Book Review: Imperial Passions

An engrossing historical fiction, bringing to life the travails of the Byzantine Empire through the voice of a strong female protagonist.

Book cover

Book: Imperial Passions – The Great Palace

Author: Eileen Stephenson

Genre: Historical Fiction

Review Copy: Reedsy Discovery

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Must Read

“Not everyone wants power, wants a throne.” In Constantinople, 1059, these words by Anna Dalassena’s husband John place an invisible burden on her. The Imperial Passions – The Great Palace is the story of the burden of those who do not wear the crown but have the best interest of the Empire in mind.

Eileen Stephenson has produced an endearing work through intricate research. Her passion for the subject is clear as she painstakingly develops each character. She infuses them with human follies and strengths. Eileen’s female protagonist tells the story of court intrigues, shifting loyalties, weak administration, invading Turks, and brawny men. The Imperial Palace is a hotbed of politics, plagued by incompetent leaders and a dwindling treasury. 

The wisdom and camaraderie of the women, particularly Anna Dalassena and later Empress Eudokia, keep a tottering empire from falling apart. Eileen has given an elegant and compassionate voice to the character of Anna. She is wise and talented, has a keen understanding of people and politics, is a gifted matchmaker, and counsel. She is a caring mother, a perfect homemaker, a clever planner, and above all, a sleek diplomat. Through personal losses, Anna stands as a firm ally of the Empire and its people, even at the risk of making enemies in the royal court.

This is a thrilling work as twists and turns appear every so often, with characters falling off the pedestal or gaining a wide berth while the Turks are pounding on the doors. Descriptions of court life and customs, monasteries and houses, social orders and marriages, make the book a fascinating treatise of the times.

The initial few pages listing the main characters, and the glossary can momentarily overwhelm. Browse through these pages and the map, then embark on an exhilarating journey through the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. I enjoyed making notes and highlighting characters to remember key characters and events.

This historical fiction flows in a simple language with balanced descriptions. There are no long-drawn scenes of battles, even though the impact of these military expeditions helps to drive the politics of Constantinople. This book provides a wholesome reading experience and is a must-read for all fans of historical fiction. The cover artwork by Jennifer Quinlan adequately represents the feminine energy in the history of the Byzantine rulers. 

Book Review: The Seven-Day Resurrection

A delicate narrative of a mother-son, built on themes of nostalgia and hope, with a clever and mysterious back-from-the-dead central plot.

Book cover

Book: The Seven-Day Resurrection

Author: Chevron Ross

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Review Copy: Reedsy Discovery

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Loved It

“Death was so arbitrary. … Sometimes death was sneaky.” What if resurrection occurs? Len grapples with this question in the fascinating novel, The Seven-Day Resurrection. Writer Chevron Ross builds on an interesting premise and entangles the reader in a series of questions from the start. What can explain the presence of Len’s mother in his house after her death? Is it imagination, an anomaly, a cosmic glitch, a psychiatric or physiological disorder, or senility?

Ross has entwined several themes in his book. Delicate nuances of the co-dependent relationship between a 70-year-old man and his 90-year-old mother are central. In crisscrossing timelines, the characters experience different time-lapses in the future and the past. Then, there are stories around the myriad characters – Olivia, the caretaker, Miranda, Len’s boss, Len’s siblings, Len’s teenage angst, aspirations as a writer, life as a loner, and insurance claims handler.

My favorite overarching theme is the nostalgia of the Depression-era and the World War. Ross brings out the imprints of the war on the life of simple people. He tells how the years of want and struggle made the people bitter, frugal, and eventually hoarders, of both things and memories. The conversations between Len and his mother make up a major part of the narrative. Another part is Len’s confusion about the happenings around him and recollections of his life.

An interesting writing technique is using snippets from Len’s writing drafts in the novel. When the first draft of The Farm Tree appears in the book, it is almost confusing. I paused to grasp how the dominant story and this narrative were connected. At a point, it seemed there were too many characters to track. However, I saw the connection. The strong, caring father figure of The Farm Tree and the incidents around bullying were easy to identify. They are reflections of Len’s yearnings since his teenage.

This book is well-researched and has impeccable writing. It is not a zippy read. It requires time and attention. This should in no way discourage a reader because the book does not weigh you down. It carefully builds on the characters, making them endearing and relatable. The writer sketches portraits of a world that is now a fast-disappearing memory, while also keeping it contemporary by referencing the pandemic. The mystery of the resurrection keeps you engaged till the end.

Book Review: Solomon’s Porch

An endearing tale spanning generations and locations, where characters are driven by destiny to embrace life lessons

Book cover

Book: Solomon’s Porch

Author: Janet Morris Grimes

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary

Review Copy: Reedsy Discovery

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Loved It

The simplest stories are the most endearing. Janet Morris Grimes is evidently a keen observer of various facets of human life. She picks up delicate stories and weaves them into a tender novel. Grimes dedicates time to each of her characters, carefully building them up. The fumbling old man, the troubled family man, the separated priest, and the single mother are navigating the highs and lows in relatable ways. These are stories of people like us, everyday stories, yet narrated with deep care.

With undertones of books such as Tuesdays with Morrie, the storyline is touching but not overwhelming. It draws us in and has us rooting for the characters. We know how the storyline will proceed; we are aware of how the writer intends to tie it up, yet we remain invested. This is a story of reminiscence, of the past and the present, and about destinies. We want to follow the characters till the end. Are there lessons; is there redemption; is there release? For each, this is a journey of discovery.

The tone is positive, even though the story is poignant. The characters have moments of panic, despair, loss, confusion, remembrance, and weariness. However, they are all moving on, each day towards resolving what holds them back in the myriad plays of their different lives. The writing is taut and well-edited. Solomon’s Porch is an enjoyable book to read and share. The title sounds inspired by the biblical reference to Solomon’s Porch. The book carries a spiritual message and is written with love and compassion. It has the potential of being made into an equally endearing movie script.

Book Review: The Fabric Over The Moon

Book: The Fabric Over The Moon

Author: Ferran Plana

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Review Copy: Reedsy Discovery

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Must Read

Does a mysterious place with strange customs lift the weight of life and its worries off your shoulders? Do questions of the past become heavier with time? Do dreams spill over into the waking world? Are imaginary creatures more than real? Read a delightful collection by writer Ferran Plana that covers mystical and magical happenings in the lives of common people and uncommon creatures. 

Simple stories, written with flair, offer some fodder for thought. The stories are brief. Not all of them are open-ended, but carry messages that will make you ponder. Stories like Lone or Hero will pull you back as you try to derive the background. Winter will keep you guessing and give you the shivers. The eclectic, the elusive, the unexplained, and even the apocalyptic fill pages of an exciting book. Suspense, humor, fear, sadness, loneliness – a gamut of emotions rush through the pages.

Plana has developed the characters with care and finesse. The stories play out in varied locations, from fantasy lands to a Brazilian parade. On this brilliant canvas, the writer’s imagination sketches wondrous tales. A couple of stories are a spin-off on popular fairytales. I liked the one about flying pigs, but the one with hunters did not appease me much.

The writing is rhythmic and even lyrical at places, akin to poetry. Sample this: “How deep do the teeth of human lust and greed bite that they can lose everything they have in the blink of an eye?” This book is a perfect collection for a quick weekend read or to have scary stories in your quiver to entertain around a bonfire. I always recommend quaint and quirky books like The Fabric Over the Moon. This one is a delight.

Book Review: Midnight Tales

Book: Midnight Tales

Author: Raven Kamali

Genre: Mythology, Horror, Fiction, Short Stories

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Loved It!

As a writer and reader, I often wonder if all the stories in the world have already been told. Then, I come across books like Midnight Tales by Raven Kamali and realize it is a storyteller that breathes life in a story. A story can be retold a million times if the storyteller offers it with elan and flair, and with a unique take. In one story, the character says, “ There are things in life that neither philosophy nor science can explain.” This is what Kamali attempts to bring to us in the Midnight Tales.

Raven has done a fantastic job of bringing to life ten stories, each with different flavors. She has used some old and new themes and opened portals to mythological worlds and spun unique tales around them. My favorite is The Butterfly Lane, but I also loved what she has done in the last story by telling a tale in verse. Don’t Scream has a neat little ending, and it almost seems like you are watching a movie or the beginning of a web series. Not all stories are scary; some are fantasy and mythology-based. Stories built around Atlantis and the Amazon women are lengthier than the others and build on her imagination.

This slim book is an enjoyable weekend read, especially on cold winter evenings when you want to be scared, a teeny-weeny bit. Written fluently, the stories spark interest and linger with you long after you have read them. I found some noteworthy lines, like, ” We never walk towards death, death walks towards us.” The book cover is interesting as it displays a raven and an open book. I think it references the author and her book of creepy stories. I would have liked all stories to be of similar length. However, I found Midnight Tales to be a satisfying reading with good writing and creativity.

%d bloggers like this: