Reviewed by Awesome Indies
November 4, 2014
Dixiane Hallaj is a particular good writer of social/historically placed, politically pointed, drama, both in her creative fiction and as in this case in the writing of Biography augmented with fictional reality. In fact, most biographies contain some invented content, and/or augmented interpretation. There are going to be gaps to fill in any knowledge that reports anything deeper than the bare historic/factual bones.
Hallaj writes, very-broadly speaking, women’s literature, in that central female figures and through them family, are her bread and butter. That shouldn’t deter any but the most misogynistic of male readers. There is plenty of the gritty content and adventure to balance the childcare and dressmaking. This is a lot on female, and male, sensitivities, but certainly very little sentimental. Lola had as psychologically tough a life as most male heroes, and survived an extraordinarily mixed bunch of husbands and other male figures. I may have lost count, but she had certainly buried at least two husbands and saw off another by the time she was thirty. Well, to be accurate, the exes were never conventionally buried.
Hallaj has preserved for history a very informative piece of family/social history. She literally saved important social history from a death bed. This is the history of a very ordinary daughter of gentry, turned extraordinary by the turmoil that swirled through and around her life. Lola saw plenty of the poverties and hardships as well as at least spells of grandeur living. We learn a very great deal about the life experiences of people in Latin America and further afield, between the end of the 19th century and the start of the Great Depression. We leave Lola’s life when she was still hardly middle-aged, by which time she had as much life experience as a half dozen others might achieve in half a dozen centuries. Hallaj has blended biography and real life fiction to create a wonderful memory of her grandmother from her mother’s own words.
The writing is of a very high quality, the script is captivating, and we learn as much about Lola’s times as we would from the very best of historical documentary. What is more, Hallaj seems to be able to paint incredibly detailed pictures without ever seeming to use more than the fewest of words to do so.
Reviewed by Richard Bunning
We reach the top of the climb, having started up the `spiritual’ mountain of Newland’s metaphysical creation in the first book in the Diamond Peak series. Life’s path is never easy for anyone if they are to fulfil their potential, the greater our gifts the more that others’ normally expect us to give. So it is with the heroine, Ariel. In the end, this was not so much of the story of Ariel’s struggle to conquer the blackness threatening her and the lives of those she cared about, but rather about her determination to help the `all’ of humanity. The serpentine Ariel has to destroy is just as binding in landscape we all know as it is on her mythical mountain; a massive peak which seemingly buds from some part of urban Australia. There is a true moral theme, the idea of a saviour, the dream of resetting the clock back on all corrupting evil. This work draws on the powerful allegory of writers like C.S. Lewis, whilst remaining free of his well chiselled, establishment, religious tow.
This is a superb read, in which for me the true peak of creativity was in the all too brief return of Ariel to the `real’ world. In this section we are rewarded by glimpsing the very dark childhood shadows from which Nick, Ariel’s ever closer friend, had to emerge. Of course, the fulfilling of the prophecy was most certainly the summit of excitement. Perhaps the `homecoming’ chapter had a particular resonance for me as it brought to the fore the inventive speculative fiction angle of the book to a degree not seen since the opening chapters of book one.
In my opinion, a perfect rounding of Newland’s `Diamond Peak’ project would be an omnibus addition, an amalgam of all four books in one fat volume. This would allow a huge amount of stripping of retold background and re-established character traits. Going over old ground in each book of the series is so necessary to readers’ understanding in any true serial with a defined `quest’. All four of these books work very well as standalone reads. However, written as one script of perhaps 300,000 words, even if still split into `books’, this could become a modern classic of YA fantasy.
Tahlia delivers another solid book, this time by way of a mix of short stories.
I loved the little intro, A drop from the well of creativity. I loved the way the stories where characterised like children, it made me smile, especially this line:
Inspiration falls like a drop of mercurial silver into the vast depths of my open mind. It hovers in space, then collects and merges with a gaggle of ideas and images until it hangs pregnant and heavy with a pressing need to deliver.
I just adore that imagery! What a welcome intro!
Now, the content… While some of the short stories weren’t really my favourite, I can’t fault Tahlia for producing a flawlessly written book, it was. The subject matter was uplifting and inspirational in each piece, dealing with self exploration of your mind and understanding perception, dealing with death and even the dangers of making assumptions.
By far, my favourite story was ‘The Drorgon Slayer’s Choice’ I felt the most connected with the characters, even though it was probably the most far-fetched in terms of plot.
In closing, if you are after a delightfully uplifting and exploratory adventure that is easy to read, well crafted and inspirational too, all while galloping through romance, YA, drama, science fiction and fantasy genres, pick this one up!!
Demon’s Grip is the third (of four) books in the Diamond Peak series, and it is the best so far, both in terms of the action-packed storyline and the quality of the writing. I had the impression throughout the book that the main characters (Ariel and Nick) had grown up a bit since the previous book. This was probably because they were dealing with issues of greater importance (greed and craving, their developing romance, deceit and honesty and more besides). The emotions of the characters as they struggle with these is very well-portrayed, particularly with regards to addiction.The main story is counterpointed nicely with updates on the predicament of Nadima, Ariel’s mother, who is trapped in the demon’s lair (quite literally, at times, in its grip). The demon in question is developed as an important character in its own right, and the interactions between the demons themselves are quite amusing.It is more than a standard YA fantasy story, though; the characters’ internalisations and dialogue, and the progression of the plot itself, lead the reader to be more contemplative, even meditative, about the emotional issues involved. So it is certainly for readers who want greater depth in a novel.
Overall, a nicely-paced novel, well-written, with memorable characters and the chance, perhaps, to reflect more deeply on life while enjoying the story.
A most exemplary work, a real joy to read. The colour, depth and vitality of both the writing and the narrative is stunningly good: the exploration of motives, outlooks and hopes of the characters quite intoxicating. It ranks as a true work of literary accomplishment.
This second volume in Tahlia Newland’s YA series picks up just where the first volume, A Lethal Inheritance,
The will-they-won’t-they of Nick and Ariel’s relationship is well written, and we see the situation from both sides. Ariel worries, as many girls her age do, that having a boyfriend will distract her from what she needs to do to succeed, but will also turn her into someone who is less able to focus on what’s important because they are always worrying about how they look. In Ariel’s case, Newland makes it easy to sympathise with her worry about being distracted – rescuing their mother is the most important goal anyone might have – but she also shows well how contradictory our feelings can be, when we are inching into a new relationship. Nick himself is confused about how he feels, managing the conflict in his own feelings and his life before Ariel with the tension she brings. He wants to impress her, protect her, look after, but he also is overwhelmed at times by how she makes him feel. Often YA fiction sees things from only the girl’s point of view, so this is a welcome addition to the novel.
This novel has a much stronger romantic element to it than the first volume but it doesn’t overshadow what is, once again, a well-driven, well-plotted voyage through well-drawn, well-imagined worlds. Twitchet, the talking cat, is wonderfully expressed, and although the sage Walnut is absent for the first part of the novel, Twitchet more than makes up for his absence in his cleverness and his mischief. There are new friends and enemies made, and some whose allegiance is not clear. Tension is steadily built as the novel progresses and we also learn more of the metaphysical vision of this world, of how infectious darkness and self-doubt can be, and how compelling and difficult to escape too. It is impossible to talk in any detail about the plot without giving it away, but suffice to say after a steady beginning, life gets increasingly more complicated and Ariel must test herself again and again and again.
If you enjoyed the first volume of the series then this will not disappoint and will leave you eagerly anticipating the next stage of their journey.
Great stuff! I would suggest reading Lethal Inheritance first, though it is certainly not essential. This really is a pure fantasy book, written with an older teenager as the target audience. I’m 57, and don’t really believe that I would have enjoyed it any more or less at 17.
I didn’t like it quite as much as the first book. This is mainly because I’m eager to reach the end of the quest, thus find the middle somewhat of a frustration. The books overall quality is top draw, with a good pace and easy style. Unsurprisingly, some of the fantasy elements are very familiar to anyone that has read any of the genre but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good deal of originality as well.
We can see all the classical elements of the moral quest, the long road searching for the magic that will allow evil to be defeated. The dark forces are embedded in the suffocating, black serpentine. Ariel, the heroine is growing in skill, becoming immersed in the magic of her inheritance, whilst fighting her instincts to run, or fall into the strong arms of her worldly lover, or even to sink into the smothering, beguiling, evil. Arial is as determined to defeat the Rasama as I am to reach the end of book three. I don’t think Ariel really found anything but frustration in this difficult middle road either, all sorts of frustrations in her case, especially when this book started with her realising that her personal quest had so far failed.
I really need to move on from Sheldra, and Arial and Nick really need to get together with the job done. There are so many cravings that need ending, so Tahlia Newland, please don’t keep us waiting too long. Don’t give the serpentine over much time to grow, or else Arial will need a forth book in order to bring things to a head. Would Newland do that to us?
Stalking Shadows is the second book in Tahlia Newland’s Diamond Peak series.
It picks up right after the ending of book one, so really should be read in order. Having said that, the book could still be enjoyed (if a little confusing in parts) even if you hadn’t read the first.
This one didn’t seem as smooth as the first. There were passages that overwhelmed me in a spirituality sense, too much focus on inner light and radiance. There were only a few points where this happened, but it was enough to pull me out of the story.
The adventure was just as exciting as the first book, with intricate twists and turns sporadically placed so as to keep the reader guessing.
I look forward to seeing the relationships between the characters grow in the next book in the series.
**Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review***
The second of Krisi Keley’s Friar Tobias mysteries is even better than the first. Once again the author’s background in linguistics and theology provides the unique material for this superb supernatural mystery.
A man seeks Tobias’s help for his foster son. He thinks the child may have witnessed a crime, but the boy has a speech problem due to either autism or schizophrenia, so no one can understand him. Like Ms Keley, Tobias has a degree in linguistics which is why the man seeks him out. Paolo speaks in poetry and makes obscure references to what Tobias eventually figures out is an old fairy tale about a girl and her eleven brothers that are turned into swans by a wicked witch. He senses that someone is in trouble, but who?
Tobias’s friend, the psychiatrist priest, wants him to meet a mute and apparently traumatised girl who has turned up in a hospital and, in what appears to be sheer coincidence, her sketches indicate that she fills the role of the girl in the fairy tale. But where are her eleven brothers? And how does Paolo know all this? This description is a gross simplification of a story with many subtleties, but as with all good mysteries, our suspicions are aroused and the pieces come together at the end.
Ms Keley manages to imbue her mystery with more than just the supernatural. As with all her books, questions of spirituality are at the core of the story. Tobias is a staunch Catholic. He believes in leaving sex until marriage, so his girlfriend, Samantha, who he met in his last case, must wait with him, and this provides some interesting topics of conversation. The nature of the crime and how it reflects present day morals is also a matter of thought-provoking reflection on Tobias’s part, but both these issues sit quite naturally in the story simply because of who Tobias is.
Ms Keley is a master of the English language. Her prose flows beautifully (though I did find the first sentence rather a mouthful) and she expresses subtle ideas succinctly and elegantly. The characters are charming with a delightful intelligent banter between Tobias and Samantha. The plot is interesting, the pacing never languishes and the editing is sleek.
Overall the book is an excellent and eerie mystery about a sick crime that needs a little supernatural intervention to bring the perpetrator to justice. This is a wonderful example of the kind of gems you’ll only find in independent fiction. It’s an entertaining, skilfully executed mystery, but it’s also different, deep and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it for those who like private investigator stories with supernatural and metaphysical elements.
This is a deep, rich, poignant and profoundly humanistic book. It is also one of the best “political” books I have ever read.
The central thesis, a family that could be any one’s neighbours anywhere of Earth, except that they are struggling against the crush of a “foreign” military occupation, living between Jerusalem and Ramallah, is brilliantly constructed.
Whilst telling one extended family’s story Hallaj very cleverly keeps the reader linked to the massive historical waves convulsing the nowadays lands of Abraham. The chosen device, the start of chapter historic, headline, quote, works very well.
Hallaj is a very good reader of the mind set of others. Her characters are totally believable, and her understanding of the issues facing now stateless people walking their own ancestors’ lands seems to me to be sharp and profound. Politicians who really care for the pursuit of peace should read this book, whatever side of the wicked divide birth or conviction puts them on.
My only gripe is that Hallaj is far too soft on the terrors on both sides of the story. For me the time for soft kicks, for common sense to find solutions, ended with the death of Ben Gurion, a long life far too short. But then again, if ever peace is to come and it can only come through peaceful means then this book may well be a cathartic part of the build. No antagonists can justifiably claim that this read is too hurtful of their sensibilities. For those such as me, distant from the issues, this is a fiction that I feel accurately reflects a continuing truth. Whilst it is only too easy for me to say the words that this book boils in me, I fully acknowledge that if I had been born to either side I would likely be a thorn rather than a peacemaker. Only extraordinarily brave people will ever change things, but I’m sure the humanitarian values portrayed in books like this are a modest but valuable step. We all have mothers.