Trampling in the Land of Woe – William Galaini

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

Exceptional

“Perhaps Hell is a place where you’re surrounded with thousands of others that feel as lost as you die, but nobody speaks of it”, he muttered to the dead Yitz on his back, then grunted at the irony.”

 

Hephaestion, lauded general and soul mate of Alexander the Great – and now a citizen of Purgatory – embarks on the biggest mission of his life: descending into the Pit of Hell and rescue his love, his King. Aided by unexpected allies, Hephaestion is tested with boundaries of love, loyalty and realises that even after death, his greatest demon is he himself.

The cover of the image and the title itself is dark enough to attract your attention, but true power of the book resides in its succinct description. Introducing Hephaestion as the lead character who is also known as Alexander the Great’s historic best friend, second-in-command and lover, the book evolves into this journey of hell and purgatory and human moralities that are often a factor. I must credit the author for the brilliant job he has done in creating a world that is so out of context and yet often mentioned in our moral dilemmas and numerous fictions.

The strength of the book resides completely in the plot, the backdrop that has been crafted to enable it, and the strength of its lead character. Each complexity of the book has been carefully factored in, and with equal dedication, it has been dealt with as well. The dramatization of the elements helped in capturing the attention of the readers and keeping them involved. Despite the mention of romantic relationship between Hephaestion and Alexander, it was a relief to not read upon sexual details about their relationship. The subtle respect that has been shown to the romantic element helps in establishing the plot and also helps in the evolution of the storyline to the conclusion.

The narrative style is smooth, personal and dramatic enough to ensure that the readers are involved till the very end.

If you are a Greek History fan or have read Dante Alighieri’s Inferno or just want to read something dark and different, then you will definitely like this book.

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Quest for Kriya – Rahul Deokar

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Her aroma engulfed him, enticing him to stay. A few seconds seemed like an eternity, but still not enough. Strangers that they were, they stood lost in each other anyway, holding their longing gaze for some timeless moments. All the responsibilities that held them back, and all the possibilities they could let loose, whirled around them in turmoil.”

After reading text like this,  I would normally close the book and chalk up my disappointment to the fact that I’m not a romantic and don’t like most romance novels. However, since I am telling you about Quest for Kriya there must be something else, something enticing about this novel.

Shakti, a teenager, lost everything and everyone from an earthquake in her hometown of Latur, India in September 1993. She went to Bombay and contacted Kriya, the daughter of a family friend with whom she hadn’t spoken with in two years. Kriya took care of her, and even helped her become a flight attendant.

That is how Shakti met Shiva, the owner of a software start-up in San Francisco. Before now, work consumed his life and he had no time for anything else.  However,  on his rise up the Silicon Valley ladder, he managed to make a few enemies along the way.

After the two meet, Kriya goes missing and Shakti feels lost and  is determined to find her. This makes enemies for Shakti also.  When she goes on this quest she realizes that there is so much more at stake for Mumbai.

“I want the whole fucking world at my feet. All the people who ever cheated me, ridiculed me, put me down…I want them groveling, scared, and pleading at my feet.”  Readers, I told you this would get interesting.

In the quest for finding Kriya we learn about the drug culture, corruption and criminal underworld from Mumbai to Thailand. Author Rahul Deokar also gives us a cultural tour of Mumbai with all its local color and to a lesser extent that of the islands off of the Andaman Sea in Thailand. We also learn the cultural differences and similarities between East and West. What seems to be universal, though, is people’s quest to find themselves and reconcile their past.

Quest for Kriya weaves romance and spiritual overtones with gritty and graphic mood and dialogue.  It’s these contrasts, along with the in-depth characterizations and a well-written story that will keep you reading on.

 

Posted in Crime, Mystery and Thrillers, Culture, Romance, San Francisco | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Disillusioned – Christy Barritt

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

Nikki Wright is desperately looking for help for her traumatised brother, who escaped from a detainment camp run by terrorists in Colombia and is now undergoing  an extreme case of PTSD.

Or is it really the case?

Her brother is definitely not the same person. But all his paranoia and hallucinations seems to be coming from something. With the help of her ex-boyfriend, Kade Wheaton, another former SEAL, Nikki has to find out what is true from the web of lies. After all, her and Kade’s life, her brother’s sanity and the entire fate of the nation depends on it.

The plot definitely lives up to its name. It has the right mix of drama, action and thrills that keep the reader engrossed. The lead characters are definitely interesting and work well with the plot outline and add an interesting set of dimensions to the plot, thereby amping up the reading experience of the book.

The narration style is quite simple and keeps in mind the genre of the book. I believe this enables the whole getting-lost-in-the-pages feeling. The cover image could have been a little more dramatic, keeping pace with the style of the book, but the title manages to deliver.

I am not a conspiracy fanatic but I definitely love reading books of this nature. I’m definitely recommending it.

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Divine Orchestration (The Glad Game Revisited – Your 21 Day Journey into Vibrational Alignment) – Alva v.H

(Reviewed by Cathy Carey)


Given all the negative media doom and gloom, it’s nice to be reminded that I have the power to change myself from within.

Alva v H reminds us to give thanks for what is RIGHT in our lives instead of what’s wrong in
Divine Orchestration (The Glad Game Revisited – Your 21 Day Journey into Vibrational Alignment. This first in a three book series was written to help the reader find their way back to a natural state of joy and happiness.

Alva v H reminds us of the importance of play and gratitude to tune out the negativity in our lives. “The flourishing of ‘Cognitive Neuroscience’ – which is the study of the relationships between brain activity, thinking and acting-has led to new insights into the role and the importance of play for mind and body has been well documented.’

When we focus on Gratitude everything we are seeing and feeling changes. She interjects phrases to say and exercises to complete that will help calm your mind. She suggests keeping a journal to list the things you appreciate.

Divine Orchestration is good for both readers trying to get more meaning of this thing called Life as well as a tune up for those of us already on the path.

This book is not a burden that you feel you have to get through as it’s only eighty three pages. It also reminds you of the basic tools you already have within you.

I am currently reading the second book in the series, but I absolutely I will refer back to this one and use it to fine tune my attitude when it starts going negative.

In the end you will be happier that you took the time to align yourself with an attitude of gratitude in your life.

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Beat the Rain – Nigel Jay Cooper

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“It scarcely seems possible that they’ve settled back into ordinary life…Painful, gut-wrenching normal life, killing them bit by bit as the seconds tick by….Life disappears behind them in a trail of sameness, the lies and unsaid truths inside them both growing cavernous, echo chambers deep within to get lost in. And like grey steps leading to infinity, the days stack up and up, identical, cold and unremarkable. “

Louise and Adam yearned to feel something…anything. But let’s back up a bit.

Louise was in love with Tom, but he kept his terminal illness a secret from her and his twin brother, Adam. Upon his death, Louise felt abandoned, just like she was as a child by her mother. Adam was grieving too; part of him was missing.

Through their grief and a request from a video made by a dying Tom, Louise and Adam get married and have kids. Yes, you’ve read this scenario before… but this is one is different. They become tired with each other, their annoying friends and their lives. Louise realizes that she’s not cut out for motherhood, perhaps just like her mother.

All of a sudden a man enters their lives and both Louise and Adam start to feel again. He’s the person, the friend, who stirs up that something inside of them. They become more positive and excited about life.

There’s more to it though. Maybe you have to appreciate your friends who express themselves as they truly are. Maybe you just can’t escape your past. Maybe you always want something more. Maybe some of us are just so emotionally damaged beyond repair.

As you can see, there are so many layers to Beat the Rain. When you think you’ve peeled away the last one, there is another section glaring you in the face. Blame, secrets, lies, rejection, self-identify…it doesn’t stop.

The ending is well thought out and makes a lot of sense. In fact each element of the story is strategically placed.

This debut novel is so compelling and well-written. In fact, it’s one of the best novels of its kind that I have read in quite a long time. Beat the Rain makes the sometimes arduous task of “discovering literary gems” all worthwhile. I hope that Nigel Jay Cooper is working on another novel. He’s one author to keep an eye out for.

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Two Legged Snakes: Understanding and Handling Manipulative People – Dr. Ed Slack

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

Like many Americans, I’ve been disenchanted with U.S. politics and all  three branches of government. This reminds me of a book I read and reviewed in 2010. Unfortunately, nothing has changed.

We’re constantly bombarded by people who are trying to manipulate or deceive us. They can be public figures, such as politicians or religious leaders. They can work behind a name, like business people and advertisers. They can also be family, friends, lovers, bosses, and co-workers. In other words, they come in all different forms. How can we detect these “two legged snakes” and, more importantly, protect ourselves from their influence or bite? Dr. Edward Slack, a psychologist who specializes in working with gifted and manipulative people, tells us exactly how in his book, Two Legged Snakes: Understanding and Handling Manipulative People.

Why the term “snakes”? A notorious snake manipulated Eve into taking a bite of that infamous apple. Falling victim to these snakes is nothing new. Dr. Slack shows readers through examples, cartoons, and a lot of humor how one becomes a “Bipedal Snake” (BS), and he explores the types of BSs—such as charmers, backstabbers, and bilkers—and their styles of deception. Let’s not forget the types of BS fans (apple biters)—the True Believer vs. the WannaBe. Unfortunately, these apple biters are the ones who give the snakes their power.

How do we handle these snakes? It’s not always easy. What happens if a BS is a family member that you can’t avoid? How do you handle a formerly good person who has gone over to the snaky side? How can you tell a true expert from a total BSer? Dr. Slack addresses each of these conditions and more. He also acknowledges the role of our own emotional baggage—as many of us try to “cure an old snake bite by fixing a new snake.” He also advises us how to build healthy friendships. And let’s not forget that we must figure out what we really want versus what others try to pound in our heads.

Since the instructional portion of this book is barely over 100 pages in length, Two Legged Snakes is quick and informative. And, as you can tell, it’s also a fun and enjoyable read. At the end of the book, Dr. Slack even includes multiple copies of the “Two Legged Snake Spotters Checklist” for you to complete when you think you’ve spotted a Bipedal Snake. Don’t worry; if someone sees you filling it out, you won’t look paranoid. They’ll have no idea that you’re assessing or spying on them unless they’ve read the book. It looks like a comical worksheet, but it also reinforces the concepts that you’ve learned throughout the book.

I recommend Two Legged Snakes for those who have been bitten and are fed up with being manipulated or deceived. Now, isn’t that all of us?

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Friendly Fire- John Gilstrap

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

In a fit of rage and as an act of vengeance, Barista boy Ethan Falk stabs a customer to death. On his arrest, he tells an eleven year old implausible story of kidnap and molestation where he was saved by a guy named Scorpion. Implausible because there is no record of the dead guy, the kidnapping or  the rescue, and definitely no record of any guy called Scorpion. After all, that is the job description of Scorpion aka Jonathan Grave; to exist and protect beyond the realms of possibility.

Grave takes it upon himself to protect and defend his former precious cargo once again, without revealing his true identity while uncovering an ongoing terrorist plot amidst the heart of America. Can they stop the wheel of time and save the day?

There is not a single dull moment when a well-written action thriller ends up in your hands. Each chapter, or rather each page, is a head turner and readers are sucked into the realm of action fantasy. The plot has been well-written and explored to its full potential and you can see it in the way you get involved. The narrative style and grasp of the language is easy to follow and helps in making it such a thrilling read.

Though there are too many characters introduced to keep your head wrapped around, each one of them serves a purpose and it was a pleasure to see how all the loose ends were tied up in the climax. The characters are well portrayed and will make you want to cherish and follow them.

There is nothing original about the cover image unfortunately. I have seen it repeated too many times and hence I can’t express my joy over it. But there is nothing detracting about it, especially when it compliments so well with the main plot and the title that has been chosen.

John Gilstrap has managed to capture the essence of a perfect action thriller. Though Vince Flynn has been my favourite when it comes to action thrillers, I will not discount the work of this author for times when I don’t get my favorites. A definite recommendation.

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The Devil’s Defender: My Odyssey Through American Criminal Justice from Ted Bundy to the Kandahar Massacre – John Henry Browne

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Does helping the devil make you a devil too? That is, while defending Ted Bundy did I somehow absorb evil?”

Many question the motives of attorneys like John Henry Browne as to why they agree to defend serial killers such as the notorious Ted Bundy. Is it for fame, money or ego; or is it really a commitment that everyone, —no matter how evil, or how atrocious the crime— deserves a fair trial? If the suspect is found not guilty or is released on bail and commits another crime, is the attorney partially to blame?

These questions come to the forefront as John Henry Browne writes about his cases as a criminal defense attorney. Some defendants have little chance of acquittal, so his aim is to persuade the court from issuing the death penalty.

Brown didn’t just defend serial killers, but also killers who were victims, themselves. Many were  abused women who had finally had enough.

How about the soldier suffering from PTSD who finally snapped after four deployments to Afghanistan? Sixteen innocent civilians, mostly women and children, were murdered. Why shouldn’t the U.S. military take some responsibility for not treating a soldier who they knew was mentally ill? He also talks about the “stacked deck” of military tribunal justice.

Though I decided to read The Devil’s Defender because of the subject of Ted Bundy, the book is actually a memoir. After treating the reader to the bait of a little Bundy, Browne goes into his early life. I must admit I almost closed the book and put it away for good during the first part. I have read so many baby boomer autobiographies and this one really wasn’t that different—except for the part about possibly dropping acid in Spiro Agnew’s cocktail. That was nice.

I’m glad I hung in there though, as Browne’s life story helped to explain why he thinks the way he does.

And yes, he got back to Bundy, and other fascinating cases, as well as attempting to go into the minds of these killers. An added bonus are more letters to him from Ted Bundy. Just as interesting though,  is that he exposes the corruption of the criminal justice system.

If you are vehemently pro-death penalty, you may not appreciate this book.  Then again, it’s worth hearing his side.  I’m on the fence on that issue.  However, I’m decidedly pro reading  The Devil’s Defender for those interested in crime thrillers… the real ones.

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Deception Island – Brynn Kelly

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

Exceptional

A kidnapped son.

A soldier with a haunted and tainted past.

A cornered con woman looking to leave her past behind.

A deadly game that has head, heart and lives at stake.

The happiest days for me are when a book lives up to all the expectations. Reading an intriguing description definitely tickles your curiosity bone, especially when you combine it with a distinctive title and a vivid and desolate cover image. But as you lead through the pages of the book (or slide your fingers on kindle) you will definitely end up venturing into the same adventure as the characters that the author has fictionalised.

The plot is excellently well thought out; you can see from the way it has been panned out, there is no room for error anywhere. Each moment has a thrill element that will snare your attention as a reader. The vivid setting definitely adds another element to the entire reading experience. The characters are well thought out and portrayed in a way that makes you want to connect with them, or in my case, just fix them if I was the heroine here. This kind of connection with characters helps in making a book successful. The addition of human elements like the sex trafficking ring and child soldiers helped in making a simple action romance into something much more substantial.

What I loved about this book was that while being an action thriller/ adventure fiction, the book manages to check all the right boxes. But the essence of simplicity and smooth narration has not been compromised in the entirety of the book.

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Outsider in Amsterdam (Amsterdam Cops) – Janwillem Van De Wetering

(Reviewed by JD Jung)


“Papuans…He saw the wild men from the early ages who once populated the swamp that, now, today, was called Holland.”

Today in 1970’s Amsterdam, most have learned about these people from the Dutch colony of New Guinea in school, but few had ever met one. Also, in 1970’s Amsterdam—on a somewhat unrelated note— murders are few and far between.

So partners, Detective-Adjutant Gripstra and Sergeant de Gier, will soon find their purpose as policemen.

They are called to the hindist society where a man is hanging from the ceiling as an apparent suicide. This man is Piet Verboom, the head of the society and a Papuan. The more the two detectives look into the situation, the more it looks like murder: with multiple suspects from religious/business associates to an ex-wife and almost everyone who had contact with Verboom. Of course this leads to a variety of possible motives, some involving a pregnant lover,  miso soup, hash and heroin.

Originally published in 1975, the late Janwillem van de Wetering, referred to his experience as a part-time policeman as the motivation for his novels.

Outsider in Amsterdam is a tightly knit crime novel that explores racism and the effects of colonialism, along with the city’s long-standing drug culture. It was the first of thirteen novels in the “Amsterdam Cop” series featuring the two detectives: Gripstra– older, portly, married and badly-dressed, and de Gier, unmarried, womanizing and somewhat philosophical. Luckily these two, opposites in appearance and personality, report to an elder commissari, who at first seems somewhat bumbling. However unlike police captains and high ranking officers in most detective novels, he provides an experienced and intuitive perspective to their cases.

Though there is nothing bizarre or extraordinary to classify this as a “must-read”, I think that fans of crime novels with a cultural angle will enjoy this one.

Posted in Crime, Mystery and Thrillers, Culture, Lost and almost forgotten, Translated World Literature | Tagged , | Leave a comment