The Lover: A Sufi Mystery, by Laury Silvers

I recommend The Lover strongly both as an engaging mystery, and to anyone who wishes to learn more about medieval Islam and the lives of women in that time.

Dust and cool water; ascetism and the bonds of love. In 10th century Baghdad, Zaytuna is torn between the mysticism of Sufi practice and her need for connection to the world – and the reality of survival day to day. When a child dies in a fall, she must try to understand why, bringing her into conflict with both powerful people and her own brother, and challenging, too, her own understanding of herself and her faith.

The setting is carefully and slowly built, with great skill: I could imagine myself there in the markets and courtyards, among the crowds on the streets and on the flat roofs of houses. Characters are drawn precisely, with a beautiful economy of words, giving the reader just enough.

Laury Silvers gives us a glimpse into a world unfamiliar to most of us, that of women of medieval Islam. Not women of privilege, but women whose lives are given up to labour, the women who wash rich families’ clothes, or sweep houses and cook meals. Lives that are limited by poverty, but sometimes joyous, sometimes transcendent, and sometimes cruel.

The need for relationships – with family, with friends, with God – is central to The Lover. (The title refers to one of the faces of God.) Zaytuna is driven to investigate the boy’s death for reasons that are interwoven with her own need for love, and the value she sees in each life.

The Lover is the first of a series. I hope to read the others soon; meanwhile, I recommend The Lover strongly both as an engaging mystery, and to anyone who wishes to learn more about medieval Islam and the lives of women in that time.


Discover more of the history behind Laury Silvers’ books on the author’s website.

Featured image: Girl Reciting the Qurān (Kuran Okuyan Kız), an 1880 painting by the Ottoman polymath Osman Hamdi Bey. Public Domain.

The Eye of Nefertiti, by Maria Luisa Lang: A Review

We all need amusing distractions and Lang’s novels fit that bill perfectly.

The Eye of Nefertiti is a worthy sequel to Maria Luisa Lang’s delightful The Pharaoh’s CatNefertiti, which I reviewed in November of 2015.  Written in the same light-hearted style, the sequel follows the adventures of Wrappa-Hamen, the walking, talking cat Egyptian cat and his family…who just happen to be a High Priest of Amun-Ra transported to modern-day New York City, his 21st century wife Elena the Egyptologist, and their child, who is the reincarnation of Wrappa-Hamen’s beloved Pharaoh.

Travelling from New York to England to Ancient Egypt, and involving Tarot cards, opera, and various gods and rulers, The Eye of Nefertiti can be read as a stand-alone story, but I recommend reading the previous book for a fuller understanding of the back-story here.  Like its predecessor, it’s a light novel, and again that is not a criticism: we all need amusing distractions and Lang’s novels fit that bill perfectly.  It probably helps to be a cat-lover, because walking and talking or not, much of Wrappa-Hamen’s behaviour will resonate with cat owners (or those owned by cats).

I’m hoping we haven’t seen the last of Wrappa-Hamen; surely as the baby Pharaoh grows up there will be more adventures for his cat to be involved in!  Four stars for a well-written, fun read.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Shattering Glass, by Connor Coyne: A Review

What if thought could be turned into power, not of the kind wielded by politicians and heads of corporations, but the sort that turns on lights, runs motors, boots up your laptop?

Universities run on thought.  It’s why they exist: to share thought, to foster new thought, toShattering Glass turn thought into something, tangible or intangible, new to the world.  But what if they ran on thought in a different way, if thought could be turned into power, not of the kind wielded by politicians and heads of corporations, but the sort that turns on lights, runs motors, boots up your laptop?  And what would happen to those whose thoughts were channelled into that power?

In a rust-belt town in Michigan, a businessman creates a new university on the grounds of an abandoned psychiatric hospital. First-year students Samo, Monty, Ezzie, and Dunya share a residence floor, below ground in the Calliope Cradle. None is quite sure how he or she ended up here, but the angst of first-year adjustment is more than enough to occupy them.  But even in the confusion of buying overpriced and unaffordable textbooks, joining clubs, figuring out where to eat, and discovering mid-terms can be in almost any week of the semester, they come to realize something wicked this way comes…or rather, is already here.

Complex, intricate, perhaps a little self-indulgent (like its protagonists at first), Shattering Glass is neither straightforward nor stereotypical. It contains elements of steampunk, Greek tragedy, absurdist theatre, and film noir, all wrapped up in a superficially Harry Potteresque setting transported to a failing industrial city.  But it also delves into some difficult questions….what does happen to a personality subsumed into a university’s -or a universe’s -power system? How do we stay ourselves? Can we? At what price?

This won’t be a book for everyone. Its non-linear narrative, metafiction techniques, and elaborate detail does not make it an easy read.  But if you read Vonnegut, give Shattering Glass a chance. I’m giving it 4.5 stars here on my blog, which will translate to five on Amazon and Goodreads.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Gleam of Light: Book 1 of the Survival Trilogy, by T.J. & M.L Wolf

A Gleam of Light pits a young Hopi woman and a reporter against the U.S. Army in a race for the secrets buried deep within a cavern on Hopi land.

Drawing on ‘documented’ UFO sightings, Hopi cosmology, and some non-mainstreama gleam of light interpretations of various petroglyphs, religious practices, and experiences from around the world, A Gleam of Light pits a young Hopi woman and a reporter against the U.S. Army in a race for the secrets buried deep within a cavern on Hopi land.

The concept of using the cosmology of a people whose beliefs can be interpreted to mesh with UFO and alien sightings isn’t new – I’m old enough to remember – and to have read –  Chariots of the Gods, by Erik Von Daniken (although that was marketed as non-fiction.)  It’s a decent premise for a book, and in many ways A Gleam of Light reminded me of Dan Brown’s books, building a story around a race to interpret symbolic messages left by a previous generation.  Throw in some action and settings reminiscent of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, and you’ve got the general idea.

But while it’s a decent premise, the Wolfs don’t quite pull it off.  The book suffers from a number of structural issues: uneven pacing; exposition disguised as conversation (usually almost monologue) to give background or explanation; coincidences that stretch credulity, solutions to dilemmas that just come a little too easily.  I think there is a good adventure story here, and one more rewrite under the guidance of a good developmental editor could have brought it out.  As it stands, 2 ½ stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Penny White and The Temptation of Dragons, by Chrys Cymri: A Review

With a mother from Northamptonshire, a voracious reader of anything fantasy since childhood, an upbringing in the Church of England, and a definite fan of both single-malts and Doctor Who, the book was, for me, a perfect storm of reference points.

What do these have in common? Single-malt whisky, Doctor Who, dragons,temptation-dragons Northamptonshire, the Church of England. While this might sound like a round of Only Connect, the actual answer is that they are all integral aspects of Chrys Cymri’s delightful book Penny White and The Temptation of Dragons.

Penny White is the vicar of a small parish in Northamptonshire. One night she finds herself at a vehicular accident, giving last rites to a….dragon?  This act of compassion is Penny’s introduction to the parallel world of fantastic creatures that exists alongside our own, a world where St George is the dragon, not the knight. Asked to take on a significant position liaising between our world and this other one, with a gryphon as her assistant, Penny accepts, to find herself not only caught up in a murder inquiry, but attracted to the ultimate bad boy, the James Dean of dragons.

Chrys Cymri writes with a deft, light hand, a fine sense of pacing, and an ear for comedy. I found myself laughing out loud many times while reading The Temptation of Dragons.  But behind the light-hearted fantasy is a story about frailty, love and forgiveness. Penny has her own tragedies; she may be too dependent on her single-malt, and she’s lonely. Her gryphon companion has his demons, too.  They need to work past their differences, not only to be an effective team, but to find the commonalities that bond them.

I may have been just about the ideal reader for The Temptation of Dragons. With a mother from Northamptonshire, a voracious reader of anything fantasy since childhood, an upbringing in the Church of England, and a definite fan of both single-malts and Doctor Who, the book was, for me, a perfect storm of reference points.  But I doubt all those are pre-requisites to appreciating Chrys Cymri’s writing. Five well-deserved stars!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

The Ravellers’ Guild, by Rachel Emma Shaw: A Review

A tantalizing introduction to what may be a fresh new fantasy series.

Tahnner is a pawn in his father’s game of shifting allegiances.  Eager to prove his loyalty to the king, he offers his son to the Ravellers’ Guild, forcing him into a lifetime of serviceravellers-guild Tahnner never wanted, reading the past and future of his world in the mysterious Threads of morning and evening.

The Ravellers’ Guild is a novella by Rachel Emma Shaw, setting the stage for a book series in production. The world the author has created is both familiar and new: the warring political factions are the background for many a story; the Ravellers, adepts who can follow, understand and translate the messages of the Threads are new.

The novella jumps into action quickly, building both conflict and the world in which that conflict occurs, and introducing us to many of the major characters. The story moves over time – several years pass, allowing Tahnner to mature in his skills, bringing us to the climax, a moment of betrayal, self-realization, and regret for Tahnner, and leaving the reader with enough questions to encourage them to delve into the full series, when it is available.

I’m giving The Ravellers’ Guild 4.5 stars; not 5, because the pacing in the middle section of the book could have been tighter, and I found my attention wandering. But overall, it’s a tantalizing introduction to what may be a fresh new fantasy series.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When We Go Missing, by Kristen Twardowski: A Review

A competently crafted thriller and a promising debut.

When We Go Missing by Kristen Twardowski is a competently crafted thriller and a when-we-go-missingpromising debut. A young woman, Alex, falls for a charming man, Nathan; her sister’s antipathy towards him is dismissed.  But Nathan is not what he seems…and Alex slowly realizes this.

Told from the viewpoints of several characters over time, the author handles the various voices well and threads the related stories together effectively, creating sympathetic characters without letting their individual stories overwhelm the direction of the narrative. Tension and conflict are created, and mount throughout the story, well-paced until the denouement.  Here, I felt the story faltered: the related stories have woven together to create two narratives both heading for a climax, and in both cases the climax disappoints: the solution in both cases is just a little too simple.

But When We Go Missing was an enjoyable read, keeping my attention and making me wonder how the story would unfold.  Definitely, it’s worth considering as a beach or plane book!  Four stars for a debut novel that strongly suggests there will be more to look forward to by Kristen Twardowski.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Enhanced: Book 6 in the Freya Snow series: A Review

The most accomplished and polished book of the series.

Enhanced, the sixth book of the Snowverse series by L.C. Mawson, is the most enhancedaccomplished and polished book of the series. Freya Snow, the magical, autistic, bi-sexual protagonist, has grown up; no longer a frightened and unsure teen, she’s a competent, capable woman no longer afraid to ask for help. And she falls in love for the first time.

Freya is still young, so she’s still growing into her powers, and still determining her place in the magical universe. Her self-understanding and her willingness to accept responsibility have matured along with her (or are those parts of the definition of maturity?). But she’s still making mistakes, of course, or there wouldn’t be much of a story!

I found this book to be tighter in terms of story structure and pacing than some of the earlier books, more focused and with some needed reminders of previous occurrences that influence the events in Enhanced. Freya’s central conflict regarding her Dark and Light bloodlines is furthered without dominating the story.

The author has created a complex and evolving world in the Snowverse, and I definitely recommend reading the books from the beginning to fully appreciate the character and conflict development. Five stars for Enhanced.

Witch (Freya Snow Book 5) by L.C. Mawson: A Review

Witch is perhaps a more thoughtful book than earlier installments, with less physical action and more development of, and insight into, Freya’s character and personality.

Witch is the fifth book in the Freya Snow series, following the experiences of autistic, bi-witchsexual, non-human Freya as she learns to navigate both the human world and the world of magic, discovering the complexities of both.

In the human world, Freya has a job as a barista; in the non-human world, she is mostly concerned with finding a way to lift a curse that has placed a friend into a coma-like state. As she solves this problem – with noticeably more skill in negotiation and communication than in earlier books – she also learns more about herself, her non-human family and her place in the hierarchy of magic. Freya’s friends play a larger part in this book; her human family is barely seen, and this is appropriate given Freya is older and more independent.

Freya’s developing maturity is paralleled by author L.C. Mawson’s development as a writer. Witch is perhaps a more thoughtful book than earlier installments, with less physical action and more development of, and insight into, Freya’s character and personality. The ending of Witch is indicative of Freya’s ability to accept responsibility, moving her from adolescent to adult.

Four stars to a pivotal installment in the series. For an overview of all the Freya Snow books, I suggest the author’s site here.

Wonderworld: The Musical, by Brett Schieber & Tree: A Review

This is a story about overcoming fears and obstacles, about believing in yourself and your talents.

Independent reviewers can be asked to review some strange and wonderful works, but Wonderworld is the most unusual independent project to cross my desk. I’m not even sure what to call it: there is a book, but there is also a YouTube video, and an audio-book musical, and songs to be downloaded from iTunes. And it’s all – well – wonderful.

wonderworld

Wonderworld is the story of Max, a boy who has difficulty relating to the real world. He prefers his fantasy world, the world he creates in his art. Max could be a lot of the students I used to work with: maybe he has an anxiety disorder, maybe he is on the autism spectrum, maybe he’s just really shy, but it doesn’t really matter. Authors/composers/artists Brett Scheiber and Tree (aka the musical duo Arcanum) and illustrator Simona Poteska have meshed words, music and art to bring Max and his difficulties to life in a way that children and adults can both understand. The story isn’t told in a complicated way (but neither are Max’s fears and feelings diminished); the songs have straightforward messages and are easy to learn, but aren’t cutsey children’s songs, and the artwork captures Max and his fears in style that is neither too dark nor too upbeat, but that fits the mood of the story perfectly.

This is a story about overcoming fears and obstacles, about believing in yourself and your talents. It could be argued that this process is simplified in Wonderworld, but no more so than the story of the redeeming power of faith and love is simplified in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Were I still working in education, I can think of a dozen situations where I’d have used Wonderworld in both classroom and individual situations.

Wonderworld has been produced with artistic integrity and professionalism. I’d also say it’s been produced with great love and deep empathy. I’m giving it 5 stars.

You can watch Wonderworld on YouTube, and download the audiobook musical and each individual song (including instrumentals) on iTunes, Amazon, and Bandcamp. The hard cover, full colour book is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Wonderworld-The-Musical.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.