Writing a coming-of-age novel is one of the trickiest endeavors an author might involve themselves into. Getting into the mind and heart of a character who is trying to figure out their way through life at a young age requires a great deal of authenticity. There is something special about it all.
„Special” is also the first word that comes to my mind in regard to the latest coming-of-age novel that I have had the privilege, and even blessing, to read.
The novel is called THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL, and while it is not the first effort by bestselling author Robert Dugoni, it is his first foray into a different genre(thriller buffs might know Mr. Dugoni for such books as THE JURY MASTER and MY SISTER’S GRAVE, the first books from the DAVID SLOANE and TRACY CROSSWHITE series respectively).

For a first venture into a different genre, THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL is impressive. I felt it from the description of the plot, and I was honored to receive an ARC of the book. With the not-that-subtle disclaimer out of the way, the following is my argument in favor of the statement above.

This book could’ve been just another small-town Catholic school tale. But Sam Hill has ocular albinism. A rare condition that gives him red eyes. And the cruel nickname “Devil Boy”, from the pupils of the Catholic school where he studied as a child. Raised by a devout mother and a practical-minded father, Sam goes through a great deal of bullying throughout his life, especially at the hands of his nemesis, the imposing, troubled David Freemon. Through his friends, Mickie Kennedy(a girl who always speaks her mind) and Ernie Cantwell(the only black kid at Our Lady of Mercy), Sam finds a great deal of support while dealing with Freemon and the stern, but also troubled Sister Beatrice. The bullying scenes in this book are like nothing I have ever read before. It’s harrowing, heartbreaking, but the enormity of it all never seems gratuitous. One cannot help but feel for Sam, and at the same time, commend him as he stands up to a brutal beating thinly disguised as a bicycle accident.

The “healthy perspective” that Sam Hill, nicknamed Sam Hell(from an exclamation at his birth), acquires due to his condition, called “extraordinary” by his mother Madeleine, helps him cope with a great deal of misfortune and tragedy in his life. Through a twist of fate(and there are many in this amazing book), he becomes an accomplished ophtalmologist in Burlingame, California. The way in which, as an adult, he is haunted by his traumatic past will have a decisive impact on him.

Each of the characters in this novel have their imperfections, which is another reason to love it. From Sam himself, who is constantly confronted with difficult choices, to his amazing parents, to Ernie and Mickie, you will end up wanting to have these people over for a cup of something and a chat. In my case, it really happened.

Faith plays a central part of the story without this being a preachy novel whatsoever. In fact, a further point of brilliance is the manner in which it is all addressed. The fact that Sam Hill endures bullying in a Catholic school is not meant to be a barb toward Catholicism or any religion, for that matter. Sister Beatrice might be a practicing Catholic who does nothing to stop the bullying, but Sam’s mother is a practicing Catholic who never loses faith in God, the Blessed Virgin, and her son. This might be the most respectful, dignified, and even-handed treatment of faith and religion I’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction.

Sam Hell has an extraordinary life, indeed. His heartrending story, masterfully told by Mr. Dugoni, is the coming-of-age novel that has the most relevance in my own life. And I’ve read a handful of them. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL is officially my measuring stick when it comes to coming-of-age novels. For real. If someone recommends me a good coming of age novel, from now on, I will as if it’s Sam Hell good. I cannot thank you enough, Mr. Dugoni! Ten out of five for a book that has increased my soul!


I love horses. The combination of strength and calm that they are known to exude puts me at ease whenever I have the chance to experience it.
As such, when I found out about the book that I am getting ready to tell you about, I knew it would be an extraordinary read.

The book, called OUT OF THE WILD, is the first novel by acclaimed horse trainer Mark Rashid, tells a tremendous story of second chances, while educating its readers on a different sort of horse training method.

Henry McBride used to be a hard-working cattle rancher. Now, he is nothing more than a broken,grief-stricken shell of that man. His wife and child are dead. Gone forever, due to him falling asleep behind the steering wheel. Right before a fatal crash. Now, all he can do is drift from town to town looking for jobs and nursing a bottle. All seems lost.
Until he meets Jessie King. A woman looking to escape her own demons. A gifted trainer who creates powerful, inspiring bonds with horses. Through Jessie and a young gray Mustang stallion, Henry’s path to redemption begins.

What I loved the most about this book is the fact that it does little to romanticize the life of a cowboy. It does tell a story in which the fates of a broken-down man and a broken-down horse intertwine. But it also tells a story of abuse, toward both people and horses. Jessie’s past nightmares have a face and a name, Chad, and he has come back with a vengeance. The tension between him and Henry makes for the best “wannabe tough-guy gets a lesson” scenes I have read in a while. And I also love the old-school vibe that Henry exudes. When hearing that the protagonist is an alcoholic cowboy, one might scoff: “Haven’t I seen this before?” But, trust me, when you discover the layers of Henry McBride, see what makes the man tick, and get to see where his devotion to his trade comes from, you’ll love this man. He’s easily the most agreeable alcoholic character I’ve ever come across, and I’ll be having a hard time pronouncing harsh judgments on people who struggle with this from now on.

To those of you who love horses, this is a book that will provide a wealth of information about how they relate to us. To those who love Westerns with an inspirational twist that doesn’t sound preachy or corny whatsoever, this novel is a definite must. A finely wrought tale of second chances, OUT OF THE WILD gets its well-deserved ten outta five!
While Mr. Rashid was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the book, the views herein are my own. Thank you, Mr. Rashid. Great, great job! The future looks good for you as a fiction writer. Here’s to more good ol’fashioned country-tinged tales.

Christians find inspiration in Jesus Christ. He is the core of who we are and what we stand for. But what if, with the power of our imagination, we could do more than that. What if we could see the life of Jesus through His own eyes?

Fiction often offers a great manner of expression for Truth, and I am thrilled and blessed beyond belief to have found the particularly awesome piece of fiction I am just about to review. I am talking about a novel called IN THE FLESH -MY STORY, written by Mr. Michael Gabriele, whom I wholeheartedly thank for the copy of his work he agreed to send me.

The public ministry of Jesus is arguably the most well-known story in the entire history of mankind. And yet, what I love so much about it is that with each retelling I discover of it, it manages to stay fresh. And there have been remarkably few novels about Christ from His own point of view, which makes this book a further breath of fresh air.
Starting right before the very beginning of the public mission of Christ, the novel puts readers in the shoes of Jesus, which is an awesome narrative technique. This book makes it remarkably easy to picture a fully divine and fully human Jesus. It invites readers into the heart and mind of the One person in the history of mankind whose values have never lost their impact. It is definitely a feast of the imagination for the faithful and the unafraid. We see a Jesus who, before starting the work of his Heavenly Father, experiences the pangs of loss for His earthly one, a Jesus whose bond with His blessed mother Mary comes from deep within His heart. A Jesus with a remarkably warm and friendly voice, a compelling storyteller and a revolutionary thinker.
What I loved most about this book, though, were the moments in which Jesus experienced the all-too-human feeling of uncertainty over what to do in certain moments of His life, only to overcome them with the help of His Heavenly Father. And also, the love for His apostles is so vividly represented within the pages of this book, that one can almost literally feel it. I loved how, whenever choosing them, He focused on their strong points rather than their weaknesses. He did not look down upon them. And those who seek to understand the relationship that Jesus had with Judas will find the truly heartbreaking conclusion that Jesus reached about his betrayer as the definitive response to his heinous act.
If I were to choose my favorite scene in the book, however, it would be a little scene in the Temple, when Mary Magdalene brings a bunch of children around Jesus, to counter the slandering words of the Pharisees. There is a small moment in that scene, in which Jesus rubs noses with a little girl, and that made me so, so emotional, because it touches upon the essence of who Jesus is in such an intimately human and utterly innocent manner. And the way in which the Passion is retold…if there is one novel that made me want to go down on my knees and thank Jesus for what He chose to do, knowing fully well that He could have stopped at any moment, IN THE FLESH is that novel. An amazing, potentially life-changing look at the life of Jesus, IN THE FLESH gets a well-deserved ten out of five stars! Thank you, Mr. Gabriele. A fine, fine work!

An old saying goes “Truth is stranger than fiction”. And if I were to add to it, I would say “And when the two clash, it always wins out”. If there is one book that has convinced me of this, it is the magnificent non-fiction novel I am about to review, titled WOUNDED TIGER: A TRUE STORY. Written by Mr. T. Martin Bennett, this is not only a true story, but it might be the most incredible true story I have ever read.
The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the most crippling blows dealt to the United States of America. It is the moment in which the nation considered the mightiest of all decided to get involved in the most earth-shattering conflict of the twentieth century. And, as this amazing book shows, it has been the starting point for one of the most mindblowing true stories which showcase the power of mercy and forgiveness.

Mitsuo Fuchida is a very prideful man. He is a top-notch pilot, and he is fiercely devoted to the Emperor of Japan and to his country, like a samurai of the days of old.

Peggy Covell is a girl on a mission. The Japanese have caused her the greatest possible pain by executing her missionary parents whose only fault was that of spreading the Gospel.

Jake DeShazer’s rage after the Pearl Harbor attack burns white hot. As American as apple pie and baseball, Jake sees it as his sacred duty to get revenge on the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.

These three destinies collide in a way that only God could have orchestrated. A story of pride, hatred, cruelty, and most of all, the unfathomable power of God’s eternal love that changes these three lives in ways no one could have expected. And this book takes its time, and pulls no punches telling and showing you how. It’s one of those books that I am genuinely proud to have on my shelf, and it just SCREAMS for a big, bold movie adaptation. I love the inclusion of all those rare historical photographs, it turns the book into an invaluable document for those who are interested in the Pacific War. In fact, I am willing and able to go so far as to swear by this book as being the one book on Pearl Harbor that should be read by everyone, all over the world. And it deserves to be, just as much as it deserves the aforementioned movie adaptation. And of course, the ten out of five rating! Though Mr. Bennett was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this amazing book, I would not do it justice if the views presented herein weren’t my own. Read this story, folks! It’s worth it! Jake, Peggy and Fuchida are now my heroes. As is the humble scribe of this amazing tale. One for the ages!

Stories of angels engaging in larger-than-life warfare with demons with mankind as we know it at stake have always been favorites of mine, feeding my lifelong fascination with confrontations between good and evil.  I’ve previously discussed the beautifully challenging undertaking of writing Christian fantasy, of using one’s imagination to tell a story that embraces the Truth, guides along the Way and celebrates the beauty of Life.

Once more, I find myself tremendously blessed to have the opportunity to discuss an epic novel which deals with this subject matter. The novel is called THE SABRAEL CONFESSION, and it is written by Mr. Stephen J. Smith, to whom I’m wholeheartedly grateful for providing me with a signed copy of his work. That being said, this entire review consists of my own thoughts of this book, and what an honor it is to state as such.

One question that might come to readers who approach Christian fiction warily is how preachy this book might be. Well, let me tell you: Mr. Smith, who has a background in scriptwriting, is so busy telling a vivid, gripping and heartfelt story, that none of the Christian themes and motifs of the novel come across as heavy-handed. For all intents and purposes, this book mixes the lost-ancient-document pretext found in Dan Brown’s novels, the gripping suspense and darker themes of a work by Stephen King, the grandeur of J.R.R. Tolkien’s battle scenes, and the moral values of C.S. Lewis.
Sabrael, one of the seven angels assigned with protecting the newborn Jesus, starts off as a pupil of Lucifer in the book, and I loved how the author chose to portray Lucifer. Here, the future Accuser and enemy of mankind is initially overwhelmed by the fact that the other angels consider him privileged due to his status as the second living creature after God, then becomes strangely addicted to that feeling, ultimately claiming to be equal to God. Sabrael walks the reader through the pain of betrayal and the cost of rebellion, then detailing the envy and hatred of Satan toward mankind, whilst also providing gripping explanations of creation and evolution. The narrative jumps from the War in Heaven to the Creation of mankind,the early period of the life of Jesus, the Early Middle Ages and present day with the greatest of ease. This could very well translate to the silver screen and become the latest faith-based blockbuster. For a 500+ page book, the pace is blistering, so do not let the size put you off. You’ll find this Christian fantasy epic to be one for the ages, one that deserves all the credit it can get. Ten out of five! Awesome job, Mr. Smith. Oh, and that ending left me yearning for more. What ending? You seriously didn’t think I was gonna rob you of the pleasure of finding out for yourselves, right?

If there is one historical novel subgenre that I could read thousands of examples of without getting tired, that subgenre is Biblical historical fiction, particularly that  which is based upon the New Testament.  I find a great deal of truth in the name that has been given to the story of Jesus as The Greatest Story Ever Told, and I think it’s utterly amazing how many perspectives this story has been told from throughout the ages, and it just keeps getting retold without losing its original impact.

The novel I am about to review is the latest and grittiest retelling of this story that I have ever read.  It is called BLOOD OF EMPIRES and written by Mr. John Lawrence Burks, whom I’m eternally grateful to for the signed copy of his work. Nevertheless, every word of this review is a product of my own thoughts, and I’m more than blessed to say so.

Venustus Vetallus is an old man. He is just turning 91 and is about to be executed as the story begins. His crime: being a Christian.  The novel is essentially the story of how Venustus became a Christian, but it is so much more than that. It is an action-packed, gritty story of Ancient Rome, as though Lew Wallace had met Ridley Scott over a cup of coffee.  There are 40 years of research behind this book and it shows. The story kicks off when the mother of Venustus is murdered by his corrupt senator father, and what should be a story of revenge turns into a saga of self-discovery, ripe with gladiatorial combat and assassination attempts, as Venustus’s ideals about power collide with the emerging ideals of Christianity as preached by Jesus. Venustus does not come across as a saintly figure whatsoever. He’s a man of violence, used to blood and death, a man who ends up in the service of tyrants, a man who thinks that power is a notion he knows well, until he sees Jesus in the Temple, and speaks to John the Baptist.  The manner in which the presence of these two men comes to affect him is very impactfully rendered, with Venustus ending up questioning everything that he learns, from the time spent at Aristotle’s Lyceum, to his training as a warrior.  The novel is replete with information about the Roman and Jewish cultures of the time, mostly pertaining to notions of divinity, freedom and slavery. The entire point of the novel, and it’s a very well-thought out point, is that of providing a comparison between the Roman Empire, which is known for its bloodshed, and the Kingdom preached by John and Jesus,which was formed through the blood shed by Christ on Golgotha. It’s an intense, informative and inspiring book that I feel richer for having read, and I cannot wait to see where the story will go.

Thank you, Mr. Burks! Great job! Ten out of five for a story for the ages!

I’m a huge dog lover. I find dogs to be the most noble and the kindest of all creatures that Man has been blessed to call companions throughout the ages.  I have a special sort of affection for German Shepherds, my first pet having been one.

Native-American spirituality is the one that I find the most fascinating, second to Christianity, of course. I love how connected Native-American people are to nature and how everything in their life revolves around it.

When I found the novel that I am about to review, I was instantly hooked based on the description of the plot alone.  Why, you might ask?

Well, it’s because the book features both a German Shepherd as a protagonist, and a wealth of Native-American lore.

Set in the beautiful-looking Superstition Mountains(yes, that is their actual name) in Arizona, the book, called A DOG NAMED NO, and written by Ms. Bonnie Pike, to whom I’m wholeheartedly grateful for the book and signed bookplates,  tells  the story of Elizabeth Reed, a lonely, broken woman who enjoys hiking and is an avid dog lover. While exploring the aforementioned Superstition Mountains(of which there’s a wealth of black-and-white photos generously spread throughout the book), with her rambunctious German Shepherd Ranger(the reason for the title is super-hilarious, so read this book!), Elizabeth gets lost and seriously injured. She finds healing and answers to her life’s pressing questions via a “sipapu”, a sort of otherworldly portal in the Apache culture.  The book offers a great deal of information about the Apache, from their creation myths, to their rites of womanhood, which are  beautifully and intimately explored. I was awed by the complexity of their spirituality, and I found out, for example, that in Apache spirituality, black obsidian is considered a very powerful absorbent of negative energy, which it then converts to positive energy.  I was surprised to discover that the Apache have a villainous creature known as The Owl Man, given that the owl is commonly perceived as a symbol of wisdom. And most of all, I loved Ranger, to whom, as the book shows, there’s much more than meets the eye.

If you enjoy books that feature a great deal of landscape descriptions, you’ll love this one. The author has a heck of a way with words, masterfully combining their simplicity and power. There’s a poetic ring to everything that’s written there, and there’s even some blank verse, a testimony of Ms. Pike’s background as a poet.  Remember that thing that people say, “to everyone that has ever loved a dog”?

Well, that’s  very true in regard to this book as well. The love between Elizabeth and Ranger is almost palpable, one feels it pouring from the page. The same thing goes for the love between Elizabeth and her husband, Jon, as well as the longing for her dearly departed first husband, Hunter.

In fact, the book in and of itself, as a harmonious, beautiful whole, is all about love, at least in my opinion. A true labor of love for life, love for dogs, love for America, a gripping tale full of heart and timeless wisdom, this enchanting piece of fiction rings with truths as old as time itself. Five out of five for one of the most heartfelt tales I’ve read in a while. Looking forward to more!

The views expressed herein are my own and I’m honored to say so. Thank you, Ms. Pike! Great, great book.