Munnin’s Keep – A Review

Do you love The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or any other number of epic fantasy stories? I read the first chapter or two online and was hooked by Munnin’s Keep, so when it came across our desks I had to barter with Marcy to get to review this one.

As a huge fan of historical fantasy, I am familiar with all the standard epic fantasy fare: unfulfilled prophecies, spiritual quests, mythic creatures, reluctant heroes, and epic battles. And Munnin’s Keep delivered. (The wingless dragon was pretty cool, I have to say. Sounds much more intimidating and fearsome than a really big lizard, don’t you think? 🙂

Set in the turbulent ninth century in Britain, Theodric awakens as a slave near death with no memory of his own past or current circumstance. With the help of a collection of colourful characters, Theodric discovers he is the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy, and works to see that prophesy fulfilled in his own way.

While I was excited to see the afore-mentioned staples of the genre, I was disappointed by the lack of unique twist to those same epic devices. Without the unique twists the unfulfilled prophesy becomes predictable and the reluctant hero annoying. (In all fairness, I felt like smacking Aragorn after a while when it was obvious he would be King and refused to step up. I’m not the most patient of readers.)

However, what I really loved about this book, was the spiritual quest the hero undertook. I thought it was an honest, insightful and intelligent look at the traditions and customs of the Church. With rich historical details, the author excellently debunked the false nature of pagan cultures that thrive on fear and subterfuge—and then exposed the hypocrisy in the Church.

I would have liked to see that debate through. We knew what didn’t work for the pagans and for the Church, so what does? The hero never explored Christianity with the same insight and introspection that debunked the pagan cultures and would have given Christos credibility in that early polytheistic society. I would have liked that storyline more developed. That’s what made this story truly unique.

I enjoyed the small romantic sideline and thought the characters well-rounded and colourful. I found the suspense elements a little flat, but the spiritual journey of Theodric kept me reading. All in all, a novel that will make you think on certain levels, and at the same time provide that pleasant afternoon escape fiction lovers crave.

Munnin’s Keep by Brian C. Austin


Caught Dead – A Review

Sometimes congregational life can be murder. Author Jayne Self’s debut novel, Caught Dead, was shortlisted in the 2009 Best New Author contest sponsored by The Word Guild. The book was published as a weekly online serial by The Presbyterian Record.

Between pet disasters, congregational politics, nosy neighbours, and parenting his sometimes lucid father, Dean has more than enough to deal with when his childhood friend is killed. Paige, the victim’s young, attractive and single sister, drags Dean into the heart of an investigation many people would rather leave closed. Was Justin murdered? If so—by who? I’m not telling.

Caught Dead is a sweet whodunit you could give your mom or pastor’s wife without hesitation. I found Dean Constable to be a well-rounded character with depth and genuine appeal, but other prominent characters came off as rather one-dimensional. I found the story rather predictable overall, but Self delivered a few well-timed surprises to keep me reading.

If you’re looking for a safe, entertaining read, then I definitely recommend Caught Dead; but for those whose tastes wander closer to the thriller or suspense genres such as those delivered by the likes of Ted Dekker, Terri Blackstock or Brandilynn Collins, Caught Dead might not hold your interest.

I had a chance to interview author Jayne Self, and chat about Caught Dead.

LW: Where did you get the idea for Dean Constable?
JS: I got the idea for Dean Constable while sitting on my friend’s veranda, staring at the tomb stones in the cemetery across the street from her Nova Scotian house. I was trying to find a protagonist who embodied the things I know best—church life and being adopted—but someone who could still legitimately solve crimes, hence Dean’s past as a homicide detective. My husband is a Presbyterian minister and my husband’s cousin, is a police officer with investigative and undercover experience.

LW: Will we see more of Dean in the future?
JS: A second Dean Constable Mystery, Hit ’n Miss, is in the finals revision stage and I have plans for other Dean Constable mysteries. I don’t know at this point.

LW: Caught Dead was published as an online serial. Would you do that again?
JS: I would do it again, yes. It’s a new and novel (excuse the pun) way for me, a previously unpublished author, to get my writing to an audience. When The Presbyterian Record expressed interest in “experimenting” with the online serial format I was thrilled to be their guinea pig.

It was fun. I connected with readers from Scotland to India and USA, though I suspect most were Canadian. I think people found waiting for the weekly chapters dragged a bit. It was sometimes hard for readers to keep track of details. I look forward to the day Caught Dead will be available in paper.

LW: I loved the video trailer you made for Caught Dead. How long did you spend on the video, and in hindsight was the process worth it for you? What were your goals in producing that video?
JS: Actually, Lisa, you inspired the video when you commented on Ted Dekker’s website. After watching his, and investigating those by a few other authors, I decided to give it a try. So I wrote a brief script, my son video-taped and created the end product. My goal? I was trying to take that next step in self-promotion that everyone talks about. I’m not sure it has significantly impacted my career, but personally I love it and still chuckle whenever I watch it. At this point in my life I think it honestly reflects me.

LW: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Caught Dead?
JS: Caught Dead is about belonging. It’s the struggle Dean and I, and I think most people, have in common. So I hope that through sharing Dean’s experiences people will come to understand that belonging isn’t about who you’re related to or where you and your family live, it’s about who you are in Jesus. And that is something that develops and grows and changes each day we spend with Him.

LW: Why a mystery? Caught Dead could easily have worked as a high-octane thriller or gritty suspense novel.
JS: That was one of the problems I had marketing the manuscript. With slight modifications Caught Dead could have been slotted into a number of different genres. Caught Dead is a mystery because that’s what I enjoy reading and because, knowing how much time I would spend with my characters and plots, it was where I felt most comfortable. High octane thrillers and gritty suspense novels make a great read, but I’m not sure I’m ready to live in that mental space for the months/years it would take to see a book birthed.

LW: What part of Caught Dead was the hardest for you to write?
JS: I found the faith element hardest to write. Trying to find the authentic voice for Dean’s questions and God’s responses without becoming schmaltzy/preachy. I hope I have achieved that.

Caught Dead will be available online until December 31.


Interview With Mary Haskett

Sit down a while and have a cuppa, Bible in hand. Reading this book on prayer was like sitting down to a warm cup of tea with a trusted friend. Mary Haskett’s warm style, sprinkled with sage, relevant and real personal anecdotes made for a quick read. Her honesty and compassion were refreshing.

Because We Prayed: Ten Considerations for Effective Prayer covers a wide range of topics ranging from judging others to spiritual warfare to why pray at all? I found Mary Haskett’s experiences as a prayer warrior compelling and impactful. Though apparently written from a Pentecostal perspective, I wondered could I do something like that? Can a Baptist, or an Anglican or a Catholic enjoy prayer like this? Haskett answers with a resounding YES.

I found Haskett’s willingness to share her own heartaches and how she dealt with those hard times encouraging. I am tired of these books written by people with triumphant lives who never face any serious trials of faith. Not that those books don’t have value, they’ve just never resonated with me.

My only regret with this book, is that it was so short. I felt as though I had met a new friend and was reluctant to end the relationship when I shut the book. Definitely one to keep on your shelf.

I met with Mary at a Tim Horton’s over a cuppa and chatted about her book. Here are some of the highlights.

LW: There’s one scene you share in your book that I loved. You saw a man on television dressed in biker leather with tattoos telling people about Christ.

MH: We know people that have been saved from street life and all that sort of thing, and we can’t really witness to those people because we haven’t been there, but people saved from that life can go where I can’t.

LW: What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?

MH: I think it will encourage them to know that there’s power in prayer and that prayer is exciting. It’s exhausting when you’re really interceding for people, but the results are wonderful. It brings you really close to the Lord.

LW: For those reading this, thinking about picking up your book, what would you say to them?

MH: I don’t touch on every aspect of prayer, but I have touched on things that affected me personally, and that the Lord revealed to me. Those scriptures have really stuck with me and remind me, and hopefully remind others, to get their mind off the problem and on the problem-solver.

This book is available online from Word Alive Press or

Monday, I’ll blog about how to have a great interview on sensitive topics. Be sure to check it out. Send us your questions. Maybe yours will be our next blog post.


Two Roads: One Man’s Journey From Drug Lord to Salvation

I’m not a huge fan of autobiographies, generally, but this book is a hidden treasure for sure. When it came across my desk, I began flipping through the preface and the first chapter. The writing grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Two hours passed before I looked up, and I’d read all but the last thirty pages of the book.

Two Roads: One man’s journey from drug lord to salvation captivated me. Robb shares about his early childhood growing up in an alcoholic family with weekend parties, and having beer bottles strewn across the house. As a youth he coped with his own problems and emotional turmoil the only way that had been modelled for him—and then he sunk to even deeper lows.

Robb moves beyond the sensational and seemingly glamorous details of being a drug dealer with a biker gang to the raw grit and emotional turmoil that’s an addict’s reality, and allows the reader into his own thoughts and feelings as he relives these turbulent and painful years on the pages.

“I sold $8 million in drugs. Put over $1.2 million worth of drugs into my body.  All in 3 years.” -Randy Robb

Robb describes why and how he was able to find drugs and inevitably begin dealing in every small town he chose to outrun his addictions—small Ontario towns like Keswick, Guelph and Owen Sound. His account proves that drugs and alcohol are problems everywhere, not just the big cities. And this was before the popularity of designer drugs and the prescription drug crisis surrounding Oxycontin and other drugs.

Most recovered drug addicts that I’ve met are willing to share their story, but Robb tells his story with depth and detail and therein lies the power of his story. I recommend this for any parent struggling with a teen’s drug use, for teens who think there’s no harm in experimenting or who have said, “It’s just marijuana.” Church leaders and laypeople wishing to understand the pervasiveness and danger of drugs from a new perspective will find value in this book also.

I don’t know if this book was entered in the Canadian Christian Writing Awards sponsored by The Word Guild or not, it wasn’t shortlisted if it was. In my opinion, this little book deserved to be on the shortlist for sure, even an award winner.  Find it on Check it out for sure.

In an interview with Robb, I asked him if there was any message he wanted to send to church leaders and parents about the dangers of drug addiction. He said:

“In the old days, when I was an addict there were two kinds of addicts. There were the ones who smoked pot and hash and the guys who used needles. And we hated each other—not our kind of people. Nowadays with so many pills out there, parents have given their kids pills for headaches, for colds, to avoid catching a cold. So by the time they’re teens, they’re already used to taking pills.

So take ecstasy, there’s not this phobia attached to taking a couple of blue pills, or purple pills and having a good time. All you need is a glass of water, stay hydrated. All these young kids need now is a bottle of water and these two little pills to have a good time. It’s so easy. There’s no longer this fear of taking drugs. They’ve been so programmed to think that this is acceptable behaviour.”

100 Huntley posted a recent interview with  Randy Robb about his book on their youtube channel. Check it out if you’re interested in learning more.

Girls With Pens posts book reviews from Canadian authors every Thursday. Are you a Canadian author? We’d love to review your book. Shoot us an email.


Interview With Mags Storey

Thanks to everyone we met from Write! Toronto. We had a blast, and we hope you learned a few things about freelancing for a faith-based market.

A few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Mags Storey about her debut novel. We chatted for over an hour while she made pb&j sandwiches for her kids, and I wondered… was that really an earthquake (yes, I was doing an interview during Ontario’s ‘was that an earthquake?’ tremor). If Only You Knew won 3 awards at the 2010 Canadian Christian Writing Awards.

LW: When did know that you wanted to be a writer?
MS: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s always been my main goal and my main dream. It’s a stressful goal and dream to have because it’s a hard industry to break into. I felt very foolish and silly for a very long time. I didn’t tell a lot of people I was writing, it was a secret.

LW: Which life experiences and people from your past did you draw on to write If Only You Knew?
MS: Each of the characters is based on four or five people including myself. Lots of bits from ex-boyfriends were woven in, hopefully in well disguised ways. The great thing about writing is you can take all your failures and all your mistakes and all of the things you did wrong; you get to take these moments and recreate them and turn them into art—into something wonderful and something funny and creative, and it touches people’s lives.

LW: Why a Christian YA novel?
MS: You write what you know, and you write what springs out of who you are. I started writing this book when I was in my early 20’s. This was the most natural extension of who I was as a person. I decided to keep the characters at the ages they are because that’s the stage of life where you really get freedom to find out who you are, what you believe, what you want to believe, where you fit, who you want to be in your life. So the characters are at this cusp of just beginning to get freedom. They’re trying to decide who they want to be, and that’s a really exciting stage of life to write about.

The book raises a lot of questions because of what the characters are going through, and the book gives you some answers, but not all the answers. At least the characters don’t find all the answers. If they did, it wouldn’t be real life.

LW: Tell me about your characters.
MS: I like these characters, they are real people. Jo and Sam are the kind of people who often don’t feel like they get a fair shake in our churches. Lisa is the kind of person who feels like in order to fit in she has to put on a mask and play a role. Nate is the kind of person who is struggling with a real and genuine faith, but is finding that very difficult to walk through and live, and to be.

LW: Who is your book written for?
MS: My book is for the girl who gets up in the morning and looks in the mirror and thinks:

  • I’m ugly
  • The guy I think is best in the entire world doesn’t want me
  • The girl who I thought was my friend has now turned out to be a gossiping witch behind my back
  • And I’m supposed to now believe God loves me?
  • And because God loves me that is supposed to make everything better?

We don’t have a lot of books for people who look at themselves in the mirror and don’t like themselves. We don’t have books with heroines who find themselves unattractive. We don’t have romance novels about people who fall madly in love with someone who doesn’t like you back. This book is for people where that’s their reality.

LW: You break a few conventions that are fairly standard to Christian fiction and romance novels.
MS: I thought I had written the unpublishable novel. I never thought I would win any awards. In the past year, there have been book stores who wouldn’t let me have book signings. I remember when I was trying to get this book out, one church leader who I really respect said only silly people read books like that? Why would you write a book for silly people? I said then who is going to write good books for the silly people?

LW: What does winning the inaugural Grace Irwin award mean to you?
MS: It validates what I’m trying to do. It’s not just exciting for me—see that’s what I like. It’s exciting for people who like books like mine, and people who are going to be touched through books like mine.
It matters to me that I won this award because of the kind of book this is, because of what this book says, and what this book did. It matters so much to me.

Read my earlier review of If Only You Knew and about the inaugural Grace Irwin Award.

The entries are open for the 2011 Canadian Christian Writing Awards. For more information, check out the awards sponsors: The Word Guild.