Reviews: A Sampler of Our Work

Two til Midnight by Bernard L. Dillard

Avenging angels vie with demonic creatures to either carry out or try to thwart the will of no less than Almighty God in this holy rolling, get-on-your-feet-and-praise Jesus gem of a book by skilled author Bernard L. Dillard.

It’s a cosmic battle royale for the souls of the humans they’re charged with looking after, but archangels Gabriel, Raphaela, and Uriel know they’ve got a powerful Ally at their back as they try to keep Dr. G, Tario, Manuela, and especially the Player Kemal safe from Satan’s dangerous envoys

For their part, fallen angels, Mictian, Belial, and Ashtoreth feel equally confident they can continue to stir up sin-filled behavior in those being overseen by the angelic host.

Indeed, here on Earth, where Free Will is both a blessing and a curse, the outcome of this titanic daily struggle for souls is always a bit in doubt and outright danger.

The story centers around several main players, all of whom are either saved or not saved. As one says drily, “Ain’t no levels in salvation, just sanctification. If you saved, you saved. Just like if you pregnant, you pregnant. Ain’t no almost pregnant or halfway pregnant. Either you got a bun in the oven or you don’t.”

These members of the Alive Christ Church of Las Vegas, Nevada are, by and large, a God-fearing group. And under the fiery leadership of Haitian-Hispanic Pastor Ato Castillo, they meet weekly to lift up His holy name in sweat-drenched services that can last for hours, depending on how the Holy Spirit moves them.

But it’s their behavior outside these sanctified walls that create the superb tension that resonates like a live wire throughout the book, leaving the reader to wonder when the Biblical other shoe will drop.

For not everyone is as holy as they seem. Kemal and Manuela, for example, open the story with one of the most erotic sex scenes you’ll find outside an x-rated piece of pulp fiction. Then, they carry on their respective roles at church as though they are worthy of congregational admiration.

But Gabriel will only tolerate so much bad behavior before he unsheathes the long sword that rides close by his right hand at all times, and, swiftly, with a suddenness that will leave most readers reaching for their Bibles to rededicate their lives to God, he acts to extract a terrible penance for leading such a two-faced existence.

Dr. Garnet Gibbs, mild, erudite professor at UNLV by day and down-home, likeable mother and grandmother by night, is a central figure who can be said to be a shining example of this story’s overarching theme: get right and stay right with God, because you’re always being either guarded 24/7 by a winged warrior, or you’re being sized up for a sin brought on by Ashtoreth or one of her unholy colleagues.

There are, in fact, many well-drawn characters in this skillfully-written novel that you will come to care deeply about. Garnet’s daughter Jamay for one, and her young son R.J., are entering that problematic phase of the parent-child relationship in which boundaries are being tested and difficult questions are being asked.

And R.J.’s father Redd is half a world away, guarding America as one of the last U.S. Marines stationed in Afghanistan. So even though he is well guarded himself by Archangel Gabriel, who traverses the distance between the soldier’s home and his desolate barracks in a heartbeat, Redd cannot be there to help raise R.J. in the Spirit-filled way of Iife. That falls to his ever-vigilant mom and grandma, who do their very best despite their own dally challenges.

Space doesn’t permit a full description of every character, plot turn and nuance of this fine book. Suffice to say that you’ll want to pay very close attention as the world changes irrevocably for some key characters, particularly Garnet, who delivers a stunning conclusion that will leave you pondering its significance long after you’ve turned the last page.

Five-plus stars to Two til Midnight. It is a finely drawn narrative that makes an unreal world of angels and demons among us very real indeed.

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The Legacy and the Lion: Book One of the Yusan Chronicles by Elaine Jemmett

The Legacy and the Lion is the first book in the Yusan Chronicles, a military sci-fi story that holds a different atmosphere than most. It’s set in the future, but focuses on a primitive world of kings, horse-riding soldiers, murder plots, and power plays. It actually reads more like a history of an ancient world than a chronicle of a futuristic one.

In this setting, soldier Patrick seems to have no obvious connections after the death of his family. His introduction to a new post where political and social differences abound makes for an absorbing story of change, adaptation, different layers of political purpose, and angst.

Those who anticipate a post-apocalyptic tale should be advised that, in many ways, The Legacy and the Lion focuses on military and political maneuvering as it follows Patrick’s entry into the alien (to him) society of Yusay and its very different approaches to life. The usual trappings of a survival story or new society’s evolution are largely set aside in favor of this focus on Patrick’s adaptation process as he creates a life in the kingdom which is to be his new home.

It should also be noted that this is no light production. Elaine Jemmett takes the time to build her characters and the world in which they operate, resulting in a richer, fuller-bodied, less action-packed read than leisure readers usually receive.

These notes aside, The Legacy and the Lion is simply outstanding in its world-building approach and its strong characters and their individual concerns. The central protagonist Patrick, who faces a new job, a king’s commands, mysteries and plots, and the changing political atmosphere of a society under siege, brings all these pieces together.

As events move full circle into Patrick’s realizations about his own family ties, readers receive a satisfying, multifaceted story that is as much a mystery and political examination as it is the story of one man’s search for a new place and realizations in a futuristic world.

Five stars to The Legacy and The Lion. It’s especially highly recommended for readers who like multi-volume series reads steeped in social, political, and military encounters.

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Encouragement: How to Be and Find the Best by Cathy Burnham Martin

In her extraordinary book, Encouragement: How to Be and Find the Best, author Cathy Burnham Martin exudes an enthusiasm for life unmatched in other self-help books that claim to boost your spirit and world view.

This articulate narrative examines expertly the reasons why we should surround ourselves with cheerleaders — people who either call out from the sidelines, ‘You can do it!’” Or those that “may stand quietly in front of us and look us in the eyes, as they calmly infirm, ‘You’ve got this.’”

Burnham goes on to provide a wealth of lists, tips and inspirational quotes to bolster her assertions that anyone can attain — and keep — a winning attitude.

On the flip side, she also warns against extensive association with negative individuals whom she calls “Discouragers,” who carry with them each day an abundance of negativity which they bestow freely upon anyone who is finally getting the upper hand on things.

“Discouragers see the gloom in every room, the cloud on every silver lining, and the problem in front of every solution,” Burnham reports.

Next, she marches confidently through the book, touching briefly on such vital topics as how to deal effectively with despair by quoting a no less venerable source than the Bible: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” — Proverbs 17:22

And then she follows that helpful admonition by citing the profound observation of a man who truly outlasted more opportunities for despair than most of us will ever know: Nelson Mandela, who said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Really, the book is one remarkable observation after another — many of them Burnham’s own, bubbling up from her deep well of sincere belief that every day and every hour gives us a chance to excel, and to be, as the old advertisement used to say, “All that (we) can be.”

“Sometimes the brightest lights come out of the darkest corners,” she intones during a brief discussion on the value of not giving up.

Space limitations on this review require us to fall back on the timeworn saying that you’re just going to have to get this incredible new book and read it cover to cover in order to get the maximum impact from it.

Five-plus stars to Encouragement: How to Be and Find the Best. Get it for yourself or as a special gift to anyone who has issues with self-esteem ot is dealing with hard times. It might not cure their lifelong feelings of inadequacy, or be a cureall for their current circumstances, but it could definitely provide lifesaving inspiration and a firm footstep toward a more meaningful tomorrow.

We’ll close with this inspirational advice from someone who left a legacy befitting her quiet dedication to excellence. Marie Curie, first woman to win the Nobel Prize, said, “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that?  We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.  We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

Available for instant download or delivery as a paperback keepsake gift from Amazon today.

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