There are a lot of great books at our fingertips these days – more than ever before. I’ve found myself exploring genres I wouldn’t have considered in the past. I’ve come to realize that classic literature cannot -- should not -- be the standard by which all books and genres are judged.
However, there’s a reason certain books and writings are considered classic. Classics often do set standards. They convey timeless messages. They are forever relevant.
Lady of Shalott is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Written in the mid-1800s, it has been portrayed on stage, in paintings, and performed in countless public and private readings.
Author Richard Abbott refers to his book Half Sick of Shadows as “a retelling – and metamorphosis” of Tennyson’s classic which, in turn, was inspired by even older stories and legends.
Midway through Half Sick of Shadows, I decided to read Lady of Shalott. Somehow, it was missing from my repertoire, and I was curious.
Half Sick of Shadows was so beautiful, haunting, lyrical. How would it compare to the original?
The story (for both) centers around a lady confined to a tower. She can’t leave it. She sees everything happening outside the castle walls through a mirror. At first, she is accepting, content, at peace in her tower. But eventually, she grows restless.
Tennyson’s version is the much shorter of the two. It’s a poem. Limited in focus, it flows beautifully. Camelot is there, in the background. Sir Lancelot makes an appearance.
Half Sick of Shadows isn’t a poem. It’s a novel, albeit a short one, but it flows like poetry. As centuries pass, the lady sleeps and wakes, sleeps and wakes. The descriptions are so evocative and lovely that, while reading, I was as eager and anxious as the lady to see what changes had occurred in the landscape and people while she slept.
We become closely acquainted with the lady, with her daily life, her thoughts and feelings. With each waking, she is more aware. The more she learns from the mirror, the more she wants. She yearns to interact with the people she sees, to share in a relationship, until the yearning is unbearable.
While Tennyson’s lady clearly lives during King Arthur’s reign, this lady isn’t so bound by time. Her story begins in an earlier century and lasts longer. But there’s something else -- more than that, really, but I’ll tell you just one thing. She has a keyboard.
So, bottom line?
Lady of Shalott: I’m glad I read it, but I don’t particularly like it.
Richard Abbott’s Half Sick of Shadows: I love it and look forward to revisiting it often. It’s unique. It’s timeless and beautiful. It’s a historian’s romantic poem of the ages.
It’s a classic.
Available at Amazon UK and Amazon.
Welcome to Medieval Monday, Week #2!
I am still a crass newbie at this, but I love this time of year and I love medieval romance. If you feel the same, it will be worth your time to check out the Medieval Romance Lovers Page. Highlanders, vikings, French and English noblemen and women – a wonderful treasure box of stories filled with passion, upheaval, and happily-ever-afters.
The theme this fall is nature and I’ve decided to continue with Lachlann and Deidre’s trip to a Christmas tree farm in the Piney Woods of Texas. My medieval hero has fallen forward through time, but he is what he is – a medieval, Norse highlander.
In this snippet, since Deidre is driving them to the farm, he has time to reflect.
The way she touched him… His breathing hitched. Touch. It had been something he’d yearned for all his life, the feeling changing and strengthening as he grew older.
Growing up, his family lived in close quarters. They sat close together when they ate. They’d had to if they were all to fit round the table. He’d often slept with his older brothers, his size becoming an obstacle long before his age. His parents and grandparents had been openly affectionate. He’d been used to touch, but Allasan hadn’t. She didn’t like it and had expected him to respect her space.
Deidre was always touching him, and it wasn’t always sexual. By day, she showered him with frequent, loving gestures of affection. At night, she snuggled against him as close as she possibly could. And as for sex, her hands were all over him constantly.
It grounded him, comforted him, excited him. Her caresses filled a need deep within him.
How could he ever leave her?
How could he stay?
Available at Amazon.
What an extraordinary book! As a rule, I try not to dwell on the pain and suffering that evil causes. I know it does, and that's enough for me. When I hear mention of demons and hell, I usually push it out of my mind.
JL Rothstein's Atonement doesn't allow the reader to do that. Her guardians - the O'Mara family - experience every sort of agony -- physical, mental, emotional -- as they fight to protect the human race against evil.
In Chapter One, a demon tempts a young woman to kill herself... I won't say more except that from there, the story only gets more intense. Throughout the book, whenever there's rage, violence, or despair, a demon or demons are present. Evil causes terrible discord, something we would all do well to remember.
The demons are terrifying, cruel, and relentless.
But there's also love and laughter. The O'Mara's are a close and wonderful family. They are each just as relentless in their mission(s), as well as brave and prepared to give up their lives for the good of all. But even in this -- and it's the author's special gift -- even though the guardians aren't human, they possess very human traits. They make mistakes. They know love, fear, and pain. They exhibit grief, anger, frustration, and joy.
So, it's not just a story of good versus evil, but a story of family, a story of love. The O'Mara family and their allies are likeable/loveable characters. I was holding my breath through most the book and felt with them every step of the way.
Rothstein shares a generous dose of religious tradition as well as Biblical references. The Four Horsemen from Revelation make an appearance. It's epic. It's violent.
That’s my review. Today, I’m pleased to share my interview with JL Rothstein, the author of Atonement. Welcome, Jen.
I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to come on and talk about the book with you, thank you for having me!
Atonement is the first book in your Heaven Sent series. I have to ask, how in the world did you come up with the story? What was your inspiration?
I dreamt of the character Gabriel, I knew right away he was from Heaven, but that he was trapped and longing for a long lost partner. I tried ignoring it, but the character kept coming back in my dreams and telling me, you need to write my story. I don’t know what I watched on tv or what book I read that led my subconscious mind to have these thoughts. I decided to go with it and started writing. The nine siblings are named after my nieces and nephews. The inspiration for the women, really comes from a mix of my now adult nieces and my own relationship with my two sisters.
You dreamt of him. I’m in awe, and I absolutely love that you named the O’Mara siblings after you nieces and nephews. They must be so proud.
As an author, my peace is disturbed when I have to ponder a sad scene for a week, a day, or an hour. Your story has demons – really scary demons! Did you ever creep your own self out? The way you describe them… from what sort of resources did you pull? Art? Movies? Literature? Sheer imagination?
I have scared myself from time to time. There were a few ideas that didn’t make it into the book. I am reserving them for future stories in this universe, but some of those really kept me awake. I think as a writer you draw inspiration and spark your creativity through a multitude of mediums. I like looking at artwork, I enjoy researching old artifacts (especially things the Vatican keeps hidden) and I’m a fan of fantasy shows/movies like Game of Thrones, Constantine, and the Marvel Universe. All those have supernatural elements, which makes them even more fun and interesting.
Tense as the action can be, I consider Atonement a character-driven story. I like all the good guys and my favorite is Kelly. I love her spunkiness and how much she enjoys life, especially food! Won’t you tell us more about your characters? Do you have a favorite so far?
It’s funny the reaction people have had to the sisters. The first book was Gen’s story, but it’s pretty clear that Kelly made an immediate impression on people. Kelly is just fun to write. I love her toughness, her sarcasm, and her unapologetic nature. I think Kelly is reflective of a lot of our inner voices. I can’t pick a favorite, but I love the strong women in this story, there are not enough stories portraying women like this out there.
I also find Atonement to be very timely. When did you start writing it? How long did it take you to write? I ask because it seems to describe the general atmosphere of 2020. In other words, it feels prophetic. Or do you consider that’s the way the world has always been?
I think prophecy would give me far too much credit. I wrote pieces of this story and a very rough draft years ago. I queried it and it went nowhere because quite honestly it wasn’t good. It needed a lot of work. In 2016 I decided to apply to graduate school and take some Creative Writing courses, I started reading books on writing and a couple of online talks. I went down the path of learning everything I could about the craft of writing. My whole focus was to get better. I ended up re-writing the book, using the first draft more like an outline. When I was done, I sent it out for a professional edit and tried to follow all the advice that the editor gave me.
I think the world has gotten smaller with technology. We are inundated with mostly negative news on a regular basis. It’s hard to get away from the bad, but I suspect it was there all along. 2020 is a year where a lot of things have merged, like a perfect storm. You have a pandemic (never thought I would type that in my lifetime), a contentious environment riddled with politics, and we’re isolated. I just try and stay positive that this is such a low, it can only get better from here.
As I mentioned in my review, I particularly appreciated how whenever there is despair or division, you’ve slipped in a demon or demons. I must assume this is on purpose. Can you tell us a little more about it? What do you think about the concepts of good and evil?
This is fictional, so focusing on evil as a construct, with actual bad guys is entertaining. Perhaps it’s too easy, in truth humanity doesn’t need villains or demons. People have been hurting one another long before the concept of Satan or Hell. I do fear that over time people have less faith. No matter what religion you are, or what God you believe in, having faith can help keep you grounded. Belief and spirituality allow us to think of something bigger than ourselves. This in turn can make us selfless, caring, empathetic. Those are things the world can always use more of.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about Atonement?
Atonement is a book about family, faith, and the power of forgiveness, not just of others, but of ourselves.
I’m so grateful to all those who have read the book, given a review, reached out on social media to talk about the characters. I’m grateful for this space to talk about the story and reach your readers.
Those are themes we all need more of. It’s a wonderful book. I’m eager for the next! Last question – how’s work on the sequel going?
I have a deadline to finish book 2 by October. The editor who reviewed the first book is doing the second book as well. Everything should be done by early 2021. I am hoping that book 2 can launch in March 2021. More to come on social media, if people are interested, they can always reach me on social media or sign up for my newsletter on jlrothstein.com
JL Rothstein, thank you for sharing your time and talent. Looking forward to your future work.
JL Rothstein is a published author. She writes in the Fantasy genre with an affinity for the Supernatural.
Atonement, the first book in the three book series is the fictional story of the O’Mara family, nine siblings sent by Heaven to guard humans against the interference of those in Hell. Along the way the siblings come to realize the violent confrontations and disturbing behavior they encounter can only be overcome if they have trust and faith in one another.
Jennifer was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. She comes from a large Irish family and spent twelve years in Catholic school. Having three siblings herself she understands the challenges, drama, rivalries, and loyalties between siblings.
Jennifer has a BS from Suffolk University and is currently pursuing her MBA in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. She is married and now resides in the western part of the state. Her first novel is launched and she is currently working on the second book in the series, Hellbound.
Atonement is FREE thru this Sunday, September 27. Don't miss out!
Excerpt from ATONEMENT
Gen looked up as the sky shook with thunder and lightning pierced the darkness. A large
reddish-brown glow formed around them, something was coming.
“Get back, go to the tree line, now!” Michael shouted as he ran motioning with his hands.
Gen watched her brothers run toward the trees and followed them. As they got to the relative
safety of the forest, they turned back just as a Hell Fighter and two Hellions arrived in the middle
of the field noticeably pissed at the number of fallen comrades that lay at their feet.
Hell Fighters hadn’t been seen on earth in decades. Gen couldn’t remember the last
time they encountered one.
At least it’s not a newborn, Gen sighed in minor relief. Watching the demon’s somewhat
labored movements she thought, He’s older, he shouldn’t be able to stick around too long.
The demon was set ablaze in Hell fire. His large frame, long arms, and dragon-like head
just a mere outline in a shadow of rolling flame. Once away from Hell, the flame dwindled, and
its skin cooled to a leathery black veined with streaks of red. The Hell Fighter’s blood was made
of venom, cast from those tormented in Hell, it was Hell’s deadliest weapon against Heaven.
The upper level demon’s venom was fatal, even its sweat was enough to cause serious
damage. Newborn Hell Fighters carried the most lethal dose of the venom in their blood,
because the essence of the tortured still lingered. Though the Hell Fighter’s venom was
poisonous, its physical strength faded over time, which meant they couldn’t stay away from the
source that manifested them for very long.
The arrival of a Hell Fighter would typically signal the end of the battle. In most cases a
Guardian would be forced to vacate the scene, but the O’Mara’s had a weapon of their own.
Before the Hell Fighter could make a move, Kelly arrived, taking a stance between the
demons and her siblings. One of the Hellions lunged wildly at Kelly’s head, but she ducked and
the demon’s momentum sent him tumbling across the field behind her. Michael stepped out
from under the treelined covering and stabbed the beast through the ankle, quickly stepping
back away from the animal in case its blood had been tainted by the Hell Fighter. The hideous
beast howled like a rabid animal. Michael’s blade had penetrated all the way through to the
ground, effectively pinning the hound in place.
Kelly threw a knife at the second Hellion’s ear landing a blow that sent the monster to
the ground in a heap. It attempted to gain relief by clawing at the blade, trying to remove it as it
rolled back and forth across the grass. Blood gushed from the dog-like creature’s head and he
squealed as his skin began to burn, puffs of steam wafted above its head.
She must have dipped the blade in Holy water, Gen presumed. Nice touch, Gen thought.
The odds were even now, it would be Kelly one-on-one against the Hell Fighter. The
demon stomped forward taking an enormous swing toward Kelly. She blocked it and then used
the demon’s own momentum against him. Kelly pulled down as the demon’s weight was
propelled forward. The demon fell to one knee and Kelly grabbed onto his neck and swung up
and onto his back, harnessing her legs around his shoulders and tucking her feet under his
arms for stability. The Hell Fighter got back to his feet, grabbing at her twisting and bucking as
he tried to pull her off, but she held on. She threw a katar at the second wounded Hellion’s heart
and its chaotic rolling movements instantly halted.
The pinned Hellion pulled at its leg until it ripped and tore away from the ankle still
tethered to the ground by Michael’s sword. The beast hobbled toward Kelly leaving a bloody trail
behind it. By the time the wounded Hellion reached its master, Kelly had killed the Hell Fighter.
As the Hell Fighter collapsed to the ground, Kelly jumped off the demon kicking the wounded
Hellion lurching toward her. Jumping onto the Hellion’s back, Kelly pulled out a long silver blade
and plunged it into its head, killing it instantly.
Getting to her feet Kelly turned to her siblings. “Sorry, I couldn’t find my stupid boots.”
Kelly’s sweatshirt smoked as the remnants of demon blood soaked through. She swiped hard,
but it would burn through to her skin if she left it on. Though she was immune to the poison, her
“I’m surprised the Hell Fighter didn’t put up more of a fight,” Michael commented.
“What do you mean?” Dan asked.
“Did you notice anything odd when you were engaging it?” Michael asked Kelly but then
didn’t wait for an answer. “It should have been harder to kill. Even though he was obviously
older, he should have put up more of a fight.”
“He was pretty feisty,” Kelly shot back.
Gen interrupted them. “Do you smell that?”
Kelly was quick with a retort. “Yeah, I know, Hell Fighters reek, it’s all over me.” Kelly
attempted to clean the venom off, huffing loudly she finally gave up and pulled the sweatshirt off
tossing it into the burning pile of debris.
“No, not that. It smells like a fire, a real one.” Gen was looking in the direction of the
building. She could no longer see nor feel Deb. “I can’t feel Deb. They didn’t want us walking
toward the building, they wanted us up here. Whatever pulled me here, it’s down there.” Gen
pointed toward the hillside. “This must have been a distraction from the real target!”
“We need to move. Go! Go! Go!” Xavier started running and everyone followed.
In the autumn, I gathered my sorrows and buried them in my garden… And when April returned and spring came to wed the earth, there grew in my garden beautiful flowers unlike all other flowers.
Sand and Foam -- Gibran Khalil Gibran
Here's to Autumn!
Less than a day to the Autumnal Equinox! It begins tomorrow (Tuesday), around 9:31 a.m., EDT. And so also begins the new round of the Medieval Monday Blog Hop, #MedMonFall20. It's my first and I'm so proud and excited to be in the company of wonderful, romantic storytellers. The theme this fall is Nature, a favorite of mine. Romance and nature -- could it get any better?
Authors will share links and snippets of their work. For some truly romantic reads that will appeal to all your senses, be sure to check out #MedMonFall20.
I'll be sharing snippets of Tremors, my medieval time travel romance.
He could never lose her. In the infinite vastness of time – past, present, future, past – he wouldn’t lose her.
Love was eternal.
Lachlann had lost his entire family to the plague. He’d lost himself by falling through time. He had to go back, to return to the fourteenth century and try to save his family, save his son. But how could he leave Deidre? He needed her like he needed air. And she needed him.
Would she want him if he told her the truth about himself? Would she even believe him?
Deidre had never known a man could be as beautiful and tender as Lachlann. She wanted to erase the haunted look in his eyes, to make him as happy as he made her. She wished he would confide in her. But was she ready to confide in him? To explain how she’d lost everything – her life, her family, her self-respect – because of her own poor choices?
Why did she have the feeling she could lose it all again?
Available at Amazon.
With the nature theme in mind, I thought to share snippets of Lachlann and Deidre's day at a Christmas tree farm in the piney woods.
“You really do know how to drive a truck,” observed Lachlann from the passenger seat of his vehicle.
Deidre smiled. “I grew up on a farm, remember? I also know where we’re going and wanted to treat you to a tour. I hope you don’t mind.”
“On the contrary, I’m enjoying this.”
“It’s different from driving in Scotland, isn’t it?”
“Aye, it is.” Especially fourteenth-century Scotland. Gazing out of the window, he changed the subject. “This is beautiful land. It reminds me of Scotland.”
They were driving through a pine thicket. There were plenty of pine trees where they lived, but they weren’t surrounded by them as they were now. The terrain wasn’t mountainous or even hilly, but it was rolling and pleasant.
“I’m glad you think so,” said Deidre. “I love it out here. The Christmas tree farm is beside a lake. It’s usually very peaceful and smells heavenly.”
His heart surged...
Isn’t it Autumn yet? We’re often away in September and October, which leaves me scrambling to start my garden late in the season. This year, we’ll be home and I’ve been looking forward to sowing and planting early in the season for a change. I was hoping starting this week.
But that’s not going to happen. The temps are still in the upper 80s, lower 90s – too hot for cool season flowers and vegetables. I knew it. I know it. But I’m still disappointed because, well, I’m not always reasonable where gardening is concerned.
It really is for the best, though. We’ve decided that since we have a few weeks, we’d might as well reinforce some of the raised beds. We’re also going to squeeze in one more bed. It will be great for my (mini) crop rotation.
And since I have time and will have a little more space, I’d might as well order a few packets of something wonderful that I haven’t tried yet.
And I have still have plenty of work in the garden, which is just beginning to show it’s lovely fall exuberance.
And an astronomer said, Master, what of Time?
And he answered:
You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable.
You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons.
Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing.
Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,
And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.
And that that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.
Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless?
And yet who does not feel that very love, though boundless, encompassed within the centre of his being, and moving not from love thought to love thought, nor from love deeds to other love deeds?
And is not time even as love is, undivided and spaceless?
But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons,
And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence or anything worthy of praise, think of these things.” Phillippians 4:8
Not a lecture. Not a suggestion to bury our heads in the sand. It's permission to take a mental break, an invitation to opt for peace, choose the high road. Sometimes, especially if we're under siege -- of any sort -- it might not seem possible to find anything positive or hopeful to think about. But there is something, and we should try to find it and ponder it as a gift to ourselves because that's when we need it the most.
Wishing you moments of peace.
Be like the flower, turn your face to the sun. – Gibran Khalil Gibran