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Kevin Peter's book reviews

Journey of souls – A review of the book ‘Beyond a Mother’s Worst Nightmare’

“Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us.” - Jim Carroll

Author Karen Chaston’s book ‘Beyond a Mother’s Worst Nightmare: Allowing yourself to live and love again after a death of a child’ is an autobiographical memoir of sorts. It chronicles the author’s recuperation after the untimely death of her son. In this inspiring account, she shares the details of her journey dealing with her loss and the way she learnt to cope with it. This love filled offering is bound to help others dealing with a similar tragedy to overcome their pain and keep the memory of their loved ones alive forever.

While many may not be able to imagine what it feels like to lose a child, you will still admire and appreciate the bravery and the brazenness of the author in portraying such honest emotions while sharing such personal and heartfelt stories. You will chuckle and cry with her as you undertake this journey with her. This book is bound to calm your mind and make you re-evaluate your priorities and the chores you do on a day-to-day basis. It’s such a well written and clean book that you really ought to offer this book to others after you’re done reading it, to let them know that they are not alone in this tragedy.

An oft repeated theme of this book has been to pay closer attention to the voice inside you, call it your subconscious mind or your intuition, following its advice can only lead to good. Another recurring thought is that - each and every one of us has the same ending to our story and we’re all here only for a short while, so we should make the best use of that time and do what our heart really wishes for.

The end of each chapter has a section called the contemplation section, where the reader is advised to pen down their own thoughts and reflect on the theme discussed in each chapter. I thought this was a good touch because it makes the book highly interactive too. The photographs in this book offer a small and yet significant peek into the life of an individual (Dan) and what that person stood for and what he meant to these group of people (friends & family).

The author, Karen does a great job of telling a personal story, detailing what it’s like to lose a child in such an unfortunate manner. You will be transported into a different reality and you will become part of her family and get a good sense of what she and her family went through. You will also come away highly impressed by reading about the author’s moments of hope and optimism in the midst of this tragedy.

Beyond a Mother’s Worst Nightmare is a well written non-fiction book that offers plenty of hope and helps you speedup the healing process.
Beyond the fairytales – A review of the book ‘A Journey To Becoming Your Own Best Friend’

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” - Coco Chanel

Author Karen Chaston’s book ‘A Journey To Becoming Your Own Best Friend’ helps you in discovering your one all season friend, i.e. you. Women have historically put other people’s interest before her own, especially if they are someone she cares about. But this sort of behavior often has a detrimental effect on the woman’s physical and emotional growth. Karen shows us how through simple actions and determined decisions, one can bring about monumental changes to one’s life.

Many women don’t listen to their inner self or follow their conscience because of societal pressure and norms. And when they don’t travel on their destined life path, material success may come their way but true happiness will always be at an arm’s length away. That is why all women should read this book, it encourages them to stop playing second fiddle and take control and thereby cultivate a happier, fulfilled and inspiring attitude towards life.

It’s not a how-to book that lists the wrongs with you and then gives you the steps to correct it. It gently nudges you to take a closer look at your day-to-day life and observe within these patterns of everyday life the small changes you can make to bring a whole level of difference to your life. The core and often repeated message of this book is that it urges women to take charge of their lives by not trying to please everyone all the time. The book is intended not only to provide inspiration but also to bolster self-confidence and self-esteem in women, so that they can stop feeling sorry for themselves and stop playing the victim and take charge of their own destiny.

Karen Chaston has a lovely narrative voice that is down to earth, friendly and resembles advice coming from close family. She is both witty and articulate when the passage demands of her and each chapter gives clear and concise instructions on how to deal with a particular problem. Following the writings and simple meditations that the author offers, you will be able to endure the difficult time of getting to know your ‘self’ better and build up the courage to go out and empower yourself. This is not a read-it-in-a-single-go book, although you can (and it’s hard not to) read it cover to cover, you should ideally keep it by the bedside table and read a couple of passages every morning before you begin your day.

The author has spent quite a number of years coming up with the thoughts and feelings shared in this book, to share her knowledge with the rest of the world. Now it’s up to everyone reading this book to take forward from where this book ends and carve out their own individual life paths to success and happiness.
The Bright Spot – A review of the novel ‘Demons and Pearls’

“The king may rule the kingdom, but it's the queen who moves the board.” - D.M. Timney

Author P.S. Bartlett’s novel ‘Demons and Pearls’ follows the adventures of a woman pirate Ivory Shepard and her three cousin sisters as they battle various human demons to secure their safety & freedom. An innocuous night on board a pirate ship, if there was any, soon turns into a life altering event for the cousins after Ivory ends up killing the pirate captain. The consequences are nightmarish and Ivory has to quickly learn all that’s needed to survive in this hellish world. But with a little help from a couple of good men, she soon realizes her purpose and succeeds in securing the release of her cousins.

For years on end the ocean was seen as a male only domain, filled with heroic stories involving sailors and captains. But through this illuminating fictional narrative, author P.S. Bartlett shows the astonishing roles women played in the high adventures on and off the sea. Women have made significant contributions in maritime history but they often had to disguise their gender to work alongside men because of the prejudices prevalent. So while staying well within the framework of a fictional literature, this book without going overboard on a feminist tract still manages to portray some powerful women characters.

Although the plot and the characters are given equal importance, it wouldn’t be wrong to call it a character driven story. And what a wide and colorful array of characters does the book have! Ivory is smart, brave, independent and slick with her fighting skills, yet she imbibes the gentle feminine spirit. Her struggles and travails to attain a level playing field in an area dominated by men is something women everywhere even in today’s times will be able to relate with. Rasmus or Big Red is another equally strong character (literally too!) who stands out from other men because of his genuine masculine spirit and it’s no wonder Ivory falls for him. Theirs is not a standard love-at-first-sight kind of romance and there is more depth to their love story. The secondary characters too stand out for their genuineness and each has been given their own unique voice.

The scene in the cabin with Rasmus cutting Ivory’s hair has to be one of the best planned, conceived and written scenes that I’ve read in a contemporary fictional book in a long time. The gamut of varied emotions that strike you from these pages have to be experienced firsthand and it also shows the wide range and skill of the author.

Though not an out and out pirate thriller, there’s still enough in this book to help you relive the explosive period of pirates and pirate raids. There’s an interesting end to the book and there may well be a sequel in the works.
Beyond the hidden mist – A review of the novel ‘Shadows of the Night’

“To face a real demon, you must first look inwards and conquer your own darkness.” – Luis Marques

Author Richard Dawes’s latest novel ‘Shadows of the Night’ is an adult thriller centered around occult themes. Its lead character, Dirk Hammond, is a wise-cracking, bone breaking private investigator who follows his own code. A series of gruesome murders are sweeping San Francisco, and the police are unable to find the culprit. A mysterious and powerful businessman employs Hammond to find the murderer because he believes he is on the list to be killed. Once he is on the case, Hammond realizes that he is dealing with occult forces that transcend normal understanding. He is forced to channel his own inner power to combat the evil and emerge victorious at the end.

Shadows of the Night is a fun and exciting ride that doesn’t take itself too lightly or too seriously. You get just the right amount of entertainment in these pages. The narrative is clear-cut and fast-paced, and its hypnotic quality will transport the reader into the thick of the action. I’m certain the author had fun coming up with such wonderful imagery, which brings the action sequences to life and lends a dark, threatening atmosphere to the scenes of horror. The reader will find the author’s take on mythology and history, and his analysis of genuine masculinity and femininity interesting. The commentary is political when it chooses to be, and Richard Dawes is able to present some highly articulate and analytical points from both sides of the equation.

This book truly belongs to its protagonist Dirk Hammond. Heis a self-deprecating tough guy with a talent for attracting trouble. He also possesses a rare intellect, and can stand his own and out-rationalize even the smartest person in the room. The first person narrative style and the heart-pounding pace of the story allows the reader to get inside Hammond'shead and stay with him through the non-stop action.

Plot twists take place on almost every page in Shadows of the Night, and there’s the murder mystery to be solved. You will be wondering who the killer is right up until the end. The story is a quick and easy read and it's reminiscent of the pulp detective novels of the forties and fifties.Dirk Hammond's personality and his adventures are in the classic noir, hardboiled private eye style, set against an occult background.
Sail, not drift – A review of the novel ‘Captain Hawk’

“I can't control the wind but I can adjust the sail.” - Ricky Skaggs

Author SJ Garland’s novel ‘Captain Hawk’ chronicles the lives of British and Dutch expats in Singapore at the pinnacle of the East India Company’s reign. It’s set in the early 1800’s and we follow the adventures of Nathaniel Hawk, an able and highly trained seaman who would rather seek glory and adventures on land than out on the sea. But after a series of nefarious mishaps threaten the peaceful existence of the shipping business, Nathaniel finds himself at the centre of it all especially after a great tragedy strikes close to home. This is the story of a man who must desperately find answers to secrets surrounding his life, not only to find closure but also to secure his future.

Nathaniel is the quintessential reluctant hero who would rather follow a different life path from the one he’s preordained to follow. But a series of events doesn’t allow him this luxury and he finds himself having to take on great responsibilities in the midst of ruins everywhere. Nathaniel’s growth graph has been brilliantly charted by the author, he’s not presented as a finished hero product, and neither does he become one by the end. But the growth in his character, his own realization of his purpose in life makes for a highly interesting lead character. This change in him can be seen throughout the book as we see the changing dynamics of his relationship with other important characters. Nathaniel as a literary character has plenty going for him and is someone you can spin plenty of adventure stories around.

The book uses both Nathaniel and Charlotte to cleverly narrate this story. In the Nathaniel narrative you get to peek inside the mind of the lead character and become privy to all the action and adventure from a first person’s objective. While from the Charlotte’s point of view, we not only get to see the important role her character plays but are also introduced to a host of secondary characters and sub-plots that help in establishing an identity for the place and era in which the story is set in. This helps the reader feel more connected with these characters and could prove beneficial when the sequel comes out.

The writing is very precise and at the same time is highly descriptive too, giving all the scenes a visual comprehension. Various themes like identity crisis, the complexity and uniqueness of father-son relationships, family honor, etc find flavor in the author’s writing. Being a historical fiction, this book introduces to you a different side of Singapore and history really does come alive in this melting pot of different cultures and personalities. The realism employed by the author often makes you forget the fact that you are reading a fictional book.

It’s a great start to a brand new series by a talented author!
A Practical Guide – A review of the book ‘Develop Your Medical Intuition’

“Intuition is seeing with the soul.” - Dean Koontz

Author Sherrie Dillard’s book ‘Develop Your Medical Intuition: Activate Your Natural Wisdom for Optimum Health and Well-Being’ aims to develop your intuition to heal, improve and maintain good health, mind, body and spirit. Medical intuition has been around since the time of Hippocrates and is gaining popularity as a reliable method for detecting and healing confusing and chronic health issues. This book doesn’t try to wean you away from any particular branch of medicine and only tries to expand your capacity to utilize natural intuition better.

The writer Sherrie Dillard announces beforehand that she is not a physician or a medical practitioner in the conventional sense. Yet she has in her possession over 25 years of research and practice in a highly intriguing field called medical intuition. It’s common knowledge that an energy field surrounds all living beings. And everyone has an innate intuitive power that helps them in countless ways in their day-to-day lives. So the idea is to use this intuitive capability and harness the resulting self awareness to learn more about our body’s health & wellbeing. The author claims this can help us to detect health issues and discover the underlying root cause in order to heal. Some of the topics include better awareness of the interaction and connection between the mind, body and spirit, the different ways that medical intuition naturally surfaces and how to further develop it, along with many easy to follow exercises and meditations.

There’s a real clarity in the thoughts and views of the author and it’s arranged in an easy to read format. There’s plenty of information and facts in here to support this alternate field of science. The author has provided a step-by-step introduction into the history of this field; has listed ways to develop this skill and has also provided quizzes to help you to tune into your energy health and better understand how you are already intuiting health energy information. It’s not one of those books you can skim over and you should really take your time with it. Because there’s so much knowledge in here that after reading a few pages you should stop and reflect and understand the process before going on again. One of the highlights for me personally was the quizzes in the book, the questions are so forthright and the analyses of its answers are so shockingly honest and revealing about one’s character.

Everyone’s naturally intuitive and this book may just prove to be the right push that’s needed to channel and harness this power. The numerous personal stories of the author with her clients add a personal touch to the book. And skeptic or not, you are bound to be intrigued by what the author has to say.

People interested in arming themselves with self-knowledge about health and wholeness will definitely benefit from this book.
The Silent Hero – A review of the novel ‘A Twist of Fortune’

“The trick to being smart is knowing when to play dumb.” - V. Alexander

Author Mike Martin’s novel ‘A Twist of Fortune’ tells the tale of Sergeant Winston Windflower of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A small fishing community called Grand Bank in Newfoundland, Canada reels under the effects of globalization as their local fishing industry is systematically taken apart. But this tight-knit community is rocked even further by the discovery of a couple of dead bodies in a car during a snow storm. And Sgt. Windflower and his efficient team of police force must not only solve the case but deal with a nasty snow storm threatening to double their workload.

Even though this is the fourth book in the series, the narrative never lets you feel like you’ve jumped midway into the timeline of someone’s life story. It patiently goes about setting the background for the town and its characters and you quickly get accustomed to its pace and setting. Another thing that I personally liked was that all the characters in this novel have proper sounding names and along with their personalities, seem like folks you would meet in the real world. The nitty-gritty of police work, the unglamorous side that often goes unnoticed in fiction is really explored here. Does this make the narrative a little slow? Sure, but it also makes the story that more believable.

There are a lot of minor action points that moves the story forward. The description of the cold & gloomy snowy weather incites the reader that something sinister is going to happen soon and you keep flipping the pages forward in anticipation. There are also definite overtones of social activism within the book and subtle commentary on environmental neglect and destruction of local industries as capitalism spreads unchecked.

Sgt. Windflower is unlike any cop or detective that appears in fictional novels. He isn’t a wild card who goes after criminals like a rampaging bull, he isn’t even a reluctant hero who finally steps up and does something heroic. He is the face, body and soul of countless policemen from all around the world that quietly goes about doing their job, solving crimes and putting bad people behind bars. There’s nothing flashy about him, he’s the quiet hero who loves taking plenty of naps, enjoying a good cup of coffee and the best of exotic cuisine. But he’s also extremely disciplined and gets the job done by working extremely hard at it. Even the secondary characters like Tizzard, Sheila, Evanchuck and MacDonald make an impression with their non-stereotypical portrayal and unique personalities.

The snow clad setting, the leisurely pace of the narrative and a no-nonsense but humane lead makes A Twist of Fortune a mystery thriller with a difference. It’s a book that requires and rewards your patience.
The Final Reckoning – A review of the novel ‘The Demons Walk Among Us’

“But the Dark cannot claim what Light does not surrender.” - C.L. Wilson

In author Joann Harris’s novel ‘The Demons Walk Among Us’, the devil makes his appearance in a quaint little American town. Sam, a brilliant, honorable, and courageous hero along with his wife Nydia, a powerful witch and little Sam, their 4 year old son with paranormal powers have been travelling all over the country defeating the devil and his various minions. They land up in Becancour, a town undergoing drastic changes in preparation for Satan’s coming. To defeat this powerful enemy Sam and his family have to team up with the local authorities and a few remaining good souls. And these allies bound to him by blood and honor will come in handy when he goes one up against the lord of evil himself.

Armed with only a simple single sentence plot line, this book tries to ascend mighty standards of success and almost pulls off the impossible. For a book with a host of secondary characters and a tight knit group of primary ones, the character development is spot on and believable. The small family of Sam, his wife, little son and the Dog are very likeable and as a reader you will be compelled to emotionally invest in this family. Their courage, determination, love for each other and the swagger and attitude of having seen and done it all before is infectious. The book also has a wonderful cast of secondary characters like the police chief, the deputy and the doctor who have to first face up to a threat they cannot fully comprehend and then team up with an outsider to save the townspeople.

As far as the story line is concerned, there’s a lot of unpredictability to it, you never know who’s going to fall victim to the unrelenting evil that’s sweeping through the town. There are a lot of hair-raising scenes as the people of Becancour turn on each other and commit unspeakable acts of evil. And these are juxtaposed against the strong beliefs and good natured behavior of another set of individuals. It’s one of those books you won’t need to use a bookmark on, as you will keep turning the pages to see what happens next because almost all the chapters end on a cliffhanger note.

The scene in the convenience store deserves a special mention, intended perhaps as to lighten up the mood or perhaps to open up the ‘fourth wall’ for readers and let them know that it’s just a fictional book, whatever may have been its true intention, this scene does stand out.

The story does contain graphic violence & gore, profanity and some sexual content. Therefore the sensitive, conservative and squeamish reader should definitely stay away from this. But fans of this sub-genre of horror and slasher books are going to have a whale of a time reading with wicked glory the exploits of the author’s vivid imagination.
Undercover Style – A review of the novel ‘Too Beautiful For Words’

“In Greek tragedy, they fall from great heights. In noir, they fall from the curb.” - Dennis Lehane

Sammy Shovel, the super PI once again makes his appearance in author Ronald M. James’s latest novel ‘Too Beautiful For Words.’ When the CEO of a big corporation with a squeaky clean image gets murdered, the local police department gets stumped when they aren’t able to decipher a set of clues left behind by the victim. That’s when Samuel aka Sammy comes into the picture as the hired PI of the corporation trying to find out their boss’s murderer. He quickly delves into the case and unearths some explosive and controversial information. But it also makes him the target of bad guys and he has to depend on his super sleuthing skills and gun slinging ways to find a way out of the latest muddle he has found himself in.

The narrative in this detective story is a mix of classic whodunit style and character driven plotting. The PI Sammy Shovel isn’t an all brawn; let’s shoot ‘em up kind of a guy and the storyline also reflects this attitude. Although there are enough action points that move the story forward there’s also this leisurely descriptive style to the narrative. Even in the midst of constant suspense, the story ensures that you get an adequate feel of the character’s surroundings and their thinking.

Since it’s set in 1993, we also get to see the police and PI conduct investigations by asking around and interrogating people as opposed to sitting in front of a computer and getting all the information. And even though there are a lot of fistfights and shootings, the violence is never overdone and the foul language too has been kept to a minimum. And full credits to the author for maintaining the secrecy regarding who was responsible for all the mayhem in the story till the very end.

Sammy dresses like a vagrant and it’s a recurring comic relief when prospective clients think he’s in disguise. But it also reflects the man’s attitude towards life; sure he doesn’t know how to take care of himself but more importantly he really doesn’t care what the world thinks about his life choices. Even so, sometimes we get to see an introspective side to the man when he ponders, if he dressed better, maintained a tidier office and learned to talk to people nicely, would he then become a bigger success? Other characters like the police Lieutenant Braque provides the necessary ally cum discipliner role contrasting nicely with Sammy’s laidback approach to everything.

James does a great job with plot construction, filling it with enough twists and turns to keep you interested as you follow the experienced PI feel his way through the case. It has all the makings of a good mystery series and is worth following through.
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Beings of Gaea – A review of the book ‘Hypatia's Feud’

“She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belonged to no man and to no city” - Roman Payne

Author Nicholas Fourikis’s book ‘Hypatia’s Feud’ is a historical and fictional take on the life and times of Hypatia of Alexandria. Hypatia succeeded Plato’s school of philosophy but she was more than just a philosopher. Her interests and expertise were in topics as varied as physics, biology, linguistics, astronomy, mathematics, history and much more. Between the 4th and 5th century CE, she led a key enlightenment movement at a time when the major religions treated women asinferior creatures and attributed the reason behind everything to the will of God.

There’s an infinite beauty in the author’s prose. The sights, sounds and smell of Alexandria come alive in his passages. And just like Hypatia was supposed to have been, the author takes on the most complex of ideas and thoughts and breaks them down and explains them in everyday language. The past really does come alive in the author’s detailed and descriptive writing. The way each character walks, dresses and thinks has been recorded in such a realistic manner. It’s almost like the author followed these people around with a video camera and recorded everything with the keen eye of a sensitive and gifted artist.

There’s great tragedy and heartbreak intermixed with such strong emotions of love that you will be hard-pressed not to get emotionally affected by the narrative. Itwill make you question everything, including Hypatia’s and Aristos’s actions and thoughts. And this is perhaps the message the book wants to send out as well, it doesn’t want you to blindly accept anyone or anything without questioning it with a rational mind.

The words in this book may impress you but the visual imagery these words generate will stay with you for a long time. There are plenty of passages you will highlight to get back to for their ingenuity and thought provoking nature. You will also be entertained by the numerous legends, myths and stories about Alexandria’s rich history. And under Fourikis’s emotive writing, Hypatia’s awe-inspiring and thought provoking speeches truly come alive.

It’s narrated for the most part by Aristos, who is introduced as a young man in awe of Hypatia’s teachings and quickly goes on to become one of her most promising and gifted students. Aristos as a character grows up emotionally and rationally throughout the book and his responses at crucial junctures often reflect the reader’s mind at that point in the book. And perhaps like Aristos, you too will require time to re-evaluate what you have known so far before accepting newer thoughts and beliefs. A character like Posidonius the Magian plays a relevant and significant role in the narrative, often reflecting the collective conscience of rational and wise thinkers.

Hypatia was truly a remarkable woman and she is testament to the goodness and intellectual capability humans are capable of when not pursuing dodged dogmas.
An Inquiry – A review of the novel ‘A Sticky Business’

“The sun doesn't just hang on one family's tree” - Anchee Min

Author Mel King’s ‘A Sticky Business’ is a two-part book containing a novel and also a collection of short stories. The novel is in fact a fictional uptake on a real life event that happened in North End, Boston in 1919. A great tragedy that claimed numerous human lives forms the backdrop for the story where the author’s two fictional protagonists try and find out if it was god or man that caused the accident. In the short stories, the author brings to light slightly fictionalized versions of amazing feats and lives of highly intriguing men and women from our history.

Part one covers about 3/4ths of the book and it contains the novel part of the book. But then this isn’t a novel in the strictest sense of the word either. The author basically retells a tragic event that occurred in 1919 in Boston when a storage tank containing molasses burst and killed 21 people and injured 150 more in the subsequent flooding and force of the explosion. But he uses this as a plot device to explore two key themes. Mainly, the greed and profit oriented business mentality of big corporations that pay scant regard to human lives and environment. Secondly and more importantly, he questions why a righteous god would allow such a tragedy to befall innocent victims while the criminals and sinners get to live unaffected by this act. This issue is further extrapolated by employing two fictional characters in a catholic priest and an attorney who are both in their own ways trying to find the culprit responsible for this tragedy.

It’s interesting to note how the author has chosen to handle these themes through his protagonists. In the beginning the young catholic priest is shown to be very much in conflict with the teachings of the church. While he doesn’t question the existence of a god, he simply cannot digest the explanations provided by the church to justify god’s action or rather inaction. Whereas the attorney doesn’t pin the blame on god, mainly because he doesn’t believe in the existence of such a personal god and believes that all tragic events can be attributed to bad luck and the selfish and nefarious behavior of a few individuals. The various discussions between them, right from the start to the big finale at the end not only reveals more about these characters but it also opens up interesting, thought-provoking and timely discussions in our minds. And like all good teachers/philosophers, the author doesn’t spoon feed us the answer and asks us to arrive at our own conclusions.

The multiple short stories in the second part of the book also serve a dual purpose. They bring to light a few individual’s amazing feats, whose life stories have somehow remained in obscurity in our collective pop-culture consciousness. Secondly they also discuss themes of luck/supernatural influence in one’s life and questions why certain things happen to certain people and not everyone.

A Sticky Business is less of a novel and more of a seasoned writer’s observations and personal thoughts into an age-old philosophical dilemma that he tries to reignite by using fictional characters centered around factual events.
The Ultimate Showdown – A review of the novel ‘Black Rose’

“You stop fearing the Devil when you're holding his hand...” - April Genevieve Tucholke

Author Richard Dawes’s novel ‘Black Rose’ is the eighth book in the ‘Tucson Kid Western’ series. Tucson doesn’t have it easy in this adventure as he finds himself stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea every step of the way. After an epic battle with a band of killers, Tucson arrives at the quiet town of San Ignacio, where he hopes to rest and recuperate. There, he is pressured by an old friend, now the town marshal, to help him transport a shipment of gold and a captured outlaw. Meanwhile, a map to a silver mine worth millions of dollars unexpectedly falls into Tucson's hands, and he becomes the target of Black Rose, a legendary bandit queen, who wants that map and the money it represents.

The best thing about this series is that all the books work very well as standalone novels. Equipped with a highly descriptive narrative and an engrossing plot line, these books always manage to find the right balance between entertainment and having strong characters in believable situations.

This story has several layers to it, with some important subplots. A few times in the series we’ve had plots where Tucson was blindsided by a character close to him by pretending to be someone else. Here, the author builds an aura around the myth of Black Rose, and manages to fool not only Tucson but also the reader into looking elsewhere by cleverly pointing at the wrong target all the while.

The journey from San Ignacio in New Mexico to the town of Oak Leaf in Arizona is full of nail biting suspense and intrigue. And just like the characters undertaking this trip, who expect a major ambush to occur along the way, the reader will also wait anxiously to see what will happen when Tucson is confronted by the bandit’s gang and the legendary Black Rose.

Tucson is in many ways a superhero, except that he doesn’t wear a mask and doesn’t hide behind an alternate identity. His superior fighting skills, be it with guns, knives or even bare fists, often leaves the reader in awe. And for friends and foes alike, he presents himself in entirety, his physical and mental prowess is always on display for everyone to admire and/or fear. His straightforwardness, his strong ideals and sense of justice, even though he operates outside the law, make him a character that the reader will always root for.

With the Tucson Kid stories, the reader can generally expect to be presented with a certain number of philosophical ideas, providing a framework for the action and Tucson's exemplary fighting skills. In Black Rose, however, this tendency has been considerably toned down. The introspective Tucson almost never shows up, perhaps because of the hectic pace at which he rides from one crisis to another.

Continuing in the same exciting form as the other books in the series, Black Rose is a wonderful addition to the pack.
Divine Quest – A review of the novel ‘No Good Deed’

“Love is a wild fire that cannot be contained by any mere element known to man.” - Cristina Marrero

Author Mary D. Brook’s novel ‘No Good Deed’ is a historical fictional tale about two women. The year’s 1951, Eva & Zoe are two star-crossed lovers who have suffered through the war and are now heading back to Australia to settle down and start a family. But life’s never that simple and a couple of life-altering events threaten to derail their future. And Eva’s paranormal powers and its revelation brings forth secrets & characters from her past that puts an even bigger strain on her love life. But the power of love and family is such that it can overcome even the harshest of challenges life throws its way.

There’s great chutzpah in the writing, especially in the novel’s dialogues. It’s a good wordy novel and a lot of the action takes place and is conveyed through finely written dialogue pieces. The characters are always mouthing clever and smart lines in accordance with their personalities established early on in the book. The novel will sometimes remind you of a movie script with the way each scene has been conceptualized, written and edited to form this seamless narrative that’s sure to keep your interest level at a constant. Since it’s set in the 1950’s a lot of detailing has gone into making the story believable and authentic. This is especially so because being gay and being a gay couple amidst a sea of judgmental heterosexuals would have been harder to pass off in that era compared to today’s times.

The lead characters in the book come across as both real and life-like and you imagine them existing outside the confines of the book’s narrative as well. The author also deserves praise for her effervescent way of dealing with religion and religious beliefs in the story. She busts many stereotypes along the way and presents various integers in a manner both theists and atheists alike will find acceptable.

There’s a bit of back and forth and tidbits in the narrative pertaining to events already taken place in the character’s past; for a new reader though all this information might leave them a bit aloof. But if you are willing to overlook a few minor missteps like these, this book can be read as a standalone new novel too. That being said, the ingenuity in the plot line and a couple of memorable characters are more than enough reasons to check out the other books in the series as well.

End of the day classifying it as just a good lesbian love story would be doing it a big injustice; it’s a great love story, period.
Bloody Good Life – A review of the novel ‘Agni’

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Author C. Radhakrishnan’s novelette ‘Agni’ is a finely crafted introspection into the emotion of love and its myriad forms. The source of many different emotions found in men can often be traced back to this single emotion. And it’s often the tipping point that makes our mind oscillate between the different levels of sanity. The good and the bad that comes out of it have always stupefied humanity and the following story is a fine example of the human mind’s predicament when engulfed in an all consuming fire, the Agni (fire) of love.

People born and brought up in the same milieu as the characters in the book will fully appreciate the familiarity and sense of belonging the author’s writing conjures up in one’s mind. And for the rest of the world perhaps unfamiliar with such native scenes this small book will be a series of awakening to an exotic world full of exotic possibilities. And you needn’t understand or have prior knowledge of local customs beforehand to enjoy it, because the scintillating wordplay and vivid imagery will calm your mind and comfort your heart as any soothing lullaby would.

While describing the social and cultural mood of the place a bit of satire creeps into the author’s tone but it’s all good and you can chuckle at such irrelevance because most of it stands true to the place and the time it’s set in. But perhaps a discomforting thought for readers would be that in many places the government machinery still moves at that same lethargic pace as it did almost 50 years ago.

Violence and cruelty form a part of everyday life for the inhabitants of the small village and the protagonist Moosa is their chief mascot. Although it’s claimed that such violence is not part of their local traditions, the people simply don’t know any better and perhaps it’s merely a reflection of the times they lived in where the need for human survival prioritized over feelings of empathy. And nowhere is it more obvious than on various animals that have to bear the brunt of the human animal’s flippant attitude towards them, alternating between extreme love and hate.

Moosa is a terror of a man but there is a lot of good in him and inwardly he tries to be a just man but he often succumbs to the expectation of his own conceptualized image. He’s a person whose world view is limited by his upbringing and experience and also by his strong bond and love towards his only daughter. Amina, Sulaiman, Mulla, the assistant boy, Kumbhan and a few others are a wonderful group of characters soaked in the local milieu that bring to the forefront delectable flavors of rural customs and life in the interiors.
First Among Equals – A review of the novel ‘Birds That Fly Ahead’

“Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red.” - Clive Barker

Author C. Radhakrishnan’s novel ‘Birds That Fly Ahead’ is another book in a series centered around a lead protagonist chronicling the class struggle led by a left leaning extremist movement that mowed through India decades ago and the remnants of which can still be seen today in various trickles and forms. Arjun is a revolutionary, the state has charged him with various cases of murder and heists. But what is the truth? Did he commit all those murders as they claim? Can the murders and violence he perpetrated ever be justified? And if he’s not to blame, then who should be held accountable? These are some of the questions we seek answers to in this epic novel saddling both philosophical and political reverberations with ease.

The change in the mood of the narrative shifts dramatically with changes in the story, like a three act play you will see your own mood shift from end to the other while progressing through the set-up, the confrontation and eventual resolution. There’s also some wonderful dialogue writing in the book and this back and forth between characters is captivating to listen to. Some may call it a tad superficial, sure but when you are creating this magical narrative on paper, such illusions will have a bit of artificiality to them. But it will still leave you mesmerized and in awe of the language and the beauty of thoughts expressed. The best thing about Kairali Narayanan’s translation is that she has been able to absorb and present in entirety the earthy beauty of the author’s prose from Malayalam word for word.

Arjun is a byproduct of his circumstances and fate, he grows up quickly than his peers, his evolution speeded up as necessitated by the need to find a solution and escape from the life handed down to him. There’s an interesting array of secondary characters that provide stability and wholeness to the story. The author himself appears as the narrator/journalist who becomes the ears and mouth of the reader, hearing what Arjun has to say and asking him whatever’s on our mind. The three Urmilas’ along with Anuradha reveal the strength and complexity of womanhood and the echelon of love these species are capable of. The editor, the professor and the tribal headman form the trifecta of patriarchal wisdom and knowledge, their philosophical diatribes also reveal the writer’s mind and his attitude towards life. Their disclosures are as good any that you find in the eastern or western school of philosophy.

Though not discriminatory, the book’s narrative might be able to weave its magic among only a section of the audience even after it’s rebirth in the English language. Because Birds That Fly Ahead isn’t just a simple novel dealing with a sole emotion, it’s an epic book with mighty ambitions that makes you think hard and deep about life and one which succeeds in portraying hard hitting and raw emotions.
A Poignant Portrait – A review of the novel ‘Now For a Tearful Smile’

“This may be the curse of human race. Not that we are different from one another, but we are so alike.” - Salman Rushdie

Author C. Radhakrishnan’s novel ‘Now For a Tearful Smile’ is an all revealing insight into the sub consciousness and conscience of a nation through the eyes of Arjun, a poet, a revolutionary and an ascetic. Set in the tumultuous post Emergency period in India, the novel chronicles the love story of two people, a man and a woman, a husband and wife both living under false identities. Reiterating how the individual is always bound by the collective; the social, cultural, political and economic milieu of the nation play an important part in shaping the lives of its lead protagonists, often charting the course of their destiny.

The author raises a great deal of philosophical debates and while he provides answers for some, for others he lets the reader be the judge. One of the key themes discussed is mankind’s everlasting search to find a lasting solution for human sorrow. In fact, tears and sadness form an integral part of the narrative as does the childlike innocence and joy even in its midst. Other key factors discussed include the effectiveness and eventual futility of an eye-for-eye justice system and man’s desire to live freely and openly without fearing anything.

The author takes characters that have a similar philosophy towards life and yet are from diverse backgrounds and meshes their lives to form a bond with you that will last a lifetime. Siddharth Thappa aka Arjun is a multilayered character and is the mainstay of the novel. Branded as a terrorist and a revolutionary by the state, he’s this sensitive, empathetic character with high philosophical ideals. His bravery and his steadfast belief in his principles even in times of dire straits and oppression make him a hero in every sense of the word. His love Ani is another resolutely strong character and her courage, tenaciousness and optimism towards life is like a breath of fresh air in the doom and gloom world they exist in. The novel also has an extensive array of characters, an unlikely group of people whose lives get entangled and become dependent on each other, borne out of necessity and fate.

It’s not a story that you can read and forget. It will encompass you with its straightforward & brutal honesty and haunt and torment you with the wide range of emotions portrayed. But at the end of it, you will revel and rejoice the artistic flair to capture and celebrate a slice of life seldom discussed or portrayed in fiction.

Kairali Narayanan deserves special mention for her wonderful use of the English language to introduce this special book to the world.
Heavy Like – A review of the novel ‘In The Blood Of The Greeks’

“War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate” - Marvin Gaye

In The Blood Of The Greeks’ is the first book in the Intertwined Souls series of books written by author Mary D. Brooks. The story is set in a small town in Greece that had to bear the excesses of Nazi regime during the Second World War. Mostly a character driven plot, we follow the adventures of Zoe, a young angst ridden member of the Greek resistance movement and Eva, the daughter of the local German Commander. Even though outwardly these two characters are so different from one another, they unite to help Jews escape the country. And soon the indifference and hatred towards each other turns into a warm friendship and love that keeps them safe during this tumultuous period.

The narrative takes its time to describe the locales the story is set in and the emotional and mental characteristics of its main characters. This actually helps in establishing each character’s identity and lets the reader connect with important segments within the story. This also ensures that the character’s tears and smiles become your own. And instead of jumping into a different time frame and painting the world in black and white where Germans and Nazis are bad and lesbian romance is true and good, the author explores various important themes within the narrative. The juxtaposition of war torn land and hatred torn minds and the presence of good and evil on both sides are explored in a subtle but successful manner.

The book has a wonderful cast of well etched out characters like Father Haralambos, Stavros, Reinhardt and Henry among others who all stand out and bring crucial momentum to the story telling. And the centerpieces who take complete control of the book’s narrative are the lead protagonist Eva Muller and Zoe Lambros. The author’s dramatic and emotion rich writing ensures that you will root for both characters equally.

There’s a lot of quietness surrounding Eva, even her fury is silenced and subtle. The author introduces her as a cripple but we soon find out that she is emotionally crippled as well because of the inhumane violence she had been subject to in the past. Zoe on the other hand is like a pocket dynamite that is ready to go off at any moment’s notice. She is young, idealistic and masks the trauma and pain of losing her family to a marauding group of invaders. She is the one character in the book that gets all the damndest lines to say and the one you will cheer and applaud all the way through. A key scene that showcases the writer’s flair and skill is their confrontation scene in the cellar when they meet face to face for the first time.

The author has successfully managed to provide a keen insight into factual events through a well narrated fictional story.
Milk & Honey – A review of the novel ‘Where Shadows Linger’

“Love is an act of endless forgiveness; a tender look which becomes a habit.” - Peter Ustinov

Author Mary D. Brooks’s novel ‘Where Shadows Linger’ is the second book in the Intertwined Souls series of books. It’s a continuation of Eva & Zoe’s adventures in Australia leaving the turmoil of the Second World War behind. Although this new land offers them many opportunities to follow their dreams, they face numerous challenges while setting up a new life and identity together. And when unwanted elements from their past shows up at their doorstep, they will have to rely on old and new friends to overcome them.

Often when you pick up a book from a long fictional series, you expect to see a ‘recap’ or ‘the story so far’ in each sequel. These are not without any merit because they are helpful to a first-time reader catch up with the story. But for a ‘follower’ of the series, such flashbacks often offer a quick nostalgic trip and soon turns into annoyance over re-reading the same parts. But thankfully this is quite tolerable in the case of ‘Where Shadows Linger’ and it’s something new and even returning readers will appreciate.

If it was the serene and yet troubled countryside of Larissa, Greece that we got to explore last time, this time it’s Sydney, Australia where all the action takes place. An interesting aspect of the narrative is the continuing racist and homophobic prejudices our characters undergo in spite of a change in scenery. The author seems to suggest that prejudices are prevalent in both seemingly illiterate and backward countryside as well as in a modern and metropolitan city. It just goes to show that bad seeds can sprout and bloom in every culture and it isn’t area or race specific.

If the first book was about two characters getting to know each other and slowly falling in love. This time around considerable time has been spent in establishing the couple’s lifestyle and exploring their day to day life moments to establish the characters as ones rooted in reality. You can easily identify with their dreams and struggles and life in the post war era. But sometimes you will feel if all this could have been established in a slightly more condensed manner.

Eva and Zoe continue to shine and rarely breaks character even when they are dealing with emotions as diverse as facing death threats to making love to each other. A few interesting and new characters join the cast and we also see the return of a couple of favorites from the first book. Mary’s precise and unique voice for each character ensures that you identify with each of them and yet see them as part of this big diverse family.

Wonderful writing and great characters make this a great follow-up novel to ‘In The Blood Of The Greeks’.
Dodger’s Fables – A review of the book ‘Lensfogger’s Best’

“To be free means always leaving... or returning to a place where leaves never fall.” - Rich Shapero

Roger Blake’s ‘Lensfogger’s Best’ is a collection of anecdotes, allegories and short stories centered around a fictional character. The author has created a superhero character in Dodger Lensfogger whose super powers go beyond the ones you will find in comic books and films. He is a photojournalist who reports various stories and phenomenon that are meant to surprise and humor us and, more importantly, make us think. We suspect that Dodger Lensfogger and all his characters embody the many facets and fantasies of the author himself.

From the title to the front cover of the book, there’s nothing that says ordinary or that it’s just another humdrum fictional novel. It’s designed to catch your attention and provide a refreshing break from your preconceived notions of what a book should be. It manages to amuse you and also makes you think while you are at it. It views life from a different perspective, which is perhaps the author’s main intention.

Dodger Lensfogger assumes many identities while appearing in these episodes and often alternates between the first and third person to narrate his stories. Although he is introduced as a superhero, whereby we quickly draw up a caricatured image of a six foot tall hunk in tights in our minds, the very first story shatters any such trepidation and prepares us for the journey ahead.

Dodger connects with the reader as a gentle soul always compelled to do the righteous thing. He is sometimes naïve and oblivious to the realities around him – characteristics that lead him on his strange journeys. It seems like he exists in a different space and time from us, and we the audience are merely a spectator as he hops from one remarkable experience to another. There’s also an air of improbability and oddity about him, perhaps the only things he shares with his cousins from the DC and Marvel universe. Yet there’s something very likeable about him because he presents us with these situations and stories that are relevant and discussion-worthy, making it a contemporary and modern book.

The episodes themselves don’t seem to follow any structural order and are seemingly random in their appearance. But to enjoy the book you needn’t read this book in a conventional cover to cover style either. At first sight there’s nothing binding these stories together, but look closely and you will feel the aspirations and angst of a liberal and rational mind at work behind them. ‘A Thanksgiving for Contemplation’ and ‘Faces’ are a couple of stand-out stories that deserve a special mention here.

One of the main takeaways from a book like ‘Lensfogger’s Best’ has to be the cerebral challenge it throws your way. And like life, there’s a steady mix of happy and sad stories in here to keep you emotionally engaged at all times. This superhero’s main skill is his ability to engage with the audience and that should be reason enough to read more of his adventures.
Back Home – A review of the novel ‘Hidden Truths’

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” - James Baldwin

Mary D. Brooks’s ‘Hidden Truths’ is a fictional story set in post WWII Australia and Greece. At the heart of it lies an emotion rich, soulful love story between two women. Having come a long way since the troublesome Greece episode that coincidentally brought them together, they now find themselves on a ship heading back home. And here they run into people that ties them to their past and the reader also gets to discover explosive secrets about one of the main character. This is the third book in the Intertwined Souls series of books.

Hidden Truths for a new reader is a wholesome fictional book that never feels like the third book of a big series. The story has been adapted to include a lot of information and back-story about each character and you can very well use this book as an introduction to this series without missing out on anything substantial. But for followers of the series, Hidden Truths can be described as a bridge book that in effect tells the story so far for about 90% of its length and then introduces some startling revelations towards the end. And for the first time in the series, this book ends on a cliff-hanger note after hitting the reader with some shocking news about one of its main characters.

What works for this book and the series in general is the free flowing narrative. The author has tremendous skill over her craft and keeps the reader engaged at all times. There’s never a dull moment and she achieves this with the help of some truly stand-out characters. Eva and Zoe appear life-like and their love story isn’t overtly highlighted as lesbian love and retains all that’s great of fictional romances. Irrespective of your sexual orientation, characters like these are going to induce a bit of daydreaming and fantasy in reader’s minds. And in this episode since they have already been together for quite some time now, they’ve even started exhibiting each other’s characteristics in certain situations. The supporting casts have a more muted role to play this time considering their overwhelming presence in the previous book. And we get introduced to a new character in Theodore, Zoe’s missing brother from the war and he occupies the space occupied by Henry in the previous edition.

The revelation of Eva’s past and the subsequent entry of a couple of characters should make up for interesting reading in the next edition. The characters have come a long way since we’ve been introduced to them in the first book and the fact that they continue to excite us speaks a lot about the author’s success with them.