Author Spotlight: A Study and Some Personal Experience of Lewis Carroll

A few months ago I began a contributing assignment for a Facebook writer’s group I belong to, and decided almost straightaway to re-post here on the blog for others to read the entries as well. Unfortunately, time often got in the way and I’ve since done several, perhaps five or six, without the additional postings. No worries, we can catch up or meander along, as we like!

Last night as I finished writing this most recent one, I decided to take the few moments it would require to get it going once and for all. And so here I present you first, the inimitable Lewis Carroll.

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“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Lewis Carroll self portrait, c. 1856 By Reginald Southey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
You know Lewis Carroll and the journey his Alice took through Wonderland and, subsequently, in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, in which Alice moves through the story and countryside as a chess pawn, advancing from square to square by crossings on the terrain she follows. The stories’ main character is inspired by Alice Liddell, with whose family Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was acquainted. Their relationship and later years are magnificently explored in Anne Clark’s The Real Alice, which I read as a teen and highly recommend. Also worth checking out is Martin Gardner’s fantastic The Annotated Alice—especially the bit about looking glass milk, which fascinated me to no end as a child.


Some interesting tidbits about Through the Looking Glass and chess may be found here.


However, Charles Dodgson was much more than a quirky children’s author. He was also a mathematician and logician, artist and Anglican cleric who served as a don at Oxford University. In his time the art of photography was in its infancy, and Dodgson was a keen practitioner, later running a successful studio that produced about 3,000 images, though many have been lost.

Alice Liddell (age 7) and ferns: this was published as a miniature on the last page of the original Alice’s Adventures Underground (1861). Lewis Carroll [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Dodgson taught mathematics at Christ Church College and, like today’s learners, many of the students were accustomed to blocking the possibility that they could do well in mathematics. He created fun ideas and games to help make the material less dense and dull, as well as syllogisms to aid in the study of logic. As the page linked here states, knowing about his scholarly achievements helps us to better understand his most famous works. (Do explore the whole page, but in particular the syzygies on bottom right, last image but one.)

Two links to explore Carroll’s puzzles on logic may be found here and here.

From childhood, even before I fully understood what I was absorbing into my brain, I found Dodgson’s life and career to be fascinating and filled with worlds of information from nearly every discipline. Dodgson was also an artist and he inspired me to give the form a serious study, so for one year I focused utterly and completely on drawing.

Alice Liddell dressed up as a beggar maid, Lewis Carroll [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I didn’t come out in the end a renowned artiste, but the experience did open for me many doors I hadn’t yet explored, exercised my brain in ways that enabled me to think using varied patterns, and exposed me, via a great deal of linkage, to many more creative ideas and people, all of which immensely enriched my life. As a lover of words, I took special delight in his nonsense verse; “portmanteau words”; literal use of phrases and idioms and poetry. One of my favorites was “Jabberwocky”:

 

 

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

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“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

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He took his vorpal sword in hand;

Long time the manxome foe he sought—

So rested he by the Tumtum tree

And stood awhile in thought.

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And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

(Complete poem)

The Jabberwocky, as illustrated by Sir John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” John Tenniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Dodgson was close friends with Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, brother to poet Christina Rossetti, also previously written about in these pages. George MacDonald, Scottish author and poet, was so enthusiastic about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that Dodgson decided to submit it for publication, and since its release in 1865 it has never been out of print. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson died in 1898, just short of his 66th birthday.

It was many years following his death that the myths about Dodgson’s disinterest in women and deviant eye for girl children arose, perhaps partially exacerbated by his family’s suppression of his letters and journals, as they depicted relationships with adult females that would have been considered scandalous at the time, and the family wished to preserve his reputation. The accusations of pedophilia, too, ignore Victorian perceptions and habits and uphold an insistence upon viewing Dodgson via our 21st century lens. This isn’t to say that pedophilia was acceptable to Victorians, but rather that child nudity was perceived as a symbol of innocence and not erotica or pornographic. As stated in an essay where this debate is discussed, the accusations perhaps say more about the accusing society—ours—than Dodgson, especially given the modern sexualization of children.

Carroll’s diagram of the story (Through the Looking Glass) as a chess game. Lewis Carroll [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Whether just for fun or a more serious study, try your hand at a few of Carroll’s puzzles at this page, which starts with another brief but fantastic bio of the author and contains a word on the puzzling question presented by Lewis Carroll, which has never been answered with complete certainty! A succinct summary of how the Alice books came to be, with some fascinating background, tells more here.

I can’t say enough about the two books mentioned in the first paragraph, and further study of this fascinating and genius man and his wonderful works, which keep us actively guessing and pondering, and probably always will.

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Page from the original manuscript copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, 1864, Lewis Carroll [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, inspired by a rowboat expedition up the Thames, with Dodgson, the Reverend Robin Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters: Alice, Edith and Lorina.

 

Book Review: Baffled by Love

Baffled by Love: Stories of the Lasting Impact of
Childhood Trauma Inflicted by Loved Ones
by Laurie Kahn

How does one explain the reality of cruelty perpetrated by humans onto other people? More baffling would be an encounter with statistics that indicate victims of violence often know their abusers. Worse still wouldn’t even be realizing that many of the traumatized are the most vulnerable of our citizens—children—but rather that those who hurt them so badly are the very people meant to cherish and protect them: authority figures such as parents, relatives, neighbors, coaches, babysitters. The understandings they develop of the world and how to function as part of it are learned within the context of their violent upbringings and brought to bear on every relationship they subsequently enter into. Without intervention, the dysfunctions that set the stage of their personalities—coping methods, interpersonal communication and more—can negatively impact their broader life in the present as well as far into the future.

Laurie Kahn, a psychotherapist in practice since three decades, brings us through some of the dark places individuals have traversed in Baffled by Love: Stories of the Lasting Impact of Childhood Trauma Inflicted by Loved Ones. These are re-tellings of childhoods disturbed, interrupted and robbed by sexual and other violence, emotional manipulation and “corrupt models of love.” As adults, Kahn’s clients couldn’t form healthy intimate relationships because what they understood to be love was actually a set of circumstances that crippled their abilities in love and other arenas.

This failure to know love can prove debilitating…Love is the pathway to connections with others; it is the key to our humanity. Love breeds compassion, and it sustains us in the face of adversity. Love creates meaning in our lives. Without empathy or compassion for others, you can harm others and feel little or no regret. Children who are deprived of love have two difficult choices: yearn for love or succumb to numbing indifference and contempt for others.

 Lovelessness is excruciating in its banality. It robs a child of her vitality. It leaves no physical welts or scars, just a devastating, enduring emptiness. Lovelessness has no language, poetry, or music. It is unnamed, hidden from view and disabling.

 Kahn’s discussion of each chapter is set up within a framework introducing a client or a particular angle that lays out a concept she expertly deconstructs and subsequently pieces together before our eyes as a means to illustrate how people’s lives are affected by what they have endured. However, the author doesn’t merely present case studies and pair the experiences with smart summaries of what went wrong, nor is her picking apart of life details shrouded in psychologist talk that—as I have often found elsewhere—makes sense individually but loses me under the weight of its numerous detail of theories, labels and pathologies.

Instead Kahn focuses on her clients’ humanity, often enabling our understanding in ways as simple as identifying what was lost and how that negatively impacts now, when the individual needs the foundation of such typical experiences to proceed in a constructive manner. In so doing the author displays her storytelling prowess, perhaps exercised even more brilliantly given these are not “stories” in the manner of which we are accustomed to discussing them. Respectful in how she handles each person, she lays out the scenes, interactions between herself and a client, perhaps, or someone may narrate or act out a memory—providing openings into angles she simultaneously discusses. One of Kahn’s most succinct passages illustrates the concept of what she calls “damaged danger detectors”:

Wendy was raised believing that the world was a dangerous place, and that family provided love and comfort. The abuse and neglect she experienced and witnessed in her family left her with no way to assess who was safe and who was not.

It points to what many of us hear about regarding any family dynamic, negative or positive: what the child grows within is what he or she perceives as normal, with the added handicap of mistaking other abusive behavior for caring, or inability to recognize warning signs in later relationships and, tragically, falling into the trap of serial victimhood.

Also a major part of how Kahn sets up her topic is by opening herself up as well to what we see. Alternating chapters move into the memoir, a condition, she writes, that “mortifies” her. It pairs, however, with another approach she utilizes, that of searing honesty within her counselor-client relationships that results in self-reflection, specifically as to the emotions she feels that unsettle her the most. With adroitness she addresses the relationship between the traditional therapeutic ideal of distance, not getting too close to clients, and trauma survivors’ greatest fear of triggering their therapists’ withdrawal.

As the book proceeds, all of this is wrapped amongst each other, nestled with details of her clients’ and Kahn’s own childhoods, as it exposes a reality that these lessons—repeatedly taught and learned by the author in her counseling role—can provide benefit to those outside of these scenarios as well. Honest self-reflection enables us to love ourselves better as we are even if we simultaneously, silently, admit there is much room for improvement, and provides compassion toward others and the ability to grow this sort of love. In this way and others Kahn keeps Baffled by Love from becoming, at its heart, an exercise in voyeurism. Instead, she enables us as humans to travel through this life with a better set of luggage, packed with tools that strengthen our self-respect as well as regard for the myriad ways in which we and those others who occupy any given moment with us got there, and move forward together.

While not the easiest book to read given its content, Baffled by Love nevertheless is also not a mere litany of abuse. Kahn explores ways to find healing, to discover a productive love, all within writing so smooth and pleasing we hardly realize we are, in some instances, also being instructed. Her varied angles are threaded together impressively, creating a smooth tapestry, powerful in its representation of histories and touching in its willingness to be vulnerable for the sake of others. With something to offer a wide audience, even those without the issues her clients faced, it is a worthy read that transcends other accounts of the healing of broken love.

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About the author ….

Laurie Kahn MA, LCPC, MFA is a pioneer in the field of trauma treatment. For more than thirty years, she has specialized in the treatment of survivors of childhood abuse. In 1980, she founded Womencare Counseling and Training Center.

Since then, her ideas and expertise have served both people who have experienced childhood abuse and hundreds of clinicians who have graduated from her Trauma Consultation Training Program.

Laurie’s personal essays have been published in anthologies, and her articles and book reviews have appeared in the Journal of Trauma and Dissociation and The Journal of Trauma Practice.

She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, Michael, and her labradoodle, Kali.

For more information about Laurie, please visit Womencare Counseling and the author’s website. An excerpt of Baffled by Love is available here and may be purchased at Amazon.

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The reviewer received a free copy of Baffled by Love in exchange for an honest review. 

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Reading 2017: Reading Challenge 2017

As readers are aware from my last entry in this series, I was not entirely satisfied with my challenge experience for 2016. It seemed to focus solely on numbers and achieving more—more than one’s own from a previous year, certainly. But it’s also difficult to deny the creeping competition involving others, which in this context I’m not all that interested in, to be honest. I read 60 books last year, more than some others did. Bragging rights? Hardly! Many other readers gobbled up a whole lot more books than I did. OK, so?

So, I wasn’t planning to do a 2017 challenge because, quantity being the primary accomplishment, I was bored. Plus, I didn’t really want the stress. Then I came across one of my Goodreads group’s discussions, and saw a few options that intrigued, opening me up to the realization that my imagination was lacking. As mentioned in that previous Reading 2017 entry, their many options included a serious re-visiting of one’s To Be Read (TBR) list; step reading through different series; re-reads; exploring new authors and so on. I decided to take a little from a couple of ideas and tailor them to my own challenge, which became:

Explore three genres that are new or newish to you and read five books that have been on your TBR for more than one year.

In the interest of a truer exploration, I added a “three by three” element to the new-genres side of the challenge: that is to say, three of each new genre for a total of nine books. There’s that counting thing again, but the real aim is to look into the genre from at least a few different angles, each author having their own style, and stories being like children in a family, typically they are completely different to one another. I wanted to avoid any expectation that one story could represent an entire genre.

I purchased this book in 2012 and still have yet to read it. Will it make the TBR challenge in 2017?

The TBR addition wasn’t merely to add bulk: I really do have a boatload of reads I keep saying I am getting to. I recall once making a very intellectual stranger laugh when I commented within some casual group book talk that I was trying really hard to be “just about to start reading” a non-fiction work about the Peloponnesian War. I wasn’t that keen on his resultant mirth until he told me most people skip anything that reveals the difficulty they have getting started, but the ease with which they name drop. OK, that stirred me a bit. That, dear readers, was in 2012.

As of now I haven’t yet chosen my TBR reads, though my “new or newish” genres are sci-fi, true crime and graphic novels. Having previously read and reviewed one sci-fi tale might have given me the courage to move forward, because I loved it (and a review of its sequel is slated for next week)! I do admit I was tempted to make this upcoming one part of my three-by-three bracket, but slapped my wrist and told myself to be brave.

Graphic novels, too, I have a tad bit of experience with, though I’d wanted to expand my repertoire and read a few more than the kiddie ones I’d been doing. I liked them, sure, but had also heard that some classics had been transformed into this genre and that really put me on alert for something fantastic that could be.

The first in my true-crime reading spree. (Click image for review.)

Finally, true crime had been recommended to me and I made the leap, reading and reviewing the first of the three I’d resolved to review one from each genre in their own three-part series, the start of which can be found here. Mark Fuhrman’s Murder in Greenwich was so well written I decided to seek out another from his collection. Another recommendation led me to my final true crime, which rounded out that genre early in the year. I’ll write more about the entire bracket later in the Reading 2017 series.

So: nine new-genre reads and five long-time waiting ones. A number again, but after all the challenge does require you punch one in. I made mine fifteen for a nice, rounded figure, and reached it quite quickly—though not having met my real goal. I’ve upped it to twenty-five, though this too has been achieved, and am about to raise it again. It’s a good feeling to be able to dismiss what that number might be, knowing there is something more important within, and the links that lead me, like stepping stones, along a pathway of ideas as I pile yet ever more on top of my already tottering TBR.

A few picks from my TBR (Click to read more about selected titles; what I’m currently reading is linked in sidebar)

Stay tuned for more in “Reading 2017” and its three-part spinoff series, “New Genre Library.”

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Book Review: The Dragon’s Castle

The Dragon’s Castle (Book II in The Apprentice series)
by James Cardona

I recall being surprised as a teenager that books about Merlin qualified as fantasy; I had grown accustomed to perceiving that genre as stocked with dei ex machina and endless casts of characters I couldn’t keep track of. Certainly, I did concede that perhaps I just wasn’t good with all those relationships, but it remained true I simply didn’t wish to trail after an endless parade of people in each book. As a result, I’ve been rather uninterested in fantasy for a number of years.

Lately I’ve been having a new look at the genre and The Dragon’s Castle, second of two James Cardona  novels I’ve now read, has gone a long way in persuading me that I might have been missing out. The novel features four, perhaps more modern, wizards: Nes’egrinon and his apprentice Bel, who are drawn to the fortress city of Sha’mont as war looms, and Shireen under the watch of her mentor, Meetta.

When Bel and Shireen come face to face, the memories of their prior history pick at scars of the past and a forced split, owing to the regulations prohibiting romantic relationships amongst those who choose the wizarding way. This inner conflict occurs alongside the threatened invasion of Sha’mont by its king’s cousin, Seol, who rules half of the divided kingdom their grandfather had bequeathed separately to his two sons, Seol and Thrashel’s fathers. As with any kingdom, jealousies and ambition hold sway; as things heat up, the problem the wizards encounter is discerning exactly who holds these emotions, and how they wield their power.

One marvelous difference in Cardona’s tale is that it is not populated by so many people who appear randomly but bear also the requirement of knowing reams of prior history in order to understand their roles. To be sure, there are many people within, but the author keeps it straightforward and doesn’t assign greater importance to anyone who doesn’t fully make himself known. Moreover, he provides a character listing, divided into magical and non-magical, with simplified descriptions of the role each person plays. In my own reading I almost never had to refer to it, given that Cardona weaves what backstories we need so seamlessly into his narrative, readers are able to do what they are meant to: sit back and enjoy the story.

And enjoy it I did. Cardona’s style is what I might call “spare, with details.” One look at the book—nearly 600 pages—may well cause balking at use of the word “spare,” but I assure, you’ll be glad to hold such heft in your hands, knowing you still have so much addicting read ahead. The narrative has plenty of detail, but keeps the plot moving forward and doesn’t get hung up on a move here or a contemplation there, largely because the story is so skillfully written with both openness and mystery. The revelation of one detail comes with clues but stays concealed for a reason. Simultaneously we become involved with other scenes so thrilling and some potentially deadly the flow of adrenaline becomes a rush, while we still care for the characters involved.

A young adult novel, The Dragon’s Castle has its fair share of violence, though not gratuitous and it is on par with that of many other YA novels. Moreover, Cardona’s characters address the manner in which war mangles and destroys the lives of people caught in the middle, and they thoughtfully contemplate their own decisions, before and after choices are made. The complexity of the plot as well as how the author moves us through it treats young adults as competent readers, with a perfect balance of reader- and writer-friendly language also suitable for adults.

While much of the language is pragmatic and to the point, Cardona’s narrative is at times laced with graceful views to the world around the wizards, typically woven smoothly into a small passage that provides an abundance of detail.

Although they mostly rode in the shade as the trees on either side of the path held hands overhead and provided much cover, yet it was steamy and humid in the forest. They did not press their horses but let them walk at their own pace.

Whether a more sedate scene such as referenced above, or one of action-filled episodes, the author brings readers into the moment and tension builds within as we read along, urging and championing Bel as situations flare up, secrets are revealed and the cast searches for victory without the total destruction of all they and others hold dear. Moreover, Cardona skillfully constructs a fantasy that nevertheless reflects realities of our own world, romance, difficult decisions, loss and interpersonal communication playing many of the same roles young readers themselves are likely to encounter as they mature.

Though The Dragon’s Castle is second in its series, it reads exceedingly well as a standalone novel, and I highly recommend it not only for an audience already keen on fantasy, but also for those seeking a great new read. Equipped with steady pacing and fantastic plot, constructed with technical expertise and care for humanity, this is a novel that will draw readers into a world brought to life so engagingly they won’t want to put it down.

About the author …

James Cardona was born in Lorain, Ohio, and received his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Delaware with a minor in Religious Studies. He also studied briefly at Penn State University. He spent six years in the U.S. Navy and served during the first Gulf War. He has worked in factories and food service, as an electrician, a teacher, supervisor and engineer. But like many creatives, his heart beats most strongly when it is full of the magic of building something new. Besides writing, he can be found drawing, painting, writing computer code, tinkering with electronics and building robots. Prior to his knees turning creaky he was an avid runner, completing about fifty or so races at the half marathon distance or greater.

EM3 James Cardona

His debut novel was Gabriella and Dr. Duggan’s Dimensional Transport Machine, the first book in the NuGen series. In 2013, he wrote the children’s science fiction-holiday book Santa Claus vs. The Aliens, followed by first in The Apprentice fantasy series, Under the Shadow of Darkness. In 2015, he penned three new books: Gabriella and the Curse of the Black Spot, second in the NuGen series and The Dragon’s Castle, second in The Apprentice series. Finally, in 2015 he wrote something completely different, Community 17, a whirlwind, dystopian science-fiction adventure. In 2016, James released Dragon Hunters, a science fiction-fantasy mashup of a story, and The Night Wolf, a prelude tale set in the world of the apprentice series.

The Worthy Apprentice is now available and he is currently working on Into Darkness, which are parts three and four of The Apprentice series, respectively. He is also writing something fresh and new, a science fiction book tentatively titled Rebirth.

To learn much more about the multi-award winning author James Cardona, including more biographical information and history, see his fun, informative and intriguing website. You can also follow him at Goodreads and find his books at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Click here for my review of Community 17: A Dystopian Novella.

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Photos courtesy James Cardona

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A free copy of The Dragon’s Castle was provided in order to facilitate an honest review.

950: 1066 Remembered, Guest Post: The Price of Love and Loyalty (Annie Whitehead)

Having previously looked backward into history as part of our examination of 1066, multiple award-winning author Annie Whitehead now brings us into even closer focus as we seek to make sense of this Conquest and all it has wrought. In so doing, we find we are not the only ones weighing the flood of events, actions, loyalties, what we say and what we do not. Could something have changed this deluge, could we have prevented it? Might we have escaped paying a price while remaining true? Or was it fated to happen, that we be swept up and carried along in meandering history, so like the wildest river Alvar speaks of with King Edgar?

The “thin place” author Annie Whitehead walks, where worlds old and new rub shoulders, and opportunities may arise to cross paths with those who came before …. (click image)

If we were to spy upon King Edgar, look at him from a (very) long-distance viewpoint, we would notice that, even compared to his contemporaries, he is short of stature. Perhaps his reputation is a little unremarkable, too. In a list of kings which featured Alfred the Great and Aethelred the Unready, Athelstan, he would barely stand out.

Yet in many ways, he was the most successful king of the tenth century. Respected, loved, he never had to fight, not on the battlefield, anyway. He and his brother were orphaned at a very young age, when their father the king died and was succeeded by his brother, who then died young, and childless. The teenage boys grew up separately. One of them, the eldest, was profligate, and louche, and was deeply unpopular. The other was Edgar, who grew up in the house of the powerful earl of East Anglia, where he developed ambition, and learned the art of politics. He saw how to harness the power and strength of other men, and he decided he wanted a kingdom for himself.

And since we’re having a peek, let me introduce Alvar (Old English name ‘Aelfhere’). He was Edgar’s right-hand man, helping him to secure a throne, and, much later, helping his son to secure one, too. He and his king are thinking about the years they spent together, when Alvar was earl of the powerful erstwhile kingdom of Mercia, dependent on Edgar for his position, while Edgar was dependent on the loyalty of Alvar, and the folk who lived on his lands.

Edgar: You broke an oath to serve me.

King Edgar the Peaceful, a contemporary portrayal in the New Minster Charter. via Wikimedia Commons

Alvar: I did. And it has been a cross to bear. But I saw a strength in you that I had not seen in your elder brother, whom I had sworn to serve. Some said his morals were lax, but my lord, I could say the same about yours. He was a weak man, and although it wasn’t fair what they did to him, it’s true that he was not fit to rule. He tried to buy the nobles, by giving them land. You seemed to understand what was required of a king. You respected the people you sought to rule. That was important to me.

Edgar: Ah yes, the Mercians. A proud people.

Alvar: Rightly so. Look what we achieved…

Edgar: Let me stop you before you give me a history lesson. You begin to sound like your faithful man, Helmstan. Always talking about Mercian independence…

Alvar: But you recognised it as fact.

Edgar: I did. I was nothing if not prudent. The Mercians and the Northumbrians were mainly of Danish stock by the time I came to the throne and I would have been mad not to acknowledge that. I knew I had to win their support against my brother, and I had to repay the debt. My policy was to keep everyone happy, with no reason to rebel. It worked. You all loved me.

Alvar: We did. We didn’t love each other though, that was the problem. We, the lords, and your bishops, well, let’s say we found ourselves with different ambitions.

Edgar: I held you all together, didn’t I?  Between us all, look how we even managed to arrange that all the kings of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man bowed down to me. Now that was a team effort. I even ignored the rumours about you and my wife…

Alvar: There was only ever one person who believed those rumours, and she should have looked at the evidence.

Edgar: When you say ‘she’, do you mean my wife, or Helmstan’s wife?

Alvar: You knew? Please say you never told him. I was never disloyal. I kept it secret, or so I thought.

Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire, where Alvar had his main residence. Courtesy Charlesdrakew via Wikimedia Commons

Edgar: You were never disloyal to anyone, and that was your failing, really. You served me and mine well and faithfully. I know how much you sacrificed to help me take the throne, to help me keep it, and I know how hard you fought for my son.

Alvar: There was nigh-on full scale civil war, you know? At first, I was merely fighting for your son, as rightful heir, and then the tide of Mercian resistance seemed to sweep me along. It carried me to some dark places. Things were done…

Edgar: But even if they were done in your name, they were not done by you. Some of your enemies could have said the same thing, could they not?

Alvar: Ah, now here is where I must beg to differ. I did all I could to prevent what happened. Had I arrived just a few minutes sooner, I could have averted a killing. Dunstan, on the other hand…

Edgar: Shall we speak of him with full honour, and accord him his title of Archbishop of Canterbury?

Alvar: If you insist. The archbishop knew of many things, some done in his name, some done for his cause, about which he should not have kept silent.

Edgar: Hmm. Perhaps you are right. So how would you sum up our story?

Alvar: It is a story of kings, murdered. It is a tale of Mercia – a once proud kingdom, with nationalist feeling still running high. It is a love story, and love, as we know, never takes the straight course but meanders like the wildest river. The key word of this tale is loyalty. We are all bound by it, we all makes mistakes because of it. Some of us die for it…

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Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Æthelflæd, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s (HNS) Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion and Chill With a Book Award.

Her newest release, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia. It charts the career of the earl who sacrificed personal happiness to secure the throne of England for King Edgar, and, later, Æthelred the Unready. Alvar the Kingmaker is also a recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion.

She has completed a third novel, also set in Mercia, and scheduled for publication in 2017. She has twice been a prizewinner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition, she won first prize for nonfiction in the new Writing Magazine Poetry and Prose competition, and she has had articles published in various magazines, on a wide range of topics. She is also an editor for the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) blog.

Most recently, she has contributed to the anthology of short stories, 1066: Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagine the events of 1066, and which has just been awarded HNS Editors’ choice and long-listed for Book of the Year 2017. She lives in the English Lake District with her husband and has three grown-up ‘children’.

You can learn more about and follow author Annie Whitehead and her work at her website, blog, Twitter, Facebook and her Amazon author page. Click titles to purchase To Be A Queen, Alvar the Kingmaker and 1066: Turned Upside Down.

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For links to previous entries in our “950: 1066 Remembered” series, including reviews for To Be A  Queen and Alvar the Kingmaker, click here.

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“Thin place” photo courtesy Annie Whitehead.

Browsing Books: Magical Magazine Edition

I used to love magazines. Only particular periodicals, of course, but love them nonetheless, for their gloss and thick, wonderful feel in my hands, a sensation that seemed to promise an equally fat chunk of time and pleasure in the perusal of their lovely images, thought-provoking articles, book recommendations, recipes, readings and snip-worthy portions, some of which, by the way, I retain from the collection of a teenage me.

hygge
Photo by and courtesy Alex Beauchamp. Click image for a lovely article about hygge.

As the years went by, however, I became less enamored of magazines, partly because more adult obligations entered my life and I simply lacked time. Though it is true, too, that the ads, which before I mostly skipped over save for their cut-and-pastability, grew old, and there were so many of them in the glossies I had once cherished. I suppose someone had to revenue the expensive articles, but paying the price for what nearly amounted to a book of advertisements was no longer charming. Moreover, as the letters from editors and articles became viciously politicized, I grew weary of expending so much mental energy working through words that demonized people such as myself—and via laundry lists of hate tellingly leaving out details that didn’t fit their apparent agendas. These reads no longer fed my soul, but rather sucked from me like a parasite, especially considering I was paying for them to do it.

This changed a couple of years ago when by chance I happened across a few magazines whose cover images communicated such feelings as “soulful inspiration” and “cozy retreat,” along with “creative simplicity” and “comforting beauty.” I was drawn to the special edition of one that spoke entirely about mindfulness, a sensible philosophy, oddly paired as that phrase may seem, that focuses on the moment. The many ideas wrapped themselves around me like a warm blanket because they were exactly what I needed in a life that had so much packed into it and demanded an amount of attention I could no longer give and remain healthy. Lovingly the words reached out to me, persuading that only one action should be something I do in that very moment: slow down.

Some readers here may remember the one that struck me from the start and that I haven’t let go of since: Flow. “A magazine for papers lovers,” it bills itself, and I am most definitely a paper fool. In the past couple of years I’ve seen a bit of an uptick in the magazine’s drive to increase reader consumerism with their spinoff products, something I really don’t need and work to avoid, but apart from that I love it as much as ever. The magazine sections, with several articles in each, include “Simplify Your Life,” “Feel Connected” and “Live Mindfully,” and every issue comes with a goodie or two for the paper geeks in us. This time it’s an herbarium booklet—perfect for walks during the oncoming spring/summer.

One article that appealed speaks of finding balance, another on the advantages of waiting (helpful for those mom-to-kid discussions on delayed gratification) and “The Fun of Watercoloring.” Interestingly, the piece’s blurb points to a thought I’d been forming just recently as I attempt to drive away anxiety about my own watercolors-to-be: that them coming out not as expected (or hoped) might actually be a great thing. And the pages smell wonderful. (Yes, I smell books.)

And books indeed are what these treasures really, when it comes down to it, are. I’d contemplated this before, but it was confirmed in my mind last night when I found a new title, Bella Grace. It’s hard to overemphasize how really thrilled I was to stumble upon this, which also happened accidentally. Typically on our visits to the bookstore my son and I gather a few items and head for the café. As usual I went for the periodical section for my favored titles, but didn’t see this one until I was putting the not-gets away! So just as accidentally as with Flow, I came across one containing a section—cited on the cover no less—called “Everyday Bits of Magic Worth Celebrating.” As I turned the card-stock quality paper, illustrated with photos as opposed to the drawings in many of the other new-style magazines, I breathed in the scent of the pages, marveled at the pieces’ titles and their wonderfully economic lengths that, for me, emphasize not “brief for those in a hurry” (although that may be part of the publishers’ rationale), but rather enables the flow of thought without overwhelmingly long articles, and gasped longingly at the prompts strategically positioned following sets.

There are entire pages with just one large photo and an inspirational quote that strikes me as words we really can be inspired by, as opposed to philosophical mantras that sound great but people often dismiss as so much else competes for their thought and time. I was so delighted at much of what I saw, including in “Sentiments” where readers write in, such as: “I stopped reading most mainstream magazines because I became disenchanted with the ads and constant advice. Your magazines are total immersion therapy for soulful art and inspiration.” That is the kind of thing I have been looking for for so long—soulfulness and inspiration, not badgering or condescension from those who care only about how much money they can wring from us. The publishers of these magazines have creatively tapped into what I believe many in our societies are feeling, and providing us with a return on the money we spend. Certainly they gain when we buy their products, but we benefit as well, whereas an expensive dress we saw in a fashion magazine can make us feel beautiful or happy for only a limited amount of time if that was the kind of thing we sought with its purchase.

Of course, you’ve heard this sort of thing before; so have I. Many of us have stopped buying, but still long for something we can’t always identify or define. Naturally, much of what we need and want grows internally and no purchase—even beautiful magazines—will put that there. It’s up to us to make the effort, but what I see here also is an exchange of ideas that can enable the internal growth of an intentional life, bringing a great deal more happiness and flowering of initiative and design.

Another thing I love about it—apart from the smell—is that there is absolutely no outside advertising, so the content remains timeless and you can pass it in its folding jacket cover to someone else as a small treasure. And while the magazine does have an online presence, the real content is in the book itself, accessible by getting off the Internet, reading and sharing.

One final note: Bella Grace’s “10 Easy Ways to Add Hygge to Your Life” defines the Danish word as “a general coziness as well as taking pleasure in simple moments.” Bella Grace thinks I know what this word already means, but I’d never heard of it until last night (despite my Danish Auntie Astrid, whose love certainly was hygge itself). Nevertheless, upon arriving home I practiced it most enthusiastically with a milk bath, climbing onto a yummy bed fluff with pillows, candles and the remaining scent of my blueberry soap as I settled into the magical, wonderful words and images that I am sure I shall muse more about at another time.

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Reading 2017: Origins of the Challenge

As many of you already know, I was never a diehard reading-by-the-numbers reader. Although some time ago I began recording my books in a wonderfully thick, green memoranda volume, later switching to an online database, it never occurred to me to count. I loved gazing at all the marvelous book covers, reminiscing about the stories and worlds I’d passed through. It also didn’t hurt that I could keep track of which books I owned, favorites and those I wished to read.

Until recently, though, it never occurred to me to put a number to them, and I admit at first it did strike me as an I-read-more-than-others type of exercise. At the start of 2016, however, when I noticed the Goodreads Reading Challenge, it also piqued my interest, perhaps owing to the gap in between my green-book recording and the recent years’ entries in another online library. I also contemplated that it might be a way to expand my horizons or hone my discipline (though I confess this latter element remained a vague goal).

And so it began with an aim of 50 books.

2016 book 1 of 3
A selection of books read in 2016, not in chronological order.

For much of the year I was ahead of the game, which I could see because of course the Goodreads algorithm notes how much you should be reading each day or week to keep up with your chosen number, and whether you are behind, on target or ahead of the game. As we got closer, perhaps a month or two before the end of the year, I reached my goal and increased it to 60. Other than for numbers, I’m unsure why I did this because, while achieving a goal is said to be such a great thing, this one really did very little for me except perhaps draw me into a competitive mindset I didn’t actually value and one that created a bit of stress.

Now, mind you, I don’t dislike competition in of itself but, having now experienced this reading challenge, it became clearer why this kind of contest doesn’t do much for me. What can I say I achieved by reading 60 books in one year? Bragging rights? The awareness within myself that I could do it? Without begrudging anyone else their goals, I simply didn’t really care all that much—it didn’t make me a more thoughtful reader because I did it faster, nor did I gain any real end aim for it all. I decided in 2017 I wouldn’t bother.

2016 2 of 3
A number of my 2016 reads will extend into 2017 by way of author interviews, musings, other works by the same authors and so on. The book missing its cover is called Growing Up in the Dark Ages (by Brenda Ralph Lewis).

I also left most of the groups I belonged to because I couldn’t keep up with the notifications, most of which I wasn’t interested in, anyway. Let me qualify that: I didn’t have the time to be interested in them. What I did see were considered notes to each other in groups that, had I more time, I would follow up on. Because I didn’t (and likely won’t for the foreseeable future), they began to clutter my mind rather than enrich it, so I had to sweep them off my plate.

And then one day I saw something that caught my eye—I no longer recall if this came from a group that invited me, or one I’d not yet left, or by some other path—and I was immediately interested. Actually I saw many somethings and ended up choosing one, possibly even tailored or trimmed to suit my needs better. It was a group having an ongoing discussion about a reading challenge and, at least in my memory as I sit here recalling it, there were dozens of options, none of which I’d ever considered! They involved getting serious with one’s to be read (TBR) list, step reading (i.e. one book from one genre or series, two from the next, three from the next and so on up to 15), re-reads, and all manner of challenges that I felt really fed the mind, rather than needlessly raced it. Unfortunately for me, I tend to get bogged down by the way all these notifications and messages back and forth in threads is set up, so I never ended up really contributing to the discussion, though I was encouraged and influenced by it.

2016 3 of 3
Click image to see books listed in order read and then individual covers for more details about particular works.

And so it is I decided to have at it for 2017, though in a different manner in which I approached last year, and that I’ll write about in our next installment of the Reading 2017 series. But let it not be said I got absolutely nothing out of 2016 reads–that would be categorically untrue. Of course, some I liked better than others, or perhaps it is more accurate to say they dug themselves deeper into my reader’s heart. Most were indie, many of which I wrote reviews for and which were part of different series (one, “950: 1066 Remembered,” still ongoing). Some, too, were traditionally published. A great number of them led me in other directions or linked to pathways I’d not yet traveled, or hadn’t in quite some time. Still others brought me to places and figures I found seemed already to be etched in my heart and our further travels together began.

And all that is the real victory.

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Click here for the first entry in our Reading 2017 series, where a fellow blogger and I talk about books and blogging. To see what I’m reading now (or at any given time), click here.

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

Tales From a Revolution: West-Florida
The Smoke
by Lars D.H. Hedbor

Click here for your free copy of The Declaration
(See below for upcoming author appearances)

The American Revolution being part of a larger world war is an idea that many people don’t touch upon, or disagree as to the accuracy of such an association. However, it remains true that many British saw our rebellion as part of French technique to run them down, and Spanish losses during the Seven Years’ War influenced their involvement against the British when the thirteen colonies declared their independence. Surely not forgetting the seizure of Havana, the Spaniards set themselves up to avoid a repeat, later aiming to re-take Florida, which had been divided by the British into east and west.

Thus it is in West Florida that Lars D.H. Hedbor sets The Wind, which opens with a dramatic hurricane scene that nevertheless has a feel of calm, as Gabriel falls from a noisy and chaotic sinking ship, into a quiet bliss, taking in the welcome stillness and warm water.

The whistling of the wind in the rigging, the desperate shouts of men struggling to make themselves heard over the storm, the crash of water against the sides of the ship, all were silenced. Gone, too, were the cracks and thuds of falling spars, the hoarse cries of surprise wrenched from the throats of men as they were swept from the decks, and the deep, muffled boom of the thunder.

 The passage has a peaceful effect on readers as well, and it is not difficult to imagine how someone might be lulled into the quiet arms of death by drowning. This introduces The Wind as perhaps the most intense and powerful installment in the Tales From a Revolution series I’ve read thus far, and that’s saying something, given Hedbor’s previously demonstrated and considerable skill in transporting readers to the moment, bringing events to vivid life and enabling an audience to see the era through the eyes of his characters, who are drawn with a deep understanding of the time and locales in which they live. Here the author goes one step further in portraying a Spaniard, as opposed to an American colonist, freshening up an already-lively series with a whole new, larger perspective.

The storm that washes Gabriel onto the shores where he meets Carlotta, preceded by Governor Galvez’s plan through covert operations to aid the American rebels, also brings a number of changes into the lives of the people in its midst. The bold plot is “swept aside now by the unpredictable power of the storm, a factor that [Gabriel] suspected was not doing as much harm to the plans of their enemies upriver.” As Gabriel recuperates in Carlotta’s ramshackle dwelling, she embarks on a search for her husband, Paulo.

As Hedbor moves his story along, his competency as a writer is easily apparent. Enabled by third-person narration, the author skillfully weaves in and out of Gabriel’s point of view and his observations of Carlotta’s emotional state. Shortly after awakening the subsequent morning, “[h]is expression formed the question that she answered with a slow, sad shake of her head.” Following a few words, she “punctuates her conclusion with a deep sigh” and after a quiet conversation, her shoulders shake “with the unrelenting sobs of the bereaved.” The intervening dialogue strikes a balance in their exchange, and the tale has established itself as readers eagerly anticipate learning the fate of Paulo as well as what Gabriel plans for his future.

As the narrative continues and Gabriel’s fate opens before him, Hedbor adds more plotlines, to include murder, siege, betrayal, shipboard battle—and a foray into magical realism. The protagonist feels obligations toward the villagers, but yearns for his sailing life as he strains to cope with the growing conflicts, personal and political.

“It is a matter of our honor and our duties as subjects of King Carlos of Bourbon, in Madrid … [h]e says to fight in his name, and we can do no other.”

 Still she scowled at Gabriel, answering, “The King is not living in a hut far from his real home, counting his blessings for every potato that some far-off benefactor deigns to send him …. You ask whether our progress here satisfies me, without ever asking me once whether the goal you work toward is anything that I want. Perhaps I was not interested in re-building these shacks, and waiting for the next storm to blow them into splinters.”

 That Hedbor so succinctly and brilliantly speaks from such a wide variety of perspectives, whether within one novel and the opposing ideals of two or more characters, or when examining his other works in which he presents stories from such a diverse sampling of colonists who lived over 200 years before—this is nothing short of awe inspiring. His dialogue and its attendant character gesticulations and facial movements, depicted or observed, the narrative that flows so smoothly, contains such a trove of experience and understanding; it moves with fluidity and grace, despite the great import of its prose and importance within. We take in an entire world with the expenditure of only a few words. This is carefully crafted art, consummate storytelling, and while Hedbor’s previous novels* are radiant, The Wind champions what people have been doing for thousands of years, and fulfills the inbuilt human yearning to be told a story.

As we move closer to the Spanish attempts to wrest back from the British what was taken and divided, we encounter yet more storms, the wind of which carries in what seems like certain fate (see derived hurricane tracks here). Galvez’s forces take their aim at the Siege of Pensacola, the portrayals of which are perhaps the most skillfully executed in the entire novel. Whether inevitable defeat etched out in the scenes sailors witness, anger, upswept optimism or the burden of silent losses, readers are carried on and feel each wave as the pages turn, sense the rise and fall of fortune like the ebb and flow of the sea, smell the salt air that inspires and the longing of separation.

That Gabriel becomes part of a tale for our ears and eyes might be gratifying for him, given that his role—fictional here, though representative of many whose journeys crossed the routes described herein—floundered for quite some time, away from the imagination of the American reader. His aim for a comeback quenches American taste for revivals, and in our quest along with him to attain it, we encounter a story so rich and thrilling, readers will wonder exactly why this account is not more widely known. Thanks to Lars Hedbor, it soon will be, on our own shores and elsewhere.


* Thus far The Prize, The Light and The Smoke.

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Lars D. H. Hedbor tells a little about himself and how his novels came to be…

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.

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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 Wind 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.)

UPCOMING APPEARANCES

When: Sunday June 4 (1:30-5:00 p.m.): Wilsonville Festival of Arts
Where: 29600 SW Park Place, Wilsonville, OR
The annual Wilsonville Festival of Arts is the Wilsonville Arts & Culture Council signature event. Lars will be meeting with readers and signing books all afternoon.

When: Saturday June 24 (3:45- 5:15 p.m.)
Where: Hilton Portland, 921 SW 6th Avenue, Portland, OR
Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference Book SigningThe premiere event for historical fiction in North America, the 2017 HNS Conference is being held in Portland, Oregon. Meet Lars and get your books signed during the book sale at the conference!

When: Friday June 23 (10:30- 11:30 a.m.)
Where: Hilton Portland, 921 SW 6th Avenue, Portland, OR
HNS 2017 Imagining the American Revolutionary Era Panel
[Lars D.H. Hedbor, C.C. Humphreys, Laura Kamoie, Stephanie Dray; moderator: Matt Phillips]
Between Outlander, Turn, and Hamilton: The Musical, the American revolutionary era has gained renewed public interest and attention. Join authors established in this era in a discussion of trends and opportunities in American revolutionary fiction, research challenges and advantages, topics and figures ripe for fictionalized treatment, how to incorporate historical sites into your research and promotion, and more.

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Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

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

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Book Review: Community 17

Community 17: A Dystopian Novella
by James Cardona

A Gold Medal Winner of the Wishing Shelf Book Awards
Recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion
Reader Views Literary Award Winner

James Cardona’s Community 17 is the dystopian story of a young boy, Isaias, living in the slum segment of a society governed by watchers who enforce their rule on inhabitants by way of constant surveillance and interference. Government mandates include video diaries they are required to keep, recording daily activities and thoughts on such; school attendance referred to as “programming” and other children “program-mates”; and received social mores that frown upon emotion and open communication. Therefore, negative attention might be attracted not only when someone says or does something out of line, but also when failing to exhibit the appropriate amount of enthusiasm for the dictated status quo.

Within this society exist plebs— Isaias’s marginalized group— free thinkers and citizens, this last status of which it is said might be obtained if someone can pass all their tests. Isaias and Jessia secretly plan to make their way to the citizens’ side even though no one who has ever crossed over has been heard from again. Free thinkers position themselves as those who secretly work to loosen the stranglehold the Agency holds on the plebs. However, within this remains the possibility that Isaias and Jessia will be separated.

commThe novel opens with a suicide bombing, the technique later dismissed, unsurprisingly, by a supporting character: “Paradise. Another one of the free thinkers’ empty promises. If you do their work for them, your family will go to paradise.” These are the bitter words describing the free thinkers, known but not necessarily admired by the entire pleb segment of the population, even if they mutually loathe the Agency, who dictate their lives. Reflecting elements of some insidious governing groups operating in our own real world, readers easily recognize the plebs’ double oppression for what it is, with freebies thrown in to soften or erase the hand of tyranny and hierarchical division manipulated upon the masses.

Cardona cleverly, selectively separates or mingles details of and Isaias’s experiences with free thinkers and the Agency—the group in charge of the bomb investigation—to mirror what the experience must be like for those in his position: thought control that works not only with the ongoing surveillance, but also in creating a sense of self doubt that stalls the taking of action, and who operates behind this subversive atmosphere remains a question until the very end.

The author also holds the reader in thrall with this deliberate introduction of atrocious policies and acts, exposing what is behind the curtain only when he is sure we have digested and moved on from the previous astonishing revelation. This, too, is reflective: It has been said that people will participate in their own oppression if the methods to bind them are introduced slowly and over time. Cardona’s understanding of and presentation in this cautionary tale has a two-pronged fear factor: it is all too frighteningly extreme to be real, yet it is so realistic it should terrify anyone consenting to sign their own agency over to anyone with the means to control it.

Having said that, it should also be noted that Cardona doesn’t come out and say any of this and, in fact, neither do his characters most of the time. Their speech is so stifled that even their own thoughts frighten them.


I guess what bothers me the most is being in the dark and hearing the rats around me. Everyone was used to the rats in Community 17. The garbage attracts them. Who hadn’t woken in the morning to find new rat bites somewhere on their skin? But here, in the dark, in this hole where there is no escape? There’s something terrible about listening to their little feet scurrying toward us … I feel like I’m becoming one of them.

 He flinched at the last line, wondering where it had come from. That wasn’t in my head, was it?


Without needing to engage in any manner of preaching, Cardona gives us a disturbingly clear and close-up view to the life of someone whose community is referred to by a number. That Isaias’s character might have been a bit more developed could be related to this, as his community’s overlords prefer to perceive him as a being labeled by a bio-identifier.

As a young adult novel, Community 17 lives up to its storytelling task: engrossing and thrilling, with conflict many teens would have some familiarity with in today’s world, it carries the reader through its scenes and events with language appropriate for teen readers, yet also satisfying for the adult literary palate. The dialogue shows young adults in moments of confusion as well as making some astute observations, all of them very realistic, leading me to marvel at Cardona’s people watching-skills. He has his finger on the pulse of today’s teens, shrewdly observing their interactions with society and how society responds to them.

While Cardona’s writing is concise, well-paced and complex in its plot, he takes the tale one step further by introducing every chapter with several lines of verse, each grouping strong enough to stand on its own. Alternately, they could be read as one storyline that loosely follows Isaias’s journeys, while also running, thread-like, through the novel and providing thoughts, images and phrases reminiscent of biblical accounts of questions and revelations. By virtue of the repetition of such imagery as rocks, water and pools, we call up such writings as Isaiah, who speaks of “a sure foundation” (28:16) and “water [that] shall burst forth in the wilderness” (35:6), water called forth from rocks for Israel, who doubted the veracity of God’s word.

As Isaias, too, hears “truth” from those who position themselves as all-knowing, creating uncertainty as to who he can really believe and what their motives are, he progresses through literal and figurative tunnels, growing more ill as each day goes by, certain he will be captured at any moment.

Only there is shadow under this red rock.

Come in under the shadow of this red rock,

And I will show you something

Different from either

Your shadow at morning standing behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Here is poetry that stirs the soul, drawing one’s mind into it as we search, as Isaias searches, seeking a cure for this afflicted community, Isaias’s sickness, to find Bethesda, “a pool among the rock,” the waters of which would wash away all that ails such a society and its inhabitants, who currently survive on the navigational skills that lead them through a labyrinth of duplicity.

As the novel leads readers to its dramatic conclusion, questions still remain, and Cardona gives the sense Isaias knows more than he lets on to those around him as well as readers, and the author pulls off this withholding impeccably. As elusive as the truth its characters seek, Community 17 is the book one tries to read in one sitting, that they take with them when leaving the house: its layers are probing, addicting, spiced with mystery, deceit, loyalty, romance and backstabbing. It is compelling, with a silence that will follow the end as readers quietly close the book and contemplate its effect.

About the author …

banner1_960x230James Cardona is an award winning author who has written multiple science fiction and fantasy books along with a spate of nonfiction works to boot. He has won the gold medal in the Teenager Category of the Wishing Shelf Book awards, taken Honorable Mention in the Teenager Category at Reader Views Literary Awards and was an Indie BRAG winner, all for Community 17. His children’s book, Santa Claus vs. the Aliens, was a finalist of the Wishing Shelf Book awards in addition to being an Indie BRAG winner. His fantasy book, Under The Shadow Of Darkness, was also a finalist of the Wishing Shelf Book awards.

James was born in Lorain, Ohio, and received his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Delaware with a minor in Religious Studies. He also studied briefly at Penn State University. He spent six years in the U.S. Navy and served during the first Gulf War. He has worked in factories and food service, as an electrician, a teacher, supervisor and engineer. But like many creatives, his heart beats most strongly when it is full of the magic of building something new. Besides writing, he can be found drawing, painting, writing computer code, tinkering with electronics and building robots. Prior to his knees turning creaky he was an avid runner, completing about fifty or so races at the half marathon distance or greater.

jimmy-navy-1989-350x
EM3 James Cardona

His debut novel was Gabriella and Dr. Duggan’s Dimensional Transport Machine, the first book in the NuGen series. In 2013, he wrote the children’s science fiction-holiday book Santa Claus vs. The Aliens, followed by first in The Apprentice fantasy series, Under the Shadow of Darkness. In 2015, he penned three new books. Gabriella and the Curse of the Black Spot, second in the NuGen series and The Dragon’s Castle, second in The Apprentice series. Finally, in 2015 he wrote something completely different, Community 17, a whirlwind, dystopian science-fiction adventure. In 2016, James released Dragon Hunters, a science fiction-fantasy mashup of a story, and The Night Wolf, a prelude tale set in the world of the apprentice series.

He is currently working on The Worthy Apprentice and Into Darkness, which are parts three and four of The Apprentice series respectively. He is also writing something fresh and new, a science fiction book tentatively titled Rebirth.

To see much more about the multi-award winning author James Cardona, including more biographical information and history, see his fun, informative and intriguing website. You can also follow him at Goodreads and find his books at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Photos courtesy James Cardona

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A free copy of Community 17: A Dystopian Novella was provided in order to facilitate an honest review. 

 

Book Review: Fortune’s Whelp

Fortune’s Whelp by Benerson Little

“The rencontre took place early in the evening under a storm-darkening sky, with just enough daylight remaining to preclude the accidents that plague swordplay at dusk and in darkness. The wind had risen, bringing with it the chill of river and sea; this, along with the approaching sunset, and the location on the outskirts of the city, kept witnesses where they belong, that is to say, away.”

 So starts Benerson Little’s debut work of fiction, Fortune’s Whelp, in smooth follow-up to the pirate historian’s previous works of non-fiction. Enclosed by approaching night in a violent scenario, Scotsman Edward MacNaughton plunges fast forward through land and sea adventure and into discovery of an attempt to assassinate King William III. As the Jacobite plot’s date draws nearer, MacNaughton must identify who around him conspires for their own ends or toward political gain, willing to take him down in the process—and this includes the women he finds himself involved with.

fortuneFrom the opening scene through to the conclusion of Fortune’s Whelp, Little’s narrative wraps itself around us as we are glued to the edges of our seats—miss our bus stops, lose track of bedtime, leave dinner to burn—with a tension so thick it preoccupies us even after the fearsome moments have passed.

Perhaps it is MacNaughton’s magnetic draw of intrigue, or the historical details, mundane and enthralling alike, that Little weaves through his tale—the elements of reality that haunt the reading and our tendency to read rapidly, as if fast-flipping pages might get our protagonist more swiftly away from those who track him—that amp up the tension and render this novel one not easily surrendered to the tasks of daily life. This anxiety-provoking is exacerbated by Edward himself, who frequently confirms reader suspicion with acknowledgements of perilous moments, such as when he “sensed dangerous eyes upon him.”

MacNaughton is written as a hybrid of questionable romantic hero and admirably devilish villain, and he does indeed doubt or reprimand himself as he moves about in his world as described by his creator in a fashion that brings us as close as we could get to it: this age is described so in detail, though without relying on detail description. Instead, elements stitch themselves in and around all aspects of MacNaughton’s movements, from an appearance of Spanish brandy to his mockery of a naval officer (“doubtless your mother paid for your commission”) and his progression-via-instinct through a series of streets and alleys when attempting to find while simultaneously avoid an enemy. We are given glimpses and understanding as to how the era operates, with a toss of humor here and there, for relief as well as to show another side of the time.

“I’ve seen that bugger around here before; he talks a lot but won’t pay for anything.”

 Edward gave the woman the coin. His reason suggested this was part of a trap; his instinct considered it unlikely. In either case, he was on his guard against two potential enemies.

 “Come with me.”

 “Why?”

 “You’ve just tipped me the wink, and I’ve paid, haven’t I? To Walter Lane, then to a place we’ll be safe from his eyes.”

 “If you want to dock, it’ll cost you more.”

 “Pardon me, mistress, but you’re pricing your wares a bit high, aren’t you?”

 “I’m worth every penny and shilling of a guinea,” she replied indignantly.

 “I believe you,” Edward said sincerely.

 Little’s narrative is written at such a pace that we seem at times to make haste along with MacNaughton, with a smoothness that carries us along, always wanting to keep going. Transitions are seamless and one scrape or another all are linked by events and associations, so we clearly see the story is much more than a series of adventures in the life of any man: MacNaughton has goals in mind, if only he can safely make his way to them before plots and pitfalls find him first.

MacNaughton is his own man though he is also, as the novel’s title indicates, fortune’s whelp. Bred on adventure and fed with swashbuckling plot twists, our protagonist frequently courts fate even as he faces down his enemies, be they actual persons or probing anxiety in a darkened alley. Daring, energetic and skilled, he is nevertheless written with flaws that could easily brand him as real as the historical figures who make appearances in Fortune’s Whelp.

Any reviewer would be remiss to ignore the fight scenes in this novel: thrilling and of the nail-biting variety because we know MacNaughton isn’t an always-victorious two-dimensional character, Little sets them up so expertly that upon commencement we hear the clash of weapons, smell the salt in the air, gain our footing as we establish purchase within the skirmish, right along with the characters.

Edward watched him warily; the man was surely full of tricks. He might pull a pistol, hurl dirt or snuff in his eyes, or dart his sword at him.

 “Behind you, sir! The watch!” the man shouted at Edward.

 Edward turned his head just enough to draw the man’s attack, then, as it was dark and difficult to follow a blade with the eyes, made a round parry, found the blade, and thrust swiftly. Sensing his adversary’s counter-parry, he turned his sword hand up, allow it angulate around his adversary’s parry, and, covering with his left hand as he thrust, hit his adversary just below the right collarbone.”

 The author not only provides explanations for those unfamiliar with sword fighting terminology, but also does it in a manner in which readers can choose for themselves how often to stem the flow of reading to refer to the notes, or not to at all. Following his conclusion, Little adds several sets of notes, including those on swordplay with an alphabetical listing of particular terms and their meanings (separate from the glossary, which cuts down on all-over-the-map searches). It is great fun to act out the fights, even at a slower pace, to have a greater appreciation of what MacNaughton is up against.

Many books, perhaps even most, reveal to readers more information upon subsequent reads and re-reads, and it is rewarding when we realize these small surprises. Fortune’s Whelp is one in which readers finish, close the book and know ahead of time this is in store for them. With so much history written within a novel of intrigue, and daring revealed within the history, there is an instinctive understanding that this is a book to re-read, and this reviewer answered that summons—interestingly enough even though Jacobite plotting and seventeenth-century history isn’t generally where my interests reside.

For those who love a great tale, written with engaging and realistic characters who call you to their side, for seafaring types and landlubbers alike, Fortune’s Whelp is a compelling and captivating novel whose fate it is to draw readers over and over again.

About the author …

Born in Key West, Florida, Benerson Little grew up variously on all three US coasts. Following his graduation from Tulane University, he entered the US Navy and served as an officer for eight years, most of them as a Navy SEAL. Upon completion of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1983 (BUD/S Class 121), he was assigned first to SEAL Team THREE, then to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE. After leaving the Navy in 1989, he worked as a special operations and intelligence analyst, including for the Naval Special Warfare Strategy and Tactics Group and for a private intelligence collection and analysis firm, among other professions.

He now works as a writer and consultant in several areas, with an emphasis on maritime and naval issues, including maritime threat and security, and especially maritime history. He is considered a leading expert on piracy past and present, and is a recognized expert on pirate tactics and anti-piracy operations throughout history. He has appeared in two television documentaries on piracy, has advised on others, and is the STARZ premium cable network’s historical consultant for its Black Sails series, currently filming its third season. He often advises film-makers, novelists, historians, biographers, genealogists, treasure hunters, journalists, and others.

You can learn more about author Benerson Little’s books, news, writing and more at his informative and fascinating website, Facebook, Twitter and his blog.

Author photo courtesy Benerson Little.

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A copy of Fortune’s Whelp was provided to the blogger in order to produce an honest review.