Review: Illusion by Frank Peretti

What struggling young author doesn’t both leap and tremble in dread at the chance to review a book by Frank Peretti? He hardly needs any introduction, and I can’t help but wonder what difference my little review would make in whether anyone buys it either way, but I’d rather not stick my foot in it by commenting on his craft and the writing, like one of the most well known Christian authors is or should be subject to literary criticism and like this greenhorn has any business judging a seasoned veteran. He doesn’t use the deep POV I am passionate about, but his fans won’t care one wit and reaching your audience is the artistic bottom line. When it comes to reach, Peretti is at the head of the pack and he’s likely to stay there with his March release, Illusion.

Illusion has a familiar voice and style to Peretti fans. This falls on the thriller side of his works and ventures deeper into the realm of Science Fiction than he has gone in the past, with famous magicians Dane and Mandy, a couple pushing sixty who have been delighting and wowing audiences with the wonder of their illusions for nearly forty years, also roughly how long they’ve been married.
We meet them as Dane is forced to say goodbye to his beloved wife after severe burns from a car accident claim her life. In the next chapter, we back up forty years, to when Mandy was nineteen in 1970 and visiting a county fair with friends, excited to see an upcoming magic act. Before she gets there, she is slammed forty years into the future, a 2010 where everything from her life in 1970 is gone and she is alone. She ends up in a mental hospital, but escapes and makes her way home to Idaho, where she rebuilds with the help of a halfway house for troubled girls and a kindly, widowed magician she feels strangely drawn to.
Dane likewise is fighting to keep his grip on reality when this strange young woman is the image of the beauty he met and married forty years ago. She uses the fake name Eloise Kramer, which he recognizes as the name of his wife’s mother. Some readers may be disturbed by the young “Eloise” and the aged Dane’s increasingly obvious feelings for one another. For the most part, both of them handle the problem appropriately while each seeks to rebuild their lives after sudden catastrophe, with Mandy/Eloise needing to unravel the mystery of who she really is, mysterious and somewhat ominous figures seem to be shadowing her, and she becomes a rising star with her magic act as she discovers an ability to slip through time and space and do magic feats that will take a bit of imagination for the reader to visualize. How she does it even baffles Dane.
If you want to know answers yourself, you’ll have to read Illusion. 🙂

 

 

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Summer Meadows Interview (Chocolate-Covered Crime by Cynthia Hickey)

Gentle readers, we continue with our series of character interviews I am conducting. Recently, I had the delight of chatting with Summer Meadows, the heroine of the mystery novel Chocolate-Covered Crime (June 1, 2011/Barbour Publishing) by Cynthia Hickey.

POV Boot Camp(PBC):Summer, I understand you’re getting married soon! Congratulations. What do you love most about all this wedding and romance business?

Summer Meadows: I wish I could tell you. Everything was fun until I found my wedding planner with an ornate letter opener in her back. Now, time is running out, for me and for my wedding plans! I know that sounds a bit selfish, but I’ve been waiting since childhood to marry Ethan!

PBC:So, any drawbacks or challenges?

Meadows: I’m glad I have my future in-law as my sidekick. Not that Ethan is happy about me luring her into my gumshoeing, but he’ll come around in time. He just has to.

PBC: What are your greatest hopes and dreams?

Meadows: To marry Ethan!

PBC: What are your greatest fears? Weaknesses?

Meadows: Well, I don’t really want to die yet. And I’ve come very close a couple of times. I don’t really like Ethan mad at me, and the poor guy does get frustrated every time I get pulled into a case. But, I can’t let someone I care about die and no one find the culprit, right?

PBC: Do you have any hobbies or special interests?

Meadows: I own the best candy store in Arkansas.

PBC: How about pet peeves? What annoys you?

Meadows: Stupid people. And liars. They’re the worst. If people just told the truth, then I wouldn’t have such a hard time finding the killer.

PBC: What do you value most?

Meadows: God and family. My faith is important to me. If not for God on my side, I probably wouldn’t get out of some of the scrapes I find myself in.

PBC:Tell me a bit more about your family and friends. What do you like about them? Dislike?

Meadows: Well, Uncle Roy is a big ole Teddy Bear. My Aunt Eunice is a riot! She loves helping me solve a case. My cousin Joe is a big pain in the … well, you can fill in the blank. It probably has something to do with his being Sheriff, but there’s no excuse for bossiness in my book! My best friend, April, is Ethan’s sister. She’s a gem! And Ethan, well, he’s the stuff romance novels are written about.

PBC: Summer, in your own words, could you tell us a bit about the author of your novel, Cynthia Hickey?

Meadows: She’s kind of bossy. Always telling me to go here, or there, or don’t do that. You get the picture.

 

PBC: So, Summer, what do you think of Cynthia Hickey? What do you like or admire about her? Anything you dislike?

Meadows: She’s actually a great gal and full of imagination! I mean, my second case involved me walking an elephant down Highway 64. Who comes up with that stuff?

PBC: Summer, if you had one question you could ask Cynthia Hickey, what would it be?

Meadows: Can I get married now and live happily ever after?

PBC: If you could change one thing in Chocolate-Covered Crime, what would it be?

Meadows: Oh, I wouldn’t change a thing! Well, maybe have a stranger die instead of a family member, but otherwise, it’s all great fun.

PBC: Summer, if you could spend a whole day with Cynthia Hickey, where would you go and what would you do together?

Meadows: I’d like to go to Hawaii. I’ve asked her to send me there, and she won’t. Cynthia seems determined to keep me in Smalltown, Arkansas.

PBC: Summer, what do you think of the cover of Chocolate-Covered Crime?

Meadows: I love the cover. Isn’t it fun?

Thanks for stopping in and chatting with us, Summer! Readers, it’s your turn! Got any questions for Summer Meadows about weddings, romance, sleuthing, or anything else on your mind? Comment away. If one of your characters would like to chat with us here, send me an email and we’ll set a date.

 

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CSFF Tour: The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet

The May Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour is featuring The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet. True to form, the fourth novel white strand in the Auralia series thread is the aesthetically stunning poetry in motion his fans have come to expect. Seriously, this is beautiful writing and if he has the tons of writers I imagine are reading his work to study his description techniques and word choices, it’s well deserved.

He does use a large, diverse cast living in a small, diverse world, features the reader will either love or hate. Personally, Overstreet did weave together so many characters’ stories that I had trouble latching on to one to root for and hence also had difficulty figuring out what the main story was. The central characters I picked out are King Cal-Raven, his mage advisor, the ale boy, and possibly Aurelia and her two sometime thief guardians, Jordam the beastman, and Princess Cyndere, too. So, if you need a single hero(ine) rather than a whole society to root for, take note.

Mechanics wise, other than my pet peeve (thought tagging), the only other issue that might make some readers wary is the amount of back story and narrative summary–and readers of that mind should stop reading the series of well-known authors altogether. They almost always are rushed into print and given little editing. For the record, I had no problem with the amount of back story or how it was worked in. I simply know some readers who have been following a series dislike it even though I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t have any significant rehashing in it.

Regardless, the world he creates is nearly as beautiful as God’s. (Forgive my bias!) He says in his acknowledgments he set out to “capture and reflect some of the glory I see in creation.” That goal he has most certainly done.

Not to exclude the other goal he mentions in his acknowledgements page of showing gratitude for God’s grace. The (mutual here) love of the redemption plot/theme comes through clearly, too. The pages also nigh shout (for Overstreet, or at least my impression of his style rather) the futility of worshiping of the created rather than the creator as all man-made myths and meta stories do. He is correct that such inevitably fail and leave the lost in a place where they must either willfully embrace a story they know is a lie or fall into despair, though we see less of raw atheists living the old philosophy of the self-worshiping maxim, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

I do see a bit of a common sand trap for Christian authors who seek to keep their faith subtle and simply write an excellent story.  In such stories, the truth whispers, but the liars shout. When that happens, the liars can be so loud, they can drown out the truth. The books affected end up, in the reader’s eyes, promoting the very thing we wanted to warn against.

Since I do not personally know Overstreet, or where he stands, I honestly at times had to keep on reading on blind faith in his publisher’s Christian brand and that it was being toured on a carefully screened Christian blog tour.

This issue arose for me, I think, due to the novel also taking on the topic of how to carry on when your faith crumbles and even those you trusted to spiritually guide you fail you. While that is a worthy issue to address that could potentially bless others, this plot line adds to the liars some characters the reader naturally assumes to speak for the author.

So readers should take note if they seek to avoid exposure to the postmodern message, “life has no absolute meaning or truth, but we personally can’t live like that, so just make up your own story to explain how and why all this order and beauty around us exists.”

Relatedly, anyone especially sensitive to ghosts, communication with the dead, reincarnation of any sort, and depictions of consuming alcoholic beverages should consider skipping this book. (I realize the rest of my readers may disagree with the choices and views of the folk I am addressing in these last two paragraphs, but Overstreet doesn’t need this sort picking up his book and leaving reviews hurling accusations anyway.)

In fairness, the characters in the story truly don’t have what we have. They don’t have the absolute, trustworthy revelation of Truth we have in the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ. Most of us who have been Christians a while could use a reminder of where the spiritually lost are living. Our great challenge today is assuring them that our story is different from the myths of man and the actual truth. If we want to win today’s lost, we must convince them God Himself gave our revelation and that we can depend on him to do what His word says he will, and to be what it says he is.

I would hesitate to give it to an unbeliever, or a weak brother caught or struggling in the grip of post-modernism. Sorry to have to say that, since most of us want to reach them with our books, but I fear a postmodernist’s filters will interpret the book as an affirmation of beliefs endangering their soul. That concern could be off base. I do doubt anyone who reads all the way to the end could rightly take away an endorsement of humanism and it’s worship of man, and that’s even more pernicious in our culture, if possible. Regardless, the strong, discerning brother who loves Fantasy would greatly benefit and absolutely should consider reading this. Anyone who wants only an entertaining story should be delighted.

Related Devotional Thoughts: Embrace God’s Certainty and God’s Mystery

Other Stops on the Tour:

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Shane Deal
Chris Deane
Cynthia Dyer
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Inae Kyo
Shannon McDermott
Shannon McNear
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Sarah Sawyer
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler

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CSFF Tour: Dragons of the Valley

It is with great trepidation that an young author reviews a best selling author like Donita K. Paul. Publishing houses’ editing departments rarely bother to scrutinize the novels of proven best sellers with the fine tooth comb every novel deserves. Pointing out where perhaps a technique did not well serve the readers’ interest, as usually happens with me, can come across quite badly.

So with that caveat, I was quite delighted to get a chance to review Ms. Pauls’ novel, Dragons of the Valley. The novel follows Princess Tipper (an elf I think), her friendly artist-turned reluctant swordsman, (a dwarf I think) a wizard with creepy crawlies constantly falling out of his clothes who sounds like the wizard from the 80s My Little Pony movies to me (but much taller), a dwarf librarian, and a rather sanguine pixy/sprite/fairy without wings. Oh yeah, and an talking parrot and Tippers parents: a rather inane princess you’ll either love or despise (annoyed me to death) and a wizard-artist. I think those are all the main characters. Most of them are POV characters, too.

Tipper, her artist-swordsman, and I think the wizard whisk away three statues that cause chaos in the universe and malaise in the people when they’re separated due to being carved from the chief cornerstone of the world. (huh?) Much of it involves keeping the statues safe and trying to stop the Grawl (crossbred ogre) and other low life operatives from an enemy nation which is disrupting trade routes and taking out persons in authority ahead of an invasion. Yes, eventually, there are quite a few dragons, too, including a cute little baby dragon.

It is a very large story, set in a dynamic unique world that seeks to make her own unique mark on the Fantasy genre. But, though it was not advertised on the jacket anywhere, this book is part of an ongoing series and the author alternates between throwing things out there that new readers have to look up in her glossary at the back of the book (annoying to me personally) and putting words on her characters’ mouths to explain what we’ve missed that the characters wouldn’t realistically be saying. I don’t know how noticeable that would be to non-literary types, however. The dragons seem to have secrets and color coding that new readers are not made privy to. Some readers may be disappointed that they do not appear until chapter 12 (out of 56.)

My biggest concerns are the twins of occasionally distancing the reader from the character, emotionally especially, which tends to slow down pacing as well as make it harder to identify with the character. The twin concern is quite a few key, plot turning events are told to us, either through direct narrative summary or via conversations. As an author, I relate to the fact the book is already over 350 pages and showing those key events would make the book much longer. As a reader new to Paul, it makes it even harder for me not to get lost in this strange new world.

That said, Ms. Paul definitely knows how to keep readers turning pages and draws dynamic, unique characters with clear crisp voices distinct from one another. The fact I still much enjoyed the story, and didn’t get so hopelessly lost that I gave up, speaks to her expertise and skill as an author. She’s earned the respect and renown she enjoys.

Readers new to Donita K. Paul may want to consider starting with an earlier work, and readers who have difficulties with the book features mentioned above, or unwieldy names, should take that into consideration. Her fans should eat this up and ask for me.

Other Tour Participants:

Gillian Adams
Noah Arsenault
Amy Bissell
Red Bissell
Justin Boyer
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Keanan Brand
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Amy Cruson
D. G. D. Davidson
April Erwin
Amber French
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Emily LaVigne
Shannon McDermott
Matt Mikalatos
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Tammy Shelnut
Kathleen Smith
James Somers
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Dave Wilson

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