Book Review: The Elephants’ Child

The Elephants’ Child

(Volume I in The Faraway Lands)

by M.L. Eaton

One of the first things I noticed about M.L. Eaton’s The Elephants’ Child when I initially received it, was its modest volume. This didn’t take away from what I expected it might be, but the contrast between its size and the story power packed inside becomes a delightful discovery.

elephantSet in post-Partition India, The Elephants’ Child is mostly six-year-old Melanie’s story, though told in omniscient third person with brief forays into others’ perceptions. This works well because readers are able to get a grip on what is happening in the “adult world” while remaining anchored in Melanie’s. At times Eaton chooses to blend the two beautifully, capturing a resulting understanding of where the young girl acquires some of her own thought patterns, but with her own will intact.

“Now Lakshmi was there, insisting on holding her hands to make sure she was safe: which was mostly nice but often a bit of a nuisance because Melanie wanted to run and play hide and seek in the gardens and not walk properly like a little lady.”

Melanie and her family shift from Karachi to Bombay (present-day Mumbai) when her father assumes a new position in a civil engineering project. The little girl has had to say goodbye more times than she cares to remember, including initially from her native England, and has a difficult time adjusting. Moreover, she tries to reconcile grown-up behavior—“Adults were such peculiar things: they pretended nearly all the time”—with their words, an endeavor she finds utterly confounding. A poised and intelligent girl, however, she draws her own conclusions, including when to trust they were indeed telling the truth, evoking her very early childhood when her father introduced her to the peculiar elephants and promised they were real.

With a natural affinity for animals, Melanie develops particular fondness for the huge, grey creatures at the Hanging Gardens, where her new ayah takes her. Over some time her patience and the elephant mother’s trust develop and the bond between creatures and human solidifies. Melanie experiences an awakening, with an attending greater happiness, as well as a unity in spirit with the elephants.

ganeshaThis coincides with the illness and scheduled surgery of Elizabeth, Melanie’s mother, and the young girl’s fears for her mother play out in dreams of elephants and their deaths. She herself experiences a setback and her ayah, Lakshmi, immerses her more deeply into the culture by teaching her about the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, who removes obstacles, including those within. She instructs her in the mantra, Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha, an appeal to the god, though later worries what the memsahib will think of this.

Through the book Eaton weaves a theme of unity, her skill often apparent given the seeming opposites she is joining together: humans and animals, sadness and joy, a child in an adult world, the meeting of mono- and polytheistic cultures. It is even more telling of her talent that she accomplishes the feat without any person or creature having to compromise who they are.

Another technique that stands out to great effect is Eaton’s ability to utilize descriptive language in a way that awakens readers’ senses as she lays out any given scene. Perhaps the best example is one that introduces Melanie herself to her new home via the Gateway to India:

“Ahead of them stretched a magnificent panorama. The sapphire sea filled the wide deep bay of the natural harbour, framed by the lush green of the mountains on the mainland. The harbour itself was studded with islands, like precious stones of emerald and jasper in a sea of liquid lapis lazuli, a shimmering deep blue flecked with gold and dotted with white diamonds—the sails of innumerable small craft skipping across the sea’s sparkling surface.”

"The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe"--the Hanging Gardens' depiction of the shoe as discussed by Melanie (click image)
“The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe”–the Hanging Gardens’ depiction of the shoe as discussed by Melanie (click image)

In just over 100 pages, Eaton composes a small treasure of words, woven into a portrait taking us back to a time when, indeed, all was not perfectly wed, but where the willing could find some unity in their surroundings and take with them remembered pieces of a land that, because it in part grew them, becomes part of their soul. This is the case for Melanie, despite her struggles as laid out so poignantly by the author.

It is also the sort of book that beckons for a re-read and, I suspect, will reveal an additional something every time. Each discovery of the memoir contained within will glisten in readers’ own memories as they reach for the stories, not unlike digging into Mary Poppins’s small but deeply-packed bag of rich treasures brought out to enchant and unify purpose, being and wonder. Presented with simplicity, but certainly not simple, no matter readers’ ages, genre preferences or unfamiliarity with the content, it is a precious and timeless keepsake for any bookshelf.

*********

Marion L. Eaton writes of herself…

m-r-portraits-30.07.06-006-e1420983460966I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. But Life intervened and I only managed to complete my first novel when I was over sixty.

My first career (as a lawyer) began in the nineteen seventies when there were very few women in the legal profession of England and Wales, and the dice tended to be loaded against them! My first small office on Romney Marsh eventually extended until, after a number of changes, amalgamations and growth it evolved into one of the top 100 legal firms in England and Wales.

My second career (in complementary health) began in 1994 when I qualified as a professional aromatherapist and also became a Usui Reiki Master Teacher. Over the years I have taught Reiki to hundreds of students. With my husband, also a lawyer, I ran a complementary health clinic in the Old Town of Hastings, East Sussex for several years.

All forms of holistic health interest me but it is energy healing, in all its various facets and forms, which I find most fascinating and from which I can never quite retire.

You can learn more about M.L. Eaton at her website or Amazon author page. The Elephants’ Child and her other works, some of which include When the Clocks Stopped (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner), Norfolk Twilight and The Lion Mountains, can be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK.

*********

Stay tuned for my review of When the Tide Turned!

*********

A review copy was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

*********

 

Advertisements

Book Review: Force 12 in German Bight

Force 12 in German Bight

By James Boschert

It is widely known that through history proximity to water has always been a top priority, even when marine access near where settlements occurred gives way to roaring oceans and seas with conditions so brutal and unforgiving that we marvel at how anyone had the fortitude to face them at all.

force 12The North Sea in particular, containing the world’s busiest shipping lanes, has never been known for its placid nature; even a brief query into logs and records reveals a long history of casualties of her rage—and not just sailors and other seafarers. In 1362, the Danish duchy of Schleswig lost an entire city when Grote Manndränke (“Great Drowning of Men”), gale-induced flooding, swept in from the sea, killing at least 25,000 people and dragging Rungheldt, and everything within, out to a watery grave. It is said that the city’s church bells can still be heard ringing in the area on stormy nights.

The forces that stir the waters are measured by what is known as the Beaufort scale, a system developed by Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, which relates wind speed and conditions of the sea into a standardized measure. Evolving over time to adapt to technology and land observations, the scale tops out at Force 12.

Within this setting author James Boschert sets the main events of Force 12 in German Bight, though the book opens with a hideous death on land, at London’s Paddington Station, where an electric train grinds to a halt and runs over the body of a man thought to have jumped in its path. Detective Inspector Steven Greenfield picks up the case, quickly determining the man was murdered before his body hit the rails, setting off a series of links that eventually take readers out to sea, embarking upon an odyssey none of our literary shipmates could ever have imagined.

Following a few scenes that introduce other characters to the novel, Boschert cleverly moves us out to sea, commencing our journey as a group of barge workers embark on their own latest dredging foray under the turbulent waters of the North Sea. Equally skillfully, the author sets the stage for later events and how the setting interacts with the characters and our own absorption of how it all unfolds:

“Patrick wanted to get off the deck quickly; he didn’t want to get in the way of one of the fifty ton cranes, which rumbled about on the wide, wooden-clad steel deck like huge dinosaurs, lifting cargo off the back deck of the tug, and swinging it up onto the larger vessel. Unless one knew what was going on, the upper deck of the barge was a dangerous place to loiter.”

One of a group of hard-living men who curse the isolation of their rough work space, Patrick spends some time re-acquainting with his cabin mate and socializing at a clandestine welcome-back party before assuming his night shift. Within these scenes Boschert simultaneously and seamlessly instructs and informs the reader of barge operations, various billets and the mechanism of constant breakdowns the vessel endures. He pulls the technique off expertly, and I was drawn in by the dialogue as it ran smoothly along it course, without a hint that it was actually pulling this double duty.

German Bight shown to the east of the United Kingdom, near the German and Danish coasts, by NOAA (click image)

Some new readers may be tempted to cast Force 12 in German Bight as a “guy book,” given its setting, nearly-all-male cast and the male-oriented industrial lingo; this would be a grave mistake. The dialogue’s liquidity, soundness and intrigue drew me in to such a degree I found myself looking into certain terms—servo motors, gyroscope, winch room, for example—in order to place myself even more closely within the events of the story than I already was. This is a measure of how closely I wanted to align myself with these characters, drawn with such authenticity that I sought to know their world on the deepest level possible.

Finding myself gripping the book at times, I could indeed smell the sea air, feel the heavy diesel stink in my nostrils, hear the thunder of the machinery, visualize the droplets of sea shooting into the air, then pounding back down as people shouted at each other to be heard, while their movements compensated for the rise and fall of the waves that tossed their barge up and down with them.

Making his rounds that evening, Patrick discovers a dead body, the American Charlie, whose head wounds seem to indicate murder. He guardedly summons a comrade called Skillet and from here on out he and the men who gather around him are locked in a battle for the barge as well as their lives. Not only is an unknown murderer on board, but he is also part of a planned piracy excursion using the Cherokee as a go-between.

Beaufort Force 12 at a wind speed of 64 knots (118 kilometres per hour) or more. Huge waves; the sea is completely white with foam and spray. Air is filled with driving spray, greatly reducing visibility. By NOAA (click image)

Given their location in the North Sea, an area in Danish territorial waters called German Bight, a region most prone to vicious storms, the Danish police are called in and here we meet Detective Inspector Erland Knudson and Assistant Detective Hedi Iverson. Boschert’s portrayal of these characters is so spot on it might be difficult to believe they are fictional. Knudson is smooth but realistically imperfect as he lets his subordinate take the lead to utilize the skills he’d seen her demonstrate before.

While the plot moves forward and the onboard, at-sea investigation evolves into a deadly game of cat and mouse, Iverson occasionally betrays her anxiety at her foray into what is typically male territory, but without losing either her credibility as a strong female detective or her dignity. Boschert has no need for a token female and Iverson never regresses into being one. She had assumed masks as all police do, but she’d never claimed to be anyone other than who she was. This unpretentious role will indeed attract more female readers, but with an endurance that goes far beyond the mere appearance of a woman character.

As events unfold, more information is divulged to readers than Patrick and his group as they stealthily aim to take back their barge and bring it to safety. At some intervals Patrick stumbles upon information that enables him to catch up to us, or at least get closer, though he has a few tricks up his sleeve as well, performances carried out while we are taken elsewhere or as we look away.

Forced up against the pirates’ superior position as well as their determination to carry out their nefarious plans, Patrick and the others must utilize their previous hard-living habits, not anymore as façade, but virtually a lifeline.

Ruthless, anonymous pirates aren’t the only challenge Patrick faces as the storms outside batter away at their “rust bucket”; radio communications are poor to non-existent and conditions in the German Bight become truly fearsome.

“German Bight. Wind: south nine to ten, backing ten to gale eleven, perhaps severe gale twelve later in the day. Seas: rough with waves in excess of forty-five [feet] or more. Rain: squalls and storms, possible hail. Visibility: low to poor.”

It is in conditions such as these, with horrific death beckoning from just over the rail, that sailors’ superstition can arise, especially given the understanding these men have of the sea, a most unforgiving mistress. They would certainly have known of the lands previously turned into islands, coasts broken to bits and a city such as Rungheldt, swept in its entirely under the sea by the Grote Manndränke all those years ago, though by no means had that been the last casualty.

“The hair on [Patrick’s] neck began to rise and he felt a cold chill pass through him, because what he saw was a ship. Not a modern steam ship, but a sailing ship of pure white with all sails set, and it came straight at them. Shit! “The Flying Dutchman”!

 The ship flew towards them in eerie silence while he clutched the rails. He remembered what the legend said: The Flying Dutchman was a portent of disaster for ships and sailors who beheld it in a storm, for when they did their ship was in grave peril and would go down with all hands.”

As he and others battle with pirates as well as their own fear—of natural forces and human agents of evil—contact with land authorities is sporadic as those back in London become aware of certain activities, though not necessarily the connections between them all. Boschert knows exactly how to spin a yarn and draw gasps from readers who will find themselves unable to lay the book down. Throughout history the sea has captivated many, and Boschert effortlessly uses its allure to reel us in with a thrilling tale that ranks along with the very best in the industry. Readers will thrill, marvel, sweat and cheer as a delicate balance of anticipating and acting must be undertaken, and there are no second chances.

For book lovers of all genres, Force 12 in German Bight is a top-notch thriller that will take you to a world you may or may not know. Its gripping narrative will hurl you around with the storm as you follow the characters in their aim to best those who would destroy them first.

*********

JamesBoschertSmallIconJames Boschert’s unique biography has provided him with an in-depth knowledge of his novels’ subjects. He grew up in the colony of Malaya in the early fifties during the turmoil of a Chinese Communist insurgency. He joined the British Army at fifteen, and from eighteen to twenty-two fought in the jungle wars in Borneo and Malaysia. Afterwards, Boschert lived in the Middle East, serving in countries such as Oman, Lebanon, Israel, and finally Iran where he worked with the Shah Pahlavi’s army. When the 1978 revolution overturned the Shah, Boschert negotiated a perilous escape from Iran, returning safely to the United Kingdom.

As a civilian, Boschert has worked as an engineer on a tanker in the North Sea and as optical engineer involved in the development of laser telescopes at the National Ignition Facility in Lawrence Livermore, California.

James Boschert is the author of the popular Talon Series. Set in twelfth-century Palestine, Talon‘s adventures include: Assassins of Alamut; Knight Assassin; Assassination in Al-Qahirah; Greek Fire; and A Falcon Flies. Boschert has also written When the Jungle is Silent, a novel about the 1960s jungle wars in Malaysia.

You can learn more about Boschert and his books at his website or Facebook. Force 12 in German Bight and all of the author’s books are available for purchase at Penmore Press.

*********

The reviewer received a free copy of Force 12 in German Bight in exchange for an honest review.

*********

This post was updated to include reviewer’s notation about copy acquisition.

*********

Book Review: Serpents in the Garden

Serpents in the Garden (Book V in The Graham Saga)
by Anna Belfrage

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Alexandra Lind in 2002 was living an ordinary Edinburgh life—well, as ordinary as could be with her family background and recent experiences. On her way through a freak thunderstorm and driving rain, Alex hits a crossroads, cursing the luxury car that would no longer work. Shortly thereafter she is catapulted into another world or, more accurately, another era, having been driven through a rip in the veil dividing time. She is now in 1658 Scotland and meets up with Matthew Graham, whom she inexplicably falls in love with, and decides to spend her eternity with him. Her decision is so firm she fights tooth and nail to stay when the frightening passageway between the worlds once again yawns open.

serpentsSince A Rip in the Veil Alex and Matthew have birthed and raised—and lost—children, created and nurtured a home, resisted religious bigotry and official persecution, and eventually settled in the Maryland colony with an aim towards a free and meaningful future for themselves and their children. There are haunting memories of this place, too, and Belfrage adds more historical detail via interaction between the Grahams and local Natives, particularly their chief, Qaachow, whose wife and infant son Alex had once saved, resulting in a shield of protection for their homestead.

This guardianship is sorely necessary, unfortunately, given the visits from the militia and frighteningly close and frequent contact with the band of Burley brothers, who themselves are a study in unflagging determination. They frequently raid for slaves, have absconded with Native and settler women alike and are bent upon revenge for Matthew’s role in their youngest brother’s death.

True to real life, the Grahams always seem to move from one set of complicated circumstances to the next, and Serpents in the Garden opens with their son Jacob’s abandonment of his apprenticeship as well as his handfasted wife. It doesn’t take long for Belfrage’s succinct manner and way with words to make itself known. As the parents discuss their son’s foolishness and rationale, a short exchange links the two eras—for the Grahams as well as readers—in understanding how teenagers can be so imprudent.

“The day I get hold of Jacob Graham I’m going to chew his ear off,” Alex said as she went about the room, hanging up [Matthew’s] clothes. “What was he thinking of?”

“You mean thinking with, and you know the answer to that as well as I do.”

“Do you really think that’s all it was?”

“He’s not yet sixteen and aye, he’s a lad of much heart – we both know that[….] Jacob has known for several months that he and Betty were to wed eventually, and there’s a fondness between them. He wouldn’t have done it unless he cared for her. Unfortunately, he didn’t care enough for her not to.”

“Or he was too young to understand that.”

“Aye, not quite sixteen is a wee bit too young.”

As the tile and opening suggest, betrayal is a theme throughout this particular installment, and it and its “promises” come in various waves and formats. Jacob’s naïve actions have consequences for the girl he has left behind, and as his parents scramble to right the situation as best they can, they both dip into an old betrayal involving Matthew’s brother Luke, and experience smaller ones between themselves and within their community. Amidst all this treachery large and small is the threat of duplicity that hangs over the family, a menace made all the more confusing to Alex given its presentation as well as the manner in which it weaves in and out of the fabric of her family’s life, threatening to destroy them.

Qaachow, the Indian chief, comes to remind the Grahams of his dedication to repaying the blessing he has received from them by bringing their own boy, Samuel, into his camp when the child comes of a certain age. Alex sees no way in which this could possibly represent gratitude, for it separates mother and child, but by its nature would also force the impressionable young boy to unwillingly and unwittingly betray his own family by bonding with another, as well as their way of life. The actual serpents Alex had been battling in her garden come to life in the form of Qaachow, because unlike other betrayals, which to her are clear and discernable, this one works by stealth, cunning in its deception, promoting what she sees as evil as good, rationalizing his future deed with words she tries to dismiss as ideas that will be forgotten.

ripThe Grahams, however, do have extremely solid bonds of their own, amongst which lives a love that surpasses old treacheries, insecurities and uncertainties. Alex loves her oldest child—technically her stepson—with a fierceness he has been aware of since he was very young, and returns it in equal measure. Even Ian’s paternal line can technically be questioned, given his biological mother’s marriage to Luke directly after her divorce from Matthew—an old betrayal that might have caused the young man to question his loyalties had he not loved Matthew and Alex so much.

The intensity of this love and understanding amongst the family because of it—in truth they also all love each other fiercely—leads Matthew to divulge some identity secrets to Ian about Alex and when Belfrage brings another Graham brother home, he references an event that would have killed Ian had Alex not saved his life:

“Does it hurt much?” Daniel asked as they made their way back down.

“Aye.” Ian turned to face him and in his unshielded gaze Daniel saw just how much it hurt, and what effort went into concealing it. “But I could have been dead[.]”

“That would have killed her.”

“Who? Betty?” Ian gave a little smile.

Daniel gave his head an irritated shake. “Mama, of course.”

“Mama?” Ian sounded very surprised.

“She loves you best. We all know that.” Daniel smiled at the dumbfounded expression on his brother’s face. “We don’t mind, aye? And she can’t help it, can she?”

Ian cleared his throat, looking like quite the daftie with his mouth hanging open.

Daniel grinned and went to find Ruth.

Through all this Belfrage continues to portray the family as the real people readers will see and identify with. Their time is not our own, though some struggles can be understood and all the historical events appreciated, both from having learned about them on a broader scale and now for reading how they affected an individual—albeit fictional—family. She enables us to travel history with Alex as she lives a 17th century life with 20th century memories. The author then widens the spectrum—pointing towards the next in the series—and the cast of characters naturally expands as their lives grow bigger and the children move into adulthood and circles of their own. Belfrage handles it all seamlessly, creating stories within the story that will leave readers hungry for more.

There also are a number of seductions here and for readers new to The Graham Saga, Serpents in the Garden will present a complicated story they can sink their teeth into, for it certainly can be read as a stand-alone novel. Belfrage provides enough action and development in each of the series’ books that such satisfaction can occur, and always provides background information. Having said that, readers should know that as they come to this fifth in the series, they are very likely to end it having experienced their own seduction, one that will lead them back to A Rip in the Veil. Alex is a sympathetic character and brings her own identity into the mix, and her creator deftly weaves us into the story, us wanting to carry on as she prepares to tell us more in this award-winning series.

“I love you, too,” she breathed against his skin. “I always have, and always will.”

“Always?” His fingers brushed through her hair.

“Since before I was born,” she replied, giggling at her own jest.

*********

Read my review for A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga)

Read my review for Like Chaff in the Wind (Book II in The Graham Saga)

Read my review for The Prodigal Son (Book III in The Graham Saga) (with author interview)

Read my review for A Newfound Land (Book IV in The Graham Saga)

*********

Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Twitter and Facebook. You can also learn more about Belfrage, her characters and her world at her website and blog, which also contain details about her just-launched series, beginning with In the Shadow of the Storm. (And watch for more mention of Belfrage’s newest novel here at Before the Second Sleep!)

*********

This post previously appeared in 2015 on the blog’s alternative location.