Book review: Cliff of the Ruin

5 Sparkly Stars for ‘Cliff of the Ruin’ by Bonnie McKernan

Cliff-of-the-Ruin

Tahlia Newland, guest reviewer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cliff of the Ruin by Bonnie McKernan is an awesome historical fantasy with complex undercurrents, spiritual depth and many surprises. It takes us from post revolution America, across the ocean to Ireland and into the lair of the Shee (the Sidhe).

The story begins like a straight historical novel. Mae lives with her aunt and uncle, and their children, Aaron, a young man, and Charlotte, still a child. All of them are keen to find a husband for twenty six year old Mae, but after a broken engagement, she isn’t particularly interested in taking the risk of opening up again.

Until she meets the man on the riverbank.

Kieran the fisherman was so beautiful, that I suspected some other worldly intervention, but the full truth of what was to become a mystery around this man only became clear at the end. The influence of the Shee grew as the story progressed, and I found myself gradually drawn deeper and deeper into a world where spaces dwelled within spaces and time had a different meaning.

After a shocking revelation about her supposedly dead father, Mae disappears with Kieran for two weeks, then returns with a fever, a ring on her finger and no memory of how it got there. Clearly, Kieran is a scoundrel, and Will, a handsome lawyer friend of Mae’s uncle, is called in to help sort out the mess. Mae must become free of this husband, but the options for divorce for women in the nineteenth century were limited.

To reveal more of the story would do the potential reader a disservice, so I will only say that the plot is full of unexpected twists and turns, and the end provides a dramatic culmination of a rich story. The pacing is impeccable, and there is nothing extraneous yet everything we need to go deeply into the characters which are finely drawn and very real.

Mae, Will, Aaron and Finegal, the old man who befriends them on the ship, positively leap off the page. Each have their secrets, their flaws, and their ghosts from the past, and for Mae and Will in particular, their journey to find the scoundrel husband and force a divorce becomes one of personal reckoning and eventually healing.

Will in particular is an interesting character, his qualities of faith, strength and discipline are endearing, and his words to Mae about love underline the theme of the book.”A love that rests on beauty is meaningless.” He also says that though God is love, love is not God. A distinction that becomes clear in the actions of Petra, a Shee woman who wants to keep Kieran for herself.

The other major theme is that of forgiveness. It is clear from this story that bearing a grudge brings no happiness and rights no wrongs, and that no matter how much others forgive us, we are only forgiven when we forgive ourselves.

There are some lovely passages and snippets of wisdom in the book, like this one from Mae’s aunt when referring to issues in our life that we would rather forget, but need to deal with.

“No. Not forget. We never forget.” Aunt Gwendoline caressed her cheek. “To drain poison from the memory.”

And this lovely metaphor as a description of the state of grace that came over Will when he put his trust in God.

He didn’t need to search for the truth or even test it; it poured over him now and filled him like a dried up sponge becoming new again.

Details:
Cliff of the Ruin, by Bonnie McKernan
Published by Abbott Press, 2012
Paperback, 416 pages
Buy at Amazon

Tahlia Newland writes heart-warming and inspiring contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and visionary fiction at tahlianewland.com, and she also writes reviews for AwesomeIndies.com

tahlia newland visionary fiction author

Tahlia Newland

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Book review: Infinite Sacrifice

Delightful historical vignettes can’t overcome weakness of reincarnation theme

Infinite Sacrifice LE Waters spiritual fiction metaphysical novel new age fictionRating: 4 out of 5 stars

When I view Infinite Sacrifice as four interconnected vignettes, I fall in love with the characters and their personal triumphs and tragedies. Each vignette is a first-class example of short historical fiction. However, when I read the book  as spiritual fiction with a reincarnation theme, the novel falls short. Reincarnation is used more as a trope to tease the reader than as a substantial theme that reveals insights into the life of the soul.

Story:  Maya’s shocked to discover it’s not the heaven she imagined; in fact, a life of adventure begins the moment you die. Zachariah, her faithful spirit guide, explains the rules of the dead: in order to regain complete awareness and reunite with loved ones, all souls must review their previous lives. Maya plunges warily into her turbulent pasts as a sociopathic High Priest in ancient Egypt; an independent mother protecting a dangerous secret in glorious Sparta; an Irish boy kidnapped and enslaved by Vikings; and a doctor’s wife forced to make an ethical stand in plague-ridden England. All the while, Maya yearns to be with those she cares about most, and worries that she hasn’t learned all of heaven’s most vital lessons. Will she be forced to leave the tranquility of heaven to survive yet another painful and tumultuous life? Or worse, accept the bitter reality of having to go back alone? (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Low. Between incarnations, Maya must review four of her past lives and integrate the lessons from each. Although the historical vignettes are very well researched and written, there is virtually no spiritual or metaphysical content even though the novel’s premise sets up that expectation. The epilogue, which purports to show how Maya assimilates the lessons, is very disappointing. A quick re-hash of the complex interactions among the various characters over time simply isn’t enough to carry the reincarnation theme successfully forward. Even though the tables for tracking the characters across lifetimes is helpful, it is difficult to trace what the lessons are and how Maya evolves spiritually.

My take:  When I view the novel as loosely connected stories set in ancient Egypt, Sparta, the Viking invasions of Ireland, and England wracked by the Black Death, I enjoy the story and characters immensely–especially the vignette set in Sparta. Waters’ exploration of Sparta’s cultural norms, particularly for women, is fascinating and insightful, and Waters finds unique tidbits in every time period that engage the reader. Waters is an excellent researcher and writer with a knack for vivid detail and a fine grasp of storytelling.

However, Maya’s story, which frames the vignettes and provides context for the reincarnation theme, feels wispy and insubstantial. The storyline hints at great intrigue and drama in upcoming books, but there’s not enough realistic detail and emotional engagement in Maya’s personal story to make me want to read the next book in the series.

Details:
Infinite Sacrifice, by L. E. Waters
Rock Castle Publishing, 2011
Paperback, 282 pages
Buy at Amazon

Guest review: Celtic Twilight by W.B. Yeats

The Melancholy of a Gentle Race

yeats-celtic-twilight-metaphysical

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Guest reviewer– Reviewed by Judy Croome, Johannesburg, South Africa

In his retelling of the folktales of “The Celtic Twilight,” WB Yeats reaches back into his Irish roots to explore the tension between a by-gone age, where the connection to the Divine was part of life, and his contemporary age, where science and reason too easily dismiss that which is unseen.

Story:  The Celtic Twilight includes forty-two Celtic folklore tales, and Yeats — who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 — makes no secret of his fascination and even belief in the world of the occult and the existence of faeries. Yeats’ passion in these tales comes forth through the pages and adds a new dimension to these age-old tales. Though the stories are short in length, there is no scarcity of depth. (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Every story is steeped in mystical elements and ancient wisdom.

My take: In The Celtic Twilight Yeats, the spiritual mystic and poet, is in ascendance over the Nobel prize winning playwright. He gathers a delightful assortment of old Irish Folktales dealing with the Faerie, and the world beyond the veil of understanding. The stories are told with a casual acceptance of the existence of spiritual truths beyond our rational knowledge, tinged with embarrassment at that acceptance.

Underpinning the beautiful, lyrical writing, lies the melancholy of a gentle race, a mystical race, whose ancient wisdom has become lost as the world progresses scientifically and intellectually:

“…that decadence we call progress … they are surely there, the divine people, for only we who have neither simplicity nor wisdom have denied them, and the simple of all times and the wise men of ancient times have seen them and even spoken to them.”

The significance of these tales, apparently told to the poet by simple, country folk, is almost cautionary. Scattered throughout the stories are hints at Yeats’ despair for humanity, for the spiritual centre that is struggling to hold in an evolving world becoming ever more sceptical of the presence of the Divine and materialistic in their ambitions:

“… all who sought after beautiful and wonderful things with too avid a thirst, lost peace and form and became shapeless and common”

This shift away from the “Golden Age,” the age where the Divine presence permeated life on all levels, is not beneficial:

“… still the kindly and perfect world existed, but [lies] buried like a mass of roses under many spadefuls of earth”

“They are getting tired of the world. It is killed they want to be” (the second, amended, edition of this book was published in 1902 – the end of the Anglo Boer War, a dozen years before the Great War and only a generation away from the horrors of World War II)

For all his lamentations about a more kindly world than his contemporary world of the early 20th century (or ours in the 21st century for that matter!), Yeats never completely gives up either his belief in a mystical world which rational understanding can never quite explain, nor the hope that the connection between man and the Divine can be regained.

The text is not always easy to read due to the archaic prose style (single paragraphs flow over more than one page with no break) and there were numerous typographical errors in this particular e-Edition (Digireads.com July 1, 2004.)

Despite this mild challenge, though, the overall effect was of holding an intimate conversation with a master storyteller. I could feel the damp Irish night air; I could smell the peat fire burning; I could hear the soft lyrical tones of a man whispering his understanding of things beyond my ordinary knowledge…and I swear, at times, I heard the tinkling laugh of a Faery, there, just beyond my sight.

Details:
The Celtic Twilight by William Butler Yeats
Published by Digireads.com July 1, 2004
Paperback, 330 pages, Kindle Edition (File Size: 152 KB)
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Guest reviewer: Judy Croome lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. Shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition, Judy’s  independently published novel, Dancing in the Shadows of Love (2011) and her debut collection of poetry “a Lamp at Midday” (2012), are available from Amazon and other on-line stores. Visit www.judycroome.blogspot.com  or follow Judy on Twitter @judy croome.

Book review: Until the Next Time

Riveting suspense drives masterful Irish reincarnation novel

Until the Next Time Kevin Fox spiritual fiction metaphysical novel reincarnation

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Kevin Fox’s reincarnation novel explores political strife, religious intolerance, and enduring love that spans centuries, played out against the lush backdrop of Northern Ireland. He doles out hints and teasers so skillfully that the story rushes forward at breakneck speed as you chase down clues until the entire puzzle falls into place–revealing a satisfying portrait of romance, spirituality, and history that transports you to an Ireland you may not have known existed.

Story: For Sean Corrigan the past is simply what happened yesterday, until his twenty-first birthday, when he is given a journal left him by his father’s brother Michael—a man he had not known existed. The journal, kept after his uncle fled from New York City to Ireland to escape prosecution for a murder he did not commit, draws Sean into a hunt for the truth about Michael’s fate.

Sean too leaves New York for Ireland, where he is caught up in the lives of people who not only know all about Michael Corrigan but have a score to settle. As his connection to his uncle grows stronger, he realizes that within the tattered journal he carries lies the story of his own life—his past as well as his future—and the key to finding the one woman he is fated to love forever.  (From amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Using the framework of The Troubles in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, Fox illustrates that, on both an individual and societal level,  belief in reincarnation can provide a “different  set of moral guideposts” than enables people to seek justice instead of retribution, and eventually move on to “a more aware and enlightened way of  living.”

An intriguing mixture of ancient rites, Buddhist principles, and “enlightened” Catholicism drive the story at a relentless pace. Reincarnation and Catholicism? It’s a more natural fit than you might suspect. A recent article in the Catholic Herald states that 29.9% of self-described Irish Catholics believe in reincarnation. Fox presents a persuasive case, pointing out that reincarnation has been a feature of nearly every world religion except Christianity, and that Jesus’ actual words support reincarnation even though later Bible authors have reinterpreted their meaning.

This spiritual novel suggests that some people can remember their past lives more easily; that knowledge is passed down through families and within clusters of those who remember. Using an ancient Druid rite of passage, they awaken others because, when individuals view their actions through the broader lens of reincarnation, penance and forgiveness can occur mindfully in one or two lifetimes instead of playing itself out over many generations.

My take: The power of Until the Next Time  springs from Fox’s  remarkable ability to thread extensive historical and philosophical detail into crisp dialog and a clever plot that drives every character’s decisions. Similarly themed spiritual fiction sometimes adds a layer of pedantic preaching atop the plot, but Fox handles exposition so smoothly, it rarely disturbs the reader’s immersion within the story.

Understanding reincarnation is both the heart of the novel’s conflict and the key to resolving it. Fox uses the sprawling canvas of Northern Ireland and England spanning millenia to demonstrate how the typically abstract theory of reincarnation has shaped the Corrigan family’s history in very concrete ways. The characters’ choices determine their karma/fate/destiny; negative choices require penance and forgiveness, often through multiple lifetimes, until they absorb a particular lesson. This is not a philosophical notion for the Corrigans but a pattern of brutal action and reaction that drives war and aggression across centuries, culminating in Ireland’s Bloody Sunday and the brutal crackdown that followed.

Fox is a remarkable writer; he employs dialect so skillfully that I could hear an Irish lilt echoing in my head as I read. The novel’s structure is complex–three parallel stories spanning multiple generations, told through two points of view. Figuring out who is narrating the story is tricky at first, but the reader catches on fairly quickly. Beautifully written and paced, the novel’s spiritual and historical reach took my breath away. I immediately searched Amazon for more novels by Kevin Fox; regretfully, they do not exist yet. Until the Next Time is a wonderful example of how, as Fox explains, “Fiction is the lie that illuminates a greater truth.”

Details:
Until the Next Time, by Kevin Fox
Algonquin Books, 2012
Paperback, 400 pages
Buy at Amazon