Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Jeff Hirsch’s debut novel, The Eleventh Plague, was published on September 1, 2011. He spent his school days writing poems, short stories, and directing plays. After that he went to college to study acting and then, eventually, playwriting. Learn more about the author at http://www.jeff-hirsch.com.

Story overview:
In a world mostly destroyed in a past war (World War III), survival became the new way of life. For fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn, this was all he ever knew.

With his mother dead and his grandfather’s recent passing, Stephen and his father continue their lives as scavengers, but not before a group of slavers trap them at the back of an airplane carcass.

After escaping the slavers, Stephen’s father becomes seriously injured. It isn’t until a small group of men find them that they get the help they need. To Stephen’s surprise, he is led into a secret town (Settler’s Landing) where people live as if the war never happened. But when Stephen’s premonition becomes reality, a new war begins, and his life changes forever.

My thoughts:
I was amazed by this book. A page turner all the way. Kept me wanting to find out what happened next. The characters are believable and the story plot captivating. It has a slight flavor of Stephen King’s The Stand, but for a younger audience, much younger. Would highly recommend this to those who like post-apocalyptic tales.

Things to consider:
There are some usages of foul language, mostly in the beginning, and some romantic scenes, but nothing sexual. Action violence, death, and disturbing injuries, but, in my opinion, all these elements contributed to the realism of the story. Even though the reading level is listed at age 12 and up, my best advice is to keep it on an older teen level, 15 or so. The story is geared somewhat more toward boys, but there’s a spirited girl with attitude that is sure to intrigue a female audience.

Opportunities for discussion:
Having lived only to survive for so long, Stephen didn’t know how to react to kindness, but the longer he stayed in the town, the more he saw the good side of humanity. Even then, some of the people there were filled with blind hatred, which he knew was destined to repeat the same mistakes of the past. Ask your youth if they ever saw friends fighting. Then ask them how they felt about it. Who was right and who was wrong? Or did each person contain a mixture of both? Sometimes trying to see multiple perspectives is difficult, but giving a soft word can help to clear up the argument–and in some cases, avoid a war.

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Not only is this the first time I’ve read an “interactive” book, but it’s my first time reviewing one. Developed for the Apple iPad and Android, Koto ($2.99 on iTunes and Android Marketplace) takes bedtime storybooks to the next level.

It took me a minute or two to figure out that you don’t click the arrow buttons unless you want to skip ahead (or go back)–the story advances by touching the text, which is then read to you. Once each scene has been fully read, a quality video pops up showing Koto in action. Going through it only takes about ten minutes.

Story overview:
Koto is a dog that wants to sleep, but odd noises throughout the house keep him awake. With an overactive imagination, he puts on his samurai outfit, grabs a broom, and investigates the disturbances.

First, he imagines a group of spirits invading his living room. When he gets there, he finds that it’s only his television, so he turns it off. Then, a noise comes from the basement. A group of monsters digging for diamonds? Nope, just a clothes dryer. But wait, there’s a witch scratching at the window. OK, guess it’s just a squeaky hinge. The real problem is the robot sneaking outside, never mind it’s just moths fluttering against a light. The goblins stomping the yard are the bigger foe. He charges at full speed to chase . . . cats out of his garbage cans. Hold on, a group of ninjas are on the roof. Nope, just a broken weather vane.

By the time he gets to the end, a glass toothed dragon proves to be nothing more than a wind chime. Taking in the soft, pleasing sound, Koto goes back into his house. Content with winning the battle of silence, he slowly drifts to sleep.

My thoughts:
My daughter is in love with this book. She is two and a half years old and goes to bed saying, “Daddy, read dog book?” Where I’m not thrilled about putting my $700 device into her hands, I am confident with holding it and letting her tap the text. She comments on just about every page, asking why the goblin won’t put his foot down, worried that the ninjas will fall, and chomps her mouth like a dragon. She even says, “awwww,” when Koto falls asleep at the end. I have to tell her that he’s sleeping and doesn’t want to be disturbed, otherwise I’d be replaying the book for her all night long.

Things to consider:
This is rated for children 4+, though my two and a half year old finds it quite enjoyable. There is a witch and a few things my daughter points to and says is scary, but I explain that it isn’t real and she seems fine with that. Good for both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
Just about every child goes through a stage where they think there’s a monster in the closet, beast hiding under the bed, or boogieman lurking around the corner. This is a good book to show your children that there’s really nothing to be scared of. Their fears are just that, fears, and the story can help to calm them at bedtime. Share 2 Timothy 1:7 [ASV], “For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.” If your children are old enough, that message might just sink in.

Technically, this is not speculative fiction, but I decided to make a rare exception in this case. As a former childcare teacher and children’s pastor, Holly Howard extends her passion for helping young girls by writing a book that addresses some of the issues they face on a daily basis.

Story overview:
Jan may have a large and loving family, but it comes with a price; they don’t have a lot of money to go around. Jan is forced to wear less than ideal clothing, which paints a target on her. Three snobby rich girls, who attend the same 5th grade class as Jan, make it their personal hobby to find ways to put her down.

When a new girl shows up, Jan is surprised to find that she (Mindy) is even less fortunate. Not only are her clothes ratty, but she smells like a skunk. It doesn’t take long for the bullies to give Mindy the nickname Skunk Girl. Pretending to befriend her, they use Mindy as leverage to make Jan feel even worse.

When Jan learns that the bullies have a weakness, she finds the courage to challenge the leader to a battle of the wits. In doing so, Jan grows closer to Mindy and realizes just how good her own life really is.

My thoughts:
The characters are well constructed and I enjoyed the internal monolog of Jan (the protagonist), particularly when she was addressing her invisible diary. There were times I could feel the same sense of dread that I experienced back in my own childhood days.

Things to consider:
Skunk Girl is a good story for young girls, particularly ones that deal with bullies. Written by a Christian author, there is a message of salvation worked into the plot. No foul language or sexual situations. Especially good for ages 9-12.

Opportunities for discussion:
A good item of discussion comes from Jan’s refusal to be mean to the ones being mean to her. She exercises the commandment, Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” In the process, she learns how to become stronger, and shows a good turn to someone who had always put her down. Ask your children if they have ever experienced a time when they returned evil with evil. If they say yes, ask them how it made them feel in the end, then suggest they try an alternative path the next time, as Jan did.