption of Zach from an evil family, it might have been more realistic if he had also been obviously redeemed from his inherently evil self (as all Christians are). Also missing from this story is the usual suspense and fright associated with the horror genre. No big loss as far as I am concerned!

Aside from the opening, I enjoyed reading the book. We get to know and like Zach, who has a unique voice.–Phyllis Wheeler

Vanish by Tom Pawlik, a Review

vanish

Vanish by Tom Pawlik, a Review

Published by Tyndale House Publishers, 2008, 364 pages
Genre: Christian suspense

I’m no good at reading suspense–I get anxious. Nevertheless, for the sake of the CSFF blog tour, I persevered and read this book. (Actually I skipped the middle and then went back and read it later.)

Pawlik tells the tale of three individuals living in Chicago and a surreal experience they share.  A cloud rolls in from the east, not going with the prevailing wind. It’s full of multicolored lightning. After it has passed over, each awakens in the morning and finds himself in a very lonely world–all the other people are gone. Streets are empty, stores are empty, their homes are empty.

But in the shadows they see creatures of nightmare–tall thin “aliens” with white eyes who are reaching out to touch them, liking the shade, shunning the light. When the “aliens” succeed in touching a protagonist, the result is a bruise that slowly spreads.

The three, Conner, Mitch, and Helen, eventually find each other, along with a teenager and a boy who doesn’t speak.  They are bewildered. Why is everything suddenly old? Pulling meat out of his refrigerator, Conner discovers it is rotten. His new car has rust the dent it got the day before.

After a lot of frightening encounters with the “aliens,” the speechless boy disappears. They make their way to rural Indiana and are taken in by another wanderer in the empty world: Howard, a farmer who has been in this strange situation for years.  He has figured out how to keep the “aliens” at bay:  run floodlights all the time. The group gets gasoline to run Howard’s generators by siphoning gas from cars in the abandoned towns nearby.

The three protagonists all have hallucinations involving their loved ones turning into “aliens,” very unsettling. The teenager who is with them vanishes in a flash of light.

We get to know Conner, Mitch, and Helen well. They are what we Christians call non-believers, set in their beliefs.

This situation finally resolves.  It’s not a takeover of Earth by aliens.  So what is it? In case you read the book, I’m not going to spoil it for you.

But I’ll tell you that we learn that all three protagonists are carrying some pretty heavy baggage, loads of guilt connected with the deaths of loved ones. In the resolution, there is judgment. And there is grace for at least one of the protagonists.

Now, what do I think?

I think the characterizations are terrific.  The plot grows out of who the three characters are, what they have done in their lives or not done, and how they are dealing with that.  They are consistent and very believable. Dialogue is very well done.

Pawlik is also a master of the suspenseful detail, the scary situation that’s getting worse and worse but isn’t quite a disaster yet.

However, I am pondering this book and think that the “actual” cause of the empty city isn’t all that believable. Why the rotten meat and the rusty car? And why the hallucinations in which the loved ones appear to be aliens?  How can the character of Howard be both a human like Conner and an “alien”?

I think Pawlik may be wanting to scare nonbelievers into believing. Perhaps it works, I don’t know.

But I am sure this well-crafted book will be enjoyed by lovers of Christian suspense.–Phyllis Wheeler

Check out what others on the Christian Science Fiction-Fantasy Blog Tour are saying:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Margaret
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Donita K. Paul
Epic Rat
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

Foundlings by Matthew Christian Harding, a Review

foundlings

Foundlings by Matthew Christian Harding
Book 1 of the Peleg Chronicles
Zoe and Sozo Publishing (self-published), 256 pages

Genre:  Christian tall tales for kids

This is a book written for conservative Christian homeschoolers by a homeschooling dad who loves to tell cliffhanging bedtime stories.  It’s a fantasy story of sorts, with no magic. So actually I think it falls into Christian tall tales.  It would be great to read aloud.

One main character is Lord McDougal, who despite his name is no Scotsman. Others have names that sound English, French, or various to me. The main city, Hradcanny, sounds eastern European to me. So, where and when are we?

The technology in the story is basically medieval: metal swords, some gunpowder, arrows with metal tips. The monsters are very large, very hungry beasts with no magical powers. There are vicious giants, too. All in all, the humans spend a fair amount of time avoiding being eaten. So, where and when are we?

This is not Middle Earth. It’s a young earth, at a time soon after the Flood and after the Tower of Babel when humans are starting to multiply, but “dragons” (dinosaurs) are still around. Against this backdrop, Harding spins his tale of two children, the foundlings. Lord McDougal, his assistant Fergus, and a dwarf are trying to rescue the children from dragon priests in a feudal society who want to sacrifice the children.

Harding’s tale, after the slow-start first chapter, is a page-turner. The main characters flee from peril into peril. We are left with cliff-hangers while the narrative switches to another group of characters. In fact, the book itself ends this way. Now we have to wait for the next book!

The characters are well-drawn, idiosyncratic, and consistent. McDougal has a lot of similarities to Don Quixote–he’s a nobleman, with an assistant, who is ridiculously awkward, on a quest with no particular aim in mind, who unintentionally picks a fight. Others laugh at him. Meanwhile, he is earnestly honest and gallant. No windmills, though. Only giants.

Those who follow Noah’s God seem to be a persecuted minority. All the main characters are followers of Noah’s God. When they get into difficulties, they pray for help, using verses from the King James Bible. This can make things a bit stiff–a newer translation would be better in my opinion. However, I welcome the use of the Bible in this way. The Word of the Lord is living and active, and why wouldn’t the Lord’s followers in earlier times have had some kind of access to it?

I am guessing that McDougal and his family eventually end up in Scotland; Thiery and his descendants eventually end up in France; Rosencross’s descendants eventually end up in England; and so on. That would make sense of the unusual ethnic mixture of names.

Bible-believing Christians will get a bang out of this book. It re-supposes early human history in a refreshing way, and spins a bundle of intertwined yarns that are entertaining and imaginative. Its heroes depend on the Lord for help. Unlike other fantasy works, this one contains no magic, no evolution, and no humanism. Conservative homeschooling families should take a good look at it.–Phyllis Wheeler