Book Review: The Path (Tales From a Revolution: Rhode-Island) (Brand Spanking New Release)

Tales From a Revolution: Rhode-Island
The Path
by Lars D.H. Hedbor

While American awareness of the French role played in the Revolution that won us our freedom is generally high, few encounter an opportunity to meet up with individual stories from the French perspective. With The Path, eighth in Lars D. H. Hedbor’s Tales From a Revolution series, we encounter Yves de Bourganes as he sets out to earn his widowed mother some much-needed money—and a little adventure wouldn’t hurt.

Not unlike the manner in which he approaches The Wind, wherein we see post-division Florida from the Spaniard Gabriel’s point of view, Hedbor again widens the scope as the novel opens to the young Frenchman contemplating possible duty near American shores, trouncing the English and the prospect of his nation and the Americans as allies, after having fought bitterly only several years before.

To his mother, this would be no surprise; she well understands the fickle ways of war. Her greatest fear is with his station in such a distant theater, and the likelihood of seeing her child again. He shares her concern, but works to remain optimistic, soon after engaging in that time-tested military routine of “hurry up and wait.”

The transition between opening scenes, in which Yves breaks the news to his mother and later, camps out and then anchors in Brest, is well chosen and executed. Hedbor’s choice of allowing Yves’s home scenes to remain preliminary is spot on: while important to help round out the boy’s character and background, it wouldn’t have been necessary to tell or even show readers, including the young adult audience the novel is aimed at, a departing scene between a frightened mother and her son. They already know this will happen, and her dialogue and actions—

… she wiped [the tears] away angrily …

She gave him a grudging smile.

She fixed him with a piercing glare. “Mind that you do, Yves.”

She nodded crisply.

—reveal her character, humor and strength in a degree commensurate with her role in the narrative.

When his mother and all her sons share one last meal together and the next chapter opens with Yves already in camp, at table with his friend Luc, Hedbor again cannily utilizes food, once more playing a central role in the passage, to correlate the scenes. The boys’ conversation also focuses on food, a uniter of people as well as common concern onboard any ship. Their exchange is so smooth, natural and authentic one might be forgiven for wondering if Hedbor had transcribed a previous recording he’d gathered.

In Newport, Rhode Island, Yves comes into contact with a merchant, via their mutual equestrian interest, and a female slave, Amalie, under the horse seller’s charge. It is the Frenchman’s first personal encounter with the vile institution, and he has a difficult time letting the meeting pass. Soon, the path Yves has chosen, already entangled by his involvement in someone else’s war, becomes even less clear, and brings unexpected circumstance and choices into his life.

As has been his habit, Hedbor writes a superb tale, wonderfully examining events via the perspectives of ordinary people, those who most definitely preceded us, but whose voice is either buried deep in time or completely lost. While fictional, the novel paints absolutely realistic portraits of our counterparts, with words creating marvelous brushstrokes that capture the feel, nuance, attitudes, occupations, sights and scents—and so much more—of the day. The thrill of a dice game; rustle of dry, waist-high grass; the tidy streets of a town even after warfare and meeting with Quakers in the colony (linking us also to another Hedbor tale, The Light), as well as Natives in the area (a special link to The Smoke).

I also love reading Hedbor’s historical notes, and those in The Path were no exception. While not difficult to guess that Yves’s place in travel was based on Rochambeau’s journey with his Expedition Particulalière, codename for the French forces sent to take part in the American Revolution, I had no idea of journals kept by French military personnel. Therefore I knew not of their opinions, apart from that they must not have been very affectionate regarding the practice of slavery. It had existed in France’s overseas colonies by this time, but that didn’t mean anyone had to like it. Hedbor candidly portrays this attitude on the part of the French and Americans opposed to it, while judiciously shunning the ill-informed broad brush so prevalent today, an important consideration especially given the target audience.

The author generally is tasked with coördinating a fair amount of real-life and fictional colors, details, and this seems extra true in the case of The Path. Moreover, any narrative dealing with slavery walks a fine line in light of current hypersensitivity closely related to historical events being examined under the lens of contemporary values. This cliché is not articulated to insinuate that slavery enjoyed a 100% approval rating in eighteenth-century America, but rather that the tolerance level was not then what it is today (zero), and there still can be good qualities to find in people of the time. Hedbor is aware that no population is that one dimensional.

This also touches upon the appearance of an historical figure of the era, Moses Brown, of whom Hedbor also speaks in his notes. As I read them, it occurred to me how much historical and fiction “color coördination” was so skillfully brushed into his portrait, what with the added mixture of English and French speakers, Quaker business practices, and Brown’s involvement in a family-run slave trade.

Then the author dabs here, dabs there as he pieces together images, and recognition is our reward.

He got a faraway look in his eye, and added, “It may be, though, that history records the burning of the Gaspee, and the shot fired at Duddington as being the opening salvo of this revolution against England. People in Boston and Williamsburg were so alarmed at the prospect that they began coordinating their efforts against the Stamp Act and other Parliamentary actions across the colonies … and that led to the formation of the Continental Congress, and that to the Declaration of Independence and our present war against England.”

 An intricate, thoughtfully told tale, The Path bears witness to one man’s struggle to choose and then move forward within the results of his election. Of all Hedbor’s works, it is perhaps one of his most technically perfect, while at the same time sacrificing nothing in creative beauty. It contains mad fear, anger, sorrow, betrayal and terror. However, the resiliency of the human spirit battles all these elements, with the theme of sharing running throughout, paving the way to change in the newborn nation. The characters are drawn with sensitivity, and some brutal truth, based as they are on real people, whose suffering and victories would be degraded and affronted were we to tell their tale in a manner that suits us, rather than how they actually lived these events. Hedbor honors their lives with this magnificently told story.

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The Break – upcoming review and more from Lars Hedbor!

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

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In addition to the above-linked reviews, click here to see my review for The Prize, and here for The Darkness.

 

About the author …

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

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

My first novel, The Prize, was published in 2011, followed by The Light in 2013, and The Smoke, The Declaration, and The Break in 2014; The Wind was published in 2015, and The Darkness in 2016.

I’ve also written extensively about this era for the Journal of the American Revolution, and have appeared as a featured guest on an Emmy-nominated Discovery Network program, The American Revolution, which premiered nationally on the American Heroes Channel in late 2014. I am also a series expert on America: Fact vs. Fiction for Discovery Networks, and will be a panelist at the Historical Novel Society’s 2017 North American Conference.

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

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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 Path will be released tomorrow, October 19 (or pre-order now).

For those in or close to Aloha, Oregon, come have some fun! Release party for The Path will be October 28, between 1:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, at Jan’s Paperbacks

Photo courtesy Lars D.H. Hedbor

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An advance reader’s copy of The Path was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Fair Weather

Fair Weather by Barbara Gaskell Denvil
A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

I absolutely adore time travel, and for that reason alone was fairly certain I would enjoy Barbara Gaskell Denvil’s Fair Weather. All right, there’s the medieval setting, which played a sizeable role in persuading me as well. Set partly in King John’s England, it also contains a murder mystery, which I haven’t read a lot of, though have found I tend to be fond of the furtive element.

As it turns out, enjoy is rather an understatement. I sped through this book of over 500 pages in four days, and though a quicker read is not always indicative of its worth, my online log shows the bulk of the reading done in the final 48 hours, and I remember these hours well: staying up appallingly late, the sense of urgency as I devoured pages with avaricious hunger until, finally, as I observed the bulk on the right side of my copy thinning out, the occasional warning to my inner self that it would soon be over.

From the very first page I was invested in the book, as Molly opens by confiding in the reader about her secret place. The very first large paragraph draws us into her existence, one in which even the pervasive smells of her other world—as we are to learn of—beckon from the streets of thirteenth-century London. Here is Tilda, an orphaned street waif, and Vespasian Fairweather, who has taken the little girl under his wing and taught her and others how to steal for survival.

As Molly’s visits to this time become more frequent, and grisly murders splinter her life and state of mind, she realizes she must find answers, quickly, before both worlds are destroyed. Encountering Vespasian, she senses he holds much of the information she seeks while necessarily protective of her own. What has he done? How much power does he really contain? Is he aware she is not native to his era? Seeking these and many other answers, Molly comes to understand that she must get much closer to the dangerous Vespasian in order to free herself of him and the menace looming all around.

Gaskell Denvil is an extremely talented writer. The murders do occasion some rather descriptive images, though I was able to make a clean break from the physical element each time as I moved forward in my reading. Many readers find this a troublesome proposition, given their horror at such acts as the author describes, or toward what they sometimes fear is their own severance from compassion. In other words: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Molly, however, agonizes over the crimes, though via the deft hand of a creator whose perfect balance keeps it all from becoming overly melodramatic or without substance. Simultaneously, as the author leads us in, we feel right along with Molly, whose self-awareness works to keep us all in check. This in turn ties in with another deliciously mysterious and captivating element of the book I shall leave for readers to discover. Suffice to say the author handles the enigma that is identity exceedingly well—readers will notice certain passages that reveal her expertise.

Other techniques she engages are the sprinkling throughout Fair Weather of enchanting personification—

Shops shut early as winter dark still slunk in by mid to late afternoon.

—along with passages of graceful and shimmering imagery:

The electricity lightens my room in gaudy detail, but my eyes see only the spasmodic sputtering of lemon shadows from candle stubs.

Expressive in its striking eloquence, possessing perfect rhythm within each and every sentence, Gaskell Denvil’s poetic words convey so vividly what she points out for us to see. The ordinary isn’t simply transformed into magical, for this meanders throughout the world of the novel, recognized by characters and their observers; simple words are strung together like pearls until we are presented with a glorious necklace that transforms, as a whole, an entire sentence and, in turn, each scene.

This is not all: the author creates a world in which many complicated events and perspectives intertwine, and links within their history connect to larger figures and implications. In the hands of a lesser writer this could spell doom, and indeed a complaint of mine regarding some other fantasy novels is that they often tend to involve an overabundance of characters amongst unorganized events and too much deus ex machina. However, Gaskell Denvil’s management of her characters is in perfect balance: she allows them to be who they are, but they don’t run amok. They make sense in relation to each other, have limitations, sometimes can offer quick solutions and at others meet the consequences of when they cannot.


I tumbled into the pupils of his endless eyes. He was utterly in command of my mind.


Interestingly, characters’ comments occasionally seem to deliberately reach out to readers: “Time travel is more common than you think.” (“Yes! Yes!” I shout from within.) At other moments they engage in this while simultaneously reminding us that they, too, have a sense of history while we delight in the recall of figures we’d forgotten amidst our overloaded modern society, or in recognition of religious reservation, not a recent invention. “Purgatory,” said Vespasian softly from his high chair in the shadows, “is a dubious invention of the church.”

As Fair Weather progresses, its plot widens and we come to know more of the ancient demon Lilith and other mythological figures than before as we witness the rise of the battle between good and evil, acted out by individuals whose lust for power is so great, no act, vessel or other is sacred enough to be spared their malevolence. Gaskell Denvil—or is it Vaspasian himself?—does a superb job of revealing only what she wants to be known. Mystery, however, is not retained for its own sake, as we gradually are brought to understanding of the methodology of revelations and the harsh lessons and consequences of choosing to ignore events that do not seem to directly affect us. Not that the author wags any fingers—simply that her scenes are so vibrant, powerful and comprehensively created, it is easy to envision ourselves within the environment as we encounter surprises and questions are answered.

I also loved that these people defy easy characterization. While good and evil battle it out, there typically is an element of both within any entity, and their dimensions don’t always allow readers to determine so quickly whether one is to be trusted, liked, avoided and so on, placing us that much more into the mind of Molly. We observe the world through the eyes she herself sees it—and even that changes, given the times she inhabits, events that occur and her growing understanding of the nature of all matters, such as the spirituality of alchemy, what good really is and the nature of control.

I sat beside him. He didn’t move or seem surprised … I looked down at my own reflection in the water at his feet, my face partially obscured by floating weed and summery green algae. It was deliciously balmy … [b]eside me, still watching me[, h]is cotta was crumpled as a cushion, his hands clasped beneath his head. He cast no reflection in the pool at all.

“If you are who I believe you are, you know about that already. I have no intention of explaining myself further—even in dreams. Come back into my own world if you dare … and find out for yourself.”

“I shall, though not at your command ….” I lowered my gaze, knowing his eyes could read me. Cross and frustrated by his answers, I pointed to the pool. “Look,” I said. “Like the devil, you cast no reflection.” But when I looked up for his reaction, he had gone.

Despite its hefty bulk—oh and this becomes a great boon soon enough!—Fair Weather is a novel one will definitely return to, for its language is accessible, the story captivating and those who populate it will reach out to readers. It is commonly understood that great works reveal to us more each time we approach them, and this will certainly be so with Fair Weather, for we grow with its reading as does Molly, and getting to know Tilda, Vespasian and others is an enchanting maze into which we will want to re-enter repeatedly.

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About the author …

Having been born into a literary family where book shelves filled every room, Barbara Gaskell Denvil grew up assuming that writing would be her career. She began writing when she was extremely young and then went to work in the British Museum Library, with ancient folios and manuscripts.  This cemented her love of both literature and history. Moving on to work in traditional publishing, scripting, reviewing, editing and publishing many articles and short stories.

Her books now alternate between fantasy and historical fiction, drama, mystery, adventure and romance, with a passion for medieval settings and historical accuracy.

Miss Gaskell Denvil’s work has been traditionally published by Simon & Schuster, but she now favours self-publishing as it gives the huge satisfaction of individual control. And personal choice of genre and artistic inspiration.

… with a few extra words:

Bannister’s Muster is my new project. This is a children’s series (for age group 8 to 14) based partially in the medieval shadows of old London, and partially in a fantasy world. Book 1 – Snap – is already out and Book 2 – Snakes and Ladders – will be published in late November.

The launch will be held in the Eltham Library, Melbourne, Australia, on 2nd December. Everyone is invited.

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Sign up or follow Barbara Gaskell Denvil for news, review, historical, writing and research articles and more at her website or Facebook and Amazon author pages. Fair Weather and her other books are available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Barbara loves to hear from readers, so do please get in touch

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A free copy of Fair Weather was provided in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: Assassins of Alamut

Assassins of Alamut:
A Novel of Persia and Palestine in the Time of the Crusades
The First Book of Talon
by James Boschert

Having previously penned novels about pirating in the turbulent North Sea shipping lanes (Force 12 in German Bight), and escaping the jungle theater of 1960s Malaysia (When the Jungle is Silent), author James Boschert’s seemingly boundless imagination turns to twelfth-century Persia with the first entry in his Talon series, Assassins of Alamut. A gloriously fat volume of over 500 pages, Assassins wastes no time getting the action going—in the very first paragraph—and readers rapidly hop on for the ride.

Thirteen-year-old Talon, son of a French knight and nobleman, is abducted in Palestine following a Saracen assault on his family’s caravan. Saracen originally denoting non-Arabs dwelling near the Arabian Peninsula, is by Talon’s time generally used in reference to all the Arabian tribes. However, these attackers indeed are Persians and not merely enemies of the Sunnis; they are of the feared Ismaili Hashshashin, splintered as well from their own branch of Shia Islam. Known today for their association with the acts that may have given us our modern word assassin, they also engage psy-ops to enable submission in their captives. This they employ with Talon as they herd the hapless boy and others to their stronghold in northern Persia (modern-day Iran), planning to assimilate rather than kill him, training the lad to become one of their own dreaded and elite feda-i (Fedayân).

As Talon’s education commences and continues, he proves himself worthy of their choice and does indeed begin to absorb the group’s philosophy and perspectives. This is evident in such passages that betray his newly acquired attitudes toward his own people: “Since he had been in Samiran, he had learned the elements of hygiene from his instructors, all quite new to one from a castle in the Frankish world.”

Life and learning in his new existence is grueling, and his surroundings at the group’s mountain fortress are, by nature and necessity, equally arduous. As ever, Boschert is expert in describing natural elements as well as weaving its harsh reality into the narrative. This is a pointy, precipitous place deliberately chosen as stronghold for its ease in repelling or compelling those who would come and go without permission. Even the light of the sun is met with harsh rebuff, until its master’s might finally drives on the shadows of the mountain niches, asserting its domination over the day:

[The light] swept over the hills in a silent rush, bathing the sides of the [majestic Alborz] mountains on either side of the valley in a sharp glow. Every feature was thrown into sharp, clear relief, leaving great gashes of black shadow where the ravines refused it and the overhangs turned it away. It would try for every recess in a while when the sun followed its advance guard. Over the razor-sharp eastern peaks it came, a great fiery ball in the sky, driving the shadows and phantoms of the night far up the western reaches of the gorge to make them disappear altogether over the rims of the farthest peaks to the west.

Boschert’s usage of personification is deployed here with carefully-chosen verbiage (“silent rush”; “bathing the sides”; “side of the valley”) to at first convey the impression of gazing upward to a benign, lovely alpine view, much as it might deceive the invader attempting to breach the fort. Quite rapidly, however, any would–be intruder recognizes his folly, even while still in the valley, for view of him is as clear as the day driving its heat into all it touches. As if to hammer the point home, the words sharp and over are repeated with an air of surgical strikes, and he recognizes gashes and overhangs, spotting the phantoms disappearing over the rims as the blazing heat of the sun provides him one of two choices: Follow them down or be as scorched as the rocks I now dominate.

Thus is the world into which Talon has been thrust, one in which men defend or die, a lesson the boy quickly learns and carries with him as he develops an infatuation with the Agha Khan’s sister, the princess Rav’an, and becomes aware of treachery afoot. As their knowledge is suspected and later uncovered, Talon and his companions must make their way to safety, where they can warn the Khan, through a myriad of blockades over great distances that test their perseverance and abilities to the last moment.

Hassan-i-Sabbah, founder of the Assassins

There is nothing repetitive in Assassins of Alamut, even when the small group has to make their way past different bands of people again and again, and Boschert’s impeccable manner of storytelling engages readers in the events and, indeed, action, for we are swept breathlessly into the scenes. Loss is embedded into this life and our protagonist as well as others around him suffer it, and though we accept, knowing the dangers of life in these times, we are still surprised and sorrowful, for the characters have grown on us, and our affection is unfeigned.

That said, the novel is sprinkled with comic relief, even if it sometimes is not the sort some characters would necessarily find amusing.

The men of the caravan shouted abuse at the prisoners. “May you be visited by the fleas from a thousand camels that invade your private parts!” one yelled. “And may your arms be too short to scratch them!”

 Unsurprisingly, the novel also includes a fairly sizeable inventory of food, which both draws readers into the era and events as well as tantalizes the senses. Boschert revels in the sensory as he creates moments in which we read certain passages in whispers, hear the clink of iron horse shoes, feel the wind in its wraithlike cold as “ghosts of lost souls [search] for ways to get into the room.” We clearly see how a natural setting might conceal or betray fugitives, as Boschert describes what might be scenes from a movie.

As a storyteller, Boschert is top notch: he integrates himself into the tale, from historical as well as personal points of view and in so doing, the novel contains the feel of memoir, despite its third-person narrative. Recollection of details, precise movements in battle, the sense of an inner eye that observes pictorial memories within, enabling telling of the tale. The only element that moves away from this impression are occasional segments told from another point of view. Still, Talon’s journey is an odyssey of vivid, gripping, informative, entertaining and fascinating proportions, headed on each chapter with snippets of poetry from those such as Khayyam:

And if the Cup you drink, the Lip you press.
End in what All begins and ends in Yes;
Imagine, then, you are what heretofore
You were—hereafter you shall not be less.

 Though there has been some reservation as to the origin of some quatrains (rubaiyat) attributed to Khayyam, the poetic inquiries posed throughout Assassins of Alamut not only pertain to Talon’s battles within as much as without, but also to the universal struggle to understand, as asked even by Khayyam, who each of us are, and why we have been put on this earth. Given Talon’s situation of having a foot in each world, living a bewildering, hybrid existence, it is fitting and perhaps even comforting to him one should be amongst a society that engages in life as philosophy, even if, or perhaps because, a portion of this comes from the commentary of one whose own philosophical identity remains uncertain.

Given the Persian history of chahar bagh (“four gardens”), with its connection to paradise and the importance of the legacy even today, it is also significant that Talon first meets with Rav’an in a secluded garden, where their affections for each other, unknown to both, initially find seed. Boschert is acutely aware of the role of these scenes’ setting, and states such with his choice of quatrain opening the chapter.

When you and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh but the long, long while the World will last
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As much if Ocean as a pebble-cast.

Devastating siege of Alamut by Français: Abdullâh Sultân [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Where all this will lead Talon remains to be seen, and readers will be glad to know his story continues in Assassins‘ sequel, Knight Assassin, and beyond.

Masterfully written, Assassins of Alamut contains not only evidence of great amounts of background knowledge and research, but also urges readers to carry on. This might come in the form of pursuing the sequels (which indeed are written and we shall be seeking) or look into more within the history. Many of us are very enamored of medieval history, and here Boschert gives us the opportunity to view the time not only in a completely different region to what many of us study, but also from a perspective most are unused to. To top it off, the author acknowledgements contains a list of further recommended reading, some of which Talon himself may have been perusing in the garden.

In every way possible this novel is a gift, and whether bestowed upon oneself or others, it simply is a must-read tale whose only flaw is that eventually it comes to its end.

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About the author …

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

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

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

You can learn more about Boschert and his books at his website or Facebook. When the Jungle is Silent and all of the author’s books are available for purchase at Penmore Press.

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The reviewer received a gratis copy of Assassins of Alamut in exchange for an honest review

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Author photo courtesy James Boschert

Book Review: Half Sick of Shadows (With Giveaway)

Half Sick of Shadows: A Historical Fantasy
by Richard Abbott

See below for details about winning a free paperback copy of Half Sick of Shadows

In the first half of the twentieth century, Victorian poetry began to be marginalized by the developing field of scholarly literary criticism, which focused on works fitting complex parameters requiring a rather esoteric body of knowledge for successful interpretation. Earlier poets such as Tennyson, whose works were written for and appealed to a broader readership, fell out of favor.

Perhaps post-war audiences “re-discovered” Victorian poetry once it was realized that it often actually integrated and entailed some of the elements it had been criticized for lacking. Given its enduring Arthurian theme, it is no surprise then, that amongst Tennyson’s work, “The Lady of Shalott” should be one of the first rising to resurgence in popularity: countlessly anthologized and appearing in numerous cultural contexts (video, music, theater, art, literature and more) even into our own time nearly 200 years after publication, it provokes wider analysis and re-interpretation than much modernist poetry, whose seemingly impenetrable nature often contributes to its own dismissal, despite its aim of getting people to culture up. While this is a worthy goal and there certainly is no shortage of study for early twentieth-century poetry, it disregards the lesson Tennyson already understood: holding something out of people’s reach won’t allow them to grasp it any easier.

Contemporary author Richard Abbott takes this one step further by incorporating his own already popular literary bents—historical and science fiction—into a highly accessible re-interpretation of Tennyson’s masterpiece, itself based on the life of Elaine of Astolat, a tragic figure within the Arthurian catalogue. Written in prose and sectioned off a few more times than “The Lady of Shalott,” Abbott’s Half Sick of Shadows takes us into a world of beauty and cruelty, loving and longing, a world of isolation in which the Lady yearns for her own voice and must choose which sacrifice to perform.

Significantly, Abbott opens Half Sick of Shadows with an awakening, though it is veiled by a “kindly darkness” and marked as the Lady’s birth. It is as smooth and relaxed as Tennyson’s own lead-in, “On either side of the river lie/Long fields of barley and rye,” as it initiates the creation and, later, upbringing, so to speak, of an infant and then adolescent who will be the Lady villagers come to know by way of her song. She, in turn, learns about them via her second-hand observations of the people in a mirror housed with her, and to which she eventually begins to talk and, later, question. Their communication is of the telepathic sort, at least the expressive language is on the part of the mirror, which the Lady silently receives.

The metamorphosis of this re-telling gifts readers the feeling that they are receiving the Lady’s story for the very first time. For those familiar with Abbott’s previous work, the historical may be an expected element, but the speculative angle is a definitive bonus, and done with a subtly that enhances rather than reduces the Arthurian and historical within Tennyson’s version. There is a machination about the mirror, in its gathering of data as the Lady sleeps between instars, or growth states, and during her acquisition of knowledge, and periodically we hear a word or phrase (e.g. gibbous) that injects the story with a small flavor of the author’s previous forays into a galactical colony. Indeed, the Lady travels through time and space as “[s]he ate, and she slept, and she changed[,]” as “[t]he world outside, with its fleeting years, took no notice of her sleep, and changed even more rapidly than she did.” These centuries of growth bring her from a time before people existed and “[n]obody was watching” through the eras until settling into the Arthurian, widening the form of science fiction the book engages.

For me, this speaks volumes about Abbott’s ability to transition from genre to genre: he clearly is comfortable writing in a variety, and with Half Sick of Shadows we see this taken to another level as he combines it into one: history, mythology, fantasy and speculative. Perhaps some might even add mystery and/or romance, for the Lady catches a glimpse of Lancelot in her mirror, and from then on everything she acts upon, whether in pragmatic caution or foolish abandon, is in response to the spell she knows she is under, a magic that will destroy her should she try to look directly at the world outside. The manner in which Abbott expands upon the Lady’s life and events within, simultaneously breaking ground while remaining true to Tennyson as he retains the spiritual within the legends of Camelot, is inspiring and captivating. The imagery and descriptive language is economic yet rich.

As she grows, so too do the Lady’s awareness, needs, questions, demands and reaching out to the larger world. She observes and bonds, solitary as the association is, with a prehistoric family whose habits she admires and thrills to. It is this family whose actions first lend her an unarticulated awareness of herself as a shadow, only half existing, a theme that permeates the novella along with the idea of voice in its physical form and as metaphor. Upon re-awakening from one of her sleep phases, she comes to realize that the nature of the world’s growth and movement forward necessitates forfeiture, though awareness make it no less difficult. She laments her loss and fate within her existence, and one of Abbott’s most poignant passages gives new voice, as it were, to the idea of futility of life within isolation. Having already questioned the purpose of knowing how to speak if there was no one to listen,

[s]he noticed the Mirror’s stream of information falter and then, almost immediately, restart when she spoke of her beginnings. This, then, was the source of the deception. A little tingle of anxiety pattered inside her … Outside of these walls neither person, nor bird, nor animal could properly see her. Perhaps in truth she was no more than a fiction, an incorporeal figment, no more than someone else’s projection. Her fretful feet rattled on the floor, until she seized on a memory of song, a memory of the last time around.

 Surely I am like them? Surely I am as real as they are? I am not just a shadow. I am not.

 She felt a tentative acceptance from the Mirror, but knew that it was still holding something back. The truth she was given was always partial, always qualified. She flung herself full-length on the couch and … screamed at the unresponsive face in front of her.

 “I’m half sick of shadows.”

It is significant that the author utilizes this most famous of all “Lady of Shalott” lines to so masterfully illustrate the power of powerlessness, which might at times contain a wealth of talented, gorgeous magnificence waiting for the freedom to flourish, or the explosive consequences of destruction felt by some in history forced into idleness as a way of life (women), or blocked from society (poets), a lifetime of being thwarted by doubt and questioning by individuals of how real they actually are. The inscrutable, vexing shadows may eventually drive the Lady to one rupture or the other—determined productivity or her own end—and the growth of Abbott’s protagonist as well as the narrative itself as it progresses, contains an additional message within as to the value of any given circumstance and whose purpose it serves.

One easily noticeable trait about Half Sick of Shadows is that there is very little dialogue. It is only recently that this reviewer  discovered how much stronger this can render a well-told tale, and in this case such a possibility rings absolutely true. Abbott’s technique of utilizing the omnipotent observer—in some stories a gamble that may not always pay—works perfectly, and contains a silence and mystery to the feel of the tale as we move through, lending substance and support to the Lady’s feelings of loneliness and anguish following her efforts to oblige the mirror to answer her and later, access others to interact with her.

“I am Half Sick of Shadows,” Said the Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse via Wikimedia Commons (Click image)

While quite different to such a work as The Metamorphosis, which also experiences very little dialogue and involves a character cut off from others but remaining cognizant of life and events around him, Abbott throughout expertly utilizes allusion in form and narrative, including when the Lady “become[s] desperate with the need to speak and be spoken to.” As in Kafka’s great classic, the theme of voice is part of how the author explores the meaning of being alive and aware as psychological and physical change occurs.

She knew that her voice was high, reed-like compared to any of his own people, and that she could not form the words properly. The parts of her mouth and throat would not allow anything closer. But it was better than nothing[.]

One needn’t be familiar at all with Tennyson or Kafka to appreciate, understand and thoroughly enjoy Half Sick of Shadows, an amazing study as much as it is pleasing story. Whether re-visiting or new to the legend, readers will cherish Abbott’s novella, an original and enthralling re-telling suitable to current sensibilities, with a blend of Victorian sensory and critical, and the Modernist aim to further pique cultural curiosity. It is a merger in which Abbott splendidly succeeds.

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Would you like to win a free paperback copy of Half Sick of Shadows? Simply comment below – even a quickie hello works! – and you are automatically entered into the drawing, which will occur in mid November. (This would also make a great gift!!!)

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Click titles to read our reviews for Richard Abbott’s Far from the Spaceports or Timing

For more on “The Lady of Shalott,” please click here.

About the author…

Richard Abbott writes fiction of several varieties, including both historical and speculative fiction. His historical is set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC. It explores 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 heretofore speculative writing is set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships.

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 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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A copy of Half Sick of Shadows: A Historical Fantasy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

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Author photo courtesy Richard Abbott

Book Review: South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon

South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

San Diego Book Award Winner

by G.J. Berger

While fond of historical fiction, the Roman era is one I’m not typically drawn to, a concern pushed to the side by the blurb for G.J. Berger’s South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon, and I decided to take the plunge. With each page I found myself drawn all the more to the adolescent Lavena’s triumphs and struggles in a transitional era that would test every bit of her enthusiasm, training and even question her survival.

south of burnt rocksSet in Iberia in between the second and third Punic wars, South of Burnt Rocks opens in an era when Rome is attempting to recover resources following Carthaginian assaults that occurred simultaneous to the first of the Macedonian wars. The Village on the Cliff, populated by Iberian Celts, holds a treaty with the Roman praetor Piso, whereby the tribe lives under a levied peace. However, he is recalled to the capital and replaced by a more forceful magistrate who revokes the treaty and plans to resume the monstrous Roman sweep of barbari lands in search of ever more loot: young slaves and their plentiful precious metals.

It is in this setting we meet Lavena, who opens the novel when, as an eleven-year-old future warrior woman, she witnesses a superfluous and ghastly murder committed by a Roman soldier. In short order we bear witness to the truism of various political opinion when Piso’s governorship is discussed amongst a gathering of tribal elders, including her father Sinorix, their leader.

Her father shook his head and grinned. “Piso won’t even let us raid the other tribes for practice like we did before the treaty.”

One of the other old men said, “That’s why we made our treaties…Piso helps us all live in peace, respects us, has for a long time….”

 Her father said, “His men show us less respect than they show their dogs. Roman praetors always leave after they’ve taken what they want from us.”

The narrative moves forward in large part through Lavena’s point of view and as such, readers won’t find Berger lacing the novel with names of historical battles, sieges or dates, as the girl would not likely have referenced them in the way history later would. As readers, we rely on what she knows and learns, and Berger presents this in an engaging and gripping manner that holds us close to their thought processes as well as ensuing action, and provides hints as to some of the tribe’s contact with others.

No river could be longer or wider than her river. Alexandros said the mountains were named after the Greek god, Pyrene. Lavena did not believe that either. Everyone she knew called them Burnt Rocks and that’s how they looked from a distance.

Sinorix contemplates a transition that gives us further insight into what they know of their history.

“Maybe we’ll cross the Burnt Rocks, maybe we’ll go west of the moon and across the big water to the land we came from, to our brothers and sisters in the cold country.”

Lavena prepares, knowing the newer Roman army will soon advance, and she is anxious to prove herself up to the task of helping defeat them. We witness, too, her move into adulthood and become familiar with the role women play in this society, a larger and more central place than Roman women maintain in theirs. It is easy to admire their cunning, will and courage, especially when even at a 2,000 year remove, Berger truly brings home to us just how ruthless and cruel their aggressors are willing to be. His portrayal of the Keltoi brings them to life in such a manner that we seem to be at their side, smarting at the setbacks they suffer, mourning their losses, encouraging their gains.

Also admirable are the differences Berger is able to overcome when telling Lavena’s tale. Much has been made of male authors speaking for female characters (and vice versa); add to this a grownup taking on the voice of an adolescent and as mentioned, that of an individual who would have lived over two millennia before. Combined with the dialogue and relating of events as they occur, readers might wonder that perhaps Berger recorded Lavena’s story as she herself related it to him. We become so engaged in the life of her tribe when they are at peace as well as when the battering rams begin to do their work, that there is no question of whether we will follow her, in the wake of her people’s destruction, as she escapes and seeks to engage other tribes to form a defensive consortium.

Berger also gives us an insider’s view to a Roman legion in the form of Marcus, who is tasked with locating a missing scouting group that includes his own brother. We see the decay up close, as well as the corruption of power, though from the perspective of one not in a position to make any high-level changes. The third-person narration transitions occur smoothly and as Marcus and Lavena’s paths grow closer together, the thrill is palpable as Berger’s expert ability to keep us at rapt attention merges with the alternating views of each character. Depending on events as they occur, we may agree or disagree, admire or despise, feel disgust or sympathy for Marcus, as his creator shows us the many sides to even a Roman soldier. The path he winds through the story leads to an ending that surprised me a bit, and the contemplations I had of Marcus pointed again to the author’s caveat that even Romans aren’t all exactly who we think they were.

While Lavena’s objectives take her often frighteningly close to the army as their campaign carries them through Iberia, she also remains true to her spiritual legacy, and Berger magnificently portrays her communion with nature and the departed to whom she speaks, often asking for guidance. Her progression is fast paced and the detail examined from her eyes—surroundings, perceptive recognition of others’ responses to her and events, clues as to the presence of outsiders, for example—is multiple layered without being weighty. Berger has crafted his narrative to near perfection: not a single word is wasted and the world that was, is brought to life for us to witness. The sounds, sights, smells and sense of Roman Spain as well as the events carrying Lavena through the story are so present that we feel as if we are there with her.

South of Burnt Rocks is an extremely satisfying read, one that engages the audience, stirring us to probe further into an era many of us remember only in bits from school-age history classes. To that end, the author’s notes succinctly fill in many gaps and it is evident the research done for the novel is extensive and painstakingly thorough. Our view to history is a bit more privileged than that of Lavena, who learns she must come to grips with her own family’s role in that succession and what it means for her, as well as for those who come to know of her courageous stand against tyranny.

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A copy of South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

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BergerIn north central Spain outside the town of Soria sits an archeological dig being restored by the government. The site is the ancient city of Numancia. It was the place of the last stand by the locals against the Roman invaders. By then Lavena would have been an old woman, and Numancia might make for my third novel in a trilogy. At that site I visited reconstructed houses of the kind Lavena might have lived in and walls of the kind that might have protected her village. In the photo I’m looking at the pillar of a taller fancier house the Romans built after they finally won their multi-year siege.

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George_1_9-17-13_email6x9When G. J. was eight, his mom told him the story of Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants and a great army. He asked her what happened to Hannibal after that. Mom didn’t know, but he was hooked, had to find out, had to write about it.

G. J. spent much of his young life on the road and at sea, often working as a crew member on a tramp steamer. Wherever his travels took him, old walls, canals, even storage holes deep in the ground, made him wonder about how they got there, about the people who built them, how they lived and got along. The result is this and two other novels-to-be wherein the places, the history, even some of the Burnt Rocks characters do and did exist.

When not writing, G. J. tries to roam around the places he writes about, likes to sit and soak up the times back then and bring them to modern life in his stories. G. J. is convinced that for all the changes in last 2000 years, people loved and hated, suffered and rejoiced, destroyed and built the same ways then as they do today.

G. J. lives in San Diego with his favorite grammarian and English professor. They visit their two sons and grandson as often as the kids will have them.

You can learn more about G.J. Berger’s work and news at his website and Twitter. A review for Four Nails, the upcoming prequel to South of Burnt Rocks, can be seen here.

Book Review: Song of Australia

Happy Australia Day 2016!!!

Song of Australia by Stephen Crabbe

Growing up as many of us did, learning in history classes of German aggression against others, Stephen Crabbe’s Song of Australia is a departure, moving away from this into the stories of Germans—specifically German-Australians—who suffered discrimination and abuse based on their ethnicity. Set in the state of South Australia during the Great War—a world war at that time not being numbered or perceived to need such label so as to differentiate from some other world war—the book is divided into three novellas, the interconnectedness of which is slowly revealed as the characters move through events that link back to each other.

Song-of-Australia-cover-resized-for-web-192x300Opening with “Magpies and Mendelssohn,” we see Neddy approaching a music hall from which come voices singing “God Save the King,” accompanied by piano. Though initially shooed away, he makes his way inside to warn Elsie Fischer, whose family later Anglicise their names, the better to fit in, of danger to her father. Misunderstood by many, Neddy is referred to as the “dull-witted child.” Indeed, he cannot communicate in typical fashion and uses his singing voice to reach Elsie.

 

[H]is voice utter[ed] a wordless succession of shrill cries. She gaped at him. His voice was so clear, so sure. It uttered just two notes and she could see them as if written. First a crotchet, then an accentuated minim; together making an interval of a rising augmented fifth. A call of alarm!

Crabbe’s flow of words here is somewhat deceptive because although the style seems fitted to approximate what many regard as the more “innocent” speech and perception patterns of the early 20th century, it is brimming with symbolism. Perhaps autistic (the book never reveals exactly what disorder the child possibly experiences), Neddy does not express himself in a way most of the community can comprehend. Rather, he utilizes music to speak, deftly mimicking the magpies whose tree he shares and to whom he relates so closely. It is interesting to note that several websites give magpies symbolic meaning for such traits as being perceptive and expressive as well as deceptive and illusory—characteristics owned by those around Neddy depending upon their understanding of his search for a voice, a medium with which to communicate to others.

In search of voice also is the German community, many of whom are individuals born and raised in Australia but often treated like enemies. Elsie’s father, target of the xenophobic and threatening conversation Neddy had overheard, stifles his own voice while trying to show Elsie to seek her own, even during flight to the relative safety of the city, where they might better blend in.

The book’s other two novellas, “Song of Australia” and “The Parade,” develop in more detail the threat to Germans of Australia as we see Elsie and Edwin, a young man struggling with the contradictions between faith and war, develop a friendship that rewards as well as endangers. Attending language lessons together they become involved with Will Krause’s endeavors to find a place in Australia, itself seeking identification, all intertwined in Carl Linger’s “Song of Australia.”

Edwin, who hides his anti-war stance and Elsie her true background, work to develop a manner in which they might speak to the world, as would Australia, as “free and strong, but peaceful,” in defiance of their true circumstances, which force them into the silence of an illusory existence in which others perceive them not for who and what they are, but rather what their own deceptions perceive them to be.

As the individuals’ stories proceed and make connections, readers are given a greater understanding of the war mentality and how it drives otherwise peaceful citizens to harass some of their neighbors to such an extent that lives, careers and futures are destroyed. Using the language of music to convey some of his most lyrical passages, Crabbe guides readers through a story that matures, much like its characters, who themselves act almost as part of an opera, engaging us in the history of a young nation seeking its identity.

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You can keep up with and learn more about Stephen Crabbe and his work at his Facebook author page as well as his blog, where he discusses writing, books, music, language and life.

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This post previously appeared at the blog’s previous location.

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Book Review: After the Sucker Punch (With Soundtrack)

After the Sucker Punch

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

by Lorraine Devon Wilke

Perceptions can be tricky animals, especially when filtered secondhand, even more so when they involve those closest to us. What happens when we find out that what we thought others thought—of us—is way off base? That actually the reflections they’d been silently entertaining along the way were rather negative? The kicker: what if that person was our parent?

after

Tessa Curzio’s situation goes one step further in that she discovers her father’s dismal judgments about her after he has already passed away and she can no longer ask him about it. In fact, After the Sucker Punch opens with Tessa reading his previously-journaled words reaching out to slap her with a hurt as fresh as the grave the family had lowered him into just hours before. It’s a sucker punch that she knows not only re-writes the past, but also alters the future she is at that very moment moving into.

Knowing the novel’s premise, I was slightly apprehensive about my own relationship with Tessa. Would she be someone who deflects responsibility and whinges a lot about what is done to her? This wasn’t an impression I’d already formed of Lorraine Devon Wilke’s protagonist, more a concern based on real-life individuals who tend to blame parents for everything that goes wrong in their lives. It was a nice, thick book with one of the most well-written blurbs I’d ever read. I really wanted to enjoy it.

Guess what? I loved it. And, as goes the dual affection most parents feel for their children, I also liked it. Devon Wilke fills the story with pieces of a logophile’s dream: crinkly handwriting, tragedy porn—and the use of soundtrack as a verb are some that highlight along the way how the words interact with each other as well as those who utter and listen to them. Tessa is fast on her feet, sometimes too fast, which leads her on occasion to speak out of turn or too soon for what she really feels, but this adds to the novel’s depth and honesty because the author presents our lead as she truly is.

Their brother Duncan was a highly successful product liability attorney who’d made a name and several million in a case involving a child’s death caused by a drug later recalled by the FDA. He had become somewhat of a celebrity and certainly an expert, garnering a pulpit style that often edged toward high-pitched pontification. There was talk of politics and much consensus that he was a bold and righteous crusader. Tessa thought he might just be an ambitious prick but odds were that was sour grapes. Duncan’s financial and general life success stirred bona fide envy in her, as did his inexplicably close relationship with a father who seemed far less interested in her.

She isn’t completely honest or perfectly perceptive, though. Frankly, Tessa is somewhat of a mess. Not entirely, and not all her emotional chaos is visible, not even to herself. As the year moves forward and she assesses her life and where it is going, she also begins to untangle the web of her inner being as well as her relationships with family, partner, friends and career. Once part of a band, Tessa seems to reach out for the sort of stability those days provided, though with each knot she picks free, she slowly begins contemplating what stability really means.

This sense of stability manifests itself in many different ways, some of which we as readers could certainly relate to as Tessa begins a downward spiral of self-doubt. When her auntie, a nun and counselor unfazed by sexuality and her niece’s lapsed Catholic status (and opinions), makes contact and wants to get together, Tessa feels conflicted and practices avoidance:

Aunt Joanne. She had called repeatedly, concerned that they hadn’t talked before they both left Chicago, but so far Tessa had managed to return the calls when she guessed her aunt would be occupied, trading messages without the actual burden of conversation.

Some of the conversations she does engage in lead to snarls in communication, expertly laid out with Devon Wilke’s dialogue. She argues with her sister Michaela, over the latter’s reluctance to ship their father’s multiple journals to her sister, who feels she needs to read them all in order to get a better grip on who her father was and what else he thought of her. There is a breakdown in the relationship with her partner David, the recipient of her sometime unrealistic expectations—“I wanted you to want to read [the journal]”—and who struggles to understand what she is going through.

Devon Wilke’s aptitude for shining light on human behaviors and what motives, conscious and not, often lie behind them, is stunning in its capacity, lyrical presentation and raw reality. It’s not often the latter two of this triad pair together, certainly not well at least, but Devon Wilke does it while avoiding the pitfall of a bitter sarcasm so consistent it becomes a turnoff. Instead, she captures the strength and fragility of the human heart, teaming it with a character readers feel they could be a friend to because the duration of the relationship—for us, the length of the novel—benefits all quarters and not just Tessa’s.

While the entire work is filled with examples of the author’s outstanding abilities to create dialogue and utilize it to tell her story, one set, between Tessa and Michaela, I found to be the most nourishing, for where it leads them, even when it doesn’t point to perfection. Moreover, the third-person narrative doesn’t take Tessa’s side and simply present Micky as the bad guy. Real life is much more complicated than that and Devon Wilke clearly knows it, as she presents both sides in conversations and—the true test—readers can see valid points from the two corners.

It is perhaps unsurprising that as a musician herself, Devon Wilke acts as conduit for Tessa to pour herself into song, and at story’s end “Tessa’s Song (My Search For You)” captures so much of the nuance contained within the experiences Tessa undergoes and that we follow, having experienced many of the emotions as she. Events are different, naturally, but we all have hearts capable of being broken and spend our lives protecting them from such an eventuality.

Available online with a link provided, Tessa’s words are equally strong and vulnerable, and Devon Wilke’s vocal and instrumental arrangement captures so perfectly the rise and fall of sensitivity in the telling of Tessa’s journey in a manner most often best understood by the heart and audio sensibilities.

So elusive, I wonder if you ever figured it out?

How your silence always made me feel a little loud

So convinced if I sang and danced and jumped up and down

You would see me, just me, and maybe be a little proud

It is a recognition that registers, stirring listeners’ own instinct for healing, a powerful resonance for the courageous and often frighteningly difficult steps toward honesty within oneself, and the requisite changes, or decision to remain, that need to be addressed. The song is strong out of the gate—much as Tessa might have been had she began the conversation with her father—the guitar strumming forcefully, with demonstrated strength. As we move through the stanzas, there are glimpses of vulnerability– in the words, certainly, but also with technique: always made me feel a little loud or jumped up and down are part of I phrases that tend for us humans not to come easy and require, surprisingly, sustained support, here demonstrated via the companionship of backing vocals.

Tessa presents in the song as she does in After the Sucker Punch; she is clearly a complicated character, at times confused, and even reader perceptions of her may alternate as they witness her struggle. This is not necessarily a negative, for Tessa, like us, learns more about who she is as the story carries on.

Who she is also appears in song, in its various forms, as an elongated you credits the person her father is or her statement that “we squandered the time we had” both admits her own culpability and insists upon responsibility for other parties, too. She also acknowledges the individual she is as well as that she is in some ways like her father, the trick to doing both of these being able to carry it out sans indictment of the self while also accepting responsibility. It’s not an endeavor for the meek of heart, and friends like Kate could provide support if Tessa accepts it and both don the term friendship in all its ugly glory. That is, truths must be revealed, and friends remain so despite the presence of flaws. Tessa wants to know how her long-term friend can do all this and Kate answers, “Because I was there. I was a witness to your life, Tessa.”

After the Sucker Punch is Tessa’s story, one she can only retrieve with the aid of others whose contributions she will either receive or reject. It is also a portrait of father/daughter relationships and all their attendant baggage, including the need to define oneself within that dyad without further input from the one whose assessment opened the door. Funny, poignant, angry, loving, insightful, momentous, like families themselves, After the Sucker Punch is a story of acceptance from an author readers will want to return to again and again.

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A copy of After the Sucker Punch was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.

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

A longtime contributor to The Huffington Post, Devon Wilke’s trademark “sass and sensibility” infuses her writing with candor, provocative themes, and, whenever possible, lots of laughter. Whether exploring issues of family, faith, love, or tragedy, her stories always embrace an elemental mix of heart and soul.

lorraine purpleCurrently working on her third novel, both After the Sucker Punch and Hysterical Love are available in print and ebook via Amazon and various other sites. Her extensive photography collection can be viewed and purchased at Fine Art America, she keeps readers updated on her “adventures in publishing” at After the Sucker Punch, and her more topical essays can be found at The Huffington Post or at her blog, Rock + Paper + Music. On the music front, she continues to write and record whenever she can, and has recently been cast in new rock musical set to debut in San Diego, California in early 2017.

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

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Stay tuned for my review of Hysterical Love!

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