“Motherless,” Erin Healy

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Photo courtesy of Erin Healy

“This is truth: we all tell the stories that we want to believe. We tell them for so long that we forget what we really know. Occasionally we convince others to believe them too.”

Motherless is the story of brother and sister, Marina and Dylan, who are coming to terms with the anticipated death of their father (he’s in an induced coma) having lost their mother many years earlier from an apparent suicide.

Marina, even though only a few years older than 16-year-old Dylan, has taken on many of the responsibilities of being a mother. She is especially protective of him as he suffers from agoraphobia, which can be tremendously debilitating.

Their story is told through the eyes of a first person narrator who has a particular interest in their welfare. This individual takes on a far greater role in their story and especially the key themes as it unfolds.

Healy uses vivid imagery in describing her characters, the Californian coast and the delicacies created by Sara, another key character. At any moment Healy is able to transport the reader into being a cocktail party guest, harvesting grapes in a vineyard or sitting on a surfboard waiting for the next set to roll in.

I particularly appreciated how Healy took me into Dylan’s mind, the young poet who was at his happiest surfing the break outside his home even though stepping out the front door to pop down to the shops crippled him with fear. I know what that feels like.

Lies, deception, grace and forgiveness. Key themes at the heart of most families as they reflect the darkness and light we all must navigate through life.

This is what makes this story so compelling: it could be any of our families that Healy has captured on the page.

Highly recommended.

“The Legend of Sheba,” Tosca Lee

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Photo courtesy of Tosca Lee

There is little mention of the Queen of Sheba in the Bible other than that she paid King Solomon a visit having heard of his great wisdom and he worshipped an unseen God. (1 Kings 10:1-13)

This novel greatly expands on the little we know and introduces us to an enchanting, complex Queen who is powerful, fiercely independent, intelligent and very beautiful. We meet her as a child and then retrace her period of exile before becoming Queen. She soon asserts her authority by utilising Saba’s natural wealth to build a greater kingdom. Her council continually badger her to marry and produce an heir, however, she only wants to marry for love.

One of Saba’s trader’s shares his meetings with the King of the northern tribes of Israel who is becoming increasingly powerful in the region. She is soon intrigued and infatuated as the two begin corresponding by letter. He with his songs and proverbs, she in riddles. But a greater need arises as Solomon begins to build a fleet of ships and ports that will negate Saba’s trading capabilities. Sheba takes it into her own hands and sets off on the 6 month journey to pay the King a visit to negotiate access to his ships and ports.

It is on arriving in Jerusalem that this novel takes off as we get to witness a most passionate love affair between the two. The tension simmers for many pages as they seek to understand and be understood by the other. Solomon, tired of his wealth and his huge number of wives, meets his equal. A woman who can inspire, motivate and lift him from his boredom. He is captivated by her.

Sheba resists her feelings for him not wanting to be another conquest. But the more time they spend together the more she sees of the heart of this man. Having grown up worshipping Almaqah, a god of the sun and moon, she begins to realise it’s folly. It is in seeing Solomon’s struggle between his faith and his riches she comes to realise the unseen one is the one true God.

Lee writes beautifully as she always does taking us back in time as observant bystanders to the sounds, smells, and sights of the era. Her authorial skill makes this a most charming and fascinating read. Frankly, I was so disappointed when it ended.

There is an informative appendix that outlines some of the key findings from Lee’s exhaustive research which helped answer many of the questions I had as I read the novel. But one must always remember this is a piece of fiction.

“Spirit Bridge,” James L Rubart

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Image courtesy of James L Rubart’s website

Spirit Bridge is the third and final episode in the Well Spring series. And wow, it sure finishes in a mighty way, so much so I’m very sad that it has now ended.

I’d suggest all readers read the first two in the series: Soul’s Gate and Memory’s Door, not just because they are fabulous novels but they provide a valuable introduction to this final episode.

This one starts where the last one ended, the Warriors Riding hoping to take some time out to rest and convalesce after the battle with Zennon and his demonic warlords. However, the Spirit has other ideas and it isn’t long before the battle is renewed and with tragic circumstances.

Two additional characters play pivotal roles. Simon, who we’ve met previously, and are never quite sure whose side he’s on. Rubart manages this ambiguity brilliantly. The second, Miyo, is in fact a new character and she plays an important leadership role in discerning the insidious plot of Zennon.

Brandon and Dana’s characters are well developed in this episode and I especially grew to like both of them. The romantic tension between them continues as an undercurrent but doesn’t distract the reader in developing empathy for them both.

What I particularly appreciated about this episode is how Rubart presents spiritual warfare in the context of the daily battle we all have in surrendering our desires and hopes to God. He explores it through Reece, Brandon and Dana demonstrating how each of them unknowingly allows the enemy to infiltrate through some form of self-glorification.

This culminates in a fantastic final battle scene that is magnificently described allowing the reader to visualize it effortlessly.

This is a wonderful series that so powerfully demonstrates spiritual warfare in a fictional context that is uplifting, challenging and thrilling in its suspensefulness.

I can’t recommend it enough and so look forward to reading Rubart’s next creation.

“Hacker (Outlaw Chronicles),” Ted Dekker

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Image courtesy of Worthy Publishing

My name is Nyah and I’m a hacker. I know things most people would never believe. Things that shouldn’t exist, but do.” 

Seventeen year old Nyah Parks is a genius hacker whose world is unraveling. Desperate and with no other choice, Nyah turns her programming skills to cracking the firewalls of the world’s largest corporations. She exposes their weaknesses, and then offers her services to secure their systems from hackers.

But when the most dangerous job of her life backfires and forces her to go on the run, she encounters an impossible reality that shouldn’t exist, but does.

A hack unlike any other. A hack that will take her beyond the firewall of the human brain itself. A hack, which may be the only way to save her mother now.

What if there was a way to tap into the unseen reality that surrounds us all? Would you hack in? How far would you go to find the answers to your deepest questions? The answer lies deep beyond the firewall.

As part of the FirstLook Blog Tour Worthy Publishing provided a Q&A with Ted Dekker which adds good background to the above teaser.

Read more

“Raptor 6,” Ronie Kendig

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Image courtesy of Shiloh Run Press

This first instalment in “The Quiet Professionals” series has everything we’ve come to love about Kendig’s writing: thrills a plenty, heart-pounding pace, solid character development, great military heroes, some crazy mad bad guys and a love story in a war zone.

But in this novel, it’s wonderful to see how Kendig has excelled in upping the ante so everything I’ve mentioned is even better.

What I’ve always loved about Kendig’s writing is her tremendous craftsmanship in drawing the reader into her war zone. In Raptor 6 it is no exception. She takes us right into the thick of it. We can feel the tension, hear the guns being fired, smell the sweaty testosterone within the cramped confines of the military vehicle and taste the grittiness of the dust.

And then there’s the love story. A young military leader passionately responsible for leading his small troop go where very few dare but emotionally wounded by events of the past. Torn by serving his nation and opening his heart to what has only led to heartbreak in his past.

The soldier soon meets a striking American but with Afghani blood and an absolute ripper of a name: Zahrah Zarrick. The daughter of a military hero who has returned to her mother’s homeland to bring hope to the children who know no other life than living in a war zone.

Zahrah falls hard for her soldier hero, he reminds her of her father, the decorated General. But it’s her faith and willingness to die serving God that attracts me the most to Zahrah. Kendig handles this well in demonstrating the challenge it can be when faced with terrible consequences for one’s faith.

I’ll stop there before I start giving too much of the engrossing story away.

This is a great start to the series and I can’t wait for next one.

“Stranger Things”, Erin Healy

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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.