Whales On Stilts by M.T. Anderson, a review

Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson
Published 2005 by Beach Lane Books, 188 pages
Genre: Middle grade “urban” fantasy

This book was the first in the popular Pals in Peril series and got a lot of awards, including the Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Book. My daughter loves these books and wanted me to read this one.

Lily accompanies her father to work for Career Day, sees his workplace in an abandoned warehouse (complete with secret laboratory), and soon suspects that her father’s working for someone who wants to take over the world. Her dad, though, is oblivious to all the clues around him. She enlists her friend Katie Mulligan, herself the heroine of a book series, and Jasper Dash, a techno-savvy hero of a book series from the 1950’s. But this is Lily’s book. She’s the one who does most of the thinking and figuring out.

It takes some thinking and figuring out to connect the dots on the wild and wacky stuff that’s going on. All the adults are oblivious to the danger posed by a bad guy with a grudge against the world, who mysteriously dumps buckets of brine on himself and wears a burlap sack over his head all the time. Jasper earnestly tries to come to the rescue with vintage machines, such as the photocopier powered by a mule, and the rocket car that might go as fast as 35 miles an hour.

Will there be an invasion of whales on stilts? If so, will Lily and friends be able to thwart the invasion?

What do I think? I thought this book was very silly and fun, and even had some suspenseful parts. The characters are well-drawn, and I enjoyed that. Jasper, the gadget guy who’s a flop, is particularly funny. The book is not written by a Christian, though. There was just one jab at Christianity in it, which wise parents might want to discuss with their little readers. It’s on page 79, where Katie is about to be left at home alone by parents who clearly aren’t worried about any threats. Katie’s mother says, “I made you some Rice Krispies Treats, and there’s garlic on the door, and you have your crucifix and your ankh, right?”

There were no other stumbling blocks in that book. But the first chapter of the next book in the series is included. In it, Katie says “Oh, lordy,” while thinking about something bad that might happen. So the writer sprinkles in a few comments that are offensive to Christians. You could discuss that with your young readers, too.

Treespeaker by Katie W. Stewart, a review

Treespeaker by Katie W. Stewart
Ebook published by Katie W. Stewart, 2011
Genre: Fantasy, suitable for 12 and up

Jakan has been a leader of his people, the Arrakeshi who live peacefully together in a forest. Specifically, he’s the treespeaker of his tribe–the one who communes with the benevolent spirit of the forest, Arrakesh, and tells the others what they need to do. It is Arrakesh who has set up the Veil protecting them from the Carlikans nearby who have cut down their own forests and engage in plenty of petty thievery, not to mention slavery.

Jakan has a terrible vision of disaster to come at the hands of a tall stranger. Nearly immediately the tall stranger shows up, having somehow passed through the Veil from Carlika. Soon Jakan’s wife is dead, and the powerful stranger has convinced the tribe to cast Jakan out.

Jakan starts on an impossible journey, because Arrakesh has commanded him to find Varyd, someone he knew 20 years ago. This person lives in Carlika, and not close by. Why does he need to find Varyd? He doesn’t know. Nor does he know how he will survive leaving the Veil, because treespeakers, bound to the forest, die when they leave. And finally, his treespeaker ability to commune with Arrakesh has left him. He’s just like everyone else now, asking Arrakesh for help and wondering whether he will receive it.

A way is found to keep him alive on the trip and he sets out, leaving his son Dovan to cope with the powerful stranger who is desecrating sacred sites in the village. Will Jakan find Varyd, or die first? Will Dovan, now secret treespeaker for the village, be able to protect the people and survive?

I liked this book. It’s got a good plot line, always thickening and leading the reader forward, and the characters are complex and conflicted. I found Arrakesh and Carlika to be believable places.

The author has tagged this book as Christian fiction. If it is Christian fiction, the one thing that bothered me is that the characters believe Arrakesh, the God-spirit, to be the God for the Arrakeshi people and not the Carlikans. Of course we know this is not true of the one true God. But I am thinking this belief on the part of the Arrakeshi people may change over the course of future books!

This book is a 99-cent ebook published by the author, who obviously had some editing done to her manuscript–I didn’t see any errors, and the plot works well. I wonder whether this will be the way of the future, opening up the market to many more readers. The author is an Australian, by the way.

Website: http://treespeaker.blogspot.com/

The Story in the Stars by Yvonne Anderson, a review

The Story in the Stars, Gateway to Gannah #1, by Yvonne Anderson
Published 2011 by Risen Books (D&D Books, LLC)
Genre: Christian Sci-Fi/Fantasy, suitable for teens and adults

Dassa nears the end of the challenges required for becoming an elite warrior, a Nasi. She’s been out in the woods fasting by herself, traveling impossible distances and fending off deadly wild animals, for a couple of weeks. Now it’s time to finish the quest. She drops by her deserted home, makes preparations, and heads for the capital city and her father, the king of the planet Gannah. But what she finds when she gets there more than horrifies her.

A virulent plague has struck in her absence. Soon she is the only living human on Gannah. She gets sick too.

Dr. Pik answers her interplanetary distress call, arriving two weeks later to save her from the virus. Problem is, this is the last place he wants to be. His planet, Karkar, had been devastated by Gannah long before. He’d like to see every last Gannahan dead, including Dassa.

Debut author Yvonne Anderson pulls a great story from this conflict, full of unexpected twists and turns. Her characters show us their emotions and draw us right into the tightly plotted tale. There’s a strong underlying faith message. It’s not at all a typical sci-fi story, which might emphasize the techno gee-whiz stuff. Instead, this story revolves around its characters.

What do I like most about this book? The character of Dr. Pik. He is amazingly different from the earnest, emotional Dassa. He’s funny-looking, tall and thin with hair like straw, wearing makeup according to the custom of his people. His response to adversity? Complaining. His attitude toward others? Superiority. Heck, he can’t even smile–he doesn’t have the facial muscles. Instead, he and others from Karkar twiddle their ears to express emotion. So, how is that endearing? Read the book and find out! This book is first in a series, and I’m very interested in reading the rest.

Find out more at Yvonne Anderson’s blog.

Read my reviews of this series:

Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

Not So Grimm by Becky Haigler, a review

Not So Grimm: Gentle Fables and Cautionary Tales by Becky Haigler
Published 2009 by Laughing Cactus Press (Silver Boomer Books), 132 pages
Genre: Magical realism tales

This collection of 12 tales by poet Becky Haigler is unexpected, refreshing, and fun to read. It’s in the style of magical realism, pioneered by 20th century South American writers, in which the story world is our real world, but it becomes apparent that something is weirdly different. That weird difference is totally taken in stride by the characters in the story. So fun! It’s also in the style of the fairy tale, with a lot of “telling” and little dialogue. I think it would make a good read-aloud.

The first story is “Mr. Merrill’s Extraordinary Driving Cap.” Mr. Merrill finds a hat in his store. It’s a nice leather hat, and he likes it, so he takes to wearing it. While wearing it he discovers that he … (I’m not going to tell you what!)

Next is “Chronological Order,” in which Carolina, a mall store manager, leaves her work in a blizzard and feels a soft bump on her bumper while pulling out of a slide. “She didn’t want to think about the dark figure she might have seen as she pulled away from the bank kiosk.” The time? Elevenish. She goes home. Her clocks start acting funny…

“Flight of the Wickerplane” is about a man whose neighbor tinkers with a half-size model biplane. To humor the neighbor, the man agrees to go for a ride in the biplane. And …

The characters in these stories are well developed, and the stories are well written. I highly recommend them for all ages!

Jeffrey Overstreet answers my questions

Jeffrey Overstreet, author of the four-book series The Auralia Thread, agreed to answer some questions from me as part of the CSFF Blog Tour. Check it out!

The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, a review

The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet
Book Four of The Auralia Thread
Published 2011 by Waterbrook, 375 pages
Genre: Fantasy with underlying Christian worldview

The Ale Boy’s Feast caps off a four-book series starting with Auralia’s Colors, a finalist for a Christy award. In the set of tales, residents of The Expanse struggle with a spreading curse of terror and evil. In this world, certain bloodlines confer special powers: sculpting stone, walking through fire, charming with music, communicating with animals. But only one person has the gift to weave colors to bring hope and healing to dark places. That person is Auralia, who seemed to die at the end of the first book, but who returns to life and the struggle in the third and fourth, not remembering at first who she is.

At the opening of The Ale Boy’s Feast, the king of House Abascar, Cal-Raven, is missing. The homeless people of House Abascar have been sheltered in House Bel Amica, another of the four houses of The Expanse. But Bel Amica has mighty struggles of its own, and it’s time to leave.

A group of Abascar people set out northward following Cal-Raven’s dream, seeking a mythic city on the other side of the Forbidding Wall that borders The Expanse. They don’t know whether they can find the city, whether they unlock its gates, or whether it would be a good city for them. But they have no place else to go.

Meanwhile, the Ale Boy, Auralia’s young friend, leads a band of survivors northward from the ruins of a third House along an underground river, away from the land of their slavery and pain.

And the missing king struggles with despondency. Will he return to his people? Will they make it on their terrifying journey through the deadly woods? And, most of all, can the curse be identified and stopped?

What do I think?

This series is amazingly rich in many ways. The characters are unforgettable, the plots intricately fashioned and woven together.

Overstreet’s style is a bit unusual. For example, he gives the native animals and plants odd names alongside sketchy descriptions. This technique puts the reader’s imagination into overdrive constructing possibilities. Meanwhile, most of what each viewpoint character is thinking comes out through dialog, not through reporting thoughts. The overall effect may be somewhat like reading a movie script, with the reader’s mind supplying visuals based on cues rather than full description. Some readers may not like this style, but I loved it.

Is it a Christian work? Yes and no. There isn’t any “Jesus” figure in it, but there is intelligence and mercy at the heart of the world Overstreet has made. The worldview will be familiar to Christians, yet not alien to nonChristians. This book can sit on the fantasy shelf at any bookstore and be enjoyed by anyone.

I emailed Overstreet and asked about what I thought seemed a dangling plot thread. Here is his response:

One of the recurring themes throughout this series has been: Are people open to mystery? Are we ready to live with uncertainty, and to hold our understandings loosely, ready to expand them when our vision is increased? Christ was fond of saying, “You have heard it said _________, but I say to you _________.” And so he makes all things new, constantly humbling us and revealing a bigger picture of the truth. Anybody who pursues the truth will experience this.

So I felt like it was appropriate to leave some things unknown, even as the author, so that people keep reading and rereading. They’ll find that some of the “loose threads” at the end are actually answered earlier in the series… the answers preceding the questions, and so fleetingly that they might never get noticed. Others remain open for us to think about. Many of my favorite stories and poems work that way.

Overstreet is a master fantasy writer. I highly recommend this series and this book. Don’t miss them!

He answered three questions from me in a video. Here’s the link.

My review of the first book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/2010/04/26/auralias-colors-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

My review of the third book:

http://christian-fantasy-book-reviews.com/2010/04/27/ravens-ladder-by-jeffrey-overstreet-a-review/

This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Check out what others are saying:

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Shane Deal
Chris Deane
Cynthia Dyer
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Inae Kyo
Shannon McDermott
Shannon McNear
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Sarah Sawyer
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler

Author’s web site – http://lookingcloser.org/fiction/

The Strange Man by Greg Mitchell, a review

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The Strange Man by Greg Mitchell
Published 2011 by Realms, 266 pages
Genre: Christian horror suitable for teens and adults

I didn’t realize how scary this book was going to be when I agreed to read it. (It’s officially labeled “suspense” not “horror.”) I’m no horror fan at all, so I had some trouble getting through this book. However, if you love books that scare you, and if you are a Christian, you may very well love it.

Dras Weldon lives in a town called Greensboro that is apparently somewhere in the United States. One character mentions the possibility of moving to Vermont, so we readers assume Greensboro is in the same universe. However, we soon find out that Greensboro’s world is a place where demons take bodily form and have ability and permission to tear people apart, especially people who ignore the Gospel.

Greensboro used to be protected by the faith of previous generations. But that faith has withered and died. Now the town has for spiritual protection only a poorly attended church. Dras Weldon’s brother Jeff is pastor, as their father was before them. But Dras’s faith is weak. He finds himself unprepared to deal with the challenge and the choices that await him.

Dras is a 22-year-old who behaves like a spoiled teenager. He’s unemployed, drinking a lot, sponging off his parents. At least Dras does have some faith; he gets himself to church somehow but sleeps through the sermon. His best friend, Rosalyn, gets pretty impatient with him. She isn’t a Christian.

The Strange Man, a demonic shape-shifter, checks out the local nightclub and decides he wants Rosalyn. But he can’t have her because somehow her love for Dras shields her. So he goes after Dras.

How can Dras repel the physical strength and spiritual poison of this enemy? And how can he teach Rosalyn to protect herself? The story plays out in some surprising ways.

What do I think?

This book is solidly Christian in worldview. I like that about it. However, I found myself continually struggling with the fantasy aspects of this story, namely, that the demons in this story have physical powers and permission from God to tear people to shreds, even people who are asking God for help.

I also struggled with Dras’s character. He doesn’t seem very believable to me–a drunken sponger whose heart nevertheless remains open to the Lord. The few actual 22-year-old drunken spongers I know of have been running away from God.

However, I thought the cover design was stupendous. And I think this book does a great job of scaring the willies out of you. If that’s what you want.

I’ll be interested to see whether others reporting on this book on the CSFF blog tour found it satisfying. Take a look!

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
CSFF Blog Tour
Amber French
Tori Greene
Katie Hart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Inae Kyo
Emily LaVigne
Shannon McDermott
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Gavin Patchett
Andrea Schultz
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler

Author’s web site – http://thecomingevil.blogspot.com/

Tales of The Dim Knight by Adam and Andrea Graham

Tales of the Dim Knight by Adam and Andrea Graham
Published 2011 by Splashdown Books, 340 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy

Mild-mannered janitor Dave Johnson finds a piece of body armor, puts it on, and discovers he has just picked up an invisible passenger–an alien symbiote (entity that lives with you in your skin) who gives him super powers.

Dave can now turn himself into Powerhouse, a superhero who darts around Seattle saving people. But he’s a bit of a dim bulb. This book is full of hilarious situations where Dave just doesn’t quite get it but the reader does, as Powerhouse pursues a canny set of bad guys and their boss, Marco.

Poor Dave doesn’t find an appropriate time to tell his wife about his hobby, so his marriage has difficulties, then reconciliation, then more difficulties, and so on. Dave tries the best to save the world, his marriage, and his children, while keeping in check the global power ambitions of his alien symbiote. But he finds that all his heroic deeds are not enough. And Marco the bad guy has things to learn too.

What do I think?

The characters in this book are endearingly cartoonish. Those who love superheroes and their exploits will like this book, especially those looking for a good laugh. And there are lessons for all of us about faith and trust in God.

Some helpful links:

http://www.dimknight.com

http://dimknight.com/samplechapter.html

Would Tales of the Dim Knight Be A Good Book for My Kids?

The Resurrection by Mike Duran, a review

The Resurrection by Mike Duran
Published 2011 by Realms Press, 307 pages
Genre: Christian suspense with paranormal elements

There’s a struggle going on in the hearts of the citizens of Stonetree, a coastal California town. For decades, the devil has been winning as New Age businesses take over the downtown and church attendance dwindles. And there are rumors about a hanging 90 years before. A murder, resulting in a curse? Others in the town have gone missing recently.

Ruby Case, a hesitant housewife with a limp, hardly seems like a likely agent for change. First she gets a vision of a new, green leaf on the enormous dead tree that broods over the town from a clifftop. Then she prays for mercy for a dead boy at his funeral, and he comes back to life, astonishing her and the town.

Rev. Ian Clark is Ruby’s humble and confused new pastor at her moribund church, where there are only three who want to be in a prayer group, and where many–including Ruby’s husband–have sensed hypocrisy and left. In his church office, Clark gets regular and mystifying visits from what seems to be the ghost of a puzzled young man.

Clark’s ex-wife calls him and tells him she senses he is in danger. He is, it turns out, a marked man. And Ruby’s destiny may be defined by an old prophecy as well, one that seems to foretell her death. Are both of them doomed to die to appease the evil spirits poisoning their town?

This story has memorable characters. It’s well told. There are plenty of reasons to keep turning the pages. In short, it’s a good book.

Yet, when I had finished it, I wasn’t fully satisfied. I hadn’t gotten a real sense of the demons driving the story. Instead, the story focuses on their minions, the human bad guys. Also, the dead tree was too static a vision to be arresting to me, as it was to the character who experienced it. So for once, I, the thin-skinned reader, was looking for something a little scarier.

But I suppose if the story had focused on the demons, that would have knocked it into a different genre, horror, and I never would have picked it up because it would have been too scary.

I liked the author’s use of “the least of these”–a hesitant housewife and a cowardly pastor–as the Lord’s instruments for change. God does that, using the humble and weak for great ends. Read this book. I think you’ll like it.

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog tour. I received a free copy of the book for this post. See what others on the tour are saying:

Noah Arsenault
Brandon Barr
Red Bissell
Book Reviews By Molly
Keanan Brand
Kathy Brasby
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
Christian Fiction Book Reviews
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Wanda Costinak
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Janey DeMeo
Cynthia Dyer
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Katie Hart
Joleen Howell
Bruce Hennigan
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emily LaVigne
Shannon McNear
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
John W. Otte
Gavin Patchett
Sarah Sawyer
Andrea Schultz
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Dave Wilson

Author’s website: Mike Duran at http://mikeduran.com/

Future Savior Book One: Conception by Jennifer Hartz, a review

Future Savior Book One: Conception by Jennifer Hartz
E-published by Desert Breeze Publishing, 2010
Genre: Christian fantasy romance suitable for teens and adults

This book concerns Christina, who is somehow zapped from another world into ours as a fetus of four months. When she is born after five months’ gestation at 8 lb, everyone thinks it’s strange, but they just shrug. Funny she doesn’t look like her parents at all. They’re blonde, she’s not. They’re short, she’s tall. So she grows up and becomes a high school physical education teacher. At the age of 30, she finds herself whisked to the other place, Meric. The people of Meric figure out who she is, a princess, and expect her to save them because of a prophecy about her. At first she rejects the idea, but comes to accept it. She does, after all, have some unusual powers–ability to move things around just by waving her hands, and premonitions of things that are just about to happen.

Of course there is a romantic interest, her bodyguard Shaw, who had shadowed her even in our world. And there is a very creepy bad guy with greater powers than hers who plans to kill her.

What do I think?

This book is not as polished as the books from mainstream publishers, but I don’t find that a big drawback for a good story. As the beginning of a series, it ties up one story thread and then begins another, ending with a cliff-hanger. I guess I can live with that. And Christina’s faith journey is not very evident yet, but the author assures me it will continue.

The story unfolds with good pacing and great characterization. There is a mystery at the root: where is the land of Meric, and how is it related to our world? Pretty cool. So, I recommend this book and would love to read the next one.