#131 ~ The Jewel of Medina

December 21, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 9 Comments
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The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones

A’isha is a 6 year old girl who, after her parents betrothed her to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was required to remain in her family home until she had her first menstrual period.  For an adventurous girl such as herself, she is tortured by the limitations placed on her simply because she was betrothed.  She dreamed of escaping to freedom with the Bedouins with Safwan, her childhood friend during the entire length of her purdah.  When she witnesses a woman from her clan dragged away by a man who would disgrace her as well,  A’isha can barely contain herself from taking up a sword and defending her neighbor herself.  She may have been young and she may have been a girl, but she had the heart of a warrior.   It was this spirit which caught the eye of Muhammad and changed her destiny.

I first heard about this novel in August when it was reported that Random House was pulling its publication for fear of angering Muslims and perhaps inciting violence.  This reminded me of the events surrounding Salmon Rushdie and The Satanic Verses.  I found the decision disappointing.  Self-censorship out of fear of what might happen is in some ways worse than forcible censorship because it isn’t always as visible.  How many other books have never been published out of fear?  Thankfully, it was finally published by Beaufort Books in the United States.  When I snagged a copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, I was very curious to see just what it was that caused such a large publisher to back down.  This is a novelization of a portion of Muhammad’s life through the eyes of his most notorious wife.  Still, he was portrayed with warmth and empathy.  His charisma and love of Allah are obvious, but so is his humanity.  While I suppose any fictionalization of Muhammad may anger some Muslims, no offense was intended.  Canceling this publication was much ado about nothing.

As most established religions have struggled against the treatment of women and their roles in society, A’isha’s character is especially interesting as (to Western eyes) Muslim women seemed to be the most imprisoned by their faith, family, and spouse.  The only issue I had with this novel was the story line surrounding the way in which the rules surrounding facial covering became part of Muslim life.  Making a vision seem convenient to Muhammad felt like an “easy out” that was not at all in line with his character.  I do not know exactly how this came to be part of the Islam faith, but it seems to have sprang more from the existing culture than from Allah.

The Jewel of Medina is a fast paced and engrossing look at the beginnings of Islam through the eyes of a young girl who eventually becomes the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad.  At the beginning I was reminded of The 19th Wife because of the common themes of plural marriage and being married to a prophet.  The 19th Wife and The Jewel of Medina are both ambitious novels attempting to provide insight on the origins of world religions through the stories of the women involved.  Interesting that both novels would be published this year.  For me, Jones’ novel worked where Ebershoff’s did not.  From the moment that A’isha is married to the much older Muhammad, I could not put the book down. This novel’s insights into living among sister-wives were more compelling and, as there is only one voice telling the story, the reader is always fully aware of the opinions coloring the story.  While we can’t truly understand today without knowledge of the past, by leaving the modern out of The Jewel of Medina Sherry Jones brought early Arabic culture and the roots of Islam to life without much of the  cynicism of today.

I cannot recommend this novel enough.  It is a wonderful way to learn about the origins of Islam through the eyes of a complex and strong young girl and then woman.  A’isha does not conform to my ideas of a typical Muslim woman anymore than she did during her day and age.  She had to fight for her place in Muhammad’s harim and for the place of women in her society.  Being so much younger than her husband, A’isha’s story does not end upon Muhammad’s death and I am eagerly waiting for the sequel.  The Jewel of Medina, like all of the historical fiction I’ve enjoyed, has peaked my interest in Islam, Muhammad and his wives.  I absolutely enjoyed the adventure and I’m sure you will, too.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#129 ~ War on the Margins

December 10, 2008 at 10:48 am | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Religion | 11 Comments
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War on the Margins: A Novel
by Libby Cone

When France fell to the Nazis during WWII, the Channel Islands fell as well, despite the fact that they were a part of the British Commonwealth.  Jersey, the Southern-most of the three islands, is the setting of Libby Cone’s novel about the way in which the Channel islands and its citizens were impacted by Nazi occupation.  Here, we meet Marlene Zimmer, an anxious single, orphaned woman in her mid to late 20s working for the Jersey Aliens Office.  This is where Jersey citizens were requested and then forced to register as Jews when they met the ever broadening requirements.  Although she considers herself a Christian and a British citizen, her father was Jewish.  When the office is finally instructed to classify Jews as foreigners, Marlene’s nerves can no longer take the stress.  She leaves her work, her flat, and her identity behind to hide on the island in hopes of somehow surviving the remainder of the war.  What she finds is work on the Resistance and a place to belong with Lucille and Suzanne, partners in life, art, and politics.

There are several stories told in this novel: Marlene’s reaction to Nazi occupation and her Jewish heritage, Lucy and Suzanne’s early life and current work resisting the occupation, and Peter’s journey as a Jew imprisoned and shipped to the Channel Islands for slave labor.  Marlene is the main character and her life flows through those of Lucy, Suzanne, and Peter.  I was most interested in Lucy and Suzanne’s story.  They were fascinating women and I enjoyed reading about their work for the Resistance.  As much as I liked Marlene, I would have loved to have read a novel entirely about them.

Intermixed within each character’s stories, there were chapters containing official communications between the Nazis to the Aliens Office and the registered Jews on Jersey requesting information about their status and their future. While Marlene worked for the Aliens Office, it made sense to me that they were there – as if Marlene was reading them and discovering what was happening.  After that, If felt that they got in my way. This is partially due to the fact that the novel’s layout is structured with double spaces between lines which made these sections especially hard to read.  After I found that I could follow the political changes easily through the context of the story, I began skimming and then skipping them altogether.

War on the Margins brought a perspective of the Resistance Movement during WWII that was unique and interesting.  I found the strength and creativity of Lucy and Suzanne refreshing and engaging.  This novel has encouraged me to look more into underground efforts against the Nazis in occupied territories.  Although the formatting of the text was unusual, I quickly got used to it with the exception of the communication chapters.  The novel read quickly and kept me interested throughout.  It would suggest this book to anyone interested in WWII, living under Nazi occupation, and the Resistance.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#116 ~ Bible Illuminated: The Book (New Testament)

November 6, 2008 at 12:42 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, Reading, Religion | 16 Comments
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Bible Illuminated: The Book

I have now had my copy of Bible Illuminated for two weeks and I absolutely love it.  The PDF copy that I mentioned last month did not do it justice, but it did give me a good indication of how it would feel and read.  It is the same size as a W magazine and it reads like a magazine, too.  It is much less formal than a typical Bible.  It doesn’t look or feel like one, and that’s what makes it feel as if I am coming to the text for the first time.  I very much liked the text clean of verse numbers and references and the pictures make it magnificent.

I like having the option to read the New Testament both in its standard format as well as in this modernized version.  It gives me a separate text depending upon why I’m choosing the read the Bible.  As a Roman Catholic, I’ve been taught to look for the imprimatur, which means that the current book is considered error free in regard to doctrine and morality by the Church.  If I wanted to study the Bible, I would choose one with that seal.  Bible Illuminated, which does not carry an imprimatur, is much more conversational and the pictures provide something additional and enriching to bring to prayer.

I have not read the entire translation yet, but what has stood out to me thus far is Mark.  How can it not with a wonderful picture of Muhammad Ali working out at the beginning.  It caught my attention right away and stayed on my mind while I read it.  Over the days leading up to the election, there was one quote highlighted in red that I kept reading:

If a country divides itself into groups which fight each other, that country will fall apart.

It has been my prayer that our country, which seems to have moved away from civil discourse to trade increasingly ugly and personal insults with each other, will change.  We cannot continue on demonizing each other and survive.

Bible Illuminated is just what I needed to freshen up my spiritual life.  It appeals both to my heart and to my eyes.  It is a new and exciting way to look at the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus Christ.  I would have to say that in the new age that we are about to enter that it is just about perfect.  I would encourage everyone, whether you are young or old, new to the Bible, estranged from it, or its constant companion, to give this version of the New Testament a try.

In 2009, there will be a Bible Illuminated version of the Old Testament will be published.  If it is anywhere near as spectacular as this, I’ll be first in line for that.

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To buy this book, click here.

#110 ~ The Other Queen

October 19, 2008 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 8 Comments
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The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

I had been awaiting the publication of The Other Queen since I finished reading The Virgin’s Lover in October of 2007.  As time progressed and got closer to its September 16th release, my anticipation kept growing.  Finding out that I would be seeing Philippa Gregory in person just a couple of short weeks added to my excitement.  When I finally held the book in my hands, it was a happy day indeed.  Although this novel did not displace The Other Boleyn Girl as my favorite of Gregory’s Tudor series, I enjoyed the time I spent with Mary, Queen of Scots, Lord Shrewsberry, and, most especially, Lady Bess of Hardwick.

When writing about Mary, Queen of Scots, Gregory chose to explore her first several years in British captivity.  In what at first seemed like a royal privilege bestowed upon them by Queen Elizabeth, the Lord Shrewsberry and his new wife, Lady Bess, were asked to house the Scots Queen the short time that she would be safeguarded in Great Britain.  What they found quite early on, however, was that holding court for the Queen of Scots was expensive and would quickly rely on them living beyond their means.  What they didn’t realize right away was all that this honor would cost them.

Lady Bess, the first in her kind in the way she accumulated wealth and managed the properties left to her by her husbands, was dreaming of the wealth and favor that would come with performing such a task.  She married her way up to the nobility and was proud of the way she orchestrated her life and was now able to make a place for her children.  She learned how to keep books and it had become her passion.  She took pride in knowing to the penny how much she was worth and what she had spent.  As I got to know her, it became apparent that when things were happening beyond her control that she had her own inner mantra about who she now is and how efficient she is as a landlord.  She is quite the Protestant, but when she’s under stress, all she needs are prayer beads to make this mantra into her own personal rosary.

For all their differences, Mary, Queen of Scots is much like Lady Bess.  She, too, handles stress by telling herself over and over who she is and what her station means.  When she is confident in what she is doing and the plans that are underway on the outside to free her and return her to her throne, her thoughts are fluid and she has a hard time containing her enthusiasm.  There is no need to remind herself that she is a queen of the royal blood.  She is prospering in that role.  When she is not, or when she feels defeated, her thoughts of freedom and who she is become excessive and obsessive.  It is then that she thinks of Bothwell.  When things become dark enough, she admits to what he did.  In her fear she reveals how vulnerable she is, which makes her no different from any other woman.

Philippa Gregory made a bold choice in choosing to tell Mary, Queen of Scots’ story of early imprisonment.  Despite the lack of physical action, it paid off for me.  I understood Mary and Bess both in their perceived triumphs and actual defeats.  I felt their impatience, resentment, and the immense weight of their boredom.  Whether it was intentional or not, Baron Burghley and Queen Elizabeth proved that all torture has to be physical to be effective.  If I were to change one thing about this novel, I might have chosen a different third voice.  Lord Shrewsberry’s last chapter didn’t work well for me.  I would have chosen someone from outside the house.  Thomas Howard or Queen Elizabeth would have added a third distinct layer to the story.

The Other Queen is a novel of internal drama.  As Mary, Queen of Scots is prisoner from start to finish, and her jailers could not be rid of her.  There was a constant battle between the Shrewberry’s and their other queen.  When Lady Bess is up, Mary is down.  When Mary is up, Lady Bess is down.  Lord Shrewsberry was beaten and battered by the storm erupting between the two women.  Still, this novel was not as compelling as The Other Boleyn Girl or The Boleyn Inheritance, but it kept my interest and my interest grew with the characters.  I look forward to reading more about Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick.

Now that my reading of Gregory’s Tudor series is complete, I would rank them in the following order:

1) The Other Boleyn Girl
2) The Boleyn Inheritance
3) The Queen’s Fool
4) The Other Queen
5) The Constant Princess
6) The Virgin’s Lover

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To buy this novel, click here.

#105 ~ Sisters of Misery

October 7, 2008 at 11:33 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 5 Comments
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Sisters of Misery by Megan Kelly Hall

A special thanks to Andi from Andi Lit for sending this to me for review.  Her lack of reading time was truly my gain.

Maddie Crane has everything her mother ever wanted, she has a prestigious New England last name and is a member of the Sisters of Misery.  Unfortunately, the pressure of living up to her mother’s expectations and being in this group led by Kate Endicott made life in Hawthorne feel anything but happy and secure.  With the exception of her grandmother, Maddie can’t be herself with anyone.  She isn’t really sure who she is.  When her grandmother Tess allows her estranged aunt Rebecca and cousin Cordelia to return to Hawthrone and live with them, Maddie is hoping to find the sense of belonging she’s been searching for in this life.

What makes Maddie’s story about discovering who she is within her relationships and finding a home for her heart unique is the involvement of the supernatural in a town haunted by its history with witch trials and its proximity to Salem, Massachusetts.  Although her mother likes to brush the fact that her family is more attuned to other dimensions, Rebecca and Cordelia’s arrival in Hawthorne bring it out into the open, at least superficially.  When Rebecca and Cordelia open a new age store in Hawthorne, the Sisters of Misery quickly hone in on it in part of their campaign to ostracize Cordelia.  When a Sisters of Misery induction ritual goes horribly out of control and Maddie, unaware of the intentions of the rest of the group, does and cannot do anything to stop it, her family is never the same again.  It is only then when Maddie decides to let go of fear, stand up against Kate and her ilk, and embrace her family’s gifts.  Hopefully it won’t be too late and Cordelia will forgive her.

Sisters of Misery is targeted to the Young Adult audience.  The main characters are in high school and are facing some of the standard issues presented to girls as they are finishing high school and preparing for adulthood.  I had no issues with the content, but there were sexual situations, hints of sexual violence, and language that took me by surprise given the intended audience.  Much has changed since I last read a Young Adult novel.  I would not discourage any mature teenager from reading this novel.  At the same time, I feel it bears mentioning that this novel has a sharper edge to it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  The story moved quickly and I cared for Maddie, Rebecca, Cordelia, and Tess.  It brought back some of the darker sides of high school life and, while there were elements of the supernatural, it felt very true.  I also enjoyed how runes were incorporated into each chapter.  The secrets throughout the story were interesting and well revealed.  Still, there is much left unfinished and I am excited that Megan Kelly Hall is writing a sequel.  I feel that there is something more going on with her mother and I’m hoping this comes to light in The Lost Sister.  I will be first in line to read it in August of 2009 to find out what happens to Maddie, Cordelia, and the Sisters of Misery now that they are college age.

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To buy this novel, click here.

Literate Housewife Spotlight ~ October

October 1, 2008 at 10:15 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Reading, Religion | 11 Comments
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Several months ago, when I was compiling the list of books I’ve reviewed for this blog, I found some that I had forgotten all about.  That doesn’t necessarily meant that I didn’t enjoy them.  They just didn’t stick with me.  There were others that easily remembered and know that they were read and raved about by other authors.  There were still others, however, that I truly loved that I have not found much other discussion about at all.  I couldn’t quite figure out why more people hadn’t reviewed them.  The more I thought about this, the more the idea of featuring these novels in a different way started to shape and take form.  That idea is becoming a reality this month in my first installment of the Literate Housewife Spotlight.  Every other month I will be featuring a book that has stayed with me after I closed it for the last time.  It is a book that I believe in and want to share with you.  As part of the Literate Housewife Spotlight,  each Thursday I will post something new about the book, its topics, or its author.  I hope that you get as much out of this as I do.  Mostly, I hope to encourage you to find a copy of the book and check it out for yourself.

The first novel featured in The Literate Housewife Spotlight is The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman.  I read this novel last winter and was drawn into the world of Güde Müller, an elderly woman living in early 16th century Germany.  It was a time of superstition, just ripe for the witch trials sweeping through Europe.

Witchcraft, witch trials, and the political and social vulnerability of women are timely themes.  I’ve recently read Sisters of Misery by Megan Kelly Hall and have read several wonderful reviews of The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent.  Both of these novels take place in or near Salem, Massachusetts.  The Sisters of Misery takes place in modern day while The Heretic’s Daughter takes place during the height of the witch trials in the United States.  During Salman Rushdie’s discussion about his newest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, he touched on these topics as well.  He made one especially interesting observation.  The now stereotypical signs of witchcraft in that day and age, the pointy hat, the broom, and even the cat were common to almost any woman.  If the woman was ugly, that could be the sign of a witch.  If the woman was beautiful, she was a temptress for the devil.  In every situation, all that was ever needed was an accusation.  That is it.  In essence, all a woman needed to be was eccentric, envied, hated, or seen as an easy scapegoat to be a witch.  Imagine what it must have felt like to know that a witch hunter was coming to town.  What would you do to survive?

The following is a reprint of my review from February of this year:

The Witch’s Trinity tells the story of Güde Müller, an elderly grandmother who lives with her only son Jost and his family. They live in Tierkinddorf, Germany and have been experiencing two years of extreme famine. The strain of living without adequate food is taking its toll on the family and the town as a whole. Güde can tell how much Irmeltrud, Jost’s wife, resents her being alive and taking food that would ordinarily go to her children. After a Catholic priest is called in to investigate whether witches are to blame for the town’s hard luck, one of Güde’s childhood friend is burned at the stake. Still, the town is desperate. The able-bodied men leave the village in search of food. While they are gone, the village starts to turn on one another and it seems that no one is safe from being accused of witchcraft.

This book had a powerful affect on me. It made it difficult for me to sleep well for almost a week. It’s unbelievable the things that humans will do to one another and it’s frightening how open women and the elderly are to abuses of many kinds. It’s especially shameful how women turn on each other instead of supporting each other. The terror experienced by Güde and other helpless citizens of Tierkinddorf was so believable that there were entire sections of this book that had my heart racing. I left this book feeling thankful to be alive in 2008 instead of 1608. Witch trials make workplace cattiness seem like child’s play.

As with many books, The Witch’s Trinity was tidied up too quickly and neatly. I would still suggest that anyone interested in witch trials or the plight of women or the elderly read it. You will continue to think about this book and its themes long after you’ve finished it. That certainly sets this novel by Erika Mailman apart from the rest.

The Witch’s Trinity is being published in paperback on October 7th.  Over the course of this month, Erika Mailman is graciously offering copies of this novel to three lucky readers.  Come back each week for details on how you can win your own copy of this novel.  Not willing to leave it to luck?  Click here to order a hard cover copy of this novel for yourself.

#94 ~ Castaway Kid

August 16, 2008 at 12:38 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, Reading, Religion | 1 Comment
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Castaway Kid: One Man’s Search for Hope and Home by R.B. Mitchell

In Castaway Kid, R.B. Mitchell revisits his childhood spent in an orphanage just outside of Chicago and the impact that had on his life. He is the only child of two parents who were very mentally ill. His father incapacitated himself during a suicide attempt and his mother spent most of her adulthood in and out of mental hospitals. Only his maternal grandmother Gigi brought any stability to his life. It was her weekly visits that provided him with the love he would ultimately need to survive inside the orphanage and to choose faith and hope over despair as he grew to adulthood.

It was heartbreaking to read about Mitchell’s experiences with his mother and the orphanage where she left him at the age of three. At such a young age, he had no concept of how sick she was and he blamed himself for being left alone. His kind housemother did what she could to comfort him and explain that his situation wasn’t his fault, but with so many other young boys to care for, she didn’t have all of the time and energy Robby needed. Gigi visited him weekly, but was unable to care for him physically or financially. Those visits were the bright spot in Robby’s week, but when she left him back at the orphanage it was like being abandoned all over again. Nothing good ever happened when his mother showed up, but Gigi tried her best to foster love between them. How it must have pained Gigi to watch the decline of her only daughter while being unable to raise her only grandchild as she would have liked.

Despite his circumstances, Robby is a resilient young boy who doesn’t want his circumstances to dictate how his life ends up. Once he learns that there is a scholarship to a college in North Carolina for which he is eligible through his father’s family, he starts taking odd jobs and weekend work to save the money he would need when he was on his own. His hard work earned him jobs that weren’t usually open to boys from the home. He also took it upon himself to invest his savings. This isn’t to say that his adolescence was smooth sailing. His anger, alienation, and feelings of inferiority would have led him down the wrong path had he not had this other side of him that wanted to rise above. His story is proof that nothing is impossible if you put your mind and prayer to it.

Even with a growing faith life, Rob continued to difficulty with relationships, especially with women. He realized that despite his loving grandmother, he had very little experience to draw upon when it came to romantic attachments. His fear that he would develop mental problems like his parents or that his girlfriends may turn out like his mother haunted him into adulthood. It wasn’t until he met the woman who was to become his wife that he opened his heart fully for the first time. Before that could fully happen, however, he had to learn to forgive his parents and learn to let go. It was a pleasure to experience that with him. She, like his grandmother before her, brought out the best in him and taught him how to trust.

It has been a long time since a book moved me to tears, but as I was reading the last pages of this book, I couldn’t hold them back. Some of the best and most inspiring stories come out of deeper personal pain. This story was well paced and well thought out. The only aspect that didn’t work well for me was the internal dialog and personal prayers. Those portions felt like they were often saying what was obvious from the context. I was able to skip over them without losing the story or its meaning. At its best, this memoir is a profoundly human story of the power of hope, love, and forgiveness. There is a reason for suffering if only you allow yourself to see it. This is an important message in such a cynical and sarcastic world.

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To buy this book, click here.

#92 ~ The Four Seasons

August 5, 2008 at 10:08 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 10 Comments
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Four Seasons, The: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona

Earlier this year I read and reviewed The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker. I enjoyed learning about Venetian history and about the Pieta specifically. So, when I was offered the opportunity to read The Four Seasons, a novel about the Pieta and Venice during the time of Antonio Vivaldi, I jumped at the chance. This novel tells the story of two sisters, Maddalena and Chiaretta, who were left anonymously at the Pieta by the mother who could not care for them both. She may have been a courtesan because she left them with the money needed to keep them together through Chiaretta’s infancy. As they grew, their talents led them to different destinies. Chiaretta beauty and outstanding singing voice led her to fame and marriage. Maddalena’s quiet nature and inborn love for the violin and its music were what attracted Vivaldi’s attention.

The relationship between these sisters was close and loving. It was as if when they were branded with the letter “P” on the bottom of their feet together that their hearts were seared together. The most beautiful scenes in this book are when they fight for each other. Each season of their lives brought them closer together. That they would gladly take on the world for each other was always apparent. What was somewhat disappointing was that there wasn’t a compelling reason for them to fight.

I enjoy a strong heroine, but I love her best when she is pitted against a worthy adversary. This villain never made an appearance in The Four Seasons. While Maddalena and Chiaretta wrote back and forth about how one violin tutor was the devil, she didn’t ever do anything to either of the sisters to invite such wrath. Their name calling felt more like children being children than a statement of fact. Vivaldi was to impotent and pitiful for me to fully grasp Maddalena’s connection to him after he first left her without a word. Perhaps what I needed to truly bring this to life was an intrinsic love for music that Maddalena Rossa did. Even as someone without a note of musical talent in my body, I could sense the author’s love for music as she painted the pictures of Vivaldi and his must together working on his compositions. While I appreciate that it does for the characters and is beautifully written, it was off in the distance for me. Perhaps if I was there in the room with them I would have sensed the danger that always lingered between the two of them. Ultimately, Anna Giraud showed up too late to be the nemesis I longed for.

Venice is a city with almost a split personality. On one hand, you have city’s religious life. The Roman Catholic Church and its institutions played a large roll in the city and its citizens. On the other hand, there are the masks, the courtesans, and the night life. So long as the person was discrete, no harm was done either socially or, so it seems, spiritually. Corona captures this best in this novel when Maddalena barely blinks an eye when she discovers the type of life that Chiaretta leads after her marriage. This seems to be part of the reason why the Pieta and three other ospedali came into existence.

Despite lacking drama, I enjoyed reading The Four Seasons from start to finish. The love story between Maddalena and Chiaretta is beautiful. It also reignited my desire to read more about Venice. I absolutely love the flavor that city had in the 17th and 18th centuries. I will most definitely be looking for other novels about this city, especially those that focus on the lives of those outside of the Pieta’s walls. This reviewer is ready to read about how those ospedali were filled.

The Four Seasons will be published by Hyperion in November, 2008.

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To pre-order this novel, click here.

#82 ~ Escape

July 1, 2008 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Beach, Books, Family, Reading, Religion | 2 Comments
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Cover to Escape

Escape by Robert K. Tanenbaum

It’s been quite some time since I’ve read a courtroom drama/thriller. So, when I was offered the opportunity to read Escape, I eagerly agreed. There is something about procedurals, be they on TV (Law and Order) or on paper that are soothing to me. I know that this does not necessarily make logical sense because quite often those very same things include murder, rape, and other egregious behavior. I guess in the end it’s the way procedurals follow a set pattern that relaxes me the way it does. Escape did not disappoint. It is a well written and nicely paced edition to Tanenbaum’s Butch Karp series.

Escape follows two distinct yet loosely intertwined story lines: the usage of the insanity defense and the struggle from keeping evil forces from taking over the United States. Jessica Campbell, an extremely liberal college professor, suffered from post-partum depression that grew steadily more severe with the birth of each of her three children. After she kills all of her three young children, she finds herself in court facing prosecutor Butch Karp. All the while Karp is preparing to go up against Campbell’s insanity defense, his friends and family work with varying degrees of knowledge, intuition, and good luck to thwart a new attack on New York City that is being planned by Islamic fundamentalists and the Sons of Man, a covert and powerful group of wealthy anglo-saxons hoping to “clean” the American landscape and take over the government. Can a rag-tag group of homeless men, retirees, and various members of Karp’s associates and family prevent another well planned terrorist attack?

This is the 20th installment in Tanenbaum’s Butch Karp series, but I have never read any of his other novels. I didn’t find this an impediment to following the story, getting to know the characters, and enjoying the stories. As with other serials, there were flashbacks to what happened in previous novels to fill in any gaps. I appreciated this information and do not feel that it was excessive enough to bother those who have been following the Karp family and friends all along. Sometimes it’s nice to be given a reminder.

As someone who experienced post-partum depression, I appreciated the way that Jessica’s character was written. I found the descriptions of her emotional suffering realistic. The outcome of the trial, however, was no surprise to me at all. If I were to find fault with this novel, it would be that Jessica’s attorney came off ineffectual in the courtroom and defense witnesses were all very odd characters. To me, it wouldn’t have taken much of a DA at all to run circles around the defense.

I enjoyed reading Escape. In many ways, the book was just that for me – an escape. At just under 600 pages, it’s hefty enough to be the only book you’ll need to travel with on vacation. It would definitely make a great book to read lazily around the pool or while leisurely swinging on a hammock underneath your favorite shade tree.

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To buy this book, click here.

#81 ~ Mrs. Lieutenant

June 24, 2008 at 8:00 am | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Religion | 17 Comments
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Cover of Mrs. Lieutenant

Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel by Phyllis Zimbler Miller

A special thanks to Lisa from Books on the Brain for hooking me up with this book and the blog tour and to Phyllis Zimbler Miller for sending me a copy of this book.

Mrs. Lieutenant tells the story of four very different newlywed women who share only one thing in common – their husbands are in training to become officers in the United States Army at Ft. Knox during the Vietnam War. Robert and Sharon Gold are a Jewish couple from Chicago, Kim and Jim Benton are a Southern Baptist couple from North Carolina, Wendy and Nelson Johnson are a black couple from South Carolina, and Donna and Jerry Lautenberg are a bi-racial couple. Donna is Puerto Rican whereas Jerry is Caucasian. Chance brings them together, but after forming the entertainment committee for the graduation luncheon for the wives of new officers, they learn that what makes each of them different provides them all the strength they need to prepare for their husbands’ possible deployment to Vietnam and the years of marriage to come.

Sharon Gold is the main character of this novel. She grew up in a Jewish family in Chicago. Instead of attending a more liberal school, she chose to study at Michigan State University. It is there that her support for the anti-war demonstrations held on campus that led to her chance meeting with Robert, a member of MSU’s ROTC. Robert was unlike most of his fellow ROTC cadets: he was Jewish and he quoted poetry. Much to Sharon’s own surprise, she falls in love and marries a soldier committed to doing his patriotic duty by serving as an officer in the Army. Sharon struggles not only with her beliefs about her country’s war in Vietnam, but with the prejudice she and her husband have and will continue to face as Jews.

Kim Benton never left North Carolina until she and her husband crossed over the Virginia border on their way to Ft. Knox, Kentucky. Kim grew up in the foster care system after the tragic death of her impoverished parents. She loves her husband, who has big dreams for his future in the military, but leaving her sister behind is not something that comes easy for her. As the older of the siblings, she feels a great deal of responsibility toward her sister. To her, Kentucky is a world away from North Carolina and she clings to her husband for dear life. She dearly needs to be and feel loved, no matter what her jealous husband might put her through.

Wendy Johnson grew up in South Carolina as the only child of doctor and his wife in South Carolina. Although there was a great deal of prejudice encountered by black Americans living in the South, Wendy’s parents sheltered her from it, almost excessively. It was only after she met and married Nelson that the curtain was parted for her and she began to see the challenges that her husband faced his entire life. In addition to facing the world with her eyes wide open, Wendy also has to come to terms with her parents’ reservations about her husband and his chosen career. The trip from being a doctor’s daughter to living in a mobile home was shocking for her.

Donna Lautenberg grew up as an Army brat. Her father made a career as an enlisted man in the Army. She moved from place to place throughout her childhood following her father’s career. Although she lived in a loving family, she always felt less than her classmates and other army brats because of her nationality. When she caught the eye of her husband, she faced this fear head-on, concerned that her in-laws wanted and expected more (i.e. blond, blue-eyed, American) in a daughter-in-law. Coming to Ft. Knox as an officer’s wife is a culture shock for her. Although she spent all of her life in the army, the life of enlisted families, officers were an entire class altogether.

This novel is as much about prejudice as it is about learning to be an officer’s wife. The unlikely grouping of these women definitely bring this out. While the experiences of each of these women during that time in history felt very realistic to a reader who had not even been conceived yet, there was also a part of this that rubbed me the wrong way. Kim, as the white representative of the group who was also from the South, was singled out from among the group as the one person who actually held prejudice. While her upbringing led her to be distrustful of those who were different from her, Kim’s views of other broadened along with her experiences. Sharon, who was keenly perceptive of Kim’s original beliefs, seemed to miss Kim’s growth. For someone more educated, I found it discouraging that Sharon continued to put Kim in a box like that while being entirely oblivious to her own prejudices against Southerners. There were several statements she made about Kim that, if you substituted the word “black” for “Southerner,” could have been Sharon’s own. This really bothered me as I was finishing up the novel, but it also made me think. No one is perfect. Not every prejudice is as blatant or as perceptively ugly as racism and antisemitism. Education and experiencing discrimination first hand does not preclude someone from holding their own prejudices.

What I enjoyed the most about this novel was the experiences of these women as they learned how to be an Army officer’s wife during the early 1970s from watching others and by reading “Mrs. Lieutenant,” a book published to provide instruction on being a lady in the United States Army. The book, in a way, provided officer’s wives with their own form of boot camp. Instead of experienced soldiers screaming down their necks when they made mistakes, they get the cold shoulder or bemused glances from their elders. I found it interesting what was expected of a married woman not that long ago. Times have certainly changed.

My advise to you is to read this book in a club or with someone else. It is fast and the larger font size makes it easy to read. I would have loved to have read this book in a reading group. Just as with women of Mrs. Lieutenant, it would have been good to have people from all different walks of life discuss some of the topics that were brought up. Reading this book alone in a suite at the Palazzo in Las Vegas might sound glamorous (and it sure was luxurious!), but I was frustrated with having no one with whom to talk about these issues. Thankfully a couple of book blogging buddies pinch hit for me when I emailed about this book.

Where would we be without our friends?

You can download discussion guidelines directly from the book’s homepage.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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