“Stranger Things”, Erin Healy

Stranger Things

Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson website

This is my new favourite Erin Healy novel. It has all the hallmarks of what we’ve come to expect from Healy: gripping suspense, characters grappling with their external world but also with what’s in their heart, and an insider’s perspective of the “thin places” where the natural and supernatural intersect. However, added to this novel is an especially powerful story line drawing the reader into the dark sinister world of human trafficking.

The novel starts fast and doesn’t let up. Healy’s descriptive powers make this novel a highly visual experience. We get multiple points of view which I enjoyed as it enlightened the experience in my mind.

The story demonstrates how human trafficking is able to proliferate due to systematic abuse, deceit and corruption. For much of the novel we’re not exactly sure whether the heroes are actually villains and vice-versa. As the story unfolds the layers gradually peel away to reveal some very courageous people and sinister bad guys.

Serena Diaz and Amber Larsen are two very gutsy women, both survivors of this heinous industry, and marvelously crafted. They are drawn together, coincidentally, by Amber’s brother, Christopher. Embedded in both ladies is his passion and energy to rescue those in need and shine light in the darkness of the industry that has played such a role in their lives since their youth.

The bad guys are creepy in their arrogance, abuse of power and complete disregard for the lives of the many they destroy. Healy reveals the far-reaching tentacles of structured corruption that pervades the industry.

This is an effortless read that was hard to put down and I was sad it ended.

“Water Walker”, Ted Dekker

18143692I read the 4 separate episodes on ebook and provided reviews on each but I wanted to summarise my overall thoughts on the complete novel. BTW, I love the episodic method of reading a novel and hope it plays a big part in the future of fiction.

Alice Ringwald (or is her name Eden?) is kidnapped from her foster parents by Wyatt, the nicest kidnapper one could ever want to meet. Wyatt was acting on behalf of his wife and Eden’s mother, Kathryn.

The search starts at pace and we meet Olivia Strauss, the agent in charge, who has her own story of losing a daughter.

Kathryn and Eden are reunited and the rest of the novel including a jump of five years in the future revolves around their relationship. Kathryn has a mentally handicapped son, Bobby, who is a delightfully written character reflecting an innocence that has managed to survive much abuse.

The home the family of four live in is really a compound of sorts with the Jim Jones-type character, Zeke, controlling everything they do in the name of Jesus. We soon meet Stephen, the Outlaw, who first appears in Eden’s dream, and plants a seed of freedom within Eden’s mind. Not a lot happens and a good third of the book is spent hearing what’s going on in Eden and Kathryn’s minds.

It is when Stephen reappears for a second time, in another dream (or was it?) and helps Eden realise how bound she is by her fears and the affects of the abuse inflicted upon her and Bobby. She “walks on water” by stepping beyond that that binds her and in forgiving Kathryn, she both frees her heart and enables Kathryn to confront her fear of Zeke.

Letting go and letting God is a powerful message. Further, letting go of all the offence we may have been subjected to through forgiveness breaks the chains around our heart and shatters the scales that cover our eyes. I especially liked how Dekker used Eden’s forgiveness of Kathryn to demonstrate this power.

I enjoyed Eden or is she Alice Ringwald? Might be time for me to re-read “Showdown” once again. She’s a good character but there’s lots of opportunity to further develop her. My favourite character was Olivia Strauss and so hope we see her again in a future production as her role in this one is quite minor after the initial first few scenes.

And then there’s the Outlaw, Stephen. I’m not quite sure what to make of him. Interesting how his love contrasted so radically to that of Zeke, both of whom sought to represent the love of Christ. We don’t have to be as blatantly evil as Zeke to be out of sync with the love of Jesus, a good warning for us all.

Stephen shares the message in words and Eden as a good pupil listens and responds. I do wonder, however, that it’s a little unrealistic for an eighteen year old who has had such abuse be able to so quickly let go and respond so maturely. This is why, as I’ve mentioned, Eden’s love changing Kathryn’s heart truly reflects the miraculous power of accepting Christ’s love.

Every Dekker fan should read this and for those new to his work this continues on this new path his work has taken starting with “Eyes Wide Open”. These last few novels have had much stronger messages than previous ones, messages that are so important for we fiction readers to soak in.

“The Tournament,” Matthew Reilly

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Photo Courtesy of Pan Macmillan Publishers

This is a very different Matthew Reilly novel. There’s no Scarecrow, nor Jack West. There is also no hero saving the world with moments to spare from some global calamity.

But don’t let that stop you from reading it as this is Matthew Reilly at his story telling best.

We meet Bess, the young 13 year old daughter of Anne Boleyn & Henry VIII, who goes to Constantinople with her teacher, Roger Ascham, to witness the inaugural World Chess Tournament hosted by the Sultan. Soon after arriving, a prominent Cardinal from the Catholic entourage is found murdered. The Sultan engages Ascham to investigate the murder. In the process of the investigation, conducted in the background to the tournament, further murders are perpetrated to add to the intrigue.

Meanwhile, Bess’s friendly older companion Elsie seeks to win herself a Prince, the son of the Sultan. She spends her nights on various nocturnal exploits which she regales in full detail to Bess the following morning. Yes, this novel features sex, which to his credit, Reilly points out at in his “Author Note” at the beginning of the book stating it to be for mature readers only.

The tournament, the investigation and Elsie’s ambition are all drawn together at the end. There was a degree of predictability which is not typical in a Reilly novel, however, the power of the novel is in Bess’s coming of age story line.

Bess, of course, matures into Elizabeth I, and one of the wonderful aspects of the novel was the fictionalising elements of real people. Fundamentally, this is a story about Bess, and Reilly courageously explores how the experiences in her youth (namely this fictional one) helped mould her into becoming one of Britain’s greatest monarchs. Not to mention that she never married.

Told from Bess’s first person voice, this is a rollicking tale that will delight Reilly’s passionate reader-base as well as introduce new readers to the great story teller that he is.

“Sedona Storm,” Barbara Scott

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Book cover courtesy of Landheart Press

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I understand it was originally published a decade or so ago and the authors have modernised it (even with an iphone mention!). A story of the unseen world that angels and demons inhabit interwoven with the natural world of man is as timeless as the Bible.

It’s suspenseful and contains some graphic scenes that are not for the faint of heart but it’s how the authors depict the two worlds intersecting (including many a collision) that has the reader spellbound. Prayer engages heaven by activating angelic assistance and this is wonderfully demonstrated in this novel.

We see the consequences of dabbling in the darkness, yes, it can destroy, kill and steal. But we also see grace, healing, forgiveness and salvation. Yes, this novel sure packs a lot in it.

I’m pleased the authors elected to re-launch after so many years as it’s messages are important for the world to hear.

“Memory’s Door,” Jim Rubart

memorys-door-james-l-rubart-134x210This is the sequel to Soul’s Gate in the 3-book Well Spring series. It continues the adventure of the four: Dana, Marcus, Brandon and Reece (The Warriors Riding) as they prepare themselves to tackle the malevolent “Wolf” who personifies the spirit of religion. The four all confront their own darkness that in some way or another is holding them from living in complete freedom in their walks with Jesus. This is a key theme of the series: we allow our past regrets to hold us back even when we have Jesus in our lives. Jesus however has come to set us free from our past. However, we can’t just runaway from them. We need to confront our darkness with Jesus and let Him bring healing.

We spend a lot of time in the “spirit” and/or in people’s souls. I’m reminded of CS Lewis’s “space trilogy” novels (not Narnia) where he takes us in to another realm. There the Warriors battle demons whilst also meeting friendly spirits and angels on their journeys.

There were times I felt Rubart was delaying the ultimate conflict as I thought there were one or two elements that were laboured over, however, he continued to surprise me with some riveting action and suspense. And the battle near the end is simply breathtaking.

Rubart’s wonderful storytelling takes the reader into the minds and souls of his characters. He is a masterful communicator and at all times he had me visually present within the scenes. As with Soul’s Gate, Rubart uses Scripture powerfully to weave within the story. It’s not preachy but essential as the Word of God enlightens, empowers and equips the Warriors. But we also see how it can be misused to lead others astray.

I love how this series is making me stretch further into Jesus, opening my eyes to what is holding me back in enjoying complete freedom and showing me how I can use prayer, the Word and faith to unshackle me. The importance of comrades in battle is highlighted. We cannot run this race alone especially when it comes to tackling the spirit world.

I can’t wait for the final instalment.

“Soul’s Gate”, Jim Rubart

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Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson

Jim Rubart’s novels simply get better and better. This is top notch and I’d encourage every Christian to read it.

From the first page Jim’s writing took me on a spiritual journey that had me pressing into the Lord as I explored the ideas in the novel in my own prayer life. Jesus brings freedom, it’s a fundamental aspect of the gospel and Soul’s Gate explores this truth by introducing four characters who are still struggling with their own particular issues. They are called to firstly tackle their own captivity before being able to help others to do the same which I take will be the main thrust behind the second in the series, Memory’s Door.

However, the enemy doesn’t just sit back and allow us as individuals to surrender our brokenness to the Lord. Rubart demonstrates this by using the allegory of people entering another’s soul to help that person to both recognise their struggles and then helping free them. However, frequently the enemy will turn up in an attempt to thwart the crusaders efforts. In essence, I see this as how the Holy SPirit works in our lives. He enables us to identify the roadblocks to our freedom and provides us with the ammunition to blast them away. And once again, Satan and his cronies fight hard to stop the roadblocks from budging.

We can all help others in their individual battles by way of prayer which again is a big theme that runs through Soul’s Gate. Prayer is powerful and it does work to prevent the enemy in its efforts.

I enjoyed each of the four characters, all very different and believable. I look forward to their development in the next edition. The scenery both physically and supernaturally is fantastic making the novel a great joy to read. Rubart does a magnificent job visually taking the reader into each of the scenes.

I’ll be recommending this to everyone. It’s a must read and the best novel I’ve read in 2013.

Congratulations Jim on a novel that I hope will stand the test of time not unlike some of those of a certain hero of yours, Mr CS Lewis.

“The Way Back,” Tom Pawlik

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Photo Courtesy of TomPawlik.com

This is different to Tom Pawlik’s first two novels that I enjoyed immensely. Pawlik describes it himself as a ‘coming-of-age’ sort of novel which it is, but one filled with gripping suspense that kept me turning (well flicking, is that what it’s called on a Kindle?) the pages.

Pawlik is masterful in how he describes his settings. In particular, the way he describes Jake and Buck’s boat trip through a creepy swamp had me feeling like I was a third passenger on it. The suspense he creates when danger is at hand is riveting. His scenes with a certain large crocodilian creature reminded me a lot of Peter Benchley’s Jaws.

But it was his character, Abe Garner, an elderly man, misunderstood and rejected by his small community, that grabbed my heart. It is his story that lingers in my mind on finishing the novel. His story is such a beautiful one of grace in action, of forgiveness and not allowing one’s mistreatment to malign one’s life with bitterness, mistrust and hatred.

Read this so you can meet Abe Garner. Oh, and one very large water-dwelling reptile.

“The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I found this both charming and terribly sad.

Fitzgerald’s elegant craftsmanship with attention to detail using such economy of words was extraordinary. It was such a delight to drift off into another time as he captured the soul of Gatsby’s world in the 20s. It was an interesting use of the 1st person as Nick Carraway narrated the story.

But there was such sadness with the apparent meaningless of these characters lives. All fluff and bubble without any soul. I found I felt sorry for Gatsby, unlucky in love and seemingly wealthy from dubious commercial activities that never got fully explained. Daisy, I felt nothing for, as she came across as the most callous selfish individual, blessed with beauty and good upbringing.

I can understand why the novel is held in such esteem by the literary world. In less than 200 pages, Fitzgerald was able to describe the folly of the hedonistic life that has even greatest prevalence today, making the novel very relatable to a modern readership.

“Afloat”, Erin Healy

Afloat-e1360600179383Riveting storytelling that leaves much to ponder!

I love a novel that stays in my mind long after finishing it. This is one of those novels.

Healy powerfully blends natural disaster, murder and the supernatural to compose a fascinating multi-layered story. Her mastery of the writing craft and ability to create intriguing multi-dimensional characters make Afloat a compelling read.

Even though the action commenced immediately, it took me a while to absorb the complexity surrounding the disaster and the introduction of many characters. I enjoyed this detail even though there were times when I found it challenging to visualize the full extent of the scene unfolding.

But once the survivors are thrown together the novel really takes off. Vance Nolan is a marvelous hero. He’s flawed with a troubled past, but selflessly courageous. Zeke, the blind man of faith, and a father figure, has invested years of love and wisdom in Vance and their relationship is a beautiful illustration of the power of committed friendship.

Most of the characters are complex. We see their foibles, inhibitions, hopes and fears. Developer Tony Dean is an excellent antagonist. Greed, power, lust, we see it everyday, but perhaps not so well portrayed in a fictional character like Tony Dean.

The reason this novel still lingers in my mind and why it is so special is there is so much to take away from it. Every reader will be grabbed by something different to ponder. And that is its’ magic. Whether it’s redemption, bad things do happen to good people, or sometimes faith involves staying put and waiting it out, there is so much in this novel. And I haven’t even mentioned the angelic intruders.

Highly recommended: 4.5 out of 5.

If you missed my Q&A with Erin Healy from a  few weeks ago, you can read it here.

My Review of “Iscariot” by Tosca Lee

Iscariot Cover FinalI was lost for words when I finished this beautifully written novel. And I’m still struggling to find the best words to describe the power of this story.

But the incredible thing about this story is it’s part biographical, part fiction and I’m left wondering how much of it was fiction.

Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, the one that Luke described “Satan entered” moments before he committed his betrayal. The gospels never tell us exactly what the discussion between Judas and the Chief Priests amounted to, but Ms Lee, having completed extensive research, provides an insight. And boy, was I shocked. I can’t say any more without revealing too much, so will leave it there.

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