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LC Conn, Carling

Coming of Age Can be a Hurtful Process

Since the end of the first volume of The One True Child series, the Romans are stationary in Britain. Romans kill Carling’s parents and brother get killed in a raid. On the way to their camp, Carling witnesses the Roman commander killing her grandmother. At the settlement, she becomes a slave but finds unexpected friends.

It is no wonder that Carling grows up full of hate against her oppressors. That doesn’t change the fact that she must learn to accept her situation to survive. For this, she gets help through learning the Roman language. Her hardest task is to avoid the unwanted attention, given to her by her granny’s killer. As she nears maturity, her powers slowly emerge.

Ms Conn develops her fantasy sage with polished prose and great imagination. It is a delight to follow Carling’s development and the intricacies of the plot. Throughout this fantasy series, with elements of Celtic and Roman mythology, Ms Conn puts in her word for humanity.

***

G Lawrence, Treason in Trust

Rich in Detail

Trying years in Elizabeth’s life. Drake develops into a trusted alley. Mary of Scots has been deposed and becomes a prisoner in England. The trial begins but doesn’t end. Dudley remains the love of her life, even if they don’t share intimate relations. The night of Bartholomew puts an end to this part of her saga.

Lawrence focuses on two things in this, the fifth part of her Elizabethan series. Elizabeth’s love for her country and her subjects that she sees as her children, and her relationship to Mary. She must fight on both fronts, a woman in a patriarchal world will be met with an incessant admonition to wed and bed and give birth. Her troubled relationship with her cousin Mary is well documented and ended in disaster for Mary. In a way, these strong women were caught in religious strife as well as being unable to find common ground. All this Lawrence brings to life, seen through Elizabeth’s eyes.

The cast of beautifully developed characters, Lawrence’s fluid prose, and her immaculate research unfold the drama and pageant of a long-gone period.

***

Tina-Marie Miller, The Curious Miss Fortune

Women’s Fiction at Its Best

There’s romance, there is wit, there are sorrows, there are lies and secrets, there are victims, and perpetrators in The Curious Miss Fortune. Also, there is a play, which gets rehearsed during most of the novel and perhaps, unnecessarily, features as an appendix. At the beginning of the rehearsals, its director tells the cast that there’s scope for improvisation. That’s certainly true, there are only the bare bones of a play to read.
That aside, the main part of the book is entertaining, witty, and convincing. You suffer with Tiggy, who must face the demise of her father and lay her inner demons to rest. You rejoice with Bridget, who finds her feet as an author of theatre plays, albeit hampered by her eccentric husband. You worry with Bridget, whose son, Aster wants money to secure his success as a surgeon. Harry, a contractor, engaged to rebuild Tiggy’s family home, quickly discovers his romantic interest in Tiggy. The life in the Hamptons village runs parallel with the theatre piece’s plot in weird and wonderful ways, and Tina-Marie Miller weaves the strains together into a wonderful piece of women’s fiction.

***

Lesley Hayes, Written In Water, Book One, Exits And Entrances

In Our Time We Play Many Parts

Rosalind, Beatrice, and Cordelia are childhood and school friends. Rosalind is ‘a defiant heathen with a stain of catholic guilt’, Cordelia ‘believes in an infinite power’, and Beatrice claims that ‘religion is a torture chamber’. Will they be able to remain friends for life as they want to, or will life and their different beliefs tear them apart?

These are the questions that make up the weft of this, the first part of the trilogy Written in Water. Rosalind, Beatrice, and Cordelia face differing challenges, but they keep their relationship intact during the sixties.

The Cuba Crisis, sexual liberation, the gay movement, and political questions are brought to life through Ms Hayes’ excellent writing. Her characters are lifelike and substantial. They fight their way through exits and entrances. A great book that takes isolation as its main theme. The isolation that every human being must deal with. The three girls, our protagonists, are outcasts. One, Cordelia, has rich parents but is a starry-eyed romantic whose dreams get shattered by a violent husband she has met in India. The other one, Beatrice, has lost her suicidal father and must care for her nerve-wracked and depressed mother. She, Beatrice, is a lesbian in times when it was prohibited to be gay. The third protagonist, Rosalind, is successful in her career but insecure in her private life. Then there’s Paddy, who lost his beloved and found Rosalind’s gay brother.

Everybody must suffer losses to have a chance to find themselves. The three young women stick together, regardless of their different approach to life. They don’t intrude and aren’t always available for one another, but in the big crises that come to every man or woman, they stand together. Intrinsic in the plot lies the separateness and inability to reach out that mars most lives. It’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. The characters are strong and authentic. Compelling and empathic, Ms Hayes writes with a deep understanding of human individuality.

***

Martha Perez, Broken Pieces

Abuse Breaks Lives

A family of drunkards, an evil stepmother, and a gallery of characters, spanning from nasty girls to loving boys, and from a weak father to a stern granny. Only Abby’ sister has backbone, but she disappears out of Abby’s life too early to be helpful.

When reading Broken Pieces, I couldn’t help wondering if Ms Perez had made the daring choice to ignore all grammar rules to give the protagonist her true voice. Certainly, the device is powerful. Abby cannot be portrayed in any other way. If she’d told her story in polished sentences, her suffering wouldn’t be easy to believe. As it is, the abuse she endures throughout the book, the characters around her, and her strange choices come to life. It takes getting used to though, and I found myself rethinking many sentences.

What strikes you is that Abby never grows up. She is the ideal victim, and it gets so bad that she can’t see her plight. This is a disturbing read and shows how easily a human being can go under.

***

Alex Baily, Once Upon a Romance

Christmassy Disney World Romance

In this sweet and sour, beautifully written, romance, suffused with gentle humour, we meet Ariel, an eight-year-old who has lost her mother. We meet her aunt, Sophie who, in a family of Disney lovers, is the odd one out. We meet her boyfriend, Darren, the up-and-coming businessman. Finally, the cast is complete with a Disney expert – a blogger – whom the fates present to Sophie. As her dead sister cannot take Ariel, Sophie invites her niece to Disneyland at Christmas.

The plot puts Sophie’s convictions to the test and analyses her lack of enthusiasm with regards to the Disney enterprise. Ms Baily uses the two males in Sophie’s life as a device to show the rigid businessperson, Darren up against the creative and life confirming blogger, Ray AKA Professor Disney. Everything comes together during the Christmas fireworks in this feelgood piece of charming escapism.

***

Mary R Woldering, Voices in Crystal

World Mythos Fantasy

We are in ancient Egypt, in the period of the Old Kingdom. Amerei is a simple shepherd who seeks his goddess. In songs and dreams, he beseeches her to come to him. When a star falls, Amerei sets out to discover if his beloved deity, Ashera – Queen of Heaven – has finally come to him.

Aboard the Goddess Boat, he finds the Children of the Stone who send him on a mission to bring a bag of crystals to Djedi, son of Sneferu, founding pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty.

With him he brings three women, fallen sisters who, like Amerei, have been healed and endowed with magical powers aboard the Goddess Boat. The three women function as a triad, representing three aspects of the goddess. Amerei worships them as such and develops a strong as well as sexual relationship to them all.

Their quest is fraught with drama and violence.

Ms Woldering mixes Ancient myth and Sci-Fi visions into a colourful if slow-moving narrative that touches on spirit walking priests, singing stars, as well as human desire and violence. She evokes pictures of gleaming pyramids but puts emphasis on her characters’ uncertainties and doubts. There is no space for rational thought in a realm and time where intuition rules the day. In that, she puts up a mirror of today’s world where authority isn’t always trustworthy and trusty people have little or no authority.

It is a pity that her writing style tends to repetition – especially of songs and prayers – something that will put off some readers. All in all, there is food for thought in this mythical and historical fantasy. My only regret is that Ms Woldering ends the story with a cliff hanger. The idea that people will only continue reading a series if every volume ends with a significant hook never appealed to me.  

***

Fernando Trujillo Sanz, Get out of my Dreams

Dreams and Reality Meet

Strange happenings occur as vicious twins haunt the dreams of the protagonist in this extraordinary tale. In it, a teenage boy talks about his life, which is full of contradiction. Regardless of his parents’ economic situation, he goes to a public school. Why? Partly because it seems embarrassing to him to be an upper-class kid, partly to stay in touch with his best friend.

FT Sanz let the readers gain insight into the turbulence that often mars adolescent life. As the protagonist loses his grab on reality, his dreams seem to break the laws of humanity and show him his family in a new light.

The twins become the excuse and the catalyst that fills his life with suspense and intrigue.

The translation from the original Spanish seems to captivate FT Sanz’ prose and renders a tale that will haunt your thoughts.

***

© HMH, 2020

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