Tag Archives: speculative fiction

Review: The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert

The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert

The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert (2021)

Anyone who’s ever asked why bad things happen to innocent people will relate to orphaned teenaged Briar Bishop. While the rich in the kingdom get richer, she’s raising her younger brother in the worst of the slums.

When she receives a mysterious invitation to a contest promising to grant the winner’s deepest wish, she ignores it—until desperation leaves her no choice.

The thing is, she gave up wishing long ago. Then gave up believing in the Wish Keeper (her world’s most powerful magic figure).

The contest will pit her against 11 others, all equally determined. One of them is High Prince Leopold Davenbrook. Leo’s public persona is a daredevil thrill-seeker, but Briar remembers him as a grieving 8-year-old watching the execution of Briar’s mother—for the murder of his.

The characters and their interconnections are richly developed, as are the events of the contest and its settings. The world itself has more technology than I often find in a fantasy novel. They have underground transport and personal communication devices, antibiotics (for the rich), and a form of television. Magic, while still a part of the world, is forbidden due to a past disaster.

One thing that might save you the confusion I had: some chapter titles include a date. That date only applies to that past timeline. Anything without a date at the beginning is the story’s present.

Favourite lines:

Iris screamed—louder this time, as if they all knew the answer but were withholding it from her and if she just raised her voce to the right decibel, they might finally explain. [Kindle page 142]

Good would win. Good had to win. And if good wasn’t winning, then it wasn’t the end. [Briar’s papa’s philosophy. Kindle pages 362-363]

Author K.E. Ganshert describers herself as “an award-winning author torn between two genres.” She writes YA fantasy and contemporary inspirational fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit katieganshert.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Crossover, by John C. Dalglish

Crossover: The Chaser Chronicles book 1, by John C. DalglishCrossover, by John C. Dalglish (2013)

A private investigator discovers that God has bigger – and more dangerous – plans for him. His first clue is a hulking man who attacks him and threatens to kill him if he accepts a coming call to service. Then a second unusual visitor shows up at his office, essentially to tell him a calling is coming.

Crossover is book 1 in the Chaser Chronicles, a Christian-supernatural series which the author says up-front is not meant as a theological interpretation of the moments between life and death.

Although set in present-day Earth, the premise of the story is that some people, in the process of dying, are sufficiently motivated to turn back from the light and do more business among the living. Except the living can’t see them until they’ve lingered long enough to regain corporeal form.

Whether they’re resisting death to warn loved ones that God is real, to pass on another message, or to exact revenge, it’s the role of Chasers to stop them – and to either convince or force them to “cross over.”

The problem is, if one of these “runners” stays in the world too long, he/she becomes strong enough to be dangerous. Like Harbinger, the runner who confronts Jack in the beginning. Harbinger has killed Chasers before, and he wants to do it again.

Crossover is a light-hearted action adventure, and Jack is a wisecracking hero whose heart’s in the right place. There’s not a lot of depth to the characters, but that’s not the point of the story. This one’s for those times when you want something fun, fast, and at least a bit funny.

John C. Dalglish is also the author of the Detective Jason Strong series and the City Murders series. There are six books in The Chaser Chronicles, and I see on his website that they’re available as an ebook bundle. For more about the author and his work, visit jcdalglish.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Frayed, by Kerry Nietz

Frayed, by Kerry NietzFrayed, by Kerry Nietz (Freeheads, 2016)

Fans of the DarkTrench saga will be pleased to return to that same, dystopian future Earth. New to these books and not sure what to think? The book that started it all, A Star Curiously Singing, is free on most ebook platforms.

Frayed is the start of the DarkTrench Shadow Series, with new characters. Chronologically it overlaps the last part of A Star Curiously Singing. (Now I want to go back and read that one for a refresher to what happened off-screen in this book.)

The protagonist, ThreadBare, is a debugger (human, implanted with a computer chip that lets him wirelessly interact with all the machines so he can fix them). Debuggers are essentially slaves. In this society built on a form of Islamic law, their one bonus is they’re guaranteed entry to paradise because their chips block them from sinning – and from any other behaviour their masters forbid.

Debuggers are gifted at asking questions, solving problems. But the questions ThreadBare starts asking could land him in serious pain.

Frayed is written in the first person, present tense, and that works for these books. It’s like ThreadBare is talking to you, the reader, streaming to you a real-time account of what’s happening. At least once he’ll even speak to you directly, calling you a freehead (because you have no implant).

As well as the DarkTrench books, Kerry Nietz has also written Amish Vampires in Space and Amish Zombies in Space. I haven’t read the zombie one, but the vampire one is a serious novel, not a joke like the titles imply. For more about the author and his books, visit nietz.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]


Christian Speculative Fiction Anthology

What’s more exciting than having something published? Being published in the same project as a good friend or a loved one! Last year I celebrated the release of Hot Apple Cider With Cinnamon, an anthology with a short poem of mine that also included a true story by my mom, Beverlee Wamboldt, and stories from two others from my local writing group, Ruth Ann Adams and Laura Aliese Miedema.

RealmScapes - A Science Fiction and Fantasy AnthologyThis year I’m celebrating RealmScapes, an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories, which has a story of mine and also a story by one of my sons, Matthew Sketchley. (His is better.)

Yes, I write suspense, but I also dabble in science fiction.

RealmScapes is a science fiction and fantasy anthology of 17 tales, each based on the idea of escape. It’s published by Brimstone Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Christians who write science fiction and fantasy are a small but mighty group within the larger family of Christian writers. For the past few years, those who can have gathered for the Realm Makers’ Conference.

As part of the lead-up to the 2015 conference, the organizers held a short story contest to benefit the scholarship fund. Matthew and I each entered a story, and while neither of us won, our stories are both included in the RealmScapes anthology, which released at the end of July, 2016.

I don’t yet have a contributor’s copy to hold in my hand, but I’ve read all the stories. If you enjoy these sorts of tales, do check it out. Print books are available through various online stores, but at present the ebook seems only available through Amazon. I hope that will change. Don’t feel like paying for a print copy? See if your local library can order one to share with the other patrons.


Review: The End Begins, by Sara Davison

The End Begins, by Sara DavisonThe End Begins, by Sara Davison (Ashberry Lane, 2015)

In the year 2053, after terrorist attacks on Canadian mosques are blamed on Christians, martial law leads to increasingly strict restrictions on Christian behaviour and activity. Bibles are one of the first things to be outlawed.

For bookstore owner Meryn O’Reilly, this strikes at her livelihood as well as her faith. And if she can’t hold back her rebellious attitude, she’ll be in even more trouble.

On the other side of the issue is Army Captain Jesse Christensen, a decent man who, though he’s rejected his parents’ Christianity, doesn’t agree with what looks like the unjust treatment of law-abiding, church-going citizens – treatment he’s duty-bound to carry out.

Meryn and Jesse seem destined to meet at every turn, and neither can deny the unexpected attraction between them. But Meryn won’t consider a relationship with a man who doesn’t share her faith. Especially when, if he knew what she was doing, he’d have to arrest her.

The End Begins is book 1 in Sara Davison’s end times series, The Seven Trilogy. The writing is crisp, the plot tightly-woven and frighteningly plausible. The romance, plus a subtle thread of humour, keeps the tension from becoming too much.

What I most appreciate about the story is the way it brings its characters (and readers) to think about their responses to blatant hostility and aggression. Meryn is not by nature submissive, but she and her friends learn to choose their battles, and to return hatred with gentle strength. In other words, they learn to live like Jesus instead of insisting on their suddenly-trampled rights. Their grace-filled responses make a stronger impression on soldiers like Jesse than if they fought back.

Meryn struggles with anger toward the soldiers enforcing the government regulations. Prayer becomes her key to forgiveness, and she discovers that it’s “very difficult to bring someone before God and hold on to hatred at the same time.” [Kindle location 1450]

Canadian author Sara Davison’s previous novel is The Watcher. Book two in The Seven Trilogy, The Dragon Roars, is now available. For more about the author, visit saradavison.org.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Rooms, by James L. Rubart

Rooms, by James L. RubartRooms, by James L. Rubart (B&H Fiction, 2010)

Micah Taylor has it all: prestigious business, penthouse condo, a girlfriend who’s his perfect match. Until he leaves Seattle for Cannon Beach, Oregon, to check into a house he inherited.

The house is everything he’d have wanted had he designed it himself – except for the location, stirring memories of childhood tragedy. And except for the mysterious rooms that suddenly appear.

Rooms is a supernatural tale of how God might lead a person to revisit “rooms” in his heart to bring healing and truth.

The more Micah begins to trust God, the more things in his world shift. Events he remembers haven’t happened. His status begins to slip. Micah’s new friend and confidant, Rick, assures him he’s not crazy, but Micah doesn’t know how much more he can take. He wants this deeper relationship with God… but at what cost?

Favourite line:

He walked toward the door on his toes, drawing short sips of air as if a deep breath would alert whatever was in the room to his presence. [Kindle location 1623]

Micah’s experiences wouldn’t happen in real life, but the principles and truth he learns about freedom in Christ translate directly into Christians’ lives today. So do the deceptions he faces. I found the story an intriguing way to look at the concept of our identity in Christ, and how life events and choices limit our spiritual growth – and how God may want to revisit those things to free us.

James L. Rubart is a writer and speaker whose website tag line is “Live free.” Rooms was his first novel. His most recent is The Five Times I Met Myself. For more about the author and his books, visit jameslrubart.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Storming, by K.M. Weiland

Storming, by K.M. WeilandStorming, by K.M. Weiland (PenForASword Publishing, 2015)

In 1920’s Nebraska, Hitch Hitchcock makes his living as a barnstorming pilot – until a woman in a fancy ball gown falls out of the night sky in front of his plane and he gets mixed up with her – and with her enemies.

Hitch doesn’t want anyone depending on him, because he’s let too many people down in the past. He’s back in his hometown for one week only, to compete for a chance to join a flying circus.

His encounter with the mysterious falling woman, Jael, also brings him face to face with family and townsfolk he’s hurt before – and with the man who made him run away. When Jael’s enemies turn their airship’s weaponry against the town, Hitch has to stay and fight when every instinct tells him to run again.

Favourite lines:

Bonney Livingstone could talk a man into picking his own pocket. [Kindle location 1083]

If Earl had thought last night’s story was crazy, this one plumb ran away with the farmer’s daughter. [Kindle location 1347]

The only good parts of this day were the worse things that could’ve happened and hadn’t. [Kindle location 2165]

A blend of historical and dieselpunk, Storming is filled with action, intrigue, flying (surprise!) and great characters. There’s plenty to satisfy the relationship-oriented reader, too: friendship, romance, and long-standing hurt.

This is the second K.M. Weiland novel I’ve read, and it won’t be the last. I love the way she creates characters I can relate to, and drops them into situations beyond their control – where somehow they have to stay and fight, and where losing isn’t an option.

K.M. Weiland knows how to raise the stakes, as well as creating characters we care about and want to see win. In addition to Storming, she has written Behold the Dawn (historical), A Man Called Outlaw (western) and Dreamlander (speculative), as well as short fiction and books on writing.

[Review copy provided by the author, but I liked it so much I ordered a copy to keep.]

Review: The Shadow Lamp, by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Shadow Lamp, by Stephen R. LawheadThe Shadow Lamp, by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

A diverse cast of characters assembled from various times and places on Earth, a mysterious quest, powerful enemies, inter-dimensional travel to multiple Earths… The Shadow Lamp is an intriguing tale of adventure where even the smallest detail can have great significance.

This is a novel where the objective omniscient point of view works very well. There are too many plot threads for readers to benefit from a more intimate, deeper point of view, and somehow the omniscient approach gives the feel that we’re seeing the whole picture. There are even occasional moments where the narrator points to something the characters should have seen.

If you prefer tidy, self-contained fiction, you might want to give this one a miss. But if you enjoy the chance to explore a sprawling, multi-novel series with diverse and exotic settings, dive in.

You may want to start at the beginning with The Skin Map, but it didn’t take me long to orient myself in The Shadow Lamp with no previous experience. (It’s Book 4 in the Bright Empires Series.) The book opens with a list of key characters and a recap.

Some of the character descriptions, as well as the tone of the recap and the chapter titles, hint at a light-hearted touch to the narrative, and while it didn’t turn out to be as funny as I’d hoped, I didn’t mind. The story itself kept my interest. I didn’t find it particularly tense, but I always wanted to see what would happen next.

Although there are some deep concepts in this novel, readers don’t have to be scientists or intellectually-inclined. Characters travel between dimensions along something known as “ley lines,” which readers learn about by watching the characters learn. Multiple universes are touched on in the same non-threatening way.

The Shadow Lamp comes from a Christian publisher, but it feels like the sort of novel to please mainstream audiences as well. There are Christian characters, agnostics, and even an ancient priest of the Egyptian gods. Faith (or lack thereof) gives the characters their worldviews, but they don’t spend much time talking about it.

The most significant faith-talk comes in philosophical and scientific contexts: free will, and the effects of Jesus’ resurrection on the past/present/future. Toward the end, they talk more about science, generally accepting the Big Bang (or Alpha Point) theory and the measured expansion of the universe. Readers don’t need to agree with the characters’ opinions to enjoy the novel. It is, after all, speculative fiction.

Stephen R. Lawhead is perhaps best known for his mythic history novels about Arthurian times, and the Bright Empires series continues to bring to life richly-imagined settings from the past. To learn more about this internationally-acclaimed author and his books, visit his website: stephenlawhead.com.

[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]

Review: Undercurrent, by Michelle Griep

Undercurrent, by Michelle GriepUndercurrent, by Michelle Griep (Risen Books, 2011)

In late-tenth-century Norway, Alarik regains consciousness to discover his cousin bleeding and his brother dead by Alarik’s own blade. With no memory of the fight, Alarik must flee or be executed.

Meanwhile, in the present day, Cassie Larson is a career-oriented professor and linguistics expert shepherding a group of university students on a tour of historic islands in England’s Northumberland Strait—until she falls over the side of the boat and surfaces beside Alarik’s small vessel.

Alarik’s cousin, Ragnar, is their village’s only Christian, who longs to convince his people of his Saviour’s reality and Alarik’s innocence. He’s often ridiculed, and his disfigured face keeps him unmarried, yet he dreams of a woman speaking a strange language, who will love him.

In some ways Undercurrent is a historical romance, filled with rich details of Alarik’s place and time. It’s also a time-travel fish-out-of-water story as a self-sufficient woman of our day learns to function in a primitive, male-dominated Viking society.

I enjoyed the characters, the peek into this period in history, and the occasional humour. Ragnar’s sincerity of faith is a good challenge to present-day Christians who may not feel our roles as ambassadors quite as strongly as he does among his people.

Michelle Griep has a fast-moving writing style that drew me in and made me care about the people and their circumstances. You can learn more about Michelle Griep at her website and her blog, Writer Off the Leash. She’s also the author of Gallimore and A Heart Deceived.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Three strangers walk into a bar…

Okay, two of them know one another, but they’re all strangers to me.

And it’s not really a bar (I think).

And they’re outside of it.

Celebration cake with candle.This week I made my annual “birthday” cake for my fictional friends, and it’s got me reminiscing. Some of these folks have been in my head for 19 years now. We have a fair bit of history.

Today, though, I’m thinking of my newest imaginary friends, hence the three strangers outside the local watering hole.

It’s a rough-ish, small building that sells some manner of food and drink. I think it’s wooden. It’s on a backwater-type planet somewhere.

I don’t know their names yet, nor their genders. I think two are female. For now, my notes read:

  • T = travelling character
  • D = disappointed character
  • W= wonder character

T is a stranger to this planet and needs to get to another one. S/he needs D and W to provide transportation. D refuses, and for W to return to that planet could mean death.

It’s possible that D is actually my old friend Sera, in which case I know she’s a former assassin, a crack shot, and the sort of person you want guarding your back. W is an older character and some manner of mentor to D/Sera. I have a special fondness for W and a few inklings into his/her past. W hasn’t had an easy life.

T, main character, isn’t talking to me yet.

I am so looking forward to this! Discovery is the best part.

Updates will be slow and sporadic, because I’m concentrating on fine-tuning the story of Carol, Paul, Joey and Patrick, another crew of my imaginary friends.

March is birthday month here at Tenacity. If you haven’t entered the draw yet for a copy of A Second Cup of Hot Apple Cider, follow the link to the blog birthday page. [Edited: draw is closed now.]