I keep a small shelf of novels I know I’ll want to read again – when I want to be entertained, inspired or sometimes just for comfort when stuck indoors. Among others, on that shelf are Mists of Avalon and Woman on the Edge of Time. Secret Lives is about to join them.
There’s so much to like! Lots of interwoven stories so that you really get to know all the characters. I loved the way that ageing and its issues were dealt with, so seldom does one find this in fiction. Many of our heroines are old, but the word “feeble” never comes to mind; these are powerful women, with incredible resources and friendships. It’s an inspiration to read.
It’s also an education all by itself. The author has a vast store of knowledge of spiritual paths and mystical systems. There are also many literary references – lots of Shakespeare, but also Donne, Chekhov, Lewis Carroll and many more besides, plus lots of references from mythology and popular culture. Not surprising, as Barbara Ardinger has a PhD in English Literature. You certainly get your money’s worth!
The author has a deft touch with just about everything, from knockabout comedy to the most moving of passages. Her dialogue works – there’s never a false note. I read the book in a final proof version; imported into the Kindle application on my mobile phone and sometimes, I have to admit, at work during quieter moments. I normally feel safe doing this as I seldom laugh out loud when reading, but – you guessed it! Fortunately, I managed to sidestep the inevitable enquiries as to my sanity. I don’t often cry openly at books either and had to swallow hard a couple of times.
The stories grabbed me and refused to let go until I’d read to the end. Besides the humour and sadness, I experienced huge anger at the way the women were being treated, and couldn't help but to see the parallels with the Prologue, where women and their ancient and Goddess-loving way of life in old Europe, some five and a half thousand years ago, are also under threat. I was riveted by the events in the Prologue, and thoroughly enjoyed the way the women dealt with the more recent threats, but you’ll have to read the book to find out!
Among my favourite characters were the Reverend Debbee, who I think must spend time in Glastonbury when not in California, for I’ve met her more than once there. I also loved Frances J Swift, whom I’ve also come across a time or two. There’s a talking cat, too, called Madame Blavatsky. I’m not usually a huge fan of talking cats (or of any other animals suddenly giving voice) but Madame B just grows on you.
I found the Reader’s Guide on the author’s website of great value, too. I’ve been reading American novels since (aged around nine) I found my mother’s secret stash of rather racy books, and don’t often get flummoxed by cultural differences, but once or twice I found the notes helpful in this respect. Mainly, however, I enjoyed the them for added value they provide.
I’d recommend this to anyone who wants a good read, not to mention gift ideas for the forthcoming season. What a treat!
“Secret Lives” is published by CreateSpace and is available from Amazon. You can only get the digital version on Amazon UK at the moment, but Barbara will send you a signed copy if you contact her direct.