A Very Special Christmas ~Loretta Livingstone

The last of our three short Christmas stories comes from the Author of Where Angels Tread, a debut novella I reviewed here in May 2014.

ruth-chapel-at-christmasA Very Special Christmas
by Loretta Livingstone

Anisha wept with frustration, as she tried to wrench the ring off her finger. Jayesh watched, eyes wide with disbelief.
“But why?”
“Because you disrespect me. You imagine just because I am wearing your ring, you can sleep with me? You think you own me? You knew I wouldn’t do this. You disrespect me, and you disrespect my parents.”
Jayesh glared. “Think you’re so special, do you? Well, you’re nothing! And the ring is nothing. Keep it! I’ll find a girl who loves me properly!”
“I don’t want your ring!” She tore at it with her teeth and finally managed to drag it over her knuckle. The skin beneath had turned green.
“You’re right! It was nothing! Cheap! And so are you. But I’m not. I will be respected.” She threw the ring across the room so hard that it cracked the mirror behind his head.
Turning on her heel, she slammed out of the front door leaving Jayesh seething. All the money he’d spent wooing her, and she wouldn’t let him anywhere near her. Too precious. Proper little princess. Well, that was it! The last time he’d waste his cash on a girl from her type of background.
Anisha stormed down the road, fury battling with humiliation. Did Jayesh truly think just because he had put his ring – his cheap ring – on her finger, she’d be prepared to share his bed, when he knew, he knew she wasn’t that type of girl? Anisha was a modern girl; she believed in women having careers, but she had a deep faith, and she wasn’t going to compromise it – especially to someone who held her so cheap.
“Cheap!” She ground the word out between her teeth! He couldn’t even buy her a decent ring. Not an expensive one, but this – this was a joke. She rubbed at the green stain.
“Cheer up, darlin’. It might never happen.” The stallholder she was passing gave her a wink.
“Stupid man! You are all stupid!”
“Oi. Miss High-and-Mighty. Who yanked your chain?”
She gave him a last searing glare as she swept past, head held high. He grinned. “Proper little spitfire, ain’t yer.”
Reaching the sanctuary of her shabby flat, she slammed the door behind her and threw herself onto the bed. Reaction set in, and her face crumpled. How she missed her mother. “Oh, Ama! Ama! I wish you were here,” she wailed. She couldn’t call. They couldn’t afford it. Anisha was over here to study and bring honour to the family. She hadn’t even told them about Jayesh. She’d been waiting to introduce the subject once she was engaged. They would be thrilled – she had hoped. After all, he was a medical student. And her parents weren’t old-fashioned. He was of the same faith – or so he had said. Obviously, it didn’t mean much to him. She gave her finger one more despairing rub – it was starting to itch now – and hid her face in her pillow, shaking with sobs. So near Christmas. She had been looking forward to sharing it with Jayesh’s family. He was going to tell his mother, he’d said. But who knew. Maybe she was his dirty little secret. At this, she wept even harder. How could she tell Ama and Daddy? She was such a stupid fool.
University had broken up for the Christmas holidays. Anisha had been so besotted with Jayesh, she hadn’t made any friends yet. He had spotted her standing shyly near the entrance three days after she had arrived and taken her under his wing. Flattered and grateful, she had been only too happy to spend all her spare time with him, sharing her dreams, her ambitions. She knew the other students by sight, smiling shyly at them as she attended lectures, but Jayesh was always at her shoulder as soon as they were over. Come to that, why had he always been hanging around outside her lectures? Realisation was finally sinking in for Anisha. Jayesh was a fraud. Maybe he wasn’t even studying, let alone doing medicine.
She shivered and put the kettle on. It was freezing. She couldn’t turn the heating up, not enough money. A hot water bottle would have to do. Thank goodness Jen had told her about them; they were wonderful. She filled two and snuggled under the duvet with them. She was so lonely. Was Jen busy, she wondered? Did she dare go down the hall and knock on her door? Wrapping the duvet round her, hot water bottles tucked under each arm, she left her flat and shuffled down the corridor. Tapping on the door, she waited nervously. A passing girl stopped. “You wanting Jen? She’s away for the holidays, hun. Back in the New Year.”
Well, that was that then; she would be alone over Christmas. She shuffled back to her tiny apartment, recklessly put some more coins in the meter and turned on the TV, wiping the tears from her eyes with a determined small hand. She would shut Jayesh from her mind. He didn’t exist.
Next day, still heartsore, she went to the market to see if she could find something nice to cook – something to remind her of home. The Christmas lights twinkled. Families thronged the stalls. Anisha watched the cheerful scene dismally. If only, oh if only her parents had suggested she study at Karunya University. Or Madras. Anywhere but England. At least she would have been warm, and she could have called them. She would have Skyped her family, but they had such an old computer; it didn’t work very well. She would have to content herself with writing to them. They would be putting their own decorations up, and the crib would be up at the large Catholic Church they went to. She paused. She would do that. She would go to church. Then, she would feel nearer to them. But first, she headed to a stall which sold all the spices she needed. Fingering bright red chillies and knobbly ginger, she breathed in the fragrance of the heady spices which filled the air. It wasn’t quite the same as home. The smells were weaker; the air was colder, and they didn’t make her mouth water like they did at home, but they would do. Then she went to the large old Parish Church.
Anisha slipped in between the large studded oak doors. Just think. This had been here for hundreds of years. She put out her hand and touched the smooth walls, imagining all the generations of people who had been here before her. The church was hushed; the fragrance of incense lingering, the nativity scene laid out at the front. She moved forward, covering her head respectfully, and knelt in one of the pews, looking up at the large cross which dominated the front of the Church.
The holy stillness soothed her like balm. She didn’t know how long she sat there lost in contemplation. Time seemed to have stood still. But it was cold here too. Oh! This country! Would she ever feel warm again? She shivered and got to her feet, suddenly aware of a pair of cheerful green eyes upon her. She blushed and dipped her head, but curiosity got the better of her, and she peeked up again shyly. A man, she couldn’t guess his age, with dull blond hair curled in the neck of a sweater that had seen better days, smiled at her. Oh my goodness. She felt flustered. He came towards her, holding out his hand. She couldn’t very well back away, so she took it reluctantly. She was not going to get involved again. And not with an English person. How could he ever really understand her? She was going to stay away from men until she finished her studies and went home. Ama and Daddy could find her someone suitable. She had had enough of being a modern woman.
His outstretched hand was still in front of her, and, despite her intentions to the contrary, she found she had grasped it with her small one. She felt warmth running through her; suddenly, it didn’t seem so cold.
“Hello,” he said. “My name’s Mike. Are you new here? I haven’t seen you before.”
“Y…yes,” she stammered, blushing to the roots of her hair and pulling her dupatta round her face. “I’ve come to England to study.”
“Have you made many friends yet?”
She dipped her head in shame. “Only one. And he…,” she tailed off. Then, emboldened, “Are you the minister?”
Mike threw back his head and chuckled quietly. “Not me. Poor Reverend Walker. I don’t think I’m his idea of any kind of minister. But I do sort of minister in my own way. Why not come for a coffee with me, and I’ll tell you all about it? Maybe introduce you to some people?”
She shouldn’t. She really shouldn’t. She started to shake her head but, to her dismay, found she was nodding it instead. It was those eyes. Clear, fathomless eyes; they were almost hypnotic. She realised he still had hold of her hand and pulled it away. He smiled. “Oops. Sorry. Forgot to let go. Come on. There’s a nice little coffee shop not far away. It’s the Church coffee shop, you know. You’ll meet all sorts of people there, and you can warm up a bit.” He rubbed his hands together. “It’s freezing in here, isn’t it?”
Now she had her hand back, the warm glow she had felt before had disappeared, and she was shivering again. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt. He seemed nice enough. But so had Jayesh. No. I’m not going to think of him, she told herself. Picking up her bags, she followed Mike out of the Church and towards a brightly lit shop. The warmth hit her like a blast of Indian air as he opened the door and ushered her in. Bright Christmas scenes festooned the walls, and carols hung on the air. The windows were all steamed up, and she rubbed a clear patch on the misty glass with the tip of her finger as Mike went to get coffees. She peeked out; suddenly everything seemed friendlier.
“This is more like it.” Mike sat down opposite her with a tray full of coffees and mince pies. A bunch of people squeezed around the table, moving chairs over from other empty tables, laughing and chatting. Anisha felt included in the festive atmosphere.
A beautiful woman in her late twenties, with long chestnut hair and grey eyes, sat next to Mike and smiled across the table at her. “Hi, I’m Jeannie.” She held Anisha’s eyes with her own, inviting her to reciprocate.
“Anisha,” she whispered, smiling shyly. Next to her, a girl with ginger corkscrew curls, a snub nose and freckles, held a clip board. She reminded Anisha of someone, but she couldn’t think who. She peeped at her through half-closed eyelids. It was the eyes; they were just like Mike’s. Not the same colour – light blue instead of green – but as Anisha looked at them, she had the sensation of looking into the past, present and future all at once. How strange. She shook her head slightly to clear it.
“This is Seraphina,” Mike introduced, “my colleague. You’ll have to watch her.” Seraphina dug him in the ribs, and he winced. “See that clipboard? She’ll have your name down on that in no time if you aren’t careful. Your time won’t be your own.” Seraphina gave him a little frown, but he just ruffled her curls.
“Oh, I…I think…I’m studying you see. I don’t think I could help.”
Seraphina gazed at her. “It’s a great way to make new friends. And you’d be helping us out. Just for one week?” She tilted her head on one side and watched Anisha quizically.
“Well, I…”
“Told you,” Mike chortled. “She’ll be working your fingers to the bone like she does with the rest of us.”
“Mike! Shhhh!” Seraphina looked as though she was trying not to laugh, but suddenly, the stern mouth quirked into a merry trill of laughter. “Oh, you! You’re impossible! Go on. Go get us some more coffee.
“See what I mean.” He grinned at Anisha, “She’s a proper slave-driver!” Seraphina tapped him on the head with her clipboard.
“Take no notice of him. He’s such a stirrer!”
By now, Anisha was feeling quite light-hearted, as well as light-headed. The banter had drawn her in and made her feel part of this group. “Well. I suppose I could…what would I need to do?”
Seraphina gave her a look of delight. Anisha felt as if she could really belong here with this happy-go-lucky crowd. “We run soup kitchens for the street people. Just over the Christmas period. We don’t belong to any organisation or anything, but we like to do our bit to help. And no one has anything organised in the areas we go to.”
Street people? Anisha’s smile faded. “You mean beggars?” She tried not to shudder. She’d seen them in the shadows and kept well away. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t. She’d be terrified.
“Oh come on, Anisha. They aren’t scary when you get to know them. And you won’t be alone. They have nothing. Not even family. Wouldn’t you like to help those worse off than yourself? You’d get a real blessing out of it.” The corkscrew curls jiggled as Seraphina held her head on one side winsomely. “I promise I’ll put you with someone who’ll look after you.” She studied her clipboard and made a few notes.
Anisha meant to shake her head but found herself nodding. Oh no! Now she was committed. Seraphina was already writing her name. She looked at Jeannie, who was watching her sympathetically. “Will you be going?”
“Sorry, I have something already booked. Mike and Seraphina will see you ok though. And I’ll see you around. We often meet here on a Friday night. Do come along. We’re a friendly bunch, aren’t we, you lot?”
“Yes, do come.” Jeannie was echoed by others at the table.
Despite herself, Anisha smiled. “Oh, very well.”
Seraphina clapped her hands delightedly. “And where can I get hold of you to let you know the arrangements? Do you have a mobile?”
It was something Anisha did have. She gave her the number. “And now, I must go. Friday did you say? See you all then.”
Seraphina gave her another long look. “Tell you what. Where do you live? I can give you a lift.”
No chance of backing out then. Anisha felt as though Seraphina had seen her thoughts. “That would be lovely. I must go now though. I have shopping.” She got up and collected her bags. Half of her was reluctant to leave. The other half was feeling a little overwhelmed. She wanted to go back to her digs and collect her thoughts. And she wanted to write to Daddy and Ama and tell them all about it. Jayesh was almost forgotten as she hurried back through the cold misty air, her heart lighter by far than she had felt since she arrived in England. With Jayesh, she had always felt nervous and eager to please, never as relaxed as she felt today. It was a good feeling. Almost like finding a home.
For the next two weeks, Anisha met up with the others at the coffee shop on Fridays, and a couple of times a week, she helped at the mobile soup kitchens but always stayed safely behind the counter. As the faces of the street people separated from the crowd and she got to know some of them, her terror at being on the streets late into the evening faded. And Seraphina always took her home safely. Anisha was starting to settle in and get to know people. She hadn’t realised how claustrophobic things had been with Jayesh. He didn’t even take me to meet his family, she thought indignantly – when she thought of him at all, which happened less and less. She didn’t miss him one bit, she realised to her surprise.
By Christmas Eve, she had resigned herself to not seeing her mother and father, but Jeannie had invited her to dinner, and there were parties to go to. No longer alone and shy, her world had expanded into a kaleidoscope of colour and fun. Her letters home were transformed. But however will I find time to study, she caught herself wondering, as she dashed back to her flat to put on warm clothes for the soup kitchen. Comfortable now in a thick woollen jumper, jeans – not too tight, she didn’t like those – and a big warm coat, hat and scarf, she waited outside her flat for Seraphina to pull up in the white van with blue wings painted over the back wheels. Ah. There she was. Anisha pulled the passenger door open and jumped in, only to freeze with horror as she realised it must be the wrong van.
“I’m so sorry,” she gasped, as she looked at the silhouette of a young man. “I thought this was Seraphina’s van.” She fumbled for the door handle, ready to leap out.
“Hi. You must be Anisha. Seraphina asked me to pick you up tonight. She’s running late, and you and I are on the same soup run as each other. I’m Simeon. We’re going to Wendley Road tonight. They have a bit of a special on after the soup, so I’m told. We’ve been invited to stay afterwards. I’ve never been on Christmas Eve before, have you?” He was gabbling, Anisha realised. Maybe she wasn’t the only one embarrassed by the change of plan. She stole a sideways look at him but couldn’t see his face properly. She didn’t want to turn her head and take a better look, so she concentrated on the road ahead.
They were driving to the outskirts of the city. She’d never been here before. And with a strange man. Her heart sank. What on earth were they going to talk about? She wriggled uncomfortably.
At last the van pulled up on a dark corner, and Simeon got out and started to unload. The mobile soup kitchen was there already. Seraphina was manning it and gave them a wave. Relief flooded through Anisha. Thank goodness.
“Did you bring loads more stuff, Simeon? We’re going to need it. I’ve almost run out. Busiest night of the year tonight.” She pushed her ginger curls out of her eyes and handed another cup of soup to a ragged individual standing by the hatch. “There you go, my love. That’ll warm you up. Come back later. There’ll be mince pies then.” The shabby figure muttered at her and shuffled off. “Come on, let’s get cracking. I’m only here for another hour, and then I have to go. I’m singing with a local choir. The rest of the crew will be back to pack up the soup kitchen later. You don’t have to do that. Just hand out the soup until it’s gone, then sit back and enjoy the show.”
“What show?” Anisha looked at Simeon in bewilderment.
“Search me.” He turned to the hatch. “Chicken soup? Or vegetable? Come on, Anisha. Let’s get busy. We can worry about that later.”
Two hours later, Anisha was flushed and laughing. The soup was all gone, and a cheery couple of youngsters had packed everything up and driven away. She peeped up shyly at Simeon beneath the street light. He turned laughing brown eyes to her and held out a strong brown hand. Shall we stay to watch the show then?” She hesitated. Would it be wise? She didn’t even know him. “Oh, do stay. I don’t know a soul here,” he pleaded.
“But you don’t know me either.’
He looked at her solemnly. “I know your name is Anisha. I know you are studying law at Uni.” He turned to her, swept off his scarf and bowed extravagantly. “Greetings, Mem. My name is Simeon. I am here studying journalism. I had been going to go to study at Karunya or Madras.” She gasped. Really? How strange. She hadn’t told anybody here about those two universities. He wrapped his scarf back around his neck, his teeth gleaming very white in the dark. “But I suddenly got the chance to come to Uni in England. How could I resist?” He stopped capering about and gave her a wistful look. “Oh, please. Do say you’ll stay. I’ll see you safely home. No funny business.”
Anisha looked at him, trying to be severe, but she could feel a dimple twinkling at the side of her mouth. “Very well. But you promise? No funny business?”
“You have my word. Mem.” Clowning around again, he put one arm around the lamp post, swung around it and made another of his ridiculous bows.
Laughing, she capitulated, and they wandered over to the group of outcasts collecting near a brazier. Mike was there, waving at them. Anisha breathed a small sigh of relief. Someone else she knew. They joined him, and he handed them mince pies. There was laughter and joking, but all of a sudden one of the down-and-outs gave a sibilant hiss, and a clock struck 11:45, chimes ringing out in the cold, crisp air. A silence fell, and Anisha heard Simeon give a sharp intake of breath. She looked up at the skies and gasped. It couldn’t be. No way!
It was. Before her disbelieving eyes, a huge angel choir was assembling, singing gloriously. Trumpets heralded a huge angel, who announced the age old words, “Peace and goodwill to all men, for today is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord.” She and Simeon stood there, reality suspended, taking in the sights and sounds of the Heavenly choir. Never in all her life had she experienced anything like this.
Anisha stepped back, catching her scarf on the handle of Aggie’s discarded shopping trolley. Turning to disentangle herself, she saw passers-by look at the small, tattered group, then glance upwards with blank faces and move on. Couldn’t they see it? Couldn’t they hear it? Shaking her head in astonishment, she lifted her eyes back to the magnificent sight. Her heart lifted, her soul seemed almost to rise out of her body and join the angels. Joy and rapture filled her until she felt she might explode; a silent tear ran unheeded down her cheek. Such beauty! Such majesty! Oh, what must Heaven be like? Caught up in the experience, she never noticed Simeon’s arm slip around her shoulder but instinctively nestled in to him, sheltering from the wind, all without taking her eyes from the heavens.
Slowly, the angels faded away and the stars came back out. Simeon let his arm fall from her shoulders and looked down at her, eyes shining. She opened her mouth to speak, but he put his finger to her lips, and they walked back to the van in silence. He held out his hand to her. Anisha hesitated. He gave her a steady look. “No funny business, Anisha, but I’d really like to get to know you better.” She smiled and held out her own hand. His warm fingers wrapped around hers, and they stood for a moment, gazing at each other. From behind them, Mike looked at them in satisfaction before he shook out his wings and soared upwards. Another job done.


A Blessing to be Spoken at Night ~ Art Durkee


A Blessing to be Spoken at Night

Earth shelter you
Fire be inside you
Water cool you
Air gentle you always.

By starlight, sunlight,
moonlight, candlelight and firelight,
Who created us all at the beginning,
receive us all at the end.

Art Durkee


Review: The Nameless Day (The Crucible #1) ~ Sara Douglass

The Nameless DayISBN ~ 978-0765303622
Publisher ~Tor Books
No. Of Pages ~448 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble (unfortunately this Trilogy seems hard to come by in its entirety)

The Black Plague. The Pestilence. Disease and death haunt every town and village across 14th century Europe and none are immune from its evil. Some see the devastation of their world as a sign from God for Man’s wickedness.

But Brother Thomas Neville sees this swath of death as something much more. Neville is a man beset by demons. Or is it angels? He has had a visitation from none other than the Archangel Michael, who commands Thomas to a mission. This mission will take Neville across the length and breadth of the continent in a desperate bid to find the means to stop the minions of Satan who have found a doorway out of Hell and are preparing to venture forth, to try and seize this world in preparation for an assault on Heaven itself.

As Thomas Neville encounters angels and demons, saints and witches, he comes to realize that the armies of God and Satan are arraying themselves for the final battle…and that his soul is to be the battleground.

The question is has Neville picked the truly good side?

4 Thumbs-UpThe Nameless Day is the first volume in Sara Douglass’s trilogy, The Crucible, and what a trilogy it is.   Although it may not appeal to all readers, The Crucible is probably the best historical fantasy series I have read in a long time, and unlike other series in this genre you don’t have to plough through double-digit numbers of novels to get to the end.  However, if you or a member of your family is fainthearted or devoutly Catholic this may not be the book for you considering the shenanigans the religious characters get up to.
The main protagonist is a self-righteous, small-minded, hypocritical man, and although this may make him seem the type of character some readers are unable to relate to it also makes him a more realistic character given the period of time in which the novel is set.  Finding someone with his modern liberal views would have been fairly uncommon for this era, but in writing this character the Author manages to make them believable but also one that readers would be drawn to.  In their writing of this character the Author has managed to ensure that there is room for development and one that readers will want to see change as they progress through, not only this book but the remaining two in the trilogy.  Taking place in an alternate version of fourteenth century Europe, readers will recognise many actual historical figures and, although it could so easily have turned into a book with too many characters to keep track of, the Author weaves historical fact and fiction about them together in a seamless manner giving each their own distinct personality and not leaving the reader the task of having to back track to see where they fit into the plot overall.

Taking the ultimate time long battle of Angels and Demons the Author places this a period of history that was fraught with upheaval.  The author incorporates well researched historical elements in their novel and adds enough fantasy to keep the reader from feeling this is just another dry historical work of fiction.  Some dates that certain historical figures appear have been slightly adjusted for the sake of the storyline, but this does not take away from the purpose of the book in any way, and that purpose is to give a great experience to its readers.  This book also manages incorporate a little bit of everything that would draw readers to it that may not otherwise pick up a novel in this genre.  As I have mentioned there is the history portion, but there are also elements of romance and fantasy, and I was glad to see that the romance was not the kind that would have me laying this book aside in disgust.  Added to this there are sections which are definitely dark and sinister which hint back to earlier work in the gothic genre, and the moments of gore and brutality are worthy of even the most celebrated of horror novelists.

The reason for my 4 thumbs review, as opposed to a 5 thumbs that it sounds as if I should have awarded to it is this; by the end of the book there are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of things remain unsolved.  This makes it the kind of book that would not function well as a stand-alone, so if you are going to read it, be prepared to have the remainder of the trilogy on standby.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good all round read, and a series that they can get their teeth into without having to expend vast amounts of time and money to complete it.  I will definitely be revisiting the trilogy again and probably on numerous occasions.


Review: The Puppet Record ~ M.L. Candelario

The Puppet Record
In the distant future, humans have spread to multiple planets and have discovered a conscious alien race. Yawmkind and humankind exist peacefully under a joint government called the Bastion, but this unity is tested when groups of human children simultaneously vanish on every human settlement. Stowed away on the ship sent out to investigate the disappearances, Joey Omaha must battle his addictions or risk ruining the mission.

5 Thumbs-UpOnce in a while there comes a debut piece of fictional writing that has me wanting to tell anyone who will listen how good it is; this is one of those times.  From the very first page, I was sucked into this highly believable and well thought-out futuristic world and this made this a novella that was very hard to put down.

Despite it being only 199 pages in length, this Author manages to produce a well-rounded piece of writing that leaves the reader wanting more.  This is a book that is not to be taken at face value, with an intricate and intriguing plot line, including plenty of twists and turns that would keep even the most diehard of adventure readers hooked to the end.

The main protagonist is the character that really made me think.  At first I couldn’t bring myself to even remotely like him, but as the book progressed the Author developed him in such a way that he wormed his way into my affections.  He is a young man who is battling demons in the form of an addiction, whilst trying to do the right and moral thing concerning those he works with.  I have never suffered from an addiction, apart from reading, but the Author has apparently done a great deal of research into this area, and this shines through when they write about the trials and tribulations the main character goes through to hopefully triumph.  Using a mix of human and alien characters in this book, the Author is also able to convey through their writing, in a non-preaching way, that everyone is connected and similar in some way, whether it is through a way of thinking or a gesture.  This made one of the alien characters particularly likeable, and very much a person I would like to have as a family member, but as to which one that would be, you would just have to read the book.  Although I did not agree with some of the points of view put across by the characters, this in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the book; it just gave me food for thought and great enjoyment when pondering over the possibilities.

The world building in this novella is superbly executed, not just through the sheer imagination of the Author but also by the way in which they allow the technology and history of this world to be narrated to the reader by the books characters.  This adds a definite ‘human’ touch to the book which made me feel like the characters, and the Author, would perhaps like me to visit and stay awhile in their world.  Not content to stick to one particular world, the Author spreads the tale out across this unknown universe and, in doing so, is able to make the reader wonder if there could possibly be such a place outside of the scope of current space exploration.  Full of philosophical ideas and some religious perspectives, this little book will, if nothing else, make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about life and maybe even step outside your comfort zone to examine new ideas.

Not your usual run of the mill sci-fi book, the fast paced and riveting plot will keep you turning pages to the very end.  I would very highly recommend this novella to all who love a good sci-fi book, and also to those who enjoys adventure tales.  I will definitely be reading more from this Author.


Review: Where Angels Tread ~ Loretta Livingstone

Where Angels TreadJeannie: Innocent and shy. Kicked out by her mother, Rita.
Matt: Predatory and dangerous. Is Rita really who he wants?
Rod and Carla on a romantic city break, and Jeremy, just seven years old, out with his dad.
And just who exactly is Mike? Could there be more to him than meets the eye?
Strangers whose lives are destined to cross more than once and change forever.

4 Thumbs-UpMaking the transition from Poet to Author is a tricky one that some Poets are not able to make successfully; however, this Poet has managed to add Author to their résumé with what appears to be consummate ease.

In this debut novella the readers given the chance to read of series of short stories; but are they just short stories?  Each one of them is a tale within itself, but the Author manages skilfully to weave them all together to centre on the main character.  The stories are all based on the same theme, but told from the different perspectives of each of the characters involved.

The characters are well-written and immediately spring to life on the page.  In writing the characters this Author has managed to give a name and a back story to members of our society that often go overlooked, the homeless.  The main protagonist, around which all these stories revolve is a young homeless girl; fragile, vulnerable and scared, but also determined to make the best of her lot.  The reason she finds herself in this situation is handled with kid gloves, and although brings a powerful picture of the home life of this girl, it is not done in such a manner that it could offend or shock those who are of a sensitive nature.

In writing this novella the Author is able to remind the reader that, in this world of chaos, violence and the unspeakable acts we commit against each other, there is hope and that humanity has not become so lost that there is no way back.  Yes, this book does have religious undertones to it, but that does not make it a novella that cannot be enjoyed by the religious and non-religious alike.

I would highly recommend this book to any and all readers who are looking for a short uplifting read that proves the world is not such a miserable place after all.  My reason for the 4 thumbs rating…it just wasn’t long enough.  I look forward to reading more fiction from this Author.


Review: The Reality Dysfunction (Night’s Dawn #1) ~ Peter F. Hamilton

The reality dysfunctionIn AD 2600 the human race is finally beginning to realize its full potential. Hundreds of colonized planets scattered across the galaxy host a multitude of prosperous and wildly diverse cultures. Genetic engineering has pushed evolution far beyond nature’s boundaries, defeating disease and producing extraordinary spaceborn creatures. Huge fleets of sentient trader starships thrive on the wealth created by the industrialization of entire star systems. And throughout inhabited space the Confederation Navy keeps the peace. A true golden age is within our grasp.

But now something has gone catastrophically wrong. On a primitive colony planet a renegade criminal’s chance encounter with an utterly alien entity unleashes the most primal of all our fears. An extinct race which inhabited the galaxy aeons ago called it “The Reality Dysfunction.” It is the nightmare which has prowled beside us since the beginning of history.

4 Thumbs-UpWhen most people think of English sci-fi writers the one that usually comes to mind is Douglas Adams as author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  However, after reading this first in an epic space trilogy that may all change.

To say this is not easy reading would be an accurate statement, but to say it is well worth reading would also be an accurate statement; this is a novel that demands a reader’s full attention and time so that they will fully appreciate all the layers and undercurrents that feature within its pages, of which there are over 1200.

In this book, and I have read the whole trilogy more than once, the Author takes the time to start developing the characters that will feature throughout the entire series.  With great attention to detail he places certain personality traits in the storyline at key points.  There is the evil genius, rebellious teenager and a bad boy turned good, which unfortunately make them appear like cookie cutter characters that one might read about in any book in this genre.  However, the main problem with this that I found was that it was very difficult to discover who, out of all the characters introduced, was the main protagonist.  Once discovered, he turns out to be the kind of character you will either instantly like or want him to be dealt a killing blow as quickly as possible.  I quite liked the quirkiness I found to be part of his personality and, rather than the cookie cutter I imagined he was destined to be for the remainder of the novel, he actually turned out to be quite fun.  What makes him fun may not be every reader’s ideal, but there was just something about his character that made him hard to dislike.

When it comes to the plot line some of the happenings may seem to hit a nerve, or give a feeling of déjà vu.  This is not because the Author has transplanted the idea from somewhere else, but rather that something else has borrowed an idea found in this book and adapted it to their use; think Farscape, Moya and Pilot  when reading this book and you will see to what I refer.  As with all sci-fi fantasy novels, this one provides a landscape in which the reader can let their imagination run riot; it doesn’t matter if at first glance some of the plot lines may appear unbelievable, put them in whatever context your imagination sees fit, and you will find they become believable.

For those readers who are offended by sex scenes in their reading material, there are some included in this book, but they are of such a nature that you could easily skim over them without losing the thread of the plot at all.  In fact, I felt that if these unnecessary scenes had been cut from the original book, not only would it have cut down the number of pages but also helped the flow of the storyline a little.  The main reason for my 4 thumbs rating, as much as I enjoyed this book, is that rather than space out some of the more brutal parts of this beginning epic, the Author crammed in as much torture and general exploitation in to the first half of the book as they possibly could and this was rather overwhelming at times.  There is so much more I want to bring to the attention of anyone who might be considering reading this book, but not only would it result in my revealing some pretty spectacular pieces of writing, but it would probably mean that this review would extend way beyond the usual space I allocate to these things.

With that said I would highly recommend this book, and the following two, to anyone who enjoys a great sci-fi epic and who may not have already read this.


Review: Sophia’s War: The End of Innocence (#1) ~ Stephanie Baumgartner

Sophias WarSophia can hardly wait to return to Germany to help her great-aunt run the town library, despite her father’s distrust of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But Sophia’s not worried; she knows she will be safe with her extended family.

Unfortunately, the beautiful country that she remembers from her childhood visits is almost unrecognizable. Almost every man is in uniform, and everyone she meets seems watchful and secretive. It quickly becomes apparent that Germany is not what it used to be, and neither is her cousin, Diedrich.

Will Sophia return home when Diedrich gives her an ultimatum that defies her conscience? Or will her desire to fulfill her aunt’s wishes keep her in a dangerous foreign land on the brink of war?

2 Thumbs-UpI can only say a few things about this book and to be honest that is a shame.  Here is a book I wanted to truly love, after all I thoroughly enjoy both fiction and non-fiction works set in this era, so by the time I reached the end of this novel, I was so disappointed that I only just liked it.

I have no issue with Christian fiction, as sometimes it can be a lot better written and put together than those outside this genre; the Authors of this kind of work always seem to be able to show the sliver of light in the darkness, but this novel was just too much and led to my being really irritated in parts.  This impression was fuelled mainly by the featured protagonist of the title; she was just too good to be true.  Her most annoying trait was putting off thinking about things that she didn’t like, or upset her all too sheltered little world.  This may sound like a natural human reaction when dealing with the issue of war, but then the reader discovers that the most important things in her world are all centred on her.  I found there to be no strength of will or conviction in this character at all, and as a whole found her to be rather vapid and flimsy.  The main protagonist was not the only character I had issues with; her all too perfect devoutly Christian family were written in such a way that I felt downright disgust at their hypocrisy, and this made me come to think of them as “Sunday Christians”, not an image I should imagine the Author was looking to create at all.

Repetition featured heavily in this novel and, not intending to insult the Author in any way, it came across as if they had reached a wall with the storyline and brought back time and again feelings and impressions that had been covered earlier, to bridge a gap until the plot could be picked up again.  If it was used as a tool to ensure the reader understood the motivations behind everything, good for them but if you are going to use this style in the future it may do well to come across a little less heavy-handedly.  Also, and this is definitely just my personal opinion like everything else in the reviews I write, I feel this book should be reclassified as Christian Fiction; in this way the Author would probably reach a larger target audience.  Classified as it is, readers picking this up and expecting to read about World War II Germany from a young American woman’s viewpoint will be sorely disappointed.  I’m in two minds whether I will read anymore in the series; as one part of me would like to see if the Authors writing style and approach develop; but the other side of me is loath to have to go through the same thing I went through with this novel.

I would recommend this book to those readers who enjoy inspirational Christian fiction and who don’t mind embarking on yet another series of books.


Review: In the Beginning ~ Abby L. Vandiver

beginningIn 1997, Biblical Archaeologist Justin Dickerson is unhappy with her life in general and has decided to run away from her problems. Intervening, her mentor asks that she go with him to the Fifty Year Jubilee commemorating the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem. There she finds that in 1949 Jerusalem some of the 2,000 year old manuscripts, hidden in clay pots in the caves of Qumran, may have been destroyed.

Justin, obsessed with this revelation, is determined to get to the bottom of the deceit. Uncontrollable emotion takes hold of her, and family and faith help guide her as she unfolds the truth of Earth’s ancient mysteries discovering what really happened In the Beginning . .

2 Thumbs-UpThis is a debut novel for this Author, and promises to be the start of a very interesting series if a few of the wrinkles in this one can be ironed out.

The main protagonist came across as a rather unlikeable and extremely arrogant character, and although the Author tries to attribute these characteristics to the emotional state this central person is in it really didn’t come out of the page very well.  What could have been used as a really solid basis to explain the motivation, or lack of it, in the main character was left to the reader’s imagination, and in some instances just dismissed all together.  Some academics, particularly in the field this character specialises in, are often perceived to be a little eccentric, but this was not even considered when the Author wrote this one.  I felt rather cheated in regards to this, as I was hoping for a character more along the lines of famous archaeologists, complete with similar quirks and traits, but all I received was yet another character in a book that could have all their idiosyncrasies explained away by health issues.  This made me feel as if the Author was unable to come up with a really intriguing back-story for their main protagonist, so they just pulled something from somewhere else hoping it would work; for me it didn’t.

The action in this novel has a kind of ebb and flow motion to it; when it flows it moves along at a fast paced and captivating speed, with just the right amount of energy needed in this kind of a novel to encourage the reader to keep going on to the end.  However, when it ebbs it pulls so far away from the realms of being a readable and absorbing novel that I almost put it on my ‘unable to finish’ stack, which is so small it can hardly be called a stack.  The result of these vast lulls in the action had me skimming over pages and pages, so I could get back into the flow again.  Another point in the book I disliked were the several instances of repetitiveness that had me doubting my own sanity and made me wonder if I had actually dozed off while reading.  There were too many instances of ideas being repeated and rehashed that it became rather insulting to be told, yet again, something the Author had already mentioned numerous times before.

Despite the research done from both a religious and historical perspective when writing this book, I did feel that some of the information used was not at all well-placed or even executed; this was a huge disappointment as those that fit in with the direction the novel was heading were so well written and in these portions it was apparent that the Author has a talent for fusing facts and fiction together.  I do feel that if more time had been spent in the proof-reading and editing phase this novel would have been outstanding, as it stands it fell far short.

Despite the low review rating I gave this book I would still recommend it to those readers who enjoy a religiously themed book.


From Tear-Jerkers to the Warm and Fuzzies…

As regular followers of my blog will know I am not a lover (excuse the pun) of the romance novel genre.  However, as today is Valentine’s Day I thought I would share with you six of the greatest love stories of all time, and which I fully intend to bite the bullet and read, or reread as in the case of Bronte, to review at a later date.  As always this list is in no particular order.

Wuthering HeightsTitle ~ Wuthering Heights
Author ~ Emily Bronte
ISBN ~ 978-0141439556
Publisher ~ Penguin Classics

One of the most passionate and heartfelt novels ever written, Wuthering Heights tells of the relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, the orphan boy her father adopted and brought to Wuthering Heights when they were children.

While Catherine forms a deep attachment to Heathcliff, her brother Hindley despises him as a rival. Heathcliff becomes torn between love for Catherine and the rage and humiliation he suffers. Finally he can stand it no longer and, in the violence of a summer storm, leaves the Heights for three years. During his absence Catherine has married, but her tormented heart belongs eternally to Heathcliff who is now prepared to exact his tyrannical revenge.

With its freedom from social convention and its unparalleled emotional intensity, Wuthering Heights is a highly original and deeply tragic work.

Anna KareninaTitle ~ Anna Karenina
Author ~ Leo Tolstoy
ISBN ~ 978-1593080273
Publisher ~ Barnes & Noble Classics (June 1st, 2003)

Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover. Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable to escape an increasingly hopeless situation.

Set against this tragic affair is the story of Konstantin Levin, a melancholy landowner whom Tolstoy based largely on himself. While Anna looks for happiness through love, Levin embarks on his own search for spiritual fulfillment through marriage, family, and hard work. Surrounding these two central plot threads are dozens of characters whom Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together, creating a breathtaking tapestry of nineteenth-century Russian society.

From its famous opening sentence — “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—to its stunningly tragic conclusion, this enduring tale of marriage and adultery plumbs the very depths of the human soul.

Doctor ZhivagoTitle ~ Doctor Zhivago
Author ~ Boris Pasternak
ISBN ~ 978-0679774389
Publisher ~ Pantheon (March 18th, 1997)

This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak’s complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it. The book quickly became an international best-seller.

Dr. Yury Zhivago, Pasternak’s alter ego, is a poet, philosopher, and physician whose life is disrupted by the war and by his love for Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. His artistic nature makes him vulnerable to the brutality and harshness of the Bolsheviks. The poems he writes constitute some of the most beautiful writing in the novel.

Sense and SensibilityTitle ~ Sense and Sensibility
Author ~ Jane Austen
ISBN ~ 978-0141439662
Publisher ~ Penguin Books (April 29th, 2003)

‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

Dangerous Liaisons - Les Liaisons dangereusesTitle ~ Dangerous Liaisons: Les Liaisons dangereuses
Author ~ Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
ISBN ~ 978-0192838674
Publisher ~ Oxford University Press (March 18th, 1999)

The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. The subject of major film and stage adaptations, the novel’s prime movers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game – a game which they must win. This new translation gives Laclos a modern voice, and readers will be able a judge whether the novel is as “diabolical” and “infamous” as its critics have claimed, or whether it has much to tell us about the kind of world we ourselves live in. David Coward’s introduction explodes myths about Laclos’s own life and puts the book in its literary and cultural context.

Hunchback of Notre DameTitle ~ Hunchback of Notre Dame
Author ~ Victor Hugo
ISBN ~ 978-0140443530
Publisher ~ Penguin Classics (October 26th, 1978)

In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo’s sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century.


Review: When Mountains Move (Into the Free #2) ~ Julie Cantrell

When Mountains MoveIt is the spring of 1943. With a wedding and a cross-country move, Millie’s world is about to change forever.  If only her past could change with it. Soon after the break of day, Bump will become Millie’s husband. And then, if all goes as planned, they will leave the rain-soaked fields of Mississippi and head for the wilds of the Colorado Rockies. As Millie tries to forget a dark secret, she hasn’t yet realized how drastically those past experiences will impact the coming days.For most of Millie’s life, being free felt about as unlikely as the mountains moving. But she’s about to discover that sometimes in life, we are given second chances, and that the only thing bigger than her past … is her future.

3 Thumbs-UpTwo things I wasn’t fully aware of when I was given this book to read; one, it was the second in a series and two, it is classified as being Christian literature.

Maybe my inability to connect with any of the characters in this book was due to the fact that I hadn’t read the first one in the series, and because of this I didn’t understand some of their personality traits and motivations behind the things they did and said throughout the book.  Those I did connect with, and thoroughly enjoyed were characters, which obviously from the way they appeared in the novel, were making a debut on these particular pages.  Maybe because I read this out of sequence, there were many times I just didn’t find the characters believable at all, and this really disappointed me to a point where I nearly consigned this book to the ‘to be finished later’ pile.

The saving grace in this novel, and the one that kept me reading through to the end was the vivid way in which the Author describes the small corner of Colorado the main protagonists call home.  When the main character sees the scenery before her for the first time, and it takes her breath away it also takes the reader’s breath away too, such is the skill this Author shows when writing about the locations in which the novel is set.  The Author has also obviously done a great deal of research into the local plants and herbs of the area, as well as the crafts of quilting and knitting and this shines through when she explains the use for the herbs and plants encountered.  In many ways this book could have so easily become preachy as it is full of references to God, but it didn’t.  While staying true to its genre it still managed to portray a harsh and gritty way of life for those who were trying to break ground and start new lives not only partway through a world war, but so close to the end of the depression era.

As much as this was an enjoyable read it didn’t make me want to backtrack and open the first, and I highly doubt I will read anymore in this series.  I would recommend this to readers of Christian literature, but I would also advise they read Into the Free #1, before tackling this book.