On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine…

Whilst ‘romance’ is a genre I have ordinarily neglected, what better time to indulge in a novel high on the feel-good quotient, than Christmas week? Moreover, in her latest novel (published November 2021), Christian author, M.C.Harrison has certainly tapped into the Christmas spirit and the magic that attends the festive season, whisking the reader away to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Miss Holly Bennett hails from Richmond, but when her unreliable boyfriend (Craig) disappoints yet again, the main character takes her sister’s advice and heads to the snowy slopes, with her dog ‘Skeeter’, for some retail therapy in the Victorian quaintness of rural Bethlehem.

Lifelong member of that community, Tyler Morris, is owner of ‘The Olde Yarn Bookshop’ and is also leading the local response to a bizarre drone problem besetting the townsfolk. Still, it is the palliative care of his mother and childcare of his orphaned nephew that dominate Tyler’s life.

The challenges for this star-crossed couple include creating the space for their natural chemistry to flourish, but also finding common cause in combatting local corruption and fashioning a very special Christmas celebration, the life-blood on which the town depends.

This is an easy read, over a gingerbread latte that oozes traditional values and charm. It also made this reader want to book into the ‘Sweet Betsy from Pike’ bed and breakfast immediately and inhabit a world not so much lacking realism, as simply filtering out some of the customary ugliness. Escapism – absolutely, but a welcome reminder perhaps that the sharing of life’s trials and tribulations can make the good times even sweeter. Certainly, in this COVID-dominated period, Ms Harrison has demonstrated that happiness can also be infectious!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Death is but a Door…

11 July 2021 (14:30)

I am indebted to indie author, Megan Shunmugam for the opportunity to read an ARC copy of her debut novel, “Phoenix”, in return for an honest review and for fans of YA fantasy, this book is something of a treat.

The story begins with the ending of the mortal life of main character, Alexia Solenia. Of itself this is an unusual gambit, yet it is through the demise of the key character that the author is able to construct a platform for Alexia’s onward journey to an ‘afterlife’ and the other-worldly adventures that await her.

There’s perhaps an inherent curiosity about that which we can’t know. Still, the author’s imagining of the ‘City of Lost Souls’, as a “sorting chamber for those who have died and are not claimed by the ether”, is a further compelling kickstart to the book and enables Alexia to be identified as an elite silver ‘Helper’, with powers to be discovered and nurtured. The city, though, is but a waystation en route to the heroine’s assignment. Received in a comfortingly familiar manila envelope the instructions orientate Alexia and the reader to our shared destination, the kingdom of Arianon and the young, recently-crowned king, Fenix Arbora, the intended recipient of Alexia’s ‘help’.

Thus the reader is transported seamlessly from Earth, to the ethereal dimension, onward via portal, to the world of Vessus. In fact, I found the author’s deft explanation for the next life, as a means of connecting the universe, quite ingenious. The plot also offers the prospect of a second chance for Alexia, if she can complete her mission and keep her soul intact, though the prospect of failure and the accompanying jeopardy are never far away.

Notwithstanding its tolerance of magical creatures, Arianon, it transpires, is under pressure from multiple existential threats, while its young ruler attempts to stabilise things through a shrewd alliance with the powerful Sur family from the kingdom of Pneros. The lengthy history of Vessus has been relatively peaceful for a thousand years, since the end of the ‘First Wars’, but there are troubling signs that the infrastructure that has ensured the citizens’ safety is eroding. Helpfully, the author intersperses the contemporary action with some of the historical context to aid the reader’s grasp of the impending conflict and the deepening shadow of further potential war.

Fenix’ right hand is his cousin Flynn, who has misgivings about the cost of allying with the tyrannical Surs, but can be relied upon to remain loyal to his king. Inevitably perhaps, both are attracted to the visiting Helper and their shared danger develops their bonds of friendship, but there is more to come from that romantic triangle. As indeed there is from this ongoing adventure. In “Phoenix”, Megan Shunmugam has established an interesting cast of characters with lots of road yet to be travelled. The author has confirmed that the sequel will follow and it is testament to the success of her storytelling in this first volume, that such a prospect is rather exciting! The novel is consistent in its appeal towards the YA readership, though, except perhaps for an overuse of the ‘eye roll’ by multiple characters, the story may well appeal to a wider readership of fantasy fiction. I congratulate Ms Shunmugam on an absorbing debut and I shall watch for the sequel to ensure it is added to my tbr list. Remember the name!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.