Review of Always Before Me

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Andy Miano
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Latest Review: Always Before Me by John Servant
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Review of Always Before Me

Post by Andy Miano »

[Following is a volunteer review of "Always Before Me" by John Servant.]
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4 out of 4 stars
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The subtitle for Always Before Me highlights mercy and salvation which is timely and timeless as these are what most of us search and pine for. For centuries. The book's Ignatian dedication For the greater glory of God further narrows the religious genre. The cover showing the Rosary firms up the book as a Catholic piece. The priests-and-prison setting appears simplistic at first. Then the reader not just once switches from one side to the other, as a protagonist and then another defends his faith or his absence of belief. The dialogues and monologues can send shivers as degrees of desolation or consolation both become familiar then distant. The vicarious thrill or threat can challenge one's goodness or villainy as the reader reminds himself that nobody is consistently right or wrong at any time. This book is much deeper than how it strikes after the first read. Trying for instance to digest the title itself even after you close the book is a good start. Then you just have to read all over again and again and indeed still find new gems from author John Servant, a subsequent recipient of a nihil obstat from his peers.

Rarely can one read how an author seamlessly touches on Stephen Hawking and then Saint Mother Teresa in one breath. It is also almost soothing to hear John Servant share that he writes his books after instances of enlightenments. Reminiscent of how James Hilton's book Shangri-La- The Lost Horizon popularized the once romanticized movie quote "There are moments in every man's life when he glimpses the eternal." Yet aside from its substance, the book is appreciated for its style. And unabashedly I can say editing the book must have been just a matter of course. John Servant, a lawyer, shows how to be both exacting and circumspect. Despite the preponderance of the reasons for the imprisonments and being outcast, there is not even a hint of prurience. A reader is said to be flattered when an author sprinkles unexpected complexities presuming the former's intellect can easily keep pace. At the very first page the author effortlessly makes use of a present time to put a flashback about a future event! Then one is wont to think quick as to which of those named ones existed first. Choosing the names of the personalities shows a clever purpose. They are all biblical and historical, serving as cues for how each participates in the flow and denouement of the story. The prison as the overarching milieu represents the hindrance to the characters' free exercises and the restraining chains are more felt than seen. Safe to say that at one time or another, the reader harks back to when the walls around him were closing in.

My only major fuss is that the book is too short. Further pursuits could have been ripe for more discoveries too if only the seemingly minor characters are magnified, like how an already rich youth can soon justify awaiting for his chance as an heir to a man clearly bereft of any worldly possession. This can be juxtaposed to that other central person who is down to his last morsel of reason for existence but is the only character in the book to have had the privilege of knowing the other protagonists and has their life's lessons seeping into his heart and mind. One would have liked to know which of the two would in the end turn out happier. Or sadder for that matter. Some minor wishes can be exemplified by this wonderment that while the book easily cites Mama Mary's titles or explained the Rosary quite well, it leaves the un-oriented in the dark about the scapular. Or maybe it is the author's peculiar way of saying Go search.

I thus rate this book 4 out of 4 .

In passing I can with all respect say that had John Servant waited a few more weeks before writing Always Before Me , the COVID-19 scourge would have been at the very center of everyone's undertakings. The pandemic could have been the theme of this book... well, maybe in the forthcoming one. There is no prison more restricting than this present pestilence. This virus plus how it is handled overwhelms everyone. How many still curse and raise fists to high heavens? Or the inverse, how many bend their knees then turn to and find their God? This is why I recommend the book to those who personally know COVID-19's silent and all-consuming fury. They are legions. For one, the book offers some cathartic refuge even if we just tarry at the sermons; it can also be a rich and even unending source of resolve for the reader to struggle through personal transcendence and ultimately be a better protagonist in his own odyssey.

Always Before Me
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