Ascension of Larks (Rachel Linden) – Review

tlc-logo-resizedThis post is part of the TLC Book Tour for Ascension of Larks.

4 stars

~ About the Book ~

When globetrotting photographer Magdalena Henry loses the only man she’s ever loved, she risks her stellar career to care for his widow and young children on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest.

Free-spirited and fiercely independent, Maggie adores her life of travel and adventure. But she has a secret. She can’t let go of her first and only love, renowned architect Marco Firelli, now married to her best friend Lena.

When Marco drowns in a kayaking accident, Maggie rushes to the Firelli family’s summer home on San Juan Island. Once there she discovers that Marco was hiding something that could destroy his family. As fragile, perfectionistic Lena slowly falls apart, Maggie tries to provide stability for Marco and Lena’s three young children.

When Maggie is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete in the world’s most prestigious photography competition, she thinks she’s found the answer to their problems. Then Lena makes a choice with unexpected and devastating consequences, forcing Maggie to grapple with an agonizing decision. Does she sacrifice the golden opportunity of her career or abandon the Firellis just when they need her the most?

Gradually the island begins to work its magic. A century-old ritual to beckon loved ones home offers hope in the midst of sorrow. And a guilt-ridden yet compelling stranger hiding on the island may offer Maggie a second chance at love, but only if she can relinquish the past and move forward to find joy in unexpected places.

Genre: Literary/General Fiction
Release date:  20 June 2017
Pages:  336
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Amazon US  //  Amazon AU  //  iBooks  //  Goodreads  //  Koorong

~ Excerpt ~

“Alistair Finney.” He offered his hand and she shook it.
“Magdalena Henry,” she said, a little dazed, trying to think of something clever to say.
“Oh, I know who you are,” he told her, sipping his martini. “I don’t talk to strangers, you know.” He studied her. “I’ve been told you’re someone I should keep my eye on.”
Maggie said nothing. He nodded sharply, as though coming to some sort of internal agreement with himself. “One o’clock Monday. Bring something nice to my office so I can see what talent you’ve got. And don’t eat lunch; we’re having sushi.”
And that was that. Over salmon and yellowtail nigiri they discussed her last project, a series that followed a first generation Mexican immigrant family as they prepared for and celebrated their eldest daughter’s quinceañera in Chicago.
Alistair fanned out the shots she’d brought with her, studying them thoughtfully. “These are excellent.” He sounded almost surprised. “Lovely technique and composition, but it’s more than that.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “You have layers of story. Anyone can take a photo of a birthday party, but you’re not just telling us about a birthday party, are you? You’re telling us a story about displaced people, about how they use celebration to hold on to their cultural roots.”
He examined one photo more closely, musing to himself. “Hmm, interesting. I get the feeling that you’re just a half step away, a pretty little voyeur looking through the front window. You’re just a little removed.”
Alistair stepped back from the table and pursed his lips, considering the photos and then her. “Well, my dear, you’ll go as far as you want to, but you will need a helping hand. Who are you currently an intern with?”
When she told him, he scoffed. “That will never do. Here’s what I’m prepared to do for you. I like you, and I don’t like very many people. So I will give you a chance to prove you belong here. Six months, and we’ll see if we fit.”
She agreed immediately. No one in their right mind said no to Alistair Finney. Maggie started to gather her photos, but Alistair interrupted her.
“Have a care, Magdalena.” He laid a warning finger over the photos on the table, not touching them, just making a point. “You are very good, but you have a flaw. You’re removed from your subjects, the observer who never quite enters in. Just remember that when telling others’ stories, you need to tell a little bit of your own as well.” He gave her a wry smile. “We can’t always live behind a camera, my dear. Life has to be touched and tasted and smelled in all its bloody, messy glory. Remember that. You have to live in the world, not just observe it.”

~ Review ~

This was a beautiful and engaging read. Rachel Linden’s writing style alone—lyrical and full of imagery—is enough to make me eager for another book from her. The fact that it tells a story that tugs at the heartstrings is an added, and very welcome bonus.

Maggie was a quietly intense character, driven by her desire to capture beautiful images—“intimate portrayals of daily life around the globe that highlighted people often unseen by the camera’s eye…striking in their display of basic humanity, their sense of real life in all its grit and vibrancy, its specific and often brutal beauty.” And yet when she was first offered a place with Alistair Finney’s prestigious agency, he warned her that she had a flaw as a photographer: “You’re removed from your subjects, the observer who never quite enters in… Life has to be touched and tasted and smelled in all its bloody, messy glory…You have to live in the world, not just observe it.

Touching, tasting, and smelling life in all its bloody, messy glory is exactly what Maggie does when she goes to comfort Lena after the death of her husband, Marco. This is a complex and emotionally involved process for Maggie, for many reasons that I won’t share here as that would spoil the story, but I will say that she has to deal with the loss of Marcus on more than one level. Not only that, but the need to care for Lena and her children comes at the same time as a once in a lifetime career opportunity, and she can’t do both. For a woman who has always been driven to succeed in her career, it’s a difficult decision to make.

The one thing I wasn’t entirely sold on in this story was the element of mysticism. It wasn’t a large element, but I felt as though the characters drew more comfort from their improvised ceremony based on the practice of ‘beckoning’—helping the dead person’s soul find its way to heaven—than they did from God.  True, it was largely for the benefit of the children, to give them a tangible way of dealing with what had happened (and there was some staunch Lutheran disapproval from one of the characters, who did end up praying during the ceremony), but it comprised the larger part of the ‘spiritual’ content in the novel, which seemed a little odd from a Christian publisher.

Nevertheless, this was a poignant story of working through loss and discovering what’s important in life; of learning to live in the world and not just observe it; and of learning to embrace life in all its bloody, messy glory.

I received a copy of this novel through TLC Book Tours. This has not influenced the content of my review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.

~ About the Author ~

Rachel LindenRachel Linden is a novelist and international aid worker whose adventures living and traveling in fifty countries around the world provide excellent grist for her stories. She holds an MA in Intercultural Studies from Wheaton College, a BA in Literature from Huntington University, and studied creative writing at Oxford University during college. Currently, Rachel splits her time between Seattle, Washington and Budapest, Hungary where she lives with her husband and two children. Rachel enjoys creating stories about hope and courage with a hint of romance and a touch of whimsy.

Connect with Rachel:  Website // Facebook


About Fiction Aficionado

Homeschooling mum, word lover, reader extraordinaire, and follower of Christ
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Contemporary Fiction, General Fiction, New Releases and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Ascension of Larks (Rachel Linden) – Review

  1. Carrie says:

    well-said!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Weekend Book Buzz – 26/27 August 2017 | Fiction Aficionado

  4. Pingback: Rachel Linden, author of ASCENSION OF LARKS, on tour July/August 2017 | TLC Book Tours

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