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Comic books are such a unique artform. The combination of text and images must be perfect so that the right emotion in the right dose gets to the reader. Obviously, some of the most iconic figures in popular culture have sprung from the loud, colorful pages of comic books.
An exception to this rule that was so well-developed that she became comic book canon afterwards, is Harley Quinn, who was created for the acclaimed „Batman” animated series which turned Kevin Conroy into a 90s icon for many kids, myself included.
The book I am about to review represents the biggest honor in my lifelong comic book fandom. I am talking about HARLEY QUINN: MAD LOVE, the prose adaptation of the comic book which is, in its turn, the adaptation of the episode that turned Harley Quinn into a household name. I have had the privilege of receiving a copy of this book, signed by the lovely Ms. Pat Cadigan, co-written with the iconic Paul Dini, a name very familiar to „Batman TAS” enthusiasts, for which I am truly and wholeheartedly grateful. Diaclaimer out of the way, I will say that every single thought that you will read about this book if you decide that this review is worthy of your attention is my own. And such a gem of a book deserves it!

First of all, this is not merely an adaptation of a comic book story. In the deft hands of Ms. Pat Cadigan, this becomes the definitive origin story for one of the most iconic supervillains in all of comic-book history.

Harleen Quinzel, a “tough cookie” from Brooklyn, starts out seeing very bad people doing very bad things to her small-time crook father Nick, whom she adores. Readers get hints that her life at home, with her parents and three baby brothers, is not at all a bed of roses. She needs a way out, and finds it in two things: gymnastics and psychiatry. Though intending to keep a healthy body AND a healthy mind, things do not go as planned once she gets to work at Arkham Asylum, home to some of the most dangerously psychotic individuals in Gotham City. All thanks, of course, to Batman, the polarizing Dark Knight, my favorite vigilante of all time.
It is at Arkham City that Harley will encounter the man who becomes a turning point in her life: The Joker. Known only by that moniker(apart from others like “Puddin'” and “Mistah J” the garish clown-visaged maniac is initially a study subject for the brilliant Harleen.
And herein lies the brilliance of this awesome book, because readers spend a lot of time with her as she grows in physical aptitude and in knowledge, only to get to see her becoming progressively warped as her relationship with the Joker transcends the boundaries of what is normal between a doctor and a patient.
I love how an apparently zany, and yes, cartoonish character is fleshed out here as a woman of great intelligence and passion, a woman who grows to believe in herself after experiencing a great deal of trauma, and ends up losing herself to the sheer diabolical genius of a gleeful maniac. It is a tragic story, in its essence, but one can definitely feel the fun that the author had telling it to the audience. I see it as the one Harley Quinn story that the world never knew it needed. This. Is. A. MUST. If you are into all things Batman, do yourself a favor and read this tale. The nuanced characters, the big themes, passion, madness, identity, morality, justice, all make HARLEY QUINN: MAD LOVE a masterpiece of comic-based novelizations. The finest I have ever read. Thank you, Ms. Cadigan. AMAZING job! Solid, well-earned TEN OUTTA FIIIVE! HAHAHAHA!

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I was previously mentioning the A TIME TO…series written by Ms. SJ Knight, as my favourite Biblical fiction series. And I am all the more blessed and honoured to talk about the latest entry in the series, called A TIME TO STRIVE. There is a personal reason for that too, but I will get to that in a short while.
The novel picks up where the previous book, A TIME TO ACT, left off. Paul and his emerging Christian movement are up against seemingly insurmountable odds in the form of the conservative Pharisees strictly opposing the teachings of lord Jeshua(Jesus). And this is what I love most about this wonderful book. It features some of the most passionate theological debates ever written in such works of fiction. One feels as though the author was actually there with Paul, Barnabas and all the others I have come to know and love in the previous books as they speak boldly of their faith to those who know nothing but the letter of the Law. I would definitely recommend people who seem to think Christianity is nothing but feel-good praise songs, sunshine and rainbows, to get a copy of this book.
Now for the personal reason that I mentioned earlier on. As a human being, one knows they are doing something right, when an author includes a character based upon them in their work. In my case, it was possible when Ms. Knight created Alexios the Wise, a young Greek proselyte who speaks in some of my daily nuggets of inspiration written in the name of the Lord on Facebook. This is positively the greatest honour an author has ever bestowed on me, and the manner in which Ms. Knight referenced my job and my passion for the music of Elvis at some point in the book is just mindblowing. Also, I loved how the character escaped a moral dilemma in his life by applying one of his own pieces of wisdom about Christianity.
This is a book that is highly recommended to those who want to get as close to being participants in the early life of the Christian church as they can, and I love how each character has their own struggles, their doubts, their fears, their anger. I think Ms. Knight is not only a great writer, but someone with an in-depth understanding of human nature and its inherent contradictions. This is a rare gem of a book(and series), in a genre often overlooked for fear that it might feature saintly, one-dimensional characters. A common expression states that writers „put flesh” on historical figures. Ms. SJ Knight helps readers hear their hearts beat.
A masterpiece! Ten out of five! Thank you, Ms. Knight! Looking forward to your next book!

The Good Friday narrative in the Gospels is, in my view, the quintessential story of forgiveness in human existence. And given the symbolism of the name of Barabbas, there is a bit of him in all of us. He was the one whose life was changed firsthand through the sacrifice of Christ. There are countless ways in which this story can be told, and it always remains fresh and powerful.
The most recent retelling that I have had the blessing to read is called SUBSTITUTE, and it was written by Mr. Andy Back.

The novel may well be the most original retelling of this story that I have ever come across. It is set in the time of Christ, but in an interesting creative choice made to highlight the „otherness” between Jews and Romans, the names of the Jewish characters have been converted into English-sounding names. The name of the protagonist, given the symbolic meaning, „Son of the Father”, thus becomes James Parsons. Peter, the apostle, is Simon McStein, who, in an interesting twist, speaks with a thick Scottish accent, surprisingly fitting for his rugged, yet warm personality. Jesus Himself is Jesus Davidson, which is a simple, yet effective way to render his prophetic title in the Bible as Son of David.
What I love the most about this novel is how clearly the author has understood the amazing power of forgiveness. The manner in which Barabbas goes from a man who is greatly confident in his right to stand up to the Occupying Force(the way in which the Roman Empire is referred to in the novel), to one whose life is shockingly changed by the sacrifice of Jesus, and whose soul is slowly, and sometimes strenuously, but surely placed upon the path of forgiveness. The road he walks from anger, to rebellion, to confusion, bitterness, forgiveness and gratitude, is a road you will be a better, spiritually fuller human being for having walked, which is certainly true about myself. I love this little gem of a book.
Though I was provided with a review copy by Mr. Back, the thoughts herein are my own, and I am entirely blessed and grateful to say so.
Thank you, Mr. Back, for what is truly a masterpiece of Biblical fiction, which should be turned into a performance of some sort. I can see it as a theater show, a movie, or even a TV series. It has earned its ten stars out of five.

Alexszollo's Blog

In my previous post, I was reviewing a recently discovered Biblical novel called A TIME TO HEAR, set during the time of not one, but the two greatest prophets in the history of mankind, John the Baptist, here called Johannes, and Jesus Christ, here known as Jeshua.

The idea that a sequel should surpass the original is something that has been well set into the minds of people for years now. With that in mind, I can certainly affirm this about A TIME TO SEE, the second volume in the compelling trilogy by SJ Knight.

If I were to sum the series up so far, I would say it shines new light on old stories, and really, really succeeds in acquainting the readers to characters who are far from perfect, though touched by perfection.

I loved seeing Dan grow even more thirsty for knowledge. I loved Loukanos, whose mind was…

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I was talking in my previous post about a novel by Mr. Kevin Brooks, called THE LOST GOSPEL OF BARABBAS, which aims to offer readers a different perspective, far more nuanced than what is known from the Biblical text about him. And I was saying that I had really enjoyed this take on the character. He is not just a „robber” as we are told in Scripture, and yet, there is much more to him than a heroic Braveheart type of figure. If the first book set the proverbial stage for all the pain and anguish that makes Barabbas tick(read that and you will gasp at everything that he has had to endure, I guarantee you), this one shows him being forced to accept the painful facts of his life, as well as struggling with more of the frighteningly vivid visions of the supernatural that he experiences. This is a man who is unsure whether the intense things he sees, hears and feels are blessings or curses, a man who is constantly trying to make sense of who he is and what he is meant for, and for Christian fiction, this is as refreshing as it comes. The world needs more heroes of this caliber in Christian novels, as they have been too often accused of having saintly Sunday-school-like protagonists who overcome the evil that stands against them with their purity alone. Here we have a man who has seen, heard, felt and done horrible things, and he knows it very well. A man who has a calling, which he cannot deny, and yet, does not fully understand. Which, in a way, is a story that every one of us Christians know.

What I loved about this book is how well the author continues to use certain aspects of what is a typical heroic journey with a character that is not entirely a hero. I loved the moment in which Samuel, the adoptive father of Barabbas, gave him the sword that he had fought with while serving Rome. A perfect example of a new purpose being given to an object once used, at least in the view of our Roman-hating protagonist, for nefarious purposes. The supernatural encounters are also back, and as stated before, they are intense and filled with foreshadowing. A huge lion gives Barabbas a dire warning telling him to choose a side, and the chant of his name rings out from the tongues of angels, in the most brilliant bit of foreshadowing that I have ever come across in a work of Christian fiction.
But do you, dear readers, want to know what I loved the most about this book?
The fact that, as intense, cinematic(one would surely be inclined to say Netflix-worthy in this day and age), and gritty this book is, the best is yet to come. Given what I have read so far in this series, I cannot wait for the final installment which will surely have Barabbas meeting Jesus. I have never been more eager for a Christian author to finish a trilogy than I am for this one. A solid ten outta five for a gritty, heartfelt effort!

Though Mr. Brooks was gracious enough to provide me with a copy of his work for review purposes, the thoughts herein are my own, as a book of this kind is surely worthy of. Thank you, Mr. Brooks! Great, great job!

The figure of Barabbas, in my view, is the most intriguing in all of New Testament history.  We know so little of him, he is almost a footnote, and the connotation he was given over the years is decidedly negative. And yet, when looked at from a certain perspective, he suddenly gains symbolic weight: he is the one person who directly felt the power of the love of God on that fateful day which Christians have come to know and revere as Good Friday.  From what we are given in the Gospels, we know him as a „robber” who „committed murder in the insurrection”, which, given the time period in which the Greatest Story Ever Told takes place, could have only meant that he was a Zealot.

From this alluded, but intriguing idea, Mr. Kevin Brooks has embarked upon a journey of epic proportions to uncover the truth of who Barabbas may have been beyond the obvious negativity he was portrayed with over the years.  The novel Mr. Brooks wrote is called THE LOST GOSPEL OF BARABBAS, and boy, oh, boy, does it ever deliver.

We meet Barabbas as the son of a ship-builder, and find that Barabbas is not actually a name in itself, but more of a „moniker”, so to speak, that his father, Jeshua, gives him. Barabbas, as per the richness of Jewish culture, has a very profound meaning. „Son of the Father”.

The young Barabbas is devout as can be and truly believes in the coming of the liberating Messiah  who will give Israel its glory days of long ago back.  He is taught by his father to stand against the pagan idolatry of Greeks and Romans and remain steadfastly devoted to the One true God of the Jews.

What I loved the most about the book was how easy it was to relate to Barabbas. Mr. Brooks has taken a character that the Bible gives us little to nothing about and turned him into one of, if not the most  compelling angry young man that has  ever graced the pages of a Biblical novel. Reading what Barabbas goes through at the hands of the Romans, one truly gets to understand how and why the young Zealot first felt the fire of vengeance burning his heart. Oh, and  his supernatural visions are absolutely chilling.

Readers will experience a story they have always wondered about, and see one of the most mysterious figures in the Gospels in an entirely new light. The highs and lows of the life of Barabbas, as they are presented here, will put a compellingly human face upon a name known only through the crime of its bearer in the Scriptures. This is a young man literally battling for his soul, and it is utterly heartwrenching to feel the anguish he goes through when the Romans commit the ultimate injustice against him, fueling his desire for revenge. Tormented by visions of crows that flock madly around him, Barabbas is almost always on the edge in this roller-coaster of a novel.  At some point, one wonders how much bitterness and death one man can go through until he finally snaps.

I loved the character of Samuel, the priest who takes care of Barabbas after a very traumatic event in his life. The idea of a servant of God actually teaching someone survival skills, such as hunting, is a breath of fresh air in Biblical fiction, where we often see priests arguing semantics with the Lord.

To those who enjoy their Biblical fiction as sharp as the edge of a dagger,  THE LOST GOSPEL OF BARABBAS is a must-read, as much as it is to those who want their faith challenged and then refreshingly confirmed. This is one of those books that linger in the mind long before they are closed.  Great, great job, Mr. Brooks. Solid 5 out of 5!

Though Mr. Brooks was kind enough to send  me a copy of his work for review purposes, the thoughts herein are mine in their entirety. And I am a spiritually richer human being having read this book.

My experience as a reader has taught me one thing above all: when one knows that there is a sequel to a great novel, the expectations for it grow greatly. So when I finished BRUECKE TO HEAVEN, the amazing historical novel by Mr. Timothy Tron dealing with the Waldensians, I knew what I expected from it: greatness.

And boooy, did the sequel ever deliver. It was absolutely epic in scope and cast of characters, significantly upping the proverbial ante for the characters. There is a great subplot about a hermit and his wolf that I absolutely adored. There are epic battles with pagan barbarians.
But what I loved the most about this book was the struggle that one particular character from the previous one was going through, and I am talking about Lucier, the general with the mission of hunting down the Waldensians. His long, arduous transformation, full of twists and turns, is among the most intensely written spiritual crises I have ever had the blessing to read about. He comes across as painfully torn between duty and conscience.
The reason I love these two books so much is the fact that although the villains are part of the Catholic Church, the books are not by a long shot anti-Catholic per se. These books were meant as a reminder of the power of true faith in the face of blind literalism. These two books are more than simple historical fiction novels to me. They are part of a legacy that the author does his best to honor, and of a faith so intense and so personal that one would have to be made of stone not to feel it. Do not let the size of this book get to you. Its 700+ pages move at a blistering pace to reveal a world that is long gone by, and yet so vividly described that it seems like it is part of the here and now. It is a sweeping epic of faith, hope and love that pulls no punches on the gritty side of life. Readers will be transported to a time when dying for faith was not just an ideal, but a cold, harsh reality that is too often taken for granted nowadays. The world needs more books like these.

I usually give a star rating. These books are worth constellations. Thank you, Mr. Tron. You have written a tale for the ages.
Disclaimer: While I do thank Mr. Tron wholeheartedly for agreeing to send me his books for review purposes, I must state the views herein are my own, and I am tremendously blessed to say so.