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Book Review: ‘Room of Tears’ by Linda Merlino


ImageRoom of Tears is a spiritual story about heroes, miracles, and faith. It’s also a story about love, death, and tragedy.

In the summer of 2041, 71-year-old Diane O’Connor invites Friar Antonio Ortiz to her home in Queens. The reason is nothing short of mysterious: she has a request for him, which entails giving him a letter and a recording that was made right after the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Friar Antonio is the friend of Diane’s son, Peter, whom she believes to be destined to become the first American Pope. Diane’s request is for Antonio to keep the two items until Peter is ready to accept his Papacy.

From Diane and Antonio’s conversation while he’s at her home, a mystery is slowly unfolded — though not completely, for it isn’t until decades later when Antonio gives the letter and recording to Peter that everything is revealed, to the shock of not only these two characters but also the reader.

Through Diane’s account, diary entries, the letter, and the recording, the reader is taken back in time to when Diane’s firefighter husband and Peter’s father, Billy, died during 9/11.

Merlino is a talented writer and some segments of the book are written in a truly lyrical, insightful way. It’s clear the author put a lot of time and craft in her creation, which I read took her six years to research and write.

Diane and Friar Antonio are both compelling characters, and I was engrossed by their conversations as the mystery was slowly revealed through some very interesting dialogue. The chapters move at a steady pace that well suits this type of novel where theme and characterization have a heavier hand than plot.

In short, this was an unusual, out-of-the-ordinary read that I enjoyed. The reason I’m giving this review 4 stars instead of 5 is that the ending, while surprising and unexpected, didn’t resonate with me.

Buy on Amazon. Visit the author’s website. Read my interview with the author.

My review first appeared on Blogcritics


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Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the literary suspense novel, ROOM OF TEARS, by Linda Merlino. Enjoy!



Title: Room of Tears – Imajin Books Publisher

Genre: suspense-literary fiction

Author: Linda Merlino – http://www.lindamerlino



Chapter One

“Billy is gone . . .” —Journal entry, 9/11/2001

Queens, New York, July 2041

Diane O’Connor and Father Antonio Ortiz met for the first time at the front door of her home in Queens. She smoked, or so he thought, given the burnt smell greeting him as she ushered him inside. A striking woman dressed in beige slacks and a flowered blouse, she was not as tall as he expected, maybe a few inches over five feet. Diane extended her hand, the fringe of her ruffled cuff hiding all but her fingers, which were long and frail. She wore no jewelry except for a plain gold wedding band, and as she took his summer coat, he noticed how loose-fitting her clothes hung on her thin frame.

An antique hat stand was the repository for his panama while his coat went deftly onto a hanger and into a closet, along with his valise. Once done with housekeeping she stood back and looked at him, her head cocked to one side and her eyes wide and bright with little trace of aging. When she had taken in the breadth and width of him, she took his hand with a graceful movement, and he reached out to clasp hers between his and met her gaze.

“How was your trip?” she asked. He replied that the flight was uneventful, except for a delay in Milan, and noted that her voice had a throaty quality, which spoke of years of cigarettes, or secondhand smoke. Her wide mouth, when she talked, had a broadness that displayed an irregular alignment of teeth, the two front ones noticeably overlapped. This quirk of ivory added a certain charm to the unique features of her face: clay pools for eyes, an aquiline nose, and a thick head of long hair that graced her shoulders. Its softness, suffused with the browns of autumn, outlined her beauty. A beauty, he imagined, grown more intense with the years. The only betrayal of time showed in the darkness under her eyes, where the shadows of lost sleep lay imprinted under her lashes, her tattoos of mourning forever visible.

“Excuse the awkwardness, Señora O’Connor. If I stare it is because I see your son, Peter, in your countenance,” Antonio said. Diane seemed taken off guard by his remark. She offered the priest a thank you and then moved ahead of him, motioning with one hand to follow.

The house—its walls, floors, and furniture frozen in the late twentieth century—had a series of small rooms attached to one another off an L-shaped hallway: the living room, the dining room, and then the kitchen. On the stark white walls of the passageway were photographs, each picture mounted on a seamless backing hung off the cove molding on long extensions of wire. Antonio slowed his step to peer at the glossy images. Most were firefighters—some wearing caps and suspenders mugging for the camera’s lens, while others wore dress-blue uniforms, their chests expanded with pride and their mouths drawn firm. Two faces stood out among the many: one a firefighter, the other a priest.

He pressed in closer to examine their similarities, knowing that they were brothers, remembering what Peter O’Connor had told him of his family. The two men could have been twins, so similar were their features, and except for their hair color—one yellow gold and the other fire red—both grinned the same grin out to the world.

Absorbed, Antonio neglected to notice that Diane had disappeared into the kitchen. He thought to ask her about the two men in the photographs, and when he turned in anticipation of seeing her next to him, he took a step toward where she might be standing. His right foot struck a pair of boots propped upright against the wall. He stumbled and put a hand out to that empty place where he thought she might be, but his face did not meet hers, and instead came within an inch of a firefighter’s helmet, the medallion of its FDNY ladder company polished and gleaming.

On the edge of that moment, trying to regain his balance, each breath he took tightened in his throat. Antonio began to gag. His mind raced. What could be happening? One minute he was looking at photographs and the next his throat was constricting. An acrid odor rose to his nostrils. He shook his head—the same faint smell he’d noticed from before, at the door, but stronger, sharp enough now to sear his soft membranes. My God, he thought and recoiled. Sweat sprang from his face and neck. A heart attack? He clutched his chest. No, not that. His heart was fine except for the galloping beat under his ribcage. Heat emanated from the helmet as if it had just come through an inferno. “My God,” he said aloud. Perhaps a fire burned inside the wall, hot enough to choke him.

Antonio backed away and cupped his hands over his face, bending over at the waist and taking in gulps of air, as his host reappeared in the kitchen’s doorway. “Señora . . .” Antonio’s voice was a rasping bark. “I beg your forgiveness; I have knocked over your husband’s boots.” His eyes stung from the stench and began to water. “I am sorry, Señora, but the helmet . . .”

Diane reassured him there was no fire, nothing to worry about, and walked back into the kitchen. Antonio followed and found her at the stove warming coffee. There was a plate of pastry on the table, canoli and napoleons piled in a stack, enough for several guests. He went to the table and pulled out a chair for himself and one for her.

“The helmet, Señora—it was burning,” Antonio said, his throat still raw.

“You have so many questions in your head about this house, and about the brothers in the pictures on the wall.” She raised her eyes and looked in that direction as if from there she could see the photographs. Then she handed him a glass of water while she spoke. There it was again, he thought, that ragged tone, and the accent slightly nasal. “Unfortunately we have little time for small talk,” she said. “I had hoped to explain slowly the unexplained that fills this house, but you’ve made some of your own discoveries. The heat from a helmet long retired provides you with a smattering of insight into the history of this family. Disturbing as this may be to you, for me, it’s commonplace, familiar.”

Antonio had just taken a sip of water, the glass suspended in midair, and he paused to look at her. A fiery helmet commonplace? he thought to himself. Peter, once joking, had mentioned his mother’s house being haunted, but he never said anything about equipment burning. What is going on here?

He opened his mouth to speak, but he could not find the correct phrase. He stuttered, all the time looking at the woman, at Peter’s mother. One large window framed the backdrop behind her, and with the morning sun pouring in, the light forced him to squint. A note hung on the cabinet door just to her left. He could not read it from where he sat, and probably not even up close because the ink and the paper appeared faded. The room, at that moment, seemed cast in a dense halo that formed an aura around her.

Struck by that vision, Antonio dropped his glass. It slipped from his thumb and forefinger, knocking his cup of coffee onto the pristine white tablecloth and sending shards of dainty porcelain and glass onto the floor. The shattering noise jolted him and he rose quickly, but Diane did not move. She stood encased in the light, emblazoned like an apparition. He knelt to gather the pieces, but instead found himself on both knees, praying.

“The knowing is no mystery,” she said. “There are spirits here, in this house. Peter grew up with them, but he never acknowledged their presence. If you ask him, he will deny their existence, but you’re different; you will not flee from them. The scorching helmet in the hallway is cold to the touch of others.” One of her eyebrows arched high into her forehead, as if asking him if he understood.

“No, Señora,” he said, stuttering again. “You are mistaken. I am God’s humble servant here on earth. A priest of St. Francis committed to serving the poor,” Antonio answered, still on his knees, feeling the heat of which she spoke.

“You’ll become the Pope’s counsel, an enviable position—the secretary to the bishop of Rome.” Her remark was encased in annoyance. “Petawh,” she began again, emphasizing the loss of the letter r with her impatience, “is no common priest, chosen, as he was before his birth to sit on this earth as the Vicar of Christ. Your friendship with him isn’t coincidental.” She drummed her fingers. “When you pray, offer thanks to those who watch over you. They’ve interceded on your behalf.”




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Remembering 911 with Guest Blogger Amir Makin

Today marks the 7th anniversary of the day that scarred and changed the lives of Americans forever. On September 11, 2001, suicide bombers flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, killing thousands in the name of religious beliefs.

Six months later, a group of friends and I visited the site where the Twin Towers once stood. Smoke was still coming out of the piles of rubble. Buildings beside the Twin Towers that still stood were severely damaged. But, it wasn’t until I was walking around the site myself did I feel the incredible sense of sadness and death. And what was really strange about it was that you didn’t feel it until you came directly on the site. It was like this line was drawn and once you crossed over it, the ghosts of the once alive were still there, their spirits crying out yet no one could hear them.

But this blog post today isn’t about my experiences. I asked Amir Makin, author of A Worthy Muslim: Quranic Tools Needed to Overcome Oppression and Imperialism in Order to Institute Justice to give his us his thoughts and he has agreed to do so.

Here’s a little background on Amir:

Amir Makin found Al Islam on an unexpected yet fruitful journey to Africa. Having always been intrigued with issues of the oppressed masses, he quickly learned how this way of life directed all to defend and protect the indigent from tyranny while preserving the dignity of the dispossessed. Since that time, he has instilled in himself and advanced the type of analysis that leads to positive change throughout society. He is the author of A Worthy Muslim: Quranic Tools Needed to Overcome Oppression and Imperialism in Order to Institute Justice and you can visit him on the net at www.unworthymuslim.com.

Amir has agreed to share his thoughts and I’d like to share them with you:

On today’s anniversary of September 11, 2001 we must reflect not only on that fateful day, but also its immediate aftermath which culminated in the marketing and selling of fear. Non Muslims were taught that every Muslim was a bloodthirsty savage with no regard for anything or anyone. As a result some Muslims who had done everything possible to assimilate with the American ethos had become enemies of the state. The litmus test of American patriotism was redefined by the amount of anger one could mount against any proclaiming themselves Muslim. Many had been given the impression that Islam was to blame. Others stated something else. Whether one believes in a different theory that some would classify as conspiratorial or not is an argument which will continue ad nauseum, but I do believe that when evaluating how a tragedy like this can occur on American soil and how best to commemorate this day it is often useful to look at the stated principles that helped form this nation.

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” When one reads the words of this hallowed Declaration of Independence, one cannot escape a euphoric feeling not only for the power conveyed in these words, but the affirmation of man’s inherent freedom which was bestowed upon him by his Creator. This original formula for society would probably be anyone’s ideal country.

That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government . . . But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. . .” After reading such marvelous eloquence, one may ask, from what standard would these men derive their “future security”? Since they have made it clear these rights come from the Creator, why not investigate what the Creator has said concerning this?

“Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded”. Qur’an 16:90

. . . whoever kills a soul unless for a soul (legal retribution for murder) or for corruption (done) in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely . . . Qur’an 5:32

After reading the Declaration of Independence with the Scripture, one could appreciate the beauty of the stated intentions in the formation of this country. No one including myself would ever oppose either. But how could it be that a country called Great Britain which in 2008 is a great friend to America could have once been an indicted and convicted criminal to that same nation during its formation? But, as the Declaration answers, “the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.” What these men opposed was not the land of their fathers, not its resources, and definitely not its citizens. No, these Americans opposed the corruption of an evil tyrant who had “plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns and destroyed the lives of our people . . . in every stage of the oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” They didn’t oppose the position of king but instead opposed this particular king because he became an oppressor while occupying a seat of power to exercise injustice.

These acts of oppression made the founding fathers of America understand that a connection with the system of justice established by their Creator was necessary to distinguish what was just from what was unjust in order for them to stand against the one responsible for their oppression. Since they found themselves in a state of oppression by one who was only interested in serving himself, they stated the need to affirm their connection with the Creator’s command for justice and liberty for all. Al Islam wants the same.

Practicing Muslims don’t hate Americans. Practicing Jews don’t hate Americans. Practicing Christians don’t hate Americans. Instead what is opposed by each is the same type of oppressive behavior originally opposed by the founding fathers of America. There is no Quranic verse that advocates the absence of justice. There is nothing in this Declaration that advocates the absence of justice. Some of the principles of America expressed in several government documents, though not all of the practices of its authors, are more harmonious to Al Islam than many are aware of.

“O you who believe! Stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or your parents or your relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not (personal) inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort (your testimony) or refuse (to give it) then indeed Allah is ever with what you do well acquainted.” Qur’an 4:135

According to the Declaration of Independence, before this land became the superpower it is today, this was how the founding fathers defined patriotism. In a climate where fear is marketed, this definition must hold fast to prevent what is unjust from becoming an acceptable norm. Since all the writers of the Declaration agreed that the standards of always adhering to justice through dedicated worship is epitomized by prophets commissioned by the Creator from Adam to Noah to Jesus to Muhammad (peace be upon all of them), so to must those who say these men are their paragons of human excellence meet these same standards. For any Muslim, Jew, Christian or other to fall short of this is to show a true lack of patriotism.

This all too brief recap is necessary so that no one is allowed to forget that terrorism did not initially arrive in America on September 11, 2001 and the heinous act which occurred this fateful day is no more repugnant due to the skin color or lack thereof of the perpetrators, conspirators and patsies. If we all are American citizens united in true patriotism, we should begin to acknowledge, address and admit every one’s pain who has ever found themselves the victims or survivors of terror on an equal unified basis. Truly standing for justice for everyone is the best way to commemorate each day of the year, not just one. Making the transition to doing that is the true challenge. A Worthy Muslim: Quranic Tools Needed to Overcome Oppression and Imperialism in Order to Institute Justice was written in part to address subjects such as this.

Amir Makin is the author of A Worthy Muslim: Quranic Tools Needed to Overcome Oppression and Imperialism in Order to Institute Justice. His blog is http://aworthymuslimovercomes.blogspot.com

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