Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Penguin Book of Witches - Edited by Katherine Howe.

The Penguin Book of Witches.  Edited by Katherine Howe.  Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 480 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143106180.

"The first witchcraft act in England was passed in 1542, and the last anti witchcraft statute was not officially repealed until 1736." This important quote indicates that over 200 years of witchcraft accusations, investigations, trials, and punishments of being thrown in stocks, ducked in water, exorcised, or suffering jail and death that fell on far too many men and women in England and America.  Witchcraft was the definitive focus of hyperbolic, potent fury as clearly shown in this collection of stories, arguments, and accounts, usually with dire consequences.

There’s no clear-cut evidence that witchcraft was a denomination or united group, as it was later to become; but it was clear that superstition raged during the above cited period and its combination with the strange behavior of certain individuals, meticulously described as evidence in warrants, examinations or depositions of the characters presented in this text make for fascinating reading.  The fact that some like the slave-maid Tituba in Salem, Massachusetts gathered children with her to celebrate some voodoo practices surely did not help matters and many readers will be familiar with the outcome because of their familiarity with the play, “The Crucible,” by Arthur Miller. 

One particular selection was refreshing in that George Gifford, a Puritan minister in Essex, England in 1593, attempts to assert some reason into what he describes as the “greed, anger, fear and hate” which are the motives behind all witch accusations.  His response is to wage spiritual warfare against those motives in one’s own heart and to wage spiritual warfare against actual behavior one perceives may or may not be witchery.  It is the Devil, he said, that “seduces ignorant men.”

On the other hand, King James I’s “Daemonologue” is an attempt to show his superior knowledge of theology and intellectual analysis as he wrote about whether witches were real and the type of people whom one should watch as possible practitioners of witchcraft.  He hoped in this way to cement his leadership over the Church and demonstrate his intellectual and spiritual prowess to other leaders around the world.  It reads indeed like any other accusation and imitation of other catalogued lists of witching behavior.

Readers will be either truly thrilled or horrified by each account in this notable collection of cows who were sickened or died, children who exhibited strange behavior or illness, crops that began to fail with no observable reason, spinning bodies, individuals supposedly unable to say the name of God or Jesus Christ, and so many more tales told.  Entertaining as this may be, it is even more horrifying to realize that those accused of these acts were tortured and killed for the same; even more damning is the fact that surrounding neighbors lived in dire fear that they would be accused next.  An atmosphere of suspicion and superstition laid the groundwork for a terrifying two hundred year period of historical and magical folklore gone awry!

A highly readable, mesmerizing collection that is great reading and provides enough diversity around the topic to keep the reader engaged on every page!

Murder on the Ile Sordou: Verlaque and Bonnet Series #4 by M. L. Longworth.

Murder on the Ile Sordou: Verlaque and Bonnet Series #4.  M. L. Longworth. Viking Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9780143125549.

Maxime and Catherine Le Bon have invested everything they had and borrowed everywhere they can to create a lovely hotel resort on the Ile Sordou, a lovely island off the coast of Marseilles, France, on the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly, the author reminds the reader that the Ile is the place where author Alexandre Dumas placed his novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. Business, however, for the owners of our present luxury resort isn’t great at all, a fact which troubles them immensely; but for now they are occupied with providing a wonderful experience for their present guests. Some of the owner’s employees are here because they have found a perfect job in a gorgeously beautiful place and others see it as a stepping stone to greater service in a more well-known hotel in one of the major French cities. Some of the Ile’s inhabitants are strange folk who provide food to the hotel and provide an aura of mystery to the area.   And then there is the motley crew of guests who have arrived to relax and enjoy the Ile’s beaches, boats and unique meals presented by a creative and talented chef!

We meet Judge Antoine Verlaque (Aix-en-Provence’s examining magistrate) and his sexy girlfriend, law professor Marine Bonnet.  Their only desire is to enjoy each other without any reference to their legal work.  They meet Eric Mannier, former teacher and poet, on the boat traveling to the Isle.  Mannier normally is rather reserved and while on the Ile seems totally focused on writing his poetry as the days progress, much to the wonder of his fellow guests. Shirley and Bill Hobbs are Americans visitors who are obsessed with luxury and design but are friendly and unassuming to all.  Alain Denis is a former famous film star now reduced to making dog food commercials appears with his “Botox” wife, Emmanuelle, and his son Brice who seems like a very angry young man.

The remainder of the story moves from the characters getting to know each other, gossiping as they get to know each other better, and then being minutely examined after one of them is found dead on a nearby beach, shot up close in the forehead.  It reads like an Agatha Christie mystery novel, for sure, and is creatively and carefully plotted, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the attempt to solve the murder mystery before the police do so.  And no, you probably won’t be able to do so either, but that won’t stop you from trying as the author elicits your obsession with the solution to this unforeseen crime!

Very nicely plotted with a perfect medley of characters and intrigue added to the mix!  Well done fourth mystery in this Verlaque and Bonnet series!

The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey

The Bloodbound.  Erin Lindsey. Ace Books. September 2014. 368 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425272688.

Lady Alix Black is one of the King Erik White’s noble soldiers who disobeys orders during the major Battle of Boswyck and saves the King’s life.  For that deed he appoints her his personal protector and head of his personal guard.  It’s a tough job given his stubbornness and frustrated moods due to his leg injury from that same initial battle against the Oridians.  In this first fantasy novel of a planned series, the King learns that his brother, Tomald, is a traitor and is behind the new battle.  The reason for this traitorous behavior seems rather silly, but it turns out there is more than meets the eye. Still, having one’s own brother turn against one and try to claim the Kingship for his own is a tough nut for King Erik to swallow.  Add to that that Alix’s brother, Riga, has disappeared while out on a scouting mission for the King. 

Initially the King decides to allow others outside his immediate circle to believe he was killed in order to see just how far his brother will go and what alliances that brother will make in his quest for the crown.  We also learn that Alix has a lover, a fellow scout named Liam, whom she will never be allowed to marry because of his lower class status.  We learn of the mysterious power in the bloodbound swords only the nobility are allowed to carry and use in battle and later what the Oridians will do to counteract that extraordinary power, creating their own genetically perversions called “thralls.”

To say more would be a spoiler, so suffice to say that the reader is quickly rooting for the King, Alix and those who will loyally do anything to protect their King and restore his power.  The battles, led by the “Priest” and his forces, are fierce and betrayal abounds along with multiple surprises and discoveries.  Alix is a perfect heroine, being fierce and tough in battle with enough kindness and compassion to appeal to every reader.

Fans will find themselves eagerly looking forward to the next sequel to this fantasy novel.  Well-written, Erin Lindsey!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Light and Darkness by Wendy Lawrance

Light and Darkness.  Wendy Lawrance. GWL Publishing. June 2013. 380 pp.  ISBN#: 9781905378470.

Harry is a lawyer but early on in this story decides to forsake his legal career and become a full-time painter/artist.  This is made clear in the awful days of grief after he loses his beloved wife, Bella.  Devastated with sorrow, he finds he cannot draw his love and finds his only comfort in their daughter, Rose.  Because he has inherited a large amount of money, he is able to leave city life and reside in his beloved seaside home.  His family worry about him as time passes and Harry’s grief seems as severe as the day he lost Bella and his meetings with them for holidays are fraught with a constant nervous tension.  Some distraction occurs with the looming possibility of WWI and Harry realizes he needs a change of scenery and purpose, although his only hesitation lies in the face he would have to leave Rose with his family.  However, war breaks out and Harry enlists.  Who knows how the future will evolve?  All Harry knows is he’s not afraid to do his patriotic duty and fight for England. 

Before Harry and his peers go off to the actual war, they are forced to spend what seems an interminable time training and being moved from camp to camp.  During that time he makes a good friend with Edward, a young man anxious to be off to war, if only to avert his thoughts from his beloved fiancĂ©, whose family doesn’t see him as a favorable future husband.  Harry, on the other hand, finds the separations from Rose awful with each brief leave he gets before the final one week leave when he knows this will be his last time with Rose for a very long time.

War indeed is hell and the reader learns of the brutal battles, wounds, and death constantly barraging British troops from German soldiers and weapons.  Harry turns out to be a well-balanced, responsible and yet compassionate officer who unfortunately seems powerless to divert the pompous and dangerous orders of a commanding officer who drinks to hide his fear.

At one particular point, Harry and his fellow soldiers are forced to rest at a French farm where a woman Elise is a gracious host even though supplies and meals are sparse.  Over time Harry quickly falls in love with Elise but their relationship is riddled with insecurity because of the future. 

The novel’s end is so deeply tragic that it shocks the reader to the core and leaves all reeling!  Wendy Lawrance clearly knows her history about WWI and depicts it exceedingly well.  Her rendering of different types of love, sorrow, fear and joy are superb, providing just enough twists and turns to make this story an exquisite account of how war affects and changes all involved! Very good read!