Saturday, December 29, 2012

A House Near Luccoli by D. M. Denton

A House Near LuccoliA House Near Luccoli by D.M. Denton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Classical musicians were the rock stars of the seventeenth century, especially in places like Genoa, Italy. A House Near Luccoli takes an interesting approach to one of those stars, Alessandro Stradella, a composer who was famous during his life but whose fame has faded compared to contemporaries such as Vivaldi and Handel. The book's narrator is Donatella, a young woman who has the good fortune to live with her aunt and ailing grandmother in a house owned by Signor Garibaldi, the prince of Genoa. The prince offers an area of the house to Stradella as a place to stay and work while he's in Genoa. The novel is told from Donatella's point of view. If the plot was set in the twentieth century, A House Near Luccoli would have been Patty Boyd's story rather than George Harrison's or Eric Clapton's.

In keeping with its period, A House Near Luccoli reads more like a symphony than a rock song. It is separated into parts that are like movements of the larger work. The language is not simple, making it the type of book I like to read slowly. There is so much in every phrase and I found I was often flipping back to let the meaning of Denton's words sink in.

Donatella loves to paint. Her sense of style and perfect hand make her the ideal copyist for Stradella's work. This is pointed out by Nonna, Donatella's grandmother, in an interesting scene where Nonna appears to be offering her granddaughter to Stradella for multiple purposes. “'Come here,' Nonna pleaded as Donatella could never refuse. 'Look, signore, at the beauty in her.'”

In addition to his composing Stradella's duties include performing. He calls on Donatella to sing while he plays and he tutors her for that task in one of the most sensual sections of the novel. “'Keep your arms up.' His hands pushed against her diaphragm. 'Make it a sliding note, higher, higher,' he dropped them from the inflation of her breasts, 'with body and voice until you can't feel any difference,' to her waist. 'Reach from your toes!'”

A House Near Luccoli mixes fictional with historical characters. It was fun to use Wikipedia to learn more about Stradella as I read the novel and Youtube to hear performances of his music. I recommend this book for readers who enjoy historical fiction with beautiful language.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bebe & Friends by Jean Rodenbough

Bebe & FriendsBebe & Friends by Jean Rodenbough

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bebe & Friends is a book for animal lovers. It is a collection of writings from people who have rescued animals. Most of the stories are about dogs, but there are also plenty of pages dedicated to cats and even one story about guinea pigs. Jean Rodenbough found the contributors, collected their stories, then put the work together along with descriptions of her own animals, a number of her poems and fascinating histories of animal rescue organizations. It is a very powerful approach that works in a unique fashion. The only other book I've read that uses this approach is Rachel's Children also by Rodenbough and also a wonderful read.

One of the contributors, Patsy Beeker, writes about a cat that was “found on the side of the highway on a ninety-five degree day by a Department of Transportation worker who was picking up the body of the kitten's dead mother. The tiny kitten was injured, but alive.” Beeker writes that the cat had to have an eye removed, along with the treatment of other injuries, but Beeker is convinced there is a spirit looking down on that small animal. She writes: “If you read the Bible, you know the verse about 'His eye is on the sparrow'. Surely, someone had an eye out for a plain little black kitten who needs that extra eye, any way he can get it.”

Marina Julia Neary is another contributor who writes about her guinea pigs. I loved her description of the idea behind one of the names she chose. “Having published novels on the Irish Rebellion, a period of history that fascinates me, I named the new guinea pig Hugh, after Hugh O'Neil, Ulster's legendary chieftain, the Earl of Tyrone, who defied Queen Elizabeth.” At the end of her piece Neary writes about another beloved guinea pig saying, “She died peacefully of old age on Easter in 2006. There is only one place she can be, and that's on the lap of St. Francis in heaven.”

My wife and I have had a few rescue dogs ourselves and my daughter volunteers at one of the shelters described in the book, Animal Rescue and Foster Program, so I thought I knew most of what goes on behind the scenes. But I learned a great deal from this book. The book is about animals, of course, but it is also about the special people who love and care for them. There are dark moments, as would be expected with this subject, but the pages are also filled with uplifting and beautiful stories.

Steve Lindahl author of Motherless Soul

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay

The House I LovedThe House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like many of the other reviewers, I read The House I Loved because Sarah's Key was so powerful. This book is different. There can be no comparison between the story of the French government sending Jewish citizens to German death camps during World War II and the story of the hardship caused by eminent domain laws that were used as part of a massive renovation of Paris during the reign of Emperor Napoleon III. But every book does not have to be about genocide. The House I Loved is about memories and about the redemption brought about by recalling the bad as well as the good. In its own way it is a powerful story.

The plot is revealed through a series of letters being read and written by Rose Bazelet, a woman living in mid nineteenth century Paris who is determined to resist the razing of her home to make way for a wide boulevard. Most of the plot comes from Rose's writing to her deceased husband, Armand. In these she reflects on the early stages of their relationship and on both the wonderful and the tragic times they shared in their home. She has also kept a number of letters that have been written to her over the years. These give a different perspective on her life.

The house seems symbolic of Rose's life. There are reasons why she doesn't want to give up on her home, but there are also reasons why it would make sense for her to say “good riddance” to it. The same is true of the relationships she's had in her life. There isn't always logic behind the way things played out for her. Why does she love some people more than others, when in many cases it would make sense that she would feel the other way? I'm not sure what the answer to that question is and for that reason The House I Loved felt very real.

I felt Ms. De Rosnay gave a full picture of ordinary life in Paris in the nineteenth century, the shops, the relationships, the politics, the role of women, and much more. I listened to the audio version. It was read by Kate Reading, who brought the words to life in a marvelous way.

Steve Lindahl - Author of Motherless Soul

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy #1)Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fall of Giants is the type of novel I love to read. It takes the reader on a long, winding trip through a period of time that presents the characters with unusual and dramatic obstacles. It is set in England, Russia, Germany, France, and America during World War I and the years prior to and following that war. It follows the lives of a handful of characters who fight, fall in love, and react in different ways to the situations around them.

The plot depends on an incredible amount of coincidences, in particular characters encountering each other repeatedly in remote sections of the world. Readers who can't get beyond that type of manipulation should skip the book, but for me the strengths of the story outweighed that problem. I even found myself anticipating the encounters in a way I enjoyed.

I loved the history that was woven into the plot. I learned a great deal about the Battle of the Somme and the incompetence of the British officers during that conflict. I was also fascinated with the novel's portrayal of the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia and the battles between the red and white forces. I went straight to Wikipedia after reading those sections to confirm their accuracy. Ken Follett has a reputation for researching his historical novels well. He deserves that reputation.

The novel has multiple love stories in it, all unique. There is the story of an English woman from a wealthy, titled family who falls in love with a German, equally well connected in his homeland. They are both loyal to their two countries, but also loyal to each other. There are two Russian brothers who grew up in poverty to become men who treat women in very different ways, one using women in any way he can while the other attempts to treat the woman he loves with honor and respect. My favorite of the romantic relationships involves the interests of a welsh woman, Ethel Williams, who is the daughter of a union leader in a coal mining region. She has to decide many times whether to follow her heart or her head.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes long stories with strong characters and interesting historical settings. It is the first part of a trilogy, but Fall of Giants stands on its own well.

Steve Lindahl - Author of Motherless Soul

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