Jun 19, 2011

Guest Book Review - The Book of Rachael by Leslie Cannold


post by Bruce Everett.  Mature content warning.

the-book-of-rachaelIt feels a bit incongruous; me, a guy, writing a guy's take on a book explicitly dedicated to women. The risk of mansplaining or taking things down a side-road not withstanding, I'll go one step further and dedicate this review to male lovers of literature.

The Book of Rachael is a work of historical fiction set two millennia ago, told from the perspective of Rachael, the sister of a certain fellow destined for martyrdom. And it's through the experience of Rachael, her sister, her mother and the various women of the text, that you'll find yourself in new territory. More-so if you're a bloke.

Now, if you're a beneficiary of male privilege, odds on there's leeway you'll be sharing with your fellow penis-wielders – all without much in the way of a second thought. If you can, why can't they? Only fair, right, not to deny the same for your mates? Too easy.

So how far do us guys extend this tolerance to authors without the sausage and meatballs? If you're a progressive type, you're most likely, at least in theory, to aim for some kind of gender balance. Perhaps you'll even be offended at any suggestion to the contrary, you good righteous progressive, you.

In this respect, reading The Book of Rachael trained a surgical light upon the dark recesses of my hypocrisy. I'll digress.


I came to Leslie Cannold's book with Michael Moorcock's Behold The Man in mind as a kind of benchmark; a book by a guy, about a guy who travels through time to find Jesus. But instead of a successful pilgrimage, Moorcock's protagonist fumbles through various licentious adventures, including an attempt at sex with the promiscuous Mary (failing to get it up thanks to an onlooking idiot-Jesus), before accidentally becoming the Christ of lore himself.
Pulp as it may be, Behold The Man is one of my favourite books, and I've never so much as flinched while reading it. Yet it wasn't The Book of Rachael that ended up being tested against this benchmark. Rather I found myself as a reader being tested through my questionable application of the intended standard.

Amidst Cannold's vivid (and obviously well-researched) depictions of herbs, artifacts and day-to-day humdrum, came the various secretions and sensations; defecation and its derivatives are repeatedly dealt with in unflinching detail, as are all the suppurations and oozes. All quite necessarily, because Rachael is a healer.

Cannold's take on female arousal, as you'd expect, contrasts anything you'd read by Moorcock, and not just because Moorcock is a barking mad provocateur. But the sex in The Book of Rachael is still every bit as graphic as anything in Behold The Man; all the tumescence and moistening and ejaculate is there, albeit in a different arrangement.

This is of course, all quite natural. Yet I still caught myself asking if the detail wasn't a bit much, perhaps even insufficiently lady-like; clearly my brain has been the host of a noxious double-standard.

(Further to this, I managed to read without a hitch, Teri Louise Kelly's biography American Blow Job over the same period – the tale of her time as a highly sexed young man in the US. You can probably imagine that I extend the same pornographic tolerance to Martin Amis, and you'd be right if you did).

And if it wasn't the sex, there were times when the discussion of iron-age pregnancy made me want jump forward to the now to find a hospital corridor to pace! (Although predictably, the Deuteronomy 22:28 treatment made me livid like any sane person).

But why would a reader want to react like this? I find consistency consoling, but beyond this, and beyond the issue of the obvious sexism, why would anyone, as a reader, want to be in possession of a character flaw that potentially jars them out of the narrative, robbing them of enjoyment? Insane!

Up until now, I didn't know this about myself; that I was host to some sub-pious, vestigial remnant of a puritan double-standard. I thought I was all on-board with female sexual expression in the arts, yet here I am, The Book of Rachael diagnosing part of my prefrontal cortex as uncooperative.

Now I know this, I'll try to get better. Rachael is a healer.

Anyway, I'm starting to make things about me, and this is supposed to be a book review. Let this self-indulgence on my part serve as recommendation to male readers; there's several reasons why it's important the book is authored for '...every woman still struggling for a place in history'.

It's one thing for men to say they're okay with the idea of a female take on the narrative, and another to value it as an experience.


Now, unless you've missed the culture wars of the last few decades (and perhaps the prequel known as The Entire History of Western Christianity) you'd have noticed in discussions of culture, that 'Judæo' often seems surgically attached to 'Christian'. You'd also have noticed it's often the 'Christian' attaching itself to the 'Judæo', and rarely the other way around.

Thankfully, 'Christian' isn't dominating The Book of Rachael. There's no kitsch, retro-active, Anglo-Saxon Euro-Christ with sheep in tow; cultural appropriation is wound back, the result being greater authenticity.
With the plight of the women of the text presented against a backdrop of the common sufferings of the time, overt feminism at the spearhead of the story's revolutionary movement comes across as intuitive. Indeed, the way the story tells it, it seems more plausible as a historical movement than much of the ad-hoc re-tellings that pass for mainstream, Christian historicity.

While Cannold's version could stand well enough on its own merits, the origin of the real-world, mainstream, patriarchal narrative is given it's own fictional depiction - credibly fleshed out in cynical, thuggish, tragic opportunism. More conservative types may balk, or be offended, but that'd probably only speak to the merits of the book.

That The Book of Rachael manages all of this (and more) in lucid, descriptive prose, while maintaining pace and consistency, is quite a feat. Tension is maintained throughout the book through the well timed, yet uncontrived use of ever-looming, threats.

There's really only one issue on which I can find fault, and that's if you pick up on the thrust of the narrative, then the going-ons in the final chapters can broadcast themselves in advance just a little. In part this seems due to familiarity (being historical fiction) but also because even if not overly didactic about it, it seems clear the book has a mission. The end flows naturally from what goes before - almost obviously so.

Mind you, I note this perceived fault mostly out of a need for due diligence. I'm not so sure it's avoidable, nor not a product of the many merits of the text. Much less did this apparent flaw detract from my appreciation of said merits; these being many and sound.

This 'flaw' is just my focus on part of my own perspective, so even if you do accept my take on things there's still a lot more to the story - including several important divergences from the main events of the plot. You just can't be bored by this book.

It's essential reading, especially for us guys. So just lay back, open the book, and respect that Rachael knows what she's doing.

Rating: 4.5/5


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Jun 7, 2011

eBook Review–Whispering Willows by Patty Jansen


Whispering Willows is a fantasy/folktale short story from noted Science Fiction author Patty Jansen.  I have reviewed Patty’s work before here and hereWhispering Willows is the first of her fantasy offerings that I have taken up.

I always think that short stories face and uphill battle against their larger cousins.  In such a short space you have to get across character story and provide entertainment.  This is one of the reasons that I think that novels or perhaps novellas are seen as a more satisfactory buy.  They offer the reader longer emersion.  A good short story is one I think that either hits you with a great concept or idea or some how hooks your in and creates an emotional connection with the reader.  With Whispering Willows it was the latter.  Jansen was able to transport me to a place that was a magical, medieval, not-quiet-europe(indeed I think Whispering Willows is a perfect example of what Tolkien talks about in his essay On Fairy Stories regarding the creation of secondary worlds). The lead character’s voice was clear and distinct and the dark twist at the end was decidedly Grimm.


I’ll be buying more. I am keen to read her next fantasy project,the start of a trilogy, that rolls out in November.   She’s demonstrated to me that she’s one of those writers who straddles the Fantasy/Sci-fi divide with ease.  So if you have spare change, chuck a dollar Patty’s way for 10-15 minutes of fantasy fun.

You can purchase from Smashwords or Amazon. I read this version on my Samsung Galaxy S Android phone via the Kindle store.

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Jun 6, 2011

eBook Review–Luminescence by Patty Jansen

luminLuminescence is another novelette from Australian author Patty Jansen.  Set in the same universe (though at a different time) as His Name in lights .

The Tale

I’ll just repeat the synopsis, because let’s face it if I spend more than a paragraph describing it there’s almost no point reading:

While diving in the methane lakes on Titan's south pole, Hadie's fiancée is struck by mysterious 'lightning' from a glass sphere. Hadie, a construct, artificial human, battles prejudice and hostility to help him recover, and discovers the truth behind the spheres.

Things to like

Jansen’s melding of plausible future imaginings with character driven story, original alien life forms and world(as in story world) shaping concepts.  Cool concepts with real people involved, even when they aren’t “real” people. 

In the two novelettes of Jansen’s I have read, humanity (and its various iterations) is stilled confined to the solar system but has developed in different, interesting and plausible ways.  I like the setting Jansen has crafted and hope(pine?) for a longer work.

Good sci-fi or sci-fi that I find good is that which asks questions of us, comments on problems and situations occurring now, even if this questioning achieved through the detachment of viewing a future situation. 

In that sense I can see Luminescence could have been applied to examining the issue of mixed race relations in the 60’s, or indeed to gay marriage issues in the present. Questions about what makes us human and what rights should we expect as humans are touched on in this piece.

Even better Sci-Fi does the above without making us feeling like we are being asked to examine an issue.  I think Jansen does this, and it’s what marks her out as a cut above.

Criticisms, suggestions?

I will be upfront about it.  I am becoming a bit of a fan of Patty’s work, and as mentioned I long for her to put out some longer works set in this universe. That’s the only thing I can think of really, that this story could have been expanded into a novel(easy said when I don’t have to write it)I think that there’s enough material there. 

But I'll be happy for her to continue giving the reader tantalising glimpses.

And at a dollar a pop this is great value entertainment.

You can download a sample here

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Jun 4, 2011

eBook Review - His Name in Lights by Patty Jansen

nameHis Name In Lights is a hard SF novelette by Australian Writer Patty Jansen.  Now don’t let the tag ‘hard SF’ scare you off, there’s no Astrophysics or hard science to turn you brains to mush.  It’s hard science in the background, in the setting.

The Story

Allion Aerospace Ltd. has been contracted by the ISF(International Space Force) to carry out construction work on the volatile surface of Io (one of Jupiter’s moons).  Owing to the dangerous environment Allion have sent two of their aggregates(advanced human machine hybrids), who operate without the need for space suits.

Meanwhile, the Allion ship Thor III is lacing the cloud bands of Jupiter with balloons(hydrogen filled and with remote controlled lights) as part of the solar systems greatest bill board display.

Io being the hazardous environment that it is, causes problems and  a mayday signal is sent from one of the aggregates, the Thor III can’t reach them and  the  ISF grudgingly responds, but things are not as they seem and what started out as a simple tale of construction and human fancy in the outer solar system becomes one of intrigue, danger and surprisingly love.

Plausibility is the name of the game

As a I mentioned above, those of you who aren’t Scifi fans or prefer Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey will find His Name in Lights an accessible story.  Jansen does a wonderful job of presenting a plausible setting and plausible technologies (and this is where it deserves the Hard SciFi tag). 

I was hooked by the little background details that Jansen sprinkles throughout the text – The Mars war, the tension between pro human ISF and Allion, the political situation this side of the asteroid belt, the briefly mentioned technologies for dealing with space radiation on a huge scale.

Jansen has managed to give the reader a nice self contained story, and at the same time left us with a vision of a much larger ‘universe’- one that I want to read more stories set in.

Five stars from me, Patty’s just scored herself a fan.

You can read more about Patty at her blog

You can purchase her work through Amazon and Smashwords

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Jun 2, 2011

eBook Review–MageSign by Alan Baxter

magesign-cover-smallA double edged sword

One of the nice things about social networking is being able to interact with authors, talk about their work, or indeed just chat about life in general.  The downside to building a connection(however superficial) with a writer, is that when you come to review their work, it can make your job as a reviewer much harder. 

I was not really a fan of Alan Baxter’s first novel RealmShift reviewed here and I had concerns that I might have similar issues with MageSign.

I am happy to report that I found MageSign to be a far better reading experience and in my humble opinion a far better constructed tale.

The Tale Continues…

MageSign picks up three years after the events in RealmShift.  Isiah our all powerful immortal protagonist is tracking down the sorcerer who trained the despicable Samuel Harrigan in RealmShift

Usually backed up by the mysterious entity called ‘The Balance’, Isiah is left to go it alone in MageSign. Neither helped nor hindered, Isiah sets out to track down the sorcerer and discovers  a deadly cult set on world domination through the use of blood magic. He finds love, danger and death along the way.

A slow start

Initially I had misgivings, while I felt the writing was a little more engaging, the prose was still too florid for my tastes. The language was evocative and I could see that Baxter was trying to establish a certain mood but it felt to me that he was laying on the atmosphere too heavily – to the detriment of pacing. 

MageSign is a sequel and like a lot of authors there’s some exposition used to bring those readers who haven’t read RealmShift up to date.  Always hard to achieve without annoying readers who have read the previous work, these sections grated with me and felt a little clunky.

Like flipping a switch

My feeling and my enjoyment changed immediately when Baxter introduced the character of Faith.  It was almost as if a switch had been flipped.  The writing was less florid and more honest and it seemed from this point on that Baxter had found a groove, a balance to his story telling. There was only one further instance here I felt jolted from the story– when Faith has an internal monologue ranting against modern society(the cynicism was a little too refined for her 15 year old character) and that like RealmShift the author’s voice was intruding on the character’s.  It’s all well and good to make social comment but I think the comment needed to be subtler. Despite these two minor instances though I was in the grip of the novel.

Danger, Death and Love

One of the major issues I had with Realmshift was that I didn’t connect with Isiah, he was all powerful, I never felt that he or anything important to him was at risk.  Baxter certainly changed that with MageSign .  First, Isiah is in the dark for much of the story, ‘The Balance’ is of no help to him and he goes it alone and subsequently the reader is swept up in the mystery, that Isiah attempts to unravel. Isiah also gets a love interest with its requisite sexual tension, innuendo and witty banter.  The Archangel Gabriel features more strongly in  MageSign and the reader gets a much better sense of the relationship that Isiah and he share. Finally, and  without wanting to spoil it for the rest of you, there’s an unexpected twist that will have you racing through chapters to find out what had happened to one of the main characters.

Best is yet to come

MageSign is a much better book than RealmShift .  I felt that Alan Baxter really began to hit his straps in this book.  It’s not perfect by any means, but there were glimpses of some really good, economical and engaging writing.  I’ll be watching Alan’s writing with continued interest as I think his best work is ahead of him.

This eBook was provided by the author at no cost to myself.

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Jun 1, 2011

Book Review–Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon

kingsKings of the North is the second book in Paladin’s legacy series. The first is Oath of Fealty.

I haven’t read any Elizabeth Moon.  But after finishing Kings of the North , I have a feeling that will change.  Now, astute readers will have picked up that I am reviewing a book in the middle of a series, without having read the book that precedes it.

As with The Wise’s Man’s Fear, this was not too much of a problem, though I did struggle a bit more to get my head around the characters and subplots-this despite having a list of Dramatis Personae.

The Story

In some respects Kings of  the North is a typical second book, there’s an expectation that you will have read the first, and be aware of the story arcs and larger narrative landscape.  Kings of the North  progresses those arcs further as well as providing a nice resolution for some of the plots contained within.  It’s a tale of an adventuring military cohort, whose members have split and ‘moved up the ranks’, so to speak.

Kieri is now the Half Elven King of Lyonya – co ruler with his rather aloof elven grandmother. He struggles as he tries to get humans and elves to work together and is constantly frustrated by his grandmother who only seems to pop out of the elven realm when she must.  In addition to this, everyone seems to be pressuring him to marry, his grandmother pushing suitable elvish wives his way, foreign human kings throwing their reluctant daughters at him and despite his best efforts, war appears to be brewing with the Pargunese.

Dorrin Verrakai is now Duke and Constable of the Tsaian Kingdom after having prevented an attack on the King by her evil magelord relatives(of the kind that like possessing the bodies of children).  She is tasked with ridding her estates of the evil of her ancestors, repairing the damage of years of evil over-lordship and advising her king on on the state of the Tsaia’s military forces.

Janderlir Arcolin – recently promoted Lord of the Northern Marches leads Fox Company (Kieri’s former mercenary cohort) in his last mission- pursuing bandits in the Southern Kingdom of Aarenis before he must take up his title in the North.  Though the men they track seem less a group of Bandits, than an experienced and well supplied group of insurgents.

War is brewing everywhere.

A familiar feeling

Once past the initial workings out of “Who is who?” and “Where in the hell is Cortes Vonja?” I settled into a gripping read, in what felt like comfortable campaigning boots.  Moon writes a tale that reminds me of youthful days spent reading the Dragonlance Chronicles and playing Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s good military fantasy; perhaps informed by her own military service.  I enjoyed too, the play with gender.  Dorrin has the title of Lord, the Pargunese aghast at women being allowed to serve as frontline troops(believing them instead to be whores for the soldiers they train with). There’s an interesting mix of realism (in the sense of cultural misunderstandings causing conflict) and your standard fantasy tropes.

If I was disappointed with anything it was with the speed with which the one romantic relationship  in the book was handled, it felt to some extent as if it had come out of nowhere.  Not having read the first book I am not sure if it may have been foreshadowed there, but it certainly felt as though the relationship was more plot device.

Final Thoughts

Good fantasy reading with enough well thought out military fantasy to please those that read closer to the ‘historical realism’ end of the spectrum, and enough magic and wonder for those that like high fantasy.

This book was provided to free of cost by the publisher.

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eBook Review - Torment by Greg Chapman


Published by Damnation Books, Torment is a first time novella by Australian author and AWHA member Greg Chapman.

The Story

As a young child, Jessica witnesses the murder of her mother at the hands of her devout father in an exorcism gone wrong.  He escapes prosecution and returns to his native Scotland and Jessica is left in the hands of relatives.

Fast forward 25 years and Jessica, in an attempt to lay to rest her childhood demons, travels to Scotland to settle her father’s estate.  Jessica must come to to terms with the monster she pictures juxtaposed against a devout and kindly gentlemen the village people saw her father as. What awaits Jessica,however, is a test of faith, as her family’s lives and her own sanity is put on the line.

What I liked

Chapman makes good use of flashbacks to the days after the death of her mother in order to quickly generate  empathy for the protagonist and to set the tone for the rest of the piece.  We are led to believe that her father was a madman, unable to handle his wife’s mental illness.

I also liked the scene where her son, alone in one of the rooms in the mansion, is contacted by an entity through his iPod.  This was the only part in the book that I began to get a slight chill.  Perhaps it’s to do with the use of the modern/technical by the spirit world, the invasion of our safe, ordered, structured world in such a subtle way that gave me a shiver.

Some slight annoyances

Perhaps I have watched too many episodes of Escape to the Country or Grand Designs, but I was thrown immediately by the mansion being described as having wooden steps leading up to the main door(I’m fairly sure that Scottish Mansions of built in the 1850’s would have had stone or slate steps).  A small thing, perhaps, but then in a novella it’s important to get small things right when you are trying to establish a certain ambiance.  This and a few other ill fitting word choices niggled at me.


I have spent a couple of days considering this piece to determine if its had a fairly hard run against my own biases.  I’m both an atheist and a skeptic, which while it doesn’t rule out my enjoyment of theologically based horror fiction, it does mean that the work has to be a bit unpredictable, or do the unexpected for it to tap into my psyche and give me a jolt.  I found the ending a little cliché – Jessica is saved by her faith, all she has to do is pray really hard. With my biases firmly in mind then I find that  Torment is good stock standard ghost/possession story with some promising passages. I’ll be keeping an eye on Greg Chapman.

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eBook Review - Apocrypha Sequence: Insanity by Shane Jiraiya Cummings

insanityApocrypha Sequence: Insanity by Shane Jiraiya Cummings is the second book that I have read in Shane’s Apocrypha Sequence series.  As Shane mentions in the foreword to each, some of these stories are found in other works. 

The idea of producing the Apocrypha series was to collect works thematically.  The works in Insanity are an ‘exploration of the human mind as it is pushed to breaking point.’


The Tales

  1. Ian - The tale of a young women, brought up in an isolated and strict home in the wilds of Tasmania, every man she meets is named Ian.
  2. Stop – A story that blends horror with being stuck in traffic
  3. Itch- Ever had the urge to scratch just a little bit harder, or to enjoy that fine line between pleasure and pain. Itch takes the idea further
  4. Song of the Infernal Machine – The relentless hum of the machine drives some to madness
  5. The Black Door – A Hitchcock-esque tale of persuasion.


I’d read three of the stories in this collection before, in Shards. It was, however,  Ian that messed with my head the most and thereby takes the title as my favourite.  It’s so maddening crafted that by the time that I got to the end of the story I began to feel sympathy with main character and dread the name Ian.  Shane displays very good use of repetition to develop a sense of unease in this piece. Itch was interesting, and maddening, as I read it while suffering from an a particularly persistent itch myself.  The power of suggestion?


In terms of the series I prefer Insanity over Divinity, it’s more psychological and suggestive horror, easier to suspend my disbelief and get drawn into the story. The collection has a distinct twilight zone or weird tales feel to it.

eBook Review - Apocrypha Sequence: Divinity by Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Apocrypha Sequence: DivinityApocrypha Sequence: Divinity is another packaging of Shane Jiraiya Cummings short fiction and is included in his ‘Grand Experiment’ which you can check out here.

This book was provided by the author free of charge.

In Apocrypha Sequence: Divinity, the reader is treated to 5 short pieces of fiction (some of which can be found in his collection Shards) that are thematically linked with the concept of Divinity.  Indeed all the Apocrypha Sequence titles are constructed in this way i.e. they are themed.

The Tales

As the title indicates the stories all centre on the divine.  Cummings offers a diverse selection for the reader up first is a tale of Ancient Egypt.

In Sobek’s Tears the story centres around an Egyptian general pursuing the Hebrew slaves.  Its a tale of revenge and the extent to which one man can be prepared to go to carry it out.

The Virgin in the Mist(which appeared in Shards) was an interesting take on holy visitations.  It might make the religious think twice about hoping for an appearance from the Virgin Mary in their bathroom mirror.

Memoirs of a Teenage Antichrist was another tale that I had read previously.  A funny piece in the tradition of Adrian Mole with a dash of Good Omens. The diary of the teenage Antichrist as he comes into his powers.

Blasphemy on Eight Wheels  is fast paced military action, terrorists and transportation of dangerous cargo.

Genesis 6 was another story I had read in shards and presents us with the concept of another biblical catastrophe/genocide at the hands of Yahweh and the idea that all is not well in Heaven.

What I liked

It was hard to pick a standout story in this offering.  I’d previously read 3 of the stories so their impact was possibly lessened.  The humour present in Memoirs… probably puts it in front as the best of the bunch.

What I Didn’t

Nothing to dislike here. 

In Summary

A good buy if you are interested in reading  religiously themed horror writing - though there’s not much that is too horrific in this collection.  Cummings plays around with common tropes associated with divinity giving the reader some interesting twists.   Good concepts and a good value read  – currently available at 99c from Smashwords.


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