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.

 

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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.

Like any historical fiction, Medieval historical fiction can easily fall into a series of tropes, and those tropes are most commonly as such: stereotypes of the Crusades and the Inquisition, with its subsequent witch hunts, among others.
However, TAPESTRY, the big, bold, beautiful behemoth of a book that I am about to review , being set much earlier than any of the two aforementioned periods, successfully avoids all of the tropes and stereotypes common to the fictional depiction of those eras. What is this novel about, then?

As the cover and title suggest, it’s a story of how the events depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, crucial for the future of England, and not only that, came to be. The whole epic saga unfolds across decades, starting in 1035, when the protagonist, Lod, a Norman physically impaired boy who will go through several names(Cuin, Brother Augustine, Brother Ambrose, and so on), is nine years old, and is the advisor of young William, who will become The Conqueror of great fame.
Do not let the size of this book put you off. And do not worry that you’ll have to read through a lot of repetitive details about battles, with gore galore and characters who maim just for the sake of it(no offense to those who enjoy that sort of fiction, I occasionally do as well). This is not just a novel of medieval warfare. This is an epic saga of Medieval peacekeeping. The hero of the story is a very intelligent young man who grows into a highly-skilled diplomat, and believe me, there’s much to be fascinated about in the manner in which diplomacy was understood back then. There is, though, plenty of action as well. Assassinations, failed and successful, the intricacy of politics, travels to the end of the world, mesmerizing details about different religions and healing techniques, friendships being forged, tested and broken. This is an impressive work, a true labor of love, which rings with authenticity, and the research is impeccable. It’s safe to call it the best novel of early Medieval times that I have ever read, and I feel factually, culturally and spiritually richer for having done so.
Though I am greatly indebted to Mr. Largent for having provided me with a copy of his work, the views expressed herein, I claim to be my own entirely. Thank you, Mr. Largent. Solid, well-earned, 10 out of 5!

The fear of death is the most prevalent fear that mankind has. Paradoxically, though,  most of us believe or want to believe that there is something beyond this entanglement of feelings and emotions that we call life.  What is death? Is there a God? A Heaven? A Hell? What happens to the soul once it leaves the body.

One guy knows the answers to all these questions. And his name is Corwin Grimm. So, who is this Corwin Grimm dude?

Well, the answer to that is known by a delightful lady by the name of Linda Cowden, and the endearing nickname of Auntie Maim. Ms. Cowden has written an awesome epic dark fantasy novel, which has Corwin Grimm as a central character.  Who’s Corwin Grimm, you might ask? Well, he’s a soulful saxophone player with a thing for cats. And the occasional stint as a vigilante, sending bad guys to hell while giving the last moment of comfort to  those in need of it.  Because….he’s also  The Grim Reaper! Escorting people to either realm of the afterlife does come with its heft, and this heft will haunt Corwin from the moment in which he touches the soul of a human being in a very special situation.  Throughout this sprawling novel, Grimmie, as he’s known to those who befriend him, muses on all that being human encompasses: faith, fear, love, longing, passion, pain and all the confusion inbetween, moving back and forth between goths, Japanese mobsters, Catholic priests and other such colorful characters. This is a book that’s written with a great deal of wit, a book with a big, pulsing heart that deserves a lot of attention, and a Netflix TV series! Think Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman writing a book together, and you’ve got GRIMMIE. Solid, solid read! Loved it!  Ten outta five for what may be my all-time favorite dark fantasy novel! Huge debt of gratitude to Auntie Maim for providing me with a copy of her enchanting work. However, the views herein are all my own!

 

The role of horror fiction in our world has been widely debated. Fans(myself included) and writers of the genre defend it as a necessary cautionary look at the darker side of human nature, while detractors see nothing in it but “penny dreadfuls.”

Recently, I’ve had the honour of reading one of the smartest horror novels ever written, in my view. Penned by celebrated tie-in author for such franchises as Doctor Who and Friday the 13th, THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS is his first foray into original fiction. Now, if I could throw my two cents about it from the get-go, I’d say it bloody well shouldn’t be his last, because it’s a definite page-turner.

Meet Jack Sparks. Celebrity blogger, celebrated author and all-around typical cocky famous asshole known for his biting sarcasm and staunch atheism, Jack has mysteriously kicked the bucket while researching his latest book, “Jack Sparks on the Supernatural”, in which he calls bullshit on exorcisms, haunted houses, and so forth. And it all starts when Jack laughs during a Roman Catholic exorcism on a 13-year-old girl.

Now, some of you might think that the topic of exorcisms has been done on so many different levels, that there’s hardly anything new to be said in regard to it. Let me assure you, you’ve not read anything like this before.  The character of Jack Sparks is so, so well done, and I love the whole meta-concept of the novel(it’s basically Jack Sparks on the Supernatural” with all sorts of added material by his brother Allistair.  There’s so much in this apparent exorcism-gone-south tale that’s relevant for our society, whether it is our obsession with the online environment and celebrity culture, or our eternal fascination towards the paranormal. Jack is a great character to read(I loved how his previous books, on drugs and gangs, as well as his wacky research methods, are referenced), and his arrogance will paradoxically endear him to readers.  This solid novel gets all the stars in the sky for the much-needed lesson it teaches about the toxicity of arrogance and self-worship. A huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Arnopp and Orbit books for providing me with a copy of the novel! Nevertheless, the views presented herein are my own.

 

The larger-than-life personality of Ludwig van Beethoven has always been fascinating to me. The bombastic opening to the Fifth Symphony always boosts my mood, as does the soaring Ode to Joy. The fact that this man could write music while unable to physically hear is proof, in my view, that any obstacle can be overcome. The intensity that this titan of music had inside him is next-to-impossible to capture in words.

And yet, there’s one beautifully written work of historical fiction that I am proud to have read, which does so in a masterful manner.

BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139: CONCERTO QUASI UNA FANTASIA may very well be the most unconventional biography of a classical composer that I have ever read. Written by Mr. Howard Jay Smith, the novel starts with the death of Beethoven and his subsequent journey throughout Elysium in pursuit of Isis, his muse, the paragon of womanhood, and guided by Napoleon, who proves to be the Virgil to Beethoven’s Dante in his quest for the one moment of pure joy that he begs from Fate. This is a brilliant manner of framing the story, as it not only serves as a great fantasy sequence, but it gives the reader the opportunity to see Beethoven from a different perspective. I’m quite sure you’ve never heard his story told this way before. You will discover a man of great wit, passion, energy and intensity. A lover of many women, some of whom you’ll meet in the pages of this novel(I loved Josephine Brunsvik for fated symmetry-induced reasons, if you know what I mean, and the intense Antonie Brentano the most), but first and foremost a worshipper of the tremendous power of music and creation, he comes across as a complex, multifaceted and haunted figure as Napoleon gives him glimpses of his past and visions from the future, a future we, mere mortals, could probably not imagine without his iconic pieces.  This is an exquisitely written tribute to perhaps the most powerful musical icon of the classical era, a work unique among the many books written about him. Long live Beethoven, and Mr. Smith! Though I was provided with a copy of the book for review purposes, I do-do-do-do confirm that the views herein are my own! Ten out of five for a solid piece of historical fiction.

 

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!