Dwarves in Space

51etaGEk0LL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Dwarves in Space

Sabrina Zbasnik

With a title like Dwarves in Space I had to give this book a read. It doesn’t disappoint. The classic races of high fantasy are lifted into space and stuffed onto a rickety old space cruise liner. Variel captains a ship with a crew formed of a motley association of races and two passengers who are assassins for the Elven government. Life is good, or at least not totally bad, until she needs to rescue the assassin. Turns out she is rescuing him from an old foe.

Completing the job doesn’t save her from being chased by a knight. The Captain’s secrets aren’t any safer than her crew’s lives as they romp across the galaxy, accidentally kidnapping a technician and in dire need of a part to keep their ship from giving up the ghost.

The story has a rough-edged humour that keeps things moving and doesn’t get in the way of a solid plot with more than enough twists to keep the reader going. Taking the animosities of high fantasy, finding the lowest common denominator, and putting them on a ship makes for a truly entertaining read.
I recommend this book to people who like space opera style science fiction mixed with humour and fantasy. It lives up to the title.

You can buy the book here.

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The Elemental Conductors

The Elemental Conductors

Jesse Wolf

The premise of The Elemental Conductors is that certain people have a gene that is only activate when they almost die in an encounter with a basic element. Joshua is struck by lightning and wakes up with the ability to channel electricity. He and his friend Tony escape capture by Spector agents and join an underground dedicated to keeping Elemental Conductors out of Spector’s hands.

The premise is great. I love the idea of genetic superheroes, and the idea that they need to almost die for their powers.

The problem is that the book needs a good work over by an editor or critique group. The  essential elements are there, but they need polishing. I would encourage the author to work on the book to create a more professional feel to the story and then it will be a book that I can recommend.

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Barking Madness

Barking Madness

Ryan Hill

Barking Madness is the classic werewolf tale given a modern twist and set in a small town in the US. Rosetta is the new girl in the school, while Michael has lived in Ashwood his entire life. He knows immediately that this hot new girl is out of his league. She gets together with the high school quarterback, while Michael is tormented by his friends for being too chicken to talk to a girl, much less ask her out.

Tragically, the quarterback is killed by a monstrous wolf and Michael happens along to save Rose, but not before she is bitten. The story progresses from there in the manner of werewolf stories with a few twists to make it unique.

Unfortunately there are a few problems with the book. The first is that at 270,000 words it is a huge book to read through. The size alone wouldn’t be as much of a problem if most of those words were about the werewolf, but we don’t meet the wolf until we’ve read more than twenty thousand words. The opening of the book is standard teenaged angst. Even after the wolf makes its appearance more of the book is about the angst than it is about the story at hand. Barking Madness could be cut down severely without losing any of the impact of the story. It would be stronger without the distraction.

The second issue with the book is the alternating first person narration. Michael and Rose take turns as narrator. I’m not fond of this style to start with, but when there isn’t a lot of difference in the voice of the narrator, it is difficult to take. The main difference is that Michael complains about his father, and Rose complains about her life.

The last issue, which is the most minor is that none of the characters are very likeable. They are mean to each other, selfish with their families and for the most part shallow. The good things they do are almost in spite of themselves, not because they have much interest in being good.

Now in case you are thinking that this is a waste of a quarter of a million words. It isn’t. There are parts of the book that will send chills along your spine. You just need to decide if they are worth the work of finding them.

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The Guide: Tor’s Quest

51W5wY0uSjL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_The Guide: Tor’s Quest

Trudie Collins

Tor’s Quest starts in the aftermath of a battle for a clue in what is a scavenger hunt with first prize being the crown of Tor’s home. His group quickly learns that they need a person from another world to guide them on the next stage of their quest.

Sam is mourning the death of her friend and lover, a relationship she can’t publicly acknowledge or she’ll lose her job. When Tor convinces a witch to bring someone from a different world, the magic choses Sam. It is hard for her to make the adjustment, and the first person she really trusts is the vampire that the rest of them don’t. She soon becomes a part of the quest and friends with everyone in the group, except their wizard Bellak.

The plot is well thought out, but there are a lot of characters to get to know in a hurry. Halfway through the book I was still stopping to try to figure out which one was that one.  They work well as a group and the main characters are well developed and clear. One just needs to be patient for the rest.

Another distraction is the author’s tendency to switch point of view through a scene without much warning. Without a strong narrative voice to carry the story it got confusing in a few places.

That said, I found the story enjoyable and engaging. Lovers of fantasy and quest stories will enjoy this book.

You can buy the book here.

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George and the Dragon

51DdvicWWeL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_George and the Dragon

Phil Tolhurst

George is a thirteen year old in London during World War Two. His mother decides that they will be safer in the country at his Uncle’s manor. They aren’t there long before the house is turned to flaming rubble by an attack by dragons flying for the Luftwaffe. George is out of the house by pure chance and when he runs through the wreckage to try to find his mother, a dragon pushes his way out of the basement and tells George that he must name the dragon. George names him Spitfire and the adventure begins. In spite of his mother’s reservations George and Spitfire train and fly with the 505 Squadron against the dragons sent by the enemy. They are the only two who can stand between Britain and the Luftwaffe’s dragons.

The story is fast paced as you might expect and while Phil doesn’t shy away from the realities of war, he doesn’t glorify them either. George is accompanied by a cast of characters who take their place in the fight. George and Spitfire are well drawn, but most of the supporting cast remain interesting sketches. This isn’t a drawback for this story which is an old fashioned boy’s adventure story.

I would like to have seen a few places filled out a little more, but I doubt that a young reader would be concerned about the odd thin spot in the story. It is a fun, easy read. I recommend it for readers who like fast paced adventure.

Buy it here.

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Johnny Fracture

Johnny Fracture

Waheed Ibne Musa

Johnny Fracture is a novel by Pakistan Waheed Ibne Musa. It starts with nameless old man in New York City (though a New York which has a mountain road leading away from it). The language rhythm is a bit strange at first, but one gets used to it as the book progresses. The old man falls a foul of a gangster who wants the room he lives in, and another rival gang when he rescues a girl. The best way to enjoy the book is to put aside any assumptions about thrillers and go along for the ride. It is a ride, from the streets of New York to a slave mine in Africa the action never lets up.

The characters are not drawn in the way most readers would be used to, but they nonetheless reveal themselves in some depth throughout the story. Everyone has secrets.

Let me say up front that this is no polished work, but it is no less enjoyable for the rough edges. What it lacks in polish it makes up for in energy. The descriptions are vivid and the reader is pulled into the story. I can safely say you have likely never read a mobster book written by a Pakistan Muslim before, but this story is worth giving a chance.

I would recommend the book to those who aren’t afraid of a book that is a little different. I expect by the end you will find yourself as charmed as I was.

Buy it here.

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The Jagged Man

51zCzse7tUL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_The Jagged Man

Michael Sirois

Put an eight thousand year old man, Hurricane Katrina and an ancient papyrus together and you have Michael Sirois’ novel The Jagged Man. The premise is an immortal man who hates humanity and has spent his long life gleefully causing as much trouble as possible. At the beginning of the story we watch him planting bombs in the levees in New Orleans. We do get to see a little of Otha’s origins, but not enough to distract from present day activity.

Sarah Brown is asked to build a website around an invaluable papyrus by John Rodriguez,  they quickly become a couple and the target of Otha’s anger as the document contains a description of him. Throw in a socially inept young man with a thing for Sarah and the set up for a solid thriller is there.

I liked the characters of all the people in the book. They are well drawn and believable. The book takes a bit of time to get set up, but tidbits about other stunts Otha has pulled through the ages keep the flow. The action is well choreographed and there is no ‘helpless’ female to be found. The sole challenge for me is the exhaustive description of minor details that have nothing to do with the plot. I don’t really need a mini tutorial in photoshop especially as the version and operating system is already out of date. Aside from that relatively minor complaint The Jagged Man is a fun read that I would recommend to any who don’t mind a premise that involves an immortal troublemaker.

Buy it here.

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Saving Angels

51YksWFqhSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Jeff Davis

Saving Angels 

The bodies of two women are found in two different churches nailed to the cross. Retired FBI profiler Billy Jackson is leading a workshop in the area and offers to help. He notices a disturbing resemblance to Special Agent Gabby Sinclaire.  Soon she and Michael Thomas are pulled into the case even as Billy and Michael think it’s a trap aimed at Gabby.

Jeff Davis has written a fun roller coaster ride of a book. This is the second book featuring Michael and Gabby, we learn a little more of their history as they race to find a third missing woman.  I like the characters and chemistry of the pair. They work well together, complementing each other’s skill. The people around them are also sketched out enough to be interesting,


There are a couple of places where we are given more information than we need. We don’t quite get the complete recipe for poor man’s crab boil, but it is very close. Yet they don’t derail the action and aren’t that many in number. A bigger concern is that all the villains are gay, use drugs and are bad people.  The heroes are straight, and are good, if not rule abiding people. There are no good gays or bad straights. It is easy for an author to get caught in stereotyping, and doesn’t appear to be an issue in the first book, but it is something to be aware of.

Still, I would recommend this book to people who enjoy technological thrillers.


Buy it here.

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Alouette’s Song

31-CDK3hDXLAlouette’s Song

Andrew Fine

The cover of this book is very misleading. The book is more space opera than Jewish love story, though there is plenty of love too. The main characters are a math prodigy, a teen violin star and two average boys who love the girls. Well average if you don’t count one of them being super-wealthy and the other a kind of cosmic light of goodness.
What brings them together is an accident that launches a candlestick holder into space. With the math genius’ help it is as easy to build an entire space ship as another candlestick holder, so they do it. The bad guy, who wants to suppress the technology the human race isn’t read for yet, takes over the first space ship. The final remaining of the four teens on earth is given the second to go rescue them. She is made an agent of the U.S. Marshall’s Service by the President of the United States and told to go stop a guy who has long experience of black ops.

This is in the first third of the book. This is where I need to phrase things carefully. Everyone in the book talks about everything exhaustively. The conversations are exactly what they are, no sub-text, no keeping things back or beating around the bush. It gets tiring to read. There is a good reason for this, as Andrew states in his dedication, he is autistic, the math prodigy in the book is autistic. This is not a bad thing. It just is. People on the autistic spectrum have trouble with the rough and tumble of everyday conversation. Marg talks about it in the book. The problem is that there is too much information for us non-autistic people to manage. I ended up skimming much of the dialogue, hoping I wouldn’t miss anything essential.

I would love to see Andrew team up with an editor to manage the dialogue issue. It makes sense for the autistic character to be autistic, but the whole world talking that way is overwhelming.

Still, I suggest you read the book. It is not just about the dialogue. There are great characters and a fun story in there.

Buy the book here.

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Life on a Mission

LifeOnMission_Book_TransparentLife on a Mission

Dustin Willis/Aaron Coe

Moody Publishers

I need to state my bias at the beginning of the review. I am a pastor in a congregation of one of the most liberal denominations on the planet.  That doesn’t stop me from seeing the value of what Dustin and Aaron talk about in their book Life on a Mission. In this easily readable book filled with anecdotes and challenging question they lay out the truth that in order for us to be part of God’s mission, we need God. We find God through the person of Jesus Christ.

The mission in Life on a Mission is the work of evangelism – telling the world of the Good News that they are loved and forgiven by God.  Already, right now, without needing to do anything about it. They get evangelism right too. Narry a single comment about Hell or lost souls, instead they talk about spreading grace and joy, building relationships respecting the culture and the people they meet. It is a work many people in my denomination need to hear. Not that we aren’t believers, but we forget that we must nurture the soul to nurture the person.  To follow Jesus is to see people in an entirely different way, not as objects of pity or usefulness, but as the created and beloved children of God – our brothers and sisters, even our enemies (perhaps especially our enemies).

Yet I found a few things made me uncomfortable. The first was the statistics that talk about evangelicals in a way that implies that other denominations are not doing God’s mission too.  Some statistics were also misleading. Talking about the number of churches per population of a particular denomination gives a skewed view. For one it ignores that there are other denominations with churches, sometimes too many if we are honest. A more honest way of speaking of churches in respect to population would be to talk about church per claimed membership. In the United Church of Canada that means about 3000 churches for 600,000 members (I’m using very much rounded numbers here.) Meaning we have a church for every 200 members. If you look at the number of people who claim association with the UCC that number might be a church for every 1000.  These numbers reflect that we have Anglican, Salvation Army, Pentecostal and more churches in our communities. The reality is that even with all those churches, probably less than twenty percent of the population attends worship on any given Sunday morning. A smaller percentage sees themselves a part of God’s mission to the world.

God’s mission to the world. For Dustin and Aaron it is clearly the mission to make believers in all nations. I have the same problem I always have when I’m presented with this as God’s mission.  I want to ask ‘why?’. What are believers for? If creating believers is the only purpose of God’s mission,  why did Jesus talk and act in a way that challenged unjust assumptions of the society he lived in? His mission statement in Luke 4:18-19 is

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

He is quoting Isaiah 61 and pointing to something the prophets spend a lot of time saying. Our love for God is shown by how we treat the poor, the lonely, the unwanted. The proof they held up that Israel had wandered far from God was not that attendance at Temple worship decreased. It was that the people on the margins were being pushed further away. News about God wasn’t enough, justice is necessary in this world. Not once did Jesus tell someone that they could wait until they got to the next world to receive either the spiritual blessing of the Gospel or justice in this world.

It isn’t that Life on a Mission is wrong, It isn’t. It is just that they’ve only written half the book. The reason for us to help shape disciples for God is not that God wants more people on his team. It is because those disciples can then pick up on Jesus’ mission statement (we are the body of Christ in this world after all) and challenge the things in this world that stop the poor from hearing good news, the blind from seeing, and the prisoners from being freed. The year of the Lord’s favour was the Jubilee, the Sabbaths of Sabbaths when all debts were forgiven (literal debts!) and land was returned to the family that had relationship with that land. The call is not just to bring people into a spiritual kingdom, but to move that kingdom into the world. That means fighting against principalities and powers for the lives and souls of our neighbours.

It is the split in the Church that is causing us to fail. We put all our efforts into winning souls, or we put all our efforts into fighting for justice. What God wants is both. We win souls so more people may seek justice in this world. We strive for justice for all so that people might ask “Why are you doing this?” and we can answer with confidence that it is the Gospel that calls us.

So read this book. It will get you thinking and give you hope that evangelism is possible; in fact it is the inevitable result of faith. But don’t stop there, wonder how God can use you and the people around you to shape more just society. It isn’t enough  (to pick on example from the book) to reach out to young single mothers by helping them with childcare and care for their homes, if we don’t also seek out the reason why all these women are struggling single mothers and try to address that root cause.

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