Archive for the ‘Book reviews’ Category

There’s no secret in the fact that Michael Jackson is one of, if not the most fascinating personality in the history of modern music. Countless records sold, which led to the other kind of records being set and broken by the same individual. Unique dance moves like the moonwalk and the robot, which have awed crowds numerous times, leading to mass frenzy. An intriguing contradiction: explosive and larger-than-life on stage, as a king commanding an army, yet private, discreet and painfully shy outside of it. King of Pop. King of controversy. King of childhood. Michael Jackson was all this, and then some.

Since his death, a great number of books on the subject of his life and work have been written, each with its own angle regarding the complex mosaic that Michael was. Some were  more objective than others. But as far as I’d known until recently, Michael Jackson was never the protagonist of a work of fiction. I say “until recently” because I was fortunate enough to find out about a novel, called BEFORE YOU JUDGE ME, TRY HARD TO LOVE ME, written by German author Subina Giuletti. I’ve had the absolute honor of receiving a signed copy of this book for review purposes, for which I’m wholeheartedly grateful. As a disclaimer, though, I state that the views expressed in this review are only and entirely my own.

The novel tells the story of Chirelle Sandler, a German tourist who, while visiting the USA, has a chance of working as a cook for a mysterious and wealthy Mr. J. As she soon finds out, the J. stands for Jackson. Michael Jackson. THE Michael Jackson, of whom she knew next to nothing from a personal point of view until having started working for him. Chirelle is immediately fascinated with the unique aura of Michael and starts uncovering the events of his life in a series of heart-to-heart conversations that ring true to the spirit of The King of Pop. I was thrilled,  moved, uplifted and inspired revisiting the life of the greatest entertainer who graced Earth with his presence. Never have I seen his emotions so vividly described as in this book. His connection to God, children and music, the essence of his being, will move every heart. I will never forget how Ms. Giuletti described him as “a song in human form”. This description is the number one reason why I will NEVER look at Michael Jackson the same way again. The Chandler trial is also discussed in great detail, like I’ve never seen before in a book. The way in which the author, through the perspective of Chirelle, enters the mind and soul of Michael and those around him is a true gift for anyone, whether a die-hard Michael Jackson fan or someone who only knows him from tabloids. 10 stars out of 5 for the most beautiful tribute to Michael I’ve ever read!

Entire libraries can be filled with accounts of the life and times of Jesus Christ, worshipped by billions of people all over the world as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and this has, of course, happened over the course of time. I’ve always been fascinated with Jesus and the world He was born, lived, died and resurrected in. I’ve seen countless movies based on His life, and I’ve read a wealth of fiction books, from all sorts of perspectives.bl

I think it’s safe to say that after years of reading about Christ, I found the most gripping, dramatic account of His passion that I’ve ever read. It arrived in the form of a novel called THE SOLDIER, THE TERRORIST AND THE DONKEY KING, written by David Kitz, whom I wholeheartedly thank for the signed copy of the novel. I also hereby declare that the views you are about to read are entirely my own. This is what this book fully deserves, ’cause, to say it shortly, it’s awesome!

The novel is written from the point of view of Marcus Aureolus, a Roman soldier who observes the effect that Jesus has on the people of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, which is the event that starts the story. Over the course of a week, this man’s entire life is turned upside down and built anew as he seeks to find out the truth about who the mysterious, wonder-working “donkey king” is, and what He means for Rome, Israel, and the entire world. He witnesses the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the temple, and thinks Jesus to be a ragtag revolutionary. Then, he sees Him pray and bring miracles to those who need them, and begins to wonder whether there’s more than meets the eye to this man, as he witnesses Jesus becoming caught in the power struggles between Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod Antipas(or the Weasel, the Badger and the Fox – all very fitting nicknames). Here is where the book becomes brutal, and I’m not just talking about what Jesus goes through. There’s a very powerful and dramatic scene where the blood-crazed Herod abuses his power in a shocking manner. Read the book to find out how, and how Christ plays a role in the aftermath of that scene. As for the Passion itself, it is depicted in all its cruelty, but there’s a great deal of reverence coming across. Readers will be transported to those times, they will be terrified and inspired at the same time, reliving the most impactful sacrifice of all time. Mr. Kitz’s background as a spoken-word drama performer comes across powerfully in this gripping narrative, which does not feel cheesy or preachy for a second. It’s the story of a man whose faith develops gradually, the fictional but Truth-filled story of the difference one Man and one week made in the history of the world. I’m blessed to have this book on my shelf, and give it  ten out of five stars! Blessings upon blessings, Mr. Kitz! You’ve written one for the ages!

King David is, in my view, the most fascinating figure of the Old Testament. I always found his story inspiring: the young, feisty shepherd boy who became famous as the slayer of a giant. The fierce warrior who united a nation. The lustful man who covered one sin with another. The ardent worshipper whose songs of longing for God still inspire multitudes nowadays. The one from whose line came The Way, The Truth and The Life.  A man after God’s own heart.

I’ve had the pleasure and honor of rediscovering the story of this larger-than-life Biblical figure through a magnificent epic novel called THE STONES, written by Eleanor Gustafson.

The novel(for the signed copy of which I wholeheartedly thank the author), tells the story of David from his confrontation with Goliath(introduced like I’ve never seen it before), to his death, from the perspective of Asaph, a Levite musician. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the most emotional portrayal of an Old Testament figure that I’ve ever had the opportunity to read. I felt like I was there from beginning to end all the way through David’s life. I felt like I was following him around as he bantered with his Mighty Men, I felt the gore and exhaustion of his most epic battles, I felt the weight of his sins crushing his soul, and I praised the Lord together with him. When writing Biblical fiction, it may prove easy to turn the subject into a morally perfect individual. I’m very, very glad that the author did not choose that path. David was a man of war, of blood, of lust, and in the nearly 600 pages of the novel, there’s plenty of each. However, this is carefully balanced with the moments in which the all-too-human king seeks the support of the Almighty God.

Perhaps, in a way, my fascination with David, the mighty King of Israel, can be explained through the fact that his story is so universal. We all have our battles, our giants, our passions, our anger. And we all have to remember that through it all, we’re not alone. Ten stars out of five for the most beautiful reminder of this undeniable truth that I have read in a while. Thank you, Ms. Gustafson! Great, great job! Hope to meet you someday and have a long talk!

I’ve always believed that some people are born into this world to take a stand, to make a difference. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been into superhero movies, TV shows, comics and novels. I love the idea of a mysterious figure rising to defend those who do not seem to stand a chance against the vulgar displays of power and corruption that surround them.

Sometimes, the most entertaining reads come by pure chance and leave a definite mark upon the reader. This was the case with the book that I’m about to review, SHADOWSTRIKE, by Justin Wilson, an awesomely fun and thrilling superhero novel of which I was honored to receive a copy from the author. This is one of those books that have a story behind them that’s every bit as awesome as the story within the pages, and there’s a very clear reason for which I’m proud to have this book on my shelf.

I was saying that I believe some people are born to make a difference.  Such is the case, in my view, of Justin Wilson. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, in love with writing and Japanese films, this awesome young man has pulled off what few people his age could: writing a +600-page book before turning 20, and a gripping, thrilling read as well!

The novel is set in a fictional city called Parkson, where a huge wall separates the rich from the poor, which has brought the city serious criticism from the government. Parkson is riddled with corruption, with the poor having to steal to eat, while the rich thrive, and a significant part of  the police is in cahoots with Richard Grant, a criminal mastermind protected by a mysterious enforcer. Young Robert “RJ” James, who knows the dark side of the aforementioned separation between rich and poor too well, decides to rise up and fight against the corruption of the city, under the tutelage of Joe, an elderly man who knows a thing or two about martial arts. After years of training and suppressed personal trauma(read the book to find out what that trauma is!), RJ builds a new identity, that of ShadowStrike, a masked vigilante inspired by a wolf(awesome-looking wolf on the cover, by the way).

The author has confessed that Christopher Nolan is among his favorite directors, and it shows. There’s a certain Dark Knight vibe to the atmosphere that is created in the book, and the intense dialogue contributes greatly to it. The characterization is also awesome. I cared a lot about RJ and Joe, I was disgusted with the corrupt cops, and the pages kept turning and turning as I sought to find out what Grant was gonna do next. Great pace, awesome characters, awesome emotional impact. I don’t know whether he intended it or not, but Justin Wilson told more than one story of a young hero making a difference. He was also gracious enough to warn me that the book has some typos, but to me, that was no problem at all. I loved it, and I’m proud to have this book on my shelf. It should be on the shelf of anyone who thinks that they can’t make a difference. Impressive effort. Five out of five! Thanks, brother! Heck of a job! Looking forward to a sequel!

I believe in the power of fiction. I’ve always seen it as a great way to reflect aspects of reality.

I believe in the Truth. Having grown up in a loving, caring family, the perfect environment for a healthy spiritual formation, I came to know and love the Truth as testified by Christ. I can’t say that I had one of those strict religious experiences which turns “fine Christian boys”  into world-famous rock stars, but I was always aware of and fascinated by the existence of the great spiritual reform that Christianity essentially represents. Baptized a Catholic, schooled in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, having befriended fine human beings from all spiritual convictions, from Baptists to Atheists, I became aware that all religious denominations have something that anyone can deem respectable.

Now, how does my belief in the power of fiction go along with my fascination with the Truth? Quite well, I must say, and when I find a work of fiction that manages to challenge what I know about the Truth and fortify my faith, I’m thrilled.

Such was the case with a novel called A CROSS IN TIME, written by Richard W. Black. Through the courtesy of the publisher, I had the opportunity to receive a copy of the book for review purposes. And I’m blessed beyond belief to have had this opportunity. This is one of those sprawling epics which have a bit of everything: fast-paced gritty action, a dash of romance, a healthy dose of historical research, and of course, the Truth.

In fact, the question of Pontius Pilate, “What is the Truth?” stands at the core of this big, bold, beautifully written brick of a book, which explores one of the most common themes in science fiction, time travel, as I’ve never seen it before.

Meet Bruce DeLanto and Joel Bernstein. Both young, both smart, both men of science, used to the undeniability of cold hard facts. And both having their fair share of reasons to doubt Divinity. Bruce and Joel have the opportunity of a lifetime: to travel back in time, with the help of Joel’s time machine, blend into The Holy Land aided by the historical expertise of Bruce, and debunk the myth of Jesus Christ and his raising from the dead. Quite a goal, huh? Well, what if what they find confirms and yet strongly challenges what they expect? This is the question that A CROSS IN TIME aims to answer, as Bruce and Joel travel through the age of Jesus under the guise of a Roman official and a Jewish doctor, witnessing the harshness of the world of so long ago, which paradoxically seems to mirror that of our times: a world so desperate for power that people claim lives and lose lives for the sake of grasping it. They witness political intrigue and religious corruption at its most unsightly, and they come face to face with what Jesus Himself stands for and what His words and actions mean to the establishment of the time. Key players in the Passion narrative such as Pilate, Caiaphas and Judas are fleshed out in a manner that will inspire and entertain. I have to say that this book provided me with the most detailed look  at what the trial, death and resurrection of Christ means to the world. Science or faith? What prevails? What if the truth one knows and the truth one   needs are different? What does it take to find the truth? What is power? What is history? All these questions and more will fascinate readers, Christian or otherwise, who like thrillers that make them think. I wholeheartedly thank Mr.  Black for coming up with this awesome book, and Mr. Chris Jackson from ASJ Publishing for sending it all the way from the land of Oz! Superb book! 10  outta 5!

I am certain that I am not the only one who appreciates a fine fantasy story. There’s something about this imagination-pushing genre that is utterly fascinating. Being transported to a world where good battles evil in epic, larger-than-life confrontations that defy the odds is a great way to be entertained, for certain.

But what if there’s more to fantasy? What if someone can actually use it to inspire faith? Authentic, honest-to-God, loving faith. In my view, only a great human being can do that. I did not say “great writer”, for that would be stating the obvious. People like J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis, who have inspired generations with the faith-grounded fantasy series that have made them household names, have finally found a worthy successor.

I am talking about Mr. Fernando Quiros, whose Spirit War Trilogy omnibus contains what I believe is the boldest, most daring retelling of the story of the life of Christ that I have ever read. The back cover says “The story of Jesus, in accord with the Gospels, as you have never heard it before”. And I think the description is pretty much spot-on. Mr Quiros shows the ability of a passionate storyteller: taking a story we’ve all been told in one manner or another, and telling it in such a way, that it is completely new and yet maintains the essence intact. Furthermore, it never, ever forces any particular religious beliefs down anyone’s throat. This is the type of book on Christ that any person of any conviction can enjoy. The reason for the existence of Jesus is explored like never before in the battle between God and Lucifer/Satan, a confrontation of Biblical proportions. All the events that are recorded in the Bible are given a fresh, vivid retelling, with angels and demons playing key roles in the lives of Jesus and the ones He interacts with. Longinus, whose famous spear confirmed the earthly end of Jesus’s life, is fleshed out here as a man of strong moral principles. The love between Mary and Joseph is beautifully and respectfully explored. The Nativity story is cinematic in scope, with struggles of good and evil displayed alongside the simplicity of human life back then. Herod is the pinnacle of manipulative cruelty, the Magi are portrayed with an unprecedented level  of heartfelt respect for other religions. The formative years of Jesus are explored in the same manner, and this book provides its readers with the most convincing explanations of His “missing years” and long hair that I have come across. The disciples, from Peter, through whom Christ offers a beautiful explanation about why the Church endured through ages of religious conflicts, to Judas, whose zeal is stronger than his actual love, come across as fully human individuals, far from the stern figures some religious leaders choose to reveal. The relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is passionate, yet Gospel-grounded. The Crucifixion, Satan’s apparent moment of triumph, is thwarted by Jesus through his Resurrection and descent to Hell. And the best part of all this is the fact that this is not a religious book per se. It’s The Greatest Story Ever Told, recounted in a manner meant to encourage, not enforce, to inspire, not impose. You will walk with Christ through His time, much like one walks with their best friend. This is a very human Jesus, who enjoys healing, who weeps unashamedly, who challenges  authority for the sake of Truth, and embraces His fate for the sake of our own. This book has made my journey as a Christian a better one, and it deserves all  the best, as does the  mind and heart that crafted it. Beautiful! a  must-read!

The life of a policeman is not a piece of cake. As a representative of the law, one is always in touch with the dark, violent side of life. Upholding the law means coming in contact with those who stand against it. And the laws of mankind, as we all know, can be broken in an astounding variety of manners. And if that’s true, what’s it like to try to uphold the laws of God?

Author Paul Davis has tried to answer this question in his Christian dark fantasy/horror novel, REAPER’S RAIN, of which I am blessed beyond belief to have received a signed copy. This novel is without a shadow of a doubt the best take on the Grim Reaper I’ve encountered in fiction. Why? Because it’s nothing like I’ve ever read before.

The story is centered on a Tennessee policeman named Seth, who’s murdered in the line of duty. Waking up on the other side, he discovers a truth that could prove unsettling to anyone: he is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, namely Death, who is supposed to be an essential player in the end times.

The idea of Christian horror fiction has been widely debated. The term itself seems oxymoronic. But is it? Well, Mr. Davis has crafted a tale that shows that it’s not always the case. With an ear to dialogue like I’ve never seen before in a piece of Christian fiction, as well as an ability to pull no punches in the face of the dark and gritty world we live in, the author has made a fine contribution to the realm of Christian horror. It’s very easy to turn the Reaper into this cliché figure of B-movie fame, a hooded skeleton in league with Satan, (you’ll see how far from the popular concept Mr. Davis takes it) damning the souls of sinners. Exactly the reason of Mr. Davis’ choice to explore the concept in a new, fresh manner. The other three Horsemen are figures inspired by Biblical history(the centurion who speared Jesus, the cattle-herder of the Pharaoh during the time of Moses and an Ethiopian who was impaled as a martyr for the One God), rendered in a vivid, action-packed way that will thrill readers.

Be aware that the world described within these pages is dark, violent and desolate, and there are  scenes with tough language, whether  it comes from vile human beings or Satan himself. Quite an act of courage on the part of the author, whose background as  a law enforcer familiarized him with coarseness on different levels. Also, there is a fair share of  graphic scenes, racial slurs(it’s the South, after all, and  sadly, racism is still alive and well), sexuality, so for those of you looking for a Sunday-school read, you won’t find it here. For those who like  their Christian  fiction way on  the  gritty side, this is a 10-star read! Thank you, Mr. Davis! Killer of a job!

Writing Christian fiction often proves to be quite a risky endeavor. There is a plethora of reasons for which this statement rings true.

Firstly, one of the essential concepts in Christianity is Truth. It is at the core of what I call the Christ Trinity: the Way, the Truth and the Life. The risk implied by Christian fiction in this case  is that there still are individuals who find Truth and fiction incompatible. To those, I come with a challenge-question: what were the Parables of Jesus all about if not Truth-based, Truth-revealing, Truth-sharing fiction.

Then, there are those who think Christian fiction cannot bring anything new to the Bible, nor  should  it attempt to do so. To those, I come with words of consolation: no work of fiction will ever change anything about the Bible, if one’s belief in the Bible is held as sacred as they suggest it is.

Fortunately, there are those who understand the nature of the Life of Christ as The Greatest Story Ever Told with everything that each and every one of these words can mean.

I’ve been privileged and honored to read a work of Christian fantasy that I now believe should definitely be read by anyone, Christian or not, who has ever been fascinated with the life and times of Jesus Christ. I’m talking, of course about The Spirit War trilogy, by Fernando Quiros, an author I am blessed to have been acquainted with.

Having just finished the third volume, which I’m about to review in the following lines, I can certainly vouch for this trilogy as my favorite Christian fantasy novel since the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that’s saying something.

Writing a novel about the public ministry of Jesus is an endeavor that may seem easy enough at first glance, on account of the many sources that one can find regarding this subject matter. If you’re Fernando Quiros, though, and want to tell this story, a story that everyone has at least an idea of, in a manner which has never been explored before, things change. Trust me when I say this, you’ve never heard the story of Jesus this way before, and if there’s one series you should read that is filled with Truth disguised as larger-than-life fiction, this is it.

In HEALING AND REDEMPTION, the public ministry of Christ vibrantly comes to life in an exciting, emotional and inspiring manner. Readers will be delighted to see the miracles that have cemented the name of Jesus in the history of spirituality in a fresh, astonishingly human, yet divinely inspired perspective. My heart sang as I read the words of the Messiah urging a cured leper to enjoy his health as much as He enjoyed providing a cure. I cheered Jesus on through every heated debate he had with the religious authorities of the time, and I vibrated with joy when He stated in their presence that religion and loving the Father are not one and the same. I felt the spiritual struggle of every character, from Simon Peter, the burly fisherman who finds a new life in Christ, to Longinus, a constant supporter of Jesus despite his status as a soldier of Rome, to the beautifully rendered Blessed Mother Mary, finally coming to grips with the destiny of her beloved Son, and Mary Magdalene, the woman whom Jesus loved as no other. I even felt for Judas, who comes across as the living result of what happens when man tries to impose his own purpose on God. The Passion and Crucifixion are vividly painted as an epic spiritual confrontation between God and Satan, with the words “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” being given a vivid new meaning(read the book and I guarantee you’ll never look at those words the way you used to again!). The descent of Jesus to Hell is something straight out of Tolkien, that will encourage and inspire every reader, no matter of their religious convictions. I loved the intensity of this book, because it’s a very well-calculated intensity. Not one word of this novel is meant to preach or force anything down anyone’s throat. It is a book meant to bring the Way and the Truth to Life, and it does so in a manner that is warm in its familiarity and surprising in its novelty. If I were to credit one book that I’ve read over the course of my life as the book that has shown me the key to the endurance of Christianity, I wouldn’t credit any theological treatise written by an expert historian/philosopher. I would credit HEALING AND REDEMPTION, for its scene of Jesus’s explanation of the change of name that Simon experiences through Him to become Peter. The reason for which Christianity is here, and still relevant to His true followers, has never been more vividly and clearly revealed to me. I hope those of you who are looking for the answer to a question that has undoubtedly crossed your minds more than once, will find yourselves as blessed and humbled by the answer as I did.

For those of you who think of Jesus as the Son of God, for those who love fantasy with all their heart, for those looking for a new perspective on an age-old story, THE SPIRIT WAR is the trilogy you’re looking for, and HEALING AND REDEMPTION is a worthy conclusion to a sprawling, epic labor of love. May it enrich you all as it did me. Thank you, Mr. Quiros, for the courage, inspiration and love that you poured into this pages. I feel as though I am a richer person having read this trilogy, and this final book especially. I will always look at Jesus with reverence, but if there is one work of fantasy that has made it that much easier for me to look at Him with love, this is it. Five stars would not do it justice, so let my rating be all my admiration and respect for a worthy scribe whose writing was guided by God for a retelling of the Greatest Story Ever Told that should, and most likely will, endure through the ages!

Who is LUTHOR?

Posted: April 30, 2014 in Book reviews

It’s no secret that I’ve always had a soft spot for sympathetic “monster” characters. Fictional figures like Mary Shelley’s creature of Frankenstein, Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo and the Phantom of the Opera have always fascinated me. Why? Because deep down, beyond the disfigurement, there was a deeply human yearning for love that these characters used to grow in spirit, despite the hatred and fear they were regarded with by the rest of the world. I’ve always been in love with books that deal with such characters, perhaps due to my own awareness that I’m physically different from everyone else.

The book I’m about to review has the words “FICTION-HORROR” on the top corner of its back cover, but let me assure you, it is so much more. I’m talking about a novel called LUTHOR, by Pol McShane, of which I was honored to receive a signed copy. The author has confessed his desire to create something akin to classic Universal movie monsters going on a rampage. I’m thankful that he didn’t. Everything about this novel is meant to tug at the heartstrings of its readers rather than strictly terrify or disgust them. I’ll try to sum up the story as best as I can in order to do it justice without spoiling it.

This novel is actually really difficult to sum up, and it’s the very emotional core that makes it so vivid that leaves one at a loss for words. This is a story of two children living in terror because of their abusive father, who end up doing unspeakable things in order to shield themselves from his madness. Joshua and Amanda Brodrick are far from spoiled children, despite their father Garvin’s affluence. They’re never shown any love, and thus end up with a warped definition of it to say the least. Their constant attempts to escape their father’s abuse lead them into an incestuous affair, which ultimately gives birth to Luthor, the title character.

But who is Luthor and what makes him so important to the story?

Luthor is a child of the darkness. Born with ichthyosis, a skin condition that gives him rough, scaly skin, he is forced to live a nocturnal life, an upside down life, a life that has people asking questions.

But if Luthor is the monster, what does that make Joshua, and Garvin before him?  That’s why this book is so hard to sum up. Because it’s something that anyone who has ever known that they are different will identify with. To me, Luthor is not a monster. He is a reminder, albeit a painful one, of the fact that even from the vilest of situations, purity and innocence can emerge. He’s a frightened child just yearning for acceptance and love, living in  a world replete with darkness and violence.

This book will make its readers cringe. It will make them feel every moment of pain that its characters experience. It will compel them. It will shock them. It will occasionally make them smile at the thought of the fact that “within the eyes of darkness there hides a child”. What I know for certain is that it made me thank God for the family I was born and raised in. Thus, ten stars out of five wouldn’t do it justice. Pol McShane is now my other favorite horror author besides Stephen King, and I’m a very, VERY picky reader when it comes to books like these. Thank you, Mr. McShane. What a read! What an utterly unforgettable read!