The Brueggen Stones by S.G. Byrd, a review

The Brueggen Stones by S. G. Byrd, Book 1 of the Tarth Series trilogy
Published 2007 by Oak Tara, 163 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, middle grade

Lynn graduates from high school and takes a job in a Chicago department store. But she falls, hits her head on the sidewalk, and finds herself bumped into another world: Tarth, where the trees are blue and the water is green, and humans like herself struggle against a race of “root people” led by a sorcerer.

The humans care for Lynn as she catches every disease their children ever get, and she finally is able to start learning their language. A warrior, Chell, takes the time to teach her. Finally she starts to feel comfortable in this world.

Soon enough Lynn realizes why Keshua (Jesus) apparently has brought her to this world. There’s a rhyme about victory over the sorcerer using some “brueggen stones” that only she, an outlander, could fulfill. But will she be able to do it? And how does she feel about this fellow Chell, anyway?

What do I think?

This book, basically self published, doesn’t meet current conventional publisher requirements for the writer’s craft in some ways. However, it does tell a good story and manages to keep the ball rolling, pages turning. It provides a good Christian witness for middle grade readers, too. I wouldn’t dismiss it!

The Land of Darkness by C.S. Lakin, a review

The Land of Darkness by C.S. Lakin
Published  by AMG Publishers, 2011, 313 pages
Genre: Christian allegory, suitable for middle grade and up

C.S. Lakin is writing what she calls fairy tales, but which I would call well-developed allegory, like Pilgrim’s Progress with more description added. At the same time, there are some elements more common to traditional fairy tales, such as talking toads and a witch casting spells.

Callen, a woodworker’s apprentice, finds an amazingly intricate drawing of carvings on a mysterious wooden bridge. He decides to take a little trip to see if he can find out more about the bridge.

Meanwhile, the master of his woodworking shop has a niece who’s in serious trouble. Her father has married a beautiful woman who’s really, Jadiel suspects, a hag who has bewitched him. The evil stepmother and her two daughters make Jadiel’s life fully miserable. Finally the stepmother tries to kill Jadiel, but Jadiel has good advice from a talking toad. When murder fails, the stepmother sends Jadiel on a fool’s errand.

And so Jadiel, age 12, and Callen, age 31, meet up on the road, each on an impossible quest.  Where will their adventure lead them? What will they learn?

What did I think?

Lakin does a good job of setting the stage, crafting characters, writing believable scenes, and so on, all the tools of the writer’s craft. What I most enjoyed about this book was the central metaphor of a bridge, the bridge that Callen has gone looking for.  What it is and means becomes clear only at the climax of the book, and it’s a beautiful thing, very memorable.  I recommend this book.

Rooms by James L. Rubart, a review

Rooms by James L. Rubart
Published 2010 by B&H Publishing, 382 pages
Genre: contemporary supernatural

Micah Taylor’s a driven man, a young software multimillionaire. He’s got a great girlfriend, an 80-hour-a-week job, and opportunity to travel. But something is missing.

He finds out that his great-uncle Archie, who died years before, had set a plan in motion to build him a house, a large beautiful beach-front property–achingly close to the spot where his mother drowned when he was nine years old. The house is ready to go, and a letter arrives at his office telling him about it, including a key. The house is on the Oregon coast, a few hours’ drive from his life in Seattle.

It’s no ordinary house. Doorways and hallways appear, leading to rooms that contain feelings, experiences. These show him that some things have been missing from his life. Does he reach out for the missing things, or does he retreat to the comfort of Seattle? And what does he want the most? He has to figure that out. Who does he look to for guidance? And which woman does he want to spend his life with–the one from Seattle, or the one from Cannon Beach?

What do I think?

I enjoyed this book. The characters are fully rendered and believable. There’s a strong and reassuring faith element. The book skates from the normal into the supernatural and beyond, into parallel universes. But it doesn’t come across as a fantasy tale, because it seems so rooted in the here and now. It’s an inner journey full of consequence. Rubart did a great job.

Firebird by Kathy Tyers, a review

Firebird (The Annotated Firebird) by Kathy Tyers
Published 2011 by Marcher Lord Press, the first 353 pages of a combined volume
Originally published in 1987 by Bantam Spectra Books
Genre: Christian science fiction, adventure-romance

This book, a bestseller that kicked off the genre of Christian science fiction in 1987, has now been published three times, each about 10 years apart. The volume from Marcher Lord Press contains not only Firebird but two sequels.

Well, it’s always best to read a classic if you’ve never read it, so I picked up Firebird and found a heartstopping adventure-romance. It reminded me in some ways of Star Wars, but with a Christian worldview. I only read the first book in the series, but I’m planning to read more. Plainly the tale has an epic sweep to it, reaching down at least a generation as well as across worlds.

Lady Firebird Angelo was born the third daughter of the queen of her world. That sounds like she might have had an easy life. But the warped rules on her planet dictate that she must die as soon as she drops down to fifth in line to the throne. It’s not just those in the royal family; this happens to the heirs of all the major houses on her planet. She’s a “wastling,” born to be wasted. Her time comes, and Firebird, a pilot, is sent on a suicide mission along with other wastlings. But her enemy saves her life. What can she do now?

Her enemy, Brennan Caldwell, is a telepath. Humans have populated the galaxies, but one group took the liberty of altering the genetics of their children, and he’s one of the results. How can he hope to fit in? And what can he do with his attraction to the woman he rescued, who isn’t a telepath?

What do I think? I really enjoyed reading this book. The characters were unusual and compelling, the faith element strong and wonderful, and the plot unpredictable. You’ll like it too, and I expect you’ll dive into the sequels. Which is what I am about to do. Not only are two of the sequels contained in this volume, but Marcher Lord Press has published a third, Wind and Shadow.

But guess what, folks, there’s another book in the series, Daystar, never before published! And that’s just come out from Marcher Lord Press.

Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock, a review

Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock, first in the Legends of the Guardian King series
Published 2003 by Bethany House, 433 pages
Genre: Christian epic fantasy, for young adult and adult

Abramm is calling himself Brother Eldrin, and all he wants is to be left alone by his family. But his family isn’t happy about it, not the least because it’s the royal family, and he’s now second in line to the throne.

Soon Abramm discovers that the holy orders that have been his life for the past eight years are a front for evil people who want to use him as a puppet. When he doesn’t cooperate, he’s sold into slavery. A sniveling weakling, he won’t last long at the oars. Or will he? Does Abramm find enough courage to persevere and even prevail? And how about his twin sister Carissa, trying to find and rescue him? Is there any hope for her quest?

I found this book to be full of great characters, broad conflicts, very evil bad guys, and the light of the Lord (Eidon). It’s a great read for lovers of Christian fantasy. Plus, it’s free as an ebook on Kindle. And it’s the first of a series, so there’s more!

Kindle link: http://www.amazon.com/Light-Eidon-Legends-Guardian-King-ebook/dp/B005UFURVW/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

Book of Days by James L. Rubart, a Review

Book of Days by James L. Rubart
Published 2011 by B&H Publishing, 376 pages
Genre: Christian suspense with a speculative twist

Cameron Vaux has lost both his father and his wife, Jessie. Now, though he’s only 33, he fears he’s losing his mind, the same way his father’s mind went–one memory at a time. He latches onto something mentioned by both his father and Jessie: God’s book holding all memories, the one mentioned in Psalm 139: “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” Problem is, he doesn’t believe in God.

Can he find this book? Could it restore his mind and his memories of Jessie?

Clues point him to the little town of Three Peaks, Oregon. He doesn’t want to go there alone. Who will help him? There’s only one person to ask: Jessie’s foster sister, Ann, who has hardly spoken to him for years.

Cameron’s not the only one who wants to find the Book of Days. There are others, and they will stop at nothing to get to the secret of the universe. Cameron soon finds himself a pawn in a vast chess game. Will he escape with his life?

What do I think?

I kept turning the pages. Vibrant characters leap right off the page, and an unpredictable story line held my attention to the end. Plus, it’s right up my alley–a story set in the real world with some supernatural elements, reminiscent of Indiana Jones tales. Highly recommended.

Hunger Games Books 2 and 3: questions for discussion

I’ve had a chance now to read Catching Fire and Mockingjay, books 2 and 3 in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. I am not as taken with them, especially the last one, as I was with the original book. They’re pretty dark.

Your children may have read these books, and if so, there are some good questions you could ask your kids, to help them consider the works from a Christian point of view.

1. Does Katniss have a sense of hope at the end of Book 1? Book 2? Book 3? Does Peeta? Does Gale? At the end of Book 3, what have they each gained? and lost?

2. Does the Bible give us a sense of hope for our lives? If so, can you find some specific passages about our hope? (Hint: look at the end.)

3. How does Katniss deal with adversity in the third book? Is it the same or different from the way Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins (or your favorite hero) deals with adversity? If different, how so? How would you like to see yourself dealing with adversity?

4. Snow, the villain, uses psychological warfare in the final book. Do you think the author should have added this to Snow’s arsenal? Why or why not?

The Hunger Games, a book review

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Published 2008 by Scholastic, 384 pages
Genre: Young adult, dystopian futuristic. Not suitable for 15 and under in my opinion because of violence.

Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old living in America some time in the future when it has devolved into a cruel empire, loves her little sister more than anything. So when that little sister is chosen for the Hunger Games, Katniss doesn’t hesitate. She takes the sister’s place. She finds herself fighting 23 other teens to the death in a high-tech arena, for viewing pleasure in the ultimate reality show. Only one person can win, and that winner gets plenty of income for life, unlike everyone else in the conquered territories–who is starving or nearly starving.

That’s not the only reason for the Hunger Games. The 12 districts, or conquered territories, must each provide two children to the Hunger Games each year in order to be reminded that an attempted rebellion 74 years previously was a bad idea.

Katniss, who has fed her family by hunting in the woods, can shoot a bow and arrow with amazing precision. Others in the games may or may not have special talents. Her one friend in the games, Peeta, isn’t going to win. But it’s his plan to sacrifice himself so that she will, because he loves her, and has loved her secretly since they were five years old. But wait. There’s another boy who loves Katniss, too–her hunting buddy, Gale. What’s a ruthless female hunter (who never wants to get married) to do?

What do I think of this book? I had to put it down, and that was very hard. It’s really a page-turner. The characters were well drawn. Situations were original. But what really made this book for me was the believability of this dystopian world. I found it so believable because it’s clearly based on the Roman Empire. Not only does the author use plenty of Roman names for minor characters, but there’s the contrast between the pampered and silly lives of the people who live in the capital and the toil of the slaves who don’t. The government is ruthless, violent, and cruel, just like Rome was when it threw unpopular people to the lions for entertainment. Of course, this society has the reality TV show as a way of viewing its arena. Quite a comment on reality TV!

Katniss is a bold and memorable main character. Not a wimp like Bella in Twilight, but more like Harry Potter, facing insurmountable odds and not giving up. She’ll be with us for a long time, I think.

The movie? I liked it. And I wouldn’t take anyone to see it who’s under 15. The violence is not lingered on, but it’s definitely, um, a lot. Here’s a review by a Christian I know: http://twitchfilm.com/reviews/2012/03/the-hunger-games-review.php

What did I think of the two sequels to the Hunger Games? Find out here.

Divine Summons (Windrider Saga Book 1) by Rebecca P. Minor, a review

Divine Summons (Windrider Saga Book 1) by Rebecca P. Minor Published by Diminished Media Group, 2011 Currently available only as an ebook (99 cents on Amazon or B&N) Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for young adults and adults Captain Vinyanel Ecleriast, an elvish warrior, nearly loses his life rescuing a chalice from the enemy, a group of dragons who practice sorcery and demon worship. But a despised half-elf who styles herself a prophetess resuscitates him.

Soon Vinyanel finds out that the king has assigned her as his teacher in spiritual matters, though Vinyanel couldn’t care less about such things. But he does love the massive silver dragon who’s now his mount and companion.Can Vinyanel put aside his habits and pride enough to learn what he needs to learn?

What do I think? I enjoyed this book–it was full of cliffhangers and action, definitely hard to put down. Unique personalities conflicted with each other’s quirks. It was very well plotted and characterized. It could have been improved in two ways, however. The backdrop story was never explained, leaving me wondering. And in some cases, the setting details were too spare, and I was having trouble imagining a scene taking place as she described.

All in all, I highly recommend this book. You’re in for a thrilling evening! And I’ll love to read the next book. Note: the next book is now out! A Greater Strength can also be found on Amazon Kindle or at Barnes and Noble.

Dragons of Starlight by Bryan Davis, Books 1-3

Dragons of Starlight by Bryan Davis, made up of:

Starlighter, Book 1, Zondervan, 2010 (I reviewed it here)
Warrior, Book 2, Zondervan, 2011
Diviner, Book 3, Zondervan, 2011
Book 4: yet to be released

Genre: Christian fantasy/sci-fi, young adult, appealing also to adults

Bryan Davis’s four-book fantasy series Dragons of Starlight tells a tale of heroism across two planets, Starlight and Darksphere. Jason Masters, a teen from Darksphere, realizes that people from his planet have been enslaved on the other. He takes it as his mission to rescue them. After all, he’s a warrior. And he wants to find his brothers, who have gone to Starlight before him to free the slaves and haven’t returned.

Once there, he meets Koren, a human enslaved by dragons on Starlight. Koren’s got some unusual gifts–she’s a starlighter, or “magical” storyteller. Can she help save her people? Does she want to?

After all, she’s enslaved by the prophesied new king of the dragons, who has just hatched from a black egg. He needs her because he is blind, and through a telepathic link he can see through her eyes. Plus, he can torture her at will if she turns away.  But the Creator seems to be calling her in a different direction.

Jason’s childhood friend Elyssa accompanies him. She finds that she’s got some starlighter gifts too. Is she willing to risk everything to free these people whom she has never met?

And what about Arxad the dragon? Does his allegiance lie with his overpowering twin brother, or with the humans he knows need his help? Is he a friend or a foe of the slaves?

What do I think?

This is a well-told sprawling tale, with unforgettable characters and surprising plot turns. It’s pretty cool to have two races of sentient beings, one being dragons. With intervention from the Creator at several points, it’s a Christian book. I’m enjoying reading it.  I suspect you will too.