Review Update

David Toft, A Gift of Butterflies

Paranormal Thriller

Four young people venture into the woods at night. When they wake up, they have received a gift – or is it a curse? A Gift of Butterflies focuses on Mark Aldridge and Susie Philips and the ordeal they must face. The butterfly gift forced on them will challenge their existence – and the existence of everybody around them. Mark and Susie must learn to control their gift, and an American organisation offers to help.

What made this thriller extraordinary to this reader is that Toft takes a part of the Chaos Theory (the so-called butterfly effect) and transfers it to the human condition. The ‘fluttering butterfly wings that cause hurricanes’ is transformed into what we know as a nervous reaction. That is perhaps far-fetched, but haven’t we all felt said butterflies in a stressful situation?

A Gift of Butterflies is intriguing in many ways. It challenges our concepts in ways that modern physics also does. It points out the Law of Unintended Consequences and transforms it into an absorbing read. Brilliantly written with wit and a penchant for the absurd, this is a paranormal thriller that makes you think. The end made me chuckle with delight.   

***

Linnea Tanner, Apollo’s Raven

Celts Versus Romans

The time is 24 A D, some years before the Roman invasion of Britain. There is a tentative connection between the Romans and the Celts, they trade, and some Celtic kings pay homage to the Romans. Catrin is a Celtic teenager, with magic abilities. She is also a warrior princess, daughter of King Amren, and she has outstanding fighting skills. Marcellus is a Roman soldier, son of the Roman senator, Lucius. The narrative abounds with luscious scenes and messy drinking, romance and fights, betrayal and loyalty, shapeshifters, gods and goddesses, sacrifices, as well as plaid pants, leather armours, blood, vomit, stench, and fragrance.


Apollo’s Raven is a complex story, told from multiple points of view. Was that a good choice? I have my doubts. The storyline becomes ungainly and loses tension, which is a pity. The characters show various believable traits. Still, some of them are inflated with egomania to a degree that makes them appear less than real. There were some beautiful descriptions of the landscape — Ms Tanner has a deft hand in world-building.

***

Kathryn Gauci, The Secret of the Grand Hôtel du Lac

WWII, France, Resistance, Secret Operations Execs

Guy and Elizabeth, both SOEs, have married. Guy is lost in action, and Elizabeth has been sent from London to find him. The resistance group, to which they were both attached, has been compromised and Elizabeth must act quickly. D-Day is coming. Will Elizabeth root out the culprits and save her husband?

This is the situation that confronts Elizabeth when she returns to the Jura region of France. It is a rousing concept, and there is a lot to like about Gauci’s WWII novel, notably the descriptions of the countryside and the friendship between the resistance operatives and the Special Operations Executives. Still, my reading pleasure wasn’t complete. For me, the biggest problem was that the climax of the operations lost suspense, by pointing out that “They had finally made it to safety, but it had been a harrowing experience.” Quote, unquote.

Kathryn Gauci writes beautiful descriptions and has made copious research. One might wonder if the many references to lipstick and nail enamel colours are necessary. Doubtless, she has abundant knowledge of the clothing style of the period and uses it to bring authenticity to her writing.

***

Millie Thom, Wyvern of Wessex

Spain, Denmark, and England – A Huge Panorama

Bjorn and Eadwulf go on their quest to Spain to find Eadwulf’s father. We meet many well-known characters in this, the third instalment of Sons of Kings. In England, Alfred ascends to the throne and must deal with raiding Danes. Alfred must find his feet as ruler, and this is no easy task.
Millie Thom presents a panorama of betrayal, romance, war, hardship, and endurance in breath-taking prose. The third part of Sons of Kings lives up to expectations, but, personally, I can’t help wondering if it might have been better to attach the Spanish adventure to Pit of Vipers. To me, that would have rounded off the second part in her tapestry of ninth-century history. Still, it is but a moot point. After all, we get the satisfaction of a beautifully told historical adventure. I’m certainly looking forward to the fourth and last part of this tetralogy.

***

Regina Puckett, I Close My Eyes

Dramatic Romance in the Regency Period

The main characters: Lady Jane Blackmore, her father and stepmother. Philip, Duke of Greystone, who carries a disfiguring scar. His father is dead, his mother still alive. Violet Collins, daughter of Philip’s neighbour who is an earl.

The plot: full of twists and turns, some of which are believable – others aren’t.

The writing: flowing and easy to read.

Regina Puckett has a way with words and manages to move her readers – sometimes to tears. For me, that isn’t quite enough. Her protagonists may be endearing in some ways, her antagonists are villainous. Still, I longed for fleshed-out characters that came out of their stereotypes. This is a short novel and there is scope for developing every scene into a convincing narrative, given that the plot holes were filled up. If my wish were fulfilled, this could be a wonderful book.

***

Susan Rooke, The Space Between

High-Fantasy with a Biblical Theme

Lucifer falls and the world splits into fractions. Humans still live on the earth, but there is a realm between hell and the earth. Assuredly, there is also a heaven above. This is the premise for Susan Rooke’s fantasy novel, and she takes the reader to dark places where dragons dwell and into the lush world where the faeries live – apparently in safety. Humans too have everything to fear it seems, especially young women of beauty and integrity.

Mellis is such a one. She loves her dog and her mother. That doesn’t stop two humanoid creatures from abducting her to that realm where faeries live. Time slows down for Mellis, who eventually learns to care for her abductors and her new world.

Ms Rooke presents her readers with a complex maze of angels, faeries, and humans. Not only that, but she also weaves in a medieval inferno, the seven deadly sins, as well as the sons of God who desired the daughters of man. This is a satisfying read that makes you think about more than you might expect in a high fantasy novel. This is an experience of staggering dimensions.

***

Rebecca Bryn, The Chainmakers’ Daughter

Among Those Dark Satanic Mills

Those mills that didn’t change since the beginning of the industrial revolution, except that the ‘mills’ are chain-making factories. England’s green and pleasant land is a far cry from what confronts Rosie, a daughter among numerous siblings, born into a chain-making family. Her father works at the factory making large chains and her mother works at home in a workshop that is part of their house, also making chains, but merely the lesser chains for dogs and cows. Rosie must learn the trade. She fills the age-old pattern of child workers but has a good head on her shoulders. That’s why she alone seizes the inspiration, brought to her and the West-Midland workers by Mary Macarthur, and enters the campaign for equal pay for female chain workers.

Every chain maker carries the marks of the trade, burns on hands, arms, and face. The factory owner is benevolent on the surface, but a hard employer underneath. The split between the haves- and have nots is immense. Not only do the chain makers work from before daybreak to after dark, but they also can’t live off their earnings, and must ‘clem’ as every worker did in the Victorian era. Social reforms are necessary and presented in a way that reminded me of authors like Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell.

This is a cry for social justice, and Rosie lives through the humiliations, the pain, and the bereavement that formed the lives of thousands of workers.

Rebeca Bryn brings her characters to life in compelling and intense writing.

***

Susan Travers, Tomorrow to be Brave

The Wartime Memory of the only Female in the French Foreign Legion

Tomboy, socialite, ambulance driver, and member of the French Foreign Legion, Susan Travers had an adventurous life. That much is clear. For me, it was difficult to recognise the voice of this person in the writing of Wendy Holden.

Here is a sample from a situation where Susan Travers and her colonel just survived an air attack (p.106, Kindle edition): ‘Straightening up, I brushed myself down further and flicked a strand of dark hair from my face before heading back towards the first truck that had been hit, to see what could be done.’

Would a confirmed tomboy, ambulance driver, and member of the foreign legion mention the colour of her hair? Maybe the socialite would have, but, in Susan’s own words, she’d already disappeared. No doubt, a lot of research and several interviews went into this narrative, but my question is if Wendy Holden put the words in Susan Travers’ mouth. Here is another sample of less than adequate writing:

Left to cope on my own in the heat and hostility of North Africa with two demanding children, I had a recurrence of back problems I had suffered from in my teens. (p. 271).

All I could do was drink sweet mint tea and watch Zena care for my two demanding children. (p. 272).

day. It took a great deal of getting used to at first, but with two demanding children and the company of the ever-faithful Rebecca, I was able to keep myself from going mad with boredom. (p. 274).

Is this the socialite speaking, is it the nurse, or is it Ms Holden? All in all, the military sections work better for me. The reality of war and the consequences of relentless attacks, like those at Bir Hakeim, are harrowing and compelling. The romances between Susan Travers and her lovers sometimes come across as part of a Mills and Boon novel. It is a pity that this war document loses part of its importance through the lack of a major interpreter.

***

©HMH, 2021

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