Geoff Nelder is one of those writers who seems to be able to work across multiple genres seamlessly. There’s always an element of action, a hint of steamy romance, and his trademark twist. In his latest novel, Xaghra’s Revenge, the twist is a mixture of history, science, horror and fantasy. The research that underlies this novel is obviously impeccable. The narrative is built on the true story of Turkish pirate Rais Dragut, a brutal and deranged man who, in 1551, captured the entire population of Gozo, one of the Maltese islands, and sold whoever survived the terrible journey into slavery in Northern Africa.
This novel is more than just another a period piece of fiction. Crowhurst has written an evocative experience: a time-machine back to three and a half centuries ago into a world so unlike the present day that it actually become entangled and is essentially involved in generating our present heritage. This is set in a time before those childhood nursery rhymes were yet to be constructed as political satire and when the Dutch were the current adversary. Mix up the wrong potion and you could be accused of witchcraft.
Burns’s novel is set in Chicago in 1919. Her choice of poem to quote at the beginning and set the tone for the story is inspired. “Working Girls”, by Carl Sandburg, is about the “river of young woman-life” in that city, as factory and office girls headed off to work each morning. He contrasts the “green” stream of young innocent energy with the “gray” stream of more experienced women who say, “I know where the bloom and laughter go, and I have memories.”
In the end, one of the main characters enjoys a sober happiness, but under it “ran a thin vein of sorrow what millions like her would feel down the years.” To educate readers while entertaining them is no small achievement. Simonson deserves critical as well as popular acclaim for pulling it off in a subtle way.
I would categorize this book as historical fiction first and foremost, though it is touted as magical realism. I had this in the back of my mind as I read, but other than Beulah’s mysterious arrival in town and her omnipresence for most of the rest of the book, the “magical realism” elements weren’t obvious—until the end. This is where Graham’s gift of storytelling shines through
The “bonus” in “Bonus Army” or “Bonus Expeditionary Force” refers to the bonus for wartime service, a tradition in the U.S. ever since the War of Independence. A law passed in 1924 during the Coolidge administration stipulated that World War I veterans were to get a bonus in the form of a certificate redeemable twenty years later. In 1930 and 1931, when the impact of the economic downturn following the 1929 stock market crash was making itself felt, unemployed veterans demanded their bonus immediately.
Anselme’s approach is to dig deep into the attitudes and motivations of three soldiers who are home on leave, let loose in Paris for a week or two. He shows us the distance between civilians safely ensconced at home and combatants who are fighting an unpopular war – a situation we have since come to know only too well. For sure, there is no sanctuary: these three guys may as well be ghosts, they’re on their own. Adrift from lovers, friends and family.
No One is here Except All of Us is an exquisite, circular tale that takes us back to where we started – where we all start – at birth, where we create the world afresh. It’s full of wonder even in the midst of the most dire tragedies. Beautifully written, full of pain and poetry, this is a book that opens histories most intense and painful moments and shows what survives: love and DNA.
The names of these characters alone would be enough to inspire a novel, but Forsyth goes deeper, exploring a range of themes that includes the impact of tyranny (shown on multiple levels – both domestic and historical), emotional strength and weakness as manifested in drug addiction and prejudice, and the enduring power of the human spirit and love even when under great duress. In short, The Wild Girl is a novel that speaks, like the fairy tales that are woven deftly throughout the narrative, to the very nature of human existence in all of its frailties and strengths.
It would be a shame if readers overlook this vivid, sensuous novel because of the plain cover and cryptic title. Written in the third person, it reveals the heart and mind of a girl in her late teens who blossoms in the art world. Irish-born, London-based Cherry Smyth, the author, is uniquely qualified to write such a novel, being an art critic, curator, poet and creative writing professor.