Category Archives: Reviews

Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Brouwer, a review

Fortress of Mist by Sigmund Brouwer, Book Two of Merlin’s Immortals
Published 2013 by Waterbrook Press, 217 pages
Genre: Middle grade/young adult historical fiction with Arthurian tint and steampunk flavor

In the first book in the series, we watched the orphan Thomas regain his father’s throne from a usurper using his wits and using science from ancient manuals he inherited. Now in the second book, we continue to see Thomas’ pain at not understanding the intrigue swirling around him. Forces for good and forces for evil vie for Thomas’s allegiance. He had enough of an education from his mother, who died when he was ten, to be able to turn from darkness when it presents itself. But he can’t get anyone to explain to him what is actually going on. The good guys fear Thomas is a druid spy.

Thomas longs to trust the Earl of York, whose domain contains Thomas’s kingdom. But the kind earl wears a ring with a druid symbol. Clearly he can’t be trusted. Or can he?  And how about the two mysterious beautiful women, Isabelle and Katherine, both of whom are clearly lying?

What do I think? This book contains delicious hints of Merlin, who allegedly built the fortress that Thomas now rules. The scientific explanations of what the common people believe to be magic lend a steampunk flavor, though of course this setting is A.D. 1312, pre-steampunk. What fun!

Our hero Thomas should be a hit with teen boys. The book has a bit of romance, too, enhancing its appeal to girls. Characterization is strong, the plot is highly twisty, and all in all I wish the book was a bit longer with more description. However, I suspect that the intended target audience, reluctant readers, wish otherwise. Good job, Mr. Brouwer!

Here’s my review of the previous book.
This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Check out what the others are saying.

Author Website – http://www.sigmundbrouwer.com/
*Participants’ links
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Eve Nielsen
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler

The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer, a review

The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer, Book One of Merlin’s Immortals
Published 2012 by Waterbrook, 220 pages
Genre: Middle grade Christian historical fiction with Arthurian hints

It’s England, AD 1312. Thomas is a slave, an 18-year-old orphan raised by cruel, selfish monks. Thomas knows he has a destiny, some of it revealed to him at age 10 as his mother lay dying. He knows he’s destined to rule a kingdom that a usurper took from his family. And he’s determined to bring justice. But how can he do it by himself? He’s just an orphan with no family, no tribe, no helpers, and no faith.

He puzzles over the mysterious words his mother spoke: “My prayer was to watch you grow into a man and become one of us, one of the Immortals.” And then she died. What did she mean?

Thomas in his quest picks up some unreliable companions: a thief, a deaf-mute woman, and a former Knight Templar. Secrets abound. There are bad guys about, and good guys too. Whom can he trust? Anyone?

What do I think?

It’s a middle grade story, meaning it’s briefly told. I’d love more description and so on, but for the intended reader, it’s a good book, not too long. The characters are well sketched and consistent, and the settings are detailed enough to be visualized. There’s a good story arc , and there is a faith element in the book which I expect to get stronger in the sequels as Thomas learns more about God.  In short, it’s a very good book for middle grade readers. It even mentions Merlin and King Arthur, topics which I hope come to the fore in the next books.

As it happens, this book has a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions in it. One of them really nags at me though. Why does Thomas decide to rescue the knight who is about to be hanged near the beginning of the book? Did his mother predict the hanging and tell him to be there? And it’s odd that she’s an Immortal who died. Immortal seems like a funny name for a mortal, if you ask me.  I suppose these questions will eventually be answered later in the series, and so I’ll be happy to read more.

This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour.  Check out what the others are saying, and come back tomorrow for a review of the sequel!

Author Website – http://www.sigmundbrouwer.com/
*Participants’ links
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Ryan Heart
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Eve Nielsen
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore, a review

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore
Published 2012 by Thomas Nelson, 311 pages
Genre: Young adult supernatural with romance elements, Christian

I rarely re-read books. But the blog tour I partake in, Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF), is currently looking at a book I reviewed last year. Should I just recycle the old review?

I picked up the book, couldn’t remember exactly what the plot was,  and read the first page. Then the second. And … I couldn’t help myself, though my time for reading is limited. I dove right in.

I loved this book the first time around. I wondered: would I love it the second time around too?

The answer is: yes!  Fans of Christian supernatural fiction will surely agree with me that this book is strongly plotted, has a memorable premise, has unforgettable characters, and strengthens the reader’s faith walk. Not only that, but Dittemore crafts some beautiful prose.

Here’s my review from last time, in case you want more details: http://www.phylliswheeler.com/angel-eyes-by-shannon-dittemore-a-review/

Be sure to see what the others on the CSFF Blog Tour are saying in the next three days, too:
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Beckie Burnham
Theresa Dunlap
Nikole Hahn
Jeremy Harder
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Faye Oygard
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website http://www.shannondittemore.com/
Author Facebook pagehttp://www.facebook.com/ShannonDittemore

Rumi and the Savage Mountain by Bradley Roth, a review

Rumi and the Savage Mountain by Bradley Roth
Self-published 2012, 136 pages
Genre: Christian magical realism (fantasy/fairy tale) for middle grade and up

Rumi is an 11-year-old boy who lives in the Andes mountains. His main worries are dealing with the local bully and caring for his younger sisters while  his mother is at work in the fields. Suddenly a strange messenger appears and convinces him that Rumi’s beloved friend, the village holy man, will die unless Rumi brings some snow from the snowcap of the nearby mountain. The messenger from the Most High leaves him with a few odd items to help in the journey: a feather, a grain of quinoa,  a clay whistle, and a potato. Is this all a joke, or should he go?

Rumi’s faithful dog, Junior, can talk and advise, like a human friend.  What if the holy man dies? The two of them decide to go. And so begins an adventure filled with perils.

What do I think?

This story, intended for youngsters, is very readable for adults as well. It reminds me strongly of the magical realism work of South American authors.  Magical realism matter-of-factly describes events that are actually bizarre or impossible, but the characters accept them as if they are normal. This tale is full of instances of this, starting with the talking dog.

What makes this book so cool is that it is convincingly told from the point of view of Rumi, the boy.  This child leads a subsistence lifestyle very unlike that of the average American kid, and he’s facing all kinds of tangible supernatural forces. Yet his story is believable because he shows us his emotions in each situation. It doesn’t hurt that Roth uses rich metaphors as he weaves the story. While the book is self-published, it’s free of errors, making it a joy to read.

There’s a great faith lesson in this book when Rumi refuses to worship something that is not God, providing great fodder for a family discussion. In short, read this book. I expect you’ll love it too.

Read my interview with Brad Roth.

Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, a review

Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Tales of Goldstone Wood #4
Published 2012 by Bethany House, 348 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for middle grade and up

Starflower is a mortal woman who flees a life of abuse and loses her way in a faerie wood, tortured by dreams of what she left behind. She had sought to save her sister’s life. Now that Starflower has escaped, is her sister dead?

An immortal faerie man who is also a cat (in a world where the immortals shape-change readily)  sets out on a quest to rescue his lady fair from the clutches of a dragon witch, bumbling into dangers he little can understand.  But since he’s a poet, he expects to make beautiful songs about the quest. And does he love his lady fair? Well, he certainly thinks he does.

Soon their paths cross. The cat-man doesn’t want to help Starflower, who is after all a mere mortal, but for some reason he it anyway.  Both the cat-man and Starflower soon find themselves called to the path drawn for them by a golden hound. This is a mysterious being who speaks to their hearts and calls them out of themselves as they each must deal with terrible evil.

How will each respond?

What do I think?

This book has a lot of great things going for it. The characters are unique and well drawn, and the story line is unforgettable, with characters faced with heartstopping dilemmas. One of the best things is the Hound of Heaven, whose guidance and presence ring true. The heroine is dark-skinned, a welcome change from most heroines in Christian fiction. Setting, dialogue, and description work well together to create a wonderful story. This story has two memorable faerie villains, a double helping.

However, I had some trouble getting into the book, and I think it’s for these reasons:

  1. The lengthy prologue was from the point of view of a villain, whom I couldn’t identify with. The prologue was full of many details about this story world that I didn’t latch onto.
  2. The two protagonists are in an emotionally broken state to begin with, making it hard for the reader  to identify with them. This is a common story problem, as any author must move the protagonist through a character arc. But it’s usual to create some kind of an early bonding moment for the reader, often known as the “pet the dog moment.” There such a moment for the minor protagonist (cat-man), but not for the main protagonist, Starflower.
  3. As we get to know Starflower, we readers are kept from knowing anything about her past for a very long time. In fact, she is asleep for a lot of the first part of the story.

So, my counsel for you readers is to pick up this book and stick with it a while until it grows on you. It will bless you mightily.

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour. Check out what others are saying about this book during the next three days:

Gillian Adams
Beckie Burnham
Nikole Hahn
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website – http://anneelisabethstengl.blogspot.com/
Author Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Anne-Elisabeth-Stengl/120543861335559#ts&fref=ts

A Storm in Tormay by Christopher Bunn, a review

A Storm in Tormay by Christopher Bunn, a compilation of the Tormay trilogy: The Hawk and His Boy, The Shadow at the Gate, and The Wicked Day.
Self-published in 2010, 738 pages
Genre: Fantasy, suitable for teens and up

A young apprentice thief is given the task of stealing an item from a house guarded, or warded, by magic. Jute has got a natural talent for detecting the “wards” that protect the house, and he manages to steal the item and give it to the man who ordered it. But not before he disobeys instruction and opens the box. He can’t help himself somehow. And so the beautiful dagger inside it draws blood from his finger.

As a result, a variety of people suddenly want him dead or captured. Can he stay ahead of them? How can he outwit the wizard and the various collection of bad guys? Will the new powers he’s developing help him or betray him?

What do I think?

This book is not in the genre I normally enjoy, Christian fantasy. There seems to be a deity who set the world in motion and created and assigned four guardians to protect it, but there’s no benevolent God in charge, and the forces of evil at times seem overwhelming.

What’s the rating? There are many violent scenes but no sex.

That said, I found the book to be well written. This is a sprawling, page-turner story with a huge cast of characters, each one well drawn. It reminds me a bit of Avatar, the Last Airbender–I wonder whether the author got some inspiration from that, as the boy Jute discovers he has become one of the four guardians, the one in charge of air (as opposed to earth, water, and fire), and slowly grows into his powers. I suspect that fans of secular fantasy will enjoy this book.

Gateway to Gannah: Words in the Wind by Yvonne Anderson

Words in the Wind, Book 2 in the Gateway to Gannah series, by Yvonne Anderson
Published 2012 by Risen Books
Genre: Christian science fiction, suitable for teens and up, featuring a strong faith element

This book is the sequel to The Story in the Stars, Gateway to Gannah Book 1, which I reviewed earlier. About 12 years after the end of the first book, the second book opens to show us Dassa and Pik married and parents of two children, heading a settlement of a thousand “earthers” who are attempting to begin to repopulate Gannah. (Dassa is the only native of Gannah who is alive, the sole survivor of a plague, and therefore is the toqueph or ruler of Gannah.)

Dassa is returning from a mission elsewhere, and she’s in an aircraft in a storm. As things go horribly wrong, she realizes the folly of the way she has been living lately, relying on herself rather than the Yasha, the benevolent creator of the universe who longs for her prayers.

Dassa survives the crash but finds herself stripped of the telepathic communication that links her to her children and to the animals of Gannah. She’s also unable to hear. Her arm is broken, she’s caught without a coat in the beginning of an arctic winter. Can she trust the Yasha to take care of her?

Meanwhile Pik, the doctor who was once her worst enemy and who came to love her, is struggling with a host of problems in her absence. Some of the settlers are rebellious. So is his little daughter, whom he just wants to spoil. The sentient animals of Gannah seek to resume their deadly war against humans, but only Dassa can deal with them.

He wants to go and look for Dassa, but his responsibilities and technical problems prevent that. Can he too trust the Yasha to take care of Dassa and provide what he needs?

What do I think?

I enjoyed Yvonne Anderson’s richly drawn characters, her gripping story style, and especially the faith message, which I found very satisfying. The book contains story arcs that begin and end with this book, but it also contains story arcs that aren’t tied up neatly. So, I’ll be looking forward to reading the next book to find out what happened!

Read my reviews of this series:

Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead, a review

The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead, Book 3 of Bright Empires series
Published 2012 by Thomas Nelson, 377 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy for teens and up

Lawhead’s latest book is number three in a sprawling five-book series. To date, there have been two protagonists and one main villain. This book adds another protagonist, Cass, and detail on another villain, Douglas. All of them are seeking the mystery pointed to in the coded Skin Map: the Spirit Well, something like a Fountain of Youth.

You see, the earth is covered with lines of energy along its surface. When one walks at a certain speed at a certain time of day along a particular ley line, it may transport you to an alternate version of our universe, possibly in a very different era, where many things are the same, but some things may be different. It’s possible to consistently hop from say present day to a version of 1890s London and back again, for example, or on from there to many places and times. So a map would be very useful, wouldn’t it?

The main protagonist Kit, fleeing from the villain Burleigh, takes a hop along a ley line near Prague. He unexpectedly finds himself marooned in the Stone Age with hairy men who hardly speak. But their telepathic skills are far above his, and he learns to love living with them. Eventually Kit mysteriously stumbles on the way from there to the Spirit Well. But how can he leave the Stone Age to find his friends and report the discovery? His ley line is no longer active. And does he even want to leave? Here he has a clan who somehow don’t experience dissension, aggression, backbiting, or any of the other petty sins of humans. And they’ve adopted him.

Meanwhile, Cass, a 25-year-old archaeologist, is chasing a native American employee down an Arizona canyon when she finds herself whisked away to a desert landscape someplace else. The native American has gone there too; he shows her how to quickly walk the ley line to return to Arizona. Now she’s hooked: what are the possibilities here? From the canyon she tries to make another leap and finds herself somehow transported not to the desert she expected, but to Damascus where she finds other ley travelers. They are all growing old, and they desperately need a young person like her to continue their quest. Does she want to risk her life to help them find Kit and the Skin Map? Or does she want to return to her safe archeologist life?

Douglas Flinders-Petrie is the great-grandson of the man who had the Skin Map tatooed on himself, Arthur Flinders-Petrie. Nevertheless he is somehow reduced to thieving and conniving to find the pieces of the map. And he spends years perfecting a plan to return in time and deceive medieval intellectual Roger Bacon into helping him decode the map. Will Douglas succeed?

What do I think?

Lawhead, of course, is a master of characterization and detail. He travels to the locales he describes, providing a wonderful authetic feel. His bad guys are very very bad, and his young clueless protagonist, Kit, is very very clueless. I am really enjoying reading this tale.

This particular book, The Spirit Well, is basically the middle of an epic tale. Each of the three story arcs described above are included in this book, so there’s a bit of closure. But mostly this book points you on to the next books by picking up and weaving a number of story threads, including several more than the three I described above.

The faith element? Lawhead is a Christian, but he doesn’t make it obvious. Only in this third book is there a discussion among characters in one scene about the dark and light spiritual forces at work in the struggle over finding the map. Meanwhile, in this and previous books in the series there are odd apparent coincidences that rescue the characters and lead them toward the Spirit Well unawares. In short, this book should be very readable by non-Christians who might be given a bit of food for thought, and also by Christians.

Since Lawhead writes at the rate of one book per year, we’ll have to wait two years to find out how it all ends. But it will be worth the wait.

Read my reviews of all five books in the series: one, two, three, four, five.

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog tour. Please check out what others are saying too:

Jim Armstrong
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Christine
Karri Compton
Theresa Dunlap
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Jeremy Harder
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Joan Nienhuis
Lyn Perry
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Author Website – http://www.stephenlawhead.com/
Author Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/StephenRLawhead

The New Recruit by Jill Williamson, a review

The New Recruit by Jill Williamson, Book 1 of the Mission League series
Published 2012 by Marcher Lord Press
Genre: young adult Christian suspense, with a touch of the supernatural

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Garmond just wants to play basketball. He’s got a reckless streak, which gets him into trouble with the local bullies pretty often, but basically he’s not out looking for it. Turns out trouble is looking for him, though.

Suddenly he finds himself under pressure to join a secret missionary spy organization. His grandmother’s behind it–if he doesn’t cooperate, she’ll send him to military school: no more basketball. So he joins. The spies in training meet before and after school, getting ready for a summer field trip abroad. This summer, they’re going to Moscow. And they’re a bunch of goody-goodys, in Spencer’s opinion.

Spencer starts having visions. They seem so real. Could they be real? The missionary spies tell him he has the gift of discernment. What does that mean? Will the terrifying events he’s foreseeing happen to him? to others? Who is this chilling woman named Anya? What’s with the gang of homeless teenage boys? And how’s a nonbeliever to handle all of this?

What do I think?

Spencer’s an endearing and memorable character; I am guessing that Jill Williamson has pretty well nailed the way teenage boys think and feel. The other characters are memorable as well–she does a great job. I found the plot unpredictable, the conflict something I could relate to. I really enjoyed reading this book, and am looking forward to the next four books in the series. If you have teens wanting something to read, I’d certainly recommend it. Plus, they’ll enjoy her goofy scavenger hunt, see below.

Author’s website: www.jillwilliamson.com

Website for The Mission League Series: http://themissionleague.com/

Enter the “go undercover scavenger hunt,” a zany challenge from the author for those interested in winning a $100 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble.

Jill Williamson is an author of all things weird. She grew up in Alaska with no electricity, an outhouse, and a lot of mosquitoes. Her Blood of Kings trilogy won two Christy Awards, and she recently released Replication, a science fiction teen novel from Zonderkidz. Jill lives in Oregon with her husband and two children and a whole lot of deer.

The Telling by Mike Duran, a review

The Telling by Mike Duran
Published 2012 by Realms, 303 pages
Genre: Christian supernatural suspense

“A prophet never loses his calling–only his way.”

Two detectives escort Zeph Walker on a mysterious ride that takes them to the county morgue. There’s a body there they want him to identify. Zeph is sort of a hermit, hanging out in his musty book-swap shop on the edge of town and on the edge of community life, disfigured by a facial scar, though he’s only 26 years old. Oh, and he has a gift, a sixth sense intuition, which he really wants to hide from.

But there’s no more hiding when he recognizes the body on the gurney. It’s his own. Or at least it looks like him, same build, facial features, hair color, and Star of David tattoo on the right arm. And the facial scar. But this fellow has a bullet hole in his chest. That’s when we step into the really bizarre: the detective thinks the real question is why someone would want to kill Zeph.  The no-nonsense detectives from the Twilight Zone are treating it as a homicide.

This desert town on the edge of Death Valley has another mystery: is there a gateway to Hell up in the hills? And yet another: why do some of the residents suddenly seem to have turned into humorless, characterless automatons? And who’s to blame for all this?

What do I think?

If you love Christian suspense, I suspect you’ll love this book. Mike Duran is a skilled writer. Here’s his Facebook page link: http://www.facebook.com/cerebralgrump

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour. Be sure you check out what others are saying too:

Jim Armstrong
Noah Arsenault
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Christine
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler