When Kevin Johnson, 22, goes to Wallace, Idaho, days after his college graduation, he expects to find rest and relaxation as his family prepares his deceased grandfather's house for sale. Then he discovers a hidden diary and a time portal that can take him to 1910, the year of Halley's comet and the largest wildfire in U.S. history. Within hours, Kevin finds himself in the era of horse-drawn wagons, straw hats, and ankle-length dresses. Traveling repeatedly to the same time and place, he decides to make the portal his gateway to summer fun. The adventure takes a more serious turn, however, when the luckless-in-love science major falls for pretty English teacher Sarah Thompson and integrates himself in a community headed for disaster. Filled with humor, romance, and heartbreak, THE FIRE, the sequel to THE JOURNEY, follows a conflicted soul through a life-changing journey as he makes his mark on a world he was never meant to see.
Reviewed by Awesome Indies
October 21, 2014
While on a family trip to Wallace, Idaho, Kevin finds a relative’s secret diary that explains the shed in the back yard is actually a time machine. Being young and adventurous, Kevin decides to have a go and is transported to 1910. He makes friends, develops a positive reputation within the town, and even lands a serendipitous position as a school teacher. Kevin’s reason for staying in 1910 for as long as he did is a lovely lady named Sarah. Additionally, he meets a second young lady (Sadie) who seems to have affections for him.
While I expected Kevin, as the main character, to be the only point of view, the story was built through multiple points of view, some even being minor characters. The author was kind enough to announce these changes at the beginning of each chapter. As three-fourths of the novel was from Kevin’s perspective, it felt like a lazy way of telling the reader about a character. The point of view changes were distracting, especially when Sarah or Sadie took the stage. It allowed for redundant reflections that the reader knew from previous interactions told from Kevin’s perspective. Instead of adding a sense of romance or heartache, it slowed down the progression of the, otherwise engaging , narrative. The love story plays out rather unpredictably through charming dialogue.
The premise of the novel was unique and Heldt’s research on the time period shows. His description of the town of Wallace and the nuances of life lived in 1910 bring the reader back in time with Kevin and create a wistful desire to return to simpler times. The year itself acts as a character and creates a tension in the back of our mind since we readers (and Kevin) know about the forest fire that will occur in August of 1910.
While The Fire is billed as a historical romance, let it be known that the novel breaches two genres: historical romance and science fiction. The novel also champions the subjects of science and history by casually mentioning the importance of both during dialogue and internal reflections of the characters. An excellent starter for sci-fi fans wishing to branch out.
Ariel and Nick face their deepest fears and their greatest challenge as they search for the Master Demon who holds the key to the future of mankind. Slay him and the world goes free; fail, and it falls irrevocably into violence and chaos. Guided by a wisdom master of a mystical tradition that uses mind power as the basis of powerful magic, the assault party travels from the ancient granite walls of the Hermitage, up the Steps of Death, and through a labyrinth of shifting gorges to the Palace of Skulls. Even if Nick wins his struggle with the scars of his past and defeats the green-eyed head of the Cogin clan, they still must cross the scree slope, where the bones of Ariel’s father lie, to get to the ice caves beneath the summit where the Master Demon awaits. The journey is extraordinary, the enemies are deadly and the ending is mind-blowing.
Reviewed by Richard Bunning
We reach the top of the climb, having started up the `spiritual’ mountain of Newland’s metaphysical creation in the first book in the Diamond Peak series. Life’s path is never easy for anyone if they are to fulfil their potential, the greater our gifts the more that others’ normally expect us to give. So it is with the heroine, Ariel. In the end, this was not so much of the story of Ariel’s struggle to conquer the blackness threatening her and the lives of those she cared about, but rather about her determination to help the `all’ of humanity. The serpentine Ariel has to destroy is just as binding in landscape we all know as it is on her mythical mountain; a massive peak which seemingly buds from some part of urban Australia. There is a true moral theme, the idea of a saviour, the dream of resetting the clock back on all corrupting evil. This work draws on the powerful allegory of writers like C.S. Lewis, whilst remaining free of his well chiselled, establishment, religious tow.
This is a superb read, in which for me the true peak of creativity was in the all too brief return of Ariel to the `real’ world. In this section we are rewarded by glimpsing the very dark childhood shadows from which Nick, Ariel’s ever closer friend, had to emerge. Of course, the fulfilling of the prophecy was most certainly the summit of excitement. Perhaps the `homecoming’ chapter had a particular resonance for me as it brought to the fore the inventive speculative fiction angle of the book to a degree not seen since the opening chapters of book one.
In my opinion, a perfect rounding of Newland’s `Diamond Peak’ project would be an omnibus addition, an amalgam of all four books in one fat volume. This would allow a huge amount of stripping of retold background and re-established character traits. Going over old ground in each book of the series is so necessary to readers’ understanding in any true serial with a defined `quest’. All four of these books work very well as standalone reads. However, written as one script of perhaps 300,000 words, even if still split into `books’, this could become a modern classic of YA fantasy.
At the University of Sheldra, Ariel discovers that her travelling companion, Nick, is a respected translator with little time to spare. Now that he isn’t at her side all the time, she wishes he was, and when she finally admits her love, powerful emotions sweep her away. The demon lord Emot takes advantage of her inexperience in matters of the heart and preys on her desire, setting off a struggle with addiction that threatens to break Nick’s heart and turn Ariel into the demon’s mindless slave. She must reach deep into her soul and find the mystical power she needs to kill the one who promises pleasure but delivers only pain. Fail, and she will lose the one she loves and spend an eternity in the demon’s grip.
Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor
July 25, 2013
Demon’s Grip is the third (of four) books in the Diamond Peak series, and it is the best so far, both in terms of the action-packed storyline and the quality of the writing. I had the impression throughout the book that the main characters (Ariel and Nick) had grown up a bit since the previous book. This was probably because they were dealing with issues of greater importance (greed and craving, their developing romance, deceit and honesty and more besides). The emotions of the characters as they struggle with these is very well-portrayed, particularly with regards to addiction.The main story is counterpointed nicely with updates on the predicament of Nadima, Ariel’s mother, who is trapped in the demon’s lair (quite literally, at times, in its grip). The demon in question is developed as an important character in its own right, and the interactions between the demons themselves are quite amusing.It is more than a standard YA fantasy story, though; the characters’ internalisations and dialogue, and the progression of the plot itself, lead the reader to be more contemplative, even meditative, about the emotional issues involved. So it is certainly for readers who want greater depth in a novel.
Overall, a nicely-paced novel, well-written, with memorable characters and the chance, perhaps, to reflect more deeply on life while enjoying the story.
Reviewed by Clive S Johnson
A most exemplary work, a real joy to read. The colour, depth and vitality of both the writing and the narrative is stunningly good: the exploration of motives, outlooks and hopes of the characters quite intoxicating. It ranks as a true work of literary accomplishment.
A love story of loss and redemption and the ghosts that haunt our lives and our houses. Aurora Goldberg Stein is lost in grief. Her beloved husband, Jake Stein, has just died in a tragic car accident and her sorrow is overwhelming. But is this really the end? Perhaps, perhaps not. She hears his voice. She sees his ghostly presence. She travels back in time to another life with Jake. What is going on? What is the message? Jake Stein, a dashing Texan, sweeps Aurora off her feet and changes her life. A Brooklyn born actress, she moved to NYC and does temporary work to pay her bills. On this particular assignment, she accidentally meets Jake Stein, who is her dance with destiny. Leaving everything she knows, she marries him and moves to Austin, Texas. No longer struggling to make ends meet, Aurora wiles away her time bored and lonely, and trying to recapture the excitement she once had with this man. And then suddenly, it’s all over, her life, her future is gone. Vanished are all her hopes and dreams. But destiny comes in many forms, and when Aurora moves to a new house, she discovers that the previous owner has never left. The ghostly presence of Viola Parker looms large and becomes Aurora’s guide through time revealing to her the mistakes she’s made with Jake Stein through the centuries. This time, maybe this time, Aurora can get it right.
Reviewed byTahlia Newland
December 28, 2012
Sunspots is a moving, beautifully-written mystery about the devastating consequences of obsessive love.
Bell’s elegant prose not only describes the events and scenery of this self destructive love story in riveting detail, but also skilfully evokes the atmosphere both internal and external. The structure of the story is very clever. At the beginning of the book, our empathy is aroused for grieving widow Aurora Goldberg. It appears that she had the perfect marriage to charming Jake, but as the story progresses, we and Aurora discover Jake’s secrets, so shocking to her that she is forced to re-evaluate their love. Through eyes opened by the truth—and helped along by the visions provided by a ghost—she sees that all was not as rosy as she had believed. Not only that, but the legacy he left her could be life-threatening.
Popular fiction tends to romanticise love where one looses themselves in the other, or feels completed by the other, or feels they cannot live or be happy without the other; Sunspots takes this kind of notion to its extreme to show how disempowering an obsession with the object of our love actually is. Obsession not only blinds you, it makes you weak, needy and boring. Your partner is likely to turn elsewhere to get away from your clinging, especially if you end up harping on at him that he never gives you any attention anymore. It’s dangerous to let your whole life revolve around one person, for when they leave you—by death as it is in this case—you are devastated. As the book progresses we come to see how much Aurora has brought her crippling grief upon herself. She literally looses herself in this obsession.
Bell brings a metaphysical element to the story with the addition of Viola Parker, the ghost of the sister of Aurora’s last incarnation. With her help, Aurora sees that this pattern of obsessive love and betrayal by Jake—in his previous incantations—has been repeated in past lifetimes that ended with Aurora’s suicide. Viola urges her to take a different path in this life and cut the cycle of self-destruction.
Bell deals with interesting themes here, that we tend to repeat patterns until we make a conscious effort to change them, that the past can be changed by actions in the present, and that when someone ‘saves’ us with love, in a healthy, balanced relationship we also to some extent ‘save’ them.
Highly recommended to anyone who likes psychological depth in their romance. I give it 5 stars and a place on the Awesome Indies list.
Shane MacKinnon thought she could escape her dark past by running away, changing her name. She thought the monster of her childhood was dead. She was wrong… Hounded by scandal and haunted by a shameful secret, Shannon Malone fled Manhattan for the mountains of New Mexico, a new name and a new life. Five years later, her new neighbor, wealthy architect Matthew Brennan, is teaching her the meaning of sexual healing. But when her dark past rises from the shadows and threatens to shatter her new life, Shane must find the courage to face her worst fear, or face death.
Reviewed byAwesome Indies Assessor
January 8, 2014
Shattered Blue is a classic romantic suspense story, and if you like that combination of genres, then you’ll probably like this because it has all the necessary elements – an attractive woman, a hot guy and a psychopathic would-be rapist killer. Just when said hot guy and attractive woman get together, the psychopath enters and threatens to rip their happiness from beneath them.
The tension builds through memories, dreams, clever foreshadowing and a series of suspicious events that culminate in a life threatening situation for both lovers. The pacing is good, it keeps you reading but still allows time for character development, and the plot, though nothing new, is solid.
The characters are well-drawn and complex. Shane is an artist with a history she is hiding from, and Matt is an architect in the process of selling his business to his hard nosed ex-wife. Despite many reasons not to, they fall in love pretty much instantaneously. It surprises them both, but they’re old enough to know not to fight it. Cynical reviewers may find this a little twee, but it’s perfect for the genre. I got to know Shane very quickly, fell in love with Matt before she did and cared about them both enough to really not want the bad guy to screw it all up, but fiction requires drama and that’s what we got. I won’t tell you what happened in the end, except to say that I thought it well done. Aspects of it were somewhat predictable, but that’s a hallmark of the romance genre, so it’s not a problem as far as I’m concerned.
The book has a couple of underlying themes worth noting: the affect of childhood abuse on adults and the healing power of love. Love as healing is a theme that always leaves you warm and fuzzy, even without the steamy sex, and in this case it balances the evil very nicely.
The answer’s neither in blood nor life; the key to the mystery is in the human soul. Keley handles words with authority and skill… but more than that, she writes with a genuine spiritual and psychological depth I've rarely encountered in modern fiction. –Werner Lind, Lifeblood For some it takes a lifetime to discover their raison d’être. Imagine searching for eight centuries. In 1997 Philadelphia, 800 year old vampire Valéry Castellane comes face to face with is reason to be, in the person of Angelina Lacroix, a young mortal woman whose understanding of immortality is about to change all he’s known as truth and which will take him, and his readers, on a journey into the human soul. Discovering a mortal who not only senses his presence, but also somehow knows his name, Valéry becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of how this might be. Confronting the girl, after learning she has knowledge of his entire existence, he is stunned and frustrated when Angelina seems more intent on convincing him he’s not the soulless monster of myth than she is with providing an explanation. Unable to take her life or give her immortality, Valéry embarks on a journey with Angelina that not only take them from Philadelphia to his childhood home in the Provençal Alps, but on a journey into his greatest hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments, and into the past that has shaped him. A novel about faltering faith and never-ending hope, On the Soul of a Vampire will not only alter everything you think you know about vampires, it will change the way you see your very soul.
Lavena, the last survivor of Rome's plundering destruction in ancient Spain, must survive to the next sunrise and then try to unite far-flung villages and oust the Roman menace. Based on real events and ancient She-Warriors who fought alongside their men. Mighty Rome plunders everything of value and destroys anything left standing in the beautiful and rich land south of Burnt Rocks. We know it as Spain. Lavena, the last child of the strongest tribal leader in the area, must grow up fast, must choose between marriage to her favorite young man and children, or the life of a She-Warrior fighting side-by-side with the male warriors of her tribe – or even fighting alone. The crush of an invading Roman army forces her choices. Guided by the spirits of the dead, by her father’s favorite dog, and the courage of those with nothing left to lose, she takes a last stand against the Roman menace. Roman scout, Marcus, is ordered to try to find answers to unseen but real threats pestering his Roman army – scouts who never return, dead soldiers, deadly traps in the ground, and slaughtered bullocks. More than any of his masters, Marcus begins to understand the havoc Lavena has wreaked, but deeper yearnings drive him to find her for other reasons, to be with her. Based on actual characters of that time and place, South of Burnt Rocks – West of The Moontells that mostly true story lost to the fog of history.
Reviewed for Awesome Indies by Elizabeth Jasper
May 8, 2013
The daughter of tribe leader Sinorix, Lavena is expected to learn how to work the land, to develop strength and fortitude and, as a ferocious female warrior, to lead her people into battle against the Romans should it becomes necessary. When governor Piso is recalled to Rome and a new governor takes his place, the precarious peace between the Romans and Celts is broken and the Celts are forced to defend their village, to no avail. Lavena escapes and seeks help from nearby villages, where she discovers the Roman army is once again on the move.
Written with an engrossing breadth of detail about the Celts and the Romans, with a sympathetic slant towards the people on both sides of the conflict, and with a depth of knowledge that he imparts effortlessly to the reader, G J Berger has written a compelling story of adventure, fortitude, revenge and love. The main characters stand out against a supporting cast of well-drawn minor characters. Pacing is superb, driving the reader onwards. G J Berger’s writing style is direct and pared down, as befits a book of this nature. Descriptive passages are moving and show very well how the landscape is used in Lavena’s fight against the invaders, and the animals – -horses and dogs, add an extra dimension to the story.
For any reader who loves to sink into the distant past, this is a story that will not disappoint.
Robert is different. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. He experiences the world differently to 99% of the population. Follow his entertaining and highly empathetic story as he struggles to realise and accept who he really is, try to understand other people – which he cannot – and find a girlfriend. Especially find a girlfriend – he’s decided it’s his special project for the year. Accompanied on this transformative journey by his quirky flatmates, Chloe (who also has Asperger’s, amongst other things), Stef (who hasn’t, but doesn’t mind) and their oddly-named kitten, Robert endures a myriad of awkward moments in his quest to meet a nice, normal girl…and not even a major earthquake will stop him. This absorbing and humorous story is starkly told from Robert’s point of view, through the kaleidoscope of autistic experience.
Awesome Indies Assessor
November 7, 2013
STIM is a sensitive and charming portrayal of an autistic man’s search for a girlfriend. Robert lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has Autistic Spectrum Disorder which means that he finds social situations awkward. He has difficulty reading social signals and understanding social conventions, hence finding a girlfriend is much harder for him that it is for NS (Non Spectrum) people.
This simple story glows with Robert’s earnest and honest character. His straight forward nature is the cause of much confusion for him and many chuckles for the reader, but there’s a serious side to the story, a call for celebrating neural diversity rather than shunning those whose brain works slightly differently to the norm. Reading this book will help you to understand what life is like for an autistic person and for anyone with clinical depression, that’s the kind that can be treated with medication – happy pills, as Robert calls them. You’ll also gain some insight into bipolar disorder. Robert isn’t bipolar, but he does have a manic episode when he ups his dose of happy pills.
Mr Berry draws this endearing character so well that we see the logic of Robert’s perception. Some of the things we Neuro Typical people find normal, like figurative speech for example, are ridiculous when seen from Robert’s point of view. Robert is somewhat like Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory. He has the same innocence, social ignorance, logical brain and ability to focus on obscure areas of study. Roberts language is very formal; he even speaks without contractions. At first it seems rather stiff and odd, but I soon realized now perfectly his speech patterns expressed his character.
Chloe is another wonderful character, also an Aspie, and a good friend who helps Robert to become comfortable in his own skin. In this way, it’s a coming of age story, that of a young autistic man finding his place on the world. Steph, their flatmate, is an excellent role model for how understanding NS people can be towards those with different neurological wiring. I loved it when he sent her aggro boyfriend packing.
Journal entries detailing what Robert had read recently and how much sexual activity he had had peppered the novel. The book titles and his descriptions of them were delightful as were his reactions to the question of sex. The author uses the format extremely well at the end. The book is undoubtedly well written. The character, the issues and the challenges come over loud and clear, and in an entertaining package.
This is not an an action packed book, and yet I didn’t want to put it down – an indication of the author’s skill. Robert’s life had enough tension in simple things like going to a party and working a job, and the addition of his experience in the Christchurch earthquake ramped it up at just the right point in the plot line. I really wanted Robert to find a girlfriend, but the odds seemed stacked against him. The end was not a surprise, but it was a delight.
I think this book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes literary or contemporary fiction and it really should be read by anyone who knows or works with autistic people in any way. The first person point of view really gets you inside Robert’s head. Stories about people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder are not as rare as you might think, but they are rarely touted as such – take Sherlock Holmes for example.
Well done, Mr Berry. STIM undoubtedly deserves 5 stars.
(2) Review by Tahlia Newland
This is a truly wonderful book. The author has a very strong voice, the characters are real, the subject matter relevant, and the book is immaculately edited.
(3)Review by Vivian
Highly recommended. I don’t know if the author wrote this book in the hope of giving a moral lesson, but the main character’s different-ness made me look at life and people differently. Funny and sad and tender.
(4)Review by Marsha Cornelius
I loved this book, and his second one, too, Kaleidoscope. Such unusual characters, and a wonderful story. Can’t recommend it enough.
(5)Review by Adan Ramie
I didn’t think this was as funny as others have, most likely because I have an intimate connection with two autistic people and have an understanding (admittedly, the small amount I can from being closer to the neurotypical side of the scale) about the way their minds work.