Redeemed by Maria Vickers ~ Book Review

Redeemed by Maria Vickers is the second book in the Love Seekers series and follows the lives of Rayne Sampson and Chad Alexander. Rayne is Bryan’s sister (from Exposed, the first book – have you read it yet? You really should) and Chad who fell for Emma (now married to Bryan – are you still with me?) and for whom he still harbours deep feelings. I loved Chad in ‘Exposed’ and was very excited to discover that he gets his own story.

Rayne is a total witch, she hates everyone, well actually she hates Emma and everything spills out from there. She is so hateful, she makes the Wicked Witch of the West seem like the best ever fairy godmother. She detests anyone with a disability, believing them to be frauds and her greatest wish is that Bryan will divorce Emma. This vitriol is not contained within her family circle; it has become so ingrained, it’s now affecting the rest of her life, which is rapidly spiralling out of control.

Chad hates Rayne. He hates how she gets away with her petulant, spoiled behaviour, he hates the way treats Emma and anyone else who suffers from any form of disability, including his own sister, and is determined to teach her a lesson. So he comes up with a plan, at the same time that Rayne decides Chad needs taking down a peg or two…and so begins the dance.  Every time they meet they fight and their verbal battles are doozies, but as they begin to spend time together something shifts. There is more going on under the surface with Rayne, something that Chad believes might explain her attitude, but her shell is very hard and she is too proud to let anyone get close enough to soften it. To add to the mix, someone at Rayne’s place of work is trying to undermine her, sending Rayne’s stress levels through the roof and it seems the one person who might be able to help her is Chad.

This book carried me away on a tidal wave of emotions. Rayne’s torment and anger is a tangible thing but although she infuriated me there was always a hint of vulnerability that made my heart crack. Chad, despite his womanising ways, is a true gentleman and even when he is furious with her, he still worries about her as she slowly self-destructs. The more time they spend together they more they begin to realise that hate and love are indeed separated by a very fine line which, of course, they cannot possibly cross.

Maria’s book is also a not so subtle reminder that not every disability is obvious, that being judgemental usually hurts those who judge far more than the judged and that more often than not, the nightmares of the past refuse to stay buried. Life is messy, fairy tales are usually rather grim and happy endings often have a tendency to creep up, entirely unexpectedly, and smack us in the face. This is how it is with Chad and Rayne, their journey is hard and they face what seem like insurmountable obstacles on the way. After so much hostility, pain and despair do they stand a chance of, or even deserve, redemption?

Beautifully written with a cast of engaging and gutsy characters, whose lives are inextricably entwined – whether they like it or not. I loved Redeemed.

Redeemed will be available on Amazon from March 17th 2017.
USA: Redeemed
UK: Redeemed
Canada: Redeemed
Australia: Redeemed

Keeping it Together: Research for The Pomegranate Tree

Since the release of my first book, The Pomegranate Tree, people have been asking me how I managed to keep all my research together, as well as what sort of program I used for the actual writing. It was quite an interesting process so I thought I’d share it.

Writing Platform

By the time I had worked out the plot lines, my characters and where the story would be set, I realised I required more than just a note pad or a document file. I needed to find some way of keeping everything under one umbrella, so to speak. It was at this point that I was introduced to Scrivener, which I believe to be the most amazing writing platform (no, this is not an endorsement — just my opinion).

The beauty of Scrivener is that everything you write and research is all together, not spread across several files and includes different formats or layouts for different writing styles. For the novelist, in addition to the section for your actual chapters, there are a sub-sections for characters and their biographies, for research notes, for general information – in fact you can have as many sections as necessary.

This meant that I was able to keep tabs of everything very easily. Every time I introduced a new character, I added it to my list along with any pertinent background information. It could be as simple as their name, but could extend to what they looked like, their role in the story, what their jobs were and so on. In the modern world, this often covered both the character’s work as part of the excavation team and what they did in their regular life. In the ancient world it was more related to how the character fitted into the hierarchy of the Zealot enclave. In this way I built up short back stories which not only helped while I was writing The Pomegranate Tree but has also proved very useful for the sequels.

Pomegranate Tree Research
Photo Courtesy of ucanr.edu

The next step was to correlate as much general information about Masada and its surrounds as I felt necessary. Not only its history, but also the excavations and how the citadel looks today. Names of local towns, even flora and fauna. ‘The Pomegranate Tree’ also mentions a visit to the Dead Sea, so it was important for me to find out what it had to offer; such as the resorts and tourist attractions, as well as its distance from Masada and whether it was a place the archaeologists could travel to with relative ease.

Ancient Cultures

Then there was research into every day life in ancient Judaea. I looked into their traditions and laws, clothing, food and medicine — most especially medicine. Having decided that my Hannah of ancient Masada was going to be a healer, I needed to understand what techniques were used; the treatments that were available and what medicines, ointments and balms could be created, mixed and dispensed.

I discovered that Jewish physicians were not only highly trained, but also extremely well regarded throughout the known civilised world – and have continued to be so throughout history. What amazed me was the number of essential oils, herbs, plant, roots, minerals and mineral extracts that had healing properties, proving to be most efficacious. Many of these were available and accessible to people in ancient Judaea and those that weren’t easily obtained, could be acquired from merchants travelling the trading routes through the desert.

Once I had started down the track of researching, it kept piling up. Archaeological techniques, how any finds might be treated, preserved or conserved in such an isolated environment. Understanding ancient funeral rituals and marriage rituals the list went on. I know my book is a work of fiction, but I wanted to be sure that, as far as possible, anything I wrote about was as close to actuality as possible.

Funnily enough, I enjoyed doing the research as much as I enjoyed the writing. Some things I knew about, others I had a vague awareness of, but much was completely new to me and connected me to my story and characters in ways I did not anticipate.

Being able to have all this information at my fingertips, so to speak, meant that instead of having to keep searching through piles of papers and documents, I could just go to the relevant file within the project. Okay then – my research was neatly organised into one platform; I had my idea, I had my characters and I had gathered a huge amount of background material – now all I had to do was make it work.

Oh & I’m always happy to answer any questions about my writing process – chaotic though it may be!

How It Started

Ancient history in all its forms has always fascinated me and not very long ago, I was persuaded to return to University to immerse myself in it, rather than remain an armchair historian. A devotee of archaeology documentaries, initially I thought that this was my calling – two lectures and a tutorial convinced me otherwise. Already signed up for a unit on Roman history, I was lucky enough to have a lecturer whose passion for her subject was infectious. Before long I was completely spellbound by the Julio-Claudians and their successors during the first century AD.

I had no intention of leaving Uni, I wanted to continue along the academic path right up to a doctorate. I even had an idea for my thesis. Something shifted however in my last semester, there were changes afoot, which brought my decision into question. Deciding to take a break and see where the wind blew, I put everything on hold. It was at this point my husband suggested that I might like to write a book set in antiquity, putting my love for history to a different use. Although the idea appealed to me – writing a book has long been a dream of mine – I didn’t think I had it in me and wasn’t I too old anyway? Even if I decided to give it a go, what would I write about? How did I come up with an original storyline?

I let the concept play around in my head for a while, jotting down possibilities, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Then one day, while looking through my assignments, I came across one on the ancient port city of Caesarea Maritima, the background to which, covered information on King Herod’s entire building program including his restructuring of an isolated citadel in the Judaean desert. A spark flickered into life; this was the fortress at Masada, where in the first century AD there had been a rebel ambush, a massacre and the arrival of a vengeful Roman army. All great scenarios around which I could base a story, could I make something of this?

Devouring every piece of information I could find on the history of this fortress and the archaeological excavations, the spark became a little brighter and an idea started percolating, one that intrigued me, but one I struggled to pin down. Then I remembered that according to an ancient source, seven people, two women and five children had survived the massacre and inspiration hit. One of these women could be my heroine; I just needed to work it backwards to determine how on earth she might have been able to avoid being slain. Then, I added a further complication, deciding to include a modern heroine, related to the women who survived and that somehow they connected across time. Not time travel in the accepted sense, she wouldn’t actually disappear from her own world, but her soul would meld with that of her ancestor. She would see events as they unfolded and could use her knowledge of what would happen to save those she loved.

Sound easy? Well now I have to make it into a believable story.