CSFF Blog Tour Day 3: Donita K Paul weighs in

Now it’s the third and final day of the CSFF blog tour of Donita K. Paul’s book, The Vanishing Sculptor.

Mrs. Paul kindly supplied the answers to my questions of yesterday. Here they are:

1. Is The Vanishing Sculptor the beginning of another series?

Vanishing Sculptor is the first in The Chiril Chronicles. We’ve planned for three, and I’m working on The Wandering Artist now.

2. Do paladins (emissaries of God) live 1000 years?

Paladins do live for a 1,000 years or more. A Paladin is a champion of the people. On my world, they are mortal.

3. The market is in flux now, with Internet publishing gaining a foothold, and publishers cutting back on selections by unknown writers. Do you have advice for writers who have a Christian fantasy story they’d like to publish?

The last question is the hardest to answer, because it is hard to be positive. Breaking into the writing world is hard when the economy hasn’t tanked. Now it is even harder. But we have an all mighty God. Write the best story you can. Continue to hone your skills. Go to conferences to learn more and network. Join a professional organization like ACFW. Nothing is impossible with God. Read, read, read. Write, write, write, Pray, pray, pray.

Here are other participants in the blog tour. I put a “+” next to the ones that had entries on the topic when I was checking.
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 (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

Day 2- CSFF Blog Tour, The Vanishing Sculptor

I’m still talking about Donita K. Paul’s book, The Vanishing Sculptor, as Day 2 of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. This blog tour has really grown in the year or so that I’ve been on it. It has taken me a while to visit all the 35 blogs listed and check out what others are saying.

Nearly everyone really enjoyed the book. It has an unusual feature for fantasy these days: it’s upbeat. Rachel Starr Thomson summarized it nicely:

“It was a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish. In a genre which often relies on heavy themes and gathering darkness, that can’t be said about every book. It’s entirely true of this one.”

It’s also got some great offbeat characters in it, particularly the giant parrot, many agreed.

Mrs. Paul has granted interviews in some cases. I emailed her some interview questions Sept. 12, and never got a reply, so I am guessing that the good old email system isn’t working too great as usual.  In case she stops by this blog, here are the questions; maybe she could answer them in the comments.

Here they are:

1. Is The Vanishing Sculptor the beginning of another series?

2. Do paladins (emissaries of God) live 1000 years?

3. The market is in flux now, with Internet publishing gaining a foothold, and publishers cutting back on selections by unknown writers. Do you have advice for writers who have a Christian fantasy story they’d like to publish?

Here are the other blogs on the tour. I put a “+” next to the blogs that had a post on this topic when I looked for one.

Donita Paul’s blog: http://dragonbloggin.blogspot.com/

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 (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 Vanishing Sculptor by Donita K. Paul, a Review

sculptor

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

victor

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.

An Audio Book Coming Up

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

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

More later!–Phyllis Wheeler

Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by RJ Anderson, a Review

faery

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

wordsmith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, do I like it?

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

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

Cry for the Moon by William Woodall, a Review

moon

Cry for the Moon by William Woodall, a Review
Published by Jeremiah Press (self-published), 2009, 235 pages.
Genre:  Middle-grade Christian horror (mild)

The protagonist of this book is 12-year-old Zach.  He and his younger sister live with their parents and a grandmother in woods in East Tennessee.  Zach and the sister are just regular kids, but the adults in the family are werewolves. What are werewolves?  They are people who get weird on the full moon, growing claws and hunting game in a very beast-like fashion. But still people.  How do they get to be werewolves? They accept a curse by going through a ceremony during the Harvest moon and then making a kill on the next full moon.

Somehow Zach doesn’t like any of this.  His family is setting him up to be a werewolf too: his grandmother does the Harvest Moon ceremony on him (after making him drowsy). All he has to do is go on a hunt on the following full moon with them, and … well, he will have none of it.

He escapes and flees to find his uncle Justin, who lives in Texas and whom he has never met. He tells the story in the first person, and we get to know him as a likable kid. His flight is an adventure that takes up most of the book–he seeks to avoid detection as a runaway, and so rakes yards and does odd jobs to earn bus money and money for food. It’s a tough life, being homeless. Eventually, he gets to Uncle Justin. When he finds Uncle Justin, how is he received? I won’t spoil the story for you. But I’ll tell you that Justin turns out to be a Christian.

What do I think? This book opens with a pretty disgusting portrayal of the grandmother-as-werewolf taking apart a rabbit.  I think that’s a put-off.  But since it’s about werewolves and all, maybe not too much. Hey, they’re evil, right?

The book lacks a constant antagonist. A really good story usually has an antagonist which provides difficulties and conflicts all the way to the end. This story has the werewolves as antagonists briefly, and then the tale becomes the quest for Justin.

From a Christian perspective, what I wonder about is the apparent inherent goodness of Zach. He is tempted to steal something, a map, but doesn’t do it.  Stealing to eat would be a mighty temptation to someone with hardly any money, just enough to buy some junk cupcakes for his dinner.  Eventually, when he gets to Justin’s empty house, he checks out the place and even finds where Justin keeps a spare $400, but he doesn’t even seem tempted to take it.

So, while it’s a nice story of the redemption of Zach from an evil family, it might have been more realistic if he had also been obviously redeemed from his inherently evil self (as all Christians are). Also missing from this story is the usual suspense and fright associated with the horror genre. No big loss as far as I am concerned!

Aside from the opening, I enjoyed reading the book. We get to know and like Zach, who has a unique voice.–Phyllis Wheeler

Vanish by Tom Pawlik, a Review

vanish

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

Check out what others on the Christian Science Fiction-Fantasy Blog Tour are saying:

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Margaret
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Donita K. Paul
Epic Rat
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler