Sunday, March 29, 2015

Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill

Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill is a novel with a bit of romance, a bit of self-empowerment, and a large amount of fairy dust.  

Kate McDaid lives and works in Dublin.  She's just had her 26th birthday, and with that comes a letter stating that she's the sole benefactor to her great-great-great-grand aunt's will.  But there's a catch:  Kate has to publish seven poems called The Seven Steps in order to inherit the estate.  The letters claim to be a call from the fairies for the modern world to recognize them again and be kind to the natural world we've abused and neglected.

No big deal, right?  At first they seem pretty harmless.  Kate puts the first poem on an abandoned web page, but it's quickly discovered and word spreads around Ireland and the world about the Seven Steps.  Kate is called a witch, a spiritual guru, the answer to everyone's prayers.  Her life becomes one of hiding out in her apartment, being stalked by paparazzi, and watching her parents go on every talk show on TV to talk about the Seven Steps.  Her parents are a kick--they're embracing their newfound fame and even hawking self-tanning lotions (even if they do turn you orange).  

But is there a darker spin to the Seven Steps?  And what of the original Kate McDaid, the one called the Red Hag? What starts out as an innocent plea from the fairies to be kind to nature and each other takes an ominous turn the closer Kate gets to publishing the seventh letter.  With so many people waiting breathlessly for a life changing seventh letter, what will Kate do?  

This was a fun and very different kind of read. It was refreshing to read a "chick-lit" story set in Ireland and involving the mythology of fairies and village tales of magic and mystery.  A great mix of contemporary life and the underlying ribbon of culture that keeps us all tied together.  

Those of you who love anything Irish will enjoy this novel.  I fondly remember spending 10 days in Ireland in 2005 and can't wait to go back, sit in a pub, and relax a bit with a pint of cider.  Just don't get your Disney fairies confused with the Irish fairies.  

Rating:  7/10 for a completely different and refreshing chick-lit novel that blends cultural mythology with contemporary social media and our obsession with the latest "fad". 

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wild Wood by Posie Graeme-Evans

It was a Saturday at the bookstore, and I was shelving new fiction.  Half-way down the cart, I spied this.  I'm not proud of my reaction.  I think I actually squealed and, clutching the book to my chest, I jumped up and down.  I'm relieved to say I  think only one customer saw me do this.  She grabbed the book and bought one that day.  

I've been waiting for another book by Posie Graeme-Evans ever since the wonderful Island House came out a few years ago.  It didn't matter that I was in the throes of mid-terms at school; this was my link to sanity!  And I have to say, Wild Wood delivered.  

Wild Wood takes place in the summer of 1981, just before Charles and Diana's huge wedding in London.  Jesse Marley has arrived in London from Australia with one mission:  to find her birth parents.  This decision began back in Australia, when applying for a passport revealed the truth:  Jesse had two birth certificates.  Unable to cope with the disappointment of her parents never telling her she was adopted, she leaves for London.  While in London, Jesse finds out she was born in Jedburgh, a small village in the borderlands between Scotland and England.  Before she can make plans to travel there, she's hit by a motorbike and lands in the hospital with a fractured skull and broken bones.  Floating in and out of consciousness, Jesse sees and hears things that make no sense.  Is she imaging them, or are they real?  Her doctor, Rory Brandon, asks Jesse why she drew those drawings of a castle.  Since her right hand is unable to function in a sling, Jesse thinks it's impossible.  Yet Rory realizes the drawings are of a place he knows very well:  Hundredfeld.  

Built by a Norman warlord hundreds of years before, Hundredfeld is still occupied by a descendant of the Dieudonne family.  And Rory grew up at Hundredfeld, his mother a servant on the property.  What's the connection between Jesse and Hundredfeld?  Who is her birth mother?  

Jesse travels to Hundredfeld with Rory in order to uncover the mystery of the drawings.  She finds much more than she bargains for--and it's all connected to the land, and Hundredfeld's long history.  

This is a dual history novel; you travel between 1981 and 1321, when Hundredfeld's family of brothers:  Maugris, Bayard, and Godefroi, come together at Hundredfeld to battle those who wish to see them destroyed.  Godefroi's new wife, the Lady Flore, has many believing she's evil and a witch.  Lady Flore has an otherwordly feel about her; is she there to destroy or save?  

This book was great!  Just what I needed to read in March.  Both stories are compelling, and yes, they do tie together.  The Scottish land, superstitions, folklore, and family mysteries all play together nicely and keep you turning the pages.  At first you're a bit confused, but stay with it, and it will all become clear.  

If you want to read Posie Graeme-Evans' other fantastic novel, The Island House, click here for my review.  

Fans of Susanna Kearsley, Diana Gabaldon, and Mary Stewart will love both novels.  A bit of history, a bit of folklore, a bit of romance, and a reminder that where we come from is deeply imbedded in our psyche and shapes us all.  

Rating:  8/10 for a unique story combining local history, Scottish folklore, and Charles and Diana's wedding.  Yes, all three.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy & Becky Hepinstall

The Civil War has been popping up all over my bookshelves the past year and I'm happy to say I've managed to finish one of the many books waiting for me at home.  There is something about the Civil War that fascinates me and I can't remember a time when I didn't love to read about it. Perhaps I saw Gone with the Wind too many times as a child!  

Kathy and Becky Hepinstall have written a tale of two sisters fighting for the Confederates in the Civil War.  Sisters of Shiloh is a beautifully written novel that captures the horrors of a war where sacrifices for love were made every day, both at home and in battle.  

Josephine and Libby are two sisters; Libby is the beautiful younger sister; Josephine is the "plain one".  Libby marries Arden, who I'm convinced would have become a horrible abuser if he'd survived the Civil War.  Unfortunately, he signs up on the Confederate side, and during the Battle of Antietam, he's gravely injured.  Libby, convinced she must see him to make sure he's safe, pulls Josephine along and into the thick of the battle.  Josephine finds Arden in the woods, dying.  Before Libby can make it to his side, he's dead.  Only Josephine knows what really happened:  did she help him on his way, or did he die from his wounds?  Libby becomes obsessed with avenging Arden's death and decides she will join the Confederate army disguised as a boy, and kill 21 Yankees--one for every year Arden lived.  Josephine won't let Libby go alone, so both cut their hair, practice their deep voices, and join the Confederate army.  Will they survive?

There's much more to this story, of course.  I won't tell you everything, you've got to read it to discover what happens to Josephine and Libby.  Does Arden continue to haunt Libby in her quest for revenge?  Will Josephine ever reveal what happened that day in the woods?  I loved this book!  The Hepinstall sisters write so beautifully, it's hard to put down.  I found myself lingering over the pages.  The destruction of war is played out against the love of family, the love of country, and the love of sisters who may be at odds with each other, but will do whatever it takes to help each other survive.  

Rating:  8/10 for a powerful story of love and revenge set against the American Civil War.  

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.