A sense of intimacy with Jesus is something that all Christian denominations seek to the highest degree there is.  I, for one, have always wondered what it could have been like for those who actually shared intimacy with Him: His immediate family.

I found a  warmly written and very plausible answer in a fascinating novel that I am honored to have on my shelf.

The book is called MY BROTHER’S KEEPER: A NOVEL ABOUT THE FAMILY OF JESUS, and written by Mr. Bill Kassel, who was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of his work for review purposes, for which I thank him profusely.  Given that disclaimer, I insist upon stating that the views presented herein are my own.

The novel starts off quite  a while before the birth of Jesus, with Joachim, the father of Mary, and Zacharias, the husband of her cousin Elizabeth, coming to Joseph to discuss the  future of Mary, whose time with the temple virgins is coming to an end. I found it very interesting that the author chose to incorporate very early Christian traditions held by both Catholicism and Orthodoxy in regard to how the relationship between Joseph and Mary came to be.   The character on which the novel focuses is James, the half-brother of Jesus, known as “James the Just”, who, throughout the novel, evolves from a knowledge-hungry young man to a very respected rabbi and the Jewish advisor of Pontius Pilate. Speaking of Pilate, I think the author did a fantastic job exploring the motivations that drove him to condemn Jesus to death, although knowing He was innocent. The plot leading up to the Passion story is presented with great depth and reverence, meant to incite further discussion of what led to the sacrifice of Jesus and what its implications, whether political, social, or spiritual, were. The novel is a worthy addition to the shelf of any Christian fiction enthusiast, and a heartily recommended read for those who seek an intimate portrayal of the Holy Family. Ten stars out of five for a true masterpiece of Biblical fiction. Thank you, Mr. Kassel! A fine, impeccably researched, elegant-sounding story of Christ, one for the ages!

As a full-blown Elvis fan, I try to get my hands on as many books about the King of Rock n’Roll as I can. The guy is one of my biggest inspirations, and I do love to see him get the fictional treatment if it’s done right.

A little while ago, I had the blessing and pleasure to read a novel which hits the hammer right on the head when it comes to Elvis. Why? Because it’s the first piece of fiction that heartily endorses his Christian heritage. I don’t think it should come as a shock that Elvis was a devout believer in God, no matter how many strict dogmatists will try to discredit that due to his untimely demise caused by addiction to medication and unhealthy eating habits.   The book is called ELVIS IS ALIVE, and written by Mr. James LeCroy, who was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his work.

The storyline of the novel is fairly simple, at the same time offering space for plenty of interesting stuff to happen: having reached the Throne of Jesus in Heaven, Elvis pleas for a second chance at getting things done right, realizing his wrongdoings. He’s granted 40 days to win souls for Christ, and if successful, he may return to Heaven. Thus, he appears in the middle of the Nevada desert, to Sunny Carlisle, a down-on-his luck Elvis impersonator. They meet lapsed Catholic Elisha Matthews, and together, the trio embarks on the adventure of a lifetime, with these two helping Elvis in his Heaven-granted quest by being there for him as he puts together comeback concerts to fulfill his mission.

In spite of the book safely being labeled as Christian fiction, what I love the most about it is that it doesn’t offer wishy-washy cardboard cutouts from Sunday school lessons for characters. It shows sin at its ugliest, from language to violence, pulling no punches in its attempt to show its impact on our world. The characters go through a lot of dark and violent stuff, confrontations with evil cultists and terrorists, kidnappings, murders and so on, and, shock and awe to holier-than-Thou individuals, they drop f-bombs. Yes, this is the world we live in, and the book is not afraid to take on it, mano a mano. It’s one of the grittiest and most inspiring Christian novels I’ve read in the recent period, and while it could benefit from a little more editing, the message comes through loud and clear. Four point five stars out of five for this awesome fictional tribute to the King of Rock n’Roll and the King of Kings.

 

Those who know me know my penchant for wrestling. There’s something I find absolutely fascinating about the manner in which combat is used as a pretext to tell a story of contrasting personalities clashing inside the squared circle. So when I read the plot description for CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, by journalist Chad Dundas, I was instantly hooked. And boooy, did this book ever deliver.
Set in the infancy days of professional wrestling as we know it today, this historical novel tells the gripping story of former lightweight champion Pepper Van Dean, now a circus performer known for his death-defying Hangman’s Drop, and his wife, Moira, who makes a living out of tricking people at card games. The former champ’s wrestling glory days come back to haunt him, when he receives an offer to train African-American heavyweight wrestler Garfield Taft for a shot at being the eponymous Champion of the World. Which, of course, given the fact that the story takes place in the ’20’s, is controversial, to say the least. And let me tell you, this book is replete with controversy. From gangsters to blatant racism and some homosexuality, there’s little in this book that is for the faint of heart. However, those who stick with it to the end will find a story that’s super-confidently written for a debut novel(I had a hard time believing this to be the case on a couple of occasions). From the opening, the reader is engrossed into this story, and the characters are so complex and well-drawn that you’ll care about all of them, from down-on-his luck yet never-say-die Pepper, to the ever-resourceful Moira and the superlatively confident Taft. A robust, authentic, gritty, heartfelt debut, written in pull-no-punches prose, CHAMPION OF THE WORLD is sure to entertain wrestling fans, historical fiction buffs and those who are simply looking for a great read. This, in my book, is the great American wrestling novel, and I’m looking forward to the further efforts of Chad Dundas! Ten outta five for a solid debut! The views herein are my own, though Mr. Dundas was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of his work.

Stories of teenagers trying to find their way through turbulent times have always fascinated  me. It’s quite inspiring to see young people growing up, forming their personalities in times of great social upheaval.

So when I heard about TEN THOUSAND SAINTS, the gritty, emotional novel by Eleanor Henderson, about the straight-edge movement, with which I was vaguely familiar due to professional wrestler CM Punk), I knew I had to read it. I fell in love with the plot description instantly.

Meet Jude. Jude is a teen raised by parents who are very, very liberal, to say the least, in regard to using various addictive substances.  Jude’s best friend, Teddy, has lost his life to a drug overdose, so this kid’s got quite a personal history with drug abuse. Which is why, in turbulent, AIDS-panicked New York in the 1980’s, Jude, together with Teddy’s former girlfriend, left pregnant, and Johnny, Teddy’s half-brother, join  the straightedge movement. To the “uninitiated”, this is a punk subculture, with a strong aversion to drinking, smoking,  drugs and sexual promiscuity.

The novel pulls no punches in dealing with heavy subjects: drug abuse is very common, Jude’s parents being very big into this sort of thing. Eliza’s pregnancy, given that she’s not even out of her teens, is another point of controversy.  Pretty much every adult in this book, as a previous reviewer remarked, is a wreck. So, in its essence, this is a story about growing up with no suitable role models. It’s a painful, gritty, honest story, with flawed, vulnerable, and yet likable teenage protagonists trying to find their way in a wayward world.  The plot twist with Johnny was something unexpected, as was the bittersweet ending(read this book!) I also had a chance to get educated on fetal alcohol syndrome, which I knew vaguely about, so there’s stuff to learn from this novel as well.

For the authenticity of the setting and the compelling nature of its characters, TEN THOUSAND SAINTS gets TEN THOUSAND stars! This book rocks, and though I received a copy from the author for review purposes, this review is entirely composed of my own views. Thank you, Ms. Henderson! Great job!

The power of stories is undeniable. I’ve always been aware of the fact that it is through stories that our reality is shaped.

These days,  there is a wide selection of storytelling environments at one’s disposal. Books, comics, films, television series, and yes, even videogames, can compel us in ways which we cannot fully fathom.  I have to be honest and say that sometimes, I get compelled by the story of a videogame just as much as that of a film, or even a novel.

Such was the case with the mindblowing story in Quantum Break,  a story in which time, in and of itself, can, and in my view, does take center stage. The game is groundbreaking in the manner in which it allows players to choose possible outcomes for the story, which play out in a live-action series tied into the storyline.

A groundbreaking game deserves a groundbreaking prose adaptation. And such is the case for Quantum Break: Zero State, an awesomely complex novel which takes the characters of the game and places them in a similar and yet wholly different context than that of the storyline that players get to explore. As per the words of Sam Lake, the director of Remedy Entertainment, the publisher of the game said, the game didn’t need a straightforward novelization, and as such, Cam Rogers, the author of the novel, who was gracious enough to provide me with a copy, which doesn’t mean that the views presented herein belong to anyone else, got total control.

And boooy, oh boy, did the novel ever end up in a pair of capable hands! The storyline is as complex and multifaceted as the original novel is, the plot is blistering, and the characterization is spot-on. This book completely changed my view of what a tie-in novel is, and it may well be the best such book that has ever crossed my path. The characters are familiar to those who’ve played the game: Jack Joyce, the time-bending drifter seeking to escape his past, and possibly his future too, Paul Serene, a man for whom time is an illness, Beth Wilder, a woman in search of her true loyalties, and William Joyce, the brilliant, eccentric mind who believes he can change the world through time travel.

The concept of time permeates, drives and sustains this high-octane, high-concept, high-stakes narrative, and its 400+ pages move at a blistering pace, redefining tie-in novels in the process. This is a must for everyone who loves solid, character-driven sci-fi. Thank you, Mr. Rogers. Heck of a job!  Solid ten out of five!

In a previous review, I was discussing a novel called DOC, by Mary Doria Russell, a novel that I loved for the aura of grit and authenticity it created around its characters and setting.

The sequel to said novel, titled EPITAPH, takes the points in which its predecessor shined to the next level.

The subtitle to this sprawling saga is “A Novel of the OK Corral”.It’s a good thing wasn’t “A Novel About the OK Corral” because  if we were to title it according to what it actually is, the cover would probably need to be 20 times wider, because there’s so, so much more to this book than just the OK Corral in and of itself. In fact, as we’re reminded by the author, the shooutout in and of itself took 30 seconds.

Which is why I believe Ms. Mary Doria Russell is one of, if not the most compelling voice in American historical fiction that I have ever come across. To be able to build an almost 600-page novel around what is basically half a minute of American history, one has to know what they’re talking about.

And, trust me, you know that you don’t NEED my confirmation that Ms. Russell knows what she’s talking about. Like its predecessor, EPITAPH is an immersive, impeccably  researched labor of love.

When one says the word “Western”, everyone seems to know what they refer to: a piece of fiction, whether on paper or on screen, which deals with a certain period in American history where things were very clearly settled between gentlemen with wide-brimmed hats of opposing colors. Right?

Aaaand then, there’s EPITAPH, the aforementioned labor of love which prefers honest-to-God authenticity and believability to larger-than-life pomp and circumstance. That’s why this novel is so brilliant. It is an excellent, one-of-a-kind answer to the heavily romanticized perspectives that have become such a common trope in Western fiction. It focuses on the motivations and feelings of all the characters involved in the story, from the Wyatt brothers and Doc Holliday, to the Clantons and McLaurys. In the middle of it all is Sarah Josephine “Sadie” Marcus, the Jewish woman who hero-worshipped Wyatt Earp like none other. It is through her perspective that the novel becomes much more than a novel about the OK Corral. It becomes an enthralling meditation about justice, honor, truth, fiction, a true-ringing testament of the undeniable power of myth. In fact, myth is at the very core of the novel, with Homeric quotations being used for every chapter and section title.  This is a gritty, violent, bitter, sweet, sad, funny, depressing and uplifting saga that is sure to become an American classic. Heartily recommended, and we’re not talking stars, but constellations for this solid yarn! Thank you, Ms. Doria! Superb read! As in the previous review, the views expressed herein are mine and my own entirely.

 

There is something about Westerns that I have always found fascinating.  There’s a certain aura of myth around the whole Old West period and its figures, people in wide-brimmed hats, with a very clear idea of justice, either revered as heroes or reviled as villains. There’s always this impression that there’s no “middle ground” when it comes to the figures of Old West lore.

The name of John Henry “Doc” Holliday is known to everyone who’s passionate about American history, or so it should be.   His image will forever be etched in my mind as it was penned by the brilliant, vibrant mind of Ms. Mary Doria Russell, author of DOC, a novel I’m proud to have on my shelf.

This book is one of the most impeccably written and researched historical novels I have ever had the chance to read.  It tells its story vividly, with a great deal of passion and wit, and readers feel as though they are eavesdropping on American history.

What I love the most about the book(and its awesome sequel, EPITAPH, which is going to be the subject of another review) is the fact that it doesn’t fall into a very common trap of Western fiction, which is that of putting its heroes on some sort of pedestal, turning them into untouchable monoliths. No. This book tells the very down-to-earth story of a man upon whom history placed a larger-than-life reputation. A man battling very personal demons, consumed with disease. An avid reader and skilled musician. A fierce fighter and inveterate gambler.  A man who’s known for living in the proverbial shadow of an Old West legend, in the person of Wyatt Earp(their relationship is the backb0ne of this thoroughly solid novel), gets a voice of his own. A voice that rings with the authentic grit of Uncle Sam of old.  I love how the author made me, as a reader, understand that sometimes, there is both less and more about the iconic figures of history than we think there is. It is a valuable lesson that every writer of historical fiction should be able to put across very clearly.  Though receiving a copy for review purposes, it is my pleasure and honor to state that the views herein are entirely my own, as is the ten-outta-five rating for this unique Western odyssey. Thank you, Ms. Russell. A darned fine yarn, if I do say so myself!