Tag Archives: young adult

Hive by Rachel Starr Thomson, a review

hiveHive by Rachel Starr Thomson, Book Two of the Oneness Cycle
Published 2013 by Little Dozen Press, 299 pages
Genre: Christian supernatural suspense, suitable for teens and adults

I reviewed the first book in the series, Exile.

Tyler and Chris, buddies from childhood, decide to take on the Hive, a group of demon-possessed people. The Hive works to destroy the Oneness warrior group that Tyler belongs to. Tyler’s not afraid to attack the Hive because he is part of the Oneness, though a very new member. But Tyler’s afraid for Chris, a nonmember. Chris, an impetuous fellow, wants to get the Hive because it threatens the woman he loves. But he doesn’t have the spiritual warfare skills. And he doesn’t care.

Soon Tyler and Chris languish in captivity in a strange commune where the words spoken seem right, more or less, but actions are not. Why are they being drugged? What does the commune leader want with them? How can this leader claim to be Oneness? Will they escape with their lives?

Engaging characters and a gripping,  unpredictable plot make this a wonderful evening’s reading. I’m enjoying this trilogy, which I think should be accessible to nonChristians as well as Christians. And of course, the plot leads into the third book, which I hope to read soon!

 

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.

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.

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.

Captives by Jill Williamson, a review

Captives by Jill Williamson, Book One of The Safe Lands series, a review
Published 2013 by Zondervan, 381 pages
Genre: Dystopian suspense, young adult and up

Three brothers live in a tenuous settlement that shares a Colorado valley with a huge walled city called the Safe Lands. The year is 2088, and the Thin Plague has wiped out the population of the United States except for isolated pockets close to clean water sources. It’s a hard life for the brothers and their kin, surviving off the land and off what they can glean from the empty Denver City not far away.

Omar, a sensitive boy mocked and bullied by their father, decides to make friends with the people who live in the Safe Lands, although others warn him that those who go in never come out. Maybe there he will feel like he belongs. It turns out the Safe Lands desperately needs people like Omar and his clan, people uninfected by the Thin Plague who can help the Safe Lands repopulate. Omar decides his family will like the apparently easy life in the Safe Lands, and he arranges to have them taken there.

Levi, the oldest brother, is away on a trip when the Safe Landers arrive, and he returns to a village empty of life. As son of the village elder, he is elder now. He must go in to rescue the survivors, including his fiancee Jemma. But will he be able to control his temper?

Mason, the middle brother, is a gentle vegetarian who finds himself in a position of responsibility in the Safe Lands. He’s a medic, with access to the others from his village from time to time. Will he be able to make a difference for them? And can he begin to figure out what how to defeat the Thin Plague that is stunting the lives and eliminating the fertility of the Safe Landers?

Jill Williamson has delivered another impressive tale with believable, detailed characters and a strong plot line. Dystopia is a new genre for her, and she does very well in it. Her vision of 2088 Colorado has some similarities to the authoritarian world of the Hunger Games, of course, and a lot of differences too.  The faith element is present but not center stage, and so I expect non-Christians will be comfortable reading this book (and hopefully thinking a bit about the faith part). There’s a clue at the very beginning: a verse from the book of Daniel. Is Mason a recasting of the Biblical Daniel, a vegetarian living in a hostile kingdom and working for the good of his people?

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series!

Brad Roth, South American writer?

The Roth family in Peru

I was intrigued by the wonderful book I reviewed yesterday, Rumi and the Savage Mountain by Bradley Roth. Its protagonist is a boy who lives in a village in the Andes mountains, and it’s very convincingly told. In addition, it has plenty of what looks like magical realism to me, a genre invented by South American writers.  So how did such a book come to be written by a gringo with a name like Bradley Roth? So I asked him some questions:

1. Have you heard of magical realism? If so do you consider this book to be in this genre?

Yes, I have heard of magical realism.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende come to mind.  My experience with Marquez or Allende is that their magical realism uses the absurd to pique our moral imagination.  My writing is set in the mythical Andes, drawing from authentic Andean myths and legends, though modified a bit to fit in a few things, like the faith of Tayta Siwar or the story about Junior’s dad.  It’s a different way of looking at the world, but it’s not intentionally absurd as I see magical realism being.

2. Do you envision adults reading your book as well as kids?

Yes, but I’ve tried to gear my story toward the 8-12 set.

3. How were you able to get into the head of someone who lives such a different life from that of the average American?

Great question.  We recently returned from a year of missionary service with Eastern Mennonite Missions in the Cuzco, Peru.  We were based in the city, but as part of our work we travelled out to extremely rural villages.  We got a taste of what life was like in the mountains.  During our time in Cuzco, we also studied Quechua.  A few Quechua words pop up in the story.  And I’m interested in Andean culture, folk beliefs, and history.

If you’re interested, you can read more about our journey in Peru at www.Facebook.com/rothsinperu

I would also add that the voice of the characters is intentionally a bit anachronistic.  Rumi, Kiya, and Junior talk a little like kids in 21st century US.

4. Does Rumi live in Peru?

It could be Peru, or any place in the Andes.  It’s my imagining of life shortly after the Inca Empire was overthrown by the Spaniards–except that creatures out of myth are alive and well and walking about.  And there’s a bit of alternative history woven into the background: the Lamb was born into the Andes, and the faith centered in his life and way is embodied by the Taytas.

5. What literature do you like to read?

I like fantasy and sci-fi that takes questions of faith seriously. There’s scant little of it.  I read Narnia when I was a kid.  Ursula LeGuinn’s Earthsea series and Mary Doria Russell’s Sparrow and Children of God books strike me.  I would like to find compelling fantasy that takes Christian  nonviolence seriously.  I’m working on that.

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.

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 Song of Unmaking by D. Barkley Briggs, a review

The Song of Unmaking by D. Barkley Briggs, Book 3 in the Legends of Karac Tor
Published 2011 by Living Ink Books
Genre: Christian fantasy, young adult and up

This, the third of five books in this Arthurian fantasy epic, focuses on one of the four brothers who have been transported from our world to another, Ewan.

Ewan’s song of power, gifted to him in the new world of Karac Tor, is gone. He traded it to the self-centered fey (fairy) queen to save the lives of his friends. How he’s depressed and defensive amid his gifted brothers.

But wait. Another gift, his ability to see the fey, hasn’t left. As the world of Karac Tor shudders under the evil destruction plan of the witch, will Ewan’s smaller gift make a difference? Or will he give up?

What do I think?  I am amazed at how this epic continues to expand with more and more subplots, all braided together in a wonderful way. One involves the hapless dad of the family, who has managed to get himself into the fantasy world too and keeps trying to drag his four kids back home.  Another subplot involves King Arthur, revived from a thousand years of sleep in this new place, forced to deal with the descendant of Lancelot living in Karac Tor under Arthur’s curse.

This is a terrific book with a strong faith element. You and your kids will love it.