Exile by Rachel Starr Thomson, a review

Exile_Exile by Rachel Starr Thomson, Book 1 of the Oneness Cycle
Published 2013 by Little Dozen Press, 223 pages
Genre: Christian supernatural fiction, YA flavor

Tyler and Chris are young men who’re making a living fishing. One day they find a live human being in their net.

It’s Reese, a spiritual warrior who’s been cast out from her clan, the Oneness. She’s an exile, and her life has lost all its meaning, so she jumped off a cliff–into the net.

The fact that she’s an exile doesn’t stop the demons from attacking her.  Tyler and Chris watch amazed, and they want to help this damsel in distress. But they know nothing about the Oneness.

How will Tyler and Chris respond to Reese’s predicament and the call of the Oneness?

I sped through this short, fast-paced novel, pleased by the well drawn characters and the surprising plot. Thomson has done a great job of portraying difficult emotional journeys. It’s a world that a Christian will recognize, and that a nonChristian might feel comfortable with. Read it!

Victoria and the Ghost by Janet K. Brown, a review

victoriaVictoria and the Ghost by Janet K. Brown
Published 2012 by 4RV Publishing, 208 pages
Genre: Young adult general fiction/paranormal

Victoria is 15, and she’s dealing with a lot. Her mom has snagged a rich new husband and has abandoned Victoria, her sister, and their dad. The girls and their dad have moved from Dallas to a farm in rural Texas, where learning to ride a horse is far more important than finding the latest fashion in the mall. But in the summertime, it’s hard to make friends. Only one girl her age lives within 15 miles, and she’s prickly. Victoria takes refuge in a beautiful, peaceful spot in a cemetery, all alone. Or is she?

I enjoyed this book, which seems to effectively get inside the head of a 15-year-old, with all her strong emotions. There’s enough happening to keep the plot rolling. With my interest in speculative fiction, I particularly like the ghost, who seems like a basically warm-hearted old chap. There’s a faith element that works, too, along with a touch of romance. Brown has done a good job.

Storm by Evan Angler, a review

stormStorm by Evan Angler, Book 3 in the Swipe series
Published 2013 by Thomas Nelson, 265 pages
Genre:Middle grade dystopian/sci fi

In this version of the future, a totalitarian society provides school, food, and medical care to those who are “marked” with a scannable chip at the age of thirteen or so.  Those conscientious objectors who refuse the mark must scavenge.

A number of story threads continue from the previous two books in the series, following multiple groups of rebel markless or their helpers.

Logan Langly, leader of the markless, organized a prison break to rescue his sister Lily from the government’s clutches, but she refused to leave and in fact arranged for her brother’s capture (but he got away).

Now she works against the markless. Or does she? Is her new offer of help to Logan genuine, or has she been brainwashed?

What do I think?

Disclaimer: I did not read the previous books in the series. This book contains a summary at the beginning bringing us up to speed on the story so far.

I found this story hard to follow, told from the points of view of too many characters, at least six or seven. (Point of view characters tell the story through their eyes, saying what they are feeling and perceiving.)  This is against conventional editing wisdom, especially jumping from one point of view to another in the same paragraph. This happens several times in the story, and the publisher is highly respected, so I know it is deliberate. But I was repeatedly jarred out of the narrative and kept puzzling over who everyone was.

Another odd thing is that the author’s first book in the series appears in the narrative. Some of the characters in the story find it in a library and marvel at it, wondering how this “Evan Angler” fellow could have known what they were doing and thinking. This is probably supposed to be funny, but it also pulled me out of the narrative.

If I had read the first two books, I believe I would have been happier. At least it wouldn’t have seemed like a flood of unfamiliar characters.

I suspect that fans of dystopian fiction will like this book, because it is otherwise very well written and tells a fast-paced story. I recommend starting with the first book.

This post is part of the Christian Science-Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour. Please take a moment to check out what others are saying.

Julie Bihn
Beckie Burnham
Keanan Brand
Pauline Creeden
Emma or Audrey Engel
Sarah Faulkner
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Writer Rani
Chawna Schroeder
Jacque Stengl
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Rachel Wyant

Author’s website: http://www.evanangler.com/

 

Finding Angel by Kat Heckenbach, a review

Finding Angel by Kat Heckenbach, Book 1 of the Toch Island Chronicles
Published 2011 by Splashdown Books, 294 pages
Genre: Fantasy with Christian worldview

Angel has no idea who her parents are or what her true name is.  She lives in Florida with a foster family who found her wandering in the woods without her memory at the age of six. Now she’s fourteen, and strange things are starting to happen.

She takes a shine to a young man, Gregor, a stranger to her. She realizes he has answers about who she is, and she decides to go with him back to his home. She finds this is her birthplace, Toch Island, a magical place near Ireland. She learns she has magical powers, like others from the island, and Gregor teaches her to use them.

Her parents are off searching for her in Germany, and they’re also searching for the man who tried to kill her when she was six in order to steal her magic powers.

This man is still trying to kill her, the reader learns amid bizarre happenings on and near Gregor’s farm. No one knows who the villain is, and he likes it that way.

Can Angel solve the riddle of a prophecy? Will she live to see her parents again? And will Angel learn who the would-be killer is?

This student-wizard tale is slow-moving in some spots, but provides a pleasing whodunit with some great plot twists and novel characters. I like the story world of the island, full of simple townsfolk, tame dog-like dragons, and dotty professors.

The faith element in this story lies in the deep background. Heckenbach, a Christian, writes for the secular market. In this tale, prophecy works. Things don’t happen randomly, though the bad guy would have us believe so.

Son of Truth by Morgan Busse, a review

Son of Truth by Morgan L. Busse, Book 2 of Follower of the Word series
Published 2013 by Marcher Lord Press, 442 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy

Caleb Tala, prince of Temanin, has lived in luxury all his life, but he’s no spoiled brat. He’s taken his job seriously. He’s an assassin for his cousin, the king, and he’s the best of the best.

Caleb has gone so far as to assassinate the ruler of the neighboring kingdom to the north, Ryland Plains, where the previous story in this series took place. But being at the top of his profession gives him no peace. His many victims invade his dreams. Guilt consumes him.

In the invasion of Ryland Plains, his Temanin army is mysteriously defeated by a barrage of light at the gates of the main city. Caleb meets  the Word, Savior of the world, who asks him a question. Does Caleb want forgiveness for his crimes? Does he want it so much that he will step into the guardian role abandoned by his mother, an Eldaran–a being with supernatural powers?

Caleb spends most of the rest of the book coping with his choice. Can he now be someone entirely different, a Son of Truth, or does he fall back into his previous self-centered habits? He struggles with his and others’ expectations.

The Word is equipping Caleb and Rowen, two Eldarans, to fight the two Shadonae, evil beings with supernatural powers, who have taken over the city of Thyra on the other side of the  mountains and will surely move eastward. Rowen’s story is told in the previous book (Daughter of Light) and continues in this one.

Will these flawed and fragile beings be able to save the world? Or will they succumb to temptations, snares, and opposition?

I couldn’t put this book down. It moved from crisis to crisis, putting these wonderful characters through all kinds of conflict. There’s a strong faith element, providing a very satisfying read. While Caleb goes through some substantial change in this book, the plot doesn’t resolve. But then, it’s not the last book in the series, is it? I can’t wait for the next one!

My review of Book 1, Daughter of Light

My review of Book 2, Son of Truth

My review of Book 3, Heir of Hope

Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, a review

Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Book One of The Merlin Spiral
Published 2013 by Zondervan, 411 pages
Genre: Christian Arthurian tale

In Treskillard’s take on the Arthurian saga, Merlin begins as a bashful, gawky teenager, son of a blacksmith, nearly blind. Some unknown druids come to his tiny town in post-Roman Britain, bringing with them a mysterious, demonically mesmerizing stone.

The townspeople can’t help themselves–they worship the stone, abandoning the town’s Christian monks. Soon High King Uther’s battle chief Vortigern comes to town, bringing treachery with him, finding a friendly welcome from the wayward town.

How can young Merlin get the attention of the upper-class girl he loves? Can he deliver the town from its slavery to the stone? And what of the fate of the tiny prince Arthur in this time of upheaval?

I found this book to be intricately plotted, with plenty of interlocking subplots. Characters are finely drawn with  believable backgrounds, and it’s all laced together with suspense projected against a Christian worldview. I can’t wait for more!

This post is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour. Take some time to check out what others are saying about this book:

Noah Arsenault
Beckie Burnham
Keanan Brand
Jeff Chapman
Laure Covert
Pauline Creeden
Emma or Audrey Engel
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Jojo Sutis
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White

Author blog http://www.epictales.org/robertblog.php
Author’s websitehttp://www.kingarthur.org.uk/

Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner, a review

Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner, Book 1 of The Keepers Trilogy
Published 2010 by Delacorte Press, 312 pages
Genre: Secular middle-grade fantasy

Goldie is protected, so much that she has never been in any kind of danger, never petted a dog, never seen a snake, and … never been off a leash. She lives in a city, Jewel, which is under the heavy “protection” of some super-controllers. It’s a dire situation — when she responds to an emergency and runs away, her parents are thrown into prison.

There’s a strange museum in this city that’s full of shifting rooms and staircases. It’s a terrifying place, hiding plague and murder, unless you’re one of its keepers. And Goldie finds that she is called to be one of its keepers, keeping the city of Jewel safe from the horrors.

Meanwhile, there’s a power-hungry man who wants control of Jewel so badly that he’s willing to do anything–including unleash the horrors.  Can Goldie and her friend Toadspit stop him?

This book is stuffed with imaginative constructions.  Although the museum of horrors might sound terrifying, it doesn’t come off that way because Goldie isn’t scared, at least most of the time, following her training by the other museum keepers. After all, she has some new skills, including sneaking around in plain sight without being seen. This book has no faith element that a Christian would grab onto, but it does have moral lessons, such as courage in the face of injustice, and the virtue of being bold. I do recommend this book. I enjoyed reading it.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, a review

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Published 2012 by Random House, 451 pages
Genre: Secular fantasy,  young adult

I’m taking a look at this secular book from a Christian point of view. If you or your son or daughter is a fantasy fan, they’ll be reading a lot of books published by secular publishers, because that’s where the marketing channels are. If you’re in a bookstore looking for a fantasy book for young adults written from a Christian worldview, I’d advise you to look for books on the secular shelf published by one of the major Christian houses (especially Thomas Nelson and Zondervan/Zonderkids, which are aiming for secular readers). These books won’t have an obvious faith message, but they’ll be consistent with a Christian worldview. Also check out books available online, of course!

So, back to this book. Seraphina is a peculiar young lady living in a world where the dragons and the humans live together in very uneasy peace. The dragons are able to fold themselves into human shape to live among the humans and pursue academic studies, to which they are well suited. The humans are suspicious and occasionally very nasty to the dragons, many of the humans wishing for the return of a time when the two groups were at war.

Seraphina has wonderful gifts of music and is working at the queen’s court. Her mentor is a dragon in human form, Orma. Unlike everyone else, she enjoys dragons and is fond of Orma.  Soon palace intrigue engulfs Seraphina, and she must muddle through the very difficult question of who she is, while war between the two groups threatens.

What do I think? I think the characterization in this book is wonderfully strong, as is the premise about dragons being able to change shape to humans. But I found the plot to be somewhat weak. I am looking for a heroine who’s on fire to accomplish something, but Seraphina is more introspective than that.

As for religion, Seraphina and her countrymen pray to some saints who seem to not be real. Ah, me.  Well, at least Seraphina has some moral sense, knows that lying is wrong, as is hanging out with someone else’s fiance (though she does both).  I judge this book to be fairly enjoyable and not harmful to your average young adult, perhaps good fodder for discussion about right and wrong on those two questions.

Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore, a review

Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore, Book Two of the Angel Eyes trilogy
Published 2013 by Thomas Nelson, 304 pages
Genre: Young adult supernatural, Christian

Brielle has a gift to sometimes see angels and demons, though no mortal normally can. And Jake, her boyfriend, has the gift of healing in his hands. The news has reached the dark throne:  the Prince of Darkness himself wants both of them kidnapped and brought to him. And he’s sending his unseen army to Stratus, Oregon, to get them. Archangel Michael’s forces are coming to the rescue, but slowly.

Meanwhile, Brielle and Jake are oblivious to the forces converging over them. All Brielle sees is that her beloved father hates Jake. Her father has also started dating Olivia, who seems … not to be on Brielle’s side.

Brielle and her father still mourn the death of Brielle’s mother fifteen years before. Just how mysterious this death was is only starting to become clear to Brielle. Dreams show Brielle shards of truth: a young girl living in fear, a dying woman.  When Brielle’s mother’s grave is desecrated, Brielle discovers that what her father told her about her mother’s death was a lie. And where is the truth? Whom can she trust?

This book is a worthy sequel to its wonderful predecessor, Angel Eyes. The prose sings. The characters speak to the heart. And it’s a tale of brokenness and ultimate redemption. What more could we want? If you haven’t read this book, what are you waiting for?

Read my review of the previous book, Angel Eyes: http://www.phylliswheeler.com/angel-eyes-by-shannon-dittemore-a-review/

This is part of the CSFF (Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy) Blog Tour. Please check out what others are saying about this book:

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
Janey DeMeo
Theresa Dunlap
Emma or Audrey Engel
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Karielle @ Books à la Mode
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nathan Reimer
James Somers
Kathleen Smith
Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Shane Werlinger

Author Website http://shannondittemore.com/

Avenger by Heather Burch, a review

Avenger, a Halflings Novel, by Heather Burch
Published 2013 by Zondervan, 300 pages
Genre: Young adult supernatural with Christian worldview

In this third book of the Halflings series, Nikki Youngblood now knows she’s a Halfling — a descendant of the dark-angel sons of God and daughters of men as mentioned in Genesis 6. She knows that her godfather Damon Vessler wants her to turn to the dark side, so to speak, something that’s so easy for a Halfling to do. But there’s something more she doesn’t know. And her godly friends are afraid to tell her about it. Not only that, but there’s a shredder monster out to kill her.

These books have great characters and a catchy premise: orphan angels. Halflings are given up at birth by their Halfling parents and raised by true angels, to keep their dark-angel heritage at bay.  The Halflings have wings and unusual powers.

The book also has some overly familiar story elements: the love triangle with two “brother” Halflings vying for her attention, and a thoroughly  modern heroine, able to physically fight and win. (But at least she’s not a wimp like Bella!)

I read the first book in the Halflings series, skipped the second, and read this one, the third. There was enough background information in this book for me to do this, and I suspect that even someone picking up this third book cold would have been able to figure out what was going on.

I think that fans of Twilight, especially Christians, will like this book. I’m glad to see Christians writing in this genre.