Month: March 2015

Angels At The Gate, by T.K. Thorne

As a child, I preferred classics over modern authors. I loved the language, and I loved the lyrical style of the sentences. Today, I enjoy contemporary fiction too, but there is something that classics have which the contemporary authors miss, no matter how amazing the book is. Don’t get me wrong; there are many amazing modern authors out there, and you could even justify that one must read books that deal with present day tales and present day issues. But a classic, to me, remains a classic.

Angels At The Gate, by T.K. Thorne is a classic.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Theological Fiction.
Frankly, I do not know if I can call it fiction, because the book is about biblical figures and clearly, a lot of historical research has gone into this book.

Summary: Adira is the daughter of Zakiti, a caravan owner and a member of Abram’s (Abraham’s) tribe. She is brought up as a boy by her father, so that she can grow up independent. Women’s roles were restricted to household activities and Adira had no interest in these. When she is fifteen, two men, Mika and Raph join their caravan. There are rumors that they are angels of their God, El, who used to speak to the tribe through Abram. Adira is infatuated with Raph and decides to reveal to him that she is actually a girl. However, their camp is attacked by raiders, who murder Zakiti and kidnap Raph. Before dying, Zakiti makes Adira swear she would go to Sarai (Abram’s wife) and agree to live the life that Sarai chooses for her. Adira decides to avenge her father and find the man she wants to marry. She sets off on a quest, accompanied by her faithful dog, Nami. After a lot of hardships, she eventually does go to Sarai as promised, who marries her off to her cousin, Lot (Abram’s nephew). Lot is a fanatical follower of El, who is despised by the people of his city, Sodom, for they worship the goddess, Asherah. In the religious drama that follows, what happens to Adira?

According to the scriptures, Lot is a righteous man whose wife was punished for disobeying El. Angels at the Gate is a story that tells you the other side. Was Lot really as righteous as the books say? Was Adira really punished? Did she deserve the punished if she was? This book is about all those questions. T. K. Thorne takes you on a journey through deserts and the world as it was in 1748 BC. As a reader, I loved Adira; her relationship with her father, her infatuation towards Raph, her hatred of Chiram, and eventual discovery of his kindness. Adira is a strong woman. In her, T. K Thorne has portrayed a woman as a woman should be, intelligent, bold, loving, and where need be, defiant.

T. K. Thorne is an amazing storyteller. The characters come alive, and I feel the heat of the deserts I read through! The pace is just right. There is no dull moment, and I never felt the need to rush through pages. I was so engrossed in the story, that I really did not want to put it down. In fact, I picked it up in the middle of the night, and read it in the dim light of my night-lamp! I think the last time I did that was with Gone With The Wind, which I read when I was fourteen!

If you want to read more about the book, here’s the Goodreads link.
You can buy it on Amazon.

My favorite quote:
“Mercy.
Do any of the gods care about such things or only that their contracts and agreements are fulfilled?”

Makes you think, doesn’t it!

Rating: 4.5/5

Note: This book was sent for review by Felicia Sinusas of Jane Wesman Public Relations Inc.

A Conversation With Robert Uttaro, Rape Crisis Counselor and Author of "To The Survivors"

It’s a bad time to be a woman. There’s a cliched understatement! Was there ever a good time to be a woman? Chances are, if you are a woman, especially in India, you were killed while you were in your mother’s womb. If you made it out alive, you were probably drowned by your father or uncle. By some stroke of luck, if they let you live, you’re being severely ostracized by people because, if the golden words of some of our educated lawyers are to be believed, your worth is less than an insect. Those weren’t his exact words, you say? Well, read them again and see how they echo back to you.

Sexual assault is a terrible crime and the worst part of it is, if you are a victim, it eats you up from inside like a cancer – a cancer of the mind. You cannot speak to anyone about it, because everyone is now looking at you with judgmental eyes, or worse – with pity. You don’t need any of that. You were going about your day, doing your daily chores and some pervert decides to take his sickness out on you. But who do you talk to? Who do you trust?
People get uncomfortable when you discuss such subjects with them. Whenever I have spoken about rape, most people look down at their newly polished shoes, and start stammering and blurt out the following question, “Are you, like… um… have you been… you know, like, are you a victim?” Why? Cos being a victim is the only reason I would show support for a cause? Strange. 
Then, there are people like Robert Uttaro. Robert Uttaro is a Rape Crisis Counselor. He helps those who are victims of rape or sexual assault. He has recently authored a book, titled To The Survivors. It contains stories shared by survivors and also his own experiences as a counselor. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to speak to him about the stories he has to share, his profession and the troubles he has faced, and his book. Below is the transcript of our QA session, where I have highlighted some key points as well:

Robert Uttaro, Rape Crisis Counselor and Author of “To The Survivors”

SD: Let’s talk a bit about your childhood and schooling…  

RU: My parents worked very hard to always provide my four older siblings and I with food, shelter, and education. As a child and throughout my life, I have had a deep love of God, music, and basketball, among other interests. I have always been able to listen to music for hours and hours. When I was a kid, I also used to play basketball all day and night during the summer, and would shovel out the basketball court to play in the snow with gloves during the winter. In terms of schooling, I went to a Catholic school for seven years, a public high school, and graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.

SD: When did you decide you want to be a rape crisis counselor?

RU: I made the choice to become a rape crisis counselor when I was a senior in college. I was 22 years old.

SD: Do you feel the victims are open to receiving counseling or do you think the vast majority of victims suffer in silence? When they do approach you, do you feel they’re hesitant to open up?

RU: The vast majority of people who have been raped and sexually assaulted suffer in silence. Some are open to counseling, but many do not tell anyone for years. Some people never tell anyone at all. There are many justified reasons as to why so many people stay silent, but the silence tends to hurt those who have been victimized.
People disclose to me in many different places. Some people are hesitant and even terrified to open up, but they ultimately want to or feel an urge to. Some people never expect to open but end up sharing a part or their entire story while others completely break down. Of course, there are others who will never open up to me. I tried my best to explain in To the Survivors how many women did not want to work with or share a disclosure with me, for examples. At the time, most women did not want to open up to me.
Sometimes people disclose to me in very casual settings where the last thing you would ever expect is a rape disclosure. Examples of this are when people disclose to me at parties or while eating dinner during a relaxing night. These people have clearly felt the urge to speak, and they trusted me enough to share. Many times people will disclose to me once they learn I am a rape crisis counselor. Other times, people just break down. I knew a woman for a couple of years and never once thought that she had been raped, but one day she just broke down to me. Tears poured down her face as she broke the silence and disclosed that she was sexually abused for years when she was a child. Many are hesitant to open up, but many also open up. If people ever choose to open up, I think it’s important for them to open up when they are ready and to someone they trust.

SD: Do you think rape and/or sexual assault is a problem faced by women alone? If not, do men opt for counseling? Do they go through similar trauma as a female victim or do they react differently?

RU: Women, men, and children are raped and sexually assaulted. It is wrong to think only women are raped and sexually assaulted. Some men do receive counseling, but many do not. In fact, there are many men who do not fully understand or even know that they have been sexually abused given the trauma they experience at such young ages. Both men and women can repress memories. If you read To the Survivors, you will read three stories of men who were sexually abused as children. Their stories will show you how the crimes affected them and how counseling and other things have helped them in their healing process. The stories show the damage and growth, and I hope they allow for other men and women to seek help if they need it.
I do not wish to speak for every human being, but in my experiences and my beliefs, there are more similarities between men and women than differences when discussing trauma and their reactions. First and foremost, rape and sexual assault are sexual violations that are traumatic and evil. Regardless of gender, people are sexually violated and suffer as a result of that violation. Silence is silence. Shame is shame. Fear is fear. Depression is depression. Anxiety is anxiety. Rage is rage. Tears are tears. Suicide is suicide. Many women and men experience these.
There are many similarities between men and women, but there are also many false societal teachings that do impact men and boys who are raped and sexually assaulted. For example, many men believe that as a man, they must be able to protect themselves. This is not true because any man can be raped or sexually assaulted, but many believe this. Also, many men are sexually abused as children. No child should ever be sexually abused, nor should any child be expected to always take care of themselves in every single situation. But some, arguably many boys do believe they should protect themselves. This false idea continues within them well into adulthood. This happens to some women as well, but it may be more so in terms of men.
Another false societal teaching is the idea that men should not have certain feelings, or shouldn’t express their feelings. Some believe that only women should be or can be emotional, and men shouldn’t. They believe that they can’t cry or talk about their feelings. They believe they should just get over it. But this is not true, and many men suffer as a result of these false teachings and beliefs.

SD: Do female victims find it uncomfortable to discuss their story with a man? Have you ever felt it?

RU: Some do, and I have felt it. It’s important to note that some men are uncomfortable sharing their story with a man.

SD: Are there many male rape crisis counselors?

RU: No. I hope that changes if men desire it. There are many men who would be great rape crisis counselors if they ever chose to be, but it is their choice. Sadly, many men do not understand how helpful they would be, and some are fearful and nervous. I hope that changes and I believe it can. 

SD: Putting survivor stories in a book is extremely brave. Were the survivors open to this idea?

RU: Yes. I told every survivor who is in the book that I wanted their story in the book if they wanted to contribute. There were no surprises. I also gave every survivor a copy of the manuscript before I published. Every survivor in the book gave final approval of their own words prior to publication. I would never publish unless they approved, and ultimately all of the survivors who contributed their stories in To the Survivors did approve.

SD: Have you ever felt extremely emotional (be it anger, disgust, sorrow) during any of your sessions? How do you cope up with such issues? As a counselor, you have to keep emotions at bay; how do you manage to do this?

RU: I have felt extremely emotional during and after every rape disclosure I have ever received. When helping someone in need, I have learned to forget about myself and listen to what that person is saying, or not saying. I would say to others that a listener should try their best to just listen to the one in need. Keeping emotions at bay can be difficult, but it is possible. Forgetting about myself completely allows me to do that. However, there may be times when you do not keep your emotions at bay. This can also be a good thing, because it may help the survivor who is opening up understand that they are not alone and that they aren’t the only ones who get emotional.
In terms of coping with such issues, I have found that prayer, mediation, music, and connecting with people are essential for me. I could not do what I do without God. I could not do what I do without prayer, mediation and music. When discussing how to manage such issues and self-care, one must think about what they love to do and what their heart desires. There are many beautiful gifts in life, so embrace what you love and try things you are interested in. Music, art, dance, prayer, mediation, nature, cooking, reading, writing, exercise, and many others are great forms of self-care and ways to deal with the painful realities of life.

SD: A word of advice to those reading this..?

RU: To the Survivors continues to help women and men who have been raped and sexually assaulted (many as children), significant others, and also individuals who do not know of anyone personally affected. There is a huge focus on rape and sexual assault, but the book deals with many different issues and ideas. I believe it is a valuable read that anyone can benefit from regardless of whether or not you are a survivor. However, it is hard and may be triggering if you are a survivor or know a survivor. Please read To the Survivors at your own pace. You do not have to read this book if it is too hard right now, but I want you to know that there is far more good than bad in it. There is more hope than harm. Certain parts of the book may be very difficult to read, but you can get through it. If you are nervous, anxious or scared, I ask that you go to Amazon.com and read what readers and companies have said about the book. I would never write and publish a book that deals with such serious content if it didn’t help people.

I was cynical enough to believe there’s no hope left. I was harsh enough to believe nearly everyone was a monster and that compassion was dead. It was at such a time that Robert Uttaro’s book was published. Robert Uttaro is a truly compassionate man who has helped so many people and I respect and admire him with all my heart. Frankly, I have not yet read his book, though I have a copy. Like he’s mentioned, there are parts of it that may be too hard to read, and sexual violence is a topic I am extremely sensitive about. I would strongly urge you to get yourself a copy though. If you wish to get in touch with Robert, you can find his details below:

In addition to this, if you have any questions for Robert, please mention them in the comments box below, or as I mentioned earlier on Facebook, you may inbox me. 

If you wish to buy To The Survivors, here’s the Amazon link.


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Calves In The Mud Room, Jerome O Brown

On the first page of this book, Jerome O Brown had left a small handwritten note. It was just one word – “ENJOY” with his initials underneath. Now, I’ve received a couple of books from authors and some of them have written really nice notes for me. Still, it was this one word that captured my attention. Simple, devoid of any punctuation marks or emoticons. Yet, I could read a smile at the end of the note. Inexplicably, this one word made me feel truly happy that I was holding this book in my hands.

If I could describe Calves In The Mud Room in a sentence, I would say it is just like that handwritten note. Simple, short and yet greatly expressive. Calves In The Mud Room is a novella about an evening in the life of Wade Summers. One of the most popular girls in school has asked him to a dance on Valentine’s Day and all he wants to do is take her out and impress her. But he is having a really tough day as his mother refuses to lend him her car and his stepdad tells him never to bother him at work. Both of them are alcoholics and rather detached from the children. Wade has no choice but to take his late grandfather’s truck, which is in pretty bad shape. To add to all his miseries, a lot of cows on his farm start calving. He has seen his grandfather deliver calves before, but this is the first time he has to do it on his own. He arrives at the Schoonover residence, only to learn his date for the night has already left for the dance. Moreover, her snooty and pretentious parents seem completely contemptuous of him, his truck, and his manure covered shoes. He goes to the dance and later, he confronts his true feelings and comes to terms with the situation at home.

More than anything else, Calves In The Mud Room is a display of Jerome O Brown’s tremendous descriptive prowess. As you read the book, you feel every emotion that Wade is going through. Essentially the story of events that take place on a single night, told so simplistically, yet so beautifully and vividly. Wade Summers is easy to relate to as a confused teenager, finding his way in life. We have all been lost and have had nowhere to turn for guidance. We have all overcome those problems. Wade Summers is that part of us.

This novella was rather short and it ended with some questions. I wonder what happens to Wade after the events in this book. I truly wish to read more from Jerome O Brown.

Rating: 3.5/5

Buy it here:

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Note: This book was sent to me by the author for review.


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The Mark, by A. A. Peterson

Of late, I have been blogging a lot less frequently. It may be a terrible vice, but I have fallen prey to the clutches of online shopping. I cannot stop ordering things, especially clothes, and my cupboard is groaning under all the added weight. It’s so distracting that I am taking really long with my books and that, in my world, is a crime! Anyway, on with the review of The Mark, by A. A Peterson.

Genre(s): Thriller/Spy Thriller, Mafia/Underworld, Medical Experimentation.

Summary: A successful hit-man plans to take on one last job before retiring. The job is described as a suicide mission, and his task is to rescue the son a deceased (killed by him earlier in the novel) underworld gang lord who’s being held captive by a doctor who has just received approval for a groundbreaking drug. The drug is said to cure all violent behavior in criminals. The protagonist realizes that the doctor has a human experimentation lab where the victims/subjects eventually turn to grotesque forms of their former selves, and even turn to cannibalism. Horrified, he decides to kill the doctor (to put a stop to the experimentation), and his accomplice, who is now the reigning mafia lord, but is captured. While in captivity, he learns of the doctor’s reasons for experimentation and also about his plans of ethnic cleansing. He escapes (of course) and is planning his revenge when he realizes there are others out to kill him. He knows he needs to make the first move, in order to survive. Does he succeed? Well, read the book to find out.

Layout: The pace of the book is quite good, neither too fast nor too slow. If there’s one fault with The Mark (and it’s a pretty big fault at that) is that it leaves nothing to the imagination. Being a suspense thriller, it should have kept me on the edge of my seat. But everything is so conveniently served on the platter, that the reader just does not have to think. It’s an easy read and a suspense thriller must never be an “easy read”. During the climactic scene, instead of going, “Gasp! Oh my God!!!” I went more like, “Oh, yeah, ok.” The story takes you from point A to point B with very few to no surprises, as events occur too linearly for there to be room for a shocker. In fact, even through dialogue, our protagonist tells you not only exactly why he is doing what he is doing, but he also tells you that he is going to tell you why. Confusing statement? Let me explain. Our protagonist makes a plan to rescue the kidnapped son. The plan is described. Then the reasons are described. But there’s one single sentence that ruined the whole thing. “The reason why I planned it this way is because I have a theory, which is this:” That whole sentence could’ve been avoided. The reader would have known what’s following is the theory without being told this is a theory. That just sounds repetitive and frustrating to a reader.
The Mark follows the age-old technique of “the least likely suspect is the bad guy”. This would have worked, but the author repeatedly drilled into our brains through the protagonist’s thoughts that said bad guy is the least likely suspect, and is the epitome of all this right with this world. That’s where I figured out the ending.
The narration is in the present tense, which is a difficult thing to keep up. The tense gets lost in places. The story reads like a commentary, “I pick up my gun. I shoot. He falls. There’s blood.” It may go in favor of describing our protagonist as a completely cod-blooded ruthless killer, but he is extraordinarily nonchalant about killing and giving a first hand report. It’s almost like he’s describing the weather.
The flaw with that pattern is, the reader feels absolutely nothing. Even with all the gore that’s described as a part of what the hitman sees in the human experimentation lab, the reader simply shrugs. I must say the scene where the protagonist removes the embedded tracker was brilliantly written, and I actually winced while reading it. I just wish the whole book had been written with the brilliancy of that one scene. After all, it’s a thriller with lots of deaths. That was the effect it should have produced. On the other hand, the result here is a story that lacks credibility. Something a reader “knows” is a work of fiction and does not get transported into the world of the book.

The Mark is a little ripple on the surface of water, when an airplane touches it before ascending again. The genre the book fits into demands that airplane crashes and causes a storm in the ocean. A storm, a reader will remember. A ripple, not so much.

I would say A. A Peterson has the potential to be a great writer. But he must, oh he simply must, not keep things so straightforward and/or casual. Some secrets must unfold in the imagination of the reader and not revealed to before he/she even has time to think about them.

Rating: 2.5/5

If you wish to buy it, here’s the link:

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Note: This book was sent to me by the author for review.

You Are Graduating Soon: What’s After High School? by Kevin Douglas Wright

You Are Graduating Soon: What’s After High School? is not the kind of book that I normally read. The title would make you feel it’s a self help book for students. I thought it would offer advice on how to choose a college or stream of education etc.

But this book is none of those things. What it is is a leaflet written in fairy-tale book sized font, thereby resulting in said leaflet extending to 20+ pages. As a result I don’t know how to review it like a book. What’s the leaflet about? It promotes the author’s online education portal, http://educatezap.com. It also promotes the usage of social media tools to “upgrade” yourself in the world of education.

The author, in his mail to me, did not hide the fact that this is in fact what it is. He insisted on calling it a booklet, and not a book. He also said he is advertising his online education portal through this booklet. This made me wonder, wouldn’t a traditional brochure or pamphlet (in normal sized font) have sufficed the purpose (of advertising)? To promote the website and social media via a semi-hard cover book seems unnecessary.

I am not sure how to give this a rating on a scale, given this isn’t a real book. But all things considered, I would give it a 3/5

Amazon link

PS: This book was sent to me for review by the author.
 

Redwood, by A. Rod Womack

Redwood, by A. Rod Womack is one of those books that you keep putting off because reading it puts you off! An exaggeratedly glorified back cover summary leads you to believe the book is a thriller. But it’s just a bunch of threads (that are sometimes not related to the main story or even to each other) that you feel the narrator uses to grasp and swing forward into the story, like Tarzan and his hanging branches. Ok – that’s a terrible metaphor, but I hope you get the point.

I admit the summary on the back cover is what caught my interest in the first place, because I love thrillers and suspense novels. The misleading summary is as below:

Redwood is a gripping true story of a once successful and popular Baltimore restaurant known for its great cuisine, vivacious musical entertainment, radiant atmosphere and memorable A-List celebrity events. From the beginning, the three young entrepreneurs worked tirelessly to make this restaurant the pinnacle dining experience. The story takes many twists and turns, leading them through a maze of challenges along the way. However, the conflict intensifies when the young men later discover the unthinkable—that all along a serial killer was in their midst. The journey is riveted with humor, intrigue, mystery, conflict, sex, drama and many takeaways for future entrepreneurs. Just as the dust seemed to settle, the owners were introduced to a charming and charismatic con-artist who wanted it all—and attempted to take it all.

If I were to break that summary into pieces, I would start by telling you how utterly ungripping it is. I started reading this book weeks ago, and I would put it down every few lines later. Eventually I got so annoyed with it, that I read a Stephen King, two Dan Browns (in fact, I re-read Angels and Demons) and the Sherlock Holmes series (also, revisited). 

One of the main reasons why I went back to those old books was to get over the terrible writing. Punctuation marks have been murdered, or at least they are in the world that Redwood was written in. Add to that, a bunch of typos and peeve-inducing (if that’s a phrase) grammar (then/than for instance).

Then there are a bunch of characters and Rod goes into How I Met This Person mode at rather random moments in the story. In fact, in my opinion, Redwood is one of those stretched out chewing gum kinda books that you may skip pages of and still feel the story is right where you left off. 

Redwood is a true story. The events described in the book were experienced by Rod Womack, the author, who reminds us every few pages or so that he is a born entrepreneur. While he may be that, he should have skipped trying to be an author before learning the proper usage of commas and apostrophes.  

Rating: 1/5
If you still wanna read it, here’s the link: Amazon  

PS: The book was sent to me for review by Waldorf Publishing.