Category Archives: Reviews

Arana’s Visitor by Julie Rollins, a Review

Arana’s Visitor by Julie Rollins, a review
Book 1 of the Vadelah Chronicles
Self-published in 2005, 288 pages

Worldview: Christian. This book will appeal mostly to Christians.

David Decker, a college student, and his roommate Todd are driving on a country road one night when they see a red-hot plane make an emergency landing. On a hunch, they rescue the pilot, an alien, hide him from authorities at a roadblock, and take him home.

At first they don’t trust him. But they decide to shelter him from bad guys in the government who know of the crash and are looking for the alien. This is Gyra, a very intelligent being who looks a lot like a bird and has both wings and arms.
Once the bad guys figure out who is sheltering Gyra, David and Todd take Gyra and leave town.They teach Gyra English and disguise him as a man in a chicken costume advertising a local restaurant, a scenario with comic moments. At the same time, David, a Christian, witnesses to Gyra and shows him his Bible. Gyra is
captivated.

David and Todd help Gyra get the metals he needs to repair his ship. In Gyra’s hair-raising escape, David on the spur of the moment decides to come along, because Gyra is injured. And so in a switcheroo, David becomes the alien on Gyra’s planet Arana learning Gyra’s language. Gyra is out of the picture, in a coma from his injuries, and so Gyra’s people suspect David of having hurt Gyra.

David learns that his home planet is the first place that the Lord made life, but not the last. These gentle bird-aliens have sophisticated space travel but fear Earth and have marked it off-limits because of the evil that comes from there. Naturally they suspect David of being evil too. But they are looking for fulfillment of a prophecy involving someone bringing news from Earth.

This book is very well told and well edited. The pacing is good. Rollins is able to grab your emotions and tell a tale of good and evil on a galactic scale. I really enjoyed reading it. You will too.–Phyllis Wheeler

Rollins has written more books in this series, so she is currently making this first one available for free download on her Web site, www.JulieRollins.com.

League of Superheroes by Stephen Leon Rice, a Review

League of Superheroes by Stephen Leon Rice

Published 2008 by The Writer’s Cafe Press, 158 pages.

Worldview: Christian

In this short novel, four 14-year-old boys and a nine-year-old sister of one of them discover a “girl” named Genie in a chatroom. Genie is fluent in 26 languages and knows 17,354 jokes with minor variations. A machine? She also reacts to what they say and do with emotions. A girl? A puzzle, to be sure.

Genie asks them their interests. The boys say they like superhero comics. Genie volunteers to make them power suits conferring special powers right out of the comic books, with some scientific-sounding rationale for all the gadgets. In short order we have four super-heroes with super-powers, ready to take on the bad guys.

As the story develops, the five kids find themselves using the special power suits Genie sends them–to try to rescue Genie and the protector she calls Uncle from some really bad guys. The story resolves, but leaves room for a sequel. During the story, the narrator, Tom, and his friends live out their Christian faith. For example, Tom seeks to save the soul of a dying villain, and Genie’s soul as well.

My opinion?

This book has nice pacing and a strong underlying comic-book-style story, with believable bad guys. However, the four boys are almost caricatures–one of them is really good at computer hacking, another speaks a variety of languages, and so on. Their banter is pretty sophisticated too, invoking Voltaire for example. They’re also highly advanced on the road to sanctification, behaving with grace under pressure in a way that doesn’t seem realistic for 14-year-olds, or for adults either for that matter. But then, this is really a sort of comic book, right? I am supposing that a teen boy reading this might find them inspiring in a variety of ways. Or he might have trouble relating to them. I’m not sure which.

I expect this book will strongly appeal to Christian families who want their sons reading books that demonstrate faith in action. It will also appeal to Christian comic book fans. I enjoyed it, that’s for sure.–Phyllis Wheeler

If you want to buy this book, consider buying it through me to help pay the expenses of this blog. Thanks!

Forsaken Kingdom: City of Prophecy by Peter J. Dudek, a Review

Forsaken Kingdom: City of Prophecy by Peter J. Dudek
Carnation City Press 2008, 311 pages.

Worldview: Christian

The kingdom of Arvalast, which has a medieval flavor to it, has a seemingly absent king. It was once a kingdom of light, but the forces of darkness have gradually overtaken it. When the story opens, the dark forces are targeting the remnant who oppose them.

Woodend is a town at the north side of Arvalast where many of the remaining faithful live. They carry phials of light called illumina, which call to mind the phial of Galadriel carried by Frodo in Lord of the Rings. The illumina serve as means to communicate with the king, who influences events based on that communication. Because times are dark and the faithful are being drawn away, many of the phials emit only a bit of light and seem worthless. But that’s really because the heart of the bearer has turned away from the king.

But there is a (forgotten) prophecy that three servants of the king will arise, and that after them three warriors of the light will follow.

One of the main characters in the fight against dark forces is the governor of Woodend, Willardon, who is a weak-willed fence-sitter at the beginning of the story. Another is Tarin, a teenage boy who has Asperger’s Syndrome traits (doesn’t like to be touched, is overly fearful and avoids company of others). Tarin likes to eavesdrop.

The footsoldiers in the army of evil are physical beings (orc-like?) and also spiritual beings. Tarin has a “gift” and can see the spiritual beings, smoke-like wraiths, who have sharp teeth and weird eyes and who pass through walls. The orc-like beings are gathering in the forest for an assault on Woodend. In fact, the wraiths have already entered and are poisoning the hearts of many of the people of Woodend.

As the story unfolds, Willardon remembers to call on the power of the king. With this help, he is able to defeat the evil wraiths using light. Meanwhile, Tarin and a friend find themselves lost in the woods, and Tarin must put his trust in the king in order to save himself and his friend.

The king isn’t ignoring the situation. He sends his helper, Gildareth, to help the people of Woodend stand fast.

The book ends abruptly. It’s clearly not intended to be an ending, but instead leaves the reader in suspense waiting for the next installment.

—-

My opinion: The characters are well-drawn and consistent. The dialogue reveals their idiosyncrasies well. Dudek has a gift for this.

I did have some trouble bonding with Tarin, who starts the book as a main character. He’s doing stuff I don’t approve of, such as eavesdropping. Now, I do have two kids with Asperger’s, so I see some of their traits in him. Whether the author intended that, I don’t know. If so, this is undoubtedly the first novel starring an Aspie! As the story goes on, it gets easier to like Tarin. That’s a good thing.

Another thing I had trouble with was the number of situations that I found to be frightening. This book might be better categorized as Christian horror. There are just too many really scary beings in it for my taste. But then, I have never liked horror.

The best thing about this book is the personal relationship that characters have with the king. They ask for help (using the illumina) and they get help. When they stop being self-centered, communication using the illumina improves. This models the Christian walk in a way I haven’t seen yet in Christian fantasy.

Dudek, a homeschool graduate, spent five years on this work. The book is self-published but nevertheless reasonably well-polished. Dudek says he is a big-time Tolkien fan. I can see plenty of similarities to the Lord of the Rings in his book, including the way the first book ends: abruptly.

However, a personal relationship with the king is something Tolkien didn’t attempt. I’m really glad Dudek did. It forms the backbone of a great story. –Phyllis Wheeler

Peter Dudek’s Web site: http://www.forsakenkingdom.net

If you want to buy this book, help pay the expenses of this Web site and buy it from this link:

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

Seed of Seerling by Amy Kennedy, a Review

seerling

Seed of Seerling, first of a series, VMI Publishers, 2008, 281 pages.

Worldview: Christian. The One True God is in charge.

This book is a love story which will appeal especially to girls, I am thinking. The protagonist is Astril, a daughter of the High Priestess in a matriarchal society that is slave to a religion of human sacrifice. They are called the Seerlings. The neighboring enemy kingdom is a patriarchal society, some members of which follow the One True God. They are called the Harkonians.

As a child, Astril is by herself in the woods for a few days, as called for by her religion, when she finds a boy from the neighboring Harkonian kingdom who has fallen off his horse and is injured. She tends him and heals him. This is Toren, the heir to the Harkonian throne.

The two are thrown together later when Astril is captured and enslaved by the Harkonians. Toren recognizes her and protects her. Eventually he falls in love with her. He sends her for safekeeping to a priest of the One True God. While at his remove enclave, she becomes a believer.

However, Astril’s priestess sister, Gallian, comes to return Astril to her mother. As a priestess, Gallian has some magical powers and manages to kidnap both Astril and Toren and bring them back to the grim land of the Seerlings, intending to sacrifice both of them. The story resolves with some intervention by the One True God. But the story is not completely told, and we are left waiting for the next book.

I enjoyed this page-turner. If you have a teenage daughter, this would be a great book for her to read, especially if she is a Twilight fan. You could discuss the similarities and differences. The similarities I see between Seed of Seerling and Twilight are that they are both fantasy love stories where the heroine keeps her purity before marriage. The differences involve the Christian foundation of the Seed of Seerling, resulting in self-controlled and self-effacing actions on the part of the heroine. In Twilight, the heroine is the opposite of self-controlled–she passively lets her feelings rule and decides to forget about what her head might be telling her.

This book does have a few rough edges in the editing, which won’t be obvious to most readers. The publisher, VMI Publishers, is not a traditional publisher, although it is able to distribute the book pretty widely. However it does not appear that VMI was able to get a review for the book in Library Journal or Publishers Weekly, and so most libraries won’t be taking this seriously. That’s a shame, in my opinion. It’s a great story with a solid foundation.–Phyllis Wheeler

If you would like to buy this book, please help me pay the expenses of this blog and buy it through this link:

Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce, a Review

Sandry’s Book, Book 1 of Circle of Magic “quartet”
by Tamora Pierce
Published by Scholastic, 1997, 252 pages

Worldview: Moral, secular. Teamwork and loyalty are primary values. There is no evil bad guy.

Three girls and a boy, all around the age of 12, are followed in separate stories that converge. They live in a different world, on that has very strong class and tribal boundaries. The four youngsters are from different classes and tribes that normally do not get along. They are gathered by a mage, Niko, who gets premonitions and goes looking for certain pupils for his school at Winding Temple. The four kids will become mages, or sorcerers. They are chosen by Niko because they have some innate magical abilities, which need training.

As the story unfolds, the four kids, including Sandry, the child from the noble class, learn to get along with each other and to begin to control their magic powers. The antagonists are mostly other children who behave in cruel ways. For the climax of the book, the antagonist is an earthquake. The four are trapped underground in a cave during this earthquake. They work together, weaving their magics and strengthening each other, and are able to protect and save themselves. There are three further books, each named for one of the other of the four kids.

This book is eleven years old now, and received a number of awards in its day. I am reviewing it because this series is something my son picked up at the library and likes to read and re-read.

My first reaction to reading this book was confusion. I had great difficulty keeping the four kids’ separate stories straight. I think having four completely developed points of view is just too many for the reader to develop a bond with them, at least for the first third of the book. I was very tempted to put the book down and not pick it up again.

This book has some similarities to the Harry Potter books. But this book was published before Harry Potter. The similarities are a school for kids with special magical abilities, a mage in charge of the school who seeks out prospective pupils, a close group of kids who work together using magic, and some bully behavior on the part of other kids. The differences have the antagonist at the root. Pierce’s antagonist is really circumstance or just human meanness manifested in various ways. Rowling’s antagonist is of course Voldemort, who is one of the baddest bad guys of all literature. In my opinion, Pearce’s flimsy antagonist creates a slight tale. Rowling’s towering antagonist creates a hefty tale.

As for my opinion as a Christian, I think this book belittles religion, because it describes some various tribal religious customs that are clearly envisioned as gestures just to make the individual feel good. Pierce, along with so many others, clearly has no idea that there really is a deity out there. However, this book promotes loyalty and teamwork, along with discouraging stealing, so it isn’t in actual conflict with my values. A worldview discussion would be in order with young readers of this book.–Phyllis Wheeler

Worlds Unseen by Rachel Starr Thomson, a Review

worldsunseen

Worlds Unseen by Rachel Starr Thomson
Published 2007 by Little Dozen Press (self-published), 328 pages.

Worldview: Christian. A moral universe with good and evil elements, and a benevolent deity/king glimpsed afar off.

Rachel Starr Thomson is a homeschool graduate who is becoming a serious writer. Her fantasy trilogy, the Seventh World Trilogy, begins with this book. The second installment, Burning Light, has just been published.

Maggie Sheffield lives in a dark medieval world which is like our world in many ways, but dreadfully twisted. It is dominated by an evil empire which has all but stamped out the memory of better times, which included a benevolent supernatural king who left when people turned their backs on him. A prophecy says he will return one day.

The story opens with teenager Maggie, an orphan, whose foster parents are murdered. She goes to live with another foster parent. All three were members of a Council for Exploration into Worlds Unseen that had dabbled in the occult 40 years before and then split up.

As the story unfolds, Maggie agrees to carry an enemy scroll across Europe to another former Council member. On this journey she meets a large cast of others: a gypsy boy who can talk to animals, a blind seer, a witch, a princess, a man who is tempted to join the dark side, and someone she falls in love with. Maggie learns she is capable of heroic deeds.

The struggle culminates in an enormous battle, when the heavens open and supernatural forces come to fight alongside humans in a revolution in eastern Europe. Maggie’s love interest dies. Many questions are left unresolved for the next book in the series.

Thomson has a great imagination, full of a variety of characters. She is able to tell a rousing good story. This book does have a certain unfinished quality to it, because of the self-publishing and consequent lack of tight editing. For example, Maggie’s falling in love isn’t described in a convincing way. But this is a small drawback. I enjoyed this book as well as its sequel, Burning Light. —Phyllis Wheeler

If you would like to buy this book, consider buying it here to help pay the costs of running this blog.

Chosen by Ted Dekker, a Review

chosenChosen by Ted Dekker
Book 1 of The Lost Books
Published by Thomas Nelson, 2007, 260 pages.

Worldview: Christian. Good vs. evil with a benevolent God.

This story takes place in a world called “Other Earth” on the map supplied. As the story opens, the protagonist Johnis, age 16, joins the armed bands defending his people, the Forest People, from the more numerous Horde who live in the surrounding desert.

Thirteen years before, the earth had been covered with lush colored forests. But somehow Teeleh, a vile creature and enemy of Elyon (the Lord) has destroyed most of the forests, and evil rules the land. Evil is manifested in a scaly disease that overtakes skin and mind. Forest People will be overtaken by the disease if they fail to bathe in Elyon’s special waters every day. The Horde have already been overtaken by the disease.

As the story unfolds, Johnis discovers he has been chosen by Elyon–he bears a certain birthmark. In addition, he can suddenly see the good creatures, white bats, and the evil creatures, black vampire bats, that others in his tribe have lost the ability to see or hear. A white bat gives him a mission: retrieve six magic books. He must do this with three other teens. If he doesn’t, Teeleh will triumph.

Johnis prays for help in his journey and receives it, in the nick of time. He is able to accomplish part of his mission in this book, with the help of the other three teens. The rest is left for further books in the series.

There are hints of intrigue: who is the traitor to the Forest People who is keeping the Horde informed? And mystery: who is the leader of the Forest People, who seems to have come from our own world somehow?

I like this book a lot and will recommend it to my sons. It is a fantasy page-turner with a Christian worldview, just what I am looking for.–Phyllis Wheeler thumbsupthumbsup

Heroes of Old by Jay L. Young, a Review

heroesofold
Heroes of Old by Jay L. Young, a Review

Book 1 of the Heroes Series

Self-published through i-Universe, 2007. 187 pages.

Worldview: Christian. Good vs. evil with redemption themes.

Caution: Graphic violence described. Sexual misdeeds are mentioned (not described).

This king-sized tale has been described as “X-Men Meets the Bible.”

Here’s the gist of the story: Peleg, a few generations removed from Noah, is still alive in our era. Across the millennia he has, over and over again, assembled a group of seven heroes with super powers, gifts from the Lord. Their assignment is to oppose the Nephilim, or giants, which are briefly referred to in Genesis. Young has answered the question, “Who are the Nephilim?”

Two parallel stories are told: one of the origins of the evil Nephilim, and the other of a modern Christian teenager named Noah, who discovers he has special powers (actually gifts). Peleg recruits him for the Faction, which sounds very much like the X-Men. Young Noah learns that he will have a key role to play in the struggle with the Nephilim–he is mentioned by name in an ancient prophecy.

Because of the self-publishing, this story has an unfinished quality to it–mainly some consistent spelling errors. It would benefit from editing. (I would suggest avoiding Peleg’s first person narration–it spoils the suspense.)

It is a lively, well-told, memorable story that will appeal to my 16-year-old boys, I am sure. In fact, I think it would work best in another medium–as a movie and/or a graphic novel. I can see it becoming quite popular. I hope Young pushes harder for a wider audience.

In fact this book is doing pretty well on Amazon (very well for a self-published book) and is getting favorable mentions by fans on the Internet. But it is only available on the Internet, and so would-be fans like my sons have been missing out. —Phyllis Wheeler

If you would like to buy this book, consider buying it here to help pay the costs of this blog.

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, a Review

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
Book One, The Amulet of Samarkand, Hyperion Books for Children, 2003, 462 pages.

Worldview: Dark. In a world where moral behavior is nearly unknown, the protagonist and his genie occasionally demonstrate moral behavior. More often, they don’t.

This book is a well-written high-action story that appeals to boys. It is told from two points of view: the Djinn (genie) Bartimaeus (apparently just a coincidence that this is a Biblical name) and the young magician’s apprentice Nathaniel. This fantasy world contains a version of London that is vaguely familiar but still very different. It is ruled by powerful evil magicians, who take in apprentices rather than producing children of their own. Everyone is jockeying for power, including non-magicians.

But in fact all the magicians’ powers depend on their ability to control demons. Using special glasses or contact lenses, they can see the demons. So the magicians don’t have special powers of their own. They just learn incantations while they are apprentices.

Into this mix comes Nathaniel, age 12, a boy genius who mouths off and is disciplined by his master’s magician acquaintance Simon Lovelace. Nathaniel conceives a plan for revenge. In fact, revenge appears to be Nathaniel’s primary motivator throughout the book.

As a result of Nathaniel’s theft of Lovelace’s amulet, Lovelace kills Nathaniel’s master and his wife. Then Lovelace sets out to kill all the magicians in the government. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus foil him. In the process Nathaniel does plenty of lying and stealing. Flashes of conscience, coming from who knows where, lead him to own up to stealing the amulet, but don’t keep him from seeking revenge.

Nathaniel’s character doesn’t seem to change as the plot develops. In fact, at the end he is placed under the tutelage of another evil magician, and we wonder whether any flashes of conscience will redeem him in the future. Bartimaeus is able to persuade Nathaniel to keep his word and release Bartimaeus from service, but only with great difficulty.

Bartimaeus’s character starts out as undeniably demonic, wishing evil on all the human race. He’s also got irreverent wit, a bit like the genie in the movie Aladdin. Bartimaeus’parts of the book are told in the first person, so we can see his thoughts. But eventually he softens up somewhat. At the end he even commends Nathaniel for having a conscience, and tells him to guard it. Now, where this character change came from isn’t obvious. The high-action tale doesn’t show why a demon would change in this manner.

This is another high-action fantasy tale without merit.–Phyllis Wheeler thumbsdown