Tag Archives: christian

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 Telling by Mike Duran, a review

The Telling by Mike Duran
Published 2012 by Realms, 303 pages
Genre: Christian supernatural suspense

“A prophet never loses his calling–only his way.”

Two detectives escort Zeph Walker on a mysterious ride that takes them to the county morgue. There’s a body there they want him to identify. Zeph is sort of a hermit, hanging out in his musty book-swap shop on the edge of town and on the edge of community life, disfigured by a facial scar, though he’s only 26 years old. Oh, and he has a gift, a sixth sense intuition, which he really wants to hide from.

But there’s no more hiding when he recognizes the body on the gurney. It’s his own. Or at least it looks like him, same build, facial features, hair color, and Star of David tattoo on the right arm. And the facial scar. But this fellow has a bullet hole in his chest. That’s when we step into the really bizarre: the detective thinks the real question is why someone would want to kill Zeph. The no-nonsense detectives from the Twilight Zone are treating it as a homicide.

This desert town on the edge of Death Valley has another mystery: is there a gateway to Hell up in the hills? And yet another: why do some of the residents suddenly seem to have turned into humorless, characterless automatons? And who’s to blame for all this?

What do I think?

If you love Christian suspense, I suspect you’ll love this book. Mike Duran is a skilled writer. Here’s his Facebook page link: #/cerebralgrump

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour. Be sure you check out what others are saying too:

Jim Armstrong
Noah Arsenault
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Jeff Chapman
Theresa Dunlap
Victor Gentile
Nikole Hahn
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

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.

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?

Dragons of the Watch by Donita K. Paul, a review

Dragons of the Watch by Donita K. Paul
Published 2011 by Waterbrook, 387 pages
Genre: Christian fantasy, suitable for all ages

Set in the world of Amara and Chiril where Paul’s other books take place, this one focuses on a new character, Ellie. Ellie belongs to the hobbit-sized tumanhofer race; she’s a farmer’s daughter who longs to go to the upcoming royal wedding.

Those of us who have read Paul’s two most recent books, Dragons of Chiril and Dragons of the Valley , will recognize the other main character, Bealomondore, a tumanhofer artist. In the previous books, he was a minor character, a unique and quirky war hero. In this book, he gets the romantic lead. (It’s not necessary to have read the previous two books, I am thinking. This one stands on its own very well.)

Ellie’s actually on her way to the royal wedding with her aunt and uncle when her beloved pet goat appears on a hillside where he shouldn’t be. She climbs out of the carriage to corral him and take him back home, but … he runs the other way! Chasing him, she finds herself falling through what looks like a glass wall. Now she’s trapped in a city built for giants, and inhabited by a rampaging horde of six-year-old giant children and a small troop of helpful kitten-sized dragons who mind-speak with humans.

But wait, there’s another adult present: a grumpy giant librarian. And one more: a tumanhofer, also trapped, Bealomondore. Soon Ellie and Bealomondore are working together to survive. Will the wild giant children kill and eat Ellie and Bealomondore, as they are threatening? And are the tumanhofers stuck in this city forever?

What do I think?

Ellie’s a great character, full of determination, big-sisterly instinct, and insecurities. Bealomondore’s your basic swashbuckling artist. The giant librarian is overwhelmed by his assignment, raising 60 six-year-olds. I really enjoyed getting to know these unusual characters. There’s a strong faith element, too. (But I thought the plot could have used some more tension in the middle.) It’s a gentle story, easy on the suspense and violence, and would make a good family read-aloud.

My reviews of the other two books in this series:

Dragons of Chiril (formerly called The Vanishing Sculptor)

Dragons of the Valley

The Aedyn Chronicles by Alister McGrath, a review

The Aedyn Chronicles, three books by Alister McGrath: Chosen Ones (2010), Flight of the Outcasts (2010), and Darkness Shall Fall (2011)
Published by Zonderkidz, a division of Zondervan
Genre: Middle grade and up, fantasy/allegory

A well-known theologian who lives in Oxford, England, writes a series of fantasy books for kids with engaging plots and rock-solid underlying teaching. Sound familiar?

Alister McGrath’s tales do have some similarities to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia tales. But there are some delightful differences too. Let’s find out more.

The Aedyn Chronicles start with a young English schoolgirl, Julia, and her older brother Peter. They are drawn to a fountain in the mysterious ancient garden of the house in Oxford where they are guests. They step into the water and find themselves in another world, on a beach. This world is Aedyn, where the people have been conquered. The first book, Chosen Ones, traces Peter and Julia’s challenge to help the people of Aedyn, finding courage they didn’t now they had, as well as learning of the Lord of Hosts who brought them there to confront the minions of the shadow.

In the second book, Flight of the Outcasts, Peter and Julia return to Aedyn, this time accidentally followed by their bratty stepsister Louisa. They find Aedyn deserted, and soon make their way to the island to the north where the people of Aedyn have been transported and enslaved. Louisa soon displays some unusual qualities, becoming a healer in this awful place, at the foot of a volcano, where inhuman giants act as overseers. Louisa remembers a rhyme her mother taught her; in this place, it’s a prophecy about a task. Can they lead a slave rebellion and do the task?

The third book, Darkness Shall Fall, continues the story in the second book. The slaves have successfully rebelled, but things are still terribly wrong. The power of the shadow is growing, not shrinking. The former slaves are in hiding, yearning to return to their island, Aedyn, but not knowing how to get there. Peter, Julia, and Louisa don’t know what to do.

A fair stranger, Peras, says he was sent by the Lord of Hosts and offers to lead them all to Aedyn, starting with 10 men. Peter is overjoyed. But soon he starts to wonder. Should he be trusting this man?

Julia faces her fears and retrieves the item they need to face the shadow, according to the prophecy. And the story unfolds with grace and truth.

What do I think?

It’s natural to compare this set of books to the Narnia tales. It isn’t the Narnia tales, so we should just enjoy it for what it is. It has engaging young characters who risk their lives to help others, and who learn to trust the unseen Lord of Hosts to save and heal. Plenty of Biblical themes are touched on, good for discussion if reading aloud.

But what I most liked about this book was the vision of the author for healing of Peter, Julia, and Louisa’s blended dysfunctional family in our world. It would be so easy for an author to invent characters who have hangups of one kind or another because of something their parents did or didn’t do, and then not expect to heal the situation. But McGrath has a wonderful vision for complete healing.

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/

Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper, a Review


Venom and Song , Book Two of the Berinfell Prophecies, a Review
by Wayne Thomas Batson and Christopher Hopper
Published 2010 by Thomas Nelson, 401 pages.
Genre: Middle-grade Christian fantasy

I reviewed Curse of the Spider King, Book One of the Berinfell Prophecies, last year. It told the tale of seven elf lords from the world of Allyra, adopted and raised on Earth. At about the age of 13 special powers for each were becoming apparent, such as the ability to walk on air, read minds, shoot arrows accurately, shoot fire from hands and feet, and super strength.

In that book, the young elf lords are told of their heritage at about the same time that horrible beings from Allyra begin pursuing them and their families. It’s clear that living a regular life on Earth isn’t going to be possible, and all seven decide to go to Allyra to see if they can help the elves.

As Book Two opens, the teens are arriving in Allyra, against opposition from the Spider King and his minions. They manage to make it safely to the underground home of the elves, and then they spend several months training to work together and to use their individual special powers.

They learn more history: that the Elves have strayed far from their creator and God, Ellos, and had even at one point enslaved the gwar, the race to which the Spider King belongs. At the end of their training, the seven follow a prophecy and learn an amazing song, a song that calls the hearers back to Ellos.

Finally it’s time to attack the Spider King. The elves mount an assault on the Spider King’s fortress, Vesper Crag. It’s a long and complicated battle, where the Spider King matches elven ingenuity with his own, again and again. Will the seven lords make the difference? And what will be the cost? Do the elves call on Ellos? Does He answer? And who is the Spider King, anyway?

My thoughts:

What I really like about this series is the waywardness of the elves, the supposed good guys. They remind me of the children of Israel during the time of the prophets, having abandoned their loving God, doing their own thing. In this case they had even enslaved the other major race in their world–and then changed the history books to delete that part once it was over.

The elves have paid a steep price, the loss of their land and city and the deaths of their seven lords who had special powers. (The teen lords are the unexpected survivors.) The elves must hide underground, in a situation particularly difficult because elves require exposure to sunlight to stay alive.

The story opens at a time when the elves are not really aware of how much they have strayed from loving their God. We the readers become gradually aware of the situation at the same time as the elves do.

Now, portions of this book reminded me of the X-Men and similar works, where a group of teens with special powers is receiving instruction in using them. Another difficulty I had was keeping track of all seven protagonists. But each is given a unique and memorable personality, along with a unique and memorable gift, and I expect my difficulty has more to do with my age (over 50) than anything else.

I’ll be very interested to read more books in this series. I recommend this book for fantasy lovers of any age.

This is part of the Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour, and I received a free copy for review. Check out the links below to see what others are saying about this book.

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Amy Browning
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Melissa Carswell
Jeff Chapman
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
James Somers
Kathleen Smith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Jason Waguespac
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Also, here are the blogs for the authors:

Wayne Thomas Batson – http://enterthedoorwithin.blogspot.com/
Christopher Hopper – http://www.christopherhopper.com/