Love and Home Grown Magic, by Patricia Bossano

When you hear the word ‘Magic’, what fills your mind? Stardust. Moonlight. Fairy god witches?

When you read the word, ‘Love’, what then sweeps your memories? Home, Family, Children, one’s first romance? Come, read this book, and let these things fill you.

The first time I read Love and Homegrown Magic it looked straight forward .. for a while. Here is the tale of a girl, Maggie, who grows to womanhood, falls in love, marries, and in time becomes the matriarch of an extended family. And the children grow and find love and marry, hard things sometimes happen, and love sometimes fades, and people die. But always dreams are nurtured..

Maggie dreams of her own garden and nursery enterprise. But ten years pass in raising three daughters, and then her husband, Angelo, insists on their return to their home country. A bleak feature looms. But Maggie rallies. She is sure her dream has heavenly endorsement. Beginning with tubs on the kitchen window sill, she creates the Jardines LunaRosa where the first roses- and Maries’ daisies- blossom from special plantings by moonlight by her small children. Reading this, I immediately saw and accepted that it was an enchanted garden.

Darkness cloaked the hillside home, but light, as if from a dozen chandeliers, spilled out of the kitchen window as the auras of the green witch and her daughters flickered in bright flashes to the rhythm of their chatter. … The stars looked down on their charges and twinkled approvingly.‘Ch. 23.

I read the book again; and again finished it with reluctance, because now it was over. “How does she do that?” I asked myself about author Patricia Bossano’s story telling skill. “How did she make it seem that way?” But you can’t look too hard into these sorts of qualities for fear the spell of it all, like dreams, will slip away.

Love and Home Grown Magic is indeed a story of family, for perhaps magic is created by ourselves at what we feel is home, if only, like Maggie, we look upon it that way.

Where to find Love and Home Grown Magic: published 2020 by Water Bearer Press: BookDepository (free shipping), Book Shop Org (supporting local bookshops), Amazon and more.

Patricia Bossano has also written Faery Sight, Nahia and Cradle Gift. I reviewed her Seven Ghostly Spins on this blog here.

Where to unshroud Seven Ghostly Spins: From BookDepository (free shipping worldwide) and Amazon in Kindle and soft cover, Barnes and Noble in Kobo and soft cover,  also Waterstones and Chapters Indigo. Hardcover editions are also available. Or, ask your friendly local bookstore to order it in for you, and for your friends who appreciate a frission of the supernatural.

Mark is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

What is it that makes the Attack at Fromelles resonate with Australians? ‘Don’t forget me, cobber’

Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle.
What is it that makes the Attack at Fromelles resonate with Australians? Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle from Odyssey Books comprises three fascinating WWI stories from Australian authors July 19-20, 1916 The Battle of Fromelles was Australia’s first action on the Western Front. It was disastrous. Arguably the worst 24 hours in Australian […]

Don’t forget me, cobber

Clare Rhoden, who wrote the above blog post, is the author of the novel, The Stars In The Night. Nora waits through the years for Harry to come home. But he harbours fears whether she can accept him after what he has been through. Eddie hopes for a life with French girl Claudelle. It is a story too of love between men, between the brothers-in-arms, Harry and Eddie, Wallis, Hartigan, Alex. From Gallipoli to Flanders the war thunders over all of them like the endless numbing artillery barrages. But it does not end for them when the guns fall silent. My review is here.

Another novel about WW1 that I have reviewed here on this blog ‘Nursing Fox‘ by Jim Ditchfield which focuses on the nurses who worked in field hospitals closer to the trenches than many people realise. You can read about it here.

Acknowledgement: The graphics shown here are by courtesy of Clare Rhoden and Odyssey Books.

Mark, your reviewer here, is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

When No One Is Watching: Poems by Linathi Makanda

The poetry of Linathi Makanda is both universal and about searing personal experiences. I think each reader will find something here that particularly resonates for themselves. Often poems can each be read as stand alone experiences whether or not they are linked with others. This compilation cries out to be read as one poem and journey.

‘Love Rising’

The four parts begin with ‘Love Rising’ and here the poet’s thoughts may at first seem to concern the common enough subject of poems, looking for love and yearning to be wanted for oneself. The poet is young and confident. She trusts in her love and her lover.

‘.. I am liberated.
Let us join hands on arrival, let us celebrate.’

But even in early pages there are suggestion that this is not going to be about starry-eyed love somehow resolving itself. The poet is already thinking beyond her situation to that of other women.

‘My mother never talks about love
Only about the men she’s lost.’

I was also intrigued that next to a joyous poem about her lover she places memories of her grandfather, good memories, which will be a contrast to her later bitter thoughts on men.

‘Love Lost’

Now the story evolves into one well known to too many, one of hurt, betrayal and self doubt while struggling to put on a brave front. The poet offers lines about thoughts people hide tightly within and do not share even with those they trust ( … ‘My mother doesn’t know’..). The poems are not complex, the language is the easy rhythm of spoken English, yet time and again Makanda can express the universal feelings of self doubt and insecurity in a few plain words.  This question, for instance, asked by all wounded souls, will inform the rest of the book.

Why can’t you see me?

‘Internal Uprising’

In the bitter lines of ‘Internal Uprising’, we see doubt and hurt rise to anger, anger directed to oneself as much as anyone. As the narrator curls up into depression, her thoughts turn again to where she could surely seek support, her mother. But she cannot ask:

‘How do I tell my mother I attract men who do not stay?
How do I tell her I attract men like my father?’

In the midst of lines about blaming all on men, she can still see that they are not the whole crux of her turmoil.

‘Sometimes these men do not hurt us.
We hurt ourselves.’

And then she is taken down and taken very low.

It smells like it wasn’t my fault but it feels like it was.

At this point, I just stopped reading.  I felt I had seen something too private and raw for some reader or other like me to stumble over even in a published book. I picked it up again because the poet has chosen to express the dark hour known to far too many women, and so it is for knowing.

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Hope Rising

 Because within this book each reader will find lines that resonate with their own memories, experiences and dark hours, I think it is important to know that the last part concerns Hope.  The narrator thrashes her way back above chasms of suicidal thoughts by caring about herself and expressing hope through art and poetry for fellow women. She is writing now:

‘ .. A letter to all the mothers who have daughters that hurt when on-one is watching.’

When No One Is Watching is an emotional journey for the reader and one well worth taking.

Linathi Thabang Makanda is a South African-based writer of poetry and prose. She strives to portray genuine emotion through her writing and photographic art. She believes in creating a home, through her crafts, for people trying to find their voices. Her website also offers work beyond her poems such as the videos Letters To The Ones We Miss. (Please be mindful of the trigger warnings.)

Where to find When No One is Watching, by Linathi Makanda.
Publisher Odyssey Books, from BookDepository (free shipping worldwide), also Bookshop Org, Waterstones, Amazon (in Kindle too) and Barnes and Noble .  (The images here are courtesy of the author and the publisher, Odyssey Books).

I encourage you to also consider the poetry of Loic Enkinga. How to Wake a Butterly can be found at Bookshop Org, at BookDepository (free shipping), Waterstones, Amazon in Kindle and also in paperback, and Barnes and Noble, among others. My review of this collection can be read here. This too is published by Ensorcellia, an imprint of Odyssey Books where you can find more fine poetry.

Mark is the guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Poetry: How to Wake a Butterfly, by Loic Ekinga

The author wrote How To Wake a Butterfly during a lockdown, when he was forced to look at his life and retrace the many things that have nurtured his character. His starting point is the famous reflection by Zhuangzi that begins, ” Once upon a time I dreamt I was a butterfly ..”

.. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know if I was then a man dreaming I was butterfly or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.

Within a few pages I sensed something of an irony in that choice of quote, for it becomes clear that the poet has too rarely been conscious of happiness until recently. Even birth was traumatic.

‘ .. the baby (you) is out out of here .. its a boy/ its a problem/ its a screaming caterpillar … Will the baby grow wings/ he has known so much hurt already (How it Began).

When he is about ten, mother leaves, leaving behind the boy and his brother with a hurt, silent father (‘We grew into hollow men, my brother and I’ ). Many years later he asks her why she went away (‘while I’m trying to hold her hand through the phone’).

‘I’ve found no comfort, son.
I left for you, because sometimes,
To save the hand, you cut off a finger’.

So young, he turns to comfort in prayers and religion but to no avail.

‘I was told, God listens to little boys’ prayers,
Yet I felt my heart sink and dry
On my pillow at night
Lke my parents’ marriage, In Jesus’ name, Amen.’
(On my Parents Divorce)

The poems move through Loic’s boyhood memories and he mentions terrible things – war, bombs, machetes. But he does not dwell on these. He reflects instead on the people who helped to form him: his parents, brothers, and in particular his grandmother. ‘Theres’s a father that never came close, A child that never left for school, a little boy crying in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. There’s an uncle telling him to man up, There’s a mother that never left a note ‘. Always he returns to the most important struggle of his life, as it seemed to me, to unlearn the silence that he had learned from his father.

‘My father taught me to be a wielder of silence’.

The sections on the poet’s early years and young manhood, Caterpillar and Cocoon, I found to be a challenging read, to be honest, with line after line sending me off on reflections of my own. However, in the last section, ‘Butterfly’, the poet emerges from the cocoon of heartache and doubts and is able to accept himself, He can allow himself not only to love but to be loved. And isn’t that what we all search for in the end?

So how do you wake a butterfly?

‘If you can, I say, – Without bruising its wings -With a hug’.

Loic Ekinga Kalonji is a Congolese poet, storyteller, and a screenwriting enthusiast. His work in poetry and fiction focuses on the human experience and memories.Loic has been featured in many online publications such as Type/Cast Magazine, Ja. Magazine, Poetry Potion, and The Kalahari Review. His experimental chapbook Twelve Things You Failed at As A Man Today was an honourable mention by JK Anowe for Praxis Magazine Online. His short story ‘Loop’ has been adapted into a short film. He is a finalist of Poetry Africa’s Slam Jam competition 2020. Loic currently resides in the south of Johannesburg where he reads, writes, and daydreams.

How to Wake a Butterly, by Loic Ekinga, is published by Ensorcellia, an imprint of Odyssey Books, in 2021
You can also find it at Bookshop Org, at BookDepository (free shipping), Waterstones, Amazon in Kindle and also in paperback, and Barnes and Noble, among others.

I encourage you to also look at, from Odyssey Books, When No One Is Watching by Linathi Makanda. See my review here.

Mark is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Alina: A Song For The Telling, by Malve Von Hassell

‘Something tugged at me – a dream of seeing distant lands’. Ch. 3.

‘Fourteen-year-old Alina refuses to accept the oppressing life her strict aunt wants to impose upon her. When the opportunity comes along for her to escape, she and her brother embark on a journey through the Byzantine Empire all the way to Jerusalem.’ Back Cover.

In the Spring of 1173, Alina and Milos, who are only 14 and 15 years old, set out from Provence. They have lost their parents, and although Milos is supposed to eventually inherit his father’s land, the estate is now controlled by their uncle and Alina’s has only a bleak unwanted marriage to a suitor selected by her aunt to look forward to. Alina’s lot in life is strictly limited due to her being a woman. But as we all know, once you leave home on a journey almost everything looks different. When the siblings reach the far land, the holy land, ‘Outremer’, almost anything seems possible, perhaps even an independent future which for Alina had been an impossible dream. And her dream is to become a trobairitz like Beatriz de Dia, that is, a woman troubadour.

I have always loved stories set in medieval times. I devoured books by Henry Treece, Geoffrey Trease, Rosemary Sutcliff, Alfred Duggan and Zoe Oldenburg. Most of these novels featured knights or barons – men in a male world. Only one or two, such as The Lady For Ransom by Alfred Duggan, placed a woman centre stage, and these were the wives of powerful men. In Malve von Hassell’s story, however, heroine Alina is very young, not well connected, not wealthy, not married, and not beautiful. What she does have is the highly valued gift of making music and song.

‘In Jerusalem, nobody will care that we are the children of an improvised troubadour .. or that his wife was falsely accussed of witchery.’ Milos to Alina, Ch. 3.

I enjoyed the children’s journey from Provence to Venice to Acre and on to Jerusalem almost as if I had become a tourist a thousand years ago and was seeing the sights for myself. Once in Jerusalem the pace changes as Alina and Milos rely on the dubious promises of crafty men and get drawn into the complexities of the court. The author skilfully disentangles the reasons for all the plots and factions and the competing suitors for the hand of princess Sibylla – who is even younger than Alina. I galloped through the last half of this story as suspicions mount and danger follows danger. This is book so deftly written that you would almost not realise the depth of the research it must have taken to create it. The story is fascinating and Alina is a wonderful creation. I also enjoyed the portrait of Princess Sibylla, imperious and arbitrary to Alina, but really just a child struggling to face her imminent responsiblities in a little kingdom facing danger on all sides. This is highly readable historical fiction.

Malve von Hassell is a writer, researcher, and translator.  On her website you can learn more about her works including Letters from the Tooth Fairy, written in response to her son’s letters to the tooth fairy, The Falconer’s Apprentice, her first historical fiction novel for young readers and The Amber Crane, a historical fiction novel set in Germany in the 17th century,

Learn more about Trobaritz, the women singers and song makers of the Twelfth Century, on Malve’s excellent blog, Tales Through Time. The quote that precedes the tale of Alina is by Countess Beatriz de Dia, who composed the one piece from that time that survives with musical annotations, the A chantar m’er.

Where to find Alina A Song For the Telling

Alina, A Song For The Telling, published by BHC Press 2020, is available through Bookshop Org, BookDepository (with free shipping), Amazon – including in Kindle and Audio, Waterstones UK, Booktopia, AbeBooks, Chapters Indigo and more.

Your host, Mark, is Mawson Bear’s Guardian, photographer, editor, blundering typist, chocolates fetcher and cushions re-arranger. Mawson’s own Blog is Mawson, A Writer-Bear for Our Befuddled Times.
Baffled Bear Books ABN: 4787910119.

Stars in the Night, by Clare Rhoden: A story of enduring love

1970 in suburban Melbourne: ‘That was how it happened, thought Harry, feeling the memories rise; they were never far away .. Trusting you to remember, trusting you to do something about it. As if you could fix things, mend the dead, put the world back the way it was.’

And so we go back into Harry’s memories, into the seared experiences that gave him nightmares for decades, back to the day in 1917 when Harry cannot find his foster brother Eddie. Harry searches. He crawls out of the Passchendaele mud in no-man’s land searching for him. He looks into dugouts and stumbles down communication trenches and he asks at Casualty Clearing Stations. Fifty years later his granddaughter comes upon an old notebook in the attic and asks him,”Who is Eddie?”

The Stars In The Night is a story of love. Nora waits for Harry but he harbours fears whether she can accept him after what he has been through. Eddie hopes for a life with Claudelle. It is a story too of love between men, brothers-in-arms, Harry and Eddie, Wallis, Hartigan, Alex. From Gallipoli to Flanders the war thunders over all of them like the endless numbing artillery barrages. But it does not end for them when the guns fall silent.

We only recently have begun to speak openly of PTSD and try to understand that it messes people up for a long time. Harry survives wounds and sickness and comes home, but in dreams he returns to no-mans’ land, still trying to rescue mates. The women have their losses too, made harder to bear by Harry’s inability to speak of things he simply does not want to bring to mind. Harry’s mother Ellen, for instance, cannot connect with him any more.

The mines and the shelling is like the end of the world. The worst we have seen, and we have seen some bad ones. Harry and me are fine but it makes you cry. There are so many dead you cant help but walk on them’. Eddies notebook.

Clare Rhoden takes us into this vast arena of events, from the debate in Australia about the rightness of the war, into terrible battles, and on through into the waves of pyschological effects upon those who survived and their families. These 220 pages hold material for a 1000 page book. But the author has brought large and complicated things down to the personal level by revealing them in the way that we all ordinarily talk to each other: through a household argument, the queries of a nosy neighbour, the grumbles of soldiers about the food and the cold, the guarded talk about Gallipoli by a sergeant to a fresh officer as they weigh each other up, and through diaries and letters home. This makes The Stars In The Night deeply personal and emotional. I got so caught up in it that I paused reading several times so as to absorb it. I cannot praise this novel highly enough both for its story and it’s technical execution.

Although it is about the experiences of Australian soldiers, this heartache and loss described in this novel could really be about the horror of any war, not just the one that millions prayed would be ‘The War To End All Wars.’ The character Harry Fletcher, like many veterans, could not bring himself to attend Anzac Day ceremonies but stayed quietly at home. Yet for anyone interested in the scars left by the Great War and thus the origin of the ‘Anzac legend’, the facts of it, and sometimes the mythology of it, this is a must-read.

Lest We Forget.

Note about ‘Anzac’ to readers unfamiliar with the term: The first units of Australians shipped out in 1915 were merged with the first New Zealanders into the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). Their losses in Gallipoli and later in France shocked both young countries. Australia, population four million in 1914, sent 417,000 volunteers to the conflict. 62,000 died. Both Australia and New Zealand suffered casualty rates of over 55% – killed, wounded, gassed, captured, marked as ‘missing’. The term ‘ANZAC’ endures.

Personal note 2020: As I began this book, Australia was dealing with the Black Summer and the whole world was attuned to news about some sort of virus. There was tension in the air, and for the first time I think I had an inkling of what it might have felt like in late 1914 in the households across nations as they readied for conflict, not knowing what lay ahead. On the day that I thoughtfully laid down The Stars in the Night, Anzac Day services were cancelled for the first time due to the menace of Covid-19.

Where to find The Stars in the Night:


From publisher Odyssey Books , from Book Shop Org (supporting local bookshops)from BookDepository (with free shipping worldwide) and from Amazon in softcover and Kindle, Barnes and Noble in soft cover Nook, Chapters Indigo, Booktopia, and Waterstones. Or, ask your friendly local bookstore to order it in for you.

Clare Rhoden has also written a dsytopian series called The Chronicles of the Pale. See more about the series at her website here. My review of the first book, The Pale, is here.

Another novel I have reviewed here on this blog about WWI is ‘Nursing Fox‘ by Jim Ditchfield which focuses on the nurses. You can read about it here.

Acknowledgement: The graphics shown here are by courtesy of Clare Rhoden and Odyssey Books.

Mark, your reviewer here, is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Stories by Rebecca Burns: The Settling Earth

The women in these stories voyaged from Britain to the ends of the earth, “the Antipodes”. Driven by hardship, propelled by hope, they left behind their old lives and strived to make new ones in New Zealand. But the settlers brought with them the same stultifying conventions and social constraints they had left behind. For women in particular, sometimes little seemed to have been gained.

Isolated on bleak farms or confined to soul-destroying boarding houses, these women are each at the mercy of men’s whims and male control of property. They live one slip away from destitution, and must reach deep inside themselves, getting past old ways of life and old conditioning, to do what they need to do to survive.

Each story is complete and satisfying in itself, and yet, like life, they are also connected by events or characters; so that the stories towards the end satisfyingly close the circle of themes raised by the earlier ones. The last story, by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori viewpoint of these arrivals.

 I found The Settling Earth to be a fascinating perspective into frontier New Zealand and Burns new novel Beyond The Bay further looks into life in a raw new country as seen through the eyes of two sisters in Auckland.

Novels and short stories by Dr Rebecca Burns

Where to find The Settling Earth: Published by Odyssey Books, The Settling Earth is at BookDepository, Amazon, and Bookshop Org, among others. More excellent short stories by Rebecca Burns can be read in Artefacts and Catching the Barramundi. Her novels include The Bishops Girl and Beyond the Bay. See her website here.

You are with Mark at Baffled Bear Books. I am guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears. Mawson has his own website too, called (wiggles ears modestly) Mawson Bear.

The Bishop’s Girl, by Rebecca Burns

And then, as the cloth was split in two, long, black hair tumbled forth, still attached to grey bones, now wet in the midday sun. …Behind, a crow called accusingly.’ Prologue.

A hundred year old mystery, secret lives, torn relationships. The Bishops Girl by Rebecca Burns.
Cover image shows the mystifying nurses smock that both excites and puzzles researchers for decades.
A hundred year old mystery, secret lives, torn relationships. The Bishops Girl by Rebecca Burns

My first impression of The Bishop’s Girl was of a quiet story of frustrated lives as two scholars in hushed archives are stymied in their own ambitions by their boss. And this is indeed one of the stories threaded amidst several layers in this novel. But then it becomes clear that this no less than a cold case detective story. From few clues arise many questions. Why, for instance, was the Bishop considered so important as to be dug up from a wartime district and then reburied in England? How did an unidentified woman come to be buried with him? Who was she? The scholars, Jess and Billy, find hints and fragments in the old letters but will these leads come to anything? And I read on enthralled by the mystery of it.

As we learn more of the unexpected century old romantic connection with Greece, and as Jess begins an affair, I found myself reading for the tangle of relationships between lovers, between spouses, between parents and children, and all of their messiness and importance.

But now, with hindsight, I think this absorbing and satisfying novel is mostly a story of secrets, especially of secrets within families, and how they can have far reaching repercussions. It is a great read on all these levels.

Where to find The Bishop’s Girl which is published by Odyssey Books. At BookDepository, Amazon, and Bookshop Org, and Waterstones, among others. More excellent short stories by Rebecca Burns can be read in Artefacts and Catching the Barramundi. Her novels also include Beyond the Bay. See her website here.

You are with Mark at Baffled Bear Books. I am guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears. Mawson has his own website too, called (wiggles ears modestly) Mawson Bear.

Artefacts and Other Stories, by Rebecca Burns

With skill and economy, Rebecca Burns allows us to slip into moments in the lives of her characters when the meaning and emotion of their struggles up to that point seems to compress. Memories overwhelm. New choices perhaps appear.

That compression of time can be triggered by an item, an artefact; perhaps a greatcoat, a letter, a bootie. Bits and scraps. Moments. Glimpses.

Artefacts lrg 2477

In ‘The Bread Princess’, we discover that an array of bonnets can give us impressions of the changing attitudes in a small community across a century. In other stories we view obliquely into the psychological impact of the 1914-1918 war through unexpected portals: a kitchen, a railway waiting room, a cricket match.

These snippets about each of Burn’s characters are like a sheaf of loose pages fallen from the larger books of their lives. We discover enough to give us a feel for who they are and to wonder what will happen to them, even while we must accept that we’ll never get to read all of their pages, just as we cannot ever really know someone’ else’s life story.

Where to find it: Amazon, BookDepository, Bookshop Org, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, Chapters Indigo and more. Or ask your friendly local bookshop to obtain it for you.

Artefacts and Other Stories, by Rebecca Burns is published by Odyssey Books. More excellent short stories can be found in The Settling Earth and Catching The Barramundi.

You are with Mark at Baffled Bear Books. I am guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Asena Blessed, Book 2 of The Chronicles of Altaica, by Tracy M. Joyce

The Chronicles of Altaica make for a great read, the kind that you keep reading as you stumble off the bus and still read right up until you arrive (sigh) at the door of the day job. Adventure and danger, hard rides and mountain crossings, spies and plots and murders, primal magic and goddesses, war and strategy, skirmishes and battles and desperate duels. Here is a whole world of rivalries, peoples, cultures and absorbing characters.

First, catch up by looking at my review of the first part of The Chronicles of Altaica in which villagers fled an invading army, got swept out to sea and then were rescued by people in another country that they knew nothing of.

My difficulty now is to urge you to read this sequel, Asena Blessed, without blurting out ‘spoilers’. The Cover tells us this: ‘Isaura has emerged from the spirit realm forever altered .. Caught between two ancient powers, Isaura must try to make her own path. .. Aid arrives from an unexpected source – one who knows no rules and respects no one.’ I will highlight some aspects of the world building and the characters that I particularly liked.

Animal guardians have become a feature in fantasy tales since their appearance in Phillip Pullman’s books. We readers may have grown used to these linked animals existing mainly for the sake of the humans, like enhanced pets. Tracy Joyce turns that idea on its head by considering the wild nature of the linked animal. What if the linked animal has it’s its own intentions? What if it could be too powerful and difficult to control? Some scenes in Asena Blessed took me by surprise because the guardian acted on its own account, and the result was not remotely cutesy

Complicated heroes. Throughout the first book the reader identifies with the dilemmas of the central character, Isaura. In Asena Blessed, however, she is swept unwillingly into the spirit realm and emerges more conflicted than ever. Her resulting actions are not necessarily noble at all times. I often blinked at the turn of events. ‘Did she really do that?’

Matriarchs and Female Warriors. To say this book includes ‘strong female characters’ is an understatement. Among the Altaicans, all adults train for fighting and the tattooed and hardened women ride with the men.Key movers in this story include the female keepers of lore known as ‘Kenati’, the matriarch of the wolf-like Asena clan , the Lady Malak, who strives to undermine the power of the tyrant Ratilal, and an intervening female spirit who may or may not be a goddess but who in any case seems to be playing her own game.

Plausible Warfare: We have all endured movies and novels in which the fighting scenes are over the top: every warrior somehow knows all the modern martial arts. Bows fire multiple arrows at a time, arrows and sword blades cut like lasers through the heaviest body armour, and so on until it all gets silly. Not so here. The tactics, weapons, armour, siegecraft and melees are based on the authors research of warfare in our own non-Altaica world. The fighting here is brutal, the wounds nasty, and soldiers do appalling things to civilians. This is a fantasy world but it is no fairy tale.

The Chronicles of  Altaica: are published by Odyssey Books. The beautiful covers, full of meaning about the stories within, are designed by Karri Klawitter. You can obtain signed copies at Tracy Joyce’s website and also read about the forthcoming third book in the series. You can also read FREE COPIES of ‘Rada’, a story set in the Zaragarian Empire 16 years before the Chronicles begin.

Where to find Asena Blessed: Book Depository, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And if you would like your dollars to go to other than the giant companies, consider these retailers:
Bookshop.org, Booktopia, AbeBooks, Chapters Indigo.

(Images on this post are courtesy of publisher Odyssey Books and permission of the author.)

Your host, Mark, is Mawson Bear’s Guardian, photographer, editor, blundering typist, chocolates fetcher and cushions re-arranger. Baffled Bear Books ABN: 4787910119.

Altaica, Book 1 in the Chronicles of Altaica, by Tracy M. Joyce

I made a classic blunder with this first book of the Chronicles of Altaica by having  ‘just a quick look’ during my lunch break. By the time I looked up I had escaped rampaging armies, got embroiled in village jealousies and tensions, fought off invading scouts, got swept out to sea on a raft .. And was late to get back to work!

It was months before I obtained the sequel, Asena Blessed. Before touching it, I read the first book again. I enjoyed it even more this time, absorbing more of the interplay of the characters, the skill of the world building, and quite simply the story.

‘Her stories are gritty, a little dark and morality is like quicksand.  You won’t find any unicorns or fairies here.’ (Tracymjoyce.com.)

As the refugees on the raft drift at the mercy of ocean currents they become suspicious of one another, and particularly of healer Isaura, even though her skills with a bow had saved their lives. Ah, but in their codes of behaviour women ought not to fight at all, let alone kill.

‘Two things your race is known for -magic and murder. Hill clan witch!’ …. No one would look at Isaura, no one would speak to her.

The action now shifts to the peoples of Altaica, ‘a land rich in tradition; ruled by three powerful clans. with a history marked by warfare; where magic as we know it does not exist. Instead what is here, in abundance, is a more primal power. (Back cover.)’ Umniga, a wise woman, discovers the strangers and has her reasons for wanting to rescue them, altruism not being the first. Umniga and her acolyte Asha persuade the ruling clan chiefs to help.’

‘By the gods, how long have they been on this boat? How much longer can they last?’ Umniga the Kenati of Bear Clan.

 Now begins a canny play of brutal politics between the clans. The refugees have not arrived at a peaceful land! Ambushes, plots, murder, hard rides, sieges .. the pace doesn’t let up. A great read about people responding to the shock of having to make a new life among strangers. Plenty of battles too.

As I ready to plunge into Asena Blessed, I am full of questions, in particular, what are the ‘Asena’ and why do they have their own quarrel with a seeming goddess; and will Isaura’s raw and unpracticed powers do more harm than good? Now I open the next book and, yes, I am straight into a world of raw magic and unexpected twists once again. Review soon.

The Chronicles of  Altaica: are published by Odyssey Books. The beautiful covers which are full of meaning about the stories within are designed by Karri Klawitter. You can obtain signed copies at Tracy Joyce’s website and also read about the forthcoming third book in the series.

Where to find Altaica:  Book Depository, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And if you would like your dollars to go to other than the giant companies, please consider these retailers:
Bookshop.org, Booktopia, AbeBooks, Chapters Indigo , Desertcart.

(Images on this post are courtesy of publisher Odyssey Books and permission of the author.)

Your host, Mark, is Mawson Bear’s Guardian, photographer, editor, blundering typist, chocolates fetcher and cushions re-arranger. Baffled Bear Books ABN: 4787910119.

The Esme Trilogy: Esme’s Gift, by Elizabeth Foster

A parade of craft cruised the lagoon: gilt-edged ferries and gondolas in jewel-like colours – dazzling blues, crimsons, emerald greens. Sea dragons looped above the rooftops, twisting their sinuous forms … . Esme’s Gift Ch. 3.’

Mark, guardian of Mawson Bear says: Oh dear, our world is not in its finest shape right now, is it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be elsewhere. Fortunately, I have to hand Esme’s Gift, the sequel to Esme’s Wish (see my review here and my re-visit here) and I can plunge once more into another world and see again the towers of the city of Esperance and the siren islands of Aeolia.

Esme returns to Aeolia after her failed attempt to convince her father to join her. The evil Nathan Mare is at large and intent on finding the secret knowledge entrusted to her. But high-school waits for no teenager, and in the classrooms and library of Pierpont school she can find friends and allies. And what a library it is.

(Ancient gondalas) repurposed into shelves, lined the library’s walls … No longer fit to carry passengers, they now carried books to the shores of the readers’ minds. Esme’s Gift Ch. 12.’

Esme must gather the strange ingredients of the only elixir that can save her mother. To obtain these elements takes all her courage and all the combined gifts and powers of her friends. But some people are not who they seem to be, and the tension never lets up.

Esme’s Wish and Esme’s Gift are written by Elizabeth Foster with the ‘Young Adult’ audience in mind. But if you happen to be older (after all, some of us have yet to find a potion to wind back the years – and if the high risk alchemical experiments in Esperance are anything to go by, we should stay well away from any such potions or concoctions, or who knows what could happen!) .. if you are an older reader who loves beguiling fantasy worlds and tales of ghosts and of quests into caverns guarded by monsters and ghouls, and if you also don’t object to dragons .. The books of the Esme trilogy will be a treat for you.

Reading of Esperance in Aeolia, a realm of seas, islands, lagoons, oh – and dragons.

Where to find this other world: Esme’s Gift is published by Odyssey Books, a small press where ‘books are an adventure’. You can immerse yourself in this trilogy by looking at Amazon Australia, at Amazon USA, at Book Depository , at Barnes and Noble, and more. You can see more about Esme’s search for her mother and about the author, Elizabeth Foster, on her web den.

You have wandered into Mark’s blog. I am guardian and photographer for Mawson Bear, one of this bright world’s very few Writer-Bears. Mawson wrote She Ran Away From Love and It’s A Bright world To Feel Lost In.
Reviews about Mawson’s books: ‘Great book, well written and extremely engaging. Bonus it is all about bears!!!! Marvellous !!!!!!!’  Reviewer Navaron on Amazon. ‘ A magical little grand tour into the meaning of happiness’ Sharrie Williams, author, on Amazon.