With Thoughts of Jason

Title: With Thoughts of Jason
Author: Caleb A. Mertz
ISBN: 978-1424114535
Publisher: Publish America

Caleb A. Mertz’s coming-of-age novel With Thoughts of Jason explores one young man’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality and the fateful repercussions of his eventual coming out. Mertz thoughtfully investigates the complex issues of homophobia and hate crimes with a bold yet sensitive take on the intricacies of such social problems.

Jason has always been extra-sensitive to what people might think of him if he reveals his true sexuality. The fear has prevented him from doing so and Jason continues to live a closeted life, a life of misery with silent suffering. To add insult to injury, Jason is constantly bullied at school with name-callings and other defiling acts.

Turning his life around with the help of his close circle of friends, Jason gradually builds enough self-confidence to accept him for who he is. Over the few years that follows, Jason evolves from a closeted loner to a confident young gay man. Jason’s social life takes off from there as he meets new people, people with new interests, people who are like him. That’s when Jason meets Danny. With their instant connection, Danny eventually becomes a vital part in Jason’s life.

Through thick and thin, Jason and Danny struggle to survive in a world they are not fully accepted. Over time, Jason moves away from his family as they turned their back on him and friends he once knew abandoned him. To Jason’s eyes, it is the world against him. Life takes a tragic turn for Jason and Danny when a chance encounter leads to an unfortunate event.

As Mertz navigates us through the inner conflicts of the protagonist, it is quite evident that the writing comes straight from the author’s heart. In effect, Mertz expertly guides us through Jason’s pain and vulnerability, and eventually towards the tragic fate that lurks in the shadows. The sensitivity with which Mertz approaches around the subject is highly noteworthy, as exploring the fragile concept with such finesse could not have been as easy as it seems. If anything, it is proof that Mertz is rapidly making a mark in the literary world as a writer with a fresh, distinct voice.

The highpoint of this engrossing page-turner is its devastating finale that is unbelievably shocking, deeply moving and devastatingly sad. The finely-woven plot is not only satisfying but also heart-breaking. In sum, With Thoughts of Jason is a highly complex and equally thought-provoking novel that is both fresh and original. It makes you pause and take a moment to wonder about the cruelties of life and as you read the final words of the novel, you will be left hoping that no one will have to endure such cruelties regardless of who you are.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

The Collectibles

Title: The Collectibles
Author: James J. Kaufman
ISBN: 978-0982587300
Publisher: Downstream Publishing

The premise of James J. Kaufman’s enthralling debut The Collectibles largely draws from life’s frailties and the power of human connections. In this regard, touching other people’s lives and changing them for the better plays a significant role throughout this captivating novel, teaching us a valuable lesson or two along the way.

An orphan hailing from the Adirondack mountains, Joe Hart is a self-made attorney highly-regarded and respected in his field. While on a hunting trip with his uncle when he was a teenager, Joe has once saved the life of a rich kid from New York, Preston Wilson, unaware at the time that their paths will cross once again in life.

Years later, fate sends Preston tracking Joe, the one attorney who might be able to save him from his impending financial failure. Joe reluctantly agrees but not without extracting a promise from Preston that he will fulfill an irrevocable condition. A desperate Preston agrees without giving it much thought.

As agreed, Joe strategically helps Preston turn his life around both financially and emotionally, and soon Joe summons Preston to call in his favor. Joe tells Preston that he must meet, get to know, earn the trust of and care for a group of his friends whom he referred to as his ‘collectibles’; Johnny, a mildly mentally challenged dishwasher, Missy, a former dancer in Las Vegas now working as a waitress who is a victim of domestic abuse, Tommy, who has a serious gambling problem, Harry, a professional photographer who is also bipolar, and Corey, a skillful carpenter at the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Joe tells Preston that each of his ‘collectibles’ has a serious personal problem and Joe has become involved in their problems. Now Joe asks Preston to take over what used to be his responsibility to take care of them. Does Preston really have a choice?

Drawing from his extensive experience in law, dealings in the world of business and his interaction with people from diverse backgrounds, Kaufman successfully crafts a tale that is as entertaining as it is inspiring. Not only are the ordinary characters easy to relate to but they create extraordinariness right out of their ordinary lives.

A thoroughly enjoyable work of modern day fiction, The Collectibles triumphs on all counts. The expertly-drawn plot-line will hook you right away and you will find excitement at every turn of the page. Do not miss this one!

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

The Damage Done

Title: The Damage Done
Author: Hilary Davidson
Publisher: Forge
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2697-3

Delivering on all counts, Hilary Davidson’s startling debut The Damage Done is so much more than what meets the eyes. As you turn the pages of this pulse-rating crime fiction, Davidson deftly transports you to a mystery-laden setting where you will be plunged into a deep, dark tragedy that will leave you breathless until you have reached the final written word.

On hearing that her deeply troubled, drug-addicted younger sister Claudia has been found dead in her apartment in New York, a shock-stricken Lily Moore rushes home from Spain. A successful travel journalist, Lily made her escape to Spain a year ago to get away from the troubles in her life, namely her sister Claudia who has been living on the edge of life.

Lily was soon, however, baffled to learn that the body at the morgue belongs to a complete stranger, who has been impersonating Claudia. The whereabouts of her sister therefore remains unknown and the new turns of the events sends her into a state of utter panic. What has happened to Claudia? Where has she disappeared to?

And so, the frantic search for Claudia begins in earnest and when Claudia transforms from victim to suspect in the eyes of the police, Lily becomes determined to find out the truth behind all the baffling mysteries surrounding the disappearance of her sister. In her quest to search for her sister and the person responsible for the tragic situation, Lily makes sure that not a stone is left unturned.

Through all the chaos that ensue, Lily confronts her own past and a string of people who might have any information about Claudia including her next-door neighbor, Lily’s former fiancĂ©, and even Claudia’s obsessive ex-lover. Then there is the life of Claudia’s impostor that Lily has to dig through to find answers. What emerges is a terrible truth shocking beyond belief that ultimately threatens to take a toll on Lily and those she loves.

With haunting details and heart-quickening twists that you won’t anticipate even in the slightest, The Damage Done explores the issue of identity theft in a new light, cautioning us about the threat it poses. The cleverly-woven plot sends you spiralling down an unknown path, as Davidson guides us through her heroine’s family secrets as well as the peculiar bond between the two sisters and their dysfunctional relationship.

Easily one of the most refreshing crime thrillers to emerge this year, Davidson’s The Damage Done is a first-rate mystery debut that is thoroughly entertaining and highly satisfying. So sit back and enjoy this racing thrill ride of a novel full of mystery and suspense that guarantees escapism at its best.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

Guzaarish: A bitter-sweet tale

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has done it again. The highly acclaimed Bollywood director has once again created cinematic magic in his latest film “Guzaarish” (Request), told through a poignant tale that is sure to melt your heart. Renowned for creating extravagant and lavish visual experiences in his movies, Bhansali takes his creative filmmaking skills a notch higher in Guzaarish, starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in the lead. One might say that Guzaarish shares resemblances to the Spanish Oscar and Golden Globe winning film The Sea Inside [2004] and the television play, Who’s Life Is It Anyway? as they all share Euthanasia as the central theme. The similarity, however, ends there as Guzaarish takes a different direction in its depiction to bring out a heartwarming tale of love, life and pain.

Set in Goa, the tale revolves around Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik Roshan). A highly accomplished magician, Ethan is now a quadriplegic following a near-fatal accident during one of his acts. Confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life due to his paralysis, Ethan has been living a melancholic life at home taken cared by his nurse Sofia D’Souza (Aishwarya Rai). Leaving behind her abusive husband, Sofia has dedicated her life to attend to Ethan’s every need. The underlying meaning of their relationship is seen as both sharing a silent love for each other, without having to confess their feelings to one another. Enter the character of Omar Siddiqui (Aditya Roy Kapoor), who comes to Ethan’s home with the sole purpose of learning magic from his idol. Taken by Omar’s passion, Ethan agrees to pass on his legacy.

Life goes on for Ethan as he plays the role of a Radio Jockey for an FM Station called Radio Zindagi through which he reaches out to people and inspires and changes their lives with his quick wit and charming personality. Then comes the twist in the tale. After 14 years of suffering, Ethan decides to put an end to his misery by filing a petition to the court for mercy killing. His decision brings about a whirlwind of reactions from people near and far. Being the epicenter of Ethan’s life the news is especially hard for Sofia, who is devastated with Ethan’s decision to end his life and at the same time she understands as she feels his pain and suffering. When the judge immediately dismisses Ethan’s case for mercy killing, he launches a campaign through his radio show to find public backing for his appeal known as “Project Ethanasia”. Will his appeal a second time around be granted by the court?

Exploring a complex and an equally sensitive grey area in life, Bhansali treats the movie with such grace that tugs at your heart mercilessly. Told in flashbacks, Guzaarish beautifully pieces together Ethan’s life gradually revealing the major chapters of the magician’s life. These includes his first magic trick to fragments of people dear to him including his mother, former best friend and rival, and his former assistant and girlfriend.

Needless to say, the cinematography is exquisite with the exhilarating sceneries as one would expect from a Bhansali movie. The music scores in Guzaarish are beautiful and complements the mood of the film, ranging from melodious items to soothing numbers including Bas Itni Si Guzaarish Hain and Sau Gram Zindagi. The special score of Udi was extremely uplifting, in which Aishwarya Rai shows us a side we have never before seen.

Hrithik Roshan’s splendid acting as Ethan Mascarenhas adds a whole new aura that makes the story comes alive with such sensitivity that will bring a smile in everyone and make many a heart shed tears. Equally impressive is Aishwarya Rai’s elegant depiction of Sofia. Together, they showcase a mesmerizing on-screen chemistry that is nothing less than a wonderful force to reckon with.

Truly an unforgettable piece of creative filmmaking, the grandeur cinematic experience in Guzaarish will win you over. Regardless of how it will fare in the box office, Guzaarish guarantees you a winning combo of a marvelous visual experience with a top-notch storyline. Easily one of the most memorable Bollywood releases this year. Hats off to Bhansali!