My last piece in this miniseries of Steen Espersen’s art is a nude, seen from the back. I selected it because of its tender rendition of the female form. The ink lines and the light brown colour wash creates a feeling that the woman in the picture is alive.
Hogarth’s painting in the lost series ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ causes mayhem and murders when art dealers meet on a private flight bound for London. Connor takes her readers to seedy and coarse surroundings and uses violence as a plot device.
The convincing flashbacks to Hogarth’s time may feature the best writing in this thriller. The murders in the book’s present are graphic and frankly disturbing. All in all, the plot builds up to something spectacular, but in the end, everything falls flat. The reason is one of those barely concealed hooks to interest the reader in the next volume of a series. There are likeable and credible characters, but others are less aptly portrayed.
Where did Ms Connor get the idea that an illegitimate child would threaten the royal succession In England – or any country?
By the way, when looking at the print of that lost painting, number two in Hogarth’s prints known as A Harlot’s Progress, it becomes clear that the harlot isn’t pregnant. Moll Hackabout (Hogarth’s protagonist in the prints) aka Polly Gunnell (Hogarth’s model in Legacy of Blood) isn’t pregnant until plate three, and the print shows evidence of her dalliance with a notorious highway robber. Before then, she has come down in the world – the bailiffs are arriving to take her to Bridewell. In plate six, her son is portrayed as a halfwit. That would imply that an illegitimate halfwit would have the power to endanger the succession in the Royal House. Is that likely? Other than that, there isn’t much to say for or against the book. Reading it, you get drawn into the plot, but if the premise for the story is hard to swallow, there isn’t much chance that it will convince a wider audience.
Seb Kirby, Take No More
A Shady Part of The Art World
The intrigue in this thriller orbits around the search for famous artworks, hidden in the layers of old paintings. Kirby presents vivid characters and plot-driven suspense.
James Blake finds himself holding his wife in his arms as she dies, a murder victim. No wonder, that he must face being the main suspect. His reaction to that is to work on unravelling the mystery himself. That takes him to Florence and into contact with the mafioso underworld. It is hit or miss if he’ll survive. He gets help from his brother, an investigating journalist, and his partner, an Italian photographer.
The plot abounds with twists and turns. The only downside to this engaging thriller is that Kirby wraps up the narrative in a cursory manner in the last chapter. Personally, I’d have loved it, had the ending been presented in greater detail. All the same, this novel is well worth reading.
Lucinda E Clarke, A Year in the Life of Leah Brand
Suspense with a Humorous Core
Leah Brand has a dreadful year. From her husband’s beloved dog dying, everything turns out wrong and frightening. Leah comes to doubt her sanity and with good reason. Not because she is insane or anywhere near to it. Ms Clarke shows what mental abuse can do to its victims. Throughout the story, Ms Clarke keeps a light touch and a humorous tone, which makes the suspense elements all the creepier. Recommended.
Jim Heter, The Lamia
Shapeshifting, Shamanism, a Female (Half) Goddess.
Dema Culver is a field agent for the DEA (the drug enforcement administration) – with a difference. On the surface a modern and efficient agent, underneath a vulnerable soul. The storyline puts her on the spot with wicked drug lords that don’t hold back from a kidnapping.
This is where the plot splits in two. The modern crime thriller meets an ancient race of goddesses. There are numerable half- and absolute goddesses in the myths going from the Minoan culture over Egypt and China to the Aztecs and Haiti. Sprinkle in the myth of Persephone in the guise of Dema’s sister Kore and you have a female orientated myth that spans defeat and victory in the fight between good and evil.
It was fascinating to follow how Mr Heter managed to fit together the two seemingly incongruous parts. In my opinion, the mythical parts worked better than the modern parts, as the protagonist’s scope for development appeared larger during her transformation from modern-day woman-agent to a reincarnation of an ancient goddess. All in all, a rewarding encounter with an unusual author.
Jennie Ensor, The Girl in His Eyes
A Challenging Theme, A Forceful Book
Laura, Suzanne, and Paul are stuck in a triangle of pain and lies. Their relationship and the consequences of their tangled lives are unfolded in this darkly suspenseful novel. Reading this, it becomes clear that this relationship isn’t just a three-way relationship, it is a family triangle of unhealthy proportions.
Laura is unable to hold down a job and has few friends. Her mother, Suzanne, is a grown-up child, who flees into new-age doctrines to overcome her loss of youth. Paul, the man in the house, resists facing his crimes and does his utmost to convince himself that what he does is normal. That his delusion results in damage, to a person outside the family, is the necessary consequence of his history.
Why Laura is withdrawn and insecure becomes painfully clear as the story unfolds. Why Suzanne became the wife of her husband, and why their marriage is falling apart, adds depth to the agonizing situation. Paul stays at the core of the family’s trouble. His aberration is the force behind his lies and delusions.
This is a strong and insightful unravelling of child abuse within families and without. In separate chapters, Jennie Ensor allows the three protagonists to speak for themselves, and the close third-person approach makes for compelling reading. Highly recommended.
JS Frankel, Master Fantastic
White and Black Magic
Paul is an orphan, but otherwise a normal boy. That is true, until he witnesses how a demon kills his best friend. The demons attack is so vicious that it deafens Paul.
Enter Master Fantastic. He is an elementalist and sticks to a sorcerer’s code of conduct. In his youth, he was a sorcerer’s apprentice and that caused unforeseen consequences. His former master dabbled in black magic, and that, among other problems, heaps dangers on his daughter, Myrna who is born deaf.
Master F needs a helper, preferably somebody who knows sign language. So, he takes Paul into his employ, but without revealing her history.
It turns out that Paul’s new job is unusual and his job-description inadequate. There are visits to parallel worlds, and there are unexpected dangers. Paul soon realizes that the demon he already met is his employer’s worst adversary.
This is a coming of age tale. Paul must use his practical sense and develop courage. Thus, he becomes a modern-day St George, facing a dragon – with a twist.
The characters are all well-developed and believable, from Paul’s uncle, who neglects Paul, to the demon, Hekla. As always, Frankel writes compelling and wittily, and with a nod to the mythical nature of his fantasies.
Barbara Monier, The Rocky Orchard
An In-Between Parable
We meet the protagonist, Mazie, in an old farmhouse that means everything to her. There we find the rocky orchard of the title, a kind of wasteland and perhaps a symbol of life.
Evocative and haunting, Mazie’s life unfolds. There are flashes forward and back in time, and they have a purpose. Monier reveals what it is, through Mazie’s conversations with an old lady, Lulu, who visits the farm. Mazie’s interactions with friends, with her family, including her brother, Woo, with her boyfriend, Sean, come to light in those conversations. As Lulu listens, she helps Mazie to understand and integrate her experiences. This enigmatic story about life and death will resonate with its reader for a long time.
Raymond St Elmo, The Stations of the Angels
A Literary Tempest
This is another whirlwind of an experience. You can’t call it a book or a novel. It’s an allegory. A parallel world – with all the customary members-only presented in Dadaist colours and surrealist guises. The world consists of several houses, the burning house, the ghost house, the clown house, the lion house, the mouse house, the moon house, the lighthouse the dolls’ house, the mourning house, the sewage house, the warlike house, the judging house, the dead(?) house. The central houses are the burning house, the ghost house, and the clown house. There are would-be vampires, desperate or indulgent parents, spiteful siblings, longsuffering teachers, a blind girl, a lunatic family. Most importantly, there are Clarence and Kim, as well as a handful of memorable secondary characters. In short, there’s every possible element that can make you wonder and think about the absurd theatre that we humans are so fond of staging. There’s scope for laughing too, but otherwise, this wouldn’t be one of St Elmo’s pop up worlds that let you look deep into the human soul.
The third instalment in my Espersen miniseries is a landscape. Steen was of an old Bornholm family and found a large part of his inspiration in the rocky landscapes. All thing nautical spoke to him and he spent a long time on the easternmost island group in Denmark, painting. Unfortunately, none of his oil paintings are available – not as far as I know – but I’m including a Sketch from Cristiansø.
Last night, I indulged in a film evening. Moonstruck. The script is unbelievable. The cast is stunning. The repartees, the romance, the music, everything works. Even Cage, hamming the proverbial lover, is perfect. The costumes are gorgeous, even the smallest role is perfectly filled. Love that film – and have loved it since it came out in 1987. It brought me to tears of laughter and longing. It always did. The scene in the opera is powerful, especially that scene when Cage kisses Cheer’s hand as she cries. Together with Puccini’s music, it destroys you. In a good way. Obviously. Is this just a bit of nostalgia? Yes – and no.
There’s no longing in my heart, not for the past. The longing that is there is for a dream that might be better for staying a dream. It’s a dream of love. A love that can be cherished no matter what might happen. It will always stay with me. That’s what makes me cry. The joy and the pain of that impossible dream. Impossible?
It is a dream but it’s also a reality. What more can one wish for?
A fulfilled dream is quickly gone. An unattainable dream – nobody can take it away from you. Isn’t that what we long for most of all? Something that will always stay young – because it is out of reach? The paradox is that it may not be out of reach. How does that work? Don’t know, but it is so. It is a gift that somebody gave and withheld – and keeps giving and withholding. Strange but wonderful. An enigma.
Is the reason that we’re attracted to the mystery more than to the fulfilment? It could be so. Why not? Having something – forever – can turn into boredom. Security breed ennui. Familiarity does the same. Receiving a gift that you may or may not be allowed to keep may be bittersweet, but the sweetness is stronger than the rest.
It’s a pity that one must be relatively old before it becomes clear that possession may not be the ultimate joy. That doesn’t change our longing to possess what we love. It’s a thought that came to me early. When living with my first husband, it became clear to me that our marriage couldn’t survive being too close. The moment you experience what happens when somebody obsesses about you, you know that this is the wrong path. It didn’t sink in then. It was the embryo of an idea that proves itself more convincingly the longer it stays with me.
Is it feasible to love and grow together? It may be, but it may not be possible for me. Is it a curse or a benediction? That’s a difficult question. Never mind. It’s a way of life, and it will take me somewhere. It may take me to my death, but that could be the ultimate adventure. We have no way of finding out until it comes to us.
Let’s face it. Life is not to explain. Love is too. Yet we live and love because we have no choice. Not if we want to live to the fullest. Whatever that means. It may mean something different to every man or woman or child. It’s an individual thing if ever there was an individuum. One thing is certain, we’re no worms or ants living as automatons. That is, we don’t have to be. We have every possibility and it’s our choice. Ours alone. We have the responsibility too. We must live with our choices.
To continue my miniseries of Steen Espersen’s art, my choice falls on a quirky bird. Steen had considerable humour and showed it in a series of birds. They were ‘portraits’ or caricatures of musician friends. He presented me with this, shortly after I’d joined the Group of Alternative Music, a group of mad musicians that investigated contemporary music and experimented with flux and improvisation. The group included several Danish composers. The concerts often took place in unusual venues, from boats and harbours to art galleries and the odd decommissioned church.
SS Bazinet, Open Wide My Heart Book 1, Traces of Home
Escaping Your Past Can Prove Impossible – But Can Also Be A Healing Journey.
Open wide my heart is a romance. It’s also an unusual and rousing tale of fear, violence, and how humans overcome unmeasurable challenges.
In the brooding prelude, Lea, the protagonist flees an abusive relationship, or her tortured past, only to be involved in a car crash and losing her memory. The driver, who’s a doctor takes her into his and his mother’s home. From there, Lea must find out who she is, and her journey influences everybody around her, including her own family and her fiancé, her doctor, his mother, and a psychiatrist.
SS Bazinet sets the scene and lets the characters work out their darkest fears, their secrets, and their loves. Her kaleidoscopic narrative is written in beautiful prose, one of the characteristics of her authorship. Open Wide My Heart is the first in a series, and that leaves me wondering what darkness will appear in the following instalments. Highly recommended.
JT Atkinson, Amongst Demons
Horror, Demons, Gay, Guilt, Darkness
The Darkness Within Triggers Despair
Amongst Demons is a ride on a horror rollercoaster. You don’t know if the demons are real or just a projection of guilt. Whose guilt? That remains to be seen. As a reader, you feel the hairs on your back rise: the half-world between the walls and under the floor carries you along. Is the dilapidated hospital part of a fantasy, is the funfair real or a projection of inner fears? The protagonist torments himself and you suffer with him. Be prepared to visit the deepest, darkest secrets that an individual can endure. JT Atkinson keeps the reader in suspense with a masterly plot.
Blue Lucy Revelation is an excellent read. Solid and inventive. The characters are convincing, likeable, and individual. My favourites are Puzzle and Liinka, both flamboyant and sophisticated. Another notable character is the remarkable baddy (his presence is confined to one scene) who gets hit and dies giving the reader an insight into his universe and personality. He, like everybody else, strives for what he thinks is right. That is a significant point. Who is to tell what’s right or wrong in a world that is far from faultless? At the end of the day, Blue Lucy is a moral tale that points out human flaws and how to remedy them. Greed and avarice don’t cut any ice with Tiffee Jasso. The storyline is full of surprises and keeps the reader guessing from start to end. Jasso holds together a huge cast of characters and gives each person in the gallery its distinction. There are love stories hidden at every corner, which adds to the humanity of even the aliens. What can I say? It is well worth it to dive into this version of earth, placed somewhere in our – relatively – near future.
Mark Carnelley, The Time Detective
An uncommon Killer, A Remarkable Detective
The Time Detective has a surprising concept. Meet a serial killer, a murderer with a gruesome penchant for numbers as well as a total lack of empathy. Obviously, that lack is a necessity if you want to operate on living and feeling humans only allowing them to die in the greatest agony. Meet his strongest opponent, an attractive protagonist who has some humanitarian grey zones. Both stumble across a wormhole that has its destination in the nineteen-fifties. Nobody else blunders into the past, but that could be because of the care both the protagonist and the antagonist take to be unobserved when entering the parallel world. The time warp gives both the murderer and the ‘time detective’, our protagonist, the opportunities they want. The killer uses his find to attempt to hide his crimes. The criminal investigator gets more than one use of his discovery. Apart from achieving the ability to solve the present crimes, he sees his chance to set things right in the past, which will influence many lives, without making damaging changes to the present. In a way, the ‘time detective’ creates his parallel world and uses it for all it is worth. Carnelley’s prose makes you accept the bizarre happenings and gory violence. The narrative captivated me.
Annie Whitehead, Alvar the Kingmaker
Historical fiction – At Its Best
Broad brush sweeps – a tapestry of long-forgotten times. AW’s message is that only humanity counts. The central figure attracts love and hate in equal measures through his humanity and sanity. Alvar the Kingmaker is a vivid and insightful read. A panorama of ancient times in the slowly uniting kingdom of England. Anglo Saxon heroes and power greedy clerics vie for the control of the land and the king. Strong female characters live and love without asking if they’ll win or lose. Political manoeuvring, greed, envy, and tragedies are part and parcel of the web on AW’s narrative loom. Highly recommended
Joy Ross Davies, The Witch of Blacklion
Enjoyable Paranormal Romance
Fear of Witches and folklore can mar any existence. The Witch of Blacklion is a piece of skilful writing. There is a sprawling gallery of characters to get to know. How many couples? The first one that springs to mind is the farmer and his artist wife. Number two is the doctor and his neurotic but beautiful wife. There’s the doctor’s wife’s mother (who turns out to be a designer – out of love and talent) and a bed & breakfast host. Even the angel and the shapeshifter form a relationship. Those are the main characters — and come across as likeable. Regarding drama the Lusitania and the missile springs to mind. There’s the fear of witches and the attraction to angels. Angels and Shapeshifters can fall in love with one another. People may find it difficult to cope with traumas of any kind, but love conquers all. The book isn’t especially long. There are all the gorgeous clothes. When have I encountered this many exquisite frocks? It works – and fits the genre.
A postapocalyptic scenario. A small group of survivors. Among them a girl, Amy. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that she has a past, young as she is. What that is, and what it means for her future is the mainstay in this plot. Around her, you find believable, vivid characters, human and robotic. The bots are divided between those who aim to kill all humans and those who need them. Travis Borne takes you for a sci-fi rollercoaster ride of epic dimensions. Lenders is long, and it’s violent on so many different levels. The violence has a reason, which will be revealed, but it may not be the ultimate solution. This is up to the reader to find out.
Mr Borne has insight into the current development of artificial intelligence. In his writing, he poses an important question about the danger of playing with something that can easily get out of control. No doubt, he knows about Occam’s razor, the lex parsimoniae (the law of parsimony) and uses it to point out the dangers of creating an autonomous entity, vide the artificial human. Frankenstein’s creature laughs softly in the background. Highly recommended.
Millie Thom, Pit of Vipers
A Worthy Sequel to Shadow of the Raven
York, Wessex, and Anglia beleaguered by the Danes. Eadwulf can’t forget his beloved but settles for marriage. His thirst for vengeance is not slaked, but he hasn’t much luck with his endeavours. The sequel to Shadow of the Raven follows several of the already known characters but especially focuses on Alfred (the Great). His personality develops as he grows up and must follow his brother Aethelred on the throne. The Danes mostly appear as land-greedy raiders. Their brutality is legendary, but the British match their bloodlust. Millie Thom’s writing is as compelling as in the first volume. The ending is abrupt – explosive and makes clear that there’s more to come. This is a series well worth following.
Today, my picture isn’t my painting. It’s a treasured possession, painted by a talented artist friend. Sadly, he died far too early, and his art may already be forgotten in his native Denmark. I want to pay homage to a friend, and an inspiration. A generous person, who lost his life, teaching recovering narcomaniacs to work with colours and fabric. In a shop set up by the GP, who treated my friend’s students and co-workers, Steen contracted the illness that eventually killed him.