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Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

The New Has Come

by Christine Farenhorst 2022 / 262 pages I've seen another reviewer suggest that this might be Christine Farenhorst's best book yet, and I think I might agree. Linnet is a five-year-old Dutch girl who, we discover, knows absolutely nothing about God. Her ignorance is so profound that when the Nazis invade, and an occupying soldier tells little Linnet about the wonderful family that "God has given" him, she wonders, Who is this God he is talking about? and Is God German For our own children, who may take always knowing God for granted, it will be eye-opening to follow what it's like, and how wonderful it is, for someone to be introduced to God for the first time. Linnet has the same wonderings any kid might have, but her wartime experiences also have her asking deeper questions, including a child's version of "God are you really there?" I had to figure to what age category to share this review, and picked "Children's Fiction," but The New Has Come is that rare sort that has appeal for all ages. The World War II setting and charming protagonist will grab your children; moms and dads will appreciate Linnet's questions and the opportunities they present to talk about God with our kids, and grandparents will get more than a little misty-eyed at just how beautifully this tale is told. I could not recommend it more highly! Christine Farenhorst is a columnist for Reformed Perspective. so if you don't already know her writing you can get a good taste of her writings by looking at her many articles posted on the website. And for a taste of the book itself, you can find the first chapter at the Amazon.ca listing here. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Medallion

by Dawn L. Watkins 1985 / 213 pages This will be a fun one for Grade 4/5 boys. Young Trave plans to be king one day, but in the meantime, the current king of Gadalla, his uncle, won't even let him learn to ride a horse. Trave's life takes a turn when a rider comes to warn his uncle of an impending war, and tries to recruit him as an ally against the "Dark Alliance." His uncle dismisses the warning but allows Trave to head off with the departing rider, happy to be done with this annoying boy. But why does the rider have any interest in Trave? Because the rider turns out to be the king of the neighboring nation of Kapnos, and he knew Trave's father back when he was the fighting king of Gadalla. This King Gris is eager to help Trave become the king not simply that Trave wants to be, but that the neighboring nations need him to be, to stop the Dark Alliance. And while Trave appreciates being rescued from his uncle, he doesn't like being treated like a schoolboy in need of lessons. He mistakenly believes that being a king means fighting and giving orders, rather than serving. And that makes him susceptible to the flattery of the Dark Alliance's leader, who wants Trave on his side. This is a quick tale, that has some depth to it, because of the three kingly lessons that Trave needs to know, not just by heart, but in his bones. He finds out, the hard way, that a king needs: to learn what is true to believe what is true to act on what is true While the author is Christian, that's more notable in the lack of any new age or woke weirdness, rather than the presence of any spiritual dimension to the book. The only diety-mention of any kind is that the bad guys worship and are also terrified of owls. Boys will love the story, and appreciate the twenty or so great pictures, including one of the evil king riding what looks like a miniature (yet still large) T-rex. That's a reason to get the book all on its own! Another highlight is the curious creature Nog, who lives under a bog, and his every line, is always spoken in rhyme. While this is a little too simple for teens, it's one that'll really appeal to the 9-12 set, and younger even, if Dad is reading it as a bedtime book. This works well as a stand-alone, but I was initially excited to learn there is both a sequel and a prequel. However, the sequel, Arrow struck me as having too many characters to keep track of, and there was an added mystical dimension thrown in, where a queen and princess used a mirrored portal to unexplainedly travel to another realm. Mysterious can be good when the mystery is eventually revealed, but this magical turn is left unexplained, and that bothered both me and my oldest daughter too when she read it. The original was good enough that I still checked out the prequel, Shield, and while it might have also suffered from too many characters, it was much more like the original. Good, if not quite as great. So I'd recommend just the two - Medallion and Shield – while noting that the content in Arrow is "safe" enough (there's nothing problematic) for any child who wants to complete the series....

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

In the hall of the Dragon King

by Stephen Lawhead 1982 / 370 pages This is an old-fashioned fantasy tale, with a loosely Christian underpinning. Quentin is a young man who has had a quest thrust upon him. He was going to spend his life behind the walls of a temple, so this turn of events isn’t unwelcome. But he has to figure out how he can see the queen. And someone needs to rescue the king. Oh, and there’s a dark wizard that needs to be dealt with. Is this really a job for a young former priest-to-be who doesn’t know one end of a sword from the other? The young Quentin, looking for help, meets a hermit of sorts, who serves not the gods, but the one God. That’s an ongoing theme throughout, as author Stephen Lawhead is trying to point readers to the true God. Cautions However, Lawhead sometimes gets it wrong. Quentin is told that God leads by “hunches and nudges” and “very rarely by direct command.” But our God does give us clear direct commands, in His Word, though some who profess to be Christians reject His Word in favor of hunches. Also, when a soldier is dying and asks how to go to heaven, the hermit tells him to just believe, but doesn’t mention anything about repentance. Conclusion While those are notable flaws, and worth bringing up with younger readers, they amount to only a few paragraphs in a rollicking adventure. There is a true and proper villain who had delved deep into the dark arts – he's a necromancer even! – which sharpens the contrast with the hermit, who has turned away from magic to serve his Lord. One feature I really appreciated is that, while this is the first book of a trilogy, it is a full and complete story – this is not the sort of trilogy that is actually one story split over three books. But readers can look forward to Quentin's further adventures in The Warlords of Nin and The Sword and the Flame. Like any great children's book, this will be a great read for adults too – I'd recommend it for 12 and up. I'll add that in his later books the author took, first a Roman Catholic turn in his "Celtic Crusade" series where he reveres relics, and then afterward a general turn to spirituality rather than Christianity (or, at least, any Christian underpinnings are far from clear). But in his earlier books like this series, there's lots to love. You can listen to the first chapter being read below. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Wambu: the Chieftain’s Son

by Piet Prins 182 pages / 1981 This is a book about cannibals, and that should pique the interest of many a boy reader. Wambu is a young boy himself, living in the deep jungles of New Guinea before the arrival of the white man. His tribe is a small one and they haven’t been able to eat any people for quite some time now so, when Wambu and his father come across a strange girl wandering through their part of the forest, their first inclination is to, well, have her for dinner. Fortunately they have second thoughts and instead adopt the girl, Sirja, into their family. And that's when things get really interesting because Sirja is a new Christian convert. And her newfound faith in the Lord is sharply contrasted with the village’s reliance on pagan gods. Though Wambu likes listening to Sirja’s stories about Moses and Abraham and Jesus, he also likes going hunting with his father and learning about all the evil spirits in the forest. Sirja tells him that the white missionaries are wonderful, but the village’s witch doctor insists that white men are evil spirits who have taken on flesh. Who is Wambu to believe? When Wambu’s village is attacked by a rival headhunting tribe he escapes and goes for help…to the white man! This is a fast-paced book, with loads of interesting information about what it’s like to live in the jungle. Kids will learn that some people find caterpillars delicious, and they eat the insides of trees. Tidbits like this are thrown in throughout the book and make the story all the more intriguing as we are taken into the depths of a very foreign world. The Chieftain’s Son’s only fault is that it doesn’t have a proper conclusion. It is the first of three books in the Wambu series and the story is incomplete without the other two books so when you buy the first you simply have to buy Wambu: In the Valley of Death, and Wambu: Journey to Manhood as well. And you’ll want to order them all at the same time, because once you start reading you won’t want to have to wait for the other books to arrive. I really wanted to get my girls hooked on this series, but despite repeated attempts, no luck so far. But for boys, maybe ten and over, these are just the sort that fathers could enjoy reading to their children – there is enough action in them even for Dad. You can find them at Inheritance Publications....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

The Last Disciple

by Sigmund Brouwer and Hank Hanegraaff 2004 / 428 pages It’s the year 65 AD, and Gallus Sergius Vitas is one of the last principled men in Rome. He’s also a confidant of Emperor Nero which means his daily life is conducted on a knife’s edge: indulging the emperor’s perverse demands might keep Vitas safe but would compromise the man that he is; yet to openly oppose the emperor would lead to his immediate introduction to the Coliseum’s lions. Our story beings with Vitas attempting this balancing act once again. Nero has dressed as a beast, his outfit comprised of lion and bear skins, complete with collar and a chain held by a servant. His night’s entertainment is to terrorize a group of prisoners while playing the part of a beast. Enjoying their fear, the emperor quickly works himself into a killing frenzy. Vitas sees this all from the shadows and can’t let it happen, knowing, though, that to oppose the emperor is to die. So Vistas yells at the chain-holding servant instead: “If the emperor knows you are involved in illegal torture, he will have you destroyed!” It is, as Brouwer writes: “an all-or-nothing bluff, pretending that he did not know Nero was inside the costume. Trusting that Nero would be too ashamed to admit it. Now. Or later.” Vitas’ bluff works, but not just because of his daring. An earthquake sends Nero scurrying away, convinced that the shaking ground is a sign of divine judgment. It’s a great opening, highlighting the depth’s of the emperor’s perversity, the heights of Vitas’ courage, and the certain presence of God even in these pagans’ lives. In less talented hands, the earthquake’s unlikely timing could have come off as cheesy, since in real life God more often uses “ordinary means” (like doctors’ talents or wise friends’ advice) than miracles to accomplish His ends. But miracles do occur, and Brouwer makes it believable. It’s a good thing too, as this is but the first miracle in a story that’s all about how God used miraculous means – the prophetic words in the book of Revelation – to warn his Church to flee the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. What Brouwer and his writing partner, theologian Hank Hanegraaff, have done here is write an alternative to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ popular Left Behind series. Where Left Behind places the beast of Revelation 13 in our near future, Brouwer and Hanegraaff place him in the first century, in the near future of those who first received John’s letter. And they identify the beast as Nero and the bloody empire he led. This “partial preterist” (partial past) interpretation of Revelation holds that the book was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the city’s fall is a partial fulfillment of much of the prophecy in Revelation. This, then, is fiction meant to teach as well and entertain, and it does both brilliantly. Brouwer has crafted a story that takes us all around the Mediterranean, with Jews, Romans, and even troubled Christians wrestling with the question of “Who is Jesus?” There’s also political plotting, assassination attempts, sieges, gladiators, and just a touch of romance. The slowest bits are when theologian Hanegraaff has characters take a page or two to teach Vitas and others what a particular passage in Revelation means. If you’re reading it only for the story, these sections might drag, but they are well spaced out. And if you’re interested in learning about the partial preterist interpretation of Revelation, these will be your favorite passages. Cautions One caution: Nero’s depravity, though described with restraint, still means this is not a book for younger teens. If The Last Disciple series has you eager to read more of Sigmund Brouwer’s work, be aware that he is a proponent of theistic evolution, and also an Arminian. That doesn’t come up in this series (or his best book, Innocent Heroes, a treat for kids, teens, and parents alike) but it does come up in some others. Finally, readers should be aware that partial preterism probably isn’t the majority view in Canadian Reformed churches (though I’m not sure what the majority view might be, as Revelation seems to be only rarely discussed). Some do hold it though, and it's also held by Reformed pastors outside our circles such as RC Sproul, Douglas Wilson, and Jay Adams. Conclusion The Last Disciple is a great book, kicking off a great series. The cast of characters is large, so if you’re like me, make sure you get the whole trilogy – The Last Disciple, The Last Sacrifice and The Last Temple – right away, because if you wait too long between books, you may start forgetting who is who. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction – Sigmund Brouwer has got skills. And if you’d love to have partial preterism explained, well, this is the most entertaining way you could ever learn about it!...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Evening Star

by Sigmund Brouwer 2000 / 317 pages Set on the 1870s American frontier, this might at first glance seem to be a Western. But there a good deal of mystery novel here too – from the moment Sam Keaton steps into the town of Laramie he’s confronted with one riddle after another. It all starts with an Indian that Keaton saves from a vicious beating. This good deed puts Keaton behind bars. Before he can engineer his escape, the town's Marshal, a mysterious sort himself, sends Keaton off to find out about some gold that may, or may not exist. While mysteries abound in this very fast-paced book, what sets it apart is the growth Keaton goes through. Early on, he's trapped in his tiny jail cell facing a very large, very angry man who has been sent to kill him. Staring down the wrong end of a shotgun barrel changes Keaton. Soon after, when a pretty, and very willing young woman throws herself at him, Keaton turns her down, but finds himself, "... wondering why I had not pursued the company she had been offering.... Because of that shotgun I could not deny the nagging feeling that I was missing something, that life had to be bigger than finding ways to satisfy the varied demands of my body. I could not escape the feeling that deep down, I'd always known life had to be bigger, but along the way I had always chosen whatever distractions it took to keep me from wondering about God. Except now, try as I might, I couldn't ignore what some certainty told me was beyond. If I turned my back on whatever instinct now pulled me to seek answers, if I chose distractions like this Suzanne, I would have to fool myself real good not to find those distractions sour and hollow." Keaton isn't done with his spiritual wrestling by the end of the book, but he has made a good start of it. But while there is a lot to love about this book, it is worth noting that there is some adult material here – there is some grit. One example: Keaton recalls a time when he was seduced by a "wild" woman. It never gets lascivious but Brouwer does describe sexual temptation in a pretty frank way. So this is a book I would recommend for adults and older teens only. While every author works hard polishing their writing, most stop once the book goes to the printer. That's not the case with Sigmund Brouwer who has revised several of his published works, creating, in one instance, three separate versions of the same story over the course of 20 years (Magnus 1995 ⇒ Wings of Dawn 1999 ⇒ Merlin's Immortals series 2012-2014). That can make for some confusion, and the possibility of mistakenly buying the same story twice. So for clarification, Evening Star had an earlier iteration, first appearing as Morning Star back in 1994. There are three other books in the series, including at least one other, Silver Moon, that was first published under another title: Moon basket. The earlier version was called the Ghost Rider series, while the revised and more recent is Sam Keaton: Legends of Laramie and in order the titles are: Evening Star Silver Moon Sun Dance Thunder Voice I've only read the first, but it has me looking forward to checking out the next three!...

Articles, Book Reviews

20+ Christian fiction suggestions for your 10-15-year-old boys

I was recently asked for some reading suggestions for boys aged 10-15. This is when boys can sometimes stop reading, so I didn't want to pitch them run-of-the-mill material. Nope, I wanted to hit them with the best of the best, so what follows are my top suggestions. Each includes a short description, and, in most cases, clicking on the bold title will take you to a longer review. We'll start with a classic: Lord of the Rings might be a bit much to expect for this age group, but The Hobbit is a shorter, easier entry to Tolkien's Middle Earth, and after that taste, who knows but that they might continue. My favorite fiction author Sigmund Brouwer happens to be a theistic evolutionist and Arminian, which occasionally comes up in some of his fiction. But not in these two fantastic titles: Innocent Heroes: Stories of Animals in the First World War are all true tales, but lightly fictionalized in that they now all take place in just one Canadian battalion. Everyone in our family love, love, loved it! Wings of Dawn is older and might be hard to find but is worth tracking down. It's a medieval setting with what seems like magic all around, but the magic is actually just new (to the time) discoveries like gunpowder and kites. Very clever! Douglas Bond is another favorite, and decidedly Reformed. While I wasn't as captivated by his early books, he keeps getting better. All four of these are really great reads: War in the Wasteland is a fictional account of C.S. Lewis's time in World War I's trenches back when he was still an atheist. The Revolt is about John Wycliffe (a Reformer who died more than 100 years before Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses) and his times. It's books like this that make learning Church history a joy. The Thunder is a fictionalized biography of John Knox. Bond helps this Reformation giant come alive Hostage Lands is really two stories in one, with the first about a boy who doesn't want to learn Latin, but discovers a tablet in Latin telling a story going back to when Rome still ruled the British Isles. Some favorite series include: Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga is a 4-book series that has recently been expanded with a short story collection by the author's friends (and the books are now being turned into an animated TV series). Jonathan Roger’s Wilderking Trilogy is another family favorite, inspired by, but not trying to be, the story of King David. S.D. Smith’s The Green Ember has 9 books in the series so far – 4 big and 5 smaller – and I got my kids interested by starting with one of the smaller ones, The Last Archer. That's out of order, so I had to share a little bit of the backstory to clue them in. All it amounted to was telling them that the rabbits were preparing for war, and there had been a traitor in a prominent rabbit family, the Longtreaders, so the rest of the rabbits were suspicious of the whole family, even though the rest were not traitors. That was enough to get my kids started with this smaller, action-packed volume, which they all loved (and which we've read 3 times now). Stephen Lawhead’s In the Hall of the Dragon King is a trilogy. Also good is his Song of Albion trilogy, though it is a more magical series. The inclusion of magic in fantasy fiction can be fun, because it allows for normal rules (like gravity) to be broken. But it is limits that keep a story grounded and connected to the real world, so if a fantasy author doesn't write with some restraint – if it is just magic, magic, and more magic – things can quickly get nonsensical and just plain weird. In Lawhead's Song of Albion there's more magic than In the Hall of the Dragon King, but still tight constraints on it. Those constraints fell by the wayside in Lawhead's later books, which became increasingly odd. So this is not a recommendation for everything he wrote. Piet Prins' Wambu is a 3-book series about a cannibal boy who turns to God, and then returns to his family (who might eat him!) to share God's good news. This is an older series that might be hard to get. What follows next is just a potpourri of individual titles: Dangerous Journey is a retelling of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress with modernized text suitable for teens, but pictures only suitable for boys (there are some grim ones!). Gary Schmidt's Pilgrim's Progress is a retelling that might also be good for this age, or for the ambitious, there is the lightly modernized (but to great effect!) edition edited by C.J. Lovik. Anne DeVries' Journey Through the Night tells the story of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. This is a great book, but it's older, which means it might take a little prodding from Mom or Dad, maybe reading the first chapters together, to help your son get interested. Ethan Nicolle's Brave Ollie Possum is not nighttime reading, tackling, as it does, the things that go bump in the night. But many a teen boy will love it. Jonathan Renshaw’s enormous Dawn of Wonder is astonishing, but it is also only the first book in an as yet unfinished series, so here's hoping the sequels don't ruin it. Douglas Wilson’s Flags out Front might seem a bit old for this group, set, as it is, on a Christian college campus. But for 14 and 15-year-olds, beginning to anticipate life after high school, this will show them how, to glorify God in battle, Christians don't need to seek out fights, but just have to be willing to fight the ones that God sets before us. Finally, I'll include some graphic novels suggestions that aren't all fiction, and some would say, are not novels. But this age group will appreciate them: Luther: the Graphic Novel is the Reformer's story told with Marvel-level artwork Luther: Echoes of the Hammer was put out by the Lutherans, and if it is a little less entertaining than the previous suggestions, it is the more educational. The same group also created a graphic novel on his wife called Katie Luther. Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel is the true story of a  group of German students who stood up to Hitler and paid the price for it. The Hobbit: the Graphic Novel is a work of art, and if the original novel is a bit much for a boy, this graphic novel version might be a good alternative. I'll conclude with a great series – the Narnia seven – that most everyone has already read so I can point to a lesser-known imitator worth mentioning. Canadian author John White has written a good, if not quite up to Lewis-level, 5-book series called The Archives of Anthropos. It is good, and some kids eager for more Narnian tales will devour this reasonable facsimile, but it isn't the sure-fire bet that some of the other offerings here are....

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Scout: The Mystery of the Abandoned Mill

by Piet Prins 1982 / 127 pages Piet Prins' Scout: The Mystery of the Abandoned Mill is a book for all ages. It's the sixth in a series of seven Scout books written by the Dutch author soon after World War II. It tells the story of three teen boys and their trusty canine Scout, a smart, loyal, and strong companion. In this particular story, the boys are trying to find a lost treasure, hidden from the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands, in order to return the treasure to its rightful owner. But they are competing with a ruthless villain who wants the treasure for himself. What I love about reading the Scout books (I read it aloud to my eight-year-old son, who begs me each night to please, please, pretty please keep reading just one more chapter?!) is that not only are they great page-turning adventures, they are also saturated with Christian references: going to church on Sunday, praying at mealtimes, thinking about God's oversight and providence, praying to God when afraid, being ashamed for prideful actions, etc. Each of these references become an easy opportunity to pause and discuss with my son these concepts. So, I recommend this book to dads or moms who want a good book for – and good discussions with – their 6-12-year-old children....

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

by Andrew Peterson 284 pages / 2008 My wife hasn't read this book, but she enjoyed it too. As I made my way through I couldn't help but read whole chapters to her, or, if she wasn't nearby, the next time she came by I'd update her about all the wackiest bits. And there are a lot of wacky bits. The "Dark Sea of Darkness" in the title gives a clue right off as to Peterson's goofy sense of humor. The subtitle is even better: "Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the fearsome toothy cows of Skree." While I read the first three chapters to my wife I'll restrain myself here, and pass along only the first few lines of the opening which is titled: "A Brief Introduction to the World of Aerwiar." Peterson wants us to know this takes place on an entirely made-up world so he begins with his own creation story: The old stories tell that when the first person work up on the first morning in the world where this tale takes place, he yawned, stretched, and said to the first thing he saw, "Well, here we are." The man's name was Dwayne, and the first thing he saw was a rock. Next to the rock, though, was a woman named Gladys, who he would learn to get along with very well. In the many ages that followed, that first sentence was taught to children and their children's children and their children's parents' cousins and so on until, quite by accident, all speaking creatures referred to the world around them as Aerwiar That gives a good taste of the fun that is to follow. The heroes of this epic tale are three siblings: Janner and his little brother Tink, and their littler sister Leeli. The villains are the Fangs of Dang, under the direction of the "nameless evil...whose name was Gnag the Nameless." Our story begins nine years after the Fangs sailed across the Dark Sea of Darkness and conquered the lands of Skree, and it is in a little cottage, in this conquered land, that the family Igiby resides: the three children, their mother, and their grandfather. The Fangs are cruel, bureaucratic, and they look exactly like "...humans except for the greenish scales that covered their bodies and the lizard-like snout and the two long venomous fangs that jutted downward from their snarling mouths." Oh, and they have tails. And worst of all, they think the Igbiy's have the lost Jewels of Anniera! Janner, Tink, and Leeli don't know anything about any jewels, but they're curious sorts, and they are eager to find out all they can. So Peterson is writing not just a fantasy, but also a mystery, and certainly a comedy. And he's managed to slip in a really good chase film too. Caution A word of warning might be due as far as the comedy is concerned. Some of it could be described as juvenile: no potty humor, but Janner does, at one point, discover a candle made of "snot wax." Peterson peppers the book with footnotes and for the candle he has this entry: 1. Snot wax is too repulsive a thing about which to write a proper footnote. Then there are the vile Fangs of Dang. Their name gives a good indicator of the line that Peterson draws: it leaves no doubt that they are a vile bunch, but Peterson isn't going to use vile language. And yes, the Fangs like to eat brown lettuce, maggot-loaves, and anything that wriggles, but this humor is all of a sort that will appeal to boys, gross out their sisters, and leave parents largely untroubled. Conclusion But what mom and dad are sure to love is the prominent place that parents have in Peterson's story. In most teen fiction parents are either dead or dumb; the teen hero is either an orphan or wishes he was. Here we have a well-respected mother and a grandpa who is doing what he can to fill in for the sibling's long-dead father. So when Janner makes a big mistake and doesn't know what to do he is smart enough – and he loves and respects his grandpa enough – to know he should go to the old man for help. This might be where the author's Christian faith most comes to the fore. Andrew Peterson is better known as a Christian songwriter, and while this is not a specifically Christian fantasy, the virtues lauded in this book are of the sort found in Philippians 4:8. These three siblings know they can look to their grandpa for guidance, for love, and to see what sacrificial leadership looks like. So I'd recommend this as a very fun and positive book for fathers to read with their boys 10 and up, or in some cases maybe even a couple of years younger if they can handle battles and lizard-like villains. This is a fun one that will have both dad and son laughing, and turning pages quickly. I'm learning too, that while there are some notable distinctions between "girl books" and "boy books" if a dad really loves a book, his daughter is quite likely to love hearing him read it. So this could be a very good dad/daughter book too, maggot-loaf aside, with little Leeli giving daughters someone to cheer on too. This was so good I was thankful to discover there were three more titles in this wild and wacky series, plus a short stories collection! The series has been republished now, with new covers and extra pictures inside, so be sure to get the newer version. It's also being turned into a TV series, and a sneak peek is available below. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

The Bark of the Bog Owl

by Jonathan Rogers 2014 / 248 pages Our hero, Aidan Errolson, is a medium-sized twelve-year-old with dreams that are far bigger. When we join his story he's just putting the finishing touches on a letter: My Dearest King – You will be glad to learn that I am still available for any quest, adventure, or dangerous mission for which you might need a champion or knight-errant. I specialize in dragon-slaying but would be happy to fight pirates or invading barbarians if circumstances require. I would even be willing to rescue a fair maiden imprisoned by evil relatives. That would not be my first choice, since I am not of marrying age. Still, in peaceful and prosperous times like these, an adventurer takes whatever work he can find... For Aidan, it's all that peace and prosperity that's the problem. While his father was a great warrior, and his grandparents carved out a settlement on Cornwald's wild eastern frontier, Aiden's only excitement comes from the imagined foes he fights in defense of the flock he's been tasked to tend. However, things quickly take a turn. First, Aidan hears the bark of the Bog Owl, a creature that has never been seen. Then the Bog Owl turns out to be one of the feechiefolk, who are no less the stuff of campfire stories, akin to impish elves, or fierce boogeyman, and like them both, entirely made-up. But this feechie boy is anything but... and he wants to wrestle. Second, Bayard the Truthspeaker makes an unannounced stop at the Errolson farm to see, so he says, the "Wilderking of Corenwald." And Bayard declares that it is none other than little brother Aidan. That's quite the surprise, and quite awkward too, because Corenwald already has a king, and the Errolson family are his most loyal supporters. Now, if you're a bit quicker than me, this last bit might be ringing some bells, reminding you of Samuel's visit to the house of Jesse (1 Sam. 16). This is where my middlest caught on, but I needed several more chapters. I finally figured it out when Aidan fights a giant. With a sling. And five stones. In my defense, this is only very loosely based on David – Aidan has to deal not only with a giant, but cannons too, and there's no feechie folk in the original either. That it is inspired by, but does not pretend to be, the story of David is part of what makes this so intriguing. While there'll be no confusing the two tales, Rogers' account will have you reflecting on what a tough position David was in, the king not yet crowned, loyal to, and yet chosen to replace, the failed king. Requirements I usually list any possible cautions for the book being reviewed, but there are none for Bark so I'll list one requirement instead: this absolutely needs to be read aloud. The feechie folk dialogue, as it is paced and misspelled, will have you speaking with the most delightful accent, without even trying. Jonathan Rogers makes it easy for a dad to sound good. Conclusion I really can't praise this one enough. I started reading it on my own, and had to stop midway and start again with my girls because this was simply too good not to share. The Bark of the Bog Owl has been compared to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, not so much for story similarities, but because both are clearly Christian and utterly fantastic fantasy. Bark of the Bog Owl is a book that, if you do read it to your children, you can be sure that one day your grandkids will hear their own parents reading it to them too. The two sequels – The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking – complete the story. This is really one epic tale split into three parts, so be sure to buy the set. You can preview the first 2 chapters here. And for a second opinion, read Hannah Abrahmason's take at Reformed Reader....

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Echo Island: the silence holds a secret

by Jared C. Wilson 251 pages / 2020 After celebrating their high school graduation with one last group camping trip, four friends return home to find the streets empty. The same is true of the sidewalks, the stores, and all of their homes – everyone is gone, and there's no sign of where they went, or what made them go. Bradley, Jason, Archer, and Tim have the whole town to themselves and they can go wherever they want and take whatever they want. But what they want is to solve the mystery in front of them. Of course, this isn't something they can just Google...even if their phones did work. So how are they going to find answers? And maybe the more important question is, are they really alone? I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I started Echo Island. The publisher has this in "Survival stories" and  "Action & Adventure" categories, and that sure doesn't capture it.  "Mystery" or "Christian allegory" are getting closer, but this one is hard to nail down. Is "Twilight Zone" a fiction genre? Maybe it isn't that the book defies description, but more that any proper description would have to include spoilers. So I'm going to leave the description there and move on to who would like Echo Island. Author Jared Wilson said he was writing for teens who liked C.S. Lewis's Narnia series or his Space Trilogy. That's helpful, but I'll add that a 12-year-old who's only just figured out Aslan is a Christ-figure is going to find this frustratingly mysterious, whereas a 16-year old who has been chowing down on The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and The Hideous Strength will find it intriguingly so. So get it for your older avid-reading teen, and then be sure to borrow it yourself. ...

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Journey Through the Night

by Anne De Vries 372 pages / 1951 (English version reissued 2001) Christian writers these days, they just don’t know subtlety. They write miraculous stories where the miraculous occur with a regularity that robs it of all wonder. And instead of pitting the Christian character against worldly temptations, they have the hero wrestling actual demons, or even Satan himself. But back when I was a kid, authors like Piet Prins wrote stories that could have actually happened in the real world. Though no actual demons made an appearance in their books, the demonic presence was felt in a much more powerful way, through the actions of human underlings. In Anne De Vries' Journey Through the Night we meet John De Boer, a Dutch boy soon to become a man... if only he survives the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. When the Germans first took over, the De Boer family weren't actively trying to resist. However, as German persecution increases, John and his father are compelled by their conscience into helping Jews and others wanted by the authorities. Our heroes enter into their work for the Dutch underground in an almost grudging manner, but they do the work because they know it is what God wants them to do. When I first read this as a child I wondered why they weren’t eager to jump into the work, into the adventure! I read this part of the book quite differently as an adult, wondering whether I would have had the same courage. That is one of the strengths of this book, I think. It tells a story about the bravery of our fathers, and grandfathers, as they fought against an evil that we too might face one day. Of course, it won’t be the Nazis in our case, but it seems likely we will be similarly tested in one way or another. We can draw courage reading about how God was with his people in this war, whether they were caught by the Nazis, or survived until the Liberation. This story is particularly compelling for teenagers since it focuses on the life of sixteen-year-old John, and his adventures among older soldiers and underground members. But I also know a number of adults who have reread this story and enjoyed it immensely, so I would recommend it for anyone 10 years old and up. As C.S. Lewis said, if a children’s book isn’t worth rereading as an adult, it isn’t much of a book at all. Older folks might remember that Journey Through the Night was originally a four-book series. This new version includes all four books in one pretty sturdy soft-covered edition. Kids probably aren’t going to ask for these books themselves so maybe parents and grandparents out there should consider giving this one as a gift. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be asked to read it out loud to your little descendants. Journey Through the Night really is children's fiction at its very best. Canadians and Americans can buy a copy at Inheritance Publications....

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Bell Mountain

by Lee Duigon 267 pages / 2010 Jack and Ellayne are two children on a mission from God: they are going to ring the bell that King Ozais built on the top of Bell Mountain. But there are a few things in the way: They’re just kids who don’t know anything about mountain climbing, traveling through the woods, or living off the land. They’re not sure there really is a bell on the top of Bell Mountain – no one alive has ever seen it. An assassin has been sent to stop them. They think the end of the world might happen when they ring it. It’s quite the mission, and quite the opening for this, the first book in author Lee Duigon 13-going-on-14 book series. The setting seems to be a medieval one: travel is conducted by horse and oxen, people live in walled cities and villages, and they fight with swords and spears. But when Jack and Ellayne meet a little squirrel-sized chirping man-creature named Wyyt it becomes clear this is not our world. Here Man once had the power to fly through the skies, but no longer – something happened long ago that left behind destroyed cities and set technology back a thousand years. In this post-apocalyptic world the national "church" (or Temple) has become so corrupt that no one reads the “Old Books” anymore but instead only the Temple’s interpretation of the Old Books is shared (if this makes you think of the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Church, I’d agree that the author’s Reformed bona fides are showing). As the author puts it, people have forgotten how to listen to God. They don’t even know how to pray – that’s something the priests do for them. Now God is going to use two little children to rectify the situation. This is definitely a children’s story. The heroes are children, the tension level is appropriate for ten and up – lots of peril but nothing nightmare-inducing – and the plot, while nicely layered, is simple enough for children to follow. But there is a depth that will make them enjoyable for adults as well. Lee Duigon is simply good at what he does. I knew from the get-go this was a quest story, but I was always eager to find out what was going to happen next and so were my girls. I've read each of the 13 books in the series to them them, and they've always been eager for the next one to come out. The only way to purchase this series in Canada seems to be via the Chalcedon Foundation website store (chalcedon.edu/store). The Chalcedon Foundation is Reformed, as is our readership, but they are also Christian Reconstructionists, which most in our readership are not. It might be worth noting, then, that anyone who objects to Christian Reconstructionism would not find that a reason to object to anything in these books – it doesn’t come up. I'd recommend these for Grade 3 and up if they're reading them, but if dad is doing the reading, then they'd be good for kindergarten-aged children too....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Chasing Shadows

432 pages / 2021 by Lynn Austin Chasing Shadows takes place in WWII Holland and is a novel about choices and consequences. Miriam, a Jewish girl and musician, and her professor father, flee Germany to the safety of Holland. Lena, a farmer’s wife, struggles with her faith when her husband Pieter and daughter Ans work for the underground and when her son is forced into a work camp. She learns that the enemy of faith is not doubt, but fear. Interestingly, the book dwells at some length on the time leading up to the Nazi invasion of Holland and how the Dutch were convinced that, because they declared themselves to be a neutral nation, they would be safe. After the invasion, life went on as normal for the most part, until Hitler started persecuting the Jews. Initially, Ans is not very serious about her faith and falls in love with an unbelieving police officer who starts to work for the Nazis and ends up joining the NSB – the Dutch Nazis. In contrast, Ans becomes involved with the Resistance movement, helping to find places for the Jews to hide who became known as the “Shadow People.” Ans' faith grows as she works in the Resistance movement and this brings conflict between her and her collaborating husband. So many of the Dutch people who helped the Jews were Christians. Their faith was often sorely tested and questions such as, “Are we allowed to lie?” are discussed. Ans' Opa is a minister. When the Nazis come to the village on a Sunday morning to execute someone in retaliation for the destruction of a train nearby, they walk into the church, interrupt the preaching, and demand someone volunteer to die.  Opa steps off the pulpit, takes off his stole and hands it to Lena his daughter and walks out with the Nazis – a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. This is one of the better Christian novels that I've read and would be an excellent choice for any church or school library. You can watch Lynn Austin talk about Chasing Shadows below and you can read the first chapter here. ...

Adult fiction, Articles, Book Reviews

A better brand of Christian historical fiction

As a history buff, historical fiction has long been one of my favorite genres. Unfortunately, I rarely read fiction anymore, as much of modern historical fiction is so rife with sexually explicit scenes and blasphemous language that it should be avoided by the discerning reader. I’ve tossed several in the garbage over the past few years despite incredible writing and riveting plotlines for these very reasons. Another key issue with much historical fiction is the inability of modern authors to actually infiltrate the mindset of those they are attempting to bring to life. Too often, the sentiments of historical characters end up resembling those of the late 20th century or the 21st. Especially when it comes to the treatment of religious belief, authors frequently prefer to portray faith as feigned and religious practice as cynical. One of the best authors of historical fiction writing today, Conn Iggulden, fell into this trap in Dunstan: One Man. Seven Kings. England’s Bloody Throne, a fictional rendering of the great Archbishop of Canterbury. While Iggulden’s Wars of Roses series is excellent, he portrays Dunstan as a Machiavellian figure, taking pains to explain away anything spiritual or miraculous. The result is deeply unsatisfying. The Christian fiction industry, however, is plagued by its own problems. Many authors appear to have a single good idea, write one or two good books, and then settle down to replicate variations of the same story over and over again. The cottage industry of Amish romance is a good example; Christian romance, in general, is a tired genre in which the reader faithfully plods the worn and weary path to the inevitable conclusion (often some variation of: non-Christian falls in love with Christian; they agonize over this and part ways; the miracle occurs and they live happily ever after.) You get what you pay for, and it isn’t literature. This also applies to the hundreds of cookie-cutter historical novels that are often laughably short on research and simply place the same plot in a different time period. In short: Just because it’s “Christian” doesn’t mean it’s any good. Badly-researched historical novels are painful pablum and generally, in my view, a waste of time. But there are some magnificent examples of historical fiction by Christian authors that easily rival some of the best works by non-Christian writers. This list could be much longer, but I’ll highlight just a few. Paul Maier Paul Maier is a historian and writer born in 1930, and formerly served as the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, where he still retains the title of professor emeritus in the Department of History. He’s written many books, but his two “historical documentary” novels, Pontius Pilate (1968) and The Flames of Rome (1981) are outstanding. Drawing from all available historical sources, Maier renders the ancient world in vivid color. Pontius Pilate follows the career of the Roman Empire’s most famous provincial official while detailing the politics in painstaking detail. The Flames of Rome follows the family of Flavius Sabinus, the mayor of Rome under Nero, covering the Great Fire of Rome and the religious clashes that defined Christianity’s early beginnings. I’ve read both several times and learned more with each reading. Francine Rivers’ The Mark of the Lion Trilogy Also set in the first century is the Francine Rivers’ magnificent Mark of the Lion series, which begins with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and follows the life of a Jewish slave girl, a young Roman aristocrat, and a Germanic barbarian captured in battle and trained as a gladiator. The decadence of Rome is detailed with both bluntness and prudence: promiscuity, abortion, materialism, and the ugly spectacles of public blood sports are all present, and the world Rivers’ renders bears eerie similarities to our own. I should note here that the distinctly evangelical Arminianism throughout the series is unfortunate, but the trilogy is still a brilliant achievement. Brock and Bodie Thoene’s historical fiction The Thoenes are a ferociously productive writing team (more than 65 books), and not everything they’ve produced is of the same quality. But the five-book series The Zion Chronicles, detailing the lead up to the State of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, is one of the best historical works on this period ever written (easily matching Leon Uris’s Exodus but without the objectionable material). Their prelude series, The Zion Covenant, which covers the run-up to the Second World War up to the Blitz, is also rich with historical detail, well-rounded characters, and riveting plotlines. Along with the Shiloh Legacy series, which covers some of the same characters during the Great Depression, these books alone place the Thoenes in the top tier of historical fiction writers. Bodie was a journalist before she was an author, and it shows. Some of their other works – the AD Chronicles, for example – do not possess the same level of detail, historical research, or character development. To be honest, the shift in quality from the Zion and Shiloh books to some of the others (including the short-lived and apparently discontinued series the Zion Diaries) is somewhat jarring. These books are still quite good – I’ve read them all – but I’ll admit I was somewhat disappointed after having the standard set so high by their first historical works, which I’ve re-read multiple times. (As a side note, some readers may be interested in an interview I did some years ago with Brock Thoene, a historian, on how legal abortion paved the way to eugenics in Hitler’s Germany.) Davis Bunn’s Priceless Collection Davis Bunn’s Priceless trilogy follows a young American business executive who leaves the rat race to join an antique shop in London. Mentored by an older relative, Jeffery Sinclair pursues exquisite treasures behind the Iron Curtain during the lead up to the collapse of Communism, and the totalitarianism and suffering he witnesses are derived from scores of interviews the author conducted with eyewitnesses. Bunn only wrote three books in this series – Florian’s Gate, The Amber Room, and The Winter Palace – and I wish he’d written more. He captures life in the Warsaw Pact; the antique trade; and the suffocating soullessness of both Western materialism and Communism in a fashion reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn’s Warning to the West. The detail, however, doesn’t suffocate his characters, and even the somewhat stereotypical romantic subplot flows seamlessly. Michael Phillips’ Secret of the Rose Trilogy In this masterful set, Michael Phillips traces a family through wartime Nazi Germany into East Germany under Communism. They’re thick novels – Phillips is a fan of the historical fiction master James Michener – but riveting nonetheless. Many novels set during this period use historical events as mere backdrop (generally for romance), but Phillips takes his time setting the scene and the result is well worth your time. Jonathon Van Maren blogs on life and cultural issues at TheBridgehead.ca where this first appeared. It is reprinted with permission....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Dawn of Wonder

by Jonathan Renshaw 2015 / 708 pages This might, at first glance, seem to be your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-dares-girl-to-jump-off-of-a-thousand-foot-high-bridge-into-the-icy-cold-stream-below-and-girl-shows-him-up-by-actually-doing-it, story. And, as many a fantasy tale contains, there are swords, courageous heroes, battles to be fought (and sometimes with large, very toothy creatures), and evil not yet here but lurking ominously. Our hero, Aedan, is not yet thirteen but he has a sharp mind, and he'a had a hard life, which makes him wise beyond those few years. So when an officer comes galloping into the village with warnings of slavers on the way, Aedan is the first to suspect the man might not be the ally he seems. But when no one will listen, his foresight isn't enough to save his not-yet-a-girlfriend-but-already-his-best-friend Kalry. In the adventures that follow Aedan is equal parts determined and desperate, willing to do and try whatever it takes to retrieve, or revenge, his lost companion. The book's size is not so typical – the 700-page first-of-the-series would make for a good doorstop. And not just any story would get my nephew recommending this to all his brothers and sisters, and any friend within earshot too. It is atypical too, in that it accomplished what no other book has managed: it made me look forward to running. I only let myself listen to the fantastic audiobook reading when I was out jogging, and at 30 hours long, it got me out the door roughly 60 times. It is Christian, but not obviously so. The author is content to let the deeper tale – the moral of this story – come out gradually. I should add, I don't know the author is Christian but like the best bits of Narnia, or Lord of the Rings, this book is simply too good, and too true, not to be rooted in the Word. The only downside is that Book 2 still seems to be a good ways out. Fortunately, there is a sense of resolution to Book 1 – it's as satisfactory a cliffhanger as a reader could really hope for. So I'll pass on a most enthused two thumbs up, and express my gratitude to my nephew for being insistent that I should read Dawn of Wonder; I can't recall enjoying a fantasy novel more! To give you an idea of the research the author invested in his novel, the video below is of him investigating whether it is possible – as one of his characters did – to make a decent bow in a single day using just a knife. ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

The Auschwitz Escape

by Joel C. Rosenberg 2014 / 461 pages Joel Rosenberg is a fantastic writer, a New York Times best-seller, but his political thrillers are based in large part on premillennial views that I don't share, and that does take away from some of the fun. But in The Auschwitz Escape he's having a go at historical fiction, so his end-times eschatology doesn't factor in, even as his mad story-telling skills still do. Jacob Weisz is a seventeen-year-old Jew in Germany in 1938. His parents are passive, hoping that if they just stay the course, eventually it will turn out alright. His uncle is a member of a Jewish resistance group that knows things will only get worse unless people start fighting to make it better. Jacob isn't as naive as his parents, but he does respect them. But when the Nazis come for his family, Jacob escapes and begins to fight alongside his uncle...for a time. As the title indicates, soon enough he gets caught and sent to Auschwitz. There he meets a Protestant pastor, imprisoned for helping Jews, and Jacob can't understand why the man was willing to risk his life when he could have stayed out of it and stayed safe. Jacob has a hard time trusting a man whose Christian motivations are so hard for him to understand. Rosenberg makes clear that while the two principal characters are fiction, their experiences were not – he researched the actual escapes, as well as the escapees' attempts to let the world know what was going on in these death camps. That research, along with his impressive writing chops, give the book its authentic feel. And speaking of authenticity, Rosenberg has inserted a gospel presentation in the book, but his is more subtle and more natural than what most other Christian writers manage. I really enjoyed it and am keeping it on my bookshelf because I can imagine reading it again in a few years. I'd recommend it for older teens and up....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Flags out front

A Contrarian's Daydream by Douglas Wilson 196 pages / 2017 In Flags out Front, Douglas Wilson has crafted something that is as inspirational as it is fictional. What if a Christian public figure took a stand on principle and, no matter what pressure came, just would not back down? What might happen if, instead of wilting under that pressure, or trying to avoid it, a Christian leader embraced it, and fought back fearlessly? In Flags out Front we get to find out. Tim Collins is a "mild-mannered president of a dwindling southern" Bible college who never meant to cause a fuss. But he arrives on campus one day to find a prankster has swapped a couple of the flags at the campus entrance. Now instead of the American flag flying above all, there is the Christian flag waving from on high, with the Stars and Stripes just below. Collins doesn't know quite what to think. But, upon reflection, he concludes the change is a good one and leaves it. Then the phone calls start coming. He gets calls from conservative, patriotic sorts, wondering why the American flag is not in its central place. He hears from the other side too, from those who'd be happy enough to burn the flag, but don't want to see it waving below a Christian flag. Protests to the right, threats from the left, and Collins quietly stand his ground. He's willing to do it, even if it means standing alone...but alone is one thing he's not going to be. Quiet, meek, Dr. Collins, becomes the rallying point for Christians of all sorts...including some clever college students who know how to make some noise. This is how it should be, and, maybe could be – who knows what God would do with a fearless few? Actually, we already know: it wasn't so long ago that we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the firestorm God started with one monk and his mallet. Flags out Front is a funny, clever, comedic, feel-good novel that most anyone would enjoy, particularly if you want to be inspired as to how Christians can do politics differently. I've foisted this off on a number of friends and family (and read about half of it out loud to my wife) and the response has been enthusiastic all around....

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

In Grandma’s Attic         

by Arleta Richardson 144 pages / 1974 When Arleta was a little girl she would visit her grandma, where she’d play up in the attic. There Arleta would find old treasures that she’d bring to her grandma, who would share stories about them, and about when she was young. The first story is about how Mabel (Grandma) and her friend Sarah-Jane got into trouble with hoop skirts. They wanted to wear the wiry hoops to make all their friends jealous of them, but they were not old enough yet. Then Sarah Jane finds out that her cousin, who can wear hoop skirts, has two old ones that she is going to give up.  Sarah-Jane’s mom says that they can wear them for play, but Sarah-Jane thinks it is a good opportunity to make a big entrance at church. And that Mabel can wear one of the hoop skirts too! The one thing that they don’t know is how to sit down with hoops. When they walk down the aisle and sit in the front seat, the hoopskirts spring up, which made their dresses fling up onto their faces! That is super funny! This was embarrassing for the girls but they also learned a lesson, how pride can go before the fall. All of the stories are funny and also teach the reader the lessons that the mischievous girls gained while growing up. This book is great for readers who are comfortable with reading chapter books. And if you like these stories there are three more books in the series....

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

The Green Ember

by S.D. Smith 365 pages / 2015 “Rabbits with swords” – it’s an irresistible combination, and all I had to say to get my two oldest daughters to beg me to start reading. As you might expect of a sword epic, this has a feudal feel, with rabbit lords and ladies, and noble rabbit knights and, of course, villainous wolves. This is children’s fiction, intended for preteens and early teens, so naturally, the heroes are children too. The story begins with siblings Pickett and Heather being torn from the only home they’ve known, pursued by wolves, and separated from their parents and baby brother. It’s this last detail that might warrant some caution as to how appropriate this would be for the very young. It isn’t clear if mom, dad and baby Jack are dead…but it seems like that might well be, and that could be a bit much for the very young (I’m planning on skipping over that bit when I get to it with my preschool daughters). They escape to a community that is hidden away from the ravaging wolves, and made up of exiled rabbits that once lived in the Great Wood. Their former and peaceful realm fell to the wolves after it was betrayed from within, so now these rabbits in exile look forward to a time when the Great Wood will be restored. Or as one of the wisest of these rabbits puts it, …we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed…. We sing about it. We paint it. We make crutches and soups and have gardens and weddings and babies. This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. Though God is never mentioned, and the rabbits have no religious observance of any kind, author S.D. Smith’s Christian worldview comes through in passages like this, that parallel the way we can recall a perfect past, and look forward to a perfected future. It’s this depth that makes this more than just a rollicking tale of rabbits in peril. There are three full-size sequels – Ember Falls, Ember Rising, and Ember's End – as well as five small books that occur in the same rabbit world, but follow different characters. The Last Archer and its sequels, The First Fowler and The Archer's Cup, could serve as a good intro to the whole Green Ember series, because they stand on their own, and were a little simpler to follow for my own young listeners (ages 5-9). That's out of order, but all the kids would have to know is that the rabbits are preparing for an enemy, and most rabbits are suspicious of the Longtreader family, because one of them had been a traitor...though the rest never were. With that backstory, kids can start with this smaller, action-packed volume. The other two, The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner, and The Black Star of Kingston, should be read after reading Green Ember. For those of us with voracious readers, it is quite the blessing to find a fantastic and enormous – more than 2,000 pages in all! – series like Green Ember. ...

Book excerpts, Book Reviews

When C.S. Lewis was an atheist...

An excerpt from Douglas Bond’s novel War in the Wasteland Editor’s note: This excerpt takes place during a prolonged Germany artillery barrage that has the British hunkering deep down in their trenches. Private Nigel Hopkins ends up deep underground with his two of his Company’s junior officers, 2cnd Lieutenant Johnson and 2cnd Lieutenant C.S. Lewis. With nothing to do but wait the two officers restart a conversation they began some days before about the meaning of it all. Lewis, at this point in his life, was an atheist, and, in some ways, a thoughtful one. But in this exchange (in which we come mid-way) Johnson exposes how Lewis’s argument against God is not, as Lewis seemed to suppose, a matter of cold logic, but rather emotion. **** For several moments, listening to the continuing barrage, sitting in total darkness, no one said anything. Lewis broke the silence, his tone sober, brooding, almost simmering: “My mother was a rock, the fortress of our existence. When she died our fortress crumbled.” “I am so terribly sorry,” said Johnson softly. “You were how old?” “Nine. Almost ten.” “Tender age,” said Johnson. “Such a pity. How did you cope?” “I became an atheist.” “Why an atheist?” “Why not? I had prayed – nobody could have prayed more earnestly than I. She died, my praying notwithstanding. God did not answer.” “I am truly sorry for you,” said Johnson. “You need not be,” said Lewis. “It’s just the facts. Facing them is the same as growing up, leaving childish ways behind.” “‘God did not answer,’ you say,” said Johnson, picking his way cautiously, so it seemed to Nigel. ”Ergo, He does not exist? It sounds to me as if you do believe in God, but want Him on a leash, dutifully at your side, a tame lion, coming when you call, doing your bidding.” “Balderdash,” said Lewis. “‘Facing the facts,’ as you call it,” continued Johnson. “I’m rather fond of facts myself. Enlighten me. Did you decide not to believe in God because you had grappled with the evidence and had concluded that no such divine being existed? Or did you – I mean no offense, mind you – did you decide not to believe in such a being because you were angry with Him for not healing your mother? Put simply, was your unbelief in God to spite Him?” “That’s more balderdash. It was –“ Lewis broke off, saved by a rapid staccato of exploding ordinance above them. After another uncomfortable silence, Johnson cleared his throat and began again. “One wonders if it makes rational sense to organize one’s metaphysics around the notion that by simply choosing not to believe in someone that this someone, thereby, no longer exists. If that actually worked, I’d commence not believing in the Kaiser – Poof! Away with him. Poof! Away with the firing their ordinance at us right now. Poof! Away with the whole dashed war.” “All right, all right. Perhaps, strictly speaking,” said Lewis. “Perhaps, I did not become an atheist. I do not know.” “I used to think I was one,” said Johnson, striking a match. “But at the end of the day, Jack, atheism is too simple, wholly inadequate to explain the complexities of life, a boy’s philosophy. That’s what it is.” Lewis, mesmerized by the flickering match light, sat brooding, seeming not to hear him. “Perhaps I had become something worse.” As he proceeded his voice was a strained monotone, each word coming like a lash. “Perhaps it was then that I began to think of God, if He exists at all, as malevolent, a cosmic sadist, inflicting pain on his creatures for sport. Or an eternal vivisector, toying with his human rats merely for curiosity or amusement.” It was pitch dark again. Listening to the exploding artillery rounds above them, no one said anything for several minutes. Nigel concluded that, furious as it yet was, clearly the main force of the bombardment was winding down. He wondered if one of the German howitzers had jammed, or if the British counterbattery fire had managed to take out some of the enemy’s big guns. It was Lieutenant Lewis who broke the silence. His voice was barely audible in the dark. “I wish I could remember her face.” If you’ve enjoyed this excerpt, be sure to pick up a copy of Douglas Bond’s novel “War in the Wasteland” which can be found at any online retailer. And you may also like "The Resistance," a sequel of sorts, which takes place during World War II....

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