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.

Thanks to Irish writer Bram Stoker and Hungarian-American actor Bela Lugosi, just about everyone in the world knows about the myth of Dracula in at least one way, shape or manner. As far as iconic characters go, Dracula is surely a top contender.

But the reality of Dracula’s existence is just as undeniable as the power of his myth. And the story of Vlad the Impaler(known to Romanians as Vlad Țepeș) has all the makings of a page-turner.

And I’m about to discuss just that type of book.  Written by Ms. Lucille Turner, (to whom my gratitude for the copy of her work extends the novel I’ve the honour of reviewing today is called THE SULTAN, THE VAMPYR,  AND THE SOOTHSAYER, and it is a thoroughly compelling read. Beginning during the early life of Vlad, the middle of the three sons of Wallachian warlord Vlad Dracul, the book chronicles his becoming one of the most feared rulers in Europe at a time of great turmoil due to the conflict with the Ottoman Empire.  The polarizing nature of young Vlad is very well portrayed by the author: the young man is caught between two clashing cultures: too warlike to fully embrace Christianity, too defiant to become a Muslim, even though he spends most of the period described in the book at the Ottoman court. In fact, that’s one of the reasons for which I found the book to be interesting: for a work of historical fiction set at a time of great conflicts, there’s not too many details about battles in and of themselves.  This is, nevertheless, a dark, dark novel.  I think I can see it as an HBO TV series, in the vein of GAME OF THRONES. I also like the way the vampire myth is woven into the story: here, the supernatural aspect of it all is more a matter of perception than something palpable.  However, the fear that the Romanians, here referred to as Rumani, feel whenever the subject of “strigoi” is brought about permeates every page where it’s mentioned.  The “otherness” of Turks to Wallachians and viceversa is also very well done. No one here is fully a hero or a villain, all of the characters are quite complex and very well thought out, from Vlad, defiant to the very end, to his father, Vlad Dracul, forced into an ultimate compromise, to Radu, bearing the marks of captivity in more ways than one.

For those who are interested in the real Dracula behind all the  myths and superstitions, for those who like their stories filled with intrigues, conspiracies and mysterious ancient scrolls,  THE SULTAN, THE VAMPYR AND THE SOOTHSAYER is just the right book.  The one thing I could point out as a small inaccuracy is that the Romanians are descendants of the Getae, rather than the Goths, but that does not take away from the pleasure of reading this page-turner. Five out of five. While I reiterate my gratitude to the author for the copy of her novel, the views expressed herein are my own. Thank you, Ms. Turner. Great, great job!

I’ve stated before that I wholeheartedly commend the writing of Christian fiction. In fact, I’m among those who consider Christian fiction authors as being amongst the most worthy followers of Christ, for our Lord Himself often told the Truth through stories.

Good versus evil. These three words have fascinated me for a lifetime. It is in them that I see the ultimate story, the most timeless and timely of all tales worth telling. And the novel that I’m about to discuss is a masterful example of how Christian fiction can be used as a guide toward the life-affirming Truth of Christ.

I’m talking about I, JETEBAIS, written by Mr. Robert Martin Bishop(whom I’m super-grateful for the copy of his work that he provided me with).  I think this might very well be among the most groundbreaking works of its kind that I have ever read.

Who is Jetebais? Well, he is a fallen angel. A fallen angel with a chip on his shoulder and one purpose in mind: forgiveness. To achieve it, he confesses to God about the part he played in the rebellion of Satan, key events in Biblical and modern times, and about the plans that the Devil has for mankind.  He does so by dictating his thoughts to a priest, and these thoughts are compellingly written and very, very intriguing: “I am the Rebellion. The murderous agony humankind has at once caused and endured is mine”, says Jetebais early on in the book.  His connection to the priest, Thaddeus Tarsus, AKA Paul(nothing is a coincidence in this book), puts them both in danger, along with mankind itself.  The description of Satan, provided by Jetebais, shows why Satan is such a considerable adversary: “He is everything you have read about him, everything you have seen in your entertainment[…] He is colossal and microscopic. He is spirit and body, ethereal and tangible. He is whatever serves his immediate purpose.”

I once read some wise words stating that a good book should make you laugh, cry and think.  Well, this one has all the stuff that’s needed to do all of that and more. There’s plenty to enjoy and to take to heart in this masterfully written pageturner that sounds like something that could’ve happened if Dan Brown got some sense into his head and accepted the invitation of C.S. Lewis to join him for a cup of tea and a nice, long talk about God and faith. This is a book that will challenge some of your long-held assumptions, but also one that will strengthen your faith. I will never look at religious fanaticism the same way after reading what Jetebais has to say about it. And that’s such a well-thought-of way of putting things that I’ll leave it to readers to discover it.  This worthwhile addition to the shelf of any Christian who likes their Truth told via a gripping, sprawling story deserves all the stars in the sky! Can’t recommend it high enough! The views expressed herein are my own, and I’m blessed to say so. Thank you, Mr. Bishop! One for the ages!

One does not have to be a genius to figure out the pattern of „religious mysteries” nowadays. There  is always the wise-cracking professor, the feisty woman, the creepy secret organization and the mystery that threatens to crumble the foundations of Christianity as we know it.  Add some intricate historical puzzles and as many plot twists as there are spots on a Dalmatian and you have got a guaranteed bestseller.

What if, though, just what if things were to be different? What if there is a novel that responds to this sort of formula by turning it on its head?

Wanna know the truth? There is one such novel.  Called THE GOSPEL OF PILATE and written by Mr. Paul Creasy, the book tells the story of avowed atheist archaeologist Thomas Lampton, who finds something extaordinary during a dig at Nero’s palace in Rome. In an amphora dating back to his time, there’s an almost perfectly preserved copy of the report that Pontius Pilate wrote for Emperor Tiberius, concerning the events leading up to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the Resurrection itself.

I loved the manner in which the book is structured. It actually follows two storylines. One is set in the present, and deals with the efforts of Thomas Lampton to keep the Gospel of Pilate safe, and make heads and tails of it, and another follows Pilate on his path to one of the most iconic utterances in the Bible: “What is truth?”

What could very well be a strictly by-the-numbers religious thriller with a slightly different angle, thus turns into an excellent read, filled with witty discussions  about faith between Lampton and Domenico Alberghetti, a Catholic priest and the brother of his sassy Italian girlfriend Victoria. The path towards faith that Lampton embarks upon is not sudden or miraculous, as tempting as it might have been for the author to make it as such. I also liked the twist in regard to the villain. Whereas other religious thrillers use the leader of some arcane cult for this position, here, we have dr. Anton Hawkins, staunch atheist and media mogul, who is hell-bent on destroying any sort of influence that religion has on mankind.  There’s plenty to love in this top-class historical thriller. Which is why I’m honored, and spiritually richer to have read it. Though Mr. Creasy was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of the novel, the views herein are entirely my own. Ten out of five for a faith-filled pageturner! Thank you, Mr. Creasy! Fantastic job.

When writing religious fiction, one of the traps that one has to know how to avoid is preachiness. Fiction can, of course, be deeply enrooted in Truth, but it doesn’t have to become an excuse for blind dogmatism. Tolkien understood it. Lewis understood it.  And, thankfully, the young and enthusiastic author Daniel A. Reyes understood it loud and clear as well.  His epic novel, THE ESSENCES(the copy of which I’m super-grateful to him for), is one of the most gripping Christian fiction works I have ever read.

The story of the fall of Satan has known its fair share of retellings over the years. At some point, one could probably have wondered: “Do we really need another one?”

Well, my friends, let me tell you, if it’s this one, the answer is a loud, resounding YES.

The book is narrated from the point of view of Uriel, a lesser angel, disciple of Archangel Michael, a noble, valiant warrior who speaks in Shakespearean tones.  The four Archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Satan, later called Lucifer for the reason of time having a different nature in Heaven have four weapons, known as Essences, items of great power which must be kept together at all costs in order to maintain a balance in Heaven…a balance which is threatened when Satan becomes lustful for ultimate power. And we all know how that ends, don’t we?

This is the reason why I believe this book is to be cherished. It takes a story that we all think we have at least a measure of knowledge about and manages to tell it in a completely fresh and exciting manner.  The relationships between the Archangels and their Essences, the connections they have with the elements of nature, the very distinct personalities they have(while Michael speaks in the aforementioned tones that would’ve been spot on in the time of Shakespeare, Raphael thunders in Latin, and there’s a Bookkeeping angel who speaks in rhymes as well), this all makes for exciting reading. I could see this as a blockbuster movie, and it would be a much needed one for our times, where a declaration of faith is more often than not scoffed upon.  I have to say that this is the first book set long, long ago where the use of anachronistic language did not jar me at all. Oh, and the descent into evil that Satan experiences is so, so, so well done. The reader gets a sense of graduality that reaches a very, very intense boiling point. You’ll never look at the fall of Satan the same way again after reading this one.  It’s an epic adventure, filled with warmth, courage, sacrifice, humor, like a big, throbbing heart that overflows with life. It’s a powerful meditation about the unpredictable nature of time, a cautionary tale of what power can do, but also a beautiful and timely reminder of the existence of an ever-loving God. And it will enrich you spiritually while also providing wholesome entertainment.  I’m a richer human being for having experienced this book. A solid five-star read which puts a new, rich spin on tradition while keeping the core intact.

Though the author was graceful and kind enough to provide me with a copy of his work, the views herein are my own, and I’m proud to state so. Thank you, Mr Reyes. Fantastic job.

 

The point of Hollywood remakes has often been brought into discussion, and, most of the times, controversy ensued.  Such was the case with BEN-HUR.  The 1959 movie by William Wyler is one of the cornerstones of American filmmaking, and the 1880 novel that inspired it grew into a classic(I would dare to say THE classic) of English-language Biblical fiction, so the point of a remake was bound to become a bone of contention to many(even though the film was not essentially a remake, and it’s not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be). But the movie remake is hardly the point here, because the movie is not the only BEN-HUR-related product of creativity to have recently emerged.

The great-great-granddaughter of Lew Wallace, Ms. Carol Wallace, took it upon herself to revitalize the classic novel for a new generation. And, if you ask me(as someone for whom the original novel is one of the most influential books ever), she did a fine job.

Before being quick to wonder why a classic of Biblical fiction that became a best-seller and inspired multiple stage and screen productions in its own right had to go through a face-lift, consider how much the world has changed in the period of time between the original novel and its “next-gen” version, so to speak. Images of the Middle East, as the author said, are now a couple of clicks away. And yes, Lew Wallace had a way with words. Such a way that when I first read the book, I became engrossed in all the details. But some pople might feel that all the landscape descriptions going on take away from the central theme of the novel, which is, in fact, the journey of Ben-Hur.

And this is where Ms. Wallace succeeds the most. By trimming the “fat” of her illustrious ancestor’s weighty classic, she offers the readers a chance to focus on Ben-Hur, to see  what makes him tick, to relate to him. I loved revisiting the world created by Wallace, which is still described in detail by his great-great-granddaughter, down to the language. While the language is more relatable than that used in its 19th-century predecessor, as I always do, I highly appreciated the attention that the author devoted to not making it sound anachronistic whatsoever.  The pace is also considerably faster, and the emphasis that the book places on its central character(as well as the most important women in his life), and his quest for truth and justice, makes Judah Ben-Hur take the spotlight again, only to humbly step out of the way and put it on Jesus, whose presence is discreet, but firm, in this crisp, reverent retelling of one of my favorite novels of all time. This book deserves all the attention it can get, because, in its essence, it is concrete evidence of the power of a story to endure. And I think the reason for which the story of Ben-Hur has endured for so long: the themes and values which it brings forth are themes and values everyone relates to.

Though I extend my gratitude to Ms. Wallace for  providing me with a copy of her work, a tremendous honor to a genre enthusiast like myself, the views presented herein are my own, and I am proud to say so. Ten out of five, for a “refurbished” classic.