Reviews


Today is a special day for us all and especially for one special person: Ailsa Abraham. Today is the launch of her new book, Attention to Death. You’re invited to join today’s launch party.

I have read and loved both of her previous Crooked Cat books and am looking forward to reading this one. The story leads to an issue that has also arisen for Emma Rose Millar and me regarding The Women Friends: Selina.

And Ailsa herself is here to tell us all about this book, which is new in more ways than one. Over to you, Ailsa.

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Hello, Miriam, and thank you for inviting me to talk about my latest release today.

You’re very welcome, Ailsa, as always.

This is a departure from my previous series in magical realism. Here I take off on murder mystery. Why? Erm… limited attention span? Love of variety?

Attention to Death is available from Amazon: http://mybook.to/AttentionDeath

“In Attention to Death, Ailsa Abraham pulls off something I wouldn’t have thought possible – a steamy romance with a twist of murder and a splash of social conscience. A remarkable book that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can to find out what happens next.”
~ India Drummond, author of the Caledonia Fae series

17093876_770816756403666_459813296_nFinding a murderer among a group of killers is not going to be easy for two Royal Army Military Police investigators, Captain Angus Simpson and Staff-Sergeant Rafael ‘Raff’ Landen, whose Christmas leave is cancelled for an investigation into a suspicious death on a base in Germany. 
The case is further complicated by unhelpful senior officers who make pre-judgements on colour, creed, race and sexuality. Yet the insight of the investigators helps them uncover a sinister plot, although they too have something to hide: their own fledgling relationship.
Will Angus and Raff be able to solve the murder without giving away their secret?
The best and worst of human nature is represented in this story, which is why it is suggested for over 18s only.

I delved into my past life as an officer in the Royal Air Force and my lifelong friendships with gay men to research this book.  Coming right after LGBT History Month in February, it highlights the problems that men who have to be “in the closet” and the sort of bigotry that causes people to refuse to read a book just because there are gay characters in it, although this doesn’t stop them leaving reviews. Me? I’ve never been too sure. I’m gender-neutral which is why the first thing I wonder on meeting new people isn’t “What do they do in  their bedrooms?”

Read it for yourself and decide. Is it an honest portrayal of two men doing their job who just happen to have started an affair?

About Ailsa

17092169_770817006403641_724394489_nAilsa Abraham  is the author of six novels. Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman’s Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014. Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon. She also writes mystery romance.

She has lived in France since 1990 and is now naturalized French. She enjoys knitting and crochet and until recently was the oldest Hell’s Angel in town . Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family.  She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care (pirate gear is her favourite!)

Ailsa’s Links

Web-pageAmazon.ukTwitterFacebookLinked-In

I’ve chosen two reviews – one for each book – to highlight here. Both are detailed and well-thought-out. Sometimes their authors understand the characters in different ways from me. That’s fine. When interpretations differ, that’s a sign of a book that gives readers plenty to think about.

Neither Here Nor There

Neither Here Nor ThereThis book had such meaning for me- it was, in simple terms, about feeling confined in a lifestyle you no longer agree with: that is no longer right for you. That’s Esty’s story, she doesn’t belong, and feels like an alien- an imposter- so, she decides to leave the haredi lifestyle (the lifestyle of an Orthodox Jew) and moves on. Of course, as expected, there are a number of hurdles she has to first get over: her family doesn’t seem very accepting, her community disapproves and then there’s Mark.

She likes Mark and, believes he may be good for her. But, will she fit into his secular lifestyle? She can’t hold his hand without flinching, she finds it wrong whenever they sit too close. But, funnily enough, it can’t be more right. She’s moving on, independently. But will she be able to keep going?

I liked this story, mostly because I could relate: I don’t always feel as though I’m free to take up certain things- because of my religion, though I’d say it was more to do with culture. And I sometimes battle with my thoughts, when I’m rebelling against what my culture’s principles dictate. It is difficult to leave behind, or ignore, your upbringing- it’s your community. Not only do you face isolation, but confusion- you hardly know what goes on behind the other side of the fence. How the other half live, and the author of this book acknowledges that.

I just had a slight issue with the main character, she was making a big life choice and it seemed weird that she didn’t know what she was getting herself into- then again, she was a young nineteen year old. But I felt that seemed to imply she was too naive to know any better. Then there was how she automatically fell for Mark, describing him to have been handsome and the connection between them. It was too fast, and seemed improper, a stark contrast, from her actual attitude towards men- as is revealed later when she is hesitant towards Mark’s touch. Though, aside from this- the book was a delightful, engaging, read.

This book reminded me of a poem I once read titled, ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ by Moniza Alvi. Both this book, and this poem, represent the feelings of disillusionment, confusion of one’s identity and isolation, the idea of being an ‘in-betweener’, neither here nor there.

The Women Friends: Selina

CoverFrontThis book is perfect for fans of historical fiction, with LGBTQ characters as well as an honest depiction of the “just before” Hitler claimed Austria during WW2. It’s an important read for those reasons, as well. We can all too easily forget that it did seemingly happen “overnight” because these were emotions and opinions and feelings that had been brewing in the citizens minds well before Hitler came to power, before he stepped foot into Austria. He came to power because people were already agreeing with him about everything, including the final solution.

We start off with Selina Brunner who has decided to move from the countryside to Vienna in hopes of escaping the destitute conditions world war one left much of the European countryside suffering from. She has experienced sexual assault in her past, and this is immediately brought up as one of the reasons why she was so eager to move; she needed to put her past permanently behind her. She struggles with this at first and it is not until she meets Janika, a Jewish muse of Gustav Klimts, that she is able to put action to her feelings and she falls in love with Janika. Their love is not to be, and after Janika marries a man, Selina is forced to meet other people. We see Selina meet a national socialist woman, but while they live together for a time and she does introduce her to her parents, they do not fall in love nor do they stay together.

In the end, Selina makes a choice between staying utterly true to herself and how she identifies, or marrying a Roma man to help him escape.

The entire book, while simple in some areas that begged for deeper character exploration, is one that I would say is important to read, especially right now with the way politics seem to be turning. It is a lie to say that things aren’t already bad; that’s how things like the Shoah happen. Things that were already bad, were purposely ignored until they had no choice but to come to a head in a way so horrible, there are no words to express. The author does a wonderful job of showing that it wasn’t just Hitler that caused the Shoah to happen, but the people as well. And it was also people like Selina Brunner who helped others during this dark time so that it wasn’t their last; while this story is fictitious, the heart of it rings true from page to page.

I try to write reviews for the books I read. As an author, I know how important reviews are. I don’t usually post them on this blog. I only do that for special books, and the book I just finished reading is special. It’s also very brave, as not everyone would want to reveal such details. I found it fascinating and disturbing. I identified with it and totally disagreed with it. How can I have such disconnected thoughts, and how do I connect them? My review is below.

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This book is one I would not normally have read. The true story of a woman who goes though many traumas in her life, moves from America to Israel and back and forth, and through it all never loses faith in Jesus? That last part would have put me off. Not my thing. No.

But I read it. I read it because I know the author. I met her when we were both technical writers. I knew her as someone incredibly gifted in verbal communication. I didn’t read her technical documents, but I knew she’d won prizes for them. And I plucked up the courage to email her at a time when I was only starting to realise the advantages of electronic communication. There was also a face-to-face conversation. She was extremely kind and understanding. And that’s when she shocked me by telling me about her faith in Jesus. Where had that come from? I couldn’t make it out.

dvoraelishevaNow that I’ve read her memoir, I understand. I don’t agree, but I understand. I suppose that was my main reason for wanting to read it.

Yet, there’s so much more in this book, including plenty I can agree with and even empathise with. There are the difficulties over her name, accepting the associations a particular form of the name brings up. There are the games that the mind plays, or rather that we play with our minds: “I had cordoned off my memories, my feelings, my emotions, and sometimes even my actions.”

But then I read, “If I had space to tell you the stories behind these accomplishments, you’d see that these, too, were all divinely orchestrated from above.” And my reaction was: no, I wouldn’t. As with the stories you did have space to tell, I’d see that things turned out surprisingly well. But God can’t be proved. In my mind, you might be right and you might not. For me, it doesn’t matter which.

I also had a more disturbing reaction to this book, not so much in what was written as in what was not written. Because space clearly was not the only reason to hold things back. I’m sure, as in most memoirs, facts were hidden in order to protect other people. And I felt there was another reason. The author describes a trip to China. For her, a very important part of the trip involved telling people about Jesus. Her message was that belief in the Buddha is bad and they should instead believe in Jesus. I understand her reasoning. Someone who has such a strong belief also believes that she can help others by encouraging them to share her belief.

I find that worrying. Firstly, who’s to say that one belief is better than another? And secondly, while no mention of missionary activity in Israel was made, if it happened on a short trip to China where language barriers made it difficult, surely it must happen in Israel, where there are no such barriers and the sojourn is permanent.

And so, I have a big problem awarding stars to this book. On what level am I judging it? As far as the writing goes, it is excellent, in both vocabulary and content. I am overawed at the way the book jumps forwards and backwards in time, and yet all the pieces hold together so well. I’m also disturbed by the content. For me, it doesn’t provide proof of what can’t be proved; it hints of something almost sinister. But I will go with my first impression and the fact that I read the second half in one day.

Can you name a single book that everyone likes? I very much doubt it. Readers have widely differing tastes. You only have to read the reviews of any book to see that.

thewomenfriendsselinawithbirdsSo why am I telling you that The Women Friends: Selina isn’t for everyone? Because it’s probably more controversial than some. It’s also very different from my first novel: Neither Here Nor There. It follows the fictional story of a woman struggling to survive in a strange environment in traumatic times. She gets involved in things some readers might not want to read about.

However, while little is known of the two models in Klimt’s painting: The Women Friends, the story remains true to what is known of the women who inspired the great artist, as well as to the turbulent times in which it is set.

One reader, in the first review of the book, describes the book brilliantly, although there are parts that I didn’t see in the same way. We all read different things into the same books.

Up to now, I haven’t made much of the fact that The Women Friends: Selina is a finalist in the Goethe Awards, because my name didn’t appear on the list. I’m happy to say that has now been rectified, and Emma and I are delighted that the book has reached this stage.

When my first book, Neither Here Nor There, was published, I didn’t know what to expect. Would anyone buy it? Would anyone read it? Would anyone like it?

Neither Here Nor There Cover

 

Two years on, I’m proud of what my little novel has achieved. It’s informed some readers about things of which they had no knowledge, it’s rung true with many of those in the know, and most of all, it’s brought joy to many readers.

One thing I did know in advance: not everyone would like it. I think that’s true of any book. If every review of a book has only praises for it, you begin to think something is rotten in the state of Goodreads.

I knew in advance that some readers would find the story not to their taste. Not everyone likes romance; not everyone likes sweet and gentle stories. That’s why I was particularly pleased with the words of the mentor of my writing group, D.r. Brauner, who is “not normally a fan of seesaw romances.” He wrote:

An extra-ordinary book that takes romance writing to a higher level.

I also knew that some readers would be against the very idea of anyone leaving orthodoxy for secularism.

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Some readers don’t like the plot

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Some readers don’t like the style

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Many readers love the novel

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Yes, I’m proud of all the reviews of my debut novel on Goodreads, Amazon UK and Amazon US, and I’m very grateful to everyone who has gone to the trouble of writing a review.

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Author of the Day

D.r.Brauner writes excellent fiction, which deserves to be better known. His novel, ANOTHER GOD: a novel of Independent Scotland, is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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Sometimes, whether by choice or from necessity, you read books that aren’t meant for you. Books for which you’re not the target audience. Sometimes it’s more like you’re hanging around on the outer circumference, far away from the target.

Take books for young children, for example. You can enjoy the child’s enjoyment of the story, joining in with her innocent laughter, teaching him new words or facts that crop up in the book. But can you enjoy it for itself, especially after the fiftieth repetition?

I remember one children’s story I always liked to read to my kids: Prince Cinders by Babette Cole. It’s a twist on the Cinderella story. The fairy is a girl in skewed school uniform. Her magic spells don’t always work as she intended….

What else have I read that isn’t intended for me? Generally, the sort of sweet romance that ends with a happy ever after and doesn’t make me think during or after reading. Occasionally, I’ve been happy to lose myself in such a novel, thankful that it can remove me from the complexities of real life. But generally I read them because I ought to, and then I feel empty at the end. So what?

So what about YA novels? I haven’t read many of them. Most of those I’ve read have held my interest, but I’ve had to remind myself that the style is as it is because it’s YA. Nicola Morgan’s Wasted surpassed that. And now there’s another for which I haven’t needed the YA excuse as a comeback to my own criticism: Laura Huntley’s Black Eyed Boy. It was gripping all the way through and the ending took me completely by surprise, so much so that I wasn’t sure I could believe it. But then I decided I could.

I won’t say more. I suggest you read it.

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FreeToBeTegan-MaryGrand-ResizedI don’t often post my book reviews on this blog, but this is a special book.

I was drawn to this novel before I’d read a word of it, because of the plot and its similarity to my novel, Neither Here Nor There. I was aware that this might lead to disappointment with the actual novel, but after reading the online preview I doubted that would happen. I wasn’t disappointed at all.

As I read it, I thought about the similarities between Tegan and my main character, Esty. I also considered the differences. But those thoughts belong in a different post. For now, I want to discuss Free to Be Tegan.

I was with Tegan all the way, silently encouraging her to find the right path for herself and to learn to recognise lies, wherever they come from. From the very beginning, where she’s among people she has grown up with but is now shunned by; to the outside world where she’s all alone; to people who care for her but don’t understand her and others who want to use her to further their own agendas; to the end, which I won’t reveal; I never stopped believing in Tegan and her story.

Several other characters feature in this novel, taking major or minor parts. Some of them seem all good or all bad at first. But as the story progresses, the good ones turn out to be not so good and the bad ones not so bad. In other words, the characters, like the plot, are true to life.

This novel should be read for its interesting and well-written story line. It can also be read to learn about the inside of a cult, as well as the difficulties of leaving one and acclimatising to the world outside. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: Despite the similarities between Tegan and Esty, including their former lives, I’m not implying Esty grew up in a cult. I just wanted to make that clear.

As it happens, one of the minor characters in this novel will be here this Friday for the series: Letters from Elsewhere.

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