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I have been an avid reader from as early as I can remember. Since becoming a Christian in my early 20s, my passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on this blog. I love reading new author's novels or author's who have not had many reviews or exposure and giving them much needed encouragement where appropriate.   
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Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Omega Watchers by Jane E. Woodlee Hedrick

I originally published this review on 13/06/15. I have read it again in preparation for the sequel, The Third Strand, soon to be released. I have added minor additions to the review and an Award as this novel now meets the criteria since The Reality Calling Christian Fiction Awards have been instigated. Please see below. 

A mysterious Dead Sea Scroll revealed prophecies of the return of the fallen angels and the timing of their release from the abyss where they have been imprisoned awaiting their final judgment. But, there is a missing piece to the prophetic puzzle!

Gabriella’s cave exploration leads her team on an ominous journey to discover a lost prophecy from the days of Noah and find her own spiritual truth. In her search, she opens her mind to a “Watcher” that captures her with his mystical powers of universal knowledge as they travel between time and untime. 

This deceiving spirit proclaims the coming of the Ascended Master who will usher in a new age of peace for all mankind. Gabriella feels totally alone as her friends believe Yahweh as the one true God and they struggle to convince her she is falling deeper and deeper into a pit of destruction and is about to cross the point of no return.

The Guru's Review:  

I cannot remember whether the author contacted me for a review or I contacted her stating I will be reviewing/interviewing her after I purchased this book. Either way, I am glad I found this book. The Nephilim mentioned in The Omega Watchers is a favourite topic of mine as well as eschatology. Some Christians would not know what the Nephilim are or may not have studied eschatology and therefore may not be aware of the connection between these two in relation to the verse in Matthew 24: 37,
As it was in the day of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
I have read quite a bit about both topics and this connection to Matthew 24:37. The growing number of bible researchers/scholars and even devout bible students who study eschatology seem to all agree on the major details relating to these topics. It is from this perspective that I was hoping Hedrick would have shown in The Omega Watchers. I am pleased to say that she has! She has done a great job of it too! There is always the risk that when a complex topic/s like these are converted to the fiction arena, that the plot gets bogged down in too much information, derails the plot, becomes detached from it and the characters and is counterproductive. Not so in Hedrick's well-crafted novel. Both the plot and all the details relating to the Nephilim,  Matt 24: 37 verse, alien visitation, end times deception/eschatology is carefully intertwined and forms a solid basis for this fast-paced, suspenseful edgy, speculative based novel. 

However, I would not just leave it at that. Hedrick successfully entertains throughout even when delivering the vast amounts of information relating to the aforementioned topics. She has made it one engaging read and through this educates the reader in these issues and how the Gospel is embedded in this as well without it coming across as preachy or bible bashing Gabi and Caleb. It very much reminds me of how to witness to those who do not believe, be non-judgmental, non-condescending, not self-righteous, but love them, accept them as they are and build a relationship so there is a neutral platform to share the Gospel. 

It is from this perspective that I believe this novel could be instrumental in ministering to the unbeliever in Christ,  by exposing false doctrine of various New Age theologies and practice such as astral travel, ascended masters, everyone possessing godhood and god-like power of healing and peace. All the above are designed and constructed to deceive and encourage the human race to believe this lie while being bound by demonic strongholds. She successfully does this through the character of Gabi and her vulnerability from losing her mother when she was 5 years old and her father many years later. 

I have always felt that when learning is made to be fun or enjoyable in a format that the student/learner is comfortable with, then the uptake and retaining of the learning is more successful and understanding is greater. I have had a better understanding of the topic outlined in this novel than if it had been in a non-fiction account. Putting in a fictional setting like this novel, then I can fully grasp this better. I believe that Christian fiction should not just entertain and educate as is evidenced successfully in this novel, but it should edify the believer as well. It should encourage their walk with Christ and their relationship with Him as well. For me, Hedrick is successful here.

Another aspect where the above characteristics of what I expect from Christian fiction is the spiritual aspects of this novel. Some Christian authors do not have the Christian's prayer stated in full as they feel it detracts from the action of the scene or plot and some readers don't like this either whether they are Christian or not. There may be some novels where it is appropriate to just state that there was prayer for peace, healing, salvation etc but in other novels, where it would be appropriate for full prayer inclusion and there is not, I feel this omission is a shame as this is real life for the Christian, and for the non-believer who may be offended by this, well, this is the Christian's reality and I don't believe a novel based on Christian/biblical themes should be watered down to be politically correct. Thankfully, Hedrick has not succumbed to this practice. In this novel, it is very appropriate for prayer to be included in full. I found this refreshing as the instances where they were praying were in times of spiritual warfare concerning their research, the car accident involving the Professor and when Gabi was under the influence of the spirit guide/demon. Spiritual warfare is serious and affects every aspect of our lives, whether we know it or not, and to have prayer shown in its fullness adds a necessary aspect of reality to the plot and to portray what happens in real life. 

It was also refreshing to have God very much a part of this novel and not just mentioned. I appreciated that the author included the presence of God in a tangible way when the Omega Team prayed for the aforementioned instances and the final conflict when this demon disguised as an angel of light was in the final stages of encouraging Gabi to cross to the demonic side. Again, this shows the supernatural side of reality and the warfare of the spiritual realm.  It was great that the Spirit of God and the power of His might was shown as it is in defeating the demonic stronghold over Gabi and for her to see the spirit guide for the demon that he is and that the truth of the bible and what had been witnessed to her by the Omega Team members was true.

My only criticism is that Gabi has been depicted as rather emotional and high demand and this becomes a bit annoying after a while, but I can see what could contribute to this with the loss of parents at an early age.

I have read other end-times novels and every author seems to have a different take on the bible verses that are relevant to the eschatology and their poetic license in translating this to the fictional setting. I liked what Hedrick has done in the novel. Her take is very concise and specific and adheres very well to the biblical record. The culmination of all the plot lines in this novel come together for one very memorable climax and leaves the reader on a cliff hanger. I only hope that the sequel is here sooner rather than later. I cannot wait to see what happens next and be further entertained, edified and educated in eschatology, spiritual warfare and demonology.

Putting all this together with relational characters and romance as a subplot, this is one very enjoyable read.

I am looking forward to the sequel, The Third Strand, to be released in the near future. If this current has left me on a cliffhanger, then I can feel assured that the next one is going to start on one as well and continue with a fast paced, thrilling, supernatural ride like this one.  

Highly Recommended. 

World Building 5/5 

Characters 5/5 

Spiritual Level 5/5 

Story 5/5 

Enemy Spiritual Level 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.8/5

Spiritually, based on my review and on the following reference booklet,

A Spiritual System for Rating Books by David Bergsland, and that The Omega Watchers contains elements of the criteria of what constitutes Christian Redemptive Fiction outlined in this booklet, (click on the title below to see what this is based on), I award Jane Woodlee Hedrick with 

The Reality Calling Christian Redemptive Fiction Award

Congratulations, Jane!

To read a preview or buy this novel, click on the BUY or PREVIEW icons below.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Author/Novel Spotlight: Sean Young

Today, I am spotlighting Christian novelist, Sean Young. He contacted me via this blog requesting a review of his new novel, To Fear the Dawn. When I checked out the link to his Amazon author page, I made a surprise discovery. I recognised one of his previous novels, Violent Sands. I read this many years ago and loved it. Good news is that this novel will be revised and released as a trilogy. I am looking forward to reading this new edition later this year. 

So now that I have been reunited with one of my previous authors, I wanted to find out more about him and this new novel. To Fear the Dawn. So let's get started. First, a little about Sean: 

Sean Young blends his life-long love of novels with a strong Christian worldview to produce gripping thrillers anchored in a Biblical core. A thirst for adventure and deep personal faith create his unique brand of action-packed page turners that make the reader's pulse race, while quietly shining the good news of the gospel and remaining free of profanity and offensive sexual scenes that have become so prevalent in modern fiction.

His first novel was a seven hundred page Historical Suspense Thriller that took three years to write. This was first published first in the USA, and then in Europe where it was translated into Spanish.

Sean lives with his wife and two children in Surrey, England. 

Now let's have a look at To Fear the Dawn. which was released on January 3, 2017, in the Kindle format at Amazon:

In a world of religious freedom, he found it easy to ignore the light. But the coming darkness will be far less forgiving.

"If you like political intrigue, conspiracy in the halls of power and a sizzling plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat, then you’ll love Sean Young’s powerful portrayal of a world on the verge of cataclysm."

When Nicholas Gallagher, spots an opportunity he grabs it with both hands. The self-made billionaire has just learned information that could save a lucrative business deal — but he didn’t realise his newfound knowledge would change the world as he knew it. It turns out Nicholas has unwittingly crossed a dangerous group of financiers, united in a mystical faith, who have quietly taken over the banks, the media, and even the laws that could protect him.

Before he can take action, his accounts are frozen and he is branded a murderer in the international press. Just when Nicholas thinks all hope is lost, help comes in the form of a priest with a sinister past. Could this canny ally be the only thing that keeps him alive?

In a treacherous adventure that takes him across the globe, the former billionaire has one chance to reveal the truth, to save himself, his family, and all humanity from a holocaust that could shake civilisation to its very core.

I asked Sean why he wrote the To Fear the Dawn and whether there are any Biblical themes:

The theme revolves around God's sovereignty. His will comes to pass despite all of mankind's best efforts to thwart Him. On a micro-level Nicholas, my protagonist is an atheist who has no interest in God. However, God has his number and everything Nicholas does - every direction he turns - he is forced to face the truth until he can no longer ignore it. 

On a macro level, consider the Babylonian empire in Old Testament times. The greatest political and military force the world had ever seen was little more than a pawn in God's hands used to turn His people back to Him. While Babylon does not feature in this book per se, it is the Biblical narrative from which I drew my antagonist for To Fear The Dawn.

I enjoy writing characters who find themselves on the cusp of faith in Jesus; people who have been confronted with God's truth but who have not yet embraced it or who have not yet allowed God to transform their lives in any meaningful way. There is a brutal honesty in these characters that simply makes them more interesting to me as a writer. They simply don't know, what is or is not acceptable in western Christian culture. They say and do inappropriate things without even realising how another might judge their behaviour or find it offensive. I enjoy exploring how God brings about that change as we slowly morph from the old into the new.

It's just a personal preference as a writer. While I acknowledge that there is plenty to explore in that seasoned Christian stereotype who has learned to adhere to the socially accepted norms of church culture, I simply find such characters less interesting. As such, most of my protagonists are people on a journey to faith rather than stalwart believers.

To Fear The Dawn deviated from that slightly as one of its protagonists is a priest (seasoned Christian stereotype) who is forced to confront a rather sinister past. This character was supposed to play second fiddle to the main protagonist but, I confess, he actually stole the show for me. In this character, I found an opportunity to explore that aspect of our Christian walk where we are confronted with our past; those things that we know are sinful but with which we still privately struggle despite our best efforts to live the life God has called us to.

For most of us, these issues are relatively easy to hide from those around us. They may be lustful thoughts or a propensity for gossip - or maybe an overly materialistic attitude. All of these can be tempered and easily hidden behind a Christian facade at church on Sunday. But what happens when the issue an individual struggles with is a far more destructive or socially unacceptable one? Does that make them a lesser Christian? My second protagonist was such a character and I revelled in exploring the often questionable choices he made - and guilt after the fact - when he was thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

If what you have now read has whetted your appetite for more, here is an excerpt and Sean's reason for choosing it: 

I chose this scene because it shows the protagonist at his absolute weakest. Nicholas Gallagher is a man who is accustomed to being in full control of his own destiny. Atheism comes easily to him in such a position. Suddenly, all that control is stripped away and he is thrust into a situation where others determine every aspect of his life; when he eats, when he sleeps, his freedom -  even his very life and death are in the hands of his captors. 

While God did not bring about the circumstances in which Nicholas finds himself, He will use the situation to bring about His purposes. Even though Nicholas doesn't realise it yet, his rebirth has already begun. This is the start of a journey that will lead Nicholas, spiritually, to the place God wants him to be.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~Start of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nicholas awoke at the distant sound of a clanging door. He opened his eyes, but it made little difference. He could barely see the edge of his bed in the shadowy cell. The slits between the bars on his door were little more than slightly lighter shades of black. There may have been a moon outside, but the prison's interior was like a dank cellar with the door fastened shut. He could hear, however. Things moved in the night and he'd learnt to sleep lightly. Even now, he could hear the scuttling of tiny feet as some sort of unidentifiable vermin moved about the floor.

He shivered slightly and pulled the sack-like prison blanket to his shoulders. It smelled like dirty socks and provided all the comfort of sandpaper. Prison was certainly the great equaliser, he reflected bitterly. All his money and power outside were worthless to him in here.

Nicholas had heard about the corruption inside prisons, but so far had experienced none. The guards had refused to treat him any differently from the rest of the prisoners and had become openly hostile at even the hint of a bribe. He hadn’t been allowed so much as a telephone call outside his legal rights.

If anything, they seemed more ruthless with him than most of the other criminals in the establishment and had taken pleasure in taunting him with the threat of bringing some of the more hardened criminals to visit his cell in the night.

Nicholas understood all too well, what such a visit might mean. The thought terrified him, but so far, their threats had been empty. On two occasions, the night staff had woken him in the small hours by jiggling keys in the lock. They had rattled the door to his cell, but it had been nothing more than their sick idea of a joke.

He refused to give them the satisfaction of showing his fear, but he'd cowered under his blanket, waiting for the moment to pass. The worst part of prison was how powerless it made him feel.

He'd discussed the incidents with his lawyer, but the man had told him to keep quiet about it. A complaint laid with the warden would achieve little, as Nicholas had no proof. It would merely be his word against that of the guards. In fact, such a complaint might even annoy them enough to want to teach him a lesson and invite more serious aggression.

“The best thing you can do is keep quiet and show no fear.” Those had been Jason Kreely’s words.

But you’re not the one stuck in a cell while potential rapists rattle the keys outside your door.

He longed for Jessica. Not a minute went by that he didn’t think of her. Jason had advised against bringing her to the prison, even in visiting hours. The mere sight of her would cause enough jealousy among the guards and other inmates to make Nicholas a target. The price of marrying a supermodel.

Nicholas had been incredulous at the outlandish statement, but Jason Kreely had been firm. “Forget everything you understand about human nature, Nicholas. These people have no moral compass; that’s why they’re here. And remember, the guards are not much better than the inmates. There is very little difference between the two. Don’t give them a reason to bully you. If you do, they will torment you until you break under the strain and then silence you before you have a chance to speak.”

“Why can’t you get me out of here?” Nicholas had been on the verge of tears. It was unlike him, but weeks of stress and constant threats on his body and very life were beginning to take their toll. Not to mention the fact that he stood to spend the best years of his life in prison.

Nicholas had to constantly remind himself that not everyone was his enemy. He'd actually fired Jason at one point and accused him of conspiring with the courts against their case, before coming to his senses and apologising. Jason had been gracious and never mentioned the incident.

The idea of a conspiracy still hovered over Nicholas like an oppressive tyrant. He was unable to shake the idea that other prisoners were watching his every move as if waiting to strike the moment a chance presented itself. He tried to convince himself that they were merely curious of the newcomer, but it was impossible.

He felt like one fighting the tide. Willow's documents had vanished and so had his witnesses, the policemen he'd given the documents to. He had considered mentioning the Anglican minister to Jason but was afraid that Kanabas might meet the same end as the policemen. Decklin Kanabas was his only hope and Nicholas refused to risk giving him up to the people who had put him in prison and sealed his fate.

One thing prison had taught him was to trust nobody. He wouldn’t even risk a phone call, as his movements and conversations could be monitored far too easily inside the prison walls. When the time came, he would contact Kanabas, but not before.

Nicholas knew enough about the law to know that he needed to be proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. It was a long shot, but if a priest could testify and be convincing enough to a judge – even one who was perhaps less than impartial – he still had a chance.

Footsteps interrupted his thoughts. Three or four sets. He held his breath as they approached his cell. They stopped outside and once again, he heard the keys jingling, searching for the lock.

He had played out the scenario every night since the first incident and knew what he needed to do. With quivering hands, he reached for the loose slat carefully positioned near the top of his bed within easy reach. All the while, he wished fervently that this was just another sick prank on the part of the guards.

The slat had been easily concealed. It had, in fact, been a handle from a broken broom. Nicholas had been told to get rid of the item and had quietly slipped the handle down his collar and the upper part of his right leg. One became inventive in prison. It had taken several nights of scraping, but he had managed to sharpen the broken end to a point and kept it hidden under his mattress.

“Kom ryk seun, come rich boy. It’s time to work for your money.” Constable van Rensburg. Nicholas recognised the guard’s voice. The man had tormented him from the moment he’d arrived.

Several chuckles echoed in the darkness. Some were the voices of guards, but others were of a more sinister timbre that bore the mark of prison inmates.

The keys rattled in the lock once more. Nicholas closed his eyes tightly. Then he heard the click. This was no joke, he realised. This time he faced the real thing.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~End of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~

To Fear the Dawn has a good ranking on Amazon: 

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,625 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

And some very positive and encouraging reviews. Here is just a sample:

To read more go here: To Fear the Dawn Reviews

on January 26, 2017
Just finished reading this book and was super impressed at author Sean Young's ability to hold my ADD brain's attention span captive. It's definitely the kind of book that you need to block out some time to read. While there are many changes of settings with characters on the run, overall, I felt like the passage through the plot was realistic. The premise at the beginning seems a bit out there, but, the farther you read, the more plausible it becomes and makes a person really think about who really controls world-influencers: the people with power, the wealthy and the like. I must say it was very unsettling. Using a priest to aid and abet the main character, Nicholas who was truly seeking the truth and the right path, but couldn't always use a virtuous route, was such an interesting character development. Mr Young developed his characters into full-dimensional people--so much so, that at times I wanted to cheer for them and, at other times, I wanted to wring their necks for their stupidity. Seeing a man-of-the-cloth developed so thoroughly was a pleasant surprise. It created a paradox in my mind initially that led me to some greater self-discovery. It is a thriller so there is obvious evil and the consequences of it throughout the book. Which "right" will you side with? When will the truth finally be revealed or will it? The climax and ending took me completely by surprise. However, it doesn't leave you hanging and needing to buy a sequel which I really appreciated. Kudos to author Sean Young on an excellent thriller that will appeal to both men and women and keep you riveted while reading.

on January 4, 2017
Sean is able to write a story that has many twists and turns and keeps the reader engaged. It was hard to put down the book once I started reading it. The book makes the readers pulse race at the many dangers faced, and continually desire to see the good overcome the evil. If you enjoy reading suspense, then pick up a copy of "To Fear the Dawn" and be prepared for a wonderful journey through the intrigues of good vs. evil. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys Christian Suspense.

on January 28, 2017
I love mystery & action, I love twists & turns... And a good story. This book has all of it. Without the garbage - without vulgar language or smut. Add in the quiet foundation of a Biblical worldview of faith, integrity, & strength and its a very enjoyable read. Sad it's over! Thank You!

You can follow Sean on the following social media platforms:

Web Sites

Has this whetted your appetite to buy Harvest of Prey or to read further excerpts? If so, then please click on the BUY or PREVIEW icons below:

Readers and reviews are an author's best asset, so I encourage any reader of Christian mystery and suspense, political intrigue, conspiracy theory, Christian inspirational, to consider reading To Fear the Dawn and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).

Saturday, 11 February 2017

To the Close of the Age by KennethT. Zemsky.

To the Close of the Age

In spring 2033 husband and wife scientists Jason and Rebecca invent the world's first time machine.  After a few brief trials sending inanimate objects through time, and with fuel for only one trip, they decide to visit the most significant moment in human history: the first Easter in 33 AD, to see if Jesus actually rose from the dead and to bring back proof to the modern world.  

It turns out time travels in waves, and en route Jason makes a brief visit to 14th century France, where he helps a young couple attacked by brigands.  In return, they present him with a gift of woven fabric.  Jason continues his journey to the time of Christ, landing near Bethany during Holy Week.  He visits Martha, Mary and Lazarus who provide him directions to Jerusalem where Jesus is praying in solitude before the high holy days. 

A freak accident knocks Jason and another bystander unconscious.  When Jason recovers, it is Holy Thursday and with his knowledge of history, he heads to the Garden of Gethsemane, unwittingly leading members of the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.  It turns out the other man who had been injured was Judas, on his way to betray Our Lord.  

Jason is unsuccessful in trying to prevent Jesus' execution.  He helps carry the lifeless body to the tomb, where the fabric he had received is used as the burial shroud. Overwhelmed with grief he fails to witness the Resurrection. However while bemoaning his fate, he comes in contact with the risen Lord. Convinced that time travel entails too much risk, Rebecca destroys the device and the couple decides to remain in the first century, where they become part of the earliest Christian community.

The Guru's Review: 

The author asked me to review his novel. I had my reservations as it had a Catholic flavour to it. However, when I discussed this with the author, he assured that despite him being a Catholic, his intent was for it to be a Christian book, not just a Catholic one. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

This novel is well constructed. Zemsky writes well and the plot flows like a babbling brook, no peaks or troughs. The pace is steady and keeps you coming back for more. I appreciated the humour included and it was a good balance to the suspense necessary in a novel like this. The author has three major plot lines that run alongside each other. As you read, you can see that at some stage these are destined to intersect. You also perceive that when they do, the collision is going to make the outcome explosive and suspenseful. That is exactly how it occurs and it is done well. I appreciate the research the author conducted both on the historical and the scientific aspects of the plot.

I did enjoy these aspects of the novel. 

What I did not enjoy about this novel is the spiritual aspects of the plot. I became very frustrated and disappointed with these. 

As stated above, this novel does have a Catholic flavour. It does show some of its doctrines. One example is Peter being appointed as Pope by Jesus himself. Many commentaries suggest that what Jesus based His church on was the testimony of who Peter states Jesus is and not based on Peter because he said this. 

Another is Father Carlo's attitude to prayer. He feels unworthy of coming into the Lord's presence and confessing his sin.Yet, it is just this that the bible states we are to do. Instead, he prays to two "saints", Thomas Aquinas and Peter the Apostle imploring them to act on his behalf to God. 

These two doctrines alone reminded me of the reasons I left the Catholic church of my upbringing. Amongst other reasons, I see that these are contrary to what the bible says about these issues. I was hoping I would not experience this while reading this novel and it was one of the reasons I had doubts whether to read it or not. When the author stated above that he wanted to write a Christian novel and not just a Catholic one, I was hoping that Catholic doctrine would not be included or blatant if included. 

I find it difficult to reconcile his comment concerning the Muslim and Christian faiths, 
Jason himself had read the Qur'an. He'd been surprised, quite pleasantly, to see how peaceful and poetic the scripture was and to realise the high regard it accorded Christians and Jews. The Qur'an referred to the latter two as "the people of the Book," referring favourably to the Bible.
I find this disturbing. I am not sure how the author can make this statement. Would love to see how this is shown in reality. The reality I and millions of others see shows something very different and more disturbing than this statement. I believe that it is not difficult to discover what the Qur'an is about, the religion it represents, how it is practised and the deception and evil that is at its core. Hardly peaceful and poetic or showing high regard to Christians and Jews. 

Further into the plot, I became ever more disappointed and frustrated. 

Zemsky has Jason, the main character, time travel to Israel during the week of Jesus' crucifixion. He wants to prove that Jesus' resurrection did occur and to bring back evidence. So why then does he portray Jason trying to prevent the arrest and subsequent trial of Jesus, trying to prove to the authorities, namely Pilate, that Jesus is innocent and a travesty of justice was being carried out and therefore Jesus should not be crucified? If Jason prevents Jesus' execution, then he effectively destroys this evidence and invalidates the reason he time travelled. If Jesus's death is prevented, then mankind is not saved from the effects of sin and death. Surely this latter fact is part of the basic understanding of those who have a relationship with Jesus and forms some of the essential underpinnings of their faith? Why mess with it?

To me, it would have been more effective having Jason solid in his faith with this underpinning, not interfering in Jesus' arrest and trial and therefore being able to gather evidence of the resurrection's veracity. But more significantly, it would show that faith is more important than emotive reactions (in this case to what Jesus went through) that can derail one's faith. Either I have missed something or the author's intention has not been clear in its delivery with this plot line.

The other aspect that I found frustrating was that due to an accident out of Jason's control, he ends up as taking Judas' role and betraying Jesus while the biblical Judas still hangs himself but for a different reason than what the Bible states! 

Zemsky also has a subplot of The Shroud of Turin but I am not so concerned about this theme as I don't consider it amounts to much as in reality, the jury is still out as to whether the Shroud is what it is purported to be, the burial cloth of Jesus. 

The other aspect where this poetic licence from Zemsky is out of control is having Jason write one of the gospels (the Book of Jason) and the Gospel of Luke did not happen! (Matthew, Mark, Jason and John, as stated in this novel). By this stage, I had had enough of this rewriting of some of the main constructs of the Bible and its main tenets. If my copy of this novel was in the printed format, I would have thrown the book against the wall.

I loath to add this next bit. The author stated to me in an email, that he "wanted to be pure as to God's Word" and to "honour God". Well, to me, this falls short of that. His attempt to "present scripture in an entertaining way, to get non-churchgoers to think about Jesus and his message", (again his words an email), misses this as well. Entertaining to a point but this ends when his poetic licence becomes over the top. I appreciate that this was his motive but it is not convincing. If Zemsky wanted non-churchgoers to think about Jesus and His message, then where is the gospel message or presentation?

Despite the above, I did enjoy the portrayal of Jesus, including that He would have a sense of humour and how he interacted with Jason and Rebecca. That portrayal honoured God. From talking to authors, I fully understand that portraying Jesus in a novel can be one of the most daunting aspects of characterisation and most feel they never do Him justice. I can understand why; they are trying to depict God who they have only experienced from the Bible and their own personal experience of Him and/or of other experiences/revelations. However, these are only the tip of the iceberg of who He is. 

This author shows a lot of promise in his writing. The technique of writing and creating a novel he has more than the basics for a new author. I just pray he can tweak the spiritual/biblical poetic licence into something that does honour God, His Word, encourage the reader's faith and lead them to consider who God really is and what He achieved for them on the Cross.

If you like a Catholic flavour to your novel, you will like this. Not for me, though!

Mildly Recommended 2/5. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Guest Post: Novelist Alexander Preston

Today, I am spotlighting novelist Alexander Preston and his debut novel Harvest of Prey. I discovered Alexander in one of the Facebook Christian Reader groups we both belong to where he was promoting his new novel. Very interesting and intriguing premise. The description did not have any obvious Christian/biblical themes so I contacted Alexander asking him about this and I liked his response. I wanted to know more so offered him this Author/Novel Spotlight. 

So sit back and allow yourself to enlightened about the comprehensive account of the background to Alexander's Harvest of Prey novel. Firstly, let us discover a little about him: 

Alexander Preston is the pen name of an aspiring novelist hoping to produce multiple works in the science fiction, fantasy and thriller genres. His style is based on an old tradition of “fiction written by Christians” predating the rise of the “Christian fiction” market – his role models in this effort include Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky and J.R.R. Tolkien. Outside of writing, his goal is to become an active space advocate – one of his favorite books is The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin. He is currently the indie author for Harvest of Prey and resides in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife and son

Now let's have a look at Harvest of Prey. which was released on October 21, 2016, in e-book and paperback editions:

A team of naturalists find themselves facing a nightmare beyond anything they have ever known - and the product of unspeakable evil.

Philip Caster, a former Green Beret now working as a zoologist, leads an international team in Indonesia whose revolutionary new program may spell salvation for the endangered Sumatran tiger. They will release six artificially-conceived cubs into the wild, accompanied by their surrogate mothers. The effort will prove the feasibility of in vitro breeding as a new tool against extinction. But its success is overshadowed by the sudden emergence of a horror beyond reckoning. Something has been unleashed in the forests of Sumatra. A life-form never meant to walk the earth. One that claims humanity as its only prey. 

As death unfolds around them, Caster and his circle of friends must uncover the truth behind an abomination: the instrument of dark and all-too-human forces pursuing a twisted ideological vision. Their creation has killed already - and their plans will consume millions more

I asked Alexander why he wrote the Harvest of Prey: 

The Dark Corners of Heaven and Earth: Harvest of Prey and My Literary Vision

Harvest of Prey is not, strictly speaking, “Christian fiction” but rather “fiction written by a Christian”. I’ve taken this approach for several reasons. The primary one is that denominational boundaries (and their accompanying doctrinal disagreements) can make the term “Christian” a dicey one. It’s fully possible to place two self-described “Christians” in the same room and have each of them deny the other’s right to that label. Calvinist Christians, for example, have fundamentally different views on salvation from, say, Roman Catholic Christians (incidentally, I myself embrace neither of these two doctrines – I belong to a little-known denomination with precursors among the Anabaptists and Mennonites). Also, Harvest of Prey, although it discusses faith (at length, in a few places), is not concerned with the protagonist’s attainment of personal salvation – I’ve omitted that particular element for the prior doctrinal reasons (I intend to use it, however, for a future historical fiction series set during the biblical era).

The second reason has to do with the particular direction I’ve taken with my creative process and vision. As an avid reader not only of speculative fiction but of classical literature, I’ve been inspired by the example of writers such as John Milton, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky and (of course) J.R.R. Tolkien. All of them were men of deep faith and all of them wrote before the rise of a separate market for specifically “Christian” fiction. It’s been my opinion that once a particular type of fictional story sparks a genre in its own right, it inevitably becomes vulnerable to clichés and tropes. This process is by no mean unique to the Christian fiction genre, but can also be seen in the “Paranormal Romance” and “YA Dystopian” genres that have arisen in the wake of the Twilight and Hunger Games series. As a writer who hopes to maintain originality and break new ground in the process, I have chosen to draw upon an earlier tradition.

So, a little background about the book itself.

Harvest of Prey has been written as a kind of “modern parable” to illustrate the moral implications of certain contemporary ideas, primarily the more radical wing of environmentalism and the value (or lack thereof) it places upon human life. At the same time, it also touches upon the ethics of genetic modification as well as the philosophy of science itself (primarily the different approaches implied by atheistic materialism vs. Judeo-Christian theism). These have all been featured before in fiction, but few have explored their full potential for a powerful story. I’m hoping to break new ground by introducing a gripping, visceral theme of Good vs. Evil that can reach the moral imagination of readers across a variety of faith (or agnostic) backgrounds.

The basic idea for Harvest of Prey came to me about four years ago during a solo trip to Washington D.C which I’ve described at length on the Amazon Harvest of Prey book page. During the writing process, however, I had several sources of inspiration:

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

Although one of his last works, this book was actually my first exposure to the late Michael Crichton. I had already decided on an environmental-based storyline at this point and selected this book specifically for its facts-based approach to a similar topic. I would recommend it to anyone looking not only for a thrilling read but also a thought-provoking one. It proved quite formative for me in its description of politicised science, connected here to the global warming debate, but also applicable to the very similar one regarding resource depletion and human population levels.

Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin

I had already known Robert Zubrin as the author of The Case for Mars (another book I highly recommend), but I gained a newfound respect for the man as a thinker and a person after reading Merchants of Despair. Within, he sketches an extended history and overview of the modern environmental and human population control movements (the one being largely the flip side of the other), with a special emphasis on the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Prior to this, I had never heard of this group, its activities, or their effect worldwide, which include childbirth restrictions (it took a leading role in China’s one-child policy), forced sterilizations, mandated abortions and the blocking of essential medical resources throughout the Third World (he darkly implies they are directly responsible for the current AIDS epidemic in Africa). This book, more than any other, brought home to me the despicable anti-human ideology dominating much of contemporary environmentalism. It directly shaped the portrayal of my villains in Harvest of Prey.

Watchers by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz has long been one of my favorite authors, not the least because of his original plots, literary writing style and lack of Hollywood clichés. I count this particular one as a primary influence due to the dominant theme of genetic engineering, which is also an essential element in Harvest of Prey.

Monster by Frank Peretti

Frank Peretti is another of my favorites, particularly within the Christian market (I only regret that his output has essentially ceased since Illusion). I remember first reading this book around the age of 15 or 16 and revisited it as a reference source when I started writing Harvest of Prey. It’s a gripping, well-written story in its own right (also raising thought-provoking points as to the scientific veracity – or lack thereof – of Darwinism), but was especially informative for me regarding the process of DNA sequencing.

Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy

I read this book (or rather the abridged, Readers’ Digest version of it) some years before I began actively writing Harvest of Prey. I know of no other author who has ever matched Tom Clancy as the master of the well-researched technothriller. This book is a gripping, lurid portrayal of the world of international terrorism before 9/11 brought its Islamist wing to the forefront of global headlines. It also comes within a hair’s breadth of science fiction by seamlessly integrating a conspiratorial subplot regarding the release of a deadly virus by radical environmentalists. I flipped back through the relevant pages of this book many times as I was constructing the outline for my own.

The Larger Universe

The guiding thrust of my story ideas can largely be summed up in the words of Shakespeare: 

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

Taking inspiration from that quote, I characterise my stories as “Tales from the dark corners of Heaven and Earth”, with an emphasis on the inherent mystery and wonder implied by a biblical worldview. While a standalone novel, Harvest of Prey marks the debut of a complete fictional universe. Believe it or not, it has actually grown out of an effort for a book series with a far future, space opera setting. The original story I had in mind was set in the year 2840 on a distant planet. The worldbuilding involved, however, necessitated what was at the time a prohibitive level of research (mostly due to my self-imposed standards for scientific accuracy and originality of plot). I still envision writing this particular story at a future date, and I fully intend to back it up with a complete future history. I decided, however, to start that history with a lineup of present-day and near-future storylines where the worldbuilding requirement wasn’t quite so intensive. Harvest of Prey is the first, and I have plans for seven more of them so far, each featuring a unique storyline theme (usually involving social commentary): transhumanism/artificial intelligence, the legacy of Communism (covered in a trilogy), cryptozoology and the UFO phenomenon (something far different from what many believe it to be).

Once I’ve produced all the novels to bring my “future history” to its intended ending point, I plan to expand my fictional universe in the opposite temporal direction, producing a book series set during the time of Genesis. The emphasis will be on the pre-Flood world and the Tower of Babel. From there, Lord willing, I just might continue on through the rest of the Bible. I am saving this effort for the very last so I can develop my craft as a writer in the meantime – I would wish to give no less than my absolute best when it comes to adapting the Scriptural accounts to fiction.

If what you have now read has whetted your appetite for more, here is an excerpt. Alexander has also provided a reason for this excerpt: 

This particular section I consider most representative of the entire "feel" and "atmosphere" of the novel. I remember being able to picture it the most vividly as I was writing. It also marks the point where the "action" kicks off.

~~~~~~~~~~~~Start of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Section of Chapter 3]

The village was small, even insignificant compared to the vast expanse of the park whose edge it bordered and existence predated. Its physical infrastructure was modest yet stately. Three rumah gadang longhouses, rendered unmistakable by the dramatically curved structure of their roofs, exerted a quiet dominance over the hamlet. In accordance with the customs of the Minang people, here still strictly observed, each long house was jointly owned by all the women of a single family – a matrilineal practice which made the Minang peculiarly distinct within the Islamic world. Surrounding each were smaller structures built for the married daughters and their husbands. The only other structure of note was the surau mosque which housed the village’s few remaining adolescent boys.

It was relatively poor, but had not experienced the desperate impoverishment that gripped many similar communities in Sumatra, supporting itself through subsistence cultivation of the small rice fields to its north. This was occasionally supplemented by guide service for the tourists that came through Kerinci every year. The sparse members of its three extended families numbered little more than fifty. In earlier times, the population had been far larger – long before the permanent departure of the younger and more ambitious for new opportunities in the nearby urban economy of Padang. The remainder, largely ignored by the state authorities and united by ties of blood, still ruled themselves through their traditional adat customary law, observing a pattern preserved over generations.

Their hamlet was unique in that it had seen almost no form of significant disaster or pestilence during the entirety of its existence. They were known by even their close neighbors for the serene, changeless peace that characterized their entire manner of life. Indeed, they seemed almost to provide a living example of the otherwise completely mythological image of idyllic village culture. It was often the subject of perplexed and rueful commentary among the elder patriarchs as to how the younger generation could have ever wanted to leave such a home as theirs.

Night brought to each of them a sleep as peaceful as their waking hours. And, therefore, they had no warning.

The eyes stared out through the darkness, their bearer invisible, unmoving, yet seeing all. He had been observing this place since the onset of twilight, his patience infinite and inhuman. Golden irises were now obscured by pupils that had progressively dilated with the setting of the sun. Had anyone seen, they would have appeared as massive pits that swallowed all light in their blackness. Windows into nothing.

He maintained his vigil, watching the dancing shadows as the lights of each dwelling were dimmed and extinguished one by one. Darkness and silence finally reigned as the villagers fell into the deceptive bliss of sleep.

It was time.

For the first moment in hours, he broke his own silence with a low, purring vocalization that carried easily across the night air. Only one other was at means to hear it. His response was an answering rumble that carried from his own position mere yards removed, acknowledging his companion's signal and signifying acquiescence.

Moving together as one, they emerged out of the midst of the thick jungle growth which had heretofore concealed their presence. Their strong, powerful limbs carried them forward with fluid grace, silent as wraiths. They advanced with deadly purpose, their black forms giving them absolute invisibility in the darkness. Yet there was no darkness for them. Their nocturnal eyes gave them vision as clear as the midday light, illuminating every detail of their surroundings in a crisp, accented relief. The eyes of hunters, proved in kill.

The one who had given the initial signal went slightly ahead of his companion, a sign that he, who had the greater familiarity with the area, would lead the attack. It was not a hierarchical gesture, for both these young males stood in a relation of absolute equality. Even brotherhood. Later, as they found prey farther afield, the other would lead his share of hunts.

They came to a brief stop, their path having led them directly towards the surau mosque. They stood completely unmoving only a few yards away. Joints locked, muscles warm and tense with anticipation. A sharp, imperceptible flex of the leader’s nostrils confirmed the scent. Males. Young ones like themselves and strong. They would be dealt with first.

Motion abruptly returned as they circled the structure towards its front entrance on the east side. Unlike their better-known Arabian brethren, the worshippers in this mosque, living over 4000 miles east of Mecca, prayed with their faces toward the west.

The leader came to a stop at the mosque's wooden twin doors. A slight probe with his nose and eyes confirmed the presence of an internal latch, just visible between the crack of the doors.

He lifted himself up on his hind legs, bracing the right forepaw against the side wall while he tested the doors' strength with the left. The wood was old and pliable, already showing the first signs of rot. Its builders, hardly anticipating either robbery or attack this deep into their forest dwelling, had not yet bothered to replace it.

He carefully manipulated his paw, the soft wood giving way to a progressively widening the gap between the doors. Finally, he was able to insert his dew claw, catching hold of the latch and lifting it up on its hinges. The door slid easily inward. Its primitive locking mechanism ultimately provided no more resistance than the talismanic symbols affixed to the structure’s outer walls.

They entered cautiously, the scent of the building's occupants still filling their nostrils. Their ears swivelled several times intense motions, bodies rigidified in hound-like postures. Then they abruptly released, satisfied by the shallow, rhythmic breaths confirming their prey's unconscious state.

A moment’s glance illuminated their surroundings. The doorway opened into a large hall flanked with supporting pillars and a large basin in the middle. Empty now, but filled with water in the daylight hours for the worshippers’ ritual cleansing. At the far wall stood the semicircular mihrab pointing the way to Mecca. A large expanse of carpeted floor stretched out before it to accommodate daily prayers. At either side of the building stood a flight of stairs, leading to a second-floor balcony that encircled the entire inner structure. It housed the residential quarters and their sleeping occupants.

The leader turned towards his companion, exchanging mutual understanding in a split second of eye contact. Each turned and made their way towards opposite stairs which they swiftly scaled.

At either side, they followed an identical set of tactics. The leader easily nudged open the first bedroom door, zeroing in on the scent it all but concealed. He absorbed the sight inside with something close to delight. There were three in this room, all of them asleep atop packed futon mattresses close to the floor. Their chests rose and fell automatically with the preprogrammed motions of the lungs. Aware of nothing and dead to the world.

He moved closer, nearly intoxicated by the rich, exquisite scent wafting from their bodies – and their veins. His shadow – such as it was in total darkness – fell across one of the somnolent forms as he gazed down upon it. Whatever the waking emotions of its owner, the young face now held an expression of profound well-being, free of worry and unaware of the danger. Healthy and vital, sustained with a rich spring of life waiting to be lived.

He clamped his jaws around the neck in one swift motion, knife-sharp canines slipping between the vertebrae with surgical precision. The kill took place in absolute silence, without even the expected crunch of shattered bone. In a macabre kind of mercy, the victim felt only the oblivion of brain death. The act was repeated twice more before he moved on to the adjoining room, where the same took place. Across the building, his companion proceeded in perfect mimicry. Neither set of victims ever felt the slightest physical awareness of their fate.

Barely a quarter of an hour passed before all the mosque’s residents were dispatched, all of them by an identically executed severance of the brain stem. Only then did the hunters pause their deathly enterprise and begin to feed. They consumed a single carcass apiece, rewarding their own efforts with a meal of fresh meat. The bones were also put to use, chewed apart for the nutritious marrow housed inside them.

Thus fortified, they took their leave of the mosque, splitting off in separate directions once more, each on a path that took them north and south, respectively, covering the entirety of the village. The deeds they had performed at the mosque they replicated inside every dwelling which housed even a single breath of life. All of them performed in a silence as complete as the death they brought.

They both fed again several times that night. But they left nothing behind as it began to fade. One by one, the remaining bodies were dragged from their place of death, taken to a storage site they had both selected long before executing the planned attack. One with its previous supply not yet exhausted but already requiring replenishment.

With their hunger freshly sated, they would rest for a time. But their hunt was far from over - and it would never cease.

~~~~~~~~~~~~End of Excerpt~~~~~~~~~~~~

Harvest of Prey has some positive 5 Star reviews from Amazon: 

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Alexander leaves us with this quote from J.R.R. Tolkien:
“Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

Readers and reviews are an author's best asset, so I encourage any reader of Christian science-fiction/fantasy, supernatural, technothrillers, genetic engineering, to consider reading Harvest of Prey and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).