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 (Updated): A Rip in the Veil

A Rip in the Veil (Book I in The Graham Saga series) by Anna Belfrage

This novel’s review in its original form appears here.

A Rip in the Veil is an indieB.R.A.G. Medallion recipient.

Previously having read and enjoyed The Prodigal Son, third in The Graham Saga series, I approached this first book with assurance and excitement. It is, after all, where the adventures begin, where the rip in the veil dividing time(s) occurs, at least in the case of Alex Lind. From my reading of that third in the series I knew she’d gone tail spinning through time back to the 17th century following a freak thunderstorm, though further details, of course, remained unknown to me. Reading the opening sentences of the first in the series, I was very aware of my transition into the beginning, and that enticingly soon these details would be revealed. I am quite sure anyone who has ever read Belfrage’s Saga out of order—which can be done—will understand.

ripHaving now read A Rip in the Veil for a second time it should be noted I didn’t like the book as I did before. I have grown since that reading, come to new awareness and made changes in my own life. I am different to that person who read the book last time. Through all that, I came out at the end of my second go-round with this result: I love it at least ten times more. Some of this could be attributed to a greater understanding I have toward the foreshadowing I hadn’t noticed the first time. It could also be said that having gone on to read—since The Prodigal Son—the rest of the series save its final installation, my affection for the characters has grown. All this would be accurate and surely contributes to my ongoing admiration for Anna Belfrage’s first in her timeslip series.

However, her strength as a novelist carries through more than in the ability to create strong characters with enduring appeal—an accomplishment in of itself not to be to sniffed at. Her words flow off the pages with the sort of enchantment that allows readers to recognize their beauty and rhythm, but also veils the utilitarian duties they pull on the side.

Further, true to the nature of a splendidly written book, one finds something else to adore they might not have taken in at first. In this instance one example would be phrases that capture our attention from where we stand now, not unlike the sun hitting stained glass at just the right angle or time of day. “The bright turmoil of oils,” for example, engages the imagination as it interweaves contemplation of an artist and her emotions; they unify in the moment and stir the sensations. There also is the author’s subtle sense of invitation into the story. We may share an understanding with a select character, or the author might slightly pierce the boundary between events as they occur and the observer holding the book, by acknowledging the observation.

“Jeans; everyone wears them where I come from.”

“Djeens,” he repeated, “well, you must be from very far away.”

“You could say that again,” she mumbled, hunching together.

and

[F]or an instant Alex thought she could see shame in his eyes. For an instant, mind you, and then his face hardened.

As Belfrage gets her tale going, readers also recognize what Alex herself does not, and her responses artfully contribute to the flow and continuity of the story as the author inserts detail clues for readers’ benefit; we learn ancillary information without being instructed, and the technique is used throughout the book, sparingly and subtly, also economically lending insight into players’ personalities.

The most apparent location these hints appear would be in dialogue, which also informs readers of how much each character knows about various events. In this way and others, Belfrage weaves a complex story, pleasurable and fascinating to follow—and I do mean fascinating: there were a number of occasions that gave me pause as I stopped to consider implications, how something could work, what might it mean in reality, and so on. The author’s prose lends credence to such a possibility, too: described with verbiage so on target and believable, responses and consequences so plausible, not an extra or out-of-place word, it becomes real as readers as well are drawn into the vortex with Alex, mysteriously and frighteningly into another time and, really, another place.

“Are you alright?” Matthew asked Alex.

“Yes,” she said shakily.

“Do you know him?” He cocked his head at the groaning shape.

“No.”

“Yes you do!” Two penetrating eyes fixed on her.

Alex shook her head, taking in a battered face, a dirty flannel shirt and jeans that seemed to have burnt off at calf length. He looked awful. The skin on what she could see of his legs was blistered and raw, made even worse by a large flesh wound. But he was here, an undoubtedly modern man. . . One person dropping through a time hole she could, with a gigantic stretch of mind, contemplate. Two doing it at the same time was so improbable as to be risable[. . . .]

[The man’s] eyes stuck on Matthew. . . His eyes widened, his mouth fell open, he cleared his throat and gawked some more, his Adam’s apple bobbing like a cork.

“Where the hell am I?” he said. “Where have I ended up?”

Indeed, sense of place is a strong element in Alex’s story and we see some overlap in time, eliciting more questions that contribute to an urgent sense of need-to-know. I also longed to learn how those Alex leaves behind react; here, Belfrage does not disappoint. Initially alternating with some frequency between her new/old world and the time she has left behind, gradually the narrative settles into Alex’s story within her current surroundings, only periodically bringing readers back to those seeking answers as to her whereabouts. This reflects Alex’s perspective of the experience, as she begins to make a life, her life, in this strange place she has landed. Like Alex, we acclimate to life without frequent news and knowing of her family.

son
The Prodigal Son is also a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner (click image for more details)

Perhaps the most significant element Belfrage employs throughout the book, this literary reflection of a character’s reality does extra duty as it is simultaneously employed with temporal distortion—texting her father from 1658, muttered comments Alex has to explain away—and a spot of pastiche, whereby her 21st century words, ways, songs, clothing names (e.g. djeens) are imported backward in time. Alex herself often brings this distortion to readers’ attention with her questioning of her new world (which is actually old) and how she could be there, given that at this time, she has not yet been born. Nor have any of her family, so how could they be searching for her? What may be the most satisfying yet, and perhaps a little surprising, is Belfrage’s manner of writing about timeslip—writing mostly in the destination era being the largest contributor to the sense of surprise—utilizing postmodern technique to do it. Moreover, her interweaving of the various strategies is absolutely seamless.

Through the book, we get hints of Alex’s history awareness as she periodically betrays, to readers only, her knowledge of what is to come in this historical era. The temptation for an author to lean on this type of understanding must be great; fortunately for readers and characters alike, Belfrage does not rely on it. In fact, she shies away from it in most instances, as Alex determinedly seeks to make her way in this era with more natural supports—and, of course, to avoid accusations of witchcraft. When readers may expect some historical event to be referenced, Alex moves on; she has learned quickly.

As Alex learns what she needs to in order to survive—including about Matthew’s vengeful younger brother Luke, and the wife once paired with Matthew himself—she also begins to see much in Matthew, joining forces with him to live a life of integrity in the face of religious persecution and inconceivable human cruelty. Alex sees this very quickly after they meet each other, during their journey back to his home, and through their time living there. She also captures the attention of someone who believes there is more to her than she tells, bonding with her and others as she makes her way through newcomer status and the daunting awareness of not knowing what she is doing, including in the presence of those who wish her ill.

Matthew has an ally in Simon, his brother-in-law and attorney, who protects his interests and indeed, his life, counseling the newlyweds in ways small and large. In a sense, as Matthew and Alex get to know each other, their story is timeless—two people with a bond who must learn to integrate their beings into a cohesive and workable whole. On top of their own challenges, ordinary and unique, the pair must also deal with the threats that remain, for despite Matthew having made it home, Luke’s anger has not subsided, and it menaces Matthew and those he loves at every turn. The Grahams do not claim victory over every challenge, and sometimes must learn to compensate, including with each other.

“I didn’t like the ‘obey’ part,” Alex grumbled as they walked back to Simon’s office [following their wedding]. “I mean the love and to hold and all that, fine. But to obey? It makes me feel like a dog. . . . Why should I obey you?”

“Because I’m your husband,” Matthew explained with exaggerated patience. “And you’re but a mindless wife.”

Will they always be so lucky? How do they keep Luke’s hatred at bay and can they continue? What of Alex’s strange circumstances? She was brought here against her will; what if the forces that carried her here reverse themselves? Can she ever go back? How can she stay under the conditions she will be required to live? These are just a few of the top questions that will arise from readers, who certainly will reach eagerly for the next book for answers as well as more of the Grahams, for while the book’s technical brilliance impresses the intellect, its soul captures the heart and imagination.

It is understood that certain factors affect any given reading, including order of books read. Did my awareness of Alex’s future, so to speak, with Matthew affect my perspective of the first in the series? Undoubtedly. Would I have enjoyed it as much had I not read the third book first? The only truthful answer I can give is that I do not know, though I am certain I still would be clamoring for the rest, as I had been. It has not escaped me, however, that like Alex, I myself have done a bit of time travelling by learning of a future portion of her life in the 17th century before being brought to the first part of her time there. While many of my questions arising from the third are answered in the first, the readings of both remain magnificent. When first I published this review in its original form, I had added, “and I will not be satisfied until I have read them all—and even then I may still want more.”

I assure you, even after having now read them all (except the most recent), I very much still want more. I will be reading this book again and again with the knowledge that Belfrage has created the Grahams and a tale vigorous enough to journey with us through time and all of our own changes.

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Update: I have read them all by now, and I want more. 

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Anna Belfrage can be found on Amazon, Twitter, on her website and at her fantabulous blog, where you can learn more about the author, the Grahams, her sew series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, other projects and her world.

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Links to previous Anna Belfrage-related reviews and interviews can be found here.

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers. She likes to color, cook, practices calligraphy and is learning to sew.

950 Intermission: Recording History in Film

New Year’s Eve 23:30

This time round our series “950: Remembering 1066” takes an intermission as we transition from one year to the next within a single weekend. In some strange way this seems significant, the new year breaking up a weekend as it does. It all doesn’t necessarily feel any different from Saturday to Sunday, but it does give us some down time to contemplate life and events—our own and others’—within the past and yet to come. The people of 1066 were pushed into this contemplative arena as well by forces other than calendaring, and they surely found themselves reflecting on the closing year as time marched them toward and into 1067.

What were they thinking? Worried, certainly. What would the future bring for their children as the great upheaval settled into a system they didn’t as yet know how to navigate? How dramatically would their lives change and how great the hardships? What would they experience as new events and demands began to define their lives? Would they recognize the terrorism or government interference of today as similar in any way to their new world as state-supported domination retaliated against their resistance or perceived injuries to the new regime? How would former combatants transition back into civilian life after their experiences? And what about the instances and areas in which life began to normalize and people even found success in their enterprises?

Also: did these individuals ever contemplate what this myriad of experiences would look like for those yet to come? Certainly, they were aware of the significance of their current events; did they believe people 1,000 years on would still be discussing them?

I frequently say that fondness of a tale is built into human DNA: people love to be told stories. This of course is witnessed in the yarns that stretch over millennia, tales still being passed down today as bedtime stories, books, in works of art, cinematic output and other fashion. Many, many of these accounts depict real events, directing individuals as to yet another method of recording history, in some instances preserving points of view that might otherwise be lost.

We still do this today, this recordkeeping of experience by wrapping them into narratives, events of our own time as well as others, and the public eats them up because also built into our being is the desire for continuity: discovering where we came from, how some episodes influence others and the means in which this translates into something larger. Tales of the Conquest itself satisfy this yearning as they provide a link for those who populated the era with another form of continuity in which they are assured people won’t one day forget they lived and died.

I also frequently touch on how despite the vast differences between our peoples, some things are universal in time, and therein lies a great similarity: no one wishes to be forgotten. In our own time events have occurred, subsequently to be documented for posterity, though at times I also wonder what our ancestors might make of these episodes in time and lives.

Today we take a brief, casual look at a few films that fall within the realm of this discussion. All depict significant affairs still within living history (though one increasingly not), and all have influenced society, even if on various levels and facets of how we experience life. There is no reason to believe such variety didn’t exist in 1066, even if it wouldn’t have been exactly parallel to today’s assortment of experience. The previously chronicled are few, though some brave creative types have made excursions into the past, gathered information to return with and woven it all together into a tale fit to be told a modern audience.

Indeed, what about an ancient audience?

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argo
Click image for IMDb bio page

Argo (2012) Rated R, 130 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 96%

IMDb Score: 7.7/10

As Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution is revving up, a crowd of protesters, ostensibly students, breaks into the American embassy in Tehran and takes captive its employees. However, six from a satellite building escape to the Canadian ambassador’s house, their launching pad to escape via a daring method in which they disguise themselves as a film scout crew to be led safely out of the country by Tony Mendez, exfil agent extraordinaire. The slightest error could reveal them, resulting in instant death at the hands of a fanatical regime bent on retaliation.

Argo is example of a film in which we know the outcome, but getting there is the real story. Ben Affleck’s brooding role as Mendez struck me in the heart before I realized who played the character. Alternating between Washington and Tehran, the movie contains a fair number of historical inaccuracies (which director Affleck openly acknowledges), though these contribute to the story and tension within as the drama lifts us up a bit beyond the rather ordinary fashion in which the real-life events occurred—that is under an umbrella of intense fear and anxiety, though by necessity internal, which would not translate well to the screen. Realistically portraying both societies in the 1970s (music, fashion, constant smoking), we also get a glimpse into operations in which lives are tossed about like chess pieces and loyalties drive some to defy authority. Emotional and captivating, Argo raises the American spirit and illustrates cooperation between nations and provides a heartfelt cinematic thank you to our Canadian neighbors.

Though visitors from 1066 might not be able to appreciate the self-deprecating jokes about Tinseltown (“So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in”), they would likely identify with our nation’s fight for our kinsmen and the lengths undertaken to restore their freedom.

The Great Escape (1963) Rated PG, 173 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 93%

IMDb Score: 8.3/10

Set in one of Germany’s World War II POW camps, a merger of their stalag and oflag, combining officers as well as non-coms, The Great Escape tells the story of a group of repeat escapees brought under the watchful eye, from various camps, to Stalag Luft III in the Reich’s hopes the camp’s maximum security would deter the prisoners’ stated aims of harassing the enemy and making their way home. Starring such luminaries as Sir Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and James Garner, the film uses humor and drama to tell its tale as the men get underway in creating three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry, to provide their way out and via various routes, flee through Europe to get back to their bases. With varying degrees of success and some startling ups and downs, we see the largest prison breakout ever attempted through to its end and the consequences and hardships of war.

Even William the Conquerer was limited in his linguistic ability: he attempted to learn English but found the language too difficult and abandoned his endeavor. Therefore a common Englishman of 1066 might be surprised at how many languages an ordinary WWII soldier—airman, actually, though that concept would need explaining—could speak, as The Great Escape includes characters speaking English, German, Spanish and French, with a smattering of Russian. He would certainly approve of the myriad of nationalities rallying together to save the free world from Hitler’s marching forces. And their methods for cover up, tunnel construction and post-escape materials production? The average traveler from 1066 would see all that as we today still do: major masterpieces of escape-planning genius.

great-escape
Click image for IMDb bio page

The Great Escape has thrilled me from the time I was small and to this day not only does it continue to do, but its brilliance has made its mark on a new generation. As war stories go, its mastery lies in truth telling without overdoing gore, revealing the immense imagination of the historical figures it portrays as well as the actors’ repertoire of devices for portraying them. Simultaneously poignant and wry, the movie contains one of the best chase and stunt scenes put to film. From the first moment they arrive at the camp, the prisoners attempt escape, and they never stop enthralling us.

As Sedgwick (Coburn) and Danny (Bronson) attempt to blend in and plan escape from a group of Russian prisoners marching out for hard labor, Sedgwick attempts to better fit in. “Danny, do you speak Russian?” he asks.

“A little, but only one sentence.”

Well, let me have it, mate.”

“Ya vas lyublyu.”

“Ya vas ….”

“Lyublyu.”

“Lyublyu? Ya vas lyublyu. What’s it mean?”

“I love you.”

“’I love you’? What bloody good is that?”

“I dunno, I wasn’t going to use it myself.”

The Social Network (2010) Rated PG-13, 121 minutes

Rotten Tomato Score: 96%

IMDb Score: 7.7/10

“OK, you’re probably going to become a very successful computer person. But you’re gonna go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

social-network
Click image for IMDb bio page

Real-life events of a different sort, this historical film maps out the manner in which a bored, trolling, invasive and highly intelligent Harvard student works a social network idea that later massively alters the landscape of society as individuals use it to transmit political and other information, including that withheld by the mainstream media. The Social Network, though, focuses on the beginnings of Mark Zuckerberg’s empire and the treachery manifest in its core. Moving between the Facebook co-founder’s college days and a lawsuit initiated by those who accuse him of intellectual theft, the picture progresses linearly through the litigation and unwraps details that reveal much more than many people even today know about the most utilized social network online.

Before I watched The Social Network I knew very little about the lawsuit and accusations against Zuckerberg. I was aware of his jackassery, but the script portrays it openly, and Jesse Eisenberg’s unusual voice and inflection—slightly annoying to the uninitiated—contributes to this impression. As Eisenberg’s character continues to learn loads about his trade but very little regarding how to relate to people, we develop a dislike for Zuckerberg, but also somewhat pity him, for he comes off as lonely as he morphs into the original internet troll. Containing high end drama, the script also utilizes shock value within its characters’ conflicts.


Zuckerberg: I’m not a bad guy.

Marylin Delpy: I know that. When there’s emotional testimony, I assume 85% of it is exaggeration.

Zuckerberg: And the other fifteen?

Delpy: Perjury. Creation myths need a Devil.


The passion with which the actors—particularly Andrew Garfield’s character, Eduardo—portray their roles captures in fullest full viewer attention, taking the movie beyond the technical, crafting even Zuckerberg into an individual with something to lose, despite our dislike for him. The cast expertly leads us through what might have been complicated layers of events, instead entertaining and informing us, including those of us in the audience not native to this time and therefore unfamiliar with the internet phenomenon. Our 1066 visitors would indeed issue a very large “Ah,” knowing as they would that deceit lurks within human nature and the fight to subdue it—which some fail—exists in any era. Some small technical details might escape them, though I don’t think this would lose them the story, which I do believe would quite intrigue their curiosity as to how others live, and even prompt perception of supporting characters in the roles of good and evil and the examination of moral ideals. Even as a secular performance the film would be recognizable and our travelers might be tempted to quip in reminder that “nothing is new under the sun,” though concede that cast in differing shadows it is gripping indeed.

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Written by Lisl and Turtle Zlitni

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Book Review: Richard Liveth Yet (With Giveaway)

Richard Liveth Yet: A Historical Novel Set in the Present Day

(Book I in the Richard Liveth Yet Trilogy)

by Joanne R. Larner

See below for how you can win a free, signed copy of this fantabulous novel!

On occasion I receive a book for review that makes me a bit nervous. Perhaps I don’t typically care for that genre, or the setting isn’t one I am usually drawn to. In this instance I was thrilled to be asked to review Joanne Larner’s Richard Liveth Yet, as it had two strong points going for it: time travel and Richard III, both of which are amongst my favorites. And that great judgment everyone makes: the cover. A painting of the author’s “fantasy Richard,” it is attractive and true to how the last Plantagenet king probably looked, with a more subtly modern appearance to its frame.

richard-liveth-yet-book-i-coverHaving also previously read time travel featuring the medieval king and later criticism of how he too quickly adapts to his new surroundings, I wondered how the author would handle his transition in this book. I knew that covering every possible nuance of the immense amount of change he would encounter would simply be impossible, that a certain amount of summary, as with the aforementioned novel, would have to occur if the story was ever to take place. So I wasn’t preoccupied with Richard moving into the modern world too fast—it was more a case of anticipation, like unwrapping a Christmas present to see what’s inside.

As it turns out, Larner knows exactly what to pick out and wrap up, and how much to leave to the imagination. As I got started I could see the novel was, as described in a showcase blurb, a lighthearted story, easy to read, perhaps not seeking to take itself too seriously.

Having said that last bit, I would caution that the tale of Richard meeting Rose and what happens between them also develops some rather poignant and lovely scenes, strong enough to bring humor into the mix and provide an all-around delight for readers every step of the way.

Like her creator, Rose Archer is an osteopath, so her experience in treating musculoskeletal problems comes in handy when she meets up with the time-transported Richard III, who suffers from painful spinal curvature. Larner cleverly avoids potential awkwardness between the two—as well as between characters and readers—by displaying Rose’s suspicion that her friend Laura, knowing of her obsession with the medieval monarch, has set her up in this situation, only to laugh at her later.

Richard, for his part, is tense but curious, periodically restraining himself for fear of sorcery or the unacceptably alien. With his behavior the author also introduces the concept that in fact a medieval man might very well have enjoyed some of our ways or technological advances if given the chance to sample them—even if the introduction entails a bit of hesitation, or he balks at other elements. Indeed, why not?

As the story moves forward, Richard and Rose get to know each other better, she introducing him to the ways of her world and he talking about his life and history, both of them at times filling in the blanks for each other. As their mutual trust begins to build and Richard’s back problems come up in conversation, he agrees to therapy, and readers are treated to a taste of time-transport humor, which mixes in a bit of Richard’s own.

From the new patient’s case history sheet:

Name: Richard Gloucestre, aka Ricardus Tertius Rex

 Date of birth: 02/10/1452

 Age: 32/561

 Address: Middleham Castle, Middleham, Wensleydale; Crosby House, London; Nottingham Castle, Nottingham; Windsor Castle, Windsor; and many others.

 Occupation: King

 Phone number: (Puzzled frown)

 Road accidents (e.g. whiplash): Was whipped occasionally as a child!!!!

 Presenting complaint: Chronic mid and low back pain and stiffness, with associated headaches, twenty years’ duration, getting worse

 Medication: Willow bark

At some point, as readers themselves know, and Rose as well, though she tries to avoid it, Richard would encounter information about his own end in all its horrifying details. They both know he cannot remain in the twenty-first century indefinitely, and they begin to develop a plan to return him to face what he must. Looming before he left his time was the Battle of Bosworth, where Rose knows he will die. With the benefit of hindsight in all the historical details in our time, continual training and Rose’s treatments and instructions how to care for himself, King Richard sets about adding to his plans for complete victory in the dreaded battle that otherwise would lead to his demise and the start of the Tudor dynasty.

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Introducing Rose Archer, the female lead character from Richard Liveth Yet.

In her introduction Larner writes that she aims for historical accuracy, though she does—and this is true of most historical novelists—take some liberties in unclear areas. This would certainly be linked to one disputed event in which John Neville, who like his brother the Kingmaker died at the chaotic Battle of Barnet, is said to have been wearing Yorkist colors beneath his armor, despite his stated allegiance to Warwick and the Lancaster cause. While there are those who call into question this version of events, Larner utilizes it to show a side of the king she and Rose both see, one who mourns for even the divided dead, recognizing the tragedy of having to choose between treasured loyalties. “I wept for [John] and Warwick. It should have been so different.”

Even Richard’s pleasures of the new age reflect what concerns him. After a particular treatment Rose asks,

“How was that, Sire?”

 “Reem!” he replied. He had heard the expression on one of the reality TV shows and used it all the time now. He never ceased to surprise her, the strange things he liked about modern life. He enjoyed the reality shows because he said they were about ‘real people with real problems and emotions.’ It seemed to be true that he genuinely cared about ordinary people.

Rose is a person who enjoys getting to and doing things, seeing various sights, and having a time-traveling visitor doesn’t stop her. In fact, her active lifestyle becomes a method of research in the pair’s aim to restore Richard to the fifteenth century, in turn revealing the author’s strength in connecting her narrative to history and significant locales within it. We are given insight into how various places appeared in Richard’s day while he takes it in, as do we, within that new moment. It brings the worlds together in a manner that guidebooks by their nature don’t, and places within it a humanity absent from such literature. We witness Richard’s responses to the changes—for better or worse—and see a bit of the reality from his time: “real people with real problems and emotions” once walked these locales and through Larner’s story their spirits continue to breathe meaning and life, allowing their significance to remain part of what continually makes these places dear to those who live or visit there now.

Also addressed in the novel is the universal effect of music, which Larner presents as scene headings named after songs on “Richard’s Playlist,” an inventory of songs included on an iPod he is gifted. While the lyrics don’t always exactly match what occurs in each passage, the titles do reflect scene content and speak to the manner in which so often music resonates with events in our lives, providing a backdrop that can comfort or even exacerbate sadness in moments when we sometimes need to let that emotion play itself out. Not only a very creative manner in which to involve Richard with music, it is also cleverly mapped because this medium would be inescapable to someone traveling to our time, it being such a large part of our lives. It being vastly important is of course true for other eras, but newer technology enables its ever presence in the day to day, and it is absolutely on target that Larner has it play such a role in the book as it does.

As historical fantasy, Richard Liveth Yet covers a lot of bases: through a magnificently-written story readers learn a great deal about historical events and possible explanations, including very plausible bits of information coming from Richard himself. It does not seek to portray him as perfect, and indeed the king admits to some of his own flaws. Narrated in third person, it enables us to get a taste of both Rose and Richard’s perspectives, as well as a reasonable evolution of their friendship and all they both encounter presented with a weight that satisfies the thirst to know how he views the modern world, without dropping into tedium. It is an exceedingly readable tale encompassing the history with a touch of romance and of course a bit of magic, leading to a conclusion we don’t expect but that primes us for the sequels, A Foreign Country and Hearts Never Change.

Larner has taken great pains to match history with her portrayal of Richard, simultaneously cracking the stereotypical portrayal of a medieval man who naturally hates everything in the new time, and in which his presence within it only chaos can ensue. In so doing she adds to his character by showcasing his willingness to examine the alien, even to embrace some, and care about the people amongst it all. She also provides an address to the controversial decision regarding his final resting place, and Richard’s own views on the matter may surprise some, while they reveal Larner’s idea of what Richard III himself finds most important.

A finely crafted novel, easy to read and carrier of a wealth of information and ideas, Richard Liveth Yet is a joy to unwrap; to encounter and witness the characters’ own discoveries and connections is a privilege, and traveling the roads of time through their eyes is indeed a gift from the author, unforgettable as it settles into our own landscape, making us all the richer.

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For your chance to win a free, signed copy of Richard Liveth Yet, simply comment below OR at our Facebook page, located here. All names will be entered into a giveaway and a name drawn in three weeks. 

Update: Drawing November 21

About the author …

larner-author-imageJoanne 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.

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 UK.

Richard Liveth Yet‘s sequel, A Foreign Country, is also available for purchase at BlurbAmazon and Amazon UK.

Her third book, Richard Liveth Yet (Book III): Hearts Never Change, is almost completed and should be published on Kindle and Blurb by the end of the year.

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

We are also delighted to note the music video, called “Richard Liveth Yet,” by the Legendary Ten Seconds, with images of locations from the book, and the book itself.

A lovely photo album of places and people depicted in Richard Liveth Yet.

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All images courtesy Joanne Larner.

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A copy of Richard Liveth Yet was provided to facilitate an honest review. 

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This post was updated to add specific date of drawing

Book Review: To Catch a Falling Star

To Catch a Falling Star by Anna Belfrage
Lisl reviews and reminisces about The Graham Saga

Winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion

To-Catch-a-Falling-Star_pb-SW-600px-widthAs the eighth and final installment in Anna Belfrage’s The Graham Saga series, To Catch a Falling Star found me reluctant to read as well as hungry to devour it. I’d accidentally fallen in with Alex Lind, who beckoned me into her world—both of them, time traveler that she is—when I reviewed number three, The Prodigal Son. It transported me and, knowing I simply had to read all from the start, I set out, smugly comfortable with my fat stack of books, assured of a brilliant journey that would last for some time to come. Reading Falling Star’s opening lines began the end of this long journey.

Isaac Lind should not have drunk quite as much as he did that evening, but flushed by the success of his latest exhibition, he allowed himself to be dragged along, to be toasted in pint after pint of lager.

He caressed the wooden frame of the picture, a depiction of a somnolent courtyard[…] In the middle a fountain, a constant welling of water[…] In olive greens and muted browns, with the odd dash of whites and startling blues, the water spilled over the fountain’s edge to fall in transparent drops towards the ground[…] He tried to break eye contact with the falling water, but now he heard it as well, the pitter-patter of drops on wet stone, the trickling sound of water running through a narrow channel, and there, just where he had painted it, a minute point of white beckoned and promised, entrapping his eyes in a shaft of dazzling light.

Isaac’s mother, Alex, had fallen through a rip in the veil of time when he was just a toddler, and apart from one short encounter, he has not seen her since. His grandmother’s paintings having played a role in these events, this opening then serves as foreboding. Now 32, a veteran time traveler at it again, certainly he may be able to see his mother once more. Apart from the vagaries of shifting through eras, the relationship is complicated by mother and son’s personal history, pertaining both to Isaac’s birth as well as his perception of Alex’s “abandonment” of him. Indeed, she chose to remain in the seventeenth century where she landed, and by the time Isaac falls through once more, she has raised a family, homesteaded in the colonies and seen too much in the passage of her “adopted” time.

A Rip in the Veil is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and winner of The Review's Book of the Month Award
A Rip in the Veil is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and winner of  The Review‘s Book of the Month Award (click image)

Initially, Isaac’s appearance is welcome to those familiar with the saga, for he has not played much of a role in the previous installments, apart from his one “visit,” although Alex does guiltily think of him from time to time. But even new readers fall in quickly, given Belfrage’s masterful shaping of dialogue and events that fill in pertinent bits of information. Isaac is a sympathetic character and from the get-go, readers follow him hopefully.

As these events play out, Alex is experiencing a separation of her own. After years of feuding between her husband, Matthew, and his younger brother, Luke—often with terrible consequences—a truce of sorts has been called and the couple prepare to leave their colonial home, taking only a portion of their family back to Scotland. Having been forced out of their country in the wake of religious persecution, she now had grown roots in her new land and leaving it, and her children, is devastating.

Meeting up with Isaac once more, as well as returning to Scotland, produces mixed feelings within Alex. She must face her guilt and work through the confrontations with her confused and unhappy son, as well as the long-ago losses and compounded homesickness when she sees how far they have grown from Hillview, Matthew’s ancestral home. Her husband begins to bond more closely with Luke, who appears to be trying to sort out their past, and Belfrage give us greater glimpses into Luke’s life as well as his changing perceptions of his world and the individuals who populate it. Her treatment of the younger Graham brother is especially skillfully woven because we are kept in a questioning state: “Exactly how hard do old habits die?” Just when we think things have changed, something else occurs, bringing our assumptions into question, though knowing answers could come from any direction.

The author deals with historical reality with the skillful dexterity she utilizes in the preceding seven books. Religious persecution—in the colonies as well as Scotland—battles and factual historical figures all play a role she does not whitewash, even to the detriment of Alex’s relationship with Matthew. Belfrage moves us between eras and places with a hand so adroit we not only fall into the story, but also follow along with baited breath, around every obstacle and with an eye out for anything that might come between our players and their goals.

The prodigal Son, too, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner
The Prodigal Son, too, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner (click image)

Life being what it is in seventeenth-century Scotland, adversity and heartbreak are constant companions. Even here, what characters see and how they see it, wraps us into their destinies, makes us care about them all the more. At times they make the best of it, while on other occasions, not so much: “The night was bitterly cold, the stars strewn like shards of crushed glass on a velvet background.” But so often even the bitter language of their love rises within a bouquet of poetry, reminding us, and perhaps them, that life is too precious not to move forward.

While the story opens with Isaac and moves at one point for a long spell back to Maryland, it really is Alex and Matthew’s tale, with the degrees of separation surrounding them: they are the nucleus, and they move forward with heartbreak and laughter, sharing the story of their loves and their losses, accepting some realities, while left wondering about others. At their now-advanced ages, Matthew and Alex begin to wonder about future Grahams. “Was there anything left of them in the twenty-first century? Would there be someone living here, in their place, and would that person’s name be Graham?” Given the strange way they came together, how exactly would this work? Even this element of the story unites characters with readers, as Belfrage weaves time together in such a fashion that we recognize ourselves in those who came before, and how their choices affect the lives we live today.

Having completed this last of the eight novels of The Graham Saga, it is perhaps easy to overlook—this is how seamlessly Belfrage writes us all together—that the re-reading of the series sets us all upon a circular sort of journey, much like the one Alex possibly faces, when her seventeenth-century self passes on and time marches forward until her original era dawns, and she is born again. Will she re-live it all in the same way we will when we go back to the beginning?

To Catch a Falling Star ties together some loose ends, answers some questions as its creator draws the Grahams’ story to a close. Alex recalls her first night with Matthew on a Scottish moor, and Jacob, her young son, gone too soon. She caresses a carved wooden infant, much as she did the one Matthew had made for her on that moor, as she agonized over her feelings for the baby Isaac. As we—reader and Alex alike—recall the start of her journey, she and Matthew are passing into a new phase of life. “Colour was returning to their world, greys morphing back to greens and browns, reds and blues.” One can’t help but recall the colors Isaac sees just before his second passage, as one world spills into another, both then and now.

It is a difficult moment, for all the remembering, and new questions, about future as well as past, and knowing this is the end of the long journey once embarked upon with such pleasure, aware there was so much more ahead. Alex herself used to say she would make the same choice—to stay—if she were to do it all over again. For all the heartbreak, grief and terror, there is also immense joy, love and bonding of souls in these tales, these “desert island books,” as another author refers to them, and like Alex, we would do it all over again as well. And we will. We will.

About the Author ….

Anna Belfrage can be found at her blog, which also maps out The Graham Saga series for readers. Find her as well at Twitter, Facebook and at her Amazon author page, where you can also learn about her newest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy.

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See my review for In the Shadow of the Storm, book one in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, here.

This review previously appeared at the blog’s alternate location and a copy of To Catch a Falling Star provided in exchange for an honest review.

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Links to previous Anna Belfrage-related reviews and interviews can be found here.

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers. She likes to color, cook and is learning to sew.

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Book Review: Whither Thou Goest

Whither Thou Goest (Book VII in The Graham Saga)
by Anna Belfrage

Recipient of the B.R.A.G. Medallion

whitherPeople who populate today’s societies—ehem, us—have a tendency to believe our world is superior to that of the past: more conveniences, broader rights for women and minorities, better medicine. While these advantages have indeed developed, they come with trade offs and in the realization of these gains we’ve lost bits of our selves and relationships. In Whither Thou Goest, the seventh installment of Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga, this theme comes closer to the fore as time-traveling Alex Lind and her 17th century husband, Matthew, make their way to the West Indies to rescue their unknown nephew from the horrors of indentured servitude—in reality, brutal slavery.

Matthew himself once suffered this fate and it is largely his history that decides for the Grahams they should heed the plea of Matthew’s brother Luke to rescue his son, a youngster persuaded into the Monmouth rebels now facing a terrible future as the consequence of his misguided involvement. There is no love lost between Mr. and Mrs. Graham and Luke, but they also conclude that young Charlie should not be left to such a terrible fate as a result of the animosity between his father and uncle and events not of his doing. Their decision reflects the book’s title as well as their own bond forged, a bond that, like that of Ruth and Naomi, was not “supposed” to be:

“What do we do?” she said, coming over to hug Matthew from behind. She rubbed her face up and down between his shoulder blades, feeling him relax.

“There isn’t much choice, is there?” he said. “I have to go down there and attempt to find him.”



“Wrong pronoun,” Alex told him. “It’s ‘we’, Matthew, not ‘I’.” No way did she intend to let him face the ghosts of his past alone.

“We,” he said, and twisted round in her arms to hold her close.

So they go, and readers follow along, though with the added advantage of seeing events occurring in other family members’ lives. There also are small delights throughout as readers recognize events from the Grahams’ past that led to these moments, links bringing on the awareness of Belfrage’s genius for tying it all together, and from and through such a distance as thirty years. The book’s pace is swift, but not quite as whirlwind as its predecessor, and the author engages in language realistic for the period yet also a comfortable fit for us. So comfortable it is, one never wants to take it off. The only disappointment in this series is that eventually each book comes to an end.

It is a testament to Belfrage’s prowess as a writer of historical fiction that she can manage to get so far into a complicated series of events and a seventh novel, and still maintain reader attention as raptly as in the first book. But more than that, just as history is never static, neither are people, and the author brings us along as Matthew and Alex progress through the years: readers never grow out of the series, but rather the characters grow with them.

Therein lies the ability for Alex to accept—even in many instances relish—the hand she has been dealt. A freak thunderstorm painfully threw her past where a veil customarily divides time and in meeting with Matthew Graham she recognized something so special she fought powerful forces attempting to yank her back. There definitely was a fair share of life in 1658 Scotland unfamiliar and not terribly attractive to Alex—by law and religious tradition loss of voice and stature, for one—so why did she opt to stay? While there were pros to life in 2002, her personal assessment of where she stood may have brought a realization that there, too, the voice she had was also suffocated by circumstance.

Now, in Whither Thou Goest, Matthew and Alex are engaged in welcoming 1686—they have been together for nearly thirty years. The opening passages introduce us to one of the contradictions Alex has grown with all this time:



The shrubs were beginning to show buds; here and there startling greens adorned the wintry ground[. . .].Winter was waning, and soon it would be brisk winds, leaves on the trees and weeks of toiling in the fields or the vegetable garden.



The beauty of the new life of coming spring is paired with the awareness of the backbreaking labor it brings, with only brief opportunities to savor it around an immediate need to work for survival. In Alex’s 21st century life she wouldn’t have had to do this; instead she would have faced other perils connected to food supply. The lifestyles are so different, but Alex recognizes the similarities as well, here and in many other elements, such as religion. She is content with her choice, a promise towards Matthew that “thy people shall be my people,” and Belfrage’s treatment of Alex’s attitudes towards various aspects of her life strikes a balance, much like the one Alex maintains as she adjusts and carries on.

A complex personality, Alex may differ with us on various perceptions of 2002 as well as 1658 and on, but the author gives Alex’s voice life in a way that even those most opposed could admit that she makes a good argument.

Like Alex, Matthew is a strong enough man not only to survive, but also thrive because he is willing to grow in a similar way. While Alex certainly caught him off guard that day when they both were on the run and she literally landed at his feet, the intervening years have led him down the road he shares with her. The pair do not always agree, but he has grown secure enough to speak of Alex’s mother—the woman whose hand initiated her daughter’s passage through time—as someone deserving of compassion, even if she was a witch as he always feared she may have been. In discussing her horrific death, Matthew speaks of her dying “well,” that she forgave her tormentors not only because they needed it, but also because she did.

There is a welcome peace about and within this installment—for reader as well as protagonists, especially given recent events in the Grahams’ lives. Not that Belfrage gives anybody too much of a break—the 1600s in Scotland as well as the Colonies, to where the Grahams have repaired, is a perilous time for all, and getting hold of Charlie is the easy part. Finding their way back to Maryland is the real challenge. Moreover, Alex comes face to face with an old nemesis only to learn painful truths about the world and her place in it.

Nevertheless a softening shift can be felt, and Belfrage winds the threads of this aura through her narrative like a subtle breeze come to cool a painfully hot day. Acceptance occurs a lot, between Matthew and Alex as well as each of them with others, and the bond they have, one that has been growing over the years to reach this point, is tangible to another. It is significant that Belfrage has this insight coming from a relative of the Burleys, dangerous and destructive men once driven to destroy the Grahams, as she shows us again through this contradiction how life often blooms from the seeds of destruction.



Tilting his head, he studied Matthew Graham and his wife, fascinated by how they automatically fell in step, a slight leaning towards each other. Her skirts brushed against his leg, her profile turned towards him, and she said something that made him laugh, bending his head close to hers. Her hand touched his, fingers widened and braided tight together as they continued down the dusty road.

He had never seen anything like it, never seen two bodies come together so effortlessly, so obviously halves of a perfect whole. Welded together, it seemed, and Michael stood where he was, his eyes glued thoughtfully to their backs until they dropped out of sight.



Here as in many passages, Belfrage utilizes ordinary yet such poetic language, painting a moving picture in which readers can easily see what she describes: the tender closeness of a man taking in the words of his wife, the curl of her swinging skirts’ material, the wide, deliberate yet instinctive opening and joining of fingers as they move in time to each other’s steps. What’s more, she does this undetected: the words and rhythm are so natural it is as if they are a part of ourselves; we only understand how much these characters have “over the years” come to mean to us. Like the paintings of Mercedes, Belfrage’s draw us in and bring us to another time.

There are, of course, no easy conclusions, and the novel ends with a few questions unanswered, a lead-in to the next—sadly the last—installment in the series. There are continued contradictions with which the Grahams find acceptance: an event Alex has painfully yearned for occurs, but at a price; Matthew helps his son build a bridge between his own two worlds; a cherished piece of his past is re-imbursed, though he may never be able to claim it; and, as in the opening passages, fragile life makes an appearance, life that will bloom, but only with perseverance.

Whither Thou Goest, to be sure, contains scenes of heartbreak and sadness, with painful reminders for some characters of a past and connections they will never completely be able to escape. But it also is a love story of sorts, in which promises and commitments are made, solace is taken from unexpected quarters, and individuals experience awakening, a blooming of new life amidst ruins to be cleared as futures are built. It is a story only Anna Belfrage could tell of a family readers will never forget and often wish to re-visit.

About the author …

Anna Belfrage can be found at her blog, which also maps out The Graham Saga series for readers. Find her as well at Twitter, Facebook and at her Amazon author page, where you can also learn about her newest series, The King’s Greatest Enemy.

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This review previously appeared at the blog’s alternate location and a copy of Whither Thou Goest provided in exchange for an honest review.

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Links to previous Anna Belfrage-related reviews and interviews can be found here

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers.

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

A few weeks ago (or is it months?) I had a chance to visit with Anna Belfrage, award-winning author of The Graham Saga series (links to reviews below) as well as her newest, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the first of which, In the Shadow of the Storm, I have reviewed and you can find here.)

I was delighted and flattered that the chocoholic Anna Belfrage baked a scrumptious apple pie in honor of our role reversal. Usually, you see, I’m the one asking her questions, but this time she’d decided she wanted to pick my brain a little bit. So pick she did ….

An author’s best friend…

…is a good reader. Today, I’ve invited Lisl to visit, precisely because she is just that – a good reader. She also happens to be a very good writer, which is apparent not only in her excellent reviews but also in her poetry and those snippets of prose she has chosen to share. If you want to experience Lisl’s writing (and fab reviews) at length, do stop by her blog, Before the Second Sleep. In honour of the occasion, I’ve baked us a nice apple-pie. Plus, I might add, my home-made custard is to die for.

It is so nice to see you here with me, Lisl, what with you being all the way over in Alaska!

Thanks so much for having me, Anna! I’m loving your weather—makes me feel so at home.

Moose's Tooth
Moose’s Tooth in the Central Alaska Range (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Ha! I imagine it does…Speaking of Alaska, what is it like to live there? I suspect you too struggle with myths along the lines that polar bears wander down your streets in full daylight (at least it’s a myth here in Sweden).

Well, it can be somewhat isolating, especially if one doesn’t have many connections to Outside, as we call it. I don’t have television programming, for example, which is why I rely so much on the Internet, because I want to know what’s going on in the world. But that’s just me—we do have television here! It’s also really lovely in summer and winter with loads of stuff to do.

The myths I hear most are how many people don’t realize we don’t have penguins, they think we might not accept American money and are surprised to learn we have cars. At one time I worked in a small specialty shop frequented by tourists and loved hearing these silly things—typically they came from people who genuinely wanted to learn about Alaska, and interacting with their sincerity and friendliness made that one of my favorite jobs ever.

Like me, you live in a place where the seasonal differences are not only due to temperature but due to lack or excess of light. Do you think the dark of winter vs the endless light of summer has a permanent impact on the people living that far north?

Oh, definitely. People form habits and patterns based on these conditions and as part of our culture they are so ingrained we joke about them while simultaneously don’t even notice, if that makes sense. For example, the Summer Solstice is observed by just about everyone, even those with zero interest or real knowledge in the history behind it, because it marks a transition in our year when we psychologically start prepping ourselves for termination dust and the coming of winter. There’s an old joke (one of many) about how you know you’re an Alaskan, because you make your Halloween costume large enough to wear over a coat.

keplerPeople who run into you on FB and the like, will probably mostly know you as a book reviewer – one of those readers who highlights aspects of the book not even the author may be entirely aware of. I get the impression you read very carefully. Does this mean you also read very slowly?

I don’t suppose I read slowly, though certainly I’m no speed reader. Overall it probably depends on the book. I think I do read carefully, which is a natural habit but there are others to thank for helping me develop my skills, including a particular professor. She engaged our classes rather than lectured and with her we learned so much regarding reading and writing about literature. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers her fondly.

In my reading I use a great deal of what I learned to this day, even with casual, not-for-review reading, though it doesn’t necessarily slow me down. Having said that, there are some books I do read more slowly, especially if it’s new information or a lot of characters to familiarize myself with.

Do you read more than one book at the time? If yes, do you read similar genre or totally different genre?

For better or worse, I do this a lot. At one time I tried to give it up, but finally just accepted the habit. It can be overwhelming on occasion, but then comes the satisfaction of closing up that last page of one book, then another and then another all within a short period of time.

Whether the genres are similar or different just depends upon circumstance—if I happened to have seen a book that looks really great, for example, and can’t wait, like a book on Kepler I recently came across. Now you’ve got me thinking about it, I think most of the time they aren’t the same, but perhaps there is always some connection: something in, about or related to one book leads me to another. What I can say for certain is that except for review books, which I read in order of when I received them, books choose me, not the other way around.

I have recently noted a certain fascination from your part regarding graphic novels – the modern day version of what I used to call comic books.

I first read Spiegelman’s Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale in a lit class in which we discussed the controversy of placing Holocaust memoir in graphic novel form. I thought it a great way to engage readers on all levels. Later I came across Satrapi’s Persepolis and Persepolis 2, of growing up in an Iran adversely affected by the 1979 revolution. They could be painful to read but by the genre’s nature the pictures show more than just events: we as readers gain greater dimension to the author’s insight, including images of herself as she perceives herself. It is very, very powerful.

I can’t say I’ve read a ton of graphic novels, but you’re right; largely thanks to Turtle they are becoming more of a presence in my reading repertoire and it seems a shift is indeed occurring.

What brought you to your love of reading, and what books were fundamental to igniting this passion you have for the written word?

witchHonestly, I don’t really know how I came to love reading in the first place, though my parents modeling it as a worthy pursuit—they were both enormous readers—surely played a large role. I can remember, even picture in my mind, books I found on shelves and flipped through, books about a boy in a jungle and animals that talked. Like now, perhaps the books beckoned to me and I couldn’t resist. Various people habitually brought me books as well: The Witch of Blackbird Pond; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Island of the Blue Dolphins; Strawberry Girl and The Cricket in Times Square were just some from my mother. My father also brought home books for me, most memorably Francis Marion: Swamp Fox of the Revolution. Even my older brother—horrible in my then opinion– picked up books he thought I might like. I still have from him Galahad: Enough of His Life to Explain His Reputation and The Favorite Poems and Ballads of Rudyard Kipling. The Crystal Cave and The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself both also surely went a long way toward my own writing, possibly because they both instigated a deeper delving into myself, owing to my fascination with and curiosity of their subject matter, but also they spoke of times I instinctively felt a close connection to, and it seemed almost as if I was trying to discover who I was, and why what mattered to me, did.

I know you have a son – and that he too is a voracious reader. How have you transferred over your love of reading to him?

I did the easiest thing any parent could do, but what is also the most powerful—I read near and to him. I never gave him any kind of spiel about how important books are, and didn’t have to act enthusiastic because I really was. Before he was born I read aloud—partly because I’d heard about how babies can hear their mother’s voices—but also I really enjoy feeling the words as I read. After he was born I continued to read to him, at that time whatever it was I was reading. As it turns out talking or reading to babies triggers an amazing series of events within the brain that in turn opens windows to further development. I remain in awe of how such a simple, pleasant act can benefit such complex systems.

Turtle has been a library enthusiast his entire life. Very early on he shared plots, illustrations, criticisms, favorites and so on with me, and we still read to each other. Over the years we have developed our own special little traditions or funny jokes, a development covered in Mem Fox’s wonderful Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. Simple to read, colossal in guiding children toward reading and other success.

I also try to support the idea that what he chooses matters—ask questions, let him read funny or other parts of note to me, discuss ideas that arise from readings—and have always let him choose his own books from the time he could. Unless it’s for school I never make him finish a book he isn’t enjoying—how is that reading for pleasure?—and provide a nice place for his collection as well as comfortable spots to curl up and read.

What would you consider are the main benefits of instilling a love of reading in a child?

Apart from what I’ve mentioned above, there are some very practical benefits. While nothing is fool proof, I have nevertheless seen over the years that children who enjoy reading are less likely to be drawn into negative behavior. They also have a larger vocabulary, especially if they have been read to because they’ve made the connections between how a word looks as well as sounds, and are more confident about experimenting with new words. Children develop better communication skills and academic achievement tends to be higher. Perhaps best of all, it fosters loving relationships between people who truly share when they communicate.

Are there books you wouldn’t allow your son to read? And if so, why?

Well, I’ve found there are goalposts that have to be shifted a bit periodically, as well as maintained.

dh-us-jacket-artI don’t own a single book I wouldn’t let him read, primarily because we have always been able to discuss different topics, even if my side of the conversation was/is delivered with age appropriateness in mind. Having said that, I will say that when he was younger I might have had some difficulty with this “policy” of mine I have maintained because some books—specifically history—might have been really scary for him. Some of them are scary for me. As for books we don’t own—as far as I know, no, though that is said with some relief at him having reached this age, when I feel he is ready to read some of the more disturbing historical events.

Most parents worry about sexual content as well, and though that is a concern for me, I have to let him learn to be a responsible reader. Plus, I’ve tried to communicate that he’ll never get in trouble for asking me questions. In support of that I attempted to go beyond the standard “You can ask me anything” by communicating that while many kids ask and tell each other lots of details, much of this is incorrect and can lead to real trouble. He agreed the possible awkwardness of asking mom is way better than trouble encountered from following bad advice. I periodically re-inforce that with how I respond to books we read together, though we haven’t come across any real sexual situations in the books he chooses. Swear words, yes, and we’ve had decent conversations about appropriate—and not—places to say that sort of stuff. Hopefully this will keep working with continued maintenance, which is the real point.

I note that quite a few of my “new adult” acquaintances never read – they spend their time on social media and streaming movies instead – or channel-hopping between TV shows. Personally, I worry this leads to a general lack of reflection. Would you agree? And do you see a similar trend?

Sadly, yes on both counts. I suppose some people are more inclined to reflection than others, so even movies could trigger that for them. However, film can’t convey what words can, so a lot will get missed. And of course there’s the danger of shutting down imagination—if the film production company tells you what a dragon looks like, why should you try to imagine it? It creates lazy thinkers, in my opinion.

Nowadays I become really happy when I see people exchanging ideas or engaging in healthy debate, largely because it’s sorely lacking anymore. Even many families act, as someone wrote recently, like a group of people who happen to live in the same house rather than as a cohesive unit. We’ve got a rule we hope can create a positive difference: Read the book first.

You are not only a reader, you are also a writer. Tell us a bit about this!

Well, in school I loved to read and had a really great rapport with my English teacher. She encouraged my fledgling efforts, which at that time I think were small and not necessarily directed toward a bigger picture; they just sort of came and I didn’t have any real desire to complete them. This changed at one point, however, when I wrote a short story about two teenage girls during the Salem witch trials. I really liked the tale—secretly though, because I was unsure it was any good by actual standards. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it, though it has been in my mind lately and I think at times of trying to re-write. At any rate, from there I did start to write more, but the results were most often poems. I later did write down some rough outlines for stories that lately have been repeatedly knocking, so I’ve been working on them.

What is it that attracts you to writing poetry? Which are the challenges vs writing prose?

10-3-14-4My mother was an enthusiastic reader of Edgar Allen Poe—she read and re-read his works a lot, and aloud, especially his poetry. She never came out and said poetry had to be read aloud, but I could hear in her voice what came to pass in the words, the narrator’s passion as he speaks of his Annabel Lee, or the isolated anguish of the man mourning the lost Lenore. Though at the time I wouldn’t have described it this way, I had an appreciation for how so much—events, emotions, information, even entire lifetimes—could transpire in so few words. That they were also lyrical and lovely captured my entire imagination and as I began trying my own hand at poetry, I experimented with different words, explored their meanings and histories, sometimes simply repeating the words to hear the way they sounded as compared to how they looked.

Unarticulated thoughts began to transform into phrases born within my soul, and it was slightly intoxicating. I had never before been able to speak with great confidence—I was a rather shy child—but poetry was akin to a new language possessing the words I needed that my native tongue didn’t have, and it opened the world to me. Though the contexts are not exactly the same, I felt a little like the astronomer depicted in L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire as he crawls under the edge of the sky.

In some ways it seems like poetry comes easier to me, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say poetry is easy. In university, when my writing skills really improved a lot, I was a language tutor and somewhat of an MLA [Modern Language Association] geek. Between that and the papers I wrote, I developed into more of an analytical writer. When I first started trying to expand on my stories this presented a great challenge as creative writing skills were now what I needed, but didn’t really possess.

keatsWriting poetry requires saying a lot with few words, which is true of prose, of course, but the parameters tend to be narrower. Also, a word might not feel right, or could turn out to be much different to what you’d intended and you think, “What do I do with this now?” Although in poetry, this may be a pro because of the separations between poems, despite the relationship uniting them all in one volume. For example, I once tried to write a poem directed at a country—not my own, but one I really do like. I was trying to express anger, but the end result was something so radically different to what I’d aimed for I was astounded. When I thought about it more I wondered that what I had inside me was communicating a different anger that also needed to be directed elsewhere, not at this place I was so fond of. The result was a complete product—with its own challenges toward my intentions, but still a workable poem.

Like all writers, I suppose you also use your writing as a cathartic exercise, i.e. you write with no intention of ever letting those particular words see the light of the day. And yet – in my case, at least – sometimes that writing is so intense it is almost a pity to hide it away. Your thoughts?

Ohhhhhh, yes. The poem I just talked about falls into that category. It feels so very personal, and I have some reservations, but I still thought, “And now I just put it back in the drawer?” Some work is so emotive it just can’t be contained again.

As a final question, which books would you bring with you to a desert island? You are only allowed three and they must last you a life-time…

This is really difficult. I mean really difficult. Just three?

I thought about The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I have a Bevington edition from my university class that could keep me busy for many years. It’s not that I’m a huge fan of Will, but what he did with language was inspirational, and all those plays could really keep me thinking, and probably writing. And let’s not forget the poems!

Possibly Boorstin’s The Discoverers. He covers a variety of topics—astronomy, measurement of time, science, geography, history, key figures in exploration and expeditions for spices, discovery, the opening of China and so on. I’ve read it a few times and each reading grants me a new observation on something that didn’t quite settle in the last time.

Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Quest for Merlin. This may come as a surprise for you, given my oft-repeated love of Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave [“Yup,” Anna says]. I do love Stewart’s book and feel almost drained leaving it off, but would have to confess that Tolstoy’s, which I read just once, leaves more room for discovery. Plus it has pictures. OK, well in all seriousness I don’t feel quite so connected to Merlin [in Tolstoy’s book] as with Stewart’s work, but the less familiar material would lead me through terra incognita and perhaps a few wonderful surprises.

Wow, not exactly the easiest of reads…Thank you so much for dropping by, Lisl – it has been most inspirational!

Thanks so much, Anna, for having me and I hope we’ll do this again sometime.

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Links to my reviews for Anna Belfrage’s The Graham Saga series …

A Rip in the Veil 

Like Chaff in the Wind

The Prodigal Son (with Chocolate Cake Author Interview)

A Newfound Land

Serpents in the Garden

Revenge and Retribution 

Whither Thou Goest

To Catch a Falling Star

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Cover Crush for A Rip in the Veil

Chocolate Brownies Author Interview

Stay tuned for updated review for A Rip in the Veil

(Winner of The Reviews Book of the Month Award)

and

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

flammarion
The Flammarion Engraving is given its name as its earliest appearance can be traced to its inclusion in Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology) (Wikimedia Commons)

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Lisl is a contributor to Naming the Goddess and her poetry has appeared at Bewildering Stories and in Alaska Women Speak. She is currently editing her volume of poetry, Four Seasons, and scribbling away at a collection of novellas, tentatively titled Border Dwellers.

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Note: This post has been updated to include links to reviews for Whither Thou Goest and To Catch a Falling Star.