Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Anna Reviews: In a Milk and Honeyed Land by Richard Abbott




In a Milk and Honeyed land

Already from the title, one gathers this book is set in that ancient cradle of humanity, the Promised Land. Mr Abbott paints a vivid description of the region and its people as it may have appeared well over  three thousand years ago, doing a rather elegant tie in to the events related to us in the Book of Joshua.
However, the story is not told from the viewpoint of the Hebrew tribes, instead we are transported to a  little town called Kephrath that nestles into a ridge, surrounded by olive groves.

The inhabitants of this little village are Canaanites, a society which counts descent matrilinearily rather than partiarchically, where the people survive as farmers, craftsmen and traders. This is the home of Damariel, the protagonist of the story, who is but a child when we first meet him. Damariel is a confused boy; he lives with his mother, his siblings, and a man he calls father but who clearly isn’t his father – after all, Damariel is a child of the gods, which essentially means he is the result of a ritual whereby his mother bedded with the village priest. Mr Abbott does a good job of describing the tension this fact causes, between husband and wife, between Damariel and his so-called father.

The life in this long-ago village is richly described, from the foods they prepare, to the tending of the olives and the rituals of life and death. I am not in a position to judge how accurate the protrayal is, but I feel transported to a land of hot summers and somewhat cooler winters, to summer nights when the family sleeps on their roofs, to a life that follows the ancient rhythm of the moon, to the wafting scents of mimosa and acacia, of honey and lotus.

Damariel grows up to be a compassionate priest and a seer, and will have to handle personal loss and betrayal, complex family relationships and the burden of feeling responsible for the well-being of his entire village, come what may.

This is not a book for those who want action or multilayered intrigue, rather it is a reflection on human life in general, subtly making the point just how similar the central issues in our lives remain – whether in the here and now or in the far back then. I was also quite impressed by how well Mr Abbott describes a society built on female lineage, with the women playing as important a role in society as do their men.

The prose is rich and fragrant and flows easily across the pages. Mr Abbott has made no attempt to antiquate the dialogue, which in general is a good thing. However, at times the expressions used were too modern, and a dialogue peppered with “look” and “you know” jarred with the time period.

In a Milk and Honeyed Land is a believable and at times very touching description of a man that always tries to do the best he can for his family and friends. Add to this an unusual historical background, some very evocative writing, and you have quite the read. I for one will definitely be looking for future books by Mr Abbott!

About the author
Richard Abbott lives in London and In a Milk and Honeyed Land is his first book. An interest in the historical facts surrounding the Old Testament led to a PhD in Hebrew and Egyptian Poetry – and a desire to write a fictional account set in the period.
Outside of writing, Mr Abbott enjoys spending time with family and walking, ideally in the English Lake District. For more information about Mr Abbott and his work, visit is website http://www.kephrath.com
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Buy links for 'In a Milk and Honeyed Land':
Amazon UK
Amazon.com

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This book was reviewed by Anna Belfrage author of "The Prodigal son" . 

Anna Belfrage is the author of four published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17thc, the book tells the story of Matthew Graham and his time travelling wife, Alex Lind.  


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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Karen Andreas Review Debut: Eromenos by Melanie McDonald

Please welcome Karen Andreas' debut for The Review! Take it away Karen!

Eromenos
The Mystery Continues
By Karen Andreas

Melanie McDonald has taken on one of the enduring mysteries of the ancient world: the love of the emperor Hadrian for the boy Antinous and Antinous’ mysterious death on the Nile.
On the surface, this might seem to be a simple story.  The emperor Hadrian had a relationship, generally assumed to be sexual, with a Greek youth, Antinous.  Hadrian loved all things Greek, and so it is not hard to believe that his Greek passion included the concept of love between men. While on a progression through the empire with Hadrian, Antinous drowned in the Nile.  The circumstances of that death were never explained; Hadrian returned to Rome, and Antinous was simply dead.  The reason this story endures is because Hadrian had Antinous deified.  From that deification arose a widespread and pervasive cult, celebrating the youth who was forever young and beautiful.
This is not an historical novel in the terms of understanding the motivations of Hadrian and his time.  It is, instead, the journey of a country boy into the intrigues of the Imperial court and his growth into the lover of a jealous sexual tyrant.  Told in the first person, McDonald captures the naivetĂ© of the teenage mind forced to jockey for favor in Hadrian’s school for young, attractive boys aspiring to serve in the court, the school being a thinly veiled harem for Hadrian’s future favorites.  As Antinous navigates the perilous path to Imperial favorite, the reader goes along for a read liberally sprinkled with mythological references, famous names dropping in and quickly out, with a nod to the philosophers known to educated Romans.  The reader had best be prepared for this name dropping, at times heavy-handed, or will miss out on many a nuance.
Superficial, vain, self-absorbed, Antinous is a typical teenager – in that, McDonald has captured a true voice.  This provides limited insight to the story of an emperor and his beautiful boy.  There is no understanding how Hadrian’s presumed love or fascination grew for the boy, other than the emperor’s propensity for young lovers.  Hadrian comes across as petty, jealous and one dimensional. After all, Antinous can only judge by the emperor’s actions towards him.  Antinous is, in turn, enthralled, disgusted, bitter, and insecure as he ages towards adulthood and worries his pre-eminence will end.  
Missing is the context in which this love affair thrived.  It actually does make sense as this story unfolds in Antinous’ mind: most self-absorbed teenagers are blithely unaware of the complexities of their worlds and relationships.
Historians have mused over the death of Antinous and its impact on Hadrian.   Because of the first person construct of this book, the poignancy of an older man’s love for the beauty of a certain youth is missing as is the crushing loss that led to Hadrian’s deification of Antinous.  Hadrian, in this book, is a serial lover, a sexual predator – beyond his beauty, what makes Antinous so special to the emperor is not known.
McDonald’s theory of Antinous’ death is melodramatic – while it indeed may have been a case of teenage drama, missing is the element of tragedy and poignancy of a life ended so young.  The conclusion of the book abruptly ends the story when the most interesting part of the story was about to begin.
If you are looking for a book that creates the interior dialog of a very young man at the time of Hadrian’s Rome, this will be an intriguing read.
about If you are looking to explore the life and times of Hadrian’s Rome and how this affair thrived within the confines of conservative society, the lack of historical context is disappointing.
At the end, it seemed that Antinous realized that his path was towards deification, which depended on his untimely and abrupt death.  Whether Antinous’ death was self-sacrifice, despair, accident or nefarious deed, Hadrian ensured that Antinous’ beauty, forever young, and his own love for a Greek boy, endured.  As for the details, the mystery continues.


About this Author
Melanie McDonald was awarded a 2008 Hawthornden Fellowship for Eromenos. 


She has an MFA from the University of Arkansas. Her short stories have appeared in New York Stories, Fugue, Indigenous Fiction, and online. An Arkansas native whose Campbell ancestors were Highland Scots, she now lives in Virginia with her husband, Kevin McDonald, the author of Above the Clouds: Managing Risk in the World of Cloud Computing.




This Review was written by Karen Andreas

"My first introduction to historical fiction was in the mid-1960s, when I read Sword at Sunset; thus began a life-long love of reading this genre.  One of my dearest treasures is a hand written letter from Rosemary Sutcliff.  I am in awe of the masters of this craft.

My own background is in nonfiction.  I was editor of a fire service publication in Washington, D.C., and am currently the editor and chief writer of a quarterly botanical publication.  I live in Florida with my husband Michael, three cats (Yardley, Sparky and Boo Radley) and one horse, Mr. Bojangle"


Karen and Mr Bojangle



To Win a copy of Eromenos, just leave a comment here below!

If you would like Karen or any of The Review Team to review your book  check out the submissions tab


A Riotous Affair

Edinburgh has over the centuries seen many a grim affair darken its famous old streets and had reason to be thankful for the forces of Law and Order being on hand to protect the innocent, and to punish the guilty. Just occasionally however the roles were reversed and it was the defenders of the innocent who were the guilty. One such man, who was to earn the abiding hatred of Edinburgh, was Captain John Porteous of the Town Guard. When it seemed his crimes against the people of the city were to go unpunished, it was the people who delivered justice. The story begins on a dark night, not in Edinburgh, but on the other side of the Firth of Forth in the Kingdom of Fife...
The Porteous Rioters descends the West Bow (now Victoria Street)
THE ORIGINAL CRIME
On the night of 9th January, 1736, Collector of Excise James Stark rested at an inn in the fishing village of Pittenweem, Fife but no sooner had he settled down for the night than he was shaken from his slumber by loud banging on his room door. The noise was caused by a smuggler, Andrew Wilson, and a compatriot attempting to force entry, intent on robbing him. Wilson's other partner in crime, a fellow smuggler named George Robertson waited downstairs acting as lookout.

Realising what was happening, Stark managed to grab one bag of excise money before he jumped from a window and hid in a nearby stable where he spent the cold winter night buried under a heap of straw.

Wilson and his fellow thieves, having finally broken the door down, made off with £200 Stark had left behind along with some personal items such as his Bible. Wilson, Roberston and the third man, Hall, then made their way east but were quickly apprehended in the nearby village of Anstruther only a few miles along the coast, where Stark's £200 and other belongings were recovered. The three men were speedily shipped over to Edinburgh, where they were thrown into the city's notorious Tolbooth Prison to await trial. The Tolbooth Prison stood on the Royal Mile, in front of St Giles Cathedral. Hated, and feared by the people of the city, the Tolbooth was well known for the terrible conditions and cruelty which happened within its grim walls.

When the trial came, the men claimed that the robbery had been a spur-of-the-moment affair. The magistrates, however, were not fooled by this and Hall quickly pointed the finger of blame at his comrades and admitted their crimes. Wilson, Robertson and Hall were all found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Hall later had his sentence revoked in return for turning King's Evidence against Wilson and Robertson. Sentence was set for Wednesday, 14th April 1736.

On Friday, 9th April 1736, Wilson and Robertson attempted to escape the Tolbooth. The two smugglers had been provided with saws by visiting friends, which they used to cut through the window bars. Friends of Wilson and Robertson dressed up as women and sang psalms loudly in the Royal Mile to cover the noise of the thieves escape. Wilson insisted on going first but got stuck in the window and was still lodged firmly halfway in, halfway out when the guards arrived.

EVENTS PRECEDING THE EXECUTION 
On the Monday, 12th April, Wilson and Robertson were taken to the Tolbooth Kirk for the customary sermon for the condemned. Two guards sat either side of them on one pew with two more guards sitting behind. Robertson suddenly sprang up, broke free of the guards and made for the door while Wilson held back the guards. Others in the kirk moved out of his way and Robertson quickly escaped. Wilson tried to follow but was brought down by the guards. Some citizens believed Wilson did this purposely to allow Robertson the chance to escape and he was admired for his actions. Smugglers were already popular characters with the common people as they provided goods which ordinarily was out of their price range.

The City Guard, was largely despised by most townfolk and were nicknamed the 'Toun Rats', under the command of Captain John Porteous, was called upon to put down any likely disturbances which may occur at the execution. Unusually the Guard were provided with a special provision of powder and shot on the direct orders of the Lord Provost who must have been aware of partisan feelings towards Wilson. A party of 150 soldiers of the Welsh Fusiliers were also ordered into the city to provide extra security if needed, a move which was likely to anger Porteous who probably saw it as an insult to him and his men.

Porteous, it was later claimed, was a man renowned for his arrogance and hated for his cruel treatment of prisoners. He was also branded a drunkard and the execution of Wilson only went ahead once he had eaten his midday meal and was supposedly half drunk on wine. The execution itself took place on the appointed day, Wednesday, 14th April 1736, in the Grassmarket. Wilson's demise was achieved in the end without any incident or trouble. Afterwards however, as the hangman began to remove the body small stones and filth started to be thrown. Porteous had the Town Guard surround the scaffold and they and he soon also came under a hail of these missiles. The Town Guard retaliated by firing a volley into the crowd. Porteous, it was claimed shot the first victim himself before giving the order to fire, and it was later claimed that he had been heard making angry threats to members of the Town Guard who refused to fire into the crowd. Some guardsmen decided to fire above the crowds heads. Unfortunately, one of their bullets hit a young man watching from a tenement window, killing him instantly. Four more in the crowd were killed by further volleys, making six deaths in all. Along with these deaths several dozen others were wounded by gunfire.

If the crowd were already angry, they were now heading beyond all control. Captain Porteous took the wise decision to withdraw his men and march them back to their quarters in the High Street. As they marched up the West Bow, the mob followed, still throwing missiles. Soldiers at the rear turned to face the crowd and fired again, wounding several more.

The people of the city demanded justice for the outrageous behaviour of the Town Guard. Porteous was arrested and brought before the magistrates, who had no choice but to commit him to the Tolbooth Prison, to await trial. He was eventually brought to trial on 5th July 1736 and charged with Murder and Maiming. Captain Porteous claimed in his defence that he had only threatened the crowd in case they had attempted to seize Wilson's body and revive him. Despite his claims he had only acted in self defence once he and his men had come under attack and had never ordered his men to fire, a claim backed by several witnesses, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Several of his friends however petitioned Queen Catherine for a pardon. She granted Porteous a six week reprieve and it was believed a full pardon would soon follow.

THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN PORTEOUS
Burning down the Tolbooth door
As the rumour spread through the town that Porteous was going to go unpunished the Edinburgh Mob began to gather and demand justice. Their ranks quickly swelled into the thousands and on the night of the 7th of September 1736  they attacked the town Guardhouse where they seized muskets and Lochaber axes. The men of the Town Guard fled to the safety of Edinburgh Castle leaving their captain, John Porteous alone in his cell in the Tolbooth, listening to the mob in the street outside baying for his blood.

With no'one to stop them the Mob assaulted the stout door to the Tolbooth but it withstood their best efforts until someone laid a fire against it and finally it gave way. The Mob surged into the grim prison and snatched the shrieking Captain Porteous from his cell and dragged him over the cobbles of the Royal Mile back to the scene of his massacre. All the while he was beaten, kicked and pelted with filth as his cries for mercy went unheeded.

Porteous being led to his death
As the Mob pulled him down the steep slope of the West Bow they broke into a draper's shop for a length of rope, leaving a guinea to pay for it as they left. The vast crowd secured the rope from a dyer's pole close by the shadows of the gallows where he had ordered his men to open fire on the people. Those people now took their vengeance on the unlucky policeman as he was lynched. Even as he struggled for life he was beaten and battered before the crowd dropped him to the ground before pulling his still living body aloft again. This was done three times before death finally claimed Porteous and his awful suffering finally ceased under the blows of a Lochaber axe. His corpse was left to dangle for the amusement of the masses who as quickly as they had formed now split asunder to return to their normal tasks as though they had never been part of the lynching. 

THE AFTERMATH
The Government in distant London did attempt to find the ringleaders of the riots but were in vain, despite a reward of £200 being offered – a fortune in those days. None would talk and the few men arrested were soon acquitted due to lack of evidence. No'one had apparently seen or heard anything out of the ordinary that evening in early September! There was talk that the whole affair had been a conspiracy against the unlucky captain with the finger of suspicion being pointed towards the Lord Provost and other members of the City Council, but in the end nothing came of these allegations. 

wall plaque marking the place of death
Captain John Porteous was buried in Greyfriar's Churchyard, near the Grassmarket and the scene of his cruel death. For many years his grave was only marked by a simple post marked 'P 1736'. Finally in the 1930's a headstone of Craigleith stone as raised over his grave with the inscription: John Porteous, a captain of the City Guard of Edinburgh, murdered September 7, 1736
In 1973 the words All Passion Spent were added by a biographer to the original inscription.
The grave of John Porteous

The hated Tolbooth Prison was demolished in 1817 but just beside St Giles Kirk there are a set of cobblestones laid out in the shape of a heart – the 'Heart of Midlothian' – at the site of where the prison door once stood. It is today a tradition for the citizens of Edinburgh to spit on the heart as they go by for good luck and as a continuing act of contempt for that reviled institution.

Whether Captain Porteous was a rogue guilty of a massacre or a convenient scapegoat when the authorities lost control of the men they armed with powder and shot, you can judge for yourself.

For book give-away's and more general chat please visit us at https://www.facebook.com/thereviewgroup

Stuart Laing is the author of The Robert Young of Newbiggin Mysteries
His blog can be followed at stuartslaing.wordpress.com

Friday, 22 November 2013

Meet author Liz Harris- An Adventure in Wyoming


There is a give-away from Liz Harris of A Bargain Struck so do comment
below if you would like to be included. There will be a draw for this give-away on 1st December.




Liz Harris is the author of The Road Back and A Bargain Struck. She has kindly written an article for us today concerning her novels and her inspiration. If she owns a muse surely it must be her heart. Both stories are thoroughly researched and if you read them you will see they have heart but she says there was luck too, well, when it comes to the market-place. As Liz herself says:

Whenever anyone asks me what they need to get published. Luck, I tell them. In today’s very difficult market, an author needs an element of luck in order to be taken on by a mainstream  publisher.

My luck arrived seven years after I’d started writing seriously. Four years ago, my cousin who lives in Australia, asked me to help her find a home for an album given her by her father, my late uncle. When stationed with the army in North India in the mid 1940s, my uncle had managed to get a one of the few passes to visit Ladakh, a province north of the Himalayas and west of Tibet, and at the end of his visit, he’d compiled an album of his photos and notes.

The album is now in The Indian Room of the British Library. I read it from cover to cover, fell in love with Ladakh and knew that I had to set a story there. From that moment on, I began researching life in the Buddhist part of Ladakh, and as I did so, a story unfolded in my mind. It became The Road Back, my debut novel. I had been very lucky that my uncle’s album had led me to a fascinating part of the world that’s seldom been seen in novels.





A year later, in September 2013, A Bargain Struck was published. The story is set in Wyoming 1887. I’d found it surprisingly easy to research Ladakh since I had excellent books, my uncle’s album, the internet, you tube, and so on. By the time I’d finished my research, I could close my eyes and see Kalden’s village as clearly as if I’d been there myself.


I assumed that researching Wyoming in the 1880s would be equally easy. Not so. Had I set my story in the mid 1800s, there’d have been no problem as there’s a wealth of information about the difficulties faced by the early pioneers. However, there was little about the life of second generation homesteaders, the setting for A Bargain Struck.

I was faced with several options. I could have changed the year in which I was planning to set my story. However, I didn’t want to: 1887 is a transition year in the history of Wyoming, and transitional years throw up interesting situations. I could have settled for a series of educated guesses, assuming that if after all my research, I couldn’t find the answers, then no one else would know if what I wrote was right or wrong. But I didn’t like that idea, either – I had to find out the nitty-gritty for my own satisfaction, and I wanted my novel to be as historically authentic as possible.

Happily, there was a third option, and that’s the one I chose. I dragged my heat-hating husband to Wyoming in the August before my deadline!

What a time we had! Our first stop was a working cattle ranch, built in 1890, that lay at the foot of The Rockies.
Out on the ranch


During our stay at the ranch, I started fleshing out the lives of the second generation of settlers. I discovered from a wrangler, for example, that small homesteads might have a rudimentary form of running water in the kitchen. On the ranch, in addition to the main well which was set back from the house, a 28 foot deep, stone-lined well had been sunk next to the kitchen wall. A pipe attached to a pump next to the kitchen sink ran down to the well. Bingo! Running water.

I also filled in the fine points about the sanitary arrangements. I knew there’d be an outhouse, but I didn’t know if there’d be a can inside or what. No book answered this, but the friendly wrangler did. A hole in the ground was filled when full and the outhouse moved to a different spot.

I knew that homesteaders used horses to get about their 160 acre ranch, the amount of undeveloped land west of the Mississippi River that they were allowed to claim under The Homestead Act, 1862, and I assumed that women would still be riding their horse side-saddle.

But I was wrong.

A museum curator told me that by the late 1880s, women were starting to sit astride the horse. This was the result of some relaxation in the restrictive nature of women’s clothing. Wyoming’s Esther Hobart Morris, the first female justice of the peace in the US (1870) wanted Wyoming - today the second least densely populated State in the US – to join the Union. For this to happen, a certain number of votes was required, and the votes of the women were needed, so she started, in effect, bribing women in the late 1880s to go out and vote by encouraging a more comfortable style of clothing for them. It worked! Wyoming became the 44th State of the Union in 1890.


Esther Hobart Morris ( Wikipedia)

I’d been very surprised to learn that women had been given the vote in Wyoming as early as 1869. In fact, Wyoming Territory was first in the US to give the vote to women. And it was the first for other women-related matters, too: the first women jurors; the first female court bailiff; the first US State to elect a female governor (1924). Wyoming is known as the Equality State with good reason.


To spend all day giving birth to new characters and the conflicts they face makes for a wonderful life. I can’t imagine anything better than being an author. Many thanks for allowing me to share my pleasure in it with you and the readers of The Review, Carol.




 Thank you, Liz, for being my guest today and for providing such insight into your novels. I have enjoyed both novels and I am sure those who read this article will too. Good luck with your future writing. May the muse of good heart remain in your books.
Carol McGrath is the author of The Handfasted Wife, the story of Edith Swan-Neck, published by Accent Press, available as a paperback and for all e readers. Find her also at
 scribbling-inthemargins.blogspot.



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Thursday, 21 November 2013

A Bargain Struck by Liz Harris



Liz Harris is one of Choc Lit's very talented authors. She has been a lawyer, a teacher and long ago , shush, she was once a Hollywood babe, briefly a film starlet, yes, absolutely true. Nowadays, Liz is a very successful writer dedicated to finding and writing unusual and engaging novels that have universal appeal.

Liz is offering a freebie of A Bargain Struck to the lucky winner who comments here or on the wonderful article about Wyoming in 1880. Look tomorrow.

A Bargain Struck is Liz's second published 'full' print novel. There are others! Look on Amazon. Her first novel, The Road Back, takes place in Ladakh and brims with interesting characters, adventure and romance. However, the second is an absolute page turner, a sort of Little House on the Prairie for adults; more sophisticated than Little House, of course, and with interesting twists and turns.



I love the romance of the West. I collect the books, lived there once, taught it, and so it was refreshing to read a superbly researched novel set in Wyoming in 1880. The protagonists of this story are Ellen and Connor. Connor seeks a wife. He has a mixed farm, way out in the hills, somewhat isolated. Importantly, his daughter Bridget desperately needs a mother though she is resistant to Connor's choice of a bride! So, Connor advertises in the 'lonely hearts' method that was employed throughout the American West of 1880 and places his request in newspapers back east! He seeks a mail order bride. Of course, Connor would also like a son and, of course, he needs a woman to be company for himself and his daughter and importantly to create a home out of the lonely homestead. However, when he first meets Ellen as she steps off the train from the east, he finds out that she has a secret.

At first, Connor finds himself simply honouring a bargain. Over the progress of the novel this is set to change though I must not provide spoilers. It is sufficient to say here that the two central characters are psychologically extremely well drawn and this depth of character leads in turn to conflict and tension in the narrative. The personalities are of their times rather than a twenty-first century imprint placed in a past era. The petulant young daughter, Bridget, for instance, is beautifully constructed and she, especially, is set to grow and develop throughout the pages of the story. She makes life hard for her stepmother.  Life was tough enough already, yet, determined to win Bridget's trust, Ellen rises to this emotional and difficult challenge. Enter the villains and life now becomes almost impossible for Ellen, proving that Liz Harris is a master of narrative tension. Will Connor and Ellen find love? Will Bridget accept Ellen? Can these characters survive the cruellest of plots? Read A Bargain Struck and find out.



I loved the sense of place in this novel and enjoyed reading the historical detail. The West is well described with its mountains, scrubby pastures, small towns, sunsets, sewing bees and an array of authentic facts so well integrated into the text that I was utterly transported into that world. Harris visited Wyoming as part of her research and will talk about this tomorrow.

In the context of this novel the characters struggle, work out their conflicts and meet with adversary. Depiction of day to day life on the homestead is certainly pitch perfect. Although the novel's plot is linear it is well constructed and, although the conclusion provides yet another surprise, I found it an interesting ending to an exceptionally good read. If you like books set in this era, Liz Harris is writing a novella which should please those who enjoy the period. It will be available on Amazon early in 2014 if not sooner.

A Bargain Struck can be purchased from all bookshops and is available from Amazon USA and UK. Do comment and enter the draw. I shall choose a winner on 1st December.

Carol McGrath is the author of The Handfasted Wife, #1 best seller in Biographical Fiction on Amazon, published by Accent Press, 2013.    

Monday, 18 November 2013

Lisl's Bits and Bobs: Review of The Prodigal Son and author interview

The Prodigal Son by Anna Belfrage with author interview: Learn some fun details about the characters
(See giveaway details at bottom!)


Set in 17th century Scotland during a time of religious persecution, Anna Belfrage's The Prodigal Son opens to the departure of Matthew Graham, Alexander Peden and two others from an illegal conventicle, followed by a half a dozen soldiers seeking to arrest them. Matthew reflects on his wife Alex, a time traveller from the 21st century, and her opposition to his covert activities and the consequences they may bring upon their entire family.

Third in The Graham Saga series, the novel lays out events in the family’s past as these trials continue to haunt each member in different ways. Belfrage accomplishes this by sprinkling information throughout the story, like a flavor that satisfies as its strength increases. This provides fulfillment for the questions arising, particularly for readers unfamiliar with the first two of the series' books, whilst ensuring a taste for more.

Though Matthew narrowly escapes the opening episode, the soldiers embark on a campaign of harassment, accosting him and searching his homestead periodically, their goal being to intimidate as much as to turn up Minister Alexander "Sandy" Peden.  Complicating circumstances include the hatred of Graham's own brother, Luke, previously responsible for having Matthew deported to the colonies and sold to indentured servitude. Between Luke and a returned Matthew is Ian, the child born to Matthew's first marriage with Margaret (now wed to Luke), and whose paternity is debated throughout the book, though Matthew had been tricked into relinquishing all rights to the boy.

Alex, a modern woman who by necessity has adapted to life in her new time and place, slowly warms to Ian, though she fears the cost to her own eldest son. She perceives Peden to be a fanatic and scorns his belief that women are spiritually inferior. Though she admires his strength, her views of his rigidity in matters of faith clash with Matthew's protective actions—acts that guard Peden from the authorities, but leave the Grahams wide open to total destruction.

Belfrage serves up details of this threatening aspect, too, over time, in courses that reveal frightening, hinted-at possibilities and then, finally, a shocking reality readers may have a difficult time digesting.  While most are aware of religious persecution in history as well as our own era, human psychology provides a protection against such knowledge with scant, sometimes forgotten details or by placing distance between the parties.

Here the author provides no such immunity: we have grown attached to the Grahams and their children, having seen the various sides of each and been given a glimpse of their cares in the world. When tragedy strikes—for the Grahams as well as another family—its proximity sears our hearts and the reality of what people have had to endure sinks in with a terrible understanding.

Belfrage makes room, however, for humorous relief, unappreciated by the commanding officer taking part in questioning Matthew, but recognized by modern readers for the inquiry's circumstantial nature:

One of the younger soldiers took a step forward. "He's tall and the man we saw was tall—that we know for sure."
"Ah," Simon [Matthew's attorney and brother-in-law] nodded. "And did he have dark hair?"
"I don’t know," the young man said.
"No? Why not?"
"He was wearing a cloak."
Simon rolled his eyes, smoothed at his coat. "Not much to go on," he said to the officer, who shifted in his seat.
"Tall, a competent swordsman—and we know Mr. Graham has a past as a soldier—who else could it be?" the officer said.
"You?" Simon said.

The author creates believable characters who are simultaneously honest and flawed, whose imperfections, occasional obstinateness and recognition—if reluctant—for a balanced concern of the difficulties they face all bring readers to a riveted attention of where each are headed and we develop concern for their futures: we care what happens to them, and ache when all does not go well.

Matthew, for example, continually breaks his promises to Alex by time and again riding back to Peden, passionately maintaining his inability to forego his spiritual obligations. He roundly condemns the forces of Charles II for their brutality, though one exchange brings concession by default: "'[F]or years it was people like my family that were persecuted by people from your church.' That shut Matthew up."

Neither is Alex spared the confrontation of brutal truths. Though through the novel she uses her "past" history lessons to remind her of events or circumstances in the time she now inhabits, it sometimes takes drastic measures for her to understand her husband's position in more than just theory. After a brutal beating at the hands of an interrogating lieutenant, she concedes: "I sometimes forget that this is a time where the little people have no voice, where the representatives of the crown can do as they please and there's no venue of recourse."

As implied in the title, however, there is room for redemption, and as we witness naked fear, cruelty and tragedy, so too do we see tenderness for the precious in life, hear the stolen laughter and feel the power of two whose bonds of love will dare to fight to remain united in the face of all attempts to ruin them. Matthew and Alex's love for one another is acted out in some explicit romantic scenes—perhaps more than many other works of historical fiction—as but one part of what makes them whole. That wholeness also confronts the truth within the extravagance of their divisions and possibilities of homecoming in more ways than one.


Where this will take the family remains to be seen in Belfrage's newest novel in The Graham Saga, and though one could continue on to read the fourth without having experienced the first two, this reviewer predicts many will want to return to the beginning. This is not because The Prodigal Son does not work as a stand-alone novel; as stated above, Belfrage does a spectacular job of seamlessly filling in the blanks of two complete previous works. However, a feast is a difficult thing to pass up: Alex, a strong, modern woman on a 17th century learning curve, her equally resilient husband, their friends and family—readers simply will want to know more and experience the events in their lives along with them from beginning to end.

Interview with Anna Belfrage


Hello, Anna, and thanks so much for joining us today and taking the time to answer some of our questions.  

And hi to you too, Lisl. I’m thrilled to be here!
 
The tea is steeped and cake at the ready! I've recently read
The Prodigal Son and was utterly intrigued by the
questions--and some problematic possibilities--raised in
my mind pertaining to Alex's journey back in time.

The Prodigal Son, third in a series, features time travelling Alexandra Lind and her 17th century Scottish husband, Matthew Graham, living in the latter’s time and homeland.  How did you first decide to bring these two characters together from different eras? Or did they come to a life on their own?

It all began with Alex. She sort of kept popping up in my head – sometimes at the most inopportune times – and demanding my attention. Obviously, having a modern woman speak to me of the hardships in the 17th century grabbed my attention, and soon most of my nights were populated by dreams featuring Alex. With Alex came Matthew, at first no more than an outline. (Alex is the jealous type, and she isn’t too thrilled by how fond I am of Matthew. When she scowls at me, Matthew grins and winks, rather flattered by our attention.) On a more serious note, I did know I wanted to set a book in the 17th century, in Scotland and during a period of religious unrest. As I have a soft spot for men who have the integrity and courage to defend their beliefs, Matthew grew into a man of convictions, a man willing to risk a lot for his faith – and for his family, even if The Prodigal Son places him in the uncomfortable situation of risking his family for his faith.

Alex, being a modern liberated woman, faces challenges in the 17th century that she wouldn’t likely encounter in her “past” life.  How do you decide her balance? That is to say, how does she know when to assert her independent thought or to step back?

If you ask Matthew, she shows very little restraint when it comes to voicing her opinions. In general, I agree with him; Alex is an independent woman – but she is also an intelligent woman, and as she has no yearning to be tried as a witch, she keeps an adequately low profile with certain people. I believe all humans have the capacity to adapt very quickly to new social norms – it is a prerequisite for our success as a species – and Alex is no exception to this.

Do you see yourself in Alex at all? If yes, how so? Is she modeled after someone in particular?

I hope I would accept new circumstances as well as Alex does. And yes, she is forthright and brave, has a big heart and a capacity to laugh at herself and others – I would like to believe these are qualities we share. But no, Alex isn’t modelled on anyone but her own self; she was very much a person in her own right when she started visiting me.

Every so often in The Prodigal Son Alex seems to open up a bit for the reader, including once when she laments the loss of her reading time and material. What kind of books did Alex like to read?

Alex is a computer engineer. Ergo, it follows the poor woman had a fondness for reading stuff like Bringing IT Security to a New Level. She was twelve when she read The Lord of the Rings for the first time. Other than that, she read quite a bit of crime with favourite authors being Reginald Hill and Elisabeth George. She also read everything by Gabriel GarcĂ­a Marquez and loved Don Quijote. Her father taught her to love poetry – mostly in Swedish.

As you wrote the novel, did you learn anything surprising abut Matthew and/or Alex, or their children?

I just love the Graham children, and especially Ian, who is so torn in two. I had no idea Ian was dyslectic until I wrote the book, neither did I know just how complex Matthew’s love for his land was. Hillview lives in his blood, sits in his heart. His little manor is a precious charge he must hand over to the next generation, and to fail in doing so would be unbearable to him.

 Do you have any interesting writing quirks?  Do you write every day?

I write something every day. Not necessarily part of a new novel, or so, but I will definitely set pen to paper (finger tips to keyboard) on a daily basis. Most of it ends up on my blog – or in the virtual trash can.

Not sure I have any quirks – hang on; I guess I do. When I’m writing the more action-packed scenes, and especially if Matthew is in danger, I just can’t write it in one go. I write a sentence, stand up, take a little turn, pour some tea, watch two minutes of The Mentalist or whatever my husband is watching, sit down, write another sentence, exhale, and do it all again. Very exhausting, let me tell you!

Who were/are your favorite authors growing up or as an adult?

Growing up I was a major Henry Treece fan. I read a lot of Rosemary Sutcliff as well, and Tolkien – always Tolkien. As an adult, I am a fan of Sharon K. Penman, Antonia Fraser, James Burke, Barbara Nadel, Michael Dibdin and Salman Rushdie – oh, and of Diana Gabaldon.

What topic have you never read about that you would like to?

Not sure what you mean; like things I want to know more about? If so, I’d really like to get to grips with Plato. And I wouldn’t mind knowing more about astronomy, or about geology. And I’d like to learn to read music scores. And to speak and read Russian.

Do you have any projects on deck currently?

Apart from the ongoing Graham Saga – and there are more books to go – I have a trilogy tucked away which tells the story of Jason and Helle, two people who met and loved but briefly three thousand years ago before he was cheated into betraying her and thereby caused her death. Since then, he hurtles after her in life after life, desperately wanting to make amends.

Other than this, I am working on a novel set in 17th century Sweden and England, starring a young girl who grows up at Queen Kristina’s court and who becomes rather attached to a set of jewels that don’t belong to her, and so….

But both these projects take second place to the Alex and Matthew story – I have a very emotional relationship with these, my favourite characters. Sometimes I think they’re around for real, but my husband keeps on informing me that isn’t the case.

Do you like to read e-books, or still prefer the sound and feel of paper?

I have become an e-book addict. Why? Because it’s so convenient, and as I travel a lot, all I need is my Kindle to carry the equivalent of Ancient Alexandria’s library with me. But there’s something to reading a “real” book – especially in the bath.

I’ve read of your fondness for chocolate and recently discovered your love of math. Which do you like better?

Chocolate! Given the approaching X-mas season, a chocolate Advent calendar is obviously the perfect combo….

Given the opportunity to journey back in time, would you take it? What if you didn’t get to select the era?  If you did, which would you choose?

I’d like to know for sure that I could go back. I may daydream a lot about life in other times, but I think the reality of it was pretty harsh. It was cold, it was dirty, the food could be dismal, and should you fall sick – or develop a toothache – well, God help you. (My preferred century, the 17th, was probably one of the dirtier, as in most European countries the communal bathhouses had definitely closed by then… ) Despite all this, if I were given the chance…. And if I’m to choose an era, it would be the 17th century – somewhere in the Colonies. Or the 15th century in Spain. Or maybe the early 14th century in Scotland. Or… Agh!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention to readers about yourself or your books?
 
I sing a lot. I cheer my colleagues up by dancing in their doorways – strangely enough, not all of them seem to appreciate it. I hate flying. I have a car thing, and should anyone feel like gifting me a bright blue Audi R8, I’d be thrilled to bits. I make an awesome apple pie. I dreamed of becoming a Navy SEAL and saving the world when I was young(er). Actually, I still dream of being a Navy SEAL and saving the world…



Thank you so much for joining us, Anna, and we hope to see you again soon!

Thank you for having me, Lisl, and I must say that German Chocolate cake was just the thing on a cold and rather dreary November day!








Anna Belfrage has so graciously offered two copies of The Prodigal Son as giveaways. If you would like a copy of the book, simply comment below OR at the Facebook link for this post and you will be entered for a chance!

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Lisl can also be found at before the second sleep; if you would like her to review one of your books or conduct an interview, please see our submissions tab at the top.