Book Review: Amelie Trott and the Earth Watchers by Morya Irving

About Amelie Trott and the Earth Watchers

When would-be author, Amelie Trott, meets a ten foot tall stranger on the stairs she is faced with an impossible challenge: to rescue her family home from the clutches of the devious Bottomley-Slighs. However, she is soon to discover that this is simply a rehearsal for averting a more sinister danger still – the End of the World… This is the extraordinary story of how one small girl stopped a planetary catastrophe. It’s a very timely book, written for the child in us all, with a forceful message about the power of young people to transform the world – a theme currently demonstrated by brave young heroes like Greta Thunberg. And with magical synchronicity, the very week Greta began her lone vigil outside the Swedish government last year, over 1,000 miles (1,897 km) away in the fictional world of books, Amelie Trott took to Parliament Square, London – on a mission to avert the End of the World. It’s a family drama with an international feel – set mainly in England but with episodes in Washington DC and around the world.

 

My Thoughts

What a perfectly delightful book this is! We first meet Amelie as a feisty, confident and assertive ten-year old giving a public address, reminiscent of the Greta Thunbergs emerging among the youth of today. We are then taken back to when Amelie is a typical child who hates Maths and gets into trouble with her teacher for mind-wandering. How does Amelie get from being a naive, dreamy and innocent girl to a gifted author capable of averting the end of the world? Initially, the plot has two drivers. Amelie receives a strange visitation from a young boy who predicts she is to become a bestseller author, something she could only dream of, especially as she appears in her own eyes to have no talent for anything much. Then there is the need to save her family’s rundown home. Hadleigh House is on the verge of collapse and it is rumoured there is smuggler’s gold buried in tunnels beneath its foundations. Held within the walls of Amelie’s home is a bad-tempered ghost and a tall stranger and harbinger of doom.

From here, the plot unfolds rapidly with numerous adventures as Amelie and Tim race to save the world. They are helped by the Earth Watchers, higher beings who have chosen to help humanity at a critical time in its evolution, higher beings who have chosen Amelie as their ambassador for change.

The narrative is upbeat and empowering and just what the world needs right now. Irving’s amusing and almost comical characterisations are most endearing. I especially enjoyed the interactions of Amelie and her brother Tim and her great-grandfather Storm.

Beautifully written and immediately engaging, Amelie Trott and the Earth Watchers brims with magical moments and has all the elements of classic storytelling. Irving has penned a tale with broad appeal, enchanting youngsters and adults alike. I would like to see this highly relevant novel taken up by schools.

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes gripping mysteries, dark psychological thrillers and historical fiction. She is the author of The Unlikely Occultist: A biographical novel of Alice A Bailey and Alice A. Bailey: Life and Legacy

Book Review: The Unholy by Paul deBlassie III

About The Unholy

The Unholy is a dramatic story of Claire Sanchez, a young medicine woman, intent on discovering the closely-guarded secrets of her past. Forced into a life-and-death battle against an evil Archbishop, William Anarch, she confronts the dark side of religion and the horror of one man’s will to power.

Set in the mystic land of Aztlan, The Unholy is a supernatural tale of destiny as healer and slayer.

Native lore of dreams and visions, shape changing, and natural magic work to spin a neo-gothic web in which sadness and mystery lure the unsuspecting into a twilight realm of discovery and decision.

My Thoughts

A prologue of a young girl standing in the wilderness watching her mother as she’s attacked by a murderous and plainly evil man in black sets the tone of this supernatural thriller. The girl is saved by wolves who take her to a cave and protect her. The first chapter then opens in a psychiatric hospital situated in the desert of mythical Aztlan where Claire Sanchez – the girl now grown – works as a natural therapist. She’s struggling to deal with her angry patient Elizabeth who has an important message for her, one Claire does not want to hear. She has shunned her medicine ways after witnessing her mother’s death, realising they expose you to too much evil. Yet the evil that killed her mother is coming for her too and she needs to face it. Ecclesiastical evil, no less, corrupted by power and greed.

I was excited to read The Unholy as I have a background in Transpersonal Psychology, including the medicine ways of native Americans and last year I visited for the first time some of the desert regions of the United States and experienced the deep spirituality of the landscape. I am happy to say Paul deBlassie III did not disappoint. The Unholy is a slow-paced and absorbing read peppered with tension and fear and plenty of action to hold the interest. The writing is strong, the plot well-conceived. Evocative descriptions of landscape and well-executed introspection fuel this read. The author demonstrates good characterisation, particularly regarding the protagonist, and provides just enough exposition to let the reader in on the most important theme in the book: native American spirituality versus the dark side of institutionalised Christianity. An entertaining and informative read leaving the reader with much to ponder.

About Paul DeBlassie III

Ph.D., is a psychologist and writer living in his native New Mexico. Memberships include the Depth Psychology Alliance, International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, Author’s Guild, and the Visionary Fiction Alliance. He has for over thirty years treated patients in spiritual and emotional crises as well as writing and publishing visionary thrillers and essays in depth psychology.

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes gripping mysteries, dark psychological thrillers and historical fiction. She is the author of The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey.

Book review: Grasping at Water by Carmel Bendon

I do enjoy reading novels with strong mystical content. Especially when, as is the case with Grasping at Water, the author has profound knowledge of her subject.

About Grasping at Water

When a young, unidentified woman is pulled alive and well from Sydney Harbour in 2013, the connections to another woman – found in similar circumstances forty years earlier – present psychiatrist Kathryn Brookley with a terrible decision as the events of the present and past begin to mirror each other and the gap between truth and illusion shrinks.

When the young woman goes further and declares that she has lived continuously since coming to ‘understanding’ in the 14th century, her vivid accounts of life, love, childbirth, and loss in the Middle Ages seem so authentic that they test Kathryn’s scientific objectivity to the limit. As Kathryn delves she discovers that she is not the only one whose habitual assumptions about life have been torn asunder by an apparent experience of the miraculous in connection with the mystery woman.

My thoughts

Grasping at Water is an unusual book, possibly one of its kind. Told in the form of a mystery, what unfolds is so much more, as Kathryn, a traditional psychiatrist with all of the typical objectivist trappings of her job, is called in to assess a mysterious woman dragged out of Sydney Harbour. What unfolds will intrigue and fascinate the receptive reader.

The mystical theme is present early in the narrative through this mysterious un-drowned woman who eventually names herself Sophia (wisdom). The tales she tells at first mystify and puzzle, then reveal, slowly, fragment by fragment profound truths. Kathryn is at first reluctant and disbelieving, but her own prejudices are soon tested and she finds herself questioning her own rational understanding of the world. She notices coincidences, particularly of dates, the usual point of entry into the world of the unknown. From there Kathryn finds herself introduced to the anchoresses of medieval Europe immured in the walls of churches, and she is exposed to a feast of extraordinary knowledge as she grapples with her own life story.

Bendon deploys good pacing and plotting throughout, with believable and well-crafted characters. The protagonist, Kathryn, and the mystery woman, Sophia, are especially well-rounded. The style of prose is for the most part chatty and informative and easy to read. It is difficult to insert the theme of mysticism into the genre of a mystery and I commend the author for doing so.

The novel’s strength lies in the narrative control in the scenes exploring mysticism. The strange, mystical world Bendon portrays is utterly convincing, placing the reader right in amongst things. The insights into spirituality and mysticism contained in Grasping at Water are profound and important. Where else is the average reader to be presented with an engaging understanding of Julian of Norwich and anchoresses like her? I am reminded of L.J.M. Owen’s Dr Pimms’ series, in which the author draws on her extensive knowledge of archeology.

Grasping at Water is a story of loss, grief and acceptance, on one level a feel-good mystery to warm the heart. On a mystical level, here is a story of a rite of passage, one that will leave the reader questioning their everyday reality. A fascinating read.

 

Book Review: Columbine’s Tale by Rachel Nightingale

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Harlequin’s Riddle, the first in the Tales of Tayra series by debut author, Rachel Nightingale, it was with much anticipation that I opened the second, Columbine’s Tale.

“For three hundred years the travelling actors of Litonya roamed the land entertaining crowds, but secretly leaving devastation in their wake. Is Mina the only person with the power to stop them?

In the ethereal otherworld of Tarya, Mina begins to master the rare, inexplicable powers  attached to her gift for storytelling. She discovers she can touch dreams, influence the real world, and perhaps find out who is manipulating Tarya for dark purposes. In the waking world Mina is on the run, beset by divided loyalties between the travellers, and caught between two men she could love and a brother who desperately needs her help.”

My thoughts:

As with all series, the reader should have read the first Harlequin’s Riddle. In Columbine’s Tale a short prologue provides a concise and engaging summary for the purposes of catch up, with many useful reminders of the story so far. Columbine’s Tale opens with Mina on the run, determined to find her brother, Paolo, and this time, she believes she knows where he is. She’s being pursued, too. Thinking she knows who by, she’s in terror for her life as she tries to escape the clutches of the Gazini players who are determined to keep her. Then Mina encounters Sofia, a master story teller, and together with their team, the two travel the countryside and, through the power of telling stories, hand back dreams stolen by the players. Mina is determined as ever to undo the wrongs of others, and her quest leads her into increasing danger. Mina’s quest is thwarted by menace and betrayals and as the story unfolds, petal by petal, old betrayals are healed and new secrets revealed.

Through Mina and Sofia’s eyes, Nightingale portrays story telling as a gift, one that gives something to the listener, which she juxtaposes with the approach of the players who steal peoples’ dreams and hand them back to audiences as entertainment. But that is only the tip of this complex, intriguing and beautifully told novel.

Columbine’s Tale is told from multiple points of view and the main plot lines are carefully interwoven. The use of jump cuts works well as does the building of suspense, culminating in a dramatic edge-of-seat flourish and a denouement that leaves the reader wanting the third and last in the series.

Nightingale’s characterisation is impeccable, and with the fewest words she conjures a convincing three-dimensional cast. Descriptions are detailed and evocative, providing the reader with a powerful sense of place. Nightingale makes not only her imaginary Italy alive in the mind of the reader, but also her etheric realm, Tarya, in all of its layers and complexity. The prose is gentle, soft and acts on the psyche like balm. Tales of Tarya is a series to sink into and savour.

Nightingale plays with the fourth wall as Mina learns to tell stories from master story teller, Sofia, and here the reader is introduced to the craft of story telling and finding the heart of a tale from a special and mythic perspective. The metafictional element works and invites the reader to consider the true value of the narrative form.

Ultimately, Columbine’s Tale is about creativity and healing, of good versus evil, of the use and misuse of magical powers – the power to create and to destroy – and the all-important moral message underpinning the series, that creativity should be life-giving, not life-taking. In all a delightful and insightful read.

Review: Harlequin’s Riddle by Rachel Nightingale

Here’s my review of a sensational debut novel by Australian author and award-winning playwright, Rachel Nightingale. It might look like a YA fantasy novel, but don’t be fooled! Read on and discover why I am in rapture over this book.

“The Gazini Players are proud to present
For your Edification and Enjoyment
Tales of great Joy, and of great Woe

Ten years ago, Mina’s beloved older brother disappeared with a troupe of travelling players, and was never heard from again.

On the eve of Mina’s own departure with a troupe, her father tells her she has a special gift for story telling, a gift he silenced years before in fear of her ability to call visions into being with her stories.

Mina soon discovers that the travelling players draw their powers from a mysterious place called Tarya, where dreams are transformed into reality. While trying to solve the mystery of her brother’s disappearance, she discovers a dark secret to the players’ onstage antics. Torn between finding her brother or exposing the truth about the players, could her gifts as a story teller offer a way to solve Harlequin’s riddle?”

*****

It is a stark fact that for the last few decades the major players in the book publishing industry have chosen to be led by their sales teams, and commissioning editors must bow to their publisher’s bottom line. Editors may fall in love with a story, want to praise it from the rooftops, but they are stuck with having to tell the author the harsh truth that their sales department, not known for vision and decidedly risk averse, have deemed the work unsaleable. It happens time and again that a truly great work slips through the cracks and ends up – because it IS truly a great work – being picked up by one of the lesser known small presses. If you want to read excellent original fiction, hunt out works released by reputable small presses.

Harlequin’s Riddle is one of those books, for Rachel Nightingale has composed a work of remarkable vision and depth of insight, a work narrated in an accessible and enchanting style; gentle, inviting, sensory, like silk and gossamer. The pace is slow at first, but never meandering, and quickens at each plot point, as what begins as a quest evolves into a dark mystery.

 Harlequin’s Riddle is a story of illusion and make believe in art and theatre. The novel opens with Mina watching a travelling theatre troupe perform in her village as she misses her older brother, Paolo, who took off with a troupe a decade before, and never returned. She was seven when he left, and she’s seventeen when with her mother’s blessing she joins the theatre troupe in the hope of finding him. The reader is swept along on the aspirations, hopes and dreams of innocence, a false innocence for Mina’s childhood scars are many, and the grief and anguish and betrayal are buried so deep Mina is numb to them, until they surface and form a destabilising force, propelling her into understanding and ultimately wholeness.

Despite the fictitious setting, Nightingale paints an evocative portrait of medieval Italy with its rugged coastline, its quaint villages, forests and northern lakes. The author’s depiction of the theatre troupe with their colourful sets and costumes is vibrant and alive and enthralling, the reader provided a privileged view, looking over Mina’s shoulder at the other players and the audience. Much of the story involves the travellers journeying in their wagons to the Festival of Lights held in the large city of Aurea, and again, the reader is swept along for the ride as the troupe cope with various dramas and adventures along the way. There is much here to entertain every reader, young and old, the final quarter of the novel dripping with visual splendour.

On another level, Harlequin’s Riddle is less a tale of Mina’s quest to find her brother, and more a study of the nature of imagination and creativity, that curious moment of conjuring, bringing into being that which we inwardly see, and seeing that which we inwardly describe – words and pictures, which comes first? The creative process, at the moment of conception, differs between the arts and among artists, but always there is a point of manifestation and it is this that fills the pages of Harlequin’s Riddle.

Coupled with the theme of creativity and the creative process are ideas of spirituality and healing, the very quality we access when we transcend ordinary reality in creative imaginative acts, is also a powerful source of beneficial transformation and healing. Nightingale calls this multidimensional realm Tarya. It is what esotericists call the ‘inner planes’, and it is here that the deeper essence of Harlequin’s Riddle is apparent. 

Entering Tarya involves altering your state of awareness, undergoing an out of body experience, and engaging in astral travel. Tarya is the realm of the shaman, the magus, the trickster, the psychopomp. Here is a small taste of Tarya.

“A subtle buzzing of hidden energy surrounded her. She looked down on distant mountains, and nearby trees, and people, many people, and each shape glimmered with light, layer upon layer of light, blurring outlines of real objects. There were intricate spiderwebs laid across the whole scene, gold threads wrapped around and over everything.”

In the villages, the players are feared for it is known they have occult or arcane power, one that destroys as it sets out to give joy. Unlike the players, Mina has the gift of storytelling, and she accesses Tarya differently, going far beyond the realms accessed by the players, realms that are connected to the  living earth, to enter the purer planes of existence, where spiritual wisdom resides. This innate ability sets her apart, leads her into danger and ultimately drives her quest.

There is much to reflect on in Harlequin’s Riddle, and much to appreciate. Harlequin’s Riddle  is a story to lose yourself in, and can be read on many levels. It isn’t necessary to understand anything about the occult or arcani to appreciate the novel, although the astute reader will recognise Harlequin’s Riddle  as a transpersonal journey, one of initiation and healing. Nightingale has penned a unique and exquisite tale that deserves to be widely known, a story with a depth of awareness and understanding that will hold special appeal to those with an interest in alternative spiritualities. In the final analysis, Harlequin’s Riddle a work of intelligence and refinement that I can only compare to an Ursula le Guin, with overtones of Umberto Eco in theme but not in compositional style. A visionary fiction masterpiece.

Harlequin’s Riddle is available through all good booksellers.