Category Archives: Book reviews

The Sekhmet Bed: Libbie Hawker

Again, another Indie-published book has moved me beyond my ability to express, has left me in tears, and will remain with me for a very long time. Publishers had a chance at this and passed? It’s really inconceivable. (I don’t know if this book was even offered to agents or publishers, so my comment/question might not apply.)

Okay, short rant over.

I’ve read many historical novels in the past few years, or tried to, and have often been disappointed, almost to the point where I don’t want to read historical fiction anymore, and have gravitated more toward the fantasy genre. The problem is that I can’t seem to get emotionally invested.

In any novel, first and foremost, I need to be invested in the characters. If I can’t find that investment, I cannot care about what happens. Reading becomes a chore.

After reading The Sekhmet Bed, I began to understand all this in a better way, because The Sekhmet Bed succeeds where, for me, others do not. The Sekhmet Bed offers us the princess, Ahmose, and her pharaoh, Thutmose, (whom I adored). Then we get the nasty sister, Mutnofret, and Ineni, the lover. Even Hawker’s secondary characters, like Aiya, Twomose and Sitre-In became real, fully-fleshed out. I would pick up The Sekhmet Bed intending to read for only a moment, because a moment was all I had at the time. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, a half hour later, I would still be reading, even though I felt antsy because I had other things I needed to be doing. I could not stop reading. I had to know what happened next. I had to know what was on that next page.

For this reader, that is the mark of a successful novel.

Many of the scenes in The Sekhmet Bed clearly show how fragile life was in ancient Egypt, even though in some ways, they lived very comfortable, modern lives. Still, the wound caused by an animal bite could fester, and they had no way to stop it. There was danger all around, not only from invading tribes but crocodiles, snakes, and childbirth. Throughout everything runs the gods, their ultimate control, and the need to appease them.

I loved how vividly the author shows the power of women in this culture. I learned so much from this book: about ancient Egypt, and about the possible birth, childhood and subsequent power of Hatshepsut, the famed woman who ruled as pharaoh. I loved how the names of the children, even the Pharaoh’s offspring, were chosen by their mothers. Although the book never ever fails for a single moment in its storytelling ability or in its beautiful voice or in the deep, vibrant connection between character and reader, it still managed to convey a tremendously visual, real, easy-to-identify-with culture and society.

I absolutely loved the full-circle progression of the complex relationship between Ahmose and Mutnofret. I don’t believe I have ever read a book where I disliked a character so much, and by the end of the book I loved her and felt intimately connected to her.

I must stop as this is getting so long. I must not tell more, in fear of writing any spoilers, and because I cannot do any real justice to the many layers of wonderful prose that make up The Sekmet Bed. I will just suggest that anyone who reads this pop on over to Amazon (click on the book cover image) and get yourself a copy.

Complete Tales of Da Yoopernatural: PD Allen

Complete Tales of Da Yoopernatural

I was simply blown away by these stories.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to do justice to PD Allen’s Complete Tales of the Yoopernatural. I had no idea what to expect because I’m not familiar with that area (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula/the Huron Mountains) or the mythologies of that area. I didn’t even know it had mythologies.

Never again will I hear of the Huron Mountains and not think of this book, or of the pathways to other worlds that exist within them.

Tales of the Yoopernatural (Don’t be fooled. If you’re not familiar with “yooper” you might think these are comedic stories–not so–) lands right up there in the top 2% of all the books I have ever read for creating such vivid mental images as I read, that captivated me so completely, and took me into other worlds. I didn’t think I could like any of the stories more than “The Secret Life of Trees,” but it happened. I really have no words to express how strongly “Afraid of the Dark” affected me, or how original I thought it. It would make a fantastic movie. In every story, PD Allen takes the reader, step by step, further and further into his world. It’s at times creepy, scary, awesome, inspiring, and terrible. At times it is glorious. It makes one look at our world differently.

For many days after reading “Afraid of the Dark,” it came back to me at odd unexpected moments, while at work or doing other things. I could see every detail so vividly it was like I had lived the experience myself. It is truly a masterpiece. It has forever changed the way I will go into caves, which is a favorite past time.

And, upon finishing “A Killer’s Pride,” I would have to say the same thing about it. This one was so disturbing there were moments when I thought I couldn’t finish it. But I did. It is profound, dark, horrifying, and will stay with me as much as the other stories: maybe more.

Through them all there is the continuing thread of Grandmother Rena Twoshadows, an Ojibwa wise woman, and, very distantly, Rena’s granddaughter, Rene. Stephen, Rene’s brother, has the lead role in “A Killer’s Pride,” and when I came to the end of this wonderful book of stories, I thought “I wish there were more. And I wish there were some with Rene.” Sure enough, at the end the author gives us a preview of his book “Fiddlesticks,” and he shares that Stephen and Rene are both featured in it. You can bet I’ll be checking that out.

Where are the world’s new stories, new myths? It seems like none are being created anymore. Those that have survived the passage of time linger on in our souls, but where are the new ones?

Highly recommended to anyone who loves unique stories, who isn’t afraid of dark reality and some horror, and those who simply want to be amazed by a storyteller’s gifts. Click on the book cover to go to its Amazon page.

Of Moths & Butterflies: V.R. Christensen

Of Moths and Butterflies

This carefully, beautifully crafted novel takes the reader on a journey toward love, acceptance, enlightenment, insight, and trust. It really is written in the style of a Victorian novel (It brings to mind several authors) and it takes place in Victorian times. The book is filled with riveting characters, and each one is lovingly fleshed-out, so that the reader grows intimately attached to all (except Sir Edmund and Wyndham, the dark side of the mirror, so to speak), and learns to understand what emotions, life events, and histories are prompting their actions (and in some cases, inactions). While I liked and rooted for Imogen, I was perhaps most drawn to Archer. He is a complex hero in every sense. Young Charlie, too, was a well-drawn child who tugs at, and captures, the heart.

Imogen suffers an attack. This event affects her so profoundly that she runs away from home and what’s left of her family and pretends to be a servant. Her rashly-made choice will change her life, in some ways for the better, and in some ways for worse. Due to the act of running away, she is exposed to Archer, who also has mysteries and pain in his own past, and who is very much drawn to this captivating young woman he believes to be a low-born servant. Yet, subconsciously, he can tell that is not the case. She is also exposed to Sir Edmund, Archer’s uncle, one of the most despicable, unlikeable, cruel fictional characters I have ever had the misfortune and the pleasure of meeting in the pages of a book. Another of my favorites was the wise and inestimable Mrs. Montegue, who throws in her two cents at the most opportune moments, and it would be an error to not mention the tragic, heartbreaking Bess, (Charlie’s mother) who literally brought tears to my eyes; and the crotchety yet loyal Mrs. Hartup. Of the many twists and turns in the human relationships, one that was absolutely delightful, scintillating in every way, was the budding relationship between Clair and Roger. I loved it!

There is growth in this story, setbacks, danger, abuse, triumph and tragedy. There is everything a lover of historical fiction and romance could want. The dialogue is done so skillfully that one almost feels the characters are in the room conversing. I especially loved how masterfully the author wrote anger, confrontation, and arguments. Sexual-romantic tension runs underneath the misunderstandings and miscommunication. Archer and Imogen are obviously very much attracted to each other. Yet, time after time, something comes between them, preventing them from exploring these deeper feelings.

Of Moths and Butterflies is no light, fast, simple, romp. This is a book to sink one’s teeth into, and to curl up with on a long winter’s afternoon. It hearkens back (for me) to the books I read years ago: meaty novels that took their time and told a magnificent story. I wish more books would be written this way.

Highly recommended for those who love big, complex historical fiction novels with a strong romantic element. Clicking on the cover image will take you to its Amazon page.

Axios: Dolores McCabe

Axios

This is the first book I have ever read that is told almost completely in dialogue. There is very little description or narration, only just enough, and I must say, with a few minor exceptions, it works beautifully. This author’s gift is dialogue; she must have realized that at some point and she uses it brilliantly. It may well be the best book I have ever read when it comes to razor-like crystalline flow of conversation. So much character and setting comes through simply by the way these people converse. Impressive, and it’s clear the author feels very much at home and comfortable with these historical figures.

Axios is a fast read, not surprising, as dialogue reads more quickly than narration. I was swiftly drawn in to the fate of the protagonists, both good and bad. When the worst thing that can happen happens to Claudia Acte–a trained hetairi, Greek by birth and a slave-prostitute in Rome–(I grew quite fond of how she is almost always called by her full name, Claudia Acte) I was in tears. Her despair rang clear through me; I identified with her suffering as completely as though it was happening to me. I could imagine it all too well, every time she screamed, “Is it finished yet?” Tigellinus is an amazing jerk: even when he finally discovers why she fell into misery so profound only death could give relief, he doesn’t seem to really care, or seem to comprehend his part in it. I’m still not sure if he didn’t do it deliberately. After all, one of the first things he ever says to her is: “Reason? You have just been thrust from the gilded bowers of Reason into the twisted world of Survival. Learn quickly, Claudia Acte!” (I love that line.)

Axios is pure historical fiction. I have never studied Roman history, but the book appears to follow the lives of Nero, Tigellinus, Capito, Poppaea, Claudia Acte, and others of historical record.

Even if you aren’t a fan of straight historical fiction, or of Roman debauchery, or of Christian over-and-undertones, (I fall into all three categories) I can confidently recommend this book. The author paints all three aspects with a light brush, interweaving them together so that none takes precedence. Never did I feel I was being preached to or guided toward some particular belief. She leaves all that to each individual reader. Nero, in particular, is as I have always imagined him. Emotional, immature, selfish, cruel but thinking of himself as the opposite. A baby wearing a crown! He was wonderfully drawn. Tigellinus? I cannot to this moment decide how I feel about him. The first impression given lingered so that later, it was hard to see him in a more kindly light.

My only minor criticism would be that I needed a little more character development. Mostly I feel I can see the protagonists clearly, but still, I needed a little more, especially for Tigellinus, who came across cynical in the extreme, yet seemed to soften somehow, later, but I wasn’t quite sure how, or why. Acte, too, keeps much of herself hidden, even from the reader. I also hoped for a little more of Claudia Acte’s child, a daughter sent to Spain, but we never hear whether they were ever able to meet.

At the other end of the spectrum is the scene of the Great Fire, of which we have all heard something while in school. (“Nero sang while Rome burned.”) This scene was skillfully written. I visualized it all as I rode along with Tigellinus and his man Monsanus, who fought their way into the heat and danger searching for Claudia Acte. Also there is a scene of the classic Roman torture and death in the arena: this, too, was so skillfully written that I sadly envisioned it in detail.

I cannot say whether the author has a feminist intent, but for me, reading the way women and men treated each other in this era, a feminist manifesto shines through. On the one end, far too much of everything creates a sense of cheapness to life. On the other, life is a constant struggle to survive. Claudia Acte is envious of the poverty-stricken slaves who have nothing of their own. “They laughed, they gossiped. And when they were done they departed for their cramped, airless apartments over the stables. Acte listened to them. How could it be? They dwelt amidst squalor and severe deprivation, and yet they laughed. She sat amidst wealth and splendor and endured untold misery.” There seems to be very little in the way of honor, fidelity, or trust in Nero’s Rome. Simply everyone is at risk for all manner of evil, reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies.” One line stays with me: “Gods, Capito, didn’t you bring something to stuff in her mouth?” Capito replies, “I never stir without it. It’s my fist.”

Another line that stays with me, stated profoundly toward the end by Gaius Tigellinus: “I was once Rome’s lover. She is too possessive a mistress to submit to a lover’s abandonment.”
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A Few Right-Thinking Men: Sulari Gentill

A Few Right Thinking Men

I was given this book as a gift; I have no working knowledge of Australian history, so I felt a little intimidated, but that disappeared as soon as I read, “Rowland wiped his hands on his waistcoat. Not so many months ago, it had been a quality item of gentleman’s attire. Now, it was stained with paint and smelled of turpentine. Rowland preferred it that way. He looked again at the painting with which he had battled all day and which, in the end, had defeated him.”

This is Rowland Sinclair, a young, compelling man possessing eyes of intense blue, incredibly generous and friendly, open-minded, casual, a committed artist, who yearns for the love of the bohemian sculptress, Edna, but keeps his mouth shut about it. He’s thrown open his house to Edna and other artists who have fallen on hard times during the 30s Depression, for his family comes from wealth and status. Rowland, the embarrassment of his right-thinking brother, lives life as he wants to live it, rather than obeying the rules attached to the higher classes. He doesn’t realize until he’s fallen deep into the pit how history will affect him personally, will drag him into the thick of things, although his only desire is to live life in peace and acceptance of others, whatever their beliefs.

It all begins when his friend, Milton, drags him to a Communist meeting. From there the reader is pulled into history with Rowland; we delve into the New Guard, a fascist group run by the historical figure, Eric Campbell, who, along with his compatriots, want to turn Australia into a fascist state. Then there’s the Old Guard, the original group from which Campbell split, the group loyal to King and Country, Traditionalists all.

Against the backdrop of this history, (impeccably researched) we flow along with Rowland and his friends as they try to get to the bottom of a brutal murder, and end up discovering more than they ever dreamed of. Their very lives fall into jeopardy as the politics of the times overtakes and surrounds them.

One of the highlights for me was the wit, the humor, and the dialogue between these characters. This is all masterful, and I was guffawing even in the midst of a grim reality that could have ultimately changed Australia from the lovable place we know (albeit filled with the world’s most poisonous snakes and spiders, not to mention crocs and jellyfish) to a place of dictatorship. Thank God that didn’t happen!

Quotes: “You don’t need to worry about my discretion, Wil,” Rowland said angrily. “I’m not about to tell anyone that my brother is raising some clandestine, tweed-jacketed army because he thinks Stalin is heading south!”

“Ernest nodded solemnly. “Are you going to see the King?”
“Shall I give him your regards?”
“Don’t be silly, Uncle Rowly, King George has his own guards…with big furry black hats.”

“Civil war! Who would…” Milton clapped his hand on his forehead in realisation. “Bloody Catholics! I knew the Tykes were planning something…all that bloody Hail Marying!”
Clyde, who was a Catholic of sorts, clipped the side of Milton’s head as he got up to refill his glass.

As far as the romance between Rowland and Edna…well, I’ll let the reader discover that for him or herself. A Few Right Thinking Men could have been a dark account, almost a documentary, one event leading into the next. But the addition of Rowly, Wilfred, Ernest, Kate, Edna, Clyde and especially Milt (I love him) and their enduring friendship, the barely contained romance (which is masterfully done,) draws one in and makes this a story where the reader is completely invested in the lives, emotions, and outcomes of these people. From the first page to the last, everything flows, woven perfectly, so that we see the big picture of Australian politics in the 30s along with the microcosm of Rowland’s life, friendships and family.

A Few Right Thinking Men merely introduces Rowland and his friends. Rowland’s adventures, I’m happy to report, will continue on in future books.

To purchase from Amazon click here.

The Crown in the Heather: N. Gemini Sasson

“Each night when I lie down, bathed in the rank sweat of a day’s pressed march, I am so weary I neither stir nor dream in my sleep. For weeks, I have felt neither the cushion of a pillow beneath my cheek, nor the caress of a blanket upon my shoulders.”

This is how The Crown in the Heather begins, with engrossing imagery and immediate sympathy. And for me, it never let up. With each chapter, I not only learned more of this era of Scottish history, one in which I am most interested, but I grew to know the characters intimately, to feel their loves, their pains, their doubts, their fears, their horror, their resolve.

Using the “observer-narrator” viewpoint in several chapters, the author masterfully deepened not only the viewpoint character but the others as well, the ones being observed. One of my favorite lines in the entire book, in James Douglas’s viewpoint, is of Robert:

“For weeks now, Robert had waited for them to come. Day after day, rising before dawn, he climbed to the same high hill and watched from his rocky eyrie. Every evening the same again. But day after day went by and nothing. No one. He did not pace or fret or fray away with worry. He simply waited. His eyes as hard and fixed as chips of stone, gazing above the treetops, surveying along the river’s course.”

And also in James’s viewpoint, told as he watches the reunion of Robert with his beloved Elizabeth, James, who has fallen in love with her himself, observes: “As he reached her, Robert sprang from his horse and wrapped her in the circle of his strong arms like a giant cupping a dove between the palms of his hands–gently and fiercely all in one.”

The author also brings to life the character of Prince Edward, Longshanks’ son. I never really thought much about this boy before reading this book, but Sasson brings him to clear-cut, fleshed-out life. Insightful–no, inspired writing delves deep into this abused young man.

Beautiful and evocative, this book was no dry account of an event in history. It brought to magnificent life the people who lived, died and endured the awful rape of their country and tradition, and their determination, in the face of terrible odds, to fight back, to free themselves, to rule themselves, no matter the cost.

I think one of the reasons so many people across the world are so in love with Scotland is because of its rich history, the stunning beauty of its country (which Sasson describes with great skill) and the way the people, in dire straits for so much of the time, continued to soldier on with ramrod spines: the Scots never relent. They never give up. They never surrender. We can’t help but love that sort of courage. All of this comes through clearly in The Crown in the Heather.

I also want to compliment the author for clearly delineating the order of the books. I hate it when I buy a new book, not knowing much about it, only to discover at the end that I’ve just read the third book in a trilogy or something. No wonder I was so confused! And now it’s too late to go back and begin at the beginning. I much prefer a trilogy or series to be clearly indicated, and to know which book in the series I’m reading.

To purchase from Amazon click here.

To purchase from Smashwords click here.

The Crimson Bed: Loretta Proctor

I found myself abandoning TV and other distractions in order to spend more time in the sometimes-sad, sometimes-funny, always absorbing world created by Loretta Proctor, author of “The Crimson Bed.”

The Crimson Bed

The reader is carried into the movement of the Pre-Raphaelites, those famed Victorian artists, through wanna-be Henry Winstone and his rich patron-friend, Frederic Ashton Thorpe. Henry is thrilled to acquire a coveted commission: he is to paint the daughter of wealthy Joshua Farnham. Not only does this bring him needed cash, it also provides him with a lovely subject in young Ellie. When Frederic Thorpe sees the work in progress, he falls in love and will not rest until he’s wrangled an introduction through Henry. The rest is history.

Ellie and Frederic’s marriage is destined to suffer challenges, as both possess embarrassing secrets neither wants the other to know. These secrets eventually erode the relationship, aided by Frederic’s rather vicious-minded mother.

The author’s knowledge of this period in history and artists, both real and imagined, is impressive, as is her understanding of the artistic techniques used by the Pre-Raphaelites. I admired her ability to create a real, vibrant, colorful Victorian world. If you like E.M. Forster, Edith Wharton, or Jane Austen, you will probably enjoy “The Crimson Bed” very much, but in one aspect this book is different. The author doesn’t shy away from or gloss over the earthy aspects (the hypocritical underbelly) of life in Queen Victoria’s London. As far as accuracy goes, this book never disappoints, yet happily never bogs down into preaching, explanation or endless description. Unlike many modern books and movies that give action and plot their entire attention and neglect to flesh out the characters, “The Crimson Bed” fulfills all three requirements.

This book is many things: a romance, a historical, a character study. It is also a subtle yet unvarnished look at Victorian mores, beliefs, fears and hypocrisies; this exploration makes “The Crimson Bed” a work that resonates into our modern times. Its protagonists are realistic, flawed, alternately good and selfish, nice and mean-spirited. Ellie, Frederic, Henry, Alfie and the others are a slice of real humanity well worth getting to know.

To purchase from The Book Depository: click here.

To purchase Kindle or paperback formats from Amazon UK: click here.

The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy: Greta van der Rol

The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy

I didn’t know before I began that Conspiracy was not complete unto itself but was actually Book One. I read, fully expecting there to be resolution at the end, and when I came to the last page, I was yelling “NOOOOOOOO!” which the author probably heard in Australia.

Anyway, I am now salivating for book two.

I liked Allysha a lot. She’s very well fleshed out and likeable. I rooted for her all the way through, and I understood completely how she got herself into the mess with Sean. I been there, sista! But I fell for the Iron Admiral myself, I must confess. He’s very delicious. How she can resist him, I don’t know. She has far more willpower than I.

Another thing I really liked about this book is how the author doesn’t over explain anything. Either you get it, or you don’t, but it doesn’t really matter. If you don’t understand things like space travel and info droids, that’s okay. She doesn’t go into long info blocks describing what these things are and how they work. You, the reader, just gradually pick it up as you read. I LOVE that.

The second book, Deception has now been released. I’m happy to report it’s every bit as good as Book One. Maybe better.

purchase at Amazon

Chasing Odysseus: Sulari Gentill

Chasing Odysseus

Sulari Gentill, an up and coming Australian author, takes her readers on a fascinating, exciting journey in Chasing Odysseus.

Every now and then, a book comes along that truly catches my imagination and sparks a real relationship between my mind, emotions, and the story and its characters.

Chasing Odysseus is one of these rare finds.

I was fortunate to stumble across this book shortly after it was published and being “Greek-mad,” as in obsessively interested in stories about ancient Greece, I wanted to see what it was about. The title itself, Chasing Odysseus, immediately intrigued me as it created mental images of high adventure and intense emotion.

The Herdsmen, led by gentle Agelaus, have been providing Troy with food for ten years through hidden tunnels. So that’s how the Trojans avoided starving to death! What an intriguing idea. Though the Greeks know of the Herdsmen, they don’t know about this secret assistance going to their enemies, and Agelaus deftly keeps it that way.

Dawn blooms on the last day, the day the Greeks have vanished, leaving a gigantic wooden horse on the beach. Everyone knows what happens. The Trojans take the horse through the gates and into the city. Night falls; everyone expects to feast and celebrate the end of this tiresome, endless war.

Agelaus, his four beloved foster children, and other Herdsmen prepare to move food and supplies through the tunnels and take part in the festivities.

Imagine their shock and horror as they climb out of the tunnels to see Trojans being slaughtered before their eyes.

Chasing Odysseus is a young adult novel. I didn’t expect there to be a realistic rendering of the sack of Troy. In this I was wrong. It is brutal. The few Trojan survivors, most notably Scamandrious, are brought to safety through the tunnels. Almost immediately this man turns on his rescuers. I was impressed at this point by how everything ties together so believably and poignantly. As much as I hated the loyal Herdsmen being maliciously and far too quickly sacrificed to the terror and rage of the moment, labeled as traitors, used as convenient scapegoats, it made perfect sense. How else could the Greeks have gotten in? The truth about the horse was not yet known. It was just a lifeless wooden statue in the minds of the Trojans. So the Herdsmen fell under suspicion as the long time guardians of the secret tunnels. How easy it would have been for them to show the Greeks the way in.

The heartbreaking culmination of these accusations is the murder of Agelaus and the near-murder of his son.

Which brings me to the children. Three boys and one girl, all dropped off, so to speak, by the Amazons, to be raised by the Herdsmen. They are: Machaon, Lycon, Cadmus, and Hero, the lone girl. These four young people not surprisingly become extremely close, and live an idyllic life, for the most part, in the hills around Troy, as the Greeks think of them as unimportant and leave them in peace.

The four protagonists are beautifully drawn, completely realistic, true to their times, and likeable. Their personalities run the gamut. I could see them in my mind’s eye clearly. Hero’s life is particularly sheltered as her devoted brothers, loving father, and the whole tribe watch over her, since she suffers a rather serious physical disability with her sight. She could be whiny and spoiled but she isn’t. She is, very believably, in awe and trepidation of the gods, of their vindictiveness, of their swift anger and power and need for vengeance. In her short life, she has already been abandoned by her mother and witnessed this relentless, seemingly endless war with Mycenae and its supporters. Hero, watched over by her family and wanting to return what she could of their devotion, does her best to give them the only protections she can think of: a softening of the gods’ fickle feelings. She conducts formal sacrifices and offers sincere prayers, all designed to build a bulwark of safety around those she loves.

Now, however, she must face the fact that all she has done is for nothing. She is forced to endure the death of her father, the horrible torture of her brother, and the absolute condemnation of her people.

This will not stand. And so we come to the decision that changes the lives of these children forever. After consulting with Pan, the Herdsmen’s special god, they determine there is only one living person who can clear their names.

Odysseus.

Pan gives them his magical Phaeacian ship and the foursome set out to find the Greek strategist, drag him back to Troy, and force him to tell the truth.

Many adventures are experienced on their quest, for the wily Odysseus manages to keep one step ahead.

Gentill’s vision here is flawless. The story moves swiftly and draws in the reader with its plausibility. The four children of Agelaus show their true characters in their determination to clear their father’s name and the reputation of their people. As one can imagine, they chase Odysseus and partake in all of that hero’s adventures as he tries to make his way home. We visit the islands Odysseus visits. We meet the Cyclops Polyphemus, Circe, and the terrifying Scylla. We suffer through the turmoil of Charybdis and come to the floating island of Aeolia. We sail through the straits where the Sirens sing and engage with Calypso. In my favorite scene, we accompany the siblings to Hades, where a conversation takes place with the dead Achilles and a confession is made I hardly dared hope to see. He says: “I have met Hector, Odysseus. Hector, whose body I dragged around the walls of Troy behind my chariot, in view of his parents, his people…I have met Pentheselia, whose body I used as it lay dead and bloodied beneath me.”

In Hades, the four siblings are even reunited briefly with their father. Finally, they come to Scherie, land of the Phaeacians, the birthplace of their wondrous vessel. Each of these places brings danger, daring, adventure, and hope. In every one of these places the reader wonders how the young people will escape, how they will achieve their goal.

As to my feelings about the famous characters from Homer’s Odyssey? I’ve read a lot over the years about ancient Greek heroes and I’ve discovered, as anyone can who cares to dig deep enough, that these larger-than-life men have come down through history with auras of false divinity surrounding them while the less than heroic actions they took have been largely forgotten. Hercules, Theseus, Achilles, (Achilles especially) have darker sides and I have come to look upon these shallow accounts, which depict them as perfect men, with suspicion. So I appreciated Gentill’s more realistic (and rare) depiction of Odysseus. When it comes to Greek myths, one can have all childhood notions shattered by reading a little deeper.

To be thoroughly happy with a story, I need a little romance. I am happy to report that this requirement, too, was fulfilled and we are left knowing there is more to come on that score.

The book is beautifully illustrated with the author’s own art.

Trying War, the second book in this series, will be available soon.

purchase from Amazon

King’s Envoy: Cas Peace

King’s Envoy

Beautiful typography and cover art complete this engaging fantasy that draws the reader into a well-fleshed-out other-worldly realm. Or I should say “realms,” as there are five. The book begins innocently enough, with Taran, a young, inexperienced artesan trying to learn his craft, desperate to reach the next level in his training, and willing to do almost anything to achieve his goal. Unfortunately, his efforts nearly kill him and don’t do his friends much good, either. He enters another realm looking for assistance and finds instead a fierce fight, near death, and a magical staff that is nearly his undoing. His misadventures lead him though, to his destiny, which seems to be with the nearby garrison of soldiers, led by the mesmerizing Sullyan. He falls in love with her almost instantly, as does every man except her own superior, General Blaine. Taran and his compatriots, Cal and Rienne, join with Sullyan, Robin and Bull in a quest to discover what this mysterious staff has done and why their land is being systematically invaded by hostile forces from another realm. It turns out there are darker, more evil forces in play that neither Sullyan or any other adept has foreseen.

The author has obviously pondered this series very carefully. Every detail is clearly etched so that the reader becomes fully engaged with the setting as well as the characters. She understands, and with a skillful pen, shares, the politics, intrigues, customs, and traditions of these fantasy worlds, all the while drawing comprehensive character studies of her protagonists. The reader grows to understand the metaphysical abilities certain people are born with, and how they groom & strengthen these abilities until they master and can control Earth, Water, Fire and Air–not an easy task. At the same time we get to know the very human personalities, emotions, weaknesses and loves of our heroes and heroines.

I found little details fascinating: for instance, a magical silver called “spellsilver,” which seems completely innocuous and is used as common silverware for eating, yet has the power to drain the strength of a metaphysical adept, rendering him/her helpless. I was moved by a dream that came to all our heroes simultaneously when their leader was in the gravest danger, waking them all at once, and intrigued by their efforts to find her, and as frustrated as they by their failure. I was also happy to discover a generous helping of humor in King’s Envoy. Good old-fashioned humor lends that little extra to any dramatic fiction.

I requested a copy of King’s Envoy before it was published and so received an advance reader’s copy. I regret I am such a slow reader that I am just now writing my review, but I will say that I read the book deeply and carefully because I was so engrossed.

King’s Envoy is the first of a trilogy. The second book is scheduled for release in August, 2012.

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