Category Archives: Four Stars

Cross of a Different Kind: Cancer & Christian Spirituality

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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Grandma’s Secret Blessings

Grandma's Secret Blessings: A Memoir with a Twist by [JohnEgreek]

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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Sacred Secret: Take Eat: This is My Body

Sacred Secret: Take Eat: This is My Body... by [Varga, Wendy]

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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The Fall of Lilith

The Fall of Lilith (Fantasy Angels Series) by [Quiroz Vega, Vashti]

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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Serial K Returns

Serial K Returns by [Gallagher, Brian]

If you were waiting to find out what happened to Craig Breedlove, then look no further. Brian Gallagher returns to the mind of Breedlove and his unnatural obsessions in Serial K Returns. Once again, we find ourselves in the mind of a serial killer: we witness the world from his point of view and become intimately aware of what exactly drives him. It’s unclear how much time has passed since the first book and the second, but Breedlove appears to be a bit older than he was the first time he tangoed with the FBI. Ryan O’Callahan and Lea Pucci also make their return in this continuation of Serial K. Their relationship has progressed but how far these two will get in their renewed chase with Breedlove awaits us in this book.

Gallagher is good at making his characters seem like real human beings. Perhaps that is why there is so much profanity when they speak. While there is a certain level of profanity expected from a crime-thriller for adults, and we know from experience that Breedlove doesn’t have the largest vocabulary, it does detract from the tale when reading about FBI agents discussing a case and they are prone to swear every five seconds.

If that’s not something that makes you put down a book, then you won’t be disappointed with what’s left within the pages of this novel. While not perfect, the core of this story is very entertaining. This is not Gallagher’s first novel and his experience shows. The story flows better than the first one. He also cleverly intersects two different characters from two different books into the same world. This is exciting for those who enjoy reading stories that take place in the same universe. It shows a careful sense of world-building to have these two different stories connect on such a base level without feeling forced or contrived.

I felt that there was some unreal character development on behalf of Breedlove in the last few chapters. Breakthroughs in his own perception of the world and how he comes to view the people who are chasing him happen quickly. There is no concrete resolution on what will happen to Breedlove by the end of the novel, this may be Gallagher setting the stage for a third installment of the series, however. So, there might be something to look forward to in the end.

If you like reading edgy stories that push the boundaries than you will enjoy this second piece to the story of Craig Breedlove in Serial K Returns by Brian Gallagher. It’s a gritty diamond in the rough that would have benefited from another edit, but is otherwise very entertaining. The thought process behind Serial K Returns is just as forward-thinking as it was the first time in Serial K. Getting into the mind-space of a serial killer; identifying what drives them and what moves them to kill is not an easy task. This where I believe Brian Gallagher shines, and where Serial K Returns stands out from the rest. This will have you wondering how much of Breedlove do you see in yourself.

Pages: 299 | ASIN: B06Y3JNCSZ

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Away From Home

Away From Home

Away from Home by Joanne Clairmont is a very real and heartbreaking look into the troubled thoughts and insecure feelings many children and teens experience when part of the foster care system. As an experienced foster mom, Clairmont has dealt with a number of heart-breaking cases of fostered teens feeling lonely, isolated, and abandoned upon entering her home. She writes vividly about the struggles and emotions those in her care have faced, and the unseen turmoil brewing within them as they are placed into yet another new environment. Oftentimes sorrowful, Away from Home is an important read in understanding the ups and downs of the foster care system by those directly experiencing it.

A short book broken up into six sections, Away from Home shares Clairmont’s foster care experiences in poem form. Each section contains several poems related to a specific type of foster child, such as The Unsettled Teenager and The Challenging Teenager. Most of the six sections share the pain and loss of security many fostered teenagers can relate to when thrust into a foster situation. The last section, titled The Independent Teenager, completes the journey of emotional growth of the foster care teenager and consists of more uplifting and positive poems.

I appreciated that the author could interpret the actions of her fostered teenagers from the first night they arrived at her house until they had grown and moved on with their lives. I found the poems in The Unaccompanied Minor and The Unsettled Teenager especially easy to connect with due to their complete realization and understanding of how a teenager would feel upon entering a new foster placement. They presented a personal psychology into the effects of the instability and adaption foster children must cope with through no fault of their own.

I especially liked how the author construed the emotions of a new placement in “Don’t know if I am coming or going.” It was a simple and realistic take on how a newly placed teenager may feel upon arriving in a new place after enduring several former placements. It captures the frustration and identifies the protective wall that has been built up to shield the fostered teenager from experiencing any more emotional loss.

While there were many poems that hit the mark in eliciting a feeling or emotion when read, there were also a few that didn’t do it for me. “It is not cool” and “No school today” seemed like unfinished thoughts or small snippets that could have been better fleshed out. I think the book would greatly benefit from some additional structuring and the addition of more personalized images.  The images in the book are generic and vary in artistic design. More simplified, original artwork would do wonders to visually present the ideas and feelings of the poems.

Overall I thought Away From Home really presented the emotional psychology and depth of the foster care system and those who live it. It created a descriptive and realistic picture for those who may not be familiar with the tragedy and distress many teens experience while in foster care. Aside from the few issues I had in reading, this book was an intense, creatively written study of an important subject.

Pages: 52 | ASIN: B077QLBKSC

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From the Heart

From the Heart: Stories of Love and Life by [Forest, Sally]

From the Heart, by Sally Forest, is a series of six short stories about human passions and emotions, and how they come to the fore when average people face challenging circumstances. The characters range from a young girl in a troubled household to a group of women dealing with the realities of old age, all from various parts of Australia, the author’s home. With a background in both teaching and psychology, it’s not hard to see her interest in the human condition and how she might have a greater insight into it than most.

The stories certainly feature a wide range of social backgrounds and issues, providing a delightful variation for the reader. The narratives are easy to follow, with focused attention on the plot and a small cast of characters – the author has avoided the unnecessary description that can artificially extend a short story and make for long, boring reading.

At the same time, the writing does come across as almost a “write by numbers”, as all of the stories essentially follow the same traditional dramatic structure, including a sort of moral lesson, or insight, at their conclusion. However, there is a freshness provided by the solid inclusion of multiple female protagonists, who I consider more well-written than the few male ones. They are given realistic passions and thought processes, with their inner strengths shown as much as their perceived outer weaknesses. Sympathetic female characters are sadly hard to come by in fiction, even now, and I have to applaud any attempt to do so.

The choice of language is on the simple side, reflecting the characters’ ordinariness and making it accessible to read. There has been a clear effort to match language use to particular characters as well, such as the descriptions in Mouse Mat; situations are compared to the toys and balloons that would be familiar to the young protagonist narrating it. For non-Australian readers, it’s worth noting the odd piece of dialect included in the collection, although it generally doesn’t distract from the work – skerrick was a new word for me at least!

Mouse Mat was probably my favourite of the stories; my least favourite was Heart Buddies. It is very dialogue-heavy, which is hard to get through, but the paragraphing could also be improved to clarify who is talking and when. This story also includes errors, although not related to the quality of the narrative, still detracts from the work for me – some missed words and punctuation.

From the Heart is a pleasant read. It provides a window into human emotion and how people deal with difficulties in their lives. There are plenty of situations to sympathise with and think about long after reading – the stories are memorable for all of the right reasons.

Pages: 56 | ASIN: B07797S3ZV

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Choose: Snakes or Ladders

Choose: Snakes or Ladders

Mitty Bedford is a young woman who has spent her life under the rule of a god-fearing sect, including the indomitable and vindictive Aunt Charity. Escaping to the city to become a typist, she meets the kind and loving Col. But she is conflicted; her sexuality has been repressed and she is laden with feelings of shame and fear. As she sets out on her journey to self-discovery and independence in 1950’s Australia, she comes up against the sexism and classism of the day. To truly be free, she must challenge others’ prejudices and fight her own inner demons.

Choose Snakes or Ladders by Sally Forest is a book of many themes; love and loss, religion, shame, trauma, memory, gender, sexuality and the questionable nature of truth. Forest deals with these complex and universal topics with sensitivity and skill. Through her writing, she asks us to question our own biases and consider how relevant these issues are today.

Forest excels at writing place and her prose conjures up the setting of New South Wales incredibly well. Her descriptions of the seasons are particularly beautiful; the dirt, pollution and heat of summer mirror Mitty’s feelings of oppression and add to an atmosphere of heaviness, whilst the freshness of autumn coincides with Mitty’s new found confidence. Forest also invokes the time period expertly, and I enjoyed the references to old films and magazines which gave some historical context and showed how influential the invention of advertising and the media was on thoughts and behaviour at the time.

Mitty is an utterly believable and well-realised character. Much of the book consists of her internal dialogue, which gives us insight into her feelings of guilt and shame and makes her very relatable. She wants to be attractive to men and enjoys their gaze but she is also afraid of it and fears repercussions. Forest illustrates that female beauty and sexuality can be a poisoned chalice in a society where only women are castigated for the outcome of these things (this clearly has modern resonance too). The prejudice and ignorance of certain characters are well-drawn and had me seething with anger!

The dialogue is predominately realistic and natural. Forest uses dialect for some of her characters- possibly to infuse more authenticity into the narrative- but I would have liked a little less of this as it came off as contrived at times and distracted me from the flow of the narrative. Although there is quite a steady pace to the book, I occasionally felt that Mitty’s day to day life was rather repetitive and that the plot could have done with a little more substance. There was definitely enough suspense to keep me intrigued though, and I think that any plot issues were reconciled by Forest’s use of prose and by her complex and likeable characters.

Ultimately, this is a book about redemption. It is a moving and beautifully written story, which although full of challenging themes, eventually filled me with hope.

Pages: 213 | ASIN: B075PXBHTZ

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The Immortality Trigger

The Immortality Trigger

With a start in Berlin, 1945, The Immortality Trigger launches into present day, hurtling between Europe, South America and Africa with a gripping pace.The author, Douglas Misquita, is moved to write large-scale thrillers, and with the second book in this series, surely achieves that goal. Not only is this book vast and well-written, the story it tells picks angles with many appeals.

The Immortality Trigger clips along as expected being at heart an action-thriller and were it not for the hook at the beginning taking place during the closing years of the Second World War that hinted at monstrous experiments, it may be too stuck in one genre. But for fans of fast-paced modern tales with global reach that dabble in history, this is a perfect storm. Having the hint of science fiction gives the story a cross-genre feel, and the monstrous brutality at once has an otherworldly feel while being rooted in our dark reality. Turning the news on the right channel, and you will see how timely and accurate these atrocities are. All of them. From the experiments that took place in wartime Germany to the extermination happening in countries from east to west alike, the author offers some guide to fact at the end of the book.

From the outset, we follow INTERPOL agent, Sabina Wytchoff. Her grandfather has succumbed to cancer and his wish of being stored cryogenically has just been carried out. In his safe lay ties to an ancient society still very active today. Too active, as the bombing incident that killed her parents only a week before may be involved somehow.

Illegal fight rings delight in the superhuman strength of Luc Fortesque and it seems being more than human is something of a problem. He’s not the only one. An experimental and unstable drug he was given may make him a star in the ring, but Luc won’t rest until he’s found the transhumanist faction responsible. He may be an army of one, but there are armed and demented soldiers between him and his goal.

Colombian newspapers have been blaring the face-off between drug-lord El Fantasma and their rival, El Angel, who will stop at nothing to bring down the cartels. After a vicious and heart-stopping fight – in the middle of a bust free-way in daylight – a terrible clue is left bleeding in the leg of El Fantasma; a silver dagger. With no clue how this Nazi war relic came into El Angel’s possession, the threads begin to draw together when everyone involved needs answers.

By the midpoint of the book it seems nearly impossible for these factions with their very different worlds to be pieces of the same puzzle, but readers will delight in how problems new and old have become entangled.

Overuse of jargon, while inevitable in a story that deals with military language, is much more noticeable in the beginning of the book. Nearing the middle, it is either not as glaring or has been quelled. Using the same word four times in one paragraph never sounds right, however, and there are a few points where this is troublesome. Very tightly written otherwise, going from lush landscapes to cities, drug-fuelled frenzies to tense negotiations. For fans of epic thrillers, Douglas Misquita may well be the next binge read. With many previous books, this new series reads like a flashy blockbuster film, so it must be worth it to see where this author has come from. The cast is large, though not entirely dizzying so just enough to feel like a realized world of people but still keep track of all the players. While there is a little tedium in jargon, having a near Lucha Libre feel to the Colombian stand-off, the ghosts of Nazi Germany and pharma-infused soldiers leering from the shadows knocks this all closer to a perfect action novel for fans of bleak, realistic and dark action.

Pages: 386 | ASIN: B077GHCT7X

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Surviving Magic

Surviving Magic (The Legacy of Androva #6)

The world of Androva, where magic rules. Galen is the best underage magician for millennia, much to the dismay of the power hungry Professor Cassius. In the name of research, Galen and his friend, the talented but troubled Nico, begin opening time travelling portals to other worlds. Galen finds himself on Terra where he meets the beautiful Claudia. He wants to stay with her forever but the arrival of Jax and Shannon from two thousand years in the future changes everything. Galen must now return to fight for the lives of his friends and family. But will they survive magic?

Alex C. Vick has built a rich and enchanting world of spells and sorcery in Surviving Magic. Classic themes of love, good vs. evil, and the importance of friendship run through the story, but they seem fresh and innovative in the hands of the author due to an exciting plot, diverse settings and interesting characters.

Vick evokes place very well, and the juxtaposition of the two worlds of Terra and Androva is expertly done. The setting of ancient Italy is an interesting plot device that really works, as real historical events such as the revolt of Boudicca are seamlessly interwoven with magic. Vick also excels here with her use of tangible imagery; I felt as though I was strolling through the bustling streets of Pompeii!

The book is written in first person narrative from Galen’s perspective. He is a flawed, but likeable hero and the love story between him and Claudia is heartfelt and authentic. The other less central characters are well-drawn, they all have distinctive voices and Vick’s use of dialogue adds humour and lightness to otherwise dramatic situations. Because we observe the full story arc of the characters in this book, I really came to care about their individual fates. Nico’s development is particularly interesting due to the complex nature of his internal struggles and motivations and the villain of the piece, Professor Cassius, is supremely creepy!

Vick has developed a very complex and creative system of magic, which adds multiple dimensions and interest to the story. The only downside to this is it’s slightly overwhelming to have sygnuses, symbols, spells, and force fields thrown at you over a couple of pages (pheeew!) I prefer to be shown rather than told what is happening and there is some occasional info-dumping. I sometimes felt like I was getting lost down a portal myself! Because of this, the pacing seems off to begin with and the narrative is somewhat lost. Generally, though, the dramatic scenes are excellent and kept me on the edge of my seat.

Surviving Magic becomes very much a standalone story, with originality and twists and turns galore. Overall, this is a great addition to the fantasy genre, and I look forward to more exciting adventures from the Legacy of Androva series.

Pages: 279 | ASIN: B076ZSTT2D

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