Book Review: Whorl

Whorl by James Tarr

The thrilling main premise of James Tarr’s Whorl is the discovery by a young FBI lab tech of fingerprints that are a match—from three different people. We’ve all been told since we first began to learn about our prints that no one in the world has the same, not even twins. What will this mean for crimes successfully prosecuted on the basis of fingerprints?—which, by the way, outnumber any other type of evidence in solving cases. With implications not just for authorities and those prosecuted by them but also a public sure to panic once they learn of the discovery and realize its implications, the FBI needs to do something—fast.

It fits the narrative perfectly that Tarr waits to bring us to this point. The novel opens with Dave Anderson, a Detroit armored car driver, and subsequent chapters switch to various perspectives. The transitions are smooth and there is no difficulty discerning whose head we’re occupying at any given moment. In many novels it is not unusual to alternate by chapter from one point of view to the next, and the author teases this out a bit with a series of engaging passages until we reach the lab tech’s astounding find.

What is really great about this portion is that though from the blurb we know what’s coming, it doesn’t loom in an “Are we ever going to get there?” fashion. Engaging almost doesn’t say it all because, for starters, that chunk of the book passes by so quickly, given its page-turner status. Why is moves so quickly, luring us along with it, is because here Tarr introduces a sub plot, simultaneously supplying mainline background we don’t realize we’re getting until we’re nearly through it. At this point, putting the book down is simply not a viable option. We’re hooked and, at times hearts racing, waiting for a shoe to drop.

Another author strength is his dialogue. In particular one early passage stands out, given it is so integral to getting the main plot off the ground. Smooth, authentic and well-paced, it supplies a great deal of technical information about fingerprints without resorting to any sort of info dumping or tedious exchanges. As the tale moves forward, the dialogue remains relevant and succinct, yet also manages to tell us so much about who these people are.

There is also a fair amount of detail on firearms, accessibly presented to match enthusiasts as well as those not so in tune to the topic, including readers who feel they might be turned off by it. Those willing to proceed with open minds will even realize that much they read in newspapers has very little in common with reality—and all this is done in a straightforward manner that doesn’t resort to preaching.

Once the paths from the various points of view we are following begin to converge, the action intensifies while, curiously, some elements of everyday life remain intact. As the FBI moves in on the evidence of a reality they don’t want known, readers are aware of only slightly more than characters, therefore are often caught as off guard as those in the book are. We know something is going to happen, and Tarr continues to dangle the suspense, another hovering shoe, with the added contemplation of which angle it may drop from.

“I’ve got a name and a face, I’m wondering if you know the guy, or can run him by some people. I’m wondering if he’s in your line of work.”

 “Which line of work is that?” Bob smiled at him.

 “Shit.” John laughed. “Private contracting, executive protection, I don’t know. For all I know you’re still in and doing super secret ninja stuff with Delta Force or CAG or Dev Group or The Unit or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves now, seems like they change it every year. But it’s a relatively small world, isn’t it? Small number of guys at the Tier 1 level.”

Bob shrugged. “Depends.”

 “On what?”

 “On who you’re working for, and what you’re doing. Private contracting … yeah, that’s a pretty small world. If you don’t know somebody, you know somebody who knows them, heard of them, or worked with them. On the government side, though, the black work, the operations end on the spook side … a lot of them originally come from the spec-ops community, but a lot of them are grown and trained in-house, and never interact with anybody else.”

 As characters unwittingly find themselves in the midst of a conspiracy to conceal information, readers can understand the viable FBI concern, but also question their methods of keeping it all under wraps, and it links with what we know, or have heard, in real life pertaining to communities within regimes whose consanguinity fears exposure. Are these rogue elements, or should we really be asking ourselves whether it is as safe as some believe to trust our own government? How many secrets does the real world have? How far would any administration carry its protection of them? Tarr addresses this in his author’s note regarding the real-world case of Brandon Mayfield, and both that and the story within Whorl, even with poetic license accounted for, serve as cautionary tales for citizens who would put large amounts of faith in those with the power to control their lives.

James Tarr has created with Whorl a superb thriller that grabs our attention and doesn’t let go, with suspense that simmers as well as builds up as each page turns, and many shoes begin to drop. Set mainly in the gritty neighborhoods of Detroit, which the author knows intimately, its rapidly moving intrigue and realistic plot development provides a memorable story and enables contemplation of issues related to real life. With a reluctant but likeable main character, it’s difficult not to want to meet up with him again.

*********

About the author …

James Tarr is the author of several novels, and co-authored Dillard Johnson’s Iraq War memoir, Carnivore. A regular contributor to many outdoor enthusiast magazines, he also appears on the Guns & Ammo television show. Tarr lives in Michigan with his fiancée, two sons, and a dog named Fish.

Whorl is available at Amazon and other retailers.

*********

The author provided an early proof copy of Whorl to facilitate an honest review.

Advertisements

Reading 2017: Importance of Book Covers (from the IndieBRAG Cover Contest Series)

A few months back I visited with Stephanie, who at that time helped organize indieBRAG‘s cover contest. It was another opportunity for me to chat about book covers and the role they play in my reading and blogging, and it was a lot of fun!

*********

Book cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories, and often times readers first judge a book by its cover. This year indieBRAG has put together a cover contest of books chosen by the indieBRAG Team. These covers were chosen based on several factors including; 1) professionalism 2) visual appeal 3) creativity and 4) fit with the story/genre.

This week we have asked the ladies of the indieBRAG Interview Team to discuss with us the importance of book covers, what they like, want to see more of and so on. Today Lisl talks with us about this.

Lisl, on the scale one to five, how important are book covers to you?

I’d probably say in between four and five. Though I add the caveat that there have been books with solid color covers I’ve enjoyed. If a work’s premise appeals to me, I won’t not read it because of a dull jacket, but it is so that such a cover lessens the chances I’ll be drawn closer and discover the richness between the pages.

Why are they important to you?

A fantastic cover often draws me to a book, even from across a room (or stack). It will make a statement or offer some insight or perspective to the story, or even provide food for further thought that wasn’t necessarily addressed in the book, at least not directly. Sometimes it’s just beautiful or striking in a way that makes me want to experience the pleasure of simply taking it in.

What do you not like in book covers?

Despite my comment above about solid covers, I really don’t care for them. They’re bland and don’t provide any kind of visual peek into the world the story’s characters inhabit, which I really love. I can understand an author preferring not to have images of characters; some want to leave that visualization up to reader interpretation, and I respect that. However, not to have any image, pattern or design detracts from the experience of reading a book—reading the cover is an integral part of the event. The lacking even strikes me as a bit lazy.

What would you like to see more of in covers?

Hmmm … I wasn’t really sure how to answer this at first, so I did a quick examination of five covers I especially like. One, for 1066: What Fates Impose, by Glynn Holloway, is fairly straightforward, with minimal but forceful design that takes a stand, replicating the martial tone threaded throughout the novel. The image on Sarah Bruce Kelly’s Vivaldi’s Muse is the partial reproduction of a Lefebvre painting, which in particular sets a tone, with its creative beauty and expression, and absolutely spot-on colors, that exactly matches the personality of the historical character portrayed within—plus it’s a picture not often seen within the reproductive market (greeting cards, coasters, books, etc.) The other three show images with lots of detail and space for commentary on the themes: Anna Belfrage’s A Rip in the Veil’s girl walking away from the viewer is surrounded by a host of detail meaningful to the theme, as is the warrior on Paula Lofting’s Sons of the Wolf (first edition). And finally, Annie Whitehead designed a magnificent cover for Alvar the Kingmaker that reflects—literally even, what with items mirrored in a crown’s arch—contemplations of the past and present for the people involved, as well as their future and that of others: strands of life that touch multiple lives, including those yet to come, in this world and the next.

Despite the various styles these book covers all have, it’s easy to recognize that the statements made by or the reading of them provide strong and meaningful links to what happens within the narratives. The characters might even recognize themselves or something close to their identity within the images, and if that’s the case, then surely it is all the more striking for a reader. Moreover, the various styles of these covers indicate that there are many ways to achieve this intimacy and insight. 

So I suppose the short(er) answer would be that I’d really love to see covers with more connection to the people and places that populate the books. Their lives and events depicted meant enough to put them to paper, so why not go all the way?

How many books have you read this year thus far? 

Well, 34 to be precise, though I confess I haven’t even looked at one portion of my goal (sci-fi), which focuses more on genre this year than numbers.

Do you participate in cover contests by voting for your favorite? 

I would if I knew about them! I love examining and interpreting covers, though it is true I haven’t been online quite as much recently as in the past, so I’m sure I miss a lot. Which is why I was so excited to learn about indieBRAG’s contest—even as an observer.

When writing a book review do you consider the covers to be part of your rating the book?

Truth be told, I’m not in love with star ratings, and don’t use them (except within online social cataloging sites that make me, in order to post reviews). My reviews tend to be non-linear and contain a touch of the analytical; how much I enjoyed each work can be determined by my words. But as a more direct answer, I typically don’t talk about covers, at least not at great length. This is partly because my entries are a bit longer than many other reviews, and adding too much more might on occasion become a bit weighty for some readers. Also, for better or worse, not all books have covers that bear much discussion.

How much do you blog per week and how much do you talk about book covers?

Also for better or worse, my blogging has to be scheduled around my family and work, so I don’t have a set number of entries per week, though I try to do at least one. (That doesn’t always happen!) I have done a couple of cover crushes, after the practice initiated by a fellow blogger and indieBRAG reviewer, and would love to do more. Sometimes I make mention of covers in reviews, though for the reasons stated above I don’t always.

It’s been great chatting with you, Stephanie, about book covers—and as always, I thoroughly enjoyed the get-together!

A pleasure, Lisl! Thank you for visiting today.

Link to another interview with Lisl here.

*********

Well, my book count has increased since this interview originally published, and you can see what I’ve read here (and what I’m still reading, here). I do confess, however, I remain behind in my sci-fi ….

Also, you won’t want to miss: Stephanie’s blog, Layered Pages, and her fun new endeavor, Novel Expressions, a Facebook page that in January shall be expanding into a blog well worth marking your calendar for. She’ll be partnering with Erin, whose own blog, Flashlight Commentary, is birthplace of the cover crush spoken of above. 

Previous entries in the Reading 2017 series:

Readers’ Chat with Stephanie Hopkins

Origins of the Challenge

Reading Challenge 2017

New Genre Library (True Crime): Murder in Greenwich

The Importance of Book Covers (Book Blogger Group Chat)

New Genre Library (Graphic Novel): The Metamorphosis

New Genre Library is a three-part spinoff series of Reading 2017

Upcoming:

New Genre Library (Science fiction): Title TBA

And a fun entry to round out the year!

*********

 

Book Review: There is Always a Tomorrow (Plus Giveaway)

There is Always a Tomorrow
by Anna Belfrage

The author so generously has donated a FREE e-copy of

There is Always a Tomorrow for one lucky winner!

Want your name in our contest drawing? Simply comment below OR at this review’s Facebook thread, located here

Drawing December 9

Update: Drawing will be held December 16 (see link here)

Following a flurry of historical fiction and other awards, novelist Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga series drew to its conclusion in 2015—much to the dismay of her extensive fan base. The series has a significant readability factor and, being eight installments long, followers have been drawn time and again back to the books detailing the lives of seventeenth-century native Matthew Graham, his time-travelling wife, Alex, their large family and encounters with the era’s dangers and those who exacerbate them. Readers simply cannot get enough and, looking forward to the possibility of a spinoff story here or there, are periodically wooed back with bonus material.

(As if they need to be wooed.)

Belfrage has now done one better by releasing a delightful secret, her ninth entry, There is Always a Tomorrow. Set against the backdrop of mercurial 1600s Maryland in its anti-Catholic phase, the family encounters trouble when hysteria reaches a boiling point, thanks to one of their own sons, who has betrayed a Catholic priest, their close friend, to authorities. The Grahams are torn between loyalties—their child, a friend in deep trouble and their own Presbyterian background—and creating distance between themselves and danger entails a second thread involving another son, Samuel, adopted by Quachow into a local Native tribe, whose loss Alex continues to mourn.

The tale shifts back and forth between these events and those of two Graham boys in England with their Uncle Luke, and a final storyline with threads on both sides of the Atlantic, eventually making its chaotic and potentially destructive way to Graham’s Garden.

One of the first things we noticed about Tomorrow is that despite the challenges faced by the family, they aren’t uprooted in quite the manner they have been in past tales. This is to the story’s advantage because apart from avoiding risk of a type of overexposure, Belfrage also shows her consideration for the main characters who, ehem, aren’t getting any younger. They are all too aware of this as well, though this reality doesn’t haunt them in any overly dramatic manner, and the result is a very genuine approach to acknowledging the passage of time in the series.

Despite this transition, Alex never forgets where she comes from, even if she doesn’t talk about it all that often, though readers are aware she has on occasion, to a select few people, including her favorite son, Ian. Through their growing up years, Alex has also told fairy tales, old and new—although these terms can deliciously muddy the waters if one ponders on the time travel issue too deeply—to her children, and in this installment readers are treated to a delightful acknowledgement when she asks her grandson, “Did I ever tell you the story of the magic wardrobe?” It provides a link to her native era and by extension to readers, as if to whisper through the winds of time that her fight to remain where a freak thunderstorm brought her was not a rejection of us; she had simply found the place she belonged. This provides foundation for both the romanticism of the books as well as the series’ continuity, and Belfrage’s sprinkling of the novels with such memories, or considerations of the future solidifies the connection. With the dual perception, that of Alex’s remaining twenty-first century attitudes paired with those she has developed in her new/old life, more are crafted, and what exists between readers and the Grahams grows as well, a relationship.

As always, the author’s style is one of seamless flow, and she has a marvelous ability to build so much into circumstance. Rachel, for instance, who comes to Maryland from her dark and troubled life in England, by her very name takes us back to earlier in our journey with Alex, to another little girl who once lived, another Rachel who was loved and was lost, and who also is not forgotten. As Alex remembers her girl, we mourn with her, feeling the hurt she does in her ongoing failure to make a connection with this Rachel, who represents a link not only between lands, but as well within the family, as we learn she is the daughter of another lost child.

The Prodigal Son, a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner, was our first encounter with the Grahams, and remains a lasting attachment (click image).

Interestingly, her character isn’t as fleshed out as one might expect it to be, and the relaying of her young troubles seems to pass by very quickly, as if almost too easily told. Yet this has meaning as well, for her existence in historical seventeenth-century London would also have been underdeveloped as a marker of her place in society: invisible. The paradox of history being littered with the remains of figures we can’t even name is a tragedy compounded by such realities as illiteracy, a bitter reminder of what is built into human DNA to crave, and what Belfrage provides: relationships. She remains within reality, however, and though the series is a mixture of historical fiction, time slip and fantasy, she doesn’t resort to the unfeasible; relationships between all events indeed are solid and authentic, further explaining our connection and longing for more of these tales. Some of these associations are more developed than others, despite familial bonds, and not all are cherished, as is the case in real life.

“The astounding thing is that she dares voice such an opinion in my home.” Kate’s mouth shaped itself into a little spout. “An intolerable and quite useless little missy is what she is.” She sighed. “There are days when I really miss Lucy.”

 “Not me.” Alex shook her head slowly. Simon’s deaf daughter had been extraordinarily beautiful, just as extraordinarily gifted, and somewhat twisted inside. And far too curious for her own good, which was why she was now gone, permanently.

Is it? you might ask. Even those who have read the installment this passage refers to automatically will be pulled back, on the surface wanting to re-experience events of this time. Also, however, they will recognize the cryptic wording and begin to wonder. Did I miss something? Was Alex involved in something untoward? If not, how much does she really know? While this and other passages may or may not lead to something extra, there are many points along the way in which we yearn for the stories again. And, as with so much of the material within Tomorrow, Belfrage’s characters themselves engage in a story about memory and self-identification, what makes them who they are. Old wounds are addressed, sometimes successfully, other times less so, and new questions rise to the surface. It is a testament to Belfrage’s skill as an author that we find no firm conclusions when we ask the universe: Does this mean there is more to come? Or is there simply much we have forgotten, or perhaps not recognized? She also manages satisfactorily to fill in new readers while simultaneously lighting that spark of I have to go back and read the others. Series veterans, perhaps bemused, might say, simply, Don’t expect that to be the only time that happens.

Perhaps the best of The Graham Saga, There is Always a Tomorrow firmly included, is that uncertain familiarity. With biblical references, by way of names, fables and more, we tap into it as much seems almost a replay of the heritage of so many: prodigal sons, feuding brothers, thirty pieces of silver, sacrifice within various contexts. These and other ancient comedies re-enacted in real life and within literature are as familiar to us as our own names, yet often so unrecognized, woven so deeply into the fabric of our beings as they are. At times it seems this is destined to continue into countless tomorrows, with the hope we can be better, make something brighter, next time. And as is the brilliance of Belfrage, this wraps itself within the time warp question and how circular it all might really be. She creates in us a sensation that hopes there is always a sequel, though this has yet to be seen, for as contradictory as it may be, all good things must end.

Or do they? Whether or not Belfrage brings us any more in the series, we sense continuity: perhaps in spinoff stories, linkage in unrelated tales, maybe even fan fiction. There certainly are re-reads, and while the books all have many levels and can be approached from a number of angles, they also may be enjoyed as straightforward stories, not to mention be destined for greatness.

*********

To see other reviews and blogs with Anna Belfrage, click titles below:

A Rip in the Veil 

A Rip in the Veil (Updated)

Like Chaff in the Wind

The Prodigal Son (with Chocolate Cake Author Interview)

A Newfound Land

Serpents in the Garden

Revenge and Retribution 

Whither Thou Goest

To Catch a Falling Star

In the Shadow of the Storm (Book I in The King’s Greatest Enemy series)

Other:

Cover Crush for A Rip in the Veil

Chocolate Brownies Author Interview

On My Retrieval of Apple Pie from Sweden (A Chat with Author Anna Belfrage)

Reading 2017: The Importance of Covers (Book Blogger Group Chat)

Sunken Pie Author Interview (Of Pies, Books and Other Essentials) (Stay tuned)

*********

Author Anna Belfrage in her own words …

I was always going to be a writer – well in between being an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart’s favourite page (no double entendre intended – I was far too innocent at the time). Anyway, not for me the world of nine to five, of mortgages and salary checks. Oh no; I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room.

Life happened. (It does, doesn’t it?) I found myself the bemused holder of a degree in Business Admin, and a couple of years later I was juggling a challenging career, four kids, a husband (or was he juggling me?), a jungle of a garden, a dog, a house …. Not much time for writing there, let me tell you. At most, I stole a moment here or there.

Fortunately, kids grow up. My stolen moments became hours, became days, weeks, months … (I still work. I no longer garden – one must prioritize). It is an obsession, this writing thing. It is a joy and a miracle, a constant itch and an inroad to new people, new places, new times.

Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Twitter, on her website and at her fantabulous blog, where you can learn more about the author, the Grahams, other projects and her world.

*********

A courtesy copy of There is Always a Tomorrow was provided to the blogger to facilitate an honest review. Author image courtesy Anna Belfrage.

Book Excerpt: The Break (Lars D.H. Hedbor) (Plus Giveaway)

Please see below for information about how you could win a FREE
paperback copy of a Lars Hedbor novel of your choice.

Update: Drawing will be held December 16 (see link here)

The Battle of Bunker Hill was a turning point in the American Revolution, but it’s all too easy to forget that it came at a steep cost—and not just to the Americans, who lost the incomparable Joseph Warren that day, but to the British and their Loyalist allies, who died in their hundreds. In The Break, a Loyalist evacuee learns of one such loss in a letter from a friend who remained in Massachusetts. —Lars D.H. Hedbor

 

Battle of Bunker Hill, by Howard Pyle, c. 1897. It was a Pyrrhic victory for the British, who suffered losses of over a third of their troops, many more in numbers than the Americans incurred, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Twenty-First June, ‘75

My dearest Susannah,

I write to you with a heart utterly Destroyed by the late Events in this Ruined Paradise. The worst News I shall dispense with first—our Friend Ezekiel has been Killed in the course of a brave Action, about which I shall say more when I have gathered my Ability to relate any words at all. You have, I am certain, long been acquainted with the Vicious Events that took place during the Summer past on the Heights overseeing that most admirable of Cities, our fair Boston-Town. The entirety of Charles-Town, which lay close by the hot Action of the summer, has been extinguished by fire promoted by the Evil actions of the rebels who infest the Countryside all about there. A pitched Battle was there fought, with the loss of some hundreds of gallant Souls, among the which was my dear Ezekiel. Oh!  I cannot write anything Sensible, so lost am I in my Grief, but I shall try. The wicked Enemy (for Enemies they now be, to all decent Men of loyal hearts) made bold to attempt a Bombardment of the city of Boston, which was held firm under the Protection of the King’s Men who have long been encamped in that Place. Our Men gave them firm opposition in this Cruel Design, and the battle that resulted was as Terrible as any I have read about in any History. While I was not present, that Place being, as you know, pretty distant from our little Town, I have spoken to those who went there and Assisted to bury those who fell to our enemies’ treacherous Designs. One of the fallen was found to have in his Pocket a letter signed as Ezekiel Mills, and when I described that Dear Man to he who carried the precious Letter, he agreed that the cold corpse answered to Ezekiel’s description. I am unable to imagine my Fate without my friend and Protector, dear Susannah! I am overcome with the loss we have thereby suffered. In the end, as I am sure you have read in your news-papers, the Loyal forces of the King repulsed the cowardly attack of the accursed rebels, but such Victories we cannot afford very often, it is said far and wide. I cannot breathe, I am so consumed with grief, even with Ezekiel these many weeks in his cold Grave. There is not much else to tell that you will not have heard of elsewhere. We labor in the Desolation that is our world after this terrible Battle, and hope only that our Enemies may come to swift and complete Defeat and Ruin, as they have brought so many good Men to ruin. I hope that you are well, and that the Evil of war may not come to visit you at your Wise Remove from this place of Woe. I am,

Your sad but constant Friend,

Emma

 

The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775, by John Trumbull (hover over image at link for individual tags of identification; names there are also hyperlinked for more information on each figure) via Wikimedia Commons

*********

Lars Hedbor is so graciously gifting a paperback copy to some lucky winner! And that person gets to choose which title! Simply comment below or at this link on our FB blog page—even a simple hello will get you into the drawing, which will take place December 12.

To see information on each book, click here.

You may also wish to have a peek at my previous reviews for Tales From a Revolution—

The Prize (Tales From a Revolution: Vermont)

The Light (Tales From a Revolution: New-Jersey)

The Smoke (Tales From a Revolution: New York)

The Break (Tales From a Revolution: Nova-Scotia) (Coming December 9)

The Wind (Tales From a Revolution: West-Florida)

The Darkness (Tales From a Revolution: Maine)

The Path (Tales From a Revolution: Rhode-Island)

Get your free e-copy of The Declaration!

About the author ….

What 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, and The Darkness in 2016.

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 also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.

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.

*********

You can follow and learn more about Lars D.H. Hedbor and his books at his website and blog, Twitter and Facebook. The Break may be purchased in paperback (signed copies available upon request), as Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo or at Smashwords. (Paperbacks also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble links.)

*********

Keep an eye out in these pages for more from Lars Hedbor, including an upcoming giveaway of a signed and personalized paperback copy of a Hedbor novel of the reader’s choice, and my review of The Break.

Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

Book Review: Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of
Five Patterns That Hide Your True Self
by Alice McDowell, Ph.D.

Releases November 14, 2017 

I don’t read, let alone review, a great many self-help books, and wasn’t sure what to expect from Alice McDowell’s Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns That Hide Your True Self, but upon seeing its blurb I was curious straight away. Who hasn’t heard that most of us have accumulated some (or at least one) bad habit that gets in the way of greater success, more rewarding relationships, or even of lasting contentment? “Sure,” I thought to myself, “I’m game.”

Click image to see the author’s extensive website

I found the book is broken down into rather straight forward segments consisting of an introductory chapter, five that each lay out one of the patterns referenced in the title and a final chapter, aptly titled, “Now What Do I Do?” Two appendices provide further information. A one-time questionnaire helps you gain better insight into which pattern you fit, thought and physical exercises are combined with each section on the five types and quirky drawings are sprinkled throughout the book. Brilliantly, the author also includes links to audio book companions.

So what exactly is a hidden treasure? Some readers might, by virtue of the book’s title and it being self help, be able to deduce a general idea of it referring to a type of worthiness we don’t really see within ourselves, or display; the author gets to that pretty quickly by defining it as the “true self,” the one that is too often blocked by childhood trauma or early environmental behaviors and the defenses we utilize to protect ourselves from them.

In the beginning I confess, I started to become a bit skeptical, concerned this would be too New Age-y and questioned the author’s frequent use of childhood, even birth, events as the culprit behind behavioral defense, and feared it all would descend into relativism when she spoke of a spiritual teacher giving a pass to pirates, who raped and pillaged Vietnamese escapees in the 1970s, based on the conditions under which they were raised. I also wasn’t completely sold on the re-birthing process discussed within true stories and other passages.

Having said all that, it is important to note that keeping an open mind, at least adopting a “Well, let’s just see where this goes” sort of mindset most definitely has its reward. As it turns out, the author’s approach is much more balanced, and this is more greatly reflected as the work moves forward, with acknowledgement that these behaviors exist on a continuum, some experiencing the negative impact to a greater or lesser degree than others.

She also wisely advises that none of these past experiences provide carte blanche to unload on others and stresses personal responsibility with a blame pledge that doesn’t prohibit a person from ever complaining, rather that one “honestly examine[s] what you claim to be the source of your feelings and [reject] the false belief that others or circumstances are causing them.” Especially in today’s environment in which people are routinely blamed for being offensive (a wrongly- and overused word I have grown to loathe) simply for expressing their opinions, I was relieved to see this important distinction made more than once.

McDowell introduces terms that correspond to childhood experiences and the techniques developed to protect ourselves from them, and the chapters succinctly explain examples of early trauma, behaviors standard for that character type, individual experiences and ways to heal. She also provides a table that summarizes the structures, which I found to be a useful visual to bring it all together.

The author early on acknowledges that traditional names of each of the five character structures aren’t as “palatable” as the terms used today. These are (with modern terms in parentheses):

Schizoid (Outsider)

Oral (Dependent-independent one)

Masochist (Endurer)

Psychopathy (Controller)

Rigid (Achiever)

While I’m not generally in favor of the term upheaval that continues to occur in our society, I appreciated these additions, given their association with psychology and mental health and how labeling ourselves and others with the older terms don’t necessarily go a long way toward the healing her book promotes. Being referred to as a controller, for example, isn’t exactly flattering, but it retains its negative connotation without wildly fantastic phrases that to the lay ear cast aspersions on a person’s ability to function in society.

Occasionally I came upon an exercise I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to do—not owing to physical inability, more along the lines of my own awkward feelings—though the vast majority are not only ones I felt I could participate in, but they also bore relation to the unique difficulties with added, associated benefits. For example, a person who presents within the oral structure and feels overwhelmed, never seeming to be able to have enough of anything, or anything done, might try the “I Am Enough” mantra.

[Elena recounts:]

 The simple act of repeating “I am enough” seemed ridiculous, but I was desperate because I felt insecure and existentially unworthy. I’m humbled by this exercise. Whenever there’s a crisis or I feel inadequate, I switch on my “I am enough” mantra. It helps me defuse the negative spiraling voices. By doing this on a daily basis, I’m actually starting to anticipate my triggers and not give them power. My life’s purpose and energy has been a Sisyphean striving for enoughness: to be intelligent enough, well-read enough, rich enough, compassionate enough, loveable enough, spiritual enough, limber enough. Lately I’m starting to entertain the radical concept that perhaps “I am enough” just the way I am.

 I especially chose this example because today it seems everyone relates to this on some level: perhaps they are fed up with the commercialization/“competition” of Christmas, or constantly compare themselves to other parents and people at work who seem to get more done. It also fits in very well with other works I have read that speak of continual growth paired with giving yourself permission to be who you are, such as a “good enough parent,” as one article spoke of. Another opened up the idea of rising from sleep an hour or so before one’s usual time, and some of the breathing exercises within Hidden Treasure would fit quite nicely in that period, to set the tone for the day, ground oneself, feel more connected to oneself in a world in which so many demands are made upon us.

Perhaps the element I most loved within Hidden Treasure is that within each chapter devoted to a particular character structure is a “gift” section: positive character traits that also tend to accompany each, transformed or of a higher version. For example, endurers might carry a great deal of anger, but that energy can also be utilized to achieve, especially as re-worked persistence (elevated above stubbornness) and their hardworking nature also contribute. Achieving all this becomes so much more a reality because, as McDowell stresses, you are not your structure and, importantly, gives readers choices. Having introduced Hidden Treasure groups and the idea of readers forming their own circles, she openly states there might come a time when a group is no longer needed, or participants have reached a point at which growth in a new direction is natural.

The stated parameters (e.g. accepting and identifying self behaviors) pair well with the flexibility within Hidden Treasure and I like that the physical and breathing exercises can fit into any lifestyle. Moreover, the book’s setup ensures that once someone identifies which character structure they fit into, they can easily focus on that particular chapter for easy return and reference. Accessible and written with a positive message, it works within a balance for all to experience ongoing, constructive change.

*********

More on Alice McDowell, Ph.D and Hidden Treasure

When I was 11 years old, my father suddenly died of a heart attack. I started questioning everything. Why did this happen to me? What is the purpose of life, anyway? Why am I here? This set me on a path of discovery.

My journey led me to the IM School of Healing Arts where I learned about the five patterns—called character structures. Impressed with the changes occurring both within my classmates and myself, and building on my prior studies, I developed a three-year program of five weekends a year called Finding the Hidden Treasure, which I have been teaching for the last 20 years.

My students—of all ages and walks of life—discovered that the most powerful, life-changing part of the course was their work with the five character structures. Some found life partners or improved their intimate relationships. Many found themselves to be happier at work, while others found the strength to leave unsuitable jobs and find ones more in alignment with their true self. Some began—or deepened—a spiritual practice.

With such success, I asked myself, “Why not offer this to more people?” This idea started me on a journey to write Hidden Treasure. I hope that reading the book and doing the exercises will also change your life for the better.

I’ve taken you to the present. I hope you’ll be part of my future.

*********

The five personality patterns in this book are well documented — it is the author’s approach to the patterns that differentiates this book.

With its light tone, the illustrations and cartoons help readers stay off their case and not take themselves too seriously, rare in this subgenre.

You can read Hidden Treasure‘s synopsis and a few brief reviews, as well as watch the book’s trailer. Also available is an excerpt from the first chapter (with a fun drawing included!) and some more on the five character structures. You can even take the character structure quiz to find out where you might fit in.

*********

If you are in the Ithaca, New York area, come check out Hidden Treasure‘s launch appearance!

Ithaca, NY: December 3, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.
Buffalo Street Books
215 N. Cayuga Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
Located in the Dewitt Mall

 *********

An advance reader copy (ARC) of Hidden Treasure was provided for the blogger to write an honest review.

Book Review: Insurrectio (Plus Giveaway)

Insurrectio (Book V in the Roma Nova series) by Alison Morton

Historical Novel Society Indie Editor’s Choice Spring 2016

Chill with a Book Award Book of the Month February 2017

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, October 2016

For your chance to win a FREE e-copy of Insurrectio, simply comment below to get your name in the draw!

Update: Drawing will be held December 16 (see link here)

Imagine a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived, transformed into a society in which women have more public power, and continues to govern today in a modest portion of Europe. Author Alison Morton has done this and her alternate history series, featuring Aurelia Mitela, descended from the lead of the originally exiled Twelve Families, ex-Praetorian and current imperial counsellor in Roma Nova, is the fabulous result of her wanderings through the past.

Click image to peruse one of the nicest author sites: attractive, organized, user friendly–plus a free e-copy of Inceptio, first in the series

Roma Nova is divided into two parts of three books each: the second cycle, Aurelia, Insurrectio and Retalio, functions as the prequel story and occurs in the 1960s and 80s, ahead of Inceptio, Perfitidas and Successio, set in an alternate-reality present day. There is no disadvantage to opening with the Aurelia cycle, indeed at any within it, for Morton has written them as stand-alone novels, each a complete and satisfying story of a chain of events in the life of our protagonist, whose childhood nemesis, Caius Tellus, brings his antagonism to bear on the government he loathes. A misogynist with an axe to grind, he derives special pleasure from targeting Aurelia, whose strength and determination threatens not only his fragile ego, but also the plans he has in store for their small but silver-rich nation.

Most of us have heard it said repeatedly: power never exists in a vacuum. Aurelia understands this all too well, but has difficulty getting others to realize the danger of the void that exists, and which Tellus has already recognized. As circumstances go from bad to worse, Aurelia seeks to protect her teenage and lately contrary daughter, while simultaneously working to reconcile her relationship with Miklós, whose inability to remain in one spot unsettles her. At just about the time Aurelia begins to wish her strong ethics had not stayed her hand in a confrontation with Tellus some years earlier, others in her social and administrative circles see her as conspirator, and Aurelia is faced with a dilemma that umbrellas all her other troubles: is it too late to do anything?

Thinking I might like it enough, not being a big reader of Roman historical fiction, I had been pleasantly surprised with my reading of Aurelia a year or so ago. That sense of wonder increased exponentially with my inhalation of Insurrectio, the bulk of which was absorbed in one 24-hour period. The pages turned in swift succession with the thrill of events often occurring just as quickly, and I found myself responding to them, sometimes aloud, groaning in exasperation, lecturing people, smacking my forehead in disbelief, urging them to light a fire under it ….

Part of what makes Morton’s political thriller so exciting is the pace at which her story moves, influencing a habit I have recognized in myself and seen in others, of reading more rapidly, as if somehow that might prompt the positive outcome of characters in danger. Paired with a narrative of intrigue and deception, betrayal woven into even small corners of instances, we become more suspicious of everything and then cry out when someone falls into a trap.

One such potential snare is a Roma Novan law that functions for the society’s women to retain power, but its discriminatory nature provides a weak spot for exploitation. As plot device, however, it is strong, setting the stage for Caius to make his attempts at “reform,” and threatening to lead his nation to a Roman dystopia. Then there is the Roman feel of the setting, what with traditional names (including plural ending of surnames), titles (domina, Praetorian), reference to ancient worship (“What in Hades is that supposed to mean?” or “Jupiter! What’s this?”) and the perception that the Prussians are a soft society, amongst a people who use cell phones, drive cars and do business worldwide. This, to be honest, is a lot to mix together, but Morton does it with style and flair as she also subtly mirrors real-life current events and passionate but flawed expectations:

Terrifying as the attack … had been, it was minor compared with the trouble in the city. By the time he’d flown out to see me, Plico had compiled the full picture. A parade of thousands of men from the Roman National Movement marching in full toga order from the forum had ended a rally in front of the amphitheatre with twice the number they’d started with. There’d been declamatory speeches which some of Plico’s operatives had listened to while mingling with the toga toughs.

 ‘The speakers call themselves Gracchus, Sulla, Clodius and so on.’ He snorted. ‘Pseudonyms, obviously, but they’ve got the crowd fired up. My people said they pushed emotional words at the crowd, repeating over and over again stuff about land, virtue, tradition, strength, order, manliness, grabbing every popular reference they could from history. They called for stability, jobs, respect—all the usual stuff—without any explanation about how they were going to deliver them, of course.’

It would be a mistake to perceive this as mere gender reversal, not only because, as weak Roma Novan governance itself demonstrates, any group is subject to instability, but also as it removes personhood from the entire populace, not only its men. As a study in leadership, it works, because this angle, too, reveals the strengths and weaknesses of all people (not only women), and highlights a need for balance to overcome inequality, not legislatively favoring one or certain elements within any population.

As we are given greater view to genuine gripes exploited by an agenda, the rapid pace of the narrative reflects the manner in which individuals must act. Though Aurelia draws on her past experience to move forward, as a character she grows. Her humanity is more revealed, though so too is her vulnerability. Her very real anxieties threaten to trip her up as they carry readers along with events, breathlessly urging her to be as wary of her fears as the occasions that birth them. For readers familiar with the titular character of Aurelia, this is especially satisfying given her very practical and efficient portrayal in the cycle’s first installment.

Overall, it’s easy to say this was a fantastically paced tale with a plot that captures reader attention and doesn’t let go. Aurelia is a likeable character up against an enemy carefully developed into a realistic and formidable foe. With subtle teasers here and there as to the future of Roma Nova, it beckons us deeper into Alison Morton’s world. Read alone or along with the others, those within this world grow closer to us and we care about what happens to them, as does Aurelia, even though she doesn’t like some of them very much. It causes one to wonder what happens next, which can be seen in the first three books of the series, though we suspect they will remain with us long after even their conclusion.

To enter the contest for a FREE e-copy of Insurrectio, simply comment below – no need for anything fancy! – and you’re in! Alternately, you may also comment at this review Facebook thread, located here. 

Drawing to be held December 2

To read my review for Aurelia, click here.

 

About the Author…

Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now ….

But something else fuels her writing … fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women.morton

Alison lives in France and writes Roman-themed thrillers with tough heroines.

*********

You can connect with Alison Morton on her Roma Nova site, Facebook author page, at Twitter and on Goodreads.

 

Be sure to check out other great titles from Alison Morton~

Inceptio, the first in the Roma Nova series: shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award; B.R.A.G. Medallion finalist in 2014; Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

Perfiditas, second in series: B.R.A.G. Medallion; finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

Successio, third in series: Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014; B.R.A.G. Medallion; Editor’s Choice, The Bookseller’s Inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

And more on Insurrectio, fifth in series, second in a new cycle of three and multiple award winner. To purchase Insurrectio, click here for multiple retailers/formats.

*********

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

Image courtesy Alison Morton

*********

Book Review: Child of the Northern Spring (Plus Giveaway)

Update: Drawing referenced below will be held December 16

(see link here)

I no longer recall how it was I came into contact with Persia Woolley, though I do remember it was on Facebook we first spoke. Perhaps I messaged her with the same words of adoration she’d heard a thousand times before, something like, “I read your books when I was in school and loved them ….”

No matter; she was always gracious and friendly. In our case she had a connection to the isolated place I live in and frequently asked about my child by name. It was as if he was her own relative, and her recall of his antics gifted me with fits of laughter all over again. Knowing of my love for Richard III, she sent me a booklet and we chatted online about word etymology, reading and writing, snow, teenagers and pizza–all sorts of fun stuff, and when looking back I was surprised at how extensive our little snippets of chatter were. 

One day I picked up the phone and dialed her number, expecting that she might be too busy or politely end the call after a decently lengthy enough courtesy exchange. Instead, when she heard my name she launched straight into conversation and we talked for at least two hours. It was like a birthday present, and I marveled later not at how much smaller the world has become (or so it is said; I’m not sure I believe it), but rather that some of the people within it are just as pleased to interact as we are. Persia, though, was more than just great at making people feel special; what you said mattered. I could always see that in her responses, and I valued it greatly. I still do.

On October 4 I was surprised and saddened to receive a message early in the morning, via comment subscription at her website, that Persia had passed away. I knew she was older and she had always spoken openly of aging, for the better and worse. I guess, though, when some people are so full of life, we forget that they are subject to the same rules of eternity as everyone else. It was a harsh lesson for the day, because I loved and cherished her presence in my life, online though it mostly was, and I already missed it sorely. 

I have long wanted to write a review of Persia’s words, and so today I present this one, hoping that on this day, this wonderful lady’s birthday, it can be like a gift for her, shared with many others who perhaps will see her works for the first time and join Guinevere’s world, or those who, like me, were earlier acquainted and fall in love all over again. I’ll be re-reading the next two in the series and hope you will as well. 

In memory of Persia Woolley and as a special thank you, I would like to gift a copy of Child of the Northern Spring

Please see below for more information 

Godspeed, Persia, and until we meet again!

Child of the Northern Spring
Book I of The Guinevere Trilogy

by Persia Woolley

I first read Persia Woolley’s Guinevere trilogy when I was in high school, loved it and was sure I would again. What I didn’t realize, when I recently began re-reading Child of the Northern Spring, was exactly how much I would enjoy this book, how much more, this time around. First in a series depicting the Arthurian age from the eyes of Guinevere, Child of the Northern Spring is packed with detail: expert observations of human behavior, particulars of the natural world and idiosyncrasies of various relationships—for starters. The narrative is written as if by the hand of someone who has actually experienced life in these times, ridden the trails and watched the world of the day, then with magnificent recall tells us of the era we long to know.

Updated cover for Child of the Northern Spring. I love the visual of Guinevere!

Readers join the story as Guinevere, Celtic princess and daughter of King Leodegrance, recalls the previous night when a bit of panic had set in and she scrambled to make a getaway from the next morning, now arrived, when she would begin her journey to become High Queen, wife of the legendary King Arthur. Reminded of the strength of Celtic womanhood, Guinevere determines to make the transition and her recall opens up as she remembers the road leading to this moment.

As the measured progress of her wedding journey slowly makes its way south, readers and protagonist are taken along the pathway of the princess’s childhood, and in alternating chapters, Guinevere tells her story as she describes the drive to her new home, the two roads ultimately meeting as her destination draws near. Woolley so expertly fuses the two times while simultaneously distinguishing which events are happening when, bringing to bear on a life story the understanding that in some manner everything is linked, as far apart or disparate as it all seems to be. Guinevere, too, her sense of history—personal as well as social—merging with contemplations of those yet to come, envisages a future in which “our lives shall run together. Like a tapestry of human endeavor, woven on a god-held warp, dyed with the glories of each individual’s action[.]”

One of the elements I liked best in this Arthurian novel is likely what many others have as well—the representation of a strong female character. It is important to remember, however, that such individuals, while they surely existed in real long-ago times, are not simply more ancient versions of today’s feminism. Respecting historical women as the individuals they are entails understanding what is important to them, in their context and from their perspectives, and Woolley portrays this magnificently as her Guinevere shares seeds of success, dreams, and toil that benefit all of her people without prejudice, aware that the true test of a leader’s success is how well all of her subjects fare, not only a focus group.

Two major conflicts disturb Guinevere’s progress: loyalty to her homeland, Rheged, where she was groomed to be queen, and the new Christian church, looming large before her, raised as she was in the old ways. As we learn more of her background, she too begins to see with new eyes the childhood that led to these moments. Woolley breathes new life into the tales of this character, often depicted elsewhere as passive and perhaps a bit spoiled, and succinctly portrays why—apart from leaving the only home she has every known—Guinevere is apprehensive about departing Rheged. The links of political allegiances, relationships and past events are expertly fused and the author avoids the common trap of getting lost in the wants of various warlords. The characters’ motives are believable, and how Guinevere embraces change well-balanced: she neither acquiesces easily nor exhibits stubborn refusals.

Cover for Child of the Northern Spring’s original 1987 edition

The book has a rather wide cast of characters, and Woolley manages their appearances proficiently, often naming chapters for the focus of that moment in Guinevere’s journey, with occasional re-appearances. Many, like Morgan le Fay, are familiar, and Woolley’s realistic treatment of them adds to the refreshing nature of this book, originally published in 1987, while remaining true to their mythologies.

Morgan was on her feet and pacing by then, moving with Arthur’s sure stride from one end of the room to the other. One hand nervously twisted the black curl that hung down by her ear, and she was such a contrast to her mother’s fair composure, it seemed likely the title “le Fay” hinted at her being a changeling child. I remembered our first meeting and half-expected her to vanish in a fit of rage, with or without the magic of a Druid’s Mist.

Observing these events and all the layers within them from this different perspective enables readers to contemplate characters in a new way as well, perhaps deconstruct a bit so we might question our understanding of who they are, see their humanity. As Guinevere herself seeks to answer questions pertaining to identity, she must utilize the diplomacy lessons she was reared on to see her through, and find her place as queen to a king attempting to unite a nation.

Looking at the story in acts, readers would see that there is no true arc within, as tension bubbles throughout the story while various events unfold. Moreover, knowing this to be the first part of a trilogy, I tend to see this installment as Act I in and of itself, as most who know the legends are aware of the troubles to come, and readers will be hungry for more of Guinevere as only Persia Woolley could present her.

 

To be in on your chance to win a free copy of Persia Woolley’s Child of the Northern Spring,

please comment below OR at this blog’s Facebook thread, which can be found here.

Drawing will be held in mid-December.

The Guinevere Trilogy:
(click links)

Child of the Northern Spring (Book I)

Queen of the Summer Stars (Book II)

Guinevere, The Legend in Autumn (Book III)