Review: The Scribe by Liam Mullen

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Scribe
by Liam Robert Mullen

Amazon, 2016

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The verdict: A quick read, sparser than I’d hoped, serving a specific audience with an interest in biblical history.

I picked up The Scribe intrigued by its premise—a look at biblical history from a rarely told perspective. Mullen draws from the gospels and Acts to create plausible backstories for some of the Bible’s best-known characters, infusing some fictitious elements and extrabiblical traditions. While Mullen’s writing feels knowledgeable about the subject matter, some glaring anachronisms keep it from being truly immersive. Character thoughts refer to years as “BC” or “AD” even though the terms didn’t exist until centuries later, and the prose references some future events and includes modern vocabulary that took me out of the ancient mindset. Less nerdy readers might not have the same gripes. In terms of structure, the chapters are more like short vignettes involving different characters, making Mullen’s work more like a story collection than one continuous narrative. The behind-the-scenes musings about Christianity’s early days might spark thought or discussion; it’s to the story’s credit that I wanted more than I found.

Following Jesus’ crucifixion, Sanhedrin scribe Escobar faces an unexpected crisis of faith. In the wake of his own personal tragedy, Escobar is strangely moved by this rabbi on the cross, and he determines to learn more about Jesus. Years earlier, the young fisherman Simone loses his grandfather in a horrific accident but later earns the name Cephas, while meanwhile Roman Senator Cesari loses his wife in childbirth but learns from a Seer that his son will become the gospel writer Luke. Back in the present day, Escobar sees the resurrected Christ and receives a special mission. Interspersed with scenes of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Escobar goes to Ephesus with a changed heart, a city where he encounters Mary and the apostle John. Elsewhere, a now-adult Luke meets Paul on his own journey to Ephesus. As the scenes unfold, ripple effects stretch out to touch men and women across the Meditteranean world, culminating with a trial before Emperor Nero in Rome.

“The answer already lies in your heart, Escobar. You must cut all ties to the Sanhedrin or they will destroy you. You’ll destroy yourself by associating with them…listen closely to the words of men like Cephas. They have a steadfast message for the world.”

In contrast to the linear narrative of the gospels themselves, Mullen gives a layered perspective of the first-century Roman world. As a result, however, the timeline jumps around, and it’s challenging to find a single main character or conflict. The story has several developmental and proofreading issues and could benefit from professional editing. Several transitions feel choppy, and I wanted more development of the main characters. As a starting point, it’s an interesting take on a biblical origin story. All in all, The Scribe offers a quick, intriguing novella for those interested in biblical history.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Liam Mullen’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: Control Freakz by Michael Evans

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Control Freakz
by Michael Evans

Palmetto Publishing, 2017

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The verdict: While bumpy and a bit rambling in parts, a solid first effort from a young author. 

As the first novel from a young and developing writer, Control Freakz showcases Michael Evans’s creative aptitude. I respect Evans enough to offer the same critiques I would for more experienced authors. The novel digs its roots into popular culture and certainly knows its YA audience, although trimming the fat on long passages of internal dialogue would help to speed along the narrative. References to robotics and the global economy are realistic enough to suggest a plausible near future, even if the too-extreme dystopian world leaves little room for a moral gray area. To his credit, Evans answers the questions he raises and still ends on a cliffhanger. Genre fans who like to imagine the world beyond the text will find good starting points here.

Natalie Parker, a moody and overly dramatic 15-year-old with a dad who worked in Area 51 before going MIA, faces a new reality when the government enacts Protocol 00. In the years following a global stock crash, the president creates a totalitarian state and demands a national genocide of anyone who resists. Most strange of all is the mysterious blue pill that Natalie’s mom makes her swallow, allegedly for her protection. Soon on the run with boyfriend Hunter and techie neighbor Ethan, Natalie must escape the government hitmen chasing her across the Southwest, racing toward a refugee camp atop Camelback Mountain. Three years later, a disillusioned and increasingly vengeful Natalie searches for answers and her missing family, and the ever-present government threat pulls her back into the dystopian world.

Protocol 00…The final sentence read, “And it is imperative that every last person who took the blue pill be extracted from the population immediately.”

In the non-stop adrenaline rush, sometimes the narration feels like a cameraman with shaky hands, and it’s hard to know which way is up between the shouts. Especially early on, Natalie’s first-person voice screams that she’s about to die in just about every situation. A whirlwind information dump in the first chapter hits a little too fast, which may partially exist due to how easily characters can find information on the internet. For this reason, many of the big reveals later on feel more given than earned. Of course, all modern fiction has to grapple with that problem—how do stories build suspense when the answers are one computer search away? Later chapters slow down and focus on the characters. Natalie grows in confidence and assertion, offering some hope in the face of darkness. The not-so-veiled political references surprised me a bit—at one point Natalie thinks that “maybe if people in this country weren’t so ignorant,” then the world would not have collapsed. Parts of the narration have a hardcore punk sort of tone that I found a bit jarring and forced. Evans opens the door for a deeper sci-fi exploration as he unveils the implications of the blue pill (a reverse-Matrix color scheme, whether intentional or not), and Control Freakz makes a promising starting point for future writing. Recommended for young adult readers who can’t quite get enough of the anti-government dystopian genre and won’t mind the long descriptions.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Michael Evans’s writing, visit his website, or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: The Crimson and The Frost by John Williams and James Colletti

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Crimson and The Frost
by John Williams and James Colletti

CreateSpace, 2013

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The verdict: A modern tale with classic holiday themes best suited for young readers who won’t overthink it.

Kids bored with the annual Christmas specials have something new to look at: The Crimson and the Frost. For whatever reason—maybe the cover art—I expected this book to target a slightly older audience, but it really fits best for middle-grade readers. That said, Williams and Colletti’s novel creates a Santa-Clause-meets-Polar-Express holiday adventure aimed at the gadget-loving, phone-tapping children of the twenty-first century. While the dialogue and conflicts are often trite, the authors mix in plenty of humor to reach their intended audience and keep the plot humming along. The storyline draws on traditional scenery with some creative twists, making a modern Christmas tale with classic themes and messages that parents won’t mind their kids reading.

A 17th-century whaling ship encounters the terrifying and magical King of Winter, but a mysterious and even more powerful force rises to oppose him. In the present day, young Billy Hampton competes for popularity by showing off techno gadgets from his dad’s company to his schoolmates. When Santa’s sleigh lands outside Billy’s window—driven by two bumbling elves who’d left home for a day of New England lobster fishing of all things—he sneakily stows away and winds up in Christmas Town. Along the journey, however, Billy accidentally loses the all-important jewel that powers the sleigh. Billy’s hosts try to hide the news and fix the problem themselves; meanwhile, Jack Frost seizes the opportunity to make his long-awaited move against the toy-building hamlet. While the elves and Billy seek help from Santa, Christmas Town goes on alert as Jack Frost lurks dangerously in the hills.

You see Billy, sometimes the decisions we make seem trivial to us, but can have a profound effect on others.

The light-hearted comedy definitely drives the story, and the elves’ personalities—either endearingly crotchety or hilariously hapless—play off each other to add some laughs. Billy’s tour of Christmas Town approaches something satirical even, which doesn’t mesh with the supposed gravity of the missing jewel and impending danger. Young Billy is a misfit in his own right, struggling to fit in among elves and ruining everything he touches, yet he rarely faces consequences. Even as Frost looms in the distance, the expected catastrophe never truly comes. A later reveal that losing the jewel wasn’t entirely Billy’s fault limits his character development, and the story never reaches the requisite gravitas for a power-packed moral. Still, Billy works toward an others-orientedness, which provides a necessary message for kids of any age. The authors present their take on the true meaning of Christmas directly from Santa’s mouth—a celebration of generosity and joy—but Santa’s own backstory and flashbacks are less interesting than the elves’ present-day conflicts. Critical readers will likely find some editorial issues and mid-section point-of-view shifts distracting, but a thrilling final act uplifts the story to show that even the most unlikely among us can be heroes. The Crimson and the Frost provides a kid-friendly, modern take on Christmas themes. Recommended for young readers looking for a fresh storyline with familiar holiday characters.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out John Williams’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: The Einstein Prophecy by Robert Masello

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

The Einstein Prophecy
by Robert Masello

47North, 2015

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The verdict: A predictable page-turner producing standard action fare, best suited for long flights or a fun vacation read.

From its back cover, The Einstein Prophecy sounded right up my alley: a WWII-era thriller involving an ancient curse and the world’s greatest scientific minds. If the title’s supposed to evoke some Da Vinci Code connection, however, Masello’s novel falls woefully short of its ambitions, but I’m not ready to completely discard it. Masello’s background as a journalist and previous novelist shows in his ability to technically piece together a story, and it does succeed as a quick, mindless thrill ride. Readers looking for complex characters and depth are less likely to enjoy the story as those just hoping for a lighthearted adventure, but the premise at least is enough to engage the imagination. I call it less profound revelation and more mindless entertainment.

On a top priority mission for the Office of Strategic Services, art-professor-turned-soldier Lucas Athan uncovers a stolen sarcophagus cloaked in secrecy and danger. When the US government calls to collect the object, the brilliant and beautiful Egyptian archaeologist Simone Rashid follows Lucas back to Princeton with a mysterious agenda of her own. Meanwhile at the university, the famed Professor Albert Einstein is in the middle of his own secretive work on the Manhattan Project, and as Professor Athan investigates the artifact, their storylines soon converge. The US military prioritizes uncovering the mysteries of the ossuary for reasons not fully explained, but its power soon becomes apparent. Strange and deadly happenings follow anyone too close to the project, and if that weren’t enough, the Nazis want the ossuary back to harness it as a weapon for evil. Set against the historical background of WWII, Masello unveils a fast-paced adventure back on American home soil.

“Even if one fights on the side of angels,” the professor continued, “it can feel as if one is doing the Devil’s work. For years now, every day, it is all bombs and bullets, guns and planes, tanks and cannons, death and more death…One must wonder, where will it all end?”

The many threads don’t always tie together, and some of the historical context, especially with Einstein’s war effort, feels forcefully inserted. Otherwise, though, the story unfolds as standard thriller fare true to genre. Inexplicably well-resourced characters with high-reaching government connections collaborate on a top-secret project to save the world. At times I enjoyed the fast pace and cross-town chase scenes, but the heroes lack the depth and gravitas to inject any personal conflict into the narrative. Lucas is barely affected by his horrific war injury while romantic sparks fly all-too-predictably with his female counterpart. The ossuary’s backstory provides the most intrigue, but the novel’s deeper themes about the nature of good and evil tumble through the air without sticking the landing. Einstein’s character ends up as more of a gimmick than necessary plot piece, and the mystery unfolds linearly with few surprises. It’s not exactly like readers are unsure how the Manhattan Project will turn out. Still, Masello knows the ingredients for an adventure story. Nazis, ancient evil, expendable side characters, and a beautiful woman join together for a novel that’s more joy ride than careful exploration. For readers who want easy thrills and don’t mind a serious suspension of disbelief, The Einstein Prophecy can still pass the time.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Robert Masello’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.