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An Audio Book Coming Up

I’ve been quiet for a while now.  Wondering why? I went to New York City with our church youth group on a mission trip for 10 days. Now I’m back, and trying to figure out which thing needs to be done first.

Just wanted to let you know that I listened to an audio book while on the road.  I’m not ready to report on it yet.  This audio book is unusual in that you can’t buy it in print–it’s only published as an audio. Also, it has plenty of original folksy music in it.

More later!–Phyllis Wheeler

The Wordsmith, the Kid, and the Electrolux by Clifford Leigh, a Review

wordsmith

The Wordsmith, the Kid, and the Electrolux by Clifford Leigh, a Review
Published by OakTara Publishers, 2008. 229 pages.
Genre:  Christian allegory, most suitable for teens and adults

The Wordsmith, the Kid, and the Electrolux is the story of Corey Smith, a very self-centered, self-indulgent kid who has rejected his loving parents and chooses to steal from them to feed his craving for sweets from the local ice cream truck. A sinner, like the rest of us, definitely.

Late one night, Corey awakens to hear his family’s vacuum cleaner whooshing away in the closet, all by itself.  He investigates, is drawn to open a family photo album in the attic above the closet, and finds himself in a dreamlike sequence that lasts nearly all of the rest of the book.

It’s not a fantasy story with unicorns and dragons, but an allegory where people and things take on meaning based on their parallels in real life. Corey finds himself falling headlong into another world, alongside a giant tree. He is inside the photo album, falling alongside his family tree. Finally he lands and encounters some other children, including Ben and Benjamin, twins.  Ben is the “bad” one, always suggesting the morally wrong choice, while Benjamin clearly has thought a lot about moral choices and articulates the “good” choice.

Standing alongside the family tree, they see some giant “photographs,” part of the picture album they find themselves in. In one of them, they see a kid, a young goat, being sent off into the desert carrying the sins of a nation.  That’s the Kid referred to in the title.

Another picture contains a Wordsmith who is clearly designing and creating a contraption in a shop.  A man and a woman wander into the shop. They can’t see the Wordsmith, and begin speculating about where the contraption came from. Benjamin and Corey decide to enter the room and try to tell them that the contraption was really made by the Wordsmith, and didn’t come into being by itself, and shouldn’t be worshipped–two options the adults had come up with.

So the three boys chase after the couple and tell them about the Wordsmith, to no avail. The couple takes the three boys home with them, and some adventures ensue, all very dreamlike in character.  There are some extensive philosophical discussions, focusing on why the Kid had to die for sins, and what good that did for us.

Finally we figure out what the Wordsmith, the Kid, and the Electrolux collectively are. I’ll let you guess.

So, do I like it?

A young child, listening to this, might get restless. But the content is great for teens. I certainly wish I had read this book when I was a teenager. It would have explained to me why Jesus’s death on the cross meant my sins were paid for.  That was a huge stumbling block to me at the time, for years, and this book makes it understandable and believable.

So, if you’re looking for a great story like the Narnia tales, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for some answers about the basics of the Christian faith, this is a good book.  It’s also very readable, with a central character you can identify with in his petty sins and his search for answers.–Phyllis Wheeler

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

Swords of the Six by Scott Appleton, a Review

swordsofsix

Swords of the Six by Scott Appleton
Book One of The Sword of the Dragon
Flaming Pen Press, 2009, 281 pages

Genre: Christian fantasy, young adult/adult (no sexy stuff)

This book is the story of six young women who are daughters of a white dragon. The dragon has mysterious creative and healing powers. A created being, he calls on a benevolent Creator for help, as do his daughters.

The protagonist is Dantress, one of the six young women. She is adventurous even as a child, and willing to risk all for those she loves.

As the story develops, she and her sisters are given a mission. They leave the blessed palace where they grew up and go into the realms dominated by evil to perform an errand. As dragons who look like humans, they have special powers.

Next, the white dragon sends the six to live in the woods on the edge of lands inhabited by humans. What happens next is a love story involving Dantress and a local hero, Ilfedo.

The tale actually sets the stage for another, larger, work featuring Ilfedo. This
will start with the next book in the series.

It takes a while to discern the rules governing this fantasy world. Apparently, the
Creator governs everything but has given plenty of supernatural powers to the white dragon. Regular humans don’t have any magical powers at all, and live in a realm dominated by evil wizards, who do.  The white dragon keeps tabs on what is happening in the humans’ realm, occasionally tearing a hole in the sky at his palace and appearing in the other realm, often just in time to rescue the good guys, but sometimes a tad too late.  There are also very evil dragons, black and green, along with the sorcerers.  It’s a pretty dark world. But because of the white dragon, not overwhelmingly so.

What did I think?

The book is certainly imaginative, with plenty of details–life in a palace
containing a tree that is habitat for fairies;  transparent ceilings that let you just
look up to see the weather. Life in Ilfedo’s woodland cabin is also pretty cool–it too
opens to the sky at times.

It’s a moral book, with treachery identified as the evil that it is. It’s also a
book about grace, with those who committed evil left given the chance to turn away from their deeds.

Characterization is solid, I found.

And so this book does what it set out to do, namely setting the stage for a larger work. Accordingly, I am left, at the end, wondering what will happen next. However, this first book lacks what I was expecting: a cohesive overarching conflict that is resolved at the end of the book.  It is really a chain of several stories, all of them needed to set the stage. So it seems more like a prequel than an opening for a series.

Nevertheless, it is a tale with a rock-solid foundation in the loving God that I know through Jesus Christ. And I am indeed waiting for the next one!–Phyllis Wheeler

The Book of Names, Part 3

This is the third and final day of the Christian Science-Fiction/Fantasy Blog tour concerning The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs.

I wanted to talk today about the way this author portrays the Christian walk in his fantasy world, the Hidden Lands (Karac Tor).

As I see it, Christian fantasy writers have two models to follow for this: Tolkien and Lewis.

Tolkien’s faith is evident in the way he sets up his world. There is a creator deity who cares about his world. However, this is rarely mentioned. There are prophecies and dreams through which the deity communicates to the characters. In particular, the deity works through the small and humble, rather than the powerful, to accomplish his aims. The world is dark, but there is clearly hope.

In contrast, Lewis’s Narnia tales have a deity so real you can see, touch and smell him. Aslan is such an effective portrayal of Jesus (our bridge to the Father) that he has been mentioned in plenty of sermons I have heard over the years.

In my own Christian walk, I find I communicate with the Lord in two ways: through prayer and through reading the Bible.  The Bible makes it clear to us what God wants our Christian walk to look like:  reliance on Him to lead and guide us, acknowledging our blindness and our inability to work on our own.

So how should a Christian fantasy writer inspire the reader on the Christian walk?  That’s a question that fantasy authors answer in different ways.

Briggs uses the Tolkien model. A world is set up where prophecy calls for the final return of the Son Aion of the Father god.  The characters are given dreams, intuition, and prophecy to follow at critical points in the narrative. So the deity is involved in the story, but yet remains somewhat remote to the reader.

Food for thought!  The question becomes, how to cross that gap for the reader.

Rachel Starr Thomson found a You Tube video of Briggs discussing his favorite fantasy authors.

Want to know more about Dean Briggs?

His Website

His blog

Other CSFF tour bloggers:

Sally Apokedak
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Valerie Comer
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell interviews the author
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Magma
Rebecca LuElla
Miller on how much darkness is too much?
Mirtika
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Alice M. Roelke
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs, a Review, Part 1

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs, a review

Book 1 of Legends of Karac Tor, NavPress, 2008, 379 pages

Worldview: Christian.

The story starts in Missouri (my adopted home state) where a family of four boys grieves for their mom, who died of cancer. The kids are four boys, the oldest 15. They have just moved to the country north of St. Louis with their dad.

Hadyn and Ewan, the older two, are clearing a briar patch and discover an arched stone scrawled with Viking runes. Suddenly, four mysterious ravens drop messages at their feet and disappear through the arch. The messages, signed by “A,” are four identical scrolls calling them to the Hidden Lands. Soon the two boys are following the ravens through the arch.

They find themselves in the land of Karac Tor, which is at war.  Magic is commonplace here, including some magic familiar to our ears, such as fairy folk and Arthurian mystery, and other unfamiliar magic.  The boys, who really just want to go home, are drawn into a massive conflict between godly monks and an evil sorceress who is turning all the teenagers in the land into zombies under her command. Hadyn and Ewan discover they have some special magic powers of their own in this land.

The monks are looking forward to the ninth and final coming of Aion, the son of the father God.  But plenty of tribulation is happening first. Hadyn is captured by the sorceress and is on his way to becoming a mindless follower. Younger Ewan finds he has the courage to lead a rescue. Both brothers prove their loyalty and courage in a battle with the sorceress.

Then Hadyn and Ewan discover that their younger twin brothers have come through the portal too, leading into the next book, where the conflict is with the evil power behind the sorceress, the Deceiver himself.

The Book of Names is a keeper. It weaves action together with metaphorical descriptions. Characters are fully drawn and believable. The two boys are full of faults and fears at first, but they learn courage because they have to, facing the sorceress and her slaves. Briggs brings his fantasy world, Karac Tor (a place to build character, I get it!!)  to life.

I did find this fantasy world to be rather dark. I wish it had more islands of light in it.  Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to the next book, Corus the Champion, coming out in March 2009.–Phyllis Wheeler

If you want to buy this book, you can help pay the expenses of this blog by buying it through this link:

This review is part of the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour.  Check out other participants of the tour. We’re all looking at the same book for the next three days.

Sally Apokedak
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Valerie Comer
Frank Creed
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Andrea Graham
Todd Michael Greene
Timothy Hicks
Joleen Howell
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Magma
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Alice M. Roelke
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Timothy Wise

The Twilight Saga — A Report

The Twilight Saga (in four volumes)
by Stephenie Meyer
Published 2005-2008

This is a report, not a review!

The Twilight Saga is in the news today because the movie for the first volume is now out. The books and movie have created quite a sensation.  Some people are comparing its popularity level to Harry Potter, but actually it doesn’t come close.  It’s appealing to females only, as far as I can tell. So it might be more like the following for the movie Titanic.

Many people call Twilight a fantasy series, but it doesn’t fall within what I am looking for–books that appeal to my 16-year-old sons.  It’s not my intention to read the Twilight books, so I am just going to pass on a little info about them today.

The Twilight Saga is a fantasy series about a girl, Bella, who falls in love with a vampire. The erotic vampire Edward has super-human strength and immortality. He proves irresistible to her. He’s got great self-control and doesn’t do vampirish things to Bella, resulting in a heroic feat of self-denial for the sake of love–a tried and true chick-lit theme.

It’s my impression that the resulting story doesn’t have much depth. But then, neither did the love story in Titanic.  It doesn’t take a lot of depth to draw the bow across the heartstrings.

I asked E., a Christian, age 16, what she thought of it.  “I think it’s a great role model for love,” she said. “They don’t have premarital sex.  They are really committed to each other.”

Here’s a blog post about it from a girl who doesn’t like it:  http://anoxfordcomma.livejournal.com/2491.html

And from a woman who does like it: http://faithwebbin.net/teenz/?p=169 She compares the “star-crossed” lovers to Romeo and Juliet.

And from a Catholic Christian who doesn’t like it: http://spesunica.wordpress.com/2008/11/16/the-twilight-saga-a-critique/

Phyllis Wheeler

There ARE New Christian Fantasy Authors Out There …

Did you ever wonder why your kids aren’t finding much in the way of Christian fantasy books in the library or the bookstore?  There’s plenty of fantasy reading to be found, but the worldview requires lots of discussion, shall we say.  There are plenty of Christians who are fantasy fans. There’s a wonderful legacy left by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. So why is there so little Christian fantasy easily available?

Snooping around the Internet, I found Marcher Lord Press, which specializes in publishing Christian fantasy books.  The founder, Jeff Gerke, tells his story: he was editing fiction at traditional Christian publishing companies, and was unable to satisfy his yen for the weird.  The companies, he said, target consumers who love chick lit.  That’s who buys books at Wal-Mart and Christian bookstores, apparently.

It’s true. My sons who are Christian and who are fantasy fans do not look for books at Christian bookstores or at Wal-Mart. They look in the library and in the big chain bookstores.  So any books the traditional publishers might publish will not reach my sons.

So it remains to ask these questions: why aren’t libraries buying recent Christian fantasy books?  And why aren’t Borders and Barnes and Noble local stores stocking them?

Marcher Lord Press and other similar outfits have decided to go directly to the consumer using the Internet.  They sell through Amazon and other online bookstores, and through their own Web sites.

It remains to be seen whether this is a way to reach kids like my 16-year-old sons. So far, I’d say they aren’t Internet consumers. None of them has a credit card. They know how to check prices on e-Bay. That’s about it.

I looked on Amazon for the top-selling Christian fantasy books. The top one, featuring a soccer mom as main character, falls more or less in the chick lit category and is in fact published by a mainstream Christian publishing house, Navpress.

The second one in line is self-published and sold over the Internet only (like many similar books). It would likely appeal to my teenage sons: Heroes of Old, first in the Heroes series by Jay L. Young, which apparently has quite a following. This book is described as a cross between the Bible and the X-Men. This author is definitely not available in our library, nor in the local Barnes and Noble.

There is a disconnect here. The marketplace isn’t providing for the teen Christian fantasy market.

For one thing, i think we need to lobby our libraries to buy the best Christian fantasy books. They’re certainly buying the non-Christian ones. We need to demand our share of those library dollars!–Phyllis Wheeler