Category Archives: Reviews

Curse of the Spider King, a Review

spiderking

Curse of the Spider King, a Review
Book 1 of The Berinfell Prophecies
by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper
Published 2009 by Thomas Nelson, 361 pages
Genre: Middle grade Christian fantasy

This story unfolds in our own world, focusing on first one, then another of seven (yes, seven) 13-year olds. Each of these adopted teens is going through normal life and growing pains, more or less, when a mysterious teacher or benefactor hands him or her a handwritten book with magical properties, and says it is his or her very own to keep. Through the book and the benefactor, these kids discover they are really elves, born in another world.

A massive background story is the story of the elves in the other world, Allyra. As each of the teens reads parts of the handwritten book, we the readers learn the sad history of Berinfell, the capital of the elves. It was overwhelmed by vastly superior forces belonging to the Spider King, an event that happened 800 years before in Allyra but only 12 years before in Earth time. A remnant of elves survived underground. We learn that Allyra and Earth are connected by portals, created by the Spider King for snatching slaves from this world.

The teens each come of age into some strange powers and suddenly find themselves the quarry of evil “men” wearing trench coats and sunglasses—who aren’t men at all, but beings from Allyra. The kindly teachers and benefactors, who turn out to be elves, protect the kids and discuss with them the need to leave their families in order to protect their loved ones. The elves want the teens to return to Allyra and take up the cause of their kindred. The teens are torn. But they must make the decision.

The reason the evil beings are after them is that the seven teens are the sole surviving elf lords with supernatural powers. Their elf-lord parents died protecting them in the Battle of Berinfell. How did the children end up on earth? Hint: there’s a prophecy involved, and a curse.

What do I think?

This book is very well written and well paced.  A huge back story is dealt with very well, using the device of each teen reading some of the history book, so the back story doesn’t derail the narrative. Characterization is excellent; each of the teens clearly has his or her own personality, as do the elven protectors. The conflict with the Spider King begins in the back story and continues through the whole book, which points to sequels at its end. Description uses the telling detail well. In short, this book is well-told.

How about the Christian basis for it?  There is a God in Allyra, called Ellos, the same being as our God. The elves of Berinfell occasionally ask Him for help, and occasionally remember to quote scripture at the evil beings, which defeats them. But it seems that a lively faith is absent. I am guessing and hoping that this is part of the series’ plot: that the remnant of elves will to turn to Ellos and cry for help with one voice.

Now, there is one strange coincidence pivotal to the plot: a knowledgeable enemy turns traitor to the Spider King and gives the elves vital information about the whereabouts of the elf-lord children.  There is no reason for him to do this, so it’s clearly a divine intervention, at least for a reader looking for such things.

My only complaint about this book is that seven protagonists is too large a  number for me as a reader. I felt the need to keep a written list of them and their traits, in order to process the story.  Since each of these protagonists has one or two elven protectors, I was having trouble keeping those names straight also.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book. Readers of any age will enjoy it and wait for the next one, like I am.

For more points of view, check out others on the Christian Science-Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour, who are talking about this book for the next three days:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Tina Kulesa
Melissa Lockcuff
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Nissa
John W. Otte
Cara Powers
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson
KM Wilsher

Earth Is Not Alone by John Knapp II, a Review

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Earth Is Not Alone by John Knapp II
(Emryss Chronicles)
Published 2009 by Ephemeron Press (self-published), 496 pages
Genre: Christian sci/fi, young adult (and up)

This book entwines two story threads which appear to be unrelated. But I am guessing that, in sequels, we will find out that they are in fact related.

Here’s one story thread:  in a future year, an electromagnetic pulse attack from an unknown source knocks out all computer-chipped electronics, which encompasses virtually all things electrical. America descends into a dark age. In the “Susquehannah Territory,” 25 miles by 18 miles in Pennsylvania, citizens form a government and erect a wall around the territory to keep the refugees from the big cities from overwhelming them. Barter is the mode of life.  Kerosene lamps are back in use. There are no telephones. Any electricity comes from generators, and is sparingly used.  We wonder: who did it? why? and is it permanent?

Here’s the other: It is one year after the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) disaster. Triana, the future valedictorian of a high school in Susquehannah Territory, is accused of cheating along with Michael, a friend.

Both of them have turned in folklore papers dealing with the same family–on another planet. Were they in cahoots? No, they say.

As the teacher’s investigation proceeds, we begin to guess that Triana came from this other planet. This is Emryss, the setting of the two tales.

Much of the book is taken up by the telling of the two tales. These provide background information on what appears to be Triana’s family on Emryss, and a reason for her presence on Earth. These tales — actually one long tale — are full of action and hard to put down, as is much of the book. It’s definitely Christian. Jesus Christ is present on other worlds where he is called the God-son.

What do I think?

This book is unorthodox in its presentation. The information on the EMP disaster is conveyed using letters and news articles (an old device, actually). Then the book switches to narrative mode when picking up the cheating accusation story. In the narrative mode, the author does a fine job, using plenty of dialog and action and developing his characters. The two tales are particularly enjoyable.

However, there is a bit of disconnect between what the two tales are said to be–a history written down by someone for later generations–and what they sound like.  They sound like a regular novel narrative. I think they should sound more like a folktale, to be more believable.

That said, the narrative style is definitely conducive to creating a story that is hard to put down, which this is.  Some of it definitely reminds me of Indiana Jones movies.

The characters spend quite a bit of time on detective work using numbers (numbers of weeks, numbers of years) found in the tales.  There’s also some technical info on the electro-magnetic pulse, and a discussion of how the Lord would send his Son to save people on other planets. Once on Earth for all? Or simultaneously on all the inhabited planets?  So the book has more of a sci-fi feel to it.

Unlike nearly all other self-published novels I have read, this one has no typos, confusing wording, or grammar glitches. Knapp is clearly a professional.

Want to speculate about other worlds and how God would save them? Want to read good science fiction with a solid Christian basis? Then this book is for you. –Phyllis Wheeler

Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson, a partial review

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CSFF Blog Tour: Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson Published 2009 by Thomas
Nelson, 401 pages. Second in the Jerusalem’s Undead Trilogy.
Genre: Christian suspense/horror vampire tale
I’d rate it PG-13 if not R.

I did not intend to review this book for the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog tour
because suspense stories are too nerve-wracking for me. I really don’t enjoy them.

However, by some oversight the publisher sent me a book. Not wanting to waste a good
book, I decided to start reading it.  Sure enough, the suspense on about page 90 just was too much for me. But I can report to you what I found up to that point.

Wilson has done a great job of constructing a tale with a Christian worldview.  His complex characters ring true. The action is virtually non-stop, providing a wonderful evening for adrenaline junkies unlike myself. Plus there’s the horror dimension, with the demonic undead vampires which have this uncanny ability to temporarily abandon their host bodies and take up residence in an animal. So the main characters never know if the next blackbird is a spying enemy or not.  Talk about nerve-wracking!

The narrative, at least in the first part of the book, revolves around two lead characters, Cal and Gina. The point of view and narrative follows Cal for a while, then Gina. This seems to work well for this tale. Cal is one of those individuals who rose from the dead when Jesus rose from the grave.  These individuals were granted immortality and given a task, to protect humanity. They recruit mortal apprentices to help them.

As the second in a trilogy, this book must have been a challenge to write in such a way
that a new reader like myself could understand what came before. I am happy to report that the explanation at the beginning of the book was adequate to the challenge, and I was able to step into the story without a hitch.

At page 90 I leave the book wondering whether the young apprentice Dov survives. I expect Gina to eventually find out that Cal is her father, and that she is half immortal.  I wonder whether this news will cause her to accept the predicament she is in and become a follower of the Almighty God, rather than a modern nay-sayer.  I wonder whether the Lord will intervene to rein in these all-too-powerful vampire enemies, who seem likely to overcome the good guys.  I am curious about the fact that Gina has a twin brother who is not mentioned other than to say he exists. Perhaps he shows up later in this book, or in the final book.

It’s no wonder that Eric Wilson is an NYT best-selling author. He knows what he is doing.

For more info:

Eric Wilson’s Web site –http://www.wilsonwriter.com/
The Undead Trilogy Web site  – http://www.jerusalemsundead.com/

Check out other blogs on the blog tour. Since I don’t have an updated list yet, these are the blogs that were listed for the last tour. It’s probably about the same.

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Rachel Briard
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Linda Gilmore
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Crista Richey
Cheryl Russell
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams
KM Wilsher

The Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K. Paul, a Review

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The Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K. Paul, also called The Dragons of Chiril, a review
Published by Waterbrook Press, 2009, 398 pages.
Genre:  Christian fantasy, suitable for middle grade and up

It’s a medieval-style world, where friendly wizards use magic, technology has advanced as far as use of swords, and the animal kingdom includes huge sentient parrots as well as dragons, large and small, who communicate telepathically.

A young woman,Tipper, lives a sheltered life with her mother in an elegant house that has seen better days on the edge of a forest.  Her artist  father mysteriously vanished 15 years before. Her mother is pleasantly out to lunch, talking a lot of nonsense most of the time. Among other strange things, the mother claims that she sees Tipper’s father in the evenings.

When her mother goes on a trip, Tipper sees her father in the evenings too. It turns out he is in quite a fix, appearing but then vanishing into thin air after only a few minutes.  It all has something to do with a “gateway” his wizard friend across the world in Amara rigged up in the closet of her parents’ bedroom.

The gateway is coming apart, threatening the fabric of the world. Tipper and her father, the wizard friend, a librarian, and a giant parrot set out on a quest to find the keys to putting it back together. Later on we find out that there are also some bad guys who want to take over the kingdom using the gateway.

What do I think?

Donita K. Paul wrote another successful series, the DragonKeeper Chronicles, which I have not read. The DragonKeeper stories are set in the same world as the characters in The Vanishing Sculptor, but they are separated by time and place. So to someone familiar with Paul’s work, the background and settings must seem familiar, though the characters aren’t.

For me, barging into this world clueless, it was difficult to sort out the seven races. Paul refers to these races by name–emerlindian, tumanhofer, etc., without explaining that they are races.  After several chapters of puzzlement I looked up the strange words in the glossary, which I was glad to find.

Other than that, I found a well-crafted story. Tipper’s teenage character is self-centered in a very realistic way.  Her bossy guardian, the large parrot, is also a fully-drawn self-important kind of guy.  Only the wizard from Amara seems two-dimensional through most of the story, continually dropping lizards from his clothing with little variation. However, I understand he is a character in the other series, and so is probably more developed there.

Christian underpinnings for this story are definitely there. A loving deity is watching over the characters, sending an emissary to intervene. Paul does a great job of touching the heart of the matter in a lovely and satisfying way.  So, I heartily recommend this book for a variety of ages.  -Phyllis Wheeler

This review is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour for this month. Read reviews by others of this book at these links:
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Rachel Briard
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Linda Gilmore
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
Nissa
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Crista Richey
Cheryl Russell
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams
KM Wilsher

The Victor by Marlayne Giron, a Review

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The Victor: A Tale of Betrayal, Love and Sacrifice
by Marlayne Giron
Published by Tate Publishing, 2009, 274 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy/romance

This book starts with the rebellion of the faithless steward Lucius against the good King Eloth, in the medieval-style kingdom of Ellioth.  When the rebellion is thwarted, Eloth mercifully does not execute Lucius, but banishes him and his men instead.

What Lucius wanted was Eloth’s sword of power, scheming that with the sword, he could exert vast authority.  The person who stands to inherit the sword, Prince Joshua, is only a young boy.

Young Joshua is bethrothed to an eight-year-old step relative, Llyonesse. At this point the point of view shifts to these young people, and the story moves to a colony that Eloth sets up across the sea, for Joshua to rule when he is older. In the meantime, Llyonesse’s father Ardon serves as steward.Eloth gives Ardon the sword, for now.

In the colony, industrious settlers work hard. But after a while evil Lucius shows up. Soon Ardon and his wife are dead, and Llyonesse is imprisoned in the castle. Lucius rules the colony with complete evil intent. The sword has buried itself in a stone; no one can touch it and live.

Llyonesse is lonely. She knows evil Lucius plans to marry her when she is old enough, in order to gain rightful possession of the sword–which will fry anyone who isn’t of the royal line. As Eloth’s step grand-daughter, Llyonesse is of the royal line, more or less.

But what of Joshua? Time goes by and the young people mature. Joshua seeks to take back his colony and his sword. Does Lucius marry the lovely young woman in his castle?  You’ll have to read the book to find out more!

What do I think?

I had a bit of difficulty getting into this story, because there isn’t a character
to identify with for a while–Joshua and Llyonesse are not at the center of the action
at first.

But once over that hump, I enjoyed the book.  It’s a romance, definitely, and will
appeal to female readers more than male, I expect.  I found a few copy-editing errors,
not enough to detract. The characters are idealized–the bad guy is very very bad, and the good guys are very very good and good-looking too.  However, the plot is more complex than that. One of the “good” characters falls to temptation, and another falls seeking to please his wife.

There are underlying Biblical themes brought out by footnotes linking to Bible passages.
The book contains plenty of actual Bible quotes, worked into the story line.  I like this; I
am happy to read the Bible and see it applied.  So the work provides a very satisfying read for me, a Christian.–Phyllis Wheeler

An Audio Book Full of Music

The Carol cover

The Carol by Mark Brine
Audio Book available through Audible.com
14 hours
Worldview: Christian (Catholic)

This is a most unusual offering. The author is a musician, not a polished writer.  His tale is about a song— a Christmas carol, and also about its composer, a sprite. The sound track contains a lot more than just Mark Brine telling the tale. It is spiced with a number of original songs, performed not only by Brine singing and playing the guitar, but by other musicians as well, including some memorable fiddle music.

Brine’s singing is “old-style” country music, which isn’t getting much play these days. I hadn’t heard it for a long time, and at first it sounded strange to me. But I got used to it as the hours went by that were necessary to listen to this work.  It turns out that Brine is a “somebody” in the old-style country music world.

The homespun story is about Jack Frost, whom God created just before Jesus was born as one of several “herald angels.” These heralds were to make music to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This Jack does. But then, instead of living in heaven, as most of the angels seem to do, Jack decides to live on earth. He’s trying to get away from the other angels, who are not treating him nicely because he is small and clumsy. He also has a mission: to make his carol, composed for the birth of Jesus, known to men around the world.  This mission is something he assigned to himself, thinking it would glorify God. Jack is also an angel of winter wind, and so where he goes, there is cold.

We learn the story of Jack through the voice of the narrator, who tells us in the first person how he, the narrator, was hit by a car, died and went to heaven (where he was invisible), and was there given the assignment by God to shadow little Jack unseen. (Jack is invisible to regular living humans, too.)  The narrator faithfully shadows Jack for nearly 2,000 years, until it is close to the present time. During these travels, Jack is the wind whistling his carol to musicians whenever he can find them, trying to get them to hear the tune and play music with him.  Occasionally he succeeds.  But his major goal of having everyone know the carol remains out of reach.  And he never really figures out that he has a shadow, although once the shadow has left, he knows something is missing.

How does the narrator return to this world to tell us the story? Does the carol become known?  What does Jack eventually learn about setting his own goals (as opposed to accepting God’s goals for him)?  All these are answered in the story.

What do I think?

Jack’s character is consistent. He’s impatient, impetuous, and can’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time, except for hyperfocusing on his mission– trying to whistle the carol for musicians whenever possible.  So in much of the story, he is not only the protagonist but the bumbling antagonist, doing things that mess up his plans and those of others.

This story moves slowly. Jack does a lot of agonizing over decisions. It’s definitely not a high-action tale. And because of the slowness of the telling, it won’t appeal to children, although there is nothing in it that is objectionable.

It’s an unsophisticated story. Brine speaks in a folksy manner, full of unusual idioms. This is definitely what you don’t find in other audio books, which are well-scrubbed grammatically in their initial versions as printed books. I like the down-home country flavor in this offering.

But I found it strange that, in this version of heaven, the angels can be mean to each other.  Aren’t angels “unfallen”? Well, on further reflection, there ARE plenty of fallen angels.  So I decided not to object to this part of the story, which is after all Mark Brine’s version of heaven anyway, not the real thing. In this heaven, the angels can pair off and have families. Somehow that’s not how I ever envisioned heaven to be.

I did enjoy the story and especially the music. Jack and the author tell us some truths for our busy lives.  With the music, it’s an unforgettable experience to hear this book. If you are open to old-style country music (such as the O Brother Where Art Thou sound track), you will also enjoy this audio book.

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by RJ Anderson, a Review

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Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R.J.Anderson, a Review
Published 2009 by HarperCollins, 329 pages
Genre: Fairy fantasy, middle grade, appealing to girls. Underlying plot is a whodunit, with romantic overtones. This work, a bestseller in Britain, is not overtly Christian.

A faery child, Bryony, is part of a colony of faeries (seven-inch-tall, winged creatures, all female) living in an oak tree in England.

One day the child Bryony impetuously breaks the rules and climbs out of the tree trunk. She comes face to face with a human child, an encounter neither ever forgets.

The problem is that the faery colony is slowly dying. Only the queen of the colony still has magic. A wasting sickness has taken some members. The queen is valiantly doing what she can to preserve it. Or is she? What happened to the magic, anyway?

Bryony grows up and takes a new name: Knife. She becomes the colony’s Hunter, fearlessly flying abroad to capture small animals for the colony to eat, dodging attacks by crows and foxes. She also spies on the family in the house not far away.

Her story entwines with that of Paul, the boy she encountered in the tree. What will be the result? And will the colony be saved?

What do I think?  I think this story is very well written. The characters are fully realized and believable.  Knife is a very feisty protagonist, fearless although all her peers are fearful.

The whodunit is well conceived and carried out. We wonder who broke the magic for the faery colony and why through most of the book. There are various red herrings laid before us. Finally there is an answer.

The friendship/ love story between Paul and Knife is less defined. It could be because this book is intended for middle grade, not young adult. We don’t see that obsession with each other that characterizes most love stories for teens and up. But we don’t need that either.

And the Christian foundation? It’s there–the faeries invoke the Great Gardener on occasion, but they never discuss their relationship to him, nor do they depend on him or ask him for help.  I know RJ Aderson is a Christian, so I would love to see this more developed in a sequel. I also expect the sequel to address the question of how to fix the faery colony’s magic, now that we know why it is broken.

This is a very good book, with great characters, hard to put down.  I’ll be looking forward to reading more in this series.–Phyllis Wheeler

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

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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

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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

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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

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