Biblical fiction is, without a doubt, one of, if not my favorite genre. There is something about spending time in the company of Biblical characters, inhabiting the world of so, so long ago, walking with Christ, that I find utterly fascinating. As stated here before, books like THE ROBE, THE BIG FISHERMAN, QUO VADIS, BEN-HUR, etc, have been guides on my walk with Christ.

The latest such novel that I have had the privilege to read is BETHLEHEM’S CHILDREN, an epic saga of faith, family, fanaticism and, most of all, forgiveness, penned by pastor John Indermark, who was gracious enough to send me a signed copy of his work.

This is a hefty tome, clocking in at 650 pages. But it is probably the most rewarding work of Biblical fiction that I have read this year.

Every great novel starts from a question. And the question in this one is „What happened to the families of the children who were slain by order of Herod the Great on the fateful night of the Massacre of Innocents?”

The sprawling nature of the novel allows the author to flesh out the characters, and their motivations, to put a great deal of spiritually nourishing „meat” upon the bones of the Greatest Story Ever Told. For the book does follow the entire life of Christ, from just after birth to the Resurrection, and it does so in a gripping, heartfelt manner.

The one thing I appreciated the most about this amazing book is the fact that although it is firmly grounded into Scripture, this is no Sunday-school-style retelling of The Greatest Story Ever Told. This is a story that does not shy away from the brutality of the times it depicts. And I love how the characters are so deeply human. These are people who have seen their children being slaughtered.

An important aspect of Biblical fiction is the fact that everyone knows the basic elements of the stoy of Christ, whatever they believe in. To bring a new perspective about, the author has to use their imagination and create interesting links between characters. And Mr. Indermark shines at this. The story of Barabbas, his entire character arc, is so, so well done. And how he actually gets his name, Yeshua Barabbas, is something that will blow your mind.

In its essence, this is a story about familial bonds, and all the intense emotions they encompass. In this regard, I loved the story of Simeon, a son so disillusioned with the cowardice of his father in the aftermath of losing his baby, that he joins the Romans.

Of course, in any novel about Christ, He is the central element. And this, in my view, is the crowning achievement of BETHLEHEM’S CHILDREN. Mr. Indermark has chosen to portray Jesus in a manner that is quite close to how I view Him: very gentle, yet firm in His authority. This Jesus sees the remembrance of the Massacre of Innocents as a duty of honor. When He summons the children to come to Him he does so while sternly reprimanding the Apostles for wanting to send them away. In driving the merchants from the Temple, He is a picture of righteous indignation that will uplift the hearts of believers who see Him as a peaceful revolutionary. He shows that love and forgiveness can and should sometimes go hand in hand with chastisement.

Judas, here, is a complex and conflicted figure, while nevertheless not turning into some sort of anti-hero: he has a very to-the-point meaning in mind for Jesus and His message, and when he cannot see that meaning come true, the end is the bitterly familiar one.

Speaking of the end, I will say this: if I were to pick one reason for which readers should feast upon this labor of love, apart from the above-mentioned one, it is the ending. If you are faithful, you will be on your knees, thanking Jesus. And I guarantee it. It happened to me.

Ten stars out of five, for the gritty, glorious, God-inspired masterpiece that is BETHLEHEM’S CHILDREN.

Though Mr. Indermark was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his work for review purposes, I would not be doing justice to this amazing, potentially life-changing book if the views expressed herein were not my own!

Sometimes, I go ahead and just do things. And a little while ago, I did one of those things, which led to the most unexpected addition to my bookshelf of all time.

Namely, I wrote to bestselling author Steven Pressfield, famous for works like „The Gates of Fire”, which deal with the warriors of ages long gone by, and expressed my interest in and enthusiasm about his upcoming novel, A MAN AT ARMS, which marks the return to the ancient world that fans were probably awaiting with bated breath, and told him of my interest in said novel, saying that I would purchase it once it comes out. And Mr. Pressfield blew me out of the water by agreeing to send me an ARC. When I got the package and saw that there were two, I was stunned for a couple minutes!

The thing that caught my attention about the book is that its story is deeply concerned with the early Christian church and the Epistle of Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, one of the cornerstones of Christian creed.

What Mr. Pressfield has managed to do here, with this new book, is to create a thriller of the ancient world, with a Christian element at the very center something that I have rarely had the chance to read.

Meet Telamon. He is a mercenary. A sword-for-hire, a cold-blooded cutthroat who will end the life of anyone for the right price. He worships no gods, follows no leaders. To him, it is all about the cold, hard, cash. Side note: I understand that Telamon shows up as a minor character in other novels by Mr. Pressfield, and that he is some sort of prototype for the Universal Soldier. One does not have to be acquainted with his previous appearances, however, to understand both the story as a whole and the nature of Telamon.

Telamon has a mission. A mission from the Roman commander of the Jerusalem garrison, Marcus Severus Pertinax. To find and eliminate the courier that carries a text that is considered the most dangerous piece of writing of all time by the Romans: the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, famous for its definition of love, herein referred to as „charity”, per the King James version of the Bible. When he meets the courier, a certain Michael, „the most dangerous man in Palestine”, and his young protege, Ruth, a mute girl, there is a sudden change of heart, although he knows that if he fails, crucifixion awaits him.

The novel has a breakneck pace from start to finish. This is one of those thrillrides that never lets go of the reader, and in this regard, it reads like what would happen if a classic like Ben-Hur got the action-packed blockbuster treatment. Reading the descriptions of Telamon fighting Arabs, Jews and Romans alike will turn the pages at a blistering rate. There is also a witch, who I would LOVE to see portrayed by Helena Bonham-Carter if this thrilling tale ever gets adapted as a film, which it totally should, plenty of violence,but also a lot of bonding moments between characters. The relationship between Telamon and David, his young Jewish apprentice, the bond with Ruth, and especially his dialogue with Michael concerning the nature of Jesus, give readers looking for some heart in the story plenty to enjoy. I, for one, am super-honored to have been selected to read this book in advance, especially given the fact that I am the first in my neck of the woods to have done so. I was super-pleasantly surprised to discover that a bestselling author known for his novels of ancient warfare was interested in the early Christian era, and when I was told I would get an ARC, I found it the greatest blessing in my existence as a historical fiction enthusiast.

A thrill-a-minute novel with characters one grows to care about, a vivid, cinematic exploration of a brutal, yet mesmerizing time period, A MAN AT ARMS will please those who enjoy historical thrillers, and Christians as well. I am super-thankful for the tremendous honor of having read it in advance, signed by the author, to whom I will forever be grateful, and I give it a solid ten out of five. Thank you, Mr. Pressfield! This Romanian nerd will always be grateful to you! And by the way, you urged me not to skip to the ending, and I urge other readers not to as well! Because it will blow you out of the water, especially if you are a Christian!

PS: I would LOVE to see you tackle the story of Barabbas, the zealot freed instead of Jesus on Good Friday. To me, A MAN AT ARMS proved that you definitely understand the time period, and how people thought back then. I would be super-thrilled to read your take on why a man of violence was spared instead of one who taught compassion and love for enemies. But, of course, this is just a friendly, if daring, suggestion, from an eternally grateful fan! Ten stars out of five for this top-notch thriller with a heart!

There is something that everyone, regardless of their background, has. And that something is a dream. And if there is one book that has convinced me of the fact that dreams can and do come true, you will not find its author holding conferences to sharp-dressed people talking about comfort zones and all such platitudes.

The author of the book I am about to review, called Start with a Dream, Joey Cassata started out as a kid with a „frozen moment”, watching Kiss perform, when he was a child. Mesmerized by the drummer, The Cat, Peter Criss, Joey got hooked on drums. And what followed was an arduous, epic journey. A journey that, I assure each and every one of you, will convince ANYONE, from ANYWHERE, that dreams do not only come true in Hollywood movies.

As a rock and wrestling fan, this book was an excellent mood-booster to me. Readers will be privileged to follow the author from his rocky childhood, marked by the absence of his father, to his first experiences as a rock and wrestling fan. I was mindblown by how much adversity this man has had to face, but also by the overwhelming and unwavering love of his mother, who supported any of his dreams, no matter how big and outlandish they were. You will get a glimpse at rowdy young rockers dealing with the strict rules of Catholic school, and standing their ground. You will see the awe of kids experiencing their rock and wrestling heroes at their finest.

Where this book shines the most in my honest opinion is in presenting the story of someone who faced a great deal of adversity in an entirely relatable and empathy-inducing manner. Mr. Cassata, in an act of great courage, is presenting his life story here warts-and-all. Those looking for the glitz and glam of rock star life will get that, as there is plenty of awesome stories of a man who started out as a fan and got to hang out and goof around with his idols, but there is also a lot on moving from place to place, losing homes due to financial problems and trying to live up to expectations that ultimately end up being illusions. I think this is the most earnest and optimistic autobiography that I have ever been blessed with reading. You will see a boy growing into a fan, a fan growing into a student, a student growing into an artist, an artist growing into one who is able to call his idols his friends, and into a husband and father. And you will be all the richer for it, for this is a lively, lovely book that any rock fan, wrestling fan, and consummate dreamer should read. Cameos from KISS, Roddy Piper, Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, and others should be enough to whet the appetite of any fan! Ten stars out of five for my personal blueprint of how to follow your dream!

Thank you, Mr. Cassata. What you did takes great guts and should lead to great glory! Honored to have read this one!

Though Mr. Cassata was kind enough to send me a copy of his work, my thoughts here are, indeed, my own. Otherwise, I would not do justice to this amazingly true journey.

The thing I love most about the story of Jesus, as stated with other occasions, is its  innate ability to stay fresh. It is literally the most well-known story of our civilization, and regardless of what our options regarding faith might be, we know it to at least some degree or another.

Masterpieces such as QUO VADIS, BEN-HUR, THE ROBE, THE BIG FISHERMAN, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, have attempted, to some extent, to explore the meaning of Jesus within the context of the world which He inhabited.

2020, a challenging year for the world, brings forth  the latest novel which is worthy of sharing your shelf-space with the aforementioned classics.  The novel is called SON OF MARY, and written by Mr. Randy Ingermanson, Christian author, physicist and archaeologist extraordinnaire.  And let me tell you. It is like NOTHING you have ever read before. Actually, it is something like what would happen if Tolkien, Lew Wallace and Kazantzakis decided to go out for a cup of coffee and swap ideas on what Jesus meant and did for the world.

Now, the main idea that the novel is grounded on might raise a few eyebrows, ruffle a few feathers and even scare some people, but after having read it through and through, I can wholeheartedly attest that it is an idea that is meant to be an encouragement. Every novel has its „what if?” And in this case, the „what if” is „What if Jesus had DISCOVERED He is the Messiah, the Son of God?”

This comes, of course, with questions. With hesitations. With fear.  With expectations that can turn burdensome. And this book is about all that. But it is so much more.

Typically, a Biblical novel is about a certain character, whether Biblical or fictional, and their walk with Jesus. This is a novel about Jesus and His walk with God. And the genius of it lies both in the story itself and the way it is told.

From the get-go, the reader is told to expect to be thrust in a different world ,with different customs and different people. With different thoughts and different manners of speech. The names of the characters are in the Aramaic of the time, so you will discover Yeshua, Miryam and Yoseph, Shimon the Rock,  Yaakov, Yoni(the Apostle John, here, the Genius of Capernaum, a Torah-savvy teen), and the language has a slightly stilted, but highly appealing structure, peppered with Aramaic words. The name of God is referenced here as HaShem, the Holy Spirit is Shekinah. There is tougher stuff too, like haryo(dung) and zonah(prostitute), for this is also a novel with a great deal of grit. We are used to the Sunday-school imagery of Jesus and the saints with halos, walking on clouds. This is the story of a Jesus who laughs, cries, feels pain, confusion, fear, anger. A Jesus who does not know „how to make a justice on his mother”, as He puts it in the novel. Oh, and Mary. Wonderful, wonderful Miryam of Nazareth. As a Catholic by baptism, in theory, I should be very wary of fiction that portrays her in another light but that of holiness. But I was never that good at putting theory into practice. And plus, this Mary is so, so, so compellingly portrayed. Whoever does not empathize with her should seriously question their humanity. She is humiliated beyond belief, but loves her Son with all her heart.  Shimon the Rock also won me over with his proverbial stubbornness, but also with the realization that the justice of HaShem is restorative justice, upon witnessing the crucifixion of the perpetrator of an act that left him with a deep trauma.

Where the novel shines most, in my view, is in revealing Jesus’ walk with God. It is in our nature, as believers, to sometimes think that all Jesus did in His life was walk around and speak to people about love while doing miracles. And because of this irksome habit of having fiction reflecting the often politically correct mores of our society, fiction has taken on the unhealthy habit of portraying women as more emancipated than they could have been in that day and age.  The novel avoids this by pulling no punches in regard to their plight. Women have it really tough here. They are voiceless, humiliated, yearning to matter.  And in this story of Jesus, we see Him interacting with them warmly, gently, naturally. Treating them like human beings. We see a Jesus who takes a hundred small steps before taking a big one and making a miracle happen. We see a Jesus weeping for disabled children suffering cruel fates because of the wickedness of some people, and as a disabled Christian, THIS IS the Jesus I was looking for. Not one who shouts for my rights with His fists in the air, but one who quietly, discreetly,  and emotionally proclaims me and those like me children of HaShem.  It is a thrill to follow Jesus on His quest to destroy the First Power(what it is and how it works, I will leave you with the pleasure of discovering for yourselves).  The ending, the precipice scene in the Gospels, has all the nail-biting suspense and heartrending drama of a film or TV series. Hello, Netflix? Maybe you would like to pick up something that is different WITHOUT being blasphemous? Just saying!

This novel is the first in the projected four-volume series called THE CROWN OF THORNS. And though I know the overall „big picture”, Mr. Ingermanson has definitely managed to keep me on edge with his painstaking attention to the little things. Although he was kind enough to provide me with a Kindle review copy, I would not be making a justice on this book if my thoughts were not my own. All the stars upon a midnight sky could not make a justice, so instead, I will give SON OF MARY a kiss and a kiss and a kiss.

Blessings, Mr. Ingermanson!

Eagerly awaiting the next book!

The world is definitely a strange, often harsh place, and one only has to glimpse at the news headlines to come to terms with this fact. There is so much in our society that points to the fact that we are headed in a deeply disturbing direction, in our hunger for influence.  And while I do love a good fantasy epic that takes me to worlds populated with creatures of myth and magic, there is room upon my shelf for a sobering, gritty, heartfelt gut-punch of a novel every now and then.

The latest novel that had this kind of impact on me is the epic COLOMBIANO, written by Mr. Rusty Young, an Australian journalist with first-hand experience in the Colombian armed conflict of not too long ago.

The novel tells the story of Pedro  Guttierez, a character based upon children that the author interviewed. Pedro is 15 years old when the novel starts out, so he can be expected to have the hopes and dreams of 15-year-olds: he loves his family, he loves his girlfriend, and he is filled with youthful enthusiasm.

Then, things take a grim turn. After a gesture of benevolence to the Colombian Army, his father is executed by the Communist FARC guerilleros. What follows is a long, sprawling  story of Pedro’s self-imposed mission of avenging his father by finding and delivering justice to those he deems responsible, one by one.

Do not be mistaken: although the protagonist is a young adult, this is not a book that I would necessarily recommend to the YA age group. This book is raw. It is blisteringly realistic. It depicts the cruelty of men towards their peers without any punches pulled. And most of all, it shows us all a reality that we do not acknowledge enough, whether due to being unaware of it or to refusing to believe in its reality.

The novel depicts children being taught to fight, to bottle up their emotions, to become effective, cutting-edge killing machines. No shred of the sense of wide-eyed idealism that characterizes Pedro and his best friend Palillo is left when they get to training with the Autodefensas anti-communist death squads. Emotional attachments are forbidden to them, there is even a scene with a dog they had adopted as a sort of squad mascot that will tear readers apart.

The aspect in regard to which the novel shines the brightest is the evolution of Pedro’s psyche. Yes, the novel is a story about a nation going through turbulent times, and readers get to see all of that. There are violent fights between the Guerillas and Autodefensas, a lot of skulduggery inolving drug dealers, all signs of a society struggling with powerful demons. And seeing it all through the eyes of a young man on an epic quest for vengeance makes this amazing book so much more than a novel about  vengeance and war. It is, essentially, a novel about ideas, and their power to make or break both men and nations. It is a story of ideologies robbing children of their innocence and drenching their dreams in brutality. It is a story of love, intense love, even amidst the horrors of war. The love that Pedro and Camilla share, the love he  feels for his family, is the poignant emotional core of a story set in a brutal, unflinching world.  This is a great novel, for its resonant, timely, and heartfelt message, something we need more of today.  It is not for everyone, due to both its dimensions and the brutality of the world which it evokes, but those who read it will be rewarded with an excellent blend of thrills and depth, rarely found in fiction today.  This is one of the best sprawling epics I have ever read. Solid, solid 10 out of 5 for a masterpiece.

Mr. Young  was kind enough to send me a PDF copy of his novel for review purposes, but if these thoughts on this awesome book were not my own, I would not be doing it justice.

The alliteration in the title of this review is meant to attempt a musical lilt, as the gem of a novel that I am about to discuss is centered around the early years of a musical icon, among whose fans I am truly happy to count myself.

Elvis Presley, for he is the icon I am talking about, has undoubtedly changed the face of music, and popular culture as we know it.  We have all heard a song, seen a movie, watched a concert clip of his sheer magnetism on stage.

And yet, his private life, his innermost thoughts, are a mystery.

To our great enjoyment, there is a wonderful thing that the human mind and heart have joined forces to invent, and that wonderful thing is known as historical fiction.

I have had the distinct honour of reading a beautiful, touching, warmly eloquent novel in which the youth of Elvis Presley takes center stage and is observed from a third-person perspective, with an emphasis on the relationship with the love of his life: his mother.

Yes, it is upon this deep, most intimate bond in the life of the King that the entire novel is based, and it is a  massive success in all the ways it could be. This is a book that pulls no punches about the times that Elvis lived in: times of extreme poverty, religious fervor(explored thrillingly through a scene with a „possessed” teenage girl), and segregation. I particularly enjoyed a scene in which Elvis talks to a black blues musician about his fascination and drive toward music, and the black man highlights the opportunities that young Elvis, a white boy, could have  in that society, a society which denied black people opportunities for formal education and well-paid workplaces.   This gave me a far better and deeper sense of appreciation for what Elvis chose to do and what that choice meant for the history of music.

The novel is quite literally spotless when it comes to the recreation of language. The Southern twang of all the characters almost literally vibrates off the page, and if I did not know that Ms. Roberts is actually British, I could have sworn she was born „down South”, as Elvis himself puts it in „Polk Salad Annie.”

GRACELAND is a lovingly-crafted tribute to the most influential of musical icons in the United States of America, with a welcome emphasis on what was undeniably the most intimate bond he ever had in his life. A poignant, lyrical, gritty, heartfelt glimpse inside the heart and mind of a man who enriched hearts and challenged minds for a living. The love for music and the love for his mother come across in such a powerful manner, that readers will close the book feeling as though they were actually there with Elvis and Gladys. A masterpiece of biographical fiction. Graceland gets a SOLID ten out of five!

Thank you, Ms. Roberts! Thankyaverymuch!

Though Ms. Roberts was kind enough to send me a copy of her novel in exchange for a review, I would not do this amazing book justice if the thoughts herein were not my own. I am a better person and Elvis fan for having read it, and so will all its readers be.

 

Christian fantasy is one of the most challenging genres to write, in my view. It has to be exciting, thrilling, even, and to be grounded in the Truth found within the tenets of Christianity. It almost sounds as if it is an endeavor that is purposefully designed not to work.

However, in the right hands, this genre can and definitely does produce gems. And one of these gems is the novel called REALMS, written by Mr. K.T. Kimbrough. I have had the tremendous blessing of having a copy sent to me by Mr. Kimbrough for review purposes, but let me assure you that every word you are about to read is true to my own impressions and thoughts about this book. Otherwise, I would not be able to do it justice.

Seth Ivory is a rock star through and through. He lives, loves and breathes through music. And he seeks greater meaning in his life and his songs. Then, suddenly, his life is turned inside out when he is involved in a road accident that leaves his motorcycle in shambles, his body in a coma and his spirit drifting between two worlds. His witty guardian angel will have a load of work cut out for him as he defends him from legions of demons that seek to condemn him to eternal damnation, while his lover, Summerlann Valentine, known as Summer, and his bandmates, seek to unravel the mystery of his accident, in a story filled with thrills, chills, and a huge amount of heart. Seth will learn the real story behind the nature of religion and the difference between religion and a relationship with God(that part actually blew my mind and had me cheering like crazy), from his faithful friends, Will and Tabby Patel, whose love will prove crucial for the story of Seth and Summerlann.

As a Christian who is big into rock, I found this book to be an extremely pleasant surprise. It is a non-stop, gritty, heartfelt roller-coaster ride through the world of rock and the realms of the supernatural, that pulls no punches and aims straight for the heart. To those who like their Christian fiction on the gritty side, the few instances of profanity will not be a problem.  There are also depictions of demonic summonings, but they are very relevant to the story, and give it an edge unlike anything I have ever read in Christian fiction. It left me wanting more, and not in the dissapointing cliffhanger kind of way.  I could seriously see a sequel going on with Requiem of Eden in a Battle of the Bands type of contest with some black metal band that seeks to summon an archdemon of sorts.   And it is obvious that this gloriously gutsy Christian thriller with a rock edge gets a 10 outta 5! Great job, Mr. Kimbrough. You rock!

The struggle between Good and Evil has been at the core of every self-respecting story that has ever been called compelling, because, in its essence, it is the one story that helps us, as humans, make heads or tails of the world around us.

Being the quintessential story of human existence, it is only natural that the story of the struggle of Good and Evil has been told in countless manners across the entire gallery of the arts.

One particularly thrilling example of how to tell this timeless tale can be found in ANNO DOMINI, the chilling, compelling debut novel by Mr. Robert DeAngelis.
The premise is simple, yet startlingly effective: what if, today, in our modern world, the reality of Satan were as tangible as possible. And what if he was everything we fear he could be…and more?

The book opens with a pair of chilling supernatural events which, wishing to give away as little as possible, made me vow to never look at jackals and tsunamis the same way again.
Then, the action moves to a small Wisconsin church, where a sermon by Father Tom Slouti is brutally interrupted by an assailant from the depths of the underworld.
His name: Ia(pronounced E-ah). His nature: the Fallen One. His aim: Becoming the One True God.

Ia is undoubtedly the most original take I have ever seen on Satan in fiction. He is scary, but eerily alluring, an eight-foot-tall with a bluish glow to his skin and a huge tail. His presence is intimidating and commanding. I could very well picture him voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. All over the world, Ia promises neverending prosperity to those who pledge their loyalty to him. Those who refuse perish in hellish manners. Mr. DeAngelis enlightened me regarding the symbolism behind the name Ia: it points to the ego, to „I”, whether resembling „I”, „Ich”, „Io”, or any other such forms, for the Devil most often clings to our ego.

Faced with Ia are Kalvin Sorenson, an investigative reporter known for his skepticism and bitterness toward religion, and Madeline McCoy, a faithful woman tormented greatly by Ia for her devotion to God. These two people get to know the terror of living in a world where Satan is not only a concept, and it is brilliantly shown through these pages. I felt the chill of his presence and the menace of his evil every time he was in a scene. I really enjoyed the story arc of Kalvin, the nonbeliever who is forced to accept the supreme supernatural force of evil and what he goes through while trying to prove the existence of Ia. His journey to the Vatican and his reaction to the skepticism of Catholic priests, as he experiences the evil of Ia firsthand are strong points of the book.
However, in my view, the strongest point is in the faith of Madeline McCoy. It is so simple, and yet so profound and respectfully represented, that I could not help but love it. In fact, the whole „backbone” of the book is the contrast between the evil of Ia and the purity of Madeline. As for the ending, without giving it away, I will just say it is the most hopeful ending for a supernatural thriller that I have ever come across. I am a better, more faithful person for having read this book that manages to thrill and inspire. Solid, solid 10 out of 5!
Though I am grateful to Mr. DeAngelis for the signed copy of the book he provided me with, the views herein are my own!Thank you, Mr. DeAngelis. Helluva job, if I do say so myself!

In my view, the secret to a great young adult novel is the grace and urgency with which it tackles issues that readers are struggling with. Adolescence is essentially an age of struggles, an age at which everyone seeks to define themselves in the most authentic of manners.
Although I have quite long ago passed the age which would place me in the center of the YA demographic, I could not ignore such gems as GIRL IN PIECES and THE HATE U GIVE, which were HUGELY impactful to me because they revealed that YA books are truly about more than cardboard heroes and heroines in ever-twisting love triangles. They were works with a powerful social component, which left me wondering when someone would do for disability what THE HATE U GIVE did for racial issues and GIRL IN PIECES did for young people struggling with self-harm issues.
And, to my hugely pleasant surprise, I found it. And I found it in a novel written by someone who KNOWS disability because she has it. She experiences it. And she uses the experience to teach, to educate, to inform, and to inspire, without striving to be what has become shallowly known as „an inspiration”.
I am talking about Ms. Christina Minaki and her wonderful novel, BURNING THE BOATS. This book is special, in more ways than one, and I will try, and fully place my hope in succeeding, to explain why.

Naomi Demas, the protagonist of the novel, is seventeen. She loves horses, she is faithful, she is surrounded by an eclectic and loving family, and she struggles greatly with big stuff like love, belonging and other such emotional and deeply personal themes in the life of everyone. And she has Cerebral Palsy. It is not coincidental that I put the diagnosis last, because Naomi is the kind of person who does all she can for her disability not to be the only thing that defines her. There is enough troubled history in her family as it is, with a dead twin and a mentally ill mother who took off with her older sister, while her father was left to care for her the best he can. Add to this the fact that all her friends have problems, from alcoholism to learning disabilities and abusive environments, and you can safely say this girl has her work cut out for her.
The truly great thing about the novel, in my view, lies in the self-awareness of our protagonist. Naomi really, really knows she is different, and yet, she embraces it with something one may not be remiss in calling stubbornness. Naomi knows who she is and needs no one to label her. I can certainly relate to that, as my own life experience has shown me that being disabled is not something that makes a person inherently inspirational(this word has REALLY become a huge cliche, to be completely honest). This is by turns a funny, sad, gritty, tender, authentic and inspiring look at what living with a disability is truly like, and like the aforementioned YA novels that come before it, it speaks with great wit and warmth about a theme that, in my view, should be addressed more often and more boldly. Ten out of five, for a great, great novel.
Though Ms. Minaki was kind enough to provide me with a copy iof her novel for review purposes, these views are my own, and I am proud to say so! Thank you, Ms. Minaki. A truly wonderful job!

In my previous review, I was talking about the excitement I felt when I found out that one of the classics of my late childhood/early adolescence, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, had a sequel from a probably unlikely source: an American writer with a Russian resonance to his name, Mr. Nikolay Kharin.
This review is a follow-up to the review for the first book, in which, of course, I will address the sequel.
Given the title, I would say it is rather obvious where his daring deeds have landed our favorite Gascon when the first epic novel was concluded. D’Artagnan is now in the most infamous of French prisons, due to the machinations of the ever-scheming Cardinal Richelieu. And it is up to his ever-faithful brothers-in-arms Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, to rescue him at all costs.

This is a big, brash, beautiful brick of a book. It is probably the fastest-moving sprawling epic novel I have ever had the chance to read, and there is so much happening in it that an adventure-hungry reader will find themselves in the closest place to Paradise they have ever been to. Conspiracies, spies, courtroom intrigues, mysterious religious orders, it is all there. I have to say, these two books are probably the most faithful to the style of any classic novel that I know of. I could swear that Mr. Kharin has some sort of a time-travel device and has had quite a few talks with Monsieur Dumas-pere. I think that these novels would really show that there is actually little need for fancy modernizations such as the 2011 CGI-heavy Paul W.S. Anderson affair that made the heroes look like something out of Assassin’s Creed. One just needs to simply understand the story and what made it tick in such a timeless manner that it excites anew while maintaining its sense of familiarity. I like comparing reading a good book to savoring the richest hot chocolate possible, letting the fullness of its sweet, smooth flavor delight your palate. This was the feeling this book gave me. I was always on the edge of my proverbial seat(or bed, given that I read this over two weekends, upon waking up), wanting to know how the Inseparable Four would continue their daring deeds. and most of all, how they would pull off the seemingly impossible task of freeing their faithful comrade. Since I like comparisons, if I could compare this book to a person, I would call it the literary equivalent of a super-heavyweight full-contact sport champion in his prime: it is deceptively nimble for its size, and it pulls absolutely no punches.
If you are looking for an adventure novel that will take you back to the good ol’days of dreaming about being a hero, and especially for proof that people still appreciate GOOD stories, regardless of their age, these two books are for you. Like its predecessor, THREE MUSKETEERS AGAIN, BOOK II, gets 10 out of 5.
Though Mr. Kharin was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of his work for review purposes, the views herein are my own, and I am proud to state so, and incredibly grateful too. Thank you, Mr. Kharin. Great, great job.