Book Review: Knight in Paper Armor

“This is a country of immigrants. Hate it all you want, but immigration is America. I’m America, more than you’ll ever be.”


TW — This book and the following review contains topics relating to hate crimes, antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, violence, torture, suicide, sensory deprivation, traumatic injury/disability, the Holocaust, and emotional abuse.

Beth Shalom is the 93rd state of the 179 United States of America, which is the setting of this stunning work of dystopian fiction. In a place called Heaven’s Hole, a boy named Billy Jakobek has grown up in laboratories, at the hands of Caleb, the force behind the megacorporation, Thorne Century. Caleb’s motivation behind subjecting this boy to countless experimentation is that he’ll be able to harness his powers to create a new type of warfare — one that is “clean. Contained. Beautiful.”

In many ways, it is a world far away from our own — but not far enough away that we cannot see the influence of the contemporary world within every detail. Natalia Gonzalez, one of the main protagonists, is a rebellious young artist, and the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, who falls in love with Billy as their paths cross. Living in Heaven’s Hole, Natalia regularly experiences the deprivation ensured by Thorne Century’s regime, as her family and community work within the factories that keep the regime running. Her world is one of poverty, deprivation, and an endless cycle of suffering. With an eye for creativity and a rebellious spirit, she hopes to one day break out of this cycle.

When these two character’s cross paths — their worlds collide. Together, they aim to bring down the megacorporation Thorne Century and strive to create a better world. But it is not that easy, defeating Caleb will be the biggest fight of all. This novel is entirely dystopian in feel, scope, and intent — but it contains elements of fantasy, science fiction and young adult themes — in being narrated by two teenagers who fall in love despite the crumbling world around them. However, it is also rooted in our world. It shines a light on the everyday xenophobia, antisemitism, class inequality and capitalist exploitation which is rife within the US — and the rest of the world.

Please note, a copy of this book was kindly gifted to me by the author, in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author

Nicholas Conley is a full-time writer — who has written for several publications such as Vox, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Reporter, Dictionary.com and others. He is also the author of four books, Knight in Paper Armour being his most recent one.

Nicholas is Jewish and a descendent of Ashkenazic refuges from Russia and Sephardic refugees who fled from the Spanish inquisition. On a personal level, he is a great believer in human rights, social justice, systemic reforms and living in a fairer world — for all.

“… we all share the same world. We’re all in this together. No matter what, we should do the best we can to take care of each other.” — Nicholas Conley 

You can find out more about Nicholas Conley via his website.


My review

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Image courtesy of Nicholas Conley

My first thought upon finishing this book was “wow” — it sounds cliché, but it is entirely accurate. Upon writing up my notes when I finished the book — there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to give this a 5/5, there’s simply nothing that I can fault. I am incredibly grateful to Nicholas for asking if I would like to review his book because it is not the kind of book I would have picked up myself.

So what did I like about this book?

Firstly — I found the ideas woven throughout this book utterly compelling — and could empathize with the struggles of Natalia Gonzalez because of her belief in a fairer society. Despite being a dystopian novel through and through, it draws upon many sentiments that we are currently dealing with globally in social, cultural, and political life. Thorne Century, the megacorporation which controls all the aspects of life for those who live in Heaven’s Hole, is, in a way, a metaphor for capitalism itself.

It crushes people’s ambition, perpetuates inequality just by existing, and fails to bring about a fairer way of life. Caleb, the perpetrator and manipulator of Billy Jakobek, is a power-hungry individual — who rules Heaven’s Hole for his own benefit. This is a vision of society that is divided along the lines of ethnicity, race, economic status and gender — thus, in many ways, it mirrors our world. However, this is a creative, dystopian state which provides enough fantasy to escape from our world.

Therefore — I resonated with this book because it felt current and there is so much to unpack. In many ways, it contains the classic element of good versus evil. Still, it is told with so many complexities that reading it, is enough to make you stop in your tracks and re-evaluate the world around you. 2020 has been dominated by American politics and the continuous systemic racism that lingers — and in this novel — it lays bear this influence within a unique, fast-paced and believable story.

As well as the ideas, I loved the characters and execution of this novel. I empathised with Natalia, who becomes somewhat of a revolutionary figure in the book with her opposition to Thorne Century, and I saw a lot of myself in her. She ardently believes that through a collective effort and vision, we can change the systems of oppression that ensnare us. As a character, she is also good-humoured and utterly likeable.

Billy Jakobek is a complex character who spends most of his time within a tank monitored by Caleb for the harnessing of his psychic abilities. He is subject to countless experiments and deprived of living in the real world — until he meets Natalia. Many themes in this novel also evoke the feeling of a classic coming of age story — but set amongst a dystopian state — it is truly original and enthralling.

The book is fast-paced, full of action and chops and changes between different character perspectives. It keeps you reading with every twist and turn, as you follow Billy and Natalia’s hopes of creating a better world. Crucially it also had a very satisfying ending which is essential for me when giving out five-star ratings. Often, if I give a book a 4-star rating, it will mean that I was left dissatisfied, but this is far from the case here. The ending to this whirlwind of a book was satisfying, heart-warming and convincing.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels that distract you from the present, but also make poignant points about the way we live now. And importantly, the systems that dominate our world and perpetuate multiple forms of inequality. This book is endlessly captivating and provides us with an essential insight into our contemporary world.


For fans of dystopian novels and readers of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the perfect book. I went into it not knowing what to expect but came away utterly mesmerised.

Knights in Paper Armor was published in September 2020 and is available to buy in paperback or as an e-book on Amazon.


I regularly accept review requests, if you’re an author and would like me to review your book, please visit my contact page for more information or to get in touch.


On the Simplicity of Just Being

As an overthinker, it can be easy to get distracted from the present moment. Too often I find myself paralysed with fear about the next few years, or even weeks, which detracts me from just being. It’s hard to overcome, but of late I’ve been more successful.

Tuning in with myself every morning by writing a few pages in my journal has allowed the worries I may feel to slip to one side. It doesn’t cure them, nor eradicate them, but it means that I can have a day where all my energy isn’t solely dissipated on that.

But it is in these very moments of stillness – that have become even more abundant in the second lockdown we are now living through – that I have experienced joy, a sense of peace and calamity. I’ve never been one for mass excitement, big gatherings or celebrations, as I’d much rather be with just a few people or even curled up by myself with a good book. However, during this pandemic, I have gained so much from just being.

Whether that be sitting still and listening to the sounds around me – the cry of the birds, the hum of gentle traffic – or slowly making my way through a book at my own pace. Or even, sitting in silence in the same room as my partner as we both do our own thing. Just being in the moment, recognising it and making peace with it without worrying about the future, has been, and continues to be, a great comfort for me.

Maybe I sound like an old lady way beyond my time. But maybe I don’t. During an age of mass excess, at least, the pandemic appears to have made our lives simpler. The allocation of more time spent at home has allowed some of us to spend more time with ourselves, figure out what we love and strip things back down to the basics. And isn’t this what life is really about? If we don’t know what the simple things we love in life are, then what are we striving for? In the same vein – overcomplication can often lead to apprehension and depreciation.

Taking time to be at peace and appreciate the moment instead of worrying about the future, is something I’ve learnt to recognise and started to practice this year. It’s helped me to become more present, mindful and at peace with myself.

I’m still not sure what my future holds, or where I’ll end up, but for once, I’m okay with that. I’m not having sleepless nights panicking about what kind of grand career I haven’t planned out for myself, but am, for now, content with the beauty of being. And just surviving in this thing called life. This doesn’t mean I’ve stagnated – in fact, I have a myriad of ideas. Ideas I would never have dreamed up if it wasn’t for lockdown.

I’m not sure what this post was meant to be, or quite where I was going with it. I just came on here to say hello and that I’m still here on this blog, from time to time. But I knew that I wanted to write about what I felt in this moment – which was a deep sense of inner peace, from just being.

If you’re reading this, I hope you take a moment to just be. Soak it all in, and try not to worry about tomorrow or the next day. As now is all we have.

Sending love and best wishes to everyone.

Check out my latest posts on Medium here.


“Whatever happens tomorrow, we had today. I’ll always remember it.”

Emma Morley, One Day (David Nicholls)

Book Review: The Stone in My Pocket

Mysterious goings-on are filtered through this coming of age novel with unique twists and turns.


“Why would I want to read about the paranormal when I was living it?”

Overview

In the dead of night, Nathan Love suddenly hears a strange voice in his garden, accompanied by a shadowed figure watching over him. Immediately, his world is tinted with a sense of strangeness, that he cannot quite work out. 

After a visit to his local bookshop, Nathan soon ends up with a Saturday job there and finds himself apart of a spiritual circle group, led by the owner of the bookshop, Iris.

Nathan hopes that in joining this group, he will be able to uncover the mystery of the shadowed figure he saw in this bedroom. All of this, he keeps from his parents. After all, his mother is a devout Catholic and his father has always turned a nose up to his strange stories. 

Through a mixture of messages, spirits and realisations, Nathan is led to believe that the shadowed figure was a reincarnation of his Grandfather who recently passed away, and Nathan believes that he is trying to convey a message to the family.

Strange goings-on, struggles at school and difficulties with making friends make the experience of adolescence one that is fraught with difficulties. Nathan is not close with his parents and finds solace in his job at the bookshop and the friendships made within the circle group. But sooner rather than later, the strangeness and questions in his life will be uncovered.

Please note, a copy of this book was kindly gifted to me by the author, in exchange for an honest review.


About the Author

Matthew Keeley is the author of two novels, A Stone in My Pocket being the most recent, due to Covid related delays, this is now due to be published in early 2021 by The Conrad Press. His debut novel, Turning the Hourglass, was published in 2019. 

Whilst being a full-time author and writer, Matthew also teaches English to secondary school pupils. He likes to write within the realms of speculative fiction, magic realism and literary fiction.

You can find out more information about Matthew and the expected release of A Stone in My Pocket, via his website.


My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First and foremost, what I loved about this book was the immediate hook. The mysterious figure seen in Nathan’s garden is enough to keep anyone reading. 

Immediately the reader has all sorts of questions “who is the figure?” “what is it doing here?” “what does this mean for Nathan and his family?” are just a few that crossed my mind in the first few pages. Being gripping from the start is always a good thing, but the result of the story was told in such a fast-paced and well-structured manner, that the remainder of the novel was never a disappointment.

Due to the initial hook — the rest of the story is spent trying to explain the mysterious happenings that occurred in Nathan’s garden and what this could mean. Nathan, the protagonist, aims to finds answers to this by joining a spiritual circle, where he truly immerses himself in the medium world.

Everything about the story contains an element of strangeness, from the eerie small-town setting to the use of a protagonist who never quite fits in -  this is a coming of age novel with unique twists and turns.

Nathan spends a considerable amount of time working in the bookshop where he also attends his circle meetings, which naturally appealed to me, as someone who also loves bookshops. There’s something special about a novel that heavily features all things bookish. 

Image via Uplash

The range of characters presented and how they are woven throughout the story to unravel the mysterious goings-on is impressive. 

Nathan as the protagonist is naturally flawed and a confused adolescent who has never really fit in with his peers or family. He is trying to navigate through his life and struggles with school as his mind is preoccupied with solving the strange goings-on that happened outside his bedroom window. I valued his perspective, and it was nice to delve into the mindset of a quirky adolescent — for once.

Iris, the owner of the bookshop, is also a fabulously crafted character who symbolises the sense of strangeness carried throughout the book. She is presented as almost a mother or grandmother figure to Nathan, who finds himself more and more detached from his parents as he tries to keep his activities within the circle group a secret.

The premise is alluring, and the delivery was very sophisticated with the crafting of interesting characters and a suspenseful plot. It had an explosive ending, which I shall not reveal, but all of Nathan’s secrets are suddenly exposed to his parents and everything unravels before his eyes. 

I found the ending to be quite abrupt, which I was slightly disappointed with, given the suspense carried throughout the story. In this way, the story could have benefited from tying up some loose ends. 

Overall, I enjoyed this novel despite it not being a story I would not normally turn to. I am not a massive lover of the supernatural, especially in fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and ended up enjoying it. I liked the characters, premise, setting and sense of unrelenting strangeness that filtered throughout the story.


A coming of age novel with a sense of eerie strangeness. For lovers of the supernatural, magic realism and character-driven stories — this is a brilliant read from start to finish.

Many thanks to the author, Matthew Keeley for providing me with a free copy of this book


Originally published on Medium in Write and Review, [insert date]

A Return to the Status Quo is What America Needs

Please excuse my absence on this blog, I’ve had a busy few weeks. Some of you will be here for the book content, so ignore this if politics isn’t your thing, but it’s one of my passions that I simply can’t help writing about. Ahead of the US Election Result, in this piece, I make the case that despite his many faults, Joe Biden is what America needs right now. If you’re an American reading this and you haven’t already – vote, and vote sensibly.


There was never going to be anything radical, or life-changing about Joe Biden, but rather that is the point.

After 4 rollercoaster years in power, Donald Trump has exhausted, not reignited, the American people. From denying climate change to inciting a war over words with the leader of North Korea, to the more recent trivialisation of a deadly disease that has come to define our lives, the time has come for a bit of normalcy in American politics.

And it seems that American voters are now recognising that too.

In the key battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin to name a few, Biden is on track for some leads which will be essential for him to dominate the Electoral College, and securing the magic number of 270 needed to win the presidency. The mood has shifted since what seems like a lifetime ago back in 2015 when Trump was given the keys to the White House.

The pandemic has caused the world to wake up in many ways. During national shutdowns, international travel was halted, and the stay at home order for many meant that towns and cities across the world, for the first time in years, became silent. The sound of rush hour traffic became a distant memory. This gave the planet a temporary rebate from impending climate disaster, but has since, made the issue even more imperative for us to solve.  

Regardless of who wins the election, the US is on track to leave the Paris Climate Change agreement, thanks to Trump. However, if he gains power, Biden has insisted he will make sure the US is added straight back in. His policies on climate change, including his commitment to a gradual transfer from oil to renewable energy, may have kicked up a storm, created by his rival, but at the heart of it – is a man who cares about the planet. Though seen as radical in some American circles, a Biden presidency would put the US back on track to meeting their climate change targets.

Biden’s Green New Deal directly draws the connection between the economy and the environment, something Trump has labelled this as socialist and clownlike due to the requirement of $3trn required to completely overhaul the US economy. If Biden gets back into power, the US can get back to business and focus efforts on combating the biggest threat to all our futures, instead of ignoring its very existence.

Furthermore, Trump’s branding of this election and his rival candidate as being part of “a choice between a socialist nightmare and the American dream” is deliberately intended as a divisive, political tactic, but it doesn’t work. Trump is drawing on the historic fearmongering tactics to paint anyone who veers against Republicanism with the same brush. We saw it in the 1950s with Communism – and it has been used again to add fuel to Trump’s own fiery, Red wave. By Britain’s political standards at least, Biden could not be further from the left – he is the middle ground candidate who is essential for getting America back on track, getting out of the pandemic and moving beyond.

Biden’s dullness, and the feeling one gets of wanting to snooze doing one of his speeches, is problematic for many reasons, but it is what is needed in American politics right now. During his bid for President in 1988, Biden fought against Ronald Reagan and stated in a series of BBC interviews that the thing he hated the most about this president, was how he divided the American people. Over thirty years on, he is fighting on the same grounds, but it might just be enough this time around. His deliberate reincarnation of the unity candidate is what America needs, and it feels like this has managed to convince voters too.

American’s are fed up. They have had their lives turned upside during this pandemic, the lines of racial, social and gender division are now bolder than ever before. The land of the free is in turmoil – and what does it need? A return to normalcy and the status quo. Only then and after – will it be able to make way for the pathway towards radical change.

Book Review: Togwotee Passage

For deep thinkers, lovers of the great outdoors and readers who value a character-driven story, this is an ideal read.


The world is facing many reckonings at the moment, but the one that unites all countries, cultures and continents across the world, is the real threat of climate change and human extinction. And this threat is something we have manufactured ourselves, through the repetitive cycle of human greed, overconsumption and the incessant materialist culture that is perpetuated by the capitalist framework.

Togwotee Passage has a very unique feeling and sense of unease carried with it, but always reminds the reader of the beauty of nature and how it’s relationship to us, as human beings, is more than essential. 

It tackles some of the greatest issues of our times, through the exploration of climate change, inequality, and materialism. It is a stark critique of the Western world and our mindset, told through the life and perspective of Calan, living in Wyoming in the 1940s, but feels very close to the present day.

Please note, a copy of this book was kindly gifted to me by the author, in exchange for an honest review.


About the Book

Literary Eco-Fiction, published in 2019. 

Calan flees his family life early on due to the upsets caused by growing up within a dysfunctional family, his father was a drunk and Calan was regularly exposed to his mistreatment of his mother. Due to this, he finds great solace in the outdoors and befriends Derek, a boy who lives on the Shoshone land.

Their friendship blossoms through a shared appreciation of the outdoors and their conversations reveal a deep and philosophical battle centred on the human relationship with nature and our problematic image as the dominant species. Together, they engage in important conversations centred on these issues, which causes readers to think about the world around us.

This book is character-driven, but the plot follows the course of Calan’s life over the years and his reckonings with the world as influenced by many conversations he had with his best friend. 

All of this is intertwined with beautiful descriptions of the natural world and Native American mythology. Through Calan’s relationship and time spent with Derek, the Shoshone Indian culture is revealed and paralleled with his traditional American upbringing. The reader learns about this Native American tribe, which is made up of around 8,000 people living in the Eastern Shoshone in Wyoming, and the many opposites and pitfalls of consumerist, American culture that they oppose.

It’s a book about nature, human selfishness, destruction and relationships all rolled into one. It causes the reader to think, re-assess and re-evaluate the power of the natural world.


About the Author

L. G Cullens is an author born and raised in western Wyoming, the United States. After beginning a career in civil engineering and computer sciences, in his fifties, he decided to pursue woodworking and has since taken up writing.

Cullens is passionate about the natural world and aims to spread awareness of it, which shines through in his book, Togwotee Passage.

To find more information about the author, or contact L.G Cullens, you can visit his website.


My Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As soon as I started reading this book I knew two things from the offset. I knew I would like it, and I knew it would be different from anything I have read. 

As a committed fan of literary fiction, the character-driven plot, executed by the protagonist, Calan, already appealed to me.

The story tracks the life of Calan as he navigates the great outdoors and forms a close friendship with Derek, a boy who lives on the Shoshone reservation. Through countless conversations, he learns about the pitfalls of the Western world and the dangers of an excessive materialist mindset and what this can do to our planet.

Through these conversations, and the raising of many philosophical questions to do with climate change, inequality, materialism and the purpose of humanity itself, Cullens exposes the many faults and imperfections at the heart of human life itself. It’s a sharp portrayal of the faults of our species and how our actions damage nature.

Intertwined throughout, are beautiful and charming descriptions of the outdoors, as Calan and Derek go on their many hikes and explore the mountains littered throughout the Wyoming landscape. 

As a lover of the outdoors myself, I couldn’t help but feel enchanted by these descriptions. I found these parts calming to read and Cullen’s words paint a picture of the Wyoming scenery that I am yet to be fortunate enough to explore.

Above all, this book is a deep exploration of someone’s inner thoughts and how they perceive the world around them. It is a plea to look back at nature and treat it with the respect it deserves, but also, a plea to divert from our current mindset and way of life, which is only self-destructing. The destruction of nature is a result of ongoing human selfishness which is at the heart of the story, explored through conversations between Calan and Derek.

Reading this was a pleasurable experience in itself, due to the stunning prose and character-driven plot, but it also caused me to think a great deal. This book reflects on the threat of climate change through the human path of greed, exploitation and capitalism which can overthrow the nature and beautify of the outdoors that we all know and love.

The only aspect of this book I struggled to contend with, was the ending. After documenting the course of Calan’s life thoroughly through the decades, I found the final few chapters confusing and felt like there was no definitive endpoint. I got a bit lost and struggled to see how Calan’s story ended, however, this is a very minor point and may have been missed by my misinterpretation.

You can purchase a copy of the book here


Final Thoughts

For deep thinkers, lovers of the great outdoors and readers who value a character-driven story, this is an ideal read and one I enjoyed immensely. My many thanks go to L.G Cullens for providing me with a copy of this book.

“I ask you who’s the more primitive, a culture that believes in respectful coexistence with the natural world that sustains us all, or a culture that is rife with selfish, material greed to the point of trashing this little blue canoe our children will need to get by in?” 

L.G Cullens, 36.

Originally published on Medium in Write and Review, 22 October, 2020.