CFBA Tour – Hurt by Travis Thrasher

The Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is featuring Hurt, a young adult novel by Travis Thrasher, categorized on the back of the book as mystery and thriller. One of those endorsing the book, however, says The Solitary Tales books are superior entries “in the genre of Christian horror and teenage angst.” Oh, joy! My two favorite things! 😕 But wait.

The Story. Seventeen year old Chris Buckley has returned to the town of Solitary to save his mom. For all he knows she’s being held against her will by an evil pastor trying to manipulate him to do things he doesn’t want to do. And to keep him from the fledgling faith he recently embraced. The problem is, Pastor Marsh and the man he works for, as well as the man who does his bidding, won’t stop at threats. In reality, no one Chris knows and loves is safe. Who can he turn to for help? Who would believe him if he told all he knows about the men behind the evil in Solitary?

Evaluation. Travis Thrasher is an excellent writer–that’s clear from the start. He creates a character with a unique voice. Yes, he’s full of angst, but he isn’t without hope. In fact a good portion of the book is about the protagonist wrestling with his faith or discovering a new love.

Both of these threads–and sometimes they intertwined–are masterfully written. I liked Chris as a guy who appeared self-assured though inwardly he feels like he hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing. I like his protective nature, his inability to say all he’s thinking, his awe at the bright spot this one special girl has become in his life.

The horror never felt particularly horrifying to me, but I think that aspect of the series was more prevalent in the first three books. In Hurt, the perpetrators have been unmasked, the goal of their schemes is clear. The real focus is on how Chris is going to respond when the critical D-day approaches.

To be honest, the end wasn’t what I’d hoped. I wanted Chris to have a better plan, to do more, stand up for what he believed, resist evil. Instead it seemed as if he was still in reactionary mode, which he’d mostly been in throughout the novel. He had put some plans in motion, but what those things were mostly happened off stage. The one critical event had some flaws.

For (a purposefully circumspect) example (to avoid spoilers), at one point Chris needs help with a belt, but later in the scene, he seems to have no trouble with this belt even though there’s no one around to provide the same kind of help he required earlier.

There’s also a place where Chris could have exercised at least a modicum of forgiveness–the kind he’s received–but he spurns the opportunity in what seemed to me to be a cold-hearted disregard for life. In standing against evil, I’d like to see the character offer a sharp contrast–not returning evil for evil.

All in all, the book moved at a brisk pace. There were moments that were thoroughly engaging. I can see fans of horror embracing this series. I think the Christian elements and faith discussions were natural to the character and his circumstances. I liked the contrast between evil Pastor Marsh’s “sermons” and those of Chris’s girlfriend’s pastor.

Recommendation. Would a non-Christian read these books? Sure, if he wasn’t predisposed to hate Christians or Christianity. I think it’s an entertaining story without a bit of preachiness. Chris’s struggle with his faith seems believable under the pressure and intimidation with which he lives.

What about Christians? I see less here for Christians. Young adults may relate to the characters, but I’m not sure what they’d come away with.

Nevertheless, readers of any kind who like horror or thrillers can enjoy Hurt, no doubt.

– – – – –
About the Author

After college, Travis Thrasher targeted working in the publishing industry and was fortunate to find a job early after graduation. He worked as Author Relations Manager for Tyndale House Publishers, the publisher of his first two novels.

The thirteen years he spent working in author relations taught him the business of publishing as well as the psyche of writers.

Early on, he made a deliberate choice of not wanting to be boxed in by a brand or a genre. Instead, Travis has chosen time and time again to write the stories that mean something to him at that moment. He views his first ten years of being published as training and practice. Those novels in many ways were written for himself.

The four years of writing full time have taught him the discipline and determination necessary to make it as a novelist. They’ve also served to close the chapter on what is hopefully just one era in his writing journey.

The stories continue to fill his head like they did when he was in third grade. The only difference is that Travis now knows what to do with those stories. His goal continues to be to tell stories that move him as well as his readers. He wants to continue to experiment and take risks, but more than anything he wants to provide readers a satisfying experience.

The dream remains the same. To try and write something magnificent. To make up wild worlds full of wonderfully rich characters. To make sense of the world through the stories he tells. And to try and inspire hope with the words he writes.

Learn more about Travis and his work at his web site, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Published in: on January 14, 2013 at 6:02 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – Hurt by Travis Thrasher  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Darkness Follows, Day 3

Some books aren’t destined to be loved, I don’t think, whereas their authors might be. Stephen King comes to mind as an example. I suspect Mike Dellosso, author of the CSFF Blog Tour June feature, Darkness Follows, might also fall into this category.

Of course, this idea that authors can be loved even if their books aren’t, can be argued, depending on why a particular reader loves a book. For me, being appalled pretty much eliminates a novel from the “I love it” category. Others may well disagree.

All this to say, I am happy I read a Mike Dellosso novel. I’d happily recommend him to anyone who wants to read horror. At the same time, I won’t be reading another one of his.

I’ve said from time to time that I enjoy reading most genres, but not suspense or horror. And yet I’ve read some suspense and liked it, some Christian supernatural suspense and liked it. However, in reading reviews of those books, I discovered that readers who genuinely enjoy the suspense or horror genres thought the books I liked were too tame.

I don’t think any horror fan would find Darkness Follows tame.

Which is why I won’t read any more Dellosso novels. He’s too good. By that I mean, the story was the kind that comes alive. The characters seemed like real people, the growing darkness a real threat, the danger a tragedy waiting to happen. I hated it — in the same way that I hate roller coasters. Other people find the adrenaline rush thrilling, I find it horrific.

All that by way of introduction to my review. 😉

The Story.
Sam Travis is recovering from a brain injury — except he feels as if he’s not. He has begun to hear things, like sounds of battle, the kind that would have come from the Battle of Gettysberg that took place not far from his home. He’s also started seeing things, or more accurately, a person — his dead brother. The capper is, he’s starting to do things he doesn’t remember, specifically journaling as if he is Captain Samuel Whiting, a member of the US military during the Civil War.

Fearing for his sanity, Sam does not reveal what he’s experiencing to his wife or his little girl, Eva, though both are concerned for him and the changes they see. A gulf begins to grow between them, and Sam finds himself more and more drawn into what he perceives to be an inevitable darkness that propels him toward unspeakable actions.

The story is well-written and compelling. The prose is not lyrical but it is certainly above average. Scenes are vivid, action properly motivated, characters painted as individuals, each with his or her own unique story. The interaction between Sam and his daughter and between Sam and his wife was so natural which made the progression toward estrangement more and more painful.

The tension was palpable, and the suspense proved to be that “compelling” element.

The theme of love as the redeeming factor in a person’s life was clear — not not just love in a generic way, but Jesus’s love.

I had one minor issue that proved to be major for me. At one point the antagonist stalks his target, described to have brown hair. Because the character the reader would assume to be the target of a kidnapping had blond hair, I surmised that someone else was the actual target. Not so. Apparently it was an editing glitch. I admit I was disappointed because I thought that could have taken the story in an interesting direction.

The larger issue, however, was that some of the end didn’t seem earned. The explanation of brainwashing and neo-Nazi involvement was from out of the blue. The subconscious journal writing and the appearance of a message written in grass (when Sam was fully conscious and absent from the location) was never adequately explained. Nor was the inciting incident — the Civil War sounds and the shattered window that started him on his journey toward darkness.

Surprisingly, the puzzle pieces not quite fitting didn’t deter from the story. Only as I thought about it after finishing was I aware of the questions the story left a little scrambled.

This one is no yawner. The pages flew by, and if I enjoyed horror, I have no doubt that I would have discovered a new favorite author. Mike writes well!

That being said, this is horror. Actual ugly horror with horrific things happening. This is a book that earns the word Darkness in the title, and anyone picking it up should realize they are not getting a sanitized version of horror.

I highly recommend Darkness Follows to anyone interested in horror and particular to anyone who wants to see what Christian horror looks like. To anyone who doesn’t care for horror, stay away from this one.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

More about Christian Horror (?)

Before I get started, I want to mention I’ll be putting up the poll for the November CSFF Top Blogger Award soon. You might take some time to read the blog posts from the participants listed in the last post with three checks in front of their names. Those are the bloggers who are eligible for the award.

On Monday I concluded a discussion about the definition of horror with this paragraph:

So where does Shade fit in? Does Dr. Olson’s story about supernatural evil—for clearly, it is that, even though there are no vampires—exist to generate fear, or to wrestle with the forces of evil? Is it a story intended for nothing more than entertainment, or is it attempting a greater goal by entering into the examination of spiritual warfare?

My initial reaction to Shade was that it reminded me of a Frank Peretti book—not a particular one, but that kind of story that brings the supernatural to life in a contemporary setting. I have happily called such books “supernatural suspense,” because they are most definitely not slasher-variety horror. There is a greater purpose than to frighten.

Perhaps adding “Christian” mitigates the denotation of “horror,” and therefore “Christian Horror” is an accurate name for the types of novels (and short stories) that do something greater. I happen to think it is important that people come to grips with the spiritual world. The fact that demons exist, that Satan is real, that a battle is on-going seem to be important facts to grasp if a Christian is to take seriously the Apostle Paul’s admonition to put on spiritual armor.

I’m not so sure about fist fights and knife fights with demon-possessed characters, however. It seems to me that such plot developments may exist primarily to entertain. Not a bad thing, mind you. Stories need to be interesting, after all. But if a book is to reveal something about spiritual warfare in the here and now real world, perhaps the actual tools of fighting evil need to come to the forefront.

Otherwise, how is a reader to think? Evil does exist, but Melchi, who protected Hailey, is just a character in a book. Who is to protect readers, then? Does Shade give any insights into answers of that question?

I don’t think so. Hailey is a Christian, after all, but she does the least fighting of all. In fact, her most proactive role is to run away.

Yes, there are many unanswered questions in Shade, many of which may be addressed in future books. And there are the many subliminal references (I ran across another one today. The Blaise character I wasn’t sure to whom he referred? My guess is it’s Blaise Pascal, the noted 17th century mathematician and Christian apologist who wrote criticizing a trend in the church to use reason to justify certain sins). Yet the actual story seems to be a pleasant yarn, a good vs. evil struggle, with good coming out on top, mostly by happy coincidence and a selfless, sacrificial act from an off camera character.

In the end, I guess the reader needs to decide if he or she thinks this work exists for its entertainment value alone, or if it accomplishes something greater. My guess is Dr. Olson was trying for something greater. Did he pull it off? Up to you to decide.

Published in: on November 20, 2008 at 2:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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