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JG MacLeod, Abalone

Domestic Violence with a Vengeance

Liz is a reticent and shy girl who manages to be a good student regardless of her difficult home life.  James is an older boy with apparent learning difficulties. Possibly, his problems are down to a lack of interest in getting an education as he seems reckless rather than stupid. Liz’s English teacher suggests that she should help James to graduate. These are the premises for JG MacLeod’s cautionary tale. What strikes me as strange is that a teacher is the one who, albeit unintentionally, pushes Liz into the arms of her abuser. It is hard to envisage that a teacher would have so little insight into a troubled youngster. Nevertheless, Liz, who already has a young girl crush on James agrees to help him. They soon become sweethearts and from there the story develops into a nightmare for Liz. She gives up school to follow James to the south, but they stop over in a small town and settle there for an unspecified period.

MacLeod is an accomplished author and brings her message across in vivid scenes between Liz and James. There is a large cast of supporting actors, from Liz’ hapless father and James’ abusive mother to school friends, notably Liz’ best friend Jan, and Liz’ would-be sweetheart, named Cortyn. Add to the mix James’ brother Peter who suffers from Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Later a prospective saviour turns up, a cowboy clad entrepreneur, Martyn.

MacLeod shows a deep insight into the mechanisms that instigates Domestic Violence. She shows the danger signs and points out how easy it is for a young and insecure girl to get inveigled into an abusive relationship. She shows that without a safety net in the shape of a loving family, this type of girl may have little chance of avoiding her fate.

David W Thompson, Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer

Human Spite and Violence Bring Madness.

Moll Dyer and her family leave for England, hoping to prosper. There they face hardship and intolerance, as Irish nationals and Catholics. Things get worse for Moll, as she gets raped – and defends herself. Left pregnant, her family gives her the choice of going back to Ireland to live with an aunt, or to follow her uncle Sean to Maryland. Both she and Uncle Sean have become outcasts but leaving for the colony gives them hope to forge a new life. Sea travel is no pleasure trip in the 17th Century, and the travellers experience both stormy and becalmed seas. A newlywed couple befriends Moll, and she helps the young woman, Beth, with her troublesome pregnancy. Still, the journey ends disastrously for Beth and through her, for her husband Gideon.

On the arrival in the virginal world of Maryland, it looks like Sean and Moll will create a better existence for themselves. Society accepts them, and they settle down to farm the land. They get to know and love several indigenes. This idyll doesn’t last long and rumours about Moll’s presumed witchcraft.

Written in the first person – Moll’s voice – Sister Witch touches many themes from slavery to witchcraft, and from fear of outsiders, to hate and spite. This is a masterly executed piece of historical fiction. Thompson studies the living circumstances, intolerance, religion (aboriginal as well as Christian). He points out how easily people become a mob and how love and tolerance can be found only with open eyes and hearts. Thompson explores women’s situation, early medicine and how easily that could be misunderstood in a society that fears the supernatural. The characters, especially Moll, are vivid and convincing. It springs to mind that the ultimate sacrifice is a motivating theme for the entire novel.

Eric Wilder, Sisters of the Mist

Paranormal Crime Thriller

Wyatt wakes in the middle of the night. Taking a breath of air on his balcony, he observes the New Orleans mist enveloping the streets. There he has a vision of his lost love at a ghostly parade of limousines trailing a hearse. That beginning sets the scene for a quest to seek and save her. Halloween is coming and monsters abound on his way to his goal. Along with Wyatt’s quest to save his beloved is a subplot that pivots around a racehorse, a mob boss, his beautiful daughter, and the two PIs who pursue the stolen horse.

Sisters of the Mist is slick, professionally written, full of mist and Spanish moss. There are visions and ogres and swamp monsters – beautiful women, vampires, prostitutes, and stalwart men. The numerous characters are painted in vivid colours. The Honey Island Swamp plays a huge role in the plot, also as a highway to a parallel world. It was a pleasure to see how the witch’s hut located in the swamp, as well as the ghostly castle that appeared later, established Wilder’s penchant for description.  Finally, I’d like to add that it proves an author’s merit to read a random part of a series and find that you can follow the plot and ‘organize’ the cast without trouble. Also, there was no obvious hook at the end – and that makes or breaks a story for me.

Parris Afton Bonds, The Brigands

The Texan/Texican Uprising – a Historical Romance

Old Mexico is in uproar. Many factions want to create new states, and the upheaval attracts fortune hunters en masse. Among them are two men, an English lord (Alex Paladin), and an Irish traveller (Niall Gorman). Both are involved in the ‘Texican’ movement for independence. Two women also arrive on the scene, Rafaela is to marry the English lord, as her rich father wants a title. In other words, Rafaela is a bartered bride, and it isn’t something to please her. Fiona is a feisty Irish girl, who hopes to gain land where she can live and prosper.

This is the premise for a romantic and dramatic tale that mixes up every cast member’s ideas of what they want to do with their lives.

What struck me was the shamrock locket that turned into a four-leaf clover locket.

Page 35: ‘Unconsciously, her fingers clutched her necklace’s shamrock locket that she considered, if somewhat foolishly, her good luck charm.’

Afton Bonds, Parris. The Brigands (The Texicans Book 1) (pp. 35-36). Lagan Press. Kindle Edition.

Page 40, 68, 112, 209, the same locket is described as a four-leaf-clover. EG: ‘That shade was probably as fake a color as her four-leaf clover locket was cheap.’

Afton Bonds, Parris. The Brigands (The Texicans Book 1) (p. 40). Lagan Press. Kindle Edition.

Also, that Fiona could see Rafaela’s narrow hips through an 1835 garment struck me as extraordinary. I can believe the wide shoulders – provided she wore mutton sleeves, which would fit the period. Even without hoops, the skirts were voluminous, and corsets did their part in reshaping the female figure. By the way, the bustle didn’t become fashionable until the early 1870s. Last, another detail in Rafaela’s outfit doesn’t gel. She wears a man’s hat. A beaver hat is a top hat worn by men – in 1835, women wore bonnets. 

‘The girl was inordinately tall, wide of shoulder, and narrow of hip, so long as one ignored her jutting bustle. Her light brown hair whipped free of her fashionable beaver hat and momentarily veiled her pale features.’

Afton Bonds, Parris. The Brigands (The Texicans Book 1) (p. 22). Lagan Press. Kindle Edition.

That aside, this was an engaging and absorbing read. The vivid descriptions plant the reader in the middle of the action. There are twists and turns to surprise even the most inexhaustible reader. The male arch-villain turns out to have some human qualities and becomes likeable in due course. It is refreshing that Fiona and Rafaela aren’t conventional beauties. Both seek independence, and that is another unusual trait in a historical romance. Ms Bonds delivers an insightful and (partly – see above) well-researched historical novel, with engaging and believable characters.

Michelle Kidd, Timeless Moments

Time Travel, 1917 – 1967 – 2014

Three plots, three periods, three separate fates — or are they? Several mysteries surround Jack, Jewel, Jane Doe (Janie), and Hunsdon. Letters can help or betray the writers and settle the doom or rescue of one protagonist. There are secrets to unveil and pain to suffer for every character in this time travel cosmos, which is our normal world in three epochs. For me, it was somewhat difficult to recognize the various periods. There were no distinct features to latch onto. In my opinion, it would have helped to be confronted with more historical detail, but I recognise that there is a difficulty in fitting in much of this in a book that concentrates on the inner qualities and the circumstances pertaining to each character. Alternatively, one might have added more details regarding clothing or speech.

That aside, Timeless Moments is an absorbing read, with clear-cut characters and a fantasy-driven story. 

Beth Hildenbrand, The Path of Temptation

Poetry of Innocence, Temptation, Fall, and Resurgence

Short poems can say a lot. There is a Haiku-like singularity and a daring in Beth Hildenbrand’s poems. They are stark and painful, but still uplifting. Each section is illustrated with a picture, female in form, except the last that portrays the Phoenix rising. Beth Hildenbrand’s message is simple but profound. We are all innocent until we fall – and it is up to us to rise again.

Minette Meador, The Centurion and the Queen

A Sword and Sandals, 60 AD British-Roman Episode

Delia is the sister of the Celtic King Conall, but still a queen in her own right. Marius is a Centurion, in British exile because of his suspected involvement in the assassination of Caligula. His second, Leonius, evolves into an adversary to handle with care. We are in the period when Queen Boudicca rose and almost defeated the Roman power.

The plot concentrates on two parts, the love story between would-be foes, and the uprising of, and fight against the Celts. Marius and Celia can’t suppress their attraction – and in that this plot reminds me of Bellini’s opera, Norma, as well as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon Series, notably The Forests of Avalon. All in all, the plot works for me, there is drama, insurrection, humour, blood and gore, heart-wrenching romance, and pain.

Meador’s research is meticulous, and that’s why one issue sticks out like a sore thumb. What possessed her to use the title ‘sir’? The correct title to assign Marius would be Primus Pilus, probably Primus addressing him. After all, ‘Sir’ wasn’t used until the thirteenth Century (around 1294). Otherwise, an engaging and captivating read. Raw and violent, dark, but romantic.

Jennie Ensor, Not Having it All

Satirical Comedy – Marital Frustration – Friendships in Various Guises.

Bea and Kurt have it all, or have they? Both have demanding jobs. Their love life has retained its spark. They have a 4-year-old daughter, Fran, who misbehaves without being able to explain why – and an au-pair, Katie. She develops a strong animosity against the child in her charge.

Bea’s friend, Maddie, has exceedingly little. She is a would-be junk artist with two cats and a longing to get a child. Colin faces redundancy and takes unusual measures to deal with it. His search for love has never brought him much good.

Jennie Ensor takes these components and creates a vaudeville, a laugh-out-loud but serious take on today’s society. Misunderstandings, communication failures, secret surveillance, and hidden cameras bring everybody close to despair. Everybody mistrusts everybody with hilarious results. Ensor handles the multiple point of view through secret dairies, email conversations, the assessment of Maddie by her psychologist, and the au-pair’s candid comments written in her pidgin-English hand.

For Ensor, this is a deviation from her usual writing style, and she handles it with aplomb.

©HMH, 2021