A Magical Book About a Magical Place

The Magic of Findhorn is a magical book. I first read it when it came out in paperback more years ago than I care to remember. For more than a decade, I reread it now and then to savour Hawken’s sweet distillation of the spirit of the time. Those were the heady days of pot-smoking hippies, smiling flower children, and idealistic communes. Findhorn added fairies, giant cabbages, and bushes that got out of the way when you wanted to make a path through them. It was wonderful to imagine that I might run off and join the small band of romantics building a new kind of community on what was once a garbage dump. I never did, of course. Sometimes I think I missed a great chance. Findhorn still exists, although it is now a foundation and calls itself a “New Age” community. Naturally, there is a website.

First paperback edition cover

An enchanting look at an early New Age community in Scotland.

Continue reading “A Magical Book About a Magical Place”

Review: The Tower of Bones by Frank P. Ryan

The Tower of Bones is book two of The Three Powers series and the sequel to The Snowmelt River. The novel continues the adventures of four young people from Earth (Alan, Kate, Mark, and Mo) as they struggle with their destinies in a savage sorcerous world called Tir. The physical action in a brooding romantic landscape that so characterized the first book in this marvellous series is at first replaced by skilfully-presented surreal inner struggles.

Tower of Bones - cover

Charming, sinister, and exciting all rolled into one. The dazzling sequel to The Snowmelt River.

Tir’s powers of evil psychically probe and test Alan, the oldest of the four and bearer of an immense power he as yet does not know how to use. In this unequal battle, dream worlds predominate and much that happens is mental and subjective in nature. Psychic clashes flash across interior landscapes where humans are vulnerable and alone. The bright lights, vivid colours, and kaleidoscopic patterns suggest a special-effects extravaganza from a Hollywood movie. Visualized, mental, and imagined fireworks dazzle the mind.

Continue reading “Review: The Tower of Bones by Frank P. Ryan”

Review: That Scoundrel, Emile DuBois by Lucinda Elliot

Lucinda Elliot describes her novel as a “cod gothic,” a seriocomic parody of a venerable genre that often satirizes itself. The book is a delightful read, with an intriguing story, lively sometimes-outrageous characters, and well-placed touches of humour. An outstanding feature of this amusing vampire tale is the delicious contrast between the staid nobility of settled aristocrats intent upon keeping up appearances and the scandalous behaviour of an arch scoundrel (himself of noble blood) named Emile Dubois.

That Scoundrel, Emil DuBois

A sophisticated and sensual blend of humour, horror, and romance.

Complicating matters is a regal country house full of bloodthirsty half-vampires, one of whom, Goronwy Kenrick, schemes to harness “thought forms” so he can travel through time. Throughout the tale, serious trouble with vampires alternates with episodes of good-natured fun or even all out farce. Especially droll are the scenes where the vampire elite angrily holler down corridors and stairwells at reluctant servants (who often distantly shout back).

Continue reading “Review: That Scoundrel, Emile DuBois by Lucinda Elliot”

Review: The Quickening by Mari Biella

The Quickening is above all a novel of mood. It has a pleasing quality of intriguing familiarity that brings other writers and their works to mind while at the same time setting out its own unique ambiance. As an old-fashioned atmospheric ghost story, the author’s style suggests that of a young Wilkie Collins or a less-ornate Edgar Allan Poe. The feel and theme of the story inevitably bring to mind Henry James’ classic, “The Turn of the Screw.” The isolated house and flat marshy landscape of the setting remind one of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, although Biella’s story is pure horror without the science-fiction elements introduced to such tales by Hodgson. The intelligent cosy conversations between Fairweather and the local medic, Doctor Devonald, echo similar talks between those in charge in the upper-class adventure novels of John Buchan. The creepy spiritualist, Mrs. Marchant, with her dramatic séance (one of the novel’s most powerful scenes) recalls the supernatural thrillers of Charles Williams. In short, The Quickening rests comfortably among the works of some of the English language’s most entertaining writers.

The Quickening Cover

If you enjoy period ghost stories that generate a sustained atmosphere or mood, The Quickening is a feast.

Continue reading “Review: The Quickening by Mari Biella”

Review: Hidden Boundaries by C.S. McClellan

With its homosexual relationships and dominant slavery theme, this powerful well-written novel seems a challenging read for those of us who are in the mainstream. Yet George Orwell’s 1984 hardly slots into the norm and we have no trouble reading about Winston Smith’s brutal torments at the hands of the virtual slave-state known as Big Brother. Most Goodreads members who have read Hidden Boundaries classify the novel as M/M (male on male) Romance, but that trivializes a work that may best be described as homosexual literature. The question remains as to whether we really need to make a literary sub-category based on sexual orientation.

Hidden Boundaries - cover

If you relish a thought-provoking read that will open your eyes to aspects of life you may not be familiar with, Hidden Boundaries is highly recommended.

Continue reading “Review: Hidden Boundaries by C.S. McClellan”

Review: Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell

From a masculine standpoint, Sylvia’s Lovers is not a promising title for a novel. It sounds like a Harlequin romance when, in fact, it is a marvellous evocation of life in a rugged Yorkshire whaling town in the late 1700s. The English are at war with the French (again) and the vividly depicted harbour town bustles with whaling activity while the King’s press gangs roam the narrow streets looking for able-bodied sailors they can strong-arm into a navy desperate for new recruits. As they make their daily rounds, the locals must walk furtively, resentfully watchful for the hated gangs. Emotions run high. There are outbreaks of violence.

Sylvia's Lovers cover

Gaskell’s engrossing novel of life and love in an 18th-century English whaling town deserves to be more widely read.

The lovers of the novel’s title are Philip Hepburn, an intelligent stooping local shop clerk, and Charley Kinraid, a fine figure of a man who is a daring harpooner on a whaling ship. Sylvia is a pretty farm girl with an aversion to all book learning that does not involve the “Greenland seas” where the romantic Kinraid plies his perilous icy trade. The classic love triangle sets up when Philip loves Sylvia but she falls hard for Charley Kinraid after he is wounded while bravely defending his shipmates from a press gang. (The name Kinraid is suggestive. Philip is a cousin of Sylvia’s and Kinraid is trespassing on a relationship blessed by Sylvia’s parents.) On the side, we have quiet self-effacing Hester Rose, who loves Philip with the constancy and devotion that men dream of but seldom find.

Continue reading “Review: Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell”

Review: The Snowmelt River by Frank P. Ryan

The Snowmelt River spans the Earth we know and a strange magical world called Tir. The tale opens in the picturesque Irish countryside (beautifully depicted by the author) where four young people meet and discover they are all orphans. Right away, we feel that, while quite ordinary in outward appearance, these youngsters are somehow special. Fate or some uncanny power has marked them out for a purpose as yet unknown. They have been drawn together to fulfill a great destiny. Soon they are mysteriously “called” by the nearby mountain, Slievenamon, with its ancient stone cairn and legendary portal to another world.

The Snowmelt River cover

A captivating epic fantasy with a unique modern twist: mobile phones are magically transformed into objects of immense power.

Ireland blooms as never before. Timeless tombs reveal long kept secrets. Surging magical forces swirl through leafy woods and green fields. The secrets of the portal have a guardian who is none other than the wise old grandfather of one of the youngsters. Armed with his advice and an eldritch sword, the four young adventurers battle evil beings and face death as they traverse the portal to the world of Tir. The story that unfolds in that wild, primitive, and rugged land is crammed with magic, excitement, and danger.

Continue reading “Review: The Snowmelt River by Frank P. Ryan”

In the Comic Footsteps of Douglas Adams

The Garden Wall - cover

A good comic science fiction novel by a university student. Available for free at the time of this writing, and an entertaining read.

The Garden Wall is Lichfield Dean’s first full-length novel. Reminiscent of works by Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, the humorous science fiction tale is entertaining enough to be a decent read. A young female university student named simply Eradani is probably the main character. I say “probably” because the book opens with scenes featuring a number of characters and it takes a fair bit of reading before the young woman emerges as the most likely prospect for the job. This approach seems popular with indie writers. One wonders whether this is a deliberate ploy or today’s young authors suffer from a chronic inability to focus. Perhaps the idea is to demonstrate a new kind of “inclusive” storytelling. The influence of film, with its numerous short sequences and shifting viewpoints, may also be a factor here. In any case, the lack of a consistent viewpoint character gives the book a rambling incoherent feel that detracts from what could have been a much stronger tale.

Continue reading “In the Comic Footsteps of Douglas Adams”

Review: Birdie Down by Jim Graham

Birdie Down - cover

This one is usually free at Smashwords. Why not enjoy an exciting read that costs you nothing?

Birdie Down is Jim Graham’s second novel and a science fiction version of what Rudyard Kipling would have called a “ripping good yarn.” What we have here is high adventure of the best kind with a motley collection of crashed revolutionaries and hostages struggling to survive on a jungle planet rife with bad weather, deadly creatures, and hostile enemy forces. The odd dose of rank treachery adds even more spice to the rich mix.

The book opens with some solid foundation-laying. Birdie Down is an episode within the greater story told in Graham’s first novel, Scat (see my review), and early chapters provide the tie-in. We soon reach the story’s heart.

Continue reading “Review: Birdie Down by Jim Graham”

Review: Revolution by Rachel Cotterill

Revolution - front cover

Revolution is a fast paced, engrossing, and enjoyable read.

Rachel Cotterill’s second novel, Revolution, is another fast-paced adventure fantasy, and something of an accomplishment. A sequel to Rebellion, the book continues the exciting adventures of the interesting and remarkably independent hero Eleanor. The knife fights keep coming, the rousing action remains all pell-mell and helter-skelter, yet, astonishingly, Eleanor gives birth to two children in the course of the book. Even more surprising is the way Cotterill manages to keep Eleanor in the thick of things – and make it believable.

The political situation laid out in Rebellion is – as you might infer from the title – overturned in Revolution and the story heads off in a fresh direction. Martial arts share centre stage with the classic “ordinary people versus the oppressors” theme. As the book progresses, and Eleanor takes on a major leadership role, she comes across increasingly like a feminine Robin Hood. She even has her own Little John. A fellow revolutionary – by the name of Dash – upends her in a practice knife fight. As with good old Robin after Little John and his quarterstaff have knocked him into the drink, Eleanor takes it all in stride.

Continue reading “Review: Revolution by Rachel Cotterill”