COMING SOON! Download Evie Woolmore’s “Rising Up” for free for two days only!

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“One of the best books [on the Holocaust] I have ever read” ~ Katharina Gerlach

“Simple and beautiful, haunting and poignant” ~ Leigh Podgorski

Tom Macindeor is an itinerant English teacher, spending the summer in Warsaw in the hope of finding out the truth about his grandfather, a Polish resistance fighter. But when he hears the voice of Ela, a young woman trapped in the Jewish Ghetto of 1942, a window opens not just on his past but the future of the ghetto and all those who live in it. Should he share what he knows of their fate, or will Ela’s search for the truth about her own family doom them both?

Evie Woolmore‘s  haunting novel of the Warsaw Ghetto is downloadable for free from all Amazon sites on 3rd and 4th August 2014. Find out why the Historical Novel Society’s reviewer recommends Evie Woolmore’s magical realist novels “to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences”

Find out more about Evie on her webpage, read an opening extract, or find out about what influenced Evie to write Rising Up.

Coming Soon: Magic Realism Blog Hop 2014!

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allonymbooks is delighted to have been invited to join this year’s Magic Realism Blog Hop by magical realist author and reviewer Zoe Brooks. Last year’s blogs were fascinating, a rich range of perspectives from talented writers of atmospheric and engaging writing. If you are a magical realist author and you want to sign up, then you can visit Zoe’s blog and register yourself here.

The Blog Hop runs from 6th-8th August, so come back and see us then, when allonymbooks’ own conjuress of magical realism Evie Woolmore will be talking about her relationship with the sixth sense…

 

Magical Realist Book Review: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore, herself a writer of magical realist historical fiction, reviews The Firebird. 

I’m a relative latecomer to Susanna Kearsley’s work, as the first of what I would describe as her magical realist novels, Mariana, was published in 1994. Kearsley’s books could be defined broadly as historical fiction, where the past offers a portal for the present day heroine to witness history first hand and understand the truth of her own situation in some respect. It could be more simply described as time travel fiction, but what drew me to reading The Firebird (2013) was the focus on a more specifically psychic skill, psychometry or psychoscopy. This is the ability to ‘read’ something of an object’s past by touching it, explained by the psychometrist picking up traces of the energy of past owners or inhabitants. The word psychometry was coined in the nineteenth century, and literally means ‘reading the soul’, which in itself is an apt metaphor for this particular novel.

The Firebird‘s heroine, Nicola Marter is an expert in Russian art, and when she comes into contact with a small carved wooden bird, she instantly senses something powerful and significant in the object’s past, that it once belonged to the Russian Empress Catherine. Compelled by the tragic circumstances of the bird’s owner, she seeks the help of an old friend whom she hasn’t faced for many years. Rob McMorran possesses a psychic gift of a strength matched only by his purity of spirit, and in revisiting her past decision to deny her own ability – and her feelings for Rob – Nicola becomes able to revisit the past. The novel then becomes two stories in one, the events which lead to Nicola’s acceptance of her own ability and the events which lead us to the bird’s original owner.

Kearsley’s approach to historical fiction – and to the historical story in the novel – is as thorough as any fan of traditional historical fiction would expect. Indeed, The Firebird is the second in the Slains series, novels which draw on the rich and dramatic history of Scotland’s Slains Castle. Kearsley is detailed, accurate, and readily gifted at reimagining the past for her reader, although at times I think the historical authenticity slightly weighs down the pacing. There are also an enormous number of characters in the historical story, and in the last third of the novel, as the plot became more complex, it became occasionally difficult to keep track of everyone, especially after a break in reading. This is though a mark of Kearsley’s determination to tell a historical story properly, and not to oversimplify what were key historical and cultural events in Scotland’s past.

My key reason for reading this book, of course, was the paranormal aspect, and the reason why I would broadly call her novels magical realist. Not having read any of her other books, I was struck immediately by two things: the direct way in which Kearlsey introduces the psychic ability into the story, and Nicola’s implied sense of shame at her ability. It becomes apparent as the book goes on that Nicola’s attitude to her ability is complex: having volunteered years before for scientific tests of her ability, she did not complete the process and her emotional entanglement with and abandonment of Rob has left her with unresolved feelings about everything. Indeed, the direct acceptance of the psychometry as valid, right from the outset of the novel (we are left in no doubt that Nicola believes what she has ‘seen’, even if it has left her unsettled), is somewhat at odds with Nicola’s doubts and uncertainties about her own psychometric ability: she is afraid of what Rob can do, and of what she might be capable of doing, but is never in any doubt about the validity of the ability.

This comes to a head when Nicola must decide whether to admit to the owner of a painting she has been sent to buy that she knows it is a fake because she has seen its true and far more contemporary artist painting it when she touches the picture. Rob confronts her reluctance to admit publicly who she truly is and thus who he is too, and although Nicola ultimately accepts her ability, I was left with the sensation that this was ‘a cross to bear’, so to speak, for all involved. The potential for being a social outcast in any community which did not readily accept their psychic gift, and the unending requirement for proof of ability, is a common theme in any novel which tries to resolve or explain the paranormal, and in many respects The Firebird is framed as Nicola’s search for her own authenticity. I was left wondering though what I was meant to believe about psychometry, which was a curiosity because the novel is constructed around that original assumption that it is valid. We can’t access the careful historical truth Kearsley has written for us, if we don’t believe that what Rob and Nicola can do is actually possible. And yet they are arguing about how publicly acknowledging that ability is part of what makes it genuine.  I felt slightly as if I was being given something at the same time as it was being taken away from me. And I think this is the core conundrum of what makes novels which try to reconcile the ability so problematic. And in this case, paradoxically, we need an explanation for the journey from fiction (where anything is possible) to fact (the historical aspects of the story).

Would I recommend it? For fans of historical fiction, yes, without question. For fans of magical realism, probably not, because Kearsley doesn’t really say anything new about psychic ability, or craft any originality with it as a story element. But I will read other books of hers, if only to satisfy my curiosity about how she uses this time travel device in other contexts.

To find out more about Evie Woolmore’s historical magical realist novels The Salt Factory, Equilibrium, and Rising Up, visit the pages on this website or go to Amazon to download samples.

Another great review of Evie Woolmore’s Equilibrium

And hot on the tail of the lovely review of The Salt Factory, a review by Emmy of the Flaming Colours blog of one of Evie’s other novels, Equilibrium.

Equilibrium is a haunting tale of guilt and longing. Set against the backdrop of London and the Boer War, it shows Britain in a state of change. And as with all change, it is not welcomed by everyone. Between reactionary forces and those of change, the characters in the book struggle to find their own balance.

The atmosphere of London is captured beautifully in the book. The strict class divisions were still very prevalent in social Britain around the turn of the twentieth century. And it plays a huge role in the story. It illustrates poignantly the position of women at the time and the dire consequences for those who try to reach beyond its confines. Add to these the ingredients of the paranormal and a skeptical scientist and you get an idea of the historical depth and detail of the book. I found it absolutely captivating.

We learn much of what drives the characters because we spent a lot of time in their minds. But instead of it bringing me closer to the characters, I mostly felt it slowed down the story. The real engagement came when the pace of the story picked up. At that point, the dialogue and action brought them to life much better than the musings in their mind did. This is illustrated by the characters with whom you don’t get to spend time in their heads; Rafe (who at the start of the story conjured up echoes of Mr. Rochester for me. You’ll have to read the book to see how that works out!) is an excellent example.

The paranormal aspects in the book are well handled. There was a surge of interest for mediums and the paranormal during the time the book is set so it blends in seamlessly. Epiphany, ethereal as she may seem, is the real driving force behind the events of the story and the magical realistic elements are the author’s well used tools to portray what is in essence a very realistic tale of human losses and how to deal with them.

A stunning review of Evie Woolmore’s The Salt Factory

Author Alan Skinner posted this review of Evie Woolmore‘s novel The Salt Factory on Goodreads. His review – like his books – is worth reading, for its diligence and honesty. And if you ever review books, his blend of the personal and the objective is a style worth evoking.

The line between fantasy and magical realism is not a thin one. Between the two lies a huge gulf filled with literary conventions, belief and, most of all, the difference between suspension of belief and the creation of belief. Evie Woolmore may well disagree but magical realism is about the fantastic seen within the ordinary rather than jostling for room beside it. Marquez, the greatest of all the so-called magical realism novelists, elevated the ordinary into the magical rather than forcing the ordinary to give way to the magical. Woolmore respects that though her brand of magical realism is less flighty than that of Marquez or Borges.

The Salt Factory by Evie WoolmoreIn the Salt Factory, Evie Woolmore deftly teases out the fantastic. It is, perhaps, more mystical than magical but she has a sure grasp of her spirit, never letting it slide into the mundane and facile supernatural. While we might guess where she is going, the trip there is what matters, not the arrival.

It is best that I make clear my interest in writing this review. To say I am writing this review only because I liked the book would be to state only half the truth and since the unspoken half could unfairly damage the credibility of the review, it is best to come clean.

Last year, Evie, as reviewer for Awesome Indies and her own book review blog, Allonym Books, produced a very generous review of one of my books. Now, I detest the practice of cross reviews, where authors make a pact to review each other’s books. Readers deserve more honesty and transparency than that. It never occurred to me to to even read one of Evie’s books, let alone review it. I rarely write reviews being far too self-centred to think that any books but mine deserve to be reviewed, and far too busy working on new ones to be distracted. Yet, the intelligence and literary grace of Evie’s review piqued my curiosity and I found myself buying The Salt Factory.

So, you’ll just have to take my word for it that this is not a tit-for-tat thank you, or part of a bargain made with another author. If I was to bargain away my soul, believe me, I would side with Faust and ask for a much higher price than a review. My soul is worth at least the guarantee of a best-seller, most likely several, with an unusually inspiring Muse thrown in for insurance.

This is a well-written book. Its measured prose flows easily and treads confidently between exposition and description. The book unwinds itself around you. We often talk of a book as being a page-turner as if that were some automatic measure of value but it seems to me that the page you can’t bear to leave is a better mark of a well-written book. The reader should want to remain with, to to linger over, each page, rather than rush past it to see the next one. And that is the type of book Evie has written; the well-written page-lingerer, like the novels of Henry James.

That is not to say that it plods or is dull. It has a compelling storyline that moves along briskly enough with only one or two brief and barely noticeable quiet spots. And its main protagonist, Thelonia Jones, is an intriguing and unusual creation: a English-born, gunslinging US marshall not afraid to be masculine but not compelled to be so. Children and adolescents may well like and need kick-ass heroines but feisty, independent and smart ones like Thelonia serve adults better.

Disconnection and displacement are obviously important and interesting themes to Woolmore for they loom large in the book. In fact, it is a book populated by the disconnected or those connected to the wrong people or places, almost like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that is pulled apart, shuffled and re-assembled. When Woolmore gradually pushes the pieces back together, we realise that the landscape actually hasn’t changed at all but that we’re just looking at it from a different horizon.

It isn’t a deeply profound book but it does’t set out to be. It is a reflective, thoughtful, intriguing book. There’s a mystery at its heart but it isn’t a whodunnit. I’m not even 100% sure there’s a defined solution. I know I came to my own, one that satisfied me, but perhaps it isn’t the same one as Woolmore intended. It doesn’t matter; she only wrote it. I read it. And it worked for me.

*****

Evie Woolmore’s The Salt Factory is available from all Amazon sites. And if you want to try before you buy, you can read an extract here.

A terrific review of Evie Woolmore’s The Salt Factory

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore“Evocative, gorgeously written, this haunting tale of discovery will have you madly page turning until the wee hours.”

What more could you want from a book? allonymbooks’ fellow spiritual novelist Leigh Podgorski has reviewed Evie Woolmore’s latest novel, The Salt Factory, on Amazon and Goodreads, and she obviously really loved it! She gave it five stars and her review captures perfectly the essence of the book. She didn’t receive a review copy from us, so her opinion is genuinely impartial and honest.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about,  why she thinks that the heroine Thelonia Jones is a ‘perfectly realized Victorian heroine’ and how the ‘ethereal characters…give the novel its luminescence and sheen’ then read an extract of the book, and find out more about Evie’s three magical realist novels. Or better still, go to Amazon and buy a copy for yourself!

Interview with Zoe Brooks, magic realist writer and reviewer

This week, allonymbooks novelist Evie Woolmore interviews author Zoe Brooks about their mutual interest in magic realism and Zoe’s project to read widely in the genre.
Evie Woolmore: Zoe, you explain on your blog that you started reviewing magic realist books because people told you that’s what you wrote. What qualities were you attributing to your own fiction when you started writing that you now identify as being magic realist?
Zoe Brooks: The Healer’s Shadow trilogy books and Mother of Wolves are all set in a non-specific world, which could be our world but isn’t. The world is very realistic – influenced by my study of history and my travels – and so it is unlike the incredible fantasy worlds of most fantasy books. Looking back I realize I was influenced by One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which Marquez creates the town of Macado, in an unspecified country which could be somewhere in South America but isn’t.  The world of my books isn’t full of spells or magic, but there are Shadows.  The heroine of the trilogy, Judith, is born with a Shadow. Shadows appear to be human but aren’t in some ways. Through the course of the trilogy, Judith and the reader understand more and more about what Shadows are. 
 
Most magic realism is about two cultures meeting – often a western realist culture and an indigenous culture which believes in magic. The trilogy is partly about the clash between the new university-based medical doctors and traditional healers, such as Judith. In The Company of Shadows, the final book in the trilogy, Judith completes her training as a healer. As a result what might be called “magic” appears, but then it depends how you look at it. I think this ambiguity is a common feature of magic realism. 
EW: Yes, I agree that ambiguity and a clash of cultures are something I would certainly identify as being magic realist. How useful do you think ambiguity is as a creative tool for a writer?
ZB: It’s a very useful tool. It is also true to life – life is ambiguous. If you are using a first-person narrator I would say ambiguity is a necessity, as your central character can’t be certain of everything.
Ambiguity can be used to keep the reader turning the pages: what’s going on here? But whether you can still have ambiguity at the end of the book is another matter.  Some people want everything wound up and explained at the end. In magic realism that doesn’t always happen – sometimes the magic is just part of the world and isn’t explained, other times the reader cannot be clear if the magic was actually in the head of one of the characters. Personally I am quite okay about that when I read a book that ends in this way, but other people aren’t. In the case of The Healer’s Shadow trilogy, the last book answers a lot of people’s questions.
EW: What unexpected surprises did you discover among the books you read and reviewed, in terms of new authors, books you weren’t expecting to enjoy, or clever uses of magic realism?
ZB: What a question! I’ve read over ninety books for the magic realism blog, so where do I start? Of the classic magic realist books the one that blew me away was Pedro Paramo. It’s poetic, experimental and just wonderful. Previously I had read very few short story collections, but magic realism works well in short stories. Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia has to be one of my favourite books so far and Diving Belles by Lucy Wood is a lovely evocation of the magic of Cornwall. In terms of clever uses of magic realism I suppose the use of magic realism in Graham Joyce’s psychological suspense novel The Tooth Fairy was an eye opener for me as a writer and has influenced the book I am currently working on. I had not experienced Chicano literature before and I loved the historical biography The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. Hardly a surprise as it’s about a traditional woman healer, which is also the focus of my Shadows trilogy.
 

EW: I too very much enjoyed Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles, and it reminded me of how different the narrative drive is in short stories. You mentioned the influence of The Tooth Fairy, so I’m curious what else you have learned about your own writing of magic realism from reading so widely in the genre?

ZB: I don’t subscribe to a view that magic realism is a form of escapism. I have just finished Burning Angel by James Lee Burke, which is a gritty detective story with an element of magic realism. Your book can be very real and also magical. The more I read the more I see magic realism as a way of exploring reality in its totality. I’ve always tackled hard issues in my books – The Healer’s Shadow trilogy is about overcoming prejudice and persecution. I believe magic realism can allow you do this in a deeper way.

EW: So, can you share with us what you are writing at the moment?

ZB: My current work in progress is set in modern Prague. It’s a place I know very well, as I spend half my time in the Czech Republic. Prague may be a bustling modern city, but it is also one where almost uniquely you are aware of a magic reality alongside the normal world. I am always surprised how many Czechs believe in angels, devils and nature spirits. The novel is a psychological suspense. A young British woman has gone missing. As we meet people who knew her and read her letters and journal, we find ourselves in a shifting world of reality. In a fortnight I will be flying off to the Czech Republic again, where I will be finishing off the first draft of the book. 

Zoe, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you about magic realism. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.

You can find out more about Zoe, her novels and her magic realism blog at her website. You can find out more about Evie Woolmore’s magic realism novels here at allonymbooks, and read Evie’s review of Zoe’s first Healer’s Shadow novel here.