Tag Archives: myth

Roman: Saints and Sinners

Picture of cover for Roman: Saints and SinnersThis is a review Amazon refused to publish.

I admit it, the author is a friend, in fact we have had a business collaboration in the past. But I gain no profit from the sale of this book and I am not in direct competition with the author. I don’t write YA books – although I think this one is a cross-over. I do wonder if Amazon would have published my review if I had written a 1 star screamer. But I haven’t. If I didn’t like the book, I would have told the author so, and said why, and I would not have reviewed. You’re right not to trust all Amazon reviews. But you can trust this one.


In a dying town, two teens marked as broken struggle with the burden of lies masquerading as truth. Not even a man of faith is strong enough to hold back the coming darkness.

  • Benedict Nowak bailed on his marriage, taking his son with him but leaving behind his five year old daughter. He had his reasons. He had no idea they’d come back to haunt him.
  • TJ had come to terms with the mother she despised, making those small concessions that made life bearable. But her mother’s death changed everything.
  • Her brother, Anton, was the parent missing in TJ’s life, until he found a calling in violence, and left his sister at the mercy of shrinks and a mother with ice in her veins.
  • Roman Rincon was the juvie rescued by Father Marcus and placed in the care of Benedict Nowak. With his records sealed, no one knew what happened that fateful night when Roman was only fourteen.
  • All Father Marcus knew was the boy had confessed to a crime not even the cops would talk about.

In the small coal mining town of Montville, two teens whose lives have been shattered beyond repair must find a way to cope … with school, with each other, with growing up marked as broken in a town dying under the weight of secrets and lies. Warned off having anything to do with Roman, TJ is all too willing to agree, except for one little thing. The young man lives in the apartment above her father’s car repair business so avoiding him might be a problem.

As for Roman, he will take his secret to the grave, no matter what the cost.


This book starts off with a fairly routine YA premise – a sixteen year old girl (TJ) finding herself dumped on her estranged father when the mother she despises dies. Coming from a wealthy, upmarket life style and a private school, she’s faced with a new life in an impoverished, dying mining town where Latinos do what they can to survive. The longed-for college sporting scholarship is no longer an option in a school which doesn’t (can’t) support women’s sport. TJ’s brother, Tony, the only person who cares about her, the closest to a father she has ever known, is a serving soldier due to return to active service, leaving her to cope on her own. Before he goes, he makes her promise to keep away from Roman, a young man working for her father.

It’s obvious TJ isn’t going to keep away from Roman. But many things about this novel are not obvious. TJ’s father, Ben, has his own demons tormenting him with deep levels of guilt at not taking in his daughter when he and his wife divorced. TJ’s deceased mother is an invisible participant, sitting on the sidelines, mocking TJ and Ben. Ben’s cousin, Marcus, is a Roman Catholic priest who delves into ancient scrolls. Tony’s girlfriend, Marsha, is a scarred veteran of the Iraq war.

And then there’s Roman. He’s described as a seventeen year old juvenile delinquent who is sent to live with Ben as a form of rehabilitation. From the outset it’s obvious he is dark and dangerous. But how dangerous? And who to? He arrived in Montville not long after a series of mysterious events that are still spoken about in whispers, accused of bashing a man near to death.

In a way this is the usual YA coming of age story, but it is so much more. There’s a thread of dark fantasy – or call it myth – which begins as a hint, then coalesces in the latter part of the book and brings it to a thumping, heart-stopping climax. It’s a book about love, acceptance, sacrifice and redemption on many different levels.

The characters are all well-developed, real people with pasts and futures and reasons. Only the mother’s motives are not crystal clear. But then, that’s life, isn’t it, and she is dead.

The writing is sensual and evocative. You spend a lot of time absorbing atmosphere, feeling events. This is no skim read. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss things. Perhaps that is my only criticism. I occasionally lost my place as it were, since the narrative might skip from the present to a past conversation or reminiscence in the character’s head. The description is rich and real. I particularly liked the detail. You can see the town, the garage, the metal stairs up to Roman’s apartment. The author talks about motorcycles, a dying Pennsylvania town, living on a mountain road in the woods and coal mining, just to name a few, with authority which lends authenticity.

I really enjoyed this book. My YA days are far behind me and it would be sad to imagine that this is just a story for ‘teens’. It’s not. I give it *****.

PS. I LOVE the cover, designed by fellow author (and friend) Poppet. It truly suits the story

PPS. The book was written as a serial, a couple of chapters a week. I dips me lid. I could not possibly write a book in that way, especially as the writer just… goes with the flow without elaborate planning. Kudos.



The Gospel According to the Romans – a non-believer’s view

Forget the legends. Jesus was a Jew, and he hated the Romans. I know, because I lived with him and his followers for a year.

That’s the first sentence of the blurb for Robin Helweg-Larsen’s novel “The Gospel According to the Romans”.

I was brought up in a ‘Christian’ household and attended Sunday school as a child. So I heard all the stories about Jesus – the Star of Bethlehem, the virgin birth, walking on water, feeding the multitude, healing the sick, raising the dead – indeed, rising from the dead. When I grew up and became a doubter and then a non-believer, I simply dismissed these tales as fairy stories. But now, the author has written this highly entertaining book about how it might have happened if a zealot called Jesus of Nazareth had lived and died in Roman Palestine at the start of a new era. If you’re a dyed in the wool, born again Christian, you might as well leave this page now. Helweg-Larsen warns that parts of his novel may well offend Christians.

Those bible stories I heard never talked much about Romans, which meant Jesus was never placed into context as a Jew living in occupied territory. Mister Helwig-Larsen has written this story from the point of view of Matthew Levi, one of the disciples who had been a Roman tax collector – and a spy for Pontius Pilate. Yes, that Matthew, the one referred to as Saint Matthew, which in this book is ironic in the extreme.

It is an enthralling story, providing on the way historical background about the Roman occupation and way of life, the countryside, the lives of the various Jewish factions and the impact of history on the population. In particular, the impact of the Roman’s brutal suppression of a revolt 20 years before and the subsequent crucifixion of 2,000 men. The story is completely plausible – although, of course, it is a work of fiction. The characters are 3 dimensional, each with virtues as well as flaws. Matthew is a pragmatic character, principally absorbed with making his way in society. Pilate offers him Roman citizenship in return for espionage and he is prepared to risk his life to earn the right to wear the toga. Hence, given the opportunity to join Jesus’ followers, he takes the risk. Matthew the spy who is at first totally committed to self comes close to reversing his allegiance at one point and his friends the Romans have their good points – and their bad. The author peppers this book with wonderful detail, such as showing the discipline and precision of a Roman detachment sent to quell the rioters in the temple and the deep gulf between the Roman way of life and that of the Jews.

This is one of those stories, like the fate of the Titanic, where we all know what the outcome will be, yet I kept reading, waiting for the explanation of the next ‘miracle’, for the next revelation about the disciples, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany, the meeting with Jesus’ mother, the last supper and the crucifixion itself. Matthew’s relationship with Judas, who the gospels tell us ultimately betrayed Jesus to the Romans, adds drama to the narrative. In the opening chapter we learn what Judas Iscariot really means – Judas, who carries a large dagger called a sica, is a ‘sicariot’, a word the Romans use interchangeably with ‘robber’, ‘insurgent’ and zealot. That information in itself sets the tone of the book. Judas never trusts Matthew, despite Jesus’ remonstrations and continually looks for opportunities to expose Matthew as a fraud. Towards the end of the book, I was drawn into how the author intended to resolve the issue, leaving Judas as the man who betrayed Jesus.

All in all, it’s a fascinating read. Throughout, Helweg-Larsen adds some intriguing insights into how people think and the very nature of religion itself. At one point Matthew ruminates on the problems of having only one God as opposed to the Greek or Roman approach of many Gods. One God must cover so many different facets – at once the God of mercy and of retribution, whereas in a pantheon different Gods represent different aspects of nature. The author also dwells on the way truth is distorted and exaggerated to become legend. The same process still happens today.

The depth of Helweg-Larsen’s research is impressive and he provides an extensive bibliography.

I can’t recommend this novel highly enough. It is a voice of reason which I might even liken to the small child in ‘the Emperor’s new clothes’. In the same vein, I recommend Mister Helweg-Larsen’s website where he posts always entertaining, often challenging stories about religion, myth and reality.

You can buy ‘The Gospel According the Romans” on Amazon.

Hogfather the movie. A mixed experience

I’ve finally had a chance to watch ‘Hogfather’ the movie – based on Terry Pratchett’s book. After I’d watched the first episode (the second will be on Saturday) my other half said “I didn’t hear much laughter.” So true. I’ve had some time to think about what I’d seen and how it affected me. I also went back and re-read the book.

I have to say I don’t think the book translated well to the screen. It’s just too complex and it’s actually a rather dark tale. Mister Teatime (pronounced ‘Te-ah-tim-eh’) is an evil nutcase, superbly played, I must say, by Marc Warren in the film. Teatime isn’t somebody like the fearsome Mrs Bucket (Boo-kay). A baby-faced young man whose only outward appearance of madness is his weird eyes, he murders for amusement, kills people for whom he has no further use. Lord Downey, head of the Assassin’s Guild, charges Teatime with the task of inhuming the Hogfather, a commission he has received from the shadowy ‘auditors’.

Sure, there are some genuinely funny parts to the book. Pratchett ‘gets’ kids and the whole sitting on Santa’s knee stuff, and the little ‘s’ which is a shy kid’s ‘yes’. The notion of a real, raw wood Santa sledge drawn by four wild boars replacing the curly sleigh and the pink papier-mâché pigs in the department store’s Santa grotto is hilarious. The kids LOVE the boars, which pee on the floor, generally stink and scare the bejaysus out of management. And the notion of Death, a seven-foot skeleton with a scythe, taking over the Hogfather role is mind-boggling. Only TP could have come up with that. But while there’s plenty of amusing by-play on the sides (the death of rats, the raven, the Cheerful Fairy, the oh-god of hangovers, the wizards, Ponder Stibbons and HEX etc etc at its heart, ‘Hogfather’ is a serious story with an interesting message. You might say it examines the real meaning of … not so much Christmas, but the ceremonies of the winter solstice. The more recent religions have tacked their message onto a primeval fear, that the sun will not return. In fact, that fear is stated – if the Hogfather is not found, the sun will not rise tomorrow.

This isn’t the only deep-seated belief Pratchett uses in this book. The Tooth Fairy looms large in the plot. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but the concept of giving a child money for a tooth may very well stem from the fact that if the wrong people collect the teeth, the child could be in jeopardy. The analogy is to hair and nail clippings, which are used in spells to control people. In fact, the whole book is about fear and belief.

I can quite believe people who had not read the book would find it very difficult to follow the thread of the movie. Even I had to work at it, and I’ve read the book several times. I think perhaps the people who made ‘Going Postal’, the more recent transfer of a Pratchett novel to the screen, learnt a few lessons. ‘Going Postal’ deviates from the book in several ways, simplifying the plot for a TV audience. I can’t help but feel that the resulting screenplay lost rather a lot in translation but it was probably wise.

Which all goes to show why I’d rather read a book. You can uncover so many more layers.