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
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Charles La Trobe and my visit to the State Library of Victoria

It’s funny, the places a writing project will take you, especially when the project is historical fiction. Last week I visited the State Library of Victoria. I wanted to view the building, explore the library and talk with librarians. I didn’t allow sufficient time. I needed a whole day.

To start my little tour, I went to stand by the statue of Victoria’s first governor. Charles La Trobe is a member of the aristocratic La Trobe-Bateman family. He and his cousin, book illuminator and garden designer Edward La Trobe, both came to Australia in the 1800s, while the rest of the family remained in Britain. It was Charles La Trobe’s idea to have a public library built in Victoria. His statue depicts him in glorious fashion, the sculptor obviously wanting to appeal to the governor’s vanity. Other artists have been less kind, as can be seen on the front cover of his newly published biography, La Trobe: traveller, writer, governor,  composed by John Barnes, Professor of English at La Trobe University.

 

From my vantage beside the statue I took in the library in all its grandeur. It’s impossible not to be impressed with the building, designed by Joseph Reed in Roman Revival style. It was officially opened in 1856, although not in its current form. The building is constructed from Tasmanian freestone, replete with rounded arched windows, and Ionic fluted columns on the portico. I admired the checkerboard tiled floor, which seemed to mirror the chess games being played, large scale, out on the grounds.

Redmond Barry Reading Room
Redmond Barry Reading Room

Inside, the library was filled with readers. Most had their heads bent over a book. The cavernous room absorbed much of the sound but the room lacked the hushed quality I was looking for. I headed straight on through to admire the Redmond Barry Reading Room, a later addition to the original building. There too, every desk was occupied, but readers were more subdued and the magnificence and architectural uniformity of the mezzanine, and the glass-covered atrium, seemed to quieten the spirits. Here was not a room to rush around in, and my own footsteps on the polished wooden floor seemed overly loud!

 

I went next to the La Trobe Reading Room, my final destination, and where I sat for quite a while. The room felt higher than it was wide. Octagonal in shape, all the desks radiate from a central podium like spokes of a wheel. There were far fewer people about. I wondered if that had anything to do with the more austere atmosphere and less comfortable seats.  My photos, taken on my phone with the permission of security, scarcely do the room justice. I took strange angles as I was after images I could later use for descriptive purposes. Besides, I am not a photographer.

I didn’t want to take photos. It felt wrong. Instead, I wanted to go up and explore the books on the balconies. I wanted to run about, my head appearing in all those arches. I wanted access to all the parts of the building closed off, sometimes padlocked as if to stress the point.

I reigned in my urges and went back to the information desk in the first room. There I introduced myself to the librarians. What a fine complement of staff the library has! I made some inquiries and was given vital information for my book. Now I have more questions. I might do a guided tour and see if that gives me access to some secret places. Whatever the case, I shall return.

You can visit their website to find out more. https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/about-us/history-and-vision

My venture into historical fiction begins

I have a little announcement, and I’m feeling awfully nervous.
For the past few weeks I’ve been throwing obstacles in the path of this. I’m beginning the demanding task of turning my doctoral thesis into a novel. Well, sort of.
My thesis concerns a corpus, a body of obscure texts. My novel will attempt to embody the life of the author. Her name is Alice Bailey. She’s a highly controversial figure nobody outside New Age and conspiracy theory circles has heard of. Yet her writing has been enormously influential on the world stage and it is easy to show how. Her life is colourful and interesting too, with themes many will relate to, including domestic violence, elitism and exclusion, jealousy and malice.
What is challenging is that I am treading the controversial path of ‘faction’ – inspired by  Heather Rose’ The Museum of Modern Love, and Melissa Ashley’s The Birdman’s Wife, both prize winning books. I am indebted to the authors for tamping down the grass on this narrow rocky path, impressing us all with the results of their hard labours. I’ve reviewed both works and I have become so enthusiastic in my praises, the authors might be wondering ‘who is this nut who keeps liking my short-list announcements with “told you so” comments?’
In reviewing these works, it appears I’ve been set a high bar.
My story will be structured differently. There will be echoes of The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey, for mine is a frame story. I have chosen this approach as I want to tell a little of Alice Bailey’s legacy. Creating a narrative frame set in the present seems to me the only way to achieve this.
I have the title.
I’ve conjured a protagonist to put in the frame. I already love her to bits.
I’ve completed my research on the life of Alice Bailey. I have it all written up in a submittable draft, what I thought was a submittable draft.
I’ve storyboarded the chapters.
I am about to invoke the voice of Alice Bailey.
Nothing in my literary journey to date has been more daunting and more compelling than this project.
Will I pull it off? If I do, will anyone, other than me, be interested in this mysterious woman whose story has gone untold for many decades?
So here I go, bathers donned despite the cold, facing the choppy waters of historical fiction. Already, there’s a storm on the horizon.

Charlatan by Kate Braithwaite

CHARLATAN is based on the Affair of the Poisons that scandalized Paris in 1679.

charlatan

In a hovel in the centre of Paris, the fortune-teller La Voisin holds a black mass, summoning the devil to help an unnamed client keep the love of Louis XIV.

Three years later, Athenais, Madame de Montespan, the King’s glamorous mistress, is nearly forty. She has borne Louis seven children but now seethes with rage as he falls for eighteen-year old Angelique de Fontanges.

At the same time, police chief La Reynie and his young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and prisoners operating in the city. Athenais does not know it, but she is about to be named as a favoured client of the infamous La Voisin.

*********

Charlatan is an enthralling work of historical fiction set in the late 1600s in France. From a black mass held in the centre of Paris to the opulence of the court of Versailles, a story – part intrigue, part drama – unfolds that has the reader turning the pages on the edge of her seat.

What motivates an author to write historical fiction? The telling of stories untold? A revisioning of the past? Retrospective justice? Charlatan is all these and more. Told in richly descriptive and highly engaging prose, the work portrays in vivid details the torture, hangings and burnings of witches and their accomplices, including numerous priests. The author clearly knows her subject, the work as much informative as it is entertaining. Told from three points of view – the King’s mistress, the investigating police officer, the priest – Charlatan provides a fascinating insight into the occult underworld of Paris, its popularity, its secrecy, and the various motivations of those involved.

The premise of the story is the limitations of justice in a system riven by poverty and privilege, and it is a theme that plays out perfectly through masterful storytelling. The dialogue is impeccable and the pace never falters, the various storylines carefully woven into a seamless whole. Charlatan makes for confronting reading at times, but its all the stronger for not shying from the realities of the times. With Charlatan, Braithwaite makes a valuable contribution to raising awareness of a controversial subject.

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purchase at book depository
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Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich

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There are stories that need to be told, stories sidelined, destined to languish on the periphery of our knowledge of history, stories eclipsed by bigger, more sensational stories. Until an author like Michelle Saftich comes along.

Port of No Return is a work of historical fiction, set at the end of WWII, which tracks the stories of four families as they flee their war-ravaged city of Fuime, Northern Italy, for the refugee camps in nearby Trieste, as communist Yugoslavia, under the command of General Tito, claims ownership.

Saftich leads the reader by the hand into the intimate domestic lives of Contessa and Lena and Bianca, and Ettore, Edrico and Roberto, with all of their children, and of course Nonna. Their homes are bombed, their lives under threat. When Fuime was under German occupation, many locals were required to work in the arms factories. The Partisans created lists of the traitors. When they seized control, those men were rounded up and shot, or imprisoned and tortured, and then shot. It’s a familiar story. I’m easily reminded of current times in Syria and Iraq. And to that end alone, this book is an important read.

And as we face a refugee crisis second only to World War II, in Port of No Return Saftich depicts the struggles of millions of refugees displaced across Europe and the challenges they faced finding a place, any place, to live.

The hunger, the awful conditions, and the waiting, endless waiting, are portrayed through the eyes of the characters as they scratch out a day to day existence. It is a story in which hope and despair vie for supremacy.

Saftich portrays her characters with sympathy and sensitivity in confident, down-to-earth prose. The narrative is well-crafted and well-researched. Port of No Return is a story of survival, of hope, of the tenacity of those Italian families determined to have a future. And through it Saftich opens our hearts to compassion, a commendable feat.

ODYSSEY BOOKS, 2015

Featuring Michelle Saftich

Today I’m in conversation with Michelle Saftich, author of the acclaimed novel Port of No Return (Odyssey Books, 2015), a work of historical fiction I reviewed earlier this year.

 

profile-pic-mich

 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia. I have also spent time living in Sydney and Osaka, Japan. What I love most about each city – I love Brisbane’s warm weather, Sydney’s harbour and Osaka’s food!

So, where are you now?

I am still in Brisbane, living with my husband, who is an accomplished musician and singer/songwriter and who helped to edit the first drafts of my book, and my two school-aged sons; not to mention my demanding black cat!

When you you decide you wanted to be a writer?

By the age of six, I knew I wanted to be a published author and that dream never wavered. As soon as I could read, I fell in love with books and wanted to write them.

My grandmother is a playwright and I have always felt a connection with her. As a young girl, I would sneak into her writing area, ogling her huge, heavy typewriter, scanning all her press clippings about her plays and I longed to have such a space of my own. I can recall sitting on her lap at age nine, reading to her an eight-page story I had written, just for fun.

Authors love books. What are some of your favourites?

I have read broadly, exploring a range of genres and authors. As a younger reader, I loved historical fiction and romance. I treasure such books as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Jane Austen novels and I loved Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I have enjoyed biographical novels about Marie Antoinette and early writers such as Mary Shelley. I like stories about strong, inspiring women and works that inform and educate as well as entertain.

What inspired you to write port of no return?

I was greatly moved my grandparents’ true story of having to flee their Italian town, with their children, at the end of World War II. At that time, their city, Fiume, a beautiful portside city, was taken and absorbed into Yugoslavia – lost to Italy forever.

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In May, 1945, Yugoslav Partisans came down the hills into the city of Fiume and began rounding up those Italians, known to have worked with the Germans during the war, and executing them.

My father, a great oral storyteller, had told my sister and I a few snippets of his parents’ plight. He was fond of telling how his mother had stood up to the Yugoslav Partisans when they had come knocking on their door, seeking to arrest and kill her husband. She had shown great bravery in telling them that her husband had left her for another woman, and was not at home.

Inspired by these family tales, I decided to do some research about the city and came across a startling post-World War II conflict. Hundreds of thousands of Italians fled the region as the Yugoslav Army moved in, leaving behind their homes, their livelihoods, their friends.

I decided to write about their experiences.

How long did it take you to write?

It took two years to write. I talked to other Italians who had fled Fiume – ones who could remember being shot at trying to cross the town border to escape, ones who could recall the Partisans coming down the hills.

I have tried to capture their fear, their loss, their desperation – while informing readers of this little known conflict that affected so many.

Personally, it has been wonderful to write about and record my family heritage, while giving the people of this region a voice. I have felt honoured to tell their story and have loved every word of it.

There’s a whisper of a sequel. To find out why, read Port of No Return, and, like me, you’ll be left wanting more.

You can find Port of No Return at Odyssey Books

at Amazon and all good booksellers.

Meanwhile, here’s how you can connect with Michelle:

Website https://michellesaftich.com/

Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/msaftich/?fref=ts

Twitter  @MichelleSaftich

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26102499-port-of-no-return