Book Review 9: Lost Mission by Athol Dickson

What is Christian Fiction?

One of my favorite blogs, by author and pastor, Mike Duran, attempts to answer that question in one of his most commented posts on the blog.

http://mikeduran.com/2011/05/why-christians-cant-agree-about-christian-fiction/

I will highly recommend you checkout his blog and I promise will it make you think.

With that in mind, I believe Athol Dickson’s Lost Mission is an excellent example of Christian Fiction is and can be.

–A woman from Mexico decides leave her home and come to America to convert everyone into becoming Christians.

–A minister fresh out of seminary decides to start a ministry amongst an illegal alien community in Southern California.

A rich Christian man whose wife left him for his church’s Sunday School Teacher and lost his daughter in a car accident decides to build a Christian city to shelter its citizens away from sins of the secular world.

Three Franciscan priests from the late 1770’s along with Spanish explorers in Southern California decides to convert Native Americans into becoming Catholics.  Well, one of the priests creates a painting which connects them to the present day.

All of these elements come together in Lost Mission. I won’t give it all away, but there are some interesting questions that the novel tries to address.

It is more authentic to be a poor Christian than a rich Christian in order to advance the kingdom of God?

If you decide to follow God’s call and it looks like everything you tried turned out to be a failure, do you still believe that God called you?

Can Christians protect themselves from the world’s influences by building their own cities?  And is that a wise thing to do?

What is the best way to go about converting people from paganism?  Is it by force from exploration or conquest?  Is it by befriending them and incorporate some of their customs?  Or is their another way?

Lost Mission doesn’t give any easy answers to those questions the author addresses in the novel.  I deeply appreciate that and it made the story more authentic and believable.

My only quibble with the novel was transition between the past and present story lines.  But, once I got the hang of those transitions it didn’t bother me as much.

This is a fascinating read and highly recommended. I believe Lost Mission shows what Christian Fiction can be at the highest levels.


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Book Review 8: Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivika

I recently wrote a review for the Trophy Chase Trilogy by George Bryan Polivka.  Please check it out on this blog site if you haven’t already!

Well, the author has written a prequel to that trilogy titled Blaggard’s Moon.  It is a standalone novel and you don’t have to have read the Trophy Chase Trilogy in order to understand what’s happening in this story.

The novel starts out with Smith Delaney, a sailor, awaiting his fate on the back of a pirate ship. He has been sentenced to death by the pirate ship’s captain for treason.

While awaiting his fate, he decides to recall a story told by Ham Drumbone about how the great pirate, Conch Imbry, was finally defeated.  Also, he relives his own role in that story.

The story shifts from Smith Delaney’s recollections to Ham Drumbone telling the other sailors about it.

Polivka does an excellent job (like he did in the trilogy) with good characterization and the  intertwining of Christian principles into an adventurous, swash-buckling (with a touch of romance) story.

One of the themes of the novel was asked by Smith Delaney.  Why does God allow evil to happen in the world?  And why does God seemed to let the bad guys get away with evil?

Those questions are prime for a sermon or bible study.  However, the power of fiction can illuminate the answer to those questions sometimes even better than a sermon or bible study could.  I appreciate the fact that the author didn’t shy away from having a difficult theme in his novel.

Blaggard’s Moon is a good, page-turning read and highly recommended.

Book Review 7: Word Pictures by Brian Godawa

“Those who capture the culture not only tell their own stories but reinterpret the stories of their opponents through their own worldview. This is not necessarily dishonest; we all interpret and reinterpret history through our worldviews. Christians should tell their own stories of martyrs or missionaries, but we should not neglect to retell the stories of atheists or humanists like Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud and others through our worldview. Subversion
is the nature of storytelling, and storytelling is how anyone wins a culture.”
(Word Pictures by Brian Godawa)

I wanted to start this review using quote from a chapter in Brian Godawa’s
wonderful, eye-opening book, Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination.

Godawa makes a strong argument that the Bible uses both Word and Image
throughout and that the church has been too-focused on word or literal
interpretation of the bible. Instead of the imagery that God uses throughout to
show his redemption plan for humanity.

I have read a few books in the past year dealing with the importance of the Arts
and Christianity. Those books are The Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer,
Imagine by Steve Turner, and Creating Culture by Andy Crouch.

Word Pictures goes more in depth about the importance God places on imagery,
imagination, and creativity (than the other ones)…but not as something to have
an idolatrous relationship (like the Church has preached against for
years) more that He appreciates and respects that element just as much as he
does with rational or literal thought and analysis.

“Now Bezalel & Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the Lord has put skill
and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the
sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.

Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the Lord
had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform
it.
(Exodus 36:1-2 NASB)

Some of the first people that God fills with his spirit were artists. That
tells me God appreciates and approves of art (both word and image).

There are very few books I would recommended to all creative people (also all
Christians) read and Word Pictures is one of them. Even you don’t agree with
his argument, Brian Godawa does an excellent job of making points with
clarity and backed by scripture.

And for me, it has opened my eyes and strengthen my faith a little bit of more
about being a writer who enjoys imaginative literature and will continue to do so
because God appreciates it as well.

Book Review 6: Queen of Angels by Greg Bear

Queen of Angels by Greg Bear has been a book I’ve wanted to read for years. I’ve seen it at used bookstores and bought it several times intending to read the book but never get around to it until recently.

Queen of Angels is an ambitious, thought-provoking science-fiction novel that deals with race, crime, religion, and nanotechnology to ask the question what is the nature of the self and can man conquer it?

However, it would be easy and simplistic to write that man cannot conquer his own nature without God. But, Bear makes an ambitious attempt in the Queen of Angels.

The novel is basically three stories in one. It starts with Emanuel Goldsmith, a famous poet in 2047, who kills eight students at his apartment. All the evidence points to his guilt and the L.A.P.D. and the Selectors, a vigilante group, are looking for him.

But, Goldsmith is kept in hiding from them by his publisher, whose daughter he killed along with the other students at his apartment. The publisher is obsessed with why the poet would kill those students without any remorse and also is dealing with the pain of losing his daughter.

The publisher has Goldsmith examined by Dr. Martin Burke, a psychiatrist, who has developed the ability to enter a person’s thoughts. Dr. Burke created a device call the Country of the Mind and when he enters Goldsmith’s brain to determine the how and why of what he did. What the psychiatrist discovers is shocking and I felt were some of the most disturbing parts of the novel.

Meanwhile, there is an AXIS Robot who is reporting a major discovery from Alpha Centuri’s Planet B-2 that will change the face of science forever and will coincide with the people of Earth who are getting ready to celebrate the coming of the Binary Millennum. But, it is not what the scientists thought it would be and deals with a radical discovery from a computer.

Moreover, the L.A.P.D. sends Mary Choy, a detective, to Hispanola (a futuristic Haiti-Dominican Republic) to find Goldsmith who supposedly fled there because of his friendship with the country’s dictator, Sir John Yardley.

When Mary gets to Hispanola she will uncover something that will make her reevaulate who she is and learn about man’s inhumanity to man disguised as a utopia.

Bear intertwines all the storylines pretty well. But, there were some awkward moments (mainly because of the author’s ambition more than anything else) and he leaves out punctuation and normal sentence structure reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy.

I’m glad I finally read the Queen of Angels and while Bear doesn’t fully convince me in his ambitious case to show man’s attempt in conquering his own nature. I like the fact that he wanted to ask the question….Who am I?

Book Review 5: The Adventures of Jecosan Tarres by Laura Lond

Book 1: The Journey
Book 2: The Palace
Book 3: The Battle

I liked reading this trilogy. It had everything you want in a
series: good characters, rich setting, and readable. I hope
this series gets more recognition and gain a bigger readership.

Well, the series in a nutshell is the story of Jecosan Tarres (called
Jeco throughout the series) and his journey to manhood. He grew up as
a orphan (like Oliver Twist) and is a believer in the Book of Light
(author’s version of the Bible).

In Book 1, Jeco receives a calling to go to Kanavar, the capital of
Meoria and work for the king. However, he begins to learn he will be a
part of a bigger mission along the journey.

In Book 2, Jeco arrives in Kanavar and becomes a part of king’s court
and learns that the Meorian King, Alvard III wants to go to war
against another kingdom, Tigran. The Tigran Kingdom and people are
believers in the Book of Light and King Alvard wants to destroy it.

In Book 3, Jeco and Lord Farizel (second-in-command in Meoria) were
accused of treason by King Alvard and they had to flee the kingdom.
It looks the kingdoms of Meoria and Tigran are heading to war.

However, they are interesting twists and sub-plots that are trying to
keep the two kingdoms from going to war. Moreover, there is redemption
and humility that comes from an unlikely source.

And Jeco’s (whom I think is like Joseph from the Book of Genesis)role
has changed from Book 1 as he grows and matures.

I give the series a recommendation to be read.

Book Review 4: The Testament by John Grisham

Back in the late 90’s, I worked for Borders Books in Albuquerque,
NM for almost three years. This was the time in my life where the reading bug hit me tremendously.
During that time, John Grisham was at the height of his popularity at
the top guy in the Popular Fiction market. With books like The Firm, Pelican
Brief, and A Time to Kill were all big sellers in our store. I had decided I
wasn’t going to read him.
I had a caught the Retail Bookseller’s Attitude towards anything that
was accepted by the mainstream. I wanted to fit with my co-workers and I thought I needed to be snobbish to be accepted.

Moreover, I was a hypocrite because at that time I’d read a Dean Koontz
novel every week. Plus I was reading a lot of Science-Fiction and Fantasy as
well. Go figure.
Now fast forward to 2009, I had found out that John Grisham became
a Christian and this novel, The Testament, was the first book he wrote after
converting to Christianity. I was intrigued to say the least.

Well, I’m glad I read my first Grisham novel. He knows how to tell a story. I’ve never had much interest in the legal profession but I was in The Testament and I found the profession somewhat interesting.

Okay, what is The Testament about?

The Testament begins with Troy Phelan, a billionaire, who wrote his last
will just before he kills himself by jumping out of his own company headquarters building.

Well, Mr. Phelan lived a colorful, eccentric life. There were three
ex-wives and six children all wanting to get their hands on his eleven
billion-dollar fortune.

But, Mr. Phelan had planned everything well with his lawyer, Josh
Stafford. Mr. Stafford read his will to the family and their lawyers and Mr.
Phelan decided to give his entire fortune to another daughter no one knew about named Rachel Lane.

Rachel Lane was a missionary living in the Pantanal Jungle in NW Brazil
amongst the indigenous people for years. Josh Stafford sends Nate O’Riley, one of his lawyers, down to Brazil to find Rachel and her sign the will and claim her inheritance. Sounds simple so far!

Not so fast!!
Well, Nate O’Riley just got out of rehab for alcohol and drug abuse. He
has gone through two marriages, lost contact with his children, and was on his last rope as a lawyer.

Nate arrives in the Pantanal and finds Rachel Lane after a harrowing
adventure. Rachel doesn’t want the inheritance and refuses to sign the will.  He leaves the will and returns to Washington D.C. convinces that Rachel is a different kind of woman because she won’t accept the inheritance.

The story takes some shocking twists and turns on how they will settle
Mr. Phelan’s estate. I must write I really like Grisham’s characters and I felt
a sense a realness from each of them. Even the minor characters. Also, this is a story of redemption and how faith can change lives.
Moreover, how money can ruin people as well. Lastly, that Mr. Phelan how lived a God-less life could see something in his daughter who gave up everything believe and follow Jesus.

This is a novel that should be read and I tip my cap to John Grisham!

Book Review 3: Trophy Chase Trilogy by George Bryan Polivka

Book 1: The Legend of the Firefish

Book 2: The Hand That Bears the Sword

Book 3: The Battle for Vast Dominion

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a trilogy. I’ve read mostly standalone novels lately but the striking covers of Trophy Chase Trilogy by George Bryan Polivka compelled me to read it.

I’m glad I did!

First of all, I must write this series deserves to read by all who enjoy good storytelling regardless of the genre. With that said, I believe that the Trophy Chase Trilogy will be a modern classic of Christian Fantasy.

Now, with that incredibly high praise, let me write what the trilogy is about.

Book 1: The Legend of the Firefish

The opening book of the trilogy introduces Packer Throme, a failed seminary student, who returns back home to his fishing village in the Kingdom of Nearing Vast. Packer is also an accomplished swordsman.

His life goes from bad to worse and decides he wants to go hunting for the legendary, mythical Firefish. The Firefish are mysterious sea creatures that have been hunted for years by people of Nearing Vast.

As a matter of fact, Packer Throme learned the secrets of the Firefish from his dad who left years ago hunting for those sea creatures.

Packer becomes a stowaway on the grandest ship in Nearing Vast. The ship called the Trophy Chase and is captained by Scat Wilkins. Scat is brutal, efficient, and a natural leader.

This becomes the adventure for the opening book of the trilogy. Polivka does an excellent job in developing the characters, having an interesting plot, and intertwines Christianity nicely within the story.

Book 2: The Hand That Bears The Sword

The middle book of the trilogy continues the adventure of Packer Throme. However, there is another kingdom named the Drammun who want to destroy the Kingdom of Nearing Vast and kill Packer Throme.

The Kingdom of Drammun is a theistic kingdom who believes that they are the worthy ones meant to rule everybody who is not Drammun and feel the people of Nearing Vast are heretics because of their belief in a Christian God.

Packer is sent back on the ship, the Trophy Chase, by the King of Nearing Vast to defend the kingdom. However, he has decided to become a pacifist and refuses to take up his sword. Packer believes its God’s will to protect him and his people.

I must admit there were several times in this book, I wanted Packer to fight and defend himself. But, I liked that the author showed that the dimension to his character and made me care about him overcoming his perceived character flaw.

The middle book of the trilogy sets up nicely for the final book and eventual showdown between the People of Nearing Vast and the Drammun.  Also, the role of the mythical Firefish in this battle.

Book 3: The Battle of Vast Dominion

The last book in the trilogy has Packer as the new king of Nearing Vast. (I know some of you can put it together from this review how he would become king.  But, please read it! LOL!!)

The Drammun wants the secrets of the Firefish from Packer Throme and decided to have a truce with Nearing Vast in order to get it.

Packer decides to go the Drammun homeland on a Paul-like missionary trip to convert their people into followers of Christ. Well the adventure continues and there’s an interesting surprise by the Firefish that ties the entire trilogy together.

In summary, I believe this trilogy is closer to Treasure Island or Lord of the Flies with a strong Christian theme instead of Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings. Moreover, George Bryan Polivka has carved his own unique place in Christian Fantasy with this wonderful trilogy.

A must read and highly recommended.