Box 731

Paul McKellips
iUniverse, 320 pages, (paperback) $19.95, 9781491702802
(Reviewed: November, 2013)

A modern-day anthrax attack rooted in the horrors of World War II-era germ warfare and human experimentation is at the heart of Box 731, a thriller featuring the protagonists from Paul McKellips' previous two novels, Uncaged and Jericho 3.

Box 731 opens with U.S. Navy Capt. Seabury "Camp" Campbell surviving a near-death experience, having been shot accidentally by his beloved, Lt. Col. Leslie Raines, as they stopped a suicide bomber from setting off an explosive vest. Camp doesn't waste much time recuperating, however, as he's soon jetting off to Israel to reunite with Raines and then to Syria for a rescue mission.

Camp isn't just bigger than life; he's bigger than several lives. Our hero is a Navy SEAL turned trauma surgeon, which comes in handy when he takes down a terrorist by leaping six feet through the air to stab the enemy – and immediately thereafter saves several injured people in surgery. This all occurs just a couple of months after Camp's heart stopped on the operating table following the accidental shooting, edging past creative license and into the comic-book realm.

The action scenes in Box 731 are well constructed, and McKellips keeps the narrative moving quickly, though a tangential storyline about wedding plans would have been better off excised. The dialogue also is uneven, with some lines better suited to a romance novel: "You’re my soul mate, Leslie Raines, you – and only you – you are the only reason I came back. And I won’t leave this world again unless you’re in my arms."

Those issues and some overly broad characters keep Box 731 from really hitting its stride, but overall, it's a serviceable thriller with some energetic scenes and suspenseful moments that many readers will enjoy.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Washington, D.C.

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Spiritual Wisdom

Ramesh Malhotra
iUniverse, 352 pages, (paperback) $23.95, 9781475992892
(Reviewed: November, 2013)

What began as author Ramesh Malhotra’s personal spiritual journey evolved into a comprehensive, years-long investigation into the “secrets of eternal wisdom”: the hidden, spiritual knowledge contained within the Bhagavad Gita and other holy scriptures from civilizations around the world and across time.

Spiritual Wisdom is the result, and it is nothing less than a modern-day sacred text that skillfully guides readers through understanding and attainment of eternal principles of spiritual wisdom. Simultaneously, and complementarily, the author documents the spiritual evolutionary process, both from a historical perspective and as a body of knowledge.

“The process of spiritual evolution starts with humanity cultivating a quest to know the Creator,” Malhotra states, and then identifies four distinct categories and stages of spiritual development: mythological wisdom (the origins of faith), inspirational wisdom, transcendental wisdom, and ultimately, Absolute Truth: “the union of individual living spirit with the eternal soul.” Each stage contains both “lower and higher” spiritual knowledge according to the Vedas. Lower knowledge contains five main elements: faith, covenants, dogma, omnipotence, and encirclement; the five higher knowledge elements are primordial force, living force, living spirit, the Trinity, and tranquility.

Although this book is not light reading, Malhotra has done the heavy lifting for readers in distilling the complexities of these and other spiritual stages and elements, as well as the barriers to attaining them, into clear and concise language and signposts.

As with any investigation into sacred writings, there are layers of truth to be gleaned, and the unfolding of realization is subjective and progressive and can take years to come to fruition. Humanity has come a long way toward knowing the truth, says Malhotra, but “the unveiling has just begun and it has millions of years to go.”

Spiritual Wisdom is a significant resource for navigating the long road ahead.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence

Cincinnati, Ohio

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Anvil of God

J. Boyce Gleason
iUniverse, 420 pages, (paperback) $23.95, 9781475990195
(Reviewed: November, 2013)

J. Boyce Gleason’s stellar debut novel—which chronicles the chaos that ensues shortly after Frankish leader Charles Martel’s death in 741—is meticulously researched, vividly imagined, and literally unputdownable: a labyrinthinely plotted work of historical fiction that is just as good as anything written by literary giants such as Ken Follett, Bernard Cornwell, Philippa Gregory, and Stephen R. Lawhead.

Charles the Hammer has done much to strengthen Francia during his de facto rule. A devout Christian and patron to Bishop Boniface, he has subjugated Bavaria, vanquished the pagan Saxons, and halted the expansion of Islam into Western Europe. But now he is dying, and he has decided to divide Francia between his sons Carloman, Pippin, and his youngest son Gripho, whose mother is the Bavarian princess Sunni. But even before Charles is buried, the scheming begins.

The pagan Gripho defiles a church in his new territory, and Carloman, a fanatical Christian, becomes a pawn for Boniface and the Church’s ambitions. The two are soon pitted against one another in a bloody conflict as their sister Trudi, betrothed to a man for political purposes, attempts to flee to the one she loves — with disastrous consequences.

While there are so many exceptional elements to this novel, character development has to be one of the strongest. The central characters are all extraordinarily layered. Trudi, in particular, is a wonderfully complex figure; she’s a warrioress, courageous, empowered and in many ways the linchpin to the entire kingdom, but also vulnerable and naïve to the machinations around her.

The first installment of Gleason’s Carolingian Chronicles, this debut is a “must-read” for anyone who enjoys historical fiction. A rich and evocative writing style, profound character development, relentless pacing, powerful themes (politics, religion, love, betrayal, etc.), and stunning cover art make this a reading experience that fans of historical fiction will not soon forget. A towering, breathtaking work of fiction.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Clifton, Virginia

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Marybell's Story

Roselys Polanco
iUniverse, 54 pages, (paperback) $8.95, 9780595355778
(Reviewed: November, 2013)

In Roselys Polanco's coming-of-age novel, 15-year-old Marybell is trying to cope with her troublesome and turbulent life.

Removed from her parents' custody because of her father's abhorrent abuse and adopted by Jenny and Allan—her "so-called" mom and dad— Marybell "was forced to grow up at an early age" and keep a dark secret. She finds comfort in writing, and she's composed this story—her story—for "you[,] dear reader to figure out who the real victim is, who Marybell truly is, what she's truly about. How much pain she is really feeling. And if she truly does care."

This is a heavy and peculiar directive with which to begin the book, given that Marybell's emotional state is never explicitly described and the majority of the book's action is a rundown of Marybell's exploits with her boyfriend, Angel, and her day-to-day arguments with Jenny. However, it's not a failed technique. Polanco makes a clever switch in point of view by the book's end, thereby bolstering the effect of the direct address and shrouding the cheeky conclusion in mystery.

Regrettably though, this 54-page debut is flawed by a lack of punctuation, awkward transitions between scenes and chapters, and inconsistencies in word usage (i.e. "ok," "okay," and "O.K."). Spelling mistakes also detract from the book's enjoyment: Polanco uses "except" for “accept”; "brake up" for “break up”; and "baby's" for “babies.” Choppy prose, such as, "Yes ok what ever you want baby, lets just leave now and then we have more time together..." thwarts readers' engagement. And, a free-form structure confounds: The book concludes with an entry from Marybell's journal and seven poems written presumably by Marybell.

An extensive edit of Polanco's tale prior to publication would have corrected these missteps and allowed its worthy themes of surviving abuse, transition, and self-awareness to emerge. As it stands, the book's mechanical errors are likely to overpower any reader's attachment to the story.

Also available in ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
New York, New York

Source: BlueInk Reviews

A Shade of Darkness

J.A. Klassen
iUniverse, 383 pages, (paperback) $21.95, 9781475970012
(Reviewed: November, 2013)

This paranormal romance combines elements of Twilight and Pirates of the Caribbean, both PG-13-rated movie series (the first one based on the young adult novels), though it presents an adult tale of sex and violence.

Bronwyn, a lonely 30-year-old writer researching her next book, visits Florida and the Caribbean to learn more about pirates. During her travels she meets Vince, a real pirate and a vampire who can fly, change into a wolf, read minds and mesmerize people. In addition, Vince “looks like Johnny Depp” as Capt. Jack Sparrow and has “gorgeous dark-chocolate eyes” and “a rich, dark scent,” two traits author J.A. Klassen unfortunately mentions every few pages throughout the book.

Without close friends or family to provide a voice of reason, Bronwyn accepts Vince’s invitation to become a vampire. As she learns to hunt and kill for blood, she falls deeper in love with him, and they plan eternity together. That’s when Vince’s nemesis – an evil female vampire and spurned lover who will do anything to prevent his happiness – arrives on the scene.

This novel, told mostly in present tense, which is unusual and uncomfortable in a romance novel, would benefit from aggressive editing. Words and phrases including “aye,” “pretty lady,” “he can smell the arousal on her” and Sparrow’s “What say you?” recur to the point of distraction. Explicit sex scenes and gruesome “feeding” attacks appear so often they lose their thrill.

Besides being repetitive and derivative, the writing displays inconsistent use of Italics for interior monologues, vague and nameless portrayals of nonessential characters and confusing passages – “a sibling of five other children; she’s the middle child. Her parents totally ignored all five of their children.” Paranormal romance lovers willing to overlook the book’s many weaknesses, however, might enjoy the highly descriptive scenes of blood lust.

Also available as an ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Alberta, Canada

Source: BlueInk Reviews

The Book: Why the First Books of the Bible Were Written and Who They Were Written For

Allen Wright
iUniverse, 206 pages, (paperback) $17.95, 9781475972412
(Reviewed: November, 2013)

Allen Wright’s The Book: Why The First Books of the Bible Were Written and Who They Were Written For explores the literary and historical events that influenced the first 10 books of Hebrew Scripture.

Looking at how neighboring cultures helped shape the Hebrews’ understanding of God, Wright’s book doesn’t break new ground; Bible scholars and historians have dedicated much time, especially recently, exploring, for example, the similarities between the story of Noah and the great flood depicted in the ancient Sumerian text, Gilgamesh (which may have been written 2,000 years before the Hebrew Scriptures were recorded). Yet, Wright’s sincerity shines through in his easy-to-read summaries.

Some constructive criticism: One, the book is not footnoted so it’s tough to discern what’s fact and what’s speculation. Two, Chapter 18, a personal story about an early encounter with a young Jewish woman, would work better as a preface rather than as an ending, in part because it sets up the author’s intention for his work: to increase awareness and strip down barriers. Three, the book should be divided into parts to help readers navigate the big ideas (the first part being his introductory material, the second, his examination of the selected books of the Bible, and third, his wrap-up and conclusions of his intellectual journey). Four, a good copyeditor is needed to tighten the text and to catch the numerous grammatical and spelling mistakes throughout the book (there are two mistakes on the jacket alone: the subtitle should use “whom” not “who,” and “interpretation” is misspelled on back cover).

While many people interested in biblical history will know that the Old Testament wasn’t written in a vacuum, with more polish Wright’s book could serve as a nice introduction to the historical background behind the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Bessemer, Michigan

Source: BlueInk Reviews

The Bullynator

E. Fanjon
iUniverse, 323 pages, (paperback) $19.95, 9781475990485
(Reviewed: November, 2013)

In E. Fanjon's debut book for adolescents, The Bullynator, a headmaster must prove his ability to run a peaceful, friendly school in order to earn a promotion, and a student helps him by battling a group of nasty, antagonizing students.

JFK is a popular, prestigious high school, but a small, menacing clique has the other students in its tight-fisted grip. The worst is Jack, whose father is an abusive prison guard. David, the book's hero, posits that he and his close-knit friends have become targets because Jack and his gang hate seeing others happy.

As the school year continues, David and his group learn to work together, using their wiles, courage and good humor to fight the bullies. Reader will cheer these students as they challenge the bullies with smart repartee and word play. Soon, the group's kindness and sense of justice grows contagious, and the rest of the school joins their anti-bullying bandwagon.

Fanjon has created an impressive cast of distinctive, quirky characters. Most memorable is Neville, a witty British exchange student, and David’s girlfriend’s eccentric grandmother.

One oddity in an otherwise solid narrative is the inordinate attention paid to characters' heights. The differential between David (average height) and Carrie (a staggering 6' 4 ½”) is frequently referred to, though never explained beyond the fact itself. And their physical relationship seems rather odd: “Carrie walked around the pool, swaying David back and forth in her arms like a baby...”; “...David wished Carrie would wrap him in her soft wool coat, pick him up… warming him like a baby in a blanket.”

What Fanjon does best is capture the myriad personalities in the microcosm of an American high school, as well as seamlessly weave so many threads together. In addition, he does a fine job of handling topics of racial prejudice and class inequality, and the story's ending is a triumph without being unrealistic or clichéd, making it particularly satisfying.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Tampico, Mexico

Source: BlueInk Reviews

Misunderstood: Healing Jason Sutter

Jay Sherfey
iUniverse, 207 pages, (paperback) $14.95, 9781462059621
(Reviewed: November, 2013)

Jay Sherfey’s new middle reader novel introduces Jason Sutter, a 13-year-old foster child who must come to terms with his burgeoning telepathic superpowers.

In 1962, in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jason arrives at a new foster home. His foster parents, Frank and Lydia Dubois, game the foster care system, taking in the most damaged kids and selling the medicine they are prescribed. Jason’s out-of-control behavior is a result of the overwhelming sensations his telepathic powers cause.

Slowly, through bonding with his foster sister, Suzy, his classmate, Russ, and a group of adults that includes a science teacher, the town librarians and a Taiwanese agriculture professor, Jason begins to understand his powers and use them in positive ways – and discover that there are others like him. But a darker force, known as the Community, is eager to harness Jason’s abilities, forcing him to protect those he has come to care about by making a difficult choice.

Misunderstood: Healing Jason Sutter is the first book in a series, which makes some vagueness in the plot, particularly surrounding the Community, understandable. Still, the book feels thin. Sherfey introduces new characters and plot complications at a rapid clip that too often forsakes details and development that would engage young readers. (There are a few welcome exceptions, including an argument between Russ and Jason over the hardness of a chair, a budding romance between one of the librarians and the science teacher and Frank’s developing sense of compassion.) And, though it’s a historical novel, Misunderstood offers little to no sense of the early 1960s.

Though Misunderstood has some appealing moments and a high-concept premise, it lacks the heft to stand out in the crowded YA paranormal/fantasy field.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Worcester, Massachusetts

Source: BlueInk Reviews