Thursday, 26 January 2017

Book Review: How Missionaries Destroyed a Paradise by Katerina Sestakova Novotna


Laa, a girl from Bikini Atoll, is very naïve. She does not always understand men, philosophy of religion and the world in general since she has spent most of her life on an isolated island with limited access to information.
She has studied closely only three books: “The Marshallese Bible,” “Princes and Princesses” and “The Christmas Book.” Yet she does her best to interpret these sources, and confronts them with her own daily observations. 
It seems obvious to Laa that American missionaries were mistaken about many things. How could an all-good, all-wise and all-powerful God forget about Laa’s ancestors? Why did He not let them see the Star of Bethlehem thousands of years ago, if it is so important to know and accept Jesus? Were they all damned merely for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Many questions puzzle the young woman while she is falling in love with an American man. He seems to take advantage of her gullible nature, and she soon goes through many other hardships, which make her wiser and stronger.
One day, Laa finally sees a colorful light in the sky that looks even more magical than the Star of Bethlehem in her Christmas Book. It is the star of Bikini. It seems to Laa that God has decided to address her doubts and answer all her questions. It does not really matter that the star turns out to be just a blast caused by one of sixty-six atomic bombs detonated on the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958.


How Missionaries Destroyed a Paradise is an intriguing work from Katerina Sestakova Novotna. Set against the idyllic background of the Marshall Island, the story is about a sexual awakening of Laa, a local girl on the tiny locale named Bikini Atoll.

With a population of a mere 167, there are not many men to choose from on the island as potential sexual partners, certainly not a pool large enough to consider marrying one of them. As the story begins it is set in the 1940s, the book’s cover giving an ominous warning about the story’s backdrop – the horrors that unfolded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the Americans dropped the bomb on Japan. Yes, it ended the Japanese participation in WWII, but this has been well documented in history and recycled on the silver and small screen alike.

The author chooses to inform us about the little known Bikini Atoll and its Marshellese speaking people. As is quite rightly pointed out in the narrative, to most people, a bikini is a woman’s two-piece swimsuit, but if you have read the author’s other works, you’ll definitely be more informed and educated than you were prior to picking up the book.

Laa may be young and naïve, but she is aware of her sexuality and observes how other women close to her, for example her Grandma or her married sister Rostianna behave as adult women and also how they deal with the subjects of sex, love, marriage and of course, growing up.

"Throughout the story, one gets a sense that something terrible and yet undeniable is building."

It’s hard not to like Laa almost immediately. She has an innocent, old world charm about her that only covers her smouldering sexuality on the surface. To some readers the book may appear to be too overt in its approach to sex, but for this reader, I observed a woman who wanted the simple things in life – someone to love, someone to love her, someone to make her feel fulfilled sexually and also to share a life and grow together. Laa could see conflict with her married with children sister and her carefree and sage-like grandmother. It seemed she wanted parts of both women’s personality reflected in her own, whilst carving out a way for herself.

Laa certainly held strong views on many things, opinions that brought her into frequent conflict with the local pastor. It was not that Laa was necessarily anti-religion, it was more a case that she saw hypocrisy where the ones preaching it did not. It’s easy to be brainwashed if there is little between your ears in the first place.

As the story picks up apace, other men, namely American soldiers appear on the island. Laa had never seen such men, with their different coloured eyes, hair and skin. Not to mention that these men were not backward in coming forward in their affections towards Marshallese women. Indeed, it is one soldier, Benjamin, that Laa takes a particular interest in, having been let down by the local appple of her eye, Neljin. He seems scared of Laa’s interest in him but in some ways, he awakened her curiosity about the opposite sex.

This story has an array of well defined characters, none more so than Laa herself. He actions and behaviours may seem at conflict with her emotions at times, but I think this is what makes her more real as a character.

Throughout the story, one gets a sense that something terrible and yet undeniable is building. The cover gives an indication but the author’s wordcraft is far more clever than that, never dumbing down or insulting the reader’s intelligence. That said, this is a book strictly for adults only.

The author is not shy in including characters we may not necessarily like, but neither are they included as a mere contrived plot device. By the story’s latter third, I defy anyone not to be feeling for Laa and her people as the ‘tests’ now being carried out in ‘safety’ by the soldiers begins to take hold.

I especially liked the factual epilogue that rounded off this exceptional story. It’s long, but it never feels that way. If you want to read something different, if you want to read and be informed about a lesser known event in history, if you want to read a work of fiction that is beautiful and terrifying in equal measure, then grab this book today.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Book Review: Salby Evolution by Ian D Moore


Synopsis: One man holds the key to our future. One man holds the key to our extinction. The merciless Salby viral strain, sweeping across the country, spawns a new breed of predator. Simon Lloyd, borderline alcoholic, must vanquish the demons of his past and change his single-minded ways. Filled with resentment, he enters a world far removed from his own. He must choose to take a stand for the greater good or risk losing his estranged wife and children forever. Against overwhelming odds, unethical science and the prospect of eternal exile, the decisions he makes will shape the future of mankind.


This second story in the Salby trilogy is a true evolution. I really liked the first story, but Salby Evolution is a far better tale, that takes the reader from the outskirts of Russia to the North Yorkshire area where Salby (Selby) takes its name.

What sets Ian D Moore's zombie thriller apart from others for me is how well written it is. That may sound like a necessary element, but I have read books that had a good story and decent characters, but were sometimes lacking a structure in terms of the story itself. 

Here, the author takes another gamble with a first person narrative, before switching to third person. Throw in different timelines and, in the hands of a lesser writer, the result could have been a bit of a hot-potch.

I'm actually a fan of books that switch POVs, that challenge the reader to keep up with timelines. Any critics of this style are welcome to their opinion, but I like this style personally.

Fortunately, Salby Evolution picks up at the same pace as its predecessor, so while I enjoyed the action pieces, especially in the early scenes when Simon encounters his first zombie, I enjoyed the character emotions and their subsequent developments as real people. 

 "In the hands of a lesser writer, the result could have been a bit of a hot-potch."

This tale should appeal to readers of any age. For younger readers, they will enjoy the zombie encounters. It's suitably bloody but never over the top. For readers of the author's age (like myself), we can appreciate the issues of marriage and divorce elements that are presented quite brilliantly in this book.

Once that scene is set, and we understand the MC's motivations, some of the scenes are to be expected in how they play out, but that's part of the fun. It's also possible that readers can enjoy this one without reading Salby Damned (Book One) first, but I think you'd be missing out.

Overall, Salby Evolution is a fantastic rollercoaster of a tale. Expertly written, beautifully crafted, with a story that simply pulls you in. It's a book that despite a lot going in my life at the moment, I read it from start to finish within three days.

I will be around for the final installment. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Book Review: Confessions (New Beginnings, #4) by Michelle Lynn


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Hockey is unpredictable. Grant Mackenzie has lived and breathed the game for most of his life. It’s what he did, but it isn’t what he loved. Sometimes you don’t know what you need until you’ve almost thrown it all away. He’s about to face the hardest month of his career. He knows what he wants now, but it isn’t up to him anymore and the damage may have already been done. His secrets are unraveling, his season is over, and it’s now what happens off the ice that matters most. 

Abigail Stewart masks her anger with sass, sarcasm, and a host of bad decisions. It is anger born out of years of emotional abuse. She has a new life now, but it’s a life of hiding who she is and who she used to be. 

From the first time Grant and Abigail met, they knew there was something there. Now, forced to spend two weeks on an island with each other, it’s time to face their feelings, and in order to do that, they must first face their pasts. 


What a cool series this is. The beauty of New Beginnings as a series is that characters of old can make all new stories. Mack and Abigail take centre stage in Confessions, and as an ex ice-hockey player myself, I appreciate all the team talk, manager one-to-ones and yes, the phoning it in that Mack does as a player. I understand it, because I did the same on occasion.

 "this latest certainly a power play in the genre!"

These days I am no less competitive on the football field. But Confessions focuses squarely on the romance between our two primary leads. It's hard not to like Abigail...there's something very girl-next-door about her whilst realising how good she could be as a future wife.

Mack is reckless, restless and annoying at times. But this is not annoying for the reader - he's a real guy doing real things in a believable way.

A short read that is jam packed with drama, but it is never over the top. I have read all of the author's books and this latest release stands amongst her best, and is certainly a power play in the genre!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Book Review: Pierson (Meager Boys Story, #1) by J Kahele



After his father's passing, Pierson Meager is left with much responsibility, undertaking the running of the family business and the fathering of his three younger brothers. For all the changes in his life, things are comfortable, uniform, and exactly how Pierson likes it—until an agreement with a stranger turns it upside down.

Susan Coyle is a driven woman, so when the position of Marketing CEO opens up at her company, she will do whatever it takes to land that job, even if it means cutting a deal with an absolute stranger. What Susan doesn’t realize is that this stranger will not only show her the real importance of life, but he will also unearth a tragic past she fought so hard to forget.


Pierson is arguably J Kahele's best written novel to date. The lives, loves and lows of Pierson unfold in her latest adult romance. What's especially pleasing to see here is a strong focus on story, not sensationalism. The cool erotic scenes are there aplenty, but it's arguable that the titular Pierson and 'woman of interest' Susan are the most rounded out characters here.

The dynamic between Pierson and his brothers is well done and anyone who has a brother (or is a brother) will understand how that relationship works. Again, Paxton, Phoenix and Preston all have their own ways about them, but Pierson is by far the most interesting.

"Few writers can write with such authority on mature relationships." 

Another huge step in the author's mature storytelling is in the relationship between Pierson and Susan. She is no weak willed woman, but neither is she an over the top facsimilie of annoying feminist heroines. Susan actually feels the kind of woman anyone could walk into but rarely do in real life.

I also liked the reintroduction of character's from the author's other stories, including some self-deprecating humour when talking about a character (Chain) 's name.

"Chain? What kind of name is that? What's next? Link?"

Loved that, along with the insightful thoughts on why Blu (another character) swears so much. Fans of Miss Kahele's works can have a lot of fun joining up the dots.

As to the primary story, wow - few writers can write with such authority on mature relationships. That's why I hope some male readers will take a punt and have a go at Pierson. It's important to behave like a gentleman in a relationship, guys. It's good to let the woman of your dreams really be the woman of your realities. Love is never boring, weak, or for the faint hearted, and in this electrifying tale in an all-new series, we get it all. Boy, do we.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Book Review: Little Big Boy by Max Power


Synopsis: Little Big Boy tells the often harrowing tale of a small boy, struggling to cope in an environment of violence and fear, in 1970’s Dublin. All he wants is to be a big boy, but that comes with a price. At home, he faces an increasingly violent father and at school, he encounters new threats from other boys and more menacingly, from one Christian Brother in particular. In the midst of his turmoil, the one person that stands up for him and keeps him safe is his mother. But a series of seemingly unconnected events, conjure up a storm of epic proportions, with this little boy in its path


Review: Two years ago I read a book that was to become my favourite book of 2014. That book was Darkly Wood by Max Power. Its mix of dark fairytale, myths and legends, stories within stories, along with an amazing narrative meant that I was thinking about it long after I had finished it, and I still think about it.

Perhaps that’s why I took so long to read another Max Power title. What if it didn’t live up to Darkly Wood? What if it didn’t live up to my expectations?

But enough of the what ifs. They are not relevant and certainly not helpful.

Little Big Boy is a personal, heartfelt account of a young boy growing up in Ireland. I admit I was a little reticent to read it, as another personal account by Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes was on such a level that similarities between the two would have been unfair, but it’s not totally unavoidable either.

Through a first person narrative we see the Little Big Boy of the title go through various growing pains. We see his brother Eamonn doing various rounds with his brutish father. His mother is no wilting wallflower but it’s obvious she is far down the list of priorities of her husband. But I come from an Irish Catholic family, even though I am English born. I actually love and embrace my Irish heritage, whereas my other siblings, especially my brother was less endeared to Ireland. It irritated me a lot that they would act this way, but I am sure many Irish / English Catholic families have similar issues. 

"The author never flinches from hard details, but he laces the story with light to laugh out loud humour."

Little Big Boy has a lot of scenes where the boy is getting into fights a lot, especially at school. For me, this was more interesting than the home life stuff, because I too would fight with other boys and befriend (kind of) some of them later. Of course there were many occasions where a truce was never made and yet I look back now and think it was character building. One has to take a positive angle on things, even something as serious as bullying, because the alternative (killing yourself) is too horrid to think about.

I loved the scenes that included the gaelic language. It is beautiful to listen to, but on the page you can only guess at what it means, but the author never leaves us in doubt about that. Perhaps my favourite example of this was how a boy wanting to go to the toilet had to ask permission in the precise gaelic terminology, otherwise they would not be allowed to go. Now I like languages but will admit I am lazy at learning them…conversational Chinese and a working French is what I am best at, along with a very basic knowledge of Italian and French. My mother would sometimes use a gaelic term but not very often. But I saw some similarities with my own upbringing and the main characters, though I had ‘teachers’ at school, not Brothers or Nuns (my mum was taught by nuns, though she had a choice gaelic word for them).

Midway through the story, it takes a rather sinister turn. If you read it, you will know what I am on about. But it links masterfully with the last third of the book. It’s here that Little Big Boy truly strikes gold. The short chapters allow you to make progress through the book quickly without losing the plot. It’s like some of the chapters are stories all on their own, such as the time the boy is out with his father (who is in the pub) and he has to stay by the car until he comes back. I could relate to that – my own father stayed out until 3 or 4am most nights, and made up stories to my mum about where he had been. But she knew, of course she knew. 

The author never flinches from hard details, but he laces the story with light to laugh out loud humour.

So my recommendation is that you should definitely read this story if you like a story that jumps out at you on every page. It’s not fair to compare it to Darkly Wood as it is a very different story. However, it just shows the author’s talent, breadth and depth of writing ability, and bravery in committing such a tough upbringing to the page for us avid readers to consume.

It’s another winner from Max Power.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Book Review: The Return of the Pumpkins by Lacey Lane



Peter Smith is a patient at West Hills hospital. He has been there for nearly a decade. At the age of thirteen, his parents were brutally murdered and Peter was tortured to near death by his Halloween pumpkins. Killer pumpkins haunt his dreams and his doctor thinks he's delusional. Determined to turn his life around, he has eventually decided to join in with the Halloween festivities in the hospital and carves his first pumpkin. Will Peter survive the tenth anniversary of his parents' death? Or will his pumpkin be the death of him?


The original Revenge of the Pumpkins was the first I read by author Lacey Lane. It was a brief, entertaining and utterly brutal horror story that was the kind you might just like to hear on Halloween, but in truth the ending was so shocking that the memory lived with you long after the trick or treat had ended. It was a delight to see this new story - it is still novella length but much meatier than its predecessor.

We join Peter, the protagonist from book one (or antagonist, depending on which side you take) ten years after the events in story one. He's not been coping well. There's echoes of Danny from the Shining when it was revisited in Doctor Sleep, though it is not a direct comparison of the two. Revenge of the Pumpkins strength was also its slight weakness - being short and shocking was great, but left us wanting more, even though it was a complete story in itself. 'Return' allows the story and its characters to breathe a lot more, but the length carries along to another great climax.

The doctors in the psychiatric hospital do what they can to bring Peter to good health, but the nightmares of those slashing pumpkins terrorise him again and again. The interplay between the studious and almost pious Doctor Mitchell and the (un) wise cracking and roguish Doctor Tanner.

It is not as gory as its predecessor, which may disappoint some, but for me the gore factor and mild sexual content was well balanced and a good choice by the author (because most sequel rules infer more gore, more sex and so on).

Another pleasing factor is the balance between dialogue and narrative which is well done and doesn't really allow you to put the book down. Although told in third person it was easy to get into Peter's head, to see what he was going through, that the nightmares seemed like the true terror, not the vicious attacks he had been subjected to himself.

"There's echoes of Danny from the Shining."

People tend to slowly rebuild themselves in psychiatric wards. We are carried along Peter's journey, literally, as he recovers step by step, breath by breath. People may not be able to relate to Peter's situation as to why he is in the hospital in the first place, but they can relate to these things...fighting for breath....many of us have been there.

Some of the characters, like Nurse Giles, play a dual role of good cop / bad cop and again, it shows good character building even though our focus is distracted by the increasingly psychotic behaviour of Doctor Tanner. Peter's eyes cast over Sue, a light amongst the darkness. This is good for the reader too, as we hope these two might get together, as the worst of days are made better by the love of someone special.

Sue seems to play the role of a sex crazed nymph but it becomes clear that she likes Peter in lots of ways, and he is a little overawed that someone other than doctors is taking an interest in him. Sue initially hams up this role, but as she gets in deeper with Peter, the story shifts to whether or not they will ever be released from that hospital, or make their escape before the pumpkins make their eventual return.

The ending is shocking, clever and poignant. One hopes that this is not the end, but the beginning of an even better third slice of pumpkin.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Book Review: Psychedelic Cure of a Narcissist by Katerina Sestakova Novotna

Psychedelic Cure of a Narcissist: Power of Kratom and Opiates by [Sestakova Novotna, Katerina]


Eric is a selfish man who likes to come back to his exes for sex and money, but he does not pursue them as hard as he pursues new girls. Miriam, a student of psychology, becomes an exception to his rules. Three years after their break-up, the woman he thought he knew all too well to be impressed with suddenly claims to be able to guide people into a magical 4D porn experience.

Eric is trying to earn his place in Miriam’s privileged circle, but the girl who purports to be a therapist like no other is remarkably unstable herself. Eric suspects that she may have a different agenda than to entertain him, but the promise of a new form of sexual bliss seems worth the risk. 

Does she want him back? Does she want to cure him? Does she want her revenge? It’s not clear what Miriam truly wants, but her wishes do not matter to Eric as long as he gets what he wants. But his own goals change, too, as the time goes on.

Miriam volunteers to be Eric’s guide in his psychedelic experience, but she also unintentionally becomes his teacher. He wants to learn to guide and fix others before he is fixed.


With wave after wave of social media sites, endless places to post photos and info about ourselves, I wonder if we aren’t all narcissists in some way. In Katerina Sestakova Novotna’s follow up to her 2014 debut novel, perhaps we are challenged to consider the possibility.

It is difficult to categorise Eric, our main narrator in Psychedelic Cure of a Narcissist, because he is not a hero in the traditional sense. He is not necessarily a victim either. But he is the narcissist of the title, whether he knows it or not.

Meeting women is not a problem for Eric, as three of them- Miriam, Magda and Monica feature heavily through this story and throughout. It’s fair to say that Eric does not treat them well, as psychology student Miriam points out the tale of Narcissus to a bemused and disinterested Eric.

He dismisses her position as psychobabble, but the author takes an honest approach through a first person narrative. Eric does at least admit the possibility that he is a narcissist.

It’s easy for him to dismiss blonde-haired, blue eyed Miriam. To him, she just seems like a piece of ass to use, abuse and discard. She’s rather too good at analysing him though, which he appears to dislike intensely. Meeting half Japanese-half Tahitian Magda means he moves on, but is never quite out of Miriam’s shadow.

He hurt her, so she intends to hurt him by refusing to get back with him. Miriam only considers Eric now in her position as a therapist. He is being led on a dance, but doesn’t appear to mind it so long as he can get what he wants from it.

His interest is piqued above petty and unsatisfying masturbation when Miriam introduces him to the idea of psychedelic substances. He is initially appalled, but the idea of being able to have sex with many women at the same time or that he could orgasm from different parts of his body fascinated him. Even when Miriam would talk about Eric’s gay friend Peter in ways that horrified him, his narcissistic personality kept going back for more.

Some men can cope with just one woman in their lives. Others need many to validate their own machismo. Eric appears to be the latter. As he says in one scene, he does not want to put himself in the hands of one woman; whilst at the same time acknowledging Miriam has rejected him and will only now see him as one of her guinea pigs.

As interesting as the Miriam—Eric dynamic is, it is the Eric – Magda coupling that takes the book into literally another universe. With the introduction of herbal wonder tea Kratom into the mix, a substance that is basically just crushed leaves or powder, Eric begins to depend on it, just like he depends on being sexually available for Miriam and controlling aspects of Magda. But I think the author raises another important point here - just what is it that we are addicted to, and why are some things banned, while others are not? Too much coffee can affect people in pretty much the same way.

"This book challenges us on many levels."

No. We are allowed to poison our bodies with cigarettes and alcohol because the government makes huge money out of it through taxes. The double standards are astonishing. However, kratom is not addictive unless the user cannot handle the high as well as the low. Indeed it has less negative effects than alcohol, the abuse of which is well known.

This book challenges us on many levels. What is acceptable in a relationship, what happens when fantasy crosses into reality, what happens when a harmless substance becomes either addictive or a tool with which to control others?

And this barely scratches the surface of this superlative work.

Enthralling as it is disturbing, one has to read this book. It is for adults only – but for some development of body did not go hand in hand with development of mind (some people just never really joined the two together, did they?) maybe some of them should read this too.