Ectos begins with what has come to be a contemporary stereotype of writing - foreplay. But as the words pass by in an expected - and inevitably enticing - anticipation of sexual steam, few very misplaced lines begin to intervene. The prologue does not reach a climax but leaves us tantalizingly teased on more than just a sexual dimension. And that is a very good thing, for the tone is thus set for the story that is about to follow.
The first chapters take us dangerously close to a successful exploitation and murder of a pretty young jogger at the hands of a psychopath. But we are inches away from the dagger-skin communion when something very unexpected happens. On the face of it, Mr. Newhouse did not really need to play around with the storytelling here, for the plot itself is so mysterious. But he does and in doing so within the very first tenth of this book, he delivers the lesson: do not presume.
A case in point would be the (main) ghost. We meet a very different variety here - one coming to terms with amnesia (!) and sweetly spilling out an infatuation as he converses. The fallout is ironical - While it makes for a smooth read for us, it must have been anything but for the author scripting it. This is worth pointing out. To deal with psychology requires one to linger more in the minds of the characters than in the physical universe. Thoughts tend to go haywire, and need an accurate description to truly deliver the protagonist’s psyche and chain of thought. It is seldom clear. And to unjumble it, therefore, takes some doing. Mr. Mark does this effortlessly despite the fact that his lead role belongs to Shelly - a “her”. Credit where it’s due.
As the pages turn, the mystery expands as both suspicion and sympathy are cast on all four major characters we come to observe. Amidst this, an inspiring thought is delivered: “If we believe in ghosts, we believe in the after-life - and therefore it behooves us to live as righteously as we can. It's a very convenient antidote to our innate criminal instincts if we believe we are facing grim punishment.” So is that the author’s central motive?
It seems the author is playing with much more wonderful intent - to gift us with an entertaining experience. It is clear by the end of the book - once we are past ghosts, goriness, an out-of-the-box show of evil and a fitting climax. Mr. Mark takes us through this journey with more humour and niceness than the weight of mysteries it hooks us to, and in the end, leaves us with the latter being more of a fun ride to look forward to in Ectos 2. That’s right. And I certainly expect to see more of this series.
As one character notes, “We are about to enter the world of American occultism.” What he doesn’t say is that we are about to do so with caramel popcorn. So sit back and enjoy the skill with which it is served to us.
Hierarchy often risks an uprising in chase of the power that rests with the one on top. That is the premise of Order of Amite. In a slight drift towards the now-famous Marvel universe, there are powers of various characteristics that need to be protected here too. These though belong to elements. I like that - the word itself and what it implies. Yet, it is the way Author Diana Sears uses these as the crux of her story that interests me most.
Each character in Diana’s story bears a common grief - an early loss of family. There is the new Erregen - homosexual and most powerful - who is to be protected by five Guerrers, who are essentially super-Usuari. The Guerrers can have any one of the major elements at their core - fire, water, earth, air or spirit. The latter has the power to control hope. Together they shall deter the rogues from bringing mass destruction. The shared tragedy, a gay superhero, overly complicated names and multilingualism lend a fair bit of novelty to what soon turns out to be a literary comic book. But the author does not abandon contemporary conversational styles in favour of one more in sync with the “higher powers”, thereby making it all a fun read we can relate to. There is an exception though.
“Main tumse pyar karta hoon,” Arren ‘the air Guerrer’ whispers to fiery Makenna. It is one of the many Hindi or Tamil phrases the author uses. Yet, this one, perhaps unknown to Ms. Sears, carries an unintended significance. The sentence, meaning the fairly common “I love you,” has probably not been heard in the Indian subcontinent at least in this millennium. People don’t use it, thanks to the popularity of the English version and the overly sentimental Bollywood-ization of the Hindi one. To see it used by Diana is both ironic and evidence to how a phrase in one language or tone can be perceived entirely differently by different cultures - a lesson for authors and reviewers alike.
The integration of different languages, however, can be done better. It is a difficult prospect but the flow of the story - fast, action-packed yet sensitive - is such that characters cannot afford to say a thing and then rephrase in English. If the author can find a way, I shall be most keen to see the result. The ending, though, does justice to a build-up it intends to execute for this series. Book 2 is well placed to begin with a purpose and platform laid out now - with a potential turncoat, a secret observer, a villain tasked with vengeance and a fresh order of saviours set to charge. But . . .
It is only by the end of the story that Author Sears’ elusive incentive comes to light, unproclaimed still. It feels as if the author purposefully put every other aspect of her story in a fog of complicated names, multiculturalism and unconventional backgrounds. Instead, it is her use of common themes - from the familial losses to unexpected surprises - that eventually points to Ms. Sears’ objective. What she wants us to focus on is not a tale of villains and heroes - we have plenty of those - but the loss and resurrection of hope. Hope - the Spirit core, introduced to us in disguise at the very beginning of the story.
To quote from the book, “all elements can kill, but only Spirit can take your hope away forever.
Life without hope is not a life worth living.” As Diana Sears seems to know well enough, and testifies through her playful narrative, the same holds true for a story.
Stories in 3rd person normally see readers simply stare at the words that come to pass in the initial stages. They are somewhat clueless witnesses to what is going on, and where it’s all going. Brody gives us company in that respect - through his protagonist, Alex. This is his story, in 1st person.
For much of the story, nay, almost its entirety, we witness Alex - the juvenile criminal recently out of detention - get inducted to a more normal life. It is difficult at first. The guy has had a tormented childhood and he is now in a lavish setting, thanks to his suddenly-rich elder brother. As he claims, all he knows until then is to hate and is therefore, one of those people who doesn’t belong with normal people. My first question then: What is normal? Hate is what we all do, somewhat likeably at times. To rebel is an inherent characteristic. In the words of Alex, we are often pissed just because we can be pissed. So that’s hate and anger, followed closely by guilt when, to quote the protagonist once again, we feel there is nothing that can save our soul, that there is a monster that will just not leave. In all respects, this is what normal sounds like. And that is what the author seems to try to establish. For, his objective is not to make us feel at peace with this normalcy. It is to make us feel at peace. Period.
Brody Lane’s diary-narration is slow but written inquisitively enough to keep us engaged as to how the charity case teenager will take to a new life of decency. For most part, we are back to school, witnessing brewing infatuation, bullying, new friends, awkward church visits on Sunday and adjusting in a new family. Then suddenly there is a touch of incest, then of drugs, then of murder. It put me under some doubt as to what the author was trying to portray, until towards the latter half, the pages made the answer evident. This story is about believing in God, and giving Him a chance to get us out of the mess that life throws at us. You could be forgiven for thinking of this as a typical sermon. If it is that, it is one that entertains while being so. And just when you think the characters had reached a happily-ever-after in the arms of the almighty, Brody delivers a killer punch.
I confess to having thought for almost the entire story that I had the author’s noble incentive figured out. Having just turned over the last page, I now stand amused. Beyond the Skyline does not refer to the skyline of New York or even that of our conscience. It does not intend to tell us what to do or not do, the right or the wrong. In its own way, it simply asks us to be. And to do so with happiness, however and whoever we are.
As one of the teenagers states in a most refreshing way, “being cool is overrated, it’s being a freak like us that counts.” This freak has tattoos, is nearly gothic, is brash and flirts. But she is also a friend, a daughter, someone who understands, is sober and is concerned for other’s wellbeing. That is how Mr. Lane brings us to a closure, and despite the unexpected heartbreak he leaves us with, we do not feel the pain. It’s beautiful.
A cup of tea never goes out of fashion, nor do the kind of books that guarantee cosiness to go with it. We are, of course, talking here about romance. And Marie Lavender has a knack for serving it well.
As the author notes about the protagonist of Second Nature - a vampire, “All he’d ever hoped for, when you looked past the bitterness of fate, was acceptance. He had foolishly wanted to be accepted despite his supernatural flaws. And that just wasn’t possible.” That ironically is true for the very genre of romance in the sense that window of deviations allowed is rather slim. Readers around the globe are so invested in romantic stories on a sentimental note from the outset that little room is left for any dramatic manoeuvres. Unlike Scifi which allows unheard-of theatrics, Mystery which necessitates unforeseen twists or Adventure which guarantees unexplored arenas, Romance has to comply with specific human ideas of pleasure and love. For, these stories tend to our heart and are blind to all else, thus designed to bear an immense responsibility with a delicate touch. So there must be losses, a somewhat fairy tale approach, passionate lovemaking, an unquenchable thirst, a character both beasty and tender, and the joy of reunion. Perhaps no other element typifies this essence of a love story better than vampires do.
Second Nature opens with a woman managing the strings of loneliness, work, a new life and bitter past. Her first rendezvous with the blood-sucking hero, Alec, is sudden and something of a fantasy, despite teetering on lines of “consensual rape.” It leaves us gasping for more, and the author caters to that well enough in the chapters that follow. The story bears ample juice, thanks to a nice little teleportation power she has accorded her lead character, while the lady gets a more subtle but spicier power of reading the other’s mind. There is something that Ms. Lavender seems to be building towards that doesn’t come out in the open. And while the two lovebirds part ways momentarily and go through revelations of their respective past, the source of Desiree’s powers remains a mystery. Cue: Book 2?
Marie Lavender does not complicate her writing. The descriptions are just about sufficient and well spaced to allow us a vision of wall-and-wood that surrounds the unfolding affection. But she pulls us into the latter’s steamy sessions and doe-eyed discussions well enough to draw our focus on matters of anticipation. Yet, the beauty lies in her plot itself. It is well paced and simple, but shapes up the characters and their background to such an extent that one can’t help but wonder whether a larger set-piece is about to unfold in this series as a whole. Maybe I simply want that to happen. That is one area the plot can definitely improve upon and go all out on.
Regardless the status though, we have a story in our hands that gives us what it promises - a dose of mush and thrill.
Bookz featuring me: