MARIANA LA LOCA by Jim Munro

12 05 2015

The review now, as promised in my last post.

MarianaLL coverIn 1374, in the still very Moorish south of Spain, a girl is sold into slavery. After various adventures including a shipwreck, two years in a bordel in Cuenca and an encounter with a lamia, she is freed by her new master, a rich Moor whose life she has saved – but on condition that she takes with her the mysterious young slave-girl Malika and returns her to her home which (from what Malika tells them) seems to have been somewhere in the north of Spain or the south of France.

First, though, they make their way back across Andalucia to the village near Cartagena where Mariana grew up, and there she meets an elderly Scottish knight, Sir Farquhar de Dyngvale, come in search of her late father, who was himself a Scot in exile. He takes her under his wing and they head north together, first in search of Malika’s family, then, she hopes and dreams, to Paris.

To start with a minor gripe, in the early part of the book we follow Mariana, and simultaneously, in alternating chapters, we accompany Sir Farquhar as he makes his way down through Spain in search of his old friend Sir Andrew MacElpin, Mariana’s father. This switching back and forth of viewpoint is something I always find off-putting; however, once they meet there is no more of that and the story flows on ‘unputdownably’.

My own favourite parts of the book are, first, Mariana’s recollections of her childhood by the Mar Menor, a ‘little sea’ in the south-east of Spain, where her Moorish grandmother, Sebah, taught her to dance and she studied all kinds of arcane subjects with her ‘uncle’ Rabbi Yacoub, while the rest of the time she spent swimming in the sea, all alone. Secondly, the period they spent in Avignon, when they had left Spain behind, and Mariana found herself for the first time on the run from the powers that be, which in Avignon, then the seat of the Popes, meant the Church, and the Church meant the Inquisition.

There are scenes of sex and violence, but no more so than in most books set in that period. Life was like that. (When wasn’t it?!) But there are also scenes such as those where we meet secret Cathars in the north of Spain and Blanche, the anything-but-orthodox ex-Queen of France, in Avignon, that bring home to us some of the most mysterious and tantalising aspects of the late Middle Ages.

Mariana La Loca is one of those stories you read fast the first time, then later, at home now in this very different world, you read it again and this time you savour it to the full.





SHAMAN FRIEND ENEMY by M. Terry Green

14 04 2015

Shaman Friend EnemyThe second in the series and not as good as the first, Shaman, Healer, Heretic, but that was brilliant (my review HERE); this is very good in parts and good in others. I enjoyed it though and I’m fascinated by shamanism so I shall definitely be reading the third one.





THE WITCH OF NAPOLI by

10 03 2015

Witch of Napoli

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you

A young reporter named Tomasso publishes a convincing photo of an Italian medium, Alexandra Poverelli, levitating a table, and it causes such a stir that the scientist/psychiatrist Professor Camillo Lombardi comes all the way to Naples to investigate the claim. To his astonishment, she proves she can do far more than simply levitate tables.

Result? She and the young reporter, Tomasso, who has fallen in love with her, are taken on a tour, first of Italy and then of the capitals of Europe, by the wealthy Professor Lombardi. Many are convinced by her. Others are either sceptical or fanatically against her – including the representative of an English society which investigates mediums, a repulsive character bent on engineering Alexandra’s downfall.

The novel is based on the life of Eusapia Palladino, who is dismissed in Wikipedia as a fraud (but then so is homeopathy!). However, in this story her powers are certainly genuine. That she can and does accomplish seemingly supernatural feats is not in doubt. The only question is how. Is she really in communication with the dead, or is there some other quite different explanation?

An interesting point is that this (the whole “medium” thing) is often seen and presented – especially in its late 19th-century context – as part of the supposed war between science and religion. In fact the Church is quite as much her enemy as the scientific establishment. More so. Many scientists did – and do – have an open mind (and so they should, for that after all is the scientific method), her sponsor, Professor Camillo Lombardi, being such a one, whereas no one from the Church (as represented in this novel, at least) showed any sign of an open mind.

It is an enthralling story, and it was a brilliant decision to use young Tomasso as the narrator, to watch it all unfold through his eyes, the eyes of one who loved the much-abused but still tempestuous Alexandra for who she was and not what she could do.





SHAMAN, HEALER, HERETIC by M. Terry Green

2 03 2015

Shaman etcI am always more than happy to download a free book from Kindle when an offer catches my eye, but I often read only a few chapters then delete the book if it fails to live up to its cover and blurb – or only a few paragraphs if it is full of grammar and spelling mistakes or has not been properly formatted for Kindle.

The Amazon Free Book system really works, though, when the book on offer is a good one and is the first of a series several of which have already been published. You immediately order – and pay for! – the sequel

And that is what happened here. I got it in December, it sat in my Kindle, ignored, for three months, then I opened it in an idle moment and was hooked. It is, quite simply, brilliant. It is original – I have never read anything like it – it is gripping, and the heroine, Livvy, is perfect.

Livvy is a shaman in present-day Los Angeles. Well, perhaps it is a slightly alternative Los Angeles, I don’t know how popular and trendy shamanism is there in reality, but in this story it is the alternative therapy and shamans are everywhere. But most of them are “techno-shamans” who make use of special goggles to enter other planes of existence, rather than drugs (traditional ones like peyote or mescaline, or more modern ones like LSD or ecstasy) or mind-altering activities such as fasting or dancing. We follow Livvy as she enters the Middleworld, then the Underworld, in search of someone’s lost soul – all absolutely fascinating – and we are there when she realises that all is not right. It is too quiet. Deserted, in fact. What is happening?

And during the night she wakes in a panic. There is someone in her room. Only it is not a someone, it is a kachina, a Hopi god. Which of course is impossible, she tells herself. Her “manager”, SK, a dwarf, later tells her the same. Only it was there. It touched her, tried to communicate with her. Why? Read the book and find out.

As I say, I loved it, and have already downloaded the sequel!





BE STILL, MY LOVE by Deborah Hughes

25 02 2015

Be Still My LoveThis is a difficult book to review without spoilers. At the very beginning something occurs that it is better the reader knows nothing about when she opens the book for the first time. However … as what occurs is stated explicitly in the blurb, I feel justified (albeit reluctantly!) in telling you that  when Tess’s husband goes down the road in his car, with their dog, to pick up one or two things they need for the barbecue they are preparing, he never returns. A drunk driver smashed into his car killing him and the dog instantly.

But Tess is a medium. She has an angel guide whom she trusts completely. Or did. Now, suddenly, she loses her faith in her guide, and her faith in God. Or at least her belief that God is good, blaming Him for the death of her husband and her dog. (She seems just as upset about the dog as the husband!) And as a result of all this anger, she loses her ability to function as a medium.

A year later, still in deep mourning, and still raging at God, she is persuaded by her psychiatrist to go on vacation, and finds herself in a seriously haunted hotel.

The building had previously been the mansion home of a wealthy man and his daughter. This daughter, who had committed suicide following the death of her lover, is one of the ghosts. But there are others, and the others are dangerous. Ghosts are not dangerous, she protests. These are, however, as she soon learns from bitter experience. But are there living men, also, intent on causing further grief?

An enthralling ghost-story/love-story (yes, there is a man at the hotel – an artist – and her dead husband popping up in the background – hence the title); fascinating for anyone who, like me, is intrigued by the whole notion of ghosts and mediums. I shall definitely be reading the sequel.





GHOSTLY MURDERS by Paul Doherty

29 01 2015

Ghostly MurdersThis is the fourth and in some ways the best yet of Doherty’s series of novels based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Ghostly Murders is in fact the Poor Priest’s tale (his other tale) a ghost story in which two brothers, both young, both priests, get caught up in the aftermath of a horrifying crime involving some Templars who were fleeing for their lives at a time when all the world had turned against them.

But of course, before that tale can begin, the pilgrims must settle down for the night. And this particular night they find themselves caught in an evening mist close to dangerous marshes on which they can see lights (“corpse candles”) flickering in the growing darkness, so they decide to stop in a nearby village. Only the village is deserted, and has been since the Black Death thirty years earlier, and not only deserted but downright eerie, and not made any less so by the pilgrims themselves.

‘Let’s pray,’ said Mine Host, ‘to St Thomas à Becket whose blessed bones we go to venerate at Canterbury!’

The Miller gave a loud fart in answer, making the Carpenter snigger and giggle. Nevertheless, the pilgrims grouped closer. The Summoner moved his fat little horse behind that of the Franklin. He was not just interested in the Franklin’s costly silk purse, white as the morning milk. Oh no, the Summoner smiled to himself: he, like some others, was increasingly fascinated by this motley group of pilgrims making their way to Canterbury in the year of Our Lord 1389. All seemed to be acquainted with each other and the Summoner definitely knew the Franklin. They had met many years ago on a blood-soaked island. He was sure of that, as he was sure that the Franklin had had a hand in his father’s death. He would have liked to have talked to his colleague the Pardoner but he was now suspicious for the Summoner had recently discovered that the Franklin and the Pardoner were close friends. Indeed, this cunning man, with his bag full of relics and the bones of saints slung on a string round his neck, was certainly not what he claimed to be.

Behind the Summoner, the Friar, nervous of the cloying mist, plucked at the harp slung over his saddle horn. As he played, the Friar glanced furtively at the Monk riding alongside him. The Friar closed his eyes and strummed at the harp strings, calling up a little ditty he had learnt, anything to drive away the fears. He did not like the Monk sitting so arrogantly on his brown-berry palfrey: that smooth, fat face, those dark, soulless eyes and that smile, wolfish, the eye-teeth hanging down like jagged daggers. Who was the Monk? Why was the Knight so wary of him? And the latter’s son? The young, golden-haired Squire, he always kept an eye on the Monk, hand on the pommel of his sword, as if he expected the Monk to launch a sudden assault upon his father, the Knight. Was the Monk, the Friar wondered, one of those strigoi mentioned by the Knight in his tale? Did the Monk belong to the Undead? Those damned souls who wandered the face of the earth, finding their sustenance in human blood?

The whole setting reminds the Poor Priest of another Kentish village, Scawsby, and when prevailed upon to tell a tale he tells them of the strange events in Scawsby during his time there.

In fact, he tells them, it had all begun much earlier, in 1308, in the reign of the present king’s grandfather. A group of Templar Knights, fleeing from London to the coast, had been lured into just such treacherous marshes on just such a misty evening and there, mired and helpless, set upon by robbers led by the local lord of the manor and the parish priest, intent on seizing the Templar treasure.

‘We have been trapped,’ one of the knights whispered. ‘They have led us into a marsh.’

‘There must be paths!’ Sir William exclaimed. ‘Just like the one we are standing on.’ He grasped his sword tighter. ‘The Virgin, the Veronica?’ […]

An arrow whipped out of the darkness and took him full in the shoulder.

All the Templars are killed, but as he dies, their leader, Sir William Chasny, shouts “in English, in Latin, in French, ‘We shall be watching you! We shall always be watching you!‘”

Seventy years later, following the suicide of the previous incumbent, a new young priest, Philip Trumpington, comes to the village with his brother, Edmund. There, he is confronted by the past, for the church is full of ghosts, both good (the murdered Templars) and bad (especially the ghost of Romanel, the priest who organised the massacre), and full of voices whispering ‘Spectamus te, semper spectamus te! We are watching you, we are always watching you!’

As if the ghosts were not enough, there is also an attack on the village by a band of French marauders. But why on this small inland village? Can they too be after the Templar treasure?

Another of Doherty’s seemingly inexhaustible stream of wonderful minor characters makes an appearance in this book: the coffin woman. Read it, if only for her!

She is old and seems to know more about what happened seventy years ago than she is telling. What was her part in all this, wonders Philip.

The tension builds as Doherty skillfully blends his three story lines: the pilgrims, Philip and his brother, and their predecessor Romanel.

But unlike Romanel, the Poor Priest is not interested in “treasure on earth”. Will he therefore prove immune to the evil that has corrupted the souls of and led to the death of so many others?





AFTER THE END by Bonnie Dee

18 12 2014

After the End coverI have read several books (and seen several films) which really were set in the post-apocalyptic world evoked by this title, After the EndAfter the End itself, however, is set at the end rather than after it, yet is none the worse for that. On the contrary, although there is nothing very original about the epidemic, the revenants (those who died of the A7 virus and rose again as zombies), and the zombies created when the revenants attacked and bit people, this is not a story of zombies. It is a novel about people, people suddenly thrust into a horrifying situation, and as such is almost entirely character-driven.

After a perhaps unnecessary Prologue consisting of a gruesome scene extracted from somewhere in the middle of the story, we go back ten days and in Chapter One meet the people we shall follow and come to know intimately as they face catastrophe together. A random group who just happen to be in the same compartment on the subway at that moment on that day, and who would under normal circumstances have hardly noticed each other, but in these circumstances become so close that they are ‘family’ by the end of the book.

Lila, the student trying to read a textbook on World Religions as the train hurtles through the tunnel, I identfied with at once. She keeps glancing, surreptitiously, at the young soldier sitting opposite her, wondering why he is wearing uniform, and thinking, sneeringly, that he must be proud of the “fascist military look”. But when, minutes later, the group start looking to him as the natural leader, she is honest enough to tell herself ironically that “When it came down to it, survivalist nature beat out pacifist ideals.”

Great characters, some of whom we come to love and will always remember, and as gripping a story of a disparate group of people living out a nightmare together as I have ever read.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 346 other followers