Book Review: Hysterical Love

Hysterical Love by Lorraine Devon Wilke

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

When I first picked up Lorraine Devon Wilke’s Hysterical Love, it was with anticipation, a muted sort of joy, not unlike that of a child anticipating a delicious treat or new toy. I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed Devon Wilke’s debut novel After the Sucker Punch and was very ready to dive into this one.

hysterical loveDan McDowell opens the novel, telling his readers he is “flummoxed” by relationships—not that this is so odd, but he was sure by now, at age 33, he’d be a bit past that phase. His bewildered recounting of what had just happened to him gave not only a promising opening to what looked to be a great yarn, but was also, well, so on target. It read, as I delivered the opening paragraphs aloud—reading aloud being a frequent habit—in a very male manner. It sounded like a man would say this, as opposed to the way a female author might write what she wants a male character to be expressing.

In this case, Dan is still a little confused as to how he ends up camped out in his neighbor’s spare bedroom, when just an hour or so before he and his longtime girlfriend had been setting a wedding date and Jane became Dan’s fiancée, at least for that hour. The long and the short is this: Jane muses aloud on the passage of time, she can’t believe it’s been three years of exclusivity, and…a split-second eye avert on Dan’s part and it’s all over. “I am the only person you’ve been with since we met, right?”

Something else about that male thing: Devon Wilke has got it down. Having read her before, I knew she was adept at writing a protagonist who is fast on her feet, articulate and can be sharp—the unifying trait being she wraps all points together and responds in full and succinctly. But that is a female character. How would the skills of her creator be utilized to mold a male type who didn’t merely change costumes for a different book?

The answers came as I continued to read—and laugh. As Dan relates his tale to us, his speech reveals who he is: “[S]omehow, despite amazingly good behavior on everyone’s parts, and often against the nature of all parties involved, someone in the room pulls the pin.” Like Tess’s, his remarks are witty, but closer to the nature of male metaphorical speech and the types of symbolism men tend to engage.


In Hysterical Love, Devon Wilke

has once more created a cast

of characters we want to know.


As Dan continues his narrative, his own commentary within the script, his hindsight enables him to recognize what he’s done wrong, and trigger phrases that just don’t go down well with the opposite sex: “Technically,” “What’s the big deal?” and a hilarious transition phrase that cues us into the impending shit storm: “The temperature drop is like the girl’s room in The Exorcist.”

As it turns out, Dan had been with his previous girlfriend after he’d met (and slept with) Jane, his defense being that he and Jane hadn’t verbally or officially committed to an exclusive relationship. From Jane’s point of view, just having slept together constitutes the commitment, and she isn’t having any of his excuses.

At this point I was no longer the least bit curious about a female author writing from a first- person male protagonist perspective. It was Dan speaking.

Not long after, Dan’s sister Lucy and he have a series of conversations pertaining to their father, who has recently fallen ill, and the concept of whether Jane truly is Dan’s “soul mate.” Lucy reveals the existence of a short story their father had written before their parents’ marriage, about a woman he’d had an impassioned affair with, a revelation startling Dan enough to spark questions such as, “Do you suppose there’s a genetic component to being crappy with relationships?”

The sarcastic question is two-pronged. The father he knows is impatient, unsentimental and underwhelmed with just about everything, “all of which combine to make his previous self impossible to reconcile with who he is now.”

Like Hysterical Love, After the Sucker Punch is also a winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion (click image)
Like Hysterical Love, After the Sucker Punch is also a winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion (click image)

But Dan also, following Lucy’s train of thought within her ongoing advice to him, begins to contemplate the idea that this woman, “Barbara from Oakland,” might really have been the one his father was meant for. Could that explain the deterioration of his father’s previous creativity and passion, and poor relationship with the family he does have? Moreover, what might this bode for Dan and Jane? Was their disastrous argument meant to steer Dan to his true soul mate? In order to seek answers, Dan concludes he must find Barbara. In so doing, he befriends Fiona, a waitress and herbal pharmacist who soon becomes partner in his “vision quest.”

Through this Dan continues to have contact with his daily life, such as phone conversations with his sister who is, unsurprisingly, angry with his disappearing act. The heated conversations are slightly reminiscent of those between After the Sucker Punch’s Tess and her own sister, and though Dan answers back in self-defense, he carries a greater restraint; he holds back more often, perhaps having quickly absorbed a lesson learned from his unthought out answers during the engagement-ending skirmish with Jane. In his subsequent reflections he assesses himself in a straight forward, honest manner. His commentary is pithy and on-target, and he doesn’t discount what others say to or about him. In Dan McDowell, Devon Wilke has created a character eager to grow and learn, but one nevertheless subject to the shifting of mood or whim. He is well balanced, but as in need of growth as any of the rest of us.

Devon Wilke is also an astute observer of human behavior, and there were frequent bouts of laughter on my part or murmured “Mmm hmm” upon recognition of the comically familiar. At one point Dan bemoans his own supposed blandness during a photography gig as his clients engage in what most of us either are guilty of or have run up against ourselves:

“On this particular day I’d come from a job … shooting women in pantsuits and men in navy blazers who chattered nonstop in that weird business school jargon that makes my teeth grind: ‘adoptive processes,’ ‘aggressive mediocrity,’ ‘burning platforms,’ and so on. My simple statements like, ‘Please stand near the window,’ sounded witless by comparison.”

 There also are moments when characters’ great sense of humor cuts in unexpectedly and belly laughter in the midst of a serious discussion ensues—and not just because of what was said but also who says it. During a passage of necessary berating by Bob, gay owner of the spare room and longtime friend, Dan experiences an aha moment.

“Do not start with this time/space crap. You’re not twelve, buddy, and you’ve only got me [covering him at work] for two more days. So go find her, ask your questions, and git on home. Simple.”

 Suddenly it all burst from me like a tumultuous dam of repressed … tumult. “I met this girl, Bob, this warm, gorgeous, generous girl, who gave me tea and herbs and let me tell her the whole story without one snide comment. She had a computer that saved my life, she helped me find the gazebo, her house is full of dried flowers and herbs, and her butch roommate is apparently a masseuse nonpareil. I think she might be my soul mate.” Deep breath.

 “The butch roommate?”

 “No, fool, Fiona.”

 “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a straight person use the word ‘nonpareil’ before.”

 “Fiona said it and trust me, she’s a very straight person.”

 “Okaaaay ….”

 “I mean … Fiona. Even her name is special. Have you ever heard a more poetic name?”

“I’m not going to mention that you now sound even gayer than your last statement, but let’s get real: there are plenty of Fionas out there since Shrek, my friend.”

It is in ways such as this that the author makes writing about emotion, or the path to various realizations, seem so easy. Her prose fits so well amongst its own various parts, as well as with what readers know as reality, and her dialogue wastes not a single word. Smooth and accessible, it all nevertheless delves deep into the human psyche to mine the best pieces of the self to face the circumstances placed before her protagonist, even as he necessarily stumbles in the process.

I also must say, I really do appreciate Devon Wilke’s treatment of her characters, in particular Dan, who could easily have been written as either a jerk or a male with unrealistically feminine character traits, two stereotypes that in today’s world are leaned on heavily enough it damages relations. I don’t know for sure, but my guess would be that most men in reality are like Dan, somewhere in between, and although they may not always be understood by their partners, their perspectives matter.

“Jane, it may be clumsy, the way I’m putting all this, but it’s what I’m actually going through, what I’m feeling, and I don’t know how else to say it.”

Although Jane snidely responds with, “Oh what you’re feeling, what you’re going through[,]” she, too, by virtue of her dialogue and circumstance, is required to face the caricatures many women unwittingly promote by latching on to the idea that men remain unaffected by events. She is like any other individual who has her lesser moments, but she is a thoughtful, caring person as well. Devon Wilke gives her voice and Jane uses it to show a balance that exists within ourselves, when we have the wherewithal and courage to reveal it, as well as within others with whom we share the world.

In Hysterical Love, Devon Wilke has once more created a cast of characters we want to know, in a compelling exploration of life and love, what it means to be part of something greater, such as a family or romantic relationship, and considers exactly how effective it is to philosophize on any given level, especially where human emotion is concerned. None of these characters know their future, and one of the best parts of reading the novel is that neither do we. Unlike many books in which easy predictions prove correct, this tale is not so easy to foretell. I loved the suspense created when I wondered how far Dan and Fiona’s friendship might go. Do they start something and then he realizes he has to return to Jane? Or do they recognize what they have and start a new life together? Will his father recover? Do his parents’ and family’s relationship take a turn toward a new road? Articulated or not, these are questions that arise and the reality is, as in life, it all could go either way, and making one’s way into and through adulthood is part of the process. It enables us to recognize the privilege of sharing Dan’s story all the way through before learning the outcome.

As literary/realistic fiction, Hysterical Love will also delight readers of such genres as romance, romantic comedy, or fiction and non-fiction dealing with questions of love, family, fate and interpersonal relationships. A deliciously fair sized novel, it is a joy to read and impossible to lay down.

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About the author…

devon wilke book signingAuthor, photographer, singer/songwriter Lorraine Devon Wilke brings the sum total of her creative experience to all her work, including her compelling contemporary fiction. Pulling from every chapter of her eclectic background, she creates characters and plots that are both unique and recognizable, with dialogue that jumps off the page. Additionally, her book covers are designed with her own photography, and her debut novel, After the Sucker Punch, includes a free download of one of her recorded songs.

A longtime contributor to The Huffington Post, the trademark “sass and sensibility” she puts into her journalistic essays also infuses her fiction. Using wit and candor to explore provocative themes of family, faith, love, or tragedy, her stories always embrace an elemental mix of heart and soul.

Currently working on her third novel, both After the Sucker Punch and Hysterical Love are available in print and ebook via Amazon. Her extensive photography collection can be viewed and purchased at Fine Art America; she entertains readers with cultural commentary and updates her creative adventures at her blog, Rock+Paper+Music. On the music front, she continues to write and record whenever she can, and has recently been cast in new rock musical set to debut in San Diego, California, in early 2017.

Devon Wilke can be contacted here, and all links to her work are available via her website.

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See my review for After the Sucker Punch here.

The blogger was provided with a free copy of Hysterical Love in exchange for an honest review.

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Images courtesy Lorraine Devon Wilke.

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Book Review: Savior

Savior by Martha Kennedy

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

savior-2-edition-coverSavior is Martha Kennedy’s poignant tale of Rudolf and his brother Conrad, inhabitants of thirteenth-century Zürich and a society immersed in religion and warfare. Rudolf suffers from depression, a condition he is counseled comes from Satan and can be eradicated in a fight to save the world from such sin. A local priest explains that with Jerusalem once more in the hands of the infidel, who “wasted no time in desecrating the holy sites and persecuting Christians living within its walls,” fighting these invaders would help to expiate sin and contribute to his salvation.

Kennedy opens Savior with a quote from St. Augustine that reflects Rudolf’s state of mind—“I bore a shattered and bleeding soul,” it reads in part—and a downpour reflecting the emotion, as if nature herself was as anguished. No amount of service to travelers escaping the downpour, or joy in his fiancée, Gretchen, eases Rudolf’s internal torture.

Conrad, on the other hand, is restless and though negative about Gretchen or some content of the minnesingers’ songs, sees a bright future elsewhere, such as under the tutelage of a knight, who could teach him the rules of chivalry. He longs to see the reality behind the travelers’ wonderful stories, so filled with the strange and faraway, the wild and brave. One could easily imagine Conrad delighting in The Travels of Sir John Mandeville had he known of even the outlandish within the travelogue, yet to be published.

Thus begins Rudolf’s aim to join the latest Crusade, following his own examination on the roots of his torment, and Conrad’s in his quest for adventure and something beyond the confines of the Longfields’ estate and his father’s goal for him, to serve his brother as a stable hand.

Image from first edition cover: Herzog von Anhalt from Codex Manesse (Wikimedia Commons)

As the boys prepare to leave, Kennedy alternates between Rudolf and Conrad and their conversations with those who seek to dissuade them. Through expressive, sometimes heartbreaking, dialogue readers are given an internal view to the opposing motivations of each to make the dangerous journey, the same their father had made in his own youth, and which had driven their mother close to the brink: Rudolf, to rid himself of feeling suffocated by the presence of evil, Conrad to “be[come] the hero of his own romance.”

One of the first features I noticed in Savior was the manner in which Kennedy brings to life not only her characters, but also the emotion swirling through so many scenes, while simultaneously managing its effect and keeping it out of the realm of the overwhelming. Readers feel each mood as it hovers, and the author consummately provides the history that we need to know behind each person’s perception.

Despite their opposing motivation both Rudolf and Conrad search for self, and the dialogue, whether between the brothers or one of them and a supporting character, reflects this intuitively. It is as if Kennedy overheard and recorded real conversations rather than created ones that sought to speak from distinct perspectives.

Character growth in Savior is depicted beautifully, largely utilizing the author’s dialogue expertise but also the internal discourse of several characters, including that which plagues and then begins to inform Rudolf as he faces the terrible reality of war, and the now-porous walls of his depressive prison. While his understanding is not exactly as he thought it might be, there is a greater openness to his examination that questions circumstances while retaining the devotion he had always known.

Kennedy wisely allows Rudolf to be the thirteenth-century man he is rather than forcing on him either genuine modern sensibilities or political correctness, while truthfully opening his understanding to the political machinations that had made their way into bonafide belief. The changes wrought by invasion and crusading alters his individual world and eventually society as a whole, and the pain of that transition is felt in Rudolf’s experiences.

Through the current trendiness of Christianity bashing in our own time, it would be easy to label Savior as an indictment of the religion given its early misdirection. While Kennedy does not pull her punches in illuminating the misdeeds of those who abused power and manipulated religiosity, she does also address human failure to recognize the beauty Rudolf’s God desires for him, and how ignorance is the main driver behind misinformation treated as the nature of God.

“Brother Youhanna, did those priests lie when they said my sins would be forgiven if I came to fight the infidel?”

 “Lying? No, yet I doubt they spoke the truth. They spoke from their beliefs, in the limits of their understanding, but Truth is not carried on the edge of a sword.

 “But if the Holy Father in Rome told them, would it not be the truth?”

 Youhanna shrugged.

 Rudolf never imagined the Holy Father could speak anything other than the truth. “What then?”

 “Confusion. Desire. Blindness. Anger. No one is free.”

As historical fiction the novel is top notch. Kennedy brings readers to the brutal Battle of La Forbie where injections of stark prose match what lay out in front of the arriving fighters: too few of them—the Hospitaller leader looks at them “thinking only that they had come to die”—horrendous confidence-destroying heat—shedding layers of protection one at a time, eventually succumbing grievously to, “Who cared if a sniper’s arrow picked them off? They were in Hell now. Death would bring Heaven”—and locals trying to “redeem themselves for the crime of survival.”

From their position on the coast to de Brienne’s impatient and premature strike from a disadvantageous terrain, Kennedy remains true to historic events, smoothly writing in both Conrad and Rudolf’s places in and before the battle. Rudolf experiences a watershed moment, flawlessly written into a scene leading to the moments both he and the fighters have been waiting for. A bridge in the novel, it is filled with an array of memories, sensations, activities and song of the minnesinger, and displays an achingly beautiful passage of time both ghastly and poetic, a combination not often seen done, even less often done as well as it is here.

While Savior is a work of historical fiction set in a time when religion was a way of life and not just part of it, it also is a coming-of-age story, though related within a cultural milieu so different to many of the same stories of today. This is not a Vietnam, or a coming to grips with gruesome urban events, and though it retains the spiritual with its mood and prodigal son angle, it opens itself to readers in its search for truth, an age-old quest, even while appearing in some ways so foreign to what many readers will know, such as medieval attitudes toward mental illness. It is also a book audiences will want to read again and again, it being easily recognizable as one with layers that often reveal themselves upon subsequent visitations, which I highly recommend.

Monk beating Satan (Wikimedia Commons)
Monk beating Satan (Wikimedia Commons)

About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Martha KennedyHer third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. For many years she lived in the San Diego area,but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

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Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her websiteFacebookAmazonGoodreads, Twitter, or her Savior blog  and Facebook pages.

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The blogger was furnished with a free copy of Savior in exchange for an honest review.

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Photos courtesy of and provided by the author.

Book Review: The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont)

Tales From a Revolution: Vermont

The Prize

by Lars D.H. Hedbor

prizeOne thing I like best in the world is the ordinary. While fascinated with history and, indeed, some of the figures who played pivotal roles in certain events, I know too there were others whose parts, even when as witness alone, are precious in the memory of our nation. Imagine if others whose lives we know little about had somehow been able to record (or have recorded) events as they saw and lived them—imagine the greater understanding we would have of their time, how much closer we could be to those who came before.

Lars D.H. Hedbor captures the possibility of these moments in his Tales From a Revolution series, the first of which, The Prize, is set in Vermont and told from the point of view of Caleb, a boy on the cusp of manhood at a time when his colony is about to engage in open warfare against the British as the American Revolution is accelerating.

Though young, Caleb is savvy enough to understand the politics of events in his time, and the author presents American grievances succinctly as the book opens with the young man musing on current events and what led to them. Hedbor also layers the plot with familial conflict and distrust of a particular neighbor whose history we learn in bits over time, and why it matters to his neighbors and the revolution itself. These layers are threaded together so seamlessly that the effects in terms of relationships and lateral consequences play out smoothly and effectively as the narrative progresses.

Curiously, many today have forgotten or never knew that not all colonists were in total agreement with the shift away from British control. In fact, the rebels were in the minority and in some cases households divided. Hedbor illustrates this in part when Polly, Caleb’s mother, rows with her husband over his service with Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys. Her family history haunts her, but her husband refuses to back down, citing the cost that always arises following submissive retreat.

“I’ll take no foolish chances, Polly. But I do not think it meet to stand idly by while my sons can manage the farm, and my service is needed […] I know this is hard … war always is. But peace purchased at the cost of capitulation is harder still.”

At just 187 pages, The Prize is a brief read, but Hedbor packs into it a fleet of detail about those living during the birth of a modern-day local Vermont legend of attempted trickery against the British, swiftly utilizing every sentence to provide historical and background information, simultaneously keeping the narrative on track. As in the dialogue quoted above, the author inserts period vocabulary to bring authenticity to characters’ speech, though sparingly enough to avoid affectation.

He also manages to bring readers into the story not only with his magnificently descriptive passages—

“There was the sour-sweet smell of rum and applejack, as well as the leathery aroma of tobacco smoke. The sharp reek of hard-working men competed with the more pleasant odor of a rich mutton stew, dark bread and sharp cheese set out before one patron at a nearby table.”

—but also those denoting real-world experience and understanding regarding the mechanics of action characters engage in.

“Once on the water, he reveled in the speed he could build up in the dugout. The air smelled of the rich soil and the fresh green leaves on the trees. Reaching forward with long strokes, he concentrated on pulling the water past him with his paddle, first on one side and then on the other, correcting his course as necessary with a twist of its blade as he drew it out for the next great pull.”

In this way Hedbor grants us the experience as close to Caleb might have lived it as we could get. His descriptions bring to life these elements, but also so much more as they trigger in our imaginations the feel of walking through a colonial restaurant pub, breathing in the smoke as we delight in the possibilities inherent in words such as applejack, hear the sound of leather and shifting chairs, contemplating what these people think and feel as to the revolution at their shores while they engage in ordinary pursuits such as a mutton stew. Their distance fades and they become individual personas with opinions, anxieties—perhaps even excitement.

With this Hedbor brings us to contemplate, more importantly, how did ordinary people perceive and move through the amazing changes taking place in their society, particularly when so much remained in question? We might consider the possibility that it was an exciting time in which to live, but did they?

“Mark this moment well, lad, for you shall never see another so filled with import as this, so long as you live. I know that I have not, in my many years.”

The author thus addresses the contemplation without losing sight of the ordinary that continues, as it must, to occur. A love story weaves through the novel as historical events keep on keeping on, with all having to face the accompanying realities: a relentless royal campaign to beat down the colonists, Hessian mercenaries, food and materials appropriated by British soldiers, loyalists, the distractions of war and necessary preparations removing people from earning a living, loss of friends and family.

As events move forward, Caleb keeping a close eye on them, he grows in his understanding and abilities to carry out his responsibilities to his family and community. This brings the greater weight of knowledge as he faces new alliances as well as unthinkable possibilities. Hedbor masterfully transitions his narrative through all this, mirroring the further reality that while Caleb unknowingly rubs elbows with some fascinating figures in the birth of a nation, we witness the same, bringing to bear the idea of the conventional cradling the extraordinary.

As Caleb’s mundane begins to heat up and helps to shape what will be the unparalleled, a nation governed as no other in history has ever been, we witness success and failure, love and loss; uncertainty leads many days. Hedbor presents the tale in a style appealing to grown-ups and young adults alike. The language is accessible and appealing, the book engaging and difficult to put down.

As readers close in on answers to mysteries and questions that arise through the book, though with some that will be left unanswered, there is a satisfying sense of connection upon reading certain familiar names, e.g. Benedict Arnold—despite what we know of how his days play out. But a deeper bond also emerges when we are witness to such events as depicted in The Prize taking place in Vermont, in an area close to update New York, that we don’t typically hear much about in common discourse, including our own school lessons. It lends such broad appeal that students of the Revolution and casual reader alike—American or not, child or adult—will revel in the great pleasure of reading such a captivating story of a mesmerizing time in American and world history, involving even the most ordinary of us all.

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About the author…

LHedbor-HeadshotWhat made the American Colonists turn their back on their King, and fight for independence? How were they different from us–and how were their hopes and fears familiar to our own hearts?

These are the sorts of questions that I think are important to ask in examining the American Revolution, and in the pages of my novels, I suggest some possible answers.

My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015. I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014.

I am an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, I am a technologist, marketer, writer and father. My love of history drives me to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.

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You can follow and learn more about Lars D.H. Hedbor and his books at his website and blog, Twitter and Facebook. The Prize may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBook or Kobo.

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Photos courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

A free copy of The Prize was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review

 

Image of the Week: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians

On this Friday evening I’m pleased to announce a new feature to the blog: “Image of the Week.” I do confess this is inspired by a book I recently read (more on that in an upcoming post), though ideas for future images might spring from a variety of sources.

I’ve got two motives in mind, one being my desire to immerse myself more in photography, even if at this point it’s on a seriously amateur level. While today’s image is not a photograph from my own hand, it is intriguing in its appearance as well as subject. Also, the reading experiences I have enjoyed with small and independently published authors have been so rewarding because they’ve brought me to far more worlds than I believe I might ever have visited had I not discovered (or been led to) and pursued these novels, and I’d really like to share them and the personages within.

Since we all know this is a great big world and anything at all might capture one’s imagination, it will be inspiring to see what might pop up during any given week.

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Today we have a look at this image of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great and later to be known as Lady of the Mercians. Born (c. 870) to the West Saxon King Alfred and a Mercian mother at the height of the Viking raids against England, Æthelflæd spent her childhood on the run from the invaders’ long reach.

Æthelflæd_as_depicted_in_the_cartulary_of_Abingdon_AbbeyMarried by her father to Æthelred of Mercia, she left her native Wessex for her new court. Upon her husband’s death in 911 she led her adopted land to freedom from years of Danish onslaught. Together with her brother, known to history as Edward the Elder, Æthelflæd understood that defense of England required unifying the land rather than fighting the enemy with smaller armies without cohesive organization. Her plans to defeat the Vikings were cunning and even the Danes recognized her value as a military strategist. Her death was mourned by friend and foe alike.

While I learned a bit about Alfred the Great at school, this era later had the same effect on me as did 1066: I was intimidated by the immense detail and perhaps also the amazing import of it upon later times, including our own.

Having now been persuaded out of my “historical comfort zone,” I began recently to read of Æthelflæd and was absolutely captivated. I’ve always understood that love of freedom and a willingness to fight to the death for it isn’t a modern phenomenon, and earlier instances of it solidifies our fight for it today. It isn’t a fly-by-night concept; we fight for something humans have demanded through history, and won even when far less equipped as we are today. There is admiration, even pride, for what was achieved against the odds.

There also is an innate human desire, nay, need, to know from where we come. This is why societies make record of what happens in their time, who they want those to come to know about. Images, engravings, coins, these and more are created and develop, and individuals continue to make new and different works of art, but also consistently return to the previous, for study as well as expansion. What do we see in these images? What was the artist thinking or how do his techniques mirror the times?

This portrait of Æthelflæd, from The Cartulary and Customs of Abingdon Abbey, c. 1220, obviously dates from much later than her lifetime, but a few details might tell us a bit about her status even so many years later. An image found at the British Library’s Online Gallery is accompanied by a caption informing readers that most cartularies have minimal or even no decoration. That this one does makes a statement, and though characterized by its medieval style lacking depth, it nevertheless translates high regard by placing Æthelflæd on a throne and showing her positioned as if issuing directive. Straight backed and regally attired, she is a figure of force even to the modern eye, which on occasion tends to perceive such images as less than serious. There are certainly many more details to be interpreted by eyes more well-versed in art than mine, though my hope is that even this small amount of discussion will spur interest in others about these figures who really are people so like us, and though they lived in such a distant time, they are ours, and we are theirs.

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Sources:

Æthelflæd: Her World: Warring Kingdoms and Viking Raids.” History’s Heroes? East of England Broadband Network, n.d. Web. 22 July 2016.

Johnson, Ben. “Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.” Historic UK. n.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2016.

Queens Æthelswitha and Æthelflæd, in the Cartulary and Customs Of Abingdon Abbey.” British Library Online Gallery. The British Library Board, 26 March 2009. Web. 22 July 2016.

 

Update: Book Reviews on Deck

It’s been a pretty crazy year with lots of ups and downs, time-sucking workload and changes that screamed the expression, “Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans!”

Having said that, it might be a tad risky to lay out more of them-plans, that is-so I’m going to call it an update. Wink! Wink!

As some of you know, I’ve had some difficulty this year with writing and typing, given some wrist orneriness, and so some things had to slow down. While I wasn’t typing a lot, I tried to make up for it on the reading side, the result being a pile of books on my desk for reviews. It’s kind of exciting!

I thought it might be fun to show you ahead of time some of the books I’ll be reviewing in coming days and weeks. And not to worry, I’m also working on a bunch of other reads, so I have plenty more to come!

I would like also to offer a great big thank you to the authors, who have been waiting a tad bit longer than usual for their reviews, and they have been absolutely grand about it.

Check it out ….

The Wind by Lars H.D. Hedbor

51CdSVYj+3L._SX369_BO1,204,203,200_The American Revolution Reaches the Gulf Coast

Gabriel is a simple sailor, doing the bidding of his captain and king, when he is swept up in a storm that changes his life in ways that he could never have anticipated.

Carlotta yearns for her lost home, and is searching for her lost husband, but both remain elusive in a world that has been turned upside-down by forces far outside of her control.

When the storm that is Governor Bernardo de Gálvez breaks over them both, neither will ever be the same — and nor will their world.

Savior by Martha Kennedy

savior-cover-kindle-jpeg-largeImagine living in a world where depression is not regarded as a disease, but as Satan trying to steal your soul. Imagine turning to your priest. He counsels you to take the Cross and travel thousands of miles to the Holy Land to kill people so you can be free of Satan forever. Imagine you believe this so fervently that none of the rational arguments offered by your parents, your friends or your beloved persuade you otherwise. The journey costs everything except the one thing you hoped to lose — your life. This is that story. Set in the world of the thirteenth century with its music, constant warfare and always-present God, fate takes Rudolf and his adventure-seeking brother, Conrad, from their home in the Albis Mountains near Zürich, to one of the final battles of the Crusades – the Battle of La Forbie.
Kennedy’s newest novel, The Brothers Path, is a loose sequel to Savior. It relates the experiences of the same family three hundred years later.

Hysterical Love by Lorraine Devon Wilke

51iJdo3uZWL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Dan McDowell, a thirty-three-year-old portrait photographer happily set to marry his beloved Jane, is stunned when a slip of the tongue about an “ex-girlfriend overlap” of years earlier throws their pending marriage into doubt and him onto the street. Or at least into the second bedroom of their next-door neighbor, Bob, where Dan is sure it won’t be long. It’s long.

His sister, Lucy, further confuses matters with her “soul mate theory” and its suggestion that Jane might not be his… soul mate, that is. But the tipping point comes when his father is struck ill, sparking a chain of events in which Dan discovers a story written by this man he doesn’t readily understand, but who, it seems, has long harbored an unrequited love from decades earlier.

Incapable of fixing his own romantic dilemma, Dan becomes fixated on finding this woman of his father’s dreams and sets off for Oakland, California, on a mission fraught with detours and semi-hilarious peril. Along the way he meets the beautiful Fiona, herbalist and flower child, who assists in his quest while quietly and erotically shaking up his world. When, against all odds, he finds the elusive woman from the past, the ultimate discovery of how she truly fit into his father’s life leaves him staggered, as does the reality of what’s been stirred up with Fiona. But it’s when he returns home to yet another set of unexpected truths that he’s shaken to the core, ultimately forced to face who he is and just whom he might be able to love.

Far from the Spaceports by Richard Abbott

51riqSA9DJL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_Quick wits and loyalty confront high-tech crime in space.

Welcome to the Scilly Isles, a handful of asteroids bunched together in space, well beyond the orbit of Mars. This remote and isolated habitat is home to a diverse group of human settlers, and a whole flock of parakeets. But earth-based financial regulator ECRB suspects that it’s also home to serious large scale fraud, and the reputation of the islands comes under threat.

Enter Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate, sent out from Earth to investigate. Their ECRB colleagues are several weeks away at their ship’s best speed, and even message signals take an hour for the round trip. Slate and Mitnash are on their own, until they can work out who on Scilly to trust. How will they cope when the threat gets personal?

Gang Warfare: As War Clouds Tower, Sweets Turn Sour by Peter St. John

51KGHhagZBL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Gang Warfare is a novel for all readers from nine to ninety-nine.
An orphan, evacuated from the World War II bombing of London, comes to live with his pious aunt in an English village, and a bag of liquorice allsorts is knocked out of his hand in the school playground. This trivial incident ignites a series of events leading to a breakdown of relations in the local community.
The newcomer is accused of assault, threatened with an appearance before the School Board, and is arrested for theft. He acquires a black eye, is blackmailed, and cheated of money.
The villagers take sides and become increasingly quarrelsome. An air-raid destroys part of the village. What eventually happens to them is another story.

How to Destroy the New Girl’s Killer Robot Army  by Mick Bogerman

51604MJd05L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Don’t antagonize the new girl at school.

She might just create robot soldiers to enact her revenge and terrorize your friends and family. Well don’t let their sharp teeth and quick speed intimidate you. Just follow my simple steps for How to Destroy the New Girl’s Killer Robot Army.

Wimps should put this book down and hide under the bed instead. I hope you last out the night. But if you’re brave enough, come join me in thwarting booby traps, disarming deadly weapons, and dodging flesh-searing lasers as we set out to destroy a lot of nasty metal minions.

When the Jungle is Silent by James Boschert

51QzNqqYHTL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Set in Borneo during a little known war called “The Confrontation,” this story tells of the British soldiers who fought in one of the densest jungles in the world. Jason, a young soldier of the Light Infantry, is stationed in Penang, an idyllic island off the coast of Malaysia. He is living aimlessly in paradise when he meets Megan, a bright young American from the Peace Corps who challenges his complacent existence. Their romance is interrupted when his regiment is sent to Borneo. Ill prepared for the grim horror of a war in the jungle, he finds himself “up country,” close to local populations of Iban headhunters, and in the path of a determined Indonesian offensive. Fighting erupts along the border of Sarawak and Jason has to learn to survive in a world gone mad. He is forced to wake up to the cruel harshness of real soldiering while he endeavors to stay one step ahead of the Indonesians, who are combing the jungle. The jungle itself, although neutral, is deadly enough.

The Prize by Lars D. H. Hedbor

514XYyxwfpL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Caleb’s father is serving with Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys as the long-anticipated open war against the British rages up and down the length of Lake Champlain. Between his duties on the family farm and constant worry about his father’s safety, the young man’s attentions are already fully occupied when a fateful encounter with an unlikely neighbor changes everything. Pulled into new intrigues and new friendships, Caleb finds himself on a path that changes his life – and which will affect the outcome of the whole war.

Book Review: The Fantasmagorical Forest

The Fantasmagorical Forest, Book One: Two Stones by S.L. Dwyer

Winner of the indieBRAG Medallion

Is it unfair to say that most, or at least many, teenage girls have a tendency toward self-absorption and hyperbole? In that context, what is the worst thing that could happen in their world? Loss of phone privileges? No trips to the mall? A summer filled with boredom and loathing? “This is going to be the worst summer I ever spent in my whole life.”

forestFifteen-year-old Katelin is a typical teenager who, like many others, has had to face some extra reality during these tough years, in coping with the death of her father. As the one-year anniversary approaches, she retreats into her familiar zone, reacting strongly and negatively to whatever does not match her coping mechanism. Unfortunately, this is pretty much everything, given that her mother is setting Katelin and her younger brother up for some summer with their great grandmother in the Appalachian valley.

Far removed from friends, malls, pool parties and anything else teenager-friendly that would keep her days filled and memories at bay, Katelin is in no mood to hear her mother’s hint about the surrounding forest when she repeats the adage about looks being deceiving. “’Sure,’ Katelin thought. ‘It looks just like it should—a place in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles from anything. Nothing deceiving about that.’”

Author S.L. Dwyer gives readers a view to what Katelin takes in—or sees and rejects—as they approach the isolated home. In a “cozy cup of lush forests,” a “blanket of buttercups” leads to a comfortable-looking home with wraparound porch and filled with country décor and appetizing food. Nana, as their mother calls the grandmother she herself spent time every summer with as a child, gives Katelin space to be as eleven-year-old Simon introduces himself to the older woman and eagerly opens up to their new circumstances.

While periodically readers will find themselves almost comforted by lush descriptive terms, this isn’t Dwyer’s only strength. She has an ear for teen and pre-teen verbiage and uses it effectively to satisfy young adult as well as adult readers. Phrases such as “Jeez, Katelin, why the baditude?” and Katelin’s overuse of “like” will be familiar to and fit in the ears of the younger set, while increasingly sophisticated verbiage draws them into narrative patterns also satisfying to an adult audience.

Katelin, however, isn’t quite there yet, and though she eventually allows Simon to lead her out of the house, she attempts to be unwilling as each step leads the pair closer to the fantastic within the forest. A morning blueberry-picking excursion that ends late at night as the pair desperately seek the correct path home—following the instructions of a fairy they’d encountered—increases Simon’s sense of adventure, acting as persuasive agent to Katelin’s reticence.

Her instincts seem proven correct when she is forced to enlist Nana’s aid to find Simon, who disappears into a tear between two worlds. While Katelin’s interest is secretly aroused, and her curiosity piqued regarding what other secrets the forest keeps, her brother’s rescue also debilitates and angers her. This is confirmed when their frightened Nana warns them from the forest and shortly after vanishes. The children embark on a quest to find her, requiring Katelin to take a stand and move forward to rescue the only person responsible for their well-being.

Dywer solidly handles this back and forth with Katelin, whose behavior realistically vacillates between conceding Simon’s point (“What else are you gonna do all day, sit here staring at the trees?”) and maintaining face by sustaining her anger and the wall she has built to keep it close to her. Fear at times holds her back as her anger slowly fades and her willingness to explore opens up. Her battles with herself and external forces overlap and Dwyer portrays Katelin’s growth process so genuinely that it is easy to forget there actually exist transitions between stubborn retention and moving forward. What occurs to Katelin and her realizations regarding the role she plays in her own misfortunes don’t come in one fell swoop, and even when she has an aha moment, Dwyer wisely makes no attempt to magically transform Katelin into a new person. Growth comes in fits and starts, and I found this pacing of Katelin’s to be one of The Fantasmagorical Forest’s greatest strengths.

Pieced in with all this puzzling is a history the children slowly come to realize, a history of the forest that involves their family, details also revealed at a pace that Dwyer successfully utilizes often for suspense, but also contemplation. When they come upon a precious stone—one of the two in the title—they also learn of a second. What happens when the stones are re-united, however, is unknown, and Katelin will be required to face the consequences if and when it is determined to bring them together at all, and the consequences if they do not.

This and other unknowns are faced and decisions will be made as Simon and Katelin meet and either ally or do battle with a variety of strange and fascinating creatures with an assortment of powers and limitations. The worlds and encounters the children pass through are both charming and alarming, linking back to what their mother had said about appearances, though there are no solid rules for determining which way any creature or entity might lean, or how best to assess who might be a great strength or supporting persona. It is up to Katelin and Simon to learn and adapt to their environment as they seek to ultimately rescue their Nana.

The Fantasmagorical Forest is a fabulous young adult novel suitable for adults, and all audiences will appreciate it as a coming-of-age story. While it contains some familiar elements, it is definitely its own tale. It also leaves open some questions, such as the stones and how they fit into the history, and I look forward to learning more about this mysterious and fantastic valley.

 

From the author’s website

Born in Connecticut, raised in Florida, and lived all over the country. My residences almost match my careers. I began as a nurse and went back to school for an engineering degree. Then on to finance and technology. Diverse, yes. Satisfying, no. My real love was writing.

bus_cardI am just your average person filling up my own personal space in today’s exciting world. I have always immersed myself in books from a very young age. Traveled to exotic locales and fought for the good side in the land of words written by those who crafted a story that enthralled and entertained.

I don’t write in any particular genre. When I discover a story tumbling around in my head, whatever the genre, I write it. The greatest enjoyment in writing is when the characters begin to steer the story in their own direction. It is truly exciting to find yourself cruising along with your central character, discovering new areas of the book coming not from my own conceptions, but riding the story that evolved through my characters. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else besides writing – books are magic. The world of fiction is so much more exciting than anything you could imagine in everyday life.

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Learn more about and follow S.L. Dwyer at her website, and check out her other books, including Dirt, also a winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion.