Born in a Treacherous Time: Book Review

As some of you know, I like torturing quizzing authors about their books before I spill my review. Jacqui Murray has been everywhere sharing her latest, Born in a Treacherous Time. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about paleo-fiction. Paleo fiction? Hmm. But, Jacqui is immensely talented, and I’ve enjoyed her other books, so I figured I’d give it a go.

Well, move over Jean Auel (Clan of the Cavebear), Jacqui Murray has written a mesmerizing book! And I have to rave a little.

Her world-building is fascinating, and one of the things that most impressed me was her full immersion into the prehistoric timeframe that shares so little with our current way of life. I didn’t sense, at any point, that modern sensibilities were leaking into the characters or action. The ancient humans were deftly integrated into the harsh landscape and its primordial life, perfectly balanced between primate and human. The meticulous care taken to create this reality was stunning. What I wanted to know was – how did Jacqui stay on track? How did she keep the characters so honest to the developmental time in history? Here’s her response:

Jacqui Murray

What a great question, Diana.

The short answer is, I spent a lot of time living in Lucy’s world (of Homo habilis). I started by reading everything I could get my hands on about life in that era (a lot of paleo topics like paleoclimate and paleogeology). But scientists have so few artifacts of those ancestors, I had to dig deeply into the worlds of the Great Apes (the animals that came immediately before upright man)—apes gorillas, orangutans. Through the sensibilities and work of women like Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, I gained tremendous admiration for these predecessors who ultimately shaped man. In fact, now, when I look at one of these creatures, I no longer see an animal; I see a human. Primitive but with the seeds of who we are.  I am disgusted at the barbarian practice of using apes for drug testing as though they are less than human. They aren’t less than me, just different.

Once I grounded myself, I had to remember Lucy’s world had no fire, no clothing, no religion or art, no music, no spoken language, no symbolic names (their call signs were sounds). No cultural rules. Attachments revolved around survival not emotion. And her animal instinct was super-charged with her brilliant brain. As I wrote, I had to make sure I was true to those guidelines.

Here’s an example. I knew hunting (which to them was scavenging carcasses) involved long periods of waiting while the alpha predator finished its meal and other scavengers got first crack at the remains. Lucy would crouch in grass (early human bottoms didn’t allow them to sit yet), the humidity pressing in, the crawly creatures biting through her hair/fur, the sun beating down or maybe rain. I had to remember Lucy didn’t care about any of this and never relaxed while waiting. She was always busy smelling what was around her, smelling for those who hunted with her to know where they were, sniffing to find other scavengers who might try to take her food. She was weaker than every predator in her habitat with worse offensive and defensive capabilities (flat teeth, dull nails, thin skin). But she did have a brain that could plan, think, and problem-solve (in a primitive fashion).  Other animals could do that but their actions were based in instinct. Lucy’s was driven by her growing intellect.

Over all, I kept Lucy honest to her true self because I developed absolute respect for her, who she was, her primitive moral core, her ability to never feel sorry for herself. She’s who I would love to be in a sense but I’m simply not tough enough!

***

And now for my review:

Move over Jean Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear) for Jacqui Murray. I went to bed right after dinner last night because I had to finish this book and would have stayed up all night to do it. What a fabulous read.

Born in a Treacherous Time takes place at the very start of mankind’s development – we are inventive, communal, thoughtful, emotional beings, but still deeply rooted in our animal origins, fully integrated into the harsh volcanic landscape and with the creatures who share our world. Survival is an ongoing challenge and hunger a constant companion. Overlaying the struggles of daily life is the threat of man-who-preys, the next generation of mankind.

The story follows Lucy (Woo-See) through a period of years. She’s a strong character, a healer and a hunter who’s eager to learn new skills that not only make her an asset to her group but leave her an outsider. There are a number of compelling characters, fully developed and distinct, with a wide range of personalities.

No doubt, Murray did her research, but so little is truly known about this time, that I’m certain she had to employ her imagination as well. The world-building is meticulous. Murray deftly presents a world as seen through the eyes of those who inhabit it. She created words (and hand-signals) to describe the landscape based on the characters’ observations: “Night Sun” instead of moon, “Fire Mountain” instead of volcano. Her attention to creating a logical and detailed reality is stunning. I was honestly enthralled.

The world-building extends to characters as well, and I loved that none of them had “modern” sensibilities that would have tainted the believability of the story. No one is squeamish about raw food or bodily functions, and death is viewed as a natural occurrence. The characters have many of the natural abilities and acute senses of the animals living around them, yet unlike their animal cousins, their understanding of the world grows with each experience.

Best of all, as a reader I became quite attached to these primitive humans, empathizing with their struggles, losses, and choices. There is a depth of emotion, spirit of community, and generous nobility that stretches through the hundreds of thousands of years to our current lives. A captivating book that I recommend to any reader who enjoys adventures, exquisite world-building, or works of historical fiction and prehistory.

Want a book that will keep you up all night?

Here’s a global Amazon link: Born in a Treacherous Time.

Check out Jacqui’s blog too: Word Dreams

 

 

Colleen’s 2018 #Book #Reviews – “Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Book 1” by D. Wallace Peach

Colleen Chesebro (aka the Fairy Whisperer) has been making quick work of a few of my books and has penned some wonderfully heartfelt reviews. Myths of the Mirror was my first born, and I couldn’t be more delighted that she found my baby beautiful. Ha ha. Here’s her review. ❤

Colleen Chesebro ~ The Fairy Whisperer

book reviewsTitle: Myths of the Mirror, Dragon Soul Quartet #1

Amazon Author Page: D. Wallace Peach

Publication Date: 2nd edition, August 19, 2016

Formats: Paperback & Kindle

Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, New Adult & College, Coming of Age, Fantasy

Goodreads

IN THE AUTHOR’S WORDS:

“In the distant mountains of the Mirror, exiled skyriders fly dragons in the old Way, merged in flesh, blood, and bone. Twenty years past, they fought for the freedom of the valley’s dragons … and lost.

Imprisoned in the stone lair, the captive dragons beat their webbed wings and thrash serpentine tails. They tear their flesh and batter their bodies against the black bars of their cells, iron grating against iron. The once peaceful creatures howl, tormented by spine and spur, their fury matched only by their despair.

Treasa, the daughter of exiles, seeks the secrets of a hidden past and a father she never…

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Short Story Collections – Settle in and Read

Right about now, I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than sitting outside in the spring sunshine, nibbling on strawberries, and reading. (For those in the southern hemisphere, just turn it around, and contemplate those cool, comfortable autumn days of hot cocoa and swirling leaves).

Short stories somehow complete the picture, and I wanted to share my 5-STAR reviews for 3 short story collections that I enjoyed over the winter. All beautifully written, all with a broad variety of stories, all wonderfully entertaining. I hope one or two or all three appeal to you.

Global links to Amazon are below the books, and if you want to connect with any of these three wonderful bloggers, click on their names. ❤

Ripples on the Pond

by Sebnem Sanders

Ripples on the Pond is a mesmerizing collection of short stories. I was swept into Sanders’ imagination from the very first selection, Through the Wings of Time, and it ended up being a favorite. But that was only the beginning of this generous collection of 71 stories, all different, all exceptional reads and beautifully edited. The stories wade through numerous genres and topics including the whimsey of magic, the pain of loss, the marvel of friendship, and the cost of crime, to name a scant few. Sander’s range is remarkable and no two stories are alike, a feat considering the size of this collection.

Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey, who now lives on the Southern Aegean, thus many of the stories have an international flavor that I enjoyed (and also made we want to travel). I love literature that transports me to different settings and cultures where the wide range of human experience and emotion feels so familiar – just another reason among many to dive into this read. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a wide variety of wonderfully crafted short stories.

***

The Storyteller Speaks

by Annika Perry

Perry’s debut book is a beautiful read. The twenty-one selections in The Storyteller Speaks are primarily short stories, with a smattering of flash fiction and poems. The author states in the afterword that the thread binding the work together is “the belief that there is no such thing as an ordinary life,” and this insight is clearly borne out in her book. It’s what captivated me as I read.

The stories are all quite different, some dark and some lighthearted, though most are filled with the deep emotions of ordinary people as they navigate disappointment, loss, redemption, healing, and love. These are feelings that will strike a chord with most people, even if the circumstances aren’t quite the same. Most of the tales felt “quiet” to me, personal, as if I was looking beneath the outer appearances of a person into the rich pathos of their inner lives.

I tried to pick favorites as I read, but had to give up; there were too many. I recommend this book to anyone who loves short stories and wants to feel moved by the strength and courage of the human spirit.

***

What’s in a Name, Vol. 2

by Sally Cronin

I read the first volume of What’s in a Name and was eager to give the second a try. Volume 2 is a collection of short stories that picks up when the first ended, covering names starting with K through Z (Kenneth through Zoe). Cronin includes a bonus short story for a collection coming out later in 2018.

This is a quick read that I breezed through in a few hours, sitting outside in the spring sunshine. Many of the stories have older characters, covering a range of topics from heartwarming reunions, grief and loss, recovered dignity, and romantic love beyond the grave. There’s also a bit of happily ever after and match-making, as well as some swindling, and a taste of well-deserved murder! The variety is highly entertaining and kept me engaged throughout.

Cronin is a master storyteller and I recommend this collection (both volumes) to readers of all ages.

(You can read my review of What’s in a Name, Vol. 1 here.)

Happy Reading!

Writing Teenage Boys: Guest Post with Teri Polen

I’m not much of a horror reader since Dean Koontz scared the bejeezus out of me as a teenager. I’m also not a huge fan of teenagers. The real ones are tolerable, but the ones in books sometimes drive me crazy. They’re angsty,  dramatic, and they make dumb decisions. They remind me of me at that age.

So… when I picked up Teri Polen’s YA horror novel, Sarah, I was worried.

Well, silly me for fretting. The book was awesome. I’ll give you my review below, but first, I had to quiz Teri. One of the best things about the book was the way she dove into the experience of Cain, a 17-yr-old teenage boy. It felt totally genuine to me, and I happen to know Teri isn’t a 17-yr-old teenage boy. How did she do that with such authenticity? How did she prepare? Here’s her answer:

***

You’re not the first person to ask how I channeled the voices of 17-year-old boys, Diana. A good friend is convinced I was a teenage boy in a previous life. I have two sons—I honestly don’t know what I would have done with girls—and we’ve always had a steady stream of their friends hanging out at our house.

I spent countless hours driving them to sports and band practices, sleepovers, movies, dances…you get the picture. They trash talked each other while playing video games, compared puzzling encounters with the female species, and debated superhero movies. I’ve witnessed their heartache after breakups, their bets on when a friend would get dumped by a new girlfriend—and if it would be by text or in person, and their vehement defense of each other when challenged.

All the while, I listened. And it’s mostly been quite entertaining and enlightening. When the characters in my head demanded their story be told, it was natural they’d be teenage boys, because that’s what I know.

Cain’s pigsty of a bedroom is a near perfect picture of my oldest son’s room—or as my younger son calls it, ‘The Black Hole’. Things have literally disappeared in there, and the smells emanating from that room have been horrific at times. If a zombie apocalypse happened today, we could live on the half-empty Gatorade and water bottles, snack bags, and protein bars for quite a while.

My sons and their friends probably never dreamed some of their comments would come back to ‘haunt’ them in a YA horror novel. You never know who’s listening.

***

My Review: 

Sarah is categorized as YA horror and the book fits the genre perfectly. Sarah is a teenage ghost seeking revenge for her murder. She returns to the scene of the crime, now the home of Cain Shannon, a 17-year-old horror fan. At first, she appears shy and vulnerable, and Cain agrees to help her, but she’s not as helpless as he believes. With each bloody act of revenge, she grows in power, and her tactics increase in brutality. Before long, Cain is in the battle of his life against a ghost intent on death.

This book has some really creepy, icky, suspenseful, and scary things going on, but the scare-factor and gore feel appropriate for YA readers (as well as adults). The story grabbed my attention from the first page, and the tension and suspense escalate at a steady pace without much of a break right up to the climatic end. Even the last few paragraphs of the epilog are worthy of a few terrifying chills.

Though the horror aspects of the book were engaging, what impressed me the most was Polen’s outstanding characters. All of them felt well-rounded to me with fully developed personalities, but I was totally taken with the main character Cain and his friend Finn. They felt authentic to me in their thoughts, emotions, dialog, banter, friendship, and relationships with others. I’m in awe of the author’s ability to capture the essence of teenage boys with such expertise. I found the pair of them refreshing and likable, and therefore enjoyed the non-horror moments of the book as much as the horror, if not more so.

Another thing that impressed me was the believability of the characters’ choices. I often find that characters in horror (movies) make stupid choices because the plot would keel over and die if they acted sensibly. Polen was meticulous in building a backstory that supported Cain’s decisions, particularly his choice not to involve his mother and to stay in the house despite the presence of a murderous ghost. This careful attention to character and plot kept me enmeshed in the story from chapter one right through to the end.

An excellent book for both YA and adult readers of horror and suspense.

***

Eh, what’s one more book in your TBR pile? Here’s a link: Sarah

Connect with Teri on her book review blog: Books and Such

A Human Story: Guest Post with Andrea Flory

After reading Andrea Flory’s book Miira (Innerscape: book 1) , I asked her if she’d be interested in a guest post. I expected a cerebral exposition of the fascinating science of virtual reality. What I got was so much more, a sharing of the true beauty of her work, a human story. My review is below, but before heading there, here’s Andrea:

***

Andrea Flory

Some people know they want to write from a very young age. It’s all they dream about.

That was never me. I did spend a lot of my childhood daydreaming, but those were private adventures, and I never saw them as potential ‘books’. Books were magical portals created by geniuses with towering imaginations.

How could I ever aspire to write stories?

It was true that I liked words and was good with them, but I was too pragmatic, and much too logical to ever emulate gods like Dostoyevsky and Dumas, LeGuin and Herbert. No, daydreams were for that magical time between waking and sleeping. They were most definitely not suitable for the real world.

And besides, I was busy. I rode motorbikes and  went up in gliders, travelled overseas, learned more languages, taught high school French, fell in love with computers, got married, had a child. You know…life.

But neglected passions don’t always wither away, and one day while I was doing tech support, I realised that many of my clients were asking the exact same questions, over and over again.

Ah hah, thought I. I liked writing, and I’d been a teacher, why not combine the two and type up the tech support instead of re-inventing the wheel each time? And that was the start of my technical writing career, but it would still be another ten years before I was brave enough to give fiction a try.

I guess that lack of courage is something I share with Miira, the protagonist in my latest science fiction story. She’s not a coward, exactly, but she’s not brave either, and it’s not until she’s bed-ridden and almost completely helpless that she finally decides to take the plunge and enter the digital world of Innerscape.

At first, Miira only sees Innerscape as a pain free way to die. Once inside, however, she discovers that her healthy young body and the virtual world it inhabits really are indistinguishable from the real thing. But if she has been given this second chance at life, what on earth is she to do with it?

I think this is a question we all have to answer at some point in our lives. For me, the moment came after a brush with cancer some years ago. Until then, I’d felt no sense of urgency; I was learning to write the kind of fiction I loved to read. What was the rush? Besides, I still wasn’t sure my writing would ever be good enough…

After the cancer scare I realised that writing wasn’t a competition. I might never be as good as my heroes, but my best was good enough. For me. The only question that still remained was whether I had the courage to share my best with others.

In 2013 I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and jumped. Four years later, so did Miira Tahn.

My Review

What a beautifully written book. Innerscape is a science fiction story about a middle-aged woman Miira whose disease-ravaged body is dying. She decides to enter Innercape where her body will be pared down to her essential components and preserved while she lives out her life in a virtual world as a younger, healthy version of herself.

The first book in the series covers two aspects of her immersion in Innerscape – first, the preparation of her new body and the tests to prepare for her transition, and second, the transition into the VR world and her orientation. As a series, the story continues beyond the initial book, and Flory hooks the reader with the introduction of several challenging characters, corporate compromises, questionable ethics, and love.

The science is detailed and utterly entrancing, as well as completely understandable to the layperson. The premise and technology also seem entirely plausible, if not now, then in the not-so-distant future. Flory’s writing is meticulous and detailed, and the world she’s created held my fascination throughout.

And all that wasn’t even the best part! Set against the scientific backdrop, is an engrossing human story. Miira is reserved, sensitive, inquisitive, and vulnerable, a beautifully rendered human being undergoing a process that requires complete trust and a step into the unknown. The story is told primarily in her point of view and the immersion in her experience is complete. The Innerscape staff that supports her are multidimensional and believably flawed characters.

The pace is steady and yet I flew through the book because I could NOT put it down. Exquisite writing, gorgeous descriptions, high tech science, and human pathos that grab the reader. I’m a fan and gladly recommend this book to readers of science fiction and anyone who enjoys an unusual human story.

***

If we’ve enticed you to enter the fascinating world of Innerscape and meet Miira, here’s the global link to her story: Miira, Innerscape: book 1

Writing from the Oral Tradition: Guest Post with Clayton Callahan

There’s something special about seeing another writer hit his stride with a really great book. A couple weeks ago I finished The Spirit of Cahir Mullach by Clayton Callahan.  I loved the “voice” of this book and though I rarely (never) read books aloud, I couldn’t resist the occasional urge to don my improbable Irish accent and enjoy the sound of this tale.

Why did I “hear” this tale in my head…?

Clayton is a natural storyteller from the oral tradition. I’ll let him tell you about the inspiration for his book:

I have always had a deep fascination with history, culture, and people in general. It was that interest that led me to join a peculiar organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was but a lad of seventeen. While other high school guys were perfecting their mullet (it was the 80’s), I was finishing work on my leather and chainmail armor for the upcoming tournament.

The SCA was a medieval extravaganza, complete with dancing, sword fighting, food, brews, music, and storytelling. Truth be told…I wasn’t too good at the dancing or the sword fighting. However, at storytelling, I can boast some talent. I’d pour through the public library for folk tales, mythology, and legends suitable for a fireside performance and worked hard to bring them to life before an audience of inebriated Vikings/college students.

One of the marvelous tales I discovered was The Great Mr. Berry of Cahir Tyrone. The traditional folktale is much the same as the book. However, since it blatantly takes place after the Middle Ages ended, I never was able to use it in the SCA.

Fortunately, a good tale is never forgotten, and now twenty-odd years later, I’ve given it another crack.

The Story:

The story starts in the Irish town of Baile with a fireside recounting of the time Lord Oisin defended the village against Viking raiders who attempted to abscond with his cows. As the legend goes, Oisin’s spirit still dwells within the ruins of his great castle, Cahir Mullach.

It’s now the end of the Revolutionary War in America, and thousands of redcoats return to Ireland in defeat, Michael Snodgrass among them. He marches across Ireland, a trek that takes him through Baile, where Mr. Terry plans to sell his cows, evict his tenants, and raise sheep.

Mr. Terry’s also the billetmaster, and he sends poor Michael to be quartered in the ruins of Cahir Mullach. The king’s law is clear that any subject must make welcome a soldier who holds an official billet in hand… and that includes a subject now eight hundred years dead.

My Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a whole bunch of reasons. Despite being a work of fiction, it’s well-researched and sprinkled with details that bring authenticity to both of the book’s settings – America at the end of the Revolutionary War and the rural Irish village of Baile.

The point of view is shared by a number of wonderfully rounded characters with distinct voices and personalities. Relationships feel genuine and are recognizable to anyone living in a small community where differences are dealt with peaceably and according to custom. The story has a load of warm humor amongst some darker moments. Beyond the tragedy of war, there’s minimal violence, just ordinary villagers going about their day and experiencing extraordinary events.

The main character Michael Snodgrass carries most of the story. It was interesting reading about the Revolutionary War from the point of view of an Irish redcoat who had no stake in the conflict other than to stay alive. Michael has a true heart and guileless nature that’s endearing.

What I loved best about the story, and where Callahan truly shines, is in the authentic voices of the narration and characters. I read many parts of this story aloud just to bask in the lilt of the language.

The souls of his shoes were so worn that every chunk of gravel in the road seemed to take time out of its busy day to introduce itself personally to the feet of one Corporal Snodgrass.

Granny Collins had been laying out gifts of buttered leeks, biscuits, and milk by a hole in the old castle wall for the “good folk” of the hill. And kind as the father was, she’d no intention of abusing his good graces with her less than Catholic ways. But Christian or no, it was always best to be on the good side of fairies, lest children start coming up missing in the town.

The first chapter of the book is a long one and recounts the tale of Cahir Mullach in a more stylized voice. After that, the book transitions to the “modern” 18th century and the pace picks up. The book suffered from poor editing, but that appears to have been corrected by the author.

A delightful read that I recommend to all ages, and particularly to those who love myths, legends, and tales full of personality.

***

A final note: Clayton has written across several genres. Though he writes primarily space opera, he also has a historical spy novel and non-fiction book: Armed Professions: A Writer’s Guide that I’ve referred to many times.

Colleen’s Book Reviews – “Catling’s Bane”

Catling’s Bane is FREE today and tomorrow on Amazon.
If you have a hankering for a little fantasy, it’s a great time to tuck a copy away.

It’s been a wonderful week for this book, and the timing of Colleen Chesebro’s kind review couldn’t have been better. Colleen is the author of The Heart Stone Chronicles, a YA paranormal fantasy series. I encourage readers to browse her site and check out her books.  I send her hugs and smiles through the airways for taking the time to read, review, and share Catling’s Bane on her blog. Doing a happy dance.

Here’s Colleen’s review:

It is the darkest night, and the city of Mur-Vallis is shrouded in fog. Raker, the slant-eyed, three-fingered half-fen, half-human loiters near the dock as if possibly summoned there by the mysterious luminescence that flows through the rivers and streams of the planet. Before this night is done, Raker will save the young child, Catling, whose future will be intertwined with his own in ways neither he nor she ever imagined.

The mystical Farlanders, the original inhabitants of the planet before the Ellegeans, came across to me as the natives, in tune with the natural rhythms of the planet. For me, these beings were reminiscent of the creatures in the movie, Avatar. They lived off the land and followed their nature-based customs believing in the kari, the natural spirits of the planet. However, the Farlanders and their magic posed a threat to the Ellegeans, and when they took power, these folk were tortured and slaughtered as spectacles of entertainment for the people.

The Ellegeans establish an order where the lowliest are born in the bottoms, and where those with the most power abide in the highest levels of the cities. The Influencers’ Guild, a secretive, closed society within Ellegean, holds control over the tiers by flexing their power to manipulate emotions. The Guild’s influence is so subtle that the people have no idea they are controlled from the lowliest to the top, including the King.

Except for Catling, who possesses a rose-colored birthmark encircling her eye which allows her to block the “influence” from affecting the people. This magical ability allows her to see the threads of influence that binds the people. Catling’s ability is a bane to power as well as a boon. The Guild wants her dead, and Catling becomes a pawn in the hands of those wielding power because Catling will never be free of who she is.

Catling’s Bane qualifies as epic fantasy meeting the three qualifications: It is a trilogy or longer, it encompasses many years, and it includes a universe filled with backstory where the saga takes place. This book was my first introduction to D. Wallace Peach’s writing, and I must say I feel like a gushing fan. The writing is superb with descriptions that fly from the page plunking the reader into the midst of this mysterious world. Seldom have I found writing this engaging.

Fantasy and science fiction lovers will applaud the detail in the world of Ellegean. I took my time reading, relishing the characters and the magic that breathed from the author’s written words. I encountered two issues – I couldn’t put the book down, and I dreamed of this far away world every night. I loved the story so much; I’ve already bought the second novel in the series.

If you love epic fantasy/science fiction…

Continue reading: Colleen’s #Book #Reviews – “Catling’s Bane”