My review of the superb comic book series ‘Scalped’ by Jason Aaron & RM Guera…

So, in case it wasn’t clear from my previous blog posts (here: https://tinyurl.com/jycgyy5, here:  https://tinyurl.com/zehax5n and here: https://tinyurl.com/guehn9a), I am a massive fan of comics. I have been reading, buying and collecting them in one form or other for more than a decade and so I have gotten through a large number of series during that time. These days I mostly favour the creator owned series put out by the companies that support their writers and artists and the series that they produce and Image, IDW, and Dark Horse comics are particularly good at this. I’m also increasing going digital with my new purchases but my one remaining weakness is for series that I love that are released in beautiful hardcover volumes. Things like Saga, The Unwritten and, now, Scalped. Back when I had access to an excellent library that had a considerable graphic novels collection this was a series that I read a trade or two of and enjoyed but the release of the deluxe editions was enough to convince me to give it another go. Now it has become one of my favourites and one that I would heartily recommend that you try.

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Scalped is written by Jason Aaron (whose current run on Thor is one of my favourite Marvel comics) with art principally from RM Guéra and tells the tale of Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse, a native American who is pulled back to the Reservation, or ‘Rez’, that he came from by the will of a federal agent who wants his help to bring down the tribal leader, Lincoln Red Crow. From here we follow as Dash is brought into Red Crow’s organisation and becomes a serious badass, as well as increasingly messed up. This series runs for 60 issues (why are so many great comics runs about this length? Ex Machina, Y:The Last Man, The Unwritten, Chew and many others) as we follow Dash’s attempts to bring down his boss, solve the murder of his mother in current day, and discover who killed two federal agents some years ago.

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Reading the entire run through, one issue in particular stuck out for me and that was number 35. This done-in-one issue tells the tale of an elderly couple living on the Rez who are struggling to survive through the winter. The story doesn’t directly relate to the ongoing series and can be read as a stand-alone but it really hits home hard and is quite wonderful. To me, it seemed to encapsulate the point of Scalped in showing you how hard the lives of these people are and how close to desperation they remain. Of course, the entire run is excellent, but this issue was truly wonderful.

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Scalped is superb, brutal, adult comics that has, by the end of the run, built up a considerable body count. A comparison could be made between this series and Breaking Bad, which is high praise indeed, but it is also a comparison that I think is fair and I would thoroughly recommend Scalped to anyone who enjoys comics, noir fiction or just damned good storytelling. Oh, and the art is superb too with a brutal realism that suits the series perfectly. Scalped must rank up there among the best comics of the past decade, yes it really is that good, and with it now collected in beautiful, deluxe hardcover editions there really is no excuse not to give it a go. So go out and find it! Cheers.

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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Reaching ‘peak stuff’ and how it has changed my view and what I want…

So, the feeling has been building for a while but I think my wife and I have finally reached ‘peak stuff’, that is the notion that we now have enough material possessions in our lives and that we no longer wish to keep gathering more. This makes us very bad citizens in the current age when you are encouraged to buy more and to consume more and to not think about the environmental cost of all this and instead to think about the benefits to the economy. It also causes issues at Christmas with all the gift giving and receiving.

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But the reality is that we really do have enough stuff. We live in a small apartment and, unless something dramatic changes (which it actually might be, if some newspaper reports are right), we won’t be buying a house anytime soon. Therefore we can only buy and keep the stuff that we can fit into said apartment. We have moved several times in the past decade (another increasing trend among my generation and the next), including to and from Canada and this required us to shed the vast majority of our stuff (and to buy new, which was quite fun), the rest was stored to await our return. But even those things, those possessions that we decided were worth keeping, are now looking like unnecessary junk in our lives and we are considering losing more and more of what remains.

 

In addition to this, I have sold off the majority of collectibles that I owned from many years spent building a substantial Transformers and Star Wars Black figures collection. Losing that feeling of needing to own stuff means that these figures would inevitably be heading out the door, and selling them actually paid for our car. I have also stopped buying graphic novels, which has been a passion of mine for a long time (though I still buy beautiful hardcovers of series I love, my last remaining weakness). I had gradually been moving to digital for my book and graphic novel needs anyway so replacing them with electronic versions when they have been available for a good price is a good move. Most of my physical books are borrowed from the library, breaking the link between owning and reading, and subscriptions to online streaming services have ended the need to buy physical copies of movies. All that we have left are mostly mementos of our lives and our travels and I am realising more and more that we need little else.

 

So then the question changes from what do I need to buy and own to what else do I want? I want an electric car (something else that seems right on the cusp of becoming mainstream) for I do not want to keep contributing to our humongous carbon dioxide output. I want less plastic to pass through my hands simply because I have a need to eat (why does a cucumber now come wrapped in this?). I want to eat well (our Riverford Farms weekly veg box helps with that http://tinyurl.com/j58aep6). I want the world to stop consuming fossil fuels when alternatives are finally reaching the mainstream (higher plastic use is clearly a by-product of oil consumption when we have significant quantities of oil derivatives to use) and I want renewable energy to become the norm, as I was told as a kid that it would be. My wife and I recently switched our energy supplier to Green Star (website: https://www.mygreenstarenergy.com/) who source their energy from renewables and that felt like a step in the right direction and a very good thing indeed. I also want everything that I discard to be recycled, though the rates of doing so are still dismal.

 

Finally, I want a political system in my country that works, one that meets the needs of the people and not of the elites and the Corporations who fund them. I want a truly representative Parliament, one that listens to us when they express ourselves and our concerns and then acts to help. I want enough houses to be built in the UK so that those who choose to buy are able to do so. I want a properly regulated financial system that doesn’t always seem like it’s about to bring about financial apocalypse (http://tinyurl.com/zgjg8ll). I want a powerful and well funded environmental agency that will police the actions of those who seek to destroy it, which we currently do not have (http://tinyurl.com/hszoort). And I want a forward looking political system that actually addresses the changes that are coming in the near future, like driver-less cars and ever more insecure working conditions.

 

It sounds like I want a lot, huh, but I really don’t think that I do, and I also think that many of you out there would agree with this point of view. Let me know if you do, eh. Cheers!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars story’…

‘Rogue One’ is the ‘Star Wars (SW)’ movie that I have been waiting for since I was a kid. Seriously, it is. Back then my mother, brother and I had a routine of enjoying the original movies (yes, even the one with the Ewoks. Hey, I was a kid!) every Friday evening and so obviously we were fans. I saw and enjoyed ‘The Force Awakens’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/h4j3lng) when it was released last December but I felt that was a rehash of the classic 1977 movie redone for a modern audience and, though I have absolutely no problem with that, it wasn’t quite enough for me. That movie is fun and it zips along but, in the opinion of this reviewer, ‘Rogue One’ is easily the best SW movie since ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. It might even be the best one altogether! It’s an absolutely brilliant, genuine SW movie that features pretty much everything I want this kind of film to contain. Before I go any further, as with my previous reviews, there will be spoilers so if you want to see it unspoiled go and do so before reading on…

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As I said, this movie has everything I wanted: character arcs with actual growth, epic space battles, sacrifice in the name of a greater cause, all that good stuff! Sure, the plot is quite simple (we must get the plans for the Death Star at all costs!) but it works and we all know that they succeed, for the first Star Wars movie depends upon it, but what matters is the cost of succeeding (which one’s were the Bothans, by the way?). Jynn is a decent protagonist, the journey she goes on is completely appropriate for the subject matter, and the crew that she assembles are also enjoyable (especially the sarcastic droid, who’s jokes land well). The battle sequences are some of the best I can remember seeing in any movie of this kind, and the ending is suitably brutal (did anyone actually have a problem with it, cause I sure as hell didn’t). The only thing that even slightly bothered me was the inclusion of a digitally-resurrected Peter Cushing (could they not have just written him out and someone else in?) but that was a minor niggle in an otherwise impressive experience.

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Unlike in the prequels or in ‘The Force Awakens’ where they seemed in such a rush to keep moving forward that they barely had time to breath, the actors have actually been given the space to act. Actually, I think the three principle actors in ‘The Force Awakens’ did a commendable job with the space that they had but those in ‘Rogue One’ have much more to do and more room in which to do it. And what a ride Gareth Edwards, the director, has been on! My wife and I have been fans of the Kermode and Mayo movie review show for many years and I remember his interview for his debut movie, ‘Monsters’, some time ago. That was a very enjoyable character piece that features very few actual monsters (but when they do appear they are stunning!) but it did showcase the directors talents and it was obviously seen by the right people. Then Kermode and Mayo had him back on for Godzilla, a movie that I very much enjoyed both times I watched it, and now he has directed what I consider to be the finest ‘Star Wars’ movie since Empire. Blimey, that’s some career trajectory!

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I heartily recommend that you see ‘Rogue One’ in the cinema, it’s a wonderful experience and it deserves to be seen this way. I look forward to revisiting it when it is out on home release but I am so glad I dragged myself to the pictures to see it. I loved ‘Rogue One’ much more than any of the other SW movies in the past few decades. Now, however, I do hope that we get to see something new in this universe, something different that isn’t a rehash or a prequel but instead moves the series forward from what it has always been towards the new stories it is now (hopefully) going to tell. And with directors as good as Gareth Edwards and J.J. Abrahms I have high hopes indeed! Can’t wait!

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My ‘rambling’s on one of my favourite bands, ‘Red Sky July’…

I have been a fan of Shelley Poole (below, centre) for a very long time, ever since she was one half of Alisha’s Attic in the 90’s, through her solo career, to her current incarnation as one of the members of her latest band, Red Sky July (RSJ). As a teenager I was a huge fan of Alisha’s Attic and I wish I’d seen them live, but the only gig I could’ve attended unfortunately took place during a planned vacation. Luckily for me her new band, with Charity Hair (below, right) and her husband Ally McErlaine (below, left) from Texas (the band, not the place), have given me a chance to keep up to date with her endeavours and to enjoy what she is currently doing. And what they are doing is pretty fantastic!

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So, right off the bat I would say that everything RSJ has done is worth your time, though I obviously have personal favourites. RSJ make country music, but not American chart Country music, this is real country music, stripped down and beautiful. Their first, self-titled album is gorgeous, with ‘Morning Song’ (they happily tell fans at gigs  that this was their first collaboration and the reason the band began) and ‘Loving You’s Easy’ as stand out tracks, though you may struggle to find a physical copy as I think it has sold out. It is, however, available digitally (http://tinyurl.com/zzv8ejr). Their second album, Shadowbirds (http://tinyurl.com/h28w3kl), is superb and is mine and my wife’s favourite album of the three and songs like ‘Renegade’ and the title track stand out.

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Their third, ‘The Truth and the Lie’, aims more for the mainstream audience and succeeds in changing their sound for this market, though I personally prefer the more stripped down versions when we see them play live. Standout tracks include ‘Sway’, which is stunning, ‘Jetrails’ and the title track. They then returned to what they do best with ‘Voyager’, a six track EP available online only (http://tinyurl.com/jk2e637). I would say that their albums now rank among my wife and my favourites of the last few years and make for great driving music too! Shelley’s solo album, Hard Time for the Dreamer (http://tinyurl.com/j555c5k), is also an absolute gem but, like with their eponymous debut, you might have a hard time finding it for a reasonable price.

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Seeing these guys live is an absolute treat though, unlike some of their truly dedicated fans, I have only managed to see them at the Green Note in Camden. This tiny little café can’t hold more than a few dozen people and my wife, my family and I have seen them play several times in this most intimate of settings. They are sat on a small stage literally a few feet away from the crowd and they engage and banter with the audience in an incredibly intimate way. The only other time I have ever come this close to a band was seeing Powderfinger at the Birmingham Carling Academy, who filled stadia back in Australia, and being in the second row in the audience. Like that, seeing RSJ in such a remarkably small space is a true delight.

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The other thing that I love about RSJ is their attitude towards their fans. You will never see more fan service than their gigs at the Green Note, especially their wonderful Christmas gigs, where you’ll also hear their lovely Christmas song, ‘Save Christmas Day For Me’ (http://tinyurl.com/ho3bth2). Shelley, Ally and Charity will happily sign anything you ask, they’ll take photos with you and Shelley also takes an interest in her fans, getting to know their lives. The one disadvantage that I am at is that my parents have become bigger fans of RSJ than my wife and I, as we were at somewhat of an disadvantage living in Canada from 2010 to the end of 2014. My mother and father saw them many more times during that period than we were able to and so now have a closer relationship with the band than I do. Grumbles!

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If you have any interest in great music, if you like supporting wonderful bands, or you simply want to see a superb live show, then I would recommend you give Red Sky July a go. Tickets for the Green Note shows disappear astonishingly quickly so act quickly if you want to see them there. Otherwise check out their albums and gigs at other venues! Cheers!

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Alastair Reynolds excellent sci-fi novel ‘Revenger’…

I have been a fan of Alastair Reynolds for a really long time and I would say that he is a strong influence on my science-fiction writing. I first picked up a copy of ‘Revelation Space’, which I absolutely loved, in a charity shop when I was a student at university, tore my way through it, and since then I have eagerly awaited each of his new books. I have my favourites (I’ve always really liked The Prefect) and I felt that one or two haven’t quite maintained the high standard of his best work but I still eagerly await each new release and dread the period immediately after I devour the latest for I know the wait for the next will be long indeed. And I am glad to say that I thoroughly enjoyed  his latest, ‘Revenger’.

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Revenger is, in the simplest possible terms, pirates in space. Think Firefly meets Ocean’s Eleven and you’re in the right ball park. These characters live on ships that travel through space using massive sails that allow the vessels to be pushed along by sunlight and visit the worlds where they seek their treasure. In my mind the ships resembled the lightship that Ben and Jake Sisko build in the ‘Explorers’ episode of Deep Space Nine. The crew then attempt to break into these worlds that contain vast, unseen treasures from an age gone by and each member has a different skill set and speciality including someone who can read the ‘augries’ (I hope I spelled that right) which is knowing when a ‘bauble’ will pop open, a crew member who can assess the worth of the treasure and a few others. But the most important is the ‘Bone Reader’ and that’s our protagonist, Fura Ness, someone who literally ‘reads’ a giant skull that she plugs into. All of this works to build the work that Reynolds is creating as does the language of the novel where a man is a ‘cove’ and money is ‘quoins’ all contributes to the world building that Reynolds is undertaking.

Now, I don’t want to say any more about the actual plot, for I would rather you go away and read the book for yourself, but it is safe to say that the title is a good one for this is a story about revenge, legacy and how the choices that the characters take shape the course of their lives. One of the aspects that I like most about this particular tale is how quickly it moves along, not lingering to settle the character’s into their lives, but quickly upending them and forcing them to deal with the events that occur. Oh and, at times, it’s brutal with a particularly gruelling segment about a third of the way through that I did not see coming at all! But this brutality seems fitting, given the life that they lead, and it forces our protagonist to take control of her life and her story and chose the path that she will take. For that is what a good protagonist should do in the opinion of this reviewer.

I thoroughly enjoyed Revenger and would recommend it to any and all fans of quality science-fiction writing. The book also ends well, closing out this origin story, and providing ample room for a sequel should Reynolds choose to write one. I really hope that he does for I would like to see the next adventure of Fura Ness and her sister. He also leaves a nice, juicy mystery hanging (and his reveals are usually very good!) and I hope we get to find out the secrets of this Universe and visit it again. And thus begins the long wait for the next Reynolds story sometime in the not-too distance future. Until then!

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of ‘Arrival’…

I am a big fan of science-fiction in both movie and book forms. Alastair Reynolds is one of my favourite authors (my review of ‘Revenger’ is up next!)’ and my favourite movies of the last few years include Interstellar (which I think is an absolute masterpiece), Edge of Tomorrow and Mad Max: Fury Road (sci-fi? apocalyptic fiction? hmm). So I was very glad to hear of the good reviews that ‘Arrival’ was getting and which were enough to persuade my wife and I to venture out to our local cinema to see if this movie lived up to the hype. This is something that we only do very infrequently for though we enjoy movies, we can’t often be bothered to trek out in the cold (it’s really not that far, but it is cold right now!) and we don’t often want to pay the associated costs (train fares, food and drink costs and so forth) when we have plenty of movies that we can enjoy at home. But Arrival was well worth the time and the money that we spent.

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So, Arrival, for those of you not in the know, is a move in the vein of ‘Independence Day’ (ID) and Jodie Foster’s excellent ‘Contact’ in that it is one where a number of alien ships arrive on Earth and proceed to position themselves all over the globe. But unlike ID, this film takes the route of intelligence and subtlety (and not so many shots of famous landmarks being destroyed) and focuses instead on the efforts of Amy Adams (who surely should win the Oscar for her superb performance) and Jeremy Renner as they struggle to communicate with these visitors. The movie then follows their story as they begin to piece together the aliens ‘language’ and as the rival factions all over the globe do the same. I won’t say any more about the story as I don’t wish to spoil it but I do love that it gets a bit twisted at times involving the use of glimpses of the future (including a lovely bit of head-fuckery involving the Chinese leader) and it again reminds me of the brilliance of Interstellar in how it deals with all of this.

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There were some very minor things that I found silly about the movie. The idea that these aliens would in any way be troubled by the presence of the weapons that we possess and turn towards their ships is one of these. If they have the technology to suspend their ships in the strange way that they do above the Earth and to communicate without us being able to understand how, then our puny technology would surely be of no concern. It’d be like tanks worrying about cave men throwing rocks! But despite these small niggles, my wife and I both  had a great time and fully intending to watch it again before too long. We probably won’t be venturing back to the cinema again but we might purchase the DVD when it comes out.

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Arrival is a truly excellent movie that will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys intelligent, complex science-fiction stories (though it is easily understandable and well told) but I did wonder what the three teenage boys a few rows ahead of us made of it and whether they had been anticipating a more ID style story with all of the action that movie displays. Funnily enough, my wife enjoyed ‘Arrival’ even more than I did, declaring it her pick of the year so far and one of the best films she has ever seen. Let’s see if ‘Rogue One’ can pinch that spot before the year is out, personally I doubt it. Not because I don’t think Rogue One won’t be a great movie, it just has to go some way to best ‘Arrival’. It really is that good, go see it!

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Gary Younge’s ‘Another Day in the Death of America’…

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a non-fiction book on this blog and so this time my post is a review of Gary Younge’s ‘Another Day in the Death of America’, which seems especially poignant given the dramatic result of the US election earlier this week. This book tells the (brief) life-stories of all of the children and teenagers killed by gun violence on a random Saturday in 2013. It was not a special day, just the one that Younge chose at random, and each Chapter of this book is devoted to each of those lives. Younge tells the story of his adopted country (he is British by birth) through the medium of those killed in this manner, which amounted to ten young lives lost to gun violence. These lives were taken in various ways from gangland murders to accidental killings where a loaded firearm went off either though an accident, through a misunderstanding or an act of stupidity, and in each case a young life was lost. Each of their stories are told with care and attention and the loss of these young lives is palpable, the grief caused to their loved ones apparent. This is definitely not light-hearted fare but it is a worthy read, nevertheless.
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It is a sad indictment of America that this is their normal, that the ten children killed on this day, and the countless who will have died before and since, barely warrant news coverage. Some did get attention, but many did not, and even those who did had but the briefest of spotlights. Younge also highlights the disparity in justice served to those who committed these acts, whether by accident or though vicious intent, and demonstrates their varied fates from jail time to the perpetrator never being found. This insane status quo is accepted as the normal and will no doubt continue until something dramatic happens, whatever that might be. And when the death of nearly a dozen children in one day is not considered enough then I do not know what would be. In most other countries these events would justify national coverage, along with a debate to decide on a course of action, but in the US there is only silence.

‘Another Day in the Death of America’ is a remarkable and tragic read. It is thoroughly researched and Younge managed to interview the families of nearly all of the children killed on this day. As he himself says, any other day would’ve produced a different set of stories, but all of them would be linked by the tragedy that continues on everyday in America. Having watched previous presidents try and fail to change the culture that permits this wholesale slaughter, I find it unlikely that the next incumbent will address this problem. I heartily recommend that you read ‘Another Day in the Death of America’ though you may find it a troubling and heartbreaking experience. I know I did but when you are reading how the lives of ten young men were cut short that is unsurprising. What is surprising is that America and its citizens continue to allow this to happen. Eventually, I assume, this will change but with Donald Trump now the incoming President it seems unlikely. For now the killings will continue and many more books like this one could be made. This is a sad state of affairs indeed.

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. It’s sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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