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Kevin Peter's book reviews

Reunion – A review of the novel ‘Awakenings’

“Nothing changes until people decide to do the things they must, in order to bring about peace.” - Shannon L. Alder

Awakenings’ is Mary D. Brooks’s fourth novel in the Intertwined Souls series of books. The story continues from where it was left off previously and we finally learn about Eva’s mystery shrouded past. The time spent in Larissa and Germany also turn out to be a major turning point in the lives of the novel’s protagonists. Because here they find closure from past nightmares and also catch a glimpse into a beautiful event in their future together.

Coming off what can only be described as a restrained storyline of book 3, ‘Awakenings’ is jam-packed with action and adventure. And thankfully it hasn’t forgotten to base it around a riveting narrative like the series is famous for. We are rushed straight into the grand mystery that was hinted about in the earlier book and it will come across as a bit of shock. That being said, the book retains the witty anecdotes and one-liners one is accustomed to from this series and it provides many light moments in the narrative. The prime focus this time around lies on the events leading up to the revelation of the big secret and how Eva deals with it. Eva’s past has always been shrouded in mystery and hasn’t found much mention in the previous books but here it’s explored in great detail. You should find answers to every question or doubt you may have had about Eva in the past.

Stella and Tessa were two characters that got introduced towards the end of the previous book and here they have a substantial role to play in the narrative. Their similarities with Eva and Zoe go beyond the blood relation they share with them and are sort of an appropriation of how Eva and Zoe would be like when they get older. A lot of other characters turn up in the form of Eva’s extended family and friends who all provide crucial input to solving the riddle that was Eva up until now. This novel also sees the entry of two characters in the form of Eva’s uncle Dieter and Grandmother Beatriz, the dreaded duo who have often remained in the shadows of the previous book’s narrative. Their entry and subsequent high octane dramatic scenes provides Zoe and Eva with some long overdue closure.

‘Awakenings’ has a fluidic narrative that utilizes some finely written dialogue pieces to raise questions and answer them to move the story forward effortlessly. Even though the story this time comprises of a lot of background information and key plot points, it’s still an effortless read and the kind of book that makes you want to explore the other books in the series as well. Eva and Zoe continue to be these wonderful characters that we’ve grown to love and they provide us with plenty of moments to cheer them.
M.A.M.A – A review of the book ‘Teenagers Playing Grown Ups’

“You never understand life until it grows inside of you.” - Sandra Chami Kassis

Karen Chaston’s book ‘Teenagers Playing Grown Ups’ tackles the subject of unplanned pregnancy among teenagers. Although an unplanned pregnancy can be a challenging time for a woman at any age, it can be even more so for a teenager whose brain isn’t developed enough to take an informed decision or think ahead of the consequences of their decision. In the four stories in the book, the author shares the experiences of four young women who chose different paths like marriage, abortion, single motherhood and adoption while dealing with their unplanned pregnancy.

The book recounts the experiences of four women who went through an unplanned pregnancy during their teenage years. These girls and their testimonials are all different from one another and have nothing in common except for the honest depiction of emotions by the author. Karen has also highlighted stories of mothers (including herself) who have overcome the heartaches and stress related with unplanned pregnancies and who have then gone on to achieve their dreams and have successful careers. In an easy to follow template, she provides great wisdom and inspiration to young women dealing with a new life growing inside of them.

Karen’s writing, especially in the two segments where she utilizes fictional characters (a compilation of many real women she met as part of her research) is spot on and brilliantly captures the mind of a young pregnant woman. Although predominantly a pro-life book, ‘Teenagers Playing Grown Ups’ also has a segment on the option of abortion and the experiences of woman who went ahead with it. The book stresses heavily on the point that once you have made a decision, you should move ahead without second guessing or doubting yourself.

It’s interesting to note that the protagonists in the author’s stories dealt with their pregnancies during an era when quality information wasn’t easily available and when the society’s attitudes were orthodox and regressive in nature. While we have come a long way since then in being able to access vast amounts of information anytime, the society still manages to generate feelings of loneliness, worry and shame in the minds of the young unwed pregnant girl. So books like these continue to be relevant and are a blessing not only to the pregnant girl but also for the boy in question and their families.

The author has tried to convey that children are a blessing and that we must learn to think outside of our preconceived notions of what a family should look like and move forward with acceptance and love in our hearts. And any book with such a positive message gets a double thumbs-up from my side.
Ascendancy – A review of the book ‘The No-Drama Manager’

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” - John C. Maxwell

Eldon N Spady’s book ‘The No-Drama Manager’ is a handy guidebook to managers everywhere and those aspiring to step into supervisory and leadership roles. It’s a book which a rookie manager can use to take on a challenging managerial role, and it can be used by veteran managers as well to iron out the chinks in their management style. It’s designed to offer the simplest of solutions to even the complex problems that you are likely to face in the company during your tenure.

The author states in his book that he has years of experience working at various managerial positions (as a general manager, executive vice president and president, each of which were the top spots in different companies). He also mentions that in his long career he often was hired to step into companies that were facing various managerial and financial troubles and his no-nonsense approach to management helped turn around the fortunes of these firms. This is a mighty big claim for anyone to make but when you go over his management ‘mantra’, you feel anyone with the right guidance, especially the kind that’s offered in this book should be able to replicate it with great success.

Written in a simple and easy to understand language, the author covers a wide range of topics that are bound to help a person in a managerial position. The topics covered are arranged in chronological order giving top billing to issues that you as a manager must first look into and then progressing to issues that are most likely to crop up at the new work place. But for an experienced manager simply looking to update or improve their management style, they needn’t read the book cover to cover and can choose to read specific chapters instead. All chapters have intriguing titles and are filled with examples and little anecdotes from the author’s long professional career to further augment the topic covered in a particular chapter.

The topics covered include the various small but significant deeds that a person aspiring to be a good manager can do. These include understanding that being a manager doesn’t mean bossing people around and how to be firm without being authoritarian. Other personal touches that you as a manager can use include being honest - not to run away from your mistakes, and having the humility and good sense to applaud the good work in others. The author says that as a manager you must also be a good listener, which will help you better understand your employees and firm, and help you anticipate future problems. He also says that a process should be initiated wherein management decisions are shared freely among employees instead of them finding out about it through gossip and outside sources. Other significant topics include motivating employees, creating a sense of team unity, how to hire and fire properly and dealing with a diverse workforce.

People working in a corporate set-up and those aspiring for a managerial position should benefit immensely from this book.
The perfect union – A review of the novel ‘A Discerning Heart’

“An inner darkness is darker than an outer darkness.” - Ben Okri

Author Patty Lesser’s latest book ‘A Discerning Heart’ is a historical novel set in the late 1700’s. It takes place in a fictional coastal village where a vibrant fishing community thrives. The protagonist of the story is Jim Moore, aka Dim Jim whose life story forms the base for this novel. It is as much a story about a single man as it is a capsule history of our entire civilization. From the conceptualization of the first dream to achieve greatness to man’s voyage in search of it, his interaction with the natural elements and his opposite in the form of a woman; to his conquering and dominating behavior and the final realization of life truths are explored in a breezy and light-hearted manner.

Jim, pretty much like the story itself starts out as the pleasant loser, the underdog you want to root for. But he quickly transforms into a stereotype for the patriarchal image of ‘Man’ himself. The way he is introduced into the story guarantees that you will root for him until he commits his first act of transgression. The author alternates Jim’s social functioning in such a way that you will both love and hate him within a short period of time, although most might swing the latter way. His is an excellent character study into the mind of an average man born in any era. Stripped away of inheritances and bereft of skills to even challenge his contemporaries. These men often lead their lives indulging in wishful thinking. A few of them will set out to change their destiny. Of the few that succeed, some will never be able to handle the success that comes their way.

Power and authority when concentrated in the hands of those that doesn’t deserve it or haven’t worked for it, often results in hardship for the rest of the populace in the subject’s area of reign.

Merrow as the love interest to Jim often behaves true to her origin as a mermaid; staying true to the idiom – like a fish out of water. She is erratic, vain, childish and always pining for what she cannot attain. And like Jim, Merrow too makes for highly interesting reading. These two are highly flawed characters; they could never exist on their own within the framework of the two distinct societies they live in. So there’s nothing unnatural when these characters find love in each other and decide to stay together. They are selfish characters that do not even care about the heartbreak caused to their families. When they are that bad on their own, you would assume that their union too would fail miserably but somehow it works, Patty’s infusion of a love story between them somehow makes perfect sense. Not in the real sense of the word but perfect for these imperfect characters.

Patty deserves a lot of credit for writing an easy to read fictional story about a fisherman and a mermaid and then hiding beneath its surface, a superlative introspection into the human condition. And that she has used two flawed characters as her chief protagonists is a definite bold move.
Battle with Demigods – A review of the novel ‘EL Diablo’

“The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?” - Arthur Conan Doyle

Author Richard Dawes’ novel ‘EL Diablo,’ ninth book in the Tucson Kid Western series, has Tucson, the gun slinging hero of the story, taking on evil powers and dark forces in Mexico. Operating outside the law, yet doing so to bring down evil men, has been Tucson’s norm. But in El Diablo, he not only fights to overcome murderous thugs and bandits, but must also take on powerful dark Gods, and the black sorcerers who wage war and violence in the name of those Gods.

Those readers who have followed Tucson’s exploits from book one (although the series is not a chronological representation of Tucson’s life), will have noticed the repeated telling of Tucson’s famed battle with the legendary outlaw, Augustine Baca. It has become a folk tale by which Tucson’s greatness and fighting prowess are measured and celebrated. But all that should change after his adventures in this edition and his epic fight with the powerful magician, EL Diablo.

In previous stories, Tucson fought some of the most nefarious characters the old west had to offer. No matter how ruthless these fights were, however, the reader always knew that Tucson, with his superior fighting skills, would prevail in the end. But in this story, he has to fight an evil man who has supernatural powers attained through black magic and sorcery. Additionally, Tucson must go against a minion of EL Diablo - a vampire named Lilith able to suck the strength from her opponents. In this story, Richard Dawes has not only thrown the sink at Tucson, but the whole kitchen as well, as he faces his greatest enemies to date.

It would be unfortunate if EL Diablo and Lilith were not given their own space. The author gave them great powers, and evil surrounds them at all times. Yet he provides insights into their minds by revealing their thoughts, which surprisingly strike the reader as human and mortal. Fear of failure and death looms large on their list of worries. This humanizes them and presents these characters, though highly evil, as real people with much to lose.

In El Diablo, Tucson is in top form, and full credit must be given to the author for maintaining continuity in the character's persona through all nine stories. From the initial scenes where he is shown living an existential existence, through every step he takes as he strides through the story, the famed Tucson code of action is a prominent factor in the narrative.

The action scenes, from the first one involving an outlaw called Jake, to picking off El Diablo’s men one by one, shows the finesse and expertise of the author in this genre. As always, nature plays an important role in the narrative, and is not merely used as background. The respect for it shows throughout.

A definite read!
Between the lines – A review of the novel ‘An Invincible Summer’

“Nothing carries meaning. People carry meaning. We are the porters of importance.” - Jarod Kintz

Author Betta Ferrendelli’s ‘An Invincible Summer’ is a tour de force into the inner workings of the American justice department and about a group of people whose lives are changed forever at the end of a landmark case. Jaime Monroe is a young do-gooder of an attorney working with the Denver DA. Enter Ashleigh Roberts, a young cheerful girl with mental disability who is strained to fight against her own mother, to ascertain her right over her own body and life. Leigh Roberts is the mother trying to do what’s best for her only daughter. Jamie becomes Ashleigh’s attorney and the ensuing trial affects these three women’s lives in a profound manner.

When you pick up a book from a known author, you know there will be a familiar nod to their past writing in their new work as well. And in Ferrendelli’s latest, you get the staple, troubled young woman, an insight into the workings of the law enforcement agencies, flawed but good at heart male characters and so on. But what makes An Invincible Summer stand out is that the issues discussed here have widespread medical, moral and social implications in the real world too. It should generate discussions and talks regarding an issue that usually doesn’t find space in the mainstream media. And this is a mighty big achievement for a fiction book that at its core is an entertaining read about a female attorney’s life.

The author deserves appreciation for getting right the nuances and language right in describing and writing dialogues for a person with metal disability. It isn’t offensive or stereotypical and there’s an air of believability around the character. Of course there are a few diversions here and there but you have to expect that in a fictional read. The strength in research shows while it’s discussing diseases and in the manner attorneys, judges and the courtrooms have been portrayed.

The strength and layers to the relationship the various characters have in this book is worth talking about. In Betta’s books men and women have intense and complicated relationships that are romantic and sometimes platonic in nature. It brings great mystery to these characters and readability to the narrative.

The only negative I felt were the one too many sub-plots involving the secondary characters in the first half; it takes away the focus from the chief protagonists without contributing much.

Jaime is immensely likeable and has a grace about her. Although she is suffering from an intense mental trauma and is constantly trying to make amends for it, she is a brave and courageous woman. She is a fighter, someone who never gives up and is excellent hero material. She has all the trappings of becoming a vital character in future stories centered around her. The book also has a bunch of well etched out characters in Leigh, Ashleigh, Drew, Tia, etc who contribute immensely to make this both a feel-good and an inspirational read.

Mother’s love, independence, letting go of your past & atonement are key themes discussed in this book.
Best served cold – A review of the novel ‘Battle Cry 2’

“Every man should lose a battle in his youth, so he does not lose a war when he is old.” – George R. R. Martin

Author JL Snyder’s novel ‘Battle Cry 2’ takes forward the narrative of Kai-Ling, an adolescent samurai warrior introduced to the world in the first book Battle Cry. Tragedy struck her life even before she was born when her samurai father was murdered in America. She was then born and brought up in Japan under the watchful eyes of her uncle who imparted warrior’s discipline and Katana fighting skills in her. But the fire that grew unabated to seek vengeance on her father’s killers was all her own. Having mastered her fighting skills, she goes to America to confront the savages who took her future away from her.

Although subject wise the book treads on heavy and dark themes, the treatment of its narrative is quite light and seems to keep in mind the targeted younger audience. This can be seen across the book, be it in the description of the action scenes and the gore or the language the characters use when they are angry. While the first book was all about Kai-Ling’s journey; here she has to deal with the people and truths that she was searching for her whole life. And she has to deal with this confrontation from day one until she finds absolution from her past.

Just like the first book, here too there are only a few characters giving company to Kai-Ling in the narrative. The characters are not only varied in appearance but also realistic in their presentation. But the book truly does belong to Kai-Ling, the pint sized dynamite. She’s not a finished product by any means and is someone still learning to keep her emotions in check and perfect her fighting skills. It’s her courage, dexterity and an ethical code that she adheres to while fighting that makes her stand apart.

The story in Battle Cry 2 lacks the intensity or purposefulness that we saw in the first book, but it’s the strong characterizations that drives the narrative. JL Snyder does well with the action scenes, which are both innovative and imaginative. The description of the place and the environment from a historical perspective too gets a thumbs up. The animations and sketches in the book are simple and evocative.

I would recommend it to readers who enjoy reading about samurais and like anime style plotting and storytelling.
A Battle for Survival – A review of the novel ‘A Widow’s Silhouette’

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” - Seneca

Basil Opurum’s novel ‘A Widow’s Silhouette’ is a historical fiction set in Nigeria. Spanning more than three decades, it mainly tells the story of its two protagonists living an extraordinary life amidst trying conditions. John and Jane fall in love and get married but they never get to settle down for long as various civil unrests and difficulties always seem to keep them apart. But their love is such that no force on earth is able to keep them apart for long.

It’s set amidst major real developments like the Biafran War, civil and religious riots, and the gradual growth and changes in the Kaduna area and Lagos city in Nigeria. The story here is more like an autobiographical narrative of one woman and several important events from her life; each a dramatic piece; combination of which narrates the tale of an ordinary life lived in extraordinary circumstances. But it’s also a heartbreaking and an endearing tale of a couple and their children whose lives are made topsy-turvy by social, political and cultural incidents happening around them. Their lives go from being gentle and well-settled one minute to being on the run for their life amidst absolute chaos and destruction.

A lot of research and observation seems to have gone into the book’s preparation. This can be evidenced in its mentioning of the intricate details of various local traditions. You really get a feel of the people’s food habits, their transportation woes, their trade and businesses, and religious beliefs. The book offers a good vantage view into the happenings and workings of another culture. But it never stops to glorify or criticize its practices and traditions and these simply form the background to the story told. This is both charming and erudite at the same time.

The character development is spot on and you can really sense the emotional and mental growth of the characters as the years go by. Jane is the book’s backbone in more ways than one. She goes from being an innocent, sweet and almost naïve young lady to a seasoned woman who has experienced life at its best and worst; becoming a true matriarch of her big family by the end. This sort of change can be seen in John as well, his initial softness giving way to a hardcore ideology and aggression and then in the latter part of his life becoming a passive family man trying to keep everyone happy. The book has a host of other characters who will leave a lasting impression on you irrespective of the amount of time they appear in the narrative. Leonard and Michael are two such characters that come to mind.

The biggest strength of the book is the fine emotive writing and the equally strong characterizations. It keeps you involved in the proceedings from page one. Definitely recommended!
Boys like Brothers – A review of the book ‘The Urban Boys’

“Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.” –Brad Boney

Author K.N. Smith’s ‘The Urban Boys: Discovery of the Five Senses’ is a novel that explores the age old fight between good and evil in a modern, urban setting. Two distinct societies exist within the story, one a fairytale-ish little town filled with honest and hardworking individuals while the neighboring town is a dark dystopian world where petty crime and crime-lords reign supreme. A forest preserve situated between these two worlds contains a mysterious energy source, one which alters and heightens people’s senses. When a group of people from these two strikingly different worlds come into contact with this energy source, an epic melee between good & evil ensues.

K.N. Smith has at her disposal a lyrical prose that describes the environment and the characters in such fine (and magical) detail that you can’t help but fall in love with the world she has created. All the characters get introduced into the narrative early on and only then does the plot arc really kick in. Their introduction has a cinematic feel to it and you end up making a personal connect with each of the protagonists.

The five teenage heroes have an equal role to play in the proceedings and their superpowers and fighting skills are evenly matched. But it’s their unique backstories that’s going to help readers choose their favorite hero from the group. This is a good fix for a book that’s primarily aimed at younger audiences. Jordan, Rhee, Kinsu, Chase and Alex are more or less well developed characters, but it’s the fine dialogues they mouth that helps in showing-off their deep set friendship and brotherly love for each other.

All said and done, ‘The Urban Boys’ offers plenty of life lessons that are arranged in a subtle manner throughout the narrative. Importance of family ties, friendship, honesty, and staying true to yourself are all touched upon in this adventure story. The book is much more than about teenage boys with super powers fighting ruffians and thugs, it persuades each person to do good so that evil can be kept away from the collective.

‘Discovery of the Five Senses’ is a great start to this new series and the premise holds much promise for more entertaining episodes.
The Roger Ramjet story – A review of the book ‘One Helluva Life’

“In the aftermath, we are because they were.” – RJ Heller

One Helluva Life’ is a searing and inspiring autobiographical account of Roger Blake, a US Navy Veteran commissioned as a Naval Flight Officer in 1964. In this candid memoir, he narrates his experiences working as Radar Intercept Officer onboard fighter/bombers for the Navy during the Vietnam War and the various life battles he fought after landing back on home soil. This autobiography captures a Navy Veteran’s life-long struggle with PTSD and also the positive outcomes he realized by dabbling in various creative pursuits. These pursuits ultimately became the panacea to overcome his mental trauma and see life in a new light.

Roger Blake’s autobiography is a well compiled book highlighting the important and noteworthy events from the man’s life. Coming at over just 300+ pages, it also hits the right length in terms of a biographical narrative that never feels inadequate or like it’s too long drawn out. As with any autobiography, its voice is limited by a particular character of the author’s life that he wants to share with the world. Even so, the sincerity behind the intention and the dialogue are unflappable. You really get to sense an ordinary man dealing with raw emotions at the best and worst times of his life. This autobiography includes Roger’s original artworks and photographs, which showcase his creative musings and offers a glimpse into his artistic spirit.

The memoir mainly focuses on the adult life of Roger Blake and his entire childhood is condensed to a few passages and lines thereafter. But even without it being explicitly stated, you can feel the ramifications of his childhood experiences, influencing the actions and decisions taken by the man later in his life. His life and career flying in fighter and bomber planes for the Navy is well documented and his detailed descriptions will take the reader inside the cockpit of these planes. The civilian life of an individual after a stint in the armed forces is something that has been much written and documented about. And it’s uncanny how Roger Blake’s struggles as a civilian resonates so much with the stories we hear about our veterans. It makes you wonder if we love and respect our soldiers only at the time of war and conveniently overlook them in times of peace.

There are many events and passages that will stay with you long after you’re done with the book. Roger’s brief adventure trip in locating his father, the war stories from Vietnam, the Melissa phase of his life, talking about his children and his decision to finally let down his guard and seek professional help for his emotional trauma are some of the highlights from this memoir.

Roger Blake’s writing has a personal touch to it and should easily connect with readers. The narrative checkmarks various themes like humor, romance & sensuality, inspirational, emotion rich, and action filled; all in all a standard fare that you would expect from any traditional action-thriller fiction book. Except the fact that this isn’t fiction and all these events took place in an individual’s life should leave you with something to think about.
Ancient Warrior – A review of the novel ‘Dragon Sword’

“I often think that men don't understand what is noble and what is ignorant, though they always talk about it.” – Leo Tolstoy

Author Richard Dawes’ new book ‘Valka the Wolf Slayer - Dragon Sword’ is the first book in the ‘Wolf Slayer Saga’ series. In the story we are introduced to Valka, the younger son of Baron Ulrich of the fiefdom of Valentia in the kingdom of Kornelia. Valka has earned the title, Wolf Slayer, by slaying the wolves that infest his father's fiefdom and decimate the villagers' cattle. He isn’t, however, merely another warrior with a sword. As the story progresses, we discover he carries the bloodline of the ancient Dragon Lords. The Dragon Lords were an elite band of dedicated warriors. Ever in the forefront of battle, they guarded Kings, and it was from their ranks that Divine Kings were chosen.

After years of studying the sword under Count Albrecht, who initiates him onto the ‘Way of the Warrior’, Valka sets out from home in search of his destiny. Along the way he finds many adventures where his courage and sword skills are tested to the limit. The adventures ensure that the name, Valka the Wolf Slayer, will be feared and revered throughout the kingdom.

Armed with a special sword and a style of swordsmanship that is unique to him, Valka encounters many ruffians and villains in his quest for adventure. There are backstabbing nobles, challenges from outlaws, and even an ancient dragon that test his powers. Dedicated learning and following of the ‘Warrior’s Way’ enables him to channel immense power from within, however, and that power becomes his ally when confronted with life and death situations.

The author is clear about what he wants to say in the book, and that honesty and straightforwardness are reflected in the narrative. The idea that power exists on different planes, and maintaining the balance of power forms the major backdrop for the novel. The story is surprisingly philosophical and spiritual in its attempt to dissect the reality we take for granted. Ideas such as an individual’s role on this plane from a personal perspective, and that role from the point of view of the cosmos, make for some deep and insightful reading. And just when the narrative becomes heavy and serious, there is always a decapitation or two lurking around the corner. The action sequences are so well described that the choreography of the fights can be pictured vividly. In fact, it is this nice balance of deep seated philosophy with high octane action that fuels the narrative forward in a straight line without any drags and hiccups.

Valka is the quintessential warrior poet who can cut opponents down to size with his sword as well as his mind. Although depicted as a young man, the detailed back story of Valka's initiation onto the Warrior's Way and his training describe the development of his character. He is built for hero-worship, and he possesses many qualities that readers look for in a hero. The book has multiple characters and each leaves a lasting impression irrespective of his or her importance in the overall narrative. Marija, the Princess who denies her feminine side, and Bretta, who becomes a valuable ally for Valka, are some of the strong woman characters in the book.

A great start to a series!
‘Spell’ binding – A review of the novel ‘Clues of Chaos’

“Evil surrounds everyone, but not everyone is able to confront it.” – George A. Kos

Author Gary Caplan’s new book ‘Clues of Chaos’ is set in an ancient continent known as Eidelon. The land of Megalos faces multiple threats to its citizens and property from numerous enemies. They unleash spell weavers and night crawlers upon the land to harm the people. A master wizard trying to uncover the murderer of a senator’s sister accidentally stumbles upon a plan of Chaos Warriors to attack his land. Faced with seemingly insurmountable danger on all fronts, he must ally with a mystic Knight and a Shaman to thwart the advances of foes within their ranks and outside them.

‘Clues of Chaos’ is the latest addition to the ever popular genre of fantasy fiction in novels. But it also brings with it a refreshing story and voice. At its core, the novel is a gritty and dark adventure where the heroes and villains are quasi mythical figures who have control over sorcery and arcane powers. Such adventure stories usually have their set of faithful followers and ‘Clues of Chaos’ shouldn’t disappoint them. Even though the theme and feel of the book suggests a strong story based narration, it’s actually character driven, and the main protagonists - Leo, Erios, Sirus and Niya are great characters that you can relate with.

Leozanthicus or Leo is an experienced wizard/warrior whose control over spells and a predisposition to deductive thinking makes him sort of a super detective/PI of the middle earth. Erios is a mystic Knight who has his own arcane powers; and an advanced mode of transportation in the form of a skyship by which he and his allies can travel to any place undetected.

In the opening chapter itself we are introduced to a pulse raising action scene that announces succinctly what we can expect from the rest of the book. The narrative hits the ground running from there on out and doesn't slow down until all the obstacles in the lives of the protagonists are overcome.

Gary Caplan has created a wonderful world for his characters to exist in and he really gives you a sense of it through the depth in his writing. Even though the narrative is filled with characters and situations that are engulfed in magic and arcane powers, the author doesn’t let the narrative wander by filling the pages with unnecessary details. If at all there’s any negative to be found, it’s that the prose in some places are choppy and certain dialogues felt too stereotypical & mechanical.

The story in ‘Clues of Chaos’ ends after a critical objective is carried out by the protagonists and doesn’t bore readers with an unnecessary cliffhanger. But at the same time the story and the characters have enough potential for sequel adventures.

Readers who like dark fantasies set in middle earth with characters that have arcane powers should definitely not miss ‘Clues of Chaos’.
Rightful Heir – A review of the novel ‘The Return of the Ancient Ones’

“Whatever most captures your mind controls your life.” – Kare Anderson

In author Gary Caplan’s book ‘The Return of the Ancient Ones’ we return back to the land of Illúmaril. It has become an area that resembles an extended battleground with various forces and foes battling each other to reign supreme. It’s also a land that is awaiting its destined leader Gideon to employ the Sword of Order and vanquish the dark forces known as Thatos and his army. Gideon and his gang get unexpected help from an enemy group called the Darkspawn after they are betrayed by Thatos. An under threat Illúmaril’s future rests on the skills of one man.

The Return of the Ancient Ones (hereafter referred to as TROTAO) is a complex story involving multiple important heroic characters and numerous soldiers fighting on the side of both good and evil. Connoisseurs of topical popular culture will immediately make a connection between the storyline of TROTAO and that of Star Wars. But here’s where it one-ups the latter; this thought itself might be blasphemous to some, but if someone had wondered what would happen if full-on magic were introduced to the Star Wars empire – TROTAO would be the answer. The narrative introduces telepathy, spell-weaving, skyships, powerful crystals, swords, beasts & demons to an action packed story that’s full of combat and the revelation of the purpose behind the main hero’s life.

Staying true to the genre, the narrative is highly descriptive and builds up the land of Illúmaril and its various inhabitants vividly in your mind. In fact Mr. Caplan must be appreciated for utilizing his imagination to the hilt and coming up with such diverse characters and then arming them with unique powers and accompaniments like special swords and amulets. You also get to experience the story from different perspectives as the author tells the story from multiple characters’ point of view.

The novel gives equal weightage to both characters and story. The character of Gideon coming to grips with his destiny and forming an alliance to take on a much powerful enemy is explored nicely. And the plot moves along steadily leading to a big and expected clash at the end where the identity of the victor won’t leave anyone surprised. The characters, be it Draeborn, Almaren, Gil, Bernord and Gideon’s other friends grow and develop as the plot moves along. These characters appear honest because they aren’t afraid to portray fear & doubt. And it’s their honor, courage and camaraderie that make them heroic.

There’s not a lot here that you could underscore as bad, especially if you’re into this genre. But for some, the sheer number of names of geographical locations, Knights, Lords and demons might be overwhelming; as might the battle scenes that run the risk of being slightly repetitive.

In the end, the action in TROTAO keeps the story moving forward at a consistent pace and provides for an engrossing read. The novel has won the Indie excellence award for fantasy.
Space Battles – A review of the novel ‘The Phoenix Rising’

“If you will not die for us, you cannot ask us to die for you.” – Jacqueline Carey

Author Gary Caplan’s novel ‘The Phoenix Rising’ is set in a futuristic time period hundreds of years from now. Planet Earth and the various nations as we know today are history and in their place are space faring civilizations, doing what all great civilizations do best – explorations and combating for supremacy. Alliance of Worlds is a huge group in space, made-up of more than 250 civilizations engaged in space explorations for resources and defending their vast assets against enemy infiltrations and misadventures. And there’s no dearth of it as groups like the Varlons and the Accadians harbors dreams of space dominance. Recently promoted Commodore Robert Allen Sheppard has his task cut out while manning the Phoenix ship and going into battle against such enemy forces.

It is as much a story about the main character’s journey as it is about a civilization’s journey to expand and also protect itself from enemy incursions. Often, the various thought processes and actions undertaken by the space civilizations and their leaders will remind you of the actions and decisions taken by various nations and their leaders here on Earth. The description of the space combat scenes, especially the strategies and tactics used by the opposing and defending forces will lights up the battle scenes in your mind. But it’s not just mindless action that fills these pages, as the book also delves into the actions taken by the political and military leadership and fills the narrative with political intrigue.

Robert Allen Sheppard has many attractive qualities in him that makes him a great leader. He is smart and is a brilliant tactician, but he is also a compassionate individual who is well aware of his own mortality. His interactions with his crew members also reveal a lot about the character.

The quality of a book can generally be judged by the words in it, in addition to its story. It's not just what you say, but how you say it that matters. Taking off from this ‘The Phoenix Rising’ can be judged in two distinct ways. Firstly, it handles the theme of space battles and culture quite well. The detailing in this fully imagined world and the description of it manages to paint a lively picture in the minds of the reader. But alternatively it’s the same point that gives the novel a feel of an overwritten work. Fantasy/Military fiction genre books are generally more descriptive than others but you still feel this story could have been narrated more succinctly.

The setting and the characters have enough in them to warrant a sequel adventure story or even a prequel explaining how they all got here in the first place. If the writing can shrug off the extra weight it displays here then it can become a good adventure series.

Despite the numerous intricate and technical descriptions ‘The Phoenix Rising’ by and large is an entertaining read. That is if you are willing to overlook a few glitches here and there and are not expecting a life altering novel here. The plot, the setting, the characterization, and the writing all have a simple objective and that is to provide you with mindless entertainment and in that respect the book succeeds.
A New Kuven – A review of the novel ‘Seasons of Pain’

“The charm of horror only tempts the strong” – Jean Lorrain

Author Imowen Lodestone’s novel ‘Seasons of Pain’ explores the world of supernatural and dark powers. It narrates the tale of Jesse, someone who appears to the world as just another woman coping with school, a menial job and a draining relationship. But she holds a secret that only few people are privy to. She is an exiled witch running away from her true identity. But when the war waged by witches, warlocks & psychics reach her doorstep, she inadvertently gets intertwined in the mess. And along with a kindred soul she finally acknowledges and accepts her true destiny.

The narration in ‘Seasons of Pain’ switches back and forth between the first person narrative of the two characters - Jesse and Adalious. This plot device gives the novel an edgy feel and makes the storyline sound more complex than it really is. And the Adalious and Jesse tracks have their own distinct style and feel to it. The only time the first person narrative feels weak is when a character goes into an impromptu history lesson in the middle of a scene; making the entire scene seem contrived. The narrative does take its own time to get off the tracks, as there are a lot of explanations and insights into the history and issues between the various factions of the supernatural world. There’s actually a lot going on in the book and one feels that the back stories could have been streamlined better or introduced in measured form in the subsequent books.

The start of the novel including the opening scene itself begins in a rather clichéd and stereotypical manner, but then on out and thankfully, it breaks all conventions and shatters every possible preconceived notion you might have had about the plot. The author also tries to show that personal greed, malfeasance and politics rules the roost in the supernatural world just like it does in the mortal world. The novel that does a good job in scaring you is also a raunchy, hot & fun read that delves deep into the friendships, love and family affairs of the supernatural world.

The dialogue writing deserves special mention; for being acutely aware of the irony in it and embracing it wholeheartedly. This kind of offhanded humor can be found throughout the book. Bordering on self deprecation at times, the narrative has the awareness and more importantly the willingness to remind the reader that at the end of the day it’s just a fictional story.

The characters aren’t portrayed as simple one dimensional being and the complexities in their character are explored to an extent by hinting at their tumultuous past. Jesse and Adalious are similar in that both of them have a troubled past and have great difficulty in adjusting to their present reality. Jesse and Adalious are also able to suss each other out from their very first meeting. And even though they have contrasting personalities, they have great chemistry together and keeps the reader engaged at all times.

There’s a sequence in the book involving Jesse in an abandoned house; the description of it takes the cake in concocting a macabre-ish, nightmare of elm street on steroids horror sequence; it’s easily the best written scene that I have come across in recent horror books. There’s plenty of blood, gore, and violence involving supernatural beings and hybrid monsters committing unspeakable acts of terror, it’s definitely not for the weak of stomach.

Shrugging off the early displayed lethargy, the narrative soon becomes taut, chilling, and extremely effective in creating the horror mood. All in all, ‘Seasons of Pain’ is a hi-octane, horror-action novel which establishes a good set of characters and a solid setting for the subsequent books in the series.
Growing Up in D.C. – A review of the book ‘The Page’

“You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” – Malcolm X

Gordon Osmond’s novella ‘The Page’ is a satirical and yet sincere take on the families and businesses affected by the misuse of the Environmental Protection Agencies’ policies. Candy and Jim Lovett run a successful fashion apparels manufacturing business. But they lose all their money when the powers at Washington D.C. propel a new law, making business houses liable to clean up polluted sites near them. That’s when Cameron, Candy and Jim’s only son decides to enlist himself as a page to the senator directly responsible for this misstep.

“Gordon takes a real subject like the EPA’s Superfund and concocts a political farce that’s endearing, cleverly plotted, and leaves a lasting impression…”

If you have read a Gordon Osmond fiction before in your life then you know how good he is at creating life-like scenarios where his characters indulge in reckless and ludicrous behavior. And in ‘The Page’ while the similarity to life-like scenes are plenty with matching emotions to boot, his characters are more mellowed down. The story in ‘The Page’ is precisely plotted like a three act play. The introduction of the characters and the obstacle in their lives form the first segment while in the second part, the protagonist finds a repurpose in his life and finally, a climax that will leave you pleasantly shocked.

His depiction of the people holding the higher offices of government and their work culture is all done tongue in cheek. But it isn’t an out an out satire where the storyline and the characters become wackier by the minute; you will feel an emotional connect with the characters and their story. There’s plenty of self deprecation too, Gordon isn’t content being a distant figure who pokes fun at everybody else; at times he breaks open the fourth wall and ridicules himself as well.

“Gordon is a linguist’s delight, a master wordsmith, and a grammar Nazi all rolled into one; his books are a total delight to read irrespective of the route the narrative takes.”

Gordon’s characters usually are master conversationalists; they spew witty phrases and clever arguments at will. Here also this sort of verbal boxing between the characters can be seen. Candy and Jim Lovett are like the pin-up representation of what a happy, successful American family should look like. Even their descent into bad times and their reaction to it has a stereotypical feel to it. But then again, aren’t most stereotypes only an exaggerated representation of the reality around us?

Cameron or Cam is this young slick fellow with a talented con man like ability to think on his feet. But he’s still immature when it comes to confronting heavy emotions and that’s where the guidance and affection of Candy and Luana comes in. Luana Rosas is the intelligent, knowledgeable woman, who is aggressive by nature. And the sexual tension between Cam and her makes for good reading even though they have only a few scenes together.

‘The Page’ is an entertaining short read that is bound to stir your ethical & moral compass as well.

“The author’s ability to put a smile on your face & induce a LOL moment when you’re least expecting makes ‘The Page’ an absolute must read.”
Thy Kingdom Cometh – A review of the novel ‘Doomed Empire’

“Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams you never even knew you had.” – Alice Sebold

Author Richard Dawes’ new book ‘Doomed Empire’ is a potent story of bravery and destiny set in the civilization and empire of Atlantis. The center of the action is Caiphul, the most powerful kingdom within the Atlantean Empire. The ruler of Caiphul, King Darius, is cruel and greedy, and harbors dreams of ruling over the whole empire. Supporting him in his efforts are his two sons, the obedient and loyal elder son, Prince Atalan, who lacks the intelligence and drive necessary to achieve greatness, and the brilliant and gifted younger son, Prince Astraeus, whose ambitions for world domination rival those of his father. The young Prince Astraeus is influenced by both evil and good forces, but eventually it is the good that wins out and puts him on track to achieve his true destiny.

Inspired by the philosophical material left behind by Socrates and Plato, the story includes a variety of topics. Not only does the novel discuss concepts such as the creation of the universe, the purpose of life, birth and death, true power and governance, etc. It also draws a parallel between the Atlantean world and the modern world. It highlights such negative aspects as selfishness and arrogance that are common to both. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, one can feel that the book tries to be a harbinger, warning us that if we don’t mend our ways, our fate will not be any different!

‘Doomed Empire’ is an epic drama. Love, loyalty, betrayal, loneliness, spirituality, vengeance and violence are all interwoven into a bold and exciting narrative. The Atlantean civilization was said to be very advanced, possessing many inventions and technologies that have since become a part of our everyday modern lives. The story acknowledges this by including atomic weapons, aircrafts and other engineering feats as part of the narrative.

There is wonderful writing in the following scenes: when Darius feels ingratitude from his sons; Astraeus' resentment and anger, and the scenes depicting his self-realization; Princess Asparis’ unconditional love for Astraeus; and Atalan’s feeling of wretchedness and self-pity.

The narrative is a frank depiction of life, and presents the dark depths to which human nature can sink in pursuit of false power and prestige. The novel, through the portrayal of Darius’ unbridled greed and narcissistic pursuit of advancement provides what I believe to be a reflection of the conditions of the modern world. It highlights events that may lead to humankind's ultimate downfall - like the single minded pursuit of materialism while ignoring higher truths, and manipulating the environment for short term goals that are ultimately self-destructive. There are many eerie similarities between the powers that ruled the kingdoms of Atlantis and the powers that rule our present day culture.

The material in 'Doomed Empire' should inspire the reader to take a closer look at his or her life. The author has transformed ancient esoteric knowledge into an accessible form that should lead, if used well, to better self-awareness, thought, and consciousness.

‘Doomed Empire’ has a dark feel to it right up to the end. The end itself can be interpreted as a tragedy. But anyone reading the story with an open mind and an interest in lost civilizations should find this novel highly interesting.
Infinite Cuts – A review of the novel ‘Sword of Doom’

“Selflessness. Humility. Truthfulness. These are the three marks of an honorable man.” – Suzy Kassem

In Richard Dawes’ novel ‘Sword of Doom’ we are transported back to the times of callous kingdoms and conniving kings. In their midst is our sword wielding hero, Valka the Wolf Slayer, who, in spite of his aristocratic lineage, chooses to pursue scholarly studies in the famous Museum of Korava on the shore of the Inland Sea. But make no mistake, Valka is a ferocious fighter trained in the Warrior’s Way. He carries the sacred bloodline of an elite warrior group known as the Dragon Lords. This episode depicts his adventures as he escorts a royal princess back to her kingdom.

This is the second book in the ‘Wolf Slayer Saga’ series. The first book ‘Dragon Sword’ introduced the character, Valka, as a young and skillful swordsman with a penchant for acquiring esoteric wisdom. In this edition, he is no longer a student. He has mastered his fighting skills and has achieved a basic understanding of higher knowledge. Also, compared to the first book, the characters and the world have grown in scope and complexity.

Valka the Wolf Slayer has enough oomph and pizzaz to capture and hold the reader’s attention. He displays a type of masculinity that is rarely found in the modern world. He’s as idealistic as he is passionate about life, and he’s as ferocious in battle as he is level headed when confronting a problem. And along with his big, strong heart he also possesses a mind as quick and keen as the edge of his sword. Valka and Princess Uralia, the beautiful young woman he is escorting back to her kingdom, initially appear to be complete opposites. Their relationship develops, however, as they share many dangerous adventures, and finally reaches a level of affection, especially after Uralia comes to terms with the harshness and brutality of everyday reality.

The reader will experience different types of fighting techniques in the book. You have to pay close attention to the action sequences to notice the different ways Valka approaches an opponent, and how he changes his methods of combat, depending on the situation and his level of respect for the antagonist. The fighting sequences are not only a pleasure to read, but they also reveal a great deal about the protagonist and how he deals with a particular predicament.

Richard Dawes has quite an engaging way of narrating stories. He mixes action and characterization in such a way that the freshness of the story line is always kept alive. Everything in 'Sword of Doom' exists for a reason. The characters don’t merely work their way around tough situations. They exist to introduce, discuss and illustrate ideas of a higher nature.

The action, violence, passion, and sexuality in the novel are expressions of power and struggle. Living on the edge, the characters, while facing death or beauty, are always striving for ultimate power. There’s a kind of beauty to their brutality; a definite method to their madness.

The Wolf Slayer sagas can be read in any order without losing comprehension. I recommend, however, reading ‘Dragon Sword’ first to properly understand the character of Valka before he consolidates his mythical status in this one. There is a surprise ending, and this ‘end’ suggests it may be the beginning of a sequel!
Head Today, Gone Tomorrow – A review of the novel ‘The Basque Head Case’

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.” – Terry Pratchett

Author Paddy Bostock’s novel ‘The Basque Head Case’ brings back Jake Flintlock and Dr. Bum Park, the famous private investigator duo from London. When an incident involving a severed head threatens to snowball into an international event, the PI duo are put under the spotlight. Their investigation takes them on a whirlwind tour of Spain to try and solve the mystery. And when the threats get personal, these detectives have to deduce and punch their way out of the new case.

Jake is the brain behind the operation, he is the thinker, the one who has mastered the art of deduction, or at least he thinks that way. Jake for the most part appears as a wiry and nervous fellow hiding behind a calm façade. And he lives by a standard set of PI rules usually found in fiction while conducting his investigations. He also has this underhanded sense of humor that he puts to good use whenever he feels neglected or left out of the action.

Dr. Bum Park is the muscle in the PI duo. He is the beefcake with a well-developed sense of humor. He treats even the most dangerous of situations as a joke. His flirtatious, loud and alpha male character contrasts nicely with that of the slightly neurotic and awkward mover Jake.

The plot, the characters and the setting found in ‘The Basque Head Case’ hasn’t changed much from the previous successful book, ‘Hand In Glove’. Jake’s dog Binkey and his home security system once again plays its part in moving the plot forward and in making the novel an unbridled fun ride.

The book does a good enough job of balancing the serious matter - which keeps the story moving; with the casual and humorous bits. And it’s only when the scale shifts to one end completely that you end up with scenes that are too serious or too humorous. But these are far and few in between and for the most part the book gets the balance right.

The lead characters in this novel are self-aware of the pattern seen in other fiction books involving PIs and have no trouble in flaunting these patterns in an exaggerated manner for hilarious effect. Mr. Paddy has also upped the humor quotient by including plenty of social satire and meta-commentary in the book. Not many books would think of playing with decapitated bodies and floating heads for laughs, but this one does and it does so marvellously. Encouragingly, the jokes don’t stop coming even after the plot obstacles in book are overcome.

In the end, you’re forced to pay heed to every page, marvelling at the ingenuity and cleverness the author showcases here. It is mad fun but it’s also controlled mad fun. It is self-referential and self-aware of its strength and also its weakness and doesn’t shy away from revealing it to the audience either. What makes this book an endearing read is that it doesn't aspire to be anything more than a smart and well-written novel filled with smart mouth humor and memorable characters
Straight Flush – A review of the novel ‘The Perfect Hand’

“If money’s the god people worship, I’d rather go worship the devil instead.” – Jess C. Scott

Author Patty Lesser’s novel ‘The Perfect Hand’ as the title suggests revolves around a game of poker. But this isn’t just another ordinary card game, as this high stakes game of life is being played by five close friends against a religious fanatic. And what hangs in balance is the freedom and fate of millions of American lives. By taking due risks and calling their opponent’s bluff, these five friends must purge the latest threat to their countrymen’s lives.

Handling a topic that is sensitive and topical in many sense, this fictional novel tells the story of a religious fanatic and his close knit army of believers who thinks only they have the answer to life’s problems. And all hell breaks loose when they set out to enforce what they think is good for everyone else. Such a theme as unfortunate as it sounds has raised its ugly head in many parts of the world before and continues to transpire today as well. So while the obstacle in the plot is quite believable, what requires a leap of faith from the reader is the method in which the religious fanatic and his group go about trying to control the population.

But what holds the novel together is its central characters, the five friends-since-college mates’ camaraderie is moving and believable. This has been portrayed with the help of convincing back stories and natural sounding dialogues; these are the kind of lines you imagine close buddies with a shared history will say to each other. The way these characters deal with a particular predicament also reveals the tightness within the group. These five characters are quite different from one another and their dissimilarity can be felt in their reaction and their thought processes as well. The antagonist camp too gets a good set of characters, though not as well developed as the protagonists. There are many secondary characters in the book in the form of spouses, girlfriends, police officers, media people and a taxi driver; and they all contribute towards the plot.

The author has been able to successfully capture the mental psyche of five grown men with diverse aptitudes. The correlation between the friends’ love for poker and a similar game like strategy in tackling their enemies is handled nicely. And then there’s some wonderful writing in the scene where Gary conducts a web podcast.

The book can rightfully be called a thriller as it offers plenty of hair-raising moments as are usually found within this genre. But a few long drawn out scenes and dialogue pieces does tend to slow down the pace of the story, and is the only misgiving you’ll have in an otherwise fine narrative.

Patty Lesser should be appreciated for dreaming up of a society that places honesty and equality above religious fanaticism. Read it for the above mentioned reasons and the nicely portrayed bromance between the lead characters.