Pre-Release Review: Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron

Beneath_the_Mother_Tree_cover-195x300Title: Beneath the Mother Tree

Author: D.M. Cameron

Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spine-chilling mystery and contemporary love story, Beneath the Mother Tree plays out in a unique and wild Australian setting, interweaving Indigenous history and Irish mythology.

On a small island, something sinister is at play. Resident alcoholic Grappa believes it’s the Far Dorocha, dark servant of the Faery queen, whose seductive music lures you into their abyss. His granddaughter Ayla has other ideas, especially once she meets the mysterious flute player she heard on the beach.

Riley and his mother have moved to the island to escape their grief. But when the tight-knit community is beset by a series of strange deaths, the enigmatic newcomers quickly garner the ire of the locals. Can Ayla uncover the mystery at the heart of the island’s darkness before it is too late?

Wrought with sensuousness and lyricism, D.M. Cameron’s debut novel Beneath the Mother Tree is a thrilling journey, rhythmically fierce and eagerly awaited.

 

~*~

I received permission from the publisher to post this review before publication date to generate interest and buzz for the debut author.

The novel opens with Ayla hearing a tune played on a flute as she swims at the edge of her wild island home, where Indigenous history and Irish mythology are interwoven, and there is an understanding in the community of what happened in the past, and respect from all characters towards each other and this past. Ayla has spent her whole life on this island – and its history – Indigenous and white, and the tales of Far Dorocha and other Irish myths that she has been told by her Grappa, have informed her and created her identity.

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Riley and his mother have just moved to the island following the death of his stepfather, and instantly, Ayla’s grandfather senses that something sinister is at play when the mysterious deaths begin – and he tries to ban Ayla from seeing Riley. But as the story ebbs and flows between the viewpoints of Ayla and Riley, and at times, Riley’s mother, Marlise, the mystery that is gripping the island deepens, and it is up to Ayla and Riley, with the help of advice from friends, Riley’s stepfather’s books and the history of the island that Ayla has grown up with, they begin to look into the mysterious deaths that have occurred since Marlise arrived, and hopefully, solve the mystery that has almost destroyed the island and those that live there.

What I liked about this novel was the care that D.M. Cameron took with her research into Irish mythology and the research into the Indigenous history of the Quandamooka people and the islands near Stradbroke and Moreton Bay, and has ensured that she gave the utmost respect to these stories. This made the story richer and gave a better experience with the facts of Indigenous history, and the stories and experiences of Ayla’s friend, Mandy woven throughout.

The islanders are bonded by history and mythology, and by a tragedy that claimed the lives of two fishermen many years ago. Things are peaceful, and tranquil, as though the characters have reached an understanding of the past and what is to come, until Riley and his mother arrive. It is their presence that beings to haunt the island – and bring a feeling of unease to the novel as the reader wonders just what their motive for being there is. I found Marlise to be a suffocating character, and I suppose she was, when I think about the way she tried to control Riley. Ayla, Riley and Mandy were breaths of fresh air, and definitely my favourite characters.

Intertwined with the Indigenous history that the author carefully leant about from members of the Quandamooka community, and included sensitively, and I felt in a way that didn’t shy away from the horrors history sometimes does, and Irish mythology of the Fae, is the mystery of the deaths that Grappa says are caused by Far Dorocha, whom he thinks Riley is when he sees one of the flutes that Riley has made. I felt a sense of relief when Ayla managed to bring her Grappa around and like Riley and help him to not only uncover the mystery of what was happening on the island, but the mystery of his father, and what really happened to him. The combination of myth, history and mystery creates an atmospheric novel with a well-paced structure that climaxes effectively towards the end, and brings together the strands of history, mystery, and myth in an effective and emotive way that has the power to unite people.

I enjoyed this novel, gobbling most of it up over an afternoon yesterday. D.M. Cameron is an evocative new voice in Australian literature, and I hope she writes more novels that weave history and mythology throughout as I enjoy that sort of book.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

CirceTitle: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Genre: Fantasy/Mythology Retelling

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 10th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. 

Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born.

Yet after her sister Pasiphaë marries King Minos of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril.

In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.

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Set in Ancient Greece, daughter of the sun god, Helios. and naiad, Perse, Circe is cast aside in the halls of their home as an outsider, mocked by her siblings and other gods, and named after a hawk. She is unlike anyone else, with her yellow eyes and strange voice – until her brother Aeëtes arrives, and finally, someone understands her. But still, she is isolated, as her sister, Pasiphaë marries Minos, and Aeëtes is sent away to rule his own island. So she begins meddling with mortals – Glaucus, a fisherman. When her spell backfires and he falls for her sister Scylla, the revenge she takes on Scylla sends her into an exile to Aiaia, where she traps sailors as pigs, and where one day, she meets Odysseus on his way back from Troy – a war of ten years and a journey back that has already taken several years – as told in The Odyssey. From here, Circe seals her fate as a mother and exile, and what she must endure for eternity.

The Circe (Kir-kee or Cir-cee) myth cycle is one of the most interesting myth cycles in Greek mythology. A sorceress and goddess, Circe’s most famous and well-known appearance is in The Odyssey with Odysseus when she turns his crew into swine and induces him to stay for a year on the island with her. As a witch, she used potions and magic to transform people into animals. Where most mythical retellings focus on the male heroes, Madeline Miller takes Circe’s tale and spins it into something new and fresh – Circe and what she did, her exile and how the other gods treated her and feared her – from her perspective of her role as a woman, as a goddess with the voice of a mortal but the body of a goddess and sorceress. It is Circe in her own words – what she did, what she felt when she was exiled and how she reacted to other divine figures sending their nymph daughters to her – to serve her, and in the eyes of the gods, give Circe companionship in her exile.

In Miller’s story, Circe’s dark revenge spell that she casts on her sister, Scylla, forms the backbone to this story. In a mythological world where each god, goddess and mythical figure crossover into each other’s myth cycles all the time, several other gods, goddesses and characters are woven in and out, such as Medea and Jason, seeking refuge away from Colchis, away from Aeëtes, and Pasiphaë and Minos, and the birth of the Minotaur. Madeline Miller has cleverly constructed a story that reads much like the ancient myths, but injected new life into them, amplifying the voices of the goddesses and sorceresses, and giving them a story where they are true to themselves, and where the reader goes on the emotional journey with them, never quite sure what to expect from them, or how to react to them.

Miler’s Circe is allowed to be human, though she tries to hide any instances of what the gods saw as human weakness, when it comes to her son, Telegonus, she does all she can to prevent what she fears the most. Each god and goddess show their good and bad side as well, and their ability to be heartless towards one character, yet at the same time, a patron towards another. Circe is shown as neither good nor bad, but in the grey areas in between, where many figures of mythology lie. As a lover of Greek mythology, seeing the female characters front and centre, in their own words, rather than the ancient texts, is intriguing and fascinating. Whilst still living in antiquity, modern authors give them agency and voice that ancient authors didn’t always, or that the myths didn’t allow for. The mythological world is fascinating in all its incarnations, and this latest Circe interpretation is no exception – she is feminist yet fits into her time in antiquity and uses this to her advantage, and she is individual – embracing every part of who she is because it what makes her Circe, not what Helios and the rest of her family wish she was. Circe is powerful and vulnerable in equal measure and is cautious about letting her guard down – and she is a heroine in her own right, standing up for herself and not letting the world dictate what she must do.

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Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

esmes wishTitle: Esme’s Wish

Author: Elizabeth Foster

Genre: YA Fantasy

Publisher: Odyssey Books

Published: 30th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 248

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: This was her last chance.
Her hand twisted high in the air.

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the actions of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about Ariane, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

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aww2017-badgeEsme Silver has spent years without a mother, and now, as she watches her father marry Penelope, her stepmother, she feels betrayed, and begins to object. Yet, with her protests dismissed as easily as her feelings about losing her mother are. Esme feels isolated from her father in their Picton Island home, and when he sails away with his new wife, Penelope, and leaves her to the mercy of his wife’s sister, Mavis, Esme travels to Spindrift, where a cottage belonging to her grandmother sits vacant. From the waters nearby, Esme is transported to Aeolia, a world that is beneath the waters it seems, and a world that will hopefully help Esme find the answers to her mother, Ariane’s disappearance several years ago.  Together with Lillian and Daniel, Esme settles into life in Esperance and Aeolia, and begins a journey that she hopes will get her the answers she has sought for so long.

Esme’s Wish, and Aeolia feels reminiscent of a fairy tale or mythological world, and I loved the references and connections I was able to make to Greek mythology and fairy tale tropes, coupled with the unique world that Elizabeth Foster has created. Connecting Esme’s Aeolia with Ancient Greece was clever, and made for an engaging story. It invites the reader into the world accessed by a magical pool, and on a journey with good friends. The underwater world inspired by Greek mythology reminded me of Atlantis and the blown-out centre of Santorini, where the Minoans lived thousands of years ago. Whether it was inspired by this or not, Elizabeth Foster has created an engaging story for young adults that I hope many will enjoy reading over the summer break, as it had a delightful summery feel to it as well.

Norse Mythology Neil Gaiman

norse-mythologyTitle: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1 February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $27.99

Synopsis: The great Norse myths are woven into the fabric of our storytelling – from Tolkien, Alan Garner and Rosemary Sutcliff to Game of Thrones and Marvel Comics. They are also an inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s own award-bedecked, bestselling fiction. Now he reaches back through time to the original source stories in a thrilling and vivid rendition of the great Norse tales. Gaiman’s gods are thoroughly alive on the page – irascible, visceral, playful, passionate – and the tales carry us from the beginning of everything to Ragnarok and the twilight of the gods. Galvanised by Gaiman’s prose, Thor, Loki, Odin and Freya are irresistible forces for modern readers and the crackling, brilliant writing demands to be read aloud around an open fire on a freezing, starlit night.

~*~

Neil Gaiman has turned his terrific and inspiring talent with words to the realms of Norse Mythology –Odin, Loki, Thor, Freya, and all the others. He retells the major myth cycle of the Norse myths and pantheon for a modern audience, giving each god a voice, starting from their births, and the mischief they get up to, tricking humans and fellow gods alike – a characteristic that Loki, the trickster god, embodies without shame. Together with Thor and Freya, and Freya’s brother Frey, the story evolves naturally. Though written for a modern audience, the lyrical and oral nature of these original tales shines through.

Beginning with the creation story sparked by the death of Ymir, and concluding with the battle of Ragnorak, Norse Mythology takes myths that are not always as widely used or known as Greek and Roman myths, and repackages them for a modern audience, while still keeping the cadence and lyrical nature of the old stories, giving an image of ancient Norse people sitting around, telling stories of the Gods and myths, lessons learned through the oral tradition of their world.

Like many myth cycles throughout the world, it begins with creation, has the gods and goddesses and other beings causing mischief with each other and humans, causing havoc upon Earth through boredom or the need to do something, lives lived, anger, and finally, destruction and the end of the world.

Many of Neil Gaiman’s other works incorporate aspects of Norse Mythology. American Gods features Odin and Loki in a modern setting, so Norse Mythology is a natural progression, incorporating Gods, Goddesses, Dwarves and Frost Giants into the narrative that has existed for centuries. Norse Mythology reveals the romance and adventure of these tales, fairy tales retold for an audience who may have outgrown fairy tales. Like all his stories, Neil Gaiman’s lyrical style reminds adults of what reading a fairy tale is like – full of magic and whimsy, where bad things do happen but everything will be all right in the end – mostly.

A fine book that explores a lesser known myth cycle, wonderful for fans of mythology and Neil’s previous works.

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The Blood of Wolves by S.D. Gentill (Sulari Gentill)

blood-of-wolvesTitle: The Blood of Wolves (The Hero Trilogy #3)
Author: S.D. Gentill
Publisher: Pantera Press
Category: Fantasy/YA/Mythology
Pages: 440
Available formats: Print
Publication Date: 1/3/2013
Synopsis: The third and final book in the HERO TRILOGY
4 DARING YOUNG HEROES…
…INSANITY… HERESY…
AND A BLOODY WAR…
As empires fall and are founded anew, the Herdsmen of Ida join the refugees of Troy in search of a vague destiny promised by fickle gods. Amidst disaster, monsters, heresy and war they risk not only their lives, but their hearts, to twist the treacherous threads of fate and deny the desperate demands of blood.

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The Blood of Wolves was my first introduction to S.D. Gentill’s work when I read it and reviewed it for the New South Wales Writer’s Centre. The second time around, having purchased and read the preceding books in the trilogy, I came to it with a better understanding of the events that led to what happened in this book, and found it just as enjoyable.
The fall of the Trojan empire and Aeneas’ attempts to position himself as the Son of the Goddess and to build a new city for his people coincides with the conclusion of the Trojan War and Hero and her brothers’ journeying to find Odysseus and their adventures following their encounters with him. Aeneas, and his young son, Iulus, who finds Hero a great comfort during the time the Trojans find themselves wandering with the kinsmen of The Herdsmen of Ida. Aeneas’ dedication to the gods and the signs they give him, so he says, capture Hero’s attention, even when it seems Aeneas is leading those with him into disaster.
Accompanied as they have been by she-wolf Lupa, throughout the trilogy, the siblings find themselves helping Aeneas, but then threatened by the Carthaginians when Machaon battles to gain the freedom of the Phaeacian princess, Nausicaa, who helped them during their search for Odysseus, and finally embroiled in tragedy that Aeneas claims has been foretold, the journey of the siblings must come to a conclusion. What that conclusion is to be can only be decided by yet more war and tragedy.
Gentill has yet again seamlessly woven ancient history and mythology into a fine narrative, accessible for young adults and anyone interested in Greek Mythology. In calling the chapters books, as in The Odyssey, and describing the gods as Homer did, it adds a layer of authenticity and familiarity for people who have read The Odyssey and texts with similar themes such as The Aeneid, and can introduce the idea of reading these texts to new readers. I found this trilogy to be enjoyable, and would love to revisit them. I recommend them to anyone interested in adventures and mythology or ancient history, and hope that future readers enjoy the journey as much as I did.

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Trying War by S.D. Gentill (Sulari Gentill)

Book Title: Trying War, (Hero Trilogy Book Two)
Author: S.D. Gentill
Publisher: Pantera Press
Genre: Young Adult/Mythology/Fantasy
Release Date: 17th February 2012trying-war
Book Synopsis: Mac, Cad, Lycon and Hero return to the ruins of Troy to conf
ront disaster. Once again the Herdsmen of Ida are caught in unfolding legend – facing monsters, murderers and the gods at war, in a desperate attempt to challenge what the fates have decreed.

~*~
Picking up where Chasing Odysseus left us, we rejoin Mac, Cad, Lycon and Hero on their journey across the ancient Greek world. From their pursuit of Odysseus back to Ithaca to reclaim the honour for the Herdsmen of Ida, but their return is hindered by Hero’s capture by the Amazons, in search of a new Queen to have a child with Ares, their god, after the death of her mother, Pentheselia. Bremusa, which I deduced was Hero’s true name before her mother stripped her of it and sent her to live with Agelaus at the beginning of Chasing Odysseus where their journey begins. Hero’s capture made me scream NO, so many times in my mind, that I felt I was there with her brothers and Oenone plotting to get her back. Their journey brings them into contact with Medea, a figure from Greek mythology I am quite familiar with, and was immediately fascinated by her appearance, yet alarm bells started ringing as I knew her myth cycle…this is the witch who, in revenge for her husband, Jason, abandoning her and taking up with another princess, a revenge which led her to unspeakable acts that are described in the book and in all her myth cycles. S.D. Gentill has definitely done her research here with the ancient sources and any other sources. In terms of the Medea myth cycle, she has seamlessly combined each aspect of the myth cycle explored by different ancient texts together to explore her character. Her involvement with the Herdsmen does not last the entire novel, but enough for her to cause enough havoc and bring the Erinyes after Machaon for much of the book.
Trying War doesn’t follow a specific myth cycle, rather it takes on various aspects of the Pantheon of Olympus, Medea, and the priestesses of Artemis in their temple in ancient Athens, in the heyday of the power and authority of the Pantheon, and has our heroes, the Herdsmen and their sister, encountering Ares himself, due for trial in front of the entire Pantheon for a crime against another god. The climax rises with the decision of the fates and the pantheon – too many spoilers to give away here for potential readers, so all I will say that it was a great climax and finale. This familiarity with the Greek mythological cycles, I feel, gave me a better understanding of the books but it isn’t a necessary understanding to have: the important facts of the myth cycles, such as Medea’s, are presented to the reader in conversation.
Yet another spectacular book from Sulari, and I look forward to many more in the future. A definite fan here.

Book Review: Chasing Odysseus by S.D. Gentill

odysseusBook Title: Chasing Odysseus, first book in the Hero Trilogy
Author: S.D. Gentill
Publisher: Pantera Press
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Mythology
Release Date: 2011
Book Synopsis: Four young heroes in a quest against myth, magic…and betrayal. One girl, three brothers…four daring young heroes… Treachery, transformations and a deadly quest. A thrilling adventure of ancient myth, monsters, gods, sorcerers, sirens, magic, and many evils…the fall of Troy and a desperate chase across the seas in a magical ship… Hero and her three brothers, Mac, Cad, and Lycon go on this exciting and dangerous quest to prove their murdered father’s honour, the betrayal by King Odysseus and the loyalty of their own people to the conquered city of Troy.

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Chasing Odysseus opens with Hero being presented to her father, Agelaus by her Amazonian mother, Pentheselia at age five. Rejected by the Amazonian tribe, and her true name, Hero is welcomed into the arms of Agelaus and her brothers, Machaon, Cadmus and Lycon, Herdsmen of Ida, during the Trojan War. Tragedy befalls the family when they are named as traitors to the Trojans and blamed for aiding Odysseus and his men enter Troy in a wooden horse. Thus begins the journey of Hero and her brothers to find Odysseus, and have him put the story right.
I entered this world with a knowledge and love of Greek mythology that carried me through several university degrees, and immediately, I was swept up
The novel uses the descriptors of the gods used by Homer in the Odyssey, and this link to the original text, though the story is told from an opposing viewpoint to that of the Greeks and Odysseus. Their Phaecian ship takes them on a journey across the world as it was known in ancient times and the setting of the Odyssey. I was swept up into this story, and felt at home amongst the gods and the various ancient Greeks and their alliances. I sat with Hero as she made her sacrifices to the gods, and protected her brothers from the wrath of Zeus, journeyed with them as they met Pan, and ate with the Cyclopes. Having previously read The Odyssey, this retelling of the tale was of great interest to me.
Though this book, and its sequels are aimed at the YA audience, it is a lovely read for those familiar with the world of Greek Mythology. The journey of discovery in Chasing Odysseus that Hero and her brothers take to avenge the death of their father, and to return honour to the Herdsmen of Ida at the hands of Odysseus.
Chasing Odysseus follows the pattern of The Odyssey, a journey that took Odysseus ten years following the conclusion of the Trojan War, from his entrapment by Calypso to encounters with The Lotus Eaters, Circe, Polyphemus, the Cyclops, the Sirens, and with Nausicaa, a Phaeacian princess, to whom he recounts his tale, before he is able to return home. The period of time is unclear in Gentill’s work, but could be days, weeks, months or years, if following the narrative of The Odyssey. Whether it does or not, however, does not take away from the beauty of Chasing Odysseus, and the wonderful set up for the subsequent books.
A five star rating, and recommendation to anyone who loves adventure, mythology or just a good read, and it is not essential to have read The Odyssey before hand.