Book review: The Ka by Mary Deal

 The Ka by Mary Deal  

About The Ka

California archaeology student Chione has vivid dreams about the discovery of an opulent tomb. After the founder of the Institute of Archaeology learns that Chione’s dreams might be connected to events in Egypt, he accepts an offer to examine a mysterious site in Valley of the Queens.

After they discover an ancient burial site, spells encoded into the hieroglyphs on the tomb’s walls transport Chione and her former boyfriend, archaeologist Aaron Ashby, 3,500 years into the past: to ancient Egypt. There, they learn of Tutankhamon and Tauret, a priestess in Pharaoh’s Court.

Meanwhile, the other team members are affected in unfathomable ways by the Ka: the spirit of the entombed.

Chione and Aaron learn that Tauret plans to provide Tutankhamon with a living heir… and that they have been chosen to play a crucial part in completing their destiny.

My thoughts on The Ka

From the opening scenes in which a group of hot-tempered academics prepare to uncover a forgotten Egyptian tomb, The Ka draws its readers into a mystery centred in the ancient history of the pharaohs, one that pivots on mysticism and the paranormal. This is undoubtedly a potent mix.

Distinct and believable characters fumble and tumble their way through discovery and danger. The author clearly knows her subject, and provides a vivid and detailed portrait of the tombs and pyramids of ancient Egypt, along with the stories, the tragedies and cruelties, and the betrayals that went on. The historical exposition is cleverly woven into the narrative in the conversations among the party and in the mind of the protagonist, Chione.

The story maintains a good clip and is well-plotted with plenty of twists and surprises. The plot is driven by Chione, who endures many dreams and visions, at times clear, at others murky. Through Chione, Deal blends the present with the ancient, all the while imbuing the narrative with a looming sense of dread. Danger, is everywhere, as pervasive as the sweet odour that so enchants Chione.

Questions prevail, not least what is it between ex-lovers Chione and Aaron and will they re-unite? As the story unfolds the past and present collide in a dramatic way. Suddenly, ancient Egypt is a lived reality, not something dead and buried, but alive and influential, having lured Chione and Aaron back in time and trapping them there. What unfolds makes for a highly engaging read.

Original, refreshing and captivating from first to last, The Ka will appeal to historical fiction fans with a fascination for the supernatural.

 

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Book review: The Good Messenger by John Simmons

The Good Messenger is the second novel I have read by John Simmons and I have to say I am a fan of this author’s writing style. Here’s why…

John Simmons

About The Good Messenger

1912: Tom Shepherd reluctantly stays for two weeks at Hardinge Hall. Mr and Mrs Hardinge are trying to arrange a marriage for their son Teddy to Iris, daughter of a local businessman. Tommy becomes the innocent messenger who delivers the secret arrangements.

Armistice Day 1918: The First World War has changed everything, especially the closeted world that Iris, Teddy and Tom existed in.

1927. Tom is now a journalist investigating the discovery of a baby’s bones in the woods around Hardinge Hall. Past and present move towards a resolution that might still bring everything crashing down.

My Review of The Good Messenger

The Good Messenger opens with a short and fragmented prologue that sets up a mystery unfolding in the pages to follow – the death of a soldier in WWI, his wife, his mother, a man visiting a prostitute in a doorway. In Part One, Simmons takes his readers back in time to 1912, when nine year old Tommy, the son of a cleaner, spends two weeks at Hardinge Hall. He encounters the benevolent Mr Hardinge and his mean-spirited wife, their son Teddy and his sullen sister, Muriel, along with another guest, Iris, who, if the Hardinges have their way, will be Teddy’s wife. Tommy is bemused, confused, in awe and a little terrified of his new and strange surroundings. An obedient and innocent boy, he obliges when Teddy, Iris and the barmaid Rosie, require him to pass messages back and forth. Part Two introduces Iris as an author, describing through the lens of her protagonist the mixed moods of Armistice Day out in the streets of London. In Part Three we meet Tommy as an adult, Tom, a freelance journalist given an assignment by a newspaper that takes him back to Hardinge Hall. There he unravels the  complex mystery of the Hardinge family, its dark secrets and tragedies, and, he falls in love.

Reminiscent of The Go Between and, in structure, of Atonement, The Good Messenger is a novel to sip and savour. References to Wind in the Willows lends a timeless, magical quality to the first part of the narrative, Tommy making sense of the world around him through comparisons with Mole and Ratty. Tommy’s reality is one of discovery, wonder and enchantment. The reader cannot help but adore the little boy, smile sometimes, feel saddened at others.

The characters throughout the novel are full-rounded and sensitively portrayed. The reader will sympathise with all of Simmon’s cast, even the sour and uptight Mrs Hardinge. The only character that remains somewhat in the shadows for a long time is Tom’s mother. Even when the narrative light shines her way, she remains a background figure, her development perhaps sacrificed to the confines of plot. In my mind, she represents some of the space between the lines of this story, a space for the reader to fill.

The construction of The Good Messenger works beautifully. The novel is at first a story of innocence observing the manipulations and deceptions of others, of class and its barriers, of old money and new, of poverty and its consequences for women, of prejudice, and of propriety and the inevitable antithesis. Simmons conveys well the changing of the times, WWI marking the end of one period of history and the beginning of another. Perhaps The Good Messenger is a novel to read twice, the reader drawn back, particularly to the prologue and Part Two, to reflect and ponder in the light of the revelations that follow, Part Two  especially pivotal in developing the theme of the changing times.

The narrative pace is slow, the storytelling descriptive. Simmons has a soothing style, allowing his readers to ease themselves into the setting and get to know the characters, his voice more a whisper, seductive, spoken with a welcoming hand. In Part Three, the narrative pace shifts up a notch. Simmons makes use of the first person perspective to provide a more intimate and urgent feel. The prose remains soft, but there is a touch more bounce to it. As the plot unfolds and rises to a climax, culminating in a series of shocking revelations, Simmons satisfies his readers and leaves no loose ends.

I commend Simmons for his handling of the trauma of war; his depiction of the soldiers who had witnessed the horrors in the trenches through the perspective of the onlooker, Tom, and the medical profession at the time, are well-researched and insightful.

Simmons’ writing is that of the water-colourist, all muted tones bleeding into each other, the tone never brash or overbearing. The author has finesse, his words seeping into the psyche like balm. Poignant, moving, romantic, and sometimes shocking, The Good Messenger is a lovely book to read, and then to treasure. A classic.

Book Review: The Keeper of the Way by Patricia Leslie

I’m delighted to share my latest review. I’m a fan of this author after reading a previous work, A Single Light, which inducted me into Urban Fantasy. Her latest, Keeper of the Way (Crossing the Line Book 1), is historical urban fantasy.

 

“After news of grave robbing and murder in Dún Ringall, the ancient stronghold of Clan McKinnon on the Isle of Skye, Rosalie realises it is time to share her family’s secrets. Descendants of the mystical Ethne M’Kynnon, Rosalie tells of a violent rift that occurred centuries earlier, splitting Ethne from her sisters forever and causing relentless anguish and enmity between ancient families.
Meanwhile, Algernon and Clement Benedict have arrived in Sydney searching for the lost relics of their family. They are driven by revenge and a thirst for power, and will take what they can to reinstate their family heritage. Their meddling with ancient magic will have far-reaching effects, as they fail to realise ther role in a far greater quest.
In the grounds of Sydney’s magnificent Garden Palace, danger grows as an ages-old feud of queens and goddesses heats up. The discovery of arcane symbols bring the distant past in a foreign land to Australia and will cause a profound struggle with tragic results, a surprising new recruit from an unknown world, and the complete destruction of the palace.
Set around stories and characters in 1882 Sydney, Keeper of the Way includes current affairs, people and buildings long gone, and gives a voice to people history doesn’t always listen to.”

My thoughts:

From the opening scenes, Leslie takes the reader back to the ancient customs of the Scottish highlands while making full use of Scotland’s tempestuous weather as Lord Algernon Benedict sets off for the Isle of Skye to find out what happened to his great-grandfather who disappeared after reaching the shores of Loch Slapin. Three decades later, in Sydney in 1879, Rosalie Ponsonby wanders through The Garden Palace in the Botanical Gardens on the eve of an international exhibition. There she pauses to observe the statue of Queen Victoria. She’s the proprietor of The Garden Arms and she’s a witch.

Much of the action plays out in the The Garden Arms. Here, Leslie creates a homey feel, female and strong. The story unfolds from multiple viewpoints, the reader sharing in the perspectives of Algernon, his son Clement, Rosalie and her daughter, Florentine. All the characters, major and minor, are well-crafted and convincing. The pace is slow but never falters. Sydney in the late 1800s is brought to life with evocative and sharply crafted descriptions. The writing style suits the era yet avoids flowery writing or laboured sentences.

“The Botanical Gardens were a forest of trees and shrubbery, drawn from England and forced into a lifetime of servitude on the other side of the world where winter was as summer in their homeland.”

Through such prose Leslie provides a portrait of the emergence of Australian society in Sydney, a bustling southern city delightfully tinged with decadence, receiving waves of migrants as its indigenous population is thrust aside. Leslie handles this transition with sensitivity and insight.

Descriptions of fantastical transfigurations are portrayed with equal finesse. The reader is lured into magical realism, the transfixed observer. Grimoires, incantations, invocations, sigils and demonic spirits infuse the historical narrative, as the ancient ways of witchcraft – healing and life-giving – are pitted against a male counterpart that is dark and destructive.

In all, Keeper of the Way is a pleasurable read from start to finish. I recommend it to lovers of historical fiction, magic realism and urban fantasy alike.

#AWW challenge completed!

I signed up late to the 2017 Australian Women Writer’s challenge. Despite those lost months, I committed to reviewing at least six books by Australian women authors, which is known as the ‘Franklin’ challenge. I ended up reviewing seven titles and I would have written more had I not found myself unexpectedly moving house!

What a delightful experience the #AWW has been! I’ve ventured into genres I wouldn’t normally read. I’ve found many absolute gems along the way.

I began with Kathryn Gossow’s Cassandra, an absolutely charming literary coming of age story. “Cassandra is laced with evocative descriptions of rural Queensland. Gossow’s characterisations are convincing and her pacing measured. Early suspense shades into a textured exploration of clairvoyance, dreams, trance states and the predictive powers of Tarot, as Cassie tries to get a handle on her own inner powers; her friend, the ever doubtful Athena, egging her on.”

From there I ventured into crime with Sandi Wallace. I ended up reviewing two titles by this author, Tell Me Why, and Dead Again .  “With wit and a sharp eye for the essentials, Wallace has built a story world that feels real. A page turner with much to savour, Dead Again is a moving and highly engaging read.”

For literary fiction, I turned to Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love “Rose is a masterful writer, her depictions of incidental characters sharply observant, yet her prose is always gentle, haunting. The Museum of Modern Love is a meditation, on art and creativity to a large extent, but above that on pain, physical and emotional pain, the anguish of loss and grief.”

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose, winner of the 2017 Stella Prize. Read more of my reviews at https://isobelblackthorn.com/my-book-reviews/

I went back to crime with L.J. M. Owen’s Mayan Mendacity  my review appearing on the Sisters in Crime Australasia’s website. “In all, I found Mayan Mendacity difficult to put down. Owen has provided her readers with an entertaining story that also informs, without allowing exposition to put a brake on the narrative. Pulling off a story laden with this much technical detail and maintaining a fast pace is quite a feat.”

I then took a detour into historical fiction, unable to pass up the opportunity to review Elisabeth Storr’s  Call To Juno an absolute feast of a read. “This is a story for those who enjoy their historical fiction rich with fine and accurate detail. Call to Juno is intensely visual, bringing ancient Rome to life, composed by an author who clearly knows her subject.”

Finally, I was treated to Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s The Tides Between “The Tides Between pulls the reader in two directions, the desire to continue turning the pages at odds with an equally a strong wish to pause and reflect on its various intricacies, its depth. The only difficulty faced in reviewing a book of this quality is putting it down long enough to scribe reflections. A work I would describe as literary historical fiction, The Tides Between, is a captivating and immersive read.

The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

I am delighted to share my review of Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s debut novel, The Tides Between.

“In 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bride’s mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her childhood, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father’s fairy tales to the far side of the world.

When Rhys Bevan, a soft-voiced young storyteller and fellow traveller realises Bridie is hiding something, a magical friendship is born. But Rhys has his own secrets and the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark double meaning.

As they inch towards their destination, Rhys’s past returns to haunt him. Bridie grapples with the implications of her dad’s final message. The pair take refuge in fairy tales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.”

My Review

Told from three viewpoints, Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s debut novel is a fearless yet endearing exploration of the day-to-day existence of a small cast of characters, each with their troubles, who are incarcerated along with numerous families in the steerage deck of a ship bound for Australia. The Tides Between is an ironic tale in some ways, for the duration of a voyage that spans half the globe, the epic journey that unfolds is one situated at the hearth of human existence.

Corbett writes with a deft pen. The author is unafraid to expose the reality of life for working class migrants making the treacherous voyage to Australia. In true literary fashion, the narrative presses forward through the unfolding realisations of its characters, the backstory interwoven in fragments.

The Tides Between opens with fifteen-year old Bridie clutching a notebook of fairy stories she was forbidden to keep as she boards a ship bound for Port Phillip. What unfolds is in part a coming of age story, as Bridie learns to handle the grief she feels at the loss of her father, and accept the benevolent affections of her stepfather, Alf. Yet The Tides Between is less a story of one girl’s entry into adulthood and more a meditation on trauma and its consequences, and on identity and the power of myth.

These themes are strikingly played out through Rhys, a young Welshman and miner’s son crippled by claustrophobia.  His wife, Sian, is pregnant, as is Bridie’s mother. Will either woman manage to safely birth her child before the ship pulls in at its destination? Will Rhys transcend his anguish? Will Bridie shake off her adolescent ill humour? Can Alf, a man strangled by his sense of duty and obedience, find the courage to confront the ship’s surgeon?

Corbett carries her plot forward with intricate attention to emotional detail. The heaving waters of the various oceans traversed a powerful metaphor for those heaving in the hearts of protagonists Bridie, Rhys and Alf.

Corbett’s writing is visual, metaphoric and intelligent.

“The night air fell like a chill shawl on her shoulders. Turning back towards the hatchway, she heard an eerie drawn out sound from beyond the deckhouse. She halted, nerves feathering her spine.”

It is in this fashion that dramatic tension is maintained, the reader treated page after page to Corbett’s elegant prose.

The theme of fairy tales is prominent, but these are not the stories of children’s books. They are powerful myths rich with significance. Bridie strives to make sense of the world and relationships through the lens of fairy tales, questioning, comparing, speculating. Corbett juxtaposes Bridie’s musings with the reality of her situation, conveyed through the harsh, albeit sensible worlds of her mother.    Meanwhile, Rhys grapples with his own demons. The only time he can cope with being in steerage is when he is on stage, telling Welsh fairy tales to a captive audience. Through the friendship that grows between Bridie and Rhys, Corbett explores the healing power of fairy tales, a release as much for the teller as the listener.

In one respect, The Tides Between is a vivid portrayal of life in steerage. The reader is there with the stench and the lice and the privy buckets. Just as she is unflinching when it comes to portraying the physical hardships onboard, Corbett casts a microscopic eye over the complexities of grief and shame, taboos and social rejection.

Despite its heartrending moments, The Tides Between is ultimately a story of redemption, transformation and hope.

“She had begun to treasure their moments together, like bright beads, slipping through her fingers and puddling at the bottom of memory’s purse.”

The Tides Between pulls the reader in two directions, the desire to continue turning the pages at odds with an equally a strong wish to pause and reflect on its various intricacies, its depth. The only difficulty faced in reviewing a book of this quality is putting it down long enough to scribe reflections. A work I would describe as literary historical fiction, The Tides Between, is a captivating and immersive read.

 

About the author

When Elizabeth Jane Corbett isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Melbourne Celtic Club, writes reviews and articles for the Historical Novel Society and blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another, Silent Night, was short listed for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. An early draft of her debut novel, The Tides Between, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna manuscript development award. Elizabeth lives with her husband, Andrew, in a renovated timber cottage in Melbourne’s inner-north. She likes red shoes, dark chocolate, commuter cycling, and reading quirky, character driven novels set once-upon-a-time in lands far, far away.

BUY your copy here

Artefacts and other stories by Rebecca Burns

I’m delighted to share my review of Artefacts and other stories by Rebecca Burns

 

 

That dandelion. A flash of stubborn yellow in a dark box of space. It had promised sunshine but had tasted sour. Artefacts. A dandelion. A mayfly. A family, bereft. Items and mementos of a life, lived hard and with love, or long, empty, bitter. In these sharply drawn and unflinching short stories, Rebecca Burns unpicks the connection between the lives we live and what we leave behind.

My Review

The short story form is hard to master. There are many strictures and the word length alone demands taut and pointed prose. Few can manage the heights of Alice Munro. The reader waits for that release of breath as the author provides an astute observation or an elegant and original turn of phrase. Which is why, when I read this latest offering from Rebecca Burns, my mind was switched to critical.

Yet from the first, Burns satisfies the aspirations of the short-story reader, with sublime writing and masterful control, finely balanced with moments of apt poetry.

“She soothed his craggy face into easy, jelly smiles.”

And

“A quick tongue ready to cut through the fudge of clerical life.”

Alice Munro writes of everyday life in Canada. In a similar fashion, Burns turns her attention to the everyday lives of her characters, many set in the period of the world wars, others in the collieries of central England. All her stories are told with sensitivity and compassion. If there was one word to sum up this beautiful collection, it is depth, for Burns has plumbed to the nadir of her own self in the writing, at once never failing to miss a moment of irony. Highly recommended.

Find out more about the author  – http://www.rebecca-burns.co.uk/

BUY Artefacts and other stories

Call to Juno (A Tale of Ancient Rome Book 3) by Elisabeth Storrs

I am delighted to share my review of Elisabeth Storr’s Call to Juno, the third book in the Tales of Ancient Rome saga, which includes The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice. I haven’t read the first two in this series.

“Four unforgettable characters are tested during a war between Rome and Etruscan Veii.

Caecilia has long been torn between her birthplace of Rome and her adopted city of Veii. Yet faced with mounting danger to her husband, children, and Etruscan freedoms, will her call to destroy Rome succeed?

Pinna has clawed her way from prostitute to the concubine of the Roman general Camillus. Deeply in love, can she exert her own power to survive the threat of exposure by those who know her sordid past?

Semni, a servant, seeks forgiveness for a past betrayal. Will she redeem herself so she can marry the man she loves?

Marcus, a Roman tribune, is tormented by unrequited love for another soldier. Can he find strength to choose between his cousin Caecilia and his fidelity to Rome?

Who will overcome the treachery of mortals and gods?”

My Review

Call to Juno opens on a simple domestic scene, a mother watching over her squabbling children. A scene universal and timeless, yet one that is situated firmly in an Etruscan court. All the indicators are present, in the richly described and meticulously accurate details of the setting, the reader left in no doubt that she has been transported back to ancient Roman times. In this fashion the third in Storr’s series is staged, as Caecilia, a Roman treaty bride, helps her husband Vel Mastarna prepare for an important ceremony.

The reader is led through the details of the previous titles in the series with finesse. If at first the various characters are confusing, the story soon settles in and the drama plays out. The battle scenes are depicted in fine detail, themes of love, betrayal, fate and destiny deftly handled, and the characters carefully crafted and believable.

It is refreshing to read of Roman times from a distinctly feminine perspective, one that captures the intimacy of motherhood and domesticity as much as it does the political horrors of war.  Storrs maintains narrative control throughout, displaying that necessary skill of the historical fiction author, a deep empathy with the times she has chosen to set her work.

This is a story for those who enjoy their historical fiction rich with fine and accurate detail. Call to Juno is intensely visual, bringing ancient Rome to life, composed by an author who clearly knows her subject.

You can buy Call to Juno at Book Depository

And catch up with Elisabeth Storrs at her website – https://www.elisabethstorrs.com/

I would like to thank the author for my review copy