Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

The Serpent's Tale (Mistress of the Art of Death, #2)The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Serpent's Tale is the follow up to Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death, the story of Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, a brilliant doctor living during the rule of King Henry II. Adelia, as she is most often called, cannot return to her homeland of Sicily because the king, who knows of her ability to identify the cause of death from the remains of a victim, finds her useful and is keeping her in England.

The Serpent's Tale is a good read, but doesn't live up to Franklin's wonderful first book. Adelia has a love interest, Rowley Picot, who, after Adelia turned down his proposal, accepted a royal appointment to become a bishop. Rowley is the father of Adelia's child. In Mistress of the Art of Death Adelia's relationship with Rowley grew during the course of the book. In this novel, Adelia's feelings for Rowley are mostly in her thoughts. There's one scene on a barge where they are tied up near each other that's interesting, but other than that the couple spends most of the book apart. Adelia's focus in this novel is more on her child than her lover.

The plot is about about the aftermath of a rivalry between Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Henry's queen, and Rosamund Clifford, the king's mistress. I didn't know the history before reading this book, so it was interesting to google Eleanor of Aquitaine to learn about this period. Eleanor supported her son's rebellion and, in Franklin's book, the people who could benefit from this conflict took advantage of Eleanor and Rosamund's hatred of each other.

What I find most interesting about Franklin's writing is the way she takes a modern perspective to her historical novel. The people of twelfth century England are not accepting of a woman doctor or a woman stepping out of her traditional role in any other way. So Adelia, who is educated, brilliant, and willing to raise her child alone, has to contend with the bigotry of the period. It's fun to see how, after she decides not to submit to a marriage requiring her to sacrifice her career, she deals with the reactions of the people.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Announcing Release of White Horse Regressions by Steve Lindahl



"delicately layered and immediately engrossing" -- Jen Knox, author of Musical Chairs and To Begin Again.

"a powerful tale that keeps the reader riveted" -- Ken Weene author of Memoirs From the Asylum, Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, and Widow's Walk.

"a profound and poignant narrative" -- DM Denton author of A House Near Luccoli, A Friendship with Flowers, and The Snow White Gift.

"a compelling supernatural thriller" -- Patrick S Lafferty author of Anno Domina, Thinking Out of the Box, and Miller Time

PROLOGUE

Stuart and Hannah sat in the audience of a small community theater in Springfield, Vermont, examining the set of A Doll’s House while they waited for the performance to begin. Paige was cast as Nora.

“Isn’t that picture odd?” Stuart whispered to Hannah, referring to the Asian-looking painting on the set. It did not belong to late-eighteen-hundreds Norway by any standard. “I’d like to have a closer look.”

“If we stay after the show’s over, there might be a chance we could go up on the stage. I’ll ask Paige.”

Stuart’s wife, Jamie, was also an actress, and when rehearsal and performance schedules prevented Paige and Jamie from attending each other’s shows, their significant others often went together. Jamie was currently in rehearsal for a production of The Drowsy Chaperone, so here they were.

The non-acting partners enjoyed their arrangement. Hannah had known Stuart and Jamie for years; before Paige, she’d been the tag-along friend, but had always felt welcome— more by Stuart than by Jamie.

The lights dimmed then slowly came up again. There was no curtain in this theater, so this was the signal that the performance was about to begin. Paige came out on stage, a dominant figure as always due to her red-orange hair. She set down the presents she was carrying and crossed to a Christmas tree on the far end of the stage. She started to add ornaments when Torvald Helmer, her character’s husband, joined her on the set.

There was no doubt Paige was the star as she made Nora’s transition from na├»ve to inured believable. Still Hannah could not stop thinking about the odd Asian painting, so out of place on the set.

When the play was over, while the cast was being congratulated by fans, Hannah asked her girlfriend if she and Stuart might look at the set up close. Paige took hold of Hannah’s hand and led them both up onto the stage.

Hannah and Stuart went straight to the Asian painting, which was a watercolor depicting a scene that was, they thought, taking place in China. There were a number of people dressed in the types of robes associated with ancient times in that country who were watching what, at first glance, appeared to Hannah to be a film; a closer look revealed that behind the screen men were holding objects up to cast shadows It was a form of puppet theater.

“What is this?” Hannah asked Paige.

“It’s been the talk of the cast. No one knows why it was included on the set, but you have to admit it’s fascinating. I suppose it draws attention because it seems out of place, but I wouldn’t want it taken away. There’s something warm about it.”

“Warm?” Stuart asked.

Paige shrugged. “Hard to say why. None of us saw it prior to tech week, so nobody was prepared. Some board member wanted it hung here. I heard he’s a history buff. Anyway, he’s got money so it’s hard to say no. But enough about the set. Tell me what you thought of the show.”

“I’m sorry,” Hannah said, turning to Paige to hug her again. “You were fabulous. I can’t say that enough.”

“Were local models used for this?” Stuart asked, still focused on the painting. “Some of these people look familiar. This young girl in blue, for example, where’d they get her?” Paige pulled away from Hannah, laughing a little and shaking her head. “I have no idea where or when that painting was done. I know what you mean, though. There’s a man in it I thought might be someone I used to know. I think it’s the way he’s standing, with his shoulders hunched forward. I had a teacher who used to do that, but he wasn’t Asian.” “Do you two want to go out for coffee?” Hannah offered. Paige agreed, but Stuart begged off; he needed to pick up his daughter, Starr, from his parents.

***

Their happy mood turned gloomy as Paige was pulled for running a light almost as soon as they started to drive toward downtown Springfield.

“It’s not fair,” Paige said. “I swear someone’s out to get me.” “It’s just a ticket.”

“No, it’s more than that.”

Hannah tried to convince Paige she was being paranoid, but later the words would seem prophetic.

***

The next night Paige’s performance was as spectacular as it had been on opening night. By the following weekend, the show was canceled. Paige was dead.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Technically, the idea of writing a book from the point of view of Death has problems since there are many scenes in The Book Thief where Death isn't present. But the choice works. Markus Zusak seems to be saying that Death is hanging over everything in Germany during the time leading up to and throughout World War II. This is something that has been said many times before, but his way of saying it is unique.
Like all well written books, The Book Thief is about different things. The story looks at the power of words in multiple ways. The most important of these is as a mechanism to convey Hitler's message of hate. Late in the novel the pages of Mein Kampf are painted over in a wonderful symbol of the resistance to that hate. But the story isn't only about Hitler's words. Liesel steals a book and becomes enthralled by words even before she can read them. She connects with her father, with Max Vandenburg (a Jewish man her foster family is hiding), and with Frau Ilsa Hermann (the mayor's wife who has a large personal library) through their shared love of words. Rudy, Liesel's best friend in her community, doesn't share her love of words and for that reason her relationship with him always seems to be missing something.
Although the theme of words runs throughout the book, the core story is about a German family and their need to resist the hate that is pervasive in their country. Rosa, a foul mouthed, strong willed woman, and Hans, her gentle, but equally strong, husband, take in Liesel, a foster child who has lost her mother to the brutal politics of the time. Later they hide Max, who comes to them because his father had saved Hans' life during World War I. Hans hides Max, but also tries to do what his community considers proper by applying to join the Nazi party. Yet Hans can't put his heart into it this act of hypocrisy. He cares too much and so does Rosa in her own way.
The Book Thief is a wonderful book about, among other things, keeping ones humanity while living through horrible times and coming of age in a world that's falling apart.

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