Book Review: Monkey’s Wedding

Monkey’s Wedding by Rossandra White

2017 Independent Publisher Award Medalist
2017 National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist
2017 International Book Awards Finalist
2017 Paris Book Festival Awards Honorable Mention

Rossandra White is the author of the multiple award-winning

Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog

Anyone who has ever witnessed a sun shower and is asked about it later likely experiences a variety of curious and immediate memories. For myself, two branches of thought come together, starting with my mother’s frequent assertion that rain on one’s wedding day is good luck. This merges with the historical status of animals as purveyors of phenomena explanation in such folkloric expressions as monkey’s wedding, which refers to rain falling when the sun is shining brightly. It is magical and wondrous, typically a short-lived event that nevertheless has the capacity to elicit thrill and awe at nature’s fantastic contradiction. Perhaps people once witnessed a group of monkeys acting joyfully during a sun shower and related it to what made sense to them, deciding the simians must be on their way to a wedding.

In my own memory a monkey’s wedding really is magical, and so, might I add, is Monkey’s Wedding. Author Rossandra White brings the theme to bear on her novel starting with the cover’s color tones—dark profile of a hut and baobab tree set against the bright, hot orange and red of the sun and sky to the contradictions throughout, sometimes so subtle we don’t recognize their droplets as they nevertheless work out as part of the situations within which they exist.


Jiminy. That’s what she called her baby brother, instead of James or Jimmy. He reminded her of that little cricket from Pinocchio: head too large for his bird body, all that thick black hair, and when he wasn’t crying or vomiting, he chirped.


Elizabeth and her British parents live in 1950s Rhodesia, members of a society in transition as indigenous peoples begin to demonstrate their resentment of white rule. Annie, Elizabeth’s expectant and often moody mother, seeks to keep her daughter separated from “those kaffirs” even while the girl is developing a disallowed friendship with Turu, son of Nelson, the family’s houseboy (an ordinary but telling appellation). Though she reveals to her mother he is nasty toward his son, Annie tends to be focused on how the help are “getting bolder.” The pair maintain a strained relationship and Elizabeth’s father plays peacemaker, though she at times agrees with her mother’s assessment.

Turu, too, evades suspicious adult eyes as he navigates through time with his grandmother, a Shona high priestess who has chosen the boy for a position he severely doubts he can fill. White expertly shifts between perspectives, revealing some but not all there is to know from any given quarter. Her narrative is also tinged with a feeling of silent mystery, as if we are approaching something that knows we are there, and the sense of expectancy is heavy as Anesu the priestess seems to speak for our benefit, all the while enjoying our unfamiliarity, playing us a bit as she leads us along a path we know not.

The plot’s parameters widen, and we see Elizabeth and Turu off on their escapades, ordinary activities for children—even their plot to steal extra sherbit from the shopkeeper— were it not for the underlying, unspoken awareness of their race differences. Each child harbors thoughts about the other’s race and its implications, though they also spend time exchanging information and peacefully learning about one another. The book’s title reflects their friendship as they sustain a mostly productive relationship amidst societal shakeup. They do row on occasion, their tiffs sometimes being related to the increasing temperature and pressures of racial tensions booming over their heads, but their childhood wisdom often sets right derailed moments and each achieves opportunities to see for themselves who the other really is.

As the author steers us through events, discord amongst the unseen occurs too, as ancient spirits demand reckoning, pulling Turu into events in ways that confuse and shake him, and Elizabeth seeks a path into a world hidden from her, all while in plain sight. With Elizabeth, we catch proverbial glimpses of another world, perhaps with some recognition as Anesu performs chants and prepares poultices, admonishes Turu’s avoidance of his duties and bestows upon Elizabeth something that recognizes a connection even she doesn’t quite understand. Exotic though it may seem, it offers a real alternative to Elizabeth while powerful forces of both worlds thunder over their lives, threatening everything they know.

Thanks to White’s proficiency in winding through varying perspectives, scenes and histories, details are deliciously different yet also familiar, and we find that identity isn’t always what we might have previously experienced. Amidst exposure to traditional mythology, we also encounter a moment in which Turu’s handling of a modern machine is optimal given Elizabeth’s inability to do. There is, of course, the male/female stereotype to consider, but Turu’s ability to get the car running also highlights the reality that this mechanical place is also his world, whatever his ethnicity. Afterward,

 [a]lmost right away, it felt as if Jasu, God of the Sun, had turned his face toward them. The deep green of the sisal turned to hard green, scrubby grass the color of a lion’s haunch. The smell of rain hung in the air. On the distant horizon in front of them, the huge baobab tree beside bwana van Zyl’s shop looked like a fat stalk with tiny twigs branching upward. Acacia and other thorn trees dotted the veld. Three hundred yards away, five eland buck appeared out of nowhere and floated on a heat wave past the jagged outline of his people’s ruins.

Later, Elizabeth joyfully shifts attention to the ongoing monkey’s wedding, explaining to Turu about making a wish. His dismissive attitude highlights awareness of their shifting, sometimes merging, roles when she owns the superstition and he practical modern knowledge, bringing to delightful life the novel’s epigraph, an African proverb about sharing paths. White doesn’t spell any of this out, which is part of what makes it so superb. She allows her characters to be who they are, retaining the emotional or mystical nature of any given moment by employing a beautifully minimalist style.

Having said that, it should be noted that the author also brings to life these amazing events with imagery so stunning it provokes the senses and emotions, allowing readers to experience the moments as well, easily calling to mind scenes both reminiscent and foreign, whether ordinary or exceptional, a further union of opposites.

After tea Elizabeth headed for her bedroom, where she lay on her back on the cool cement floor. The tin roof creaked as the sun beat down on it. In minutes, she was asleep.

*

Night had spread its blanket over everything.

*

 The air stirred around her, and she opened her eyes. A short distance away, down a gentle slope, sat a hut with walls the rich color of a gazelle’s hide and thatch that was plump and golden. A strange, mesmerizing, blue-tinged fire burnt in front.

*

 He returned with the milk and plunked the bucket on the table harder than he meant to. Milk sloshed up. The small brown creature on the other end of the table gave a short jerk of surprise and blew a spit bubble.

The contradictions rain down on us throughout the book, though sometimes so subtle in application it’s as if a shower has passed us before we had time to register it. Black and white, magic and ordinary, resentment and joy, life and death, young and old, outspoken and voiceless—these and more mingle with one another, like a monkey’s wedding, inspiring those it touches as they at times recognize a spiritual connection made between a twain that ordinarily “shall not meet.”

While Monkey’s Wedding now is amongst my top five reading recommendations for those wishing to know more about Africa, I’d also add that part of White’s dexterity in storytelling is that this tale could have happened nearly anywhere, simultaneously being particularly African, further adding to her mastery of fluently combining the unlikely. Set in 1953, it also is a timeless tale, evocative, magical as its spirit, like those within, wisping in and out of environments, maintaining an absolute embrace of our senses while setting us completely free to imagine.

About the author …

Rossandra White, a fourth generation South African, spent the first twenty-three years of her life in Zambia, where she had a baboon for a pet and learned to tell a log from a crocodile. As well as Monkey’s Wedding, she is the author of the memoir, Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, published by She Writes Press. At the moment, she’s working on finishing another novel, Mine Dances, the sequel to Monkey’s Wedding. She lives in Laguna Beach with her two Staffordshire Bull Terriers, with whom she fights for space in her bed. When she’s not writing, she’s at the gym or hiking the hills behind her home.

Readers can keep up with the author at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

Monkey’s Wedding may be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK.

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Author image courtesy Rossandra White

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The author provided a copy of Monkey’s Wedding in exchange for an honest review. 

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A New Look … Maybe?

As can be seen by a glance at the page, I’ve changed the look up a bit. Actually, I’ve been playing around for a couple of days now and soliciting opinions because I have such a hard time making up my mind. A couple of things I knew I wanted was a sidebar – left or right, I think I’d like either one – and an end to what drove me to redecorate: full visibility for the captions under my sidebar images.

Here’s what I mean:

Seriously, what the heck? I contemplated, though, that perhaps it was time for a change of pace anyway and so started checking out different themes. I finally decided that this (Colinear) was perhaps maybe the one, at least I like it enough to move forward and put my sidebar items back in place – they didn’t automatically place there in this theme like they did in the others. That’s a bummer, and I also don’t really love that I can’t (as far as I can tell) get at a “click to link” option or add in captions beneath the images. Sure, for books the title and author are easily discerned, but I’d like to be able to caption people’s status as award-winning authors, or a prize the book won, and so on. Plus, not everything is a book, but I’m hoping to find my solution as I probe more into the widget options. I also have become aware of a failure to save properly: several times I’ve made changes and the preview had to be closed and draft re-saved several times before the new or corrected text appeared.

I was also at first pretty jazzed to see that there is a specific widget for linking to Goodreads. It’s nice in that it shows all your books, and links to their respective Goodreads pages, and so the blog page’s appearance changes, subtle though it may be, whenever I begin or finish another book. However, I did notice a glaring omission from that list of currently-reading books, and that is a Bible that also occupies my shelf but for some reason Goodreads sees fit to block from my widget. I don’t really care if not a single person employed by Goodreads ever reads one, or they want to throw a few down the nearest toilet; that’s their prerogative, too. My choice, however, is to own and read one, and while I’m not typically quick to accuse, the appearance of them overstepping their bounds is pretty strong and distasteful.

Added Notation: After publication I showed my son the Goodreads widget and he suggested it may be able to hold just five titles and selected randomly. Under his direction we played around a bit more – deleting 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry and adding in another book, though nothing changed. We logged out and back in, and deleted the new book as well. Then we ensured just five books were on my currently-reading list and not only did the Bible not show up, but also 1066 didn’t go away! Very strange! As before, despite my annoyance at the omission, I am willing to believe it is just random, with the added consideration that this widget works only sporadically. Perhaps by tomorrow the changes on my Goodreads page will have caught up to the widget? (Or is the widget working to catch up to the Goodreads page?) Will the search for a perfect theme continue? Stay tuned!

Added Added Notation: Guess what! Goodreads has not, after all, shown itself an outfit willing to go as far as to algorithm “offensive” titles out of public view: the widget has updated and the Bible shows! My very bad, Goodreads and readers, my very bad! It’s hardly an unreasonable suspicion, what I’d been wondering about, given these strange days we occupy; nevertheless I’m glad I’m inclined to keep questioning, myself as well as others, and that there are times I really love to be proven wrong. Not to mention the situational reminder that asking one’s child for advice isn’t an upside-down proposition at all. And now I really am off to bed. The daylight has tricked me into believing it’s only 20:00 or so, but it’s past 23:00 now and the wowza fatigue has hit. Toodles!

Other than that I really do like the Goodreads widget, which means I can do away with the “What’s on My Night Table” link. I also like that the text area is wider and the lines cleaner, sharper. It looks refreshed. Additionally, unlike several other themes, it doesn’t underline links, which matters because some are titles, some not, and it created a look of inconsistency. Also, the colors, while slightly altered, are at least in line with what I had before in terms of ease of reading: light background, distinct hyperlinks. I still have some work to do on the sidebar, but that will be forthcoming, plus I decided to air out the place some more and put up different kinds of items, such as video, audio and slideshows – and hopefully other things, rotating and static.

I also just discovered my pages (tabs) don’t show, so I’ll have to figure that out as well. If you’re looking for something you knew to be there previously, please bear with me as I make adjustments. If you’d like information on one or more of them you knew to be available before, feel free to drop me a line at scully_dcATyahooDOTcom.

That’s it for now, lovelies! Good night from the Great Land and may your dreams be sweet.

Forget-me-not, our official flower with the same colors – blue and gold – as our lovely flag.

Author Spotlight: Sir Alec Guinness

Because learning is an endeavor that embraces many linkages, often taking us to places we least expect, tonight’s author spotlight is a fantastic example for the epitome of what our author spotlights are meant to be, leading us into other realms of creativity, imagination and talent that inspire and drive. Do allow me to step back for a moment first.

Drawing by Nicholas Volpe after Guinness won an Oscar in 1957, by Nicholas Volpe via Wikimedia Commons

My fourteen-year-old son being the film aficionado he is, soon into his explorations discovered classic movies, Lawrence of Arabia being one of which he was instantly enamored. I’d seen it myself as a child, and re-watched with Turtle. Not long ago we had the opportunity to experience something no amount of Blu-Ray sessions can capture—watching this epic film on the big screen. Our recent watching ignited a spark that had glowed when seeing it as Turtle cut his teeth on this older epic, which celebrates its 55th anniversary this year: Sir Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal, Emir and leader of the Arab Revolt during the Great War. His deliberate, slow speech and developed Arab accent (copied from a conversation he’d had with Omar Sharif) paired with portrayal of a real-life, complex character who maintained a delicate balance between tribal and new world politics. Guinness’s performance consistently displays the massive effort of such an intense role, all while sustaining a dignified and cool composure, speaking volumes with his coded facial expressions, particularly his eyes, even when he utters not a word. He maintains a magnificent presence.

It may surprise some to know that Guinness does indeed fit into this series by virtue of authoring three volumes of memoir: Blessings in Disguise; My Name Escapes Me and A Positively Final Appearance, also recorded as audiobooks. A Commonplace Book, reflections on life, literature and the world around him, was published posthumously. Within these works we are led through a world of ideas and experiences that touch history, literature, politics and religion, his lifelong craft, observations on society and so much more. His storytelling, whether in film or on paper, brings us closer to the heart of the man as well as the re-discovery of what lives within ourselves.

Born in 1914 London as Alec Guinness de Cuffe, Guinness’s first job was in advertising copy. He later was promoted to understudy (in a role with two lines) for a salary of £1 per week. During World War II he served a commanding role in the Royal Navy and planned to become an Anglican priest, later converting to Catholicism. Each morning he recited the first line of this stanza from Psalm 143, one of the seven known as penitential psalms, expressing sorrow for sin.

Cause me to hear thy loving kindness in the morning;
for in thee do I trust:
cause me to know the way wherein I should walk;
for I lift up my soul unto thee.

 

Guinness maintained lifetime ties to his Shakespearean acting roots, including parts in Hamlet; Henry V; The Tempest; King Lear and Richard II. His performance links to literature continued with roles in Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and Little Dorritt; Our Man in Havana; Kind Hearts and Coronets; Dr. Zhivago and Tunes of Glory, along with stage productions of The Alchemist; Cyrano de Bergerac; The Cocktail Party and Dylan. Apart from Lawrence, Guinness starred in two other films celebrating significant anniversaries in 2017: The Bridge on the River Kwai (60) and Star Wars (40). He also appeared in the serialized television versions of two of John le Carré’s renowned espionage novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People.

The actor is rumored to have had a volatile relationship with director David Lean, who nevertheless considered him to be “my good luck charm” and continued to cast him in films. Guinness went on to win the Best Actor Academy Award in 1957 (The Bridge on the River Kwai), several nominations and, in 1980, an Academy Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement. He also won the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor twice, in the role of le Carré’s George Smiley. In fact, le Carré was so impressed with the actor’s performance that he based his characterization on the protagonist in subsequent novels on Guinness. Amongst a number of other honors, Guinness was also appointed, in 1955, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and knighted in 1955.

Sir Alec Guinness married actress Merula Sylvia Salaman in 1938, who also converted to Catholicism. They had a son, Matthew, who followed his father’s footsteps, becoming an actor and working extensively in theatre. Sir Alec passed away in August 2000, aged 86; the Lady Guinness, also 86, followed just two months later.

As a passionate reader with a rather average interest in film, it is not often an actor captures my attention in quite the way Sir Alec Guinness has, and I look forward to exploring his work, especially given that so much of it links directly to literature, an opening that likely will lead me not only to new work to explore, but also the interpretations he bore to invigorate and inspire.

Some great links to peruse:

Sir Alec Guinness biography

The ten best Alec Guinness movies 

Works by Alec Guinness 

A magnificent biography of Alec Guinness

Sir Alec Guinness receiving an Academy Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement 

From Guinness’s Academy Award-winning performance as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai   (also below)

For our previous Author Spotlight: Lewis Carroll, click here

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Audio Book Excerpt: Timing, Extract A (Richard Abbott)

As readers recall, I’d previously reviewed Richard Abbott’s debut sci-fi novel, Far from the Spaceports, later returning for more Mitnash and Slate in its sequel, Timing. Today the author graces our pages with an audio excerpt from Timing—the first for us here at the blogola! It was rather exciting listening to it, and I am so pleased to have the opportunity to share it here, along with some author comments as to the linguistics involved in setting up the pieces.

First, for those unfamiliar with the novels and their plots, I’ve linked the book covers to their respective Amazon blurbs. Abbott’s world-building opens a new type of sci-fi, one accessible even to those not typically enamored of the genre (such as myself), and the above-mentioned duo will capture your imagination as they seek to solve the mysteries of high-tech crime in space.

Click image to read plot description
For more about Timing, click the pic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today you’ll hear—and can read along—a bit of discussion between Mitnash and Slate, along with another pair, Rydal and Capstone, as the group talks about oddities in the data they are studying. It comes from a narrated portion utilizing Amazon’s Polly software; Abbott points out that unlike Alexa, which is a single voice, Polly can do text to speech in several.

Previous to hearing this excerpt, I was still in marvel mode at any of this, though my conversation with the author brought me forward a bit, into a place where I began to distinguish characteristics and contemplate the mechanics of setting it all up.

“[I]t’s like all programming really… a slow start to get all in place, then once it’s there, you kind of just turn the handle.” Of course, I know very little about programming—probably readers are way ahead of me on that—but his comments enabled me to view it more as technology rather than something huge and undefinable. While constraints remain, it nevertheless is exciting to “witness” the process unfold.

“In this case [included are] limitations of the text-to-speech engine, which at current state of the art can’t correctly parse some complex sentences! I often put a qualifying clause at the end of a sentence instead of earlier on, and Alexa and Polly don’t know how to say it within the overall shape. So [in places] I’ve moved some phrases around in a sentence to give better flow.”

In today’s excerpt the audio remains faithful to the text, but as we move on in this series, we’ll catch glimpses of the accommodations. Listen, however, for the nuances that appear: accents, pronunciation inconsistencies (I thought I heard at least one), vocal pitch and so on. At post’s bottom, see the link to an article about using technology for far more than entertainment.

And without further ado, let’s listen up. (Link will appear in a new window; simply come back to this one to read along.)

Extract A

Rydal’s gig, the Heron, was moored in amongst half a dozen vaguely similar craft. I had expected something about the size of the Mermaid, in which Nick had ferried me, last time I was here.

The Heron was considerably smaller though, and it would be a squeeze getting more than the two of us into her. A purist would say it was more of a scull, than a gig.

We sat side by side in the bridge to look at her analysis. It was rather less roomy there than my bedroom at the Rileys’, but since the Harbour Porpoise was still with Boris, there wasn’t much choice.

Rydal first got Capstone to display the increments as a kind of contour map, overlaid onto the Isles of Scilly. It wasn’t very revealing. There were certainly some minor local variations from island to island, but it looked random to me.

Then she pulled back to show the whole asteroid belt. That was different. Just as she had said, Ceres and Vesta showed huge peaks – Ceres was the larger – and the amount across the Scilly Isles was dwarfed in comparison. I nodded.

“That looks convincing. But it doesn’t tell us much about the cause.”

“Now see what happens if we scale for population size rather than show simple totals.”

The red planet as seen from the ESA Rosetta during its 2007 flyby [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo], via Wikimedia Commons
The display changed. This time the Ceres and Vesta peaks were almost identical in size. The total values might be different, but the subsequent disbursements had been chosen so as to make the amount per recipient the same. That spoke of careful planning. Meanwhile, Pallas was flat, and the various other domes here and there, around the belt, showed nothing as well. That was really interesting.

“You mentioned Mars?”

“Well, yes. There’s a few places on Mars itself, and a tiny scatter on Phobos. Nothing on Deimos. Here…”

The Martian system appeared. As she had said, Deimos showed the same low-level random splutter as the Scillies. Phobos showed a little bit more, but nothing very definite. Mars, with its wide diversity of settlements in different places, showed an equally wide variety. In amongst that, were several peaks, reaching almost the same value as Ceres and Vesta, but the data was patchy. I leaned back.

“Slate, what is there in common between those places?”

“I’ll see what I can find out. And I’ve just fired off a query to Khufu down in London to see if we have any similar data on the Jovian system. Capstone tells me that he and Rydal have no details for there.”

Khufu was the main Pyramid installation supporting the Finsbury Circus office, together with those other scattered souls who, like Slate and I, were on detached work off planet. Vaster than a persona and more capable, he was also more serious, less easily sparked into lively debate, and not really the sort of individual you would want to spend time with. He did, however, have access to a colossal amount of information, and was able to leverage this to make connections the rest of us might miss.

At any rate, a query going down to the Finsbury Office and back would take the better part of an hour, given the relative locations of Bryher and Earth just now. So we had time to spare. Time to see what we could do for ourselves with this puzzle.

While waiting for Slate’s analytics to initialise, I half-turned to look at Rydal. Her skin was darker than mine, and as we had boarded the Heron, she had gathered her unruly ringletted hair back into a more orderly bob. She glanced at me briefly, and I looked back at the screen. It was ready now.

“Any ideas?”

“We need to find the common factor. Let’s see what Khufu comes up with.”

To my surprise, it was Capstone who answered.

“Slate and I have been working together on this, Mitnash. You see, I have a lot of demographic data that isn’t relevant for your normal investigations into fraud. But it fits very neatly with what Slate already knows, and means we can eliminate most possibilities. So far as we can tell, there’s only one common feature that appears to have any relevance to the matter. Ceres and Vesta use a twinned Sarsen pair as the main financial deal hub. Deimos and Pallas do not. Mars has a lot of different systems here and there, so it’s harder to tell.”

Artist’s concept of the Dawn spacecraft with Vesta and Ceres. NASA image. (Click image for details; once there click “open in media viewer” for a really fantastic closeup. Also see link for NASA gallery)

“He’s right, Mit. Pallas has a single Sarsen with a lot of upgrades to quicken her up. Deimos has a routing engine down to Mars, based on a cut-down Ziggurat. No real local processing at all. The main Mars site at Elysium Planitia has a full Pyramid, but there are a lot of sites elsewhere on the planet which do have twins. A couple of them are reasonably close to the peaks, but there is no direct connection that I can see yet.”

“From memory though, the twinned pair is a fairly common configuration. We mainly see it in finance, but it’s very widespread beyond that too. Ship navigation and all. I’m not surprised that there are several like that on Mars. Slate and I can send a query to get a full list across the system, if we think it would help. But does anyone here on the islands use twinned Sarsens?”

“Oh yes. The main financial hub on St Mary’s. You remember, we talked about it, last time we were here.”

Rydal stirred.

“Actually there is another, though hardly anybody knows about it yet. Back on Martin’s we have one as well. I’m telling you this in absolute confidence, but there is a move by some of us there, to take the islands’ deal processing away from Mary’s. We’re putting together a proposal right now, listing a number of occasions when the Mary’s hub has either underperformed or thrown errors. Acquiring the twinned pair was part of the proof of concept.”

This was news to Slate and I. At a guess, it would be news to Elias as well, but Rydal had effectively sworn us to secrecy, for the time being.

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Click here to read about some remarkable advances used to help people with autism enjoy higher levels of productivity, meaningful interactions and privacy. 

About the author…

Richard Abbott writes fiction set in two very different places. First, there is science fiction, set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships. The second area is historical fiction set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC.

His first science fiction book, Far from the Spaceports, introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. Its sequel, Timing, was released in the second half of 2016.

His historical fiction books explore events in the Egyptian province of Canaan, following events in the life of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath during a time of considerable change throughout the region.

His latest publication, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” is now available for purchase, along with his other works, on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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You can follow and learn more about Richard Abbott and his books at Facebook and Google–and be sure to check out his brilliant collection of images! The author also has some amazing content at his blog, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, including Polly and Alexa, with space-related and not, his own reviews and reading list, information about his other books, and much more.

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Stay tuned for more excerpts, my review of Richard Abbott’s next book, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallot,” and some conversation with the author!

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Book Review: Claire

Claire (Book II in The Merencourt Saga) by Carol Edgerley

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

The 19th and early 20th centuries contain not a few accounts of resolute women, females who pushed back or laid claim to their slice of the world, many meeting success and motivating others to aspire to greater goals. Marguerite de Merencourt was one such woman, and although the legacy she passed to her children and grandchildren contained mixed blessings—for Marguerite’s obstinate streak, so admirable in her younger years, often worked against her favor as she grew older—she remains a draw for readers precisely because some of her efforts yielded less than absolute success.

The lovely second-edition cover for Claire, winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion (click image)

Marguerite’s eldest daughter Claire, introduced to readers in the final pages of her mother’s story, possesses Minette’s striking beauty as well as indomitable spirit, and from an early age mesmerizes those around her, though not always for the better. Her father’s bullying nature softens to smiles, but upon a long-time-coming visit to her maternal grandparents’ home in France, the teen is viciously rejected by the same woman who pushed away her own infant—Marguerite as a baby. As Claire is coming into her own, she often clashes with her mother and the failure of both to choose their battles widens the already substantial chasm between them.

Claire opens to a scene of the girl celebrating—or trying to—her first grown-up birthday at the end of the twentieth century’s debut decade. While the mores of the time have not drastically altered since her mother was 17, Claire recognizes the changes dawning in the world—cars and telephones make their appearances in the novel—as well as within herself, and like most teenaged girls, resents her mother’s strictures as much as she is mortified by her working status as a Calcutta business owner.

Unfortunately for Claire, she doesn’t seem to learn from her mother’s mistakes, nor does Minette—to the detriment of both. Eager to escape the house as well as the hanging cloud of a family secret, Claire enters into a marriage arranged by her mother, only to find that her once-charming fiancé has little feeling for her other than as sexual release in the absence of the married woman he had conducted an affair with during their engagement. Betrayed by her partner in life and humiliated in the public forum, Claire directs her energies and considerable organizational skills on lavish entertaining and a posh lifestyle.

Before readers get very far into the story, Minette and Claire have already bickered over so many and such petty grievances, one wonders if they spend copious amounts of time nursing exhaustion, for indeed it takes a great deal of energy to be angry. Edgerley’s dialogue, however, always fresh and sharp, combines with the narrative and clearly shows characters’ perspectives as well as the larger picture. Family members frequently engage in heated rows and these strong and well-spoken women are rarely short of intelligently articulated deliveries.

Having said that, there is indeed more to the characters than smartly-chosen words delivered for maximum effect. Readers are permitted to witness the ambitious Claire as she at times struggles to maintain her footing or determine the next step. Troublemaker Sonia is not always able clearly to see her sister’s secrets in order to exploit them, and Christina, with a tendency towards submission and desire just to keep the peace, develops a strength enabling her to speak out against Claire’s less desirable behaviors and actions.

Though Minette has kept most details of her unhappy childhood from her children, some eventually learn the most significant details, such as when Claire’s grandmother verbally assaults her—for being Minette’s daughter, of course, but also because she is so startlingly like her. “That unnatural mother,” as Minette considers the Marquise, nevertheless has exerted some sort of influence as we later see Claire repeat some of her grandmother’s acts and treat her own children with a contempt shocking to modern readers.

Claire’s life does, however, have its happy moments, and Edgerley’s descriptive prowess of them and other scenes is as powerfully true to reality as it is scrumptiously absorbing. Scenes of both ordinary and grand wrap around readers as if they are part of them, and as they move though seamless transitions, investment in those they read about deepens. Appreciation for Claire and others develops despite—or perhaps because of—her flaws and obstinate inability to move past some of them.

The young woman had never looked more beautiful, her dark hair drawn up into a loose knot encircled by strands of jasmine. In her hands, she held a bouquet of the same delicate white blooms encircled by green foliage. The elegant bodice of her soft taffeta gown was scattered with seed pearls that proceeded in swathes over the flowing skirts. Only her hands were seen to tremble…wedding nerves, it was said.

When still becoming acquainted with Claire and how she endures living in a pressurized society under the seal of a loveless marriage, this reviewer had at first mused she might be a character readers “love to hate.” It soon becomes clear that such stylization shortchanges Claire, her story and readers themselves. Multi-faceted, Claire’s dreams, disappointments, loves, losses, sins and attempts at atonement could be any of ours, and reflect the reality she once lived.

How Claire goes on to make a satisfying life for herself and her family is nothing short of astounding; with her perseverance in the face of unforgiving setbacks as well as unmitigated joy, she carries on amidst global as well as local changes, community and personal. Like India herself as midnight, a new day, approaches, Claire must acknowledge the past as she aims to settle into her future, one that will certainly contain agonizing choices alongside the promise beckoned by the birth of a new era. Having grown attached to her, both despite and because of her lapses, readers will long with and for her, and wish for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see my review for
Marguerite (Book I in The Merencourt Saga),
winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion, click here.

and

to see my review for
Susanna – Volume 1 – The Early Years (Book III in The Merencourt Saga) click here.

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Carol Edgerley tells us in her own words a bit about her amazing life…

Born in Calcutta, Carol spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands. Educated first at a French convent, she then attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

Throughout her long life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and Hong Kong.

A qualified teacher, Carol ran a successful tutorial in Hong Kong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of Marguerite in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears, Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, Mac, Word and email … finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of Marguerite on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile,” Carol ventured into the world of self publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of Marguerite in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write Claire, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is Susanna: The Early Years (Volume 1), this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

Susanna: A Tale of Passion and Betrayal (Volume 2) will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Find and follow the wonderful Carol Edgerley at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

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A copy of Claire was provided to the blogger in order to facilitate an honest review

Author photo courtesy Carol Edgerley

 

Book Review: A Foreign Country (With Giveaway)

Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country
by Joanne R. Larner

See below for details on how you can win a free, signed copy of

A Foreign Country!

… as well as how to get your FREE Kindle edition of 
Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third.

Not having recalled reading in the past any alternative history, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I picked up Joanne R. Larner’s debut work, Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day. To its credit, the book doesn’t take itself overly seriously, though it does present us with a marvelous package of imagination and poignant insight. Moving forward now to its sequel, A Foreign Country, we delve deeper into Rose’s brush with time travel and the last Plantagenet king.

Previously we witnessed King Richard’s appearance in our modern times; now, as the novel’s title implies, we—along with Rose, of course—journey to a land that has simultaneously fascinated and been ignored: the past. Following a year spent with the king in which he trains and they plan for his success at the “next” Battle of Bosworth, Rose marks the first anniversary of Richard’s departure by attempting renewed contact through a time fault. After some failure, she makes her way to Richard and his court, where by necessity he introduces the time traveler as “Princess Rose of Norway.”

I was pleased to see Larner repeat her pattern of using song names as chapter headings. As before, titles, not necessarily any song’s words, reflect each chapter’s events, and the author matches marvelously. An early section, titled “The Court of the Crimson King,” shows Richard as Rose first sees him on the night of a formal event:

His doublet was of a deep, dark blue, crossed with gold thread, with a thin, golden collar and edging, the fastenings down the front jeweled with pink rubies and sapphires. It enhanced the deep blue of his eyes.

 We catch further delightful glimpses in phrase, such as “sleeves slashed with lemon silk,” as Larner takes us through a wide array of songs and artists accompanying Rose and King Richard’s experiences, passages winding their way through the pair’s beings as well as the storyline, in much the same way we, too, recall movie or music lines within certain real-life contexts.

As the narrative moves forward, Richard and Rose have opportunity to get to know each other better, now in his own time, though still with the limitations he has placed on their relationship. By now he is married with children and loves his wife deeply, while maintaining a strong bond with Rose. However, suspicions arise and there is recognition that something is afoot, and while fears color ideas regarding what it all may be about, the details are clear to none, characters and readers alike. Mixed in with this are Rose’s own personal anxieties that grow stronger as time passes, until she can no longer dismiss them.

While not falling away from the plot, the author digs in a bit deeper as well, referencing mutual deals and the Hanseatic League’s stranglehold on European business interests, as well as Rose’s wry observation that bureaucracy in the fifteenth century is just as convoluted and outlandish as in her twenty-first. Even as citation, Larner’s mention of various historical trade and further political doings adds substance to her story as well as life in this era, a time many seem to perceive as made mostly of various narcissistic wars.

Brought into this mix is Leonardo da Vinci, who very much plays his own part while also mirroring the old and the new, and the mixing of the two, within the tale. We see both Richard and Rose’s roles reflected within his persona: an acceptance of other, and retention of attitudes prevalent in his own time, the contrasts creating new layers of each individual as they explore, directly or via proxy, someone else’s world. Rose and Leonardo, too, come to know one another better as Larner sketches in the artistic angle with proficiency and grace while the great polymath seeks out the new and different to examine. During one journey da Vinci

was often in a litter too, because he enjoyed looking out over the countryside and sketching in his notebook, occasionally making a caricature of one of the company. He particularly liked drawing subjects with interesting faces: those with exaggerated features, such as prominent noses, bushy eyebrows, large moles or deep wrinkles … She learned by watching him[.]

 While on one level a lighthearted and unpretentious tale, A Foreign Country works on and within others, too, that examine the world and its strange attractions, the division and meeting of these and the complicated manners in which humans respond to a variety of stimuli. Like the actors between the novel’s covers, events are typically more complicated than they appear. Still, Larner’s aim for an entertaining yarn more than succeeds as we read through the smoothly-written narrative, easily transported from one scene to the next and reluctant to put it down at any point. With a larger cast than the first book and multiple plotlines, one is eager to see where the author could possibly take this story next in the series’ final installment, Hearts Never Change. That readers mightn’t be able to conceive the path forward for Richard and Rose is not a worry, for Joanne Larner has established herself as a proficient storyteller. Given her passion for Richard III, there is also a great eagerness to travel to wherever she may wish to take us.

For your chance to win a free, signed copy of A Foreign Country, simply comment below OR at our Facebook page, located here. All names will be entered into a giveaway and a winner drawn in two weeks.

About the author …

Joanne Larner was born in London and moved to Rayleigh in Essex (UK) in 2001. She has wanted to write a novel since the age of thirteen and finally managed it in 2015. She was helped by two things: National Novel Writing Month and Richard III. Richard was her inspiration and she became fascinated by him when she saw the Channel 4 documentary The King in the Car Park in February 2013. She researched his life and times and read countless novels, but became fed up because they all ended the same way – with his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

So she decided to write a different type of Richard story and added a time travel element. The rest is (literally) history. She found his character seemed to write itself and with NaNoWriMo giving her the impetus to actually DO it, she succeeded. After she began writing the story that was in her head, she found that there was far too much material for one book and, in fact, it finally turned into a trilogy, of which A Foreign Country is the second part. This takes place mainly in Richard’s time and Joanne found that many actual historical elements seemed to match serendipitously with her requirements. For example, the characters who were contemporary to Richard, the date of Joana’s death, the fact that Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, had twins that didn’t survive the birth, etc.

In the event you simply cannot wait for the drawing and possibly win a free signed copy, you may purchase Richard Liveth Yet (Book I) at Blurb, Amazon or Amazon UKRichard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK and Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change at Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK.

Dickon’s Diaries

will be FREE on Kindle this Wednesday and Thursday, July 19 and 20. 

Click one of the Amazon links below to get yours!

Joanne has also collaborated with Susan Lamb to write a humorous book about Richard called Dickon’s Diaries – A Yeare in the Lyff of King Richard the Third, also available on Blurb, Amazon and Amazon UK. The pair will again team up for a second volume, and Joanne  is working on another Richard book, which will be called Distant Echoes and will involve a fictional technology, Richard’s DNA and his story in his own words.

To follow Joanne Larner and her writing, sign up or follow her at Facebook, Twitter and her blog.

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A copy of Richard Liveth Yet (Book II): A Foreign Country was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

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Author photo courtesy Joanne R. Larner

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Book Review: Timing

Timing (Far from the Spaceports: Book 2)
by Richard Abbott

There are some sequels we get around to reading, or even purchase enthusiastically, remembering the pleasure experienced from their predecessors. Rarer, however, is the follow-on one prodigiously hopes is being written before they even conclude the first. In this instance, I became a beneficiary of the reality behind that wish when I learned of Timing, second in Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports series. Having read and reviewed the first novel last year, I became quite attached to Mitnash Thakur, financial fraud investigator to the Scilly Isles, an asteroid belt near Jupiter, and couldn’t get enough of his prepossessing personality and, dare I say, aura.

This time around I fairly dove into the narrative, enabled by Abbott’s smoother story opening in Frag Rockers, a then nearly-empty Bryher bar in which Mitnash feels “old contentment resurfacing,” an apt manner in which to re-unite previous readers with this protagonist, given the memories re-kindled as we observe Mitnash’s gaze circle around his group and, together, remember. This is not to say one must have read Far from the Spaceports to understand what occurs here. Timing is most definitely a strong standalone, and any reader coming to it first also experiences an order advantage.


Neither of us had considered transferring her to a handheld, or some other portable gadget, since our last experience of that was still too painful.


What I mean by this is that periodically within Timing Abbott references an episode that occurred in the first novel; as a previous reader I feel the satisfaction of recognition. Newer readers have this in store for them as well, even if they read the two novels in reverse order: in the series debut, happening upon full events only referenced in Timing consummates each occasion, resulting in a gratifying sense of completion, an “Ahh, so that’s how it played out!” Mitnash tells his story with an intimate feel, as if he is speaking only to you the reader, so links between the novels as well as those connecting readers to the narrative and real-life society’s imaginings of their own future, link two worlds not only with technological realities and fantasies in common, but also the range of emotions that accompany them. We don’t just care for the characters; we feel a kinship.

Within the narrative, Abbott avoids weighty jargon, relying instead on a writing style that runs as smoothly as water, and an ability to communicate succinctly and economically some layered and otherwise complicated information. In this manner he takes us from Jupiter now to Mars, where a financial scam spirals into terror activity, negatively affecting even Slate, Mitnash’s artificial intelligence (AI) partner, whose own agency as persona is demonstrated in a robust personality, preferences, even bias and occasional snobbery. Her fears, too, play a role in how they navigate their way through the case, for the fallout might be serious indeed. At one point Slate attempts to interact with a set of personas centrally located within the attack directed against a college computer system.

They were still metaphorically limping along very awkwardly, their normal coordinated step disrupted by the trauma. When they did approach the subject, cautiously and with much hesitation, the level of fear they felt was like nothing Slate had witnessed before.

 [T]hey had also been unable to communicate with one another. For a pair whose initial, halting attempts at chat had been with one another, whose awareness had included each other from their very first cold startup, the loss was catastrophic. It was still difficult for them to build a trusting rapport with anything external.

 Slate was, I understood, very gentle with them, and avoided probing too deeply.

Slate’s compassion is tinged with fear for herself as well, and as events escalate with threats and extortion from a new band of outlaws called Robin’s Rebels, the pair must join forces with an unlikely partner, one they are not sure they can trust, even as they know they have to. The author maintains a fine balance with this angle, re-introducing a previous character and keeping us sitting up straight as we journey from spot to spot—experiencing the idiosyncratic nature of each—keeping a close lookout for someone we don’t know. Abbott also splices in details about our protagonist’s relationship with Shayna, back on Earth, and the peculiar weave of time that affects how days are experienced in these parts, on occasion plaiting them together in a brief comment about his poor timing, the utilization of which he would need to execute more efficiently if he is to crack this case. As we move along, Abbott silently teases out the question hovering between the lines about Mitnash and Shayla: Are their own weaves of time, and the manner in which they experience them, compatible? Or does the timing of each exist on planes far too separate for their union to be a success?

These questions and the situation they inhabit, paired with Mitnash’s continuing working relationship with Slate make one of my favorite aspects of the novel. Not that I admire trouble, mind you. In Far from the Spaceports the investigative duo get on well despite the occasional stumble, and carry on nicely. It works and is, as part of the introductory novel to this world, appropriate. In Timing, Mitnash and Slate experience deeper disagreement, some rather more serious as Abbott gives us a more profound view to the nature of the discord, or at least their conflicting perception and opinion. It also solidifies Slate’s role as more than a sidekick, intensifies the pressure of work in space and the stress of a human and AI relating to each other—not to mention humans raised in a number of extremely different environments—and lends questions to where Mitnash’s deeper feelings, preferences and loyalties lie.

As Mitnash struggles to write and dispatch a message to Shayna, partly attempting to explain his excessive amount of time away, we see how relationships affect those within them as well as those who observe. As in so many other passages through the book, Abbott provides insight into how a persona—this particular one, anyway—thinks, even if her logic is flawed, and the influence it has on Mit’s behavior.

“If we did succeed in getting straight back, we’ll still have been away from Earth for about six months. You need a better note than that.”

 An hour later I had crafted something which, I thought, sounded warm and conciliatory rather than just trite … Signal lag was about a quarter of an hour to Earth, and it was morning in Greenwich just now. Shayna would read it before too much longer.

 “Is that why you and Rocky gave up sooner than us?”

 [Slate] was not impressed.

 “Don’t you think that’s rather glib, Mit? On the Lovelace scale, we had the equivalent of nearly ninety years as a couple. And managed some five year separations within that. Do you think you will be together that long? How many human couples do you know who get to ninety years together?”

 Of course I apologised, and she accepted, and I settled down for the night.

Abbott as a science-fiction author, the characters and the plot itself mature as the complexities of all three, plus more, interact and give us a story that provides questions as well as answers, thrill and satisfaction, and an adventure that can’t be beat. The psychology of relationships being a huge theme running through the book follows superbly, in human terms and within a storyline unencumbered by excessive examination to bog down events. As a reader not typically attracted to sci-fi, it enthralled for itself, as well as the awareness that I could be drawn to the genre not once now, but twice, a condition that underlines the author’s ability to captivate readers from inside as well as out of the genre’s general readership.

The asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. In 1596, Johannes Kepler noted the excessive gap in the orbits between the two and believed there must be an undiscovered planet there. There is in fact a dwarf planet, Ceres. By Mdf at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (Click image for more information)
So where do we go from here? Interestingly, I find myself contemplating a second reading of both novels—and soon—something I often pass up on other books I unsurprisingly loved because the timing was always off. I feel as if I am the only one Mitnash is telling his story to, and am drawn into the world Abbott builds with such fluidity, a perfect mix of fantasy elements with reality, the differences of the people in his world to us, as well as how similar and ordinary much of it is. (As readers may know, I’m a great lover of the ordinary.) As the story wraps itself around us, we become a part of that world, a magical attachment that lingers even when we step away.

About the author …

Richard Abbott writes fiction set in two very different places. First, there is science fiction, set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships. The second area is historical fiction set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC.

His first science fiction book, Far from the Spaceports, introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. Its sequel, Timing, was released in the second half of 2016.

His historical fiction books explore events in the Egyptian province of Canaan, following events in the life of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath during a time of considerable change throughout the region.

His latest publication, Half Sick of Shadows, a retelling and metamorphosis of Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot,” is now available for purchase, along with his other works, on Amazon and Amazon UK.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.

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You can follow and learn more about Richard Abbott and his books at Facebook and Google–and be sure to check out his brilliant collection of images! The author also has some amazing content at his blog, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, with space-related and not, his own reviews and reading list, information about his other books, and much more.

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The blogger was furnished with a complimentary copy of Timing in order to facilitate an honest review.

For my review of Far from the Spaceports, click here

Stay tuned for my review of Richard Abbott’s latest, Half Sick of Shadows, a guest blog and more!

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Author image courtesy Richard Abbott