Category Archives: Book Reviews
Mr. Wonderful, by Daniel Blake Smith, is the touching tale of Brian Fenton, a college professor in the throes of a crisis like none he has ever faced. Brian and his wife, Corinne, are parents to a thirty-year-old son, Danny. The two adopted Danny as an infant at Brian’s insistence. From the beginning of Danny’s life with the Fentons, Corinne struggles to find her motherly instincts and is, for lack of a better word, relieved when Danny becomes a self-sufficient adult and leaves them as empty nesters. Danny’s return to their home turns Corinne and Brian’s lives upside down as Brian, in turn, deals with his elderly father’s declining health and the increasing pressures of a career he, may or may not, still love.
Smith weaves an intricate story of love lost between parents and children. The first person narrative is highly effective at drawing the reader into Brian’s sorrow, frustration, and his panic at being the voice of reason both at home between Corinne and Danny and long distance as he goes head-to-head with his brother, Jeff, over his father’s care. It is hard to watch Brian ponder the differences between his memories of his father’s treatment of him and his brother and the way in which his stepmother, Claire, speaks so lovingly of Robert, his father, as she cares for him. His emotions are raw, real, and easily relatable.
Corinne–not my favorite character. Her coldness toward Danny and her disdain at having to see him again in her home is as amazing as it is heartbreaking. Danny, not the best behaved boy on the block, is not welcomed by Corinne, and the blame she throws at Brian is somewhat misplaced and a struggle to witness. I found myself wanting her turnaround to come–and to come soon. Smith has written a memorable, if infuriating, character in Corinne.
Brian’s relationship and subsequent discoveries about his father’s past are poignant. Robert, ailing and entering the stages of dementia, is also hard to like. The manner in which Brian describes his past with his father left me wanting desperately to not feel sorry for Robert. Here, again, Smith crafts a turn of events that left this reader feeling a sense of compassion she did not see coming–but appreciated in the end.
I have to admit I saw Brian as weak. I didn’t want to, but I found myself wanting to shake him and jerk him upright from the downhill slide he was surely taking as the days passed him by. By the story’s climax, in Brian’s hometown of Juniper, Texas, I was more than ready for Brian, and Corinne, to show growth. Smith creates the perfect opportunity for self-awareness and life-changing decisions with his choice to bring his characters together in Juniper.
I have to give Mr. Wonderful an emphatic 5 stars out of 5. Smith’s use of the alternating first person points of view creates a deep connection between readers and characters. The Fenton family and their trials are not to be missed.
Pages: 164 | ASIN: B077Z3WK9N
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Cross of a Different Kind, written by Anthony Maranise, dives into the relationship between cancer and Christianity. A “field guide” for those affected by cancer, Cross of a Different Kind was created for those who have cancer, those who know someone affected by cancer and for the survivors of cancer. Each person will find solace in this novel, regardless of what part of the journey you are on and feel a connection of both faith and hope through the inspiring words and reflections. It’s a reminder of the light in the darkness and how God can bring spiritual comfort and acceptance in a time of loss, sadness and grief.
Cross of a Different Kind is a novel based on the ideologies of Christianity, written especially for those experiencing cancer themselves. The book is split into different sections with each part addressing the different stages of cancer that someone may be in.
The author, Anthony Maranise, tells of his battle with childhood cancer and the feelings surrounding his family, relationship with God and what it meant to find hope in some of his darkest hours. Maranise words are raw, honest and inspiring, allowing the reader to develop a sense of trust and gratitude for the words he writes. At times I felt as though I was sitting in a room, listening to him tell his story as it opened up the pathway to reflect on our personal experiences with cancer.
With statistics such as 69% of cancer patients praying for their health regularly, it is clear that Cross of a Different Kind is a novel that will connect with many people who have been touched by cancer. There are many Christianity references, but they are used to inspire hope, clarity and acceptance in a time of great trauma and stress. Cross of a Different Kind talks about how the journey of faith has helped the author and many others against the tough battles brought on by cancer.
So many of us know someone or have even experienced cancer ourselves and will find the feelings and reflections in the novel provide a sense of solace and comfort in the times of great stress and alarm. One of my favourite sentiments was that it is important to grieve and mourn the loss of our loved ones (even if we believe we will meet them again). Another idea the author presents is that those experiencing cancer are soldiers in their own way, battling the sadness, anger and trauma brought on by sickness that steals happiness and joy. This idea instills a sense of comradery and connection with the book, allowing the reader to feel acknowledged and understood in regards to their own personal battles with cancer.
Cross of a Different Kind will bring the reader a sense of spiritual comfort, understanding and information for those who are experiencing the journey that comes with cancer. I would recommend this for all Christians who are suffering from the burdens of cancer- whether it is themselves or their loved ones.
Pages: 188 | ISBN: 0692974148
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The Dragon Grammar Book: Grammar for Kids, Dragons, and the Whole Kingdom, by Diane Mae Robinson, is a handy writing tool for kids in one neat, little package. Robinson presents readers with a succinct list of terminology, ten chapters covering everything from subject and verb agreement to dangling participles and misplaced modifiers. Throughout the grammar guide, readers are treated to engaging illustrations of Sir Princess Petra and Snarls, the dragon. From beginning to end, The Dragon Grammar Book, provides readers with everything they need to address those most common questions they encounter as budding writers.
Robinson begins her grammar guide with a very useful and well-organized grammar terminology section. Teachers, students, and parents will find the opening 15 pages of the book an extremely helpful tool for quickly skimming and finding definitions and examples of each of the parts of speech, punctuation, along with a few writing terms tossed in for good measure.
Let’s face it, kids can shut down at lightning speed when a textbook comes into sight. The Dragon Grammar Book provides the perfect amount of information presented in short bursts that don’t overwhelm the reader. Accompanying explanations for each rule are not too wordy, and hold the reader’s attention long enough to make a point. The ongoing dragon theme is tucked into each of the example sentences throughout the book.
As a teacher, I appreciate the wide variety of topics covered in the fairly short text. The author has chosen to include some areas students will encounter as their writing develops over the course of several years. Chapter One’s focus on confusing words was a breath of fresh air to this teacher. Arranged alphabetically and featuring brief, easy-to-understand examples, this portion of the book is simple to navigate and covers each and every roadblock young writers encounter as they learn to proofread and edit their work.
I give The Dragon Grammar Book: Grammar for Kids, Dragons, and the Whole Kingdom 5 out of 5 stars. Having a useful resource that engages students and includes a wide variety of grammar rules with short, fun examples is difficult to find. Robinson has produced a winner with this easy-to-navigate, all-inclusive, grammar guide for kids.
Pages: 140 | ASIN: 198871401X
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Misty Hayes, author of The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1, is handing readers a unique take on the vampire stories of late. Her main character and narrator, Larna Collins, relates a tale deeply woven in history, family secrets, and bloodlust. Larna, quite the social outcast in her high school, graduates and embarks immediately on a mission to find her estranged father in England. Using her father’s journals and her own burning desire to find answers to her endless string of questions about his sudden disappearance, she leaves Texas just as her lifelong friend, Corinth, reveals his desire to be more than a tried-and-true confidante.
The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1 is written to appeal to young adult readers, but is so exceptionally written and full of wit and wisdom it easily resonates with a much larger audience. The idea of the socially downtrodden heroine is not a new one, but Hayes manages, quite successfully, to fashion Larna Collins into character unlike any readers will encounter within other books in the same genre. Larna is thoughtful, and the reader is privy to all of her emotions, anxiety, and, ultimately, her pride and power.
Character development appears to be Hayes’s forte. Dropping little hints throughout the plot, the author draws robust images of each character from Paul the Volkswagen/taxicab-driving vampiric sidekick to Gabriel–the devil incarnate. Each of Hayes’s characters adds a rich element to the story, and she masters the plot twist with the best of the action/adventure writers out there.
Hayes provides a captivating mixture of budding romance and action sequences. In addition, she takes literary risks with her characters’ fates. She, by no means, sticks with what the reader expects. At every turn, Hayes delivers something new and unexpected, but more than appreciated. The tension between Corinth and Larna and the ever-present question of romance between Larna and Alastair keep the reader guessing from beginning to end.
Hayes offers an originality with her presentation of the vampire tale. She successfully juxtaposes the deteriorating architecture of old England with present-day Texas and tosses in a healthy amount of technology and modern references–all easily within the schema of the young adult audience. Those expecting to find the vampires of the Twilight series will be pleasantly surprised to find a quite different vamp sketched before them as Hayes offers up a down-to-earth creature with far-reaching abilities and deep-rooted emotions.
I am giving The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1 a solid 5 out of 5 stars. Hayes offers a well-written, smooth read which mesmerizes readers from the first paragraphs. The relatable struggles of its main character, Larna, take an unexpected turn early on and pull readers in for a ride like no other. Hayes will soon find herself with a growing fan base yearning for more from Larna and her crew. By giving her audience the story they want with a cast of characters far-removed from those of the typical vampire tales, Hayes has succeeded in paving the way for her band of outcasts.
Pages: 356 | ASIN: B077XL9WHH
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A life story told alongside life lessons…
Grandma’s Secret Blessings: A Memoir with a Twist, is a deeply personal and dramatic-memoir. It tells the story of Yianni’s life, family, troubles, and successes. Told from a mix of first and third-person viewpoints, it gives an interesting perspective on how a person develops character. Central to the book’s theme are the secret blessings, which are a collection of inspirational messages, trans-cultural personal instructions, and existential aspirations. The book also has a number of lessons passed down by Yianni’s grandmother from the Greek oral tradition.
Yianni and his family are Greek in origin, and as such, they share a long history involving the oral transmission of stories. Over history, folk tales and legends were often performed by storytellers in front of audiences, including young children and even grown children, such as Yianni. This culture is present in the story as Yianni learns of his family history, reaching clear back to great-great-grandparents. This family history has personal ties back to Greece and Albania, much of it during a time of serious political and economic turmoil. Of course, those history lessons passed down to Yianni are also infused with Grandma’s life lessons for Yianni. This is all interspersed with Yianni’s own personal history, along with description for the way that these stories and lessons helped him.
There are more than ten of grandma’s secret blessings, many of which existing in some form in many different cultures and languages. However, what makes the lessons particularly powerful is that in Yianni’s experience with his abusive father, Yianni explains that, “…it’s the only way to close the gaping hole in my heart.” Many of these secret blessings are a blessing in that they are a form of grace, protection, or favor for Yianni. “You are the captain of your own ship,” as an example, explains for Yianni that no matter what tosses you around and what terrible things may befall you, you still have control in your own life and life choices. This is how the book is a memoir “with a twist.”
Grandma’s Secret Blessings is not perfect in its presentation. For example, there are a number of typographical and grammatical errors, as well as punctuation mistakes that are distracting. However, these generally do not detract from the message and central themes of the story. In a way, it conveys the very essence of that oral tradition, which is sometimes imperfect and lost in translation.
Grandma’s Secret Blessings is intended for adult audiences. There are depictions of child and intimate partner abuse, discussions of sexuality and sexual behavior, and alcohol and drug abuse. These depictions are realistic in nature, contributing to the overall feel of the book and its weighty emotionality. Overall, even with the copy-editing errors, Grandma’s Secret Blessings is a good read for those looking for emotional and inspirational literature.
Pages: 364 | ASIN: B077PLR98B
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Phoenix, written by Arti Chugpai, tells the story of Sonam Aggarwal and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. Sonam is a complex character with beautiful soul, intelligence and integrity. Her presence demands authority, and as the Director of Publishing for a branch in India, she has certainly earned respect and accolades. However, there is a part of her that is broken by a moment in her life that she explicitly calls “The Betrayal”. Her family and friends judge her by her relationship failings rather than her career successes, leaving Sonam feeling lost and alone. Will Sonam be able to rise above the stereotypes and convictions of her family and friends to find true happiness?
Phoenix is a novel based on love, life and conforming to gender stereotypes. It’s the year 1998, and there’s a budding romance growing between a middle-aged business tycoon by the name of Kunal Vats and the main leading lady, Sonam Aggarwals. Set in India, Phoenix explores Sonan Aggarwal’s life through her ever-changing family, relationships, career aspirations and friendships.
The story then flits between two different eras of Sonam Aggarwal’s life, one part telling her life as it is in 2017 and the other turning back the clock to the year 1998. It’s here we learn about her life and the changing family dynamics and reoccurring expectations that seem to haunt Sonam, no matter how old her or her family members are.
It was refreshing to read a novel based on someone who is aged between their 40’s-60’s. Most modern love stories center around young adults in their twenties and Phoenix was a gentle reminder that age is no barrier when it comes to pursuing love and happiness. I enjoyed the sense of realism as the characters experienced a love that did not always result in happy endings. Instead, Phoenix dove deep into a raw and personal kind of love, where abuse, betrayal and forgiveness are all prominent players in the relationship game.
Phoenix also explores the events of Sonam’s life so thoroughly that at times you feel as though you are almost reading a biography of a real person. The novel also went into depth to showcase some of India’s culture, including foods, family life and working conditions. Arti Chugpai’s style of writing is confident and expressive, using strong descriptive words and phrases to demonstrate their points within the plot line. Fitting, considering the main character Sonam is a publisher herself.
Phoenix also brings to light the society changes and gender differences in India, and how things change over a period of time. It shows the difference in expectations between men and women, especially when it comes to love and relationships. Women are considered to be successful if they maintain a healthy, happy family, with their career aspirations and achievements often shadowed by the relationship, falls they have had in their life.
I would recommend this for anyone looking for a novel about budding romance, rising above the gender stereotypes and Indian culture.
Pages: 232 | ISBN: 1543701043
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The Nightbreaker is a short but welcome sojourn into the world of the Gods and Men Cycle series by Kristopher Jerome. Following a paladin by the name of Daniel, we first are introduced into the conflict between the gods of darkness and gods of light and the conflict that is played out on the Mortal plane. Daniel is part of a mission that goes awry, but learns of a terrible new champion of darkness, Rexin the Blasted. As the story unfolds, Daniel bands together with other brave souls who seek out and stop this terrible menace, otherwise the mortal plane will be swallowed by darkness.
The pacing of Jerome’s novella is spot on, although sword & sorcery novels are often quicker paced. The first battle of the story takes place only a few pages in and I was immediately taken in by the action and everything that Daniel saw as he fought bravely through the demons. The setting is not overly elaborate, especially with the clashing of light and dark. The simplicity of the premise will leave fans of stories like Game of Thrones and others wanting more. But in it’s brevity lie its virtues, The Nightbreaker is a great read for an afternoon of leisure.
The descriptions that Jerome uses is rich and quite cinematic and I enjoyed the writing the most when details were delved into. The main character of Daniel is fun to read about, but begs to be developed further with some character-defining internal dialogue. The narrative is much more “show” rather than “tell” which I happen to enjoy. The story is often punctuated with a bit of action, which saves the stories pace and kept my interest.
With all of this considered, The Nightbreaker is a great introduction to the world of mortals and Gods that Jerome has created. The struggle between paladins, demons, and seraphs is a supernatural backdrop to classic fantasy tropes. This novella will please any reader of classic fantasy or the supernatural, who also enjoys action, redemption, and the struggle between good and evil. At 78 pages, it’s well worth your time.
Pages: 78 | ASIN: B071HPDQXN
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Have you ever wondered about the importance of communion? What really is the root of all this power the blood of Jesus is purported to have? How can human beings harness this power as God wishes?
Wendy Varga’s Sacred Secret is an in-depth analysis of the Communion. We often use blatant explanations of God’s instructions. But man is protected from all sorts of evil if he marks himself with the blood.
If faith is shallow, little is expected. People should know the limitless capabilities of God as this affects their level of faith and consequently, how impactful He will be in their life.
Wendy Varga’s passion helps to eloquently unravel many biblical mysteries. Her fervent writing had me craving to know more about communion; I found myself often referencing my bible. By the end of this book I felt that I had a better understanding of the power of the New Testament Covenant Meal. The author’s eagerness to truly understand God’s purpose for the Passover is evident. Her break down of the relation between His blood and God by use of scientific explanations is startlingly enlightening. Her insistence to not just know God, but also know Him intimately is a recurring theme. I’ve read other religious books on similar subjects, but they often only touched on this subject before quickly moving on. But it is the focal point in this book. It’s refreshing to see a book take a deep dive into one aspect of faith.
I consider this a knowledge check for anyone who knows their Bible well, but what I truly appreciated was the unique perspective in which the information is presented. Be prepared to ask yourself questions you never have before. In the end, I appreciated how this book left me reevaluating my relationship with God. This book will arm you with the knowledge and power of the blood and thus strengthen your faith. I believe that this book will unlock the potential of God’s power in your life through faith.
Pages: 156 | ASIN: B072M8R6JG
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Icarus details the captivating account of P.I. Brinkman’s investigation into the disappearance of young Jane Emmett. What was your inspiration behind this story?
I’ve suffered from night terrors since I was a child, and sometimes the dreams can get pretty intense. Over time, I’ve learned how to use this to my advantage, and I keep a notepad and pen on my nightstand to scribble down as much as I can remember. The first seeds of Icarus began there, and then I started to fill in the rest over the next couple of months. I’d say the concept is a hybrid of influences: the TV series Lost, the video game series BioShock, and the movie Battle Royale. It’s a strange combination of things that really shouldn’t fit together, but I still somehow felt they could.
This story is set in West Virginia in 1947. Why did you choose this time and place as the backdrop?
I wanted the story to take place in a fictitious location, but still feel believable. I love it when people tell me they’ve googled Ashley Falls trying to find it on a map. 😊 I guess I’ve always been drawn to small towns. I love the sense of community, and the whole “everyone knows everybody” atmosphere. Ashley Falls is a sleepy little town nestled away in the woods, but close enough to big cities so that it’s not completely cut off from the rest of the world. I ultimately chose West Virginia because of its proximity to key places I thought would make for a great setting.
As for the decade, it was the perfect fit for what I was trying to accomplish. I’m fascinated with urban legends and conspiracy theories, and some of my favorites are from the ‘50s and ‘60s. I thought it would be fun to pull some of that mid-century paranoia into a post-WWII world and see what it might’ve looked like. I mean, if people reported seeing men in black in the ‘60s, how much earlier were they in existence before they were actually noticed?
One thing I found exceptional in this novel was the characters, especially Miller Brinkman. What were some themes you wanted to capture while creating his character?
Thank you! I really appreciate that. What I ultimately wanted for Miller was to be relatable. When you look at some of the most famous detectives in literature, you start to see a lot of the same characteristics. I wanted to create a character who was different. He’s not a big city P.I., and he doesn’t have much experience dealing with things like kidnapping and murder. Although he’s a logical and capable sleuth, Miller’s still sort of getting his feet wet and learning on the job. I wanted readers to come along on his journey and hopefully be invested in his growth.
It was also important to me to find the right balance in his character. He’s not Superman, but he’s not bumbling either. No answer comes to him easily. I wanted him to work hard for every inch he advances in the case.
Icarus is the first book in the Noble Trilogy. What can readers expect from book 2 in the series, The Invisible War?
The Invisible War is a bit of a departure from Icarus. It had to be. Miller couldn’t have gone through the events of the first book and come out the same man, so I really wanted to explore his mental state, and what that meant for his future. He made some powerful allies in Icarus, and those relationships open the door for him to explore a new opportunity working with the F.B.I.
In Icarus, we see Miller working somewhat in a silo. In The Invisible War, he’s handed a rather sinister case that’s going to require more help, and he’s put in charge of a special task force. Miller’s never had to lead before, so this is an opportunity for him to evolve even further.
However, something else is changing inside Miller at the same time. He’s becoming stronger. Faster. Bloodthirsty. Something dormant inside of him is beginning to bloom.
It’s the winter of 1947 in Ashley Falls, West Virginia, and a teenage girl has gone missing. Local private detective Miller Brinkman takes the case, quickly uncovering a string of bizarre clues. A hidden diary, cryptic riddles, and buried secrets all pique Miller’s interest, but one key detail gives him pause: the girl’s parents haven’t reported her disappearance to the authorities. As the case deepens, Miller’s investigation begins to poke holes in the idyllic picture of his beloved hometown. No longer certain whether anyone in his community can be trusted, Miller dives headfirst into a desperate search for the truth that extends far beyond the borders of Ashley Falls. He soon discovers that his missing persons case is not an isolated incident, but part of an otherworldly mystery—one that, if confronted, may threaten the very future of humanity.
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Sometimes stories challenge everything you thought you knew about something and this is one of those books. The Fall of Lilith by Vashti Quiroz-Vega is a dark fantasy of fantastical proportions. Centered around the anti-heroine, Lilith, we follow the creation of the angels and their life in Floraison or “Heaven.” Lilith chafes under the rule of God and rebels, enacting the traditional role of Lucifer, although the Light-bringer joins the ill-advised rebellion as well. These celestial rebels are cast out of Heaven, down on earth where their bodies are changed, and they must rise to the new challenge of surviving a new world.
In some ways, Quiroz-Vega’s novel follows familiar beats of other angelic tales and even the traditional Judeo-Christian scripture passages, but she goes further by using Lilith as her vehicle to rend Heaven apart and creates a whole new story to tell. The descriptions in the book are particularly rich, and clearly there was plenty of thought spent in developing what Heaven and even Earth would look like to the angels.
The book is long since it is two novels, but for the reader, it gives the story a full arc and even mythic cyclical structure. Lilith starts out as a typical heroine but slowly becomes more and more consumed with power and manipulation. Her development is done pretty well, even if somewhat expected. Then again, what else can happen in Heaven without a rebellion? The fact that it is Lilith who takes the reins rather than Lucifer is a modern take on the fallen angel story, but one that refreshes the form and takes inspiration from the Hebrew myths surrounding the figure of Lilith.
I found the second part to be a little more interesting on the basis that we exited Heaven and now life becomes hard on the rebellious angels who have to suffer from new forms and real pain. Lilith’s growth as a character continues, but by the end almost reaches a point of no return. And I found this disconcerting, since Lilith represents in a lot of ways, femininity taking over and dominating what has traditionally been Lucifer’s role in Judeo-Christian religion. Lilith’s stagnation as a character lessens the impact of the overall story for me, but the world building and fresh take on the story itself were enough to save the book.
All in all, this angelic fantasy is one that most readers will enjoy. The elements of world building and the cast of characters is more than enough to chew through and the meaty page number of these combined books will please anyone. Lilith may sit well with other readers, considering her dynamic characterization in the beginning. Overall, a wonderful read for anyone looking for a unique fantasy tale!
Pages: 504 | ASIN: B074CPKLHH
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