Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Enchanted Land: The Saga of Dane Wulfdin by William P. Robertson & Fiona Ingram

Illustrated by David Cox
Published by Infinity Publishing
Reviewed for Review the Book

This book is aptly named. Wales is unique country, full of enchantment and legend. This is particularly true in the time period of the book — the Dark Ages. A land so well defended that the Vikings are not able to conquer it.

Reminiscent of tales from the Brothers Grimm as well as the epic legend of Beowulf, this saga is full of giants, trolls, sorcery, and monsters. Dane, the only Viking survivor of a landing party in southern Wales, cannot gain ground no matter where he turns.

He is stranded in this awesome land where he must battle warrior tribes, trolls and giants, but that is not the worst of his exceptional adventure. Oh, most definitely not! When he first meets Queen Shera, he thinks he is safe. He soon discovers the error in his thinking. Shera is a sorceress, a witch of seduction and mystery. He is so overcome with her wiles that he wishes to remain with her forever, and to do so means he must battle the kraken, a dragon, and still she wants more. She is a taker of the highest order and a giver of misery. The castle is full of wasted, almost corpse-like men, fed constantly with white “poppy powder.” Dane knows the drug for what it is and somehow is able to avoid this nightmare.

This book, a collaboration between Robertson of the US, and Ingram of South Africa, is a fantastical horror story, a saga of intense drama and action, and a jolly good yet brutal legend. The authors’ previous works have certainly provided fodder for this genre, and the illustrations are well suited to the era. The writing is populated with bits of poetry and unique artwork. The book is relatively short, but totally packed with adventure.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Palomar Paradox: a SETI Mystery by Richard Rydon

Published by Lulu.com

This third book in the Luper series makes for interesting reading in two ways. Richard Rydon has written a mystery, but he has also written an educational book. Peopled with an eccentric array of characters, the excitement of discovery or possible discovery is palpable and makes for a good mystery. On the other hand, for each portion of fiction, there is supplementary non-fiction details about specific items mentioned in the conversations between the fictional scientists. Personally, I found this interesting, but it is laid out in such a manner that these educational bits or clarifications can be skipped over without losing the thread of the story.

Of course SETI is looking for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence through signals parlayed through space. The Palomar telescopes, situated on Mount Palomar, are well-known to the general public in North America. Some sudden activity at the station has everyone reacting differently. Excited scientists work on either eliminating the signals as "noise" or discovering intelligence in the signals they are receiving. In the meantime, the government is doing its best to squelch the possibility with a wall of silence.

Strangely, at the same time as these spikes are found, there are reported sightings of UFOs. Are they real? Are they hoaxes? Are they simply misidentified? What would be the purpose of a supposed crash of a UFO in the Salter Sea? A strange location at the best of times. And what was the man doing who was found on the catwalk of the large radio telescope?

The book goes through a range of emotions: concern, excitement, disappointment, disgust, and diligence. The mystery circles around whether the signals are intelligent or not. With three random scientific astronomers working from different perspectives, the mystery deepens. Why is the government so intent on keeping everything quiet? Maybe that is the biggest mystery, but maybe it is about to be opened up. An interesting read, I felt it could have been expanded on, but perhaps that's another story.

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

Published by Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster
Review based on an ARC

Kimberley Freeman has written an excellent presentation of life styles from 1929 to the present time. An interesting and historic journey through three generations of a "family" resettled in Australia from Scotland after the matriarch, as a young pregnant girl, runs away with her married sweetheart and father of her child.

The novel begins in Glasgow, 1929. Innocent Beattie, trying to help support the family as a teen, has been working in a dress-shop and is an excellent seamstress, able to make expensive-looking clothing out of unused, and sometimes used, materials. She also works in a restaurant, or rather she did, until the sons of the owner introduced her to the not-quite-legal gambling club and bar upstairs. Her innocence taken advantage of by the married friend of the brothers, it is not long before Beattie finds herself pregnant by Henry, and not at all sure what she can do about it. Once she is no longer able to hide it, she loses her job at the dress-shop. To this point, she has not even told Henry. When she finally gets up her courage to tell him, he asks her to give him time and to stay away from the club in the meantime. Shortly afterward, her mother disowns her and forbids her to see her father before kicking her out of house and home with nothing but her empty purse and the clothes on her back. Desperate, she seeks out her friend from the club, who tells her of a place in the north where she can go until her baby is born. Thus, the secrets of Beattie's life begin. It is in this home that Henry finds Beattie and they run away together to Tasmania, where a friend of Henry's has promised him a job.

The book is basically told in three parts, but interspersed. When Beattie is a grandmother, she encourages her granddaughter to be what she wants to be, which happens to be a ballet dancer. Through the many years between, so much happens in Beattie's poverty-stricken life. She is ostracized when first it is discovered in Tasmania that she and Henry are not married, yet have a little girl. Henry is unable to provide for the family, and eventually returns to England and his wife, but takes their daughter Lucy with him. In dire straits, and traumatized by her loss, she gets work on a sheep ranch. Many more of the secrets of Beattie come as a result of this move. She has lost her child, her next generation.

Skipping across to her granddaughter, who has a close relationship with her grandmother, but not with her mother, we meet Emma. Emma has followed her heart and become a prima ballerina, but misfortune follows even this famous dancer. A fall marks the end of a fabulous career and Emma feels utterly devastated. She eventually goes home to Sydney, Australia. When her grandmother passes away, she learns that she has inherited a ranch in Tasmania she has never heard of. The stipulation is that she has to live there for a period of time. Beattie knew that there would come a day when Emma would need this.

This book brings so much within its pages. Love, loss, tragedy, poverty and riches. It brings to life the inner strength of women, the strength that comes when required. A rich history of mores, life, changing times, and obstacles overcome. I really enjoyed this book, if enjoy is the word for such tragedy and poverty, but it is so well-written, so historic, so meaningful. Emma's search for the true story of her grandmother's life fills in the rest of the book and opens a new world of wonder to her own life. A strong story, well centred in its various time periods, and very descriptive. A fascinating and powerful read.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Paddlewheelers of Alaska and the Yukon: 100th Anniversary Collection by Graham Wilson

Published by Wolf Creek Books, Inc.

This review will be a little different, because this is a little more personal. I was thrilled to be able to obtain this book. It is primarily archival photos, but there is historic information in it too. Taking in the era of the Klondike gold rush and beyond, it portrays in photos the now famous photos of the "golden staircase" portion of the Chilkoot trail. The front cover shows the White Horse going through what appears to be the Five Finger Rapids.

What is personal to me is the wealth of photos of the paddlewheelers that serviced the area from about 1898 to the last one, the Klondike, being taken out of service in 1951. My great-grandfather was the steam engineer on the boats, particularly the Gleaner, that plied Atlin and Bennett Lakes. My grandmother was 8 years old the first year he worked there, in 1900. Over the winter of 1901, the family lived on the Gleaner and then the Australian while the boats were up on the ways. A third boat, a steam tug named the Mabel F was also there. My great grandmother kept a journal of their winter in isolation about 8 miles south of Caribou Crossing (now Carcross), Yukon. Besides my grandmother that year, there were two other children in the family: her sister aged 6 and her brother aged 2. I've grown up hearing about these paddlewheelers and living in the north. Although they only spent one full year there, they went north about April of every year and returned to Vancouver about November, spending the summer at Taku, across from Atlin. In 1908, there was an outbreak of typhoid and 3 of the children including Grandma and the baby of the family caught it, delaying their return to Vancouver. Fortunately they all survived, but Grandma lost all her hair at the age of 16. It came in very thick and curly when it started to grow again.

This book brought back many wonderful memories of the stories Grandma and Great Grandma told me through the years. The north was in my blood by default! I'm sure many readers would either have memories of their own, or enjoy learning something of their ancestors. I drove Grandma up for one last visit to the area in 1979 and it was like taking a time machine. Most of the paddlewheelers were either scattered around rotting, or had been destroyed long before, but on a visit to Whitehorse we discovered that the Klondike was being restored and we were allowed on board. It was very similar to the Australian, and she took me around the boat showing me where she would have slept in one of the staterooms, having to go outside to get from one to another. When the winter of 1901 set in, the family all moved into the lounge/dining room to keep warm. She also showed me where her father worked on the boats. This book celebrates the hardiness of the people of the north at the turn of the 20th century, and the magnificent and romantic paddlewheelers. Romantic now, but very hard work for the crew of the times. There are photos of the Gleaner and the Australian, and many more of the better-known boats that continued in the later years like the Klondike. There were three Casca boats, and in 1949 or 50 Grandma and Grandpa took a trip on the Casca 3 on one of its final trips to Dawson City.

This book is still available from some used book stores. I was unable to locate a current link for the publisher.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Kalila by Rosemary Nixon

Published by Goose Lane Publishers
Reviewed for Edward Magazine Book Club

First, it is important to remember this is a novel. I say this because this book is the closest I have ever seen to the trauma of fact. Disjointed thoughts known only to those who have suffered trauma or extreme grief, the grief related to the loss or desperate illness of a child. Maggie has given premature birth to a baby girl with problems no one has yet identified. The baby is in a care unit at a research hospital.The doctors are not connecting with the parents, their only interest is the child. It's not a thing, it's not "the baby", she has a name, Kalila. She is a little person, not a specimen! Maggie is outside looking in. She has fallen through the crack into another world where isolation is the norm and she doesn't know the rules. Life goes on all around her at its regular pace but she is only aware of it for short intervals. It is always a shock to discover in the crisis you are living, that other people are living their normal lives. Don't they know that your life is in tatters? Can't they see you are living, too, at a terribly slowed pace of pain and isolation?

At this point, her husband is as supportive as anyone can be. He deals with his grief in an entirely different way, and so it is with the two sexes, they do respond differently. A male grieving takes it as a literal blow to his own humanity. Also, in most cases, he continues to work. It's actually rather interesting to view him in his working life all tangled up with what is happening with his child and wife. But a chance discussion with another mother, who finally took her child home to care for rather than leaving her in the isolation of the neonatal ward, compels Maggie to make the decision to bring Kalila home. Once there, they have a small feeling of normalcy between episodes of panic, the problem is the doctors have never been able in the four plus months to discover what her multitude of problems are, and what is causing them. All Maggie and Brodie feel is the comfort of finally being able to hold their baby.

This is not a weighty book in size, but certainly in subject matter, and very well written. I did feel loss toward the end of the book, I felt something missing in the relationship, but I have never lived that role before so can not truthfully comment on it. It did seem to fall off a bit toward the end. Ironically, the very surgery that gives them some glimmer of hope to hang on to is the very thing that causes the unthinkable. Hope, then sudden loss. I grieved, too. But there is often a marriage break-up in these cases, and indeed they were warned this could happen. The reader is not really aware that this had happened at first, and perhaps that is why I felt lost in the last part. There was nothing, and then it was years later. So that is my one and only regret in the telling of this novel. Extremely well-written for the most part, and I would certainly recommend it for anyone going through the grief of an ill child or the loss of a baby. Be prepared to be living the story with the participants. A difficult story to write and to live. Rosemary Nixen has written from the heart and soul. She has stepped inside the characters of her book and done it exactly right.