February 2020: “Trillium” by Margaret Lindsay Holton

Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers):

Margaret Holton’s “Trillium” is a story of how three families settle in the Beamsville, Ontario area. The first family begins with Colonel Thomas Hartford and his land grant after the end of the North American Theater of the Seven Years War. These original colonizers eventually chase the native population away, bringing their European culture and farming techniques. With this, they also bring European plants, and with each new wave of immigrants, the crops change ever so slightly.

Skip ahead 80 years. The next immigrant introduced is 15-year-old Francesco “Franco” Di Angelo. He is a hard-working Italian that comes to the region with the dream of working the land and buying a piece of his own. He is passionate about agriculture and family. It takes some time to build up his fortune, and the reader watches through the eyes of a laborer as the Niagara region experiences the earliest stages of its infrastructural revolution. Eventually, Franco joins forces with Thomas Hartford’s descendent (also named Thomas Hartford), and their families become intertwined.

Skip ahead another 50 years, and our third immigrant is introduced. Paddy O’Sullivan is an Irish immigrant looking for his big break, and he gets it. He manages to purchase unused land and other properties and leases adjacent land to the Hartford Farm on a 99-year lease.

This book follows the Hartford family’s farm through the generations starting in 1759 and closing in 2001. The Hartfords, Di Angelos, and O’Sullivans cross-pollinate through trials and tribulations of agricultural life. “Trillium” follows the constant battle between Capitalism and Traditionalism, with the secret ingredient of remembering your roots.

Overall Reaction:

I find the story of a multigenerational farm and its growth fascinating. I think the book has potential. There’s murder, intrigue, incest, affairs, and mystery. There are very human characters that make mistakes and ignore the faults of others. There is an alluring family vendetta that is so vile and gross it makes the reader feel soiled.

One of the recurring themes I enjoyed was that of building renovation and redecorating overtime. The additions of indoor plumbing to a farmhouse or new double pane windows to keep drafts out involve the reader over time. Additionally, this is where I noticed the struggle between capitalism and traditionalism the carried out in the changing of home furnishings and preservation of heirlooms. Additional details, such as the effects of the passage of time on buildings, molding statues, and chipping paint, provided an elegant backdrop to the impact of neglect in home life. How the home evolved over 250 years never left me wanting for detail.

In historical fiction, great liberties can be taken with many things, but not dates and facts. Many historical fiction books have bibliographies at the end of them from the fact-checking process. With both of these factors in mind, the structure of a historical fiction book should not necessitate a separate written timeline to be made and math to be done on the part of the reader to place when different events are occurring. This is particularly troublesome when there are inconsistencies in the dates of events.

The majority of the action occurs late in the book and focuses on a very privileged set of characters. I connected most with this famiglia that seemed to get left behind even though they did a lot of the work. The decreasing focus resolves to include a few of the family members in the privileged characters’ shenanigans. By far, this jovial, mostly virtue driven family, brought a smile to my face more often than not.

I had a hard time suspending disbelief. This difficulty was due to historical inaccuracies, changing the referred names of characters without context as to why a character would use that name for someone, and misnaming of characters present in a scene. Additionally, I experienced cognitive dissonance with my own life experiences, having grown up and worked in and around agricultural communities for the majority of my life.

Let me explain the cognitive dissonance: I grew up in small-town semi-rural America. My exposure to wineries came in my late 20s in rural California and Montana. Rustic and modest is how I’d describe the ones I’ve seen, but I’ve never been to Napa Valley. I spent the earliest part of my life fresh out of undergrad in the agriculture and land surveying industries in different parts of the United States. I never saw the opulence described in this book. Even the best-managed multigenerational farms of the American side of the Great Lakes are scrappy as hell trying to keep everything together. To me, the money from material objects over time mentioned in the book didn’t add up to buying in to social clubs or status. To check other inconsistencies, my mom worked on an “organic” by the 1970s definition co-op farm, so I gave her a call and ran my dissonance by her. While this helped by explaining how definitions changed, it did bring a lot of my conflict back to the fact-checking concern.

I recognize that this is different from rural Canada, though the Niagara region seems to have moderate pockets of rural life. [Addendum for clarification: the following is from my own life and is not from the book – this is part of my own cognitive dissonance and is part of me explaining why I do not connect with the characters] I don’t know how often in rural Canada when over at the neighbor’s house they’ll tell you the name of the cow you’re eating at a barbecue. Perhaps I don’t possess the frame of mind to connect with the privilege these characters have with their multi-million dollar lifestyles.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the premise of the story and some of the characters, but found myself unable to be involved in the story as I was constantly jarred away and unable to suspend disbelief. That said, other readers may not share this experience.

LGBTQA+

While there are major characters that are LGBTQA+, I would not recommend this book for booklists looking for positive, accurate representation as these characters perpetuate what the Advocate’s Tracy E. Gilchrist and Daniel Reynolds describe as “17 LGBT Tropes Hollywood Needs to Retire“. For further explanation, GLAAD has been fighting statistically inaccurate misrepresentation in storytelling for some time. As a member of this community it is my duty to include a content warning. This book contains the following potentially harmful tropes:

  • pedophilia & predation tropes related to repression
  • sex, drugs & hedonism
  • “bury your queers”
  • “the depraved homosexual”
  • “the sissy villain”
  • “the bi-erasing bisexual”
  • “the promiscuous queer”

Grammar & Punctuation

There were issues with grammar and punctuation that, while interrupting to the reading experience, could easily be corrected with editing software such as Grammarly, Hemingway, or Fictionary.

Twilight Zone Moments

The structure of the book jumps around without specifying dates, while using highly specific details lending themselves to dates leading to inconsistencies and confusion. The examples I’m going to use is regarding a car that a character buys and a disappearing character.

The Mazda RX7 came out in 1978 and someone could get one in Canada if you knew a guy who knew a guy, if you drove across the border into the United States. This purchase is mentioned without the year. Then the story changes to a different scene years before this car was available without mentioning the year, causing disorientation.

A character disappears and is never heard from again after her brother returns from WWII and takes over the family farm. It is unknown if she outlives her brother, but I would have imagined that she would have received some part of his will. Right? Perhaps I have a better relationship with my siblings.

Want To Read More About The Author?
You can read my interview with Margaret Lindsay Holton here. You can purchase the book here. Follow the book on Twitter here.

October 2019: “Then Came Darkness” by D.H. Schleicher

Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):

It’s the Great Depression. The world is on edge as global tensions are building, and economic collapses rip apart every continent. To have any money you have a lot. Religious fanatics have latched on to the sense of impending doom, with the rise of vagrant workers as the Dust Bowl tears apart the United States Bread Basket. D. H. Schleicher pulls us into his setting where an evil force is about to burn its way through an entire family as it seeks revenge.

Joshua Bloomfield is a one-armed man of mystery. He hasn’t had a home since he escaped from his dark origin. He wants to get back his money, and he wants to kill the family that stole everything from him.

The Kydd family wants to survive. As Evelyn’s health is deteriorating, she deep down hopes her husband doesn’t come home after a family tragedy breaks her heart. Her two other children, Tyrus and Sally, and the dog, Sue, are all she has left. Can they protect her from the consequences of her own actions?

In “Then Came Darkness,” D. H. Schleicher brings early twentieth-century mysticism, the Great Depression, and a thrilling story of a family trying to escape the clutches of evil. After all, evil can look just like a friend.

Later Addition: This is one of the briefest summaries I’ve written. This is to reduce spoilers as the book builds details upon themselves. Highly recommend this read.

My Overall Response:

D. H. Schleicher blew me away with this emotional story told from multiple perspectives. I laughed. I cried. I had to take breaks because some scenes tore me to pieces. It’s dark, gritty, and I love it. Highly recommend!

First, let’s talk about Joshua Bloomfield as a character. All he wanted was to kill his father, then steal all of his money as an act of grandiose revenge. Why doesn’t anyone understand him? He also has a peculiar way of showing people he loves them. Or hates them. Not really sure. He’s a messed up dude, okay? Yet, I say that while defending him in that weird antihero way.

Next, there’s Evelyn Kydd. Evelyn is a character that is often in her own head through reliving memories, having seizures, and with those seizures sometimes visions. This gift is enough that her get-rich-quick-scheme husband wishes he could have taken her on the road. But she loves her children more than anything, especially her oldest child. She’s full of self-blame for things that she has done. The majority of the blame is a result of a society always telling her how unimportant she is. As a reader, I am saddened and frustrated by the way Evelyn believes she deserves what is happening to her. She’s an exceptionally well written female character.

This book has some death scenes. Schleicher uses these to his advantage as he first tells you that a character experiences heartbreak for the first time, then proceeds to make you, the reader, feel that heartbreak. The catharsis of emotional writing in this book was incredible. For reference, other books that have done this to me include “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy, “Bright as Heaven” by Susan Meissner, “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. It’s not easy to make me feel things!

I loved the structure of the novel as it continually brings flashbacks to fill in the gaps the reader may have little by little. Nothing is revealed immediately, though the reader may figure some things out. Such as the exact location of a particular setting, based solely on the description of walking up a set of brick steps from the James River up to the street in Shokhoe Bottom, Richmond, Virginia. As someone that has walked those steps, the description was accurately written.

LGBTQA Friendly?

This book does not directly address issues of the LGBTQA community or have characters identifying as such. This does not impact my recommendation to read this book.

Grammar:

This book is well within the standard of 1 error per 10,000 words. The only derailing issue was the use of “pealing” (a loud noise) instead of “peeling” (lifting in a layer from another surface). This may not be noticed by other readers, though.

Twilight Zone Moment:

Every book has at least one. These are the moments that don’t quite add up and throw a reader rolling down into the uncanny valley for a moment in an otherwise brilliant scene.

Where did Myra go? Why did we not meet Myra again? We spend an entire chapter of the book meeting a character named Myra, who is going back to New York City because a young man in love with her has died. Yet, she doesn’t visit the family or her own father?

You can purchase “Then Came Darkness” by D. H. Schleicher on Amazon

To read more about D. H. Schleicher, read more of their work, or contact them, you can visit their website The Schleicher Spin or visit their Twitter @schleicherspin

October 2019: “Honor” by Francis Williams

Summary (Warning: mild spoilers):

After the Roman Empire has withdrawn her presence from much of Europe, the chaos of competing fiefdoms and the rise of powerful families set the stage for political tensions and invasion. This overwhelmingly beautiful and well-researched novel by Francis Williams realistically depicts fictional representations of the lives of real and imagined historical figures otherwise shrouded in mystery.

Tracing back the history of the British Isles and seafaring families of greater Europe, we are introduced to the ever-present issue of early, corrupt Christianity plotting for power. In the time of popes known for their infidelity and rather not Christ-like behaviors, the Bishop Germanus acts as an ever-present villain manipulating the weak king, Ceneus ap Coel of Ebrauc (modern-day Northern England). The king calls on his merchant friend, Hall. He strikes a deal to have Hall and the village he helps to lead in modern-day Bourdeaux relocate and provide him the military advantages of a navy and experience. Once resettled, the king hopes that Hall will lead an army in the kingdom’s name on a quest north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Concurrently, Colgrin plots to overthrow a syphilitic king and requests for his brother in law, Jorrit, to get captured by the Britons to gather intelligence. Colgrin hopes to embark on a journey to invade and overthrow an area to establish his own kingdom. Jorrit sails off to be captured and ends up in the new settlement provided to Hall and his crew.

Upon capture, Hall and Drysten learn from Jorrit that their village was raided by a known slaver, and the surviving wives, children, and elders left behind were captured. In a heartbreaking scene, Drysten realizes that among those imprisoned includes his lover, fiance, and future mother of his child, Isolde. With the promise of release upon finding their loved ones, Jorrit accompanies Drysten on his fairytale-esque quest to save Isolde and free the rest of their family members.

Hall and Bors, the Elder, must then embark North with Prince Ambrosius Aurelianus of Powys and the cowardly, vile son of King Ceneus ap Coel, Prince Eidion. By befriending the estranged brother of King Ceneus ap Coel, the Prince Ambrosius and Hall gain enough force to take the stronghold requested by the king. However, as the pieces fall into place, questions arise as to the quality of the king being served.

In this engaging, thrilling, and emotionally dynamic first book of the “Thrones and Soldiers” series, the reader experiences the life of an early European after the fall of the Roman Empire. Giving a new spin on the minimally understood history of the foundations for a unified kingdom of Britons, “Honor” enlightens readers and demonstrates the power of combining research and imagination.

My Overall Response:

Williams went above and beyond my expectations of what a good historical fiction novel is. The amount of research involved that synergistically applied to be this book must be astounding. I had the pleasure of contacting the author about the research and being shown pictures of a single page of notes that pertained to one of the thousands of scenes depicted. 

I am reminded of “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett in terms of the attention paid to detail and the storytelling style seamlessly blending into the backdrop of history. The details engaged my brain, and each chapter ended with the excitement of wishing there were more. With twists and turns, characters are rounded out.

Additionally, the question of how mental illness was perceived through the lens of spirituality in the early history of Europe makes for a thought-provoking subject reasonably included. Instead of dismissing the stories of witches and godly visitations, the story legitimizes these experiences. It shows how they can be both helpful and harmful.

It was an honor to read and review this book. I hope anyone reading this considers providing themselves the same intellectual pleasure found in its pages.

LGBTQA Friendly?

I believe that attitudes of characters are reflective of what is known to have been the cultural standard of the time. That said, I would not recommend this book for an LGBTQA reading list.

Grammar:

Assuming the industry standard is 1 spelling error per 10,000 words, then “Honor” more than meets the standard. The only “errors” involve inconsistency in punctuation that does not interfere with the reader’s experience and is likely to be completely unnoticed by the average reader.

Twilight Zone Moment:

Every book has at least one. These are the moments that don’t quite add up and throw a reader rolling down into the uncanny valley for a moment in an otherwise brilliant scene.

I honestly struggled with finding a solid “Twilight Zone Moment.” At the end of the book, there is a character named Argyle that engages in the following exchange:

‘Drysten glanced toward the stairway as the last light from his captor’s torch faded away. “What kind of criminal desires to be in a place like this?”

“Simple,” Argyle said through thick laughter, “the sort who desired to be captured.”‘ (page 352)

This exchange brought me back to Colgrin’s original goal of sending out scouts with the intent to be captured. Still, I am unsure as to if this is related, and perhaps this will be resolved in the next book.

If you would like more information on Francis Williams you can follow their Twitter @IamFrancisW or their Instagram @IamFrancisWilliams

If you would like to purchase a copy of “Honor” you can do so here 🙂