Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr

dragonfly songTitle: Dragonfly Song

Author: Wendy Orr

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: June 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Abandoned by the priestess of the island at birth, Aissa is an outcast, surviving by her wits – until she joins the acrobatic bull dancers who are sent away to compete on the island of the Bull King. A gripping and powerful adventure by acclaimed author Wendy Orr.

WINNER: 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award, Children’s Fiction
WINNER: 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, Children’s Literature
HONOUR BOOK: CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers, 2017

There are two ways of looking at Aissa’s story. She’s the miracle girl who escaped the raiders. Or she’s the cursed child who called the Bull King’s ship to the island.

The firstborn daughter of a priestess is cast out as a baby, and after raiders kill her adopted family, she is abandoned at the gates of the Great Hall, anonymous and mute. Called No-Name, the cursed child, she is raised a slave, and not until she is twelve does she learn her name is Aissa: the dragonfly.

Now every year the Bull King takes a tribute from the island: two thirteen-year-old children to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court. None have ever returned – but for Aissa it is the only escape.

Aissa is resilient, resourceful, and fast – but to survive the bull ring, she will have to learn the mystery of her true nature.

A riveting, mythic Bronze Age adventure from award-winning author Wendy Orr.

~*~

When Aissa is born, she is abandoned at birth, feared disfigured, and taken in by another family until raiders kill them. Alone in the world, she is found by others, and dumped at the gates of the Great Hall of one of the Greek islands of the Bronze Age. Mute and nameless, she is referred to as No-Name by the servants and seen as cursed – bad things happen around her and she is called the cursed child, and so this is her life for eight years until the lottery of the youths who will be sent to the Bull King – to dance with the bulls, on what is most likely the Minoan island, Crete, at Knossos. Banished from the Hall, she is living in a cave for a time, until she is sent away.

Aissa learns that she can sing snakes and animals, but not talk – and she doesn’t realise she is doing this. When the priestesses at the Bull King’s island discover this, they take her under their wing to train as a priestess. Yet when she sings the animals at the bull leaping, she is thrust back into the world of slavery.

Set in the Bronze Age, and drawing on the myth of the Minotaur, the Minoans and Knossos, Wendy Orr has created a world where the role of names and identity is important to knowing who you are, as well as playing with the traditional sacrifice myth – where the maidens and youths of the isles were sent to the Minotaur as tribute every seven years.

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The inspiration for the bull leapers comes from a fresco in Knossos known as The Bull Leaping fresco, depicting the ancient practice of bull leaping. In the novel, it is quite a dangerous affair, where many have died or been maimed over the years and have no returned to their homelands. The original painting is from around 1400BCE.  The true purposes for bull leaping are not clear – without being able to translate Linear A, despite it being close to Linear B, used by the Mycenaeans, much guess work is undertaken about Minoan society from the archaeological evidence on Crete and Santorini. Or at least, perhaps not enough is known to fully translate it.

bull leaping.jpg
The Bull Leaping fresco from Knossos, Crete, ca 1400 BCE

So this is where Wendy Orr starts to imagine what the bull leapers may have done, with a different take on the history and myths that are well known, through the eyes of a mute girl. To do so, the story is told partly in verse song, much like the oral tradition of the time, and the way the Odyssey has been written down, and partly in prose, exploring the rest of the story that way, and putting them together so the story is a whole entity and makes sense, and could easily fit within the mythic cycles, history and the traditions of works by Homer, and other epic poets of ancient times.

Minoan Bronze Age culture is not often used in books. Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman and the well-known stories of gods and goddesses are told. Perhaps because there is more to work with there, but surely there is also a sense of freedom in working with a culture where so much can be imagined and interpreted from the art and archaeology – until the scripts can be properly translated and give us more insight into the Minoans. It is the mystery of who they are and what they did that I think is what makes this book work, as so much must be imagined – but can also be drawn from the myths involving the island and the minotaur that it works well and I absolutely adored this book.

It is I think, appropriate for ages ten and older, for all readers, and can be the kind of book that just triggers an interest in that area of the world or history. For me, having studied the Minoans, I found it fascinating and then found myself tumbling down a rabbit hole of research into that area again, looking at frescoes. A great book and a good read to start the year and my many challenges.

Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess by Bettany Hughes

venus and aphroditeTitle: Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess

Author: Bettany Hughes

Genre: Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 242

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A vivid history of the ancient goddess Venus by the bestselling historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes

Through ancient art, evocative myth, exciting archaeological revelations and philosophical explorations Bettany Hughes shows why this immortal goddess endures through to the twenty-first century, and what her journey through time reveals about what matters to us as humans.

Charting Venus’s origins in powerful ancient deities, Bettany demonstrates that Venus is far more complex than first meets the eye. Beginning in Cyprus, the goddess’s mythical birthplace, Bettany decodes Venus’s relationship to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and, in turn, Aphrodite’s mixed-up origins both as a Cypriot spirit of fertility and procreation – but also, as a descendant of the prehistoric war goddesses of the Near and Middle East, Ishtar, Inanna and Astarte. On a voyage of discovery to reveal the truth behind Venus, Hughes reveals how this mythological figure is so much more than nudity, romance and sex. It is the both the remarkable story of one of antiquity’s most potent forces, and the story of human desire – how it transforms who we are and how we behave.

~*~

Many gods and goddesses from various religions and myth cycles from all over the ancient world have not only fascinated people throughout the decades and centuries, but often have many counterparts. Aphrodite and Venus are two such goddesses – the same goddess from two different societies, who have gone from Greek  to Roman origins, and have been found in other incarnations in other Near East or Middle Eastern ancient cultures where they have evolved and changed as the society has needed them in their pantheon of gods and goddesses in polytheistic religions that either pre-date or run concurrently with the monotheistic religions we associate with the modern equivalents of those places.

Bettany Hughes explores the Grecian and Roman sides of the same goddess – Aphrodite and Venus, and her role in art and the pantheon, and how she came to be in each tradition, and how this influenced arts, stories and other narratives and characters throughout history.

Venus-Aphrodite is a figure that is more than nudity, romance and sex. Like many gods and goddesses, she has many more roles and layers to her, and what she brings to mythology and the understanding of humanity and human emotion. This history adds to our understanding of a goddess who is often reduced to what she is known to represent and stand for in mythology, rather than the complexities behind what she does.

Rather than justify her actions throughout the various myth cycles, Bettany Hughes explores these as part of the history of Venus-Aphrodite and how she has been represented, and what this has meant in how she is viewed and builds on this with layers and complexities.

This is an intriguing book for anyone interested in antiquity, and especially women and their role in antiquity, which is only going to build on our understanding of women and their role in the ancient world. It will help bring to life these myths in a new and exciting way.

The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

the honourable thief.jpgTitle: The Honourable Thief

Author: Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 31/7/2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘Achilles? Because…?’
‘Obsession of mine. Half man, half god – and his own worst enemy. 
My kind of man.’ He laughed.

Istanbul, Turkey 1955

Benedict Hitchens, once a world-renowned archaeologist, is now a discredited – but still rather charming – shell of his former self.

Once full of optimism and adventure, his determination to prove that Achilles was a real historical figure led him to his greatest love, Karina, on the island of Crete and to his greatest downfall, following the disappearance of an enigmatic stranger, Eris.

He has one last chance to restore his reputation, solve the mystery of Eris and prove his Achilles theory. But it is full of risk, and possibly fatal consequences…

In her breakout novel, Meaghan Wilson Anastasios weaves an action-packed tale of honour, passion, heroes and thieves across an epic backdrop of history.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1955, archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is searching for proof that Achilles, a hero from the Trojan War legends, was a real person, and not just a myth in Homer’s Iliad and other interpretations of the Trojan War myth cycle. This is the main crux for the novel, despite there being no evidence to suggest Achilles existed, and it makes for a very compelling story about the intersection of mythology, history and archaeology, especially given that in ancient history, archaeological remains are perhaps what tell us the most about a society where written records may be mythology based or fragmented. But there is more to Benedict (Ben) than discovering the burial place and shield of Achilles. It’s been ten years since World War Two ended, and he is living with the scars and memories of loss, and tragedy that will never leave him. Living a lonely existence on archaeological digs across the peninsular that was home to the Trojans and the islands of Greece, such as Crete, where the Minoan and Mycenean civilisations thrived, Ben has become obsessed with proving the existence of Achilles.

This obsession deepens when he stumbles across the mysterious Eris, travelling to a home in Turkey where she reveals a cache of hidden treasures and archaeological finds that are linked to the period of history he is obsessed with, that he hopes will lead him to Achilles and in the aftermath of his fall from grace as an archaeologist, he hopes the discovery will restore his reputation.

But Eris has secrets, secrets she’s not willing to share with Ben, and throughout the novel, his encounters with Eris, Ilhan, a shady figure whose dealings helped bring about Ben’s downfall, and many other nefarious people, weave a mystery through the novel – the disappearance of Eris and the treasures, thieves, and forgery in the archaeological and ancient art community comes to light, and Ben is caught up in this web, finding items in unconventional ways, where he doesn’t realise whom it is for, and where secret upon secret is layered on to ensure he does not find out the truth.

The end was quite the surprise – equal parts unexpected and something I thought might happen, and as the novel moved back and forth between Ben’s present and his past, his motivations and reasons for feeling what he felt at times became clear, though there was always a sense that a Big Bad Thing had happened and happened to someone Ben cared about very deeply.

As a student of ancient history, the references to Crete, the Minoans, Homer and his lliad were some of my favourite things about the book – they instantly fell into a timeline in my head of this period and imagined him traipsing around the various sites such as Knossos and Troy in Turkey, where Schliemann excavated during the nineteenth century. It was an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and found engaging, just as much as the mystery was, which mainly took place in Turley and Greece, but occasionally went back to England and America. It is a gripping novel, where action and adventure, history and mythology intersect to create a chase to solve a question and obsession that has plagued Ben, and that he will do anything to ensure finds its rightful place in history.

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Swallow’s Dance by Wendy Orr

swallows dance.jpgTitle: Swallow’s Dance

Author: Wendy Orr

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Leira’s family flee to the island of Crete just before a huge volcanic eruption destroys their island and sends a tsunami to where they thought they had found safety. Another thrilling adventure by acclaimed author Wendy Orr.

I wonder if the first day of Learning is always like this – do the girls on the hill always feel the ground tremble under their feet?

Leira is about to start her initiation as a priestess when her world is turned upside down. A violent earthquake leaves her home – and her family – in pieces. And the goddess hasn’t finished with the island yet.

With her family, Leira flees across the sea to Crete, expecting sanctuary. But a volcanic eruption throws the entire world into darkness. After the resulting tsunami, society descends into chaos; the status and privilege of being noble-born reduced to nothing. With her injured mother and elderly nurse, Leira has only the strength and resourcefulness within herself to find safety.

A thrilling Bronze Age survival story from the acclaimed author of Dragonfly Song.

~*~

Ancient history, and in particular the Bronze Age and the Minoans, seems to be a period of history that novelists and authors don’t always use as inspiration, so it was a joy to be able to read Leira’s story.

Leira is a member of the Swallow Clan, a priestess to be living on Thera around 1625 B.C.E. Just as she begins her Learning to enter the world of a priestess, and eventually marry, Thera is rocked by an earthquake, and Leira’s world is shattered. Her family flees to Crete, and on the journey, her father enlists her help in trade and taking goods to market – where she begins to think about the seal stone her father discussed making for her. But all their dreams are shattered upon arrival at Crete, where they must work to survive, and no longer enjoy the privileges of their former life. They are refugees, fleeing the volcanic eruption that tore the middle of the island of Thera out, and caused a tsunami that would take many lives, and create the homeless refugees like Leira, and eventually, lead to the legends of a lost city called Atlantis.

Using the archaeological evidence and any other information available written in Greek, and translated or by historians who have excavated Thera and Crete, as well as the well-preserved frescoes of the Minoans, Wendy Orr has recreated the disaster that decimated Thera and that began the decline and end of the thriving Minoan civilisation on Crete.

Leira’s struggles are real – she is in a new world, without anything and thrust into things she doesn’t understand and has never done before. She is caring for her mother, injured in the earthquake that led to the volcanic eruption, and she has the woman who has worked for her family for years, Nunu, to help her and guide her as she adjusts to the new life. Nunu gives advice on what to do, and about the realities of their new life, but helps Leira understand – she doesn’t abandon Leira and her mother, seeing them as family.

AWW-2018-badge-roseSet in a time that is sometimes forgotten, and whose recorded history is uncertain because the language has not been translated yet, Swallow’s Dance is about a lost civilsation and its refugees seeking help, and being treated as slaves, sneered at and made to feel unwelcome, even though they are fleeing something that nobody could ever have predicted or prevented. It is perhaps even more interesting to read given the way refugees can and sometimes are treated in the world today still, illustrating that nothing has really changed, but that there are also good people, like Andras, the young guard Leira meets, and the women who work in the craft area, making pots, far from where she began in the fishing village and the purple works – who will help people when they need it most.

I really enjoyed this book – having studied the Minoans at school and in particular, Thera, it sparked my interest immediately and the history I knew informed my reading of this book, and helped me build Leira’s world.

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Egyptian Enigma by L.J.M. Owen

egyptian enigma.jpgTitle: Egyptian Enigma

Author: L.J.M Owen

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Echo Publishing

Published: March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 370

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Dr Elizabeth Pimms, enthusiastic archaeologist and reluctant librarian, has returned to Egypt. Among the treasures of the Cairo museum she spies cryptic symbols in the corner of an ancient papyrus. Decoding them leads Elizabeth and her newly formed gang of sleuths to a tomb of mummies whose identities must be uncovered.

What is the connection between the mummies and Twosret, female Pharaoh and last ruler of Egypt’s nineteenth dynasty? How did their bodies end up scattered across the globe? And is the investigation related to the attacks on Elizabeth’s family and friends back in Australia? Between grave robbers, cannibals, sexist historians and jealous Pharaohs, can Dr Pimms solve her latest archaeological mystery?

~*~

The third in the fabulous Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth Series sees Elizabeth on a sojourn with New York philologist, Henry, to Egypt. Here, she gets to visit the ancient sites she has read about, and write about her travels, whilst exploring the history that inspired her love of archaeology and ancient history. When her journal is stolen, and the holiday ends, Elizabeth returns to work at the library, and university. Her tutoring job is due to start, and she must contend with two students who are disruptive and talk over people, and disregard what she has to say, she has to edit the Olmec and Maya papers with Alice, and a new investigation into The Golden Tomb of Egypt begins, involving 3D printouts of skeletons to help identify the victims and establish what happened long ago during the New Kingdom and the erasure of female Pharaohs, such as Tausret, from the records, as people had tried to erase Akhenaten and his family in earlier generations. At the same time, she is still attending family therapy sessions with Matty and Sam, and their relationship is much nicer in this book, and Elizabeth is baffled by an attack on her beloved Taid, and the distanced Mai, who seems to have cut herself off from many around her as she struggles with the revelations of Mayan Mendacity.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe ancient and modern mysteries that Elizabeth faces are diverse and unique – but will she solve all of them, and find out who stole her journal? And what has her work colleague, Judy, been hiding about William Pimms death for the past few years? Elizabeth seeks answers to these questions as well, balancing work and family life as she gathers together a snoop of sleuths -herself, Alice, Nathan, Rhoz and Llew, working in Taid’s library during weekends.

As each mystery – the murder, Taid’s attack, Judy’s behaviour and disappearance, and the antagonistic students in her class progresses and thickens, Elizabeth finds herself caught up in her work – something quite admirable about her, that she has such hyper focus that it takes a sit down with her beloved Taid to work things out and pull her out of it at times – he’s one of my favourite characters, but many of the characters are pretty cool.

I absolutely adored this book, as it reminded me of how much I love Egyptian history, and it explored the period of the New Kingdom – 18th-20th Dynasty – that I am most familiar with, so reading about Akhenaten and Tutankhamen, and the Ramesses Pharaohs was thrilling. Nathan is also a favourite – he’s the kind of friend everyone needs, so caring, and delightful, but still, as with all the characters, with his own flaws that make him the person he is.

Mai grew on me in this book – and I loved how the family cared for her so much when they found out she was sick, and brought her into their lives to help her, and give her the family she should have had growing up. I love the way the family just comes together in a tragedy and has an understanding of each other that ensures nobody is ever forgotten.

There were of course two unsolved mysteries – one that appeared at the end of the novel, and that readers will need to wait for the next book, advertised in the back as Mongolian Mayhem. I can’t wait to see what other Intermillennial crimes Elizabeth and her snoop of sleuths get to solve next.

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Mayan Mendacity by LJM Owen

Mayan-Mendacity_low-res.jpgTitle: Mayan Mendacity

Author: L.J.M Owen

Genre: Crime/Historical Crime

Publisher: Echo Publishing

Published: November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 357

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Dr Elizabeth Pimms has a new puzzle.

What is the story behind the tiny skeletons discovered on a Guatemalan island? And how do they relate to an ancient Mayan queen?

The bones, along with other remains, are a gift for Elizabeth. But soon the giver reveals his true nature. An enraged colleague then questions Elizabeth’s family history. Elizabeth seeks DNA evidence to put all skeletons to rest.

A pregnant enemy, a crystal skull, a New York foodie, and an intruder in Elizabeth’s phrenic library variously aid or interrupt Elizabeth’s attempts to solve mysteries both ancient and personal.

With archaeological intrigue, forensic insight and cosy comfort, Mayan Mendacity takes readers back into the world of Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs Elizabeth’s new life as librarian and volunteer archaeological detective continues, a new mystery begins to unfold at the university as she bumps into Luke, and the girl he’s agreed to marry after having an affair with her. His gift to Elizabeth upon his return, is the betrayal and the delivery of remains from a Mayan site, that need sorting, cataloguing and investigating. Corralled into doing this, and writing a report on it, Elizabeth must find a way to spend time with her family, especially brother Matty, and attend the counselling sessions with her siblings, Matty and Sam, their sister. The family dynamic is complicated by work colleague Mai, who has been hostile without explanation to Elizabeth since Olmec Obituary, and the two are equally stubborn, refusing to talk, despite Nathan’s attempts, and Elizabeth’s resolve to remain calm throughout as she grapples with interference with the Mayan remains, and family expectations that she feels guilty about missing, though her loving grandparents are supportive.

The pregnancy that has trapped her ex, Luke, into a relationship with Kaitlyn, is yet another obstacle to overcome, and Kaitlyn’s determination to make Elizabeth look bad in her Mayan reports threaten to thwart all the hard work Elizabeth and Matty have done for the reconstruction. Between the challenges presented by Kaitlyn and Mai, will Elizabeth solve the case of Lady Six Sky?

Interspersed throughout the novel, the ancient case of Lady Six Sky and the remains is told in between chapters, slowly revealing what happened to the reader as Elizabeth investigates what happened based on the bones and archaeological remains.

The second in the Dr Elizabeth Pimms series, Mayan Mendacity, continues some of the questions left unanswered at the end of book one, and brings together the threads of relationships that started there. Elizabeth’s analytical, logical mind is constantly at work again, as she tries to put together pieces of various puzzles without muddling them up – and it is enjoyable to read about her doing this, and working in a field she loves, whilst being surrounded by the books and archaeology she so loves. As it is the second in the series, it moves along with a good pace and has a decent gap between the final events of the first book and the events of this one, ensuring the flow of characters works effectively and that will hopefully flow nicely into the subsequent books, the third of which, Egyptian Enigma has just been released and will be reviewed on this blog soon.

I think of all the characters, Matty, Taid, Elizabeth and Nai Nai are my favourites. Matty, for his resilience in the face of a disability that has affected him for most of his life, and his quest to overcome the obstacles thrown into his face to become a chef. Elizabeth, for her love of books, cats and history, and desire to uncover the truth behind the bones. Taid and Nai Nai are awesome grandparents, and all round fabulous characters. The diversity of the characters adds to what I enjoyed about this book, and the various ways in which they interact. I did feel poor Elizabeth was pressured by her sister Sam into things at times, and Sam often demanded, but I’m hoping her character grows over the course of the series.

Another great read from LJM Owen.

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Book Bingo Four: A book more than 500 pages, a book with themes of culture, and a book with a mystery.

 

 

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn my fourth book bingo, I have three books to include and link back to. At this stage, I have almost completed the fifth column on the square, with the final square needing a foreign translated book – yet to be decided. The others are all a little bit spaced out randomly at this stage, but for the most part, shouldn’t be too hard to fill. Whilst I was aiming to fill all of the squares with Australian women authors, with the exception of the translated novel and a novel by an Australian man, I have decided to fill them with what fits with any book as I read them.

Miss Lily 1So, for this week, I have three to report on. There is one that I have known will fit since signing up to this challenge, so let’s start there – A book with more than 500 pages. There are a few that fit into this category, but I chose Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French for this square. Set during the turbulent years of the First World War, Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies is the story of Sophie Higgs, an Australian from a wealthy family, learning ways of engaging men and the upper class of pre-war British society, a society that will come to change in the years of war that will soon plague Europe and the world. As with many of Jackie’s books, it tells the lesser known history, the stories of women – in all walks of life –  whose stories have been overlooked when recording history. It is a touching and emotional story full of ups and downs and gut punches that you don’t see coming, yet they work with the story, and the theme of the untold of casualties of war.

sealwomanAt the end of the second, is a book with themes of culture – The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson. The Sealwoman’s Gift tells the story of Icelanders taken into slavery by Barbary pirates in 1627, ripped away from what they know and transplanted – as all slaves were – into an alien culture where they are forced to adapt and assimilate. Ásta, the main character, struggles with her old identity and her new one, and the forced separation of her family. From Iceland to Algiers and back to Iceland, the differing cultures are referred to, and the uniting feature of story-telling of cultures shines through.

OLMEC_B_SMLFinally, my third square for this week is the fifteenth square, a book with a mystery. For this one, I read Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen, the first in the Dr Elizabeth Pimms series. It has a mystery – an ancient mystery. It’s cases so cold, only a trained archaeologist-cum-librarian can solve them. It is an excellent book with mysterious colleagues who show nothing but hatred, family secrets and ancient mysteries, where people want to cover up the truth. It is a great start to the series, and though the ending leaves a few unanswered questions, I am hoping these will be picked up throughout the series. The main character is well established, and it is a decent read with a good pace that keeps things interesting, going back and forth to build the mystery of the past and finally reveal what happened.

As I go through this book bingo, I am marking the squares off that are easily completed first or that are fairly broad and open, and leaving the more challenging ones for now, until I come across something that fits them.

book bingo 2018.jpg

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