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GEORGE MACDONALD (1824-1905), forerunner of the Inklings–Scottish minister, poet, novelist, and imaginative seer– was one of the most beloved Victorian authors throughout Great Britain and the U.S. in the 19th century. He wrote some 50 volumes of novels, poetry, short stories, fantasy, sermons, and essays. His influential body of work placed him alongside his era’s great men of letters and his following was vast. Two decades after his death, his books were pivotal in leading C.S. Lewis to Christianity. He thus became the foundational member of Wheaton’s Wade Center “Seven.”
Gazelle in the Shadows follows Elizabeth as she navigates a dangerous web of lies, betrayal and murder. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing novel?
The inspiration for this book came many years after the events happened in my life. Over the years, I rarely spoke about my former life as a diplomat in Yemen during the Iraq/Kuwait war nor my student life in Damascus but to those I opened up to, I was encouraged to write a book. Then in 2011, the civil war in Syria began and I felt a conviction to let readers know about the traditions and kindness of the Syrian people and the history and beauty of the country I had witnessed before the devastation.
Elizabeth is an interesting and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character?
Elizabeth’s driving ideals are to make her father proud by proving herself to him and to find love. Once a daddy’s girl, her relationship with her father deteriorates in her teenage years as her father implements stricter rules on her than on her older brother. She had always been an avid reader, dreaming of traveling to foreign lands. Her travels help her to escape her father’s harsh judgment and provide her with an opportunity to prove her worth to him and to herself. Because of her sheltered life, first with a Catholic upbringing and then in a diplomatic bubble, she is both emotionally and physically unprepared for her journey to Syria. She is remarkably naive and trusting of others and lacks rudimentary information about the country in a pre internet era. Her journey opens her up to the harsh realities of life where people are not always as they appear and after a series of innocuous and seemingly unconnected events, she not only discovers love but betrayal too. Facing many dangers, her strengths and courage are put to the test and ultimately she comes to appreciate her family and herself in new light.
You are a former employee of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. How has your experience helped you write this book?
I worked in the Foreign Office between 1986 and 1991, initially in London and then in the British Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen Arab Republic. My experiences undoubtedly helped me to write my novel as the genesis of the story was born from my three years serving in Yemen. As told in the book, I unwittingly met the infamous George Habash, the founder of the PFLP, in Aden. This actual encounter played a crucial part in the story. Other true stories from my service involving MI6, the British secret service and foreign diplomats helped to create the twists and turns in the story arc.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
After graduating from Durham University, I went to work in Dubai, UAE for an oil shipping company. As I like to write fiction based on reality, the sequel is based in Dubai and my experiences working there. I am currently writing a story which follows Elizabeth who enters the ranks of the MI6. She is sent undercover to Dubai where she unearths an Iranian plot to undermine British and American interests in the region. The question is, will she meet Hussein again?
In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.
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Based on her own life, Michelle Peach has crafted an intriguing story in Gazelle in the Shadows. Some parts of the story are fictionalized according to the author. The novel opens with Elizabeth Booth who has been kidnapped. She’s battered and bruised and not sure who is responsible. Her British diplomatic immunity does not seem to be of any use to her at the beginning of the story.
We then cut to an earlier time on a cold, rainy April day in the north of England. She is in Professor Mansfield’s office, attending school at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in Durham University. Not sure where she will succeed, she decides to enter the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a Diplomatic Service and she loves it.
Most of her life seems to have been about finding out who she is in her family. She grows up wanting to leave home and go on adventures. The point of meeting with her professor on that April day is to convince him to allow her to do her study in Damascus. She is the only student from her class going there. On the flight to Damascus, she is told by the flight attendant that there are no hotel rooms and arranges a place for her to stay.
Starting with the people on the flight, I did have to suspend disbelief somewhat to make myself believe that she could be as naïve as she was behaving. It seemed odd to me that anyone would trust a man on a flight and follow him afterward, even if he did work for the airline. It does seem to me that it would raise red flags.
She is literally a stranger in this new land and finds herself offending without meaning to. For example, when she drops bread on to the ground, she does not realize that bread is a sacred food and should never be wasted. She finds that navigating this new, strange land is not as easy as she had expected. I did love her descriptions of the exotic locale. She really brings the countryside to life with her writing.
This story is filled with mystery and suspense. This story was interesting to be because, unlike most books I’ve read, it’s about a place I knew little about when I started reading. The cultural issues that arise throughout the story are every bit as interesting as what is happening in the story. The only negative about the book is that I felt I knew what might be happening early on in the story even though I was not entirely correct. Despite that, the author has crafted a story that kept me turning pages way past my bedtime.
Pages: 327 | ASIN: B07CPX2WH5
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In Degsy Hay: A Juvenile Redeemed, Brian Montgomery sets himself up as a modern day Horatio Alger or Charles Dickens, telling a tale of a hard-done-by young man who overcomes his humble beginnings to become something more.
Degsy Hay, born inside a UK prison to a heroin addict, inherits his mother’s chaotic life, as well as a mysterious diary with missing pages. At age 16, he’s released from McAlley-Stoke youth facility with no prospects. He spends a few months on the streets, during which he assembles a small entourage including a three-legged dog named Sadface, a girlfriend (and her young son) and several homeless tradespeople. Before long, though, he’s back in McAlley-Stoke, where, through a mix of violence and charisma, he quickly becomes the Gaffer, the big man in the youth correctional facility. He launches a reform campaign to encourage the young offenders to educate themselves during their incarceration and convinces (via a bloody riot complete with hostage-taking) the facility itself to treat its wards more humanely. All the while, a mystery around missing children and how they’re connected to the missing pages of his mum’s diary builds around him.
Montgomery gives his hero/narrator a distinct voice, rife with Cockney slang, locating him squarely in the rough and tumble housing estates of urban London, a lot of “nar’mean” this and “geezer” that. But for all his streetwise exterior, Degsy is a kind soul at heart and looks out for the people around him. It seems that everyone he meets has a lesson to teach him, even if they have to die a grisly death for him to learn it. The people closest to Degsy have a nasty habit of ending up dead, or filthy rich. Sometimes both.
For a book that tackles some extremely difficult topics like poverty, addiction, and child abuse, Degsy Hay can be a bit simplistic at times. It seems more concerned with showing how one extraordinary character overcomes these heinous hurdles with a plucky attitude and a few well-placed friends, and yet there’s an internal logic to it too. It’s Degsy himself who tells the story, and so why wouldn’t he place himself at the center and give himself all the credit?
On the surface, the story of a streetwise youth pulling one over on the world with nothing more than his wits, a few friends, and a three-legged dog should appeal to middle grade readers, but the very strong language and heavy theme of sexual abuse are better suited to older readers with a bit of maturity to process the trauma at the core of Degsy’s tale. More sophisticated readers, though, might find the very Dickensian style of storytelling a bit old fashioned. But then, we’re still reading Dickens, so why not? At any rate, the colourful language and Degsy’s unforgettable voice should keep them interested.
Pages: 180 | ASIN: B07K7VSQF8
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This is an interview of Professor B.A. Zikria about his recent books.
B.A. Zikria, born in Afghanistan, came to America at the age of eighteen to study medicine. He finished college in three years, studied at Johns Hopkins medical school in Baltimore, and received his diploma from President Eisenhower, brother of Milton Eisenhower, president of Johns Hopkins. He trained in Bellevue and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centers. He taught medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons for 25 years and trained surgeons at CPMC and affiliated Harlem Hospital for 45 years. He has received 10 U.S. Patents during his career. After his retirement, he began writing philosophical and historical books.
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A young American physician Dr. Scott Fitzgerald from Pennsylvania sets out on a journey to fulfill his fathers dream by returning to Afghanistan where his father Bryan had spent nearly twenty years as the first American in that remote kingdom. Bryan had befriended Prince Akbar, the hero of First Anglo-Afghan, and won the hearts and minds of Afghans receiving a golden sword and the title of the American Prince. Like his father, Scott wanted to take the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution to the farthest lands of the world. Following many adventures he joins Prince Ayoub, the hero of the Second Afghan War.
Scott travels from Philadelphia across Europe, Russia, Afghanistan, India to the Far East. He returns with lessons learned and truths he discovered and writes them in this book to reach the present and future generations. He regards the American Republic as an indestructible fortress of freedom and democracy that all extremes of left and right factions are inevitably drawn back into the fortress of ‘Immortal Ideas”, built by their forefathers with their genius, their fortunes and their lives. Scott believes, as Americans we have never claimed to convert or to rule the world. We just want for others to have the same inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of their own happinesss.
Scott quotes a great American, The Constitution of the United States is the impassioned and inspired vehicle by which we travel through history. It grew out of the deepest inspiration of our existence that we are here to serve Him by living free. That living free, releases in us the noble impulses and our best abilities so that we use these precious gifts for good and generous purposes and that we will secure them not just only for ourselves and our children but for all mankind.
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Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, by Mel Anastasiou, is a series of dramatic detective mysteries. The novel contains four different detective stories, each of which are interconnected yet independent. In addition to the stories, the opening of the book contains an interesting philosophical and logical argument. It also gives a hint to some of the content of the book. Anastasiou does an excellent job of providing depth to not only the characters and their actions and motivations, but also in the general style of her writing.
The novel practically seems to drip with British style. So much so, that without careful reading and generous knowledge of Canadian and American culture and institutions, most readers will probably assume that it is set somewhere in Britain instead of actually being set in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Having read her, Stella Ryman engenders the same feelings as most Dorothy Sayers detective stories. However, there are some subtle differences between the style of Stella Ryman and the British detective novels of the 19th and early 20th century. Those old stories tended to deal with a static, aristocratic society, police forces that were not corrupt, but were certainly not in any position to solve the case, and a lack of emotion among the affected cast of characters. Stella Ryman is similar and brings in other classic mystery themes: a senior care home provides a rather static environment (even though the residents may invariably change from time to time), the managers of the care home are bumbling but not corrupt, there are no supernatural causes in the story, there is a secret passageway, and Stella has a tendency to honestly declare her thoughts, intuitions, and deductions.
There are also significant tie-ins to American pulp detective novels as well, primarily in the commonality of the characters (there are almost no aristocrats and most people are average and middle-class) and the feeling of inevitability—that truth will out and that justice will be done. Overall, Stella Ryman seems to fit roughly a quarter of the way between British and American writing styles—perfect for Canada.
Stella Ryman, as a character, is quintessentially heroic — in the classic sense. At points throughout the book, it appears that Anastasiou is reading Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as she is writing her own book. In the beginning, Stella refuses the call to adventure (being a detective), is completely content with her own mortality, and is merely waiting to die. Eventually, she realizes that there is a third option—something besides life and death. As a side note, herein lies a common theme within the novel, the breaking of logical fallacies—ad hominem, false dichotomies, circular arguments, causal fallacies, and hasty generalizations being the most common. Stella, after making her third choice, is confronted with supernatural assistance (Mad Cassandra, whom is herself rife with mythological allusions). Stella runs across a few other mentors along the way, makes a deep, personal transformation, and returns with a gift for her fellow residents: the ability to make life worth living again.
Overall, this book is an excellent read, full of colorful characters. Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, is appropriate for teenage and adult readers. Although younger demographics may have difficulty with some of the allusions and references that are peppered throughout the book. Younger readers may also have difficulty relating to an octogenarian, but Stella’s tenacity is something certainly worth emulating. There is no obvious sexual content (there are hints, however) or illicit drug use, there is some personal violence, and a lot of discussion of heavy, emotional and existential topics.
Pages: 151 | ASIN: B06XTG2GWJ
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Voice of a Crimson Angel is an intimate and thrilling story that leads up to your debut military science fiction book. What was the inspiration that made you want to explore a prequel?
Creating VOCA was something that was on my mind for many years, but it seemed too monumental a task to handle. It wasn’t until I was in the midst of writing Ballad of Demise that I began to see a grand tale in the making. I took that single scene of Julissa Marconi from Reverence and then imagined what her life had been like up to that point and after. That was the only push for the new trilogy. Many reviewers asked questions about how the characters got to where they are, so I figured it was an opportunity to give them answers. It turned out to be a fun experience.
Your currently studying history at the University of Riverside. How has your major helped you write your story and develop your characters?
A TON. The sad but fascinating aspect of history is that the story of the oppressed vs. an oppressor is a familiar one. From ancient Rome to the Spanish Empire, to the British and French empires, superpowers have always had their reign unimpeded for decades before eventual collapse. I wanted to build up the history of the United Nation Republic before it too faces its ultimate crisis. Whether it is still standing when the dust settles is to be determined in future installments.
I also drew influence from the revolutionaries of old, people such as Che Guevara and George Washington. Once the VOCA trilogy is completed, I believe people will see the connections in a new light. History was also a valuable tool in discovering how a revolution starts. First come the words, then the fight to crush those words, and then bullets. The term ‘regime change’ is one perhaps not widely known by the average person, but it is an unquestionable factor in global history. The U.S. has often played a pivotal role in such operations, among them Guatemala, Vietnam, and Iran. The more I read, the more The Expansion seemed very possible.
When writing, do you look at current events, and use them as a springboard for ideas or try to incorporate them into your story?
Current events play a big role most definitely. In VOCA Part I, we see a world where warfare is basically common place. The majority of the people either ignore or don’t care about the conflicts abroad. Once again, I looked to the U.S. The U.S. has been involved in some sort of war for almost its entire history, from the Civil War, Spanish-American, the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and now the war on terror. Vietnam was the first U.S. war to not split the American conscious on a massive scale. Since 9/11, the U.S. hasn’t slowed down its war game, now in Niger, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. Despite this, there are no longer large protests confronting this reality. As we listen to music and watch the latest films, the war machine goes on expanding.
These issues, primarily our war driven economy, were the focal points for me in writing the VOCA trilogy.
Any chance you’ll write a prequel that shows the rise of Chancellor Venloran? Kind of like how Star Wars episodes 1-3 showed the rise of Darth Vader? In either case, what do you think that would be like?
I actually have played around with this idea, and the framework is definitely there. I can imagine a young Venloran who sees his country struggling and decides to act. In a way, he’d be comparable to Joseph Halsey, which would be a great foil. It would take time to plan out, especially since I have much planned for the Reverence series. The idea is very tantalizing, though. As of now, I’ve only hinted at the rise of the UNR. For this envisioned ‘prequel-prequel’, I would go in depth to the formation of the UNR Party itself.
The evilest of deeds start with the best of intentions.
Julissa Marconi’s life has never been quite the same since her husband slipped into a coma. Her relationship with her daughter is hanging by a thread, she’s lost all her friends, and she’s retreated to the bottle amidst her sorrows. Truth is, Julissa is struggling to find a reason to wake up in the morning. That all changes when the mysterious Dr. Neeson offers her a chance to discover the truth, and reclaim her life. With the help of the scheming Captain Halsey, Julissa finally has a reason to fight again. She’ll have to act fast, however. Her nation, the United Nation Republic, is hungry for aggressive expansion and the ravenous Chancellor Venloran will stop at nothing to achieve his own twisted goals. Return to the world of the Reverence series with Voice of a Crimson Angel Part I: Persecution, the long-awaited story that sets the stage for the entire saga.
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