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Monday, October 29, 2012

Beneath the Tor by Kat Yares

Kat Yares' novel, Beneath the Tor, is a compelling retelling of the beginnings of Christianity. Her inclusive version recalls many well-known names from the New Testament, adding depth to each one's personality and destiny. She begins the tale at the Isle of Avalon, with the Lady of the Lake, her younger sister, and other priestesses who worship the Goddess as the one true deity. Miriam is an old woman talking to a young woman from the island, having asked her to transcribe her narrative for future generations.

Miriam's life changes dramatically when her father arrives from Jerusalem to reclaim her as his daughter and brings her to live as a hidden servant in his home. Miriam's life-long friend has convinced her father to bring her and keep her until they can be married three years hence. This young priestess of Avalon is scorned as being one from 'the fairies' and is soon in need of a sanctuary, which she finds in a temple of the Goddess Isis.

Her story includes Joseph of Arimathea as her father and his hostile wife and sons, as well as Peter, Paul (Saul), Judas, Barabbas, John, Mary, Joseph, and more. The settings of the story logically include early Rome, Jerusalem, Egypt, Britain, Nazareth and India, and the transports of two thousand years ago: large and small ships, carts, and litters. Household implements such as stones used for grinding wheat to flour, wooden goblets and plates, and pallets for sleep are easily worked into Yares' story.

The roles of men and women are in sharp contrast between the Isle of Avalon and 'the world,' and Miriam learns to adjust as needed to each, for the sake of her children and husband, Jesus (named Yahshua in the story.)

This version from the other side of the lake does change outcomes, character development and history as we've been told; it raises within the reader a sense of possibility. What if it happened this way, and the truth was hidden by those who assumed power through the ages?

The ultimate question left unanswered is when the story hidden beneath the Tor of Avalon will be found; the prophecy is that it will be discovered when the time is right. How might it impact the distribution of power and influence in the world?

This story leaves a great deal to the imagination, and to the aspirations of many women. Well done, Kat Yares!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Fortune Quilt by Lani Diane Rich

I am a quilter, and so the title, The Fortune Quilt, drew me in first. I was delighted to find that this book was also a romance, with a touch of the "we're not in Kansas anymore" setting. Lani Diane Rich has written a fast paced story in a laid back setting where personal growth and family relationships are key themes.

Three sisters and a dad are abandoned by a postpartum-depressed mother who has named each daughter after a singer: Carly (Simon) is the eldest, Ella (Fitzgerald) the middle child who pleases all, and 'Fiver' who chose her own name from a Sesame Street episode 'brought to you by the number Five' because she was not happy with her given name (read the story to see what it was.) Carly, at twelve, takes on a number of maternal duties in the absence of her mother, missing much of her age-appropriate social involvements as a result. She becomes a strong, independent woman who is then unable to establish trust in romantic relationships.

The setting away from home that Carly chooses is so radically different from all that she knew, and in that Oz-like, technicolor place, she begins to discover her own and others' alternate life styles. Having lost her career job, she becomes a store clerk in an art supply shop, where she is befriended by a transgender owner who has left her psychic, quilt-making wife; she also meets a seventeen year old who has been adopted by two gay partners and who has far too much life-advice to share with Carly, right down to the cappuccino flavor of the day. She is surprised by her ex-fiance at her sister's wedding, and again surprised by her best friend's admission of love - all in the course of a few fast months in the Arizona foothills.

The quilt, and the fortune that accompanies it, plays a minor role in the story, but is key in helping Carly to both put aside her former rigid skepticism and open her heart to new possibilities. I did reach for a tissue at a few spots in the story, and did laugh out loud at others. Five stars for this unexpected treasure!

Oh -  by the way, this book has a different cover for the paperback version - though I don't think it does justice to the description of the quilt in the story.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Melodie Starkey, Sons of Eaton House

I was very happy to know that Sons of Eaton House (Book Two of the Eaton House) series was ready for Kindle. I have read two other Melodie Starkey books (see links to my reviews below) and know that her stories both inform and entertain. Book Two followed in suit, touching on many sensitive issues with delicate skill.

This is the continuation of a family narrative that was begun in Book One, but a reader need not have read the first to understand and enjoy the second (though the first is well worth pursuing and will make some of the events involving the parents easier to understand.) In Book Two, the children are coming of age, and each of their distinct personalities are evident and well developed. There are two sets of twins who are distinctly different and yet similar in values ... a younger child who is the only girl in the family ... an oldest son who carries the oldest son's family name and sense of responsibility, a grandfather who adores all seven of his grandchildren, an infant son (who will no doubt grow into the story in Book Three) and another child is now entering the family, at the age of sixteen. This foster child, as all those who preceded him, has a very troubled past, through which Starkey is able to delve into issues such as the poor state of orphanages in the late fifties/early sixties, the abusive treatment some experienced, and the callous shuffling out of the older children from overcrowded asylums. Yet this author shows him being cared for by long-distance truck drivers and migrant (sixties-hippies) farm workers who show him both physical and emotional compassion.

The contrast between the hazardous backgrounds of children who are fortuitously brought into the Eaton Family's House and the loving, compassionate, healthy environment they find themselves in at times brought tears to my eyes. The sensitive way Starkey introduces minor characters in the story who as adults are also living difficult lives but have room in their hearts and homes for this orphan before he is found and placed with the Eatons is also a credit to her writing abilities.

This story brings the children to the point of adulthood before ending suddenly, leaving the reader to want to read even more of this extraordinary family story. The parents of the children are also still growing, both within their marriage, and as adults themselves struggling with boundaries and wishes. This is a story that moves through decades of time, and the reader must stay grounded in the ever changing era, just as the characters had to learn to do.

So once again, I look forward to the next book in the saga. I'm definitely a fan!

See my earlier reviews of Melodie Starkey's novels:
Eaton House Book One

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Changelings, and House Report

The Changelings, a short story by Kat Yares, deals with the internal dialog of a mother of teenagers. As her children become more and more demanding, she struggles to both meet their needs and deal with her own fears of them. The emotional changes within her son and daughter soon affect both their lives and her own. She begins questioning her own sanity. She dreams of demons each night.

Yares tells this simple, short story in few words, but manages to convey an empathy rather than a criticism of this failed passive parenting style. Her story offers a quiet rationale of why teenagers cannot be controlled by love alone. It is a sad tale, and one that leaves both the reader and the main character lost in thought. It is a different sort of horror story, and just right for Halloween week.

Yares has several more books in print, and I'll be reading and reviewing Beneath the Tor next.

 House Report, a Kate Carpenter Mystery by Deborah Nicholson is a mystery quite different from any other I've read. The murder takes place in a rest room within a large multi-plex building housing several theatres and restaurants. Kate Carpenter is a manager of one of the theatres, and supervises both the employed house ushers and the volunteers, balancing the accounts for each night's receipts, and keeping things running smoothly.

Kate has a relationship with one of the building engineers who works in "The 'Plex" as an all around building maintenance man, fixing furnaces and clearing clogged toilets. Not a glamorous job, but a necessary one, and one that pays the bills. Cam is qualified for much more. Kate is concerned with solving the murder as her significant other, Cam, is one of the leading suspects.

Nicholson tells the story from Kate's point of view, while following her travels throughout The Plex's complicated non-public corridors, staircases and rooms. Kate is in danger as she begins sleuthing to determine who the murderer is. But her confidence in her relationship is tested repeatedly as she learns things about Cam that seem to tarnish his innocence. She enlists the aide of one of the ushers, Graham, in checking alibis of the other employees of The Plex. And in time, both she and Graham suffer physical attacks as a result.

I learned a great deal about the backstage life of theatre employees and their workplace, and I enjoyed the twists and turns that led the reader to many dead-end assumptions. The murderer is not identified until the very end of the story. Is it Cam? Is it not Cam? Is it Cam?

There are more Kate Carpenter Mysteries, and I look forward to discovering and reviewing them.
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

More Book Reviews: Some Mysteries and Some Romances

I've been reading and reading, and have not been posting book by book, as I once did. But I'll catch you up with several mysteries here today. Mea Culpa.

Any Friend of Snowdrop is a short story or novella written by Kathie Freeman and offered free at Amazon for kindle users. Her main characters are a grouchy old man named Edgar and his neighbor's intrusive cat, named Snowdrop. Edgar has a favorite porch chair that he sits in each afternoon, next to his deceased wife's favorite chair, now often invaded by the drat cat. This is a tender love story of friendship, loss and love. I give it 5 stars easily.

Her Handyman, by Morgan Mandel, does not fail to delight readers who have read previous books of Mandel's. A handsome man engaged to his lifelong friend works at helping others solve their problems physically, and sometimes he is able to help improve a person's outlook on life as well. After all, having things fixed by an expert 'Jack of All Trades' would improve anyone's outlook. But when Zoe calls for help, Jake responds and encounters someone like no one he has ever encountered before, and suddenly his lifelong expectation of living life contentedly in a stable marriage to Angelina comes into question. And Zoe, someone who has been hurt by loss and perceived deception, has a lonely existence that Jake wants to help her escape. Angelina, surrounded by a loving, ever-present family, begins to suspect that Jake's work as Zoe's handyman may involve more than just hammers and wrenches. Morgan Mandel once again keeps the reader guessing who will bring Jake forward toward his ultimate goal of helping people as a psychologist until the closing chapter. This is a 5 star romance. To see my other reviews of Morgan Mandel's work, click here  and here and here and here!

Dead and Buried by Karen MacInerny is the second in a series of Gray Whale Inn mysteries, and takes  place in one of my favorite states of mystery: Maine. It also features one of my favorite things: recipes from a bed and breakfast menu. And in addition to the setting and the recipes, MacInerny weaves a complex tale among simple, ordinary people living simple, ordinary lives. Although I hadn't yet read the first book in the series, the characters were easy to get to know. The inclusion of a librarian who values the town's history and a minister whose 'sonorous tones' engages his following easily blends these unusual characters easily into the world of a single woman running her inn capably despite nature's unpredictable weather and a challenging, devious guest's careless water damage. The appearance of her handsome, Texan former fiance contrasts with her budding relationship developing with the  local catch, a fisherman.The descriptions of the cranberry bogs, the pine woods, and the bicycle as mode of transportation are all charming and inviting. When people begin dying, and bodies are found and mourned, the reader is invested in knowing who is responsible and what history has to do with the murders. Another 5 star review, and I look forward to reading more in this series!

This Time Forever by Patricia Paris is a mystery that involves a beautiful young woman, a handsome man, a little boy who has lost his mother to an early death, and has found a new home with the mother's friend. That the handsome man is actually the boy's father adds the first twist to the story. That this father has only recently discovered the boy's existence after searching for years, and that the mother's friend who has taken the boy in is actually the beautiful young woman now involved with the boy's father adds a level of deception and vulnerability to all involved. You'll wonder all the way through the story who will find out what first, and how the truth will change all of their lives. Another five stars for this story.

A Hardboiled Murder, an Annie Underhill Mystery. Michelle Ann Hollstein  writes a story of grandmothers, movie stars, grandsons, a marine, a police officer, an adulterer, a murder victim, an inscribed piece of jewelry, a spurned wife, and a tramride up the side of a mountain during fall foliage season. This is a breathtaking ride that involves a dead body falling from the roof of one of the tram cars. It involves a search on foot through the woods on the side of the mountain, with treacherous cliffs unseen in the dark. It's a story of family devotion, family competitiveness between grandmothers, and a story of a marriage between ages. It's a story of a book group, a callous lover, and an anticipated inheritance. It is quite a cast of characters, each carefully described in the foreword of the book and each well developed through the actions of the story. It is a delight to read, and another five star story.

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