Score: 93+/100 (9.3+ out of 10)
Wait, this is a work of fiction?! No. There's not way. There is absolutely no way that this is fiction. Everything in this book sounds so real, so genuine, so sincere. It's almost as if you—the reader—are there with the protagonist, cheering for them, suffering with them, crying with them, angry with them, gritting your teeth with them.
This book, at the very least, has to have its roots in the actual experiences of the author or someone close to them. Every now and then we've encountered a book like this that sounds too real to be fiction. Some examples include The Prodigal Father by Forrest Hutter and Just Arrived by Bona Udeze. These are some of the best books we've ever read, and The Little Toy Car is in great company.
All three of these authors were somehow able to take a realistic story about a person just trying to live their best life against insurmountable odds, and elevate these stories with solid writing and characters.
This book in particular excels in one key way: PAYOFF.
You get some of the best payoffs of any book here. The people who deserve to get their @#$es kicked tend to get their #$%es kicked. And we just love it! We were on our feet, smiling, jumping, and cheering whenever the main character took a stand for himself.
Speaking of the main character, this book follows Gene Oliver Dixon from his very early years into adulthood. This book is essentially a bildungsroman about the wild, tragic, yet inspiring life of Gene, an aspiring musician who grew up in an abusive, hyperreligious household.
Gene's battles to keep his life from being defined by two key events:
1. When he stole a little toy car from a neighbor's house (“my first mistake as a child”), thus giving the book its name, 2. Growing up following the rules of his abusive step-dad, Jacob.
What incredible is that these two events keep coming up throughout the book, but they come up with added layers and context. For example, a cult-like Bible studies teacher named Colton is able to reopen the wound of that early act of theft, trying to guilt Gene that it was that sin that led to the death of Jesus. This actually affects Gene deeply, even when he's just pretending to be church-going to get lodging.
This also highlights one of the book's reoccurring themes: religious hypocrisy and psychological manipulation. Gene is set up to be manipulated by cult-like people of all kinds, everyone from Jacob to Joe, and from Colton to Melissa. All of these people try to control Gene in different ways, largely playing on his moral compass and his desperation.
And, while this book is highly critical of organized religion, it actually attempts to show both sides: the evils of both religion and secularism—control and chaos. Incredibly, despite the many evil manipulators in this book, one of Gene's worse enemies is himself.
Even when freeing himself of Jacob—a glorious and grand moment that could've concluded the whole book—Gene doesn't ride off into the sunset. Even when rejecting religion, it doesn't fix all of his problems. In fact, it leads to some new ones. He develops drug addictions, associates with people like Melissa, and even fantasizes about getting into a shootout with the FBI. Regarding the latter, he even views this shootout scenario as a way of committing suicide while killing as many people as possible. So, Gene, despite being a very sympathetic character, is actually rather monstrous in his own right. And Gene isn't above using and manipulating people to meet his own ends like when he lies to John and Colton about his actual intentions and his loyalty in order to get free housing.
Another very interesting thing about this book is how it follows Gene practically all of the country and the world, all the way from LA to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Hawaii, and even to Australia. The author is actually from Argentina of all places, so it's incredible how much they know about all of these locations and their cultures.
Jacob stands out as one of the most despicable villains we've ever read about. He stands out for his two-faced, hypocritical nature, the way he weasels his way into Gene's life, and just how terrible a person he is.
You also get some fascinating flashbacks of Gene's mother and father, an ex-con, as well as a rather incredible encounter with the FBI.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
A Dream of Shadows is a vividly-written, character-driven fantasy adventure novel by Peter Elliott. It tends to lean on the side of dark fantasy. Although it isn't particularly violent, gory, or M-rated, it takes the perspective of miscreant characters who prefer to work and operate under the cover of night, frequently getting into violent conflict with those who stand in their way.
It follows burglar-turned-mercenary Vazeer the Lash as he is recruited to assassinate Count Ulan Gueritus, the infamous “Raving Blade,” a job Vazeer takes because of his desperate state. He even admits that dying on this mission wouldn't be the worst thing, giving us a hint of how miserable his relatively young life has been (“To tell you the truth, I almost welcomed it”).
As you might expect, this relatively straight-forward objective takes Vazeer on some winding, weaving turns, meeting new and old faces—friends and foes—and learning the hard way that things aren't what they initially seemed...
While the plot isn't particularly special, the characters and the world-building are next-level!
Vazeer, a so-call Shadow Bidder, is a particularly compelling character. He kinda reminds us, strangely, of Fool from The People Under the Stairs (although he's obviously older, likely in his 20s because the word “decades” is used to describe his experiences). Like Robin Hood, he's kinda a noble thief. You can tell that the government(s) in the world he lives in are not particularly good or well-meaning, and the common folk suffer as a result. People like Vazeer do what they do to survive.
One thing the author does really well is getting us into Vazeer's head. We learn about his hard life as an unwanted and abused orphan. We learn that he also has a rebellious and likely resentful spirit (“exasperated adult figures had tried desperately to control me”). We learn that he is rough around the edges, gaining the nickname “Scuff” because of all the fights he got into when he was younger. Still, we are also reminded that Vazeer—despite having a cool name, reputation, and nickname—isn't some kind of powerhouse. First of all, he claims he isn't particularly good at using large weapons like swords and maces. He's more like a ninja, a stealth fighter, an ambusher, a guerrilla fighter. He's probably an average-sized male, likely suffering some degree of malnutrition due to circumstances in the land. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in cunning, grit, and feistiness. In other words, he's a Daniel Bryan or an Edge. In fact, what's kinda funny is the description “ultimate opportunist” is used to describe Vazeer (a nickname for Edge). Hey, wait a minute... he's also said to come from a “Brood.” Does Peter Eliott watch pro wrestling?
You also get to know Vazeer on some deeper levels, including some semblance of hopes and dreams. His favorite quote is “The maddest and grandest of dreams will summon forth the means.” This implies that he sees these money-making/networking tasks he undertakes as stepping stones to eventual greatness, or at least a better life. His lifelong hero, the man who spoke/wrote his favorite quote, is King Aurellis Kaennamin, someone he seems to aspire to be like. All of this kinda reminds us of Griffith from Berserk. He also enjoys reading, and he never seems to shut up about his doggone reading chair and its harbeen (some kind of “Old World instrument” attached to the chair), probably the most valued thing(s) he owns.
You also get to know Vazeer's inner-demons: his self-deprecating thoughts, his doubt, and his guilt. He says, “I hope there isn't actually a Hell,” fearing that he has committed enough bad deeds to go there.
Other characters like Count Gueritus and Nascinthe are also standouts.
Let's talk about Nascinthe a little bit, Vazeer's sister-figure/childhood best friend/girlfriend. Nascinthe, like Vazeer, is a rather compelling character. Her bright blue eyes, cleanliness, and femininity stand in clear contrast to the darkness, dirtiness, grittiness, and masculinity that dominate Vazeer and his world. She is a bright spot in Vazeer's dark life. Vazeer says that he “felt something celestial” from her before then talking about hell.
Yet, because Vazeer loves her so much and wants to protect her so badly, he's willing to be apart from her, knowing that he invites danger. He also encourages her to use her talents to become an actress, pursuing her dream. This again highlights how great a character Vazeer is.
Nascinthe may be a candidate for “Hottest Character” and she and Vazeer may be nominees for “Best Couple”/ “Best Dynamic Duo.”
The other way in which this book shines is the world-building. You are introduced to a society that is sharply divided and segregated between groups and categories: Shadow Bidders, Grell runners, underlords, the overlord, counts, countesses, common soldiers, peasants. You get a feeling of this large, expansive land and all the different people in it.
The last way in which this book shines is how eloquently and vividly it is written. Here are some examples:
“...moist feminine taste”
“...metallic muscles stretched and frozen at their deadly apex”
“...the hot flush of victory”
There are countless examples of beautiful, descriptive language used.
However, it does get grating or cloying after a while, especially since it sometimes slows down the pacing. This book feels a lot longer than it is because of the way it's written, and fewer things happen than you'd expect to advance the plot. The plot just can't seem to get into that next gear, even when you get the twists and turns you do. You can't help but lose patience, especially when Vazeer starts describing his doggone reading chair and its precious harbeen thing for the 100th time. Character development is usually a positive thing, but this book takes it to the extreme and bogs us down into Vazeer's thoughts and the whole story of his life. It was like being stuck upside down on a roller-coaster at one time. Like, c'mon, let's go already!
Writing this review really helped us to appreciate the good about this book, so we elevated it from a 9.3 to a 9.4.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 88/100 (8.8 out of 10)
Sinful Duty is a steamy, erotic murder mystery by Philip Burbank Pallette. It stars “stud priest” Grant Stevenson, smoking hot female cop Stefanie Craig, and police sergeant Ricky Kincaid.
After a sexy, steamy encounter, Grant discovers that one of his recent bed mates, Karen Lucas, has been found dead—her body dumped in his office. Among the chief suspects of this murder are Officer Alex Rogers, Karen's husband (Lance Lucas), and Grant himself.
This is one of those books that starts one way and winds up a completely different way. It's a classic whodunnit with a sexy twist.
Having read our share of mystery/detective novels (and books about real-life crime cases), this one probably lies somewhere in the middle. It was probably one of the more difficult cases for us to figure out. Per the norm with these books, there are a lot of sketchy, despicable characters in here who could be involved in the murder(s).
If you enjoy murder mysteries, you might really enjoy this!
With that said, there are things about this book that really troubled us. We had a similar feeling to some of the works of another author about a year ago. It's ok to be edgy. It's ok to write about disturbing things, but it needs to have a point. There needs to be a really, really, really good reason for it to be in there. It can't just be shock & awe for the sake of shock & awe, it needs to have a major place in the narrative and the ability to justify its existence in the story. Among these disturbing things are incest (between a father and daughter), sexual abuse and pedophilia (by a priest), and very insensitive language designated for certain groups of people. It kept having us thinking: is this all really necessary? Like, does it help or hinder the story? Does it help or hinder the character building?
You could argue that the fact that Gary scores a hit on his abuser is satisfying and sets him up to be a bad@$$. Ok. But did it have to go down that way? Did it have to paint Christian leaders as corrupt and lecherous? Did it have to involve a child/children? Did these encounters have to be described in such detail?
Like, when you read that this is a “steamy” romance book, you think you know what you're signing up for. Sexual encounters between consenting adults is fine. It might even be exciting. This is one of the bestselling genres on the planet for a reason.
Yes, some of the sexual encounters between consenting adults are hot and steamy. There are vivid, visceral descriptions of c**ks and stuff. But when it comes to kids being sexually exploited and assaulted, you need to describe these types of things with far more tact. To a lesser extent, the same can be said about derogatory terms for certain people. These are words that shouldn't just be sprinkled in like salt and pepper. They hold weight.
And, furthermore, these things really aren't that big a part of this story. They are sorta a part of Grant being Grant, such as when he learns Aikido to defend himself, but again... did it have to be a sexual encounter with an adult (as a child) that inspired it?
There is so much sex in this book. It almost becomes hilarious and over-the-top. Everyone and everything needs to reach its climax, even the church service “climaxed” (pg. 31)!
The actual murder-mystery is fascinating and could stand on its own.
Going back to Grant, we are repeatedly told that he has muscular sclerosis (MS), something we're personally familiar with. It is very interesting to see it represented in fiction, but, as with the other things we mentioned, it seems more like a sprinkling or garnishing on a much bigger meal, practically a decoration. It really doesn't play that big of a role in the plot or what Grant does. Also, Grant is one of those really frustrating protagonists who puts himself in really bad situations. If he'd been responsible and hadn't been having an affair/being a homewrecker, he wouldn't have been the primary suspect in this murder case. So, it's kinda hard to sympathize or empathize with him, unless it's to sympathize with him in the way you sympathize with a character in a Sacha Baron Cohen or Adam Sandler movie. These are the kinds of protagonists you kinda want to punch in the face, yet you don't want to see them die or end up in jail.
In a lot of ways, Kincaid is the real main protagonist. For one, he is actually leading the effort to solve the case. He is actually performing the interviews with (and finding) suspects. He is actually Stefanie's supervisor and partner in solving these crimes. It is a little interesting to have multiple main characters on different sides of this case.
A character who we really loved was Stefanie. She is so cool, so capable, and so hot. She is definitely a candidate for “Hottest Character.” She is described so well and in such a flattering, appealing manner. It is really cool to see her in action, showing off her jiu-jitsu skills.
The stakes in this book really rise when the body-count rises. We are pressed with the questions: Is there a serial-killer on hand? Are these “suicides” really suicides?
This book will keep you on the edges, on your toes, and guessing.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 93+/100 (9.3+ out of 10)
The Intrepid is a thought-provoking, riveting sci-fi adventure novel that explores space travel and colonization from a realistic lens akin to something like Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. It later successfully incorporates mystery and thriller elements.
This is definitely an exceptional book with phenomenal world-building, interesting characters, and what turns out to be a pretty compelling plot. It is an example of a book that turned us around. It sharply changed our opinions of it about a quarter of the way through. The thing is, the first quarter of this book seemed plotless, plodding, and slow with the author choosing to use the first hundred pages to set up characters and explain their space-adventuring, age-defying predicament rather than any particular conflict or advancement in the story. No, advancing in distance crossed isn't necessarily advancing in plot.
One thing we immediately noticed about this book (and that really caught us off guard) was that it was written in present-tense. This is extremely rare in our experience with the grand majority of books being written in past-tense. So, it was a bit jarring, but it was also fresh and different. One series we can think of that successfully employed present-tense was the Hunger Game series, but it often requires a writer with the skill of Suzanne Collins and with characters like Katniss Everdeen to pull off. That level of skill and character are far and in between. However, Arnie Benn delivers a valiant and rather impressive effort.
The thing about present-tense is that it reads sorta like those case studies in a medical journal article or textbook. For example, “John Doe is a 63-year-old male admitted to the hospital with pounding chest pain...”
It has a very scientific, matter-of-fact presentation and feel, which is ironic and perhaps fitting because this is a novel heavily rooted in science and research. It might take a reader a bit to adjust to.
This did have two advantages:
1. It contributed to a sense of suspense since events are described as they are happening. This forces the reader to be on their toes.
2. It contributed to differentiating the current events with the flashback sequences (particularly describing the characters before the mission) which are written in past-tense.
Once you get used to reading this tense, it's not bad at all. As we said, it works for this particular story because of its themes and genre.
The book follows the brave and diverse crews of the Centaurian I and II, spaceships sent to explore a nearby star system (Alpha Centauri) that is said to include at least one Earth-like planet (in the “Goldilocks zone” of the star). Several developments in technology and circumstances on Earth allow for and encourage their interstellar journey, particularly the advent of age-defying and high speed space travel technologies. These characters are allowed to transverse distances that previously were not possible to be traveled in a lifetime.
As stated, the situation on the Earth seems to encourage this type of travel. It would seem that the planet experienced catastrophic events about thirty years before the events of the book. We also gathered that attempts had already been made to colonize Mars, which was rendered uninhabitable due to its loss of atmosphere. The United Nations is restructured into an organization known as the WSSA (World Sovereign States Alliance) which prioritizes the colonization of space for the survival of the human species.
The crew of the Centaurian I includes Commander Aksel Bolt, Dr. Allison Yarrow, Dr. Joanne Elias, Dr. Lucienda Chen, Jeffrey Rudiger, and Johnny Bang. The crew of the Centaurian II, who assist in their mission, includes Captain Rhymer and our favorite character, Dr. Kioni Kihumba, a geologist. We hate to say this, but this novel really should've been Kihumba's story. Kihumba is our main character of choice. She really stands out because her passion and area of expertise highlight the mystery of extraterrestrial life that persists throughout this book. She also seems to notice and get things about the planet (and the plot) that slip the minds of the other characters despite all of them having apparently gone to college. She completely overshadows characters like Johnny Bang, Chen, and even her own captain.
Kihumba has a very precocious, curious personality, one that the reader also hopes to share.
Bolt, who comes armed with the second-coolest name ever (after Johnny Bang), finds his arms and legs pulled by all of the other characters. In particularly, Dr. Yarrow seems to have a handle on him. Now, with that said, it isn't like Captain Kirk and Captain Picard weren't challenged during their space-faring tenures. That was a large part of the drama. However, even Bolt seems to get overshadowed in what was probably intended to be his book.
In Infernum, the conflict between the leaders and crew of the spaceship was 80% of the intrigue in the story.
Like we were saying, the first quarter of this book drags, but it really is worth enduring to get to the heart and meat of the novel. Once the crew finally arrive on the planet and start discovering what they discover, it really picks up.
And what they find... will blow your mind!
It got us thinking about different mysteries and pseudo-scientific/pseudo-supernatural phenomena like disappearances of ships, planes, and “secret weapons” in places like the Bermuda Triangle. It also challenged things like scientific dogma, the question of whether or not we're alone in the universe, and the Big Bang.
However, despite these big, huge subjects, the most charming thing about this book were just the little zoology discoveries like the little trilobite-like creatures that we hoped might become like The Thing.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
Between the Walls by Tuula Pere isn't your conventional children's book, but it provides such a powerful lesson for children and adults alike. It packs a huge punch!
It's no surprise. Tuula Pere is arguably the most prolific children's author in the history of our contests: a multi-time overall winner. She isn't afraid to push the limits, break the conventions of storytelling for children, and dare to explore heavy/higher subjects like loss, depression, and even megalomania.
In Between the Walls, Pere employs some very powerful Cold War imagery, alluding in particular to the separation of East & West Berlin by the Berlin Wall. This wall affected not just the people of Berlin and Germany, but the entire civilized world which was now divided between East & West—countries aligned with the USSR and countries aligned with NATO & the USA. So, the connotations of this are huge and far-reaching.
This, obviously, isn't the only time in human history when groups of people were tragically and traumatically separated by a line in the sand. The 1947 partition of India led to the separation of India and Pakistan by geographic, cultural, and religious lines. Apartheid in South Africa led to the separation of people along racial lines. Gentrification and segregation in America see/saw the division of people along socioeconomic and racial lines. The demilitarized zone between North Korea & South Korea represents a decades-long war and the separation between democracy and totalitarianism—affluence and self-inflicted poverty. All of these things, like the Berlin Wall, led to widespread suffering and conflict between people who might otherwise get along under different circumstances.
There are multiple reasons why people choose to be separated and divided from other people, some of them understandable (like a desire for individuality, sovereignty, independence, as well as for safety), but others petty like culture, religion, and race—or bitterness over something that happened a long, long, long time ago.
With that said, this book is able to tackle this concept of people divided without it being over-the-top or disturbing to children. Instead, it's presented in a way that's friendly, somewhat funny, and digestible. We immediately see why a wall is erected to divide the city as disputes run amok regarding a pier they both share. A ship hoping to dock there ends up trying to dock on the wrong side due to bad weather (possibly fog), accidentally crashing into another ship. This incident ignites the powder keg of tension between the two sides of town who use it as a pretense to build a wall to keep the other side out. In fact, they technically each build their own wall with a “No Man's Land” in between, giving the book its name.
After presumably years of tension and friends tragically and sadly separated on either side of the wall, a mysterious man named Leo arrives by sea, attempting to dock at the now-unkept and dilapidated pier.
As an aside, this Leo may actually be the same boy/character from Pere's other book, Leo the Wanderer. Leo in that book was a boy who wandered from city to city, simply interacting with the people there, elevating their lives and spirits while learning a bit of things. The thought that this is an intertextual story that exists in the same universe as Pere's other books is incredible. Pere has such a great cast of characters who we'd love to see interact. How cool would it be for the blue crow from Only Blue Crow to fly past? How amazing would it be if Leo joined the circus from Mr. Cannelonni's Circus or if he were able to teach Felix the Fox to be a better person. It provides some continuity, something we appreciate.
Anyway, after coaxing by one of the mayor's daughters, Leo is allowed to make a home in “No Man's Land”--the space between the walls. Using skills he presumably learned on his travels, he builds a small home and even grows his own crops.
You know what's incredible: Leo the Wanderer wasn't a book that particularly scored well or won many accolades in our contests, but with this book in mind, it's incredible to see how much Leo grew as a person.
Ultimately, Leo is able to inspire both sides of the town by showing them common things that they can all appreciate and enjoy: music, art, and recreation. We can just add “sports” to that “recreation” thing since some of the characters start dancing, swimming, and engaging in weight-bearing activities together.
This is actually a tremendously impressive story with some great character work.
The only things that really holds this book back are the slight wordiness and the fact that the art isn't spectacular. However, maybe it didn't need to be. It fits the art of Leo the Wanderer. Though it lacks color, that actually might help to tell the story because the things that are colored are things that are to be emphasized. For example, the art on the sidewalk and Leo's clothing are colored while the other characters are plain and drab. This poetically shows that Leo is bringing color and light to this town.
If you need an inspiring story with higher themes for more advanced children, check this out on Amazon!
Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
The Nazis were the least of their problems... a powerful, technologically-advanced race of aliens threatens to change the future of humanity 400+ years in the future! This is the general premise of The Time Agents: Search for the Leon Key by Sam Libraty!
They don't make them like they used to. This book hearkens back to a time when fiction was fun, wild, exciting and maybe more than a little goofy, silly, and cheesy: the foregone age of pulp fiction. No, not the movie Pulp Fiction, the genre of action-packed, often-bizarre sci-fi/fantasy stories that ran in magazines into the 1950s, likely helping to give rise to shows like Doctor Who and The Twilight Zone.
The Time Agents: Search for the Leon Key by Sam Libraty really reminds us of that exciting, wild age of storytelling, the kind of storytelling that wasn't afraid to go a bit crazy and not have to make much logical sense. In summary, our feelings about this book were largely positive and joyful. We loved reading this book!
It was a really refreshing read, especially considering the serious and often depressing fiction we read. This book is just fun and entertaining, plain and simple. Turn your mind off, get some popcorn, and enjoy it! It's not supposed to be taken too seriously. It's not meant to make some bold, society-altering, ideological, philosophical point. It's just meant to be, and that's probably what we appreciate the most about it considering the weight, pomp, and circumstance of the last two fiction novels we've read.
There are two main reasons to tell and write stories: 1. to educate and inform, 2. to entertain. This really accomplishes the latter.
You don't seriously watch a James Bond or an Indiana Jones movie expecting to learn about the history of communism, socialism, and Nazism. Yes, they might show up in one form or another (as they do in this book), but the focus remains on the action and adventure of those movies. It's the same with this book. Despite beginning under rather serious circumstances in the early days of World War II, and despite the initial conflict featuring Nazi Germans, the book manages to take you away into a conflict that is far more fun than it is serious.
You're soon faced with a plot straight out of a Godzilla film or a classic episode of Doctor Who, Twilight Zone, or Mystery Science Theater 3000: these James Bond/Doctor Who-esque agents led by Jon go from trying to secure a McGuffin (before Nazis can get to it) to fighting alien space Nazis led by an overlord named Moogur.
Moogur is such a fun villain. Yes, he's probably not the nicest person, he's not even a halfway decent person, but he's also a goofball, and we kinda felt bad for him. We felt the same way about Moogur that we did for Zod in Man of Steel or Boris in Men in Black III, he's not necessarily a pure-evil alien psychopath trying to kill everyone just for the sake of doing so, he actually has some understandable motivations. For one, he's love starved. Yes, his followers worship him out of fear, but no one sincerely loves him. He longs for companionship. Furthermore, his world (like Zod's) appears to be dying. He needs to expand into other worlds to ensure the survival of his people, or at least he feels like he does. Next, he is constantly reminded by the protagonists that he's a bad person, that he's evil, that's he's a monster, and—like Boris in Men in Black III--he's an animal.
So, yes, yes, he does kill and torture people including our heroes. And, yes, he does try to force the main heroine to marry and sleep with him (though he's strangely understanding throughout that whole process). However, we can't help but wonder if he could've been redeemed or a better person had he just been raised better and/or existed under different circumstances. Yes, it sounds childish, but we do see some good in Moogur.
Even his name, Moogur, implies that he's supposed to be a pretty ridiculous and over-the-top character. His ambitions also seem a bit far-fetched considering that he overestimates his forces (which number only in the thousands) and severely underestimates humanity (which numbers in the billions). He almost reminds us of those two aliens, Kang and Kodos, from The Simpsons. They constantly talk about how they're going to conquer humanity, yet they constantly flop in their efforts, often to a humorous degree. Moogur is kinda that sort of villain—a Pinky and the Brain-kinda villain.
Another compelling character is the main heroine, Shoshanna—a quintuple agent (or something like that) who doubles as an insanely-hot human dancing girl. But don't let her insanely good looks fool you (like it does Jon), she is a powerful and capable fighter who can knock your block off. Think Xena Warrior Princess or Black Widow. She's definitely a nominee for “Hottest Character.”
If there's anything about this book that's a bit disappointing, it's actually the titular Time Agents themselves. Jon is clearly our main protagonist, but he's practically a blank slate for us to follow. He seems to have no qualms about fighting anyone who gets between him and his objective, even women. He's also easily seduced, something akin to James Bond. Weirdly, despite him being in a position that probably requires a great deal of physical rigor, he's actually more of a thinker than a fighter. He is constantly compared to someone like Shoshanna and said to be weaker or less capable than her (physically). He kinda reminds us of the Doctor from Doctor Who. The Doctor has never been a particularly powerful physical specimen. Yes, he can outrun some Daleks and push a Cybermen away, but he is very limited physically, usually just having the physicality of the average couch potato. Jon is that kind of character. No, he's not sedentary, but he's not a physically-gifted anomaly like a Navy Seal, MI6 agent, or even a pro athlete. He just is. He has many of the same limits that many of us untrained individuals have.
Joining him are his cohorts, many of whom didn't stand out enough to us to even recall their names. We remember Abu because he was the “Muslim guy” and Max because... wait, what did Max do again? Well, we think Max tried to convince Jon to stop being a sucker for Soshanna. Otherwise, these guys were really like those Indiana Jones sidekicks who you kinda wish would just go away and let Indi do his thing.
Anyway, check this out on Amazon!
Score: 93+/100 (9.3+ out of 10)
Kenzie and Bun Bun- First Dance Class is a cute, beautiful, and emotionally touching children's book about a little girl, her plush bunny, and her mom. In this particular book in the series, the little girl, Kenzie, looks forward to an exciting first day in dance class.
Having never danced before, this new experience challenges Kenzie to step outside of her comfort zone, to try something new, and to explore a new way of expressing herself. Actually, self-expression is a major theme in this book that we'll get more into later. The other major theme of this book is just simply the love and bond that a parent and a child have for one another, and how separation can lead to worry, anxiety, and emotional distress. This is represented in more ways than one, first in exploring the loving relationship between Kenzie and her mother, and second in exploring the nurturing relationship between Kenzie and her plush bunny friend, Bun Bun.
This is actually a very powerful and emotionally-charged book when you catch the subtext. This does, in fact, seem to be based on the actual, real-life experiences of the author and her daughter, who sadly passed at the age of three. That revelation in itself really helped to raise our appreciation for the book. As we saw in our previous book, Sacred Vengeance, which was inspired by the similar loss of a child, loved ones don't just pass away and disappear. They don't just vanish. Their memories and spirits stay with us. They linger with us forever, inspiring us and urging us forward.
So, what seems to be a somewhat mundane story about a day in the life of a little girl takes up a totally new, fresh, and exciting tone and aura when you consider the subtext behind it.
Even with all that aside, it's a beautiful book with a lot more to say. In fact, loss and coping are not ever explicitly mentioned in story itself, just in the dedication. Instead, the book actually focuses on things like being brave, trying new things, valuing/appreciating time spent with loved ones, self-expression, and—well—finding things that make you happy.
It's a really fun, inspiring, and uplifting book that jams several different sub-plots into just 33 pages. It's quite an accomplishment!
So that also means that this isn't a book that focuses exclusively on one thing, in fact it jumps around a bit. If you're going into this book thinking it's going to be a children's dance book like in the Once Upon a Dance series, you might be a little surprised (though probably not disappointed). It would be hard to be disappointed with a children's book with this much heart and soul.
Let's talk about one of the beautiful little themes that plays out in the background of this book: the power of self-expression. In this book, there are a number of examples of self-expression. The first and most obvious example is simply Kenzie learning to dance as a hobby and performing art. Specifically, she learns ballet and tap-dancing, though the book doesn't dive into these dance styles too much. It is her first day after all. You also get to see that both Kenzie and her mom express their individuality in different ways. Kenzie's mom sports two unique sleeve tattoos, one on each arm. They appear to be roots, branches, and flowers. She also gets her hair dyed pink at the salon, something that interestingly comes back into play when Kenzie loses her bunny and has to go back to the salon to look for him. Kenzie also tries out different shoes to see what she likes, what works (in dance), and what fits her. So, types of creative self-expression are constantly portrayed in this book. This is particularly interesting given that we're told that Kenzie is someone who says “few words” (perhaps out of shyness), though this could simply be a reference to real-life events. She can still express herself through things like dress, play, and dance.
In the books final sub-plot, we find another theme explored: that of nurturing, maternal love. Throughout the book, we saw how Kenzie's mom looked after her, but we also saw how Kenzie looked after Bun Bun, even making sure he was put to bed and “fed.” In the final part of the book, Bun Bun goes missing, and Kenzie is panicked with thoughts of what Bun Bun is doing without them (or what is happening to Bun Bun). These are similar to worries that a parent would have about a child being lost or even going off to college—a kind of empty nest syndrome.
Some of us are preschool teachers and parents. We've had students or kids who've lost their favorite dolls, stuffed animals, or toys. It can be very frustrating and sad because we see how much these things mean to the kids. We do everything in our power to help them find their “lovies,” sometimes multiple times a day. This is something we can definitely relate to.
Thankfully, per the norm with children's books, this book has a happy and satisfying ending.
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Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
Abraham Lincoln's Path to Reelection in 1864 is a fabulously well-researched history chronicling the fateful election year of 1864 in America. The sub-title, Our Greatest Victory, speaks volumes to how much this election year meant for the future of this great nation and for millions of Americans for decades to come.
We often take for granted that the Civil War was fought and won by the Union and that slavery ended the way that it did. There were so many things and factors that jeopardized all of that. One man bore the brunt of the criticism and the weight of the responsibility for all federal decisions related to the abolition of slavery and the continuation of the war, and that man was Abraham Lincoln, the legendary, nigh-mythological sixteenth president of the United States.
It's easy to forget that Abraham Lincoln was a man, a human being like the rest of us. He wasn't necessarily the smartest or best educated. He didn't have the perfect temperament. He was enamored with his own sense of humor, though not everyone got his jokes. His family wasn't perfectly healthy or perfectly happy (in fact he'd lost his son to illness in the middle of the war). He was far from universally beloved and in fact was perhaps the most hated man on the continent at one time. Yet, despite all of that, he is arguably the greatest president the United States of America ever had, and some would argue one of the greatest leaders in history as a whole.
As this book chronicles, 1864 was the year that would make or break Abraham Lincoln and everything he'd worked toward his whole life and career. It would make or break everything that hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers gave their lives for.
Despite finding itself in the bloodiest war in its history, the Union still held its scheduled presidential election, and Lincoln's name was on the ballot as the sitting president seeking a second term. Hanging in the balance were not only Lincoln's presidency and political career, but also the fate of the Civil War itself and the emancipation of the slaves, which was threatened to be repealed.
Having lost at Gettysburg the year before, the Confederate Army was forced to fight a defensive war—a fighting retreat—with little to no hope of ever again gaining the initiative over the Union Army. Despite losing the edge militarily, the South still held onto one hope politically: that Lincoln would lose the support of the American public, effectively lose the upcoming presidential election because of it, and that he would be replaced by someone who would be more pliable toward negotiating a favorable peace.
This “favorable peace” the South sought would be one that would involve repealing the Emancipation Proclamation, thus, and allowing the South to keep its slaves. This has further-reaching consequences, not just for Americans, but for the world. European powers, for example, had largely chosen not to support the Confederacy following the Emancipation Proclamation for fear that doing so would be supporting the antiquated institution of slavery. If there was a chance that it might be repealed by a future (non-Lincoln) administration, the South's hope for foreign interference might return. How might things have been different if the powerful British Navy were to get involved in breaking up the Union naval blockade that held a stranglehold on Confederate trade and supplies? This Civil War might end, but there would be a dangerous precedence for a continuation of hostilities and issues that could erupt later. No, Lincoln knew that saving the Union would mean winning the war outright and abolishing slavery for good, making the latter a non-issue—non-negotiable—not open to discussion or debate. Freedom would be law, or the land of the free would cease to be.
Lincoln faced opposition not only from the South, and not only from the Democratic party, but even from his own (Republican) party. Many on all sides were sick and tired of war. It had taken a huge economic, social, and human toll on the country. Many saw no end in sight and wanted the war to be over and done with. “Peace” was preached by many of the politicians that opposed Lincoln, painting him as a warmonger. This book does a fantastic job at showing us the types of things that were written and said regarding Lincoln and “his war.”
Opposing Lincoln in the presidential election was none other than George McClellan, the former general who had led the Army of the Potomac (the main body of the Union Army on the eastern front) before George Meade and Ulysses S. Grant. McClellan was fired and replaced by Abraham Lincoln himself for continually squandering opportunities to decisively defeat the Confederate Army, choosing a cautious and apprehensive strategy despite superior numbers and supplies. Their issues may have been even more personal than just a professional disagreement on war strategy. It is recorded that McClellan once disrespected Lincoln at a meeting in his home by arriving late, then going immediately to sleep, essentially ignoring and not acknowledging his commander-in-chief. So, the animosity between these two powerful men was quite deep.
McClellan ran as a Democrat, seeming to support a quicker end to the war and more hope of a peaceful compromise with the South. But hindsight is 20/20. It is hard not to argue that McClellan was the weaker of the two men both as a candidate and as a personality. McClellan had a weaker, more apprehensive, and more pandering disposition.
It reminds us of the quote that says that "weak men create hard times."
It really makes you think about socio-political issues in recent times. So many people are afraid to fight for what they believe in. So many people want to cave to the mob—cave to what's popular or considered acceptable. Few are willing to push back. Few are willing to stand up like Lincoln and say, the hell with what people think, I'm going to do what's right regardless.
Lincoln was such a courageous man with a lot to teach us (and future generations), but he was not invincible. He was not invulnerable. He was not infallible. This book captures that very well.
This book does not stretch or sensationalize. It doesn't go out of its way to excite or entertain. It just is. It is what a history should be—objective, fact-based, and unbiased. This isn't the book for someone who just wants to pick up a book and enjoy it. This isn't the book for someone who wants to be entertained. This is for the intellectual, the scholar—the person who lives, sleeps, eats, and breathes history. The person who is after objective truth.
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Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
Chella Chicken is a cute and inspiring animal-centered children's book by Travis Shiwji!
This book features some minimalistic yet appealing art by illustrator Deborah Bello as well as a very compelling and easy-to-follow story about a little chicken's lifelong dream of flying. This book has it where it counts: heart and soul. It is genuinely compelling with a main character you can't help but get behind.
Chella Chicken has a dogged determination and never-give-up attitude akin to someone like Rocky Balboa or John Cena. And, like Rocky, you can't help but root and cheer for her. What's extra interesting about Chella's character journey is that she doesn't just work hard to fulfill her dream, she actually works smart as well. She actually signs up for a special school (“University”) where she learns to become a mechanical engineer. She uses what she learned in engineering school to solve her problem and finally achieve her dream!
This is such a great message for children, who often feel so small in a world so big. Children develop hopes and dreams throughout their lives, and many of these dreams follow them into adulthood. Sadly, many of these dreams fall by the wayside and we realize they might not be realistic or achievable. Other dreams do come true, especially when we commit time and energy into achieving them. This is a bizarrely realistic story, especially considering that it employs anthropomorphic animals to tell it.
This book is also very entertaining in general. For one, it's quite funny. You can't help but chuckle a little at the feeble, determined chick's attempts to fly. You can't help but chuckle when some chicken drumsticks and steak appear on a page, the implications being that the animals are in danger of being eaten. Then you realize... dang, that's kinda dark.
Actually, there's another very interesting and somewhat eye-raising character in here. Actually, he's two characters: Bob and Dale. Bob and Dale are actually Siamese (conjoined) twin cows, something we've never seen in a book before. Their conjoined nature is actually treated very matter-of-factly and never highlighted or emphasized, which is interesting. Bob and Dale aren't necessarily shown in a positive light, but not because of their physical deformity, but rather because they are mean to Chella while she's growing up. They often mock and laugh at her, telling her she'll “never fly.” Bob and Dale seem to represent the negative people in our lives, the crabs in a bucket who won't let any other crabs escape.
At the same time, it is implied (but not explicitly stated) that Bob and Dale had a pretty grim fate, apparently being slaughtered and turned into ground beef. It's kinda sad and disturbing when you think about it as an adult, but it does help to serve the message that a high tide raises all ships, and that it is better to help and encourage others rather than to put them down and hold them back. You never know when you might need them.
In our head-cannon, we like to think that Bob and Dale had a change of heart, realized they were wrong, and received help from Chella in escaping the farm. After all, if Francis the Fox in Tuula Pere's book could be redeemed (after essentially becoming a dictator), Bob and Dale can too.
All in all, this is a really fun and inspiring children's book!
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Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
Sacred Vengeance is a thrilling, fun, and exciting Christian action-adventure/romance novel by Evangaline Pierce. You don't have to be religious or spiritual to enjoy and appreciate this book. It is energetic, entertaining, and universal in the topics it touches, mainly love and loss.
The story follows Alle Venega, an ailing mother who has experienced profound losses in her life including that of her husband and unborn child. Alle is driven into a very dark place and nearly to suicide until a fortuitous real-estate advertisement gives her the idea of moving away and starting anew.
Along the way, she learns of the existence of angels, demons, and a whole bunch of other spiritual stuff!
Yes, it turns out that there's a lot more to this story than coping with personal loss, although that seems to be a huge inspiration for the story. It goes from being a Lifetime TV movie to being an episode of Supernatural. Make of that what you will, but we were rather enjoying and emotionally invested in the heartbreaking, realistic story until it became full-blown Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue meets Princess Diaries meets Ghostbusters meets Twilight meets Harry Potter with a tinge of The Holy Bible and the Book of Enoch mixed in there.
(Don't take the Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue comparison as an insult, the demon hunting and villain characters in that series were top-notch).
Now, with all that said, all this supernatural and spiritual stuff doesn't just come out of the blue. There are subtle hints near the beginning of the book that something otherworldly might be amiss. For example, one of the first things the married couple (Alle and Runar) does is visit a cemetery with a long, storied history of being haunted. Alle is unimpressed and doesn't seem to take much of it seriously, even scoffing at the tour guide being paid so much just “to walk around and talk about ghosts.” It is said that Alle is skeptical of the evidence of any supernatural phenomena.
All the while, Runar is far more interested and in tune with this stuff. It is said that he is a fan of ghost hunting shows and supernatural stuff, and we eventually learn why.
The one thing that Alle seems to relate to and sympathize with is the ghost story about a trapped little girl ghost. In fact, she is told that there's a little ghost sitting right there in her lap... The book's first of many, many, many, many dun duuun duuuuuun moments.
It is quite interesting to consider Alle's arc as she grows to accept that reality is crazier than it physically appears; there is a world outside our world, one that intersects with and influences our world. She goes from a complete skeptic to a believer.
It is similar to Jack Shepherd's character arc in Lost, developing from a smug realist like his drunken doctor dad to an enlightened spiritualist like the fanatical John Locke character.
With her life collapsing and the walls caving in, Alle is slipped a dagger by a hunky-hunk of a man and told that she will have to fight... and fight she shall, in between a few high jinks.
Nothing is what it seems in this book. This book is filled to the brim with twists, turns, and dun duuun duuuuuun moments. It might be a little too twisty and too turny for some, but if you really dig those types of stories, you might really enjoy this. It can be very exciting to read at times because you never quite know what's up or who's really pulling the strings. Yes, even when it's explicitly stated that the “Prince of Darkness” is involved, he's not alone in making Alle's life a figurative and literal hell. There are a lot of parties in this paranormal party. There are a lot of things to keep you guessing.
There is something about Alle and her arc that seem a little wonky. Part of it is that, despite ghosts, angels, and demons clearly standing right in front of her, Alle's personality remains incredibly unserious, playful, and naive. You could make the argument that this is a perfect contrast to her actual persona, and that this is all just a facade like the one Vash uses in Trigun to bury his sorrows and the fact that he is a “killing machine” and a “humanoid typhoon.” We can definitely understand that, especially since Alle, like Vash, is a dangerous, capable person under that hokey, somewhat annoying demeanor.
There are times in this book in which Alle, despite being a fully-grown woman, talks and acts like a hormonal 13-year-old. She is constantly cracking jokes, saying childish things (like comparing the angels to the seven dwarves from Snow White), and distracted by Gabriel's physique and utter hotness. Keep in mind, this is a character who is supposed to be embodying vengeance and is supposed to be trying to save her daughter, Lani, from being lost to the demons forever. However, she seems to have a whole lot of time to joke around, ask dumb questions, flirt, and play leap frog & grab butt with Gabriel. Something about that bothered us a little. That's not to say they're a bad couple or that they're bad characters (they are compelling enough), but they lose a little bit of the edge they would've otherwise had if things had been written differently.
Alle can come across as a silly, lovesick goofball. It can be cute and endearing to an extent. And, to her credit, she is a really good person. You'd be shocked at how often we're unable to say that about other protagonists we've encountered, many of whom who are either selfish and/or self-centered. Alle is self-sacrificing, kind, and caring. Also, despite her great importance, she isn't arrogant or proud. You could argue that she's prouder to just be a mother than she is to be special. So, you could say she has a good heart. She just happens to have a personality and presentation that can become cloying after a while.
Some Alle-isms include:
“Is this a baby monster?”
“...hostest with the mostest”
“Are angels like the seven dwarves?”
“No deal, dude.”
“Jiminy Cricket, do you own any shirts?”
She is constantly doing things like giggling, eliciting eye-rolls from Gabriel, and thirsting over him.
There is so much thirsting. Alle is suffering a drought more severe than in the entire history of the Sahara Desert. Lake Michigan couldn't satiate this woman's thirst. If it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, she'd still want a pint of that scrumptious Gabriel nectar.
Even some descriptions of the book describe Gabriel as Alle's “too-gorgeous, totally off-limits guardian angel.” So, maybe we made the mistake of not reading the description and bracing ourselves first.
The relationship between Alle and Gabriel is one of the pillars of this book, alongside saving Lani. The thing is, there's something about their relationship that seems a little bit off, which is ironic since that's clearly the exact opposite of what the author intended. The author clearly intended for their relationship to be cute, natural (practically instinctual), and playful, embodied in how lighthearted and humorous their dialogue is despite the circumstances they find themselves in.
At first sight, Alle immediately finds herself drawn to Gabriel, even before knowing anything else about him (other than that he has the leanness and musculature of a stage-ready bodybuilder). So, that's kinda where the Twilight comparisons come in. The way that Alle constantly and immediately fawns over Gabriel—the way she views him in the most idealized way possible—breaks up the realism a little bit, even granted the big surprise. The problem is in getting to the big surprise and struggling in confusion on the way there. Keep in mind, it's only with the knowledge gained in the end that you can truly appreciate the whole marathon in the middle, and that marathon in the middle—meanwhile—can feel shaky. The relationship feels shaky because the author knows something that we don't until very later on.
There's also something about this book that reminded us of Taylor Mill Horror, a ”true” horror story by Austin Lawrence in which the main characters are constantly harassed by ghosts/demons that claim to be Satan and Be'elzebub. Why would the king and prince of hell waste so much of their precious time and energy tormenting some random family in the middle of Kentucky?
We felt the same way about Gabriel and the other angels. Do they seriously have nothing better to do? This is Gabriel—one of the two most prominent and important angels in the entire Holy Bible--the dude who told Mary she was going to give birth to Jesus, the dude who explained one of Daniel's world-shaking visions to him—yet he has time to Pureflix and chill like this?
In all fairness, it's not like other TV shows, movies, and books haven't tried to humanize these spiritual beings in the past. This is certainly not the worst—far from it. We just find it hard to believe that this is THE Gabriel. Gabriel in The Bible always knew what was going on. No, he wasn't omniscient, but he was like the National Enquirer or Prince Harry or Dave Meltzer or the guy that Jake Gyllenhaal played in Nightcrawler; Gabriel always had the inside scoop.
This version of Gabriel seems so... limited. He always says he can't do something or doesn't know something. He even says the Elders (from the Book of Revelations) have access to things and information that he doesn't. Like, we get that God is God and that the angels have their limits, but... next to Michael, Gabriel is THE arch-angel. And, like we said before, if one thing defined him, it was that he was insightful.
Like, compare Gabriel's dialogue in this book to Gabriel's dialogue in Daniel chapter 8. The Gabriel in The Bible speaks with authority and absolute confidence. He knows what's going on, even more so than one of the greatest prophets who ever lived (Daniel).
Daniel had prophetic visions that would've blown Moses, Elijah, and Joseph off their rockers, yet he got schooled by Bible-Gabriel. Meanwhile, Sacred-Vengeance-Gabriel says things like, “You think my wings are beautiful?” and blushes (with a double emphasis on the fact that he blushes). The fact that he even has to ask Alle something like that is a huge break in character. How he behaves like a confused 16-year-old schoolboy afterward practically shatters it.
Like, this can't be the same guy. It just can't. And we wondered if, perhaps, it might not be. We wondered if this might just be another angel who just so happens to be named Gabriel. Well, no. This is the arch-angel Gabriel. His brother, Lex, confirms it. And, yes, he has a near-identical brother named Lex. And, like every hot male character in fiction these days, his brother is also very hot and much more edgy. We've noticed that has become a trope with these romance novels. You can't have a hot male character if he doesn't have a hot male brother.
But we digress. This book really got us thinking and talking. That's an achievement in and of itself. We actually reread it about three to four times each, and it took us about three days, a lot longer than most books. That's largely because it gave us so much to talk and think about, but also that it lost us at times and we need needed to start over to gain additional context. Sometimes you just have to back up in order to drive over a bump in the road, and we found ourselves doing that.
The more times you go through this book, the more things will reveal themselves to you.
In total fairness, we're definitely overthinking this whole thing and being hard on something that is actually very good.
For the target audience (probably 16 to 24-year-old fans of YA fantasy romance novels), this book might be in the top 35-40% of books. The writing is solid. We didn't notice any errors. The concept is very reminiscent of something like Supernatural, and can be incredibly exciting and interesting to some, particularly if they don't take all the theology and esoteric stuff too seriously.
If you do take theology and esoteric stuff seriously, you will probably find things in this book that bother you a lot. That's probably normal. It would be like trying to convince someone at NASA that Star Wars is a realistic take on space travel rather than a source of entertainment. This is really a source of entertainment, something to escape into.
Knowing too much or being too involved in this esoteric stuff is kinda a curse. You can't fully enjoy something like Supernatural or Sacred Vengeance when all you're thinking is, “Look how they massacred my boy” (i.e. my narrow, dogmatic, pre-defined views on how spiritual stuff works is challenged or not being portrayed 'properly').
One thing that bugged us more than it should have is the idea that the Nephilim (half-demon giants) were the ancestors to the Mongols and Genghis Khan, who are painted in the worst light possible.
Maybe they deserve the negative press, they killed millions and did a lot of other terrible things beside murder. However... maybe one of us just so happens to be Mongolian and descended from Genghis Khan? There are something like 200 million Khan descendants alive today, one of them will inevitably read this and be like, “Wait, so, I'm a Nephilim now? Can I... put it on my resume or something?"
With that said, we totally laughed that off in the end. It is kinda cool to think that you're descended from giants, even of the demonic variety. And, like we said, the Mongols weren't “good guys” by any means. The conquering Mongols were the quintessential villains of their time and it's totally justifiable that they're portrayed in a negative way. So, no, we got over that whole thing quickly.
Alle, for all her faults, is actually compelling in a lot of ways. Her backstory is very tragic and sad, likely based in some of the author's personal experiences. It can be very heartbreaking to read those parts. And, like we alluded to before, her playful, naive, and occasionally annoying personality does contrast nicely with her true identity. Meanwhile, it also plays into the idea that she's “burying” something under that facade. Even her thirsting does make some sense both from a psychological and in-story standpoint. Her losses have left a deep hole in her heart that she longs to be filled, we get that. She's like a donut... there's a hole in the the middle of her heart.
And, of course, the big reveal helps all that to make even more sense. Even what we perceived to be the worst scene in the book, which involves her singing a children's Christian song, made more sense to us after rereading it and realizing she connects with the song because it's her daughter's favorite. (It was still cringeworthy the first time though). Alle has deeper issues that might go over other peoples' heads. For example, she seems to have somewhat of a disordered eating disorder. However, that goes largely unexplored, perhaps for the better since going too deep into that sort of thing can be triggering for the target audience.
Gabriel, if you put aside him being THE arch-angel Gabriel from The Bible, is a sexy and sweet love interest, someone you'd love to have around in real life. If nothing else, he's a great and capable friend with a protective and caring nature.
Meanwhile, there's quite an exciting cast of villains in this book, even beside the devil himself. There is a malevolent spirit in here named Narcisse who considers himself a “free agent” or rogue, targeting Alle and Lani. More than any other villain, Narcisse seems to bring out Alle's negative thoughts and emotions. The way she responds to him is unlike how she talks to anyone else in the book, revealing a lot of the broken person she's been hiding.
There's one really beautiful line in this book that sums up the message pretty well, “Like a beautifully balanced meal, bitterness enhanced the sweetness.”
This is definitely a nominee for “Best Quote” in this contest. It may also be a frontrunner for “Best Book Cover!”
We've gone on and on and on about about this book. It's your turn to read it for yourself!
We are confident that you'll enjoy something about this book!
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