Book Reviews:
Small Press & Self-Published Works
© Copyright 2000-2012, Skylar Hamilton Burris

Below, in alphabetical order, you may find fiction and nonfiction books published by small presses, self-publishers, and non-traditional print-on-demand publishers. Some of these entries include only simple descriptions; others include a more detailed personal evaluation.  You may also read my small press / self-published poetry book reviews. I AM NO LONGER ACCEPTING BOOKS FOR REVIEW.


The Book of Dreams
by Ashley Boettcher
ALB Books, © 2005, ISBN 0-9768123-0-4

The Book of Dreams recounts the story of a teenage girl coming of age in the heart of New York City.  After her parents divorce and her grandmother dies, her future grows uncertain, and she must seek answers on her own.  As she does so, however, she sinks deeper into trouble, until at last she acknowledges her own brokeness and discovers that God can use and heal her.  The novel is intended for Christian teens, but the author hopes it will appeal to a larger audience. 


The Book of Lost Innocence
by Frederick Charles Melancon
Tate Publishing, L.L.C., © 2005, ISBN 1-9331482-8-4, 124 pages

This novelette (the 124 pages are written in broadly spaced text) is a spiritual allegory with modern day overtones.  It begins in the kingdom of heaven, where three child-angels are discovered to be missing.  Before they can be found, some dramatic, disturbing truths must be revealed. Heaven and hell vie for control of the runaway angels, who find refuge with the help of an unlikely hero.  The novel explores the themes of sin, salvation, and trust.


Caleb's Daughter  
by Kay Flowers
Flower Fables, © 2002, ISBN 1-59113-095-6, 171 pages

The Bible tells us that "Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.  And it came to pass, as she came unto him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field:  and she lighted off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wouldest thou? Who answered, Give me a blessing: for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water.  And he gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs." (Joshua 15:116-19)

This is all we know of Caleb's daughter.  But in the long and recently re-popularized tradition of Midrash, Kay Flowers has taken it upon herself to tell the rest of the story.   Her novel begins in the days before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, and it spans many years until the death of Othniel, judge of Israel.  The book focuses on Caleb's daughter Achsah, a headstrong young woman who finds herself the center of a romantic conflict.

The work has several good descriptions, and it is certainly more true to the spirit of the Bible than, say, a novel like The Red Tent.  Flowers fills in the empty spaces in the biblical narrative without insisting on contradicting its central teachings.  The narrative method of the author, however, is at times didactic, and there is on the whole too much telling and not enough showing. Consequently, the book is occasionally uninteresting. The work, however, does address important themes, such as romantic vs. mature love and personal vs. communal/traditional faith.

Quote:   "It did not occur to Achsah that faith was not transferable.  A personal faith in a personal God was beyond her realm of understanding. She was content to follow God as long as her father did."


candylady.jpg (8235 bytes)The Candy Lady
by Sheryl B. Clayton
Authorhouse, © 2004, ISBN 1-4033-5956-3

This book is easy to read, and I mean that literally.  It is printed in a large font, and the text is double-spaced.  The cover is very attractive (I wanted to eat it) and well designed for a POD book.  I think the book would leap off the shelf to grab the attention of the would-be-reader. 

The story focuses on a woman named Connie Ross, who has been abused by her various ex-boyfriends and whose multiple miscarriages have left her unable to bear children.  Lonely and starved for love, she begins giving out candy to the neighborhood children, who dub her "The Candy Lady."  The children seem to fill a void in her life, but she soon grows mentally ill.  Her treatment of the kids becomes abusive, and she neglects her home and her appearance.  The children remain silent about her acts of violence, because they wish to continue to enjoy her treats and to play freely in her back yard.  Meanwhile, she hatches a sinister plan of revenge and random destruction. 

The Candy Lady is the tale of one woman's descent into madness, and ultimately it is a story about revenge, forgiveness, and redemption.  The idea behind the story is excellent, and it the kind of creepy tale that could potentially stick in the reader's mind for days to come.  But unfortunately, the themes, characters, and plot are not adequately developed.   There is no gradual mounting of tension; Connie's madness seems sudden and, though an explanation is given, we never get to look deeply into her thought process or her personal struggles, and we never get to know personally the men in her past. The book would also have been improved with additional editing: the reader may be distracted by the numerous spelling errors, fragments, and run-on sentences. 


Clash of Steel
Book One: Reluctant Hero
Edited by Armano Rosamilia
Califex Press,© 2005, ISBN 0-9759727-0-7

Clash of Steel is a thematic anthology of epic fantasy, containing five short stories centering around the theme of the reluctant hero.  In "A Duel of Fathers and Sons," Patrick Weeks recounts the tale of a son who is forced to defend the honor of his house by fighting in the very manner that he himself opposes.  Erin Mackay offers "The Brotherhood's Redemption," in which a now humbled knight is forced to confront those who destroyed his world.  In "An End To Tyranny" by Robert J. Santa, a soldier wonders whether his mundane performance of duty has any real effect on the battle.  Shauna Roberts contributes "Hero Home," a tale of a hero who returns home only to discover that his own legend has been distorted.   Finally, in "Nightshadows" by Steve Losee, an assassin tackles what he at first believes to be a simple job.

The collection is a 64-page-long, digest-sized publication, side-stapled with glossy, color cover, priced at $5.95.


commission.jpg (3702 bytes)The Commission
by Bob Blackman
Virtualbookworm Publishing, © 2004 , ISBN 1-58939-624-3

The Commission is a work of social science-fiction.  The story begins in the second half of the 21st century, where Terrapax, a libertarian's nightmare vision of the United Nations, has taken over the world and established a new universalistic state religion.  People are free to worship their own gods, provided they do not teach that their religion is anymore "right" than any other religion, provided they do not proselytize in any way, and provided their churches kick back ten percent to the Spiritual Health Organization.  Should one refuse this arrangement and persist in outmoded and "bigoted" beliefs, the "intolerant" will be shipped off to a re-education camp.   Eventually, one group of Christians, from a denomination called the Messianists, is exiled to another planet for its persistent refusal to recant.  Will members of this all-Christian society continue to maintain their faith, or will a loss of tradition and authority give birth to heresy? 

After reading the back cover blurb, I had hoped the novel would focus on examining whether opposition and adversity are essential to the existence of a vibrant faith and whether (true) tolerance of Christianity actually leads to complacency among Christians.  But this question really is not much developed in the novel.  However, many other intriguing questions are introduced.   Indeed, the plot is a clever vehicle for a host of difficult questions, and I found myself repeatedly pausing in my reading to think.  The Commission could serve as a real discussion sparker among Christians, and it is likely to inspire the Christian reader to reflect on many things: Where is our nation headed with its emphasis on religious "tolerance"? Could this emphasis on "tolerance" eventually lead to a law against proselytizing?  Can publicly recanting your faith while privately maintaining it ever be justified?  What might cause you to recant?  Would God have us fight back with violence against oppressive tyranny? How long would it take heresy to develop in an all-Christian society, and how might it develop?  The author has heresy developing in part because of a lack of access to scriptures, but I think it would have been just as believable to have it developing despite the ready availability of the scriptures.  At any rate, the novel reminds us that heresy is always internal and that the true threat to Christian orthodoxy never comes from non-believers, but from professed believers.

The author's writing ability is decent, but not gripping; the narrative tone is often more journalistic than literary.  There are also some minor narrative problems; for instance, narration begins in the present tense as Taylor Hudson begins to tell the history of Eden (which is appropriately told in past tense), but when the action returns to the scene we left at the novel's opening, the narration does not return to the present tense.    Nevertheless, the characters are realistic, and it is not, ultimately, the style of writing that makes this particular book worth reading; rather, it is the storyline and the thematic content.  The Commission is an intriguing book posing intriguing questions.  It is well plotted and moves at a reasonable pace.  The author has a good story to tell, and he communicates weighty ideas without being overbearing or boring.


Devil May Care
A Suspense Novel
by Riley Evans
Storywright Books, © 2004, ISBN 0-9741462-0-X

On deck to be reviewed.

Body-building Reverend Jack Jackson exhorts his parishioners to pump up their faith muscles.  But when his own past, unspeakable sins are unearthed by State Police field agent Nikki O'Keefe, Jack begins to regard her as his temptress and nemesis. 


elliot.jpg (6212 bytes)Elliot Stone and the Mystery of the Alien Mom
by L.P. Chase
Infinity Publishing, © 2004, ISBN 0-7414-2279-4

This children's novel follows the adventures of Elliot Stone, a nine-year old boy who overhears an adult telephone conversation, takes it out of context, and lets his imagination run wild.  The tale is complemented by illustrations from the pen of Deborah Cuneo, which work to enhance the narrative. The book even includes a reading quiz for kids, though the questions are a bit trivial.

The premise of the novel is slightly fantastical--that three children, even nine year olds, would be so quickly willing to believe that Elliot's Mom is turning into an alien requires some suspension of disbelief.  But our narrator Elliot is a believable and likeable character, and readers will soon be immersed in his world.  Although the novel, being written in Elliot's voice, has simple sentence structure, it is not "dumbed-down."   Elliot has a good vocabulary and incorporates occasional "big words" naturally into his narrative.

Adult readers will be trying to solve a mystery quite different from that of the narrator: we will want to know the real story behind the "clues" Elliot misinterprets. And although most adults will be able to guess easily what is "happening" to Elliot's Mom, they will still be curious to figure out how everything fits into that scenario, particularly the green goop and the tentacled, blinking creature.  Adults will enjoy viewing events from Elliot's perspective while still being able to laugh at his childlike observations.   Children will be able to relate to his everyday concerns and will be entertained by his wilder dealings.

There are few minor problems that could have been fixed by an editor: missing quotation marks, accidental line breaks in the middle of paragraphs, and a one-time inconsistency in narration (i.e. the first person narrator somehow manages to narrate a scene from which he is absent, as though he were a third person omniscient narrator).  But on the whole, Elliot Stone is well written.  It is a fun romp for child and parent alike, with a tightly knitted, fast-paced plotline. 

The story doesn't really have much of a moral, other than "don't jump to conclusions" (and even that seems fun in the novel).   Our hero gets away with sneaking a girl into his house without punishment, and he really doesn't endure much of a consequence from turning in a science project late.   But it is in part the obviously didactic and often overbearing manner of many modern children's stories that make them so much less enjoyable than the stories of my childhood, so I would rather have read a fun tale like this than a moralistic one.  The tales of my youth did communicate morals, but they did so in such a subtle way that I often could not have told you what those morals were.  Those stories were meant to capture the child's imagination, not simply tell him what to think, and Elliot Stone has the same good intentions.

I had forgotten how much fun children's literature can be--how great kids' books can make you want to sneak a peek at a novel under your desk during class. Elliot Stone made me look forward to a future day when I will be reading more such books with my daughter.


Embracing Heaven and Earth 
by Andrew Cohen

Embracing Heaven and Earth focuses on five fundamental tenets of enlightenment: clarity of intention, the law of volitionality, face everything and avoid nothing, the truth of impersonality, and for the sake of the whole.  People who are interested in enlightenment philosophy might find Cohen's work worth taking up, and it has certainly received praise from many practitioners of eastern spirituality, including His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, Head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism.  If you are not already enamored with the philosophy, however, this book has precious little to offer.    

Among other things, Cohen emphasizes the superiority of simplicity over complexity. "You see," he writes, "simplicity means being whole."  His description of simplicity and complexity reminds one of C.S. Lewis's description of wakefulness and sleep in his Christian allegory Perelandra.  Cohen writes:

The reason for this is that complexity cannot understand simplicity.   But--and this is the whole point--simplicity can understand complexity.   Complexity cannot see simplicity, but simplicity can see complexity.   In order to get in touch with the source of all true wisdom, you have to become simple yourself.  It just doesn't work the other way around.

Compare that with C.S. Lewis:

We have learned of evil, though not as the Evil One wished us to learn. We have learned better than that, for it is waking that understands sleep and not sleep that understands waking.

Yet, for all this emphasis on simplicity, the book itself is simplistic only in terms of the writing style (vocabulary and sentence structure).  The concepts, on the other hand, are presented with both circumlocution and redundancy.  What could have been expressed with equal depth in twenty pages is expanded to fill 102.  The book contains a preface, a forward, and an introduction.  One wishes the author would just get to the body of the book and stop assuring us how good it is.  As further evidence of this redundancy, compare the two quotes above.  The arguments are similar, but note that Lewis does not go onto say, "sleep cannot see waking, but waking can see sleep.  In order to get in touch with the source of all true wisdom, you have to be awake.  It just doesn't work the other way around." C.S. Lewis does not do this because good authors do not continuously repeat themselves, unless they are employing poetic devices of repetition (such as anaphora or parallelism), which are aimed at stimulating the mind and the emotions. Cohen's repetition is not of a poetic nature; his words are not calculated to move the soul, as that is not the the purpose of enlightenment. 

I do approach all of my book reviews with a certain philosophical prejudice; I am a Christian.  But that is not my primary reason for disliking this--and other books--I have read on Buddhist philosophy.  Though I disagree with much of the philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, I loved it, and I will read it again.  The same is true for Rumi's poetry, even sections of the Kabbalah.  But in Buddhist and in enlightenment writings, there is no poetry.  No beauty.  Nothing to satisfy the intellect or the soul.  There is just plain philosophy, presented largely by authors who are striving to describe simplicity through a maze of false profundity.


Freddie
by Cherise Wyneken
Publish America, © 2006, ISBN 1-4241-2415-8

Freddie is a novel of reonciliation, the story of a young woman who loses her husband and searches for her roots.  The story involves romance, mystery, and spiritual struggle.  To be reviewed at a future date. 


loveof.jpg (7055 bytes)For the Love of Freedom
by D.J. Vallone
iuniverse, © 2004, ISBN 0-595-22618-3

For the Love of Freedom pits a journalist against a politician, and then pits that same politician against himself.   When political journalist Chip Halick unearths a secret about the popular new governor Colin Rierdon, the politician will have to contradict his own professed code of conduct if he is to prevent his past from being unveiled.  I found Rierdon's secret to be intensely predictable, but this is not a suspense or mystery novel, so such predictability hardly mars the work. 

The novel's dialogue occasionally seems unrealistic, when characters speak like talking heads reading from a written script.  For instance, it is hard to imagine someone speaking off-the-cuff in a conversation and yet phrasing his words so precisely as to say, "It's a queer anomaly that is both statistically significant and a historically verifiable trend." The present tense narration, so inexplicably popular in today's novels, also seems a little out of place here, especially since the narrator has just told us that these events occurred in the past.  Despite these flaws, the author's writing style is generally impressive.   D.J. Vallone is erudite without being pretentious, and his prose flows well.  The first chapter opens by setting the scene with a well-crafted and almost poetic description; indeed, the author's descriptions are one of the strongest features of his novel.  

The Prologue offers a strong start to the novel by piquing the reader's attention and acquainting her with the narrator.  Indeed, the reader will be curious to know what sort of moral choices she will be called upon to make, and she will also wish to know if the narrator, Chip Halick, turns out to be the "sweet guy" he proclaims himself to be. In this tangled web of politics, the reader is asked to wrestle with ideas involving ethics, law, religion, and constitutional intent.   I am not one of those modern critics who considers only the aesthetics of a novel to be of merit; I do believe one of the primary purposes of literature should be to communicate morals, values, and ideas.  Dialogue and narrative passages probing philosophical and political subjects, therefore, do not instantly strike me as "boring."  Of course, such themes can be conveyed in a way that is either dull or overbearing, but that is not the case in For the Love of Freedom.  Although I disagree with many of the ideas presented in the novel, I feel they are fairly well-incorporated into the story.  There are times when the narrator's introspection tends to slow down the plot and unnecessarily keep the reader from the story, but for the most part, the philosophical speculation is interesting and integral to the tale. 

Although far from preachy, the novel does not always convey its ideas with nuance.  The story is occasionally painted with some broad strokes of black and white.  For example, Rierdon is at first presented as an all-too-typical representative of the dread "religious right" (a term used by journalists, and likewise by our narrator, as though it represented the actual name of an organization or political party). Early on the narrator refers to Rierdon's "uncompromising brand of religious-fascism," and the governor is portrayed to the reader amidst a sea of sweeping terms like "unreasoning zeal," "ultra narrow," "bible thumping," and religious "programming." Indeed, the author's overall portrayal of evangelical Christians is highly stereotypical.  Evangelical Christians are explained to the reader by a liberal Christian friend of the narrator, who, while certainly not painting them as entirely heartless, yet misunderstands them in a number of ways. The author also introduces a character, a minister of a non-denominational Bible church, who says his church has no programs to help the poor and will only help them if they come to his church.  This attitude and practice is so far removed from that of real-life, evangelical, non-denominational Christians as to make the reader speculate that perhaps the author is relying too heavily on popular anti-evangelical caricatures.

This is not to say that Colin Rierdon is created an absolute bogeyman.  Indeed, the narrator eventually comes to reconsider his view of Rierdon and to recognize the governor's virtues, not just his flaws.  In the end, Colin is portrayed as "doing the right thing," which is to say he does the liberal thing.  (After all, how else can a conservative Christian be redeemed?) That's a simplification, of course, but the character, liberated by the fact that he thinks he has "nothing left to lose," publicly moves towards a more liberal (and his true heart-felt) stance on a particular issue. 

I do not mean to imply that the book is merely a liberal polemic.  It is considerably more complex than that.  Indeed, the narrator even entertains and presents ideas that are traditionally regarded as conservative:  He speaks of the "money hungry IRS" that was never envisioned by "Madison, Jefferson, and their patriotic colleagues."  He refers to the "judicial activism" that has led to "expropriating power from the legislature to make laws, and thereby tipping the scales of freedom that were constitutionally balanced."  And the issue of abortion, which figures prominently in the novel, is viewed, at least in part, from both sides.

Although the narrator clearly supports the legality of abortion and considers this a matter of "freedom," he at least entertains, and to some degree even understands, contrasting viewpoints.  An anti-abortion viewpoint is given a hearing when it is placed in the mouth of a Catholic priest, who is fairly sympathetically portrayed.  When the abortion issue comes up for a vote in the Michigan legislature, the narrator recognizes that the issue is at least being decided (rightly or wrongly) in the proper place and by the proper people (that is, by the representatives of the people rather than by unelected judges).  And when the abortion experience of one of the novel's characters is discussed, it is portrayed as an intensely sad occurrence with real and lasting consequences.  The narrator even refers to the unborn child as a "victim" who has been "wrongfully aborted."

Ironically, the same character who experienced the traumatic abortion is herself an abortion "rights" advocate, because, she says, "I don't want to see another woman go through what I had to endure" (i.e. an illegal abortion).  A strange statement, it seems to me, because by fighting to ensure that abortion remains legal (and therefore readily available and somewhat freer from social stigma), she actually helps to ensure that many more women do, in fact, go through something very much like what she had to endure.   Ever since Roe vs. Wade, men have found it much easier to shirk their fatherly duties, and countless women have been pressured by men, often against the wishes of their hearts, to have abortions. And the sad fact is that many more women die of legal abortions today than died of illegal abortions prior to Roe vs. Wade.  Abortions are safer today, but they are not risk free, and the sheer number of abortions now performed ensures that many more women will die than in the "dark days" before legal abortion.  (However, the negative effects of legal abortion upon women are not among the many arguments considered in the novel.)

In short, although I did not agree with many of the views presented or appreciate some of the stereotypes, I felt the author's writing style was often impressive, and I believe that the novel is apt to inspire much serious contemplation--which is one of the greatest purposes of literature.


giftof.jpg (5341 bytes)The Gift of the Morning
by April Love
iuniverse, © 2004, ISBN 0-595-32398-7

When I began The Gift of the Morning, I thought it was going to be a simple allegory, but the book is much more complex than that.  It combines the genres of romance, fantasy, mystery, and science-fiction to tell an interesting story with an unexpected twist. 

The cover blurb seems to imply that The Gift of the Morning will focus on Aurora's "seeking to discover her beginnings," but this quest really does not begin until more than halfway through the book, and that is the point at which the novel begins to pick up speed (the first half, though well-plotted, is at times a little slow).  The choice of present tense narration is a little disconcerting at first, but once one adjusts to it, the novel flows smoothly enough.  Overall, the writing is average and a few of the characters do have some stock qualities, but this is offset by the unexpected twist and a highly original storyline (particularly in the second half of the novel).  The Gift of the Morning will keep the reader guessing, hoping, and fearing Aurora's fate.


Inside the Silver Light
A Novel of Love, Revenge, and Redemption
by Leah Martin
Storywright Books, © 2004, ISBN 0-9741462-1-8

On deck to be reviewed

This novel focuses on three women, whose lives revolve around the Big Badlands, where winds, rains, and runoff dig into soft, yielding rock.  The violence of nature mirrors the violence of man, as these characters become tangled in a web of revenge, broken love, death, and redemption. 


thelo.jpg (4098 bytes)Journey to Thélo
by Terri Thompson
iuniverse, © 2003, ISBN 0-595-28393-4

Journey to Thélo opens on a dark scene in Auchmeros, a bleak world inhabited by a race of feathered, furry, cave-dwelling beings who know little more than hunger, distrust, and violence.  The story focuses on Peter, a young man whose trip to the outside world of Thélo serves as a spiritual allegory for the believer's journey from darkness to light.  Indeed, the tale of his race mirrors, to some degree, the story of humankind's fall and redemption.

The story moves quickly and the allegory is obvious without being overbearing.  The author draws a thorough picture of Peter's dank world in the space of a very few pages, and she is able to create a vivid contrast with the vibrant world of Thélo.  Even if the book is not long enough to allow for a complete fleshing out of the characters, the reader will truly be able to care about the tale's hero and take an avid interest in his fate. 

Allegory is a difficult genre to pull-off well, but Thompson manages to use it successfully in this little gem of a book.  My only criticism is that the novelette was too short: I would like to have learned more about Peter's friends in Auchmeros, particularly Beetle, who is an intriguing character, but whose suicide is abrupt and unexpected. 


Leah's Way
by Richard Botelho
Quality Books, Inc., © 2004, ISBN 0-9643926-9-0

On deck to be reviewed.


Life Principles
by Hank Sohota
Vibe Publications, © 2002, ISBN 0-9538321-0-4

This books combines verse, commentary, and photography in an attempt to share personal spiritual inspirations with the reader.  The writings are intended to be used for reflection and meditation by religious believers of all faiths, but it will appeal most, I think, to New Agers and uncertain questers engaged in spiritual  window-shopping.    The author's own spiritual journey wove a tangled path, with pitstops at the Sikh rleigion, yoga, spirtualism, tarot, palmistry, astrology, and psychology (and yes, psychology is a religion to many).  The poems are not particularly sonorous or rhythmic, though they do employ a lot of anaphora and some parallelism. 


Mahogany Row  
by Wayne J. Keeley
© 2000

Mahogany Row is a fairly good book considering it comes from a small press.  The editors (The Fiction Works), however, could have done a more careful job of proofreading.  You will find missing words and punctuation marks, as well as reversed, superfluous, and missing quotation marks.  This mystery/suspense novel was penned by yet another attorney/writer.  It is more or less written in the style of the hard-boiled detective genre, though the protagonist is the primary murder suspect, not the investigator.  It has the hard-boiled genre's fast-paced nature, with short sentences, lots of action, the less-than-sophisticated hero, and occasional comic irony.  It even has the requisite strange metaphors such as: "His office was Nagasaki after the bomb."   The author plays at profundity with an enigmatic homeless character but unfortunately never realizes it.  The book is suspenseful and the mystery is fairly well-crafted and certainly interesting; the author keeps you reading.  The ending is somewhat of a disappointment, however.  The writer seems to have desired a twist, but because it is not as well developed as the central corporate mystery, it is a bit of a let down.  The Epilogue is far too violent, sexually explicit, and, like a great many Epilogues, entirely unnecessary.    It would have been better to have simply ended the book with the final chapter. Overall, Mahogany Row is an easy, interesting afternoon read. 


master.jpg (6745 bytes)Master of the Jinn 
A Sufi Novel
by Irving Karchmar
© 2004, ISBN 1-59457-723-4

Take a healthy dose of spiritual reflection, infuse some elements of fantasy, sprinkle in some extra-Biblical legends, and you might have something like Master of the Jinn.   The book contains lengthy segments of spiritual instruction and in many respects reads like a devotional, and therefore it may not appeal to someone without an interest in mystical Islam, or at least in religious mysticism in general. (A glossary of religious terms would have been a helpful addition to the novel.)

Yet Master of the Jinn is didactic without being preachy--a rare accomplishment--and its spiritual parables have something to offer Jew, Christian, and Muslim alike.  The instruction is not dull or dogmatic because it is steeped in poetry, but it does tend at times to detract from the plot, which otherwise might have seemed more mysterious and suspenseful. 

If you are looking for a novel with both substance and a tale to tell, Master of the Jinn is worth your time.  


The Miracle of Bryan Pearce
by C.J. Stevens
© 2004, ISBN 1-882425-21-9

On deck to be reviewed.


My Walk With the Lord
by Irving L. Rozier
Selah Publishing Group, © 2003, ISBN 1589301137

Billed as a "modern day book of Acts," My Walk With the Lord contains a collection of personal narratives.  The author describes his walk with Jesus and recounts the miraculous and prophetic moments of his life, as well as celebrating God's everyday small kindnesses. 

The writing is rather bare-bones, as the author is probably more interested in communicating his religious message than in weaving a story.   Topics of the individual stories are diverse and range from visiting a man and praying over him to digging up potatoes at the Lord's command. 


onesimus.jpg (5267 bytes)Onesimus
by Joseph Kennedy
1st Books, © 2002, ISBN 1-4033-0107-7

This novel tells the story of the runaway slave Onesimus, whom Paul returned to his master Philemon with an epistle that was later to become scripture.  The author recounts Onesimus's adventures by land and by sea, but the slave's physical journey is merely a vehicle for his more important spiritual journey.  Retellings of Bible stories are not uncommon, but Joseph Kennedy chooses a particularly good story to develop.   Philemon is Paul's shortest epistle, and the untold "rest of the story"  is likely to pique the reader's curiosity.

Much of the book's dialogue resembles more the speech patterns and vocabulary of modern American Protestants than that of ancient Jews and Gentiles, and although this can be a little jarring in the ancient setting, it may also make the book more accessible to modern readers.  The author places comments in the text that would better serve as footnotes, such as chapter and verse citations and suggestions to look things up in the Bible to better understand the historical context of the story.  Scripture is occasionally treated a bit anachronistically, since the book is set in a time before the Bible, as such, was formulated.   Large portions of scripture are copied verbatim into the text, which can interrupt the narrative flow and make the scenes seem a little less natural. 

At first, the narrator tells us directly what to think of Onesimus rather than letting us judge him by his actions and other more subtle hints, but eventually we get to know Onesimus on a more personal level.  Our first personal glimpse into his character, in fact, comes early in the novel, when he impetuously purchases a young slave boy, being instinctively repulsed by the possibility that the boy will be purchased and misused by an older man.   He immediately regrets his decision, absorbed in his own selfish concerns, but his instinct momentarily reveals his heart. 

The prose flows smoothly and the novel is easy to read.  Onesimus is written by a Christian for Christians, and it is not likely to be of interest to most non-believers. If you would like see the epistles and the Book of Acts fleshed out, Onesimus is a good choice.


secret.jpg (33868 bytes)Secrets at Spawning Run
by Sally Roseveare
Infinity Publishing, © 2005, ISBN 0-7414-2308-1

Finally, a story in which a woman thinks she hears shots next door and goes to get a gun, instead of walking around timidly with a baseball bat!

Secrets at Spawning Run is a mystery-thriller that centers around Aurora Harris, whose father's recent death has been ruled an accident (or possibly a suicide).  When she enters her Smith Mountain Lake childhood home to find the books askew, her suspicions are raised, but she soon puts the incident behind her.  Then her dog discovers a water bird entangled by a diamond necklace, and the real intrigue begins. 

Our heroine does not so much piece clues together as get lucky, so the book is not a mystery in the traditional style, but we are still left to guess at the nature of the involvement of individual characters.  The story is at times quite predictable--the good guys are predictably good, the bad guys predictably bad--but the well-woven web of relationships between the many characters is a surprise.  The dialogue at times feels slightly unnatural (almost businesslike), but it manages to carry the plot along. 


Scrooge and Cratchit
by Matt McHugh
© 2002, Self-published

I've always thought it interesting that when we use the word "Scrooge," we mean a stingy person.  Why do we not use it to mean a redeemed man? In Scrooge & Cratchit, Matt McHugh continues Dickens's famous tale, A Christmas Story, reminding us that spiritual redemption and moral responsibility are ongoing processes, spanning generation.  The book begins seven years after the original.  It is available for free online, or you can order it in booklet form.  The humble, pamphlet sized booklet sports a two color glossy cover; the inside text is small but well spaced and fairly easy to read. The story totals 36 pages. 


The Unattainable Redemption
by Mark Nuzzi
Equilibrium Books, © 2004, ISBN 1-920764-58-5

The Unattainable Redemption is a sword and sorcery fantasy, with lots of action and a splash of romance.  It chronicles the life of an egotistical madman and wrestles with issues like predestination and free will.  It asks important questions: Is it ever too late to change?  Is redemption sometimes unattainable? 

The novel contains some vivid description and some interesting scenes.  It could have benefited from additional editing and revision, however, especially with regard to sentence structure, word flow, and punctuation. 


wave.jpg (3838 bytes)The Wave
by Duncan Prescott
PublishAmerica, 2004
ISBN 1-4137-1006-9

The Wave focuses on Canadian high school student Danny Marlowe.  Over the Christmas break, Danny returns home to Oregon with his basketball team, where he hopes to win the heart of college student Marianne Tanner.  But the two become entangled in something riskier than romance: At the office of The Bastion, a newspaper owned by Danny's grandfather, Danny is attacked by an intruder attempting to steal a file labeled "Kelly Crawford."   The Wave, however, is not a novel of intrigue; it is primarily a story about friendship, love, basketball, and becoming a man.

The wave recurs throughout the novel as a symbolic image. It represents being both "out of control and yet in total control," being "vulnerable" while "forging [one's] own destiny."  The wave washes away the past and ushers in the future.  Ultimately, it defines our young protagonist, who is forced to come of age when his life is immersed in unexpected change.

Danny's character is well developed, although occasionally I found the novel's dialogue unrealistic or slightly unnatural.  Despite a well structured plot and a sympathetic main character, I was unable to submerge myself fully into this novel: I was not swept away by it.  But books affect each reader differently, and I recommend you try it for yourself. 


The Woman in the Wilderness
Inside the Mystery of America's First Mystics
by Jonathan D. Scott
Middleton Books, 2005
ISBN 0-9716611-5-4

This historical novel relates the story of Johannes Kelpius, a 17th century Christian mystic who formed the first mystical community in America in 1694.  The narrative alternates between vignettes of the mystic's life and the story of a fictional 19th century woman who is seeking to find the truth behind the unusual legends of Kelpius. The novel explores the conflicts between Christian orthodoxy and heterodoxy as well as between outward acts and inner development.      The 292 page volume also contains several pages of explanatory notes. 


Young Woman Traveling Alone
by Anne-Marie M. Pop
iUniverse, 2005
ISBN 0-595-36024-6

This novel relates the story of a successful, western woman who, on the verge of serious depression, decides to leave behind the only world she has known to embark on a journey throughout Southeast Asia and India.  It is a story of self-discovery, as the heroine toys with spirituality, drugs, and the party life.  In the end, she finds insight not through the rave scene, but through her conversations with the locals.


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Last Revised: Friday December 14, 2012 12:08 PM -0500